Category: Working Mama

Five Years of Huge Changes and I’m Ready for a Nap

I started this blog a little over five years ago. Five. years. ago. I was 29, which seems almost quaint. Being in one’s twenties! I’ve acquired a few gray hairs and a few more pounds. Jaybird has gone from peanut to … kindergarten-attending peanut. There are other obvious changes, like oh, you know, an additional child. I’m struck by just how far we’ve come. I don’t mean to say that we’ve somehow progressed in a linear fashion. Life has turned inside-out for Uno and I, and then gone sideways a few times. We’re so ready for a period of calm. For stability. Heck, I’ll take boring.

Did you know that if you put a number in a title, more people will click on it? The Top 5 Things You Don’t Know About Life. 10 Reasons to Eat Cookies. The 12 Types of Toddler Tantrums. People love numbered lists. So, in five years …

Six: places we’ve lived.

Five: how many times we’ve packed and unpacked all of our belongings.

Two: babies. That would be two fertility clinics, two pregnancies, two births. I won’t count the IUIs.

Three: jobs for Uno.

Five: jobs for me.

Two: extended family members who’ve joined our household (MIL and BIL.)

One: grandmother with dementia whose affairs need a lot of handling. This falls on Uno.

One: mother with mental health problems who needed a lot of handling. That’d be on me.

Four: schools that Jaybird has attended.

Four: Brandi Carlile shows. Lol. Yes.

With the exception of the last point, just looking at the list exhausts me. Garage apartment. My parents’ place. Rental house in depressed naval town. Shitty rental house in cool ‘hood. Better rental house in quieter ‘hood. Current house in similar locale. Six! That’s six homes in five years. When we bought this house – which happened by some miracle, I swear, given the current market in this city – we said flatly, “we’re never moving again.” And I mean it. Boy, do I mean it. When we hit the two year mark in this house, it’ll be the longest stretch I’ve lived anywhere since childhood.

And the job stuff. This is on my mind because I think I have finally found a professional home. My contract is looking good to convert to FTE. No guarantees, but it’s promising. I will be a product marketing specialist with a focus on sales enablement, people.

Oof, how my undergrad self would have balked at that. My twenties self too, probably. Yet – it’s enough. It’s enough. Indeed, I am grateful. I understand that it’s cushy. There is free parking! And coffee, snacks, and office supplies. A view of the water. A smart (woman) boss. Global colleagues. I can set my own schedule, pretty much.

I have bounced around between adjuncting, being a teaching artist, freelancing, and working in corporate marketing. I’m so ready to be done with the uncertainty. At this point, I am okay with compromise. My job doesn’t need to be deeply fulfilling; it just needs to be stable, not awful, and provide enough income such that I’m not constantly in a mild panic about money. I don’t want to go from gig to gig, and I don’t want to be a starving artist. I’ve said goodbye to any ideas about working in academia, because the compensation is terrible and the work-life balance is too, and I never did feel appreciated by anyone but my students. (Who I miss. I do.)

All I want is stability. I welcome predictability, routine, and an attendant sense of peace.

Some part of me feels guilty for all of the changes that Jaybird has undergone, in particular. Yet, he’s a happy kid, so I hope that having the consistency of his moms has been enough. His household is busy, multigenerational, and his moms are juggling various commitments and ambitions, but at least it’s all interesting, right? With Starling, it’s different – he’s only going to have lived in one house, for instance – but I do think about how distracted I can be when I’m with him. Feeling pulled in different directions, having trouble quieting my busy brain.

I wonder, sometimes, how much of this we’ve invited into our lives. Uno and I are strivers, I suppose. The grass is always greener, and we’re interested in figuring out just how to get in on that action. My mom calls us “the implementers” and it’s apropos. So, it’s a good thing — though I worry about the difficulty we have in standing still. Fortunately, we’ve settled into our neighborhood, into Jaybird’s school, and, probably, into our jobs. This all in the last year. I think – dare I say it? – I think that we can calm down. Take a breath. Sit on the couch for a minute and have a glass of wine.

Yes, please, to that last one.

I’m pretty sure that all this stability will do two things for me. Okay, maybe three. 1) Make me a more grounded, present mother, 2) help me get more of my own writing done, and 3) take care of myself better. Exercise, dates with my wife, and so on.

THAT SOUNDS LIKE NIRVANA OMG

And, with that, I had better go. I really do need a nap, because Starling is up aaaalllll night long lately, for some reason known only to him and the Universe, but instead I’m going to take advantage of the free coffee.

In The Thick of It

I’ve been missing in action around these parts, and want to remedy that, but here it is already time to pick up Jaybird from preschool. Oy vey. I will indulge in five minutes and be a little late. In no particular order:

-I’ve started teaching a few days a week. I’m at the helm of two sections of English 101. It’s familiar territory for me, and the students are the usual mix of delightful and frustrating. Already, I feel the rewards of the work, the connections made. So different than the corporate blah of the last year and a half. So that is wonderful. Not so wonderful is the 45 minute drive each way. I am trying to be on campus as little as possible, so I rush there, teach, rush home. A bit frantic. It’s mostly about nursing. I teach in the same classroom but only have ten minutes between courses, and by the time class #1 is done I need to pump. I shoo out the students, put a sign on the door, hide in a corner of the classroom and plug in. Totally awkward doesn’t even begin to cover it. Every time I pull up my shirt in that room, I’m convinced someone is going to come barging through the door. It doesn’t lock! That is, I can’t lock it manually. I have a student guard it, plus the sign…but still…

-Starling is home with my mother-in-law during those afternoons, and also with Uno for two of them. It’s working pretty well. I’m so grateful to not have to pay for childcare. That said my MIL is still learning his cues. He doesn’t sleep enough with her, she gives him a bottle just before I get home with a burning need to nurse. We just have to work out some kinks, I suppose.

-Starling is a chunk-a-monk of a happy guy. He’s so long! He’s outgrown many a onesie. He prefers to sleep while being held, just like his brother. He also nurses a lot in the night. I’m not sure about whether to “train” him (even a bit) or not. I’m jealous of friends with babies who sleep through the night already, but I don’t want to make him cry. He is twelve weeks, by the way. Twelve!

-We are still in divide-and-conquer mode with the kiddos, but Uno is getting more time with the baby now that I’m teaching, and I’m glad for that. Also, I have Jaybird two afternoons a week, and we have fun adventures to the park and such. It’s vital for us. We both need it, especially as I have to spend so much time nursing and baby-tending.

-Jaybird is so sassy! He loves to say things like “I know that,” or “You’re not the boss of me,” or “I already did that,” or what have you. He’s also snuggly and funny as ever. He’s super-short (6th percentile), not the greatest eater (some power struggles around food, sigh), and so curious and adventurous and bright-eyed. His farm / outdoor preschool remains awesome.

-My mom is still pretty sick and in-patient. It’s overwhelming, emotionally, so I avoid thinking about it most days. Heart breaker.

-We’ve had lots of visitors and our house is lively. It’s something I love for my kids. (Hello, Adela, we miss you…) I don’t love trying to keep the darn place clean and presentable.

-File under things I want to write about: the weird space between gestational and non-gestational parenthood. I have so much to say but my thoughts are scattered.

And now I had better run to scoop up my wiggly four year-old, who will no doubt be encrusted with mud.

Thirty Two-bular

20131015-141733.jpg

Happy Birthday to me…

I wrote a post at this time last year, when we were on the verge of moving again, when I was still finding my way in the adjunct / teaching artist jungle. I’m so grateful to be more settled this year later, with a steady job and well-behaved house and an ever-strengthening community. I appreciate the ways that life evolves beyond my control, that it’s not always as I plan; I’m learning to trust the future a little more. And to embrace my present.

I happened to stumble on this nugget of wisdom as I was scrolling Facebook today, soaking up the plethora of birthday wishes, and it really spoke to me. It’s from a fellow writer / mom and rings so true, especially as I continue to navigate my writer identity in the context of being a working parent. (That is a huge theme in my life now. The theme of my thirties, perhaps. That and figuring out how to be a better, more patient mama!)

“Sometimes we have to leave a tiger behind. This is what the courageous writing life demands of us. We will not get it all done. We will not end up the person or writer we thought we were becoming. We will lose hair and friends along the way. We will accept what comes. We will release what is leaving. And we will write our small flicker of light into that darkness because it is what we are here to do.”

About writing, yes, but seems applicable to so much more. I used to think that success looked a certain way and that was IT: a successful series of novels, a tenure-track academic position. It was all sort of hazy and tinged with sepia. I did not see all the forks in the road, or the long odds, or the way that success twists, turns, accumulates, evolves.

I welcome the new year. 32. It’s where it’s at.

P.S. That is a peanut butter mousse pie with chocolate ganache. In other words, mindfulness in a slice.

P.P.S. Thirty-two seems like a nice age to get knocked up, right?

It’s Up!

The Salon essay is up right now. I’m dying a little. I want to keep this little space anonymous (such as it is) so I’m hesitant to link directly to it, but it’s on there now – it was the cover last night (Sun) but you have to scroll down now. It’s called “The Mystery of my Dead Brother’s Son.” This is an essay I wrote, rewrote, abandoned, revised, cut down, put aside and came back to over the course of three years, and when I suddenly realized that I could just chop out big chunks of back story, it came together. I’m still amazed that after all that, the Salon editor accepted it precisely thirteen minutes after I pressed send. I truly started shaking at my desk. I hope my coworkers assumed it was too much caffeine.

Egads.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy! It’s a sad story, in many respects, so I feel a little funny about my excitement. Yet it’s been over three years and time, of course, softens all things. Also, I’m happy to be sharing something that was so damn intense when it happened that it needed to be told, yet I could hardly talk about it. It’s a relief to release it into the world.

Thanks for your kind comments about it earlier. Xo.

Don’t Go, Don’t Go

Dropped the boy off at preschool this morning and he clung to me like a koala bear. I’m talking legs and arms in a vise-like grip. I tried putting him down, and he kept wailing, “Mama, up. Mama, uuuuuppppp. Mama! UP!” I tried saying, “look, it’s your friend ___! Will you show me how you can sit in circle time?” Etcetera. No dice. “I don’t want to,” he repeated, pressing himself against my legs. The assistant caught my eyes with an expression that said, “I’m sympathetic, but best if you go now,” and as it had been five minutes of up-and-down and clinging I decided I should just head out. “Bye honey! You’re going to have fun!” I said, as he melted into a heap on the floor and screamed for me.

Oh, god. I can’t do this. No, I can. But damn. It’s awful. The director called me later to report that Jaybird is doing fine after five minutes of “emotion.” It’s normal, she assured me. She also gently admonished reminded me to leave quickly and show lots of confidence in him, the school, and his routine. I mean, I thought I left pretty fast. But maybe I did let him hug on me longer than necessary. And maybe I did pick him up and stroke his head in a way that showed him I was sad, too. And maybe I did let him snuggle and wake up slowly rather than rush to get to school, which meant we arrived 30 minutes late…

So shoot me.

This is new for all of us. We have managed to avoid daycare, school, or really, much regular childcare until now. We have patchworked care together via our mothers, a part-time babysitting share, and flexibility in our own schedules. We’re fortunate that Uno has a 35-hour week, and fortunate that she essentially sets her own hours with clients, and triply fortunate that our mothers live close by (my MIL is 0.4 miles away, in fact). I’ve also been part-timing it. The HUGE benefit: Jaybird has had tons of personal attention and been with family for most of his life. Also, we’ve saved money. The downside: we’ve had to juggle lots of different players in our childcare landscape, and sometimes scramble for coverage at the last minute, causing much stress. I half-joke that I have “childcare PTSD” – anxiety that Uno doesn’t relate to, as she’s so confident we’ve given him the best situation – but I do believe that we have made it work admirably. Hardest has been managing our mothers and their schedules / lack of stamina / health issues.

So now, here we are. He’s started half-day preschool, M-F, and the first few days were great. “He’s so eager to learn,” his teachers enthused. “Such a self-starter.” (That one made me crack up. I can only imagine that means he is singularly focused on doing what he wants to do, and doing things himSELF. That would be our bean). It’s a very sweet Montessori with gentle-voiced staff. Uno dropped him off on his first day and I picked him up, and when I introduced myself to the lead teacher as Jaybird’s mom she said, “oh! Okay. I thought someone else was his mom.” I said, “I’m his other mom.” (Pause. Blank stare.) “He has two moms,” I added, helpfully. Then she was so nice and apologetic about it, it was almost comical.

I start work next week. Gulp. Because of our schedules, we will just need care for three half-days after school, and that will be covered by our mothers and our babysitter. It’s a good set-up that will shift again in the fall, but that’s another story.

Neither of us, at the end of day, wants to be a stay-at-home mom. We like our work and want to nurture our professional ambitions. That said, I understand so well the pathos underlying “the mommy wars” now. All the talk about “work-life balance”? I relate on a visceral level. And this is with one kid! What will it be like with TWO?

The Productivity Disease

It’s six o’clock and my mind is racing. “How did it get so late?  I was going to write! I have to write more! I was going to plant the snap beans! I was going to jog!”

Never mind that I: cleaned and organized my closet, dropped clothes at Goodwill, got the mandatory emissions test done for our car, filled out and faxed my employee paperwork, started to reorganize my half-done novel draft, weeded the flowers, researched and finally identified the tree out front (mountain ash, it turns out), and a hundred other little things.

And this is on a day when I am a) not working and b) not mothering.

Having this time to myself for a few days has put this problem into sharp relief. I’m calling it the Productivity Disease. It has to stop. If I can’t put the kibosh on this race-against-the-clock mentality, I’m pretty sure I’ll implode. But how? It’s so deeply ingrained, insidious and, in its way, seductive.

In college, when my alarm went off, I used to bolt upright and swear because I was already so stressed about what I had to get done. Nowadays I often wake up and am already disappointed in myself because I didn’t get up earlier. When Uno asks me how my day was, I often respond by listing everything I did (or didn’t) get done. My to-do lists are endless, amorphous, and impossible. There’s no race to the finish line, no yardstick against which I’m being measured, but I cannot seem to internalize that.

I’m thinking about this a lot lately, as we make space in our lives for child number two (fingers crossed). Parenting has put a glaring spotlight on this issue. I don’t want Jaybird to inherit my terrible, constant dissatisfaction. My own mother – no shocker, here – used to list all of her tasks *constantly.* Every day was another chance for self-improvement. She stayed later than all the other teachers, went in on the weekends (“they are second graders,” we used to tell her in exasperation), and never could exercise enough. Or have a clean enough house. Or what have you. We could not have fun until we finished our chores/work, and there was always so much of it.

For a long time, I thought this attitude was healthy. Look at everything I was getting done! Applications! Papers! Late shifts! Meetings! Dinners! Of course, at the same time, I didn’t enjoy any of these accomplishments for more than two seconds. I was always so focused on the negative space, on whatever I wasn’t doing.

The productivity disease impedes actual productivity. That’s what I’m finally figuring out. My anxiety about what I have to do doesn’t help me DO IT. It just makes me miserable and sweaty. Berating myself for not writing doesn’t make me feel like writing. It doesn’t equal good writing, either. Just like deciding I have to get a million things done before dinner doesn’t actually make our evenings any happier. In fact, they’re more tense that way.

At a teaching artist ice breaker once – they’re always very earnest – I had to describe my greatest fear. Immediately, I thought: “missing opportunities. Not accomplishing enough.” Now, that was before Jaybird was born! But I still fear these things. That’s why I had such trouble letting go of getting a PhD. If I deliberately didn’t do it, I was choosing to fail, went the (irrational) thought process.

Uno and I have been talking about it often. I struggle with my temper. I get angry. I react. I hate it when I do. Repeat. I have been trying so hard to be more patient, but it’s not something I can just *will* into existence. I have to actually relax. I have to be kinder to myself. I have to stop saying “I have to” or “I should.”

I’m trying these little mantras out: “I’m doing enough. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m in the right place at the right time.” Just saying them provokes an anxious ripple in my stomach. I want to contradict them immediately.

If only awareness were enough. I will keep on trying, though. My thoughts about this are still jumbled, but it’s good to try and pin them down.

Holding Our Breath

We’re taking a break this month from babymaking. We almost, almost went ahead anyway, but decided to pause and start again next cycle. Mainly, I want to sign up for short-term disability and get some other ducks in a row with childcare and the new job. Also, our nurse’s medical assistant quit and there’s not a new person yet assigned at the clinic to this role, which makes communication difficult. I got annoyed by the whole thing. I want to be able to talk to someone, not just move blindly forward with the next cycle. So, break. We’ll go for it in June, with gusto. I was pretty sad, for a moment, when I got the definitive “not pregnant” answer, and I can’t wait to try again.

The new job is not settled yet as the schedule is still up in the air. We got a spot in a morning preschool for the summer, suddenly, which would be awesome. But not as awesome if I’m working that late shift. I’d never see him!

So much uncertainty is tough. I’m reminding myself to enjoy my time off, though. My college reunion trip was perfectly timed. I got to indulge a bit, and wander, reflect, talk for hours, take stock. Not bad for a whirlwind weekend. It was bittersweet at times. College was so fun…I was so young…so many choices and opportunities have gone away in the wake of other choices I’ve made…etc.

But good god, I don’t want to go backwards.

Plus, I’ve made some pretty sweet choices. Numbers one and two are chattering in the kitchen, Jaybird explaining to Uno that Mama let him have M&Ms yesterday on the bus. Oh yes, I did. A little bribery goes a long way these days, what can I say?