Monday, April 30, 2007

No More Mourning Morning


It's the last week of the semester, and I'm finally feeling like I have the whole working mom thing figured out.  Or, the mornings, at least.

I remember that when I first went back to work full-time I was completely overwhelmed by the morning routine.  I couldn't believe how early I was going to have to get up just to get everyone out of the house on time.  I did it fine when we just had Addie, but somehow having two kids made things, like, ten times as hard.  There were so many bags to pack and people to dress and tantrums to quell.  Bit by bit, things just fell apart.  I stopped bathing.  The television was on non-stop.  I didn't hardly talk to the girls, so focused was I on just getting everyone ready.  I hated mornings.  They felt stressful, and set a stressful tone for the rest of the day.

This morning was the exact opposite.  I had a few minutes to chill with each kid; I took a bath; I drank my whole cup of coffee; I got to work on time.  So, here are a few short lessons, learned after a torturous four months of working mommy-hood:

1)  Make little adjustments.  Whenever I tried to figure out how to tackle the insanity of the mornings, it seemed like a huge, insurmountable problem.  But making some small changes really made a difference.  I'll try to explain them below.

2)  Get up a little earlier.  Not a lot earlier, just a little.  For me, getting up fifteen minutes earlier than I usually do means I can have a bath, or sit with Nolie before Addie wakes up, or check my email.  I'm amazed how much calmer I am when I give myself a little time to wake up.

3)  Ask for a little help.  In our house, it doesn't make sense for Eric to get the kids ready for daycare and to drive them there.  He does best when he can get to work early (really early) and come home early--he picks the girls up a couple of days a week.  But this doesn't mean he's totally off the hook!  He recently started making Addie's lunches on school nights, and he brings me a cup of coffee in bed every morning.  These tiny things have made a huge difference in how I feel about mornings.  And about Eric.

4)  Prep the night before.  We have a little couch in our entryway, and every night I line up all of my bags for the next day:  Nolie's diaper bag gets stocked; my purse, which will get filled with my lunch and Addie's stuff the next morning; my briefcase; my computer bag; and whatever else (library books, papers, etc.).  Then, in the morning, I just make sure the little assembly line has everything it needs, and I haul all of it out to the car.  No forgotten bags, no running around like a possessed nuthouse.

5)  Spend a little time with the girls.  Whether it's hanging out with Nolie for a few minutes before I try to get dressed or hugging Addie on the couch for a few minutes before we head out the door, these little bits of time really matter to me and to the kids.  Their attitudes improve, as does mine, and it's a good way to remind them how much I love them.

6)  Bathe.  I still can't do this everyday.  If I have to be at work early, or if there's a lot going on, chances are I'm not going to get a shower or a bath.  It just stretches everyone too thin.  But for some reason, I feel so much better if I've had a chance to wash my hair and shave my pits at the beginning of the day.  It's just that simple.  So, though I'm comfortable with having days where I don't get to, I'm trying to work the bath back into the routine.  I'm sure everyone around me is also glad for this.

I don't know why this was all so hard for so long--I look over this, and it all seems so simple.  And mornings will always sort of suck.  I forgot to eat breakfast today, for example, because Nolie pooped all over and Addie had six types of medicine to take (I exaggerate) and sometimes my needs (eating, peeing, breathing) take backseat.  But I'm getting better.  It gets better.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hangover and Over Again


Eric and I went out to a party last night.  No kidding.  We got a babysitter and everything, and although we came home earlier than we said we would, we had a really nice time.  We went to a fancy birthday party, and then snuck off and had wine and chocolate fondue at a restaurant.  Eric said he would drive, so I had four glasses of wine.  Or so.

Next think I knew, we were on our way home from Boulder and I had the spins.

I'm not exactly a teetotaler, you know.  I have a glass of wine almost every night, or a beer, and on the weekends I might have two.  But I'm not much of an excess drinker, either.  Not because I'm a master of self-control, but because if you drink too much and you have small children, you pay a heavy price, which is called having to get up early in the morning and be pleasant to small human beings, when all you really want to do is puke and pass out.

I drank a couple of glasses of water when we got home, which must have saved me, because when I got up this morning I didn't feel totally sick.  Eric had got up at 5:30 because both Nolie and Addie weirdly and spontaneously decided this would be a decent hour to rise this morning.  My guess is they planned this last night.  "Hahahaha!" cackled Nolie.  "They think they're going to stay out until 11, on a Saturday night?  We'll show them!" 

"Yes," said Addie, smirking and rubbing her hands together.  "We'll make them so miserable they'll never call a sitter AGAIN!  5:30 it is!!!"  Evil laughter rings throughout the house.

Eric came and collapsed into bed at 7, with a muffled, "Your turn," as he turned into a drooling blob of sleepness.

I groaned, but really I felt fine.  Or, not really fine.  Kind of gross, and really, really tired.  The strange thing was that I always feel like that--tired and a little gross--in the morning.  I think until the kids are older and decide to consistently sleep well at the same time, I will always feel like this.  So, this morning, which was a kind of yucky, hungover morning, actually felt like a normal, run-of-the-mill sleep-deprived morning. 

I'm not really complaining.  We had a blast last night, the weather was gorgeous today, and things seem to be turning around.  I'm drinking less coffee, doing more yoga, eating more salad (albeit drenched in oil and crutons).  Things are going well on all fronts.  We have good, reasonable daycare all set for both girls in the new hood; we found a good trundle bed for Addie today, used and cheap; I got to watch some t.v. this weekend (season 4, Six Feet Under.  SO good).  One more week and the semester will be virtually over, and we'll be in our new house.  Man, I feel good.

But also kind of gross and hungover.  You know.  Like usual.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs

Have I mentioned that Addie is now completely potty trained?  Now and then she has a bit of a wet diaper in the morning, but for the most part, she fully goes potty according to her own volition now, and hasn't had an accident in weeks.  She's also discovered the joy of dancing (at last!), thanks to a little karaoke machine her grandma and grandpa bought her for her birthday.  So we do a lot of boogeying to "Who Let the Dogs Out" (unfortunate choice of music, but the dance moves are worth it).

And Nolie?  Nolie has four teeth, and laughs her ass off now at the silliest things (me practically screaming "BAH" in her face, her sister running around like a cut-loose goat), and all she wants in the world is to stand up and walk.  The minute you put her on her butt she is pissed off.  You have to sit with her every minute of the day so that she can pull herself to standing until her legs are so wobbly she's leaning back and forth like a building set for demolition, and then she'll fall on her butt, and cry until you've popped her back up.  At which point the wobbling and falling begins again.

It's the greatest, this mom stuff.  I complain about it all the time, and it's so, so hard.  But it's also the greatest thing in the world.  I'll never tire of Addie whispering to me, "Mommy, you look like a princess today," as she sweeps my hair out of my eyes.  Or Nolie finally screaming mamamamamamama.  Those are good things.  I hold on to those.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Planes of Vision


I had the most horrible dream a few weeks ago, one of those dreams that you have a tough time shaking.

In this dream I was on a late-night flight, sparsely populated, and flying by myself back home from a conference.  I was excited to see Eric and the girls.  In the dream I could see through the cockpit of the plane and directly out the windshield.  The lights of the city were spread out before us, twinkling, as we descended.

All of a sudden, the plane lost power.  I remember being struck by the amazing silence of this descent, the quickness of it, its subtlety.  There was a surreal contradiction between this quiet speed and the panicky realization that if that power didn't come back on immediately, I would die.  I began to panic, to hyperventilate, when all of a sudden something else in me took over.  I just said (prayed?) that I wanted to see my family again, and that if that was in my destiny, I hoped it would happen.

The strange thing is, as soon as I said this in the dream, I knew it would be true.  But I woke up before I could see the power come back on, so the disquietude of those terrifying, dark, silent moments persists some.  The intensity of my desire to see my little family was also completely overwhelming, and a little surprising.  I mean, I'm not the most other-centered person I've ever met.  But the switch from me freaking out over my death to focusing on wanting to see them again was strangely intentional and powerful in the dream.

I was thinking about this last night after Eric and I had a doozy of a fight over putting Addie to bed.  I have to work tonight and tomorrow night, so he was hoping I would undertake the occasionally arduous process of helping Addie go to sleep so he could have a break.  I, on the other hand, needed to balance the checkbook (also arduous) and prep for class today, and was looking at a late night anyway.  If I took the hour to put Addie to bed, I wouldn't get to bed until midnight.  And today is my twelve-hour day, so I needed some sleep.

[Note:  The irony is that Addie woke up at midnight and I ended up hanging out with her for an hour and a half while we dissected the "scary noises" in her room, including a roar that she continually demonstrated for me.  "But Addie," I kept saying, "That's you roaring."]

The gist, really, is that Eric and I weren't very nice to each other in this particular interaction, nor in the follow-up conversation after Addie went down.  It was the sort of argument that makes one understand phrases like "seeing red."  It was the sort of argument that makes me imagine moving into an apartment of my own.   

But the paradox is this:  it wasn't a big fight.  It was just a frustrating one.  When Eric and I fight, it's always over this same unresolvable conflict, the conflict of neither of us having enough time to relax.  I feel overworked and underappreciated; he wants me to leave the dishes in the sink and the laptop off.  I feel like he doesn't understand the unique demands of my job, the fact that I never have enough time to succeed because I have too many competing obligations; he feels like I'm taking advantage of him by using him as the obvious babysitter.

We make little strides at solving this dilemma now and then, and I think as the kids grow older, it is getting a little easier.  Still, it's hard not to let resentment take over, to count how many hours one person works, to justify every little minute of the day.  We deny each other small kindnesses because we feel stretched and deprived ourselves. 

So, I was lying on the couch after the fight, trying to calm down enough to focus on feminist film theory for my class today, when the airplane dream came back to me.  I didn't welcome it.  I wanted to stay mad.  But the vivid specter of loss floated there in front of me, demanding to be acknowledged, demanding that I give up my anger and value my spouse and kids above all else.

Man, that's hard sometimes.  It shouldn't be, but it is.  I don't know why it takes such fearful fantasies for me to recognize how much I love my family, but it does.  This being split all the time is difficult, and I think these disaster fantasies serve to unify me in some way, to bring me back to myself.  They are painful and useful all at once, but a temporary and unfulfilling fix at best. 

Such fantasies and dreams, which plagued me terribly after Addie was born, started to fade when she turned two (before we had Nolie) and Eric and I felt a little relief from the demands of babyhood.  I'm sure the same will happen as Nolie gets older.  For now, though, we struggle, each falling through the air like maniac parachutists, occasionally catching hands and holding on, sometimes tumbling off into our own erratic cartwheels, the ground approaching ever faster.  Where will we land, I wonder?  How will we fare?  Will we come back together, make a soft landing for one another?  I hope so.  I think so.  We fall for now, but won't forever, I think.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

La La Lazies



Oh, boy.

I can feel a serious case of the lazies coming on.  Being home with Addie yesterday--having four hours of unadulterated (untoddlerated?) time to fold laundry and pack boxes and check email and blog was too, too wonderful.  I'm melting a little just thinking about it.  Plus, these last two weeks of the semester are always bizarrely easy.  Students are working on papers, I cancel class and meet them for conferences, tie up loose ends, and so on.  Not to mention there is a whopper of a rainstorm carrying on outside today.  A perfect recipe for jammies, beer, sofa, napping, daytime tv. 

Was there ever a me who did such things?  I have vague memories of a me in the distant past who did things like flop, belly-down, on the bed and listen to an entire c.d.  The extravagance.

Do you know what one of my secret dreams for the summer is?  To do a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.


I'd like to just hole myself up in my little office at the new house and do a giant jigsaw puzzle.  A really hard one.  Like one that is all one color, and the pieces are only slightly different from one another.  The urge to do this is so strong it's nearly overwhelming.

It's not as if I have summer off, by any means.  I have a bunch of projects I'll be getting paid to complete, plus all that off-the-clock stuff I do over the summer but don't really get paid for.  Still, time is a little more elastic.  I can work from home a lot.  And there are no classes, so deadlines are a little fuzzier.  Fuzzy enough to leave time for the jigsaw puzzle.  Fuzzy enough to take a day off now and then.

I realize it's not about the puzzle.  I realize that what I really want is some time to just lose myself in some mindless activity, free from obligation.  It's not as if I have some burning passion for doing puzzles or anything.  I'm a freak, but I ain't that freaky.  I haven't done a real puzzle in probably twenty years. Once when I was a kid--around nine or ten--I spent three whole days of my Christmas vacation doing a giant puzzle in the basement of our house, the t.v. running the entire time.  Some part of me must be tapping into the mindless pleasure of that memory. 

I know this because there were some puzzles at Steve and Julie's this weekend, and I didn't want to let any of the kids play with them.  I wanted to do them.  "Are you trying to clean up?" Julie asked me.  I think she's worried I'm going to come in and try to organize her house or something.  But that wasn't it at all.  I couldn't really explain that I just felt obsessed about seeing all those neat little pieces come together, to have it all be complete.  A sense of accomplishment without really risking anything.

What this made me realize is that I haven't had any time to be mindless.  I know, I know--the Buddhists are always trying to get you to be mindful.  I think it's just that everything I've been doing lately has been closely tied to a "should" or a "must."  Because time is so precious and goes so quickly, I've felt the need to justify every little activity as being related to motherhood or work.  This is exhausting. 

The lazies, they are a'coming.  Hallelujah.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Babes and Beaches

Seeing my kids play on the beach every day of their lives wouldn't be too much, I think. 

 We mostly spent the weekend spending time with family, but for an hour on Sunday before our plane left, we did this:

and this:

There was so much that was good about this weekend.  Before we left, Addie was starting to tell a lot of stories about little kids whose moms had left them, or died, or went to work all the time.  Both girls were fussy a lot of the time.  Nolie didn't want to be put down--I think she is always worried that I'm leaving.  These four days went a long way in healing these painful signs.  Four days of uninterrupted mommy time helped.

This is harder to pull off at home, when I feel torn by my other obligations to work and the house.  But this weekend was a good reminder of how important my family is to me, and I to them. 

And Eric.  He is such the protector of us all.  Whenever we have time to just be together, I fall for him all over again.  I love him more all the time, his attention to us, his fear for us, his unwavering support.

The first two days we were in San Diego, I felt wound so tight, like I just wanted to curl in a ball and sleep--the stress of the weeks prior was deeply ingrained in my bones, I think.  By Saturday, though, I was feeling better rested, more relaxed, smiling more.  Stretching at night didn't hurt.  And I loved being around family, loved these little Schneider kids, Addie and Gwen and Raiff and Nolie.

Here's Addie, begging Gwen to play with her (Gwen wasn't always so sure).

Addie woke up with croup every night we were there, but remained in pretty good spirits until yesterday on the plane, when her fever spiked and an ear infection, unseen before, got ugly.  So, back to the doctor today.  Now they think it might be allergies, that she just doesn't drain well.  So she'll get Benadryl for a while at night, and hopefully that will help.  I want her to be well, want to not spend so much time in doctor's offices.  Want her not to have so many antibiotics.

I felt that old tension creeping into my shoulders today as we were driving to the doctor's, and forced myself to shake it off.  Part of me was relieved to have the day home with her, and she's napping now, so that I can write this.  Tomorrow, it is back to work for the final two weeks of the semester.  Then we move, then some time off, I think.  We'll head to Telluride for the bluegrass festival in June, and spend a lot of time in our beautiful new backyard this summer.  I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait.  Just three more weeks, then I think I'll figure some things out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Few Things Well


Conditions today were excellent.  The weather warmed some, my boss agreed to give me some teaching relief next year so that I don't lose my mind (at least not completely), and an extremely full day ran really smoothly.  Plus, I had some awesome teaching moments that made me feel like Jerry Maguire--at the end of the movie, not at the beginning.

Also, and I am thanking baby Jesus for this, we close on May 7, and not on April 30.  We had mentioned to our realtor we might want to close early so that we could get into the house, but this would have meant some serious finagling for me that last week of classes.  As my good friend Garth Brooks says, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers."  What happened to Garth?  Ah, the anthems of my youth.

Mostly, I just feel this gigantic relief tonight.  Classes are almost over, and the grading hump at the end of the semester is never as bad as in the middle.  We're headed to beautiful San Diego tomorrow, and I'm not taking my computer, or a book, or even a pen with me.  I swear.  There will be nothing even resembling work in my life over the next four days.  I am just going to sit and drool in the corner while my kids crawl all over me.

Good spirits.  But there are a few things dinging at me, things that my mind is tumbling over and trying to figure out the significance of, and whether future action is required, and how much guilt I need to be assigning to things.  It's this:

I fancy myself a good mom.

Oh my God, it's out.  I admit it.  I think I'm a pretty good mom, most of the time.  But also, accompanying that impression, is my sense that I'm also the worst mom in the world.  I am one to live at the extremes, you see?  I'm either the best mom ever and can stand in judgment over all the other sorry moms out there, or I'm the shittiest mom ever and child services should just come right now and get them because anything would be better than my crazy ass.

Because I've been so ridiculously overwhelmed at work lately, I think my "worst mom" sensors are particularly sensitive at the moment.  I miss my kids.  I miss me.  Things feel a little out of control.

Everyday there is a note in Addie's lunchbox telling us how her mood was, whether she went potty, how much lunch she ate, and what she enjoyed doing.  Usually, the words "cheerful," "talkative," and "friendly" are circled on the page, and usually it shows that she ate "some" for lunch.  But not today.  Instead, today, Addie's teacher had marked that "Addie needs more food in her lunch, please."


Are you saying I don't feed my child enough?

Are you saying I let my child go hungry?

Are you saying that I might be....a bad mom?

Oh Lord.  Ima gettin goin.  Then, when I get home, Eric tells me that Addie's teacher says she was "weepy" all day at school, maybe because of the move?  Honestly, Addie's weepy now and then, so this shouldn't be a big surprise.  Still, I'm freaked out.  Why circle "happy," "talkative," and "friendly" on the Daily Otter News if in fact my child was "weepy"?  Is this some cruel game?  Should I be having interventions with Addie to deal with this?  Why is my child weepy?

Also, there's the trouble with finding Nolie good care for when we move.  I interviewed someone today who seemed like she might be a good fit, but it's 15 minutes in the opposite direction from work.  So I'm back in the old situation of driving half my life away to get good care.  We could have a nanny, but then we might not be able to pay the mortgage.  Plus, I work from home a lot in the summer, and am not sure I want anybody around the house.  The mouse is turning the wheel on this one, too.

No, I'm not a bad mom.  But I have been so busy lately that I'm forgetting a lot of things, and missing others, and that's not really like me.  And yes, I believe we'll find great, reasonable childcare for Nolie.  And things, very soon, will calm down so that I can be more present in all parts of my life.

But in the meanwhile, the little pinpricks of everything that has gone undone, or underdone, pinch at me.  This has been a good lesson in the enormous price of stretching myself too thin.  It's also been a good lesson in letting some things go (like the need to have a floor to which one's feet don't stick, or a toilet without a good coating of hair all over it).  I think better to cut back some and do some things well, live well, and be well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stress Biscuit


I'm so weepy lately. It's not PMS, even. I haven't been eating well or exercising, so I'm sure that's part of it. I feel inexplicably sad and scared about the Virginia Tech shootings, that school being so similar to mine, that student probably no stranger than some of the kids I've taught.  I think about how horrified those professors must have been, how disbelieving, maybe.

And then, there's so much going on. We head to San Diego this weekend to see Eric's family, and work is just so totally overwhelming.  My kids are amazing, but demand so, so much time and attention. 

Having our life in boxes is hard, too--I need a pretty neat environment to function really well, and we're just in transition at the moment.  There is so much to moving:  the kids needing new care, the paperwork, the packing, the bills...on and on.  This move is such a happy thing, and yet I feel I haven't had a chance to really process it, to even get excited.  Things are just too busy.  And not really a good busy.  A breaking-point busy.  A drowning busy.

These ten to twelve hour days are just killing me.  I can't sustain it.  Only a few more weeks in the semester!  I just need to hold out until then.  Then we'll be in the new house, and I can spend some time with the girls, nest, and take some time off. 

I can't get over this paradox, the strangeness of having so many things in my life be so great, and at the same time to be exhausted and pushed to my limits almost every day.  An important task this summer will be to take some time to set priorities, to rediscover the part of me that is not wrapped up in working so much.  I just need some rest.

You know what's funny?  I always think about the pioneer women, for some reason, and wonder if I would ever have been able to cut it at that gig.  Did those ladies have "me" time?  Or did they just bust their asses every second of the day?  Why am I complaining?  It's not like a have to churn butter or anything.

I know, I know--the pace of life was different, the challenges unique.  I'm romanticizing things in a big way.  I just wonder what my problem is, sometimes, why I can't just tough it out.  It's not like I'm a single mom, or living in poverty, or with a terminal disease.  Things could be much, much tougher. 

Why doesn't that make me feel any better?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Another Year On


In about an hour, I'll be 32. 

My stepdad is going to be 70 in May, and he and my mom are planning a birthday bash for him.  When I talked to him on the phone this morning, he didn't seem too excited about it.  70 seemed old, he thought.  "Your thirties are the best time of your life," he said.

I'm pretty sure he said the same thing about my twenties at some point many years ago, but he was wrong then.  My experience of the twenties was pretty painful.  I was struggling through graduate school, working crappy jobs, and since I'm a late bloomer, I tried on a bunch of different identities, some with disastrous results.  I racked up a fair amount of credit card debt and student loans, dated the wrong man more than once, and made plenty of mistakes.  I had fun, too, I think, but mostly it felt miserable.

I don't know what to think about the 30s yet.  So far, they've been great.  I've got this great family, and a job I like, and my neck hasn't completely deconstructed yet, which seems to be the thing Nora Ephron says aging women worry about most (seriously?).  I get stressed and I haven't figured out how to prioritize very well and I still have plenty of insecurities, but on the whole this life right now is very, very good.  Mostly, I feel really grateful for everything.

One thing in particular that I'm grateful for is that Nolie is now on the outside of my body.  A year ago on my birthday, I was about five months pregnant and, though I don't remember the actual day last year, I can almost guarantee you I was pissed off.  Pissed about being big, about my back hurting, about Nolie scraping her little scritchy-scratchy fingers across my pelvic floor like a fetal Freddy Krueger, pissed I couldn't drink a few glasses of wine to celebrate.  Whatever else happens, pregnancy is one event I won't have to experience again.  I've also got these amazing little creatures scuttling around my house to show for the two pregnancies I did suffer through, and I wear that fact like a freaking badge of honor.

So.  Forward march, I say.  32nd year, I welcome you.  I welcome whatever surprises and delights and heartbreaks you might bring.  My hands are open.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Partied Out


We went to a BBQ tonight with friends of ours who have a baby girl Nolie's age (Scout) and friends who are expecting their first in August.  Nolie and Scout were tired and did some tandem fussing (see above), but Addie was in really good spirits.

As the evening wore on, we started talking about how having kids changes your life.  This is a stupid conversation to have, in my opinion, because the comments I make are always dependent upon how stressed I've been lately.  And I've been pretty stressed.

Ashley, Scout's mom, said she didn't hardly remember life before Scout.  I think I know what she meant:  once your life gets consumed by having a kid, it's hard to remember what you did with the scads of free time you didn't know you had until it was gone.  And having kids is great:  it changes you in delightful, unexpected ways.

But my experience is also a little different.  I can totally remember life before Addie was born.  I remember long hours of lying on my bed listening to music.  I remember going to movies.  I remember eating out.  I remember spontaneity.

I could go on and on (and did, unfortunately, while everyone else's eyes glazed over).

What I really meant to say was this:  giving up all that stuff is hard, but only in retrospect.  At the time we decided to have the kids, we were sick of the free time.  Movies and lolling about and sex on Saturday afternoons was only interesting to a point.  We wanted more, wanted the added dimension we felt kids could bring to our lives.  It's only now that the free time is in such short supply that I miss it so sorely.

The great things is this:  I am far and away a much happier, saner, kinder person now that I've had children.  I feel immense joy and love when I am with my kids and my husband, and know I made an excellent decision in having them.

But are there moments where I remember being free, and long for that time?  Sure.  You don't get all that good stuff without sacrificing something else good.  Want kids?  Want to do a good job raising them?  Well, your life is going to have to change in other areas, then.  I understand that.  I made the deal.  Nonetheless, there is a me other than mommy, and I remember her, too.

Nights like tonight are my favorite.  Hanging out with friends in someone's backyard, eating potato salad and cramming my face full of guacamole and beer, laughing and watching the kids play (or cry really hard, like in the picture above).  Nights like this are easiest now spent with other people who have kids, or who are going to have them.  They don't get mad when conversations are interrupted, or you have to change a poopy diaper in the middle of dinner, or when your kid is crying for no reason.  They don't expect to be entertained--they know you're too busy entertaining kids.  So it's possible, in these situations, to have some sense of yourself and also be a parent, to not be bifurcated, like we so often are in other situations.  I'm so glad summer is almost here, and more bbq's are on their way.

Safe and Snug


"Mommy, you always keep me safe," said Addie, as she snuggled into bed tonight.

"Yep," I said, lying through my teeth.  "That's what mommies and daddies do.  I'll always keep you safe."

I took Addie to the pediatrician Friday for her three-year check-up.  She was such a big girl, getting weighed on the scale and standing up straight to get measured.  They did an eye test with shapes instead of letters, and she stood at the line, covered one eye, and, in a very serious tone of voice, identified the shapes:  moon, star, teacup.  But when she got to the bottom line, she started to giggle.  "Little moon!  Little star!" she said. 

Then the doctor got down to the physical examination and asked all of the questions about development.  Which I think is really just a test to see how bad they can make you feel as a parent.  Can Addie long jump over objects?  Uh...I don't know.  Can Addie hop back and forth from one foot to the other?  Not sure.  Can she pat her head and rub her belly at the same time?  Got me.  Basically, we had to run through all the skills in the office because I apparently pay no attention to my daughter and don't know anything about her physical development.  Great.

Then the doc popped her up to the examining table, her body naked and shivering, covered only in saggy little underwear and socks.  If you have kids, you know that seeing your child's naked, vulnerable little body is just about the most heartbreaking, wonderful thing in the world.  They are all translucent skin and softness, or brown wiriness, or downy and round, and you just want to scoop their squirming bodies up in your arms and protect them forever.

"Now, Addie," the doctor began, "I'm going to check your lungs and your heart and your tummy.  And then I'm going to look in your underwear.  And you know," he said, looking at me especially hard, "that not anybody but your mommy or daddy should look under your underwear or touch you there, unless mommy or daddy says it's okay, right?"

Right, I was thinking.  The stranger talk.

I don't know why we haven't had it yet.  We're pretty on the ball with stuff like that, I think, and Addie is so verbal that she could have understood the idea of it a long time ago.  But I think maybe we've been afraid to scare her, didn't want her to feel extra shy around other people yet.  And there seemed so little opportunity for her to be approached by strangers:  she doesn't play in the yard alone, doesn't go over to friend's houses, is never really out of our or a teacher's sight.  Maybe, too, we were a little worried that talking about it might invite it in, make it real.

But she's getting older now, and says hello to every last Joe she sees on the street.  I figured it's time.  So, last night, as I was putting her into her jammies, we talked again about how nobody but mommy or daddy should touch her vagina (which I also called "private area" and "special place" as I was fumbling about like an idiot for the right words) or her "boobies," (jesus, is there not a better word?  Chest, I guess.  Duh.) 

Addie nodded solemnly and did her pat, "I promise, I promise, I promise," which is always accompanied by a back and forth of her finger, like she's simultaneously promising something and scolding you.  It's hard to know how much she really comprehended.  I get the sense it's something we'll need to talk about a number of times before we find out what she really understands.

It's terrifying to think you might not be able to keep your kid safe.  That sooner or later, the world comes in and changes them in some way, and you can't be protector, but can only begin to accompany them as they fight and figure their way through experiences, good and bad.  I know that's what we signed up for, but it scares me still.  I'd like to keep her safe, untouched and innocent, for as long as I can.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Right on Schedule


Both kids sick?


Huge snowstorm about to hit, making it so we're all stuck in the house for a few days together?


Sixteen loads of laundry to do?



Hmmm.  Must be my day off.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007



You were starting to hate me, weren't you?  "That Jen," you were thinking.  "She thinks she's so great.  She's moving to a big house and has a cute little family and a job she really likes and she thinks her life is so great.  Screw HER," you were thinking.  I could smell the schadenfreude from here.

So it should make you feel better to hear that, out of nowhere, I had a perfectly shitty day today.  And for no good reason, really.  Or for lots of good reasons.  I'm too tired to know which.  All I know is that Addie has the croup again, and Nolie's pulling in three new teeth all at once, and I'm pretty sure there was no sleep in all the kingdom last night, not even for a princess like me.

I'm also pretty sure that I'm so behind at work I literally panic just thinking about it.  I don't think I've ever had a panic attack, but I came pretty close to one today.  I don't know what the solution is, but I know something's gotta give.  What been giving are my waistline and my sanity, so I don't mean those.  I mean I may need to renegotiate my responsibilities so that I don't blow my freaking top. 

Eric and I woke up with some weird stomach flu on Sunday morning (which I also had Thursday night--what the hell?) and traded off watching the kids and trying not to vomit.  This, for me, is the worst nightmare of parenting:  all you want to do is crawl into bed and moan yourself to sleep, and instead you have to play Fairyland Dollhouse with your toddler, or feed mashed Organic Summer Vegetables to your baby, trying not to hurl when her formula-flavored burp explodes in your face.  I was supposed to work Sunday, too, and that didn't happen, so now I'm even more behind.  I carry my stress in my shoulders and stomach, so guess who feels nauseous again today?

A good hour of yoga would go a long way, but I seem to have given up all pretensions to spending time on my body. 

And today, I couldn't get out from under that feeling, the feeling that no matter what, I would never dig out from inside this hole, would never enjoy life again, would forever feel pissed off at the world.  I almost cried in front of my boss, which I never do.  I had road rage, which I almost never have.  I was Linus, with the dark cloud permanently perched above my head.

But then Eric came home, and I had a good cry in his arms and my gazillionth cup of coffee for the day, and he was 100% supportive about me crawling up into bed to finish some work for tomorrow, and he's making dinner and putting the kids down.  Back from the brink I am, though the stack of student papers I have to get through tonight before I pass out from exhaustion may send me back.  The internal calculus won't be quieted:  how many weeks can I keep a stack of student essays before my end-of-semester evaluations take a hit?  How many hours will it take me to get through 300 pages of student writing?  Can I simultaneously eat lunch, prep class, and answer emails in the one hour I have between meetings and class tomorrow?  Can I?  Only if I don't need to pee at some point during the day.  Or ever again.

The weirdest thing about all this is that I feel guilty for feeling stressed, which is just adding more stress.  I feel bad for putting stress on my husband, feel bad for taking myself and my job so seriously, feel bad for not working harder last week and warding off this crisis, feel bad for not being more chill.  I feel bad for writing this blog while my husband is downstairs making shrimp fra diavolo and talking with Addie about Eloise and her dog Wienie.

But you know what?  Sometimes I have to just give it up, you know?  Like at Addie's party--I need to ride the chaos sometimes rather than get swallowed up by it.  And maybe also realize that there is only so much I can do and still maintain some shred of my humanity.  If posting this little rant on my blog helps me to maintain, then so be it.  It was a few minutes well spent.  It's not worth cracking a tooth over.

I'm putting my mouthguard in just in case, though.  And I'm counting the days until summer.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Celebrations and Shenanigans


Addie turned three on Friday.  Last year, we figured we could get away without having a party.  We just strung some lights in the dining room, blew up some balloons, and invited Nancy over for cake and presents.  Addie thought it was the best thing ever.

But she's a year older and wiser now, so we figured we probably better do something more birthday-esque.  It's a busy time, though, and I'm not exactly Martha Stewart, so I just sent out an email to the parents of the kids in her class at school, and to some of our friends.  It was a cheeky email--sort of, "hey, we're not doing anything super special, but come on over and hang out and eat cake and drink beer."  I somehow thought that a casual event would ensue, with everyone in the backyard lounging on our new grass, hanging out and watching the kids scamper around.

Which is not what happened at all.

First of all, it snowed.  So everyone who came to the party was going to be inside.  Still not a big deal, we thought to ourselves.  The house is pretty empty at the moment, and kids will have fun running around together.  No worries.

But then, about a thousand people showed up, 500 of which were under the age of three.  It was total MAYHEM, people.  Two kids got stuck in one of the moving boxes, their heads poking out of a little hole Eric had cut out so that Addie could play house.  Much screaming and panicking ensued, until the mom was located and Eric ripped the cardboard apart with his bare hands.  One kid was grabbing huge fistfuls of other kids' hair.  Still other kids were totally overwhelmed the moment they walked in the door, and began crying almost immediately at the noise and insanity of it all. 

We also burned the pizza, so the house filled with smoke about half-way through.  Then our realtor came over and wanted to give us the scoop on the inspection the buyer had done on the house on Friday.  Juice was spilled, cake was smushed, kids had meltdowns.

But you know what?  I still had fun, and I think Addie had fun, too.  Nolie, thankfully, slept through almost the entire thing (how was that possible?).  I was sweating and tired and yet, there was a moment where I just decided to give myself over to the chaos, and to enjoy the noise and hubbub, and to just be glad we had this many people who wanted to celebrate with us.

This was my favorite moment of the day:  I started walking out of the kitchen with the ginormous cake we bought from Costco, and everyone started singing Happy Birthday.  Addie, too, until she had the brilliant moment of realization that all these people were singing for her, that it was her birthday.  And she broke out into the best grin I've ever seen.

What a kid, that kid.  Three years old.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Slowing It Down

Here's the "after" pic of the Vine house, since some of you wanted to see it:


Look's better than the "before," huh?

Anyway.  Enough real estate for now.  Back to parenting. 


Sometimes it's the little adjustments that make all the difference.

It has been a wicked couple of weeks, what with selling the house, and buying a new one, and trying for a promotion at work (still no news--I have no clue what will happen) and still the rest of our lives moving forward at breakneck speed as if nothing unusual was happening at all.  Eric says we are always like this, with some new and strange adventure beginning every few weeks.  But I would argue that we sometimes have lulls now and then, and that we haven't had one for a while now, and we're all pretty tired.  Routines are off, tempers short, kids confused.

Addie's tantrums are like a barometer for the stress level around the house, and her pressure has been a-risin'.  Nolie has been responding, too, by wanting to be held constantly, and having what Eric calls "mommy-vision."  When he's holding her, she must always keep me in her line of sight, even if it means swiveling her head around on her neck like a barn owl.

So I really had to consciously slow down some this week, so as to avoid total family catastrophe.  And here are the little changes that made all the difference:


Waking up fifteen minutes earlier than usual, so as to not feel grumpy when a kid wakes me up.  Somehow choosing to wake myself up circumvents the grumpiness a little.

Asking Eric to bring me coffee in bed while Nolie is having her bottle.  It feels luxurious.  Breakfast in bed always skeeves me out a little, what with the crumbs and butter and all.  But coffee?  It's perfect.  It's hot and cozy and wakes me up at an appropriate pace, and I can relax and coo at Nolie while she smiles and gurgles her bottle down.  It's a nice time for us to bond before Addie wakes up and hogs most of the attention (that is the toddler way, after all).

Taking time to hang out with Addie a little before rushing into the out-the-door routine.  This may be playing a quick game of dress-up, or cuddling her for a minute on the couch, or just having a real conversation with her for a minute.  I'm amazed at how many meltdowns were averted by these little preemptive actions.


Today was my day to just be home with the girls and chill.  The little strategies above can't take the place of long stretches of time like today's, but I think they manage to stem the flow of childpanic in the house, and to make us all feel more connected between quantity times. 

I suppose the bigger thing here is conscious parenting--just making sure to be present when I'm with the kids, even though my inclination is to be worrying about getting out the door, or about what's going on at work.  This is not easy to do.  But seeing the real results really helps.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Zang It

Well, that's it!  It looks like we got the house.  Barring any freak occurrences at inspection, in thirty days, we'll be living in a new space in a new town.  So it's getting time to say goodbye to this place.

Here's what Vine St. looked like when we moved in:

There was no kitchen to speak of--only a big, empty, canary-yellow room with a small metal sink on one side.  There was paint splattered everywhere, the carpets were new but so cheap walking on them left huge indents that didn't go away.  There was sticky linoleum peeling up over the wood floors.  The house had been stripped; there was almost no hardware or light fixtures.  The only appliance left was the hot water heater, and it died a few days after we moved in.  And there was the corpse of a cat in the crawl space under the backyard.  Vine St. was your quintessential money pit.

Except it wasn't.  I mean, it took us a long time to fix up, but it did eventually fix up.  And we have a lot of memories here.  It was the first house either Eric or I owned; I went into labor in this house more times than I care to count, and we brought both Addie and Nolie home from the hospital here.  Burley lived here with us.  We know our neighbors, and we know all the neighborhood restaurants and coffee shops and parks.  We're just a few blocks from the zoo, and minutes from downtown.  We're close to dear, dear friends. 

There is much to speak for this house.  It's over a hundred years old now, and still has sheltered us and kept us warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  We believed in it and in this neighborhood, and leaving will be bittersweet. 

When we first moved in here, there were stickers on every surface, little girl barrettes stuck in odd places, and doll remnants in the backyard.  I liked finding these treasures, liked thinking about all the families and all the little girls who had lived here before us.  I don't know if it's true or not, but our realtor said he heard the young woman who is buying this place talking about how she loves this house, and wants to bring her babies home to this place someday, to raise her kids here.  It doesn't really matter if it's true.  I'm going to believe it anyway.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Bells in My Batfry

I've been lousy at posting lately.  But it's not because I've abandoned toddlerspit.  Oh no.  It's because I've been ricocheting off the walls, like a bat with bells tied to her wings.  And a ricocheting bat finds it difficult to sit down at her laptop to type.  A ricocheting bat must do things like scrub toilets and drink more coffee and pick incessantly at her little bat children and chew lots of tums.

I'm ricocheting because (thank you for asking) our house officially goes on the market today, and we've already had two pretty nice offers, and got into a bidding war, and now we're up to full-price and may go higher by midnight tonight.  We also both have the sneaking suspicion that we identified our dream house today, and we're probably putting in an offer tomorrow.

Some people (Eric) are tired of hearing this story, but I just can't get over it, so I'm going to tell it again.  You know how a few weeks ago we found our dog Burley a good home right after I gave that donation to the animal shelter in honor of our friend's dog, Gatsby?  And I felt like that happened because I released a very specific intention to the universe?  Well, around that same time (February 24, to be exact), in the little notebook I carry around with me everywhere, I wrote these two things on a "wishlist to the universe:"

"a beautiful, spacious, zen house that is close to the 'outdoors' and that looks like it's in the mountains"  (The house we want to buy has cedar siding, is surrounded by old-growth trees, is close to the foothills, backs to open space, and has a real, live ficus tree growing up through the dining room floor.  No shit).

"a sale that is easy and joyous, selling at full price, with the buyer paying closing costs, and selling in less than sixty days"  (Yep.  'Cept if I had it to do over again, I wouldn't put a limit on the sale price.  Why not "selling at more than full price"?  Greedy?  Maybe.  But who am I to underestimate what is possible?)

[Update:  as I was reading over this, Eric called me on my cell to tell me we got another offer, for above our asking price.  Go figure.]

Well.  How about that.  The cynics among you are saying, "Well, duh.  You wanted a house that looked a certain way, and so you found it.  You wanted your house to sell, so you did the work you needed to do, and it sold.  It's not the universe, it's you, dummy."

Yes and no.  It was us, to the extent that we did what we needed to do to get the house ready for sale and looked for houses to buy.  And, since I am a divine part of the universe (stick that in you craw, daddio), I helped create this reality that is so exciting.  But I think also about the me of five years ago.  The me of five years ago was a sad little pessimist who always assumed the worst.  I explained every little rotten thing (not finding a job, Eric not asking me to marry him, our run-down little house, you name it) as part of a long pattern of loserness.  Anything good--meeting Eric, moving to Colorado, going to grad school--was considered an exception to my loserness rule.

I remember exactly the moment when I stood in the upstairs hall of our house, sobbing at Eric because my job as personal assistant to Mr. Asscrack of the universe sucked, or I didn't want to finish my dissertation, or thought I was really ugly, and I was yelling at him how I was worthless and he should leave me.  He looked at me and said, "You know what?  You're not allowed to talk like that.  Any.  More."

I could tell he was serious.  It straightened me out, was a grand epiphany for me, shining light on the fact that I had some control in how I looked at events, in how I would be permitted to look at events.  Then I got serious, and started to read some books on cognitive psychology (especially this one) and got dragged to unchurch by Nancy.  It's taken me a long time to go from total pessimist to someone who believes in positive intention.

And still, even given how great things have gone and how good life is, it's hard for me to believe it all.

Except, there is that full price offer, staring us in the face.  There is the house on Zang Street (no kidding) waiting for us to buy it.  So I'm beginning to think there is something to it.  Does this mean nothing bad will ever happen?  Maybe Zang Street is ridden with termites.  Maybe the buyer of our house will skip town.  The universe can be a trickster some time.

But I'm not too worried about it.  There are good things coming to me, and flowing through me, and that is good.  I'm believing, I'm believing.