Eulogy for my father

My dad died very suddenly on October 20. I was asked by my mom and siblings to give the eulogy. This was the hardest piece I’ve ever written. I hope I did you proud, Dad. I miss you and love you.

“Thank you, all, for being here and supporting our family with your love and prayers.

I loved watching Dad shine shoes.

He’d gather the necessary supplies and lay them out in order of how he would use them. First, he laid down a towel or newspaper. Then, place one shoe on his left hand and use his horsehair shoe brush to remove dirt and old layers of polish. I can hear the quick flick of the brush bristles scratching across the leather. And I can smell the polish.

He’d sprinkle a tiny amount of water into the lid of the Kiwi shoe polish tin. Then, he would wrap an old t-shirt tightly around his right index finger. Dip his finger in the water, then the polish, and rub the shoe in small, counter-clockwise circular motions, starting at the toe and working his way down one side to the heel and back up the other to the toe. After drying- sometimes overnight- he rubbed the shoe until he could see his reflection shining in the leather.

It was a methodical process that he loved. It had a beginning, a clear path, and a definitive end. Shining shoes was a metaphor for how he viewed the world and lived his life.

He was hard-working and generous. He cheered for us- sometimes too loudly- at soccer games, swim meets, and crew regattas- all activities that he made possible for us. He and mom provided the foundation on which we’ve built our lives. That foundation is strong and true, and deeply rooted in love and devotion.

He pushed us to high standards that sometimes felt impossible to reach. I know now that they were his way of saying ‘I love you and I want the best for you.’

He was organized and focused. At his house, Kiki found Christmas gifts that he had already purchased for us. And, if it were November, those presents would have been wrapped and labeled.

Dad was always early for events and appropriately dressed- jacket, tie, and those shiny shoes. He was there for all of it: baptisms, birthdays, holidays, graduations. I feel  untethered knowing he will miss so many of them in the future. 70 was too young.

He was a prolific reader who was in his element discussing current events or the state of his beloved sports teams. He did crossword puzzles in ink. He could drive somewhere once and remember every detail of the trip and then give you directions.

He loved and spoiled his nine grandchildren. He adored them. He contentedly held them as infants and rejoiced in showing them how to run the Lionel trains at Christmas. It was especially fun to watch him try to corral them for photos. And just this summer he treated them to a week at the shore, complete with tons of seafood, pizza, and rides on the Ocean City boardwalk- like he did for the four of us when were little.

I’ll remember and cheer him every time I have fresh berries, lemon desserts, chocolate Tastykakes, a soft pretzel or an amber beer, and I hope you will, too.

We miss you already, Dad. We love you. Semper Fi.”

2015 in Review

I hesitated to write this year-in-review post because looking back at 2015, I kept saying to myself, “Not that much happened, really.” I think that’s the thing with mothering and adulting- the days are long, but time flies. And the older I get, the shorter the years feel. So it makes sense that the past year didn’t immediately stick out as remarkable. Sort of.

I spent the early part of this week going through old emails and Outlook calendar appointments. I also deleted a ton of old emails. That was liberating! Taking the time to look back is important. It’s a reminder of the growth that happened and milestones achieved. It’s also totally OK to look back with a sense of pride and feel good about your time.

Turns out my family and I did a lot in 2015. I had a big milestone birthday- 40! Funny that I glossed over that initially. I started a business and a book. These are not small things.

In my experience, women do this a lot. We downplay things for fear of sounding braggy. It’s also a parenting survival strategy; if you dwell too long on the “stuff,” you’ll spin your wheels and get overwhelmed. As 2016 revs up, I vow to not downplay things. I will speak with confidence. I will give myself credit. I have earned it (and so have you!).

Turns out, 2015 was remarkable. In big and small ways. Here are the highlights:

  • February- First annual winter family trip. In Christmas 2014, Santa brought fewer gifts and a little cash for us to go somewhere. We voted for Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City and had a blast! This tradition will definitely continue in 2016.
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Great Wolf Lodge, Feb 2015

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Legit small business owner in Michigan- Sheldrake Consulting!

  • March 15- L reached 5 years off-treatment and is now officially in remission.
  • April 13- L went to his first Long-Term Survivor Follow-Up clinic appointment. He also officially graduated to one appointment/year!
  • April 19- I am godmother to my nephew, Patrick and spent an early birthday with my entire family and best friend back in Jersey.
  • April 21- The BIG 4-0!
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Lulu Buttercup- My pink beach cruiser bike!

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Celebrating with my boys. Nothin’ better.

  • Late June- As a birthday present to myself, I rented Hilltop Cottage for (and from) myself and my girlfriends and I went away for a kid-free week in the sun. This was one of the best weeks of my life.
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PTW with the girls! Fun. Life-giving.

  • Professionally, my colleagues and I survived the summer while down two full-time staff people. We were supervisor-less from August until December. This honestly was one of the more challenging times of my professional life. I learned a big lesson, too. If more responsibilities are forced on you, ask for more money. I didn’t. I should have.
  • June/July- I created a blog series called #SAMid, designed to highlight the joys, struggles, and realities of being a mid-career professional in higher education. Colleagues contribute heartfelt and thought-provoking pieces. Search #SAMid on the blog to find the awesome-ness.
  • Labor Day weekend my mom, Grandmom Jersey, came out to PTW and we all swam in Lake Michigan! In September!
  • In September I was diagnosed with tennis and golfer’s elbow- despite not playing either of those- and began PT. Apparently you can get a “sports” injury from too much typing. Ah, 40.
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Physical Therapy ain’t no place for sissies!

  • September is childhood cancer awareness month. I was invited to speak to the Nursing Student Association about our journey. It was a packed house. What an honor!
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Thank you, MSU NSA for going #gold!

  • Fall- C’s soccer team, the Okemos Fireants, went undefeated!
  • Fall- I conquered my fear of home improvement and: 1) stained an old desk that is now in my writing corner and 2) painted our coastal living room.
  • November- I participated in #NaNoWriMo and began our family memoir, Dear Boys. I’m 30K words in! Stay tuned for official release in 2016.
  • December brought L’s tenth birthday and our annual trek to Jersey (Joisey!) to visit family and friends.

Whew! What a wonderful year. Looking back on it, we did do a lot. I highly recommend this year-in-review exercise.

Cheers to you. I hope 2015 was a good one for you and yours and that 2016 is even better.

I am lucky and grateful to be here and looking forward, with confidence, to 2016.

The “Have it All” Trap

Lately, there has been talk and backtalk about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” which was printed in the July/August issue of The Atlantic. First, I will say this. I think Slaughter is spot-on. Spot on. I believe that she was courageous to say what she did and her “calling out” of the current work-life system was timely, appropriate, and necessary. Two of her statements especially resonated with me:

“I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But, not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged- and quickly changed.”

and this:

“in short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be”

BOOM!

She spoke my very soul. That is exactly how I felt when I was a Director (most of 2011) and is exactly why I left my Director role.

YES! BRAVO! THANK YOU! Thank you for putting this out there! I think her piece was gutsy and brave. And, I appreciated hearing from another working woman who re-evaluated her life and her priorities and made a choice- a personal and professional sacrifice that works- or at least works better for now- for her and her family.

What is sad, to me, is that she felt she had to do this. For various reasons, which she outlines in her piece, Slaughter felt that she (emphasis mine) could not, in her high-level government position, be the kind of professional and mother that she wanted and need to be, and that her children wanted and needed her to be. I thought that was the intent of her piece. Obviously, I am not her. I have no idea what her intentions were. But, I read it as a commentary on her own work-life experiences and her wrestling with the negotiation (my word, not hers) of motherhood and professional life. I was excited and energized. I thought, “Wow! Yes! Maybe now we will have a real conversation about current practices, policies, and practices that have become policies, related to work-life negotiation.” Let’s talk about the “uncomfortable facts” (Slaughter’s words) that need to be changed. Let’s talk about why she felt she had to do this.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm has already waned. The responses I am reading are ripping on Slaughter as elitist, privileged, over-achieving, not doing enough. All of which Slaughter also addresses in her piece.

One of the first responses I saw on-line was this article. In four or five paragraphs the author manages to:

1. complain about the graphic that was used- a naked toddler sitting in a briefcase. Okay. A little trite. Overused. Sure. But, really? I can’t imagine that Slaughter herself picked that graphic. And, it worked. Because you wrote about it and now thousands of other bloggers are writing about it, too.

2. bemoan the phrase “have it all.” Also trite? Also overused? Yes. Isn’t that part of Slaughter’s point? She admits that she fell into the “have it all trap” AND that she unwittingly made the generations behind her feel guilty for not achieving it all.

Finally, the author then says that the core problem with Slaughter’s article is that she frames work-life as only a woman’s issue. Okay, I am with you on this one. Currently, the work-life conversation is framed as a working-women-with-children issue. That is indeed part of the problem. (Although there are exceptions- see Brad Harrington and the new Dad study done by the Boston College Center for Work and Family).

Women are living it. Women are doing a lot of the writing and commentating about it. I think this was also Slaughter’s point.

And, sadly, women are also the ones doing most of the tearing down of other women and their choices. Which is my point here.

All of this makes me feel…overwhelmed. Annoyed. Frustrated. One woman cannot possibly be the voice for every other woman’s experience. Would we want her to be, even if she could? Slaughter wrote about her experience. I write about my experience. You write about yours. That is what makes the world go round. And, that is also what starts the dialogue and will push agendas forward.

Work-life is an issue for anyone who has a job and a life, which is pretty much, well, everyone. There absolutely needs to be more dialogue. Let’s focus on that & continue to advance the conversation.