Wherein Joan takes the stage and tries not to embarrass herself.

Dear friends,

tumblr_mne9s62L3R1r1vfbso1_1280

Source: Pinterest

Earlier this week I attended a statewide professional conference. It was a terrific opportunity to network with other professionals and it was the first such event I’ve attended since moving to the Show Me State.

A couple of months ago, I had agreed to be a panelist for a luncheon presentation even though I hate speaking in public. Despite years of speech and debate training in high school, despite performing in a good number of plays and skits, and despite majoring in broadcast journalism for a while (during which I served a short stint as a radio news announcer), I HATE PUBLIC SPEAKING. It makes no sense to me that I have years of training and experience and still dread opening my mouth in front of large audiences — but I do. I hoped serving as one of four panelists meant I wouldn’t have to say much and wouldn’t embarrass myself.

So . . .

The four of us assembled on the stage and sat behind a draped table, a microphone in front of each of us. The moderator introduced us and began asking a battery of standard questions. My answers were brief and respectable. “So far, so good,” I was thinking. Then came an innocuous question: “What traits do you look for when hiring a (insert my industry) professional?”

The other three panelists rushed to answer the question. And their answers were appropriate by all measures. They look for intellectual curiosity. Ambition. Persistence. Good communication skills. A commitment to continuous improvement. All good stuff. I nodded my head in agreement as each panelist spoke.

Then the moderator looked at me as if to suggest “Don’t you want to say something?”

I leaned into the mike. “I agree with the panelists,” I said. “The traits they mentioned are all necessary to be successful in our field.” I paused. I leaned back in my chair. I thought I was finished.

Then I leaned back in, right before the moderator spoke up to move us along, and said “Uh, I have one more thing.”

I picked up the mike. I paused. “This probably sounds odd,” I said, pausing again as I tried to find the words to express my sentiment. “But I also try to hire people who are . . . kind.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Or at least I was uncomfortable as I imagined the other panelists rolling their eyes and wondering what I might say next.

“Look, we’ve all worked with folks who are great with customers but are miserable to their colleagues. That doesn’t work for me anymore. Life is short, we spend more time with our co-workers than our family members, and I want to spend my time with people who are nice to each other. So I try to find people who value kindness and who treat each other  with respect and dignity.”

I sat back in my chair and felt myself perspiring. I was the only female on the stage. I figured the crazy woman on the panel talking about kindness had just convinced everyone in the room that she’s no go-getter. I work in a field focused on the bottom line and I assumed I just signaled my bottom line must be laughable because I said nothing about goals, or strategy, or productivity.

“Oh good lord,” I thought to myself. “THIS is why I hate speaking at conferences.” As I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, I silently pledged to myself to never again speak at a conference.

Soon enough, my discomfort ended as the panel concluded and I quickly ducked off-stage.

As I came down the stairs, I was surprised by a line of people. All wanting to talk to me. To tell me how much they appreciated my comments. To tell me how grateful they were to me for speaking up. To tell me kindness matters. To tell me to keep spreading the message. At the end of the line,  one very animated man exclaimed “I want to shake your hand! I want to know you! I want you to be my mentor!”

I laughed out loud. And all I could think to say was “Goodness. Thank you.”

So “thank you” I said, over and over. “You are very kind,” I said. “I appreciate you” I said.

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty decent strategy for meeting team goals.

With gratitude {for kind people everywhere},

Joan, who doesn’t claim to be a paragon of kindness in every work interaction but believes trying is a great place to start

On balance.

Dear friends,

ballet-dancer1

I saw a Tweet today that said “You can have it all — just not at once.”

It was immediately followed by this blog post from my friend Sizzle, who was reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the purchase of her first home, which prompted my own reminiscing about the four houses Mr. Mom and I have called home. Each of our houses was in a different city; each holds unique and special memories for our family; and each was perfect (despite its particular deficiencies) for the season of our lives in which we dwelled under its roof.

We have lived in a big-city, post-War cottage with loads of charm; a plain-Jane, suburban 70’s special; a majestic, turn-of-the-century “mansion” on a brick-paved street in the center of my beloved hometown; and a modern and spacious Ranch situated on a scenic Midwest acreage. We’ve clearly had it all (or most) over the course of 20+ years and I’m reminded that all of life is lived “on balance.”

Not long ago I counseled a young colleague who was fretting about “work-life” issues. I shared with her some of the lessons I’ve learned as a working mother and wife and I advised her not to think she could find equilibrium on any given day. I told her that over time I’ve learned to look for “balance” only when contemplating the entire span of my life because in any given hour, any given month, even in periods as long as a year or more, my life has been decidedly off-kilter.

I think about the many years I spent ungodly hours at the office and commuting long distances. I think about the three-year period I completed a Master’s Degree and did absolutely nothing but go to work and go to class. (I even “cancelled” Thanksgiving the year I wrote my thesis. Mr. Mom was a saint during those years, by the way.) I think about the years I fretted I would never again pursue a personal interest beyond raising my children and I thought “Hobbies? What are hobbies?”  I think about the entire year I selfishly focused all my energy on losing weight and getting fit for my impending marriage. (I did look ravishing in my wedding dress, only to get pregnant and gain 50 pounds six months later.) I think about the weeks I spent lying on the sofa eating buttered crackers in a depressed state because Kate had left for college. I even think about recent weeks when I’ve become a crazed and obsessive quilter, rushing home from the office each evening to pursue my latest project into the wee hours of the morning.

Maybe you’ve got a secret for achieving perfect (or even relative) balance on any given day. If so, please share your wisdom! I suspect, though, that most of us do what we must do in the moment we must do it, and find our search for balance fruitless unless we set our gaze on a very long horizon.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. (Except maybe I would save more and spend less, but good lord, who wouldn’t?) I’ve been blessed with so very much and I suspect so much more is coming my way, including interesting and invigorating new friendships in our (still) new town, new hobbies, new career opportunities, new family members (grandchildren some day?), and certainly new opportunities to grow and learn through the pain and challenge that inevitably beset every soul on earth.

On balance, life’s been good to me (and apparently Joe Walsh) so far. Why crave it all when every single bite is so uniquely flavorful?

With gratitude {for discovering that perfect balance is a rather silly notion except in bike-riding and ballet},

Joan, who invites you to leave a comment about the season of life you’re experiencing right this moment

Of working moms. And dads.

Dear friends,

It’s been a short work week. And it’s been a long work week if you know what I mean. On this Thursday from the archive, I’m offering a reflection on the work-a-day world that reminds us it’s tough all over.

With gratitude {for Thursday, which is one step away from TGIF},

Joan, who stayed up until 2:00 am last night working on budget then, oy, dreamed about numbers all night long

Of Working Moms. And Dads.

First published June 24, 2009

I’ve said more than  few times I don’t talk about work in this space.

But I’m going to talk about it a little today because 1) it’s all I’m doing these days, and 2) I realized last night everybody’s work is pretty much the same.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I’m working on a special assignment that is requiring additional focus and time . . . time that is keeping me away from this space.  Without going into too much detail, let’s just say I transferred to a different division in my company.  So in addition to a new assignment, I’m learning a new product line.

Last night at dinner, Parker asked me how the new assignment is going.  I said “Fine.”  (For the record, I despise talking about work at home.)

Unsatisfied, he pressed for more detail and I demurred.  Finally, I realized what was really on his mind.

Perks.

I don’t work in an auto dealership, but if I did, Parker asked me the equivalent of “So, in your spare time, do you get to drive the cars?”

This teenage notion of the work-a-day world made me laugh out loud and all I could say in response is “I don’t have any spare time.”

“But what do you do all day?” he pleaded.

“Talk. Talk. Talk,” I said.  Then for good measure I added “Persuade. Persuade. Persuade.  It’s pretty simple, really.”

Mr. Mom chuckled this time.  “Sounds exactly like my job,” he noted.

The joke was lost on Parker.  All he could say is “Whadya mean?”

“Think about it,” Mr. Mom explained.  “Parker, time to get up.  Parker, have you fed the animals?  Parker, make your bed.  Parker, why don’t you put your laundry away?  Parker, mow the lawn or you won’t get your allowance. Talk and persuade.  All day long.”

And suddenly, I was glad I have my job and Mr. Mom has his.

I can talk a blue streak.  But I’m not nearly persuasive enough to threaten Mr. Mom’s job security.

Mother’s way.

Dear friends,

My mother, circa 1985.

Like any daughter, I have a wealth of memories of my mother from my childhood.

But as a grown up, I have one abiding memory, a thread of recollection that runs throughout my life from young adulthood to now.

This memory is of my mother’s words – the question I most often heard her ask: How can I help?

How can I help?” is the question she asked more often than “How are you?” “How can I help?” are the words she offered more often than “I love you.” For my mother, service was love, and she stood by to help in any way that she could, on any day that she could, with anything I needed.

If Mom heard I was going to paint, she’d ask how she could help then show up with a roller. (My mother and I must have painted thousands of square feet together over the years.) If she heard I had purchased wallpaper, she’d ask how she could help then show up to watch the kids. (Strangely, she could do most anything but never learned the art of wallpapering.) Garage sale? She’d show up to tag and organize everything — and she was a master at pricing for a quick sale. Spring cleaning? She’d volunteer for the most difficult tasks, like tackling my oven. When I bought my first house at age 26 and declared I was going to spend Memorial Day weekend refurbishing the oak floors, she spent three days on her hands and knees beside me.

Mom, helping me string twinkly lights for my wedding reception, 1991.

When I was seven months pregnant with Kate, my mother heard me talking about taking a week’s vacation to decorate the nursery (on a shoestring budget, of course, because Mr. Mom and I had little money). She decided to take a week’s vacation, too. We set up two sewing machines, side-by-side, in the soon-to-be nursery, and together we made curtains, blankets, a quilt, a dust ruffle, a crib bumper and more out of coordinating fabric purchased on clearance. Then she painted while I wallpapered. I was 30 and she was 63 and it was one of the loveliest, albeit exhausting, weeks I ever spent with my mother. But when it was over, I had a dream nursery for my first child, purchased with not much more than the elbow grease of an expectant mother and her tireless assistant.

Sweet baby Kate in the nursery her mother and grandmother made, 1993.

And as if she hadn’t done enough over the years, she raised my children, serving as our nanny, cook, laundress and errand girl for the first 11 years of Kate’s life. She’d show up at 7:00 am so she’d have to time to prepare breakfast for anybody who wanted it — and, invariably, before I walked out the door to go to work, she would ask “Is there anything special I can do today?”

As a young woman with my own selfish interests, I always thought it odd that my mother was so eager to help. Every once in a while, I wondered why she never seemed to cultivate her own interests. As I grew older, I also grew to understand my mother’s heart and to realize service in any form – cooking supper, ironing a dress, scrubbing a shower – was a tangible expression of love for her, and expressing her love was her primary interest. I truly never knew a woman more selfless.

In recent days as I have contemplated Kate’s impending move and our diminishing time together, I have been unusually attuned to her needs, and I have stepped in to offer more assistance than is typical for me given that is Mr. Mom’s territory. As I helped Kate paint a sign Wednesday evening, it all of a sudden hit me – that’s why my mother was so eager to help! All that time she spent working beside me was not only an opportunity for her to express her love, it was also a chance for her to spend time in the presence of her “busy” adult daughter.

I can’t believe it took me 49 years to figure this out. I always thanked Mom for helping me, but I don’t recall ever thanking her for spending time with me.

And that was her real calling in life.

With gratitude {for the priceless blessing that comes with being loved beyond measure},

Joan, who will give her children an extra hug today on behalf of their Grannie who loved them so very much

I miss thee, my Mother! Thy image is still
The deepest impressed on my heart.

                                                             -Eliza Cook

The minions want you to know the truth.

Dear friends,

Source: Library of Congress.

I have a friend who does not read my blog. Let’s call her Non-Reader. Non-Reader has known me for many years, both professionally and personally. She knew me when Mr. Mom was Mr. Business Proprietor, which is to say she’s got my number.

Non-Reader and I have a mutual friend who reads my blog. Let’s call her Reader. Reader only knows me professionally and our relationship is relatively new.

So not long ago Reader and Non-Reader were talking and my name came up. Reader began to tell Non-Reader how inspiring I am. I’m paraphrasing what Non-Reader described to me but, basically, Reader said: I love Joan! She’s uh-mazing! Have you read her blog? She’s so accomplished. She has that high-powered job and she manages to do so much. Have you seen the cakes she bakes and the meals she cooks and her beautiful tables? And she’s got such a great family life. And she runs! I don’t know how she does it all!

To which Non-Reader snickered and said: Are you kidding me?!

Non-Reader loves me (and I love her, in spite of the fact that she doesn’t read me), but she’s a friend who always calls BS when she sees it.

So, again, I’m paraphrasing, but Non-Reader said this: Look, I love Joan, too, but let me set you straight. She doesn’t do it all. Joan hasn’t folded a load of laundry or grocery shopped or vacuumed in years. I haven’t seen her cake posts, but don’t be fooled — the woman has minions behind her making that whole illusion possible. Minions!

Reader was crushed, according to Non-Reader, who relayed this story to me with such delight she snorted. (Full disclosure: I was so tickled I snorted too.)

Reader finally said: Well, she’s a really good writer, right?

To which Non-Reader replied: Yes. It’s fair to say she’s doing the actual writing.

And on behalf of the minions (who, in case you missed the credits, are named Mr. Mom, Kate and Parker), I thanked Non-Reader for her considerate acknowledgement of their behind-the-scenes labor.

Their fetching and toting, their schlepping, their food-prepping, their dish-washing and trash-hauling, their whining and griping and back-talking, is the secret ingredient in my blog magic.

And, in an election year, Non-Reader just thought you should know that.

With gratitude {for the non-paid, non-organized labor that sustains my privileged lifestyle},

Joan, who wants her minions to know she prefers the synonym “protege” and not “servant,” “bootlicker,” “lackey,” “stooge” or “toady”

Mr. and Mrs. Mom.

Dear Friends,

Image courtesy of Pinterest

I recently pointed you in the direction of a blogger named Glennon Melton of Momastery on my post about funny writers (of which we have well established I am not one).  Glennon has a serious side, too, and her article Friendly Fire was reprinted recently on the Huffington Post. In it, Glennon discusses the ways in which women criticize themselves and each other for their choices related to careers and family life. Her point is that we’re all doing the best we can and, despite our choices, we’re all conflicted about them at any given moment.  Witness:

. . . When you yell about how much peace you have with your decisions, it just doesn’t ring true. The thing is, if you’re yelling, I don’t believe that you’ve got it all figured out. I don’t even believe that you believe you’ve got it all figured out. I think your problem might be that you’re as internally conflicted as the rest of us about your choices. But instead of kicking your own ass, you’ve decided it’d be easier to kick ours.

I’m a working mother who’s worked my butt off and sacrificed more than I care to count over two decades to advance my career and reach executive status. I also am a woman who loves nothing more than to putter around the house, cook and bake, pamper my children and husband, and nest in every way I know how. To say I have been conflicted is to say the sunrise is reliable. But I mostly made my peace with my conflict nearly a decade ago when my husband sold his business and became the stay-at-home Dad I now call Mr. Mom on this blog.

I wrote an essay on our choice (and on our individual demons) that was published in a 2007 anthology of Oklahoma writers. I’ve decided to reprint it here for any new readers who didn’t follow me over from my former blog.

Here’s the point I continue to be struck by, both when I wrote that essay years ago and earlier this week when I read Glennon’s post: Our struggle is a foreign concept to men.  As women, we torment ourselves and others in a way that never occurs to our male counterparts.

When Mr. Mom became a stay-at-home dad, he had his demons to face, all right. Boredom, monotony, lack of adult stimulation, feelings of diminished value due to lack of earning power . . . all of these became personal struggles to confront. But never once did he suffer from what Glennon calls “Mommy Guilt,” that inner voice that criticizes every choice a mother makes — and then projects that guilt, as a coping mechanism no doubt, on every other mother she knows.

When we first made our transition, I used to marvel at how my husband could be so in-the-moment. He did the best he knew how, every day, for our kids and for me, without looking back and without second-guessing. Over time, he got better at juggling the home-keeping side of his job and now I marvel at how he manages to do so much.

Nurturing and loving a family is tough work, folks, and to tackle that while keeping  house is to excel at multi-tasking and to sacrifice your own dreams and desires for a good long time. I am acutely and reverently aware of what Mr. Mom gives up to make our lives easy and comfortable and filled with loving care. Why any human, female or male, would see fit to criticize another for doing this yeoman’s work is beyond me.  And why any soul would criticize themselves or others for choosing to be an earner for their family is also hard to fathom.

I’ve done it, though – beat myself up with the rest of the Mommy Guilt survivors. A few years ago I was bemoaning my failure to spend more time with my children in a lunch conversation with a dear friend. (Read: I was self-flagellating for being a working mom – even as I had a husband who stayed home!) I think I said something like “As a mother, I just don’t know what I’m any good at.”

And my friend put down her fork, looked me square in the eye and said, “I’ll tell you what you are good at, Joan. You are a provider. A damn good one! I know plenty of men who aspire to provide for their family at the level you do. Let go of the guilt and feel good about excelling in your role.”

I cannot repay my friend for her kindness. I took her words to heart and I have mostly released the guilt. It tries to creep in now and again, but I remind myself there’s no point in it.

If the man in my life doesn’t need it, why should I?

With gratitude {for the freedom to choose my path, a partner who signed on for the ride, and the good sense to hear sage advice when it’s offered},

Joan, who honestly digs the whole “happy housewife in an apron” image but is mostly content to wear that persona on weekends

Supper, my love.

Dear Friends,

Mr. Mom’s Cheeseburger Salad from Pioneer Woman  (Photo by Instagram)

You only need to know me for about five minutes to figure out my life revolves around food. It is my raison d’etre to the max, my greatest pleasure, my pastime, the object of my obsession, and the method through which, more than any other, I express my love and affection.

If Maslow were still alive, he might conclude I’m woefully underdeveloped in self-actualization because of my obsession with my next meal. A social worker might wonder if I’m food insecure. I think I’m neither, of course, but it cannot be disputed that I live to eat. I can say without hesitation that nothing short of the love of my family fills me with more joy and gratitude than a good meal. And since I experience food-related joy three times a day at a minimum, I’m typically a pretty happy camper.

Especially on nights like the one recently where Mr. Mom and I exchanged these texts at 5:00 pm:

Mr. Mom: Tell me when you will be home and I’ll have a good dinner ready.

Joan: I love you.

Mr. Mom: Is that code for 5:45? LOL.

There are millions of working mothers in the world who are just like me in so many ways, and yet only a fraction (probably a miniscule fraction) are blessed with a husband who cooks most meals. And lest you think I don’t know how lucky I am, I GIVE THANKS EVERYDAY FOR MY LOT IN LIFE. Geeeeez, I’m no dummy.

Besides the fact that Mr. Mom cooks supper most nights, I am especially fortunate because he takes orders. Wait, let me re-phrase that: he welcomes orders. Yesterday morning, somewhere between editing a magazine story and signing correspondence, I paused from work about 10:00 am to email him Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Cheeseburger Salad with this message: “Here’s a suggestion for tonight’s supper.”

And guess what we had? Oh wait, you saw the photo evidence above.

Normally, Mr. Mom and I text each other in order to time my exact arrival home to coincide with the serving of supper. But last night, Mr. Mom was otherwise engaged and arrived home just as I did.  (I think I might have actually glanced at my watch and said “You mean you haven’t started supper yet?” But in a nice voice, okay?)

So Kate and I, who were both starving, pitched in and helped Mr. Mom make quick work of Pioneer Woman’s tasty dish. And in the midst of it, as Mr. Mom chopped vegetables and I seasoned the beef and Kate grilled the croutons and we exchanged an easy, playful banter about our day, I thought my god there is nothing in life that beats this. This ephemeral moment in the kitchen — an expression of both teamwork and affection, a family communion as sacred as any and yet a spontaneous flash in the scope of a mother’s life — was undoubtedly a blessing beyond measure. Not to mention we had a pretty terrific meal.

With gratitude {for being exceedingly well fed},

Joan, whose faithful service to mealtime has permanently stunted the self-actualization of her abs

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