Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Beginning of the End

I imagine it like a commercial.

It starts off with a montage of peaceful pregnancy shots: soft lighting, smiling women with gently rounded bellies in gorgeous homes, or moving in slow motion through flowered fields in perfect weather, maybe even a long french braid on the type of woman who can carry it off and still look like a supermodel, rather than a fundamentalist Mormon.  I'm imagining fundamentalist Mormons don't test well in commercial focus groups.

How many times I've thought in the past few weeks alone: One on my belly, and one in my lap, and I couldn't be happier.  She kicks when she hears her brother's voice, and I'm so full of joy I can scarcely breathe.

They'll have to get someone from advertising to punch up that slogan though.  It might be how I feel, but it doesn't sound like it will sell.

Then, like a TV ad for a rugged pick up truck, you'll hear brakes squealing over all the glowing gorgeousness and a loud, snarky voice over interrupts, and right away you can tell it's reality intruding into this perfect dream.

Reality, right now, is that my body has produced so much of that wonderful hormone, relaxin, which does exactly what the name promises, and relaxes the ligaments, especially around the pelvis, that my pelvis is looser than Elvis's.  So loose, in fact, that I have to watch out so my hips don't pop out of their sockets.  So loose that sitting quickly goes from uncomfortable to downright torturous because the hips want to spread out in the seat and don't have any sense of when to stop.  I spent the last two days in a conference that required sitting down all day long, and while it was incredibly interesting and valuable information, I know that what I will remember most about it is the agony of my lower back, butt and hips while I hobbled in the hallways between sessions trying to relieve the pain.

My happy, easy pregnancy has taken a sudden turn for the terrible.

Fortunately, I go to the doctor tomorrow, and I'm hoping for a remedy.  A friend told me this morning that she had the same affliction with her pregnancy and twice weekly chiropractic visits eliminated the pain within a week (although the treatment continued for a month).  She was also given a hip harness to wear, which I've read about, and is supposed to hold your hips in place, since the ligaments no longer have any interest in the job, being so relaxed and all.

I can only hope this means I'm a prime candidate for a successful VBAC.  If my hips can't be bothered to hold my legs in place, surely they're ready to slide to each side enough for a baby to fit through.

In the meantime, it feels as if I've been hit by that monster truck whose brakes were squealing right over the glowing gorgeousness of my previously perfect pregnancy.  That bastard broke my hips!  And my butt.  And the left side of my lower back.

So for now the ad ends with my hobbling about, and occasionally letting out a gasp of pain, perhaps a whimper when it gets really bad.  Yes, I know that's pretty much a terrible ending.  And I haven't even managed to figure out what I'm selling, let alone convince anyone to buy anything.

I knew there was a reason I never went into advertising.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Outrage, Determination, and Faith

Three of my facebook friends posted the same link over a period of a few weeks.  I got a very vague idea of the content by the comments on the first post, and I didn't bother to click and read it.  Second time, same story.  The first two friends were people I really like and admire.  I wasn't in the mood to ponder our differing political philosophies.  The third time was weeks later.  This time it was the sibling of an old high school friend.  I barely know her.  For some reason, when she posted it this past Sunday morning, I clicked on the link.

It was a letter to Obama, or the Administration, or someone in Washington, the exact details escape me.  Written by an emergency room doctor, it told the story of a woman without healthcare who could afford cigarettes, fast food and a gold tooth.  Based on this single interaction, the author suggested that rather than a healthcare problem, we have a culture problem.

The Culture of Poverty.


Where do I begin?

* * *
I found myself furious, sick to my stomach mad, swinging punches and sneering lips and everything I had to say came out in a hiss.  It was all fuck you and fuck this and fuck that, bare feet stomping on the hardwood floors while my husband slept peacefully in our bedroom and my toddler played trucks, bathed in the warm sunlight from the bay windows.  I argued with imaginary critics; I got all up in the faces of the smug and sanctimonious; I lectured like a pissed off college professor in a class full of freshman I wanted to cow; I sighed heavily and explained things laboriously in my most earnest imaginary voice; I threw my hands in the air and gave up, too disgusted to bother; I thundered my righteous judgment down on anyone who dared to disagree with me.

I muttered under my breath while pacing in my pajamas, making emphatic hand gestures that no one -save my child- saw, and no one understood.

* * *
I sit with "the culture of poverty" every day.  I teach parenting classes to (mostly) mothers and (some) fathers in poverty. I read the latest research, ask questions, listen, observe, theorize; I meditate on that shit when I wake up in the middle of the night.

I also come from a childhood of relative poverty.  I always say relative, now that I've been sitting with other people's poverty for all these years.  My poor is not someone else's poor.  But according to the federal guidelines, I qualified for free government lunch.  And because I had the mother I had, who made me sandwiches every morning although I was the oldest of six she had to care for, I never once had to eat it.

So I ask myself every day what poverty is, if there's a culture to it that offers any insight.  My whole life has been spent with one hand empty, and the other hand holding a book, trying to find out what it means to live in the richest country in the world, and still have people hungry.  I haven't ever stopped studying the subject.

And yet, I'm in no position to judge.  No position to make sweeping generalizations, even based on interactions with people I've known for years, people who share the most intimate details of their lives with me, people who trust me to hold their babies and their hands as they navigate circumstances you frankly can't imagine unless or until you have been there.

Or even then, oftentimes.

* * *
I have a tough crop of parents this fall.  We teach them: you are your child's first and best teacher.  But what happens if they don't want the job?  I find them sneaking out before parenting class, texting in the hallway when they're supposed to be teaching their lessons in the children's classrooms, coming up with a suspicious number of appointments requiring early dismissal already in the month of September.

Oh, it would be easy to demonize.  So nice to blame them; damn students don't want to learn.  So much nicer than stepping up my teaching efforts.  So very much nicer than catching them in the hallways with a smile, an open ended question to temporarily trap them, followed by a firm escort down to class while stubbornly continuing the conversation they would clearly prefer not to have, my demeanor too decidedly kind and oblivious for them to confront me, too much faith in their potential to let them slip out the door before I have a chance to peddle my medicine, even though they already think they know I've got nothing but snake oil.  So much nicer to place the blame than to overlook rolled eyes, repeat directions ignored the first time, strategize with my teaching team every day until I'm almost late to pick up my son, and repeatedly remind myself of the virtue of patience.

I don't do the authoritarian, big boss, my way or the highway thing.  It's not me, for one, and for two, I'm not here to force feed anybody anything.  This is not compulsory education.  This is people who ain't buyin' what I'm sellin'.  I take it back to the drawing board.  I step up my efforts at marketing.  I dig my heels deep into what I believe to be true, pull out every tried and true teaching trick in the book, work at it every day, and I wait.  And wait.  And wait.  I believe I will prevail.

I don't go to church on Sundays.  But I have faith so as to move mountains.

* * *
My husband awoke and asked me how my morning was.  I did not rant and rave; I did not rage against the dying of the light of intellect on my facebook page.  I spoke in measured tones, and I told him the story of my morning.  I calmly spoke my desires for fuck you and fuck this and fuck that, and in the open air of my kitchen over pancake batter in a big, glass bowl, the futility of the authoritarian, big boss, my way or the highway approach --even disguised as David rising up against Goliath, for don't we always cast ourselves in the role of David?-- revealed itself in the silly emptiness of my words spoken into the air instead of inside my head.

People believe all kinds of ugly untruths about human beings in poverty.  Sometimes we have to, in order to live with the status quo.  It's also very easy to judge that which you do not know.  And there are sometimes very ugly truths about human beings in poverty, just as there are about all of us.  The world is full of beauty, and still, we are savage beasts.  And time rolls on.

But none of that is really my concern.  I have to get back to work.  I have mountains to move.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dada and the Morning Dew

When we walk out to the car in the morning, the grass is frequently damp with morning dew.  A few weeks ago I told the toddler what it was called.  We haven't talked about it since.

Yesterday he commented that the grass and the car were both wet as I was buckling him into his carseat.  Do you remember what that's called?  I asked him, not really expecting that he would after a few weeks, and only having talked about it that once.

He screwed up his face in a look of concentration, and then announced:  Dew!  It's a morning dew!

I was so surprised and impressed that he remembered!  A few minutes later he told me:  Dada get up early.

Focused on the road, I murmured my agreement:  Mmmhmm, dada does get up early.  It didn't occur to me wonder about the seeming non sequitur.  He's two.  Non sequiturs are more or less par for the conversational course.

But in this case, he was still following the thread of our conversation, and solving one of the mysteries of his universe.  After another few moments, he announced triumphantly:  Dada get up early and get a hose to make a morning dew!  Dada put a morning dew on a car and a grass with a hose!

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Dog's Breakfast

My uncle once wrote a novel (unpublished) entitled A Dog's Breakfast.  The title referred to the messy variety of odds and ends that can compose a meal for a dog.  The story shared bits and pieces of a life that began in an Irish-Catholic family of ten, moved in and out of a stint in the seminary, and spent a few years in the Peace Corps in Africa, where he met a native woman who became his wife.  She now lives in Southern California, where she finished raising their three sons in his absence after he died of cancer a few years ago.  I read the novel in a makeshift office in an industrial wasteland where I served as secretary for an eccentric small business owner one summer home from college.  The job was such that I wore boxer shorts and tank tops to work every day, and never encountered another human being, outside of the business owner himself and a handful of confused coworkers, none of whom understood the nature of the business or the haphazard methods the man employed.  Some mornings the motley crew of us showed up outside the gates, waited awhile, and then went home when he failed to show up at all for the day.  When he did come to work, his office phone number was shared with his home, and the only person who ever called was the three year old friend of his daughter who lived next door to his family, to ask me every day:  Can you pwease open da gate so we can pway?  I had to explain each day that I wasn't at the house, and that she had to ask her mommy to take her over and knock on the door to play.  I had plenty of time to read my uncle's novel.  And today is a dog's breakfast sort of day in my mind.  Don't say I didn't warn you!


This pregnancy is so much easier than my last one!  Part of it is probably that I taught about fifteen hours a week of fitness classes last time, and pushed up against my limitations on a regular basis.  I do a lot less this time around, and don't feel particularly limited in my day-to-day life.  I'm just beginning to feel twinges of discomfort while moving about, and I'm entering my last trimester.  Also, I've gained as much weight in two trimesters this time as I did in my first last time!  I'm really hoping this is an indicator that my girl will be smaller than my boy.  I'm not hungry with the ferocity that I was last time, but it recently occurred to me that this could also be due to the fact that I'm not constantly working out either.  I'm trying to psyche myself up mentally for a VBAC, telling myself that I can do this, and that it will be easier than it was with my son.  But at the same time I'm trying to keep a certain sense of detachment from the birthing process itself.  It's a funny balance to try and strike!  Although I'd like a VBAC, my interest in the birth, and how it plays out, pales in comparison to my excitement about the baby.  Honestly, if she's healthy, I'll be happy no matter how she gets here.  It's a bonus that the pregnancy is relatively easy and stress free.


I fall more in love with my two year old every day. His personality is unfolding before our eyes, and I get a huge kick out of watching it happen.  I babysat a little friend of his this past weekend, another two year old boy, and they had a lot of fun together.  His friend is a louder, more exuberant child and it was a lot of fun to watch the two of them play.  We went to the park, and it was full of kids running and climbing on the playground.  Mu husband and I sat on a bench keeping an eye on the two boys in our care, surrounded by older children.  Suddenly I noticed my son standing off to the side in a funny looking position with his neck arched forward and his eyes on the sky.  What's he doing?  I asked my husband.  I don't know!  he replied, and we laughed together and agreed that he looked awfully silly standing there in his weird little stance while all the other kids whirl-winded around him.  After a minute or two he looked over at us and announced:  Lotsa clouds in da blue sky!  Then he slowly bent down to rub his fingers over the grass and told us:  And da grass a yittle bit wet!  He sat down, sunk his hands deeper into the damp grass and slowly rolled down on his spine until he was supine on the ground, looking back up into the cloudy sky.  Da clouds and da grass...  he murmured aloud in a voice full of marvel, and my heart filled up so fast it overflowed, spilling over the park like a tidal wave, drowning us all in a sunny, blue certainty that parenthood is the most beautiful thing ever, more marvelous even than the clouds and the grass.


Fall has fully arrived, no matter that the calendar might say not until tomorrow.  We're experiencing the busy bustle of the start of the school year, such a regular rhythm for a family of teachers.  I feel like we've really found our footing with the toddler, and our work, and the constant needs of the household.  The passing seasons are starting to develop their own rhythm in our family, and we're adjusting to that rhythm, figuring out how to move to it.  And waiting for our daughter's arrival in December: a delightful cog to toss in the wheel of our rhythmic progression!  I'm predicting that she will have to adapt to our family slightly more than my son had to.  As our first baby, we adapted entirely to him.  All our friends ended up leaving the city while I was pregnant, and then we moved into our new house with an eight week old, so we effectively started a new life with our baby boy, and his rhythms set our tempo.  Our daughter will be born into a slowly moving marching band.  It will be so interesting to see how all of us adapt.  I'm curious about her, and can't wait to meet her!  But in the meantime, fall is here, and I have this last season of harvest to work through, steady dawn to dusk tasks to prepare for the long coming winter.  Driving with the toddler each day we talk about the leaves changing: yellow, and orange, and red, and purple, and then they'll all fall down off the trees I tell him.  And then winter, and the baby comin'?  he asks.  Yes, little sweet.  Fall, and then winter, and then the baby, I say.  And so we watch the leaves begin to turn, and keep working on finding our footing, marching to our own little family rhythm, and marveling in the moments we have left, before fall goes, and everything changes again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Visits from Suge Knight and the Shark

When we traveled down South to see the in-laws this summer, there was no place for our son to sleep, except with us.  He usually sleeps in his own crib, but we figured a week wouldn't hurt.  Of course, we were wrong about that!  It probably took us a month to undo that week and get him sleeping in his own crib again!

One compromise I made, in order to make the transition more smooth, is that I've been allowing him to nap in our bed since early summer.  Half the time I nap while he does anyway, and his typical toddler sleeping habits don't bother me as much as they do his father.  Probably something to do with growing up in a family of six kids where being mauled by errant elbows and knees and cuddled within an inch of your life was just a normal night's sleep.

I imagine when the time change happens he'll go back to his regular schedule of falling asleep in the car on the way home from the sitter's house, but in the meantime I read him stories and then we snuggle in together in my bed.  If I manage to stay awake for the twenty minutes it takes him to fall asleep, then I get up and go about my day.  At least a few times each week I wake up to the sound of my husband opening the back door and realize I've slept the afternoon away yet again.

There are a couple times I've halfheartedly tried to convince myself to get back into the habit of putting him in his crib for naptime, but the truth is, I like our afternoon routine.  He gets giggly as all get-out when he's tired and the hilarity is contagious.  Today we had the silliest conversation about -of all things!- Suge Knight and sharks.

I told him he was expecting some company this weekend: a friend of his who I'm babysitting, and his aunt and uncle.  His aunt's name starts with the "Sh" sound, so after I told him she was coming, he started to repeat it, playing with the word until eventually it came out Shug, and then, knowing he was being silly, he looked at me and asked: Shug comin'?

Suge Knight?  No way!  He's scary!  He can't come to my house!  I replied, and for some reason this was the funniest thing my boy had ever heard.  He collapsed in a fit of giggles and commenced telling me Shug Knight a comin' a you house! over and over just to hear my overblown protestations.  Shug then morphed into shark, and I continued to express my fear of a shark coming to my house, until finally I told him we had to settle down and go to sleep.

He curled up on his side, twisted his little fingers into my hair to secure two comforting fistfuls of Mommy hay-yuh, and then drifted off to sleep.  For once, I managed to stay awake, and then left him there cuddled up comfortably, likely the only person ever to drift into peaceful slumber to thoughts of Suge Knight and sharks.  Sweet dreams, my little goofball!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fall Melancholy

The first time I remember experiencing a certain feeling I've come to associate with autumn, I was in high school, maybe tenth grade.  I was waiting for a ride from a friend, and rather than wait in the house, I decided to wait outside, where I'd be able to see her arrive.  It was early evening, and beginning to get dark, the days getting shorter as we moved further from summer.  I walked outside and balanced on the hood of my parent's station wagon parked at the curb, my knees bent high, feet perched on the bumper, and looked out into the distance, waiting to see the headlights of her mother's car.

As I waited, I became aware of the early darkness, the leaves beginning to fall, and the gathering chill in the air.  I noticed a distinct feeling of ..... melancholy is the best word I can find ..... and the interesting thing about the feeling is that it didn't seem to reside within me, where I might expect to find feelings, but rather in the very air around me.  I wasn't sad, pensive, wistful.  But the season was.  Fall carries those feelings in its cooling air, and the early dark of its evenings.  I could sense them in the breeze around me, and I remember feeling distinctly fortunate, protected by my big, boisterous family gathered in the house, and the imminent arrival of my good friend.

The next time I remember that fall melancholy was my freshman year of college.  I lived in a dormitory overlooking the entrance to the campus library, and while it was busy most of the week, Friday nights looking out that window was like looking out on a ghost town.  I wasn't so lucky to have family or friends around me at that point; I was terribly lonely, and it seemed like those fall feelings were just whipping around in the wind outside my window, waiting to get in and annihilate me.  I would shudder looking out at the empty campus walkway, and hurry to make plans with any group of girls seeking company that I could find in my dorm.  It took a few months before I found my close friends and it was frightening, in the meantime, the way that autumn melancholy threatened to eat me alive every weekend evening between dinner and whatever protection I could seek from the comforting presence of others.

As an adult I've noticed it most years, usually just as a sense of something stirring in the air, something slightly haunted maybe, beneath the surface of our lives, right as we begin to move away from our neighbors and into our houses, the long hibernation of winter lurking ahead around the edges of the imagination.  It's in such contrast to summer, where what you see is what you get.  It's too damn hot to hide anything in the summer, there's no space for secrets in the constant and overbearing light of the sun.  Neighbors and strangers, both friendly and nosy, share the city spaces as we all escape our houses in search of relief from the heat. 

Last night I sat outside after putting the toddler down to bed, and I could feel that fall melancholy, whistling like the breeze through the leaves beginning to turn colors in the trees.  I put my hand on my belly, and felt the kick of my unborn daughter as an omen of protection, and then hurried back into the house to snuggle with my husband as the night got darker and cooler.  We awoke to the aftermath of a rainstorm, opening early morning curtains to wet black pavement and glistening overgrown grass in the yard, under a still-gray sky.  I made pancakes and hot coffee while my husband fried bacon and eggs, and then we sat together at our dining room table by the big windows overlooking the yard, eating and drinking hot while the wind blew cold outside through the waterlogged leaves of trees and bushes just outside our fence.

Every year I say fall is my favorite season, and it's true --there's so much I love about autumn-- but every year at this time I'm grateful that I'm not alone.  Fall is the loneliest season of them all, just on it's own.  It doesn't need me to add to its melancholy, and I don't want to be trapped by its sadness either.  I gather my family around me like a circle closing, like a latch on a gate never used in the winter.  I thank the gods with each leaf that falls, golden or red or browning at the edges, that I have them, that we are together, and safe.  The sky turns a darker gray and I turn the lamplight brighter against the coming of that haunted melancholy that fall carries with it just under the surface, somewhere invisible in the air.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In Praise of Procrastination

I suppose I should begin by admitting that I planned to write this post on Monday.  Or perhaps it was Sunday.  Either way, here we are on Wednesday, and I suppose we'll just see if we make it to completion.  If not, that's okay with me.  Whenever we finish, it will be fine.  What's more, the longer I wait, creating in my mind, putting off putting pen to paper (or fingers to keypad, but that lacks both rhythm and alliteration), the more fun it will be to finally finish.

I wish you could have seen me in action this weekend, y'all.  For a round-bellied slowpoke who spends most of her afternoons napping, I was in rare form.  I spent ten hours Saturday feverishly cleaning and organizing, and then eight hours on Sunday doing the same.  Monday I awoke and insisted that we drive nearly an hour to my favorite forest for a long morning hike.  Where did I get this burst of energy, you ask?  It's very simple.  All summer long, my house has been in dire need of reorganization.  This weekend was the very last one before my husband returned to work for the start of the school year.  Long story short, it was the last minute.

And my, how that last minute motivates!  I don't understand the stigma of waiting until the last minute, the cloud under which procrastinators hover, like smokers hiding outside in the cold, puffing away shamefacedly, like there's something inherently wrong with pushing up against a deadline, waiting for the rush, and then racing the clock, flying down that list sitting listless for ages, zooming through duties with the best buzz this side of an espresso!

And what's more?  If I hadn't procrastinated?  If I hadn't spent most of my summer in a dream state, floating through life like a starry-eyed stoner, licking popsicles lackadaisical on my deck, lacking a single care in the world outside of when and where I might next go swimming, napping as if my very life depended on it?  Well then, I submit to you that my dining room would not be the pinnacle of organizational accomplishment that it is, sporting separate shelves for wine and martini glasses, cookbooks sorted by type of cuisine and children's books grouped by size and interspersed with puzzle, art and alphabet areas.  My son's living room toy shelves would never be organized into perfectly put together truck and construction centers, running like the ever-so-efficient trains in the basket on the top shelf to the right of the toolbox-puzzle board book which now has its very own decorative box for storing those pesky pieces that have formerly ended up spread across the floor.  My maternity clothes would surely lack organization by type, season and degree of give in the waist relegating them to first, second or third trimester.  My hardwoods would hardly be sparkling to their present degree.

Procrastination makes possible these last minute feats of amazing accomplishment.  Lazy days add up, not only in the body, but in the psyche too.  They are deposits in the account of "someday I can...", and the more you've got saved up, well, the more you can eventually withdraw, and spend on the accomplishment equivalent of a boozy blowout weekend in Vegas.  Now, I'm not much for Vegas.  Been there a couple times, and it really isn't my scene.  But if I can bust out a hidden inner Martha Stewart, just a couple times a year, enough to inspire me to put the legos where they belong on the shelf after the toddler retires to bed, and stay on top of the paperwork that constantly piles up in my mailbox, well, let's just say I'll consider it my sacred duty to create those conditions.  My absolute imperative to spend as much time napping and daydreaming as it takes.

Now if you'll excuse me,  I think it's time to put my feet up on the sofa and gaze around my newly organized living space with spacey, scatterbrained satisfaction.  All in the interest of future accomplishment, of course.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Second Thoughts

So just hours after I post about how now is not the time for my yoga practice, I go teach my first class in over a month.  And suddenly I remember why I've been fighting for this ever since my son was born, why I hold on so tight.  Something magical happens when I teach a yoga class, and while these next few years may not be the time to focus all my energy on that magic, to help it blossom into whatever it might become given proper time and attention, neither am I really ready to let it go.

I felt ready to let it go, for a combination of reasons.  One of my classes got canceled for the summer, so I was down to just once a week.  Because of our week down South, our beach trip, and my sister's wedding last weekend (which I haven't written about, but really should, because it was beautiful), I had to find subs for nearly half of those weekly classes.  Then, when I returned after missing a few weeks, I found out that one of my subs had never shown, so my class members were upset, and I had another week where no one showed up in protest (not sure if I was back on the schedule and not wanting to take any chances with another potential no-show sub) and I went home without teaching anything.

So I've been out of touch.  Literally.  Out of the touch of my hands and knees to the floor in cat and cow, and out of touch with my breath expanding into my back ribcage in forward bends, and out of touch with where my breath goes easily and where it seems to struggle, and how it feels to stretch my spine in six different directions (forward, back, side, side, twist right, twist left, in case you were wondering).

And out of touch with the dim light of a studio in the evening, the day's last rays of sun slipping in between tall brick columns to filter through old windows in an old brick building in the heart of downtown where I walk past unwashed men digging bottles and cans out of city garbage pails to redeem nickels for the booze they hope will redeem them.  Where I wave to the Pakistani parking garage toll booth operator, and sometimes stop to talk with him, though I know not his name, nor he mine.  Where I pass the bar best known for beer and beef on wick, the first bar I ever visited in this city, years before it was my own, visiting a friend who attended graduate school here, and that never fails to alight a quick thought about the pleasures of beer and beef on wick before I quickly remember that I have both a baby in my belly and a toddler at home, neither of whom are particularly on board with Mama and Daddy doing nothing but drinking beer and eating beef sandwiches for the next hour or so.  Where the old man who's been attending my yoga classes for years now always waits outside the studio door and greets me with a smile and a story of his new granddaughter, born premature, but doing better each time I see him.  Out of touch with all these things that I have made my own over the past six years, and which I'm not quite ready to walk away from entirely.

So yoga and I, we'll be those friends who can't find the time to catch up as often as we'd like, but stay in touch just enough to keep the friendship alive during long patches of busy, bustling lives full of other obligations.  We'll be a marriage where we slip past one another as we hurry-scurry about, not quite able to remember what we used to talk about for hours, but once a week we'll reach for one another under the sheets, and for the time being, that will have to be enough.  It will be tiny corner that I keep swept up, even while the rest of my life is a messy blur of chaos, one little place for myself that perhaps has no space to expand, but that I don't fully abandon either.  It will be a room of my own.  Even if I very rarely visit.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More Musings on Stay at Home Parenthood

An old friend of mine just became a stay at home mom.  She was head of her department at the high school where she taught and said she teared up watching the school buses go by on the first day, unsure if she's happy with her decision or not.  It shocked me to find out that she's staying home.  We haven't lived in the same town since graduate school, but she's always been career oriented and competitive in her field.  She moved into the position as department head very soon after starting her teaching career, and always referred to work as an important part of her identity.  After e-mailing back and forth, I think she's just as shocked to find herself at home with her infant son.  She's really struggling with the choice to leave her job, but said she can't imagine waking at 4am to deliver her son into someone else's hands, only to retrieve him for the final few hours of his day.  She said she'd love part-time work, but it's hard to find, and so low paying in her area that she'd be trading her salary for childcare and taking nothing home for her efforts.  And there's the extra question that teachers sometimes struggle with:  Why am I paying someone else to care for my child so that I can care for other people's children?  Ultimately, she found she couldn't answer that question to her satisfaction.  So she's home, asking herself instead whether or not she's making the right choice, and how she will cobble together a professional identity after years of schooling including a Master's degree, time spent climbing the ladder, and now suddenly this moment where she finds herself staring into a professional void.

Another friend put her six week old into full time childcare to return to her elementary teaching position for the start of the year.  She makes no secret of the fact that she longs to be a stay at home mom and it breaks her heart that she can't afford to, but she seems cheerfully resigned to the choices she's made, even as she openly pines for the chance to choose differently.

I think of my own upbringing, and wonder what it means to me to be able "to afford" to be a stay at home mom.  Am I willing to sell my car, and take two city buses with two children to get to the pediatrician's office, or drive them an hour in the morning and then again in the afternoon to transport my husband to work on days we need the car?  Can we afford double the gas on those days?  Can we afford a bus pass?  Would we sell the house, and live somewhere smaller, or in a worse neighborhood, or go back to renting?  Stop eating whole grains, or (worse, in my mind) start cooking them all from scratch?  Most of the time, for middle class people, whether or not we can afford something is really a question of what we're willing to sacrifice.  I think I'd sacrifice my car, without too much heartbreak.  Both the grocery store and the pharmacy are within walking distance.  It would be awful to lose our house.  We really love our house, and to downgrade our neighborhood would be a risky proposition.  We're only one city step up from sketchy as it is.  Whole grains are great, but my Irish ancestors have survived on starchy potatoes for generations, and I imagine I could do the same.  Cooking everything from scratch sounds downright horrible.  I voluntarily clean the toilet so that my husband will cook, but he doesn't bake.  I hate the kitchen like kids hate the dentist and evangelicals hate Satan (or worse, Obama).  Okay, maybe not quite that much (I don't openly refer to my kitchen as the Antichrist, although now that I've thought of it, I may start), but you get the idea.  So it's all a question of what to trade in, what to keep, what to barter.  What's on the table, and what's kept firmly in the pocket, not up for offer no matter the price?

My husband and I attended a baby shower this past weekend for a couple who married last year and are thrilled to be expecting their first baby, a boy.  She's in her mid-forties and overjoyed to be halfway through a healthy pregnancy after at least one miscarriage.  She works full time and hates her job, but feels lucky to be employed at all.  Her husband can't find work and has been expending his energy on their brand new house, getting things settled for their family and ready for the new baby.  He wants very badly to find work, and is struggling through the best he can to stay upbeat at home while searching for work.  She's hoping to find something else and leave her present job.  They're considering the fact that dad may end up staying home with the baby by default, although it's not what either of them would choose in an ideal world.

As we were driving home from the party, my husband remarked:  Well, I found one side effect of staying home with the kiddo all summer.  I couldn't think of anything to talk about.  That took me by surprise, as my husband never lacks for conversation when I come home from work.  Then again, I suppose if you haven't seen your old friends in a year or so, perhaps you don't want to recite your grocery list or catch them up on the latest gossip from your online gaming community.  I don't know though, those online gamers do have some juicy gossip!  In any case, it was funny to hear my husband voice the same complaint that I frequently read from stay at home parents, and after only two months at home with a toddler.  And truth be told, I've no interest whatsoever in hearing about the groceries, but it's never stopped him from telling me every single thing he's bought each week, with relish!  Ah, the sweet man loves both food and details, and suffers the misfortune of being married to me, who can't concentrate on either one without eyes glazing over.  But he'll be back at work next week, and we'll see if he feels any more prepared to converse after spending some time in the classroom.  It was interesting, in any case, to find that he had the very same feelings as many a stay at home mom.

Just this week I had a moment of clarity about what I'll call my fitness jobby (it's somewhere between a job and a hobby).  Now is not the time for it.  I may keep my one to two yoga classes a week, and I may not.  That's a question I've been asking myself as this pregnancy progresses.  But I show up, and I go through the motions, and I go home.  I don't read, and I don't research, and I don't plan, and I don't look for new things to teach.  Nor will I, probably, for the next few years.  It's been a little tough for me to swallow that, but I think I'm getting there.  Life is a series of trade-offs, whether you have children or not.  My twenties were spent staring marvel-eyed at all the beautiful options.  My thirties have thus far been about choosing my own, and making them work.

As I move deeper into both motherhood and my position at work, I'm surprised to find that my new job is expanding into who I am, stretching its tentacles outward into my definition of myself.  I've been a teacher so long that it was always an integral part of my self-image.  But I taught so many things, and in so many venues, that no particular job ever laid claim to any large part of my self-definition.  I taught preschool, and yoga to seniors.  I taught summer camp, and inner-city after-school programs for troubled middle school youth.  I taught special education to affluent students, and mind-body mediation classes on private religious retreats (I know, me!?).  I was a teacher when I babysat, and when I worked with adults with physical and mental disabilities in water aerobics classes.  I was a teacher whenever and wherever I wanted to be, and the role may have defined me, but the location and the paycheck, and the particular title I was assigned at any given moment did not.

Suddenly I'm an administrator, something that alternately amuses and surprises me.  I still think of myself, at times, as a barefoot hippie girl dancing in circles near a campfire.  I say to myself:  I am a school administrator, and I laugh out loud.  How much that matters to me today is different from how much it mattered three months ago.  How much will it matter a year from now?  Will my feelings about working change as my job seeps deeper into my definition of self, and I move from being a mother of one to a mother of two?  Will my feelings about motherhood change?

It seems as if, once you make certain choices, your road should necessarily narrow.  As if the smorgasbord of options I had before me in my twenties should by now be winnowed down to a manageable buffet.  Instead, I find that every door that closes opens two more.  Even as I choose, each day, just to do the things before me, I still find myself marveling at the vast array of options, still staring wide-eyed at the seemingly limitless choices we are lucky enough to be able to make.  They say too many choices causes anxiety, but I have a high threshold for ambiguity, and I thrive in change.  I wouldn't choose to be anywhere else, with fewer choices and more stability.  I like this open field.  I like this moment, somewhere in the middle of a million choices, where we move fluid from one place to another.  I like the idea that all of our stories are being written as we live, and the scripts are as varied as the players.  I like to think my babies will someday inherit the open road.  It's scary, I guess, if you dwell on the dangers.  But what a freeing place to be!