stef woods

Opening My Eyes

May 27, 2016 started out like any other day. I rushed around the house, trying to get everything ready before walking the dog and taking Roya to preschool. I grabbed a mini muffin and a sip of water, when I felt an odd and sharp pain in my chest. I thought to myself:

I’m going to faint. Let me sit down on the floor.

The next thing I knew I came to on the tile floor. I was disoriented and screaming loudly. Roya was crouched over me, gently rubbing my leg and saying:

You’re okay, Mommy. You’re okay. I’m here. Don’t cry.

I made it over to the couch and called Elizabeth, a friend in the building. I somehow managed to convey that I needed help, and she thankfully came over. Within the hour, Elizabeth walked my dog and took Roya to preschool and me to Sibley Hospital.

At 9:15am, the ER wasn’t busy so the doctors saw me quickly. A few of the routine tests (EKG, blood and CAT Scan) followed. After learning that all of the tests were clear, I assumed that I could leave soon thereafter. But, the ER Chief wanted to keep me that afternoon for observation.

Me: Really?!? Why do I need to stay, if all the tests are clear?

ER Chief: Well, it’s good that your tests are clear, but when you came in, you presented as though you might be having a stroke. We just want to make sure that isn’t the case.

Given my medical history, I’ve heard a lot of things over the years. But, a possible risk for a stroke was a new one. I didn’t question heeding the doctor’s advice. (Later, Elizabeth shared that she, too, had the same stroke concern.)

Me, exhaling deeply: OK. Would four hours be long enough to know if I’m no longer at risk for that? See…I’m 100% parent, and my toddler has her school performance today. I would only have to be at the show for five minutes, but I’d really like to represent if I can.

ER Chief [looking at her watch]: Yes, we would know by 3pm. And, I have a toddler, too, so I get it.

Luckily, the next four hours passed quickly and uneventfully. During that time, I emailed the assistant at Roya’s preschool and learned she had a great day. I also gave them a heads up that I would be at the show and told them to let Roya know that I would be in the audience. I was discharged with a referral to see a cardiologist.

My friend picked me up to take me to Roya’s school, and I texted Nanny A while en route. I told her that I would be there, but that I would be looking like ass. (For those who doubt just how bad I looked, imagine especially disheveled hair, no makeup, and an attire of Umbro shorts, a t-shirt and Old Navy flip flops. Nanny A later told me that in two years, she had never seen me look that bad.) Deep down, though, I knew that how I looked didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was there.

Roya’s class sang their little hearts out. Once she walked off of the stage, the magnitude of the day hit me. I went from cheers and applause to sobbing in the back of the auditorium.  I managed to collect myself in the school foyer before Roya saw me.

An hour later, the three of us were back at the house. I went to grab something from the kitchen, when Roya said:

Please don’t fall and lie down in the kitchen again.

I had figured that Roya would say something to me about what happened, and she did. I exhaled before walking toward her, giving her a big hug and responding:

I’ll try not to! That must have been really scary for you. [She nodded.] It was scary for me, too. But, I went to the doctor, and they said I’m okay. And, you were so brave! You’re such a big girl.

Nanny A and I looked at each other, and she nodded in approval. We went back to eating our dinner and then let Roya play for a bit. Roya was intently focused on her toys, when she looked up at me and said:

Your eyes were closed, and I helped you open them.

Nanny A and I both tried to hold back tears at such an incredibly sweet and insightful comment from our almost three-year old.

“You did, Roya. You did,” I replied while giving her as many kisses as I could.

A few days later, I had a realization. Over the past three years, Roya has opened my eyes to so many things in so many ways. God willing, she will for decades to come.

Roya, Stef Woods, City Girl Blogs

As a PS, I met with the cardiologist, and all is indeed well. He believes I had a vasovagal response, and I’ll be keeping a close watch on my low blood pressure.

My 2015 Recap

A year ago, I focused on how my glass was half full. I was – and am – thankful to be a mom and an educator. Nonetheless, as 2014 drew to a close, there were still a lot of loose ends in my life:

  • Was my breast cyst benign or malignant?
  • Could I physically handle my job? (I only had six days between my lumpectomy and the start of the semester. I had three new classes to teach and 30 more students than the previous semester. And, I still had my usual two migraines a week.) Assuming that I could handle the added responsibilities and that the cyst was benign, would my full-time contract be renewed?
  • Was I really at peace with no longer being in a relationship with The Man? Or, would I return to my old pattern of going back to an ex-boyfriend?
  • How would I fare at being a single mom?
  • Where would Roya get into preschool? (The DC preschool hustle is an interesting process with applications, recommendations and interviews.)

Today, I can reflect on all of those questions and stressors with a huge sigh of relief.

Most importantly, surgery in January revealed that the cyst was benign. My November MRI showed no evidence of cancer. According to my oncologist, I now have the same risk of anyone else my age of getting breast cancer. Breast cancer thus becomes a disease I had, not a disease from which I’m in remission. That matters clinically and psychologically.

On the work front, I’ve been able to handle all of my responsibilities effectively. My contract has been renewed through May 2017, and I get excited every time I head to campus. I recently was asked what I liked best about my students. I paused as I tried not to shed any tears and replied, “How much time do you have?” I know how lucky I am to truly love what I do.

I also appreciate where I am professionally. If an opportunity as a panelist or expert doesn’t benefit my continued role as an instructor, I have the ability to respectfully decline. Choosing what’s been the right fit has led to some amazing opportunities, though. A few highlights:

  • Speaking about The Hunger Games to a sold-out audience at The Smithsonian;
  • Being interviewed by Associated Press about drone technology;
  • Filming a short video for WebMD about what to expect when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer; and
  • Talking about selfies for American Magazine.

With respect to The Man, I do not doubt that we were meant to meet and fall in love. I also do not question that we are no longer meant to be a couple. He was put in my life so that Roya would be born. He was a love in my life, and there will be another in the future. She is the love of my life.

As far as being a single mom, I don’t view that term — or my reality — as a negative. Roya is a great kid, and I’m thankful to be in control of every day and every decision in her life. And, I can exhale, knowing that she ended up in the right preschool for her.

Is our life utopic? Of course not.

Parenting is joyously exhausting (or exhaustingly joyful?). Between Roya’s sleep patterns, grading and curriculum development, a five-hour stretch of sleep is a good night for me. And, it would be nice to have time to see my friends, work out and write. But, I know how privileged I am to say that the toughest parts of my year were lack of sleep, missed brunches, and wanting to fit into my skinny jeans.

stef woods, city girl blogs

As we change the calendar to 2016, I pray that the new year brings Roya and me more of the same. I am truly content with my relationships, my family and my job. I go into 2016 without any loose ends. Roya and I are blessed to be happy and (knock on wood) healthy. I hope the same for you and your loved ones, too. xoxo

Enjoying Every Moment

I recently wrote the following as a Facebook status update:

Many tell me to “enjoy every moment with Roya.” I assume they mean, “enjoy every moment that’s not sleep deprived, covered in spit up, or involving you cleaning poop off of places poop shouldn’t be.” (I’m thankful to have a very good baby, but she’s still a baby!)

Several of my friends responded in agreement. Quite a few others tried to assuage my guilt or feelings that I wasn’t a good parent.

From a sociological perspective, the latter reaction both fascinated and disappointed me. Parenting is simultaneously joyous and exhausting. Most people with children wouldn’t deny that being a parent is the most rewarding role they’ve ever had and also the toughest role. Why is it a bad thing to admit that the joys and the difficulties of parenting aren’t mutually exclusive? Why is this yet another occasion when women are expected to feel guilty because every minute of every day isn’t perfect? Is a female less of a mother if she acknowledges that parenting is the hardest work out there? Isn’t it time that we – as mothers and as a society – stop making women feel guilty for how they parent or how they feel about parenting?

I don’t feel like a bad mother for admitting that cleaning poop off of the wall at 6 a.m. isn’t a moment to be savored. In fact, it’s the antithesis of fun! That’s just the reality. It doesn’t need to be sugarcoated or packaged up in a nice gender-normative pink bow.

In the overwhelming majority of households, mothers are expected to perform most of the childcare duties. It’s time that we didn’t add the need to feel guilty to our already overflowing plates! Having a healthy and happy child is all that matters! We owe it to ourselves to not give into the pressure to feel bad about whether we work outside of the home or not. whether every item on our to-do list has been completed, and how we measure up to any other mother we know. There is much in life as a parent that we can’t control, but we do have control over whether or not we feel guilty about making the right choices for ourselves and our families.

When it comes to parenting, all that matters is that we do the best we can. If we’re on the receiving end of a well-intentioned comment to enjoy every moment, just remember that nostalgia is a powerful elixir complete with rose-colored glasses. Then, just smile and say, “Yes, as much as I can.” At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be expected to do more, and our children deserve nothing less.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there was a Little City Girl.  Her parents raised her with love, support and opportunities.  They let her know that she could be anything that she wanted to be when she was older.

At 14, Little City Girl told her father that she wanted to go to Wellesley College and become a lawyer.

“Why do you want to be a lawyer?” he inquired.

“Because I like to write, debate and help people,” Little City Girl replied.

When she went to Wellesley several years later, the professors also impressed upon her and her classmates that they could be and do anything.

A college internship brought City Girl to Washington, DC, in 1993, and she fell in love with the nation’s capital.  After her internship ended, she stayed in DC and got a job as a legal assistant.  She went on to law school, and when she finally started to work as an attorney, she was thankful that an instinct that she had 12 years prior was the right one.

In her first job, she noticed that wearing a short skirt or a fitted sweater to work prompted inappropriate comments from her bosses.  With each subsequent position, she sported more pants suits and felt more comfortable informing male colleagues that their behavior was unacceptable.

She also learned that although her dating stories were entertaining, she had to be selective about what she shared with co-workers.  One partner only knew that she was dating an NFL player – without any specifics – and thought it funny to walk into a meeting after a football game, saying:

Your boyfriend can’t handle his balls.

In theory, she could do anything professionally that she wanted.  But, unfortunately, that didn’t mean that her age, gender, appearance or sexuality wouldn’t be topics of conversation or affect other people’s perceptions of her around the office.

When City Girl left firm life for a nonprofit, she began doing some legal policy work.  She always relied on facts and the law, rather than emotions, when speaking about a polarizing issue, but that didn’t stop a few very conservative people from sending her office hate mail.  Her former boss approached her about doing policy work exclusively.  She was flattered, but she worried that she would miss working directly with the clients if she chose that path.

In 2008, she decided to take a sabbatical from the law to focus on health issues and finish her master’s program.  As she prepared to write her thesis, she thought it would be fun to start blogging about her dating adventures.  She chose to blog anonymously so that if she reentered the policy arena, her sexuality wouldn’t be used against her.  (If she had received several pieces of hate mail and comments about her appearance or significant others without provocation, she knew that her sex life and dating mishaps would become ammunition for those who disagreed with her politics.)

As her blog readership grew, she began attending events as City Girl.  Quite a few people in DC knew both her real name and blog link, but they kindly respected her privacy.  Local online publications were also understanding, taking her picture with her name or quoting her as City Girl without using her name or face.  She managed with the help of others to remain anonymous from the legal policy world.

In 2010, City Girl wondered if it was worth taking another year away from the law to see where her blog could go and start teaching sexual health workshops.  She joined the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and attended their annual conference. She also found a platform, as she wrote about the use of toxic ingredients in sex toys and the need for self-regulation.  Lotus Blooms and Fascinations at Fun Love approached her about writing for their sites and reviewing body-friendly products for them.  She began to ponder how she could advocate for safe sex toys on a larger scale.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2010, she decided to use her experience to try to raise awareness and help others.  Her friends and doctors knew that she was willing to talk about what she was going through, and opportunities to do just that followed.  The more that she talked about her experience and let others in, the more she wanted to continue to do so.

She finished chemotherapy and realized that she is stronger than she thought that she was.  She also realized that there’s much more for her to do as an advocate and that it’s time to come out from behind her laptop.  If she can help one more person through her blog, her photographs or her interviews, it’s worth it.  She accepts that she may never work again in the legal policy arena, although she wishes that there wasn’t a double standard with respect to female sexuality in the workplace.

Once upon a time, there was a City Girl with long, red hair named Stef Woods.

Stef Woods, City Girl, City Girl Blogs


Photo Credit: Kristina Hopper Photography

She’s bald now, but she still feels sexy.


Stef Woods, City Girl, City Girl Blogs

Photo Credit: Moshe Zusman Photography

Although she’s not exactly sure what will happen next, she trusts that she will live happily ever after.