Four-legged Love

I woke up yesterday morning to an interesting pair of sensations. I heard the jingle of tiny bells and I felt the pressure of small paws darting across my chest. More effective than any alarm clock, our two four-month old kittens were letting me know with high-speed urgency that they were awake and ready for the day.

Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

When I gave up hoping they would settle down, I opened my eyes and pulled out my iPad. Eager to see what had happened in the world while I slept, I checked my Facebook feed. And there, looking back at me with chocolate eyes filled with love, was my beautiful yellow lab Sandy. Facebook was reminding me that it had been a year since we had said good-bye to our girl.

It felt like the universe was telling me that I needed to write about pets — and even I don’t say no to the universe.

Pets have always been an important part of my life. When I was born my parents had a curly-haired mutt named Pooky. She was constantly there in my dad’s photos, standing near me toddling or manhandled into an awkward family photo. I thought of her as dad’s dog, but he always claimed she was mom’s dog. I just knew she wasn’t my dog, not in the way that kids claim ownership of pets.

In elementary school, a neighbor’s purebred beagle had an unexpected litter after a crafty cocker spaniel had gotten into her pen one spring night. The resulting puppies were free to a good home and I was at the perfect age to relentlessly nag my mother about it, old enough to reason and young enough not to care about being annoying. She looked me in the eye and told me that it was a big responsibility —  that it wouldn’t all be fun. I was sincere and solemn as I promised that I would feed, water, walk and train it.

It was love at first sight when I picked out a floppy-eared tan beauty, more cocker than beagle. I named her Tippy and as mom pulled us home in our big yellow wagon I held her knowing she was my dog. She slept in my room, she followed me around, she wore the collar I wanted and played with toys I picked out. I was too young to realize that she was only my dog for the fun stuff. She was mom’s dog for the hard stuff. Mom potty trained her. Mom made sure she had food and water. Mom took her to the vet. And when Tippy woke up one morning and her back legs wouldn’t work, it was Mom that had to say good-bye. I know now that calling me at college to let me know she was gone was one of the hardest things Mom ever had to do.

By the time I was a mom myself, bundling up my daughter to go pick up a puppy, I understood what it meant to deal with the hard stuff. Life had taught me that lesson through nursing an elderly cat with subcutaneous fluid treatments and watching a kitten die of a painful terminal disease. I thought I knew, when we walked off that farm with a new member of our family, what it meant.

I still didn’t understand, not completely.

It is only now that I understand that four-legged love is a special kind of love, burdened from the beginning with impending loss. Most people do not have to consider the likelihood that they will outlive a romantic partner. Parents rarely have to consider the likelihood that they will outlive their children. But in the vast majority of pet relationships life expectancy means that you will watch them go through their entire life in a blink of an eye — from being a baby and learning basic tasks to aging and finally passing away.

After losing Sandy and Patch last year we weren’t sure when we would be ready to bring a new pet into our lives. We didn’t have a concrete timeline, but when my brother called and told me he had rescued a litter of feral kittens in his barn it seemed like a sign to me. I’m not sure my husband was ready for one kitten when I announced we would be adopting two feline brothers. But, ready or not we did it. We named them Thor and Loki and we settled into figuring it out.

Last year I said good-bye to two wonderful pets whose entire lives I had been lucky enough to share. This year, I am watching two more begin their journey as they find their place in our home and build a home in our hearts. A part of me wants to tuck a little chunk of my heart away so that it doesn’t hurt so much when I have to say good-bye. But they won’t let me, the connections are already too strong. I know them now and I can’t imagine what our family would be like without them.

And I guess that’s the power of four-legged love.


This week, I moved into the office of a colleague who recently retired after 28 years. Sitting behind his (my) desk, I spent a few quiet moments reflecting on how supportive and influential he had been. I considered how in my first days and weeks I realized that he would be a safe harbor, an ally in my growth as a technology professional in a brand new industry. I thought about the many times I had walked into his (my) office to get candid feedback and he had given it to me — with helpfulness and without judgement.

So, I gave myself a few moments and then I got back to the work.

It’s a hard lesson to learn that you are replaceable at the office. At least it was hard for me. I wrap so much of my value around doing good work and providing support to my work teams that the idea that they could get someone else to do what I do hurts. I’m special, right? I’m important, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, I do believe I’m special. Yes, I do believe the work that I do is important. But irreplaceably special? Irreplaceably important? Not so much.

In Lean In Or Recline Back, my post about how women need to be encouraged to swivel to meet their personal and professional objectives, I shared the story of leaving a high octane career in industry for a less demanding job in higher education. What I didn’t share in that post was what I learned from the exit process. How I learned that I was replaceable.

When I announced I was leaving, everyone swarmed to convince me to stay. I was certain in my heart and head that it was the right call, but the response impacted me. It gave me a bit of an ego boost, and it led me to believe that they were going to be lost without me. I felt badly that I was leaving them and so I gave three weeks notice instead of the standard two. In my loyalty I reasoned it was the least I could do; I wanted them to be able to recover from my abandonment.

I was misguided. My position was a critical one and the leadership team didn’t hesitate. Within a few days they had identified and announced my backfill. By the end of the week he was in my (his) office and I was squatting in a cube. By the end of the second week I had transitioned all of the critical work (most of which I had documented) to him and was just on call for questions. And, the third week? I sat unneeded in the cube watching the clock and feeling in my heart that in staying a third week I had made a noble but terribly wrong call.

Turns out, I was completely replaceable.

I try to keep that in mind when I start to get a little too full of myself. When I’m struggling to delegate effectively or when it feels like I’ve become an obstacle to progress. I don’t discount the unique talents that I bring to the table, but I try to remember that effective organizations and leaders will be prepared to respond to an employee departure. And as a leader I remind myself that it is my job to make sure my team can respond to change. To make sure we are all (including me) replaceable.

And while I am confident that as an employee I am replaceable, I know that I would not be easily replaced as a person. I hold a unique and special place in the lives of my parents, husband, siblings, children and friends. I have no shortage of data points that tell me the world will be a different place without me, a quieter place with less light and less energy.

And as far as I know, no one is ready to replace that.

Conversations with Interesting People

When I started listening to podcasts, it opened up a whole new world of information. I no longer needed to listen to shows when they were broadcast — I could listen to what I wanted when I was stuck commuting. For an information grazer it was transformative. Since signing up for Stitcher in January 2012, I’ve listened to nearly 4,000 episodes totaling 530 hours.

One of my favorite shows is Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, the NPR news quiz show. I listen to nearly every episode, usually on my Monday drive into the office. I even got tickets last year for my birthday and made the trek downtown to see it being taped. We had to get my parents to drive into town to stay overnight with the kids. We got a hotel room and made a date of it.

I really really like it.

One of the reasons I like the show so much is the Not My Job segment. The host, Peter Sagal, interviews someone interesting and then asks them three crazy multiple choice questions about something they know nothing about. Sometimes the individuals are famous — sometimes they are influential. Sometimes they are both. But the person is always interesting.

And, I am always a little jealous.

There is something wonderful about having a conversation with someone who sparks your interest. I am fascinated by the individual journeys that people have taken and by the things that they are capable of doing. The ideas that they have considered and embraced — or considered and rejected. I was reminded today that I have a rather unique ability to find the interesting in anybody.

I had two conversations recently where I remember feeling that sense of wonder. I was having lunch with a group of women from my company when it came out that one of them was a weight lifter and the other one was a black belt. I am not sure whether they felt my interest was endearing or psychotic, but I began to pepper both of them with questions. When had she started? What had brought her to that place? How did she keep passionate about it? What role did it play in her personal story?

For the hour we chatted, I couldn’t get enough exploring these aspects of their lives. My weight lifting experience had been limited to a few weeks each spring in high school before the weather was good enough to practice track outside. My husband tried to teach me some rudimentary self-defense, but I was a horrible student and he gave up. Every nuance they shared just brought more questions and then lunch was over and we went our own ways. I could have kept going.

My love of interesting conversations is why I don’t stress at dinner parties. It’s why I enjoy mixers and large group affairs. For every person I find to be a bore there are 100 that have done or learned something so wholly outside of my experience that it is an unlimited buffet of wow. So many conversations to have and interesting people to meet there’s only one problem.

I keep getting invited to 30 minute meetings and nothing interesting can be explored in 1,800 seconds.

The Wasted Weekend

Every Friday I drive home, exhausted, with a mental list of the amazing things that I will do with those two precious days. Saturday and Sunday are going to be phenomenal, packed full of catch-up around the house, resolution of open work assignments and quality time with the kids and husband. In my mind, I am super woman.

In reality, this weekend started with me asleep on the couch by 9:00pm and spiraled downhill from there.

That’s not fair, I guess. I did manage to go grocery shopping, make a tasty and healthy fruit salad bigger than my head and cook a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. I dealt with the cell phone upgrade that I told my kids I would do two weekends ago. I took my son to lunch and a matinee showing of a play his best friend was in. I read the introduction to a new book and now I am writing a blog post.

And yet somehow that doesn’t feel like enough to call this a productive weekend. Not because it wasn’t enough objectively, but because compared to what my Friday self thought I would accomplish, it is way off the mark. I didn’t fail me, I failed my ridiculous expectations, and that’s somehow worse.

I think what I need to do, what we all need to do, is to be more measured in weekend expectations. I need to be okay being my weekend self and not my weekday self. I need to realize that only a handful of things will get done and not pretend for one minute that it will be totally productive. I need to assume that I will lose 30 minutes lounging in the shower. Take another hour for a lazy breakfast and coffee over my tablet. Put two hours in for catching up on Netflix binges or going to a movie. Give myself permission to sleep in or take a nap or meditate to achieve balance.

One of my best moments, a moment I plan to treasure for years to come, was sitting at lunch with my son. He looked at me as we talked and he said, “Mom, I brought my DS because I thought I would be bored. But this is really engaging.” (He says stuff like that, that things are engaging.) We chatted about the insanity of segregation, the Spider Man mural he had in his bedroom back in Michigan and how he is trying to be less annoying to his sister. We had a lively conversation all through lunch; I leaned into it and just enjoyed the moment.

It wasn’t part of my productive weekend plan, but thankfully I did it anyway. Because the work will get done, it always does. But my boy is only going to be 12 for another 348 days and if I don’t take a few moments to soak it in I’ll be stuck watching him head off to college wondering when the hell he became a man.

So it’s decided. I’m giving myself permission to waste weekends — and you can join me. Waste it on yourself. Waste it on your hobbies. Waste it on your family. Waste it on tv or tablets. Waste it on nothing at all.

But if you’re with me, just don’t waste the opportunity to waste it.

An Ally for Michael

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who was gay. That may sound odd, but growing up everyone looked like an episode of Leave It to Beaver and pretty much every kid in my elementary school followed me from kindergarten through to sixth grade. In middle school, the four elementary schools came together, but most people had very similar lived experiences.

By the time I got to high school I had traveled overseas to Mexico and France and had started to appreciate the bigger world outside of my home town. I know I felt worldly, but calling my 14-year old self worldly is like calling a preschooler capable of reading Hop on Pop literate. Broadly accurate, but not precisely true.

And then I met Michael.

Michael was the best friend of my first boyfriend and he was unapologetically gay. I knew from the first time that I met him that we were kindred spirits. We both had a willingness to be our unique selves and an openness to the human experience. His was a striking honesty that came wrapped in love, self-deprecating humor and smiles – so many smiles. He was both funny and fun and he played off my practical rule-following nature in a way that made us hilarious from the outside. The fact that he was gay was just a part of the wholeness of his being.

Today, I was reminded of Michael while sitting in a seminar on Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Ally (LGBTA) inclusion in the workplace. I heard hard statistics around how LGBTA individuals still feel uncomfortable sharing their whole story in the office and being their authentic self in their work. It was hard to hear because I am the sort of person who actively shares and I can’t imagine what it would be like to tuck such a huge part of myself away in a box and only pull it out before 8:00am and after 5:00pm.

Michael would never stand for it.

It’s even harder because I believe that relationships are the corner stone of a life well-lived. I believe that finding a person who you love and who loves you in return is a gift. I believe in partnerships that support in hard times and celebrate in good times. I believe that when you find that person you need to nurture them, grow with them, and constantly appreciate your good fortune. I learned those lessons from my parents and I am trying to model them to my children.

None of those beliefs have anything to do with gender identity or sexual orientation. Not a single one.

I lost Michael in 2012. He died, like his mother, far too young from cancer. It is one of my greatest comforts that we connected in his last year of life and he knew that I loved him. It is one of my greatest regrets that I let him downplay his illness to me and I didn’t make it a priority to drive the two hours to see him before the end. In my wishes we talked for hours and my cheeks ache from smiling and my gut hurts from laughing. In my dreams I leave feeling like one of the luckiest people in the world.

Because I would have told him – one more time – that I am his ally as well as his friend.