The burbs, revisited

October 17, 2011 at 4:41 am | Posted in Massholes, Starbucks, the 'burbs, weekend | 1 Comment
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There were approximately 20 children at my house today. There were pigs in blankets, cupcakes, cookies and juice boxes, footballs flying around the house, balloons being popped by rowdy boys, my son grabbing sugar cookies off the counter and eating them in one bite.

For this I blame my friend Melissa. Her daughter is about a month younger than mine; her son about a month younger than Little O. Like me, she moved from the city to the suburbs not long ago. When I saw her at our college reunion this spring, we caught up on our respective suburban lives. I confided that I wasn’t yet sure I loved the ‘burbs. I missed the city and my friends there and that I could stroll to the playground or Starbucks and inevitably run into someone I knew. In the ‘burbs I felt somewhat lonely and, as an extrovert, somewhat adrift in a car-dependent world seemingly dominated by stay-at-home moms.

She was having the opposite experience. “I have never been so busy in my life,” she said. What are you talking about? I said. “I am more social than I ever was in the city,” she replied. Surely, I suggested, this is because you moved back to your hometown; you must know tons of people.

“Nope,” she said. “I hardly knew anyone. But I’m aggressive. Listen, if you meet someone nice at Starbucks or at preschool, get her number and then text her the next day. Get coffee. Or better yet, wine.”

Really? I said. You’re truly that forward?

“I go on dates,” she said. “Basically: You’ve got to stalk.”

We’ve now lived here for two years, and I’m finally feeling like every time I go to the grocery store I run into someone I know. But when I saw my friend again a few weeks ago she asked me about my social progress. “Eh,” I admitted. “I’m a working mom. It’s hard to grab coffee.” She raised an eyebrow, clearly insinuating that I was being lame. So when I got home that night, I bit the bullet: we were going to have a Sunday afternoon Patriots party. I invited some neighbors and some friends we had gotten to know poolside at our little swim/golf club over the summer.

Everyone one could attend, it turns out. So some Barefoot Contessa chicken chili, a seven-layer dip, and Costco artichoke spread later, there were some 12 families, with on average two children each, at our house. I think my kids are going to wake up puking at 2 a.m. from all the sugar, but hopefully they’re too tired to do so.

Oh yes we did. Patriots balloons.

Little Bug impatiently waits for our guests.

The juggle

January 17, 2011 at 8:39 am | Posted in little bug, Little O, SAHM, the 'burbs, the firm, Uncategorized, weekend | 6 Comments

Yesterday morning, I drove the children to a suburb north of the city for a playdate. My friend has three children — a little girl just a week younger than Little Bug, and twin 17-month-old boys. She and I were classmates in college, and while we were friendly then, we didn’t know each other well. We reconnected a few years ago when our girls were infants — we lived just blocks from each other in the Back Bay and were both attorneys. Because she went right from college to law school, she is now a partner at her firm. Nevertheless, we have many of the same experiences being mothers and lawyers. Our girls play really well together, and Little O had fun chasing after the “big” boys. As the kids traipsed around her sunny playroom, we caught up in bits and snatches, and I found myself saying, “Now that we have such a great nanny, it’s really pretty doable.” And I believe that: with quality, reliable daycare, the working parent is free to pursue his or her career with much less anxiety. If the children are happy and well cared for, you can spend your days at work focusing on work, as opposed to worrying about what is going on at home. Our excellent nanny has made that possible for me.

But, then, there are the weekends. And holidays, such as today. When there is no nanny and, yet, because of the nature of our particular careers, we still have work to do. On weekends, Tim and I find ourselves in a seemingly never-ending negotiation about who gets to work when. Today, for example, he is going into the office from 10-3. He asked his mother to come over and help me out, which just means she and I will probably take the children to lunch at the local diner, and maybe she can stay with the baby while he naps and I can take Little Bug to the market with me or something. Fine — I’m grateful for the company and the ability to get some errands done. But I also have about three or four hours of work that I should do before tomorrow — two hours of which I absolutely have to do before tomorrow. When will I do mine? Before 10 or after 3, I suppose. When Tim works on weekends, I don’t begrudge him the time away from our family so much as I feel guilty that I should be working and I’m not. I don’t actually work all that often on weekends — but I always feel like I should be doing so (everyone else at my office seems to be) — and so when Tim steals away to put in a few hours himself, it reminds me that I’m probably slipping behind.

If I weren’t working at all, would these weekend tensions ease? Maybe not because I might feel like the weekends were family time or my time — a break, perhaps, from a long week spent taking care of the children. That would be a different negotiation between my husband and me. But I wouldn’t feel this constant sense of inferiority to my own colleagues, one that I fear manifests itself in my relationship with my hard-working spouse. In a two-career family, does one spouse’s career necessarily take priority over the other’s? And is that the career of the highest earner? It seems that things would shake themselves out this way, but I don’t feel like I’m in the type of job — junior associate at a big law firm — where my career can take second fiddle and maintain any sort of longetivity. Just as I’m starting to feel like maybe I am doing the right thing (and have the childcare to make it possible, at least during the week), I’m reminded that — while many of my colleagues are in the office on weekends and holidays — that will never be me, and I’ll probably never really measure up. This is frustrating, and I feel terrible that sometimes my family bears the brunt of this frustration.

The Yes Experiment

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

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.

Vanity or Insanity?

April 7, 2010 at 6:18 am | Posted in Little O, running, the 'burbs | 7 Comments
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Gretchen Rubin writes often of exercising for the sake of sanity, not vanity. This is a noble goal, and I’m sure most of us feel better with endorphins racing through our body after a run, but let’s be honest: most of us likely exercise for at least a degree vanity. I simply cannot force myself to eat salads and fruit all day long. I don’t eat a lot of meat, and my husband will not eat fish: ergo, we have pasta for dinner almost nightly. I also like sugar. I need to exercise to keep my clothes fitting properly.

Exercising immediately after having a baby is not fun. There is a lot of relaxin still coursing through your body, so after a three-mile run, if you’re not winded from a few weeks or months of laying off the cardio (or having modified it down several notches), your hips feel loose and kind of achy. I have found, with both of my children, that nursing — far from helping me shed the pounds quickly, as celebrities are so quick to claim nursing does for them — makes me retain a bit of weight. I’d like to think it’s biological and that my body needs this weight to produce enough milk. But it may also be that jogging with three sports bras is not all that comfortable, and so my running is less enthusiastic than it might otherwise be. I’m an impatient, instant-gratification-expecting person, however, and I want my old jeans to fit now. Not in four or six or eight months when I stop nursing. It’s time to get drastic.

Regular readers might recall that for the past two years I’ve run half marathons with my law school friends: the Great Bay Half in 2008, which I ran about nine months after having Little Buggy, and the Run to Remember in Boston last May, which I ran four weeks pregnant with Little O. In a burst of energy I signed up to run the Run to Remember again this May with Ellen, although only after warning her that I would be running with only the expectation of finishing — no thoughts as to time or even trying to run it without walking breaks.

Run to Remember, 2009. Don’t we look like we’re having fun?

I love training for races. It forces me to get out and run three or four times a week. I love the feeling of completing an eight- or ten-mile training run, but I’m not the sort of person who would ever run such distances without “having” to, without a goal at the end. This year may prove a bit more difficult: not only did I have a baby two months ago and am perhaps not physically totally ready, but my energy levels are low from getting up once or twice a night. In addition, now that I’m in the ‘burbs, I no longer have the gorgeous esplanade along which to take four, six, or ten mile loops. Ellen and I will have to make a concerted effort to meet from our respective suburbs to train together.

Hopefully, all of these challenges will make completing the race that much sweeter. And, to be completely frank, hopefully my jeans will fit perfectly by then, as well.

Nor’eastah

March 15, 2010 at 9:02 am | Posted in the 'burbs | 2 Comments
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This is our backyard this morning. Yikes.

And it’s still raining. There are all sorts of random buckets and balls I’ve never seen before floating our lake-yard, too. The pump in the basement is working hard, and, so far, all is dry down there. But I’m nervous.

Makes me kind of miss my fifth floor rental apartment…

So lonely*

March 3, 2010 at 11:30 am | Posted in SAHM, Starbucks, the 'burbs, the firm | 7 Comments

*Disclaimer: Don’t worry — the title of this post is not meant to be dramatic so much as it is a nod to my once very deep obsession with The Police.

Yesterday I dropped Little Bug off at her new preschool and took Little O with me to Starbucks. We sat at a corner table (he fast asleep in his carseat). I drank my latte and played on my iPhone for a bit. My morning trip to Starbucks has become a new habit; my interactions with the baristas might be the only conversation I have until Tim gets home. I thought about this as I looked over at a group of women who had gathered around tables they had pushed together. They were slightly older than me, dressed in yoga clothes and carrying yoga mats; no doubt they had just arrived, en masse, from a Pilates class at the women’s-only gym next door. Of course, I sized them up (OK, judged): stay-at-home-moms with elementary-aged children. They had all the time in the world to meet at Starbucks and chit chat for an hour post-Pilates.

And I started to cry. Real tears, dripping down my cheeks, and so, embarrassed, I wheeled Little O out of there, tossing my half-drunk latte. You see, this past month hasn’t been easy. Yes, I’m hormonal. And tired. My two-year-old is driving me crazy. But I’m also lonely. We moved to this suburb in September. Little Buggy was home with her nanny, and I was working full-time. On weekends, we barely did anything other than hit Costco or the diner out near the highway. I know some of our neighbors enough to say hello, but we’re not friends, even though a few of them have toddlers and newborns as well. Since I had the baby, the weather has kept us from strolling around. And, anyway, where would I go to meet people? I haven’t really been part of this town’s gymboree/music class set because of my job. I truly know one person in town — a friend from work. But, guess what — she spends her days at work.

Being home alone all day with very small children is difficult. I get that now. When my daughter was born, my appreciation for my mother changed from love and admiration to something much deeper — I finally understood just how much she loved me. With the arrival of my second child, I now understand so much more about her life and the choices she made. Like me, she also moved from the city to the suburbs when I was just two, right before my sister was born. My father worked long hours in the city. His law firm allowed a car home after 10 p.m.; therefore, my mother explained, he was rarely  home before 11 p.m. She had no babysitter, no housecleaner.  She points out that, unlike me, she didn’t yet have her law degree. There was no job to return to. Her days and, it seemed to her, her life, stretched out long and lonely.  

My mother recalls that things changed one day at the playground when she saw another young mother also dragging a two-year-old and strolling an infant. My mother and Ann were living parallel lives: children the same ages, husbands who worked long hours at their New York law firms, and elite educations (Smith and Columbia Teacher’s College; Wellesley and Columbia Journalism) they felt they had sacrificed (with very mixed feelings) for their families.  They were immediate soulmates, and my early childhood was spent in the company of Ann and her two girls. My mom and Ann would drink endless cups of tea in the kitchen, no doubt complaining about their husbands’ late nights and asking each other: is this really what we were meant to do? The four children would fall off swingsets and put on plays and slam each other’s fingers in doors while my mom and Ann chatted on and on. When their family moved to Texas a few years later, there were lots of tears, and I realize now that my mother lost her first and most important lifeline. To this day, Ann is my mother’s oldest, dearest friend. 

Raising children, whether you work in an office or are at home, is challenging: I know we all agree upon that almost cliched little chestnut. At work, my long days were nevertheless spent with several other attorneys (women, natch) who had toddlers or were pregnant and who thus asked the same questions and had the same challenges. They were my daily lifelines.  But now I’m home, without my work and without these lifelines and I think I need some, or at least one. I need to find my Ann, and I hope I find her soon.

One month later…

March 2, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Posted in little bug, Little O, SAHM, Starbucks, the 'burbs, wine | 5 Comments

Has it really been one month since Little O came along? Of course, we cannot imagine life without him. At the same time, the past four weeks have been far from smooth sailing, mostly because our Little Buggy, in the throws of the terrible twos anyway, does not really love being a big sister. Sometimes she wants to hold, “MY baby,” but mostly when I have him in the Baby Bjorn or am trying to nurse him, she decides she wants to be in my lap. “He wants to go in his swing,” she tells me. We have watched a LOT of movies.  Little Bug has had two ear infections (one in each ear). The weather has been cold and gloomy, so we don’t get out much. 

But it’s March. Those of us in New England know that it really doesn’t get warm until June, but, each year, March begins with promise. The air is just a tangibly warmer, softer (I think). The Red Sox are down at spring training. Chez Murphy, we now have a double stroller and two potential graduate-student babysitters to help me out a bit and allow me to spend some quality time with the Little Bug. Little O can sleep for five hours at a stretch. 

I have a veritable gold mine of topics to write about as I navigate my stint as a stay-at-home-mom. So stay tuned. But, for now, I’ll leave you with some images of the last month…

Friday night + baby + trashy mag

7 a.m.

Spring training

We are still doing a lot of dancing

Lindsey and Grace come for a much-needed visit!

Little Buggy and I hit Starbucks for some quality time (is this self-serving? I refuse to believe it!)

The hat was knit by the insanely talented Sara

6 p.m. Oh red wine, how I’ve missed you…

I used to mock people with double jogging strollers

Wherever I go…

December 21, 2009 at 11:37 am | Posted in NYC, the 'burbs, Uncategorized, wine | 2 Comments

I know my posts recently have been kind of introspective and heavy, but I have one more in me, so bear with me. (And then I’ll be on vacation, resulting in lots of light-hearted Christmas stories and pictures of the Little Bug for awhile!)

When I wrote about my trek in Nepal earlier this month, I found myself leafing through the three journals I kept over the course of my 10-month trip – warily.  My 35-year-old self barely recognizes that person who didn’t shower for weeks, slept in a 35-cent-a-night hut in Laos (without electricity, clearly), and actually allowed herself to be carried on a 12-seater prop plan over the Himalayas.  Conversely, that 25-year-old would have at least pretended to be appalled at the suburb-dwelling, corporate lawyer into which I’ve morphed. But the young me also secretly might have been slightly relieved to have turned out as such. It’s one thing to want to want something, such as a backpacker’s carefree life. It’s another thing to actually want it.

In my mid 20s, I wanted to want to be adventurous. My life up until then seemed solidly predictable (good public schools, summer vacations to the Cape, and all signs pointing towards academic success that would culminate in a good – OK, great – college).  We never took grand family trips to Europe or California.  We didn’t even hike or camp in National Parks (the wisdom of which is now apparent to me, trust me, Mom).  The onset of my father’s illness when I was 23 stirred up both a desperate fear of mortality and resentment about my childhood (what had I missed out on?!), and all of a sudden I tried to mold myself into someone who ran marathons and traveled the world.  I wanted to aspire to some sort of peripatetic, exciting life, far removed from the leafy suburbs and perceived boredom of my childhood (and everything I thought made my father, and thus me, unhappy). 

Wanderlust is addictive. There is a rush to landing in a new city, pulling out a map, and finding your bearings. You need to be entirely focused on the present: how to find, right then and there, the public transportation to your hotel or hostel, without a moment to contemplate even your impending jet lag or what museums you need to visit the next day. I always loved the feeling of arriving in an unfamiliar airport or train station, even if it was just a visit back to New York from L.A. — I felt uncharacteristically purposeful and confident for those first few hours and even days, especially if I was traveling solo.  So for a number of years, I traveled and moved around as often as I could.  In addition to my 10-month around-the-world trek, there were trips to Italy, Spain, Brazil. I sublet the Paris apartment of a journalism school classmate for a summer.  I moved to Sun Valley to ski and write for the local paper, and then to Los Angeles, where I wrote for a glamorous magazine and learned about wine. Then I moved to New Jersey to take what I thought was my next dream job, working for my alma mater, and then I moved to Boston … and so on. 

Every plane trip, every move, every new job could only mask for a little while, however, what had become an endemic state of anxiety. Why was I anxious? Well, the reasons were many (and known to some of my readers) and there’s no need to go into them now, but, in short: there was anxiety about death and relationships and, most of all, that nothing I was doing was actually making me happy. If not travel, and exciting cities and new jobs, and endless yoga classes then what? When would I feel calm and secure and at peace?

I have a new favorite on my Google reader, a blog called “Wherever Launa Goes, There She Is.” Launa is a friend of a friend (whom I suspect also went to college with my sister-in-law), who made the decision with her husband and two girls to live in Provence for a year. It sounds divine, and many times, it is. But her writing is not merely a daily, blog version of A Year in Provence, full of quirky locals and impossible good fortune.  Instead, the title of her blog underscores the beauty of her approach to her family’s “year off” – yes, drinking local wine and cooking from the farmer’s market and spending time with each other is everything one would hope it would be, but there are still issues with the potential to complicate their lives as much as they were complicated in the U.S.: the family can’t quite figure out how to make friends in their new town, one daughter is desperately unhappy in her new French school, another suffers her first asthma attack.

Wherever you go, there you are. I’ve been coming to terms with this truth for a few years, and I think Launa’s blog finally drives it home in part because she’s living what I always thought would be my absolute dream:  a year in France! And yet she eloquently and lovingly explores the idea that while some of the superficialities are all they are cracked up to be, (to be horribly cliché) your baggage nonetheless follows you from place to place.  Drinking a glass of wine on the Seine or a beer on the Mekong are glamorous and provide flashes of pleasure in their exoticism, but you finish that drink and… there you are.  

To my surprise — truly — my 35-year-old self might actually be happy living in one place for more than a year or two. Still, right before we bought the house, I called Tim in a panic from the car on my way to work. “Is this what we really want?”  Meaning, of course: is this what I really want? Should we have stayed in the city?  Did we move to the right town?  Occasionally, I still panic on a macroscopic level, as well: What if I want to live in Sun Valley again? Don’t I want to pursue my longtime dream of living in Paris for a year?

Of course I do, but not, anymore, as an escape. This is why I love Launa’s blog, whose title resonates as my new mantra when I start to feel these familiar flutters of second-guessing.  She is adamant that their year is not an escape, but rather an opportunity for a busy family to slow down and focus on each other, happy or unhappy.

My attempts to escape obviously didn’t make me happy. Wanting to want something you don’t actually want, it turns out, most likely has the opposite effect.  Still, those experiences did shake me for a few years out of my theretofore “normal” life, and perhaps let me land back in it a wiser person. Maybe I never would have been able to become a corporate lawyer (following in the footsteps of my father, which I swore I’d never do), living in the suburbs, had I not traveled on a stuffy train for 26 hours in India, climbed through Angkor Wat at sunrise, or walked on a glacier in Switzerland — or moved nine times in 10 years.

I left a comment on Launa’s blog after one of her posts particularly moved me, and we had a brief and lovely email exchange in which she counseled me: “…keep your Paris dream alive.  When your kids are big enough, you will spend a year practicing law in Paris.  You will send them to a public school there, and they will thrive.  You will bump your way through some difficulties, but also LOVE your year.  I know it.  If you have a big enough dream, and just keep talking about it, eventually your life will make a way for it to come true.”

First snow

December 6, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Posted in little bug, tax law is sexy, the 'burbs, the firm, weekend | Leave a comment
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And, just like that — December 6 — it’s Christmastime.

Little Bug woke up and saw the snow and shouted, “I want to build a snow-man!” We tried…

…but all we could manage in the light fluffy snow was a snow turtle.

I’m not sure she bought it.

Somehow, I still managed to bill 8.5 hours today. Oh, I know how: I worked from 3-7 a.m., and then went into the office after lunch, leaving Tim and Little Bug to nap, watch football, and go to the market. I was wide awake at 2:50 this morning:  heartburn, post-nasal drip, and a stiff neck from trying to sleep propped up on three pillows thanks to the former two symptoms. My mind was racing thinking about all the work I missed Thursday and Friday while isolated in our family sanitarium. So I just got up and worked. The snow had stopped and outside it was utterly silent.  My little home office was warm and bright, I was snug in my fleece robe and wool slippers, and I accomplished more in those peaceful four hours than I would have had I even been in on Friday, or likely will tomorrow.

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