The Yes Experiment

May 18, 2010 at 5:00 am | Posted in little bug, SAHM, the 'burbs, Uncategorized | 23 Comments

(Today’s Five for Ten topic is Yes)

Attorneys are trained to think around a question. We do not say “yes,” we say: “It is reasonable to expect…” or “It is likely that…”  Instead of no, we might say, “That is not the intent.”

Anyone who has a toddler, however — or anyone who knows a toddler or who has ever been a toddler — understands that most of your days are spent telling that child “No.” No, you may not: climb up on the stool, stand on your chair, touch the stove, watch a movie, drink Diet Coke. No I will not: read you another book, lie in bed with you, bring you another glass of water. It is exhausting for you both.

What would happen if we could just say “Yes”? We tell our children no for their own safety and so that we don’t go broke buying them every toy in CVS.  But those little things that, for one day, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty inconsequential? What if you did read another book or bring another glass of water?

I conducted an experiment on Little Buggy, my 2 3/4-year-old today. After a weekend of being sick, culminating Sunday afternoon with projectile vomiting all over the car, she stayed home from school. So not only would I be with her all day, but she could probably stand a little extra TLC. Within the bounds of safety and functionality, I’d try to say “yes” to every request. We’d go through the day without that enervating back-and-forth of “Can I…”/”No.”  Here’s what happened:

8:08: I want to wear a dress. (Normally, for just hanging around the house, I’d suggest shorts or pants. But who says you can’t wear a dress whenever you want?)
8:14: Can I call Daddy at work?
8:20: Can I have apple juice?
8:27: I don’t WAAAAAAANT a cinnamon raisin bagel. Put it back on the counter.
8:28: I want to go in the sprinkler. (To this: “Maybe later,” which technically wasn’t “No.”)
8:40: I want to go for a walk.
8:43: I want to walk to the cupcake store.
8:50: I want a movie from the library. (Outcome: we walked to the library and then to the bakery/cupcake store.)
8:51: I want to bring an Easter treat in the stroller (an “Easter treat” is a duck- or bunny-shaped SweetTart left over from Easter and usually reserved for bribes. But, why not, just today.)
9:15: (At the bakery) I want a cupcake. (How about a muffin?)
9:48: (Leaving the bakery and walking past another store displaying a big advertisement for ice cream in the window) I want an ice cream. (Again, a diversion: maybe later.)
10:30: (After arriving home) Can I ride my tricycle down the street?
10:36: I’m too tired. Can you push it?
10:40: Can you carry my tricycle home? I want to run.
10:42: Can we play red-light, green-light?
11:50: I want to eat lunch outside.
12:03: (After it was suggested that perhaps she shouldn’t drop her food on the ground, as it might attract animals.) I want to feed the animals.
12:28: I want to play on my playground {i.e., our swingset} and THEEEENNN I will take a nap. (OK, for five minutes.)

“If I throw my spaghetti on the ground then awlllll the animals will come: bees and bears and MONSTERS. And squirrels.”

After a nap, we went to the local nursery to look at flowers and plants for the patio. Little Buggy loved the flowers and especially the disco-like reflective balls that I guess some people put in their gardens. She wanted one, of course. I had to turn back into nagging, nay-saying, no-fun mother: No, we can not buy a disco-garden-ball. No, we are not buying that palm tree or that running fountain or the rose bush.

Dinner: I want Arthur Mac & Cheese and a red popsicle and apple juice. (Not what I would have made for her, but, OK. No arguments.)

7:02: I don’t want to take a bath; I want to watch the Madeline movie from the library.

And, finally, here, I had to stand my ground. I suppose my experiment was destined to revert back to push-and-pull toddler mode under the stress of bathtime and bedtime and “I don’t waaaaaaant to go potty; I don’t waaaant to brush my teeth.” No, you must go potty. No, you must brush your teeth.

We have to say “no” — to instill safety, boundaries, values. To make sure they get enough sleep and their teeth don’t rot out. But it feels so good to say yes, especially when you see your child’s eyes light up, like, Really? I can have a piece of candy right after breakfast? Really? You’ll take me to the library and the bakery? Just like that? I was reminded that she is just a small person — a baby, really. I have such power over her innate wants and needs. I have never worried before that I say “no” too often, nor have I thought that I spoil my toddler. But this tangible effort today to ban the word “no” — which I realized we throw out almost unconsciously — gave me a glimpse into the small universe of the young child whose wants and needs are so, so simple.

Thank you Sarah and Jen of Momalom for inspiring me to write again (regularly!). As a former journalist, I embrace being given a topic and a deadline upon which to write it. I actually often find it easier to write when I am not spending my creative energies thinking up a topic, but can run with a given idea. Thanks to all the new readers (and Tweeters) who visited my blog and commented; conversely, I have stumbled upon so many new blogs that my Google Reader may overload. Last night, as I was hunched over my laptop, writing and reading and commenting and Tweeting, my husband said, “What are you doing? Competitive blogging?” Well, yes, kind of, but competitive only in the sense of pushing oneself and expanding one’s horizons. These past 10 days have felt like an event — a kind of Olympics of camaraderie and support and fun. I look forward to meeting many of you in August!

A former Catholic contemplates Protestant repression (i.e., lust)

May 16, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Posted in Starbucks, tax law is sexy, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

I can barely type the four letters, l-u-s-t, the topic for today’s Five for Ten. Oh, these Momalom girls are smart, setting us up with fun topics like happiness and then making us squirm or blush. Or is it only me? A (former) good Catholic girl raised in a repressed Protestant society has trouble with this. We’re not supposed to think about lust, right? Or talk about it, or, for goodness sakes, blog about it publicly.

When I lived in Paris for a few months in the summer of 2001, I attended daily French language classes. One day, I asked the teacher why everyone in Paris chain smoked. “What about cancer?” I demanded. “Don’t you care about the children? About second-hand smoke?”

“You Americans,” she responded (at least, this is how I think the conversation went — the French lessons never quite took me to any level of proficiency). “You get cancer not from the smoking but from your repressed, Protestant lifestyle. We don’t get cancer because smoking relaxes us; we enjoy it.” The other students around the table — Japanese, Mexican, Israeli, Russian — nodded in agreement. Now, I had recently lost my father to lung cancer, but I also had been suspecting (and still sort of do, in the face of all rationality) that it may not have been the smoking itself that brought on the cancer that killed him. If there were ever a living emblem of the harms of Protestant repression it was my father. As the weight of collective condemnation fell upon me, the lone American in the French classroom that day, I wondered if she had a point.

In her “lust” post, one of my favorite bloggers, Launa (she of “Wherever I go, there I am“), writes of the attention her handsome husband has received from other women during their sojourn in France. Women with glossy hair, tight jeans, leather jackets, and no doubt fabulous lingerie beneath it all. Women for whom lust — be it their hidden underwear or their overt flirtation with married men — is a part of a sensual lifestyle (one in which, apparently, smoking does not cause lung cancer). Why don’t we (we, as in American women but more specifically we as in “I,” a repressed former Catholic) make the same effort to embrace, as opposed to stifle or ignore sexuality? I could go all political and link this ultimately to the absurdity of not teaching sex education in schools among many other ridiculous societal responses to our collective Protestant roots, but I’ll go back to my first point: my difficulty even writing on this topic of “lust”.

I could get around it by talking about my lust for life or lust for Starbucks or lust for reading or whatever, but that would be ignoring the decidedly sexual connotations of the word. And this brings me to a larger issue, which is writing about sex in general. One of the reasons I wonder if I could ever actually write a novel is: what about the sex scenes? You kind of need to have them, right, or else your novel will seem inauthentic because sex is everywhere? But what if your mother reads it? Your grandmother? What if every boyfriend you ever had thinks it is about him? Even if everything you write is the products of a healthy imagination, everyone will wonder, think, assume it is you.

Who cares? you might be thinking. Is that so bad? For me, yes. But maybe this is a first step. I’ll try it one more time:



Joy and Music and Glee

May 16, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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I’m late on my Five for Ten Memory post. I struggled with this one. Writing about any singular memory I feared would come across as maudlin or inauthentic — I wouldn’t be able to write eloquently enough to steer away from the clichés of happiness (weddings, birth, etc.) or sadness (divorce, death, etc.). So I wrote something else that just didn’t ring true and was about to hit “Publish.”

And then tonight after a long weekend with a sick kid, preoccupied with looming preschool and daycare decisions and bills and stuff and etc., et. al., I caught up on Glee. This is actually a long overdue post on why (apart from The Good Wife) this may be the best show on television. What does this have to do with the topic of memory? Bear with me…

Glee, if you are living under a rock, is the breakaway hit show about a high school glee club, and, yes, there is singing in every episode. And, yes, every week, especially during each episode’s finale, I find myself tingling with goosebumps, tears in my eyes. By the end of each episode the show’s characters have resolved that week’s dilemmas in rousing song, unabashedly singing their hearts out (oh, the cliché! But again, bear with me!) My skin tingles because I am transported back to my singing days when it was just as uncool and geeky to be my high school chorus as it is in the fictional Ohio high school at which the show takes place (not to mention the more selective a capella madrigal singers in which I was a second soprano). In high school, the rest of the chorus kids also did all the school plays and musicals and/or had long-ish hair and were in bands. I was nerdy, sure, but more academically so, which in my high school — although not cool, per se — was much more socially acceptable than being a drama nerd. (I played lacrosse in lieu of the school play, upping my cool factor even a bit more.) But once we were singing, such distinctions were as meaningless as they were otherwise important. My chorus cohorts and I had a bond that is hard to describe to non-“gleeks”: once you are out there, in front of an audience, listening to the pitch of your fellow singers or finding a shared source of energy, nothing matters but the music. Not high school cliques or grades or where you are going to college. It is a high; it’s a bond.

I chose my college over another I was considering in large part because of its a capella community. (This may be the nerdiest sentence I have ever or will ever write.) During my prospective-student visit, en route to a party, my hosts walked me past an arch sing. They wanted to hurry on to the keg, but I lingered at the entrance to the arch. This, this was my high school singing experience taken to a new level. The acoustics of the arches are perfectly suited to a cappella music, so much that each group comes to know its “sweet spot” in the arch — where their sopranos or bases will resonate the best. An all-women’s group was singing a little-known 80s song called “Time and Tide,” with an exquisite soprano soloist and back up trio and the hairs stood up on my arms. Reluctantly I let myself be dragged away to a basement party (I had a coolness factor to satisfy), but I never forgot that soloist or that song, and when I arrived on campus a few months later and did the round of a capella group auditions, I looked for the soloist. Fortunately for me, she belonged to the one a capella group that actually wanted me (I’m not a fabulous singer, I should add, but I have good pitch and a good ear and can sing on tune and can blend — a quality as equally prized by a capella groups as the most rousing soloist. Every star needs backup, no?) I remember writing in my journal the day I made the group that I felt as stunned and elated as the day I found out I was accepted to college itself. They want me? I can be a part of this?

Two other Five for Ten bloggers, college classmates of mine, have mentioned the arch sing phenomenon in their memory posts (here and here). So perhaps I’m not alone in recognizing their spirit and beauty and the unique role these weekly mini-concerts played in our college experience. But to be out there — singing — focusing only on the voices surrounding you, the collective experience, the soaring voices; and, yet, aware of the audience, rapt, in front of you, clapping and cheering and hopefully equally as moved or elated…

It’s glee. Pure Glee.

You might think Glee, the show, is ridiculous or embarrassing. Would students really sing like that, unafraid of how they seemed or what they looked like or with such lack of restraint?

Yes, they would. And the show brings me right back. Without realizing at the time, my singing group was the best thing I did in college. Sometimes I dream that I’m back in the group and what I remember is not the particular song we’re singing, but the feeling I had while singing it. I am untethered yet supported by the women around me; I am aware of the audience but unselfconsciously so; I’m enraptured and inspired and utterly free.


Happiness revisited

May 13, 2010 at 4:30 am | Posted in read this, Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Today is Day 2 of Five for Ten’s Happiness posts. I wanted to use this opportunity, for those who may be new to my blog, to repost a review I wrote a few months ago on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. How many of her suggestions have I been able to follow through with? Well, just ask my husband and the lingering clutter in our house, and, certainly, I’m far from getting enough sleep. Nevertheless, I still think her book unique and well considered, and even just posting this is a reminder to reinstate the “one-minute” rule!

In which I consider getting happy

Before you start thinking I have a major crush on Gretchen Rubin (which I do — a major career crush), based on my last few posts (I’ve previously written about her herehere, andhere. And here.), I wanted to share my thoughts on her book, The Happiness Project, and why the book attracted me so instantaneously. (Actual reviews can be found all over the Internet — my favorite so far has been by Gwen Bell, here, who puts the book into a larger, Buddhist-oriented perspective.)

This is a bluebird of happiness, of course.

Rubin is a lawyer-turned-writer. If you are not an attorney, you nevertheless might be slightly impressed that she clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. If you are in fact an attorney, you’re probably more impressed that she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal (I mean, that is as good as it gets in terms of law school credentials!) Obviously, she’s smart and probably inclined towards perfectionism. She loves to write, she has an interest in the law, is driven, and she’s a mother of two. So I can relate personally to many of her motivations.

But the book is decidedly not written for a narrow audience and is relevant for anyone who has wondered, “Why do I seem anxious and ill-at-ease in certain situations?” or “Why do I feel like I’m wasting time worrying about small things?” or “How can I enjoy my life more?” She tackles such questions in what is probably for her a characteristically logical way: devoting each month of the year to examining a certain area of her life and then figuring out how to make herself happier in it. Even if you are not quite as logical, you’ll benefit from her extensive research into studies and literature and psychology — it’s interesting to read about areas such as parenting, marriage, energy, career, pursuing a passion, and friendship on macro level through the prism of becoming happier in them — even if you yourself don’t feel the need to make any major life overhauls.

Just as Rubin herself states that she finds personal anecdotes and shared stories as helpful as abstract anthropological studies, however, her own accounts of how she tried to become happier in these areas of her life were what drew me in. She devotes the month of February, for example, to her relationship with her husband. Her husband, as it turned out, wasn’t that pleased when Rubin tried to dump her anxieties on him right before they went to bed, and would rather watch TV sitting next to her on the couch than gaze into her face for a heart-to-heart. Rubin cites some studies that show that, really, women are best suited for face-to-face conversations with other women and men often are satisfied simply being in the presence of their partner — to them, side-by-side movie watching is as intimate as a dinner a deux. This is probably basic Men-are-from-Mars/Women-are-from-Venus stuff, but it was gratifying for me to see it explained both logically and personally. When Tim and I are finally tucked in bed at night is when I want to turn to him and talk, and I try to do so while he is trying to read and decompress, and he doesn’t focus on me, and then I get upset. After reading this particular chapter, I mentioned Rubin’s conclusions to Tim, and he immediately replied, “I could have told you that.” Of course he could have — but because Rubin has not only read studies and dozens of other accounts of relationships, but candidly examines her own interactions with her husband, her analysis was enlightening to me. And reassuring. For Tim, lying next to me in bed reading is contentment, and if I want to talk through my day with him, maybe I can rethink the time and place to do it. This is not to say that spouses shouldn’t make concessions to each other and strive to be active listeners, but it did suggest to me that there is a whole body of scientific, anthropological, and anecdotal evidence out there to support a slight change in my habits that would result in a desirable outcome for us both. My need to be listened to could be satisfied earlier in the evening (perhaps over dinner) and Tim could read in peace.

Rubin is more organized than I would ever be with her personal “commandments” (which range from “Be Gretchen” to “always carry a sweater” to “act how you want to feel”) and resolutions charts, but I already have gleaned a few tips from the book. For example, her “one minute” rule would greatly improve the quality of life around our house. I’m very clean (hate dirt) but I am not neat (I leave things strewn about, cabinet doors open, toilet paper off the roll, etc.). The one-minute rule suggests that if something takes less than a minute to do — do it! (“I could have told you this!” I hear Tim saying…) I’ve been trying to implement it. Were I Rubin herself, I’d mark off on my chart every night whether I have done so. Not sure if I’m there yet, but at least I have this intention in the back of my head.

She also thoroughly examines the importance of sleep — the lack of which makes us less inclined to do things that make us happy (play with our kids, read a good book, exercise). Duh, we all know this, but, on top of the usual summaries of studies on the importance of sleep, Rubin’s lighthearted account of how sleeping more improved other areas of her life was inspiring. While we’re often aware of good ideas in the abstract, seeing them appliedcan be hugely motivating. As a result, I’ve tried to get to bed earlier (knowing that, if I’m shooting to be in bed by 9:30, I really have to start the process at 8:30) and have tried to limit my reading in bed to 15-20 minutes. Has it worked? Well, two out of three nights I have committed to doing so it has — but last night I got entangled with Twitter and the Internet and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (more on that book when I finish it — wow!) — and then it was 11 p.m. And I feel like crap today, and as a result have eaten like crap and am totally unmotivated to exercise — so there you go.

Of course, Rubin is a full-time writer who works out of a home office and has the flexibility to put her resolutions into action. One of her specific resolutions, for example, is to create a house full of memories for her family, which includes making homemade books with her kids. I had to fight to not get overwhelmed by this chapter (how would I ever find the time to make homemade books, assuming I like crafts — which do not – in the first place?!). I already feel slightly guilty that I am horrible about documenting our family life, and Tim and I often talk about how we really should have baby books and albums. But neither of us has the time — or, more aptly, the inclination — to do so (because if we were so inclined, we’d find the time, right?). Thinking about it only makes me anxious. So, if I’m going to follow the advice in the book, I have to remember to “Be Kathryn” — I hate crafts, and I enough relatives take photos, etc., of Little Buggy that should she decide some day that she wants a photo album I could figure out a way to get it done. Still, I had to remind myself several times while reading the book that there is no way that a person not writing this particular book for a living can actually do all of these things. Instead, the self-improvement junkie in me has to remember that Rubin’s actions are suggestions, inspiration, and context.

This is not, I should note again, a self-improvement or self-help book. It really is quite personal, but I think even Rubin’s reading lists would be interesting to anyone (not just overachieving lawyer types!) — she cites everyone from St. Therese of Lisieux to Samuel Johnson to Elizabeth Gilbert. In short, yes, I’m totally impressed by Gretchen Rubin’s resume, but more impressed that she used her obvious intellect and attention to detail to create a book that goes beyond what seems to be a rash of “I spent a year [cooking Julia Child] [living by the Bible] [fill in the blank]” books and, instead, examines the philosophical roots of happiness and then applies them truthfully, rigorously, and critically to her own life.

Me at 36

May 12, 2010 at 4:30 am | Posted in running, SAHM, Starbucks, the 'burbs, Uncategorized, wine, yoga | 14 Comments

(Today’s Five for Ten topic is Happiness)

I have a birthday this week. Today, in fact. I can no longer claim I am in my lower- (or even, really, mid-) 30s. I have wrinkles on my forehead and my dimples seem to be elongating into deep smile lines. I’m in the midst of the three-month postpartum hair evacuation. (My hair quite literally falls out in clumps with every shower.) While supposedly I have lost all of the weight I gained with the baby, things have settled a bit differently. I’m not sure my clothes quite fit correctly (e.g., button-down blouses and jeans).

Here’s what else is going on at 36.

Coffee. My automatic coffee maker is getting more attention than Starbucks. This, for those who know me, is shocking. But I can no longer think clearly without a cup of coffee right away. Like, there is no time to even get to Starbucks. My mother always said, “I just can’t function without my first cup of coffee,” and I kind of laughed at what I thought was motherly exaggeration, but I get it now. Before Tim leaves in the mornings (which is usually while I’m still tucked into bed with the baby), I beg him to throw the coffee. Now, we did buy one of those coffee pots that you can program to turn on automatically, but far be it from me to actually remember to do so each night. I read recently that one tip to getting your baby to sleep through the night is to give up caffeine entirely. Ah, the Catch-22.

The ‘burbs. In addition to a grill and a swingset, we now also own some patio furniture and all sorts of lawn equipment (long and short trimmers, a fertilizer spreader, etc., et al), and we drive around town critically noting other people’s yards and gardens. And I think I am becoming more sure about our new town. I can still hop on the Red Line and into the city in 15-20 minutes (the other night I even visited a friend up the northern reaches of Cambridge via the Red Line!). I’m also slowly starting to meet some “friends” in town, as people start to emerge from the long winter. No one that I could call up yet and invite over for dinner, really, but perhaps a playground date. One friend, herself now a two-year veteran of a different suburb, tells me that I have to be extra bold when making new friends. “Get their cell numbers and text them!” she told me. “You have to stalk at this stage in life!”

Along those lines, at 36, with small children, I’ve realized that one’s social life necessarily revolves around others with children the same ages or else one actually will have no social life. Getting together with other couples, then, goes something like this: 8:30 a.m. brunch at the diner or 11 a.m. lunch at someone’s house while the preschoolers run around in the sprinkler (extra points when Bloody Mary’s are served along with the coffee) or a 5 p.m. barbeque. And, of course, even these earlier get-togethers happen more frequently than “date nights” because it is easier to drag the children along than deal with a babysitter. Some of my close friends have children older than mine, and some have no children, and — while they remain dear friends — we just do not get together as couples. It’s easier for me to see these friends one-on-one (and, since that in itself involves leaving children home with either Daddy or a sitter, this does not happen as frequently as I’d wish).

Little buglets and the existential questions they raise. I have really enjoyed this time at home on my maternity leave. Does this surprise me? A bit. I had looked forward to not working perhaps more than being at home (there is a difference). But it turns out that I like knowing what my daughter had for lunch (because I made it) and what time she woke up from her nap and, especially, our car rides home from preschool when, on the verge of her nap, she tells me (somewhat deliriously) about her morning (“Remember, today, at school when we learned about spider webs and CHARLOTTE’S WEB and horses eat HAY and pigs eat SCRAPS and Michael Foley liked the ORANGE popsicle best but Michael Murray liked the green one…”). At the same time, I do know that for various reasons I’ll be going back to work in the fall. I had told myself that I wouldn’t even think about work, or what comes next work-wise, until Little O was three months old. So only recently have I started to reconsider the inherent value in being home with one’s children versus the continuity of one’s career, and the conversations this balance has started with friends — both close friends and people with whom I’ve become reacquainted since having children — have been provocative and encouraging.

One close friend accurately and bluntly identified one of the issues I grapple with the most — that of affirmation (whether internal or external) of my law degree. She told me, “You have to ask yourself whether you are always going to want to wear a t-shirt that proclaims, ‘I made law review and worked at [BigLaw Firm].'” This from a woman who used to manage billions of dollars before leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children — but who would never, ever mention this unless you got to know her and asked. She lives in the present, and I so admire that, and her point to me was whether, if I pursued a career that was less intense, I’d always be justifying my decision. Or could I accept that different choices provide meaning and value in different ways.  [The subtext to this, I feel compelled to point out — again — is that I have a choice. I’m not talking about the “Mommy Wars” choice to work or stay at home, but, rather, knowing that I do want to work, to choose in what capacity I will do so:  big, fancy, stressful job with lots of cache, or a less-stressful, less-lucrative job that would allow me to work part-time but that may not “use” my law degree? Obviously, the former is attractive to me for all of sorts of intellectual and self-validating reasons and the latter attractive because, as it turns out, I like spending time with my children.] These are the more weighty issues that preoccupy me at 36.

The less-weighty issues include:

How many followers do I have on Twitter? Why didn’t I think of the concept behind my new favorite TV show, The Good Wife, before its writers? (I should have.) Did I waste money on my Kindle because the iPad is so much cooler and I want one? When do I make the seasonal switch from red wine to Oyster Bay Sauv Blanc? Are all the inchworms falling from the sky going to destroy my trees and how many carpenter ants should one see in one day before calling the exterminator (two? six? ten?)? Can I sneak in a run before the babysitter leaves or should I suck it up and take out the double-jogger? When will my hair stop falling out? Will I ever, ever sleep past 7 a.m. again? Should I go to BlogHer in August? Should we have our neighbors over for cocktails, even though we don’t know very many of them? What is the suburban protocol after one moves to a new neighborhood?

In Conclusion. At 36 I am:  a woman with two advanced degrees, two children, two mortgages, and two cars. I am still a voracious coffee-and-wine consumer, reader, and pop-culture junkie. I used to be a voracious yogi and runner, and while I miss the intensity of these pursuits, I can accept why I had to dial it down. I love my family fiercely, including my large extended family of aunts and uncles and sisters and step-parent and my many, many in-laws. I love my friends, too, in ways I could not have foreseen a decade ago. I notice that I am getting older chronologically in that those close to me are getting older, too — my children, my parents. But I don’t mind it, really, and I do like the mellowing part — more so mind than body, of course. My sister remarked recently that I’m so much more relaxed these days. Maybe this is because I’m on maternity leave and not working, but I’d also like to think it’s just me.

Courage: For my Mother

May 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Posted in running, Uncategorized | 20 Comments

I signed up to tackle the Five for Ten blogging “challenge” — I’ve never done anything like this before but (a) could use a kick in the butt in terms of posting more often and (b) it’s always nice to be given a subject. Today’s subject is COURAGE.

I had wanted to post my “courage” piece yesterday, for Mother’s Day, but struggled a bit with the vagaries of the word. On a sparkling, crisp, windy Sunday, then, I set out on a long run thinking about the word and, probably because it was, in fact, Mother’s Day, my mind kept coming back to my mother.

I do not consider myself a courageous person at all. I cannot even call the plumber to schedule a repair. I am still scared of thunderstorms (for real). To an outsider, certain decisions I have made perhaps seem courageous. Arguably it takes courage to end a long relationship in which you have invested everything. Or it takes courage to restart your life at 30 and go to law school. For me, however, these decisions had nothing to do with being courageous. They were simply right, and, at the time, there were no other decisions that could have been made. Instead, I see courageous as having a connotation that leans more towards “principled” than “brave” — because sometimes the line between “brave” and “foolish” is just too porous.

Still, I knew intrinsically that these decisions would be supported by, if no one else, my mother. Her own decisions regarding her marriage, career, and most important her children, were made as much out of principle as they were bravery — and, as such, are to me the definition of courageous.

My mother is one of the few people I know who has never veered from a set of core principles about fairness, equality, and love. In our yuppie New Jersey suburb we were one of the few families who didn’t belong to the country club. My mother would not join a club, she said, that did not admit Jews, blacks, or Italians, to name a few. “You can have an exclusive club, I don’t care,” she said. “But I cannot condone excluding people on an external bias.” (At the time, I was kind of peeved that I couldn’t join all of my friends poolside, ordering grilled cheeses and fountain Cokes all summer long.) Or, for example, when my father’s law firm held its annual dinner dance at an exclusive men’s club in the city, the wives were made to wait in the ladies room until their husbands arrived. My mother refused. These principles gave her the courage in spite of public opinion, even if that public was only the small worlds of our town and my father’s colleagues, to act in singular way. Later, during my parents’ rather scandalous divorce, these same principles morphed into pure courage, enabling her to hold her head high as she walked through town while all other heads leaned together to whisper about her. Ultimately, she emerged as the woman to whom every other housewife in town, as their marriages fell apart, sought for advice.

At the same time, in addition to her stances for what is inherently “right,” a deep, unwavering, principled love for family is gave her the courage to get out of bed when the entire town was talking about her. It gave her the strength to herself go to law school in her 40s (with three children at home). It gave her the courage to open her heart again to love and marriage.

A friend once said to me, “Your mom is the quintessential mother.” (At the time I probably quite literally said, “Whatever” or some other similarly dismissive response.) This comment was made after my mother had taken a group of college friends out to dinner in Washington, D.C., where I was on an extended visit with my father, who was dying. My parents were no longer married, and all of the surrounding stresses were taking their toll on me physically and emotionally (obviously). My mother drove down just for a day. She took us to dinner and we ordered wine and laughed about college, and for a time I was buoyed. I now understand what my friend meant — my mother sometimes glows with her unshakeable love and faith in her daughters. It is so obvious to anyone who knows her that there is absolutely nothing she wouldn’t do for us.

Do you know what it is like to go through life with that sort of faith and love behind you? It gives you, yes, courage.

Though I was a heady, selfish, precocious teenager who made some stupid decisions, I did know — as much as I thought I hated her at the time — that my mother loved me and would stand by me. And, I must say, reciprocally, she had the courage to do so, even when she didn’t know whether I’d ever have a good relationship with her.

So when I went through my “decade of troubles” (I just made the phrase up now — doesn’t it sound sort of Gothic?)  — the death of my father, the end of a major relationship, the uncertainties of my future — I didn’t so much tap into any sort of courage of my own as look to the path she had blazed before me. Her actions taught me that by holding fast to one’s principles — equality, love, hope — one could create a good life out of adversity or even a new life, of sorts, if necessary.

Most important, when I became pregnant with my daughter — a bit more quickly and surprisingly than I would have planned — I knew, once again, that I’d have her support. (I tucked my daughter in last night and thought, “My God, what if I hadn’t had her?”)

As I ran up and down the hills yesterday, thinking about this post, and courage, and, of course, my mother herself, I thought, “This is all I want for my children.” For them to have the courage to make mistakes and to live by their principles and to know that, no matter what, I will always love them and support them and help them.

My mother might argue that she did not have courage. She might tell you that she tried to hard to pretend that things were alright when they weren’t or that our lives were still perfect when, clearly, they weren’t. She might not forgive herself for this. And, consequently, now she might tell you that the most important thing you can do when you raise a child is to teach her to deal with adversity.

Still, while she may have not thought she was teaching us these lessons at the time, through her comport and manner — her graceful bearing, her calm, her ability to listen without judgment, her articulate words, her protectiveness, her humor (which, of course, we often did not find funny) — we nevertheless learned them and have them as our touchstone for our adult lives. It is my fiercest hope as a mother that, if nothing else, I can live in a manner as principled as she does and teach my own children that adversity is something to be tackled — with courage, sure, but I guess what I’m trying to say is: if you know that someone loves you no matter what, perhaps you don’t need to pretend things are perfect. I think it took both my mother and me a long time to realize this, but I wouldn’t change a day of my past in exchange for this epiphany.

Little O-dogger at 3 months

May 6, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Posted in Little O, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In his book The Happiest Baby on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp suggests that the period from birth to three months is a baby’s “fourth trimester.” Babies under three months are not developed enough to lead  much more than a womb-like existence and, therefore, one should not worry about doing anything other than making them comfortable. Swaddle them, shush them, sway them. Let them nurse and sleep whenever they want. Around three months, they will “wake up,” and then you can start thinking about schedules and the like.

Little O is three months this week, and in the past two weeks he has very much woken up. Unlike his big sister, who never smiled or cooed until at least four or five months, Little O is an Irish charmer. You smile at him, he’ll smile at you. Coo at him and he’ll respond. Maybe because he spends so much time in a carseat, bouncy chair, or swing while his sister holds court, he realizes he has to engage you to get some real attention. Because Little Bug never interacted like this, I am enthralled and, yes, charmed.

After a few nights of experimentation, it is clear that Little O’s internal clock is set to “wake” at 3 a.m. If he goes down at 6:30 p.m. he wakes at 3. If I try to keep him up later or give him a “dream feed” at 10 p.m. (nursing him without waking him up), he’s still up at 3. So, obviously, I’ve reverted to the 6:30 p.m. bedtime. Then, after a few nights of further experimentation of either (a) rocking him with the pacifier at 3 a.m. to see if he’d go back to sleep without milk and (b) feeding him in his room and putting him back in his crib, I decided it was too tiring. So now I bring him in our bed at 3 a.m. and nurse him while we both sleep. I wake up with a stiff neck and sore back, having slept in a weird position to accommodate his little body next to mine, but at least I’ve slept. I’m far less tired than I was a few weeks ago. I’m sure both Dr. Karp and Dr. Weissbluth would argue that I could start to sleep train him now (I’m quite sure he could go all night without eating at this point), but I kind of like waking up with the baby in our bed. After an early morning feed, he sort of slowly wakes up next to me and then, once he realizes he’s awake and that I’m right there, a huge, open-mouthed smile lights up his face. Just because his sister never spent a second in our bed (until a few months ago when, as I’ve mentioned before, she started sneaking in in the middle of the night) doesn’t mean that there’s a correct way to teach kids to sleep, right? Right?!

Here’s what else Mr. O-dog is up to at three months:

He likes to kick kick kick. This child is never still. If you put him in the bouncy seat he wriggles and wriggles. He likes to lie on his back on a blanket on the floor and kick himself around in a 360-degree circle. When I go to his crib at 3 a.m., I’ll often find his head pointing the opposite direction of that in which I lay him down — and he will have kicked off his swaddle blankets. Now, I consider myself a champion swaddler, to a degree that I believe horrifies my mother and mother-in-law (“are you going to put him in that straightjacket?” my mother has said), and I believe that my Germanic swaddling is what helped Little Bug become such a remarkable sleeping baby. Little O will have none of it, however. If he’s not asleep, his little legs are moving.

He gets bathed faaaaaaar less often that his big sister did (again: for Little Buggy we had a bath-book-bottle-bed routing down by six weeks; almost impossible to do with baby #2 with a demanding preschooler running around…). And he has crazy, crazy hair. A tuft on top and wings on the side. My sister made the below comparison:

His hair is definitely going to be curly — as was his father’s (back when his father had hair? Ouch! Sorry, Tim!). My father had curly hair, too, which he kept trimmed short and straightened briefly with a blow-dryer before going to work. On summer weekends, however, my dad would sport a curly fro.

Little O likes to watch his sister run around. He is trying very hard to learn to suck his thumb, but ends up sticking his whole hand in his mouth and gagging. Like his big sister, he likes to spit up unpredictably and voluminously. He loves his bath, but does not like interim between getting out of the tub and putting on dry clothes. When he’s on his changing table wrapped in a towel he shrieks — really the only time he fusses, other than when he’s tired. I can very much “read” his cries — when he’s tired it is a full-out wail; when he’s hungry, his cry sounds more piercing and whiney. When he just wants attention, he doesn’t so much cry as caw like a bird or mew like a wild cat. “Argh! Aaaargh! Argh!” he says. Maybe, actually, he sounds like a pirate.

My little guy is waking up, and as much as I love newborns (I do, I really do. You could hand me another today and I’d be happy!), I am looking forward to seeing how these little three months personality traits develop. Will he ever sleep through the night? Will he walk at nine months like his father? Will he have a head of curly brown hair? Stay tuned…

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