Eight is great

Today, my firstborn turns eight. I read recently that eight is the age that’s right in between early childhood and older childhood, and that scared the hell out of me. When kids are young, it’s so easy to wish time away, but you don’t realize how quickly that crazy, exhausting time goes by. When your kids make the transition from early childhood to older childhood, you may actually miss the early days, as messy and as tiring as they were.

Part of me feels like it was just yesterday that Clay was a baby. But a quick glance at him reminds me that’s not the case. That tiny, premature baby is now one of the biggest kids in class. He comes up to my shoulders, and I’m not short. He eats more than me. He does his homework without my help. He tries new foods. He walks his sister to her classroom. When he disappears, I often find him in his room reading (or playing video games, he is eight after all). He rinses his own dishes. 2016-03-05 08.51.33He’s officially old/big enough to not have a booster seat in the car, but he humors me and explains to his friends, “My mom is sort of obsessed with car safety.” He’s a good friend. He is compassionate. He loves sports. He is fiercely loyal to and protective of his family.

Working in a school, I’m always watching the older kids, wondering what my own kids will be like as teenagers. I think at just eight, Clay has given us a strong glimpse into the future. And I like what I see. He’s confident and funny. He has an incredible memory. He comes home and shares stories of his teacher and his friends. He’s a good teammate, and even though I was embarrassed when argued with a baseball umpire – and I get annoyed when he argues a point with me – I’m glad he’s comfortable standing up for himself, his friends and his family.

Clay has a very strong interest in going to college, which I find amusing for a child his age. Maybe it’s because Chase and I had such great college experiences, and we talk about them often. Or maybe it’s because the school where I work is so focused on college prep, and he asks me about the kids there a lot. He’s certain he’ll play baseball or football at a big name school. I see him at a big state school (FSU, maybe?) – as the student government president and the social chair of a fraternity, but we’ll see. Until then, it’s fun to talk about.

Just 10 short years from now, I will be getting ready to send my firstborn to college. I won’t be able to easily run my fingers through his hair, as he will tower over me. All four of us won’t be able to snuggle into the bed on a lazy Sunday morning as easily as we do now. The movies we watch on family movie night will change. Clay may not even want to do those things anymore.

But for now, he’s still eight. Straddling that line between younger child and older child. And eight is great.

 

You should be here

ry=400Though I have no artistic talent whatsoever, music was always a part of my life because it was my dad’s passion. Songs from my childhood can bring me back in just a few chords. So it’s no surprise that, six years ago tomorrow, the day my dad died, I found myself on my bed, nursing an infant and listening to Let It Be over and over again. These words, somehow comforted me in those moments, enough to make it through the toughest time in my life.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

After growing up with rock music, I started listening to country a few years ago. I’d lost my job and was trying to figure out my next career move and the lyrics in country songs just spoke to me.

So here we are, six years later, and I’m on my bed. This time with a fluffy dog and a quiet house. Instead of The Beatles, I keep listening to Cole Swindell’s “You should be here.” I alternate between smiling and crying.

It’s perfect outside it’s like God let me dial up the weather
It’s another perfect San Diego day, and I started the day on a run with my beautiful daughter.

Got the whole crew here, I ain’t seen some of them in forever.
I’ve been talking to some high school friends (who my dad loved) about having a reunion.

It’s one of those never forget it, better stop and take it in kinda scenes.
Several times lately, I’ve caught my kids greeting each other with a kiss or randomly saying “I love you.” It makes my heart feel like it’s going to explode.

Everything’s just right yeah except for one thing.
My dad isn’t here.

You should be here, standing with your arm around me here.
He loved nothing more than to stand with an arm around someone he cared about, a smile on his face.
Except maybe…

Cutting up, cracking a cold beer, saying cheers, hey y’all it’s sure been a good year.
It’s one of those moments, that’s got your name written all over it.
Like us, talking and laughing with friends, which we’ve been doing so often lately. We have so many good people in our lives. Maybe he’d even play beer pong with them, like he did with my mom and brother the last time I saw him. I laughed so hard that I cried that night.

And you know that if I had just one wish it’d be that you didn’t have to miss this
I have a pretty darn great life, but one thing is missing.

You should be here.
You’d be taking way too many pictures on your phone.
You always wanted to take pictures. It was annoying as a child and now I do it to my kids. Maybe that’s why. You’d be amazed with the capability of smart phone cameras now. You would have loved to see the kids grow up on Facebook and Instagram, since you lived so far away.

Showing them off to everybody that you know back home.
And even some you don’t yeah
You told everyone about us. Your poor coworkers. You talked so much to anyone and everyone. That’s why you’d take hours to just go to Target or Costco. You were probably telling the cashier about my new job or Michael’s business or Clay finally crawling.

They say now you’re in a better place
And I would be too if I could see your face.
Every time I think of you, it’s your smile I can picture so clearly in my head. The twinkle in your eyes. Michael has it. So do Clay and Avery. I stare at them sometimes because they all remind me of you. Especially Michael. With that beard. Wow.

You’d be loving this, you’d be freaking out, you’d be smiling, yeah
I know you’d be all about what’s going on right here right now.
My kids have become such interesting little people. You thought Clay was so great when he was not even two. He could talk, but the kids they’ve become, I know you could have spent endless hours with them. Even if they were annoying. Because you were patient and kind and LOVED to talk. Just like them. That smile on your face would be permanent. Because nothing made you happier than your family.

God I wish somehow you could be here.
Oh you should be here.

I miss and love you, Dad. Today and every day.

 

She leaves a little sparkle…

sparkleA few weeks ago, I was shopping for decor for Avery’s room, and I came across a sign that said, “She leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes.” I smiled, knowing it was perfect for her.

When Avery was a toddler, we joked that her expressions reminded us of a cartoon character. Every year, I “threaten” to take her to Hollywood and make her get a job (and might really do it this summer). Avery is all sparkle, all the time.

I love the sparkle of my sweet girl, who turns six today. She is everyone’s friend, cheerleader or nurse. Whatever anyone needs to feel better, she has it. She draws in boy moms, grandmas, babies and puppies with that sparkle. It’s like magic fairy dust. I wish I could bottle it because the world would be a better place with more people like her.

Last weekend we were on our traditional Sunday morning walk in our neighborhood, and she looked up at me and said, “Mommy, do you know what I do every day when I wake up?” When I asked her the answer, her reply was simple. “I get up happy.” How’s that for sparkle?

Happy sixth birthday to my Avery Gracie. If her day sparkles half as much as she does, it will be a success!

 

 

A little something on the side

designedWell, that title sounds a little more provocative than I intended. I guess that’s what happens when I write late at night.

For years, my husband has teased me about my inability to sit still. I multitask ALL the time. When we’re watching TV, I’m reading a magazine, making a grocery list and folding laundry at the same time. My dad did it too, and so does my brother, so maybe it’s genetic. True to my personality, it’s been years since I had just one “job.” Doing PR/writing/editing only requires a laptop and an Internet connection, so for most of my career, I’ve always done contract work on top of my day job. I guess you could say I had a “side gig” before side gigs were cool.

After having kids, I took on fewer projects, mostly because the idea of writing web content after working all day and putting a toddler and infant to bed sounded like torture. Then, in late 2013, a new opportunity came my way. I had never considered direct sales before, probably due to my mom’s unsucessful stint as an Avon lady in the 1980s. Although I loved that she had 400 miniature lipsticks in our basement, I don’t have room to store products. I’m too busy with my day job and kids’ activities to deliver products or host parties, but direct sales has changed a lot since the 80s. Products are ordered online and delivered to customers’ doors. It’s less “sales” and more networking. Social commerce is what The Today Show called it, and I couldn’t agree more.

A friend recently asked me to send her the link to my blog post on my side gig, and I realized I’ve never written about it. How is that possible? It’s such an important part of my life, and I would be remiss to write a blog about time and money and not post about the huge opportunity that social commerce offers for anyone seeking more of both. Obviously I feel strongly about my particular company, Rodan + Fields, but there are other great opportunities out there – jewelry, workout videos, essential oils and more!

Top Five Reasons to Find a Side Gig

  1. Extra income – While we don’t “need” the money to pay our bills, with me working in education and Chase for a non-profit our salaries are limited. With my side business, there is no limit. Some people on our team make $100/month, while others make $100,000/month. San Diego is ridiculously expensive, so unless we want to change industries (which we don’t) this is our chance to have more of the “good things” in life.
  2. Flexibility – This is the biggest selling point to me. I love the idea of designing the life I love. Maybe you know my story. Once upon a time (in 2013) I had a job I hated. It paid me a lot of money, so I felt stuck. Every Sunday night I’d have a pit in my stomach knowing I had to wake up and leave my kids to go to a job that I did not enjoy. I was let go in May of that year (on Clay’s fifth birthday) and while I was initially scared to death, wondering how we were going to pay our mortgage, I quickly realized it was a blessing in disguise. I vowed then to never stay in a job I didn’t like just for money. Fast forward a few months to when I was offered my current job – making 25 percent less than I had in the past. Thanks to my side gig, I could take this job. I had the extra money coming in, and more importantly, if the new job hadn’t been the right fit, I had income to hold us over until I found something else. I’m in a different – and far better – place now. I love my day job, but I’d be lying if I said it’s always easy being a mom with a 30+ minute commute. I’m seven years into this working mom, “having it all” lifestyle. So far, so good. But if it ever becomes too much, I have a plan B.
  3. A newfound passion – I didn’t start this business passionate about skin care. I was, however, turning 35 and noticing dark circles and lines around my eyes. Within weeks of using the products, they looked better. Sun spots disappeared and breakouts became less common. My passion grew, out of products that did what they said they would. I didn’t get to VIP status at Sephora by accident. I spent more money than I care to admit, on products that would end up in the bottom of my drawer because they smelled good or felt nice on my skin, but didn’t do anything to change it. It’s very easy to share something with your friends that you know truly works. I feel the same passion about the business itself. I’ve watched it change people’s lives – quitting jobs they don’t like, paying off student loan debt, adopting children and more. It’s incredible, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
  4. Amazing friendships – This one was the biggest surprise to me. “I have lots of friends. I don’t need more,” I thought. How could I have been so wrong? I talk to girls on my team daily, some of whom I’d never met in real life until I went to our convention in September. They’ve become part of my life – I celebrate business success with them, as well as kids’ birthdays, anniversaries and more. I’ve also gotten back in touch with childhood friends, thanks to this business. It’s the one thing I didn’t know I was looking for, that I’m thankful for every day.
  5. Products that make you look and feel better – I have problem skin. It’s acne prone, I’ve spent most of my life in sunny Florida or Calfornia and I’m closer to 40 than 30. Being a consultant has given me access to amazing products, at a huge discount, and if you look good, you feel good. So whether, it’s skincare or makeup or jewelry or a nutrition shake that helps you look and feel your best, go out and get it from your friends. I know they’ll appreciate your support!

 

 

 

Choosing gratitude

thankfulDuring the holiday season, there is a lot of talk about gratitude. Before Thanksgiving, I read a great column in the New York Times about research that shows choosing to be grateful makes you happier. Even though we know it’s true, “For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult.”

It sure is – a lot of the time. It’s so easy to find things to complain about. I know, I do it too! Fortunately, I’m happy more often than not, but when negative thoughts pop in my head, I’m trying something new. Forced gratitude works, science says so!

It’s a shift in mindset, and for me, a work in progress. So here are my grateful thoughts for this week:

“I have a job that I love” instead of, “I’m so tired from my busy work week.”

“I have people I care about to buy gifts for and the money to do it” instead of, “I am going crazy rushing around to do my Christmas shopping.”

“I have a healthy body that allows me to work out” instead of, “I feel gross, I have no time to exercise.”

“We go to a great school with teachers who care about our children’s learning” instead of, “I hate doing homework with the kids.”

“I have the time and money to go see family that I love” instead of, “Traveling at the holidays is such a pain.”

“I’m lucky to have a husband who cares what happened in my day” instead of, “Chase, we need to stop talking, it’s time to go to sleep.”

“I get to see a beautiful sunrise and drive to work with no traffic” instead of, “I’m sick of leaving for work so early.”

“I have a fridge full of food,” instead of “I hate cooking dinner.” (Full disclosure: this one will be the hardest because I do, in fact, hate cooking dinner.)

I’ll take it one day at a time, but just writing this made me feel happier already!

 

Just say no

Nearly 30 years ago I won a writing contest for an essay with the same title as this post, but in third grade – and writing for the DARE program – I was writing about a very different topic. In recent months, “just say no” has become my mantra, and it has nothing to do with drugs.

There is not a parent in America who isn’t busy. There are lunches to pack and homework to manage. These things aren’t optional, kids need to eat and math worksheets are mandatory. Fortunately, a lot of the other things that caused me added stress in the past, are not required. And I’m learning, slowly but surely, to just say no.

I have some guidelines in place. If it doesn’t improve the quality of life for our family, I don’t feel compelled to do it. If I don’t enjoy it, I don’t do it. If I’m tired and need some down time, I say no.

In certain communities (including ours), the pressure to do everything is there. Volunteer at school, have your kids in three sports (at once) plus music lessons and the list goes on. And if that makes you (and your kids) happy, that’s great. If it makes you feel like a crazy person, like it does for me, it’s okay to just say no.

I hated art class as a kid, so will I volunteer for art corps lessons at school? That would be a “hell no.” I don’t enjoy baking, so will I make something for the cake walk fundraiser? Absolutely not, but I’ll gladly buy something and drop it off. Can I join the PTA? No, because they meet during the day, but I’m happy to join the foundation because I want to help the school, the meetings are at night, and Chase and I can make a date night out of it.

I make time for the things I enjoy (exercise, my side business, time with friends), but my priority is my family. And they like me much better when I’m sane. So please forgive me when I just say no. And know that when you do the same, I’ll completely understand.

Baby girl goes to kindergarten

IMG_3120I still laugh when I think of the day that Avery and I dropped Clay off for his first day of preschool. We got into the car, and she said to me, “Okay, mommy, I’m ready to go to kindergarten now.” She was 28 months old and newly potty trained, and in her mind, she was ready for real school. Instead she went off to daycare, but tomorrow is the big day – Avery Grace will be a kindergartener!

I love scrolling through Facebook this time of year. My newsfeed is filled with first day of school photos, and the kindergarten ones are my favorite. They’re small and sweet, with backpacks bigger than they are. Lunches packed, hair braided, kisses given and then they’re off.

Many parents, especially moms, feel emotional when their kids start kindergarten. For some they’re nervous because it’s their first child – for others, they’re sad because it’s their last.

Every time I think of Avery’s first day, all I feel is excitement. Not just because the days of paying for full-time child care are coming to an end (although that will be great after seven LONG years). Starting school is a big milestone. I can’t wait to see how much she’ll learn this year. I think of the friends she’ll make. I wonder what subjects she’ll enjoy. How excited she’ll be when she sees her brother in the cafeteria. The times that she’ll run and fall on the playground and get right back up, because that’s who she is. How often the teacher will ask her to stop singing or talking or twirling.

We had back-to-school night last night and were asked to describe our child in three words. (I think) I chose outgoing, funny and dramatic, but describing Avery in three words is nearly impossible. I could have said strong, independent, creative, loving, compassionate and so much more. She’s a special girl, and I think that’s why I’m so excited for her to go to school. It’s the beginning of a lifetime of learning and discovery.

I’m looking forward to seeing her blonde ponytail running toward me when I pick her up tomorrow – telling me who is in her class from preschool, who she played with at recess and what she learned. She’ll likely talk my ear off, and I’ll just listen and smile. I’m excited for my big girl. Three years ago, I wasn’t ready for her to go to kindergarten, but today I am. And so is she.

 

For better, for worse

ry=480Nine years ago today, as part of our wedding vows, Chase and I said those four words, “for better, for worse,” not fully comprehending at 27 and 34 what they could really mean.

Nine years in, we know. We’ve seen so much of the “better,” but also some of the “worse.”

We’ve had two beautiful, healthy children. Bought our first home. Watched people we love get married. Taken wonderful family vacations. Seen our nieces grow up to be wonderful girls. Gotten two kids potty trained (quickly!). Earned promotions at work. Started new businesses. Built friendships that will last for a lifetime.

There have also been times when life was tougher than we’d imagined it could be. Lost jobs. Anxiety. Sick parents. Divorce between people who meant a lot to us. Raising children without enough sleep. Friendships that faded. Feeling the pressure to “have it all.” Losing my dad and all of Chase’s living grandparents.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – life is not easy, but for me, marriage is. Because I know that in the “for worse” parts, Chase will make it better. And together we will make it through. Til death do us part.

Clay and the lovable sevens

11205083_10205472318102367_6217079781050002911_nSeven years and eight months ago, I signed up for babycenter.com, excited to be pregnant with my first child. Each week, I’d get an email telling me the baby was the size of some food item, ranging from a poppyseed to a cantaloupe. Though picturing my baby as a “large shrimp” was gross, I loved reading what was going on in there and as the baby grew, so did my excitement.

After Clay was born, I continued to get the emails, and they’d often appear in my inbox at the exact time when I was wondering why he was doing something new (and often weird). As a new mom, I loved the timely information. Developmental stages are less pronounced as kids get older, so in recent years I felt like I needed them less. And let’s be honest, with two kids, I had less time to read them.

Then today, on Clay’s seventh birthday, the subject line of the babycenter email caught my eye: “The lovable sevens.” I opened it to read, “Congrats! You’re entering one of the most rewarding phases of parenthood. Now your child requires less hands-on supervision and care, but he still looks up to you for guidance and support. His curiosity, excitement, and eagerness to learn make him a charming companion in the year ahead. His academic interests begin to take shape, too. Growing exposure to science, writing math and other subjects will give you a sense of where his natural interests lie.”

I could have written that myself, I thought! The past few months have been such a joy with Clay. We can take him anywhere. He can make a sandwich, take the dog out and keep his room clean. He’s sweet to me and his sister and the dog (even when he nips at his ankles). He’s goofy, but reliable. Friendly and honest.

For years I didn’t see much of me in Clay. The sweet parts of him were Chase and the naughty parts were his Uncle Mikey. He now loves to read, so he is mine after all! He’s always loved sports, and it’s so fun for him to have that in common with his dad. He asks questions (so many questions!) and genuinely loves learning. He likes math, and he’s good at it (where did that come from?). He can tell you sports stats from the 80s and more facts about marine life than I will ever know. He is still strong willed and impulsive at times, but I love that about him. Very few successful people have gotten where they are today without asking questions and taking chances.

We spent this past weekend at Disneyland for what has become our annual tradition for celebrating the kids’ birthdays. When we started this tradition three years ago, Clay went on a few rides, but nothing too fast or scary. This year he rode the biggest roller coaster four times. Three years ago we had to take a break for a nap and missed the fireworks. This year our break was in the pool, and we watched two of the nighttime shows. He’s growing up.

Seven is fun during the day – and at night he still wants to cuddle with me. I’m looking forward to more of the lovable sevens. Happy 7th birthday, Clay!!! I love you more every day!

 

One last phone call

dadThis time of year is always hard for me – full of highs and lows, celebrations and mourning. My dad died in between my kids’ birthdays. Maybe it happened that way for a reason. Because having a newborn and a not-quite two-year-old kept me from finding solace in a bottle of Ketel and a pack of Parliaments. Avery being physically dependent on me to grow and thrive made me pull myself together in a way that I might not have otherwise. Now that they’re older, having pool parties and trips to Disneyland to enjoy, as bookends to my least favorite day of the year, keeps my sadness at bay a bit.

Remember when you could hold your cell phone while driving? In those days, my dad was usually the person on the other end of the line. I used my commute to check in with my parents, alternating between my mom and dad, depending the day.

Although my mom and I are close, if there was something really big going on in my life, I would call my dad. If it was good news, he’d be so happy for me that I could hear it through the phone. If it was bad, his soothing voice made me instantly feel better. If I just wanted to chat, he’d do that too, telling me about work or the great deal he got at Costco that day.

So often lately, I’ve wanted to call my dad. I so desperately want to hear his voice. I want to tell him crazy work stories or the latest thing Clay did in school. But it’s been five years since I was able to do that.

I wish I could remember what our last phone conversation was about, but I had a two-week-old baby, so it’s all a blur. I do remember talking a bit about his plan to come to California in a couple weeks, after he finished a big work project. No big deal, I thought, I’d see him soon and talk to him the next day.

Except I never did. The phone call didn’t come from him the next day. It came in the form of many missed calls from my mom and brother and then a conversation with my brother that ended with me on the floor of my bedroom, in shock.

I don’t talk on the phone much now. Maybe not being able to talk to my dad took the fun out of it. I could always picture his smile on the other end. His support, pride and love oozed through the phone.

My brother called me this week. We talk almost every day, but usually through text or instant message and rarely on the phone.  I had a ton of things I should have been doing when he called, but I ignored the laundry and the dishes. And just chatted. Shared what was going on in my life – good and bad. Maybe he knew. Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe I have a new phone buddy.

I’m thankful for the 31 years of great conversation I had with my dad. He was my biggest cheerleader and his silly stories (about getting shot in the foot and almost catching his house on fire) sometimes made me laugh until I cried.

Call your parents today. Call them every day. Sometimes you just sit on the other end of the phone in silence when they’re telling boring stories about their colleagues and neighbors you don’t even know. Other times they give you advice, telling you everything is going to be okay when you feel like your world is falling apart – then when they’re gone you’ll feel like it really is.

Five years in, I’m doing better. But I’d still do anything for one last phone call…