One Is The Loneliest Number…

one-is-lonely

Being a mom is lonely…why is making mom friends so hard? I swear it’s worse then dating. Pretty sure I’m just going to throw in the towel on having a social life until I’m old and retired and can play wheelchair races with other loner stinkies down the nursing home hallways. Raise your hand if wine is your best mom friend these days.

This was the post I read the other day on an online Facebook page that I lurk on. By “lurking,” I mean that I’m a member, but rarely do I post anything. The group is supposed to exist as a means of support for today’s super-connected new Mommas. But when I read some of the responses to posts members have written, they feel anything but supportive.

I’m not bashing the Admins for the FB page. I believe they work hard to police any comments that are out of line with the quote prominently displayed on their banner: “Whatever you do, do with kindness. Whatever you say, say with kindness. Wherever you go, radiate kindness.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie) But when you have 15K+ members, it’s hard to keep up.

I believe that being a new Momma today is much, much harder than it was when I had my first baby 17 1/2 years ago. And the number one reason, in my opinion, is: Social Media.

Now, before you think that I’m going to tear into how “social media is the devil” and that we would all be “better off without our faces glued to a screen” – I’m not. I’m not much of a ranter, in general, but if I went on a rant about social media, it would make me a hypocrite.

I share rich and robust connections with people all over the globe… that I only know online. There are a few whom I feel incredibly close to – even though we’ve never met, or even talked on the phone! So, no… social media is not some sort of demon that we all need to try and exorcise from our lives.

Motherhood on its own is one of the toughest gigs around. But add a little social media to mothering and you’ve just made it that much harder. Here are a few reasons why I think this is so:

  • It’s too easy to sit at your dining room table and “connect” with other people online instead of getting out of the house as a new Momma to interact with people face-to-face. (Important to note that this can lead to all sorts of issues: increased feelings of isolation, increased risk of PMADs, a lack of conversational skills with someone other than your non-verbal infant, or your partner) 
  • A lack of conversational skills can make any attempts to connect with people in the real world seem super weird and awkward. (“Hi – do you want to be my new Momma friend?”) 
  • Interaction with others online only, means miscommunication is bound to happen! (“Did she just say that to me? I can’t believe she just said that to me!”) 
  • Engaging in interactions with others that are not face-to-face can be socially dangerous. (Not being able to read body language and facial expressions, means you might not understand the meaning behind the comment: they meant to convey humor or sarcasm, you interpreted it as mean and hurtful.) 
  • It’s also too easy to feel defensive about a parenting choice you’ve made and then go into attack mode if you feel your decision has been challenged by someone else – especially if they’re just a name and a profile picture on a screen. (Making parenting decisions almost always leaves you feeling a little bit uncertain and defensive. And we often will “say” things online that we would never say to a person standing in front of us.) 
  • People don’t usually share their parenting fails – or any other fails, really – online. (The virtual world is where most of us present only our very best selves, leaving out the not-so-glamorous details of our everyday life. This can lead others who might be struggling to believe that they’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough… to be able to do this Momma thing “right.”) 
  • While we all know that perfection is just an ideal, and not something that exists in reality, it’s hard to be okay with your imperfections when others are not willing to reveal any of their own. (This is what I like to call “The Curse of the Pinterest Parent.”) 
  • Despite all of this, we continue to persist in trying to make these online only “connections” with others – but we also continue to be surprised by the result. (Relationships that don’t feel very deep or authentic; relationships that end up being not very satisfying and leave us wanting something more…) 
  • It’s no wonder then that the current generation is one with the most connected group of people in history reporting the highest levels of loneliness and isolation.

Wow. How’d we get here? But more importantly, how can we get out of here?

The feelings of vulnerability that get stirred up during pregnancy are intense and very unsettling. Everything seems to be changing: our bodies, our relationships, our feelings about the world, our identities as individuals and as a couple – and there doesn’t seem to be anyplace where we can find sure footing.

It’s one thing to make decisions for ourselves, but now we’re making decisions for our baby – and we really don’t want to screw this up! We’ve either had:  A) the greatest mother in the world, which is fantastic – but an incredibly tough act to follow! or B) the crappiest mother in the world, which is awful – and we’re desperate to not repeat her sins. Either way, there’s an awful lot of pressure to be the best parent EVER!

I’ve talked often about the need to find your parenting tribe . It’s not necessarily easy, but it is easily one of the most important tasks of pregnancy and parenting preparation. And even if you’ve already had your baby, but still don’t have your tribe, then I encourage you to get out there and find them – in person!

This might sound challenging – but it’s completely worth it, I promise. Go to where other new parents hang out. There are usually New Parent groups in most communities – check them out! Usually the first couple of visits are either free, or super cheap to attend, so there’s no real investment, other than your time.

These groups are usually run by a facilitator who can help the group learn one another’s names and provide some ice breakers or discussion topics for people to weigh in on. It might take a month or more of weekly hanging out for you to make a connection, and it may only be with one or two others, but it’s a start. And even if it does feel eerily similar to dating  (Noooooooooooo!), hang in there. Going out for coffee after or meeting up early to take a walk before the group starts can give you a little bit of time to get to know one another better and see if you’re a good “fit.”

Sign up for some sort of “baby and me” class – music, messy art, reading at the library – or just go hang out at the park. Parks exist for one reason only: so parents can gather, commiserate and let their kiddos run wild and so as to not destroy the house! (I realize there are lots of other reasons… This is just the one that saved my sanity when my kiddos were small.)

But here’s the part that might be hard for some of the Mommas in this generation to hear… While you’re hanging out, trying to meet other new Mommas – Put the damn phone DOWN! Interact with your baby and the world that surrounds you. Be present. Look up and smile at another new Momma – she’s probably feeling exactly the same way you are. Strike up a conversation – about how cute her baby is, or where she got the killer stroller, or how crappy the weather’s been lately…

But after the small talk, get real.

Real connection does not occur when we hide who we really are. Real connection with another human being only happens if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You don’t have to dump on your new potential BFF, but it’s also okay to reveal a little bit about yourself that shows her you’re human, you’re not perfect. This can disarm her and her natural tendency toward defensiveness as a new Momma.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might get shot down… And if you do? That’s okay, you’re just not a good fit. But what if she responds with,“I feel the same way!” Well, then my friends you’ve got the start of something beautiful – a new friendship that is based upon shared circumstances, similar parenting styles, and cute babies that you really hope will like one another as they grow up. The potential to make life-long friends is there for the taking as a new parent – it’s just going to require a little bit of effort.

But please, please don’t give up…

The Momma who wrote that FB post did something that others might have thought a little crazy – but I thought it was beautiful and brave. She opened herself up and expressed her vulnerability about not having many new Momma friends – and she did it online, which is very taboo. And do you know what happened? As of this writing, she’s received 73 really positive and encouraging comments from other Mommas who are looking to make real, face-to-face connections. She started an online thread for all of these other women to share their own feelings of loneliness as new Mommas and it looks as if there will be meet-ups happening all over the city!

My hope is that these women make connections with one another and begin building their LIVE tribe of new parent friends – those who will be honest with one another about the challenges of parenting, and willing to share their epic parenting fails. When we realize we’re not alone on this new parenting journey, it can be so helpful!  Because trying to do this parenting thing without your tribe is hard and one can be the loneliest number.

How are you feeling in this age of “connection?” Hooked-up and well engaged? Or lonely and in need of a friend? Where did you/will you find your tribe?

For an added bonus check out this video from Three Dog Night from 1969… It’s so good in all the bad ways.

In My Humble Opinion…

bees

So, the world of birth is abuzz this month as ACOG (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) has released their newest Committee Opinion: “Approaches to Limit Interventions During Labor and Birth.”

This opinion might have left some scratching their head and saying, “Duh!” But I want to jump up and down squealing with joy! I think this is a fantastic step in the right direction from the OB/GYN leaders of America. They’re asking their members to consider: “If a pregnant Momma is low-risk, how can we keep her low-risk?”

The answer is: “Don’t intervene unless it’s medically necessary!”

I’m going to break down the recommendations and conclusions section of this Committee Opinion for you here, because there are lots of big, fancy words – and you might appreciate my attempt at a simpler translation. Also, we know that when information comes from people who wear white coats and carry stethoscopes around their necks, it sometimes carries more weight – even if we’ve already heard this same information from different sources. Just saying… In our culture, there’s a hierarchy when it comes to medical advice and opinion – evidence or bias, be damned!

So, this is not a perfect translation (and my editorial comments are included in italics) but in a nutshell here’s what the ACOG has stated in it’s Committee Opinion, Number 687 for February 2017: Approaches to Limit Interventions in Labor and Birth.

  • If a woman is between 39-41 weeks, and is in labor that’s started on its own, and has a baby that’s head down, the use of intermittent fetal monitoring and unmedicated comfort and coping techniques is a good idea. (Full-term according to ACOG. Intermittent – the fancy word that means there are breaks in between periods of monitoring.)
  • If a woman is still in early labor, she doesn’t have to come to the hospital right away as long as she and the baby are doing okay. It’d be great if she was offered frequent contact and support, as well as unmedicated comfort and coping techniques. (See what I wrote here, here and here (It’s a 3-part series!) about how to stay comfortable and pass the time of early labor at home before coming into the hospital.)
  • When women come into the hospital in early labor due to pain or exhaustion, they should be offered education and support, water to drink, encouraged to try various positions that might provide more comfort, and other unmedicated comfort and coping techniques like massage and how using the shower or sitting in warm water can be very helpful. (Hydrotherapy – the fancy word for drinking water, showering and/or sitting in the tub – are great ideas for comfort and can also help labor progress!)
  • OBs and other providers should inform those women whose water has broken at the onset of labor about any risks associated with waiting for labor to start on its own. If there are no other reasons to be concerned for the baby’s health, an informed woman can choose, and should be supported in her choice, to wait for labor to start on it’s own. The exception would be if a woman has tested positive for Group B Strep – antibiotics shouldn’t be delayed, and there may be a preference from both the provider and laboring woman to induce labor immediately, rather than wait for it to start on its own. (Many providers already use “expectant management of labor” – the fancy word for “watching and waiting,” but more providers might now be encouraged to wait before inducing immediately if water breaks at the start of labor.)
  • Evidence suggests that in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor. (YAY DOULAS! And partners, and Grandmas, and BFFs and… DOULAS! You can read my post here about how a doula can be a great addition to your birth team.)
  • For women with a labor that’s progressing and a baby that’s doing well, routine breaking of the bag of waters is not necessary unless needed for internal monitoring. (Amniotomy – the fancy word for breaking the bag of waters before it has broken on its own – is often suggested as a way to “speed things up” but can be associated with more interventions and increased risk for Cesarean Birth if it doesn’t work.)
  • In order to promote intermittent monitoring, hospitals should adopt protocols and train staff on how to use hand-held Doppler monitors for low-risk women who would prefer this type of monitoring. (This one even surprised me! I thought they would suggest using the external monitoring belts less frequently, but hand-held Dopplers would be a fantastic improvement over current practice. So much easier and comfortable for laboring Mommas!)
  • Using a coping scale and the use of medicated and unmedicated coping techniques will help providers tailor interventions to meet the needs of each woman. (Some hospitals have already adopted the use of a coping scale instead of a pain scale, but this little tool can be very helpful in changing the mindset of a laboring woman from focusing on the level of pain she’s feeling to whether or not she’s coping well.)
figure-1-the-pain-intensity-scale-0-to-10-adapted-from-wong-baker-faces-pain-rating

Figure 1. The Pain Intensity Scale: 0 to 10. Adapted from “Wong-Baker Faces Pain Rating Scale”

coping

Figure 2. The Pain Coping Scale: 10 to 0, developed to assess coping during labor and birth. Adapted from “Wong-Baker Faces Pain Rating Scale”

  • As long as there are no complications and fetal monitoring is still possible, a woman should be encouraged and supported to change positions often during labor – it will make her feel more comfortable and will help move the baby into the best position for birth. (Being upright and changing positions as often as possible, for as long as possible, allows babies to make all the twists and turns necessary to be born.)
  • Women should be encouraged to use whatever kind of pushing technique she likes and is most effective. (Gone are the days of telling women to assume certain positions and hold their breath for ten seconds! Yeehah!)
  • Unless it’s medically necessary to deliver quickly, women (especially those with an epidural) can be offered a period of rest before pushing – unless she feels a strong urge to push sooner. (“Laboring down” is a really nice way to allow your body to catch up with your labor. Your contractions might have already opened your cervix all the way, but until your baby moves down into a better position for birth, pushing just because “You’re 10 cm dilated – let’s go!” might not be as effective and could lengthen the overall time of pushing, causing undue exhaustion.)

Can you see why I’m so excited about this Committee Opinion?! It aligns so beautifully with what I know to be true for women in labor. Interventions are not “bad” and can be life-saving in certain circumstances.

But if we limit the routine use of these interventions and only use them when medically necessary, we are protecting the normal physiology of birth. And this will result in better outcomes for Mommas and babies.

I am so heartened by this statement from the ACOG and excited to see the impact this will have for laboring women and birth in this country. My sincere hope is that members of ACOG will review their own personal practice based on this Committee Opinion and see where they might step back from intervening too soon or too often. I also hope that pregnant women will read this and know that they should talk with their provider about limiting the use of intervention in their own pregnancy and birth.

Knowledge is power. Be informed.

(You can access the entire ACOG Committee Opinion here in all of its medical terminology, further explanation and extensively cited form. It’s a great read, in my humble opinion…)

On Motherhood and Feeling “Trapped”

trapped

Before anyone gets triggered by the title of this post, let me explain what’s been happening in my little corner of the world. I live in Portland, Oregon. A city that has, on average, almost 42 inches of rain a year. We’re used to the gray clouds and wet stuff falling from the sky. Heck, most original Portlanders (or those of us who’ve lived here 20+ years) don’t even carry umbrellas! We just suck it up and keep on moving. In comparison, we usually only get about 4.5 inches of snow.

But a week ago, over a foot of snow dropped in less than 24 hours and our beautiful city was covered in a blanket of white. When it became completely obvious that we would not be having school the following morning, I dug around in our basement for all the snow gear and the sleds and we hit our local park and its fantastic hill for 2+ hours of night sledding – the best way to sled in my opinion. The hills weren’t super fast yet, but it was magical!

The next day, we hit the hill again for some more of the same. (Did I mention that I love sledding more than anyone I know – including my own kids? I’m always the last one ready to leave. As long as my feet, head and hands are warm, I’ll stay out in this stuff all day long!)

Well, I started talking smack at the top of the hill about how “I’ll still be sledding when I’m 70!” and how I wished the snow was icier “so we could go faster!” and I even asked a fellow parent to wax up the sled for me… My 7-year-old was ready to go home, but I convinced him to go with me for one last run.

I lined us up at the top of the hill, but my patience with having to wait for our turn was really being stretched. (Did I also mention that impatience is my worst character flaw?) In order to not have to wait another second and barrel down the hill NOW!, I made a rookie mistake and moved us to the far left, where no one else was sledding, and we went flying down the hill – and straight toward the 4-inch round metal pole that held up the baseball diamond backstop. (Oh, this is why there was no line…)

I tried to steer us to the right and away from the pole, but the sled wouldn’t budge. I thought about bailing, but my son hasn’t mastered the art of this technique yet and I was concerned he wouldn’t get off with me. So, at the last moment and in an effort to avoid having my little guy crack his head open, I did this sort of full-body twist and my left leg smashed into the pole. The pain was intense and made me catch my breath. But just like Mommas the world over, I immediately checked in with Félix to make sure he was okay – not a scratch, phew!

Then I tried to get up – whoa. I was able to put some weight on it, so I knew I hadn’t broken my leg, but I’d certainly injured myself significantly and we headed for home.

By the time we were coming through the front door, whatever initial shock that had allowed me to walk the three blocks home wore off and the tears started to fall. Then my son got upset because he knew it must be bad if I was crying. A week later, I’m still hobbling – the multicolored bruise on my leg is spectacular and extends from just above my knee to just below my hip.

But that’s not the only thing that’s been bruised.

My spirit is young and feeling as though my body can’t keep up with it hit me hard this past week. I really DO want to go flying down that hill when I’m 70! So, I ice the crap out of my leg, I elevate it, I take Arnica, and I try to heal so that maybe I’ll be able to do that someday. Yet, I still feel trapped by my body – unable to do a lot of the things that I would normally be doing. Initially, I could barely walk. But even a week later, I’m slow, I’m still in pain. I have to be patient and ask for help – not my strong points.

And I’m trapped inside my house as the roads and sidewalks are still covered with ice and snow because the temperature hasn’t gotten above freezing and none of this stuff is melting.

My kids are on day #9 of no school. I’m the one that would have been on the hill every single day this past week – if only I could. My kids are over it. They don’t even want to play in the snow. And I’m so sad that I can’t. So, I end up feeling trapped in my role of Momma (this is a community-wide sentiment if my FB feed is any indication!)

Not that I don’t love my kiddos – I do, madly. But there are so many things that fall to the back burner when I’m in Momma mode… like the maintenance of this blog for one. I’ve been busy this past month doing lots of work on projects that thrill me – including turning this blog into a (gulp!) actual website – more details on that later… But it’s super hard to sit and write when I can hear all of my littles in the background.

I’m used to having a few precious hours of quiet on a weekly basis so I can think and put a few words on the page. I’m writing today with headphones on and the music is kind of loud, actually. I have to do this to quiet all of their wonderful little noises, to drown out their petty annoyances with one another (everybody’s feeling the need for just a little more space), and to lessen the Momma guilt I’m feeling as I hope that their brains will not be permanently damaged by the amount of screen time they’ve over-indulged in this past week.

But I want to speak to one other way that motherhood traps us all…

In a way that is both expected and wholly unexpected in its intensity, I’ve realized that in saying yes to this thing – motherhood – that my own destiny is trapped to the destinies of my four children.

When one of them is sick, I’m sick with worry. When one is anxious, I need to be present and find the words (where do they come from, I often wonder) that will provide comfort. When there is heartbreak, my own heart breaks a little right alongside theirs. When they talk of their futures, I am both excited for them and painfully aware that this means they are always moving away from me… a little bit more with each passing day.

So, maybe it’s okay that we are all trapped together for yet one more day.

I will finish this post. I will fix them all lunch. I will unplug all of our electronic gadgets. We will read some Harry Potter, we will play some board games. We will probably still irritate the crap out of each other – but we will miss it. All of it. Won’t we?

Ever feel “trapped” in your role as a parent – how do you gain perspective on this and cope with the demands that come with the job? I’d love to hear your responses. Please comment and share.

#Adaptation: #1 Job Requirement in Parenting

adaptation

Today we all have a choice: We can take risks and actions to ensure that we adapt with the constantly changing times or we can hope for the best and do nothing. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready? #Adaptation

This is the latest “instigation” from Linda Rottenberg as part of a really cool program I’m involved in during the moth of December to envision how I will try to do “business as unusual” in 2017. If you’re interested, check it out – there’s still time to join me on this Quest. I’ve been writing a lot in response to these prompts (this one is #8), but sometimes they’re more personal and end up in the private Quest 2017 Facebook forum. But sometimes an instigation like the one above, fits so well with what is asked of new parents, that I feel compelled to share the response here.

I can think of no other time in my life where I’ve had to adapt more than when I first became a parent. Starting in pregnancy I felt like I had to adapt constantly month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, and so on…

We are creatures who appreciate the usual, our known norm. We like having expectations about how our lives will flow from one day to the next because it allows us to wake up in the morning and get on with our day.

If the world was an uncertain mess (which, really, it kind of is) and we focused only on the not-knowing-what-to-expect-ness of it all, we’d likely become paralyzed – doubt, fear and concern about what’s going to happen next weighing us down.

I was incredibly sick with my first pregnancy. I threw up about 10x a day until I was sixteen weeks along. I lost fifteen pounds during that first trimester. I had to adapt, and adapt quickly, to this huge change in how I felt all day, every day, until my body finally decided that the “foreign body” growing inside of me was not my mortal enemy and we could co-exist without attacking one another. It wasn’t easy!

Then I had to adapt to the fact that once I could eat, I wanted to eat EVERYTHING not nailed down. I made up for lost time, that’s for sure! I ended up gaining 45 pounds over my starting weight (which really means, I gained 60 pounds if you count the original fifteen that I’d lost due to all my puking!) and I had to adapt to my ever-expanding and changing body as the baby took up more and more space, making it harder to breathe and move about in the world.

I had to adapt to having to pee every 15 minutes throughout the day (and night!), and eventually I had to adapt to start eating Tums before, during and after every meal because I could never be sure what would trigger my intense heartburn.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I had to adapt to wearing a belly band because my round ligaments were so tired of trying to hold up my belly throughout the day. Finally, in the last weeks of my pregnancy, I had to adapt to crawling or being carried up the stairs at night when it was time for bed because my sciatica would shoot searing pain down my backside.

Know this: expectant Mommas are ALL about adaptation!

The process of carrying a baby in our own bodies, forces us to adapt from within from the earliest days of our pregnancy. And in this way, we have both an advantage and disadvantage over our non-pregnant partner.

How is this a disadvantage? Puh-lease. Re-read paragraphs 6-9 above if you haven’t already figured this out… All of the physical and emotional changes that happen during pregnancy can be incredibly challenging. And I’m going to say it – sometimes, pregnancy sucks! Not everyone loves it all of the time, and some of us really don’t like it much at all. Pregnancy takes it’s toll on us as women, but we often don’t even acknowledge this.

We just – adapt.

We keep going. We roll with it. We throw up right before teaching a class, hold it together for two hours, say goodnight to our students and make it to the bathroom just in time to throw up again after they’ve left.

But this also is where we have an advantage over our partners. We’ve been adapting for nine+ months before the baby arrives. We’ve already gotten a taste of what’s to come, what will be asked of us as new parents – because we’ve already been doing it for a really long time. This means that we’re a tiny bit more prepared than our partners might be for the rapid fire adaptation that is a requirement once our baby is ex-utero.

Today’s prompt states that today we all have a choice: we can take action in order to adapt to changing times, or we can hope for the best and do nothing.

But in new parenting, I’m not sure that there really is a choice! You must either adapt (and quickly!) on your own, or your little six pound peanut will make sure you adapt in order to satisfy their needs for survival. There really is no “hoping for the best and doing nothing” option when it comes to your role as a new parent. But by the end of “The 4th Trimester” it’s hard to remember what life was really like before the baby came.

Those first three months are intense and packed with so much to learn in such a short period of time. It’s hard to take stock of how many different ways you’ve adapted to this new role of parenting because even though at twelve weeks in you might feel like you’re no longer crawling through the trenches of new parenting, it never really ends.

You really are amazing, you know that?

As a new parent, you’re learning hundreds of new skills each and every day, applying them and testing them out in real time. Sometimes with great success! Sometimes? Maybe not so much. But either way, you should be super impressed with your overall ability to adapt to this new role as well as you have.

It’s not easy to become a whole new person, while caring for a whole new person, and being in relationship with a whole new person. Navigating this new terrain is challenging, to say the least. But it’s not something you can just refuse to do. It’s required of you. This is your new normal, your new reality.

Adaptation will become your constant companion. 

Because this parenting gig is based on a relationship. A relationship you share with your child –  someone who is changing and adapting to their own environment as they grow and develop from a wailing and hangry newborn, to a cooing and babbling infant, an unsure and unsteady toddler, to a walking, talking, running child, an independent and sometimes sassy youth, to eventually end up a distinct individual with their own thoughts, feelings and passions (that may or may not match up with your own.)

Adaptation will be necessary even into adulthood because you’re both forever changing from one day to the next. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready?

How can I help you?

I’m asking this question because I really want to know how I can better serve the people I care so much about: parents.

As part of my personal and professional Quest, in the coming year I’d like to make some adaptations, as well. I’ve got a few ideas of my own that I’m considering… a newsletter, podcast, live Q & A sessions, an interview series with leaders in the fields of pregnancy, birth and parenting.

But I really would love to hear what you would like to find here on my blog. How can I help you adapt better in these constantly changing times? Please help me, help you – and share your ideas and comments with me here by answering this super quick survey. Thanks so much!

Named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and one of TIME’s 100 “Innovators for the 21st century,” Linda Rottenberg is considered among the world’s most dynamic experts on entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership. Ms. Rottenberg is author of CRAZY IS A COMPLIMENT: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags and co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, the world’s leading organization supporting high-impact entrepreneurs. A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Linda lives in Brooklyn with her husband, author and New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler, and their identical twin daughters.

Twitter: @lindarottenberg

Snow Dazed and Confused

snowflakes

My kids were home from school two days last week because of snow.

In Portland, Oregon.

It’s kind of a big deal when that happens around here.

I remember when I first moved to Portland from Indiana a long, long time ago. My first winter, I called home laughing about the fact that the Mayor(!) had come on TV to ask that all “non-essential” employees stay home because of “hazardous weather conditions.” I think there was maybe four inches of snow on the ground! People were abandoning their cars on the highway!

(Granted, it rarely snows here, so people really don’t have a lot of experience or knowledge about driving in it, and teaching folks to turn INTO a skid is super counter-intuitive… Plus, I think PDX only has two snowplows. I might be exaggerating here, but we don’t have nearly enough to dig out an entire city!)

In contrast, when I was a kid, I’d gone to a Catholic High School in Indianapolis, one where the Jesuit Priests lived on campus. The joke was that if they could walk down the halls, there was going to be school that day. My friend Bridget and I had to dig her huge van out of more than one snowbank on the way to school – and we’d still get a tardy slip and a snarky, “Should have left home earlier!” from the school secretary once we finally made it in.

Even though it’s hilarious that the whole family gets a snow day when the PPS School District closes (sometimes based on only a potential forecast of snow) – I’m not complaining! I love snow now even more than I did when I was a kid!  Probably because I only get to play in it a couple of days each winter…

So it was that I spent over two hours sledding on the hill at the park down our street this past Thursday – even though you could still clearly see the grass beneath the inch of white stuff on the ground. And, as usual, my kids were ready to call it quits and head home long before I was!

Kids: “Mom, we want to go home and have some hot chocolate!”

Me: “One more run down the hill!”

Kids: “Mo-om, you said that five runs ago…”

Sometimes I wonder what they’ll remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Do you remember how Mom would go flying down that sledding hill? Even when she was six months pregnant with Felix? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

Day two of our unexpected school break wasn’t quite as much fun. Snow has a way of turning into ice pretty quickly around here. If the temperature rises by just a few degrees during the day, it starts to rain. Then overnight, the temperature drops below freezing and that’s when you end up with an entire city encased in ice.

The result is something reminiscent of the castle of the White Witch from Narnia – beautiful, but oh-so-cold and dangerous. Our lights flickered on and off throughout the day and we lost all electricity (and heat!) for a few hours at a time. 

Being stuck inside the house and unable to go anywhere only occurs every once in a long while (years can go by before this will happen again – or it might happen again tomorrow. We’ll see…) But every time it does, I think to myself: “I’ve got to order a pair of Yaktrax!” Because I have GOT to be able to leave my house!

You see, the rest of my family (and really, most other people) enjoy a little at-home hangout time. My husband, for instance, loves nothing more than to stay in his PJs for weeks at a time. But I’m not him. I find it really, really hard to not be able to leave my house for even one day. I need to get out in order to feed the beast within that craves social interaction with others.

There are many people today who might feel as though they’re getting a lot of their social interaction needs met through the mighty inter webs.

I’m not one of them.

The irony that many of my readers will find this post through a social media site is not lost on me. And I have to acknowledge that I’m currently traveling with this incredible online community of creatives looking to do business as unusual by taking part in Quest 2017.(there’s still time to join us, if you’re interested.) I also have to admit that I’ve made some incredible friendships through and because of my online presence.

But I’m still so grateful for my local, real-world “tribe” – work colleagues, the NACEF Board, friends and framily (typo intended), especially my Momma-tribe: those co-parents (who are not Roberto!) that I can get together with on a semi-regular basis to see and be seen, to listen to and be heard, to share in something different that’s not captured in an email or text. What I mean by “something different” is that we engage one another in real-time conversations that are often messy, give and take, back and forth, meandering, untamed, free-for-all discussions about whatever comes up as a natural (and sometimes unnatural) extension of the topic at hand.

For an extrovert like me, this is where I do my best work. It’s where I get my free therapy. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s where I find the intimacy, honesty and authenticity that I believe is so important in our ever-increasingly techno-obsessed world.

I had lunch with a small group of co-workers the other day, and we were discussing the idea that people might be losing the ability to speak face-to-face or rather, heart-to-heart, with one another. Then I came home from that gathering and read this amazing piece of writing that talked about that craving for real-world connection from one of my friends, Brenna Layne. (An aside: Brenna and I met on-line a couple of years ago and have never met in person. But, as it turns out… we’re twins! No, not really. But it feels like we are when she somehow writes All The Words tucked away deep inside my brain and my heart without me even knowing they were there in the first place. She is lovely and a shining example of my conflicted feelings about online connection vs real-life connection.)

Through these two experiences, I felt inspired to write about something that concerns me very much: We are losing the art of conversation.

The members of my tribe are still wanting to meet face-to-face. They are willing to set aside all other distractions and just be together, sharing time and space. In fact, we talk about how much we all need to do this more often than we already are!

And even though I work hard to make sure my children are able to look people in the eye and engage in a conversation with others that lasts longer than a few minutes, I wonder will they have friends who are able to do the same? Will they find their own tribe not just willing, but wanting to share in that same level of real-time face-to-face intimacy and interaction?

So, here’s another thing (maybe a much more important thing) that I hope my kids will remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Remember how Mom would take us on “dates” spending one-on-one time with each one of us? And then, how she would always ask us about the Big Things – like what we thought about God, who we were crushing on, or what happens after you die? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

The art of conversation is just that: art. It needs to be protected and cherished like all great masterpieces. And I think we should be encouraging our children to engage in it from birth. They need to get their hands messy with it, create it and shape it in real-time, unaware and unhindered by the self-consciousness that can sometimes be so paralyzing. If we don’t do this, I’m concerned that this art will be lost forever. And being our children’s first teacher, I think it’s up to parents to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Because our world needs this honesty and authenticity, it craves this intimate interaction and engagement now, more than ever before.

How do you engage your own children, even your baby, in the art of conversation? Do you think this is a topic worthy of discussion, or am I too “old-school?” I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Please share them with me in the comments section below.

#YourTrueCalling – Quest 2017 Begins

quest-2017

What is your vocation, your sense of callings as a human being at this point in your life, both in and beyond job and title?

And so it begins… Quest 2017! An adventure not for the faint of heart because this is just the first of thirteen prompts from visionaries in different fields provided to us “Questers” as an alignment for the coming year. Think of it as a full body (mind, heart, and spirit, too!) alignment, so that as the beginning of 2017 opens the best self is ready to bust open the door and do big things – with thoughtfulness and intention.

This first prompt, by Krista Tippet of On Being no less, gets the ball rolling by asking us to name our true calling. And if this is any example, we’re going to be going deep – fast.

I’ve written before about how the work that I do with expectant families is my true calling. In fact, it was the first post I’ve ever written on this blog. But over time that calling has shifted.

When I first started out, before I’d ever given birth or actually done any parenting of my own, I had the naive and at times self-righteous passion of a activist teenager. After all, I had taken the training, I had read ALL of the books, and I knew what was “best” for the women and families in my classes. I had a bad case of tunnel vision. Loads of desire and passion, but no real-life experience. I remember meeting with my families at reunions after they’d given birth and I would feel personally responsible, as though I’d let them down, if they ended up with a birth that didn’t look like anything they’d written on the Birth Plan they drafted during class.

As if I, or their 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper, had any control over how their births would unfold.

I find myself today, almost 20 years and four children of my own later, with a completely different mindset. I’ve mellowed in some ways and gotten even more passionate in others.

The realities of pregnancy, birth and parenting are so much more nuanced than I once believed them to be. There are too many variables to account for, too many that are unseen or unexpected, for anyone to really make an actual plan about how these things will play out. So instead, I try to work with pregnant women and the people who love them in ways that I think will really prepare them for what’s to come.

  • I want the families in my care to have positive birth experiences – no matter how their births unfold. I want them to come to my class, or talk with me over the phone or on a Skype session and feel listened to, validated and understood.
  • I want them to have knowledge about how they can best fully participate in their births. To not only accept their feelings of vulnerability around this life-changing event, but to embrace these feelings and move toward them with intention.
  • I want them to feel confident in their ability to do this thing called birth, but also know what questions to ask when necessary that will help them make decisions in real time, as birth happens.
  • Instead of chasing after the ideal “Pinterest Birth Experience,” I want them to be ready for the real, authentic, messiness that often happens in birth. I want them to know that even when birth goes rogue, it can still be a Positive Birth Experience.
  • I want them to drop comparison and judgement from their birth and parenting experiences. Both of these things are so detrimental to developing a sense of self-confidence in their new role. Judgement of others stems from a deep sense of insecurity and does little to lessen it. And when time is spent imagining others’ experience, there’s no chance to enjoy or be present in this very real moment.

It’s hard for me to distinguish my professional from my personal vocation or calling – which is as it should be, in my opinion. I want my every interaction to be honest, open, authentic and real. That kind of connection with others can only happen from a place of trust. I need to trust that in laying myself bare, others can put down their own armor and we can meet heart to heart. That means acknowledging when I’ve made a mistake, asking for forgiveness, and admitting that I need help. It means practicing what I preach to the families in my classes: Don’t run from feelings of vulnerability, explore them with wonder and curiosity – remaining open to the transformation that can occur.

So… This is my first reflection to Quest 2017 with the ever-amazing Jeffrey Davis and his Tracking Wonder Team. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in December, a prompt for reflection will appear in my inbox – and depending on the nature of the prompt, I might choose to post my reflection here on the blog if I think it relates well to my work. If not, I’ll post to the private Quest 2017 Facebook forum for the group.

This Quest is open to the public and it’s completely FREE. You can join me and many, many others from around the globe as we intentionally and thoughtfully look to 2017 and map out how we wish to bring our best selves forward to do the work in our personal and professional lives that we feel called to do.

And, as happens from time to time, a song pops into my head while I’m writing a blog post. Seeing as the title of this first prompt is #YourTrueCalling, try and guess what song came to mind and Will.Not.Go.Away? It’s not an exact fit, but it’s a pretty great ear worm. If you’re so inclined, you can give it a listen and a look here. (80’s MTV at it’s best…)

LOVE – It’s The Secret Ingredient

turkey-soup

Turkey & Rice Soup (Several days later and still sooooooooo delicious!)

There’s a certain alchemy that can happen in cooking… It’s not just about putting flavors together and being satisfied with delicious results. Sometimes, if a recipe you’ve watched your Mom make too many times to count, a recipe that’s never been written down before, suddenly turns out *just* right, it’s possible to be instantly transported back in time to your childhood.

Here I am, at age four looking up at my Mom standing at the stove, careful not to have it turned on high heat yet because I’m so close to her hip. I watch as she’s trying to fit the turkey carcass into our big, fat silver soup pot. She uses the kitchen shears, a knife, sometimes just her fingers, to break the bigger bones up into smaller ones to fit – just so – into the pot. Mom never liked to throw out anything that still had so much to offer.

Here I am, a couple of years later, standing on a kitchen chair and asking, “Can I add the carrot and the onion and the celery? Please? I’m old enough. I can do it.” But I would have to wait a few more years before I got the job of chopping the vegetables into big chunks to help flavor the broth as it started to boil. How high the heat should be and how long the broth should simmer on the stove always depended on two things: what time my Mom began this whole process, and how much patience the rest of the family had to wait before eating.

Pulling the meat off the bones would have happened in earnest a day or two before – on Thanksgiving. But only after the crowds of people had left and after the kids had gone to bed. My immediate family always lived far from aunties, uncles and cousins, so our gatherings were always a wonderful mix of “framily” – those people whom we’d adopted, or who had adopted us for the holiday meal. I wonder if my Mom ever found enjoyment in discovering just how much meat there would be to add to the year’s batch? This was always the unknown variable… Would the soup be thin and mostly broth? Or more like a thick and hearty stew? It was dependent on lots of different things: how big of a turkey we could afford in any given year, the number of guests we’d invited, how many appetizers and sides they’d brought to share, and – how hungry my teenaged brothers were.

As a tween and teen, more interested in eating the soup than actually making it, I would salivate as the smells of turkey goodness filled our entire house. Only then would my Mom turn the burner off, strain the solids from the broth and pick through the remains once more. She would want a mostly clear broth seasoned to perfection before adding anything else. And then came my favorite part: adding the rice. “Plink, plink, plink!” The individual grains would splash and get sucked into the depths of the pot, only to resurface as the heat got turned back on and the broth began bubbling again.

I never understood how my Mom knew when to finish the soup so the rice was cooked just right. Confession: I always cheat on this part and use the rice cooker and add the finished rice into the pot right before serving. The rice turns out pretty close to perfect, but alas! no wonderful “plinking!” sounds. At some point, Mom would declare the soup to be “Finished!” And then add in the turkey meat and a jar or two of tomatoes. She’d give one last good stir to mix everything together and then ladle the soup into our bowls, while we sat at the long dining room table ready to gobble it all up (no pun intended…)

My Mom’s “Turkey and Rice Soup” might not be something you’d find in a fancy restaurant, or pay top dollar for – but the best food in the world rarely is. This recipe is so much more than just a delicious way to transform Thanksgiving leftovers. And this year, at first taste, and after 26 years of trying to re-create the experience, I almost wept (almost – I’m not really a crier…) as I was instantly transported back to my childhood kitchen watching as my Mom created something that over the years became a symbol of love, of comfort, of home to me.

That’s the kind of alchemy that I’m talking about. There’s a certain magic that you can actually taste in a meal that’s been cooked at home. Whenever my own children find something that I’ve made for them especially delicious and then ask me what’s in it, I list off all the ingredients and then say, “But there’s a secret extra special ingredient added! Can you guess what it is?” They’ve heard this from me so many times now that even as they roll their eyes, they still respond: “LOVE!” 

Yep, lots and lots of love. Heaping tablespoons and cups spilling over with love.

I’m not sure why this ingredient has been missing from this recipe over the years. Or, more importantly, how it finally found it’s way into my own soup pot this year some 2,264 miles away from my Mom – but I’m so glad that it did.

I feel like the last three posts I’ve written, have had more than a little bit of wistfulness to them, their unifying theme a longing to be closer to my family this year. I thank you, dear reader, for indulging me.

Typically, I write about issues that are of importance to pregnant, birthing and new parenting families. But one of the things that becomes more important over time, I think, is acknowledging that who we are as parents originates in how we have been parented. The families we are creating for ourselves now, find their roots in the families of our birth. Sometimes, and in some particular ways, we may choose to break away from that family of our birth to create our own, new definition of family.

But sometimes we look ahead and wonder if our own children will ever tell their children about how turn a tupperware full of Thanksgiving leftovers into something so much more.

Spoiler Alert: It’s all about that secret extra special ingredient.

Do you have any holiday recipes that have been passed down in your family that hold such power? Is the recipe written down? Or can it only be brought together through a lifetime’s worth of memories? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share them in the comments.