Hey Friends. It’s me. I know, I’ve been MIA. But that’s been intentional. We have experienced a lot of changes recently and I’m just trying to figure out our new flow.
First, I’ve been struggling with some health things. Thankfully, because of my tribe of people, I went to see my OBGYN and she has me back on track so I can heal and feel like myself again.
Next, I started a new job! I’m working for an amazing nonprofit, Water Mission. It truly is a dream come true and all in God’s perfect timing. They are allowing me to work part-time, while the girls are in school, so I can be present with them at home and work part-time at Drake Strategies. As I wind down most of my consulting, I can give more to my family and new work colleagues. Prayers answered.
Finally, we have had hurricane evacuations, birthdays, new jobs, our anniversary, Thanksgiving, celebrations and more. All of that has resulted in lots of photos with little or no time to share. (I’ve been a recluse on social media and love it. It’s truly the introvert in me - I didn’t realize how much energy Instagram was zapping from my life. I’m now in a constant state of JOMO - the joy of missing out. I wouldn’t change that for the world. Yes, I still post but I rarely scroll.)
Below are some fun photos I wanted to share with you. Thanks for cheering me on while I pretend to figure out life. Love to you all!
Wow. I am inspired and fired up. This is a must read today. Rachel and I met at a Hatch Tribe event last year. We followed up a few months later with coffee and I can’t wait until we meet at happy hour and chat some more.
Rachel is one of the many women doing her part to break down stereotypes and prejudice, just by doing her best every day. As a mother, financial professional, and friend she wears many hats, but does not let any of them define her. Her advice below is solid, on point, and concise. If you’re questioning whether or not you’re making an impact - trust me, you are. Rachel isn’t on cable news or a social media influencer. She is like you and me. But trust me, when you read this post you will leave in in awe of her attitude and how she is reshaping the financial industry for women.
We can all affect change. It just starts where we are. Thank you, Rachel for sharing and inspiring us all today. You’re doing amazing things and clearing the path for other women in the financial services industry.
Name: Rachel Waddell
Hometown: Roanoke, VA
Occupation: Staff Manager at Western and Southern Financial Group (title)—My actual occupation is sales management in insurance and financial services. What that means: I am constantly searching for individuals who could be successful in the financial industry, given the proper coaching and training, and then I provide that immersion into the industry, so that they are equipped with all the external support necessary for success. They have to supply their own drive, passion, and focus. I train for skill, activity, and belief. [Editor’s Note: She is such a boss!]
How did you first get into the financial industry? I am a former college music professor (I have a doctorate in flute performance!), and due to some crazy circumstances (it’s a long story, and usually involves wine), I found myself on the job market in 2008. I took a job in a small insurance agency, in customer service. The owner asked me to get licensed so that I could meet with clients and transact business as well. I found that I was naturally good at the life insurance piece of the conversation, and I loved talking with people about their goals and dreams. I knew I needed real training and I was also tired of making good money for someone else. I ended up at a large insurance firm, where I got an infusion of training. After a few years of success in the field, I was promoted as a trainer with that firm, and ultimately found myself in a recruiting role also. I recently moved to another company where I am now simultaneously a trainer and recruiter.
What challenges do you see for women in this field? Financial services has always been a male dominated industry. Women, especially younger women, are not always taken seriously within firms as true colleagues. We also don’t have as many female role models in sales or field management, and it is challenging to find a mentor who understands the demands of the family and work imbalance. Young women often are in need of female mentorship in how to dress professionally and how to cultivate their own voice in the industry. As in other male dominated industries, the subculture of women still rightly believes that in order to be seen as equals, and in order to be taken seriously as highly capable and promotable advisors, we must outwork our male colleagues for results. This is not a rule I support, but we are better served by just proving ourselves, than by arguing the demerits of the rule. [Editor’s Note: Love that women like Rachel are working to create change in every industry. Change is happening, whether it’s headline news or not.]
As a followup, despite these challenges, how are women reshaping the financial industry? Professional women want to work with professional women, so the opportunity to develop a niche working with women is so expansive. Educated professional women are often in the dark about financial matters, because they have chosen to let someone else handle everything, or because they feel inadequate based on their own choices and experiences. However, women are hungry for information, especially if it is delivered in a non-patronizing way by a woman who can meet them on their terms. Because we don’t look like the stereotypical financial advisor or insurance agent, the usual stereotypes are not applied to us, and women who would otherwise not take action towards a financial plan will open up to a female advisor. Women are generally more empathic in our approach to asking questions and providing solutions, which gives us an edge in closing business and creating our own professional success. [Editor’s Note: Yes! If you aren’t in control of your finances, find someone like Rachel who can guide you on the right path.]
As a mother and professional, how do you dispel the myth of doing it all and being it all? I’ll let you know when I figure this out! In all seriousness though, I don’t think it’s a myth. The reality is that as women, mothers and professionals, we want to be taken seriously in our careers, and we want to be great mothers and caregivers at the same time. I am very real, open, and honest, with everyone I meet, regarding the juggling act. ALL women have a lot on our plates, and I think you just have to step back and enjoy the comedy act sometimes. I try to live in the moment, and be truly present at work or with my family—which is interesting since I do field personal calls at work, and I respond to work correspondence at home. I make choices that I can live with—which events for my children are non-negotiable for me, and which aren’t that important in the larger scheme of life. There is a lot of self-imposed guilt that we can just release. If it’s related to music or hockey, I am there. Otherwise, we take it on a case by case basis! Our kids need to see a strong, happy, fulfilled mother—our daughters need the role modeling, and our sons need to learn how to treat and esteem the women in their futures. So no matter what chaos is swirling around us, we have to put our own oxygen masks on first and take care of ourselves. Let go of the guilt about doing it all, and just do what you can and want to do, feed your own soul. [Editor’s Note: Rachel, can you seriously write a book on this? This was the BEST summary I have read on balance.]
Why is career flexibility important to you? Flexibility is one of my favorite aspects of this career. My work is graded on results (which equates to efficiency of productive time), not time on the job. I am motivated externally and internally to get my work done well and efficiently, so that I can enjoy the rest of my life. Work/life balance is the real myth. [Editor’s Note: Boom!]
Bonus question, what is your favorite meal to share with your family? Spaghetti and homemade meatballs—we all love it, and I am queen of the kitchen. [Editor’s Note: Gonna need your recipe ; )]
Parenting is a strange thing. It’s almost as if you occasionally have an out of body experiences as you try to figure out your flow and manage the insanity of it all. Recently, I wrote for Twiniversity about how I went from a robot to a momma bear, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Very excited about today’s Amazing Women I Know post. Jessica and I were connected through her husband on a Linked In post a couple months ago. We instantly hit it off as freelancing moms who are working to find balance between career, family and life. On our first phone call, I was struck by how quickly she had figured it out and how level-headed she approached work and kids. (For those of you who know me well, it’s something I’m constantly struggling with, so Jessica has been a huge encouragement in my life.)
Jessica is smart, accomplished and driven - but most of all, she is an amazing mom who has figured out how to have flexibility so that she can give her all at work and give her all at home. For those of you looking for balance, she has some great advice for how to go about freelancing and launching your own business. I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I did!
Name: Jessica Dumont
Hometown: Roseville, California (a suburb of Sacramento)
Occupation: Freelance content writer/editor. Prior to freelancing, I spent about 10 years in public relations roles at agencies and corporations. [Editor’s Note: Yep, she’s a boss.]
What motivated you to start your own freelancing career? I was inspired to go freelance because I knew it would give me the opportunity to call my own shots and manage my own schedule, as well as to pursue projects and activities that I was most passionate about. I come from an entrepreneurial family, and I always knew I’d go out on my own someday when the time was right. [Editor’s Note: LOVE this. The passion piece is so critical when it comes to finding the right balance between work and home.]
How do you balance your responsibilities as a mom and as a business owner? My secret weapons are keeping my kids in childcare and good time management. While many freelancers work from home with their kids home too, I have always prioritized childcare and I treat my freelance gig like a full-time job. Keeping the two separate is the best way I can manage motherhood and work – and, ultimately, I can generate more income this way.
When my kids are at preschool, I am super driven and focused to handle any and all work needs. Once I’ve completed my work, if there’s time left over before picking up my daughters, I use the time to prep dinner, do a load of laundry, or run a couple errands. This makes it possible for me to stay totally focused on my girls when they are home with me. [Editor’s Note: I’m taking notes. I definitely need to up my childcare time.]
What would you say to another mother who is looking to go out and create a more flexible career? I would encourage any other mom to take the leap to a flexible career – it is so incredibly rewarding! I would also say, however, before making the change, there are a few key elements to success that I have learned along the way:
Have a very clear idea of what your service or product is. This will make it easier for you to gain clients and customers, and it will ensure you hit the ground running.
Carve out specific times for work. This will ensure you accomplish what you need to each day, and it keeps some separation between “mom” and “professional.”
Remember, you’re the boss! Don’t be afraid to turn down work that isn’t a good fit, and think like CEO when it comes to how you operate day to day. It can be easy to let clients or customers run you ragged if you don’t set parameters. [Editor’s Note: These are all amazing pieces of advice! Take note moms, you CAN do it - just stay focused.]
Let's talk about the myth of being it all, doing it all and having it all. How have you adjusted in various seasons of your life? I think the biggest adjustment to life as a mom and a career-driven woman has been changing my vision of what “all” means. In my early career years, I planned to be a vice president at a public relations firm by 30 years old. Then I had my first daughter at 28. My feelings changed really quickly from there, and it took me a while to figure out what my new vision was. It turns out that I do still want a stellar career, but I’ve had to let go of the expectation of what it would look like. That’s not to say I can’t jump back into a company a few years from now when my kids are older, but at this moment in time, with the type of presence I want in their lives, it would not be the right fit for me.
Now that I am almost two years into freelancing, I am more fulfilled than I ever would have been climbing those ranks for titles and salary. The work I do is work I love, and I do it without feeling like I am missing out on anything with my kids. I know I don’t have it “all” and that there are areas of my life where I wish I was better or stronger, but I have a lot, and I am completely OK with that. I know there will be a time and a place for everything. [Editor’s Note: Jessica, you are so WISE!]
And last fun question - what's your favorite meal/thing to share with your kids? Favorite meal to share: Pizza! We are all huge pizza lovers, and it’s so fun and easy for a Friday night or a weekend lunch. (My husband is less enthusiastic about the amount of pizza we consume!)
Favorite “thing” to share: A love of reading. My girls adore reading, and so do I. We are fortunate to have lots of trips to the library, and we read as a family every night before they go to bed.
Shout out to my friend, April for introducing me to Parennial Travel - an amazing new blog geared at parents who want to travel with their kiddos.
I’m writing a few pieces for them and am excited to share my first post - flying with twins. Despite the insanity of take off and landing, it was actually a lot of fun and I loved seeing their minds explode when they got to explore the plane and view the skies from above.
I have found myself in a rut lately. The feeling that I'm continually churning my wheels to no avail. I'm stuck. There's a book the girls read, Sheep in a Jeep. In this book, the sheep get their jeep stuck in the mud. As I look out into our backyard, I see the girls toy jeep stuck in the fig trees and I feel similarly.
The striving. The to dos. The constant list of people to connect. Don't get me wrong, I love a good list. But lately I feel that as someone who tries to empower others, especially moms, that I'm lacking what I need to feel inspired.
I set aside the early morning hours to read, journal and stretch. Nap times are sacred - they are time for me to take calls and write. But over the last three weeks the girls haven't been sleeping in and refuse naps. My nerves are frayed. I feel myself running on empty.
And then it happened. I received a notice that I was a semi-finalist for an amazing award. And then I learned that I had won. And even more unbelievable, they wanted to highlight the work I had done with Burmese refugees. For about an hour I couldn't stop smiling. I was in disbelief. Someone actually thinks this work that I love is worthwhile. Someone noticed. Someone encouraged.
The feeling soon faded as I had cranky toddlers to feed, a puppy to scold for chewing up yet another electronic and an old pup to tend to for stomach problems. (I'll spare you the details.) My email box seemed flooded again by random requests or lovely meetings I just simply didn't have the energy for.
So I have found myself slowly saying no. Not because I don't want to, but because I'm finally starting to realize my limits. While the joy of winning an award was an incredible feeling, it doesn't replace the responsibilities that I have as a mother or entrepreneur. That encouragement was needed. Subconsciously I was craving affirmation, someone to tell me it's all worth it.
But how can I profess to encourage other women when I don't have anything left to give? I often get prompts to send someone an encouraging text, and I don't want that to stop, but I have to learn to protect those moments by giving myself some quiet time. If my tots won't sleep, then that just means I need to do less in a day and focus on fewer things.
I guess I say this to reaffirm the lifesaver that is encouragement. Encouragement can look like a friendly text, an award, a hug from a toddler or someone in the drive through line picking up your coffee for you. I'm grateful for it and didn't realize how much we all need it until it happened to me.
So if someone tells you no, or not right now, or doesn't get back to you - it's not that you did anything to offend them, it's just that they need a little space to think and grow and be inspired. I'm going to be more intentional about cultivating this space in my life because I definitely need it. So thank you. Your encouragement over the last few days has been life-giving and very much appreciated. Now if you don't hear from me for a week or so, just know that I'm grateful for you.
There are certain people who are cheering me on, no matter what I'm going through. Hilary Johnson is one of those people. She is my business coach, the founder of Hatch Tribe, the author of an amazing book and also a podcast host. When Hilary reached out and asked for me to have a conversation for her podcast, I was more than honored but also very nervous. (She's a badass and I'm usually the one setting up the interviews, not doing them.)
Long story short, our conversation focused on how we all can make a difference...spoiler alert, it starts with being a kind human. I hope you enjoy listening to the show. You'll hear real life twinado stories, learn about the ups and downs of business, but more importantly, be inspired by Hilary's work to empower women all over the world.
Let me know what you think and be sure to subscribe to Hilary's show, The Art of Doing.
We're now more than halfway through the terrible twos and we're pretty confident we can handle anything at this point. (Queue more seasoned parents laughing at us. We know we're in for it but hoping for the best.) So it is at this point we decided we should try flying with our twins.
And you know what? It wasn't that bad.
Sure, taxiing was a nightmare. Trying to explain to two two year olds that they have to sit still and remain buckled up isn't exactly easy. World peace may be a more achievable feat. However, the screaming only lasted during the ten minutes, or twenty, that we were waiting on the runway. Before and after that was a dream.
Next hurdle. The United Club. No one needs a free drink after flying like twin parents. Well, maybe the poor souls seated around us, but we definitely needed a brewski. I will caution you though, no one in the United Club appreciates it when your twin toddlers run around stuffing brownies in their face for dinner. Weird.
Finally, we decided to drink quickly and head to the airport McDonald's as soon as possible. After all, nothing brings a smile to a tots face like Chicken Nuggets. And they loved every greasy bite. (I'm not going to lie - I did too.)
I'll give a shoutout to all the airports with playgrounds. You are geniuses and made my life so much more relaxing. To the airports without a kids play area, you're welcome for my children running around a million miles an hour yelling "jet speed!"
Other highlights? Family bathrooms. Praise the Lord for the convenience and ease of diaper changes in these bathrooms. (And I apologize to the mom I upset ten years ago when I locked Canoli and myself in the only available family bathroom at O'Hare so that he could stretch his legs and eat dinner. My bad.)
The United flight attendant who gave our girls their first set of wings. Yes girl. You made my day. I didn't even have to ask. We've been talking about Amelia Earhart all week and you brought the biggest smiles to my girls faces.
To our first pilot who let the girls sit in the cockpit. Amazing. I think I was the most excited about it. Sorry about all the buttons they tried to push.
And to one of our last flight attendants who bribed our kids with gummy bears when they didn't want to sit still - you went pro in parenting.
Oh, and to the mom in front of me who had two sets of twins. I still owe you a drink and a pizza. You are my hero.
Friends, I am really excited to introduce you to my new friend in Cape Town, Lynette Hundermark. We were introduced through a mutual friend and arranged to first talk via Skype. What unfolded was a nearly two hour conversation where we poured our hearts out to each other about the struggles we face as women entrepreneurs, the need for women to lift each other up and the fight against the images and portrayals of women that our daughters see.
I can honestly say that Lynette is an inspiration for me and a breath of fresh air. We need more women like her to be authentic, honest and transparent about the challenges and blessings of motherhood. Her story is remarkable, but also relatable to so many women I know. While we both live in countries that are supposed to champion women's rights, we see the disparity toward how mothers are treated in the workforce. So, we do what any mother would do, go off and create opportunities for our family so that our children can live in a better world.
Today, on Women's Day, I am proud to post Lynette's story. She is leading by example with the support and love of her dear family and opening up about how we are treated as mothers. I can say I have felt many of these same experiences. The media would prefer to portray stories of honesty and vulnerability as man bashing, but it is far from that. We both have loving husbands who parent right along side of us, and they too see how difficult it is for mothers to succeed in the workplace. I am glad that Lynette is championing women and sharing her story. If we all were honest about such things, we would live in a world more full of understanding and compassion. Thank you, Lynette for being my friend and for giving me the courage to stand up for what I believe in.
Name: Lynette Hundermark
Hometown: Cape Town
Occupation: Co-founder/CEO/Chief Product officer of Useful and Beautiful [Editor's Note: Find her on social media @uandbmobile]
Tell us a little more about your company: Useful and Beautiful is a digital and mobile specialist company that works very closely with clients/businesses to help them understand how mobile can fit into their current processes. I spend a lot of time understanding my clients’ needs, challenges and objectives so that I can empower them with a mobile strategy that not only fits their target market’s needs, but also adds value to their business. I also make sure that their mobile strategy fits in with their overall business strategy, ensuring that mobile is not treated as a silo. Once the strategy is defined, I work with creative and technology teams using my UX/product experience to execute the ‘best in class’ mobile solutions. [Editor's Note: She has an amazing company and she is so freaking talented!]
How has being a mother changed your perspective on work? It’s all about purpose. I had my children when I was living abroad in the UK. I still remember that awful moment that every working mother has probably had to endure – leaving your tiny baby at day care for the first time in the arms of strangers. My son was just over 4 months at the time I returned to work. Nothing has ever tore my heart as it did that day and I made the decision that if I am going to do this daily, it better be for something that fuels my passion or it’s not worth doing. So from that day, almost 13 years ago, I set about making it my master plan to eventually cultivate my career to something that will also fuel my passion when I am not with my children. [Editor's Note: Yes yes yes. We are better mothers when we pursue life with a mission and passion. And our children benefit when they see us living out our purpose.]
As an entrepreneur, how do you feel working mothers are creating change in the workplace? (Whether that it going out on your own or fighting for change within the corporate world.) This is an ongoing challenge for working moms, irrespective of whether you are an entrepreneur or working for someone else. Most parents today need (unfortunately) a two person salary in order to meet the financial demands of today’s living which we took for granted as children.
Education for one is really expensive and not just tuition, but the add-ons that go with it, such as clothing , extra murals, outings, school fundraising etc. The basic standards of living is also much higher in comparison to people’s salaries too these days (much more than when I was child), so most households I know have two working parents. For a mom it is even more demanding as undoubtedly (even though some husbands these days, thank goodness I have one of them, are actively contributing much more to parenting than back in our days where women were meant to look after kids and run the home while men worked) quite a bit of responsibility still lies with the mother. When a child is sick, the first port of call is the mother. People told me that it gets better as kids get older but to be honest, while there is some truth to that in that the kids don’t get as sick as they do when young (thank you nurseries, when one child has a stomach bug, you can be guaranteed that all kids will be getting a stomach bug), there are other parental responsibilities that come your way when they reach their tween and teen years (which is where I am right now). So as a parent you have to be still keep your eye on the ball with your kids.
Also what adds to the challenge is that most moms at this point in their lives are also still looking to take their career to the next level and it does become tougher to ‘compete’ with the non-parent who does not have such responsibilities at the home. While there is lots of talk about finding that balance (I don't like the term "work-life balance" because, to be honest, it's not a scale), it is a work in progress for all. I hate the message portrayed by movies such as The Devil Wears Prada and I Don't Know How She Does It, where a woman has to choose between her career and her family. Your circumstances will change as you progress in life.) I always look at it as just integrating both worlds and adapting to changes when they happen. I am a tech entrepreneur so I apply tech principals to my life. ☺ Just like when you integrate an API to an app, changes always have to be made and likewise with family, as your children become older and family life demands change, you learn to integrate the family and work facets of your life and this is how moms in the workplace can support each other by sharing such stories and helping each other realise that we are not alone. [Editor's Note: How true. I believe one step toward equality in the workplace is to also give paternity leave so that dad's are afforded the opportunity to be part of their child's life from the very beginning. And also to support mothers as they recover from one of life's most miraculous moments.]
What is the one thing you want your children to know before they grow up and go off into the world? You can be anything you want, but never lose sight of the one value that you need to still possess…Be Kind (while still standing up to what you believe in)!
Can you tell us a little bit about your daughter and how she came to be an Ambassador for Rebel Girls? Hannah loves reading, she is a 100% bookworm which I am so happy about because she is also a mini tech girl like me. She is 10 now but it’s still our thing to read together at night. I heard about Rebel Girls Volume One in the pipeline a few years ago and was following their story. I loved the idea that they were looking at bringing into the limelight the stories of real women throughout history who had made their mark. Growing up this bothered me so much that there was a lack of women depicted in the media, real women who are true executioners, not these Kardashian type celebs. I was a fan of Ada Lovelace, and she was a hero of mine in my tech career and I always wondered why could there not be more stories of women like her. When Hannah was in Grade 2 (three years ago), she had to pick a famous South African from a list they were given as a history research project and again it upset me so much to see there were only three women from a list of 12. Hannah of course decided she wanted to choose a woman so she chose a famous SA author called Olive Schreiner. When we researched this author, Hannah found it both fascinating and annoying that in those days women had to pretend to be men to write books. It then started the conversation between the two of us about the struggles of women in the work place over the years. That same year I discovered Rebel Girls and thought Hannah would love it. I had to wait a year after it was released though because it took longer to reach our South African shores. And of course when she started reading it, she LOVED it , and guess what, the first story was about my hero Ada Lovelace. She loved the book so much and decided she would post Instagram reviews of each story she read so that her friends and others could discover the book and that goal was well reached. Almost every child her age we know, now owns the book.
Our dear friend (and the only person who Hannah thinks may be cooler than me), Sam Wright (@TechGirlZA), who is also a well-known tech blogger, professional gamer and making her mark globally in the world of eSports, (who shares the same values as me, in empowering young girls to get into the field of tech) published a review of the book on her blog encouraging moms to get this book for their kids. The review can be read here.
Spreading the messaging of Rebel Girls was a passion project for both Hannah and I – how could we not want to spread the love of books that depict powerful female role models.
But the Instagram posts didn’t just reach Hannah’s friends, it also got the attention of the authors and they contacted me on late evening thanks to our time zone (what a surprise that was) and asked if we could perhaps help them with a ‘little’ favour. They loved Hannah’s Instagram reviews and wondered if we could both help them with the new book campaign, as due to the success of the first book they wanted to do a second. I needed to record a video of Hannah reading her favourite story, which at the time was Catherine the Great. They then used this video in their Kickstarter campaign which broke all records as one of the most successful campaigns to date. You can view the video here.
As a thank you, Hannah received an autographed copy of the second book and she was so delighted to see she is mentioned in the credits, Rebel Girls Hall of Fame. Since then they have also released podcasts of a few of the stories where they got well known celebrities to read the stories and kids to read the credits. Hannah is on the credits for Grace ‘o Malley. [Editor's Note: So proud of Hannah!]
How as women, can we empower each other to achieve our dreams, balance our work-life responsibilities, etc.? That’s easy, be there for each other, support and share both the challenges and accomplishments.
I was recently a finalist for a “Businesswomen of the year “ award, by the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (and proudly represented the tech sector). This was a new experience for me, as I had never been a finalist for a business award before - previously I won many awards for apps that I have created, so this was totally out of my usual comfort zone. Even though I didn’t win the title (and I didn’t expect to win to be honest as the businesses I was up against were so different to mine and in completely different industries, so how the judges managed to pick a winner from such a diverse range, I will never know) however the process was such a humbling experience for me. Since the announcement of me being a finalist, I was surprised by the number of women that had approached and congratulated me, because they have said to me that by learning about my story, I’ve given them hope and inspiration to start something of their own one day. What came out of this was what I always believed, us women need to have active role models to look up to, those who not just talk the talk, but walk the talk. The role models that I have in my life certainly have this trait.
Women are clearly craving someone to actually speak to and have a conversation with. It’s not like we need special treatment or someone to hold our hand, but we need someone who’s empathetic and understands the challenges because of our experiences. [Editor's Note: You nailed it! We need to hear stories that we can relate to rather than social media feeds filled with the highlights. Thank you for leading the way!]
Who runs the world? Moms run the world. That is why I love collaborating with other moms and empowering them with opportunities to do the things they love: pursue their passion + be there for their kiddos. (However that looks. I cheer on working moms, stay at home moms and the work from home moms. You all are amazing and only you know what is best for your family!)
My latest post for Twiniversity explores something I went through when I found out I was pregnant with twins: work-kid balance and the endless opportunities that exist. Read the full article here.
Is it over yet?
Summer that is. I don’t think I’m cut out for this. I’m much more of a “camp mom.” Next summer? My kids are going to all the things. Seriously.
It didn’t start off that bad. We had adventures at the beach. Walks to the playground. New pups to take care of. Swimming lessons. Three weeks of camp. And then…vacation.
Oh vacation. There is no such thing as vacation when your kids are in tow. It’s more like, your normal every day reality, coupled with sugar meltdowns, lack of sleep and strange new places. Hotels? Used to be glorious. Now it means no one is sleeping and everyone is touching me and I can’t even go to the hotel bar because I’m stuck in a room with two toddlers and two dogs. (Yes, we brought two dogs on vacation with us. Someone educate me next time.)
All of the playdates and birthday parties and planned activities lasted us a couple weeks. Then summer camp came and it was glorious and fun and we all liked each other.
But it’s going on six weeks since summer camp ended and I still have one more week left before they are in school. I’ve run out of ideas to keep them entertained. I’ve been to every Chick-Fil-A indoor play area in Charleston. Why? Because it won’t stop raining. So I can’t take the quads (twins + two pups) to our safe place, the beach.
We’ve watched more Paw Patrol than humanly possible. (And we’re totally a no screen time family - yet here we are, choosing TV over tantrums because I’m fresh out of sanity.)
Update: as I’m typing this, the girls are watching Paw Patrol and still managed to hurt themselves by falling off the couch and slamming into the ground. Awesome.
So here I am. Begging teachers to teach my children all the things and appreciating them a million times more than I ever have before. You are brilliant. You deserve six figure salaries. You are more magical than Mary Poppins. You are superheroes.
Moms, I wanted to write a motivational blog of how we can get through the next week or two of no school but I’d be lying. Today what you see is what you get. I’m pretty sure this summer has aged me. Wait…it definitely has. My kids are now standing on the window ledge, trying to high five in the air and land on the tiny chair below.
Jesus take the wheel.
Today’s blog is brought to you by exhaustion, desperation and a prayer for the rain to stop so we can actually do something productive.
I mean, I even bought play doh so we can do imaginative play, and when I opened it up yesterday it was moldy. MOLDY. Why!? This rain is why. I blame the rain.
And trying to get work done has been next to impossible. I’ve carefully arranged my schedule to do work before 7am and during nap time, but they don’t seem to nap when they’re supposed to and the days I get up early to get things done they magically do too.
It’s a toddler conspiracy. Truly.
So everyone. Hug a teacher. Bribe them with Amazon gift cards and Starbucks and chocolate. Do whatever it takes to make them happy because they are worth so much more than they are paid.
Teachers, I salute you. Now pretty please take my children back.
Hey Friends! I'm really excited to talk to you about today's collaboration. Zoe reached out to me a few weeks ago and wanted to see if there was any way we could partner to empower each other and share our insights into parenthood. I started to explore her blog and knew right away that it was a perfect fit. Zoe is the Founder of ThinkBaby.org, a blog for expecting and new parents to read more about baby products, share parenting advice and more.
It was a joy brainstorming with Zoe on ways we could share each other's story. Zoe is honest, real and accepting. Her story has shaped her blog and she has created a safe place for moms to go and find community online. Read more about Zoe below and go check out her blog!
Name: Zoe Withers
Occupation: Stay at home mom to 3 beautiful children. Previously to becoming a stay at home mom I was a CPA.
Latest Favorite Blog Posts:
Tell us how your blog came to be? My blog came to be when my husband and I were trying to get pregnant but I was stuck in a very long infertility period. It made me feel secluded, and I wanted to find someone who truly understood what I was going through. So I wrote a blog about my infertility to relate with other women, and it turned into my entire world! [Editor's Note: Thank you for sharing your story! We love vulnerable, honest people and you are one of them.]
What inspires you to write and empower other mothers who are looking for quality content? I want to create a safe space for mothers, offer advice, and just be a friend to them as well. I want to empower women who may be struggling to not only fight the daily exhaustion and stress of parenthood, but also inspire them to chase after their dreams despite being a parent, as many new mothers forget about the most important thing, themselves. [Editor's Note: So refreshing and what a good reminder that we still need to nurture ourselves as well.]
How has being a mom challenged you? And how has it strengthened you? It has pushed me to the very brink of my limits, and really showed me what I am truly capable of. I have learned more patience, wisdom, love, and responsibility in these few years of parenting than I have in my entire life, and I think that is the biggest strength of all. [Editor's Note: Yes! Patience can be so hard for me but these little ones are the best teachers.]
Did you always know you wanted to be a mom? I did! Ever since I was a little girl I used to ask my mom to have another baby so that I could take care of her like my own. Of course my mom wasn't exactly on board with this, but instead got me my own kitten to be a 'mom' to. Although, I think that kitty was a little bit easier to take care of than a real baby... (if you know what I mean).
What is your best piece of advice for expecting or new mothers? Embrace everything that comes with motherhood. The stretch marks and all. Motherhood is sacrificing a lot, and marks like this are the proof of it. You should always love every inch or yourself before and after having a baby.
Finally, what is your favorite meal to share with your family? A sweet home-cooked family recipe of spaghetti. It's been in our family for generations, and you can never beat a sweet little dinner together at home instead of a dinner out. [Editor's Note: That sounds delicious! Next time we're in Boston we may crash your home for dinner!]
My latest post for Twiniversity is live, and let me just say, I'm still a work in progress. But lately, as schedules tighten and stress builds, I find myself saying no more frequently so I can road trip to the Midwest for a couple of weeks, or take the girls to the ocean.
While I'll always be learning how to build better boundaries, here are three reasons why I'm trying.
"How sad, her twins will never have a full life."
"She must be overwhelmed."
"You just need to teach your children to fear you and then this wouldn't be a problem."
"I never spend a day at home, you need to show your children the world."
As I woke up one Saturday morning, scrolling Facebook for the first time in weeks, I came to immediately regret it. I'd purposely been digitally detoxing. It made me happier, less stressed and more present. But here I was, the only one awake in the house and I decided to log on.
That was my first mistake.
My second mistake was reading the comments on an old article I wrote for Twiniversity that they had recently reposted. It was a humor piece on how I cope with twin toddlers and what strategies I use to go out alone in public with them.
Normally, I find twin moms to be very supportive of one another. I've always gotten great feedback from my posts and end up hugging total strangers in Costco after we bond over our twinado stories. But not this time. This time I was being attacked, and it hurt.
I thought of all the things I would say. How I would explain that at the time I wrote this one of my daughters was being rushed between specialist to specialist trying to figure out why she couldn't walk, so yes I was overwhelmed.
Or that I've taken my daughters to DC all by myself so how dare they accuse me of not letting them see the world.
Or taking the southern route and replying with "bless your heart," which we all know is code for $#@% off.
As I processed how cruel total strangers could be to me, it hit me. How often have I done this to a friend? Assumed the worst when I didn't receive a reply. Or shake my head thinking, I would never do that as a parent.
I've done this to loved ones more often than I care to admit. And I've definitely privately been frustrated with total strangers on the internet during election seasons.
I'm not blameless. Instead, I realized that this is part of the problem when we compare ourselves to others rather than empower one another. We start to feel threatened. We feel the need to boost ourselves up just a bit so that we don't feel as guilty for all our shortcomings. So we attack. We compare. We envy. We use others to hide our insecurities.
I often feel the weight of raising daughters. What happens if the mean girls turn on them? Will they feel pressured into looking or acting a certain way when they get to middle school? What happens when they face an inevitable #metoo moment? How do I raise girls that champion one another? And so forth.
With the recent focus on mental health and horrible headlines of heroes that have left us too soon, I recognize my propensity toward anxiety. Toward perfection. And I want to break the chain. I want to be the mom lifting up all those around me. Not gossiping. Not masking my insecurities. Not afraid of cheering others on.
But sometimes I slip. Sometimes I go down a ridiculous rabbit trail. Have my girls noticed this? Do they know how important it is to be brave and loving and kind? Can I raise them to be world changers without putting the pressure of expectations on them? Can we just start over and all be kind to one another?
And there it goes. My tendency to try to control and make everything tidy again.
So I decided to sit down and write this morning. Despite a mounting to-do list, I needed to exhale my worries and realize that one strangers cruel words are just an attempt for her to feel like a good mom. And she is. She's a great mom. She's working hard and taking twin toddlers out in public. You go momma.
But you know what? It's also okay to stay home. It's also okay to feed your kids chicken nuggets or organic green smoothies. It's all okay. What matters is that we love one another the best we can and assume the good, not the ugly.
Oh man, this amazing woman had me in tears as I read her thoughtful and beautiful responses to my questions. Friends, meet Jacey Verdicchio. I first knew of Jacey when I moved to Charleston and everyone was talking about her blog and her podcast and her beautiful Instagram feed. I have none of these things so I was immediately impressed with the beauty she cultivated online.
Fast forward, we ended up joining the church where Jacey works and got to know both her and Mike better. One of the first things I observed about her is her intelligence and how she genuinely takes the time to listen to anyone she is engaging in conversation with.
Today, although we don't get to see each other as often as we would like (motherhood will do that to you), I love getting to connect with her through her writing and opportunities like this. I hope you enjoy Jacey's honesty and beautiful prose as much as I do.
Name: Jacey Verdicchio
Hometown: Walnut Creek, California (currently Charleston, South Carolina)
Occupation: Church Worker / Writer
You've written some beautifully honest blogs since becoming a mom. How does writing help you process this current season in your life? Three answers:
Motherhood is a physically and emotionally demanding role. (File under, DUH.) My default is to get swept up in it, never pausing to think about how daily mom life reveals insight beyond the minutiae of feeding schedules and bedtime routines. The writing and editing process helps me discover what I think about something, and teaches me the broader truth in it.
In this season of change and upheaval, writing connects me to all the earlier versions of myself. It’s a practice that makes me feel like me. (For example, I just had a rough morning with a teething girl who cried for 90 minutes. We just got back from a trip, and the list of tasks to be done is mounting. But I sat down to work on this the moment she fell asleep to calm my nerves.)
In scripture, we see God’s people build altars to mark God’s faithfulness. The altar Samuel builds after Israel turns away from their idols and back to God is called an Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” The stone of help signified that “’till now, the Lord had helped us’” (1 Samuel 7:12). When I write, I build altars. I write to say, to myself and anyone who reads, “’till now, the Lord has helped us.” [Editor's Note: Girl, so well said. I literally was crying reading this. I think you have such a gift for writing and I love how you connect that to how God has made you.]
How has motherhood been different from what you expected? And building off of this, what advice would you give to someone who is expecting? My pastor was recently telling me about how some people are pre-grievers and some are post-grievers. I am a pre-griever. When I know something is ending or a goodbye is coming, I feel the loss as though it has already happened. I grieve it before it’s gone so fully that when the moment comes, I am a picture of calm composure, already on to the next thing.
For years I thought about the high cost of motherhood, and everything I would lose. I kept waiting to feel “ready” and that moment never came. I didn’t fully believe my peers who said, as they joined the ranks of motherhood, they “wouldn’t trade it for the world.” I have a flair for martyrdom so I could accept that raising tiny humans is a cross to bear, a way that Jesus makes you more like Him by placing you into a sacrificial role. But I genuinely could not imagine it as fulfilling, especially in the early years.
Motherhood is costly, and the prize of learning to love more like Jesus is the real prize. But what surprises me over and over is the depth of joy and fulfillment, and dare I say fun?? I am loathe to admit it, but all the clichés are true.
Generic advice for an expecting mama is hard to give, because we all come to it from such different places. (Cynics like me will roll their eyes at all the cliché advice, though I will say it again, it’s all true: you will miss these days; cherish every moment; don’t be too hard on yourself or stress about the small stuff.)
But one thing that comes to mind is something I saw on Emily P. Freeman’s Instagram recently, alongside a picture of her now tween twin girls: “Children grow, and mothers grow, too.”
Maybe you are afraid you won’t have what it takes, whatever “it” is: the patience, endurance, ability to go for days without sleep, strength to drop your baby at daycare or stay home with him all day. Maybe the prospect of it all is daunting. Or maybe you’ve dreamed of being a mother your entire life, and now that there’s no getting off this rollercoaster, you’re afraid it won’t live up to your expectations. Maybe you are putting all your hope into the “right” tools and techniques, the pristine nursery and the already opened college fund. Maybe you are taking it one day at a time and haven’t thought about any of this.
Wherever you find yourself when you hear that baby’s first cry, you can take comfort in knowing that babies grow, and so do mamas. You’re right; you don’t have what it takes to go back to work on day one, or potty train or explain where babies come from. But you will, because children grow, and mothers grow, too. And ‘till now, the Lord has helped you. He’s not going anywhere.
A piece of advice that applies to everyone expecting their first child: take self care to the extreme and cross over into self indulgent. Take naps. Sleep in. Go out to eat a little more often than is financially responsible. Spend time with your partner doing nothing. Spend time by yourself.
I don’t subscribe to the fearful rationale for this: “Do it now because you’ll never get to again.” I can vouch for the fact that it is possible to still spend too much money at restaurants after baby. ;) But I believe in living whatever season you’re in to the fullest. Amidst all the planning and baby prep, go all in where you are.
If you are a pre-griever like me, sprinkle some fun and celebration into your pensive thoughts about the change coming like a freight train. If you are a post-griever, know that you’ll remember the times you put on lipstick and went out to a Mexican restaurant fondly as you’re shoveling takeout over your sleeping baby, attached to you like an appendage. [Editor's Note: Such good advice! I used to give a hard side eye to any cliche advice, but inevitably a few months later I would realize that person was correct. Let's just say I'm a work in progress when it comes to adjusting my expectations for motherhood. ; )]
Let's talk about balance. You and Mike do an awesome job of supporting each other, while watching Bets full time, with no family in town. How do you manage this? I'd imagine it's stressful at times. If necessity is the mother of invention, then motherhood is its most fruitful incubator. A parent’s daily schedule is a creative pursuit of the highest order. The constraints of parental duties can feel confining, but they can also push us to come up with creative solutions.
I find parenthood is less crazy-making when I see everything as an experiment. More hypotheses, fewer foregone conclusions. “Let’s try this and see what happens,” is a sentence I say far more than I would have been comfortable with in my pre-baby days.
Change is the constant with babies, so you experience less whiplash if you stay nimble and pivot quickly. While I thirst for the Permanent Solution, real life comes every morning and we just keep trying to do what works, until it doesn’t anymore. And then we do something different.
And now, for the nitty gritty answer to your question. Since I am prone to martyrdom about not having family nearby, I should briefly mention the practical perks we DO have, lest I present myself as “doing it all”:
- We live on the campus where Mike teaches. Mike is a five minute walk away from work, so he handles mornings with Betsy until about 8:30. He can come home during the day sometimes, if need be.
- We both have somewhat flexible work schedules, and my job is part time.
- Mike’s job is even more flexible in the summer.
- I work for a church, so one of my primary work days is Sunday, when Mike can be with Betsy.
- Up until recently, the church had a nursery I could utilize for about eight hours of free childcare each week.
Other practical things we do to share parenting duties, and make time for each other, rest, exercise, and friendship:
- We talk a lot and communicate expectations. Knowing who is going to do what and when is huge for us.
- We utilize evenings. Sometimes I schedule work or social events in the evening after Betsy is in bed. When we are both home in the evening, we either designate it as a “work night” (but try to minimize those) or take advantage of the time together to eat dinner, talk and watch a show.
- We have a Google family calendar that has both of our personal Google calendars on it, so we always know when Betsy needs coverage from the other person
- We use an app called BabyTracker. When Betsy was a newborn, I used it to remember when she ate because time was a flat circle in those days. (Stef that’s a True Detective reference but take it out if it sounds dumb or people won’t get it.) But over time we found it helpful in keeping us on the same page. (And surprise, I still need help remembering when she ate. And when I ate.) When we are tagging in for each other, we can look at the app and know when she has last eaten/pooped/slept. Especially when I’m in the elevator lobby waiting as he flies in the door, and there’s no time for a 20 minute recap of her day, this app comes in handy. I hesitate to mention it because it makes us sound like more type-A parents than we actually are, but hey, it’s genuinely helped. Fair warning: in the throes of sleep deprivation, I once found myself reaching for my phone to record MY trip to the bathroom. Motherhood is the great dasher of pride. And dignity, at times. [Editor's Note: Amen. Such a dasher of pride. But I do love how you aim to stay nimble, I often use no family nearby as an excuse for everything and can focus too much on how hard that is if I'm not careful. I'm learning so much from you, so thank you for sharing.]
What is your best surprise about becoming a mother? (I didn’t read ahead so I kind of answered this in the earlier question.) Best surprise is the genuine joy as I get to know her, bond with her, and watch Mike bond with her.
Another is how motherhood has given me a crash course in prioritization. On the practical side, cleanliness is a spectrum and I focus on the areas that lend the most to my sanity, like an uncluttered dining table, and let go of the rest. (Don’t look too closely at any other surfaces in my house, please!)
On the soul level, I spend a lot less time obsessing about what people think of me or social interactions after the fact. I still struggle with people pleasing, but I don’t have as much headspace for downward spirals. While I don’t write nearly as much as I’d like, I find my ability to hunker down and focus (rather than procrastinate) is improved because I am working with limited time windows. (On a side note, dear God, please let me child learn to nap longer than 45 minutes.) [Editor's Note: Yes, yes, yes. I can relate to all of this and I love how beautifully you put it.]
How has becoming a mother made you better at your gift for communicating? Motherhood has given me a new range of experiences and emotions to draw from when I write. There’s a whole new world of metaphors and examples I can employ. I can relate to other mothers in a way that was inaccessible to me before. [Editor's Note: LOVE THIS. I 1000% agree that motherhood has made me relate to others like never before.]
What is your favorite cooking with Mike episode? My favorite is one he posted in the early days of parenthood where he made an elaborate display of pouring a bowl of cereal. I love the ones where his humor shines through!
My favorite meal that he’s featured is the steak salad with chimichurri. It has become a spring/summer staple! Recipe here. [Editor's Note: If you haven't seen "Cooking with Mike" on Instastories, then you are missing out. It's the GOAT.]
Last week, Josh shaved his beard. I'm not even sure when but I didn't notice. I found out through a mutual friend, who commented on Josh's updated, beardless Bitmoji. Yep, he didn't even see Josh and he knew through a text that Josh had shaved. I had seen Josh multiple times in person and saw all the Bitmojis and still didn't notice.
Life with twins and work and life has been a blur. The best possible blur, but a blur nonetheless. However, I'm no longer holding that as an excuse. Over the past month, I've attended a few workshops through various entrepreneur groups I'm involved with and the theme has been resounding: take back your life.
It hit me, while attending one of these workshops, that I've been using my crazy schedule as an excuse. An excuse from growing. An excuse from pursuing the type of clients I want to work with. An excuse for connecting with what's really important in my life: family and friends.
If I'm being really honest, I used my most precious gift, my girls, as an excuse for why I couldn't possibly grow my business.
It hurts to realize the truth, but sometimes it takes that realization to really make a change.
So this Mother's Day we packed it all up and took our crazy fam bam to the mountains. To pretend it was a Pinterest moment would be lying. In reality, it was more like spilled juice all over the carseats, our new rescue dog destroying our Airbnb and not getting any sleep because the twins refuse to sleep in pack and plays.
And it was perfect.
As I've stretched myself and got brutally honest about my excuses in life I've come to realize that I can't do it alone but I can ask for help. I can lean on God. I can say no to things that are a maybe and not a yes. I can focus on the things I'm truly passionate about and stop letting that little voice tell me life's too crazy right now to do this or that.
In reality, life is only going to get harder. I've learned that as a mother. Oh how I wish it were the baby days again when it was easier to juggle twins then it is now in the toddler years. And from what I hear, year three only gets harder.
So I'm leaning into the hard stuff. Learning where to put up boundaries so that I can be both present with my girls and kickass at work. I'm connecting with other women who are in the trenches, navigating this new world of the working from home mom. I'm encouraged by their stories, successes and grit.
And mostly, I'm no longer feeling sorry for myself but determined to soak up these sweet toddler messes before they are teenagers and think I'm lame. And I'm also fiercely determined to do the work God has called me to do so that I can be an example for my daughters. So that they know they can achieve whatever God puts on their hearts and they can do it with grace and love and humility and still be mothers and sisters and wives and friends.
I'm thankful for my husband for always encouraging me and believing in me. I'm thankful for the tribe of women I've met who are redefining success and work-life balance. I'm thankful for the women who went before us and paved the way. I'm thankful for my little twinadoes for teaching me to be in the moment and laugh from your belly. I'm thankful for the struggle so that I can begin to make a change and be fully present. I'm thankful.
It’s not often you meet someone in an awkward, forced social setting and like them, much less become friends for life. But for Cinelle and I, that is exactly what happened. What started out as an awkward “get to know a stranger” moment at church, turned into a lasting friendship. While our spouses and us quickly bonded over our confusion at living in the South, love for the city and shared passion for empowering others, it’s Cinelle’s persistence in fighting for social justice and change that made me realize she is a uniquely gifted individual with whom I would be lost without in Charleston.
Cinelle challenges me. She helps me view the world from multiple perspectives. She calms me down during this stressful period in my life of being a working mom and trying to figure out my balance and flow. She is a champion of all that I do, and makes me believe in the things I could not see.
Her memoir, Monsoon Mansion, is available on early release to Prime Members and to the whole world on May 1st. I’m only a few chapters in and I’m blown away by her talent and prose. To me, her writing flows like a song, makes you stop and think as if you were reading a poem and moves you to tears with her honesty.
Without any more sappy stories, meet Cinelle. A true friend and incredibly gifted writer and mom.
Name: Cinelle Barnes
Hometown: Manila, Philippines/New York City
Occupation: Author and Educator
When did you know you wanted to write? I was seven years old when I wrote my first story. I had just learned how to write longer sentences and in paragraphs. It was a story about three homeless dogs and their mom. I guess I had always had an interest in writing stories on adversity and redemption, ha. Clearly, I was writing fiction from my own experiences. And oddly, I might have been writing prophetically. Some time between my eleventh and twelfth birthdays, my mother and I left home and lived in a van. We parked outside her friends’ houses, and sometimes outside her old aerobics studio, and kept our few belongings in the backseat: clothes, art materials, fashion magazines, and my personal library. We didn’t have a tv and limited our radio usage to save car battery life, and so I had plenty of time to read. I devoured books in the backseat. One night, I was reading Number the Stars, and heard a voice say, “You will write a book.” It remains as one of my strongest audible memories, and I believe that it was God’s voice. And I believe it still. Its prophecy has come true and keeps coming true. [Editor’s Note: Of course you wrote about homeless dogs, and can I please get a copy of this story? But seriously, what an awesome prophecy and how wonderful to see it grow in your heart and come to life.]
How did God use your time as a young mother to bring your gifts together? I had no plans of becoming a mother. I had just graduated from journalism school after having interned with an art critic and shadowed at the New York Times. I was certain that my life trajectory would involve researching and writing for a humanitarian group like the World Health Organization, or for an arts-focused institution in New York or London or even Singapore. Little did I know that God would take me to the South, where I would not only nurture a child, but also nurture a very difficult craft called creative nonfiction. Being forced into isolation and a less-than-metropolitan life has driven me to sit down and write a book about my curious, dangerous, although rather magical, childhood.
Giving in to the demands of a helpless baby made me stop, learn how to rest, replenish, prioritize, and live in the liminal places. I am one of the most efficient, organized, and methodical people I know. My husband thinks my tan skin and straight teeth are an excellent disguise—they hide my inner robot. Anouk’s birth, and her very person, melt the parts of me that are made of metal. Because she’s around, I can’t help but celebrate the other parts of me that have been dormant for years—my love of play, music, dance, colorful and shiny objects, crafts, nature, and storytelling. With these parts awakened, I’m able to have healthier relationships, healthier expectations, and healthier routines. Also, I’m more forgiving—and being forgiving is ultimately what makes me able to do my writing work. The stuff I write about are hard and heart-breaking, and it takes a lot of forgiveness, for myself and for my subjects, to be able to even approach their conceptualization or ideation. Writers, too, are very hard on themselves, partly because we are constantly asking, questioning, revising in our heads. And so without forgiveness, the writer becomes crippled. The writing could lead to death, whether literal or metaphorical. But with forgiveness, the writer can say, “I forgive myself for not writing yesterday” or “I forgive my anxiety over this subject” or “I forgive my editor for having a heavy-hand at that last round of proofreads, and for my being insecure about my work thereafter”. [Editor’s Note: Wow, what a powerful thing God can do. Bring us to an unknown place and expose things inside of us that we didn’t know we were hiding.]
When you were in the early years of motherhood, what was the waiting like? How did you cope with your life being about someone else while you waited to see what would come next? Ha. I don’t know. All I know is that some time in my 20s, I prayed that God would make me more patient. And so he gave me a highly-introverted Southern boy for a spouse, and an inquisitive, opinionated girl for a daughter. The waiting was both the process and the fruit.
And about seeing what would come next—motherhood actually taught me to stop asking for what’s next. Motherhood taught me that there is only now. Anouk will only confuse her l’s for y’s for a little while longer. She might soon stop coming to our bed in the middle of the night. There might only be six more times that she asks me to unscrew the cap on her water bottle. The bike’s training wheels will come off soon. Yesterday, she didn’t even want me to help resolve a conflict at the playground—she resolved it herself. My mother-in-law once told me, “They will always remember if you held them, played with them, listened to them, laughed at their silliness. But they never remember whether you cleaned the house, won an award, or did this other phenomenal thing at work. No parent ever says to their offspring, when they’re all grown, ‘I wish I worked more and I wish I held you or played with you less.’”
I’ve come to accept that motherhood was given to me as a gift of redemption. That I was on my way to being self-destructive in the most highly-functioning, excellently-disguised ways, and motherhood was the detour that kept me from slamming into a moving train. Actually, I was the moving train. I hadn’t stopped moving, running, accelerating since I was a little girl, first as a way to survive childhood adversity, and later on just out of habit and as some form of PTSD. Motherhood derailed me from the worn-out and rusty tracks I’d been circling for over two decades, put me on a dirt path through a meadow, and made me realize that I wasn’t a train after all. I was a buttercup-yellow bicycle with a wicker basket, meant for rides through butterfly gardens and down coastal boardwalks. And I was one of those hybrid bikes: smooth and sweet-looking like a Cruiser, but six-geared for adventurous terrain. This morning, Anouk piggy-backed on my yellow bike as we rode to school, and it was drizzling, and we purposefully biked through every puddle. We got splashed with mud and that’s just who we are—who I’ve become—we are not afraid of surprise turns and we are not afraid of getting dirty. [Editor’s Note: My momma heart needed to read every word of this. Thank you for sharing.]
You've lived all over the world and in different cultural centers of the States. What have you learned from these experiences and how have they shaped you? I’m reminded of a quote from Shakespeare’s Corolanius: “What is the city but the people?”
As a writer (and weirdo since birth), I tend to look at places anthropologically and politically, which has its ups and downs. Because I have the ability to remove myself from situations and from the strong pull of culture, I often see what could or will happen to a certain group of humans, or a human, two, five, ten years down the road. It’s this weird ability I’ve had since I was a little girl in Manila that I carried over to time in South Korea, China, Hong Kong, California, New York, Georgia, and now, South Carolina. As a kid, I described it to my dad as like having superpower goggles that allowed me to see what was truly inside a person, beneath manners, customs, rehearsed dialogue, gesture and mannerism, and training or profession. And from this observer’s stance, I’ve learned that out of all species, humans are the most fearful. Perhaps because we’ve evolved to self-preserve. Our brains are bigger (in proportion to body size) than most other species’, so we’ve evolved to become well aware of every kind of threat—relational, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, etc. Anywhere you go, humans are trying to work out their fears. In Charleston, where I’ve now lived for six years and where it’s been the hardest to be myself, I find that what people fear the most is appearing fragile. And by that, I mean, nobody here wants to be found out—nobody wants to expose that their marriage is fragile, their motherhood is fragile, their financial state is fragile, or their professional trajectory is fragile. Everyone is constantly shielding themselves with Southern pleasantries, sunset photoshoots, and nautical style or a branded yogic lifestyle.
In New York, where I feel most like myself, its customary to show all your cracks. To show where, as Leonard Cohen once wrote, “the light gets in.” Up there, especially in the city, there’s an understanding that nothing great ever came from something immaculate. Here in Charleston, where it’s still part-emerging-city, part-small-town, we are all constantly walking on eggshell. Actually, let me correct that! Here, we are all constantly walking on oyster shell. We are all afraid that from where shiny pearls come, deep cuts do, too. Oddly enough, when Anouk was a little under two years old, we went on a boat ride around Charleston harbor. Somewhere offshore, our friends decided that it would be fun to jump into the water. I jumped in with little Anouk in my arms to teach her not to be afraid of the ocean. But there I was, trying to introduce her to deep saltwater, and landing both feet on a bed of oysters. I remember feeling the multiple strikes on both soles and kicking up with bleeding feet, trying to swim back to the boat with a toddler in my arms. I remember singing to her as I waded, trying to calm us both, and also thinking, “No sharks, please no sharks.” We got to the boat and someone helped me clean my wounds.
I guess going back to the question, whoever helped me with my wounds apologized to me for docking the boat where we did, but she also said, “It’s just a cut. We all survive cuts. You gonna try to jump in again?” Of course, she was right. It’s just a cut. It’s just an oyster. Nobody should really let a clump of shellfish keep them from jumping into the ocean.
When I mom up, I want to be like you. Your gift of patience with A and the way you educate her and empower her is truly inspiring. What drives you to take all of your energy and pour into your daughter? Apart from everything I mentioned above, there’s this quote I like to go back to:
“Be who you needed when you were younger.”
Finally, what's your favorite thing to make/eat? For Anouk, I love to make her favorite farfalle with parmesan. For Stephen, my signature chicken marsala and chicken adobo. For parties, meat lumpia, heavy on the garlic. And for myself, earl grey tea with steamed milk in the morning, a rice bowl with lots of protein and veggies in the afternoon, and a very citrusy kale salad at night. And every year, for Anouk’s birthday, I make iced sugar cookies in the shape of whatever cartoon or thing she’s into at that age: candy, the Eiffel Tower, maple leaves, hearts and diamonds, etc. Next year, when she turns seven, I hope to make my first batch of unicorn-shaped sugar cookies. [Editor’s Note: Cinelle’s meat lumpia is on point.]
Whenever I see another twin mom I give them the Hunger Games salute. Because honestly, parenting twinadoes is hard, hard work. But I've learned a few tricks to keep up with my little daredevils. Check out my latest post for Twiniversity here.
I've been reading a lot about the emotional toll of motherhood. The constant lists running through our heads. Juggling pick ups and drop offs and sick days and appointments and oh yeah, don't forget about self care! (Ha, right.) Yesterday, I saw a video on Facebook that equated the work of a mom as equal to two and a half jobs. It was accurate. Then I glimpsed at a headline a friend posted about Satan trying to tear us apart by keeping us stressed out and busy. Probably also accurate although I didn't have time to read the article.
So I've been thinking. What can I do to reduce stress? Everyone tells me I need to. On my way to Costco this morning I made a mental note of all the things running through my head in a 20 minute drive:
- Emma needs to bump up to size 5 diapers.
- Did the girls take their vitamins this morning?
- Add baby wipes to the list.
- What am I going to do while the girls are home for a week and a half on spring break?
- When can I squeeze in practice for my upcoming webinar?
- I need to edit that op-ed when the girls go to sleep tonight.
- Should I food prep today or tomorrow?
- What time do I need to get up if the construction workers are coming over at 8?
- Oh yeah, make sure I clear out the room they are working in.
- I need to be in and out of here in 40 minutes so the girls get lunch on time.
- Glad it's raining because now we can't go to PetFest and the girls will go to bed at a normal time.
- I hope Irvin doesn't pee in the house.
- Did I take my medicine this morning?
- Make sure I buy a present for Emma's therapist.
- Don't forget to plant the trees the girls' teacher gave them before they die.
- Crap, Easter is next weekend, we really should do something fun.
- Did I respond to my mom's text yet?
And that's just a sample of what is going through my brain at any given moment. It's exhausting. And I don't think it's just moms that have this issue. A dear friend of mine was over yesterday so we could hold each other accountable and do our taxes, and she has equally as many stresses. So what the heck are we supposed to do about it?
Cut out food prep? Then we all eat like crap for a week. Stop cleaning the house? Newsflash, haven't cleaned it in two months. Meditate? I do that 5 minutes a day and I could take it or leave it. Start saying no? Already do, what else can I cut out? Please say laundry. I'd love to cut out laundry.
It's a conundrum. This fast pace of life, treading water, survival...for what? Do we sell it all and travel the States in an RV? Or do I put the girls in daycare full time and spend less time with them? That's not why I'm a consultant. Do I stop having a social life? I pretty much don't so that's fun.
What I do know is I'm not alone. And that whether you are a mom or a dad or single or empty nesting, we are all spread thin. I wish this post was leading up to a dramatic climax with a groundbreaking answer. It's not. It's merely a starting point for me. Recognizing that I'm tired and my body is responding in kind. (As in, it's being weird again and old symptoms are flaring up.) I have come to accept that I'm never going to be the Pinterest mom and I'm okay with that. I'd rather be the mom who tells everyone else's kids that they are going to Astronauts and President one day. I like that and I'm fine with my contributions to the preschool class being string cheese and grapes.
But I'm still searching. Searching for ways to find balance in this crazy life. Ways to reduce the urge to try and do it all. Ways to settle into our routine and traditions and flow as a family. Ways to find more peace, more joy and less crazy. Ways to just be.