Will You Be My Sisterwife?

I am not the first working mom to pine for a “wife.”

Hell, even in college I knew that if I were to pursue the ambitious ass-kicking agenda I’d dreamed for myself, I would need a house-husband.
The miracle is that after putting marriage and kids so low on my list of priorities, I still managed to find myself a fully evolved, committed husband who does (at least) 50% of the heavy household lifting in time for me to still breed with my own genes.  I am absurdly fortunate.

And so it is with a blanket of sheep that I admit that there is STILL too much damn work to be done in running a house and raising children while earning enough to sustain my family.

I don’t think this challenge is unique to a city-living, alpha mom like me.

And so I ask you – will you be my sisterwife?

Ok, ok, I don’t mean move in and sleep with my husband – (though he is pretty much the best of his gender and deserves a whole lot more lovin’ than he’s getting these days.)  Let’s use “sister” more colloquially – as in, can you please help a sister out?

So maybe what I should say is “Will you be my NEIGHBOR-wife?

My neighbor is mom of our doppler ganger family across the hall – Cute & fun-loving couple, with kids around the age of ours. We even had chocolate labs that were around the same age.

A few weeks ago we talked about doing a freezer meal share and I think we might have stumbled upon genius.

On Sundays, we will both make a casserole or freezer meal and double the batch:  one for our family and one for theirs.

A few friends have asked for the recipes we’re using.
To that end, I have started a Pinterest board:  Fab Freezer Meals for Sharing

If  you’d like permission to post to the board, let me know.
It takes a village, yo.

To start this tradition, I whipped up a batch of Cajun Shrimp and Quinoa Casserole (from This Gal Cooks).
Against tradition, I followed her recipe pretty closely (with fewer jalapenos for tiny tongues and the addition of kale and leftover zucchini because green is good.  I also used regular mozzarella because hub couldn’t find Fontina cheese – yes, he does all the grphotoocery shopping.  Told ya… he’s kind of a big deal.)

Another of my favorite sharing recipes is Chicken Enchilada Casserole:

  • Chicken – breasts or thighs or whatever your budget allows.  We use six thighs for a family of four.
  • jar salsa (or homemade pico)
  • southwest/ taco spices to taste:  cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, chipotle, red pepper, paprika, etc.
  • enchilada sauce (yes, I recommend the can unless you’re a SAH with way too much time on your hands.)  I like a mix of green and red.
  • cheddar cheese
  • mozzarella cheese
  • sweet potatoes
  • cilantro (fresh – only way to go)
  • garlic
  • red onion
  • evoo
  • corn tortillas
  • can whole tomatoes
  • Mixed bell peppers (frozen ok)

I like to slow cook my chicken – toss in some salsa and let it cook all day on low or half the day on high.

Put sliced red onions into a skillet with evoo on medium heat and cover.  When onions are soft, add bell peppers – whatever you think your family will eat.  They will be turned into sauce so it’s a great way to trick them into eating their veg.  Once peppers are floppy, remove mix from heat and set aside.  Add more evvoo and add diced sweet potatoes.  Stir to prevent burning/sticking until the sweet potatoes begin to soften.  DO NOT make them uber mushy.

Mix (I have a wonderful, tiny food processor from Sur la Table that was a special treat with some gift cards I had collected) the enchilada sauce, whole tomatoes, and onion/pepper mix.

If you use chicken thighs, you might want to skim the grease from on top of your chicken.  Either way, shred the chicken in the crockpot with two forks.

Dip your tortillas into the sauce and cover the bottom of a 9×13 glass pan (I used a foil pan for my neighbor because I only have one glass).

Layer the shredded chicken, sweet potatoes, and a mix of the cheeses.

Spoon over some of the sauce.

Repeat the layers:  dipped corn tortillas, shredded chicken, sweet potatoes, cheese until you’re out of ingredients.

If you’re freezing this, put a layer of plastic wrap down onto the last layer and then foil cover before freezing.

If you’re cooking immediately – cover with foil and heat through – I put it in at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or so. (You’ll see the sauce bubble.)

If your kids aren’t going through their anti-green phase, sprinkle with chopped cilantro, avocado and sour cream – even more cheese if you like!

(The inspiration for this recipe came from Ambitious Kitchen and Tone & Tighten.)

In hopes of sharing my talent, I plan to post a few more of my life hacks, including more Freezer Recipes.

I hope you’ll share some of your own!

 

Six Simple Ways To Be Awesome To Others

Lately I’ve heard too many stories of people being awful to each other.

I probably need to edit my news feed but it certainly feels like there is just a little more meanness around these days.  Doing ‘mean’ empties our emotional buckets, whether we’re the doer or the been done to. Even if we’re not actively evil-doing, I think many of us are just going around in survival mode, too wrapped up in our own funk to give much to anyone.  Or worse, are faking through life, hurting our own spirit and showing that phony facade.

We deserve more.  We deserve to feel and to share awesome.

Even when I should have plenty of time on my hands, I find myself racing through each day with a to-do list that never gets done.  In hopes that writing it down can make it more real, I’ve collected a few simple thoughts on how to be an addition to others’ lives without subtracting from your own.

Share Your Talent
So many of us are busy (pretending) that we’ve got it all under control that we forget to ask specialists about their trade secrets.  We might free up time/money/stress by adopting a tip or bit of training from someone who is a natural.

But how many of us struggle with asking for help?

*Raises hand*

So lead by example, as the saying goes…  everyone has something to learn and something to teach.  Is it a skill like blog formatting and or video editing?  Is it a craft like knitting?  Is it a tradition like baking bread?  Is it a talent like writing?

Be awesome.

Don’t get hung up on the word “talent.”  Instead – think of yourself in life-hacking terms.  Are you an amazing meal planner?  Do you have the most ingenious way of archiving and displaying photos?  Are you a great amateur photog?  Do you make amazing party food?  Do you have a fool-proof method of keeping your house tidy?  Have you mastered kid’s parties?  Are you a self-taught home media master?  EVERYONE is a genius.  Share yours and be awesome to someone.

Let People Be Who They Are
This may sound more like a passive option than a simple one.  It isn’t.

To let someone be who they are, you may need to adapt to their style and that requires thoughtfulness and sacrifice – at least some of the time.  It means getting out of your own self-interests to recognize how other people process the world and not making them feel like an arse for that.

If you need an example, here’s mine:  I am not a planner.  Most of the time making plans makes me feel boxed in and trapped.
But so many of my friends and family feel very anxious about leaving plans “loose.”  They like to know the process, the agenda and the order of things.  To me, this feels rigid and restrictive.  To them, it keeps life from spinning out into chaos and allows them a comforting feeling of control.

If I want to see them regularly, I need to commit to a date and time with enough advance that they don’t over-schedule themselves right out of my life.  It may not sound like a big deal but it is.  My planner friend texted me the other day a thanks for making plans with her in advance.  She noticed.  By planning an outing much farther out than my comfort zone prefers, I was awesome to her.

There are also times when someone’s habit just annoys the crap out of you.  Making it clear to them that they make you want to pluck your hair out when they do that doesn’t fix the problem, it just empties their emotional bucket.  In these times, remember:  it isn’t about you and it isn’t personal.  Think about WHY someone might do something and find the compassion/humor/blinders to see over and around that tick to the vulnerable human behind it.  Because they are still awesome.  Show them that by reducing eye-rolls and harumphs.

Give a Genuine, Spontaneous Compliment
This one comes easy for me but I see daily how difficult it is for others.

One of my many criticisms of our society is the zero-sum mentality.  It is the game theory behind mean girls.  It is how banksters justify their morally devoid behavior.  And it is how otherwise professionals fool themselves into thinking that the ends justifies the means in their climb to the top stomping on the careers of others.

If you can only win by making others lose, you just aren’t very creative.

On my most evolved days, I am impervious to someone else’s bad mood.  But when sleep, or polar vortices, or money stress or whatever creep in, I can be a sponge absorbing other people’s mess.  I see it on other people too.  The over-crowded bus or the 14th internal meeting request of the day can send you into the Jungle of Boo.

But watch the change on someone’s face when you mention how much you like their bag or their shoes or their style or the way they handled that call or their presence in a meeting or their patience with a child.  Don’t overthink it or make a big fuss – but when something someone does catches your eye, let them know.  I like to thank or complement cleaning crews or grounds keepers.  There is almost always someone on the bus who has a hat or glasses or something that I admire.  I don’t need anything from them, and I’m not interrupting my or their momentum.  Never once has it failed to brighten someone’s face.  Just maybe, their day was a little more awesome.

Ask For What You Need
This is the only simple solution that revolves around you… but it is also a way to be awesome to others.

Too many people have the romantic idea that people who love and care for you should just intuitively KNOW what you need and give it to you in the way you most need it.

Bullshit.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, pays that much attention to you.  Except maybe your kids… and that is actually a pretty good example.

If you’ve been around a two or three-year old lately (or five-six year old if the parents are indulgent jackholes), you know that fit-throwing, whining, and fake crying abound.  This is because two and three year olds do not have sufficient command of language or emotion to properly eloquate what it is that they desire.

You do.

If you’re expecting magic, you are likely to be seriously disappointed and in feeling that, making those people who love and care for you feel like poop for not delivering on your expectations.  Because guess what?  The likely want to.

People LOVE to feel useful.  Most LOVE to make others happy. But no one has time to go around wasting effort in the hopes that they do. Rather, it is the most direct path to getting and giving what is desired if you spell it out in a way that is helpful and humble.  Be clear, be honest, and be practical.  Give others all the tools they need to do right by you, because when they succeed, it makes them feel awesome.

Couch Your Crap
While each of us is the protagonist in our own life, we’re merely supporting characters in others’ lives.  And since the grand play is all happening simultaneously, sometimes we need reminding that it isn’t all about us.

I wrote a little bit about this here, but even when there is legitimate drama, angst, and woe going on in your world, you can be awesome to others by putting your stuff on a shelf for a beat and being present for theirs.

Just like you can’t effectively listen when you’re coming up with what you want to say next, you can’t really be there for someone else when you are playing mental Stratego hoping to avoid whatever bombs are set up in your match.  Press pause.  Take a deep breath.  And focus on someone else for as long as you can without upsetting the flow of the universe.  Chances are you can return to your own bag o’ crap with a fresh perspective that might just be the solution you needed in the first place.  And in the process, you were pretty awesome to someone else.

Be a Happy Memory
I don’t mean to adios yourself from someone’s life.

I mean that people sometimes need a memory jog.  When you share an positive experience with someone, you two are each other’s happiness keepers.  Whether that memory is 5 days or 50 years old, being reminded of it can make someone relive that emotion.

When you see an old picture of them as you’re flipping through an album, or notice a post from them on Facebook, or bump into them in the hallway, or just happen to recall that happy/funny/silly/ hilarious/charming/smart/inspiring/joyful moment you shared – let them know.

Does a certain song always remind you of a friend?  Or what about a restaurant?  A vacation destination?  Your orange sweatshirt?  In the age of constant updates, we more or less keep up on the lives of way more people than we would have without the aid of technology.   Most of the time we’re just narrow-casting our lives to the audience of acquaintances (and their acquaintances, and theirs…).  Being a happy memory for someone means planting and watering your positive experience with them into their “timeline” because you think it will make them smile.  Maybe you call someone you haven’t seen in years or maybe you show up in an old familiar place to surprise the old crew, or maybe you just tag the guilty in a carefree picture from the past.

Post it, tweet it, email, telegraph, or smoke signal them.  Do it public.  Do it private.  Just, you know… do it.

Remind people who gave you great memories that you shared them together.  You never know who needs to know that they are in your thoughts, or that they made a difference, or even that they mattered.

That gift is yours to give for free and will make someone feel pretty damn awesome.

 

The Day I Broke My Face

It has now been about a month since the day my face broke.

For a chronic over-sharer like me, not posting the blow-by-blow of my experience was unfamiliar behavior.  This experience, however, felt intensely personal.  I was scarred by it and not just on my face.

More than a week after our New Year’s Day party, my new three-pot crock pot serving piece sat on the counter waiting for me to find a place to store it.  My disdain for clutter finally overcame my resistance to find non-existent storage for my Christmas gift.  I maneuvered the other entertaining pieces around on top of the China hutch to make room.  I grabbed the crock pot system in my hands, stepped onto the dining room chair and in slow motion went from lifting the crock pots into place to cracking my face on them as they hit the floor.

A leg on the chair had snapped into pieces and sent me flying – hard and heavy crock-pot first, soft and fragile face shortly thereafter.

While I fancy myself somewhat of a stunt woman (I once jumped off the back of my bike, tossing it forward to avoid being run over by a Chicago taxi.), this happened so fast I was unable to brace my fall or shield my face.  Maybe if I hadn’t been so close to the wall, I could have tossed the crock pots forward and avoided impact altogether.  Maybe if I had used a different chair or asked hub to do the lifting, no harm would have come.

But harm did come.

I heard my daughter cry out.  I heard Hub run down the hall in a panic.  I felt the warm wet that I knew meant this was going to be ugly.

For one minute, I couldn’t speak.  My thoughts were formed and my action plan ready but I couldn’t make my mouth say the words.
When I did, the sentences came out in the wrong order:  “I need an ice pack,” “I’m ok,” and then “Get Claudia out of the room.”

Steve brought me a rag and the frozen peas.  He asked again if I was alright.  I knew I wasn’t.

I tipped my hand open to show him the steady stream of blood coming out of my face.  I didn’t know the size or shape of the cut but I could see the puddle growing on the floor.

I didn’t pass out.  Instead, I gave instructions: Yes, call an ambulance.  Call, no go knock on neighbor’s door.  Call this friend.   No, call from my phone so she knows who it is.  Go comfort the kids.

What I expected to feel, I didn’t.  I wasn’t in pain.

But I was acutely aware of not being able to comfort my own kids; I didn’t want to scare them.

A whole lot of things happened after that:  Fire truck/EMTs/Friend arrived, ER visit, plastic surgeon called, on-staff plastic surgeon referred, ice packs, bad jokes (Doc: “blue or black thread?”  Me: “black – it goes with everything”), stitches to pull together my brutalized forehead.

On the way home, the adrenalin wore off and I discovered all the other injuries to my body – bruised hands, elbow, inner arm, hip, shin.
Nothing was as bad as my face though.

Over the next 3 days, my nose bridge expanded until I looked like Eric Stoltz in Mask.  Both eyes were a deep eggplant/black.  (I wish the pictures did justice to just how crazy things looked.)  The black thread holding my wound closed looked menacing.  I was also having really strong headaches behind one or both eyes.  My forehead throbbed and couldn’t be touched.

From open wound, to stitches, to surgical tape, to bangs... the evolution of my broken face.

From open wound, to stitches, to surgical tape, to bangs… the evolution of my broken face.

According to my surgeon, I was going to be fine.  I just needed a better story.  I considered some…

“I’ve started MMA training.”  

“There was a brawl that broke out at Mommy & Me.”

or my personal favorite “The first rule of Fight Club…

But the truth is I suck at lying of any kind and there may be some truth to this.

So let my life serve as a warning, dear friends:  DON’T STAND ON CHAIRS EVEN BIG HEAVY WOODEN ONES USE A STEPLADDER!
(Like this super sexy one that I bought.)

No self-actualized person worth her salt would let this big bad experience go by without learning a lesson.
But what was mine?

I couldn’t think of it right away…  “Be more careful” was just too obvious (and boring).  Was it time to let go of my vanity once and for all?  Would I finally have to do something about my “baby” weight (you know breaking chairs and stuff) now that I couldn’t get by on my face?  Was the universe telling me to aim lower (I have been punching above my weight for some time now).  Should I stop playing hostess?  Sure, sure – any of those could have fit.  But then I got it.  See if you think I’m right…

After the accident, I was too scary for public.  I sent an email to work, explaining the accident and that I’d be working from home for a few days until the swelling/bruising went down.  The office where I contracted sent a heartfelt email reply, flowers, and a new crockpot with love from the entire office.

I had texts, emails and calls from friends and industry colleagues and family.
I had a friend pick me up from a doctor visit, drive me around to errands, and returned me safely home.

But really the best were the friends, who are struggling with their own big and bad, who dropped off homemade pasta dinner for my family the night after the accident.

Even with something totally crappy happening in their life, they still had goodness and compassion and generosity to share with others.

And That?  Well, THAT was MY lesson.

How to Survive a Lay-off

I ran into a friend of mine in the Old Navy parking lot a few weeks ago.  When I mentioned my recent lay-off, he replied, “well, it’s the season for it, isn’t it?”  Truly, I have several friends who are recently unemployed or about to be.

This is my first lay-off in about 12 years.  And where I ‘celebrated’ the last one with a tremendous amount of day-drinking, late-night hell-raising, bad daytime television, and unhealthy doses of self-loathing and self-pity, this one felt more like a gift.

Sure, I’m sad that I lost my job – I really liked many of the people I worked with, respected the company, and was proud of my success there.  But I wasn’t really going to get my name in lights.  And selfishly, secretly, I still really want that.

The best thing about being laid-off is that you don’t have to make a secret about your job hunt.

If you, like me, had a highly connected boss who is well-liked around your industry YOU ARE SCREWED if you look around while still employed.  It is just uber-awkward for all involved.  Lay-offs solve that problem.  Not only can you look openly but you can hit her up for a reference when the process gets real.

So what about the dirty details of life for the newly unemployed?

Well, there is always this.

And of course day-drinking.

But if your mortgage, dependents, or liver prevent you from getting pruny in a pity-pool, here are my suggestions for surviving a lay-off.

First, apply the 30-30-40 rule.

Spend 30% of your time looking for a job.  Not more and not less.  If you focus and act quickly, 30% is enough time.

I concentrated on 3 things and I started the same day I was laid-off:

  1. I rewrote my resume – a half-dozen times – with feedback from people who were not afraid to tell me the truth.
  2. I called/emailed/wrote everyone who loves me in my industry to tell them I’m looking and that I need their help.
    (People like to feel useful but usually only take action if you ask them directly.)
  3. I set up interviews with every job that was even remotely interesting.
    • You will freshen up your knowledge of what is hot and what is not.
    • You will sharpen your conversational skills/ interviewing skills.  e.g. I learned that it is probably not in your best hiring interest to casually mention that you didn’t see any female executives on the company’s website.
    • You will meet some cool people in positions of influence along the way.

I had 23 interviews in my first 3 weeks of unemployment.  That felt AWESOME.  Most of them were not going to go anywhere but I was active, and engaged and it didn’t leave much room for the whole “nobody wants me” narrative that likes to creep in when you are dismissed from a job.  Jobs and relationships only work when there is a mutual match.  If one of the parties changes his direction, the relationship is doomed.  No blood, no foul.  Part as friends and get back into the fray!

The second 30% of my time I focused on giving to others.  I am not the greatest at volunteering my time.  I do make pretty decent donations throughout the year to causes I care about but have idealized the notion of donating talent as even more valuable.  My talent seems to be creativity.  I’ve had a few random connections with people who’ve found my Linked In profile and asked for help with theirs.  I HATE resumes.  They are painful and sterile and austere.  Linked In summaries should ‘show some leg.’  While not actually sexy, the narrative of your career should also showcase a bit of your style and personality.  Make something that people will actually want to read and they will.  People interview for skills but they hire for personality.  (I sound like I really know my sh*t, right?  I am 83% certain I’m right.)

While unemployed, I rewrote some Linked In profiles, made some recommendations on Linked In, shopped for and crafted some decor and activities for a 5 year old’s birthday party, and did some small business marketing consulting for free.  Every single minute of it was fun.  It wasn’t the gratitude that made me feel so happy; it was that I did something that actually benefitted these friends.  I might not have had time to do these things while working full-time.  But I did while unemployed and I was able to show both new and old friends how much I value them by giving up my time to do something that came easily for me but caused them headaches.

Finally, I spent 40% of my time taking care of me and my family.  I have spent so much time with my daughters – playing, learning, adventuring, etc.  My 4 year old has said multiple times “Mommy, this is the best day of my life.”  My response?  ME TOO.  And it has been.  I will never get another chance to be unemployed when my girls are 4 and 1.  I soaked up every second of their filthy, silly, annoying, whining, giggling, wrestling, dancing, singing, mess-making, crafting, writing, reading, snuggling, cuddling, and general awesomeness.  I am so full and yet I have room for more everyday.  It is a gift that keeps on giving.

To a lesser extent, I also doted on my husband.  No, I didn’t suddenly become a sexpot runway model who fed him bonbons while shaking mine.  Although that would have been nice…  I did, however, chip in a great deal more on housework  – which usually falls on his shoulders as a SAHD.  I continued to cook even though I felt like ordering fatty, starchy badness.  Since the hub is on the Ironman training regiment, I also cooked mostly healthy, flavorful goodies to support the goal he is working toward.  We even managed to sneak in a couple of date nights where we cashed in some gift certificates to offset expenses we weren’t sure we could afford.

And for myself?  I did two things:  I worked out regularly and I tackled my “Icky List.”  The work-outs shouldn’t need explanation.  I feel good about myself when I’m fit.  I have made peace with not being a string bean.  I actually like being big and strong.  Dressing a big and strong body without looking like a hoochie?  Another post for another time.  But for my heart, my longevity, my waistline, and my confidence – there is no better money or time spent than in the gym, pool or yoga studio.  And I didn’t give that up over this break.

The “Icky List” is comprised of the things that I don’t want to do but that need to be done, at varying degrees of urgency, that tiptoe into my consciousness on nights when I really need to sleep.  They start off like stealthy reminders – using ballet feet to sweep across my otherwise calm, dark mind just before sleep comes.  But only one of them needs to be a code orange to jar me out of calm and into “Oh crap!” mode.  Once that happens, the Icky List becomes a heard of elephants trampling any remaining hope of rest while cackling witches swoop around my cranium mocking my incompetence.  It isn’t pretty.

I reorganized two rooms of my house to make better use of space and hide/remove clutter.  I donated 147 books from my introduction to hoarding stash to allow for toy bins, stationary boxes and less unsightly clutter.  I regrouted my kitchen counter.  I organized pictures.  I purchased a new external harddrive and back up external harddrive.  I saved my pictures and music on both.  I organized the basement storage and DVDs and closets.

The list is not completed.  It probably never will be.  But I look around this house in which I have spent so much more of my time lately and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.  I enjoy the home we’ve made here.  I have no nagging anxiety about devolving into a messy, clutter-loving nightmare.  I am not tied to my things.  I am tied to my people.  And that’s a pretty good tie in my book.

The best part is?
I’ve been sleeping pretty well.

Finding my dream a job certainly helps.

Author note:  Not, in fact, a dream job after all.

The Evil Queen Myth

queenWhen my daughter got into fairy tales and princess things, she would dress up and play pretend every chance she got.  She would construct elaborate stories and wear as much of her costume jewelry as possible.  If her dad or I were around, we would usually be added to the cast of characters.  Daddy was the King or the handsome Prince, and I was the Evil Queen.

At first, I was totally taken aback by this label.  EVIL QUEEN?!?!?  Was this an early rebellion?  Was I coming down too hard on our preschooler such that she had already identified me as the “mean” parent?  I don’t WANT to be evil.  Something had to be done!

But as I paid closer attention to what my daughter was actually watching, the innocuous Disney dramas took on a slightly sinister role.  Fairy Tales were teaching my daughter that while girls were good, women were evil.  Of all the unholy sermons… this was the most offensive.

Undoubtedly, stepmothers have always had a bad rap from Cinderella.  Snow White literally has an evil queen character who is not only competitive and vain, but also a witch.  Hansel & Gretel were left in the woods to die by their (step)mother and are nearly eaten by an old… you guessed it, witch.

The kicker for me, though, was Tangled.  My daughter didn’t understand that the woman with Rapunzel wasn’t her mother but an evil old woman who STOLE her from her mother.  I had to explain that several times that Rapunzel called her “mother” because she was tricked and didn’t know any better.  I explained that her REAL mother would never stop crying until Rapunzel was returned home.

But, I think, the damage was already done.

Despite my joy at the movie’s red-headed heroine, I was initially put off by Brave because the Queen was, again, the enemy.  She was the disciplinarian, the strict parent, the “problem.”  The movie saved itself (spoiler alert) as the Queen and Merida reconciled to understand each other better and grow to become friends as well as mother and daughter.

Why are grown women always portrayed as the bad guys in children’s movies?

Is this some kind of sick joke?

Who is writing this crap?*

*Note to self:  Write a decent fairy tale that doesn’t make women out to be the bad guys.

This “Evil Queen” thing shows up outside of fairy tales too.  There is a commercial airing now for Multi-Grain Cheerios with a mother-daughter exchange that I HATE.

I found plenty of posts about this on some entertaining threads and thoughtful blogs but the thing that disturbs me about this commercial is the look the mom gives the daughter acknowledging that she is, in fact, wearing her daughter’s jeans.  It is smug.  It is confrontational.  It is a challenge saying “HA!  What are YOU going to do about the fact that I am as skinny as you?”

It is so repulsive to me.

I love Cheerios.  (I especially love the new fruity Cheerios.)  But this portrayal of the mom as mean-girl is such an enormous offense that it could not possibly have had a mom on the creative team.  [Or perhaps it did and she is keeping her mouth shut because she has had to take one too many personal days to care for her kids and is worried about her job… another post for another time.]

It gives me pause to think about how much we manufacture the drama between women and how much of it is inevitable.  Why did we stop being community sisters – helping each other with household chores, errands, child-rearing, feasts, etc. – and start being bitchy mortal enemies?

Who has the time for all this drama?

I have two daughters.  And while they are not yet growing into little women, I look forward to when they do so that I can help them feel proud of their changes and confident in whatever shape nature gives them and to honor the wonder that is the female body.

Despite my fierce desire to protect my little princesses, I have noticed a bit of “Evil Queen” mentality creeping into my own mind recently.  As I barrel into 40, I’ve taken to calling out my age in much the same way as I used to call out my weight – as an apology.

There can be no good that comes of it and it likely makes people as uncomfortable as it did when I belabored my weight-related self-loathing.  So why do it?

Old age is a privilege.  Hell, MIDDLE age is a privilege.  I may not be the perfect, powerful, rich and thin me I had dreamed for myself at 40 but it’s all relative.  I’m not too shabby.  I made a terrible princess but I might yet make a fabulous queen if I let myself get into the role a bit.

I’ve got two princesses watching how to grow with grace and honor and humor.  So snap out of it, Schmidt!  There is no dress rehearsal for mommies.

I wouldn’t trade my life now for any other time.  I really DO believe that the best is yet to come.

And as the great philosopher Will the Krill says, “Fearing the best is a complete waste of time.”

So, tell me.

Where do you see the Evil Queen myth creeping in and what are we going to do about it?

The Devil Wears Pixels

(Originally a Facebook Note, posted August 2009 – but I have been thinking about it recently.)

I watched a deliciously girly movie tonight on FX – and amid the pomp and circumstance of the fashion and fuss, I was reminded of some amazing lessons I’ve learned in my career.

I’m not one of those people who is overly critical of movies. I consider films great if I laugh or cry and absolutely phenomenal if I get to do both. Beneath the gilded tapestry of lines in the Devil Wears Prada are some wholly un-materialistic value messages.

There’s a scene where Andy and Miranda are in a town car in Paris. Andy says “I could never do what you did” and Miranda retorts “You already did.”

If you’ve seen this scene you know exactly how cutting this exchange is. If not, it is like your mother holding a mirror up to your face the morning after an all-nighter.

You feel shame and disgust and guilt even if you didn’t do anything.

I am so fascinated by the way women treat each other in life and in business. One of my favorite sayings is that ‘only ugly girls are catty’. If one looks okay on the outside and is still obsessed with cutting and undermining, well… that ugliness lives somewhere.

I remember in my teens and early twenties, I proudly pitched myself as a guys’ girl. I simply didn’t have anything in common with other women. They were idiots or bimbos or superficial or prissy or backstabbing or bobbleheads. And then I realized I was simply hanging out with the wrong women.

In addition to a few, key teammates and some artistic types, I credit my friend Martina with helping me embrace my universal sisterhood. As a transplanted woman, she focused exclusively on cultivating friendships with strong, smart, fun women. Since we’re still friends, I’m going to assert that she was wildly successful in her venture.

It took me a long time to figure out how to navigate the treacherous and often treasonous world of female friendships. Admittedly, I sometimes still get it wrong. But for all of the mistakes I’ve made (too often when I felt my most awful and insecure), I have done some things right.

  • I believe in giving women compliments. I give them all the time. I give them to people I know and to total strangers. I don’t care if anyone knows or hears except for the recipient. Women don’t know enough good things about themselves. Women NEVER hear enough good things about themselves. There is nothing like a spontaneous compliment to plug the leak in the self-esteem drain.
  • I also believe in honesty. False support/friendship is a weakness and should be banished from our gender’s repertoire.
  • I promote the idea that two wrongs do not make a right. And a shallow, caustic comment should not inspire an equally biting retort.

This goes for work environments as well.

In advertising, I was privileged to work with a lot of women. I mean that. Privileged.

That doesn’t mean that I liked or respected all of them. And that doesn’t mean that my first impression was right all the time.

But here’s the thing…

It is a mistake to stab people in the back, or the front.

Anytime.

No matter what.

(SIDE NOTE: Have you seen the great speech Robyn Williams delivers to Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Patch Adams” about being a dick?  He says that it is a mistake of youth to think that one has to be a dick to get ahead in life and naiveté to think that it is a new concept. It is a brilliant statement to me. Simply brilliant. Because for all of our striving and struggling and studying and suffering… what, in effect, will our legacy be?)

In the movie, Andy goes to Paris instead of Emily. She says she had no choice – it was to preserve her future.

pumpsMiranda scoffs at Andy’s repugnance with the comment “Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us.”

I

think

not.

For me, I am laying down once and for all any feelings of betrayal or indignation or rage. People make choices that we cannot understand or explain or accept. But that is really, in the end, only their problem. It becomes ours when we hold onto it.

As for me, I plan to love and be loved. I plan to teach and to learn. I plan to hope and to laugh.

And to wear fabulous shoes.

Thank a Feminist

rosie[Foreword:  I wrote this the day before Newtown and believing that a) nothing else matters when little kids are being murdered and b) I had missed my window  on feminism, I had shelved it along with a growing file of unpublished notes.  But after a tangential Facebook conversation yesterday and this TOTALLY AWESOME article that makes me love the adorable and talented Zooey Deschanel even more, I felt like I could legitimately publish anyway.  *Raises right fist*]

Have you ever seen those signs that read “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”?

Well, as the product of two teachers and a book devourer/word nerd, I love that saying.

But if you can read whatever you want – from Cosmo to The Atlantic, or, say…go to school, go to graduate school, get your doctorate, make and keep your own money, marry whom you choose, NOT marry at all, have a baby regardless of whether you’re married, NOT have a baby…ever if you don’t want to, take birth control for any reason you like, wear a bikini, serve in the military, dance in public, smoke, drink, curse, work in an industry OTHER than nursing or teaching, not be pinched or slurred at in the office, move into the Corner Office, start a business, own a business, run a business, live with your boyfriend, live with your girlfriend, vote, speak in public, run a marathon, compete in triathlon, play any sport at all, get dirty, get sweaty, be naughty, shop at Victoria’s Secret, use tampons, contradict any person you disagree with regardless of their gender, earn what you’re worth, out earn your colleague because you’re awesome, and oh, A BAZILLION other things?

Well, you should THANK A FEMINIST.

Recently, there have been a couple of bizarre comments by women (celebrities and media execs) who are quoted as saying, “I’m not a feminist but…”

The subject makes my eye twitch a little.

If you think you should live under your dad’s rule until you get married and then live under your husband’s rule, yes, you are (probably) not a feminist.

If you think you should vote or invest or dress or speak in whatever way a man decides, then yes, you are (probably) not a feminist.

If you don’t ever plan to use your pretty little head for anything at all, because well, women should be seen and not heard, then I give up.  You are (probably) NOT a feminist.

But if you think for one hot second that you’re not a feminist because “you love men” then you need a vocabulary lesson.  Hatred of men isn’t ‘feminism,’ it’s ‘misandry.’

Worse, if you think we are “post-feminist” (just like we’re post-racial, right?  *insert rolling of eyes here*)… you may need to pull your head out of whatever reality show bullshit you’re watching and pay attention to what’s happening in real life.

I’m not going to reargue what so many more qualified and more eloquent people have done before me.

Instead, what comes to MY mind every time I hear someone speak out-loud that she is “not a feminist” is a ranty parody of this:

Hon, we live in a world that has patriarchy, and that patriarchy has been cock-blocking women from full participation in society for centuries.  Who’s going to fight that patriarchy?  You?  You, Katy Perry?  We have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom.  You weep for Rihanna, and you curse the Feminists.  You have that luxury.  You have the luxury of not knowing what we know.  That burning bras, while tragic (especially if you really need the support) probably saved lives.  And our existence, while aggressive and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.  You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at interviews, you WANT me to be a feminist, you NEED me to be a feminist.  We use words like rape-culture, discrimination, and sexism.  We use these words as the antithesis of lives spent pursuing progress.  You use them as a punchline.  I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a woman who rises and sleeps under the very blanket of equality that feminism strives for and then questions the moniker under which it was provided.  I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way.  Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a book and read some history about your gender’s struggle in this country and abroad.  Either way, I don’t give a DAMN whether or not you think you are a feminist.

7 Things I’ve Learned About Life… From Work

7 Things I've LearnedOne of the things I seem to struggle with is knowing my unique value proposition.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I know, you know?

Turns out, I am not quite as dumb as I look.  I’ve picked up a few things along my path that have turned out to be useful in my battle between thinking and feeling as a professional and in my quest to be a better human in the real world.  What do you think – do they ring true for you, too?

1)  Companies Don’t Love You; They Love Money.

I am mostly a starry-eyed jackass when it comes to the world.  I want to believe in the good of everyone and everything.  I do, still, hope for the best… always.  But no matter how cool/evolved/compassionate/balanced your work is – if you’re not making money, someone will eventually get sacked.  And maybe everyone.  I’ve worked for three companies who have gone belly up (call me Molly Brown) and been part of several more who have been acquired – wreacking havoc on executives and workers alike.  I’ve worked within two industries as they declined into almost oblivion and one that rebounded mightily.

I’ve taken more than a few jobs because I was impressed with charismatic leadership.  In the long run, however, it is more useful to think of your boss(es) like Stuckey from Pretty Woman.  Like Edward says, “You don’t love me; it’s the kill you love.  I made you a very rich man doing exactly what you love.“

There will be jobs and people who only ‘love’ you for what you can do for them.  It isn’t good or bad, it just is.  Learn to recognize them so you don’t  mistake value for emotion.

2)  Money Isn’t Everything

The best things in life are free.  Don’t tell my boss, but this is true at work too.  I do what I do because it supports a good life for my family but I feel my absolute best, not on payday, but on the days when I do something extraordinary for a client, a colleague, or the company.

When  I am able to use my strengths in a way that is not narrowly defined by my role, I know that I’m making a contribution that cannot easily be replicated.  And for me, being unique – being different – is among my chief fulfillments.  I enjoy being part of a team but only when I have a role in addition to the team one.

Find out what your fulfillments are and make sure you’re satisfying your non-money buckets.

3)  Balance Your Staff

“It takes all kinds.”  You’ve heard this before with respect to tolerance, yes?  Well, in the workplace and in life – it takes all kinds of people to create harmony and balance.  Having a staff of pleasers may make the boss feel awesome and create a superficially agreeable workplace.  But people who avoid ruffled feathers at all costs can nicey-nice a company right over a cliff.

Strengths in people build strengths in families and companies alike.  In the same way that opposites attract, if you have aligned goals but different talents there is less competition and more forward momentum – provided people are trusted and empowered to do that at which they excel.

It also helps to say “Thank you” to your counter-balance when she/he does the proverbial (or literal) dirty laundry in your world.

4)  Everyone Needs To Feel Useful

This one I’ve only learned recently and, embarrassingly, it caught me off-guard.  I went to work in an office for the first time in a while.  The team was established and had a rhythm established.  There was, however, a disproportionate amount of one-kind of personality – the “relationship builders.”  I failed to recognize that these colleagues value their connections with people above all else, they need their style to be reciprocated.  By NOT connecting with them on a personal level, they felt marginalized – even insulted.  Unintentionally, my actions told them “you are not useful to me.”  People hate that.

Since I’m a nerd for quotes, this seems like a perfect time for one:    “Everyone Is a Genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Einstein.

That quote bombs me into submission every time.

Now, I want to discover what everyone’s genius is as quickly as possible so that I can connect with them and learn from them and promote them for their strengths.

5)  [Some] People Are Mean

This is the hardest lesson for die-hard Pollyannas.  Some people suck.  They just do.  I don’t know why.  We may never know why.  But they do.  The thing is, though, that people often suck for a reason.  And it is probably not (really) about you.

I once managed a team where it was revealed that all of us were on anti-depressants.  I knew my situation was icky but in my myopia, I hadn’t thought about how bad it was for them.  I needed to cut them some slack – to give them greater empathy and help them navigate through a really uninspiring time.  I didn’t realize that until it was too late.

The advice I love best on this is that you can only control yourself – how you act, how you react.  YOU control that and nothing more.  So let people suck.  Don’t follow their example.  Two wrongs still don’t make a right.  But also, don’t let their moral bankruptcy (I love that phrase so hard), their bad attitude, their laziness, their obstinacy, their overinflated sense of self, whatever – change who or how you are.

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”  ― Thich Nhat Hanh

6)  Relationships Are All That You Can Take With You When You Go

Do people who are not creative types have portfolios?  I don’t.  I probably would have less of a confidence crisis if I could review some of the smart, original work I’ve done for clients and employers.  I’m not great at organizing the past – I still don’t have a wedding album for crying out loud.  I prefer the Josiah Bartlett life approach of “what’s next?”

In this day and age, people don’t stay put.  People move house, town, country.  They change jobs with greater (and greater) frequency.  The smart media plan you did for so-and-so, the partnership you brokered while doing blah-blah-blah… those have already been absorbed into the company and taken credit for by someone who couldn’t tie your shoelaces but has all the boot-licking skills necessary to be a lap dog for a very, very long time.

The thing that you have that they never will are the relationships that enabled you to win that business, broker that deal, make the introduction, etc.  Anyone can exchange business cards.  Anyone can throw around a company expense account.  Amassing a network of people who know you and respect you as a person and a professional is a value that is unique to you and cannot be touched.

Leave people better for knowing you – whether five or five thousand – and they will stay in your corner no matter what is said about you.  Even if you’re the one spouting the slander.

7)  It Isn’t Greener Anyplace Else

No one, and I mean NO ONE wants to admit this.  But every company, family, group, organization is a shit show.  There are varying degrees of shit, true, but anything made up of humans is going to have flaws.

Everyone is a brand of crazy and the goal is to find someone (or some place) whose crazy matches your own.  You can change jobs and you can create your own family.  But getting itchy because things aren’t going well doesn’t mean it will be better anyplace else.

An industry friend once gave me some sound advice – forget about “smart,” everybody is smart – look at the what (do you believe), look at the who (are they moral), and look at the how (could this game plan work for the next play – because game plans always change… they have to).

This was so damn simple and wise – it made me feel like a jackass for not knowing it already… but just for a minute.  Because that is what HIS genius is – distilling messy complexities into pocketsize wisdom.

Now I just need to figure out what’s mine.

The Confidence Quotient

While I’m not exactly sure why I stopped writing, I am certainly worse for it – and I do not mean my Klout score.

I’d like to claim that line from the movie Contagion where the dad-from-Six Feet Under called blogs “graffiti with punctuation” chastened me or that sitting ten feet from the bureau chief of Chicago’s NYT editorial team has intimidated me.

The truth, however, is that I’m just in a confidence crisis.  My slightly-neurotic analysis has yielded something like this:

When I was smart, I just wanted to be pretty.
When I was pretty, I just wanted to be loved.
I know now that I am neither smart nor pretty, but am miraculously and unquestionably loved.

My simple mind isn’t processing this well.

Further, what’s love got to do with it?

I’m talking about SELF-confidence.  Belief in oneself apparently has nothing to do with how other people view you.  But lack of it sure makes you vulnerable to the worst opinions others may or may not have.  (You would not believe how far I can take this.)

Shouldn’t truly having self-confidence make you a bit impervious to outside forces?  Is it not your own invisibility cloak when the ghost of crappy economy haunts you?  Or the shield against the morally bankrupt thugs who would rob you of your vehicle to success and kick you as they drive away?

I am reminded again of that haunting statement by an interviewer that his dream candidates are single women because they have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.  It made me furious then, but merely more self-conscious now.

Writing, like any art, is about sharing your impression of the life that surrounds you.  And since we are all the hero of our own drama, everyone’s impression is unique to their storyline.

What has risen up as a monumental roadblock is the nagging disbelief that my storyline matters.

I think self-confidence is the elephant in every woman’s mental room of her own.
And my elephant has taken to sitting on top of me and crushing the life out.

This isn’t to say that men don’t suffer from a crisis in confidence.  I’m sure they do.  But overwhelmingly, I have noticed that women (including me) get derailed by circumstances beyond their control and then struggle to compartmentalize a sucky situation so they can get back to being awesome.

I had a fantastic conversation this week with someone who wanted ME as a mentor.  [If that doesn’t boost confidence, what on earth will?]  Listening to her story and her self-doubt felt very raw.  In the beginning of the conversation, my nag was reciting “blind leading the blind” over and over… but when I stopped thinking about poor me and what an unimpressive loser I’ve turned out to be, I felt my indignation rise on her behalf.

She didn’t embezzle a million dollars, or have an affair with a married supervisor, or punch a client in the face.  [For the record, neither have I – I was just trying to think of things that would, in fact, warrant feeling a little self-loathing.]  Yet she was behaving as if she deserved to be sitting in ashes wearing burlap.

I was a relative stranger and a brand new connection but even I could see that she had something sparkly inside.  And I told her so.

I’ve been inspired by this woman to seek out connections with people who won’t pump me up, who don’t have anything to gain by injecting my ego with steroids.  I’m on a mission to read and subscribe to confidence and positivity bloggers.  I have pulled out my child psych books to learn what I can about building confidence and what plays a role in one’s “confidence quotient.”

So much is determined by it.

Sometimes the mirror your friends and loved ones hold up to you is like a funhouse mirror.  Their investment in your happiness and obvious love throws waves into the truthiness of their feedback.  In my experience, at least, it is rare that someone close can give you raw truth.  Most people shroud feedback in fluffy nonsense rendering any kernel of actionable insight unrecognizable.

I had a high school ‘phriend’ who, while she wouldn’t be seen with me in public thereby reinforcing my leperous sense of self, would write me ridiculous notes about why I shouldn’t think poorly of myself.  These little gems had very little to do with weighty issues but still gave some perspective to the tragic sensibilities of a teenager – things like “You have all your teeth.” and “You do not smell bad.”

While funny in a Dax Shepherd sort of way, this has given me an idea.  I’m thinking about a little project over the next few weeks.   I’m going to emphasize positive things in my life that I can claim credit for as a way of focusing on good and praising my accomplishments as a valuable human, no matter how small.

If Gretchen Rubin can have a Happiness Project, I get to have a confidence one.

I’ll call it The Confidence Quotient - Small Wins or #CQsmallwins.

Who wants to play?

Got time for a Quickie?

The thing about becoming a mom
that totally tilted me sideways
is that when you least expect it,
for no reason at all,
in the middle of something else that could be very *important*
you will physically.
ache.
for your children.
And it knocks the wind out of you.
And you love it.

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