Friday, May 18, 2018

Office housework subverted

A few months ago, we were talking about gender at work. More specifically, we were talking, as a department, about gender norms in our culture and around the world - how do these play into global poverty and our work? It was a rich discussion that took place in small groups - each with a volunteer note-taker. At the end of the session, all the note-takers were asked to send their notes to someone to compile them for posterity.

Then one of my colleagues said, "Can all the note-takers raise their hands?" I assumed that she was doing this as an accountability measure so that we would know who to follow up with if notes didn't come in. But she had something else in mind.

"I just wanted to see how many note-takers were women. I recently attended a conference where the man in our group took notes, 'because women are always the ones to do it'."

Minds exploded and the room burst into chatter.

"Women are also the ones who usually bring treats for celebrations, organize potlucks, and contribute the majority of the potluck food," I heard her continue to one of my (male) coworkers who had never noticed this before.

This isn't isolated to my work place alone. But it's possible the way the men have responded is unique.

Last week we had the first ever day of men only bringing treats to work. We arrived on Friday and there was a small spread of pastries, homemade chocolate cake, and orange juice with a sign that said, "Happy Mothers Day!"

This week, my birthday celebration was arranged by male coworkers. There were lunch plans for Friday, treats the day of, treats on Friday again, and a card.

I feel touched in a way that is sort of surprising to me. I was always touched when my female colleagues ran the celebrations in years past, but this felt different somehow. As I sat with it, I started to piece together the puzzle. By now, nearly everyone has seen the famous "mental load" comic. Previous birthday celebrations, though very appreciated and very welcomed, had this sort of very subtle undercurrent. I am almost uncomfortable naming it, because it is so subtle that I didn't notice it until I experienced something different. By naming it, it makes it feel bigger than it is/was. But if I don't name it, you won't know what I am talking about so here we go:

Say one of my female coworkers plans my (or anyone's) work birthday celebration. There is usually some combination of a card, an invite to a restaurant co-selected by all the month's birthday celebrants, possible treats, and this weird quirky thing we do where we put the celebrants' faces in a random photo that is somehow related to the time of year, chosen restaurant, person's favorite animal, or none of the above. Example from this year - me as an empanada:


This is all a lot of work that needs to be done but is also worth it because you get to also eat the treats and go to the restaurant. But when I show up on my birthday and find gluten free treats, and later go out to a restaurant and get a card, even though I love it, I also know the work it took to do it and that it usually fell on females. So it was almost like... "Thank you and also I'm sorry and I feel your pain." Pain is too strong of a word, but you know what I mean. I know that you had to think about this when you were not at work. I know that you had to exert some extra planning during your home time. I know you had to fit in making a funny image with my face on it during your real work. And I know you did it because you value me and because you know if you don't do it, it's possible that no one else will either. And overall, it's a small thing. But it's happening over and over, for all the birthdays, and all the holiday potlucks. Here is a poem of sorts that speaks to this.

To have the whole thing be planned and carried out by men felt subversive and different and refreshing. And more men are volunteering to take notes in our meetings too. So thank you men. Thank you for hearing and acknowledging and showing up and saying "I've got this one." Because showing up and practicing in the little things sets us up for success at the big things. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Mom yoga

Yoga used to mean 75 minute classes full of tuning in, finding flow, sweat and savasana. 



It's different now. 

I kick up into a handstand against my front door for the third time in a row. I make eye contact with my son and we both smile, recognizing the relative strangeness to seeing/being an adult upside down, all weight suspended on her hands. I bring my eyes back to the floor, allowing my internal focus to shift from what I am seeing to what I am feeling in my shoulders. I press down into the floor more, then tighten across my low belly to support my back. Subtle shifts bring me away from leaning against the door. I breathe, then kick down, after assuring there is no tiny traffic behind me. Back to watching this little person discover more about the world. 

It is bed time, but before crawling into bed, I spend some minutes between the bed and the wall. I go through a few movements before checking in: what hurts, what is asking for attention? I run through a unique combination of physical therapy exercises and yoga poses. I find my deep core muscles. I move my body to release my shoulders and upper back. I used to know the Sanskrit for this pose I am doing; now I can't bring to mind even the English name. It's still in there somewhere - I can feel it - but the retrieval is not available to me. Instead all I can call to mind in this moment is how to hand express breastmilk and the steps to perform during infant CPR. That is okay. I will just do the pose and remember the name again in a few years. I make a subtle shift, an adjustment I practiced on others during teacher training. It feels amazing. "This was worth all of those hours in training," I think to myself. 

"Ommmmmmmm" I chant again softly into the teething babe's ear. He can't sleep, but he sure wants to. "I know," I tell him. "I know." We find rest together, curled up in the recliner, riding the waves of my ocean breath. (I used to know the Sanskrit for this too.) I realize that this is my yoga practice and it is perfect. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Our first feather baby

[From April, 2016]
This has not been the best week.

Except for one big thing. On Tuesday night, we went out in our back yard to forage for henbit, an edible spring weed. In case you're wondering, we have mostly the look-alike, Purple Dead Nettle, which - despite the name - is also edible. Our next door neighbor was also out and called, "Hey, do either of you know how to clip a chicken's wings?" [I love our neighborhood.]

I pointed at Caleb. We'd never discussed this before, but the man is full of surprising knowledge about things like this. This started a long conversation about our neighbor's new chicks, how this one wasn't getting along with the others, how Caleb and I wanted chickens eventually, how you could eat the chickens once they were past their egg-laying prime, [aside moment to hold their new teacup chihuahua puppy], how Caleb knew the best way to kill a chicken... I went inside.

About 20 minutes later, Caleb walked in our back door. "So, we have a chicken now." His hands were cupped around the small white bird previously being discussed. We welcomed her, played with her, named her Sadie, put her in a box with some of the feed from our neighbor, and had our first pet.

Tiny Sadie lived in a cardboard box in our living room while we figured out a better solution for her. We would race home from work to take her out in the yard to play. This bird would run around and then dive into our laps to cuddle and warm up. We would let her take dirt baths in our houseplants and then lay next to her on the rug while she laid peacefully in the sun.


These were such beautiful days. Eventually, she outgrew the box, and Caleb had finished building a coop. We took her out there to play on the coop during the day, and at night, we put her box inside it, so that she could feel at home. She panicked. She fluttered around trying to get out as the sun went down. Caleb and I were both out there with her, and I asked Caleb to close the coop door with me inside. He complied and out of instinct, also locked the door. It got darker and darker, and Sadie's panic did not abate. Finally she fell asleep roosting on my arm as I sang to her. (Yes, I know.)

I gently transferred her to the roosting pole in the coop. She rocked slowly, making gentle chicken sleep clucks. I smiled and crept to the door of the coop and found it locked. I reached for my pocket - nope, no pocket and no phone. I started laughing - eventually Caleb or my brother would realize I was out here, right? Surely...

Caleb was watching from the window and realized what happened, and I was quickly freed from the coop. Sadie loved her new coop after that night. I'm convinced it was the singing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

My messy house completes me

There is a ceramic plate and a plastic funnel in my bathroom sink. The bathroom floor is littered with clothing. The front room is covered with unopened mail, empty boxes, empty gift bags, reusable grocery bags, shoes of every shape and size, my work bag, Caleb's work bag, Sammy's daycare bag, all of which are half open with contents strewn about. The diaper pail is in the living room and has four dirty diapers sitting next to it that only need to be placed inside.

The kitchen counters are barely visible underneath the piles of dishes. The high chair tray (and the floor underneath) is smeared with the leftovers from dinner. 

Our toys, normally corralled in our toy shelf, have dispersed themselves throughout the house. 

I can't see all of it at once, but I think about it from my vantage point in the bathtub. 

And it relaxes me. I sigh peacefully and sink deeper into the bath. 

We had a long weekend this past weekend. And for the first time in a long time, we chose each other over the chores. Normally, we are busy bees on the weekends, working hard to finish all the cleaning and all the cooking for the week. In the midst of those moments, I look at Caleb and say, "Hey - we're doing this! We're doing it!" This and it being keeping ourselves fed, clothed, and somewhat rested. And the floors somewhat clean. 

But this weekend, we opted for going to the park, and having long conversations, sitting on our front porch, celebrating a birthday, and spending an afternoon at my parents' house. Some of it was deeply exhausting. Some of it was deeply relaxing. Most of it was somewhere in between. All of it was a good break. And the house caught it all. And that is why I am relaxed. Even with a plate in my bathroom sink*. 

*I was eating eggs for dinner, which Sammy can't have. He really wanted them, so I took them to the bath and ate them there. And then to hide the plate from him, I put it in the sink. So there you go. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Why I don't like the phrase "mom guilt"

When I was going to my postpartum physical therapy, I was talking to my therapist about my return to work. (Quick side note to say that I LOVED PP PT [hehe, see what I did there?] so much and think everyone who has a baby should do it.) I was telling her about how hard it was to go back to work, because I love my baby, but that I also love my job. And it was just hard.

"Yeah, that mommy guilt will get you," she responded.



Others have said similar things. This is also a phrase that gets thrown around wildly on the internet. I do not like it. And I am pushing back.

Our friends at Merriam-Webster define guilt in a variety of ways, but the one that seems most suited to what is being discussed currently is "feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy".

We all certainly feel inadequate from time to time, mom or otherwise. And we all do things that are deserving of blame.

But for me, the work versus kid balance isn't about feeling like I deserve blame. Oh heck no. No, no, no. And it's not even about a sense of inadequacy.

It's about desire.

I LOVE being with my baby. And most of the time, I love my job too. To label that as guilt is mildly offensive, and plain wrong. Guilt involves a "should". There is no should-ing here. Just strong desires.






Friday, March 2, 2018

How to celebrate the anniversary of the day you almost died

Today is a conflicting day. A few months ago, when I thought about this day approaching, I was full of dread. I didn't know what kinds of memories it would bring up, or what emotions it would stir. Honestly, I don't remember much about one year ago. Pain, haziness, frustration, confusion. The way our babe came into the world was full of terror. 

But what I remember vividly is the nights and days after. I remember seeing Caleb's face and knowing everything would be alright. We whispered, "I love you" back and forth all night that night and for months afterwards. I remember standing over the enormous newborn in the NICU, wondering what his sweet swollen face would look like after all the equipment came off it, wondering what it would be like to hold him in my arms. 

It was better than I could have imagined. 

I remember learning to sit, stand, and walk again, learning to pump and then learning to nurse for the first time. I remember when my milk came in and I had to stop pumping because the bottles were overflowing. I remember the one night I spent at home before Sammy got discharged - how awful it was. The night I spent at the NICU alone feels like it was just a few weeks ago, dragging a leaking catheter bag around our room. I remember the smell of new bottles, a plasticky, sterile smell that I love now. 

I remember going home and having just one week before Caleb had to go back to work. I remember the legions of wonderful people who came and brought us food and cleaned our house and yard and helped us to get some rest. 

I remember holding sweet Sammy for hours and hours, making my back and stitches ache, but happily looking at his face. 

Parenting is the most intense spiritual discipline I have ever practiced. There is plenty of grace, but the grace does not come in the form of quitting for a few days to take a break. It comes in smiles and hugs and laughter and joy and a partner who says, "You go lay down, I've got this." 

So, how to celebrate the anniversary of the day you almost died? By living, with deep gratitude. I cannot tell you how many times over the last year I have realized with a start, "I could have missed this." and immediately, "I am so glad I did not miss it."

I am so glad to not miss this. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I love winter!!!

I love the beach. The rolling in of the waves, the salty water, the smell, the warm sand. But my other happy place is a snowy forest in the winter.

The suddenly visible animal tracks, total silence when all sounds are muddled by snow and clouds. The magic of coming upon a running stream surrounded by frozen nature. The nip of the wind on your face while the rest of you is bundled. The promise of a warm fire and toasty beverage when you return. The fresh snow on your tongue. The magic floof of falling backwards into a snowbank.

It didn't occur to me that I was allowed to love winter until a few years ago. I ran into someone who was, at the time, the youth pastor at my church. I walked by him on the sidewalk and we greeted one another. We    had one of those typical complainy conversations about how it was getting cold and then he said something that I'd never heard before.

"I need to be careful to not complain too much about the winter. Cold weather gives a lot of people life."

"Oh my gosh," I thought. "I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!"

There is a simple joy to burrowing under a thick blanket with cozy socks and a hot beverage. And in these final days of it, I raise my hot beverage to winter. I will miss you my friend. You are a balm to my soul, a slowing down in a too busy world. The antidote to the mania of summer. See you next year.



(P.S. Please bring way more snow.)