Fajitas

The plate sizzles, oil popping, its not a plate but a large skillet, the steam is acting as an emergency smoke signal as the waiter carries it across the dining room.  Heads turn, necks crane, a woman twists in her chair, everyone is wondering who ordered those fajitas, and where will they land?

*****

“Fajitas,” he comments, “I hate fajitas.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, thinking to myself that you can’t really go wrong with fajitas.  We are in our early twenties, it may be our second date, it may be our fifth, I know that I really like this guy and he’s not bad to look at either.

“You know, the spectacle of fajitas, where everyone turns and stares at the person in the restaurant that ordered the huge sizzling plate of food.”  He states with obvious distaste in his voice.

I smile knowingly, “Like when you go to a restaurant for a birthday and the wait staff gathers around the table to sing Happy Birthday?”

“Exactly, definite fajitas,” he says.

“I don’t really like fajitas either,” I say blushing, thinking who is this handsome guy and why doesn’t he want to be the center of attention?  In an instant a part of our family vernacular is born…

*****

Fast forward ten years later, married, two beautiful daughters, a gorgeous basset hound, a handsome plot hound, and fajitas are still a part of our shared family language.  But the question is, do we really hate fajitas?  Fajitas are now served to us on a daily basis.  For instance:

1)  Walking our basset hound to the park on a hot summer day, her ears flapping, her neck flab swinging, her paws, she is a walking cartoon.  Children and adults constantly asking if they can pet her, “No she doesn’t like people,” embarrassed I repeat the warning over and over.  She is the definition of fajitas.

2)  It’s Christmas, my oldest daughter is two, the mall is swarming with holiday shoppers, we each hold her hand tightly pushing our way through the crowds, my daughter is singing ‘Hakuna Matata’ at the top of her lungs, “IT MEANS NO WORRIES FOR THE REST OF YOUR DAYS.”

“This is fajitas,” I whisper to my blushing husband, we share a smile.

3)  Spring break, a sunny afternoon at the park, mothers and children surround us from all sides. I’ve been in the house for a week with sick kids, but decide to stop by the park to get some fresh air.  I’m dressed like I just got out of jail, dirty, oily, and ratty.  I had no idea the park would be a social gathering, probably would have put on some nice jeans, or brushed my hair if I’d known.  It’s almost nap time, we need to leave, I give the girls the mandatory count down, “two minutes … one more minute … okay time to go.”

My youngest starts screaming immediately, “No Mama, no mama, no mama,” building in momentum and intensity like an Italian Opera.  I scoop her up in my arms.

My oldest whines, “My friends are still here, they’re still playing, why can’t I? I want to stay! I’m not going!”  Then she turns her pleading into the ‘car alarm cry’, shriek, breath, shriek, breath, it sounds as if I’m stabbing her in the middle of the playground.  I would scoop her up as well, but I only have two arms, a baby in one, a picnic blanket, and diaper bag in the other.  How the hell am I going to make it to the car? My blood pressure rises, sweat makes my clothes stick in ways they shouldn’t, I am the spectacle.

*****

Parenthood is all about fajitas, little people with their own thoughts and behaviors that no parenting strategy will ever fully control. They live without social filters as they learn societal norms and etiquette.  If a friend chooses to play with someone else, tears stream down my oldest daughter’s face.  I may feel the same way at happy hour, but I’ve learned to tone down my reaction.  My youngest squeals in excitement when she sees a slide and throws herself on the floor screaming when its time to brush teeth. My daughters behave this way in the solitude of our home, or at a “Meet the Parent Picnic” in a room full of strangers I’d like to impress. Toddlers could care less whether their parents like to be the center of attention.

*****

Dear Husband,

Toddlers (and basset hounds) are the definition of fajitas. I think we’ve got to learn to live with them.  Mexican food is great, pour yourself a margarita and enjoy the ride.

Love,

Your Adoring WifeImage

Alone in a Room Full of Mothers

After leaving parent-tot class with my daughter, a feeling of inadequacy hung over my head. The dark cloud that haunts me on my lowest days of parenthood, despair, wondering why other moms seem to have it figured out while I drift through my days with no purpose other than to take care of my little brood.

The problem is, I’m unwilling to sacrifice my time with my children, but not having anything other than motherhood makes me feel worthless and less than the working mothers around me.  I am especially envious of all the part-timers, who maintain their careers by working 20 hours a week and still manage being home with their children.  How did these women find their jobs?  How come they had the foresight to embark on a career that allowed them to work part-time?  Why didn’t anyone warn me about work/life balance before I chose to go to law school?  Post-feminist society passionately believes that women can be anything they want to be, but no one addresses whether a chosen career path is compatible with having a family.  I know some mothers happily work intense hours outside the home, but pre-kids working 50+ hours, I struggled dropping my dogs at daycare, I never comprehended how difficult it would be to leave my children.

“Are you starting your own photography studio?”  I shyly asked another mother in class.  “I’ve been feeling that I need to start something too, do something separate from parenting, but I don’t know what to do, ” I confided, possibly revealing too much to a woman I did not know.

“Oh, I have a real job, this is just my creative outlet, you know, an escape for a couple of hours on the weekends.”  Suddenly – a wall – I’m hypersensitive, but her words “real job” hit me like a ton of bricks, quickly defining herself as a working mother and me as “other”. I recoiled, humiliated I felt myself shrivel. I am lucky to be home with my children, so it is embarrassing to struggle to feel good about myself while choosing to be a stay at home mother.

As an attorney, my work fueled me. I upheld the law, telling the human stories of those charged with crimes. Work consumed me.  I worked nights, weekends, and returned home exhausted with no energy for myself or for my husband.  I was unhealthy, medicated, and ate bi-weekly Jimmy John’s sandwiches.  Fortunately, my husband was in his medical residency, so he didn’t have energy either. I failed balancing my work, my health, my family, and my friendships.

After becoming pregnant, my job became unbearable.   The fear of panic attacks haunted me. I worried constantly about my juvenile clients and not about the baby growing inside of me.  Then my second trimester, I stepped off an airplane and blood poured through my pants.  Immediately, I was put on partial bed rest.  My body sent a message – this stress will hurt my growing family.  There was no part-time work option, no way to handle my anxiety, so I quit.  I intended to go back.

After the birth of my daughter, I didn’t want to return to my old job.  I wanted to give that energy to my family instead.  I dedicated myself to them. One year became two, then my second daughter was born.   My second pregnancy was a breeze. I was healthier mentally, physically, and emotionally. But I missed a part of me, the working part, the intellectual part, the part that contributed in the world.  I secretly marveled at my ex co-workers who balanced their work life with their family life.  They returned to work without being insanely jealous of those that cared for their children (again, I know how spoiled that sounds). I questioned why I did not feel confident enough to do the same.

Now, leaving a parent-tot class, I wonder why large groups of mothers often make me feel isolated?  Why our differences create chasms among us, while our similarities hide below the surface?  Why I feel insecure watching other mothers confidently stride through their days, balancing work and life? Why is it that sometimes there is nothing like a room full of mothers to make me feel alone?

*****

SUDDENLY, editing this post, bells ringing inside my head, maybe the answer is, when we DEDICATE ourselves to staying home and taking care of our family, we need to DEDICATE ourselves to taking care of ourselves, as individuals too.  Writing, long dog walks, yoga, reading, time DEDICATED to me, fills me up and provides the purpose missing on those dreary days.