Aug 30 2014

Still Carefree

From the other side of the dining hall, she stomped across the room, arms akimbo, her angry face narrowing in on me. Short-pants was scolding me with her whole body.

“Where were you all night? I didn’t see you before I went to sleep. You weren’t there when I woke up. Did you even come home?”

It took a concerted effort to contain my smile. My 13-year old daughter was admonishing me for what she believed had been an all-nighter. Already, it seems, the child is parenting the parent.

I wondered if I should tell her the whole truth. That after a long night of drumming, karaoke and ’round-the-campfire singing, I’d hung out with friends at the cottage, aka the party house, telling stories and drinking shots of fireball whiskey. That we busy_nightdiscussed and seriously considered a 3:00 am car trip – don’t worry, there was a non-drinker who would have driven – into the town a few miles away, to a 24-hour shawarma joint or to try out the all-night casino on the nearby Indian reservation. That the only reason we didn’t rally was that I was delivering a 7:00 am – yes seven in the morning – writing workshop and I knew I couldn’t pull an all-nighter and still pull it off like in the old days. I wondered if I should mention to her that I’d forgotten my key in the room and had to crawl in the window at 3:30 am, while she and her sister and De-facto snored in their beds. That I crawled into bed giggling, because everything about the whole night had left me feeling untethered, carefree.

“I stayed up very late talking to friends. I came in after you’d fallen asleep.” I tried to express this as a calm fact, realizing that I was feeling defensive. “And I was up and out early this morning, before you woke up, to facilitate my 7:00 session.”

Her anger turned to tears. She wrapped her arms around me and drew in for a big hug, whispering in my ear, “But I missed you, Mama.”

~ ~ ~

As creativity conferences go – and I’ve been to many, in the states, in Europe and the UK, in South Africa, too – the conference we attended last week, Mindcamp, might top my list. It’s casual pace and rustic setting at a YMCA camp just north of Toronto made for the right balance of escape, immersion and relaxation; a perfect storm for creative insights and expression. Many of the usual suspects from our tribe of practitioners and facilitators were present – coming north over the border from the US and Mexico, or traveling in from Europe, from South America and even New Zealand to lead and attend sessions on various aspects of creativity: cultivating the right mindset, using cool tools and techniques. One of the reasons I love going to these conferences is it’s great for taking a little risk and trying on an interesting topic or technique. But it’s also a place to sharpen the saw and pick up new ideas and exercises to broaden my own tool kit. Perhaps most important, it’s a place to see longtime friends, open-minded and big-hearted people who feel, to me, just like extended family, friends whom we’ve connected and re-connected with over the years and at whose suggestion I will stay up nearly all night drinking fireball whiskey.

We’ve been dragging our kids to creativity conferences all their lives. Both Short-pants and Buddy-roo had pre-natal experiences at CPSI or CREA. I remember the early days, dragging_kidshiring local babysitters through the hotel, or bringing our nanny along, or just juggling the supervision of their activities and meals in the thin slices of time between organizing and leading my own workshops. It was fatiguing, being mom and facilitator at once in such an intense setting, but I didn’t want to miss the conferences and I knew even just being in the company of this band of cool, creative adults would have a positive impact on our children.

When the girls were little, we managed all this on an ad-hoc basis, piecing together child-care while we ran our workshops. In the last few years at CREA, an unofficial kids program has entertained and inspired them, but we were involved in its coordination and responsible for filling in the holes. At Mindcamp, there is a full-on kid’s program with designated facilitators to do that, full-time, all day. That, coupled with the fact that the girls are now both old enough to dress themselves, find their way around, get their own food at the buffet table and get it from plate to mouth without our assistance, meant that they were extremely self-sufficient. We’d go the entire day without seeing them, just passing in the dining hall and getting a quick update on the amazing experiences they’d just had in their program.

Short-pants was even invited to co-facilitate a session. Originally designed for adults and kids mixed together, it had morphed into an adults-only workshop (sounds X, but it wasn’t) and because she’d already put some thought into it, her older co-facilitators invited her to continue with them anyway. I appreciated this as I think it’s better for her to get her feet wet under someone else’s wing, not only her mother’s (or father’s). I attended the session as a participant and I was struck by her poise and clarity in front of the group. Later it was reported to me by a friend that Short-pants had responded to a congratulatory remark by nodding at her heritage: “My parents and my grandmother are all facilitators, I guess it’s in my blood.”

I loved watching my girls from a distance, running amok with a pack of kids, engaging in precocious conversations with other adults at the conference who’ve watched them grow up over the years. It even happened big_balloononce or twice, when I wanted to stop and chat with them and they were antsy, distracted. They’d lean in and kiss me and run off to their next session or their new friends, leaving me to admire them as they sprinted away. I can’t say I minded too much. I’d been privy to their on-going chatter 24/7 for more than four weeks straight. I honestly didn’t mind seeing the back of their heads. And each night, on the passaggiata, an after-dinner creative stroll through the grounds during which you’d run into all sorts of creative events and activities, from giant bubble-blowing to drumming to illuminated hoola-hooping to a perpetually-laughing man, to name only a few, they’d run by, part of a pack of kids, waving to me as they passed, wild and carefree on a late summer night.

~ ~ ~

Mindcamp was our last stop on this epic family US-tour. We’d traveled from San Francisco to as far south as Santa Fe, then north again to Chicago and east toward Cape Cod. We even took the ferry to Nantucket for a few island days before driving to Toronto for the conference. We were on the road a total of 37 days and the trip odometer displayed 5,272 miles when we dropped off the rental car at the airport. With the exception of Buddy-roo’s small backpack, all the things we left behind had been mailed to us, and received, at subsequent destinations. After final search through the SUV that had carried us west to east in roomy comfort, we closed its heavy silver doors for the last time and handed the keys to the Avis agent.

Despite my initial resistance to the car time required for this trip, and the fatigue from having taken it, I must admit I was sorry to say goodbye to that car. It had become part of our family, carrying us across the country to see places of interest and people we love. It was the vehicle for our great adventure, the wheels that took us where we wanted to go, when we our_silver_bulletwanted to go there. Our driving-vacation was not without structure or commitments: we had to be certain places by certain dates and we tried to pack too much in, which kept us moving when we might have preferred to linger. Even so, it still felt footloose, like we were entirely mobile. Everything we needed was in the trunk of that silver bullet, and for days on end all we did was drive to a new place and see old friends. What’s more carefree than that?

I patted the car affectionately before we walked away. “I’ll miss you,” I whispered, so that not even De-facto and the kids could hear.

Back in Barcelona – back home – suitcases were emptied while the washing machine churned for hours and the girls sequestered themselves upstairs in their rooms to lay their hands on their own things. A restlessness usually accompanies the return from any trip, let alone a trip of this length and quantity of experiences, but this time something felt, and still feels, different. Perhaps it’s a consequence of a making a voyage rather than a quick trip. Having left behind the priorities and responsibilities of day-to-day life for so long, the endless list of little things that never got done before we left somehow feels like a new list, a list of things that don’t-need-to-get-done-after-all. There are things to do, but they don’t seem burdensome. Summer is waning, sure, and the return to school and work and the busy-ness of autumn are closing in on us, but it’s okay. For just a few more days, at least, things still feel carefree.


Jun 29 2011

The Sweet Spot

There were baby things everywhere. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; this was a conference for mothers who blog, and many of them have little babies or toddlers. It’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve been in the company of so many women with babies on their minds, let alone in their bellies, in their arms, or in strollers, being pushed around the exhibitor hall. Friendly people at every stand offered up freebies galore: baby bottles and thermometers, teething toys and toddler clothes. The swag at Cybermummy11 was definitely geared for the mums with younger children. I didn’t mind – it meant there was less to carry home – but it made me realize how many of these mothers are squeezing out posts during naps, patching together tiny portions of spare time to write their blogs and run their businesses. They’re pacing back and forth to soothe a sick child with a thousand thoughts running through their heads, juggling diapers and daycare, surviving and thriving despite sleep deprivation and the constant churn of mothering little ones. I looked around at all of them with their babies in tow and I thought to myself, thank god that’s not me anymore.

The night before the conference, I slipped down to the hotel bar, dreaming of a quiet dinner at the bar by myself, but it turns out I’d landed in a trendy boutique hotel and the place was rockin’. There were no stools at the bar, and the restaurant didn’t have the right ambiance for solo dining, so I returned to my room and ordered room service. Like any diligent blogger, I happily ate dinner in front of my computer. When @mummytips tweeted me to come down and join her in the bar with her friends (@bumpwearclaire and @Melaina25), I knew the scene I was getting myself into. But I’d come all this way to see and meet my blogging compatriots, so I ventured down into the world of exposed brick and designer cologne.

The bartenders weren’t particularly efficient, though it wasn’t easy for them because the place was packed with testosterone. We struggled to find an opening at the bar, surrounded by all the young men mulling about, aggressively getting their drinks and blocking our way. To add insult to injury, two young slicksters did a little divert through the crowd to put themselves in front of us.

I was clearly the oldest woman in this entire bar. And I was parched. These guys were boys, young enough to be my sons. They had fresh blemishes and peach fuzz. They hardly looked old enough to drink. I had no choice but to step forward and slip in between them. I scolded them, but with a smile: “I can’t believe that two young men like you would actually sneak ahead of a group of thirsty women. Didn’t your mothers teach you anything?”

Deep down, I suppose, they were good boys, because they stood aside and made way for me to advance to the bar. On the surface, they were clowns, trying so hard to get the bartender’s attention on my behalf that he ignored me longer than he would have without their attempted aide. They swarmed around, alternating between hitting on anything with breasts and then returning and engaging me in the most inane conversations. I will admit that certain young men can kindle the cougar in me, but these two were not of such stock. They conjured up the memory of my awkward early years of meeting and dating and I thought to myself, thank god that’s not me anymore.

There are a lot of reasons to attend a conference like Cybermummy: networking and connecting with advertisers or sponsors, going to sessions for hints and tips from experienced bloggers, and of course, the swag. But the real reason: to be in the company of others who, finally, understand why you blog. Why you race through your day on skates so you can leave a little time to pound out a post. How you get a bit antsy when too many days have gone by without posting. Or as one of the crowd-sourced keynote speakers, who blogs at KateTakes5 put it, how you “get used to disapproving looks from other mothers when your child falls in the street and you scramble for the camera instead of picking her up.” When you go to a conference like this, there’s a huge sense of connectedness – and relief – when you think to yourself, that’s just like me and oh, I’m not alone.

More than four hundred women attended the Cybermummy conference, stating loud and clear that mothers – whether they stay at home, work part-time or do the full-time-job-mom-juggle – are a force to contend with. We have stories to tell, opinions to air and we can make a difference with our words. From the inspiring opening keynote by Sarah Brown, to the poignant or funny blogger keynotes that closed the meeting, the range of voices I heard made me proud to be among this group. Not to mention the Eden Fantasy sponsored dildo-decorating party hosted by @cosmicgirlie on Saturday night. Want to remove the sexual taboo of an object? Invite twenty women to decorate it with feathers and sequins. You’ll see.

Miles and hours away from London and the conference and a newly enlarged network of blogging friends, I returned, with some relief, to my family. I travel enough to be used to the ebb and flow of glad-to-be-gone but oh-I-miss-them, and still, on this trip, the longing for them was fiercer than usual. Maybe it was seeing all those babies and remembering how adorable Short-pants and Buddy-roo were at that age. Maybe it was stepping into that whole bar scene and wondering – worrying – if my girls will acquire what it takes to encounter, endure and exit (safely) from the company of doo-doo heads like those young guys. Or maybe I’m just getting soft.

At bedtime, Short-pants was reading in her own room while I sang a lullaby to Buddy-roo, who’d already shut the light and was drifting off to sleep. It’s the same lullaby my mother used to sing to me. It’s the same lullaby I used to sing to them when they were babies and toddlers. My girls are (nearly) ten and seven, they still ask for the song at bedtime. How much longer will they let me sing it to them?

I traced my hand along the length of Buddy-roo’s long leg, thinking about where I am now in my life, as a mother. I’m glad to have the baby part behind me. I’m dreading a bit what’s ahead: their adolescence and navigating the minefields of boys-to-men. But right now, in this phase: it’s pretty sweet. They’re old enough to be independent; they dress themselves, get their own juice from the fridge, conduct their business privately in the bathroom. But they’re still young enough to be truly excited when I come home from a weekend away. Is this the sweet spot of motherhood? It makes me think to myself, it’s a good time, right now, to be mom.

It’s a good time to be a Cybermummy, too.


Aug 9 2010

Not a Shy Tribe

I stepped on to the escalator and let it lift me diagonally toward the second floor. At the top, a group of women stood in a circle, laughing. Behind them, more women waited in line at the registration desk. I became aware of something gnawing uncomfortably in my stomach: that would be butterflies. I was nervous.

Kind of ridiculous, I told myself. I’m no stranger to conferences and conventions. I learned early in my career how to work a room. I’ve organized, presented and facilitated meetings of all sizes and shapes. And this time I had no responsibilities whatsoever, only myself to consider: What sessions do I want to attend and which parties to drop in on? What was the big deal?

It’d had all come together at the last minute. I’d put the BlogHer ’10 conference in my calendar knowing it was nearly impossible to attend. A mid-summer air-fare. A non-essential trip away from De-facto and the girls. Another excursion just on the heels of my annual escape to the fiesta. But a client’s shifting of dates worked in my favor, landing me too close to the conference – in proximity as well as timing – not to feel absolutely entitled to take a few days and join in.

I knew nobody. Except that’s not true – I knew a lot of bloggers. I’d read their stories, empathized with their rants, gasped at their brave disclosures. If you read someone’s blog – even sporadically – you can know them in ways that are more intimate than you know people who live down the hall from you for years. Still, I was nervous. What would it be like to meet, in the flesh, the bloggers I’d admired and appreciated? What if I never managed to meet any of them? Or what if nobody wanted to meet me? What if it turned out to be a haughty bunch of competitive women, an inner circle of high-trafficked web-mistresses, a network woven too tight to penetrate, a clique around which I’d feel inept and inadequate?

It made me think of something that happened two weeks ago, when Buddy-roo was begging to go to the Centre de Loisir. She was tired of having only her older sister to boss around and interested in the arts-n-crafts-n- things that go with organized summer child-care. On our way to the centre, she skipped with glee. She couldn’t wait to get there.

Until we reached the door. While waiting to register, she moved out of my view and hid behind me. She gripped my hand tight, pinching my fingers. When it was our turn to fill out the paperwork, she began to cry. Her imagined joy about being there had crumbled to the dingy reality in front of her: she didn’t recognize anyone. I knelt down and said all the things you’re supposed to say – you can imagine the pep talk – but inside I was giving myself the big eye roll. Com’n Buddy-roo, don’t be a wuss. How could that bold girl who’d skipped fiercely down the street shrink so swiftly into a timid mama’s girls crying to go home?

Now I knew. Because it did occur to me, standing at the top of the landing that I could make an immediate U-turn to the down escalator and out the door and away from this crowd of smiling women who all appeared to know each other already and to know everything there is to know about blogging.

This is what the girls go through, I thought, every time there’s a new or a first something. First day of school. A new music class. Starting a dance class. Registering at the Centre de Loisir. Whether you’re four years old or in your forties, entering the unfamiliar can be daunting. I’d forgotten how easy it is to feel shy.

But by lunchtime I’d run into Magpie. I’d said hello to another Maggie, Dammit, and shook hands with two of my heroines Mom 101 and Mominatrix. It took me a while, but I managed to track down Amanda and I bought two books for Sweet/Salty to autograph at her book-signing.

But it was just before that very book signing moment that I bumped into two British women bloggers. Nothing against the ‘mericans – I’m one of them and always will be – but there was something reassuringly familiar about these accented voices from the other side of the pond, feeling slightly other, just as I was. That they were interested in finding a bar didn’t hurt. We bonded over Berry BlogHers, a special drink concocted for the conference and I knew I’d found my tribe. So special thanks to Sian and Jay and Jen. And also Minnie and Liz who rounded out our international circle with west coast flair and made it all that much more fun.

I could add several dozen more links: four truly inspiring activists who risk their lives to blog, a number of women (and men) who spoke intelligently and articulately on panels, composers of the cleverest of tweets or people who just cracked me up making conversation in the ladies room. By the end of the conference, I was fearlessly riding up and down those escalators, going where I wanted to go, meeting exactly who – it turns out – I needed to meet. Not feeling shy anymore, and feeling very much part of the tribe.