Thursday, May 30, 2013

my haagen daze

Tuesday was an amazing day. Simply amazing. I'd had a nice long weekend and was energized when I returned to work on Tuesday morning.  That afternoon I had a nice, healthy lunch which I ran down eight flights of stairs to purchase, before running back up eight flights of stairs to my office ... instead of taking the elevator.  I drank no less than 64 ounces of water and felt refreshed.  By 3:30, I'd accomplished everything I'd wanted to accomplish that day, so I left work to meet Charlie and the children at the gym. My husband and I worked out, while the children ran around and played basketball. We came home and enjoyed dinner as a family. In the evening I patiently did homework with children and enthusiastically applauded their awesomeness in learning.  The kids were in bed, sleeping soundly by 8:30. As they slept, I sat down and tried to write a post that has been on my mind.

Then came Wednesday.  

On the heels of a great day came a not-so-great day. Probably because I was up too late the night before, on Wednesday morning I overslept which means the children overslept.  After having been tardy 16 times this school year, we vowed that we would be tardy NO MORE.  So we were in a frazzled state as we ran about looking for shoes, library books and other second grade school necessities. I arrived at work almost an hour later than normal because the traffic which had been virtually absent on Tuesday was in full force on Wednesday.  With back-to-back meetings, I skipped lunch and instead ate a squashed banana that was at the bottom of my purse. I never once took the stairs and didn't drink nearly enough water throughout the day. When I came home, I couldn't get through a single page of homework without putting my head on the table and moaning. Once the children were in bed, I thought that because I'd had such challenging day, I deserved a little pick me up.  If you could compress heaven in to a pint-size, it would look like this:


I'm quietly savoring my rare heavenly treat when Charlie arrives on the scene and upon seeing me polishing off the entire contents of my itty bitty tiny little pint, advises me that 1 pint = 3.5 servings or the caloritic equivalent of three hours on the treadmill.

OK. So some days are like that. 

But to my beloved, every so often, it's just best to not say anything. Or, better yet, don't even bring that stuff in to the house in the first place because the only way I could eat one serving... 


Is if this was my serving spoon.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

the path (xv)

Thinking back, I don't think I ever really explained much of what has happened with me at work. For that matter, I think the last I wrote about it was in October when I drafted up that post about surviving severe weather.  Let's see, what's happened since then?

Well, I can't really go in to the details. 

But ... I can say that my situation has improved dramatically for which I am extremely thankful. I'm fortunate to work for a great company, with a lot of wonderful people, and I was very disappointed at the prospect of leaving.  It was quite unexpected that on November 1st,  I was assigned a (new) temporary manager and on January 1st, I was moved in to the "Think Tank" with a group of scientists, the majority of whom possess PhDs and more than 30 years of experience. As the only woman in this group of 12 mostly gray-haired men, I often find myself wondering why in the world they selected me?  Do they not realize that I had a significant learning disability in grade school and am still sometimes stumped by fractions? Thankfully, I haven't had to deal with too many fractions as I've been working on some of the most environmentally complex projects that face our corporation.


Meanwhile, my former manager, who helped me to become a stronger and more spiritual person, was moved out of our organization and to a heavily guarded location in the Asia-Pacific region.  I sincerely wish him the very best in life and hope that he grew from the experience of working with me, as much as I grew from the experience of working with him. Now that it's over, I can truly say I'm a better person because of it.

Due to my experiences in the workplace over the past few years, particularly since I've become a mom, I've had an especially keen awareness of stories regarding women trying to navigate the path that often straddles motherhood and career-hood. These stories are seemingly everywhere - in the newspaper, books and film.

Last week I watched the movie Mona Lisa Smile.  This film came out two (um, make that 10?) years ago but I saw it for the first time last Tuesday.  When Katherine Watson [Julia Roberts] realized that her female students from the 1953 graduating class had it in their minds that they were destined to be homemakers and wives to their husbands, and not the scholars or professionals that Katherine thought they were in school to become, she angrily told her Wellesley College Magnum Cum Laude students, ".... you physics majors can calculate the mass and volume of every meatloaf you make."   

She then flashed up slides of women modeling brassieres and irons and told her class, "You can be so much more." Towards the end of the movie, one of her students, Joan Brandwyn [Julia Stiles] is accepted to Yale Law School, but turns it down because she wants to start a family instead. Her decision is unfathomable to Katherine, who implores her that she can have both her career and her family.  Joan's reply is that she would regret not having a family and being there to raise them, more than she would ever regret waking up one day and realizing that she could have been a lawyer.

(This was the most poignant part of the movie for me.)

The expectations - and demands - that so many women set on themselves to be academically successful and then successful in the workplace can be so high.  Joan probably could have had both ... her career and her family.  But from my perspective, it's not always "that" easy and I think that a lot of women in this day and age are fooled in to thinking that it is or should be.  While I believe that it certainly could be easier than it is to raise a family and maintain a career, a few things need to change within our own mindsets (and corporate environment) and that isn't going to happen overnight.

Consider, neither of my grandmothers worked out of the home; nor did either of Charlie's and both of our mothers were home with their children full-time until they went to school. Generationally, working mothers in the professional environment is still a relatively new occurrence and yet, there are a lot of women today who take grave exception to any notion that mothers are not as capable and focused as men in the business environment.

Last week, I read an article in The Washington Post.  The title of the article was, "Billionaire investor's take on motherhood roils U-VA."  The article was about Paul Tudor Jones, a hedge fund billionaire, who said during a symposium at the University of Virginia that as long as women continue having children, the hedge fund industry is likely to be dominated by men. He was quoted as saying, "As soon as that baby's lips touched that girl's bosom, forget it."

He was referring to two women who worked with him and once married, became mothers, and no longer had the intense focus needed for macro trading.  His comments caused an uproar among women educators and those in the business world.  WHAT ROILS ME is the outcry to his comment and that Jones has since released an apology for stating what I consider to be The Obvious.

Women, if they chose to have children, will likely discover that they have a bond to their children that is greater than any bond the world of chemistry has ever known.  In 99.999% of the female population, once a woman has a baby, everything changes: her waist, her bosom, and yes, even her intense focus.

Several years ago, Johnson and Johnson launched a brilliant ad campaign built upon the truth, "Having a Baby Changes Everything."  One of my favorite phrases in this campaign is, "You were always destined for big things. So who'd have ever thought the biggest thing to ever happen to you would be the smallest?" 

Why in the world should we attempt to cover up that a woman's focus has shifted after the biggest thing to ever happen in her life?  It's not a handicap or a function of inequality .... it's a reality.  And the more that people try to argue against this fact that a woman's life is no different after she's become a mother (particularly in the workplace), the more challenging and longer it's going to take to have POLICY in place that is going to more readily allow mothers the flexibility (and desire) to continue with their careers if they so choose, or need.

At least in my case, I was on a rapidly upward mobile career track, until I had children. And then things slowed down.  It should come as no surprise that taking almost a year off for maternity leave, and then working part-time for a year, before taking off another year for maternity leave, followed by another year of part-time work would put the brakes on my accelerating career.  Before children came in to my life, there weren't distractions such as school plays and swim meets and sick little ones that only allowed me to get two hours of sleep at night. There certainly weren't pictures on my desk that would prompt me to daydream about what they were doing and what I might possibly be missing between the hours of 8 AM and 6 PM.  And there wasn't the sometimes gut wrenching guilt that can derail me when I'm packing for a week-long business trip.

Some women love to work. Some women have to work. If you're in the latter camp, it's nice when you enjoy what you do and don't feel bitter about being away from home.  I'm fortunate in that I thoroughly enjoy my day job, but I'm a mother first and foremost. And even now, as a 20+ year veteran in the prime of my career, I wouldn't hesitate giving up a week rubbing shoulders with executives, to instead spend a day at Disney Land with my children on their birthday.  My focus, like most of the working women I know, shifted once I had children. 

I've lost count of the number of women who, if given the option, would give up their full-time, hard-earned careers to have the ability to spend more time home with their children at various points in their child's life.  Even for those women who were the most gung-ho career women to ever live and have hired full-time nannies so they can continue on with their gung-ho careers ... yes, even for THOSE amazing go-getter women, it's irrefutable that their focus has shifted from what may have once been an all encompassing career to the little beings that they are now blessed to raise.

Very few of these women would like to give up their careers completely.  But all of them, crave some degree of flexibility.  What I've discovered is that you're either lucky enough to work for a company (or manager) that allows flexibility, or you're not.  There is no policy governing flexibility because flexibility is dictated by business need. This makes sense economically, but there are other factors that could be considered which may include job sharing and/or work place and/or work hour flexibility.

Time and time again I see highly qualified women stepping down (or stepping aside) from promotions because the pull to be a mother is greater than the pull to be an executive. It's not that she couldn't be a CEO, it's that she wouldn't be a CEO under her current work demands or arrangement.  What a woman brings to the table is often so different than a man and that skill set cannot be discredited. Most woman that I know offer communication, collaboration and coordination skills that are an integral part of continuous improvement in an organization.  And as I've written before, allowing employees to find a healthy balance at dictated by their life circumstances (i.e., children), will ultimately yield a more productive, energized, loyal, healthy and diversified work force.

So my response to Paul Tudor Jones would be this...

"Women aren't going to stop having children. So until such time that there are policies surrounding improved flexibility in the workplace - the hedge fund industry; nay business world, is likely to be dominated by men. If we want to see more women in the workforce, especially at higher levels, we must allow them the flexibility to attend to their #1 priority - their family. "  

It's because so many women come back to work on the premise (or under the expectation) that they are going to accomplish all that they accomplished before they had children (and then some), there is a tremendous amount of anguish among the working mothers I know and their numbers in the upper echelons of management are lacking.  Most women who have children bow out of the game, or turn down the promotions because of the impact it may have on their time at home.  There aren't enough hours in the day, fuel in the tank, or years that our children need us. As Phyllis Schlafly so eloquently wrote, ".... maternal tuning-in never turns off."  So it's simply a choice most of us have had to make regarding where our best energy will go.

Understanding the sacrifices that I'm willing to make, and those that I'm not ... our family has found a balance which for the most part, works. As fate would have it, I have a husband who is incredibly supportive of my career and was able to establish a career for himself that allows him the flexibility to be home with our children. It's safe to say I wouldn't have reached my current level, in the well respected "Think Tank", if I wasn't focused in the workplace. But I'm definitely not as focused as I was before the four biggest things to ever happen in my life, arrived in less than three years. I made the conscious decision to have children; I made the conscious decision that I wanted to be a mother.  It was a choice.  But without Charlie willing to make the choices that he's made, it's unlikely that I'd be at the level I've achieved in my professional life, especially given the general lack of workplace flexibility I have, which is comparable throughout today's corporate America.

Last month, I told my current supervisor, a man whom I've truly admired, that one of my career ambitions is to move in to a role of management. After a lot of soul-searching, I've determined that the primary reason I'd like to move in to this type of role is so that I can be better positioned to understand, and hopefully remove, some of the barriers that are deterring other women from advancing professionally within our organization.  So I told him that from a diversity and inclusion perspective, it is important that there are more mothers represented at the leadership level.

Little did I know how quickly the corporation would respond to my request.  Next week, I'll have someone assigned to work for me for the first time in my 12-years with the company.  I'll be the direct supervisor of a young woman pursuing an engineering degree. She will be coming to work for us and I'm sure that when she comes in to our office that has a 20 / 80 ratio of women to men, she is going to quickly realize that her gender is outnumbered 4:1. (Look at that ... two fractions in one sentence!)  

I'll admit, I've been somewhat conflicted expressing my interest in management because I feel like I'm toeing a very fine line between "The Professional" and "The Mom" and I don't want to fall too far over to "The Professional" side.  However, it's clear that there needs to be more working mothers at the management level who are balancing careers and family and visibly demonstrating that sometimes the balance works and sometimes it doesn't.  People need to see and understand that, while also seeing the value that working mothers continue to bring to the table.

There are days I still struggle with our arrangement and question if it should be me that is home with our children - while Charlie is in the office. (I don't know if my guilt or maternal instinct is stronger?) But more often than not, I see my children looking at me as a woman who is capable of supporting her family and my employer looking at me as a dedicated employee who has her priorities in the right place. As a result, I feel empowered to lobby for policy on flexibility in the workplace, while also continuing to demonstrate the critical business need for women in the workforce today....


For those women who will be in the workforce, tomorrow.


(Post Script: I'm trying to scratch the itch of something I've been meaning to write for quite a while and am not sure if I grazed the mark or missed it completely. Forewarning, chances are moderate to high that this will be edited several times after it's posted.)

Monday, May 27, 2013

in memoriam

Yesterday, we took the children in to Washington, D.C. to visit several of the war memorials and monuments. Although we've lived here for nearly three years now, we haven't taken the children to see these landmarks because ... my back isn't that strong.


But Memorial Day is very important to me, so in my quest to impress upon our children the significance of this solemn holiday, we seized the perfect weather and hopped on the metro for a day of adventure in the Nation's Capital.


We began our visit outside of the White House.


And then we crossed Constitution Avenue, amidst the tens of thousands of Harley Davidsons that were part of the 25th annual Rolling Thunder.


Where ever we went throughout the day, we could always hear the roar of the Harleys as they completed their Memorial Day pilgrimage.


The mission of Rolling Thunder is a tribute to the Prisoners of War - Missing In Action (POW-MIA) service men and women, with the purpose of reminding the government, media, and public that we will never forget. 


It brought a tear to my eyes to see these so many people united for a cause. There were young and old riders, but most were white haired men sporting some kind of black leather garment (vest or chaps, or vest and chaps), adorned with veteran patches. As they rode past, I could hear Lee Greenwood's song blaring from several stereos:

... And I'm proud to be an American, 
where at least I know I'm free. 
And I won't forget the men who died, 
who gave that right to me. 

And I gladly stand up, 
next to you and defend her still today. 
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land, 
God bless the USA! 

They were quite a sight (and sound) to behold.


Especially up close.


Now son, whatever you do, don't knock down that motorcycle because they will fall like dominoes and our legs aren't long enough to carry us out of here as fast as we'd need to go.  Got it? 


We visited the World War II Memorial and I told our children stories about how Jim (Navy) and two of their great-uncles, my mother's brothers Uncle Ed (Navy) and Uncle Bernie (Marines) served in this war that claimed more than 400,000 American lives and more than 50,000,000 lives around the globe.  



We walked along the historic reflecting pool that is located between the Washington Monument...


And the Lincoln Memorial. 


Where we stood at the feet of one of the world's greatest leaders ... 


And undoubtedly greatest men of all time. 


(He sure used a lot of big words!)


We then made our way to the Korean War Memorial...


Where I told the children about my mother's twin brothers Uncle Bob (Army) and Uncle Ray (Air Force) and how they served for our country in this war that claimed nearly 40,000 American lives and nearly 3,000,000 lives in the region.


Freedom isn't free. 


We stopped and looked at the red silk flowers that were placed around the memorials.


And we discussed how important it is to always remember those people that bravely answered the call of duty and served our country.


From the Korean Memorial, we walked to the Vietnam Memorial.


And this memorial, more than any other, really seemed to impact the children.


We talked about how each of the nearly 60,000 names carved in to the wall was the name of a young soldier who had died in the war.


And we talked about Kathleen's younger brother, Terry, who died in Vietnam when we was only 21-years old. As we looked at the tributes that people had left for their lost one, we saw volunteers do rubbings of the etched names on behalf of a friend or family member who would be standing nearby, softly weeping.


We have a solemn obligation...


To never forget the sacrifices that so many brave souls have made (and will continue to make) for our country.


Today, we were planning to visit Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but we decided that we'll make that trek at some later date.


After hiking more than five miles around monuments and memorials ...


This little troop, with their extremely grateful and patriotic hearts, needed a nap.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

they grow up so fast

Our baby birds eyes are now open and they're covered in soft down.


Because we want to minimize any disturbance to the nest, we check on them once or twice a week when we remove the plant to water it. One of the highlights for us has been listening to the mama bird when she flies back in to the nest after some time away, and a symphony of tiny tweets is heard from the pot. When I saw them earlier in the week, when their eyes were still closed, if I made any noise, their beaks would fly open.


I could have sworn this one was trying to tell me about how homework is such a drag and why must she clean up her nest every day? And her siblings have absolutely no respect for her personal space and they constantly get in to her collections and mess up her art work and are so loud and so messy and are always bumping in to her and why can't she just have her own nest where she can do whatever she wants?


Or maybe she's just hungry and I'm hearing an echo from my own home?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

tweet! tweet!

Charlie and I had promised ourselves (and each other) that we wouldn't tell the children about the bird nest, for fear that they might accidentally disrupt it with all of their child-like enthusiasm.


I didn't actually tell the children about the nest. I just showed them the pictures that I'd snapped off and then they spent the better part of three minutes trying to figure out which plant pot the nest was in.


They finally figured it out when the mama bird flew out of the pot and buzzed them as she flew up to the tree. Rightly so, they shrieked.


We had the kids promise - PINKY SWEAR PROMISE - that they wouldn't bother the nest. And then we had to spend the next seven days watching them every time they went outside to ensure that they lived up their promises.


This past weekend, one week after we found the nest, we lifted the plant out of the pot and what to our wondering eyes should appear ....


But five tweeting birds that were quite difficult to hear!


Earlier the same day, the children discovered a turtle migrating across our driveway.


It's like Nat Geo wild in our front yard!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

little birds, out on my doorstep

This is our quaint little house.  Our quaint little house that we've toiled over the past nearly three years. Scraping, painting, demolishing, replacing, sweeping, cleaning.


This is our newly finished front stoop. Our newly finished front stoop that we have really enjoyed resting on, while eating ice cream sandwiches, when we're not scraping, painting, demolishing, replacing, sweeping and cleaning.


These are our happy and vibrant plants. Our happy and vibrant plants that I saw in Walmart and was drawn to like a moth to the flame.  I'd gone in to purchase Claritin-D and came out with these plants, instead.


I think they're called Kalanchoe Calandiva ... something or other.  But I just call them KC.


When I bought these annual plants last month, I had every intention of removing them from their plastic containers (which were wrapped with decorative yellow cellophane) and potting them. But, you know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.   Six weeks later, whenever I walk past them (every single day), I feel this nagging that I just need to STOP what I'm doing and pot the plants already.  And yet... I don't for reasons that have eluded me.

Last Sunday, Mother's Day, we removed everything from the front stoop so we could hose it down. As Charlie was removing our KC plants in their crinkly wrappers from the ceramic pots, he asked me if I was ever planning to pot these plants?  "Sure," I said. "One day. Hopefully before fall. Unless we just embrace the lovely subtlety of the disposable yellow plastic and keep them that way all summer!"

We laughed.

And then we noticed that there was a nest in the ceramic pot.


A nest ... which had been constructed beside the plants and was contoured around the disposable plastic container and had been protected beneath the bright yellow cellophane. We stood in amazement at this tiny creation.  It's a miracle to us that a little bird that probably weighs no more than a pound, can create something that is so precisely engineered.  We have tried to construct bird nests before with our children and they never turn out very well.


And yet here, hidden behind the plant that I was supposed to pot last month, was a perfectly constructed nest with five perfectly spotted little eggs.

Sparrow, we think.


Had I actually potted this plant, it's unlikely that a mama bird would have found this to be the ideal place to construct her nest and lay her precious eggs.

So I like to think that this is a perfect example of the Universe showing me that every so often, the To-Do list really is for the birds.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

happy mothres day!

So much of the good that I have in my life comes from my own mother and the countless women who have perhaps, unknowingly, been a model for kindness, patience and grace.


For as much humor as I find in cards such as this one...


And this one ...



In the words of George Will, I know it to be true that: "We are given children to test us and make us more spiritual."  Motherhood is an enigma: It is the most thankless job I've ever had, but also the most rewarding ... it is the most exhausting experience and yet, the most energizing. Nurturing and helping to shape the future of humanity is a divine position, indeed.


There's no question that becoming a mother has been the most awesome privilege of my life and the greatest impetus for me to become a better person and strive to create a better world.


To all of those that are traveling the same blessed path.