Thankful

So, I originally started this post out with this graph:

Last night as I was showering, I found myself momentarily overcome with happiness. Our small family of three had a wonderful weekend -the kind of elastic weekend that stretches inexplicably, allowing for a visit from an out of town guest, one grand sleep-in, staying up late to watch a movie, as well as the weekend chores that must be accomplished when both parents work during the week. Our house was warm, we were expecting some of our favorite friends over for dinner, and I found myself so terribly grateful – grateful for a wonderful husband, my high-spirited, independent daughter and for the little boy knocking around inside me – his constant kicking and stretching a regular reminder of his impending arrival.this is what happiness is, I thought, and I said a spontaneous prayer of thanks. I thanked God for good books and warm beds and for recognizing that while sometimes I want more…more money to travel and decorate my home and spend, spend, spend – my needs have always been easily met.

but as I continued writing, I realized the above graph is really the conclusion (or near conclusion, at any rate), not the beginning, of this post. So I’m going to try this again, with the end as beginning and the beginning as the end.

I’ve struggled a bit emotionally throughout this pregnancy. Not about expanding our family – I am thankful every day to have another child, another baby – for Grace to grow up with a sibling instead of as an only child. Instead, I’ve struggled with other issues – some very concrete and real, like handling the inequality with which my in-laws treat me and realizing I’ll never have the large, loving extended family of my dreams (as a side note, if you ever find yourself thinking it’s a legitimate point to make that “all your boyfriends’ mom and dads LOVED you and would have been thrilled to have you as part of their family) to your husband, it’s time for, at the very least, a nice long walk, although a touch of therapy probably couldn’t hurt either. Other emotions I’ve struggled with are more self-generated and run along the lines of everybody’s life is moving along without me while I sit at home pregnant! I’ve also had to face some very concrete truths about myself and my job, and come to the realization that I am not considered a top-tier talent within my organization. This has been a rather depressing realization, first of all because I feel this is something I’ve battled against my whole life – I’ve always been considered “very good” at whatever I was doing, whether that’s acting or writing or public relations – but never possessed that intangible talent that pushes you to the next level. Second of all, when I consider the amount of hard work and dedication I’ve poured into the my job over the last five years when I could have been leaving at five o’clock and pursuing other interests, well, it’s better to just not go there.

I once had a boss who told me, for working women, there are constantly three “balls in the air” that need to be managed – family, work and health – and at no time do all three of those balls balance perfectly. Receive a promotion to do your dream job? Your dad comes down with cancer. Entire family healthy and happy and getting along? A new vice-president comes in and wants to clean house with the staff. Job and family both rolling along smoothly? Expect a plague of chronic sinus infections with no identifiable cure. It’s just the way life works, she explained – so keep trying to balance those balls and have fun along the way. It’s proven to be one of the truest things anyone has ever said to me, and I still return to her advice on how to get through it all when I find myself muddled – I just try and do the right thing, in each instance, in every day.

What I’ve started practicing, lately, is attempting to breathe, and let go. I want this pregnancy to be my last and plan to take steps to make sure that it is, so I want to make sure I allow myself the time to enjoy these last few months, to revel in the kicks and flips my little boy is capable of performing. I also want to enjoy our time together during my maternity leave, having learned so much from my first one, and I want to take the time to establish our “new normal.” All of this means ignoring two innate instincts – my natural competitiveness that tells me if I can’t break through the glass ceiling in my current position, it’s time to find a new one, and letting go of my need for everyone to be happy (and, let’s face it – for everyone to like me).

I was talking with a good friend about all of this recently – about slowing down, and reprioritizing my life somewhat – she finds herself in the same place. Together, we wondered why we feel so much guilt about our decision to slow down, even spend a little more time at home and less time at work. Maybe it’s because we’ve been encouraged for so long to achieve, we reasoned…you get good grades in school so you can get into a “good” college and pursue your dreams, you then pursue your dreams and bust your ass climbing upward, and for many people this works out really, really well. For others, like my friend and me – well, we see possibility in pausing the insanity for a bit…taking a step back, evaluating where we are and where we would like to go.

This is a pretty big change for me, and one that doesn’t feel entirely natural, but I’ve also found myself opening up more and discovering pure pockets of happiness lately in a way I haven’t in a really long time. For instance, last night as I was showering, I found myself momentarily overcome with happiness. Our small family of three had a wonderful weekend -the kind of elastic weekend that stretches inexplicably, allowing for a visit from an out of town guest, one grand sleep-in, staying up late to watch a movie, as well as the weekend chores that must be accomplished when both parents work during the week. Our house was warm, we were expecting some of our favorite friends over for dinner, and I found myself so terribly grateful – grateful for a wonderful husband, my high-spirited, independent daughter and for the little boy knocking around inside me – his constant kicking and stretching a regular reminder of his impending arrival.this is what happiness is, I thought, and I said a spontaneous prayer of thanks. I thanked God for good books and warm beds and for recognizing that while sometimes I want more…more money to travel and decorate my home and spend, spend, spend – my needs have always been easily met.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful, not just for having what is, truly enough, but for the ability to recognize that it IS enough, and I’m also thankful for flexibility, and patience, and the moments of time that seem to move too slowly, because they are unusual and precious and provide more opportunity for introspection and thoughtfulness than all fast-moving, on demand quick thinking days and weeks that come before.

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I just smelled something like French onion dip

and it changed my whole post for today.

A few short minutes ago, I was one paragraph into writing about Serious Stuff on this blog, like career development and choosing where to live for the next several years. Then someone from a cube or two over decided to open up a package of some food or the other and it smells JUST LIKE FRENCH ONION CHIP DIP and now I can’t think about anything except Ruffles potato chips and French Onion dip.

This is a pretty good example of what this pregnancy has been like for me, overall – I possess a disturbing aversion to the whole food, clean eating lifestyle I tend to enjoy normally and instead gravitate toward non-food as much as possible, and my sense of concentration is pretty well shot, too. I’m not sure what it is about this pregnancy that is creating such dramatic food aversions, but I’ve been this way since the first month. At various times throughout my pregnancy I’ve been able to at least tolerate healthy, wholesome foods – during the summer I gorged on farmer’s market veggies sauteed in olive oil and garlic and served over pasta, and I went through a long period of enjoying veggie sandwiches with avocado, tomato, cheese and mayonnaise, but each time I found a dish that WASN’T a hot pocket or cheerios enjoyable, there was only a finite time for me to enjoy that particular meal until I thought about it too much and suddenly, the smell of fresh veggies simmering in olive oil ended up turning my stomach – the thought of a piece of avocado mushed between pieces of bread necessitating me putting my head between my knees until the nausea passes.

Frozen waffles, however? Ambrosia. Frozen flat bread from Trader Joe’s? There has never been a dish more lovely. I know, of course, this is no way to a feed a baby and so whenever I can manage it I throw a bunch of fruit and yogurt in the blender and give my little guy a powerful bunch of probiotics and antioxidants, and I can manage, for whatever reason, large spinach salads with a variety of toppings, so I do those as often as possible. None of these foods, however, should be confused with actual cravings, which I don’t really have this time around. It’s not that I crave frozen waffles – it’s simply that they are infinitely more tolerable than an omelette made with whole eggs (shudder) and full-fat cheese (gag) ((but American cheese product? Bring it on!!)). Honestly, it’s becoming somewhat embarrassing – a colleague was showing off her lunch one day – a leftover quinoa bake from a wonderful restaurant in Pittsburgh -and it was all I could do not to visibly gag in front of her, even though I have eaten and loved the very same quinoa bake in the past. The grocery store is a veritable land mine for me – my sense of smell is as heightened as it was during my first trimester and I can’t stand spending time in the fish or meat sections, but I have no issue trying to convince Ian of the obvious health benefits of the new cheddar-cheese flavored Texas Toast I spotted.

I’m trying, however, to be a good example for my daughter. I’ve suffered through endless broccoli and green beans at dinner even though I think they might kill me, but can’t bring myself to even consider some of our favorite autumn vegetables (brussell sprouts roasted in olive oil, cauliflower, don’t even get me started on cabbage…) Ian is yearning for a return to my normal appetite, and I am, too.

As if my propensity toward plastic-wrapped plastic food weren’t enough, I’ve turned into a space cadet lately, leaving remnants of my scattered self all around Pittsburgh – a bracelet in a cafe I took off because it bothered me while I typed, my ipad on a city bus (long since gone), my purse in my bosses’ office. I’ve started running through a mental checklist for things I used to remember automatically, like unplugging my curling iron and turning the coffee maker off before leaving the house each day. In the evenings it takes an enormous amount of discipline to turn my attention toward a book instead of staring at my newly painted bedroom walls and wondering what kind of modern day furniture will fit in our Victorian-designed bedroom. I mean, I can barely watch television! Instead of choosing from one of the many programs I tend to enjoy, I endlessly scroll through the dozens of choices while wondering whether it makes sense to start Treme with the third season or not. Actually settling on a show takes a mental discipline I seem to be seriously lacking right now.

So, that’s my dispatch from my corner of Pittsburgh. I want to write about big life topics but whenever I try I end up distracted by the thought of probably Monsato-owned food stuff or and whether or not I should hang proper art on my bedroom walls. I hope my next week’s missive is more meaningful but I have my doubts.

My tips on how not to become a married martyred mommy

I remember one fight my parents had when I was teenager not so much for the content but for something my dad yelled at my mother in the heat of the moment – it went something like this: Oh, just climb up higher on your cross, Mary – because no one can match the sacrifices you make.” It stopped my mom cold – in part, I think, because my father’s mother was the class martyr-type and my mom was doing everything in her power to avoid becoming that way as well. I don’t remember her response but I do remember thinking this remark was terribly funny, and trying not to laugh. The majority of my parents’ fights ended with the decision – regardless of where the checking account stood – to go out for a drink and a burger – water under the bridge, so to speak. They have been married for 40 + years so obviously, this approach has worked well for them.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve witnessed more of the martyr-like behavior many people are capable of, and actively tried to avoid it. It’s so much easier to start “keeping score,” as the priest who married us put it, than it is to to remain open and generous in a marriage – if you have kids, the temptation to “count” what you’ve done versus what your partner has done only increases. But finding virtue and feeling superior based upon your daily to-do list doesn’t make you happy, and it can put a serious dent in your relationship.

One of the more insidious side-effects of martyr-like behavior is how hard it is to dig yourself out of that way of thinking once it starts. It is rare for me to reference one of my former posts in a current one, but as background for the rest of this story, you might want to reference my last post.

A few weeks ago, when our family was going through a particularly stressful period of care-taking for my mother-in-law, and we were trying to balance her surgery and recovery with the rest of our lives, I could feel myself on the verge of martyrdom. Partially because of Ian’s particularly hectic work schedule in October, and partially due to long-determined notions my in-laws hold about gender roles in the household, I found myself doing what felt like way too much – way too much for a normal person, let alone a six and half month pregnant person. I was handling everything from getting up with G in the middle of the night (she was suffering from the stress in the household like all of us were) to cooking dinner to physically caring for my mother-in-law, all the while trying to keep up with my job.

So I did what I thought the most anti-martyr thing to do would be, and turned to Ian and asked for help. In the midst of our struggle, I felt very proud of myself – asking for help instead of accusing him of not doing his share felt very grown-up and smart, marriage-savvy. So I was more than taken aback when he told me in so many words that he was at capacity as well, that he had nothing left to give to the situation. His response seemed so patently unfair in light of fact I had done the hard thing – asking for help – instead of the easy thing – accusing him of not carrying his load.

Friends, it wasn’t our best marriage moment. It’s possible I may have stormed out of the car in the middle of a parking garage, leaving him to park and find me. It’s also possible he was so appalled by my behavior that he DIDN’T follow me. I’ve also heard a rumor that we took over a patient waiting room on his mother’s floor and scared away any other potential patient families with the heatedness of our conversation.

One thing about being married for thirteen years – we’ve developed an excellent shorthand for difficult conversations and within an hour and forty-five minutes had ourselves relatively sorted. We succeeded in avoiding any further, large arguments but didn’t have time to talk things through enough to prevent the spiral of martyrdom thinking I started falling prey to. Every time I had to prepare a proper dinner for Ian’s parents, every time I did a load of laundry that I thought should be Ian’s responsibility, every time G rejected joining us at the dinner table because she could feel the palpable tension, I blamed Ian. It almost felt like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole -I could see what was happening but felt powerless to stop it. I was beginning to feel like my mother-in-law would never get better and our lives would be distilled in this one particular moment forever.

Thank God for those few moments of clarity, when by hook or by crook I was able to pull myself out of my doomsday thinking and realize what was happening. It was during those moments when I was able to refrain from attacking Ian and his family and instead take the proper self-care steps necessary to avoid becoming a married martyred mommy. Here is what I did – I’m sharing them on the theory that they might help people tempted to travel down the insidious score-keeping path to martyrdom.

(1.) I sent out an S.O.S. text to my friends, requesting play dates so G and I could get out of the house. I wasn’t comfortable leaving her at the house, what with my in-laws propensity with leaving blood pressure medication and heating pads around the house. My beautiful, beautiful Pittsburgh friends responded with speed, warmth and understanding and within hours G and I were at our favorite park – she conquering the big kid swings while I cried on my friend E’s shoulder.

(2.) I listened to my mom and relied more on take out and less on preparing dinner each evening. G and I tend to eat dinner alone quite often, especially this time of year when Ian has to attend so many events, and as my pregnancy progressed I grew less concerned with exposing her to new flavors and more interested in broccoli cheese soup, bread and fruit cocktail. But my in-laws are used to a proper dinner every night (and in a way, I get this – in a new world full of rehabilitation and hourly medications, it was the true north they could hang on to) dinner from canned foods wasn’t going to cut it. Instead of relying so heavily on preparing dinner, though, Ian and I instead flooded them with the ethnic flavors from our neighborhood every other day, relying most heavily on the American-Italian for which our neighborhood is known but also throwing Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese their way as well. Sure, this month my pocketbook is a little (okay, a lot) tighter – it kept the dishes to a minimum, gave my father-in-law something to look forward to, and got dinner on the table.

(3.) I stopped working from home. I had permission from my boss to work from home for a few days in order to assist my mother-in-law with bathroom trips and make sure both in-laws knew how to use the coffee maker, the television remote, etc. I also thought it would provide me a little extra time to run the dishwasher and clean down the bathroom. They, however, mistook this flexibility for much more than it actually was. I can’t say I blame them on this – neither of them has ever had the opportunity to work from home so I am sure it is difficult to appreciate the boundaries I needed to set in order to meet my deadlines. I found myself growing more and more frustrated until one day I realized – hey, I have an office. I can go to it. And so I did, and I am certain all of our stress levels dropped considerably.

(4.) I made future plans. I’ve felt a little restless this pregnancy – less inclined to nest and more desirous of evenings out with friends. Some of this has to do with the holiday season, I have no doubt – but I’ve also been missing a bit of the independence I had finally acquired after G turned two. I miss really sweaty workouts – dance classes and hot yoga – that made my body feel like it was returning to itself, and I miss having a couple of drinks with friends over sushi. As I put it to Ian the other day, I’m looking forward to the time when the highlight of my day is NOT getting home from work so I can change into maternity leggings. So now I’ve already had one dinner with one set of amazing friends, and I have another looming with my work friends, and I’m even considering the notion of hiring a babysitter so Ian and I can have a few nights out prior to our second child’s birth.

(5.) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I did not ever let G see my frustration with her grandparents. My own mother had lots and lots of issues with my paternal grandmother, and while I can see now as an adult just how broken that relationship was bound to be from the beginning, I was aware much too early about my grandmother’s preference for her other grandchildren, and how badly she treated my father, and I don’t think I needed to be quite so cognizant at such a young age of such adult brokenness. I believe G’s relationship with her grandparents should develop and flourish without anything but minimal guidance and rule-setting for me (the first two years of her life were guided by the rule – No boats, no bacon, no bourbon before bedtime for the grandparents, if they wanted to spend time with her), and even during periods of frustration, ANY outlet is better than my daughter, when it comes to her grandparents.

I’m not sharing these tips to show off how highly I think of myself, or anything along those lines – rather, I’m sharing them on the chance that other Sandwich Days women are experiencing similar situations, and may not want to travel down the easily accessible, but fraught with peril, path of marital score-keeping.