Reflections: A New Year's Post

January is in full swing and the hustle of the holidays is over. Another year in, another year gone. While most people were busy making resolutions to ensure 2014 would be even better than 2013, I had time to think about what I want out of this new year. While it would be easy to fall into the classic categories ("I want to lose weight", "I want to make more money", etc) I decided not to make any resolutions of the new year's variety. While having goals isn't what I found to be at fault, it was the typical response to the end of the year coming to an end. Forbes.com suggested last January that only 8% of people achieve their New Year's resolutions. Whether or not that is true, there's a reason why companies which market diet pills, nutritional powders & bars, and other "health" foods see higher profits in the few months after Christmas than any other time of the year.

I feel what profoundly changed, for me, was what 2013 contained. It wasn't about doing the same thing last year as the year before, instead, 2013 held events that could not be matched by any other year (save for perhaps the year my son was born).

For us, 2013 was the year our daughter, our second child, Evelyn, was born. What a joyous day in April it was! What started as a happy occasion, though, quickly detoured into a two-sided emotion within a matter of hours: worry & hope. The bliss of her birth had to be put on hold because she had to be rushed to the NICU, having been born completely lifeless due to the umbilical cord getting compressed during birth leaving her without oxygen for well over a minute. (See my unfinished post HERE about her birth story.) Two weeks and an eternity later, we brought our beloved home.

This was the first time I was able to hold her,
four days after she was born.

After the events of spring and summertime, I returned to work only to have my milk supply dwindle then completely disappear despite all my exhaustive efforts, which sent me spiraling into depression. I was put on medication, which ended up having a worse effect on me than the depression, so I made the conscious decision to stop the medicine. By doing so, I began to binge eat again and I gained back the ten pounds I had lost on the medication. I felt like I was at an emotional stand still.

Then, one cold December evening, it snowed.

It hardly ever snows here and when it does, it's usually a little slush on the grass that melts away in an hour! I spent the entire evening playing outside with Rick and Damien, throwing snowballs and enjoying what I knew would melt away in the coming days. I so immensely enjoyed having blissful family time that I forgot all about the rest of the world.

After Damien went to bed that night, I stood outside in the navy blue-tinted darkness, watching the snow flakes fall gently to the ground, framed by the soft twinkling of our neighbor's Christmas lights. It was so quiet, so peaceful. Time stood still and all was perfect.
In that moment, my depression was lifted.
(I only wish it were so easy for others suffering with depression as well.)

I will never regret what 2013 gave to us. It certainly was a true roller coaster of emotions, but the most important thing to me is that we came out stronger on the other side. As my work schedule returns to normal and Damien is back in school from Christmas vacation, I am moving on from the complexities of the previous year without forgetting both the good & bad moments, and what both gave to me as a life lesson.

So while it is true that I am not making resolutions for 2014, I am beginning to do what nature does on its own: welcoming the new. My goals for the near and distant future may be similar to those making a New Year's resolution, but where I differ is that I am making a "better life resolution" for myself and my family.

Better life, but not necessarily more money. Just better, emotionally. And that's where they become goals for life, not just a resolution that will be broken in two months.


I Am Your Quiet Place, You Are My Wild

To my dearest Damien,

It's 1:15am on the date of your 6th birthday and as I sit in the absolute silence of our house, whilst everyone else is asleep, I have a feeling of the most gentle peace. You see, my beloved son, this year has been a roller coaster of emotions. Your little mind may not be able to comprehend what all has occurred this year though we have tried to take it on for you as much as possible. Despite a few set-backs (namely a bit of toilet training), you have brought us to the end of the year just as proud as we came into it. Then again, there is nothing you could do that would make me feel any less than the love I have for you that grows more each day.

You have transformed into a preschooler into a Kindergarten, and from an only child into a big brother.

These are huge changes for any child and you have done it all like a champ! The love you have for your baby sister radiates from within and every person who sees you two together knows it as well. She is going to be your age one day and I am so glad to know she's going to have an amazing brother that she can turn to when she's a bit unsure of the world.

You are sweet, loving, kind, and generous as any 6-year-old I know! You have an awesome sense of humor and crack me up all the time! I know that sometimes the struggles of autism can be frustrating, especially when you so want to make those around you happy, but you can't properly communicate what is going on inside your own mind. You're also dealing with the transitions into childhood and realizing that you're not a baby anymore, you're a growing boy with very real thoughts and emotions, some good and some bad.

You're testing your boundaries and while sometimes that might frustrate us, just know that the love your dad and I have for you is absolutely unconditional. As you test the limits of the world and your own mind (and the often limitless nature of it), just realize that we will always be a rock of solitude to come back to.
A safe place.
A loving atmosphere.

So while physically you are still here, mentally you are always one step ahead. It amazes me your capacity to learn, accept, and absorb all the information that you receive on a daily basis. Your mind has a unique way of coping with that and I will do everything in my power, throughout your entire life, to ensure that as many road blocks are out of the way for your success in life.
But for now, enjoy being another year older and have fun while you're at it. Happy 6th birthday.
I love you now and forever.



War of the Genders

I've heard plenty of times, usually in a TV segment, about gender discrimination in the workplace. For me it was always one of those subjects that you simply know exists but never experience, so you can only sympathize with the individual who has been the short end of the stick. Lately, though, I've been feeling the effect of keeping the perfect balance of home life and career in check, and watching the world around me progress without progressing myself.

So I'm going to say it: I feel like I haven't advanced because I am a woman.

I could easily say it has been more recent but truly it seems to have begun close to a year ago, when I became pregnant with our second child. I will never say I regret having adding another child into our family because she has enriched our lives with so much more love and enjoyment than I could have possibly imagined! I adore my son and my heart was ready to open to include more children, and even if I were living in the proverbial gutter I would never regret any expansion to our family.

But for me, it really really sucks that I can't incorporate advancing my career AND have children. For a woman, I now realize, it's one or the other. Women need to take time off to ensure proper bonding and health for mom & baby (which includes ample time for breast feeding) and our society doesn't recognize that. Most of the countries spanning the globe have some form of decent maternity leave, both paid and unpaid, for mothers as well as an option for fathers.

It's interesting to note that since this inception of this graph in 2008,
Australia has introduced an 18-week paid parental leave and many
of the included countries have only increased there benefits.

In the United States, mothers are only able to take those 12 weeks of maternity leave if the company employs over 50 individuals and the mother has been with the company for at least 12 months. I considered myself lucky that, despite many of the complaints about California, I had the option to take Pregnancy Disability for 6 weeks post-birth and another 6 weeks granted by Paid Family Leave. In our case, disability was granted for an addition 4 weeks as recommended by our pediatrician due to my daughter's NICU experience.

I will never know if taking maternity leave, or even getting pregnant for that matter, hurt my chances of getting a particular promotion within the store but I can't help but connect the dots when the promotion was extended to a peer only within a month of taking leave. (Note that my maternity leave was only taken a couple weeks prior to the birth so there was no prenatal disability or bed rest need.) Eight months later, my husband is working a new job that offered more pay, benefits, and growth than his previous position, putting us in a position of needing child care and the demands of children & family are putting me in jeopardy of advancement into a different department.
Again it comes down to ME to be the one to make sacrifices to find child care, take time off work, and bring my child to work when the caretaker turns out to be unreliable. At a time that is most crucial in my career, potentially launching me into a position that will offer me more hours with my family and financial stability, I worry about how the recent month (due to situations out of my control) are going to affect my ability to even advance into that position.

Unfortunately it's not just me who has reason to worry. This issue is so rampant in society that blind studies have been done, the results proving that there IS such a thing called a "motherhood penalty". This problem comes up often, especially if you work in a male-dominated industry where your superiors do not have a family or children, or if your boss's wife is a homemaker. In some of those cases, just being a woman (not disclosing if she is married, has children, etc) means that she was passed up for the hypothetical position.

And in my case, I hear a particular boss's words loud and clear: "You always need women; can't have too many men around here." In the context it was said it was most certainly not meant as inflammatory nor was it target in my direction, but taking it out of context angers me. Because, by itself, it stands as statement that women are only needed in this particular fields to offset the amount of males in this industry/company instead of for the experience they have. The men are looked at as individuals with different strengths that they can lend to the job, whereas women are just here to relieve the amount of testosterone in the room.

 So when it morphs from simply watching a TV program into your own life experience, the classic questions becomes, "What's a girl to do?" It's not as simple as pleading your case to your childless boss or to an HR representative because the discrimination is extremely subtle and subconscious. To complain would paint a picture of you as a non-professional, someone who cannot handle the pressures of the workplace, next to a male coworker who does not have any reason to complain. It's not something tangible, such as the illegal practice of sexual harassment, it's simply about the man being favored over the woman. It's ingrained into the mind of our society and if asked, it will be hard for the hiring individual to explain why, but reasons will be created. In the end, it's just a feeling, which proves that gender discrimination is still alive and well.
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