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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Time in Tahoe good, bad

Okay, I love being away from the hustle of our regular lives and having Father in Chief around to help with Toddler in Chief round the clock, but this dial-up Internet connection is maddening.

I know, I know. I really shouldn't be connecting to the Internet while we away from the hustle in an attempt to soak up couple/family-time before FIC starts his new job on Monday. But this Internet-thing is so much a part of our daily lives that it is *really* hard to truly disconnect, to not check email numerous times a day, to not dial in just to see where the best Mexican restaurant is, to not connect just for a minute to see if anyone has commented on my most recent blog posting.

Here's a confession: I don't even remember how to use the telephone book. And if your restaurant doesn't have its menu posted online, it might as well not even exist. To steal the Yellow Pages' tag line: If it's not online, it doesn't exist.

There is no part of my life that doesn't have a direct link to the Internet. My address book, my main source of communication with friends (who calls anyone anymore??), maps, driving directions, photos (and there are so many with a kid around looking so darn cute all of the time), menus, my livelihood/sanity depends on it through blogs, instant messaging with FIC while he's at work, finding a plumber/repair person/electrician/dog walker, finding the closest Wi-Fi hotspots. The only thing I haven't transitioned online is my calendar. I still love my little check-book-sized version where I use an actual pen with actual ink to sort out my appointments and to chronicle TIC's weight at his well-baby check-ups.

So sad as it is, we couldn't leave home without it. So we take turns sitting at the kitchen table tapping away on the tiny keyboard in the un-ergonomicly correct chair to check a hundred unimportant things (with each taking ten times as long due to dial-up) while the snow-covered Sierra mountains serve as the backdrop. At least we're all together and someone else is changing a larger percentage of poopy diapers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wombs everywhere buzzing into action

Portfolio Manager Mom has confirmed her departure from our weekly group with an email. She wrote: "As all of you know, I am going back to work full time, which means we won't be able to come to playgroup anymore...The transition to preschool for (PM Toddler) has been much faster than expected. (PM Toddler)'s adjusting to preschool was one of my biggest worry, so I'm glad that things turn out better than expected."

Better than expected for PM Toddler. And I can only hope that PMM's transition back to the workforce is a nicer than the madness Bethany over at Writing Mommy is experiencing.

So that leaves me flying solo as the one mom in the group who is not trying to double the number of kids in the house. Being outnumbered is a strange feeling. No one has asked me outright when I'm having another. But I find that I keep bringing it up with the women in the group. So in addition toddlerhood, I'm talking about babies and labor and pregnancy and feeling the baby move and contractions and labor and meconium and placentas and crowning and labor and pushing and epidurals and c-sections and bleeding and labor and breastfeeding and not sleeping and lions and tigers and bears.

Oh my.

Why am I doing this to myself? I'm just starting to really enjoy Toddler in Chief's independent playtime and my subsequent enjoyment in a little bit of personal time. But what is really interesting is that I keep bringing it up with Father in Chief:

"So when do you think we should have another?"
"Three years is a good age gap, don't you think?"
"Don't want to have them too far apart."
"I don't want to have a baby in the fall or winter."
"That means we need to get pregnant during X time of year."

I was not talking about this stuff a month ago when the non-pregnant women outnumbered the pregnant women. I'm sure there is some hormonal/biological happenings here. The pregnant women are seeping with hormones. Being around them makes the non-pregnant women interested in being pregnant. Seems like some kind of Jedi Mind Trick. And I think it's working.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Over 25 and planning a baby? It's too late

If the only path to career/home balance utopia is to start planning in your mid-20s, we're all screwed. Or at least my generation of women who is already in their early 30s with a baby, is screwed.

This is the advice of the Boston Globe's Penelope Trunk last week in an article entitled, "New generation puts the focus on family." She wrote: "Good planning starts in one's mid-20s. And then you need to have a very substantial conversation about it with your partner."

Well that's all find and dandy, but that guidance is teetering upon some pretty enormous assumptions. First, it assumes that you have a partner when you're in your mid-20s. I was fortunate to have landed Father in Chief early in life. But the plethora of matchmaking web sites indicates that not only is finding a mate big business, it isn't easy nor does it come with any guarantee that it will happen by a certain point in our lives, i.e.: in our mid-20s. Trunk's guidance also assumes that you know early on that you want to have a family. I can wholeheartedly say that when I was in my mid-20s, the idea of having kids was about as appealing as scraping off my knuckles with a cheese grater.

Trunk starts her article with the story of a couple who is about to get married and who have a life-long game plan. "It's cake-tasting time for Carin Rosenberg and Erik Lawrence. They're getting married on July 2, and like many engaged couples, they're excited to start life as a team...They have a plan for a baby (lots of hands-on parenting) and careers (no out-of-control hours), and while they will each have advanced degrees, there are no plans for high-powered jobs."

Okay, she doesn't mention how old this couple is, but they sound rather idealistic. I'm not bashing idealism, but deciding that high-powered jobs are out, could make building a realistic career-path very difficult. And how exactly do they define "high powered?" I think it's pretty fair to say--and Trunk even points out--that most career-worthy jobs are unfortunately 40-hour (or more) work weeks. That is why so many of my super-talented mom friends are no longer working in their respective fields. We are all underemployed because our former employers could not merge parent and paycheck.

So I think it's great that this couple is going to try and avoid long hours, etc. Hell, I think no company should expect people to work more than 40 hours a week. But let's be honest here: people make job choices based on how much it pays, what kind of health insurance it offers, how long does it take to get there. Period. Yes there are other things we consider, like do we like the people, do we like the business, is there good potential for growth, etc., but fundamentally, we need the basics first.

Trunk offered three guidelines to follow to achieve the work/parenting balance you want: 1) Build expertise to gain flexibility; 2) Live below your means and forget the big house; 3) Marry someone whose career aspirations are consistent with yours.

Sure we can forego the fancy house and the expensive cars for more modest lifestyles to aim for the right parenting/career balance, but most people want to put food on the table and save for their kids' college educations.

And that third item is absurd. Trunk wrote: "If one person makes four times as much as the other person, the discussion will not be among equals when there's a snow day and someone has to stay home from work with no notice." I'm not really sure what this sentence is even saying. Make sure you don't marry someone who makes more money than you do because you're going to get screwed if you had hoped to share the sick-child responsibility.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for planning. But sometimes life gets in the way of the plans that we set out for ourselves. Going into a job knowing that you eventually hope to get a flexible schedule is great. Trying to avoid jobs that you know force you to work more hours that you want is great. But fundamentally this is like feeding the wrong end of the dog. We should be focusing on the corporate end of the equation, examining company policies and rewarding those that allow family-friendly policies, like job-shares, better maternity leaves, and flexible schedules.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Not the whole story...

Network Administrator Friend sent me an email in response to yesterday's post about her amazingly independent kids, which allow her some freedom and make her life as an at-home parent less stressful.

She said I really saw a skewed view of her kids during our stay with her family, mostly because Younger Brother was never with us without Older Brother or Toddler in Chief. She said that when Older Brother is in pre-school, Younger Brother doesn't know what to do with himself because he is so used to having someone to play with. So when he should be off making his own fun, he can't handle the alone time and gets a bit overwhelming.

So here's her attempt to set the record straight:
You didn't get to see this, since either (Older Brother) or (TIC) was around at all times, so (Younger Brother) wasn't that bad during your trip. On normal days, when (Older Brother) is in school, (Younger Brother) will not leave me alone. He follows me from room to room, just chants "Mama Mama Mama" and interrupts everything I try to do. So, I find that I use the time I have alone with him to grocery shop, run errands, etc, just so were not just hanging around the house, because then he wants to be entertained.

And he always wants to wrestle, which is annoying to me, but (Older Brother) loves it. (Younger Brother) also will get into "destructo" mode when I don't pay attention to him (when Older Brother is at school), and if I try to read email, the paper, make a phone call, etc, he goes off and finds something really naughty and makes a huge mess. Just for the attention. Even at 18 months, bad attention is better than none, I guess. :-)

We've been trying "time out" for Younger Brother when he bites, throws or hits, but it doesn't seem to be working. I set up the Pack n Play in living room, in a corner, with no toys, no view of the TV, nothing to do. Anyway, he was in it yesterday (he dumped out all the cat food and water while I was trying to do the laundry - Older Brother was at school), but he entertained himself enough that he didn't mind it. I think it works better when Older Brother is home, since then he is reminded that he can't have the toy Older Brother is playing with, but by himself, he just jumped around and laughed. Oh well.
Still, if the only times that are rough for Network Admin Friend are when Older Brother is at daycare, it still sounds like she has a pretty good situation.

Although from the comments from Kristen, Geeky Mom, and Bethany seem to suggest that it gets easier the older they get, regardless of how clingy or needy they are now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I'm not that kind of mom

Network Administrator Friend has some of the most independent kids I've ever met. Toddler in Chief and I stayed with her while we were on the east coast in February.

Her four-year-old son wandered from project to project, toy to toy, room to room entertaining himself. He'd play with Thomas the train. Then he'd dance along with the super energetic Discovery Kids television show, Hi-5. Then he'd move to a stickers project, then to markers, and so on. Her one-year-old son was nearly as independent. He'd crawl up the stairs to read some books. He'd jump on the bed, and then head back downstairs to see what the big kids were doing. Once in a while, he would try to tackle Older Brother. If that didn't have the desired results, he would go for Toddler in Chief, which TIC hated.

It was amazing how much Network Administrator Friend could do without distraction while her kids kept themselves busy. The dishes, the laundry, email, telephone calls. Her only distraction was when the kids wanted to switch to a new project...from stickers to markers, for example. Put one box away and get out a different box of activities. I had a hard time eating an entire bowl of Cheerios without distraction. And I could see NAF cringe when TIC would get upset and holler for "help" yet again.

It was so interesting to see how well her kids did on their own. How did that happen? She's happy to set up the tracks so that they can play. She's happy to get them started on a project. She's didn't sit on the floor and read books all day. She didn't get down and play with blocks or letters or Thomas. "I'm not that kind of mom," she said.

There it is. There was no guilt. There was no apology. That's just the way it is. And her kids are great. Loving. Gentle (except for the occasionally tackle). Creative. Independent.

This trip happened right after Judith Warner's piece appeared in Newsweek (still can't seem to get away from that). Her life, her parenting was just so opposite everything that article talked about. Everyone was content. No one was stressed out. Not NAF, not the kids, except for TIC, that is. TIC was stressed out. They weren't his toys, it wasn't his house. He was whiny, clingy, and over all an unpleasant kid to be around--very unusual for my mild-mannered toddler.

She wasn't aching for child care or a break from the kids. She wasn't missing work or anxious to head back. She was at ease, happy, harmonious. Maybe she wasn't stressed out because her kids' independence allowed her time to herself to read, to do email, to make phone calls, to work on household projects, to be herself. She gets to be with them, they get to be with her, but neither overshadows the other.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I didn't see that

Many of the topics I write about are inspired by comments that I received on previous posts. This is a round up of some of the insightful and thought-provoking comments posted here recently.


Kateri on getting pregnant with No. 2, after not wanting to get pregnant: "I went through a period, right after Naomi started to sleep well, of *not* wanting to get pregnant again for a *long time*. But here I am, barely pregnant, and looking forward very much to another baby. Who knew?"

Angry Pregnant Lawyer on the pressure to get pregnant: "Friends of ours who already have one had recently confided that they had just stopped trying to have no. 2. They said trying to get pregnant again was really stressing them out, and they realized that they were really only trying because they felt pressure from everyone else (friends, family, physicians) to have a second. They came to the conclusion that they liked being a family of two parents, one kid, and they are much less stressed right now. Which is not to say they won't change their minds later on and decide to try again, but I think they'll only do so when they know they really want to have another."


Manababies on going back to work, NOT: "When I was still a mom-of-one, I often went back and forth... should I go back to work? If so, when? My husband used to ask me that question constantly. After my son came along he stopped asking because it really is too much to think about, especially with all the little things we Mommies have going on in our heads. And the only time I can stop and think is when the kids are in bed. At that point I can't even begin to raise that 'going back to work' issue. Ugh, such a tough thing!"

Kristen on the balance between working and being at home: "Three days a week, I'm at the office being a WOHM. Four days a week, I'm home playing with the children being a SAHM...I kinda like being in the middle...But one day a few weeks ago, I had these two things said to me on the very same day:

1) I don't know how you can let other people raise your kids.
2) How could you waste your career potential by staying at your part time job so long? Don't you want promotions and advancement?

So, you really can't win!"

The BIG debate

Rosemary on at-home mome versus working moms: "Neither working nor staying home are easy -- they both have their advantages and disadvantages, and everyone has to make the decision that works best or is most financially feasible for them...Why can't women acknowledge that what works for one may not work for another? If you work, terrific. If you stay home, well, thats terrific too...Staying home with kids just is not easy nor particularly comfortable, particularly for someone used to the working world. And working when you have very young children isn't easy either -- juggling day care, illness, jobs, stress -- ugh. It can be a nightmare. But both sides also have their rewards. And whether one stays home or goes to work is a personal decision that the rest of us shouldn't be so quick to judge. What happened to women supporting one another? Is that just a myth? Whatever I choose to do, it will be the decision that I feel is best for me, and for my family. I would hope that other women would understand that, and not jump so quickly to judge."

Anonymous wrote that we should celebrate and not debate: "In the DC area, there is a "DC Urban Moms" list. There was a "mommy war" debate about a month or so ago. It became very ugly and personal. I think each side is very defensive and insecure about their choices that they feel the need to validate their choices by criticizing the other side. We should "celebrate" the fact that we have a choice...We should focus our attention to the bigger issues like having a national maternity leave program and quality childcare."


Anonymous wrote that a two-year gap too small: "I truly don't understand the rush to have another child... Unless someone is pushing the fertility clock...I think the 2 year spacing that is sooo ingrained in our culture is too close in age. Esp. now that research shows how important the first three years are."

The simple life

Bethany on life before kids: "Hang in there sister... hang in there. Every mom (admit it girls!) has the same feelings of wanting the *simplier life* back...Just remember one thing--those *simplier* times are glorified as all happy and stress free (remember college? I thought it was tough... ROTFL, boy, did *I* have it wrong). We have selectively forgotten the stress and trauma."

Can't do it all

Chip on fostering independence: "I've never understood the parenting philosophy that kids need 100% undivided attention 24-7, it doesn't seem healthy for parents or kids (and sets us up for feelings of failure because it's also not possible!)...That said, I do think there's value in just being in the same room or nearby as the kids develop their self-play capacities, while we're doing other things, and not concentrating our attention on the kids but just puttering around, washing dishes, opening mail, whatever."

Monday, April 18, 2005

Where we go from here

Mission accomplished. Well done. Bravo. I'm reaching over my shoulder to pat myself on the back. I pitched a story, interviewed people, constructed neatly organized prose, filed it to my editor on time. Now I anxiously await its debut at local newsstands, libraries, and bookstores.

I conquered freelancing writing and there is more if I want it. My editor is interested in hearing more about another one of my story pitches. I just need to suck up and do the research. So why am I still talking about a story that I filed six weeks ago? More importantly, why haven't I already started researching that next piece?

Was this an exercise in rubbing my under-stimulated ego? Did I desperately need to publish something so that I had some recent accomplishment to point to? So that I could say: Look at me hubby, I'm not wasting all of my talents at home. I still know how to form complex sentences. Look everyone: Just because I'm home raising a child, don't write me off. I'm still here. Look at me world: There's my name in print to prove it.

But instead of plowing fist-first into research while still soaring from the joy of accomplishment from the last piece, I've been dragging my fingers in other directions. Maybe I feel like I've proven that I'm still worthy, that someone would hire me if need be. So I sit in my computer chair surrounded by the red walls in my home office and blog. There is no research, pitching, or pining for my next byline going on now.

I'm sure it is an ego thing. So much of the time, at-home parents feel invisible. There isn't a whole lot to show for at the end of the day. If we're lucky, everyone is wearing relatively clean clothing and our bellies are full of something, hopefully something nutritious. It's not glamorous work. It's thankless work. It's invisible work.

The longer I'm out of work, the more I worry about how hard it will be to jump back in, if I needed to, or if I wanted to. I think of Portfolio Manager Mom. Doesn't seem like she had to look to hard to find a fabulous job. Are my writing skills as desirable? As hirable?

I feel the way I felt when I first graduated from college and moved across the country: why would anyone hire me? There are hundreds, thousands of other people out there with better skills, who are smarter, who have more experience, who are more driven, who will work for less money, who exercise more, who drive nicer cars, who wear more fashionable clothing, who know how to solve world peace. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but being away from work compounds the feeling of worthlessness.

I know these are unjustified feelings, but they are real to me, none the less.

"While some stay at home moms are thinking longingly of the independence of the office and the camaraderie of colleagues, I spend my days wishing I could be home," wrote Mandy over at Fosterfest, in a recent post called Jumping Fences. "I long to tell those stay at home moms -- quit trying so hard. So what if you spent all day running errands and only played peekaboo once -- you were there."

Perhaps part of this struggle to be seen comes is a result of being a writer in the first place. When I was a scribe at a technology news site, everyday the world could see that I had been productive. Everyday there were two, three, four, five items that I could point to that were directly related to my productivity for the day. I could see them, my boss could see them, our readers could see them. It was out there and it was visible.

And now that I'm home and mostly invisible, not having that recognition and visibility is hard to adjust to. So knowing that I'm still capable of getting published will hopefully lessen the performance pressure so that I can enjoy my full time job as parent.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Who do you trust?

I completely love the women I'm friends with today. I feel hugely grateful and fortunate to know them. But they probably aren't people I would have been friends with in high school. They have different tastes in music. They don't live on my block. They come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. It's not that I would have necessarily disliked them, but we probably would have had different circles of friends if we had gone to high school together.

And when you're an at-home parent without a long-time circle of friends and family, where do you make your friends? In high school, it was pretty clear-cut. We all took the bus together. We all wandered from class to class together. We glanced inside other kids' lockers to see if they have the same New Order or The Smiths stickers we had.

But now that we aren't taking the bus to school or sitting in class with other kids all day, how do we find our friends? We don't live with our parents. We don't live in the same town or state we grew up in.

Miriam over at Playground Revolution recently posted about a weekend in North Carolina talking with other women about parenting and grown-up friendships. She wrote: "(F)riendship in adult life is not really about finding kindred spirits and soulmates, as we used to think, but rather, about being there, about going to the Y three times a week and talking to the same people, or, for many parents, going to the playground, or the schoolyard, and suddenly, those people become your friends even if they're not who you thought you'd be best friends with."

It's true, we find the grown-up equivalent to going to school and meeting kids that have similar interests. Only instead of looking for people who like photography, or are vegetarians, or who also work for the high school newspaper, we bond through seeing each other at the park or the mothers' club playgroup. The common thread is our kids and the fact that we show up, not our background or what street we live on. We see each other at the park, we can look at their kids and watch how they interact with them.
We all talked about this for a while, and agreed, but the conversation held a bemused tone, as if to say that we didn't quite believe that being there is enough to build friendship on. And then Vivian made a comment that being there is an expression of trust. That when five mothers or fathers see each other five times a week at the playground, there's a level of trust that builds up. They are showing each other that they are present, that they can indeed be counted on. It doesn't have to be spoken, but that's why playground friendships build so strongly, even among people who have little else in common. She took something that seemed trivial--making friendship on something so silly as being in the same place at the same time, repeatedly--and linked it with one of the most fundamental of human desires and qualities: trust
Another reason that these friendships and bonds become so strong is because in addition to just physically being in the same place at the same time, these people meeting at the playground time and again are also emotionally, mentally, psychologically in the same place at the same time. They are all raising little kids who like to go to the playground. And having that bond off the bat helps people feel connected as well, which also leads to trust.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Emotional ride speeds downhill

This is a follow up to my previous post, about how life before kids was easier emotionally. Life always has challenges and no matter how much we plan. We can't control everything and things will not always go as we would like them to. I try to remind myself of my bell-shaped stress management theory.

Basically the theory is: all of the anxiety and stress in our lives falls somewhere on a bell-shaped curve. No matter how great and on track life is, there will always be something out there on the far end of that curve pushing our buttons and making us crazy. Most everything else will fall into the fat middle section of the curve, and then there will be a couple of things that really don't give us much grief at the other end.

I think that this theory holds true for the most part. But I find that the more I delve into my personal struggle with finding a balance between parenting and career and marriage and family and chores and pets, the more I slip down the spiral slide towards more struggle. Part of this spouting I think it very useful because it forces me to fess up to my inner struggle and makes me confront those inner-most, private places of my life.

However, kneading this internal conflict also has a down side. The more I examine, stew, and swish those bits around in my thoughts, the more I'm surrounding myself with them. Then they swell, becoming more prevalent because I'm trying to think about them, understand them, and find new ways to write about them. So while this struggle should be mostly manageable in the bulky part of the stress curve, it's getting unnaturally pushed out into that far end of the curve, making me crazy sometimes.

"(I)t's funny these feelings. they're just feelings. and you have them sometimes. and you have other types of feelings other times," wrote Swamps into response to my emotional confession. "(S)ometimes you are just feeling like life is shit, and then suddenly something happens -- a friend calls out of the blue, or some stranger pays you a random compliment, or you help an old lady thru a tricky situation -- and that feeling just disappears. gone."

She's right. Something distracts me from the constant internal magnification and poof, there is life going on around me. Good life. Good experiences. Good relationships.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

It's official: We're outnumbered

My playgroup has officially tipped the scales towards the pregnant members. There are nine moms/nine kids, and now five of the nine moms are pregnant with their second baby.

But that's not all. Of the four non-pregnant members: one mom is getting ready to sign a contract with a organization that connects infertile couples with surrogate mothers, one mom recently miscarried and is hoping to get pregnant again soon, another non-pregnant mom just accepted a new job--and she was grinning ear to ear about it today. That leaves me. I recently decided to put off having another baby for a while; you really can't go out dancing when you've got a balloon belly knocking you off balance.

So there are two issues here: first, I'll be the only mom left in this group who isn't pregnant or actively trying to expand my family; and second, my thoughts about Portfolio Manager Mom heading back to work are mixed. (For full disclosure purposes, I'm in two playgroups with Toddler in Chief. In the other playgroup, two moms have had second babies and the rest are decidely not pregnant).

But first things first, I found out about two of the pregnancies today and the other two, just 14 days ago. That is a lot to digest during a short amount of time. Why is everyone ready to do it again? Our kids are just turning two, and I suppose it's the standard 2 1/2- to 3-year spread in age. So what am I really upset about? Me, of course! I'm not ready, but I already feel the pressure, even though no one has said, "When are you going to have another?"

I really like going out again. My kid just weaned in January, so my body is my own. I can drink and abuse it as much as I like without affecting another person. My kid sleeps 12 hours at night, so I also sleep all night. I like my clothes. I was one of those moms who didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on clothes that I would only wear for a couple of months. That is, until I felt hideously frumpy and hormones were seeping from the walls. I broke down and bought one pair of cute jeans, a sexy Michael Starrs low cut, snug sparkly blue shirt, one oatmeal-colored turtle neck sweater, and two white fitted T-shirts. Someone did give me a frilly blue flowered shirt as well, but my belly always hung out the bottom.

But perhaps what is eating at me more than feeling silently pressured to get pregnant again, maybe all my stress is over Portfolio Manager Mom's onramp back into the workforce. While she was all smiles, we really didn't talk about how this means she's departing from our weekly gatherings. My feelings about her success are mixed. Part of me is a tiny bit jealous that she had the courage to do it. Another part of me says, you go girl. Another part of me feels like she is a traitor, leaving us at-home moms to struggle with ourselves.

But as I looked around, no one really seemed like they were struggling. Perhaps because every other woman there is gearing up for morning sickness, frumpy clothing, and more sleepless nights, they've come to terms with their current parenting status. Their new-found pregnancies or infant via surrogate has shifted their to focus to what it will be like to have two babies demanding their attentions instead of just one toddler. With a sly smile, Stanford Staffer Mom said, "I'm glad I'm not going back to work."

For me, I'm not so sure.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Emotionally, life before kids was easier: a MIC confession

A little time out with friends has been good and bad. It has made me so happy that I am able to get out and enjoy the simple pleasure of time away from Toddler in Chief, but it also makes me wonder about underlying problems with parenting, or more specifically, with me.

So much of the day I set R down. I know that this good for him because it fosters independence. I know it's good for me because I can attend to the domestic duties associated with being a parent and a home-owner. I do wish I could just let a lot of this internal struggle go, but I think I will carry it as long as parenting is my largest priority and seven-day-a-week job, regardless of whether or not I'm working elsewhere.

Mostly it just makes me question if I'm really supposed to be a parent in the first place? Why do I always want to set Riley down to do other stuff? Isn't the whole idea of parenting supposed to be a sacrifice? Give up your job, give up your free-time, give up other pleasures in life so that we can focus on this huge responsibility, which is also a pleasure and privilege?

Maybe some of this stems from the fact that we chose to have a kid? It was all planned. We did it on purpose. And I expected things need to fall into some order. We planned our life and chose our path, but still it didn't take us where we thought it would. Ann over at the The Mother all Blogs posted a link to a wonderful story called Welcome to Holland, that sort of explains what it's like to be launched in a totally different direction than what you expected when you become a parent. Surgeries, extended hospital stays, lots of doctor appointments: those are things that I cannot control. Chores and to-do lists: those are supposed to be the things I can control.

Mostly I just feel sad sometimes because I ache for a simpler time of life. It's hard to think that working and commuting and deadlines were simpler times. When that was my reality, those were stressful times and I ached for parenthood, which seemed simpler. But now that I'm in "Holland," I think back to when I was working, and it seems like it was piece of cake. I'm sure countless hours of therapy will come to this conclusion: I like going out with friends or fanaticizing about a carefree, 40-hour-work week because I'm temporarily removed from my fucked up life as a parent of a child with a life-threatening heart defect.

Emotionally, psychologically, life before kids was simpler.

Parenting for a living is much more psychologically and emotionally challenging. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out; sometimes I want to cry; and sometimes and I just want to take the damn dogs for a walk without carting a toddler along. Yes, I've come to terms with Toddler in Chief's condition. Yes, I've mourned the life that I thought he would have, and the life as a parent I thought I would have.

And then there's that guilt again. Considering all the garbage we've dealt with, shouldn't I be more than happy to sit and play with blocks, just thankful that my kid is here for me to play with? Shouldn't I be grateful for every minute, that I just want to soak up as much of my kid as I can? Instead of looking for escape routes, shouldn't I be focused on the road directly in front of me?

So I'm sure I'll my ranting and raving about the struggle for finding a balance for work and time out with friends and family and marriage is just my way to look for an escape from my life. Period.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A much needed break, or how I learned to dance

Friday night at the Little Fox Theatre was sheer bliss. That is, it was sheer bliss after I got over the anxiety attached to being responsible for the turnout success of Notorious, the 80s band that I'm addicted to seeing.

So truth be told, I really wasn't really responsible for the turn-out, but I was feeling accountable because I supposedly told them that I can get hundreds of moms to come out and pack the venue. Father in Chief says that I promised this crowd to the band during one encounter in San Francisco a couple of months ago after I sucked down two Long Island Ice Teas.

Anyway, they were in Redwood City, per my many requests, and I wanted it to be a success. While I did not produce a flock of 100 moms, I did manage to get 13 dancing fans into the club and onto the dance floor within a few bars of the first song. Our enthusiasm, along with the other 75 enthusiast attendees made the show a success, in my opinion. Pictures will soon be available on the band's web site, which I will post here.

Father in Chief had to sit out much of the second set after hurting his back during some aerobic dance moves.

As my shoes slid across the floor, I wondered where I learned to dance. My mother is a belly dance instructor and I definitely know how to shimmy my shoulders and hips, which I probably learned by osmosis. But mostly I learned how to dance by watching Molly Ringwald in the 1985, brat-pack hit The Breakfast Club. Arms flailing. Head bobbing. Bouncing and shifting side to side.

It's seems to have served me well during the years. I doubt I will ever really dance much differently than I dance now. That worries me a bit. When I was back east, I was out one night with my Dad. There was live music, and a woman was getting down on the dance floor, literally and figuratively. Knees bent. Arms stiff. Almost convulsions. It was not a pretty sight. I worry that this will be me in 20 years (yes, I plan to still be out there shaking my groove thing--probably to 80s music). I don't think I'll look like this woman, somehow morphing my dance into her dance. But rather, I imagine that my dance will be dated, much in the same way this woman's dance moves were dated.

As long as were out there having fun.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Mud slinging at pregnant in SF

Changes are imminent within the San Francisco Department of Building Inspections. Voicing their opposition to any change, a local builders' association participated in a verbal joust in San Francisco City Hall on Monday. The result: mud-slinging of sexually discriminating and reprehensible comments aimed at the probable replacement, who is pregnant.

James Hutchinson, who is the acting director of the Department of Building Inspection, is expected to be voted out. Amy Lee, the assistant director of the Department of Building Inspections, is the expected replacement.

During the meeting, president of the builders' association Joe O'Donoghue said that Lee is unqualified because she is pregnant with her third baby due in August.

It is unclear why no one on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors attempted to halt O'Donoghue's discriminatory comments.

While O'Donoghue contends that the comments were never made, or that they were taken out of context, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Joan Ryan today came to the rescue. She listened to the transcript tape of the meeting and this is what she heard from members of the builders' association:

"If you appoint her, she cannot function as you intend. Given that she is about to go on maternity leave, she cannot function at any capacity whatsoever. That is a reality."

"My wife refers to it as 'pregnancy brain.' Her mind is on other things. I ask you today, are you going to replace this man with 'pregnancy brain'?"

"That's not disrespect. That's just a metaphor. But when you have a baby, that's all the hormones are about. I'm just making the point."

"The facts are I was there when my kids were born. I know what goes on. You don't have to be a woman to understand. Amy is going to have to take some medical leave. What's going to happen then?"

Lee has worked in the building department for six years. She took a three-month maternity leave and a four-month maternity leave when her first two children were born. "O'Donoghue supported her hiring for the No. 2 position during one of those pregnancies, and he knows she kept in regular contact and even attended meetings while on leave," Ryan wrote. "Yet now that she is slated to replace someone O'Donoghue especially likes, the pregnancy and brief maternity leave are a problem."

Someone really needs to update the members of this builders' association on the employment laws that protect women from discriminating pricks like them.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I interrupt this program...

Okay, this post has everything to do with living life to the fullest and taking advantage of the small breaks we carve into of our hectic schedules to do things that are fun, for grown-ups!

And I apologize in advance to those who don't live in the Bay Area. But you shouldn't feel totally left out. Rather, be inspired to find the escape you need to be alive and in the moment, wherever you live.

For those of you who live in the Bay Area (particularly on the Peninsula), this is your chance.

Get into the Groove!!

An amazingly energetic 80s cover band called Notorious is playing at the Little Fox Theatre in Redwood City this Friday, April 8. If you want a glimpse of your former, non-parenting, single self, join me, Father in Chief, Attorney Friend, City Planner Friend, Childcare Development Friend, Therapist Friend, and others in your dance shoes to reminisce through the music you grew up with.

Here's my disclaimer: I do not personally know this band. However, I do travel great distances with friends to go see them whenever possible. The farthest trip was 80 miles north to a place in Santa Rosa. And the only thing I gain out of having a big turnout: maybe they'll play in Redwood City more often. Woo hoo!!

So grab your girlfriends, or book a babysitter and head out with your partner, and shake your groove thing.

There are no winners

There is no winner when moms who work argue with moms who don't work. Aren't all moms, or at-home parents for that matter, on the same side of the fence? Everyone gets to make choices, for better and for worse.

In my previous post where I feel like I'm falling into some sort of lose-lose parenting trap, I said something that just can't be left without further lamenting: "Maybe working moms spend more quality time with their kids because they long to be with their kids all day?"

I definitely don't know the answer to that question, but it got me thinking. Since most of my chums are at-home moms, I really don't have a ton of perspective on the working-mom experience. So thankfully there have been some very informative pieces out there recently on what it's like to work, out of financial, emotional, or intellectual necessity.

Working mom fesses up

Bethany over at Writing Mommy had a great post called, "Confessions of a Working Mother" on Monday about her transition from working-at-home mom to working-at-an-office mom and how it comes together for her.

For those that have never done the work-at-home WITH children thing, it is EXHAUSTING. Totally, exhausting. If you think parenting is exhausting, combine that with deadlines, cold calls, constant firefighting, and early morning and late day calls at home...Unfortunately, I have found, in today's society, if you are a work-at-home mom with children. This is the reality. You live, breathe, eat, sleep mommyhood and workerhood simultaneously. A lot to juggle for anyone. Including the proverbial (and I believe mythical) super moms.

Sometimes there is no choice

Tertia is heading back to work in a couple of weeks and she's struggling with it. She is not trying to point fingers at moms who work or moms who stay home. She's just venting a bit and I think it's a really intersecting perspective. For her, going back to work in South Africa is simply a vehicle to provide her kids with a safe place to live and a shot at a better education. It's not about a meaningful career. It's about money. (Thanks to Half Changed World for pointing me to it)
If I want to live in a relatively safe suburb, if I want my kids to have access to a decent education, I have to work...Career? Who cares. It's all about earning money to live...I must say that I find that there is a slight, um, how can I put it, 'holier than thou' attitude that comes from *some* (not all!) SAHM's, a martyred air of having sacrificed all for their kids. Implicit implication that by not staying at home you are less of a mother, that you clearly love your kids less. I think that's unfair. I would if I could, I can't. I don't think SAHM's are better moms. I really don't, I just think they are luckier moms....Yes money doesn't buy you love, but I don't think being poorer means you love them more. Money doesn't buy you happiness but being poor certainly doesn't give it to you either.
At-home mom or bust

The topic of being able to stay home when you have kids versus having to go back to work and put the kids in daycare is a hefty one that plagues some of my friends who don't even have kids yet. In a recent email, Paralegal Friend said personal finances would probably send her kids to daycare. That likelihood could be a deterrent from having kids in the first place.
In my position both (Mr. Paralegal) and I need to work and if we have a child in a few years, I think I will be forced to go back to work financially and I really would love to be a stay at home mom and DO NOT want to send my child to day care - so sad to say we may not have kids for that reason alone. You really are lucky (Father in Chief) makes enough money to support you and (Toddler in Chief) - I am sure it is easy for me to say that cause child or no child if I quit work and was home I may flip out and not like it or get really bored.
Would love more perspectives. If you're feeling bold, type it up and hit publish.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Falling into the parenting trap

I've heard it from friends whose kids are older than mine, and I never thought I would fully understand. But the older my son gets (he just turned two on Saturday), the more I get it. I can't give my child everything he needs.

When he was a tiny baby, I personally pretty much had everything he needed because he needed a whole lot less: my breasts, along with a clean diaper now and again, were just about everything. Other than that, he slept or sat propped in his vibrating, bouncy chair and swatted at little toys arched above his head.

But the older he gets, it seems like I don't have enough to give. I think this deficiency gets back (at least partially) to the whole list of things to do during the day that have very little to do with being a good parent. Yes, I'm present. Yes, I read with my child, but it's usually only before nap time and bedtime. Yes, I play with my child, draw on the sidewalk with chalk with him, tickle him, take him to play with friends at the park. But I think most of the time, I set him down and offer him a toy to occupy him while I'm trying to cook a meal, clean, toss in a load of laundry, organize the recycling bins, brush my teeth, take a shower, read email, blog.

When Attorney Friend #2 reached this point in her parenting, she decided it was time for her daughter to go into daycare. And she went back to work. She acknowledged that she couldn't give her daughter everything she needed--enough playtime, enough learning tools, enough stimulation and social interaction. At daycare, her daughter would be in an environment designed for learning, playing, and socializing.

Toddler in Chief is with his child-care person for nine hours a week. During those hours, I know he's learning so much and fully engaged in playing and reading and learning. He'll sing a new song, books will be piled high from the reading marathon, and stacks of drawings will litter the ground beneath the easel. That is quality time. He's being stimulated and he's learning because the person taking care of him isn't in her own space wondering when she's going to get the laundry done. Those aren't her dishes in the dishwasher waiting to be put into their proper cupboards. I've also noticed this on the flip-side. When I'm at a friend's house watching her child for a couple of hours, I'm fully engaged in what the kids are doing. There aren't any domestic distractions.

I've even recently started turning on the television so that I can have 25 minutes of time to putter around the house. As a result, he's added a few words to his lexicon: "teevee, "Bee-uuu-zzz Queue-zzz," and "Tel-lee-tub-bee."

Perhaps because I'm home and I supposedly have so much time, the quality time with my son waits. It gets pushed to the bottom of that to-do list. Maybe working moms spend more quality time with their kids because they long to be with their kids all day? They don't have time to do the chores in the first place, so they aren't fretting because they aren't caught up. I'm with my kid all day and I wish I could get my stuff done. I long to be reading the book for my book club. I long to be taking a long, hot shower, or a nap or a chat with a friend.

I'm sure a lot of this comes from a variety of societal expectations about what I should be doing as a parent. When I was a kid, my mom didn't have hours and hours to sit and entertain us. We did what she did. We grocery shopped. We helped sort the laundry. We helped cook. We participated in life. And I think I turned out okay. I know my son is too young for some of those regular-life tasks, but I think it's good for him to make his own fun, to play by himself.

I'm sure I'm just falling victim to the guilty-hyper-parenting trap. Nothing ever seems just right.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Power to the presence

Our world is composed of tiny, isolated islands. Each household, each family is on its own when it comes to raising kids. We don't grow up and move down the street from our parents, cousins, best friends. We grow up, move away, and settle in a sea of unfamiliarity hundreds and thousands of miles away from home.

We are not a village. We are not close-knit communities. We are islands living our lives without networks of family to lean on. We are raising our kids without a supportive community. Yes, I have friends. But even then, we barely feel comfortable asking for help.

This is a follow up to my previous post about missing family and the void that just can't seem to get filled. Toddler in Chief's grandparents are not physically present in his life, but they are a constant presence in his life. Phone messages. Email. Hallmark cards. Even though there are miles separating us, there are constant reminders of them. When we are together, they want to be with him, to play on the floor, read books, take him for walks in the stroller, take days off from work to spend with him, ask to keep him overnight.

This is not true for many people, regardless of how much distance is between them and their relatives. Bethany wrote: "We don't live near our respective families either... but when we go to visit, no on even *thinks* to ask to take the little tyke. In fact, if he gets fussy, Mom is immediately called for assistance. Very frustration and disheartening. Aren't grandparents supposed to rush in to spend time with their grandchildren? Must be something in the water, we have to beg our parents to participate."

How are parents supposed to do it on their own? How can grandparents give up the chance to have a special bond with their grandchildren? Don't they remember what it's like to need someone to lean on? If our families feel uncomfortable fulfilling their natural supportive role, how can we feel comfortable when others to want to help out? Shame on you, deadbeat grandparents. If our families--who nurtured us as children--make it unnatural to help raise our children, how can we expect others to want to nurture our children.

Even when we have friends filling in for distant, supportive family, we still don't feel comfortable helping each other out. For example, Attorney Friend is heading out of town for a friend's birthday next weekend. Instead of asking if we could watch her daughter over night, she hired a babysitter. Childcare Development Friend and I have helped each other out a bit when we've been in a pinch and she still says that she "owes me some hours." I'm not keeping score. We're friends and yet helping each other is uncomfortable and we end up feeling indebted.

If only we could anchor our islands together.

Friday, April 01, 2005

There is a void that never goes out

It's good to be home with my own bed and a bigger variety of clothes. Traveling for four of the past five weeks sure makes me appreciate the simple pleasures of home. And since I've been back, I've done a lot of reflecting on one of the simple pleasures of life: being with family.

It was comforting to be with family. Between my family and Father in Chief's family, they were everywhere. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and their families. What an amazing network of people to know. I have never lived near my family as an adult. I moved away from home to go to college the day before my 18th birthday. There were no summers at home (my school was year-round), and I never moved back home after college to regroup while job-hunting. For the bulk of my youth, I couldn't wait to get away from my family. I think most teenagers feel that way. And as an adult, I've ached to be near them. There's been a longing that is prevalent everyday.

That void has been amplified by the fact that I have a child now.

My youth was surrounded by family. My paternal grandparents lived three blocks one way; my maternal grandmother lived six blocks the other way; my aunt/uncle/cousins lived five houses down the street. These people were a part of our everyday lives. We got together for every birthday, no matter what day of the week it was. We spent all the major holidays together. During the summer, days were spent in my cousins' backyard pool.

My son's closest relative (besides his parents) lives 2,000 miles away. He won't have that close relationship with his grandparents that I had with mine. Yes, he knows them. But when you only see each other a couple of times a year, you live on the highs. I can't and don't blame the family. We chose to move here. We are the ones who left. I do my best to convince family to move here, but they all have their own lives there.

Mostly, those weeks on the east coast were a glimpse of what life would be like if we lived near our families as I did when I was a kid. That support network does not exist elsewhere. Yes, we have friends near and dear to our hearts. Yes, we have a fabulous child-care person who works for us a couple of hours a week. Yes, our families come to visit. Yes, we go there for special occasions. But it just isn't the same.

These relatives wanted to be with us, to spend time with Toddler in Chief. They wanted him for whole days and overnights and as much time as he could be spared before the next relative's time slot started. I trusted them to feed, bathe, diaper, drive him. They wanted me to have a break. They did this all for free.

I can imagine how life would be different for my family if relatives lived nearby. I'm envious of people who have that, and I understand why people want to move closer to home when babies are born. Having that family network would make couple's night out easier, it would make going back to school easier. It would make going back to work easier. Here in California, I've got my village, but I sometimes wish I just had a family.