Flower face

I Am Not the Person You Are Looking For

I felt moderately optimistic for this phone interview. You see, for the past four years, I have been trying to shift from a web management to a design-focused career. Many conferences, volunteer stints, and informational interviews later (more on this below), I was at the same job. But this time I felt a twinge hope, which my pessimistic self promptly tried to stomp out.

You Suck Self: Why do you even bother? These interviews never work out.

Oprah Self: But, this recruiter saw value in me and my skills. And this is an industry I have over 15 years of experience in. I think I have a good shot at this!

You Suck Self: Uh-huh.

During the pre-interview pep talk, the recruiter mentioned that the woman I’d be interviewing with was very direct and thorough.

“The other interviews she’s done have taken a hour,” he said, “Call me as soon as you’re done. Good luck!”

 

At 2 p.m., my desk phone trilled. I hit the speaker phone icon on the second or third ring, plastered a smile on my face (I’d read somewhere that people could sense smiles over the phone) and chirped, “Hello! This is Evonne!”

After introducing herself and the other interviewer, she launched into the questions.

“How many years experience you have?” (English was not her first language).

I wondered why she asked if she had my resume in front of her, but I responded “about four to five years.”

“What is your greatest strength?”

I spoke at length about my ideation skills and creativity. I thought I sounded pretty impressive until she interrupted me to ask who designed what I had ideated. When I said I’d passed my sketches to our development firm’s designer.

“You didn’t design it?” she asked.

“Well, I saved the company money by starting the process and gathering requirements,  identifying key tasks, doing some user testing, and creating the wireframes,” I said defensively.

“You sound like a project manager, not a designer,” she stated.

Silence.

“Tell me about something that you designed,” she probed.

I told her about a few recent projects and about my organization’s recent rebrand and how I implemented the design across our website, social media, and print platforms.

“Did you design the logo?” she asked, her voice rising at the possibility of my having any skills she valued.

“No,” I told her. “An outside designer created the logo.”

Awkward pause.

“Listen,” I said, “I don’t think that I am the person you are looking for.”

She laughed in relief. “No, I am sorry. You are not the person we are looking for.”

My interview had lasted maybe 20 minutes. My You Suck Self chuckled. Told you so.

 

At least she told me that I wasn’t the right person to my face. When I was a young twenty-something interviewing for positions in the early 2000s, companies had the decency to call back and let me know if they’d gone with a different candidate. In 2018, ghosting is de rigueur: I make it through the phone interview never to hear from the company again. Ditto with face-to-face interviews.

I take that back. One time, I was called back for a second interview with Other Important People, which went well. So well, that I’d started cleaning out my office because I was SURE they’d hire me. Then I received an apologetic call saying they’d decided to “hire from within.” Another time an agency rescinded a job offer after I’d asked for more than a few days to decide, because I’d just learned that I needed a biopsy after an unusual mammogram (everything turned out to be fine except for my job prospects).

When I share these stories with my friends and family, they say kind and supportive things like, “You dodged a bullet! You don’t want to work for a company like that!” And I suppose I don’t, but for once, I’d like SOMETHING to work out.

Lest you think I’m only spamming companies with my well written cover letters and resumes, I have also dragged my introverted self out there to do the following things:

  1. Network. Schlep to events after work, slap a name tag on my  blouse, grab whatever perspiring cheap beer or warm, over-oaked chardonnay the organizers have on hand, and hang on the perimeter of a group’s conversation all while having flashbacks to middle school when I entered the lunchroom on the first day of school and realized that everyone had friends or someone to sit with except for me. When asked what I do, I talk about all the great things I’ve suggested, designed, or written (not mentioning that they haven’t been implemented because the organization doesn’t value my ideas).
  2. Ask for informational interviews with people who are more successful than I am. Treat them to coffee while talking to them about their career path and how all these doors opened for them at the right moment. Feel all puffed up and shiny like a balloon at a kids birthday party after the interview, vowing to change my attitude, to follow up with other folks they recommended I talk to, and take on shift projects to try out different careers. Wake up the next day and get swept away by a tsunami of my responsibilities as a working mother with two children, daughter of a mentally ill elderly parent trying to escape from her nursing home, and owner of a rescue dog who prefers to poop on my new wool rug instead of outside.
  3. Offer value to whomever you’ve met. Do they own their own business? Maybe I could pitch their service to my supervisors. Then again, my organization will never hire them because they only value ideas that come from senior management.

“I’m tired of this job thing,” I told my husband as we sipped skinny margaritas at the bar while waiting for our table on Date Night. I love my husband, but I also hate him because he can code stuff, so recruiters and companies constantly sidle up to him on LinkedIn and purr about how great he is. “I’ve been trying to change jobs for years, and I’m still in the same place. It’s getting embarrassing.” I licked the salt off the rim of my glass, took a sip, letting the cool, sour liquid slide down my throat, and looked at him. “Should I try to do something different?”

He looked at me, his dark eyes softening. “I’ve always seen you as a writer,” he told me.

A writer. Hmm.

 

 

 

The Paradox of Being Present

Amnesia leads to despair in many ways. The status quo would like you to believe it is immutable, inevitable, and invulnerable, and lack of memory of a dynamically changing world reinforces this view. In other words, when you don’t know how much things have changed, you don’t see that they are changing or that they can change.

–Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

I’ve been feeling spiritually gutted. Cynical. Pessimistic. And gratitude journals aren’t hacking it.

Yes, I’m grateful for my cup of coffee, I’m grateful I don’t live in a warzone. I’m grateful my husband is a feminist. I’m grateful that my kids are healthy.

But I want more. I feel restless and unsatisfied. Bleak. I read my morning newsletters and think, “We are a civilization in decline.” 

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Trump’s delusional and inane Twitter rants. Russian hackers influencing the election. The plight of millions of displaced people. Polar ice caps melting. North Korean missile tests. 

Summoning the energy and space to feel as though I can be part of something meaningful, take pride in my work, follow a creative idea to wherever it may take me feels impossible. I am crashing two rocks together hoping that something will happen. My flint will not spark.

Buddhists remind us to be remain in the present, but the present pains me.

The immediacy of the news keeps our minds chained to the present, so that we are constantly paying attention, constantly outraged, always reacting to the latest bit of bad news. We’re taught to be engaged and to pay attention, but if we’re in a perpetual state of apoplexy, how can we possibly believe or consider what change is possible?

Then I happened upon the blog post, 10 Learnings from 10 Years of Brain Pickings, by the excellent Maria Popova. All 10 learnings are worthy of exploration, but the 10th one spoke to despair I felt.

She writes, “Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively…Like all forms of destruction, cynicism is infinitely easier and lazier than construction.”

Cynicism is corrosive. And I realized that the compulsion of now—the latest tweets, Facebook posts, and news headlines—keep me manacled to cynicism. I cannot catch my breath without another wave of bad news crashing on my head.

So, time to get out of the ocean. A related post connected me to Erich Fromm’s concept of rational optimism.

To have faith means to dare, to think the unthinkable, yet to act within the limits of the realistically possible; it is the paradoxical hope to expect the Messiah every day, yet not to lose heart when he has not come at the appointed hour. This hope is not passive and it is not patient; on the contrary, it is impatient and active, looking for every possibility of action within the realm of real possibilities.

Reading these interrelated pieces helped me move beyond my passivity and inertia. A reader, a dedicated seeker of meaning and value, Popova and her writing move me beyond my templated life and self wallowing, not with treacle and blessings, but with rational optimism. Her blog reminds me some of the greatest minds believe that we face that pervading darkness. That there is space for possibility in between what is and what may be.

How #MeToo Has Affected My Approach To Parenting My Son and Daughter

“What is wrong with men?” I fumed to my husband as we were running errands last weekend.

I didn’t even need to explain the reason for my outburst. He knew I was talking about the latest man to be accused of sexual improprieties.

Former comedian and now Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), was the latest piglet to pop up in my news feed along with a photo of him grabbing a sleeping woman’s breasts while he turned and mugged for the camera. This, after he had kissed her against her will earlier while they were practicing a skit they were to perform for the USO.

Days before, Alabama Judge and politician Roy Moore was accused of sexual misconduct against five women when they were teenagers, and comedian Louis C.K. admitted to exposing himself and masturbating in front of women.

If you’re having trouble keeping up with all the accusations, that the New York Times has created a list of men who have been accused of sexual misconduct and the fallout for each.

And let’s not forget the people who have shared their #MeToo stories. These women and men may not have been compromised by powerful, well known men, but that doesn’t lessen the shame, disgust, and powerlessness they experienced.

But back to the question I asked my husband, “what is wrong with men?”

“I don’t know,” he said, genuinely baffled. “The culture where I work is very respectful towards women. When they talk, they don’t say whatever they want.”

“But what if those guys were in a different culture?” I pressed. “Would they still behave?”

“I don’t know,” he answered.

I growled in disgust and glanced over my daughter and son, 10 and 5, listening in the back seat of our car. How can we raise our son so he doesn’t become one of these men?How can I raise my daughter to deal with a guy who tries to intimidate her to get what he wants? 

My Son

As a white male, my son has been bestowed many cultural and social advantages. In general, people will make positive assumptions about him. If the gender wage gap persists, he’ll be paid more than his female peers. If he is loud and forthright about arguing a point, he’ll be labeled a leader, tough, tenacious. He won’t be called difficult, argumentative like his sister would be if she acted the same way.

People will assume that he is intelligent. He will not be followed around a store to make sure he won’t steal something. Hailing a cab will be no problem (assuming there will be cabs what with Uber and self-driving cars on the horizon). If he’s pulled over by the cops, he will most likely survive the encounter.

Given all of my son’s advantages, my husband and I feel a strong responsibility to make sure he doesn’t grow up with a sense of entitlement. For those times when he doesn’t get the attention he wants, how do we teach him that aggression is not the way to obtain what he desires?

 

How We’re Parenting My Son

Respecting Others’ Personal Space. “Get off, Jasper!” my daughter, Zora, shrieked. When I arrived on the scene, my son was latched onto my daughter’s legs. “Huggie!” he cried, clinging even tighter. When he didn’t let go, I picked him up and reminded him how annoyed he was when his friend’s little brother didn’t listen when he told him to stop jumping on him. “You didn’t like it, did you?” He shook his head and let go.

Respecting His Personal Space. My son recently announced that he did not want to be kissed until April (it was October). “No kisses?!” I pouted. “How about nose rubs or hugs?” I asked him. He agreed to hugs, rubbing noses, and snuggles side-by-side. When he and my husband were rough-housing and Jasper yelled, “Stop!” I reminded my husband that he should listen and stop tickling Jasper. We want to demonstrate the behavior we’d like to see.

You can’t always get what you want. When Jasper doesn’t get what he wants, he hits or throws something or head butts you. Ouch. He’s five, so I try to give voice to his feelings.

“You’re angry! You wanted to watch that TV show! You think Mommy is so mean! Grr!” I explain that there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry, but when you hit (or when you use that tone of voice) you hurt.

In this case we acknowledge Jasper’s anger or disappointment and show him other ways to blow off the steam. “If you’re angry you can stomp your feet or punch a pillow.”

My Daughter

My 10 year-old daughter is all legs and knees and elbows. She still sleeps with a stuffed animal ferret tucked under her arm  and cringes when we get to kissing scenes in books or movies (“It looks like he’s eating her face,” she observed when we watched Harry Potter kiss Cho Chang in “The Order of the Phoenix” ).

Thankfully, Zora is very much her own person. She’s the kind of kid who will build a Lego set following the instructions and then tear the whole thing down and repurpose the bricks for her own creation. She lets various toy fads like Shopkins and fidget spinners pass her by.

But she’s also reluctant to speak up for herself and feels more comfortable showing her kind and sweet self. And I unknowingly reinforced this good girl behavior, cooing and praising her when she helped her little brother make a sandwich and admonishing her if she got angry and yelled at him. “He’s younger than you. He doesn’t know any better.”

Since the #MeToo tidal wave, I’ve taken a step back to think about what I’m message I’m sending to Zora about confidence and anger.

How We’re Parenting My Daughter

You deserve to be treated with respect. My daughter recently ended a friendship because her “best friend” regularly said mean things to her like “Are you trying to be better than me?” if Zora studied and performed better on a test or calling her “teacher’s pet” when a teacher rewarded Zora for good behavior.

At first Zora gave this friend a chance. Maybe she’s having a bad day, Zora thought. But as she came home each afternoon with another tale of how this friend made her feel miserable, I asked her about her other good friends. “Does Michael or Will say these kind of things to you?” She shook her head. “Good friends, real friends,” I told her, “don’t treat each other unkindly. You deserve to be treated well.”

Privacy and Boundaries. Nudity has never been a big deal our home, but now that Zora’s getting older, we’ve started closing doors when using the restroom or changing, and wrapping ourselves in towels or bathrobes when leaving the shower or bath. If a door is closed, then you must knock before entering. No exceptions.

Feeling Angry Is Okay. I don’t want Zora to smack  her little brother when he hangs on her or pushes her,  but I also don’t want her silence herself and bury that anger in order to be more acceptable. Yelling “No” or “Stop” is okay. Stomping off to your room is okay. Telling me or her father than her brother won’t listen is okay. If you are being harassed or bothered, I counsel Zora to think of herself first.

I recently read a piece in which the writer observed that in her sex-ed class she was taught how to let the boys down easy. She doubted that the boys were being taught what “consent” and “respect” meant.

Am I Overreacting? No.

Why am I concerned about sexual intimidation or misbehavior, even though my kids relatively young? Because I believe kids who learned to overcome disappointment with physical intimidation, or who act on a sense of privilege and entitlement to get what they want become the Roy Moores and Harvey Weinsteins of this world. And because girls who are worried about making a scene and who push away anger and indignation become their victims.

 

Dropping My Mental Load

The French comic artist Emma and her depiction of “mental load”  has gone viral for illustrating the burden many women take on as family project manager.

In my marriage, I am the one who:

  • Knows when we’re about to run out of toilet paper.
  • Remembers to buy an end-of-year card and presents for our kids’ teachers.
  • Hunts down the contractors and makes doctors appointments.
  • Makes hotel reservations for hotels.
  • Pays most of the bills.

In the past, my husband has said to me, “Just tell me what you need.” During my more rational moments, I tell myself, “He’s right. Just speak up and tell him to change the dentist appointment. Let him initiate the what-are-we-having-for-dinner? conversation. Let him respond to that text from our daughter’s friend’s dad for a playdate.”

But I’m not always rationale or calm. Sometimes I am just plain fed up. “Why do I have to tell you?!” I want to shriek. “Can’t you just see that there is no creamy peanut butter in the house? Didn’t you notice that our 9-year-old daughter has been wearing the same pair of shoes for a year and a half and might need new shoes? Do you even know where toilet paper comes from?”

So. If I lose my shit, it’s my fault for not speaking up.

If I “take over” the task, I’m not giving my partner the chance to take care of things.

But. If I tell him what needs to be done, I’m still doing a share of work that all those lovely surveys that say women still do more housework don’t and can’t possibly measure.

This: What our partners are really saying when they ask us to tell them what needs to be done is that they refuse to take on their share of the mental load.

So this month, I am dropping my mental load. In the immortal words of Crush the sea turtle: Let us see what happens when Squirt flys solo.

To be sure, there are certain chores and tasks that we’ve discussed and divvied up:

  • I shop for the groceries and cook. He does most of the dishes.
  • I get the kids up and out the door in the morning. He picks them up from the bus.

But everything else, I’m letting go. I’ll let you know what happens.

My Dark Truths About Parenting and Marriage

IMG_3681After reading Kristen Oganowski’s piece 10 Dark Parenting Truths We Never Talk About, I was inspired to write about my own dark truths. The stuff that I think and then push down by busying myself with the laundry or a glass of wine. I appreciate the honesty of her piece because so much of what a I read on parenting involves how to make yourself better (because you are inadequate) or is sarcastic. I’m not judging either of those responses, but I wanted to sit with my dissatisfaction. Let it be. 

Once written, my truths, this radical honesty, still left me feeling unsettled. “God, I thought. “I’m just as horrible and complain-y as my children.” But a thought or a feeling is just that: a thought or a feeling. I can observe it, acknowledge it, and move on. My “Remember” refrain is way of moving on.

I don’t like to play with my daughter.

When she asks if she can give me Minecraft lessons or if I’ll play Legos with her which involves building and playacting different scenarios, I cringe. Then I feel guilty. My daughter is nine and in the next few years, I expect that she’ll begin to pull away from me. Shouldn’t I embrace this time when she wants to spend time with me? My mom’s schizophrenia prevented me from having a close relationship with her, so I feel like I should be more dedicated to cultivating my relationship with my daughter.

Remember: I do enjoy being with her: biking, letting her bounce her invention ideas off of me, lazing in bed and talking, reading Harry Potter to her. We’re different people who enjoy different things.

I let my husband be the heavy.

Last night the kids were jacked up on ice cream and giddy from having spent the day at a friend’s house. They were giggling and happy and it was after 9 p.m. “Can you be in charge, please?” I asked Rodney. “They listen to you.” Other times, I’ve found myself saying the cliched words, “do you want me to tell Daddy?” because I know they will be scared into doing whatever I’ve asked them to do. I don’t like resorting to keeping the kids in-line through Daddy’s Reign of Terror, but I don’t always have the energy or the patience to do things the “positive discipline” way.

Remember: There are lots of times you do find the positive, firm way to get the kids to do what you want. Using the “When you ___, you can” construction works wonders. E.g., “When you put your shoes on, then you can play for five minutes on my iPhone.”

I consider my husband a third child (sometimes).

Rodney gets jealous or upset when I put the kids’ needs or wants ahead of his own. He’ll snap “I guess that I don’t get to talk!” when he’s interrupted. And when the kids are finally engaged in their own activities, he’ll demand attention by grabbing my various parts. “Why can’t you just talk to me!” I silently scream in my head. “Why all this groping like some teenager!” 

Remember: Channeling my therapist, I think she’d say that I need to schedule more regular dates with Rodney so we feel more connected. That reaction also speaks to my need for some alone and recharge time.

I’m in it for the money and benefits (for now).

Jasper’s preschool for the 2016-2017 year will be $410/week, which is $19,680. When confronted with the possibility of switching to a job that’s more meaningful and creatively challenging, I find myself holding back because I need my job which isn’t too demanding and pays well.

Remember: This doesn’t mean that I can’t change in a year, find a job that gives me the pay and flexibility that I deserve. I can also find ways to inject creativity and challenge into my life, but I’m not at the right time of my life to take those risks.

I’ve called my kids names

For once, we were doing something that I wanted to do—visiting a quaint town with an independent book shop, vintage furniture stores, and unique clothing places—and my kids were bitching about walking. Are we there, yet? I can’t walk anymore. Can I get something at the toy store? All these values I’ve tried to instill, and I have two whining children who can’t set aside their own wants for a day to do what I want. That’s when Jasper collapsed on the ground.

“I can’t walk anymore,” he cried.

“You both are being brats,” I hissed. “Brats!”

Remember: Everyone loses their shit. I told Rodney that I needed 10 minutes alone, and I was able to calm down a bit.

Family vacations are not really vacations.

For our summer vacation we spent a week in Williamsburg, Virginia. I love intellectual, culture things and eating great food and walking around. My kids prefer the pool, amusement parks, and plain pasta from chain Italian restaurants. Guess who had the better vacation?

Remember: Accept that I’m not going to experience the vacation I would want if I didn’t have kids. That’s why I’m taking a staycation this week. Home is not exotic, but I’ve been the boss of my own schedule.

Privacy, Please.

FullSizeRenderSometimes when I’ve lost the will to parent, I pretend that I have to poop.

“I need to go to the bathroom!” I’ll announce loudly grabbing a magazine and pounding upstairs to the bathroom my husband and I share.

Not 30 seconds into the New Yorker—which I read back to front, first reading the cartoons, next making a mental note of the articles I want to read but in all likelihood won’t read—I see shadows move beneath the door, like a shark lurking beneath the water’s surface.

“Mama, what are you doing?” my four-year-old son Jasper asks.

“Pooping!” I lie. Will he believe me? He leaves, then returns a moment later and parks himself in front of the door. Then I hear the familiar rattle and crash of Legos landing on the floor. Sigh.

One time when my need to use the bathroom was genuine, my daughter Zora slipped a note under the door.

“I miss you,” it said.

Of course, when they’re really in dire need of attention, the kids barge right in. My daughter did this last week and immediately regretted her actions.

“It smells in here,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“Hmm, I wonder why?!” I replied sarcastically.

Kids aren’t the only ones who ignore the closed door. Once when my sister-in-law was visiting our family, my husband and I took the opportunity to sneak upstairs for a quickie. Five minutes into our tryst, my sister-in-law opened the door to ask something. “Hey!…Oh, my God!” she muttered, blue eyes widened, her jaw dropped, and she quickly slammed the door.

Five years after moving into our condo and after countless interruptions, we decided enough was enough and bought and installed three doorknobs with locks.

Not long afterward, we enjoyed a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. The kids sprawled on Zora’s bed engrossed in Minecraft videos, and my husband and I stretched on the couch reading. My husband removed the book How To Manage Your Strong-Willed Child out of my hands, placed his head in my lap, and grinned expectantly at me. I tried to deflect by asking him if he thought that Jasper was regular kid who thrived on routine, but I may as well have been speaking Tagalog to him. He placed his hand behind my head and pulled me down for a meaningful kiss. Deciding to go along for the ride, I let myself be led upstairs into our bedroom. We locked the door and undressed and jumped under the covers. The bright afternoon light fell across our bodies. As I traced my finger down his breastbone, I heard the familiar, “Mommy?!” Then the door rattled. Ha! Locked!

“Go away!” Rodney barked.

“Mommy? What are you doing?” Jasper asked.

“Snuggling with Daddy,” I yelled.

“Why?” he asked.

“Go away,” Rodney barked again.

A pair of small feet padded down the hall. Spell broken, I looked at my husband and rolled my eyes. At least we have privacy.

 

Weekend Reads and Whatnots

Call it a mid-life crisis or obsessive rumination because I’ve forgotten to take my antidepressants, but I’ve spent a lot of time this week reassessing what makes my life meaningful and purposeful.

(Jeeze, why does thinking about that have to be crisis or mental illness? Why can’t I just see myself as thoughtful and introspective?)

In the last few months, I’ve turned 42, been offered a new job after being at the same company for 15 years, learned I needed a biopsy for suspicious microcalcifications seen on my mammogram (turns out I’m okay; more on this later), and questioned whether I can really be and do all the things I want to be and do. Thanks, Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter.

So  Maria Popova’s Brain Picking’s post 20-Year-Old Hunter S. Thompson’s Surprisingly Sage Advice on How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life provided me some much needed perspective at the right moment.

Zora felt nervous this morning about her very first outdoor rock climbing expedition to Great Falls, so I told her to strike a power pose. It worked for the Rwandan debate team, whose story I heard on an excellent Invisibilia episode exploring the question, is change is possible from the outside in?

Exhausted new parents are told to sleep when their newborn sleeps, but this mom thought it’d be a lot more fun to dress her baby up as pop culture icons like Beyonce, Pikachu, and Han Solo.

This Edit Your Life podcast episode on handling the transition back to school offered some good tips on getting ready. (Though I still think I’ll be shrieking like a banshee at the kids to get out the door and to school on time September 6.)

And finally, How To Be Mediocre and Be Happy with Yourself.

Namaste!