WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

New Beginnings November 13, 2021

Photo by Vojtech Okenka on Pexels.com

It was a year ago, November 2020, when I walked into his office for the last time. He was at his desk, face trained on the screen before him, eyes red-rimmed. He looked tired. Deflated. Weak. I set the box of files on the chair across from him. The same chair that I’d occupied countless times for countless conversations, both business and personal. “Peace out,” I offered awkwardly, unsure of exactly what to say to convey to him everything I wanted to say in that moment. I valued your mentorship. I looked at you like a father figure, someone to be trusted, someone whose advice I often sought. I’ve been unhappy here for YEARS but always stayed out of loyalty to you, to what you’ve built. I had such respect for you, despite it all. He glanced up briefly and was already turning his attention back to his computer screen before he finished exhaling, “Thank you, Sierra.” I lingered in the doorway for a moment, thinking he might say something more. When he didn’t, I slipped out quietly. Disappointed. Hurt. Angry. Regretful.

Having left his office for the last time, no closure to be had, I walked down the hall to my office. Or rather, the office that until just hours prior had been mine for the past almost 15 years. It was there that I was watched as I cleared out my work area. Watched, as though I was inherently untrustworthy. I had no chance to remove personal documents from my computer, no opportunity to save the contacts I had curated over the years, no ability to send a farewell message to the clients with whom I’d built relationships. I packed my personal items into the box I was provided. I asked permission to take a few items I had acquired from the company, including a book. I remember the conference I had received it at. The author was the keynote speaker and was a delight to speak with during the cocktail hour at the end of the day. The company had paid for the trip and the conference. But that book, those memories, all the experiences…they were all mine.

I left my old office that night with 15 years worth of stress packed into one cardboard box, feeling like my life was over. Why? Because I had believed him all those years. You’d hate corporate life. All those lies he’d told me. Everyone is replaceable. I’d fallen for all of them, hook, line, and sinker. You’ve got it good here. I had believed him because why shouldn’t I? He was there to congratulate me on my engagement in 2005 and hug me at my mom’s wake in 2006. He attended my wedding in 2008 and patted my back encouragingly when I announced my pregnancy in 2012. He’d quelled my anxiety more times than I could count throughout the recession. We’d talked business and life, about past experiences and future goals. He taught me lots. And I believed him.

So when I found myself jobless, without warning, the company having been sold and the new owner having decided to manage it himself, I vowed to give myself a break. Lick my wounds. Consider my next move. And in November 2020, with my daughter’s school fighting to maintain a “hybrid” schedule mid-pandemic, my first move was to regroup. To be fully committed to supporting her distance learning instead of half-assing the oversight of her education between work calls and work emails and various other work things that, in the end, didn’t deserve a modicum of my attention. I did that. And I fought to keep myself here, rather than letting what was left of me just fade away into nothingness. I half-heartedly browsed job openings in the beginning, still hearing echoes in the back of my head of him, convincing me that there was no other job out there for me. I began applying, anyway. Slowly. Just enough to have satisfied the “job hunt” requirements.

And then around late February 2021, things changed ever so slightly. We seemed to have turned a corner in the pandemic, at least locally. School was back to a fuller in-person schedule than we’d seen in a year and despite all those nagging voices in the back of my head that I’d never find a job better suited to me than the one he’d taken from me, I was ready to actually try. And, gosh, did I try. Quietly and without fanfare, I began browsing more seriously. Submitting more resumes. Writing more cover letters. Making more phone calls. And the interview requests began coming in. Sometimes second interviews, thirds, even. Some were over quickly, some lasted all day. Some were in-person, some attended from my living room via video conference. Follow-up emails. Returned voicemails. Thank yous. I was doing everything right. But the offers weren’t coming in.

That went on for months. Me, applying and interviewing and ending every week feeling inadequate and hopeless. Me, keeping it all to myself, lest my husband or anyone else important to me find out what a useless failure I was. Me, reading social media posts from friends and family, griping in general terms about the “lazy” people who weren’t working during the pandemic. How they wished they could “have it easy,” too. I wanted to scream and set the record straight for them. I’m trying! I’m giving every last ounce of what’s left of me, fucking trying. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, why no one wants me. It wasn’t a vacation. It wasn’t fun or relaxing. It was months of the same, day in and day out. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Depression. Feeling dehumanized, constantly being measured and judged by hiring managers and recruiters and bubbly talent acquisition specialists. Having my already tender, raw emotional state being mauled and manhandled by people with rough hands and rougher words. Putting on a braver face than I actually had and pretending like the fact that I’d been searching for months and not found a position was no big deal. Yeah, those ignorant posts from people I love cut especially deep in those months.

And sometime around August 2021, something shifted in me. I felt completely defeated by the job search and was resigned to the fact that I’d never find a new gig. I went through the motions, responding to interview requests. I showed up groomed and appropriately dressed. I said all the right things, having had so much practice answering the questions they all ask. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I got the job or didn’t, because I went in expecting that I wouldn’t, anyway. And it was when I stopped caring about if they liked me or not that I began to consider whether or not I liked them. Could I see myself happy here? And somehow, it seemed that interviewers began liking me more. By the end of September, I had a recruiter trying to sell me on a position, written offers from two companies, and was in the final stages of interviews with a third agency. I AM capable and worthy of a new job. People DO see the value I bring to the table. The cobwebs were finally being cleared out, my sense of self-worth returning.

It was a month ago, October 2021, when I walked into my new office for the first time. I had survived the phone screening, the in-person interview with my direct supervisor, and the two subsequent video interviews with other decision-makers. I had signed the offer letter and passed the background check. I was moving on, taking a step toward the new person I’m becoming. My new position is wildly different than my last. It’s a different industry entirely, from general management to human resources. I have different responsibilities. I took a pay cut to be where I am but you know what? I’ll get back to where I was eventually. And in the meantime, I’ve found a new home with this new family who took me in when I was at my absolute lowest. These are the people who are going to help carry me through to the next phase of my life, I’ve told myself. I’m going to be happy here. I know I will be, and not because someone told me I would be. Because I can look around and see that people are genuinely happy to be at work. I’ve read the policies that promote actual things like work/life balance and advancement. I’ve seen the bonuses and raises come through for processing. I’ve attended company-sponsored lunches and an event hosted by The Fun Committee, which I think all companies ought to have. Employees smile and seem appreciated. I feel appreciated. And I’m only just beginning.

Yeah, this is where I’m going to learn and grow and be happy for a long time to come. And for the first time in a long time, I’m learning to believe ME. She is, after all, the only one who deserves to hold my trust. Believe in her.

 

Pieces of Me August 8, 2021

Photo by Ismael Sanchez on Pexels.com

Something I’ve begun to learn fairly recently is that opening up, showing vulnerability, admitting my limitations, being authentically me….it helps. It helps to talk about the not-so-shiny feelings I struggle with. But it helps even more when friends, acquaintances, even strangers reach out to me in response to some of the topics I’ve shared about here and elsewhere on social media. Raw stuff. Stuff that I had previously swept under the rug and tried to ignore or deny. But the more I share, the more I realize that I’m not alone. My insecurities, my fears, my anxieties; they’re not unique to me.

About a week ago, I was scrolling Facebook and came across a post from a new podcaster. I’m not familiar with the creator or the podcast so this isn’t a plug, necessarily. But the post I saw resonated with me so I shared it. If you’ve got a minute (literally, one minute) and you’d like to check it out, it’s available here. But if you don’t, here’s a recap: The video shows a man speaking directly to the camera about his experience in therapy. He recounts telling his therapist that he feels he needs help to be great; he’s only good on his own. A good employee, a good father, a good husband, a good friend. His therapist says, “Employee is someone you are for your job. Husband is someone you are for your wife. Father is someone you are for your son. Friend is someone you are for your friends. Who are you for yourself? Who are you outside of those roles?” He then admits to the camera, “I’m not sure there’s much of a person at the end of all that.”

BAM! Mic drop. That one minute anecdote succinctly sums up what I’ve been trying to find the words to say for damn near four years now.

Within the past year, my husband and I concluded a conversation we’d mooted since our daughter was first born. The big “should we have another child?” conversation. We’ve opened the dialog periodically over the years, in good times when parenting feels like a breeze and in bad times when I’m certain we’re failing. The end result has always been a decision to table it for the future. I’ve found various excuses. “When she’s out of diapers. Once she’s out of daycare. When we’re in a bigger house. After I’m settled into a new career.” There’s always been a reason why the time wasn’t right. Until sometime mid-pandemic when I tearfully and honestly admitted to my husband, “I don’t want any more children. I’ve lost too much of myself in motherhood and can’t emotionally do it, starting over from scratch with a new baby.”

I felt like a terrible mom for having even thought it, let alone breathed life into it and actually said it. I felt that it implied my daughter has somehow taken something from me or that I don’t love her or appreciate the family my husband and I have created together. Let me be clear: Motherhood has been the most terrifying endeavor of my life but also my most rewarding. Watching her grow into the 8-year old she is today—from learning the basics like talking and walking to developing her own personality and opinions—I’m incredibly fortunate to have a front row seat for all of it. The prospect of ushering her into adolescence and eventually adulthood looms ahead of me, an insurmountable task. But I have faith that it’ll become slightly more tractable with time and experience.

But it’s true. I’ve lost a piece of myself when I became her mom. Just as I lost a piece of myself when I became his wife. And their friend. We—because I’m confident I’m not alone in the way I was brought up—are taught from a young age that you’re supposed to hop on this sort of life escalator as soon as possible. Finish school. Find a job. Nail down a spouse. Buy a house with a picket fence. Pop out 2.5 children. Work until you die. Anything outside of that isn’t normal. It isn’t right. You’re doing it wrong unless you do it this way. And I’ve bought into every last bit of it, happily cleaving off parts of Sierra and bestowing them upon others.

I’ve recognized for a while now that my identity is too wrapped up in others. That I’m long overdue to disentangle myself, to a degree, from the roles I fill for others. To reclaim some pieces of me, patch them back together and mod podge them into place if I have to. Part of me proffers that these weird existential ramblings going on in my brain are related to the pandemic; surely COVID has caused many of us to take a step back and examine what’s important in life and what we’d like to improve upon. Another part of me wonders if it’s my age; maybe all 30-somethings go through this, no matter what’s going on in the world at large.

Regardless of why I’m feeling the things I’m feeling, I’m feeling them. And I’ve taken some steps towards reclaiming myself. But I realized this weekend that my work is far from over. I was at a party at my cousin’s house, celebrating a couple of birthdays. “You two have met, right?” my cousin asked simultaneously of me and a woman across the campfire from me. We both replied at the same time, but gave different answers. Mine was, “I’m sure we have. I know I’ve seen her at parties here before.” Hers was, “No, I don’t think so.” After a brief explanation from my cousin, the woman remembered me. Turns out, she hadn’t recognized me because I’d walked into the party with two kids (my daughter and my nephew), neither of whom were seated with me at the time, and no partner; hubby wasn’t feeling well so he had opted to stay home. Without being flanked by my daughter and my husband, I was unrecognizable as an individual. Which proves my point.

So. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers, this is a topic I’d love to hear from you about. How have you maintained (or reclaimed) your individual identity while still fulfilling the roles you’ve taken on in life? I’m humbly asking for guidance.

 

The Lowlight July 26, 2021

Sunrise at Wildwood, NJ

Mondays can be tough. This Monday, though, is made tougher by the fact that it’s my first full day back home after a week at the beach. My brain is still in a vacation fog fueled by funnel cake, lack of sleep, and a harrowing drive home that spanned over 5 hours and included a GPS-guided detour off the highway and through New York City for reasons still unknown to me. But I digress.

While away, I did what we all do on vacation. I enjoyed my time with family and tried my best to capture a few images each day that represented the memories we’d made. I’m often bad at that. Remembering to take pictures, that is. I’m even worse at remembering to be IN some of the pictures, too, but that’s a story for another day. This time, I did okay at both. The end result was a nightly post to social media sharing the handful of images from that day. If we’re connected there, you probably saw my posts. Maybe even ‘liked’ or commented on a picture or two. The pictures show happiness. Family. Laughter. Relaxation. Fun. All the highlights of a memorable vacation.

But let’s drop the pretense for a minute here and level with each other. Vacation isn’t all just highlights, is it? There are the moments when no one can pick what they want for dinner or the kids are crying for no good reason. Maybe you’re sunburned. Chafed. Overtired. Perhaps the shoes you packed weren’t the best for walking, after all. Maybe the excursion you wanted was booked or you just ran out of time to do it all. Certainly, there are lowlights of vacation, too, but we never really talk about them. Until right now.

My favorite picture from vacation wasn’t taken by me. It was taken by my husband. Here it is:

Fireworks at the beach

My daughter and I were watching a fireworks display on the beach. It was the end of a long day of fun that included a morning bike ride for her and sleeping in for me. We’d gone on a speedboat dolphin tour with a group of family and friends, spent some time poolside, done some souvenir shopping on the boardwalk, and were about to head back to our hotel with a variety of fried sweets to share before bed. When I look at this picture, I take the overly critical stance that I always do. I see that my hair is messy and windblown. I see the flab at the back of my arm and my hunched posture. I wish I looked more motherly, maybe angled toward my daughter rather than away from her. Maybe with an arm around her. But you know what else I see here? Strength.

Since this isn’t social media and I don’t have to stick to just the highlights of my vacation, I’ll admit that had this picture been taken from the front, you’d see that I had a tear-stained face. Because when you’re like me and struggle with bouts of anxiety, you try hard to leave it at home but it finds its way into your suitcase every time. And mine followed me onto the boardwalk that night.

About 90 minutes before this picture was taken, I was browsing shops for trinkets to bring home to loved ones. The three of us—my husband, my daughter, and me—were happily walking together, chatting about what we hoped to buy. We were excited about the fireworks display that would be happening soon and were plotting what we’d grab for a sweet treat before heading back to our hotel for the night. As we shopped, the crowds thickened in proportion to my patience thinning. I grew uncomfortable. Cranky. Anxious. I told my husband that I was going to walk along the shore to have some quiet time and that I’d meet up with them for fireworks a little later. I encouraged him to continue on shopping with our girl and skipped down the wooden steps to the sand.

About 60 minutes before this picture was taken, I slipped off my flip flops and marched, barefoot, across the beach to the water. The sun was already down. It was a full moon, hovering large and pink on the horizon. I walked toward it until I felt the water at my toes. And then, I began walking along the shore, feet sinking slightly into the packed sand, waves lapping up the footprints in my wake. I breathed, deeply. I listened to the water. I watched in semi-darkness as birds alighted at the very edge of the water to drink before flying off. I cried.

About 45 minutes before this picture was taken, I paused my walk to face the ocean and the moon. I sat in silence for a few minutes and let the tears flow. I thought about life and love, childhood and aging, hopes and insecurities. I thought about my relationships. I thought about the work I’ve put into myself, my mental health, over the past year and a half. I talked to my mom, needing so badly to feel her spirit just then.

About 30 minutes before this picture was taken, I had made my way from the shore back to the boardwalk and found a bench overlooking the beach. I texted my husband to let him know where he could find me. I struggled with negative thoughts; I had let my anxiety win by pulling me away and ruining family time. I cried some more. I texted a couple of friends who I turn to in moments like these. I breathed and trained my eyes on that moon, trying to rein in my emotions. Trying to fight the urge to escape to the safety of my hotel room waiting just one block away.

About 15 minutes before this picture was taken, my husband and daughter hopped off the tram car beside me. He kissed the top of my head and whispered, “We’ll always have your back.” I didn’t try to hide my tears from my daughter, who stood between my knees and asked me why I was crying. Instead, I answered as honestly as I could. I told her I wasn’t sure. I asked her for a hug so she wrapped her arms around my neck and let me rock her. “You know that nervous feeling you sometimes get in your belly?” I asked, knowing that she understands anxiety. She nodded. “I’m feeling that. And it’s making me feel really sad for some reason. I’m just really glad you’re here.” She rubbed my back and held me and eventually sat down behind me.

Moments before this picture was taken, the fireworks display began. The fireworks display that I almost missed out on. She and I sat there, with Chris beside us, and oohed and ahhed as colors exploded in the air. I felt her back against mine. I heard the care and concern in her voice. I felt the safety in having my husband there.

I’m so thankful that my husband thought to snap a picture just then. Had he asked, I’d have declined. I’d have waved him off because I was crying and looked a hot mess. But he didn’t ask. He saw a moment he wanted to remember and he acted. I’d like to pause here to urge you: Take the picture. Even if you’re not looking or feeling your best. Take the picture, too, of your partner. Especially if your kids are with them. Even if it’s not social media worthy and no one ever sees the picture but you and them. Honest moments like these should be celebrated just as much as the posed, happy ones.

The greatest souvenir I could’ve ever taken home from my vacation? A reminder that it’s okay to not be okay.

The moon looked so much bigger and more vibrant in person

 

The Learning Curve: An Erratum July 16, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 4:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

Roughly eight years ago, I published a post called The Learning Curve. It was a list of 10 things I’d learned about parenting in my 28 day tenure as a mom. <insert eye roll here> To be fair, at one point in the post, I acknowledged that my future self would mock my naiveté. (This older and wiser version of me prefers that spelling—naiveté—to the spelling I used in 2013—naivety.) And before I go any further, I’d like to pause here to acknowledge the same; that the future, more-experienced-mom me is going to roll her eyes, too, and have much sager words to offer. For now, though, I’ll submit to you my current “top 10” list of stuff I’ve learned about parenting over the past eight years. Which honestly feels much longer, perhaps because I’m looking at it from the back end of a global pandemic.

Silly faces make EVERY picture better.
  1. You’re going to eat your words. – All of them. Every last “I’ll never let my kid…” and “I always… / I’d never…” you’ve ever even thought with your pre-parenting brain. Open wide because here comes the airplane. At some point, even if it’s just a one off, you’re going to let them… and you sometimes… / you might….
  2. You only think you’re the one in charge. – Sure, you’re the parent. You make the rules. But time and money are both controlled largely by the kid. That weekly date night that was non-negotiable before kids suddenly relies on finding a sitter. That weekend excursion with your girlfriends now has to be planned around dance competitions. That glass of wine you used to indulge in after work now has to wait because you’ve got to drive the kid to and from soccer practice.
  3. Your house is always going to be messy. – There are going to be toys. And books. And craft supplies. And sports equipment. And Legos and Barbie shoes and endless little bits of cut up pieces of paper and random pieces of board games you didn’t even know you owned. NONE of it will be where it belongs. It’s going to need to be picked up before you can clean. Unless you try to clean around it. Which, let me be clear: You will try. On the days that you do put things away and clean, it’ll be short-lived. So short-lived, in fact, that the desire to do it again will be tarnished by the disappointment in how long it lasts. The stretches of messiness will get longer and longer, spurts of clean becoming more and more rare, until eventually you just embrace the chaos.
  4. Get used to repeating yourself. – Kids have selective hearing. That’s a fact. Whether or not they hear you is determined mostly by whether or not there’s a screen on in their proximity and whether or not they want to hear what you’re saying. You’ve opened a fun size KitKat from your secret stash (also known as last year’s Halloween haul)? They’ll hear the crinkle of that wrapper from the neighbor’s house. But it’s time to brush teeth and get ready for bed? They might be seated next to you on the couch and still won’t hear you. And the things they do hear will eventually become things that they “forgot” or “didn’t know.” So you’ll have to tell them again and hope they hear you. Rinse and repeat for all of eternity.
  5. Screens aren’t really all that bad, in moderation. – No, I’m not advocating parking your kid in front of a screen all day, every day. I’m merely suggesting that they’ll survive a little screen time, even as a toddler. There’s lots to be learned from lots of children’s programming nowadays. The app store has tons of games that help with fine motor skills, vocabulary, logic…you name it. Without a screen, kids in 2020/2021 would have missed out on over a year’s worth of schooling. Technology is here to stay and we have a responsibility to our kids to teach them how to use it all properly.
  6. Making friends is going to get weird. – The friends you used to have pre-kids may still be there. But they’ll be off doing whatever their kid wants to do every weekends because they, too, only think they’re in charge. So you’ll have to consider making some new ones. The likely choice here will be the parents of the kids that your kid hangs out with. You may have nothing at all in common with them other than having kids who like to hang out. Or you may have tons in common and get along great…until your kids have a falling out or are no longer on the same team and suddenly your friendship suffers for it.
  7. You’re not doing it wrong. – You’re going to feel like you are. Often. But you’re not. When you need parenting advice, turn to those whose advice resonates with you. And find people who can remind you that you’re doing a good job even when you’re sure you’re not.
  8. Don’t expect appreciation but know it exists. – You know that scene in Frozen II where Olaf opines about “this will all make sense when I am older?” Of course you do, because you have kids. Well, I trust that the same is true with kids and appreciation. Right now, you may be stress eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and stewing over the fact that your kid not-so-kindly reminded you that you forgot to buy more tape at the store—seriously, where the eff does all the tape go?!?!—but didn’t so much as thank you for going to the PTO meeting, doing three loads of laundry, and schlepping them to their sports practice. (Okay, I’ll admit, that sounds oddly specific. I digress.) But someday, they’re going to look back their childhood and appreciate your involvement in the things you did. Not an empty tape dispenser.
  9. You’re going to miss this. – Whatever “this” is, it’s not going to be that way forever and when it’s not there, you’ll miss it. So when you’re dog-tired and feel like you have nothing left to give, take a breath and remind yourself of that.
  10. Motherhood is amazing. – This is the one hold-out from the 2013 post because it’s still true. I know because she and I laugh together in a way that neither of us laughs with anyone else. And we have secret kisses akin to secret handshakes; including not only the standards (regular kiss, butterfly kiss, “bunny” kiss, etc) but also some of our own creation like the slow-motion kiss and the whisper kiss. I know because when she’s hurt, it’s me she looks for. And at the end of a long day her rough behavior melts into a teary hug while we talk about what’s bothering her. I know because she drives me BONKERS but is also my favorite person in the universe.

To learn more about the inspiration for this post…

 

Clearing Closet Space June 28, 2021

This post has been sitting idly in my drafts folder since March 14. I wrote it as a gift to myself, intending to publish it the following day, my 38th birthday. I passed it along to a small handful of beta readers who each offered feedback. I reread it. I slept on it. And the next morning, the day I had intended to post it, I balked. Since then, I’ve done a lot of thinking (and a little editing). And I feel proud with the end result. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to rewind time about three and a half months…


It’s that time of year. Connecticut is on the cusp of spring. The days are getting warmer, sunsets are getting later. Now is when those of us with small closets and temperate climates pack away the sweaters and long sleeves to clear closet space for the tank tops and sun dresses that have been lying in wait in under-bed storage since fall. And that’s got me doing some thinking about all the things we wear and what they say about us, the image that we project out into the world.

The Ides of March, 1983. That’s the beginning of my story. I imagine that my first ever item of clothing was one of those hospital-issued pink and blue striped hats. I can picture a nurse tying a pink ribbon around its top. Girl. I can picture my parents dressing me to leave the hospital and go home. Maybe a onesie. Maybe pajamas. Booties, for sure. Probably white and trimmed in itchy lace. The left foot, daughter, and the right, sister. I can picture, too, all the outfits that streamed in and out of our house throughout childhood. The hand-me-downs, cousin. The gifts, niece. The frilly dresses bought special for holidays or events, granddaughter. Each article, a new piece of the image that was me.

On the first day of Kindergarten, I wore a dark blue dress with a tiny floral pattern on it. Its front was graced with a wide, white collar and an oversized bow, the likes of which would stir envy in JoJo Siwa herself. Mary Janes. Bobby socks. Backpack. Student. Then came the leotards and tights. Dancer. The headbands that would hold my hair back as I curved over my spiralbound notebook and penned all the stories dancing in my childlike imagination. Writer. The sparkly, plastic, adjustable chain friendship bracelets that were all the rage amongst grade-schoolers in the 80s; mine was purple. Friend. Gosh, we’d trade and collect and gift those plastic clip-on charms like crazy.

Most of our clothes are chosen for us when we’re kids. But as we age into the pre-teen and teen years, we start to have a bit more say, don’t we? And that’s when our personalities, rather than our parents’ preferences, start to poke through. Bathing suits. Confident. Flip-flops. Low maintenance. Comfy t-shirts. Shy. Leggings. Nerd. I was about eleven years old when I tried on that belt that became a conversation starter for years after. Vegetarian. The apron that was part of my uniform for my very first job. Employee. Those platform velvet heels; wow, did I love those uncomfortable monstrosities. Stubborn. And let’s not forget the make-up; eyeliner and eyeshadow and mascara, oh my. Girlfriend. Baggy jeans. Anxious. Prom dresses. Mature. Khakis. Sensible. The overpriced “class ring” that we’re all duped into buying in high school only to lose somehow within a year–either lost on the bottom of a jewelry box or gifted to the one we thought we’d be with forever but haven’t seen since Thanksgiving Eve the fall after graduation. People-pleaser.

As we age into adulthood, our wardrobe is entirely in our control. We box up the items we don’t wear anymore, the pieces that no longer hang on us right. And in their place, new pieces. Maybe something in a fresh new color or trendier style. Maybe something a little bigger or a tad more form-fitting. Maybe something just different, new, fresh. Hoodies, pea coats, and scarves. Intern. Thigh highs and crew socks. Graduate. Bras, undies, and camisoles. Fiancee. Lingerie and bathrobes. Wife. Sweaters, spaghetti straps, and skirts. Mother. A rainbow of colors. A myriad of styles. All chosen by us for comfort, function, and image.

Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, I wear a lot more pajamas and yoga pants than ever before; with nowhere to go, why not be comfy, right? And with nothing to do, I’ve had lots of time to think. At the forefront of my mind? Jewelry. Shiny little baubles, uniquely my own style, to pull my look together. I’ve scoured my jewelry box, trying on all sorts of accessories, and have finally settled on some statement pieces that feel really great to me. The earrings that I think feel best on me may not be your style but they’re mine. The left, sapiosexual, and the right, demisexual, are equally sparkly. And they look pretty amazing with the necklace that feels best, too. Pansexual. All of which goes nicely, by the way, with my wedding ring. Blessed beyond words. Wearing these, I look in the mirror and feel complete. And let me be clear. I’ve done arguably more than my fair share of online shopping during this pandemic. But these jewels are ones I’ve always owned. Nothing new. Just something I’ve never worn out of the house until now.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

To those who may not want to follow the links provided, or who maybe DID but are still confused, let me tell you what those earrings and that necklace mean to me. I like brains. Not in the zombie kinda way but in the “talk nerdy to me” kinda way. And I like emotional connections. And these two proclivities trump anything else about a person, including gender. So together, I hope my jewelry is projecting a “hearts not parts” image.

Photo by Shamia Casiano on Pexels.com

If I had to name the adult equivalent to the clunky, purple plastic bracelet of my youth, it would be my Pandora bracelet. So let’s pretend for a moment that there’s a charm on it for every single bond I’ve made in life. Family, friends, acquaintances, members of the community around me, you. Everyone. Each bead, each dangly, adding up to the sum total of respect, love, support, and acceptance surrounding me. Each bauble making my life all that much more beautiful. The weight of that charm bracelet on my wrist brings comfort and I think it’s perfect as it is. That said, anyone and everyone is entitled to take their charm back. I’ll give it freely. With a heavy heart, sure, but still freely. Because I’ve let too much time pass not allowing these gems to glimmer in the sunshine and the only people I have room for in my circle are the ones who accept that I love the jewelry I’ve chosen for me.

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

Welcome back to the now. June 2021. Pride month. I didn’t want to let it pass without pulling out this post. Dusting it off. Giving it a final pass of editing. And finally sharing it. Anyone who knows me knows that I tout acceptance for all. And this post is really nothing more than me extending that same grace, that same acceptance to myself.

I’m prepared for some people to not care; “Why is she telling us this? What does it matter?” But it does matter, to me. It’s a part of me that I’ve only acknowledged to a handful of people, ever. Having never assigned myself a label and having entered into a heteronormative marriage has made it easy for me to blend in. To not be seen as “other.” But by not saying it, it feels like I’m hiding it. And I think that sends a message that I believe that being “other” is something to be ashamed of, that queerness is best swept under the rug and ignored. And THAT couldn’t be further from what I believe.

I’m prepared for some people to care a lot. Maybe even to walk away. I’d like to think there aren’t many people in my life who would do that. But maybe a few. Perhaps even some who’ll surprise me. I realize that probably not everyone is going to be an ally. Still, I’m prepared.

Mostly, though, I’m prepared for people to care just the right amount. To realize that I’m the same me I was before I wrote this, the same me I’ve always been. To maybe offer a hug or covid-approved fist-bump and say something like, “Hey, thanks for sharing a piece of you.”

 

Things I Learned at the Playground April 18, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
Photo by Robin McPherson on Pexels.com

“It’s school vacation for Rylin next week,” I’d said while talking with a friend last weekend.

“Oh, nice!” she’d said. Then, “What do you two have planned?” It was a logical question. No school means we should take the opportunity to do something fun. A year ago, we were the type of family that was almost never home on weekends and most weeknights, too. But now? I’ve grown accustomed to staying home. Comfortable NOT doing stuff. Too comfortable maybe. So I gave my friend all the same excuses I’ve used for a year now. “Nothing planned. Don’t forget I’m not vaccinated yet. And things aren’t normal here still. We still have to socially distance and wear masks.” My friend offered a simple, “Mmm” in response, which I could’ve taken as a sign of agreement, that I’d made the right choice by not planning anything. But come Monday, day one of school vacation, I was still thinking about that friend’s “Mmm.” And the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a gentle nudge. A kind reminder that life didn’t end when the pandemic started. And she was right.

“Let’s go to the library playground,” I suggested to my exuberant seven year old on Tuesday morning. It felt to me like a good compromise; something she’d be excited to do outside of our home or yard yet, still very low risk. When I said the words, Rylin’s eyes and spirit perked up. The library playground is THE place to play in town for the ages 3 to 12 crowd. And we hadn’t been in over a year, thanks to the pandemic. “Yesssss!” she whooped.

I reminded her that sandals aren’t the best for running so she put on socks and sneakers. I suggested we put her hair up so it’s out of her face when she’s playing. She asked to bring one of her babies, pretending she was a teacher and this was a field trip. And soon enough, we were loaded into the car, water bottles in tow, ready for a fun time.

We stopped for lunch on the way so our first order of business at the library was a little picnic under the pavilion. As we ate our sandwiches, I watched her glance around. She commented at how long it had been since we’d been there, how many kids were there playing, and how a couple people didn’t have on masks. And then lunch was over. I put my mask back on, disposed of our trash, and told her I’d be right there at our table, reading, while she plays. “Okay, mom!” And she was off, leaving me to chaperone MaryEllen, her one student on our field trip.

Within a few minutes, though, Rylin was back at the table beside me. She was unpacking MaryEllen’s backpack, which was full of hair accessories. As she spritzed her doll’s hair with its spray bottle and began brushing it, she admitted, “I’m feeling a little lonely.” I pointed out all the kids around her age and suggested she say hello to one of them. She lowered her gaze and said, “Everyone already has a friend to play with except for me.” I again suggested that she says hello to someone and asks them to play. I even offered to help her talk to someone. She shook her head, told me she could do it on her own, and ventured out again.

Her second attempt lasted about as long as her first. Only this time, I watched her rather than read. I saw her retreat to the least populated area of the playground, putting as much distance as possible between herself and the other kids. When she shuffled back to our table, I pointed out to her that talking to a new friend would be easier if she played in the same area as the other kids. She sat beside me, brushing MaryEllen’s hair again, and eked, “I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

It was as if I was listening to myself. I understood completely but asked her to say more anyway. “What’s making you feel overwhelmed?” She hesitated a moment, thinking. It wasn’t that some people weren’t wearing masks. It wasn’t even that there were too many people. It was that they were strangers. And in that moment, my year’s worth of gushing about how incredibly resilient she’d been throughout the pandemic came crumbling down. I realized that the pandemic HAD changed her. A year ago, she loved meeting new people. She’d say hello or just start playing with new friends without thinking twice. But since March 2020, she hasn’t even seen a stranger. And now, in April 2021, she doesn’t know how to meet someone new, even when they’re right in front of her.

I helped her brush and braid her doll’s hair, all the while reminding her of the kid she was a year ago. We talked about how the pandemic had changed the things we do, how we do them, and how we feel about all of it. We also talked about how life is slowly starting to get back to normal, and how we have to, too.

She made a short-lived third attempt at playing with the other kids but came back crying moments later, complaining about a twisted ankle following a jump down from the monkey bars. “Let’s head home,” I suggested for not my first time since we’d arrive. “Okay,” she finally agreed. She sounded defeated, and not just because of her ankle. On the car ride home, we talked more about feeling a little nervous to do some of the things that once came naturally to us. “It’s not that you CAN’T talk to new friends. You’re just out of practice,” I pointed out.

On Wednesday, Rylin was very eager to accompany me to my first vaccine appointment. As we got ready to leave, I pointed out what a beautiful day it was and asked if she might want to try visiting the playground again. To my surprise, she said yes. But our second day at the library went much like the first; me encouraging her to say hello to someone, her shying away from everyone, and the two of us styling her baby’s hair until it was time to go.

As we drove home that afternoon, she mused that she didn’t understand why she feels so overwhelmed about talking to new people. And I leveled with her. “Life has been very strange this past year and some of the things that used to be easy for us just feel different right now. But we have to keep trying.” Then I admitted to her that lots of normal things make me feel nervous now, too. I suggested to her that we both keep working on the things that make us feel overwhelmed.

We spent a rainy Thursday at home relaxing. Babying ourselves. Me, with a sore arm from my vaccine. Her, with a bruised ego from two trips to the playground without peer interaction. I took some time to reflect on how wrong I was to believe we’d made it through the pandemic unscathed. I silently acknowledged that many of my own anxieties about life returning to semi-normalcy are beginning to encroach on unhealthy. I also admitted to myself that she was drinking it all in. My emotions. How I respond to the world around us. I was poisoning her.

“Let’s go on a date,” I proposed on Friday morning. It was raining. We’d had two failed attempts at the playground already and really needed an emotional victory, a morale boost. “How about bowling?” I asked. On our way to the alley, I talked candidly about how I’ve been nervous about being around other people. “Ever notice that for the past year, Daddy has done most of our shopping and stuff outside the house?” I asked. She nodded. “I’ve been scared. But just because I haven’t gone out much doesn’t mean I CAN’T. So today we’re going to do it!”

We bowled two games, just the two of us, masks and all. And when we were done, we treated ourselves to ice cream. I worked hard, actively, to not let any of it bother me. Not the having to wear a mask, not the interacting with the bowling alley staff, not the ordering or paying for ice cream. I made a choice to not poison her with my anxiety. Instead, I fed her a steady diet of positivity and lightheartedness. And it worked. “That was a lot of fun and I wasn’t even that nervous. Thanks for being my date,” I smiled at her in the rear view mirror as we pulled back into our driveway. “You’re welcome,” she smiled back.

As life continues to inch closer to normalcy, my goal is to be more mindful of what I feed her soul, to remember that she’s drinking it all in and learning from me. I owe it to her to show her how to be responsible and cautious, sure. But also how to be happy, confident, comfortable in her skin. How to know her worth, take no shit, and not settle for less than she deserves. How to be brave. Fearless, even. How to not let anything stop her from accomplishing everything she wants in life.

It’s a tall order we have, us parents, navigating our kids back on track post-pandemic. But it’s time. And someday when she’s older, I’ll tell her the story of how it was her who taught me how to reenter normal life.

 

Musical Inspiration November 16, 2020

Day 22: Put your music on shuffle and post the first 10 songs.

Mom’s log. Stardate 11.16.2020. Day 215 of semi-quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s a chill in the air in New England. I’m trying to figure out how to host our typical Thanksgiving dinner with gathering restrictions, implemented by the Governor, of 10 people or fewer. (Spoiler alert: It just ain’t happening.) Scrolling Facebook tells me that literally everyone and their mother decorated for Christmas this past weekend. (Not me! Not until after Thanksgiving!) And following school newsletters and announcements from the Superintendent has me bracing for a shift back to full-remote learning, imminently.

I can’t help but feel a sense of dread. The days are getting shorter, colder. Upcoming holidays are sure to feel lonelier than ever, what with the lack of parties and family feasts. I can’t remember the last time I hugged or otherwise touched someone that doesn’t live with me—not even a hand shake. There are fewer and fewer things to do as positive COVID cases rise and restrictions tighten. Curfews are in place again. Travel bans abound; I’m not even sure at this point if I can legally/safely travel outside of my own state. Right now, it’s easy to feel anxious. Alone. Depressed. Scared. So I find ways to combat all those monsters. I reach out to friends to socialize, even if only online. I look within myself and write. I turn on some music and try to forget.

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

The music I tend toward these days leans heavily acoustic. Ballads, love songs. I generally choose music for the lyrics, the story a song tells. But sometimes the vibe of the song is more important than the words. Sometimes I need something a bit faster. Something to put a little pep in my step. Make me want to dance in the kitchen and belt out all the lyrics. A soundtrack to help me harness my bad-assery, if you will. Pump me up. Get me ready to face another day of distance learning and picking up toys and washing dishes and folding laundry, ad infinitum.

So here it is. I scoured Spotify for ten songs that get me there. There are more, for sure; I had to cull the list to just these ten, which was tough to do. And that fact—that limiting it to just 10 was difficult—filled me with optimism. There’s something for most everyone; some rock, some reggae, some hip hop, even a show tune! Several are explicit so you may not want to listen at work or around your littles. But press “play” when you can. Dance with me. Sing along. And remember that there’s so much good out there. Some days we just need to work a little harder to find it.

Crazy B*tch (Buckcherry)

Obxessed (Fire Choir)

Shake it Out (Florence + The Machine)

Oye (Mara)

So Hott (Kid Rock)

Sexy Can I (Ray J featuring Yung Berg)

Tambourine (Eve)

Rock DJ (Robbie Williams)

Seasons of Love (the cast of RENT, original motion picture)

Bruck It Down (Mr. Vegas)

There. That’ll do it. I’m feeling happy. Energized. Ready to face whatever else 2020 may throw in my face.

 

Lessons from the Campground September 11, 2020

Day 21: What three lessons do you hope your children learn from you?

Labor Day weekend has come and gone and just like that, summer is over. I spent my holiday weekend camping out with a small group of family and friends in my sister’s back yard. It’s a tradition that began nearly ten years ago. And it’s one that feels so important to us all that we’ve kept it going and have no plans to stop. It’s two nights of “roughing it” in tents. Screen time is virtually non-existent unless you count pulling out a phone to snap a photo or take a video; and we’ve got lots of both, thankfully. Bedtimes (and rules in general, for the most part) don’t matter. Priority is placed on quality time with each other and making memories to last a lifetime.

Every year, inevitably, the adults find themselves huddled together while the kids are off playing or sleeping or chattering until all hours of the night. And we muse over the fact that we hope our children hold the memories created during our camp outs for a lifetime. This year, we went as far as to imagine what the weekend will look like far into the future, when it’s our kids serving us and their kids food from the grill. There’s no doubt that these weekends are important to every last one of us campers. Fun to be had. Lessons to be learned. Here are three of the lessons that I hope my daughter, specifically, will take from these days…

LESSON 1: Your tribe is important. Choose them wisely.

Obligatory breakfast feast photo of the kiddos

The camping crew is a mix of family and friends (which I’ll often refer to as “framily” or my tribe). And, sure, not all of my tribe make the guest list; in fact it’s the same crew year after year with no new additions without passing a group vote. (And there WAS a vote this year so there WILL be new invitees next year!) We come in all colors, ages, sizes. We listen to different music, which often leads to a battle over the Bluetooth speaker that results in a country ballad followed by a reggae beat. We don’t all agree on the definition of a perfect s’more. Our parenting styles vary. But none of that matters because we mesh on things like know how to make each other laugh, de-stress, and have fun. We come together and all do our part to help out from unloading the cars on Saturday morning to packing up tents on Monday afternoon. And by the time we all return home, our stomachs are sore from laughing, our feet are filthy from walking around barefoot, and our hearts are full of memories that are burned into the very fiber of our beings.

LESSON 2: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” is always a crowd favorite during karaoke time.

During daylight hours, you can find us campers making up games with various supplies from my sister’s stash of camping gear. Sometimes we craft together. There’s always swimming and, for the past two years, “bull rides” in the pool that involve the rider climbing or jumping onto a huge inflatable bull while others attempt to knock them down. There’s always a few who pull their air mattress out of their tents and take mid-day naps in the sunshine. (Guilty as charged this year!) By nightfall, the music is blaring as we line dance and sing karaoke. No matter what we choose to do, there’s no judgment. We’re all just there to have fun. Laugh. Forget that summer is ending, school is starting, and the world feels chaotic and scary most days. In that backyard, our campground, cutting loose and enjoying some levity is what it’s about.

LESSON 3: Unplugging is vital to the soul.

The glow of a screen is no match for the glow of a campfire

The connections we make online are important, sure. Social media helps us stay up to date on what the kids are doing and where everyone is vacationing and, yeah, even sometimes what you had for lunch. But the freedom to unplug from all that–from news and streaming TV and a constant barrage of status updates–is freeing. The connections we make around a campfire are so very different. Whether it’s staying up until 2am laughing over newly created inside jokes or sitting around in a lazy silence together watching the flames lick the fire logs, there’s nothing like the connection and togetherness that’s felt around a campfire.

 

So This Is Seven May 10, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 10:16 pm

(Day 12: What are you excited about?)

wp-1589138798174174386129708385880.jpgOur girl turned 7 this week and despite the “stay at home” orders still in place, I think we managed to make it a kick-ass birthday for her. She’s been all smiles from Thursday (her actual birthday) through Saturday (when her “party” took place) because those three days were all about her. But in the process, it occurred to me that there’s a whole list of things I never expected to do altogether in the span of just three days… Or perhaps at all.

 

 

Watching our girl blow out her birthday candles without our families there with us.

received_2321103880423498135614402624580713.jpegLike most of you, family is huge to us. A birthday never passes without a family gathering of some sort. My dad, my sister, and my sister’s family along with hubby’s mom, twin brother, and dad and stepmom are always there to sing her “Happy Birthday,” watch her blow out the candles, and enjoy a piece of cake. Not being able to do that this year was rough but she made the best of it. She accepted video calls throughout the day to “see” the people she’d normally see and enjoyed having birthday dinner (and cake!) with a smaller group.

 

Scraping “Mother’s” off of the “Birth” Day cake hubby bought.

received_2341190944750167980186156042466448.jpegUsually, my sister makes her birthday cake and it’s always something giant and artistic and worthy of Cake Boss. But this year, we’re saving that one for whenever we’re (legally, safely) able to throw her a party. So I offered to make her a cake or order one from a local bakery to celebrate with in the day of. Her decision? She wanted the chocolate-on-chocolate cake from Costco. Two layers of rich dark chocolate cake coated in a chocolate frosting with chocolate ganache in the center. Yeah, that’s my kid. Anyway, when hubby got there, there was only one left on the shelf and it said “Happy Mother’s Day” on it in bright red icing. Our girl was not amused. Thus led us to scraping “Mother’s” off and using M&Ms to spell out some semblance of the word “birth” in multicolored candy to appease her.

 

Discussing where to position Sven and Lars, our Christmas elves, in May.

received_6034268638506305180730602374931038.jpeg“We have to make it magical for her!” If insisted. Of course that meant our Christmas elves would make an appearance for her birthday. They showed up on Thursday morning, dangling from balloons we’d hung the night before. And when I checked my email that morning, there was one from Sven that explained Santa had granted them three vacation days to spend with us before Rudolph would pick them up on Saturday night. They brought a gift and she was so tickled to see them!

 

Watching our girl slide down a water slide, in May.

screenshot_20200510-2136066524566687041828975.pngIt was a gift from Memere. And hubby “had to make sure it worked and wasn’t damaged or anything.” It was only about 60 degree so he insisted he wouldn’t hook up the hose to it. Fast forward about a half hour and our girl is rushing out of the house in last year’s too-small swimsuit and sliding down into the icy pool at the slide’s base as passersby were walking by the house in pants and hoodies. Surely if there was a Mother of the Year trophy available, it’s this act that would’ve earned me my nomination.

 

Hearing our girl exclaim, “I can’t believe it’s a blizzard outside!” and confirming with a glance out the window that she’s right… You guessed it… In May.

So to recap: The US economy grinded to a halt nearly two months ago (and has largely remained that way since). Schools are closed for the remainder of the academic year, so from March through June. A fabulous foreign species known as “the murder hornet” (which sounds to me like the name of a semi-pro prison-based dodgeball team if you want the truth) landed on American soil. And snow was forecast for May 9. In our area, it ended up being “just” flurries but thanks to the wind gusts yesterday, DID look blizzard-like for a few minutes. But oddly enough, this didn’t even make the top ten of strangest happenings in 2020 so far.

 

Setting up a folding table by the road to hold the cupcakes for our girls birthday parade.

screenshot_20200510-2138035481454982125659445.pngOur girl never NOT has a party. And we usually go all out. This year, though? No can do. Venues aren’t open and gatherings of over five people are prohibited. We’ve promised her a big party as soon as we’re allowed, which we’re all hoping will be this summer. But in the meantime, we jumped on the latest bandwagon by celebrating in the trendiest of ways…. With a car parade. Our friends and family did not disappoint. They came rolling down the street with their cars decorated, silly string flying, music blaring, horns beeping, and shouts of celebration streaming out their windows. It. Was. Awesome. But I hope to never have to organize one again because I hope all those people will be able to come to our house, walk into our backyard, and party with us for longer than it takes to drive by and grab a roadside cupcake. It was equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming to witness.

 

Taking a family selfie to excitedly show off the new face masks we were gifted.

img_20200509_152000914962917121487753.jpgMaureen, our former daycare provider who cared for our girl from the time she was six weeks old until the day she (Maureen) retired, is a crafty person who loves to sew. She’s come to our girl’s birthday celebration every year since birth and always gifts beautiful, handmade gifts. A few years ago, for example, it was a quilted library bag that we still love and use to this day. This year, it was face masks. And we LOVED them

I’m so excited that our girl’s birthday was everything she wanted it to be and I’m so thankful that she has taken all of this covid-related wackiness in stride. We are so lucky to call her ours.

mvimg_20200509_142315973449789970779428.jpg

#QuaratineHairDontCare

 

30-Day Writing Challenge

 

Pet Peeves: Quarantine Edition April 8, 2020

If you’d asked me to list my top three pet peeves a month ago, you’d have gotten a very different list. But this is where I’m at now…

1) Feeling both overwhelmed AND bored. At the same time. At all times.

My day begins with three hours of working remotely. And most days, that’s not enough time to get the job done, which leaves me feeling…spazzy… for several hours after. And during that time, I also encourage my girl to start her school work, which she’s not always able (read: willing) to do without guidance. So when I’m done working, an hour or two or three of being a teacher begins.

I prepare eleventy bajillion snacks and meals daily. And pick up twice as many toys/messes.

I do my best to keep my girl connected to school, teams, and friends…. Taught her how to use Microsoft Teams, encourage her to video chat with friends, got her tablet set up with the various apps—and there seems to be a new one added at least weekly—our district is relying on for “distance learning,” and staying on top of all the email updates from teachers and coaches. Which reminds me. I still have to Venmo her dance teacher for the Zoom dance classes.

And when all this is done, we’ve got HOURS left in our day to decompress, though it never seems to be enough time.

At 8pm, we head outside for “bell time.” (Town-wide, people are encouraged to ring bells or otherwise make noise from 8:00 to 8:02 as a show of solidarity in this social distancing era.) And while we play our musical instruments, for lack of bells, my girl dances and I silently think, “One day closer to normalcy.”

After our girl is in bed, it’s time for dishes, laundry, picking up toys (again), and cuddling up with hubby on the couch. By this time of night, I’m ready for a giant glass of wine as a remedy for the anxiety that’s built up all day.

Rinse and repeat.

2) Having to repeat myself.

Here’s a smattering of the phrases I catch myself uttering multiple times per day, every day day…

– “Just because we’re home doesn’t mean you don’t have to brush your hair.”

– “I said ONE snack.”

– “No, it’s not lunch time. You JUST finished breakfast!”

– “3:00 is NOT dinnertime.”

– “Turn off the tablet!”

– “C’mon, we have to get this school packet done before we go outside.”

– “If you want to play outside, you need to put on actual clothes. Not pajamas.”

3) People who don’t stay home.

I’m following the rules. Other than outdoor time in our yard and walks around the block, my girl and I have left the house exactly once in the past three weeks. And that was to take part in a birthday parade for my cousin’s twins, which didn’t require us to get out of the car. Hubby goes to work and occasionally the grocery store. That’s it. If everyone did the same, we’d all be able to get back to life as we knew it sooner.