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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Suck It, Gloria

Thanks to the women’s rights movement, we mothers really can “have it all.”

Here’s the thing: I don’t really want it all.

Since I started work, I have felt more and more like a hamster panting wildly as I run laps to nowhere on a wheel that never stops. The day begins at 6:45: time to dress the kids, dress myself, eat breakfast, run out the door, drop Eliana off at daycare at my school while Husband drops off Lila, go to my classroom, check email for two minutes before the kid I tutor before school shows up in my classroom. Tutoring student leaves, and then class starts. I teach four classes straight from 9 in the morning until 12:20 with no breaks, at which point my boobs are ready to explode. If I’m feeling generous to myself, I end class at 12:18 so I have two extra minutes to hightail it to the handicapped bathroom I discovered in a remote corner of the school to plug in and pump out. Once the ta-tas are unloaded, I then have three minutes to pop in on Eliana and make sure she’s alive, which she is. She smiles at me with a huge grin, and though I desperately want to stay, cuddle her, use those three minutes to make her feel confident, smart, secure and happy, nurture her somehow, the reality is I’ve only got twelve more minutes left in my lunch period, so I run down to the cafeteria to wolf down my lunch, run back to my classroom at 1:01 so that I have another two minutes to check my email. Then it’s time to teach from 1:03-2:30 straight, and at 2:31, I heave a huge sigh of relief: I’ve survived another school day. Except now, it’s time for my real job: Being Mommy.

Job requirements include: providing stimulating educational/emotional play so that your kids will some day turn out to be smarter/kinder/more thoughtful/more loving than you, equally engaging both children simultaneously though their interests never coincide, making nutritious dinner that will encourage physical growth, bathing children so no one calls Child Services on you, encouraging and bolstering children’s egos without spoiling them or making them into arrogant asses, maintaining your sanity when both children howl in an atonal symphony of whining, healing imaginary boo-boos, negotiating with three-year-old about exactly how many piece of chicken constitutes dinner, nursing a baby while reading “Miss Moo-Moo and the Art Farm” (which, naturally, involves a rather unwieldy puppet, thus necessitating a third and fourth arm), shushing a baby to sleep while the other kid insists on turning the light in the baby’s room on and off on and off on and off on and off, creating a strobe-like, seizure-friendly Nursery Disco.

With the baby in the crib (still crying—shit, time to run in and stick a binky in her mouth for the four-hundredth time and hope for the best; why has no one yet invented  something that I will call “Binky Glue,” ideally made of Omega-3s so your kid can get smarter while being pacified!?), you finally get the bigger one in her pajamas, finish having the tea party you promised could happen after the bath only, and wrangle her into the bathroom to brush her teeth to avoid “troll teeth”. “No, Mommy, not that toothbrush!” The day is drawing to a close—you glance at the clock: half an hour more, and liberation is in sight. But just as things are starting to wind down, you hear it: beep-beep-beep-beep. The door code: Daddy’s Home.

Based on the look in your daughter’s eyes, Daddy’s return signifies one thing and one thing only: The Messiah Has Arrived!

With Daddy’s return from work, the universe plays a cruel trick: his very appearance has the same effect as intravenously shooting up your toddler with Red Bull.

Here’s the good news: Mommy, if your husband is great (read: grateful/guilt-ridden that you have fulfilled all of the job responsibilities listed above in addition to your own job—you know, the one that pays), you are absolved of parental responsibility now, which is good because you’re tired, but kind of annoying because all the work is done already. Daddy’s home, and you’re “off duty.” With love, Husband encourages, “Seriously, go downstairs, relax for a bit!”

And while you want to do this—while you actually want nothing more than to sit on the couch, put your feet up, and just close your eyes and hear for a second what silence in your brain sounds like (or what you imagine it might sound like), you know that’s not really an option in the world you live in. Because you know in your heart there is no time to relax. It is time to clean up Kid Dinner. It’s time to make the living room look just a little less like a bomb of toys and princess gear detonated in it. It’s time to sort through the mail. It’s time to set the table for Adult Dinner. It’s time to put away the laundry. It’s time to sterilize the bottles. It’s time to make the bottles for daycare tomorrow. It’s time to sort through the three-year-old’s backpack. Dear Lord: how old are those Cheerios? Briefly, you wonder if carbon-14 dating could track those puppies back at least four months.

And by the time you accomplish 1/8 of what you planned on doing in that twenty minutes that Daddy is upstairs putting one of your kids to bed, you’re frustrated that you didn’t finish the other seven-eighths of your agenda. And hell, why is Daddy taking so long? You head upstairs, and there he is: asleep in the three-year-old’s bed.

Awesome.

So here we are, ladies. Finally, we women can have it all! We can leave the cult of domesticity…to live in the working world…AND the cult of domesticity. You know what? If this is what having it all is, well, I think I’m gonna have to be the one who says it. No thank you, Gloria Steinem. And Betty Friedan? You can just suck it.

There may be women out there who relish this “having it all”ness that I can’t get my head around. (These may be the same women who work because they feel like it, not because they need the money. They may also have personal chefs, daily housekeepers, and 24-hour childcare. Now THAT is “having it all”.) I suspect that these awesome Alpha women would be horrified to learn that yes, just last week, Lila found some sort of fossilized snack on the floor of my car that neither of us could identify, and before I could say, “I’ll take that, please,” I was looking at her chewing in the rear view mirror as she said, “Mommy, this is crunchy.”

The problem with having a job and having a family, something always has to give. Having it all is an impossibility: at some point, the patience wears out, the stamina falters, the ego is crushed a grape squished on the floor. So yeah, we’ve got it all…but holding the weight of it all can be sometimes near unbearable.

And even when superheroes like Daddy rush in to save the day and lift the building before it falls, let’s face it: Daddy can’t do it the way I can, now can he? Through no fault of his own, he is an entirely different person, and in spite of our eight years of marriage and thirteen years loving one another, he is not a mind reader. He will put away the laundry—but not in the neurotic way I would do it. He will dress the kids—but not in outfits that look normal (how does he always manage to dress them so they look like they crawled out of a 1930s orphanage?). He will put the girls to sleep—but it will take longer than if I did it myself. And I’m not saying that his way is wrong, but, well, it’s not my way, and control freak that I am—and I suspect many of us who “have it all” are those freaks—if I’m “having it all”? I want to have it all…MY way.

“I Don’t Know How She Does It,” right?

Right. Because she doesn’t.

So lately I’ve been crashing into bed at night making mental lists in the moments before I fall asleep about all that needs to be accomplished. Hilariously, on top of the turbo-speed of regular life, I’ve taken it upon myself to run a 5k this weekend, though a) I’m not a runner/quit cross-country in high school because it was too tiring and b) I’m only three months post-partum with a belly that shakes like it’s got it’s own Richter scale every time my sneaker hits treadmill.

But I will run the race. And though I have no idea what the finish line looks like, I’ll keep going. Because Gloria? Even though I’m still kind of pissed about the “having it all” thing, you were right about this one: “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.”

You said it, sister. You said it.

Where There’s A Will

Nothing says “romance” like writing a will with your Husband.

In our life together, a will was something that Husband and I had always discussed with the same kind of bored disinterest that we had when saying things like, “Do you want to eat chicken for dinner tonight?” or “When do you think one of us going to break and pick up that sock that’s been in the hallway for three weeks?” Making a will was an Adult Thing To Do, and we never really felt pressed to do something about it. For the eight years of our marriage, we had never really sat down to do the thing because, well, if one of us died, well…hey, does anyone want chicken for dinner tonight?

The extent of our discussion was generally self-limiting. Husband has rolled his eyes at my (pathetic and absurd) Family-Circus-esque view, which means that I will haunt him, much in the same way that the creepy grandma in the comic haunted all the kids all the time. (“I wish Grandma was here.” “I am.”) I’ll always be there, even when he ends up making it with some semi-attractive woman with a cat with a kidney problem (because somehow that always happens; when women die, the husband always ends up in a second marriage to a woman with a cat with renal failure).

But now that we have children, the issue of our deaths becomes much more complicated. Because it’s not just about Husband or I being alone and heartbroken, sifting through boxes teeming with the letters, photographs, detritus and mementos of our romance and life together, sorting through clothes that smell wonderfully like one another, lying awake at night wanting to share thoughts or stories that only the other would understand. There’s Eliana and Lila to think about, who will also be alone and heartbroken.  Children who, hopefully, won’t get totally messed up just on the off chance that both of their parents die—perhaps simultaneously—in their formative years.

So it was with a trembling sense of our own frailty as humans that I made the call to Herb the Lawyer about making a will. When he came to our house to discuss the will, a mere two days before Eliana was born, Husband and I sat in the kitchen, sipping coffee and eating bagels as we cavalierly discussed our immortality. My belly had grown obscene, and in my final nesting instincts, it seemed extremely important to map out what would happen to our children if we both died. Call me an optimist.

Herb the Lawyer went through the questions clinically. Who would the kids go to if we died? (My parents.) What would happen if my mother and father couldn’t care for our children? What would happen if only one of my parents were living; would we want the children to go to the one surviving grandparent? What if both my parents were dead? Which sister would get the kids? Who would control the money for the kids? When should the kids have access to the money? What if we both died, and our children died, then who would get our remaining assets?

Each question was nauseating. I mean, I love bagels, but sitting at a table contemplating the people I love in my life dying and the emotional and financial ramifications of those deaths—well, it put a damper on my cream cheese and lox. It really did.

And of course, the most fun was coming up with the living will part. As in, let’s say I’m a vegetable. What do I want Husband to do? (Answer: keep me alive for as long as possible through feeding tubes no matter what/no matter how miserable an experience this is for my surviving family members or me; if possible, cryogenic-freeze me until science has caught up to cure my vegetableness. When I have been unfrozen, get me awesome plastic surgery so that I look like a Brazilian supermodel.) If Husband is a vegetable, what would he like? (Answer: Husband Unplugged.) With horror, Husband and I realized simultaneously that, in the case that one of us is left a vegetable, the other would likely want to do the exact opposite of the vegetable’s wishes.

And unfortunately, vegetables can’t voice dissent. Which means that I’m probably gonna get unplugged if the situation presents itself, and Husband is going to live forever and then get plastic surgery so that he looks like a Brazilian supermodel.

Awesome.

After Eliana was born, the envelope with The Will came in the mail.

Husband and I both avoided it—as if making eye contact with it would somehow kill us.  It sat on the island in the kitchen for days. Then weeks. Then months. We avoided confronting our mortality like it was that sock in the hallway.

Then the Lawyer started calling. We thought, at first, that he cared about our well-being and our comfort level with the documents. Or that he wanted to see if the baby had been born. Or that he wanted account numbers or something like that. As it turned out, he just wanted to get paid. And he wanted us to sign the wills.

We couldn’t avoid it any longer. When mortality stares you in the face, eventually, it’s mortality that wins that staring contest.

We made our appointment to drive to north Jersey to sign the papers. It was a rainy day– the kind of gloomy, depressing day that seemed just cinematic and perfect for signing a will. As a family, we drove to drop Lila off at nursery school together, with Eliana in tow. As we drove, Lila whined about not getting jellybeans, which she now seems to think are “owed” to her for doing normal things like brushing her teeth, getting dressed, and generally acting like a normal person. She whined for ten minutes and then cheerfully bounded down the hall of the school into her classroom, without looking back. As I watched her light brown pigtails dance behind her as she skipped on her merry way, I thought about how nice it must be– to be three, and to truly believe your are invincible. I remember feeling that way once.

Husband and I got back in the car. The large envelopes with the wills sat between us like grave markers. Eliana snored lightly in the back seat as rain streamed down the car windows.

As we pulled out of the nursery school parking lot, I asked Husband, “Do you think we should read these? Like before we get to the office?”

“We’ll probably look like idiots if we don’t. Yeah, why don’t you read them while I’m driving, and we’ll write down comments or questions.”

“Okay.” I opened the sealed envelope and tried to relax. “Well, this is fun, isn’t it?

I slipped the first will out of the envelope and started reading it. As I read the words, “The Last Will and Testament” and then my husband’s name, I felt a sob well up in my throat.

And no one was even dead yet.

“You know, the next time this document is out, only one of us will be reading it probably.”

Both of us went quiet.

“I don’t want you to die,” I whispered. Tears welled up in my eyes, as if I was already in mourning, already drowning in a sea of loneliness. Husband’s eyes began to water, too.

In sympathy, Eliana started to cry in the back seat. I unbuckled my seatbelt as we drove on the highway, turning around from the front so I could give her a pacifier.

Sweetly, Husband commented, “Try not to die before we sign the wills, okay?”

Finally, still intact, we arrived at the lawyer’s office– a sad-looking, dreary place with mustard-colored carpeting and ripped orange leather chairs.  Herb walked us through the wills and then invited two witnesses who worked in the building into the room to sign the wills with us.

And that was that. We were all set to die. Yippee! We wouldn’t have to look at those documents again until….well, until.

As parents, we don’t get a whole lot of time for reflection. The moments that we get are few and far between– a minute in the shower, thirty seconds in the car before someone cries out, when you sign a will, and in the dark of night as we try to sleep but worry instead. Life moves forward at a frenzied pace when you live with a baby and a three-year-old; it’s time to get dressed, time to eat, time to go to school, time to have a snack, time to play, time to do work, time to clean up, time to pump, time to go to the supermarket, time to take a bath, time to sterilize the bottles, time to go to sleep so you can do the whole thing over again ad infinitum.

After writing our will, I can’t say I’ve wanted to make time to think about my own or my husband’s mortality. In fact, our deaths still  fall squarely under the heading “I’d rather lick my kitchen floor than spend my free eight seconds of the day discussing/thinking about this.” But whether it’s subconsciously or purposefully, since we signed our wills, I’ve found myself making more of an effort to enjoy the time that we have together.  Yes, it is hard to enjoy when you find yourself fighting a war with a three-year-old about why the shirt with the bunny on it wearing a tiara is in the wash. Or why there are only Oreos in the car for snack, not White Cheddar Cheez-Its. And it’s not easy to enjoy when you’re up at three A.M. trying to get a cranky, coughing baby to go back to sleep when you’re so tired yourself you feel like your eyelids need scaffolding to stay open. And there’s just no denying that parenthood and adult life just plain suck when your child staunchly refuses to listen to you, or when you feel so overwhelmed that even making dinner that does not include a chicken nugget seems like a Herculean feat. But these moments are just that– they are moments. They are seconds in the flip book that is your life and your family’s life together. That frustration you felt welling up inside you dissipates, and the days go on, with that familiar rhythm that is known only to your family. But one day, it will happen– you’ll notice that you’re still Mommy or Daddy, and you’re still wearing the same clothes, eating the same foods, telling the same jokes, making the same plans, and you haven’t changed all the much, but suddenly, your three-year-old is using words like “enormous” and “actually,”  and your baby is squealing with laughter, or trying to roll, or is she really reaching her arms out to you or are you just imagining that? Your eyes catch Husband’s, and though you say nothing to each other, you can tell from the smile in each other’s eyes that you know you’re thinking the same thing at the same moment: “We’re just really unbelievably lucky, aren’t we?”

So yeah, we’re “ready” now– in the financial and legalistic sense– to die. But in this moment as a parent? I’m ready to live and savor the seconds that we have together– the bad and the good– before they get lost.

Because where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Pump Up the Jam

Having been at work all of one week, there are some things that I have figured out about this whole “I’m-a-working-mom-and-I-have-two-kids” thing. This much I know:

1) In order to save your sanity, you need to make dinner for your three-year-old the night before you intend to serve it. Do not delude yourself into thinking that you are a brilliant sous-chef/snake charmer at once. I don’t care if you’re a child psychologist, a teacher, or a prison guard (these are all professions I assume would be helpful to anyone who becomes a parent). The fact is, your older kid—and I don’t care how old your little genius is—that older one will do whatever she can to thwart you as you try to make a healthy dinner (which she will then merely look at rather than eat, much to your annoyance). Attempts to derail your best intentions include (but are not limited to): random tantrums, the “carry me!” routine (though said three-year-old has nowhere to go), requests to play hairstylist (which usually end with your having tufts of hair ripped from your scalp), and supplications for “Sesame Street” (“NO, not THAT one, Mommy! The OTHER one! With Bert!”). And the worst: “accidents” that you know damn well were done on purpose simply to get attention and manipulate you. Truly, there have been moments this week when I have genuinely thought that Lila spent the entire day at nursery school/daycare plotting how she could undermine me. Sure, she says she’s “coloring” over there (why am I paying $1500 a month for this!? For this price, she should be fluent in Japanese and making ME dinner each night.), but I think we all know that “coloring” really means “I sat in a corner with my best friend constructing ways to ruin Mommy’s well-oiled-parenting-machine while simultaneously looking adorable and naïve.”

In a moment of parenting glory, I realized that I had to out-fox the fox. If she wasn’t going to let me make dinner, well, I wasn’t going to let her SEE me make dinner. After Lila goes to sleep, and Eliana is also asleep, I come downstairs to get dinner together for me and Husband. As I make our dinner, I set aside the food that she will eat (look at) for dinner the next day. This is a fucking genius strategy; even Lila is amazed. Each day, she has asked, “Hey, when did you make dinner, Mommy?” which I interpret to really mean “Curses! FOILED AGAIN!” Eat it, Lila. Mommy’s won.

2) To successfully bathe your baby, you must distract the older child. Short of giving your kid firecrackers and a match, I don’t care how you do it—just get the job done, people. On an ambitious day, I will distract Lila with fingerpaint, which paralyzes her in her seat at first because she loves painting, and in the end, because she hates being dirty and will refuse to do anything until her fingers are cleaned by a professional (read: me). Fingerpaint works on a good day. On a day when Mommy is feeling creative, inspired, and like if there was some sort of Mommy Olympics, I would totally kick ass and take names. (Mommy Olympic sports categories should include: Fastest At Shape-Sorting Clean-Up, Quickest Bottle Assembly, and Fastest Feeding. Alternatively, if you and your other mommy friends are looking for a way to pass the playdate hours, may I recommend somehow making a drinking game out of this? I’m pretty convinced that, minus the moral depravity of it, this could be a fucking phenomenal business idea.).

More frequently, Mommy is feeling like a bum who just needs to catch a break, for the love of God. At this point, the TV is my best friend. There, I said it, and you know what? I’m not ashamed at all. The only downside to this strategy is that as your older one watches, your baby is going to have the theme song to “SuperWhy!” ingrained in her subconscious so deeply that, even as an adult, it is likely that when she takes a shower, she will start singing something like, “Super readers…to the rescue!” Small price to pay. Pop on the DVR, enjoy the mellifluous sounds of “Superwhy!” in the background, and clean that dirty baby up! Relish in your own awesomeness as you have one kid cleaned and ready for bed. And it’s not even six o’clock yet!

3) Bedtime is a fucking nightmare. There’s just no getting around that. With one kid, it was a sweet, lovely time of day when Lila and I could cuddle, whispering sweet nothings into one another’s ears without a care in the world. One more story? Sure! Why the hell not? Life is short! Now that I’ve got two kids? One more story? Are you out of your gourd!? Life is short!

However.

Bedtime need not be a nightmare; you just need to reassess what “bedtime” means. If you thought it meant snuggling with your baby in a glider in the purple glow of dusk as you read various “touch-and-feel” books to your precocious eleven-week-old, well, that was back in the day when you had just one little critter. With two kids, if you’re alone without a co-parent at bedtime, you are up shit’s creek, my friend, and you can toss sentimentality out the window, along with What to Expect The First Year. Eliana doesn’t get that special baby-Mommy-time, sadly. Am I vaguely concerned that she’ll grow up feeling less loved as a result, never make a meaningful adult relationship, and go on to feel unappreciated and isolated as an adult because of it? Yup, I sure am! Can I do anything about it? Therapy perhaps, but truly, who has time for therapy when you have two kids and a job?

Instead, Eliana’s in her pajamas and swaddle (read: baby straight-jacket) promptly after her 5:30ish bath, and then it’s time for her to rest on my lap as I feed (read: show) Lila her dinner. I jiggle my leg incessantly like I’ve got the DTs in order to get Eliana to kick off into dreamland while I simultaneously read Lila stories as she pretends to eat. By the time Lila is done eating (read: looking at) dinner, Lila and I head upstairs to put Eliana in her crib. If I’m lucky, Lila will not ask to be carried at this point, and we can go up the stairs together like three civilized human beings. If I’m not lucky, Lila will demand to be carried, and the three of us go up the stairs like one large, deformed Quadimodo-esque ogre because I’ve ended up caving in rather than dealing with a three-year-old-tantrum forty-five minutes before Lila’s bedtime. Feel free to judge me. Then I’ll feel free to punch you in the face.

Once we are in Eliana’s room, it’s song time. “Baby songs,” as Lila likes to call them. Lila and I sing songs to Eliana together—in a nightly moment of true tenderness that is appreciated, and in all likelihood, will be remembered, only by me. Eliana’s nose is nuzzled in the crook of my arm, and she is asleep, or not really asleep. The softness of her cheek reminds me of the cool, smooth feel of a nectarine in the summer. She sighs contentedly, and in her sleep, her arm spastically reaches towards me as if it’s compelled by some magnetic force. At this point, Lila starts to get impatient, so I tell her to turn on Eliana’s nightlight, which is already on, but will give Lila something to do as I try to make The Transfer from arms to crib. Eliana turns her head, and her soft cheek presses firmly against my arm, as if she senses I am ready to move her, to begin the don’t-cross-the-red-wire-with-the-blue-wire-transfer of sleeping child to crib. With Lila distracted, I lift Eliana up, place her in the crib, put a binky in her mouth, take Lila’s hand, and shut the door behind me. And with that, victory is MINE. One down, one to go. Then, Lila’s bedtime can proceed, much to her delight, as if Eliana never existed.

So those are the things I have figured out. There is a list that could go on for centuries about things I have not figured out, but the most serious thing I have not figured out it this: pumping at work.

First of all, I’ll say it: I resent that in the one free moment that I have at school when I’m not teaching, I’ve got to haul ass to some sad-looking individual bathroom stall in order to pump milk out of my near-bursting boobakas. Like all nursing working mothers, before returning to work, I spent several night feeding strategizing how and where I would pump. Best option: the single female bathroom stall at the front of the EXTREMELY conservative private school where I teach.

Last week, with my fourth period class over at 12:20, I booked it down the hall with my “Pump In Style” bag to the single stall bathroom. (If this bag is “pumping in style,” I’m really interested to see what “Pumping-Looking-Like-You-Popped-Out-of-an-Eighties-Mentos-Commercial” looks like.) With only thirty-seven minutes for my lunch period, during which I would have to pump, eat, and visit Eliana in her upstairs daycare room, I furiously tried to open up the single stall women’s bathroom. SHIT: someone was in there. In my new teaching schedule, I literally do not have time for someone else to poop. I glanced at the men’s single stall next door. The door was ajar. It was empty.

I did what I had to do—I went in, and I didn’t look back, in spite of the fact that I knew damn well that my going into a men’s stall would be extremely controversial at my extremely conservative private school. But the boobs needed juicing, and it didn’t really matter where it had to happen. There, I set up shop. Bottles? Check. Funnels? Check. Weird yellow piece with white “membrane” thingies? Check. Tubing? Check. I was ready to go. I set up the pump—which always feels a little like what I imagine setting up a bomb must feel like—and got to work milking myself. Nothing like attaching mini-vacuums to your tits to help you relax in your downtime. I mean, that’s what I always say.

That was when I heard it: a knock on the door. SHIT. I couldn’t say, “Hang on! I’m pumping my ta-tas!” because then I would expose myself as a woman in the men’s bathroom. Scandale! My heart started racing, and I just prayed fervently the man would just go away. But the dude clearly had to poop—he knocked on the door again—this time, louder. He even jostled the door in that threatening way that screams, “I’m going to dump in my pants if you don’t let me in right now!”

I did the only thing I thought I could do: I made the loudest, most offensive farting noise I could muster with my mouth.

And thankfully, that was when I heard the man’s footsteps back away, slowly but surely. It was like two alpha lions had crossed on the savanna, and one had been defeated. I was victorious, but what was the price? My dignity. Honesty. And an extremely compelling fart noise.

So yeah, I can put the kids to sleep on my own now. But no, I can’t figure out how to milk myself in the middle of the day without making it into an even more degrading process than it already is.

Win some, lose some.