Friday, May 8, 2015

Perspective

(This post is written through tears. Please bear with me.)

Recently, I asked a wise friend of mine if conceiving a child via lots of scientific interventions made her less likely to get frustrated with that child. In other words, if you work harder to become a mom, do you treasure that kid more? 

Because there are days I think that parenting is hard, maybe too hard, and maybe it'd be easier to not have that kid. Or days when I beg for a few days off, or wonder why in the world people ever choose to have more than two kids. How do they manage? How will I manage? So I wondered if someone had to work harder to conceive a child, would she have fewer of these dark thoughts?

"I know what bad days are," she said calmly. "These are not bad days."

Perspective.

I've been balancing that perspective for a year now as I watched another friend, Mary, as she has helped her young son Lachlan battle a rare form of leukemia. I wrote about their journey here and here. She is not a close friend (our paths cross rarely, though I wish they did more), but her story has touched me deeply and affected our entire community. It has also changed how I parent.

I still get those big feelings of frustration, of wanting to run away, of questioning our choices. But then I stop and soak in some perspective. I watch Mary find joy -- no, choose joy -- along with laughter, love and hope -- in her most difficult of all parenting situations. I sit with my friend who worked so hard for her babies, amidst her own personal struggles, and I soak in her calm understanding of what bad days truly are.

Sweet Lachlan died last night. This is a bad day.

I am not having bad days. Mary and my other friend have taught me that. In my world of privilege, I am gaining perspective. I will hug my babies tighter. I will choose joy over frustration, I will give more hugs. I will teach my children to spread joy. I have been blessed with these stories in my life to help make me a better person, a better mom, a better steward.

I weep with Mary and our entire community. I stand alongside my friends having fertility struggles. I will not take parenting lightly. I will choose joy. This is the best way I know to react.

Love and hope.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Home, Heart, Community

For a few weeks now, I've felt called to write a post about how much I love Clemson. I would have never thought, 10 years ago when D. suggested we move here, that I would ever call this place home, much less love it here. The idea of living in a tiny town in South Carolina, much less the same place my in-laws still live, sounded constricting, isolating, dull. Now I find it supportive, friendly and joyful. I love Clemson and I'm proud to call it home.

I'm taking the Leadership Clemson course, which has taught me so much about how (well) the city runs. I leave each meeting eager to tell folks about what our administrators and fellow citizens are doing to make this city so great. I've started following (and occasionally participating in) city politics, school board meetings, community foundations, and other groups working to make a difference. I feel like anyone who cares can be heard here.

I can't quite write the post I envisioned, though, as another issue has been weighing heavy on my heart. Several weeks ago, we learned that Lachlan, the little boy I wrote about here, had a relapse of leukemia. Even though his body took to the first bone-marrow transplant very well, the cruel disease returned in force. His superhero of a donor agreed to donate again, but Lachlan's body became too weak to undertake another round of the chemo and transplant. Late last week, his family took him home to rest and enjoy time with his twin brother and little brother, and all the family and friends who were eager to see him. They are currently soaking up memories, love and life for as long as they can.

While my heart aches daily for this child and this family, it has also soared in seeing the community come together during Lachlan's illness. Lachlan lives in an even smaller town next to Clemson, and I doubt anyone who lives in Seneca doesn't know his story. Houses, trees, mailboxes and storefronts are covered in orange ribbons in his honor (he loves his Clemson Tigers). The family has hosted several donor drives for Be the Match, staffed by loving volunteers, which have resulted in an incredible boon of much-needed donors and funds. Blood drives in Lachlan's honor take place at churches and businesses around the entire Upstate. Campus groups (especially Tri-Delts) and churches have held ceremonies, prayer circles and special events.

The community support is proof of the best of what a small town can offer. There are people here who care deeply about their neighbors, who give what they can, who pray hard, who check in. Lachlan's family may be going through the hardest thing anyone can be asked to endure, but they are not doing it alone.

These days, community exists online too. If you're the praying sort, please send up a prayer for Lachlan and his family. If you're healthy, please join the donor registry (it's an easy process!) at www.bethematch.org. If you have a few extra dollars, please donate to Be the Match or your favorite cancer-research charity.

You can also send checks to the newly formed Lachlan McIntosh Tannery Foundation at PO Box 63, Seneca, SC 29679. Mary's friends started that foundation in the middle of Lachlan's treatment. It was their way of creating a new community to care for other families that will battle this disease.

Love and Hope.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Inhale

People always talk about needing to exhale more. My husband has this goal for the new year: he plans to alleviate stress, not let bad things get to him,  focus more on the good. He's looking into meditation and other ways to force exhales, to breathe out and let go of bad juju and kept-in, fermenting negativity. I understand this need. Exhaling is good and needs to happen often.

But this year, I've decided to focus more on inhaling.
The good stuff.

You know that feeling in winter when the air is cold and crisp, and you go outside and take a deep breath in and it's like you just cleaned out your lungs? It wakes you up, energizes you. That is what I want out of the new year.

I want to fully breathe in this wonderful, joyful life I'm now a part of. I want to take in and remember ever detail about my girls, ages 2 and 5 (what great ages!). I want to appreciate our quiet pace of life, this little bubble we've created with limited deadlines, few stressors, manageable problems. I want to breath deeply as we enjoy uncomplicated schedules, afternoons without plans, and trips without itineraries.

This time is short. Chaos will catch up with us. Busyness will leach in. Sylvia will go to kindergarten in fall, and I'll miss her presence at the lunch or picnic table. Amelia's regular naps, the ones that require us to be home and be quiet for at least two hours every afternoon, will soon be replaced by after-school activities, errands and playdates.

Something worse may happen. I have friends currently managing cancer (theirs and their kids'), some with parents dying, others tackling divorce, job loss, and more. Our idyllic current state could be derailed any minute, and I'm painfully aware of that.

So for now, I want to inhale. I want to start my morning with a deep breath and keep taking it all in, in giant, overwhelming gulps, until I fall asleep each night. I want to take that energy and move my body and engage with my children and volunteer some and take the stairs every time. And if I forget to inhale, or if I start focusing too much on the exhale, I want to be surprised into inhaling quickly and starting over.

Happy breathing, everyone.


*This post was inspired by this line I read this morning in Margaret Atwood's short story "Alphinland," from the book Stone Mattress: "Nonetheless there's something brisk about being out in the storm, something energizing: it whisks away the cobwebs, it makes you inhale" (p. 9). I read that line and paused for a moment just to experience that brisk inhale with the narrator. I love the idea of nature making you inhale.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Take Action: Fund Our Schools

I'm up on my pedestal again. This time it's about school funding. The county I live in, Pickens County, SC, has rather great schools in a state not known for good schools. It's one of the reasons we are happy to live here. But the schools seem to exist despite everything the local and state governments are doing to undermine them. Despite a surge in population here over the past decade, property taxes (which are SO low), have not increased at all. So the schools are desperately in need of funding. They're considering closing several schools, even top performing ones. I don't know about you, but I'd be happy to pay a little more taxes to ensure our children are well educated.

The superintendent has proposed a budget that will increase teacher salaries, fund capital improvements, and in general give the schools the money they desperately need. The school board, however, has chosen to not approve the budget, and keeps passing the buck by not voting on it. The opponents are clearly scared to raise taxes, likely in fear of losing votes. But honestly, even the most tax-hating folks I know agree that schools could use some cash, and it has to come from somewhere. It's estimated that supporting this proposed budget would cost the average homeowner $22/year. We can handle that.

Thanks to the efforts of parents and citizens, including groups like Concerned Citizens of Pickens County, the school board is feeling the pressure to reconsider the budget vote (either that, or they're getting cold feet to raise taxes, meaning they want to push the hard work off yet again). They were supposed to meet on Dec. 15 to vote on the new budget, but they just decided to delay the vote until "sometime before July." So we have until then to put the pressure on.

We need to voice our concerns. We need to let the school board know that we demand a new budget to fund our schools and educate our children.

First, sign this petition.

Next, email or call the board members. Their full contact info is here. Calls are very effective, but I know email is easier for some of us. They haven't all listed their email addresses, but here's what we have:
Alex Saitta: alexsaitta@pickens.k12.sc.us
Phillip Bowers: phillip.bowers@duke-energy.com
Henry Wilson: hwsc1@yahoo.com
Brian Swords: bswords@tctc.edu
Judy Edwards: randjedwards@aol.com

To keep things even easier, here is a suggested email you can cut and paste and, if you'd like, personalize. Thank you for taking the time to stand up for our schools, our children and our future citizenry.

As a resident and voter in Pickens County, I've been following the recent school board meetings. I'm aware of the pressures on our general fund budget as we enter our 12th year without an allowable increase in taxes to account for our community's population growth. The result has been teacher salaries that lag behind the rest of the Upstate and the fourth-lowest per-capita student spending in South Carolina. 

I was disappointed to see that the school budget was not voted on, but I hope this means that when you reconvene, you will vote to APPROVE the superintendent's plan and provide our schools with the money they need NOW to serve our students and teachers. 

There is no better investment in our county and its residents than to educate our future citizens. I approve the moderate tax increase proposed by the district superintendent to ensure that our schools are of high quality. Low taxes may secure you a few votes, but the long-term consequences of underfunded schools are unconscionable. 

Please do not leave us in gridlock. Please do not put this off until another election, or pass the buck to future school boards. We elected you -- please pass the budget needed now to fund our schools. 

Thank you for your service.

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.