Sunday, January 5, 2014

Thank you 2013


January 4, 2014 ... Its 18 degrees and snowing here in Keystone, CO, I just dropped two hardy kids off at ski school, and Larry is delighting in using his brand new, fancy schmancy molded-to-his-exact-size-and-needs boots on fresh powder.  In order to achieve my goal for the season of not visiting the Keystone Medical Clinic, I've decided to sit this one out.  And so, it is without further ado, that I give all of you who I know were oh so disappointed not to receive a holiday card from us ... Becker-Schwartz 2013 in review.


January The beginning of 2013 brought Colorado life feeling gloriously routine.  The kids already had a month of ski school behind them and continued to spend weekends honing their skills on the mountain.  I enjoyed a work adventure in NYC and reconnected with some dear friends from my high school, Hebrew University & Upper West Side days.

February In February, the kids lived it up at museums and the theatre in Pittsburgh, PA with Grandma & Toot Toot Schwartz; we celebrated Adina turning 5 with cupcake and cookie decorating at the Flour Pot; and Caleb received his very own chumash in a beautiful ceremony at Denver Jewish Day School.  I also spent a fabulous 24 hours in Silver Spring, MD joining in on a surprise 40th birthday party for my best friend from high school.



March The beginning of March brought the final sessions of ski school and a Mad Science party to mark the occasion of Caleb turning 8.  At the end of the month, Grandma & Toot Toot Schwartz and the Reingold cousins came to visit and we shared two fun, meaningful seders.  And we took a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico to see where the character in a very important book moved when he was a kid.

April We were so excited to have Uncle Brian & Aunt Rachel come to visit in April!  April also featured lots and lots of soccer.

May In May we played with Uncle Michael, Aunt Whitnee, and cousins Mona & Etta in Boise, Idaho.  We also kvelled over Adina graduating from pre-school at the Hebrew Educational Alliance!  And we went white water rafting as a family for the very first time.  And Caleb got his green belt in karate!  And we spent Memorial Day weekend in Estes Park hiking, swimming, eating, drinking and just hanging out with a wonderful group of families.  





June June was BeckerPalooza time.  We started our journey with a few fabulous days with Aunt Becca in Chicago.  Then it was off to Washington, DC to hang out with Grandma & Toot Toot Becker and see Uncle Brian & Aunt Rachel before they headed back to Israel.  We also drove down to Virginia Beach for a wonderful day with Andy, Dee Dee & Brenna, and a reunion with my best friend from elementary school.  Oh, and before all that ... Larry & I had our annual Red Rocks date.  STING AT RED ROCKS!



July Caleb went to sleep-away camp for 3 weeks in July, and I spent the majority of my time checking the camp web site for pictures of him while Adina enjoyed swimming, art, and sports at day camp.

August  In August, we hiked and biked and camped.  On one incredible hike the kids went up (1100 feet up!) and back for a record breaking total of 8 miles and we saw a real live moose.  Friends with guitars who sing Jewish songs made our our 2013 camping trip super special.  And then ... Caleb went skipping and hopping into third grade, and Adina finally agreed to try kindergarten.  And Larry & I were forever exonerated for moving Caleb from Ohio to 10266 E. Fair Place when Marc moved in next door.




September September was about sharing the Jewish holidays with our Denver friends.  I embraced my inner Martha Stewart/Chabad rebbetzin and reveled in opening our home for a wonderful first day of Rosh Hashanah luncheon and a rockin' Sukkah party on the last night of the holiday.  We spent the first days of Sukkot in Pittsburgh, PA with Grandma & Toot Toot Schwartz.  


October We enjoyed a fun visit from Aunt Becca at the beginning of October, and then I joined Larry at a conference in San Francisco for two fabulous nights & one perfect day.  Love that city.  Love my husband.  Love Shanna the babysitter who enabled me to go!

November In November, Uncle Michael (Becker) came to visit and we schlepped him around kid-friendly Denver.  Then it was back to Boise, Idaho for Thanksgivingukah!




December We had special guests for the first two weekends in December - Grandma and Toot Becker and then Grandma Schwartz.  They came to watch Adina perform in "Annie"!  The cutest orphan ever also earned her white belt in karate towards the end of the month.  And then, the icing on the cake to a fantastic year, we went back to Chicago to visit not one, but TWO Aunts!  And 3 cousins!  And an uncle!  It was so wonderful to see the Saba crew after more than a year and I was reminded yet again of  the tremendous gift I have in my sister.





So that't that.  What we did, where we went and who we saw in 2013.  And between it all, Larry worked like crazy and I kept the kids alive and healthy.  Even read them a story or two.  It may not seem like anything special, but I think life is fabulous and I am very grateful.  I mean really, if someone had knocked on my angst-ridden, stressed out over my career head during my 20s and told me about the ordinary days of 2013 filled with family & friends, I think I may have actually breathed a bit.  Maybe.  Well, at any rate, Larry, the kids and I wish you & yours happiness, health and everything you wish for yourself in 2014.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hitting "Like" on Leaning In


I’m hitting “like” on Leaning In

The spotlight is on Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and her mission to change the balance of power in the United States.  Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” hit the proverbial shelves this week and the media is buzzing.  Is Sandberg the new Gloria Steinem?  Will her message on women and leadership motivate real change? 

Criticism of the book is plenty.  Some point out the contradictions in Sheryl’s story and assert that the inconsistencies make her advice too confusing to be meaningful.  An article on Vogue.com, for example, points out that while Sandberg encourages women to take a seat at the table, raise their hands, and speak up, she later mentions that she enlisted a career coach to train her to speak less. 

Really?  First, when she mentioned the career coach, she was making a very different, and very individual point.  And, so what?  All a few contradictions in someone's personal story reveal to me is that he or she is a human being.  Do any of us live a life without contradictions? If only it were that simple.  

There are also critics who ask how someone like Sandberg – with her privileged socio-economic background, elite Harvard education, and successful, supportive husband – can speak to all womenkind?  Regarding this point I wonder whether that’s what she is really trying to do. Author and historian Stephanie Coontz compares Sandberg’s message to that of Betty Friedan 50 years ago; “She’s talking to a particular audience, but they really need this message.”  This white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, married woman agrees. 

Sheryl Sandberg, I like you.  I like you and I like your book.   “Lean In” moved and motivated me, and oy, did chapter 7, “Don’t Leave Before You Leave,” make me think.  And I really like to do that too.

After graduating from a top law school in 1997, I landed a coveted position at a Park Avenue law firm and moved to New York City.  I hated my job.  That’s an understatement.  I cried daily.  My face broke out in giant red cysts.  I read career self-help books until my head exploded from the multitude of colors I saw in my parachute.  

Just two years into the practice of law, I completely abandoned ship.  In the name of “this is not why I went to law school” and “I want to make a difference,” I took a sixty thousand dollar pay cut, moved out of my apartment and accepted an entry-level position in PR so I could work for an organization whose cause I believed in.  Bad choice?  I don’t believe in them.  And my story ends just fine.  But I share it here because I must admit to this – a big part of what allowed me to take such a leap was that I knew I never wanted to make it to partner.  In fact, I “knew” that within ten years I would want to leave whatever job I was doing to stay home with my children.  And in that case why bother working my way up any lawyerly kind of ladder? 

Was I married at the time?  Did I have children?  Was I spending any time interacting with any children?  No.  No.  And no.  My lifestyle was as child-free as they come.  But after working really hard in law school for three years and engaging in the grueling process of studying for and being admitted to the bar, I made a decision six years before my son was even born with him closely in mind. 

I am not saying I should have stayed at the law firm; that was clearly not a healthy choice.  I ended up liking PR and being good at it.  I also loved and deeply appreciated the seven years I spent staying home full-time with my kids and I continue to enjoy and be thankful for the flexibility that being a consultant allows in my days.  But Sheryl’s point about leaving before we leave really hit home.  No pun intended.  So I’m also thankful for another key point in her book - that today’s career climb takes place on a jungle gym, not a ladder.  Perhaps, after-all, I haven’t yet reached my top.  

Look, like other thought leaders and writers on the subject, Sandberg blames the exodus of highly educated women from the workforce for today’s leadership gap in America.  She blames me.  I’ve read this before, I feel guilty, and I don’t appreciate it.   But when Sandberg proceeds to compare a career to a marathon, I hear her, I get it, and along with my satisfaction with where I am today, I also feel grateful that there are still many years ahead of me to work.

“Imagine that a career is like a marathon – a long, grueling, and ultimately rewarding endeavor.  Now imagine a marathon where both men and women arrive at the starting line equally fit and trained.  The gun goes off.  The men and women run side by side.  The male marathoners are routinely cheered on: “Lookin strong!  On your way!”  But the female runners hear a different message.  “You know you don’t have to do this!” the crowd shouts.  Or “Good start – but you probably won’t want to finish.”  The farther the marathoners run, the louder the cries grow for the men: “Keep going!  You’ve got this!  But the women hear more and more doubts about their efforts.  External voices, and often their own internal voice, repeatedly question their decision to keep running.  The voices can even grow hostile.  As the women struggle to endure the rigors of the race, spectators shout, “Why are you running when your children need you at home?”

I urge you to read Sandberg’s book.  To sit down at the table.  And to speak your truth.  And please invite your friends to join you.  You know which ones.  You can also go online to share your story and learn from others at Leanin.org, or please, feel free to contact me to chat at ebecker@beckerimpact.com

Good luck.  You can do it.  I like you.





Thursday, August 23, 2012

talking about abortion


We are talking about abortion.  Representative Todd Akin from Missouri made his absurd, infuriating, depressing remarks about “legitimate rape.”  The Republican National Committee released its 2012 platform calling for an amendment to the Constitution and legislation to outlaw abortion.  In all cases. 

We are talking about abortion.  Almost forty years ago, in January 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that a woman’s right to privacy extends to her right to have an abortion up to a certain point in her pregnancy but we are talking about abortion.  Still.  Again.    

It is time for me to share a deeply personal story.

In late August 2007, I was thrilled to be 12 weeks pregnant.  I was happily married and enjoying being at home with my then 18-month old son.  My husband and I very much wanted another child.  Because I was 35 years old, I elected to do a first trimester screen, a relatively new, noninvasive evaluation that combines a maternal blood-screening test with a fetal ultrasound to identify risk for specific chromosomal abnormalities. 

I arrived at the doctor’s office for my screening appointment, signed-in at the desk, and sat down in the waiting room with “Parents” magazine.  Within a few minutes, an ultrasound technician called my name.  I rose, put “Parents” on a table, and followed the technician to a large, cold room where she instructed me to take my clothes off and put on the thin paper robe waiting for me on the examination table. 

The technician gave me a few minutes to undress and then came back into the room.  I lied down on my back, and placed my legs into the stirrups at the end of the table.  The technician lifted my paper robe and inserted an ultrasound wand into my vagina.  The technician looked at her screen.  She looked at me.  “Will you wait here, please,” she said.

I waited.  My heart beat a mile a minute.  Clearly something wasn’t right.  She had only looked at the screen for a few seconds.  A few excruciating minutes later, the technician came back into the room with a man who introduced himself as Dr. L, the head of the high-risk pregnancy department.  Dr. L re-inserted the ultrasound wand into my vagina and took a look at the screen.  Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a compassionate voice, “Evelyn, will you please get dressed and come talk to me in my office.”
“Your baby has what is called an omphalocele,” the kind doctor said.  He went on to explain that an omphalocele is a fetal abnormality where the contents of the abdomen (small and large intestine, stomach and liver) protrude through a hole in the abdominal wall, right where the belly button would be.  Omphalocele occurs in approximately 1 of every 5,000 live births and is associated with a high rate of mortality and severe malformations, such as cardiac anomalies and neural tube defects.  A high percentage of live-born infants with omphaloele have chromosomal abnormalities.    
My baby has a hole?
I crossed my arms over my belly, hugged my baby gently and cried. 
Then I wiped my eyes and asked Dr. L whether he would mind if together we called my husband to explain the situation.  My head was spinning, my belly hurt, and I wasn’t sure at that moment whether I would be able to do more than cry and say “ our baby has a hole in her stomach” when I left that office.  My husband is a pediatric intensive care physician and I wanted to make sure we had full medical knowledge.  I called Larry, and prepared him briefly for the fact that I was going to put him on speaker so Dr. L could deliver some unfortunate news. 
Can you imagine being Larry at that moment?
I left Dr. L’s office and drove straight over to Larry’s.   As soon as Larry closed his office door, I released the floodgates of my grief.  We held each other.  We cried.  Larry talked a little about the babies he’d seen born with omphalocele in the PICU.  I talked about getting home to our son.
Later that evening, I called my rabbi.  He is an insightful, delightful man and he came right over.  We sat in my living room, my rabbi and I, talking about Judaism’s view on abortion.

“If a woman suffers hard labor, the child must be cut up in her womb and brought out one limb at a time, for her life takes precedence over [the fetus’] life.  If the greater part has already come out, it must not be touched, because one life does not supersede another. (Mishnah Ohalot 7:6)”

Judaism has always accepted that life begins at birth, not at conception, and that abortion is permissible, or even mandatory, when the mother’s life is in danger.  When the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards addressed abortion in 1983, its conclusion was as follows: “An abortion is justifiable if a continuation of a pregnancy might cause the mother severe physical or psychological harm, or when the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective.” 

I had an abortion.  I had an abortion in part because my faith says it is permissible.  I had an abortion in larger part because my husband was on board with my decision.  Mostly, however, I had an abortion because I knew that as much as I might want to be a stronger, “better” person, I would not be able to handle the particular challenges of having a baby with an omphalocele in my life without it adversely affecting my mental health, and, thus, my ability to care properly for my precious son.  I'd suffered from post-partum depression after his birth and had recently recovered.  I’d left my job to stay at home to nurture him, and I was finally feeling like I was doing a decent job.  I did not want to spend the third year of my son’s life in the NICU, in and out of surgeries, or grieving for a dead child.
The vulnerability I feel in sharing my story is overwhelming.  I am terrified of your judgment, or worse, your indifference.  I am pushing past this.  I am sharing because I believe in the power of storytelling and I am hoping that there might be some other average American women out there like me who have their own raw, messy abortion stories to tell. 
Yesterday, Esquire posted a piece on its blog entitled “The Democrats Problem with Abortion,” in which the author states:
No more enabling. No more wishful thinking that the whole icky business would go away so we can all talk about The Economy, or, worse, The Deficit. No more clinging to "rape, incest, and the health of the mother." No more Clintonian caveats about safe, legal, and rare. ("Safe and legal." Full stop.) No more pathetic attempts to reach "common ground," when, at least in our politics, there plainly is no common ground to be reached. (If you want to argue that there is, take it up with Planned Parenthood.) No more, "Well, I respect the beliefs of the other side" goo-goo rhetoric. Just a simple demand that the conservative opposition respect the settled law.

I would like to see the Democratic Party make a national campaign issue out of the fact that this perfectly legal medical procedure is unavailable to women wishing to exercise their legitimate constitutional rights to it in most of the nation.

Amen.

We are talking about abortion and I have a funny feeling that the only way we are ever going to be able to stop talking about abortion is if for the remaining 74 days until the 2012 presidential election, we don't.  Please don’t stop talking about abortion.  If you had an abortion, please tell your story.  If you agree that the decision whether to have an abortion is one to be made between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her god, please say so.  Say it to yourself.  Say it out loud to friends and family.  And please say it with your vote.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

One year later

I promised myself I'd keep blogging for the first year we lived in Denver, Colorado.  I haven't been very good at writing the last several months.  There have been many, many times I've wanted to.  An article about women and work I wanted to comment on.  Something funny and fabulous the kids did that made me want to muse on how lucky I am.  Something annoying or totally maddening the kids did that made me need to explore how the hell I was going to deal.  But I got busy with projects and trying to find work for Becker Impact and well, life just sort of took over.  But today marks a year since we left Columbus, Ohio on August 11, 2011 to head west.

Yep,  a year ago today, Evelyn Becker, Larry Schwartz, and Caleb and Adina Becker-Schwartz waved nervously as the American moving truck filled with our belongings took off, hugged friends and neighbors a little too tightly, and took a long sentimental group look at 2592 Bexley Park Road.  We got settled in our (hybrid) (yes, I feel the need) SUV.  Simultaneous audible deep breaths from the front seat.  A quick nod from me, big smiles and a "we are doing this together and its going to be good" kiss and we started driving towards Denver.

To mark this momentous Becker-Schwartz anniversary, here's a quick review of each family member's current state of being:

Caleb:

*Thrived in 1st grade at Denver Jewish Day School; excited for 2nd grade.
*Loves skiing and living in a ski-obsessed land.  Incessantly, relentlessly talking about which trails he is going to ski this season, asking us which we want to ski, etc. etc.
*Also totally into karate.
*Went away to summer camp for the first time last month.  12 days!
*So excited for pirates & ninja camp at Keystone Science School next week.
*Starting Storm soccer at the end of the month.
*So smart, so intense.  To the right is a list of what Caleb recently wrote about himself.  I agree Caleb, an excellent summary.

Adina:

*Thrived at Hebrew Educational Alliance Preschool last year; very excited to be a "lion" (pre-K).
*Loves hiking and skiing.  Composed an original family song - "We love to hike and ski, we love to hike & ski." Trust me, its fabulous.
*In fact, Adina often sings whatever comes to her throughout the day. In the sweetest voice.  Ever.
*Also totally into art.  Loved art camp this summer.  And if her Jewish mother does say so herself, she is rather good at it.
*So excited to start dance classes in the fall with her pre-school buddies.
*Also starting Storm soccer at the end of the month.
*Smart, sweet, crazy happiest kid I've ever met.

Larry:

*Speaking of happy.  OHMYGOD.  Happiest Larry since I met him in 2003.
*Totally digs his life.
*Anesthesia is enough.
*Enjoying leadership positions in the Jewish community.
*Always planning our next couple or family adventure.
*Wakes up at 5 to go the gym, works all day and (almost) always still comes home with a smile on his face, excited and ready to engage fully with his family.
*Colorado = a loving, sexy, and fun husband.

Me:

Hmmm...

*If you're reading this entry, then you're one of the seven people who've cared enough to read all along (thank you! I love you!) and know that I think Denver = the most amazing combination of outdoor and urban living I could have imagined.  I was scared shitless because of all the moving I did as a kid, worried as always about tainting my children's uber-privileged childhood, but Colorado is without a doubt the second best decision Larry & I ever made as a couple (the first was to get married of course.)

*In spite of my terror at the thought of how one makes new girlfriends at age 40, I have in fact, connected with a number of intelligent, charismatic, sweet, funny women.  Thank you Colorado-born friends for being open to the new girl.  Thank you Denver for being a city full of "new" girls looking for the same life - and friends to share it with - that I am.

Red Rocks, James Taylor concert
*After a seven-year hiatus from an office, I am engaged in some challenging, interesting, paying work.  Work that I can do mostly from home, mostly while my children are at school.  Work that allows me to combine what I care about most - making the world a better place - and what I'm best at - writing and talking.  Work that allows me to well, work, but still answer, "I'm a stay-at-home mom" when asked what I do.  Yes, I'm ridiculously lucky.  And I've worked my heart out.

So, thats it.  The end of this blog.

Thank you for reading.

For sharing this journey.

Now please come visit!


Love,
Evelyn