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Update – Stewart Family 40 by 40

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As you might know, Jon and I worked on lists of 30 things to do each before we turned 30. After we each hit that milestone, we created a new list of 40 things to do before we turn 40.

We’re both now 33, so how are we doing so far? The summary is that we’ve accomplished 7 things and made demonstrable progress on 3 more. See our full list below.

We purchased our first home last year, and have had a great time putting in small updates here and there to make it our own. We also replaced the foundation, which is a very responsible and incredibly uninteresting update for a house. #boring #earthquakecountry

We created one source of (relatively) passive income in renting out one of our cars on the weekend using Turo. We typically don’t need two cars during the weekend days, so this is a great way to make extra money with little effort. We’ve been doing this for the last 8 months or so with no problems so far. Here’s our referral link if anyone wants to check it out to either rent a car or rent out your car – I believe it gives you a credit when you use this link.

We bought a king-sized bed. It’s great.

We had a 2nd kid (hi, Cam!), which was one of our private goals (now you know!).

We paid for a child’s cleft lip surgery. This was much cheaper than we realized (Operation Smile says $19!), so we decided to donate for several children instead of just one.

We attended a Garth Brooks concert in Sacramento – it was as amazing as I hoped.

And I participated in a Thriller Flash Mob last Halloween. Video here. It was completely out of my comfort zone but I enjoyed it! #pregnantanddancinginthestreet

We’ve made progress on a few others – we did one no-kid vacation a few months before Cam arrived when our friends offered to take Brooklyn for the weekend so we could get some adult time before being the parents of two. I’ve done a bit of blogging on professional topics, but have a ways to go before getting to my goal of 10. We did one camping trip with Brooklyn last summer at our CSA farm, Eatwell.

Here’s to more progress before 2016 finishes!

Stewart Family 40 by 40 List

For our family:

  1. Have a dog join the family.
  2. Live and/or vacation internationally for at least one 3 month period.
  3. Take a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park.
  4. Jessica & Jonathan take at least 3 trips with no children, including one for our 10th anniversary.
  5. Take one trip with a destination we decide after having already arrived at the airport to leave.
  6. Lose a collective 15% of our combined body weights keep it off for one year.
  7. Be financially able to purchase a home (or have purchased one).
  8. Make a trip to an Auburn football game in an RV.
  9. Renew our marriage vows.
  10. Create one source of passive income.
  11. Participate in a TV show audience.
  12. 5+ family camping trips.
  13. Take a trip to Europe as a family.
  14. Visit Disneyland.
  15. At least one of us donates our hair to a good cause.
  16. Take a vacation in which at least part of the time is spent on a humanitarian/volunteer cause.
  17. Two weeks of no screens (phones, TV, etc.) after 5pm.
  18. One month of exercising every single day.
  19. Pay for a child’s cleft lip surgery.
  20. Foster at least one animal.
  21. Spend one month eating vegan as a family.
  22. Own a king-sized bed.
  23. Plant a tree.
  24. Private Goal 1
  25. Private Goal 2
  26. Private Goal 3

 

For Jonathon:

  1. Have a conversation in Spanish with our daughter.
  2. At work, be managing a team of people.
  3. Attend the Homebrewer’s Conference at least once.
  4. Take a beer judging class to learn to be a better taster.
  5. Participate in a long-distance biking event.
  6. Join a nonprofit board of directors.
  7. Take a cooking class series.

 

For Jessica:

  1. Participate in a flash mob.
  2. Try karaoke.
  3. Attend a Garth Brooks concert.
  4. Officiate a wedding.
  5. Be a mentor to someone.
  6. Donate blood 6 times in one calendar year.
  7. Be known professionally as a model for work and life balance.
  8. Try out blogging on professional topics (at least 10 posts).
  9. Participate in at least one endurance exercise event.

 

Cameron Nicholas Stewart – Birth Story

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Cameron’s birth was a great, empowering experience. Just how I was hoping it would go. What I didn’t know was that immediately after he was born, things would go in a really unexpected direction and that I would end up in the ICU. Like many moms, I spent a small amount of energy worrying about how the birth would go – would the baby be OK? And he was and is. But things didn’t go quite as smoothly for me, and I feel grateful to be here today to be able to write this story down as part of the process of moving on from the experience.

Cameron’s Birth

It was Saturday, April 9th. I was one week past my due date, which was mostly fine with me. I was hoping things would get going with labor soon, though, since my mother-in-law was leaving town on Tuesday after being in town for two weeks. Our plan was to have her take care of Brooklyn while I was in labor and then for a few days in the hospital, and I was hoping we wouldn’t have to send her back home without her having gotten the chance to meet her grandson.

Our doula Renata (a doula is someone to coach and support moms through their pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum experience) had made some suggestions throughout the week about some ways to induce labor naturally, and so I’d tried some of those. I was even going for walks every day at this point to try to move things along, which was very painful for me given that I had developed SPD (symphysis pubic dysfunction – a condition that doesn’t impact the baby or cause complications but is very painful and doesn’t resolve until the baby is born).

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The play structure took up even more space than we anticipated, so here’s Jon holding one of our removed car seats in the front seat on our drive to the restaurant.

Jon and I had discussed buying a small outdoor play structure for Brooklyn to play with this spring and summer and we’d located a used one in Richmond on Craigslist. While Jon’s mom took Brooklyn to the library, we got in the car and headed to pick up the play structure at about 11:30am. On the drive, I started feeling some crampy pains and was hopeful that this was labor. We arrived and it took quite a while to load the structure in the rain. The woman who sold us the structure asked how far along I was, and when I told her I was 41 weeks, she said that she had read about an essential oil that can induce labor and would I like some? Sure, why not. She brought some out and I rubbed a bit on my wrists.

The pains continued, and when we left I timed a few of them – 3 minutes apart. I was getting more hopeful that this was it, so I suggested we go to lunch since it would likely be one of our last chances to do so alone for quite a while. We decided on Juan’s Place – a great Mexican spot in Berkeley where we had gotten takeout on the night we got engaged. #besttortillachips

We called our doula before going inside to give her the update. During lunch the pains got more intense, but still manageable. We headed home after that and went upstairs to our room so that I could have a quiet place to be while things progressed. Being me, I sent off a few quick emails and printed off a few forms to put in the mail for FSA reimbursements. #alwaysworkingonmylist

The contractions increased to a point where I needed to pause the conversation during them, and Jon started helping me get through them with the double hip squeeze, a strategy that was magic for me during Brooklyn’s labor and delivery.

Renata joined us a few hours later and helped me get into positions to help the contractions be more productive (squatting, for example), and also reminding me to breathe through them and relax my body instead of tensing up. It’s amazing how intuitive it is to tense up during pain like that, and how counterproductive that tension is. Deliberately relaxing all the parts of your body makes such a difference in how you experience that pain. I appreciated her reminding me every time I got caught up and was tensing my jaw, my hands, etc.

I had a slight fear of delivering the baby outside of the reach of medical professionals – not because I was worried about the delivery itself (I even told people in the weeks before birth that I felt like I would be fine delivering just about anywhere if I had to), but because I wanted to be sure that if the baby needed any medical attention upon arrival that we’d have access to that. Given that, I decided that I was ready to head to the hospital around 5:30 pm or so. We spent about another hour doing a few more strategies to move things along and get things ready (loading the car, saying goodbye to Brooklyn, putting stamps on those forms to be mailed, etc.) and arrived at the hospital at 7pm.

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Last picture as a family of 3 before heading to the hospital. About 3 hours before Cameron joined us!

In triage, the doctors checked and told me I was 7cm dilated (for those of you unfamiliar with birth, you’re aiming for 10cm dilated to start pushing), which was great news. Several nurses commented that I didn’t seem like I was in labor at all – apparently I was much more calm and smiley than they are used to for someone at this stage in labor. If that’s true, the credit goes to Jon and Renata for helping me effectively get through the contractions so that I could relax (and even do a little dancing) between them.

By 8pm, we were in a labor room where we got settled and Jon put on my most recent playlist from my phone (which, it turns out, is more than 50% T-Pain – perhaps good music to help dance a baby out?) and I got through most of the contractions standing up with Jon and Renata to coach me through. When things started getting tough to get through, I asked Jon to show me videos of Brooklyn, and those were really helpful in taking my mind off the contractions at least a little bit. Things progressed quickly.

By 9pm, I was having incredibly strong contractions and was fully dilated. I let folks know that I was going to start pushing. The amniotic sac was bulging but had not yet broken. The midwife (Kaiser Oakland uses midwives and residents instead of obstetricians for low-risk births) told me that they could break my water and it might help speed things up. At that point, I was ready for this baby to be born and I enthusiastically agreed. We’re not sure exactly how long I pushed this time (with Brooklyn, I pushed for more than 4 hours – whew), but we think it was about 20 minutes. It was INTENSE. Much more intense than I remember the pushing with Brooklyn to be. It felt like he was crowning for what seemed like forever. Renata kept encouraging me to look at Jon’s eyes, and his smiles and encouragement really carried me through those very intense minutes. He was helping me count through the pushes, and I remember being unable to push for more than a few seconds at a time because I needed to stop to breathe.

As women who have had babies know, laying on your back while pregnant and especially while in labor is really not comfortable. I was most comfortable either standing up or on my knees for this part of labor, and so that’s the position I decided to push in and deliver the baby.

After those 20 minutes or so, he was born! I flipped over onto my back and they handed him to me with the cord still attached. They delayed the cord clamping at my request for a little bit of time, and then Jon cut it. He was a big guy! 9 lbs 12 oz and with a 99th percentile head circumference. We noticed how much hair he had – so much more than Brooklyn had at birth. He was immediately a champ at breastfeeding, and I was just blissed out – proud of the strength of my body and mind in creating and delivering this beautiful baby boy. This was the birth experience I had been hoping to have.

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A few minutes after birth.

Placenta Accreta

Within a number of minutes, things changed for the worse. In a normal birth, after the baby is born, the placenta is delivered. This typically happens within half an hour of the baby’s birth (it was within just a few minutes of Brooklyn’s birth).

My placenta wasn’t being delivered as expected. At first, the language used by the doctors was that it was just taking a little longer than expected. But after a long time of trying to deliver the placenta, it was clear that it was not going to come out on its own. And a placenta cannot just stay in – if it does, it can cause a mother to bleed out.

At this point, we needed to try to manually extract the placenta. They tried this in the labor and delivery room, and it was a painful process. It did not work.

The next step is to do a more intense version of this in an operating room with a spinal block to manage the pain. I was upset to have to leave Jon and the baby to have this done, but I was confident that it would be successful and I’d be back with them in an hour or so.

The procedure was not successful. While the doctors were able to remove a part of my placenta, not all of it would come out. During the procedure, I lost a significant amount of blood and had my first blood transfusions of the day. They decided to try for a long shot – waiting to see if my body would absorb the remaining part of the placenta. This was unlikely to work, but was much preferable to the alternative.

It turns out that I had placenta accreta, which is where the placenta attaches too deeply into the uterine wall. This is a rare condition – about 1 in 2,500 pregnancies, and even less likely for someone with no risk factors. There are a variety of risk factors (prior C-sections, miscarriages, or abortions, being over age 35, etc.), but I had none of them. There are symptoms (having a pre-term baby, bleeding during pregnancy, etc.), but I had none of them. I am nearly the poster child for a woman who is highly likely NOT to experience placenta accreta, in fact. But, alas. Just an extremely unlucky turn of events, and not one anyone could have predicted (this is so rare and can be hard to diagnose, so it’s not something that is screened for in pregnancy unless there is a reason to believe a woman is at risk).

I was taken to a recovery area where Jon and the baby were able to spend time with me – I was grateful to be with them, but I was in a lot of pain. My body was trying to deliver the placenta, and so I was having very strong regular contractions. I was also continuing to lose blood. Through this, I was trying to enjoy this new baby boy and establish a strong nursing relationship (the nursing was likely making the contractions worse, but it was important to me to breastfeed him as much as I could in this first day of life). Jon remembers this time as being very tired (we’d been up all night), with alarms going off all the time as my heart rate would change and with me so groggy that I’d fall asleep mid-sentence. He remembers Cameron being pretty relaxed – we’re grateful for that.

I spent about 12 hours in this state – strong contractions, loopy on pain meds, trying to nurse a baby and understand what the doctors were telling me about my condition. I continued to get blood transfusions. I called my mom to update her that the baby had been born and what was happening with me.

It was clear after several hours that my body was not going to be able to deal with this on its own – I was losing too much blood and the placenta needed to come out. And the only way to do that is to remove my uterus – a hysterectomy.

“Hysterectomy” is not a word I had ever associated with young women, nor is it something that I ever imagined I’d need to experience. It’s scary, to be honest.

I was surprised at how calm I was with this news. Of course, having a hysterectomy means that I could never be pregnant again. Jon and I were pretty sure that 2 kids would be our stopping point, but of course no one wants that decision made for them. But – we didn’t really have any choice – frankly, I was losing too much blood too quickly and this was the way we were going to save my life. I have two babies to raise, lots more living to do, and my parents definitely don’t deserve to lose their other child just a year after losing our beloved Nick. The choice was clear.

This is a specialized and rare surgery – an emergency hysterectomy on a woman who has just given birth. It took a few hours to get enough specific surgeons from around the Bay Area to the hospital before I was taken a few floors away to the main operating room (apparently we had graduated from the labor and delivery operating room and needed something more equipped for serious surgery). I was given general anesthesia, and the last thing I remember was twisting my wedding and engagement rings off swollen fingers (I’d been getting intravenous fluids for 12 hours at this point) because I heard a doctor mention that they might need to cut them off – luckily, I was able to twist them off just before I was knocked out.

The surgery took several hours. I woke up in recovery and they told me that it had been successful. One major win was that they were able to remove the uterus while leaving in my ovaries. This is important – it means that I won’t experience the hormonal changes that women with full hysterectomies experience. I will not go into early menopause. And, if I ever wanted to have another biological child, I could still use my own eggs with a surrogate to do so (though I doubt this is a route we’d ever take, it’s surprisingly comforting to have that option available).

I had lost a lot more blood in the surgery. At this point in the day, I had received enough blood transfusions to nearly or completely replace my entire body’s blood volume (9 units).

I spent the next 30 hours or so in the intensive care unit (ICU). It was frustrating – I was dismayed at having to be stuck in bed and unable to move. There were so many IVs in both of my arms that I could barely move them, and my arms were incredibly sore. I had a major vertical incision in my abdomen, which is an incredibly vulnerable place physically and mentally to have such a wound. I was also not with my baby boy nor my husband.

I knew that these first few days after birth were important for establishing my milk supply, so I asked my ICU nurse to help me get a breast pump so that I could pump milk for Cameron to drink. I’m grateful that these nurses, who certainly don’t spent a lot of time with breast pumps in the ICU, obliged me and helped make this happen. Jon would make the trip up from the labor and delivery floor every so often to retrieve the milk I’d pump to take to Cameron.

Renata was so helpful throughout this – being with the baby while Jon was with me (he visited me right after I arrived in the ICU and helped set me up with a few things to help me be more comfortable), helping to advocate for Jon and the baby to get access to a postpartum hospital room to spend the night while I was in the ICU, etc.

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Cameron Nicholas Stewart, named after his uncle Nick.

I was finally transferred out of the ICU on Monday evening and got to move to the postpartum floor to be with Jon and Cameron. A few friends came by that night to bring dinner and love – it was great to have a little normalcy for a few minutes. The next morning, Jon’s mom brought Brooklyn to the hospital to meet Cameron and I’m so grateful to have been able to be there for those moments. In the next few days, we received good care and visits from a few more friends with treats and meals and hugs. In addition, when Jon’s mom had to leave town, our friends picked up the slack and split up the duties of picking up and dropping off Brooklyn from daycare, keeping her overnight, etc.

My parents had planned to come into town the following week, but as soon as I knew about the hysterectomy they changed their flights to get into town much sooner.

The blood tests I took on Tuesday night came back stable – I didn’t need another blood transfusion on Wednesday. Given that, we were able to leave the hospital on Wednesday afternoon to head home. This felt both too soon to leave after such a major medical event and way too long to have stayed in the first place – I was ready to be home.

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Just before heading home from the hospital.

Cameron is now two and a half weeks old. My parents were here for nearly two weeks but just headed back home themselves, and Jon and I are on our own with two beautiful kiddos. We’ve been the beneficiaries of sweet gestures – people bringing dinner, sending recovery items for me, taking Brooklyn for a morning playdate so we can get a little sleep, and more. #grateful

Recovery has been tough at times – with unexpected things like strong pains in my arms after the IVs, fatigue as my body builds back up my levels of iron after such significant blood loss, and a crampy stomach for several days as my internal systems got themselves organized again after such a crazy few days. At this point, my only remaining “issue” is the still-healing incision. I am so eager to have it all healed up so that I can move again like normal. I don’t like feeling so fragile.

The hospital sent a social worker to speak with us on our last day. She helped us know what to look out for as we process through what we experienced – signs that we were experienced post-traumatic stress, etc. I feel OK emotionally about all of this, which surprises me a little bit. I’m aware that that could suddenly change and I could break down emotionally from the trauma, from the loss of the ability to have another pregnancy, etc. For now, though, I’m OK and very grateful for that.

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My parents meeting their grandson for the first time.

Life really threw us a curveball with this experience, but there are so many ways it could have been much worse and that perspective has been helpful. I got unlucky in having this condition happen to me, but I got very lucky that I was in a big city hospital with access to the right specialist surgeons and enough blood reserves that doing what it took to keep me alive was possible. My baby boy is healthy, Brooklyn is totally in love with him, and we have family and friends to help us get through this.

Life is still good, and the best is yet to come, I’m sure. Onward.

Hope, Joy, Justice, Community, & Serenity – Reflections on 2015 & Hopes for 2016

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ValuesFriends and family –

2015 has been an intense year for our family.

After saying goodbye to Jessica’s grandmother last December and our cat Bailey the month before, we started off 2015 hopeful for a great year. As the calendar turned, tiny Brooklyn was sitting up on her own and laughing all the time.

In March, we got the devastating and shocking news that Jessica’s younger brother Nick had suddenly passed away. We were blessed to be able to spend time home with family to begin the process of mourning the loss of such an incredibly beloved brother, friend, and son. Nick was a light to all who knew him – one of the funniest people you’d ever meet, and a sweetheart who always took care of the people around him. He loved his niece Brooklyn and told everyone that would listen about how much she looked like him (and how he was going to turn her into an Alabama fan one day). The pain of losing Nick is a daily part of life for us still, and we are so blessed to have had him in our lives.

At the same time we were mourning this incredible loss, we were proud to be becoming homeowners for the first time. We moved into our new home in the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland in April, and had dozens of friends surrounding us as we warmed the house up a few months later while also celebrating the birthdays of Jon and Brooklyn.

Our baby girl is such a joy. She’s growing and learning at such a rapid pace – we can barely keep up! She loves dancing, reading books, waffles, oranges, and her friends at daycare. In late March or early April of this coming year, she will become a big sister and we are confident she is well-suited to this role.

At work, Jon is leading the team that supports a data-informed culture at Education For Change Public Schools, a network of 6 public charter schools in Oakland. Jess is still at GO Public Schools and is excited for new work of growing the organization’s impact to support parents and educators in communities across California to come together for educational equity in their communities, and continues to serve on the board of Camp Phoenix, an organization that provides a 3-week overnight summer camp for Oakland children.

As we look to next year, our intentions have been set: we will work so that 2016 is a year of hope for a world that continues to bend its arc towards progress, of joy in our adventures and in our daily lives, of justice across our city and our country, of deepening connections with our community, and of as much serenity as is reasonable with two children under two in our home. And better football outcomes for both the Auburn Tigers and San Francisco 49ers.

We are grateful to have you in our lives. We hope 2016 is all you want it to be, too.

Our best,

The Stewart Family

An historic day

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Sweetie –

CIbo0UxUYAAwImzWhen you grow up, I am very hopeful that hateful speech and laws toward people who happen to love differently than your father and I is something you only experience in history books (will we still call collections of information or stories “books” when you’re grown up?).

Today is an historic day for our country. Today, marriage equality became the law across all 50 states.

It didn’t just happen. It took decades of work by activists, and lots of sacrifice. Though your father and I have chosen to focus most of our energy on educational equity, it is important that we pay attention to the intersectionality of other struggles for justice, and support those issues too. So we played a small part in this fight, too (with our donations of money and conversations with friends and acquaintances). But there are those who have given immeasurably to today’s victory and I am so grateful for their work and what it means for the world we are raising you in.

You will choose your own issues on which to work, and we will do our best to help you learn how to be a good ally when you choose to support issues for which you are not directly impacted. We are still learning how to do this ourselves.

Today – June 26, 2015 – you just turned one year old, it’s a sunny day, and love won. What a celebration!

It is our duty to fight.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
-Assata Shakur

To Our Daughter on Her First Birthday

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012a026d59ec8e9cde83fdd6a9775a7102293142a5Baby girl, it’s hard for us to put into words how much we are completely and totally in love with you. We can’t have a conversation between the two of us without talking about how much we love you.

You are a fun kid. We have a blast with you every day. You are smiling or laughing so frequently. Your daycare providers can’t get enough of you – you throw your arms open as soon as they open the door each morning. You love playing hide and seek. Our favorite game is to toss a blanket or scarf over your head and then start frantically looking for you. You take it off and then start giggling as you watch us “look for you”. When we finally “find” you, you just laugh and laugh.

You are a loving kid. Whether it’s “kisses” for mommy and daddy or abusing and grabbing patting Barnum, you are so affectionate. Even when you are playing independently, you always find your way back to us to get a little time cuddling before getting back to playing. You get the biggest smile on your face in the morning when we open the door to your room, and when we pick you up in the afternoons from daycare. Trust us, we are just as excited to see you too.
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You are a completely adorable kid. While I want you to know how much more you are than your physical appearance, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how ridiculously cute you are. From the very first day you were born, we haven’t missed a day where we didn’t mention to each other how cute you are. You have these incredible cheeks, beautifully long eyelashes, and a smile that just melts our hearts. The first time we captured your smile on camera we could barely tear our eyes from the photo after you’d gone to sleep that night. We both changed our cell phone backgrounds immediately so that we could have your sweet smile with us all the time.

We have had a lot of adventures together. We’ve been on more than a few handfuls of airplanes to visit our family and to explore Ixtapa, Mexico. You have eaten strawberries fresh from the plant, made friends with the many children being born into our community with you, visited Auburn (War Eagle!), knocked on voters’ doors to discuss the importance of school 011dd991c1ffb3dc30a0b18ed4465ed7ce5e9b6ed0board elections, had an epic first birthday party, enjoyed an A’s game, eaten just about every type of food we can buy, started to use the potty, bought our first family home, brewed beer with Daddy, went swimming in many pools and in the ocean, shared snacks with your friend Goldie, pooped in the bathtub (more than once), walked on the Bay Bridge, had a great time in many music classes at the library, been on hikes, met Santa, seen our Warriors win the NBA championship, and enjoyed so much of what our wonderful city of Oakland has to offer.

We also had some extremely low lows this year. We had to say goodbye to your great grandmother (Grandma Ann), to our cat Bailey, and to your Uncle Nick. There aren’t words to fully represent how completely devastating this has been. We can’t go a day without thinking about their loss and wishing they were still here with us. It is awful that you won’t get to know them better – we loved them very much, and we know you would have too. We are very glad you IMG_0446got the chance to meet each of them. Your great grandma was so proud of you – one of the things she did in her final days was make sure to send you a beautiful dress to wear to your holiday parties. Your uncle Nick is gone way too soon, and it’s devastating that you will only get to experience him through our stories. After meeting you he couldn’t stop talking about you – he was so proud that you looked like him and told everyone about it. The book with sounds he gave you for Christmas is one of your favorite toys. During our darkest times this year with these losses, we’d often say, “Brooklyn is the sunshine.” You arrived in our lives at exactly the right time to help us get through this year. And we didn’t just get through it – we had some really incredible times with you.

Here are some of the things we hope to continue to instill in you in the coming years:

  • IMG_0363Go out and do things that help others. Put your hands on the arc of the moral universe and push it (hard) towards justice.
  • If something in the world is not the way it should be, change it. Not only can you make a big impact, but it is your responsibility to do so given your privileges.
  • Be independent and try it on your own. You will fail often, and that’s what it takes to really figure out the world.
  • Eat whole foods. Mostly vegetables.
  • People are good – believe that at your core and it will change how you interact with our fellow human beings.
  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Guard your thoughts, as they create your reality.
  • Be deliberate about your gratitude – say out loud every day the things for which you are grateful.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Barnum is not going to cuddle with you if you keep pulling his tail like that.

We love you so much, baby girl. So deeply and so completely. We’ve said to each other for years and it’s now true about you, too – “You’re the best part.”

Love,
Mommy & Daddy

Nicholas David Eastman Eulogy

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imageI hadn’t ever considered what it would be like to write a eulogy for my brother. If I had, I’m sure I would have assumed I’d have another 40 or 50 years before that would be asked of me. It was painful and healing at the same time. I am moving through my grief, one foot in front of the other. There have been gifts – I’ve never felt more close to my parents, I’ve gotten the chance to see family and friends, and I’ve spent countless time remembering Nick’s life. But this is also the most painful thing I have ever experienced. What a rollercoaster.

Sharing my feelings with my broader community has been so helpful these last several days. So, in that spirit, I wanted to share some more memories of Nick here.

Nicholas David Eastman
Eulogy
March 18, 2015

Friends, loved ones, and family –

It is an honor and privilege for me to pay tribute today to a very special person, my brother Nicholas David Eastman. Thank you for being here on this tragic occasion to pay your respects to my brother. Many of you have traveled long distances to be here and my family and I are very grateful. Everyone’s love, condolences, and memories have helped us get through this difficult time.

Nick lost his life far too soon. He had a lot left to accomplish and many more people to make smile, and so it is terribly sad that he is not here with us today.

This morning as I found a quiet moment to write a few words to share with you, I imagined he was sitting with me helping me tell his story. I know he’d want me to tell you about my favorite memories of him and about the impact he had on all of us, and so I’d like to share some of those stories and lessons he taught us now.

Nick was loyal and dedicated to those he loved. The last time I spoke with Nick a few weeks ago, it was because he was calling me to let me know that one of our family members was in the hospital (she’s fine now – it was a brief illness). He had tried to call her cell phone but she wasn’t answering, so he found the phone number to her hospital room and tried that. No answer still. So he began calling around to different nurses’ stations in the hospital until he was successful in charming one of them to bring her personal cell phone into the room so that Nick could speak with our family member and make sure she was OK. He always put family first, and this story is just one of many that makes that clear. He would never leave a conversation or an interaction with us without saying, “I love you.” Because he had trouble saying Jessica when he was first learning to talk, he has always called me Sis. So whenever he said goodbye to me, it was always, “I love you, Sis,” or, when he was feeling fancy, “I love you, Sister”.

In this, he taught us how to make family our first priority.

He was also quite the charmer – he could convince people he’d just met to do just about anything. People just adored Nick. He was hard not to love. This served him well in his brief career as a telemarketer where he was significantly more successful than any of his coworkers at selling newspapers with that country boy accent that would inspire trust from anyone with which he spoke. He used these charming abilities on our family as well. Each Christmas Eve, my mom would say that this year would be the year we were going to wait until Christmas morning to open up all of our gifts. And each year without fail, Nick would eventually succeed in convincing her to let us open just one (or sometimes two or three) presents on Christmas Eve. And he was the most successful of our entire family in convincing my Aunt Rhonda to make her famous chocolate gravy for him for breakfast whenever she was with us.

In this, he taught us that if you treat people well and take care of them, they will do the same for you.

Being around Nick was guaranteed to be a fun time. His laugh was infectious – I found a video in the last few days where he is laughing along with his baby niece, and I can barely stop myself from watching it over and over again. His friends have been sharing memories with us these last few days, and almost without exception, they are stories of long laughter and so much fun. If you were in a serious mood, you better expect that to change really quickly if Nick was around.

In this, he taught us to not take ourselves too seriously and enjoy life.

We had a typical brother/sister relationship growing up. We’d argue with each other and then be back in each others’ good graces within minutes. I can just hear our young voices yelling out across the house – “I hate you, get off the phone while I’m on it!” or “No, it’s YOUR turn to mow the lawn!” followed shortly thereafter by “Do you want to watch a movie?” or “Do you want to eat some macaroni and cheese with me?”.

In this, he taught me to forgive and forget so that you can have space for love.

He took care of people. When I was in college, a friend of mine offered to change the oil in my car. My friend was embarrassed that he was unable to find where the oil filter was. I knew my brother would know, so I covered for my friend by calling Nick and telling him that I was changing my oil and couldn’t find the filter. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, Nick was on the other side of the line saying, “Oh my god. Jess. You cannot change the oil in your car. Stop it. You do not know how to do this. Drive to a Jiffy Lube right now.” (And then to a friend nearby) “Can you believe my sister is trying to change the oil in her car? My god.” Even though he was my little brother, he was protective of me. And clearly he did not have a lot of belief in my mechanical skills either. During my wedding weekend, we were having a brunch the morning after the wedding. He accidentally got the location of the brunch wrong and showed up at another fancy brunch spot that morning. When they told him that they did not have a reservation for our wedding party, he immediately asked to speak to a manager because he was not going to let anything mess up his sister’s wedding weekend. He could not believe that this restaurant had lost our reservation! Luckily, we eventually got in touch with him and were able to let him know that, while he was fighting the good fight at that restaurant, we were in the meantime happily dining already at another spot across town.

In this, he taught us to take care of our people. In that spirit, I’d like to share a poem that has taken care of me in the last few days.

The Unfinished
Do not judge a biography by it’s length,
Nor by the number of pages in it.
Judge it by the richness of it’s contents
Sometimes those unfinished are among the most poignant
Do not judge a song by it’s duration
Nor by the number of it’s notes
Judge it by the way it touches and lifts the soul
Sometimes those unfinished are among the most beautiful
And when something has enriched your life
And when it’s melody lingers on in your heart
Is it unfinished?
Or is it endless?

Nick and I were football rivals from the time we were kids. As all children growing up in Alabama do, we had to pick a side. I chose Auburn and Nick chose Alabama. Though I always refused to cheer for Alabama in any situation, Nick wanted to find a middle ground. Though he certainly always wanted his Tide to win, he also wanted Auburn to win anytime that they weren’t playing Bama. He knew that Auburn winning would make me happy, and so he’d cheer for my team as often as he could. I was always staunchly opposed to this idea and could not imagine myself cheering for that other school no matter what. Well, Roll Tide, Brother. I’ll be cheering for your Crimson Tide (as long as they’re not playing my Tigers) because I know you’ll need someone here on Earth doing your cheering for you.

I know that it will be very difficult for my family and I going forward without Nick in our lives. However, I also know that my brother would not want us to be overwhelmed with sadness. He would want us to smile when we remember him, so let’s make him proud and try our best to do that.

Goodbye, Nick. Goodbye, Brother. We will be loving you from afar every single day until we join you.

Want to be great at your job? Structure opportunities to give and get feedback.

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As you might have seen in our list of 40 things to do before we turn 40, one of the things I’m trying is blogging about professional topics. I set my measure of success for “trying this out” as writing at least 10 blogs. I’m going to see if I can manage one per month for a period of time. Are there particular topics you’re interested in? Let me know in the comments or via email/FB message/carrier pigeon.

Context
For context on me professionally for those of you who aren’t my colleagues, I got the opportunity to engage in leadership development in high school and college via various student organizations and then started my career as a teacher for four years in Oakland. I then transitioned into a staff role at Teach For America Bay Area as the Director of Teaching and Learning. I then transitioned to my current role of Managing Director at GO Public Schools Leadership Center.

The workstreams and areas of responsibility of my current role have changed quite a bit over time. When I joined the organization, there were just a few of us. We are now a team of nearly 20 full-time employees – in short, we provide information, help develop and organize leaders at the grassroots and grasstops levels, and do policy and political advocacy (the politics is done with our associated 501(c)(4) org).

One of My Favorite Structures for Giving Professional Feedback
noahs_ark_photosculpturFor this first topic, I’m cheating just a little bit. I was asked to write some tips for the Tip of the Day blog at New Organizing Institute a few years back, and a version of what you see below was  one of them. I figured it couldn’t hurt to share with you all!

We all know that getting and giving good feedback to our colleagues and volunteers is a critical part of running successful organizations and winning our campaigns. It’s important to offer feedback regularly in our work – sometimes daily and weekly – to our colleagues. But we all know that structures can support us to be better than we might be without them.

One of these structures that helps me prioritize giving feedback is one I’ve learned over the years from those wiser than myself — it’s called a “2×2 conversation.”

In brief, it’s a conversation in which each person shares:

  • Two things that they think they are doing well in their own work
  • Two things they want to improve upon in their own work
  • Two things their colleague is doing well in their work
  • Two things they think their colleague could improve upon in their own work

Before the conversation, we’ve found it’s best if the two people engaging send each other an email with their thoughts. Then schedule a lunch, coffee, or walk and discuss your thoughts and ideas about how the two of you can take your work together to the next level.

At this point in my career, I’ve probably had more than thirty 2×2 conversations. And regardless of the situation, I can honestly share that every one of these conversations has been helpful. I’ve gotten excellent feedback from managers, those I manage, and lateral peers, and gotten to share thoughts with others that I might not have otherwise made time to share given a busy schedule.

We have in the past done organization-wide 2×2 conversations at least once a year where teammates have these conversations with several staff with whom they work closely, and we also schedule one for 6 weeks into someone new joining the team (with that person’s manager).

There’s little that’s more important to your work than how you interact with your teammates. Those working relationships are worth the investment, and this is one tested strategy that you’ll love.

Have another tip on giving feedback? Share in the comments!

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