The New Normal

FullSizeRenderThis winter in Boston has been a challenge.  No, let’s be honest, it’s been a shit storm.  Driving through the city, past ten foot snow mounds and down two lane street that are now one and wrestling your way into ice covered parking spaces, you learn one thing very quickly.  You need to turn into the skid.  It’s the first thing they teach you about winter driving.  As counter-intuitive as it seems, as scary as it sounds, as much as you want to throw on your breaks: You turn into the skid.

The analogy is obvious.  You can’t fight the inevitable.  When the world fights against you, it’s okay to turn into the wind and let it take you where it may.  These last few months have challenged me to put this philosophy into practice nearly every day.  Once we hit 8 feet of snow in thirty days, and my car disappeared into the snow piles, and it started to take me more than an hour to travel four miles to work, it forced me to start leaning into the curve.

So, it’ll take more than an hour to make it across town; pack a big cup of coffee and some snacks for the ride.  So, there’s no parking on the streets; bundle up and walk to the errands.  So, it’s too hard to get out to shop and eat and and socialize, take the opportunity to save some money for the inevitable battery that I’ll have to purchase for the buried car.

Now I know that it seems easy for me.  The storms have unquestionable hit some harder than others.  I know that there has been lots of lost wages, and poor revenue, and property damage.  But, for better or worse, that’s still the new normal.  I can’t see the utility in complaining about it, announcing your misery, playing the “who has it worse” game.  The best we can do is look at our new reality and figure it out.  Make a new plan.  Turn into the skid.

It’s not just the weather.  So many people who I love have had a hard winter.  Friends have had set-backs, and illnesses, and life altering surprises.  But, what can you do?  Except for to define your new normal. I still struggle with this everyday.

My life is miles away from where I saw it two years ago.  But, if I had spent even one moment fighting against the changes and railing against the inevitable.  I wouldn’t be where I am today.  The reason I continue to be successful, is not because of actual success, but because of my ability to continually redefine my expectations and my reality. It’s about choosing what you’d like your life to look like and then adjusting it accordingly.  It’s about committing to your priorities and making adjustments as life sees fit.  My priorities are family, happiness, and time.

And, it hasn’t been easy to stick to my guns this winter.  Not when it’s been so dark, and everything takes so long, and we’re all stuck in the house in tight spaces under the most unpleasant circumstances.  It’s been a challenge to make the most of it.  But, I continue to work towards the ideal.  To find some quiet time to read with the boys.  To get outside and embrace the epic snow.  To smile and laugh and find the joy in the smallest of triumphs.  To keep on defining the new normal and accepting the twists and turns as they come. FullSizeRender-1


Are My Sons Sexist? Now what?

1016542_10203669089862778_501968467938076736_nI first noticed it this summer.  While watching American Ninja Warrior, the boys consistently rooted for the women competitors to fall and didn’t believe that a woman could ever complete the very physical obstacle course.  I ignored it, knowing that, eventually, a competitor would prove them wrong.  When she did, and she roared in celebration, the youngest said that she was rude and obnoxious, despite the fact that the men in the competition crowed all the time.  Uh oh!

Then, while watching an interview with a female politician, I told the boys to pay attention as she “might be our next president.”  They laughed.  Laughed, because, “Mom, a woman can’t be president.”  Oh no!

Finally, the last straw.  In a conversation about their grandparents, both boys fervently believed that their grandfather was “much smarter” than their grandmother.  Maybe they valued practical knowledge over book smarts, or they responded to the authoritative way in which my father states his beliefs.  Or, maybe, we have a problem.

Hmmm…  Let’s try this experiment…. “Boys, who’s smarter?  Mom or Dad?”  Without missing a beat, with barely a pause, they both said, in unison, “Dad.  Of course.”  Well. There it is.  Because, while I have no desire to besmirch my very bright husband, I have no idea why the kids would think he’s smarter than me. I write, I read, we help with homework equally, we solve problems together.  The kids watch me work often, and have seen me be honored for my professional endeavors.  I rarely ask my husband to do something I can manage.  And, we generally eschew the traditional gender roles in our household.

Now what? I’ve written a lot about being a Mom of Boys.  I think hard about the responsibility of raising young men in this world.  I’m conscious of the things we say and do, and the messages that the boys receive.  And yet, the sexism still seeped in.

Media is a huge part of it.  How do you counteract the Brains vs. Babes episode of Wipeout?  And, how do you fight the basic conceit of Big Bang Theory; smart boy loves hot girl?  And cartoons, and graphic novels, and Disney, and princesses, and princesses, and princesses?  And maybe, subconsciously, there’s tons of messages that they receive at home and at school and in the world.

Sexism is everywhere.  Misogyny is everywhere.  How do we fight it?  I need to look harder for images of equality, and I need to share those images with my friends and with the school and with my community.  And, I need to continue being a role model to the boys, I need to continue to walk the walk. I need to show them, often, that girls can do anything boys can do.

Most importantly, I need to continue the dialogue, and I need to ask my husband, and my father and the men in my life to do the same.  It’s so important for all of us to point out inequality in the world and name it.  We need to help the kids see how the messages we see are often untrue.  We need to continually remind all the little boys and girls that gender does not determine worth.

How to Love a Cancer Survivor

561471_4120740171826_1729181518_nIn 2009 my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer.  Five years later, he’s cured, healthy, cancer-free.  And yet, he will always, forever, be a cancer survivor; and we will always forever be a survivor family.  The side effects will always be there, and that feeling of mortality will never go away.  Over the years we have learned to live with this new life with a fair amount of adjustment and a lot of patience on all accounts.  Every cancer is different, every survivor is different, but I think we can share a few things about loving a cancer survivor.

It’s Not Your Cancer:  I know that cancer effects your whole family, and we attack it as a team, but at the end of the day… this is not your disease.  There’s been countless times when I’ve watched Ed pop open another beer or order a burger and fries and I know that there’s no way that’s a good idea.  There are moments when I’ve wanted to chime in, make a suggestion, tell him to suck it up or take it easy.  And yet, I keep my mouth shut.

Because it’s not my cancer, they’re not my symptoms, it’s not my health.  I’m not the one that lost a foot of my colon.  I’m not the one that needs to monitor my food, and schedule my day, and deal with the discomfort.  It’s been a struggle for Ed to live a normal life with no health problems for 30+ years and then wake up from surgery with a host of chronic side effects and health problems.  I can have empathy, I can try to put myself in Ed’s shoes.  But, at the end of the day, I’ll never know how he feels.  My concern is appreciated, I think.  My advice, maybe not so much.  And sometimes, the survivor just wants things to be normal again.  To ignore the discomfort and the ramifications of making poor decisions.

That is, unquestionably, unequivocally, their decision to make.  You will never know what it feels like to live in their skin.  Your job as a partner is to be there for the journey to hang in there and love them unconditionally.

Things Will Never Be the Same:  The cancer is gone, all the scans are negative, it seems like a distant memory, and yet things will never be the same.  And, it’s not just the side effects, the ones that can be chronic and life-altering.  It’s the way things are just different then they were before. How a stomach bug can become a much bigger thing.  How the fear of reoccurrance is always there.  How you hold onto health differently then you did before.

So, You Might as Well Laugh About It:  For us, humor has been everything.  Empathy is huge, it’s important to try to picture yourself in their shoes.  But, it’s also important to have some levity; to realize the fact that things could be so much worse.  We try to laugh as much as possible, to lighten the mood, to make a joke about it.  The kids are in on the act.  They understand that dad was sick, and now he’s not, but his gas really stinks sometimes.  It just is what it is, we might as well laugh about it, it’s vastly better than the alternative.

And, Celebrate Life:  The fact is, Ed’s still with us.  We’re lucky and grateful and so blessed that he caught his cancer early and has amazing preventative care.  We’re lucky that the kids will be screened early and we’ll pay close attention to their health.  And, we hope that others can get the same quality care.

That’s why we started The Get Your Rear in Gear 5K three years ago.  We decided that we wanted to celebrate life, raise awareness, collect money for the cause.  My brother brought the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K to Boston to celebrate Ed’s health and every year more and more people join us to celebrate their loved ones.

And this year, we’ll celebrate again, on November 8th in South Boston, with our friends and family and hundreds of other people.  Please join us if you can or please donate to the cause (The Bum Rushers).  Please join us in celebrating Ed’s rear for another year!!!

Parenting’s a Crappy Gig

10334360_10202709480073133_776496951207363595_nLet me be the one to say it, because you know you’ve all been thinking it.  Parenting is a really shitty gig.

You go to a job interview, and they say, “You’ll be on call 24 hours a day, you’ll be expected to work overtime on the weekends, you’ll have full responsibility for every task and there’s rarely anyone to delegate to.  Your boss can be unreasonable, selfish, beligerant.  You’ll serve as director, secretary, bookkeeper, custodian, chauffeur, chef, and CEO.  And, by the way, this is a volunteer position, you won’t be paid a cent.”

And, I know….  You would never change it for the world, and you love those lil’ buggers, and it’s the worst job you’ll ever love.  And, that’s all bullshit.  You know this job blows chunks.

I love my kids.  Totally.  Unequivocally.  Madly.  And, I’m at the stage of their development when I really LIKE them too.  I have fun with them, we laugh a lot, and I legitimately enjoy their company.  It’s really not them, it’s the responsibility.

The soul crushing, overwhelming, absolute responsibility.  The worrying, and the second guessing, and the messiness of it.

As I sat on the toilet for a half an hour yesterday, holding my nine year old’s bloody nose, covered with rapidly drying red dots, as my six year old cleaned off the walls, I had a while to think about this (Yes Dad, I took him to the doctor.  He’s fine)  It’s an impossible task, with very little room for error.  And, there’s a million ways to mess it up.

You have to keep them clean, and fed, and well rested.  The have to be smart, and work hard, and be nice kids.  They can’t cuss, or fart, or pick their nose in public. They need to get to school on time, and like healthy foods, and play well with others. You need to deal with the strange rash on their head, and where their glasses are, and whether they are “happy.”  And, you have to look good doing it.

For the love of God, why didn’t anyone warn us!!  Quite simply, because if we truly understood, would we have agreed to bring these monsters into the world.  Or maybe I was warned and I chose to ignore them.  Hubris.  Pure hubris.

I’m sure of this.  Everyone,  every single last one of you, agrees with me.  Whether you choose to admit it or not.  Whether you smile through the muck, or cry through it, struggle every day, or knock it outta’ the park; it’s a shitty gig.

So, give the dad in the super market an understanding grin. Help that mom trying to drag the double stroller into the restaurant. Have patience with the parents struggling to feed their two toddlers in the crowded restaurant.  We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again.  Love your favorite parent today.

How to Survive a Home Renovation Without Killing Your Family With a Reciprocating Saw

10001097_10202549951485018_7592481946737956223_oWe’ve embarked upon the most major of home renovations.  Throughout our partnership with our 120 year old home, we’ve taken on some big projects.  A second floor renovation, replacing the entire front entrance, a  new fence.  I’ve suffered through crippling painter’s hand, putting a drill through my finger, getting a crow bar to the head.  All part and parcel to the loving renewal of our home.

But, now, we’re smack dab in the middle of the big one.  The Kitchen Renovation.  The pulling down walls, knocking down chimneys, and building it all back up again project.    The demolition was rough, but certainly satisfying.  Cleaning black dust out of my ears is never pleasant.  But, the feeling of accomplishment that you get when you knock down four floors of chimney is unparalleled.  And once the dust is cleaned up, and then cleaned up again, you get to see it all come back together.

Living through a major home renovation is a challenge.  But, good friends, take out pizza, and a late afternoon beer makes everything a little better.  Keeping two young boys busy and out of the way is not easy.  They’re used to big projects.  They’ve learned to take advantage of their freedom and independence while mom and dad are working.  And, they love helping out and watching the progress.

Our tight living conditions have been an adventure.   I could do without the plastic partitions separating our living area from the rest of the house.  But, it helps if we put it all in perspective.  These aren’t even “first world problems”, these are “house owner problems.”  A majority of the world lives with less than a quarter of what we have now.  Hell, most of the middle-class urban population of this planet would dream to have the space we have now.  And, Ed’s always wanted to have a New York City apartment.  You’re welcome, honey.

Someone, when learning of our temporary condition, said, “But how do you do the dishes!?!?!?”  What?  Without a dishwasher?  When your non-disposable dishes amount to four bowls, a spatula, a sauce pan, and a coffee mug, you make do with the bathroom sink.  My daily trip down the street to the storm drain to dump the uneaten cereal is entertaining the whole neighborhood.  And, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I did do the dishes while showering earlier this week (water preservation at it’s finest).

But, we could have worse problems.  Choosing between a white or a beige countertop does not an emergency make.  We’re taking one decision at a time.  First the faucets, and then the lighting, and then the tile.  It’s a lesson in compromise and learning what are priorities for each of us.  And we pick our battles.  We know what matters (dark grout) and what really doesn’t (the placement of every outlet).  And we realize that when you’re used to an oven that doesn’t stay lit and a fridge that freezes your milk, anything is an improvement.

What’s important is that we’re building a home for ourselves, our friends, and our family.  A place we’re we can do homework, and cook dinner together, and have dance parties.  Where we can entertain our friends and our children friends, where we can live a big, full vibrant life.  So, a few hours late at night cutting out ceiling with a reciprocating saw while everyone else is watching hockey is well worth the effort.

Can we do this without the fancy new kitchen, without the stainless steel appliances and tile backsplash? Absolutely.  But, we’ve worked hard with this in mind.  We’ve done a lot of DIY and saved all of our pennies, and this is part of the master plan.  Because, as I’ve always said, this is our Forever Home.  So, a little short term discomfort is well worth the long term pleasure.

More than half-way there and we’re starting to come into the home stretch.  The skeleton of our new kitchen is coming together. The walls will go up next week, the cabinets the week after, and then we’re almost there.  And, I think we’re going to make it.

Patience: Lessons from the Zen Baby

IMG_1935We’re all fast folk.  We walk fast, always have somewhere to go, we keep to our tight schedule.  But not my youngest.  He moves at his own speed.  He loves quietness, silent reflection, lazy days.  And, he drives us crazy.  No matter where we go, we’re always ten steps ahead of him, saying, “Come on J. Come on J.  Come on J”  Sometimes we call him “little legs”.  Sometimes we lose our patience.

But, J doesn’t care.  He just goes at his own speed.  Observes his surroundings.  Reserves his energy.  Sets his pace.

Last week we went to the zoo.  We go to the zoo often, sometimes just stopping to see the flamingos and then move on.  The kids have been going to the zoo since they were infants, and they know it like the back of their hand.  Know what they need to see.  Know the quickest way to get places.  We can do the whole zoo in less than an hour.  Time us!

But not this time.  We had nowhere else to go, no one else to see, no appointments, no schedule.  So, we made the promise to go at J’s speed.  First, we climbed the gorilla statue, then went to the playground, stopped at the bathroom, got an ice cream, climbed the tower, looked for the giraffes.  “Hey, J, are we ever going to see the animals today?”  Sure.  First the red panda, stopped to feed the ducks, saw the cows, noticed how ugly the camels are.  Practiced our jumping, sat in the old jeep, got some water.  “Hey, J, we ever going to see the lion, the tigers, the gorillas”  Sure.  But first, let walk this way.

By the time we got to the Tropical Forest, where the animals are active and funny and always moving, J needed to sit.  “But, J, the lemurs are right there, and the tamarins, and the gorillas, and the hippo is right around the corner”  No mom, let’s sit in the little theater with the fish tank.  Okay, let’s sit and look at the little fish tank.  Let’s sit and relax and rest for a while.  Sigh.

But, then, behind the glass of the fish tank (the fish tank we’ve run by a thousand times, the fish tank that’s lame, the fish tank that’s boring) we see something moving.  We look carefully, we hold our breathe, we get really quiet, and we see the most amazing thing.  The pygmy hippo.  Kicking his legs and swimming by.  Diving down.  Rolling on his back.  Putting on a show.  All this time, and we never knew that the hippos played in that water.  Unbelievable.  J looks at us and says, “Hmmm.  Guess that’s why it’s called Hippo Theater.”


Shaking It Up

IMG_1558I am a creature of habit.  I love my routine.  I check my e-mail at 6:40 every morning, have my first cup of coffee while the boys eat breakfast,  leave the house at 8:05 every day, and drive the same way to drop the boys off.  And, I blog every thursday.

How boring.  How rote.  How expected.  Oh, but it makes me so happy.  To have everything lined up in a row.  To have the lunches made up just the right way.  To have all the clothes folded proper.  According to me….

And, that’s the rub, right?  It’s about control.  It’s about doing things the right way.  It’s about being in charge.  And, you must admit, life does run smoother when there’s a plan, and when there’s rules to follow.

But, life shakes things up a bit.  Life throws you curveballs.  Sometimes big changes, sometimes small.  But the world wants chaos, no matter how we try to order it.  And the more we order it, the more nature fights back.  The traffic jams, and the unexpected meetings, and the little illnesses that throw you on your ass.

What if you lean into the curve.  Embrace the chaos.  Let go of the reins for a while and enjoy the ride.  Just a bit.  You might get lost cleaning your yard for three hours on a saturday afternoon, and might just throw on some clothes and go out to drinks with some great friends, and hit balls on the baseball diamond with your favorite guys.

What’s the worse that could happen?  You might have a relaxing weekend, one without e-mails and messages.  You might get some unexpected things done, things that you’ve been dying to do for months.  Your children might learn that there’s no “right” way to do get stuff done, and no “right” time do the things you love.

And, amazingly, all the things that are waiting to get done will still get done.  And all the important things on your “to do” list will still be there when you get to them.  And all the people who “need” you will still be waiting on monday.

And, maybe, you might just learn something new.  The world doesn’t stop spinning just because your calendar gets put aside.  Spontaneity, is a learned behavior, and your children are watching.  Responsibilities that weigh you down are often not quite as heavy as they might seem.  A little bit of shaking it up is good for your soul.  And, it might give you the much needed restart you didn’t know you needed.