Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roles and Reversals

My husband becomes a summertime SAHD and we joke that he's turning into me: an unrepentant, satisfied slacker. I lose my part-time job, become a SAHM and -go figure- I start turning into him: an unapologetic, driven perfectionist.

We've traded roles so many times in our marriage, and -look!- here's another brand new amalgamation! I'll tell you what: it's a lot harder to be him. Unrepentant, satisfied slacker has a lot to say for itself. But alas, it doesn't seem to be that season for me. And Lord knows, I can't say I haven't had my turn!

So it's the season of change, for all of us.

Our boy turns three and sentences start tumbling through his mind faster than his tongue can formulate the words. Whole worlds are unfolding in the creases of his brain. He fights for control of whatever he can control, out in the real world. When given the reins, he spins narratives like spider webs: marvelous and shimmery, suspended in the air, catching us all.

And my girl? Oh, you guys, my wonderful baby girl!? Remember when I worried about her potential 'tude, right here? Well, she is just the sweetest thing ever to melt in your mouth since butter. But she knows just what she wants, and she will let you know just what she wants, and she will not stop letting you know, with increasing volume and intensity, until she gets it. Whereupon she's sweet as butter, once again.

I've been swimming laps, when I can. This Saturday and last I completed a mile. My husband kept the girl so I could swim without fear of interruption. The plan has been to gradually allow my daughter to adjust to the child care at the gym, with the end goal being that I could pick up more fitness classes. That seemed like the most practical thing: ensure myself exercise, and get paid for it at the same time. It would mean more teaching: I'm teaching my babies all day, and yoga one evening a week.

When I swim, though, I feel like the student. Like I'm asking my body and the water a new question with every pull of my arms through a stroke. I look at the space and the light between me and the ceiling, in a backstroke, and it's a little bit like talking to God. And what I'm saying is like some great big question that I can never quite put into words. My body is slicing and curving through the water like a question mark, like hands cupped in prayer.

I wonder if what I need right now is just to be the student.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Gym Childcare. Again.

I know, I know, I didn't talk this much about childcare when I had a job! And I both worked caring for children and used childcare for my own kids. Now I'm a stay-at-home-mom and it's all I can talk about!

We tried out a new location of our gym today. Just so this makes some sort of sense, we live on the west side of a relatively small city. I teach yoga in the heart of downtown. The gym where I teach is not a family facility, but it has locations in two different suburbs that offer family programming, including free childcare while the parent works out in the building. One suburb is east of the city, and the other is north. They are equidistant from our house--down to the very minute, in fact (I timed it today)! A membership downtown can be used at either suburban location.

We've been going to the eastern suburb. It's a newer gym and has really amazing facilities, as well as lots of cool classes for tots. But it's huge and incredibly busy, and every time I go there and use the childcare I'm anxious as all get-out (and here I want to clarify that it's just a free-floating anxiety as opposed to any serious gut feeling that something is wrong--I would absolutely heed a bad gut feeling, but I'll work through anxiety).

Today we visited the northern suburb. And here's where I exhale: Aaaaahhhhh! Oh, that felt good, didn't it? (Just say yes.)

At the eastern location, it's staffed by a large group of sweet, young girls (early 20s). They don't introduce themselves, ask any questions, or even pay much attention when you drop the kids. They seem to be doing a good job caring for the kids, but don't put a lot of effort into interacting with the parents. I observed their interactions with the children, and decided that if they were good with the kids, that's what mattered.

The northern location is much smaller, and older, with fewer programmatic bells and whistles. But, and this is more like a BUT when I walked into the door with my baby there were two grandmotherly women sitting on the floor with two other babies (compared to 15-20ish babies at the other place, and 4 to 6 staff). One woman introduced herself, and then asked our names. And how do we think she'll do today? she asked about my daughter. When I said she had done well the first time and then poorly the second time at the other location, she asked questions about her nap and feeding schedules, and then about what she likes to play with. I asked her to come get me if she cried, and assured her I'd be fine cutting my workout short.

She came and got me 10.5 laps into my 16 lap half-mile, all apologies, but I was so grateful that she had done just what I'd asked. And after rinsing quickly, tossing clothes onto my still-wet body, and racing down the hall to rescue my daughter, she and the other woman told me everything they had tried to do to comfort her, and shared stories about their own struggles with leaving their babies. They babied me, and it was just exactly what I needed. They encouraged me to come again, and told me they would let her cry for as long as I wanted them to (up to 15 minutes, which is their policy limit), and come and get me every time, until she adjusts.

My son was in a smaller classroom today too, with 15ish preschoolers as opposed to what could have been 50 at the other location. I'm not good at guessing crowd size; I just know it was crazy busy. He said he liked it better at the northern location today, and that he played with a little girl, and she was nice and funny. My son really enjoys these opportunities to get out and play with other kids and new toys, which is one reason I feel like this is important.

Without the encouragement of the women in the baby room, it would have been very easy for me to walk out the door and say: forget it. Instead, I'm going to try using a treadmill or elliptical for short periods so she can get used to the new environment in small doses. I hate treadmills and elliptical machines (so fucking boring when I could be walking outside in the real world instead of on a machine; except for the part where my kids hate strollers and it's winter 6 months of the year here), but the warm, supportive environment made me willing to try harder to find a way to make this work.

I worked in childcare for years, and it's harder to reach out to the parents than it is to care for the children. In fact, when I got my last job, I was psyched about working with the infants and toddlers, and very uncomfortable about teaching parenting classes. But over time, the parenting classes became my favorite part of the job, and -I grew to believe- the most important. Being on the other side, now, of the childcare provider equation, it just reinforces how serving the whole family makes all the difference in the world. Free professional development for the out-of-work professional! Ha! I do imagine that the things I learn during this time at home with my kids will come back with me into the workplace, whenever I make my way back there, and make me better at what I do.

In the meantime: the fucking treadmill, for me. And the damn baby room, for her. C'mon kid. We can do this.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anxiety Identified

I figured out what caused the anxiety that day. The Gym. And to be specific: the gym childcare.

It was a Tuesday when I went last time, and I had plans to go the next day too. But Wednesday came, and my daughter went down for her morning nap early, and we didn't get out of the house on time. Then Thursday we went back, but I kept the kids with me, and we visited the pool. No anxiety: we had a blast! The kiddie pool has fountains, slides, a basketball net! It's amazing, and the kids both loved it.

Meanwhile I'm concocting narratives to explain that disconcerting bout of anxiety to myself. None of them sound quite right, so I keep spinning stories. Days pass and the anxiety doesn't return.

Until yesterday, when I went and used the childcare again. It's just huge. And loud. And kind of a madhouse there. I dropped the kids the second time and went to the lap pool by myself where I swam a half mile.

I'd love to say that the feel of my arms slicing through the water and my feet flutter-kicking calmed me. And it did, kind of. I was a lap swimmer through college, and for a number of years afterwards. Then I became a fitness instructor and it fell by the wayside. I haven't swum laps since before we moved to our current city, which was 2004. It did feel good to do it again.

But every time I thought about my kids the anxiety would immediately begin again. And when I arrived to pick them up, my daughter's face was splotchy red and the staff was on the verge of coming to find me because she had been crying so hard, and they couldn't calm her.

I think most of that was bad timing. She had slept 13 straight hours the night before, so I didn't think she'd take her morning nap. Sorry, sweetie. The childcare is only open in the mornings, and she's in a transition where sometimes she naps and sometimes she doesn't.

My son, on the other hand, really enjoyed it the second time, crying only about the fact that he couldn't staaaaayyyyy when I came to pick him up. I think it's great he can have a chance to play with other kids (although he remains a little bitter about THAT BOY who beat him to the Thomas toy) since we can't swing preschool right now.

I'm not going to give it up entirely. I don't have a bad feeling about the place or the people; in fact, the staff seems very sweet. It's just scary. My kids used to be with a private sitter who I knew very well (we had been colleagues for a couple years before she retired and became my sitter), and she only had one other child there: her granddaughter, who was my son's age. So this big, huge place where my kids are separated into different rooms with what feels like a million other kids? It's a little intimidating.

But you know what else is intimidating? The 30 pounds I really, really want to lose. So let's keep moving forward, into the fear, shall we? Step by step, lap by lap, morning nap by morning nap. And hopefully we'll all come out the other end of this thing a little bit tougher, and a little bit less afraid.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Twenty True Sentences and One Lie

  1. I complained about wanting throw pillows on my blog, and my mother-in-law visited and bought us beautiful new throw pillows.
  2. Even though she doesn't know I have a blog (I don't think...)
  3. She also bought us a carpet for our living room.
  4. Speaking of rooms, I rearranged our dining room tonight.
  5. And then sat in it and looked at the moon out the window from my grey computer chair w/wheels. I want to make a rule that the kids can't touch that chair; it's not safe (or it's safer not to) (or easier, for me) . But that rule won't fly; I can already tell. A chair with magical wheels (and aren't wheels just inherently magical?) must be touched. I will need a new rule that means: be safe, in the context of the magical wheely chair.
  6. It's been raining a lot lately.
  7. (Could that be the lie?) (Boring!)
  8. The smell of rain is in the air all the time; I love the smell of rain.
  9. A 4 year old girl around here died of a mosquito bourne-illness recently.
  10. Then they sprayed, locally, to kill all the mosquito larvae.
  11. Now my yard has hardly any mosquitoes.
  12. It's weird. But kind of awesome, not to have them there.
  13. For some reason, looking out my window at the trees makes me want to have sex with my husband right now.
  14. He's reading in the boy's room.
  15. Sometimes our son needs -or wants- one of us to sit in the armchair and read by the light of his nightlights while he falls asleep.
  16. Sometimes one or the other of us doesn't mind doing just that.
  17. My daughter is ferociously teething.
  18. I'm pretty sure I'm fatter than I've ever been.
  19. We skipped the State Fair this year.
  20. I have a "music center" in my hallway now, and it's all kinds of awesome.
  21. I am super tired lately. (Wouldn't it be nice if that were the lie?)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


It started last night, as my husband prepared for his first official day of school. He went in last week, but it was just to hear the superintendent talk, meet with other teachers, and arrange his room. Today was the real thing, with the kids. This is a new job for him: he's still teaching art, but with a different age group, in a new building, and he's specializing in photography, which is also brand new. It will be demanding, and my husband's a perfectionist.

He's the only other person who would ever care as much as I do about the state of our house, and the day-to-day details of our children. Watching him pile stacks of paper, jot notes, and pack bags, I knew I was losing him. It'll just be me and the house and the babies. My head feels competent enough, and my heart's downright loosey-goosey about the whole thing, but my stomach has it's doubts.

We got up this morning, and I got us all packed and out of the house right away. The baby needed to have her ID photo taken for her new gym membership card, which continues to amuse me! The boy and I went downtown together on Saturday and upped the free membership I get for teaching yoga to a family membership. But each member of the family gets their very own ID card, with photo, so we took the baby this morning to stand in place against the wall (with support, since standing independently is still beyond her ken) and receive her very own laminated card.

Then we all drove out to the suburban location about a half hour away. They have free child care (the downtown location doesn't offer this service) (remind me to rail against the race/class assumptions at work there another time) so I can work out while they play. I wanted to do a trial run today, and see how it went before I actually tried a workout. The preschool room was a madhouse, and I was nervous leaving my boy, but he was enthusiastic, and a kind young woman took his hand and guided him toward the toys. He went with her willingly, so I walked over to the baby room. It wasn't quite as much of a madhouse, but still pretty hectic. The staff seemed nice enough.

It was weird being on the other side. Usually I'm the teacher. I know how to calm a nervous parent, put a mother's mind at ease, make sure she knows her baby's going to be okay. Leaving my babies with a bunch of strangers was a lot harder.

I didn't even plan to work out today; this was just a trial run to check out the child care situation. I was wearing flip-flops, not prepared for any kind of workout unless they had a quiet room for individual yoga (they don't). So I wandered the hallways. It's a nice facility: a cycle studio, a huge family art studio, multiple swimming pools for adults and kids, a teen center, Weight Watcher's meetings here, a strength training class there. Time was ticking by very slowly though, and my hallway wandering began to feel a little creepy after I noticed the same people staring at me more than once while I passed them by, slowly and aimlessly.

I found a corner in the locker room and sat down, wishing I hadn't forgotten my cell phone on the mantle at home, so I could text someone to pass the time. I watched the seconds tick by on the wall clock. My stomach was jumpy, just like last night. This is all such easy stuff: I'm visiting a gym with free child care, for Christ's sakes, not performing brain surgery blindfolded! But it's so new, and it's scary. I had told the woman at the desk where I dropped off my children that this would just be a test run for our first time. I said 20 to 30 minutes. I watched the tick ... tick ... tick ... I determined that it would take me two minutes to walk from the locker room to the childcare center. At 17 minutes I could stand it no longer, and headed down the hallway, walking quickly, anxiety and relief brewing in my belly like a half-caf blend.

My daughter was fine. I had left her sitting on a thick mat on the floor, with a foam mini-staircase/slide apparatus off to her side, chewing on her name bracelet and grinning at the toys and other children around her. She was in the same place, but had tried to climb the stairs before rolling onto her back, the better to chew her toe and grin at the people behind her.

When I went to get my son, a few staff members told me he had cried for me. But he wasn't crying when I spotted him at the train table, and his first words were: Hi Mommy! Hi baby sis! I don't want to go HOOOME!

The utter disdain embedded in the word home could not be mistaken! I asked him about the crying on our way out to the car.

Oh yeah! he told me, I needed to find you and tell you about THAT BOY! He took my Thomas engine from the train table! I needed to tell you about it, and the teachers said I couldn't!

Did he take it out of your hands? I asked.

Well, no, Mommy!

Where was it? I asked.

It was on the train table! he answered. But I was seeing it, and I was wanting it for myself!

It was hard to get too worked up about that. I'm sure my firstborn told THAT (poor) BOY just how he felt about seeing it and wanting it for himself. A little crying about having to share at age three isn't going to hurt anyone. The kids were just fine.

So it was just me and my knotty stomach, all alone.

We came home, played and ate and one napped and the other watched a little PBS, and I kept the house clean as a whistle (my other great fear about being home: I hate cleaning. Straight hate it. I'm here to be a teacher, a mother, a reader of books and a builder of minds for my babies, not a maid. But since we can't afford a maid, there's a little bit of indentured servitude built into the role, and I'm not sure how well I'll deal with that!).

My husband came home so late I had to call and cancel my chiropractic appointment. The kids went down early in the evening, for what I'd love to call the night, but is more likely a late day nap.

It all went fine.

So why is my stomach still in knots? For God's sakes: what am I afraid of?

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Room of My Own

I wrote this post a year ago this weekend. I continued teaching yoga through the rest of my pregnancy, but didn't return after my daughter was born. I went back last Thursday night, and I'll be teaching the same class I write about here. At least for the time being! It's a nice reminder that life is cyclical. Someday I'll be returning to professional life too. We always find our way back to the things that matter most to us. Today that's my babies and my yoga practice. Tomorrow? Well, who knows!

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.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bloggin' 'Bout Bloggin' 'Bout Mah Issues

  1. I had to remove my last two posts from the "unpacking privilege" series. They were less "unpacking" it, and more "dwelling in it, with failure to recognize". My younger sisters used to have a code for when things smelled bad. They would say: rank, stank, and reek. As in: Your sneakers? Um, sorry to say, but ... rank, stank, and reek! I got off on the right foot (ha!), examining my own privilege -making it visible- but I ended up invisible and rank, stank, reeking of it. I'll come back eventually. I always do. I'm grateful to have a forum for these issues, especially since my job -my previous place to unpack all this- is no more ...
  2. On the other hand, I never really intended to unpack my "spiritual issues". I've long felt that my religion of origin -Roman Catholicism- didn't resonate with me in any meaningful way. I went to Catholic school as a kid. Religion was like math--something to memorize. Very little I learned dug any deeper than that. But, by the same token, I didn't think there was another religion that would resonate either. I suppose I still feel the same way. And yet the same time... I feel very deeply devout. Toward ... well ... something. I guess I just haven't found it yet. And I certainly never expected blogging to be a vehicle toward finding or defining that something.
  3. My desire to discuss my differences with my husband surprises me. Now, I don't necessarily mean our differences in opinion (though that's part of it), but the actual differences in who we are and how we think, learn, and move through life. We are very different people. I love the hell out of my husband; I'm pretty sure he feels the same way. Since we've met, we have encouraged each other to take the path that felt right -regardless of the relative difficulty it might result in: financial, timewise, or otherwise- so we've run the gamut: from volunteer jobs, to working nights and weekends, to remaining unemployed for long periods of time while waiting and looking for what works. This results in any number of challenges: who's responsible for what on the home front? And at any given time? We are willing to keep that question -and others: who are we? who do we want to be? how do we get there?- open. To negotiate. And renegotiate, as circumstances change. And as they change us. And I can't help but want to talk about those changes as they take place.
  4. The Mommy Wars! Truth be told: I've long been obsessed with the Mommy Wars. Super obsessed. Since waaaaayyyyy before I had kids of my own. And at the same time, I think they are totally lame and outdated. I think we *ought* to be beyond them. Meanwhile, they fight to the death within me. So I guess I'll be "unpacking" that baggage as I work my way though it. Mommy Wars: you are my nemesis. And also kind of my BFF.
  5. For all of you: reading, commenting, writing your own way through these questions: thank you. This makes it so much more interesting, intriguing, worthwhile ... You bring me back to my keyboard, time and time again. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. Another thing I never expected ...