That Time We Moved to San Diego

san diego

Nearly three months later:  Settled enough to start adventuring again.

In late July, we packed up our home and sent a truckload of boxes and furniture off with movers. That same week, Liz piled the remaining most-treasured items (especially Reese, our family dog,) into her Subaru and started the week-long drive from Connecticut to California. I followed a week later, flying solo across the country with our two kids in tow.

We spent the first month in San Diego holed up at a Best Western Hotel. We enjoyed a “two room” suite, which turned out to be one large room half-heartedly divided by an archway. This meant that every member of the family could be easily awoken by any other member of the family at any point during the night. Anytime Reese shook his collar, my son cried at 5:00 AM, or an adult took a 2:00 AM bathroom run, there was a good chance that others would rouse. A typical day at the Best Western included waking up groggy, taking conference calls from the bathroom due to lack of space, and discretely microwaving frozen meals for dinner after the kids had (hopefully) fallen asleep.

Yet, hotel living wasn’t entirely unpleasant. We enjoyed breakfast every morning (we learned that cheese omelet/sausage day and scrambled egg/bacon day were both delightful). There was a well-heated pool (often just to ourselves). And, the housekeeping staff got to know and appreciate both of our kids.

Physically moving ourselves and our stuff across the country has taken the better portion of three months. And, as you might guess, the psychic disruption has been even more pronounced.

At first, I coped with the change by attempting to consciously and quickly put down roots. My intention was to “root ourselves in San Diego”, and I set to it with typical fervor. Sitting on the balcony of the Best Western, I researched and reached out to the service providers who would help us make a home here – the pediatricians, babysitters, dentists, hairdressers, lawyers, and car mechanics whom would take care of us. I fired off emails to reignite our network of friends in the area. I even found ritual ways of honoring our relocation, ordering a new return address stamp and change-of-address announcements for friends and family. I journaled about what our best life in San Diego might look like and what was needed to manifest that.

Wasn’t this putting down roots? Wasn’t this what I needed for us to self-actualize our best lives in this new city? To feel completely at home in this place?

And yet, none of my efforts helped me feel settled.

No, it wasn’t until the truck arrived with all our stuff, six weeks after moving, that I got a hint of what I was missing. I shared my three-year-old daughter’s unrestrained joy when she exclaimed, “It looks just like our house in Connecticut!” after the moving trucks left. I felt just as giddy – and just as inclined to jump up and down on the newly-delivered bed.

Why did all these things – our familiar sofa, a loved coffee maker, and even the boxes of old college books – bring such succor? I found it disturbing to think that I was so materialistic that these items could significantly impact my happiness. And yet, as I sat at the dining room table, eating Chinese food off a real plate and drinking from a real wine glass, I couldn’t deny the feeling of home.

The answer came to me in a conversation with a friend: “It makes sense that you weren’t settled; it’s like someone kicked the bottom out of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is an all-too-familiar and yet oft-applicable psychological model. It holds that the more basic human needs – beginning with physiological needs for food, water, warmth, and rest – must be satisfied before more complex human needs – like achieving one’s full potential – can be addressed. Between these extremes there is an entire pyramid of needs, building one layer upon the other. The original version, presented in Abraham Maslow’s original 1943 paper on the topic, is illustrated below. For the academically-inclined looking for the source materials, you can find the whole paper here.
maslows hierarchy

Now, as an executive coach, a leadership development professional, and a writer, I am accustomed to live and move in the realm of self-actualization. I sit in the realm of the emotional, the conceptual, and the reflective. And, frankly, when I arrived to California, that’s the natural level at which I engaged. I automatically went to manipulations of meaning, purpose, community, and ritual to make us feel at home. My efforts started at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and extended down.

But these top-heavy efforts were doomed without the foundation. While I had the few creature comforts that fit in my luggage, I fundamentally lacked my own bed to sleep in as well as my own clothes to wear. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was getting the pyramid of needs upside-down.

Now that my feet are underneath me, I can get back to focusing on the things I do best.  And next time I’m inexplicably disoriented, I’ll know where to look: to the bed underneath my head and the things around me.

With love,
Meredith

Postscript: Frankly, my experience was temporary and – even while in transition – quite comfortable. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for those who struggle without the fundamentals on a day-to-day basis. For refugees, for detainees at the border, and for those without a home the question of self-actualization is far from fundamental; it’s a luxury. It’s important and grounding for me to remember that shifting one’s focusing at the top of the pyramid is, in itself, a privilege. While I continue to work at the top of the pyramid, I am recommitting to make a positive impact for those struggling to address the bottom.

Why I Stopped Caring How I Look In Photos

July is eminently photographable. The reds, whites, and blues of patriotic clothing pop against lush green lawns. Bright fireworks light up dark night skies. Watery scenes are highlighted by neon bathing suits and flamingo pool floats. Even without filters, my Instagram and Facebook feeds are studies in light and color.

At the center of most of these photos are the people. A whole family of rainbow swimmers dripping with water. Clusters of kids sticky with purple popsicle sweat. A couple in matching sunglasses in front of a rolling gold landscape. And there’s me: in a colorful dress; but still postpartum, a bit too heavy, and struggling to defrizz my hair in the humidity.

A couple of years ago, I made a decision. I was posing for a random group photo with a half dozen others. As for any other iPhone shoot, we posed and smiled. And then, I noticed what happened.

Half the subjects flocked the photographer to see the pictures and weigh in on which was the best. I – and most of my friends – are approaching middle age, so this can take work: not only should eyes be open and smiles be appropriate, but double chins should be hidden, underarm flab smoothed, and bodies at an angle to minimize hip width. There was a quick but important chatter about which of the many versions were acceptable to all parties and permissioning for posting on social media.

Interestingly, the other half of the subjects (and, to be honest, mostly the men), simply walked away from the scene. It was as if nothing happened.

My instinct was to join in the evaluation. For years, I had been a participant in assessing the photos based on my vision of how I thought I looked best. This was an automatic response rather than a conscious one, conditioned by my society – and likely reinforced by pressures put upon my gender. I was supposed to care not only about what I looked like, but also about how that was represented. But in this thing, as in all things, I had a choice. Did I – not as a woman, but as Meredith – actually care about those things?

Not much.

And so, I decided. From that moment forward, I would not evaluate photos of myself. I would simply let them be. I refused to expend intellectual or emotional energy editing the pictures and selecting the most favorable version of the truth. Whether each photo fit my own expectation of what “good” looked like for me really didn’t matter: the picture was represented what I did look like at that moment, whether I liked it or not.

It seems small and trivial. After all, it’s only my behavior in the moment after the flash. But, in this as in everything else, it’s freeing to realize that I get to decide how to be.

Since making that decision, I’ve felt free. I categorically don’t care. I consistently don’t need to engage. Now, when people take pictures of me, they often still ask: “Do you want to see it?” It feels like it’s really me answering when I say “no.” I’m sure it’s fine. Or not fine. It is how it is. And whether I like it or not, it is the truth of how I look in this moment. Then, I go back to my conversation.

This is your chance to choose as well. There is no right answer. You can care or not care. You can look or not look. You can edit or not edit. As long as you make a conscious choice aligned with your own values, it’s perfect.

How do you act when photos are taken?
What does that say about what you value? What does that say about what you fear?
And if you were to consciously choose, how do you want to be in those situations?

Meredith
Like what you’re reading? Find more in my newest book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, available here from Amazon.

EXHIBIT A:  Most recent mediocre picture of me, from Drag Queen Story Time yesterday (Note to self:  Beyond this article, I will simply never look good enough standing next to a Drag Queen)
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Five Years Ago…

Five years ago, I started this blog. I launched it in May 2014 while I was visiting the Kloster Arenberg, a convent outside of Frankfurt, Germany. I was then—and continue to be—a junkie for solitary, spiritual retreats. At the time, nothing sounded better than a quiet weekend amongst nuns. Between walks in the woods, visits to the stations of the cross, and trips to the sauna, I managed to write my first post—all 518 words of it.

In that first entry, “The Courage to Begin,” I expressed anxiety that my writing would not be good enough, and that posts shared on the web would be hauntingly permanent. But more than either of those fears, I feared the judgment of others. I wrote, “There’s vulnerability in expressing myself authentically… What if you think I’m silly, stupid, or too much of a hippie? What if you think I’m too pragmatic, too intellectual, or not intuitive enough?” While I was theoretically bought in on authenticity, I dreaded its ramifications both online and in real life.

Yet, over the last five years and seventy-five posts, I continued to put myself out there. With each post, I learned more about myself. With each post, I came to care less about the opinions of others. Just as important, with each post, I came to understand more about what mattered to me. As I moved away from worrying about approval, I focused more and more on my mission: to give a clearer view to life and how to live it meaningfully. Now, I have the courage not only to publish my work online, but also to share the collective wisdom of The Intentional in my second book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, which publishes later this week.

intentional-life-ebook_frontThe element of The Intentional Life that I’m most proud of is its authenticity. While the topic of the book is living intentionally, the content could not be more personal. It includes reflections on major life events (e.g., engagement, marriage, childbirth) and mundane, everyday life (e.g., parenting, cooking, working). It shows my weaknesses, fears, and failings. And, if it has been successful, it gives a better view into what it looks like to live intentionally and calls you to reflect more on your own life.

So happy birthday, The Intentional. I am meaningfully different than I was five years ago when we started this journey. Thank you for providing an incredible platform for my on-going development – and the inspiration for my next big turn as an author.

Meredith
The Intentional Life is live this week!
Order the paperback here.
Order the Kindle version here.
And, if you prefer to hear my voice while you’re out and about, wait for the audiobook release shortly!

 

The Relationship Reset

My wife and I have been together nearly seven years and married almost four. We’re still near the beginning of our lives together and in the process of figuring things out. But, these few years together yielded the first major realization about how life works as a couple: As you get to know each other more and more, you experience the ‘relationship reset.’

The relationship reset happens when you go from living within the broad spectrum of how people act to living within the narrower spectrum of how you compare to your partner.

Take cleanliness, for example. Maybe a similar level of cleanliness was one of the reasons why you were a good match for one another. While other potential matches left clothes on the floor or dishes in the sink, you both put things away immediately after using them. You were, in essence, on a similar spot on the dirty-to-clean spectrum.

initial spectrum with comment

Now you are in a relationship. You live together day-in and day-out. And instead of comparing yourselves versus the whole world, you primarily – and increasingly – only compare yourselves to each other. The ways that neither of you would ever act – failing to sweep the floor or not noticing cobwebs – are not even conceivable possibilities. Instead, the spectrum of possible states – and thereby, your effective world – narrows. You each define one of the new poles of the spectrum. And further, you sit in opposition. Suddenly, one of you is the ‘clean’ one and the other is the ‘dirty’ one. Sure, you both put away clothes and dishes. But, you have different tolerances of how dirty the bathroom can be before it needs a good scrub down. Weirdly, you become more different than similar.

full spectrum

This dynamic holds true for nearly every personality trait. For me, regardless of my absolute level, I suddenly became relatively less romantic, more social, less organized, more serious, a worse driver, etc., etc., etc.  While the relationship reset confirmed some of my self-perceptions, it really screwed with other parts of my identity. I found myself exclaiming “What do you mean I’m not organized?!”

And so, I need to remember the broader spectrum and the impact of the relationship reset. Just because I’m more or less qualified on any dimension between my wife and I doesn’t say much about how I stack up in the broader world. And, more importantly, any differences I feel between us are probably minute in the bigger scheme of things.

Have you experienced the relationship reset?  Along what dimensions?
What are your relative strengths and weaknesses versus your partner?
How has being in partnership changed the way you think about yourself?

Meredith

How to Live with Your Stuff – Without Letting It Overwhelm You

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One of the themes of the last few months has been stuff – the physical items with which we surround ourselves. The impending addition of my son in September prompted a flurry of preparations and reconsideration of all our possessions. We started by sorting through all our baby gear. But, soon enough, we found ourselves shuffling our lesser-used Christmas ornaments and fancy china off to a new storage room. I spent my evenings sorting through memory boxes from my childhood and sending boxes of photos off to be digitized. And now, even though we’re away from most of our possessions (we’re travelling for two months), we still spend a fair amount of time schlepping suitcases from one location to another, packing and unpacking the things we brought, and organizing our items into new spaces to be functional.

All of this ‘stuff management’ has made me reflect upon how we manage our things – how we ensure that they are of service to us instead of us being of service to them. Long ago, when Liz and I moved in together, we agreed upon a number of guiding principles about how we would manage our combined stuff. It was less guidance that we aspired to but more an articulation of our already-shared philosophy. It included such guiding principles as:

One in/one out: The concept is simple: buy a sweater, get rid of a sweater. The challenge here is that you need to accurately baseline what you own at the start. This ensures you are not adhering to the letter of the law and unintentionally maintaining a bloated pants collection or never letting yourself buy the extra set of socks you need to make it through the week. But, if you follow the spirit of the thing, I find this principle is the most useful for maintaining day-to-day discipline.

Keep memories electronically: While the memories that our parents kept for us are very sweet, the volume of them is overwhelming. When I sorted through my memory boxes this fall, I found dozens of figure skating medals and reams of participation certificates. In sorting through our old boxes – and thinking prospectively for our kids – we try to keep memories electronically. This means that we try to take pictures of things and ditch the originals instead of accumulating more fodder for the memory boxes. Goodbye ticket stubs, programs, menus, and, yes, the little ones’ artwork. We have room for one work of art per child on the refrigerator, so pick your favorite, kiddo.

Maintain 30% extra space: Empty space begs to be filled. And yet, a home that is perfectly full – no space empty and nothing extra – does not give room for growth. I vaguely remember reading a feng shui article at one point which suggested that you need to leave empty space in your home in order for good things to arrive. Our target is that any closet, cupboard, or drawer can be 70% filled and should remain 30% empty. This is admittedly a tough one, but it’s always a good reminder for me when I am tempted to shove the Nth t-shirt in a drawer.

Let it go: When an item can serve others better than it can serve you, pass it on swiftly and without hesitation. This can be difficult for us because we’re both so frugal. That said, as we sold our San Francisco apartment and moved across the country to a Connecticut rental, we were reminded how owning, maintaining, and moving items requires the expenditure of real mental and physical energy. So, instead of hoarding ‘value’ by keeping things that we are unlikely to use again, we try to do the more comprehensive math of each item’s value to us, weighing our likelihood to actually use it versus the more intangible costs of ownership. This is not exactly Marie Kondo’s approach of disposing of things if they don’t bring you joy, but it has a similar ruthlessly cleansing result.

Since originally articulating our approach, we have also added new principles related to how we manage our stuff with kids. The best of these are:

Up to one toy: Both to manage our space and also to keep ourselves sane, we limit friends and family to giving “up to one toy” for holidays and birthdays. They are welcome to give an endless parade of books, clothes, and college fund contributions, but only up to one toy. Sometimes little things sneak through (particularly if they’re of the consumable kind, like crayons, stickers, or bath bombs), but we’re okay with that. The point is that we are trying to set limits upon the endless consumption of things so that we can make our boundaries clear with others and provide some of that discipline to our children as well.

Want/Need/Wear/Read: I can’t remember where we picked this one up, but before Elliott’s first Christmas, we decided that she would receive four and only four gifts from us for the holiday: something she wants, something she needs, something to wear, and something to read. The small number and delimited categories keep us from splurging on many things and force us to consider closely what we acquire.

As we step into the holiday season abundant with things – old things we’re using and new things we’re acquiring – it’s a good moment to reflect. How do you manage your stuff? What do you want your relationship with your stuff to look like? And, how can you bring intention to this part of your life?

Meredith

When Parenting Meets Travelling

When we told friends and family that we would be travelling through Costa Rica for the last two months of my maternity leave, we got a lot of interesting reactions. Some were in disbelief, thinking us either crazy or stupid for taking a two-month newborn and a two-year toddler anywhere. Others were jealous of the idea and seemed almost annoyed that they didn’t organize something similar with their own children. Still others couldn’t wrap their minds around the complexity of it all (logistical and otherwise) and surmised that we must be superhuman (fact: my wife is).

Now, two weeks into the trip, we get a lot of curious questions from people on the home front who want to know how it’s going. The tone is often tentative, almost as if people are wishing us well but expecting a train wreck. “So…how is it?”

When I began to answer that question, I measured my answer against two things: our ideal of travelling and our ideal of parenting.

The Travel Ideal  When my wife and I travel, we optimize for having authentic experiences and challenging adventures. We eschew tourist infrastructure and instead seek out interesting experiences off the beaten path. We put ourselves in new situations that require us to rise to the challenge – whether rappelling waterfalls in Vietnam, navigating the public bus system across Croatia and Bosnia, or hitchhiking in Norway. We make every meal count by finding restaurants frequented by locals or touted by reviewers; it’s like we can smell a menu printed in multiple languages.

The Parenting Ideal  When with our kids, we optimize for parenting in a way that balances respect for them and their independence with providing safe and loving boundaries. We adjust the space to be as focused on “yes” as possible, taking away dangers and distractions that require a constant barrage of “no”. We optimize the schedule for their rhythms. We focus on child-led activities rather than dictating what we do. When possible, we let their choices lead the way.

When looking at our previous ideals, what emerges is this: it is impossible to travel the way we’d like to travel while parenting. And, it’s impossible to parent the way we’d like to parent while travelling.

So, back to the question at hand: how is it on the road with two little ones?

I find that I am grateful for the beautiful travel moments which I can steal while taking care of these two. That brief moment sitting under the pounding of the hot springs waterfall. The tropical fruits and sips of Costa Rican coffee before a long mealtime implodes. The massage in an open-air bungalow and speedy zipline tour while my wife takes care of the little ones.

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A moment away: zip-lining through the forests of Arenal

At the same time, I am grateful for the beautiful parenting moments which I can steal while travelling. Playing ‘telemarketer’ on the unplugged hotel room phone with my toddler. Making finger puppet shapes on the ceiling to entertain my newborn. Long talks around where things goes when you flush the toilet and unexpected potty training wins.

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A momemt together: hats on while on a “ride to school”

Yet, what I have been completely caught off-guard and delighted by are the new moments of integration in which travelling and parenting transform each other.  The best parts of this trip – and undoubtedly the most memorable – are the rare moments when it all happens together in a new and different way. The conversations with my toddler about how mud is made as I carry her through ankle-deep gunk in the jungle. The quiet moments breastfeeding my newborn son while looking out into the tropical rain. The kids’ reaction to a handful of white-nosed coatis wandering up to our hotel room window.

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A moment when it all comes together: white-nosed coati encounter

By combining the two, the nature of both parenting and traveling changes completely.  On the road, I become a different parent. I let go of optimizing their world for respectful, independent learning; I am more flexible and fluid. And with kids in tow, I become a different traveler. I don’t need everything to be perfectly authentic and perpetually challenging; I slow down, judge less, and see this place through their eyes.

So, am I eating more hotel hamburgers than I would like? Absolutely. And am I also delaying nap time to fit in one more store, one more museum, or one more dip in the pool? Yep. But, increasingly, instead of feeling like I am compromising on both sides, I feel like I am finding the beautiful integration of both.

Meredith

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To the next adventure

Parenting Hack: Thing It/Unthing It

I was sitting around chatting with a group of moms the other day. One friend mentioned that her son was not eating meals, and they were, as a result, putting in extraordinary efforts to get him to do so. Her pediatrician’s advice? Just “un-thing” it.

Un-thinging is the process of not making a big deal out of something; in other words, not making it into a thing. Her son can eat or not eat. Either is fine. As a parent, you set the direction and the implications (i.e., here is good food, you need to eat or you’ll be hungry), but you don’t get tied up in what the child chooses to do. You don’t bribe or coerce. You don’t have an emotional reaction. You stay chill and let them figure it out independently. By un-thinging it, you lower the stakes. You normalize the situation. You create the space and opportunity for change.

In becoming conscious of un-thinging things, we have also started to play around with thinging things.  By thinging something, you differentiate it. You make clear that the plane diaperbehavior is situational and even special. You create limits and boundaries around it. For example, when flying with my toddler the other day, we decided to thing the use of a diaper. My daughter is in the middle of potty training, and we don’t want her to think that wearing a diaper is typical behavior. And so, my wife drew planes on each of her diapers. We talked about how these were special “plane diapers.” When we took the diapers off, we said goodbye to the them and made a big deal of wearing underwear again because we’re not on a plane anymore. We made diaper-wearing during travel a thing.

Beyond that, we are thinging a whole host of behaviors associated with travel:  lollipops to pop her ears on the plane (“plane lollipops”), the use of a tablet (“special Daniel Tiger”), eating more frequent desserts (“something we do on vacation”), and sleeping on an inflatable mattress (the “travel Older Toddler bed”). We want each to be a specific experience with its own use case, boundaries, and related expectations. We are creating the association that these are all related to this special time and place and do not reflect the new normal.

Stepping back, thinging and unthinging are simply more intentional practices about consciously choosing – in this case, consciously choosing your relationship with each action. What do you need to unthing to create space and opportunity for change? What do you need to thing to create differentiation and limitation?

Meredith

 

How Did I Become A Single-Issue Voter?

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I returned to my hometown in Michigan this week to visit and introduce my grandparents to my newborn son, Hawk. Gathered in their living room, Grandpa told stories of working as a machinist in the auto industry, and Grandma knit another beautiful afghan. We ate egg salad sandwiches and homemade cake, cooed over the little one, and caught up on life. And yet, while our visits were lovely, they all happened in front of a backdrop of scathing purple-state attack ads. The muted television in the background prompted me to see that, while this narrow moment was perfect, there are so many challenges in the wider world.

The tone of the ads reminded me that we live in a country where intelligent discourse has fallen by the wayside, where there is little listening, and where both sides are guilty of unprincipled behavior and partisanship. All of that points to my bigger concern. As we approach Tuesday’s election, I am concerned about our fundamental respect for each other. I am concerned about human rights.

I look back on the past two years and see so many things that horrify me:  the rampant use of dehumanizing language, a failure to condemn white supremacists, threats to revoke citizenship of birthright Americans, separating children from their parents at the border, work to limit the rights of trans citizens; and, beyond our borders, our country’s complicity with the human rights abuses of other countries as we fail to hold them accountable.

We can talk about the economy, healthcare, education, foreign relations, or anything other political issue you’d like to debate; but, to me, all those have become secondary to our fundamental human rights. Events like the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh demonstrate how dire this issue has become, not only for the Jewish community, but for all of us. I am surprised and saddened that human rights need to be an issue at all, and yet, here we are.

I would say that the actions of this administration have reduced me to being a one issue voter, but that would be wrong in multiple ways. First, I am not reduced or diminished in any way; atrocities call forth my power instead of minimizing it. Second, the administration has not forced this upon me; I choose to stand up, first and foremost, for human rights.

And so:
I vote for treating each other as humans worthy of respect.
I vote for understanding people however different they may be from me.
I vote for erring on the side of compassion.
I vote against fear.
I vote against blame.
I vote against ‘other-izing’ our fellow humans.
I vote against using harmful descriptors (e.g., “animals”, “lowlifes”, “dogs”) which lead to harmful beliefs and increase the likelihood of harmful actions.

And so, how to vote?

In the past I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats, though I have trended towards the left as of late. That said, even if I didn’t mostly vote Democrat, I would in this election. Any Republican who has not openly, actively, and continuously disavowed the actions of this administration cannot claim to be a champion of human rights. And that is what we need right now. We need people who will openly and vocally disavow Trump’s actions even if they agree with his policies. We need to reestablish our foundation of how we are with each other instead of sacrificing it for superficial political wins – for it is only upon that foundation that of rights and respect that we can again engage in a thoughtful discourse to come to workable solutions.

The Talmud states that “who can protest and does not is an accomplice in the act.” If you’re a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or someone who formerly affiliated but now feels dismayed and dejected, please vote this Tuesday. And, for me, I will vote Democrat in order to make my stance as clear as possible: Human rights are at stake. I do not support anyone who, by commission or omission, accepts the atrocities of this administration.

I would love to hear your perspective on this especially if you disagree with me. I promise it will be met with an open mind and an open heart.

With love and listening,
Meredith

 

Welcome Hawk! (A Birth Story)

One month ago, Hugh Archer Whipple Callahan came into the world.

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Our little man was originally due on September 6th, smack in between our wedding anniversary and my birthday.  Considering the advice that second children often come sooner than first and knowing my history of a late first arrival, Liz and I prepared ourselves to have a due date baby.  Yes, he could be early or late, but the smart money (i.e., our midwife, our doula, our OB/GYN friends) put their bets on the ‘on-time’ category. And so, we were ready. Not that there was much to prepare this time around; we knew how little he would need in the first few weeks, and we already had all the baby gear anyway.

His due date came and went. And, day after day we waited. Evenings brought increased fetal movement and thrills of excitement. Was tonight the night that I’d wake everyone up at 2AM with labor pains? No. Morning after morning I got up to report that I slept shockingly well; there was no baby. To encourage the little man along, I tried evening primrose oil, pineapple, bumpy car rides, pumping, eggplant Parmesan, acupressure, and red raspberry leaf tea – all to no avail.

And so, at forty-one weeks and three days, I headed to the hospital for an induction. It was strange to arrive to the hospital in such a state of preparedness. Here we were, hospital bag in hand, no contractions yet, bellies full of breakfast, childcare in place, everyone calm. Based on Elliott’s birth, I had come to see childbirth as a crazy ride of “expecting the unexpected.” Curiously, the planful approach of an induction was so very expected that it felt even more unexpected to me.

I started on an IV drip of Pitocin and waited. At the time, it felt a bit annoying; after days of anticipation, the hours remaining grew even more difficult. But, in retrospect, Sunday morning was a beautiful time to build relationships with the people who would attend my son’s birth later that day. Looking back, I can see how, person by person, my crew slowly assembled. I started this whole adventure with Liz at my side. Aunt Kate and Grandma both showed up in advance to take care of Elliott; they gave me the opportunity to yield last obligations and focus entirely on this birth. Then, upon arrival to the hospital, we added the Labor and Delivery nurse who started my IV and would finish the day coaching me through pushing. Soon my doula joined; she intuitively knew what I needed and was on my spiritual wavelength. Finally, the midwife with decades of experience and lots of pragmatic love arrived.

By the early afternoon contractions began, gently at first and then increasingly. Liz and I walked the halls haltingly, stopping every minute or so for a contraction. Each time a contraction came, I grasped my IV stand, picked a point on the wall for visual focus, and breathed through it. Reflecting upon Elliott’s birth, I remember the contractions only as pain to be endured; this time, I felt them more as energy moving through me. It was almost as if spirit was pouring energy right into the top of my head, through my body, and out my vagina for the purpose of bringing this baby out with it. If I hesitated or resisted, that flowing energy would get stuck. If I let it simply course through me, it felt painful but also useful.

As I rode contraction after contraction and came to see that pain differently, I knew: This is what I had hoped for in childbirth. I had hoped to learn things about myself, about pain, about presence, about motherhood, and about life through labor. This was a fundamental human experience, consistent over the ages. I wanted to experience every aspect of it. I wanted to receive the wisdom of generations of women participating in this process. I wanted to see what I would learn from it and how I might evolve.  My underlying assumption was that I would learn the most by having a natural birth; drugs would disrupt and obscure what I was meant to experience.

Yet as the birth progressed, my fears crept in. My biggest fear was not the pain of the current contraction; I had found my way to be present to that. Instead, my biggest fear was the expectation of where those contractions might go. How much longer would this take? How much more intense would it be? Would I be able to be stand the sensations? How much did I believe in myself? Aspirationally, I wanted to do all of it without drugs; I wanted to trust in nature and to believe in myself that much.

But I didn’t. Eventually, my question turned from whether I would be able to be with the pain to why I was choosing to experience it in the first place. While laboring on all fours on the bed, I uttered out loud “Why am I doing this?!” for all to hear. I asked: Why am I bearing such pain when there are options for relief? Is it better for me? Better for the baby? Was there really some great spiritual insight to uncover?

And so, around six or seven centimeters, I got an epidural. Part of me is still tempted to judge myself for doing so; I feel that only I had been stronger, braver, more spiritually centered – then I would have had the capacity to be with the experience. And yet, I have to let that go. As in all life experiences, my learnings came not from running some externalized gauntlet – in this case, giving birth naturally.  Instead, learnings came from more deeply being with the experience that was right in front of me and the struggle that it prompted inside of me. My real insights came from seeing how an expected plan can still feel unexpected, from challenging my views of necessary and unnecessary suffering, from reconciling the coexistence of spiritual fullness and modern medicine in my mind, and from examining my assumptions of where and how spiritual growth occurs. Ultimately, it was not about some womanly secret revealed only if I endured; it was about me in the here and now.

Labor progressed swiftly from that point; and by early evening, I was ready to push. At that point, a fair amount of assistance was required to ultimately deliver the little man into the world, but this was less of concern to me. By that time, I wasn’t focused on my learning anymore. I was focused on having a healthy baby – and it was time for the little man to come out.

And so, my son joined us at 7:05pm as healthy as could be. He had none of the complications that Elliott experienced (meconium in the amniotic fluid, jaundice shortly after birth). And in the month since his birth, he’s proven even stronger. He’s made breastfeeding easy, he’s gained at a remarkable rate, and he’s even giving us some reasonable opportunities to sleep.


So welcome to the world, my little Hawk (a nickname derived from his initials – HAWC). In giving birth to you, I learned new lessons beyond those I learned giving birth to Elliott. The experiences may be similar, but the edges of learning are all new and unique. I know that I’ll continue to learn new and different things from parenting you as you grow; I’m excited for this journey together with our whole family.

With love,
Your Mommy, Meredith

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The Second Time Around

as if first

Posing as if it’s the first…

What has been most notable about this second pregnancy is how different it feels from the first.

The first time around, I prepared myself for what I anticipated would be the life-changing and spiritual experience of pregnancy and birth. My friend Michael fed the fire, commenting on how spiritual it must be to have life growing within you and to be in such a powerfully creative place. I wanted to feel that way.

And, I wanted to be fully prepared for everything. We took every single birth class.  I mean every single one.  Not just the birthing and breastfeeding and first-year parenting classes, but also the infant CPR/first aid classes and infant massage classes. I even convinced Liz to come with me to a ‘prenatal partners’ yoga workshop.

Working with the midwives, my birth preferences were extensive. They articulated a plan for natural labor and reflected weeks of research on how things might go best. By the time I went into labor, I was ready in every way – spiritually, intellectually, logistically – to be transformed by this experience.

Thirty-hours of labor later, on August 2nd, 2016, Elliott joined us. The midwife said I looked surprised there was a baby at the end of childbirth, and she was correct. So much of my preparation had focused on me, my experience of birth, and what I would learn from all these things that I couldn’t clearly see how this was the start of so much more.

There is so much which is different this time around, both in my circumstances and in myself. I wish I could say it’s because I’m infinitely wiser, but instead I continue to learn from every new experience.  Here is what I’m seeing this time around:

It’s Actually About the Baby

but its two

…but it’s number two

The most important difference between my pregnancies is that it has shifted between this pregnancy being about me to this pregnancy being about the baby. I know the punchline now; God-willing, childbirth ends in parenthood. The whole point is bringing this little man into the world in a safe and healthy way. So, instead of being curious about the experiences I’ll have, I’m just excited to meet the little man. There’s far less interest in “What am I like in this situation?” and more interest in “What’s he going to be like?”

Who Has Time for That?
I realistically don’t have the time to be so self-centric this time around. I could point to a whole portfolio of demands on my time, but the ultimate cause is my daughter, Elliott. Two-year-olds do a remarkable job occupying every available minute of time, and I am (mostly) happy to give her those moments. As a result, pregnancy looks different. Last time around, I prioritized weekly acupuncture, gentle but diligent workouts, and frequent prenatal massages. This time, I sit in the closet while Elliott delights in opening and shutting the door or lay together on the floor waiting for imaginary deer and lions to come visit. (Elliott requires Liz to do much more active play for some reason.)

I Know I Don’t Have Control
Even if I don’t always act as if it’s true, I know through experience that I have nearly no control over all of this – from pregnancy to childbirth to parenting. The most important processes – physical and otherwise – unfold naturally. While I still struggle to act in accordance with this insight, I realize I am less in a position of control and more in a position of surrender. No birth plan, only birth preferences. A recognition that birth will come when it comes and go how it goes. And, most importantly, no expectations that the lessons learned caring for Elliott as a baby will translate into any better ability to care for number two.

And so…
Sometimes I step back and reflect on all this, wondering if my different emerging relationships to my two children – starting with even these early months of pregnancy – are simply the first manifestation of birth order conditioning. Though still in utero, Elliott had attention and focus throughout my pregnancy.  She’s maintained much of that while this little man has developed inside of me. For his part, the little man has either enjoyed or suffered through a pregnancy with far less of a maniacal focus on him. At times I’ve blamed myself that I have not been more pregnancy-focused during this time, but my wise friend, Nema advised me that “the baby will make sure he draws in what he needs.”

Little Man, I hope that you have everything you need. We can’t wait to meet you.

Meredith