Ri’s first Women’s Fund Keyholder event – 2014:

I first learned of the Women’s Fund when I got an email that Gloria Steinam was a guest speaker at one of their events. I admired Steinam and had read essays and speeches she had given. I knew she was a crucial voice in the women’s’ movement and that my mom had admired her as she grew into her own in the 70’s. My mom had also gifted me an autograph from Gloria Steinam to me after my mom attended an event with her in the early 1990s. I hadn’t given that autograph much thought since I had received it from my mom in my early 20s. It was stored away in a box with other childhood items. But when that email came across, something jolted in me.
I went home that evening and found the framed autograph. I’m sure I played with Ri, who was not even two at the time, and fed her dinner, and rocked her to sleep for hours. And then I made it downstairs to my computer, and typed in my Visa number to make a contribution to the Women’s Fund. They allowed you to write a tribute and so I did: to my mom for introducing me to Steinam and feminism and belief in self and hard work and equality. I thanked her for helping to make me a strong and loving mom to Maria. A few weeks later, I got a call from the Women’s Fund. They asked if I’d make a video of my tribute to play the night of the event. I was flabbergasted and thrilled. And immediately agreed. As I prepared my words to my mom, I brought out my framed autograph and hung it in Ri’s room. I believe there was a surge of power that entered her room when I hung it over her dresser that night. I think she felt it, too, as she squealed (or it could have been gas, but that’s not as riveting).
When I went to shoot the video, I had a plan. I was going to ask if Gloria Steinam would autograph the Women’s Fund invitation for Maria. How awesome would that be? There was no way that Ri could be anything but a strong, powerful, aware woman with two framed autographs from Gloria Steinam! And because Gloria Steinam is the incredible woman she is, she agreed. And Ri now has two autographs hanging on her wall.
Fast forward to a week ago – May 1, 2014. One day before Ri’s 9th birthday. I got to bring her as my guest to the Women’s Fund Keyholder event with Ashley Judd as the speaker. I explained to Ri about the Steinam autographs, about my commitment to helping women in need, about women supporting women, and she soaked it all in. She ran around City Hall’s grounds and posed with statues before we met up with her girlfriend and her mom.

20140509-132941.jpg

We sipped on smoothies and talked about Ashley Judd (since the girls had not heard of her (when Ri read about her she was flabbergasted that she made a movie in 1995!)).

>

20140509-133140.jpg

While waiting on my girlfriend outside of the Ohio Theatre, Maria spotted a local news anchor from NBC 4 (her favorite weekday morning show). She pulled at my sleeve in awe.
“It’s Mikaela Hunt, mom!”
We walked over and Ri said hi to her. Ms. Hunt asked her some questions and Ri answered shyly. As we walked away, she stopped. She wanted her picture with her. We walked back and asked and this picture was taken:
>

20140509-133528.jpg

She was charged up. And she stayed that way throughout the night. They had videos in the beginning of the evening of women and girls talking about themselves and at the end of the clip, the women and girls would fill in a word on a blackboard that read “I am ______.” One wrote “brave”, another wrote “kind.” It was powerful, and I whispered to Ri that she was all those things.
Ashley Judd surprised me with her humor and grace and humility. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. She spoke of her humanitarian work and how overwhelming it can be to feel like you can’t do enough. She’d go back to her hotel room and sob in despair. And then she met a guide who clarified for her that she can only do what she is able and what she’s doing is powerful and effective. And she reminded her that she needs to make room for those closest to her because it’s only when we nourish those relationships with partners and kids and friends that we can truly give and feel satisfied giving to a range of others. That hit home for me. She was genuine and funny and inspiring.
At the end of the event, they asked for donations. Ri and I took the envelopes out of our bags. I explained to her what you could do with a donation, i.e., make it in honor of, or in memory of, someone. She brushed me away and said “I got it mom.” She then asked me for a sheet of paper. I looked over in the corner of my eye and saw her writing blank lines. Because she’s Ri, and so thoughtful, I had an inkling she was doing something for me. She bundled up the paper and put it in the envelope and gave it to me (she didn’t quite understand that she was supposed to add a Visa number and give it to the folks at the doors as we left). She told me to wait until we left the Theatre to open it. As we walked down High Street towards the car, I opened it.
>

20140509-141446.jpg

20140509-141617.jpg
She had written all the adjectives that she believed described me. I was taken aback by her gesture and did the only thing I knew to do: capture her in a huge hug as tears formed in my eyes.
“No crying is allowed tonight, mama! Wipe those eyes and put on a smile!” (She’s got a lot of her dad in her). I listened to her and put on a smile as we posed by the statutes and giggled at each other on our way to the car. I am blessed with a strong community of women by my side between my moms and aunts and cousins and grandmothers and friends and colleagues. I am grateful for the women power at the event that night and for being able to allow my daughter to absorb it all. She clearly fit in perfectly.
>

20140509-141942.jpg

Pure Bliss

I experienced a joyful, hilarious moment last night. I was brushing my teeth and looked down to see no toilet paper. “Ugh, there’s no T.P. in here!” Maria was standing next to me brushing her teeth and started laughing hysterically at my predicament. I couldn’t help but chuckle with her; her laugh is contagious. While we were laughing, she tried to step into the bathtub to reach for the washcloth (trying to be funny and act like it’s T.P.) but she tripped herself up on the tub ledge and fell into the tub. Before I could be worried about her being hurt, she rose up with a giant smile on her face and a laughter so deep and hard that it wouldn’t even come out. I began laughing hysterically with her; the two of us gathering more steam by simply looking at one another.

I have experienced that type of raucous laughter with best girlfriends in the past (both drunk and sober) but never so with Ri. Sure, I have laughed with her, and laughed hard with her, but this was different. It was pure bliss. As I laid in bed with her trying to get her to sleep, she still giggled. All I could think of was how much I adored her as my daughter and how much fun she is to have in my life. She has a zest for life that will take her far, and I want to watch as long as I am able.

Image

Doing something right

I have been reinforcing to Maria how special and unique she is since she arrived in this world.

I managed to score a personalized autograph from Gloria Steinem to Ri before Ri could say her first word. I read stories about strong women to her while we rocked to sleep. She met throngs of incredible female role models through her life: grandmas, great grandmas, aunts, cousins, colleagues, friends. Recently, after she made some quip about not “being skinny like other girls”, I taught her about affirmations.

“I am beautiful. I am funny. I am caring. I am strong. I listen to people.” These are a few of the affirmations she recited to me and her words were pure poetry to my mama/female ears.

So why would I be at all amazed at her response to me as I was fretting about mingling with my superiors at a work event Saturday evening?

“Mom, you just need to be yourself.”

I stared out my car window and smiled. Then I reached my hand to the back seat and felt her hand clasp mine. Our connection lifted me through the entire evening.

20131014-130355.jpg

Get Over It

For two days straight, I have been stressing about an email I sent to someone at work; worried that they would think it was unprofessional or that I thought they were making a poor choice. They had made a snappy comment about a situation and I added my own comment to theirs. It was nothing vulgar or demeaning – more like a written sigh of “oh, this is happening again….. If I could do it over, I wouldn’t have included the comment with the email. I try to keep emails completely professional for this reason – I know I will second guess myself over and over.

I am a pleaser.

I like to see people happy.

I remember going to a movie with my dad when I was little and feeling so happy when I heard him laugh at one of the lines. I always look around the room when we have people over to make sure they are smiling and having fun. I love when I say something to Jon and he laughs. So, there are no doubts that I’m a compulsive people pleaser. That trait is not the best to have when you work in a job that requires tough conversations and tough love.

I went to bed last night with that email on my mind. I woke up and thought about it on my jog. I tried to focus on the trees, the blossoming flowers, the squirrels dancing up the poles but that email kept butting in. After the run, Ri and I went to the river to find rocks to paint.  I tried to let go of the email but every time I found myself in a great moment with Ri, it popped up.  This lasted throughout the day

I took Ri over to her friend’s house in the late afternoon for a sleepover.  I had a few hours to myself before the boys got home.  I tried to read a magazine article, then clean, then garden. Nothing worked. That damn email kept jumping in my head.  
 
My bike.  Maybe if I just took off on my bike, I could work it out.  I typically take a walk when I have some free time but I get too tempted to read a book or check out my phone when I walk (I haven’t figured out a way to read while biking at 16 miles an hour).  I didn’t want to do that tonight. I wanted to ride along the trail with no music or distractions and figure out a way to stop the insanity.  
 
I changed up my usual route through downtown and traveled up north. Right choice. I couldn’t stop with each new mile I passed because of all of the beauty surrounding me. A worn, wooden troll bridge; fly fishermen casting their lines; pastures of wildflowers; a playground full of children; the river moving steadily over boulders; women walking with tiny babes slung across their bellies.
 
I got lost in it all while I thought about why I act the way I do, why I chose the profession that I did, where I want to be in five years, why I need to make people happy, if I turned the oven off, whether Ri was doing ok, if Jon shot a turkey….  The mind drifted from philosophical to practical.  I biked eleven miles up the trail and turned around for the ride home. It wasn’t until I hit the second to last mile near the intersection of Olentangy and Goodale Avenues that it hit me. 
 
“Get over it.” 
 
That’s it. 
 
“Get over it.”
 
My new affirmation to myself.  I know I am a caring, thoughtful, smart, empathetic person so if someone gets angry or defensive about something I say or do, I need to get over it.  I cannot worry that people may take something the wrong way or feel that I should have done or said something differently. I need to trust my intuition, trust my actions, take responsibility when I do something I look back on as not the best decision, know I am trying my hardest, and get over it.  
 
My legs may kill from cranking out 20 miles but my mind feels a lot more free and ready to think about anything other than… whatever that thing was.  

 

Tampon and Chocolate Delivery = Genius

Why did I not think up this enterprise?! I can see many a man buying this gift for their significant other in order to avoid the midnight runs to the local Kroger for sanitary products that he hides in the basket under a bunch of miscellaneous “manly” food items, chips, beer, slabs of meat.  Jon’s had many a funny story about purchasing my necessities.  I think it’s good for him though – strengthens character.

The only problem I have with the gift package is that it needs to come in a much bigger box with a lot more space for chocolate.  Four little chocolates will not do the trick when I am experiencing my monthly cycle.  I need a box big enough to fit King Size candy bars and mega bags of M&Ms. Oh, and make the surprise gift be a gift card to Dairy Queen….

Balancing act

I met up with one of my friends this morning. She is pregnant with her second child and feeling stressed about balancing work and family. As soon as we sat down, she lamented: “I feel like I should be able to know everything in my job and be able to do everything at home, and when I don’t or can’t, I get so mad at myself.”

We talked about her particular situation at work and brainstormed about how to manage it. Imagine this: tell people you need help on this particular project because it’s not in your area of expertise. Novel idea for us perfectionists.

We talked about home life. How do we not rip our partners’ heads off when they ask “what’s for dinner?” Another brainstorming session led us to this revolutionary idea: talk to these partners about our stress quotient and ask them to head up dinner for the week. It may be that we are eating Wendy’s and cheese and crackers but there are some weeks that has to happen. Better a little more fats in your diet than a mental breakdown.

Then we talked about kids and our guilty feelings around not spending enough time with them. Revolutionary idea no.2: spend more time with them. Drop the laundry basket and leave the dishes and go sit on the living room floor with a deck of cards. Who cares if the kitchen looks like a madman pummeled through it; do we want our memories ten years from now to be that we had a spotless kitchen or that we had some mean ol’ UNO games together? I’d prefer the latter.

These are topics that I see all over magazines (“Juggle it all in five easy steps!”) and books (“Be a better mom today!”) and websites but they never seem to be put to rest. At times I get irritated with the dialogue – yes, it’s hard to juggle all of these things as a woman but how many conversations do we need to have? But today, while watching my mentee struggle with real dilemmas surrounding work and home, my attitude changed. This dialogue was essential to moving her forward in her job. It was essential for reassuring her that we all struggle with balance. It was essential to remind her what was most important to her at this time of her life. It was essential to reinforce in me how grounding female relationships are and how necessary it is to help one another along. God knows I have had my days and I am positive there will be more to come.

At the end of the conversation, she apologized for complaining the entire time. I made her apologize for apologizing – that’s the last thing she should be doing. I gave her a hug and we both promised to keep talking. And then we whipped out our iPhones to show the latest pictures of our babies.

Yeah, I’m good

“I’m really proud of myself, mom.”

“Yeah? Why, buddy?”

“Because I’m getting an award tomorrow night at my football ceremony. I worked really hard to get it. I didn’t know how to play football but now I’m good.”

I looked in my rear view mirror and watched Mario stare intently ahead as he spoke to me about his upcoming award. How is it that a five-year old could exude this confidence and pride so easily and I could not at age 41?!

I thought about Ri and how I could never imagine those words coming out of her mouth. Countless studies confirm that boys tend to be more self-confident and aggressive than girls. Every single time I walk in to my boss’s office to negotiate my salary, I think about my dad’s advice long ago: “You can’t feel bad about demanding a higher salary. If you think it’s what your worth, ask for it and don’t look back.” And this coming from a man with scruples and compassion and no desire to beat everyone up the corporate ladder.

I began to respond back to Mario with advice to not get too cocky about his achievement. But then I stepped back and stayed quiet. It’s not as though he was parading around chiding “I’m the best ever.” He was simply being honest in telling us how much he had accomplished and how excited he was about it. Good for him.

Something I should probably do for myself more often than I do – just like buying a new pair of running shoes or treating myself to a massage. A few kudos directly to myself be it as simple as getting Ri to school on time or reading Mario a cool book or as complicated as orchestrating a family Thanksgiving meal or pleasing an irate client.

Maybe the more I pat myself on the back, the more comfortable I will feel touting my accomplishments when necessary, and the closer I’ll get to that darn salary I deserve…!

Wonder Woman Saves the Week

This week felt like it lasted 30 days. My birthday on Monday created momentum for a perfect week but Tuesday quashed that momentum ten-fold. Work was intense and maddening with a score of phone calls every hour and fire-alarm situations. I didn’t get to vote in the morning so I was stressed all day about getting to the polls. I had this burning sensation that I would not get my vote casted in time and then NBC news would announce “Obama lost Ohio by one vote” and I’d be scarred for life.

Chalk another win up for women’s intuition. When I made it to the polls at 5:30 pm, I was excited to see only two people in line. The guy ahead of me shuffled back and forth and mumbled something to the poll worker. The worker shook his head sadly and stated “if your license is expired, you need a bank statement or utility bill.” I thought “what an idiot. How can you not check on your license before this big election?!”

And then I panicked. Hard. My birthday was November 5 – one day before the election. I was sure it had not expired this year – that would be crazy and unfair. I, not that guy in front of me, was extremely busy raising kids, working, volunteering, helping out Democrats, for goodness sake! If my license had expired, it should magically re-set to an expiration date of 2016 because that was only right.

I pulled out my license and there it was staring at me: Exp:2012. You got to be kidding me. I showed it to the worker just in case he thought it was still November 5 but I lost that one. I darted home to find a bank statement. I rummaged through garbage. I ripped out drawers. Nothing. Damn electronic banking.

Then my sitter saved me. “Fifth Third is open until 6:00 tonight”, he said matter-of-factly. Now that is cooperation and maturity. I believe him to be a Romney supporter yet he still coughed up those words that would allow me to possibly get in my vote. I high-fived him and the kids and sped to the bank. No line and a bank statement in three minutes. Thank the Lord. I got my vote in by 6:15 and all was good. But I crashed and burned when I got home from the furor of the day. Ri broke down a few hours later when we turned on the news to see the election status and I read from the tv “Romney 51% and Obama 49%.”

“My world won’t be safe, mom. Our world will never be the same if Obama loses.” Genuine fear and concern poured out of my bleeding heart liberal girl. I tried to clam her down but she sniffled herself to sleep.

She woke up at 6:15 begging to turn on the tv. She was ecstatic when she learned that Obama won. When Mario realized it was over and Obama prevailed, he switched sides and yelled “Yeah, Obama!” He is a fair-weathered fan making sure he always sides with the victor.

Jon had left for Illinois on Tuesday and caught that nasty flu going around. He got holed up in a hotel for two days and made it home Thursday with barely enough energy to make it up the stairs. Poor thing. I was going nuts by Friday morning and the kids could sense I needed an early morning run. We bundled up and Ri rode her bike while I strolled Mario. It was a glorious break from the car and the indoors where I had found myself all week.

Then, Mario dropped my iPad and it shattered. This week was not gonna give me a break.

I decided I needed to put my mind elsewhere and not go off on Mario; after all, I let him walk with it unprotected so I assumed some risk…. I went in the dining room and leafed through the mail. I had a little package from my sis! I had assumed it was for Jon as most packages are that come to our house. I ripped it open needing some type of sisterly goodness to get me in a better mood. And she did not disappoint.

20121110-143316.jpg

20121110-143327.jpg

20121110-143339.jpg

Again, women’s intuition. Sar knew just what I needed with that magnet espousing power (then again, it’s a pretty sure-bet that after working, raising two kids, staying active, and volunteering all week such a magnet would be a boost for any mama).

The card’s words from Walt Whitman comforted me. I felt Sarah giving me a big Menkedick sister hug as I read Walt’s words and Sarah’s words in it. And then she topped the gift off with a photocopy of Ms. Magazine’s current issue cover. Yes, it’s Wonder Woman for all my 70’s gals who grew up watching. She got a subscription to Ms. magazine for me. I love it.

I took a step back from the table and looked at the pictures Sarah also sent of the kids and Jon at the farm. Jorge’s eye captured the kids’ joy and Jon’s manliness! I brushed my finger over them and smiled… wide and long.

Stepping off the scale

I appreciate the New York Times article on the issue of women’s weight but dang, I wish this issue didn’t need such blatant attention. I wish we were at a point with women’s weight where the size of a woman’s pants did not enter anyone’s head when they met her.

I have to admit that I am guilty of this very thing at times. I don’t like the thought of someone assessing my body shape and judging me on my arms or belly but I find myself meeting another woman and thinking “she looks like she works out a lot; she’s got awesome arms; I’m glad I don’t have her boobs.” I stop myself eventually, thinking about how obnoxious I am being to both the woman and myself (stop judging my body against hers!). And when I look past the physical, I can be completely present in the conversation. Where I want to be.

I struggle with my weight, with what to eat during the day, and I often think about how much more I could get accomplished through the day if I didn’t focus on that crap. I love Lena Dunham’s quote in the article after she is asked about her jiggly belly: “No, I have not tried to lose weight. I decided I was going to have some other concerns in my life.” Amen.

Now that I have a daughter (and son, frankly), I am all that more aware of this type of behavior. I commend these actresses and authors for getting out there and showing society that there is more to them than their weight. Media is definitely a vehicle for changing thinking. I do not want Maria and Mario to spend any of their precious time worrying about their body shape – life is too short to ignore the “other concerns” in it. And those other concerns are so much more interesting.

20121011-161045.jpg

Scarves

Maria came downstairs today and breezed past me. I caught a glimpse of olive and white and looked around to see my mom’s old scarf wrapped around her neck and trailing down her back.

She’s not old enough to remember my mom wearing this scarf but I can still see my mom sitting at the Alpha restaurant waiting for me to arrive to Sunday brunch with that scarf wrapped loosely around her neck.

My little sis played dress-up with my mom’s scarves. The scarves hung in the upstairs hallway – a tapestry of cloth and color when you reached the last stair. Sarah wrapped them around
her and pranced around the house like a nymph. She still loves those scarves and Maria only knows of them because of seeing Sarah wear them on the holidays when we get together. But those brief moments have made an indelible mark on Ri who carries on the style.

20121001-093709.jpg
I watched an inspiring TED video after I dropped my scarf-wearing girl off at school. The video left me feeling grateful for all the incredible women in my life and now my daughter’s life. And it also left me wanting to remember back and tell more stories….