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.

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  1. K, first, happy, happy birthday.
    I, too, embraced the wonders of home brewed and hardly ever buy caps anymore. I need a fix the minute I wake up.
    What I really wanted to say, apart from the pressing problems of inchworms and work-life balance, is …. 36 is still TOTALLY in your mid-thirties. Even 37 counts. So enjoy it. But I can tell you are.

  2. Happy birthday! I always remember you today, as my birthday is just two days after yours, and for a few years in a row we tried to get the four of us together for a birthday cocktail or two and it just didn’t work out. I’m planning (hoping) to take Thursday and Friday off and am going to do EVERYTHING I CAN today to make that happen – I completely understand what you mean about the difference between “not working” and “being at home.” We’re not even trying yet, and I’m already telling Mike “not working” will be one of the best parts of being on leave (though, I appreciate that I have no idea how much work “being at home” actually will be – it just won’t be here, which, in my mind, will make all the difference). Really hope we can catch up soon; hopefully we’ll make it up to Boston for a long weekend over the summer. Would love to see your new suburban digs! Also – NY Mag last week was the annual design issue. Did you see?

  3. happy birthday! what a perfect post to get to know someone new in the midst of this blogging frenzy. thanks for the introduction. 🙂

  4. Happy Birthday! So much of this rings true for me. Right now I’m in the “don’t want to work” stage verses, enjoying being home but I felt the exact same way during my maternity leave last time. I’ve taken a lot of pride in working at Big Firm for the last 7 years but I also realize there are plenty of people who shrug their shoulders when I mention the name of the Big Firm having never heard of it. The more successful you get, the more used to a certain lifestyle you have achieved the harder it is to walk away. Great post as ususal!

    • I wa actually thinking about you, in part, as I wrote that, as you have logged more years than I, even!

  5. SHOULD YOU go to BlogHer? What kind of CRAP is that?

    you look beautiful.

  6. First, Happy birthday!!

    Second, I love this post. I love how you detail these small moments of self-discovery and relate that to happiness. It is the truth and it makes me smile.

    Third, you are awesome. I am thrilled to have found you via Five for Ten.

  7. Happy Birthday to you!
    And I agree w/ Lindsey, that’s a crap question 😉 Definitely GO to BlogHer! (will try to persuade you more on Saturday!)

  8. Coffee, I GET that…really. It helps with all the weighty things that occupy my mind on the lengthy commute. I’m back at work after a year long maternity leave with my second and holy crap it’s hard. I had no idea how are it would be. Do I have a choice? No, and I’m not sure I would choose otherwise if I did. It’s a lot and not isn’t it. This working mommy, getting older, trying to keep hold of ourselves thing isn’t it?

    And….Happy Birthday!!!

  9. What a great accounting of yourself at 36. I can see the happiness in the quiet calm of your words. Happy birthday!

  10. I think happiness is just a natural part of you. I hear it and feel it in your words. You seem content. It’s refreshing!

    The coffee thing definitely rings true for me! I look forward to it before I even go to bed at night!
    We do differ on the date night thingy… I find it much easier to deal with a babysitter and a quiet night out, than deal with the timing of going out early before the kids are overhungry and overtired and getting home in time for bedtime. Too stressful for me!

    And Blogher? YOU MUST GO!

    Loved this post!

  11. There is SO much here. Happy Birthday! I always find it frustrating that birthdays now find me questioning and assessing much more than I ever did. What defines me? Am I happy? What is most important? But I really GET this post. I like that it’s all woven together–your b’day, new motherhood, work, home life, coffee. That, THAT, is real life as a woman (of 36 w/two little ones). So glad you found us!

  12. I’m so glad I found you! You are a woman after my own heart! So many of the things you find happy–or things you do on a day-to-day basis–are things that bring me happiness. I did not expect to enjoy being home, but I’m loving it the second time around. Today I had a chance to read my book and eat a slice of chocolate cake while drinking coffee. My baby watched with a smile. I thought, seriously? This can’t last. But I hope it does.

  13. Nice to meet you in this five-for-ten context. I see parallels in our journeys (dual degrees, dual kids, yoga & wine, although I’m more tea than coffee).

    One thing I puzzle over, even though I really appreciate Gretchen’s intellect and generosity of spirit, and cannot help but be a little ambitious in my own ways, is how we can all get to less “impressive” versions of success.

    While we all have a lot to contribute, I really like this blogging world where our only credentials need be little more than a real interest in expressing ourselves and hearing about the experiences and feelings of others.

    I grow more excited as I go by the potential of the group, and its wisdom, compassion and happiness, fed by the authentic processes of all who participate.

    Namaste


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