Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Farewell to Tel Aviv

Two weeks ago, I loaded a box of papers and a potted plant into the trunk of my car, hugged my coworkers, turned in my keys, and waved goodbye to GreenRoad.  I had worked there for two years and two months.  The strain of wrangling a 10-hour time difference into submission, and the frequent travel abroad, had taken its toll on my personal life and my energy, and I needed to reset.  The Next Big Thing felt elusive, and I didn't think I would find it in my "spare time" if I was still working.  My intuition told me that it was time for a longer sabbatical than the five weeks I had taken over the summer.  It was the first time in my career that I planned to leave a job voluntarily, without having my next gig lined up.

As right as it felt to do a course correction - into the blinding headlights of the great unknown - I felt melancholy about losing my connection to Israel.  When I gave notice, our CEO and I agreed that I would make one final trip to Israel to do knowledge transfer with the team.  I was glad to have an opportunity for closure.

On October 19, for the last time in the foreseeable future, I landed in Tel Aviv, the city I have come to love like a second home.  By the time I pulled out of the Hertz parking garage, the sun was starting to set, a fiery orange ball dipping into the desert.  It was breathtaking.  I took it as a symbol, a portent of good things to come in the week ahead.

I had envisioned a farewell to Tel Aviv with the rough theme of "you can sleep when you're dead."  Reflecting on the highlights of my visits over the past two years, from early-morning runs along the sea to a Christmas Eve drag show, I wanted to cram my week full of memorable encounters- not to mention world-class meals at Tel Aviv's excellent restaurants.  I was particularly looking forward to the graffiti tour I had booked for Friday in the Florentin neighborhood.  

As fate would have it, the theme was closer to "you can't breathe when you're sick".  Less than 48 hours in, I felt the telltale ache in my bones, my throat swollen shut, the Kleenex piling up in my trash can.  I slogged through work on Monday, but by Tuesday, I couldn't even get up.  As the days went by, I canceled one set of plans after another, staring at the ceiling of my apartment.  Never mind the largely-aborted knowledge transfer mission; I was missing out on my last bout of Living Out Loud in TA.  7,000 miles from home, in one of my favorite cities on Earth, all I wanted was my mom.

Thanks to friends who delivered NyQuil, nasal spray, lotion-infused tissues, and the best kreplach soup I've ever had, I recovered enough to handle a few meetings on Thursday.  By Friday, I was legitimately on the mend.  I wasn't leaving until Saturday morning, and because the work week ends on Thursday in Israel, I had one full free day left.  The options for how to spend it felt overwhelming.  Should I take advantage of my rental car and drive to Yam Kineret?  Or stay in Tel Aviv and visit museums I'd never had time to see?  Would any farewell be proper without a final visit to Jerusalem?  I couldn't decide.

But by the time I finished breakfast at Benedict with a friend, I'd made up my mind to spend my final day in Tel Aviv just being there.  I rented a green bike-share cruiser from one of the many stations around the city and headed for the path along the ocean.  I rode down to Yafo, through Florentin, across HaTachana and up Rothschild.  I stopped for lunch and eavesdropped on the Hebrew conversations around me, just watching the people of Tel Aviv enjoying their weekend with friends and kids.  I was a fly on the wall, soaking it all in.  It was perfect.

The tour of Florentin did not disappoint.  Two of my colleagues joined me, and together with our excellent guide, we strolled through this neighborhood in transition, learning about its Greek heritage, Bauhaus architecture, exceptional burekas and prolific graffiti art.  By the end of the tour, we could rattle off the names of half a dozen prominent street artists (including my favorite, EPK- the Eggplant Kid- whose purple globes are everywhere you look.)  Florentin's graffiti speaks to the political and social themes of Israeli culture, and it seemed an apt way to wrap up my time there.

The next morning, I found myself at Ben Gurion Airport, getting high on espresso while I waited for my flight.  (I learned early on not to order decaf in Israel... it might be possible to get it some places, but they look at you as if you just asked for a mug of shit.)  I felt that combination of anxiety and heartsickness that comes with an impending long separation from someone you love.  I had no idea when I would next return to Israel, and it left me unsettled.  I wasn't ready to say goodbye without knowing that I would see her again.  She is a part of me forever.  It's hard to explain how I feel.

Just before it was time to board, I darted into the music store.  I wanted to take with me something sensory, something evocative to keep the connection alive while simultaneously affording me some Hebrew practice.  I picked up two Hadag Nahash CDs - their new one, and one that the clerk insisted I had to have- reminiscing about their live show in Tel Aviv two years earlier.  "And something Mizrachi", I asked the friendly clerk.  Without hesitation, he handed me an Eyal Golan CD.  I handed over all my remaining shekels and ran for the gate.

I won't say goodbye, Tel Aviv... I will just say L'Hitraot.  "See you".  I hope it won't be too long.  In the meantime, I will be singing along.  Elohim, mah ha'inyanim...


Monday, October 21, 2013

Carmel Market in Three Scenes: Adventures in Broken Hebrew

The following conversations took place this morning, in Tel Aviv's open-air Carmel Market, in Hebrew.  

Scene I: Juice

Juice guy: Good morning.
Me: Good morning.  Carrot juice, please.  Do you have ginger?
Juice guy: Ginger, no.  But blah blah blah blah blah lemon.
Me: OK.  (Trying to suppress blank stare)

Juice guy gets a pomegranate out of the cooler, cuts it in half and puts it on the press.  Then another. Then some green things that I guess are maybe a kind of lemon?

So, this is what I got instead of carrot juice:

It was delicious.

Epilogue: turns out that the word he was saying was "rimon", not "limon"- which, you guessed it, means pomegranate.

Scene II: Vegetables

I grab two red peppers from the pile and hand them to the seller.
Vegetable guy: 2 shekels.
I hand him a 50-shekel note, which is all I have.
Vegetable guy: Blah blah blah blah?
Me: No.
Vegetable guy counts out a bunch of coins and bills and hands them to a different customer.
Vegetable guy, turning back to me: 2 shekels.
Me: I already paid you.
Lady standing next to me: He asked you, and you said no. 
Me: I’m sorry, my Hebrew’s not very pretty (sic).  I thought he was asking if I had anything smaller than a 50.
Vegetable guy: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.  You understand?
Me: Yes, I understand.

Scene III: Bread

I browse the crusty golden loaves and wonder whether the black things are olives or raisins.  But since I don’t know the word for raisins, I choose a seeded loaf with no black things.

Me: Good morning.
Bread guy: Good morning.  Blah blah blah?
Me: (Thinking he’s asking if I want it in a bag) Yes, please.
Bread guy puts the loaf on a machine and slices it.
Bread guy: 12 shekels.
Me: Thanks.

So, the sum total of my lousy Hebrew and stubborn unwillingness to admit I’m a tourist: I got pomegranate juice instead of carrot, a sliced loaf instead of a whole one, and I almost gave 48 shekels (about $14) to an elderly Israeli lady.  All in all, not a bad gamble.  The stakes were low, and what’s an adventure without a few wrong turns?

But if there’s an air raid, I’m switching to English.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Mostly Vegan"

Paula and I recently wrapped up our six-week vegan experiment.  We went into it powered by  horrific images of animal cruelty from our viewing of Vegucated, coupled with an ethical calling to eat the right thing on a planet straining to feed 7 billion people.  The experience was interesting, and in its wake, my diet is a lot less animal protein-rich -- about 80% less.  I'm calling that a win.   

It was not at first an easy transition.  On the second day of the experiment, I woke up and realized that none of my breakfast go-to faves were in the mix anymore.  As I entered week two, I felt vaguely unsatisfied most of the time.  The girls and I were up in Pt. Reyes, away from home, and it seemed that I was living off avocados and bread.  I never, ever thought I would get sick of avocados, but suddenly, I wanted something I haven't craved in two decades: meat.  Paula was staffing the vegan experiment support line from the home front:

P: Have a glass of wine.
K: How is it that I've been a vegetarian for like 20 years and all I want right now is a bucket of fried chicken?  To go with my wine.
P: I want to take a bath in gravy.
K: I'm about ready to go outside and shoot an elk and eat it raw.

Still, I persevered.  And as time went on, and I stopped trying so hard... I realized that there was great vegan food all around me.  Half the menu at my favorite Thai restaurant, a long list of entrees at the Chinese place, the sofritas tacos at Chipotle, stuffed grape leaves at Costco... even if I didn't feel like cooking, the options were plentiful.  And the best vegan food didn't have a long or complex list of ingredients.  It wasn't masquerading as a burger, or chicken, or a hot dog.  It was just itself.  I read dozens of vegan recipe blogs, but for the most part, the staples that satisfied me required no recipe at all (with a few exceptions below...)

As with most changes, it was worth muscling through the withdrawal.  I don't think I could have converted to "mostly vegan" without going to Ground Zero for a while.  It forced a level of adaptation and exploration that paid dividends.

Since my original post, many of you have told me that you're trying to, or already have, cut back on animal products.  It's starting to feel like a groundswell.  With that in mind, I hereby share some of Paula's and my takeaways from our vegan experiment.

Karen and Paula's Vegan Experiment Post-Mortem

- A great many things taste excellent with cheese.  But the absence of cheese doesn't make them bad.  I've gotten used to making and ordering sandwiches, salads and burritos without it.  Even the caprese salad we relish, with our bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes, is pretty delicious even if you leave the mozzarella out. 

- Nothing that isn't made from cheese tastes like cheese.  Not even if it melts.  Daiya is not cheese, and to a cheese eater, it tastes something like the stuff at the bottom of the sink trap after it's been burped up with a little stomach acid.  And I hear that Daiya is as good as it gets.  We threw out our bag after one serving of ruined burritos.

- God Almighty could not have come up with a finer salve for the forlorn vegan than La Victoria's orange sauce.  We don't know what's in it, but it makes just about everything better.  Especially when accompanied by a few fried corn tortillas.

- It is relatively easy to make a satisfying vegan meal.  Nuts, avocados, pumpkin seeds, tofu, tempeh, rice, roasted cauliflower and butternut squash and red peppers... all of these things taste great and fill you up.  I had the most amazing tofu scramble - hold the cheese - in Tahoe last weekend.  And it is a piece of cake to order a table-full of vegan delights at a sushi place, from tofu dishes to shiitake rolls.  Trader Joe's will happily provide you with a 4-page, single-spaced printed list of all the vegan foods they stock, from chocolate chip cookies to vegetable gyoza.

- It is much easier to make a satisfying non-vegan meal.  And sometimes, my body feels as if it needs it.  Maybe this would change over time, but that craving for meat has surfaced once or twice since our trip to Pt Reyes.  I tend to discount my cravings, as it's pretty clear my body doesn't need as much chocolate as it craves - but still.

-  Mushrooms are a miracle food that makes you feel as if you've just eaten a lovely fillet of Mushroomasaurus, rather than a fungus that grows in poop.  We almost always have them on hand now.

- These banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting are delicious.  Not "vegan delicious"; really delicious.

- So are tempeh reubens.  And you can make a decent Russian dressing substitute starting with pine nuts.

- We avoided eating most of the fake meat and dairy products out there.  But occasionally, a little Gardein chicken kept us from taking out an elk.  And I will suffer whatever the consequences for an occasional soy latte.

- I didn't even attempt to include my kids in the vegan experiment.  They live off wheat and cheese; vegetables and legumes are to them a side dish.  I'm still in awe of friends who have managed to convert their kids, even partially. 

- The hardest part for me - the reason I don't ever see myself going 100% vegan - is that food is so entwined with culture.  The rituals that enhance our lives involve gracing our home with guests, observing holidays, traveling and visiting with others - often with meals playing a central role.  When we invited guests for Rosh Hashanah dinner two weeks ago and Yom Kippur break fast last week, I couldn't envision a vegan meal that would feel celebratory.  I didn't want to bring in the new year without challah.  I wanted to break the fast with bagels and cream cheese.  And most importantly, I wanted our guests to enjoy themselves - without feeling self-conscious or judged (or hungry).  The same goes for my family.  I want to sit down together sometimes and actually share a meal, not just the space around the table.  As long as the rest of the household is not interested in going vegan, I won't be entirely vegan either.

So there you have it.  As a steadfast believer in middle ground, I am happy to have found it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Rosh Hashanah reflections, 5774

Say what you will, but I prefer the Rosh Hashanah children's service to the adult one.  It's a little under an hour, and it's lighter on the lengthy recitations of the full evening service.  There's a lot of singing, the cantor plays guitar, and if your mind wanders from the core service, there are little thought exercises in the margin of the prayer book to keep you engaged.  "Recall a time when something went wrong and then went right..." "Remember a time when you felt that you were doing exactly what God wanted you to do."  These are interesting questions- for me, more interesting and thought-provoking than the recitation of all the ways people will die in the coming year.  (I know the point is that we can temper God's judgment through our righteousness, but I get a little hung up on whether it would be worse to die of thirst, drown, or be gored by a wild beast.  I think maybe thirst.  Anyway, it's distracting.)  Throughout the family service, I feel connected: we do enough of the traditional Hebrew prayers and hymns that it feels calmingly familiar, but the material is less dogmatic, more designed for minds that have not yet been indoctrinated.  Maybe, after all these years, I am still there: wrestling, unpersuaded, cynical.

For someone who attends services as infrequently as I do, the High Holy Days are not only a time of personal reckoning but also a fidgety re-visitation of why I continue to include myself in organized religion at all.  There is so much in the liturgy that I have to gloss over to feel that the service is right for me.  Would it be better to craft my own relationship with the divine, to chart a path that fits my belief system and maybe doesn't have its core weekly ritual on date night?  Something that might not make my kids groan and complain so much?

 I wrestle with this every year, and so far, every year, I've renewed our membership.  Why?  Because my own personal faith might get too busy or too lazy to carve out an annual journey of reflection and renewal, and I cherish it.  Because the unity of so many voices reciting words of reverence lifts me up - even if every one of us is struggling with our relationship to them.  Because the simple act of rising up onto my tip-toes as I recite "Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh" rouses in me, inexplicably, a more beautiful mind-body connection than any yoga posture.  Because in between the verses I find hard to take are gems that go straight to my heart, that make me murmur Amen under my breath because there is no other word for how true they feel.  Because, although I don't see anyone else doing it, no one seems to mind that I bring my journal to services and write down things from the prayer book that I like - and my own meditations - when the liturgy loses me.  Because I love to sing loudly without being able to hear the cracks in my voice.  Because there is something comforting in the observance of rituals so ancient, amidst a community whose values are so modern. 

Most of us as parents have had to answer the question, "Do you believe in God?" If only it were a yes or a no.  As we enter into this time of t'shuvah, of turning or returning, I ask myself again, do I believe?  What do I believe?  What is drawing me?

Not too long ago, a friend was talking about her relationship with her boyfriend - how much she cherished it because he loved and accepted her exactly how she is.  That's important, I thought, but for me, not enough.  I want to feel inspired, not just loved.  I appreciate in my partner the things that make me want to be a better person - as well as those that make me feel good about who I am today.

In a simplistic sense, I wish for the same from my relationship with God: the love reassuring me that I am enough, and the inspiration reassuring me that I can be more.  They are not incompatible.

In the words and meditations of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I find both the love and the inspiration.

As Jews gather in congregations around the world, I'm heartened by the inherent optimism in our ritual: we messed up last year.  But we're definitely going to do better this year.  We affirm this, even knowing that we will be back next year, at the same time, to do it all over again.  We set our intention and detach from the outcome.  The detachment doesn't weaken the fervor of the intent.  This optimism is so crucial to our survival.  Without it, the news of the world would crush our spirit, and we would fade away.

To all those who are wrapping themselves in this time of reflection, introspection, and connection, I wish you a very happy and sweet new year.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The 81st percentile

Six miles northeast of San Jose City Hall, Alum Rock Park spreads across 720 acres in the Diablo foothills.  It's a beloved destination for downtown dwellers.  Families barbecue by the horseshoe pits; schoolchildren take field trips to the Youth Science Institute; couples walk hand in hand along the Creek Trail.  And on a Saturday afternoon, you'll join a steady stream of walkers, runners and bikers if you head for Eagle Rock and its 180-degree view of the Santa Clara Valley.
Go just a little further, though, to the Todd Quick trail off the North Rim, and you'll access the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve.  Other than your own footfalls, the only sound you're likely to hear is a moo from cattle grazing freely on the hillsides.  (They’re part of a plan to reduce invasive species and bring back native plants.)  On a weekend in July, while Eagle Rock was enjoying its typical popularity, I ran into a grand total of three other hikers - and two grey foxes- in two hours.  

Coming back down the switchbacks, it occurred to me that I had crossed into the 81st percentile.  By design, it doesn’t get much discussion.  The Pareto principle, or 80-20 rule, states that for many things, 80% of results come from 20% of causes.  It's an invaluable management principle.  By focusing on the 20%- the critical few- you get the best bang for the buck.  Cross over the line and you start yielding diminishing returns.

In our personal lives, though, that long tail of the distribution curve is where interesting things happen.  Once we surface from our awkward teenage years and realize that following the herd isn't all it's cracked up to be, the world opens up to us- and a small deviation in our patterns can land us in a surprisingly different place.  On that Saturday afternoon, I didn't free-climb Half Dome or go heli-hiking in Banff.  I just turned right instead of left in my local county park, and it changed my experience significantly.

This got me thinking about how often we navigate the world along programmed neural pathways.  If I looked just beyond my largely cruise-controlled life, I wonder what I would find.  What musical treasures transcend Today’s Hits on 97.3?  Could a 30-minute meditation take me deeper into stillness than 15?  And why do I habitually run for half an hour, even when I have time to go longer?  Where are those touch points that, with a small, deliberate effort, yield surprising rewards?  

I know that “81st percentile” is technically a misnomer, but the point is that you don’t have to get extreme to live more expansively.  Most of us will never cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope or dance with the Bolshoi Ballet.  But a gentle stretch away from our dialed-in routines is an exponentially richer world waiting to be tapped.  We have unprecedented, virtually effortless access to information today.  It’s all in how we use it.

I tested my theory at work today by Googling “NPR music blog.”  There was a review of a band called Grizfolk.  I typed it into Pandora, and presto, I was listening to a stream of artists I’d never heard of: Shaye, Appleton, Amie Mariello, Lynn Maas.  I was excited.  I kept exiting Powerpoint to see who was playing and write down their names.

And then I ran for 35 minutes.

This certainly didn’t make me hip.  It didn’t make me a bad-ass.  It just made me happy.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


In the 25 years since I stopped eating meat, I've often been asked, "Why?"  My pat response is "Because I don't need to."   Most people seem satisfied with that, but the real answer, and what I actually put down the hatch, are more nuanced.  This question has come up a lot more in the past two weeks, since Paula and I began a six-week vegan experiment (inspired by Vegucated, an entertaining, biased, but nonetheless thought-provoking documentary,) and I've been revisiting my answer to it.

It runs in my family to love animals more than people.  At some point, I’d seen enough “Love animals, don’t eat them” bumper stickers to ask myself whether I should love McDonald’s hamburgers so much.  It took me a while, because I ate a lot of fast food: chicken patties in the dining hall, golden arches on the weekend.  I had never learned to cook, only how to reheat.  But the summer before my sophomore year of college, I lovingly wadded up my last red and yellow burger wrapper, wiping away a tear or two.  

That's how it began.  A year later, when I started my environmental studies major, some inconvenient truths about meat in the modern world came out: rainforest cleared to make way for livestock; concentrated animal waste runoff polluting waterways; the massive investment of energy and water required to produce a pound of beef.   As we peeled back the onion, industrial meat production, or "factory farming”, emerged not only as grossly inhumane but also as a blunt example of poor environmental stewardship.  And this was 1990; global warming had barely entered common parlance.  We were just beginning to talk about methane from belching farm animals and its impact on climate change.  My vegetarian conviction became even stronger.  

But then I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  And it got a lot more complicated.  Industrial organic, factory-farmed laying hens, pasture-raised cows grazing on native grasses… suddenly, my asparagus quiche didn’t look like such a good choice compared to a steak from Marin Sun Farms.  And especially when compared to hunting my own boar. 

Over the years, the dialogue about meat and factory farming has migrated from PETA meetings and patchouli-scented co-ops to a mainstream audience.  It comes up as a culprit for global warming and water pollution, but also heart disease, breast cancer, and Type 2 diabetes.  The chorus of voices urging people to cut back not just on burgers but on all animal products is now rich with harmonies.  A growing number of doctors and researchers stand among the tree-huggers and dreadlocked yogis.  They have different reasons why, but their refrain is common: eat less meat.  

I was interested in the vegan experiment primarily because I wanted to get past my excuse of “it’s too hard”, and I was facing some more inconvenient truths: that industrial dairy relies on veal calves; that laying hens suffer some of the worst treatment of all farmed animals; and that dairy cows belch as much as ruminants bound for slaughter.  And, most of all, that labels like “cage-free”, “free range” and “organic” provide little transparency into what is actually happening down on the farm.  Still, I’m not fundamentally opposed to eating meat.  I just think that here in northern California, where we can grow our own vegetables, have access to bountiful farmers’ markets, and can even buy tofu hot off the press in Japantown, it’s easier to make good choices within the confines of a {mostly} plant-based diet.

The decision matrix around putting food on the table can be exhausting.  It can kill the mood if you start thinking too hard about the mouth-watering meal set before you, especially one prepared with love.  It’s not enough anymore to be a vegetarian, or even a vegan; you need to be a locavore who eats whole foods that are responsibly grown.  (Skittles may be vegan, but only because they contain almost no ingredients that could be recognized as food.)   

But we don't just have a right to know about our food; we have a responsibility.  We can't just believe what companies who market food tell us, because they will tell us what we want to hear- and that is different from the truth.  In accepting that responsibility, to the best of our ability, there is a different kind of pleasure. 

Once we wrap up our 6-week free vegan trial, I expect some dairy, eggs and fish back in my diet – but not nearly as much.  And unless I take up hunting (who knows?), I will probably stay off meat, with two exceptions:

  • If I’m a guest, especially overseas, I’ll eat whatever I’m served.  In the tangled web of connections, our connections to each other feel most important.  I visited friends in Russia at a time when getting any sort of food meant standing in a long line.  I wasn’t going to snub the chicken. 
  • I’ll eat almost anything that is bound for the trash (unless it has grey furry stuff on it).  If my kids leave chicken on their plates, better to reroute to my stomach than to the garbage, I say.  It seems the worst insult of all to slaughter an animal and then throw it away.  
When all is said and done, I think Michael Pollan summed it up well in his New York Times Magazine piece:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.  Words to live by.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Summer Internship as a Stay-At-Home Mom (Week 3 of 5)

This summer, I decided to do something I haven’t done in the 17 years since grad school: take a big chunk of time off (without giving birth.)  My boss reluctantly approved my request after I suggested that he just pretend I was having a baby.  He thought about it in silence for a few seconds, then sighed and said, “Well, as long as you don’t actually have one.”  That was about four months back.  
Two and a half weeks ago, the odyssey began.  We left SFO at 6AM on a Sunday to join our extended family in Maine, and the decompression happened more quickly than I expected.  At the gate, I was on Skype with my boss, talking through a plan of attack for the hot probs du jour.  I drank a Bloody Mary through clenched teeth on our flight.  24 hours later, I was swimming in a cove full of green crabs, my iPhone tucked into a drawer several miles away.  I left it there for almost the whole trip.

Above all else, we set out to relax in Maine.  Gradually, I eased off the reflex to hurry the kids, digesting the delicious realization that we weren’t on a schedule.  My sister and I both wanted a vacation with the fewest commitments, the fewest dishes, the fewest provocations to lose it with our kids.  So we swam, we sailed, we picked blueberries, we had ice cream for breakfast, we hiked, we took naps.  We performed the play that Rebecca and my nephew wrote.  And we woke up every morning without a plan.  As our 10-day trip drew to a close, Paula and I had to remind ourselves that our real life hadn't changed; this was only a hiatus.  But it was one we savored.  The girls savored it, too.  They almost never get a date with Mommy that isn’t time-boxed.  

After five days at home, the girls and I arrived yesterday in Point Reyes.  I’m relaxing on the couch while they work through an elaborate Playmobil-assisted fantasy about a war between the Swan People and the Dragon People.  This afternoon, we head for a night at Sky Camp – not exactly backcountry camping, but at 1.2 miles from the trail head, it's adventurous enough for me, with two kids in tow, a herniated disc, and four knee surgeries in my wake.  I've spent a total of 15 minutes working since we got here.

As with all summer internships, I know that my experience is not a good likeness for a full-time position as SAHM.  Moms almost always wake up with a plan – often one that most CEOs would find intimidating.  And stay-at-home moms usually are responsible for all the kid stuff single-handedly; I have the significant advantage that Dad isn’t working, either.  This is kind of like the rafting trip and wine tasting drill Booz Allen did when I was an intern to convince us that the brutality of management consulting is actually glamorous and fun.  

Nonetheless, I’m appreciating this brief swing of the pendulum toward the mother in working mother.  Last week, I actually met the counselors at Rebecca’s camp.  I dropped her off and picked her up one day.  I got a glimpse into how she interacted with the other kids.  (Leah has been to two camps so far this summer; I never set eyes on either one.)  For the first time in a long time, I feel less like an absentee sponsor of my children’s activities and more like a participant.  Who knew that schlepping your kids around could (in moderation) be so fulfilling?  
The biggest a-ha for me is that – guess what – I’m not a workaholic.  I am reveling in the time off.  Don’t get me wrong; I work hard at my job (and I’m not just saying that in case my boss is reading my blog.)  I’ve stayed connected enough to support my team and take care of our customers.  But working hard is different from workaholism.  Workaholics depend on their jobs the way alcoholics depend on booze.  They use work to compensate for anxiety or low self-esteem or to evade challenges at home.  They fill long hours with work that yields diminishing returns because not working gives them the shakes.

And as I’m embarking on my third week off, with no delirium tremens to show for it, I’m affirming the gratification and challenge and joy and growth I get outside of work too.  My professional identity is an important part of me – but I don’t depend on working to feel good about myself. 

This reset may actually benefit GreenRoad when I return next month.  As anyone who has taken maternity leave in a leadership role knows, stepping out of your routine forces more junior team members to grow, exposes fault lines that need to be reinforced, and makes everything off the critical path fade to gray.  When you come back, you can’t help but realize that much of what you spent time on before you left didn’t actually fall to pieces without your attention when you were gone.  Which means… you have a lot more discretionary time to spend on high-value, strategic tasks than you thought.  And that is not only good for the company but also for those loved ones who suffer the externalities if you become frustrated or burned out at work.  

That is all good and well.  But as I woke up with a 5-year-old in my bed and gleefully subjected myself to today's interrogation - "Is a tongue a muscle?  Do you weigh more than a horse?  Why does Daddy talk about Mother Nature instead of God?"- my head was right here, in this job, one that I feared would feel awkward and forced but which actually feels like a second skin.  

Which is more of a relief than you’ll ever know.