Thursday, May 27, 2021

Born with a Personality

Yesterday my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia hit our neighbor’s car. We live on a steep street and she was parked nose up the hill. Our neighbor had pulled in behind her very close. Lucia was giving me a ride to a friend’s house so I was in the passenger seat. As we buckled in Lucia complained loudly about how close the neighbor had parked.

“How am I supposed to get out of here?!!!,” she half-whimpered, half-barked.

“Just take a deep breath and go step by step,” I said in my calmest voice. Nothing I say these days is right so I have to be judicious in any and all advice I give.

I watched Lucia put one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas. She slowly released the brake and pushed hard on the gas. But she was in reverse. Our car rammed loudly into our neighbor’s car behind us. Lucia looked at me with terror in her eyes. I instructed her to put the car in drive and go forward a few yards and then go check if there was any damage.

Our neighbor, hearing the crash, came outside and looked at her car with Lucia. Lucia was very apologetic, spoke directly to the neighbor and comported herself like a responsible adult. Miraculously there was no damage to our neighbor’s car. I got out of the car and joined Lucia and our neighbor. The three of us stood in the street discussing our ridiculous parking situation. Each of our households currently has three cars and our little part of the block is like musical cars, all the cars rotating into different spots, some spots more desirable than others. 

Our neighbor asked Lucia which spot she preferred. I know Lucia has a favorite. It’s the one she’d just crashed out of. But instead of telling our neighbor what her favorite was, Lucia just smiled and said, “I don’t care. Whatever is fine.”

I’ve been trying to encourage Lucia to say what she wants, to speak up for herself with her parents, in school, and with her friends. She only has two years left at home and I feel the pressure to equip her with self-advocacy skills before she’s off in the world on her own.

When we got back in the car we checked in. I asked Lucia if she was okay to drive? She said she was; it seemed like she’d put the fender bender behind her for now. I was surprised. I would have been in a semi-acute panic attack if I’d hit the neighbor’s car. I likely would not have been able to drive calmly after such an incident.

Before Lucia started the car I put my hand on her thigh and said, “Lucia, you just got asked which parking spot you preferred, a perfect opportunity to say what you want, and you didn’t take the opportunity. Why?”

“Mom,” she said sternly, “you wouldn’t have done that. You wouldn’t have said which parking spot you preferred.” And she was right. I would have done the exact thing she did. My years of being accommodating in the face of confrontation had taught her to respond the same way.

The experience got me thinking about how much our modeling as parents affects our kids. And how much it doesn’t. My friend Jamie always says, “Our kids are born with personalities.” And I think she’s right. There are elements of Lucia’s personality that have always been there. She’s radiantly calm in the face of many stressful situations — shots at the doctor, a cavity being filled at the dentist, getting her nose pierced, taking tests at school, singing a solo in front of three hundred people, and now I know, after hitting a neighbor’s car. She’s always been like that. She was born that way.

This may be my biggest lesson as a parent — that much of who my daughter is and who she will become is out of my control. I can teach her things like writing thank you cards, looking people in the eye when you make a toast, being thrifty, and making a delicious salad. And now I know I’ve also taught her to be a pleaser. But her essence, her true nature, is hers alone. It is something she was born with and will carry with her throughout her life. 

My greatest wish for my daughter is that she be happy and healthy, that she feel at home in the world and at peace with herself. As a parent, my job is to be a teacher and a guide. This car crash experience reminds me that I am also a student in this role as parent. 

From Lucia’s fender bender I understand that I have taught Lucia some good things and some not-so-good things. She’s learned to be responsible— to talk to the neighbor and apologize. And she’d learned to evade hard topics, like being direct about your preferred parking spot. 

I have always been a worrier, responding to stressful situations with an anxiety-filled panic response. Watching Lucia stay calm in the face of her mini-car-crash-crisis showed me that I haven’t taught Lucia everything I know. Thank god for that.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Symmetry of Aging


A few nights ago at dinner, my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia embarked on an intellectual witch hunt with me. For almost an hour she challenged me to come up with a scientific basis for why I believe in energy. I believe that if someone performs an evil act their energy affects others. At the same time, when someone is kind, I believe that their energy spreads.

Lucia asked me how I thought that worked, “from a scientific perspective.” I bullshitted a little bit, talking about how we are all molecules, all connected. But she’s had physics in the last year and for me, it’s been almost forty years so she could throw out more science than I could.

I felt like I had shown up for a job interview in dirty sweats, bad breath, and greasy hair with no idea what the position was. I floundered and made up answers to her questions but the whole time I felt myself sinking deeper into a hole. In the end, I pulled myself together enough to offer a brief synopsis of my perspective. “I believe in universal consciousness and I can’t explain it beyond that. It’s not scientific. It’s spiritual.” And then I got up and cleared the table.

While the dinner table interrogation was happening, one part of my brain was observing the whole scene. I watched as my daughter sat in control and I attempted to claw my way out of this deepening hole. For Lucia’s entire life I have been the expert. But I realized as I watched her schooling me that this was changing before my very eyes. “She’s growing her confidence,” I thought to myself, “she’s more adult than child right now.” We’re closer to each other in our roles right now than we are far away. But that won’t always be the case.

Currently my partner Nancy is in the difficult position of moving her parents into an assisted living facility. Of course, they do not want to go. Who would? But it is imperative for their safety and well-being and Nancy is driving the entire process.

I watch Nancy, now in charge of her parents after so many years of them being in charge of her and I see that my experience with Lucia has tinges of the same shift. There is a symmetry between childhood and old age. Children grow towards adulthood as adults grow toward old age. And between these two endpoints, we all spend years in the middle.

It’s a natural process, the slow climb towards adulthood and slow descent into old age. But we don’t often see the shifts. So often we just move through life not noticing the subtle changes that move us more deeply into the different stages of our lives.

For Nancy now, with her parents, the need for change is drastic. The final shift has been made and she is standing strong in her adulthood as her parents fully transition into old age. She is in control now. She has been growing into this place for decades. She is prepared and capable.

And Lucia is just at the beginning of her adulthood, practicing skills and honing tools so that when the time comes she will be prepared to take on the role of being an adult to her parents in their old age. And if Lucia has children the cycle will continue.

The symmetry of this gives me comfort. Moving into the final stage of old age, we are in so many ways stepping back into childhood. We are letting our children become the parents, surrendering the control that we once had. I watch Nancy’s parents now — letting go of all the hard work they did as adults, all that holding onto the reigns and being in charge — and I see that it is painful.

I felt just a tiny pang of it at dinner the other night. I could see clearly that my role with my daughter was changing. It will continue to change until I too get to that final frontier. I have many years to go before I reach that point but it helps to see the path, to lay it out, and recognize that this is the natural cycle of life. We all start as children and, if we are lucky, end in old age.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Golden Light


Last month I got rejected from a job that I really wanted. I had the opportunity to do a follow-up interview with the director afterward. The director said that they’d liked me a lot but were looking for someone who had more comfort and experience talking about race and social justice issues. This was a hard thing to hear, but important. Like many white people, I am self-conscious and insecure about how I talk about race. I have a lot to learn. My sister Kat has been working in the field of race and equity for decades. She has deeply committed herself to this work, both on a personal and professional level. 

I asked her if she would have a conversation with me about the feedback I got and she generously agreed. Another good friend of mine who is also working to deepen her knowledge and engagement in racial justice and equity issues joined me for the Zoom call with Kat. Over the course of two hours, I got to witness my twin sister enlightening us with information, questions, exercises that would help us begin a process of being more educated and accountable. As my friend and I listened to Kat sharing her wisdom and experience it was like she was standing in front of a golden light. I saw her differently. I was meeting her fully for the first time. 

For the next few days, I digested the information Kat shared. I was grateful and impressed. I kept thinking to myself, “Kat is so smart. She knows so much.” 

I’ve had the same feeling with my sister Amy. Amy is a humor writer (Amy Culberg) and she’s hilarious. When I read her writing I am in awe, “She is so clever and FUNNY,” I frequently say to my family as I am laughing out loud. “How does she think this stuff up?” And like Kat, as I read her brilliant writing it is like I am meeting Amy anew, seeing her in her golden light.

Last week my partner Nancy and I went to some neighbors' house for drinks. They needed legal advice and Nancy is a lawyer specializing in their specific area of need. I watched Nancy give input and offer guidance for three hours. When we left I said to her, “You are so smart and you know so much! You are incredibly good at what you do.” Seeing Nancy in that golden light ignited a spark. I fell in love with her all over again.

It’s not often that we get to see our close friends and family in a different light. Mostly, we are entrenched in our roles — as sister, partner, friend. Seeing people in their other roles is a gift and an opportunity to know them more fully. For me, it’s a way to fill in the pieces of a partially finished painting. These familiar people in my life become more colorful, more complete, more exciting. 

For twenty years I taught yoga. I owned a yoga studio. I trained yoga teachers. Yoga defined me in the eyes of many people. But I rarely taught yoga to my family. To them, I was just Laura — the annoying older sister, the stubborn daughter, the nagging mother, and the quirky, neurotic spouse. 

For the past month, I have been doing a morning yoga class with my twin sister Kat. She’s trying to heal her back after many years of deferred maintenance. After a hard stop break where I didn’t do any yoga for a few months, this lovely start-of-the-day ritual has been the perfect transition to a regular yoga practice for me. We practice together, chatting through the poses about what’s going on in our lives. But I’m also her teacher, helping her find ways to heal and support her aching body. I’m offering her  another part of who I am.

At first, I was self-conscious to share this part of myself with Kat. I worried she’d judge me or find me irritating. But I was wrong. It’s been a comfortable, natural process and I look forward to it every day. At the end of class, she sends me a thank you text and we confirm our start time for the following morning. 

We all have golden lights — the parts of ourselves that make us who we are. I can think of dozens more examples — seeing my friend Kate the elementary school teacher corral a group of people at a party for a game, watching my daughter Lucia play soccer, seeing my mother at her first art opening. The golden light of the ones we love is always there. We just have to remember to look for it. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Blessing and Curse of a To-Do List

I am in between right now. On a self-imposed sabbatical from a job. My whole life has been busy. I’m a task-master. I thrive on getting things done. I chose this path, this break, but some days I feel painfully unmoored, truly lost.

It is the most beautiful time of year in my typically rainy Pacific Northwest region. I am not struggling financially, professionally, or relationally. My family is healthy and I have a strong network of loyal and loving friends.

I should be floating on happiness, and some days I am. Other days the happiness cloud becomes too much. I drift in the unknown banging around my house like an old log in the river. I feel aimless and anxious to know where I’ll finally land. I’ve been here before. It happens when I am in between jobs or relationships; it happens when I am not busy with things to occupy my overly active mind.

On most days I work from an ongoing To-Do list. I use recycled paper from a stack on my desk and add to it all day long. The list grows throughout the week long and after each completed task, I make a satisfying pen scratch through the item. Each strikethrough on my list feels is a relief — like paying my taxes on time or remembering to send my mother’s birthday card on time. 

My To-Do list gives me the feeling that I am getting somewhere. In this in-between that I am in right now, I need that, or at least I think I do. My To-Do list is my way to know that I am moving from one place to another, that I will not be in the discomfort of this limbo forever. I don’t know where I will be in a month or in a year but it helps to feel like I am heading in some general direction. 

It feels like I am standing on the edge of a cliff. I can see across to another cliff but there is no way to get there. The space between the cliffs is treacherous — a thousand feet down; a freefall would surely result in death. Each item on my To-Do list is one rung in the slatted wooden bridge that will get me to the other side of the chasm between the cliffs. As long as I can keep checking through my list, I have the sense that I am getting to my destination.

Yesterday, my To-Do list was mostly done by 10 am. The few tasks I had left involved talking to my daughter who wouldn’t be home from school for several hours. I was listless. I wandered around, trying to find meaning in washing the dishes and folding the laundry. I tried to fabricate things for my list but nothing came. I stood hopeless; I’d never get across this divide.

My To-Do list is a crutch, a false sense of control, and a setup for a continued return to this feeling of listlessness. Every morning I take comfort at looking at my list, of adding to it and knowing that I’m building my bridge across …. I breathe deep sighs of contentment throughout the day as I scratch through my list. 

In my literal listlessness yesterday I became aware of my problem. My destination, this elusive other side, is not defined. I have no idea how many slats this bridge is going to need to get me across. My list is a delusion. It’s just keeping me busy, occupied until my next step becomes clear. I have convinced myself that by keeping the To-Do list alive I am moving myself along, and in some ways that’s true.

But I’m also holding myself back. I do want to get to another side but I don’t know where that is. Maybe it’s not actually the other cliff I want to reach. Maybe it’s the river a thousand feet below and I need to scale the wall or backtrack and find a way down. Or maybe it’s here, hanging out on a cliff for a while, getting comfortable with this view. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

95 Friends and Counting: What Does it All Add Up To?


On Friday night I decided to make a list of all the friends in my life I could remember. I started in nursery school and logged up to the present day. I came up with 95 names. After I listed them I went back and wrote the approximate year that I started being friends with each person. A few people had multiple years. I cycled in and out of friendship with them. They entered my life first in childhood, again in high school or college, and again in adulthood but most of the friendships occupied just a short period, maybe 5–10 years, and they have not resurfaced.

Since making that list a few nights ago I’ve had flashes of other friends that I hadn’t put on the list but by the time I get to my list to write down their names I’ve already forgotten the name. I wonder if it’s possible to actually come up with a truly exhaustive list. Can my brain possibly remember every single person? Just now I remembered Lily Chang who I was good friends with in fourth grade. Does it count if we were only friends for one year? Who qualifies as a friend? And what about a friend who is no longer a friend? What do you call that person? 

I’m fifty-two years old and I have a current group of very good friends. I think they will be my friends into old age. They are my present friends, my front-on-mind, everyday friends. But people live long lives these days and maybe some of these people will fade into the distance, taking on different friendship positions as we age. 

Thinking about these different friendship levels, I decided that I needed some kind of system to classify my friendships. I created a letter code to organize my list. There are four categories:

A: All-Time Friends

A is the list of people who come in and out throughout your life. They are there all the time, even if only as a shadow for some years. They have been with you at at least a few milestone moments of your life — graduations, break-ups, childbirth, deaths, marriages, divorces. They know some of your deep secrets and probably know your parents. Even if the A friend disappears for a year or two, at some point they come back and it’s like no time has passed.

B-Best Friends 

B is for the people who were very good friends for a time, the people you thought would be lifelong friends, but somehow you drifted apart and now they are on the periphery. It would be possible to call and catch up but not like with your A Friends. You can’t recreate that deep, rich engagement that you had during the time you thought you’d be lifelong friends. People on this list might be childhood friends. Your parents might still be friends and you might have overlap in that way but time has diluted the intensity of the closeness of your early years. These friends likely know your parents.

C-Cohort Friends

C is the list of people who you hung out with a lot during a specific period of your history; they were part of your regular social scene but you never hung out one-on-one very much. You were friends en masse with other friends— in college or at work or as part of a sports team, maybe as part of a couple. You never had late night existential conversations with these friends. They don’t know your deep dark secrets and probably don’t know your parents.

D-Daily Friends

D is the list of current friends. These are the people that you see on the daily right now. They are the current dinner party friends, family vacation friends, holiday function friends. Some of these friends are also (or will become) A or B friends and some of these people are or will become C friends. We are all now our parents.

I went back through my list and added my letter codes to my list. As I did this I realized that I yearned to see a lot of people on my list. Many of the people on my B list could have become A list friends if I’d only stayed in touch. And I have a feeling that if I reached out maybe we could try to rekindle something, start anew. 

Maybe it’s my age, this middle-life passage, that’s inspiring this friendship inventory project. Maybe I’m more in touch with my own mortality and I want to create a record of the important people in my life. 

I think what I’ve learned from this list is that it’s stupid. Organizing my friends this way doesn’t make sense because friendships aren’t linear and life isn’t static. This list has helped me activate my memories of people in my history. It’s inspired me to reconnect with some of the people I’ve lost along the way. The letter I’ve given them isn’t the end of the story. It’s just the beginning. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mermaid Dreams


The other day my friend Joni was telling me about a disagreement she had with her husband. Joni’s high school friend Denise wanted to bring her husband and kids to visit over the summer and stay with Joni’s family.

Joni’s husband, not a fan of Denise, formed an extensive argument. He made a case against Denise, against the actual request, against the logistics. Michelle just listened.

A few days after the disagreement Joni shared all of the details with me on the phone. “I just let him talk and talk until he had nothing left to spew,” she said, “to be honest, towards the end I really wasn’t even listening.” A few hours after the one-sided conversation, Joni’s husband approached her and apologized. He acknowledged that he wasn’t being fair or generous. “Of course your friends should come,” he conceded lovingly.

When Joni shared that story with me I was trying to sort out a marital conflict of my own. I’m a prizefighter. I grew up with two sisters close in age and we fought for everything — to be seen, heard, acknowledged. From those roots, I grew up to believe that being right is the most important thing. In conflict, I battle to the finish. But even when I win the war I never feel better. I feel bruised and broken. I feel like shit.

At first listening to Joni’s approach, I felt appalled. How could she just sit there and let him go on and on. But as she explained it further it started to make a lot of sense. So often conflicts with my spouse become bigger than they need to be because each of us insists on getting our side heard. The conflict grows when the two sides fight for air space.

I launch my side of the story like a rocket and she launches hers. The opposing sides either collide mid-air and create a giant explosion or they miss each other and we continue firing missiles until either we are out of weapons or have created devastation.

But what if I could just sit there and let her perspective pour out? What if I just listened? When Joni sat quietly and let her husband vomit his tirade out into their living room she wasn’t saying, “you’re right and I’m wrong.” She was simply listening, keeping her perspective to herself, waiting it out.

Instead of a cannon ready to launch, Joni sat like a mermaid basking in the sun. Mermaids are of both the land and the sea. In ancient Assyria, the goddess Atargatis transfigured herself into a mermaid because she accidentally killed her human lover and she wanted to escape the shame of this horrible deed.

Atargatis found a new home among the stingrays, tiger fish, blue marlins, and sea tortoises. She submerged herself into the quiet darkness of the ocean to cleanse away her shame and sorrow. I’ve never killed a lover but I’ve experienced deep shame and sorrow and escaping into another world seems like a wonderful reprieve.

I want to be a conflict mermaid. I want to retreat to the sea before the conflict, taking the baggage from my life on land into a dark, calm place, a place where the language of the land is not spoken or understood. A place of peace, no sides, just water all around. In my mermaid life, I would glide through great coral reefs, slither through curtains of kelp, and rest for the night in a dark, hidden cave, letting the stress and tension from life on land wash away.

I’ve tried the experiment of being a conflict mermaid with my partner once since my conversation with Joni. It was a tiny conflict but I stayed calm and let her say her piece. I held onto my perspective, but I kept it inside. Instead of firing back, I just let her words come. I listened. And it worked.

In not saying my side out loud, I didn’t lose my perspective, I simply gained a new one. As the conflict mermaid, instead of engaging in battle, I plunged into the underworld of the sea where I dove deeper into the silent darkness, a magical place where everything looks different.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Friendships are Like Plants

Friendships during COVID have changed a lot. Almost every day a friend who I haven’t seen in a really long time pops into my head and I think, “I should reach out to her.” And then either I don’t reach out or I start a text thread that peters out after a few exchanges. So much time has gone by. I can’t quite remember what friends do. Sometimes I can’t even remember why we were friends in the first place.

I wonder if these friends feel the same way about me. Do they feel self-conscious and out of practice reaching out to me and other friends? Do they have the same trepidations about reigniting forgotten friendships? 

Friendships are like plants. They need to be watered and they need sunlight. When they are deprived of either life force, they die. Some friendships are like orchids — sensitive, needing the perfect administration of water and the exact amount of indirect light. They need constant attention and communication. Other friendships are more like succulents. Almost anyone can grow a succulent. They seem to survive in any exposure, with erratic watering, or even neglect.

Last week at the exact moment I was thinking about one of my old friends who I haven’t seen in months, she texted me. “Thinking about you and wanted to say hi,” she wrote. Because there was magic in the synergy of our thoughts colliding at that exact moment, I wrote her back right away.

“I just quit my job. Do you want to go on a walk during your lunch break?” I bravely texted back, breaking through all of my built-up barriers like the Incredible Hulk crashing through a brick wall.

We made a plan for that Friday. It was pouring at my house when I got in the car to go downtown but I knew my friend would be prepared with a raincoat so I ran inside to get my rain jacket and threw it in the car. Miraculously the sun came out as soon as we started to walk and we didn’t need coats. 

We marched through downtown, up and down hills in the sunshine, non-stop talking for the entire hour. There was no rain, but as we walked and caught up with each other, we were watering each other’s leaves, feeding each other’s roots. It felt nourishing and restorative. I had one less friend in the sad basement room of struggling plants. 

I got in my car to go home and within five minutes it started hailing. The weather alone was telling me that this friendship date was surely meant to be. I was affirmed of my courageous social efforts and made a commitment to reconnect with more friends.

As I drove home in the hail I thought about how this particular friendship is like a succulent. It doesn’t need daily watering. A periodic infusion is enough for it to survive for many weeks, even months or a whole year.

But I worry that some of my friendships have needed more constant care — weekly or even daily conversations. They have needed attention and focus like orchids need ice cubes and warm, humid rooms. Too much time may have passed and I fear the roots may be dead. I fear that I might not be able to resurrect these friendships and so I hesitate to reach out and connect.

My partner has shared this experience as well. Many of her friendships have stagnated, drying on the vine. It’s unclear what will happen when she tries to reconnect with them. I imagine, like me, many of her long-time friendships will reveal themselves to be more succulent and less orchid, coming back to life with just a little bit of sustenance. 

It’s my daughter I worry about the most. She’s sixteen, at the heart of adolescent evolution. Teenage friendships are definitely orchids. They need constant attention. They are sensitive, temperamental, and moody. If too much time goes by without the right amount of water, some fertilizer, and the proper light, the petals of the orchid fall away and the lonely stem stands alone, dormant until ultimately it dies. 

The gas that fuels the motor of adolescent friendships is the reliable and constant back and forth — eating lunch together at school, trading gossip, trying on clothes, helping each other with homework, sneaking White Claws at the park on the weekends. But during COVID my poor daughter and her peers have missed this daily interaction. School has been at home. Social activities have been severely curtailed. They have been deprived of the nourishment needed to feed each other’s roots and grow each other’s leaves. 

Tonight my daughter finally had a social plan — to have a bonfire on the beach with a handful of friends. About two-thirds are fully vaccinated and they’ll be outdoors so their COVID risk is low to nil. I was so excited for my daughter to finally be having this opportunity, but a few hours before heading out, she collapsed in a dining room chair, lay her forehead on her stacked palms and rolled her forehead side to side as she dramatically whined, “I don’t want to goooooooo.” The coordination and anticipation of a social event — reuniting with friends in the way they used to gather — was overwhelming to her. I knew exactly how she felt. 

In the end, she did go. She’s there now, hopefully sitting around a raging fire with long-lost friends — roasting s’mores, maybe sneaking a White Claw, probably laughing hysterically — drinking up the nutrients she needs to enliven her sad, dried-out friendships. Hopefully, many of the relationships will bounce back like succulents, springing to life with just a little bit of attention. But she might notice that others have withered and died, deprived of their essential sustenance for too long.

The reality is that we will all experience friendship casualties as a result of COVID. We will face change and loss that we didn’t expect as we creep closer to the normal we left over a year ago. Our friendships will never be exactly like we left them because every one of us has grown in our own way. But I think if we’re all brave and start to step out a little bit at a time we’ll find our way to a beautiful garden full of all kinds of plants from succulents to orchids and everything in between. 

The Power of Money: Taking the Gold Chains off One at a Time


We live in a culture where what we earn is highly valued and what do for work is highly judged. I’ve always been independent, industrious, and innovative. I started a non-profit organization, I started a for-profit business. I bought my first house when I was twenty-six and I leveraged the profits from the sale of that house to buy a bigger house and then another and then another.

Though I’ve never been a high-wage earner, by taking financial risks I have created economic security for myself. Even with these investments and the financial security they offer me, I don’t feel proud and accomplished, I feel like I should be able to earn more, do better.

I don’t need more. I have enough. If I could live my dream it would be to write all day long — to teach writing, to share writing, to experiment with different kinds of writing. But instead, I waste precious time figuring out how I can make money, prove my worth.

When I was forty I started dating my current partner Nancy. I was a business owner, relatively successful. As the owner of a yoga studio, I was never going to enter the financial realm of Jeff Bezos, but I felt okay, balanced. Nancy was (and is) an attorney and like all private attorneys in this country, charges a ridiculous hourly rate. Even as the owner of a successful business I couldn’t hold a candle to Nancy’s earning capacity. In those early days of dating, I felt insecure, like I was a failure of some kind because I couldn’t reciprocate the fancy dinners and weekend trips she treated us to. 

Early on in our relationship when I was suffering a bout of loser-syndrome because of my comparatively low wage as a yoga teacher, Nancy said, “Your work is no less valuable than mine. I just happen to be in a profession that has an inflated value in our society.” She meant what she said. I believed her, but still the message that “money equals success” was like a neon tattoo on my brain. 

It’s twelve years later and I still feel the pangs of insecurity because of the financial disparity in our relationship. Unless I get TicTok famous, my annual salary will never come close to Nancy’s. My feelings of insecurity are not her fault. The feelings come from the constant and pervasive message that is promoted in this country. It’s why half of the population drooled over Donald Trump and practically took our democracy down. 

Last year I sold my yoga studio and netted a good profit which I socked away for the future. It’s a little nugget that I can put into another dream someday. I fantasize about creating another business, maybe a bed and breakfast or a tiny grocery store. The money sits in a high-yield savings account waiting for just the right moment. This modest profit is symbolic of twenty years of hard work and dedication. This nest egg is my backup. It’s the proof that I’ve done something, that I’m worthy. As long as it sits in that account and I can see it there, I am reminded that I have value, even if I’m not earning right now.

The message that “money equals success” is like Mr. T’s hundreds of gold chains around my neck. The chains are heavy and gaudy and I don’t want them. I am engaged in a committed battle to deprogram myself of this deeply entrenched belief. I take one chain off at a time but it’s a slow process.

I write this from a place of incredible privilege. My partner happened to choose a vocation that we throw money at. She lovingly and generously supports our family with her hard work. I have a golden nest egg in my back pocket that glows in the background of my consciousness reminding me that, though I’m not earning now, I did once and that makes me worthy, successful.

How do we break this cycle? How do I help my teenage daughter learn the feeling of real value when this message that “money equals success” is everywhere? I tell her to follow her heart, that if she does what she loves the money will follow. I tell her that she should choose a path that gives her a sense of emotional fulfillment. 

But even with sixteen years of these messages from me, my daughter regularly asks, “Does that pay a lot of money?” My hope is that when my daughter does enter her work life she will remember some of the messages I’ve tried to impart, that she will remember her value no matter how much money she earns. 

The misleading and destructive message that “money equals success” is a big problem, far bigger than I could ever imagine solving, but I want to deconstruct it for myself, for my daughter, for her children. I want to break free of this burden. I want the answer to be simple and I know it’s not. It’s an ongoing conversation, like the one I had with Nancy all those years ago about worth. I’ll just keep plugging away, taking one gold chain off at a time. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Coming Out Again. I'm vaccinated. Are you?

Yesterday I met a new friend. We connected through a mutual friend and immediately hit it off. For some reason, though she lives on the north end of town and I live in the south end, we decided to meet in the middle, in person instead of doing a phone call or Zoom. I’m so glad we did.

At the cafe where we met there was a sweet backyard patio where we plopped down in the shade, masked at first like we always are. Once we sat down at our tiny two-top we tentatively removed our masks.

“I’m fully vaccinated,” my new friend said with a little bit of a question mark. She was saying it and also wondering if that was enough for me. Was I okay without the masks if she was fully vaccinated? She was also asking me what my situation was?

“Me too,” I said, wrapping up the issue and sending the message that we were on the same team and all was well.

We proceeded to have a glorious, maskless, new friend celebration. My new friend was interesting, curious, attentive, funny, and genuine. We talked for almost two hours and then said goodbye, knowing we’d surely meet again.

It was a sunny day and I walked the five miles back to my house along the lake. I felt like a bunny who’d just found a bottomless patch of all-season carrots. It was warm and I was sweating. My shoes, not meant for walking, were giving me blisters and I had to pee. But I hopped along mile after mile. I found a public bathroom along the way and breathed through my blisters. Nothing could take away the joy I felt in that moment.

I thought about why that experience elicited such profound joy for me. My new friend was engaging and delightful and we had a definite connection but there was more to it.

This friendship date was my first social experience where I actually felt the possibility of a future without COVID being center stage. From the moment we decided to meet in person instead of from the safety of a device, we’d crossed an imaginary line. We silently affirmed to each other that we were ready to try this.

Then, once seated, we both “came out” with our vaccination status. That was the next step of acknowledgment that there were better days ahead, that we were safe with each other. We were on the same page about vaccinations and we were ready to be in community with other people who felt the same way.

I’ve come out as gay hundreds of times. The best feeling in the world is to come out to someone and then they come out too!!! This happened in my last job, a totally remote position where my team only met on our laptops. We never once came face to face with each other. On a phone call to one of my teammates, she mentioned her wife.

“Oh my god!” my heart leaped in my chest, “she’s gay!” A few minutes later in the conversation, feeling a deep sense of safety and camaraderie, I mentioned my wife. That sense of mutuality was like winning bonus bucks in Vegas. Not only had my colleague traversed a scary obstacle, but she had made space for me to do the same!

The confluence of factors yesterday — that this new friend had amazing energy and vitality, that we were sitting outside, that we had lots to talk about — combined with the jubilation of coming out as vaccinated made for an afternoon of pure gratitude, joy, and hope.

I remember when gay marriage passed in 2015, there was the flicker of possibility everywhere. I felt hope and support from everyone, even if I never spoke to them. Walking down the street felt different. It felt safer, like we were all on the same team. And I feel this sense now, with vaccinations. I don’t know who is pro-vaccination and who is con. But I know that there are people who believe in a different kind of future, a future beyond COVID. And that feels incredible.

Got Rage?

I listened to a podcast interview yesterday where a guy described the moment he finally accepted the truth that his boyfriend was cheating on him. For months he’d had a funny feeling, but he tamped it down, stifled the urge to explore the possibility. But after enough time had passed, the little embers of suspicion became too hot to ignore. He finally confronted his boyfriend and, when the truth of his boyfriend’s infidelity was revealed, he flew into an uncontrollable rage.

As I listened to this guy describe his rage, the purity of his anger, the intensity of it, I racked my brain to think about the last time I was in a rage. I could only think of one moment in my entire 52-year life. It was almost twenty years ago, in a similar moment of betrayal. I remember screaming. I threw a notebook and then I broke a CD in half and I threw that too. Then, shouting profanities, I stormed out of the front door, slamming it loudly.

But afterward, when I was sitting in my car, alone with myself, the rage was completely gone. I sat in complete quiet, the ashes of my fury slowly settling around me as I sank into deep sadness and heartbreak. But even in my despair, I felt better. I felt a powerful sense of release that marked a new beginning.

We all have the potential for rage, but it is a foreign experience for many of us. Occasionally I will see someone on the street, likely someone suffering from a mental illness, screaming, wildly waving their arms, or pointing viciously at someone driving or walking by. They scream and yell, red-faced, going on and on about something I don’t try to really hear. I dismiss them because it scares me to see this explosion of emotion. They are experiencing something that is almost wholly unknown to me.

Rage is the moment of climax. It is the proliferation of all the instants of suspicion, worry, fear, anxiety, sadness, distrust that we finally attend to. After enough moments of not listening to ourselves, a release has to come. The emotions have to go somewhere.

I imagine that we each have a tiny little pilot light seated right around the heart. When we have an emotion, it produces the gas that fuels the pilot light to expand into a flame. When the emotion has passed the flame dies down and the pilot light goes back to its controlled state, small and manageable.

But often we quash our feelings. We ignore the inklings of emotions, dismiss them and subconsciously invite them to go away. When this happens the gas builds up and, when we finally allow ourselves to feel the feelings we’ve been avoiding, it comes in the form of an explosion. This is rage.

Sometimes I wish I could experience rage more readily. Though it is scary and unmooring in the moment, it is also powerful and energizing. In the moment of rage, I am fierce and mighty; it feels like I am finally at the end of something. When the rage is over there is clarity, purity, a sense of renewal.

As I write this I understand why, though experiencing rage might feel good in the moment — like a final release, a necessary explosion — it’s actually not a good thing. Rage is a shortcut. It’s lazy. It’s like keeping a messy room for years and years and then, instead of finally cleaning it — sorting piles for Goodwill, recycling, treasures for family and friends — you just take it all to the dump and create unnecessary landfill.

Rage is a sign that we’re not attending to ourselves or the people around us. Rage comes when we don’t give credence to the little emotions we feel every day. Managing the explosion that comes from rage is a daily activity. It means being honest and brave, letting the flame burn in little bursts all the time because if we don’t, the explosion will surely come. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Brain Cramps

My friend Kate thinks I’m a conflict champion. She says I face it head-on. But as I coach my teenage daughter through conflict, watching her shut down in the face of it, I realize that I’m more like her than the conflict warrior Kate thinks I am. I remember being sixteen and feeling utterly overwhelmed by disagreements with my parents or clashes with my friends. 

It has been disheartening to realize that I haven’t come as far as I thought from that conflict-avoidant teenager. As an adult, I am a safe conflict engager. If I am more than 80% sure that I have a good case and will likely prevail, then I go in like a fighter, ready to win. If the conflict is more intellectual than emotional and I think the likelihood of hurt feelings (mine or theirs) is minimal, I am confident, strong, and capable of engaging in conflict. 

But when I am confused about the conflict, when I have a sense that maybe I am at fault, when there are big feelings at stake (mine or theirs or both), it is an entirely different story. 

I married a smart, funny, meticulous, thorough, beautiful attorney. She is a brilliant arguer and fiercely principled human being. Because we are married, conflicts with her are almost exclusively emotional. Even deciding whether or not to get wallpaper or eat Thai or Vietnamese can be emotional. I’ve learned over the many years of being with this wonderful woman that I have a much more difficult time engaging in conflict with her than anyone else in my life.

There is more at stake. We live together. We go to sleep and wake up with each other. Unlike conflict with a friend who you can hang up with or walk away from, with your spouse, there is no escape. Plus, my partner is a professional arguer. She’s streamlined and organized, has incredible follow-through, and relentless stamina. I, on the other hand, while I have some of the same attributes in other parts of my life, lose them completely in the face of big conflicts with her.

With small conflicts, I’ve gotten much better. I hold my own. I can form clear thoughts and put together sentences. With bigger, higher-stakes conflicts though, I am a disaster. I get brain cramps. It’s like a charlie horse in my thinking. I literally freeze. My thoughts pause somewhere in mid-process and I become befuddled. It is like suddenly, out of nowhere I am standing naked in an ice storm and I have no idea how I got there. I look around for a familiar porch light or a pile of dry clothes or an idling car but I can’t move. I’m stuck.

Before I understood what was happening to my brain I would try to argue back with my partner, but I was disorganized, chaotic. I could hear myself throwing out circular arguments, spewing nonsensical ramblings. I could feel my inability to focus. It felt like I was in a dance hall and, while my partner was trying to dance with me, I was stuck on a thick circle of tar. My feet immovable, me trying to dance but completely unsuccessful. 

Over time, I’ve learned that the only way through the brain cramp is patience. I have to wait it out, to find my way out of the ice storm and pry my feet out of the tar. Usually, I meditate, write, or take a walk. With time, the disorder in my head settles and I understand the thoughts I want to express. I am able to form the words that explain my feelings. 

I’m not a conflict warrior. I suffer from brain cramps. But I understand now that there’s an antidote to this condition. I know how to cure my cramps, at least until the next conflict. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Scent of Happiness

I write every day. I do it alone. I write to clear my mind and connect more deeply with my thoughts and emotions. A few times my family has joined me, but it’s rare. It only happens when all the stars are aligned and the mood is just right. Tonight was one of those nights. We’d had a lazy Sunday and after dinner we found ourselves trying our skills with a weighted hula hoop. We laughed and teased each other and relished in the spontaneous ease of togetherness. 

As we settled down I took a risk and proposed to my partner and sixteen-year-old daughter that we all do a little writing. There was surprising enthusiasm and before anyone changed their mind I seized the moment. I lit a candle, turned on classical music, and set a timer for fifteen minutes.

With pens and notebooks in hand, we took our usual places around the dining room table and prepared to write. My daughter had just peeled an orange and we had a bouquet of white lilacs on the table from our mother’s day brunch earlier in the day. The combination of smells permeated the air around us. The sun was just going down and there was a warm stillness in the house. It was perfect. Everything felt just right. I was happy.

Less than a minute into our writing practice, an invisible dome sealed us into a little snow globe of quietude. As our pens moved quickly on our respective pages, translating our thoughts from our minds to the paper, we were engulfed with a sense of peace and contentment. And though none of us spoke a word, like the swirling snow in a globe, I could feel the silent hum of thoughts, feelings, and sensations moving around us in our little bubble. Nothing was said but everything was heard.

As we all sat together, alone in our thoughts, I followed the scent of the orange and lilacs. The smell carried me into the happiness of summer — the warm smooth feel of the sun browning my skin, the smell of hot pavement and freshly cut grass. I traveled into the memories of lazy family vacations with no work or school or household chores. Corn on the cob. Bees chasing popsicles. Swimming in the lake. Reading on the deck. The end of a long day followed by a deep sleep in crisp, line-dried white sheets.

I had no idea what my partner or my daughter were writing and I likely never would, but I could feel the convergence of energy as we each moved our thoughts from our interiority onto our notebooks. 

I tried to stay with the scent of the orange and the lilacs, to keep with this deep sense of joy and happiness, but as I continued to write I became aware of the temporary nature of this moment and my mind wandered. I drifted down from my cloud and back to earth. Though the orange and lilacs were sitting exactly where they’d been when we started writing, the scent had faded. I searched for the barely perceptible smell; I wanted it back. 

I looked up from my notebook to find the orange again, to move the lilacs closer but what came into focus was my family — the two people I love the most in the world. The timer went off. We closed our notebooks and the invisible dome that had locked us into that fifteen minutes of magic disappeared. We smiled across the table at each other. We were happy. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Are You a Good Mother?


As I sit here writing this my phone is pinging with sweet texts and email messages wishing me a happy mother’s day. We will have a brunch later on, further celebrating this day. It’s a lot of pressure, this day of focus. It makes me think about the messages women receive to be a good mothers.

Is there any such thing as a good mother? I think the very concept of being a “good” mother is kind of dumb. The essence of being a mother is to be good. Motherhood (and fatherhood) is a commitment to take care of someone other than yourself, to put that person (or multiple persons) ahead of you all the time, every single day. 

That’s not necessarily being good. It’s just being a mother. It comes with the role. Once you’re in it, it’s your new role for the rest of your life. You are forever changed. It’s not a matter of being changed for the good or the bad. You’re just changed. Before you weren’t a mother and now you are.

Of course, there are bad mothers, those who neglect or abuse their children, who cannot prioritize their progeny. But this essay is not about them. This essay is about all the other mothers, the run-of-the-mill mothers like me who strive every day to do the best job they can. Sometimes they are amazing and enlightened TV show moms. And sometimes they are bored to death with hearing about what happened at school again.

When we throw around the term “good mother,” it sets a precedent for competition. To be better than all the other mothers. It’s like being labeled a “good student.” Only students who perform in a certain way are good. Those who have different learning styles or abilities don’t get rewarded with that label.

When I hear the term “good mother” it makes me think, “Am I good enough?” I wonder if I am working as hard as I can, as hard as the mother across the street or down the block. If I was a good mother would my child be a better student? Would she have more friends? Would she be the lead in the play or the captain of the soccer team?

As I sit here, making a list of all the women I want to send a shout-out today — my sisters and friends, my mother and step-mother, my aunts and sisters-in-law — I think they are all good mothers. But it’s not because they drive the most days of carpool or do the best arts and crafts at home. It’s not because their kids are the most well-behaved or got into the best colleges. They are good mothers because they are doing their job every day.

So, happy mother’s day to all of you moms, but today, try not to stress about being a good mom. Just sit back, pour yourself a cup of whatever, and bask in the glow of motherhood. You’re a mom and that’s enough.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Life on Another Planet: Lessons from a Year of Pandemic Living

Last night I dreamed that I was deported to another planet. The reason for my deportation was unclear, but I think it had something to do with protecting me from something bad that I’d done or a dangerous event that was forthcoming.

In my dream, I ended up in an all-white dorm room with several bunk beds. Everything was white — the walls, the ceiling, the bunk beds, the sheets. I was assigned to the bottom bunk and a woman named Lee who’d I’d met just briefly at my last job was tucked into the top slot.

Lee was the only familiar face in the room. The other “guests” were two teenage girls who scored the only two non-bunk beds and a very large multi-generational family who occupied the other three bunk beds. I wasn’t sure why the teenagers were there but somehow I knew that the family had been high up in a Mexican drug cartel and were on this planet for protection.

I was confused but not scared. In my dream, it was clear to me that this was my new reality. It was not a vacation or a time-limited prison sentence. It was where I would live for the rest of my life. A chronic worrier, it was strange to me that my dream self wasn’t panicking about having been transported to this strange new land. My dream self just accepted it and tried to work with what I knew.

I started to unpack my familiar burgundy carry-on. I hadn’t packed much — just a pair of pants and a few t-shirts. That was weird because I rarely wear t-shirts. I couldn’t find any underpants or bras and as I was digging around to see if maybe they were buried somewhere Lee yelled down, “You have eight million dollars cash in there. I know cuz I got it too.”

Sure enough, there was a ziplock baggie with eight million dollars. I knew that this currency was no good on the new planet and wondered briefly who’d stuffed it into our suitcases. I thought of all the things I could have used that money for a few short days before.

Two orderlies dressed in scrubs with light blue stars all over them brought in trays of food for the teenage girls. Leaning on one elbow and facing each other, the girls picked at their food with dead eyes and bitter smirks. Those girls scared me. I assumed they’d been here for a while and had given up hope. Maybe they knew something about this bizarre planet we were on. On the other hand, I thought to my dream self, maybe they’re just teenagers.

When I finished unpacking I realized that my glasses were broken, not just at the end piece where I could use a paperclip or safety pin to repair them, but further down the arm. I would need heavy-duty tape or a whole new arm to replace it. 

My alarm woke me up and I quickly jotted down the key points of the dream. What struck me the most was how unworried I was on this new planet. I just accepted all of the strange things. I’m usually the kind of person who would be FREAKING OUT, demanding to understand what is happening, to know all of the details. I would run from room to room looking out every window, in every drawer. Normally in stressful times, I’m like Shelly Duvall in The Shining —  smoking, eyes darting around, intermittently shrieking and playing possum.

But in this dream, I was just going with it. Everything was new and different and disorienting but it was okay. It was simply my new life. My dream self accepted that I would have eight million dollars that I could never use, that I would wear broken glasses and the same bra and underpants forever. My dream self accepted my new roommates and the fact that I’d never see my home or my family forever.

The person in this dream, I thought to myself, was not the version of me that I know. It was the reformed version, the kind of person who can let things go, accept change, and live in the unknown.

Reflecting back on the period of history we’re in — more than a year of living in a pandemic where everything is scary and disorienting and we know very little about what the hell is really happening — I realize that this past year has been a little bit like living on another planet.

I’ve learned a lot on this new planet. I’ve learned early on in the pandemic that if my inner Shelly Duvall ruled the roost I would be completely insane and permanently alienate all of the close friends and family members I love and care about. I’ve learned that happiness is possible even when I am living in the unknown. I’ve learned that I don’t actually need the number of clothes and shoes and accessories that crowd my closet and drawers. I’ve learned that the world can feel scary and weird and crazy and I’ll still be okay. I’ve learned that I can make do with broken glasses.

My dream was a prescient message to stay on this path. It was a sign that the lessons I’ve learned are good ones that will serve me on my journey no matter what planet I’m on. I’ll always be a worrier. I’ll still freak out from time to time. But I like to think that my dream revealed a little bit of the new me, the one who can still be happy when life is scary, unknown, and incredibly weird. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Proxy Mommy: It Really Does Take a Village

Last night my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia went on a dinner date with one of my best friends Jamie, and I took Jamie’s fourteen-year-old daughter Maya out. It was Lucia’s idea. She’s been talking about it for months — how she wanted to go out to dinner with Jamie. So they made a plan and then because it seemed like such a good idea, I decided to take Maya.

It was a temporary mother-daughter swap. We’ve been family friends since our kids were infants. We’ve gone on family vacations together and celebrated holidays together. We’re all comfortable and relaxed around each other, as close to family as you can get.

Maya and I opted for dinner at a local taqueria. During our dinner of tacos and burritos, I asked Maya lots of questions and she shared what she’s doing in school, ways she’d like to spend more time with her own mom, and how she was feeling about her big move to high school next year.

After dinner, we walked to an ice cream shop and got scoops to go. We walked back to the car, much more comfortable than we had been at the beginning of dinner. It was so nice to spend this time together, like mother and daughter, but without the history, the expectations, the entrenched roles that so many mothers and daughters get locked into. When I dropped Maya off I hoped she’d enjoyed herself as much as I had.

Shortly before getting home myself, I got a few texts from Lucia, “Sorry, we’re tequila tasting right now and I’ll be home around 1 am” followed by, “Also, I love menthol cigarettes.”

Jamie is one of the funniest people I know and I could imagine her and Lucia sitting at a table in the different Mexican restaurant that they went to coming up with ways to freak me out.

When Lucia finally did get home a half-hour later she told me that she and Jamie had mostly talked about college. I’m sure that they did talk about college, but I imagined, based on the wide range of topics Maya and I covered, that they talked about a lot of other things too. But I understood Lucia’s clipped summary of her evening — it wasn’t my business what she and Jamie had talked about.

It’s an age-old truth — adolescents, especially girls, have to find a way to separate from their mothers. They have to devise tools to step out of the familiar, close-to-home image of their mothers. Unfortunately for the mothers, this is often painful and rejecting. But it’s not personal. It’s imperative to make this shift so that the daughter can make herself in her own image, not that of her mother.

I remember a few months ago Lucia came home from a shopping trip to the mall. “Mom, I saw the weirdest thing,” she recounted, “there was a mother and a daughter about my age. They looked exactly the same and they were holding hands.

When I probed Lucia a little bit more about why that was so weird, she explained that there must be something wrong there. The daughter must be keeping some dirty family secrets, some big problems that she wasn’t expressing because it’s just not normal to be that way with your mom.

My daughter is in a phase right now where she is compelled to be her own person. She is driven in every way to be unlike me. I see that as a good thing, a developmental process that will help her discover who she is becoming.

Last night Lucia got to try out being a different self with a mother, just not her own. How brilliant to devise that scheme. She’d envisioned a proxy mother in Jamie so that she could experiment with being someone else, still herself, but different. She could engage in a relationship with Jamie with the comfort of knowing that Jamie sees her with a different lens.

I remember when I was a teenager and young adult, I had an extended period of needing to be completely different from my own mother. I was surly, sullen, and downright unpleasant. My mother’s sister, my favorite aunt, was my proxy mother. I could be who I wanted to be instead of who I was expected to be. I could be cheerful and delightful and sweet, all things that I simply could not give my own mother at that time.

We throw around the term, “it takes a village” all the time, but to put it into play means actually giving up something to let someone else step in and help. For me, it means celebrating Lucia’s need for separation and letting her explore. I can’t say it didn’t smart a little bit when Lucia first started talking about wanting to go out to dinner with Jamie. Part of me still fantasized about holding hands with her at the mall. But that’s not who my daughter is and that’s not what she needs.

Lucia is all about becoming herself. She still needs guidance and support. She needs to be shepherded gently through this time, to try out different personalities with people she feels safe with. I’m here to do the heavy lifting, to be the punching bag at times, to hold down the fort, and enforce the rules. It’s all part of the job. But Lucia needs more than this. And she figured out how to get it by creating a Proxy Mommy in Jamie.

And I got to step out of my own familiar mother role by playing Maya’s Proxy Mommy. I had the luxury to just listen to her, to be curious and interested in a way Jamie can’t because she has to be the heavy in Maya’s life. I got to be Proxy Mommy and experience the joy of sharing time with a young woman who is growing up and finding her own way.

Being a mother is hard but it’s also the greatest joy of my life. It is like an endless day at the amusement park. There’s the merry-go-round, mellow and pleasant, the roller coaster, scary and vomit-inducing, and everything in between. It’s exhausting to walk all day in the hot sun but there’s always the water ride and a break under the umbrella with kettle corn when you need a break before going on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

When we planned it, the mother-daughter swap seemed like a small thing, just dinner out on a Monday night. But reflecting on it has helped me understand that it is so much more. Being Proxy Mommy to Maya let me see how incredibly complicated our daughters are. It reminded me to make space for that complexity every day and to expand the village to make sure our girls have room to experiment and grow. I can’t wait to do it again.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Bottomless Green Grapes and Pomegranate Seltzer

I quit my full-time job last week and today is my first Monday waking up with no work obligations. This last job, which I managed to stay with for almost a year, was my first traditional full-time job in over twenty-five years. Prior to this job, I’d always done my own gig — consulting, running a business, starting a non-profit. And while all of those jobs were challenging and often required me to work full-time and beyond, I never had a compulsory schedule where I had to work certain days and certain hours. So leaving this job where I was a 9–5er feels especially liberating. I feel so happy that I don’t have to log in and do the grind until I can log out.

But the list of other things I need to do has already snaked in through the space at the bottom of my office door. It’s not even 9 am and my inventory of tasks is piling up: mow the lawn, clean out the storage room in the basement, make a dentist appointment, pay the house bills, wipe the old computers so I can donate them, put away winter clothes, connect timer on the drip system, research summer programs for teens.

How do people actually keep a full-time job when there is so much to do? My mom tells a story of me at our family dinner table when I was about fourteen. “I’m never going to work full-time,” I said. Both of my parents and my step-parents worked full-time. I’m not sure where I got the idea that it was possible not to work full-time.

I’d bought into the other messages that were promoted in my youth — that boys were more capable, that adult women should always be dieting, and that most people with any gray hair also had chronic back pain. So why did I make the proclamation that I would not follow the full-time path at such an early age? 

After working full-time for the last year, I am affirmed that my adolescent proclamation was wise and true. Everyone is different. There are night owls and early birds. But the majority of us are expected to work the same shifts. Some people like to work twelve-hour days and get their workweek over with. Others would rather work short days and just do a moderate amount every day. 

Today, in addition to my list of jobs to do, I have challenged myself to envision my perfect job. 

In my perfect job, I would make my own schedule. 

In my perfect job, I’d have health insurance that actually covered my health care.

In my perfect job, I could l get all of the paperwork done before 7 am and be done with work by 3 pm when my creativity and energy start to fade. 

In my perfect job, if I wanted, I could work for seven-day stretches and take four days off for a family trip. 

In my perfect job, I could work at home.

In my perfect job, there would be a quiet room for nursing, napping, reading, or meditating.

In my perfect job, I would have wonderful colleagues who also crafted their perfect jobs. 

In my perfect job, I would have a boss who asked me and my colleagues lots of questions about what we thought about big company decisions.

In my perfect job, we’d have a room full of arts and crafts — watercolors, embroidery thread, clay, a sewing machine, collage materials — so that anyone could take a break to get inspired or just to do some parallel play in the middle of the workday.

In my perfect job, I would have a few projects that were really easy and intuitive for me and one big project that felt really hard, like a two thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. 

In my perfect job, I could walk or bike to work and come home for lunch to walk my dog.

In my perfect job, the office would have lots of plants and a mini-fridge with bottomless green grapes and pomegranate seltzer.

In my perfect job, we’d have a weekly staff meeting where everyone felt excited to see each other, and someone new brought a different homemade bread or pastry to share each week.

In my perfect job, we’d all be trying to change the world in our own way. Everyone would get a chance to share their passions and invite others to join them at our monthly Heal the World afternoon retreat in the park by the lake.

In my perfect job if you just felt really tired someone would notice. They’d look at you and smile and say, “You look wiped. Why don’t you head home. Take some time, as much as you need, and come back when you’re ready.”

I’m looking for a new job and I’ve given myself a little time to find the perfect one. I just have a few important criteria. How hard can it be?

Work Life Balance

Yesterday while I was working I thought to myself, “I could do this all day long!” And that’s a good thing because that was the plan. I rece...