With cupped palms receive blessings

20140916-081129.jpg

My work world went and got itself in a big ole hurry while I was sick and on bedrest and then maternity leave.
Sure, I returned to the same political squabbles that seem to define Congressional dealings these days.
There were scandals aplenty.
But the faces of those covering those stories seemed younger, the lingo of social media reporting trendier and not quite aligned with what I got in this to do.
Absent from the hip speak about “socializing content” was the concept of writing pieces aimed at comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
And that’s what I got in this to do: tell the stories of people impacted by policy and politics.
I felt, at not yet 40, old and washed up and, as the mother of two young kids, at times quite tired.
Oh, I still excelled and reported stories that fared well online in terms of audience and impact.
But, increasingly, my heart wasn’t in it the way it used to be. And I desperately missed teaching writing and the freedom to write about topics with impact.
Still, despite this niggling feeling of displacement, I clung on.
Maybe things will change, I reasoned. Maybe I’ll change, I thought.
Both happened.
By the time I was laid off with a group of similarly aged veteran colleagues, I felt (beneath my overriding terror about making ends meet) a profound sense of relief.
Finally, my inner voice sang, you can return to your core as a writer.
So, I breathed deeply and just let go.
I trusted that, at almost 40, I’ve learned a lot about who I am and what I need to feel creatively fulfilled.
I trusted that the hard work of finding a new position would now be tempered by the guiding principle of maintaining balance creatively and for my family.
And, I am happy to report, that a week after I was laid off, I was offered a promotion and pay raise under contract as an editor with another publication. They are open to me continuing to teach and the position offers a sense of work-life balance and creative autonomy in my non working hours.
It is exactly the type of situation I’d prayed for.
And all of this underscores a truth that has guided many of my “grown woman” life choices: only when your hands are open can you receive your blessings.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

We are not what we do. We are not our jobs.

Unknown

I found out I lost my job while on vacation with our kids.
I was driving back from a bounce house and the little ones were napping in the backseat.
As the phrase “position has been eliminated” echoed through the car’s speaker, I had a surreal moment of relief that the morning’s play meant the kids–who are far too young to understand anyway–couldn’t hear the conversation.
I also knew that loudly weeping, as I really wanted to do after the call, would wake them up.
So I held it in and flipped the radio to soothing lullaby music as I silently sobbed.
By the time we reached home, my tears had dried and the kids, now refreshed from their nap, were none the wiser.
I was laid off one day before my husband, who’d lost his job six months earlier, started his new job.
We’d rejoiced that finally, after months of financial stress and worries about making ends meet, we’d reached some degree of security.
2014 was looking up.
I would later learn that fellow salaried and veteran members of my team were similarly laid off. We would soon join the ranks of the millions of unemployed Americans who have found themselves financially adrift in the Great Recession.
Empirically, things are looking up.
Unemployment is declining, due in part to an addition of thousands of jobs to the economy and the fact that some people have been out of work so long they’ve dropped out of the workforce.
I can not afford to do that.
So, I immediately began job searching, networking, and interviewing.
This period has also given me an opportunity to really regroup, tune in, and think deeply about what makes me most happy.
Here’s what I learned:
First: After years of struggling to have children, I cherish my little family above all else. I pride myself in maintaining strong boundaries between work and home and the work-life balance is extremely important to me.
Second: I also deeply value my creative autonomy and am happiest when I have the freedom to write, edit, and teach as I see fit.
Third: I suck at being poor. Seriously. I can and do budget very well. We buy clothes from consignment sales, rarely take vacations unless it’s to see family or a staycation at free or low cost nearby attractions, and purchase generic food brands on sale. And, now that I no longer work for a cable network, we’re planning on nixing that too.
But I also have a threshold of comfort that I need to feel as if all is well…and I’m willing to bust my hump to make sure my family stays there.
And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since my layoff.
Busting.
My.
Hump.
And with some degree of success.
I’m happy to report that I’m teaching a writing course with offers to teach other writing courses on the table.
I’ve received some very promising job leads which I hope will firm up into job offers very soon.
I’ve had more time to spend with the children. I volunteered to help clean and decorate my daughter’s classroom before school started. We went to her school’s ice cream social where she helped catch and release a frog and made new friends. I was there for her first day of school–she packed a book called “Mommy and Me” as her special item.
I took the baby to story times at the library. I was there when he took his first few steps pushing the baby walker and then, later that week, when he stood on his own. I’ve rejoiced in his infant babble and attempts to say his sister’s name and signing the word “more”.
We’ve all gone to the park, the splash fountain, free outdoor concerts, harvested tomatoes from our garden, and relished our time together.
All of this reaffirms for me a very important truth:
We are not what we do. We are not our jobs.
The measure of our worth, our spirits, our lives is tallied in those experiences in which we bring joy, share sorrow, create, connect, laugh, and love.
That is our true work, the only work that truly matters.

Posted in Diapers and Deadlines | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Goodbye Mr.Foo

We used to sit next to each other in the hospital’s infusion room and joke about the awful food, who had the most needle pokes that day, and god awful daytime tv.
I left the hospital cradling new life.
Mr. Foo lost his.
And I am very sad.
Life is so tenuous, so fragile, so precious.
Today,I honor someone who found strength to smile through the pain and try to bring joy to others to help ease their suffering.
Blessed be, Mr. Foo. Rest in peace.

20140501-225130.jpg

Posted in Diapers and Deadlines, House Rules | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

HerStory…5,000 views strong

20121123-000047.jpg

They sat there, the two of them, my caramel-colored friend and, as she puts it, my “peanut butter vanilla” colored daughter, lovingly combing each other’s tresses.

They are daughters of Africa raised in America—one from Egypt the other from the rich mélange of ethnicities that make up our African American heritage.

As I watched them, showering each other with care and devotion, all felt right with the world.

For this was a friend who was there for me when this hoped-for child was a dream I worried might never come true. And now, after writing about wars and death abroad for several years, I was grateful that this friend had returned to us safe and sound and would be a part of this child’s life.

You too have shared in our lives, dear readers.

You are the unseen supporters who, as of today, have helped me reach a blog milestone of more than 5,000 views.

I began this blog with one mission: to regale with tales of life as a pot and pan, pen and pad-wielding mama on a quest to strike harmony in the work-life balance.

And you’ve made the journey with me through infertility struggles, a high risk pregnancy, Hurricane Sandy, preschool sagas, hair stories, old jobs, new jobs, a new baby and more.

I am deeply honored and thank you for reading.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Winners never quit? Not so sure about that…

sad_soccer

Our three year old hates soccer. Really. Hates. It.

And we’re considering letting her quit.

Week after week, we’ve watched as missing a kick or drill sends her shrinking inside herself. She crumbles and crouches low on her ball, often refusing to move.

We’ve tried to help boost her confidence by cheering from the sidelines and extra practice at the field near our home. But there is little joy for her in running around chasing a soccer ball.

This weekend, she decided she’d had it. She sank sadly down and sat on her soccer ball for a long time. No amount of encouraging perked her up.

Finally, resolved, she picked herself up and walked right off the field.

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” she told me. “And I’m going home.”

I looked in her eyes and saw how much this was affecting her.

“Okay honey,” I responded. “We don’t have to play if you’re not having fun. Let’s go.”

We said goodbye to the coach and started heading to the car with me telling her that I was proud of her for saying how she felt. And that she could change her mind if she wanted to and that was okay too.

We got to the car and she turned to me and said: “Okay mommy, I’ll try one more time.”

So back to the field we went.

The coach cheered her for making “a good decision.”

Another parent stood by her and gave her extra help with drills.

And she kicked the ball into the net.

She beamed. We cheered.

She told me: “I had fun!”

I told her: “Good honey! That’s what’s most important. That you have fun.”

Still, later that night, she confided “I really don’t like soccer. It’s not fun. I don’t want to go anymore.”

When I asked her why and pointed out how well she did and how hard she was trying she said “I don’t want to try to talk about it. Why do I have to go?”

That’s a good question. And good on her for articulating her feelings.

We enrolled her in soccer, frankly, because that’s what her peers were doing. Playing soccer in the suburbs. And we thought this particular sport would help her learn teamwork and boost confidence.

She never, however, once asked us to play soccer.

And nothing about the sport speaks to her sensibilities.

There’s bugs, which she’s highly sensitive to skin-wise. She detests both crowds and chaos. Preschoolers + soccer scrums = crowded chaos.

She seems much more inclined toward activities that play to the natural sense of grace she displayed even as an infant. Seriously, the child is preternaturally poised and has a lyrical way of moving.

She really loves and excels at ballet. Gymnastics is right up her alley.

When she comes back from these practices, she raves about them for days and rehearses her moves in her room of her own accord. She gets excited when she sees me pull out the leotards and tutus.

“Yay! I do ballet tomorrow,” she shouted recently, then proceeded to twirl and leap around the room.

To date, she has never had this type of positive relationship with soccer.

Quite the opposite.

Telling her it’s time for soccer elicits groans. She never wants to get ready to go–even though it means seeing one of her best friends.

I Facebook polled my mom friends and the general consensus was: kids should stick out team sports until the session’s end, then not return. Their take is that doing so helps build character and a sense of teamwork. I value their advice and those are exactly the kinds of virtues we’re trying to help instill.

My mom, who in her capacity as an early childhood education expert has seen hundreds of kids grow up over the years, feels that our kiddo’s self esteem is being negatively affected and that, at three, she should be allowed to quit. She’s raised nine kids whose athletic interests ran the gamut from dance to volleyball to football, and she never made us participate in activities we disliked.

I hated all sports involving balls, but thrilled at dance and once took master seminar classes taught by the Alvin Ailey teachers and even performed with a small dance company.

Another sister was awful at dance, but she received a full scholarship to play volleyball in college.

A brother excelled at all sports–baseball, basketball, track, football. He’s now a star running back for a big football school with a shot at the NFL.

So right now, we’re going to play it by ear. We’ll ask her on soccer days if she wants to go.

If the answer is yes, then we’ll all load up and cheer her on.

If she says no, then we’ll do something else that morning.

If she goes and decides to focus on “eating the wind” as she calls it when she runs around chewing the air…so be it.

And if she’s crumbling, hurting, and hating every moment, then we’re leaving.

Because you know what? She’s three…and it just ain’t that deep.

Our main priority is remaining very sensitive to her feelings and self esteem. After all, we don’t want to turn into one of those crazy, hyper-competitive Beltway families.

There are lots of other ways to instill a sense of team work and shared goal without channeling Pelé. And, after giving it your best try, there are times when it’s okay to change course if something is making you miserable.

Besides, there’s plenty of time to make our kid suffer in the name of esoteric life lessons when she’s older.

Posted in Diapers and Deadlines, House Rules, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

True confessions of a bougie black girl

20140419-161437.jpg
Here’s a true confession.
I’m kind of a bougie black girl.
Cue the fake swoon.
I know it’s obvious.
There are times though when my bougie streak runs truer than fine china and grandma’s pearls.
Like today.
Our daughter takes soccer lessons in our old neighborhood, a community I fondly refer to as hip and hood adjacent.
There was a hastily organized Easter Egg Hunt to follow. I was hesitant about going because I was on solo kid duty today with both children to give my wonderful hubby a break.
And me and hastily organized events don’t mesh.
But I figured “why not?”
Oh Lord. What did I do that for?
The event was slated to start at noon, but when the clock struck 12 folks were still milling about.
“Ugh,” I thought, “we’re gonna do CP time.”
And yeah, that’s some bougie ish to think.
My adorably tubby baby in his Bjorn (read: more bougie ish) was already starting to feel a bit heavy on this increasingly warm day.
Plus, I had our now jittery dog in tow in anticipation of leaving there and taking him directly to doggy daycare (uh huh, yet more bougieness). The playground where the organizer and others were waiting around doesn’t allow dogs either so I needed to move to an area where dogs were okay.
My friend, who is due any day now with her second child, and I exchanged glances. We both started uphill lugging our extra baby weight with us.
12:10…the organizer was still explaining the rules down there.
Did she say we’re starting, we wondered. Our antsy three year olds picked up a few eggs at their feet.
“We haven’t started yet,” she called up at us.
We waited some more.
12:15…Dear God! This woman was STILL explaining the rules. By now the parents on the hill, most of us with babies in body carriers and strollers perched there seeking a quick exit when this was all over, were also antsy.
Our two kids picked up a few more eggs at their feet. I let them.
“We haven’t started yet,” the organizer called uphill.
One parent cursed softly under his breath. Another rolled her eyes.
“Jesus woman,” I muttered under my breath. “How long does it take to explain egg hunting rules?” One dad said it was just like doing your taxes, only more painful, like real life.
I shrugged the “what gives” sign at my friend and her husband. We shook our heads at each other in annoyed disbelief.
12:20…Finally, we start!
And the kids had fun hunting.
Then I noticed that a number of the eggs were hidden near a concrete pad and stretch of grass littered with broken beer bottles.
And hell, was that a discarded needle near that bush?
Whose bright idea was it to hide eggs here?
“No, don’t touch that baby. It’s broken glass,” I told my friend’s son as he reached down.
I turned to my friend in exasperation and said “this really wasn’t well organized.” My friend agreed and we shook our heads incredulously.
I think the woman heard me, but I didn’t care. By now I’d had enough.
I directed my kid’s egg hunting toward the car. I thanked the organizer for putting it together. After all, she did the best she was capable of on a voluntary basis with what she had. I also made myself a mental promise never to do that particular egg hunt ever again.
12:32…we drove off.
Luckily, the whole affair ended quickly and I was able to fashion a do-over of sorts at another egg hunt nearby.
This event had an Easter Bunny, a DJ spinning old school hip hop classics, games, arts and crafts, and yes…eggs.
Still, I recognize that my bougie sensibilities played into my earlier annoyance.
I can’t stand CP time.
Sure there are times when being late is unavoidable, but when folks drone on so long they make events run late, well…that’s just nuts. Reminds me of when my friend would take me to church with her and services lasted all damn morning.
Why, Lord? Why?
I am also really funny about my kid’s physical environment. I’m trying to loosen up on this while not letting go of all standards of health and safety. Public park potty? We did that today (though I’ll admit to scrubbing the seat thoroughly with hand sanitizer).
I draw the line at egg hunting grounds littered with broken glass and an errant drug needle though.
And truth be told, if you were to ask my kid, she’d probably say she had fun at both egg hunts equally.
Now if she can just get her bougie mama onboard.

Posted in House Rules | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

There’s always another train

20140418-071828.jpg
Yesterday, the bus doors slammed in my face and pulled off before I could get on board.
My family quickly regrouped, put on coats, jumped in the car, and got me to the train station.
I raced up the platform and ran to the train. The subway doors slammed in my face.
For a moment, I was ticked.
“What was all that damned hustling to get me here for,” I thought huffily.
“Damn it! Now I’m going to be late for work,” I thought angrily.
Then I remembered a bit of Zen wisdom from my husband, John, who embodies inner peace:
“There is always another train.”
Indeed, I looked at the scheduled arrivals and, sure enough, a train was headed my way in two minutes.
I made it on time for work. I even had time to grab a doughnut on the way.
Recently, our family faced a closed door.
My husband was laid off from his graphic design job of seven years.
The company loved him and his work, but they are downsizing their print operations and he was caught in the mix. He was given a decent severance, so that helped.
Still, when the news dropped, we were stunned.
We have a new baby.
Our oldest attends a private, co-op preschool.
We have a mortgage on our new home and bills.
We are like the millions of other families who have found themselves in the same situation during our country’s economic crisis.
We were sad. He loved where he worked and his coworkers.
We were angry. Once again we found ourselves facing another major life hurdleso soon after overcoming my high risk pregnancy and baby’s heart defect.
We were scared. Would we struggle to make ends meet, we wondered.
But then, we regrouped.
And we pulled together as a family.
We trimmed and are continuing to adjust our budget. We’re eating out less and cutting extra expenses.
And we realized that the layoff provides my husband with just the right opportunity to expand his art business. After all, he’s a trained fine artist who can paint, sketch, draw, animate, illustrate, layout, and design just about anything for print and web.
We are all very excited by the opportunity this provides for my husband who has long dreamed of animating films, designing board games, and pursuing a number of art ventures.
Like he says: “There’s always another train.”

Posted in Diapers and Deadlines | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment