"they say the owl was a baker's daughter. lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be." (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Things I Learned in 2013

Just a list to end a year in which I'm still learning things I wish I already knew.

1) All relationships are best depicted by a venn diagram.

2) "You're either with me or you're against me" is a very combative way to approach the world.

3) Reducing the world to black and white works well for people who lack the intellectual or emotional bandwidth to otherwise negotiate the complexity of the human condition. And also, they're morons.

5) Telling me that I "just have to see it your way" is not entirely true. I actually don't have to see it your way. Ever. (but I'll still try).

6) Trying to strengthen a relationship by uniting against a common enemy only works when the enemy cooperates. Don't cooperate.

7) Some people disguise alliance-building as friendship. That hurts. Walk away.

8) You're never going to do it all right all of the time.

9) You should still always try.

10) This too shall pass.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Lift Don't Lean

Here's an idea.  When it comes to women, work, and the will to lead-- or life for that matter--instead of leaning in, try lifting up.  Lean implies force. Newton's third law of physics is simple; you can only lean into something that is opposing you. What's the sense in that? Why give your energy to something, anything (anyone), that is refusing you?

Leaning puts you off balance. Leaning compromises your height. Lean long enough and you'll fall over.

Whereas lifting brings you higher.  Lift requires strength and lightness.  There is more to be gained in lifting ourselves, and those around us, up rather than leaning in to (and against) a system that doesn't serve us.

Lift implies an element of grace, a generosity of spirit, with a reach towards something higher.

How do you want to get where you're going? Lean and you'll topple. Lift and you'll rise.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thank The Pastry

There are times when people disappoint me. Situations let me down.  Expectations fail me. There are times when my hard work does not pay off and when outcomes inflicted on me are both unfair and inexplicably unjust.  Because I am someone who over-invests--in people, in my work, in my relationships, in all that I do--these times are hard for me. 

I have limited coping skills when it comes to being let down by people for whom I have deep trust.  As someone who is usually so strong, I simply disintegrate under the weight of disappointment and crumble into bitter little pieces. It's hard to put myself back together. I'm not quite the same.

I think commitment and loyalty deserve reciprocity.  It hurts when you don’t get it. It hurts deeply.  But lucky for me, I have a talent for storytelling. And even on my darkest days, I can spin a tale of my woe into epic entertainment.  I will tell my stories.

Others, on whom we count to do the right thing, may get it wrong. They deserve our forgiveness. We are all human and mistakes come naturally. Even so, I struggle to be gracious in my disbelief. I am blind to grace when I feel slighted. I am deaf to excuses when I am wronged.

I own my reactions. I own everything that has happened to me. And now I own these stories. They can’t be given away by anyone but me. That's how I comfort myself today. The day on which the pastry platter was the star of the show and we all applauded. It's just a story now.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Absolutely True Story of My Citizen of the Month

This week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a ceremony at which my younger son was awarded a prestigious citizenship award. As the "Citizen of the Month", Eamon was recognized with the following citation.
"Eamon, you are being recognized for this citizenship award for being an outstanding student inside and outside of our classroom. From Day 1, you have impressed us by showing incredible helpfulness to your classmates. You are the first one to offer a hand to someone in any situation. Whether we are in class, on the playground, or at any special, we notice all your great choices come naturally to you. Your responsible personality has made you a fantastic leader and role model. We appreciate how you are so agreeable and genuinely don't mind being our 'go-to-guy'. Discover Elementary School is a better place because of you!"

If you're just meeting us, you may be surprised to learn, that Eamon and I have been engaged in a battle of will since the moment he kicked me so hard that he broke one of my bones -- in utero. It's been a constant test to see who can gain, and retain, control in our relationship. As his mother, I both fear and admire his strength of character. And although our battles are too many to chronicle here, I'll share one absolutely true story from the morning of April 18, 2008.

Although I wasn't sure then if it was all worth it, I can say now with absolute conviction, "Indeed it was." There is no person who loves, and challenges, me more than my younger son. And as his pediatrician once encouraged me, "Channel his energy. He has a spirit that will one day rule the world."

My passionate spirited son, I am so proud of you. You were blessed with many talents, and you are using your powers for good. This December, you are the Citizen of the Month in Discovery Elementary School's third grade, and you will forever be the Miracle of Every Moment in my life.

April 18, 2008 (Eamon, 3 years old) 

This morning, Eamon pooped in his pull-up. I told him to take off his shoes and his jeans and sit on the potty and I would be with him shortly (I was doing my hair). He screamed in my face, "I WON'T DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!" so in my slip and my hot rollers, I calmly took him by the hand and walked him to his room, told him he could come out when he was ready to be nice. I shut the door and locked him in.

He proceeded to scream bloody murder for about ten minutes, which was perfect timing because it allowed me to finish getting dressed and coordinate my jewelry.

I knocked on the door that he had not yet broken down and reminded him that he could come out as soon as he was ready to be nice, and also, that he needed to take off his shoes and his pants and sit on the potty OR he was going to have to go to school with poop in his pants. It didn't matter to me, it was his decision.

He responded by telling me, "That's stupid!" and threw a stuffed animal at my face. So, I shut and locked the door and proceeded to pack Liam's lunch. All the while listening to the gentle soundtrack of fists beating a wall and the tune of "Mama, let me out of here RIGHT NOW!!!!!" This melody eventually turned to, "I NEED A TISSUE RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!' to which I replied (via intercom this time, to avoid projectile objects being aimed at my face"), "As soon as you calm down I will give you a tissue."

Well, things escalated when when Liam and the neighborhood girls started playing in the driveway. Eamon climbed onto his dresser to holler out the window to them, "GUYS, stop playing without me!!!!" Now, my heart was breaking a little bit, but all the experts say that you musn't give in to the temper tantrum, so I left Quasimodo in his belltower and finished doing the dishes.

Alas, for fear of missing the school bus, I gathered all of the backpacks and encouraged the other children to pick up their scooters from the driveway and get in the car. I then went and asked Eamon to hold my hand while we walked to the car.

This quickly turned into a World Wrestling Federation match, whereby I had him in a full nelson, strapped over my shoulders, every bit a lady, not raising my voice or breaking a sweat. I gently jammed him into his car seat and turned on my very high heel to close the garage door. Eamon seized this opportunity for escape, undid his seatbelt, opened the car door and ran up the driveway, across the cul-de-sac and into the woods behind my neighbor’s house before I had even turned around.

I was not going to be foiled by the great Houdini, so I calmly meandered in my Ann Taylor dress across the lawn and into the woods (aerating the entire cul-de-sac lawn as I went with my heels), peeled back the branches so as not to disturb my carefully coiffed hair, and reached in to pull out my thrashing, screaming banshee of a three year old.

This shortly became a unilateral shouting match of "Put me down, you're CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!" with flailing arms and a few sneakers to the mouth. Determined to not fall out of character and remain every bit the loving mother that I am, I simple hastened the child to my breast and carried him across the lawn, quietly calculating the amount of money I just wasted on dry cleaning my perfect-for-any-occasion little-black-dress. I made a mental note to write to the marketing team and ask if "chasing your three year old into the woods" was among the occasions for which they considered this dress perfect.

Eamon was now safely man-jammed back into his carseat with the door adequately locked. I proceeded to round the car in order to enter the driver's seat when I heard a thrash and a scream and an "I HATE SCHOOL!!!!!!!" only in time to turn my head to see the great Houdini escape once again, this time over a retaining wall, across my backyard, over the garden, and under the deck behind the swimming pool.

Unsure how to retrieve my child without damaging my new high heels beyond repair, I simply decided to get in the car and drive away. As I started the engine, the little demon emerged from beneath the shadows of the pool and came running towards the car screaming, "Open my door!!!! You can’t leave me here!! You’re CRAZY!!!!" So, I exited the vehicle, opened the car and attempted to assist my toddler's ascent to his car seat. This turned sour on me very quickly when he swiftly bit my forearm, and screamed into my face "I HATE SCHOOL!!!!!!!!" This earned him a good heist in the seat of his drawers and a good slam of the car door in his face.

All of the other children, now seemingly terrified and uncertain who was more crazy, this Houdini-like Quasimodo with the stinky pants or the Ann-Taylor modelesque woman who was manhandling him across all of Mallard Drive. I have my opinion, but I will keep it to myself.

Down the street we go and due to some divine intervention, we do not miss the bus. The children grab their backpacks and run to Bus #9 while I calmly lock Eamon in the car, engage the parking brake and remove the keys. His harmonious screaming can be heard through the entire town via my open sunroof. Many of the other bus-stop parents cast knowing glances in my direction, but this moment of commiseration is precluded by the incessant blaring of a car horn. I turn to see my angel child bearing down on the steering wheel of my Subaru, drowning out the lyrics of his most common refrain, "I HATE SCHOOL!!!!!!!!! THIS IS STUPID!!!!!!!!!!!!!" I run back to the car (a good 100 yards in my sling back heels) pressing the unlock button on my remote control as I go.

I realize my mistake a second too late, for as I frantically rushed to unlock the car door to remove my child from atop my blaring steering wheel, I also provided him the perfect opportunity to escape, once again, through the now unlocked driver's side-door. In a flash, he was out of the car and running, this time up a newly mulched hill (three cheers for landscaping!) and into the woods .... again.

My calm, cool demeanor now nothing more than a thin, shattered veneer, I lean forward and charge the hill to retrieve my offspring. I manage to grab hold of but one of his arms, which throws both of our bodies off balance, and our descent from mulched mountain becomes nothing more than a well-dressed, tumble of recently-tanned legs and elbows.

Don't give in!, I repeat to myself as I softly shove Sir Handsome back into his car seat, lock the doors, round the car, unlock my door and swiftly enter the vehicle. I have no choice but to deliver this child to his daycare now. I cannot reward reward these atrocities by giving him what he wants (a tissue and a popsicle ... I think?)

I begin the short drive to Route 111 during which time my son unbuckles his car seat and attempts to escape through the open sunroof, all the while screaming, "YOU CAN'T MAKE ME GO! I WON'T DO IT! IT'S STUPID!!!!!!!! I HATE SCHOOL!!!!" I yank him down my the leg and promptly close the sunroof, saying a silent prayer of gratitude to the genius who placed these power buttons on my steering wheel.

Eamon will not be deterred. Realizing that a sunroof escape is no longer a viable option, he proceeds to climb into the front seat to grab the steering wheel, all the while screaming, "TURN MAMA!!!!!!!!! TURN, GO BACK HOME!!!!!!!!!!" I attempted to reason with the boy, "Eamon, the policeman is going to send Mommy to jail if you don't get back in your seat." but my calm, rationale voice could not derail him from his mission. Using my right hand, I swept him into the back seat. He took this opportunity to cleave to my forearm with his formidable incisors and gnashed on my arm until I released it by pinching his nose.

Mind you, this is very difficult to do without driving off the road, but I am supermom, and I can do many things at once. Seeing that devouring my perfectly sunless tanned arm was not going to be my breaking point, the boy began to beat me about the neck and face with his fists. I admire his tenacity.

After this ride of terror, I exited the car and tried to lovingly retrieve my son from the backseat. This was more like chasing a rabid dog around a very confined kennel and I met no success. Frothing at the mouth, Eamon removed himself from the car by crashing out of the passenger side door and onto the pavement. He quickly returned to an upright position and ran off across the parking lot. I managed to get one slippery grip on one of his arms, which led us through a circular dance of entanglement and violent despair across the parking lot, until he crashed through the door and lay on the floor, a heaping pile of snot, poop, sobs, and screams. I brushed myself off, kissed him on the head, told him I loved him, held my head up, and walked away.

Now, I ask you, was this worth it?

Friday, June 21, 2013


I've stuttered, started, and stopped for about a few months now. Feeling ever urgent. That something is different, has changed, and wanting to express it. Give it shape, breathe it life, and make it real with my words. Testify.

But the have words escaped me. They've slipped over my tongue, fell out of my thoughts, and failed to form in my mind. And still this restlessness persists. I can't shake it. Start, stall, stop. Stuck.

I've taken an inventory. I've crossed all the known and familiar emotions off of my list. I'm not any of them. I can't name this new thing I am.

Among other new things in my life I am now a tennis player. I started taking lessons after reading this quote in a New Yorker article:

Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, was watching the Wimbledon tennis tournament on television when he saw star Rafael Nadal's coach urging him on from the sidelines. If one of the world's greatest tennis players has a coach, Gawande asked himself, why shouldn't doctors and teachers?
I was so taken by this observation that I went on to read Gawande's book, Better. It may may have changed my life.

I started taking lessons because I wanted to become a better learner. I wanted to teach myself to be coachable. I wanted to see what could happen if I stopped resisting instruction. I wanted to experience how good I could become if I knew how to hear advice as guidance rather than criticism. In short, I wanted to become better--not just on the tennis court, but in my life. And maybe that's what is happening.

I'm working on my serve. My coach has told me to throw the toss, coil, arch my back, and then shift my weight through my hips, until all of the momentum in my body pulls me forward. It sounds complicated. It sounds like a lot to do in a short moment of time. And in the past, former versions of Jeannette would have backed off probably. Resisted. Stopped before trying. But I'm learning. And I'm getting better. And I'm forgiving myself when I miss. And I'm trying again. And again. And again. And maybe that's what is happening. Approach. Toss. Lean. Shift. Hips. Hit.

Exactly three years ago, in my professional life, I started something new. And today, exactly three years later, I stopped doing it. Powered down, stood up, walked away, and badged out. Good-bye to this space, farewell to this time. I'm on to something different. I'm off to a new challenge. I'm letting the momentum I've built pull me forward. I'm learning to learn. I'm learning to lean. And the hips won't lie.

Over the past few weeks, many people have asked me if I am excited for what's next. Am I nervous about where I'm going? And I'm not. I'm neither of those things. And until this very moment, I didn't know how to describe what I am or what emotion has been swirling for the past few months. But I know now.

This new thing I am. It is not excited. It is not nervous. It is ready. This is what readiness feels like. I am both humble, and assuming, enough to believe that I can be better. And I am ready.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Good morning, and thank you for attending this service to honor my grandmother. As the Pastor introduced me, my name is Jeannette, and I am Alyce's older granddaughter. On our drive here to Ohio, I told my husband that I wasn't sure what people would expect to hear from me during these remarks. He replied, "People will just expect to hear how you feel." So the remarks I'll share here today are just that and nothing more; how I feel about my grandmother.

... long pause for deep sobbing at the lectern ...

I think every little girl should benefit from the magic of a grandmother like mine. I really though that my grandmother was a Queen. She lived in a faraway land, and she would arrive from the west, in these big cars chauffeured by my grandfather, and it was like she was traveling in a chariot. I remember waking up one year at Christmas and they had arrived while we were sleeping and we couldn't even see the sofa anymore, it was piled so high with gifts. She wore these long flowing bathrobes, and satin slippers, and blue and green eyeshadow, cateye glasses, smelling always of perfume, and carrying a bottomless supply of breath mints in her change purse. My grandmother embodied all of the things a little girl adores.

To me, she was like a goddess. My older son Liam, who is here with me today, has been studying Greek mythology, and I've had the pleasure of learning with him. And my grandmother reminds me most of Athena. For those of you who don't know, Athena was Zeus's favorite child. So favorite in fact, that she was the only child allowed to play with his weapons, including his thunderbolt! And that's who she was to me. As a little girl, she was Athena, with her gentle laugh, costume jewelry, cosmetic mirrors, and the world's softest hands.

Yet, as I grew older, I stopped seeing her through the eyes of a little girl and started seeing her through the eyes of the woman I was becoming. As I learned more about her life, instead of shrinking in import, my grandmother's goddess stature increased with each passing day and she truly became my Athena. Athena, the greek goddess of wisdom.

My grandmother's maiden name is Weisheit, which when translated from the German means wisdom. And if ever there were a person who valued wisdom, it was my grandmother. She was uncommonly educated for her time, and she was unquestionably committed to a lifetime of learning. Over the past week, my brothers, sister, and I have all shared fond memories of sitting at her tiny kitchen table and vigorously debating just about any topic with her. One second she would be challenging my father on the legal ramifications of immigration reform, and the next moment she would be asking my sister about Demi Moore's new haircut. She was an ample conversationalist, and truly, an encyclopedia. She knew just about everything about everything; how to turn a collar, bird species, biblical history, fashion, western civilization, pop culture, medicine, gem stones, opera, and most recently, yoga poses. "Oh come on, Nettie, show me that Warrior 2 again."

In perusing her final scrapbook, I even found an article, with a letter my older brother had handwritten to her, about glacial deposits in the Ohio River Valley. Her mind knew no boundaries. And if it did, she didn't acknowledge them.

In that regard, she was such an enigma to me. She committed the last seventy years of her life to living in a small, rural, town. Without ever learning to drive, it would seem that her world would have gotten smaller and smaller as she aged and her mobility decreased. But to the contrary, her world continued to expand, as she tuned in to the opera, subscribed to the Smithsonian magazine, and collected the world through the travels of her children and grandchildren through postcards, slideshows, and stories. She relentlessly pursued wisdom in whatever form it presented itself.

The other way she was an enigma to me was her SIZE! I found her legal ID card this week, and she was only 4"10'. And, as you can see, my family is a bunch of giants. I mean, we are huge and she was just so small. I just don't understand how such a little person had such a big impact on the world around her. She was truly a giant. She used to joke that she was going to put bricks on our heads to keep us from getting taller than she was. Well, she lost that battle, but she was really, truly, larger than life, bigger than her body ever gave her credit for.

She was such a source of strength and inspiration to me as I tried to find my way in this world. I learned so many things from her. I probably should have told her, but I guess I never did. Through her I learned that a mind must be exercised, and that an active mind is a healthy mind. I also witnessed through her that will must be exercised, and that a willful woman is a force of nature. Through her I observed the tender, and often misunderstood difference, between determination and stubbornness. She taught me how to remain committed to my ideals even in the face of insurmountable odds. She also taught me about commitment.

My grandmother was so committed to her life. She was raised a Pastor's daughter and wore the distinction as a badge of honor. She was unfailing in her commitment to her church and to her faith.

She was committed to her family. She was the Weisheit and Thomas family archivist, collecting photos, newspaper clippings, and other heirlooms dating back to 1872. She loved her husband, and remained committed to him as a young bride while he served in the Pacific Theatre in World War II,as a Marine. She wore her wedding bands every day since his passing in 1984, committed to him through the almost 30 years she spent as a widow.

She followed him to Ohio with her young family in the mid-1940s, leaving behind the only world she ever knew: the bustling metropolis of Pittsburgh during its heyday as the steel city. Her commitment to this land and to this place held her here for another 70 years. Even after her home burned to the ground, she remained. Every now and then she'd get a faraway look in her eye, and say wistfully that while she was gardening she often thought that she might turn over a ring, or a fork, or some piece of her former life, buried in the soil. She'd catch herself in the moment of nostalgia and hope, and slap my knee, laugh it off, and say, "Well Nettie, no sense sitting around here feeling sorry for myself." And that would be that.

She was strong. She was determined. She was committed. And she was never harder on anyone than she would have been on herself.

As a professional woman, I credit my grandmother with bestowing on me those very same character traits to which my success is largely owed. I credit her with blazing the trail that made my life and my career possible. I believe that I am made in my grandmother's image.

To anyone who has ever commented, "Gee Jeannette, has anyone ever told you that you have a really strong personality?" Or, "You're really opinionated." Or, "You're difficult to lead." Or, "You know Jeannette, once you set your mind to something you're like a dog on a bone." Or, "You're a real kick in the pants." I simply smile and reply, "Really? You should meet my grandmother."

In addition to her indefatigable pursuit of knowledge, her dogged determination, and her sense of commitment, my grandmother was also tirelessly devoted to duty and service. When I think of my grandmother, I think of a proud graduate of nursing school in 1933 who dedicated the next 80 years of life to nursing. To my grandmother, nursing was not a degree, it was not a career, it was a calling. A full lifestyle devoted to the caring for, and service of, others. I remember so often being a young girl walking through downtown Coshocton, and so many people would stop us and say, "Oh Alyce, you delivered my children." In fact, it happened this morning in the church kitchen, with two of the volunteers here crediting my grandmother with bringing their children into the world. She always seemed famous in this part of the world; the place where all life began in Alyce's hands.

I have often wondered how many lives she birthed, healed, or improved. And in thinking of her life, I am humbled. I am humbled by what she accomplished and the legacy she leaves. Her influence can't be disguised in my life and in the lives of those I know the best and love the most.

Her sense of duty was passed on to her children, who served in both the Army and the Air Force. Her sense of service lives on in my uncle who, as a volunteer, beautifies and safeguards trails for hikers in America's southwest. Her Promethean nature lives on in my mother, who has served for decades as a nurse, and has given life to countless souls through her position as the manager of the blood bank at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Her full commitment to her family is evident among her four grandchildren; upon whom she bestowed, on each of us, a unique piece of herself.

Her passion for learning and unquenchable thirst for knowledge is in the custody of my older brother, who exercises it everyday as a Professor at one of America's best small colleges, enriching the minds of our nation's next generation of thinkers and problem solvers.

Her healing hands and compassionate heart are hard at work through my younger sister who has brought healing to cancer patients and better nutrition to hospital kitchens throughout Boston and its north shore.

She bequeathed to me her honest curiosity and critical mind, two talents that helped me arrive at a place I never though I would be, the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Her courageous spirit and fearless commitment to service are staring out from behind my baby brother's night vision goggles through the cockpit of a US Army Black Hawk helicopter.

With these gifts, she's single-handedly made our nation smarter, stronger, safer, and healthier. And rather than be humbled, I want to be proud. I want to feel proud that her legacy is alive and well, and carrying on as she would want. I like to think of her spirit silently and invisibly moving us all towards greatness, fully empowered by the wisdom she carefully deposited in each of us.

She truly was my version of Athena; a beautiful and powerful woman, a protector of wisdom. Her given name was Alyce, meaning noble truth. And hers truly was a noble life, both in her intent and in her actions. Hers was a life well-lived with a full commitment to Christ and service to others. These truths are simple and she lived up to the letter of each word. Alyce Weisheit, the noble truth of wisdom.

Whenever my grandmother would hear something she considered particularly incredulous, she would laugh out loud and exclaim, "Well good night nurse!" I suspect she would scoff at me and say the same thing today, uncomfortable with such a public display of emotion and praise. But today, I get the last word. And I am going to use it to say these final things.

"Grandma, we promise to take good care of these gifts that you gave us. Your father's house has many rooms (John 14:2), and you have picked the finest piece of real estate among them. We'll look for you in Orion's belt, just like you always said. We hope you're together there now with Grandpa. Know that while you were here, you were adored. Know that now you are gone, you are missed. And as you sleep this longest sleep, one last time, I wish you good night, nurse."