Monday, March 29, 2010

Heavy

Today has been one of those days. The kind of day where I both want to hug my children tight and run as far away from them as possible. The kind where I feel as if I am a huge, giant nerve, waggling in the breeze and when bumped, even ever so slightly, I recoil. And then pounce. It's days like these when I wonder why I was given the gift of children when their very existence (which sometimes includes tantrums, bellyaching and tears) sends me screaming to far corners of my house. (And, it's only the first day of spring break. God help me.)

Abby. Oh Abby. She is a hailstorm of volatility and emotion. I don't recognize her when the stark sassiness takes over her otherwise tranquil disposition. Her impudent body language wholeheartedly dismisses me. And I don't recognize myself when I respond to her edge. What starts as a slow simmer abruptly shifts to a coursing boil. Anger spews. I explode and lose my cool which, of course, renders me totally incapable of mothering or rational thought. Sigh.

Then Henry. He seems tired and carries a general sense of malaise these days. Today, in a flash of anger, he swiftly hit me while we were in a rainy parking lot. I simultaneously wanted to bawl and scream and hit him right back. Hubby witnessed the whole scene and spent five solid minutes spouting smoke from his ears...and punishing Henry. For 15 minutes following this exchange, Henry's lip quivered and he spontaneously broke into tears. My anger hangover lingered for hours. I'm still a bit melancholy...and heavy.

I realize that these days of challenge, introspection and doubt ultimately throttle me forward into a better sense of self and understanding. I will emerge a better mother. A stronger woman. But while I mire in the mishigas of my days, I wonder, somewhat impatiently, when my progression will take place. Will it be next Tuesday or 2015? Or, perhaps, was the shift imperceptible...and did it already occur? Why are these icky, ugly, soulful days necessary? Why does the journey include potholes and road rage?

Reflectively, I realize that my emotions serve as road signs, guiding me, nudging me on my path. They remind me of necessary recalibrations and resets. I pay attention and
open myself to new directions--for me and my children.

(Two hours later...)
PS: While putting the very endearing Henry to bed tonight, he asked if "bidults" (adults) cry. I assured him that we, I, do. He said that he cried today. That he was sad. And that next time, he would make a choice to listen to me in the pawking lot. Then, I cried, overwhelmed with sweet, sweet heartache and love. While putting the once-again-tender-sweet-and-inquisitive Abby to bed, she kissed me 27 times and said, "I just love you so much." Ditto, baby. Ditto.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Please Allow Me to Elaborate

I posted something on my Twitter and Facebook accounts that no one understands (I understand why--the post was confusing). I hope that the reason five Twitter followers have stopped following me is because they didn't understand my post (I'm dolling out benefit of the doubt here).

Here's what I tweeted: "
Cotton balls at the black student union (U of Mizzo)? Name calling? I thought when I put down The Help (Stockett) I'd arrived back in 2010."

Allow me to elaborate
.

Last week, I read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. A truly powerful book--I loved it. It takes place in the early 60's in Jackson, Mississippi. Stockett's work captures the powerful hold of race relations during the 1960s. I told my husband that since I finished reading this book, I want to hug and high-five every black person I see because I'm so grateful that we can all use the same bathrooms and drinking fountains and shop in the same stores--and because I'm grateful that it's 2010, not 1960. When I think of the atrocities that black people endured, well, there's no way I can understand what their lives entailed.

Separately, an incident occurred earlier this month. Two white students at the University of Missouri threw cotton balls at the Black Cultural Center. I'm taking a stab here, but the white students who threw those cotton balls must be raging bigots. My stomach still hurts when I think about this and every other racist act, all continuing to keep us restrained from the progress we can and should make as a country.

The events at Mizzou and thousands of others make me think that maybe I am in a time warp, back in the 1960s, living with rampant bigotry and hatred. I'm not a Pollyanna...I know we still have major problems.

A friend of mine (that's him and me right up there), who teaches at a high school in Louisiana, recently sent me these photos from the boy's bathroom: and then this one:

How can this type of limiting, bigoted, racist thinking still persist? How can that be?

He also sent me a text describing this scene, at 1:00 am: four or five black teenagers, all 13 - 17 years old, hangin' out around the convenience store. In that same parking lot, four white teenagers proudly displayed a rebel flag and, in the highest irony, blasted bumping gangster rap from their bigoted speakers. Obviously, the irony of their actions escaped them.

When I see all of this, I spiral downward a bit, finding it difficult to remain optimistic--for my children, next week and years from now. This type of narrow-minded, taught and learned behavior weighs me down from the inside out. My kids notice differences--and I encourage that. We are all different. From the slightest nuance to the bold, chasm-forming: they're straight, he's gay, he's black, she's Republican, he voted for Obama, they're white, he's agnostic, she's Jewish.

For me, open-mindedness, empathy are paramount. I can only control myself, and my thoughts. So this is the one I'm going to choose: I will try to turn my anger into power. I will stay buoyant. I will give my kids every opportunity to discuss race, gender, politics, sexual orientation and religion. And I will teach by example. I will stay strong. I will not let ignorant rants drag me down. I'll close with this photo (of me and my two best friends from 1976). It always makes me smile AND gives me hope:


PS--to see some of my older posts on this topic, see: http://musingsdemommy.blogspot.com/2009/04/jokes-are-supposed-to-be-funny.html and http://musingsdemommy.blogspot.com/2009/04/flip-side.html.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Defying Gravity

Defying Gravity, Wicked. This song...wow. Makes me feel like I can fly. (I restrain myself from belting it out at the gym when listening on my iPod.)

Something has changed within me

Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes: and leap!

It's time to try

Defying gravity
I think I'll try
Defying gravity
And you can't pull me down!

I'm through accepting limits
'cause someone says they're so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I'll never know!
Too long I've been afraid of
Losing love I guess I've lost
Well, if that's love
It comes at much too high a cost!
I'd sooner buy
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I'm defying gravity
And you can't pull me down.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Passages

I love the way the seasons coexist and mingle this time of year, like often-missed but rarely seen friends at a cocktail soiree. The spring's warm sun drenches our vitamin-D starved bodies while winter's stalwart snow chills in the still-cool shade. The mud-drenched, raw-green scent of spring passes in a breeze and intertwines with an infusion of the rich, smokey scent of a still-burning fireplace.

The seasons stretch long-lost arms toward each other, knowing this encounter, although brief, will be repeated time again. They embrace and then say farewell. Winter turns its sights on the next and spring settles into the vacated seat, adorning tender buds and long stretches of golden, splendid sun.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bully for You, Bully for Me

I recently took the train home from the city. It was mid-afternoon and many high school age kids funneled in and out, on their way home.

Two high school boys sat in the four-seater in front of me and we rode along uneventfully. But when fate added two long-legged, short-skirted high school girls to the mix, the dynamics changed dramatically (shocker). The scene provided everything you'd expect--bravado, booming machismo, loud giggling, and posturing. I found it hard to read after the influx of testosterone and bare legs, so I listened. (I guess I technically eavesdropped, but then everyone in the entire train car could be accused of the same. Did I mention the extreme volume of their conversation?)

Here's what I remember:

"Why are you hitting me?"
"You are soooo cool."
"I love the collar on your purple shirt."
"That teacher is a douche bag."
"I am so not talking to you."

Then, I heard this venomous tidbit,
"I fucking hate that kid. He drives me crazy. He's such an idiot."

Woooooaaaaahhhhhh Nelly. Then,

"There's The Prostitute." They discussed this unsuspecting high school girl who had been dating her boyfriend for a long time (two months? two years?), but this did not exempt her from slutdom.

I wanted to peer over the seat, step on my sage soapbox and say, "You, yeah you, young boy, in the ghastly purple shirt with the definitely-not-cool collar--you only wish you were getting laid by a girl as hot as The Prostitute. If you ever get so lucky, use a condom." "And you, girls, with way-too-short-skirts-and-I-don't-care-if-they-are-a-part-of-your-uniform, cover yourselves for crying out loud."

But that would've been mean. And I would've been lowering myself to their standards, blah blah blah. Instead, I made a production of moving to a different seat, far, far away from them;
amazingly they left their egocentric bubble long enough to notice. My gut said that any advice I may have pontificated would've provided fodder for weeks. I can hear it now, "Remember when that hot MILF* stuck her nose in OUR business? Who does she think she is?" But, after grabbing their attention with my witty insults, could I have planted a compassionate seed in their cruel, young, still-influential minds? Did I make the right choice? After I moved, their words sat like a brick in my stomach.

These children are someone's kids. I assumed (always risky) they have parent/s or some other responsible adult raising them. Did their parents know how they spoke about others? How did they get to this juncture--the one where spitting venomous attacks at others was more than ok--it was cool?

A friend recently told me that she was brutally bullied through both high school and college. She wanted to end her life. (I was, and still am, stunned. She's so very wonderful and very accomplished now.) Were her bullies raised by parents who guided and loved them and did the best they could? I know every child's upbringing differs vastly. But is there a common trait, linking all bullies like a string of lights? Obviously, some children bully because of indescribable home lives. But I suppose that others come from not-so-horrible homes, like the one hubby and I create for our children.

How does a bully become a bully?
Are there warning signs when a bully is young--a pre-bully--that a parent can identify and re-direct their child? How do I circumvent this phenomenon? How do I raise my children to be neither bully nor bull-ee? How do we collectively stop this damning epidemic?

*Yeah, yeah, I know...but it's my blog and I can compliment myself anyway I choose. (Mom--please don't Google MILF.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Divine LIFT--My Interview with Kelly Corrigan

LIFT (Voice) has arrived. I've anxiously awaited Kelly Corrigan's newest effort ever since I finished The Middle Place, one of my all-time favorite books. I cried like a baby when I read its last word--both because it's just that good and because it was over. I sent fan letters to Kelly applauding her amazing memoir. Now The Middle Place must make room on my favorite's shelf for Corrigan's latest, LIFT. The book is a single-sitting read. Kelly wrote this open letter to her daughters, Georgia and Claire. Like a spring breeze, the book wafts through my mind, caressing, lifting and reassuring me in my daily infusion and experiences with my children.

LIFT is about life;
lyrical, brutal and poignant. It's about mothers. And children. And the myriad of exquisite, excruciating experiences this journey provides. How does a mother go on after the death of a child? How does a woman, who is already a mother but without a child, become a mother? How do we reconcile the soaring joys and plummeting depths of parenthood? With LIFT, Kelly suggests that we do so with honesty, gratitude and grace.

Not surprisingly, Kelly delivers her message effortlessly, truthfully and poignantly, like a dear friend, with whom you're talking over a cup of joe or a lovely glass of wine.

On LIFT's debut day, Kelly and I met in New York and talked about LIFT and life.

When I arrived in her room, Kelly's makeup gal was glamming her up for the day's events and photo shoots. I felt like I got a sneak peek at the bride before her walk down the aisle. Kelly greeted me with one of her signature brilliant, flashing smiles and we dove in.

We talked about being mothers. We dished about consumerism. We laughed. We even cried a bit. We compared notes about parenting young girls who demonstrate period-like behavior and emotions YEARS before the actual period begins.

"It's just a simple fact--being a parent is hard", Kelly said, "so let's just all say it out loud."

Right on. Amen. Hallelujah.

Kelly says that yes, the book is a letter to her girls, but even more, it's a tribute to her Aunt Kathy and her dear pal, Meg--her muses and inspirations. Both women's tragic but touching stories provide guidance for Kelly as she navigates the perilous parenthood path.

Kelly's Aunt Kathy lost her child, Aaron, when he died in a car accident. Kathy dealt with his loss with grace. She reminds Kelly that she feels lucky--lucky that she got to know Aaron for 20 years. Through her grace, she provided Kelly, and now all of us, a brutal but poignant primer on being a parent. Risk, and even death, are part of the equation.

In LIFT, Kelly writes about her daughter Claire's brush with viral meningitis. When Kelly and her husband left the hospital, they tucked Claire into safest crooks of their bodies and hearts. Kelly reflected that this experience marked "the beginning how of I came to know what a bold and dangerous thing parenthood is. Risk was not an event we'd survived but the place where we now lived."

Kelly's dear friend, Meg, watched her 40th birthday approach and depart--and she wasn't married. She ached to be a mother; Kelly supported her with this sentiment, "I think you, in particular, were born to be somebody's mother."

During our conversation, Kelly tearily reflected on their experiences and said, "When you love someone, all you really want to do is lighten their load." Yup. We all know that feeling, that pit in the bottom of our empathic hearts that desperately wants to help lessen someone's grief, yet we can't quite find the words to permeate their pain. Kelly accomplished just that through LIFT. She did it for her Aunt Kath, she did it for Meg, and she did it for generations of mothers, current and future, by granting them the permission to be raw, true. LIFT grants all mothers a hall pass--all emotions embody a place and come with purpose.

As we talked about LIFT, Kelly encapsulated the book this way, "Because of Kathy and Meg's stories, it's a huge step for people. LIFT takes you back to a place of total gratitude. Don't forget--you are so lucky to have that kid sleeping in a room in your house." She went even further and said that if the only thing LIFT does is remind us to be grateful, then that's fine for her.

Before my chat with Kelly, I felt irked--more than usual--by the everyday chaos my children brought. Natural, normal, I know. Now I remember what I forgot: I must circle back and give thanks for the gifts the journey imparts. After our interview, I returned home to two sick children--and instead of letting the disequilibrium overwhelm me, I embraced it. I get to care for these children and help them feel safe and better. I'm honored.

True to form, after Kelly revealed her hope that everyone return to a place of gratitude, she quipped that once that gracious moment passes, we'll all still send our kids off to the basement, to watch a movie, because we need a break. Yeah, we're grateful, but that doesn't mean we love everything they do. We all must balance.


Kelly wrapped with this thought, "It's a very dangerous thing as a writer to try to write about parenthood when it's been done and overdone. It's very difficult to add anything new to the conversation. But [having kids] is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me. Meg's story really helped me keep it front and center--how divine it is."

I've read LIFT twice and I've purchased it for all the mothers and moms-to-be in my life. I've dog-eared and scribbled in my copy--the highest honor I can bestow on a book. It means I'll be back--for guidance, for a laugh, and for Kelly's honest, sage reminders that it's all real and all normal. As a result, I'll indulge in the daily divinities, even when laced with angst. Kelly, anytime you have something to say about motherhood or life, I'll listen. Thank you for sharing your story and by default, reminding me to live my own with more gratitude and grace. A divine LIFT.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

LIFT Yourself Up

Two weeks ago, I received an advance copy of Kelly Corrigan's new book, LIFT. I devoured it. Twice. Yesterday, I met Kelly in New York: a truly dream-like, phenomenal day. (I was so giddy that I shook when I met my idol). Today, I enjoy the hot, sweaty company of my two very sick children. So, my review and interview will be postponed while I take the sage advice of Kelly, and soak up this moment with my children. Once the moment escapes, it never returns.

Stay tuned....and go buy LIFT now. You'll be so glad you did.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Questions

I just read a fascinating book of essays, all written by mothers. It’s called Mommy Wars, edited and compiled by Leslie Morgan Steiner. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

As the title predicts, Morgan Steiner sets out to understand why this ongoing, societal battle regarding mothers’ choices continues. 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 thoroughly enjoyed reading each of these women’s stories about 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 has a baby. (Even the arrival of the child varies vastly...by adoption, sex, in vitro, foster care.)

I always knew I wanted to have children. Always. I was also certain I wanted to stay home with them. While
I was growing up, I thought that every woman would want to stay home and raise their children but only some, with the right financial resources, housed the ability to do this. Now that I’m more seasoned, I realize how na├»ve my beliefs were. Some of us have no choice and have to work. Other moms 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.

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 recently 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. 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 start our family, we decide to start trying. Based on my history, we knew we may not get pregnant for years. I purged my body of bad things and he was a very, VERY happy camper.

Four months after we marry, I’m pregnant. I couldn’t believe the stick. I took at least four more tests (ok, seven) between the first one and my doctor’s appointment.

I did not want to go back to work after the baby was born but knew our financial landscape might force me to return. After many more very deep conversations, we decided I’d stay home (or, more accurately, I convinced hubby that I should stay home). I would’ve loved to work part-time, but advertising clients are not part-time.

Abby finally arrived and life was sweet. I loved being home with her. But three months after quitting I was surprised by pangs (ok, earthquake-like jolts) of jealously when my only other “equal” in the agency 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 envy oozed out of all my pores. I didn't even work there and I still mentally vied for the promotion, while covered in breast milk, drool, spit-up and an extra twenty pounds.

Two years later, hubby and I decided to go for number two. Two weeks later I stared at another positive pregnancy test. Hubby joked and said I made-up all this infertility stuff. Hardy-har-har.

I went from thinking I might never have children to having two, each when we wanted, give or take a couple of days. Absolutely miraculous--a blessing I still acknowledge daily. After Henry was born,
I became a stay-at-home mother of two. Yikes. Hubby, six months into his MBA program, traveled to school every-other weekend. All while working full-time. Even on my worst of worst days (and, my dear readers, you know how bad some of those days have been), I’m still glad that I’m at home with them. It was the right answer for my family and me. I love not having to rush out of the house to get to work. I love supporting them and helping them grow, watching their inquisitive minds catapult and synapse. I love watching their golden hair shine in the midday sun.

Do my counterparts who work enjoy these things any less? Or more? Puh-lease. We all sort through the gifts of our children at our own pace and through 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.

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 continued their careers and make their own sacrifices? HELL NO. Are moms with careers better because they set a sound example for their children, showing them that women can and should pursue and enjoy ambitious careers? NO. Are they gaining joy from their careers as well as from their children? YES. (Am I very thankful that those women highlight the diversity of women’s choices for my dear daughter and son? YES.) Are we all fabulous for the mundane, exhilarating, painful, joyful, messy things we do for our children and the contributions we make? Ab-so-stinkin-lutely.

Although I contribute my time, guidance, sweat, energy, patience and love to my kids, my husband, my dog and all their schedules, I do not contribute financially. This strikes me as odd. Especially since I enjoyed financial independence for a decade before I married. When I wanted to stay home, my husband and I carefully navigated those financial waters and ultimately mapped a route that worked for us. Now that I earn a bit from my writing, it feels great to contribute monetarily. But I wonder why it is important to me. Is it truly essential or is its importance dictated by our society? In the past, I could mark my success with a raise and 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?

No. 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 mood. I’m just glad we’re asking. May your answers be forthcoming and fruitful and may they resonate truthfully within you.
(Edited, reposted from Oct 2008)