Archive | May 2013

Run For Your Life

My face hit the pavement on Clark Street where Chinese elders were practicing tai chi.  One of them stopped to help me.  My earphones had skidded across the street, and I thanked him as I limped over to pick them up.

Image Credit

Image credit

I assessed the damage: most of the skin was missing from my right elbow and my right knee was turning an unnatural shade of violet.  I couldn’t see my cheek, but I picked some gravel out of it.

My only thought: How am I going to hide this from my therapist?

He’d grown quite un-fond of my running. He called it an obsession; I called it a hobby. Tomato, Tam-ah-to.  I was training for my second marathon of the year, and he seemed to think I was trying to outrun demons or avoid my issues.  I thought he should shut the Freud up about the running and treat my “deeper” issues.

But I’d started falling.  Skinned knees.  A bruised tailbone.  It was getting hard to defend my “hobby” when it was costing me my epidermis. I started going through a Costco-sized box of Band-aids on a bi-monthly basis.

My tai chi fall was the worst.  I actually thought I’d broken my hand, but I figured I could hide that.  I’ll just stop gesturing during therapy, and he’ll never notice.  The tai chi fall was also terrible timing: I was running to therapy when it happened.

When I walked in, I saw him glance at my mangled body, and then we played chicken.

I wasn’t going to bring it up. Was he? I didn’t schlep my ass to therapy to discuss flesh wounds.  I wanted to talk about the deeper stuff.  Like how to find my life partner and have a family before my unused eggs rotted in my body.

He, however, wanted to talk about my knee.  And my elbow.  When my hand started to swell up, he wanted to talk about that too.

“Are we going to talk about it?” He asked in that calm therapist-y way.  Asshole.

“What?” I said, hoping that playing dumb would be a smart move.

It wasn’t.  He seemed to think that something self-destructive was obviously going on.  I told him he should ask for a refund from Yale Medical School because he was so off base he might get sued for mal-practice. You know, from another patient who didn’t have the tolerance for bullsh*t that I did.

“I’m not here to learn how to keep from skinning my knee,” I said.  Around we went, until I looked down and saw a trail of blood snaking from my knee to my ankle, where it was absorbed into my cotton sock.  Finally, I let the tears fall because I was ridiculous and I knew it.  So did he.

“No more running alone. You run with other people or you don’t run at all. Period.”  I knew he understood the connection between running, falling and my chronic aloneness.  I didn’t.  Maybe I never would.  I agreed but I was fuming. I hated running with other people. I run alone.

But I started begging people to run with me. I made running dates with people I hated.  I woke up at 5 AM to run with the hardcore running psychos.

I cursed my therapist every step of the way.

But I went weeks without falling.  Six months later I met my husband.  I never admitted to my Good Doctor that his advice had anything to do with it.  And I never will.

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Looking For Inspiration For Your Novel? Make a Mix Tape For Your Characters

I’ve been feeling stuck in the revisions of my novel. The second half of the book feels shallow, partly because I’ve been too scared to go all the way to my core to bring out the story that’s buried there.  It’s like a fossil that’s only partially revealed.

Image Credit

If I slow down, maybe I can get the whole thing out.Image Credit

There’s one scene that has me particularly stuck.  I tried coming at it from several angles: her point of view, his point of view, with a kiss, without a kiss.  Each version felt mostly true but something was missing. Soul. Passion. Depth. Gravitas. Mess.  I’ve been trying to keep the mess off the page, even though real life is messy and love certainly is one of the messiest ventures I’ve ever undertaken.

I decided to put aside the question of whether I have the chops to pull this off– that whole line of inquiry has been tabled.  Maybe (hopefully?) forever.

But the question that has consumed me was what did I need to go deeper?

Alas, there were two things that brought me closer to the bone. One of them involves a therapy session which will be the subject of another post when I have the guts to tell you about.  In the meantime, let’s talk about the other road to depth.

I made a mix tape.  For my characters. It’s the soundtrack of my book. I tried to find help in those plot books, but they scared me so badly I never cracked them open. Ever.

But music?  Music hits me on a cellular level– hell, way down into my double helix.  Maybe I just needed another art form to help me access something for my book. Nothing whips me to butter like a great song.

Now when I write, I play the songs that evokes the emotion for that moment. Over and over.

Since it’s a love story, it’s not hard to find songs for the trajectory of the story.  Extra bonus: if it ever becomes a major motion picture, I’ve got the soundtrack already worked out.

Here’s the playlist–

Dogs in the Yard, Fame Soundtrack

Something in the Way She Moves, James Taylor

Then Came Lo Mein, Robert Earl Keen & Margo Timmins

You’re Still Standing There, Lucinda Williams & Steve Earle

Bullet & A Target, Citizen Cope

Missing you, Chicago

Anything Could Happen, Elllie Goulding

Sleeping To Dream, Jason Mraz

Bleed to Love Her, Fleetwood Mac

Both Hands, Ani DiFranco

Selfless, Cold, & Composed, Ben Folds Five

Til It Shines, Keb Mo & Lyle Lovett

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack

Now, I crank up the tunes, get into my guts and out of my chattery, obstructionist brain, and I let it rip.

Something tells me that if I am willing to slow down and let the excavation take place– shovel full by shovel full– I may end up with a story that I love and will stand behind no matter what happens.

Inspiration. I’ll take it wherever it comes and today it comes via earbud and iPod.

Kiss My (Gl)Ass Ceiling: Volume 1

Welcome to the maiden voyage of this series featuring your stories about work.  I am psyched to kick this off with a great post today from someone who knows a thing or two about work.

Before I turn this space over to our guest poster, Cheryl Stober, remember that if you would like to submit a story about your work, send me an email (Christie.o.tate@gmail.com) and you too can use this space to do what you need to do (e.g., rag on your boss(es), vent about your co-worker who clips his toenails in the cubicle next to you, fret about the decisions you made as a big exec at Enron, whatever).

Happy Friday!

* * *

My Work-At-Home Tuesdays by Cheryl Stober

In February 2011, I started to work from home every Tuesday. Here in Newton, MA, the elementary schools end their day on Tuesdays at 12:30 pm, and looking ahead to when Hannah would be attending religious school at 4 pm on those days, I started my work from home journey in anticipation of needing to fill that childcare gap. LinkedIn is doing a series of articles on “Big Idea 2013” highlighting the concepts we need to address in the coming year, and flexibility without shame is one of them.

(Go ahead, go click on that link. And click on the one in the article about “how even just 15
minutes a day of “hair and make-up” time adds up to more than one workweek a year. !!!” Yes, “!!!” is an appropriate response when you do the math on that and get to 60+ hours. But I digress.)

Obviously, working from home doesn’t work for everyone. We can’t bring our broken sinks to the plumber’s house. But for a lot of jobs now, working from home is a completely feasible way to work – if the powers that be can learn to accept it.

When I started at my current company, my back office job would have been very challenging to do
from home, especially since I needed physical signatures on documentation every day. But when I moved to the portfolio management side, I knew that things would be more flexible. However, when I asked if it would be acceptable for me to work from home on, for example, days when three year old Hannah might have a doctor’s appointment, I was told that I should still come in to the office. That was in 2007. The technology was already in place, but the attitudes weren’t there yet.

But then I had the issues with my back, where I couldn’t sit or stand without extreme pain, and I couldn’t get through a day at the office (believe me, I stupidly tried and did work from the floor of my cubicle). I managed to work from home throughout that ordeal, other than the surgery day itself, and proved that I was capable of doing so much remotely. So when I asked about working from home one day each week nearly a year later, it was instantly approved. It turned out others were doing the same thing – just no one was talking about it (at least not to me).

So for one day a week, I skip the commute. I get to take Max to school. Hannah used to have in-home piano lessons during that gap of time. Sometimes she and I go out to lunch and just talk. I move laundry through the machines. I’m home for the electrician to install the beautiful new light we just put in this week. And I WORK. I make phone calls, review RFPs, update slides and get back to clients. But the time I spend doing other things that help make my life work is probably less than the time some of my coworkers might spend discussing their latest fantasy football picks. And, I think it’s made it easier for some of my male coworkers to work from home on occasion
too.

Working from home one day a week works for me. In return for the flexibility, my company gets a level of dedication from me that they wouldn’t get if I was constantly replacing babysitters to accommodate that afternoon childcare gap, or taking time off to meet the electrician. I hope it’s a concept more companies will be able to embrace, and without seeing it negatively, in the
year ahead.

* * *

Cheryl Stober started her illustrious career as a religious school teacher’s aide while in 6th grade. She’s been a shouted-at camp counselor, a victim of check-kiting bank teller, an in-over-her-head non-profit intern, a part-time secretary and a college library check-out girl. She took a job that offered $1K more than the other offer she had back in 2000, and started exploring the world of finance and collateralized debt obligations. Now she’s a mother of two, living outside of Boston and a product analyst in a really niche-y field. When she finds a spare moment, she blogs at Busy Since Birth and is the creator of The Having It All Project.

I Don’t Judge Other Mothers Unless They Clip Their Toenails In Art Class

Image from babble.com

Image from babble.com

You’re not supposed to judge other moms.  I know that. I practice not judging because I don’t want them judging me when I lose my shizz in Target. Or the gym.  Or the park.  Because I’ve broken down in all three locations. Sometimes in one afternoon.

But every now and then, I judge.  I honestly can’t believe what some people do in public.  And as I reflect on the people I have judged since the beginning of this year, I am pretty sure you’d judge them too.

I’m not talking about the frazzled mother who can’t herd her children into the car from McDonald’s playland.  And I’m not talking about the dad who’s reading his email on the train while his young son flirts with a homeless person.

No, not them.  They have my love and compassion.  I stare at them, sure, but I am not thinking shaming thoughts.  If I meet their eyes, I smile a smile that I hope communicates I get it, hang in there, and tomorrow I’ll probably be in your shoes.

But there are others.

Like the mom I met at Sadie’s art class.  During the art project, most of the moms/nannies/dads were huddled over their children helping them sprinkle glitter and paint on anything other than each other.  Except for one mom. She found her way to the couch, plopped down, and proceeded to trim her toenails.  During the art class.  Snip, snip, snip went her toe nail trimmings to the floor.  She was mighty peeved that her daughter needed some help assembling her macrame lizard, because duh! She was busy grooming.  Social grooming.

Can I say one more thing about toe clipper?  It was the dead of winter (April in Chicago) so it was a production– she had to remove her Uggs and her SmartWool socks.  This wasn’t a slip-off-the-flip-flop situation.

I was super proud when one of my kids looked over and said loudly, “Mama, what’s that lady doing?”

I don’t know; I really don’t know.

And there’s the parents who were both present in gymnastics class when their little tyke (a dead ringer for Lumpy from Leave It To Beaver) proceeded to ram his head into the teacher over and over again.  Have I mentioned that the teacher was male and that Lumpy’s head was about level of Coach M’s manly bits? No? Did I mention that both parents laughed every time it happened, even though it was clear that Coach M was thoroughly unamused? Had Lumpy being hurting a child, I would have stepped in, but I don’t know the protocol for intervening when a child is racking the coach’s balls with parental consent.  I am a little sad I needed to know that protocol.

The last person I am still judging is the gentle soul I witnessed in Whole Foods. Her quest? To find the perfect apple cider vinegar.  Her method? To berate the stock boy who was scurrying all over the store to find what she was looking for.  I stared.  Yes, I did.  She was being so nasty, and he clearly wasn’t understanding what she was asking for.  I rolled out my semi-annual stink eye for her.  If you are going to be a jerk, don’t do it when your kids are in the cart observing your excellent manners.

And that’s it.  Well, that’s all I will admit to now.  Honestly, are you judging me for judging them or are you with me on this?

How To Probe Your Child’s Psyche

As my children become more articulate, I find myself probing their psyches to be sure I haven’t ruined them yet.  I figure that now that they have language, they should be able to tell me if they are suffering from low self-esteem or anxiety.   

I’ve tried lots of different verbal tricks to test their mental health.  (I am sure that having a mother who tests your mental health on a weekly basis is not going to have an adverse effect on them.  Positive.)

None of my little “games” have afforded me any particular insight, until I thought of this one.  Grab your pencils and bookmark this post.

Here’s how it went down:

Sadie and I were sitting on the couch reading a book.  We had to stop every few pages to discuss the thematic elements of Don’t Let The Pidgeon Drive the Bus. Roughly 30 minutes and 6 pages into it, I asked her this question:

“Sadie, if I had a friend call me and ask me who was my daughter was, what should I say?”

Look at me! I like myself!

Look at me! I like myself!

She looked at me as if I had lost my damn head, but I kept a straight face. “Sadie!” She said, laughing as if it was a punchline.  She was acing my test.

I continued, “If my friend asked me what is Sadie like? what would I tell her?”

Sadie thought for a second.  “You should tell her about me.”

I stayed in my role, because the jackpot of insight was coming.  “But what  exactly should I tell her about you? How would I describe you?”

Sadie sat up on her knees and took up the challenge. “You should tell her that I have curly hair, that I have an office at home where I do my work, and that I really like myself, and that I am scared of dogs.”

* * *

Holy couch armchair psychiatry, ya’ll, is that how she sees herself?  If so, I am so tickled pink I’m thinking of moving to Peoria so I don’t screw her up.  She likes herself? Praise all that is holy and shiny in this world. 

I also love that she loves her “home office,” which is actually a window sill in our living room where she puts her books and has taped up her “very important” post-it notes on the window.  No one is allowed to touch anything in her little corner.  (I’m thinking it’s not quite time to tell her about Marissa Meyer’s no working from home thing.)

I will confess that flush from the joy of this conversation I tried this with Simon and every single answer to every single question was “Spiderman!”  So I wouldn’t try this with a two-year old. (Actually, you’re probably too well-adjusted to try this at all!)

Crawl

http://www.do2learn.com/games/safetygames/printouts/firesafety/crawl.htm

Hoping for forward momentum (Image credit) http://www.do2learn.com/games/safetygames/printouts

I’m fine; everything is fine. He’s reading ESPN highlights on his phone.  I sit up and look over his shoulder.  Sergio and Tiger are embroiled in a controversy, and Sergio is pissed at Tiger.  Stand in line, Sergio, I think to myself.

I decide not to tell him.  He doesn’t need to know.

Shit. Those five words in that order mean one thing: I better open my mouth and start talking.  Even though I’d rather just make fun of golf tournaments or one of our kids and go to sleep.

“So. . . ” I say.

He’s still scrolling through the Sergio-Tiger article.

I clear my throat. Go!Go!Go! I scream at myself.  I roll onto my back and let it unfurl. “I did something stupid that I feel ashamed about, but I learned my lesson and won’t do it again.”

Now I have his attention.

He rolls towards me and waits for the story between the shame caveats that bookend most of the shit that comes out of my mouth at bedtime.  He’s waiting.

“It didn’t cost any money,” I say, telling both the truth and a joke.  “Yet .” I add, trying too hard to be funny.   I know I am going to end up crying.

He’s waiting– laughing– but waiting.

We both are.

So I tell him.  I divulge all the details that I’ll never tell anyone else.  I explain how I had a good idea that rotted in my palm, but I refused to give it up.  “Naturally, I pressed ahead and then waited in anguish for the inevitable results.  I deserved exactly what I got, but still.  The rejection felt like a sucker punch,” I say, unable to meet his eyes.

I want him to respond to me in paragraphs.  If there was a menu, I’d order a pep talk entrée with a side of (fried) insightful discoveries about my self-destructive ways.  I want him to do work that I don’t want to do myself.

“I feel sad that you do this to yourself,” he said.

Now I am crying.  I want him to keep talking but he doesn’t.  He knows I need space. Silence.  Room to flail.

I search for the words to explain my thinking.  Not just the rote mechanics of this latest gambit– I want to explain the big why.  “My mind is like fucking Fox News with a never-ending crawl at the bottom of the screen.  My crawl never ever stops. Never. It’s a constant commentary.  Who’s better, me or her? Is she smarter than I am? Is she skinnier? Is he more successful? Am I the better mother/sister/wife/runner/writer/friend/patient? Who’s better? WHO IS BETTER?” 

How can I explain that those questions drove the latest shenanigans? “I was trying to keep my footing; I was trying to be the answer to my question who is better. But I need a new question.  This who’s better is killing me,” I say, staring at the shadow on the ceiling.

“What if you didn’t ask a question at all?” He suggests. “Then, you won’t have to answer it and you won’t have to work so hard to be the best.”

His brain is not like mine.  He doesn’t have a crawl.

“Impossible.” I’m crying harder. 

What if I could be free of it?  A me who is more creative, joyful, vulnerable and connected flashes through my mind. I want to meet her.

In the dark I believe she’s out there waiting for me.

I want to run to her, but all I can do is crawl.

Discovery: My Kids Know When They Really Should Shut Up

If you want to see how thoroughly assholey my kids (and I) can be, get in the car with us. It’s in the car that you will see their idiosyncratic personalities on full display.  There will be demands for snacks, better music, and more A/C– all followed by screams that the snacks were all wrong, the music still sucks and the windows should be rolled down immediately.  And all of that will happen before we pull out of the garage.

Want to amp up the hellishness? Add a phone call to the mix. (Our slick-ass mini-van allows us to take hands-free calls through the speakers.)  The second I say hello, both of my kids burst into spontaneous hysteria, desperate for me to pull over and pick up their spilled Goldfish crumb or stop the car so they can look at a picture of Goofy on a billboard.

You can imagine my shock when my kids made nary a peep the other day when Jeff was on the phone in the car.  You could have heard Pirates Booty drop.  We hadn’t even asked them to be quiet (because we long ago stopped asking for stuff we can’t have).

Right before we had gotten into the car, Jeff listened to a voicemail from his cousin that sounded ominous. Something was definitely up and it didn’t sound good.  Because he does less driving with the children than I do, Jeff made the stupid suggestion that he call her back in the car.  M’kay I said, thinking that was the worst idea since I decided to go running in a decades-old running bra that did indeed break when I was 2 miles from home.

But somehow the kids knew.

They were quiet from Jeff’s initial hello until he said goodbye.   I kept turning around to be sure they were still there.  They looked back at me placidly as if to say, “We know how to do it, Dummy, we just don’t do it for you.”  They were so quiet I wanted to reward them 3 minutes in.  I held back.  Eight minutes in I was ready to buy them each a new pony for being so damn quiet.

Damn! Look at these kids sitting there all doe-eyed and quiet.  Ten minutes in I gave them each a graham cracker.  Nothing says thank you for not ruining this tense phone call (like you ruin all of mine) like a goddamned graham cracker.

As soon as he was off the phone, Jeff fielded 50 questions from the kids about the call.  It turns out that it was really bad news about a beloved family member who suffered a heart attack.  He has a boo boo on his heart? they asked.  Jeff explained heart attacks in a cogent, age-appropriate way and even snuck in the suggestion that we all eat healthily so we can keep the boo boo’s away from our hearts.

I’m still in awe of their behavior.  They choose to scream through my phone calls with the pharmacy, the hair salon, my friends, and my sister, but when a truly important call comes in with news about a heart attack and a medically induced coma, they know to sit quietly?  I am certainly grateful they have those powers of discernment even though I’d never seen them before.

Have you seen this in your kids? Can your kids sense when they really need to be quiet for an important phone call?