Outside my little world

I recently read “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. If you need some motivation to get involved in your community or a community halfway around the world, this is your book. They detail ways that volunteers have changed people’s lives, from big projects such as starting a nonprofit to ideas as simple as making sure a child has interesting books to read.

One aspect of the book I really liked was the emphasis on using skills you already have to help a nonprofit. They demonstrate that we don’t all need to quit our jobs and work at a nonprofit to produce major change. We can use skills from our work lives, such as financial planning, marketing, or communications, to help nonprofits expand their reach and become more efficient.

Even before reading the book, I had been thinking about getting involved in a nonprofit. I go through phases where I feel as though my life is expanding, that I’m finding good work opportunities and making social connections. Other times, my life seems to shrink, and I’ve felt that way lately. Eleanor goes to school across the street, and Henry’s babysitter is a block away, and we live a mile from the grocery store. Sometimes all I do in a week is travel that little loop. My car battery is literally dying from lack of use. At least I’m doing my part for the environment!

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a few friends, all moms, about volunteer work and how we can go about squeezing it into our lives. I was inspired! We spend hours debating how to handle homework assignments, allowances, and the disposal of Halloween candy (Both the eat-it-all-at-once method and the piece-a-day method bring their own unique misery.). It was so good to discuss issues beyond our little suburban circle. Thinking about people without access to food or education forces me to be grateful for how easy and rich our lives our.

I’ve been fortunate to write a lot about maternal health and grief. Well, not fortunate to know so much, but fortunate to be able to help other families, to create some good out of a terrible event. Lately, I’ve wanted to do more locally so that I might connect with people in person instead of by email. I got in touch with an area nonprofit that does some work related to infant death, and I’ve gone through training to volunteer there.

I attended the Texas Conference for Women last week, and at lunch, I began to exchange small talk with the woman next to me. I told her about a panel I had attended on nonprofits, and she asked what sort of work I was interested in. So I launched into the sad baby story, which I prefer to avoid with strangers, and told her that I was about to start volunteering. Turns out that she is on the board of the nonprofit that I’m volunteering with. Her son died at three months old. In a room with 5,000 women, this is who I sat next to. Amazing to meet someone who needed no explaining and who didn’t flinch at the word “stillborn.”

So all of this is to say that I’m glad the book helped urge me to action. My own problems seem to lessen when I instead focus on how I can help other people. Enough with this blog post. Go find your cause!

Month twelve — Henry

Dear Henry,

Today you turned one year old. Happy birthday, my sweet boy! One year ago, I went to the doctor for my third appointment that week. Though you were kicking around, the doctor saw signs of trouble, the same trouble I had with Genevieve. After making a call to my other doctor (We had a lot of doctors.) and to the hospital, they decided to deliver you. That was the best day. I love your sisters, and I love your dad, and yet nothing can compare to my relief and elation that day. They told me to go across the street to the hospital. I literally could not find a door into the hospital, so someone had to guide me, and then I got lost in the maze of corridors inside, and more people had to direct me. Everybody asked about you, and for the first time during the entire pregnancy, I was excited to talk about you. You were going to live.

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I had always dreaded surgery before, but not this time. IV. No problem. Rancid-tasting medicine. Done. During the surgery, I shook from the anaesthesia, and my heart rate dropped below 40. The doctors became concerned and asked whether I felt okay. My muscles ached. I was nauseated and faintish. It didn’t matter. I would have endured anything. (Still, they gave me some medicine to get my heart pumping faster.)

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They pulled you out, and shortly after, you cried. They weighed you, checked you over, and then brought you to me. I rested my hand — the only thing I could move — on your cheek and talked to you. You gently cooed, yawned, and smacked your lips. You seemed to already know me, and I felt that I had always been your mother.

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And now you are a snuggly, determined, noisy one-year-old. You have learned to throw things, and you delight in flinging our TV remotes and your sippy cup. You also appear to be preparing for your soccer career, taking aim at any small object you pass.

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A little more than a week ago, you reached a major milestone. You voluntarily let go of a table and walked to daddy — seven steps. None of our coaxing before that had worked. You had to do it on your own. You’ve been shy about doing more, but sometimes I leave you in the playroom and come back to find you standing in the middle. You are walking covertly.

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There are so many things I want to say, about how you like to snuggle into my shoulder and bite me just a bit — not enough to hurt — and about how you bounce one of your knees to the beat when listening to music, and about how you rest your head against my chest at night while I sing “This Little Light of Mine.” Henry, I am so grateful I get to tell you how wonderful you are every single day. Having you here is enough, in every way.

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Love,

Mom

Avoiding debt

Greg and I have done our best to avoid debt whenever possible. We don’t carry balances on our credit cards, and we pay off loans as quickly as we can. Admittedly, this is easier for us than a lot of people because we both had our college tuition paid by our parents. We still make a few sacrifices to reduce our bills. We cut out cable long ago, though that didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice, and I just got my new-to-me iPhone 5. The Internet connection is fast! But you already knew that two years ago.

We’ve always felt that eliminating debt gives us freedom. One of us can stay home or work part time, and we have wiggle room when it comes to seeking new jobs. We can choose the best fit rather than the highest paycheck.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about when I will return to an office job. I like freelancing when I have work. That’s the rub — when I have work. Sometimes I spend more time searching for work than doing actual paying work.

But there’s the problem of us living so far from the city. The jobs that I want are downtown, and the commute seems impossible to manage with young kids. (If you’re thinking of moving to Austin, be aware that we have major traffic problems.) I always thought that I could make it work when the kids got older. Realistically, though, when am I ever going to want to leave at 7 a.m. and get home at 6 p.m.? Even when Henry is in school, I’ll still want to be home in time to make dinner or run the kids to soccer practice.

I was talking to some family members last week, and they asked about my job prospects, and I said, “We’re going to have to move at some point.”

As soon as those words popped out, I knew that I had spoken the truth. I felt relief. Because all of the job concerns I have stem from our living so far from the city. At the moment, neither of us wants to move. We live in a great neighborhood for young children, and we’re friends with many of our neighbors. I don’t want to uproot Eleanor. And, getting back to the debt thing, I don’t want us to take on a bigger mortgage. We’ve worked hard to get to this point, and it seems crazy to voluntarily give that up.

As backward as it sounds, trying to live without debt has become a trap. When we bought this house, I didn’t have a job. And then for a long time, I had a job where I worked at night, so commuting downtown wasn’t an issue. Now, I literally can’t have an office job because of our location. I’ve been happy to have time with the kids and to take life at a slower pace while raising them, but I don’t plan to do this for the next 18 years.

We’re not doing anything drastic. You already knew that. Greg and I are the tortoises of decision-making. When I do return to work, I will definitely start my job before we start house-hunting. For now, I’ll keep holding out for that magical, interesting work-from-home job.