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A Crib Away But A World Apart

Someone responded to my blog Just How Big Is A Billion with the question, “Why do you even care?” The post in question focused on explaining how (insanely) huge a billion is, and then, building upon that talked about wealth inequity in America. I won’t rehash the post here, but I do hope you’ll read it.

Why do I even care? The question stuck with me. It bothered me. So I carried it around, thinking about it. Chewing on it. Examining it. And finally, I settled on a single moment in my life that brings it all together for me. What you read next is my “why.”

The peace that comes from welcoming a baby into this world.

Welcoming a baby is among life’s greatest moments.

Our twin daughters were born seven years ago on a crisp September day. After more than six weeks of hospital bedrest (miserable), I’d made it as far as I was going to with the pregnancy- the girls would be delivered at 34 weeks and 5 days. Pretty good for twins. They were delivered via c-section and both arrived healthy with energetic cries that made tears of joy stream down my face. After the loss of an earlier pregnancy and a struggle to become pregnant again- our baby daughters had arrived healthy.

But they were a little early, so they needed to stay in the NICU for a short while- just to get going on feeding. Sofia was a petite 4 lbs, 11oz, and both needed a little extra attention. In the NICU at Overlake, we were situated right by the nurses station- primarily because the suite (bay?) across from the nurses station was just fractionally larger than the other bays in there, so could hold all the equipment for two babies.

While there, another baby was born and admitted to the NICU. The nurses did their best to be discrete, but given our proximity to the nurses station we inevitably overhead things. This other baby was intersexed (you may be more familiar with the term hermaphrodite, but I believe intersexed is the preferred term now). In addition, the baby was born prematurely to a teenage mother who had been a methamphetamine drug user throughout her pregnancy. It was clear immediately that this child was going to have a lot of challenges to overcome from the beginning.

Then we saw the family. But we didn’t see them in the NICU, we saw them in the halls of the regular maternity ward. In fact, we never saw them at all in the NICU. The baby’s mother and her family never visited the baby. It’s fair to say from observation that they were not a nice family. The family looked like they were straight out of Deliverance and it was apparent that even under the best of circumstances it was not a family you would want to see a child born into; to say nothing of a child with a host of challenges, including one that can carry a huge amount of lifelong stigma.

The nurses were on the phone with social workers, CPS, doctors, and specialists of all kinds constantly about this child- there were just so many things going on. And of course, on top of all this, the family had no insurance- so even getting the care needed was difficult.

And yet, this baby was just one day old. I could see the baby swaddled in the crib just 20 feet away and even with the various tubes and clothes and the little tiny hat that all newborns wear in the hospital, I could see a sweet face. She didn’t look any different from our daughters. When the nurses picked her up to feed her (I’m just picking a pronoun- I’m not sure), she could suckle a bottle. The nurses were obviously taking extra time to ensure she had human interaction and touch.

As we sat across the way, doing Kangaroo care, snuggling our little girls bare-skinned against our chests, I could see the lonely crib across the way. My heart ached for her thinking of the world she was born into.

Even at birth, our children had so many tremendous advantages.

Even at birth, our children had so many tremendous advantages.

There was a moment when I was laying one of our girls down in their shared crib and gazing at them with all the awe and love that a new mother has when looking at her baby. As I heard a nurse on yet another call with a social worker- trying desperately to arrange some service or another for this baby, this wave of despair hit me, and I just leaned over Audrey & Sofia’s crib and wept. Hot tears streamed down my face as the full force of the starkly different paths that lay ahead of these three babies became clear.

This wave of despair hit me and I just leaned over Audrey & Sofia’s crib and wept. Hot tears streamed down my face as the full force of the starkly different paths that lay ahead of these three babies became clear.

I couldn’t stand the profound unfairness of it all. Our girls, through no fault or result of their own had the very best possible road ahead. Not that we would be perfect parents, but the girls were born into a loving, happy, stable family. They were healthy and above all wanted and joyously welcomed into our lives. And yet, I didn’t really “know” them. Yes, they were from my body, but had one of our girls been born intersexed or with some other challenge or disability, it may have been a shock, but we would have rallied every available resource at our disposal to immediately begin to address the issues.

Obviously, I didn’t wish this had happened to one of our daughters, but that moment showed how so many of your cards are dealt AT BIRTH. It’s not about effort or worthiness or merit- for the child it is pure dumb luck. Yes- you can say a lot things about the young mother or her family or her choices, but to that brand-new day old child, it’s nothing more that an incredibly raw deal. It’s like she was born to a different world altogether.

Each of us, has experienced a watershed moment that defines our perspective- it may have been something you experienced personally, or observed, or read about, or watched in a movie. Truly, there are hundreds or thousands of moments that shape our worldview. More than any other experience, that moment, wrapped up in the joy of my own children’s birth and yet crying tears of sorrow and frustration for an anonymous and truly innocent child, sums up why I even care.

The hand of fate that defines the start of our lives was revealed for what it was- a crapshoot. Babies are not blank slates at birth- in fact, they are just the opposite, so many of the cards have been dealt the moment you take your first breath. It is precisely because of this fact, that it is our duty as humans, as a community, as a society, to do our best to give each person, each baby, a fair shot at life.

I still think about that little girl and the direction her life has taken. Obviously, I have no idea whether she even identifies as a girl or a boy. Whether things have gone her way or gone horribly against her. I was unable to help in that moment, but I do hope that the choices I make, the words I write, the things that I speak up for will in some way make the tiniest difference in her favor, wherever she is.

Thanks so much for reading! I appreciate your time and support!

Contemplating The Over Under of Approaching 40

This week, Tom Magliozzi, beloved half of the Click & Clack the Tappet Brothers and co-host of Car Talk died. He was 77. When I saw the news come across my Facebook feed, the first thing I thought was, “I want to have a life like he did- doing what he loved, laughing all the way to the end.” My second thought was “Shenanigans, if his lifespan was my yardstick, I’d be over halfway through.”

Turning 40 feels like getting to step on the gas and damn the consequences.

Turning 40 feels like getting to step on the gas and damn the consequences!

I am turning 40 early next year and in general, I’m excited about it. Actually, I am more than that- I am PUMPED. Hitting 40 feels like finally being grown up. It has this sense of coming into the fullness of who you are. Its approach definitely has a whiff of Fried Green Tomatoes about it and for the record, I DO carry a lot of insurance on my car.

Furthermore, I have this sneaking suspicion that next year, my big 4-0 is going to awesome. I’m not sure how or in what way it’s going to manifest itself, but I can feel the epic coming. I’ve got that tingly, anticipatory sensation- I imagine it’s how a dog feels ahead of an earthquake, as long as it’s the type of dog that likes earthquakes. I am also basing my excitement for this upcoming decade on the “track record” of my life (if you will). It’s been a very steady positive trajectory.

  • Childhood– I was an awkward, nerdy, know-it-all kid without a lot of friends but I don’t think I was terribly aware of that fact except in hindsight.
  • Teens– Gah. Who remembers their teen years with fondness? Seriously? Sure, there were bright spots- rowing, cross-country, being my high school’s mascot, that time my neighbor let me borrow his candy-apple red Corvette on Halloween.
    Driving my neighbor's 1981 t-top Corvette may have been the highlight of my teen years.

    Driving my neighbor’s 1981 t-top Corvette may have been the highlight of my teen years.

    Can I just stop here and say I was 16 and dressed as a 60’s-era go-go dancer with a green wool mini dress and knee high white boots?! Holy hell. I wish I had a better way to end the story- I went solo to a party I was only slightly invited to, found no one to hang out with and ended up driving home, safe & sound. Note to my kids: That whole neighbor-lends-you-his-hot-car-thing is never, ever going to happen to you at 16 or probably ever, for that matter..

  • Twenties– This is where life begins to get good- really, really good. I started to get who I was- leaving behind the younger, less self-assured self. I met my husband, married, joined the Peace Corps, lived in Kenya. Hell to the yes, the twenties were so much better than the teens.
  • Thirties– First off, how are they already coming to an end?! I feel like they just started! But they have been amazing! I became a mom, had a fantastic time & career at Microsoft, took the exciting leap away from Microsoft, started this blog, and now I work for PATH. I am feeling happier and more confident that I ever have before.

So, all that’s to say, if the past is any kind of indicator of future results- not only will the 40’s be good, but I guess the 50’s are going to blow my mind.

Another thing I have been thinking about as 40 approaches is exactly what year, what day, will be my midway point? Being both a realist and an optimist (yes, I feel like I am BOTH- so you can just roll with it), I assume that somewhere in my forties I will hit “the halfway point” between life and death. Halfway between smiling, laughing, thinking, and that long dirt nap.

The average life expectancy of a woman in the US is 81 years old (that’s the realist talking). I consider myself healthier and happier than average, so round that up a few years (that’s the optimist talking) and I find myself gravitating towards 86. It’s a nice number, cleanly divisible by two, still older than my dad, so- I figured I wouldn’t need to confront the idea of “halfway” until my mid-forties.

But today, the news of Tom’s death brought me up a little short. What if my estimate is high? What if I don’t even hit 80? What if I have passed halfway already?

(Take a breath)

(In through your nose, out through you mouth)

(Okay, maybe a couple more to steady the nerves)

Yeah- I don’t really like THAT idea at all. I mean, I love the age that I ended up having children at, it feels like the Goldilocks “just right” age for becoming a mom, but if I start doing a little mathy-poo based on it…

Let’s see, I had the twins at 32. If they have kids around the same age, I’ll be pushing 65 when I start my run as a grandma. Hmm… still okay, but that only gives me about 20 years and that may mean that I won’t get to see a grandchild walk down the aisle to accept a college diploma, to say nothing of a wedding aisle.

(Remember your breathing)

(Head between your knees if you get light-headed)

Noooooooooo. I am not feeling Zen about this at all. The first 40 (or 39.8 at the moment) have gone so fast! And they have been so fun! So good! There is still so, so much to see and do! I am just finally getting the hang of it, for heaven’s sake.

So, what’s the big takeaway from this navel-gazing? It’s time to get crack-a-lackin’! Whatever exciting, important, noble, notable, adventurous, memorable, silly, significant, magnificent things I want to do, they best start lining up, because there is not a day to waste. (This is probably making my husband shake his head- he already thinks I am a Tasmanian Devil of activity, but I think he kinda loves it too.)

So, what’s the big takeaway from this navel-gazing? It’s time to get crack-a-lackin’! Whatever exciting, important, noble, notable, adventurous, memorable, silly, significant, magnificent things I want to do, they best start lining up, because there is not a day to waste.

Tim Robbins famously said as Andy Dufresne to Morgan Freeman’s “Red” in Stephen King’s brilliant The Shawshank Redemption, “Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying.” My question is- if you have hit halfway, are you actually working on the second part of that statement whether you want to or not?

I know I am not the only one thinking about this (heck, it’s the basis for a lot of organized religion) and I am sure some of you have your own little ways of coping with this realization- regardless of the decade you are in. A trick I have employed for years as a runner is to imagine that after the halfway mark in a run, I am just picking up the steps I have already laid down. Easy as that. It makes the second half of a run feel so much lighter to just mentally scoop them back up.

When running, it is a comforting thought to know that there are a finite numbers of steps ahead of you. I can’t say the same of sunrises. It may be a worthy and worthwhile goal to see if you can find some kind of comfort in knowing that there are a finite number of days ahead of you. I know I am not there yet or that I will ever get there, but it’s something to think about- probably while on one of those long runs.

In the meantime, I’m definitely going with the over on this bet.

Thanks for reading and spending a few of your (finite) moments reading this blog. I’d love for you to share your thoughts here and share this blog with your friends.

In just 5 minutes, an EMT reminds us what really matters

In this brief insightful TED talk, a veteran EMT, Matthew O’Reilly,

It just takes 5 minutes to learn something profound

It just takes 5 minutes to learn something profound

reminds us what really matters at the end of our days- whether you die of old age surrounded by loved ones, or your death is a sudden event and your last moments are spent under the watchful gaze of a stranger. Almost universally, a few simple themes come up in those final moments- Forgiveness, Remembrance, Meaning.

And so, this talk presents us with an opportunity. Will you hold up the mirror this talk gives you? It might feel a little scary at first- what if you don’t like the answers? Well, if you are reading this- it’s unlikely you are experiencing your final moments (as great as this blog is), so you have time to change the answers, if you find them wanting.

According to Mr. O’Reilly (and many others), the questions or reflections that your imminent demise surface are:

1. Forgiveness. Whether named a regret or a sin, is there something you are doing or have done that you will seek amends for? The particularly poignant example that he shares is almost apocryphal, “I wish I had spend more time with my children and grandchildren.” So, what are you doing (or not doing) that you might regret?

2. Remembrance. Will anyone (whether an EMT, a Dr., family, or friends) remember me? We want to continue to exist in someone’s world, hopefully as a cherished memory.

3. Meaning. Philosophers and religions have sought to answer (or create answers) to this profound question for thousands of years. But I think in our final moments, our conception of “meaning” is far more intimate- Did I spend my time well? Did I make a difference in someone’s life?

Watch and read everything she does! I love me some Brene!

Watch and read everything she does! I love me some Brene!

What these questions tell me is something that the amazing Brene Brown (reigning champion of TED talks and a personal inspiration) has so eloquently illuminated- humans crave connection. We are fundamentally wired to desire meaningful connections with others.

So, let’s use this talk to look in that mirror and ask those questions. Maybe do it once or twice a year. Maybe before you say “I do” or take that next job. Are you making decisions and living your life in a way that will give you satisfying answers when it is your final time to ask these questions of yourself.

The answers may be different for everyone- but asking these questions and particularly discussing them with your loved ones and friends will undoubtedly give us what we ultimately crave- DEEP, MEANINGFUL CONNECTION with people we care about.

These insights also make me think of things that have never been said. No one has ever said, “I wish I had less empathy for others,” or “I wish I hadn’t wasted time being kind to others.” Time spent devoted to others, even in the smallest gestures or moments, is time well spent.

Mr. O’Reilly begins his talk with an incredibly comforting observation- people are peaceful in their last moments. Acceptance comes easily, which is a profoundly freeing idea. Even if it’s hard to imagine now, it’s reassuring to know that your final moments will be moments of peace and acceptance.

As always, thanks so much for reading and sharing! I love your feedback, comments, and appreciate you spending these few minutes with me!

Time is Running Out: Here’s How to Make the Most of It

Class in Session

Class is in Session

The last four months have been an education, as if I have been conducting and taking my own master’s class in Life. It has been a journey punishing, joy-filled, and above all, eye-opening. One of the greatest lessons I have learned may sound like a cliche but bear with me. Life is not about the “time” we have but what we DO with it.

When you are working, you believe that “not working” will give you a tremendous amount of time, but that oasis turns out to be a shimmering mirage. Similar to the adage about how people always spend what they earn, likewise, none of the time you have turns out to be “extra”. Entire days have gone by and I haven’t found time to respond to email. I get to the end of the day and feel as exhausted as I did putting in a full day’s “work”. Aristotle was right- Nature abhors a vacuum.

I want to share an idea that may especially resonate with parents but holds true for all. Everyone has an equation that looks something like this:

Parenting + spouse + work – crazy (from the previous 3 things) + self care/ TIME – (bills * laundry * school lunches * gym * sleep) = _______?

What’s the answer? Balance, Happiness, Perfection? Sorry- you think String Theory is hard?  It has nothing on solving the equation of Your Life.

We are searching for the right equation

We are searching for the right equation

What variable can we tweak to get it right? The stark truth is, you’ll never solve it completely. EVER. Hate to break it to you, but go ahead and write this down in pen. The problem is, you will not get all the time you want. If you had no kids, no spouse, no job, no obligations- you’d still find your time card punched, even if it was watching utterly worthless reality television all day. You’d still be worn out at the end of each day (and perhaps suicidal, given THAT much Real Housewives or Honey Boo-Boo).

As I prepare to “graduate” from this self-imposed master’s class and look ahead to my next work challenge, I am faced with an array of choices- contract work, part-time work, full-time work, big company, startup, low pay, high pay, mentally-stimulating, dull but easy, sure thing, high risk- you name it. Regardless of the choice I make, I will trade-off or sacrifice something. Just as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every choice, there is a consequence.

When I wrote about giving up my superpower, it was the beginning of understanding that trying to “do it all” is a fool’s errand- there is no such thing as “ALL”. You finally figured out how to manage work, kids, and your spouse… Great, how about adding a puppy? Or working out? Or healthy meals? You don’t want to add anything? Guess what- you’ve lost your job.  You are getting a divorce. Your kid was expelled. Whatever. The variables go on forever. You will never reach “the end” until THE END.

Life is so immense and beautiful because of the endless possibilities, and yet, it those endless possibilities that make it brutally sadistic. Ha, ha, ha, the joke is on us!

The joke is on us.

The joke is on us. Start laughing now

I clearly remember in my teens, realizing that I would *never* be able to read all the best books in the world- not all books, even reading just the best ones would be beyond my reach. It felt like something died within me. I was defeated by the ABC’s- something I thought I had mastered at five.

Our time on this magical blue-green rock is limited, whether you think your life is cut from a cosmic cloth of fixed length or that you control your destiny. There is a point at which the fabric no longer stretches but snaps and that will be the end of it.  Even if you believe in an afterlife, you are only getting one turn on THIS ride, with THESE people you love, and these FINITE minutes to spend.

So the question comes back to what we choose to do with our time. Not an easy question to answer. I’d like to humbly suggest a few ways to make the most of it:

1. Know what MATTERS to you. Is it family, friends, success, invention, creation, inner peace, exploration, leaving a legacy? Take the time to understand what you care about. This one is hard… put some effort into it. Write it down and check your actions against your list.

2. Laugh.  Often. Loud. At yourself. With your friends. With your kids. From the gut. Use your whole body. Laugh ’til you cry.

3. Strive. If you are one of the lucky few given the chance to reflect upon your life at the end of many long years, there will be a moment when you account for your time, when you measure what you’ve done against what you have been given. Don’t let the tally of your effort come up short.

4. Forgive easily and forget quickly.  Whatever baggage you carry, it isn’t helping. You have been through it, gnashed your teeth at it, survived it, triumphed over it- let it go. All it’s doing now, is weighing you DOWN. Travel light.

5. Hold your own hand. Treat yourself as you would your own child. Remember that we all screw up. We learn as we go. We will let ourselves and others down- A LOT. Give that kid inside you a break. Give yourself a bear hug. Babies and Yogis know the magic of holding yourself- you will be surprised how good it feels. <Now, would be a good time to try it- even just a little squeeze of your hands.  C’mon, no one is looking.>

6. Flow.  The river of life is no tame kiddie pool. There are rapids, eddies, whirlpools, stretches as smooth as glass, and cruel white waters that threaten to pull you into the river’s black depths- you have to flow through it all. Float or swim, cling to the river bank or strike out for the middle- whatever you choose, close your eyes and feel the flow.

That’s all I have. But I’d appreciate YOUR thoughts and feedback! If this helped you, made you smile, or made you think- I’d sure appreciate you sharing! Tweet! Post! Discuss! Blog!

This is nearly five years ago already. It goes so fast.

This is nearly five years ago already. It goes so fast.

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