Margot Merrill on modern parenthood and the writing life


Stuff and stuff

It's easy to be overwhelmed when you're surrounded, as I am at home, by stuff. Small stuff. Big stuff. All mixed in.

Take any container of any size, and fill it with random toy-bits. Put that somewhere. A kind friend gives you more toys. Give 'em to the kids. They explode into a billion plastic pieces. Put those pieces somewhere, like into a bowl from the kitchen. Later, put the bowl into a box of more stuff.

We're generally clean. There's just too much stuff.

An organizer's mind

I look at a box of stuff, and feel a need to reunite one shitty plastic palm tree with all the other shitty plastic pieces of the beach set we bought at an airport one time. I can't scan all of this stuff from a distance. I see each and every single thing. Worse, I want each thing to be with other things like it.

I want to organize. But there's no time to organize our family's stuff. That wears on me: the shame of having stuff, and wasting it.  The desire to do something good with the stuff, to share it–and yet how? To whom should it go, and how can I make it easy for them? Should I really spend the next 3 weekends sorting through stuff? What about, like, playing with my kids instead?

It's not just me

I'm not alone in feeling nutty about stuff. There's this article, which says UCLA researchers found:

"The study found that our need to reward ourselves materially may actually increase our stress—at least for moms. In their video tours, mothers use words like 'mess,' 'not fun' and 'very chaotic' to describe their homes."

And a friend of mine, Meg, just shared this article on Facebook: Let's Cut the Crap and Kiss the Goody Bags Goodbye.

Making it better

Yes, I am down with rejecting the goody bags! Forget the damn plastic junk. Forget giving it and forget taking it. Let's just stop turning our hard-earned dollars into plastic landfill.

Oh, and I hired a home organizer. Things are already improving. More to come!

- Margot


Yes. Facebook.

You may have seen it on Facebook. You know. I work there now!




It's been hard to parse the events of the last six months. But I want to.

So. How did it happen?  In March, Hot Studio, the design firm where I'd worked for the last six years, was acquired by Facebook. I'd expected an eventual acquisition by some larger company. I wanted it for Maria. As the badass company founder she was, she deserved it. Still, it came as a surprise. There may have been rumors, but that's not the same as sitting in rows of white chairs in a company-wide meeting listening to your long-term leader spell it out.

It was shocking, the bigness of it. Facebook! In Menlo Park! And Hot would close!

We didn't know what would happen to everyone. It was a hard time, the unwinding of Hot. The splitting up of family.

But I got an offer to work in the Content Strategy group at Facebook. And I said yes please.

And now every weekday morning I pull off the Dumbarton Bridge in my vanpool (more about that later), onto 1 Hacker Way, and go to work.

What is it like? My electronic badge beeps me in. As a n00b (new person) on my first week, I felt I was staring up into the underbelly of a vast spaceship. Around me, I saw a diverse group of talented people, and a different world. What's it like?

  • There's graffiti and posters and color-splashed walls
  • Light streaming in
  • Art everywhere
  • Open desks and more desks and more
  • Vending machines with electronics (headphones, power adapters, mice, etc.)
  • Snacks and more snacks and lovely nonalcoholic drinks
  • Hundreds of esoterically-named conference rooms (e.g. "Puff the Magic Drag and Drop")
  • Plants inside and out
  • Foxes!
  • Bikes to ride (they are quicker - and give you an unexpected sense of joy)
  • Free food! Rich food. Healthy food. Fresh and varied. (Low blood sugar is never an issue.)

People move around me, hustling from building to building in the sunny interior courtyard. They're developers and designers and people with MBAs. Content Strategists like myself. Good sharp people who help with all of the details.

So many brains in one place! Lots of data, numbers, metrics. People with strong opinions. An intensity of purpose. Strong charisma. It's optimism and realism, combined in a way I've never seen before.

There's also a surprising humility at Facebook. A willingness to examine problems. An understanding, among everyone I know, that the perks aren't ubiquitous. It's a privilege. So we work very hard. We work to make Facebook a great experience for everyone who uses it. If that were easy, we'd be done already. But it's not easy. That's why we're there.

After I get home in that same vanpool, I see Rafael and Alejandro and Story. Our beautiful family. Before I walk in the door, I stop on the porch and take a deep breath. I tell myself, "Steady, lady. Steady." I want to leave work behind, but I'm still excitedly solving problems with my co-workers in my head. I take another deep breath. I admire the late sunlight streaming over the hill in front of our house. I calm down.

I walk into eight streams of information coming at me through the three people I love and the many devices in our home.

"Mommy's home!!!" It's a lovely chaos of hugging and kissing and sharing of toys and drawings and video game news updates. Then everything needs to be done.

I'm not good at everything. I'm still me. I'm still learning balance, and about how to be the very best mom I can be, and a caring wife, and about creative fulfillment, and this new job. (I'll take a another deep breath now. Ahhhhh. Okay. Whew.)

But I'm where I'm meant to be. At work I feel like I can do what I'm best at: Writing. Connecting. Communicating. Being of service. Making stuff.

And at home I can just be with the kids, which is all we need.

Thank you for being here, and for knowing all sides.

- Margot



I've always loved summertime. It's especially precious now that we have kids. Rafael and I share the desire to give them that languid feeling of everlasting vacation that we got to experience. Little did we know what our parents were doing as we watched TV and stayed up late and slept in! Probably just doing adult stuff like working and cleaning and crap like that.

But it's a magical moment we're at right now - Alejandro is almost 6, and moving into Kindergarden on Monday. Story is almost 3, and going to preschool for the first time in a few weeks. Here's what they're like:

Alejandro: Kind-hearted thinker. Impatient planner. Video game nut. Lover of weapons. Lover of home. Hater of sleep. Occasional participant in dance-fighting to the pop song Call Me Maybe. Good hugger.

Story: 2.5. Dynamo. Skateboarder. Fairyland-lover. Baller. Smarty pants. Annoying-runner-away-from-me-when-I-try-to-put-on-PJs. Bright spark.

In the last few months Julia our au pair has taken them on adventures together, and Rafael has invested a lot of time playing Minecraft with Ale. It will all change in the next few weeks, as we move into fall. (Early fall is always so beautiful, and warm here in the Bay Area. But it makes me wistful, because I know summer's behind us and we've got winter ahead.)

Back to the kids: I'm so happy to know that both their schools are going to be AMAZING for them. They are ready. They will be well-cared for while I'm at work, and that's the most precious thing to any parent.

How's your summer winding down?

- Margot

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This is 40

Big day, folks. Four decades on this planet! That's me. Forty.

Thank God I got most of my identity crisis shit done in my late thirties! I am delighted now. I'm the youngest of all of my friends in their forties. (Sorry, guys.) I'm the wise elder of Those Who Have Not Yet Turned Forty. And I'm cute and humble, too.

It's not like things are perfect now–it's life after all. But I hope my forties are about enjoying what I have.

Yes, I'm aware of my blessings! They were singing to me the last few days. Now my job is to quiet my brain. Shut up and enjoy it, Margot! You hear me??

Okay, I may be losing it in my old age. As proof, here is the cheesiest image I have ever posted, and will ever post, on this website:

Your thoughts?




Catching Up

The longer one puts off a task, the bigger it becomes. Especially with writing. How can I tell you what's transpired in the last five months? Of course, I've thought about writing. Late at night, when I don't feel right, I craft paragraphs in my head. The language in my head-writing, and here on this site, is not for work, but for me. Most of the time these paragraphs just tumble around, wishing for release through expression. But let's face it here, people. I have two kids and a full time job. There's little time for elaboration.

So here's what happened:

  1. I went back to work five days a week. It's like, game on. I'm trying to figure out how to balance it all again. How can I let work go when I walk in the door of our home, when it's consumed me for more than forty hours a week? I want to do it well, but have it be gone when home, so I can concentrate on my people.
  2. I recovered a little more from that big old dip last year. What did they call it? Oh, depression? Tra-la-la. I'm over you, bitch! (Hold on - I'm supposed to be speaking positively to myself, and letting the darker sides of my emotions "just be." Riiight...Back to therapy. I'm just beginning to get it. I hope.)
  3. We got a new au pair. Another transition. Another story worthy of a post. But not for now.
  4. Raf had a super busy December for travel, but has since been home rocking the house. Hallelujah!
  5. I turned 40 last Sunday.

Out with the old! Wait. I am old. And I'm beginning to like it. Here's a new post about that.



The Dinosaur Bone (what you think you’re no good at)

I clearly remember the moment I decided I couldn't draw.

I was eight. Staring at a massive dinosaur skeleton in the Natural History Museum in Denver. Was it a Stegosaurus? A Tyrannosaurus?  I'm not sure. The view in my memory is of the right side of it. A shape which contained the bone I was to draw.

I sat on a bench in front of the dinosaur skeleton, balancing a sketchbook on my lap. To my left sat my older sister. Our parents had just divorced. To my right was the art teacher hired, apparently at great expense, to take care of us for a short while over summer vacation.

The art teacher was okay. I met her in our tree-dappled backyard in Denver. She was pretty. Natural, though I don't particularly remember her face. We did crafty things at our  house for a few days. (I keep thinking "our" house but it was suddenly our dad's house. Not our mom's.) Not much else I recall about my experience with the art teacher, except that crucial moment.

"Just go ahead and try to sketch a bone," she might have said kindly.

Or, more cruelly, as I've twisted it in my memory: "Impress me. Draw the femur."

I tried. I drew something that resembled a bone. Kinda.

Then I made the worst mistake one can make: I looked to my left. What had my sister done? There, in my recollection, lay a perfect, artistically rendered, completely-to-scale rendering of that goddamned dinosaur bone. Da Vinci, through the hand of my much-more-talented 11-year-old sister, had drawn it. I looked down at my paper, where I saw a wobbly pencil outline and some blobs. And I thought: "There. You see? I can't draw."

I remember the clarity of the thought, and the relief that came with it. I can't draw. I didn't have to compete if I refused to play.  And if I didn't do it, I wouldn't fail.

It wasn't the art teacher's fault. I probably said nothing about it. I just packed up all my drawing fun-times, along with my belief in happily-ever-after, which eroded around the same time. I folded in on myself. I still smiled and laughed and tried to be cute for everyone. But my parents were divorced, and I couldn't draw, and my sister could. And that was that. No problemo.

Thank God somehow I maintained the belief that I could write. And with the help of a great writing coach, over the course of a few years, I wrote the novel. By running that gauntlet, I found myself a writer. I have my craft, and it makes me happy when I do it. Like now.

But I dared not draw until very recently. Inspired by author Dan Roan who gave the keynote at a conference, I started sketching to explain a very complex thing: my job. It helped so much! I published a series of blog posts for work, some of which included these sketches. The sketches were rough, but they helped me communicate. And they made me laugh. Breakthrough!!!

To celebrate, I offer you the following sketch:

my second dinosaur bone drawing

In closing:

May you break any curses and reconsider any blanket-statement beliefs about what you can't do.

May you draw your bone. 

Lotsa love and just a little push,

- Margot

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A Break. It does…

...I'm not going to finish that headline. But I will tell you I've recently had three trips away. And I'm diggity-dogged happy to be home.

My sis and I visited our mom up in Sebastopol for her 70th bday. We buried ourselves in cedar, and did as we pleased. I got a nice family-full.

Then I flew to Austin to represent the Fernandez-ez at a good friend's wedding. There I was surrounded by people who've loved us long time. I thought of the early days of R and I, and got my friend-full.

Then, the "break" of a modern parent's dreams: a 3-day conference in one city followed by a day-long client workshop in another! Yeah. Dreamy. But I had my own hotel room. A chance to see my dad and stepmom. (Pack it in, baby.) But most importantly: a few days to think big, meet people, and pass out in neutral-town when done.

Then, best of all, home! And my guy and babies! Blessed be. That's what I'm talking about. Gorgeous moments when I'm just holding them, and I'm so happy I could cry. They missed me, and I can't get enough of them.

So I'm home, and happy, and ready to hang for the summer and beyond. You know what they say about breaks.




Your rose, your thorn, and your bud

My friend Tyler's buddy asks his kids this question every night: "What are your rose, your thorn, and your bud?"

Your rose is the happiest moment of the day. The thorn, the worst part of your day: what's bothering you or keeping you back. And your bud is what you're excited about learning or doing next.

Roses have been on my mind lately. When I'm trying to calm down I visualize being in one. A giant red rose. I curl in the center like a baby, a yellow pollen blanket under me. The petals unfurl around me.

Love, that's what a rose means. In that visualization I do, it means self-love. Self-love. I didn't know I needed it, but apparently it's what I'm supposed to be learning. Have I mentioned I hate learning? I've come to recognize that my wires are crossed. Learning = failing. I'm working hard to change this belief, and to be kinder to myself as I grow. (How do you do that self-love thing? Did you always yourself unconditionally? Is it learned? Does it come and go?)

I had a rose-related breakthrough recently when a wise woman who knows me well said: "You don't have to constantly be exceptional, Margot."

"Yes I do!" I shouted. And then I laughed a little and explained, "So I can keep torturing myself for failing!"

She, much older and calmer than I, said: "Lower your expectations. Especially of yourself."

It was a revolting idea.

"But I want to create! Beautiful things!" I said. "And change the world! Make it better! Help people! And be a great parent! And–"

"It's not realistic, or kind to yourself, to think you have to be phenomenal all the time," she said. "To create, you need down time. Time when you're just normal old you. You need time to gestate."

Then I thought of a rose, and why it's exceptional: it's not always blooming. The bush hibernates. It makes rose hips from faded flowers. Its roots stretch into the cold deep earth to bring up nutrients. The leaves do their photosynthesis thing.

shhhh, we're working on something good inside over here










And when things are ready, it blooms.

Ah. That feels good. Pretty exceptional, huh?










I feel like I'm coming out of a dark winter. So grateful to see the late-Spring sun. I have to move past being mad at myself for breaking down. I know this whole process–my recent crash, and evolving identity, and awkward inner growth is leading to something. More roses. I'm sure of it.

I haven't yet instated the rose/thorn/bud routine with my family. I'll have to add it to my list of to-do's. If you're inspired, and you actually have dinner with your family regularly, please do it and lmk how it goes.



Hard to say

It's hard to say you need help. You haven't got it figured out. Your shit don't make no sense.

That sounds very dramatic, right? One reason I'd never say any such thing.

But it has been a long time since I've written you. I've been thinking and fretting and falling apart a bit. Happens sometimes. You know, when you've got too much going on? And you want to know the answer, and where it's all heading, but you don't? Yeah. That's where I've been. Feeling sucky.

Before my suck-fest, Rafael was home for a gloriously long time–5 months including the holidays. Everything was rolling. And then...

1) Rafael got a big project in LA. Followed by another one.

Yea! Work! It pays for everything! Sweeeeet.

But with the exception of two nights, he was gone for four weeks. And here, we had Sickness. Alejandro had a fever for fours days so I couldn't work, Story woke up one night with croup (terrifying to be alone holding her, wondering how I'd take Ali to the emergency room.) It all just got to me. It was rough. And when I say rough, mean hard-as-shit hard. I wish I was tougher. I wish I could do it all.

And I pretty much did, for those four weeks.

2) Then I crashed and burned.

You could call it a "depressive episode" or just a "big deep crash" after an extended period of stress. But it got dark there in my head for a bit.

Today I feel better. But I'm still looking at the Modern Parent's Puzzle. How to balance competing needs:

  • to hang out with family at home
  • to pay for that home
  • to give the tots the best caregivers and education; the best start
  • to pay for all that TLC
  • to do laundry and buy food and clean up again and again
  • to have down time
  • to talk, even once in a while, with friends
  • to sleep
  • to laugh with the kids and listen to their stories and take them to the park and read books and eat popcorn with them

Is this list ambitious, or just a given? I clearly haven't figured out the solution.

I just have to feed Alejandro, wash my face, and go off to San Francisco now.

More later. Thanks for being here,


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Yay, vulnerability. Yay.

I'm low. So clear the current situation w/Raf traveling does not work, for me at least. With the exception of two nights he was recently gone for four weeks. For those of you without children, I'd just like to say FOUR...WEEKS! Four! Weeks! I'd like to continue to rise to the occasion, but I can't. Bro-ken.

Then, as he always does, Rafael came home. He looked like a zombie, but the sun shone on our family again. His project was complete, the impossible done. He was no longer working 16-hour days himself. He roughhoused. He changed diapers. He drove to and from preschool. And, blessedly, I was not alone working and not-sleeping and trying so hard and not-managing it all.

But by the time the good man returned from his earning expedition, I'd drunk the last dredges of my Survival Juice. I was looking at him like, "WTF are you DOING here? You haven't BEEN HERE. We (the kids and I) have a SYSTEM!" It's always like this. We need time together to relax, to work together again. But I'd been a madwoman trying to accomplish more than possible. Ali and Story needing more than I can give. And the big ole bills from our superhero nannies...It wasn't pretty.

So I'm defeated today, and without a plan for what we'll do to be happy together forever. You know, because that's like obtainable?

A plan! A plan! How my brain wants to go to a happier future. Late at night it noodles away, adjusting a series of imaginary levers which never seem to balance. People might say: "Just don't work!" And then I have to say, What if I dialed down work? But then we'd be further behind. I can do the math. It's like this:

Mortgage + Preschool + Sharecare + Household Expenses = Wha? Huh? Wha? Huh? <suicidal thoughts, thoughts of running away, etc.>


So we're looking at refinancing and into daycares and au pairs. It's hella fun shit, let me tell you.

If we moved to a random somewhere that we could afford if I didn't work, and I found myself more alone as Rafael worked his ass off elsewhere, I'd seriously lose my mind.

Should we move to LA, where he shoots most of the time? Perhaps. I could go SoCal. But do we have to? We loves the Oaktown. And our nearby friends and family. And I really do love my job.

If only I could give up on taming the Modern Parenthood Beast. Meanwhile I'm just sucking its fumes.

You probably know exactly what I should do. "Margot!" You'd say to me, just as I'd say if I were trying to convince you to see the light. "You should just..."

I want to know the answer–but part of me can't hear it. I'm overwhelmed with information right now. I'm resistent, too, I have to admit. Why? Because any one of the solutions will require change. And associated, usually overblown but you never know, risk.

Change and risk. Easy to recommend, hard to implement.

So if you read this, and see me, don't bother trying to tell me the solution. Just give me a hug.

Yay. Vulnerability.

I hate it.