And just like that….

I had carefully scheduled my meetings around this morning’s fifth grade promotion ceremony. Our youngest daughter’s second to last day in our neighborhood school. As planned, I logged off my morning meetings promptly at 10 a.m. to dash over to the school and set up chairs for the outdoor assembly.

It was an overcast morning. There was a light breeze. The ceremony was plain and simple. The principal offered remarks. We all clapped politely. Time moved slowly for those moments.

And then all at once the children were smiling and running around the parking lot. Families were taking pictures together and arranging the children for photos as well. And my daughter grabbed a friend of hers for a photo–a friend she has known since she was two. Except they weren’t two. They are ten. And seeing them stand together made me feel the entire arc of her life so far in a nanosecond.

Like a ton of bricks, like a tsunami, all of a sudden I was drowning in the idea that we were moving on. I have been brimming with happiness thinking about my two daughters in middle school together. I’ve been joking for years that when they both hit puberty I would get a dog so someone would love me unconditionally (and our pandemic pup is two now so that’s working out great for me). As walkers to the neighborhood school, I have been dreaming of the day that they would ride the bus together and that day is finally here.

We made it.

And in making it, our time here is over. It feels like we just got started. Like I was just writing an open letter to my oldest daughter and then my youngest at the start of kindergarten. It’s like we’ve been on a tilt-a-whirl with loose safety straps and they’ve cut us free from the ride. The time space continuum has bent sideways and suddenly we don’t have little humans anymore.

We’re here. Here on the other side of some of the toughest years parenting through intense world circumstances and the girls just continued to grow. Because that’s how life works.

Except I hadn’t given it one thought until this morning.

I usually plan. I count down. I revisit and reflect and wax nostalgic about what was and where we’re headed. And it seems I have done none of that. I was stuck thinking that two years ago, we never had a fifth grade promotion ceremony for our oldest because we were in the start of the pandemic. There was a drive through celebration which means my brain never stopped for that moment either.

They are moving ahead and I’m hanging on to their coattails, praying time will stop and we can go back to the beginning or at least to a time when my girls were small and their voices were squeaky and the toughest problem we had was what show to watch or what book to read.

Life is moving at light speed. I could cry, honestly.

The girls have taken to mocking my penchant for crying. Everything makes me cry–happy things, sad things, and they’re amused to no end at my crying even during joyful life moments. Tonight they pronounced that this was “the last night ever of elementary school” or “my last night as a seventh grader” and instead of crying, I showed them this blog. This space that I have worked so hard to cultivate. It has been difficult for the last few years to crystallize thoughts or find time to clear my head. I still write, but maybe not always in public. But this place has always been a place I can return to check for breadcrumbs, to remind myself that we grow and change and life marches on with us. This is where I have quite literally written my way out of questions and grief and change.

I showed them each the letter I wrote on the first day of kindergarten. I left them alone to read them. My older daughter thought the post was sweet but my youngest had tears in eyes.

It’s hard to be a mom, I told her. She nodded without words and hugged me tight.

Hard, yes. An honor, truly.

And just like that, we bid goodbye and push onward.

It’s better that it just hit me because I don’t have time to wallow or worry. I have to keep up because time will fly exponentially faster now.

I don’t want to miss a moment.

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Soliloquy on going back to school during a pandemic: There are no words and that’s okay


Before you started kindergarten I wrote you each a letter. I wanted to capture how I felt on the eve of your entrance into a new world. I know too much about schools and schooling and I wondered how you would experience school in your own way. Looking back, my letters still ring true. You have both grown and changed but my little bug is still the same exuberant girl and my little muffin is still the same empathic girl. And here we are, on the eve of another year.

This is landmark moment for the two of you. You’ve had the security of sharing a school for a several years now, but this year, you’re branching out. Middle school is uncharted territory for us. You’ll both experience what it’s like to be “the only Weiner” today, unlike sick days of years past. Whether you will admit or not, I know that you like the security of having each other close and in this strangest of years, you’re going it alone. Even still, we know our fourth grade teacher and you’d think middle school was party, so I know you’re ready (for now).

I wish I could say I was ready. As your mom, I have never felt more helpless or confused about how to make the “right” decision about what to do next. After months of time together, when I know I should be running towards the start of the new year, I am so empty. We may never spend as much time together as we have in the last six months. It was not all perfect or pretty but there was some solace in having you close at hand. And now we will be apart. And more than ever, I have to trust others to ensure your safety. We have no control.

I think back to the sleepless nights of your earliest days when I paced the floors of your bedroom, carefully avoiding the creakiest spots in the floorboards, willing you to sleep, begging you to nurse. I felt so helpless, had so little control. With both of you, we wondered when the hard part would be over. This moment in our lives is less clear cut than any other parenting argument ever undertaken. There isn’t a camp to join or a fence to sit on. Your parents are not the only parents who have no idea what to think or how to feel about the world. We keep wondering, when will this be over?

My mom told me once a long time ago that in parenting, it’s never really over. We know how lucky we are that for us, you grew and changed and met your milestones and continued to thrive. But this moment in your lives (and in ours) is another head trip altogether. While I’ve had to share terrible news with you in the past, and I’ve fielded countless difficult questions, I am not often speechless. Too often in these last few months the hardest thing to bear was your repeated frustration and boredom and anger at the state of the world, feeling closed off, disconnected and even forgotten. All you want to know: when will this be over?

I don’t know.

I wish I could tell you.

We don’t know what will happen.

So on the eve of another year, a year filled with so much uncertainty, I want to reiterate what I do know: we will keep you safe. We will make choices that keep ourselves safe and healthy and that encourage others to do the same thing. We will try to make things as normal as we can. We will continue to make sacrifices.

Please be optimistic and patient. You don’t have to be happy and cheery all of the time. But please hold out hope and look ahead. Keep focusing on what’s right here: a safe, warm, loving home filled with our favorite humans on the planet. It is difficult to live under strange circumstances. Over the last few months you have had to learn many raw and ugly things about our society. But we’re still here, together.

I am so proud of you both. I know this isn’t easy. It will not be forever.

For now, chin up. That’s all we can do.



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Rogue Cheerios is ten(ish)

10 years ago I started this space. It was the middle of the blogosphere heyday. The internet was awash with personal narratives. Mom blogs and cooking blogs, blogs about travel and fashion. I didn’t know where I fit in. The rise of academic quit lit hadn’t yet happened. Even though I had ideas and an angle and a name, I had so much imposter syndrome. I was struggling with academic writing and maybe that meant I was a bad writer altogether. Would anyone read my terrible writing? Did it matter if anyone read anything I wrote? Ten years ago, I was drowning in graduate school and parenting and grief and marriage and friendship. I needed to reassure myself that I could write. So I started. 

My writing wasn’t personal at first. I was testing out writing sociology but for real people. The more I wrote, the easier it became to work through my own thoughts and experiences, frustrations and successes by committing my feelings to this space. When I pressed publish on something that felt extra personal or controversial or vulnerable, I worried. I still wondered whether I had anything to say or whether my writing resonated with anyone. Ten years ago, I didn’t like taking risks without knowing the payoff. 

I just kept trying, though. In writing honestly and openly for public readers, I realized I had more to say. So I said those things. There are documents and notebooks and snippets that never even made their way on to the blog. For every post, there are a half dozen drafts. I spent several NaNoWriMo Novembers desperately trying to crank out hundreds of thousands of words. I wrote the start of a play, half a memoir, a nonfiction manuscript. Ten years ago, I hoped I’d write a play or a book, but I didn’t know if that would ever be possible. 

And in sharing and writing, I created opportunities for myself outside of Rogue Cheerios. Blog posts about academic motherhood, frustration with higher education, an honest account of leaving academia in a book chapter. I started telling stories on stage. I co-hosted a podcast for several years. And even if the feedback wasn’t a tsunami of emails or readers, I heard from people that hearing my words, that sharing my stories mattered to them. The sharing galvanized something in me. It got me out of my head, and it helped me conquer that imposter who dreaded pressing publish. I felt lonely with my thoughts bottled up in my mind, but in sharing I wasn’t so alone in my own thoughts anymore.

It is impossible to see the arc of anything at the beginning. Life’s micro moments don’t amount to much on their own. In every essay or post, I was capturing life’s micro moments for myself, allowing myself to see how they related to each other, and I was growing despite and because of them. In writing and rereading and reflecting on the last ten years, I’m not the same me that I was when I initially pressed publish. There’s a version of me who would never begin without knowing the entire arc of it all. 

Everything I’ve documented, all of life’s micro moments, have built up and melted into one another. They have swelled, shifted, and calcified. A moment that seemed monumental, phenomenal, even catastrophic was washed out, papered over, and obliterated by another monumental, phenomenal moment. When I thought something couldn’t be worse or couldn’t be better, I found a new better and (sometimes) a new worse. The changes may be imperceptible to others, in many ways I am the same gregarious, positive, optimistic person. But in some ways rereading, reflecting and writing I am more me. Happier than I’ve ever been, devastated as I’ve ever been.

Looking in the rear view, I am so thankful that I wrote things down. Initially, I might have checked Rogue Cheerios stats, surprising myself with the reach of an essay or the feedback from strangers. But I was doing more than capturing eyeballs or amassing readers. Wrangling snippets of thoughts and feelings into shape and onto a page forced me to make sense of those micro moments and over time to make sense of the pile of moments. Sharing those fears and hopes, sharing the devastating moments and the points of pride, those words are breadcrumbs, leading me back to me.

These posts are a gift. 10 years of words. The very best keepsake jar. 

Thank you (truly) for reading any of it.

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Why is this night different from all other nights?

Why is this night different from all other nights?

It is a question we ask during our Passover Seder. The seder is a night unlike other nights with a set of rituals honoring our cultural history and celebrating emancipation. The entire holiday is centered on questioning. This year was a year different from all other years. In a typical year, we might day trip to our family out of state or pack for a weekend away. But in the middle of March, as Passover began, the pandemic was still early, and our state (like most) was in the start of a serious quarantine that no one expected. Passover was different from all other Passovers in my memory. Rather than gathering with family, we spent seder at our kitchen table, the four of us. We were alone, but together. We ate familiar foods and we tried new recipes. We made it meaningful. It was special to us.

No one could have anticipated the weeks and months to follow. All of the nights felt different from nights before the pandemic. That is, until no nights felt different. The world was so quiet. The nights blended one into the other. While others lamented the things we lost, I tried to focus on the horizon. It is what it is. Life would be better if we could do the things we planned to do, celebrate the victories we hoped to see, spend time in person with our loved ones, but we could not do any of that safely. I am not willing to engage with the line of thinking where herd immunity wins the day. Culling the population is not fair or just, especially when some people disproportionately suffer and die.

Looking back on the start of the year, I know now that I was grieving. I didn’t know the depth of the grief or how long the grief would last because I compartmentalize expertly. Quarantine felt a lot like shivah, the Jewish mourning ritual, where the mourner spends time reflecting, cut off from the world for several days after the death of a loved one. March blended into April into May. It wasn’t until the days stretched out and the sun shone brighter that I realized I was living in shivah. The dilemmas of typical family life, the jumble of schedules and timetables and deadlines and priorities shrunk to a simple set of questions: what will we have for lunch, for dinner, where will we walk today, who will fold the laundry. There was countless things to grieve, lost chances and opportunities for the girls and for us, but we kept focused on the horizon. One foot in front of the other. 

We spent the summer papering over the grief. We got outside, went on endless walks. We cooked and baked. We rode bikes and arranged time with friends. We ignored calendar reminders for end of year celebrations, the dance recital, the children’s choir event at the fancy concert hall. We took time off to go to family camp and see the beach. We finally visited family outdoors and made up for time apart this year. The girls returned to school in some form. We found a new dance school. Life started to resemble itself. Kind of.

Thanksgiving loomed on the horizon, inching closer and closer as though a ground zero of sorts. Here we are again: another opportunity to gather, another special day likely sacrificed to the pandemic. I knew in July we would be alone for Thanksgiving. I said the words aloud so it would not come as a surprise to anyone when it came to be. I socialized the idea lightly in conversations with family. If things proceed in the way experts predict, we would be alone. 

Somehow, though, I hardly mourned Thanksgiving. The grief passed quickly and the horizon stretched out again. This Thanksgiving is different from all others because we’re in a pandemic. And if we’ve learned anything collectively, we have to remember that we make the days precious. We make them different. We should not need a day for gratitude. This has been a year of trials but we have not been without blessings. We are safe and healthy. We are employed. We have not lost any loved ones to Covid. We can make days precious again when it is safe. 

Grief gives way to perspective: we are doing it wrong. It is not the special days that are precious. It’s all of the moments in between. This pandemic year has forced us to slow down, to really see the world around us. The ordinary conversations and chance meetings and quick hugs and teary goodbyes. It’s the simple moments after dinner when everyone is crazy and someone makes a joke and everyone laughs. Or when the puppy does something immeasurably cute and everyone agrees our life before the puppy was devoid of cuteness. It’s the taste of something we made ourselves that we cannot believe didn’t come from a restaurant. It’s the effort we bring to making all of the moments, every day precious in its own way. 

This night is different from other nights and that’s okay. Another night can be just as precious. We can make a feast in April and call it our thanksgiving. We can make a celebration of love or independence or birthdays on any day of the year and make it precious for us.

This year this is what it is. It was special because we made it special. At our Thanksgiving table, we laid a beautiful dinner before our children, and my oldest remarked that once everyone sits down to eat, Thanksgiving dinner is just like any other big family dinner. She’s right. Dinner is dinner is dinner.

Precious dinners happen on ordinary days. And I am thankful for that.

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It’s 2020. Like right now.

For many years, I stuck to strict goals. I called them resolutions but they were SMART goals and I tracked my adherence to those goals religiously. I didn’t use apps or fancy journaling. I just counted. And at the end of every month, I would take victory lap. (see victory laps recorded in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018).

Hindsight is always 2020. What I needed then was some structure at a time when I felt displaced. I was finishing my graduate degree, changing my professional goals, and pushing through some complicated personal hurdles. I was raising little humans and felt no sense of control. Those goals, that ability to show progress towards something, it was what I needed.

But last year, I looked back and knew I was in a holding pattern. Life was no less unpredictable. Tackling the day to day goals felt easy, almost rote. But those bigger ideas, bigger goals, I had no way to break them down. So for 2019, I said, fuck it. I’ll do the stuff I do (exercise, give blood, read) but I need latitude to explore these bigger goals. As I discovered last year, no one year is all one thing.

After I published reflections on 2018, 2019 took a right turn. I was offered an incredible professional opportunity–the kind you don’t say no to even though you know it will change everything about your life. Doing even the little everyday things became a huge challenge. The job–leading research in a state agency focused on early childhood–has been a thrill and a challenge. And every day for nearly all of 2019, I have felt like I am drowning. One day someone asked me about work and as I started to say, “I’m drinking from a fire hose” they said, “Still swimming in the deep end?”

“Both,” I replied without hesitation. Drinking from a fire hose while treading water.

So I bagged the goals. All I could do was eat, sleep, exercise and be present for my family. I couldn’t read or cook or plan. I almost never wrote. I was cognitively spent every day and I felt like I had nothing left. And I felt like I had no right to complain because this opportunity was too good.

The sea parted eventually. I didn’t feel like I was always drowning. I found the ground, put my feet on the floor. I didn’t find my way back to feeling like myself without further displacement. I quit my gym of four years at the start of the summer, forced myself to find something different where I felt equal parts challenged and inspired. I bought some new cookbooks. I picked up a few books I’d been putting off. I started reading with my girls, paying closer attention to things. I had dropped out of everything and thank goodness I had a partner who was willing to pick up pieces.

So with the advent of the new year (plus one month), I can see clearly now. I’m energized at the thought of not only a new year but a new decade unfolding. Looking back at the last ten years, we have maneuvered tectonic shifts in our lives. We became parents, I earned my doctorate, I changed jobs a few times, we bought a new house, we buried family members, we explored and traveled.

The next decade is mysterious. Our children will keep growing. They may even leave the nest. We will turn 50. We will negotiate a new phase of life. Work marches on. The possibilities are blinding.

So before we get there, I’m looking in the rearview (as always) to see what 2019 was. Then I’ll look ahead to see what 2020 will be.

Last year, I made a list. I’ve made notations below for myself.

  • Turn my NaNoWriMo words into something real. During NaNoWriMo, I wrote more. I have ideas. But these words are still words.
  • Buy the podcast equipment. I picked out equipment. I promised myself equipment for my birthday and Hannukah. But I am prioritizing it this year.
  • Pilot one of 2-3 podcast ideas. No progress on podcasting in 2019. I have some things gelling now, though.
  • Re-do the girls’ bedrooms. Huzzah! We repainted their rooms, added some furniture and some decor.
  • Finish off our office. Still in progress. We have some designs and we cleared out furniture. 2020 will be the year of the home office.
  • Find a meaningful way to volunteer regularly. I did some minimal volunteer work but did not find a regular opportunity yet. I contributed to political campaigns, donated blood six times (!) and participated in Jewish Federation menstrual justice events. There is room for more.
  • Get outside as often as possible. Summer was the opportunity for me to get outdoors. I started talking long walks for exercise. Winter is cold.
  • Spend time with my family as often as I can. The key to this one is not doing the dishes right away. So I started not doing the dishes right away and reading with the girls. The snuggling time has been wonderful.

A few victories in 2019:

  • I found a new gym. I LOVE their model. I feel inspired and supported and challenged. I miss my old 5:30 buddies but I have found some new ones, too.
  • We had an amazing adventure on Block Island where we biked and read and slept.
  • I discovered Downton Abbey. It is magical and wonderful and the perfect antidote to stressful work days.
  • I bought some new cookbooks and got some inspiration in the kitchen–and the girls are super into cooking now.
  • I hiked up a mountain again.

I don’t have big goals for 2020. I just don’t. I don’t want to get in my own way. I have good habits and routines and I learned in 2019 that I can disrupt those and I’ll find my way back. I just want more of everything. More kitchen time with my girls, more walks, more dinner parties with friends, more time with family. More of the little things.

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The key to a successful and happy marriage? Lowered expectations.

I never expected any of this.

When we were least expecting it, we found each other. Out of the universe of people, somehow we were the only ones on that rooftop in Soho eighteen years ago. The whole city receded from view, and there we were. That party led to dinner and dinner led to ice cream. A national tragedy brought everything into focus. We just went for it. We traipsed uptown and downtown, spent hours in Central Park, ate bagels and pizza and read the Sunday New York Times and listened to the guitar guy in Central Park. Every month that passed, we jokingly recommitted to one another. “Want to keep going?” one of us would ask. We always agreed to forge ahead.

We didn’t set any expectations for ourselves. We didn’t plan too much. Life was easier maybe–we were responsible for ourselves and no one else. But we didn’t push it or rush it or make our relationship into something it wasn’t. We took our time.

And then we took a risk and spent time apart, staying tethered through late night phone calls and emails and halfway meetups for dinner when we couldn’t find time for a whole weekend. We shortened the distance little by little until we were back in the same zip code. You proposed and we got married within the year. And even though I wanted to get married marginally earlier, marriage wasn’t some tectonic shift.

But marriage is weird. As we amass marriage experience, I often wonder how it all works. We’re each growing and changing as people. We live in a world that’s chaotic and unpredictable. We’re trying to raise and love two little humans who are growing and changing. The ground is always moving underneath of us. We’re wobbly, always wobbly.

Why would anyone do this voluntarily?

We learned early on that being married is easier when you’re in the same boat rowing in the same direction. It would be easy to say, it just works. Like there is no explanation for the complexities and nuances of surviving 18 years of friendship. That’s the easy way out.

The real secret sauce: we sweat the small things. We really sweat them. I’m not talking about the minutiae of everyday life (we sweat that, too). I mean we make sure we’re on the same page, that we feel heard, that we feel seen. We don’t crowd each other out trying to be the alpha person. Our commitment to consensus building is at times completely paralyzing, but the payoff is deep, abiding trust.

We’ve been doing this co-piloting for so long that in times of stress, when one of us has to back down or step away, the other simply takes the wheel. I never worry when it’s me who takes a back seat. I feel fine when you’re the leader. I hope you feel the same way.

But the real real secret sauce: Lower your expectations.

Better yet, ditch expectations altogether.

Every day and every year something new happens to take our otherwise settled life and turn it upside down. I’m reminded of how much life can change in looking at photos from every wedding anniversary 13 years running. That first anniversary on a family trip just after my mom died. I was suffering but you just held my hand. Two years in we went river tubing (knowing that we were pregnant). Three years in with a new baby. Four years, five years….Each picture, it’s us. A year older. We look the same but things have changed. We’re parents now, we have ever-changing careers. We have celebrated with our family in good times, buried relatives, walked side by side with loved ones and dear friends through difficult times. We’ve found our footing in a community of people that we love. What’s the secret? We just don’t know what it’s going to be yet. We expect very little.

And we become more like ourselves as we age. We know we won’t magically become someone else: our strengths become our best qualities and our faults grow with time. I don’t expect you to be someone you’re not. I know you don’t expect me to suddenly be someone else, either. In living and loving and maneuvering through this life we’ve created together, I know that if I want to make myself happy, I don’t need to rely on you. Life is happier with you in it, but I know that I have to buy my own flowers.

It feels like we just got started and yet here we are parenting two little girls. We’ve been together for nearly two decades. How can it be 18 years since that party? Or 14 years since that rainy Saturday when you proposed? Or 13 years since that impossibly sunny, hot day in July when we got hitched? Or ten years since we started parenting? How?

I don’t know. It just is.

Here we are.

Want to keep going?

I do.

Super. Onward.



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Snuggling: A Parenting Practice

Snuggling has become one of the most meaningful (and accidental) parenting practices I never meant to adopt.

For me, every day starts and ends with snuggling. It’s perhaps the most intimate and meaningful part of my relationship with my daughters. It’s our time to be together, reflect and reset.

My oldest daughter starts her day by coming into our room, saying hello and reading in bed with us. Sometimes we’re sleeping, sometimes I’m coming back from the gym. But every day like clockwork, she walks in and starts her day. This routine is a holdover from the days when I would nurse her in the earliest hours of the morning and leave her beside me. The sun would come up and there we were together. But now she and I both need that small moment in the morning to connect and head off.

My youngest, on the other hand, could only relax with me beside her. As a baby she fought sleep and only relented when we co-slept for several months. Every day of co-sleeping I worried that I was setting her on a path for poor sleep like she would never be able to sleep alone. Six years later, she’s the deepest sleeper of us all. At the start of every morning, she sleeps so late that I have to wake her. So once I send her sister on her way to get dressed, I slip into her bed and snuggle up beside her and whisper a good morning.

At the end of every day, I do the same thing in reverse order. Snuggle the little one and then snuggle the big one and then call “Good night, love bugs” to both from the landing at the top of the stairs.

On weeknights, we don’t rush the snuggling, but I have to be careful not to slip off the edge of consciousness into sleep, too. I’m up earlier than everyone so by the time I am ushering them off to sleep, I want to follow right behind. The pull of the household chores and the hum of life usually keeps me from heading right to bed.

They need this connection and so do I. It is part of the evening routine and it’s often a remedy for emotional moments throughout the day. Recently, we were snuggled on the couch on weekend afternoon and I told my daughter that I appreciated her closeness, that not all children liked to snuggle their parents. Her response: Who are these kids?

She doesn’t realize yet that being close to your parents isn’t always en vogue. Neither of my girls do. They are not self-conscious, unaware of what’s considered cool or not. And to be frank, we’re not the hippest of people. But we are fun and life at our house is exuberant and colorful and most of the time, we want to be together.

But they’re growing. Their lives are moving at a faster pace. A few early morning commitments have piled up, necessitating alarms and independent self care routines. The pace reminds me we won’t have them forever. They aren’t promised to us indefinitely. That tether holding us together will lengthen, fray, slack.

I wish I could freeze time.

I didn’t realize it but snuggling keeps us connected. Snuggling gives me a little space to slow down the frenetic pace of life, detach from the ticker tape list of things to do, and just be present with them. It’s probably the most present I can be.

I can’t freeze time.

So, on a recent Friday, as the appliances in the kitchen hummed along, washing the dishes and drying the clothes, we lingered doing family things, looking at old pictures, delaying bedtime because there was nothing in the morning tomorrow. Eventually the girls made their way to bed and knowing full well that I would never stay conscious while snuggling beside them, I folded my glasses and tucked them on the nightstand and just relaxed. First with the big one (who had worn on everyone’s last nerve this particular evening) and then the small one (who just rebuked her father’s offer of a good night kiss).

In that moment, I thought about the times I worry about getting it right, the fear that they will look back and think that somehow I never expressed to them how much they mean to me and then I realized that these small moments are the ones they will conjure up one day when they talk about the things we did together.

And on this particular Friday, I did the thing I never do but wish I would. Drag myself away from their incredible little faces and put myself straight to bed.

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The difference six years makes….

Six years ago today, I defended my dissertation. I faced a room of inquisitors, answered questions and opined on future research before I was asked to leave the room. While my committee deliberated, I stood in the library hallway with family and friends and held my breath. Not much later, my advisor invited me back into the room and announced her congratulations to Dr. Leventhal-Weiner.

I have never been more relieved. I was finished.

Finished for the moment.

If anything, I am a finisher. I like the neat (or sometimes messy) end of things. I like when a project stretches out in front of you, the juggle of moving pieces and deadlines, and the satisfaction of calling it done. I like to check things off of lists I make. I like to do things.

My graduate work, though, was a different kind of doing things. Whereas most work leads to a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of confidence and competence, most of the time, I felt like a complete impostor. I hated the exercise of standing in front of a panel of mentors and defending myself. Writing academic research studies did not come easily to me. I was bashful to admit I loved teaching. The entire graduate school enterprise felt like a poor fit and I was worried that others thought I didn’t belong.

I kept doing the graduate work even though the long term job prospects seemed bleak. I began my graduate work just before the entire labor market tanked during the great recession, and the academic labor market was already unsteady. I became a parent twice over in graduate school and the possibility of moving my family far from our community made it more difficult to consider an academic job. Most of all, I knew I wanted to work out in the open, doing something with people where my work made a difference in their lives.

I knew I was not alone in my thoughts. I was not the first graduate student turned parent who worried about what they would do next. So, seven years ago, I started blogging. I knew the name of the blog for months before I ever typed one word. I bought the domain name. I wondered if anyone would read what I was writing, if what I wrote would mean anything to anyone, what was the point of being public on the internet.

Then I tried to quiet all of the thoughts, and I just went for it.

This blog was a place for me to try out ideas, catalogue experiences, and leave myself glances in the rearview. While I wrote posts here, I looked for other places to share my essays. I started to see myself as a writer even after years of academic training had made me feel like a failure in that department. WordPress picked up one of the essays, a few landed on Huffpost, and I started to think bigger. I was building towards something.

I thought I had something to say about life outside of academia. I wondered how it would be perceived. I sent a draft essay to Inside Higher Ed and they published it. Consider Staying is still one of the things I advise grad students to do. Saying the words out loud–you don’t have to be an academic–emboldened me, made me feel less crazy and alone in negotiating what to do after graduate school.

Five years ago, I saw a call for a series on pregnancy, motherhood and the academy from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s newly launched Vitae site. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and after wondering whether I should say it out loud, I just went for it. The Perfect Academic Baby was my first attempt at memoir style writing. It was personal. For all the journal articles I struggled to write, this came easily.

Saying the words out loud, seeking some validation and putting one foot in front of the other set me on a new path. I was doing new things, and little by little, I could see new places to be a sociologist. First in the state legislature, then as a policy advocate. I didn’t miss being a traditional professor because I was teaching and learning all of the time. I took a right turn and built a public education program and started to learn about open data and data visualization. All of a sudden I was back in front of a panel of inquisitors, but now I felt more confident, speaking with an expert voice (and tap dancing when I couldn’t). In the doing of these new things, I worked through that impostor syndrome.

With every transition, my work life is less about closing one door fully before opening another. The curve balls never stop coming. Doing things makes more work and brings new adventures. I launched a podcast and started storytelling. In 2018, I thought I had peaked with a memoir style book chapter in a publication about leaving the academy. My chapter, Reframing Success, is a long walk through graduate school, the start of my family and the path I have been on.

And then came 2019. A new professional opportunity–this time it found me. Two months ago I started a new position in state government. In starting this new role, I am doing all of things I do well. I am truly a public sociologist at a time when we need sociologists in the public sector more than ever. If you told me six years ago on my defense day that this was the future, I’m not sure I would believe you.

The breadcrumbs on the transition out of the academy have served me well. For all of the writing I have done about surviving the end of something, I need to capture the start of something. And the start of something after that and after that.

If we keep doing things, we’re never truly finished. And that’s just fine.

Posted in academia, advice, dissertation, grad school, lessons learned, personal, real talk, sociology, thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mindset reset: Be easy on yourself

I love a plan. I LOVE goals and to do lists. I know in my heart of hearts that I will not achieve all of them. At least, I know this intellectually. But emotionally, I am committed to getting things done. So, in 2018, I was determined to make 6 blood donations, and I aggressively pursued my goal. I posted about blood donation on social media, talked it up to people in person, made it my business to make people aware of the importance of giving blood (if and when you can).

At the end of 2018, though, I failed.

Or, I thought I failed.

As the year came to a close, it was clear I was not going to make six blood donations. I spent the year timing each donation and knew I had several weeks at the end of the year for the 6th one, but life got in the way. I was up to my ears at work and could not carve out time before the last ten days of December. I found a blood drive right after Christmas that ended up getting cancelled. And when I went to another three days before New Year’s, I was turned away because they were suspicious of my sniffles.

I was annoyed. “I’m always a little congested in the winter,” I told them. The phlebotomist did not seem sympathetic.

“We’re giving your blood to cancer patients and little babies. You might be able to fight a virus but they can’t.”

She was right. The whole point was to help people–not to put them in harm’s way or compromise their already precarious health so I could congratulate myself.

“See if it turns into anything,” the Red Cross phlebotomist told me.

That was four days before the end of the year. No time to find another drive. So that was that. I failed.

It’s a terrible attitude to have. To look back and say I failed. Because I didn’t exactly fail. So this year, I’m flipping my own script.

I felt disappointed that I didn’t make a sixth donation but I ALREADY MADE FIVE BLOOD DONATIONS IN ONE YEAR! (That’s what my husband told me–he is wise. I should listen to him more often). I was being selfish and self-centered. At that point, meeting the goal didn’t seem to be about helping people. It was about checking a box and taking a victory lap.

I should already be taking a victory lap. All year I posted photos after I donated blood and heard from friends who decided to donate blood again or for the first time. At year’s end, I loosely calculated the connections made about blood donations over the year. I made 5 donations and at least 9 people told me they were encouraged to donate blood. If each blood donation helps up to three people, that’s 42 people across the eastern seaboard who will benefit.

42 people.

This year, I knew 4 people who needed transfusions.

Somewhere out there, someone gave blood so that people I love could heal and recover. Knowing someone else in the world had given their blood selflessly motivated me even more.

img_20190105_095927_0179892459568270915.jpgI am not failing at this one. I am winning. Big time winning.

So as we reset the calendar in the new year, I am resetting my thinking. I am giving myself credit and celebrating what I am able to do rather than punishing myself for what I did not quite finish.

On January 5th, I got back on the table and made my first blood donation of the year. Health permitting, I’ll be back in 56 days.

And we will go from there.

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Cataloguing 2018: On to the next (2019)

For the past three years, I’ve used the final day of the year to reflect and catalogue things.

In 2015, in 2016, in 2017, I counted workouts and books and hikes. Acts of kindness, blood donations. Those years helped me focus and hone in on routines and choices that make me a better partner, parent and person.

2018 was a mixed bag for everyone, it seems.

For some people I know, it was they year they found health, a new home, a new partner.

For some people I know, it was a year of worry, anxiety, bargaining.

For some, it was full of joy and friendship.

For some, it was lonely and empty.

Net net, we have had a fine year. In 2018, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time as a family. We all biked at the beach and swam in the deep end of the pool. We took our first family cruise, saw fireworks in the middle of the ocean. Our oldest spent a month away at summer camp and our youngest started playing ukulele. The kids got back to skiing. The adults turned 40 and were able to celebrate with family and friends. Our work kept us busy and (mostly) fulfilled. I got the chance to tell a story in front of a massive audience in a real theater and in the final days of the year, I climbed a literal mountain.

It is hard to think that the year was fine (at times) for us when we know many people who struggled and pushed uphill. 2018 was all of these things because no one year is all one thing.

Sure, no one year is all one thing, but it’s the new year and this is when I’d set up my 2019 plan. I love a plan. This year, though, I’m struggling with goals because many things in my life are working out fine. I have a great fitness routine (roughly 200 workouts this year). That fitness routine inspires me to try bold things (like snowshoe up ski mountains and jump on 30″ boxes). I am happy professionally and being happy makes space for challenging yourself to stretch and learn new things. I am reading more than I ever have (24 books–up from 16 last year). We volunteered for a political campaign and with a dog rescue organization at least once a month and found time to make 5 blood donations.

I was puttering around the house with my husband on the last day of the year, saying, what kinds of goals do I need in 2019? Goals are important to me, so my husband had gently reminded me that “the calendar is a social construct.” You don’t need a new year to start something new. The new year is a nudge to lift up your head, get your mind out of the daily grind and reassess.

What do I want out of this year? What should this year be all about? The exercise and volunteering–those are things I would do whether I was counting or not. But the bigger goals, that’s where I need to focus energy. I have come up short on a few goals in the last few years and in this year, I want to commit to them.

So in this year on this arbitrary day, I am laying out a few loose goals for the year:

  • Turn my NaNoWriMo words into something real (I’ve written >11K words on a project I’m figuring out)
  • Buy the podcast equipment (I have things picked out but need to do more research)
  • Pilot one of 2-3 podcast ideas
  • Re-do the girls’ bedrooms (they want to freshen up their rooms)
  • Finish off our office (we NEED a dedicated space at home)
  • Find a meaningful way to volunteer regularly (our volunteering this year has been inspirational–want to keep that going)
  • Get outside as often as possible (my recent snowshoe hikes have been incredible)
  • Spend time with my family as often as I can (reading, making art, being outdoors)

Each of these goals will have its own little action plan and timetable. In the meantime, I’ll be building on all of the good habits I’ve put in place in these last few years.

Having measurable, SMART goals is not the same thing as self improvement or self care, and in this year, I need to take care of myself. I want to spend the year being a little easier on myself. I’m the one that sets the pace. I’m the one that raises the bar. And I’m the one that has to relent when things don’t work out, that has to reassess when things aren’t practical. I’m fighting myself and I’d like to make life a little easier for me and for the people I love around me.

I hardly know what the year will look like so there could be new achievements I never dreamed about. I never set out to jump on a big box or climb a rope or speak in front of a huge crowd. So I remain open to the possibility that some goals will find me. I feel conflicted about leaving 2018 behind because it was so many things. But if 2018 is any indication, 2019 will be many things, too.

So let’s get to it….

Posted in blogging, everyday life, family, friendship, lessons learned, marriage, new year's eve, resolutions, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment