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loss, lessons, and letters

Sometimes, you don’t get the option of “next week” or “another day” or “when I get around to it.”  Realizing this has been a big kick in the pants for me. And I don’t mean things like “someday I’ll go to Japan.” I mean things like “I’ll send that letter when I get around to it,” and “I really should give her a call.  Maybe I’ll have time next week.”

With the loss of Meg, we lost so much. For me, among the many painful parts of the loss is the fact that I made promises to her that I didn’t make good on. I promised that while she was away, working in far off corners of the world, I would send her packages. And I never did.

But she did. Where ever she was, she let us know she was thinking of us. My 2-year-old has t-shirts from Australia, Thailand, and Dubai to prove it. And while I sent Meghan notes via email and Facebook and shared photos of the t-shirts in action, I never got around to sending those packages or writing those letters. I will always regret it. I’ll regret that I failed to follow through on my promise, and that she didn’t know just how often we thought of her. It seemed like there would always be more time, that we’d always have more visits and more email exchanges. I had dozens of excuses, but the truth is: if I had made the time, I could have done those things. There was nothing stopping me. And yet, I let time slip by and then it was too late – those letters and packages will never arrive in Meg’s mailbox. It’s a heartbreaking punch-in-the-gut lesson.

I’ve turned these thoughts over and over in my head. I can’t change it. The opportunity to show Meghan how much our little family cared about her is gone. I only hope that in the emails we exchanged and in the time we spent together that she knew how much we loved her, how proud we were of her, and how much we thought of her as she traveled the world.

As I’ve struggled with this regret, I’ve envisioned conversations with Meghan. In these conversations I apologize, and wish I could change the past, that I had just written those cards and put those packages in the mail. And Meg urges me, in her smiling way, to pay it forward. Write those letters and mail those packages to other people that I care about. I can’t send her the letters I meant to send, but I can show others, the way she showed us, that I’m thinking about them and care about them.

So, that’s the plan. It’s my Meg Mission. And it makes me feel a little better, taking one of the many lessons from the way she lived her life and putting it into practice.

Today I stopped at the stationery store and bought $50-worth of cards and paper. I went to the post office and bought stamps. As a kid and teenager I wrote letters all the time. And with my new mission in hand, I’m bringing back letter-writing. The people I care about will find notes and packages in their mailboxes. The first couple of letters are written, ready to go in the mail tomorrow. Some of these are things I’ve been “meaning to send” for ages.  And I’ve learned the hard way: do it now. Sometimes ‘when I have the time’ is just, heartbreakingly, too late.

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the bigness of 2 years old

Life with a toddler is life with a person who experiences everything intensely. To a small person, everything is big.

A ditty played by a toy is reason for a full-out, throw-down dance party.
Difficulty putting something in a pocket is reason for tears and foot-stomping.
A surprise peek around the corner is reason for deep belly laughs.
An ant on the sidewalk is reason to stop, crouch, and watch.
And a glimpse of someone you love in the morning is reason for huge smiles, huge hugs, giggles. 
It’s a life of delightful misunderstandings. Confusion about air conditioner/hair conditioner. 
It’s unique language that evolves and changes daily. Opameal for breakfast, light flashes to illuminate a dark corner, goggies barking, and pretzel yogurt treats.
It is evenings of bubble baths with bubble beards, hula-hooping bear pajammys, Goodnight Moon/Great Green Moon, family hugs, and recaps of every detail of this big busy day. 
Life with a toddler can be frustrating when a request for water becomes tears over the cup the water is in. Or when shoes must be changed three times before leaving – by myself. 

It is everything magnified. Flower petals. Sad feelings and mad feelings. Specks in the rice. The importance of the small details.

But my oh my is life with a two-year-old great. It is snuggles and laughs. It is the perfect-sized little hand reaching for yours. It is the summertime toddler smell of baby sweat and sunblock and dirt and strawberries (this smell is nearly as good as newborn baby head). It is hugs for everyone (and lessons about how not every other little person necessarily wants a hug). It is a song for everything (followed by “you know that song?”, which was just made up moments ago). Dances in the kitchen and ongoing narratives. It is messy morning hair and sleepy hugs. It is stories about elephants and engrossing pretend play, block towers of surprising height and intricacy, pancake parties and backrubs.

When Evelyn was an infant, I’d see parents of toddlers and feel absolute fear over that stage. The motion, the willfulness, the negotiation. And there is all of that. And yes, it’s exhausting. But the payoff is great. The bigness of the love, the awe in the everyday, the constant discoveries and developments- as long as we give it space, it adds up to a time of wonder for all of us. 

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I wrote this last week and never posted it. And then our family experienced an unexpected and difficult loss. And more than ever I see the beauty in this glorious and intense moment of toddlerhood. In this time of deep sadness and grief, there is nothing quite like the gift of wild hugs and kisses and cuddles and fresh-eyed observations from a 2-year-old. I am so grateful.

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balance, parenting, and honesty

Work-life balance, working moms, and stay-at-home moms have been all over the news, social media, and blogs this year. We’re leaning in, leaning out, having it all, giving up, and not doing enough. There’s been stands taken, points made, no-offenses and lots of defenses.

But what we need in this conversation is honesty. Early in my motherhood gig I had the realization that there is more to this ‘balance’ idea than we think. I’ve hesitated to write this story, but I think it needs to be told.
At a past job, I worked for a small woman-owned company that was growing steadily. The president was a mother of three, and her entire staff was in awe of the way she managed to balance career and family. She was incredible at what she did, and passionate about it. She was a mentor to her employees, many of us under 30, getting married and buying houses and beginning to think about having families. 
I often told her that she was a role model in achieving work-life balance, and wondered how she did it. She would tell me about waking at 4:00 am to answer emails, about she and her husband splitting up school functions, and about Saturdays spent at home with her family. 
When I told her I was pregnant, she was excited and shared stories of new motherhood. She asked if I’d be willing to be in touch during maternity leave (yes). She told me that she found life with a newborn “very doable,” gave me sweet advice, and was very supportive. I enjoyed our conversations about the work we did at the company and within our families.
As I started to look into childcare and think about life as a working mom, I would again mention to her how inspiring it was to have a successful working mom as a boss. I was beginning to get overwhelmed about childcare arrangements, finances, and having time with my baby. Again, she would respond with how wonderful it is to be a mom, how it’s all doable.
And then I learned some things from employees who had been there longer than me. I learned that she had hired someone to do the family’s grocery shopping and prepare meals. She had an interior decorator. Cleaners. I learned that she regularly hired people to help with the daily tasks of life. When she had a newborn she hired a nurse to care for the baby when she couldn’t be there and when she returned to work she was able to bring the baby to the office, nursing her there, keeping her close. 
And there’s no shame in that. She owned a successful business. She worked hard for what she had and had every right to hire help. That is what it took for her to be there for her family and for her business. She found ways to make it all work, and I have a lot of respect for that.
But she never told me about any of it. She never told me, about to have a baby, about to be blindsided by how hard new motherhood was and how hard it was to find balance, that her secret was that she had a lot of help. (Here is a great post by Rebecca at Girl’s Gone Child about the help she has.)
That’s what I mean by the lack of honesty between mothers and families, and in those articles about finding “balance.” We owe it to each other to acknowledge what it really takes to make it work.
I have new mom friends who ask me how we do it in a household with two working parents. Here’s what it takes for us: I work four days a week (starting with two days a week after my maternity leave ended, then up to three days, and now four). My daughter goes to a wonderful daycare center three days a week. My mom helps with childcare, at our house, one day a week. We have two sets of very involved grandparents that live 10 minutes away, as well as helpful siblings and friends. When we aren’t working, our top priority is family time, and so we have to be okay with letting other things slide: our house is not as clean as I would like it to be and we have at least six incomplete house projects in the works. The bottom line: we aren’t doing it by ourselves, and we’ve cobbed together a situation that works for us.
We can’t do it alone. We were never meant to do it alone, or to be isolated as a family unit. We were meant to do this with help, either from family or friends or hired, but never alone. And we need to stop acting like we’re doing it alone (or talking like others are doing it alone) and be honest about what it takes to raise a family. Every family I know has come up with different arrangements and combinations for providing a stable income and caring for children, and it almost always involves help from others. Before I entered this parenting world I thought there were two choices: two working parents + full-time childcare, or one working parent + one stay-at-home parent. It turns out those are just two out of many combinations, which can shift and change all the time, and that in most cases there is a team of people making it work.

It’s time to call off the war and be honest about what it takes – and then help each other figure it all out.

p.s. (Another really good take on this: Mommy Wars: The Peace Talks by Catherine Conners.)

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Albany: The place to start a family or the place to raise a family?

We bought our house in Albany in November 2009, and ever since then people have asked us where we’ll move when our children enter school.

It’s a question that we grappled with even before our daughter was born.

Like most city school districts, Albany schools get a bad rap – especially when compared with the neighboring suburbs, which are mostly white and middle/upper class. Many of those people moved out of Albany to the ‘burbs, leaving behind those that don’t have the ability to move out. I learned all about white flight in my college sociology classes, I know how it works and I understand why cities face these situations. But I don’t blame those families- Albany taxes are high, and the schools have different challenges than suburban schools (but those suburban schools do have their challenges, I know that, too).

Buckingham Pond playground, Albany. March 2012.

The thing that gets overlooked in the “when will you move out?” conversations is that Albany is a great place to raise a family. There is a lot to love about living here. We’ve connected with other families living in the city, who share our appreciation for the things Albany offers: community, walkability, convenience, culture, diversity, history.

The other night I met up with some other Albany moms. For the first time, I was part of a conversation about staying in Albany, and about raising a family within the city. Positive, glowing things were said about Albany schools, about the diversity our children would be exposed to, about wanting to raise children in neighborhoods with sidewalks and trees and playgrounds and a tight community.

It was refreshing and energizing. I want to keep having that conversation. What if the conversation were about how much Albany has to offer families, instead of about when we’ll all leave?

I know I’ve written about this at least twice before, but I’ll keep saying it: I love where we live.

I can easily go a week or more without leaving Albany city limits- everything I need is here: my office (commute: 10 minutes), childcare, grocery stores, restaurants, the gym, movies, the library, the food co-op, Stewarts. Many of those places are within easy walking distance.

Story time at the neighborhood library branch-
the perfect destination for warm-weather walks

We can take long walks on continuous sidewalks. We can walk to our friends’ homes or just drop by for quick visits, and we’re building a strong network of nearby friends. There are several parks and playgrounds within a half-mile. Story time at the library includes families speaking Spanish, Russian, and Chinese.

All this, but of course the question still comes: What about the schools?

We have several friends who went through Albany schools and graduated from Albany High. They had great experiences, went on to good colleges, and are successful adults – many of them have bought their own homes in Albany.

I’ve met families who have chosen to stay in Albany, who rave about their children’s experiences at Albany schools. The elementary schools offer diverse programs (Spanish, Montessori, Arts & Humanities, Science & Technology, to name a few) and Albany High has the area’s only International Baccalaureate program and has made Newsweek’s list of America’s Top Public High Schools on multiple occasions.

And yet Albany has this reputation as a place to start a family but not a place to grow and raise a family. We don’t hear the stories from people who choose to stay.

Why?

There’s the taxes issue, yes. We continue to struggle with that. Eventually we’ll outgrow our house and we hope to afford to increase our living space. When the time comes to move, will we choose to continue paying Albany taxes? Will we give up the things we love about where we live for a larger house and lower taxes elsewhere? There are a couple incentives for first-time home buyers in Albany, but what about those buying AND selling in Albany? I have a feeling there aren’t many people that do that. If we leave, are we just becoming part of the problem? (Yes.)

It will be a difficult decision, and luckily one we have a few years to think about.

I urge our city leaders to spend some time focusing on this strong and vibrant community of young families living in Albany, those with children and those without. We make up an important part of this city, but like past generations of young families many of us will move out within a few years, lured by lower taxes and an expectation that we should send our children to suburban schools. If the conversation is one about staying, will we?

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Becoming an early morning exerciser

Having a baby changed everything I knew about sleep and daily schedules and taking care of myself.

I haven’t always been perfect about sticking to an exercise routine, but throughout my 20’s I was generally pretty good about fitting in time at the gym, evening runs, or some yoga. Even while pregnant I kept up with exercise and yoga. And then, well, it’s been awhile.

In those first months after my daughter was born I was tired and just trying to survive. During her first summer and fall we took a lot of long walks, but that was the extent of it.

This past summer I signed up for a “boot camp” class, which had me running and flipping tires at 5:30 a.m. twice a week. It was my first taste of that early early exercise lifestyle. Going to bed early and waking up were both hard, but once I was there I discovered the secret world of the morning exercisers. The sky was beautiful, it wasn’t hot or muggy yet, it was energizing to be up and moving while the rest of the city slept. There was a solidarity among everyone at the gym at that hour.

Once that class ended, I fell off the wagon, again. Mornings were dark, I started working more, I was still trying to figure out how to do everything I needed to do and fit in a full night’s sleep.

But by mid-winter I was antsy, putting on weight, feeling blah. I knew I needed to move, to get back in shape, to get some exercise back in my life.

One of the best tips I’ve read about setting a goal is to not say “try”. So, instead of saying: “I’m going to try to go to the gym three times this week” it’s “I’m going to the gym three times this week.”  It is a small shift that works wonders for my own goals.

So, I’m becoming a morning exerciser again. I’ve stopped focusing on how long of a workout I can fit in before I need to go home to shower and get ready for work. Instead I focus on getting to the gym and doing something, anything. Getting to bed early and getting out of bed when the alarm goes off at 5:15 is rough, but I never regret going to the gym. I repeat that to myself as I drag my groggy butt out of bed.

I’ve connected with another working mom in a similar position, both of us longing to be active again, needing exercise for energy, and with the same time slot available: 5:30 a.m.

I leave the house when it is dark, the moon and stars still bright, and the air cold. We meet up at the gym, pump out some cardio, and spend some time with weights. We chat about our two-year-olds, about the daycare they both attend, and about the challenges of finding balance in our lives. We share tips. We are proof to each other that we can carve out this time for ourselves.

The gym at 5:30 a.m. is like a secret society. Full of others for whom the pre-dawn hours are the only time to devote to exercise, we’ve all made the choice to be here. We all decided to get out of bed and do something that is just for us. Fist bump.

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32

Today is my 32nd birthday.

Approaching this birthday, it felt like a big one- a little scary. I had no trouble with 30, but 32 feels like I am in my 30s. Mid-30s.  30 is just over the line from one’s 20s. 32 is in it.

But here we are and it’s not really scary at all. I took a look around and it turns out I’m exactly where I want to be and where I’d hoped to be at this point in my life.

I have an amazing partner in life who makes me laugh and makes me brave.
We have a sweet and spunky daughter who has an endless supply of hugs and kisses to give.
We have our own home that is a cozy, comfortable work-in-progress, where we laugh and play records and gather with the people we love for meals and conversation.
I am surrounded by a supportive, loving, and fun circle of friends and family.
I have a career I enjoy, and I’m able to work less-than-full-time outside the home- something I’d always hoped would work out during the “raising young children” phase of my life.
In the past year, we have traveled as a couple and as a family (and we have plenty more travel in the year ahead- as a couple and as a family).

This morning, my kid sang me ‘happy dirthday’ and stated that “today is Mommy’s white birthday. Next year is Mommy’s pink birthday.” (????). Last night she told me about sleeping waterfalls.

A 25-year-old co-worker told me that I “seem much younger than 32”.  I had no problem with that statement.

So, hello 32. It’s nice to meet you – you’re not so scary. I think we’re going to have a great year together.

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Our Friends

A few weeks ago, Julia and Seth and Sarah came over for dinner and a little quality time. It was one of those nights when I was reminded just how amazing our circle of friends is. Hold on, I’m going to get pretty mushy here.

As Pat and I worked on throwing together dinner, Julia, Seth, and Sarah were in the playroom with Evy. Every so often they broke into song – serenading Evy with the Beatles, singing “Over the Rainbow” with her, or creating a soundtrack to whatever she was playing with. I could hear the eruption of toddler belly laughs. Oh how she adores Sa-ah and Jooya and Seph. (I have a feeling it’s mutual.)

And I am so so grateful for the relationships my daughter is building with our friends.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what would happen to our friendships when we had a baby. We were the first among our local friends to become parents, and I’d heard nothing but negative stories about how friendships change once you become a parent. I worried that we’d lose some friends as we adapted to life with a little one.

But I forgot – these are our friends we’re talking about.

Our friends are full of love and awesome. Truly.

They didn’t leave us behind. They opened up the circle and pulled our daughter in. They pile on the love. They are funny and goofy and sweet with her. Friends near and far have treated our daughter with such kindness that it almost makes my heart hurt to think about. They come over to read books and color, they send her postcards and sweatshirts in the mail, they spend evenings having Facetime pizza parties with her, they make her laugh and laugh.

Someday, when she’s a teen and mad at me for something, I know she’ll be able to call Sarah or Julia or Beth or Janet or Grace or Seth or any number of our friends. They’ll take her out for coffee and commiserate about how hard it is to be a teenager ( and maybe stick up for me a little?).

And, not that there’s any pressure for anyone else to start having babies, but- I love being able to pile on the same kind of love as more little ones are born into our sweet, fun, wacky circle.

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