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I know people who don’t have kids. Some of them don’t want any, which makes sense to me because, to tell you the truth, some days I don’t want any, either. I just haven’t been able to locate a reliable return policy yet, which means I grudgingly suffer through those occasions (TODAY) much in the same way that I do my couch that has cracks in the leather and that buggy play-digital-music-in-the-car device that gets all staticky – both also cases in which I am a victim to indeterminate return policies.
But some of those
misguided naive lovely people do want children, and simply haven’t gotten “there” yet. Most of the time these are also the folks who think they know how they will parent, and how you should parent, too. Which is annoying as fuck but something that should be tolerated patiently and with kindness, because eventually they will pop out a gremlin or two, and they will get them wet and feed them after midnight, and then you can spend entire days laughing your ass off at them.
There are moments, though, when your “not there yet” friends are not busy being experts at Ways You Could Parent Better, and they will ask, “What’s it really like, having kids?”
When that happens, those of us who are parents almost never know what to say. Mostly because we haven’t slept in 10 years and we’re mentally calculating the costs involved in replacing the iPhone that Kid B dropped in the toilet while the adults were busy dealing with the vomit volcano Kid A engineered by feeding the dog two pounds of chocolate. I always respond with something stupid like, “Hard work but worth it,” which is a damned lie because “hard work” doesn’t even begin to convey the fact that parenting makes the life of Jean Valjean look like a Caribbean cruise. And also because the “worth it” part is yet to be determined – if I’m living in public housing and eating cat food in 20 years, I’m gonna be hella pissed, is all I’m saying, and “worth it” will not be a part of my vocabulary.
I always think of better answers later.
So, what’s parenting really like?
It’s exactly like the cracked couch. It doesn’t look pretty, and makes you feel embarrassed sometimes. But it’s comfortable and supportive and you have all your happiest moments there, and that’s the real reason you still have it, even though you could easily afford a new one… Because when you look at it and know it’s not perfect, it makes you feel happy anyway.
It’s exactly like the buggy music player, that makes you say at least once during every drive, “Don’t repeat what I just said!” but in spite of it all, was wrapped by little hands that use too much tape and it makes it possible for you all to scream out the “EEEEEEHHHHH-UUUUHHHHHH,EEEEEEHHHHH-UUUUHHHHHH” siren part of “Here Comes the Weekend,” which, yeah, is a totally inappropriate song by P!nk and Eminem, filled with loads of bad words and questionable parenting choices, but it makes you all laugh and so you do it anyway.
It’s hiding in the hallway to write this post because your mood is so foul that you’re pretty sure you’re on the cusp of going all Firestarter on the world, but then cracking up to hear your son calling your daughter a “hycoprite” because, even if he doesn’t know how to say it, he sure as hell knows exactly what it means and is totally right.
That’s what it’s like.
It’s also counting down the hours until bedtime because one has more than earned a beer-and-marshmallows kind of night.
Six to go. Holla.
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Aidan woke up at 6 am. Actually, what happened is that Aidan fell out of bed at 6 am, but opening with that might incline you to feel sorry for him, which you totally shouldn’t do because he was fine and I am the one in need of feeling sorry for. I stake my flag into your sympathy and claim it for my own.
So, at 6 am, Aidan “woke up” out of bed. My bed, not his, since he still makes the nightly pilgrimage to come flop around, lay diagonally, and displace two fully grown adults from the queen sized bed that I delusionally refer to as “mine”. When he arrives, before climbing in and cuddling up, he first goes through a complicated process of making his presence known that begins with scoping out my position and very carefully lining himself up near my head, balanced by his toes on the bed frame. From here he will lean over, position his face roughly six inches from mine, and stare. He will stay in this position until either his intense watchfulness or rancid breath break through the obstacle that is my sleep. You would think, after years of this, I’d be used to it, but it turns out that I am a remarkably slow learner. Every night I am awakened by the sense that something’s not quite right, open my eyes to find a small, deeply shadowed face hovering above me like a ghoulish mirage, and promptly have a heart attack.
I am not a morning person. I have never understood those who are and, frankly, suspect that the whole lot of them are deeply disturbed. “Don’t you just love a sunrise?” they ask, as though the sun is somehow miraculously different at such a Godawful hour. No, I say. No, I do not love a sunrise. If I wanted to watch light take 20 minutes to come into full brightness, I’ve got some first generation compact flourescent light bulbs I can turn on whenever I feel like it. What’s the big deal about watching the sun, anyway? Last I heard, we aren’t even supposed to be looking at it.
Left to my own devices, I am happiest and most productive when I go to bed at about 2:00 am, and then wake up around 11:00. My firstborn was about 20 hours old when I realized that I would never again sleep or awaken according to my own devices, that for the rest of my life I would work on finding clever new ways to milk a few extra minutes of sleep, or a small bit of blessedly quiet alone time, out of each stubbornly unmovable 24-hour chunk. So in spite of my preference to never see a sunrise, most mornings I drag myself out of bed sometime between 5:30 and 6:30. When I have a lot of work, it’s even earlier. Those are heavy coffee days; by noon you can find me vibrating with unspent energy, making plans to paint the ceiling with a watercolor brush or build an amphibious vehicle out of our minivan, some duct tape, and an improbably large bag of expired condoms that I am choosing not to explain at this present time.
When I do not have a lot of work, getting up early buys me some precious writing time – real writing, by which I mean the stuff I do not get paid for. I’ve been a business writer too long and years ago lost the ability to work longhand; I’ve developed soundbyte- and internet-induced ADD and I think in weird, meandering little bursts that require the flexibility of a computer. I can also type a lot faster than I write longhand. Hell, I type one handed faster than I write longhand (seriously)… I should take that on America’s Got Talent, only my kids have outgrown the real beauty of that particular trick, which is typing a script for an executive with one hand while holding a squirming, breastfeeding baby with the other. Ta-da!
So the deal is, I’m up absurdly early but I get quiet, uninterrupted time to sit in front of the computer and write stuff. And drink hot coffee. And enjoy the quiet. Did I mention that already? Let’s plug it a third time, just for good measure: Quiet.
Unless Aidan wakes up at 6 am.
I love this child more than life itself. But at 6 am? All bets are off. I have not yet stepped into my Mommy shoes, bub. I am Darth Vader in a Hairspray t-shirt and sloppy ponytail. May the force be with you and God have mercy on your soul.
When I first conceived of this post, laying in bed wide awake for 20 minutes in hopes that Aidan would go back to sleep (bwahahahaha), it had some kind of point. When I gave up on that hope and told him, “It’s too early to be up, keep sleeping and don’t follow me downstairs,” I had written most of it in my head. When I started typing, I still knew where it was going. Only then I remembered that nobody listens to me, anyway, and Aidan was up, and another day began.
More than 12 hours later, I’m finally getting this on paper, having long forgotten what I wanted it to be about. The real irony here is that I don’t think this pointless rambling is significantly different from anything else I’ve written. Probably, this should really call into question what I’m doing here in the first place.
But why question, when I could be building an amphibious vehicle? There’s limited time for such things; I have to go to bed ridiculously early in order to be up with the stupid sun. But if all goes well, tomorrow I will be able to write.
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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the time you’ve all been waiting for… Time for the next “no-bullshit” guide to job-hunting! If you missed the first one, don’t worry, you can still go read it here: The no-bullshit guide to resume content.
For this installment, we’re going to shift away from the resume for a bit, and talk about what (hopefully) comes next: The interview. More specifically, the tough interview questions that tend to trip up even the best, most qualified candidates. Now, just to set clear expectations, you are not going to find a list of questions and answers here; it’s impossible to do that in a way that applies to everyone and I’m too lazy to compile dozens of lists, anyway. No, what we’re going to do is talk about basic interviewing skills and prep work that you can use to make sure that you are prepared to answer the hard questions, whatever they may be.
So, here’s the thing… I could do a kick-ass job of telling you how to handle tough interview questions, in three words. For real. Everything you need to know to handle any interview question, three words. Ready? Here they are:
TELL THE TRUTH.
I know it’s a little bland. And somewhere, at this very moment, those words are meeting a chorus of buts. “But, what if they ask about…?” “But, what if I have this thing…?” But, but, but.
Just for you, my disbelieving friend, I take it to the next level. It consists of four words. You might want to take notes.
TELL THE TRUTH, DIPSHIT.
The end. Have a nice day.
That was a joke. About the post being done, that is. I’m pretty much physically incapable of writing anything that’s less than 300 words so, you know, ha ha. Ha.
The “tell the truth” bit? Not a joke. Lying – otherwise known as “telling the interviewer what you think they want to hear” – regularly disqualifies good people from the job they want. This is why: The interviewer is placing as much, or more, weight on the way you handle their questions, as they are on the content of your answers. That’s why. They want to see that you are self-aware, proactive, thoughtful, intelligent and honest, all of which are traits that you demonstrate when you TELL THE TRUTH and don’t just parrot the answers you think the interviewer is looking for. But you know how there are some people who are refreshingly honest in a way that’s endearing and likable… and then there are others whose honesty comes in an uncomfortable package, wrapped in a layer of creepy and topped off with an awkward bow? Yeah, we want your “tell the truth” to be the endearing, refreshing kind, and not so much like weird cousin Joan who responds to your polite “How are you?” with a 20-minute monologue about her bunions and the yeast infection under her left breast.
So let’s get to it.
Verb, verb, verb. Verb is the word.
Verbs. AGAIN. Verbs make the world go ’round. Know why? Because nouns mean you are a person who watches a lot of daytime TV and plays Candy Crush Saga on your iPhone instead of finishing your spreadsheet, while verbs mean you are a person who gets shit done. You know how to make a plan. You take action. You deliver results.
And results are what get you hired.
It’s all about the verbs.
If you read my no-bullshit guide to resume content (and if you haven’t, what is wrong with you? Go read it!), you know that everything should be phrased in terms of verbs and results. The same rules that apply to writing about your experiences, apply to talking about them. Proactive verbs. Non-passive phrasing. Results.
“Tell me about your current position.”
“I’m the Service Desk Team Lead. I’m in charge of the metrics, which consists of call abandon rate, first call resolution, the amount of tickets we open and close. I’m also in charge of making sure the call queue is answered. And our forward-facing BRU messages, I maintain those.”
True story: This answer is the one my husband gave me, after I said, “Do me a favor? Pretend I’m interviewing you; tell me about your current position.” When he was done I thanked him and then asked if I could use his answer as an example of what not to say in an interview. (Luckily, he laughed and said yes.) Nick’s good at his job, but he has a very common issue: he’s passive in his communication style. Lots of people are, and in social situations that’s not only fine, but often preferred. In a job interview, however, it is not fine. Your interview is not a social occasion, it’s a sales call. You are the salesperson; you are selling your ability to get shit done and generate results.
Here’s the answer he should have given me (see the italicized bits to find the strategic use of proactive verbs and results): “I currently lead the Service Desk team, which consists of 17 Analysts who provide 24/7 IT support for 500 bank branches. I ensure that the Analyst team meets or exceeds their service level agreements in terms of issue resolution, call queue wait times, and other measures. I own all of the metrics that track the team’s performance, track results, identify areas for improvement, and define and implement strategies to drive continuous performance improvements over time.”
Which of those responses would you hire?
Experiences, not ideas.
Some interviewers will take care of this for you, because they will make it a point to ask you about what you’ve done in the past, and not about what you want to do in the future. It’s known as a behavioral interview, and it’s generally preferred over a traditional job interview because it gets to the root of what you’re actually capable of, rather than entertaining your fantasies about what you think you could maybe do if you got that one job you think you’d probably be really good at, maybe. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, see below:
Traditional interview question: “What’s your approach to working through challenges in order to achieve successful results?”
Behavioral interview question: “Tell me about a time that you worked through a challenge and had a successful result.”
If you find yourself in a traditional interview and you take the initiative to bring up your past experiences as a way to demonstrate your skill, you will blow your interviewer out of the water, I promise. Experiences are powerful. Let me illustrate: If you’ve made it this far into what is already a lengthy blog post, you’re probably entertained and feeling like what I say has value. This is the equivalent of a traditional job interview that’s going well. Now let’s say that you think my blog post would be great in the career development newsletter at your incredibly cool university or workplace that does not frown upon reckless uses of profanity. You need to sell this post to the person who heads the newsletter, and they say to you, right away, “What are the writer’s credentials?” What do you have? Nothing. I’ve been able to sound convincing, because I’m clever with words and read as confident, but I may have you completely baboozled.
This is what happens to an interviewer who is impressed with someone, and then later realizes that they have nothing firm on which to base a hiring decision.
But if you can tell the newsletter manager that this blog post is written by a Certified Resume Writer whose background includes managing a staffing firm, acting as an employment law advisor and educator affiliated with an Ivy League university, running a successful career counseling and career materials development business for more than 8 years, and providing interviewing, consulting and staffing recommendation services to major corporations, including Fortune 500 companies, throughout the United States… Now you’ve got something.
I also just absolutely convinced you of the validity of what I’ve got to say.
Experiences. They are powerful.
Memorize and practice.
You are, after having read rules #1 and #2, saying this:
Well, sure, that all sounds well and good, but who actually talks like that off the top of their head?
The answer, wiseass, is nobody. Just as you expected. But now I have a question for you:
Who goes into a job interview so unprepared that their answers have to come off the top of their head?
The answer is, people who don’t get hired. That’s who.
Memorize your resume. Know your own history inside and out – how many offices your company had, how many service calls you went on, how many customers you could serve in an hour, how many documents you created for that one huge project. If you cannot memorize this information, then put it on your resume and memorize where to find it. It’s not unusual to have your own resume on hand in an interview – it can totally work as a cheat sheet, but only if you’re cool about it, and that means you can’t one-finger your way through two pages of text, trying to find that statistic you need.
Script the answers you want to give in an interview. You can google for endless lists of interview questions, some of which will apply to the type of job you want, and some that won’t. Figure out what you’re likely to be asked, and write down your answers. Memorize those, too.
Then find a patient friend or catatonic hospital patient with an unlocked door, and practice. Give your answers over and over again, until you can say them comfortably and naturally. Then practice a little more.
Know your truth.
In other words, be real about who you are, what you’ve done, and what you’re capable of.
This is harder than it sounds, because it is fully dependent upon self-awareness and, frankly, most of us suck at it. People who are sincerely good at self-awareness are usually those who have suffered crippling insecurity at some point in their adult lives. So if you’ve ever had a friend say to you, “I’m having a party, but I don’t want you to come if you’re just going to hide in my kitchen cupboard again*,” then YAY! Kudos. You most likely have Rule #4 down pat already. (*Totally not something anyone has ever said to me. I hide in bathrooms, not cupboards, because of spiders.)
If you’re one of those people who simply goes to parties and acts like a completely normal person, then you have homework to do. You need to play a fun getting to know you game I like to call “Sleuthing Sybil.” Important: The intent here is not at all to identify your strengths and weaknesses. The idea is to figure out where you do not see yourself clearly: your blind spots. You need a paper and pen.
PART ONE: I LOVE ME!
- Make a list of the things you consider to be your professional strengths. USE PROACTIVE VERBS; “have,” “go,” and “do” don’t count. “Have good ideas,” is for shit and unacceptable. “Brainstorm well,” “Build great relationships,” and “Solve problems,” are all good examples.
- Look for patterns. Try to be objective; if you don’t see patterns, you’re not being objective enough. What verbs seem to come up a lot? How are they related? People will often find that their patterns end up revealing two or three primary areas of strength; common ones include organizing information, leading teams, communicating, and problem solving.
PART TWO: I HATE ME!
- Think back over the last 1-2 years of your career. What are the most consistent annoying issues you deal with? These are the thoughts you have about “everyone” or “all” or “every” or “always” – don’t overthink it by being rational now, go with your gut. Is everyone hard to work with? Write it down. Are all of your projects boring? Or are you always overworked? Put those down, too. Think of at least three, but list more if you’ve got ‘em.
- Accept the fact that any complaint you have that involves “all” or “every” of anything, is a symptom of your weaknesses and not really a problem with the rest of the world. Look into a mirror, trim your nose hair, and then tell yourself, “If it seems like the problem is everyone/everything else, then the problem is really me.”
- Identify what weaknesses would cause these persistent issues. For example, if it seems like all of your co-workers don’t work with you well, then accepting that as a symptom of your own weakness would indicate that maybe you don’t always work well with others. If you’re always overworked, then maybe you don’t manage stress or time well.
- Compare this list to your “I Love Me!” list. Any surprises? If you identified as a weakness that you don’t always work well with others, and on your “I Love Me!” list you wrote that you have great interpersonal skills, then congratulations! You have just identified a blind spot. Well done. You need to work on changing your perspective when it comes to how you interact with others.
If you did not identify any blind spots, then you either weren’t being honest with yourself, or you’re one of us who is much better at knowing her weaknesses than her strengths and doesn’t often get invited to brunch due to your habit of standing in the corner and licking wallpaper instead of talking to people. If you’re the latter, I can’t quite congratulate you, but I can encourage you to flip this exercise around and make a list of your weaknesses and to then put yourself through the task of remembering all of the professional compliments you’ve received, and do a side-by-side of those two lists. Again, the idea is to compare what you think of yourself, to objective evidence indicating how you really perform.
A shortcut to this same end result is to simply ask a trusted colleague or supervisor for their honest feedback on your weaknesses. The trouble with this approach is that it tends to trigger defenses. So only go this route if you know that you can quietly and respectfully absorb their input. If you will feel the need to rebut their every observation with all the reasons why you have to act that way, then just save yourself the trouble and do the exercise on your own. Or get a therapist. But a paper and pen is cheaper.
Have a plan for better, and already be following it.
“Continuous improvement” is a hot phrase in corporatespeak circles these days. “Continuous improvement culture,” “continuous improvement mindset,” and so on. It translates, loosely, to “We’re not fucking done getting great yet, mmkay?” It denotes the need to continually work toward doing better, being better, achieving better. We live in “do more with less” kinds of times, and while that’s awesome from environmentalist and minimalist perspectives, it means that getting and keeping a job takes more than being good – it takes being good with a clear and unwavering focus on eventually being great.
Do you see where all that hard work in Rule #4 is going to come into play? Combine those blind spots with your known weaknesses, and you have your final frontier; park the spaceship or donkey or sparkly pony you rode in on, and settle in for some heavy lifting – it’s time to make a plan.
Answer these questions:
- What do you need to do to improve your knowledge?
- What do you need to do to improve your skills?
- What do you need to do to help overcome your weaknesses?
- What do you need to do to get your career where you want it to be in five years?
Think carefully about your answers. Some, especially related to improving knowledge or skills, may consist of classes, workshops, distance learning programs or books. Some, particularly when it comes to overcoming weaknesses, may be about implementing different strategies or taking new approaches. Some, most notably in support of furthering your career, will include all of these and more. Make a list of what you need to do to improve, overcome, and get where you want to be. Your list becomes your plan, and your plan becomes what you start doing, today, so that you are moving closer to your goals and not farther away. The key to getting anywhere in life is moving – always, always moving. And the key to making sure you get where you actually want to be is always moving according to a plan. Your plan is your map, and the only way you have any hope of reaching your chosen destination.
When you get the toughest of all questions in your interview – the question that puts you in a position of talking about a time you failed, or something you don’t do well – this is actually the moment when you can shine the brightest. Be that honest, self-aware, humbly endearing continuous improver who gets hired. TELL THE TRUTH. Then immediately use proactive verbs to explain how you have taken the initiative to learn more, do better, and achieve more… And use that experience to prove that you will do the same for their company.
So, our recap:
Rule #1: Verb, verb, verb. Use verbs to show that you are a proactive go-getter who gets shit done.
Rule #2: Experiences, not ideas. Use the power of your experiences to prove that you are all you say you are.
Rule #3: Memorize and practice. They key to being prepared to answer tough interview questions is actually being prepared.
Rule #4: Know your truth. Be real, it’s the best way to sell yourself.
Rule #5: Have a plan for better, and already be following it. Demonstrate your focus to results and achievement by having a plan and making it happen.
And above all else: TELL THE TRUTH.
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I received a white sweater for Christmas. I didn’t like it at first. I don’t wear white, it makes me look big and sloppy, what with the smears of boy dirt and dribbles of spilled coffee and slowly growing layers of graphite around the cuffs that start with correcting worksheets and then feed off of doodles of beautiful eyes that don’t turn into whole faces because I can never get the second one to match.
I can kind of draw, but what I really want to be able to do is sing. I can’t sing. But I can kind of draw. Sometimes this feels like my story, that the things I have the ability to do are always the ones that leave my fingers marred all shiny and gray, those that can only be done in quiet and lonely spaces.
This is how I felt this week – gray, drab, hidden. It was a rough few days, full of the kinds of stresses and worries that I was too naive to consider in all those years I couldn’t wait to be a grown up.
That white sweater… Eventually I tried it on. Even though it had a turtleneck, which made me consider wearing only a tank top on that cold January day. I don’t like things close to my neck, they make me hyperventilate. But the truth is that I didn’t have anything else clean that fit, and downstairs there was Has anyone called Child Protective Services on that house? kinds of screamyness happening, and sometimes you just have to jam that first clean sweater over your head and move the fuck on with your day already.
It was really soft. And warm. I felt pretty in it, even clipped my hair up. Turns out that it was a perfect curl-up-with-a-book sweater, and even though I haven’t had a good curl-up-with-a-book day in close to 10 years, it’s like falling into an old friend: I recognized and welcomed it. And was happy.
Immediately after I finished putting my hair up, I turned to leave the bathroom and that lovely sweater snagged on a tiny splinter of wood on the bathroom door.
While fixing lunch, the corner of my countertop caused an even larger pull.
The jaunty tail of my dragon keychain yanked out a thread on my way to the store.
And, sure enough, my pencil took yet another while doodling.
It didn’t matter how careful I was – my soft, new sweater just wasn’t made for wear. By the end of the day, it was misshapen and broken.
This is how I felt today – every moment pulling at delicate threads that were never actually intended for use.
Unfortunately, today was also Isabel and Aidan’s dance recital.
Through a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings, I wound up spending hours upon hours sitting in the back of the auditorium by myself because, almost immediately after we arrived for Isabel’s rehearsal, Nick and Aidan had to leave to run a special Mother’s Day errand. Isabel was pissed because none of her friends’ mothers were staying and she, by all means, absolutely did not need me there.
“I thought we were all going to go together to get lunch,” I said to Nick.
“Well, this is why I thought you wouldn’t be coming with us to drop Belle off,” he said.
“You didn’t tell me that,” I said.
He was sure he did. I was equally sure I had told him that I thought we’d all be going together for lunch, and he was just as adamant that I had not. It didn’t really matter, because he and Aidan had somewhere to be and I did not. I told myself to be grateful that the cause of the issue was something nice they were doing for me, but I didn’t feel grateful. I was irritated and unhappy, at the end of a week that had already rendered me brittle.
It went downhill from there. I held it together for the kids, hugged them and told them how great they looked in rehearsal. But I didn’t really feel it. I hated the world, and this terrible anger came to a head in the moment that I noticed Nick had packed the too-big white t-shirt, the shirt that was supposed to be a costume part, in Aidan’s bag.
“I told you that shirt was too big!” I sounded like a bitch. I don’t often sound like a bitch. I’m very diplomatic and have a hell of a mental filter. I don’t get mad like most people. I’m not defensive. I’m not a score-keeper. I don’t do “I told you so.” But by 1:30 this afternoon, I had been snagged too many times.
Nick was angry. “You’re fun today,” he said. Which, written here, makes it sound like he was all cool and good humored about it, but he wasn’t. In fact, the very clear translation of these words was, “You are being a vindictive, nasty fucking monster.” And I was.
So I tempered it a bit. Not because I realized I was being awful (which I did). Not because I felt bad about being rude to my husband (which I knew I was). But because tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I didn’t want to do anything that would forfeit my day. It was a selfish and rotten reason to reign it in.
This is the ugliness that sometimes happens in my head, that sometimes happens in all of our heads, when we’ve been pushed and pulled too much.
This is me not being the wife I wish I was, for speaking to my husband in a way that would make me cry if he were to do the same to me.
This is me not being the person I wish I was, for having to force a smile when other people would be so kind as to share a nice word with me.
This is me not being the mom I wish I was, for not allowing the prospect of my kids’ performances to override all of the other shit that was gumming up my works.
I had a hard week, full of difficult questions and challenging problems and responsibilities that made me uncomfortable and caused me to lose sleep. Crawling out from underneath it, without time to regroup and recover, this is me falling short of my best in every conceivable way.
And this post? This is me saying that I think we’re all pretty tired of feeling like we always have to be our best. Tired of pretending that being a “good” mom means possessing an inhuman degree of selflessness, such that a dance recital is all it takes to overcome real world problems. Sick of Pinterest- and Facebook-inspired snapshots of glamour-mommyhood that make us think that the key to doing this thing right is being able to pack the prettiest Bento box or make up the cutest poem to paste on the toy-collection bin.
This is me staking my flag in the ground and saying that being a good mom? Is never once even asking the question of whether you’d be at your kids’ dance recital, no matter how rotten your week was.
Because I never did.
It was the only certainty in my day. The one, unmoveable, unchangeable fact in this whole damned weekend.
I would be in that audience. Taking pictures. Clapping. Finding joy in their joy. And I did. Smiling, genuinely, when Aidan’s feet hit the stage – both of them at the same time, naturally, because the boy will never use stairs when jumping is an option. Tearing up when Isabel performed the steps she’d choreographed herself – seeing how graceful she was, how much more confident than last year. And Nick smiled at me, and the moment was electric between us, seeing these babies we made as they become.
This is me being a mom. Not a perfect mom. Not always the at-my-best mom. But a good-enough mom. A mom who will mess stuff up all the time, but who will never, ever miss those moments. A mom whose daughter can be mad at having me there for rehearsal, because it will never occur to her to question whether or not I’ll be there when it matters.
Tonight Nick asked me what I want to do for Mother’s Day, and I felt shy about answering. Like I didn’t deserve to have a Mother’s Day anymore, because I’d snapped at him earlier and not been as gregarious with our family and friends as I’d have liked.
Then I realized…I entertained a lot of really, really stupid thoughts today.
But that, right there? Was the dumbest and most ridiculous of them all.
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There are videos. They exist in an bizarre alternate universe known as YouTube and in them, a fat lady with my face is hip hop clogging to the likes of Flo Rida.
Her jiggly ass is the reason why, 2.5 months ago, I got it in my head that I needed to try Crossfit.
Crossfit: (noun) High intensity strength training and total body conditioning workout, preferred by military special ops units and masochists. Synonyms: Pain, vomit. Antonyms: Olivia Newton John, Jane Fonda.
I told my husband, “I think I’m going to join Crossfit.” He said, “Cool, that’s great,” without batting an eye. Because he’s used to me talking crazy sometimes.
I told my kids, “I think I’m going to join an exercise place.” They said, “Oh, because of your belly?” Because kids are assholes sometimes.
They’re also right sometimes. Yes. Yes, you evil little truth-monsters. That’s exactly why.
I’ve tried gym-type-places before. A long time ago I made several months’ worth of donations to a big box gym before canceling on account of having never actually been inside. I gave Curves a good go, but as I was sitting comfortably with my elbows on the armrests of my favorite machine, lackadaisically raising and lowering my forearms, I couldn’t help but think that I could do this same thing at home, for free, while watching Doctor Who. And at home, I could put a drink in one hand and a snack in the other, call ‘em weights, and probably actually break a sweat.
Plus, I never did figure out the whole “equipment set up in a circle” thing. What’s up with that, Curves? Where are you supposed to look? I haven’t had to work so hard at not stalker-staring at people since going to dances in seventh grade. At least then there were cute boys getting down to Milli Vanilli to check out. At Curves it was just more fat ladies, and I see quite enough of that at home, thankyouverymuch.
I’d heard great things about the quality and amount of one-on-one coaching you get in Crossfit (all true, by the way) and I thought, That’s what I need. So I looked up my local affiliate and, after a brief telephone conversation with one of the owners, oh-so-casually started psyching myself out, obsessively driving past the place, and then agonizing in the parking lot for ten minutes, before working up the nerve to go in. Across the parking lot I could hear metal-on-metal, the clunks and bangs of the welding shop from Flashdance, only without the singing and dancing.
It was terrifying.
Inside was even worse. Because I walked in and saw one person – then another – then another another another another – and every one of them looked like a walking advertisement for Crossfit. And just to rub some salt in the wound, at least two-thirds of them were too young to get a single of my 80′s pop culture references. (Seriously, millennials, I am so sad for you.)
I had made a mistake. Clearly. I was just about to break for the door, when I saw… A man. Not right out of a fitness magazine, but about my grandfather’s age. And he was raising and lowering himself on gymnastics rings, with the support of a wooden box under his feet. He was working hard, he looked confident and strong, and I mentally cheered him on, “Man, you go. That is awesome.”
And thought, “If he can do this, so can I.”
Followed immediately by, “No, I can’t. Fuck this, I’m so outta here.”
Only that happened to be the precise moment that Dave, the co-owner I’d spoken to on the phone, came over and sucked me into that social nonsense known as introducing yourself and not running away screaming and crying. Like all uncomfortable people who don’t want you to know what they’re really thinking, I immediately blurted out what I was really thinking: “I have a long way to go.”
“It’s not that bad,” Dave said. Which taught me that Dave is a nice man who deals in well-intentioned lies.
And that totally works for me.
As does the fact that I was offered coffee and then informed that the refrigerator always has bottled water and beer in it.
“I’m in,” I said. “Where do I sign up?”
2.5 months later, I have perpetual bruises on my collarbone and knees, and callouses on both hands. I’ve discovered that I am both stronger and weaker than I expected, that I can jump rope precisely 43 times before I start to pee a little (kids ruin more than your social life), and that when something really begins to burn I am capable of producing spectacles of profanity that rival the great masters for their artistry.
I’ve dropped a size but, according to the abusive bastard scale, not lost a single pound. Considering that I fully expected to look like Jessica Alba after my second workout, both of these results are slower than I’d prefer; living a fit-person lifestyle inside a fat-person body is uncomfortable and sucky. It was much easier to be living a fat-person lifestyle inside a fat-person body, and at least back then there were jellybeans. But I can see and feel my muscles now and I like that, even if my husband did tell me one night that he is “jealous of [my] muscular forearms.” (Note to men: The path to sexytime is not the one that includes telling your wife she’s hot like Popeye.)
After trying too hard and wrecking my quads in my first session, followed by two weeks in which I was forced to scuttle up and down stairs like that insane spider-walk scene from The Exorcist, I learned the value of pacing myself and being okay with looking undignified. Which is a discipline I’m trying to use to appreciate my gains, as small and slow as they may be, and not focus the fact that I had it right from the first words I spoke: I have a long way to go.
But not quite as long as I did 2.5 months ago.
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My eardrums are vibrating inside P!nk’s new album and I have a damp line between my eyebrows from where I tipped my goblet too far when getting at that last bit of red.
Things To Know About Me: I listen to aggressive music and drink wine sometimes. Mostly when I know I’m about to do something I’m not entirely sure I want to do.
Namely, attack this:
Which has made so many anti-marriage-equality rounds on Facebook that it has probably burned a giant, looping crop circle into the landscape of the internet.
I’m hesitant, because people I know and love have shared it. People whose beliefs differ from mine, but for whom I hold nothing but the utmost respect. I’ve wrestled with the impulse that’s been telling me for weeks – months – that I need to say something about this, knowing that to do so is to put those special people in an uncomfortable position.
In this uncertain place that lives between the fear of “do” and the fear of “don’t,” I kept stumbling over a verse, echoing from a memory long since lost:
“To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many.”
“Protest,” Ella Wheeler Wilcox
The few who dare, must speak and speak again.
In the stillest moments of night, in the deepest recesses of myself, I’ve asked, Am I one of the few who dare? Do I want to be?
The answer has come in the drive in my gut, the truth in my heart, the whisper of my God telling me that this, this, is precisely the reason He gifted me with a love for the way words jostle and play… and a reckless enough spirit to drink wine, listen to aggressive music, and click “Publish.”
So I proceed.
Rick Warren’s quote has been posted repeatedly – not just on Facebook, but also on blogs and other forms of social commentary – as a “compassionate Christian” justification for opposition to marriage equality. This context is important.
Because when Pastor Warren spoke these words, he was not speaking about gay marriage. At all. In fact, the original interview, which can be read on ChristianPost.com, shows that he was actually answering this question:
“Why do you think people who call themselves Christians sometimes say the most hateful things about Muslims?”
Context: Birthing schisms in Christianity since 33 AD.
Additional, important context: Before being stripped and misinterpreted and meme-maker-ed into a convenient soundbite, this thing that Pastor Warren said was preceded by a clarification:
“Well, some of those folks probably aren’t really Christians. 1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” And 1 John 2:9 says “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.”
This should be a humbling moment: The realization that a crucially important bit of framing was torn from these words – spoken a scant few months ago by a living man in our own country in a time when the original interview could be uncovered by a .3 second Google search – explicitly to render them more suitable for re-purposing into a justification for hateful behavior of Christians against their brothers.
Dear conservative Christians: When progressive Christians debate you over the shortcomings of Biblical literalism due to the (in)accuracy of man, this is the kind of mix-up we’re talking about.
Because let’s be clear… Without the previous explanation that Christians should not ever, under the umbrella of Christianity, act hatefully toward anyone, this quote does not dissuade Christians from acting badly. It does not encourage Christians to find meaningful dialogue.
It pardons the acknowledged hateful behavior of Christian peoples under the guise of compassionate disagreement and a vow that “We don’t really hate you. We just don’t agree with you. (With our signs and picket lines and mean words.)”
Now, the context of the masses is important, too. Rick Warren did not speak these words with regard to marriage equality. But that’s how the masses are using them, and that matters. As does the truth that the masses using these words are doing so optimistically, with hopeful sights on a middle ground and place of understanding, in a moment when they found a piece of their truth in lovely words that (superficially) speak against fear and hate.
In a vacuum, these words would be as beautiful as the souls that shared them.
But in their proper context, they are a pretty lie. Whitewash. A trite and dismissive gloss over a reality that is so very, very hateful.
Because when you vote against equal rights for your fellow citizens, that is hateful.
When you form multi-hours-long lines to buy crappy fast food chicken in order to publicly demonstrate your support for discrimination, that is hateful.
When you support politicians who dedicate themselves to the denial of equality to your brothers, that is hateful.
It just is.
I understand that conservative Biblical interpretations prohibit gay marriage, and I respect that. But here’s the thing… I’m Christian, and my Biblical interpretation? Does not prohibit gay marriage. And based on the gay marriages that have taken place in my very congregation – one of which was performed by a Bishop – I’d say that this is not one of those times when I’m all alone in my rogue, non-academic understanding of something. It would seem that The Powers That Be in my sect of Christianity are pretty much okay with the whole concept.
Other churches may not be. And that is okay. Those churches doesn’t have to perform gay marriage ceremonies. There’s not been a single attempt to pass marriage equality legislation that would require all churches to perform them. I know that some Christian leaders have said that this is a slippery slope, and it’s just a matter of time before all churches are forced to align with the Liberal Agenda. But… really? I mean, women were granted the right to vote in 1920, equal civil rights in 1964, and to date I don’t see that anyone has noogied the Roman Catholic Church into submission on the matter of women priests.
See, my conservative friends, it comes back to the oft-repeated arguments about separation of Church and State. Your Biblical interpretation cannot shape law, not in the United States. Neither can mine. Think about that a moment. Think about how important that is for you. If you are conservative, you almost certainly voted against our current President. The uproar over Rev. Louie Giglio’s withdrawal – or removal, depending on your news outlet – from consideration for delivering Obama’s inaugural address, allegedly on the basis of his preachings against homosexuality, is a key source for conservative Christian belief that the government will force churches to perform gay marriages. Here’s the thing: Obama was elected by your fellow citizens. Twice. Put up to a vote of the American people, whose Biblical interpretation do you think would become the law of the land?
Be glad for separation of church and state. Because my Biblical interpretation places a lot of emphasis on the idea of losing your shit and flipping tables, and implementing that nationwide would be a logistical nightmare.
Marriage equality is not the institution of an alternate Biblical law in the United States. It is a reasoned and logical response to this non-religious, legal question:
Do we allow responsible adult citizens who contribute to the common good of the land, the right to decide for themselves with whom they want to enter into a legal partnership?
Earlier today I read an article by a small-town sports writer (whom I refuse the traffic that a link could potentially generate), in which he referred to himself as “courageous” for speaking out against the idea that it is admirable for a prominent athlete to come out as gay. I’ll admit it, I laughed. That’s not courageous. Attempted oppression, by definition, is not courageous.
Courageous is a kid jumping off the high diving board for the first time.
Courageous is my freshly-neutered puppy popping a stitch because not even lack of testicles can stop him from humping our other dog.
Courageous is having the ability to hold your beliefs in your home and the peacefully coexisting beliefs of others in your neighborhood, and saying, “Okay. These can live together.” Because you really don’t have to compromise your convictions to be compassionate… but you do have to keep your convictions in your house, and not ram them into others’. (And let’s head off a rebuttal here by stating the obvious, that extending marriage rights to gay people does not ram their beliefs into your house. Unless you live in a Will and Grace re-run – and even then it’s iffy.)
So, this quote from Rick Warren… If it still has meaning for you, great. But I will hope that the next time its orbit passes by your corner of the web and you nod along in agreement, this moment will include the baseline assumption that a community that doesn’t fear or hate the people it disagrees with also does not actively try to oppress or discriminate against them.
Because that shit’s just not cool.
“I know you think it’s not your problem
I know you think that God will solve them
But if your shit is not together
It’ll never be you and me, plant the seed
Open up and let it be
We are the people that you’ll never get the best of
Not forget the rest of”
I highly recommend this P!nk album.
Peace and love to all.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Nick and I had this conversation last night, about the kitten we rescued and are temporarily housing:
Me: The kids are going to be heartbroken when we find the kitten a home.
Nick: I know. But Boo has soured me on ever having another indoor cat. [Explanation: Urinary crystals and orneriness.]
Me: Well, you know… Boo’s old. He’s probably going to die soon.
Nick: We’ve been saying that for two years. And he’s still here, peeing all over our house.
Me: I’m just saying, if we give this kitten away, like, tomorrow, and then next week Boo dies, we’re going to feel like shit.
Nick: Even if we still had the kitten and Boo dies next week, it won’t be any easier on the kids.
Me: But a kitten is at least a decent consolation prize.
Nick: It doesn’t count as a consolation prize if you already have the kitten first. Then it’s just… there were two and now there’s one.
Me: What if we hid the kitten? Like, kept her in storage in the garage or something? Then when Boo goes, we could be all, “TA-DA! Surprise! We didn’t really get rid of the kitten! She’s just been in hiding. Like Quasimodo.”
Nick: Congratulations… Here’s this messed up cat that we shoved in a box and kept in storage for you?
Me: And she’d be adapted to the dark, like a giant mole rat, all, “THE LIGHT, THE LIGHT!”
Nick: That would be the worst consolation prize ever.
Me: Hm… You suppose I’d be able to use that flyer to try to land some marketing contracts?
Nick: Marketing what?
Nick: No. Just, no.
I’m sure that the kitten is as happy as we are to learn that she is going to have a happy home with a loving family, and not spend the next however-long living in a storage box, waiting for Boo to die.
Farewell, Nameless Kitty. I hope you have a wonderful life.