Monday, August 13, 2012


Technology is a great escape; one my children are learning, and one I wish I could unlearn.

Life is more hectic than it has ever been, and more and more I have to urge to disappear into my phone, so much so, that when I'm with both kids, the food/toys/books are being hurled across the room, and the screaming of "Mine!  Mine!" can be heard across the street, I'm increasingly tempted to retreat into a corner and check my email.  Check Facebook.  Certainly someone has said something trite and clever, certainly someone has posted some cute innocuous editorial about motherhood or child-rearing or politics or fashion that I'll find clever and "like" and share with others.  Certainly someone's posted some cute pic of their baby or cat or breakfast.  Maybe I should post that picture of my baby, cat, or breakfast, so others can enjoy it and think of me.  Did the cat throw up on the carpet again?  Is little brother pulling big sister's hair out by the root again after attempting to eat all of her crayons?  Hmmm.  What's on Pinterest?  Instagram?  Anyone?  Help?

Of course, the answer is, put the phone away.  Out of sight of the preschooler who wants to play Disney Princess Stickerbook and the toddler who wants to wrench everything from her grasp and throw it in the toilet.  And most of the time, I manage to do this, after a minute of compulsive checking has not succeeded in making me feel any better about the current situation.  I don't, in fact, want to read anymore emails from my daughter's preschool list serve.  This is all that's waiting in my inbox, this and perhaps a low balance alert from the bank.  I don't really want to see pictures of other people's sweet well-behaved children or pets when mine are playing "10 Little Monkeys" on my bed and the cat's coughing up another hairball in the corner.  Even a message or sweet photo of a dear friend serves to remind me how far they are away from me.

I've always had mixed feelings about the web; all this virtual connection is so ephemeral.  It's the illusion of connection.  There are very few people I can get on the phone anymore, which is ironic, given that the long distance calls that once came close to bankrupting me are for all intents and purposes free now.  Now we text.  I can't see you anymore, I can't hear you anymore.  Facebook pages are storefronts.  The best goods are in the window. The rest, out of reach.

I've noticed more and more on Facebook that instead of sharing original thoughts, people are simply "liking" inspirational or humorous internet posters.  It reminds me of the actual posters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, felt-bottomed paperweights of golfers or kittens that were everywhere in the 80s, at the mall at Spencer's Gifts or the Hallmark store or the boardwalk shops in Ocean City where we spent a week every summer.  I'm sure they still make those things.  Why do they make those things?  Why do people buy them?

Facebook has its value, of course.  I can still get into fun exchanges with old friends that live 3000 miles away.  I can see pictures of my friend's kids and they can see mine.  We wait for airfares to come down; we say we'll see each other again someday.  I really hope that's true.

My daughter has started asking for apps instead of toys.  My 15 month old listens to Spotify and dances  in his gorgeous baby way.  I guess I feel the way my parents did the first time I tuned them out with a walkman or played Mario Bros. on the first Nintendo.  The way all parents do with a combined what-a-wonderful-world/what-a-terrible-world-they're-growing-up-in feeling.

Escape is nothing new, and I'm certainly not the first parent who's wanted to retreat at times.  I'm not the first stay-at-home-mom who's felt lonely.  The landscape is different, but the story doesn't change.  And it's still true, too, that when I stop fretting, stop looking for distractions, unplug and jump right in to the chaos of my children's lives, I rarely regret it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Are you?

This morning, my daughter, while eating her multigrain squares, told me proudly that she was a Goop.  Lately, on her own, she's been reading these turn-of-the-century poems published in a children's volume a friend gave her for her second birthday.  The one about the Goops is probably my favorite:

The Goops they lick their fingers
And the Goops they lick their knives:
They spill their broth on the tablecloth
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I'm glad that I
Am not a Goop, are you?

It's written by Gelett Burgess, who is author of a whole series of Goop-related etiquette-themed comics for children, all published from 1900-1950.  Incidentally, I told her I didn't think she was a Goop, because even though she managed to spill a crazy amount of cereal and milk on the table and herself, that didn't mean she "led a disgusting life."  She seemed disappointed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

sitting in the car

Okay, not my catchiest title.  But I am, in fact, sitting in my car as I write this.  I'm parked outside of the library, the second I've visited this morning looking for a place to work.  This one, like the last one, opens at noon.  When my daughter needs to be picked up from preschool.  So my Tuesday "study days" will most likely take place at Mills, where the library will actually be open.  Plus there's the Tea Shop, which makes a damn good caramel latte.  It still pisses me off that I can't find a decent quiet place in my own flipping neighborhood to work for two hours.

My last update, in a succinct outline, gave all the highlights of my life six months or so ago.  I've since completed my first semester of grad school.  I'd love to write about this, but I can't.  It was an amazing, stressful, exhilarating, frustrating experience, but what made it so were my professors, my classmates.  And it's always dangerous to write what you really think about people you know, good or bad, in a public forum, however entertaining or cathartic it might be to do that.

So then it was the holidays.  Same deal, really.  What I can say is I really enjoyed the time off with my family.  Our family trip to Tahoe, not so much.  The time off led to some revelations I can share, however, about how I want to live my life going forward.  Choices I want to make.  Which leads to some resolutions for 2012.  Or rather, one big one.  Which is, I guess, what this post will ultimately be about.

So I bought a beautiful scarf about a month ago.  Got tons of compliments on it.  It was the kind of thing I don't normally wear, something I bought on a trip to Target with the kids, and as it lay in the cart among the toilet paper and laundry detergent and other unglamorous items, I enjoyed looking at it, felt kind of good buying something frivolous, something just for me.  To date, I've lost every nice scarf I've ever owned (I'm just absent-minded that way), so I thought I needed it, and the price was right.  I don't have a lot of money to buy myself non-essentials these days.  It was, in fact, the only thing I've bought that has been stranger-compliment-worthy in probably three years.

So anyway, after about a month, I lost it too.  No idea where.  But before this happened, I found myself feeling kind of bad about buying it in the first place.  Everyone who commented wanted to know where I'd gotten it from, and I found myself not really wanting to say.  A lot of people shop at Target, including me, a lot.   Since having kids, I've really enjoyed shopping there, I have to admit.  But since I found out they've been using their millions to fund anti-gay political candidates and since the Occupy thing broke, I've been feeling worse and worse about spending so much of my money there.  A week after the purchase, I was on Fourth Street after a haircut, and I bought a cupcake (or three) from Cupkates, a food truck parked on the side of the road.  A woman I assumed was Kate, the cupcake lady, asked where I got the scarf, and I sort of stage whispered it behind my hand.  The assistant cupcake lady (never did catch her name), well, her face just fell with disgust.  Her look could have meant anything.  It could have been an "I hate you for getting a good deal on something cool" look.  Of course, I took it as a "what's wrong with you, supporting that big box supporter of hate-mongering conservatives" look.  I laughed it off, but walking away, I started to feel badly again.  Not that I define myself by what cupcake ladies make of me or my outfit choices or buying habits, but I started to really wonder, more than I have with any other piece of big corporation clothing I've ever owned (and it's most of what I own), where it came from and who made it.  The answer's the same as with a lot of other things I buy.  China and I have no idea.

I will absolutely go crazy if I let myself think about every purchase I've made that ultimately funded some big corporation that uses sweatshop labor to keep costs down or supported political candidates out of line with my personal beliefs.  And make itself unbelievably rich in the process. It's such a long list and at the same time, not nearly as long as it could be.  And I'm not sure that camping out in the park is going to change anything in the long term.  But I find myself wanting to do my little part.

Since the birth of my son, an event that broke something open in me, I've been trying to reassemble my sense of who I am, feel grounded again, feel strong.  If you've been following my blog, you've seen some of my starts and false starts to this process.  But once my first semester of school ended, and I found myself once again with the opportunity to be reflective, I began to asking myself, Where is home?  Where do I belong?  Not counting the seventeen-ish years I spent in my hometown, I haven't lived more than seven or eight years in any one place.  This is my seventh year in the Bay Area and I find myself wondering, will we stay here for the long haul?  I miss my family of origin, but I have my immediate family to consider, too, and we're not ready to move back to the East Coast.  So what is it about here that makes me want to stay?

The friends we've come to love, sure, but one thing you learn as an adult today is that people leave.  Especially away from here, and back to family, somewhere they might be able to afford a house, childcare, some place with better schools, somewhere slower-paced.   So I've searched myself, and I think the answer has to do with the energy of this place.  I'm not sure there's a more beautiful place in the continental United States than San Francisco and its surrounds, and I want my children to grow up in a beautiful place, where there are endless adventures to be had.  Then there are the values.  People joke about Berkeley and it's crazy hippies with their "No Nukes" and their compost and gray water recycling and organic gardening.  But that's what I love about it, however little I've participated in the movement up to now.  While I know people in Virginia and Maryland and the midwest who live this way, too, here, it is the way.  When I think about how some of the world's problems will be solved, those that have to do with energy or pollution or water or food or corporate greed, I think I live in a place where people are putting innovative solutions into practice.  I want to invest in those solutions.  While I've been raised on cheap and convenient over responsible and sustainable, I want to try harder resist the former, embrace the latter.  I'm ready to face up to the consequences of my choices, whatever they are on a given day.

Starting small, I think I need to ground myself in my community, more than I ever have before.  The farmers and the artists and the working people that live here.  Instead of patronizing places that look the same and offer the same things wherever you go in all fifty states, I can, after almost three years of living here, figure out what it's like to live in California, in the Bay Area, in Berkeley, by shopping in places unique to the area, run by people who actually make their homes here.  Where I have skills or can learn them, I can make and grow things myself.  And maybe I can get closer to finding my way and myself in relation to that.

When I lost my scarf, I moped about it for a few days, called around to the places I'd been to no avail, and then I thought about what I was going to do to replace it.  Part of me just wanted to go back to Target and get another one.  Part of me still wants to do that.  Instead, though, I found an easy scarf pattern online and a beautiful yarn shop that dyes their own yarn in North Oakland.  The yarn seller, who Julia learned the name of in about three seconds after we entered and I did not, helped me make sure I was buying the right stuff.  I bought the yarn and then took my daughter to a new cupcake place that opened up a few doors down.  This cupcake lady's name is Eurydice.

The yarn, the crochet hook, and the tapestry needles I needed to make this thing cost about three times as much as my Target scarf, and probably won't be nearly as pretty.  It'll take me another few days to finish, time I don't really have.  But if anyone does comment, I'll know where it came from and be proud to say, and my hope is, when I wear it, I will remember just how important that is.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

just the facts, ma'am

I wanted to write a post updating you on my life.  It was going to be great – inspiring, even.  Trouble is, I don’t have time and at the moment, I’m not feeling terribly inspired.  Grad school starts this week, and I’m beginning to doubt I’ll ever have time again in the foreseeable future.  When I can, I plan to cobble together bits and scraps of posts I’ve began and not finished, but in lieu of that, and in the minute or so I have to myself, I will give you an outline of the post I would have written this evening:

I. Jenn’s Weight Loss Goals

A. Jenn joins Weight Watchers, and likes it okay.  Whether all the tracking and point keeping is really making the difference or not, she’s losing weight, and it gives her an idea of what she’s eating and how much.

B.  Jenn does Couch to 5K.  She’s on week 5 (of 9) of the program, and it’s been pretty easy.  She thinks she could run a 5K right now if she really had to, but she’s glad she’s taking it slow, so she’ll avoid injury and not lose the weight too fast.

C. Jenn loses 10 lbs and fits into one pair of her pre (second) pregnancy jeans.  This should make her super happy, except for A) they’re the horrible jeans that she took to the tailor to get hemmed and were then hemmed too high, so now they have kind of a high-water flared look which is NOT flattering. B) She still looks fat in pictures (thank you, FB), which is demoralizing and makes her feel like giving up/hiding under the bed/never eating again.

II. Jenn’s Academic Pursuits

A. Jenn visits Mills.  When she stepped on to the campus, she had that angels singing feeling she had when she first stepped on the BMC campus almost twenty years ago.

B. Jenn hires a nanny.  No, the nanny doesn’t speak Spanish, but she’s a regular Mary Poppins, an Ethopian Mary Poppins who doesn’t believe in strollers or plastic bottles or diaper wipes. 

C.  Jenn freaks out a little at the prospect of a huge reading load, and decides to try to read Cutting For Stone and Jane Eyre simultaneously, while nursing and/or trying to tune out Dora the Explorer, you know, for practice.

III.  Jenn’s Parenting Ups and Downs

A.  Jenn fields an endless barrage of three year old’s questions on topics ranging from gender differences to death and dying.

B. Jenn holds sleeping boy and thinks the baby months are going by way too fast.

C.  Jenn thinks she’ll be a better mother (not to mention a better wife) now that she’s not going to be a full-time mom, but panics just a little at the thought of not being with her children every minute of the day.

That’s about all I can do for now, but I’ll try to post updates (however brief) as I can for interested parties.  Until then, think good thoughts!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


So I'm wondering if I'm actually ever, in the foreseeable future, going to be able to finish a blog post.  We're in the middle of bedtime again, and the combing the hair wars have begun.  Karissa's giving herself a timeout, and I'm feeling like a jerk trying to blog when there's a little girl to be put to bed.  So I'm giving up.  Again.  Instead of trying to write a post catching everyone up on my life in long essay form, I'm going to offer a potpourri of the posts I've started, but not come anywhere close to finishing in the last month or so.  Enjoy.


The weekend was a fun one.  We threw a little backyard get together for K's 39th on Sunday, and had a nice crowd of people.  They day before was a little stressful, as the gazebo we absolutely needed in our direct-sun only backyard didn't go up as smoothly as expected.  And of course, it was Saturday morning, with the thing half-built, that we realized that some key pieces were missing.  Karissa had to go to another Target (they didn't have any more at the Target near us) to get another gazebo, get the missing pieces out of it, and finish putting it up.  So this took most of the day.  Then I had the bright idea to take my three year old daughter to a very crowded Trader Joe's for party food.

I don't know if all stores in this chain are the same (although I've had the same experience at both the El Cerrito and SF locations), but Trader Joe's seems to bring out the worst in people.  They are beyond impatient, and they seem to think the space they take up is more important than anyone else's.  Add to this a child who has no concept of personal space (talks to everyone, touches everyone and everything, grabs onto every cart she sees), and you can imagine my stress level by the time we got into the car to go home.  I dropped her and the groceries off, and got the rest of the supplies on my own.

For the last year or so, Julia's been trying to figure out gender in the way that most children do, by asking (usually very loudly) if someone (usually a stranger) is a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.  In general, she's gotten much better.  Interestingly enough, the first cues she ever used to discern gender were voice cues.  Our male friends were particularly delighted when, around the time she turned two, she would shout "That's a man!" as soon as they said hello, and at regular intervals for the duration of their visit.  She continues to have trouble with older women and androgynous/gender non-conforming people she does not know/hasn't heard speak.  Now she's beginning to take hair lengths and styles of dress into account, which is making things a little more confusing for her at the moment.

 I know it's pretty typical for the age, and I assume everyone else does, which is why I'm often surprised at people's reactions.  For some people, having their gender questioned can cause confusion, embarrassment, or anxiety, while other people laugh it off or take it in stride.  You just never know what someone's reaction will be.

I felt like crawling under a rock when J asked me about the older woman in line at TJ's, well within her earshot.  She chuckled, taking a liking to Julia immediately, and took the opportunity to ask her about the food in our cart and which of it she was going to eat.  Passing a young woman (ironing board figure, longish blond hair stuffed into a snap cap) on yesterday's walk, however, Julia pointed and said something about his bike.  She looked up from her cell phone to bark, "Her bike!"  "Sorry, it's the age," I replied, although I must admit my tone was more like, "Back off, *sshole."


As I write this, my gorgeous 10-week old baby is laying in his bouncer, smiling in his sleep.  My partner and my daughter are running around the backyard and splashing in the kiddie pool.  I am officially sick with some kind of nasty virus that's given me a low grade fever and a very sore throat, something I probably (ironically) picked up at the gym.

If you've read the last few posts (and if you haven't, here's a summary), you know I'm working on a whole body/mind/spirit overhaul, which started once I'd recovered from the birth of my son a few weeks ago, an event I go into in "the other side."  I hesitate to call what I went through a "near death" experience.  I was in a room full of doctors and nurses, prepared and equipped to handle the hemorrhage that followed my c-section.  Death was not a likely outcome.  But even so, the experience, and several experiences leading up to it late in my pregnancy, led me to what I can only describe as a revelation.

In life, you can hide or you can show yourself.  I've done a bit of both throughout my life, and I know what feels better.  Rather than call what I'm doing a make over, I'm trying to take a look at myself and my choices and figure out where I've put up a front.  I have to deconstruct the public faces I've created in the past, and give a hard look to what lies underneath.

It may seem that I've made a superficial start of things.  Getting my haircut, shopping, hitting the gym.  But I've been working on some other things too, things not as conducive to humorous recounting, but things that are probably more at the heart of this whole process.

If you've ever heard the song, "Lady Is a Tramp," you may remember the line (as Ella sings it) "I never bother with people I hate."  The song lists a number of things that make the lady a tramp because they're the opposite of what is fashionable or expected.  Now, hate's a strong word.  There are many people I dislike, it's true, but I try to reserve hating for a very chosen few.  But the idea that I have bothered with these people (which I know everyone has to from time to time), even gone to lengths to get them to like or accept me, is telling.  Whatever it is I'm trying to get, it's rarely worth having.  Recently, when I'm tempted to bother with someone I'm only indifferent to, I think about why and wonder, is there something more valuable I could be doing with my time?

I made a playdate, maybe a month ago, with an acquaintance.  During the course of the morning, we started talking about friendship, or rather, where parenting and friendship overlap.  I said, straight up, that I wasn't really in the market for any new friends, given the past year and what I've been through since I moved to Berkeley (unconditional friendship).  I was thinking about it because a few moments before, my "unfriending" friend, the one who suckerpunched me with a break-up email this past February, had appeared next to me at the park.  She'd made a special effort to come up to me, say nice things about my appearance and my new baby, remark on how Julia had grown, and say in a really stilted way how nice it was to see me.  I responded in kind ("You look great, too!  My, how big your boys are! Great to see you, too!) in what will go down in history as the fakest conversation ever.  I spent the rest of the park time swinging Julia on swings, changing the baby's diaper, etc., when my "unfriending" friend comes up to me again.  I just wanted to say I'm sorry, she says.  I never meant to hurt you.  I only wish the best for you and your family.  I know we'll see each other again, and I hope we can be friendly.  I wanted to say, If you didn't mean to hurt me, why did you?  How could you just let me go?  Am I worth that little to you?  But, instead of being defensive or angry, I was honest.  

"It was impossible for me to stop caring about you, but I did what you wanted.  I've basically avoided every situation in which we could run into each other.  I had a rough pregnancy and some serious challenges with Julia.  Under that stress, I must have done something pretty awful to you for you to respond the way you did, so I'm sorry. I wish you the best, too."  We made some other small talk, I think, before we went our separate ways, but that was the gist of it.  I'm glad she broke the ice, and gave me a general apology, but I still don't know what I did to her.  Maybe it's better that way.  Maybe it doesn't matter at all.


I'm so tired.  I'm bone tired, hit the sack tired.  But of course, it's not bedtime yet, because the kids aren't settled.  Karissa's in the bedroom with Julia.  She'll be in there for fifteen minutes before she comes stomping out and Julia burst into a full on tantrum.  Last night, J was dictating the lines Karissa was to say in a scene she wanted to play out, and when K finally says, Shhh, no more talking, the wailing began.  And it's mommy's turn.  I lay down with Julia, tell the requisite stories, rub her back, and she's asleep.  I walk back to the living room and K's rocking the very awake baby boy.  "He's hungry again."  The minute I have him on my lap, and before any actual nursing can occur, he's asleep too.  On the plus side, I feel like I'm really needed and loved by my children.  On the other, this mommy-only bedtime routine is wearing me out.  Tonight, K's back in the room with Julia and it's quiet enough.  The baby keeps faking me out, though.  I peek to the pack 'n play and behold, sleeping baby.  Then I sit on the couch and type for a solid minute before he starts squeaking and grunting.  Back to the pack 'n play, and there he is again, angelic sleeping boy.  Take two steps away, snort grunt squeak.  So I'm going to try to feed him again and come back to this.


One-handed blogging from the iPhone. It seems like the only way I can actually make it happen these days. My "free time" these days amounts to the time --

Yeah, I didn't even get to finish two sentences on that one.  I promise something more cohesive soon, once we're over this crazy transition.  Until then, think good thoughts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

back to school

Life, as usual, moves faster than I can blog.  I have to accept sometimes that life needs to be lived before it can be reflected upon, that often things don’t make sense until some distance is achieved. So what can I give in terms of updates? 

Let’s see, I didn’t make it back to the gym for three days due some strep-like virus thing (that after a frustrating morning at Kaiser, I found was not, in fact, strep).  I got to experience just how difficult it is caring for two children with a sore throat and a 101 degree fever.  But I was able to reap the benefits of the “can’t eat that because I can hardly swallow” diet, and lost more weight than I was expecting to.  Since the first weigh-in three week ago (yes, I’m calling them weigh-ins), I’ve lost about four pounds, which is in line with what I’m supposed to be losing.  There’s no reward yet in the pre-pregnancy pants department, but I’m getting there, and I feel better, which is actually the point of all of this.

In the line of trying new things, finding my niche, etc., I’ve decided I’d like to take up sewing, at least give it shot, so I’m trying to find a way to do that inexpensively and set myself up for success.  I could fill several blogs with the DIY disasters of my life (exploding ceramics! misshapen knitwear!), but I’d really like to do something with this one, as it could solve some of my fashion dilemmas and get me excited about clothes again.  I’ve found a dress that I swear I’ve wanted to own/make since childhood.  It’s a “very easy” Vogue pattern: halter with a full skirt that hits below the knee.  So we’ll see.  If I borrow a sewing machine, go to a discount fabric place for materials, I’ll probably only be out $30 whatever happens, so it’s a small investment.

Probably the biggest thing looming right now is grad school.  I start an MFA program at Mills College in the fall for creative writing.  I’m excited, so excited I almost can’t write about it.  It means I’m doing something real with my writing, but also still supporting my career as a teacher, which is much more than a fallback, it’s a job I want to do, in some capacity, for the rest of my life.  I was afraid I’d never get to go to school full time again, for a few reasons.  First, I went to a good school for undergrad, but I majored in something I didn’t love, so my grades, especially in the last two years, were average at best.  I came out at about that time, too, so let’s just say, I was, ahem, distracted (read more of Jenn’s coming out story here!). 

Also, once I was working full time, I didn’t imagine ever being able to afford to stop working, and had a lot of difficulty imagining holding down a full time job and going to school at the same time.  So I took baby steps.  I did a summer fellowship through Teachers College worth a few graduate credits.  I went to a few conferences at universities offering credits.  I spent a year getting my teaching credential through a program for working (private school) teachers when I was pregnant with Julia.  And now I’m not working full time, not ready to go back to teaching full or even part time, and I found a program in the area that will help me not only further my teaching career, but begin a legit writing career.

Writing has always been a sacred thing for me, and up until very recently, a private thing.  I’ve kept a journal (or several) since I was about nine, but I’d only shared scraps of writing from them with a few people (usually my significant other at the time).  I balked at the idea of blogging at first, as it seemed like such a public display of, well, everything, and I didn’t think I could take the exposure.  I have this tendency to freak out and rip apart any public performance I give about a minute after I give it.  But then, I was assigned to start a blog by my Curriculum and Instruction professor, and teacheteria was born (which morphed into mamateria once the class ended and I gave birth to Julia).  I got some good feedback from people I trusted, so I kept going.  

Around the same time, I was teaching seventh grade at a small private school in San Francisco.  I was a humanities teacher, meaning I taught a combined course of language arts and social studies.  I required my students to keep a journal and gave them some dedicated time every day to write.  On Friday afternoons, students would share from their journals.  As you might expect, some kids wanted to share all the time, every day; they couldn’t wait for Friday to come.  And then there were the kids for whom sharing was like having a tooth extracted.  I understood those kids.  So I decided to set an example and begin to share some of my writing with them. 

Reluctant to share any of my own real journal entries, I decided to write a story for my students, one I would read aloud from each week.  A lot of them were into fantasy writing, and being twelve or thirteen, were chock full of new teen angst, so I decided to write them a young adult fantasy of the kind that’s become so popular (insert snarky comment about Twilight here), and see if I couldn’t put my own spin on it.  I based the main character loosely on a thirteen year old me, which also kept them interested, knowing it was at least in part autobiographical, though I was a little cryptic about which parts.  I think most of them knew I couldn’t really fly.  Well, they began to get into the story, and I got really into writing for them and getting their reactions and their feedback.  The thing took on a life of it’s own, and I continued writing it on and off for three years for and with my students.  At about the fifth or sixth chapter, I realized two things.  One, I realized I was on my way to really writing a book.  Two, I had no idea how to write a book or what to do with it once I was finished.  And I wanted to share this one once it was done.  I didn’t want it to sit on a shelf, which it did anyway for about two years while I got my mommy career underway. 

This past fall I was tutoring a young man who was putting together a portfolio to audition for the School of the Arts in San Francisco.  And at home, I was back at my story, fine tuning, expanding, preparing it to present with an application to an MFA program.  Something had clicked inside me, and I realized that while motherhood would always be my most important work, it could not be my only work.  And if I was going to take any time away from my kids, it was going to be for something really worth my while, something stimulating, something nourishing.  But as bored and as frustrated as I knew I was with stay-at-home motherhood, I couldn’t do something that would take me away from them for 40+ hours a week.  I did that with Julia, and I lasted exactly six months before I had to quit to be with her.  I said it then, and I’ll say it now, I loved that job.  I just loved my daughter more.  So what if I could have both?  

When I got into the program, I was ecstatic.  Since I got the news, I've gone through orientation, registered for my classes and gotten more and more pumped.  I get to go back to school; get to be the student again after so much time.  My life has a new direction, the right direction, it feels like finally.  As the semester approaches, though, I have these (sometimes absurd) questions running through my head: Will it be everything I’ve imagined? Will it be too stressful, juggling school with two kids? Will everyone be younger than me?  Will everyone be weird?  Will everyone be super competitive?  Will anyone else have kids?  Most likely everyone won’t be any one thing and I’ll have to force myself to suspend judgement, be patient, and let the next chapter unfold.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

i am woman

Imagine if you will, a woman.  We'll call her woman A.  She's tallish, fit, muscular.  Where she isn't mud spattered, her brown skin glistens with sweat, and shimmers with sun filtered through the trees.  She's hurtling down a hillside on a mountain bike, and the only sounds you hear are the crackling of leaves and twigs as her wheels carve the ground.

Now, imagine a second woman, woman B.  Same height, same skin color.   You can see in her legs and arms some hints of strength, but her general figure is an exaggerated hourglass.  Her belly is still significantly distended from her recent pregnancy.  She walks slowly up a steep incline, in place, on a treadmill, in a flourescent lighted room filled with workout machine and free weights.  You hear the quiet sound of people talking and the fan whirring overhead.

Woman B is a fairly exhausted, but determined stay-at-home mom of two/future graduate student.  Woman A is the same person, obviously, but she's also an athlete, and by New Year's 2012, I'm hoping I will be her.

Now I've never downhill mountain biked.  But I did run a marathon in what now seems a lifetime ago.  Before that, I was hardly athletic.  A good metabolism, a dance class here, a dance club there, and a fair number of cigarettes kept me trim enough through my most of my twenties.  But then in 2002, I had some real trouble.  I was in a long term relationship that was falling apart, and I decided to try to get my mind right by starting to run.  A cross country coach position at my school had opened up, so, with one whole month of running (mostly around the block) under my belt, I asked my friend Dave, the other coach, if I could have the job.  Nice guy that he was, he said yes.  A few months later, he told me that he was training a few other teachers for the Marine Corps marathon and asked me if would I like to sign up and train with them.  Well, it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I did it.  Six months later I was twenty pounds lighter, in the best physical shape of my life, and I'd developed a passion that would sustain me through a very challenging time.  With Dave's support and friendship and a fair amount of perseverance on my part, I trained for and finished a marathon.  I could safely call myself, at that point in time and for several years afterward, an athlete.

Flash forward, and here I am.  A very different person at a very different crossroads.  Sure, losing twenty pounds will be awesome.  Sure, fitting into my pre-preggo jeans will be cause for major celebration, but this is part of a larger change, the one I keep talking about, the makeover that takes me back to myself.  Part of it is being able to call myself an athlete again.  And what does that mean to me?  Well, aside from the Missy Giove (champion downhill mountain biker and idol of my youth) picture I've painted, an athlete is someone who exercises pretty much every day.  An athlete doesn't think twice before lifting a child (and can do so without making a grunting noise), chasing a toddler (and isn't out of breath after doing so), or joining a friend for a hike, a run, a bike ride, or the occasional triathlon.  I have to start small, I know this.  I can't run, I can't do anything high impact, and I can't do anything that would cause me to lose more than 1 to 2 pounds per week, since I'm nursing, and doing any drastic weight loss thing would impact my milk supply.  But I figure I'll go to the gym, at least 4 times per week, and work out for at least half an hour.

I hear voices in my head constantly (don't worry, not the schizophrenic kind) saying what you may be thinking/may have already said to me.  Sometimes it's along the lines of, Give yourself a break, after all you've been through; other times it's something to the tune of, Just be thankful you're alive to mother your children, don't ask for more than your due.  To the first voice, I say, I don't want a break.  I've had my break.  Working out isn't work to me, it's part of my healing process, it's something I need like sunshine or sleep.  I can survive without it (like I can survive without sunshine or sleep), but there are consequences not just to my physical health, but to my mental health as well.  To the second voice I say, How better to honor the life I've been given than by taking care of my body?  I also honor my children, who deserve to have a mother who is healthy and happy.  Fine, the voices say, but do you have to be so dramatic?

But really, it's the guilt in me, accusing, defending, the guilt they give free with membership to the motherhood club.  We feel we have to justify everything we do, connecting it somehow to our most important job.  There's a passage in first chapter of Peter Pan, when Barrie describes the children's mother.  She has a kiss in the corner of her mouth that Wendy can never have.  It's not for her husband or her other children, and the reader is never told what it is or who it's for.  I always thought that kiss represented the part of her that was just for herself, independent of the people she mothered.  Maybe all mothers need that, maybe that's what I'm seeking approval for, but from whom?

All these feelings aside, say I've decided that I, woman B, am determined to become woman A, athlete extraordinaire, in spite of the guilt and the voices (I have).  Say I have the support of my friends and family (I do).  There's another gigantic obstacle.  Logistics.  Karissa was home Friday, so I could go to our neighborhood Y without too much fuss.  I was able to pump (breastmilk), take my time getting dressed, walk to the gym even, do my little elliptical thing, and walk back.  Same for Saturday.  Sunday was K's birthday, and we were having people over, so I skipped a day.  Monday was the 4th, so K was off again.  Easy peesy.  And then Tuesday came.  I spent the entire day laying the groundwork for my 45 minutes away that evening.  I pumped in the morning while Julia watched Dora and Gregory slept.  I went to Target (with two children!) and got a few necessities for the week.  After lunch I went to the grocery store (with two children!) and got food for dinner for the next few nights, stuff that would be healthy yet easy for K to prepare in my absence.  I did some dishes.  I did some laundry.  I waited for K to get home.

Well, she gets home a little later than normal, and I haven't started dinner and I haven't gotten dressed.  So I attempt to do that, only to find that my regular workout clothes have accidentally been put in the dryer.  If I thought they were a little snug before, they are obscene and ridiculous now.  So I rip them off my body and hunt for a pair of my now famous maternity yoga pants.  But, whoops, the baby's hungry again, so let me top him off before I leave.  And uh oh, Julia's lack of sleep the night before has caught up to her all at once, and she's throwing a very loud tantrum because she's not being allowed to have bunny fruit snacks before dinner.  Amidst the chaos, Karissa's shouting, Go, just go!  So, lump in my throat, I go.  I get back and it's an hour before I can even shower the stink off, and I never do have dinner myself.

Today was not as bad.  I started the tater tots before I left.  Julia was drawing on the floor, Gregory was asleep in the pack 'n play.  I pulled on my too tight work out shirt, remembered that it was too tight and swapped it for a maternity t-shirt, albeit a small one.  And my workout pants today were of the non-maternity variety, so that made me feel a little better.  As I write this, I still have not showered, but both kids are asleep, and I've had a ham sandwich.

Will I go tomorrow?  I don't know.  Should I?  As I've told Karissa, I'm not sure I have a choice at this point.  I don't want to feel out of shape, overweight, helpless, hopeless, anymore, ever again.  I'm done.  So when a fellow mom asked me at the park today how I'll do it, how I plan make time to go to the gym every day, I self-assuredly laid it all out for her, and she was sufficiently impressed.  And then I took a deep breath and said, You know, the plan hasn't worked, and might not ever.  I may very well need a new plan before the week is out.  But you just get to a certain point, and you have to.  And so you do.