All posts by schugarmama

I spent my youth fantasizing about being rich, mostly because I wasn't. I spent my 20s scratching and clawing my way into an industry that overpays absurdly. By the time I hit 35 and became a mom. making money mattered significantly less to me than leaving a legacy. It was, however, not so easy to shake the identity I had crafted in my head as an affluent, power-earner. So, I am in the process of redefining what matters in my life and how I will help my family achieve our lofty financial goals (annual trips to Australia, retirement funds in, paid-in-full mortgage, education fund.) Financial independence is fundamental to my self-worth. But learning how to recognize, savor, and appreciate the truly valuable moments in my life is my life's work. I don't get all of them. I still get distracted. But I'm getting better at this every day. Sharing what I've learned, learning from others, and finding ways to make life schweet is what being a schugarmama is all about. Let's get to it.

A Citizen’s Journey

This week.
THIS is the week that my husband became a U.S. Citizen.
This week where I have mentally retreated beneath the blanket of oblivion.
This week where the greatest US President in my lifetime, possibly of all time, is leaving office.
This week.
This week when fear that we have failed our Promise “bigly” has mobilized millions of people around the country and around the world to rage against this ugly truth.
This week when the air is pregnant with schadenfreude and smug disdain.
This week.
I approached his ceremony with equal parts relief and dread.
The relief is salve to my heightened survival instincts – more flight than fight, but there’s still time for that to reverse before the March. I do think the worst of our future and knowing that my husband is safely labeled “one of us” backs off just how ‘doomsday’ I allow my mind to wander.
He has been eligible for citizenship for years, but only now pursued it to safeguard our family from the uncertainty ahead, to protect our choices. Were the situation reversed, I would not relish making such a significant commitment with a ticking clock tied around my green card.
I resent my country FOR him.
I sat smugly through opening remarks, recognizing the distinct stench of propaganda in the videos. (People don’t hate marketing, they hate ham-handed marketing.)
I eye-rolled when the bureaucrat in the ill-fitting suit touted America as the land of freedom and prosperity. THE Land. Like there is only one.
The government worker who wrote and delivered a speech, honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., was an African American woman. Despite including visionary quotes, I was uninspired. Where were the great orators and accomplished immigrants welcoming these new Americans?
I kept thinking about ways to make this event a more authentic, honest experience. The contrived video montages with images of what I can only assume are (what some people think are) immigrants and of National Parks, frankly left me more confused than anything. There was no nostalgia or inspiration or warmth. Maybe that was just me.
When President Obama’s video played, I was, as expected, riveted and exchanged a twinkly eye with my husband when it finished. Thank goodness he was welcomed to citizenship THIS week.
As another woman led us through the Pledge of Allegiance, I wondered if it also bothered her to be pledging fidelity to an object, “Under God.” I wonder who else in the room raised a suspicious eyebrow to the line “liberty and justice for all” when there is so clearly not. They’re just words recited out of habit as we go along our little lives and hope we squeak by the wrecking ball unscathed.
I probably read as ungrateful and self-important, or chronically cynical. I’m not. The turmoil of emotions inside me included bursts of pride, nationalism and gushy, mushy waves of love for this man who would do anything for me, for our daughters, including swallowing his pride… again.
When it was time for the certificates to be handed out, each of the 115 people from 40 nations stood up and made their way forward to be welcomed to Team USA with a hearty congratulations and handshake.
It wasn’t a single moment, but the culmination of the experience that humbled me. The great weight of realization that my lens of this experience was both narrow and obtuse became unbearably heavy. I needed to check my privilege.
Maybe it was the man who raised and waved his miniature flag during ‘America the Beautiful.’ I felt his longing poignantly. My heart swells at displays of enthusiasm. How many times have I been dismissed as uncool for my joie? Too many. “You sir, are my people.”
Maybe it was the beautifully complicated names read aloud, each receiving a moment of recognition, a reverent undertone.
Maybe it was those with interpreters who have chosen to make a life in a place where they aren’t yet proficient in the language. How brave to dive into unknown adventure!
Maybe it was the women whose smile beamed light as she looked toward her friend for a celebratory photo. How long had she waited? What does this mean for her and her family?
Maybe it was the little boy who shouted out “Mama!” when he saw her queue for her paper. Is she the last to win her secure status? Or first? It makes me cry just typing this.
My husband comes from an egalitarian land of prosperity and freedom. I would count it as one of the many democracies around the world with quality of life that put ours to shame.
But I forgot for a minute that there are also many places that do not, where the promise of self-determination, freedom of speech and religion and press, where pluralism are quite foreign and literally awesome concepts.
This week, I was reminded of the lesson I only internalized the first time I lived abroad: that the United States is a complicated and beautiful amalgamation of cultures and peoples.
Denigrating our diversity is the most un-American thing one can do.
At least, that’s the belief to which I pledge my fidelity.
And that’s how I’ll survive this week.

Will You Be My Sisterwife?

I am not the first working mom to pine for a “wife.”

Hell, even in college I knew that if I were to pursue the ambitious ass-kicking agenda I’d dreamed for myself, I would need a house-husband.
The miracle is that after putting marriage and kids so low on my list of priorities, I still managed to find myself a fully evolved, committed husband who does (at least) 50% of the heavy household lifting in time for me to still breed with my own genes.  I am absurdly fortunate.

And so it is with a blanket of sheep that I admit that there is STILL too much damn work to be done in running a house and raising children while earning enough to sustain my family.

I don’t think this challenge is unique to a city-living, alpha mom like me.

And so I ask you – will you be my sisterwife?

Ok, ok, I don’t mean move in and sleep with my husband – (though he is pretty much the best of his gender and deserves a whole lot more lovin’ than he’s getting these days.)  Let’s use “sister” more colloquially – as in, can you please help a sister out?

So maybe what I should say is “Will you be my NEIGHBOR-wife?

My neighbor is mom of our doppler ganger family across the hall – Cute & fun-loving couple, with kids around the age of ours. We even had chocolate labs that were around the same age.

A few weeks ago we talked about doing a freezer meal share and I think we might have stumbled upon genius.

On Sundays, we will both make a casserole or freezer meal and double the batch:  one for our family and one for theirs.

A few friends have asked for the recipes we’re using.
To that end, I have started a Pinterest board:  Fab Freezer Meals for Sharing

If  you’d like permission to post to the board, let me know.
It takes a village, yo.

To start this tradition, I whipped up a batch of Cajun Shrimp and Quinoa Casserole (from This Gal Cooks).
Against tradition, I followed her recipe pretty closely (with fewer jalapenos for tiny tongues and the addition of kale and leftover zucchini because green is good.  I also used regular mozzarella because hub couldn’t find Fontina cheese – yes, he does all the grphotoocery shopping.  Told ya… he’s kind of a big deal.)

Another of my favorite sharing recipes is Chicken Enchilada Casserole:

  • Chicken – breasts or thighs or whatever your budget allows.  We use six thighs for a family of four.
  • jar salsa (or homemade pico)
  • southwest/ taco spices to taste:  cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, chipotle, red pepper, paprika, etc.
  • enchilada sauce (yes, I recommend the can unless you’re a SAH with way too much time on your hands.)  I like a mix of green and red.
  • cheddar cheese
  • mozzarella cheese
  • sweet potatoes
  • cilantro (fresh – only way to go)
  • garlic
  • red onion
  • evoo
  • corn tortillas
  • can whole tomatoes
  • Mixed bell peppers (frozen ok)

I like to slow cook my chicken – toss in some salsa and let it cook all day on low or half the day on high.

Put sliced red onions into a skillet with evoo on medium heat and cover.  When onions are soft, add bell peppers – whatever you think your family will eat.  They will be turned into sauce so it’s a great way to trick them into eating their veg.  Once peppers are floppy, remove mix from heat and set aside.  Add more evvoo and add diced sweet potatoes.  Stir to prevent burning/sticking until the sweet potatoes begin to soften.  DO NOT make them uber mushy.

Mix (I have a wonderful, tiny food processor from Sur la Table that was a special treat with some gift cards I had collected) the enchilada sauce, whole tomatoes, and onion/pepper mix.

If you use chicken thighs, you might want to skim the grease from on top of your chicken.  Either way, shred the chicken in the crockpot with two forks.

Dip your tortillas into the sauce and cover the bottom of a 9×13 glass pan (I used a foil pan for my neighbor because I only have one glass).

Layer the shredded chicken, sweet potatoes, and a mix of the cheeses.

Spoon over some of the sauce.

Repeat the layers:  dipped corn tortillas, shredded chicken, sweet potatoes, cheese until you’re out of ingredients.

If you’re freezing this, put a layer of plastic wrap down onto the last layer and then foil cover before freezing.

If you’re cooking immediately – cover with foil and heat through – I put it in at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or so. (You’ll see the sauce bubble.)

If your kids aren’t going through their anti-green phase, sprinkle with chopped cilantro, avocado and sour cream – even more cheese if you like!

(The inspiration for this recipe came from Ambitious Kitchen and Tone & Tighten.)

In hopes of sharing my talent, I plan to post a few more of my life hacks, including more Freezer Recipes.

I hope you’ll share some of your own!

 

Six Simple Ways To Be Awesome To Others

Lately I’ve heard too many stories of people being awful to each other.

I probably need to edit my news feed but it certainly feels like there is just a little more meanness around these days.  Doing ‘mean’ empties our emotional buckets, whether we’re the doer or the been done to. Even if we’re not actively evil-doing, I think many of us are just going around in survival mode, too wrapped up in our own funk to give much to anyone.  Or worse, are faking through life, hurting our own spirit and showing that phony facade.

We deserve more.  We deserve to feel and to share awesome.

Even when I should have plenty of time on my hands, I find myself racing through each day with a to-do list that never gets done.  In hopes that writing it down can make it more real, I’ve collected a few simple thoughts on how to be an addition to others’ lives without subtracting from your own.

Share Your Talent
So many of us are busy (pretending) that we’ve got it all under control that we forget to ask specialists about their trade secrets.  We might free up time/money/stress by adopting a tip or bit of training from someone who is a natural.

But how many of us struggle with asking for help?

*Raises hand*

So lead by example, as the saying goes…  everyone has something to learn and something to teach.  Is it a skill like blog formatting and or video editing?  Is it a craft like knitting?  Is it a tradition like baking bread?  Is it a talent like writing?

Be awesome.

Don’t get hung up on the word “talent.”  Instead – think of yourself in life-hacking terms.  Are you an amazing meal planner?  Do you have the most ingenious way of archiving and displaying photos?  Are you a great amateur photog?  Do you make amazing party food?  Do you have a fool-proof method of keeping your house tidy?  Have you mastered kid’s parties?  Are you a self-taught home media master?  EVERYONE is a genius.  Share yours and be awesome to someone.

Let People Be Who They Are
This may sound more like a passive option than a simple one.  It isn’t.

To let someone be who they are, you may need to adapt to their style and that requires thoughtfulness and sacrifice – at least some of the time.  It means getting out of your own self-interests to recognize how other people process the world and not making them feel like an arse for that.

If you need an example, here’s mine:  I am not a planner.  Most of the time making plans makes me feel boxed in and trapped.
But so many of my friends and family feel very anxious about leaving plans “loose.”  They like to know the process, the agenda and the order of things.  To me, this feels rigid and restrictive.  To them, it keeps life from spinning out into chaos and allows them a comforting feeling of control.

If I want to see them regularly, I need to commit to a date and time with enough advance that they don’t over-schedule themselves right out of my life.  It may not sound like a big deal but it is.  My planner friend texted me the other day a thanks for making plans with her in advance.  She noticed.  By planning an outing much farther out than my comfort zone prefers, I was awesome to her.

There are also times when someone’s habit just annoys the crap out of you.  Making it clear to them that they make you want to pluck your hair out when they do that doesn’t fix the problem, it just empties their emotional bucket.  In these times, remember:  it isn’t about you and it isn’t personal.  Think about WHY someone might do something and find the compassion/humor/blinders to see over and around that tick to the vulnerable human behind it.  Because they are still awesome.  Show them that by reducing eye-rolls and harumphs.

Give a Genuine, Spontaneous Compliment
This one comes easy for me but I see daily how difficult it is for others.

One of my many criticisms of our society is the zero-sum mentality.  It is the game theory behind mean girls.  It is how banksters justify their morally devoid behavior.  And it is how otherwise professionals fool themselves into thinking that the ends justifies the means in their climb to the top stomping on the careers of others.

If you can only win by making others lose, you just aren’t very creative.

On my most evolved days, I am impervious to someone else’s bad mood.  But when sleep, or polar vortices, or money stress or whatever creep in, I can be a sponge absorbing other people’s mess.  I see it on other people too.  The over-crowded bus or the 14th internal meeting request of the day can send you into the Jungle of Boo.

But watch the change on someone’s face when you mention how much you like their bag or their shoes or their style or the way they handled that call or their presence in a meeting or their patience with a child.  Don’t overthink it or make a big fuss – but when something someone does catches your eye, let them know.  I like to thank or complement cleaning crews or grounds keepers.  There is almost always someone on the bus who has a hat or glasses or something that I admire.  I don’t need anything from them, and I’m not interrupting my or their momentum.  Never once has it failed to brighten someone’s face.  Just maybe, their day was a little more awesome.

Ask For What You Need
This is the only simple solution that revolves around you… but it is also a way to be awesome to others.

Too many people have the romantic idea that people who love and care for you should just intuitively KNOW what you need and give it to you in the way you most need it.

Bullshit.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, pays that much attention to you.  Except maybe your kids… and that is actually a pretty good example.

If you’ve been around a two or three-year old lately (or five-six year old if the parents are indulgent jackholes), you know that fit-throwing, whining, and fake crying abound.  This is because two and three year olds do not have sufficient command of language or emotion to properly eloquate what it is that they desire.

You do.

If you’re expecting magic, you are likely to be seriously disappointed and in feeling that, making those people who love and care for you feel like poop for not delivering on your expectations.  Because guess what?  The likely want to.

People LOVE to feel useful.  Most LOVE to make others happy. But no one has time to go around wasting effort in the hopes that they do. Rather, it is the most direct path to getting and giving what is desired if you spell it out in a way that is helpful and humble.  Be clear, be honest, and be practical.  Give others all the tools they need to do right by you, because when they succeed, it makes them feel awesome.

Couch Your Crap
While each of us is the protagonist in our own life, we’re merely supporting characters in others’ lives.  And since the grand play is all happening simultaneously, sometimes we need reminding that it isn’t all about us.

I wrote a little bit about this here, but even when there is legitimate drama, angst, and woe going on in your world, you can be awesome to others by putting your stuff on a shelf for a beat and being present for theirs.

Just like you can’t effectively listen when you’re coming up with what you want to say next, you can’t really be there for someone else when you are playing mental Stratego hoping to avoid whatever bombs are set up in your match.  Press pause.  Take a deep breath.  And focus on someone else for as long as you can without upsetting the flow of the universe.  Chances are you can return to your own bag o’ crap with a fresh perspective that might just be the solution you needed in the first place.  And in the process, you were pretty awesome to someone else.

Be a Happy Memory
I don’t mean to adios yourself from someone’s life.

I mean that people sometimes need a memory jog.  When you share an positive experience with someone, you two are each other’s happiness keepers.  Whether that memory is 5 days or 50 years old, being reminded of it can make someone relive that emotion.

When you see an old picture of them as you’re flipping through an album, or notice a post from them on Facebook, or bump into them in the hallway, or just happen to recall that happy/funny/silly/ hilarious/charming/smart/inspiring/joyful moment you shared – let them know.

Does a certain song always remind you of a friend?  Or what about a restaurant?  A vacation destination?  Your orange sweatshirt?  In the age of constant updates, we more or less keep up on the lives of way more people than we would have without the aid of technology.   Most of the time we’re just narrow-casting our lives to the audience of acquaintances (and their acquaintances, and theirs…).  Being a happy memory for someone means planting and watering your positive experience with them into their “timeline” because you think it will make them smile.  Maybe you call someone you haven’t seen in years or maybe you show up in an old familiar place to surprise the old crew, or maybe you just tag the guilty in a carefree picture from the past.

Post it, tweet it, email, telegraph, or smoke signal them.  Do it public.  Do it private.  Just, you know… do it.

Remind people who gave you great memories that you shared them together.  You never know who needs to know that they are in your thoughts, or that they made a difference, or even that they mattered.

That gift is yours to give for free and will make someone feel pretty damn awesome.

 

The Day I Broke My Face

It has now been about a month since the day my face broke.

For a chronic over-sharer like me, not posting the blow-by-blow of my experience was unfamiliar behavior.  This experience, however, felt intensely personal.  I was scarred by it and not just on my face.

More than a week after our New Year’s Day party, my new three-pot crock pot serving piece sat on the counter waiting for me to find a place to store it.  My disdain for clutter finally overcame my resistance to find non-existent storage for my Christmas gift.  I maneuvered the other entertaining pieces around on top of the China hutch to make room.  I grabbed the crock pot system in my hands, stepped onto the dining room chair and in slow motion went from lifting the crock pots into place to cracking my face on them as they hit the floor.

A leg on the chair had snapped into pieces and sent me flying – hard and heavy crock-pot first, soft and fragile face shortly thereafter.

While I fancy myself somewhat of a stunt woman (I once jumped off the back of my bike, tossing it forward to avoid being run over by a Chicago taxi.), this happened so fast I was unable to brace my fall or shield my face.  Maybe if I hadn’t been so close to the wall, I could have tossed the crock pots forward and avoided impact altogether.  Maybe if I had used a different chair or asked hub to do the lifting, no harm would have come.

But harm did come.

I heard my daughter cry out.  I heard Hub run down the hall in a panic.  I felt the warm wet that I knew meant this was going to be ugly.

For one minute, I couldn’t speak.  My thoughts were formed and my action plan ready but I couldn’t make my mouth say the words.
When I did, the sentences came out in the wrong order:  “I need an ice pack,” “I’m ok,” and then “Get Claudia out of the room.”

Steve brought me a rag and the frozen peas.  He asked again if I was alright.  I knew I wasn’t.

I tipped my hand open to show him the steady stream of blood coming out of my face.  I didn’t know the size or shape of the cut but I could see the puddle growing on the floor.

I didn’t pass out.  Instead, I gave instructions: Yes, call an ambulance.  Call, no go knock on neighbor’s door.  Call this friend.   No, call from my phone so she knows who it is.  Go comfort the kids.

What I expected to feel, I didn’t.  I wasn’t in pain.

But I was acutely aware of not being able to comfort my own kids; I didn’t want to scare them.

A whole lot of things happened after that:  Fire truck/EMTs/Friend arrived, ER visit, plastic surgeon called, on-staff plastic surgeon referred, ice packs, bad jokes (Doc: “blue or black thread?”  Me: “black – it goes with everything”), stitches to pull together my brutalized forehead.

On the way home, the adrenalin wore off and I discovered all the other injuries to my body – bruised hands, elbow, inner arm, hip, shin.
Nothing was as bad as my face though.

Over the next 3 days, my nose bridge expanded until I looked like Eric Stoltz in Mask.  Both eyes were a deep eggplant/black.  (I wish the pictures did justice to just how crazy things looked.)  The black thread holding my wound closed looked menacing.  I was also having really strong headaches behind one or both eyes.  My forehead throbbed and couldn’t be touched.

From open wound, to stitches, to surgical tape, to bangs... the evolution of my broken face.
From open wound, to stitches, to surgical tape, to bangs… the evolution of my broken face.

According to my surgeon, I was going to be fine.  I just needed a better story.  I considered some…

“I’ve started MMA training.”  

“There was a brawl that broke out at Mommy & Me.”

or my personal favorite “The first rule of Fight Club…

But the truth is I suck at lying of any kind and there may be some truth to this.

So let my life serve as a warning, dear friends:  DON’T STAND ON CHAIRS EVEN BIG HEAVY WOODEN ONES USE A STEPLADDER!
(Like this super sexy one that I bought.)

No self-actualized person worth her salt would let this big bad experience go by without learning a lesson.
But what was mine?

I couldn’t think of it right away…  “Be more careful” was just too obvious (and boring).  Was it time to let go of my vanity once and for all?  Would I finally have to do something about my “baby” weight (you know breaking chairs and stuff) now that I couldn’t get by on my face?  Was the universe telling me to aim lower (I have been punching above my weight for some time now).  Should I stop playing hostess?  Sure, sure – any of those could have fit.  But then I got it.  See if you think I’m right…

After the accident, I was too scary for public.  I sent an email to work, explaining the accident and that I’d be working from home for a few days until the swelling/bruising went down.  The office where I contracted sent a heartfelt email reply, flowers, and a new crockpot with love from the entire office.

I had texts, emails and calls from friends and industry colleagues and family.
I had a friend pick me up from a doctor visit, drive me around to errands, and returned me safely home.

But really the best were the friends, who are struggling with their own big and bad, who dropped off homemade pasta dinner for my family the night after the accident.

Even with something totally crappy happening in their life, they still had goodness and compassion and generosity to share with others.

And That?  Well, THAT was MY lesson.

How to Survive a Lay-off

I ran into a friend of mine in the Old Navy parking lot a few weeks ago.  When I mentioned my recent lay-off, he replied, “well, it’s the season for it, isn’t it?”  Truly, I have several friends who are recently unemployed or about to be.

This is my first lay-off in about 12 years.  And where I ‘celebrated’ the last one with a tremendous amount of day-drinking, late-night hell-raising, bad daytime television, and unhealthy doses of self-loathing and self-pity, this one felt more like a gift.

Sure, I’m sad that I lost my job – I really liked many of the people I worked with, respected the company, and was proud of my success there.  But I wasn’t really going to get my name in lights.  And selfishly, secretly, I still really want that.

The best thing about being laid-off is that you don’t have to make a secret about your job hunt.

If you, like me, had a highly connected boss who is well-liked around your industry YOU ARE SCREWED if you look around while still employed.  It is just uber-awkward for all involved.  Lay-offs solve that problem.  Not only can you look openly but you can hit her up for a reference when the process gets real.

So what about the dirty details of life for the newly unemployed?

Well, there is always this.

And of course day-drinking.

But if your mortgage, dependents, or liver prevent you from getting pruny in a pity-pool, here are my suggestions for surviving a lay-off.

First, apply the 30-30-40 rule.

Spend 30% of your time looking for a job.  Not more and not less.  If you focus and act quickly, 30% is enough time.

I concentrated on 3 things and I started the same day I was laid-off:

  1. I rewrote my resume – a half-dozen times – with feedback from people who were not afraid to tell me the truth.
  2. I called/emailed/wrote everyone who loves me in my industry to tell them I’m looking and that I need their help.
    (People like to feel useful but usually only take action if you ask them directly.)
  3. I set up interviews with every job that was even remotely interesting.
    • You will freshen up your knowledge of what is hot and what is not.
    • You will sharpen your conversational skills/ interviewing skills.  e.g. I learned that it is probably not in your best hiring interest to casually mention that you didn’t see any female executives on the company’s website.
    • You will meet some cool people in positions of influence along the way.

I had 23 interviews in my first 3 weeks of unemployment.  That felt AWESOME.  Most of them were not going to go anywhere but I was active, and engaged and it didn’t leave much room for the whole “nobody wants me” narrative that likes to creep in when you are dismissed from a job.  Jobs and relationships only work when there is a mutual match.  If one of the parties changes his direction, the relationship is doomed.  No blood, no foul.  Part as friends and get back into the fray!

The second 30% of my time I focused on giving to others.  I am not the greatest at volunteering my time.  I do make pretty decent donations throughout the year to causes I care about but have idealized the notion of donating talent as even more valuable.  My talent seems to be creativity.  I’ve had a few random connections with people who’ve found my Linked In profile and asked for help with theirs.  I HATE resumes.  They are painful and sterile and austere.  Linked In summaries should ‘show some leg.’  While not actually sexy, the narrative of your career should also showcase a bit of your style and personality.  Make something that people will actually want to read and they will.  People interview for skills but they hire for personality.  (I sound like I really know my sh*t, right?  I am 83% certain I’m right.)

While unemployed, I rewrote some Linked In profiles, made some recommendations on Linked In, shopped for and crafted some decor and activities for a 5 year old’s birthday party, and did some small business marketing consulting for free.  Every single minute of it was fun.  It wasn’t the gratitude that made me feel so happy; it was that I did something that actually benefitted these friends.  I might not have had time to do these things while working full-time.  But I did while unemployed and I was able to show both new and old friends how much I value them by giving up my time to do something that came easily for me but caused them headaches.

Finally, I spent 40% of my time taking care of me and my family.  I have spent so much time with my daughters – playing, learning, adventuring, etc.  My 4 year old has said multiple times “Mommy, this is the best day of my life.”  My response?  ME TOO.  And it has been.  I will never get another chance to be unemployed when my girls are 4 and 1.  I soaked up every second of their filthy, silly, annoying, whining, giggling, wrestling, dancing, singing, mess-making, crafting, writing, reading, snuggling, cuddling, and general awesomeness.  I am so full and yet I have room for more everyday.  It is a gift that keeps on giving.

To a lesser extent, I also doted on my husband.  No, I didn’t suddenly become a sexpot runway model who fed him bonbons while shaking mine.  Although that would have been nice…  I did, however, chip in a great deal more on housework  – which usually falls on his shoulders as a SAHD.  I continued to cook even though I felt like ordering fatty, starchy badness.  Since the hub is on the Ironman training regiment, I also cooked mostly healthy, flavorful goodies to support the goal he is working toward.  We even managed to sneak in a couple of date nights where we cashed in some gift certificates to offset expenses we weren’t sure we could afford.

And for myself?  I did two things:  I worked out regularly and I tackled my “Icky List.”  The work-outs shouldn’t need explanation.  I feel good about myself when I’m fit.  I have made peace with not being a string bean.  I actually like being big and strong.  Dressing a big and strong body without looking like a hoochie?  Another post for another time.  But for my heart, my longevity, my waistline, and my confidence – there is no better money or time spent than in the gym, pool or yoga studio.  And I didn’t give that up over this break.

The “Icky List” is comprised of the things that I don’t want to do but that need to be done, at varying degrees of urgency, that tiptoe into my consciousness on nights when I really need to sleep.  They start off like stealthy reminders – using ballet feet to sweep across my otherwise calm, dark mind just before sleep comes.  But only one of them needs to be a code orange to jar me out of calm and into “Oh crap!” mode.  Once that happens, the Icky List becomes a heard of elephants trampling any remaining hope of rest while cackling witches swoop around my cranium mocking my incompetence.  It isn’t pretty.

I reorganized two rooms of my house to make better use of space and hide/remove clutter.  I donated 147 books from my introduction to hoarding stash to allow for toy bins, stationary boxes and less unsightly clutter.  I regrouted my kitchen counter.  I organized pictures.  I purchased a new external harddrive and back up external harddrive.  I saved my pictures and music on both.  I organized the basement storage and DVDs and closets.

The list is not completed.  It probably never will be.  But I look around this house in which I have spent so much more of my time lately and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.  I enjoy the home we’ve made here.  I have no nagging anxiety about devolving into a messy, clutter-loving nightmare.  I am not tied to my things.  I am tied to my people.  And that’s a pretty good tie in my book.

The best part is?
I’ve been sleeping pretty well.

Finding my dream a job certainly helps.

Author note:  Not, in fact, a dream job after all.

The Evil Queen Myth

queenWhen my daughter got into fairy tales and princess things, she would dress up and play pretend every chance she got.  She would construct elaborate stories and wear as much of her costume jewelry as possible.  If her dad or I were around, we would usually be added to the cast of characters.  Daddy was the King or the handsome Prince, and I was the Evil Queen.

At first, I was totally taken aback by this label.  EVIL QUEEN?!?!?  Was this an early rebellion?  Was I coming down too hard on our preschooler such that she had already identified me as the “mean” parent?  I don’t WANT to be evil.  Something had to be done!

But as I paid closer attention to what my daughter was actually watching, the innocuous Disney dramas took on a slightly sinister role.  Fairy Tales were teaching my daughter that while girls were good, women were evil.  Of all the unholy sermons… this was the most offensive.

Undoubtedly, stepmothers have always had a bad rap from Cinderella.  Snow White literally has an evil queen character who is not only competitive and vain, but also a witch.  Hansel & Gretel were left in the woods to die by their (step)mother and are nearly eaten by an old… you guessed it, witch.

The kicker for me, though, was Tangled.  My daughter didn’t understand that the woman with Rapunzel wasn’t her mother but an evil old woman who STOLE her from her mother.  I had to explain that several times that Rapunzel called her “mother” because she was tricked and didn’t know any better.  I explained that her REAL mother would never stop crying until Rapunzel was returned home.

But, I think, the damage was already done.

Despite my joy at the movie’s red-headed heroine, I was initially put off by Brave because the Queen was, again, the enemy.  She was the disciplinarian, the strict parent, the “problem.”  The movie saved itself (spoiler alert) as the Queen and Merida reconciled to understand each other better and grow to become friends as well as mother and daughter.

Why are grown women always portrayed as the bad guys in children’s movies?

Is this some kind of sick joke?

Who is writing this crap?*

*Note to self:  Write a decent fairy tale that doesn’t make women out to be the bad guys.

This “Evil Queen” thing shows up outside of fairy tales too.  There is a commercial airing now for Multi-Grain Cheerios with a mother-daughter exchange that I HATE.

I found plenty of posts about this on some entertaining threads and thoughtful blogs but the thing that disturbs me about this commercial is the look the mom gives the daughter acknowledging that she is, in fact, wearing her daughter’s jeans.  It is smug.  It is confrontational.  It is a challenge saying “HA!  What are YOU going to do about the fact that I am as skinny as you?”

It is so repulsive to me.

I love Cheerios.  (I especially love the new fruity Cheerios.)  But this portrayal of the mom as mean-girl is such an enormous offense that it could not possibly have had a mom on the creative team.  [Or perhaps it did and she is keeping her mouth shut because she has had to take one too many personal days to care for her kids and is worried about her job… another post for another time.]

It gives me pause to think about how much we manufacture the drama between women and how much of it is inevitable.  Why did we stop being community sisters – helping each other with household chores, errands, child-rearing, feasts, etc. – and start being bitchy mortal enemies?

Who has the time for all this drama?

I have two daughters.  And while they are not yet growing into little women, I look forward to when they do so that I can help them feel proud of their changes and confident in whatever shape nature gives them and to honor the wonder that is the female body.

Despite my fierce desire to protect my little princesses, I have noticed a bit of “Evil Queen” mentality creeping into my own mind recently.  As I barrel into 40, I’ve taken to calling out my age in much the same way as I used to call out my weight – as an apology.

There can be no good that comes of it and it likely makes people as uncomfortable as it did when I belabored my weight-related self-loathing.  So why do it?

Old age is a privilege.  Hell, MIDDLE age is a privilege.  I may not be the perfect, powerful, rich and thin me I had dreamed for myself at 40 but it’s all relative.  I’m not too shabby.  I made a terrible princess but I might yet make a fabulous queen if I let myself get into the role a bit.

I’ve got two princesses watching how to grow with grace and honor and humor.  So snap out of it, Schmidt!  There is no dress rehearsal for mommies.

I wouldn’t trade my life now for any other time.  I really DO believe that the best is yet to come.

And as the great philosopher Will the Krill says, “Fearing the best is a complete waste of time.”

So, tell me.

Where do you see the Evil Queen myth creeping in and what are we going to do about it?

The Devil Wears Pixels

(Originally a Facebook Note, posted August 2009 – but I have been thinking about it recently.)

I watched a deliciously girly movie tonight on FX – and amid the pomp and circumstance of the fashion and fuss, I was reminded of some amazing lessons I’ve learned in my career.

I’m not one of those people who is overly critical of movies. I consider films great if I laugh or cry and absolutely phenomenal if I get to do both. Beneath the gilded tapestry of lines in the Devil Wears Prada are some wholly un-materialistic value messages.

There’s a scene where Andy and Miranda are in a town car in Paris. Andy says “I could never do what you did” and Miranda retorts “You already did.”

If you’ve seen this scene you know exactly how cutting this exchange is. If not, it is like your mother holding a mirror up to your face the morning after an all-nighter.

You feel shame and disgust and guilt even if you didn’t do anything.

I am so fascinated by the way women treat each other in life and in business. One of my favorite sayings is that ‘only ugly girls are catty’. If one looks okay on the outside and is still obsessed with cutting and undermining, well… that ugliness lives somewhere.

I remember in my teens and early twenties, I proudly pitched myself as a guys’ girl. I simply didn’t have anything in common with other women. They were idiots or bimbos or superficial or prissy or backstabbing or bobbleheads. And then I realized I was simply hanging out with the wrong women.

In addition to a few, key teammates and some artistic types, I credit my friend Martina with helping me embrace my universal sisterhood. As a transplanted woman, she focused exclusively on cultivating friendships with strong, smart, fun women. Since we’re still friends, I’m going to assert that she was wildly successful in her venture.

It took me a long time to figure out how to navigate the treacherous and often treasonous world of female friendships. Admittedly, I sometimes still get it wrong. But for all of the mistakes I’ve made (too often when I felt my most awful and insecure), I have done some things right.

  • I believe in giving women compliments. I give them all the time. I give them to people I know and to total strangers. I don’t care if anyone knows or hears except for the recipient. Women don’t know enough good things about themselves. Women NEVER hear enough good things about themselves. There is nothing like a spontaneous compliment to plug the leak in the self-esteem drain.
  • I also believe in honesty. False support/friendship is a weakness and should be banished from our gender’s repertoire.
  • I promote the idea that two wrongs do not make a right. And a shallow, caustic comment should not inspire an equally biting retort.

This goes for work environments as well.

In advertising, I was privileged to work with a lot of women. I mean that. Privileged.

That doesn’t mean that I liked or respected all of them. And that doesn’t mean that my first impression was right all the time.

But here’s the thing…

It is a mistake to stab people in the back, or the front.

Anytime.

No matter what.

(SIDE NOTE: Have you seen the great speech Robyn Williams delivers to Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Patch Adams” about being a dick?  He says that it is a mistake of youth to think that one has to be a dick to get ahead in life and naiveté to think that it is a new concept. It is a brilliant statement to me. Simply brilliant. Because for all of our striving and struggling and studying and suffering… what, in effect, will our legacy be?)

In the movie, Andy goes to Paris instead of Emily. She says she had no choice – it was to preserve her future.

pumpsMiranda scoffs at Andy’s repugnance with the comment “Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us.”

I

think

not.

For me, I am laying down once and for all any feelings of betrayal or indignation or rage. People make choices that we cannot understand or explain or accept. But that is really, in the end, only their problem. It becomes ours when we hold onto it.

As for me, I plan to love and be loved. I plan to teach and to learn. I plan to hope and to laugh.

And to wear fabulous shoes.