Wednesday, March 29, 2017

That Time I was Sent Home From Work to Change

I had a nice, happy blog I planned to write this week, and then United Airlines created a firestorm by saying no to leggings. My Facebook wall was inundated with posts and comments because my friends know I don't think leggings aren't pants. Correction: friends don't let friends wear leggings as pants. It's a public service really. In fairness I think banning children for wearing leggings is harsh even to me, but it brings to light the bigger issue of how we've stopped dressing appropriately as a society. It's not about leggings but about how people generally think of the world as their living room. It's not okay.

I've gotten a lot of push back about my extreme fashion views over the years, and that push back only makes me dig in my heels. What people wear matters. You don't wear sweatpants to an professional office. I was getting ready to write you don't wear running clothes or a baseball cap at dinner but I see lots of people doing that. It's gross. If the way we dressed didn't matter there wouldn't be an entire website devoted to cataloging the way people of Wal-Mart dress. You wouldn't go to a job interview in your pajamas would you? Or in leggings without a dress over them? I didn't think so. At some point we went from a nation where people wanted to look put together and appropriate to the world being everyone's living room. Please stop. I don't want to watch what's on your TV, and I don't want to see you in your pajamas unless we're having a sleepover.

Remember when people used to wear their "Sunday best"? People used to have play/work clothes and then nice clothes. My two year old wears comfy pants to school all the time. If we go out to dinner he changes into real pants, either jeans or khakis. I don't care that he's two years old. We dress appropriately for dinner. Period. I should note that he is obsessed with his dinosaur rain boots and takes them off in the restaurant, but I can't pick every battle. Dressing appropriately is part of general appropriate behavior. I expect him to say please and thank you. I expect him to be kind. I expect him to dress appropriately for the occasion. Also if you think I don't know this means he'll likely rebel at some point and dress like a slob you're wrong. I imagine that will happen. I dread the day.

Just lounging around, eating his snack in khakis and a sweater.
I work from home four days a week, and some days I don't have a lot of meetings. I'll admit I've struggled with getting super dressed up when I'm walking downtown for one meeting. I wear workout clothes to drop off my son at 7:30 am. Then I work out and dress for the day. If I don't have a lot of meetings it's usually jeans. If I have one meeting that's the hardest situation. What's the point of getting dressed up for one meeting? The point is that I work in a professional world. The men wear suits, and the women wear suits or dresses. Even if it's only for an hour, I put on professional clothes. It's appropriate.

Early in my career I had three instances of being chastised for my professional attire. My third year of law school I worked as a family law paralegal in a law firm. I had a black dress with a purple plaid jacket that I loved. It was my favorite. I'd had it since college and often wore it for debate tournaments. I went to college in the 90s, so my "professional" clothes were often too short and accompanied by horrible chunky shoes. (Think Jennie Garth on Beverly Hills 9020). I wore my favorite dress to work one day, and my two supervising attorneys pulled me into one of their offices and told me my dress was too short. They were very kind, and I was very mortified. I never wore it again.

I found a picture of the dress! This is from the U.S. Naval Academy my senior year in college with my debate partner. It's *slightly* short.
A year or so later post law school I was working for a sole practitioner attorney. It was a small office, just the two of us, and we would often go out to lunch or he'd take me with him to meetings out of the office. I was a sassy 25-year-old, and one day I wore panty hose with a seam up the back of each leg. They were from Victoria's Secret, and they were pretty sexy. He told me in no uncertain terms that I shouldn't wear them to work, and I never wore them to the office again.

I often plan my clothes weeks in advance, and that has been the case for years. When I was working for the Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia I had a really cute outfit to wear for St. Patrick's Day. It included super cute green cropped pants that had a scarf-like belt, an orange blouse that matched the flowers in the belt and a white jacket. I wore it with open-toed slingbacks, and I loved that outfit. It was also professional. The problem is that on this particular St. Patrick's Day the temperature happened to be in the 20s and snowing, very unusual weather for Virginia in March. I insisted on wearing it, and the Mayor was not amused. We had a meeting at NATO that afternoon (yes that NATO - its only North American post is in Norfolk) and he made me go home and change. I changed into my favorite tweed suit, perfect for a wintry day. I was irritated by not being able to wear the outfit I'd painstakingly chosen, but it was not appropriate for that weather.

I haven't always gotten it right, and I won't pretend like I always do. Style is relative, and what works for one person doesn't have to (and shouldn't) work for another. But the impression you give in the world is real. It doesn't mean you have to wear a ball gown every day (although I'd love to wear a ball gown every day), but it's important to dress appropriately for the occasion. Those who think it doesn't matter how they dress are the ones whose attire is holding them back. Trust me. And trust me on the fact that leggings alone, without a tunic or dress over them, are still seriously not pants.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Little Victories

In the last few years I've had lofty fitness goals. I completed my first triathlon a few years ago. I've run 19 half marathons and three marathons in the last five years. I've challenged myself and gotten faster. This last year has changed my perspective and the number of miles I'm logging. My focus right now is getting healthy (which is a work in progress) and being consistent with running and cross training. Even a 5k that isn't close to my PR can feel like a victory.

Last fall I decided I wanted to run a half marathon every month. That was my lofty 2017 goal. Then I had an abscess drained and have been fighting infection for the last five months. I wanted to run a half marathon in April, but there's no way I can train for a half right now. I went to my doctor a few weeks ago, and I still have the infection that caused the abscess. They can't figure it out. Yesterday I had a MRI to see if they can determine the cause. Until that's figured out I've got to limit myself to shorter distances. I want to run for the rest of my life, and to do that I have to be patient. If I push too hard now and wreck my body, I won't be able to run. That means appreciating 5ks for right now.

Last weekend I ran the Run for the House, a local 5k benefiting the Ronald McDonald House. A good friend of mine (I affectionately refer to her as my little sister) was part of the race organizing team, so I wanted to run it to support her hard work. I originally registered for the 10k and realized that wasn't a good idea. I haven't been logging a lot of miles, and any time I pick up the speed my body isn't happy. 

The race takes place in Okemos, a Lansing suburb. Race morning was foggy with a chilly rain/snow mix. I'll admit that when I looked outside I really wasn't excited about going for a run in that weather, but by the time the race started late morning the weather had mostly cleared.

I felt sluggish at the start but pretty quickly found some motivation. When you run a lot of local races you start to see familiar faces. A few years ago when I was more competitive in the 5k there was a woman I'd see at different races. She and I would go back and forth winning our age group. At a 5k a few years ago on a sweltering May morning she sprinted up from behind me and beat me at the line. She made some kind of snarky comment about beating me, and after that she become my running rival without even knowing it. About a mile into the Run for the House I saw her ahead of me and kept her relatively close - about 10-15 yards ahead.

With about a half mile to go I had nearly resigned myself to the fact that she would beat me. I just wasn't feeling it. But with a quarter mile left I saw the finish and kicked it into high gear. I sprinted past her and smiled all the way to the finish to win our age group. I ran 25:20, more than two minutes slower than my PR, but sprinting past her to that finish was my little victory. 

I could barely breathe, but I always have a smile for the camera.
My euphoria was short lived when I spent the rest of the day in pain because of this f&*king infection. It reinforced the fact that I need to be more judicious about running until this is under control. Hopefully the MRI reveals an answer to the problem so we can clear it up and I can start logging some serious miles again. Until then I'll take my little victories where I can find them. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Keep Parenting Cool

Last week I came across a blog titled "The Suburbs Don't Suck After All".  As a rabid cityphile I found myself cringing at most of it, and I was irritated that it was filled with excuses. Despite my fervent city advocacy, I get the appeal of the suburbs. I really do. There are a lot of kids around, and the schools are better. There's a lot to be said for what the suburbs have to offer. So if you live in the suburbs and love it, wonderful. Excellent. I'm thrilled that it's what works for your family. I say this with zero sarcasm even if you're reading sarcasm into it. I promise. 

Living in the suburbs does not work for me. The biggest sticking point for me is having a commute or having to drive everywhere. The idea of living where I have to drive everywhere makes me want to gouge my own eyes out, and it's not the life I want.  I can't imagine it. But the aforementioned blog post instead of focusing on some positives of the suburbs mostly feels like a defensive attempt to justify why this woman feels like she sold out. Kids change our lives, and it's okay to make the decision to move once you have kids. But you can still have an ideal neighborhood for your kids in the city. Moving to the suburbs is merely an option. It's not the only one. 

Also there are different types of suburban communities. There are still suburban communities with a downtown that are walkable and have lots of amenities. Those are different. My deal breakers is the cul-de-sac with nothing around but houses. The worst is if I can see a brand new subdivision from the freeway. Ouch.

Her reasons the suburbs don't suck are below followed by my response:

Reason: "There's plenty of room for all the stuff."

Why it's BS: I live in a 3500 square foot house half a mile from downtown. I once made fun of a friend who lives in the suburbs for her bonus room, and she made fun of me for having a bonus floor. Touche. Before this house we lived in a large 4-bedroom, 1800 square foot house in an urban neighborhood. There's room for the stuff. Terrible excuse.

Reason: "Kids can experience the freedoms we did as kids."

Why it's BS: You can do that in a city neighborhood. There's no reason why you can't. I know lots of friends whose kids run around city neighborhoods. Also our freedom is called walking. We walk to my son's daycare. We walk to dinner and to play. I would argue the confines of a car to get everywhere is the worst prison of all.

I did this work project when my son was six months old. This is a temporary park in a parking lane. Looks pretty free to me!
Reason: "A sense of community is truly felt."

Why it's BS: We have some of the best neighbors we've ever had. We clear one another's sidewalks, we talk by the fence, we all look out for one another. They watch our cats when we're gone. They bring me food when I'm sick. Saying a sense of community only exists in the suburbs leads me to believe this person just had crappy neighbors.

Reason: "You will not be shamed for your gas guzzling mini-van or SUV."

Why it's BS: I have a gas-guzzling SUV. Granted I don't drive it much, and we got it because we have huge dogs. But I love the space in my car. Nobody has ever shamed me for it.  But I love it more because I'm not in it 10 hours a day shuttling my kids TO THE CITY TO DO THINGS.

Reason: "The schools. Let me repeat, the schools!"

Why it's BS: Yes, suburban schools are almost always better than inner city schools. That point is accurate. But it's because historically we built the suburbs to escape racial and poverty issues and let our urban schools decay. So my son may go to private school. It's a decision we have not yet made. I'd rather him go to public school, and it's a tough decision. But hailing suburban schools like this is ignorant. We've all decided to let inner city schools go to pot by abandoning them. At least be less gleeful about it.

Reason: "Life feels easier."

Why it's BS: Oh stop it. Come on. You're not "obligated" to attend every urban event or gathering. We attend some, and we don't attend some. The important point is that we are close enough to enjoy them in walking distance. Our downtown neighborhood is quiet and peaceful. Life couldn't get easier.

My front porch on a summer afternoon. She's right - life is clearly not easy.
Reason: "Our forgotten cool lives are just a short drive away."

Why it's BS: Again with the driving. Add this to the tally of hours spent driving from the suburbs to the city. Also being a parent doesn't mean you can't be cool. It simply takes more work. My son has been to dozens of cool downtown restaurants and bars. At the age of two he's traveled to 18 states. Living in the city isn't what makes someone cool. It's a nebulous property that is different for everyone. For me feeling cool and living a life that I find exciting takes more work, but don't blame it on the city. If you don't want to live an urban life that's totally fine. I know cool people who live in suburbs and lame people who live in cities. I find making excuses lame. 

Reason: "Matcha lattes are gross."

Well obviously. She's totally right on this one. 

When we had our son people kept asking when we were going to move to the suburbs. The answer is never. Not because there are not benefits, but because that's not the life we want for our family. I want my son to be a proud part of our downtown community. I want him to know walking is just a part of what we do. I want him to see people who are poor and look different than him and know that we aren't living in some homogeneous society of upper middle class white people. Those things are important. 

There are a lot of vibrant and beautiful neighborhoods in my city, and this blog makes me defensive on their behalf. I am an advocate for cities. Lord willing my son will be too. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Running NOLA (post sponsored by oysters and Sauvignon Blanc)

The first time I visited New Orleans was in the spring of 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina. I don't remember much about the trip other than thinking the city was filthy. When my husband suggested my son and I join him for a conference there last weekend, I thought it was time to give NOLA another shot. This time would be different: I would see the city through the eyes of a mom and a runner, a very different perspective.

My son and I left late Thursday afternoon from Detroit. We booked our flights relatively last minute, and my husband's flight was from Lansing. I've traveled with our little dude solo quite a bit, so I didn't mind taking him alone to have a direct flight and an earlier arrival. For the first time my son carried his own suitcase, and in his usual fashion he charmed everyone with whom he came into contact.

Kid is a traveling boss.
Thursday night was uneventful. I ordered takeout and my son went to bed later than he should've. Hotel rooms with toddlers are always a challenge, but I was grateful we had a suite so we had a little more room. By the time my husband arrived our son was asleep, and I wasn't far behind him. I was okay with it though when our son woke up at five am on Friday (he usually wakes up between 6-6:30 eastern time). Mornings are long in a hotel room with a small human.

I took advantage of the sunshine to go for a run on Friday morning. It was my first run since my hospital stay a few weeks ago. We were staying in the Warehouse District about a mile from the French Quarter, and I ran to Jackson Square in the beautiful early morning light. I felt strong and fast which surprised me. Running in a new city always makes me feel energized, and this was no exception. I've been walking a lot the last few weeks, and even walking I've been short of breath and getting side stitches. On that run I felt weightless and amazing. I ran through the heart of this beautiful old city and felt like myself again.

Beautiful morning for a run!
I consumed an absurd amount of seafood (particularly oysters) in a short, three-day trip. It all started that first morning when we headed to breakfast at Creole House. I had the Louisiana Benedict topped with fried oysters and washed it down with a mimosa. If one can't have a cocktail at 10 am in New Orleans then what's the point? We walked around for a bit, and my exhausted son fell asleep earlier. I headed back to the hotel while my husband went to his conference. My son took an epic four hour nap, and I joined him for several of those hours (thanks champagne!)

After our nap we went to around the corner to the New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Company. My son and I split some beignet bites and I had a cappuccino to help wakeme up. Then we went to ride the streetcar because my son was obsessed with "Trolley". We rode for maybe two stops before he wanted to get off. Toddlers have a short attention span. We walked down Bourbon Street and ran around Jackson Square. It was a flawless day as my son sat on the steps in front of the iconic St. Louis Cathedral and watched street performers.



My husband joined us for an early dinner at Legacy Kitchen. I had the redfish and Gouda grits, the best food I had over the weekend (which is saying a lot because we had amazing food). My husband had a dinner, so my son and I headed to the hotel to watch PBS and snuggle. 

NOLA with a toddler
Saturday was an early morning too, so we headed off early for breakfast at Willa Jean's. The food was delicious, and the atmosphere was great. It was fun to stay in the Warehouse District and get a different feel for the city. We walked back slowly checking out different city parks and buildings. 

Traveling with a toddler means scheduling naps, and with an epic napper it turns out to be a nice break in the middle of the day. We had a late lunch at the St. James Cheese Company. This place was fantastic. I decided to start drinking Sauvignon Blanc, a summer favorite. The New Orleans sunshine and delicious wine made it feel like summer, and my heart was happy. We walked back to the French Quarter and explored again. 

We were there the weekend after Mardi Gras. Love the beads in trees everywhere!
We had cocktails and then dinner at Red Fish Grill on Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street is actually my least favorite part of New Orleans, but I thought since we were there we should have at least one meal there. I had oysters and gumbo, and we topped it off with bread pudding. I was happy for the mile walk back to the hotel because we consumed an absurd amount of Cajun calories.

Dinner on our last night
After another early night we were up early on Sunday too. We ate breakfast at Stanley in Jackson Square, and then my son sprinted up and down the the nearly vacant square in front of the cathedral. As a mom and a runner I fell in love with the New Orleans I met early in the day. We had the public spaces to ourselves, and it was quiet and beautiful. 

My son refused to nap on Sunday making our final lunch at Mulate's a challenging experience. I had my final oyster treat - a fried oyster po boy. We walked around as our son slept in the stroller soaking in the warm weather of the south before heading to the airport. 

It was exactly the weekend getaway I needed. Traveling with a small human means earlier nights, but I've discovered the beauty of early mornings. It turns out I prefer it. Our son visited his 18th U.S. state at the age of two. He's a rock star little traveler, and I'm grateful every minute of every day that I get to be his mom.  It was the perfect trifecta of things I love: time with my boys, feeling strong when I run and exploring a new city. Thanks for the memories NOLA!