Professional Me :: I Knew Then What I Need Now

Most of my education and professional life has been about momentum. I always loved school, and excelled easily, and hopped happily from one step to the next. Out of high school to college. From college to grad school. Hop hop from one thing to the next because they made sense. They were in the right order. Other people were doing it.

Looking back I can see that I truly never did pause to reflect on whether a less logical or obvious step would make sense or to analyze why I felt so driven to keeping moving without pause for planning purposes. I suspect I was doing this intentionally, as I’m famous for avoiding difficult and confusing situations that might make me feel feelings. But at the end of it I found myself very educated and in some ways well prepared for a career as a social worker. That I didn’t actually want.

The years after I finished my MSW were spent working in that field off and on and making that discovery. A rather painful, quite expensive thing to conclude. At first I only admitted that I may have taken an unneeded detour through grad school quietly to my closest friends. I wasn’t embarrassed, exactly, just a little bit meek to speak the truth. But after a while it became undeniable. And now here I am, telling my mom and the 10 other people that read this.

The next step after admitting you are on the wrong path is figuring out where to go next. But I spent a great deal of time avoiding that step. The all-encompassing nature of motherhood worked as an excuse for a while. And the nomadic, sporadic nature of Dave’s job has let me have a standard reply when it comes to “why I don’t have a ‘normal’ job.” But these are both just procrastination, because as much as I love our gypsy life and my role as a mother, I also always knew I would feel the need to flex a different muscle. To hone other skills. To carve out a little part of our life that belonged only to me.

When I was job-searching back in 2008, eventually finding the job in social work that taught me so much about the world and showed me clearly that I wasn’t meant to be a social worker, I wrote a post about my lack of professional passion and my as of yet absent baby fever.

Considering that over 6 years have passed, we’ve added two children and countless life lessons, I am struck by how what I wrote about myself then still stands true about me now

About my professional goals I said:

The time and resources invested in my education are still serving me well, and I’m proud of my accomplishments. But I don’t feel the need for a career to supplement my identity. I want a job that I love. I’d like to find a field I can excel within. I want to take pride in my work, but I never want a job that takes over my life. I want to feel satisfied with my role as a person, but I don’t think my occupation has to be the only way to find that satisfaction.

And guessing at my parenting style I accurately predicted:

I don’t want cartoonish drawings of my family made into decals for the windows of my SUV. I will love my kids, I will change my ways, but I know myself (and the mother from whom I was born) to realize that motherhood for me will not mean a cracked-out, Kathy Lee-esque enthusiasm for all things widdle-baby or mommy-wommy.

And so here I am, as comfortable as one can ever be with the title ‘Mother’ and all the mysterious, powerful and very exhausting things that conveys. And the little voice in my head that suggests I have more to give and that I don’t have to give it in a cubicle at a social service agency. I found a job online, using my known and loved interwebbing skills to help clients with various projects. And I enjoyed it. It was an outlet of sorts, an experience to be sure, some education as most things tend to be. But it was also a little vapid. Fairly random. A bit meaningless. And while I know I may not cut it among the ranks of other MSWs, the heart for helping that drove me to that work in the first place can’t be ignored.

Luck and a savvy friend dropped another opportunity in my lap just as I was ready to leave my first post-child professional endeavor. And I got it and took it and went with it and I enjoy it. I continue to learn more, feel my confidence grow, make new connections with helping professionals, and enjoy a life outside my girls that helps contribute to our family’s financial security.

I found that I used our travels and then my kids as the excuse as to why I didn’t have a ‘regular’ job. But now I can cut through the noise and tell you honestly it’s because I don’t WANT one. I want something different, less stifling and more creative. Perhaps also less stable and less secure. But I want work that fits the life I want, not the other way around. I don’t have to look to the future to explain it, I can just ask 2008-me how she would say it.

And what I have decided is that I don’t have to meet the expectations of my friends, family, society, or Utopian feminist fantasies. I have hopes for the future, plans to execute, places to go…I want to be happy, safe, fulfilled. I want to be well-rounded, well-read, well-travelled. I want to spread myself thin enough that I can cover all kinds of interests, thin enough that light shines through, thin enough that I can still fit in my wedding dress someday in the distant future. And mostly, I want to be able to say all this without shame or fear of eye-rolling, without hesitation and concern for the disappointment of others. I want to say it and have my loved ones know that I am not judging them…and hope that this makes them feel free enough not to judge me. It’s hokey, it’s idealistic, and probably overly simplistic. Exactly the way I want it.

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What Is Gained From The Mommy Wars

I’m kind of over it with the term Mommy Wars. And the idea of it. And the way it dismisses all discussions that include conflicting opinions into the same category as your cousin’s sister’s friend calling you a bitch on Facebook. Not. The. Same. Thing.

It’s probably true that many people in our culture, in the world, are taught overtly and covertly to avoid conflict. Maybe in the Midwest it’s an even stronger message to never, if you can avoid it, offend someone. At least not to their face. But it’s particularly true for women. That we are taught to be peacemakers not muck rakers. And even those of us raised by strong women who can’t help but rake some muck have this tiny voice inside our mind saying ‘be a nice girl! be a good girl!’

When you add parenting or motherhood into that cultural cauldron all bets are off. Nice girls get mad and good girls get upset. Because we all have a lot of feelings about our children, more feelings than we have ever felt or knew existed. And it’s hard not to get emotional about that. Because the whole thing is emotional. And it’s hard not to come across as angry or defensive when you are emotional. Even if you feelings are valid, even if you are more enthusiastic than angry. And then of course some people, mothers or otherwise, are assholes. All these things together mean: Mommy Wars. Apparently.

I’m about the 220 millionth woman to suspect that this entire term and cultural phenomenon is little more than an extension of the ‘women are catty’ troupe. The idea that any disagreement between women is a trivial, nasty, mean-spirited fight between girls. Limp wrists slapping at faces and hair pulling followed by tears. Girl fight. Girl stuff. Girls are catty, right?

But the truth is that I have many female friends, many of whom I disagree with on many things, parenting and otherwise. And when we disagree it’s actually an interesting, mutually respective, discourse between women. And sure we sometimes roll our eyes at each other or interrupt or use profanity (ok that’s mostly me), but oh well. And even when it gets heated, which it does sometimes because LANE CANNOT CONTROL HER FEELINGS, it is ok. Because we’re adults. With brains. And we love each other. So we can survive it.

It’s hard though. Because parenting is a really loaded experience. We all have a lot invested in this, and it’s hard. So hard. And even the most secure adult human being has moments during parenting where they say WHAT AM I DOING AM I DOING IT WRONG OH MY GOD I RUINED IT! So if you get caught in a disagreement during that moment, it might not be the high minded discussion you want it to be and it might turn into a terse exchange that involves a middle finger. No one is perfect.

But in the meantime, despite the tough moments and awkward conversations, I want us to embrace the chance to realize that parenting in general and motherhood for women is a deep, complicated, intense conversation worthy of discussions that people of our intellect are capable of even in a sleep deprived state. We were interesting before, we argued about things before, we still can. We still should.

Repeat after me:

Disagreement is not disrespect. Conflict is a part of life. Parenting is not off limits.

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On A Walk: Nikko Botanical Garden

It seems like when you say ‘Japan’ immediately people imagine Tokyo. Cities and lights and sushi and karaoke bars. But so much of Japan, and all of the area around Nikko, is very wild. Jungles and mountains and rivers and green everywhere. And seeing as I’m city-averse it’s the right corner of Japan for me. It’s quite lovely. And muggy. But mostly very lovely.DSC_1443 DSC_1447 DSC_1448

There’s something that feels perfectly right about a little girl running wild in the woods. Free to be dirty and to be fast and to be loud. It’s totally aligned with the purpose of childhood. DSC_1449 DSC_1450

Little O, sweet baby sister, always just fine to be along for the ride.DSC_1451 DSC_1453 DSC_1455

She held a piece of paper that she had marked with stamps earlier and used it as a map. She consulted it with the utmost seriousness. We followed along. DSC_1456 DSC_1457

In a place that looks so beautiful even to the jaded eyes of adults, the tired eyes of parents, imagine how amazing it must look to the open, hungry eyes of a 3.5 year old. She was in awe. In fact she is almost always in some state of awe. It’s the best thing about her.DSC_1459 DSC_1463 DSC_1469 DSC_1470

Our seriously low peanut butter situation right now is mitigated by the environs. For now.DSC_1471 DSC_1472

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Filtered Or Not

I’ve heard the argument, in various forms, that social media, blogs and our now prolific online presences in general lead people to feel unhappy. Studies have shown this. We see people’s lives only as they want to show them. They filter the information and often times literally filter the pictures. We put a nostalgic tint over our breakfast and take the extra off our thighs. Why? Why do we all do this when we all know we are doing it? Just like anything I guess, because we can.

I’m actually not advocating the dissolution of Instagram or the boycott of Facebook. I love social media. Love it. I love the connection and the creativity and the information. I’m sad that this kind of sharing can make people sad, and I hope as it continues to evolve there will be some kind of bell curve where people start realizing or remember that we are ALL doing the same thing. I’m not arguing that our love of social media is altogether a bad thing.

What I’m actually saying is enjoy it, visually, and read it, for leisure, and know that just like you are portraying things exactly the way you want to, so is the other person. It is what it is. Use your frontal lobe and  realize that. And as T. Roosevelt said in the way a wise person with a mustache can: Comparison is the thief of joy.

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Not long ago we had our annual family photo shoot. Our very talented very lovely photograph Samantha somehow took an hour of windy weather and 3 year old gone wild into these really lovely pictures of our family. She does this every year for the last 4 years. I love these pictures, LOVE THEM. And I immediately changed my blog header, my profile picture, my desktop background.

These pictures are images of my family that I love to share. Maybe these are the epitome of the filtered nature of our visual self representation. Taken by a professional. In outfits we planned. With mascara on and my hair done and some gorgeous editing. Guilty. As. Charged.

But I love these pictures even though this isn’t how I look on your average Wednesday at 1:15pm. Because it isn’t. I’m not sharing them because I want people to think my life is a touched up photo op. My life isn’t. Your life isn’t. No one’s life is. But damnit can’t I just look cute in some pictures?!

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I recently spent 3 weeks parenting our girls without Dave when he headed to Japan ahead of us. My parents were amazing and helped me so much but at the end of the day no one can replace you partner.

It was hard.

Fun. But hard. Manageable. But hard.

We talked on Skype every day, sometimes twice, and a few times we would take screenshots of each other for fun or for blackmail or whatever. I love the moments of seeing our girls see their dad on the screen, but let’s be honest. If you want to see the anti-Instagram version of yourself, look at a grainy screenshot taken in bad lighting over Skype, caught with your face in a pose you usually try not to capture. Or with your teeth out, as it may be.

Classic parenting face. Capture

 I’m not going to put these on our holiday card anytime soon, but I don’t really mind sharing them either. Because this is how I look sometimes. This is the face my baby makes when she is over me as much as I am over her. It just is what it is.

But are these photos, almost certainly (hopefully?!) worse than the real thing, any more ‘real’ than the shots from our family photo shoot? Probably not. It’s all somewhere in the middle, in the gray, where most truths live. On the day to day I look worse than my professional photos and better than that sweaty Skype shot. Use your imagination.

As fun as it can be to choose and share the versions and visions of yourself that you do over your social networks, at the end of the day it is just an image. A portion. A bit of what you let people know about you. The real me, the middle ground me, isn’t embarrassed of the grainy-screenshot version of herself. And I have no illusions that we are simply and only the uber-smiling perfect family captured in our professional pics. It seems like that should be obvious, but I know with the constant stream of information we see and the control we have over our perception and our obsession with perfection, it probably isn’t.

Neither image is ONLY us, but the beachy, laughing, hair-did shots are the ones that show how I feel about us. I’m as tired as I look in the Skype pic, more tired maybe. So so so tired. But I’m also as happy as I look in the ‘better’ photos. Happier maybe. Very, very happy.
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I Just Want You To Be Happy

I used to be a sort of harsher version of myself. Maybe we all did? I was a lot younger and had seen a lot less and knew virtually nothing and I had these ideas. About what you should do, what we could do, definitely what you shouldn’t do. Always what you shouldn’t do.  The right way, the wrong way. How to be happy, how not to be happy.

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Even when it wasn’t cool anymore to think your parents were the coolest, I still thought mine were. My mom was really good at intimidating people with minute facial expressions and my dad was always smarter than the Jeopardy contestants. Because I also sort of wanted to be cool in my own right, I tried to conceal how fun I thought they were while in the terrifying halls of high school or middle school or whichever windowless nightmare it was. But at home I was always trying to get their approval. And, I should add, always getting it.

They were never stingy with love. Or attention. Or time. Or anything. They listened to our terrible songs and watched our impromptu plays and listened to my lectures about fossils given wearing a t-shirt of people hugging the earth.

But when I asked them what should I be, where should I go to school, what is the best job? They always said ‘whatever makes you happy.’ This was the vague and cryptic kind of answer a neurotic person like me hates. It’s like when I would say ‘do we have enough?’ and I meant STUFF or MONEY or things that keep us safe and they’d say ‘we have enough love which is enough of everything.’ Say what?

Whatever makes you happy was the worst thing you could say to 1998 me. I want answers. I want to make YOU happy mom and dad. There has to be an answer. There is always an answer. When in doubt, choose C? Wasn’t that the rule?

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Eventually I made the choices without them telling me what to do. I chose a school. A dorm. My friends. My major. My man. My plans. I made them all and they listened while I moaned over the wrong ones and patted myself on the back for the right ones. They listened and then probably hung up the phone and laughed and laughed.

Oh our sweet girl, they probably said because they love me so much, there are no right and wrong ones. Just this one then the next one then the next one.

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Now that I have kids I thought maybe this ‘whatever makes you happy’ thing would be one of those instant mantras I’d adopt. But I didn’t. I mean, for the most part  but…let’s not go wild. Whatever makes you happy, but maybe let’s not be a goth ok? And also I don’t really want you to drive a Hummer? But other than those and a few other small very specific stipulations, go nuts.

Maybe all parents have those stipulations deep down, but the line just isn’t the same if you say ‘whatever makes you happy, save for this short list.’ Takes away that ‘cool parent’ feeling you gave yourself by being so permissive, I guess.

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Tonight we went to a local play. The point was to bring attention and funds to the issue of Colony Collapse Disorder. Any kids in the audience dressed as ‘pollinators’ were going to be asked on stage. My girl puts on wings just to go to the mailbox so she was PUMPED about this. And she loves the idea of a stage, and being on it. She hasn’t had much experience performing in a formal sense, but if you count our living room, kitchen, bathroom, her bed, the library, the airport, the sidewalk, and every other place she’s ever been, she’s an old pro.

She sat somewhat patiently through the first act but mostly just couldn’t stop asking. ‘When do I go on the stage?!’ only to be tempered by her realization of the matter at hand. ‘Wait…are all these bees DEAD?’

She was dying for her chance to be up there. She was so excited. I could see it. Truly, really, a sparkle in her eye.

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She followed the directions and went on stage, slowly but confidently. She pollinated some things, and then went and had a seat on the edge of the platform. It was nothing, really. But she was on fire. She was elated. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her feel a feeling like that, and I know I’ve never felt the way that made me feel.

She was BEAMING. I cried. People thought I was crazy.

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I have no idea if she will maintain an interest in theater. Or performing at all. Maybe she will use it as a creative outlet just for fun or maybe she will get a scholarship to an arts school or maybe she will become famous around the world. Or maybe she will never set foot on a stage again.

I don’t care.

I just want her to be happy.

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I Know What You Need

I recently went out to dinner with two of my closest friends. I see them once a year, 50 times a year too few, and during the reunion of our families we made a point to carve out a few hours for ourselves. Just us. To get out as many words as possible without someone interrupting with an issue of potty/booger/sharing/hungry/you name it.

We left 7 of our 8 children, only the newborn got a free pass, with their 3 fathers. We slid into the mini-van and rode to the restaurant with empty carseats and half-empty sippy cups and leftover art projects and our voices filled the space left by the lack of children screaming/singing/crying.

The restaurant was a new, adorable, farm-to-table joint where the water glasses were mason jars and the waiter was straight out of Portlandia and the menu had the word ‘ragout’ on it. The hipsters know how to make a cozy little spot.

The meal was delicious. ‘Tapas’ style local food which consisted mostly of bread and cheese in various forms. There was alcohol to the degree that three nursing mothers can allow for, there was the requisite and delicious dessert.

The restaurant was nice and the food was great, but it wasn’t really the point.

We spent the entire meal talking. Taking turns talking while the others took bites of artisan Brie and passed around a newborn ripe for cuddling. Laughing loudly together while the other patrons wished they were in on the joke. Weeping openly together over the shared pain of loss and the acute ache and agony of motherhood while our waiter tried to think of ways to not feel awkward about us. The best he came up with while watching us wipe away tears was “You probably need something chocolate?” Not bad pal, this will add to your tip.

It’s true that a fancy meal with foods I can’t pronounce, sitting down in a tranquil setting, eating with both hands from dishes that someone else both prepared and will clean up is a luxury for me these days. But the truth is I can be physically nourished just as well eating stray grapes and leftover sandwich crusts and cold spaghetti washed down by cold tea.

What I needed so badly like a B12 booster was the company I had during that meal. The sisterhood, the sounding board for my joys, the company for our misery, the beautiful love. So much love. I need, on fairly regular intervals, to be with people who love me no matter what I say because I can occasionally say some pretty harsh things. People who get me no matter how weird my ideas are and nod through my explanation of why it makes sense to google the endings of movies before watching them. I need face time with people who respect my need to avoid feeling my feelings while still pushing me to cry. In restaurants.

You need this too. You might need this more some days, weeks, months or years than others. You might be a mother, or not. You might have a great family network, or not. You might like artisan cheeses, and if you don’t you are incorrect.

But understand this: no matter your state of mind or your phase of life, your state of being requires this kind of connection. This source of fuel. I know what you need. You need this.

You don’t have to be in a farm-to-table fancy hoo ha place. Meet at a coffee shop. At Arby’s. In the parking lot of a gas station. This is a petty detail.

You don’t need to cry until you laugh, but if you don’t you should try harder. You don’t need to cry in front of strangers, but you probably will if the conversations takes all the right turns. You will feel your feelings and share your fears and sip your drink so slowly. You will drain your stress while filling up your tank and feel simultaneously sad that you can’t do this more often and so very lucky that you can do this at all.

If you don’t have friends who will listen and hear you and not judge or at the very least keep their judgement deeply buried in the name of love, call me. A friend who will laugh at your jokes (you are funny!) and confirm all your doubts (everything is going to be FINE!) and tell you the truth about your thighs (no one cares if they touch…NO ONE!), you must identify this friend right away. If you can’t find them, I’ll do this for you. If you don’t think I’m your type, I’ll find someone who is. Maybe my calling is a sisterhood matchmaker, I’ll make you a match.

I know what you need. You need this.

sistas

 

 

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On A Walk: Camp Edition

Camp is my happy place. My peaceful zone. When I listened to meditation tapes in preparation for an unmedicated labor I used camp as my place to visualize. It didn’t work, unfortunately, because that was really really painful you guys, but this place is such an escape. It’s the nostalgia of my childhood with the peace of nature with the joy of watching my dogs and kids be truly free here. It’s fresh air and clean water and quiet.

Where you are from camp means ‘sleep in a tent’ or ‘go to summer camp’ but where I’m from it means head out to a cottage or cabin in the woods and wear your old clothes and forget about shampoo and read dusty books and sleep at odd hours. It means checking for ticks but not being bothered by it, it means eating a lunch of watermelon and potato chips, making s’mores and digging for worms that we will probably not use to catch any fish.

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All of these photos are unaltered. #nofilter, as the kids are saying these days. Because camp has no need for filters. It’s as beautiful as it was 100, 200, 500 years ago. We make our footprint here but feel more conscious of tiptoeing on this piece of Earth than on any other. DSC_1086 DSC_1087

If you set a rescue dog from the desert and a gypsy child from everywhere lose in these woods you can see the way these creatures were MEANT to live. So free. So dirty. So curious. So brave. So very very happy.DSC_1090 DSC_1091

That gypsy child and those rescue dogs become a cross-species team hunting chipmunks and flowers and the perfect stick and around every corner is more of the same beautiful adventure.DSC_1092

I always love the me I am at camp. In my most comfortable clothes with my barest face and my barest feet and my bare soul drinking it all in. With a baby on my back. So I’m all of the aforementioned plus quite sweaty. Always so sweaty.DSC_1093

We were raised by a a middle class country kid turned hippie who married a working class city girl turned hippie who brought us here as much as is humanly possible in the schedule of working people with busy children. And they taught us to use this place to practice creativity and to catch-and-release creatures smaller than us, to shoot guns but only at milk jugs, to soak up the silence so we can appreciate urban sounds.DSC_1095 DSC_1097 DSC_1098 DSC_1100

When I was a kid camp was all about my adventures and now it’s about their adventures and what greater adventure could there be for me anyway?DSC_1101 DSC_1102 DSC_1105

At camp you learn that every long day can be cured by a cool soak. Every tired heart can be healed, even just a little, by a day here. DSC_1110

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