The Get-Along Rug

IMG_2973I am working on a new book that will share insights not only into my own journey but why I think women, and mothers in particular, are very well equipped to launch and run startups, even if they have spent years out of the professional workforce to raise their children.

I’m currently working on a chapter I’m titling The Get-Along Rug and thought I’d share a sneak peek into the project. Hope you enjoy.

The Get-Along Rug
Dispute Resolution and Making Nice With The Enemy

In every home we’ve lived in, there has been a throw rug designated as the “Get-Along Rug”. When the kids were small and squabbles escalated to unkind behavior, there was nothing quite so effective for bringing resolution to the problem as the children sitting on the rug holding hands until they were ready to talk things out in a more civil fashion. My daughter struggled a bit more to get to a place of civility, while her younger brother would quickly change from an angry little boy into a happy child when sitting with his sister on the rug. I always assumed it was his affectionate, peace-loving nature that made him happy to sit holding hands with his older sister. It wasn’t until recently when his sister was home visiting from college that he confessed that his happiness stemmed not from any pure motive but from sheer joy in the knowledge that his sister was suffering. It was the one sure way he could gain the upper hand with someone older and bigger; he knew just how much she hated sitting there holding his hand. It was his ultimate revenge.

When we embark on the entrepreneurial journey, we are opting into a pressure cooker of stressors and challenges. We quit stable jobs, walk away from a defined set of tasks and required skills and set out to create something from nothing. We’re forced to not only learn to wear hats we didn’t even know existed, we’re often working alongside individuals who are facing just as much risk and stress as they stretch to meet the challenges of launching and growing a startup. Learning how to manage our emotions and appropriately respond to the inevitable disputes is vital for surviving the startup life. If you think marriage or raising kids are hard, try living day-in, day-out with people who don’t share the same bonds of affection and commitment to vows made in front God and mothers-in-law. According to several studies, 62% of all startups fail due to cofounder breakups. Add that statistic to the fact that 80% of all startups fail within the first three years, and you have a tremendous challenge to overcome to be one of the few startups that find a successful exit.

Mothers spend a great deal of their time negotiating tentative cease-fires between siblings, and the skills we build through the process come in quite handy when it comes to keeping a positive environment in a startup.

Working From Home: A Perk

When the kiddo takes over the task board…

One of my favorite reasons for working from home? Sometimes when I start work in the morning, my task board is replaced with things like this.

You Are My Sunshine

This morning my youngest woke up with a stuffy nose, a bit wheezy … and thinking he had a good chance of developing a believable case of Yellow Bus Fever. You know – the kind that goes away when the school bus drives by. And as I booted him out the door to make it through the day, I was reminded of a day that seems now like another lifetime, but one that changed absolutely everything for me as a mother. I rummaged through some old files and found the original essay that actually won a prize in a contest about a life-changing event. It’s a bit long, but here it is:

Good news never comes at three in the morning.

It just doesn’t.

I answer the jangling phone with apprehension, wondering who has died. Maybe it’s a wrong number.

It is a young man asking for my newborn – by name. That was fast. Barely on the planet for a week, and the little guy’s already receiving phone calls.

“This is his mother,” I reply.

“Uh, sorry, ma’am. I see now that he’s a newborn.” He stumbles over his words. “I know this may sound odd, but I need you to go check your baby and make sure he’s not running a fever or anything. Just make sure he’s okay.”

Now I’m scared. I sit up and ask, “Who is this?” My husband rouses long enough to mumble for me to hang up and go to sleep.

“This is the medical lab. I’m the night technician.”

Fully awake, I cross our bedroom and head for the baby’s crib. “What’s wrong?” I ask. It’s been two days since blood was drawn for a fever. They already found a strep infection in his blood, and I’ve been faithful with the medications sent home with me.

“Uh,” he pauses. This is one articulate guy. “Well, actually I can’t tell you that. I just need to verify the baby’s okay.”

I drop the phone on the counter and run to my baby, my breath coming in short, shallow gasps.

I feel his tiny forehead.

Normal.

I put my finger under his nose and sigh with relief as his breath warms my hand.

He’s fine.

I walk back to the phone and find I am trembling. “He’s okay,” I assure this technician. “Now I want to know what is so wrong with my son that you’re calling me in the middle of the night.”

“You’ll have to ask the doctor.”

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, but it does nothing to dissipate the anger building inside. “I want your name. I am filing a complaint first thing in the morning. This is ridiculous!”

We sit silent on the phone for a few moments. I am hoping he is weighing the risk of a customer complaint against getting in trouble for not following proper procedure.

Finally, he speaks. “Your baby’s neutrophil count is 8. The protocol when it’s that low is to call immediately to make sure the patient isn’t in immediate danger.”

Neutrophil? “What is a neutrophil?” I ask.

“It’s the part of the white blood cell that protects against bacterial infection. It should be in the hundreds of thousands.” He speaks with an authority that is somehow reassuring, even while he’s delivering bad news. “Your doctor will be notified and will call first thing in the morning. That’s really all I can say, okay?”

I spend the rest of the night researching the internet.

Cancer.

Leukemia.

Blood disorder.

Every new site seems worst than the last, full of words that no mother wants to hear about her own child.

I turn off the computer and sit in the dark, thinking of the day I discovered I was pregnant again. I’d suffered through seven miscarriages early in our marriage trying for children and was already blessed with a beautiful daughter and son. And when this last baby tried to come into the world too early, I stayed in bed for almost twenty weeks to ensure his healthy birth. I took every precaution imaginable.

I watch the stars twinkle in the night sky and remember his big sister just days ago holding our newborn in the hospital, her face shining. I recall our young son telling the nurse what good care he is going to take of his little brother. I picture my husband, his face softened with joy as he holds his youngest child in his strong hands and recall the smile we share over this new miracle of life. And then I wonder how we will ever bear this terrible news. Our family is already falling hard for this little guy.

As the sun finally rises on my shattered world, I hear the baby fussing, hungry again. He suckles on my breast as my tears drip onto his cheek. He opens his eyes, flails a tiny fist and grabs tightly to my finger.

I wipe my eyes and pull myself together.

I have been given another day with this little bundle of blessing. Whatever the future holds, I will be grateful. However short the time, I will cherish it.

I swallow hard and smile.

“My precious little guy,” I whisper and begin singing softly.

You are my sunshine. My only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey…

Update: Seven long months, many consultations with specialists and hundreds of tests later, our son was diagnosed with Cyclic Neutropenia.


Sharing Life from the Passenger Seat

I love running errands with my kids.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t even slightly enjoy running errands, but when my kids are along for the ride, it makes for some wonderful time together. I think I’ve found out more about what was going on in their lives while driving to Target than any other way.

So it shouldn’t have taken me by surprise while returning an item yesterday that my nearly-grown son told me, “Mom, I almost bought some lady’s eggs the other day.”

He told me then about being at work bagging a woman’s groceries only to have to wait as she struggled to decide what to put back when she didn’t have enough money to pay for everything. She sorted through the food, selecting items to return. And when keeping the eggs still pushed her over her limit, my son spoke up and offered to pay for her eggs.

I asked him why. “Well, what do eggs cost? Three, four dollars? For me, that was just my spending money. But I kept thinking that for her it could be the difference of having healthy protein for a week or two, so I wanted to help out.”

At that moment, I couldn’t have been prouder of my son if he’d told me he’d earned a full ride to some elite college. As much as I ride my kids about getting good grades and being responsible, I have to say that as a mother, I care so much more about what kind of heart they have – how they treat others, if they feel remorse when they’ve wronged someone else, or if they’re moved with compassion by someone else’s difficulties.

And the thought that my son would sacrifice part of his small paycheck to help someone else made my heart soar.

I truly feel privileged to be along for the ride when my kids start sharing life from the passenger seat one errand at a time.

Choose Your Battles

I think one of the best nuggets of parenting advice I ever received when my kids were little came from my children’s pediatrician. He was quiet and gentle, and over the years I grew to respect him far beyond his gut instinct and medical knowledge as a real rock of wisdom and strength.

When I was having a particularly hard time with my first child’s entry into the terrible two’s, he told me, “If it’s not a hill worth dying on, then don’t start a battle. And if it is, don’t stop no matter what.”

There are still times when those words come back to stop me before I make a battle out of something that in the end really won’t matter for me or my children.

When my daughter, now a fine arts major in college, was less than a year old, she starting throwing fits if she didn’t like the texture of her clothing. She would go stiff, arch her back, and scream until I removed whatever she was wearing and put on something that she was willing to wear. And just about the time I finally made peace with the fact that she wouldn’t be wearing most of the frilly dresses I’d dreamed of seeing my daughter wear, she decided that nothing she wore could have buttons anywhere.

We were in the doctor’s office for her two year well child check up when Dr. Keller asked if there were any other issues I wanted to talk about. And so I let off some steam about this very willful child who I thought was usurping my authority and pushing my buttons by being so difficult every single morning when I tried to dress her.

“Is this a battle worth dying on the hill?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if this is something that you think is worth the fight every day until you win, then don’t ever back down. But if there are clothes that you think are appropriate that she will wear without a fight, have you considered that maybe it isn’t worth the bad feelings and conflict every day just to have her wear something you like?”

I admit, he made me a little mad. While I was nodding my head in agreement, I was thinking , “Yeah, let’s let you try to handle getting her dressed for a week and see how saintly you are then.” But the next morning instead of picking out her clothes, I asked my daughter what she wanted to wear. She chose the ballerina dress I’d found at a garage sale. And in keeping with my new experiment, I chose not to tell her that the outfit was not appropriate for going grocery shopping. I just bit my tongue and let her wear it.

We wandered the aisles of our grocery store that morning with a completely new attitude. She danced past the cold cereal boxes and twirled through the fresh fruit. We made it out of the grocery store without a single power struggle or harsh word. I am convinced that the choice I made that day changed everything between my daughter and me.

Her dad and I sometimes call her Crayola now because she wears the entire spectrum of colors and textures all at once. She buys most of her clothes second-hand and breezes into a room like a bouquet of flowers. And as I watch her blossom into a confident young woman, I am so glad I didn’t expend energy creating a power struggle over something so trivial as what I wanted her to wear.

Been around the block a time or two

Someone recently approached me with a question about raising their child. Now I’m no Dr. Laura and probably relate better to Lucille Ball than to Dr. Spock, so it took me a bit by surprise to have someone else think I had something of value to share when it came to parenting a child. And then she explained why she was asking me for advice. “You’ve been around the block a time or two, and your kids still seem to get along really well with you, so I thought I’d see what you have to say.”

And so it was that the two of us – a very young mom and a somewhat frazzled mom – sat down over a cup of coffee and talked about the challenges of raising kids.

Perhaps you’ll find some nuggets worth keeping as I blog about my own philosophy of raising kids. Perhaps you’ll find some ideas you think are just plain crazy. But either way, I’m looking forward to having some conversations with you as we journey together down this path of creating independent, self-sufficient, conscientious, responsible, loving adults.