Intentions for a New Year

For me, 2011 has been a year of tough lessons, personal growth and major transitions. But instead of complaining, I am feeling grateful, because without 2011 I would not have found clarity, purpose and direction.

I think it began days before my 40th birthday last April, when one of my major clients had a huge shift in direction and I (along with hundreds of other people) found myself with a lot less work and a little extra time on my hands. While it was a blow to the wallet, I decided that, instead of jumping into another monster project, I would take the opportunity and step back from the insane juggle I was performing and breathe. My plan was to give myself until the new school year to figure out what it is I really wanted out of life.

In June, I took a trip to Boston with the kiddos. Jeff stayed back in LA to work on a project for Food Network and the three littles and I flew back to join my 12 siblings and their families for my dad’s 75th birthday. It was during that trip that I got my first taste of uni-tasking, focusing on just one thing at a time. For over a week, we lived out of backpacks, slept in an RV, made simple plans and spent time with family and friends. There was no house to run, bills to pay or deadlines to meet — it was exhilarating.

I returned to southern California a changed woman. I was committed to slowing down and smelling those roses. For the next few weeks, we enjoyed lazy summer days, stayed up late for “nighttime swimming,” ate our share of s’mores and initiated the very first Friday pizza/movie night, something that remains on our calendar whenever possible. We relished in our new, simpler life and I was moving closer to being happy.

In fact, I was so excited about my new found uni-tasking/happiness connection, that I began working on a post called “Why Multi-tasking is Bad for Your Health.” In a time when people text and drive, eat on the run and have panic attacks when not constantly connected to technology, it’s no wonder we’re more overweight, unhealthy and stressed out than ever before. Never mind that when you’re focusing on too many things at once, the quality of work, relationships and potentially your entire life suffers. Would we strive to multi-task if we really knew the negative ramifications?

I never did finish that post. I was halfway through it when my family suffered a huge loss and I found myself writing a series of posts titled “The Tragedy that Changed My Life” (look for something to be published in the coming days). Little did I know when I began my quest for a more simple, meaningful life, that something so unthinkable would be the very thing to validate my new life direction. I was more committed than ever to cut out the B.S. and make important, positive changes to improve myself and my family.

Next thing I knew, my uni-tasking, soul-searching summer transitioned into a new school year, filled with homework, social skills classes, behavioral aides and some life-changing decisions — but still no work. I had just spent six months working on becoming the mom I wanted to be, getting our home life in order and prioritizing what’s truly important, I couldn’t even imagine doing all of that while juggling clients. It was like my spirit was a hard drive that was spinning and spinning and I had to stop and re-boot or else I was going to crash. I just never expected the re-boot to take so long.

But as fall arrived and the leaves began to change, so did I.

I began to miss my spark, the one I get when I’m feeding my mind and soul. My heart was overflowing with love for my friends and family but I was missing the other side of me, the side that wears pants without elastic waistbands and drives outside of the four mile radius around home, school, the park and grocery store. With my priorities now clearly in place and a new understanding for what things must be done and what can wait, it was now time to put myself out there and get my own needs on the calendar.

So I started to get a bit more involved with our production company, Morgan MacDougall Productions, and now co-host Broadscast, a weekly Web radio show with best selling author and victims’ advocate, Kim Goldman. I’ve worked with clients on social media training and a bit of video production while Jeff takes on Food Network, Oprah and Yahoo. I began to push myself physically by jumping into a group of P90X challengers with a fabulous (and free) online coach and even enjoyed a weekend away with girl friends.

It was during 2011 that I discovered my own personal quality of life equation — a balanced mix of feeding my heart, mind and soul through relationships, self discovery, tearing down obstacles and treating myself with the same love, patience and acceptance I try very hard to provide those I love. As millions make resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking or save money, I will use this fresh new year as an opportunity to re-affirm my intentions by taking the lessons I’ve learned over the past year and apply them to my life in new ways. I will spend less time worrying about the kitchen floor and more time to play with my kids. Instead of answering emails or checking Facebook while waiting for kids to get out of school or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I will take a few minutes to just sit quietly and allow myself to recharge. When I ask my husband how his day was, I will really listen (that’s right, honey) and give him the love, support and encouragement I promised in our vows nine years ago. I will look at healthy eating and exercise as the solution to so many unnecessary problems instead of feeling deprived and defeated by what I can and cannot have. I will read more, judge less, speak kindly (most of the time, anyway) and breathe more deeply. And I will grab the professional bull by the horns and show ’em who’s boss.

Alright, enough about me. What are your intentions for 2012?

A Mother’s Emotional Odyssey

As the sea of silver surrounds me, my head starts to spin. A wave of nausea takes over and I can feel sweat dripping from my palms.

Where am I?

Confusion bubbles up inside my body, beginning a duel with it’s cousin frustration, both looking to be top dog in the fight to take over my entire being. I felt so vulnerable as I grasped the tiny hands of my children, trying to protect them from my fear, yet I couldn’t find the ability to lead them to safety.

“Look Mommy, that’s just like ours!”

Lucy’s squeal brings me back to reality. I take a deep breath and give her a smile that it’s all going to be okay. For the drama isn’t something new or life-threatening, but just another day for a mom in the suburbs — trying to locate her publicly-parked silver minivan…
There’s our car, Mommy!
Over the weekend, I ran across an article (and corresponding slide show) on AOL titled, ‘Vans that Are Both Practical and Cool.’  I bet you an iced, venti, half-caf, whipped, calorie-laden coffee that the writer of that article does not drive one of the aforementioned ‘cool’ minivans. Yet marketers are hard at work trying to grab the purse strings of our country’s decision-making mamas. It’s obviously working because minivan sales are through the roof, I think over 75% of them happening within a 15 mile radius of my family’s southern California suburb.

I can’t judge. It worked on me when we made the ‘Hotyssey‘ purchase five years ago. I was a mother of two babies, falling for the hype that good parenting was directly in proportion to how willing a mom was to sacrifice her own needs and wants. I was a martyr in training — handing over the last morsel of food to my needy babies, even if they had already eaten and I had not. I would listen to endless hours of Disney Channel theme songs (I swear I will take down those Doodlebops if they even think about ever singing about getting on a bus in front of me again), while Jeff would turn the kids into fans of his favorite tunes when driving them. And I would certainly give up driving a car that gelled with my personality for the sake of good mothering.

For five years, I have tried so hard to love that car. I’ve washed it, cared for it… I’ve even bragged about its features to anyone who would listen. But I can’t lie to myself, or you, any more…
I really hate my minivan.

It’s not just because it adds on an extra 8.5 minutes searching for it when not safely parked in our driveway. Seriously, I now understand why parents slap those student of the month stickers on the bumper — not in honor of their kid but to find their car in a Costco parking lot.

It’s how I feel when I’m behind the wheel — ordinary… usual… maybe even frumpy. Imagine for a minute, that our cars are instead an outfit… or even a haircut. Would you choose to wear the same dress or sport a similar hairstyle to every other suburban mom on the cul de sac? My silver minivan feels like the four-wheeled version of mom-jeans or one of those matchy-matchy velour leisure suits you can reliably find at Kohls. Wait, maybe I’ve got something here… I could design a whole designer collection of minivan-driver uniforms — with matching visor. Ka-ching!

I will admit that my feelings have gotten stronger since turning 40 — can you say MLC (mid-life crisis)? There’s no arguing that I’m entering a new chapter in my life, just one year away from three kids in elementary school, and I’m looking to tap back into the person I was BK (before kids). I’m excited to step more out of my usual rhythm (and comfort zone), working on some new projects and getting myself out there, physically, mentally and professionally. But that’s pretty hard to do when the first impression you leave doesn’t match how you feel inside — even a little.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to turn my life upside down. I have no stereotypical plans to leave my husband in order to channel my inner cougar. Can you imagine me pulling up to carpool with my 20-something boyfriend in a shiny red sports car? But I don’t think it’s asking too much to want a car that reflects who I am, while at the same time providing safety and practicality for my family.

Is it?

But it would be insensitive for me to make this all the minivan’s fault. Anyone with a Psych 101 class under their belt knows that this is less about a car and more about my own personal feelings about my life and myself. In fact, I know a few moms who rock the minivan like no one else can, including the principal of my son’s school. That physically-fit, sassy and successful woman makes her newer, whiter version of our car look elegant and, dare I say, hot. Yet it doesn’t change how I feel.

In a recent interview with Kristin Varela, founder and chief mom at Motherproof, a moms guide to life in the car, I asked her about the trend in moms trading in the family truckster for a more “me” car — most after the kids fly the coop. During our conversation, Kristin stressed the importance of women thinking of themselves — first and foremost — and really considering what you want. “Prioritize your list, figuring out what’s most important to you when you take the kids out of the equation. Women don’t have to choose between safety, style and functionality — they can have them all.”

While she actually has the luxury of switching up a test car every couple of weeks (where can I get that job?), the single mom skipped the minivan and opted for a Volvo C30. While two booster seats and a car seat (along with the recent sign-up of two kids in soccer) dictate that I drive something a little less zippy and a bit more roomy, I’m inching my way closer to finding my way back to a Jackie car. 

Does the kind of car you drive really matter to you?