Happy Birthday Bridget!

This is Bridget.


The phone booth she used didn’t have pants in stock.

She gave us hints of her personality well before she was born. When we attempted to find out the sex of the baby, she refused to show the goods during not one, but two ultrasounds. I had initially hoped for a VBAC, but little miss stubbornly remained sideways in my belly, butt down, waiting for someone to bring her a Mai Tai. She was born four years ago while "Like a Prayer" played on the OR speakers- I like to think that she waited until the lame Marc Anthony song was done before making her appearance. It took her a second or two to cry, which felt like an eternity. But from that moment she has never stopped making noise. I nicknamed her "Budgie" on the way home from the hospital because she mewed and chirped the whole time, like a tiny bird.The name has stuck, and she even talks in her sleep, mostly making requests for food. People remark on how well she speaks for a such a little kid- she will happily hold her own in any conversation with kids or grown-ups alike. We will be in line at Starbucks and she will turn to the person behind us and start: "I'm Bridget. I'm 3 and a half, this is my baby sister Nora. I like your shirt". Most adults I know don't socialize half as well as Bridget does.


We don’t do mornings.

Bridget and I have something special. They say when you are truly fluent in a language you no longer translate in your head from your mother tongue- you think in the new language too. I am fluent in Bridget- I know why she's mad, I know why her brain leaped nine steps ahead to an illogical conclusion, I know why she cries so hard when she's tired. I know that she feels all of the feelings, all of the time, and they overwhelm her. And that a nap and/or a yogurt stick fix 98% of her problems. Bridget looks like me when I was little- big brown eyes and golden ringlets. But she actually tans, one of the few attributes she seems to have gotten from her father. She is fearless, smart, imaginative and in constant motion. She will talk your ear off and tell you that Saturn's rings are made from ice, rock and other debris. She loves Minnie Mouse, Spider-Man and strawberry ice cream with gummy bears. She has the vocabulary of a college student, and the confidence of a prizefighter.


Mama and Bridget, ~6 months old.

She hates the word "no" and being ignored. She likes to take snugly naps with me and getting her nails done. She loathes (like her mama) unnecessary exertion. She often sings herself to sleep with either Do-Re-Mi or Frozen songs. She loves her sisters fiercely and protectively, wanting to do everything Maeve does while making Nora laugh hysterically. She has more imagination bundled into her little body than all the animators, scientists and architects in the world combined. She is a natural actress with an incredibly expressive face and impeccable comic timing, Much like with her sisters, I love Bridget in ways I never thought possible. It's like I've grown new nerves and cells just to accommodate the extra love. She makes my mornings brighter, my evenings sweeter, my days an adventure. Whether she is playing with her beloved stuff monkey Ooh-ahh, pretending to be a superhero, or digging for worms in our yard, I hope she knows how much I love her, and that she's made the last 4 years of my life more fun than I ever could have hoped.

Happy Birthday Bridget- you are my superhero. 

Queen Bridget

To My Daughter on Her 6th Birthday

Maeve, Day 1

Maeve, Day 1

Dear Maeve,

Happy birthday sweetheart! 6 is a big year – you started kindergarten  and you are so good at the big sister thing we got you ANOTHER little sister!

I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you every day. You are a smart, adventurous, curious, compassionate and loving little girl. I say little even though you really aren’t little anymore.

Each birthday for you is so, so happy for me and daddy, but also a bit sad. You are our little peanut butter. You made us parents, and as you get older there is less and less of baby Maeve and more and more of grown-up Maeve. Sometimes we’d just like to slow things down a bit, have you be our baby a little longer, but that isn’t how it works. And so we watch you grow up, get bigger and stronger and we get prouder and prouder with every day that goes by.

Mama and Maeve

Mama and Maeve

I feel sometimes like you and I grew up together. I didn’t so much know what I was doing when you were born and the first couple of months were tough as we figured each other out. You looked so wise with those deep blue-grey eyes, like you knew exactly what was going on and were disappointed to have gotten a dud of a mother in the parent lottery. But we stuck with it, and six years later I am so, so happy that you are my daughter and I am your mother.

When parents talk about having babies they always speak about how unprepared they were for just how much they would love their child. Like floodgates of love opened that they didn’t even know existed. I felt, and feel, that too for you and your sisters. But what I was truly unprepared for is how much you would love me in return. How you’d bring me apples when I was sick from being pregnant with your sisters. How you give me hugs when you know I’m feeling down. How you crawl into bed with us some nights and snuggle up close (no matter what daddy says, don’t ever stop doing that please!). How you draw me beautiful pictures of rainbows where red is the biggest stripe because you know it is my favorite color.

You have an extraordinary capacity to give, and I’ve found in life that it is by giving that you let yourself receive in return what you need- compassion, love, chocolate. You can give too much- it does happen- but you’ll find the universe will come back around and make it right somehow. Just know how much we love you, how proud we are of you, how we are here for you every step of the way as you keep growing up into the remarkable person I already see inside of you.

And the Daddy guy too.

And the Daddy guy too.

Happy Birthday baby girl! Now go eat a cupcake!



My Fairy Princess Today

My Fairy Princess Today

The Best Advice


“The only good thing to do with good advice is pass it on; it is never of any use to oneself.”
― Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband

What is it about parenthood that automatically makes strangers get involved in your business? I am not immune from this impulse- I see some cutie patootie stealing his third sample of dairy-free ice cream (ice soy? IDK) at Trader Joe’s and I’m all “how old is he? Has he gotten into Harvard yet? You should definitely get extra long sheets for the dorms. Have a great day!”

I don’t find the general chit chat about kids to be annoying- where I live I think the kid to adult ratio is about 142:1. You can’t sneeze without 987 parents handing you a bottle of hand sanitizer. I like when people talk to me about my kids, or even better when they talk TO my kids. You’ve never seen a prouder girl than when a lady at Starbucks quizzed Maeve all about her new baby sister, or when the dude at Chipotle spent like an hour discussing the pros and cons of flying as a superpower with Bridget (she is not impressed by it and prefers something called “pink superpower!” I’ll get back to you when i figure it out). And yes, I can hear you silently judging the businesses I patronize. Sometimes mommy needs a peppermint mocha with her burrito and Joe’s O’s, okay??

The one thing I cannot stand, though, is advice.

Advice from strangers is never advice. It is judgment. Pure, stone cold judgment. To quote from the philosopher Jerry Springer, “you don’t know me!”. Advice is given amongst friends, after synthesizing the facts of the case and intimate knowledge of the person or persons involved, preferably with two to three glasses of a good Argentinian Malbec mixed in for good measure. And as a rule, advice is never offered without a request for it. What strangers say to you is a reflection of their own issues, and you dear, are the mirror.

Forthwith, I share with you the greatest pieces of judgment I have ever received:

“Your daughter’s shoes are on the wrong feet.”

So that’s not really advice, it’s a statement of fact. And it is true 98% of the time. You know why? Allow Monsieur Louis de CK to explain:

She finally put her shoes on. 20 minutes after I told her we needed to go pick up milk. Yes they are on the wrong feet. I do not give a fuck. But thank you.

“Um, your daughter is eating rice off of the table. Shouldn’t you put a napkin down or something?.”

This one almost sent me into premature labor. One, it was said to me by an obviously childless 20-something who I could tell felt she was doing a true public service because she stopped to take her iPhone ear bud out (just one! don’t want to totally lose the T-Pain!) to share her nugget of wisdom. Two, raise your hand if you’d be pleased that your kid was actually EATING DINNER and it wasn’t something that had previously been on the floor. I see you! Three, she interrupted a very lively game of I Spy that I was playing with my other daughter. To inform me that my three year old was actually eating her dinner. Quietly. Off of a table top. That I cleaned with a baby wipe before we sat down. I should also note that these were little errant, escapee pieces of rice, not whole bowl of rice that I dumped I front of her like Alpo.

When I just went “oh, thanks” and made a face that did not correspond to the word “thanks” she replied “well I thought you’d want to know”, gave me an eye-roll, put her earbud back in and proceeded to order her burrito. I hope she ordered pinto beans before they were vegan and only just found out she ate two pounds of bacon.

“That baby really should have a hat on.”

I know what you’re thinking: Siobhan, it is almost December. Your baby really should have a hat on. But this was August. In the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Where we were for a total of nine seconds.

Sigh. “I don’t know why so many mothers use pacifiers these days.”

I can’t place this one. I was in line at Target, maybe? This was a good one because Maeve was about three weeks old and I was just emerging from a nightmare breast feeding experience and was told by my pediatrician to use a pacifier because the child was literally destroying a key piece of my anatomy. Also, note the passive-aggressive tone. I REALLY wanted to smile and say sweetly “it’s because she’s practically gnawed my nipple off, here, let me show you!” But instead I just said “if you’re willing to be up with her all night and half the day you are more than welcome to come to my house.” She switched lanes.

I’d feel differently if I thought these folks genuinely believed they were being helpful. But they knew they weren’t, they were just using me to make themselves feel superior. I’m grateful for people who point out that the baby just lost a sock or Bridget dropped a crayon. Those are helpful, actionable things to do for another person. Imparting what you feel is your wisdom to someone who did not ask for it and whom you subjectively decided needs it, is not.

So the next time someone tries to give you parenting advice, just ignore what they are saying. You’re doing your thing, the best way you know how to do it, and you are rocking it.

But that’s just my advice.

The Lunch Incident

Yeah, there's an attention to detail inherent here that I just can't muster.

Yeah, there’s an attention to detail inherent here that I just can’t muster.

"Some weasel took the cork out of my lunch." -W.C. Fields

(Totally inappropriate I know, but it made me laugh so there).

My oldest started kindergarten last week and all went well, with the exception of what will heretofore be known as The Lunch Incident. Little Miss was sent to school on her second day with macaroni and cheese, carrot sticks, iced tea and a bag of cookies. For some reason she had been fighting me about the mac and cheese, even though it is the kind she likes. But I have a mealtime rule (a combination of "you get what you get" and "this is a house, not a diner") so she was sent with it and that was that.

When I picked her up from the bus she said she had a great day and we walked home as she talked about art class. We got home, she went to play with her sister and I unpacked her backpack to clean her lunch box. When I opened it, it was untouched. Even the cookies. I called her into the kitchen and she stood there, grinning, while she declared that she had pancakes for lunch mommy!

I almost stroked out with rage. There's no money in her lunch account. She had clearly been sent with lunch. I have no idea how she paid for and actually obtained the school's hot lunch. I still can't believe she was wily enough to get what she wanted (but given that she is MY child, I should have known better). And now I have a raging insecurity complex about what food I'm sending with her. I'm not a great or original cook to begin with (see my Sense Memory post on the subject) and I was terrible at providing lunches at her previous daycare. I sent peanut butter and jelly without thinking about it (thank goodness no one in her class was allergic). I would pack those Gerber raviolis that were frankly pretty gross. I just had zero time and very little capability for that task. When both of my daughters started at a school that provided hot lunch and all snacks, drinks, etc it was a delightful moment of zen. Now I'm back to square one.

I solicited feedback from wiser parents than I on Facebook about packing easy, tasty lunches (healthy is a bonus). Things I learned:

Sandwiches are so 2007: I attribute this to the demise of PB&J as a viable school lunch. I also know that my own children don't care much for lunch meat, and I suspect other kids of the same feeling.

Variety is Key: bento-style lunches afford easy ways to portion food, and provide kids with a bit of choice. So rather than hearing "but I don't liiiiiiikkkkkeee it!" You're pretty much guaranteed that they'll eat at least one thing.

Make the Kids Do It: I like this most of all. My friend Kellianne (and others seconded) creating a snack box in the fridge filled with items like yogurt, carrot sticks, apple slices and seasonal fruits. There might be a "main course" of pasta, say, but let your kids pick and pack their two dishes and juice box or milk. Then they can't complain, they did it themselves. Use the School Lunch: you don't have to do it every day, but maybe once a week the chicken nuggets and French fries make sense as a treat and/or to save your sanity. My daughter would eat nuggets and fries every day if I let her, so I plan to use this sparingly but gratefully!

Use Leftovers: I am terrible at this. I can't tell you how many times I put away leftovers with the best of intentions and throw them out after they've festered for a week. But there's no reason spaghetti and meatballs or chicken with rice can't be lunch the next day. Which brings me to perhaps the most helpful tip of all:

Plan. Plan. Plan.: also not my strong suit. But if you can create a schedule or calendar of lunch/dinner it will maximize your grocery shopping, money and brainpower. Here is a little tool to help with putting together lunches. Choose 1 from column A, 2 from column B and a drink from Column C. Fill in with your own favorites:

Group A:

Cheese, turkey and triscuits

Spaghetti with meatballs

Chicken noodle soup
Macaroni and cheese
Veggie pasta
Hummus and chips
Group B:
Yogurt stick
Apple slices
Apple sauce pouch
Cheese stick
Veggie sticks
Group C:

Here are a couple of great websites with ideas:

30 Days of Lunchbox Recipes (no repeats!): http://www.peanutblossom.com/blog/2013/08/lunchbox-recipes.html/
Laptop Lunches- Lunch gear, recipes and more: http://www.laptoplunches.com/
Easy Lunch Box Lunches- (Pinterest at your own risk!): http://pinterest.com/easylunchboxes/easy-lunch-box-lunches/

What's your strategy for tackling school lunch? Do you have any great recipes for items that can be pre-made and then packed as needed or frozen for later use? Any tips on what to avoid? I'd also love to hear what lunch boxes, thermos containers, etc you like and why! Please comment below and I will try to compile recommendations and suggestions in an accessible format.


Happy Little Accidents

There are no mistakes, just happy little accidents...

There are no mistakes, just happy little accidents…

I made a crack on Facebook today about the accidental nature of my current pregnancy. Someone commented in response “Wow. I hope your daughter never sees this”, but eventually deleted the comment. Hence the following.

Dear Baby Girl #3,

You may have heard recently that you were an accident. The word has a negative connotation to it, as it is usually preceded by qualifiers like “car”, “deadly” and “industrial”. But all it really means is an unforeseen event or circumstance. You know what else are accidents? Play-doh. Superglue. Velcro. And Post-It notes. Do you know how much the world loves Post-it notes? Before those we used to have to cut little pieces of paper and were then expected to use an entirely separate piece of tape to secure it to another surface! And people were happy with how that worked until a guy put the tape on an existing piece of paper and created a revolution. Billions of Post-its in different colors and shapes and sizes later, the world has never looked back.

You are just like that. You, my dear, are the Post-it note we didn’t even know we needed.

I wasn’t a very happy person in the months before we found out about you. I had a job I didn’t really like, I was away from your daddy and your sisters for long stretches of time, and I was just sad a lot. But daddy and I had a great vacation that made me feel much better. And after we got home I found out that you were on the way. We were really, really surprised. Like more surprised than you will be on your sixteenth birthday when you realize you aren’t getting a car.

We made plans for your big sisters- you don’t need to know the details but we were hoping for them and doing all the stuff parents are supposed to do when they want a baby (it involves wine. Lots of wine). But you, you just happened. And I was a little worried at first because I wasn’t entirely sure I could handle another baby at that moment, but I was excited too. I had left the job I didn’t like and was trying to figure out what to do next. Being pregnant with you gave me something of an excuse for a break, a breather that I needed badly and didn’t know it. You are due to arrive in 24 days as I am writing this, and I can’t explain what the last few months have been like for me. I am a different person. I am happier and healthier than I can ever recall being. I’ve gotten to hang out with your sisters, who I can officially say are awesome and extremely excited about you. Your dad likes me more. I like him more. Even the cat seems less mad at me lately.

So yes, you were an accident. A super-happy accident that I would do over again in a heartbeat. And if anyone ever gives you any grief about it, you have authorization from me to say the following:

“I am the Post-it note of accidents. Now go fuck yourself you ordinary piece of paper with no tape.”

I Love You,


Why I Hate Summer

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and with it the unofficial start of summer. School will be out soon, vacations are planned, sunscreen and bug spray have been stockpiled and we are awaiting the infestation of millions of cicadas. The excitement is almost palpable, etched on little faces like its Christmas Eve.

And I hate all of it. Well, not the school part.

I am a pasty-white girl with frizzy hair and the sweetest blood this side of the Mississippi. I spend summer slathering and re-slathering my skin in SPF 75 and I will still freckle. My hair will look like I stuck my finger in a socket for the next 12 weeks. Mosquitoes will flock to me like I’m a walking dessert buffet. I will spend the summer smelling of zinc oxide and DEET.

I hate sand in my shoes. I loathe getting saltwater up my nose. Chlorine turns my expensively-colored hair all sorts of hues. Shaving my legs is a chore and bikini waxes are the ultimate revenge for Eve biting that goddamn apple.

My genetic make-up was refined over a millennia in the cloudy climes of Ireland, a place where they built a temple so the sun’s rays could take the souls of the dead at the winter solstice. I therefore sweat constantly and profusely in a vain attempt to keep cool. My skin can turn pink after 15 minutes of sun exposure. My husband’s family lives near the ocean in Orange County, CA and on the occasions he brings up moving closer to them I remind him we’d have to invent a giant sunscreen bubble I could live in just to survive.

Compounding all of this is the addition of children to the equation. More sunscreen. More bug spray. Shoes and clothes and hair filled with sand. Stinky, sweaty feet. Complaints about bug bites and it being sooooo hooooottt mom….

It’s not all bad I guess. I do love thunderstorms and boardwalks at night. Barbecues and baseball games with hot dogs and a freezing cold beer are some of life’s small treasures. Well, until I try to peel myself off of the stadium seat I’ve become glued to. I like drippy cherry Popsicles and frozen lemonade and county fair funnel cake too. A cool summer evening with the breeze coming up off the ocean and a chilled glass of wine is a delight. But still.

Our air conditioning crapped out last week and we thought we might need to replace the unit, a prospect we can’t afford at the moment. The thought of spending the summer pregnant and then with a newborn in a house without AC was terrifying. Thankfully it only took a few pounds of freon and a simple repair to fix, and so I can spend the next few months holed up in comfort, Miss Havisham-style.

I look forward to autumn, my favorite season, where cool breezes replace hot winds and humidity gives way to crispness. I love warm sweaters and fuzzy slippers, tall boots and patterned tights. The smell of fireplaces in our neighborhood burning away while I sip hot cocoa and wrap myself in my favorite blanket. We’ll carve pumpkins and make pies; pick apples and start a leaf collection. Stews and hearty meals will simmer in the crockpot while the girls play outside in a bug-free yard. I get to buy brand-new school supplies for my little kindergartener and walk her to the bus stop in galoshes and light jackets.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Now to just get through the next three months…

…Often Go Astray

Shutters, half-done. Judge for yourself!

Shutters, half-done. Judge for yourself!

So remember that grand plan I announced here two months ago about moving to Charlottesville?
Yeah, that’s not happening.

House was on the market for six weeks. In the grand scheme of things that is not a long time, but the housing market in the DC area is incredibly tight and we figured we’d have a contract in a couple of weeks. In fact we thought the house would sell too fast and we’d have to rent back for a little while until we found a place to move into. But the weeks dragged on, the strangers traipsed through our house, and none made an offer.

It is now early May. If we got a great contract tomorrow we wouldn’t close until the end of the month at the earliest, realistically mid-June. That could work, but we are rapidly coming up to the arrival of baby #3 at the end of July. The longer the house sat, the more I saw myself 9.5 months pregnant, trying to pack up our house, only to unpack days later a couple hundred miles away. And register for school. And find someone to deliver the baby. And get a pediatrician.

We lowered the price, twice, to the lowest we could accept and break even. We dangled an incentive for buyers who didn’t like our small, dated kitchen- we’d contribute some money at closing towards a renovation. We had 3 open houses and more than 40 buyers come through. Many of them liked the house, with the exception of the aforementioned kitchen and its proximity to a major road. Those are two things we can’t do anything about. Our house is gray; with pinky-raspberry colored shutters that the previous owners had thought was red but didn’t quite turn out that way. I enjoyed them- they made the place look cheery. Our realtor (and our house-painter neighbor) thought it might help if we painted them black, so we did. It didn’t.

I also can’t articulate what a pain it has been to keep the house clean when you have two kids, and the inconvenience of being kicked out of your house unexpectedly between 5-7 on a weeknight. It was starting to wear and we felt like we had used all the tools we had at our disposal. In the meantime life moved on around us- kindergarten orientation was around the corner, Bridget was given a spot at a part-time preschool, and the universe just seemed to be sending the signal that we weren’t going anywhere.

We don’t have to move, so we’ll stay. We’ll re-evaluate things next year. For now I don’t know if it’s my nesting instinct kicking in or what, but I’m taking comfort in familiarity – the same doctor and hospital that I had with Bridget, supportive neighbors and friends, Maeve going to school with the boy next door. We’re kind of relieved actually- we may not have gotten what we wanted, but maybe we got what we needed.

Except for my pink shutters. Those I want back.

Two Minutes

Not long ago, I would make the 35 mile drive from my office to my daughters’ childcare with one small hope in my mind.

Two minutes.

The drive could take anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour, depending on traffic. The center closed at 6pm. If I left the office by 4:30 I was assured to get there on time, but one meeting running long or an impromptu conversation by the elevator would throw the whole plan out of whack.

Two minutes.

I would spend the drive with thoughts reeling. What I had and hadn’t accomplished during the day. What work I would need to do tonight to make sure tomorrow was as productive as a day jam-packed with meetings could be. And dinner- was it best to stop somewhere on the way home and risk being late or could I throw something reasonable together when we got home?

Two minutes.

Tuition was due today. Don’t have my checkbook. Husband can bring it tomorrow when he drops the girls off. Phone rings-hi honey. He’s stuck on the same highway I am, coming from the opposite direction. He’ll be late, no way he can pick up the kids if I’m late. No time to pick up dinner then, it’ll have to be something I can make or the pizza man again. I think the delivery guys at our local pizza place fight to come to our house because the girls are so excited when we order from there- always greeted with “pizza’s here! Pizza’s here mommy!”. If only the nights I make broccoli and whole wheat pasta were met with such enthusiasm.

Two minutes.

If I get them by six, we are home by 6:15. Dinner by 6:45. Bath night. Maybe an episode of Curious George if we have time before bed. Bed time is 8 but it is always a rush and there is rarely time to calm down, read a book to them, decompress. 9 times out of 10 my husband or I (or both) fall asleep during the 20 minutes of reliable babysitting provided by that cartoon monkey.

Two minutes.

Bedtime. No matter what it ends up being a mess. The girls share a room and keep each other up, often for an hour. Separating them occasionally helps but they also cry about missing each other. We have to yell, bribe, fight with them at least 3 times before they get quiet.

Two minutes.

Clean up after dinner. Do laundry. Constantly doing laundry. A friend remarked the other day that her daughter said “daddy likes to do woodwork, I like to finger paint, and mommy likes to do laundry!”, which made her realize that it is the main activity her child sees her doing, so of course she thinks mom likes it! Open up laptop, check emails sent since I left the office, try to clean out inbox. I like an inbox at zero. It makes me happy. I have a little folder on my desktop called “Empty Inbox” that contains screenshots of the times my inbox has been at zero. I haven’t added a new one in a while.

Two minutes.

Remind husband about check for tomorrow. Pay other bills. Review calendar for tomorrow. Prepare docs or other items for meetings. Work on reports and a couple other long-term projects. How can it only be Wednesday? And it’s 11pm. I’ve put in an hour or two of work at home, as has my husband, who sits at the other end of our L-shaped couch fixated on his laptop while some show on the TV provides background noise.

Two minutes.

But that’s all later. Right now I’m coming up on the exit with time to spare. It’s 5:45 when I pull into the childcare center parking lot. I choose a spot slightly back from the door, which some would find weird since there is one open right up front. I swing the car in. I turn the key in the ignition and the engine stops. The radio goes silent.

Two minutes.

I move forward, putting my forehead on the soothingly cold faux wood of the steering wheel and sit in the silence. No one, at this precise moment, needs me. Work is miles away, children are cosseted for the next ten minutes, my phone is silent. I breathe deeply, trying to clear my head, gain some mental energy for the few hours of my day that still lie ahead. Some people smoke, others have mid-afternoon coffee runs, still others yoga. I, if I am lucky, have this.

Two minutes.

Other parents move past me and at first I’m sure they think I’m nuts. But then I realize they are in the same boat I’m in, they totally get it. I wonder if they feel like they are rowing out of sync, moving in circles instead of fluid lines. Even backward would be better than the inertia of going round and round, day after day. Progress often goes forward and then back before lurching ahead again. It does not stay in the same place for long.

Two minutes.

A couple more deep breaths.I rub my temples. I shake out my tired, sore shoulders. Who knew sitting all day could be so hard on one’s back? I sit up, car keys in hand and open the door. Walking to the door of the center I check my watch to see how much time I have left.



Tick tock...

Tick tock…

Why I’m Leaning Out


Ms. Sandberg, thoughtfully reading my post.

My friend Erika forwarded me a link to “The True Cost of Leaning In” on The Daily Beast the other day, and it was very timely for a number of reasons. I had been wandering my pregnant, semi-retired self around the mall earlier in the day to pick up some clothes for me and the girls so we could survive the unexpected mini-heatwave that hit us in lieu of spring. I walked by all the shops I ordinarily would have stopped in to buy spring suits, light sweaters, pastel-colored blouses and accompanying accessories. They no longer applied to me not only because of my burgeoning belly, but because I have opted out.

I left my job in November after just about a year. I was suffering from clinical depression, which was compounded by a hectic travel schedule, stressful home life (late to pick up the kids! Pizza for the third night this week! Who didn’t pay the cable bill?!), and unhappiness with the day to day of the job I had. It was not an easy decision to leave, but at the time it was what I needed to do for myself and my family, we had some savings, and a short break seemed like a reasonable decision.

After a couple of months I began looking for a new job in earnest, but then found out that I was quite unexpectedly pregnant, throwing a monkey wrench into that plan. And the more I thought about it, the happier I became. I don’t want to be a software salesperson for the rest of my life. I don’t. And so I’m embarking on something new (writing) and the funny thing is that despite the loss of my six figure income, we may not be financially devastated and our lives may actually be easier.

I’m going full open-kimono here. There were, and still are, tremendous opportunity costs involved in my working outside the home. I made very good money. My monthly take-home pay came to about $5000 after taxes, retirement savings, etc. But here’s how that ended up being distributed:

Daycare for 2 kids under 5: $2400 per month. By far our largest cost, only slightly behind our mortgage. The Daily Beast article noted the annual cost of $24,000 for one child in daycare in New York City, and DC is no slouch when it comes to the cost either, although for both of our children we were just under $30,000 per year. A third infant child in daycare would cost us another $13,000 per year, although that would be offset by our eldest going to kindergarten this fall. We’d still be over $2600 per month for childcare for three if you add in before and after-school care for her.

Eating out: $300. No time to cook and no time to pack a lunch for when I did go into the office. Dinner could be anything from Wawa sandwiches grabbed on the way home to a proper restaurant dinner costing $50 or more. To me, our most annoying additional cost.

Dry cleaning and Laundry: $200 per month. Full disclosure- I don’t iron. I just don’t. Even if I did, who has the time? I traveled pretty extensively. Come home, dump out suitcase, repack suitcase, leave. Plus I have two kids whose laundry needs to be done too. Standard suits, shirts and sweaters went to dry cleaning and I occasionally sent the remainder of my laundry out for wash and fold service because the choice was between that or buying new clothes to make it through the week.

House Cleaning: $150. See above. If I did happen to be home and have time to clean, I’d rather spend it with my kids than cleaning the house. This is the expense that while it may seem discretionary, was in reality the best money I feel I could have spent.

Gas: $75. I worked primarily from home and/or traveled but my company’s office was 30 miles away and I was expected to be in once a week or more. Also, it required driving the beltway, which is not so much a highway as a parking lot. Which leads us to….

Occasional babysitting if not in time to get kids: $50. It was rare, but it happened. I am lucky to have helpful friends and neighbors but man if that clock is one minute past 6pm when you walk into daycare all hell breaks loose. It was easy to deal with this when it was foreseeable- I was traveling, husband had work dinner meeting- but those times when we were both stuck in notorious DC traffic or a meeting ran long were a nightmare.

Makeup: $20: Didn’t wear it every day, but it’s a cost. And getting an extra set of Clinique skincare products in travel size so you don’t have to check your bag is both a matter of necessity and money.

Hair/Nails: $100: Seems to be an indulgence but I worked in sales and appearance is important. I am also ridiculously gray and have been since I was 17. Cut and color every 6-8 weeks and mani/pedis every couple of weeks.

Total: $3295

Net: $1705 or 34% of take-home pay. Basically I was working to take home a paycheck equivalent to one-third of my net salary. And it wasn’t worth it.

Keep in mind that I’ve just catalogued the essential costs of what it takes for me to leave the house in the morning. My husband also works and is paid well, with his salary covering the mortgage, utilities, car payment and we have health insurance through his job. He additionally does consulting work for a former company. He is a great partner and tremendous contributor to all aspects of the housework and childcare, which is not something all women have.

Despite my unhappiness with where I was in my career, there are many ways in which I enjoyed my work and would love to feel that leaning in is worth it. Contributing to an organization, watching ideas come to life, mentoring and managing younger women were all things I thrived doing. But it all came with costs- financial and otherwise- that have become too much to bear.

I’ve already seen a significant change in myself since I left my job. I have lost 20 pounds. Yes, I am six months pregnant and somehow I weigh 20 pounds less than I did in November (don’t worry, baby and I are just fine). I used to be constantly sick from November through March every year. I’m talking sinus infections that required steroids and multiple rounds of antibiotics. This year, despite the suppressed immune system that comes with being knocked up, I was perfectly healthy other than one very quick cold I had last week. I weaned myself off 3 anti-depressants when I found out about the pregnancy and I have been doing pretty darn well. Those are priceless improvements for my quality of life.

The girls will be out of their current pre-school/daycare by the end of May. My oldest starts kindergarten in the fall, I may find a part-time preschool for my middle one, and the baby is due at the end of July. We’ll spend a summer chilling at the pool, visiting friends and family and enjoying afternoon ice cream. I never thought I’d be a stay at home mom and am honestly more than a little nervous about it. I am not the world’s most patient person and I am crankier than a cat on Sunday when I don’t get enough sleep. But I’m looking forward to walking my daughter to the bus stop in the morning and back home in the afternoon. Baby and I can get a good routine going without the panic of the imminent end of maternity leave. My middle one is absolutely exploding with language and creativity these days and I’d love to do some finger painting and music class with her (if she’ll let me. She has an independent streak, that one).

I fully support Sheryl Sandberg’s efforts to get more women into corporate and government leadership positions, and I’d really like to be one of those success stories. But for me and my family, at this moment in time, it just isn’t the right decision. And so I’m leaning out of the workplace and into my family life, where I’m already CEO and Chairman of the Board.


I am terrible at math. I can do your standard arithmetic, and I can calculate a percentage like nobody’s business (that sweater is 30% off? Sweet!) but once you start talking algebra and calculus and crap, I’m done.

I wasn’t always this way- I started out doing just fine in math, getting As and such through the halcyon days of first and second grade. Then came third grade and Sr. Mary Seton. She was not necessarily a bad teacher, but she was unforgiving and a taskmaster. You would have thought we were a boot camp for the Marine Corps instead of a bunch of 8 year old Catholic kids fresh off our First Communion and therefore still terrified of hell. I was out sick for a couple of days at one point, and I missed the initial explanation of what multiplication was as well as the first five multiplication tables. When I returned she refused to explain what I had missed. I tried my hardest to deconstruct what was going on, but I was eight. And I certainly didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know what was going on- I was a ‘smart kid’ and I liked being a ‘smart kid’ and didn’t want to mess up that impression.

Milo and Tick, the Dog who Tocks; or Tock, the Dog who Ticks. I'm not sure.

Milo and Tick, the Dog who Tocks; or Tock, the Dog who Ticks. I’m not sure which.

Anyways, I moved on and eventually figured out multiplication and its evil twin division, but I was somehow scarred. In college I took a financial accounting course (don’t ask) and I just could not get my mind to wrap around it. Ask me about the corruption of women’s basic rights as the precursor on The Handmaid’s Tale and I could write you a dissertation- ask me about accrual vs. cash accounting and its impact on the balance sheet and I would look at you like you had nine heads. It was so bad that the professor pulled me aside and asked me what happened around third grade. I was stunned and I sputtered out my tale of multiplication woe and he gave a knowing smile- “I’ve taught plenty of students like you who struggle with this material and they’ve all had some kind of run-in with math right around that age. Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.” So I’m not alone, and he was tremendously helpful to me in eking out a very painful “C” in that class.

I have always been more attracted to language and words. That’s part of why The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my favorite books- the plot revolves about the tension between math and language, and it is ultimately resolved by the beauty of language (King Azaz the Unabridged and the Mathemagician being forced to finally agree on one thing- to disagree).  I love puns and wordplay and how a book is invariably better than the movie. My brain operates best in the colorful, grey areas of words and meaning, not the boring black and white of math, where 2 plus 2 is always 4. Where’s the fun in that?

That’s the thing about math- I can do it, I’ve just never understood it. It is the difference for me between reading words on a page and truly understanding the story. Why on earth did I need to know what a cosign was? Who uses this in real life? (answer: no one. Ever.). By the time I reached high school I would look my algebra teacher in the eye and say “I am going to law school. I don’t need to know this.” She was kindhearted enough to give me extra credit on a final exam basically for spelling my name right. Also, law school was hell, but that’s a topic for another time.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I can now see what was actually being taught. It was not so much “doing the math”, it was problem-solving and critical thinking skills. What is PEMDAS other than a structure under which to analyze and tackle a problem? It is the math equivalent of diagramming a sentence (and I can diagram the shit out of a sentence. Sentences cross the street when they see me coming). Algebra is simply an attempt to solve a crime with only some of the evidence available. Geometry explains how (most) buildings don’t fall down. I don’t recall math ever being presented in that kind of context, it was just something we were supposed to learn based on its intrinsic value. Why do I have to know this? Because I said so.

I know how we teach math has evolved significantly over the years, but with my oldest daughter starting kindergarten this year I’m nervous about helping her with homework as she progresses and it becomes more difficult. She is very interested in science and engineering- loves astronomy, and learning how things are made- and I think I’m overly sensitive to the “girls aren’t good at math” stereotype because I am a walking example of it.  We’re cool with counting and basic math, but when we get to manipulating fractions that’s going to be a rough one for mom. I think contextualizing the why? of math is truly the key to understanding it, and that’s the element that was missing for me in the beginning stages of my math education.

So we’ll see what happens over the next couple of years. Thank goodness for online tutorials for parents like me, and my husband’s mathematical capability.

After all, what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.