My Promise

From the moment the very faint positive line appeared on the pregnancy test, I knew in my heart that I wanted this baby to be a girl. Mostly, this was for selfish reasons. I am the lone female in our home and I love the idea of raising a girl. But, I am also terrified of having a girl. The world will be much kinder and more accepting of my son – he has the privilege of being born a white male in America. My daughter will have half of this privilege, but will often be told she can’t do simply because she is female. How do I raise a daughter to be strong in a world that commands she be weak and mild? How do I teach her to trust and love others while also teaching her to guard her heart and trust from those with bad intentions?

When I first found out Baby AJ 2.0 was going to be Baby Girl, I text my brother (among a million others) to share the news. His response almost made me cry (had I not been sitting in a car with my company’s CEO, I likely would have) – “Outstanding. I cannot think of a better momma for a baby girl than you sister.”

Wow. Talk about a heavy compliment and a lot to live up to.

Since that day I’ve thought a lot about Baby Girl and how I can be the mama to her that my twin brother believes I can be. So, far these are the promises I hope to keep and the lessons I hope she learns …

Your big brother is pretty awesome and he amazes us every single day and I have no doubt that you will do the same. I promise to never compare him to you and vice versa, but know that anything he can do, you can do (except pee standing up, please don’t try this). But, know that you can do anything you want to and know that we are always in your corner cheering you on. Sometimes you may have to work harder than he does, but that work will be worth it in the end. Some things may come easier. Sometimes, you may not want to do what he does and that is okay too. You are your own person and you are capable of anything you put your mind to.

One day, someone will tell you that you are not good enough (or pretty enough or smart enough or thin enough or whatever enough), but know that you are more than enough. This world can be an asshole and people suck. Society will make unreasonable demands that will make you want to change who you are to fit it. I always tried to rise above this, but sometimes I failed. You will too and that is okay. Some jerk will say something mean and you’ll cry yourself to sleep or punch a wall or break your favorite music box (sorry Dad) because the pain and emotions are so strong and raw you don’t know how to channel them. This too is okay. And I know you won’t always want to talk to me or hear what I have to say, but I promise that no matter the question or circumstance, I am here when you need me and when you are ready.

You will find yourself in situations that are out of your comfort zone – for the good and for the bad – more times that you’ll be able to count or remember. People who call themselves your friends will pressure you into things you may not be ready for. Always, always trust your gut because I guarantee you another friend is watching and is just as scared to speak up or say no as you are. Never be afraid to use your voice and never be ashamed if you aren’t able to find it. My job as your mom is to help you find that voice and that voice can only come with experience and mistakes. You will make mistakes and that is okay. It never gets easier, but you learn and get stronger with every one.

I promise that no matter how many mistakes you make or how many times you fail that I am still going to be there cheering you on. I know people take issue with the whole participation trophy culture, but for me, participating is half the battle and trying and working hard are the rest. Sure, winning is great, but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize the hard work we put in even if we don’t win. And, Baby Girl, you won’t win them all and that is okay. It’s okay to finish second and it’s okay to come in last. It’s better to walk away with a lesson learned and the knowledge that you busted your ass than to walk away with a first place prize that came easy. As a girl, you will have to fight harder, study harder and prove yourself a million times over just to have a chance to play the game. But, that makes us stronger.

More than anything. I want you to know and feel the love I did when I was growing up. I want you to experience the things I did not get to (among them, being Daddy’s little girl) and I want you to be unafraid of change and rejection. Those fears prevented me from trying new things or getting to know people. It’s hard to push aside fear, but it’s my job to push you past that and I will try my best to not let my own fears get in your way. You will get hurt. You will cry. You will push me away someday. But, I’ll kiss all the ouchies I can. I’ll dry your tears. And I will welcome you home with open arms.

In about 14-16 years, you will start to hate me, mostly for brief periods of time and for really dumb reasons (sorry, I know they are dumb because I had those same reasons a long, long time ago). I am going to mentally prepare myself for that now … yeah, not ready. We’ll talk about that in a few more years.

This growing up shit is hard, but we all go through it and most of us survive with a few stories to tell. I promise to help make those stories as interesting as possible.

Then There Were Four

One boy. One girl. Or so the song goes. And, I guess come March, so our life will go. Our little family is growing by one and I am finally going to have a little female balance in our male dominated house (between my husband and son and our three pets, I am sorely outnumbered).

We finally convinced him that Mama is not in fact having a Baby Star-Lord, but a baby sister. I think he’s slowly coming around to the idea. And, though, I cannot guarantee it, I am fairly certain Baby Girl will be just as (if not more) fascinating to him than Star-Lord. At least that is my hope.

Just One Strong Heartbeat

178 beats per minute. 178 tiny reassurances that the human your body is growing is healthy and viable.

The swoosh beating sound filled the tiny, but comfortable, ultrasound room and I breathed a sigh of relief. Just one baby with one strong heartbeat. The two confirmations I was looking for that day.

But as I watched the tiny heart fluttering on the screen, I felt the relief slip into sadness. Just this week, two women I’d just met via social media had been in a similar room and watched as their dreams and hearts broke. One had just learned she was expecting twins and the other had gotten pregnant just after marrying her soul mate. Both filled with the typical excitement and fear as their bodies began showing the symptoms they’d read about. Both clinging to hope. But when their time came, their ears weren’t filled with the sweet swoosh beating sounds. The screen didn’t flicker with the heartbeat. Three tiny balls of cells that just the day before had been filled with the promise of life and happiness were now gone and these mothers were robbed of the very thing that had just weeks before been confirmed. In those few short weeks, they had each grown to love the little raspberries or sweet peas growing in their bellies. They thought of names and wondered if they’d have mom’s eyes or dad’s nose. They laid awake at night wondering what kind of mother they would be. Now, their dreams would have to wait.

I thought of another friend. One who’s been trying for years just to get that pink line and a confirmation that she’d finally get to be a mother. She’d just completed her first unsuccessful round of fertility treatment and was about to start her second. Though miles and years separate us, I keep waiting for the day her announcement takes over my news feed and we can celebrate her impending motherhood, the dream she holds so closely and yet seems so far away. I thought of her as I watched the life we’d barely struggled to create flickering away. Why had it been so easy for me? She deserved to love a child just as much as I did and I know without a doubt that she will be an amazing mother.

Another face flashed as I blinked and stared numbly at the screen. Her face now filled with joy as she is expecting another baby girl, her third but her first with her new husband. She’d been pregnant at the same time I was with my first, but lost that baby a few weeks later. Another pregnancy, a boy, progressed much further a few months later. Sadly, he made his entrance too soon and did not make it. Now, the joy of a third chance and a third daughter filled me with hope that her and her husband would finally experience the joy she’d been longing for and so rightfully deserves. I don’t know the heartache of carrying and then losing a child, but it is a pain no mother or father should ever feel. I doubt the ache ever fully goes away, even after a rainbow is born.

Happiness is often a moving target and even in those moments when joy should overcome me, I find myself longing for the happiness of others. I so desperately want these women to see their own flickering hearts and to hear that comforting sound. Selfishly, I’ve also spent many nights thankful to not be in their shoes and to not know the pain and emptiness of the loss of a child. But, my heart aches for them and if I could, I’d carry a child for all of them.

These women represent so many that I know and many of them I only know because of social media, through mom groups or fitness groups. But, our lives are all connected in a way that I can’t explain and I often find myself thinking of them and wishing I could do more than feel pain at their loss or mourn their babies as I watch mine growing.

Like almost every other pregnant woman I know, those first 12 weeks are a daily game of walking on eggshells. You obsesses over every tiny symptom. You examine the toilet paper at every single bathroom trip, terrified of seeing the bright red blood of doom. Every single day that passes is a victory – one day closer to a healthy pregnancy and a baby in your arms. You Google everything and then regret it the moment the results of your search appear on the screen. You consult the experts in your mom groups and you eagerly await that first ultrasound that will either confirm your fears or your dreams.

I am lucky. Our time spent trying for both our first and now our second was less than six months and I am fairly certain my Starbucks obsession slowed both (caffeine, I love and loathe you). My pregnancy with my son was fairly uneventful aside from my water breaking 4 weeks early. His delivery went well and he was tiny but mighty. My second pregnancy, though only nine weeks in as I write this, appears to be following a similar path (let’s hope for a full-term this round). My symptoms are mild with only a hint of nausea and I’ve been able to manage them all well.

When the fear of loss and the sadness of others’ losses begins to consume me, I close my eyes and try to picture my son’s face or hear the sound of the brand new heartbeat again. I am grateful I have those images to ground me and I don’t take them for granted. When in the thick of being pregnant and chasing a toddler who refuses to nap begin to overwhelm me, it is easy to fall into self pity, but I try my best not to. I know how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to have these things to complain about. So many would kill to feel the exhaustion of pregnancy or the inability to wear pants due to a growing belly. They would lose a thousand night’s sleep just to cradle and rock a screaming newborn to sleep.

Matthew Desmond: Evicted

It’s been a while since a book has affected me the way Matthew Desmond’s Evicted did. In fact, I’d wager that it affected me unlike anything else I have ever read.

I had just finished Al Franken’s Giant of the Senate when I saw Senator Cory Booker’s post on a summer book club. I needed a new book and he was recommending one, win-win.

When I hit play that first drive home, I didn’t know what to expect. The narrator’s soothing voice added an expectation of calmness that I would soon realize would be much needed as Desmond weaved a complicated story of eight families living in poverty in Milwaukee in 2008-2009. The stories seemed distant to me at first, unrelatable and far away. But, as the stories progressed, I found myself deeply moved by these strangers.

Their stories aren’t necessarily unique to today’s cultural landscape in America. They are the stories you hear in passing on the news – families evicted, house fires devastating a family and killing an infant, a promising young nurse falling victim to to the opioid crisis, a young mother who doesn’t know where to take her children after her third eviction in as many months. These stories on the news are easy to ignore and pass off as someone else’s problem.

But these stories were different. The connection deeper as I spent hours listening to their intertwining lives. I cried for them and with them. I wanted to change their reality. I wished America was a better place with true equality and equity.

These stories are the reason arguments about pulling oneself up by their bootstraps is complete bullshit. These people don’t have boots nor do they have access to boots and when they are given boots, they are beaten with them. While they struggle to keep from drowning, society is dumping buckets of water on them rather than extending a helping hand.

This book outlines the very problem with “equality” in America. We have this notion that segregation and discrimination are ancient history. But, both are alive and well and until we can finally see that, we will never move forward. Until we can see the line of demarcation between privilege and poverty and the clear part that race  plays in this, we will not prosper as a nation.

The only way our nation and our economy can sustain and succeed is when we all have equal access, equal opportunity and a safe place to call home.

Adventures in Toddler Parenting

“Star Lord!” my son asked for the 15th time in about seven days. I suppose on one hand I could be stoked that my child is obsessed with a movie I actually enjoy rather than, say, Barney. But there are only so many times one can watch the same movie before wondering when sanity ends and insanity begins. I am guessing it is somewhere around the 100th viewing, which we passed a little over a week into his obsession with Groot and Star Lord.

When I was younger, my obsession was La Bamba, though I wasn’t two. For movie obsessions prior to La Bamba, you’ll have to consult with my mother. But, I have fond memories of watching that movie and singing along to “Oh Donna” many, many, many times.

Aside from his recent indoctrination into the nerdom, my son has also begun forming strong opinions. Such as:
“I like pizza, that yucky pizza,” referring to my Mexican Pizza.
“Gross. EWWW Mama!” in response to my drinking a LaCroix.
“Sit Mama! Eat Mama,” him every morning as he himself refuses to sit and eat.
“Mustard! Honey mustard! Yucky mustard,” in response to learning that all mustard is not in fact honey mustard. (I feel you on this one buddy)
“I pooped,” anytime he did not in fact poop.
“I’m wet,” anytime he pooped.
“I go home,” anytime we are out to eat and the food arrives.
“More fruit snacks!” after his fifth bag of fruit snacks (at what point does a child actually turn into a fruit snack?).
“I go to Target,” every time he isn’t quite ready for bed … this kid knows my weaknesses.
“Mama!” pointing to any Starbucks cup or logo he sees.

It’s been amazing and awe-inspiring to watch his personality grow over the past two years. He has a strong confidence that is bold and courageous. It’s almost as if he knows exactly who he is and what his purpose is and he’s just patiently waiting for the rest of us to figure it out.

We’re working on it buddy, be patient with us.

Finding Confidence

Like many girls and women, I often struggle to find confidence and comfort in my own skin. There’s always something to hate – the back fat, that annoying under arm chicken wings, uneven eyebrows (long lost cousins, not sisters), a far too wide nose that contouring doesn’t even help, one too many chins, hair that’s too thin or flat – this list goes on and on and it changes daily.

But the one consistent thing I have found that brings me closer to finding that confidence? It’s not something I ever expected would work for me. It’s not makeup, though, I thoroughly love makeup, or a great hair day. It’s not fancy shoes or clothes, though I love those too.

It’s simple. Working out.

I think there are many reasons fitness has helped me consistently find confidence – I feel healthier, I have more energy and more endorphins and my clothes fit better. Those are all crucial bits, but the one thing I love that fitness brings me that little else can? I have 30-45 minutes of daily, guilt-free alone time that is actually good for me and those around me. My morning workouts set the tone for my entire day and when I miss it I feel it. My energy is lower, I am crankier and I tend to gravitate more towards the foods that drag me down even more.

I used to workout to get “skinny” thinking that is what would be the magic trick to making me feel comfortable in my own skin and actually like myself. Now, I workout to feel better and be stronger. You know what’s funny? Those are far better motivators than trying to be skinny or to fit  into someone else’s standard of beauty. I won’t lose 20 pounds overnight, but I can improve my mood and attitude with one 30 minute workout – those immediate results are fantastic motivators.

Every single day there are pressures to be more and do more. To try harder to fit into a mold that may or may not fit into who I am or who I want to be. The days I don’t feel confident, those little things bother me more than they should and I tend to give into the frustrations even more. Those days also typically line up with the days I miss my morning workout and thankfully, working in a downtown setting means I can spend my lunch hour taking a brisk walk through the city. And, nor matter how I felt before or during that walk, I always feel better when I get back.

As a working mom, it is easy to feel guilty for taking time for yourself. But, don’t. Our families need us healthy and happy.

A Livable Wage

Every once in a while I see a quote from a politician that is just so awful I cannot even fathom for a second that it is true (i.e. “grab ’em by the pussy”). That was my exact reaction when I saw a meme with this quote pop up in my news feed over and over again:

“This is an example of the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative. I do not support a livable wage.” -Karen Handel, GOP Candidate GA6

So, I Googled and there it was. On video. I nodded in agreement as I listened to Jon Ossoff’s answer, a carefully crafted and perfectly sensible answer (he supports a living wage, but with increases paced to allow small business time to adapt and change without hurting their business) that fits the progressive narrative that I believe in as a marketer working for one of those businesses that would be gutted with an overnight increase to $15 per hour.

Then Karen Handel opened her mouth and uttered those now infamous words. At least she was honest? At least she nailed the very different between the right and the left on the head. The difference they adamantly deny when they insist that they are the party of the working class (laughable at best). But, there it was plain as day. The GOP does not support a living/livable wage. Why? Because they place the needs of businesses and corporations above the needs of the people that vote them into office. They place money before people and party before country.

The answer Ossoff gave provides a perfect balance of being pro business and pro people – yes, a living wage is needed and yes a plan that doesn’t hurt small business is needed as well. There is a way to balance both of these needs and he nailed it.

For far too long, we on the left have allowed the loud mouths on the right to dictate the narrative on who we as Democrats are and what we stand for. The GOP has taking our platform and twisted it to fit the fear mongering narrative that works so very well for them. They’ve found a way to capitalize on the fears and gullibility of voters and they use it each and every election cycle and it works just as beautifully as they had hoped.

We support a woman’s right to choose and we are baby killers. We support access to affordable healthcare and we are communists and socialists (which, they really should look up the definitions of both those words before they use them). We support sensible gun laws and suddenly we want to raid your homes and rip away your guns. We support a living wage and are anti-business.

None of these are true. Not one. And, we have to take back this narrative. Karen Handel has given us the perfect opportunity to do this. Her very words are the epitome of everything wrong with the GOP trying to take on the status of a party for American workers. Every single policy the GOP supports for businesses does not benefit small business, they are designed to continue lining the pockets of the largest corporations – diminishing Dodd-Frank helps big banks, but does nothing for small banks and credit unions. Rolling back anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws hurts small business trying to compete against the giants. And, not a single one of these help support American workers.

We saw how little these policies helped the American working and middle class in the 1980s under trickle down and Reaganomics. Not. One. Bit. The rich got richer. The poor got poorer. The middle class declined and is facing outright extinction.

Supporting a living wage is pro-business and it is pro-worker. Period.

To Be That Woman

Growing up, my mom was my idol. She’s strong, confident and pretty much everything I wanted to be. She sang at the top of her lungs when everyone was listening. She danced like no one was watching when literally everybody was watching – much to my red-cheeked embarrassment. She is unashamed in her love and affections. She always gives and rarely takes (unless we force her to).

My mother is the embodiment of the woman I hope to one day be. She is the mother I strive to be.

As a single, working mom, she never missed the important moments. She never let the sacrifices she made be known … and she made many. Most of which I didn’t see until I was grown and it was too late to thank her. When our father died, her role as a single mother amplified, though she really played the role of dual parent long before his death. She filled her role and the hole left by my father’s death and she made sure we felt enough love to make up for what we might have missed.

She raised me to be a strong, independent, opinionated and vocal woman – and she dealt with the burden of a strong, independent, opinionated and vocal daughter with more grace than even I could muster.

As the years have passed and the lines on her face have deepened, the realities of time and mortality are becoming more apparent. Some days, I find myself wishing time would slow down or begging to go back just a few years to make a few more memories, or at least to soak up the ones already made.

And, as my roles as an adult, wife and working mother have become all consuming, my calls to her have lessened. Our conversations are shorter and further apart. Rather than picking up the phone to share the updates of my life, I let Facebook do that these days.

I watch her on her hands and knees playing with my son, fully in the moment and unaware of her surroundings and I find myself longing to be that woman – strong, loving, confident, present, giving, passionate, caring, intelligent.

George W. Bush: Decision Points

Seventeen years ago I voted in my first presidential election, I was nineteen. For as long as I could remember politics were a passion of mine and my opinions and ideals always aligned with the Left. So, when I watched the election of 2000 unfold, my heart was crushed. Then, in 2004, it was crushed again.

But, 2016 provided a completely new perspective. 2000 and 2004 were nothing compared to the devastation and disappointment I experienced in 2016. It was with this new perspective that I was inspired to listen to George W. Bush’s post-Presidency book, Decision Points. And, let me tell you what a difference eight years makes.

The premise of Decision Points is essentially a full dissection of the critical decisions Bush made during his eights years in office. Everything from stem cell research to his HIVA/AIDS work in Africa to Iraq and 9/11. While, I don’t agree with a lot of the decisions made during his presidency, particularly on Iraq, I now have a better understanding of how he came to the conclusions he did. This is especially true when it comes to Iraq, which accounts for almost half of the book. As he walks through the intelligence he received and the rationale behind the decision to invade Iraq I was able to walk away with a clearer picture of the how and why. I still disagree with the decision he and his administration made, but I understand it.

What struck me the most was his passion and compassion. His storytelling is clear and concise and made his deep love of American and its people apparent. More than eight years have passed since his presidency came to an end and in that time, history, and I, look upon his time with more appreciation than contempt.

Sorry Ivanka

Ivanka Trump’s new book attempts to detail the life and struggle of working moms and, not surprisingly, she completely misses the mark.

She laments the importance of sharing anecdotes about being covered in pureed avocado in the morning or sharing photos of her with a messy pony tail playing in the dirt with her kids. For many working moms, these “anecdotes” are luxuries they can’t afford – food for their children or time to play in garden with their children.

But, the one thing she misses the most? The real struggles of working moms.

“During extremely high-capacity times, like during the campaign, I went into survival mode: I worked and I was with my family; I didn’t do much else. Honestly, I wasn’t treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care. I wish I could have awoken early to meditate for twenty minutes …”

Sorry, Ivanka, this is not survival mode. Not even close.

For a working mom, “survival mode” is not skipping a massage or meditation.

Survival Mode is …

Choosing between putting food on the table and being able to afford life saving medicine.

Going back to work at 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. weeks postpartum because you cannot afford leave.

Living every day terrified of a call from daycare that your child is sick because you may lose your job if you miss one more day.

Getting to the end of the month and not making ends meet.

Skipping meals so your child can get the uniform, shoes, etc. they need (thank you Stephanie).

Crying yourself to sleep every night because you live in fear that you are not enough for your child.

Shielding hate, judgment and criticism from those on the outside looking in.

Watching your child cry in pain because the life saving medicine is wrecking their body. Or, watching this knowing your worry is split between your child’s pain and the bills you know are coming.

So, sorry, Ivanka Trump, you may be a working mom, but you don’t know the first thing about being a working mom in survival mode.