The Dance of Parenthood

Most of our friends and family were shocked when Jeffrey and I decided to have a baby, and even more so when they discovered it was Jeffrey’s idea.

With Jeffrey zipping around the world much of the year and me running our busy photo agency, and also partaking in deliciously selfish activities like marathon running, having a baby never felt like a reasonable idea.

But on a cold January evening, in the middle of celebrating my 37th birthday over a romantic dinner in one of our favorite restaurants, Jeffrey took a long sip of wine, smiled at me mischievously then simply asked, “What would you think about starting a family?”

I nearly fell out of my chair.

We’d been together for over thirteen years and this topic had never once entered our conversation. We both knew our unpredictable lifestyle would be challenging for raising a child. When Jeffrey asked though, goosebumps formed on my arms and liquid pearls of happiness rose in my eyes as I staggered under the weight of this tender, life-changing moment.

All I could choke out was, “Yes,” in a half-breath as my hands flew up to my mouth in disbelief. It was a spontaneous reaction for which I had no control, but everything about it felt right. Jeffrey looked dizzy as he reached over the table and kissed me. Then we both burst into laughter and raised a toast to the insanity of this idea.

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Well, here we are nearly a decade later, still delighting in the insanity of this idea, and even more so, the person this idea produced.

Sweet Olivia just turned eight years old, and as we celebrated our spunky and sensitive girl whom Jeffrey likes to say, “was born with two scoops of sugar,” we reveled in the notion that life’s most outlandish ideas often become the best. Originating in the heart instead of the mind, these irrational ideas often inspire us to learn a new, and sometimes-difficult dance, which pushes us to a whole new level in life.

As parents, Jeffrey and I have been swirling, dipping, tripping, gliding, sliding, and waltzing from the moment Miss O was born. Our love for our daughter has produced choreography filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows as we’ve experienced every emotion imaginable: love, tenderness, awe, delight, fear, frustration, pain, pride, exuberance and exhaustion. And like most parents, each time we’ve finally mastered one tricky step, we’ve been thrown a new challenge to keep us on our toes on this ever-changing dance floor of parenthood.

Jeffrey and I are nowhere near perfect parents—in fact those kinds of people scare me—but one thing for certain is that in this great big ballroom of life, I have the most steady and dedicated dance partner anybody could ever hope for. And for that, I am grateful.

As we hold onto Olivia’s hands and let her dance on our feet, she is learning to create her own moves—ones that will inform her life when she’s eventually ready to launch out on her own into this big, creative world which is filled with endless adventure.

Who knew this dance of parenthood could ever be so exquisite?

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Mom

Photo of my mom when she was at the beach

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then clearly I don’t need to say a thing.

But I will.

In honor of my mom, on what would have been her 77th birthday, I’m breaking every blogging rule out there and going “off topic.” Forgive me for this indulgence, but here’s to the beautiful person who brought me into this world and helped make me who I am today. Her spirit, love of life and knee-slapping laughter will always be carried deep in the crevices of my heart.

Photo of my mom when she was a young girl

See more pictures by clicking here

Beyond Rangoon THEN…A Feather in Her Cap NOW

THEN: BEYOND RANGOON

APRIL 1989: Jeffrey and I have been together little more than four months when I get my first taste of what life is going to be like with him.

Photo of the Democracy Movement in Tianamen SquareFirst, if you’ll flash back with me briefly, you might remember that 1989 is a year of extraordinary change around the world—everything from China’s Democracy Movement to the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Dalai Lama winning the Nobel Peace Prize to Gorbachev being elected Russia’s new president.

Another dramatic event taking place is that Aung San Suu Kyi is about to be voted Burma’s first democratically elected leader in nearly thirty years.

Jeffrey is in Bangkok finishing up an assignment for Newsweek when he receives a call from The Christian Science Monitor. “We have a project for you in Burma,” he hears.Those few words are all it takes before he agrees to the assignment.

Burma has been closed to the outside world for decades—at least to journalists—isolated by its brutal military dictatorship; Jeffrey knows this is an unusual opportunity.

At one time Burma had been the wealthiest nation in Southeast Asia and the largest exporter of rice, oil and teak. Its capital, Rangoon, often referred to as the “Queen of the East,” had been a vibrant metropolis brimming with a highly literate population. But a 1962 coup d’etat, followed by rampant corruption and the catastrophic economic plan, The Burmese Way to Socialism, turned this country upside down.

With Burma’s current economic bankruptcy and the UN’s label as one the least developed countries in the world, a tiny crack has been pried into this iron-fisted country, one just large enough to allow a handful of tourists to visit–along with their money. Jeffrey is one of them.

Abercrombie & Kent, one of the few tour companies operating in Burma, organizes a seven-day visit for Jeffrey, the maximum time allowed by the Burmese government. His itinerary will take him to Rangoon, Pagan and Mandalay, where his assignment is to capture the stark beauty of the country and the everyday life of people in this isolated land.

Photo of Schwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, BurmaPhoto of a monk at Schwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, BurmaPhoto of pilgrims praying in Rangoon, BurmaPhoto of a watermelon vendor in Rangoon, BurmaPhoto of vendors in Mandalay, BurmaPhoto of Pagan, BurmaPhoto of a monk at a temple in Pagan, Burma

Inside A & K’s air-conditioned Bangkok office, an employee, Ms. Too, hands Jeffrey his plane ticket, visa and itinerary. Then she says, “Mr. Aaronson, there’s just one thing: there’s been a terrible crackdown in Rangoon. Martial law has been imposed. The elections are coming up and Aung San Suu Kyi has been placed under house arrest by the junta to prevent an uprising. It’s not safe for you to go.”

The nervous employee, of course, is sharing this news so that Jeffrey will postpone his trip, but Jeffrey’s mind is working in the opposite direction.

“Is the airport still open in Rangoon?” he asks.

“They haven’t said otherwise.”

“Then I better get going.”

“Mr. Aaronson, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. No journalists are allowed.”

Jeffrey, not to be dissuaded, replies, “Who said anything about a journalist? Remember, I’m a tourist, going on vacation to visit the beautiful country of Burma.”

“If you must go, then please be careful,” Ms. Too says with pools of concern in her eyes…

Photo of matial law in Rangoon, Burma 1989

Read Part Two in my next post…Sorry, I don’t mean to leave you hanging, but even the uber condensed version of this complicated story is too long for one post. I hope you’ll check back to find out what happens. In many ways this improbable story epitomizes Jeffrey’s career, and also the beginning of our relationship.

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NOW: A FEATHER IN HER CAP

SEPTEMBER 2011: The events of 1989 were hugely memorable, but not be outdone, we also just experienced our own “big event” right here at our house last week. Our daughter, Olivia, got to have two feathers put in her hair.

I know, I know. It’s not exactly the kind of “big,” you might have imagined, but in the life of a 7-year old, it’s huge. Believe me.

photo of feather hair extensionsIf you’re trying to imagine what the heck I’m talking about, let me clue you in to the world of 2nd grade girls. The latest craze is having one or two…or several thin feather extensions threaded into your hair to add a splash of color and pizazz.

When our daughter first told me she wanted a feather like all the other girls, I have to admit I cringed. Really cringed.

I couldn’t imagine our sweet little bean with a Steven Tyler-like feather in her beautiful curly tresses.

Eventually though, because Jeffrey and I try not be ogres (well, at least most of the time), we told our daughter that if she really wanted a feather, we would let her get one if she worked hard at a challenging personal goal she was trying to achieve.

We set a date, marked it on the calendar, and gave her several tools and suggestions to help her reach her goal. Then we set her free to do it.

Somehow it reminded me of when I was training for my first New York City Marathon, and the calendar I had made charting out my 16-week training schedule. It seemed epic at the time, and I had no idea how I’d ever get through my first 10-mile run, let alone get to the finish line of a 26.2 mile race. But having a visual chart made all the difference. It was a constant reminder.

The same held true for Olivia. Like marathon training, many days were tough, but at the end of the day, after she worked her hardest and did what she need to do, she put a check mark on the calendar, and each time we could see her confidence grow.

Well, last Thursday her calendar was finally filled with check marks. She reached her goal.

I never imagined that a hair salon appointment could ever turn into a family celebration, but that is exactly what it was.

Photo of hair feather being put in girl's hairWe took Olivia to the salon immediately after school to pick out her feathers . She chose her favorite colors, pink and red, and the stylist quickly crimped them into her hair. All the while Jeffrey took pictures with his IPhone and I blinked back tears as I watched Olivia’s pride glowing in the mirror.

Photo of Steven TylerNowhere did I see visions of Steven Tyler. All I saw was a sweet little girl who had kicked some serious butt and had grown in multiple ways along the journey.

I clearly never would have chosen a feather for Olivia, but now I adore the look because it represents her hard work, determination, and her ability to overcome a daunting challenge.

The piece de resistance is that she got her feathers just in time for her 2nd grade school picture. Now she’ll always be able to look back at her photo, see those feathers and remember that she can do anything if she puts her mind to it.

Here’s to the feather in Olivia’s cap…I mean hair. This mama couldn’t be prouder (in case you couldn’t tell).

We all need “feathers” once in awhile. I’d love to know what motivates you to stay on track and reach your goals, especially when things get tough. Leave me a comment and share your feathery moments!

Worlds Away THEN… Paying it Forward NOW

THEN:  WORLDS AWAY (Part Two)

Portrait of Cherie Hiser and Tim Green

Tim and Cherie, 1985 ©Phillip Steven Cox, Silver Gelatin Print

September 1988: It’s the end of a hot, lazy summer day in Portland, and my insanely talented and artistic brother, Tim Green, and his ridiculously creative and eccentric wife (at the time), Cherie Hiser, have invited me over for dinner.

In no time the sweltering heat and the fine meal of artichokes, salmon, and sauteed mushrooms turn me into melted butter.

It is then, out of the blue, my sister-in-law says, “You know, I think you should go to Aspen and work for David Hiser.

Cherie, ever-optimistic, and generous to a fault, often came up with ideas that were more likely to be found in made-for-TV-movies.

Her Aspen idea is no exception.

Portrait of photographer David Hiser

David Hiser in the Arctic, 2006

As I raise my eyebrows and shoot her a smirk of disbelief, she says, “No, I’m serious. You’ve worked your ass off paying your way through school. You should celebrate. And it would be a great experience for you to work as an intern for a National Geographic photographer and see what Aspen’s all about.”

Prior to marrying my brother Tim, a gold and platinumsmith jewelry designer and tattoo artist twenty years Cherie’s junior, Cherie had been married to David Hiser. The two had lived in Aspen in the 60’s, and both became photographers, starting the renowned Center of the Eye.

Self-portrait of Cherie Hiser in Aspen, 1968

Birthday self-portrait of Cherie Hiser as Little Orphan Annie in Aspen, 1968 © Cherie Hiser

Portrait of Cherie Hiser and Ansel Adams

Cherie and Ansel Adams ©Cherie Hiser

While David and Cherie weren’t able to hold their relationship together in marriage, they still remained friends, and stayed in touch often.

Portait of David and Cherie Hiser

David and Cherie Hiser in 1968 and 1993

“I’m going to call him,” she says to me as if there is no question about it.

A couple weeks later, as I’m getting ready for work at my bookstore job, making coffee in the tired kitchen of my college rental house, the phone rings. I can feel sparks of excitement coursing through the phone. Cherie laughs, then says in her silky voice, “Looks like you better start packing your bags. David says he’s interested in having you work for him.”

Grand Staircase Escalante

Star trails in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Grand Prismatic in Yellowstone National Park, Quetzal dancer in Mexico, Penan boy hunting with his blowpipe in Borneo, Rock Islands in Palau, Micronesia, Olympic National Park in Washington. All photos ©David Hiser

Oh my god, she was serious, I laugh to myself. I’d completely put it out of my mind, assuming it was just another one of her shoot-for-the-moon ideas. Cherie, who had one of the largest circle of friends and followers of anybody I knew, had a way of convincing people to do things they might not otherwise do.

I had no idea what she said to David to talk him into it, but as she rambled off the details of my Aspen adventure, it barely sank in: “In exchange for sweeping David’s floor and working in his studio, he’ll give you free housing for a month. You just need to get yourself there and have a little pocket money.

Grand Prismatic in Yellowstone National ParkQuetzal Dancer, MexicoPenan Hunter Gather of BorneoPalau, MicronesiaOlympic National Park, Washington

I don’t even know David, having only met him briefly once in Portland at a slide presentation he was giving at one of Cherie’s events. I also don’t know a soul in Aspen, nor do I know a thing about the town, except that it’s a ski resort high in the Colorado Rockies; it is completely off my radar.

I am itching for adventure though, so after scraping together enough money for a plane ticket, I give notice at work, convince my mom I won’t be axe-murdered, then pack my bags a month later and take off on my improbable journey to Aspen.

Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado with fall colors

One of the first things that makes my heart pound when I arrive in Aspen: The Maroon Bells with fall colors. ©Jeffrey Aaronson

NOW:  PAYING IT FORWARD

September 2011: When I think back to the sheer generosity afforded to me by David and Cherie Hiser, along with David’s girlfriend at the time, Barbara Bussell, when I was 22 years old, and the impact their kindness made on my life, I am nearly paralyzed with gratitude.

Without them, I never would have ventured to Aspen, I never would have fallen into the world of photography, and I never would have been swept away by the green-eyed,   curly-headed guy I now call my husband. And without those things, undoubtedly my life would have been much less rich.

Though I’ve thanked the Hisers and Barbara over and over in my mind for the past two decades, I realize the verbal thank yous I gave them years ago do not remotely equate to the gratitude I hold deep inside.

Portrait of Cherie Hiser and David Hiser

Cherie Hiser and David Hiser © 2010 Hiser and Hiser

But how do you adequately thank someone for making such a profound difference in your life? Words seem ridiculously inadequate.

I often tell my daughter that actions speak louder than words, and in the same vein, JFK once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

I can think of no better way to show my appreciation to David, Cherie and Barbara, besides sending them another resounding thank you (THANK YOU!) than to “PAY IT FORWARD,” to make a difference in another person’s life like they did in mine.

While this may sound lofty or highfalutin, and frankly, much easier said than done, for me it has become a lifelong goal–something I try to plug away at every day. Whether it’s teaching my daughter the value of giving back and helping others, volunteering in our community, or getting involved in causes that are meaningful to me, opportunities pop up every day. Just like many of you, I try to do what I can, when I can, and hope in the end, what I do will eventually make a difference to somebody.

Fortunately, I’m surrounded by people who inspire me on a daily basis: from my friend Maggie Bahnson, who raises money for cancer research…to my friend Annie Trout, who teaches kids in Haiti via Skype…to my friend Sarah Chase Shaw, who is involved in numerous leadership roles in her community…to my friend Jamie Allison, who founded Moms in Motion, a fitness group for women…to my husband, Jeffrey, who donates his work to help fund projects like building schools in Cambodia or helping the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan…to my friend Lynne Cage, who is involved in Lyme disease education…to my friend Rhonda Seiter, who is involved in numerous human rights causes…to my friend Kimberly Reeder, who works with children and motivates me to do things like feed the homeless. These are but a few of the people who light a fire in the inspiration department for me.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fill David’s, Cherie’s or Barbara’s big shoes, making a life-changing difference in somebody’s world, but it is one challenge I gratefully accept.

Olivia Haiti Fundraiser

The love of my life, Olivia, age 6, raising money for the earthquake victims in 2010.

QUESTION: I would love to know how gratitude has played a part in your lives. Hearing other peoples’ stories always inspires me, and I’m sure it will spark somebody else’s imagination as well. I hope you’ll share your thoughts:

1) What is the best THANK YOU you ever received?

2) What type of THANK YOU are you most proud of having given somebody?

3) How do you “PAY IT FORWARD?”

Worlds Away THEN… Gratitude NOW

Photo of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, TibetTibetan pilgrim spinning prayer wheels in Lhasa, TibetTibetan Monk at the Jokhang Temple in LhasaTibetan Pilgrims at Tsurphu Monastery

Photos of Tibet: The Potala Palace in Lhasa, a pilgrim spinning prayer wheels in the Barkhor, a Buddhist monk at the Jokhang Temple, and pilgrims waiting to be blessed by the Karmapa at Tsurphu Monastery. All images ©Jeffrey Aaronson.

THEN: WORLDS AWAY (Part One)

August 1988: I don’t know my husband, Jeffrey Aaronson, yet. He’s photographing on the Roof of the World in Tibet. I’ve just graduated from college in Portland, Oregon, and when I’m not working at my job as a bookstore maven or sending out resumes trying to wrangle a real job in the fields for which I’ve just spent a bazillion dollars earning my degrees, I’m tossing back beers with friends, listening to U2 and training for my first Olympic-distance triathlon.

Jeffrey has called Aspen, Colorado home for the past decade, but spends most of the year traveling around the world, living his dream as a photojournalist. I don’t even know what my dream is yet for sure, but the restless pull of life has me aching for adventure. And the tug of my pen has me writing it all down in journals. Even though I would never call myself a writer at this moment, I do realize that I cannot not write; that I’m compelled to dance with words in some form or another, even if I’m just scribbling down musings for myself.

During that hot summer of 1988, Jeffrey’s and my worlds are so far apart—both literally and figuratively—it’s impossible to believe that they will ever collide. But then something so improbable happens, the only way to look at it is fate or kismet…or any of those other sappy words we hate to admit make our skin tingle…

  • Read Part Two in my next post from THEN. I promise I won’t leave you hanging each time—that’s way too annoying. If you’re interested though, stick with me and you’ll soon find out how this improbable couple met.

NOW: GRATITUDE

August 2011: I don’t know whether to be horrified or humored, but more than two decades later I’m still tossing back cocktails with friends, listening to U2 and training for triathlons.

Becky Green Aaronson at the Santa Barbara Triathlon

My biggest little fan after the 2010 Santa Barbara Triathlon

Well, at least in between being a wife and mom, a domestic goddess and a social coordinator for my family…and when I’m not being tortured by Justin Bieber as I taxi sweet Olivia back and forth to camp or play dates…or when I’m not trying to heal a nagging back injury which has left my running shoes in the closet for the last five months (but that’s a whole other story).

And then of course, there’s the writing. Though it has taken me much longer than I care to admit to finally jump into the world of writing professionally, here I am…at last…a writer…writing my book, The Art of an Improbable Life, as well as magazine articles, and now this blog.

Jeffrey Aaronson driving Mabel, his 1959 Rambler station wagon

Jeffrey and Mabel

Jeffrey has been on too many wild adventures to count, but has magically circled back where he started—immersed in an art project about Tibet, trying to use the power of his photography to make a difference in the world. That is when he’s not feeding lettuce to our daughter’s tadpoles or cooking a fine meal for his family or tinkering with Mabel, his 1959 Rambler station wagon.

So much has happened in the last twenty-odd years—from the life changing to the banal, from the heart wrenching to the absurd—I get vertigo every time I think about it.

But one thing for certain, Jeffrey and I know we are living the dream, and we don’t take it for granted. We are both filled with gratitude for all the things that have happened in our lives—from the extraordinary people we’ve met to the friends we’ve made, to the nutty and loving families we have supporting us on both sides, to the numerous improbable moments that have swirled into this life we call our own.

Even on days when my greatest challenge is picking up yet another pint-size pink clothing item off the floor or answering a mind-numbing mountain of questions, I know I’m lucky. Ridiculously lucky. It’s all about gratitude, and appreciating that the improbable has happened for a reason, even if that reason isn’t always clear.

Portrait of Jeffrey and Becky Aaronson