From Tree to Tree (A Poem on Callings)

Sometimes

I feel like a bird

That thinks she’s flying

But all she’s doing is jumping

From tree to tree

Jump, jump, jump

Moments of exhilaration

Momentary

Never full flight

With the sky calling above

Fly, fly, fly

She stands still on the branch

Looks up and imagines the feel of wind

The ache in her wings

Unbearable

And then, turning away

She jumps

From tree to tree

An Unexpected Path to Mindfulness (And Why Women Like to Shop at Target)

Whenever I’m in a state of transition or change, I go on a spiritual quest of sorts. I might buy a copy of Real Simple magazine, its cover photo of an organized linen closet promising me everlasting peace and happiness.

Or I’ll go to Target to wander the aisles. Sniff candles with names like “calm.” Wonder if this or that would look pretty in my house, and then not buy anything. The experience of Target being all that I needed to feel bright and sparkly again.

I also start cooking, which is significant because I generally avoid making dinner (or anything for that matter) unless absolutely necessary. And even then, it might be a grilled cheese sandwich. I onced served that with a side of mini-carrots and my husband asked if “cafeteria food” was a new type of cuisine.

But when I’m in a state of transition or change, I suddenly want to make soup from scratch and bake an apple pie. Or I’ll decide that I am going to start canning homemade jam, even though I have no idea how to do it.

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Me. In the kitchen. Cooking.

The prevailing theme for all of these mini-spiritual quests is around homemaking and caregiving. And while I engage in both to some degree, I’ve set them aside out of choice and necessity to engage in the world of work.

I’m too old to feel guilty about this. Like many working women, I almost died on that hill of “having it all,” so I have a well-deserved aversion to these traditional pursuits. Which makes it all the more perplexing that I move towards them during times of transition and change.

What is it about homemaking and caregiving that are so compelling when my world feels unstable?

I imagine some would say that I am getting back in touch with my true purpose in life, which is to be home with my kids. But I know better.

I am a horrible stay-at-home mother, having tried it during maternity leave. It took me all of two months to determine that people with degrees in early childhood development could, indeed, raise my children better than me.

I also only like to cook when I feel like it. As with most things, once it’s required and expected (and taken for granted), it becomes a chore. Especially at the end of the day when all I want to do is rest and reconnect with my family.

So it must be deeper than that. Something beyond the task itself or its meaning of home and family.

There’s a feeling of peace when I do these things. My mind stops chattering as much, my senses are engaged. It’s probably as close as I get to mindfulness, which is something I am just starting to explore.

My first foray into mindfulness was a disaster. My therapist at the time suggested I try taking a “non-purposeful walk” over my lunch hour.

Confused, I asked if I could do this while talking on my cellphone. (Nope.)

Then I asked if I could just walk realllly slowlllly to my next meeting. (Again, denied.)

Finally, I asked if I could at least drink a Starbucks while walking non-purposefully. In exasperation, she acquiesced.

I actually got a headache on my non-purposeful walk. I felt extremely self-conscious just wandering around randomly with a Starbucks in my hand.

And I wasn’t multitasking in my typical way, so I was acutely aware of my surroundings. All of which I found profoundly boring.

At my next session, she suggested I try drawing something without judgment. To just see an everyday object, sketch it on a piece of paper, and be done with it.

Five attempts at drawing a Kleenex box left me feeling frustrated and inept. How hard could it be to draw a box? (Apparently, very.) In exasperation, I crumpled up the paper and threw it away. I didn’t even recycle it, I was so mad at it.

So much for mindfulness.

Some years later, I’m a bit more evolved on my path. I can pull my mind back into the present moment when it starts spinning. I breathe deeply when I want to scream. I even meditate on occasion.

Even though it may seem strange to suggest that reading Real Simple magazine or walking through Target or cooking dinner are acts in mindfulness, they are for me.

Because when I am doing these things, I am more centered and present. I feel connected to myself and others. And I am at peace.

It’s as close to spiritual nirvana as I get.

What is it that makes you feel centered and present? Connected to yourself and others? Peaceful?

Maybe it’s watching a movie with your kids. Or walking your dog. Even organizing a linen closet with color-coded labels like Real Simple magazine can be a mindfulness practice.

Find those things and do them more.

As for me, I’ll be wandering the aisles of Target. Purposefully.

To Lie Fallow (Thoughts on Rest)

Pointing out of the car window, I ask my grandmother, “What crops are those?”

She explains how to tell the difference between wheat and corn. Shows me how sugar beets grow in clumps. And tells me why the bright faces of sunflowers move east to west, following the arc of the sun.

Every few miles, the landscape changes, and in a sudden shock of absence, the colors disappear.

Looking at the barren field, plowed and empty, I ask my grandmother why.

Were the crops dead? Did the farmer forget to plant?

“They’re resting the field,” she says, “Letting it lie fallow.”

Fallow [fal-oh] adjective
1. (of land) plowed and left unseeded for a season or more
2. not in use; inactive

Some thirty years later, I sit at my computer, tired from the past year. My creativity feeling forced, my writing contrived. Blank and without ideas. I am tired. Stuck.

I need to go fallow.

To rest and pause. Replenish myself. Sit with the emptiness and wait for the rain, breathe in the air.

Ready myself for the next season, whenever that may be.

And when creativity stirs, let it grow. But only so much before tilling it back into the soil of my soul.

Women are like fields that never go fallow.

We plant, grow and harvest until there is nothing left. Or what grows lacks the vibrancy of true health.

Antonyms of fallow: active, busy, employed, going, industrious

So we’re tired. And frustrated and sad. Wondering where our energy, our day, our week, our lives have gone.

What if we tried lying fallow for a season? And what would that even look like?

Synonyms of fallow: idle, dormant, inert, neglected, quiet, resting

I am halfway through my post. Creativity stirred, and I have let it grow. But only so much.

Because now I will till it back into the soil of my soul.

I will lie fallow.

‘Tis the Season and I Want Out

I had my first bout of pre-holiday panic when the pumpkins arrived at SuperTarget.

Fresh off the victory of getting my kids ready for school, I was still recovering from Back to School shopping. And sharpening fifty #2 pencils had left me feeling very stabby (and very well equipped to do so).

As such, it took me a moment to regain my bearings and point my cart towards the “Happy Halloween!” sign that made me feel anything but.

Just as I was tossing 20-pound bags of candy and pumpkins into my grocery cart, I remembered that it was still September. Which meant the candy would be long gone and the pumpkins mushy and rotten by the time Halloween actually rolled around six weeks later. 

So I put everything back, and while I didn’t succumb to the pressure in that moment, I felt the pressure nonetheless. And it’s a pressure that doesn’t relent until we get through Christmas, which debuts before we’ve even survived the gauntlet that is Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which, the reason I didn’t post last week?

Thanksgiving.

This is a photo of me before the big day. I’d collapsed over the December issue of Real Simple magazine with its “32 Simple Holiday Shortcuts: Check Everything Off Your List.”

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But what if you don’t even have a list?

The months of September through December are such a blurring barrage of holiday cheer that half the time, I don’t know what holiday we’re actually celebrating.

Which makes me not want to celebrate any of them and instead hide out in my basement behind the boxes of decorations like they’re some sort of makeshift bomb shelter.

But I can’t. Because I have children.

And children love any reason to celebrate, which makes it especially tricky to go out in public at all during this time of year.

Halloween candy and princess costumes lurk around every corner. And as soon as they’re pulled off the shelves, Christmas arrives with toys, toys, and more toys.

Entering any store is like accidentally wandering into Disneyland and having to tell your kid, “I’m sorry honey, but we don’t have time to ride the roller coaster or take 5,000 pictures with Cinderella.”

Whining and sobbing become commonplace. And it’s usually me, not the kids, who are doing it.

Which is why I want out.

I want out of buying stuff that we don’t need. I want out of trying to make my house beautiful and festive and perfect. I want out of cooking and baking and cleaning dishes.

Because when I get that out, I have more space for love and family and magic. Which is what the holidays are all about.

This year, I’m hosting my biggest Christmas ever. My in-laws and sister-in-law (with her two kids plus their foreign exchange student) are all rolling in.

I barely cook for my family of four, so someone is going to have to feed them. And that someone will be a combination of Costco and whomever is the hungriest.

I don’t do dishes, so that will be delegated as well. Or we will eat off paper plates.

And as for decorating, we will either learn to live with the boxes that have resided in my living room since the day after Thanksgiving or my children and the hubs will handle it.

Or I will set them on fire

As for me, I’ll be reconnecting with my family and friends. Working on my webinar series and writing. And enjoying the holiday, rather than being a slave to it.

The lion’s share of the holiday tradition falls upon the shoulders of women. Because traditionally, women were/are the ones who decorate, cook, clean, and host.

So what “traditions” can we let go of? Or conveniently forget?

(We always bake Christmas cookies? That’s weird. I don’t remember that.)

This is my New Year’s resolution for 2018. To let go of traditions and the pressure and stress they bring.

While it may seem a bit premature to announce my New Year’s resolution, it’s not.

Because today is December 1st.

Happy New Year!

Sharing is caring. Send this post to another brave woman (and be sure to wish her a Happy New Year).

*A special thanks to the special reader who inspired this post. If you want to submit ideas for next week, please use the form below. xoxoako

 

The Dark Side of Bravery

I’ve received a few comments about my work on bravery that give me pause. Nothing scary or hateful, although I did once receive a vomiting emoji in response to a Facebook post about Beyoncé, interestingly enough.

Rather, the comments indicate a frustration women have with bravery. Frustration for not being as brave as other women. Frustration with other women for not being braver.

So I want to spend a little time exploring the dark side of bravery, not just the positive who-runs-this-mutha side. (That was a shout-out to Beyoncé and vomiting emojis, BTW.)

About one year ago (October 9, 2016, to be exact), I hosted a women’s leadership retreat. All by myself. I was the coordinator, host, MC, speaker, everything.

It was terrifying to plunk down $2,000 and then go home to tell my husband after the fact. (He does not really like expensive surprises.)

It made me sick to my stomach to ask friends, family, and anyone with a vagina to attend. (I never self-promote, not even at my own birthday party.)

When I should have been feeling “brave,” I felt anything but.

Here’s my journal entry on the day of the retreat.

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Fear and bravery go together, apparently

While fear may seem like the dark side of bravery, it’s not. The dark side of bravery is judging ourselves or other women for their choices related to it.

Because when we judge each other, not only are we buying into more bullshit about how women should be, we are actually scooping it up and throwing it at each other.

And while we’re in the middle of a bullshit melee (which I picture as being somewhat akin to a cafeteria food fight, just way grosser) men are out running the world.

Not women. Not you or me.

Not even Beyoncé.

Men.

They’re the ones running this mutha. And the longer we hurl bullshit at each other, the longer they will continue to do so.

This week, I’m at a women’s leadership conference called Emerging Women. It’s like what I did last year just times a billion.

At the conference, the woman who mentored and inspired Malala to become an activist gave a presentation. She and Malala now run an international girls’ education program in some of the scariest places on the planet.

She’s beautiful with a Stanford education and a lovely English accent who meets with the Obamas and Nobel Peace Prize winners (not counting the one she mentored) in between saving the world.

And oh-by-the-way, she’s twenty-seven years old.

I could sit here and roll around in bullshit, comparing myself to her. Finding fault in my meager attempts at social change while she continues to build her Empire of Awesome.

Or I could do what I actually did, which was go to the bathroom, stumble upon her in the hall, and envelope her in a hug.

Bravery is always, always, always relative to you and your life. Whatever action makes your heart flutter with your truth is brave.

For some women, that’s asking for a raise at work. For others, it’s asking your spouse to do the dishes.

For Shiza Shahid, it was asking Malala how she could help and then launching a global women’s movement.

Every act of bravery counts. 

There is no specific thing you should do or way you should be that is braver than others’. Because what makes my heart flutter with my truth will not be the same for you. And vice versa.

So let’s stop shoulding all over ourselves and each other.  

What does bravery look like for a stay-at-home mom? I have no idea, but it’s brave.

What does bravery look like for a transgender woman? I can’t say, but I bet she can.

What does bravery look like for you? Only you know.

Bravery is relative. It is deeply personal. And it is true for you.

So please. Be brave enough to support other women. To hear their truths and honor their choices. To set down the handful of bullshit or, even better, throw it full force at the patriarchy.

Because that’s how we are going to change this world. Together. 

Special thanks to the stay-at-home mama who suggested this topic. AND below is a list of reader-generated topics that YOU can vote on for next week’s post!

 

Marital Advice No One Gives You

Last weekend I officiated a wedding. Because apparently, it’s all the rage to have a totally unqualified person marry you.

Which is kinda perfect because people who get married are usually equally unqualified to do so.

Myself included.

I decided that I wanted to marry my husband on our first date. While that sounds romantic and all, it makes no sense whatsoever and is totally insane.

Most of us can hardly decide what to order at Starbucks let alone who we want to spend the rest of our lives with.

(Caramel Frappuccino or Pumpkin Spice Latte? Hmmmm…..)

But we do it all the time. In Las Vegas alone, there are more than 300 weddings a day, which indicates to me that getting married seems like a super-great idea when our cognitive functions are impaired.

We know the statistics. Half of all marriages end in divorce. And I would wager for the fifty percent who stay married, most would agree that things didn’t turn out quite the way they’d expected.

Which is why I wasn’t surprised the topic, “Marital Advice No One Gives You,” got the most votes for my Friday blog.

What did surprise me, however, was that all of the people who voted for this topic were currently married.

So the advice I’m giving is not really meant for the doe-eyed couples who are engaged or newlywed. There’s loads of advice for them out there, nonsensical stuff like, “Never go to bed angry.” Which in my opinion is actually a very good idea when the alternative is stabbing your spouse with a fork.

Or my personal fave, “True love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Which in my opinion is a very bad idea unless you want to wake up with a fork sticking out of your forehead.

No really, I’m not kidding. You’re going to want to stab him with a fork someday.

Rather, this post is for those of us who are in the trenches, slogging it out. Married for a while, maybe with a kid or two. Because this is when we need marital advice most of all.

Marital Advice No One Gives You

  1. Make fun of everything, especially each other. Develop a dark sense of humor for the hard days, delight in the absurdities of the good days, and whenever possible, laugh at yourself and your spouse because honestly, you’re both jackasses. I once told my husband that when he gets angry, he looks like a silverback gorilla and should maybe try thumping his chest for dramatic effect. We both started laughing and that was that.
  2. Rather than trying to change your spouse, accept who they are and get on with it already. It’s hard enough to change things about ourselves that we don’t like, let alone change things about other people. Your energy is better spent figuring out a way to appreciate and live with this imperfectly perfect human. Every morning, I get up to write, sometimes as early as 4 a.m., which means I pass out around 9 p.m. every night. Rather than getting grumpy about it, my husband uses the time to play video games with our son or watch war movies, both of which are frowned upon by me. But I’m unconscious, so there’s no frowning. It’s a win-win for everyone.
  3. The stuff you hear most couples fight about (money, kids, chores, and sex) is totally 100% true. You can’t avoid the conflict these issues bring up, so if you find yourselves struggling, go see a therapist (individual and/or couples). They have graduate degrees in this stuff and actually know what they are doing. Between the two of us, we’ve had three therapists going at the same time on various occasions. Rather than seeing it as a sign that your marriage isn’t working, see it as proof positive that you are committed to your marriage. And if you think it’s too expensive or too emotionally difficult or too much time to go into therapy, the alternative (divorce) is that times 1,000.
  4. There is no such thing as 50/50 except when you’re sharing dessert. Rather than performing long division to figure out if you’re both equally contributing to your marriage, parenting your kids, etc., rewrite the equation to You + Spouse = 100%. This puts you on the same side and shifts your mindset to getting through this life, together. As much as I’m a feminist and believe in equality at home, I am the primary go-to for all things related to our kids. For one thing, I’m better at it, but secondly, I like doing it much more than my husband. And for us, it works. Find your 100% together, and as long as it’s working for you, it’s working.
  5. A good marriage is not about being “soulmates” or “living happily ever after.” It’s about being able to look at your spouse and think, “This is my ride-or-die homie, the one person on earth I’d want in the trenches with me.” A few years ago, we were out shopping and I saw an elderly couple going through the store. The wife was in a wheelchair, and she was clearly disabled by a stroke or something else awful. As her husband pushed her through the store, he pointed out the pretty lights and the artwork on the wall, whispering in her ear. And I thought, “My husband would do that for me someday, too.” If you know in your soul that your spouse is your ride-or-die, then you are rocking this marriage thing.

I am no expert on marriage. Just ask my husband. After seventeen years, we’re still figuring out how to “fight fair” and not stab each other with forks.

But here’s the deal. No one is an expert at marriage. And perhaps that’s the last piece of advice I’ll leave you with.

So keep doing your best, keep slogging it out, and whatever you do, keep trying.

Sharing is caring. Send this post to your soulmate ride-or-die homie. (Or a newlywed, just for kicks). They’ll thank you for it.

Oh, and send me a suggestion for next week’s topic! It’s a write-in ballot this time.

 

 

 

 

 

Costco Fashionista (And Other Acts of Rebellion for Women)

I shop at Costco. And when I say I shop at Costco, I mean I do more than buy a ridiculous amount of food in equally ridiculous quantities.

(What does one even do with 60 lbs. of pork besides bury it? Because clearly, it’s an entire animal.)

I also buy gifts for every holiday, decor for my home, electronics, and random stuff I didn’t know I needed but totally did.

Like these magical hangers that keep my clothes from falling down onto the floor of my closet. (Perhaps they’re made of NASA anti-gravity material? Is that actually a thing?)

Or a squatty potty that enhances the ergonomic experience of pooping. (Yes, that actually is a thing. And I think NASA made it.)

The best finds, however, are in the clothing aisles. Because contrary to what most people think, Costco knows fashion.

And I delight in sharing this whenever someone says, “You look so cute! Where did you get that (insert Costco fashion item)?”

Because for me, buying my clothes at Costco is one of the most brilliant life hacks I’ve discovered to date.

It takes a little elbow grease to dig through the piles of clothes, and it doesn’t look quite as sassy-cute as something I’d find at Ann Taylor Loft, but it’s good enough.

And that’s what life hacks are all about. Good enough.

This is super-tricky for women because we aren’t taught to see “good enough” as, well, good enough.

We’re taught to strive for perfection. In everything we do, from the roles we fulfill (perfect mother) to how we look (perfect body) to what we wear (perfect outfit).

So for me, buying clothes from Costco – being a Costco Fashionista if you will – is my way of practicing good enough.

Of saying, “Screw you, perfection. I just got a bombass denim dress for $29.99 and that is good enough for me and anyone who sees me wear it.”

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Bomb. Ass.

Life hacks like buying clothes at Costco are tiny acts of rebellion. Brave choices you can take as a woman to liberate yourself from perfection. Which is really just a bunch of unrealistic expectations and outdated gender roles that come with being female.

I mean, have you ever met a man who struggles with perfection?

Me, neither.

Here are a few more life hacks/acts of rebellion for you to consider:

The Housing Cleaning Hack

If you can afford it, hire a house cleaner. And if you can’t, lower your standards. (Like to the floor where the dust bunnies live.)

And if you feel guilty about it, do the math. For women who work outside the home, you can calculate how much it actually costs you to clean your house.

Now add in the opportunity cost of not doing other things (like enjoying your life) and it turns out hiring a house cleaner is actually saving you money.

And for women who stay home with their kids, you more than anyone need and deserve a house cleaner. It’s all you can do to keep up with your children’s craft-art disasters and self-reproducing toy piles, let alone the dirt and grime that naturally accumulate in a house.

So stop cleaning your own house. Or stop doing it so well.

The Homemade Meal Hack

Did I mention that Costco also makes delicious meals that, when coupled with a fresh veggie or salad, make you feel like the most responsible wife and best mother ever?

Costco. It’s what’s for dinner.

Homemade meals are overrated. Just ask my kids who much prefer stuffed peppers with a side of broccoli to anything I could make for dinner.

The Good Parent Hack

Orchestra recitals, soccer practices, kids’ birthday parties, and swim meets fill up my children’s schedules and, by default, my own.

So I attend their activities but now, rather than covertly checking email or texting one of the other mothers, “OMG why didn’t I bring a flask?” I make sure to schedule phone dates with my girlfriends. My kid knows I’m there (good parent – check), and I am actually enjoying myself.

Sometimes I’ll talk for hours with my girlfriends, usually with a very important look on my face. Is she talking to the doctor? Someone at work? Arguing with her husband?

No one knows, and that’s the hack.

I realize this doesn’t make me sound like a perfect parent. And maybe that’s a good (enough) thing.

Life hacks are beautiful and courageous. So rather than feel guilty about not making a homemade meal or spending hours cleaning your house, feel awesome.

Pat yourself on the back for being brave.

For being good enough.

Sharing is caring. Send this to a girlfriend who is good enough. Or shops at Costco. She’ll thank you for it. 

Oh, and please help pick out next week’s topic! Survey below.