What I want to be when I grow up

In which relaxing is bad for the psyche

This morning I'm wondering if it's possible to have a summer that doesn't feel like it's going 90 miles an hour. I feel like I set out to have a slower summer this year, or at least a more thoughtful summer, if that makes sense, and it's still nuts. 

I KNOW, I KNOW it doesn't help that I like to GO 90 miles an hour. But the last year I've tried hard to be aware of how Me Liking To Do Everything affects my family, especially Phillip, and I'm getting better at saying no to things I really want to do and intentionally preserving empty days in our schedule. This year we had several conversations about how terrible the end of last summer was, so we've planned a family getaway for Labor Day, Phillip and I are going to have our own local getaway the weekend after next, and I found a babysitter for sporadic summer date nights. 

BUT STILL! Sometimes I think it's because I have the bakery (though our bakery July is slow indeed) or because both our families are so close and we do so much with them or because I have so MUCH family living nearby. Maybe it's "Northwest Syndrome" where you need to take ultimate advantage any time there's good weather. But it's not like those are bad things or things I want to say no to. 

I signed up the kids for two VBS camps (on back to back weeks, admittedly) and we start swim lessons this afternoon. But that's it. I never got around to signing them up for the Chinese school summer camp and Jack didn't want to do soccer camp. Maybe August will feel slower? 

I'm not complaining. As I may have mentioned ten times in this post already, I LIKE TO BE BUSY. But when I've tried to NOT be busy ON PURPOSE and it isn't happening? That feels... I don't know. Like I messed up somewhere. What would it be like to have a long summer full of very lazy mornings and afternoons at the community pool with all our friends? Yeah, that 1) doesn't exist and 2) those lazy mornings would probably drive me insane. 

Did I mention our bathroom got demo-ed yesterday? HA HA HA

I turned 37 yesterday. I am fond of the odd number ages for some reason. They feel good to me, so I feel good about this upcoming year. But even though I'm younger than most of my local friends and a veritable spring chicken when you look at the demographics of the prayer ministry I'm in, I have this very Three anxiety around How Many Good Years I Have Left To Do Something Awesome. WHICH IS RIDONKULOUS. And yet! It's there! I am copping to it! In the same way I am looking at my rapidly graying hair and wondering whether to be a) the lady who covers her gray or b) the lady who cares not or c) the lady who bleaches it and dyes part of it pink because HEY if you're gonna dye your hair you should just go all out, I feel like I need to sort of plot out this second half of my life. 

My mother is reading this and her eyes have never rolled so far, I just know it. 

A few weeks ago I gave a talk (on prayer) (to a small churchy crowd) and you guys I REALLY LIKED GIVING THAT TALK. Seeing as how the one time I was asked to be a lector at church I nearly barfed all over the ambo, I hadn't really considered Speaker as a possible String to my Bow. But when you super dig what you're talking about and you feel like you're meant to share it - huh! That's different! So is that something I could, you know, DO? I've always thought creating and leading retreats would be fun. What about writing again? How much can I do when Emma is in school every morning? Can I go to THAT conference and THAT retreat and THAT night and... oh, and here we are at 90 miles an hour. Oops. 

Phillip is reading this and thinking 1) GOD NO MAKE IT STOP and 2) Why can't she want to do something that earns money?

I have to head out to an appointment with Emma's nurse, so that will spare you Part Two of this post, where I get navel gazey about a million other things... (seriously - I just deleted it because I don't have time to properly navel gaze. You're welcome.) 




Now the parking lot is empty

I'm a bit sentimental tonight, Internet, there's your warning. There's a last bit of sunlight streaming through the trees in the backyard and the kids are playing in the living room and Phillip is still at a meeting. It's summer, the doors are open, I have our friend Alexa playing old Indigo Girls songs - I wish someone would have told me that all those hours and dollars I spent in used CD stores would get boxed up in a garage for the rest of time and a small black voice-activated cylinder would cater to my every musical whim. 

We got in very late last night from a long weekend in Cincinnati with Phillip's brother and his family. This was our first trip there with kids. In fact, we've only visited one other time and it was about one year after we'd been married. Twelve years ago. We had no kids then. Weird. We've seen them of course - family trips and visits to our side of the country - but it was good to see them in their natural habitat and have the big cousins show the little ones around. The weather was terrible and it felt rushed and I never stopped being tired, but it was one of those things that needed to happen and it was good and important. I'm glad we went, even if it meant we had a two hour layover in Houston, TX at 11pm. 

But you know, home is good too, even if I'm sitting here staring at the calendar wondering how it's all going to work. I think it was February or March that I said to myself, "Self? This summer is NOT going to be crazy." And here it is, looking crazy. People usually give us a week, max, for bakery orders, so it's hard to plan ahead with that. And there are just so many FUN things to do in the summer and I have Want To Do Everything Syndrome. 

Also random things, like I'm giving a little talk tomorrow night for some churchy folks and honestly, it's a good thing I haven't had much time to think about it because now? OH GOD WHY DID I AGREE TO DO THIS? I wrote it on the airplane from Houston and gave it twice in front of my mirror today while the kids ate lunch and dinner, but it's sure to be horrid and embarrassing and dumb. At least there will probably only be, like, 20 people there, so my humiliation won't spread too far. I hope. The thing is that I think I would LIKE to be the sort of person who occasionally gives talks, but, I mean, I take medication to NOT feel like this. 

I don't know for how long I've been thinking, "Okay, after this weekend, I can get my bearings and get it all under control." SO MANY WEEKENDS. And here I am saying that about this weekend and oh, next week is when we'll start REAL summer and I'll get the kids in a routine of swim lessons and library and down time and HA HA HA maybe I should just give up on that. 

Emma's encopresis nurse gave me her steely-eyed "Don't try to con ME, young lady" stare the other day and said, "You know, it's hard to manage this when you're so busy." And I was all TELL ME ABOUT IT, but also am I supposed to shut it all down? Maybe I should shut it down? Am I being a bad mother because I'm going to send everyone to VBS so I can go to Target by myself next week? 

Did I tell you the lady running VBS asked me to play a South American saint during one of the morning skits? HA HA HA. I said yes, of course. It's as close to sainthood as I'll ever get. 

I'm listening to the IG song about airplanes. Emily and the... those folk singer sisters, I can't remember their names. Come on, if you're an Indigo Girls fan you know this song. It's so right on. I'm glad I'm listening to it AFTER our trip. 

Oh, Rachael @Hopejumper was here right before we left. One of the zillion things we talked about was recurring nightmares and I couldn't tell her mine because it would basically spoil the plot of Bloodline (which is an excellent show if you aren't totally creeped and stressed out by creepy stressful TV) but HERS is AIRPLANES and omg she went on and on and on about AIRPLANES and again, it's a very good thing I'm on medication. 

Summer is Indigo Girls time. They used to play a show at the pier every summer and I always went with my friend Amy who I haven't seen in years and it was just How It Is. Now I have kids and an online bakery and the pier hasn't been operation for concerts since God knows when. I just sent an email to the PTA president saying I can't go to the Board Retreat (fawncy!) on Friday because I actually need to tie bows on cookies so I can deliver them Saturday morning and OH WOW somehow I became the Communications Chair for the PTA and learned how to tie bows and wrote a talk on an airplane. 

Things are different. 

At the airport during our layover I became obsessed with a family a few chairs over from ours. They had three kids, an oldest boy and two girls, but they were college and high school aged. Also something like seven feet tall, and six feet of those were legs. Wearing their respective school sweatshirts and ponytails like the ones I had when I played high school basketball. I felt like THEY ARE US (except for the whole height and athletic thing). The parents, the three not-quite-children. Phillip thought the same thing, without me pointing it out. We just looked at each other and went back to watching them. And I wonder. I can imagine what my kids will be like in 10 years. I can sort of see their faces and what they might be into and the ways they'll interact, even if I'm just fitting them into the ways that my brothers and sisters and I became teenagers who hung out in airports with our parents. But I cannot imagine what it will be like for ME in 10 years. Besides the completely gray hair, obvs. I hope I'll have figured out how to give a talk without requiring extra meds by then.



On budgeting, SAHMing, and Purpose In Life-ing

Money talk is SO AWKWARD, isn't it?*

Budgeting has not been a strong point in the Cheung Household (UNDERSTATEMENT), but we are giving it another go in 2015. For a long while Phillip paid all the bills and did all the money stuff and I was a proper 1950s housewife who knew nothing about nothing. Then he went back to school and taking over the money stuff was something I could help with - and shoot, I kept myself afloat through college, working and paying my own bills and whatnot, I'm not TOTALLY useless. And I developed my own "budgeting" system (mostly a very neurotic Excel spreadsheet and stacks of receipts), but I'd say that all of the budgeting we've ever done has been more of a "Oh, huh, look at all the categories we overspent in THIS month!" rather than a "Oh, huh, look at that category, we should probably not go out to dinner tonight." You know? I was SUPER GOOD at tracking what big spenders we were, basically. 

Earlier this year when the bakery started taking over my life, Phillip went back to doing the money stuff. And he started using Mint, which I absolutely positively cannot stand. For unidentifiable reasons. I just do. Also Phillip's mode of budgeting was basically the same as mine (excellent tracking! not so much with the cutting!), except he added an element of OHHHH NOOOO and this is where everything went to pot. Many many MANY discussions this year re: our differing approaches to money, our differing views on what is enough money, our differing views on what to do with the money. I should say that we are in full agreement on the big questions; it's the small nitty gritty questions where we butt heads. 

We had another of these painful conversations last night, and a lot of OTHER stuff plays into these conversations too, right? How you grew up, expectations, general levels of stress, how you cope, all sorts of really complicated things that you just have to accept and put aside and deal. We manage to do that by having a fight first, then having a productive conversation. Is there a better way to do this? Probably! We just haven't figured out how yet. 

ANYWAY. For a multitude of reasons, not least because I never understood Mint, we downloaded the free trial of You Need A Budget and set the whole thing up. We are hopeful! I already understand the system better than I ever understood Mint, and Phillip appreciates having everything accessible and uploadable and not color coded in aqua and pink and yellow with circular reference errors all over the place (I didn't say I was GOOD at Excel). 

But we did decide that we couldn't send EJ to preschool like I hoped. It's not a HUGE deal and we WILL find a way to make it work next year when she's four, but stuff like Europe Trips and house maintenance are the big deals currently. And preschool's expensive, even the cheap ones. I cut the housecleaner because they were honestly causing me more stress than helping, but I know that will be annoying as soon as it's time to clean a toilet. We made up good-sounding amounts for groceries and dining out and clothing, but have we ever adhered to those amounts before? This feels a bit like a new year's resolution to lose weight that's bound to crap out by February. I have a definite "oh, everything works out!" personality which drives my poor husband around the bend, so it's in the interest of our marriage that I stay engaged and concerned. And I plan to. I'd like to learn how to SAVE money and go to Europe AGAIN! (Phillip: hanging head)

Any discussion of money, though, takes me into the Is It Okay That I'm A SAHM frets and I feel kinda insecure tonight. Especially reading everyone's tweets about their kick ass working moms today. I know Phillip would have preferred I stay working, though it wasn't a choice I made so much as my job sort of disappeared after I left it and I wasn't sure how to "go back" to work. And also we were making it work on one income. And I never liked my job. Or working in an office. And I really loved staying home. And yes, I have ALWAYS felt like someone was going to TELL ON ME or something, that's how much I loved (love) staying home. 

I don't think I'm especially GOOD at it or anything. I am not SuperMom. I do as little housework and cooking as I can get away with. When they were babies I hung out with my friends with babies as much as humanly possible. I've done a lot of shopping and coffee drinking and napping. For a while I did a lot of exercising. My kids are clean and fed and taken care of, but am I teaching them to read or doing art projects or playing games? Um, SOMEtimes? Not REALLY? They know their families really well. They know about being kind. They are forced to eat vegetables every couple of days. ???

I think one thing I feel confident about, but also mixed-feelings about, is that because I stayed home with the kids, Phillip has been able to pursue everything he's wanted to pursue. Grad school, business travel, switching jobs several times, without ever worrying about how to manage things at home. I have always taken care of that and I for sure don't know how he would have earned that Master's degree without me holding down the fort. (I suppose there's an argument to be made re: "but YOU'RE the one who wanted to have kids", but that's a dark mental pit that doesn't actually exist in the real world and I try to stay away from it.) 

THAT SAID. I'm not sure what that gets me as a woman in the 21st century. I have family members and friends for whom it's VERY IMPORTANT to be able to earn your own living. And I... can't do that. Something happens to Phillip? Not sure what I'd do. I have nothing to fall back on. And I never found The Thing I Like Doing. Although... I think I HAVE, actually, but no one pays you to be a professional pray-er. (This is my problem, Phillip says. Everything I work hard at is not paid work. ALAS.)

In that respect I feel failure-ish. It's all on my husband to support our family. Even if I WANTED to help, childcare would cost more than whatever I would take home. (At least now, while we still have one at home.) Perhaps I have let myself down? I have not been All I Could Be? Am not fabulous career woman, famous writer, rich business lady, cannot even buy my own lip gloss.

But even THAT... I mean, I LIKE my life! I don't feel unfulfilled or unhappy. I DO feel guilty, sometimes, that I am not contributing financially. And that what I AM doing (bakery work, long weekends for churchy conferences) is somewhat hard on my husband without any financial gain for us. Most of the time I feel like I have plenty of time to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up, though I suspect it doesn't involve an office or more schooling or any sort of financial independence. Gah. Uh... life would be pretty DULL without me?! **


*I have an Asian-American husband, Asian-American in-laws, and two Asian-American best friends and this means I talk about money in public a LOT. The cultural differences here, they are big time. 

**I KNOOOOOOW. I KNOW I AM WORTHY AND VALUABLE EVEN IF I DON'T HAVE A PAYCHECK. I'm just saying, if I kept writing about that this blog post would be eons long. It's ALREADY eons long. I AM AMAZED YOU GOT THIS FAR. 

An update on that crazypants bakery idea, oh yes

Were you wondering about the status of Katie, Formerly Known As The FPC, and Maggie's Mom-Friendly Cafe? (Just say yes.) Well, we're still thinking about it. And talking about it. And not entirely sure what to do next. 

We've tweaked the vision a tiny bit. Based on the fact that all the play cafes I know about either charge to play or have gone out of business, I suspect it's not a super great way to make money. We are NOT charging to play in our space. The end. Other things we don't want to do: tout our playspace as educational, host child development workshops, look like a preschool, etc. What Katie wants to do is own a bakery. What I want to do is be a welcoming community space. And eat baked goods. 

So now I'm looking at straight up bakery business plans. A bakery with space to play. It would have to get by on being a bakery, but it would (hopefully) be KNOWN as a great place to go with your kids. I think we're dialing back the cafe aspect - the lunch menu and all that - but ramping up the treats, the special orders, the quality. It might not be as BIG as I once envisioned (I've been looking at rents!) but it would still be a space that obviously and cheerfully welcomes little kids - I'm still hoping for designated play areas, as well as kid-sized tables and chairs, art supplies, books, puzzles, train tables, all that. 

A lot of the local cafes with designated kid space get their baked goods elsewhere. We would be ALL ABOUT the baked goods. And Katie and I are both surprised at how many local bakeries/cafes don't make an effort to be PRETTY. We would concentrate a lot on display. We aren't into the "adorability" factor, a'la a certain local cupcake shop, but we like their bright cleanliness, their devotion to a Look, the way they get you to pay up to $10 a cupcake (NO LIE) because of the LOOK.

I'm still mulling over what exactly our brand would be, but something bright, modern, clean, consistent. We'd want people to feel like they're in a special Land of Deliciousness when they step into our store. It's not a cutesy cupcake shop, it's not a froofy vintage storefront where the barista is wearing an Anthropologie apron, it's not a serious coffee Seattle coffee shop, it's not a no-frills all-we-do-is-freaking-amazing-cake shop, it's not a birthday cake orders machine - it's... I want it to be like your best friend who makes amazing creative birthday cakes for her kids and doesn't mind getting out the poster paints. She's classy, busy, on the ball, smart, organized, has excellent taste, her scones are to die for, and she totally doesn't care if your kids destroy her house during a playdate. She WANTS your kids to have a good time. And she wants you to have seconds and pours more coffee while you tell her all about the preschool drama. Do you get the feel I'm shooting for? Yes, that table right there is for your kids to go crazy with stamps and markers and why don't you stick your toddler in this little enclosed area and here's a plate of puffed pastry amazingness and a giant latte because you deserve a break. And why don't you order that baby shower cake while you're at it? (I'm practicing for my business plan. (Ha. Have you looked at business plans? I'm not sure most of the ones I've looked at are even written in English. INTIMIDATING.))

For locals, I think I want a North Seattle bakery that could easily slide into a U Village retail spot. But won't. Because it loves North Seattle and all its friends live up there. Like, that's how you feel when you walk in. "Oh, this is so cute! AND IT'S NEAR ME!" I THINK. For now. The vision, it is fluid!

I suppose other people would concentrate on the baked items. That's Katie's department. I'm just sitting here thinking about FEELINGS.

Also, I suppose all of you are thinking, "THIS is never going to happen!" That's what I think most of the time too. But then sometimes I think WAIT IT JUST MIGHT.

I am reading an EXCELLENT war book right now. I'll tell you about it later. I have no business reading anyway, seeing as how I have nine million things to do before we (drum roll) get on a plane to Mexico Saturday morning. (And as soon as we get home, like, THE NEXT DAY, we are having long term-ish house guests. Oh dear God. I need to be doing All The Laundry.)



When I used to have a job (and dreaded it)

When I was out doing the kindergarten and preschool rounds this morning my old boss from 10-ish years ago popped up on my cell phone. I worked for him 3? 4? years? I should know this. And when I moved on I stayed in the same industry so I saw him often, plus he was, by then, kind of like your crotchety uncle who is secretly a big fat softie inside and gives you a giant check for high school graduation. 

It was just him and me and his dog in our tiny downtown office. He was a lobbyist and flew around and talked on the phone; I did absolutely everything else. He once yelled at me (like my DAD yelling at me, which is TERRIBLE) for getting his flight reservations wrong. Like, I was terrified to go to work the next day. He's been suspicious of Phillip ever since he didn't give me an engagement ring (LONG STORY!), but he went to my wedding, has met all my children, writes to me every Christmas, and takes me out to lunch when he's in town. But I haven't talked to him in forever. And he didn't leave a message. And he called TWICE. eep!

Anyway, when I got home I had an email from him inviting me to an industry lunch we used to go to every year, where I once won a giant television in a raffle (he paid for my raffle tickets). I am at once touched, delighted, and horrified. WHAT? No. I am not going to that lunch. Even as his now mid-thirties all-grown-up-now former assistant who can pay for her own raffle tickets this time, thankyouverymuch. 

There are just SO MANY THINGS I regret from that time, it would just be SO... I don't know! He implied that most of "the old gang" would be there, so a lot of the Important and Not So Important People I used to work with and talk to and I always felt so SUBSERVIENT to them, so insignificant and dumb and unpretty and a total utter failure at the Schmoozing that happens at those events. 

I worked super hard. Especially after I messed up those plane tickets, man. I didn't always have a lot to do there (or at my next job), but I tried my absolute hardest to get everything right the first time, to be the quickest, most efficient, most reliable, on-top-of-everything Girl Friday. And I think I succeeded, for the most part. I knew I was lacking in social graces, I knew I was easily intimidated, I knew my looks didn't exactly recommend me (this was an old boys' club, sigh), and I was just SO AWARE of being BELOW everyone else. (This is long before I knew I was a Three on the Enneagram, obvs. IT EXPLAINS SO MUCH!) So I made myself, in every way I knew how, indispensable. Like, that's what was going to make me valuable.

All of those people were SO kind to me. Some of them wrote me recommendations, some of them got me work other places, many of them gave me advice. The industry, which never interested me, was full of really tremendous, generous (and fun loving) people. When I look back I can see them affirming me, inviting me into their groups, treating me like a grown up, but I don't ever remember thinking I WAS a grown up, equal to them in any way. And to think about seeing all of them again? Errrr...

No, I think I will go. I think I will go because I love my old boss and it'd be a good time and it's a fundraiser for a great organization and because I know that ultimately all my old insecurities were bigger in my head than they were in real life. I'll go because I think it'd be fun to actually see some of those people again and while they may loom large in my memories I most likely occupy negative space in theirs. 

Besides, even if I was a very anxious, uptight, all-business 20 something, I like myself much more as a 30 something. I am more than happy in my job. I am more creative, more productive, more comfortable, more ME than I ever was working with that crowd. I have three kids, I have a sense of humor, I know now that I'm worth getting to know. 

If nothing else, maybe I'll win another TV.

Leaning in...to something a little different, I think

All this Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg stuff that's been going on the last month or so has been TOTALLY up my alley and I've read a million different takes (many of those hours spent deep within the Penelope Trunk vault (this was my favorite.)). 

But as someone who actively chooses to stay home and raise children, I don't feel like I have a lot (or anything?) to add to the debate. I don't have any opinions about it - I haven't tried to be a career mom or the Woman Who Has It All. so what do I know - but I do have THOUGHTS. Lots and lots of thoughts. 

Mainly my thoughts revolve around: what if I WAS working? What would that be like? Would I be happier? Would I feel more like I am doing what I am supposed to do? Have I lost out on something because I'm not pursuing a career? 

It's not that I feel "judged" or whatever for staying home, or that I've let the Sisterhood down somehow, or any of those dumb un-feminist things. I actually feel the opposite. But just knowing ME, the kind of person I am, the [vague, silly-ish] dreams I had as a teenager, my potential, my resources, being a Three, even being the oldest (I've started a BIRTH ORDER book you guys, there's your warning!) - did I make the best choice? 

There's no point in REALLY raking this over the coals, since I think I'm long past the point where I could easily change my mind. We have three kids now, I'm appalled at the cost of daycare, I'd basically be working to pay the daycare bill, and I haven't put any effort into looking for a career that would be WORTH working to pay the daycare bill (with the hope that eventually I'd move up.)

But I do wonder if that's where I missed out in the first place, the never finding a CAREER that suited me. Well, if I'm being honest, not really LOOKING for a career. It wasn't that I always planned to be a SAHM, I just... well, basically I wanted to earn enough money to travel. Not really Yahoo CEO material right there. 

Nearly all of my mom friends work, though, and nearly all of them do because they LIKE working and they LIKE their jobs and it adds a wonderful meaningful dimension to their lives. It's not just for the paycheck. Sometimes I feel like I should have worked harder to find that! For a long time I would say, "Oh, but I didn't like my job anyway" and my friend would say, "You never found the RIGHT job." 

And I'm smart, you know. Well, smart enough. I'm obnoxiously detail-oriented and organized, I'm driven, I love to learn, I follow through, I'm reliable, I get stuff done. I know I COULD succeed at a career, if I ever managed to pick one. I could be good at something other than folding laundry. 

Then again it's telling, isn't it? That a firstborn Three, a total gets-her-value-from-achievement DIDN'T pursue a career. At times I thought about getting a teaching certificate, pursuing a public policy path, there was my fling with web design. Ultimately nothing felt right. And for so long I've thought that's because the one thing I've always REALLY wanted to do was write. OBVS am supposed to be a writer! You can't get excited about doing PR for the chamber of commerce if you're REALLY supposed to be a middle grades rockstar author. 

Except now? I'm not even sure if THAT'S true anymore. In this last year I feel like I've lost a lot of my writing mojo. This is good because 1) I haven't written anything since I got pregnant with Emma and 2) I think there's a way that I made Be A Writer into an idol. As in, my parents will be the most proud of me if I become a published writer, my teachers will think the best of me, it's the biggest way to impress my friends, etc. etc. Is it really because *I* want to be a writer? (A Three has to ask herself these things. Pathetic, isn't it?)

I think I do. But I also think, right now, age 33.5, that I'm okay with NOT being a writer. Or at least not the next Lois Lowry, which was The Dream. I have never admitted that out loud before. I read about these women who apparently have it all, women changing the world, women making heaps of money, women working really super hard, women who get tons of respect and accolades and I wonder if I could be doing what they're doing, but I also feel like: but nooooo. I don't WANT to!

I actually quite like my life. I mean, as tired and done with parenting as I feel right now on Tuesday afternoon, I'm pretty sure I would not rather be sitting in the CEO office on the phone. And the ideas I have for my time are so NOT career- or profit-oriented ideas. I had to ALLOW myself to HAVE them, simply BECAUSE they so not about achieving success. Maybe adoption or fostering is in my future, maybe one day I'll go back to school to become a SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR! (Ha. The not-churchy people in my life are all "huh?" and the churchy people are all, "Ummmm, I don't quite think that's the right choice for you.") I have this kind of nutty idea to make my house a place of prayer once or twice a month, and that would COST me money because I'm thinking about hiring babysitters and feeding whoever shows up! I'm hoping to go to some conferences in the nearish future that would be "spiritual education", I guess, just for ME. I feel like THAT'S the direction I'm supposed to go. Even this bakery-with-my-sister idea (that I DO keep kicking around) comes from a place of wanting to do something fun that would fill a need in other people's lives - not entrepreneurial ambition. (Don't tell the bank when I ask for my loan.)

So I salute you, Sheryl Sandberg, and I think you kick major amounts of booty. But I don't share your picture of success - not your personal picture or the perspective you advocate. Lots of women do and more power to them, but for me it's been good to think about changing the world from a different sphere of influence. And to think about power as something I receive through the grace of God, not something I fight for in an office. 

When I was in college someone told me that they see a lot of women who take a back seat to their husband's career but then powerfully emerge on their own once the kids are mostly grown. Like it was this good thing that I could be happy about. At the time I was super offended by the mere IDEA that that's the lot women were stuck with. How UNFAIR! Now I think: that sounds good. That sounds really good. And I think the experience of being with these kids will inform whatever powerful thing I do in the future. And it WILL be powerful, even if I'm not wielding that power in a conference room or selling it on Amazon.com.

Perhaps I am even wielding a bit of power right now. ??? I do get to decide when certain people can eat their Curious George fruit snacks. 


When I grow up

Just so you know, I am still "looking into" this bakery cafe playroom thing and I continue to tell more real life people that I am "looking into" it and that's how you know I am still not in posession of my right mind. FYI. 

One thing I realized at Urbana was that if I'd gone as a student I would have FUH-REAKED OUT. I didn't have a husband or kids or a mortgage, no responsibilities, just a totally blank (VERY BLANK) future infinitely before me, like a Personal Antarctica or something. I really had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up (still don't, actually) and the myriad possibilities at Urbana, plus the constant invitation to devote a year or two or ten to missions, plus the pressure I would put on my own self to be what Urbana thought I should be (THREEEEEEEEEEE!!!) I would have self-combusted. I had an excellent time, but I'm glad I experienced it as an adult with a husband and three kids and a mortgage and, therefore, way fewer options. This is a GOOD thing. 

But still, you wonder what you want to be when you grow up. 

The last several years I have tried very very hard to think of myself as a Mother. I mean, I AM a mother and I am very happy with my SAHM status, but "just being a mom" has never EVER felt like The Only Thing I'm Supposed To Do. It's one reason why I stopped reading a lot of blogs where the author was a religious SAH homeschooling mom-of-many, because there was a way I felt like that was the RIGHT way to do the mom thing, and clearly THAT was not going to happen at Chez Cheung. Like that was the way to make the most of your vocation, you know? And I hope you know I am not disparaging those mothers. I stand in awe of them, I bow down, I salute them. The gifts they have are not my gifts.

(Can you even IMAGINE if I tried homeschooling Jack? We would need two padded cells within a week.)

Then again, I've never been the mom who is itching to get back to work or the career, I've never aimed for anything, I am very much an Introspective Slacker, which is obvs how I got into this blogging thing. So it's kind of a weird place to be in, to feel like There Is More To Me Than Being Mom and But Nothing Else Sounds Good/Seems Right. 

Honestly, a Bakery/Cafe/Playspace does not at ALL sound like The Thing I Am Supposed To Do. I know absolutely NOOOOOOTHING about running a business. Pretty much the only thing I know I'd be good at is 1) cleaning and 2) making sure our business has a social media presence. FPC informs me that that's important, but it doesn't feel like quite the right skillset, you know? 

I thought I was supposed to be a writer. 

I thought I was supposed to teach English overseas. 

I thought maybe I should "just be a Mom". 

I thought I was maybe supposed to create a lovely home and support my husband's career. 

I thought I might work for a politician. 

I definitely thought I would travel. 

I suppose the right answer is that we do a lot of things in our lives, that everything has a season, that I can't be everything I'm supposed to be in one year, that I'm not even really SUPPOSED to DO anything. I can do all of that, I can do some or none of it. Though that's the stumbling block for a Three: if she isn't DOING anything (and doing it well), she's pointless, a waste of space, not valued, unloved.

I have an Urbana/prayer/Three/value post in the works. It's hard going, but I'll get it out eventually. What is the thing that I DO? What is the thing that I AM? The end of that post will tell you that right now I'm somehow - miraculously, even - okay with the absence of an answer. 

Or, rather, I am just beginning to comprehend the actual truthful answer. 

The Gospel of the Snack

You guys remember my friend Pancakes, right? Here she is again.

Photo (51)

Let us gaze longingly at her namesake:

Photo (53)

(Okay, so we also ordered this giant plate of FRUIT along with our Palm Springs pancakes, but the pancakes were really the stars of breakfast.) 

Anyway. I met Pancakes long long ago, my first week of college when she invited me to an NDCF event. And now, umpteen years later (let us not dwell on how many years), she's, like, THE BOSS of the NDCF. I know! 19-year-old me is TOTALLY JAZZED. (Wait, do people say 'jazzed'? It just felt right. JAZZED. Yes. Right word.)

So yes, while I am home folding laundry and/or putzing around all day, Pancakes is out Doing Ministry and Making Impacts and Speaking Truth and Organizing Really Amazing Events and OKAY MAYBE I'M A LITTLE JEALOUS. Although Pancakes is gifted in ways I can only dream of, and this was never more real to me than at the NDCF winter retreat we attended this weekend. You guys I am just SO PROUD of her and SO PROUD to know her. 

(Also, the one time she looked at this website happened to be a day when I was (gasp) CRITICAL of the NDCF, but tonight I am feeling very RAH RAH NDCF! and I am going to EMAIL HER and tell her to LOOK AND SEE THAT I WROTE NICE THINGS.) (WOO!)

But what I really wanted to say in this space is that one area where Pancakes particularly excels is picking out snacks. Specifically, Snacks That Are New To Her Friend Maggie. 

I have to say, Internet, I'm not a huge snacker. Wait. Snacking is basically what I do all day long, so that's probably not the best way to say it... I think I'm not big on foods that are marketed and sold as snacks. I'm SUPER big on foods marketed and sold as DESSERT. Which can also be snacks. But, like, my airplane carryon is full of cookies. When I'm feeling snacky in the afternoon I reach for more cookies. (Or peanut butter straight out of the jar. That also works.) 

But Pancakes stopped at Trader Joe's before she made her way to Portland and her room was stocked with the MOST amazing snacks. Little bits of deliciousness that I seriously could not stop cramming into my piehole all weekend long. Saturday, pretty much directly after eating lunch, Pancakes and I went in search of snacks - we bought smoothies at an Orange Julius, and then, because that was not unhealthy enough, sneaked past the meeting going on in her room to retrieve the Coveted-By-All-The-Volunteers Bag O' Snacks, which we brought to a loungey area by the elevator, in full view of whoever got on and off. We proceeded to gorge ourselves (perhaps this love of gorging is why we are such great friends? YUM.) but we ALSO offered our snacks to anyone passing by, which is how the Gospel of the Snack was spread. We were doing holy work, people.

My favorite of all the snacks? Trader Joe's Yogurt Pretzels. OMGGGG. You know how the internet loves Trader Joe's? I myself am sort of: eh! Sometimes I go there for prosciutto that does not cost a college education. I have definitely shopped there for wine. And it's true, their aisle of chocolate-covered-things-in-plastic-tubs is to die for. But the snacky things have never really attracted me. That has all changed, of course, due to my newfound devotion to Trader Joe's Yogurt Pretzels. Somehow this one bag made it to Saturday evening. I have no idea how this is possible, seeing as how I was popping a Yogurt Pretzel at every available minute - I bet it was because we were at an NDCF conference and God just wanted to give us a current day application for the loaves and the fishes. There were more than enough Yogurt Pretzels for everyone. 

But also: chocolate covered potato chips?! HOLY WOW, Trader Joe's! This bag of extra delicious trail mix? (Also populated with chocolate chunks, OBVS.) These little salty puff things? Amazing granola bars? Pretzels with PEANUT BUTTER INSIDE? 

The sad news is 1) guess how much weight I gained this weekend NO REALLY GUESS and 2) guess what I gave up for Lent NO REALLY YOU'LL NEVER GUESS. 

The first one I may or may not write about on the weight loss blog. Probably won't. I think I need to skip this week's weigh in for the benefit of my mental health. But the second thing? I GAVE UP CHOCOLATE, INTERNET. I know. At the last second I was all, "No!" and "How about asparagus! Or salad!" but God was all, "No! It must be sacrificial!" and I was all, "WAAAAHHH." At which point I also decided to give up wine.  Heads up: there will be MUCH pain in suffering in this space for the next fortyish days. 

But the Yogurt Pretzels were on the Approved Lent Foods list and LO, THEY WERE DELICIOUS. 

Do you have a favorite snack? I need to hear about it. I have been in the Snacking Dark these long thirty-odd years. 

Leave it to me to go somewhere awesome and come home with angst

I never figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. As much as I love being a stay at home mom, it's not at all what I wanted to Do (and it's still a surprise, quite frankly, that I'm actually doing it.) And the thought of what I'll do when all my kids are in school frightens me. Sure, I could keep staying home, if we could manage it, and get super involved in their schools and all that stuff. I might do that. But mostly I'm terrified of being thrown back in the What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up pool. I didn't figure it out the first time, and I don't feel all that hopeful for the future. 

I went to Phillip's "Capstone" project presentation tonight (although I missed the presentation part). It was basically a giant science fair, with posters and snacks and the best punch I've ever had (like an orange creamsicle, only with a big splash of pineapple) and eager beavers dying to talk to you about the thing they've been working on for nine months. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but I know I didn't expect to come home and feel like such a LOSER. 

(Seriously, I should be ashamed. 1) I always have to make things about me and 2) why do I always come home from the stupidest randomest things with Existential Crises and enough angst for several blog posts? Why can't I just go SUPPORT MY HUSBAND?)

AAAANYWAY, you guys, I could TOTALLY do this master's program. I've known that from the beginning, honestly. If I were to go back to school and NOT get a completely un-lucrative Master's in English, I would go to the Information School (yay UW for deciding information is a science!) and get the same degree Phillip will have. I've always been interested in his classes (most of them) and the two of us can totally geek out over things like databases and information sharing platforms. I mean, the one thing I'm really proud of from my stint in the paid workforce was building a database/event management application FROM SCRATCH and totally revamping the way a nonprofit ran its meetings and yearly fundraisers. I feel that this gives me nerd cred. Only a nerd's heart goes pitter pat at the thought of coding form buttons, right? Or redesigning her personal website every four months. Phillip's program is all about managing, streamlining, improving and quickly finding information and this little final project fair was enough to give an anal-retentive the overheated excitement vapors. 

You don't HAVE to have a technical background, though it helps. I got into a conversation about Drupal with an international student who was, to my satisfaction, overly delighted that I knew what Drupal WAS, and then I found out that he didn't do the actual development himself, he just had the idea and hired out. I COULD DO THAT. Half the projects were ideas for apps - photo management, receipt management, textbook exchanges, how to find hikes and bike trails, several about finding restaurants, Phillip's included. Another chunk were dry and boring library science projects, doing a bunch of organization and cataloging for nonprofits who hadn't organized or cataloged for years. Then there were just people with neat ideas - my favorite was a girl who put a real estate staging company's artwork inventory (for rent or purchase) online, gaining better exposure for the artists and making it easier on the clients to stage their houses. Her poster was pretty awesome too.

And the guys Phillip worked with were so impressive. Their poster was one of the very best, in my obviously biased opinion, just because one the guys in his group has the right EYE for that kind of thing and the skills to match. The other guy made these awesome app screen shots that they demo'ed on their respective iPads (okay, so THERE'S a piece of the I-School crowd I find a SMIDGE obnoxious), I mean, he must have spent the last several months ear-deep in Photoshop. My adorable husband was the chatty one with the big Oh Yeah I Am Almost Done With This Crap! grin. He gave the presentation and wore the tie and didn't stop smiling the whole time I was there. 

I wandered around drinking my delicious punch and thinking I could be doing this too.  

I still don't know what I would DO though. I don't have professional qualifications for anything. My blog probably cancels out a whole lot of things (you know, like that one time I thought I might being a Senate staffer or something. Ha!) And I'm a SAHM and plan to be one for quite a while. I'm having a NEW baby, for goodness' sake! I will be OLD NEWS by the time my kids are in school. I mean, if I'm not updating my Facebook account NOW and still have no idea what Pinterest is, I will be COMPLETELY irrelevant in another five years. 

I know, really, that I'm afraid. I do not have ambition driving me, or a desire to make a ton of cash. I'm lazy as all get out. I don't have a dream job or a passion in anything that might give me a paycheck. I just like to tinker and efficient-ize and learn stuff, preferably on my own, whether or not I'm paid well and what's the point, really? I don't have to put myself out ANYWHERE right now, and as much as these kids drive me crazy some days, they're my comfort zone. I'm in charge, I know what's what, I answer to me. To do anything else... yeah. Hmm. 

Oh my gosh, I was totally just reminded of the dream I had the other night where I went to LAW SCHOOL. And that is how I will manage to end this droopy blog post on a note of HIGH HILARITY. Because: HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.


Career paths

In case you are playing along at home, today was better. 

I also finished what I thought was a WONDERFUL book: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, which won the Newbery this year. I only finished it today, so I haven't really dwelled on it, you know, SAVORED it, but I really liked it. So I emailed Elizabeth, as I do when I am proud of reading a book I'm sure she's already read and she was all, "Meh." Oh the disappointment! And then the full on Project Runway-esque terror re: do I have a TASTE problem? I mean, is Nina Garcia (in this case, Elizabeth) looking at my four- and five-starred books on Good Reads and going, "Maggie is a good READER but I'm not sure her TASTE LEVEL is where it should be." 

Why this kind of paranoia spurs me to write, I have no idea. But my kids slept freakishly long today and instead of doing any number of my SAHM duties, I sat at my kitchen table and hammered out a 27th version of The Beginning and while it's nothing fabulous, I don't think it's trite or contrived or THAT boring. Hopefully. But now I feel better. Sort of. I read something recently about writing pitfalls and one of them is evaluating and creating at the same time which: GUILTY! This is why NaNoWriMo was so awesome: I wasn't ALLOWED to evaluate! Word count was king. I kept going. I've never ever done that before. 

I've been doing too much of it recently too, but now that I have a beginning that doesn't feel... well, I guess CONTRIVED was my biggest worry. And possibly I should still be worried about it and I still think I could probably cut out the whole beginning and just begin with the next part and that would be okay too, but at least now I feel like I can go ON. I don't have to keep going back and feeling like this entire stupid story was built on NOTHING. 

Now just the MIDDLE is made of nothing. Note to my writing group: I'm afraid we may have to disband as I'm starting to think my story contains no plot and no conflict and I'll have nothing to submit whenever I finally get around to calling for submissions because I'll have wiped my hard drive clean with giant magnets. 

(Can you even do that? Phillip just read that part and put his head in his hands.) 

Speaking of computery stuff. I was in a... SITUATION yesterday where someone said something like, "People are finding out about our organization through our website!", like it was this completely novel idea and I pretty much wanted to find a gun and shoot myself. BECAUSE DUH! Right? I am so right. So obviously I complained about all of this to Phillip, about how if Organization just sucked it up and dove into the 21st century, we wouldn't be having some of the issues we seem to have and Phillip, because he is a nicer person than I am, basically told me I was being a brat. Or, rather, to suck it up because HE has to deal with that EVERY DAY. 

Which, okay, fine. BUT STILL. How can you be an Agent For Change when you are pretty sure you're going to have to wait an entire generation before change is made? I feel so POINTLESS! I mean, I don't know a lot, I'm far from some SEO blog-monetizing professional blogger real writer, but I still want to stand up and shriek, "IT TAKES FIVE MINUTES TO MAKE A FACEBOOK FAN PAGE FOR THE LOVE OF GRILLED CHEESE!"


Then we crossed into this whole OTHER conversation (my goodness, the places tonight's post is going!) about What I Would Be Doing If I Didn't Have Kids And Also Knew At 18 What I Know Now. Because while it is well established that I do not want to work for The Man and I am QUITE happy being the kept housewife working on her "novel", I finally did think of a Real Job I might like to do. I think I would really like being a web designer. At my old job I spent a lot of time learning Visual Basic-ish stuff to build databases, all of which I either taught myself or begged my husband to teach me via instant messenger at work. And I took an HTML/CSS class and I've done all my own blog redesigns and yeah, they're nothing fancy, but I totally know how to do this stuff and I can get pretty nerdy about all the coding and it makes my little anal-retentive wannabe-designer heart go pitter pat. 

Oh, except for the part where you have to work with clients. I probably wouldn't like that part.

HOWEVER. All the stuff I learned in that class four years ago is, uh, old. I don't know any scripting. I don't know HTML 5. I can still make a website from scratch with Dreamweaver, but it's a crappy one. And this totally feels like a thing that Passed Me By. Like, if I were younger and starting out and could go to school, or if I didn't have kids, or if I really wanted a Full Time Job and wanted to pursue a new career path. But I am none of those things and the next time I tinker with my blog I'll have to hire someone because I'm so tired of relearning everything, especially if I want to switch platforms... 

ANYWAY. Blah blah blah. Not important. Just stuff I think about... when I should be creating, not evaluating.