Friday, December 21, 2012

Magic

I swear that I didn’t make this up. This was how the conversation started, seemingly out of nowhere, as I drove the kids to school this morning.

Dylan:  “Hey Mom – do you know where all the magic in the world comes from?”

Me: “No, where?”

Dylan: “It comes from Heaven. All the magic in the world comes from Heaven.”

Can you imagine? How brilliant, how genius, how perceptive and amazing and simple of a statement from a 5 year old thinking only about pajama day at school and pancakes for lunch and knowing nothing about the chaos and darkness that me and everyone else has been feeling and hiding from him for the past week since we first learned about Sandy Hook.
I haven’t written about what happened there yet. I haven’t wanted to nor have I been able to. But if this blog is anything at all, it is to be an accurate reflection and extension of me and where I’m at. And if I’m anywhere, truthfully I’m still stuck there. I’m drowning in this juxtaposition of Christmas time and everything on the radio isn’t just regular happy, it’s hyper-jolly music and twinkling lights and gleeful children and a group of adults who I see, much like me, are almost characters in a play. We laugh and dance and smile for our excited, blissfully ignorant children who are counting down to winter vacation, but our eyes and our body language tell a different story. So many of us I think are still stuck there too.

And I hear so many around me rallying for gun control and petitions and mental health platforms, and for some reason the liberal nut inside of me is quiet, still. I know at some point I will rise up and join them but I’m not ready. I’m still stuck on the names, the place. This wasn’t a movie I’d never seen in a place I’d never been to in Colorado, or a town I’d never heard of in Oregon. This was here – in my home. In Connecticut.  And while my pain or grief for anyone who dies from these senseless acts of violence should be no less acute whether I can relate or not, truthfully it does feel different. I don’t want it to but it does. Because I’ve been to Newtown. I know this place. I know these people. It wasn’t my Dylan but it was someone’s Dylan – my G-d someone’s Dylan. It is the thought I can’t get out of my head.
And that’s where I’m stuck. I’m stuck in their pain. I’m stuck in the terror that they could never have calculated this as a possibility, that this kind of pain would find them and their families. But if it found them, their Dylan, then it could find mine too. I feel like Phil and I have an entirely new set of worries for our children that our own parents never even considered. Not just the idea of what kinds of mistakes and pitfalls they will stumble upon as they make increasingly independent choices and grow up, but just wonder if in a society of seemingly endless random chaos, they will ever get the chance to even make those mistakes, at all.

If I think too much about it all, it honestly overwhelms me and I feel like I can’t breathe. So I look to my kids. They are amazing. And they are helping me breathe. We eat cookie dough out of the bowl and grab the hot cookies fresh off the pan when they are still warm and gooey. I even let them eat in the playroom. Ruby grinds her chocolate chip into the fibers of the carpet. We feel wild and naughty. I feel myself breathing again.  There is total silence, nothing but the munching of cookies and the sound of the pounding rain falling outside. I see that through them, because of them, there is still goodness and innocence, kindness and hope and life and gratitude around me. I feel it, I wrap it around me – like magic from Heaven.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dinner

5:22: Everyone is screaming. Dylan throws a plastic bug at Ruby and it bounces off her bulbous head.

5:23: Ruby screaming very loudy.

5:24: I frantically chop vegetables no one will eat in the hope that their dazzling color and the dubious Mayan predictions will somehow combine to make them try them tonight.

5:25: Timer goes off on the nuggets. Fish is almost done. Phil will not eat nuggets. Ruby will not eat fish. Dylan will eat everything. I prepare as many different meals as possible. I’d like to see Rachel Ray do that in 30 minutes or less.

5:28: Hand-washing. Ruby and Dylan fight over who will wash their hands first. I stare at them blankly for some reason forgetting to remind them that we have something like 4 sinks in the house. I set the table with our finest rainbow colored plastic cutlery. Also, for another reason I can’t quite explain, I forget the napkins.

5:29: I open the wine.

5:30: We sit down to dinner sans Phil. Though intellectually I know this dinner will be over in 4 minutes, the more fantastical side of me tells myself he will join us at 6pm when this dinner somehow proves to miraculously still be in progress 30 minutes from now.

5:32: I serve Dylan his fish and turn back to get Ruby her nuggets. I serve Ruby her nuggets.

5:33: Ruby announces she does not like chicken nuggets. Dylan is already done with his first helping. I am still trying to serve myself.

5:34: I sit down and force Dylan to suck on a carrot. If he won’t chew on it, maybe his saliva will inadvertently pick up some vitamins while I stall and try to shove a bit of food into my mouth and negotiate with Ruby on dinner.

5:35: I cover Ruby’s plate in ketchup hoping this will entice her to eat nuggets.

5:36: I can no longer put Dylan off. I am back up serving seconds.

5:37: I sit back down.

5:37 and approximately 12 seconds: Ruby reminds me I forgot the napkins – again. Did I mention Ruby hoards napkins? She goes through something like 10 per meal. Also, she is eating ketchup with a spoon making her napkin request have a greater sense of urgency.

5:38: I get the napkins and sit back down.

5:39: Dylan spills his milk.

5:40: Towelling off the table and floor.

5:41: Ruby tells me in a remarkably off-handed way given the severity of the situation that she is starting to pee a little bit.

5:42: In the bathroom with Ruby.

5:43: Looking for the Clorox spray so that I can hose down the kitchen chair.

5:44: I remember I forgot to eat.

5:45: Phil arrives. He is greeted with a hero’s welcome while the children eye me suspiciously like an evil, disorganized war-lord trying to coerce them with poorly prepared fish and condiments.

5:46: Phil reminds me he doesn’t like salmon.

5:47: There are dishes and food and uneaten nuggets and some of Dylan’s milk scattered throughout the kitchen as though our house has been “tossed” by the neighborhood thugs looking for a real meal and reacting in anger when all they found was this.

5:48: The kids spell words with letter cookies. I nurse my wine and tell myself that dinner tomorrow will be different. I will be different. We will be civilized. I realize we look more like the Klumps than the Cleavers.

5:49: I smile, reflecting on how my family is doing its small part to keep the concept of family dinner alive and well. Or at least alive. Or mostly not dead.

5:50: I declare the concept of family dinners a farce made up by television shows from the 50s and people who never actually had small children.

5:51: Ruby finds some pirates booty on the floor and eats it. And voila. Just like that – dinner is served.  I realize I should throw nuggets on the floor more often and wonder if the thrill of her finding them would somehow make her more likely to try them.

5:52: Dinner is over.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Labor Day

It is so hard to believe another year has nearly gone by and soon, Dylan and Ruby’s birthdays will be upon us. Though they technically share different birth dates, I went into labor with each of them on the same date, exactly two years apart. For that reason, December 14th will forever by my official labor day. I know their birthdays are technically about them but now as a parent I literally feel a near uncontrollable urge to scream and shout every year at this time: “Where is my cake? My balloon? Why is no one clapping and cheering for me?! Do you know what my body accomplished on this date 5 and 3 years ago respectively?!” Reluctantly, I let the children have their days while I silently reflect on how this day literally marks the anniversary of the last day it was ever all about me.

It was December 14, 2007. I had been in labor and delivery for two days while the hospital tried everything they medically could think of to start my labor. It was a Friday and I had been on an all liquid diet since Wednesday when I had first checked in for my induction. The nursing staff had started taking bets on whether or not I’d ever actually go into labor. I’m certain that Phil was running the action behind the scenes. I had met every nurse and doctor on every shift and I felt as though I was recreating that episode of Friends where Jennifer Anniston goes into labor and it takes forever and she watches all the other ladies have their babies while she just waits. I had hoped when all was said and done it would end similarly to the episode: me with a healthy baby, and of course looking as Jennifer Anniston did after a pretend birth.
I got the healthy baby part. I suppose that’s all that matters.

As I look back on those first few pictures, I look green, I look scared. I look like I am searching his face trying to figure out who he is, who I am. There is a picture of my mother showing me how to hold him. I appear to not know how to hold my own baby. I see me learning on the job from her. I see Phil meeting his son. It was all so new to us and for that reason alone it was amazing. Some parents say they knew their baby before he was born but I didn’t feel that way. Not with Dylan. I had spent so much of my pregnancy obsessing over silly and ultimately useless details – nipple sizes, baby registries – I never took a moment to think about who that tiny person was that was actually growing in there. But none of it mattered when they handed him to me. All I wanted to do was study him, learn him, learn who I was with him. I love thinking about that first labor day.
Exactly two years later on December 14, 2009 I was in labor again with Ruby. I seemed to always know Ruby. Even before I was pregnant with her and when Dylan was still a baby, I started thinking that if I ever had another baby I would want to name it after my mom, Ronni Joyce. Seemingly out of nowhere, I turned to Phil and said, “If we have another baby we should name it Ruby Joy.” Dylan was five months old. I was definitely not pregnant nor planning on being so anytime soon. A sleep deprived Phil looked at me and nodded blankly in agreement – “OK.”

When I eventually did become pregnant we decided to find out the sex. The ultrasound technician just confirmed to us what we had always seemed to know: it was Ruby. For some reason, we always knew that, always knew her. I spent much of my pregnancy again worrying about silly things like how I would take care of Dylan and her at the same time. How would I split my love up between them? But of course I shouldn’t have worried so much. When Ruby was born I didn’t have to learn her. I knew her. The pictures show me less green, less scared. I am holding her more confidently like I have done this before. And although on my first day alone with both of them Dylan literally ate a magnet off the fridge and it wasn’t the most picturesque mothering moment, we made it through, without poison control. I was a multi-tasking maven. I was a proud mother of two.
So happy almost birthday to the little man I came to know and fall in love with. You are remarkably funny and sensitive and kind. You are an old soul. And happy almost birthday to my little girl I seemed to always know. You are my beautiful little firecracker. You make everything more fun because we do it with fairy wings, which if you’ve never tried it, seriously does make everything more fun.

And while it’s never about me anymore, in some way these days will also always be about the evolution of me through the journey of having and raising both of you. So happy labor day to me too… J

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Holidays

The holiday season sneaks up on me every year and this year is no exception. I thought I would try to fit in a quick haircut and stopped by to see a local hairdresser that I’ve known for awhile now. A few years ago, her best friend and the owner of the salon passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Nearly three years later her good friend and colleague still weighs heavily on her mind, even more so at this time of year. “The holidays are hard,” she tells me. “It just feels more unbearable.”

She knows I understand. Anyone who knows or has ever known loss and grief (which is pretty much everyone) knows that the holidays are just hard.  The reality is that on any given day, I carry my grief over the loss of my mom around with me. It doesn’t bother me like it used to. At first it felt so heavy, I could hardly lift it, hardly lift me. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. But then one day, on a particular day that I didn’t even notice or remember, it just stopped feeling that way. And then it was just part of the me that I am now. I take it with me to birthday parties and grocery stores. I read bedtime stories with it. It’s like an appendage – a true arm or a leg. At this point I might actually feel more strange if someone cut it off. That’s how used to having it with me I really am. But I truly don’t even think much of it anymore because of the general pace of life. You move, you go and you don’t think so much about it, about all the different parts of who you really are.
And then the holidays come. And all of that stuff that keeps you busy gets busier until the actual holiday when it all stops. For at least one day you stop working and shopping and shuffling. And you feel it there again. It never really goes away. You just find the space to take stock of it more around a table lit full of faces you love, and noticing more the empty chairs of the ones who should be there and aren’t. There are aprons not getting worn and sweet potato dishes not being made. The smell of a perfume and finely pressed tablecloth – well somehow all of that finds that part of me that I try hard not to think about too much on any one day and it does feel heavier. Grief does. And it feels hard. And realistically, I can’t think of anyone coming to my Thanksgiving this year who doesn’t know that – who won’t in some way feel that – for my mom or their grandma. Or maybe my dad will think about his wife. Maybe my mother in law will think more on her father, my aunts about their sister. We will all feel it more as we think on those we’ve loved and lost, and none of us will lay down under it.

I think because in this not so new reality now, holidays are harder but maybe hard doesn’t have to be bad. I mean, it’s not good – you miss them. But hard is who you are now – not hardened to new love and life experiences, but stronger and built to weather loss and still find good in life. In some weird way, it’s a relief to feel it a little more at this time of year. If I can’t have her, then I can have the missing of her. My girl at the salon said the holidays are bittersweet and indeed they are. My only advice: with time they do become more of the sweet and less of the bitter. It is still both – it is still hard. It is still real. And you are still here loving and living and missing and feeling and honoring and remembering. That is the new you. The hard you. The holiday you. The sweet but not bitter you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hustle and the Bustle

It is early but not that early. I roll over to greet my husband and then remember he is away on a business trip. He is not there. I say good morning to my phone. It greets me with its both incredibly satisfying yet intensely irritating round of clicks and beeps as I sift through a range of mostly useless information. Top stories on CNN, weather, TMZ, FB. I’m clearly checking everything of vital national importance. At the same time not too far down the hall, Ruby is just waking up. As she does, she hears the far away sound of my AM click click clicking. “Mom, what is that sound?” And just like that I’ve thrust her into this chaotic busy technologically savvy everyone’s checking everyone’s connected world before her poor little two year old body has had a chance to fully crank open her eyelids and greet the morning sun.

I feel like a jerk and a hypocrite. I always said I would never be one of those people and here I was – checking my phone before I checked on my husband or my kids or me. Was I still here? Who knew – but what was the latest on Lindsay Lohan? Ridiculousness. I feel like people talk a lot lately about how busy and noisy and hyper kids are today but the more I watch them, it’s not the kids that are changing – it’s us, the alleged grown-ups. I tell them to be quiet and listen and focus but on any given moment, am I modeling any of those things for them? I mean I really find myself wondering, if I completely fell off the grid and gave up a cell phone and the computer and forced myself to actually sit down and make a phone call or write a letter and do so with intention and thoughtfulness, my increasingly disturbing suspicion is that I would be far more connected to what is real and what matters, and be able to sort more appropriately in my brain what doesn’t.
Last year we rented a place in NJ when Phil took a new role at his company. In NJ, the kids went to a small preschool at an even smaller synagogue. On any given morning when you went to drop them off, the synagogue was quiet. There were maybe a few congregants and workers shuffling around: lots of love, little bustle. This year back in CT, we are at the JCC. And it is great. It’s a completely different experience but they have lovely teachers and friends and are truly having a great year. But on a whole different level, I can’t help but think how much more busy and noisy their lives are just by being in the bustling center every day. It’s a community center and it should be busy with craft shows and classes and workouts and play and theatre and school and the café and all of the stuff that draws a lot of people from a lot of places. And I look at them running through the center and they seem so happy and busy and bustling themselves.

But I worry that amid all of the bustle they are losing this other part of themselves, the quiet part, the focused part, the part that can open their eyes without requesting to play the cookie game app on the ipad and watch Sesame Street at the same time before they’ve either peed or said good morning to me or Phil. They are learning to multi-task at the tender ages of 2 and 4. Which I suspect most people would tell me is a good thing for them to learn at an early age but I worry that they are increasingly losing the ability to single task. To listen, to think and to be in one place, one thought or one moment without interruption. Even more than that, I worry that I myself have already lost that ability. I am losing the present for the many and the silly and I am teaching them bad stuff. I can’t even do two things at once like play superheros and check Facebook: I have to do at least three things at once including play superheros, check Facebook, and silently berate myself for losing focus and teaching bad habits. Without question, I am multi-tasking at its least attractive level.
Ruby is going through my nightstand again. She comes across a set of DVDs my father made for me of our old home movies. She requests to watch one. I put it on and notice she looks worried. “Mommy it is not working. There is no sound.” I explain that the old movies were literally just moving pictures or images, no words to go with them. Nothing but the recorded tick tick tick of the old reel. She looks puzzled, and then accepting. And for the next 40 minutes she watches a movie largely of people she doesn’t know or may not recognize. There is no sound. I am so impressed with her ability to stick with it. I think more on all the business and noise on her life. It is not her seeking it out or needing it. It is me.

And so I am resolving not too withdraw but attempt to do one thing, whatever that one thing is, at any one time. It sounds relatively simple, but has become remarkably hard for me to do. I am learning to make my children wait more. I help one, then the other. Or perhaps even more shocking, I might help myself first. When I am playing superheros and princesses, I resolve to fully be in character in that moment. And when I am reading garbage on TMZ, I intend to do only that and furtively enjoy it while I make innocuous comments to Phil about the market that make him think I am reading something more nutritionally sound.
Or maybe I just need to stop sleeping with my smartphone. Baby steps Jenn….baby steps….

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

I am officially raising Alex P. Keaton. He doesn’t own the Nixon lunchbox. Well, not yet anyway. Today is election day. The excitement of choosing a new President! The thrill of donuts being served at the polls to select the new President! The confusion of my children as their parents root eagerly (albeit respectfully – minus that one nasty blowout in September- that was a complete parenting fail) for different people. I voted for Obama. I don’t know who Phil voted for. He believes it is his right to keep this between him and his ballot. I believe that somewhere in our vows it contained something about telling your wife every single thing including who you vote for. I cannot prove this. We must agree to disagree. At any rate, regardless of who he voted for, I’m proud of him for a) voting and b) voting his conscience (even if it’s not my conscience). Anyway, this really isn’t about Phil or me. It’s about Dylan. And how he’s like Alex P. Keaton and how I’m shocked to discover that somehow, this makes me more proud than I ever thought.

Dylan is my rules follower – at least other people’s rules (p.s. Ruby – you could take a memo here). He likes to follow the rules. He likes to be mainstream. He does not like to be the outlier, the one who is different. Phil and I have pleaded with him to realize that different isn’t bad and that making the choices that are best for him (and not because others chose them) are his only path to true happiness. This is understandably a difficult concept to wrap your head around as a 4 year old.
Every day in his class at preschool there is a question of the day. You can answer yes or no. I can see how he scans the answers each day before he gives his own answer. Poor thing – I could feel his discomfort when the question was “Do you have power?” after Hurricane Sandy. Out of 16 kids, only one answered no (faulty transformer near our house). Poor Dylan – he hated being singled out as the lone no.

Today, they polled the kids to see whether they would vote for Obama or Romney. At pick-up, they revealed the results. 12 of the 16 kids chose Obama – a solidly democratic preschool class! But I digress. Just 4 of the kids chose Romney. My kid – my little Alex P. Keaton - was one of them. My kid. Seriously. Can you believe it? I might actually be raising a tiny Republican? Honestly, I’m not. Or, maybe I am. Who knows? I doubt he really knows either way at age 4. Maybe he chose him because he liked the name better. Or because he heard Phil mention him and he’s got major hero worship for Phil. For one second I felt stung because I wanted to him to like my values, my candidate. And then I swallowed my own ego and reflected on the fact that my kid made an independent choice. He didn’t choose as me or most of the kids in class did. And that must have been hard. And I was proud, proud of my kid for being brave and making the different choice, even if that brand of different is more Hannity than Maddow.
It seems that democracy, much like parenthood, is a messy and complicated process. But anything really great (like my kids or deciding the next president) is always worth arguing and fighting and standing in line for. Way to go Dylan and America – proud of you for voting and making a choice, regardless of the outcome. Standing up for what you believe in isn’t always an easy road, but it’s a courageous one.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Race

“Mommy, I’m scared,” Dylan says to me as we drive to the dentist on a chilly Saturday morning. Without even thinking I quickly respond, “Don’t worry, I know everything will be fine.” I reassure. Often as a mom, I feel that is one of my core responsibilities – chief reassurer. I know that if I say it with confidence even if I can’t possibly know for sure, that the sound of my voice and the strength of my words will comfort him. And so I do. We are driving in our car. We are warm. We have food. We have gas. We have a place to come home to. All things being what they are, we live in a state of some certainty. My mind shifts to so many friends and family – people I know and love – people I don’t know but still love – who are not so far away from us right now. They are cold and tired. There is no gas, some have no food. Almost all lack certainty. And I want to reassure and comfort them with a clarity in my voice that I couldn’t possibly have, but still ask them to believe.

I begin to think about another group of folks who expected their journey, their race, their months and maybe even years of preparation and training to end at the finish line of the NYC Marathon. They are tired and frustrated. It is a different kind of tired and frustrated than the first group. Still, it is real. They had a race to finish. It seems like they have all this stuff inside of them that they wanted to give and leave on that race course tomorrow and now they don’t know what to do with it. But their training is not for naught. You see that first group – the ones without the certainty or the clarity or the heat – they are in a marathon of their own right now. They could use some training from them on what to do when you are not sure how much deeper you can dig, on how to finish this.
For some, the first couple miles are the hardest part. Make sure to take the time to collect yourself[1]. Find a space which is uniquely yours, even if it is in your own head. My great Aunt Claire once told me that every night she would take a picture in her mind of her happiest place. For her, it was anywhere with great Uncle Eddy. And she would hold that image there and find this great calm and happiness and peace. Find your picture – the boardwalk, your kitchen table, regular life – whatever it is – hold yourself in that image and collect yourself.

For others, mile 23 might be the hardest. You are close to the finish line, but there is still a ways to go. You don’t know what is left in you to finish. Perhaps the marathoners would tell us to think laps, not miles. If you find yourself thinking about all of the different steps and people and dollars and moments that it will take to get back to normal, the weight of what lies ahead will surely overwhelm. For now, celebrate the small victories. Today it’s the gas cans. Tomorrow you’ll worry about finding the gas to put in them (right Segal family? J)
Many will find that it is the last mile that is hardest to finish– the one that is “all heart.” Again, the runners offer up their training: go hard late. Finish strong. You can dig deep enough to push through this and just know that so many of us are running it with you. We are giving blood, and food, and prayers, and money and know that none of it is enough to give you what you really want – the warmth and the comfort that comes with certainty. Knowing what is real, what you have – what can and can’t be taken away.

In my own experience, when you think you can’t fall any further, that’s when you do. So breathe. And then reach out and we will finish this race with you. In as much as we can. No matter how heavy and tired your legs are, we’ll finish it together.



[1] http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244--7172-3-2X3-3,00.html

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Time

I remember on a cold December morning back in 2007, sitting at my kitchen table and crying. It happened to be the day of my son’s bris (a ritual Jewish circumcision and naming ceremony). My father assumed that I was understandably emotional about everything that I and my newborn son would face that day. But instead I remember I looked at him and said that I was crying because I couldn’t believe how old he was. 7 whole days! Can you believe it? I had waited so many months for him, counted down every second and then he was finally here! And now a whole week had gone by in what seemed like the blink of an eye and I was humbled by the idea that the moments that would follow would be equally fleeting; that we would be on a perpetual fast forward button. I didn’t have a newborn! I had a week old baby, a real old timer. I remember quite clearly what my father did next. He yelled, “Ronni! [my mother] Get in here! You won’t believe this one!” And then the two of them laughed at me. Not with me, but truly at me. One of those great, silent, belly shaking laughs. I’m pretty sure one or both of them might have cried and/or peed at my expense. At the time, I didn’t get what was so funny.

Obviously now I get what a ridiculous statement it was. In just about 8 weeks my newborn will turn 5. How did that happen? The quality of time as a grown up and specifically as a parent has become so bizarre. I remember as a child that life and time seemed endless, long, stretched before me like a road with no end. Summers went on forever. So did tests and homework and stress about school dances and first dates and then I blinked. And I was married. And I blinked again and I was pregnant. And honestly that’s how it feels. Like one minute I was on this long slow meandering trip through life and now I’m on this treadmill where someone has amped the speed and I can’t quite catch up and I’m trying to hold on tighter and tighter to the bars in an effort to slow it all down.
It’s funny because trust me, there are those days where the kids are intensely crabby and Phil is traveling and it’s snowing or raining and we can’t go outside and I catch myself thinking, I just have to come up with 4 more hours of original mom programming and then blessed bedtime! And is it really so wrong to put your kids to bed at 6pm? I mean, it’s getting dark earlier and they can’t tell time yet. They won’t really know the difference. But then are those moments where my floors are covered with fire engines and princesses and they are playing together under a blanket pretending it’s a fort and I want to literally hit a pause button somewhere and just freeze it and keep them 4 and 2 forever. I can’t quite reconcile how I seem to feel both emotions so much in equal measure. But perhaps that’s the exactly the problem. Trying to pick and choose and analyze moment to moment rather than just live it.

I blink again and it’s a beautiful fall afternoon. Not the crisp kind but an unusually warm one: sunny with blindingly beautiful colors all around. I am jogging and my body doesn’t quite know what is happening because it’s been that long since I exercised. I feel my heart beating up in the back of my throat, the Jackson Five beating in my ears, leaves crunching underneath. Two unbelievably amazing little people spot me and from the blur of our house run toward me. My feet are slow, the moments feel fast. I am not examining it or shuffling through it. I am in it. And it feels amazing.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mommy For Sale

Recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: the monetization of motherhood. We are no longer individual people or women, but rather seem to be a highly lucrative brand. Let’s be clear: I get it. Women and particularly mothers have tremendous purchasing power and when those energies and dollars are harnessed toward a specific product, the receiving company (and potentially its partner mommy website) can reap tremendous financial rewards. And I think I’m supposed to feel good about that, right? Women finding alternative ways into the workforce and connecting and working to get their share of the pie by finally hawking something we know how to sell: motherhood. But I’m bothered, I think by the idea that a) my mommy-ness is somehow for sale, and b) the version of it they are selling is so one-dimensional. After all, what are they really selling and what am I supposed to be buying?

I happened somewhat accidentally upon a site I’d never been to the other day: The Moms.com. Ever been there? If not I’ve just given them free advertising – sweet! I have no idea how I found them except I think I read something on the Huffington Post Parents or Womens section that connected me there (and don’t even get me started on some of the Women and Mommy-themed Huff Post headlines you’ll find there (The Real Key to Great Sex!). Okay wait – I have to sidebar here, but that ridiculous story about great sex which was one of the Huff Post Womens headlines the other day totally buried another interesting story which was all the way at the bottom of the page. In it, Barbara and Shannon Kelley discuss the danger of subverting our individual selves to a larger culture induced “gender identity.” They write: “…surely there's some wisdom in … consciously putting more investment in our ‘individual personhood’ as opposed to our ‘gender identity,’ in worrying less about what it means to be a woman and more about what it means to be our self.”[1] Yes, maybe that’s what’s bothering me here. When did I stop being an individual person and start being a mom-themed brand?
Now, cut to my new found not so guilty pleasure – The Moms.com. The subsections call out to me, oozing their punn-ification of my mommy-ness. Am I a Mamarazzi? What is my Mommentary on life? First stop – Mamarazzi. Not too much here except some coverage of a red carpet event for the newly released Won’t Back Down. I’m interested. Let’s get their take on the movie and what it means as a mom and a woman and person currently interested in the battle to save our schools. Have you heard of this film? Let me give you the short form description – based on a true story of two moms in a Florida school who activated a law that does exist in some select states called the Parent Trigger law. The law enables parents of students in failing schools to effectively take over the school and create parent-led reforms. I haven’t seen it, but I know based on some chatter from friends and running commentary about the movie, that it is incredibly controversial in that many view it as a highly inflammatory piece that demonizes both public education and teachers unions. Now look, I don’t know. As I mentioned before – I didn’t see it. But I was hoping the overly punny mommies might help me break down some of the debate here.

The movie (either directly or indirectly) highlighted an ongoing, complicated and often times vitriolic debate regarding failing schools, and specifically the role that parents, teachers, teachers unions, and ed reformers can play to address this. I suspect the movie was overly simplistic here and didn’t get into any of that. And by the way, the Moms.com didn’t either. I saw a red carpet with the movie stars. I saw some guy representing both Office Depot and Lady Gaga’s Born this Way Foundation (is it possible someone really lives and works in both those worlds? I digress…) talking about the importance of saying no to bullying and leaving messages of hope on post it notes about bullying, which is weird because that’s not what this debate or this film is about.
After about 5 minutes, I felt more stupid. I felt the Moms, whoever they are, didn’t know me or what I cared about. What was the deal with this site? And would I ever get the past 5 minutes of my life back? Doubtful. So who are these women? According to their site, they are “…a multi-platform lifestyle brand and event company with exposure on the web, television and in print.” In another words, they want to sell me a mommy lifestyle, a brand. They are to moms what Lulemon is to Yoga. If I watch, if I read, then whether it’s real or not at least I’ll look the part. Yuck.

I get that marketing to women as a unified one-dimensional block is not a new marketing strategy. In fact it’s an old and rather useful hat for brands and companies looking to sell a message that they assume most women and mothers want or need to digest. But I think what feels more raw and slightly annoying to me now is that they are using my mommy title specifically as the marketing hook. My mommy name and badge is special. Dylan was the first person to ever give it to me back on a very cold day in December of 2007. I love it for a lot of reasons, but especially because it links me to a generation of women who came before me who gave and shared and loved in a way that was so strong and unique and selfless and complicated, not one-dimensional or brand specific.
This and likeminded sites have their place and are working for someone out there, but not me. I suspect what I’m looking for I’m much more apt to find on the individual posts and blogs of my genius women and mommy friends who in their great collective wit, intelligence and good humor make me learn, laugh and feel each and every day. So you can keep your mamarazzi and your mommentary and your mom-alogues and your pseudo gender friendly brands. Because my mommy-ness is not your version of mommy-ness.  Because I am more than my mommy-ness. And because either way, whatever my is-ness is, it isn’t for sale.





[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shannon-kelley/end-of-men_b_1931012.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women

Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To

I turned 35 this week. As it happened, my birthday coincided with Yom Kippur. If you aren’t familiar with Judaism, Yom Kippur is a fun little holiday where you go to synagogue and atone for all of your sins, literally beating your chest as you beg G-d for forgiveness. You also get to fast. It’s really one of those feel good holidays. So, after racing to get everyone up and dressed for synagogue and there on time to sit through some portion of a service that they didn’t really understand, I slogged home where I pored through my excessive apple stash from last week’s apple picking so that I could make homemade applesauce and apple kugel to break the fast later. By the time the family showed up, everyone had a migraine. We ate a large meal to signify the end of our fast and promptly felt sick after. There was a birthday cake which was sweet although strangely, we were unable to find any birthday candles. This is particularly odd because I seem to hoard this product, but am only able to unearth them if it is not someone’s birthday. So, we stuck a tea light in the middle of my cake, sung happy birthday and called it a day.

Some sweeping, two loads of laundry, two baths, story time, and a couple of trips to the potty and I was ready to call it a day on my special day. So when my husband finally turned over my birthday card at approximately 9pm in what was truly one of the first quiet moments we had together that day or even that month actually, I did what any normal person would do: I sobbed hysterically and fell asleep. Okay, so it wasn’t the glamorous homemade card, streamers and levity kind of day that in my head I’d envisioned or at least watched on some sort of birthday themed TV show at some point in time. But sobbing? It seemed a bit extreme.

Honestly, I was just tired. Do you ever just feel that way? You’ve pushed and you’ve done and you’ve filled every moment of every day and night and the house is still dirty and you still haven’t exercised and your kid is still asking for a mom trade-in and you feel as though you’ve been doggy paddling for a month? I think that’s where I was. Which is ironic because just last month, I was writing to you all about the importance of keeping it real and embracing our respective day to day suckiness. So why for the past month had I become so obsessed with making the most (whoever’s most I think I’m trying to make) of every second, picking every apple, every family friendly photo op fall festival, every hayride, every holiday meal, trying so hard at everything and succeeding at nothing? I don’t even think it was some sort of rabid super mom compulsion, but rather this manic need to fulfill every other person around me’s needs and requests, a sad commentary on this really unfortunately little passive aggressive part of my psyche that is too obsessed with other people’s happiness, at the expense of my own.

Phil has been travelling almost every week this past month and that, coupled with near constant holidays, fall themed madness, and visits from our respective families which have been awesome but steady, have combined to make it that we have had almost zero time as a family, as a couple, as me. I felt right in the middle of nowhere. Which was right where Phil found me, doubled over his birthday card when he said these profound words: “You’re fine. You just need to be more selfish.” His words hit me like a pumpkin scented lead pipe to the head. In an effort to help everybody, serve everybody, fulfill every obligation, I had completely lost any of the joy in doing any of those things. And so rather than living my mantra of happy mama, happy babies, I’d unconsciously begun living a new mantra: angry subservient woman = miserable family. But the table was set, we made every swim and story and other class on time, homemade pie and kugel, wrinkled shirts, half-smiling children sitting in temple seats, entertaining – imploding. Everyone’s happy, right?
Not so much. In my effort to oblige every request, I started to drown in not so important obligations. So this year for my birthday I gave myself something very special: the power of no. It’s a word my children are intimately acquainted with and now it’s my turn. It’s okay if I don’t host, if we are late, if we are wrinkled, if we buy the kugel or skip the party or the class or whatever. Serving everyone, doing everything got us and me nowhere. Today I gave myself a totally selfish morning, the one I should’ve given myself two days ago. I dropped the kids off at school and closed my eyes to the endless tasks calling my name back home – the laundry, the dishes, the phone calls and emails I didn’t return. And I went to the mall by MYSELF. And I bought those long skinny boots that everyone has that make you look like you ride horses except I don’t. I ate cold kugel out of the pan because I could. I drove around town with the radio turned up really loud to that Carly Rae Jepson song and sang it at the top of my lungs (but with the windows up because I’m not totally ready to reveal my inner 12 year old to the rest of the world). And I watched some DVR’d Real Housewives. And when I went to pick up my kids a few hours later I was wearing something I expect they hadn’t seen in quite awhile: a smile.

Happy Birthday to me J

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Home

Today wasn’t the morning I thought I was going to have. With both children safely off to school for the next three hours, it was a race against time to see how much I could accomplish. So when my father called just a minute after I walked back into the house, I was surprised and truthfully a little annoyed when he asked if I wanted to go take a ride over to the Tower Avenue cemetery and visit Bubby and Grandpa.

I hadn’t been to the cemetery where my grandparents were buried in far too long and hearing his voice asking on the other end, it was clear laundry was going to take a backseat to the request. The cemetery, in a section of Hartford that was once heavily Jewish and immigrant, is tucked away behind the old Weaver High. It is a mishmash of tiny congregations that have long since dissolved and come together on a small section of land in Hartford. There are a few more recent burials, but not many.

In Judaism, when you visit the dead, you are asked to bring a stone with you and place it on top of the marker rather than flowers. While it is decidedly less aesthetic, like most things in Judaism I suppose it serves a practical purpose in that the rocks don’t wither, they don’t die. They are a lasting symbol of those who have come to visit, pay respects, say Kaddish. At Tower Avenue, there are very few stones to mark the presence of those who have come. Many (not all) of the graves are so old, that there just aren’t very many family or friends around anymore to make the call.
So we walked, finding as many parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins and friends that we could; stop to say Kaddish and leave our stone. It was strangely peaceful and almost nice. So many familiar names and faces from the past. After, dad asked if we wanted to drive through the old neighborhood. For a second, my mind turned back to the ever looming pile of laundry and the ticking clock back at home. No, let’s keep driving.

And we did: through Acton and Vine, Garden and Magnolia. There was the stoop on Irving where he’d sit with his brother, the three family home he shared with his cousins and the Tannenbaums, the block he’d walk down to get to the old Kosher market, the Synagogue, the park where they’d cast away their sins every year, the Vine Street School, the expansive old high school. As we drove down a winding street behind the old Weaver just off Blue Hills Avenue, he wistfully talked about how he felt so proud when his parents rented a home around there – as if they had really come up in the world. At that moment, it struck me that this little drive was actually one of the greatest things I ever did with him: seeing his world, his beginnings, through his eyes. Here he was, sharing a piece of himself, his memories – giving them like a gift to me.
When you read about the North End or drive through or hear about it in the news, it’s the same story, different day. Another shooting, heartbreak, another chip in the armor of this proud neighborhood. But in many ways, the North End is like those rocks marking the headstones: strong, solid, lasting, rooted in a history that it might not even know, but anchors it still today. And this morning, for the first time I truly saw it through his eyes, of what it was to him, of what it still is to so many families, and of the hope and promise that still lives there. Being there – imagining those long gone names on the headstones from Tower Avenue bustling around this neighborhood, loving and learning and shopping and growing and living I felt what he felt: I felt home.   

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Break-Up

I think I’m breaking up with Parents Magazine. This has been a long-time coming and no, US Weekly, you didn’t cause this: the rift in our relationship was already there. I started receiving Parents Magazine right after I became a mother several years ago. It was a gift from my mother who thought I might enjoy the little useful parenting nuggets of what to do about colic, or spit-up or best car seats and all sorts of like-minded stories. At the time, particularly greedy for knowledge and insight about how to navigate the best possible choices for my son, I enjoyed reading it. But now, 4+ years later, something or someone has changed. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s me – maybe it’s both of us.

I feel like the magazine used to be a bit more about ways to better things for you and your child, helpful how-tos and information, sans judgment. Lately though, and I suspect my own parenting insecurities are largely the culprit for reframing the way I’m seeing the same articles, I read it all a bit more in the genre of what I’m doing wrong: what I’m not cooking, what I shouldn’t be saying, teaching, smelling or speaking, etc in front of my children. It’s like the literary equivalent of a mommy prison. I stand there flipping the pages, reviewing list after list of what I shouldn’t and I haven’t. I don’t leave feeling more knowledgeable. To say I’ve been feeling a bit deflated is the PG version of what I usually say after I finish the latest issue.
Here is the thing that gets me: who are the children and parents they are speaking to? In fairness, I’m sure there are some lovely families out there who want more slow cooker recipes to help with dinner but for some reason, nothing personally sets me off more than an article designed to “revamp family dinner” than one that is centered around the slow cooker. It cooks slow. I already am a slow cooker. And my actual slow cooker is still completely wrapped in the basement from my wedding. And no, if I unwrap and cook some mystical concoction for 7 hours, the length of time will not be enough to magically transform my children into someone else’s children eager to try my Asian vegetable shredded beef medley that is “guaranteed to make your kids like veggies!” Sigh.

Or maybe my beloved “spirited” children’s behavior or even my own is in the spotlight. I particularly enjoyed a more recent article entitled “Four Bad Habits Every Parent Needs to Break.” The title they could have used but didn’t might be, “The Four Things I Do Every Day to Ensure My Child Needs a Lifetime of Therapy.” The list, in summarized form, included these four things: you freak out at every near-disaster, you claim everything is great and all “unicorns and rainbows,” you pose requests as questions, and generally over-criticize. As I read this list, I’m not thinking lifetime of social and emotional harm; I guess I’m just thinking that pretty much sums up Tuesday. I’m definitely guilty of most of things on this list except perhaps the last one. I try to not criticize too harshly though admittedly, when Dylan declared it “Destroy Mommy” day yesterday, that didn’t illicit a rainbows and unicorns type of response.
The truth is, it’s not you, Parents Magazine, it’s me. I’ve changed. And your articles aren’t really or usually written in such a typically half-empty fashion. Your suggesting things I could do, I could learn, a set of best practices I could go by. It’s not your fault that buried within your pages I see a woman who by 8AM has already fit in a mommy stroller workout, fired up her slow cooker, packed her children’s lunches (desconstructed chicken tostada, of course?!), and set up the at home date night with her husband for later that evening, after a well-balanced meal.  All of it is so well-balanced that it just unsettles me. Nothing about being a wife or a mother ever feels balanced, not our meals or my emotions or the passage of time or money; none of it. And somehow that works for us.  

So here’s what I think the would-be cover of my imaginary parenting mag would look like:
·         Oreos – not as bad for your kids as you think!

·         TV – not as bad for your kids as you think!

·         Ways to beat the fantasy football blues (see articles above)
Because being stinky and crabby and malnourished and over TV-d and loving and silly and totally out of balance feels good. And that’s how we roll.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Keeping it Real


I received an email tonight from a fellow mom. Really, it was more of a detailed confession of all of the things she’d done wrong today as a mother. It ended with two simple words: “Parent fail.” Her email both broke my heart and made me super angry because you see, she’s really a terrific mom. But today, she must have used someone else’s measuring stick to make that call. It troubled me in particular because motherhood and parenthood for that matter, is definitely not measured or won or lost on a battle by battle or day to day basis. We’re in this for the long haul people. Did your child watch six hours of TV today or eat pizza for dinner every night this week? What really matters at the end of the day?
Let’s just admit my own bias here. If we are measuring this stuff on a day to day basis, I’m assuming I would have done a pretty shitty job by most people’s standards. I brought my son to the grocery store in a rainbow colored clown wig and pajamas because it was the only way I could get him to the store. We’ve probably watched at least six hours of Disney over the past two days and my daughter can do a spot on impersonation of Candace from Phineas and Ferb that is unsettling for a two year old. Also, Ruby would only eat an all-yellow dinner tonight (corn, mac and cheese and pineapple) though I guess I should view this as an improvement over last night’s dinner, the stale hot dog bun. Even as I write this, my poor neglected children continue to scream their heads off at 9:30pm as I ignore their pathetic little fatigued bodies which are still on west coast time after our trip to California last week. We are nearly half way through the week and have done no clever do it yourself projects that have taught them anything.  We did try to trace our hands with chalk in the driveway though that really didn’t teach us much of anything, other than the fact that we have fat hands. Glamorous, right?
Parenthood isn’t about perfection. How could it be? At its core, it is the business of imperfect humans raising other imperfect little humans to the best of their ability. And loving them with everything they’ve got. There is no real yard stick for that. Facebook and the proliferation of Instagram would have you believe that everyone else’s children are living some glossy pictorial straight out of Parents magazine, where perfectly coiffed children frolic in the ocean as the sun lilts behind them and they smile coyly from beneath a well placed sun hat (that the perfect child does not remove). It’s not real. It’s all spin – it’s what they are putting out there for us to see. Trust me, I wasn’t instagramming the moment before that one where Ruby was face down eating sand and screaming her head off because I wouldn’t build a sand castle with her.
We are who we are and I hope if I teach my kids nothing it is the fact that we are real and flawed and it’s okay to be real and in fact to love yourself because of all those flaws, not in spite of them. You see, that’s the real secret teachable moment of parenthood: teaching our children to love themselves just because of who they are, and to not waste any time on this precious earth chasing some perfect idealized version of themselves or their mommy.
Think back on your own childhood. Do you remember a perfectly sucky day when you were three years old? Probably about as a much as you remember a pretty great one from when you were three which is not very much at all. I think a lot about and write about my own childhood and particularly my mother. She was with me until right after I had my first child, and then she was gone. And so I don’t have the opportunity to ask her ever, was I like that? Did I do that? Did you get frustrated? Did you let me wear my pajamas to the grocery store? I just can’t remember. 
What I do remember was that she could curse like a truck driver sometimes, that she fed me some frozen turkey covered in a purple sauce that was definitely not for human consumption, that she ate a bowl of chips in front of the TV in her bathrobe almost every night, and that she let me watch Dallas when I was in Kindergarten. Let’s face it: it was Dallas - that’s no Nick, Jr. She wasn’t perfect and I loved that about her. She was real and in my memories she makes it okay for me to be that real with my own children. Because I think about how much I loved her and our time together, and realize it’s not about any of those things. It’s about who she was, not what she did on any one day. She was a lifetime of love and compassion and good humor and kindness. She was in it for the long haul. As parents, we all are. So stop judging and love yourself. Because today was just today. And really by most standards including mine, really not a very bad one at all. You’re a good hard working mommy teaching your baby about love and compassion. It’s a lifetime of work and cannot be won or lost in one day. So soldier on and keep it real mommas J

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wait – Why the Cluck Are We All Talking About Chikn?

And more importantly, why do we all keep spelling chicken that way? Are we all in on the joke or the conspiracy? Seriously – what’s up with that? But I digress. This post isn’t about chikn or chicken. It’s about two very important things I strongly believe:  1) all Americans deserve the same equal rights, and 2) without question liberals have absolutely zero political savvy and are the stupidest people on the planet. And I say that as a liberal.

Let’s start with the second point here, for no other reason than the consistent misspelling of the word chicken is making me feel more stupid so I’ve decided to do things in the wrong order. Why are we so bad at this? Why didn’t we see a cheap publicity stunt trap being set for us a by a chicken warlord? Why did we all fall for it?! What the cluck! Here’s a shocker people: the proud patriarch papa of a southern based bible belt fried chicken joint gives lots of his private profits to support the Defense of Marriage act and other efforts to solidify that marriage is defined legally as between a man and a woman, and to thereby strip the entire LGBT community of the right to marry. Raise your hand if you are surprised by this? So then, Mr. Top Chickn or Chicken or whatever decides to give an interview where he speaks openly about where his chicken money goes. And what do we all do? We act freaking surprised and self-righteous, which, by the way if you are wondering is exactly what Mr. Chicken thought we would do. And then suddenly you have Mayors stepping out of the woodwork saying that Mr. Chicken can’t sell his chicken in their cities because of what he believes (which by the way people, is I’m pretty sure illegal – you know blocking someone from making a living based on what they say or believe) – that’s right, I’m looking at you Menino. And voila! You have Dan Cathy’s dream – the silly liberals running around talking about boycotting chicken and guess what you have, not a logical engagement on the importance of ensuring civil rights for all? Nope – you’ve got a debate on freedom of speech and religious freedom. And everyone is shelling out their money to buy waffle fries in support of Dan Cathy’s right to free speech. Um, is anyone catching the utter stupidity and irony of this?!
Why, oh why dear liberals do we always fall for such obvious schemes? Why do we always muck it up. This was a well timed PR scheme from the beginning. It was never a debate about the rights of Gays and Lesbians to marry. And we walked right into it. We run around pointing fingers at others who threaten to, let’s say hypothetically boycott JC Penney for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman, and then we argue to do the same thing when it supports our own point?! It’s like saying the other side is a bunch of religious hypocrites who are really total pervs who cheat on their wives, and then TWEETING PICTURES OF YOUR GENITALS. Why do we do this stuff, liberals? Seriously, why?
It makes us look dumb and it makes us look like hypocrites and it obscures really excellent points about how folks, particularly folks who are strict constructionists, ought to ensure that they apply the same strict constitutional approach when reading that beloved doc as it applies to the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by all Americans. Not just the straight ones.
Let’s get to the point. I think Dan Cathy is a total stool pigeon. I think he is about as smart as one of his chickens right before they become the spicy chicken sandwich deluxe. So I don’t eat there because he was smart enough to tell me exactly where my chicken money would go, and I think that’s crap. But calling for a boycott or a kiss-in or being all surprised when the whole debate gets re-framed on your ass just proves that once again liberals, we looked silly and outplayed. This debate is important and serious. It involves the loves and lives of our parents, friends, neighbors, children who deserve equal rights in this country – the right to marry. By no means should any of us be talking about chikn. Or chicken. Ah F*(&^&*^!!! it.




Friday, July 20, 2012

The Bubble

When I woke up this morning and first heard the news about the mass shooting in the Colorado theatre, my heart sank. Not just because it was a tragedy for the people who lost their lives or their families, but because as a nation, as a mother, it was officially no longer an innocent activity to go the movies. It just reinforced every instinct I have ever felt as a parent that I think should be to broaden my children’s horizons, to show them the world. But it’s not. It’s to wrap them up in this tiny little town in a bubble and keep them as sheltered for as long as I possibly can, which isn’t nearly as long as it used to be.

I had this conversation the other day with my friend as we watched our children run through the sprinklers with relatively few cares in the world. She spoke of how, at 8, she was already seemingly losing influence or control over her son’s choices in this world. Before you know it, maybe they are 18 and they want to go see Batman play at the local theatre. And that doesn’t seem like such a bad choice, does it?
I know that having little ones is time consuming and space consuming and money consuming and all consuming and most of the time me consuming. But at the end of the day I can control what they eat, what they watch, where they go. I can close my eyes each night with the great comfort that they are tucked safely in their beds. I’m assuming that if I ask parents of teens and older children, they would instantly make the trade of late night feedings, over late night parties.
The bubble will burst. I know I can’t shield them from the heartache and suffering and abject insanity that makes it dangerous to go to the movies, or ride your bike forever. I know it’s coming soon. But until then I will say a silent prayer for as long as I can to keep all of us and all of you safe. As I watch my daughter run through the living room in her tutu and cape protecting a fake ice cream cone, I know Super Ruby can’t really keep us safe. I know she can’t live within the gift of blissful ignorance that childhood should be forever. But lord please keep them there for as long as possible.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Jerky Knees and the Power of Wrong

The other night I had one of those seemingly innocuous but quickly escalating epic battles with my husband over our son. The details of it actually aren’t really that important: he said he saw something in him that I did not. I told him he was a lunatic and a bad parent. I felt pretty heated and smug about the whole thing really. I mean, who was he to imply that he knew more about our son than me? The same “me” who fed that kid three meals a day and checked every mole, hair, tooth and hangnail on his body every hour of every day for pretty much the past four years. My husband rolled over and went to sleep, bloodied from our battle while I stormed around the house still seething. I should have been smug. He’d relented, given up his point. Why wasn’t I satisfied?

The next day, my sister called to invite me and the kids to the park. Which would have been nice had I not laced into her with a sharp recounting of the previous night’s fight and what my husband had the gall to do: make a recommendation for our son based on his observations as a parent. I mean, seriously. To her credit, she listened and with as gentle a posture as she could without further setting me off, suggested that perhaps there was something to what he was saying that was touching a nerve with me. Maybe I was seeing the same things with our son and that’s why I was reacting so strongly. Or not. But just maybe. Because of the maybe – the possibility of it all – she encouraged me to be open to his words. Not act on them, but be open to them.
Later that night I got to thinking about my conversation with her and the power of being open. Being open not only to what your partner is saying, but to the possibility that you might actually be wrong. Given the odds, at some point in some time, it’s going to happen. I also started thinking about Glennon Melton of Momastery.com. I’m a big fan of the way Glennon writes her blog, her homage to life’s most “brutiful” truths. Her most recent post was on knee jerk reactions. She wrote: “Go ahead and have a jerk reaction, but not out loud. Or maybe have it with your best friend, but don’t spew it on the person who confronted you. Don’t fight. Take a mini-flight. But while you flight, think. Stay with it. Stay open. Look inward instead of outward. WHY is this upsetting me so? What can I learn from this? What is this person, this confrontation, this discomfort trying to teach me? No dismissal. No counter-attack. Slip on the shoes of the offended. Walk around in them for a while. Then sit down and take a good look at yourself from her couch.”
And so I did. I sat with it a bit. I walked around. I’d knee jerked all over Phil and flopped my jerky knees all over my sister the next day. But now came the tough part. Why was I so upset? Was there some truth to what he suggested he was seeing? And was I bothered by the idea that he saw it first rather than me, the parent that is home with our kids so much and who should spot this stuff first. Or had I seen it and just not had the balls to say it to myself or to him. Was that what was bothering me? Actually, it didn’t really matter. All that really mattered was what I did next.

And what I did next was go up to my husband and apologize for not being more open to what he was saying. Regardless of whether I thought what he saying was true or not, he’s a parent too and he had a right to discuss something he felt was going on with one of our kids. And then I said I was wrong and he was right. And the world didn’t end when I said those words. It was actually pretty freaking powerful.
So from now on I’m going to own my knee jerky reactions. I’m still going to have them and give myself the space to do so. But I’m working more on figuring out why and being open to the possibility and power of wrong. But don’t you dare tell my husband I wrote this: we can’t have this whole thing go to his head.
Like I said – I’m working on it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bridget Jones Teaches Me About Parenting

I hate it when my kids turn out to be smarter than me. I mean seriously, I really hate it. So tonight was particularly troubling and illuminating when after ripping into my son for the thirtieth time that day about something he was doing that I didn’t like, he said this to me: “You know Mommy, back when there was nobody in this town and just me, G-d handed me a magazine and said pick one. And I picked Daddy and I picked you Mommy, not for any other reason but because of who you are.” I looked at him, and promptly bawled my eyes out.

I guess this is really my Bridget Jones post – right? You know the infamous line from Mark Darcy to a downhearted Bridget after a disastrous dinner party: “I like you very much. Just as you are.” My son loves me for who I am. And at the tender age of four he is smart enough to know that there is pretty much nothing better for anyone at any time or age to hear. In that moment I realized the single biggest thing I needed to do and wasn’t doing for my kid: telling him that I love him just as he is. No IF clause or AND clause or WHEN clause. I think as parents (and by parents I’m talking specifically about my own ineptitude here) that we obsess a lot about what we need to DO to make our kids good people, as if there is some sort of action-oriented set of verbs that parents can use to produce kind souls and open hearts. But I’m pretty sure Dylan and Mark Darcy reminded me tonight that’s not really how it all works. We are who we are, frailties and all. And sometimes the very best we can do is remind each other that we are loved because, not in spite of those things.
So Dylan, hey listen up: I love you kid. I’m not sure how I got so damn lucky to have you pick me out of that magazine but I promise to thank G-d everyday for it. And I love you. Just as you are.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ironically, a Post on Working from the Stay at Home Mom

Lately, what seems to be “trending” online, re-tweeted or shared on FB seems to be a fair litmus test for what’s on people’s minds. So when a seemingly innocuous piece from a publication I’m willing to bet almost none of you read on a daily basis got a shocking amount of recirculation and sharing at least within my circle of friends, it got me thinking. The article was from The Atlantic (read it lately? exactly –didn’t think so) but I bet you read the article: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It’s a smartly written and illuminating piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter documenting her experience reaching the pinnacle of her professional experience and saying explicitly that the trade-offs between work and family are real. She goes on to discuss how the younger generation seems more keenly aware of these pitfalls and is consequently less likely to as aggressively pursue the very highest rung of their respective professional ladders, as they suffer no disillusion about their ability to “have it all.” Slaughter of course is right and we all know it, and her piece raises interesting questions about what we need to have in place to strike a better balance between work and family, and to make the sacrifices and trade-offs less obvious and extreme.

I have a good friend who knows this experience well. She has been at her company a long time. She is smart, hard-working, and well-deserving of the promotion that should have come to her years ago. Still, she realizes that by aggressively fighting for and getting it, she may be signing up for a trade-off she’s not willing to make. Does she want the promotion more than the ability to leave at 5pm every day and be home for dinner with her girls at 6pm? Is the professional success she’s earned worth the fundamental loss of personal flexibility her work schedule currently affords her? While I’m currently a stay at home Mom, I sympathized with her largely because my husband is currently struggling with the same scenario. He has aggressively pursued his promotion over the past year, but done so at a high price. The travel, the hours – the writing was clear: work first, everything else later. Ultimately, he got the promotion and was happy, sort of. But also kind of miserable because he’d spent the past year doing nothing but working and missed his home, his family, his kids – himself.
So it struck that me what we are really talking about here is not really just a working mom conundrum but a working parent problem and the greater question as a society that we have to answer, is how can we incentivize and educate our corporate culture on the idea that efficiency, more than hours clocked, and miles logged, matters more to their bottom line. What systems can we share out to promote the idea of working smart, not working long so that being effective and high performing in the office, doesn’t mean checking out at home?
I’ve always said that happy mamas make happy babies but I think the same fundamental precept is true here again: happy people make happy and ultimately productive workers. It’s time that we as a culture stop thinking in terms of trade offs and start structuring our time in non-traditional and more efficient ways to encourage working parents to go for that brass ring, while still being able to make the last out of their kid’s game. This group of women and men are struggling and subsequently stifling their potential contributions and innovation both at work and home.  The problem is not unique to women. Increasing flexible schedules and thinking on both ends will unlock our potential to be both great parents and leaders.

Friday, June 8, 2012

New Beginnings, Old Beginnings

So it’s that time of year again. Somehow we seem to be getting ready to move – AGAIN! And while I am excited to bring my family back to CT where we feel most at home, it is hard to say goodbye to some of the really lovely new friends we’ve made during our rather tumultuous year in NJ.

I’ve never been good at goodbyes. I feel like there are approximately three types of goodbye-rs. There is type a), the completely unemotional, unattached goodbye-r who says au revoir without a single tear or tug of sentimentality; b) the no goodbye-r who never actually says it or closes the loop because they just can’t bring themselves to do so. I equate this one to feeling like someone clicks over to take another call and they just never click back to your conversation and everything feels just kind of weird and unfinished. And of course there is type c), the overly emotional person who is crying before they can say anything goodbye-r, so caught up in a flood of memories and nostalgia that the poor people who are the recipients of said goodbye feel so uncomfortable watching the display that in the end rather than ending on a nice note, it’s just all awkward and bad.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am type c: the overly emotional, crazy sentimental lady. I’m the one who receives random Kleenex from passerbys merely observing the exchange. I can’t help it. I’ve always been this way. But lately, I credit my husband for pushing my thinking on the nature of goodbye, and how I can force myself out of all three of the above categories. Whenever Phil and I go somewhere wonderful and I start to get sad and nostalgic about leaving (which by the way usually happens before I have even unpacked during the arrival – did I mention I’m insane?), he always reminds me that no matter who, or where or what, we’ll be back. There will be another time, another moment, and another memory. And that it is okay to let go of where we are because in the circle of life we’ll come back again. And maybe we will and maybe we won’t – maybe it’s just something we’re telling ourselves to make us feel better, but it actually works. He isn’t emotion-less nor is he emotion-ful and he does say goodbye, but does so with the optimism that there are more good things to come.
And so today as I looked at Dylan and Ruby’s wonderful teachers and felt that familiar lump welling in my throat, an amazing thing happened. I started to tear, but didn’t actually cry. And when Phil said he was sad to say goodbye to our friends at the preschool that has been like a surrogate family to our kids during our adventure in NJ, I found myself being okay with letting go of something great, maybe for the first time ever. I can let it go and admit that we were lucky to have had this place and these people come into our lives for the brief time we were here. And feel hopeful about what’s to come.

Monday, June 4, 2012

50 Shades of Grey, Time Magazine, and the Dumbing Down of Motherhood

I bet you and I hit the same 3-5 websites everyday to get our quick fix of news and cultural references. Maybe you’re a CNN and Huffington Post lady. Or maybe your cup of tea is Fox News or The Stir. I’d even bet that among your FB friends and twitter feeds, you’ve found yourself reading and/or engaged in one of the three following topics over the past few weeks: 50 Shades of Grey, the now infamous Time Magazine article on attachment parenting, and/or perhaps some sort of related discussion about a supposed “war” between working moms and stay at home moms. And it is starting to make me anxious to think that we, my fellow sisters, wives and mothers, are co-conspirators in a media-driven effort to make us more stupid, divided, and generally less focused on legitimate issues that matter to us and our families.

First – let’s call a spade a spade. I fell for it all. I monitored all the chats following the hype on 50 Shades of Grey while I furtively discussed among my female friends if I should take the plunge and commit precious child-free hours to this smut. When the Time Magazine article came out, I too jumped into the FB fray, reading blog post after blog post about the supposed merits or demerits of either the picture or the title. Mind you little or none of the discussion was actually about attachment parenting, as we stayed at the surface exactly where Time wanted us. And finally there is my favorite – the fake war between working moms and stay at home moms. We all devote a remarkable amount of energy to this one – defending a territory that doesn’t exist, attacking each other because yet another story hinted at friction that was never really there to begin with.
But you know what the truth is? It is all crap. None of these stories that all of us (and by us at least I mean me) have spent a good deal of time reading, discussing, digesting and disseminating, has anything to do with making any of our lives better. We are discussing what we are told to discuss. We are letting publishing houses and editorial boards drive where things go rather than the other way around. Why aren’t we talking right now online to each other or seeking to share more info about things like how to give yourself a breast exam, how to improve access to excellent education in our communities, increased info about what’s in our food and cosmetics, how to find ourselves (or at least not totally lose ourselves) in the middle of work, and husbands and children. And all of it matters regardless of your parenting technique (attachment or not), or whether you work or don’t. The reality is we all have more in common than not.
But we need to start by driving our discussions in more productive ways – ways that better our lives as moms and women and strengthen our collective voice in the civic discourse. The need is real. In a recent study by the Op-Ed Project[i], women wrote half or more of the editorials last year on “pink topics” gender, family, and style, but devoted a meager 11% of their contributions to politics. If we want to raise the level of discourse in a way that substantially improves the lives of ourselves or our daughters, we have to start with what we produce and disseminate amongst each other. We have to stop falling for what they spoon feed us. And start talking about what really matters.
Lastly, I don’t want anyone to read this as my declaration that I’ve lost faith in my devotion to pop culture and other fun stuff. Trust me: Andy Cohen is still my homeboy. Rather, it’s more of a reflection on my part to at least try to seek out and share more stuff that really matters to us, in addition of course to the latest 411 on my Real Housewives J










[i] http://theopedproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/the-byline-survey-2011/