Remembering

Stopping by this space for a rare Saturday post because I, like many others, have been spending the day remembering and reflecting on 9/11 and the twenty years that have passed since that searing day. My kids are still too little to ask about where Daddy and Mommy were on the day – by the 25th anniversary I’m sure we will have shared our memories with them. My experience has always felt so insignificant to me in comparison to the tragedy that unfolded far from where I sat glued to the TV in horror, so I’ve never bothered to write it down before. But neither will I forget it.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday – we all know that – and I was a junior at Cornell. Only back on campus a few weeks; I had extra blonde in my hair from the summer sun, and I was dating a new guy. We had kissed ten days before, on September 1, 2001, for the first time – late at night, on the bridge over the gorge separating the main Cornell campus from Collegetown. I didn’t know where the relationship was going; I wasn’t even thinking of it as a relationship, just something new and exciting.

I didn’t have any classes until the afternoon on Tuesdays, so I was taking advantage and sleeping in – something I almost never did; I was a morning person even in college. The first memory I have of that day is the sun streaming into my room in the sorority house and my roommate – my little sis, Betsy – rushing in and shaking me half awake.

“You have to wake up!” she cried. “There was a bomb – six thousand people were killed -“

She rushed out of the room and in my half-awake, sleep-addled state, I tried to process what she had said. “That’s clearly impossible,” said my mostly-unconscious brain, “I’m obviously dreaming, what an awful dream.” And I rolled over and fell asleep again, for another twenty minutes or so.

When I woke up, the house was silent – but not unnervingly so; I assumed everyone was at class. I sat down at my computer and started looking at AOL Instant Messenger auto-messages. My friend Maria had an auto-message up; she was a junior at GW that I knew from my summer internship. I looked at her auto-message first and I still remember every word. “Okay, this is more than scary. I can see smoke from here. Brie,” (her roommate) “call me when you get back.”

Huh?

I scrolled through more auto-messages and everyone seemed to be in a state of shock and panic about – something. My stomach sank as I remembered Betsy rushing into our room and it occurred to me for the first time that I actually might not have been dreaming.

I walked downstairs in a daze – all the way down, underground to the basement-level TV room. When I opened the door, half of my sorority was there, crammed onto couches, sprawled on the floor, sitting in each other’s laps. Girls from New York City were taking it in turns to climb the stairs and try to call their parents from the house phone (almost none of us had a cell phone), but no one was getting through. The rest of us sat in silence, clutching coffee from the machine in the kitchen, watching the coverage on a loop.

By mid-morning, the boy I was dating had arrived and made a space for himself in the TV room. We sat side-by-side and he put his arm around me as we both watched in disbelief. I was wondering about my uncle, who was an NYPD detective trained in emergency response. I figured he was probably there. (He was, and he broke his arm climbing through rubble, but came away otherwise unharmed – physically, anyway. When I went upstairs at lunchtime, I had a message from his son, my cousin: “All my dad’s friends are dead. cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry” They weren’t all – but some.)

Memories get sketchier by the afternoon. Classes were cancelled, but when I ventured out a few days later to a labor history class, students were standing huddled in groups, crying on the quad. One of my friends told me not to read anything into the fact that my new guy had come over to watch the news with me. I knew she was hurting because her boyfriend had not come over, had spent the day watching news coverage with another girl. So I simply said, “I won’t.” (It honestly hadn’t occurred to me to read anything into that at all; it was such a new thing and I hadn’t even named it. A month later, he would refer to himself as my boyfriend. “Oh,” I thought, “That’s what we are.” His name was Steve.)

Campus changed, like everything else. People hung giant American flags in their rooms; professors made space for reflecting and grieving in class. My sisters from New York looked visibly relieved when they made contact with their parents. It got colder; eventually, Thanksgiving came.

So – that’s where I was.

Things I’m Loving Lately: Summer 2021 Edition

I recently realized that it has been (literally) months since I read through my Feedly – where blogs collect on my phone – and as I was scrolling through the ninety-some posts that had piled up there in that time, I saw that Modern Mrs. Darcy recently did one of her periodic posts on the things she is loving in the current season. And it occurred to me that (1) I haven’t done one of those in awhile; and (2) it would be a good topic for this otherwise unplanned week. So here we go: a few things I am loving in summer of 2021.

My paddleboard! This is the biggest one for me. My board (it’s an NRS Thrive 9.1 iSUP) and paddle (Werner Zen 85) were Christmas gifts from Steve, and I waited more or less patiently (okay, less) until the weather warmed up enough for me to get out on the lake. I’ve been going out as much as possible since early May – mostly in a small local reservoir, but once on the Chesapeake Bay. Lately I have to sneak out of the house because if Nugget sees me leaving with the paddleboard, he wants to come and ride along… but he has a kayak of his very own coming soon, so I’ll be getting my board back to myself and still be able to get out on the water with my paddling buddy.

My desk. Another big one – ya girl has her own workstation! When we all went home for the pandemic I thought – like many – that the WFH life was going to be short-lived, and I didn’t bother to set up a desk. I worked from the kitchen table from March until June 2020, and then moved into the dining room when we moved houses. A year of working from my dining room table was aggressively unpleasant – the chairs are comfortable for a meal, but not for 10+ hours a day, five or more days a week, for an entire year, and the workstation made it impossible to eat family meals. I recently learned that my boss has planned for me to continue working from home for the foreseeable future, so it was time to get a real desk. It’s nothing special – just an IKEA desk and a chair from Home Depot – but the difference it has made to my work life to actually have a dedicated workstation has been incredible. The best part has been my standing desk converter; I had one at my old law firm, and it has been the thing I’ve missed more than anything over the last year of working remotely. This standing desk converter was inexpensive, it’s super sturdy and easy to use, and I’m now back to standing for most of my workday. As I told my boss (during a 1:1 webconference that was mostly just me picking up and tilting my laptop awkwardly so she could see the converter and watch me raise and lower it) I LOVE it and my only regret is not buying it a year ago.

My Birkenstocks. Here’s something smaller but still significant to me – while I am doing all that standing at my desk, 98% of the time I’m wearing these – my Birks. After I wore out my old Mayaris, I decided to switch it up and went with the classic Arizona model. (The color is “Earth red” or something – I wanted a nice warm brown but these were on sale, so. They’re growing on me.) I’ve been pretty much living in Birkenstocks the past few years and I’m not even mad about it. Is it the 1990s again? Maybe.

Summer running shoes. While we’re on the subject of shoes, when I’m not in my Birks I’m probably in running shoes. I like to alternate between pairs (my excuse is that it helps prevent injuries; I hope that’s true, but I also like matching my shoes to my outfit, a little bit). For most of my summer runs, I’ve mostly been wearing Hoka Cliftons (LOVE THEM) and Brooks Launch – I recently got this limited edition #BraveLikeGabe pair. On top of looking really cool, part of the proceeds go to rare cancer research. Okay, enough about shoes.

Grain-free granola. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of granola. I am sensitive to grains (even gluten-free grains) and I try to avoid them for the most part because I just feel better when I do, and I also don’t eat much sugar (just not a sweet tooth, and don’t need it). So granola is pretty low on my list of breakfast foods, but that could change. I have a few different flavors of grain-free granola in my pantry right now, and it’s been nice to mix it up and sprinkle these on my morning yogurt for crunch. I have two bags of Nature’s Path, which are good, but this Paleonola is my new favorite – all real food, no grains (of course) and lower in sugar – and carbs – than most store-bought granola options, so not overly sweet. Yum.

Pure Placid candles. I love this local Lake Placid business, which makes heavenly-smelling candles, home products, lotions and shower gels inspired by the Adirondacks. Lately I’ve been burning the Mount Marcy candle, and every time I light it, Steve comes sniffing into the room and says “That’s the best-smelling candle I’ve ever smelled, will you get me one for my desk?” I’m almost down to the bottom of the jar now, so I’m going to have to pick up a few more when I’m in the Adirondacks later this summer.

Adventure Annie. Finally, one last biggie to wrap this post up – I am loving weekend mornings spent shredding the gnar on my new mountain bike. After a year of trying without success to buy a mountain bike so I could ride with Nugget, I stumbled on the very bike I’d been eyeing online – now named Annie – a Specialized Rockhopper, size XS. (The bike shop employee who fitted me said “You’re almost too tall for the XS” and endeared himself to me forever.) I was desperate enough to not be too picky about the color, but as luck would have it, this colorway (“gloss blaze/ice papaya” – looks like that’s no longer on the website, sorry guys) was my favorite of the options. Meant to be?

What are you loving for summer 2021?

Tales from the Exurbs, Vol. VIII: Lord Chuckingham

The other day, Steve rushed into the house and excitedly announced that we had a “new neighbor.” Since we’ve barely met any of our existing neighbors, I wasn’t sure why the fanfare – but then he pulled his phone out and showed me a video of a rather beefy fellow eyeing him suspiciously and then disappearing under our shed.

The kids were thrilled, obviously. Our very own neighbor groundhog! Can life get better? Seriously, can it? Over dinner, we had a ferocious family debate about what to name him. Peanut and I plumped for “Phil,” after his famous relation, but Steve said we were being “speciesist” and that not all groundhogs are named Phil. Eventually, after some truly skillful advocacy, Steve persuaded us all to agree to his choice of names.

Meet Lord Chuckingham. Because he’s dignified. See it?

After dinner, Steve suggested that we should all go look out the sunroom window, because Lord Chuckingham might be hanging out by his palace gates. Low and behold – he was, and I snapped a few pictures through the sunroom window (including that first one, above). Then Steve suggested I might be able to sneak outside and get some better snaps without scaring His Lordship, if I was super quiet. It was worth a try, so I rushed out the front door, crept around the side of the garage, laid down in the grass and army crawled into the middle of the yard for a clear shot.

Almost there. What I do to get good pictures for you guys, I mean, really.

Your Lordship! Welcome to the neighborhood!

He wasn’t sure what to think of me. (Worth noting; I was all the way across the yard – about 75 feet away, or more – when I took this picture. Kudos, again, to the P1000 and its sick zoom lens.)

He decided to crouch down and hide, but continued to keep an eye on me. I read this signal as “go away” so I carefully and quietly crept out of the yard and back in the house. A few minutes later, he disappeared under the shed and we haven’t seen him since; it’s been scorching hot outside so I assume he’s staying cool in his burrow (smart groundhog).

Welcome to the neighborhood, Lord Chuckingham!

Post-Pandemic Planning, Part 3 – Audacious Adventures

Of my three categories of post-pandemic hopes and dreams (little everyday things; in-betweeners; and big crazy bucket listing dreams), this is the easiest list to fill. If anything, the challenge is reining it in. Now, I’m not trying to rein it in to a manageable level. This is a bucket list. These ideas are inherently unmanageable – that’s the charm of them. But I could go on for days, spinning fantasies about all of the wild and crazy things I want to do. Most of them are related to travel, and there’s a bit of adventure baked in here and there, and some Practical Adult-Style Life Goals just for good measure. So, to quote the Founding Father who really embodies the spirit of hip-hop, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton: “Le’s go.”

  • Visit the most forbidding and remote continent: Antarctica. Do the Polar Plunge in the honest-to-goodness Southern Ocean, hike on the Antarctic Peninsula, and paddle a kayak through shards of sea ice. Bonus points for whales.
  • Closer to home, knock off forty-two more high peaks to become an Adirondack 46er.
  • Visit all of the National Parks in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Hike the Inca Trail.
  • Pack raft from Colorado to Utah. (Note to self: see if my brother wants to come; I’ll bet he would.)
  • Run a marathon. (Wineglass, if I can get in. And I would love to run Marine Corps someday – my hometown marathon.)
  • Go on an African safari, or maybe more than one – because I don’t know if I can squeeze everything I want to do and see into one trip. I want to paddle the Okavango in Botswana, see elephants and lions, sleep under the stars in Zambia, meet mountain gorillas in Rwanda, look out over the Zambezi and Victoria Falls, climb Kilimanjaro, and taste wine in South Africa. So… that’s at least four trips. Or five?
  • Thru-hike the Tour de Mont Blanc in France, Switzerland, and Italy, and also the South West Coast Path in England.
  • Related: take part in a Mass Trespass.
  • Buy my forever house and renovate it to be exactly what I want.
  • Take a hiking trip to the Swiss and Austrian Alps. (We’ve already decided: this is the destination the next time we make it to Europe.)
  • Stomp on grapes in Tuscany.
  • Climb the ladder at my current job. For the first time in ages, I feel like I am just where I want to be, and now all I want to do is learn, grow, and work my way into more responsibility. It feels wonderful to be excited about my career again!
  • Dive with sea turtles in Hawaii (after I get that scuba certification I talked about last week…)
  • Kayak the Gorges du Verdon. Oh, and sleep in a French chateau!
  • Hike the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains.
  • Visit northern Africa – ride a camel in Morocco and take a Nile cruise (and try not to think too much about Agatha Christie).
  • See the Japanese Alps ablaze with color in October.
  • Swim under a waterfall at Havasupai.
  • Write a mystery novel.

Just twenty things! That’s not too many, right? Fortunately I have a willing adventure buddy in Steve; so far he’s been up for pretty much every crazy idea I’ve tossed his way. (He’d balk at climbing the Stairway to Heaven in Austria, so that might be a girlfriends’ getaway. I bet my sister-in-law would go with me.) On a fun note, a couple of these wild and crazy ideas are in the works – albeit in very early stages. Now I’d better toddle off and check my vacation leave balance.

What wild and crazy things do you plan to get up to once we can travel again?

Post-Pandemic Planning, Part 2 – The In-Between Stuff

When I started thinking about a post-pandemic bucket list, I didn’t realize that this would be the hardest category to brainstorm, fill, and write. It’s easy enough to come up with a list of the little things I’ve been missing over the past year (library visits, mornings wandering the farmers’ market) and I always have a lengthy list of giant, audacious goals, mostly related to travel. But what’s in the middle?

It starts with defining the middle, I suppose. After a year in which just going to the grocery store was an adventure, any travel at all seems like it belongs on the “big” list. But there are categories of domestic travel that don’t take the kind of planning, saving, and audacity that some of the other trips I’m dreaming of would require. And there are local adventures – like when I went hot-air ballooning last October – and things I’d like to do that are bigger than just going to the library, but don’t involve passports or require me to have the organizational skills of a D-Day commander. So that’s the general idea here. Things like:

  • Get scuba-certified (there are some local dive shops that do pool training before you head out to the open water).
  • Have Thanksgiving at my brother’s house (in Colorado) again.
  • Do some business travel – I need to get up north to visit my HR clients soon, and some of my teammates (who are spread out around the country) are talking about coordinating planning on a trip to corporate headquarters so we can see each other in person.
  • Attend my cousin Jocelyn’s wedding – finally! The big reception has been postponed for a year; Jocelyn and her husband Jason didn’t want to wait to be married, so they had a small outdoor ceremony last year during the height of COVID, which we watched on Facebook – but the big party is happening this summer and we’re so excited to celebrate. Peanut will be a flower girl again, and Nugget will do his first stint as a ring bearer, and I can’t wait to see that cuteness and to celebrate with family. Every bride deserves her day, of course, but Jocelyn is a nurse and has spent countless hours caring for others during a global pandemic; if anyone deserves a magical and perfect wedding day, it’s her.
  • Get back to running local races in person again, and train for and run another local half marathon. Maybe the D.C. Rock ‘n Roll half?
  • Finally meet some people in our new town – I made a start on mom friends, but could use some more running/biking buddies. (Nugget is a fun guy, but it’s pretty stressful to take your heart’s treasure mountain biking.)
  • Do some more exploring in the Blue Ridge. I want to check out Carvin’s Cove, Smith Mountain Lake, Roanoke…
  • Related: spend a weekend at Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park.
  • Get enrolled at the local rec center and start swimming regularly.
  • Knock off another high peak (or two) and some of the shorter Adirondack hikes I’ve been wanting to get to – like Mount Jo and Blueberry Cobbles.
  • Go whitewater rafting – maybe on the Upper Hudson, or maybe the New River in West Virginia?

So, there it is – a list of things that I want to do, that are not small but not huge, either. The sort of things that you look forward to from weekend to weekend – or maybe a little bit longer – in between farmers’ market mornings and epic adventures. I think that was the basic idea. Everything on this list is calling to me, so I suppose that’s right.

What are your middle-of-the-road adventures coming up?

Post-Pandemic Planning, Part 1 – Little Things

As the pandemic has stretched on… and on… and on… I’ve been hesitant to envision life on the other side. This is unusual for me; typically, I think ten steps ahead of myself and I love planning and dreaming up future adventures. I suppose it could be a stress response; nonetheless, now that I’m fully vaccinated, I’m starting to finally consider what I want to do when it’s really ALL OVER. (Or as ALL OVER as it’s going to be, at least – now that it seems we’ll be living with the reality of COVID for a long time, maybe forever – ugh.) My post-pandemic bucket list has been growing by leaps and bounds.

Over the past year, we’ve had to make do with a lot of sub-optimal circumstances. Going for months without seeing family; the frustrations of virtual kindergarten and second grade; drawers full of face masks – I’ll be glad to see the back of all of these. But there have been some good changes in the past year, and some things I want to carry forward into the brave new post-pandemic world. Prioritizing outdoor time and alone time for Mom (sometimes outdoor alone time for Mom); finding anew my love for running; cooking and baking with Peanut; reading my own books… these have been sources of joy in the last year or so, and I want to keep them going.

That said, I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t metaphorically vision-boarding ALL of the things I want to do now that Steve and I are both vaccinated. And the list is long, and wide-ranging – from trying out Orangetheory to kayaking in one of the most forbidding climates on the planet. Here are the goals and dreams on the smaller end:

  • Join a local rock gym and start bouldering regularly – and maybe find a climbing buddy for roped climbs.
  • Go INSIDE my new library (instead of just loitering in the curbside pickup area).
  • Wander the farmers’ market again – we haven’t been since moving to the exurbs almost a year ago.
  • Start going to Orangetheory classes (I’ve been wanting to try it out, and there’s a studio much closer than the nearest Barre3 location).
  • Browse at Old Town Books again – I haven’t been to the new store location since they moved to bigger digs.
  • Related: get ice cream at The Creamery and eat it down by the Old Town waterfront without worrying about crowds.
  • Movie night on the village green in our new town.
  • Take the kids to the Air and Space Museum again.
  • Demo kayaks at Annapolis Canoe and Kayak – and hopefully Lake George Kayak Co., too.
  • Get Peanut into a Girl Scout troop – finally.

Mostly, I just want life to be a little more fun – and I want to go back to doing the small things that I’ve enjoyed in the past, without worrying about being in proximity to other people.

What little things are you looking forward to doing when life gets back to more “normal”?

Shifting Gears, Mid-Career

I rarely write about work on here – and that’s not going to change – but I do want to take a moment to reflect upon and process a major professional change. And to talk about change in general, networking, and bravery.

As many of you already know, I’m a lawyer. Although I started my career in the federal government, I’ve been in private practice (i.e. law firms) since 2008. I’ve been at four different firms during that time, and each one has been a valuable experience in its own way. My most recent firm has been my favorite. I’ve gotten to do interesting work in a collaborative and supportive setting, with colleagues I consider cherished friends. Especially over the past year, I’ve often reflected that I couldn’t imagine “doing” pandemic work-from-home life anywhere else. And now I’m leaving.

Although I really love my firm, my ultimate career goal has always been to join a corporate legal department. (Or, “to go in house,” in lawyer parlance.) Over the years I’ve pursued this goal actively at times, and back-burnered it at other times. I’ve quietly applied to dozens of in house jobs over the years, and have come very close to landing a handful of them – cycling through periods of feverish activity, hope, disappointment, and leaning in at the law firm. In house jobs are competitive and difficult to land; as a former colleague who is now employment counsel at a defense contractor once reflected (during a lunch for the purpose of picking her brain about the prospect of a career move for me), “Law firms need a lot of lawyers. Companies usually only need a few. Or none.” And if you’re specialized, as I am, it’s even harder. To have need of (and a budget for) a specialized employment lawyer on staff, a corporation has to be fairly big. And the jobs that do exist are usually at corporate headquarters, most of which are located in New York City or on the west coast – not where I live, although more and more businesses are locating in the D.C. area these days.

So this goal has felt insurmountable, and for the past few years I haven’t really touched it. After what looked like my best chance at landing an in house job fell through in January, 2020, I decided that I was going to recommit to law firm life. And shortly after that, the pandemic started – and I really did feel grateful for my firm’s liberal remote work policies and my colleagues’ good-humored tolerance when my kids stuck their faces into zoom meetings or interrupted telephone conferences. I was finally in a good place; why change?

Then, one day, I logged into work a little early, and an email popped up in my Outlook folder. A partner from another office was circulating an opportunity to apply for a position as a labor and employment counsel in the legal department of a west coast-based tech company. The position was located at the company’s headquarters, all the way across the country, but “for the right candidate” they were open to allowing an east coast office, including in the D.C. area. I gulped, took a deep breath, and emailed him, simply: “Can I call you?”

He was free at 8:00, so I nervously dialed his cell and told him I was interested. We talked about the position and about my goal. (And I remembered a piece of advice I’ve given to dozens of junior lawyers over the years: most people genuinely want to help you, but they don’t know that you need something unless you tell them.) I submitted my application, and he recommended me to the team. Days later, I had an interview request.

As I often do, I overthought everything about the interview. On the phone with a friend who had joined another business line under the same corporate umbrella almost two years ago, I fretted aloud, “Is this a real interview, or are they just talking to me out of courtesy to R?” (She assured me that it was a real interview: “They don’t do courtesy interviews. They’re too busy for that.”) I spent hours on the phone with the same friend, and with my devoted BFF, Rebecca – also a lawyer – running through interview scenarios and processing wild mood swings in which I alternated between elation (“I think it’s my turn!”) and despondency (“It’s NEVER going to happen for me!”). After a whirlwind, and exhausting, two rounds of interviews – I got the job.

After confirming that they were still willing to let me work from D.C. – and that I wouldn’t have to move to the west coast, as cool of an adventure as that would’ve been – I accepted right away, and then spent the next week freaking out at the prospect of leaving a place where I’m happy and comfortable and walking into a complete unknown. (The last two times I’ve changed jobs, I was unhappy – for different reasons – with my work situation and needed a change. That wasn’t the case this time.) My soon-to-be new teammates seemed great, but what if they were just on their best behavior? What if they wanted me to work on Pacific time, even though I was on the east coast? Worse – what if I am terrible at the job? (The night after I accepted, I had a nightmare that I was placed on a performance improvement plan the very first day.)

I called the recruiter, whom I’d already peppered with logistical questions. “I just have one more question,” I said nervously. “Can you tell me about the team culture?” She gushed that the team I’m joining is great – one of her favorites. Twenty minutes later, my soon-to-be immediate boss was calling. Over forty-five minutes, she assured me that there was no expectation that I’d work on Pacific time (in fact, she liked that I was on Eastern time, since we’d cover more hours of the day) and that she didn’t expect to see me online at the end of her workday in California; that most of the group has young children and totally get it; that everyone was delighted I’d accepted; and that she was going to connect me with another teammate who had recently made the jump from a law firm and could tell me all about it. A few days later, I spent an hour on the phone with that soon-to-be colleague, who raved about the team and in-house life. “It’s such a freaking jackpot of a job,” she enthused. “You’re gonna love it!” There was no doubting her sincerity – and I finally pushed aside the last of my worries and embraced the change. “When are you coming?” she asked. I told her. “That’s soon! YAY!”

It’s scary to stand on a professional precipice. It’s scary to walk away from a place where you’re happy and where you feel valued. (When I broke the news to my current colleagues, reactions were extremely mixed – “SO happy for you, but UGH we’re going to miss you so much!”) It’s a leap of faith to pick up the phone and tell someone at your current place of employment that you’re thinking of leaving. What if they tell your boss, and you get fired for “not being a team player”? (I emailed the partner who had recommended me, to tell him I’d received and accepted an offer. He called, elated, and I thanked him for everything he did for me. “I did nothing,” he replied. “You got that job all by yourself. All I did was refer you. Believe me, they get boatloads of referrals from lots of people. You landed it on your own, and these jobs are not easy to get.”)

And then there’s the job itself. It’s in my specialty, so I am confident that I’m on solid ground substantively. But the technical skill set is very different. I’m expecting a steep learning curve, and my friends who are in house already have told me it takes about a year to get comfortable with the role. But I’m finally pushing those worries aside. I chased this goal for ten years for a reason. This job will give me the chance to do more of what I really enjoy (counseling managers, compliance training, high-level litigation strategy) and – as I said in the interviews – be a true business partner instead of just parachuting in, reacting to a problem, and then disappearing. It’s a good, if nerve-wracking, change. I will have to call upon a lot of bravery, but it finally is my turn.

Have you ever made a professional change? Any advice for me?

Virtual School 2021: How It Started, How It’s Going

You know what I realized? Back in September – or was it August? – I mulled over school choices during this weird pandemic year, and landed on the conclusion that (1) all of the options were equally bad but in different ways, and (2) the least-bad option for our family would be to elect the fully virtual track provided by our local public schools, and do some homeschool activities for extra enrichment. And that was the last I said about it, so it’s time for an update.

Tech support.

How it started: Back when we first decided on the option we were going to choose, Steve and I decided that instead of dividing up the day – as we did early in the pandemic, with me wrangling both kids in the morning and Steve taking over in the afternoon – we would divide up the kids. Neither one of them was interested in wearing headphones during class, so having them both in the same room together would have been unworkable. We decided that Steve would take primary responsibility for Peanut and I would have Nugget; the hope was that with only one kid to worry about, we’d both be able to juggle kid needs and work.

“I want to look handsome for the first day of school.”

How it’s going: It’s… going. Honestly, staring down the barrel of a full year of virtual school with no childcare was daunting. In some ways, it’s been easier than I expected; in other ways, it’s been so much harder.

  • Both kids have adapted to the technology as I had hoped they would, which does make it easier for Steve and me to work side-by-side with them during the days. At the same time, there are still a lot of technical issues – some on our end, some not – and we are interrupted multiple times a day to provide tech (and emotional) support to our respective charges, which makes it hard to get into a work flow. I often don’t get through my work to-do list during the day and have to make up time in the evenings – even now, in March.
  • I was very worried about Nugget’s experience – more so than Peanut’s, really. I suspected that once Peanut got used to the technology she would appreciate the flexibility and the time at home next to Daddy, and she has. But Nugget is such a social little dude – it’s overdone, I know, but my real concern was with his mental health in not getting the social interaction he was used to from junior kindergarten in Alexandria. He does consider the other kids in his class to be his “friends,” but it’s not the same.
  • The quality of the academics the kids are getting from the public school teachers has been outstanding. I know that experiences vary by district – we intentionally moved into one of the top school pyramids in one of the highest-rated school districts in our state, and we are reaping the benefits of that. I’ve chatted with moms in other local school districts and have heard some serious complaints about the instruction; one friend told me that her children are getting twenty minutes a day of YouTube videos and that’s it. I am really grateful to be where we are, because both of the kids are sponging up world-class instruction.
  • Related: their teachers are so different. Peanut’s teacher is quiet and serene, but has the gift of capturing and holding the entire class’s attention. Nugget’s teacher is the most energetic, chipper person I’ve ever seen on a screen: “HI KIDS! WELCOME TO KINDERGARTEN! SPARKLE PONY RAINBOW! HERE’S A MATH SONG FROM MR. JACK HARTMAN!”
  • I had a long conversation with Nugget’s teacher at the beginning of the second quarter, and what was most notable was that she picked up on certain of Nugget’s little personality traits – his joy in sharing facts he knows, his love of animals, his preference for non-fiction books – that his junior kindergarten teachers had commented upon last school year. I was relieved to see both that virtual school hadn’t really changed him or dragged him down, and that his teacher was attuned enough to her kiddos to discover these things about Nugget even through a screen. It made me feel better – like he was in a good place, where he is appreciated for the precious little person he is.
Literally moved his workstation one day to be closer to the birds.

What I have not done is any of those independent enrichment activities I so ambitiously planned for the year. The nature journals and Wild Math curricula I bought the kids are gathering dust. But to be honest, we haven’t needed them. The kids are happy to read their books – Nugget, much like his sister before him, had a literacy explosion this year – and run around in the backyard with the neighbor kid. They’re heartily sick of each other, but they haven’t burned the house down or gotten themselves expelled.

Cutest, neediest officemate I have ever had.

Work has been… interesting. I’m privileged in that I have the ability to work from home and coworkers who are unfailingly supportive and understanding, even when my kids interrupt conference calls or stick their little faces into a Zoom meeting. That said, working next to a kindergartener, even with all the technology and support in the world, is – well, it’s not impossible, but it’s far from easy. Every few minutes I have to jump up from my computer to track down scissors or glue, find a worksheet, fix a Google Classroom issue (usually Nugget opening the same meeting in three screens simultaneously), fill a water bottle, or track down a missing kid after a screen break. It’s incredibly difficult to get into a flow and actually focus on work, and even when I have five uninterrupted minutes to work, I’m so mentally and physically exhausted that I find it hard to concentrate. (Somehow I’m managing – I posted 200 hours above my firm’s requirement in 2020 and got a universally glowing performance review, so I must be doing something right – but it’s at the expense of… something, not quite sure what.) I miss my standing desk, my double monitors, my quiet office, my friendly colleagues – and the sushi place down the street from my building. When September rolls around and the kids are (hopefully, please Athena) back at school, I don’t know if I’ll go back to five days a week in the office, but I’ll be really glad to get back.

Papers, papers everywhere.

The other surprising challenge – I have been honestly taken aback by just how stressed out I have been by the constant mess around the kids’ workstations. (Especially Nugget’s, because I spend more time there.) I am a naturally tidy person and I prefer to work in a very neat space, but I thought that after almost nine years of parenting, I had gotten sort of used to living in a mess (never liking it, though). But the mess has gotten me down much more than I expected it to. I feel calmer and more capable of facilitating remote learning and everything that goes with it when Nugget’s learning space (and my workspace right next to him) are clean, there are no dust bunnies under the dining room table, and all of the papers have a home and are actually in their home. Recently, I started making a point of tidying up his desk on Friday afternoons after he is released for the weekend, and on Sunday evening before the week (because he often hops into the reading software, plays with the toys in his break basket, or uses his school supplies for art projects over the weekend) – and that has helped, but I think I need to amp it up and get into a routine of cleaning the desk up every day. It’s just out of my peripheral view when I sit on the living room couch to read at night, and it’s a distraction.

We’re sliding downhill toward the end of the year now. I’ve given up on the idea of homeschool activities or “enrichment” time (who was I kidding? also, why didn’t you guys tell me?) and I’m really looking forward to getting back to an in-person routine – although now I’m starting to worry about what that will look like. In the meantime, I am trying to be grateful for the world-class education the kids are getting over their screens, the caring teachers, and the fact that I have a job that supports me working from home during this time. But I’ll still be glad when it’s over.

If you have kids in school, are they in-person or virtual these days? How’s it going?

Reflections on One Year of Pandemic Shutdowns

So here we sit – a year into this thing. More than a year, if we want to be really technical about it, but I don’t think the first emanations of the virus back in December 2019 were on anyone’s radar around here. I saw the news stories in January, but brushed them off as one of those things that would probably never really materialize. Even as late as February, I just expected a nothingburger – and I remember being incredulous when a work colleague from another office, during meetings about a case we were working together, expressed her fear that schools would close down. “They can’t close schools,” I replied, shocked, “What would people do? They won’t, there’s no way.” Joke’s on me, because she was 100% right. (In that same conversation, she said she was sending her husband to Lowe’s for KN95 masks before they became hard to get. In case you’re wondering, yes, I do plan to run all future life decisions before this colleague.)

I’ve written a lot about quarantine life and this bizarre world we’re finding ourselves in, so I won’t get into details in this post. I just want to reflect more generally. But in case you want to revisit some past posts about our pandemic experience:

Since this whole miserable situation began (I refuse to say “the new normal” because I will not acknowledge that there is anything normal about this situation) I have struggled to maintain perspective. I don’t want to seem insensible of my particular blessings during this time. More than a year into social distancing, none of my immediate family members have contracted the virus (that we know of). Steve and I, the kids, my parents, Steve’s mom, and my brother and sister-in-law are all healthy. And my parents have received the vaccine! (Here’s hoping the rest of us will be getting it soon.) Steve and I both have jobs that allowed us to work from home indefinitely; in fact, Steve already worked from home, so nothing changed for him. We’ve both stayed employed throughout the crisis, and we’ve had the means to keep our kids home and safe as well. Starting in September of 2020, we have been in a world class public school district, and I am consistently impressed with the quality of the education both kiddos are getting over their school-issued laptops. So – things could be much, much worse.

Even with all of that perspective, I’ve been having a hard time being okay with the last year. (That’s an understatement, huh?) I’ve struggled with a lot of anger and frustration about the government’s handling of the pandemic from the beginning, and while I am glad that we finally have competent leadership in place and are moving toward the finish line of this miserable experience, it didn’t need to be this bad, and that is just infuriating. Can you imagine how much better, easier, faster this process would have been if the administration that was in place back in March 2020 had said, “Yes, this is bad. There’s a lot we don’t know, so our advice may change as we learn more – but for now, wear a mask, stay away from crowded places, stay home, stay strong. Things will be bumpy but we’ll get through it together. Listen to Dr. Fauci.” Maybe things would have actually improved by summer 2020, like we all thought they would.

Recently, I was chatting with a family friend about the tightrope balance of trying to maintain perspective while missing the experiences that enriched our lives. The friend shared that she was missing concerts and live theatre; those experiences, while – yes – luxuries, brought her immense joy. In response, I shared that I am missing travel. We’ve had multiple vacation plans cancelled in the past year, at various stages of the planning process – from early dreaming and scheming a Thanksgiving trip to my brother in Colorado, to a last-minute cancellation of our planned trip to Cape Cod (in itself a replacement vacation after our original plans – Lake Tahoe with the whole extended family – were scuttled). Steve and I both love to travel, and we have shared our joy in experiencing new places throughout our relationship. We’d tabled the most audacious travel plans in favor of staying close to home while we had babies and toddlers, but were just starting to think about some bigger trips and further destinations now that the kids are both in grade school – all of that has been back-burnered again. I’m stir-crazy.

In the end, I’ve decided to stop worrying about whether complaining that I can’t travel – or commiserating about a lost theatre season – makes me spoiled or out of touch. I can both recognize that others have it so much worse and I am comparatively blessed, and mourn the joys and life experiences that I have personally lost. I can feel gratitude for the ability to work from home and keep my kids in virtual school until my husband and I are comfortable sending them back in-person, and share honestly that I am bone-tired and completely overwhelmed. I can appreciate the flexibility that technology gives me to stay in touch with family and friends, and wish that I could actually hug them. All of these things can be true at the same time.

Some perspective, very valuable. But I do hope it ends soon.

How are you holding up, one year into pandemic life?

2021 Goals & One Little Word

At the end of last year, I saw a meme on Facebook (or Instagram?) reading something to the effect of: “No one is to declare that 2021 is ‘their year.’ Walk in very quietly. DON’T. TOUCH. ANYTHING.” Sounds about right, doesn’t it? At the beginning of 2020, I was filled with hope. We had plans to move, and I was looking forward to saving both rent and school tuition. And I was chasing a professional goal. (The move happened, the professional goal did not pan out but is still on my life agenda.) I had high expectations for the year. Clearly, we know how that went.

Looking ahead to this year, I am hesitant to make any grand declarations or set big goals. That’s true for most of us, probably. While I am tiptoeing around hopes for a vaccine and hugs from family members and maybe even a summer vacation, I don’t want to say any of that too loudly. Still, I can’t face another year of hunkering down and just getting by. So I am setting some intentions for the year. Not huge ones. Achievable ones. Intentions that I can work on regardless of COVID (I think/hope). But intentions that, if I keep them in my sights, will help me to live a better and fuller and happier 2021 no matter the state of the world.

Well-being goals. One of the things I felt that I did well in 2020 was focusing on my own personal well-being. Mom is always going to take care of the family, but Mom needs to take care of Mom, too. I figured the healthier I was – physically, mentally, etc. – the better chance I would avoid getting sick with COVID. So I scrupulously followed hygiene recommendations, but I also rediscovered my love for running and for cooking fresh, healthy, vegetable-focused meals. Not only have I not gotten COVID (cross fingers, knock all the wood around) but I ended 2020 healthier than I started it. Now I want to build on that.

  • Finish another Whole30 (I’m partway through already!) and then continue cooking and eating mostly whole foods.
  • Keep up my routine of running at least three times per week, and mixing it up with different fun workouts on most other days.
  • Spend 1,000 hours outside – even my own backyard counts.
  • Spend as much time as possible on and around the water.

Family goals. To be perfectly honest, it has been hard these past few months. Juggling a full-time (and very demanding/stressful) job with virtual school and parenting two kids who are constantly knocking around the house – and with no consistent child-care help – has taken a lot out of me. If there’s an end in sight, it’s still months away – I’m just crossing all of my fingers and toes that the kids can return to school in September, but that doesn’t get me relief for another eight months and the whole idea of eight more months of this is disheartening. I don’t know how I’ll get through – taking one day at a time, I suppose – but man is the thought of it exhausting.

  • Revisit my financial goals and plans. Last year we made some big decisions – like moving, and transitioning to public school – to help us reach our goals more quickly. Now I want to check in with my investments and make sure they are still serving the family.
  • Practice patience every day.
  • Cultivate new, simple family traditions and rituals. (Saturday morning pancakes? Family game night?)

Personal goals. Sometimes it can be very easy to get swept up in being a mom and wife and employee, and I lose sight of who I want to be as a person and what I want to do in that limited time I have to just be me. Running helps, but I could do more.

  • Keep building my photography skills. It’s the creative practice that brings me the most joy and personal satisfaction.
  • Wear earrings every day – or at least almost every day. I got out of the habit when I stopped going to the office regularly in the early days of the pandemic, but I need to have earrings in more regularly. I’m tired of re-piercing my own ears every time I want to look nice.
  • Paddle regularly – kayak and SUP – both with my family and blissfully alone.

Word of the Year. I don’t think I settled on a word for 2020, which in retrospect is probably a good thing. If I had, it surely wouldn’t have gone to plan, because what did go to plan last year? But I did want to choose a word to follow this year. 2021 will be our first full year in the exurbs and in the community where we’d like to plant roots and stay at least until our kids graduate from high school. The hope, also, is – of course – for a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, and I hope that we will be able to get out exploring more. We moved here mostly for the schools, but also partly for the attractions of living in a small town with a rural feel – summer movies on the village green, holiday parades, neighbors you know at the local coffee shop – and we haven’t gotten to experience those joys yet because of the pandemic. I want to embrace everything our new community has to offer, and to venture further afield too.

When I think about what I want the end of 2021 to look like – dangerous thinking, I know – it looks like a more balanced existence than what I have now. Kids back in school; nights and weekends less consumed by work; less clutter in the house and in my mind and heart. As I mused on words that speak to that vision, balance came up a lot; so did be, peace, calm and rooted. Ultimately, though, I settled on breathe.

I would like 2021 to be the year I finally claim breathing space. The story of the last few years has been overwhelm, more and more of it. A to-do list that is constantly growing; piles of kid clutter; energy vampires stealing my peace; and never enough time or energy or rest. In 2021 I plan to chase fresh air – physically; emotionally; professionally; maybe even spiritually (we’ll see, not getting too ambitious here). I’m not entirely sure what that will look like, but at the end of the year I’d like to be breathing easier.

What are your goals for 2021?