Category Archives: Motherhood

Thoughts about motherhood, kids and being a working Mom

The Impact of COVID-19 on Teens

My seventeen-year-old high school junior and her friends are wading through the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been almost three months since her school closed. I remember when we were all hopeful that her summer plans would only be slightly altered, but her life has been disrupted in profound ways. She will be part of the first group of seniors to write college essays about this experience. I thought this article about the impact of COVID-19 on her and other teens like her was an important perspective to capture.

Overseas Adventure – March

Throughout high school, Fi had great grades. As a reward for her strong academic performance and demonstrated maturity, we had planned for her to take an overseas trip in late July of 2020. This trip was the result of a nomination by her band director and she and her trumpet were to join 150 teenage musicians from across the U.S. in travel to England, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein, and Germany. They would perform small concerts while also fitting in some sightseeing. It was an opportunity that we felt would provide a safe and thrilling college preparatory experience with lots of practice interacting with a diverse group of new people. She was very much looking forward to it and we had been making payments for months.

With the news of the tragic conditions in Europe coming into focus, I began talking with other families who had teens participating in the trip. Even in mid-March, parents remained hopeful that the trip could still take place by steering clear of COVID hot spots. The more we watched the news, the clearer the decision became. Our family decided not to participate in the trip just prior to the organizer concluding that it was neither feasible nor responsible to go. Participating families suffered steep financial penalties. It was surprising for all of us to see how some families then reacted to the trip organizer’s handling of the situation – despite the global circumstances. Lawsuits are being threatened to recover contractually agreed upon financial penalties and online smear campaigns are being kicked off. I walked away feeling thankful that Fi would be home safe (safer?) with us. Fi was disappointed that the opportunity disintegrated but also relieved that she wouldn’t be caught in a difficult situation while far from home.

Symptoms? – March

During late March, Fi started developing COVID-like symptoms. She had a headache, terrible cough, sore throat, low energy but never a fever. It was allergy season in Northern Virginia, and we were all experiencing some symptoms. We watched hers for several days but on the morning she described a “squeaking” noise in her chest, we decided it was time to see her doctor. We were all panicked by the idea of venturing out of the house and the possibility of her having the virus. After describing her symptoms to her doctor’s office over the phone, I was told that they would not see her. They referred us to an Inova clinic that had been designated for patients with respiratory symptoms. We were instructed to call from the curb when we arrived to check in. Upon arrival, she was triaged over the phone and instructed to walk toward the door to wait for a nurse. The nurse opened the door only wide enough to slide two medical masks through, waiting while we put them on properly. Once masked, the nurse was free to open the door to explain that it would be better if I remained in my car for mutual safety reasons.

The doctor determined that because our daughter was not considered to be in a high-risk group, she would only be tested for flu and strep, but not COVID-19. Results were negative for both and she was sent home with a nebulizer treatment to reduce the fluid in her lungs. Thankfully, the squeaking noise dissipated within a few days, but we left being very uncertain about what additional precautions we should be taking. No one slept very well for several days.

Fi was traumatized by the experience so the last thing we wanted to do was quarantine her further from family members. We rationalized that if she did have the virus, we were probably already exposed so we continued with our existing quarantine practices. Fi wrestled with guilt and anxiety as she recuperated and was thankful that no one else in the family developed symptoms.

The Visit – March

In late March, our twenty-something-year-old daughter moved back home for a couple weeks while her fiancé was deployed by the Air Force, and her own training program was paused. This turned out to be a gift for all of us, but especially for Fi. Given their five-year age difference, the two girls had not had a chance to develop their adult relationship. This was the perfect opportunity.  My husband and I were the lucky beneficiaries of their joint baking projects, attempts to learn new dance routines and family time making jigsaw puzzles.

When our older daughter left upon her fiancé’s return, we all felt a big hole. We were concerned about her reuniting with him after he had traveled internationally. Given the overlap with Fi’s COVID-like symptoms there was also worry about our older daughter’s exposure and propagation of the spread. We were all conflicted about letting her leave. But in the absence of knowing if Fi did have the virus, we cautiously watched our older daughter go back to New Jersey.

Spring Sports and Events – March/April

Despite being under the weather, Fi was eager to start summer basketball as soon as she was able. Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) is a selective, competitive summer league. Young athletes considering college play can come together to compete and be seen by college coaches. Unfortunately, in April, AAU began cancelling early tournaments and then eventually ALL tournaments for the summer. An athlete can only play in AAU tournaments prior to your 18th birthday so this was to be Fi’s final summer of play. Her coach had enrolled the team in tournaments in Chicago, Louisville, New York, Raleigh, and D.C. so summer plans were again shifting. Initially, the coach was encouraging the girls to stay physically active for when play resumed. The girls were to find ways to stay in shape through at-home fitness programs since school gyms were all closed.

This was about the time that schools announced they were not reopening. Nor would events like prom, graduation, summer internships, end of year band concerts or school plays be taking place. Individually these were all mounting disappointments to Fi who became obsessed with watching TikTok videos of people wearing their prom dresses or at home or singing the song they should have performed in the school play. This was a low point for her, and it was hard to find appropriate diversions. We became conscious of her phone time since she seemed to spend long hours wallowing in the sorrow of missed opportunities. She needed some structure in her day. Everyone started to look toward the kick-off of virtual classes.

Virtual Classes – April

Migrating classes to a virtual environment proved to be incredibly challenging for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and Fi was two to three weeks behind her private school counterparts. Some of the FCPS population did not have at-home computers or internet access and some students still needed access to school-provided meals. Resolving these issues were a first step that private schools seemed to dodge. I empathize with FCPS’s challenges in providing access to everyone, yet some parents seemed disproportionately impatient given the circumstances.

In the meantime, FCPS decided to wave final exams and set policy that final grades could not be reduced below whatever a student’s first semester grade was. Students were to receive two days of teacher instruction per week and teachers were to be available at other times for virtual office hours. Initial bandwidth, connectivity and appearances from unwelcome participants created disruption and confusion making the first two weeks of virtual classes entirely  ineffective. When classes finally came into rhythm, students were about 3 ½ weeks from taking their first AP exams. Motivation became an issue for many kids. They were desperately seeking structure but found this schedule to be sparse. Fi’s focal point became preparing for her AP exams that had also been modified to meet the moment. She worked hard to stay focused but had to take quite a bit of initiative to feel properly prepared.

AP Exams – May

AP exams are normally taken in school and are proctored, 3-hour long tests that cover a year’s worth of material. They are standardized internationally so that a students’ command of the material can be measured, and college credit can be apportioned. It was determined that this year, AP exams would be online, 45-minutes long, and consist of only free-response-style questions. Students were coached to triple-check emails to receive their online access code. The first AP exams revealed some glitches in being able to upload answers to questions that resulted in the need for retakes in June. Below is an actual email that was shared with me from a Herndon High School student written to their AP Computer Science teacher. She experienced an issue in uploading her answers for the May 15th exam:

Subject Line: AP Exam Fail
I am currently crying on my bedroom floor because at the last minute my internet decided to crash. I have all the responses and a video showing that my internet went off and I cannot submit. This was so easy and I had a whole 6 minutes to submit earlier and my WiFi decided to crash. I don’t know what to do, so I’m emailing you for guidance. A virtual hug would be very nice too.

Fi was successfully able to submit her AP Computer Science exam but the fact that many students experienced issues triggered a software and policy change by College Board, the administrator of the AP tests. Students who had issues submitting answers to subsequent tests would email them directly afterward to an address provided upon a failed submission. This happened to Fi when taking the AP Psychology exam on May 19th triggering a frustrating 90-minute phone call with College Board’s Help Desk. We came to believe that her submission finally went through which is why the system did not send the email address. I guess we won’t know for sure until grades arrive in a few weeks. Fi’s tensions ran high going into her next exam. Luckily there were no submission issues for the final test.

The News – Ongoing

Listening to the news in the last few months proved to be something we had to dose. The news was overwhelmingly focused on COVID-19 death rates, the President’s handling of the situation, the economic impact, medical recommendations, and the vastly differing opinions about the level of risk. As a diversionary project back in March, Fi and I put together an online survey asking teens several questions about how they were coping. Responses indicated they were staying physically active and had settled into quarantining with family members. But they were spending A LOT of time online chatting with friends, gaming or binge-watching whatever programming they could find.

The responses around the effects of watching the news were the ones I found most compelling. About half of the students said they were watching the news, while the other half found it too troubling or uninteresting. Below are some of the responses they gave when asked what effect watching the news was having on them.

  • Makes me depressed so I stop watching, I just watch the stock market tank
  • It is making me increasingly worried but glad that I can stay informed
  • It’s quite terrifying with all the statistics and to see people that still aren’t abiding by the rules of the government
  • Stress and its hurting everyone in the house
  • I feel, in a way, angered now. Due to the increase of protests regarding social distancing, I feel as though people are more concerned about their personal freedoms to do unimportant activities rather than the safety of those around them. Due to this, many of my working friends are actually being targeted for wearing masks at their jobs, and I really just feel as though these protests are just extremely selfish and unfair for all those who are actually trying to stay safe.
  • Not much of an effect. The news is very one sided.
  • It’s very stressful to see to what degree this whole situation is being mismanaged by our government.
  • I’m positive that we are going on (sic) the right direction

Going Forward

Between March and April, I watched Fi go from disappointment to fear expressing no desire to leave the house for weeks. By May, feelings started turning to resignation that there is a new normal. She occasionally ventured out to drop baked gifts in friends’ mailboxes. Upon publishing of this article, she is just getting comfortable with small errands like running to the grocery store. She misses her friends and misses all the independence that she knew. But she also knows she is one of the fortunate ones. We are quarantining in a home that provided a lot of space to spread out and safe outdoor walking and bike riding options. She knows this wasn’t the case for everyone.

I have heard some experts say that we are all going through a grief-like process. From my recent experience with grief after losing my Dad, I’ve learned we need to be patient with ourselves and resist taking on too much. But for Fi, college applications are around the corner. Anyone with experience watching kids go through this process knows it’s a challenging time.

Recently I attended a virtual parent forum for those with rising seniors – the Class of 2021. It was reported that seniors from the Class of 2020 chose to stay closer to home as they made their college choices. Parents of teens entering the college admissions process this year were encouraged to have our kids practice writing their college essays earlier than usual. We were told to screen them to make sure they weren’t taking a dark turn that would concern prospective universities.

Can we really expect that post-traumatic stress and uncertainty won’t be top of mind for rising seniors for months to come? This will most certainly show up in college essays. Perhaps some students will be able to present a silver lining, many will likely share lessons learned, but some will need to reflect their struggles. I’m hoping that college admissions professionals can leave room for student grief, emotions, and contemplation.

Maybe we should be asking teens for proposed solutions too some of the tough questions they will continue to face. For example, how will competitive school sports need to change to keep student athletes safe? Or what are the new social codes for dating given possible infection? Involving students in thinking through solutions might be the best way to prepare them for what is to come. We parents will all need to be observant, supportive and patient while we navigate this – together.

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Sons and Daughters and Sexual Assault

I think it’s because my first daughter has gone off to college. As I was preparing myself and her departure and trying to fit in all the last-minute words of wisdom , I found that the issue of sexual assault on college campuses was a bit of an obsession. We have all become highly aware following the media attention around the discredited Rolling Stone article. But my anxiety was originally triggered by an even older story I read about Erin Cavalier being raped by an acquaintance after she had too much to drink. Her story raised all sorts of issues about responsibility and judgement that get very clouded when alcohol is involved. I shared this story with my daughter as a great example of how easy it is easy to get yourself in a situation where you are vulnerable if you have too much to drink. Erin was asking for help from a friend to get home after a night of partying and she thought she could trust him. My warning to my daughter was to have fun but to stay in control. She should remember she has the right to say “no” at any point but saying “no” only works if the other person is respectful and capable of understanding.

I’m also the mother of a college-age son who spent three years as an RA in freshman dorms. I shared Erin’s story with him as the basis for discussion about the issue of consent. He had been told during RA training workshops on this topic that a person is incapable of consenting after three drinks. Since women don’t wear a tally sign on their forehead, we talked about the responsibility if both parties and how it really comes down to common sense and good judgement. He has told me stories of finding partially dressed, passed-out women in bathroom stalls during his rounds as an RA. I worry about the vulnerable position this puts him in because it again requires that the other person is respectful and capable of understanding what’s going on.

Now, amid all the Bill Cosby accusations, another article caught my attention titled: It should never be too late to tell your story of rape. Abigail Hauslohner’s story was disturbing because she was rendered out of control by something her “good family friend” put in her drink. I was struck because she admitted thinking that this kind of thing didn’t happen to smart, progressive, informed people like her. She was so young when her attack happened and because this was someone she trusted, her first reaction was to question herself. Just like Bill Cosby’s victims did. I empathized because I could  absolutely see myself in a similar situation as this young woman when you are finding the

So now what am I telling my son and daughter?

  1. There are no hard-and-fast ground rules
  2. Girls are inventing products like date rape nail polish because drugs are being used on college campuses to incapacitate women and you should never put your drink down
  3. You may find yourself in situations that are not black-and-white and you should trust your gut. We are all born with a sixth sense and you need to trust it. I couldn’t always articulate why something didn’t feel right but when I doubted myself, I regretted it later.
  4. Watch out for those with a sense of entitlement. This is not just an unappealing quality, but a dangerous one too.
  5. Life is messy. Mistakes will be made. Let’s make sure they are mole hills and not mountains.

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Communicating with Grown Kids

Blanche and Stella

Blanche and Stella

My husband and I just sent our second child off to college. We were familiar with the unsettling feelings of whether you gave them all the tools to be successful as they head out the door. With both kids, we tried to have the conversations about sexuality drinking and drugs, relationships, taking good care of your health, eating right, the importance of exercise for relieving stress, managing your money, taking appropriate precautions. These conversations never happened exactly as planned but I’m not sure perfection is necessary in these circumstances.

With our son, we had to coax him out of his room to have these conversations. We awkwardly requested time to talk which he now says felt like he was being summoned to the board room for an inquisition. Now he has a sense of humor about it all and has joked that these conversations prepared him for oral arguments in college classes because they provided early attempts to manage stressful situations. My husband and I found ourselves having to remind  him that we were on the same team so clearly our messages had to be polished. We hoped to do better with our second child.

Our daughter kept herself SUPER busy during the months before heading off to school. I think this was her coping mechanism and we tried to create occasions where opportunities to talk would more naturally present themselves. On one occasion, I had planned for a long car trip to be the perfect setting but she clearly had other ideas. A disagreement over the type and volume of music during the drive zapped my ability to have a productive conversation. On another car trip, I decided not to let the opportunity slip by so I forced out what I wanted to say but it was not the exchange I had hoped for.

She is now off at college and we made it through the difficult separation process. We now have one final child at home with opportunities to have important conversations because we aren’t juggling so may schedules. The fact that this daughter has watched us send off the other two kids has made her wise beyond her years. We seem more able to find time to connect on important issues more easily. Granted, she still hasn’t reached the dreaded age where sass is a daily occurrence. We find that our dogs Blanche and Stella provide a calming influence and a new focal point. We added Stella into the family more recently and as a way of easing the blow for all.

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September 1, 2015 · 11:30 am

Great Article for Working Mom’s . . .

I read Petula Dvorak who writes regularly for the Washington Post.  #1, she cracks me up.  #2, she writes about very real and local things. #3, she is another one of those women who juggles working full-time and raising her kids.  

This week, she wrote a fabulous piece called Free time for working moms? That’s a good one!   In this article, Petula talks about how she tried to get a group of working mothers together to go see the new movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It” so she could capture their opinions.  Her article starts with the humor and irony involved in getting a group of working moms together for such and event.  Then it gets serious about how society needs to solve the problem of managing a family in this modern time where the realities of childcare and adult care put great pressure on women.

A year ago I was invited to the White House as a delegate for the White House Forum on Workforce Flexibility.  This forum was designed to gather business owners together to discuss their experience at hiring top talent while providing flexibility and ensuring productivity.  Since my business lends itself to being virtual, it was easy to talk about ways of providing clear direction and deadlines in exchange for flexibility.  However, some of the companies that were represented were retail-oriented businesses who face greater challenges in coming up with workable solutions.

Workforce flexibility is a big area of interest for Michelle Obama.  The Workforce Flexibility meeting I attended in 2010 announced the formation of the White House Council on Women and Girls.  I admit I’ve been too busy to stay very involved in this group following the kick-off.  Fundraising and activism there the primary roles the Council was looking for us to play following our information exchange session.  Of course both of these things take time that many of us didn’t have.  I worry that the reality of budget cuts might make it difficult to see big gains in this area. 

Petula’s humorous take on this issue revived my interest in the topic.  I was particularly stunned to see her quote a policy advocate in saying that it takes seven or eight different people in the foster care system to replace all the things that a child’s mother typically handles.  Sheesh!

Ladies, I suggest we reach behind and give ourselves a pat on the back.  Then let’s keep a spotlight on this issue by making sure that as business women, employers and care givers, we are also our own best supporters.

Any other ideas we should put on the table?

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Perspective on Yesterday’s News

Yesterday was filled with mixed emotions.  The news of Osama bin Laden’s assassination was shocking to everyone. In my family’s case we found ourselves having to explain America’s reaction to our sixteen year old German exchange student who has been visiting for the last month.    This was his second dose of world events seen through the American news media given that Gaddafi’s son and his family had also just been killed by NATO forces .  

Our student came home from school yesterday asking why people were chanting and celebrating.  He was taken aback by the tone of President Obama’s speech which they watched in history class. He was  shocked to see the news footage of the rowdy crowds at Ground Zero and the White House. 

I did my best to help him reconcile how Americans got to where we are now but I didn’t feel I convinced him that we aren’t a vengeful country.  Then this morning, while reading the Washington Post, I came across Petula Dvorak’s article in which she did an eloquent job of capturing the emotions of those we didn’t see on the news yesterday. 

Thanks Petula!  Your article is going home with him tomorrow:-).

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Context Anyone?

As a Digital Media person, it’s high time that I started a blog of my own.  I’ve done a lot of writing but always on behalf of someone else.  Now it’s my turn to share some of my own thoughts with ‘yall.  I intend to use this space as a place to share opinions, make observations and keep track of what I’m finding interesting. 

But first some context . . .

I’m a mother of three children in the Fairfax County public school system.  It’s a great school system and I’m a HUGE fan of the language immersion program.  Having grown up in a town-based school system, the model in Fairfax County took some getting used to.  I’ve learned to appreciate the breadth of opportunities available to my kids because of the County’s size and diversity.  (I like to be involved in my kids’ education so you’ll hear me talking about this).

I’ve been working in digital media since the mid 90’s getting my start with a marketing communications firm that was bought by AOL in 1995.  My ten years at AOL was an amazing professional experience that I don’t believe could ever be replicated.  I was able to be a part of AOL’s Green House project that brought companies like Motley Fool online.  I was also able to be a part of a fledgling start-up organization within AOL called Digital City.  I now know how unusual it is to be part of a well-funded start-up in an industry that was in its infancy.   We were establishing a business model, getting our arms around user behavior and experimenting with how online content was different from other media.  We Digital City folks like to think we taught AOL a thing or two about the importance of user-generated content;-).  Consequently, several DCI folks were interested in migrating to AOL’s Community group.  As we mined AOL’s forums to capture public sentiment, we found new ways to package this content up for AOL’s “Channels”.   (We did some groundbreaking stuff and I’ll be taking note of companies who continue to do this particularly well).

My consulting business and start-up experience lead me to become more intimately involved with the non-profit mindset and resources.  I’m told I’m a bleeding heart always looking for my next cause and I guess that’s true.  (You’ll hear me expressing opinions about social issues that bug me).

Finally, my extracurricular interests usually revolve around my kids.  My son is into Scouting and music.  This has led me to an appreciation for the amount of work that goes into becoming proficient in either.  One daughter rides horses competitively as a hunter jumper.  I have come to adore horses but the horse world is full of interesting but CRAZY people.  They are loads of fun to hang around though;-).  My youngest daughter is just finding her thing but right now it’s gymnastics.  (You’ll see me talking about the life lessons I’m learning from my kids.)

Welcome to the realm of a working online Mom!

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