Time Breaks & Starts Over

Posted on April 18, 2018

“Promise we’ll have another fort at the next house?” the girls asked. It was 2010 and we were moving to fit our growing family. Two years before we’d built a play structure for them, adapting it mid-way through as, the then-toddler, Avery broke her leg and needed larger stairs.

Avery, age 2, and her purple cast. Briar hiding behind the canopy.

“Sure, we’ll build another one,” we said. The girls gave the fort a fond farewell and whispered that they hoped the next family would enjoy it.

The new house had a deep wooded lot and we decided to build the structure into the ring of trees. It took a lot of tinkering and reconfiguring as we anchored 4x4s into pine trees. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be safe.” The girls stayed close as we planned it, suggesting additions along the way.

“How about if you make a kind of ladder for us?” they asked. Sean found birch trunks and made a ladder of sorts.

 

“Can it have a slide?”

“And a climbing wall like before?”

“Oooh, swings. And could it have walls?”

It took us the better part of the summer, but we got it done. Briar immediately climbed along the outside of the railings and I realized this tree house was going to be different from the first. Finley was no longer a baby, Avery was more kid than toddler, and Briar was going into first grade.

The girls would gather dolls, tools, walkie-talkies and blankets and stop in the kitchen, “Hey mom, could you bring a snack plate out for us?” I’d coined the “snack plate” phrase one day when I realized that the Pirate Booty wasn’t going to stretch far enough for the girls to each have a serving. I put half a dozen types of crackers and assorted bits of fruit on a platter. Scarcity turned on its ear to options.

I loved watching them parade across the grass and toward the tree house. Finley would sometimes drop things and have to rearrange her arms. Eventually, she used a picnic basket or a briefcase to carry her things to the fort. They’d disappear for hours to play. There were windows through which I could see them moving and I’d watch from the kitchen. The idea that childhood rushes by had taken root in my heart and each time they played together it felt like time slowed. It was a fortress, but growing up happens no matter how you build.

Finley said to me the other day, “The shirt grew out of me.” She wasn’t ready to be done with the shirt, but she knew it didn’t fit any longer. I wish I could be as pragmatic, outgrowing still makes me choke up, even as I know it’s what we are all working toward.

Birthdays filled the yard with sounds, the backdrop of the fort and trees always drawing exclaims and “Let’s go!” from their friends. One summer night I added strings of solar lights and then gasped aloud when they began to twinkle the following night.

“It worked!”

The girls dashed outside to look and later that night we spread quilts out to sprawl next to one another as we watched bats swoop for bugs in the fading evening light. We played summer right into fall, gathering for campfires beneath the trees as the night air grew cooler. Then came winter—snowy slide rides, playing beneath the decks to weather the storm.

I’d pour my coffee looking toward the treehouse. The move had been good for us. This yard embraced us and gave us eight years of playing and loving. We’d outgrown our house, just as we’ve begun to outgrown this house.

When we returned from spring break two weeks ago our beloved treehouse was changed. Finley came to me. “Mom, I need to show you something in the backyard.”

“What is it,” I asked. She had a strange look on her face. “Is it something dead?”

She took a breath and put one finger to the side of her mouth, “Well, it was never really alive, but it’s definitely dead now.”

I stood up and we walked out toward the treehouse.

“Do you see how the curtain is blowing out?” She asked watching my face.

Then I saw it. A pine tree had snapped during a windstorm and fallen onto the fort, shearing off the backside of it. Two of the windows shattered, two did not.

Once again Fin was matter of fact. “We need to clean it up,” she said. “Can I help you?” I was still trying to process how it could be gone and how I was going to manage my broken heart.

“Sure, kiddo,” Sean said. She spent hours with us cleaning. Happy to be a part of it and gleefully picking up pieces and toys, “I remember this! Can we save this?”

We took truck loads of lumber to the dump and made plans to preserve the parts that had not been crushed. “The swings can stay, we can move the slide over here, and redeck that section,” Sean said gesturing toward what remained.

This is what I am learning about childhood, time, and life—it breaks in unexpected ways, meets you in the outgrowing, and reveals new ways in which you can adapt and continue to love.

Saying It Out Loud

Posted on April 7, 2018

My writing has always moved in cycles, propelled by the girls’ milestones, time’s passage, working through then and now, or by the seasons in marriage. Lately, it’s been a slow cycle, in part because the girls are getting older and where before it felt like one shared story, now it is many interlaced. Even my own story, whether about aging or marriage feels like it could intrude on the girls’ life. I come to the keyboard with a new mix of awareness, there is such power in what we share and what we reveal. I genuinely believe we each get to choose our path.

I’ve been blogging for close to fifteen years, many of those years in near total anonymity. I’ve watched people I know publish books and earn powerful brand partnerships. I celebrate each one because it’s hard work. I watched them build personal brands before it was a thing, whether the insults hurled at “mommy bloggers,” and move through the public process of honing a craft. And now here we are, with words like influencer and brand ambassador. The thing I love is the people, the distinct way each writer view the world, how they serve up something in a way that no one else can; it’s powerful and breathtaking.

Jennifer Kindhouse has beautifully moved from a writing name she used for years to her own name and has declared how she’ll do it for herself, not because she begrudges anyone their style, rather it’s time for her to be comfortable with her own. I love that, just as I admire Jill Krauss for ditching one way of life for another and doing the work to build a following without tricks and shortcuts.

 

Last year at Mom2 I connected with Christine Koh, Melissa Ford, and Morra Aarons Mele. It was a turning point for me as I decided that I wanted to write about things I loved. Yes, I would write about parenting and marriage, but I also wanted to write about the things, places, and people who have helped me become who I am today. When the opportunity to write about what Planned Parenthood has meant to me came along, I lunged for it.

 

I had in the back of my head the understanding that the fight over women’s health care can be a scary place. Certainly, in the last several years the approach to online discourse about politics has become borderline violent; it’s easy to stay out of it. I worried a bit about how the way I would write about it would be different than how others might. I don’t always feel equipped to debate about policy. I decided to stack those concerns off to the side and trust that I had something of value to add to the conversation.

Just write what you know, Manda. Write it your way and you’ll be ok.

A few days ago I found out that the post I wrote has been nominated for an Iris Award. It’s hard to explain how much this means to me. I wrote the post for a few reasons—I wanted to give back to Planned Parenthood for the years of care they gave me, I wanted to make the women who gave me the opportunity to write the post glad that they chose me, and lastly I wanted my daughters to know that it’s ok to speak up and to use your voice.

You can read the post here.

Have you made a change in how you write or how you engage? Are you making a scary change? Point me in your direction because what you are doing matters.

Sooner

Posted on March 31, 2018

I’ve been thinking a lot about the in-betweens, whether it’s the grey between black and white, the yes behind no and never, and saying, “This is good” when the place I wanted to get to still seems miles away. As is almost always the case, I can attribute the considering to the girls and kids in general, their ability to live in a realm where it’s ok to want things, ok to imagine that anything can happen, and, most bitingly, their ability to see what we cannot.

I want to take less time to relent; so much of what I resist is good for me and those around me. A couple of weeks ago I posted something on Instagram. There was something about the morning light and an unexpected wave of tenderness toward myself that prompted it.

 

Sitting in the beams of sunlight rolling through the first floor of our house. The girls slept at my parents and the quiet is like a sweet and sour candy, sugary indulgence with tartness that sneaks up and tightens my jaw. I choose to float inside the different emotions, absentmindedly flipping through images on a brand’s IG account. “If only I had the nerve to dress like that.” The thought blasted and I felt the let down of not going for it on the global level—of reserving daring, boldness, sexiness, and selfishness for others. “It’s not me,” is something I think a lot of us say, but why? Last year at about this time I found out I was nominated for a @mom2summit #IrisAward . The category was for Best Writing and I allowed myself exactly one hour of feet not touching the ground, breathless rapture before telling myself that I would never win. I literally didn’t allow myself to even imagine winning after that one exquisite hour of maybe. What would happen if we allowed ourselves (commanded ourselves) to let the moments of “Oh, how I wish I had the nerve,” to become declarations of “Here I go.” Whether it’s wearing a fedora or scheduling a boudoir shoot, running for office or giving your notice. How would the world open up if we stopped saying, “I couldn’t possibly” and “It will never happen.” When I heard my name called and realized it really was me they were inviting to the stage to claim the award I trembled, like literally quaked. The ground beneath me felt foreign and I half expected someone to call out that it wasn’t mine. Our willingness to deny our own light is life-altering. I am still scared and riddled with doubt, but damnit, I want to hold hands with you and race forward breaking through all we think we can’t like some magnificent winning of a game of Red Rover, Red Rover. Will you come with me? Whatever that means for you…you can. #selfconfidencenow

 

The comments on that post made me realize that there are so many of us bobbing along in the water, hoping that the tide will somehow carry us into shore where we can finally begin. We don’t realize that we are the sea—the stillness and the strength, the waves and the spray, but we are also the undertow.

We can make everything happen sooner. Today can be the day that we begin to quiet the words of doubt or the day that we conquer a fear. If doing it for ourselves is too much, we can begin with a friend or someone we love. The only catch is we then have to look ourselves in the mirror and answer honestly why we wouldn’t be every bit of deserving of time, patience, grace, or love as anyone else.

 

Another Story

Posted on March 15, 2018

Life has been hectic lately.

 

 

 

I’m just going to give that statement a little space, feel free to take a moment yourself to just push away from all the things you have to do and acknowledge all the things you have done, or the angry words you haven’t spoken, or the sweet recovery you made after saying an angry word. Whatever you need, I am sure your life is hectic too.

Yesterday I felt a bit like I was in one of those carnival features where you sit on a wobbly seat over a vat of water. People through things at a target and if it connects you are dropped into the water—over and over and over again. I managed to get a few things done, one of which was a post about our company’s 15th anniversary (officially in November) in honor of National Write Your Story Day. It was a little tricky because often I separate work from life as it pertains to writing.

It occurs to me that it’s all connected and, while the post would have been very different if I’d intended to post it here, it’s still a part of my story.

 

Today is National Write Your Story Day. As a partner at an agency that specializes in storytelling, through visual elements and words, I can’t help but approach this day with delight. We’re celebrating our 15th year in business and I want to take the opportunity to look back on all that has changed around us, personally and professionally.

It was late fall 2003 when we incorporated. We shook hands as newlyweds and new parents at a campground in Dorset, Vermont, pledging to create a company that puts family first and would have an unerring focus on design and communication that hit the mark. The early months were lean, with late nights and light paychecks (if any). Two of us held full-time jobs to keep us all covered by health insurance, the books were done after bedtime, headlines written before sunrise.

Our first studio was reminiscent of an old-time private investigator’s office—frosted window on the door, black and gold foil lettering, levered transoms and wood paneled walls. There was an elevator operator who warned us, “Don’t be leaving the windows open, the pigeons’ll get in and leave a holy mess in the place.” It was the first of many times we listened to the wisdom of others. Another gem, “If it doesn’t work kill it fast.”

We’ve moved three times since that first office, grown from two full-time employees to 16. The staff and partners are raising a total of 8 kids—with one in college and another heading off next year. Family first continues to define our corporate values.

These days, we text from meetings and display work on iPads, when we started it was printouts and Nextel walkie-talkies. LinkedIn launched in May of 2003, but all the platforms that we use today were still years from development. Annual reports were printed, websites were standard-issue html that hadn’t yet been influenced by user reviews, and the Yellow Pages still featured prominently in advertising plans and budgets.

We hired our first full-time employee in 2005, which was the year that YouTube came on the scene. It was also the year that Trampoline was voted the New Business of the Year by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce. Things began to move quickly after that, as Twitter and Facebook opened to the public in 2006. Sadly, it also marked the final season of The West Wing.

In 2007 Apple launched the iPhone, and Mad Men made its debut. We continued to avoid creating a public-facing niche for ourselves, preferring instead to adapt to the needs of our clients.

Since that turning point we’ve made jumps in size from 6 to 9 employees, 9 to 12, and to our current size of 16 with three new job openings. Through the shifts in size and industry trends, and client goals, that Vermont handshake has been at our core. Our studio has a designated pumping space for new moms. There are dogs in the shop more often than not or trips to let dogs out, as the definition of family is interpreted broadly and enthusiastically.

The connection to family and the understanding that young people are the most potent connection to trends, keeps us honest about how we research and execute ideas. A memorable example was a project partnering with the local high school’s innovations class to produce a 3D printed rendering of mountains for a ski destination project. We endeavor to keep the ‘Trampoline family’ balanced in age, experience, gender, and perspective to keep us on a track toward audience engagement.

As social media platforms have been embraced and as people’s sensitivity to cost, the environment, and timelines have impacted printing, it’s become more critical than ever to generate concepts and execution plans that consider the various scenarios in which an audience will be delivered a message.

We have seen the turn from a traditional studio environment to a more remote model. We’re impressed by how some companies have made that work for them, but outside of snow days and childcare/pet sitting emergencies, our product and process are more effective face-to-face.

As we look at what we hope will be our next fifteen years, we can’t wait to see the new tools that are sure to come in the evolution of language and communication. We’ll do our best to keep up, but more importantly to focus on keeping what works for us, and for our clients, and letting the rest become small footnotes in history.

The Cuts That Echo

Posted on March 10, 2018

A couple of weeks ago conversation at my office turned to ordering clothes online as we discussed what we would wear to an industry awards ceremony. I found myself completely blown away by how commonplace self-criticism is, and, more poignantly, how inaccurate the laments were. The history of the “flaws” jumped in relief as women talked candidly about what didn’t work on them and why. I was too flip about brushing off their worries, because these things we carry, the words from the past echo and influence us for so long, they do exist.

When I was 9 my best friend lived across the street from me. We usually played alone, but sometimes her brother would come out with his Darth Vader Star Wars character carrying case and let us play with the figures. One day we were playing in the side yard; I was making a Jawa walk along the edge of a fence post, my best friend was making a nest for Princess Leia beneath a bush, and her brother Chris was crouched beneath the bushes making Darth Vader kick up dirt.

“You know you’ll always be fat,” he said

My hand stopped moving as I turned to face Chris. “What?”

“You aren’t small like my sister,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. Chris spent most of his time angry and picked fights.

“I’m not fat,” I said.

He stood up, walked over to me, and pointed to the edge of my overalls. “See how the skin under your arm has creases? That’s fat. You’re fat,” he said matter of factly and watched my face.

I went back to playing while my mind worked furiously, how had I not known about this fatness. I knew my shock had been evident and I needed never to let that happen again. I wish I’d been thinking of my insides and not my outside. To this day, those folds are the first thing I see on myself. Rationally I know it’s nothing, but some days with my arms folded over a towel as I brush my teeth in the bathroom, I’m nine again.

Since those conversations at the office I’ve been thinking about how words echo with a deafening roar that no one else can hear. I’m gutted by how we dismiss what other people hear—we tell them they are wasting time, that they are blind, or at our worst, we mutter that they’re chasing compliments. What we rarely acknowledge is that their spirits scar from the oppressive ringing, decades of echoes, the voices layered and unrelenting. I wonder why we hesitate to tell someone that they look lovely or that we are glad that they are in our lives. Why don’t we say these things to ourselves?

The night of the awards I looked around at the people, the faces I am used to seeing pointed toward a monitor were lit up with excitement. We whistled and complimented one another, for a time leaving the aftershocks of doubt behind us. I don’t know if it’s possible to unring a bell, but I do think that when we say some of these things aloud, they lose a bit of power.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of how people told us we were flawed or broken; we should feel powerful for surviving them.

 

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