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.