THANK YOU TEACHER

Solot summer 2014-9752

In the trenches of my daughter’s infancy, I dreamed about the independence of kindergarten.  Fast forward five years later, kindergarten snuck up on me. I began having nightmares about her being lost in the classroom, middle school, mean girls and more mean girls.  Terrified, anxious, and unsure were words that described my emotional state.  You can read about it here.

Luckily, there is a happy ending to this story, my daughter loves kindergarten.  This Thanksgiving I am thankful for her amazing kindergarten teacher who eased my worries .  Please check out my “Thank You Note” to her over on the Huffington Post.

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justine-solot/a-thank-you-note-to-my-daughters-kindergarten-teacher_b_6201260.html

Pure Barre

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I push through the glass doors and sprint to the Pure Barre receptionist. I made it.

“I didn’t sign up online,” I gasp. I never sign up online because I never know whether I am going to make it. Every Tuesday I drop my daughter at preschool and drive as fast as I can to Pure Barre.

“You made it,” she says. “Can you sign this waiver? We are filming the class today and you need to sign a release.”

Are you kidding me, I think, filming. I glance around the waiting area. Everyone is looking exceptionally perfect today – foundation, eyeliner, and mascara. I wish I had gotten the memo.

The Sesame Street song “One of these things is not like the other one” jumps into my mind.  I sign the release anyway.

Class begins and the cameraman circles the room. Mirrored walls, today I am too aware of how not put together I am. I haven’t showered. I am not wearing any makeup and I have a large hormonal pimple on my chin.

“Tuck Under. Tuck Freeze.” The Pure Barre instructor calls out instructions through her megaphone.

I silently wonder – Am I tucking? What is a tuck? Should my abs burn more?

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the twenty-something instructor about tucking. She was visibly taken a back. Clearly, I was a novice amongst bar experts. She awkwardly placed her hand on my stomach and pushed a little bit. I don’t think I understood the demonstration, but I was too embarrassed to inquire any further.

“My post-baby abs may not be physically able to tuck anymore,” I joked.

She smiled awkwardly, “Keep trying.”

 ***

The music thumps. I “tuck” my abs and push my legs to the beat of the music.

“Like this,” my instructor tweaks my leg in a new direction. “Better,” she says.

I bought a 20 pack of Pure Barre classes. I attempt to go once a week. I make it haphazardly. Each week I surround myself with women who know whether they are tucking. The Pure Barre ladies (ballerinas) dress impeccably in the perfect Lululemon outfits, leggings, drapey tops that show just enough shoulder, and their hair tucked back in stylish buns.  There is not a trace of unwanted hair on their legs, armpits, or god forbid their face. The regulars have perfect ballerina posture (some of them are ex-professional dancers). Their rings sparkle and they have gelac manicures. They gather together before and after class, chatting about their jobs, their kids and their summers.

I like to eavesdrop. It’s a favorite past time.  Secretly, I hope their put togetherness sinks in through osmosis.

Once a week I stand on the outskirts of these groups. Not because they are cliquey, but because these ballerinas are tight and have been coming here regularly for a long time. I smile shyly when a ballerina glances in my direction.

There are a few of us outliers in any given class. You can always pick us out. The ones wearing boot cut yoga pants (a complete no-no), t-shirts, sweat pants, senior citizens and all the newbies with less than 20 classes under their belts.

Today, the outliers are giving each others the eyes (i.e. mental high fives).  We signed the waiver to be filmed, despite our outlier status.

The cameraman circles the studio. His camera zooms in on one of the ballerina’s perfect tiptoe squat.

“Tuck under. Tuck Freeze. One arm up ladies.” The instructor shouts.

I look in the mirror and realize that I forgot to shave my armpits. There is a smudge of baby food on my right leg. Dog hair covers the entire left side of my body. In the rush to make it to Pure Barre class, I forgot deodorant. I smell.

But, I am wearing my Lululemon Wunder Under leggings. It’s not a complete loss. Luckily, you wear socks in Pure Barre, so no one notices my need for a pedicure.

I stare in the mirror, wondering …

How do I make my ponytail appear as stylishly effortless as the women beside me?

Is my black top with black leggings a fashion faux pas?

From a conversational distance can you tell I need to pluck my eyebrows?

The mirror is a distraction.

I glance around the studio and one of the ballerinas is wearing a black top with black pants too. I am not completely hopeless.

The instructor passes by and tweaks my leg again.

Does she think I’m Pure Barre incompetent? She teaches every Tuesday morning, does she think I come here multiple times a week and still can’t learn the moves?

We grab the bar. On our toes, we push, we squat, we tuck.

How come the leg I’m pressing back with isn’t fatigued, yet my standing leg is jelly? I must be doing it wrong.

My leg is shaking, but it’s the wrong leg. My resting leg is about to collapse. Yet, my working leg feels as fit as a fiddle.

After an intense squatting session, I lean forward, and rest my head on the bar. “FUCK,” I say. The older woman next to me smiles.

I smile back.  I like to say “FUCK” loudly and as often as possible when I am away from the kids.  It is amazingly therapeutic.

Fuck, I love Pure Barre.

Stay-at-Home Mother

As a child if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would not have said a stay-at-home mother. I had an endless list of future careers, but mother was not one of them.  I gave birth to my first child and my plans exploded in my face.  I wanted to be with her every minute.  I chose to stay home and stuff my law degree in the closet along with my high heeled shoes, dry clean only shirts, and endless suits.

Not surprisingly, motherhood shattered my identity.  I imagine that most new mothers (and fathers) have a slight identity crisis.  I don’t like to bake, craft, cook, or clean.  I never liked to babysit or play with dolls.  Pinterest baffles me. I thought I had to do those things.  I felt invisible as if people who looked at me could only see the baby on my hip.  As if the role of stay-at-home mother equated to me having nothing to say at all.

In the universe of mothers there are lines drawn in the sand, working vs. stay-at-home, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, attachment parents vs. babywise parents, etc.  The list is endless.  These lines are isolating.  The crazy part is that these lines become cataclysmic because if we are honest most mothers at times feel slightly insecure about the choices we make. We are slightly defensive about this life choice. We may be ultra sensitive when those around us point out our differences.  We put up walls.  Embrace labels.  This is a shame, because we all share certain truths, the paramount truth being that we all just want the best for our children.

Back to my story.

Identity crisis ensued.  No one admits these things.  No one admits that they doubt their choices.  I felt scorned by the working moms and scorned by the stay-at-home moms for not being blissed out on motherhood.  I felt alone.

It was my insecurity that perpetuated these divides.

Then suddenly, an answer, reinvention.  Reinvention of who I thought I was going to be.  Reinvention of what it means to be a stay-at-home mother.  Reinvention of how I perceived myself.

I wrote.

A story is a snap shot of a moment in time.  This is a snap shot of a moment a few years ago when I felt invisible in the role of stay-at-home mother.

Now this new mother almost seems like a character in a story I once read.

I am happy.

Check out my essay featured on Mamalode today.

Also, I just created a Facebook page for the blog, “like it” and you will get all my publications delivered to your news feed.

Tired

I am so tired that I drove my minivan into the mall parking structure not realizing that I still had the giant capsule roof rack on top of my car. Immediately, I heard the loud SCRAPE of my car against the low beam of the parking garage. I froze, but I couldn’t freeze. Once I entered the garage, there was nothing to do other then follow the maze of exit signs to the exit. I scraped every low beam along the way. It was loud. People pointed at me and not so politely informed me that I was scraping the ceiling.

No s***.

I nodded and smiled. Yes, I was entirely aware my car was hitting the ceiling, just creeping to the exit.

Thank God, my daughters weren’t in the car. My kindergartener would deem this situation “embarrassing” and would probably not recover this decade. As for me, it was definitely embarrassing, but post-children I’ve become well acquainted with embarrassing. It is just par for the course.

I am so tired that I wrote about it. Please read my essay over at Scary Mommy.

Warning – The Invisible Virus

Guilt – A highly contagious virus is spreading like wildfire this flu season.  Parents, especially mothers are highly susceptible.  This includes: stay-at-home, working, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, single, coupled, same-sex, attachment-parenting, helicopter, free-range, tiger, and any other type of mother you can think of.

There is no known vaccine.

The virus may cause insomnia, emotional distress, stress related headaches, attitude problems, marital discord, stomach aches, and nausea.  It may lead sufferers to drink copious amounts of wine or binge eat after bedtime.

There is no known cure.  Although sleep, exercise, yoga, wine and confessing all your guilt inducing sins to your true friends will help alleviate symptoms. Acceptance, of oneself and fellow sufferers is key to moving forward.

Let’s support one another in this parenting escapade.

We are all doing the best we can.

Also, if you get a chance check out my essay “Mom Guilt” on the Huffington Post – share it, like it, tweet it, and email it around.  You can “Fan Me” if you want the Huff Post to send you an email whenever I publish over there.

I am an insecure writer, so any fandom is much appreciated.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justine-solot/mom-guilt_b_5793030.html

Thanks,

Justine

The Princesses in Their Cages

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“Guess what?” I say as I approach my daughters, sitting at the dining room table coloring. Their markers strewn across the table are mostly faded and dried out. The new colored pencils, our family’s solution to the dried out markers, lay scattered around them in a mini tornado of coloring utensils. I sit down beside my daughters.

“We are going to Disney Land for my birthday. Mom is going to celebrate her birthday with her twin sister and we are going to Disney Land!” I am thrilled about my plan. When I discovered my birthday fell on my daughter’s fall break, I never booked a trip so quickly. I have never been to Disney Land and have received a giant amount of grief about this for my entire life. I will finally experience this American rite of passage on my 35th birthday with my twin sister. But then I start thinking about the details of our “vacation”. For three nights my husband and I will be sharing a hotel room with our three tiny children, one of whom is up several times a night. We will be spending our days at an overcrowded theme park. I don’t like crowds. I don’t even like street fairs. This may be my own personal hell. Perhaps not a vacation at all, but rather a very expensive and rare form of torture?

“Mommy hasn’t celebrated her birthday with her twin sister in 20 years,” I tell my daughters who by this time have completely checked out of the conversation and are dreaming about Anna, Elsa, and their cousin who they adore. “Mommy has never been to Disney Land.” I say animatedly and slightly irritated by the way I am talking about myself in the third person.

My four-year-old jumps from her seat and shouts, “ I can’t wait to go to Disney Land and see the princesses in their cages!”

“I can’t wait to see the princesses in their cages too,” the three-year-old screams, mimicking her sister.

I smile.   My girls think that Disney Land is a zoo for princesses. A modern day feminist’s dream, the dangerous Disney princesses with their svelte bodies and flowing tresses, all locked behind bars. These princesses who brainwash our preschoolers to think that being skinny and pretty is everything. The insidious belief that if a young girl is thin, pretty, and waits patiently, her prince charming will come, kiss her, and carry her to a glorious happily ever after. Some feminists blame princess culture for everything. Disney princesses, the slippery slope that set our daughters on the path to body insecurities and eating disorders.

It would be nice if life were that simple? If banning princesses from our homes would guarantee that our daughters would grow-up with high self-esteem and aspirations to be whoever they want to be. It would be lovely if banning princesses would prevent my future adolescent daughters from obsessing over whether society/ adolescent boys find them pretty or not.

From my experience raising two daughters, three-year-olds gravitate to gender stereotypes. My daughter insists on wearing pink and purple twirley princess dresses every day. She scoffs at pants and shorts. My oldest did the same thing, but now she is five, she only wears pants, and her favorite color is green.

Princess culture is fleeting. The stereotypes in the princess books are pathetic, but this too shall pass. If my daughter develops body insecurities as a tween, it won’t be because of Ariel’s shell bikini. It will more likely stem from pop culture where the media photo-shops images of already dangerously thin supermodels.

As a child I did not own a single disney princess. I spent most of my time coloring my barbies and chopping off their hair. My barbies were skinny and pretty, but they were dolls. At 11-years-old, I remember obsessing over whether I was pretty or not. I spent hours thinking if only I was skinnier, had longer legs, or a different nose. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I believed that being “pretty” was everything. The pretty girls were the popular girls and I wished I could be one. As an adolescent I wasted so much time worrying about how I looked.

I wish it were that easy. I wish I could lock the princesses in their cages and save my daughters from the masochistic adolescent experience of dissecting their looks. I wish I could save them from the monstrous teenage time suck, that is spending endless hours worrying about whether they are pretty or whether a certain boy will like them. I wish I could save them the heartache of feeling ugly, different, or less than. But alas, annihilating the princesses is not the answer. Society’s fixation with beauty is pervasive.  It sucks.

 *****

“The princesses actually walk around Disney Land,” I say to my eldest daughter. “It is not a zoo. You can even shake their hands.” I laugh out loud and kiss her soft face.

Her cheeks flush. She is embarrassed. “I know that,” she says, “Princesses live in castles.”

“Of course they do,” I say, “and we are going to visit them on my birthday.”

Life’s Trajectory & Letting Go

 

For the first thirty years of my life I followed a specific trajectory. My life was a linear graph. One could merely plug in the vertical and horizontal measurements into the linear equation to determine the slope of my life and project where I would be in two, five, and ten years. My trajectory was neat, orderly, and systematic. There were points marked on the graph for high school, college, work, law school, bar exam and then work again. In this world, hard work led to academic and professional success. As far as I knew, thought, believed, I would continue on this path forever. I envisioned myself rising to the top of my legal career, establishing a solid reputation, and receiving awards. In my mind, I would be a legal superstar.

But then, I got pregnant. People never admit this, but I was slightly ambivalent about my pregnancy. I was the first in my group of friends to become pregnant. I was entrenched in my career. My social life entailed happy hours with beloved co-workers after endless hours at work. Weekends were spent sleeping in, lounging with my husband, prepping trials, and visiting clients in jail. The pregnancy triggered something inside me. I started doubting whether I could do my job and be a mom. On some level I knew that I would have to give something up. I loved my life, my trajectory, my diagonal line aiming high into the sky, but I anticipated change.

Well into my second trimester my body indicated that my new baby and I could not survive my career path. I sat across from my boss, tears streaming down my face and I quit. I intended to return. A year maternity leave maximum, I thought as I left the only adult life I’d ever known, my office, my friends, and my co-workers. I’d be back. I loved this place.

My pregnancy was a beautiful ticking time bomb. Her birth tore me apart and ripped me from my orderly world. She blasted me off my trajectory. I was catapulted off the linear graph I’d been climbing and thrown into outer space. A world no one can imagine or be prepared for until their own baby is placed in their arms. In this world there was no line to measure my progress. No linear equation to determine my success. Analytically my choices did not make sense. Hard work would never equate to a plaque or an award.

I looked at my baby girl and knew returning to work would not be so simple. She jolted me out of my life. I threw myself into parenting and loving this little person. I missed my old world – my friends, trials, professional respect, and the fight for social justice. I missed it, but I couldn’t go back. In some sense I didn’t feel brave enough to return. Financially, I didn’t have to, so I stayed home, but I was conflicted. As years passed I thought maybe I’ll go back when my baby attends school all day.

*****

A stay-at-home mother with young kids, our house is a chrysalis, a hard shell protecting our growing family. My three children cozily wrapped together in the silk sinews we created. The walls are thick and tight. We are pressed so closely together it is sometimes hard to tell where one of us ends and the other one starts. We feed off of each other. My children’s bodies melding to the shape of their parents and siblings pressed against them. So malleable, the children grow, bending around one another, expanding any way they can until they emerge into the outside world.  

The moment the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. It sounds romantic, but in reality, it’s slightly gruesome. The butterfly is torn from the chrysalis. It pulls, tears, and rips itself from its protective shell. There is blood. Pain. In the end, the butterfly is beautiful and free.

*****

I remember walking my daughter to the park, pushing her stroller. She ate snacks off of her tray, happily sipping from her straw cup, pointing at dogs and bikes. It was sunny. I was tired from nights spent traversing a path from her room to my own. I passed a woman, standing on the bike path with her daughter who was straddling a two-wheel bike without training wheels. The woman smiled, “It goes by quick,” she said, “Enjoy your little girl.” I smiled, a cliché often repeated to new mothers. I kept walking. My baby tucked in her stroller that woman’s life appeared eons away. I couldn’t imagine my baby speaking in full sentences, let alone a child riding her own bike. I mused, life with a big kid looked peaceful and definitely less draining. She appeared to get more rest than me.

The moment, a cliché, a mere blip on my radar … until now.

My daughter is five-years-old. She received a two-wheel bike without training wheels for her birthday. She began kindergarten. No one informs you how difficult this milestone is. I am letting innocence personified walk out of my protective shell. Her classroom brims full of twenty-five five-year-olds. I give her a kiss and drop her on the curb. I can no longer help her find someone to play with. I can no longer nudge her to speak up for herself. I can no longer protect her from the brutality of the real world.

I begin the process of letting go. The girl who blasted me out of my professional life transitions into her elementary years. Now I realize how quickly this moment will come for her sister and brother too. What seemed my forever is fleeting. Inevitably each child will leave. Parenting small children is a chapter, not a book. One day sooner rather than later, I too will extricate myself from this tight nest and must redefine my trajectory.

My oldest emerges from our shell. She begins to find her own path. Everyday I let her go. The transition becomes easier. We both enjoy our new independence. And luckily, I’m realizing it’s just kindergarten, so when she returns home I am a cascade of fierce mommy love and kisses.

 

success-graph-demetri-martin-squiggly-line Success Chart by Demetri Martin