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

 

What I Learned In The Ten Years It Took To Publish My First Book

I wrote my first version of Indispensable nearly ten years ago, over the early part of 2008.  Later that year, as the publishing industry struggled with the birth of eBooks, the economy collapsed, and my life moved forward, the goal of publishing it shifted into the background.  I largely put the manuscript down and didn’t touch it for years.

Now, it’s ten years later and my book is due to be published on June 26th.  The process of resurrecting, revisiting, and revising the book has been insightful.  More than anything else, the manuscript has served as a point of reflection of who I was then and who I am now.  As I set to work on revisions, I found myself having visceral reactions to the content. The tone of some sections made me cringe.  How could I be so rude, so flippant, or so ignorant?  On the other hand, some sections felt like old friends briefly forgotten.  How wise I used to be!  If I had only remembered that advice and applied it myself since writing it!  Over the past decade, I’ve learned and grown.  And the world has evolved around me.  My manuscript – from its previous incarnation and its current revisions – has been a lens through which to see all that change more clearly.

On the whole, I’ve noticed two major dimensions along which I’ve changed the most.  First, my understanding of diversity, inclusion, and privilege has expanded significantly.  In the revisions, I rotate the gender of the managers and employees chapter by chapter.  Similarly, I intentionally included a wide variety of names to be ethnically-inclusive; it’s no longer just a book about Bobs and Rachels.  But, perhaps most notably, I rewrote the entire segment on dressing at work to be comprehensive of a more fluid range of gender expressions – and to acknowledge how precious physical expression can be to people.  The passages that used to read as “just quiet down and wear whatever you need to wear to fit in” have a more nuanced tone, one suggesting that you make a conscious choice about what you wear and own the repercussions of how others may interpret that as reflective of your professional competence.

That brings me to the second shift in my approach; not just in the realm of physical presentation, but more broadly, my overarching approach became much less proscriptive and more fungible. I wrote the initial book as the essential advice you need to succeed in your first job and beyond.  The tone conveyed that this this advice was important and that the reader should carefully listen, learn, and apply each suggestion.  I positioned it as a universal formula for success.  Now, I’ve softened that approach.  I’m wise enough to know that even if some abstracted advice is broadly useful, people and situations are different. I present the book as full of useful strategies, but ones which should be considered, adapted, and applied with judgment. I focus more on the journey, the learning, and the development into your authentic self at work. Ultimately, I put the reader more in the position of power and conscious choice over their path rather than in the position of receiving wisdom from on high.

Now, Indispensable is in the final rounds of copy editing and proofreading.  From a content perspective, this book, which was ten years in the making, is suddenly out of my hands.  And I find myself looking both backwards and forwards.  Looking forward, if I am living well, won’t I learn as much over the next decade as I did over the last?  It is scary to think that the manuscript is fixed and I won’t be able to evolve it over time – as I and the world evolve in parallel. I have to believe that I’ll look back on Indispensable in another ten years and think “Wow, I missed so much.”

And so, I’m publishing something which feels not like a universal decree, but instead, a stake in the ground. But maybe that’s okay.  Maybe, since this version of the book will be fixed, it will provide a similar view into my psychology today – and I’ll be able to see the differences between now and then – and the growth that has occurred – all the more clearly.

Meredith
For more on the book, buy on Amazon.

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We Wish You a Merry… Ritual

This December, I find myself reflecting upon a holiday many years ago when I played the role of an angel at my church’s Christmas pageant. I remember receiving instructions to gently cradle my offering of plastic grapes for baby Jesus and to approach the nativity scene slowly, deliberately, and in step by my fellow blue-robed angel. I was not to look at or wave to my family members as I passed them.

This was the first time I was charged with the solemn execution of ritual duties, and I followed through with a level of commitment absurd for a six-year old in a tinsel halo. I was stone-faced and serious, committed to the importance of the ceremony and my role.

Over time, my interest in ritual only grew. As a child and teenager, I served as an acolyte, carrying the cross in processionals, lighting and extinguishing candles, and helping prepare the Eucharist. Later, in college, I was the sacristan at my college chapel, a role which had me arriving early to arrange chairs and candlesticks, staying late to disassemble the ritual space, and learning how to get wax stains out of altar linens in my dorm room (Hint: an iron and newspaper do the trick).You know, typical college kid activities.

Though the church was an obvious focus of ritual life, my ritual devotion extended elsewhere, particularly to the intersection of ritual and food. Family dinners were sacred to me, and I would insist we turn off the television every night. I threw my first formal dinner party before the age of ten, immersing myself in cookbooks, napkin folding manuals, and etiquette books to get all the details right. I started the first of many dinner party clubs in high school and wrote my college thesis on parallels between the Eucharist and other ritual meals. Today, we ritualize our family meals by sharing gratitudes before eating.

And this Christmas, we celebrate it with all sorts of rituals – those from my family, those from Liz’s, and those we have created together. We open the advent calendar with our chocolate-ravenous child each night. We think about loved ones around the world and send Christmas cards with well-wishes. We, like Liz’s grandmother, burn bayberry candles. And we make ‘miracle loaf’ – a truly miraculous combination of refrigerated crescent rolls, bacon, eggs, and other artery-clogging items that Liz innovated. Each ritual sanctifies the season and makes our wintry days feel special.

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What is it, exactly, about ritual?  To me, there’s something incredible about how you can intentionally invest meaning in some of the most mundane, tangible aspects of life – movements, words, objects, food, and space – and thereby create something transcendental. It is a way of bringing the holy (however you may define it) into the everyday. I see it as the alchemy of meaning: by enacting ritual, you take everyday life and make it special.

And so, this past fall, I started classes to become a celebrant. A celebrant is someone who creates and performs rituals for others. This can include anything from the weddings and funerals you might expect to baby blessings, divorce ceremonies, business openings, and seasonal rituals. Celebrants do not bring any particular religious bent to their work, but instead focus on crafting meaningful experiences to fit the needs, values, and beliefs of the ceremony participants. Come spring, I’ll be certified and look forward to bringing more ritual into my life and being of service to others.

Whatever you believe and however you ritualize it, I wish this holiday season is transformed into something special and meaningful to you.
Meredith

To learn more about celebrancy, check out the Celebrant Institute and Foundation here.

 

Why You Should Re-pot Yourself

As many of you know, the Callahan clan moved from California to Connecticut earlier this year. I wrote about that transition here on my blog, The Intentional, and posted it to the appropriate social media channels. Amongst the chorus of wisdom and encouraging words, there was no comment more apt than my friend Michael reminding me that: “Qui transtulit sustinet.”

“Qui transtulit sustinet” or “He who transplanted sustains” is the state motto of Connecticut. I recalled the motto from the first time I transplanted myself to this state — from my hometown of Port Huron to college in New Haven. And here it was, cropping up again as I moved to Connecticut a second time.

There are a couple of meanings of the motto: The first implies that he who transplanted you will sustain you, indicating that God (who brought the settlers to America) would support them (in the new land). I prefer a second interpretation of the motto, however — the one that makes it more personal: He who transplants himself, sustains.

The idea of transplanting oneself resonates with the advice that “You have to repot yourself every once in a while.” The philosophy of repotting people is the same as repotting plants. When our growth slows or stops, it’s time to move. We pull ourselves up by the roots, shake off the dirt, and settle into a new pot with fresh soil. The pot should be a bit bigger than the old but not overly big; we need space to grow without being overwhelmed.

While the goal of repotting is growth, when plants are first moved, they often enter a period of shock. Instead of thriving, we appear wilted and thirsty as we adjust to our new circumstances. Change, as everyone knows, is hard. That said, over time, the new pot, with more space and refreshed nutrients, enables the new growth and, eventually, new bloom.

While repotting sounds wise, it is often painful and unpleasant. Your pot may be so homey that you could stayed there forever. And yet, if we’re committed to growth, we must repot ourselves instead of waiting for some cosmic gardener to change our circumstances. As John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal, only by intentionally repotting can we grow into our fullness as humans:

“Most of us have potentialities that have never been developed simply because the circumstances of our lives never called them forth. Exploration of the full range of our own potentialities is not something that we can safely leave to the chances of life. It is something to be pursued systematically, or at least avidly, to the end of our days. We should look forward to an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our potentialities and the claims of life-not only the claims we encounter but the claims we invent. And by the potentialities I mean not just skills, but the full range capacities for sensing, wondering, learning, understanding, loving, and aspiring.”

-John Gardner, Self-Renewal

When we made the decision to move across the country, it was not pleasant. We didn’t happily repot; instead, we felt our roots holding onto the California soil with all our might. When the opportunity called to investigate our new potentialities — to see what new growth might be possible — we took it. And so find find ourselves here, repotted in Connecticut. We are certainly still adjusting from the initial shock, but we hope that the family who transplanted will not only sustain, but grow in an even bigger way.

Wishing you plenty of uncomfortable growth and self-renewal,
Meredith

A Love Note To San Francisco

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I remember my first trip to the Bay Area for my Stanford business school admissions weekend. I had not spent much time in California, yet I felt drawn to moving West. That said, when I arrived, I was a bit confused. I remember sharing with my soon-to-be-classmates: “I don’t know what people see in it.” I was committed to moving West, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the place. The whole start-up scene appeared unhinged from reality. People seemed to do whatever they liked on nearly every dimension, defying convention and practicality. Did they really kite-surf every morning, wear hoodies to work, and drink wine in Sonoma all weekend? Even the arid landscape seemed alien compared to the traditional deciduous forests of my life to date.

And yet, everyone seemed to love this place. Not just the hippies and surfers, but trusted friends (practical, business-type people!) who had already taken their manifest destiny.

So, I packed my bags and caught the train from my hometown of Port Huron. I rode Amtrak’s Blue Water Line to the California Zephyr straight out to the Bay. After sixty-seven hours on the train, I disembarked in my new home, excited for school but still skeptical about this place.

After a month or so, I noticed that I smiled more. I smiled to myself as I walked to class. I smiled to others. I became one of those people who hug everyone. I dyed my hair from brown to blondish-red, an act that somehow lightened my view on the world. I left behind my wardrobe of drab neutrals and bought a bright pink coat. While the palm trees and weather were lovely, there was something even more important about this place: California’s freedom, looseness, and joie de vivre started to seep into me.

I studied entrepreneurship and interpersonal dynamics. I came to differentiate between real Mexican food and other Mexican food. I tried out ecstatic dance, hiked in the redwoods, and held bonfires on the beach. I went to naked hot springs, dabbled in yoga and meditation, and discovered my favorite spiritual retreat centers. I came to have opinions about not only Napa versus Sonoma, but specific ideas about which Sonoma wineries were the best. My love for kale, kombucha, and avocados grew. I had one wardrobe, appropriate year-round, and filled with color.

Beyond what I gained, I also lost things. I lost my concern for appearances. When I left the house, my goal was to look like I wasn’t homeless. And if I was mistaken for homeless (which did happen), it was no stress.

I am sure that freedom also played a role in supporting my ability to come out (previous entries here) and subsequently fall in love with Liz. San Francisco was not just the backdrop to but a character in our love story. On our first date, we lingered over breakfast sandwiches at Slow Club and drinks at Triptych. She proposed in our Potrero Hill apartment, and I ‘counter-proposed’ at a vineyard in Napa. After a week of escorting our guests around to all our favorite Bay Area sites, we were married in the Presidio against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. We didn’t think twice about how we’d be accepted as a couple — or later, how our little lady would be accepted and loved.

This April, we left the Bay for Connecticut. We were lured away by the promise of new things: a job that offers unparalleled learning and significant impact, less commuting and travel time, more balance and flexibility. It is the right choice for our family, but it is not without heartbreak. Because, beyond everything I’ve described about California, the biggest thing we will miss is the people. The ineffable magic of the Bay Area doesn’t come from the temperate weather and the bay views, but from the people and the culture. We will miss our community above all.

It will take a while to grieve California and adjust to this new place. As I wind my way along the parkways of woodsy, suburban Connecticut, I feel the familiar questions creep in: What is this place? What do people see in it? Like my reaction ten years ago, I honestly don’t understand what is so great about this place. Driving by the green-leafed trees now feels foreign. And yet, just as impossibly as California did, I hope that this place too will grow close to our hearts.

But, for now, I have left my heart in San Francisco. This is my love note to you. Thank you for everything. We’ll be back.

Meredith

Reading Between the Likes

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When I started maternity leave, I removed the Facebook app from my phone. I thought that more free time, combined with the allures of Facebook, would mean I spent endless hours of meandering the interwebs without a purpose. Instead of supporting my aspiration of being intentional, I would fritter away my time with nothing to show for it.

A month later, after being a relative shut-in for many long breastfeeding days and nights, I realized that I missed my connection with people. However faint, impersonal, or manufactured, there’s nonetheless a closeness that Facebook fosters. Even if I’m one of three-hundred people liking your birth announcement, I am still celebrating the birth of your first child. Even if we haven’t spoken for twenty years, I still like the Atlantic article you posted and appreciate knowing how you’re thinking about things. I found that by cutting out Facebook, I cut out a useful connection to the people in my life. And so, for my benefit during both the 2AM breastfeeding sessions and the afternoon naps breaks, I reinstalled Facebook.

This was back in September, when we also found ourselves in the run-up to the presidential election. In addition to providing a form of connection, Facebook became a core news source. Versus other presidential elections, I was more engaged. Like many other Americans, I may have existed in a bit of an echo chamber, hearing only the news posted by like-minded friends. That said, I did make myself keep clicking on the hyper-conservative articles from a handful of friends. Things got tough, but I tried to keep my eyes open.

And what now? In our post-election world, not just politics, but everything seems be falling apart. It’s not just the most recent articles on Trump tweets, Cabinet appointments, and international threats. Now, I can barely open Facebook without observing even more heartbreaking new: searing images of children under siege in Aleppo, exposes on puppy mills, or graphic videos of crocodiles slaughtered for fashion. It’s not the fake news out there that I’m referring to; it’s the painfully real reports of life in our world.

My instinct is to recoil. There are many reasons why I have wanted to quit Facebook, including my pre-maternity inklings: there are better uses of time! I should prioritize in-person connections! I want to live intentionally! But this seems like a better reason than them all to shut down Facebook: it is just too painful.

In the midst of this Facebook crisis, I am reminded of some very wise advice: it is the things that we cannot be that drive us. When you are not able to be with some aspect of life, you spend your time avoiding it. And, what’s more, when others need your help, you are unable to ‘be with’ that thing on their behalf. Get sick at the sight of blood? You are unlikely to become a doctor and heal others. Hate to read about Trump? You probably won’t intervene on behalf of democracy. Recoil at the sight of evil? You are unlikely to help to bring more light. I find myself increasingly recoiling from the hate and the pain in the world. But if I do not bear witness, who will? If I cannot look on Facebook, how much less likely am I to look — and help — in real life?

Simply bearing witness on Facebook — via reads, likes, or comments — is not sufficient action. But, on another level, my empathy expands with each disruption. It makes me more human to face the evil, to grapple with its reality, and to figure out my place in relation to it. So I am trying to look straight into the pain. I am trying to feel every bit of it. As a result, I am overwhelmingly saddened and often completely frightened. But with some perseverance, I will grow bigger, braver, and better able to fight.

Meredith

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Mall Madness

one-dollarOver the holidays, I joined the extended family in a trip to the Jordan Creek Mall outside of Des Moines.  The excursion was primarily designed to let the kids let off some steam, to eat some famous local burgers, and to stretch our legs.  What I didn’t expect were many bigger reflections on consumerism.

A bit of background:  My mall-going days were concentrated in my youth and, to this day, retain a haze of teenage uncertainty and discomfort.  Pop culture told me that as teenage girl, I was supposed to count ‘shopping’ as a past time.  Shop ‘Til You Drop was a beloved after-school game show for my brother and me.  The Mall Madness board game was a particular favorite amongst my peers.  And for the entire decade of the 1990s, the mall was simply the cool place to hang out.  For me, however, anytime I went to the mall (or shopping more broadly), I felt like I was self-consciously playing a role.  Wasn’t I having fun buying earrings at Claire’s?  Didn’t I love trying on clothes all day and finding the perfect thing?  Wasn’t it great to arrive without any particular plan, but to treat yourself to something you didn’t know you wanted?  I know that many people enjoy shopping, but it was never fun for me – and it took me until my twenties to figure that out.

last-chanceAs I’ve grown up, I’ve designed a very different relationship with shopping.  Versus the in-person shopping of my youth, Liz and I live an Amazon-enabled life.  We assess and agree upon our need before buying each item.  We research the best item in each category, whether through a quick spot-check of Amazon reviews or more extensive online diligence.  And, we are quick to return items that don’t satisfy our needs, packing them up and shipping them back.  In short, there’s no such thing as an impulse purchase; it’s all overarchingly intentional.

The result of our narrow online shopping habits is that we exposed to the breadth of American consumerism.  My visit to the mall this holiday season took me out of my Amazon bubble and brought the broader landscape back into focus.  A few observations from my mall wanderings:

First, I was struck by the sheer volume of items for sale: iPhone cases, laser-cut cat images, Christmas ornaments, clothes, clothes, clothes!  So many things!  Who would buy all these things?  Where did they come from?  Who made them?  And where would they all go after they were used and loved?  The volume of merchandise for sale made me think about their lives before these shelves – the raw materials, the producers, their working conditions – and their existence after these shelves – the joy or utility these items might bring, the landfills and recycling centers where they might end up.  Receiving my single, intentionally-purchased item in a box on my doorstep focuses me on this sole item and my use alone; walking through the mall reminded me of the broader life cycle of this vast array of goods.

almost-everythingFurther, in the intra-holiday period, I was struck by the dominance of the deal.  Nearly every store had a sale:  65% off!  Buy one, get one!  Everything $1!  I could viscerally feel their allure; I too wanted to stock up on $3 Bath and Body Works soaps and $1 turtlenecks.  Thus, while I typically buy things with intention, my mall trip reminded me of how frequently we buy things by impulse.  It’s crazy how even when we’re trying hard to be thoughtful, it’s difficult to say no to an experience designed to maximize spending, regardless of need.

To be clear, living in the online shopping bubble does not make me immune from the negative sides of consumerism.  For every pair of jeans I buy online, there’s still an immense amount of textile waste generated.  And I’m certainly guilty of generating a pile of cardboard boxes nearly every week.  But my mall trip prompt me to reflect on the aspects of consumerism often hidden to us online shoppers – and to recommit to how I want to buy items:  In the face of all these things to buy, I want to purchase only quality items with responsible sourcing and a long usable life.  In the face of impulse buys, I want to be even more thoughtful about purchasing only the vital few items we need.

It’s good to look around once in a while.

Wishing you a wonderful New Year,
Meredith

Related media
Here’s a bonus clip re: the mall for all the “How I Met Your Mother Fans” out there.  It’s a fairly accurate representation of mall-going in the 90s.  Who doesn’t love Robin Sparkles?

And the trailer for a documentary entitled ‘Minimalism’ that channels how I’m thinking about consumerism.  Thanks to Alyson Madrigan for the tip.

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How To Be An Ally

Since Trump’s election, there’s been lots of action — and I am hopeful, even more reflection — on what it means to be an ally: being present to bullying, wearing a safety pin, signing petitions, joining protests, posting on Facebook.

I experienced what it means to have an ally when I came out to my friends and family. A handful of people reacted negatively or with skepticism. Many people offered their support. And one person stepped up as an ally, redefining what that term meant to me.

I remember sitting in my friend’s one-bedroom apartment. When I told him of my first same-sex relationship (with my now-wife), he was surprised but immediately accepting. He listened intently. He asked questions to understand me better. He shared his love and support.

I heard that support from so many people: “This doesn’t change a thing for me.” “I support you completely.” “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

But this friend didn’t stop there. He saw that, being straight and well-connected, he could uniquely advocate for me with some of the people who struggled with my news the most. He realized that I still had a rough road ahead of me, and he wasn’t going to let me walk it alone. He asked for actions he could take on my behalf and offered up a dozen other that he brainstormed. Should he talk to this person? Could he send a note to that person? What else could he do? Nothing was out of the question, and his dedication to supporting me was clear.

That day, he taught me how to be an ally rather than just a supporter.

The most resonant metaphor of allyship is that of a WWE-style wrestling match. A supporter will sit on the sidelines and cheer. They’ll talk you up to their friends. They’ll put money on you even if the odds aren’t in your favor. They’ll bring a sign with your name on it. They’re wonderful cheerleaders.

An ally, on the other hand, gets out of the sidelines and stands in your corner, ready to fight. There, they not only rub your shoulders and provide you water. In addition, they fight on your behalf. They tag you out so you can get a break. They take the punches that weren’t intended for them. They put themselves on the line for you.

The best allies deploy their outsider status, showing that the fights of others are not theirs alone. When cisgender people fight for trans rights, when whites fight for Black Lives Matter, and when men push back on inappropriate behavior towards women they act as allies. They show that the fight is important and that the underlying values are universal. They fight for the other by putting themselves on the line.

While all signs of support — from Facebook posts to safety pins — are useful, true allyship demands more of us. Because this type of fighting takes work. With a limited supply of energy, we can’t fight for everyone else, particularly when we may be fighting on own battles. But ask yourself: Who do you support? How do you support them? Do you cheer from the sidelines or tag into the bout?

This is relevant regardless of where you stand with regards to the recent political events. You can fight for those who feel the system is stacked against them and voted for Trump. You can fight for those facing decades of systematic oppression who voted against Trump. Either way, take a look at your privilege, size up your energy, and find the fight you want to join. Ask the others how you can best fight for them. And then throw all your love into being a true ally and fighting on their behalf.

-Meredith, inspired by the man who fought for me to step up in the wake of election

Consumption Junction

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Since Elliott’s birth, our friends and family have been deferential about how busy we must be.  On some level, they’re right: at points, there has barely been time to shower, eat, or walk the dog.  But, busy doesn’t feel like the right word to describe these early weeks.  Busy implies that there is a long list of things to accomplish and not quite enough time in which to fit them.  Indeed, if we were just living in a state of ‘busy-ness,’ we could perhaps adjust by increasing our capacity or speeding things up.

After years in the workforce, so much of me thrives on busy-ness:  its sense of buzzy productivity, the little check marks in boxes, and the haze of meaning that comes from simply getting stuff done.  In many ways, I *wish* I could change all the diapers, pump all the milk, and share all my love by just working hard to get them done.  Mothering for today?  Check, check, check.

On the contrary, with Elliott, there is nothing to check off the list; we feed, diaper, rock, and play with her over and over again.  Yes, I have other non-baby items to accomplish, but I long ago realized that days and weeks could go by with nothing getting checked off – and yet, I was constantly occupied.  The to-do list of discrete, successive items has been replaced by endless, iterative tasks.

Further, through it all, I haven’t felt a lack of time or a sense of hurry that being ‘busy’ implies; everything is done when it needs to be done, on Elliott’s clock.  I can’t change ten diapers by noon to hit my quota and declare myself done for the day.  There is plenty to do, but it’s impossible to rush it.  Similarly, it’s impossible to run out of time to do what needs to be done.

In sum, it’s less that I feel busy and more that I feel completely consumed.  The reality of life with baby is that every moment is spent care-giving in the present.  I am challenged to slow down and invest every act with big love.  I am challenged to attend to whatever Elliott needs right now, without anticipation or distraction.  I am challenged to be less busy and more present.

As she draws me more into mamahood, Elliott brings me more into the moment and more into myself.

Realistically, I still find myself trying to accomplish things according to my old habits; instead of nursing with full presence at 2AM, I sometimes multi-task, teaching myself baby sign language or editing my new book (support the crowdpublishing project here!).  But, I’m increasingly finding big meaning in the letting myself be consumed by these everyday acts of childcare.  And, I love it.

Meredith