Sunday, October 28, 2012

surviving severe weather

These past 30-months have been among the most challenging of my life.  I've documented some of the obstacles here, but decided to take a hiatus from writing about my personal struggles after so many commented that I am unable to adapt, or see the good in a situation.  When someone left me a link to a forum where the topic was me and there were several people (20 or more?) weighing in with their own personal opinions that I created my own drama ... I decided that perhaps I shouldn't share the details of my life in this forum.  People were definitely starting to think that I didn't have both oars in the water, and maybe my cheese had slid off my cracker.  Obviously, I was not conveying appropriately the situation I had found myself in, when I accepted this relocation. Rest assured, I didn't go crazy ... I just wasn't documenting the full extent of what was happening - only the symptoms of it.

But today, I'm taking a break from our preparations for Frankenstorm to write about the Frankenstorm that has been happening in my world.  Why?  Because maybe it will courageously inspire others to do what's right in their hearts.

It all started when I was sitting on the edge of the bathtub in San Diego circa May 2010, bathing our small children, trying to decide whether or not to accept the transfer to Virginia and I was suppressing a panic attack that would persist in varying intensities for the next two and a half years. My sister Eileen called me and I had the phone cradled against my shoulder - shampooing precious little heads - as my sister was talking with me about the advantages and disadvantages of moving.  Charlie and I needed (or rather, wanted) a bigger house and this was a free ticket to move closer to family.  But, she also told me that having been a career woman and then mother, who opted to resign her career, she could never go back to working in an office when she had children at home. She said she'd be filled with resentment and is that something I was prepared to manage?

I had my doubts about my own ability to do this. I'd be moving smack dab from my office in our dining room to an office in the headquarters of a huge corporation, at the time, the wealthiest in the world. While I was gone, my husband would be home with our children everyday. But in the grand scheme, this was an opportunity for me and our family. And depending upon your belief system, taking the job and moving was the financially responsible thing for me to do.

There was no question: I had a fantastic situation in San Diego. I had an incredibly flexible schedule and a magnificently awesome boss.  I worked as a Project Manager and I had teams of consultants working for me and I'd delegate work to them.  More than once I had to pinch myself because how lucky am I to have such incredible job satisfaction with such an incredible company?

Although I'm with the same company, things have been very different for me, from a career and personal perspective, since we've moved to Virginia.

On the one hand, it's been an exciting experience because I'm the global contracts advisor putting forth agreements that I once worked so hard to obtain when I worked as a consultant on the other side of the table and my employer was my #1 client.  On the other hand, I work in an office every day and typically log more than 60 hours away from home, every week. I'm granted little to no flexibility to work from home, unless I request to work from home several days in advance. My current boss micro-manages my every move and has made it clear that working from home is frowned upon; his expectation is that I'm in the office every day.  In my current role, I don't have teams of people that I can delegate work to ... I'm the lead for a project that is one of the two largest initiatives for our organization and the responsibility to get this project finalized rests squarely on my shoulders.  This job has taken a heavy toll on me.

Oh, and by the way ... unlike my magnificently awesome boss in California, my current boss is very difficult. He's arrogant and patronizing and my less than favorable opinions of him are not mine alone. Several others have confided in me that they don't know how I continue to work with him and former reports have told me that he was the worst manager they'd ever had and they loathed him.  (Loathed.)  Every night on my drive home from the office, I call Charlie and relay the days most asinine events and tell him that I have to quit... please, when can I quit?

This is the manager that told me it was his expectation that he'd be an executive with the company and anything less would be a personal failure.  As such, he'll do whatever it takes to climb the ladder.

This is the manager that insisted I come in to the office last year when I was sick and 12 hours later, I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital with acute pneumonia.

This is the manager that told me it would have "career limiting repercussions" if I missed two hours of a three-day meeting to attend my children's kindergarten play.

This is the manager who will will say, "A good manager doesn't miss their deadlines" before hopping on a plane to Europe and deferring all of his overdue responsibilities to his subordinates.

This is the manager that thrives on publicly providing "coaching opportunities" to his staff, but couldn't find his own way out of a paper bag.

There have been multiple complaints to human resources and senior management - but it's been of no consequence. As far as the corporation is concerned, even though he lacks people skills and is demotivating to his staff, he is doing his job and I cannot be reassigned until I finish this initiative which won't be complete until the first quarter of 2013.

Oh, so this is what it feels like to be stuck? 

Last week, I was in several meetings with no less than 12 people, and in each one I was the only woman. In my industry, I'm often reminded, it's a man's world.  As I caught myself looking around at the room full of well suited and cuff linked men, I pondered how many of them were thinking about potential Halloween costumes for their children, or trying to remember that they'd need to have a clean jelly jar available for their son's preschool class the next morning?  As a working mother, I just cannot turn off my responsibilities at home like so many of my male co-workers seem able to do. Sure, we could have a nanny - but we brought these children in to the world because we, alone, want to raise them.  And the older my children become, the more difficult it becomes because there is always something to think about and so my mothering responsibilities are in near constant competition with my employer's 60+ hours per week needs for my time. What makes it all the more difficult is when you work for someone that you simply don't like nor respect.  Granted, I've always enjoyed my job and while I do still enjoy the work that I'm currently doing, I don't appreciate that I'm working for this manager - someone who does not value me nor my contributions - and yet, gets the credit for the huge effort I'm putting forth as a result of time I've sacrificed with my family. My children. Despite the fact that I was out of work last year for three months, I came back and have continued to push a global initiative across the finish line, on time, with virtually no support from him

I've been with the company for more than 11 years and in the first 9 years, I always 'ranked' in the top brackets for performance, so it would appear that if you work hard and had a good spouse by your side, you could do it all: Marriage. Family. Career.  However, since I've worked with this manager, although my efforts and accomplishments have far surpassed anything I've ever done before - my ranking has slipped.  Last year, I was in the middle of the pack so I worked even harder, and this year - he put me at the bottom.  Ranking impacts promotions, salaries and reputation. Now, I know it sounds like sour grapes, but I've really tried to be objective and no matter how you dice it, this ranking was a slap in the face. In my opinion, he is sabotaging my career.  Consider, he stated publicly a month earlier, that none of his staff have put in as much time as I have over the past year - which was required since I was interfacing with people on the opposite side of the world and phone calls from home at 9 PM (following a full day in the office) were commonplace.

And yet ....?

People involved on this project have told me that it appeared I was getting the "rough end of the pineapple" in this assignment, so when he delivered my annual review to me a week ago Friday, I just nodded and smiled. Of course he put me at the bottom. He knows that I don't like him. He knows that I've reported him to senior management and human resources. He knows that I don't mince words and I speak my mind honestly. He knows that unlike a few co-workers that will clamor to kiss his posterior region, I think he's upwardly focused and weak. This was his opportunity to exert his control and show me who's boss.

So, I frankly told him my opinion of his severely lacking leadership and then I stood up and walked out of his office without hearing the rest of my "review." I went directly back to my cubicle, packed up everything, and gave my verbal resignation to his boss.  Why am I doing this when I could be home with my little ones?!  Maybe I'm leaving in a lurch and maybe it makes me foolish, but I've got a tremendous amount of faith in my ability to find another job and would rather work in an environment where I'm respected.  Also, I've got a tremendous amount of faith in Charlie's ability to sustain our family through his not-so-little anymore business. And if neither of those things pan out, what the heck. We'll sell our house - live in an apartment - clip coupons and survive off our savings.  I don't play the political game very well and because I'm not easily intimidated, I don't tolerate abuse.

I never have, I never will

Some would say I'm self righteous.

I consider it confidence and bravery and yes ... there is a difference.

When I walked in to the senior manager's office (for the third time in four months to express concern about my supervisor), there was a black storm in the distance rolling straight towards our building. We both looked at it and he said, "Would you look at what's brewing out there!" I replied, "It's a metaphor for this situation..."   An hour later, after I'd fully expressed to him my two-years of pent up frustration and now, immediate desire to leave the company because there has been absolutely no reprieve despite our prior discussions, the storm had dissipated and a vibrant rainbow appeared, arching directly before his window.  I smiled and said, "See? After every big storm, there's a rainbow. All is good."

Over the next week, I was contacted by scores of people who told me don't do it. Don't walk away. Don't let this difficult manager be the last one standing, he'll be falling from glory soon enough with all the clinks in his armor he has sustained from the various complaints against him (by me and others). Also, they've reminded me, don't forget the golden carrot that is out there: If I retire from my company at 55 years of age, there is a substantial pension that works out to 80% of my salary for something like 20 years and there are medical and dental benefits for me and my spouse and then there's that herd of unicorns they throw in for good measure.

But to do this for another 14 years ... could I even survive?

After two years, I now understand why there aren't many women, especially mothers with small children, in this environment. I've done a lot of inward reflection and have concluded that if things don't change drastically, I'd be selling my soul for money.  With the input of co-workers whom I truly respect (including my former magnificently awesome boss), a week after I gave my resignation, I have retracted it. They've convinced me things will improve with time.  So, I've requested a leave of absence to allow for some mental and physical recharge and recalibration. Once I return, I've requested to work part-time so I can spend more time with my family and on myself.  I've also requested an immediate reassignment to a new manager within the first quarter.  Until then, I'll be thinking of a few things....

What's in my heart? 

What do I really want to do with my life?

What legacy do I want to leave behind?

Time goes so fast, I don't want to waste a minute of it on the wrong path. 

There is a chance my life's purpose could be fulfilled if I remain with this company - but certainly not in this current situation. And if I were to remain as an employee, in less than two years, we will be moving to Houston, Texas.  The formal announcement came out earlier this year that our Virginia campus will be relocated, so now it's just a matter of time.  At this moment, I'm not entirely sure what the future holds for our family and there are a lot of questions we need to consider, but I'm filled with a sense of peace and confidence that I haven't had for a long, long time.  Interestingly enough, I'm not all afraid and the panic has left my heart. If this career doesn't work out for me, something else will come up.

And if it doesn't - we'll still be OK.

I don't know how, but we will.

Go Team!

As it turns out, when I'm pushed to the brink, I'm empowered.  From past experience, I know that every challenge I've ever faced in my life has been rewarded with a prize greater than I could have possibly imagined. There really is a spectacular rainbow at the end of every life storm, but only when you're true to yourself.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

my man makes piñatas

Last month,  I came home from work one night to find Charlie wrapping paper mache around balloons. As it turns out, he was struck with the idea of making piñatas, FROM SCRATCH, for our children's birthday party.  For several weeks, I looked at those paper mache'd balloons sitting on our dining room table and asked, "Seriously? Is this seriously a project that you intend on finishing?"



YES, he kept telling me. Then he'd say, "Back off my piñatas woman! I can totally do this! I saw it on YouTube!"  

Wait ... what?! 

The night before our birthday party, where we have a confirmed headcount of 75, Charlie has frosted several dozen cupcakes ...


... painted his pumpkin piñatas, stuffed them with an assortment of various treats and prizes, and is now making little stem "caps" that he is glue gunning on.

Glue gunning!! 


He also glue gunned the little felt flags that he made for the "Capture the Flag" game that he'll be supervising in our backyard, tomorrow. While these activities might not be considered something the average male would embrace ...


I've got to say, he's totally speaking my love language. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

what every birthday party needs: a six-foot pile of dirt

As a supplement to my "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" home improvement series that I posted earlier this week, it's important to note that the primary reason that we decided to replace our driveway wasn't just because it was cracked and our children have been known to twist their ankles in potholes, but because we really wanted to tackle the landscaping at the front of the house and we couldn't do the landscape until the hardscape was in place.


So the driveway was replaced last weekend and what was supposed to be a one day job turned in to a three day job.  That happens sometimes.


The landscapers arrived on Monday to assess the situation and begin the process of ... landscaping ... but it was rainy and wet and so their work was delayed. (That happens sometimes, too.)  Then we had a few scope changes and we confirmed that the work would begin first thing on Friday morning.

As in today.

A day before the party.  

Turns out, that six-foot pile of dirt smack dab in the middle of the front yard which had been generated during the driveway expansion was in the exact spot we were planning to bob for apples.  This is a picture of the dirt pile in our front yard at 10:45 this morning (Friday, the day before the party), standing on the stairs is Charlie calling our landscaper to say, OMG OMG OMG! WHERE IS THE CREW?


As it turns out, we weren't on the "schedule" for today. There was a mishap in communication and our foreman, who knew that we were hosting a birthday party for the kids tomorrow, thought perhaps I was serious when I said that the six-foot pile of dirt in the yard would be a great attraction for the 45+ kids that we are expecting to arrive at 3:00 PM Saturday afternoon.

If I sounded serious it was probably because I was delirious since earlier in the week I was nipped by a brown recluse spider and came down with a ferocious cold. I'm a little out of sorts.

Within 30 minutes of Charlie's frantic call, a crew with a dump truck, bulldozer and several men with shovels arrived to remove the pile of dirt. I should have taken a picture of the "after" effect, because that kind of heavy machinery has absolutely decimated our lawn.  Charlie called our foreman again and said, OMG OMG OMG! STOP! STOP! It looks even worse now!!

Oh well, what are we going to do?

(Kids! Grab a shovel and start digging!!)


I'm not sure if it's me - or the powerful medicine I took a few hours ago - but I'm feeling pretty relaxed about the whole thing. Even though we have hardly no grass in our yard and there are mounds of dirt, everywhere, I don't think it will not deter the kids, one iota, from having a great time. If anything - it'll probably add to their filth and hence, enjoyment. Everyone knows dirty kids are happy kids, right?


(Or is that just mine?) 


Earlier this week, I read the following quote, "Blessed are the flexible .... For they shall not be bent out of shape."  That's some sage advice, so I'm really striving for it to become my new mantra.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

knock, knock!

Charlie and I absolutely love having seven (nearly) eight year olds in the house.


These days, our little people can often be found walking around the house with their noses buried in various books and they feel compelled to recite to us all the fascinating things that they're learning. One of William's most-read books is on "Knock Knock" jokes and this is one of his current favorites:

Knock knock!

Who's there?


Banana who?


Banana who?


Banana who?


Banana who?


.... By now your audience might be feeling slightly exasperated.

Banana who?


Banana who?!




Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn't say BANANA again?!

.... Clutch stomach and fall to the floor in a fit of laughter. 

While I know that each stage of parenting (purportedly) offers a whole new set of wonderful experiences, it's hard to fight that feeling of wanting to just bottle them up and keep them this age forever.  We're beyond blessed. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

home improvement a la: if you give a mouse a cookie style

When we bought our house, two years ago, our realtor told us that it needed "some upgrades."  What that means, in layman's terms, is that our house needed a lot of work.

A Lot. 

Of course our home is livable, because Mr. S lived here for nearly 45 years and we've lived here for two years.  But our kitchen has the original appliances and the bathrooms are all vintage 1966.  At the moment, the children's toilet is taped closed because it runs constantly and we can't find a part to fix it.  Remember this? Even that part didn't work.

We often tell ourselves, SO WHAT? Our stove is better than our camping stove and we love camping. Heck, we could cook in the fireplace!!

(Or, at least boil a pot of water for coffee...)


And we don't really need three bathrooms, we really only need one. So what if we're looking at a cinderblock wall whenever we're on the commode?


It works! At least sometimes. Or at least until the children eat a big lunch and then all bets are off and you better hope there's a plunger nearby. What is it with little kids and their monstrous poops?


Whenever we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of work to do in this house, we'll just look out the window at our magnificent yard. And we remember why we bought this place: it's a slice of heaven.


However, our little slice of heaven is decaying rapidly. For example, whenever it would rain, the water would overflow the gutters and pour down the windows, triggering massive water rot on all the frames. So we decided that we needed to replace our gutters that have been known to bear maple seedlings.

And frogs. 


Once we replaced our gutters, we determined that we needed to sand and touch up the paint on the rotting wood.


Alas, the wood was so rotted out that we needed to break out the wood and replace the entire section. And then we couldn't sand wood in other areas because it had lead-based paint...


So if we wanted to do the job right, we needed to break out all the wood.

Around the entire house. 


Then we decided that since they're painting, we may as well paint our shutters from burgundy to black.


And because the shutters looked so fantastic, we decided to replace our old front door.


And hey .... you know what would look really amazing with a NEW front door?



A new front stoop ... in flagstone! 


But how can you have that lovely flagstone stoop with that old cracked driveway that has caused multiple children multiple falls on their bicycles and scooters? So we replaced the driveway ... all 350+ feet of it.



But before we replaced and expanded the footprint of the driveway ... 




We had to tear down and rebuild the brick wall alongside our garage that was beyond repair.


(I had this guy stand guard over our new brick wall to ensure that the bobcat didn't hit it as they broke out the 6-inch concrete base of the OLD driveway. That would have been a major bummer.) 



And while we were on that side of the house....


We figured we'd just go ahead and replace the sliding glass door that wouldn't open and you could feel a cool breeze blow THROUGH it in the winter.


Because the new doors are so amazing, let's just bite the bullet and do the full frame replacement for almost all of our windows because they are drafty in the winter and the wood is totally rotted - thanks to the old gutters - and really, who needs to eat more than once a day?

Hey, speaking of gutters, that's what started this whole thing. 

The toilet?


It's still broken. 

Thursday, October 04, 2012

i'm in training

Our Girl Scout season started up again last night.

For the past two years, I've been the Daisy Girl Scout leader and our troop meetings have been held at our house, every other Wednesday night, from 5:30 to 6:45.  For as crazy and insane as it could be having 10 kindergarten - and then, 1st grade girls at our house - I loved it.

(After it was over.) 

However, because I was busy working full-time, I didn't have a lot of time to plan the meetings so I was usually flying by the seat of my pants, scrambling to pull together our activities minutes before the girls would start arriving in waves. Every meeting we'd sing songs and dance and read books and make cards for a loved one associated with our troop. We called it "Operation Sunshine" and for the first 20 minutes or so, when everyone would arrive and were climbing the walls milling about, I'd have them sit down and make a card for such-and-such's grandmother whose husband recently died. Or the neighbor who was recovering from a heart attack. Or the Uncle who fell down the stairs and was recovering from a broken ankle.

It's really incredible when you think about it - because every single person in your life is undoubtedly going through something, or knows someone who is going through something, and we never had a shortage of people who could use some well wishes from our little troop.  Once all our cards were made up, we'd put them in a big envelope that we'd decorate and smother with kisses and happy thoughts, and send it home with whomever had requested the"Sunshine."

(If you ever find yourself leading a Girl or Cub Scout troop - I'd definitely suggest this exercise that helps build compassion among the children, and keeps them happily busy for a solid 20 minutes.)

Last year, I had a co-leader who was much more organized than me. Actually, I'm pretty organized, but she was prompt about sending e-mails and responding to e-mails and eh, I'm almost as bad about responding to e-mails as I am to telephone messages.   This past Spring, when she was at her wits end because I was not on par with her planning schedule, she suggested that WE no longer lead the troop.  Granted, I wasn't great about corresponding but I consistently held the meetings at our house - consistently made snacks - consistently tried to keep things going.  In addition, because I was volunteering my time, I was able to funnel more than $1,000.00 worth of corporate grants from my employer in to our little troop (that in addition to our cookie sales profits).

Nonetheless, my co-leader thought the girls deserved more than what we were giving them so she strongly encouraged we step down.  My feelings were hurt so I said fine.  I'll step down and let someone else lead the troop. Oddly enough, once the sting wore off, I started to feel really good about the decision that she'd talked me in to. Leading a troop IS a lot of work and can be very taxing if you are also working full-time.

Well guess what happened next?

NO ONE stepped forward to lead the troop. I didn't want the girls to disband, but remained quiet while people figured out what they wanted to do. After about four weeks, one of the [other] mothers slowly came forward and hesitantly volunteered. And I hesitantly signed up to be her co-leader because I know how much work it is and I couldn't stand to see her go it alone without any parental support.

During our first meeting last night when the girls were acting exactly as you'd expect second grade girls to act after having been cooped up in school all day, she asked, "HOW IN THE WORLD DID YOU NOT TOTALLY LOSE YOUR COOL?"

I don't know. It's a miracle, really. 

One of the girls in the troop is one of seven children. She is the sweetest little kid and her mother is a very nice woman who seems completely overwhelmed.  They are always 30 minutes late arriving to the meetings and almost always 30 minutes late leaving.  When the troop meetings were at our house, I could almost always count on this little girl staying for dinner with us because her parents wouldn't be there to pick her up yet.  Two years ago, after several meetings, I happened to notice that she wasn't wearing her Girl Scout tunic so asked where it was?  As far as my daughters were concerned, one of the best parts of Girl Scouting was the whole wearing of their uniforms and proudly displaying their hard-earned patches. I remembered that her family had purchased her a tunic, I'd just never seen her wear it.

But after I inquired, the very next meeting, she brought it and she handed me all of her patches that had been collected in a small plastic bag. She told me that her mother didn't know how to sew and is there anyway I could put on her patches?

Um? Me?

Here's the thing: I'm not a sewer either.  In fact, I would delay putting on my own children's patches until the night before the meeting because I dislike sewing THAT much.  But I felt sorry for this little girl who would be patch-less if someone didn't help her out so I said "Yes, of course. I'd be happy to sew them on!"  I'm not sure why it surprised me, but after I sewed on the first round of patches, she brought them to me every time.  When she bridged to Brownies last year and I took off her Daisy tunic and replaced it with the Brownie sash, it struck me that I affixed every single one of the patches that graced that child's tunic.

In addition to every single one of the patches that graced MY children's tunics. 

SO, last night, when she arrived at Girl Scouts and she climbed out of her mother's van 30 minutes late, she handed me her BROWNIE sash and a bag full of new patches and said, "Here. Can you sew these on for me?" Having spent no less than TWO HOURS sewing on my own children's patches the night before, I took the bag and looked her mother square in the eye and said, "You know, I'm really not someone who ENJOYS sewing and that 100-year anniversary patch took me almost 30 minutes to put on TIMES two... "

Maybe it's just me, but I was really thinking that the mom would take my hint and say, "Oh right, what are we asking you to do? You work full time and have four children and coordinate the troop! SO SORRY!!" But she didn't do that. Instead, she said, "I'm not crafty at all!!" Then she hopped in her car and drove away. As she did, her sweet daughter smiled up at me with a toothless grin and .... 


When the NEW troop leader saw me standing holding a bag of patches, I thought for a moment that since I'm no longer the #1 troop leader, maybe I'll unload these patches on HER and ask for her to sew them on for our little friend with the un-crafty mother?  Alas, when I told her the situation, she was dumb-struck. YOU HAVE BEEN SEWING ON HER PATCHES FOR TWO-YEARS?


When I told her that no, I wasn't kidding ... she launched in to rant how I need to tell that mother that ABSOLUTELY NOT, I will NOT sew on her daughter's patches and if she is having a difficult time sewing them on then she can take them to the dry cleaners and they'll affix them for $5.00 per patch.  She gave me a stern look and said, "We have to teach you how to say NO!" 

She glared at me and said, "Say it!"




Fast forward 10 minutes, she is telling me that her seven-year-old daughter is really struggling with tying her shoes and can't seem to grasp the concept. So she asked me if I'd be willing to help teach her daughter how to tie her shoes?  "Sure!" I answered. "Maybe we could have that be the basis for one of our troop meetings...."

That's when she SMACKED me in the arm and said, "THAT WAS A TEST!! You were supposed to say, 'NO!!"  Then she extracted the bag of patches from my hand and said, "Together, you and me, are going to tell the mother during the next meeting that she'll have to find some other way to get these patches on her daughter's tunic."

Alternatively, maybe I could just staple them on for her?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

dear children

Dear Children:

Your father called me one day at work last week to tell me that there was a story on NPR regarding a study that had been conducted to gauge the happiness of people. As it turns out, several years ago, people without children were on average, less happy than people with children. These days however, the stats have purportedly flipped and studies show that people without children are, on average, happier than those with children.

The stats must be wrong. Maybe someone forgot to carry a one, or excluded an entire column of numbers in to their calculations because parenting has been the best thing to happen to me and your father and a lot of other people we know who are still functioning members of society.

(Cartoon courtesy of my in-laws after they spent several days with us at our home. It hangs proudly above my desk.) 

But this morning as I was driving to work, I was thinking about this past weekend and I was feeling really awful because I had some less than positive moments with the four of you during our two-days home, together.  As an example, when I took you to swim team practice on Sunday night and you told me you needed to use the bathroom, I know I shouldn't have been frustrated. Even though I'd asked you to use the bathroom BEFORE we left the house and you said NO and I said please and you said you definitely didn't have to go and it was only a 10-minute drive, you are little people with little bladders. A reasonable, sane person knows that it's no big deal that a seven-year-old would need to use the bathroom an hour after eating.  The fact that you're going IN the toilet as opposed to IN the pool is grounds for celebration.

Sane person says this is good.

However, by the time we arrive at the pool, we're running late. Our lateness may or may not have to do with me asking you twelve times to put on your shoes before we left in between asking that you use the bathroom at the house.  Regardless, you each enter a bathroom stall and I can see your feet and they look like they might be situated appropriately for toilet sitting. But then they're facing a different way. And then they're facing the wrong way. And then I see your hands AND your feet and then there's only one foot on the ground and then there are no feet on the ground and .... are you climbing the wall? 

Pray tell - what are you doing in there?!

So I ask you, kindly at first, to open the door but you don't respond and I don't know if you're still in there or if you've found a secret portal and have escaped the building.  So I ask you several times to OPEN THE DOOR, more and more loudly each time, and by the time you finally do, you're smugly smiling like you just walked out of the world's most awesome circus and my blood pressure is through the roof. At that moment, I'm so frustrated I could strangle a kitten and yet somewhere in my head there's a tiny little voice that is inaudible because of my fury.

Several minutes later, once the moment has diffused, I'll understand that the tiny little voice was saying, "Stop. Look around. Is anyone's life in danger, here? Or - are you running five minutes late to a swim team practice that you've signed your children up for because it's supposed to be good for them and they're supposed to have fun?"  

Oh children. I want so badly to have that kind and reasonable voice be the only voice I hear, but the fact is, sometimes you are like fertilizer for the angry voice. It's a funny thing. When I'm not IN THE MOMENT, I know exactly how to relax. I'm a PhD of relax and could write volumes of books on the subject. Like right now, as the four of you are in bed asleep and I'm sipping a cup of warm tea and the house is peacefully quiet?

I'm Jen the Zen. 

Alas, as much as you challenge us and stomp on our last nerves, we honestly couldn't imagine our lives without you.  Someone that drives us so crazy and yet we love so unconditionally?

It's the darnedest thing ever.  

(Card courtesy of my friend Lorie. She sent it to me for my birthday years ago. It hangs proudly above my desk.)

This morning your father was telling me that he believes it's critical for our emotional health that we spend some quiet time, every day - with our eyes closed just breathing in and out. Feeling our breath and grounding ourselves spiritually, mentally and physically.  So children, if you ever wonder why it is that we lock ourselves in the bathroom to meditate, it's not because we're trying to hide from you...

It's so we can be better FOR you.

(OK fine. Maybe sometimes we're hiding a little, too.)