Margot Merrill on modern parenthood and the writing life

4Jun/141

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

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5Nov/134

Yes. Facebook.

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

FB-f-Logo__blue_72

 

 

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

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23Feb/130

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.

Margot

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25Sep/121

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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23May/120

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.

XOXO,

Margot

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1May/127

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 just...love 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.

Heart,
Margot

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7Mar/124

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...many...levers

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.

Margot

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30Dec/112

the Holiday bawl

I bawled on Christmas Eve day. It was a hearty, completely-losing-it weepfest. It felt pretty good to cry as I fought to finish the handmade cherry pie. As my daughter didn't take her afternoon nap. As a half-hour's drive away my husband, 4-year old son, and in-laws awaited me, and the baby girl, and dessert. I'd worked till 11:00 the night before. Oh yes, woe!

I was wallowing in woes. Most of my own making.

Earlier in the day I'd had good friends visit–Jen and Karissa. We drank coffee and sat outside in the sunlight as I tried to rapidly decompress. I kept looking for my holiday spirit. I welcomed it, but hadn't given myself any time. Jen, one of my oldest friends, juggled baby Story and cleaned up our kitchen. Karissa rolled out my rock-hard crumbly pie dough. She's like that. You can hand Karissa a tortured lump of "pate brisee" or a crying newborn baby, or ask her to hang a picture in your house, and she's got it. We talked about the hard knocks of 2011. I tried to tell them how much I appreciated seeing them.

I got messy after they left. I cried because year-old Story Jane wouldn't sleep, and I needed her to. (Sleep is my parental Achilles heel.) I was crying because I felt alone. And because I was remembering past holidays–Christmases of my childhood–and got swept away in the hope and disappointment. (Santa. Right. Happiness forever. Right.)  I kept crying and looking at my daughter watching me cry from her high chair. I hated that I wasn't together. And that despite Jen and Karissa's help, the pie wasn't together, much less baked.

So why didn't I just go buy a goddamn pie? Or arrive without dessert?

Humbled by this question, I have to admit I needed a good breakdown. I bawled for more than two hours, and then I felt better. I was still snuffling, but calm as at last I drove, with the pie and the baby intact, to Rafael's family's house. I was to arrive with puffy eyes and a fresh cherry pie with a small heart cut in the center of the top crust. The cherry goo had sloshed in transit and the pie looked just like I felt: an achy bleeding heart.

No matter–I walked in and it was the holidays. Raf's mom offered me a glass of wine and I sat down with Story and got a thousand hugs from a very happy Alejandro. I'd arrived. Not on time, not perfect, but present.

I'm learning that's the most I should expect and strive for. To be present. I'm still squirreling my way around it, but it feels so good when I'm there.

And note to self: it's probably best to avoid such drama in the future. Next year I'll take a couple of days off before Christmas. And maybe just buy a damn dessert.

Hold me to it.

Love you,

Margot

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2Dec/110

Four and One

I crawl  into the last month of 2011. My back's out. I'm all tweaked. Many things are going beautifully and just as they should. But I'm uneasy. Perhaps it's the month that's dragging me down. F'ing December. Always a time for introspection. And holiday madness. But it's not just that.  It's trying to understand and support the small people living in our house. And I try too hard.

FOUR

Alejandro Marcellus is four going on fourteen. He's kind. Articulate. Extremely logical. Persuasive. His interests include: Fighting. Star Wars. Things that get blown up. "Walking skeletons." Lego video games on the Playstation. His scooter and new bike. Playing with action figures, particularly those with guns, light sabers, knives, swords, scythes, axes, cannons, or other weapons. (You know. Right? Ahem.) He gets shy when he walks into a room full of people. Alejandro's also very into us, his family. He gives great hugs and kisses to mommy and daddy. He high-fives most everyone else.

But I worry that I don't understand him enough. Because, seriously, I've never been into pretending to shoot people. I remember a lot of talking stuffed animals in my childhood games.

And our wills can collide. Alejandro doesn't give up. He will ask and ask and ask and reposition his request and ask again. It drives me crazy. I don't know where he gets it.

All of this adds up to the fact that I'm in awe of the boy. I try to keep calm, and yes I'm in therapy, but he just seems so shockingly bright I'm confounded. I just love him so much, I hope I can give him what he needs.

ONE

Story Jane Fernandez. A girl named Story. Oh yes we did. She's now a year old. A beautiful girl–the name fits her perfectly. She's rather magical. Good natured and outgoing. Her first "sign" was dog (panting) and her first word was "hi." "Hi" is a constant. She says it waving to strangers: "Hiiiii!" It's delightful.

She started walking at 11 months, and since then she is EVERYWHERE. Holy heck! She's bashing into everything. Falling down. Into everything.  It's like scattergories in our house and in my brain. Hard to keep up. And of course she doesn't sleep through the night that often. She has the same dumb parents as Alejandro. While we've done much better on the sleep training front, it's still so hard to let her cry. Why does listening to a baby cry for twenty minutes seem much harder than "just" getting out of bed to return a pacifier? I don't know. Sleep-addled habits don't die.

So that, my friends, is why I'm crawling into December. I'm trying to keep up with a two-foot tall wobbler and a three-foot tall teenager.

And it's winter. Shouldn't we all be hibernating?

Please?

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23Jun/116

Returning to work

The return to work was rough, mostly because it coincided with my husband being out of town for like, two months. Sure, he was back for a week here and a few days there, but it was intense. With a five-month old and a three-year old, plus a half-assed plan for childcare, it really sucked. There. I said it. No, wait, I'm not done! It REALLY REALLY SUCKED. But since we're not planning on having more kids, at least I can say: Well then. I won't have to do THAT again.

I have the option to bring Story Jane with me to work since Hot Studio has a formal, and awesome, babies-at-work policy for returning parents. It's a great benefit, and it helped the first few weeks, but I couldn't swing it any longer. I was a single parent returning to the workforce in a new role. After being off for almost seven (!!) months, I was ready to just get back to work. And frankly, I'm not the most chill mom in the world. More specifically, I freak out when my kids aren't sleeping. So trying to get Story to take a nap–while meeting new people and setting up new processes at work– was a recipe for a mommy meltdown.

The ongoing identity crisis: I didn't say "I'm a mother," but "a mommy." I also have a full time job and a fancy new title. Transitioning between these two roles is what's most awkward. I can get so into work, and so fulfilled by it, to be honest, I don't leave at 5:30 as planned. I probably haven't pumped at the designated time. My commute home is super stressful, 'cause I know I'll miss my daughter being awake. My husband, if he's home, has to cover for me. We haven't made dinner plans. Even leaving at 6:00, I'm too late. I've f'ed it up, and I'm not even home yet.

When I walk in, I've got to be on. I want nothing more than to squeeze my boy. Usually Alejandro doesn't have pants on and he's doing ninja moves. He desperately wants someone to decapitate action figures with him.

I give him a big hug and many kisses. That's the best, for both of us. Then I deny his requests to play. I may make dinner, or feed Story, and put her to bed if I'm not too late. That means patting her back and singing and letting her cry. I walk out of the room for five minutes at a time as she screams. I give Ali a Popsicle, then return to pat her back some more. I hear Ali stomping towards their bedroom. "Mommy!?" His Popsicle has dripped all over his privates and the hallway, and as soon as Story hears him, she wakes up and cries louder. She's frustrated she isn't part of the violence in the living room.

It's really fun. No really, it's not.

I don't know why I expected it to be "fun." What Kool-Aid did I drink, way back when I was envisioning myself as a super chill, relaxed, loving and art-inspiring parent? And can I please have some more?

I wouldn't change anything about my life, of course. It's my design, rough edges and fuckups included. I wouldn't trade our two gorgeous babies or their amazing dad who has a creative job at which he excels (but requires him to travel)–not for anything. Or give up my job, for that matter. I love it. I love going to it, and I can't deny that.

So here I am, a modern parent.

My friend Katrina, who writes the profound workingmom'sbreak blog, told me long ago that she and her husband sometimes said to one another: "There's just not enough to go around." It's a sad state, but a good reminder to avoid the blame game between partners. It doesn't seem like enough, but it has to be.

Experienced moms tell me that it'll get much easier when the kids are in elementary school. "It's just five years away," my boss and friend Maria told me tonight. Just five years. Only a parent would be crazy enough to say that.

Only a mommy like myself would accept that decree with a bowed head. And then mourn those years' passing.

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