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.


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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Skillet Cookie, aka Skookie

My daughter turned 4 1/2 today (which she'll tell anyone who asks her age). Also, my husband was very kind even after Amelia kept me awake off and on from 3:30-4:30 a.m. before deciding to get up for the day at 5 a.m. Finally, D. capped off his big day by removing five spider egg sacs from our front porch. This day called for a celebration/food reward. I searched Pinterest for something easy and special, and low and behold -- I felt the day had come to try a skillet cookie (known to aficionados, apparently, as a skookie).

Problem: the skillet cookie was so easy, so quick, and so very tasty, I might start making them regularly. This past weekend, I actually Pinned a paleo version (called a pizookie: pizza + cookie) here, but that's not what I made today. Today, it was a full-out treat, and one that will be repeated often.

I'm posting the recipe because I changed it slightly from the one I found online. Next time, I'll add 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts.

Way-Too-Easy, Way-Too-Tasty Chocolate-Chip Skillet Cookie


1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teas vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teas baking soda
1/4 teas kosher salt
1 cup chocolate chips (darker is better)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in an 8" cast iron skillet set over medium-low heat. Stir in sugars and vanilla and remove from heat. Let the skillet rest until no longer very hot (about 5 minutes). While it's cooling, mix flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
Crack an egg onto the butter and sugar mixture, and use a fork to whisk it well into the mixture. Add the flour mixture and carefully stir until flour disappears and the dough is dark tan and smooth. Stir in chocolate chunks and spread around pan if needed.
Put skillet in oven and cook for 15 minutes, or until it turns golden on the top and around the edges. Don't overcook -- slightly gooey is best.
For total decadence, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Parenting in the Internet Age

Two weeks ago, I was flattered to be invited by a friend, a nutritional counselor who now stays home with her daughter, to join her Facebook group of mothers who were into healthy foods for their Littles. Last night, I removed myself from the group after two weeks of feeling guilty about what I feed my kids, and how much more research I should probably be doing into their diets.


This feeling of guilt is not new. Since pregnancy -- or probably before -- I've been overwhelmed by the amount of things I'm supposed to know about raising children. I've posted about the exhausting number of (usually contradictory) advice books, but this guilt extends beyond choosing parenting tactics. A connected, educated mother can now dedicate her life to researching: what foods to eat and which to avoid; appropriate toys to purchase and those to avoid; how much plastic to permit in the house; how to discuss gender; how to educate (in school, at home, Montessori, religious, etc.); space to give or rules to set; and So. Much. More. It's exhausting. It's overwhelming. It can be paralyzing.

I sometimes find myself rocking my youngest daughter in the middle of the night, stroking her feathery head, and wondering if I'm even doing the right thing. Giving her love feels right, but is it setting a bad pattern? Encouraging a sleep crutch? Or responding appropriately to her needs? Why is snuggling suddenly so stressful?

I think the Internet, when combined with an inquisitive, research-trained mind, can be the downfall of the modern mother. Research can be endless, changes often, and is not always conclusive. Information can be overwhelming. And the pursuit of such research can be crippling to the actual act of parenting.

Before I toss out the baby with the bathwater, though, I also adore the Internet while parenting. I joined Facebook right before Sylvia was born, and I spent many long hours nursing her in one arm and feeling connected to the rest of the world while typing with the other. On long afternoons at home, a quick scroll through my phone helps me feel connected to other mothers. Status updates and posts from fellow moms make me feel like others are in the same boat, wading through the same struggles, and I feel buoyed and comforted by their fellowship. We are a scattered society -- most of my closest friends and family live hundreds of miles away -- but the Web keeps us together. My circle requires a Wi-Fi connection.

So I guess my real struggle is balance. How can I effectively use the Internet to see if that rash on Amelia's side is worth a doctor's trip, and then laugh with friends about Sylvia's latest conversation, but not fall down the rabbit hole of obsessing over BPA in my canned goods? If you have advice, that's some Internet research I'd happily take.


Friday, February 21, 2014

New Venture: PR Prep

I'm excited to finally get to share a project I've been working on for over a year, my new venture PR Prep.  

PR Prep offers practical, interactive seminars teaching everything you need to know about working in public relations – from writing and pitching to social media and metrics. We’ll be teaching the necessary skills to find, land and succeed at a job in public relations. I’ll be pulling from my experience as a writer and magazine editor, as well as my time spent teaching public relations courses at Clemson University, to lead lecture and discussion along with my friends Vanessa and Casey, co-owners of the digital PR firm Pivot Point Communications.

A PR Prep class is perfect for college students, for those looking to make a career change, or for current professionals who need to polish their skills in working with the media or hosting an online presence. Our first mini-session (one day only) will be offered in Clemson, S.C., on March 8, and our first full session (two full days) will be held in Washington, D.C., April 5-6.

You can find more information about the company and the classes at www.prprep.com. Please also follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prprep and on Twitter @prprepDC.

I’m excited about this new venture and the chance to return to the front of a classroom to share my geeky love of grammar and passion for PR. I’d be grateful for any help you can give to spread the word and fill our first sessions. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Night Update - Because you're so very interested

This is yet another post about nursing and trying to sleep. ::Yawn:: 

I just logged into my blog for the first time in a long while. I reread my last post and chuckled. Shortly after writing that post about sleeping through the night, Amelia stopped doing so (of course!). First, she added a 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. wake-up, one that was easier to respond to with nursing and returning to sleep than fighting and waking up for the day. She became more restless each night after and broke out in a sandpapery rash all over her body. After I watched it for a week, we went to the doctor, only to find out she had scarlet fever (rash + strep), even though she'd never had a noticeable fever. Ugggh.

So, since she was sick, we allowed for some nursing again at night. But then it got out of hand again, and we returned to fighting her a few times each night. So then we fell into a pattern of 1-3 wake-ups each night, with any time (before 4 a.m., when I was OK nursing her) resulting in tantrums. D. took over these late-night soothings, but she reacted the same to each of us.

We have shuffled through, just trying to sleep and not go back to too much nursing, while still being sensitive to her long-lasting illness, constant runny nose, and the freakish weather that has given us some 9-degree nights. Since the nights became so difficult (trying to hold on to a fully tantruming 18-month-old at 2 a.m. is NO FUN), I instead dropped the pre-nap nurse last week, which was also NO FUN. She missed a few days of naps and made it clear she did not like the change, and I suffered because of it.

So while I thought we'd be done nursing by now (twice we have been down to once/day, setting a day to quit altogether), we are back to a just-trying-to-get-by pattern. She's been nursing at 2:30 a.m. and around 4:30-5:30 a.m. Her rash and runny nose returned, so I'm going to try to ride those out before we drop all of this.

I'm ready to be done, but I'm not ready to fight her tantrums. I'm ready to sleep, but not ready to be awakened without the quick-fix available. I'd be at my wit's end if I hadn't found a few other mothers of older babies who are in the same situation as I am. My first kid gave up nursing easily. This one is a fighter -- an opinionated, Mama-loving, poorly sleeping fighter. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Scene from the Night

Her distinct cry forces me awake, interrupting a dream. I spend a few moments in bed, adjusting to the change from dream-world to reality, and hoping - though I know it won't happen - that she'll cease crying on her own. Her wails increase in volume, often changing to an insistent "Mah-Mahn!" Barely a part of the waking world, I shuffle out of bed and up the stairs, holding onto the railing to compensate for my unreliable coordination during these late-night visits.

I am resentful and frustrated. I trudge up the stairs promising that something will change. If it's been less than three hours since our last wake-up, I am even more annoyed. I recite mantras in my head: she is too old for this, she doesn't really need me, nothing bad will happen if I just leave her to cry. But still those cries affect my whole body; my nervous system twitches with each wail and longs to relieve her of distress.

I open the door to her dark room, making calm, shushing sounds. She stops crying immediately. I walk to the crib and reach into the darkness; my eyes still adjusting, I can't yet see her. Sometimes, she is still lying down, and I have to feel around the crib to find her folded up body. Other times, she is sitting, arms reached up, waiting for the mother she know will embrace her. I lift her heavy (when did she get so heavy?), warm body from the crib, wrapping my hands around her bottom, secure in its fleece footed pajamas.

I squeeze her tight, hoping that this time - this one time - my hug will be all she needs. But after a quick hug, she points to the chair and begins to shuffle her body down into my arms. She wants to nurse, to rock, to do what we've been doing several times a night since the day she was born. I sigh, frustrated but resigned, and carry this warm, demanding lump over to our cozy green glider.

I open my pajamas and she finds my breast in the dark, operating on some innate sense. Once she attaches, her whole body relaxes, seemingly falling back asleep within seconds. My resentment and frustrations leave as well. She is so content, warm, snuggly, sweet. This is my baby, my last baby, and these quiet times are our own time together. I want to sleep, I want her to not need me, but for a few minutes, I'm at peace with this ritual. She stirs as my milk lets down, gulping down what she needs as my body hovers in a sleepy haze, barely awake, almost dreaming again. After only a minute or two, her gulps slow down, her sucking lessens, and she begins to doze. Some nights, I gently separate her mouth from me, other nights she pulls off on her own. Surprisingly, she thrusts her body into a full lay-out, switching from warm and soft to rigid in one large stretch.

I heave my sleepy self and her stretched out, rigid body out of the glider and shuffle over to the crib. I lay her body down and gaze a moment, now able to make out the soft curve of her cheek, the gentle rise and fall of her chest. I rub my hand over her fuzzy, round belly and walk out. Now more awake, I walk into the kitchen for water (I am always thirsty) and into the bathroom. I return to my bed, pleased that my time awake was so short, but frustrated again that I was awake at 1am, 4am, 6am. D. stirs a little, rolls over. I take a few minutes to get comfortable again, making promises that tomorrow I'll figure out how to stop this constant waking. But I fall asleep quickly, heavily. In the morning, we'll be busy, awake, loud. For now, though, the house is silent, and for a few hours, we all will rest.

=======

This was the scene in our house every night from late April to January 3. Eight months of two to four (sometimes more) wake-ups each night. As Amelia grew from 8 months old to almost 17 months, I awoke with her each time to shuffle upstairs, full of both love and frustration, to nurse. She wouldn't tolerate any other visitors, anything other than nursing. Three days ago, I went through the painful but necessary steps of sleep training. We had tried before, but this time it worked. The first night of tears was terrible, but she understood the new routine by night two, and last night she slept, with few cries and no visits from me, from 7:30pm - 8:30am.

This is success. This means our family will sleep. We need to sleep. I may be able to spend a night away soon. We are moving on from a difficult two years. But I am mourning a bit. I knew I would. As painful as those nights (and mornings) were, they were my last nursing nights with my last baby.

Good night, sweet Baby Amelia. Sleep well.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reflecting on 2013

It's time once again for the year in review. I don't expect y'all to read this - it's an exercise for me, and about the only one I really do to honor the change in year.

1. What did you do in 2013 that you've never done before?
I think there were a few things, though nothing major. We lived for several weeks away from home this summer (staying with my mom on the Outer Banks of NC), and I think that was the longest time I'd gone without seeing my husband since we were married. I said "no" to a few potential new clients, which is significant in that I became better about prioritizing my time. I oversaw my first real home-improvement project. I cut off all my hair and bleached it platinum. All rather tame stuff. 2013 was about surviving, not really accomplishing.

2. Did you keep the resolutions you made? Will you make more this year?
I rarely make concrete resolutions, but I'm sure I vowed to sleep more and prioritize myself a little more than just my kids. Sleep has become relative (only two wake-ups per night is now great!) and yes, I have checked into my own life more....but it's hard to measure such things. This year's resolutions are all on hold until we're sleeping (I can't improve my health or accomplish much of anything until I can sleep more than four hours in a row).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes. Seeing as I spend a lot of time with fellow mothers of young children, we have births in our little community of friends quite often. Also, one of D's closest friends welcomed his daughter in December, though she wasn't expected until later this month.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes, we lost two grandparents this year. D's fraternal grandmother died in summer after a stroke. She was healthy until the end and passed rather quickly, with most of her family at her side. D went to the funeral while I was still at the beach with the girls, which was a weird thing to miss, though it would have been a real bear for us to travel to Indiana. The week before Thanksgiving, my dad's mom passed away after about 10 weeks in the hospital after having a brain tumor removed. She died the day they were going to move her into a long-term nursing home. I think she knew she didn't want to live that way. Her funeral in Virginia was a lovely celebration of her joy-filled life and a nice chance to connect with that side of the family, which we don't see often.

5. What countries did you visit?
Same answer from last year: "none. I was pleased just to leave the state a few times. D and I pledged long ago to vacation abroad at least every other year, but the kids have put that dream on hold for a while." That said, we're making plans to travel in 2015, maybe for a summer teaching gig and to visit D's brother's family, who just moved to Germany.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
Full nights of sleep! (which was my same answer from last year)

7. What dates from 2013 will be etched in your memory and why?
As proof of my lack of sleep all year, absolutely no exact dates come to mind. Question 4 addresses two significant deaths whose months I recall. I also remember that I went to DC with Amelia for a work trip the first weekend in April, and promptly after that moved her from my bed into her crib. In early November, Amelia finally started walking on her own. And...that's about all I can recall right now.

8. What was your bravest achievement?
I realize this sounds kinda cheesy and self-aggrandizing, but I'm going to say choosing to keep nursing. I tried to quit several times, but I just felt that this daughter needed me and our time together. Even after I realized she didn't need the milk anymore, it was obvious that she still needed the comfort and closeness. It's been a hard decision and has affected my life and our family, but I think she needed it. I hope I made the right choice.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Ugh. Yet again, I haven't been a great friend. Some of my friends have had rough years, and I wasn't there for them like I wish I could have been. Even those who are doing alright, I wish I had made more time for calls, emails and visits. I also wasn't a very good spouse, too often choosing to allocate energy to only my kids, leaving little of myself for D. But I will forgive myself these failures as they were hopefully short-term reactions to the age of my children, and ones that will not continue in the future.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Thankfully no. Amelia had a long and difficult ear infection in spring, and D dealt with some bad skin issues (a result of his altered immune system) in summer and fall, but thankfully I was never horribly ill. I did suffer two rounds of vertigo that lasted a few days each time, and we never figured out why.

11. Where did most of your money go?
We had custom built-in cabinets installed in our laundry room and office/playroom, which was a rather splurgy purchase for us. Otherwise, it was the standard living expenses, with perhaps too much allocated to food. I shudder to think about what I've spent on chocolate this year.

12. What song will always remind you of 2013?
Sylvia can sing the chorus of "Wrecking Ball," which both horrifies and delights me. But I think "Ho Hey" by The Lumineers will stand out for the year.

13. Are you (a) happier or sadder, (b) richer or poorer, (c) fatter or thinner than you were last year?

A - Happier. Though I am often exhausted and overwhelmed by my kids, and very eager for this high-intensity time in our life to pass, I have found incredible joy in being a part of our now complete four-person family. This is IT. This is our family, our time, our silly girls, our moments of joy. I've also enjoyed my work/life balance, especially now that I've figured it out a little better.

B - Poorer. 2013 was our first full year of my not having a regular salary, and it proved difficult on the savings account. That said, this week we received an unexpected and very generous inheritance check, so 2014's answer has already changed.

C - Thinner, but that's a gimme, considering I spent 2012 pregnant or with a newborn. That said, even though my pant size is small, I'm not in great shape. I need to strengthen my core and increase my flexibility, as I'm feeling old, tired and sore way too often.

14. How did you spend Christmas?
Christmas was chaotic this year. We had four visitors over nine days: first my mom came, then my brother, then my mom left, then a close friend came, then she left, then my dad came, then my brother left, then my dad left. All except the friend slept at our house. We hosted a nice dinner here on Christmas Eve, which was lovely, then had a joyful Christmas morning with my mom and brother. It was Sylvia's first time to really "get" Christmas, and she was adorably over the moon all morning. Though I loved seeing each guest and having so much family here for Christmas, it was so nice to have our house back and enjoy quiet time once they'd left.

15. Did you fall in love this year?
Though I said that last year I fell in love with Amelia, I think 2013 is the real year that happened. For the first six-to-eight months of her life, she was a lump I placed in the Ergo all day and snuggled next to at night. It took her a while to start to have a distinct personality and to be able to really make me smile. She became so much more fun around her first birthday in August, and then really lit up once she started walking. She is now a full person whom I absolutely adore. I can't wait to fall in love with her all over again as she continues to grow and change.

16. What was your favorite TV program in 2012?
D and I finally got into Netflix shows, and House of Cards was probably my favorite.

17. What was the best book you read in 2012?
Gone Girl and Where'd You Go, Bernadette were awesome page-turners (for different reasons), and the Divergent series sucked me in.

18. What did you want and get? What did you want and not get?
I wanted to get to know and connect with my youngest daughter, and I did. I wanted to find freelance work that was interesting and paid adequately, and allowed me to stay at about 10 hours/week, and surprisingly I was able to make this happen.
I wanted to sleep through the night by August (Amelia's one-year birthday) and be done nursing by December at the latest, and I did not get either of those things.

19. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
Wow, I don't really remember. I turned 34 in February, and I'm sure that we did our standard special dinner at home cooked by D, but I don't remember it clearly (I was still in the haze of waking every 45 minutes to nurse a needy baby). I do know that there was no party, no cake, and no late night - and that was all just fine by me. Oh - the weekend before my birthday, three of my best friends from college all came to visit. We had planned a special weekend at a nearby resort town, but I was just too overwhelmed at the idea of taking the baby, so they just crashed here. Amelia was really sick and I was exhausted, but they cheered me up immensely and made me feel very loved during a rather low time. So that was awesome.

20. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
I haven't purchased a lot of clothes over the past few years because I knew I'd be having babies and nursing. So now that I'm done with babies, I've started shopping again. My mantra this year was to not buy anything boring, so I've changed up the colors I usually buy and made a few impulse purchases. But I've also tried to be realistic: most of my days are spent with small children and other mothers, and I no longer have to show up at an office (like, ever). Thus, I need clothes and shoes that are comfortable, washable, and practical on a playground. So I've been trying to balance casual and interesting, mom-clothes without the frump. Some days are way more successful than others.

21. What kept you sane?
My husband is amazing. He truly showed this stripes this year, taking the backseat to our needy children with very minimal complaint, and stepping up to help keep me sane when I so desperately needed it. My in-laws were also a huge help, especially my MIL. I also have grown to really appreciate and care for my friends in MOMS Club. Having ladies who are in the trenches with me, and a few who will have my kid over for playdates or give her a ride to gymnastics, has been a real blessing.

22. What political issue stirred you the most?
Health care and gun control - but I'll admit I kinda checked out from current events this year.

23. Who did you miss?
My group of high school friends held a reunion (we usually meet up every-other year) in April that I skipped because I didn't feel like I could swing it with the baby. I hated to miss out on what is normally such a glorious weekend. Also, I realize this sounds strange, but I missed my husband. We didn't get a lot of QT this year.

24. Who was the best new person you met?
See Question 15.

25. Tell a valuable life lesson you learned this year.
"Man plans, God laughs." This was the phrase my dad kept repeating as he and his siblings tried to figure how to proceed after his mother's brain tumor and stroke. He said it so much I had it made into a cross-stitch and framed for his Christmas gift. I would say the same idea applies to my year: you can't plan everything; you have to constantly adapt and just accept the change. I never expected my second kid to be so much more demanding than my first one was at that age. I learned more every day about how to spend the day with two children, balancing their needs and mine, and pulling off basics like going to the grocery store or picking up one kid during the other's naptime. I had to let go of a lot of the visions I had for how my life would be. And I have ended up happier than I expected.

26. What song lyric from 2013 sums up your year?
I'm going to take Gill's cue and delete this one. At 25, I would have loved the challenge; now, it's just too much trouble to figure out. But I did learn that Sylvia hears and memorizes songs on the radio quite quickly, which has had surprising and amusing results.

Here's to a happy and healthy 2014 for all of us!