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What to Do the Day Before Armageddon

Tree smashes car during stormSaturday very much had an end-of-the-world feeling to it. Hurricane Irene was cruising up the East Coast at a stately 14 miles per hour. It would hit us the next day. Filling stations were running out of gas. Supermarket shelves were emptying. Parts of New York City were being evacuated.

I decided to take Amelie to the county fair. Unfortunately the folks running the place were shutting it down. Hell, I thought, there’s a full day left before the end of the world, why end the fun prematurely? I squinted up at a glowering sky. It hadn’t even started raining yet. Amelie was howling with disappointment.

So I took her out for pancakes. See below as she demonstrates proper pancake-eating form. She had a stomachache afterward, but it was worth it. Just the sight of those pancakes and that pastry cheered her right up. This, I thought, this is how to spend the day before the end of the world.

We shopped for toys and books, and then we hit the movies with popcorn and ice cream and then took a turn on some coin op rides at the mall. Rain was spitting down on us as we left, but we were feeling no pain by then.

Amelie demonstrates the proper way to eat pancakes. Don't forget to drink your syrup.

The wind tore down some tree limbs in our yard during the night, but thankfully did no further damage. The power went out throughout our town around five in the morning. We got a flat tire driving through the debris-filled streets after daybreak.

Three days without power, running water, or a flushing toilet have tested our patience, but I keep thinking of those pancakes and Amelie’s delighted laugh as she hoisted that mug of maple syrup, the first-grader’s ale.

By this morning, power had been restored to the town, thanks to help from utility workers imported from Kansas (I felt like cheering when their trucks rolled in like the tanks of a liberating army). We still can’t flush the toilet at home or take a shower, but at least now we can work at our office. We’re back in business. I have a backlog of work to do, but I’m writing this post instead.

How would you spend the day before the end of the world?

Leaving the Kids Behind, but Keeping the Heart Connection

Hello, Party of 4 readers! The party goes on, though we are so busy with new adventures that we hardly have time to blog about them lately. As I type this, Michael is completing his 9th straight day of silent meditation at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne, MA. Okay, so it’s not exactly a party over there, but it was Michael’s long-held wish to experience this retreat. Our Party of 4 live-your-dreams project gave him the push to finally do it. I can’t wait to hear about it when he returns on Sunday.

When Michael left last week, he drove down our country road with a big grin on his face. I couldn’t help but marvel at the ease with which he was able to say goodbye to his children (and of course, to me!). Contrast this with my hand-wringing anguish as I prepared for my 17-day trip to India last month. Perhaps it goes to prove that after all our talk of equality and 50-50 parenting, there are still so many differences in our emotional landscapes as mamas and daddies.

And yet, after my journey I realized that my anguish was needless. (Isn’t all anguish needless?) At the dark root, I fretted that my absence would create a rift in the child-parent bond that knits our family together. Of course that did not happen. Like all kids, mine are winningly resilient. They danced gracefully through more than two weeks without me, and upon my return our intense attachment was as alive as ever.

Which brings me to my Ah-Ha Moment. I realized that it’s okay for moms and dads to step out of their roles for a brief spell. No, not just okay. It’s healthy. Even fabulous.

Before I go, here are a few tips to ease the heartbreak of parting for globetrotting parents.

1. Plan a special parent-child outing before the big trip. The weekend before I left, I took Amelie out for British high tea. We bonded over finger sandwiches and our mutual love of all things sweet. And we both savored the exclusivity of one-on-one time together before the goodbye kiss.

2. Get some lockets. With a silver heart around her neck, my big girl knew mama was always close. Little girls love lockets, and mothers enjoy the chance to flash their children’s smiles at anyone who will indulge them with an admiring glance. For boys, perhaps a pocket-size or bedside photo of the departing parent will do nicely.

3. Remind yourself of the brevity of your journey. Two days after you return it will seem to everyone as if you never left. So you might as well give in and love the adventure. Parents travel every day. And you know what? They COME BACK. (Most of the time!)

4. Use your mama (or papa) superpowers. Oceans away from my children, I imagined myself like Hanuman, the monkey god of Hindu legend who famously leaped from the southern tip of India to the island of Lanka. A mother’s heart can stretch over continents, beyond sunsets and thunderstorms and vast deserts. Yep. Love can do that.

Tips for a balanced life from Marc & Amy Vachon

I spoke with Amy and Marc Vachon, authors of the Equally Shared Parenting book and blog, about a way of life that has made my family’s year of living adventurously possible. Marc and Amy’s work is pitched to parents, but their ideas apply equally well to any life partners who want to bring more joy and balance into their lives. Call it equally shared living.

What is equally shared parenting?

Amy: Equally shared parenting is a term that clinical psychologist Francine Deutsch out of Mount Holyoke coined as the best way to describe this thing. The thing is a lifestyle for a couple with children that builds on an equal partnership [to give] both partners…a chance at a balanced life. And so that means that they share in the four different domains of their lives together. They share equally in their importance as breadwinners in the family. They also share in the housework. They share in raising their children to the equivalent depth and approximate time spent. And then they each have approximately the same amount of time to have fun, individual lives.

Why do it?

Marc: We both want to spend time with the kids. We’re not trying to avoid them and push them off on somebody else. We both want to maintain our careers. We don’t want to avoid having to go to work. We want to embrace that as a part of who we are, and just have it fit into our life as opposed to be an all-encompassing endeavor. And same with recreation and taking care of the home.

What are the challenges?

Marc: I think it takes a leap of faith. Society is set up in a way to reaffirm the male’s role as the primary or sole breadwinner. Yes, women have come into the workforce in much larger numbers. But to totally embrace this model may call into question some of the long-held beliefs that we all grew up with, which is the man is in charge of bringing in the paycheck. To risk that in any way, I think is scary for a lot of people. It takes some courage.

Amy: Same thing on the woman’s side. I think the depth to which a woman has to let go of her society’s definition of motherhood is under appreciated. We often say on the surface, “Oh, I love when my husband helps around the house. I don’t mind if he doesn’t quite fold the towels the way I do.” But that’s just the beginning of what you have to let go. You really have to believe in the depths of your heart that your husband or your spouse or your partner or whoever is as equally capable of coming up with the best way to do anything as you are. That’s hard stuff.

Tips from Amy & Marc on starting an equally shared life

  • Get on the same page with your partner; agree that you both want to do it.
  • Start slowly.
  • Ask yourself what you want more of in your life, and what you want less of.
  • Ask you and your partner what you want out of your relationship.

Tips for keeping it going

  • Enjoy each domain of your life equally (parenting, career, housework, and recreation).
  • Don’t save the good stuff for later; have it all now—time for fun, time to work, time with loved ones.
  • Pursue meaning for yourself both in and out of the home.
  • Accept imperfection as the nature of life.

ESP for Fun and Profit

There’s a movement afoot that doesn’t have nearly enough traction, but it should embraced by anyone who wants to be a parent and also have a life. It’s called Equally Shared Parenting, or ESP. The book of the same name by Amy and Marc Vachon is its manifesto.

ESP busts some myths about parenting and it’s what makes my and Wendy’s year of living adventurously possible.

Myth: Moms are natural nuturers, not dads. This is just an excuse for dudes to avoid diaper changes and sleepless nights. Sure moms have boobs and wombs, but dads are just as well equipped in every other respect to care for kids. Just ask any pair of gay dads.

Myth: A parent can’t do equal justice to a career and parenting; your choices come down to having kids and a truncated or nonexistent career, remaining childless, or outsourcing childcare—either to your  co-parent or a nanny. Typically the mom is the one who ends up ditching her career to care for the kids, while the dad remains a wage slave. That’s a shame because the truth is you can have it all.

Myth: The hard work of maintaining a household as well as raising kids has no monetary value. Sure, society tells us this, but it simply isn’t true.

Wendy and I divide all of our work–home and otherwise–equally. Even our checks get made out to both of us. That means the one doing housework and childcare at any given moment is getting paid the same as the one working at the office. We know that the at-home backup is essential to getting client work done, even if our clients don’t.

All of this adds up to a lifestyle that allows both of us to pursue our passions while spending equal time with the kids.

On April 8, Wendy will board a plane to India. This week and next she gets to focus full time on preparing for her trip, finishing off her work obligations, packing, and doing last minute planning, while I hold down the home front. I’m her coach each day, getting her out the door early while I get the kids dressed and fed and ready for their day. And I’ll be her backup and support here at home while she spends two weeks following her bliss halfway around the world. Next month our roles will switch while I spend a week and a half on a meditation retreat.

ESP makes it possible. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Travel Breaks the Heart Wide Open

“Mama, don’t go.”

The words, breathed by my five-year-old after I told her about my trip to India in April, lodged themselves in my heart. She wrapped her peach-fuzz arms around me and squeezed – as if my insides didn’t hurt enough already.

In about six weeks I will board a plane for the other side of the world. I’m excited about what awaits me there. Yet as my departure date approaches, I find myself swerving into bouts of sheer anguish at the thought of leaving my small girls.

Michael asks why I worry. I try to explain that it’s not worry; it’s anguish. Anguish at the thought of missing even two and a half weeks of their tender little lives. Of course my sweet peas will be in good hands. Daddy will take care. Grandma and Grandpa are moving in while I’m gone. My girls will be much too busy and excited to miss me. There will be nothing to worry about, nothing at all. I know this.

Yet living adventurously and globally, if only briefly, seems to go against every good maternal impulse. I find myself talking about this with almost everyone I meet, in search for some kind of solace. Many friends have chimed in sympathetically. Other mothers have told me with the pride of a lioness that they couldn’t leave their kids at all. One friend confessed that even going to work part-time is a hardship; when she comes home at night she might spend an hour just sitting in her sleeping baby’s room, listening to him breathe.

The scent of motherly one-upmanship is everywhere in this age of family bed and Olympic-level breastfeeding, of attachment parenting and make-your-own baby food (and by God, make it organic!). It’s hopelessly out of date – so 1970s – for a mother like me to confess a desire to see the world. And then to actually do it! Well, then.

Outside influences aside, a mother’s love is strong stuff. Car-lifting, bullet-dodging stuff – the stuff of adventure movies. Planning a journey has proven this to me like nothing else I’ve encountered so far. The knowledge that I’m leaving has thrown my love for my children into bold relief. Everything they do glistens with an aura of impermanence and heightened importance. Their morning mama calls. The chilly school-bus drop-offs. Their fish-slippery limbs after bath time. The bedtime story snuggle.

I haven’t gone anywhere yet, but I’m someplace else already. Thanks to my near-future journey, I’m living inside a big, Technicolor love. And for that I am grateful.

Meanwhile, I’d welcome fresh perspective from you, fellow sojourner. Thank you for your comments, which breathe life into this blog.

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