A Job Found Me

No matter how many ridiculous dates I went on in my twenties (ask me about the guy who fell asleep during dinner on a first date), I swore I would never use an online dating site. In May, my eHarmony-matched husband and I celebrated our 11th anniversary with tapas and sangria. 

In high school I confessed to my mother that I never, ever wanted to have a baby. Never. Adopt, maybe. But pregnancy? Childbirth? Absolutely not. Don’t tell the daughter that I labored for 30 hours to deliver into this world. She’s starting first grade in a couple of weeks.  

When my husband and I were newlyweds and started looking for a dog to adopt together, we agreed to rule out yappy, high-maintenance dogs and anything smaller than a cocker spaniel, and then we devoted the next ten years to the adoration and medical care of an epileptic chihuahua who hated nearly every person and animal he ever met.

I was living on the north side of Chicago when I met my now husband, Les, and I distinctly remember a conversation early in our dating life where I told him that I would live in the city, or I would live in the boonies, but I would never, ever live in the suburbs. “I need either the walkable, anonymous, buzz of the city or a sprawling green privacy of rural life. I can’t live in the soulless suburbs”. Now, of course, I live in the western suburbs and play pickleball with my neighbors and drive a crossover SUV.

All I’m saying is that when I finally write my memoir, the subtitle is going to be “All the things I swore I’d never do”.

When I started looking for a job in June, I sat down and wrote out a list of my “must haves” and used that list of non-negotiables to set my job search engine parameters:

  • The job must be in the suburbs with no more than 20 minutes commute time.
  • Ideally 25-29 hours per week.
  • The job could be full time if it had a flexible schedule and was 100% remote. 
  • No required travel.
  • And I didn’t want to work for a religious nonprofit anymore. 

The job market is bananas right now, so these criteria pulled pages upon pages of job openings. I have over twenty years of nonprofit experience, including seven years doing the one thing that makes nonprofit hiring managers salivate all over their laptops – writing government grants. 

I sent some resumes. I applied for some part-time and some remote full-time jobs. I had some interviews. After each encounter with a recruiter, I had to unclench my jaw just to describe the job to Les. It became clear very quickly that I really REALLY did not want to be a grant writer anymore. The deadlines and the policies and the budgets and the reporting. Gag. 

The problem was that none of the resumes I sent out for other types of nonprofit jobs got any nibbles. I didn’t want to be a grant writer anymore, but the nonprofit job world very much wanted me to be a grant writer. 

Then one day I got a LinkedIn message from a recruiter at an executive search firm asking me if I would like to talk with him about an Executive Director job. His email was very light on details, but I admit I was flattered that someone would think I could be qualified to be an Executive anything, so I agreed to talk with him. 

And that was the first step of the month-long process that led to me accepting the Executive Director position for Hopebound Ministries with Felician Services in Chicago. 

If that sounds like a full time job with a religious organization that will require an hour commute each way and cross-country travel, you would be correct. 

The Felician Sisters are a Catholic order of nuns with convents around the US. Sisters at several of these convents have established smallish-scale social service programs in their communities to meet the needs of their neighbors; things like food pantries, services to people experiencing homelessness, and after-school programs. Right now, these sisters are operating these services at a very grass-roots level. As ED, I’ll be helping the nuns assess community needs and determine how best to make their programs sustainable and more accessible. I’ll need to do a bit of traveling, a bit of coaching, and a lot of relational, community-building work. And maybe a little grant writing. 

Much to my surprise and delight, Felician Services (the social service arm of the order) only requires that its employees “affirm the dignity of all people” – the HR director assured me that I need not be Catholic – or anything else – to work with them. No doctrinal statement to sign, no particular worldview to espouse, other than affirming the dignity of people. I can do that!

This job is nothing at all what I was looking for, and would have been filtered out in any of the CareerBuilder/Indeed/NPO.Net job search parameters I had set up. I still don’t know how this recruiter found me or what it was about my LinkedIn page that made him send that message, but here we are. The job fell out of the sky, and I grabbed it. 

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So of course I am throbbing with anxiety and excitement and imposter syndrome. Am I thrilled to have landed an intellectually challenging job that allows me to dig into the skills and expertise I’ve fought for over the last two decades of work? Yes. Am I happy to take on a role that pulls together some of my favorite pieces of all my previous jobs, and leaves my least favorite pieces to collect dust on my CV? Also, a big Yes. 

But am I prepared to miss out on the after school debriefs where I get to take little peeks into my daughter’s inner life and social ecosystem? Am I ready to go back to being busy every single day? Am I finally going to learn to like podcasts and audiobooks for my commute? Am I really going to flop out of bed before sunrise and remain a functional human being? I don’t know.

For this job to work for our family, we need an after-school nanny who we’ll trust to shuttle our daughter from school to home and then chill with her until one of us wraps for the day. And we need a dog walker for our hound dog. And I’ll need to be up by 5:30 a.m. to get myself and then my kid ready to leave the house by 7:45 every morning. And then I’ll need to scream through my teeth into the windshield in rush hour traffic for at least an hour twice a day, three days a week. I get to have two days to work from home in a hybrid work model (a daily commute to the city would have been an actual deal breaker for me).

After almost two years of very part-time remote work and soft clothes and ease in our family routine, I’m nervous about adding that much hustle into my daily life. As I explained to my friend on the phone tonight, I’m not used to being places at “times” or doing things by “dates”.  I’m definitely rusty at the social interaction and the hair styling and the outfit choosing. And the lunch packing and logistics coordination and the managing household support professionals. 

It’s a lot. I’m still a little stunned, and totally thankful, for this new adventure. A friend who encouraged me to accept the job, even with all the stressful bits and imposter syndrome, reminded me not just to ask “What’s the worst that could happen?” but also “What’s the best that could happen?”. 

Of course both of those questions feel like they require a COVID asterisk. I haven’t even allowed my brain to start What Iffing around COVID. One day at a time. 

So here we go! Full time work for the first time in over eight years. Let’s hope it’s like riding a bike. 

Venus Fly Trap

One rainy afternoon about a month ago when we were limping along the uphill path between lunch and bedtime, I let my daughter look over my shoulder as I scrolled Instagram. She saw a video of a golden retriever puppy with the “I’m just a hap-hap-happy guy” soundtrack and she yanked the phone from my hand and demanded “Are there more videos of puppies in this thing?”

Oh kid. There are so many videos of puppies in this thing.

This began our ritual of indulging in exactly 10 minutes of Puppy Videos after lunch. She burrows into my lap and squeals with laughter as infantile voice-overs declare “I’m a pah-tay-toe” and sing the “Found a stick on the ground” song or any of the other two dozen repetitive ridiculous TikToks or Reels that people are making with their puppies these days. 

The tricky bit is that for every eight videos of a German Shepherd snuggling a kitten, there is at least one foul-mouthed, vulgar voiceover puppy video mixed in. I try to pre-screen them or stick with a reliable hashtag like GoldenDoodlesofInstagram, but still the swearing dogs sneak into the queue. 

I handle the sneaky profanity by casually brushing it off and scrolling quickly to the next video. “That video had some gross and rude words in it. We don’t use those words, and I don’t want you to hear them.” That’s been enough of an explanation so far. 

Yesterday, in an effort to minimize the number of F-bombs my kid hears while she digests her fruit snacks, I switched it up to a set of Reels that rotated puppy videos with videos of pandas and baby elephants and flying squirrels and whale calves breaching next to their mommas. 

I swiped up to the next adorable innocuous video, and my kid watched in horror as a beetle ambled into the jaws of a venus fly trap. She saw the spiked lobes clamp shut as the beetle struggled to escape. She burst into tears. “What is that? Mommy! What happened? Did the plant just trap that bug?”

“That’s a Venus Fly Trap. They eat bugs. They trap them in their petals and then they eat them.”

Her face pinked and she struggled to produce words through the gulp of hot tears. “You mean there are plants that kill animals? On purpose? Do they eat any other animals besides bugs? Do they eat butterflies? Can they trap humans? How big are they? Where do they grow? Does anything eat them?”

We watched a couple of kid-science videos about Venus Fly Traps and the facts seemed to help. Venus Fly Traps are small. They don’t grow around here. They don’t trap other kinds of animals. Lots of different kinds of animals eat Venus Fly Traps. We talked about how many kinds of creatures need to eat bugs to survive, and how if no other creatures ate bugs, the whole earth would just be so full of bugs we would never want to go outside. 

Somehow this spun out into a tearful discussion about death and God and her soft heart. We talked about how God is sad when even one creature dies, and that she is reflecting God’s image when she is sad about death. I made the mistake of mentioning souls, and she asked me to remind her what a soul is. I said it is what makes her who she is – what she thinks and feels and how she lives in the world. “I think my brain does most of that” she retorted. 

Touché, kid, touché. 

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I was talking with her through her dribbling tears and she referred to God as “He” and then she remembered previous conversations and amended herself. “But God is not a he or a she! God is both!” Les chimed in from the table where he was clacking away at his laptop – “You know that Jesus said that God is like a mother chicken!” Her face unfurled into a huge wet-cheeked smile. 


“That’s right!” I said. “God is like a mother chicken who gathers up all her chicks under her wings. Do you remember we saw that video of the chicken sitting on her nest on the farm and then the person walked over and picked up the chicken and the chicken had actually been sitting on some tiny baby kittens? That’s what God is like! God gathers up anyone and everyone and takes care of them and loves them.”

She was giggling now, remembering the kittens under the chicken. “Momma! I bet God is like a banana!” “Really? Why?” “Because God is yellow and has a peel!” She collapsed in a pile of giggles. 

“I’m not sure God is like a banana, except for the fact that God is good for us like fruit.” 

We spent the next several minutes giggling over how God could be like a dog, or a tree, or an ant (God is patient and faithful, God is strong and provides things we need, God is always working for our good).

I’ve felt a bit uncomfortable talking with my kiddo about faith-related topics for about a year now, but that is starting to ease a little. Someday I may be ready to write about that, and what this season of intense untangling has been like for me. Maybe not. 

Let’s just say my relationship to my faith is complicated at the moment. God, it seems, is on the lookout for me as surely as I am on the lookout for God. Every time I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the abyss and screaming into the void, something pulls me back and dazzles me with beauty and God-ness. Creation, and my kiddo’s exquisite sensitivity to its fragility and interconnectedness tended the sore spots and scabs of faith I had been picking this weekend. 

God is like my daughter, whose heart breaks for the cruelty and sadness of the world.

God is like my daughter, who laughs at the ridiculousness baked into the system.

God is like my daughter, who pulls me deep into the wonder of this life, this earth, and reminds me that I have so much to learn.

Body Talk

Several years ago, I read an Instagram post that of course I didn’t save, so I cannot give it proper attribution. But the gist of it was “Don’t talk to your kids about their bodies or about your body except to explain to them how bodies work.” I get the intent behind that idea. Don’t offer any commentary at all – positive or negative – about the way they, or we, or anyone looks. Keep body talk for health and hygiene and basic mechanics. 

But I’m starting to think about Body Talk with my daughter more like talking to her about sex. If I am not proactive, the world is going to fill her up for me. 

Just like with sex, our kids are going to be saturated with messages about their bodies and other people’s bodies. We don’t want to leave a void there – their peers and media and other adults will fill that void. We need to get out ahead of the body conversation.

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My typical M.O. is to wait for a “teachable moment”, like the one that happened on a rambling walk through the neighborhood this summer. 

My five year old daughter and I encountered one of our neighbor families as we strolled down our street. The three kids were riding their bikes to the park as the dad jogged along behind them. The oldest neighbor girl, Annie, is eleven years old. As my daughter and I walked home, my kiddo turned to me and asked “Mom, why is Annie fat?” 

Obviously, this smashed all my trigger buttons at once. My first impulse was to shriek “She’s not FAT!! We never talk about someone’s body!!”. But I paused just long enough to pull up scripts from some of the women who have written about raising body-neutral kids and tried this instead:

“Why do you say that Annie is fat?”

“Because she has a round tummy and it sticks out under her shirt.”

“Well, Annie is older than you, so her body is going to be bigger than you or your friends’ bodies. And, she’s right around the age where girls start to grow very quickly, and their bodies change from being like a little girl to looking more like a woman. Women are meant to have curvier, softer bodies than little girls.”

“Oh. Ok.”

“It’s OK to talk with me about these kinds of questions, but we should not talk to our friends about other people’s bodies, because it can really hurt people’s feelings.”


“Well, because some people tease people about how they look, or to say unkind things about other people’s bodies. And that hurts people’s feelings. We know that it is never OK to tease someone about how they look. People look different from one another, and that’s a good thing.”

“Right, because if everyone looked the same, we wouldn’t know who is who!”

“Right! Remember that All Bodies are Good Bodies.”

I desperately want us both to really believe that all bodies are good bodies. 

I don’t know how long I can “Fake It Till I Make It” as I teach my daughter body acceptance that I still struggle to absorb myself. My dear friend of over 20 years, Roxanne, and I had a conversation about all of this recently. She’s a momma of four, with one teenager already. They have been having Body Talks for years now. She encouraged me to be more transparent with my kiddo about my own struggles, and how hard it can be to love my own body and how easy it can be to judge other people’s bodies. 

Next time we have a conversation about bodies, I’ll tell my daughter that when I was younger, people teased me about my body. Even now that I’m a grown up, it is still hard for me to love my body. If she’s still listening, I’ll tell her how proud I am of my body for growing her and giving birth to her. I’ll tell her that I’m thankful that my body works well, and I don’t have any real pain or illness. 

I’ll remind her about how she is fearfully and wonderfully made – how we ALL are – no matter how we look or what our bodies do easily or struggle to do at all. 

I’ll tell her how people who want you to buy the things they are selling will tell you that you have to look a certain way to be happy, and I’ll tell her that that is a huge lie. 

My daughter saw me do the iconic Suck and Zip to put on some jeans the other day. I wonder if she has noticed that my body has gotten bigger over the past year. She hasn’t made any comments, but she notices everything. I started riding our stationary bike just about every day a few months ago and she asked me why. I told her it is because we’ve been indoors for so long, I haven’t gotten as much exercise as my body needs. I want to be strong and feel good, so I use the bike. That’s true, of course. Partly true. 

I’m living in the tension of body acceptance and wanting to be smaller. In the slogging murk of wanting to “be healthy” and “lose the pandemic weight” while trying not to give in to disordered eating and compulsive exercise. 

Here’s what I’m trying hard to absorb every day: It’s OK if I gained weight EVEN IF I never lose it. Even if this is just my middle aged, pandemic surviving, macchiato drinking body now. Bodies change. Bodies age. Yes, I do want to keep an eye on my blood pressure. Yes, I will create habits to move my body more because I want to still be moving when my kiddo is in high school and college (older mom problems). I want to get the gold stars at my next physical. And if I can fit back into my favorite dress by spring 2022, that would be great, too. 

Food Talk

My husband and I meal plan in hushed voices in the kitchen while our daughter watches Rescue Riders on her tablet. We’ve just recommitted ourselves to ratchet down our takeout habit and try to cook more actual meals at home, after a year of thrice weekly to-go splurges and a tight rotation of homemade nachos, frozen pizza, and packaged snack buffets for dinner. We’ve both had our annual physicals in the last couple of months, and were both rather shell shocked at the scale and our blood pressure stats. 

“We’ve got to get back on track. We have to set a better example. We are setting her up for failure if she starts to believe that this is the way to eat.”

“We want to be healthy and active and ready for fun with our kiddo for a long long time. We both want to get a handle on our blood pressures.”

“I do not want to buy even bigger pants.”

We whisper these nudges to each other and giggle, and I’m thankful that at least we have some solidarity as we endeavor to shore up our Pandemic snack food diet with some nutrients.

But we don’t want our daughter to overhear our food and diet talk. Even if we’re talking about adding in a lot of vegetables and shaking our dependence on processed food. Even if we’re not talking about calories or “junk food” or restriction. We don’t want her to hear us even talk in code about losing weight, or see either of us rub our bellies unconsciously when we draft up a grocery list. 

Food Talk is very fraught in our house. As with many parenting decisions, our choice to keep meal planning and weight gain conversations out of our daughter’s earshot are a direct reaction to the ways in which the food culture of our families set us up for lifelong struggles.

I grew up in a household where food rules were rigid in some ways and lax in other ways and meal times were often a battle. My mom was always on a diet. My dad made endless commentary on her food choices and how often any of us had dessert. We were a strict Clean Your Plate family, and the kids got little say in what went onto that plate. There were many nights that I sat crying at the table for hours, unwilling to swallow the requisite bites of canned peaches or creamed spinach. Those forced bites did not make me appreciate food, or learn to like things I despised. They just made me angry and resentful of my dad and full of anxiety every time I sat down to eat. I rejoiced every time I got to eat and my dad wasn’t watching. 

My family was rife with diet talk and confusing demands to eat everything served on my plate and also not to eat too much, lest I need a diet. My husband’s family was very different from mine, but had its own food angst. My husband’s mother grew up with extreme food insecurity, and that had reverberations into her own parenting, cooking, and eating expectations. We’re trying hard not to be like our parents in the food arena. It is much easier said than done. 

I have generally tried to shift the food conversation at home away from “junk” food or even healthy food vs. unhealthy food, but to notice and talk about how food makes us feel, and to talk about how much I enjoy eating a wide variety of foods and trying new recipes. It can be hard for a kid to make these connections, because the sugar rush is immediate but the hollow hunger of not eating filling foods happens hours later. It feels good and comforting to eat buttered noodles for dinner five out of seven nights a week. It’s hard for me to deny her the comfort and ease of eating things she loves, even if the list of entrees she loves includes only five items.  

Despite my adult frustration or even embarrassment that my kid is not an adventurous eater, she’s growing and has plenty of energy. How many adults tend to eat the same handful of “go-to” foods or recipes on repeat? I sure do. I spent at least three years in my 20s eating nothing but a rotation of six different Lean Cuisines for lunch at work. Nothing terrible happened. Kids feel, for the most part, just fine eating a steady diet of berries and carbs. 

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Author and journalist Virginia Sole-Smith writes about the Division of Responsibility in her book The Eating Instinct (highly recommend). Reading this strategy felt like a radical, risky, thrilling new world. The idea is that you, the adult, determine when, where, and what foods are served for snacks and meals, and the kid decides if she eats what you are offering and how much. 

If you’re thinking “my kid would just never eat anything I serve and would starve to death”, the caveat is that there is at least one thing you know your kiddo will eat at each eating opportunity. Kids determine what they put on their plates, and how much. No bribes, no coaxing. Sole-Smith encourages parents to be consistent, and once the pressure to try new foods is removed, and kids trust that they really can choose and eat as much or as little as they want from the choices you offer, the power struggle over food exploration is removed, and kids are more likely to try and enjoy new dishes.  

We have tried this a couple of times. It’s a bit of a hassle. It is easier to just heat up something on the list of her preferred entrees and make separate adult food. It’s easier to plop her plate of mom-chosen food in front of her. But every time I have tried the family-style buffet of options, my kiddo has surprised me by what she has chosen and how much she happily ate. Not always the “well balanced meal” I would like to see, but different from what I expected. 

Case study: veggie burgers. On a typical night in our house, I would prepare the veggie burgers for Les and me, and make some scrambled eggs and cut raw veggies and some crackers or tortilla chips onto a plate for my daughter. But one night, I put the buns in a basket, the pickles and condiments on the table, a plate of raw veggies, the burgers, and a bowl of mixed salad. She ate a bun, a pile of pickle slices, lots of raw veggies, and even tasted a leaf of red lettuce “just to see what the purple leaf tasted like”. She spit it out, but she tried it. And she ate her fill, and it wasn’t just a bowl of noodles and a yogurt cup. 

Leaning in to trust my kid is hard, because I don’t yet fully trust myself around food. We joke like this, don’t we? “I can’t let any cookies into my house or I will eat them all in one sitting”. Or we worry that if we don’t make dessert contingent upon eating an acceptable amount and array of food, our kids will just eat one green bean and a bagel and then expect a brownie. There are nights our kiddo eats only a few bites of food, even food she really likes, because she “needs to save room for dessert”. 

Here’s a radical idea that we are also testing at my house, at the suggestion of the same Virginia Sole-Smith’s Instagram conversations: Serve dessert alongside the dinner options, rather than at the end as an incentive. We tried it, and choked back comments when she ate the cookie first, but guess what? She went on to finish everything else she had decided to eat for dinner. No saving room. No bribery. Honestly, it made my husband and I both feel all kinds of ways. But why? If we agree that dessert is an option at dinnertime, and the goal is that she eats some typical dinner food, does it matter if she eats the dessert with her dinner rather than after? Especially if it frees her up to focus on the actual meal, rather than avoiding any whiff of fullness while eating the veggie dog and broccoli in front of her?

Is it easier for me to experiment with our family food culture because my kiddo is average size? Probably. Is it a huge pile of privilege to have so much flexibility in what we eat and serve and whether we all eat exactly the same thing? Absolutely. Do I still cringe with embarrassment and make excuses whenever we eat with others (I mean, hypothetically. We haven’t eaten with anyone in over a year) and my kid only eats a roll and a strawberry? Yes. 

On a good day, I can take a big step back and remind myself that I was a ridiculously “picky” kid, and now I happily eat all kinds of things I never would have touched when I was six. And on really great days, I remember that my kid is her own person with her own preferences, and I can toss her a multivitamin and not take it personally that she doesn’t like to eat many of the same things I like. A lot of you probably wouldn’t like most of the staples of my gluten free, mostly vegetarian, tofu-heavy diet. I don’t take that personally. We can still be friends.

Sunday Comment Roundup

You Guyssssssssss!!

Your comments this week about my posts and Instagram questions have been SO GOOD. So good. I am so thankful for each of you. Your willingness to be open and vulnerable about our very personal and often fraught relationships with food and eating and diet culture has been motivating and humbling. I wanted to share some of the comments I received, anonymously, in case you see any of your own twisty, bunchy, scratchy eating-stuff (or calm and balanced approaches!) in any of these experiences.

Here is how some of you replied to my prompt about whether you remember your mom dieting as a kid, and if so, how food was talked about in your home growing up:

  • “I think I always wished they noticed something about me besides that I ate the food in front of me.”
  • “I remember relatives commenting how “the Smith* girls are always clean platers!” *not their real name.
  • “Portion control!”
  • “I don’t remember diet, but remember lots of unhappiness with how mom felt about how she looked. No shorts, no bathing suits.”
  • “We strived for balance in meals, not a lot of soda/packaged snacks; eating together as a family, having treats when out sometimes but later in life when the fat craze was happening, it was about eating more of those to replace other things (we know better now, but didn’t like the rest of America at the time).”
  • “My mom dieted. I specifically remember her using Slim Fast shakes and bars. She was also a dietician…”
  • “Mom once told me she felt accomplished if she went to bed hungry.”
  • “My family went through feast and famine. Grandma or the church would roll up w groceries.”
  • “She started Jazzercise at age 40 and really cut out sugar, fried foods, etc. I feel like she did it correctly!”
  • “I can’t even fit that can of worms in this box.”

I’ve also heard from several of you via calls and text messages with longer stories and examples of your childhood food life and how that has bubbled over into your adult eating habits. And a couple of you called me after my post about my doctor’s appointment to share your experiences with your doctor, or the experiences of a spouse or other family member.

And one of you, after reading my post about my doctor’s appointment, texted me this:

“I’m glad she [my doctor] could show you God’s love for your body today.”

Which reduced me to a blubbering pile of sobs. Whooo-boy. There’s a lot to unpack there. (Thanks, decades of “our bodies are inherently sinful and our “fleshly desires” will pull us into all manner of disobedience” teaching). I’m not even going to touch that today, except to say that it has been a trip to think about all the ways growing up in conservative Protestant churches have shaped my body image and conception of food and eating. Book project?

THANK YOU, friends. I’m grateful for you. Let’s keep talking and thinking and unpacking, shall we?

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