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.

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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

Now She’s Four … What a Ride It’s Been

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Four years ago my entire existence transformed, four years ago my former self became a mother.  You are not supposed to say that, or at the very least not supposed to admit it out loud. But parenthood was a game changer, a life changer, an electric shock to my perspective.  Four years ago, I watched in fear as my heart leapt from my chest and became entwined with an infant child.  Four years ago, you became my primal concern, my heart, my breath, my anxiety, my fears, my hopes, my dreams … my infant girl.

You were an infant that had to be held constantly.  You were fussy.  You didn’t nap anywhere, but in my arms.  As a first time mom, I was told that I must breastfeed fifteen minutes from each breast at each feeding.  As I studiously approach life, I diligently approached nursing, I had a pen at each feeding and I documented each feeding, minutes, time, etc.  I cried when you only ate for six minutes on my left breast and then fell fast asleep.  I worried whether you would be okay when you only ate for two minutes on my right.  I did everything that I was told, I undressed you, I tickled your feet, I squeezed your palms, and I brushed a cool washcloth on your forehead.  I worried why breastfeeding, parenting, work, life was not occurring exactly as it was described in the books.

You would not sleep in a crib, a swing, or a bassinet.  You chose only to sleep in my arms. Night after night months on end, I held you resting on the boppy as your dad brought me my dinner, crumbs falling on your bald head.  You were the definition of a baby that needed to be held, so I held you.  You didn’t just fall asleep in my arms.  Dad and I took turns spending endless hours on the large inflated bouncy ball with you swaddled in our arms.  We bounced and bounced.  We bounced until our backs hurt.  We bounced until our arms were numb.  We bounced and we tried to put you in your crib.  We would lie you down and creep away.  The moment we’d get to the couch your scream jolted us up.  So we held you.

No one tells you how hard it is to add an infant to a marriage, but it’s hard.  We learned patience in the midst of exhaustion.  We learned to divide our attention.  We tried to put a little focus on our marriage.  We struggled, we reminisced, and we accepted our new reality.  We grew with you.  Your dad laughed at ever giving parenting advice to his patients pre-children, he became a better doctor.

When you were almost five months old you took your first trip to Mexico.  You spent most of your time in a baby bjorn, where you would sleep on and off throughout the day.  You still had not learned to fall asleep on your own.  You dozed off for 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there, but never enough to allow you to feel rested.  We have an amazing photo of you falling asleep for 5 minutes sitting up on your Dad’s lap.  He was so proud.  Pre-kids he had dreamed about napping with his baby drifting off on his chest and for five minutes in Mexico that was his reality.

Before you were two-years-old you became a big sister.  It broke my heart to think you would have to share your attention with another little person.  It broke my heart to think that I would not be available to give you 100% all of the time.  I worried whether adding a child so soon was the right thing to do.  I worried how you would feel.  I worried about  how I’d manage two babies alone all day.  I still remember the first day I was alone with my two babies, pure panic, but I made it through, we all made it through, and expanding the love in our family was the greatest gift.

You are my hyena girl.  At two, you loved Lion King.  You had a strange obsession with the darker characters of Lion King, especially the hyenas.  I was a little worried.  You carried plastic hyena figures with you everywhere.  You took them to your two-hour preschool class, and by the end of the year, the other children were searching for Simba and the hyenas in the schoolyard.

When you were two and a half your vocabulary was huge.  I remember people teasing you that you sounded like a little English professor.  You inserted exclamations such as “clearly” and “of course” throughout your speech.  It almost sounded as if you had a British accent. My sister would imitate you to no end.  Your attention span is and was tremendous.  You sat for hours and listened to books, combing through the pictures, and asking numerous questions.    You never really played on your own. You needed to be entertained.  You jumped from playing with your parents to playing with your sister.

You loved to sing, you still love to sing. You awoke from every nap singing at the top of your lungs in your bed, “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”, “Hakuna Matata”, and any number of childhood songs.  You have a great singing voice and I love hearing the unabashed melodies echoing from behind your closed door.

At three, we started reading chapter books with you and again your amazing attention span continues to surprise me.  We’ve read Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at least five times each.  Sometimes I wonder what you absorb in the books we read aloud, and then weeks later you will say something to me that will sound so familiar.  Suddenly, I realize that you directly quoted a line from a book that I read several weeks before.  It doesn’t even have to be a book that we have read thousands of times. Your memory is a sponge. I read to you and you often correct me.  It is not words that are glaringly obvious that you catch, such as wrong names, but sometimes you correct me when I insert the wrong preposition into a story.

You are an observer.  You love to play with friends and be part of the action, but you often sit back and take it all in.  You are cautious, but as you approached your fourth birthday you have become much more physical with your behavior and are less afraid to fall down and pull yourself back up.

At times you are heartbreakingly quiet.  If you are not comfortable in a situation, your voice is not heard. I struggle with respecting your quietness and trying to pull you from your shell.  YOU have so much to share with the world.  People have asked, “Does she speak? … Has she been in school? … Why is she so shy?”   I am a Mama Bear, I want to protect you from the world’s judgment and criticism.  All I want is for others to see your wit, creativity, sensitivity, and strength.  I never want you to be overlooked or lost in the crowd.

At four you are a little girl.  You are engaging, dramatic, bright, and fun.  You love playing with your close friends and cousins.  You are painfully aware of all the preschool social dynamics. You are learning to make new friends.

Your sister is your best friend.  You orchestrate long play sessions with her and your animals, stories with dramatic plot twists.  I see the two of you together and I am so grateful to have two girls so close in age with such a magical friendship.  Your interactions shine a light on the magical gift I had growing up with a twin.  No words or need for explanations are needed between you and your sister.  You truly are each other’s yin and yang, peanut butter and jelly, and everything else that is different but just supposed to be together.  This last couple of weeks you’ve started sharing a room.  A couple of nights ago, I found your little sister had crawled out of her bed and fell asleep snuggled next to you in your twin bed.  You are each other’s warmth and security.

This summer turning four has come with big changes.  Fear of the dark has wreaked havoc on our nights.  Every night you drag your animals down the hall and fall asleep on the floor by my bed.  As a baby you were not a good sleeper, and you continue to be my problem sleeper.  You shower me and your dad with love, “You are the best mom in the whole world,” as you wrap your arms around my waist.  This is often followed by, “You’re the meanest mom ever.”  Your emotions run hot and cold, arms crossed, eye rolls, and stomping of feet have scarily become common gestures. A few nights ago you moaned, “my mom is sooooo irritating,” when I insisted that you stay in your room at bedtime.

The dogs have transformed from objects that you torture to furry friends that you love and help me care for.  You help feed them, walk them, and will curl up on the dog bed to snuggle Cru every morning (currently around 5am) when you wake up.

You hate to disappoint people.  The moment you are unable to complete a task, reprimanded for hurting your sister, or you spill something, crocodile tears appear in your eyes.  You have an uncanny ability to trigger tears on command, and I swear they are the biggest tears I’ve ever seen.  In fact, most babies don’t cry real tears for the first few months of their lives, but you have shed real tears from day one.

You took ballet over the summer.  You twirl and spin, jolted movements that  at times appear far from graceful, but I am so proud of you, bravely dancing with the other girls.  You make me laugh.  You have your Dad’s flexibility (an inability to touch your toes), gymnastics and ballet may not be your strong suits, but you love it all the same.

You have no fear of animals, reptiles, or bugs.  You love searching for bugs, especially rolly pollies, digging through the dirt.  Bug hunts are a favorite activity.  You love snakes.  We have pictures of you holding huge snakes with them wrapped around your shoulders.

You still love hyenas, but foxes are your four-year old passion.  When you watched Peter Pan, you didn’t fall in love with Tinker Bell, Wendy, or Pan, you fell in love with the Lost Boys and because you did so did your sister.  You continue to love the obscure characters in books and movies (i.e. the parentless children dressed as animals that live in a hollow tree with Peter Pan).  You dress up like the fox Lost Boy (Slightly Foxy) and your sister like the bear (Cubby) and you create endless adventures. Sometimes you ask me why you are the only one that loves these animals so much, and why no one else loves the Lost Boys like you do. I try to teach you that it is your differences that make you special.  I wish I could build a protective wall around your idiosyncrasies, so that you will always remain confident enough to be my lost boy or hyena girl.  I wish the world was more appreciative of everyone’s differences.  Our differences are what makes the world a beautiful place.  As the People book states, “what if we all looked and acted the same, what a boring place it would be.”

You are so special, so different, so unique, and not like anyone else.  You are brave, timid, loud, quiet, dramatic, logical, heart melting, and infuriating.  You are the most amazing, magical, interesting, and dynamic four-year old that I know.  I love you mountains and mountains and mountains.  Your dad and I have learned the world from you.  You teach us to be better parents and people.   You teach us to rethink everything we ever assumed of what or how parenthood should be.

We thank you for all we’ve learned and continue to learn, pushing our limits and stretching our perspectives.  We wouldn’t change you for the world.  You are magically unique.

We love you.

My Gripes with Gender Stereotypes

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Focus on Physical Beauty

My daughters are beautiful and I want them to know they are beautiful.  However, I am frustrated by people who feel the need to constantly comment on their physical beauty.  “You are so beautiful,” comments are nice to hear every once in a while, but it should not be the only thing one says to little girls.  They should hear that they are smart, fun, unique, adventurous, brave, and the list goes on, the more specific the comments the better.

Society’s fixation on female beauty infuriates me.  From fourth grade through college, I was uncomfortably aware of who was the most beautiful girl in my class.  Growing up, girls constantly hear how they rank in the spectrum of superficial beauty.  Throughout my life my physical attributes were compared to those of my sisters.  Strangers felt they could comment, “Your oldest daughter is so beautiful,” as my twin and I sat next to her.  We were labeled, the “pretty one”, the “smart one”, the “artist”.  I remember thinking “if only I was prettier, I’d have more friends … I’d be happier … life would be easier.”

I know I cannot protect my daughters from the superficiality of our world.  I want them to have healthy self esteem, so they never feel ugly in this world fixated on beauty.  But it irritates me that at two and four, adults constantly comment on their looks.  Adults don’t approach toddler boys and continuously comment on how pretty they are.  They may comment on it once, but it is not something daily repeated to little boys.  Beauty does not play a primary role in a boy’s narrative.  It should not be a part of a little girl’s either.  I hate that I have heard my three and a half year old daughter ask, “Am I beautiful?”, after hearing an adult make a pretty comment about her sister.  My daughters have a lifetime to worry about superficial beauty, they need not concern themselves with it now.

I am struck by my daughters’ beauty everyday. Sometimes I tell them they are beautiful and I hope my words stick within their brains, but I don’t want to focus on it.  Telling them they are beautiful every day is not going to make them have healthier self-esteem, instead it will teach them that the adults in their lives highly value physical beauty.  My daughters’ are so much more than their physical appearances and I wish adults focused less on little girls’ superficial beauty and more on their individuality.

As adults we need to think before we address young girls about their physical appearances.  Cute comments have become ingrained in our psyche, I fall prey to the superficial focus as well.   It’s important to thoughtfully consider our language and engage children in gender-neutral compliments.  The more specific the comments the better – “I love how much you like hyenas, it’s so cool that you’re not afraid of snakes, you run so fast, you climbed that wall so well, or you’re so brave on the slide” rather than “do you know how pretty you look today?… or “your outfit is beautiful.”

Toddler Boys are so Much Harder than Girls

Oh, how I can’t stand this comment.  Yes, typically boys are wild and rambunctious.  They like balls, trucks, and all things physical.  They aren’t sensitive.  They fall and pick themselves back up.  They are messy.  I admit that often gender stereotypes can be true, but who is to say they are always true?  Accordingly, who is to say one sex is harder than another?  (Who knows maybe I’ll have a boy and end up eating my words, but I don’t think so).

For those of you that continuously make this comment: (1) do you have both a boy and a girl?  (2) Is it easier to label it a gender difference rather than a personality difference, or a birth order difference?

My daughters are as different as night and day.  One is at times more reserved, a reader, an observer, more cerebral, sensitive, and the other is at times more physical, she’d sometimes rather throw a book than read it, wild, adventurous, a hitter, a kicker, and a biter.  I hate to even use these labels on either of them because they both change daily and at any given moment can be so different.  However, innately they were born with distinct personalities.  If my second was a boy then maybe I would write her physicality off as a gender difference, but she’s not, so I know there is a wide range of personalities and physical differences amongst both boys and girls.

One often hears, “he is pure boy”, alluding that he likes all the stereotypical boy things, as if other boys are not “pure” boy.  I assert that a boy can be “pure boy” and play dress-up or play with dolls.  My daughters are “pure girls”.  They sometimes play with dolls and princesses, but they often prefer to play with wild animals or dinosaurs.

Give Me a Kiss and I’ll Give You a Cookie

It is pretty obvious what is wrong with this comment when you see it typed in black and white.  But this statement is made over and over again to my daughters.  It is not always so blatant, but sometimes I even catch myself pressuring my daughters to give someone a hello hug when one or both clearly don’t want to.  Is pressure like this put on little boys too?  It shouldn’t be placed on boys or girls.

Teaching girls to ignore their feelings and succumb to the pressure to hug or kiss someone sets a bad precedent.  I want my girls to have boundaries.  I don’t want them to be people pleasers.  I want them to listen to their own feelings and respect them.  If they don’t feel like hugging or kissing someone then they shouldn’t have to do it.  They should not be rewarded for doling out physical affection and they should not be publicly embarrassed for wanting to maintain their own physical space.  My daughters need to learn that their feelings deserve respect and they shouldn’t make decisions based purely on an adult’s happiness. For instance, if a situation is uncomfortable then they should leave even if someone will be hurt or disappointed.  I may be jumping ahead of myself, but they need to know if they feel uncomfortable by someone’s touch, they can say no.  I want my girls to know they are valued for something other than their looks and their physical affection.

We need to teach our children to trust themselves starting at an early age.  I want my girls to know that I (as well as the other important adults in their lives) respect their feelings, and hopefully this respect can build the foundation for mutual (parent/child) respect in the future and their own healthy self respect.

You’re Pregnant Again????  I Hope It’s a Boy!!!!

For all of my readers that don’t know, we are pregnant again.  I am due for a New Year’s baby this time around and we will find out the sex in August.  We truly are excited to have either a boy or a girl, what’s important is a healthy baby.

It bothers me when people tell us that they hope it will be a boy.  It seems that people act as if giving birth to a boy is winning the gender lottery.  When I was pregnant for the second time with a second girl, some people were truly disappointed to hear we would have another girl.  Or they’d say, well maybe the third will be a boy.  It hearkens back to medieval times as if girls are second-class babies and everyone secretly wishes for a boy.

Of course we would love to experience a boy, but we would also love to have another girl.  All we want is a healthy and happy family.

Little Girl Underpants

Now that my youngest will be potty training soon, we are looking for underpants that will get her excited to ditch the diapers and use the potty.  The problem is the only underpants sold for girls are fairies, princesses, hello kitty, Dora, etc.  My girls like princesses and pink, but my youngest loves Diego the animal rescuer (Dora’s cousin), wild animals, dinosaurs, and the lost boys from Peter Pan.  None of these options are available for little girl underpants.  They are not all available for little boys, but the boy options are more fun, i.e. Diego, Lion King, Monsters Inc., Spider Man, etc.  My oldest didn’t love the girl options either, so I ended up buying her a set of boy underpants.  I didn’t think this is a problem, but sometimes I worry what their preschool teachers will think if I send my daughters to school in underpants that are clearly made for boys (i.e. the open flap in the front).  I know we must not be the only ones in the world with this problem, so why do clothing manufacturers genderize toddlers’ underpants?

Another issue with toddler underpants, once the sizes get out of the toddler range, it seems that the preschool and above sizes are all bikini styles.  Why should four and five year olds be wearing bikini cut underpants? Little boys get to jump up to boxers, which provide more coverage and more comfort while little girls’ underpants get skimpier once they hit elementary school, there is something seriously wrong with this scenario.

To conclude, I like princesses, fairies, and the color pink, but there should be more fun options for girls.  We don’t need to pigeon hole our children into gender stereotypes at two and four years old.  It’s all about creating more options.

Speaking of which, after writing this post I saw this video on the Huffington Post. Goldiblox was created by a woman disappointed in the under representation of women in engineering professions, so she created engineering toys for little girls.  She too was frustrated by the lack of toy options for little girls i.e. barbie dolls, dress up, etc.

What do you think about gender stereotypes?  Am I being overly sensitive?  Do you think there is too much focus on girls’ physical beauty, clothes, etc.?

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Perfectionism, Competition, Comparison and Life’s Pendulum

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I struggle with perfectionism, competition, and comparison.  I need to enter a 12 step program and I need to find one quickly.  It has been a battle that I’ve fought my whole life.  You see I’ve created this gold standard that I need to drive for, and the standard is excellent, perfect, the best.  I feel like I must be the best or at least rank with the best to be validated.  One rarely meets this standard of excellence or perfection.  I don’t know anyone that can say with complete certainty that they are the very best.  My problem is when I don’t meet my unrealistic standards, I become my own bully – I claim “I suck,” or, “I’m bad,” or “maybe I should just quit.”  My personal self-critique is unhealthy, bad for my self-esteem, and a poor example for my daughters.  But how does one learn to silence this inner critic?

The flip side of perfectionism is that it has been a driving force and led to success throughout my life.  It has driven me to excel at school and always shoot for the honor roll, to graduate from law school and pass the bar, to relentlessly work to represent my clients to the best of my ability in the courtroom and beyond.  However, if I don’t get an A in a class, if I’m not in the top 5% at law school, if I lose a tennis match, if my writing is not published or responded to, then my inner bully gets to work dragging me into a mini depression.  Why write?  You’ll never be a writer.  You’re not smart. An endless from the harshest critic.

How come the balance scales so heavily tilt to the critic rather than the champion?  How do words shouted in praise get swallowed in whispered criticism?

Life is a pendulum.  I swing high and rejoice, but gravity will pull me back down.  A constant shifting of tides as the earth moves slowly around the sun.  None of our stations are permanent.  Constant changes and shifts will bring us high then low then high again.  I must find the love from inside myself to create an internal equilibrium as I am swept up and then swing back down, knowing I will soon be up again.

The joy of the swing.

“Higher, higher,” my big girl shouts as I push her and she sails through the air.  I push the little one too and she squeezes the chains with both hands.  Her knuckles turn white and a grin spreads across her face.

“When I close my eyes it feels like I’m going to fall,” my big girl explains as her big brown eyes squeeze shut, her feet in the air shooting above me as I continue to push this toddler who more and more is becoming a little girl.  “But I don’t fall.  It just feels that way.”  She laughs.  Up she goes and then back down.   She delights in the ups and downs, how it makes her stomach lurch, her eyes gently closed.

“I love the swing,” big girl states.

“Me love swing,” my baby says in her unexpected low gravelly voice, which always makes me smile.

I watch them swing back and forth, the chains squeaking loudly, a loud moaning chorus to the ups and downs.  I like the swing too.  The ups and downs are what it is about.  There is no such thing as perfect.  No life comprised only of successes.  Gravity always brings us down.

How boring and lonely life would be if we all lived atop the highest peaks and were never able to venture down into the valleys below.  There is beauty in the canyons carved out through the passage of time.  You fall into these canyons, the valleys, and the grasslands and you see the rivers, cliffs, pines, spruce, aspens, wildflowers, wildlife …  Life.   The return trek up the mountain is intense.  One scrambles for a decent hold that doesn’t crumble beneath your fingers.  Your foot slides down as you search for solid ground.  You fall.  You cross tree level.  Life becomes scarce.  But eventually after climbing, working, and struggling you reach the summit.  You see the sky. The sun.  The clouds.  The apex.  The majesty.  The endless possibilities.  You are alone.  You feel grateful for all that you have seen along the way.  You breathe.  You rest.  You know the descent will soon begin.

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I Will Vacuum More (Or Maybe I Won’t)

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“I will at least vacuum on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays,” I chant in my head as I glance at the floor and see my Basset Hound’s hair bunched together like tumble weeds on my hardwood floor, floating down the hall as the fan turns on overhead.  “I must vacuum at least three times a week, this is disgusting,” I think, “I am a complete failure of a stay at home mother and wife,” the words echo repeatedly in my head over and over again.  How I have gotten to the point of equating vacuum frequency and my self worth, hmmm … I have no idea? Irrational comparisons.

My big shopping day is on Tuesday morning when my mother in law is watching the girls.  On Tuesday, I try to get all my shopping done for the week.  The goal is to write down lists of recipes with fresh ingredients for each night of the week and stock the refrigerator full with dinners, lunch meats, and fresh fruit.  Tuesday night we will eat chicken with a fresh vegetable side, Wednesday there will be fish, and Thursday a pasta meal.  Those days I cook I alternate from chopping vegetables and preheating the oven and telling my girls that I will play with them in a minute, right after I put the chicken in, or after I season the vegetables.  I need to just get one more load of laundry in the machine, a stack of clothes folded and put away before dinner, “girls just give me one more minute,” I repeat like a broken record.  If I cook dinner in the evening there is not much time for post nap fun.  There is no time to go to the playground, no time to meet up with a friend, and I can’t quite figure out how all the other mothers seem to cook and fill the afternoon with outdoor fun.  Though admittedly I am a culinary novice.

Some weeks I get dinner cooked and served every night.  The food groups are all represented and I feel a sense of pride that I have achieved culinary success.  I smile as my husband walks through the door, feeling a little Martha Stewartesque.  Other weeks, lots of weeks, I call my husband at work, “Can we just order take out tonight?” On these weeks I just can’t seem to pull it together.

Google is my answer to all my culinary and parenting questions.  To a certain degree I don’t know how my mother lived without it, but maybe she was mentally healthier without it.   Most days my husband comes home and a screen is pulled up on his laptop with the search terms – How long to bake chicken breasts? How long to bake potatoes? How do you cook asparagus?  He laughs to see my googled “how tos” pulled up on the screen.  I’ve cooked a million chicken breasts, but I’m still looking up the time and temperature of the oven.  I don’t like to take risks.  I’m a rule follower.  I follow recipes to the T.  For my risk adverse rule follower personality type the Internet is a lifesaver, a safety net of endless answers to all my culinary questions.

The Internet serves as my lifesaver and also my own personal hell (especially as an uber competitive perfectionist).  If you google “what to do about dog hair?” – the only answer you’ll get is that you must vacuum every single day.   Which leads me to wonder, does every shedding pet owner in the world vacuum on a daily basis?  Before the Internet became mainstream, a mother could use her internal barometer to compare her housekeeping, the status of her kids, and the dinners she cooked.  She could be blissfully ignorant of how she measured up in comparison to all of her friends, and back then her friends only included her immediate circle (whom she saw and spoke to regularly).  Now her friend circle has been exponentially expanded via Facebook and social networking, it extends back to acquaintances from childhood, middle school, and elementary school.  Sure, back in the day, she had certain friends and her mother-in-law that made delicious home cooked meals and mopped pristine floors, but in her mind they could be the outliers, the overachievers.  With the advent of the Internet, Facebook, and Pinterest, I am now painfully aware that some mothers prepare glorious meals every night, some cook seven meals on Sunday and freeze them for the entire week, and they puree their veggies and hide then in their macaroni and cheese.  These mothers have been creatively crafting with their kids all day long, they hand sew keepsake baby shower gifts, and come Halloween their kids costumes are hand stitched by their mothers.  These mothers vacuum daily, these mothers mop, and these mothers iron too.  I am competitive, but I cannot compete with these mothers.  Seeing their perfection can often drag me into motherhood despair.

In my own defense, what is the point of vacuuming and mopping all morning when the dog hair tumbleweeds will return in a couple of hours?  What is the point of taking my car to the car wash when the next ride we go on, my two year old will pour her snacks all over the back seat?  My version of a car wash is to let my dog in the back seat to eat up all the old cheerios, crackers, and pirates booty.  I should let him do this on a weekly basis, but sometimes the weeks get away from me.  Am I supposed to sacrifice my at best two free hours a day during naptime to clean or vacuum, maybe?

I chant as I get in the shower, “I will vacuum on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.”  Unfortunately, I have already failed. I’ve vacuumed a couple times, but not enough.  The Bassets hair will never be erased from my floors.  But on a happier note, I’ve cooked dinner a lot this week (only a couple of nights of takeout), we’ve planted tomatoes, splashed in the pool, and played endless amounts of lost boys where I pretend I’m Captain Hook and chase the girls around the yard.  So maybe I need to learn to give myself a break.  Maybe there is more to being a stay at home parent than vacuuming and home cooked meals, at least I hope so.

I guess the point is that no one can do it all, but you can torture yourself trying.  Although sometimes it seems like someone may do it all or have it all, this is impossible.  Once a task moves further up the priority list another must slide further down.  This, my friends, is life.  For the rest of 2013, instead of worrying about what I haven’t done or haven’t done well, I will focus on what I have done.  My glass will reflect the fullness of what has been completed rather than emptiness of what is left undone.  If my girls and my husband don’t care then neither will I.

P.S.

I am embarrassed because this post is a feminist’s nightmare.  I am an educated woman, why do I care about these 1950’s housewife standards?  But, Cie la vie, I am an educated woman and care about many things and my housekeeping shortcomings falls on the list.

32 Flavors

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Squint your eyes and look closer

I’m not between you and your ambition

I’m a poster girl with no poster

I”m 32 flavors and then some

I’m beyond your peripheral vision

So you might want to turn your head.

-Ani Difranco

*****

“Mommy, am I going to work when I grow up?” My three-year-old asks as we climb into the car.

“Of course baby, you can be whatever you want to be.”  I state emphatically, repeating the phrase that was repeated to me a thousand times throughout my life.

“Can I be a doctor like Daddy?” She asks earnestly.

“You definitely can be a doctor like Daddy.  You can be anything.”

“Mommy, does that mean I will be a man when I grow up?”  I freeze at three my daughter perceives that men work and women stay home, a feminist’s nightmare.  I am conflicted on a thousand different levels.  What message of equality am I teaching my daughter?  Where have we come since the women’s rights movement?

*****

Women of Generation X and beyond, grew up believing that we can be whoever and whatever we want to be.  We learned from an early age that gender is not a professional barrier.  Although some of our mothers may have been encouraged to go to college to get their “M.R.S. Degrees”, we were encouraged to go to college and get advanced degrees, so that we could have careers, break barriers, and crack glass ceilings.  From the moment I could speak my parents taught me that I could be a doctor, a lawyer, an executive, anything I put my mind to (within the limits of the aforementioned list).  I grew up believing these things and never doubting my intelligence compared to my male peers.  My parents listened to my future goals, and although it was assumed I’d have a family, being a wife and mother was never mentioned in these conversations.  To the adults around me, it may have seemed anti-feminist to bring up marriage and children when discussing my future aspirations.

For thirty years my identity was based on my academic and professional achievements.  I was an academic, a legislative intern, and an attorney – the intellectual equal to any and all of my male colleagues.  It seemed antiquated to think of the differences between the sexes. Women are equal to men in all ways.  My professional achievements aligned well with the feminist principals of equality that were deeply ingrained in my psyche.  But then I gave birth…

I became a mother and I decided to stay home with my children and everything I believed changed.  I grew up being told I can be anything I want, but no one ever told me that anything may include being a stay-at-home mother and wife.  I chose to do the one thing that nobody prepared me for.  The crazy thing is that once I made the choice to stay home, many adults supported the decision as if there was no other option.  If this is the case, then why was choice of being a wife and mother ignored until I gave birth?  In fact, sometimes women criticized my female peers who chose to return to work full-time after giving birth.  A best friend in the midst of a year long maternity leave confided, “I’m almost nervous to tell people I’m going back to teach full time next year.  I feel like they judge me, I’ve even felt insecure telling you.”  Was everyone preaching feminist principles of equality that they themselves did not believe?

*****

For many (especially initially), our identities as mothers feel all consuming.  No one can prepare us for the tremendous transformation that comes after the birth of our first child.  As a stay-at-home mom, there was a metaphysical death of my former self, which I’ve grieved.  However, this death occurred simultaneously with the birth of a new more expansive and vulnerable person.  Many mothers share a common fear of not being seen for anything but this new identity.  My friends have confided:

“I know it’s crazy, but I feel like my co-workers don’t respect my opinion anymore and just see me as a lame mom.  It’s like they ignore ten years of experience and don’t think I can do my job anymore,” one of my closest friends complained after a business meeting.

“I feel like when I hang out with my brother, he doesn’t even ask me what I think about things anymore.  He just sees me as a mom and doesn’t think I have anything interesting to say.  Maybe I don’t have anything interesting to say anymore?”  She admitted after choosing to stay at home.

“I feel like a part of me was lost when I had children.  I love being a mother, but I am in a funk and I don’t know what to do.” She confessed as they sipped coffees and watched their kids play on the floor.

*****

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