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January is almost over and the talk of New Years resolutions seems to have died down. Nonetheless, that is just what this blog is about … New Years resolutions. I’ve been meaning to write it for several weeks but haven’t found the time. Better late than never, right?

My resolution for 2012 came to me when I was writing the annual family letter that we insert with our Christmas cards. Each year, I write a paragraph on each one of our four kids, one on the pets, a paragraph on my husband and myself, one on our family business, and another on any vacations we took or other special events. The whole letter usually totals one double-sided page. It’s a great way to keep in touch with a long list of people with whom we otherwise would have lost contact.

This year, there was a lot to write about, from kids getting  drivers licenses and going off to boarding school, to my husband adding four chickens to our menagerie of pets and a great camping trip we took over the summer. The only problem was the paragraph about me. It read “Kathleen is running a lot less this year. To stay in touch with her, read her blog at” That’s it. Pretty sad, huh?

Last year, my paragraph described how I had run my first marathon at age 40 and that I was doing volunteer work in our community. This year, I’m “running less.” I have no hobbies or special projects, and I had stopped spending my free time running with a friend. What do I do all day? Take care of my family, clean the house, and work – a lot.  It’s no wonder my blood pressure is, for the first time ever, showing signs of being high!

New Years ResolutionsAs soon as I wrote the letter, I knew that a big change was needed. I spend so much time working and taking care of others that I was not taking care of myself. I was exhausted, stressed out, and overweight. And when I realized it, I got kind of depressed.

So this year’s resolution is to take more time for myself. It’s not as easy as it sounds (New Year’s resolutions never are, are they?!). I quickly realized that in order to make the time, I would need to ask for it. My husband is a pretty great guy and he usually bends over backwards to accommodate me when I need something, but for whatever reason, I rarely ask. That was the first thing that needed to change.

The second thing I needed to change was my tendency to be everyone’s caretaker.  A typical morning in our house involves me getting up, feeding the doges, and unloading the dishwasher or making coffee while my husband takes a shower. Then, while he’s getting dressed, I’m making kids’ school lunches, getting their breakfast, and generally keeping them on track to get out the door by 8:00 am. As they are packing up their backpacks and putting their shoes and coats on, my husband throws together something to eat and they all leave together for school. At this point, I am still in my pajamas, the house is a mess, and I haven’t eaten a thing. The funny thing is that when I’m travelling or otherwise occupied, they all manage to bathe, feed, and dress themselves, and everyone seems to get off to school on time.

All of this just goes to show that I am a victim of my own choices. It is no one’s fault – except my own – that I haven’t pursued a hobby or made time for myself. Heck, I haven’t even written a blog in 2 months! So the change needed to begin within me.

Fast forward a few weeks and the resolution is going pretty well. I just finished a two week boot camp at my gym. From January 1 through 15, I got up at 5:15 every morning and went to work out. I spent two hours there doing the requisite 45 minutes of cardio and taking my boot camp class. I got home at around 7:45 am every morning – just in time to say good morning to the kids before they left for school. In addition to the exercise, I followed the boot camp’s strict diet. It wasn’t easy, but the payoff was more than worth it. In two weeks, I lost 7 pounds (actually I lost 14 pounds of body fat and gained 7 pounds of muscle), several inches, and got back into my jeans! Goodbye, muffin top!

The best part of doing the boot camp wasn’t so much what I lost, but rather what I gained. At the end of those two weeks I felt energized, healthy, confident and much, much happier. And it wasn’t just because I lost weight – it was that wonderful feeling that comes when you do something just for yourself. I worked hard and accomplished a lot and it was all for me. Oh by the way, my husband and kids did just fine without me in the mornings too!

Boot camp was a great kick start for the New Year, but it is just the beginning. My challenge now is to continue doing things that make me feel good, whether it be exercising, carving out more time to spend with friends, getting back into volunteer work, or finding and pursuing that elusive hobby. I know myself well enough to realize that I’m going to have to treat this like work and schedule “me time” into the calendar just as if it were a meeting. If I don’t, it will be too easy to let work and my home life take precedence. If that happens, another year will go by and I’ll have nothing to say in the Christmas letter!

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It seems only appropriate as we head into Thanksgiving to turn my attention to the things in my life for which I feel thankful. I’m not rich, I don’t have a fancy car, and I don’t go on lavish vacations or own designer clothing, so if material goods are what define a complete existence, then I am somewhat lacking. But what I lack in great “stuff”, I more than make up for in the things that matter most. And in that sense, I am rich beyond my wildest dreams.

I am thankful for my husband. You might think that your spouse is great, but I go to sleep at night knowing I married the most wonderful man in the world (wink). It’s a cliché, but my husband really is my best friend. I can tell him absolutely anything and he never judges me. The more honest we are with each other, the better it gets. Don’t get me wrong, we do our fair share of arguing and getting on each other’s nerves, but we also know how to talk through our differences and recognize that, sometimes, it’s okay not to agree with each other. Plus, my husband is really good at saying “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” It’s a trait I’m hoping my children will inherit! In addition to being my best friend, he is also my business partner and, incredibly enough, we work really well together and have for the past 6 years. It helps that my best friend and business partner is a tall, good looking, blond with blue eyes and an infectious laugh, too!

I am thankful for my children. And when I say children, I mean both my son and my three stepchildren. If you told me 10 years ago when I was single and hanging out in bars in Washington DC that in less than a decade I’d be married, living in the suburbs, and raising four children (not to mention driving a minivan!), I would have thought you were crazy. The truth is, I could not be happier and my kids make life so much more complete. My stepkids are fantastic and made me feel welcome in their family from the very beginning. I met them when they were 8, 6 and 4 years old, and now they are 17, 14 and 12. They’ve taught me a lot about being a parent and I am so grateful to have them in my life. After becoming an “instant parent” to my stepchildren, I had my son and discovered new dimensions of motherhood that only babies can reveal. The truth about how hard it is to be a mother slowly revealed itself to me, but the overwhelmingly wonderful reality of the love I have for my son hit me fast and hard.

I am thankful for my home. It’s not very big and sometimes it feels really crowded, but I would not trade our little saltbox in Eastport for the world. Ours is a house brimming with activity and full of love and laughter (and, if I’m honest, lots of sibling rivalry and bickering, too!). Somehow, without deliberately planning it (or even discussing it), my husband and I have created a home where the door is always open and there is always an extra place set at the table. Our kids often ask “who is coming for dinner?” because it is not uncommon for neighbors to pop by and join us for a meal. We also sponsor several Midshipmen (and women) from the U.S. Naval Academy and they can often be found hanging out here on weekends. It’s often chaotic, but somehow we squeeze everyone comfortably in to our little house and for that, I am grateful.

I am thankful for my dogs. Really, I am! I work from home, so I’m in my house a lot, and our two black labs are my constant companions. They give us their unconditional love and affection, and I don’t think our family would feel complete without them.

I am thankful for my extended family. I grew up in a house with two parents and one brother. Now that I’m married, I have three in-laws, four kids, two sisters-(and brothers-) in-law, and five nieces and nephews to add to the mix. They are all wonderful people and we are fortunate to see and spend time with them on a regular basis.

I am thankful to have a job I love. My husband and I own a small marketing agency and I love that I look forward to going to work every day. I work with smart, kind, funny people who I deeply respect. My clients are local businesses so I have the profound satisfaction of seeing and experiencing the product of my work on a daily basis right here where I live. I work in a field that is constantly evolving and I spend at least an hour every day reading and learning. Best of all, I have the flexibility to work when I want, where I want, and with who I want. It is really, truly, awesome!

I am thankful for the health of everyone mentioned above. Really, when it comes down to it, nothing in life matters more than your health. I could be living in a car with my husband and kids, and so long as they were healthy, we would get by. There is nothing – just nothing – scarier than thinking about the possibility of losing one of them to illness or an accident. Enough said.

It is fitting that this Thanksgiving, we will be surrounded by family and friends. There will be lots of kids, dogs, relatives, neighbors, friends, and even some strangers (future friends!). There will be lots of food, too, but Thanksgiving really isn’t about the meal, it’s about the people you break bread with, both on the holiday and throughout the year. Be thankful for them!

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My 14 year old stepdaughter started her first year of boarding school earlier this fall and I have a feeling our home life will never be the same again. You see, our family is comprised of my husband and myself, our four children (my three stepkids – 17 year old Jake, 14 year old Grace, and 12 year old Grady – and our son Wyatt who is 5), and two dogs. When we’re all home, it feels a bit like the Brady Bunch with kids coming and going all over the place. Now that Grace is gone, the dynamic is decidedly different.

Grace’s absence is notable for more than just the smaller number of family members at home. Without her, there is a distinct lack of “femaleness” in the house. I miss having another girl to commiserate with when the boys get in an argument and begin wrestling on the couch, or when one of them burps or farts to the delight of the other two. There is no one here with whom to share my excitement over the purchase of a new pair of shoes, or to watch the fashions on the Oscars red carpet. And when I cook a beautiful French stew for Sunday dinner, the boys tend to look at me with a glare that says “why couldn’t this be spaghetti and meatballs?”, whereas Grace would have been thrilled at the effort and the opportunity to try something new.

When it comes right down to it, the house seems incomplete without Grace. I miss her. I even miss having her raid my closet for a cute shirt to wear, and having to go digging through her things to find my favorite necklace. I miss seeing her knit while watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and helping her straighten her hair or put it in a French braid.

Grace’s absence is incredibly bittersweet. While I miss her terribly, I am also unbelievably proud of the woman she is becoming. It was a big leap for her to choose to make the move to boarding school for 9th grade. Having gone to the same small private school since Kindergarten, she would not just be starting a new school – she would be travelling into the unknown to a place where she would have to start from scratch and make new friends. At the same time, she would be learning to live on her own and master the self-discipline required to keep her room clean, get her homework done, and eat right – all life skills that took me until well into my 20’s to master!

When she left for boarding school, Grace was unsure that it was the right path for her. She told us, “I’ll try it for a year and see how it goes.” I knew all along that as soon as she walked out our door for her new school, she would never be back. It came as absolutely no surprise that she made the transition to boarding school life flawlessly and is on the Honor Roll in her first semester. She is smart, mature, and wise beyond her years, and while we might not be ready for her to go out into the world, she definitely is!

Still, I get teary even as I write this. Grace did not come into my life until she was 6 years old, and now – just 8 short years later – she is already gone. I wasn’t ready for it. I’m not sure I ever would be. But, as the saying goes, “the train has left the station.” A new chapter has begun in her life and in ours, and I cannot wait to see where her life will take her. I’m sure she will read this (she is the only one in our family who regularly reads my blogs), and when she does, she’ll probably be embarrassed by it. But I hope she knows how much I love her and how profoundly proud I am to be a part of her life.

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My almost 17 year old stepson got his driver’s license this spring and over the course of the summer, I’ve barely seen him. He keeps busy during the day in a summer sailing program and spends some of his free time on his part time lawn mowing job. The rest of his free time is filled with social engagements. From barbecues to crab feasts, golf outings, and windsurfing, there always seems to be a festivity of some sort in which he is invited to participate. Inevitably, the barbecue leads to a sleepover and, before we know it, days go by without us seeing him.

My stepdaughter is also busy – in her case, with a packed babysitting schedule. She has done a great job of lining up two or three families that, together, have employed her on a nearly full time basis this summer. She loves her job and is very good at it, but the best part (especially for a 14 year old girl who likes to shop) is that it pays well.

In principle, I have no problem with my kids’ summer schedule, but the reality is that when you combine all the time spent on camps, summer jobs, and fun with friends with the time they spend over at their mother’s house, there has been little to no time for us to spend together as a family. Case in point – in late July, I purchased tickets for all six of us to go to a local waterpark and, believe it or not, it’s looking very likely that there will not be a single day before summer ends and the park closes that we can all go spend the day there together.

The rational side of me knows that I need to just let it go. My stepdaughter leaves for boarding school this fall and in about two years, my stepson will be starting college and we’ll see even less of him. In the interim, it’s natural for teenaged girls and boys to break away and establish their independence.
The mom side of me thinks that’s a bunch of baloney and feels like, at some point, family time has to take precedence over everything else.

I have no idea which – my rational side or my mom side – is right, but the reality is that it really doesn’t matter. You can force teenagers to give up friend time in favor of family time, but when you do, family time is no fun. They have a pretty incredible talent for digging their heels in and making things fairly unpleasant when you make them do something they don’t want to.

What I’ve begun to realize is that this is the beginning of the end. The end of their childhood, that is. As they make the transition to adulthood, the challenge for us – their parents (and stepparents) – is to find a “new normal” in which we can all spend time together. My guess is that it won’t be nearly as much time as it used to be, but that is okay as long as we make the time we DO have count.

Recognizing this is one thing, but letting go is another. My kids are more than ready for their independence. Me? Not so much (and I’m just the stepmom – I can’t imagine how hard it is for their mom!). But this is really what parenting is all about, isn’t it? You teach your little birds to fly and, when they actually leave the nest, you are inevitably calling for them to come back.


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Today, I had a revelation about my own experience with motherhood. My husband is out of town on business for four days and I have all four of my kids with me and a business to run. In addition to client meetings, deliverables to complete, and a new employee to train (she started today!), I had school pick-ups and drop-offs, one child who had a tutoring session a half hour away, and a grocery run thrown in there for good measure.

As I reviewed the day in my head, I realized that I do a pretty good job of running a tight family ship despite our crazy schedule. My kids even commented on how smoothly things went today – they got to school a bit early, a home-cooked dinner was on the table at a reasonable hour, the laundry (three loads!) all got done, homework is finished, and the house is clean. After I finished giving myself a mental pat on the back, I started thinking about why I was able to pull it together so easily when on many nights, the situation is much more chaotic.

The answer? Motherhood is like project management and I work better under pressure.

I come from a management consulting background and in any consulting field, project management is a critical skill to master. To carry a project successfully from start to finish, you’ve got multiple balls to juggle:

  • A clear set of expectations for what will be accomplished;
  • A good plan with all the major tasks identified, responsibility for their completion assigned, and clear deadlines and accountability;
  • The ability to manage your client (ie. Keeping them happy while making sure they are giving you what you need, when you need it);
  • Consistent communication with your client and team members;
  • Strong leadership skills and the ability to work well with a team;
  • A solid work ethic; and
  • The ability to work well under pressure and manage people and tasks during a crisis.

Motherhood is no different. It’s all about balancing the mundane (checking things off the “to do” list) with the sublime (giving each child some individual attention and love) while not losing sight of the master plan. To do this successfully, you’ve got to apply the same concepts employed by the Critical Path Method, namely:

  • Compile a list of all activities required to complete the project (day);
  • Determine the time that each activity will take to complete; and
  • Understand the interdependency of the various activities.

In my case, this plays out something like the following. The tasks included me getting a shower and looking presentable for work, everyone getting breakfast and taking their various vitamins/medicines, packing lunches for school, dropping kids off at school, conducting an orientation for a new employee, taking said new employee to a weekly marketing meeting with a client, completing a deliverable, checking and answering emails, preparing dinner for the kids, picking the kids up from school, getting my stepson to and from math tutoring, buying groceries, picking my other son up from daycare, feeding all children dinner, washing and folding several loads of laundry, taking the garbage out, cleaning the house, and touching base with my husband (on the business trip) and my parents. Whew!

In order to get all of the above done, several important things needed to happen. These included getting the coffee pot ready to brew the night before, having my breakfast made the night before, waking up 45 minutes before my kids to shower and get dressed, laying out everyone’s vitamins and medicines and lunchboxes so nothing would be forgotten in the morning rush, preparing dinner the day before, and combining the grocery run with the tutoring pick-up/drop-offs.

In addition to these tasks, I needed the cooperation of the kids. This means having plenty of patience while I ask my stepson for the 5th time to clean up his dinner dishes, not getting too upset when I return home to find popcorn kernels all over the kitchen floor (the result of an ambitious afternoon snack project), and having to delay by one day seeing my stepdaughter clean her room. But while I take some credit for keeping the kids on track by picking my battles, I also recognize that they were fantastic today all on their own. They seem to sense when I need them to pull it together and help out – like when my stepdaughter offered to clean up the dinner dishes and my stepson helped me to take the garbage out. Have I mentioned how great my kids are??

The point is, there was a lot to get done and plenty of interdependency. In order to get started with work on time, I had to take care of a lot of the morning activities (coffee making, breakfast prep, etc.) the night before. To get the kids fed on time at dinner, the meal needed to be made ahead of time so we could simply “heat and eat” after tutoring. To find any time to buy groceries, I needed to take advantage of the half hour window while my stepson was at tutoring.

Our busy schedule really plays to my strengths. I work well under pressure and love it when I figure out ways to meet seemingly impossible deadlines. Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way saying I want every day to be like today, but I have learned to appreciate the times I’m able to rise to the challenges of motherhood. After all, let’s face it – there are so many times when we don’t live up to our own expectations as mothers and the guilt can be crushing!

I think what I love so much about today is it underscored why, for me, being a working mother is making me a better mother. I’m a big believer that everyone has to choose the best path for themselves and that there is no one “right” way to be a mother, but I still fall victim to the occasional bout of self-doubt on days that my stay-at-home mom friends are taking their children on field trips to museums or spending the day at the pumpkin patch. Getting back into the professional world has awoken my inner project manager and on days like today, she is ready to take charge! Knowing that my time at work is in some ways making me a better mother makes me feel better about the things I’m sacrificing and – I hope – teaching my kids about the importance of good planning, hard work, and patience. Yay me!

Now it’s time to do it all again tomorrow…. Sigh.

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In the last few weeks, my 68 year old Aunt passed away unexpectedly and a friend’s 64 year old mother has had two strokes. Both women seemed otherwise healthy and in both cases, these turns of events came out of the blue. I feel as though overnight, I’ve traveled into a new stage of my life – one in which the people my parents’ age are becoming frail and, in some cases, passing away.

It’s strange how life passes us by in phases. When I was young, the years were marked by birthday parties. After college and into my early thirties, weddings were the big events. Then came baby showers, followed quickly by divorces. All of a sudden – in the space of the last few weeks – it seems that funerals, nursing homes, and hospitals have taken on a new prominence.

A few years ago, I went to a reading by Author Kelly Corrigan, who had just written the book The Middle Place. Looking back, I have a new appreciation for the way she described that time in a woman’s life when you are parenting your children while also taking care of your parents.

I’m fortunate. My parents are still in great health and play a very active part in my life and the lives of my children. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to loose them, and I suppose I never thought I’d have to worry about such a thing until I was much older. After all, my kids are still young. At 4, my youngest son loves nothing more than spending time with his grandma and grandpa. I hope that he has many, many years left to do so!

I’ve thought a lot about my Aunt’s passing and the lessons I should take away from it. I really do believe that every experience in life – good and bad – can teach us something. It sounds trite (even to me as I write this!) but in this case, I walked away from her funeral feeling an urgency to live my life to the fullest and to spend more time with the people I love. I came home and happened to read Danny Brown’s blog post “Precious Time” and it was like he had captured exactly what I was feeling.

This really hit home after my Aunt’s wake when we went back to her house along with 40 to 50 out of town guests and family members. Many of the people there came from far away, and in many cases, I hadn’t seen them in years. Over a bite to eat, I was talking with another woman (whose name I unfortunately can’t recall) and relating how unfortunate it seems that in life, we get married and have everyone we love in one place, and the next time our loved ones all come together is typically when we die. Her response – that was simply not the case with my Aunt. To their credit , she and my Uncle really made a point of celebrating the special moments in their lives with family and friends. From their annual Labor Day Party to a fantastic 40th anniversary celebration, they knew how to entertain and made an effort to bring people together.

As I mourn my Aunt, I’ve come to realize the importance of taking the time each and every day to let the people I love know how I feel about them. But I’ve also realized it’s not enough to say the occasional “I love you” – maintaining relationships takes time and effort. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our day to day responsibilities while thinking we’ll make time for friends and family next week, next month, or next year.

This year, I’m looking forward to once again loading my four kids in our minivan and, along with my husband, taking a road trip up to my parents’ house in New Hampshire. We’ll spend a week hanging out in my parents’ house, playing in the yard, swimming in the local pool, playing mini golf and seeing movies. What in the past seemed like a run-of-the-mill visit to grandma and grandpa’s has now come to mean so much more. And pizza night at my mother-in-law’s is something I’ll appreciate in a new way, just like summer visits to the cousins’ houses and visits from family at the holidays. All of these occasions are really precious opportunities to form memories that will last a lifetime, regardless of how long, or short, our lives may be.

My efforts to make time for the important people in my life are still a work in progress. I’d love to know how others make this a priority. Tell me – how do you make time to see the people you love?

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