staying at home

I’ve been thinking a lot about work, and what I’m going to do about it, this week. I know I wrote in an earlier post that I have a ton of different writing projects I am lining up and working on, and that remains true – what also remains true is my lack of interest in considering writing my only work. Since I was a little girl, I’ve always dedicated time to writing – it keeps the voices in my head at bay and my “what if” nature quietly in check. Certainly, I am spending more time at it now than I previously was able to, and I’m excited about the myriad possibilities before me, but I am not in a place – and probably never will be – where it is my income. And I am fine with that – there is still joy in it for me, and for that I am so grateful.

Currently, I guess, I am a stay at home mom. Well, there’s no guessing about it. My kids go to school a couple of days a week but Duncan is with me for five of the seven, Evangeline for four of them. This time with them has been a gift – it’s given them time to develop their brother/sister relationship instead of spending the majority of time in separate daycare classrooms, and it’s given me time to get to know them individually on a level that frankly, I didn’t before. It’s also been really, really hard. It might have been easier in Pittsburgh where I had a strong network of mom friends but here, because my oldest isn’t yet in kindergarten, I don’t have a support network or tribe to rely on, or any other mom friends to talk to. Right now I desperately miss having co-workers to talk to in the morning, and big ideas to discuss.

But, of course, when I was working I longed for the kind of time I have now. I don’t have to worry about vacation time or checking my email at night while the kids sleep. In my old position every vacation I took for five straight years was interrupted by a crisis back at work – I never took a vacation where I didn’t routinely check work email while I was away. That was difficult for me.

I think part of the reason I don’t ultimately want to remain at home is because, a part from cooking, very little of what it entails interests me. The kids are great but, as Sam pointed out last night, I’m not particularly crafty (although we have done some crafts!) and I’m not fascinated by interior design or home repair projects or any of the like. I basically see everything but the kids, and maybe cooking, as a big impediment to writing or, if I’m not writing, being out in the world. And since that is the case, I should probably, aside from spending time with the kids, be writing OR out in the world, not staring in despair at our bedroom because I just don’t want to paint it.

I recently attended a dinner party with Sam – it was great fun even though I was recovering from food poisoning because, PEOPLE. Several of the women were stay at home moms and several of the women held high-level jobs throughout the city. I enjoyed talking with all of them (PEOPLE) and never had an answer when they asked me whether I planned to continue staying at home or whether I was looking for work. You can’t really answer BOTH to that kind of question, but it’s where my heart is right now. I want to stay home and drink coffee and snuggle my kids under warm blankets while Sesame Street plays in the background and watch my husband emerge from our bedroom, all suited up and ready to tackle the day but I also want to wear my own suit and greet morning co-workers and talk about women’s health issues, and I want to spend time writing all the things I want to write and by the way, I would also like to audition for some plays again someday please and thank you. And also cook delicious meals but never ever again google “how to clean marble.”

The internet has become such a stratifying place when it comes to working moms versus stay-at-home moms. Popular websites publish completely shitty articles like “Things Working Moms Will Never Understand” and “Why I don’t hire moms” and all sorts of similar junk and it’s all so stupid. It’s ALL difficult to figure out. (I have two more minutes to write. I have no idea how I am going to wrap this up). We are all just trying to do the best we can, working or not, partnered or not, parents or not. The either/or of our situations is a society construct, and not true to how we really exist in the world, but yet we abide by it, making it so difficult to answer questions like whether we “work” or not – whether we want to “work” or not. Oh, but while I am here, let’s settle one thing once and for all…stay at home moms ARE working. And there is no income for scrubbing yogurt that has solidified into the crevice of the floor with a toothbrush because you ignored it for days in favor of keeping your toddler from killing himself because he climbs the china cabinet every time you blink. Not that I would know anything about that.

a note to all my mama friends

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, I met my friend, let’s call her Anne, for dinner at one of our favorite spots in Pittsburgh. Privately, I often think of Anne as my beautiful friend, not only because she’s physically gorgeous and not only because she cultivates a beautiful life, but because she has the biggest heart of nearly anyone I know – she is a beautiful person inside and out. After I had my daughter she was the first friend I spent time with outside of the house because she was willing to join me for breakfast in between my marathon nursing sessions. She is also one of the few friends I’ve really gotten a tad wild with in my thirties – a bus driver once threatening to abandon us miles from our homes because we were laughing too loudly after too many glasses of wine at dinner. Because she is so physically attractive and because she has financial resources a lot of people don’t, I know a handful of people whose jealousy has overridden their better selves, and they have failed to get to know her the way I have. The fact is I didn’t beginthinking of her as my beautiful friend – it is what she became to me over the many years we’ve spent time together.

So one late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots. I had squeezed a workout in as I am likely to do whenever Sam is home with the kids and our dinner plans don’t start until seven, and I was still squeezing chlorine from the pool out of my ponytail as I sat next to Anne at the bar. I leaned in to hug her and almost started to launch into some thought or idea I had had since last we met when she held up her hand.

“Before we get to all of that I just want to tell you – I’m fine now, totally fine – but I wanted you to know I had a miscarriage. I had a miscarriage, and I’m fine.”

I sat there, silenced. Stunned. How many times had I canceled our plans to meet, awash and overwhelmed as I was with my small children? Multiple times. I had canceled on my beautiful friend multiple times, for Evangeline’s earache, an unexpected business trip of Sam’s and who knows what other reasons. How long had she been waiting to tell me this? I felt horrified by my own actions (the earache had been treated easily with children’s Motrin, and I have a hardy list of qualified, wonderful babysitters) while terribly sad for Anne.

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots and she told me she had had a miscarriage and all I could think of was actions I hadn’t taken. Fortunately I retained the smallest amount of common sense and good will and didn’t start to apologize for my own inadequacies – instead, I listened to her. Her pregnancy had been ectopic, and dangerous. She was on the other side of it physically, but barely processing it emotionally, and we talked around and about it for a couple of hours. A few weeks later I came across a list of the top ten things to never say to someone who had a miscarriage (among them – miscarriages are so common! You just need to try again right away! and it happened for a reason. I had said at least half of the trite, unhelpful phrases to her and because we have a friendship like we do, I frantically texted her apologizing for the error, brought to light by the Huffington Post or Reddit or similar outfit.

I can’t remember exactly what she texted back, but it was along the lines of girl, please.

I have a lot of mama friends, all with varying availability and willingness to hang out in person. Those that work traditional office hours are generally the most willing to meet for lunch or even an evening out because they have systems in place to provide some flexibility, while my stay at home mama friends struggle sometimes because routine childcare isn’t a part of their life. With some of these women, our relationship is mainly conducted via text chains (and, I need to take a moment here to say I have a whole post coming about these text chains!), while others are conducted regularly and in person, over hectic brunches while we try and talk over our respective brood’s din. It doesn’t really matter – the support is there, never much farther away than the tips of my fingers. But my friends without kids? Well, I guess I understand why one of the chief complaints of those who don’t have children is that those who do tend to disappear. It’s so easy to continuously prioritize your young family over your valuable friendships – the needs of children are so immediate and physical. But that doesn’t mean the needs of your friends aren’t important – and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a good friend anymore, either. There are things happening with your friends – job loss (or new jobs to be celebrated) and aging parents and difficulty with spouses and to miss out on that is to miss out on their lives, and that is terrible.

One late spring evening a couple of months ago, when the sun still dared to shine in Pittsburgh, I met my friend Anne for dinner at one of our favorite spots. I almost canceled because who knows why but I didn’t, and that one small act of showing up has changed the way I approach my friendships. I show up, not just when it’s easy or convenient or affordable for me and my kids – no, I show up, sometimes with a spit-up stain on my dress I didn’t notice before or the echoes of my daughter’s temper tantrum, thrown solely because I was leaving her with her other parent, in my ears, and I be the person my friends deserve. The thing of it is – life is only going to grow more complex, with bigger and deeper issues to tackle – and I want to do it with friends like Anne by my side every step of the way.

Duncan

As Duncan has grown older, one of my biggest concerns has been that he and I don’t have enough one on one “things” together. When Evangeline was the same age, I took her almost everywhere with me – to the pool, out to lunch, to brunch at a friend’s house – much of this we did with Sam but often we went off on our own adventures. Part of this stemmed from Evangeline’s extreme attachment to me between the ages of one and a half and three – for eighteen months, she screamed proverbial bloody murder if I so much as left her sight line. The other part, of course, was my own desire – I greatly enjoy having my children with me and rarely feel I need a break from them (I’m sure this is because I work full-time -if I were home with them all day I bet I’d feel differently!).

feet.1

When Duncan arrived, one of my most immediate concerns after he left the NICU and my breast milk supply had been established was spending time with Evangeline. For three years we had been practically inseparable and while I knew that had to change, it was important to me that she realize she was still a priority of mine – a top priority. Between polar vortexes a rush of warm days shot through early March and probably before I was physically ready, I took her to the park. Together, with Duncan in his bouncy chair or strapped to me in the Ergo, we baked cakes and brownies – we watched princess movies, played with play dough and colored. These were the things I was able to do with her and together we revised our mother-daughter relationship to reflect our new reality, our now Duncan-filled reality. (As I write this, it sounds like Sam wasn’t in the picture, which isn’t he case at all – he was our Behind the Scenes, the one who for a few months needed me the least, He Who grocery shopped and went to work so we could pay our bills. His role was unsung, but it was mighty).

feet.2

Over the last year and a half, Duncan and I have developed a few key things we do together. Reading through stacks of animal books is one thing – I’m not sure in the history of children if any other baby has been as delighted by what feels like the entirety of the animal kingdom as Duncan is! He is also my grocery shopping companion, and while occasionally his company can result in some frustration (his constant grabbing and tearing up of my grocery list, or the time he got his hands on a glass jar of cherries and delightedly threw it to the ground), for the most part he is a calm and enjoyable companion in the grocery store, babbling away in his limited baby talk way, every third or fourth word recognizable, often leaning toward me for a hug or a kiss as we go about our business. When we go to Whole Foods for the five things I insist on purchasing from there (tonic water, apple spice oatmeal, milk, gouda and lamb kebobs), we share a fruit crumble bar from the bakery while sitting in the cafe before I load our groceries. I’m also teaching him how to go down the stairs safely.

feet.3

And that’s pretty much the sum total of anything really unique he and I do together – read animal books, share oatmeal crumble bars, grocery shop and practice stair safety. I guess in some ways, as a second child, it’s part of his lot to scrabble, to find ways to assert himself – and really, he has no problem with this life skill, forcing books into my hands so I’ll read to him, plopping down into any readily available lap for a cuddle (including his sister’s), moaning dramatically at the back door when it isn’t open the instant he wants to make his way to the sandbox. But, like his sister, he is the heart of my heart – a piece of my greatest joy – the child who looks more like me, smiles as often as I do, who already loves a good book in a comfy chair, and I owe him a little more.

“One day,” Sam mused, “I expect to come home and find you two toe to toe on the couch, reading separate books, completely and totally at peace.”

feet.5

Or maybe I think I owe myself more? One of my aunts, who stayed home with my cousins for several years before becoming a school teacher, always referred to those years as her gift to herself – her time to soak up all their baby deliciousness – my mom uses the same words. In our age of “mommy war” and everyone reacting defensively, it’s not terribly politically correct to point out that children do need their mothers or fathers around on a fairly routine basis. I don’t live with regrets, and I know my working is best for my family, but I do wish I had been able to have more flexibility in my day for my kids on occasion.

At any rate! Guilt can consume you if you spend too much time with it, and is an inherently selfish and unproductive emotion to boot. Instead, I am greatly looking forward the upcoming 4th of July weekend. Our entire family was supposed to travel to upstate New York to visit Sam’s folks, but for the life of me I couldn’t find a kennel to take our dog. After some consideration, Sam and I realized this trip could be hugely beneficial for everyone – he could take Evangeline and she could be the sole beneficiary of her grandparents’ attention for a weekend, and I could spend some one on one time with Duncan, going to the zoo and the pool and dodging correcting his attempts to cover me in blueberry yogurt. My parents always made sure to spend individual time with my brother and me as we grew up, including trips to our grandparents, and those are some of my favorite memories. I’m looking forward to learning more about my little guy, just as Sam is looking forward to his solo time with Evangeline. Lemons out of lemonade, is what we are doing – and I’m greatly looking forward to it.

feet.7

Although – I did forget. I’m also trying to teach Duncan some table manners, particularly keeping his feet off the table during meals. It’s going really really well and I know his future partner will thank me for this someday.

Gin and Wit

You guys, I finally understand why Dorothy Parker and gin went so well together. Last night, after a very bad no-good day that I first tried to forget by swimming half a mile at the pool and then made the more effective decision to use gin and tonics instead (just two! Over dinner!), I found myself writing the wittiest, most scathing-yet-hilarious blog post in my head about the mommy wars and how I sort of understand why they continue. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nestwent neglected, as did the pile of magazines I had been looking forward to leafing through, as I wrote this mean but so funny! piece. In my head. Sometimes I really wish I could find a gig where I get paid to blog. I really enjoy it.

At any rate, fatigue and possibly common sense kept me from reaching for the keyboard and in the cliched light of day I am glad I didn’t put that post out into the world although I did delete another I was working on, a mushy,over the top piece about parenting Grace. There must be a way, I think, to talk about different parenting styles without being cruel, judgmental or self-righteous. I believe spending time with people who parent differently than I do is important for me, as a mother, and for Grace. Ian and I are the only ones out of our siblings who have a child and many of our peers are remaining childless – we need to learn from other parents.

That said, my daughter now expects baggies full of snacks to magically appear from my purse or her diaper bag, and it is entirely my best friend’s fault.

Before I go any further, let me first say this: Leah and I have been best friends since the fifth grade. I love her as much as I love anyone in this world, including my husband, daughter and parents. I would give her a kidney, part of my liver – I would take a bullet for her or carry her baby if she asked. But holy hell, does she ever need to cool it with the snacks.

Leah brought her two-year old, Paul, to visit last weekend. We had so much fun catching up, talking about everything from bra fittings to child rearing. We have committed to quarterly visits with one another for as long as we live near enough to do so, and it is one of the better decisions we have ever made. It makes me so happy to see Grace trust someone who isn’t a parent or teacher, to ask Leah for help or for a hug. It made me less happy when I realized Leah is the kind of mom who brings snacks with her everywhere she goes, as well as water bottles, juice boxes and perfectly organized kits – a kit to hold baby sunglasses, sunscreen, and a sunhat, a kit to hold bandaids and neosporin…you get the idea.

I am hoping that I can write this in a way that doesn’t make me come across as the world’sbiggest flibbertygibbit, and Leah like some sort of helicopter mom, because neither is the case. It is a pet peeve of mine right now among moms who blog about parenting when they cast themselves as total ditz-balls unable to hold a job or follow a recipe because they are creative and prone to distraction. So please keep in mind that I hold a steady job and regularly get dinner on the table before I state the following:

I rarely carry water, and never carry snacks, for Grace. She doesn’t own a pair of toddler sunglasses, and I haven’t replaced last year’s sunhat yet. Leah, as I noted above, is the Opposite of Me and over the course of walks, bus rides, parks and other outdoor play managed to produce (and keep in mind, she was visiting me) a wide variety of snacks in pastic baggies that made Grace’s mind boggle. Grace wanted it all, from dried cherries to goldfish to raisins, and, since they left, has regularly claimed she “needs” a snack, parlance she picked up from our friends. I am not necessarily adverse to snacks, perse, but they aren’t part of our regularl life rhythm so negotiating this has been tricky.

In the midst of Leah’s rigorous adherence of sun-screen application, water-bottle offering and snack supplying, I had a momentary mean thought. It’s because Paul stays at home with his parents, I thought. That’s why all of this intense parenting is happening. I have rarely, if ever, had a negative thought directed toward Leah – I love her the way Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation loves Anne – and so I know there was more happening, emotionally-speaking, for me than actually believing Paul is hyper-parented.

Paul’s parents do work, but they are university instructors who work opposite schedules so Paul never has to attend daycare. Right now Ian and I are mired in the corporate world and while it comes with great benefits, like paid sick time, health benefits and vacation, it certainly has it’s drawbacks as well. Like most working moms, I shoulder my fair share of guilt on the situation and I guess I found it difficult, in the moment, to witness how organized and together Leah seemed. She was meeting Paul’s needs before he even knew he had them, and I was not equipped to do the same.

Of course, it all worked out. Paul hated his sunglasses and sunhat and proptly gave them to Grace, who wore them with all the panache of Audrey Hepburn. They both enjoyed the snacks, Grace rejected all water offered until she got home, and everyone mostly ate well, slept somewhat and were happy.

It’s easy to see how quickly mommy wars can spiral out of control. In my heart of hearts, I trust that Leah knows her son, and knows what he needs to be a happy, functioning kid. After all, we just recently talked here about how toddlers are nothing short of psychopathic. Sure, part of me perceived Leah to ever-so-slightly be hyper-parenting, but I’ve been told by many people that I veer too far in the opposite direction. It’s hard to watch someone parent so totally different than you and not take it personally – I kept thinking maybe Leah would scale back the snack bags at some point in deference to my obviously brilliant decision to NOT have any snacks around.

Not so much.

I have to keep in mind as I move through this world as a parent that for the most part, we are all just trying to do our very best. Some of us are going have perfectly organized snacks and supplies, and some of us are going to be great leaders of baby yoga sessions (something at which I excel). Our love for our children is what matters and we can’t let different approaches divide us. It takes a certain amount of confidence to have faith in the parenting decisions we make…it’s a confidence I’m developing slowly. For now, Grace will just have to get used to the idea that craisins and pretzels don’t live in my purse or her diaper bag, but sometimes other mom’s have those things and she should totally suck up to them when they do, because she’s not going to eat goldfish any other way.

e&me