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Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning

Category

Things I’ve Learned

All The Things I Do Not Know (at age 44)

Here’s the bottom line, I feel younger than I thought I’d feel at 44. I don’t know if this is because I am shocked than I am actually 44 (denial makes you feel younger) or a sign of fundamental immaturity.

Truth be told I don’t begrudge age. I feel lucky lucky lucky to be here, have the family I have, count my friends as friends and have full use of my body. This last point is no joke – you know that “at least you have your health” adage – it’s true. If you’ve ever broken a toe, burned your tongue or worse, you know what I mean. Don’t take your body for granted.

When my mom was 44 I was 14. When my dad was 44 I was 6. God bless my mom for dealing with me as a teenager when she was the age I am now. Pretty sure I was terrible. My dad at age 44 had 6 year-old me. Pretty sure I was an angel. What would he say now if he were alive? He always loved telling people they were middle aged, so he’d likely start there. He would tell me I should start going to church again. He would want to hear about the cake and food today. I don’t know if he would have any words of wisdom…but maybe.

Since he’s not here, I wrote my own list of things I think people should know, or at things I think my kids should know. Here goes…

Living

  • Work on empathy. Be around lots of different types of people. Pause to imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes.
  • Go to places where you don’t speak the language at all. You need to learn what it feels like to have to ask for help.
  • When in doubt, take the kind road. It’s unlikely you will ever regret being kind.
  • Not everyone will be honest about facts. Don’t be naïve about this.
  • Stretch your limbs every day.
  • Lift up heavy things.
  • Enjoy ALL of your firsts.
  • Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes. There’s no reason to let a pair of shoes make you miserable all day.
  • Write things down – memories, thoughts, impressions. You won’t be around one day but people who are in your life will want to know what you were thinking.
  • Learn how to take care of your needs and act accordingly. Over time, you cannot take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
  • Ask a lot of questions.
  • Be an active listener.
  • Simplify elements of your life so that you are better able to make decisions about other things. The more decisions you have to make, the worse you are at making them.
  • No nail polish is far better than chipped nail polish.
  • Use your fireplace.
  • Watch Friday Night Lights, Steel Magnolias, West Wing, The Wire….

Work/Money

  • Put simply – WORK. Work when you’re young. Earn your own money in college and high school.
  • Be honest with yourself about your financial health. Don’t tell yourself you owe less than you do. You are only making the headache bigger when the chicken comes home to roost.
  • The chicken ALWAYS comes home to roost.
  • Save. Even a dollar a week from your very first paycheck.
  • When you’re about to leave your place of work, identify one more thing you could do that day. Do that one thing.
  • Be early.
  • Read your emails twice before hitting send.
  • Think about being a problem solver not just a problem identifier.
  • Focus on your strengths. You will hear a lot about developing your weaknesses…hogwash. I mean, not total hogwash but often strengths get lost in a sea of “weakness focus.” Life and work are more fun when you play to your strengths.
  • On this, I recently took a test to help name my strengths. I got: Consistency, Relator, Discipline, Learner and Empathy.

Friends

  • Expect that you will get different things from different friends. Don’t expect all of them to be what you think you need them to be.
  • Accept what people can give. Don’t be angry about what they cannot or do not give. It’s just not worth it.
  • This is the “Friend Contact Hierarchy”: Text < Email < Phone call < In person hang out. But all of those are better than NOTHING – so pick one and do it.
  • Skype and Facetime could be on the above list, but I am not sure where (admit when you don’t know something)
  • Also, notice “snapchat” isn’t on the list. I am 44 and I cannot figure out how to use it.
  • Don’t forget good old fashioned cards. People love getting cards.
  • In almost any circumstance, do not lend friends money, unless you are fully prepared to lose that money and that friend.
  • RSVP. Do not be one of those people who doesn’t even RSVP. It’s beyond rude.

Love

  • After a breakup, wash and change all of your entire bedding. There is nothing like a fresh bed. Do this for a friend if they’ve been dumped.
  • Don’t keep score.
  • When you are parents, be a couple FIRST.
  • Romance is not love.
  • On being parents, don’t feel the need to have kids if you don’t want them.
  • If each of you try to give more than you get, you’re on the road to relationship contentment.

Food

  • Guacamole is best when mixed as little as possible.
  • Often, the appetizers are better than the entrée.
  • Make my spaghetti sauce recipe and share it with friends. It’s three generations of goodness.
  • Know what you are eating – read food labels.
  • Don’t hesitate – just buy an extra carton of milk.
  • Develop a taste for hot mustard.
  • Leave room for dessert.

Lastly, take all of the above with a big grain of salt. The only thing I really know is that it’s getting easier to ask questions as I get older. I am less afraid of looking silly…I used to be really afraid of looking silly.

My Blog Is a PreTeen

Today, this blog is a preteen. I launched it 10 years ago. Going back and re-reading posts is an exercise in embarrassment, pride, growth and humility. Like I said, a preteen.

A lot has happened in ten years.

WHAT HAPPENED?

I got married and had two babies. We bought a first car and a first house. I buried my father and grew closer to my mother. We went to countless weddings. Made new friends, drifted from others. Lost a friend to cancer. Started new hobbies. Picked up a barbell. Went from being a VC, to an interim-CFO to a full time CFO. Sold a few businesses, some that went well, others that didn’t.

I got all nice hangers this past decade and donated more than half of my closet (all “didn’t like” or, let’s be honest, “doesn’t fit” went out).

I learned a lot about parenting. I discovered that I was a much tougher and crunchier parent before I had kids. Before my kids were born I rarely let them watch television; I read to them nightly for a minimum of 30 minutes. They slept peacefully in their beds every night. I crafted with them. I never yelled. I was, in short, an annoying sanctimommy. After they were born one made a habit of 3am creep-ins to snuggle (we have not discouraged). The television does get turned on during the week and oh well. They do read and we read to them. They eat good meals more often than not but I’ve widened my definition of “good.”

ON AMBITION

I’ve become less ambitious. I lean out. I’ve said “no thanks” to a few opportunities that would be big personal career headlines. Part of this may be fear of failure – probably – being afraid to try. But it’s also wanting to be able to pick up my kids from school and sit with them at the dinner table. It’s working with people I know and trust, with all of our good bad and ugly. It’s loyalty to my business partners and what we are building.

I grapple with changing the world. Could I even do that? But isn’t that what I went to school for? I don’t know if I could change the world, but I have peers from Georgetown and HBS doing really big things. I really don’t know, but I like spending time in multiple vectors; building a life and not just a living.

FAVORITE POSTS

Re-reading posts was interesting and embarrassing. I spend little time editing, which is clear upon re-reading. Some are insipid. That’s ok. I never said it was going to be mind- blowing stuff. But others stood out. Below are my personal favorites:

A few things about me: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2007/01/10/just_a_nugget_o/

Bridezilla’s Revenge https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2006/06/01/bridezillas_rev/

Clampett Christmas https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2006/12/14/i_am_so_proud_l/

How to take a bath: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2007/01/13/a_must_do/

Breathe: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2007/02/27/count_to_ten/

Letter to God: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2007/10/10/dear-god-i-real/

Random Thoughts: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2008/04/11/when-you-are-sa/

Life Lessons and Cooking! https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/life-lessons-an/

Early thoughts on motherhood: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/maternity-leave/

Before Fitness Was All Social, a friend and I created The Manolo Challenge: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2008/09/09/the-manolo-challenge/

What it’s like to lose a parent: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2009/01/07/what-its-like-to-lose-a-parent/

Twenty Fives Things About Me: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/from-facebook-but-its-blogworthy25-random-things-about-moi/

A few honest regrets: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/regrets-a-memoir/

One of my first menus: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/dinner-party-menu-for-people-who-have-children-and-want-to-look-composed/

My most read post ever, work related: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/stranger-in-a-strange-land-or-being-a-woman-in-tech/

On birthdays: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/let-me-eat-cake/

My absolute favorite post – I wrote a letter guessing what my father would have written to Avery: https://realtismoi.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/letter-to-a-granddaughter/

THE BIG LESSON

After ten years of writing what is the big lesson? It’s to listen. Listen to your life. Listen to your friends and family. Pry more, into yourself and others. Take time to observe your thoughts without judgement. Listening is loving. It is a way to show compassion and be part of this world. It is a path to empathy. It is a giving of yourself.

I didn’t start this blog with that in mind but in reflecting on ten years of posting, I realize that it’s when I am most present that I write. When I am distracted I don’t. I am interested in those times when I don’t have anything to say. Can it be that I haven’t been noticing the wonder that is our world? This is the best article I have ever read about listening and I would urge you to print it and read it in a quiet place. Then tuck it in a drawer and bring it out every once in a while.

One other big lesson. Buy a proper winter coat, with a hood. It took me forever to learn this lesson. My previous coat was ok but my NEW coat, well, it’s a whole new world. I think I’ve been cold for a decade. And wear the hood.

Listen. Think. Be grateful. Know you can do more than you think. Wear a proper coat.

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Know Thyself

When I was about 25 I took the Myers Briggs assessment. The first measure pegged me as 50/50 E/I, as much an introvert as an extrovert. My friends found this surprising “Really? I always think of you as so outgoing.” Little did they know.

Now nearly twenty years later that “I” side seems to be getting stronger. As I introduced more elements of “others” to my life, that little “I” side got really strong. In my twenties and thirties it was easier to be alone, to be quiet, to sit in my own head. I took all of that for granted – half the time I am not even sure I knew I was recharging.

Introduce husband and kids on top of work, etc. and my world changed.

I hope it goes without saying that my husband and kids are the most important thing to me. Without a doubt, full stop.

And yet.

And yet I need to put my mask on first. This means different things for different people, but for me it means I absolutely must have quiet downtime, or time doing something on my own be that reading, cooking, working out. I can be around other people but my interactions with others might be less than normal. Being at home with the kids is awesome on weekends but it also means there is a constant buzzing of activity, of voices, of inquiry. “Can I have milk?” “What are we doing today?” “Where is the hammer?” and I don’t know about all of the other moms out there but in my house, 90% of the time I am the object of this inquiry.

I find it tiring. And then I feel bad about that because it’s my family and they’re awesome and nobody is sick and we live in a great place and who am I to complain. SUCK IT UP.

What happens then is the “Push Through.” Don’t we all do this? It works for a while. Until it doesn’t. Until you have an inkling that the dinner you planned to attend, the playdate you need to go to, may just be a little too much. The smart money doesn’t ignore the inkling. The funny thing about introversion is that it is really fucking fierce personality trait (not shy; not meek) and it will demand to be heard. Ignore it at your peril. You can take heed and say to your husband “Can you take the kids to this playdate?” and listen to yourself, OR you can Push Through, once again and well, it’s not pretty. In my case, ignoring the inkling too many times means I freak out about things that don’t matter. I can get mean. I am not a good mother or wife or friend in these moments.

It’s hard to accept this and not feel like a self-indulgent complainer. Life is good. We have food family and opportunities. I don’t worry about running out of water. But to be there for others, you’ve got to be there for yourself. This is ok. I keep telling myself this is OK.

Stay Young; Bake Cookies

It’s August. It’s hot. It’s time for a batch of unrelated updates. This weekend I took the kids to see my mom, sister and her family. While at home I spent some time with my dad’s old stuff. I do this every time I go home and every time it’s worth it. I ran across an OpEd he wrote in 1964 for the local White Plains paper. That was before I was born, but while growing up we spent a lot of time in Westchester which got me thinking about childhood memories…things like riding in the front seat of a car next to dad while we ate chocolate ice cream cones. For some reason that kid thing reminded me of when I used to climb the tree out in front of our house, feeling triumphant up to the top. Feeling triumphant made me think about the other end of the spectrum – Failure. Recently in my personal workout journey I missed a deadlift that I had made before. From that came a little rage (if that’s possible…only a LITTLE rage) and feelings of doubt (crap what happened?). But then I thought about how life isn’t a straight line and some days you win and others you don’t. The key is getting back on the horse and to keep working. Which made me remember that work matters more than talent and if you’re following any of Carol Dweck’s great work, you will know what I mean (I encourage you to read the whole article – it matters for adults, kids, relationships…). Speaking of relationships, that got me thinking about how much I value mine. My spouse in particular. We know a number of people going through very tough marriage times – some lasting, some not – and I am reminded that marriage is not a solution for a relationship, it’s a choice. A choice we make every day. I am feeling now for the people we know struggling with this choice. That got me thinking about how that choice manifests itself and for us, we are not alone here, it’s in the little things like moving the laundry to the dryer, picking up socks, listening when your partner speaks. This weekend when I got home it was about how my amazing husband thought to do the grocery shopping and in the course of that made us a pie. It was a fabulous peach pie (all gone now). Thinking about that prompted a thought about creating and making things. I have a new little project I’m working on related to Menus. I love making up menus. So I am posting a menu a week on the site. They aren’t fancy – but they are fun. And making them gives me a chance to think about what we would like to cook in different situations. I am also a person who wishes I had been born with artistic talent but rather than wallowing in my lack of talent I am jumping in head first and putting a little image alongside each menu. When is the last time you used markers, or crayons? I HIGHLY encourage this childish behavior. Who says kids are the only scribblers?  Please check it out HERE.

How To Waste Time

I worked for a guy once – very successful – very busy – who told me “make sure you waste time productively.”

Best advice!

I’m not one of those people who ever says “I just can’t relax!” (place hand on forehead, dramatic sigh).  Well too bad, that must suck for you – I’m great at relaxing!  And of late, I’ve taken my former boss’s advice to heart.  I’ve always been pretty good about not getting caught in some mind-numbing TV vortex, but lately I’ve taken this all to the next level.  Here are a few ways I’ve been spending time…

  • I’ve always loved music…but haven’t listened to a lot of the greats.  I’m now making my way through Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  This is a big project so I am starting with the first 100 and reading a little Wikipedia entry on most the albums as I go to get the history.  I still don’t like John Lennon but Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On the whole album is great! I chose albums instead of songs since…I know this is old school…but albums are complete works of art. (when does this happen?  at my desk at work)
  • Doesn’t everyone read?  I read a lot of books but have also been reading a lot of articles lately.  (when does this happen?  subway to and from work; in front of the kids on weekends “Look at mommy read a magazine!”, right before bed). Here are a few recent interesting articles:
  • History.  Oh, for my lack of history knowledge. But with Khan Academy I’ve been watching quick little videos to fill in some (embarrassing) gaps.  Starting with early 20th Century Empire Building and events leading up to WWI. (when does this happen?  usually after the kids get to bed…takes ten minutes)
  • I would just like to note for my husband and others close to me that I have yet to mention Crossfit.  Which I find an incredible use of time, thank you very much.  But I won’t talk about it despite its awesome impact on mobility, strength, cardio and overall well-being.  Moving on…
  • Podcasts.  I’m realizing my subway rides are really pretty awesome – well spent time. In the past few months I’ve meditated (Tara Brach), heard an amazing murder trial reopened (Serial), and listened to incredible interviews of Arnold Schwarzenegger (don’t judge – he was hilarious), Rick Rubin, Elon Musk, Maria Popova and others thanks to podcasts. I learn something new every time.
  • And of course TV.  Game of Thrones, A Chef’s Table, Parts Unknown with Anthony Bordain, Bloodline, Homeland…so much good content!  In addition to being a person who knows how to relax, I am a person who is not afraid to admit I like television. Some of it is just great!  (when does this happen?  at night after the kids are in bed, lunches are made, laundry is folded, emails been checked again…)

So that’s that.  I hope you can find your own downtime and ways to “waste time productively.”  If you need a jump start, read THIS, The Busy Trap (great article. Just great.)

Destiny

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.” Gandhi

The Thrill Of Victory

I read a lot about writing.  Authors like Anne Lamott and Brenda Ueland write brilliantly and honestly about what it’s like to be a writer.

I don’t know that I will ever be a famous writer.  For one thing, I have never actually written nor attempted to write a book.

Along these same lines, I am coming to terms with the likelihood that neither a Grammy nor an Olympic medal are in my future.  Specifically with regard to the Olympics, I have no sport.

I take that back – that’s not entirely true – I do run a mean eleven minute mile and have been known to attempt the occasional back-bend.  It’s not for lack of physical exertion that I will not be an Olympian.  Trust that for me, running 5 miles at eleven minutes each is a feat of epic effort and exhaustion.

But the question really is, might I experience a moment of greatness at some point in my remaining years?  Yes – there are times when I wonder if my best days are behind me.

I will never forget a moment of personal artistic brilliance that actually WAS recognized by someone other than my mother.  It was in fifth grade.  There was a contest for who could most creatively design a sign encouraging fellow students to read.  The moment I heard this, I knew this was my challenge to lose.  The crayons fell to the page with ease and grace and before I knew it there were trees, apples and eyeglass-wearing worms happily reading books.  It was titled “Be a Book Worm. Read Books.”

I won First Prize.  The Gold Star.  A $5.00 bill.

You may be wondering where this is all going so let me bring it home.  Facebook is one thing, life is another.  A friend of mine wrote me the other day as she struggled through a child rearing, guilty mom moment and she said “can’t wait to see you to pick your brain on how you manage to have a successful career AND be a good mom and wife!!”

And I realized while this may be a picture the honest answer is don’t we all work on these things every day?  The best, most helpful conversations, and relationships, I have are those where the Brain Picking results in trials, tribulations, fear, successes and brutal honesty.

Now back to sports, the glory is not just the thrill of victory – it’s that RIGHT alongside the agony of defeat.  I learn every day to take the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, the failures with the successes.

And some days all you can do is reach deep into your closet, pull out the dusty box of memorabilia and remember how you felt as a 10 year old accepting a $5.00 bill for what was indeed a brilliant piece of work.

Parenting, part 1 (optimistic title)

WHERE to begin…now with the older child in Kindergarten, I thought it a good time to start noting what we’ve learned about parenting in the 8 years of childrearing (2.5+5.5) we have under our belts.  Not that any of you need to learn from us – rather, to create a Told You So document for the kids when they have kids (karma’s a bitch by the way).  See the thing is, I am in awe of people who have more than two.  If we had more than two we’d need a lot of land, a permanent baby nurse and an electric fence, for starters.  So we stick with what we’ve got.  As the daycare teachers say, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset!”

First, get a crew of babysitters.  You need a team.  Someone who can cover various workdays.  One or two who are willing to stay late on weekend nights.  Someone mercenary who is basically willing to answer the call at all hours.  And make sure the kids like them.  If the kid really doesn’t like them, you won’t either.

Next, find parenting books/resources that work for you.  This works for me.  It’s a little awkward in the middle of a heated interchange to tell your kid “Hold on!  I have to look that up” but I’ve done it.  Scoff if you will, but this parenting thing doesn’t come as naturally to me as others.  I need professional help and I have a library of that.  I’ve also developed the habit of reading a few pages on my way from work to pick up the kids – it helps me get into the right frame of mind.

Speaking of frame of mind, have you noticed that so much of parenting is really less about the child and more about you?  Oh yeah dude, trust that if you have ANY issues (anxiety, fear of flying, Oreo’s addiction) that you were able to manage easily pre-kids, a 3 foot child is uniquely qualified to shine a bright light on that junk.  Figure yourself out. Little cracks in your ability to be calm and mature become chasms and there you are, yelling at a being no larger than a smurf.

My husband accuses me of Projecting, a term I have come to hate but probably because he’s right (I call it Planning and Forecasting…whatever). But when it comes to kids this can be dangerous.  See our daughter tussle with another child about a toy and in my mind, fast forward ten years and there she is in a stolen car doing donuts on our front lawn (another reason we are not likely to move to the suburbs – no front lawn).  And then we get back to The Reasonable Place.  See, the thing about parenting I’ve found is you feel the stakes are so high.  It all matters so much and we (I) can put so much weight on the small things.  What do we learn?  Chill out and try try again.

Just know that once you have more than one almost everything in the house is about “Justice and Property Rights”.  No words of learning or wisdom here, just calling it out because when we defined it this way rather than “Having two kids is about a lot of yelling and grabbing between them all the time” world got a little better.

Lastly, it’s all about you.  The more you take care of yourself as a parent the better parent you will be (BTW, I am not talking about the parents who define this as “hey kids we’re taking off on a three month trip because we need ME time”).  No, I mean the basics (find time to exercise, read, play a game, talk to a friend, have a sit down dinner without your kids).

Actually this is last, we’re learning to ask for help.  Send the kids to a playdate.  Do some tag team parenting – not everything needs to be done as a whole family.  Find a friend who you can talk to about this stuff with no judgment.  As my friend Suna poetically says “it takes a village, yo!”  I could not agree more.

This is a big learning process for me and a lot of times it’s not easy – so it’s with optimism that I write Part 1 – as they get older it is bound to get way more complicated – and I am hopeful that as time marches on there will be more Aha! moments…because it is so wonderful and it goes so very fast.

Let Me Eat Cake

I have a love hate relationship with my birthday. What a cliché. It’s not that I am all torn up about getting older. I still feel pretty young but with a relatively solid sense of self (usually). I like cake. I love seeing friends and hearing from people. But no matter what I do, there is a part of me every year that is tempted to stay at home. By myself. In bed. Watching movies and taking naps. Let’s start again on May 4th.

It’s the nostalgia. That’s what it is. On a normal day I am present with work, family, friends. But on a birthday you are reminded of everywhere you have been, everything you have done, everyone you’ve met. You hear from a lot of people. For me that is a bumpy ride. I start with feeling the tussle of wanting more time to see people who mean a lot to me. And then I am transported to Hyattsville, Scarsdale, Greenbelt, Georgetown, London, New York City, Boston. Even Sodus. It’s a marker. I have trouble thinking about many of these places (people) and not becoming deeply emotional. It’s too much.

I tend to get very emotional. And quiet. How am I 41? How am I a college graduate? Better yet, how do I have an MBA earned many years ago at this point? Two kids, two cats and a house? Oh forget it. We own a car, for Christ’s sake. How does that even happen? I am old enough to have taken bike trips around Europe by myself. We make arrangements for schooling…for our five year old. I shop for my own groceries and my mom has no involvement in scheduling my dentist appointments. My little sister has a job, and a house and drives a minivan. My father is gone and has been for almost five years.

It doesn’t help that I work with a lot of young people. When I mention Depeche Mode half my office thinks I am talking about a flavor of ice cream.

How did this happen.

I miss parents on my birthday. I still have one. But what I mean is I miss the parents who decorated the dining room with streamers and sang happy birthday after giving me a ten-speed bike.

I miss being little.

I like where I am – I do – but on birthdays I miss being a kid. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe that is why birthdays are quiet for me. I feel ungrounded. I am out of control and I am amazed at what is behind me.

I need to turn present and forward. Birthdays though – they tug me backwards. All of a sudden I have a desire to read everything Joan Didion has written.

Maybe that is why you get flaming cake on birthdays. Take too long to be in the moment – linger too long in the past – and your whole cake melts away.

I hope it’s chocolate 🙂

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