March 2013 archive

Interruptions Welcome

We’re vacationing on a beach where I’ve vacationed in the past.  As a child I came to this area, and as an adult I came to this area.  But those visits feel like they were a lifetime ago. They were.  Those vacations happened before my oldest child was born.  Those vacations predate my son’s lifetime.

This morning I took a walk down a familiar route and got to partake in that magic point where the ocean meets the sand and your mind escapes to a place that can rarely be reached in other settings.  Although I had not taken this particular walk for a decade, my feet knew right where to go….moving on their own, guided by both, the memory of the heart and the memory of the mind.  I felt comfort in the consistencies of the shoreline and ridges in the sand, and streams.  I noted the changes on the skyline of the land as new vacation homes and hotels now adorned those dunes.  I relaxed and breathed in the fresh air, enjoying this rare moment of solitude and my mind slipped into a comfortable semi-meditative state.

Interruption.  My indulgence in the moment of reflection and comparison of things the same and things different stopped.  The rhythm of my walk and thoughts abruptly halted as I clumsily tried not to step on a jellyfish.

Without thinking, I crouched down and studied the jelly, examining how it reflected the light of the sky.  I poked at it with my finger, and used a stick to flip it over and differentiate between textures.  During what can be long days of parenting young children and in an attempt to fend off boredom, we’ve logged a great deal of time at the Jellies exhibit the Shedd Aquarium  My son loves this wonderful exhibit.  For me, rather than it being an opportunity to retain information, those visits usually feel like one big game of roulette where the only options on the wheel are “tiring”, “really tiring” or “exhausting”.  But as I observed my beached jelly this morning suddenly all of the facts and tidbits from the aquarium came to mind.  I looked for its tentacles, and tried to identify other parts.  I kind of whispered to myself, “now, what was this called, the mesoglea, or the epidermis?”  I recalled the reproductive cycle of jellyfish and wondered how many larvae this jelly had released.  I determined that it had just recently been washed ashore based on the amount of water still present.

Remembering that an adult jellyfish is called a Medusa and recalling the giant jellyfish in Japan, my scientific curiosity gave way to a storyteller who now weaved a mythical tale through my mind of how this jelly came to shore to protect beach goers from a powerful creature who appeared only when the moon was full and the tide high.  Alone on the beach, I made my face fierce, thought this could be too intense and shifted gears to an upbeat tone.  The storyteller now crafting a simple story of a happy little jelly bopping its way along the shore, just waiting to come up and say hi to all of the children playing on the beach.

Another interruption.  My rational mind reminded me that I was alone on this walk today.  Without my child alongside, I didn’t need to invent such tales or deconstruct the parts of this jellyfish.  I could go about my walk as I was before.  Its not unusual to see jellyfish on this beach.   Surely there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about this jellyfish.  When I took these walks ten years ago I’d never stop to take even a second look at a jellyfish.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I thought jellies were kind of creepy and scared me a little.  I’d purposely step away from them and quicken my pace when I came upon these creatures.

So what made this simple jellyfish so fascinating this morning?  Because now I am seeing it through the eyes of a parent.  Through those eyes, I not only see, I observe.  Through the eyes of a parent, I am conditioned to view the world from a vantage point that allows me to absorb the lessons the world teaches and share them with my children.  Also, through the eyes of a parent I know that every one of the world’s offerings, no matter how seemingly little or trivial, provides an opportunity for me to connect with my children and capture their imagination. A stick, a leaf, a bird’s chirp.  Small things that when observed through a filter of curiosity and creativity can become sacred things.

While I was walking alone on the beach this morning, now as a parent, I know that I am never alone.  My child is always at the top of my mind and in the bottom depths of my heart.  And now through the eyes of a parent I know that among the greatest of gifts I can bestow to my child are a sense of curiosity, creativity and wonderment.  Wonderment with the world and wonderment with the people of the world.

Interruption.  Interruptions welcome.  Forever more I am a parent, and forever more my walks as a parent will be filled with interruptions for exploration.  There is no discovery without exploration.  Wonderment abounds and curiosity prevails.  The last time I walked this beach certainly does feels like it was a lifetime ago, and not only because it predates my child’s lifetime.  It predates my lifetime as a parent.

Leaning In, Similarly Yet Differently

I have been linked to one of my best friends for some twenty plus years now.  We met in high school because we were both in Advanced Placement classes.  Then, and now, we have similar interests like culture, history, art and traveling.  Then, and now, we have an easy connection and way between us.

I think I’ve always known that Kate has a bit of an edge on me on the pure intelligence front.  I am just smart enough to keep up with Kate’s wit and conversation pacing, but eventually the topic always lands in a place, fact or statistic that I am not totally sharp on.  On the other hand, I think I’ve always known that I have an ever so slight edge on her on the cheerful front.  When we get to that point where her knowledge surpasses mine, I’m able to make a joke, give a laugh or offer a sarcastic remark so then we’re distracted and onto something else.

After high school, we went to the same college and studied similar topics, but had different class line-ups.  We both studied abroad in Europe, but at different times and in slightly different ways.  We struck a good balance of continuing to enjoy each other’s friendship while we both made new friends.  Sometimes our activities overlapped, sometimes they didn’t.  Sometimes our social circles overlapped, sometimes they didn’t.

I think its safe to say that Kate and I have always been aware of each other’s comings, goings, studies and friendships.  We support one another and aren’t threatened by the other.  Kate and I have never found ourselves in direct competition academically, professionally or socially…perhaps by chance, perhaps by subconscious choice.  Either way, we have maintained a very peaceful co-existence.

After college we both were recruited in marketing-related jobs in separate cities.  I was transferred from city to city.  She was transferred from a different city to another different city.  I met friends in my cities.  She met friends in her cities.  At some point, I was in love with a man who became my husband.  At some point, she was in love with a man who did not become her husband.  I received promotions and raises.  She received promotions and raises.  We both thrived…in our careers, and in our lives.

Again, co-existing on parallel paths that were similar, yet different and never overlapped.

As Kate was being promoted again, I also received a promotion and a few months later, a child.  I had plans to return to work.  My plans changed unexpectedly thanks (and I do mean, thanks) to some medical issues my child faced as an infant.  I took maternity leave, then returned to work.  A short time later, I resigned before taking a position that allowed me to work part-time from home, while settling into my new role as mother.

Kate and I were each happily moving forward on our paths, but our paths were starting to take off in different directions.

Kate worked her tail off and received her MBA, on top of being promoted and transferred again.  I worked my tail off as a new mom.

I was now in a position where my husband’s income became the primary decision-maker for our family and we moved across the country to follow his career path towards Chicago.  I was no longer able to work from home for my previous employer.

A tree had fallen, blocking my career path.  While the block caused an initial startle, it was ok.  I could have stepped over the tree and continued on my way, but instead I took a side turn and headed full force down a different path….the stay-at-home mom path.  For a few years I was full-time at home, parenting and conceiving.  And a few years later I’d settle into another part-time, work-from-home situation.  My path was steep, and hard and unpredictable.

Kate’s path was going in a different direction, but it too was steep, and hard and unpredictable.  She was tapped to an executive leadership council and transferred to London.  London!   Kate had done it.  Kate would be working and living in London…she had made her dream come true!!

Working in London was my dream too.  And to be honest, it still kind of is.  But just as Kate and I have co-existed, I have a few different dreams that have co-existed most of my life.  There is the high powered career woman in London/New York dream…and then there is the dream of raising my children at home, volunteering in their school, coaching their teams and living simply in an All-American, family friendly town.

I can’t speak for Kate, or for any other woman.  But I believe that many of us do have a few different dreams that co-exist.  Choice, circumstance, hard work and making your own luck…we all end up on our own unique path, going our own unique direction.  The important thing isn’t to compare your path to others, but to take your path to one of your dreams and to have fun along the way.

Right before she left for the UK, Kate came and visited.  Together we sat on my front porch in the suburbs and while my kids climbed all over us, she told me about her role at her company.  I once bought a picture book during a trip to London and still keep it displayed front and center on my bookshelf….almost as a bit of a wink to myself as I move about the daily clutter of a household with children.  I listened intently to stories about the international transfer and I pulled out my London book so she could show me on a map where her flat would be.  We were interrupted at least ten times by the request of a child wanting water, a snack or needing their bottom wiped.

When she was back stateside, my husband and I and three kids drove a mini-van from Chicago to New York where we stayed in Kate’s apartment on the Upper West Side.  We took the kids to see the Statue of Liberty (they were equally impressed with the special grocery cart escalators at the Trader Joe’s near Lincoln Center) .  Kate made all of her beds up with beautiful, high-thread count linens and put out slippers for each of the kids. I was nervous that the kids would have accidents in those sheets.  I astonished her doorman when we unpacked our stroller, pack-n-play and tote bag, after tote bag….after tote bag.

A few months later Kate was promoted and transferred back to London where she makes regular trips around the world.  Egypt, India, Vietnam and Norway.  She sends me pictures of her trips and answers all of my questions about the cultures.  I flip through the online photo album while I sit in a rocking chair nursing a baby at 2 am.  Both experiences can be heavenly and both experiences can be grueling.

Again we loaded up the crew and this time flew across the pond and visited Kate in London.  It was a few days before Christmas so she set up a special tree and the kids played on her rooftop overlooking the decorations in Hyde Park.  She arrived home from an international holiday party and told us stories of the people she manages in Italy and Germany.  The kids told her stories about their favorite part of the airplane ride.  She told us about the World War II bomb shelters in London and we told her that J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, once lived in her neighborhood.  We gave her a ceramic painted with the kids’ handprints, she gave us souvenirs from her world travels.

Next week Kate is being promoted and transferred again.  This time to Chicago.  She is living in a great part of the city.  She has amazing views of Lake Michigan and walkability to famous shopping areas.  I am living in a great Chicago suburb.  I have amazing schools and walkability to parks.  I’m glad to have easier access to her so I can revel in her adventures of the world.  As I know she will be amused with our adventures of the playground.  Our paths are returning to a parallel position.  But now our paths are really very different…or are they?

Kate has moved from London to New York City, then back to London.  I’ve had another baby, taken on more parent volunteer activities and increased my daily carpool runs.  There are times when a flash of envy strikes when I hear about Kate’s life.  And I’m sure she has that same envy flash at times.  But that flash is immediately replaced by a wave of gratitude for my path and my dream, and pride for Kate, and Kate’s path and Kate’s dream.  Just as I’m sure she feels gratitude for hers and pride for mine.

Thanks to the women who came before us, there is space for a variety of co-existing paths and dreams in today’s world.

Kate is now the Global Key Accounts Director at a major international corporation.  I am now mommy to three children.  There is great value and importance in what we are both doing.  Therefore I think we are both leaning in to our own ambitions and doing a pretty good job at it.

The Cowbell Aunt

…to my niece or nephew on the occasion that your impending arrival has been announced to the world.  March 2013…
Dear Little Guy or Gal,
I’m so happy to meet you in just six more months.  First things first, you should know that I already love you.  Secondly, introductions….I am your aunt.  I am not your mother or your father, nor will I try to be.   You have wonderful parents and involved grandparents…they come first.
And I do have the privilege of parenting my own children.  While that is a different thing altogether, I am thrilled to now have the additional privilege of being an aunt to you!  As a parent, I’m in the game….the whole game, all four quarters, for the long haul.  Both the victories and the defeats, there’s no timeouts or breaks for water.  As a parent….its all in, all of the time!
But not as your aunt.  As your aunt, I’m your number one fan….and while I’m in it with you, I’m happily watching from the front row of the sidelines.  
As your aunt I will love you with the unconditional love of family, and beam with pride at your achievements.  I will enjoy spoiling you with impractical clothing and toys.
As your aunt I will play a special role.  A role that that falls somewhere between an older, wiser mentor and a friend and confidante.  As the keeper of this unique role, I will have a voice that you might just listen to one day when you are at a stage where you can’t hear others.
I will delight in your holiday card photos, and proudly hang them on my refrigerator, without being aware of the seventy-five outtakes that came before that winning shot.  I will never know how difficult it was to wrangle you into a pose and smile or how your parents were literally sweating by the time the photo session was over.
I will only ever believe that you are the smartest, brightest and most creative child in your class and never see the behind-the-scenes conversations with teachers that might indicate a slightly altered version of this perception.
As your aunt I will admire your physical features and personality and recognize aspects of each that remind me of my mother, father, grandparents, or even of my own aunt.  This is a list to which you’ve just been added, the list of the some of the most important people in my own life.
When you’re a baby, I’ll cuddle you and coo you….enjoying all of the access to the warm sweetness and smells of babyhood, without the exhaustion of sleepless nights.
When you’re a child, I’ll play board games with you and take you on hikes, without the annoyance of hearing the complaints or protests that kids save just for their parents. 
When you’re a teenager, I’ll relish in your stories and friendships, without the knowledge of what those social dynamics might mean.
When you’re an adult, I’ll admire your life as it unfolds based on the decisions you’ve made, without feeling the stress behind the deliberations which led to those decisions.
As your aunt, I will get to enjoy you and all of the sights, sounds, smells and energy of you in a more carefree manner and with less weight than parenthood.  
And most importantly, as your aunt I will be able to provide you with a unique perspective as you get older.  A glimpse into the life and mind of your father when he was a child.  Sharing siblinghood with him for his entire life, its a vantage point that only I can offer and I am deeply honored to do so.  Without the filter of being your parent, I’ll share with you the games that your dad and I played together, the battles that we fought and the places that we visited (both in reality and the ones that we imagined).  I’ll fill your mind with the stories, turned lore, from our childhood family road trips and holidays.  And one day I’ll tell you the story of how I knew that your father had met the woman who he’d spend the rest of his life in love with and who would bring us you, dear little one.

Upon hearing these tales, you will laugh so hard that you cry and your heart will be warmed.  As will my heart.  For I will know that I have helped guide you to an important realization:  that your father was once a child…he was once you.  And you’ll know that he is an excellent father to you because he is carrying over the traditions and love of his childhood.  A gift that will be bestowed to you to carry on your way, as up you grow.
As your aunt, I will help provide you with a link between generations and an appreciation of the bond of family.  You will know that near or far, family is always closest to the heart.
I take my responsibility of being your aunt very seriously and can’t wait to cheer you on, with a big ‘ol cowbell, in the game of life.  So my dear little niece or nephew, welcome.  May the world be good to you, and you to it.
Your Aunt Carissa
While this aunt expresses herself with words, your other aunt, Aunt Sarah, expresses herself in a much more creative way with this beautiful, heartfelt video which inspired this post: