The Last Stroller

We ended 2017 with a new home improvement project that required the purging of extra items and furniture. We have only been in this house 2 years and we got rid of a lot of stuff when we left North Carolina (some by choice, some not so much; they literally ran out of room on the moving truck!). Our little guy was 4 when we moved so most of the baby gear was gone. There were still car seats, booster seats, and one remaining stroller.

We were never really “stroller people.” When out first was born, “travel systems” were all the rage. These gargantuan multi-piece matching (often patterned) sets were a bit off-putting to someone like me who left Babies R Us in a panic after seeing the bottle aisle for the first time. My one and only request for our first stroller was that it be easy to fold. The Ingelsina Zippy, if anyone remembers, boasted that it could be closed with one hand. Sold.

We used the stroller occasionally, mainly to keep #1 in her car seat (the only other place she would sleep besides on someone’s chest), or because it was too stinkin’ hot in the heat of the North Carolina summer to walk around with her in the Bjorn. Later, there was the sit n stand double stroller (narrow enough to still maneuver) and a double jog stroller (that also boasted how easy it was to fold). Not to be forgotten, through it all, we had the car seat on wheels for travel, the Sit n Stroll – we loved that thing!

Sit n Stroll
The Sit n Stroll travel stroller.

Not sure why it never caught on (other than the reasons in this 2008 Slate article, where this pic is from, and the fact that your kid was sitting on the nasty ground as you walked around cities or theme parks or wherever you travelled to).

 

 

 

 

By the time we had #3, our girls were 7 and 4. They were done with strollers. A lot had happened in the baby gear world since the girls were born. And it turns out, some items, like car seats, expire. Yes, really. The theory is that the plastic breaks down and it isn’t as safe . . . Anyway, we got new baby gear for the little prince, including a stroller.

Maybe because he is the youngest, maybe because he is a “mama’s boy,” maybe because he spent more time in it while I was actually running . . . whatever the reason, that boy loved the stroller. At 4, he would definitely rather be pushed than walk. Honestly, that sentiment holds true today.

But, alas, the time has come to part with the last stroller. Even if my husband had an ounce of patience for pushing a 6 year old around in a stroller, none of us had any desire to lug it around. It took up too much room in the garage with all the bikes and other gear, so it was relegated to the basement storage room at some point in the past year. Like any other sentimental but practical mom, I threw it up on Craigslist for $50 and it was gone by the next morning.

Just like that, we are a stroller free family. Someday soon (or not, depending on how closely we follow the guidelines) we will even be car seat free.

 

Long Run Fridays (and a PSA about parchment paper)

This post could also be titled, “The Best Part About Not Working” or, “The Key to my Happiness.”

As I have mentioned before, part of my journey this past year was getting back on the running train and working my mileage up to longer distances. I started a marathon training program from Another Mother Runner during the summer. I fell off for a few weeks during summer travel and activities but got back on track as the kids headed back to school. For those of you who aren’t runners, pretty much every training plan includes one longer run per week, which most people do on the weekends, usually on Saturday as called for in the training plan.

This fall, #1 had school volleyball games on Saturdays. #2 had gymnastics meets on Saturdays or Sundays. #3 had Tae Kwon Do on Saturday mornings. As my runs got longer, I found myself starting earlier and earlier to get my miles in before their activities. Each Saturday, I would check the time and my pace nervously, worried that I would not get back in time for that morning’s activity. Then, one day it occurred to me – why don’t I do my long runs on Friday? I am the master of me and I can decide not to volunteer or do things for other people for that one day. Long Run Fridays were born and I am the happiest mother runner ever!

Today is the last day of school before winter break, so I agreed to make an exception to my usual no volunteering rule when my son’s very sweet teacher who never asks for anything asked if I could help the kids bake cookies. We are really lucky to be in a building that used to be a Junior High, so it has some cool features (despite the lead pipes and peeling paint) like an oven in one of the classrooms. When I arrived, the kids had already decorated their cookies and a lovely woman from the community who has been helping first graders bake holiday cookies at our school for years was in the process of putting cookies in the oven. I was a little surprised to see her placing the squares of parchment paper directly on the oven racks but I will admit I did not strongly object. As another mom whom I often volunteer with put it, “I don’t want to step on any toes,” as I may already be known to do. Well, ladies, I can now tell you that parchment paper will indeed catch on fire if not placed on a baking sheet.

Charred remains of cookies decorated by first graders.

Less than ten minutes later, there were actually flames shooting up in the oven. The fire extinguisher was deployed by the quick thinking teacher. The kids who witnessed the scene complained of the smokey smell and exclaimed about the FIRE they saw. As I ushered a group of kiddos into one of the other first grade classrooms, the teacher said, without missing a beat, “Well, this is an exciting day boys and girls.”

Never a dull moment. On the bright side, this left me a bit more time to get today’s run in. My 7 mile run put me over the 1,000 mile mark for the year! 1,000 miles was a goal I didn’t know I had until I saw how close I was a few weeks back. Very appropriate that it came on a Long Run Friday, the last Friday of the year with the kids at school. I decided to run one of my favorite routes – along the Willamette River in Lake Oswego.

Willamette River from George Rogers Park in Lake Oswego. But not taken today. Today is a dreary day. It is December in Oregon after all.

An exciting day indeed. And, for the love of God, please only use parchment paper on a baking sheet or in a pan.

Photographic evidence of Long Run Fridays @MommysGapYear on Instagram and miles logged @Annaliese Dolph on Strava.

 

One Year No Work-iversary

I started writing this post almost two weeks ago. Where has the time gone? I feel like that is my personal theme of the month as I look back on this past year. This week marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of my career break. When I started writing this post, I decided to give myself the month of December to reflect on this last year.

When I decided to up and quit my job, I had so many ideas about how I would spend my days. Some have come to fruition. Most have not.

I have re-committed to running. Shortly before we moved to Portland, I had a stress fracture in one hip and had surgery. I was training for my first marathon, so it was a huge bummer. I worked my distance back up over many months, ran my own personal marathon, and will hit over 1,000 miles for the year.

I have been present for my kids and held down the home fort like never before. When I was lobbying, my schedule was very unpredictable. Our schedule revolved around the unpredictable general assembly. Now, my husband can schedule work trips without worrying about whether our babysitter can stay late or whether I will be in town. I am here. I am here for homework, bedtimes, practices, meets, tournaments and field trips. It is still not always enough. There are three of them, two of us, one of me.

I have felt incredibly guilty many, many days. Guilty that I have this privilege. Guilty that I am not fighting the good fight with my fellow nonprofit unicorns and social justice warriors. Guilty that I am not contributing financially to our family. Guilty that I am setting a bad example for my daughters. Guilty that I am throwing my career, and years of hard work, away.

I have thought a lot about applying for other jobs. I have applied for some jobs. I have started cover letters and then decided not to apply. I have applied to the wrong job (as in actually submitted a resume and cover letter to the WRONG job!). I thought for the first time that maybe I might want to do something completely different. My children suggested I work at the Athleta store at the mall. Not that different.

I have figured out what to wear. This sounds silly but not working requires a completely different wardrobe. And people dress different in the PNW. For good reasons, like, it rains ALL THE TIME. I have embraced Columbia. I tried wearing leggings as everyday wear, but it’s just not me. I bought some new shoes. I actually shopped at the mall some and am trying out a wardrobe subscription service of sorts to change things up a bit.

I have done and arranged for a lot of home maintanenace. We have two houses in need of repairs. New toilets, (another) new water heater and fixing the work of the a-holes who installed the water heater the first time at the beach. Making the Portland house our own, including new floors, a new wall, and soon to come – a pricey new deck to replace the current leaning tower of Dolph. Not to mention the rooms painted and furniture refinished. There is still wallpaper to take down and more furniture to work on. The beach house is in desperate need of new siding and doors. This will all take more time, and, of course, money.

I have not caught up on seven years of scrapbooking, haven’t even started. I have not sorted through the papers in my office space. I have not made that gym membership worthwhile. I am still striving to mix it up more in the kitchen with healthy dinners. I am desperate to read more.

For my one year no work anniversary, I will hit the 1,000 mile running mark for the year. I will enjoy chauffeuring my kids to volleyball, Tae Kwon Do, gymnastics, the school play, and a field trip for the Improv class to perform at a local elementary school. I will laugh a lot. I will probably yell some. I may get a little teary when I see my girl up onstage. I will find a fun dress for a cocktail party at a brewery with a Pearl Jam cover band.

Happy No Work-iversary to me!

What’s a Gap Year?

I have had a job since I was ten. No joke. Before I was old enough to babysit, my mom’s boss at the decorating center* where she worked paid me to black out codes in the wallpaper books** with a china marker.

I was still a pretty green lawyer when I started having kids, and we needed the money, so I never even contemplated not working when my kids were babies. Until I had my third child. Our kids are well -spaced so that may have contributed to the shift in the power dynamic, but things definitely got a lot tougher when we had 3 kiddos to contend with. I decided to shift from my full-time nonprofit job to contracting. I kept my employer as a client and intended to limit how much I worked. But then I took on another client, and another, and another. (I have a very hard time saying no to work that I am passionate about.) Still, I did not seriously contemplate stepping out of the workforce altogether.

First there was one. I had a short maternity leave and she would not take a bottle but we were good. We traveled so much!
Then there were 2. But they were at the same daycare!
Then there were 3. Our youngest and oldest will never attend the same school. Next year, they will be at 3 different schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we decided to move our 3 kids and dog across the country over Winter Break in 2015. After briefly considering that the children and I stay in North Carolina through the remainder of the school year, we decided it would be best if we all moved together over break. I would then take the first several months off from work to get everyone settled in. But then, before my husband had even accepted his offer, a job in Portland for me came up, and then another. How could I say no to paid work? And I needed to make connections in this new state where I have never lived or practiced law before. So, we bagged the idea of me taking time off, and I took one of those jobs.

But something happened to me during that year – maybe it was the travel required by both mine and my husband’s jobs; maybe it was the nature of the work; or maybe it was just September. For the first time, I really wanted to just not work. We were in a place financially that we could make it work (more on the logistics of this later) and I didn’t have a great way to transition to more flexible work, so I QUIT. Straight up quit. I gave plenty of notice. I was very nice about it. I may have even helped the organization out because they were making cutbacks anyway and decided not to fill my position. For the first time, I walked away from a job with no other employment prospects.

And I haven’t done anything work-wise for the past year. No contract work. No projects. No little legal favors for friends or family. When people ask what I do, I have no earthly clue what to say. I am on a career break? I am taking a sabbatical? It was during my annual girls trip with my two best friends from high school that I came up with Mommy’s Gap Year. Have you heard of a gap year? It’s an amazing concept – kids who are not ready to go to college get their parents to pay tens of thousands of dollars for them to travel the world while their parents keep working back at home, lamenting how much more money they should be saving for retirement. I think these kids are supposed to be finding themselves, or maturing, blah, blah, blah (I literally cannot hear young adults when they whine). There is actually an American Gap Association!

Much to my disappointment, my gap year has not included world travel. I have spent my time doing three things: 1) Taking care of my kids, mostly chauffeuring and watching their various activities and volunteering at school; 2) Home maintenance; and 3) Running. In so many ways, it has been great. However, I did not anticipate how much I would second guess my decision. It has also led me to call my entire career path into question. I can’t help but often think, “What’s next?”

More to come on what I have been up to and how to figure out what’s next. For now – next is some more volunteer time at the school library before shuttling four kiddos to gymnastics, hopefully squeezing in a quick run before gymnastics pickup for #3, home with #3 to finish homework until #1 needs to be picked up from play rehearsal, dinner, and then back to the gym to pick up #2.

*”Decorating center” was an 80s term for Interior Design firm.

**Before the internet, these things were necessary – oh, forget it, if you don’t know what I am talking about, this probably isn’t the blog for you.

September, We Meet Again

Last September broke me. It wasn’t just September’s fault. I was complicit.

We made it through a summer of juggling work, summer camps, family visits and travel. Perhaps that led to me being over-confident. Maybe I just wasn’t sleeping enough and was not connecting the dots on what September would bring. Or maybe I just said yes to too many things. Whatever the cause, our usual carefully crafted work life family balance went off the rails.

I went out of town every week from Boston to San Francisco to DC. I walked 50 miles to raise money for the MS Society. Our little guy started kindergarten. Our oldest played volleyball and did the dance team. Our middle stepped it up at the gym in the hopes of making the gymnastics team. She also got braces, which of course involves multiple trips to the orthodontist. My husband climbed Mt. St. Helens, unfortunately without me as I bailed after some really bad toenail and foot damage at the 50 mile walk. There were kindergarten adjustment issues. And our middle has still not forgiven me for missing picture day. By the end of September, The Dolph family was limping along.

First Day of School
MS Walk 2016
The Mt St Helens climb I missed
Braces

 

 

 

 

 

Flash forward to September 2017. September, I see you. I got you. I am ready. I am 8 months into this not working gig. I have accepted that I cannot run, go to the gym, volunteer at school, and make healthy, delicious homemade meals every day. There will be no unnecessary travel. There will be no races, no fun trips with friends.

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2015 Back to School lines at Target the night before school started

I know the month is not yet over, but I am feeling pretty good about my relationship with September this year. Not only was I here for picture day, I made sure everyone had an acceptable outfit more than 24 hours before the big day. I have not missed a major sporting event, and at least one of us attended both back to school nights. I even bought school supplies in advance (not too far in advance, but it was not the night before school started!). I still have a to-do list a mile long. I do not have six pack abs. And we still eat too many frozen meals. But, I am still marking September 2017 as a win.

We’ll see how I feel when we get to what Oregonians call No School November.

 

 

Getting Started

August 21, 2017
My husband has a conference for work in Las Vegas every year the week before school starts. Every year, I am taken aback at how shitty my kids behave while he is gone. They bicker constantly, nag, wrestle. They are sick of each other and I am sick of them.

And, of course, I still have those super fun back to school tasks left to tackle during this week – buying school supplies, new shoes, clothes. This year, I thought things might be different. Why, you ask, would anything be different? Well, dear friend, I very naively thought that because this year I am a “Stay at Home Mom” everything would magically be better. Not necessarily “magically,” I don’t necessarily believe in magic, but I really did fanatasize about all of the things I would get done, how much I would cook, how much we would travel . . . Not to mention my fantasy workout schedule! It was quite the life I pictured. But, the truth is, my house is still a mess, all of our meals are not made from scratch and perfectly healthy, and I still haven’t framed the pictures I was supposed to frame a year ago, or renewed everyone’s passport, or even culled through all of the old files in the room formally known as my office.

So, as we approach the new school year, and I am still without a job, I need to re-do my to-do list and find something adult to do with myself that contributes to society in some way (and does not involve any direct contact with my children). Hence, the launch of this blog (and maybe even a podcast someday) to explore Mommy’s Gap Year, what women do when they step out of the workforce to focus on their family; how and when they re-enter the workforce, and associated difficulties and perhaps, lessons learned. I plan to share my own experiences, hopefully with a fair amount of humor, and also talk to women with diverse backgrounds about their own “gap year.”