Calm Amidst the Storm…..

I have to admit, I am having a really hard time writing this week.

While writing is often an escape for me, and a process by which I make sense of the chaos that is my chosen life, I am just not able to find my groove.

And that may be the lesson.

We are going through what is probably one of the most stressful periods I can remember.  My husband just started a new job in September, which has come with it’s own trials and tribulations.  He has a home office now, and lots more travel.  There were some hang-ups with his contract, resulting in working without one for almost three months.

I quit working as soon as he started.  Although I have had many people congratulate me on the opportunity to stay home full time, that was never my intention – which has required some fairly significant shifting in my identity as a professional.

And then we sold a house, bought a house, and moved.  The “new” house is an “old” house, so we are learning about home ownership all over again.  I am also learning about leaning on other’s for support and help.  I am typically fiercely independent, and notoriously impatient.  I don’t like people “in my space” – and I hate asking for help.

This week alone, we have had three painters, four well drillers, two delivery trucks, and a contractor.  Tomorrow, we are expecting a full crew of carpet installers. There are piles of equipment and displaced furniture in every room of the house, a giant mud pit in the backyard, and dust everywhere.  Last week, we had four visits from the furnace repairmen, a delivery of space heaters from a very sweet friend, and offers of places to stay until we got our heat working.

I have a bathtub in the garage, a toolbox in the bathroom, and a coffeepot on top of the dryer.

One thing I can say with certainty is that we couldn’t do this alone. I am unbelievably grateful for the huge support network that has surrounded us throughout the past few months. Friends and family have helped us move, loaned us equipment, offered advice, recommended products, and forced us to walk away for a little while for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and a strong network of professionals who have supported us through both the career and the housing transitions – from our realtor to the title company to my husband’s new team at work.

I’d love to share some words of wisdom regarding finding my center amidst overwhelming change and chaos.  And I will, as soon as I find my mind.  I am sure I put somewhere around here.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures of this week’s progress to tide you over.

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The outside of “Beechwood” – our new old house!

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First snow through the Living Room stained glass window

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The beginning of our family remodeling adventure!

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My calm amidst the storm…..

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This New Old House

We did it.  Last week, we moved. 

Any of you that have followed my blog know that this has been an emotional process of ups and downs that began last February.  We made the decision in September to stay put, remodel our current space to meet our needs, and sleep soundly knowing that a move just wasn’t meant to be.

We agreed to “one last showing”, and started making plans for a garage addition.  Just about the time we were ready to apply for permits, we got an offer on the house.  At exactly the same time, the house that started this whole crazy roller coaster also got an offer. 

I’m pretty philosophical.  I believe strongly that when things are meant to be, they will be – and when they aren’t, no amount of pushing, cajoling, or bargaining can make it be so.

No matter how hard this has been over the last year, I have remained steady.  I am not one for tears or self-pity.  Until the night we realized that we had effectively sold our house, and that plan B was sold as well.

We joked that like the old Chris Farley Saturday Night Live skit, we might all be living in a van….down by the river.  (We do actually own a parcel of river property, and a van isn’t too hard to come by…… )  My parents offered their camper, I started looking for rentals, and then collapsed on the floor in a puddle of frustration.

Like most times when I am totally overwhelmed with the decisions in front of me, I decided to log on to the mindlessness of Facebook.

I scrolled through the usual parking lot stalker warnings, photos of homemade applesauce, and cute puppies available for adoption.  I had no idea where we were going to live, but at least I knew where I could get canned goods on sale.  And then, there it was.

A friend had posted a picture of a house for sale – along with her great memories of spending time there.  Then some other people chimed in with their own memories.  It was a house that we had driven by a million times, and had always wondered what lay behind its white porch, stained glass, and cloverleaf attic window.

I immediately texted our realtor, and we went to see it the next morning.  Something amazing happened when we walked into the house.  It was completely different than everything we thought we wanted, and met very few things on our “must have” list.  And it was 100% right.

There is no Master Suite, no soaking tub, no gourmet kitchen.  The bedrooms are all on the same floor, the bathrooms will be shared, and the TV doesn’t really have a good home.  It was definitely not built within the last 10 years, certainly not state of the art, and probably not move in ready.  Yet, not one of those things matters. 

I felt the rich wood hug me as soon as I walked in.  The house is like warm bread with cinnamon, soft quilts, and a good book on a rainy day.  There is a deep calm in the space, and it stayed with me underneath the weight of negotiating, paperwork, and packing. 

It is an old house, built in 1891, and only owned by two families since then.  The woodwork is mostly original, as is the floor plan.  The stove in the kitchen is dated 1917, the windows hold the imperfections of their original manufacturing process, and the house is said to be built from trees felled on the property.  It even has a name – but I am saving that for another blog!

The energy of the house seems to follow us everywhere we go.  When we tell people which house we are bought, we are met with sighs, wistful smiles, and happy memories from anyone who has ever been inside. 

Other “old house” owners freely give advice about how to care for the woodwork, the best way to patch plaster, and the nightmares of stripping wallpaper.  One woman even took us inside her home to show us her restoration projects and the surprise original brickwork she found behind crumbling wallboard. 

We have been here just over a week, and the reality of owning an old house is beginning to set in.  We can’t flush the toilet if the shower is running, every piece of furniture leans just a little, and we still can’t quite figure out how to keep warm.  Everything that we have space for has been unpacked, and there are still boxes everywhere. 

The to-do list seems overwhelming, as it always does at the start of a new project.  Do we work on the floors or the walls?  Is it more important to replace the furnace, the water heater, or the well?  How do we fit our 2013 family’s worth of furniture into spaces that were built for 1890s society?  Which outlet can I use to vacuum that will actually get me through the whole room before it trips the breaker, and does this require the intervention of an electrician?

And still, underneath it all, the house speaks to us.  For over 120 years, mothers have paced the wood floors, children’s laughter has bounced off the ceilings, and countless hands have smoothed the banister.  As impatient as I am to set out to make it our own, I have a deep respect for her history.  If she has stood this long without my intervention, she will be fine for another month or two. 

She has clearly been loved by all who have lived with her, and we are both humbled and excited to add our family stories to her legacy.  We are incredibly grateful to those who came before us, and feel fortunate that they trusted us to take up the baton. In the meantime, our weekend dates center on trips to Lowe’s and friends who bring us take-out.  We are obsessed with other old house stories, and are learning a lot from those more experienced.  

And every night, when we fall into bed aching and exhausted, we are happy that we are finally home.

 

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Child of my Heart

This post was originally published last November, but the message is still near and dear to me.  In honor of my baby girl’s twelfth birthday, here it is again. Happy Birthday Miss B!

November is National Adoption Month.  It seems as if this would be a logical time to tell our story, and yet I am always a little hesitant to do so.  There are multiple reasons for this, but the biggest is that I am not sure that it is my story to tell.

One of the challenges and gifts of adoption is that I am only one in a triad of this story. The time before my children’s births belongs to the young women who nurtured and loved them while they grew, and the time after belongs to my children themselves.  My role was to wait and hope, then to witness.

Each adoption story is as unique as the child itself.  In honor of my daughter’s upcoming birthday, this is her story.

It begins with the rollercoaster of infertility.  From the breathless excitement of deciding it was time to let nature take it’s course to the crashing fall into endless doctor’s appointments, countless ultrasounds and needles, and a rock bottom miscarriage – adoption gave us hope.

It was never easy.  At each stage, there was a new fork in the road, a new peril to face.  First there was the search for an agency, the decision between domestic and international, and whether we willing to have contact with the birth family after placement.  The questions got harder – what if the child had special needs?  What if the birthparents used drugs or alcohol? Smoked?  What about a history of mental illness?  Did it matter what race the child was?

From a place of absolute emotional and physical exhaustion, we answered questions about our mental health, our physical health, our family background, parenting style, and if we really felt that we were ready to move on.  It was our trial, and the social workers were our jury.

When we were deemed “fit” and “ready”, we set out to create our portfolio.  We were allowed one page, both sides, to sell ourselves to prospective birthparents.  “Find pictures of yourself with children” we were advised.  “Birthparents want to be able to picture you as parents”.  After spending the past three years avoiding babies at all costs, we found every baby we could and took pictures looking happy and comfortable.  We reconnected with our friends who were already parents so that we would have a “network of support”.

We saved the crying for when we were home and alone.  We didn’t talk about how terrified we were – terrified that there would never be a baby, and equally terrified that there would.

We were encouraged to tell everyone that we knew that we were adopting. We endured countless insensitive comments from well meaning family and friends, as well an unbelievable ignorance.

“Huh – You’re taking the easy way out.  No birth!”

“Well, maybe it just isn’t meant to be for you guys…..You can always love your nieces and nephews!”

“I can’t imagine adopting.  You just never know what you are going to get!”

“You mean you are going to let the birth mom see the baby after you adopt it?  What if she takes it back?”

“My brother-sister-niece-nephew-cousin adopted.  It was awful.  Their son/daughter has had all kinds of problems…….”

“I can’t imagine loving a baby that wasn’t mine.”

We came up with all kinds of flippant responses, but each comment tore down a little more of our already fragile foundation.

And then the first call came, followed by the worst-case scenario.  <Insert link>

Two weeks after we lost our first baby, another call came.  “My name is Diane.  I know your aunt.  My daughter is pregnant, and we want you to adopt the baby.”

My heart stopped.  This was the call that we had been waiting for, and yet my first reaction was to wonder if I had finally had the nervous breakdown I had been fighting off for months.  We were still raw from our last placement, and very skeptical.

She gave me the details – baby girl was due December 10th.  They were local and had checked us out, and we passed the test.  They had been considering us for quite some time, but then heard we had another placement.  Then they wanted to give us some time to recover after that fell through.  Mom was healthy, committed to adoption, and in her senior year of high school.  Dad was local and committed to supporting mom.  Baby girl was healthy too.

I put her in touch with our social worker, then waited for the other shoe to drop.  If there was one thing that I had learned through this process, it was that there was always a monster in the closet.

We got the all clear from the social worker a few weeks later, and set up a time to meet birth mom in late November.  We decided that if she still wanted to go through with it by then, we would start shopping for some very basic necessities over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  In my heart of hearts, I knew that there was no way this was actually going to happen.

November 10 – my 29th birthday – we booked a much needed mini vacation.  As we were loading the car, the phone rang.  It was my mom calling to tell me that my brother and sister in law were expecting their first baby.  I spent the entire weekend in a hotel room sobbing.  It was the last straw.

We came home and back to our empty house a few days later.  I can honestly say that those days were my absolute rock bottom.  I was sick, numb, and black to the core.  I could barely drag myself out of bed and I couldn’t wait to get back in it at the end of every day.

November 15, 2001.  6:15 am.  Another call.  This time I didn’t even bother to answer it.  No good news comes at that hour.

“This is Diane.  Teresa is presently in labor.  You can call me when you get this message.”  I have never bolted out of my bed so quickly.  I grabbed the phone before she hung up.  “She’s OK.  She was sick last night, and we when we took her up to ER, her blood pressure was really high.  She went into labor. We will stay in touch.”

I held back the question – it would do me no good to ask if a scared sick 18 year old was still sure about her decision.  I soothed myself with the knowledge that they called.

The social worker was called, clothing and diapers were purchased, and my baby girl was born at 8:30 that evening.  Even though she was almost a month early, she was a healthy and robust 9 ½ pounds.  We took back the preemie clothes and tiny diapers, bought a crib, and waited.

And this is where the story becomes not mine alone anymore.  I don’t know what happened in the first few hours of my daughter’s life because those belong to her and another mother.  I know that she was held, fed, bathed, and loved.  That he fingers and toes were counted, and that she was baptized in her mother’s tears.  That she was held tight and named.  That she heard the same heartbeat that had comforted her for the previous nine months.

We didn’t meet her until the next day.  I shook in the elevator.  I cried at the nurses station.  And I almost threw up when they said “She’s in with her mom.  Do you want to go in the room and meet them both?”

And so we went.  We didn’t know that we would meet her birth mom that night for the first time, so there was no time not to be genuine.  There are no words for the tremendous rush of emotion when we walked into that tiny hospital room and saw our daughter for the first time.

Her birth mom was holding her, beginning her process of saying good-bye.  She looked up at us, eyes red and rimmed with tears.  “Do you want to hold her?”  And that was when I had to ask.  Because if she wasn’t sure in that moment, I knew that I could not touch that baby.  I knew that I couldn’t let go.

“I am sure” she said as she held out our daughter to us.  That was the moment that I became a mother.

Adoption is a gut-wrenching journey.  Like all mother’s, I never celebrate my daughter’s birthday without thinking of the day we brought her home from the hospital.  Ours is tinged with the knowledge that the day that brought us unimaginable joy is also the day that another woman who we have grown to love over the years is facing the deepest chasm of grief that she will ever experience.

I am aware always that in those first precious hours of my baby’s life, she was loved and comforted by another mother.  I am infinitely grateful to Bella’s birth mom for loving her with her whole heart, and to the women who stood beside her to give her strength to face the empty days after placement.

Adoption is not the path for everyone, but when it works, it is an immeasurable gift of family bonds that last for a lifetime.

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Unloading

I have a guilty pleasure that includes watching absolute mindless television when life gets tough.  The more stress, the worse the show.  I got hooked on the series Hoarders during a particularly rough patch a year ago.  I finally had to stop watching it after the initial shock value wore off, and I realized how incredibly sad the lives of the people featured on the show are.

Our stuff holds all kinds of meaning.  For some, it is the fear that they will lose a memory if the item that triggers it disappears.  For others, they worry that they won’t have something handy when they need it.  There are those who collect animals because it makes them feel loved and needed, and some who save scraps of paper because, on some level, it makes them feel noticed.

Personally, I am not much of a “saver”. I don’t have any problem throwing away or donating something that doesn’t have an immediate place in our lives.  I try to donate it with love, hoping that it will find its way to someone who really needs it rather than cluttering up my closets and counters.

My family might argue that I am overzealous at times.  Sometimes papers go missing, shoes can’t be found, the stuffed animal pile magically dwindles.  I have always prided myself on a fairly organized home.

And then I started packing.

For the past two and a half weeks, I have been knee deep in piles of “stuff”.  Every item I have touched has been put to the test.  Is this something that we need?  Will we have a place for it in our new home?  Is it worth the hassle of packing and unpacking it?

It has not been easy.

I have a newfound empathy for those who hoard.  What I realized last weekend is that evaluating our items takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy.  I started with the easy stuff – who needs 6 winter coats? I practiced letting go of what we didn’t need so that there would be open spaces for the new energy of a fresh space.

Old clothes? Easy.  Kids’ artwork?  Harder.  Journals?  Impossible.

It dawned on me while sitting in a pile of old photographs why it is so hard.  I was staring at a picture of my thirty year old self, right after we moved into this house.  In the photo, I held my son who was a year old on one hip and my two-year-old daughter’s hand on the other side.  My cheeks were flushed from the sunlight, and behind me were the pine trees that still stand in the corner of our backyard.

That moment, captured in a split second with an obsolete camera and printed on actual paper, will never come again.  It was gone as soon as it happened. I will never be thirty, my children will never be toddlers, and those scruffy trees will forever more reach the sky and block that corner of the yard.

Every item in this house – especially those tucked into the backs of closets and cabinets – holds a moment in time.  Letting go of those requires more than an evaluation of usefulness.  It requires a trip back in time to see if the memory will be anchored with or without the trigger.  Will I remember my daughter’s adoption ceremony without the dress she was wearing?  What about my son’s first steps without his baby shoes?

Among the memories are the wisps of dreams captured through collections of stuff.  A stack of inspirational journals will not make me a writer, unopened craft kits will not make me crafty, and size 4 jeans will not make me a size 4. I am not red lipstick and short skirts, anti-aging cream will not make me younger if I don’t use it, and perfume gives me a headache no matter how pretty the bottle. Each of these reflects a time in my life when I thought I could – or should – be those things and more.  Letting the items go means letting the expectation of who I am, who I want to be, and who I will become go with them.

I am slowly making progress.  I have let go of many things that I think someone else will benefit from more than I will.  The craft cupboard is empty, the photographs are boxed for storing, and the size 4 jeans have already been dropped off at Goodwill.  I sold my sofa, donated a chair, and have promised some other items to my mom.

Buoyed by the lightness of less “stuff”, each closet gets a little easier. Letting go of what was opens the door for what is, and leaves room for what will be. And in the meantime, living every moment as it comes helps too.

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What’s your story, Morning Glory?

My husband shared with me a few weeks ago that he likes reading my blog, “because I make more sense to him” after reading it.  After sitting with that for a bit, I realized that I make more sense to me after writing it too.

When I started writing, I never really thought much about someone actually reading it.  I wrote – and still do – because it helps me make sense of my world.  The human experience is baffling, overwhelming, and often lonely.  Organizing it into words, sentences, and paragraphs helps me frame things and gives me a sympathetic listener, even if it is an imaginary audience.

I started my blog as a home decorating blog because it felt safe.  Who can take issue with orange throw pillows for fall décor?  What I quickly realized was that no one took issue because no one cared.  There are literally thousands of blogs and sites dedicated to decorating your house. My niche was in the writings that I hadn’t been brave enough to share – the ones where I reflected on the actual living happening in those homes.

We all wrestle with the big questions while simultaneously trying to figure out what is for dinner. 

I believe we have a responsibility to share our stories, no matter how scary it may be.  Those stories, from the mundane to the profound, are the connections between us that create community.  What we give, we receive.  Knowing that I have made someone laugh, cry, or see the world in a new way makes the risk worthwhile. 

I still hesitate and take a very deep breath whenever I send a blog out to be published.  I worry about whether I will be judged, whether my intention will be clear, and if I will be sorted into the “like me” or the “not like me” bin at the end of the day. I want to give people a place to take a breath and reflect on the meaning of their own life, but deep down, I want to be liked too.  

I made a promise early on not to share anything about the people in my personal life that didn’t belong to me as part of my own story, or that might embarrass them.  I try to keep my published blogs focused on my perspective only, which is why I am really excited to share a new project with you.

My friend, and editor of the Mason County Press, Rob Alway, is giving me a forum to tell the stories of others as well.  They will be published on the Mason County Press site beginning in the next couple of weeks – but I definitely need some help to make this happen.  If you are local and willing to let me tell your story, or if you know someone who has a great story to tell, please let me know. Remember – it doesn’t have to be anything big – we all have something to share!  

 

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A Letter to My Son on His 10th Birthday

A Letter to My Son on his 10th Birthday

Ten years ago, I got up, took a shower, went to work just like any other day.  I kissed your sister on the top of her silky head, no hint that it would be the last time she would have her mommy all to herself.  I got in the car, sat down at my desk, and prepared for the onslaught of tears that new Kindergarteners bring in the first weeks of school.

When the phone rang, I didn’t think anything of it.  I hadn’t reached the stage of adoption where your breath catches every time your email pings or the phone jangles.  Our home study wasn’t even finished, and we weren’t planning on you for months.

But there you were.  I wasn’t ready – the house needed to be vacuumed, the laundry was piled up, there were no infant diapers in the house.  Your sister was still in your crib, your nursery still painted pink and flowery.  She was still using your highchair, your binkies, your blankies.  She barely slept through the night, and still clung to me because I was her world.  And still, there you were.

We packed our bags, made desperate phone calls for help around the house, and got into the car.  We never told your sister where we were going or why – to this day, she panics a little when we take a trip to “Target”.

We bought you some diapers, a few blankets, some little boy clothes.  Bella picked out a special book for you.  And then we tried to sleep through the uncertainty.

When it was time, we went to the hospital.  Your brave birthmom had already checked out.  They housed you in the intensive care unit – that was where they babies who were waiting for mothers slept.  We donned gowns, scrubbed, covered our shoes – and there you were.

I can’t describe how beautiful you were.  Your skin was brown, head full of black hair.  It wouldn’t curl for a few months, but it was thick already.  Long fingers stretched and curled, long toes all accounted for.  You pulled my soul through liquid pools of black as you gazed up at me.

Your sister read you her book while your dad and I tentatively rocked you, fed you, held you close.  The nurses helped us change your diaper, get you dressed, buckle you in.  And then there were four.

I am sorry to say that your first year was pretty much a blur.  I wish now I had time to marvel over your first smile, your milestones, your favorite foods.  Really, we were just trying to survive.  You ate every four hours like clockwork, you went to bed at 10 and were up at dawn.  You and your sister seemed to time your nighttime wakings so one of you needed us every two hours.  You crawled early, walked early, and were climbing out of your crib before you were a year old.

You were a voracious eater, and devoured new experiences with abandon.  You always wanted more, and if I didn’t give it to you, you found it yourself.  You ran everywhere, climbed on everything, and were never afraid of anything.

Some things haven’t changed.  You still exhaust me sometimes with your energy, your constant questions, your insatiable curiosity.  You are also the only person in my life who can make me laugh no matter how angry I am.  I will never forget the day  I was at the end of my rope, scolding you intensely, and you reached up with the sweetest smile, stroked my head, and said “Mommy…..you have the prettiest hair….”.

I can’t stay mad at you.  Which I promise to try and remember when you are a teenager, working to find your own way by testing your limits.  And I promise to hold firm on the things that count – like kindness, fairness, love, and compassion – no matter how cute your mocha skinned dimples are.

I once had a friend tell me there is truly something special between moms and their sons.  I wasn’t lucky enough to be your mom yet, and I didn’t really believe her.  I thought it would be easier to bond over ribbons and ballet shoes, painted nails, and fairy godmothers.

I don’t say this very often, but I was wrong.  I am proud of you every single day, and I am enjoying every minute of watching you grow.  I wouldn’t trade your stinky soccer cleats, bathroom humor, bad table manners, and funky dance moves for all the pink tulle in the world.

So this week, on your tenth birthday, I will celebrate the baby that you were, the boy that you are, and the young man that you are becoming with pride that I am your mother, and gratitude for your birthmother who gave me the opportunity.

I love you with all my heart.

Mom

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Bringing home the bacon…..

I can honestly say I love my children more than life itself.  I would also be lying if I told you I wasn’t looking forward to school starting in a couple of weeks.

I recently had a conversation with someone, who when they found out I worked from home, spent the next ten minutes extolling the virtues of a home office.  And I agree – nine months of the year at least. 

When my husband and I began the conversation about what our life would look like with children, there was always the assumption I would be primary at home.  When he went back to get his Master’s degree, I was already stepping back to prepare for the role of motherhood.  I quit working full time with our first child, and have been frantically trying to find the sweet spot between family and career ever since.

Sometimes I am a little bitter that I was raised in the era of “supermom”.  The role models of the 80s held up their executive careers on their padded shoulders, children balanced on their slim hips, without a hair on their over-sprayed heads out of place.  They truly did bring home the bacon, cook it into their mother-in-law’s secret recipe, and present it to their husbands on a platter of thinly veiled sexiness.

No one ever talked about the sacrifices that were made, or the constant feeling of inadequacy that comes from the never-ending struggle to “have it all”.  I know I felt guilty stepping back from work – like I was letting down activists who had fought so hard for equality, wasting the college degree I hadn’t even paid off yet, and somehow failing at what so many others made look easy. 

Twelve years later, I am still trying to figure it out.  And at least now I know I am not alone.  It is rare that I talk to a mom who isn’t facing an internal battle of whether she is doing the right thing – working moms wonder if they are doing a disservice to their families, stay at home moms worry that they are losing themselves in the monotony of home management.

I know that my husband faces the same battle.  He has a demanding job that requires him to travel, and there is constant pressure for him to work harder, which means he misses a lot of field trips. The choice we made for me to step back means that he has to carry the financial burden for the family. Last month, he accepted a new position that will require even more travel and focus.  

We are still trying to figure out whether I will be able to continue working.  Countless people assume that I will not.  There is still a prevalent and outdated assumption that women work because they “have” to. The truth is, I work because I like to.

Fortunately, technology has allowed me to be in a virtual office space no matter where I am physically located.  I have had a home office that consists of a cell phone and my laptop for the past 4 years.

The problem is that I am never really unplugged from home or work this way. 

I have worked through doctor’s appointments and haircuts, while folding laundry and emptying the dishwasher, on sick days and snow days and summer vacations.  I have worked from my home office, my bed, and the beach. A couple of months ago, I had a multitasking extreme moment when I realized that I was on a call analyzing complicated data while wiping poop off a toilet seat that I haven’t used more than twice since we moved into our house 8 years ago because no one would go in there until I did.  

For the most part, I love my work.  All the time, I love my family.  I know that for us, this is the only way I am going to get both and so I work through the taunts of a full laundry basket, arguing children, and looming deadlines. 

And I wish – just a little – for the silence of the first day of school.

 

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