The Import of Ice Water

I’ve been reading over my blogs (ok, there are only 4, so not so hard) and I’m realizing that I’ve not spent as much time on the blending part of my life. I’ll be honest, it’s been a tough summer in the blending department. Perhaps it’s that 3 of the 4 kids are teenagers. Or perhaps it’s because blending families, no matter how many years later, is really hard. I mean hard like heart wrenching, head splitting, deafening, stunned “how could what I’ve just innocently done result in THAT?”, I must be the stupidest person in the world, how could I make that same mistake again, hard.

And yet, there are the minor miracles. The small breakthroughs. The minutes where there is full and total equilibrium on that beam. And occasionally, there is even room for quick, breathless, slightly wobbly pirouette. Last Thursday evening, we had one.

Late in the evening one of our children came into the TV room where Pete and I were watching Doc Martin (aside – if you’ve missed this, don’t…). Of course, I love all our children, and I’ve got an special soft spot for this one because she’s struggled with the blending and she is often distant. I just want to wrap her in my arms and assure her everything will be (eventually) ok. But for now it’s a lot of pain and I’m the focal point of that. I never feel more helpless and clueless than when I realize nothing I do can fix the pain and everything I do causes pain. And as a ninja problem solver in the rest of my life, it is humbling, and really really scary.

She was stressed. In fact, the entire household is a little stressed right now with back to school. Three of the four kids have completely new routines, new environments, new friends, new, new, new. And she was panicking. Shallow breathing, chest pounding, sternum aching fear. And at that moment, all I saw was someone who desperately wanted and needed something I could provide – perspective, calm, some light humor and a glass of ice water. After falling of the beam again and again, there I was, nailing the routine. And more importantly, we were nailing it together. And as she unfolded herself from the couch and headed to bed, she thanked me.

Not bad for an amateur. I’ll keep practicing.

First-Aid Disruption

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a word perfectionist. If I ever wondered it before, the creation this week of my first resume in 13 years removed any doubt. I’m not a perfectionist in real life, just when I’m staring at a blank page and realizing that every single comma, ampersand, turn of phrase or acronym has meaning. Done well, it’s the the kind of meaning that grabs you by the collar and shakes you into a action or inspiration. No pressure. Luckily, I think it’s the only perfectionist tendency I inherited from my father. But, then, can you expect anything less from a woman raised by a man who incorporated poetry regularly into his law briefs? I’ve always though he did the impossible, to take writing within strict rules and sneak in creativity. Bending, not breaking.

I think I got some of that from him too. The idea of disruption at the edges. There are a number of ways to get there. I used to think that it was bifurcated; either it was the art of “in-your-face” disruption, or the “you’ll wake up one day and realize everything has changed” type disruption. And while it has taken me numerous stumbles, left with my own foot shot off at times, or lulled into a false sense of change, I can honestly say that having tried both methods, I’ve realized that there is a third, more effective model – a hybrid of sorts.

I call it First Aid Disruption. As I’ve practiced and evolved this skill, I’ve been influenced from three places. First, is Ron Heifetz and Larry Linsky’s leadership theory: the best leaders disappoint teams at the rate with which they can handle the change. Second, words of wisdom from my terrific coach, Sabina Nawaz, reminding me about the need to hand out band-aids during a change “marathon” vs put someone in the car and drive them to the finish line. And from psychologist Janice Driver, who taught me about the art of distress tolerance, I’ve learned about the power of siting directly in emotion and letting its waves wash over you.

First Aid Disruption is simple in theory: in times of change, the leader must not only chart the course, run it yourself, but to bring the team along, you have establish First Aid stations along the way with band-aids, extra socks and water. Not only can you not take the blisters for the team, to be successful and actually affect real change, everyone must have a least a few raw spots. They have to each take the journey, and it’s the leader’s job to ensure they are cared for along the way. Of course, your feet will be chewed up too. And to truly change, each member of the team has to feel the rub, they have to learn how to care for their wounds with the tools you give them, and then they have to choose to finish the marathon, because of the strength they found through the rough patches. No pain, no gain takes on new meaning in organizational First Aid.

As the summer wanes, school starts up again, and I attempt to encapsulate my nearly 20 years of work history onto a few pieces of paper, I’m reminded of the value of blisters and the thrill of getting across the finish line, together. I’m gearing up for the next race!


I’ve been quiet lately. My silence has been more dictated by the volume of activity the summer has afforded versus the lack of things to write about. The reverse is actually true. I’ve been brainstorming posts on topics as varied as the physical effects of the beach – the sand, the wind, the spray – on our psyches and our bodies; the dynamics of Mennonites at the southern Jersey shore; exploring what our baseline “normal” is when the external stimulus changes; the love story behind my Grandparents brought into focus with the death last week of my Grandfather; and the omni-present life of a mother and step-mother of four. That’s just the short-list.

At the core seems to be one simple truth – pay attention. Savor even. Go a different route. In my work life, I’m often espousing looking at things in different ways. Flipping the creative process on it’s head. Looking for a new environments to explore the same set of problems. Freshness begetting that proverbial lightbulb. What I’m realizing is that it’s equally good advice for life outside of the workplace.

As my summer winds down and I begin the journey of looking for where I’ll make the next impact outside of my family, there’s a rub. The freedom I have had this summer isn’t sustainable. For many reasons, mainly because my brain needs the next challenge. There are just too many intractable issues needing attention. There may not always be time to walk the new path. And I’m both fascinated and frightened by what I now know about the 90% of life around me that I’ve uncovered in my time off. How do I not lose the feeling of the wind wrap around my legs while bringing my business brain back online? How do I continue to revel in the minutia of the children’s lives while bringing that sense of invention to big challenges. I’d had a model in my before. I’m betting re-entry will require a new model. I’m pretty sure I have some new, perhaps more intimate, failures ahead. But then, that’s to savor as well…

Teen Ven Diagram – Blended Family Style

I was informed by my 15 year old son yesterday that the perfect summer for him was time with his friends, hanging out. To put it less nicely, anything that didn’t involve me or his little sister. There’s a part of me that wanted to say, no duh buddy, I wasn’t 15 that long ok (ok, perhaps there is a slight fib in the balance of the passage of time, but I at least REMEMBER being 15).

I love the schooling I receive pretty constantly: “Uh, Mom, you don’t match.” or “Mom, I can’t believe you won’t let me go (fill in the blank here) with (fill in the blank here)! You’re the only mother who won’t let me go (boo hoo).” or my personal favorite in response to any number of outfits, comments, or behaviors of his little sister: “Mom, I’m worried about Emma, she’s just so weird”. Long live the ability of teens to scorn their families and any connection to the perceived absurdities of life as part of the family unit. 

What’s interesting is that most days, my son’s immeasurable wisdom and distain doesn’t include his two step siblings. It’s as if they hold a close, but just hovering outside of the familial zone, part in the dynamics of his life. People always ask me how we do it with 4 children and the best answer I can give is that we are blessed that they all love each other. Most days (who loves their siblings most days??). Yes, they can all get on each other’s nerves. Yes, the youngest knows how to push everyone’s buttons. And, yes, they all want and need their space and time alone with Pete and I. But they genuinely love and respect each other. I hear we’re an anomaly in blended families – while they don’t always like their parents and step-parents, they *do* genuinely like each other. 

There are a few dynamics at play here. First, the gender/age thing plays to our favor. With 2 boys (17 1/2, 15) and two girls (15, 11), it’s a good mix. The lynch-pin is that our two 15 year olds are boy/girl and they go to different schools. I call it the ven diagram of blended parenting – enough differences, varied interests and “own lives” that in the spaces where their worlds overlap, it’s familiar, even comfortable.  What they share turns out to be the same things they share with their friends: age appropriate angst, exploration and emerging journeys into independence, big milestones like drivers permits and dating, and right at the core, the overlap of their families.

And then there are those oh my what kind of crazy life do we have days where the balances get off, whether too much family time or too much distance. In those instances, all of us can lose our empathy for each other, or the blending can feel repressive. The magic is in the balance of physical and emotional distance and nearness. I suppose that’s the same lesson in parenting a teen. Maybe that’s why I’m secretly thrilled when I’m schooled, I’ve found the right balance in that moment – close enough to be acknowledged, but distant enough to be scorned.


Life Work

It’s the 5th of July, and thus Summer has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Sunscreen, check. Shorts, check. Walk around Greenlake, check. Amazing what the solar power fuels. What the sun lacks in electricity generation (just not enough of it) it makes up in human energy. People smile more, seem more optimistic, even the tenor of conversation  shifts to more planning and anticipation for what’s possible when the world is illuminated and warm.

Assuming a vitamin D fueled perspective, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of work. I’ve been banned from spending time thinking about what work is next, and what has replaced that in these early days is the volume of what I’m calling life work.

This life work seems to be creeping from the baseboards, it’s absolutely surrounding me. Its as if in the vacuum of professional work, I’ve found this entire world of things that either I have completely ignored or just been blind to. Things like the deep emotional dynamics of teen agers (ok, I knew about that, but I’m just scratching the surface of the role I need to play in our children’s dance with independence). Or how messy and cluttered my house really is. Or finding the time to do that walk around Greenlake. 

So, it looks like I’ll spend some time learning about life work. I’m curious. And if I’m honest, there’s a small voice in my head wondering once I’ve explored the expanse of life work, and have learned the craggy hills, deep lakes, and the plains of this world, and once my eyes are really open, what will 1 (work life) + 1 (life work) equal?

Settling In

Change. After 13 years, I’ve left an all encompassing career as a communications executive and entrepreneur. That was a week ago. I’ll admit there is some level of residual brain-numbness in the leaving. The guy next to me at the coffee shop doing a coffee flight tasting just said one of his pours tasted like a hangover he once had. Perhaps I’m also hung.

The waining moments of power and back-to-back scheduling and right brained P&L management and the deep, organic material of care for nearly 200 employees is still coursing through my bloodstream. Everyone tells me there will be phases, which is kind, but not resonating because I pride myself in not following the crowd. Why would I want to do “sadness”? It’s too prepared. Too expected. I think I’m somewhere between the still buzzed phase and the room spinning phase. I’ve had a couple of room spinning moments, but I’ve managed to move my body in a way that equilibrium is regained. For now. And I know I’m nowhere near crawling on the floor wanting to be dead, yet. And, the ravenous post binge hunger. It will come. That’s what this summer is for. To dream. Or perhaps, if I was being really honest with myself, it’s to recover.

I’d like to think it’s both. And to share the stories that will leap from the hours, days, weeks and months ahead. I’m looking forward to it.