Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Cleaning My Identity and My Closet

I'm not a big fan of Spring cleaning, or any other cleaning for that matter. With 3 rapidly growing children, I already feel like I spend half my life changing out closets, digging through giant bins of hand-me-downs, and generally working to keep us from appearing on an episode of Hoarders: Elementary School Edition. I don't need a special season devoted to this onerous task.

But this year the urge to purge my OWN things has been strong. As a result of what we will kindly refer to as my many life transitions, my walk-in closet now suffers from multiple personality disorder. Suits and blouses that have not seen daylight in 5 years hang dejectedly on one side, opposite a row of flowered sun dresses still holding a grudge that I moved them to Michigan from Hawaii's sunny shores, with the 2 pairs of jeans I wear on a rotating basis and all my workout gear hanging out somewhere in between. 

In my attempt to pare down the pairs of shoes and everything else crammed in there, I came across this skirt, and the gears which guide my normally instantaneous "Keep/Donate/Trash" decision came to a grinding halt. 

I bought that skirt during one of my last child-free moments. 41.5 weeks pregnant with a baby who refused to come out, I had just gone in for yet another check-up, yet another hour of being hooked up to monitors, and yet another day of being told "Looks like Baby is just being a little bit stubborn!" 

I remember not knowing whether to feel upset or overjoyed. Wasn't I supposed to be counting the minutes until I could hold that precious baby in my arms? I was, for sure. Most of the time. Except for when I was mourning the impending loss of my previous life. Was that normal? I didn't know, and I was afraid to ask, so I did the only logical thing: I went shopping. 

At the time, my OB-GYN's office was conveniently located in a bustling downtown area. I dragged my ginormous belly into a chic shop and waddled over to what I vaguely recalled my pre-pregnancy size to be. And there it was: the Mom Skirt. Comfortable yet stylish, slimming yet forgiving, it seemed to be calling my name. Chalk it up to the hormones, but somehow I thought this skirt would be the answer to all my problems. I envisioned effortlessly slipping into motherhood as easily as I could tug on that elastic waist. I pictured myself frolicking through fields of flowers with my future children in tow, Sound of Music style, my skirt twirling in the breeze.

So I bought it, and I packed it delicately in my hospital bag, right next to the gender-neutral Coming Home outfit I'd purchased for Baby. The one he peed on as we got ready to come home. He peed on my skirt, too.

Upon entering the house, I ripped off the skirt and searched my drawers in vain for something that would fit. But everything I owned was either too small, too big, too dry clean only, and just generally too non-Mom. As my new baby wailed in the background, I felt embarrassed at how naive I had been to think all I needed was a black skirt to pull this off. Being a mom would require more than a wardrobe- where was my script? My character? My motivation?

Late that night, I did my first child-related load of laundry, and I stuffed the black skirt and all the other garments outfits now laced with some form of DNA in the wash. As the machine filled with water, my eyes overflowed with tears.

I cried because I truly was so happy to have been granted this miracle, this blessing from God. I cried because the weight of that responsibility felt like it just might crush me. I cried for what I already knew and for the great tidal wave of the unknown I feared could pull me under at any moment. I cried because this was where I knew I belonged, and yet part of me wanted nothing more than to run away.

And as I watched that rumpled, dirty black skirt go around and around, I cried because I wanted more than anything to go back to the morning before he was born, back to when the skirt and my role in the show called Motherhood were both still a clean slate. Back to when hope and joy were still packed neatly in my hospital bag and things weren't quite so messy.

I held my sweet baby boy close that first night, and prayed for strength, for wisdom, and for peace. And by the grace of God, as the sun came up on us both it all felt a bit more manageable. I tucked the skirt, and many of my feelings, into the back of the closet and did my best to figure out how, and where, I fit into this new life.

Though I never really cared for its frumpy, neither-here-nor-there length, or its lack of originality, over the years I've pulled that black skirt out and have worn it on more occasions than I'd like to admit, including two more trips home from the hospital (as I said: elastic waistband). Every time I see it, it brings me right back to the moment I bought it, and the first time I wore it. Expectations, reality, and redemption all sewn into one garment. And now, I think it's time for it to go.

I wish I could say I was one of those women who simply slipped right into motherhood, but for me, it took some time to find my own style. Today, I'm the proud mom of three amazing children but I don't divide my life into "before" and "after" kids. It all combines to make me who I am. Motherhood still fills me with the same sense of awe, joy, and fear that it did that first night, and I embrace it. It's not a role I'm playing, and I don't need a costume. It's already stitched in the fabric of my soul.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Seeing The New Year Clearly: Embracing The Need To Hibernate

Anyone who has ever worn glasses or contact lenses knows that glorious feeling that comes with slipping on a new prescription. Suddenly, the world seems sharper, clearer, more in focus. It's not like you didn't see things before, but now colors are somehow more colorful, details more detailed. Everything looks fresh and new.

I've worn glasses since I was a child, and I was definitely not thrilled when I put on that first pair. I pouted all the way home and kept my four eyes pointed toward the ground. But when we got out of the car I do remember finally looking up, grabbing my dad's hand, and yelling, "So THAT'S what a tree looks like!"

I think that kind of clarity and energy is what we're supposed to experience each year on January first: a fresh start, a new perspective, a chance to see things/do things as we've never seen/done before. And every year, I feel an enormous amount of pressure to make it so, to find that clear vision, to the point that I've even started scheduling my annual eye exam for December 31st.

But it never seems to work.

Here's how New Year's typically goes for me: I spend much of the 31st brooding over the fact that Christmas, my favorite time of the year, is over, and the year is coming to a close. As the day goes on, I feel more and more like I am digging myself into a hole. Just as others are building their revelry up to a loud, roaring crescendo, I start to feel like I am shrinking down inside myself, becoming smaller and quieter (yes, me!).

On January 1st, I do not normally wake up feeling energized and ready to greet the New Year, but weary and ready to pull the covers back over my head. It's a feeling I have trouble shaking for several weeks, during which I beat myself up for those emotions, and try desperately to find ways to just snap out of it.

But not this time.

You see, 2014 was in many ways a very difficult year. In addition to the usual life stressors and the demands of keeping up with three kids and a career, more than half the year was spent in and out of hospitals, and much of it on bended knee in fervent prayer. And I wouldn't change a thing.

That's because while they might not have been the lesson plans I would have written for myself, 2014 did bring with it a long list of important things learned.

It was the year in which I grew closer to my family, to my friends, and to my faith.

Our Big Fat Egyptian Family 

The year in which I gained newfound respect for the human body- in both sickness and in health, it is a remarkable creation worthy of our utmost respect and care.

I took 3rd place in my age group in my first multi-sport race..out of 3. 

The year I embraced imperfection- in myself and others.

These pancakes were supposed to say something. They were still delicious. 

The year I learned to forgive myself and others.
There's hope for all of us. 
The year I really came to understand what it means to hold on tightly to what matters most, and to let go of the rest.

The 3 amigos. 

The year I figured out that it's OK to find moments of joy in the middle of painful times.

Her middle name is Joy for a reason. 

So with all that learning under my belt, in these early days of 2015 I'm giving myself the space to just BE.

Because this post-holiday coma- it’s more than simply being tired from the effort of serving as Santa's main elf and the cruise director of the good ship Family Fun. It’s deeper than the fatigue of too many long runs, late nights, Moscow Mules, and merriment.

I think it's more like a hibernation period for my soul.

After all, winter is a time of waiting, a restorative time, a time to rest. Looking out my window, it's clearly not a time when anything is expected to bloom- so why should I force that on myself? If you believe, as I do, that we plant seeds of hope, goals, and of dreams within ourselves, then this is the time for them to be covered, to be still, and to germinate. The lessons of the past year will become mulch for what lies ahead, but only if we're able to let them go.

People know me as always being on the go, up at the crack of dawn, racing around all day with a spunky personality and a peppy step. But this is me, too- sometimes, I go underground. In the past I've been my own harshest critic, thinking that this desire to root and rest is akin to laziness, or a lack of motivation.

But it isn't.

I think it's important that we honor every season in our lives, just as we do in nature. I think for the first time, I'm seeing things clearly. I've got the right prescription lenses, and everything is coming into focus.

So THAT'S what a happy new year looks like.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Confessions of a Non-Shopaholic At Christmas

If there is a shopper's gene, I was not born with it. In fact, I'd put shopping right up there with a root canal on my list of preferred ways to spend an afternoon. But at least with the root canal, you get some sweet drugs to take the edge off.

Like those who suffer from seasonal allergies, my shopping aversion is particularly pronounced this time of year, especially when it comes to the chamber of horrors known as The Mall. Between the parking lot where SUVs (often driven by women in workout gear who apparently save their precious steps for CrossFit or Zumba class) circle like hungry sharks for the closest spot, the operating room strength lights, and the sickly sweet smell of the Cinnabon stand mixed with the awful stench piped in and out of Abercrombie and Fitch, the mall is one of the circles of Hell in my book.

So it may seem odd that one of my favorite memories of Christmases past involves shopping... with my dad, no less, the man from whom I almost certainly inherited my anti-shopping tendencies.

While not a shopper, my dad was always what you might call a browser. When he and my mom first arrived in this country in the late 60s and lived in downtown Detroit, they often enjoyed taking in the sights of the stately J.L Hudson's flagship department store, admiring the holiday decor and the elegant mannequins in the window. Eventually, they moved to a boutique-y suburb where they pushed my brother in a stroller down quaint city streets. I don't think Dad ever actually bought much- but he browsed with interest.

By the time I came around, we lived in a neighborhood with no stores to speak of. With two parents with very demanding careers and two kids with busy lives, holiday shopping was not exactly a top priority. But every year, as the holiday grew near (really near, like Dec. 23), my dad would put his game face on and SHOP. And I would get to go with him.

Because he was a man on a mission, there was only one store we'd hit.  It was a place filled with gadgets and gizmos galore. A place where technology and imagination came together on every shelf. A place that felt like it contained the Gifts of Christmas Future... a place called The Sharper Image.

Once inside, I'd happily sink into a massage chair with a pair of 3D goggles while a robotic butler dog scooted across the floor in front of me, deftly carrying a sonic toothbrush and an ionic jewelry cleaner on his tray. Meanwhile, my dad quickly but methodically picked out gifts for those on his list: stress-relieving microwavable socks for my hard-working, tired-footed mom. A shower radio for my music-loving brother. And don't forget the talking keychain that spoke phrases in 4 different languages for his travel-obsessed daughter...the one he thought I didn't see him sneak to the checkout.

It was never a big production- we were in and out of the store in under an hour, and back home without any fanfare. On Christmas Day, we'd laugh as we'd open his seemingly random (but actually very carefully selected) items. Recognizing his lack of shopping expertise, the gifts were all the sweeter. I never thought much of it at the time, and I honestly haven't thought about it in years, until a certain catalog arrived in the mail a few weeks back.

Flipping through the pages, I was struck by how much has changed over the years (for instance, why is Heidi Klum on the cover- even she looks like she doesn't know what the heck she's doing there?), and how much still remains the same (A soothing heated gel eye mask...for your dog! A lighted salt and pepper grinder, for your loved ones who face dimly lit seasoning emergencies!).

And that is true in my own life as well. My dad no longer shops at The Sharper Image, or anywhere else at Christmas. In fact, now confined to a wheelchair, he's no longer able to do many of the things he once did. But here's what will never change- at Christmas and throughout the year, I will always try to follow my dad's example with what I consider to be his unspoken rules of Christmas shopping:

1) No matter how busy you are, there is always time to think of others.

2) Sometimes the smallest gestures mean the most.

3) Don't apologize for what you can't do: when love is given quietly and simply, it says everything.

I'd like to think that deep down I always knew all that to be true.

Maybe now, I just have... a sharper image.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Good Things Really DO Come in Threes: Giving Thanks For The Third Child

Yes, I do realize Thanksgiving was yesterday, but since this is all about the third child, it's only fitting my thanks comes late, as anyone with three kids will agree that you are ALWAYS running late.

But recently I've come across a number of snarky pieces which enumerate the difficulties and challenges adding a third child can bring to a family. I'm sure I've made a case for some of those myself. Several years back, my husband and I found ourselves wondering what it would be like if we were to have a third child. We were already abundantly blessed with a boy and a girl, our hearts and lives were full, and our limits seemed stretched. But while we were busy debating the pros and cons of procreation, life took matters into its own hands.

And while I'm not saying our world today isn't many times more hectic, chaotic, and overwhelming than it was 3.5 years ago, I am saying it's so much better. So on this day after Thanksgiving, I'd like to start a new tradition of giving thanks for an amazing gift not available at any Black Friday sale: the third child. And since the poor third child's birthday, accomplishments, and sometimes entire existence is at risk of getting lost in the shuffle, I officially dub today Third Child Awareness Day, a chance to celebrate all the wonderful things the third child brings to your life. Here are a few:

1. The third child is a party animal. From birth and even the 40-ish weeks leading up to it, he was dragged to his siblings' sporting events, ballet recitals, and class parties. He could probably write a comprehensive review of every bounce house within a 25-mile radius of your house, given all the birthday parties he's attended from the comfort of his Bjorn or stroller. He lives to celebrate anything and everything, and turns virtually every gathering into a celebration. There simply is no greater cheerleader than the third child. 

2. The third child will keep you on your toes because he is always...ALWAYS...up to something. But he is so darn cute he gets away with much  almost all of it. 

3. You think your other two kids are cuddly? The third child doesn't just hug you- he squishes his face against yours and hugs the life out of you...or into you. 

4. The third child's expectations are incredibly low. No pressure to personalize his belongings. If you get even one of the letters right, he's thrilled. In fact, he's ecstatic you even remembered to get him a backpack. 

5. On a scale of 1 to 10, the third child's emotional IQ is roughly 456. He feels EVERYTHING, and his emotions- whether joy, or sadness (but usually joy), are just BIGGER. 

6. Hero worship: that's how he feels about his older siblings, who instantly became better people the day the third child was born. 

 7. The third child finds his own style early in life, in part because there are rarely matching clothes available for him to wear.

8. For those lucky enough to be blessed with one, the third child is in many ways your greatest teacher. He shows you every day that hugs, patience, and giggles are renewable sources of energy. He proves that where there is love, there is a way to stretch your resources (mental, physical, financial) beyond what you ever thought possible. Though it never felt incomplete before his arrival, the third child completes your family. And while he may entertain thoughts of one day growing up, rest assured: the third child will always and forever be your baby.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Traveling And Finding My Way Back Home

I think it's safe to say I'm a seasoned traveler.

I took my first overseas voyage at age 3 months, and my first solo plane trip at age 8. In addition to frequent trips back to the motherland, my immigrant parents were determined to explore this great new country of theirs, so we spent weeks of my childhood summers piled in the Mercury Grand Marquis, armed with a bright yellow highlighted path on our AAA TripTik, a cooler full of Capri-Suns, and a Polaroid camera. Niagara Falls, colonial Williamsburg, the Smoky Mountains, California redwood trees, even the 1980 World's Fair in Nashville, Tennessee- we were road warriors and cultural observers.  

I spent my junior year in college living and traveling through Europe, and then came back to graduate so I could travel through Australia, before landing a job in the (wait for it) travel industry. I married a fellow lover of travel and consider it to be a sign of love, and not one that he's trying to get rid of me, when my he buys me luggage for my birthday. And while many find the mere idea of traveling with children daunting enough to just stay home, our kids have already discovered the great art of collecting (passport) stamps. 
Is there anything funnier than toddler passport photos? 

All that travel has taught me many lessons. I learned to make creme brûlée from a Parisian taxi driver when I mistakenly asked for a "recipe" and not a "receipt." I learned that the water, and everything else, really does go down the toilet the other way in the southern hemisphere, particularly after a rowdy New Year's celebration in Sydney. And I learned that all the planning and organizing and packing in the world won't help if you don't remember a certain toddler's stuffed ladybug on the kitchen table when you leave for a week at the beach. 

Yes, over the years I've gotten very good at leaving; it's the return trip that has always been the challenge. Sure, everyone gets the end-of-vacation, return-to-reality blues, but in my case, they've been... slightly exaggerated. What would begin with sniffles toward the end of the trip would often escalate to hysterical sobbing on the appointed day, which would continue, much to the dismay of my seat mates, all through the flight. My emotional baggage was far too big for the overhead bin and certainly wouldn't fit under the seat in front of me; it exploded under pressure (much like the dozens of baby food jars my parents once tried to bring to Egypt) and left behind a soggy, blubbering mess.

Because here's the problem: instead of just traveling, taking a trip from the ordinary, or a bit of an escape from my routine, for many years I think I was actually trying to take vacations from myself. So deeply dissatisfied with ME, I used travel as my personal ticket out of my own life. In mid-air, or in a different state, a different country, I could even make myself believe I was someone else. Someone better, someone more exciting, more accomplished. Someone with fewer relationship issues, job issues, health issues, money issues.

And then, once the trip was over, reality would come crashing back faster than a speeding 747. We're not talking about a little turbulence- every trip ended with a sudden and dramatic crash landing. There was no use bracing for impact or putting on an oxygen mask; it was all over.

My parents somehow put up with it. I'm sure my college and grad school roommates found it odd, but they helped keep the kleenex coming. And my husband tried to cushion the blow by always trying to plan another trip immediately upon coming back.

But at some point, I'm not even sure exactly when or how, I got tired of my own behavior. Tired of the tears, the drama, the heartache. That's when I decided to change my flight path, and I came home for good.

I didn't stop traveling- not by any means. And it's not like all my problems magically went away: I still have those same feelings of not being good enough, not being exciting enough, not being accomplished enough. There are still relationship issues, job issues, health issues, money issues.

The difference is, I'm not trying to run, or even fly away from them anymore.

I can escape the cold, I can escape from work, but I'm done trying to escape from myself. 

Because all that baggage- it's mine.

This life I've been given- I cherish it.

This path I've chosen- I own it.

And this place called "home"- I now choose to carry it with me everywhere I go. 

It's the best trip I've ever taken.

Our most recent trip: November 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tonight On WMOM: The Similarities Between Parenting and TV News Reporting

Last week at my 3-year-old son's gymnastics class, in an effort to distract myself from the pervasive smell of feet which permeates every gym in the country, and in order to capitalize on one of those rare opportunities for adult interaction, I struck up a conversation with another parent that quickly traveled down familiar territory. It went something like this:

Me: So what do you do?
Her: I'm at home with the kids full-time right now. But I used to be an accountant with a small firm in Southfield. And you?
Me: I'm a freelance journalist and writer, I work from home. I used to be a TV news reporter with...

And before I can finish that sentence the questions and commentary inevitably begin. "REALLY?" "How exciting!" "How glamorous!" with an reflexively raised eyebrow and a questioning glance toward my sweatshirt and jeans.

The very next day, despite it being a weekend, I woke up at 5am to work on a news story before the usual craziness of kids, activities, church, grocery shopping, etc. hit, and while making the obligatory browse through Facebook, I was struck by the number of my friends, most of them parents, expressing their distaste, even hatred, for THE NEWS.

It always baffles me that people have such a fascination with the TV news world, and yet such a disdain for the information it yields. Being a news reporter is a part of who I am, and so is being a parent. And the more I think about it, the more I realize the two worlds have more in common that you might suspect.


As a news reporter, your live your life in ALL CAPS. This isn't because you're trying to sensationalize the events of the day, it's because when you're on a story, it really does become everything to you. It's not just an accident blocking the entrance ramp to the freeway, it's an OVERTURNED TANKER. It wasn't just a drug deal gone wrong, it was a DOWNTOWN SHOOTING SPREE.  Reporters develop a sort of tunnel vision that allows them to sort through and manage the many sides and moving pieces of a story, often in the midst of total chaos, while zeroing in on the essence in order to calmly present it all to you, the viewer.

Parents do the same every day. For example, last summer I was working up in my office when I heard a scream from the playroom. I darted down the stairs two at a time with headlines flashing through my brain: BROKEN ARM! CHILD VS. CHILD MASSACRE. 1ST GRADER IMPALED BY FORK. As it turned out, he had picked the dreaded "Draw Four" card in Uno and would live another day, but any parent will tell you- if you even suspect your kids are in trouble, the rest of the world falls away.

Not to mention the multi-tasking. A mom's brain is like a screenshot from a 24-hour cable news network during a prime-time squawk fest: multiple boxes with different speakers all yelling over each other ("What's for dinner?" "Where are my orange soccer socks?" "What am I doing with my life?") as the ticker endlessly scrolls through household headlines and the never-ending to-do list. TAKE DOG TO THE VET...SCHEDULE PIANO LESSONS...SUBTRACTION TEST TOMORROW ...WE'RE OUT OF ALMOND MILK....WHAT IS THAT FUNKY SMELL IN THE LIVING ROOM?... NEED CUPCAKES FOR BAKE SALE...IS MY KID BEING BULLIED?

3) You Develop A High Tolerance for Mess

My living room is not exactly spotless, nor is any newsroom I've ever worked in. And it's not that either group is, by nature, filthy, it's just that it takes so much STUFF to make both news and parenting all happen. In the TV world, cords and cables are like the Legos and Polly Pockets in your house- they multiply when you're not looking. Much like cleaning under your kitchen table is a scene straight out of CSI: Parenting Unit, archaeologists could study the layers of sediment in a newsroom and uncover great mysteries in buried in the layers of old scripts, shelves of archived newscasts, candy bar wrappers, and assorted pieces of clothing. Because when you put so much of yourself into your work, the rest just kind of gets strewn on the floor. That's also my story for the living room and I'm sticking with it.

It's also not unusual as a reporter that you come home covered in grime. Street reporting is messy work, exposing you to the elements, which may even include vomit should you be fortunate enough to work a shift in a college town during football season. You quickly learn to just brush it off, even if you're not entirely sure what it is. The newscast must go on, and swearing on air is frowned upon by the FCC. It's all good practice for parenthood, where soccer games, mountain bike races, and swim meets leave you at Mother Nature's mercy and the PTA has its own penalties for profanity. And those college campus stories prepare you well for the toddler years, when you will again find yourself covered in someone else's DNA.

4) You Develop A Low Tolerance for BS

Sitting through seemingly endless City Council meetings, interviewing political candidates and elected officials, and spending weeks watching courtroom drama unfold, news reporters develop a knack for sniffing out crap. This of course comes in handy when, as a parent, you must sniff out either literal crap (the dreaded but often necessary diaper whiff maneuver) or the figurative variety ("So you say your teacher told you all homework in 3rd grade is OPTIONAL?"). Reporters and parents both need to be able to ask the tough questions, listen to both sides, and present the facts as objectively as possible.

In both worlds, you choose your words wisely, understanding that each syllable you utter carries great weight. At the end of the day, your brain hurts because you've heard so much, processed so much, and put yourself out there for all to see.

4) Horrific Working Conditions Are Nothing New

My first on-air reporting job paid $8.25/hour, and I commuted 80 miles each way, often leaving my home at 3am on weekend mornings to trudge through unplowed roads in the dark. Not only is there rarely the opportunity to consume an actual meal during a reporting day, I know several colleagues who developed chronic bladder infections because there is simply no time to pee.

Yes, you get to put on gobs of makeup (usually while speeding to the scene of your live shot), and yes, you try hard in winter to find a cute hat to match your parka, but anyone who thinks it's a glamorous gig needs to spend a day outside a meth lab, or sift through the rubble after a tornado levels a neighborhood.

More often than they'd like, reporters spend their days wrapped up in other people's tragedies. Murders, natural gas explosions, bank robberies- nearly every neighborhood on a reporter's beat likely brings to mind some kind of calamity. All while putting in very long hours, often for very little money. Why would anyone put themselves through this kind of torture? Because reporters, the good ones, anyway, have a fundamental and unshakable belief that the work they are doing makes the world a better place.

Parents know exactly what that's like. Let's face it- life with a toddler can sometimes feel like soul-sucking work. The emotional and physical demands can break the best of us, and yet there are no sick days or workman's comp claims I'm aware of. You work 24-hour shifts and are "paid" in hugs, kisses, and various bodily fluids.

5) Timing Is Everything

One of the first lessons every broadcast journalism student learns is that the 6pm news doesn't start at 6:04. In television news, there are a million moving pieces, and everyone is ALWAYS on a very tight deadline. The only way to fit everything in is to work backwards from the desired end result. Say, for example, the news starts at 6:00 pm on the nose and ends at 6:29:30 on the nose. At the beginning of the day no one knows exactly which stories, how many stories and how long the stories will be that can fit into the space. Too much and your anchor is cut off in mid-word. Too little and you will end up with awkward silence at the end of the show. As the live newscast is on the air – producers must hit specific time marks, or else make adjustments on the fly, like telling a reporter to wrap it up, taking some time back from sports, or nixing the story about the fluffy duckling who was rescued from a storm drain. Flexibility and planning are both essential.

It's the same mental gymnastics parents perform to keep their show on the air. Say for dinner you're planning to prepare a roast and some potatoes. You need to have dinner ready at 6:00pm in order to get your daughter to gymnastics 15 minutes away and then drop off your son at the soccer field 10 minutes from there, and still have time to run to the store to get Pull-ups for the baby before returning to pick everyone up. It takes 3 hours to cook the roast. It takes 15 minutes to heat up the oven. The potatoes take 20 minutes to cook and it takes 10 minutes to bring the water to a boil. You need 6 minutes to locate everyone's gear, 8 minutes to play the car seat version of Whack-a-Mole as you attempt to strap in a recalcitrant toddler, and 3 minutes for the inevitable running back into the house to retrieve a forgotten water bottle, binky, or child. At what times do you start each cooking process so everything will be ready and hot for the family to eat at 6:00pm, assuming you somehow remembered to purchase the roast in the first place, and your daughter hasn't decided that today she is a vegan?

6) It's Not a Job

You can take the girl out of the newsroom, but you will never take the passion for news out of this girl. Likewise, just because your kids are grown, are you any less of a parent? Neither one of these are "jobs"- they are part of your identity and that doesn't change though circumstances may.

In both cases, no matter what else is happening in your life, you get out there and give it everything you've got. Sure there are bad days- you mess up your live shot, you miss your deadline, you yell at the toddler until his little lip starts to quiver when you find he made his latest marker masterpiece on the wall.

Because the thing is, you can't always control the outcome. Sometimes, you're given really difficult material to work with. Sometimes things just don't go your way, despite your very best efforts. Sometimes you just can't control your emotions.

But the next day you get right back out there and start all over again, because deep down you know that what you're doing has value.

You hope that you can cultivate understanding, empathy, and change.

You believe that you can shine a light where there is darkness.

And each and every day, you pray that your work leaves the world just a little bit better than how you found it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life Is A Sticky Mess At The Bottom Of My Purse

While I'm not exactly a fashionista, I do have to admit I've always been a big fan of purses. There's something about an elegant bag on your shoulder or a chic little clutch in your hand that just feels good, especially when compared to an utterly unchic diaper bag which just feels, well, like poop. And given the amount of time I spend in Sherpa Mom mode, carting other people's backpacks, swim bags, dance gear, rock collections and assorted arts and crap around, it feels downright zen to hoist something all my own, something not sold at Target, something completely untouched by the Disney marketing team, on my shoulder.

So that should partly explain why, as I reached into one of my favorite bags (the kind of Coach that has never been pulled by a talking train) to grab my ringing phone and instead found my fingers diving into a puddle of warm, sticky goo, I felt my blood begin to boil.

Given my many years of forensic fieldwork under the auspices of CSI: Toddler, I immediately determined the source of the goo to be orange marmalade. More specifically, it was clear that at least one of those little rectangular diner packets of marmalade had ruptured, forming a jam pool in which my wallet, phone, and keys were now taking a dip.

"I HATE ORANGE MARMALADE!!!" I screamed, to no one in particular, throwing the condiment-laden accessory across the room. "I HATE IT, HATE IT, HATE IT!!"

This may seem like an overreaction to a condiment, and let me assure you orange marmalade did not deserve it. While I may not be a huge fan of the stuff and prefer to throw away the peel as opposed to spreading it on my toast, orange marmalade is not exactly out to ruin my life.

"But Gido loves it," my 3-year-old reminded me, as he toddled upon the scene of my temper jam-trum.

Which is exactly how, as you may have wondered, the offensive spread ended up in my purse in the first place. You see, every week we take all 3 kids to church, and afterwards we reward ourselves for surviving the experience without committing any major sins by going out for brunch. And every week we sit at the same booth, in the same diner. And every time the kids see the packets of jam on the table they recall that I once told them that my dad (aka, Gido) loves orange marmalade. And every week, because they are sweet, thoughtful beings, they would each take a packet of marmalade to bring to Gido in the hospital. And every week, because they are children and I am their Sherpa, they eventually stick these packets of jam in my purse. And because my brain is, well, jammed full, we often forget to deliver the stuff so it accumulates in my bag. And apparently, my purse has a certain marmalade tolerance level, which was exceeded on this fateful day, resulting in the jamboree at the bottom of my bag.

"I help you clean it up?" the little voice asked.

I looked at him with my hand still covered in orange goo, unable to move. Tears started to roll down my face and for a long time, I just held him and cried. Not for the purse, or the jam, or the eventual dry cleaning bill. I cried for the messes that can't be cleaned, the problems I don't know how to solve, the loved ones who are ill, the sweet gestures of children, the innocence that eventually will be shattered. I cried for a long time.

And then I smiled.

Because this is our life.

It's sweet and it's sticky.

Sometimes it makes a big mess all over our favorite things.

But somehow we always manage to clean it up.

And along the way, we realize what our favorite things really are.