Monday, December 31, 2007

Wheeling Out

It's something like day ten of my "vacation" from work and I'm only now beginning to relax a little bit.  I went through some seriously strange emotions in relation to checking my email, for example.  I worked like crazy the last few days before break so that there wouldn't be anything pressing for me to attend to while we were in San Diego, but then I found myself with a wicked email addiction that didn't go away when the work went away.  So for the first several days of the vacay I had to fight powerful urges to open the inbox.

It passed, thankfully, and so did thoughts of work.  Of course, the India trip looms, and I haven't prepped hardly anything for my spring class, so when I did happen to think of work, a regurgitation of panic wells up in me over everything I have to do before next Monday, and I have to hum and rock myself a little bit just so my head won't explode.  This has happened a few times, and makes me want to throw my computer against the wall so that I won't ever have to check email again, so loathe am I to even think about getting back into the swing of things.  I am like the smoker who smokes like a chimney, then quits, then gets all righteous about quitting and can't even stand the barest whiff of smoke.  Email (i.e., work) is my cigarretes at the moment.

Of course, all of this is made more difficult because of the fact that there really was no "vacation" at all.  Nolie barely slept a wink the entire time we were in San Diego, and Eric developed a snore that emanated from the depths of hell, and we slept on a hide-a-bed (need I say more?).  So I was tired and probably crankier than I realized (sorry everyone).  There were many awesome moments, no doubt about it, and I love my in-laws deeply.  The weather in San Diego was gorgeous, and I was overwhelmed with the love and generosity of this family.  I was a little wiped out by the whole thing, though.  And maybe also a little bummed that I wasn't able to relax more.  I think I was just wound so tight from the shenanigans of the fall semester that it's taken this long to unwind a little.

Just in time to head back to work on Wednesday.  I'm guessing my presentation on nanotechnology (which apparently has been given 12 minutes out of the entire ten days, one minute for every hour of time change I'll be making.  Not that I'm complaining!  I have no idea what I'm going to say, even now, a week before I leave) will get done on the plane, and the paper due for another conference will get emailed out from the airport.  I was kind of hoping to not begin the semester that way, but here I am.

Why is it such a battle to stay centered?  The struggle sometimes makes me wonder if I'm doing the right thing.  Is this the life I want to be living, so busy and fast?  I'm not sure, not sure at all.  I find myself facing another spring where I'll need to do more questioning, more reflection, to make sure I'm not just on the hamster wheel for the spinning's sake.  I need to envision what I want for my life (a big component of which needs to be peace).  So, does this mean some tiny adjustments (a massage once a month?).  Or a bit one (like a career change?).  Scary work to be done.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Winter Festivus

Addie's preschool had their winter carnival last weekend, and Addie and I went.  There were crafts, and a big potluck, and the music lady led the kids in some rousing holiday carols (including a kickass version of the Kwanzaa Song, which seemed to puzzle many of the smiling but baffled parents in the room, none of whom were African-American, I think).

Anyway, all throughout the festival, I had these moments where I was filled with swelling pride for Addie.  I was proud of the fact that she came to the festival (on one of the coldest days of the year) dressed in these little red capris, which are droopy in the drawers, a completely unmatching orange, too-big shirt with bell-sleeves, and brown and pink cowboy boots.  Her hair had some serious cowlicks in it, too.  All the other little girls were dressed in frilly, foofy Christmas dresses, tights, and little princess shoes (in case you hadn't noticed, princesses are big among the 3-5-year-old set).  But I don't think Addie noticed the discrepancy.  She is always most interested in being comfortable--she hates anything tight or scratchy, and loves what she calls "soft pants"--velour pants with elastic wastebands in bright colors, or sweats.  Princess clothing is noticeably uncomfortable, with lots of scratchy netting and itchy, constrictive bodices.  Addie is only theoretically into princesses, at this point.  Thank God.

I don't know.  I guess I was just really glad to see her there, looking all Ramona Quimby, totally at home with herself.  Her friends were really happy to see her, and gave her big hugs, and dragged her off by the hand to run screeching around the big reception room.  I know that in a year or two she'll probably really start caring what she looks like, and kids might start to make fun of her for scratching her butt in public so much.  And maybe, internally, she's starting to think about these things, too.  For now it's cool to see her just being Addie.

I was also proud of her when she didn't get a jingle bell handed out to her during the caroling, and she didn't freak out or anything.  She just held up her little fist, imaginary bells clutched tight inside it, and shook it up and down in time with the music.  And during crafts, when everyone else was making cards for "Santa," Addie was making a friendship card for her buddy Zachary.  Awesome.

The best part, though, was at the end.  This being my first Winter Festival, I didn't know how things go.  But apparently a lot of the other parents did, because the minute the last song ended, several of them swooped down into the group of preschoolers, grabbed their kid, and clawed and scratched their way into what was to become the Santa line.  By the time I figured out what the hell was going on, we were behind 45 kids all wanting to sit on Santa's lap.  At this point, the stomach flu that was about to hit me for the rest of the weekend was coming on, and I wasn't totally sure Addie would sit in the old guy's lap anyway, and so I explained to her that we wouldn't be able to see Santa this year.

"I can totally see him, Mom!" she said.  "He's right there!"
And he was!  He was right there.  She hung out in front of the stage for a few minutes, staring at him and sucking on her hair.  Then she was ready to go.  So we left!  No tantrums, no freakouts, no wailing about toys or expectations or anything.  And again I was proud of my girl, and so glad in that moment that she was her strange, quirky little self.  Because she is just one of the best people I've ever met.  Christmas blessings abound.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pooball Effect

I was talking to another working mom the other day who was dealing with the fact that she was going to have to find a new preschool for her son because the preschool we use now has too many kids in each classroom, and it freaks him out.  She wasn't worried about her son per se, but more about the disruption of having to find a new school that would work for him, and about having two drop-offs (her older son is really happy at our preschool), and about just having to change the whole routine they were all accustomed to.

I totally empathized.  Sometimes I think the only way working parents can make everything gel is by adherence to a pretty strict routine.  Knowing what time you drop your kids off, where, how you sign them in, and that there going to be relatively safe for the eight or so hours you're at work is pretty priceless.  If you don't have the routine, then you're much more likely to forget lunchboxes, class pictures, briefcases, meetings, etc.  Then you're more likely to be cranky, more prone to conflict with your kids, more likely to think you can't hold it all together.

And, of course, the whole "holding it together" is mostly an illusion.  Things come up all the time over which you have no control, and staying organized is really unimportant in the face of big things (I'm not totally screwed up in my values here) like loving your kids, and spending time with them, and just letting everything go to shit once in a while so that you can relax and be together.

But in realistic, day-to-day terms?  The routine is really, really important.  And when those unexpected things happen to mess up the routine, it's amazing how it can throw everything else off.

Like the kids being sick for the last week.  Eric had to stay home with the girls today again, and I was home with them yesterday and last Friday.  Eric was on two days last week, too.  So that's a lot of missed work, a lot of stress on the parents missing work, a lot of worry about the sick kids, and so on. 

We hung in there pretty well until today.  Eric was grumpy from the get about having to stay home with the kids (I had a five-hour meeting at work that was pretty much mandatory).  Then I got to feeling grumpy at him for being grumpy, and felt guilty about not being home to do my job as mom.  Then I had a bad day at work that made me wonder if I had made the right decision going on the tenure-track, which made me wonder why I was busting my ass at a job I was going to fail at, all the while also failing my family at home. 

So, recap:  Feeling like a failure as a mom?  Check.  Feeling like a failure as a wife?  Check.  Feeling like a failure as a professional?  Check.

The reality, of course, is that I'm not failing at any.  What was happening is that the routine was disrupted, and the illusion of control and management was disrupted.  One area--parenting--was getting the shakedown, and so the shakedown spread to the other areas.

Snowball of parenting guilt-anger-resentment poo.  Making it a pooball, I guess.  Which is what I felt like I was eating all day long.  Big, stinky pooballs.

Here's to eating less poo tomorrow.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Soup, Poop, and Croup

I was totally wrong--it wasn't the bacon bean soup at all!  It was the puking and pooping flu!  And since last week was end-of-semester crunch time for me, poor Eric had to stay home with poor, spewing Nolie.  Luckily, it passed after a few days.

Which was just enough time for Addie to get....croup!  With record-high temperatures!  Which she still has, despite the fact we give her inhuman amounts of children's Motrin all day long! 

Really, it hasn't been so bad, though.  We got hit with the big winter storm, and cozied up with the two little snot-balls all weekend, and Eric made the best french onion soup I've ever tasted in my life, and we all hung out and drank beer and stared at our Christmas lights and watched t.v.

The kids didn't drink beer.  But they had lots of Motrin.

Anyway, we had a taste of relaxation, and I liked it.  I have some publications due out in the next few weeks and it's going to take every last bit of strength I have to rally and finish them, because every cell in my body wants to camp out on my couch and be laaaaazy.  So I'll make a little time for that, and some time for the work, and it will all get done, and life is good.  Feverish, but good.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bacon Bean Soup Poop

I love Nolie's daycare provider.  Love, love, love her.  She is sweet and kind, smart and funny, and is incredibly awesome with the kids.  She used to be a Montessori teacher, so she's great with teaching them to be independent, but she's also really loving.  Nolie is absolutely in love with her (and if you know Nolie, who still sometimes screams when strangers look at her wrong, you know how amazing this is).  When I dropped Nolie off the other day and said, "Give mommy a hug," Nolie went and hugged Lori.  But I don't take this the wrong way--I'm thrilled that she's bonded so closely with her.  Lori is like Mary Poppins--nearly perfect in every way.


My only small, tiny, nevermind critique is this:  she feeds Nolie bacon bean soup.  Like, a lot of bacon bean soup.  I can understand the impulse--Nolie's a very picky eater, and when you find something she actually likes, your inclination is to feed her a lot of it, because who knows what and when she'll eat next?

The problem is that bacon bean soup creates the soupiest, bacon beaniest poops I've ever seen in my life.  In, bacon bean soup; out, slightly sour bacon bean soup.  This smells unbelievably foul, especially because I'm a vegetarian (though I'm not sure bean kale soup would be any better).

When Addie was talking to my mom on the phone last night, my mom asked Addie how Nolie was doing.  Addie responded, "She's been pooping a lot."  Pot calling the kettle black, though, because a few minutes earlier, Addie had tooted and Eric asked her if she was the one who was so stinky, and Addie responded, "Nope, that's just my finger!"

Anyway, when I dropped Nolie off with Mary Poopins this morning, I didn't say anything, except that she better put a lot of diaper cream on her butt if she's going to feed her more bacon bean soup.  Which I hope she doesn't.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Thirst Calls

Since before leaving for England, my left eye has developed a funky little twitch when I get over-tired.  I don't think other people can see it, but I'm not sure.  I definitely notice it, and it makes me self-conscious, in addition to just being annoying.

I'm a-twitchin' away today, that's for sure.  Ms. Magnolia has what seems like six thousand molars coming in at the moment, and she hasn't been sleeping worth squat.  She's been waking up throughout the night for the past few nights, wanting a little extra love and comfort as she grinds those molars into existence, crunch, crunch. 

So it didn't seem that strange last night when she woke up around 9:30 and wouldn't go back down until past midnight.  Oh, she'd fall asleep in my arms or on Eric's shoulder, but the minute we put her down in her crib, she would wake and begin to scream.  We gave her tylenol, rocked her, played with her, held her, changed her, but nothing was working.  Finally, we left her in her crib to cry, figuring she'd have to get up eventually.  She didn't.  An hour later?  Still crying.

That is, until one of us figured out she might be thirsty.  Eric got her some milk, she drank it, and five minutes later was out.

How dumb is that?  Isn't that, like, the first thing you try as parents?  I don't know why we didn't think of it.  It was a good reminder that you can think you know what you're doing, and you get complacent and smug, and then end up slapping yourself in the forehead for being such an idiot.

I love parenting.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Stepping Away from the Spinning

Much of the content of this blog has to do with my struggle to keep balance--making time to take care of myself physically and emotionally, making enough time to enjoy and raise my girls, committing enough at work (but not too much), making sure I nurture my marriage, and so on.  My line of thinking lately has been that there is no such thing as "balance" when you're a working mom, where all of the balls are actually in the air at once.  It's more like plate spinning, where you're running around between the poles, spinning plates as they are just about to drop, ignoring some when they get going on their own, dropping others when you don't reach them in time.

I'm wondering if this is the right metaphor, though.  It does, after all, keep you running, and the focus is on plates falling, which is acting from a place of fear.  It puts one on the defensive.

I'm wondering instead about Wayne Dyer's idea in Being in Balance. He argues there that it is not about changing daily practices that will bring us in balance, but rather "about realigning yourself in all of your thoughts so as to create a balance between what you desire and how you conduct your life on a daily basis."

This focus on thoughts (you are what you think) is one of the central tenets of New Thought (unchurch), so I'm familiar with the idea.  But I'm exhilarated and terrified by the notion that I have so much power in my own life.  What if I were to set an intention that is totally out of step with the safe routines (plate spinnings) I've established so far?  What if I welcomed changes into my life, spaces that allowed me to fulfill those intentions?  How destabilizing.  A new paradigm, maybe.

My friend Marshall is doing this now.  She has left behind her safe routines for a while, setting her intention toward living a full, authentic life, whatever that ends up meaning for her.  I think she's exhilarated and terrified, too, if her writing about that experience is any indication.

Could I do that?  Not up and leave everything behind, of course, but set a grand intention for living the life I actually want and desire?

Yes.  I think I can.  The hard part will be to figure out what that intention is.  So, my interim-intention (Smile) will be to welcome some clarity about what kind of life I want to be living.  I intend to find out what my intentions are.  I make space for those messages. 

Hooo.  Scary. 

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eating Her Curts and Ways

A few days before I left for England, a senior colleague pulled me into his office, sat me down, and said, "You know, Jen, there are people in this department who find you, well....curt.  I just thought you should know."

I've been thinking a lot about this episode, and I have multiple levels of reaction to it.  On the one hand, it was humiliating--I felt chastised, a little, like a kid who has mouthed off again.  My colleague's wife was sitting at the desk, nodding, which also made the whole thing feel a little like being pulled into a principal's office.

There's also a part of me that's angry about it.  I'm guessing there is a strong gender dimension to this talking-to, and I have my doubts that any of my male colleagues have ever received "advice" in this way.  Women aren't supposed to speak up, and most don't, in my division.  The fact that I do, rather than "keeping my head down" while trying to get tenure, marks me as a target.  And, this colleague told me that there is one person in particular who finds me abrupt, and that this person doesn't know me well (he's new), but my colleague wanted me to know how "other people" in the division see me, which is probably code for how he sees me.  Add to this the fact that he has also consistently asked about where my kids are when I'm at work (his wife is a stay-at-home mom to their three kids), and whether or not I'm having more kids, and--well--I'm feeling a little sensitive around this colleague.

But he's also a nice man, with good intentions, and I think he genuinely thought he was helping me.  It's no newsflash that I'm curt or abrupt, either.  It's certainly part of my personality.  And particularly this semester, when I've bitten off more than I can chew, I tend to be pretty focused when I'm at work, not too chit-chatty.  So, I'm guessing that part of my strong reaction to the comment is because it's at least partially true.  At the risk of sounding defensive, though, I will say that I work with many of my dearest friends, and I feel like I have deep, fulfilling relationships with most of my colleagues.  I was a little taken aback, then, by the sting in his comments.

Still, putting aside the galling context of this conversation, I like to use moments like this for some self-reflection.  I really have been off-kilter this semester, and was starting to feel crabby and small before the trip.  I don't have a good sense of how this translated to the outside world, but I do know that I wasn't feeling quite right, either.  I was having the racing mind, a pessimistic vision of the world, and a general sense of despair (just scroll down to some old posts for evidence).

Anyway, something happened to me in England.  I'm not sure if it was the long hours of plane and train travel, during which I read and meditated and just existed, to my heart's content.  Or maybe it was the long hours of aimless walking around London and Lincoln, with no real destinations in mind, just wandering.  Maybe it was the sleeping and eating when I felt like it, rather than according to schedule, or just being out of my routine.  Whatever it was, I feel like someone reset.  The judgments and fears are a lot quieter now, and I'm feeling so much joy.  Joy at my kids screaming MOMMY! when I get home.  Joy at the snow that's finally started to fall.  Joy at glasses of wine and my husband's warm body in bed at night and at the plodding ahead of work.

I was also reminded to reintegrate meditation, prayer, and yoga into my life, to make time for those things, even if it means sacrificing some work hours or sleep.  When those elements fall out, everything else in my life is out of whack, too.

Anyway, so this is where I am:  I am curt, and abrupt.  But I also have a huge capacity for listening, and sharing, and for being a good friend, and colleague.  So, a little correction, but not a huge one.  As Nanny is always reminding me, I am on my right path.

England was also incredibly beautiful, by the way, and that sort of setting always helps to rejuvenate, yes?  I'm sure India will be a completely different experience.  The only things I've been told so far are to buy a costco-sized box of Immodium, and that the "entire country" smells like urine.  Everyone wonders why in the world I want to go.  But no second thoughts for me.  I can't wait.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Off Again

I woke up yesterday morning sick, sick again, my body telling me to knock all this shit off.  Can't get back from a trip to New York and just jump right into everything and just expect no pushback.  So I rested some yesterday, even though I should have been grading papers, finishing my draft for the conference next week, writing an abstract.  I just stopped, crawled into bed last night, let Eric love me some, went to sleep.  Today I'm trying to catch up, get ready to get on the plane for England tomorrow, totally unprepared.  But that's what the all-day flight is for, right?

We have a new kitty, Mei-Mei, who adopted us, sort of.  She's two, and tiny, white with gray spots and a striped tail, and sweet as anything I've ever seen.  Nolie is absolutely obsessed with her.  So, we're a three-cat household now, which I never anticipated, but which is lovely, having these little lovies all around us.  Prudence and Sadie are not so sure, but we think they'll come around.  Maybe I'm extra attached right now because I'm leaving so much.

I'm headed to India in January after all, making for a lot of traveling in a little time.  I'm trying to explain next week's trip to Addie, but it's hard to know how much she understands.  Eric says both girls we're asking for me this weekend, and seemed relieved when I got home.  So a week away will be tough, so soon, and for so long.

There's the missing Eric that happens, too.  In New York one night, a few of us went out to a jazz club where Miles Davis had played, and I knew Eric would have loved it.  And I felt sad that he wasn't there, resolved again that when I got home I'd start to make arrangements for us to go out more together.  Because there's nobody in the world I'd rather be with, out in the world, and we just haven't been making it happen. 

Still, I'm looking forward to walking London, to riding the train through the countryside, to spending a few days just talking about movies at the Spielberg conference.  I'm looking forward to sleeping in and eating and just wandering some.  And I'll be just as glad to come home, and to breathe a little as we head into Christmas.

I've also resolved not to travel in spring, to re-root, re-center, and get some things figured out.  Again.

See you soon...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Happy to Wake Up

My goodness, THAT was a doozy, that wave of depression that, thank God, lifted when I woke this morning.  I won't go on too much about it--I'm guessing most of you reading this know what it feels like--except to say that I could feel my thoughts speeding up the way they used to all the time, before I started to heal a few years back, and I felt sad and heavy, and easily forgot that it would pass, that I wasn't stuck back where I used to be.  Scary.  But I'm okay now.  Thanks to everyone who sent kind words, reminding me I am connected, caught in a web of friendship and love.

I'm thinking about how it must be for Eric and the girls when that happens to me, not in any sort of guilt-inducing way, but just to reflect and be aware.  Addie's been having accidents again the last few weeks, usually one a day, but a couple of times she's had three or four in a row.  Mostly I try to be patient, remembering how my anxiety during potty training only made things worse.

But then I got pulled into that depressive cycle, and my patience got thin, and I slipped into some ugly self-righteousness ("Why am I the one doing sixteen loads of laundry a week?  This can't go on!").  In short, I started getting a little huffy with Addie, asking her to please listen to her body when she needs to go potty, and insisting that I wanted no more accidents this week, or else.

I hated how I sounded when I said it, and I knew it wasn't the right way to go, but I wasn't in my right mind enough to know how to fix it, either.  Until.

Until I walked in on Addie in the bathroom one day last week, sopping pee up off the floor with a hand towel.  She jumped, literally jumped, when she saw me.  I got it instantly.  She was scared.  Of me.  Scared what I would say, scared I'd be mad at her, scared I'd shame her.  This little tinykins, my baby, was scared of me.

So, no more.  I just released in that moment all of my anger and judgment and righteousness, and hugged her.  I also instituted a new policy wherein every night, before bed, I tell Addie three things I liked about her that day, whether it was the way she laughed first thing in the morning, or helped her sister with a puzzle, or made a beautiful picture.  Two little adjustments--letting go of judgment, and reminding Addie how special she is in three concrete ways every night--have made a huge difference for us.  She hugs me and sometimes cries when I tell her the special things at night, which tells me she really needed to hear them.  And I don't have to hold anybody (not myself, not her) to ridiculous standards about things that don't really matter.  Phew.

It would be nice if I didn't have to keep learning these lessons over and over again, but apparently that's not the way I'm built.  It would seem I need the two-by-four to the head a few times before I get it.  But that's okay.  I'm learning.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

All Gloom and Doom

I've been posting a lot on this blog.  It's just been all in my head, rather than actually on the computer, so you haven't seen it.

For example, I was thinking about a post where I wrote about how strange it is that I'm thirty-two years old, and only just now have discovered how amazingly delicious pomegranates are.  How is it that I only recently had one for the first time?  And how great that little things like that come my way, to remind me that everything is not old, that I have things to experience and see for the first time still?

I also wanted to write about how I'm really hoping I get to go to India for work in January, and how scary and awful it is to leave my family for such lengths of time, and how incredibly exciting it would be for me to get to go!  To India!

Or, I could be writing about how the whole family was sick again the last few days, and how hard this is.  That I curled up and cried on the couch for an hour Monday morning because I was just so sick and tired, but the girls and Eric were home, and were sick and tired, and I couldn't just be sick and tired but also had to be mom and wife.  I just wanted for a little while to disappear.  Really.  I didn't get to, though, and this made me angry.  And then I felt guilty for being such a baby, and for feeling angry.  But that's where I was.

Mostly, I think I've been a little depressed, and have been in a bit of an existential crisis, I guess.  It seems to me that we're really in for it in the next fifty years or so, what with peak oil and global warming, and I'm mostly terrified about the whole thing, and it's coloring everything I do.  I look out of my beautiful house at the leaves wafting down out of the trees, and wonder if they will be alive when my kids are grown.  I worry there won't be enough water to drink, or that my girls will be at war, or will be raped and killed.  I wonder if I should continue teaching and pouring money into a 401k and dealing with trivial shit I don't care about.  Probably not.

Writing this down, I see how crazy it all looks.  And I have been feeling crazy, for sure.  And mad.  And sad.  But in the meanwhile my life is sort of passing me by, and if all this bad stuff does come to pass--which it might not (I mean, the goodness of the world is great, despite what it seems sometimes)--then I'll sure be pissed I didn't enjoy this time more.  My negativity isn't going to help much, especially if it's not focused into action, that's for sure.

I guess I just feel possessed by the weight of it, the badness in the world, and have been sucked under a little.  I probably also have been working too much and have not been meditating enough, and definitely haven't been exercising as much.  So I've been ignoring my best tools in the fight against the gloom.  Best to go back, to tend my own garden for a little while, and then figure out how to re-enter the fight not quite so heavy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monkeys and Dragons and Grumps, Oh My!

Halloween this year was like all holidays with young children:  a mix of the totally magical and the totally exasperating.  We might as well have been hot-pokering Nolie for how much she screamed getting into her dragon costume.  And she's also going through this incredibly piercing screech-owl phase, so Nolie screaming is wicked intense.  But she loved being out in the wagon, which is her favorite place on the planet, and enjoyed picking handfuls of candy out of the bowls (and then shoving the candy, still wrappered, in her mouth.  I wondered how much pee is on those wrappers, but then decided just to let it go.  For once.)

Addie had an awesome time pretty much throughout.  That girl would have trick or treated all night long if we let her.  She'd ring the doorbell, scream trick or treat, and then jump up and down, wiggling and giggling when people gave her candy.  Then we let her have two pieces of candy when we got back, and she chose to unwrap two dum-dums and suck on them at the same time.  "This one's sweet, Mom!  And this one is sour!  Now sweet!  Now sour!"  Cuteness incarnate.

Until the sugar-high wore off, at which point she turned into someone I no longer wanted to be associated with.

The obligatory pics:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stubborn Like a Fox

Have I mentioned how STUBBORN my first-born is?  How intractable?  How mulish?

Like yesterday, when she finished going potty and then did not want to put her underwear and pants back on, even though it was super chilly in the house, and I'm worried about her smearing her poo-streaked butt all over everything?  And so she insists on putting her underwear on over the outside of her pants, like some crazy frat-boy?

Or the gyrations we go through every morning over what she is going to eat for breakfast?  It always has to be yogurt plus something whitish-brown, like graham crackers or pancakes or waffles.  But not TOO brown, because if there are any brown parts she absolutely will not even look at it and definitely will not eat it, and will most likely dissolve into many tears and pull her hair and tell us we're not her mommy anymore?

Or how she swears that the Spanish word "turquesa" translates to "turcolor" in English, not turquoise, and gets very, very angry when you suggest otherwise?

Thankfully, she can also be sweet and kind and funny.  Like if her sister is feeling sad or hurt, she will pat her gently and say, "It's alright, baby girl.  You're alright."  Or Eric and I will be kvetching about how shitty our workdays were, and she'll loudly interrupt with a "What are you guys talking about, Willis?" which always gives us the giggles.  Or she'll get the giggles at something we said, and she'll tell us we're "cracking her head open" because we're so funny. 

It's a good thing, too.  Because if we only had the stubborn stuff without the sweet, funny stuff, we might indeed think about cracking her head open.

Okay, not really.  But seriously, where did this girl get this from?

Don't answer that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shy and the Family Stone

I'm sneaking this post in mere minutes before I'm supposed to go introduce a speaker to a few hundred people here as part of a lecture series.  Having to do this makes me shaky and throw-uppy.  Which totally pisses me off.  Put me in front of a class of thirty kids, and I'm a natural.  I dance, I sing, I throw chalk.  I'm more at ease there than at home soaking in the tub.

But put me in front of hundreds of people I don't know, and my knees start to shake and my voice shakes and my hands get cold and I feel like a three-year-old.  People tell me, "breathe."  People tell me, "speak.....really......slowly."  People tell me to imagine the audience in their underwear.  None of this works.  Even remotely. 

Weirdly enough, I feel the same at cocktail parties, when I have to make small talk with two or three people at a time. 
What is this about?  It's so annoying.  I feel like I have confidence with my friends and families and as an instructor, but then having to say a few words introducing somebody else for god's sake totally unnerves me.  I mean, it's NOT ABOUT ME.  So why do I sweat it?  Having to get to know somebody else puts the fear of God in.  Why?  I like people.  I like making friends.

I guess I wonder what this says about my so-called "confidence."  I guess I wonder if that's mostly manufactured, dependent on levels of control that just don't exist in every social situation.  Which maybe doesn't reflect very kindly on me.

Or maybe I'm just a naturally shy person.  People laugh when they hear that, because I've been known to do a fierce karaoke version of "Baby Got Back," and I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut every minute of the day.  But I'm also pretty private, and need a lot of my own time.

Got to go.  Hands cold?  Check.  Legs shaky?  Check. 


Friday, October 19, 2007

So Big

Addie and I had such a sweet moment at bedtime last night.  She's practicing "putting herself to bed," meaning one of us no longer falls asleep with her, only to wake up cramped and cranky two hours later, her perched up on one elbow looking at us and smiling.  Instead, we're trying to help her put herself to bed, so that she feels safe and loved but also able to go to sleep by herself.

So, we were in her bed, talking about her day, and I was trying to wrap things up so that she'd go to sleep, and I was telling her how much I loved her.  "Tons and tons," I said. 

"From here to here?" she said, stretching her arms out.

"Bigger," I said.

"From here to there?" she said, pointing to the ceiling.

"Farther," I said.

"Big enough to hold thousands and thousands of stars?" she asked.

"Yes!" I said, beaming at my incredibly poetic, verbal daughter, marveling at how story-like our existence is, how we practically have walked right of the pages of Guess How Much I Love You, a reverse skedaddle from fiction to real-life.

She paused for a moment, looking at me.  I imagined her thinking loving thoughts.


Then she pokes me in the boob.  And says, "As BIG as your BOOB?"

Yes, you little monster.  THAT BIG.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Germs Suck

I woke up Tuesday knowing something just wasn't right, and after spending a few hours trying to run errands and work, I gave up and took myself to the doctor, where I got some high-powered antibiotics to wipe out the sinus infection.  I was home Wednesday, and went back to work Thursday, easing into the rhythm of things, making headway.  Back in the office after class, I see there are four messages on my cell phone.

Nobody ever calls my cell phone.  Thoughts immediately turn to disaster.  Eric.  The kids. 

Oh boy.

Turns out Nolie has a 102 temperature and is hot and fussy, and her care provider couldn't get a hold of me and Eric couldn't and he had to get her to the doctor and also get Addie picked up and could I please help where are you?

Everybody's fine, of course.  I rushed home to find Nolie laughing in her high chair, shoving mac n cheese down her throat.  The ear infections (in both ears, the little over-achiever) aren't even that bad, the doctor doesn't want to give antibiotics right away, thinks tylenol will take care of it.  This sounds totally dubious to me (she's not even a doctor, she's a PA, but aren't antibiotics overprescribed?  But won't they knock the infection out?  I'm too tired to know what to do).  We'll try it.  I interpret the infections as a sign from the gods that we have to wean her off the bottle.  I picture the little pools of milk collecting in her throat, fomenting infection in her ears.  Silly of me to interpret it this way, but I've got to find someone to blame.  Blame and guilt, blame and guilt.  The bread and butter of the working mother.

Don't read too much into this.  It's just cold and flu season, and there's nothing that puts things to the test like everybody feeling like shit.  We feel bad, but we're good, life is good. 

It's the germs that suck.

The Mommy Wars

God, I hate that, this whole "Mommy Wars," thing.  What an evil fabrication.  What a stupid phenomenon.  How destructive.

Anyway, here's a decent article.


The Truth of the Mommy Wars

My children are now 19 and 23 years old. When they were young, and I was an associate professor of developmental psychology, I used to spend a good deal of the scant time I had alone in my office worrying about child care, fretting about whether my children would grow up to feel unloved and abandoned. I had watched my own mother, with a Ph.D. in chemistry she never used, struggle with depression and isolation in a sea of suburban moms who shopped, and I suspected that I had made the right choice for my children as well as for myself. But plenty of people did question my decision to continue full-time work after my children were born. Ironically, at the same historical moment, my neighbors who were full-time mothers also worried, wondering if they were squandering their potential or spoiling their children.

That epidemic of doubt came to be called the Mommy Wars, and the wars are raging to this day. Should mothers work outside the home, and if so should they have full-time or part-time jobs? Does the child's age, the mother's personality, the supportiveness of her partner, or the nature and quality of available child care make a difference? We hear dire predictions about the future of children without full-time maternal care. We also hear periodically about a so-called opt-out revolution, in which educated women — at least, those who have well-paid husbands — are leaving the work force when they have children.

Because a basic tenet of social-science faith is that data can inform policy, back in the 1980s, as I fretted in my office, I turned to the psychology literature for answers. But I found little to allay or confirm my doubts: a study of a small sample of children in high-quality day care here, research on a group of problem children there. So I was thrilled when the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development decided to sponsor a longitudinal study of children's lives in a variety of care-giving arrangements, research that started when the children were born at the end of the 1980s.

The children are now graduating from high school, and it is a good time to ask what we have found out so far. The answers illuminate what we can and cannot learn from social science, how values affect science, and why individual choices and public policy should not depend wholly on data.

Let's begin with a look at the published data, which take us through the start of elementary school. The most important lesson to emerge from the study so far is that, traditional beliefs to the contrary, a child who has not been cared for almost exclusively by his or her mother can still form a strong emotional attachment to her. Writers such as Penelope Leach have reached a wide audience with the message that mothers should care for their children 24/7. But the data from the NICHD study show that a mother's personality and sensitivity are the most important predictors of her child's attachment — not whether she works or if others care for the child.

Interestingly, however, the findings on attachment have not been widely disseminated, even in many of the publications arising from the study itself. Nor have we heard much about another set of findings from the study, showing that nonmaternal care is associated with a child's increased language and intellectual development — especially if the care is high in quality.
Here we start to get into the issue of how politics and societal preoccupations affect the uses of science. Societal and individual worries about child-care arrangements simply migrated away from attachment, bypassed cognitive and language development, and focused instead on the fact that the study data associate time spent in nonmaternal care with increased behavioral problems — even though those problems are still within the normal range of behavior, rather than indications of juvenile delinquency. Basically, people who think children need to be mainly with their mothers seized on whatever data they could find to bolster their argument, instead of conceding that one of their main fears had simply turned out to be unwarranted.

So when we interpret — and disseminate — data, we are looking through the lens of our values. But can we as individuals use data to make personal decisions about child care, or about what social policies to support? Even that is actually pretty hard. One problem is that each decision typically has both good and bad consequences. If putting children in day care increases their intelligence but makes them less well socialized, we might need to choose which effect matters most — not an easy choice.

Another problem is that data showing an association between two facts do not tell us why we see the outcomes that we do, and hence don't answer many practical questions. For example, although the NICHD study shows that children who spend more time in nonmaternal care are somewhat more likely to act out than children who are at home with their mothers, we don't know why that is the case. It's not because the children are insecurely attached, as Penelope Leach might have argued before the study proved her wrong, but what is the mechanism?

We can speculate that spending more time with other children leads to more rough-and-tumble play, which leads to some acting out, but would we be right? If we were, nonmaternal care could be fine if children were cared for individually or in very small groups. Other observers might wonder if working parents make poor disciplinarians because they are tired from their jobs, or because they feel guilty about being away from their children. If that were true, working parents could be tutored in how to avoid the dangers of laxness.

One lesson, therefore, is that social science is much more useful for policy making when we use it to understand mechanisms rather than just to unearth simple associations.

There is another lesson to learn from the NICHD study, maybe the most important one of all. It concerns the way that social values influence the choices investigators make when they first design a study. In other words, the formulation of our science is itself affected by how we frame policy issues, in a way that is political and value laden rather than scientific. What values influenced the designers of the NICHD study?

First, notice the framing of child care as a women's issue. We speak of the Mommy Wars, not the Parent Wars. Nobody planned to gather data about fathers, marriages, or workplaces. If children were seen as an issue relating to both family and work, we would ask ourselves questions such as: How do children affect women's and men's ability to contribute their talents to society? How does fathers' work affect their ability to parent? How do work arrangements affect marriages when child care is an issue, too? Of course no single study can assess everything, but it is naïve to pretend that the choices we make about what to look at are not deeply political.

Second, consider the framing of child care as being about how children turn out. That is certainly important, but what about the lives of their parents? Are women who do not work happier than women who do? Are the husbands of women who stay at home more successful? And what do women who work contribute to society? Those are only a few of the many questions that we ignore when we focus only on children.

Third, think about the emphasis on individual choice. The implicit model in the Mommy Wars is that each mother, basically alone, makes the difficult decisions of whether and how much to work, and how best to raise her children. That framing means we do not question the lack of parental leave in the United States ; the long hours that Americans work, with little vacation; or the recent fascination with the raising of perfect children. If we don't have paid parental leave, for instance, we cannot study the effects it might have on families. Thus, recommendations based on the NICHD study will inevitably be conservative. The data reflect the ways things have been; they do not tell us if new social policies might enhance the lives of children, as well as spare women from having to make agonizing choices among bad options.

The NICHD study has taught us much about the lives of children in the United States today. It should also teach us that data alone are not enough.

Nora S. Newcombe is a professor of psychology at Temple University .
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 54, Issue 8, Page B20

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thanks to Julie

for sharing this.  The only thing I would have done differently would be to say "goddammit" a few more times.

alt :

Friday, October 12, 2007

Perfectly Ordinary Morning

You know those moments in life where things are just right, and you think to yourself, well this is what it's all about, and life is good in spite of all the bad stuff that happens to people, and this is peace?  The one I always remember was when I was 20 and living abroad in Montpellier in the south of France.  A group of us had taken a long bus ride to Venice for carnival, and we were tired and a little crazy the way American college students in foreign places are.  We were all pretty broke, too, so the plan was to get to Venice, hang out and party at carnival, then hop on the same bus back the next morning.  We had no hotel room to stay in overnight, so we would all have to stay up all night, or crash where we could.

Anyway, it was a long and stimulating day.  By about midnight, we all had met up in the Piazza San Marco, where things were reaching a fevered pitch.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people from all over the world were swaying and dancing to an afro-carribbean band, its singer swinging his dredlocks and chanting, "love, love to the people!."  And we all went wild and hugged everyone around us and danced and danced all night.  I remember looking up at the stars and thinking, well this is what it's all about, life is good in spite of all the bad stuff that happens to people, this is peace.  I'll never forget that moment.  My feet were so swollen I couldn't remove my shoes on the busride back to Montpellier, and I'd never been so exhausted in all my life, but I couldn't have been happier, a goofy smile on my face the whole way. 

I woke up this morning to one of those kinds of moments.  No rasta singer in my bedroom, no worldwide jam in a plaza of Italy, but a perfect peace nonetheless. 

Things started off good from the get.  Addie work her self up at six to pee, rather than wetting the bed, then came into bed with us, cuddly and fidgety and warm.  When I respectfully requested (okay, commanded!) that Eric take himself downstairs to make us coffee, he did.  I lay in bed, beginning the book Eat, Pray, Love (also about a woman who finds the divine peace in Italy!) putting it down to watch the darkness fade, the outlines of the dozens of trees outside the wall of windows in our bedroom come into relief.

Though not enough relief, since I'm practically blind.  I got up to put my contacts in so that I could fully appreciate these amazing trees, and their changing colors, and stillness.  I listened to my husband and my kids laughing and talking to one another downstairs, and burrowed deeper under the comforter with my book.  Gratitude flowed and flowed, without my even having to think about it or look for it.

I had to get up and get the computer and write this, because perfect moments of being require some sort of expression, and I want to remember this one, and to note how grateful I am for this life, pukefests and deadlines and all.  Despite all these things, I have more and more of these moments as I grow older.  They're maybe not as earth-shattering as they were when I was twenty, when I had no idea such a thing as stillness, the divine could exist in me.  They are quieter now, deeper.  But much more frequent. 

This is what it's all about.  Life is good.  This is peace.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Fallout

Here's a breakdown of the casualties in the aftermath of pukefest 2007:

1.  Our carpets.  A friend of ours has a steam cleaner that we're going to need to borrow (Ash, we're coming your way).  Either that, or every carpet in the house will need to be ripped out and buried in a landfill far, far away.  Or maybe taken to the toxic waste disposal center.  I'm not sure which.

2.  Our electric/gas bill.  I would estimate I've done about 25 loads of laundry in the last week.  Our bills have been around $75.00.  I'm guessing we're looking at twice that next month.  Any takers?

3.  Our appetites.  The girls' ribs are sticking out, and neither will eat more than three raisins' worth at any one sitting.  The good news is that they've stopped growing out of their clothes.

4.  Work.  I missed a big deadline, and over the last week, Eric and I have missed a combined 30 hours of work. 

5.  Sleep.  For some reason, everyone has decided to either puke or get the shits every night at 1am.  The bags under my eyes are so deep I now carry change in them.

I'm glad it's the weekend.  I'm looking forward to whatever's coming at us next.  Malaria?  The pox?  Chlamydia? 

Only time will tell.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Okay, So I Exaggerated

a little.  Addie didn't actually soil every bed in the house.  But she demolished the guest bed twice, and her own room and bathroom looked like a case of vegetable soup had been murdered.  But she didn't get our bed, or Nolie's bed.  They were spared.

Those of you committed to truth in reporting, then, will be delighted to learn that last night, again at 1am, Nolie finished the job.  Horkfest 2007 continued with the littlest Schneider making her contribution.  And, since she's so little, there was no getting her to use the puke bowl.  We both went through at least three pairs of jammies, and there were bath towels all over her little bedroom floor, because she would sit up every few minutes to scream, hurl, and then scream some more (a pitiful little "MOOOMMMMMYYYYY") before collapsing again for a few minutes.

It was awesome.

I thought I was tired before.

I thought I was behind at work before.

Somebody make it stop.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Puke Bowl

I find it totally amazing that Addie is three and half and that she's never, in all that time, been hit with the puking flu.  Oh, we've thrown up a little here and there (like the time when Addie was one, and Eric fed her waaaay too much black beans and corn, and she threw up what looked like southwest salsa all over her crib); and we've had the snothead flu; and we've all had the runny-run-runs for sure.  But until last week, it had been a long time since the dreaded pukefest had swept through the house.

I was the first to get sick, and it terrified me because I thought I was pregnant.  Both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I had to take to my bed in the evening, sure I was going to hurl, achy all over, glands bulging.  The next morning I felt fine.  Thursday I came home from work early, sick again.  Luckily I was feeling better by that night, because at about one in the morning, Addie came strolling into our room complaining of a tummy ache, and about an hour later had besmirched every bed in the house.  Worst of all, she puked on her bathroom floor.  Which is carpeted.  Add mega-grossness to grossness.  I'm sensing another remodel in our future.  Sweet, sweet tile.

The puking went on for another day or two, and has tapered off into a wicked case of the toddler runs.  But the puking, at least, is behind us.

Or at least we think it is.  An anachronism haunts us, it seems.  After that long, long night of having Addie puke on every bit of linen we own, I finally got her to use the "puke bowl."  You know about the puke bowl, right?  The mixing bowl your mom brought in when you were a kid so that you could hurl in the peace of your own bedroom, while she held your hair out of your face and stroked your back?  The bowl you honked into when seated on the toilet, vileness streaming from both ends?

Well, by the end of that night, Addie was using the puke bowl like a pro, waking up every hour or so to retch up quesadilla bits and whole goldfish crackers (how did she swallow those like that?).  I was very proud of her, and also a little sad, because it was like a little bit of her innocence was gone.  There was nothing I could do for her in those moments--she just had to duke it out with the puking demon all on her own, until her stomach was totally empty, and then some.

Anyway, the problem now is that she's sort of addicted to the puke bowl, as a symbol of her grown-up-ness.  Addie's Papa and Nana came to visit this weekend, and for every meal, Addie proudly sat at the table, her puke bowl in front of her, telling everyone cheerily (and falsely) that she was going to "spit up."  We'd be right in the middle of conversation, enjoying a good meal, when she'd crawl up into her Nana's lap, smiling, and demand, "Now WHERE is my puke bowl?  Mommy!  I'm goin' to spit up!"  It made for awesome dinnertime ambience. 

It was tough to call her bluff at first, because on Thursday night, she said she was going to puke, and I didn't really believe her.  I sort of sauntered over to her with the puke bowl.  And she did, in fact, hork up jello all over the kitchen table.  So over the weekend, I was pretty zealous about making sure she had the bowl.  But I figured out pretty quick that she wasn't going to throw up anymore, and was just really interested in the power of the puke bowl.  I finally learned to tell her to go to the bathroom if she was going to vom, and that I would come help her if she did.  That finally took care of things.

But show and tell is on Tuesday.  I have a pretty good idea what she's going to want to take.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Walking Tired


I think one of the things that bums me out the most about parenting is the being exhausted so much of the time.  There are several times everyday where I just feel tired.  Tired.  Worn-out, beat-down, heel-dragging tired.  It's the kind of tired where I just feel like crying, because it feels like I will never again not be tired, that I'm doomed to a life of tiredness.

This is all made worse by the fact that I don't have much space to be tired in.  I have to be at work or to be with my girls or to be doing things, because we just have hardly any room at the edges in this life.  It's something I'd like to change, but for now, we are pushing ourselves, and hard.

Which explains the wicked caffeine addiction I've developed in the last year or so.  I should qualify:  I have two big cups of coffee a day, and occasionally a third.  Which maybe doesn't sound like much, but I'm fully latched on to the coffee teat.  If I have less than my two cups, I'm in for a wicked headache.  And it's starting not to work so well.  My fatigue sessions are increasing in intensity and frequency.  My tolerance for the stuff is growing.

I'm drinking plenty of water, eat well (you wouldn't believe the leafy greens, people!  My God, do I eat leafy greens).  I have a beer or a glass of wine four or five nights a week, but I'm not a lush by any means.  I exercise pretty regularly.  And, while the girls haven't been sleeping that well lately, I'm usually in bed, at least, for seven or eight hours a night.

So, I'm thinking the culprit might be the white sugar.  Sweet, sweet sugar.  I have had a wicked sweet tooth for as along as I can remember, and now it's beginning to catch up with me.  The ten-pound weight-gains that seemingly come out of nowhere, the exhausting sugar lows, the trembling when I don't have dessert after every meal.  Yep, that might be part of the problem.

Or, it's the combination of everything--the less-than-quality sleep, the shrinking margins for relaxation in our life, the sugar and caffeine.  It may also be that I'm getting older and my body just doesn't have as much energy as it did.  I don't know.  All I know is that I hate being tired, and will probably need to change something soon.

On a related note, here's the update with the kids' sleeping situations:  Addie is now putting herself to sleep.  Eric (genius!) convinced her to "practice" going to sleep by herself while I was in D.C.  Now she's a pro.  I gave in with Nolie, on the other hand, and just started putting her down with a bottle again.  We'll have to try again with her later.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tipping Points


Nolie is fully bipedal now, toddling around the house in giant fits and starts, lurching and falling, but definitely walking.  She loves to pull Addie's hair, and poke her vicious little nails into our belly buttons, and she still loves her Gigi and her babysitter.  She gives kisses and hugs and is full of love. 

Addie is currently obsessed with the police.  We're not sure why this is, but she's always asking what exactly we have to do to get the police to come.  "Mommy, how hard would you have to hit that other car for the police to come?"  "How much would I have to cry before the police cars came?"  That sort of thing.  She's bright and tempestuous, funny and loving, and full of strange and wonderful ideas.

The thing is, they are both total nightmares to put to bed at the moment.  Nolie requires mega-rocking and bouncing up and down, and is very good at fooling me into thinking she's asleep on her shoulder.  She'll even let me put her down in the crib, and then will start screaming just a few minutes later, wanting the whole process repeated.  I'm sensing we might be in for a few cry-it-out sessions some time soon, but her will power is so much stronger than ours, that I'm sure they're going to be really long sessions, and I'm dreading them.

Addie now requires that I lay down in bed with her until she's asleep.  I love this, actually--it's the only time of day that this very spirited child is calm, and I love watching her drift off.  After bath and books and going-to-sleep time, though, this ends up being a pretty long process.  Then there's the nights when she wakes up at 3:30 or 4:30 needing to pee or afraid of the "hic-boom-oh" sound in her room (damn you, Dora the Explorer!) and I end up sleeping in her bed, scrunched up and sore, and feeling really tired in the morning.  And she's not overly hip on Eric putting her down, so I'm most often the one who does it.

These are on the good nights.

I'm not trying to get out of parenting.  I love putting my girls to bed, treasure the moments of holding them and speaking quiet thoughts.  I know that too soon they won't want me to rock them, or curl up in their beds, stroking their hair and sharing the day's highs and lows.  But I also know part of my job as parent is to make sure they keep trying things out on their own.  They have to find their ways to independence, and I must help them do it.  Just like Nolie tries out her new steps, she'll need to try out going to sleep on her own.  Addie, too.

Usually, you figure out when these things need to happen pretty quick--things get overly-miserable or overly-laborious, and you know something has to change.  But knowing this doesn't make these transitions any easier.  We're reaching the tipping point now, and will have to make a move soon.  It might be a rough few nights when we do.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fear and Trepidation



Eric has reworked his schedule so that he can pick up the girls from daycare now, which makes me less of a harried wench when I get home, and means I don't have to try to work at, say, midnight or 4:30 in the morning.  It does mean he has to give up his every-other-Friday off perq, though, which I feel guilty about.  Luckily, my guilt is outweighed by my relief to have enough time to work.  Which is only outweighed by my guilt at not being with my girls more.

Well, if you haven't noticed, I've just been filled to the brim with self-doubt and anxiety lately.  Eric asks how my day was, and I respond, "Filled with fear and trepidation."  I was up late last night wondering if I would always regret working so much while my children were young, our lives speeding by like a blur.  I'm afraid at any moment I'll be exposed as a sham.  I wonder why I brought all this on myself.

Addie wet her bed three times last week, and both girls have nasty colds.  Eric's brithday was a very low-key affair (read, I didn't have the energy to do anymore than throw some Betty Crocker in the oven and sign a card).  I'm having trouble concentrating because I'm thinking about whether or not I can do this pretty much all the time.  In short, I'm feeling like a lame-o on all fronts.

But there's a part of me that realizes this is part of the process, this learning-curve-growth-spurt-confidence-dump.  I wanted the challenge, asked for it, and knew it wouldn't be easy.  And so here we go.

I didn't expect to be so scared, though, and I can't quite figure out why I am.  So I'm praying on it, and am going to work some meditation into things, and keep running, and keep trying.  I figure my writing will even out, and I'll stop being so worried about what everyone thinks, and it will get done, and I'll find the joy in it.  I just haven't hit my stride yet.

On the drive home, I passed these bicyclists, guys on their road bikes with the spandex shorts and the team jerseys, their helmets and glasses sleek, their calves pumping up and down, up and down, and I had this extraordinary moment of envy for their moment.  They were riding those bikes with just the gear they needed, on a path they knew, and their bodies suggested a knowingness of movement, a surety of stride.  I wanted to have the confidence of tools that would not fail, a sure road to take, the knowledge of how to move.

But, here I am with my training wheels and streamers for now, tooting my horn here and there.  I suppose if I keep being scared I'm going to fall off, I won't get where I need to go.  That concrete just seems so hard.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Little Survey


Here's an excerpt from my friend Nancy's blog:  she's riffing on those personality surveys everyone always sends out (and that I always end up replying to, because I love an opportunity to talk about myself, of course).

In case anyone's wondering, here's why I don't usually respond to those surveys: THEY'RE SO MIND-NUMBINGLY DULL. I don't CARE whether you wear short socks or long socks, whether you drink soy milk or milk hot out of the cow's udder, whether you prefer bacon or sausage. I don't particulary want to know the name of the person who gave you your first kiss, although that's a little more interesting. If I'm going to get an emailed survey that I'm willing to circulate among my friends and colleagues, let me tell you, I want something JUICY. I want something REAL. I want you to TELL ME SOMETHING. 

So here are the questions she asks, and my juicy, real, tell-me-something answers.


1.  What the F are you doing answering this survey when you have so much other crap to do? Just exactly how bored are you right now? Does that tell you something?

I'm procrastinating going in and doing my core strengthening exercises.  They make my butt hurt, and although I feel stronger, I still have a saggy arse.  Plus, I was feeling the need to catch up with my pals' blogs.

2.  When was the last time you bawled your eyes out and why?

Hmmm.  Probably had something to do with my last period, although I haven't had a really good, satisfying, heaving sob in a long time, maybe because I've been exercising instead.  I wouldn't mind one.  I did tear up in unchurch today, because Dr. Roger always says things like, "Don't you know you are perfect?  Don't you know that healing only ever means revealing that perfection?"  And I feel like I've come home, and then cry.

3.  What parts of you feel really broken and what do you want to do about it?

Well, there's the interesing before-Eric/after-Eric life split, wherein I feel like I've had two separate lives.  Before-Eric is tainted with shame and regret, for some reason, even though that's only part of that story.  I would like to heal that.  I'm not sure what to do about it yet.  Some prayer, probably.  Some visioning.  But I haven't put the energy toward it yet.

4.  What parts of you do you treasure the most and why?

I feel so grateful for my life so much of the time.  I feel very present for most of it, and I think I'm committed toward constantly finding ways to appreciate and enjoy my life and my loved ones. 

My loved ones, my babies.

My friends.

My drive (and I ain't talking about the Hyundai).

5.  Describe the single most mind-blowing sexual experience you've ever had. You don't have to name names.

Can't.  Mom reads the blog.

6.  If you had to pick two celebrities to be your parents, who would you pick and why?

I don't know why, but this question kind of grosses me out.

7.  Say you had the means to keep a wild animal as a pet. What kind of beast would you choose?

Definitely a polar bear.  Cause they ain't got no ice left.

8.  What's the closest you've ever gotten to sensing the existence of a higher power?

Maybe this morning, when Fran, earth mama at unchurch, channeled this awesomely intense, spot-on prayer for me.  I had goosebumps for miles.

9.  If you were in a coma but could hear everything around you, what would you want your loved ones to do?

Laugh and joke about my long monkey arms?  Decide who gets my wicked collection of Banana Republic sweaters?  I don't know!  Talk about how wonderful I am, of course!

10.  What's the biggest "mistake" you've ever made?

I don't think there are any really big ones, like ones that I really regret.  Mostly I regret the small instances, the saying hurtful things to people I loved, or forgetting someone's birthday, or the misunderstandings.  But ask me in six years when I come up for tenure.

11.  If you could switch careers right now and do anything else you wanted to do, what would it be?

I totally had the thought this morning that I would go to ministerial school.  Maybe that's just cause unchurch rocked so hard today, though.

12.  What bugs you the most about kids?

Nothing about mine, really.  Only that they make you want to be better than you are all the time, and that's exhausting.  Other people's kids?  Eh.  Take em or leave em.


13.  What are you addicted to and why?

Processed sugar, for sure, because it feels like sweet, sweet love.

Fear.  I'm trying to figure out why.

14.  Who are your top three heroes?

There are so many people I admire.  But, three types:  anyone who is brave enough to show others their weaknesses as well as their strengths, to be vulnerable with others.  Anyone who as lived through the death of a child and has gone on to survive.  Anyone who doesn't do what he or she is "supposed" to do, but listens to the call and follows it. 

15.  If you could be a singer giving a concert for one night, who would it be?

Ooh, I fantasize about this all the time.  I'd want to look like Cheryl Crow, rock like Bonnie Raitt, and channel Dave Matthews.

16.  Would you rather vomit or have diarrhea?

Diarrhea.  Totally. 

17.  What kind of 9 year-old were you?

Very insecure.  I have a memory of wearing a lot of turquoise turtlenecks and obsessively curling my hair (when it was permed beyond recognition).  I like being smart.  I always wanted to be someone else.  Lonely, maybe.  Sassy, too.

18.  What do you fake? (In what area of your life do you feel like a faker?)

I am always worried about being "found out" at work.  I was talking to a colleague about this the other day, and she feels the same.  I think it might be inherent in the profession.

19.  Which character do you most relate to: Yoda, E.T., Jabba the Hut, Chewbaca, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, Snuffleufagus, R2D2, or the Little Mermaid?

No offense, Nuje, but this is the only lame questionon your list. 

Chewbaca  :).

20.  How do you feel about being alone, with no noise or distractions, for more than four hours?

Are you serious?  It's my idea of nirvana.  NIRVANA, I tell you.  Does this actually happen to people?

21.  What singe limb would you most hate to lose and why?

Right hand.  I do everything with it.  Everything.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fast Train to Idiot-Town

Ah, well.  I don't do much weighing in here at the 'spit on cultural stuff, feeling like any judgments I could hand down about who's doing what would only contribute the zeitgeist of bullshit surrounding motherhood in this country.  But I will say these two things.

First, do not read these books if you tend to engage in middle-of-the-night fretting about natural and manmade disasters and how they will wreck your nearly perfect life:

The Road

Spilling Clarence

White Noise

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Anything on the evening news.

Let's just say I was up until ungodly hours last night wondering if Eric had enough plywood stored up in the garage to board up the sliding glass doors in case of nuclear attack.

And then, there's this:


Britney Spears at the VMAs.  Which I didn't even see.  But Eric came home and said the internet was all abuzz about how fat (!) she looked and how she stopped lip-syncing and stuff.  And I'm thinking to myself, I can't even send off an email attachment properly, much less dance around in front of a bunch of people with cameras in a bikini and remember the words to a song.  The girl's obviously gone off some sort of deep end, but I'm swimming around in my own, so give her a break for chrissakes.  I hate it.

Also, I'm swimming around in my own confusion and crisis of self-confidence.  Who told me I should be on the tenure track?  What was I thinking?  I'm trying to remind myself that I wanted this challenge, practically begged for it.  And now that I'm in it, I'm scared witless.  How ironic would it be if I, oh teacher of writing, couldn't actually write?  All signs seem to be pointing to idiot-town, but I'm trying not to pay attention.  Trying to remember I have some sort of value or worth or meaning in the world even as I flail about like some flat white fish out of water, beating itself to death on the dock.

Ugh.  Don't listen to me.  I've had too much wine, and I don't plan on cleaning up a damned thing tonight, or on reading one single page of anything.  So there.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Hamster Wheel Update

So, I'm three weeks into the conspicuously-not-consuming thing, and here's how it's going.

1)  I've been working.  A lot.  Typically, when this happens, I tend to go shopping because I get stressed out or excited and need to mentally vacate for a while, which is what going to the mall does for me.  I'm convinced that it literally puts me into a different state, like a drug would.  But I've been working so much, and steadily, and on things I really care about, that I haven't had the time to do the shopping.

I have had one or two urges to go and check out.  But I realized immediately that's what they were, and was able to take other action, because I had agreed not to spend.

2)  I've been working out.  A lot.  I might now, officially, call myself a runner.  Just three or four miles every other day or so, with maybe a longer run on the weekends.  And some yoga or volleyball here and there, and also some conditioning exercises every night for my core.  This has had multiple benefits:  stress relief, of course, so I haven't needed the mindless shopping experience.  But also my body is in a little better shape, and so my weight isn't yo-yo-ing as much.  I've only realized this recently, but my weight has always varied by ten pounds or so, depending on how I take care of myself.  When I get a little heavy, I feely shitty and get rid of a lot of clothes and buy bigger ones.  Then, when I lose the weight, I get rid of the big clothes and get smaller ones.  Somehow I never caught on.  I just figured the clothes were getting baggy, then shrunk in the wash.  Amazing the things I told myself.  You can imagine how expensive this got.  Maintaining an even weight through exercise has really eliminated this need.

3) Taking spending off the table was a huge relief.  I had no idea how much energy I was putting into figuring out what to purchase.  Should I stop at that garage sale or not?  What should be on the shopping list?  Can I afford a trip to the BR outlet?  I'd better go to Target and get some new underwear, and what else should I buy while I'm there?  And so on.  But just deciding not to buy anything for thirty days made these extra trips and mental expenditures unnecessary.  And it is AMAZING how much stuff you really don't need. 

For example?  Our teapot was getting really gross (you know, because it sits on the stove).  Also, I think we burned the water out of it a few times, so our tea was starting to taste metallic.  Blech. 

I put "teapot" on the shopping list, then remembered I wasn't buying anything this month, and agonized for a few minutes.  But we need a teapot, I was thinking.  Then I realized, hey!  We don't need a teapot.  Fact is, we're not huge tea drinkers.  And we buy a new one every six months because the old one gets so foul.  And it's just as easy to heat up a pot of water as to use a teapot.  And having a teapot is just more crap in the kitchen that we don't need. 

I crossed it off the list.  Problem solved.  "Need" eliminated.

4)  All this had made a huge difference to our bottom line.  We did finances a couple of days ago, and I can't believe how much money we've saved.  This was an amazing revelation for me, I suppose because I really believed everything I had been buying up until now met a need, and that therefore we were destined to always be somewhat paycheck-to-paycheck.  So not true.  I am a believer.

5)  I was a little worried that this experiment would be unbearably hard, and that I'd get to the end of the four weeks and go on a giant spree.  Whether that happens remains to be seen, but I don't think it will.  This has been something of a conversion experience for me.  It's hard to imagine going back.  But I'm also aware of how powerful the drive to consume is, so I'm not going to underestimate it, either.

In many ways, I realize what an artificial exercise this has been.  Not buying anything--in effect, talking myself out of "needs"--has made me realize how much we actually have.  There has not been one moment of real need or want this month.  If we needed groceries, we bought them.  Eric needed some jeans for work that didn't have holes in them; he bought them (he hadn't agreed to follow my spending moratorium, after all).  Everyone was well-fed and clothed, and had lots to keep them busy.  And, for a number of reasons including this experiment, I've felt really happy, fulfilled. 

I don't miss the treadmill.

That said, I did slip up.  Once.  I was at Costco buying groceries and bought some make-up that I didn't really need.  Fifteen bucks.  I got home and immediately felt dumb about it--after getting out of the big store with all the big, cheap things, and getting back into the comfort of my home, I realized what I had done.  And I feel like I learned from doing that, from messing up.  We needed groceries today, and I was near Target.  I went in there, with its bright lights and beautiful displays, like an alcoholic in a liquor store, and came out not having bought one thing for myself, mostly because I remembered how I felt after leaving Costco.  Mostly remembering that my values were not represented by those racks of clothes and scented candles.

It's not that I'll never go shopping again, or that I've given up buying myself things.  But I was definitely caught in a consumerist spell for a long time, and getting on the wagon has revealed that to me in ways I don't think I would have seen otherwise.  It's been hugely helpful.

One week to go.  And a lifetime.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Killing My Life


Addie and Nolie and I were playing "dollies" in Addie's room yesterday.  Addie wrested a dolly from Nolie's clutches and screeched at me:  "Mommy!  Nolie is ruining my LIFE!"

There are many levels of strangeness for me, in this little vignette.  First, it's weird for me to play dollies.  I don't think I was really a dolly kid (Mom, can you correct me?).  I do remember doing a lot of soulful crooning along with my Whitney Houston and Kenny Loggins records, and I remember obsessively brushing the hair on a My Little Pony doll, but mostly dolls bored me.  I was a kid who liked decorating her room, putting everything in just-so order and then sitting back and appreciating the peace that order brought.  That was the extent of my playing with dolls, after a certain age.  I preferred to dress them and put them in rows and then looked at them.  After ordering them in this way, "playing" with them would have just messed them up.

Doesn't so much about me make sense now?  How difficult it is to have kids who actually play with their toys, who want to throw them around and stomp on them, take them apart and drool on them?  It's so counter to my every last instinct.  That said, I'm sure there was a time when I did these things to toys.  I just don't remember.  Or maybe I didn't.  My mom passed on a lot of my old toys to us when we had kids, meaning they were preserved in pretty good condition for over thirty years.  Addie and Nolie's toys, by contrast, are pretty well trashed already.  Hmmm.

The other level of weirdness is the whole sibling dynamic.  Eric and I planned to have the girls pretty close together in age, and luckily the plan worked.  So Addie and Nolie are not too far apart in age, and will ostensibly be sharing clothes, toys, and playtime.  Nolie is just getting old enough now that Addie wants to play with her, and they can sit in the same play space for fairly sustained periods of time, co-existing peacefully.  That is, until Nolie crams her finger into Addie's belly button, or Addie grabs a fistful of Nolie's belly and squinchy-squinches it in retaliation.

But I'm confused about how siblings are supposed to interact.  I grew up with one brother who was four years younger than I, and to be frank, I was a total ass to him.  I took out all sorts of pre-adolescent rage on him, pounding on him as hard as I could, blaming him for things I did, or generally ignoring him.  I'm ashamed that I was such a terrible sister.  So it's probably no surprise that we weren't close for a long time, only recently coming back into each other's lives in lovely, gratifying ways. 

Friends and neighbors had different relationships with their brothers and sisters, so I have an inkling that not all sibling relationships were like mine.  I know some sisters and brothers are very close, almost best friends; others hate each other seemingly from the get, and grow into adulthood never speaking to one another, except maybe to utter "You're dead to me" at awkward Thanksgiving gatherings.  Others are merely curiosities to each other, wondering at the genetic chance that somehow landed them in the same family.  Others are more like mine, a fragile detente dependent on careful respect, love, and a healthy amount of geographical distance.

In other words, I look at Addie and Nolie as they crack each other up, or cover each other in slobbery kisses, or scream at each other in despair and anger, and have no good guess as to what's coming.

Finally, of course, is the weirdness of Addie feeling like Nolie is "killing her life."  I had to stifle powerful laughter at that one.  It occurs to me that I'm getting to know Addie better every day, as she figures out how she feels about things, and ways to express those feelings in ways that are uniquely her own.  Nolie I love passionately, joyfully, but I still am not sure who she is, apart from this hilarious, yummy little baby.  Part of this is probably that it's difficult for me to know someone except verbally--it's the fundamental way I make connections with others. 

But there is part of me that also really connected with Addie's meaning.  Addie had plans for her dollies, ideas for how things should be, and Nolie came along and messed them up.  Addie did feel this was "killing her life," and a teensy-tinsy part of me understood.  Whenever things go out of order for me, or don't go as planned, there is some small child in me who feels the world has come off its axis, the great ship unmoored.  I try to not let this be the predominant impulse in my life anymore, but it's still there, in tiny twinges now and then.  So I get what Addie is saying, but have to also laugh at how much like a three-year-old I still am.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bleeding All Over


In case I haven't made it clear yet, let me say this:  being a working parent is tough.  Being just a parent is tough, no doubt about it.  And I know I don't have the fortitude to be a stay-at-home parent.  Being a working parent, though, has its own set of challenges.  Including losing your mind every eight hours as you're forced to re-adjust to the many different realities you're supposedly living in.

There are the little things that are trying, and that I've written about here, for example, the extraordinary amount of schlepping that must go on.  You schlep your stuff, you schlep your kids, you schlep your kids' stuff.  You're Hansel and Gretel, and you find your way home by following the trail of stuff you've left behind every day.  I think this is partly where my recently impulses to simplify have come from.  I don't want to become a prisoner to the stuff.  But even functioning at a minimum in this society, when you have kids, implies a staggering amount of stuff.

The little things are easily addressed, for the most part.  We are huge on routine, and that helps a lot.  We need the kids to go to bed and wake up at certain times.  We feed them certain things, and give them baths at certain hours, and for the most part keep our social engagements at a minimum so that we can be, well, free when we have free-time.  We use our free time to be spontaneous.  The rest of the time, which is most of the time, we rely on routine so that nobody blows a gasket.  There are just too many balls up in the air to not do some planning.

That said, the big things for me are about letting go of the plan when I have to.  The big things for me are about figuring out how to transition between work and home.  The big things for me are about paying attention and being present as much as possible, and letting go of ridiculous expectations.

Nolie's going through some changes at the moment, changes that have required I let go of the plan and my expectations, and that I transition into home life by paying better attention.  She's off of formula now and is drinking milk, we're not letting her have milk in the crib, and we're weaning her from the bottle.  She's much more interested in walking now, and is doing more focused play (she loves to slam her dollies into their "crib" and "highchair" as she loves on them with big, open-mouth, drooly kisses).  She is in daycare 35-40 hours a week.  She's overcoming some of her stranger anxiety.  She openly expresses her affection for us with hugs and kisses and cuddles.  These sound like tiny things, but taken together, they represent a shift in who Nolie is, and entering into a different state of being and being with.  I'm delighted by all of it, and certainly wouldn't want any "plan" to get in the way of these developments (as if it could).

A lot of this I'm really in tune with.  Nolie and I have a strong connection, and I've been doing better just hanging out with the girls when I'm home.  But some of this I hadn't noticed.  It took her daycare provider (who I swear is some sort of angel) to gently prod me:  When do you think you'll start introducing milk? she asked.  Do you think she still needs to be on baby food?  "Duh," I slap my head.  "You're totally right.  We'll start on the real food." 

I think six months ago, this would have made me feel like a failure, like I was a loser as a mom for not knowing the timeline.  I would have worried that I was ignoring Nolie.  But now I think I just welcome the help, and am glad to have others I trust involved in Nolie's growing up. 

Even as I write this I worry that it sounds as if I've abandoned my baby to the arms of a babysitter.  Those guilt-inducing voices are powerful, and I've internalized them well.  And we all know I'm prone to comparing myself to others--moms who have chosen to stay home and whose voices I hear in my head all day long, berating me for selfishly working.  Love those internal dialogues--so abusive.

I know this isn't the truth, though.  Nolie and Addie are amazing people and their lives are filled with people who love them.  They know their Dad and I love them more than anything.  We love to teach them and learn from them and be with them, especially now that the pesky newborn days are behind us and we are all getting to know each other better as conscious beings with flowering personalities.  I like that they see me go to work, and get excited about work.  I think its good they see Eric and I read and play games and talk animatedly about our days.  I like the time in the hammock, reading books to them.  I like playing dollies.

I just wish I was better at switching gears, at moving from the internalized world of books and research to the externalized world of being mom.  I fail at it a lot.  I try to read while I'm watching the kids, and get annoyed when I can't do both.  I take care of personal stuff when I'm at work.  Try as hard as I can, I can't always keep the worlds separate, even though I know everybody feels better when I do.  It's bleeding, is what it is, the bleeding of time and space and identity. 

There's got to be a better way to think about this.