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.