There are two kinds of nun, out of the cloister or in. You can serve or you can sing, and wreck your heart in prayer, working the world’s hard work. -
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
There are two kinds of nun, out of the cloister or in. You can serve or you can sing, and wreck your heart in prayer, working the world’s hard work. -
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
We are entering the heart of summer.
These are the days that I live for the weekend, when the children stay up late and we laugh a lot and jump off the boat into the ocean and curl up on the couch and watch Wimbledon until the middle of the day.
They are the days when we lie on grass and watch fireworks, gasping out loud at the finale, with one loud concussive boom after another and the night sky lit up with sparkling white, gold, blue and white.
They are the days of four cousins biking to the ice cream store alone and eating hamburgers on the back porch and swimming out to the line (as far as you can go) as the rain from Hurricane Arthur began to come down in earnest.
They are the days of beach towels and bathing suits strewn on the back porch to dry in the sun and bed-headed Grace and Whit wandering downstairs when they wake up and family tennis.
They are the days of the annual Fourth of July parade and the WW2 veterans making me cry and the marching bands moving me in some inexplicable, powerful way.
The thing is, I’m already starting to mourn this season as I live it. This is a familiar sensation for me, this nostalgia for something even while I am still very much in it, but rarely is it more keen than during the summer. Every year it’s earlier, the date when I can feel the whisper of fall underneath all the summer, and I cling desperately to these days. No matter how hard I try to be here now, though, no matter how much I hope that immersing myself in my life will make time slow down, the moments fall through my fingers like water even as I grasp.
It was hard to come home from the long weekend, honestly. I loved seeing my sister and her family and some old, dear friends. There was mess and chaos but there was also so much love, and so many memories. I was sad on Sunday night, preparing to re-enter regular life, and part of that sorrow was that a part of the year that I so dearly love was over. Another Fourth of July is gone, and I feel disoriented by how quickly this life is flying by. Two years ago I posted pictures from the annual parade and when I view them tears fill my eyes. Just as I said then: everything and nothing changes.
One – That my friend Pam’s musings on the first month of her husband’s year-long deployment made me nod so vigorously is a testament to her power as a writer. In many ways our lives look utterly different. In the ways that matter, we are walking down a parallel path, and I’m hugely grateful for her companionship, her wisdom, and her candor.
10 Things No One Tells Women about Turning 40 – Holly Seymour’s piece made me laugh and it reassured me that there are joys and unforseen delights ahead as I pitch headfirst into 40 next month. I want to be able to say all of these things about myself in my 40s. Here’s hoping I can.
Shonda Rimes’ Dartmouth commencement speech – I really love everything about this. Hard work, not dreams. Don’t be an asshole. Having daughters and working motherhood and not being able to do it all. Letting your heart beat so, so fast. It made me cry. Thank you to my dear friend Sarah for pointing me to this speech.
I’ve been reading some fantastic books lately.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr has joined the very small pantheon of My Favorite Books of All Time. It is stunning, breathtaking, spectacular. Doerr’s lyrical, evocative, powerful writing reminds of my favorite fiction writer, Ondaatje. Read it. You won’t regret it.
I absolutely loved 10% Happier by Dan Harris and it is one of the very few books that both Matt and I devoured. Dan’s compulsively readable story is relatable and honest, not to mention incredibly convincing. I related to so much of what he shared and came away ever-more committed to a meditation practice that has been spotty for years.
This past weekend I read Eleanor & Parkby Rainbow Rowell, which I’d heard such wonderful things about. I loved it as much as I hoped I would. I couldn’t put down the funny/sad story about belonging and connection and adolescence. I highly recommend!
What are you reading, thinking about, and loving lately?
Disclosure: these are Amazon affiliate links.
I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.
—Hugh MacKay, The Good Life
I found this passage, which I find deeply resonant, on A Cup of Jo.
I am already nostalgic for those early weeks of camp, for June, for when summer was brand new and unfurled in front of us, shimmering.
Early in those mornings, I drove Whit to meet the bus to hockey camp. We were always early. Two weeks is plenty of time for a tradition to develop: he clambered into the front seat, scanned the radio for a song he likes, and talked.
Then, as soon as I got home, I woke Grace up before the camp she had to go to. Every single morning she was longer, leaner, browner. I forgot to put sunscreen on her the first two days of soccer camp, which was outside, (terrible mother alert!) and she is now savagely tan. She surely doesn’t have my skin.
One late-June evening we had a family picnic at a nearby park. Then Grace and Whit went to play on the playground and I watched them, feeling grateful again that they still play on playgrounds, that they (sometimes) enjoy each others’ company, that it was still light at 7:30 in the evening, that we live – and I was able to be – here, now.
Now we are into July, new camps, new routines, new rhythms. My favorite season is running through my fingers even as I grasp at it, and I feel real sorrow about that. I’m trying to brush it away to enjoy these months of late light and relaxed schedules, and sometimes I succeed.
When I realized, late, that Grace needed closed-toe shoes to sail at camp, she tried on an old pair of Sperrys of mine. And, while still slightly big, they worked. What?????
We’ve been playing a lot of family tennis. We can play a real doubles game, and last weekend Matt and Grace played a set of singles. He beat her. 6-1. But still: she took a game. I’m pretty sure she could beat me. Every time we go to the charming tennis club near my parents’ house I think of our rehearsal dinner, celebrated here on a perfect evening in September 2000.
We went for a late afternoon sail with my parents and picked up a mooring in a harbor across the bay. We were next to a boat that my father grew up admiring. Grace and Whit jumped off the boat into the cold water. We sailed home in the swollen late-day sunshine. We had dinner at the mooring and then took the launch home, the very boat that Matt and I left our wedding reception on so many years ago.
Past and present collided, my mother and my daughter at the helm sailing across the waters we all know so well, the spot where Matt and I celebrated our rehearsal and our wedding, my shoes, the outrageous light of a midsummer evening.
Life is a benediction and an elegy all at once, every day.
Sabrina Parsons might be Super Woman. And the thing that makes her the most superhero-ish, in my opinion, is her devoted commitment to bringing issues of working motherhood and what it takes for women to succeed in the workforce to the fore. She is determined to keep an open dialog about these important issues, which you know I care deeply about, and in so doing she’s become one of the voices I listen to most carefully in this sometimes-cacophonous discussion.
Sabrina is the CEO of Palo Alto Software, and she and her husband Noah have three sons. Sabrina writes about the work-family landscape for Fortune and recently attended the White House Summit on Working Families. The fact that one of her sons accompanied her on that trip and shared the experience with her tells you a lot about Sabrina’s values. She believes in taking her sons to work and encouraging her other employees to do the same, as as you can see below, she has a jammed, rich, wonderful life in which she weaves together motherhood and business success. I’m inspired by Sabrina and know you will be too! I highly recommend following her on twitter, too.
Tell me about the first hour of your day? (I often describe mine as being “fired out of a cannon”)
During the week the first hour of the day is all about getting the kids up and going, and getting out the door. My husband and I have an agreement where I get to work early, and he deals with most of the morning routine, and then I get home earlier and deal with the afternoon and dinner But it means in about an hour I get, up, help the kids get dressed, make beds, get showered, dressed, ready for work, and make sure our nanny has a note (written in Spanish) with everything going on for the day. I use Google Docs for the notes for our nanny, so that when I travel I can still write the notes and my husband can print them out.
Of course this is assuming that the 3 boys cooperate, and no one has a “fit” as we call them in our house. My 4 year old has recently been particularly difficult, so stubborn about things –like whether he is going to wear a sweatshirt when it is still only 45 degrees outside. Being that he is the baby, I know that too often I excuse his actions because he is a “baby” and because we need to all get out of the house. The older boys are not buying this anymore (and they are right), and I am working on dealing with the baby as a little boy, and not a baby anymore.
Do you have a work uniform that you rely on for getting dressed? What is it?
Working in a tech company, and in the northwest, I really have it pretty easy. When I have meetings with outside people, I dress up, but that still just means nice black pants/skirt and a nice top or jacket. Black is the majority of my closet, besides jeans, making it easy to make sure everything matches and looks business appropriate, no matter what. Most days I wear jeans and nice tops. As I have gotten older I definitely need to deal with my hair and make up more, which is absolutley the most time consuming part of my routine. 10 years ago I could get away with leaving the house with wet hair, some lip gloss and eyeliner. Those days are long gone.
How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling?
We use a Google calendar. We can both see all of our work commitments on it, and then we have a shared “kids and home” calendar. If it doesn’t get on the calendar, it is likely not to happen.
Red is my calendar, orange is my husband’s, and purple is the “kids ad home” calendar. For the most part, I get to work early, and need to be home by 4:45. He gets home by 6. Occasionally when we both have something in the evening, we try and plan ahead, with our nanny, some babysitters, or if they can, my parents, who live in town.
Do you second-guess yourself? What do you do when that happens?
All the time. When the kids were younger, I had more emotional “mommy guilt” and second-guessed myself about what seems now like such little things. Things like temper tantrums, and whether or not to give in to a toddler, etc. Now I feel like the issues are bigger, as the kids are older. Do you let a kid deal with a problem with another child on his own? Do you step in and talk to the other kid’s parents? How much do you help with homework, vs letting them do (or not do it) on their own? Is it worth the fight to make the 2nd grader do all the extra credit homework? Are we filling the kids schedules up with too many extracurricular activities? Or not enough? In Eugene, OR there are not great private school options, so the kids go to public school. In order to get music, and sports they have to do it outside of school. And then there are the language classes, and extra math classes (their public school classes are 25-30 kids, too big for individual math attention) etc..
What time do you go to bed?
I usually got to bed around 11pm. I really try hard to make it to bed by 10pm, but by the time the kids are in bed and asleep (with ages from 4-10 years old, bedtime is spaced from 7:45-8:45 or 9pm during the school year), and I finish any work I need to do, it is usually already 10 or 10:30. And then I need a little downtime before I can actually go to bed.
Do you exercise? If so, when?
I am trying to make time 3 times during the week at lunch. This means booking the time on my calendar so that I don’t book lunch meetings, and other people in my office don’t book me either. Weekend are always really active with the boys, skiing every weekend in the winter, and then hiking, running, biking, kayaking ,etc the rest of the year.
Do you cook dinner for your kids? Do you have go-to dishes you can recommend?
I try. We don’t always have food in the fridge, if I haven’t had a chance to get to the supermarket. During the winter we ski, and don’t get home until Sunday night at about 8-9pm. It makes it hard to go grocery shopping and get enough food ready for the week. Sometimes Monday night we go out to dinner to a local healthy kid-friendly restaurant that is right next door to the grocery store so that we can shop for the rest of the week.
When I cook, I do fall into a routine menu for the week, as I usually have not had time to meal/menu plan before I go to the grocery store. Some go-to dishes everyone in our family likes:
Do you have any sense of how your children feel about your working?
Because I have worked their whole lives they see it as normal. If I get really busy, and book too many evening meetings (I usually try to book evening meetings at 7pm so that I can get home and do the late afternoon/dinner routine) they quickly tell me it is too much, and I pull back. Sometime I get the “why don’t you pick me up at school- all the other moms pick up their kids”, but really the kids actually don’t do that more than a few times a year. Occasionally they realize that other moms don’t work, and then we have conversations about why I work, and why that is best for me and our family.
The hardest part is when I travel for business. I have to travel for work, and I hate it and the kids hate it. Its not crazy travel, but I do end up flying between 30,000-60,000 miles per year. When the kids were babies and nursing, my mom would come with me and the nursing baby would come. Then they got to the age where they were really hard to travel with, and I didn’t absolutely need to bring them anymore, as I was not nursing them anymore. Now as they get a little older, I try and bring 1 boy with me at a time, if my meeting schedule permits it. The older boys (almost 8 and 10) can sit quietly for an hour or so that I am in a meeting using their kindles and reading (or lets be honest, probably playing Minecraft). I let the person I’m meeting with know ahead of time, and everyone has been great about it. There are times of course when this doesn’t work—and I have too much going on, and I can’t bring anyone with me. I am actually writing this after being at a conference for 4 nights that was crazy busy and just not something I could pull off with kids without help. My mom was not available, so I just had to suck it up and go alone. It’s hard to call and have the kids miss me so much, and it’s hard to miss out on the everyday with them, and miss them so much.
What is the single piece of advice you would give another working mother?
Don’t apologize for being a mom. Working moms have to work together to show that we can work just as hard, bring a different viewpoint to the table than other people, and given the right flexibility will always go the extra mile and work as hard or harder than anyone else.
Corporate America needs to change, and we need to get more women in leadership roles. This means we need to figure out how to not “Mommy Track” people who could be our best leaders. From 35-45 years old is when men achieve leadership roles. Not surprisingly, from 35-45, women are often juggling babies and small kids. Their careers are often what they give up. I absolutely don’t judge a woman who makes that choice willingly, but too often I know women feel forced to do it because they are in positions with absolutely no support or flexibility.
And, inspired by Vanity Fair, a few quick glimpses into your life:
Right now, my older sons who go to a French immersion School, have been really into Matisse. I have been sharing their passion.
I currently have a few pairs from Black House White Market that fit great, look great, and if they get ruined from something from the kids (wet paint on hands, Gatorade spilled, glitter glue that somehow doesn’t come off, etc.), are inexpensive enough that its not a big deal.
Shampoo you use?
Alba. Its organic, no sulfites, has a great coconut version for volume that works for my hair. I can also get it at our natural grocery store. I’m a no frills type of girl!
Ahh to be able to find time to read. The last book I read was called “The Power of Habit” a great read, but really a business book, read for the book club we run at my company. The most recent fiction I read was Memoirs of a Geisha. It is a beautiful book, and inspiring. I love historical fiction and this book is just amazing.
“You don’t get what you wish for, you get what your work for”- The motto of my 2 older sons’ swim team.
The kids and I are digging Bruno Mars
Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children?
The kids and I all love their basketball shorts. They are comfortable, inexpensive, sporty, and easy to wash. I also love summer when the kids can just throw on flip-flops. No shoes to tie, easy to get on, and even the 4 year old knows which go on which foot.
Thank you, Sabrina!
So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in what you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.
- William Stafford
Thank you to Claudia Cummins for pointing me in the direction of this beautiful poet.
I am so happy to be featured on MorphMom, a site focused on providing inspiration to working mothers of all stripes. MorphMom, which is run by Kathleen Smith, believes in the value of the myriad identities many mothers carry inside of them.
When you consider the first paragraph on my “about me” page you can tell why I resonate so strongly with the MorphMom philosophy. I am a woman, daughter, mother, sister, wife, friend, and writer. I am also a runner, sometime yogi, a disillusioned MBA, a reformed nailbiter, and a proud natural redhead. I struggle mightily to find a coherent sense of self in all of these splintered identities.
It was an honor to be interviewed by Kathleen and I hope you’ll check out both my video above (the discomfort of watching myself on video notwithstanding!) and the site as a whole. She asked me about my path to being a writer (a title I still struggle mightily to claim) and about how and when I began blogging. Towards the end, I conclude that part of the reason I am sad is that I am so happy. That’s the truth.
Thank you, Kathleen!
When Aidan announced that June’s Here Year theme was marriage, my immediate thought was of Amanda Magee. Amanda is one of my absolute favorite writers, and lately she and her husband Sean have written some beautiful, provocative, frank pieces about marriage. I asked her if she’d write something for us and I’m delighted that she did. There are so many posts of Amanda’s that have stuck with me, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that her words run through my mind on a regular basis. One of the first posts I remember vividly is a letter she wrote to Sean on Father’s Day that acknowledges the importance of “keeping what started it all alive.” As an aside, I’m honored that Amanda’s essay on the age of eight appears alongside my words about ten in This is Childhood, Brain Child magazine’s first book (you can buy a copy here!).
What Amanda wrote for us made me cry. Hard. Her words are both poetic and fiercely honest. She admits to having not worked hard enough at her marriage. I know this feeling intimately. And while I go back and forth on the perennial, emotional debate of whether children or marriage should come first, I think ultimately I conclude that keeping us – the private geography and subterranean world of a marriage – sacred needs to be our utmost priority.
Thank you, Amanda, for your thoughtful reflections, for your tough and strong challenge to be more here in my marriage. You’re right.
Our anniversary is this Saturday; it will be eleven years that we have been the Magees. It will be fifteen years since I told Sean that I wasn’t looking to make new friends and he told me that he wasn’t asking me to marry him.
Here we are—married, partners in a business, parents of 3 daughters, and as vibrantly stubborn and idealistic as we were when we first met. I think to outsiders we may at times seem like we have it all together.
“How on earth do you guys work together?”
“I couldn’t be around my husband that often?”
“Don’t you want to hang out with the guys?”
Since that first summer at Williamstown we have had a charge that is all or nothing, passion and drive cleaving us apart as often as they cement us together. We have been called insatiable and exhausting, as we doggedly pursue the next thing, be it a kitchen renovation or a new business. It hurts because it’s true. The very force that keeps us striving toward each goal hand-in-hand is the thing that makes us expect a level of marital devotion and attention that is difficult to sustain.
When I consider it in terms of the here year that Aidan and Lindsey have created, I realize that marriage is its own animal. It isn’t like child rearing, which comes with milestones and change—nursing, diapers, and baby gates give way to pre-school, and sleeping through the night, which give way to elementary school and delicious conversations. Marriage keeps going, and sure, there are those who acknowledge that passion isn’t sustainable, that marriage softens, like the edges of glass battered between surf and sand, to a mellow state. How do you know though? How do you know if it’s settling into a relaxed place of years being together or if it’s just settling?
Two weeks ago I had this post written, not this post, actually it was another post. I shared it with my husband and he disagreed. He talked about feeling neglected. I was shattered,because the thing about marriage is that you don’t know the truth of here unless you ask. It may very well be that one person is operating under a system that gauges happiness by x, but the other is using a y tool.
The things that are still true from my first post:
These past eleven years I’ve judged myself as a woman, as a professional, and as a mother. I have never critiqued myself as a partner. That day in June was, in some ways, more finish line than starting gate.
I’m guilty of neglecting my marriage.
I don’t insist on staying late to work at it.
I don’t go out of my way to make sure that Sean and I get equal time.
I don’t imagine what I could do to make Sean feel that he is a priority for me.
I don’t fret about how we’ll look back on these years as husband and wife.
I do this for our daughters, I do it for friends, and I even do it with respect to things in our house. I read articles about being present, practicing hands-free parenting, but the headlines are ominously absent of techniques on having a happy marriage.
What I’ve learned as I have tried to be more aware of his here is this, we both measure our happiness in our marriage through attention. I desire to be recognized as a good mom and as beautiful. I want him to still have his breath taken away and to be in love with me. He wants to be seen as a good husband and to be recognized as attractive, both being demonstrated through intimacy. Sex.
I’m not sure why a good wife doesn’t come before good mom, maybe it’s that three daughters edge out one husband. My focus on our marriage has simply not been as around the clock as my mothering. I want to change that.
I want to commit to our here, to our this moment.
The song that Sean selected and secretly requested my grandfather to play at our wedding is a gentle reminder of the simple principle to keeping us sacred.
If you’re wondering what I’m asking in return, dear,
You’ll be glad to know that my demands are small.
Say it’s me that you’ll adore,
For now and evermore
A shelf in my living room with some well-loved classics
I was an English major in college and I’ve read a lot of books. I keep a mostly updated list of what I’ve read recently here. But still, there are so, so many books that I haven’t read and still want to read. It’s not an overstatement to say that I feel actively anxious that I won’t have time, in my life, to read every book I want to read. For some reason the classics still daunt me in a major way. Do you know what I mean? Are there classics that you still wish you’d read, perhaps, like me, wish you’d read in the context of a class, guided by someone smarter and more accomplished than you? There’s one that stands above all others for me on this list, and that’s Frankenstein. I’m fascinated by Mary Shelley, and I know I would love this book. Maybe I will just finally go ahead and read it. What’s holding me back? I’m not sure.
But there are other books, too. Books I wish I’d read when I regularly sat around a round mahogany table among smart, thoughtful, tired classmates, all of us being prompted to think about what we were reading. Books I wish I’d had someone motivating me to read. Books I even wish I had written papers on, even if I had to take a copy of that paper to a basement print lab on a hard disk to print it. Oh, the 1990s.
The list of books I wish I’d read in college is endless. But when I think, off the top of my head, of those volumes I most wish I had read, these are what comes to mind:
The Divine Comedy, Dante
Moby Dick, Melville
The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit series, Tolkien
I was interested in what books were on the lists of others, and so I asked on Twitter and Facebook. The answers were super interesting:
Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
Dickens – 4 votes
“all things Faulkner”- 2 votes
Jane Eyre, Bronte
the work of George Eliot
“words by Plato and Socrates”
Pride and Prejudice, Austen
Wuthering Heights, Bronte
To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee
more Shakespeare – 2 votes
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey
Moby Dick, Melville
War and Peace, Tolstoy
Last of the Mohicans, Cooper
What books loom like this for you, in some should-have-could-have-wish-I-had land of regret and mystery?