The present of the past

In college I was obsessed with Sarah McLachlan.  Discovering we looked a lot alike happened after I had already developed the obsession with her music, but certainly didn’t hurt it. When I decided to cut my hair short, I even brought in a picture of her style as inspiration.  But I digress. One of my favorite songs of hers then and now is “Ice Cream”.  It’s both sweet and sad at the same time.  Back then I spent a lot of time feeling angsty, or wistful, or mildly depressed (boy, wish I could go back to college knowing what I know now… I would have had a lot more fun!).  I remember one night laying in the dark feeling particularly low, listening to my six disc CD changer rotate between her, Enya, the Indigo Girls and Sting.

When Julia was a newborn and cried all the time, it turned out “Ice Cream” was one of the few songs I knew all the words of that seemed appropriate to sing.  In the dark, in the middle of the night, feeling scared and sad and unsure of my future but for entirely different reasons than I did as a teenager, singing that song to my baby felt like closing a loop.

Parenting seems to surface more loops than any other experience of my life.  There is something about experiencing things with my children that brings me back to some former place in my life.  Much of the time it’s my own childhood – like when the kids play with a toy I remember playing with or I read them a book I was read as a child.  Reading “Goodnight Moon” to Julia always gives me that little shiver, although as an adult I have a lot of questions about the book, which is incredibly odd (and I’m not the only one, there are many hilarious dissections of the book, like this one.  We actually have many books from both of our childhoods that we read to the kids: Ferdinand which we both used to love, Harold & The Purple Crayon, which I don’t remember at all but was apparently a favorite of Brian’s,  and a particularly obscure one that I adored and my mom somehow managed to find: Bendemolena, later renamed “The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head”.

Barbies are one that I’m a bit bummed out by.  I realize that they present a bizarre idea of femininity but I adored them as a child.  I had a huge collection and played with them for far longer than some of my friends likely did.  Perhaps Julia will get into them at some point, but for now she has absolutely no desire to play with the ones we gave her.  I have such fond memories of styling my barbies, swapping out their clothes, setting up dates for them and all the Kens.  Seeing them lay dejected in her toy box makes me feel a bit sad.  That one feels like a loop I can’t quite connect into a circle.

My most recent loop is a particularly sweet one.  At Barnes and Noble last week we found an illustrated copy of “What a Wonderful World”, the Louis Armstrong song.  While that song well pre-dates my childhood, for some reason it was one of my absolute favorite songs as a girl.  It was so significant to me that I chose it as the song for the faughter/daughter dance at my bat-mitzvah and again for the same at my wedding.  I had thought that loop already closed when I danced to it with my dad almost 18 years after the first time, but here it is again.  I have been reading it to Luca at night before bed, and I can’t help but sing it instead of reading the lines.  Every single time it has made me cry.

My co-blogger Cristina wrote a post about time feeling elastic and I wrote one about how the days are long but the years are short, both which are offshoots of the loop concept, I suppose.   But they are more about struggling with living in the moment of parenting.  The loop, to me, is about simultaneously getting to live in the past and the present.  The nicest part of the loop is that they are (usually) pleasant.  Recollection can often drum up painful moments from our past, but the loop is the reverse – an often benign moment from the past that forms into a new and sentimental experience in the present with your kids.  So take the time to live in your loops and form new memories from them.  Maybe one days your kids will create another link in the loop and make it into a chain.

Control, the story of Ice Cream

It started with a simple decision: cup or cone.  We were at Sesame Place this past weekend (boy, do I need to write a blog about that), in the water park area, and they had just announced a scheduled break of the splash zone we were in.  Perfect time for ice cream, right?  Julia and I headed over to the nearby ice cream stand where there was a blissfully short line.

Julia begged for a cone.  But these weren’t small servings, these were VERY VERY big servings on top of a pretty big cone.  Of soft serve. On a super hot day.  But it was vacation, and I knew it would make her happy and I am usually very strict and I want to be a cool mom and so I said ok.  I can be flexible right?  I ordered a vanilla cone with sprinkles for Julia, a chocolate cup for Brian and a swirl cup for me.  The woman fills the cups first, and then runs out of vanilla ice cream.  So, I am standing there, eating my ice cream before it melts, watching Brian’s ice cream melt (he’s back at at the splash pad with Luca) and watching Julia slowly start to melt down over waiting for the new vanilla to be mixed so she can get her cone.

Finally we get the glorious, giant cone and Julia is happy as a clam.  But it’s about that time that I basically lose my will to live.  I start to worry that the ice cream is going to melt too fast and fall off the cone.  At which point Julia will inevitably freak out, at which point Brian will probably say she can’t have another cone, at which point she’ll freak out more, and even if I can convince him to let her have another cone, we’ll have to go back to the ice cream stand, and the line might be longer, and I am not even sure I have enough cash because I only took a twenty with us to the water park part and the ice creams are over priced …. and…. and…. What was my point here?  That I’m crazy?  Oh yeah, I am crazy.  Did I ever mention that?  That my anxiety comes with a delicious strain of obsessive thought patterns that often focus on future scenarios, most of which are unlikely to happen, and which I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER ANYWAY?

So she’s eating and all I can do is fixate on the fucking cone.  Julia, lick around the bottom.  Julia, eat some off the top.  Faster Julia.  Brian, can you please eat some of her ice cream to help out?  Julia, hold it upright.  Don’t tilt it Julia.  Meanwhile I am eating my cup of ice cream as fast as I can with the plan to dump her cone into the cup when I am finished.  Except I get brain freeze in the middle of this rapid ice cream consumption.  My nose is actually tingling from eating it so fast.  And what’s the god damn point?  Before I know it, the ice cream is gone, likely hundreds of calories worth of deliciousness and I barely tasted it.  And now she won’t put her cone into my empty cup because there is chocolate residue on the bottom of my cup and she doesn’t want it to taint the vanilla.

And you know what happened?  Nothing.  Nothing happened.  She managed to eat the ice cream cone like a human, nobody died, and the world didn’t come to an end.  And then I felt stupid.  For criticizing her, for worrying so much, for not letting myself just let her enjoy the moment.  For not enjoying these moments myself.  I have a feeling it’s not just moms with anxiety or obsessive thoughts or control issues who struggle with moments of this.  The lack of ability to control situations with kids can bring out staggering emotions in parents.  It’s another one of those things that no one tells you about having kids.  That sometimes, there are these moments where you want to be able to have the power, and you don’t.  Not power over them even, but power over yourself.  To be ok.  To remember that they’re ok.  To take each moment as a moment and not as the moment.  To not freak out.  To let yourself freak out.  To be ok with the outcome, whatever it is.

 

Showing up – the working parent dilemma

I know I haven’t written in a few weeks, and I apologize to the five of you who read this blog. Well, maybe slightly more than five people read it, but it’s not like I have thousands begging for my new content, so I figured I could get away with it.   The main reason I haven’t written is that I started a new job about a month ago and it’s been pretty busy.

I made a move from the agency side to the ad tech side in my field, which is social media.  This may sound like jargon to some of you, but the main point of me calling out this transition is that I just left a thousand person company that’s been in business 25+ years for an established but still relatively small startup that has just under 150 people and has been around for 7 years.  It was founded by college students, so the founders are also a good ten years younger than me.  This could have been a risk as a mom to go to a company that is small and young in both business and median age but so far it has been really great.

The company has a flexible working policy, which includes unlimited vacation days and no mandatory work hours, although a good amount of the people work on a schedule that fairly closely matches standard office hours. The policy is extremely helpful as a mom because to be part of a family with two working parents pretty much requires flexibility.  Although I am extremely busy so far every day and doing some work at night (which is pretty similar to my other jobs) I have been able to work from home already a few times. I’ve also managed to leave most days around 5:15, which means that I actually get home before Julia is asleep (she’s in bed already, but I get to chat with her for a few minutes, which is awesome).

This past Friday I worked from home so we could attend an event at Julia’s Kindergarten. It was an end of the year “Family Appreciation Day” held by her class.  It was adorable, the kids dressed up and performed a few songs and dances for us and I almost cried from cuteness.  But it was at 1:50 pm. It’s hard enough to go in to work late when there are events in the morning, But a 1:50 start time means that at best you’re getting a half day at work.  Let’s not forget that we work in the city and her school is in our home town in the suburbs.  I worked from home in the morning, but Brian had to take a 12:37 train to get back for it.

And this is just one of the events going on at the end of the year.  Thursday they had a field trip, which we didn’t volunteer for to be a chaperone, just like I didn’t volunteer for the last field trip a few weeks ago. Next week is a Flag Day performance (at 9:30 in the morning, which effectively means if I go I won’t be able to get to work until about noon with my commute if I go).  Then I just found out there is Field Day on the same day as Flag Day, if I wanted to go back to the school three hours later to watch that. And if I wanted to send my nanny in my place, too bad, because the school doesn’t allow siblings to attend so she wouldn’t be able to bring Luca. Then there’s the last day of school.  I figured unlike the first day of school, I wouldn’t stay home for it, until I found out that her kindergarten class parents have arranged for a pool party after school.  Unfortunately the last day of school pool party is the same week as Camp Orientation night which I am already leaving work early to attend, so I don’t think I can make both.

Then there’s first day of camp, which starts the Monday after school ends, and which I have to go to because our new nanny has never been there before and I want to make sure she has the process down.  And yes, I have a nanny.  And parents and in-laws who help out once a week each.  We’ve got something approximating a village working to raise our kids and we still can’t do it all.

How is a two parent working family supposed to manage all this?  I think this is a particularly challenging situation for families who commute longer distances like we do.  An event at school becomes not just the 30 or 60 minutes for the actual event, but then at least an hour and half past that – other than morning and evening rush hour, the trains around here only go into/from the city once every 30 minutes.  Then it’s a forty plus minute train ride (no expresses outside of rush hours) and then the subway trip to the office.  If I worked fifteen minutes away like some of the moms do, I’d only miss an hour or two at work at most.  But that’s assuming they have flexible schedules like I do, which is not entirely likely.  There are plenty of people who’d have to use up half or a whole of one of their few precious vacation days to attend these events.  And if they are one of the moms who only has an after school sitter and not a nanny like we do, that also means that the bulk of the rest of their vacation days are used for school breaks.

I know that traditionally women used to stay home, and that certainly there are plenty of stay at home moms still around. But it’s been at least 30-40 years that women have by and large been a major part of the work force, and I don’t understand how businesses (and schools) have not evolved to the needs of working parents (including dads).  There are certainly some great steps forward  – paternity leave policies that didn’t exist in the past, and more work from home flexibility for many workers because of computers and the internet.  But I feel like there is still a fundamentally flawed system yet not one that there feels like there’s an obvious answer to.

I can think of a few things that would help out on both sides.  Free wifi on commuter trains like the metro north where we live could help parents going into work late/leaving early score an extra 30-60 minutes of work while they commute.  More schools could have early drop off programs because if parents are regularly getting into work later than their counterparts, it doesn’t make it so easy to leave early.  Schools could offer affordable paid school vacation alternatives, like rec programs that would make it easier for parents to use days off for special events at school and not just because their kid has a winter break.  Businesses could offer a certain amount of “life event” days.  One of my former companies had these but they were limited to things like moving, bereavement or honeymoons.  Add in the option for 2-3 kid days a year would give a little relief.

I understand that I speak from a place of privilege, and that I have more resources and financials at my disposal than many parents.  So if it’s this hard for me, I can imagine how much harder it is for parents with less flexibility, less financial resources and less family around.   But regardless of the scale of who has it worse, the main point is this – we fundamentally need to figure out ways to make thing easier for working parents to be there for their kids.  Any ideas?

Lets Do the Time Warp Again!

clockWhen you have children, time becomes a strange and elusive thing. It stretches out for you in overwhelming infinity and then snaps back tight like a rubber band, giving you whiplash. I find myself wishing for time to slow down and speed up in the same breath. And feeling guilty for both of those wishes.

 

In the early days of my firstborn I felt like time was drawn out with the slowness of pouring molasses. Endless naps and endless crying and endless anxiety. I wished for my baby to be awake more, to cry less, to talk, to walk. Days went on forEVERRR.  In those days of maternity leave when my husband came home from work and asked me what I had done all day, I felt like I had done everything and absolutely nothing. I had had all the worries, all the struggles, all the emotions, but nothing to show for it. I did not earn a merit badge for getting through that Thursday. But I felt I should have.

 

I loved my baby’s firsts but I was constantly looking for the next. First solid food? Check, but so excited about when I could feed him his first Thai food.  First step, but when could he ride a bike?

 

I was also struggling and looking for the part I felt was beyond the struggle. When they could hold their head up, when they could feed themselves, when they could walk, when they could talk and tell me what was wrong with words instead of tears. I felt guilty for wishing time would move faster, guilty for not enjoying the baby steps more. And all along the way are people telling you how wonderful it all is. Usually grandmotherly types encouraging you to soak up every minute. “They won’t be babies forever!” And you smile weakly and nod, but you are tired, so tired, and it seems all uphill from here.  Their words cut straight to your heart. You feel guilty for not loving this moment. Being present in this moment. Let me tell you something- in this moment I was most likely not showered for at least two days, my clothes were stained with milk, or snot or spit-up (or bonus grand slam- all three!) and I exhausted to the point of seeing double. So, if I could go back to give myself some wisdom, it would be “You’re allowed not to love the present moment. Some of these moments are pretty unloveable.”

 

On a vacation to Puerto Rico, our flight was delayed three hours, putting us squarely past bedtime. Elliott was tired and cranky and could not get comfortable and he cried non-stop all the way back to D.C.  Time has never ever moved so slowly in the history of the universe. Surrounded by angry faces, those hours felt like decades.

 

Despite sometimes wishing away these moments, moving slowly through the quicksand of time that engulfs you, you hit milestones and wonder inexplicably, where the time went? You find yourself planning your little’s first birthday party and have no idea how you got there. Time warp.

 

With my second, it’s a whole different ball game. We only wanted two kids, so I know this is my last baby. I savor many more moments. I live for every giggle and gurgle. I hold him more, and for longer than I probably should. I am completely to blame for this one being an unapologetic Mama’s Boy. I try to stop time, to hold it tight. To keep him little and lap sized forever. Or at least a little bit longer. I love his goofy little voice and his strange foreign jabbering, and don’t wish for him to talk any sooner than normal. I find myself holding back from being the woman in the grocery store who tells that tired mama “They won’t be babies forever!” And then I remember that’s a terrible idea! I waver. Do I tell them instead, “It’s ok not to love this moment.”? What if they ARE loving this moment? Everyone’s moment is different. And the next moment will be completely different.

 

I do wish ahead, though. Even now. I still try to peek into time and find the golden moment that seems a little easier. I sometimes wish for my boys to be 3 and 6, which in my head is some magical time when they will be fully engaged and play with each other endlessly and we can go everywhere and do everything. They will be somewhat self sufficient and mostly potty trained and I will be finally unencumbered by a diaper bag. But I’m sure when I get there I will be wishing for something else. Whether I will be wishing to go forward or go backward, I do not know. Or maybe it WILL be that golden moment and I will want to stop time right there.