Nine Fun Facts About Full-Time Working Mothers

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  1. We are resourceful. Let’s hear it for Thursday mornings when you realize that you have nothing for the kids’ lunches but almost-turned strawberries and leftover pasta in oversized Tupperware. While those other mommas are lovingly hand-packing turkey roll-ups with love notes, I’m like sweet! We have frozen burritos! WE WILL SURVIVE ANOTHER DAY.
  1. We don’t mind traffic. After all, rush hour is a blessing.  Time alone without children to gather one’s thoughts, be mindful, pray, and listen to music.  That’s what I tell myself, at least. And yet quite honestly I am a liar. It’s a daily exercise in patience while you sit in a sea of taillights, mostly cursing.
  1. We don’t like to repeat ourselves. Can CPS be called for yelling about putting on shoes? I mean hypothetically if there’s a chronic not-putting-on-shoes problem and said yelling can be heard in the general neighborhood at a high volume? Asking for a friend.
  1. We encourage perseverance through life’s many little troubles. My daughter’s like “no one else has to eat cheese sandwiches for lunch.” Like something is wrong with cheese sandwiches. Suck it up, kid. Later in life there’s traffic and leaking oil filters and complex relationships. This is minor.
  1. We cook healthy dinners for our families. Dinner used to be a time where we all gathered around a protein and two vegetables. Now it’s a mad rush to put macaroni and carrots on a plate before 7 pm.  When I actually do cook a real meal, the kids frown. “What? No carrots?”
  1. We recycle. Yesterday one of my children got leftover pork roast, biscuits with jelly, and grapes for lunch. I fail to see the problem.
  1. We encourage ourselves to be our best. Every morning, we stare at that woman in the mirror, the one with dark circles and hair that looks like it was shocked with electrical outlets. One voice inside says “Give in, hon. Just throw on a baggy dress and ponytail it.” But another voice, much more faint, says “Girl, you know you’ll regret that decision by 2 pm. So go ahead and make more coffee, wear those black strappy heels, and curl through the tangles. I taught you better than this.” I hate that voice. I snarl at it as I dab on concealer.
  1. We focus on what’s important. Working full time means sometimes your kids are late to school, you forget things, you push them in front of television shows in order to jump on conference calls, or say things like “mommy is really stressed out today because of an acquisition that almost tanked and millions were at stake so HOW ABOUT WE NOT WHINE ABOUT THE FACT THAT WE ONLY HAVE PEANUT FLAVORED GRANOLA BARS.
  1. We have a thing for pajamas. Sometimes I have dreams of taking my kids to school in pajamas. My stay-at-home mom friends tell me it’s not that glamorous, and if you’re home all day there’s laundry to accomplish, and they dream of going out to fancy lunches. I just keep yelling “PAJAMAS” in the phone until they finally relent and tell me that it’s actually pretty damn awesome.

Basically, working outside the home is hard.  Being a mom is hard.  Put those together and your children will eat lots of carrots.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rbh/10218754856/in/photolist-gyZMNy-9QvNRf-6n8DLq-sUCBA-h9n12m-8Aq1yt-87N9tk-7osHn-cRm8U5-aKug2K-7gQ28z-79tRBP-muMbmN-biy8Le-9jXmAt-79xHhN-8CPRdi-8rVAQ1-6ea8Av-de9aCe-a7kvnN-a7hxpk-rGFdbG-rsvURX-7CjSKL-8s34wJ-5b6HGp-61JYN-5ZtZ25-hZfbmj-91zUsq-q9eKwk-5kof6W-7mFcCc-oWpjmC-o7cpK9-8ACA53-bBGoXH-6uo26W-58TnmN-7osrg-dErga1-orF6Cr-fpU6oK-fq9kJh-8tktDc-DQisu-5cxkro-6KWzZJ-cvr5io

Our Wrinkled Lives

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I’ve been busy. 

That’s what I tell myself when I want to write, poetic words about how Jesus rose or balancing a career or the absurdity of car names like Trail Blazer and Expedition but then a Yaris drives by with a missing window and no hubcaps and I’m like “sure those other dudes are jerks and ain’t nobody roaming the range in an eighty-thousand-dollar car but honesty, Yaris.  Have some self respect and get a paint job.”  Then I think about how Yaris sounds like a tropical disease and I flip through the radio but my speaker’s blown so I balance the iphone in my console and blow my nose on an old Starbucks napkin and think TONIGHT FOR SURE I will clean out my car but I’m caught swooning over the sappy love mix on spotify the Dude created amplified only by the walls of the cup holder and I think about how kind and wonderful he is until I suddenly I remember I have three loads of laundry waiting on the bed that I’ve already pushed over into a wad on the non-sleeping side so they’re in piles of “re-dry for critical wrinkle relief” and “who the heck cares/you just sleep in this ratty t-shirt, girl” because I was so tired last night I could barely stumble from my son’s bedtime stories to my own and I’m out of dog food and my car needs gas and I got a warning from the teacher to not pack peanut butter again because the fumes may waft into the air and destroy some kid’s life and I just don’t see how airborne peanuts can kill someone so I pack a cheese sandwich that no kid on planet earth likes and I think about my 7:30 am meeting and how that contract never got sent so I set my alarm extra early to sound like raging bullhorns and I drag out of bed and look at my face that somehow resembles a wrinkled sock and text at a red light and eat a chipotle burrito in my car when suddenly a black bean rolls in between the seats and I’m curled up all contorted in a three-hundred dollar suit searching for a rogue black bean so I laugh at myself and apply lipstick and get home to remember the freaking dog food so I feed the poor thing half a cup and seventeen treats and realize I didn’t clean my car and that laundry will have to wait again and I really, really hope that my poor dog’s extra fat sustains him until morning.

Where were we. Oh yes. Jesus. I wanted to write about Jesus.

There are times I get so busy I can’t even stop long enough to feel. I washed a pair of kid’s underwear in the sink and dried it with a hair dryer at 5:30 am for goodness sakes, and last week I purchased a hamburger at the gas station grill because I was there, and so tired it seemed rational.

I think that perhaps the gift of new life is even for times like these, when we get caught up and distracted. It’s not always a perfect season where we let dough rise and children play in flocked dresses and plumes of dandelion seeds flutter off onto the dewy grass below.  There are seasons for which we simply must hunker down and do our best.  We pray in traffic and forgive a co-worker and bring our positive best to the task in front of us that God has asked us to shoulder.  And we manage between the heated up green beans and leftover macaroni to ask for our children’s hands to be folded long enough to roll through a long and beautiful list of blessings.  We feel our breath again.  We stop and bow and mutter our own set of thanks.

So to you hard-working women out there, I say this – you not only CAN do this, but you WILL. You must.  So throw that hair back in a hair tie and do the dishes.  Fold the laundry.  Get to work early.  Pack a cheese sandwich (he’ll live – seriously he’s only 4).  You smile at adversity and co-workers that derail you and YOU ROCK THIS WRINKLED LIFE.  Not by your own strength, but His. Because you only have a short time, and you don’t have the luxury to half-ass your way through it.

Sometimes life just sucks. But also it doesn’t, because God has asked you to bear it. And to shoulder it for a time. Wait for the calm, and do your best to find it.  Center your own soul, even in the swirling mass of laundry.  Laugh, hire a housekeeper, have ice cream for dinner, let the kids stay up late, make forts, roll on the clean laundry pile, re-wash them, drink wine, eat on paper plates, and be grateful.  Forever and always grateful.  Even in this season. It’s all testing ground for your soul.   Maybe you’ll meet someone amazing, who smiles at your jokes and makes you feel crazy loved and you’ll suddenly begin to see sunrises and opportunities and chances to shine.  Maybe you’ll start to realize how strong you really are.  Maybe your face will still look like a wrinkled sock, but Estee Lauder has a cream for that.

“Waiting time is not wasting time. Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Wait for better times.  But also live abundantly and gloriously in the one you’re in. 

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pearlmatic/5660713161/sizes/m/in/photolist-9CdCNM-cPxMYq-9FL25a-4RYvK2-enikVz-bD96Lc-9dWMph-biy8Le-9jXmAt-71U5AJ-6ea8Av-KQR69-a7hxpk-9QvNRf-dJqU9o-8F2e8d-5ifqXj-61JYN-85MCzD-5ZtZ25-hZfbmj-7MHzTa-6mR4AQ-5aqc-a7kvnN-8Vt7oY-6yZwtH-79JKby-7kWjVd-8tU1Gb-a75pPp-79xH8U-8s34wJ-91zUsq-7yP1hW-LqY3-dUQ9Ni-c6KNY9-9GDfg7-8CPRdi-e1Tykw-8V7Rpa-7i4RXR-8PNX7P-9j3cC1-79xHCG-8EGA5n-muMbmN-6nsY17-7CjSKL-de9aCe/

Busting Rocks

 

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In Christian circles, we hear people saying with gleaming eyes that their work is their calling: their daily chores are acts of worship. And yet to all those other people, the ones sitting in mortgage companies and DMV offices and drive-through bank windows, I dare say it’s not always beautiful.

You may feel like it’s just busting rocks, and the best part of the day is five o’clock when the whistle sounds.

We all have times like this, wondering if our lives make a difference.  Thinking we might have made a horrible wrong turn and wishing we could just jump off the hamster wheel and go live in Colorado.  Midlife pushes us down like a class bully and makes us believe the lies that our jobs don’t matter and our lives are forgettable. Work can be monotonous.  The piles of paper never end.  Thursdays make you sigh and plod along to the break room and wish Kathy from accounting would just retire already.

But then I think of Jesus.  He spent twenty-nine years in a hot carpenter shop.  And not the New Yankee Workshop variety. We all glamorize it in our minds, like handsome Hollywood Jesus was sitting in a halo-filled glow smoothing out the edges of a maple sideboard. I’m sure it was really a more mundane job involving tables and benches, having to hear one guy complain about the size or some sweaty schmuck double an order but keep the deadline the same.  I’ll bet Joseph was just constantly snickering to himself, like “Dude. You don’t know who you’re talking to.”

And I realized that there is so much to be gained by the act of work itself, regardless of what we do.  Whether we usher people toward tables or settle financial books or answer phones all day – it’s a time to grow our patience, and treat others the way we would want to be treated.  We can practice our faith by cleaning out the refrigerator and helping someone with a project that was not assigned to us.  And when someone else gets credit for our work, we just smile at pat them on the back, because we aren’t made for this world anyway.  And who freaking cares if people think Bill did it all, when Bill can’t spell his own first name and people will find out in time. Give it to him.  He’s single and hairy.  He needs this.

Work is where we can really practice our faith – not by reading about it or praying on Sunday, but by respecting our elders, and apologizing when we’re wrong. When we get angry, we own it.  When we get impatient, we fix it.  And when you see someone sitting at their desk every day for lunch because no one wants to talk to them, you can stop, and listen, and truly hear their story.

Look around your office.  There are tired, unhappy, overworked people in need of YOU.  They need joy and laughter and someone to come surprise them with a Starbucks card on a Wednesday.  And when you hollah at em at the copy machine – Hey there, Maria! – do it with a smile.  You are lucky enough to be placed in the middle of a worship field.  One ripe with opportunities to display your faith.

There was once a carpenter, years ago, who put his head down and did his job, day after day, table after table, sore backs and all.  He was likely thinking, and creating stories in his mind, and talking to God on a regular basis.  And one day he stepped away from that role and into another, and changed the world.  He needed the years to grow, and mature, and so do we.

So tomorrow, as you get up for work, act in a way you’ve been trained.  Live out what you’ve been preaching to your children.  Rise early, hug your kids, plan dinner in advance, and treasure those two hours at night you have with your family.  It’s all okay, don’t you see?  You are doing well.  When in doubt, friends, hear me loud:

God has you right where you need to be.

 

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/trondheim_byarkiv/4811256503/sizes/m/in/photolist-8k9WWk-aFybGF-aFyb8H-aFybmZ-aFycbe-aFxYMR-4iXnz1-aFxYAF-aFy9Wk-aFxYGV-aFxZaD-aFxZ1g-aFycYv-aFyaTB-aFy43F-aFy8rc-aFycxt-aFy8gZ-aFy4v8-aFy8RZ-aFy73n-4KPznk-6wTH5s-f6q5eW-aFy7KB-aFydcB-aFy6yH-aFyas8-aFy8Ye-aFy5sZ-aFy122-aFy3J4-aFy98r-aFy7gH-aFxZv6-aFycN8-aFy8zp-aFy65p-aFy4SF-aFy1vF-aFy1kP-aFxZNv-aFy2qt-aFy2Pk-aFy3za-6o6fhp-9p6S2e-9yAPTJ-9YNQWK-4h13xy-ge9HA/

On Being a Lawyer

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All of us are trained for something.  We make cappuccinos or hold human hearts in our hands or fix leaky pipes.  Well, I happen to be a lawyer.

Having this profession means I’m trained to look at words with a certain critical eye, wondering how sentences back clients into corners, or create paper giants that will take off their straw hats someday when no one expects, when executives have new jobs and children are peacefully sleeping in their beds and the moon is fading next to the morning sun.  It’s then when the aggrieved will roar.

I once got a call on a Tuesday afternoon from a heart surgeon with kind wrinkles and silver hair who liked to volunteer at the local community clinic and had a pretty young wife. His voice cracked and his breathing was quick, and I knew.  I knew that this highly-educated man, who could remain calm under any form of pressure, was breaking.  A life could be on the line and squiggly lines could flatten but this man who would take deep cleansing breaths and call a code and draw from deep immeasurable pools of training and experience was trapped in a world he didn’t understand.

He’d been sued.  

And the moment his name was scrawled on bloody paper, the middle initial pierced between the first and last in print before him, the color ran from his face and all he saw was his life’s work twirling like a tornado, flocks of patients running from his office and the medical board digging into his charts like a dog after a meaty bone.  A house in the mountains and a Range Rover and kids at Stanford all faded, and all he saw was this.  He dialed my number with shaky fingers and said he didn’t understand.  He treated the patient’s family for a decade.  He was scared to death and swirling.  But now?  I called my own form of code and took a deep cleansing breath, working to save a different form of life.

I’ve spent a dozen years living this profession.  I can’t say I’m the best attorney that’s ever practiced, but I’m not afraid of analyzing a non-compete or looking up an issue I’ve never encountered or going head-to-head with some dude in a suit with an ego problem.  I’ve got this.  I know this.  I’ve grown into these pants.  And I realize it’s a mix of talent and determination and a good measure of grit, thankful for the good fortune of having parents who put education a priority and being born in a first-world nation. But mostly I’m just thankful I’ve been given this calling, and this ability to think differently, to help those who need it most.  I want to look into this man’s face and hold his hand and tell him that no one has the ability to rip his heritage away.  I’ve got this, I tell him.  And I mean it.

There are times I want squeeze out of these pants I’ve worn so long.  Do something different.  Shed the lawyer image. But even if I change into flannel pajamas and surround myself with play dates and grocery store runs, the call of law never really leaves.   Because once you know something – when you live it and study it and peel back the onion layers to smell it and cry it and feel it inside – it never goes away. Lawsuits that haven’t occurred yet in the far distant future plague my mind, wedged between actions and limitations, and arguments shuffle in priority order while I’m driving or eating toast or mopping a kitchen floor.  My mind’s a domino game of what-ifs and probabilities and percentages of risk, drawing circles around bombs that might never detonate.  Protect and secure and make safe.  That’s what policeman do and what mothers do and what lawyers do as well, although we get to wear more expensive uniforms and have sexier shoes.

I like to call myself a writer, but much as I want to hide from it, I’m also a lawyer.  Because I have spent too many hot showers trying to develop counter arguments that will not fail.  I can solve problems others cannot, and respond in the language lawyers understand, and I have the ability to stand in the face of an adversary and say with full confidence that “I do not fear you.” That is power, and something a man who has fixed a hundred leaky hearts cannot do.

So I suppose I’ll always wear these pants, stitched with secret knives to shred all those paper dragons, who may never appear and just might turn out to be crumpled up tissue and sticks.  But every once in a while one will emerge large and ominous, and it’s in that moment I realize I’m in my element, and I was born for this, and I’ll never escape. Because I don’t just wear the pants of a lawyer any more.  The fabric has soaked into my skin and my own body has absorbed it up, so now it’s just a part of me, walking.

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/j3net/6685160247/sizes/m/in/photolist-bbKcez-bbKfSB-dq1geJ-6Fccs1-6HE651-2Q2BtS-b2eMJF-eWeLza-b2eMH4-3Vffdh-72Xu7k-9gPGE7-81vq7u-KXbeE-KTGWZ-b4nZ2V-9eYkKf-9eYrg1-3i7THe-89t6ZU-89t6Vq-89pRyX-89pRBF-aZL5P-5ZzqdY-7yuBfg-gPqCd-kUsL5-dfktGr-9U6y5C-e4gwkA-9TgDFw-8QFsa9-9eSBC1-bztzMR-RTmgQ-7ZzA3C-KX7ZK-9n1Cpg-9n1CrK-9n4FsJ-9hd4Sb-KX4Mi-6F9t6v-o8dM-KWW1g-77hYXW-77hZ6E-77hYt5-77hYFb-77e4cr/

Top Ten Ways to Laugh More at Work

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I have had my share of crappy, miserable, insanely-awful Tuesdays.  My mornings usually consisted of lukewarm coffee, screaming children, re-heated muffins, and boring NPR stories.  I was stuck in traffic, with bad hair and pants that are an inch too short, and when I got to work I noticed half-done reports and a computer keyboard covered in the crumbs of yesterday’s subway sandwich.  Is that really the day care calling to say my kid as a fever?  Do I honestly have a meeting in ten minutes? It’s only Tuesday for crying out loud.

But sometimes the negative can be turned into the positive. It’s a byproduct of being a writer, I suppose, where I look at life as one huge collection of stories.  But I’ve had to ask myself – was I good about finding the humor at work all those years?  Work is the one place where you hang up your personal, jovial self in the closet next to your blazer and and trudge off to Get Things Done.

I think back through my career.  I’ve snapped at support staff for packets not fully prepared and have been angry at opposing counsel for unrealistic discovery demands.  I’ve worn sour expressions and said so many disparaging things I’m sure my co-workers wanted to slide Midol pills underneath the crack in the door with a note that read “For heaven’s sakes take these pills, eat a cupcake, and come back when you are nice.”  But what do they know?  Work is a place where you Get Things Done.  Where you beat deadlines and answer emails and attend meetings.  Grrr.

But can’t we get some fun up in here?  I’m not talking about the lame birthday cake parties in the break room.  I’m talking about real and honest joy.  Is it even possible given today’s demands?

The answer is yes.  An overwhelming yes.

But you have to go about it the right way.  One particular website suggested that in order to break the tension in a workplace, a manager should bring a panic button into the meeting and tell their staff to “just push the panic button when it gets too stressful.” It breaks up the monotony!  It creates a light-hearted environment!  It’s so darn fun!  If I were in a meeting where my manager brought in a panic button, he’d have about as much credibility as my two-year-old.

Another piece of advice said to take fifteen minute walks, develop games with cube-mates, work puzzles in the break room, and take jokes with you to meetings.  This just doesn’t ring true.  If I was discussing a merger, I couldn’t be all “hold up there, folkzies.  Before we begin this discussion, have you heard the one where the elephant walks into a bar?”  No offense to those people who love puzzles, or elephants.  I’m just saying it wouldn’t work particularly well for me.

But the more advanced I became in my career, the fear and insecurity of being accepted wore off and faded into oblivion.  So I began to let loose and hauled my normal happy self into the office. After all, my shoes are from TJ Maxx and my brain only works about half the time.  If I had a joke about an elephant that I thought was really funny, I’d probably say it.  Because elephants are endearing little things that crush vehicles with their hind quarters.

So here are the Top Ten Things that I learned after so many years that helped me start to enjoy work again. To bring humor back into my working life.  To learn to really live a little:

(1) Don’t take things so darn seriously.  Humor creates a psychological distance.  After all, if you don’t get that report turned in and your boss gets mad, and you end up being fired, you could work at Dairy Queen and eat Blizzards all day.  Think of the toppings!

(2) Get out of the office for lunch.  This is key so your head isn’t buried inside your computer from 7 am until closing time, causing you to be grumpy and lumpy and snappy.  Just leave.  If you aren’t hungry, drive around.  Pick up some iced tea.  Head to a park and walk a bit.  But take a mid-day break.

(3) Think of your commute as a very special time, not some horrible long wasted hour.  Listen to music that uplifts you.  Pray.  Call a friend or check out a book on tape. Enjoy a cup of good coffee.  This is your time, without kids yelling or bosses snapping or husbands talking. How many times do you tell yourself “I have no time for me!”  Well here it is, you whiner.

(4) Be the bearer of silly little gifts.  Everyone brings something different to the table in a workplace.  Some people are more organized.  Others are great with follow-up.   Some are good listeners.  Reward those talents by leaving candy or gum or little treats on their desk with lame, corresponding sayings that you find online or make up.  You’re worth a mint to me (mentos)!  The way you listened to that client was so smart (smartees!) Your organizational skills are worth all the cash in the world (100 grand!) It’s not laugh-out-loud funny and might cause people to roll their eyes a bit (rolos!) but it makes people smile and it helps them see you as a human being and not just a widget (or whatchamacallit!)  Tell me to stop.

(5) At every opportunity, send out poems (Today is just another day, it’s Wednesday in December, but if you have a moment at all, can you call that counsel member?)  I use www.rhymezone.com so much I think they created that site exclusively for me.  Now, instead of simply barking orders, you can bark orders in rhyme, which is far better and makes you more likeable.  Unless you’re firing someone.  Then I’d steer clear of rhyme.  I also like to use unusual similes and metaphors, like “this is similar to fighting alligators” or “imagine this project is a large lion.”

(6) Be a gossip killer.  When someone comes into your office, closes the door, and says “I’m so sorry but I just have to get this off my chest” and then begins to rant about someone with glee, think strategy. It’s fine to listen.  But when they are done, ask them if they often have to replace buttons on that blazer or start a conversation about space exploration.  Don’t give in to employee-bashing.  It’s not helpful, it ruins the office mood, it destroys morale, and it’s hateful.  Hateful humor doesn’t warm the heart. Unless it’s your boss, of course, which is an exception and you can both plot his/her demise in good conscience.  Think of what will be on the gravestone.  Pick the funeral flowers.  Whatever.

(7) Send notes of praise and thanks all the time, to anyone you can think of. Email someone’s boss and blind-copy them.  It makes you feel better, and happier, to give rather than receive.  We learned this as children around Christmas, and it’s so true.  Unless you are receiving a new Nikon 5100.  Then getting is good.

(8)  Smile.  When someone walks into your office, stop your train of thought long enough to let a smile erupt on your face.  Even if it’s forced.  If you hold it long enough, it might turn real.

(9) Despite advice to the country to form “lunch bunches” and all kinds of work pot lucks, I’m not big on dining together with work colleagues all the time.  After all – you see these people enough.  Do you really want to sit together in the break room heating up leftover lasagna?  Find your own space.  This makes everyone happier and more interesting.

(10) And finally, admit when you are wrong.  Apologize when necessary, and embrace your faults.  No one can find humor, warmth, and joy in the workplace if you are constantly trying to fight battles of will, or cover something up, or lie to save yourself.  Be true to your inner self.  The self you were born to be.  The self that wears pants that are sometimes too short with coffee stains.  It’s cool.  You aren’t the only one.

We all have those kind of Tuesdays.

Photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/xlordashx/6045901304/sizes/m/in/photostream/

big apple of ambition

Recently, I friended an old high school acquaintance on facebook who turns out to be a creative director in an amazing ad agency in New York City.  Like Don Draper status with Emmy-winning commercials and fancy ties.  I looked down at myself, sloppy and tired, brushing the cookie crumbs off my pants.

Is this really where I wanted to end up?  Is this the woman I thought I’d be?

My mind was consumed with thoughts of the past as I unloaded the dishwasher.  Memories of television and fake eyelashes and In Touch magazine photo shoots.  People doing my make-up and eating at fancy places I could never afford. I thought of poor Martha Stewart, who didn’t like us much, but had such fabulous collections of things and a bubbly, youthful laugh.  I thought of the endless cabs and the fleeting second of fame and what it was like to feel special in this world.

I yearned to live there, then.  The Big. Ol. City. where the lights were always burning and air thickened in the summer – a mixture of urine and exhaust and pure, uncut talent. “What’s a working girl to do?” I’d say to myself as I rounded 24th Ave, my future yet untold.  Maybe I’d meet my husband for drinks, or coffee, or try that new vegan place uptown. My hair would be blond and my legs lean.  It’s not like everyone can run off to the Hamptons when the temperature rises.  I’d gut it out.  Because I’m a southern girl, and I can handle it.  I’d find my place in that rat race, settling down in a nice hole somewhere, munching on crumbs.

I remember being on an interview, sitting down with a bunch of marketing executives on 6th Avenue, my first child belly-flipping around in my abdomen and making me nauseous.  She was just the size of a bean then.  I think she was trying to tell me something.

My son suddenly awoke from his nap crying, ruining my perfectly good daydream about Dean & Deluca chocolates.  His pacifier had fallen to the floor and tears were streaming from his red, tired face.  The moment I picked him up, his arms curled around my neck like I might leave him forever and this was our one last embrace.  His head of thick, blond hair buried into my chest, and he let out the most peaceful coo.  I stopped what I was doing, carried him to my bedroom, and let him lay on my chest for a solid hour and a half.  He turned his head and sighed and flipped a few times.  I think he was as happy as he ever was in his whole two years of life.  As I lay there, rubbing his back, I let my mind rest on what might have been.  Or what I might have missed.

I chose this life.  You can hear the katydids screeching their evening refrain in the oaks and wonder if the tomatoes are getting enough water.  I eat farm eggs and bake bread on Mondays and hang clothes on the line.  Instead of going to court or summarizing deposition transcripts, I ask my husband about his day.  I make sure the toilet bowls are clean.  I find time to write. It’s the life I wanted, and one I fiercely fought to have.  But it’s not cosmopolitan.  No one cares if you wear designer jeans or have red underbellies to your high-heeled shoes.  No one in Austin even wears high-heeled shoes.  Why would you, when flip flops are much more comfortable, and you’re just headed out for Migas anyway?

My son woke up and we played the tickle game.  I did laundry.  I made macaroni and cheese with a breadcrumb topping.  My son wore one of my old hats and tried to dig ice from a Whataburger cup, which made me laugh.  My daughter and I stayed up late eating warm banana pudding.  My husband was out of town, so I let my daughter cuddle up in our down comforter with me, turning over sometimes in the middle of the night just to touch her arm.  Just to make sure she was still there.

Somehow I don’t think I’d get these memories living in the land of great hopes and expectations.  I’m not sure my soul would be rested enough.  I’m not sure my children would find their way.   It’s not home.  It’s not warm and inviting with room to breathe.

This is the place I want to live.   This is the life I choose.   Thank you, God, for leading me here.  For letting me float inside this quiet peace, amidst the wildflowers and artists and fields of expired ambition, gently blowing away with the wind.  Past the inland sea oats, whispering by the Indian blankets.  Far off into the hot, Texas sky.

Role Play

It’s no surprise that I went into health law. Being a natural control freak, it has been nice over the past dozen years to be the one in charge. To say to a surgeon, who is so incredibly skilled and calm under pressure, it’s okay. Let me explain how this works. Even though inside, I’m probably laughing a bit, like “this is only a deposition!  If it ends badly, what’s a half-day mediation among friends?” And yet I’m a lawyer, and this is what I know. Surgeons tell me colonoscopies are easy, but you stick me in front of some sleeping guy with a probe, I’d faint on his anesthesia-filled abdomen like a Victorian bride.

I think I’ve worked with doctors long enough to know how to relate to them. They know how to deduce and diagnose and empirically treat.  We lawyers know how to protect and defend and watch over them.  We each play an important role.  And, if my legal knowledge fails to impress a physician, I simply need to sit for an hour listening to their drug-seeking patients explain how they flushed their Norco pills down the toilet by accident while the doctor gets back on schedule.  That wins them over every time.

If you are a drug-seeking patient, by the way, let’s all just agree to come up with more creative stories.  How many times does one actually lean over and inadvertently dump an entire bottle of pills into the toilet?  Pills that are allegedly so vital to your daily survival as a human being?  If this really does happen, you should (1) create some other story that sounds more plausible, maybe one involving aliens; (2) “I left them in my friend’s car in Las Vegas” is never an acceptable substitute; and (3) try to go without your pain medication for a day so you won’t fall asleep or feely loopy while you are learning basic life skills like “hand stability” and “how to open child-safety locks without spraying pills all about the dang place.”   

But whether you’re a doctor or lawyer or rocket scientist, it’s never fun looking at life from the vantage point of a patient.   When I was lying there in a hospital bed in a paper-thin gown so many times, staring at water-stained ceiling tiles, I felt helpless. I hung onto my physician’s every word.  I tried to understand the things they were all collectively telling me, but it all sounded so strange.  You have a detached retina.  You have an unexplainable infection.  Your heart stopped. You have cancer. Those statements were harsh and foreign to my ears.  I wasn’t trained at this.  I was out of my comfort zone. All I saw was a doctor’s mouth moving, throwing my entire world around like balls in the air.  Cataracts and cancer.   Bleeding incisions and scars.  Bouncing up and down, up and down, up and down.  Crazy words I couldn’t control.

Then I realized we are most scared of what we don’t understand. I understand how to be a lawyer.  Pediatricians understand why children get sick.  Surgeons know how to cut. But put a doctor on the witness stand, or try to explain a complex Rule 11 agreement, or why a counter-claim is necessary, and a doctor looks more like a patient who has been told they have a tumor.  What?  Come again?  I’ve not researched that.  I’m not trained in this area.  For this, I am not prepared.  And that’s terrifying.

We all want to feel comfortable.  Some are experts at making an Americano with two raw sugars and a dash of steamed milk.  Others can peel cysts off an ovary with their bare hands.  Others still can argue a case in front of a Federal Judge and an impaneled jury.  But put any one of them in different shoes, and there would be mass hysteria.  Vascular surgeons building houses?  Internists writing contracts? Lawyers fixing air conditioning units?  Unacceptable.  Type A people like us need to be in control.  That’s why we chose a career that only some can attain.  Multiple degrees somehow shield us from failure.   From attack.  From fear.

But to be a child of God, we must strip off the titles.  It doesn’t really matter whether you pour coffee or set broken bones.  God doesn’t give you more points for writing contracts than for fixing sewer lines.  We all simply have a role to play in this world.  Trust me – if a thoracic surgeon is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he is no better off than a gardener or a street sweeper.   Titles nor residency nor a thousand letters of reference matter.  They all just float like dead leaves to the ground.  People crunch atop them on the way to their office buildings and news stands and subway stops.  Student loans and years of education are useless, ready to be bagged up and thrown away, never to be thought of again.

Self-importance has no role to play in a Christian’s life.  We aren’t meant to find our worth in a material world.  Through our titles or careers.   Through our lineage or trust or years of service.  We are simply designed to serve.  To seek God’s truth and wisdom as vigorously as we pursue our degrees, and when we feel that we know enough, realize that we have so much left to learn.  After all – we all have scars, and bleeding incisions, and cancer that invades our purest intentions.  We are all drug-seekers of some kind, although our drug is power and control and feeling too comfortable rather than something we abuse in pill form.

Someday, in the blink of an eye, it will all be over.  On that day, we walk in tandem. The drug seekers.  The doctors.  The lawyers.  The latte makers.  We are all on the same level field, playing a role until the curtain comes down.

A decade of milestones

Yesterday was my ten-year cancer anniversary.  Those who have been in my shoes understand that it’s a day of reflection.  A day where you review all the milestones that have occurred in the last decade and wonder what will happen next.

A few to mention:

(1) I was on national television.

(2) I got to live in New York for a while.  I survived the subway and tag sales and bad Mexican food.

(3) I have been to many cancer screens, visits, and appointments, but my cancer has not metastasized.  Survival is just as good as the next test.  So far I’m hanging in there.

(4) I had many interactions with Martha Stewart.

(5) Got to eat at a fancy NYC restaurant with Donald Trump

(6) I wrote a children’s book on contract for a company in California

(7) We had a baby girl, who is so precious

(8) I had a life-threatening infection after the birth of our little girl.  I was in the hospital for a month.  I survived.

(9) I wrote a novel about the extraordinary friendship between two women.  One woman undergoes a battle with cancer, which was cathartic and memorable to write about.  Part of it’s very funny, and I like funny.   After tears and late nights and edits and hundreds of pages thrown out, I did it.  I survived the novel-writing process.

(10)                I got on facebook and connected with old friends I hadn’t heard from in years

(11)               We had a baby boy. So love that little guy.

(12)               My heart stopped right before the c-section when my son was born, as I was lying on the table. They had to do resuscitation measures.  Miraculously, I survived.

(13)               My husband and I went to Maine, and as we were on a yacht off the coastline, I was so glad he married me so many years ago

(14)               I worked as General Counsel to a large medical group, a job I never thought I’d attain and was so thrilled to have.  Being a lawyer is quite fun.

(15)               I quit said wonderful job as described above to stay home

(16)               We moved into a wonderful limestone house.  We have a garden and land to roam.  Next up is chickens.

(17)               I started a blog

(18)               Our house was struck by lightening.  We survived.

(20)               My novel is not yet published, but I’m still trying

By His mercy and grace, I keep surviving.  Here’s to the next decade.   Let it be as rich and wonderful as this one.  Let me live every day with compassion and curiosity.  After all, I want to do more than survive.  I want to sing.  I want to write.  I want to thrive.

new beginnings

I quit my job.

Well, that’s a bit of a lie.  I walked out of my job as General Counsel for a large and wonderful company to stay home more.  To bake and volunteer and write.  And take the occasional calls from my former company that might crop up that they find useful to ask a lawyer.  But working from home in an oversized t-shirt billing by the hour, taking occasional phone calls from doctors that have questions, isn’t the same as really working.  I’ve always worked.  I went to law school to earn a great salary and feed my brain and wear heels.  I love heels.

But finally, I admitted to myself that I couldn’t keep up. There were select toilets in our home that even our dog wouldn’t drink from.  I was forgetting to pay bills and couldn’t seem to pack lunches and was always screaming at my daughter to get her shoes on.  I almost cried when I tried to bake homemade bread one weekend and the dough wouldn’t even rise.  My life was starting to spin out of control.  With two small children and a brain that never shuts off and writing that was finished inside my head but not yet recorded on paper, something had to give.  I was tired of running.  I was tired of yelling.  I was just flat-out tired.

So I stopped.

It’s been exactly four days since my newfound freedom.  I sent my son to day care every single day, which perhaps I should feel guilty about.  But I don’t.  I did heaps of laundry and sent off thank-you notes and made some tea.  I read some articles I’d been meaning to read and unpacked boxes of law books I schlepped home from my office.   I took a nap and read to my daughter and opened my eyes to what I’d been missing all this time.   Peace, really.  And clean toilets.

So here I sit.  I can feel a dozen years of legal experience begin the slow process of atrophy.  I can see that hanging on to my old world will not last forever, although billing by the hour is nice.  I feel God tugging on my sweater and tapping me on the shoulder, like something is just around the corner – up ahead.  I just can’t quite make it out with all the fog around me.  I’m defogging.  And praying.  And trying to learn how to bake bread.  For real.  Someone needs to send me a better recipe.

It’s a huge leap to quit a career.  It’s easy to tell people it’s for the kids.  So you can be a better mother.  But I didn’t think I was a horrible mother before.  I think it’s more about finding your footing.  Making sure the place that you stand is the place you really want to be.  Right now, in this moment, I know I’m heading in the right direction.  That’s something.  Even though it might not involve heels.

So here’s to freedom, wherever it takes me.  Probably to the grocery store.  And the bathroom, to clean more toilets.

technology rehab

When I was growing up, we didn’t have cell phones.  We didn’t have email.  What we did have, located in the smack center of our house on the kitchen wall (adorned with 1970’s fern wallpaper), was a regular home telephone.

It was yellowy-beige with a ten-foot-cord that could be stretched precariously around the corner when privacy dictated.  But there really isn’t any privacy in the center of a kitchen.  Every time my dad came in to make popcorn, he’d just wave and say “tell [random boy I was talking to] hello!  Are you coming in the family room to watch Hunt for Red October?”  Then he’d just grunt and pour himself a soda and I’d be left in utter humiliation.  Then, after I thought the coast was clear, I’d spot my mother doing something very important like ironing linens or peeling grapes next to the door so she could listen in.

Kids now-a-days have it so easy.  Televisions in every room. Cell phones on every belt.  Email and chatting and texting and instant messaging– the amount of unbridled privacy is endless.  It scares me to think what my daughter might be saying someday in the free, bare silence of modern technology.  I can’t snoop around the corner and then just say “What? I was just coming in to get a drink!” if I got busted.  I think I’ll force our family go back to the days of old, where the father sits around each night reading the bible and we all stitch our own dresses out of flour sacks.

It’s amazing how dependant we are on technology.  I’m one to talk. My commute home involves about twenty minutes of cell phone chatter with two minutes of checking my lipstick.  So the other day, when I forgot my phone at home, it was torture.  Torture, I tell you! What the heck was I supposed to do on the drive home– listen to the radio?  The thought of it brought back vague memories of youth.  Days when I made mix tapes and hoped to push the stop button before the DJ broke in and ruined the song’s ending.  In my extreme boredom, I started surfing through the channels.

I tried NPR, but they talking politics. I looked ahead at the string of red taillights and realized there was a wreck on the highway. Great. I couldn’t call home to tell the babysitter I would be late, and there was no way I could stop.  I felt trapped and isolated.  All I had to keep me company was top-forty radio, spiked with loud advertisements about luxury cars, a Joss Stone CD with a scratch, and boring economy talk.  My hands began to shake and I felt sweat forming on my brow.  I was unsure if I could make it.

Relax, I tried to tell myself.  Think.  Pray.  Flex your abdominal muscles or make a mental grocery list.  But after about three minutes, I checked all of these items off the list and was instead punching the radio buttons in a futile belief that something interesting would blare through the speakers.  I was looking at half an hour more.  I looked the car next to me and saw the driver laughing away while talking on his blue tooth. I thought I might need a Zanax.

After being on the road for forty-five minutes with no cell phone and finally landing safely at home, I had an epiphany.  I need technology rehab.  I’m an embarrassment.  I can’t go less than an hour without Tivo, iTunes, cell phones, or texting?  What has become of me?

Maybe it would be nice for the family to have only one phone with a ridiculously long cord. And how wonderful to enjoy the radio again, singing along with the window down —

Hold on a sec.  My cell phone is ringing.  I need to tell my best friend who got fired on Project Runway.  She was in a meeting and her cell phone was out of juice (she forgot her car charger – again!) and she just got home to find her Tivo was set to record a movie and she didn’t catch the show and I didn’t answer her text because I was in the middle of sending my husband a picture of our empty milk carton as a subtle hint to go to the store.  You understand.

Maybe someday, we’ll abandon all this junk and just sit around by the fire reading the bible and sewing.  Or maybe, even better, there’s an app for that.