Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Not So Bitter End

Tonight the cold descended on Little Rock. Beautifully crisp and clear, the night called out for our first fire. So built it we did and enjoy it we did. It was perfect.

The sun set. I turned on some music and the Dixie Chicks' song, “Bitter End” came on.

“Farewell to old friends, let’s raise our glass to the bitter end.”

This song always makes me think of endings and beginnings. I’ve said goodbye to many friends throughout my tenure. Each time I hear these lyrics, I think of those friends, not often seen but still just as dear. As I sat there in the fire lit dusk, listening, Henry paused by my perch on the couch. I kissed his sweet blond head, soaking up his two-year-old-boy scent. Like a gust of the cold front blowing outside, I catapulted to the future; to his leaving for college, to his wedding day. To many steps, that I want him to take, no matter how much they make my heart ache. It would make my heart ache more if he did not or could not take them.

As I was projecting to the future, Henry hopped onto his riding Mater (from Cars, you know, "just like tuh-mater without the tuh"…), looked up at me and said,


And ambled away.

Just a slice of what’s to come. I’ll wish him well as I’m raising my glass to my bittersweet end and his joyous beginning, which will, as it always does, become my blissful beginning, too.

P.S. I bolted upstairs to my computer to write this. Henry must have seen me because I just heard a sound traveling down the hall toward me. He came into the room with a grin and his big, yellow Tonka truck. He said, “Hi Mommy!”. Ahhhhhh. Yet another joyous beginning.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Autumnal Catalyst

Fall is a time of obvious change. The weather changes and so do my outlook and my mood—my body leaps at the chance to enjoy cool weather and pending snow.

But it’s more than a time of change. It is a powerful catalyst for introspection. Autumn allows my innermost inklings and hopes to dance their way to the surface, jumping from their buried spot in my soul to the forefront of my heart and brain, primed and ready for action.

I love this season. Maybe I’ve mentioned it before. Maybe it's because this is the time of year I met my husband. Maybe it’s because I never tire of the stark contrast between the Crayola colors of the leaves blazing against the bright royal sky. One thing I know for certain--I love how the cold pushes me both inside and out, both physically and metaphorically. Out to embrace the stunning transformation and in to warm slippers, hearty stews, cozy fires and the pending changes within me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night….You-oh you will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, as you gaze up at the stars. It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh…I shall not leave you.

Here, then, is a great mystery. For you who also love the little prince, and for me, nothing in the universe can be the same.”

Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


While Henry and I sat in his glider reading books, we heard the nursery rhyme songs of Abby and Daddy dancing through the hallway and into our space. Henry said,

“Sissy singing?”

“Yes, sweet boy, Sissy singing.”

He hugged me. We finished Goodnight, Gorilla, and cuddled our way over to his crib. Henry snuggled in, cooing sweet nothings to himself.

No screaming, no scratching, no tantrum, no crying.

I padded over to Abby’s room to join and enjoy the evening wrap up. She read us Hop On Pop—I was mesmerized listening to her practice her newly acquired skill. (We’re still working on Constantinople and Timbuktu….)

A wonderful nightcap. A blissful, goodnight reprieve.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Scratch That

Yesterday I wrote about my new turn and how I’ve been espousing grace and level-headedness during Henry’s tantrums.

Cancel all calls to the Academy. I’ve got some work to do on … something. But I’m not sure what. Every time Henry saw me yesterday, he started whining or crying or whimpering. He’d be happily playing with Brian and Abby. Laughing, smiling, chubby cheeks glowing. Then I’d show up and he’d immediately contort his face into a crabby grimace.

This has been happening for days and days but yesterday brought his behavior to a huge crescendo. I felt fairly flat.

After the kids were asleep, I jumped into the shower to wash off my frustration and general malaise. Out came my personal boxing gloves:

"I’m a rotten parent."

"Why does my presence elicit such miserable behavior from my son?"

"What am I doing wrong?"

"Why do I allow myself to wallow along with him? Why aren’t I staying calm, cool and collected internally as well as externally?"

What I wouldn’t give to be a cool cucumber once again.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oscar Nod

For the past three days, I have been calm. Collected. Some might mistake me for a cucumber I’ve been so cool. I’ve been trying a new strategy with Henry. When he becomes enraged, hysterical and physical (which he does at least twice a day), I become tranquil and composed. When he reacts with high-pitched temper-tantrum screams, my voice becomes smooth, velvety and low.

I transform myself into the exact opposite of Henry.

Even though it's working, it’s a huge façade. Inside, I am just as enraged, hot and mad as he is. Really, how often do I need to tell him not to use cabinet and draw pulls as climbing rungs? How many times does it take before he understands that I really mean it when I say, “Henry, we’re going to turn the water off, now.” How many times do I need to explain that I will take a turn brushing his teeth? And how often will he tantrum himself into a blind, furious rage?

A lot.

Therefore I will continue my peaceful front. I will teach Henry how to act and live all while dampening my frustration and anger. Call the Academy Awards—I see an Oscar nod coming my way. (I might nominate myself I’m so impressed with my acting prowess.) Hopefully, Oscar will nod me all the way to the red carpet where I’ll receive accolades for my skill and composure. Even if I don’t get the nod, I know that Oscar will be proud. And so will I.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Finish loading the dishwasher. Finish cutting the cucumbers. Finish sending an email. Finish changing diapers. When I’m in a get-things-done whirl, I hear Abby ask,

“Mommy, would you do a puzzle with me?”
“Mommy, can you do the wheel barrel with me?”

And Henry usually pipes in with, “Mama, hold you??”

“Just a second….” Or “I’m coming….” I usually reply.

When she was three, Abby started to say in response, “But I don’t see you coming…”

She called me on the carpet at the tender age of three. She was right. I wasn’t coming. I was a good five to ten minutes away from joining her. Why didn’t I just say so? So I upgraded to, “Just a minute, sweetie…” , delaying the inevitable push for my time, undervaluing my daughter and reinforcing the fact that I definitely cannot keep time.

My reality is that some of these important tasks have to be done and cannot be put off. For instance, if the dishwasher is full and the sink is full of dirty dishes, I have to put away and reload. On garbage day, I have to take the cans and recycling to the curb. I have to feed the family and clean up the kitchen and I have to make lunches. And although they must feel valued, children also must learn that they can’t always have what they want exactly when they want it. Wheel barrel races and snuggles must wait.

My other truth is that sometimes I deem tasks as urgent when really, well, they’re not. This feigned urgency is insidious, quietly creeping into my time with my family with more and more frequency. No one wins in the “Just a Minute” world. I would love to play, but I have to get other things done, too. I’m frustrated that I’m not able to finish a task and they’re understandably aggravated that Mommy is always saying, “Just this one more thing…”

So I’m recalibrating my priorities. I'm getting off the carpet and I’m going to be a better time manager. Does it really HAVE to be done now (or do I just WANT it to be done now?). If it’s gotta be done, I’m going to honestly estimate the time needed to complete it and set my kids’ expectations accordingly. I’m gonna try. Because if I continue at my current pace it won’t matter how many other things I've gotten done if my children are unhappy because they can’t catch a slot on my To Do list.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Crunchy Crunchy Crunchy

Fall has arrived in Little Rock. The crisp mornings and sun drenched afternoons resonate with my Midwestern sensibilities. It was 55 glorious degrees this morning. I had to put on a vest to keep warm while driving the kids to school. Zip-a-dee-frickin-do-dah!

The painted leaves amass more and more each day. I can put my shorts away (I know all friends will be glad to have a reprieve from my suntan-faded legs until spring) and stretch into long-sleeved tshirts and jeans. And fleece. Just the sound of the word makes me giddy with the anticipation of winter. Rock it. Break it down weather. It’s human weather, cherishable weather, skip-and-clip-your-heels-together weather.

Tonight the kids and I sat on the deck. I enjoyed a lovely Pinot Noir. I was chilly. They were chilly. No one was sweating. No bugs got stuck in our sweat. No bathing was necessary after being outside, in the evening, for 10 short minutes. I watered the plants and hummed a song rather than ripping the weather a new one under my breath. We could hear the reverberations of the high school football game, the announcer’s voice and the muted drum beats celebrating the home team’s touchdown. The snap in the air was not only audible but palpable, resting on our skin and tongues.

For as much as I’ve wallowed in my absolute disgust at the early autumn weather here, I have to give a big shout out to the current weather pattern. It is so lovely I could cry. I just might. Right after I pay homage to the weather gods.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Today, Henry came out of his preschool wearing his big orange back pack. He loves that backpack and I love him. As I watched him walk to the car (and thanked my lucky stars for the pickup line), tears swelled in my eyes. So many thoughts and correlating emotions surfaced in that moment—

That backpack is as big as he is.

He’s no longer a baby.

Abby just toddled out of those same preschool doors, wearing her very own backpack. Now she is a Kindergartener.

Three years is not a long time. Just moments. A blink. Zooooommmmm.

Before I know it, Henry too will be in Kindergarten.

I choked back more tears.

I have the benefit of experiencing life on the other side of the two-year-old pick-up line and Abby grants me this gift of perspective. As a result, I soak up and appreciate the minutes I have with Henry. It’s more challenging with the oldest because there is no one ahead of them gifting 20/20 hindsight. But, I will fold these learnings into my moments with Abby as she pioneers her childhood as the eldest child.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I going to stop writing and go run up and down a corridor and jump off of a big rock with Henry. As we run outside, Abby is inside learning ballet, leaping into her new year. When she’s done, instead of instinctively rushing to our car, I’ll let her leap off the rock, too. And hopefully, in so doing, I will somehow slow the leap of time.

Friday, October 3, 2008


I’m currently reading a fascinating book of essays, all written by mothers. It’s called Mommy Wars, edited and compiled by Leslie Morgan Steiner.

As the title predicts, Morgan Steiner sets out to understand why we have an ongoing battle in our society about mothers’ choices. She wanted to gain perspectives from women in each place: those with paying careers and those without, and all the places in between. Are there mommies who truly love staying home? Are there mommies who are so happy working? Yes and yes. Are there some that fall somewhere in between? Yes. I have enjoyed reading each of these women’s stories about each of their entrees into mommyhood.

Why do you work?
Why do you stay home?

It is my question. It is your question. It is our question. But my answer is really none of your business. And your answer is none of mine. Nonetheless, our overall question prevails—answers and decisions instigate friction and all-out-war between otherwise civil, smart, level-headed women.

The only constant in these scenarios is this: A woman becomes pregnant. She has a baby….

Like most aspects of our lives, we each forge our own path.

I always knew I wanted to have children. Always. I was also certain I wanted to stay home with them. When I was 19, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. After treatments and two surgeries, my doctor told me to start having children by the time I was 25.

“Sure”, I thought sarcastically, “no problem.”

So my twenty-fifth birthday arrived. I was single, living in Chicago and couldn’t figure out why this birthday felt so, well, poignant. It really wasn’t until today that I realized the impact of that birthday’s passing with not a single possible father in sight.

Four years later, twenty nine comes along and so does my future husband. I swear I visualized him just months before he appeared in my life. Strong, independent, tall, funny and tender-hearted. (I didn’t visualize stubborn, but then I’m sure he didn’t check the “anal-retentive” box on his wish list….) We married when I was 30. After several very deep and tearful conversations about when we might have kids, we decide to start trying. I purge my body of bad things and he is a happy camper. (Sorry, Mom.)

Four months after we marry, I’m pregnant. I couldn’t believe the stick. I had to take at least four more tests between the first one and my doctor’s appointment.

I did not want to go back to work after the baby was born but thought I might have to for financial reasons. After many more very deep conversations, we decided I’d stay home (or, more accurately, I convinced Brian that I should stay home). I would’ve loved to work part-time, but advertising clients are not part-time. Abby was born and life was sweet. I was thrilled to be home with her. But three months after quitting I was surprised by pangs (ok, earthquake-like jolts) of jealously when my only other “equal” was promoted to our (I mean her) next level. My thoughts danced, “If I still worked there, would I have been promoted? Was I even in the consideration set?” I was happy for my colleague (I still truly like and respect her) but I was envious. And it didn’t help that I was covered in breast milk and carrying an extra twenty pounds.

Two years later, my hubbie and I decided to go for number two. Two weeks later I was staring at another positive pregnancy test. My husband joked and said I made up all this infertility stuff.

I went from thinking I might never have children to having two, each one when we wanted to, give or take a couple of days. Absolutely miraculous. When Henry was born, Brian was six months into his MBA program and traveling every other weekend to school. All while working full-time. Even though I had bad days, and sometimes bad weeks, I knew that home with the kids was exactly where I wanted to be.

Should I be awarded for my sacrifices and desire to stay home with our children? YES. Does it make me a better person than many of my dear friends who have continued their careers? NO. Are moms with careers better because they are setting a sound example for their children, showing them that women can and should have ambitious careers? NO. Are they gaining joy from their careers as well as from their children? YES. (Am I very thankful that those women are there highlighting the diversity of women’s choices for my dear daughter and son? YES.) Are we all fabulous for the things we do for our children and the contributions we make? Ab-so-stinkin-lutely.

When I was younger, maybe 16, I thought that every woman would want to stay home and raise their children but only some, with the right financial resources, were actually able to do this. Now that I’m more seasoned, I realize, once again, how naïve my beliefs were.

Some of us have no choice and have to work. There are moms who have no choice and have to stay home. There are some that have financial independence and choose to continue their careers after their children are born. And there are moms who choose to stay home. I’m one of those. It was the right answer for my family and me. Even on my worst of worst days, I’m still glad that I’m at home with them. I love supporting them and helping them grow. I have loved watching each of their inquisitive minds catapult and synapse. I love watching their golden hair shine in the midday sun. I love not having to rush out of the house to get to work.

Do my counterparts who work enjoy these things any less? Or more? Although I don’t know for sure, I doubt it. We all sort through the gifts of our children at our own pace and with our own individual filters.

I respect women and their families for their choices. Even when they are different from my own. Not better, not worse. Different.

There are aspects of staying home that are hard. With a husband who has a very full-time job and extensive travel, I am solo a lot. There are times when I desperately need a break and cannot get one. I sometimes wonder if I will ever stop cleaning up poop or crumbs off the table. At times I feel like a built-in-babysitter. Being thwarted by a two-year-old tantrum has made me throw some private tantrums. Some days, I think of bed time as a shimmering oasis.

And although I contribute my time, energy and love to my kids, my husband, my dog, all their bodily fluids and schedules, I do not contribute financially. This strikes me as odd. Especially since I was a financially independent woman for a decade before I got married. My husband and I carefully navigated those financial waters and ultimately mapped a route that worked for us. Now that I am freelance writing, and earning a bit, it feels great to say I’m contributing monetarily. But I wonder why it is important to me. Is it truly essential to me or is its importance dictated our society? In the past, I always knew I was doing a good job when I received a promotion and a raise. Or a hefty bonus. Now, my only barometer is my own equilibrium. Am I happy with my choices? Am I doing a good job? Are my children thriving? Does this feel right?

Will I ever have the answers? Will I ever stop asking the questions?

I’m not sure. But I know that my questions, your questions and our questions are eternal; garnering different feelings, nuances and responses with the shift of a boss, an age, a season or even a tide. I’m just glad we’re asking. May your answers be forthcoming and fruitful and may they resonate truthfully within you.