Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Heroes Among Us: Updated

Over the past few months, an amazing story, one full of superheroes and suspense, tears and joy, has been going on in this town, in our lives. It's a story that has kept me up at night, inspired me, made me cry, and changed my understanding of parenting. And as a testament to the power of our heroine, this story is about a friend I don't actually know that well, but who has brought the world into her home and welcomed us into her life and her story.

My friend is Mary. I've known her for several years, but mostly from ending up at the same parties (she throws great parties). We have children the same age but, due to conflicting schedules, rarely even got them together. Mary is a rather amazing woman in her own right, as evidenced by this wonderful post from Mary's and my shared dear friend Carrie.

In August of this year, Mary found out that one of her 20-month-old twin boys, Lachlan, had a very rare form of leukemia called JMML. The diagnosis came after months of nonstop illnesses, and it hit hard. Survival rates are not good for JMML, and little is known about this terrible childhood disease. Lachlan's identical twin brother doesn't have it, but he may develop it (can you imagine?!). The only cure for Lachlan would be a bone marrow transplant.

Mary, ever the amazing planner and socialite, faced this news with incredible energy (as did her husband and entire family -- they're all pretty awesome). Not only did Mary start spreading the word to find a donor for her sweet son, but she always, always made clear that she wanted every family to have the chance to fight by having a donor. Her very public fight to save her son was also a public cry for everyone to join the Be the Match Bone Marrow Registry.

She and her circle organized Be the Match donation collections, fundraisers and drives. She dedicated Facebook posts and every update about her son to spreading information about the Be the Match Registry.

Be the Match is amazing, and you should join. Registration is simple: you fill out a form saying that you understand the process, then they mail you four cotton swabs. You swab your cheeks and mail it back. That's it. They ask that you keep them posted when you move or change email, but otherwise...you're done. Then you have about a 1 in 570 chance of being called to donate, which is a process much less difficult than it once was. I mean, it's not every day we're handed the opportunity to do something truly altruistic, to be a real-life hero -- to save a life. Being a bone marrow donor saves a life.

Lachlan was matched with a donor in late summer, but that donor backed out after having a few initial tests done. At first I was outraged, but Mary, ever full of grace, was the one who calmed me down. She knew it wasn't meant to be, and she was optimistic for another match. Thankfully, they found another donor quickly, a man in his mid-30s who does not know the family or anything about Mary's crusade. This man, who she's not allowed to meet until after a year, and only if he chooses to, is Lachlan's hero, his family's hero, and my hero. He is doing the most selfless thing in the world to save the life of a dear two-year-old he's never met.

Tomorrow, Lachlan gets his transplant. The hospital staff calls it his second birthday, his chance to live again. He got through a week of chemo like a champ, and he continues to be an amazing fighter. It's so hard for me to watch a little boy, the same age as my youngest, confined to a hospital crib and hooked up to wires. But he smiles -- oh, his smiles -- and you know that he's fighting. He has an amazing support system, and he has a superhero about to save his life.

Lachlan still has a big fight ahead of him, but he has the chance to make that fight because of his donor hero. Please, be a hero to another family. Honor Mary, Lachlan and the countless other children and adults waiting for a transplant. Sign up with Be the Match today. And if you can't donate marrow, please donate money so that others can join. Thank you.

Find updates about Lachlan's story here: www.facebook.com/LachlanFightLikeaTiger

Update: Lachlan had his transplant on Nov. 20. Now the family is in the crucial waiting time to see if the transplant will take. The first 100 days are key, so Be the Match is organizing a 100-Day Donor Dash for Lachlan. The Dash is a celebration of this 100-day journey and a chance to pay it forward.

The dash will run Nov. 21 - March 1. The goal: recruit 1,000 new donors online and raise $25,000 for Be the Match. Here's the info to take part:

JOIN the registry: join.bethematch.org/Lachlan
DONATE at www.bethematchfoundation.org/goto/lachlansdonordash
SPREAD the word with #lachlansdonordash

Many thanks to those who have shared this post and supported this family.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Women's Leadership and PR

A few weeks ago, a student who had seen me speak at Clemson's PRSSA meeting asked if I'd participate in an interview for her Women's Leadership class. The students were supposed to find a woman working in a field they'd like to enter.

It was an interesting exercise, so I thought I'd publish my interview, and then ask for those of my readers who blog to publish their answers too. For those without blogs, I think it's at least a good reflection to think about your answers. 


I found myself adding information to this after I'd submitted it, as I recalled struggles that I'd barely remembered even though they probably should have been important. After talking about this, my husband jumped in to say, about my stories from one job, "Oh, there were times I thought, 'If I'd been treated like that at work, I would have punched someone in the head....but I wouldn't have been treated that way, because I'm a dude.'" 

Women's Leadership Questionnaire: PR Field

1.     How did you first become interested in the Communications field and Public Relations, in particular?

I remember scanning through the list of available courses at Wake Forest the year before I attended. I highlighted the ones that looked most interesting, and when I went back through the book, the vast majority of those were in the Communication major. I didn’t know really what that meant, but the courses sounded interesting – and they were. I also did theatre in college and had a great theatre management internship, so I thought I wanted to do arts or theatre management. I enjoyed working with creative people while keeping an eye on the business side of things.

After I started working in a [redacted: previous job's field] and helping with the marketing team there, I realized that parts of marketing and PR were just what I’d been seeking: managing creative people while promoting sales. (And, nicely, marketing and PR pay better than arts management). I had found my fit. Also, personally, I enjoyed writing, especially clean, succinct writing that you don’t often get to do in school, and I realized the communication field was a good match for that skill.

2.     What were some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome when founding Rock Creek Communications?

Honestly, the biggest issue was Impostor Syndrome. I had a hard time believing that I had enough skills to market myself as worth hiring, and worth paying a substantial hourly rate for. I focused a lot on what I couldn’t do – website design, graphic design, ad sales – and not what I could do. Once I found my niche, though (which is in editing, proofreading and copywriting), it became easier to say: “I’m very good at this one skill, so hire me for that. If you need more done, then go hire other people to help with other projects.”

The next issue was learning how to have a flexible schedule. I had been working for years at a 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. job, and starting my own company meant that some days I would have a lot of work, and other days (or weeks), I may have none. I needed to balance this with caring for my young children, who could wake up one day with fevers keeping them out of school for days and thus disrupting all my planned working hours. Being responsible for my own hours is both wonderful and very stressful.

3.     If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Relax and enjoy the present.
Yes, my hard work and intense planning paid off with a good first job, but I think I could have enjoyed college a little more if I’d worked a little less and played a little more. Honestly, unless you are 100% sure you want to go to a top-tier graduate school, then college grades don’t really matter. I know a few more Bs on my transcript would not have affected my job search, but may very well have let me have a little more fun during those four great years.

4.     In your current career, or even in a past job, was there ever a time when you felt as though you were not being treated fairly because of your gender? If so, please explain.

Now that I’m in the writing and PR field, I work almost exclusively with women, so no, I don’t experience any negative feelings about gender. But in my first job, which was in sales, I do think the men were promoted quicker and deified more. During my very first job review, I was told that I was a little too outspoken and opinionated for such a new employee. I honestly don’t feel they would have said that to a new male hire.

At that same job, I also observed women being very unfairly treated on their maternity leaves. I'm going to leave out that rant because it will raise my blood pressure, and technically it did not affect me personally, since I did not have kids during that job.

5.     While going through college and beginning your career did you have a mentor to help guide you? How did this person impact your career?

I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a mentor. There have been women whose careers I have respected and whose advice I have sought, but no one really took me under her wing or went out of her way to advise me. That said, I have had wonderful female bosses who did look out for me and helped me climb the ladder, but I'm hesitant to use the word "mentor." But maybe that's unfair of me.

6.     When applying for a job in Public Relations what would you say is the most important thing employers look for in applicants?

I think it’s a combination of basic skills plus go-getter personality. Public relations is not a field for the meek or timid. You have to be a people-person, a sparkling personality who can talk to anyone and also get things done. But you also have to have a toolkit of basic skills: flawless writing, strong public speaking, social media literacy.

All that said, a friend of mine who has done a lot of hiring in her career told me that the number-one trait she looks for is competence. As she says, you can be trained for just about any job if you can just show an employer that you’re competent. In my career, I’ve found that some people will hire me for jobs that I may not have direct experience in, but they trust my general competence. So prove to people that you can get things done in a timely and professional manner, and you’ll be incredibly valuable in any field.

7.     Starting you own business is incredibly difficult for anyone, but as a female do you feel that people were less supportive of your goal than they would have been if you were a male?

Actually, quite the opposite. I think people were actually more supportive of my business because they saw that it would fit well with staying home with my children. So maybe that reflects some embedded gender bias, but people do react positively to seeing a woman figure out how to have both a career and still be with her kids at home most of the day.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

And Amelia!!

So, in posting my last entry about Sylvia turning five, I realized that I never posted one when Amelia turned two....on August 8. Oops. I'm not sure if the oversight should be blamed on how busy we were in August, how much I've neglected this blog, or just what it's like to be a second child. In any case, it's never too late -- so here's that two-month-old birthday post:

Selfie. Oct. 10, 2014
My littlest is two. She’s a full-fledged toddler, learning to negotiate the world and her place in it. She is a child of contradictions and big passion. She is snuggly and craves closeness and affection, but she is also mercurial and throws epic tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wants. She is learning new words every day and understands so much, but the frustration of not being able to communicate perfectly results in hot, streaming tears. But while she gets upset easily, she also recovers easily, and her happy times are as joyful as her angry times are difficult.

In mid-August, she started attending the same school as her sister. Unfortunately, the church was in the middle of a demolition project next door, so she only associated school with giant construction equipment that was “too loud,” making her full of stress and apprehension about going. Now that construction is over, she’s happy about school (“my cool!” “backpack!”) and even seems upset on the days when Sylvia goes and she doesn’t. They enter and leave the building holding hands and melting my heart. She now knows her teachers’ names (“Mizus Davy” for Mrs. Davis and “Mizus Dunky” for Mrs. Duncan, the movement teacher – which is her favorite activity). She is excited to show me her weekly “libe-ee” book and tell me each day, in her broken words, what she had for snack.
She is still a Mama’s girl. She demands “up” regularly and really prefers to see the world from the viewpoint of someone’s arms. She has plenty of affection for “Daddy” and “Pop” and “Ninny,” but always prefers Mama. She runs after Daddy to ask for goodbye hugs, always wants goodnight hugs from everyone, and requests “snuggle” most evenings.

She is demanding and emphatic. We try the parenting tactic of offering two choices, and she frankly rejects the premise. She will hold her ground on everything from food to walking to wanting to do it herself. “SELF!” she yells multiple times a day, even when the task is too difficult or not allowed. Screaming and tears follow any attempts to help. She will squeeze out the empty toothpaste tube herself, alone, for 15 minutes before finally asking for “help, Mama.” Then again, sometimes she wants “help, Mama” for tasks she can easily do alone, usually just because she wants the company.

She gets away with all these demands because she’s so adorable. She has soft blonde curls that frizz in the back, surrounding her head like a feathery halo. She has big hazel eyes, a bow-shaped mouth and her grandmother’s big cheeks. Her laugh is low and husky and she is usually quite happy, curious, and enthusiastic. Friends and strangers want to snuggle her, but she tends to pull away and stick close to Mama.

She adores her older sister, but doesn’t worship her. She wants to play with her but also wants to do her own thing. They get along quite nicely and Sylvia is thankfully patient with her. She plays her own versions of Sylvia’s games: stealing Daddy’s shoes for keep-away, running into the yard instead of getting in the car, and dressing up in “tutus” (any fancy skirt).

Amelia loves to eat, and she eats all day. Her favorite foods are cheese (usually shredded), olives, sautéed mushrooms, cucumbers dipped in Ranch, soups, grits, Cheez-Its and lollipops. She does not have the sweet tooth the rest of us do. While she will beg for treats like most children, she usually takes just a few bites before being “all done.” Instead, she has an active salty tooth and will surprise us with the amount of salty food she can put away.

She recently started liking puzzles and can do them quickly. She has finally allowed us to read her books instead of just flipping through them maniacally, though she doesn’t have much of an attention span for them. She likes to play with big Legos or blocks, plastic food, crayons, just about any of Sylvia’s toys, iPad and iPhones. She loves all the wheeled toys, proudly has her own scooter now that she rides well, and seems to think she’s big enough for all of them. She has just started sitting still for television, and often asks for Daniel Tiger or Curious George. She loves Starfall on the computer.

Amelia is a handful. She has strong opinions and big feelings. People want to love her and generally do, but they acknowledge she’s hard work. She’s headstrong, coquettish and loveable. I am just crazy about her, even when she drives me crazy.


Sylvia Turns Five

As of October 8, I've been a parent for five years now. The platitude has turned out to be very true: parenting means long days and short years. All told, those five years of exhausting days, long nights, endless hugs, daily laughs, dancing, singing, coloring, adventuring – they have resulted in the most wonderful little five-year-old a mother could ask for.

Sylvia is in many ways a miniature me. She is rather intense and serious. Her teachers even told me they were working on having her take things less seriously, especially things that are difficult for her. But she is smart and inquisitive and the teachers find her “a delight to teach.” They also said she was very kind to other students (My heart! Bursting.). That said, she is often not kind to me these days, using Mama as a punching bag for her very big emotions, and testing out tantrums, foot-stomping, yelling and nastiness for their effectiveness in getting to do what she wants. She is stubborn and headstrong. That stubbornness has its positive side too, though, as she really applies herself to achieving goals. She wants to figure things out, learn all she can, solve the problem and overcome the obstacle.

She continues to be quite accomplished in physical activities and coordination. Darren likes to tell people that she’s ripped (her back muscles are indeed impressive). She is amazingly quick and agile on her scooter. She is strong and nimble on the monkey bars, and she is advancing quickly in gymnastics. Riding a bike (with training wheels) is still challenging to her and she gets frustrated on it easily. We haven’t yet started any sports, but she likes to throw and catch. She is mostly fearless, but Year Five has taught her some wariness about too much speed or height, which I greatly appreciate.

She’s very interested in the natural world, constantly exploring and asking endless questions about bugs, rocks, soil, stars, and animals of all kinds. At least weekly, she has me looking up and learning about some new thing. We regularly have bugs in jars around the porch and house, we’ve grown caterpillars into butterflies, and we’ve kept Polly the hermit crab alive longer than anyone expected. She has so many “special” collections of rocks, twigs, feathers and acorns that I have to regularly sweep her room when she’s gone or it would become its own forest. She can spot a tiny inchworm or a beautiful feather in the most hidden places, and she will fearlessly let any creature crawl into her hands.

Sylvia still loves art projects and breaks out the paints, crayons or markers regularly. She’s been working on illustrating a book for a while now. She’ll write letters but isn’t constructing her own words yet. She loves to dance and to sing. She memorizes song lyrics quickly and sings regularly, often making up her own songs. She started theater class last week and loves it, and she really enjoys going to see plays. She still puts on costumes several times each week, and regularly adds accessories to her outfits. She wears only dresses (hasn’t worn pants or shorts in two years) and cares very much about what she looks like each day. She has special ways of putting clothes together (butterfly shirts with flowered skirts, for example). She is still pretty obsessed with princesses, but she also likes fairies (we had a fairy-themed 5th birthday party), mermaids, unicorns and most anything magical.

She talks nonstop and has a rather impressive vocabulary for her age. She tells long stories and wants to have lots of books read to her (we just started chapter books, but she clearly misses the pictures). I think we get even more frustrated with her tantrums and fits because she suddenly loses her reason, which is usually so intact. After a tantrum or fit, she has a lot of EQ and can discuss all that happened, but during one she’s unreasonable and difficult.

She is wonderful with her little sister and shows an impressive amount of love and empathy. Yes, they fight, but only briefly. They seem to truly adore each other. Sylvia has stepped nicely into the “mother’s helper” role too, and enjoys conspiring with me to make things work with Amelia’s mercurial nature. She’s also starting to help more around the house, and now when we cook together, she’s actually more of a help than a hindrance. She is very independent at home and in her play, but she’ll cooperate much better if she’s had some special one-on-one time with me each day. We’ve started playing card games and board games, and I truly enjoy this time together.

Sylvia, I wouldn’t change you for the world. We may butt heads because we’re so alike, but I am in wonder of your accomplishments and growth each day. I love you at age five and I’m excited about the girl you are and the one you’re becoming. Happy birthday, Dumplin’.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Big Emotions

I've been with my kids nearly nonstop for about three weeks. Those weeks included three all-day car rides. Before that, I had three weeks of no plans for Sylvia, though Amelia did have a sitter two mornings each week. So, we've had a lot of time together, the girls and I, and I've had very little "me time."

There were amazing moments: watching the girls rediscover their love of the beach, observing Sylvia learn the joy of making her little sister laugh, feeling my heart burst as my mom and the girls played together and as Amelia issued special hugs to her great grandfather. There were sloppy shared popsicles, carefully created sandcastles, intense dance parties, lots of giggles. We took daily naps, read lots of books, and soaked in a vacation time that I know is rare and will be missed.

On the other hand, there were few breaks. After these long weeks out of our routine, away from some of our regular breaks, I am feeling the strain. I am emotionally drained, low on personal reserves. I am overtouched and overstimulated. Sylvia is feeling it too. She has returned to throwing tantrums: long, loud, frustrating fits of tears and screaming that fully drain both of us, despite my best intentions to remain calm and present. I am snippy and yell too much. She is picking fights and being dramatic. We are not our best.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine just found out one of her children has leukemia. I cried over breakfast when I read the news, and pulled Amelia into my arms for a too-tight hug. My heart hurts. I immediately felt ashamed of my frustration with my children and my longing for a break from them. I was overwhelmed with feelings of being blessed, lucky, joyful. My healthy children beamed up at me, smeared in cherry juice, wearing stained pajamas, and I felt my heart expand three sizes. They are healthy. They are mine. We are blessed.

And yet, this feeling did not last long once I wrestled both girls into the car, listened to the endless fight over whose baby doll is whose, chased them throughout CVS to ensure Amelia didn't perform her normal game of removing items off the lower shelves, carried a screaming Amelia into her room to attempt a nap, dealt with Sylvia's frustration at trying to do a task too hard for her age, and watched the dog run away as Sylvia stood near an open door.

It is still hard. Blessed or not, healthy or not, they are demanding. Today, though, I'm reminding myself how much harder it could be, how truly lucky we are, and how fast I know this hard time will go.

But still...I could really use a day alone to recenter. Anyone up for all-day babysitting?


Monday, May 26, 2014

Escapes!

Friends, my sanity has (mostly) returned. It turns out all I needed was to run away from home for a while.

In April, after I sunk into a depression upon cancelling my work trip to DC, I realized how much I needed a break. So I booked an inexpensive flight to Chicago (thank you, Southwest) to visit one of my best friends, Al. She moved there years ago and I've never visited and have always wanted to see the city. D gave me his full blessing to leave for a long weekend, even though Amelia was still having occasional difficult evenings, and he was really busy in the semester, but I know he sensed my mental health truly needed it.

When Al asked me what I wanted to do in Chicago, I said, "Eat great food in places where kids aren't welcome, do the architecture tour by boat, and go to the aquarium." I'm an aquarium dork and have always wanted to see Chicago's, but we actually didn't make it as the line on Sunday was incredibly long, and I hate to wait in line to get to tanks. Next time. But we had a great time on the boat tour and we sure did eat well, including a 16-course tasting menu at Acadia that will always stand as one of the most amazing meals of my life.

After three days of wonderful adult conversation, quality time with a dear friend (and her boyfriend, whom I wanted to know better, and sister, who was a fun addition), and a break from my children and my routine, I returned home refreshed and feeling like myself again. That said, I can't wait to go back. So, photos:

Required photo at the Bean

Riding a boat amongst sky scrapers

You know what you can't do with kids? Drink champagne flights in the middle of the day.

On one plate: veal cheek, crab and bone marrow. Pure decadence.

My adorable hosts.

Al and her sister have matching shoes and a shared interest in getting off the 103-story-high platform of Willis Tower.
Two weeks after my get-away, D and I got the chance to take a romantic trip of our own. We'd scheduled the time months ago and arranged for my mom to come stay with the girls. I had researched flights to Florida and the Bahamas, trying to get us somewhere exotic and relaxing within a three-day time limit. The planning became too difficult, and we were concerned that Amelia's constant requests to be held would injure my mom's weak back. We also just didn't know how the girls would do without us. (Sylvia loved staying with my mom when D and I took trips, but we've never left Amelia and she's always been the clingy one.).

So we settled on a two-day, one-night quick trip to Hendersonville, NC, about a 75-minute drive from here. We found a romantic-looking B&B and figured we'd make plans when we got there. We kicked off our trip with a couples' massage (ahhh!), then strolled around Hendersonville. We ate Thai outside, did a little shopping in the cute local boutiques, then headed back for naps, reading and general relaxation at the beautiful Melange B&B. The decor was lovely and exotic (the owners are from Turkey), but the rooms were private and modern. We strolled around a nearby lake resort and ate a nice white-tablecloth dinner there, then enjoyed our first night of sleep without threat of crying babies in almost two years. We had a glorious breakfast the next morning, went on a short hike, then hit the downtown again for some of the best sushi I've had in a long time (really! in small-town NC!). Full of exotic food, quiet time, good books and lovely couples'-closeness, we returned to our children, who seemed much more adorable than they had when we left (and who had been happy and wonderful with my mom, thankyouverymuch). Turns out you can really feel like you "got away" in just around 30 hours. Photos from our brief excursion:

Turkish tea and books on our private porch. 

Lakeside stroll before date-night dinner.

Jump Off Rock Scenic Overlook

Note the lack of children in these photos.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter

We talked about Easter in the car with Sylvia today. Because of her age, I didn't want to delve too much into the full Bible story, so we focused on the day as a celebration of God's love, of life, of spring, of new beginnings. I have never felt that sentiment more than this Easter day.

Easter bunnies
From April 4 until April 19, someone in our family has had a stomach virus (we now know it was norovirus). D. was hit the hardest and had a relapse; Sylvia had it the longest and also relapsed (she only went 4 days of 14 with no stomach issues). Thankfully, Amelia and I only had mild, temporary symptoms. But basically, for over two weeks, we've been anti-social, rather inactive, and in low spirits.

On Maundy Thursday, it was clear that things with Sylvia had taken a turn for the worse, as she had basically just given up. Out of energy and just so tired of being sick, she got behind on drinking and eating and just couldn't make up for it. Worried about dehydration, our pediatrician sent us to the hospital -- or first time to ever take one of our children. Two kids had gone in the day before with Sylvia's same symptoms, had been given IVs, and had stayed overnight. So I packed a bag, arranged for Amelia's care, and drove us to our first hospital stay.

Perhaps it was the excitement of going on an adventure of sorts. Perhaps it was fear of the impending needle, which I had tried to describe to her. Or perhaps it was the dull hour we had to kill waiting in the room. In any case, Sylvia quickly downed three glasses of water and Powerade before the first doctor saw us. Though my description of her condition had everyone quite concerned, the examinations showed she was no longer dehydrated. We stayed a few hours for observation, then made the call to come home. She was drinking again, her attitude was vastly improved, and I could see that she was again my bright and lovely child.

She spent Good Friday still sick and having to deal with my endless admonitions to drink. On Easter Saturday, though, she awoke in better spirits than I'd seen in weeks, her body seemed to be working again, and we decided to let her spend the day with cousins. We kept a close watch on her, but it really felt like we were out of the woods. Finally.

So Easter morning was indeed, for us, a new beginning, an end to the darkness*. After two long weeks, we are healthy and well.  After long days of bland meals and cancelled plans, we had feasts and celebrations. After several days of grey rain, it is sunny and beautiful, and we can actually get out to enjoy it.

Easter was indeed joyful in our home. I hope you all were able to experience the joy of Easter as well. Also, remember to wash your hands.



*This blog was a bit hard to write because I sound overly dramatic. Yes, this was a hard time for my family, but relative to the struggles some of my dearest friends are now going through, our hardship was minor at best. That said, I hope my friends are seeing the Easter joy in their lives. One had a baby at just 28 weeks, but that little girl has survived through the most difficult parts and is making healthy strides every day. Another friend, a mother of three, was just diagnosed with cancer, but she found it so early that her prognosis is very positive, and her attitude about it all is amazing.
It's easy to see the suffering around us, but it can be tricky to stop and see the turning points when things get better. Easter reminds us that such turning points exist. So whether the struggles are minor or all-consuming, they will take a turn for the better. And I give thanks for those moments.