Leslie Lehr in Mommy Wars
When Isabella was just "the Beastie" my return-to-full-time-work plan involved three days working from home and two days in the office. My grandma or my great aunt would watch Isabella while I was at work. However, from pretty much the second I saw her, that plan pretty much flew out the window. There was no way I could leave her for upwards of nine hours a day. Not for a job that for all its nice perks (including a wonderful manager, free soda, and a company-sponsored happy hour on Fridays with a breakroom fridge stocked with beer for the weekly occasion) was just that. A job. I've never had a career. A position about which I felt passionate. Like many, I work to pay the bills. It's as simple as that.
And so I volunteered to end my maternity leave five weeks early because my fill-in turned out to have a few screws loose, and I did some part-time work, from home, before returning full-time in December of last year. In doing this favor for my manager, I hoped he would agree to let me work full-time from home, instead of only three days a week. And he did.
"Nobody ever explained how I was supposed to be in two places at one time, or at least with my brain in one place and my heart in another."
Reshma Memon Yaqub in Mommy Wars
It sounds like an ideal situation. In many ways it is. Unfortunately, though, the stress of trying to find a balance between my full-time job and motherhood has sent me careening toward the edge at a speed I'm wholly uncomfortable with. I didn't like the exhausted and disengaged person I was turning into as a result. Or the impatient, distracted, and unfocused mother I was morphing into. Or the disinterested and snappish wife I had become. It had gotten to the point that I didn't even recognize myself anymore. And a few weeks ago, a work situation occurred that finally sent me over. To paraphrase one of the essayists in Mommy Wars, I came to the realization that I can't win this tug of war unless I let go of one side of the rope. No one can do it all, all at once. That's not living; it's suffering.
I finally came to the conclusion that something had to give. It was time to let go of one end of the rope. And so, I'm making a change.
"When you stop to be where you are, then your life can really begin."
Iris Krasnow in Mommy Wars
As of September of this year, I'm stepping out of the 40-hour-a-week workforce. I will not be working full-time for my company any longer. I plan on either asking my manager to share my job with an immensely qualified friend, whereby we'd each work part-time, or walking away altogether in order to pursue freelance writing.
And the reasons are simple. I need to give Isabella the mother she deserves, instead of the often manic and always impatient one she gets when I'm on a deadline, or the frentic one she gets when my manager calls with an immediate need as I'm feeding her breakfast. I need to regain the "me" I've lost in these last few months of non-stop working coupled with (due to the hubs' work schedule) single parenting. I need to enjoy her childhood, instead of living in the next moment, instead of the current one, as I so often do.
I need to be the mother I want so desperately to be for the little girl I never thought I'd have.
"I didn't understand, though other mothers had tried to tell me, how much space motherlove takes up."
Anne Marie Feld in Mommy Wars
There are those in my life who are certain I've drank the purple Koolaid. And yes, there are times when the diet root beer in my fridge certainly tastes a lot like it because honestly, if you had asked me even as recently as nine months ago whether or not I'd work full-time until retirement, I would have said, "absolutely."
But here's the thing: I've realized that there is nothing in my life right now that is more important than my daughter and her quality of life. And as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, the effect my job has on me due to the amount of time and level of commitment it requires is affecting her life. And it has to end.
For me, it is impossible to "have it all," all at once. I need to be able to arrange my work around Isabella, instead of trying to fit in Isabella around my work. Am I scared to walk away from my job? Of course. Am I worried about being financially dependant, at least for a little while, upon my husband? Damn straight I am. This is never, EVER, a position I envisioned myself in.
But do I unequivocally know it is the right thing to do for my daughter, my family, and myself? Absolutely.
The essays were eye-opening, completely candid and honest, and I could relate to so much of what many of the authors wrote about.
Here's what I took away from reading this book:
"It is possible to love your children without taking twenty-four-hour custodial care of them...It is possible to take care of children around the clock and not love them very much at all...It should be a twenty-first-century truism that not every women is destined to be her own children's primary caregiver. It should be a twenty-first-century truism that not every woman needs to be a mother." (Inda Schaenen)
I've never really understood the judgement and scorn mothers who make different lifestyle choices hurl at eachother. The SAHMs feel the working moms are abandoning their children, and in doing so will most certainly turn them into skinheads and armed robbers as a result. The working moms feel the SAHMs are turning back the clock on the feminist movement by opting out of the workforce women have fought so hard to enter, and in addition, what in the hell are they doing all day anyway? They must be so bored!
But here's the thing. Feminism is about choice. As another essayist says, "True liberation for women is doing whatever makes you feel like your strongest, best self." Just because a working (or non-working) mom's choice wouldn't work for you doesn't mean it can't work, and work well, for another family. It's my belief that if you love your career, you shouldn't have to give it up to stay home and care for your children, unless that's something you truly want to do. Because if a career-woman gives up a job she's devoted to, that fulfills her, that makes her feel good about herself, I believe it's only a matter of time before she eventually begins to resent her children. No mother ever wants to experience this, and she shouldn't have to.
"Motherhood is a state of being, not a job description." (Sara Nelson)
The author of this essay describes a situation where upon attending an event at her daughter's school, another woman asked her what she did for a living. Sara told her that she was an editor, and asked her what she did for a living. The woman replied that she was a "full-time mom." Sara was very angry, and of course rightfully so, because, as she says, "I've been a full-time mother every second of every day for the past ten and a half years, whether I'm researching an article or pushing a swing." My response to this is that anyone who suggests to another mother that she's in any way inadequate because she works outside the home clearly has some self-esteem issues to deal with.
"Having it all doesn't mean much when you don't have time to enjoy any of it." (Beth Brophy)
People who hear about my job situation often comment on how great it is that I can work from home. But the reality of the situation is this: While I know I'm extremely lucky to have this option, juggling the insanity of two full-time jobs (caring for Isabella and writing for my company) makes me feel like I'm doing neither job well. My patience is often short(er) with Isabella because of work pressures and deadlines, which is completely unfair to her, and I'm nowhere near as sharp in my writing as I used to be. As another one of the essayists says, "It is impossible to bring your best self to two separate full-time jobs simultaneously."
"I know now there are lots of mothers who, like me, are following the compass in their hearts, only their arrows point to offices. Just like I need my home to feel whole and fulfilled, they need colleagues and desks miles away from their kitchens. I am not better. These women are not wrong." (Iris Krasnow)
Every woman wants to give her children a happy mom. For some moms, being happy means staying at home full-time with her children. For other moms, that means working full-time or part-time. Whether a mother is working because she has to or because she wants to, she is no less a mother than the one who is privileged enough to not have to work or who simply lives frugally so she can stay home.
I cannot recommend this book enough to those of you out there who are moms, or even those who are thinking about becoming moms one day. It made me examine my own choices, my own beliefs, and it made me take a hard look at the type of mother I am as a result of my working situation. I have much to say on this topic, because my work is at the forefront of a lot of stress in my life right now, so my next post will be about how I'm making a change I've always wanted to make, but for reasons I never could have predicted.
That said, my amici in the mother country have clearly lost their ever-loving minds. Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Italians amassed in Rome for a Family Day rally.
My people were out in the ancient squares of Rome rallying to protest proposed legislation that would grant new rights to unmarried and same-sex couples. What are these rights that have so many Italians up-in-arms? Inheritance and hospital visits, among others.
The legislation wouldn't legazlize gay marriage or civil unions. It's merely the extension of the basic rights of all human beings: to visit your loved one who is sick in the hospital. To inherit from your partner of 30 years his or her life's savings, the savings you contributed to, upon that person's death.
And the reason for the criticism of this legislation? Apparently, my friends in Italy believe that to extend these rights to unmarried and same sex couples would serve to "dismantle the traditional family."
I have never understood how critics of gay marriage, civil unions, or the mere extension of rights to unmarried couples can say that their own marriages, and their own families, are threatened by giving the rights they enjoy to others.
If my neighbors Ron and Alex get married and can now enjoy the 1,400 some-odd rights given to heterosexual couples upon marriage, how exactly does this affect my life with Isabella and Rich? Oh right. It doesn't.
And as I've said before, two people, regardless of gender, commiting themselves to each other for life is not eroding the moral fabric of this country or any other. Look no further than the war-mongering president of our fine country for that one. Drunk heterosexual celebrities marrying eachother after a night of partying in Vegas (a la Brit-Brit) is fine, but a gay couple in a ten-year relationship cannot make their bond legal? When will the ignorant leaders of the world realize that there are more important issues facing us daily than boys (or girls) kissing?
Somewhere between 250,000 and 1.5 million people (actual counts vary) attended this rally, organized by lay Catholic groups and "family associations." Right. Because clearly, if you and your boyfriend have three kids, you're not a family because you're not married. And you? You over there with your same-sex parter of 12 years and your three cats? You're not a family either.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. And just because your family doesn't look like mine, just because your family has cats not kids, or is composed of two men, or is made up of two women with their children from previous relationships, or a man and a woman in a multiple-decade common-law marriage doesn't mean that each of these families doesn't deserve the same rights that Rich and I were given when we got married.
Clearly all that gelato has frozen some brains in the motherland.
I cannot believe how quickly my baby is growing up.
The biggest change in the past month is her ability to feed herself. She's quite the self-feeder these days, and is working on her pincer grasp, used to both grasp at Cheerios on her highchair tray and to squeeze the cats' bellies.
Also, I may have a little leftie on my hands (ha-ha). She is much more adept at feeding herself with her left hand than her right, and even when a Cheerio is placed directly beside her right hand, she'll often reach over with her left hand to grab it. Rich is convinced we can market this to our advantage when she becomes a pro golfer.
She's also putting up a big stink when I try to feed her many of the foods she used to love. I'm not blending them as smoothly as I did when she was younger, because babies her age are supposed to have more texture in their foods. She doesn't seem to be too fond of it, often sticking her tongue straight out and letting the offending food fall right off of it. Anyone else experience this?
And to round out her feeding escapades, she's also discovered the joys of blowing raspberries while her mouth is full of food, and then breaking into a huge smile as I pick pureed carrots out of my hair. Fun stuff.
Oh, and she has no teeth. None. Not even the signs of any coming in anytime soon. I'm convinced we'll be fitting her for dentures in a few months.
Isabella says "da-da-da" (most often in a whisper, oddly enough) much more than "ma-ma" these days, although I don't think she identifes what she's saying with either one of us yet. She does, however, recognize certain objects and certain people, and turns to look at them when prompted. For example, someone can say, "Where's your ball?" and she'll immediately turn and look at it.
She's still not crawling, and as I mentioned in last month's update, I don't think she ever will and will probably go right to walking. She is, however, a masterful roller. She can roll, and quite quickly at that, wherever she needs to go.
While she's showing no inclination to get up on all fours and get her arse in gear, she can however, go from a seated position to a crawling position (if she were so motivated, that is).
Her babbling now sounds increasingly like actual words, as if she's trying to speak instead of indiscriminately emitting sounds as she has in the past. Or she might just be plotting revenge against me in some foreign language for making her eat pureed cauliflower. I don't know. But I'm keeping my ears open just in case.
She can clap her hands together as I sing "patty-cake" and she often starts to clap spontaneously, for no reason at all. She can also wave goodbye, and she performs several inappropriate hand gestures when she's frustrated, but I won't get into that here.
And here's my favorite new development of the past month. My little girl will sit or lay still for minutes (and quite a few at that!!) on end turning the pages of her board books and "reading" aloud. There's no sound in the world as sweet to me as the quiet babbling she makes while playing with her books.
1. What are three of your all-time favorite books? What about them makes them faves?
Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
I absolutely loved this book both for the subject matter (girl on the verge of thirty steps off the hamster wheel of her life and tackles the enormous task of cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking) and for the way in which the author writes (real, raw, and uninhibited). You can read my complete review of the book here.
Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Bryson is an American journalist who spent 20 years living and working in England. His book chronicles the idiosyncrasis of life "on the other side of the pond" and each page of his equally brilliant and hilarious writing brought back memories of my own, much shorter (by about 19.5 years) life lived in England in my early 20s.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
This is the story of a former slave named Sethe in the years following the Civil War, and the agony she endures as she's haunted by the spirit of her murdered baby. While the subject matter is far from a summer beach read, Morrison's writing, and the mystery surrounding the baby's death, draw you in from the very first page. A quote from this novel inspired my Master's thesis, which focused on the social construction of motherhood during slavery and the lengths Sethe went to in order to save her daughter from the brutality she experienced as a slave: "Unless carefree, mother-love was a killer."
2. You enjoy baking. Me too. What baking pan gets the most use in your kitchen? Is there a favorite recipe prepared in that pan again and again?
As lame as it sounds, it's my muffin pans that get the most use lately, and they're nothing special, either. However, the muffins I most often bake in them are really good. They're Magnolia Bakery's Oatmeal Muffins, and they're delicious AND good for you. Here's a link to the recipe.
3. Describe your perfect Mother's Day.
The one I just had, my first, was pretty awesome. But my perfect Mother's Day? It would start early, because it would have to. But that's fine, because I would be awoken by the aroma of coffee (fully caffeinated) brought to me in bed by Jude Law...I mean, my husband. After nursing Isabella and playing with her in bed for awhile, the hubs would bring her downstairs and take care of her morning routine-including feeding her breakfast and playing with her.
Meanwhile, I'm upstairs in bed, reading the paper or a novel. Once Isabella had gone down for her nap, I'd go for a run, and after showering, I would sit down to a delicious pancake or waffle breakfast prepared once again by Jude...my husband. Once Isabella got up, the three of us would go for a long walk, and following her second nap, we'd pack a picnic (utilizing one of the two very nice picnic baskets that have gone unused since we received them as wedding gifts 6 years ago and are currently collecting dust in my attic) and head to a park.
We'd come home, and spend time together, just the three of us, with no interruptions. No work for me. No tv for the hubs. Just quality family time. Once Isabella was in bed for the night, I'd take a long bath, and then the hubs and I would watch a funny movie (because I need all the funny in my life that I can get these days). And that's it. I wouldn't need any gifts, because honestly, I feel like I already received mine, almost nine months ago.
4. You like to walk and run. Are there other forms of exercise you enjoy (or did enjoy but might not have time for now...)?
I used to love to rollerblade, but I'm thinking it's probably not a good idea to push a stroller while traveling at a rollerblading rate of speed. I also love swimming (our pool comes in handy for that one).
5. You're being sent away on an all-expenses paid long weekend vacation. Don't worry about your family, they're all set. This is a get-away for just Kristi. Your accommodations and food will be provided, as will toiletries and sunscreen. The only catch is that you can bring only what will fit into a shoebox. What will you bring?
Ohh...good question. I would pack a book or two, because reading is a rarity for me lately, a journal and a pen to write about my experiences, my digital camera, and a Starbucks cards, 'cause, you know, a girl needs her caffeine. I'd also bring my watch, because there's no way I could leave my Type A brain at home, even on vacation. Oh, and clean underwear.
If you want me to give you some interview questions, let me know and I'll send some your way.
The hat is actually of really great quality. It's 100% wool, but also, sadly, 100% weirdly shaped.
I apparently had no idea when I bought it that the hat made me look like an Irish Chef Boyardee.
I wore this hat faithfully in both high school and college, and then I proudly flew my fashion freak flag when I visited Ireland after graduating from college and basically wore this hat the entire time I was there.
Funny, though. I didn't see one Irish person with a hat anything like mine. I'm sure the Irish found my hat as bizarre then as I do now.
*Under-eyelid bags available for an additional cost.
The day started bright and early, as all days with an 8-month old do. We went downstairs and Isabella proceeded to read me my card from her, because mommy hadn't yet entered the world of the half-caffeinated yet.
But this year is obviously different.
Here's what being a mom means to me:
Being a mom means bearing witness on a daily basis to the myriad possibilities of what my daughter may become (even if it is Olivia Newton John's body double).
Being a mom means giving an incredible gift to your family, and witnessing from afar the unimaginable level of joy your child brings into the lives of others.
It's an interesting writing exercise, and one that forces me to do some critical thinking about myself, something I don't do very often these days. So...
I am compassion and empathy and activism,
Impatience and stubbornness and full of strong opinions.
I am stacks of new books, skeins of soft yarn, and a mug of warm coffee by a wood fire.
I am Italian love and Irish humor.
I am a world traveler, more in my mind than with my feet.
I am a St. Lucia lime daiquiri and a Roman gelato, a Parisian baquette, an English scone.
I am flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. I am warm Italian bread, fresh from the oven.
I am cynical and sarcastic, more realist than optimist.
I am mother to three adorable cats, and one slightly more adorable human.
I am wife to my personality polar opposite.
And I am a Type A who always packs a Plan B.
Here are a couple quotations I've come across lately that succinctly sum up part of who I am as well:
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
-Theodore Roosevelt, 1918
"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. "
And finally, there's this, as seen on a bumper sticker outside my Starbucks:
Bipartisanship: I'll hug your elephant if you kiss my ass.
The thing is, though, everyone in my family knows what we went through to have Isabella. We didn't keep it a secret once we broke the news of her impending arrival. They know she wasn't the result of birth control pills flung casually out the window and a little too much wine with dinner.
Once I had answered my aunt's question and changed the subject, in the back of my mind I slipped into the mode of someone who didn't take two years, a lot of drugs, and a small mint to conceive her child. I began thinking about what the hubs and I had discussed regarding the use of our four frozen embryos. How in the perfectly fertile worlds in our heads we both want two children, about two years apart in age. How we want this potential second child fairly soon, because a big factor in the success of IVF is maternal age. How Isabella's life would change, both for the better and for the worse, with the addition of a possible sibling.
And then yesterday morning, The Today Show began a series on infertility. According to the segment, 6.1 million women in the United States are considered infertile (trying for a full year to conceive without success). Another 9 million seek out fertility treatments in order to conceive. They profiled three women. One of the women tried unsuccessfully for many years to conceive a child, and then ended up adopting twins from Russia. Another tried IVF, miscarried, and then soon afterwards became pregnant "naturally." And the third, a woman who had previously appeared on Oprah to discuss her struggle to have a baby in her 30s, has endured multiple IVF cycles, and still does not have the baby she yearns for after 4.5 years of treatment. She spoke of the lonliness and isolation of walking into birthday parties for her friends' children with her husband-the only couple without children in tow. I knew these emotions intimately. I've walked in her shoes.
While watching this segment, tears rolled down my cheeks as my beautiful 8 month old baby rolled and played and babbled on the floor in front of me. There are days in the absolute craziness of being a mother, when my work keeps me chained to my laptop while she naps, when life prevents me from stopping for two seconds to catch my breath, that I forget how lucky I am to have her. And then I'm reminded of how she came to be, and the deep well of sadness, the emptiness, and the rage of those two long years of trying to conceive come rushing back. And it's as if I'm still there on the examination table, legs open with the dildo cam ready in the nurse's hand, waiting to hear about my uterine lining, my follicle count, when to trigger ovulation.
I am truly, truly blessed to have one child. How selfish it seems to want a second, when so many women, women who would make unbelievable mothers, cannot even have one.
And yet, I know I would be devastated if I couldn't have a second child to complete our family. Even typing this makes me feel like the most unappreciative person ever to walk the earth.
Would we adopt if it didn't happen? Maybe. Would I be okay with leaving behind the family of four I always imagined myself a part of? I don't know.
Part of my problem, I suppose, is that instead of living "in the moment," I tend to live "in the next moment." I'm forever thinking of and planning for what's supposed to come next. I need to be kept humble and grateful. I've been given an incredible gift, a gift that millions of women in this country will never receive, in the form of my daughter. And she should be enough.
I just need to figure out how to prevent myself from wanting more.
The hubs has hated this sweater since I bought it. He says it looks like a housecoat. What exactly is a "housecoat?" Well, my friend Wikipedia defines it as "A woman's garment, usually long and loose, used for informal wear at home."
I suppose the sweater fits this definition. There's only one problem. I wore this sweater at the office, when I still worked in an office, constantly.
This sweater was my "office sweater." I kept it at work, slung over the back of my chair, because the teperature in my former office was kept at a balmy 45 degrees Fahrenheit. See, I worked with an office full of mainly middle-aged men, all of whom were perpetually hot (male-menopausal hot flashes?). So whenever one of the few women in my office went to adjust the heat, there was an immediate testosterone-fueled uproar, and one of the guys ran to the thermostat and cranked the heat back down.
And since I'm a perpetually cold person, out came the sweater, most every day, and even in the summer.
Hmm... clearly wearing this in the office is a mere half-step away from going to work in your bunny slippers.
But where babies are concerned? Dear God, everyone is an authority.
Before I go any further, I love my grandma dearly. She practically raised me. I spent every weekend sleeping over her house when I was young, and she and I have always had a very close relatonship. And she showers Isabella with a level of love and attention that makes me smile every time I see them together.
There's only one problem. I do believe grandma thinks I'm the worst mother imaginable.
We've been here before, if you remember. But here are just a few of the things she's said and done in recent weeks.
"You know, Kris. She really needs a warmer jacket and hat on than the one you've got her in."
(It was 72 degrees and sunny out that day.)
"Her bibs are hurting her neck."
(Okay, I won't put a bib on her at all, and instead I'll add 72 weekly loads of wash to my to-do list.)
"You know, making all of Isabella's baby food is a lot of work, and I think it's stressing you out. The jarred stuff is just as good."
(Say it with me, "Just because your choices are not my choices does not make them wrong.")
Grandma pulled her stroller backwards down the driveway so the sun wouldn't get in her eyes. Then she called me a "mean mommy" when I told her Isabella has to get used to having a little sun in her eyes because I can't exactly pull the car over and wait until the sun sets everytime we're driving somewhere on a sunny day.
Grandma thinks I should hand-feed Isabella her finger foods because she was taking several tries to get them into her mouth.
(I told grandma that ain't happening, because I didn't want to be spoon-feeding a 10 year old one day.)
She's told me that taking Isabella to baby storytime and playtime at the library is silly because she doesn't know or understand where she is anyway.
(I believe this harkens back to her belief that babies should not leave the house, like, ever. )
And then there's my personal favorite:
"Her socks are cutting off her circulation!"
I know she doesn't mean to come across as malicious with her comments. She comes from a completely different child-rearing age, where there was no such thing as the Internet, there was one book for parents to use for advice (Dr. Spock), and pediatricians only dealt with the medical aspects of your child's life. They didn't dispense advice on sleep habits, feeding schedules, or cognitive development.
And I'm sure she expected me to use her as my lone source of parenting advice, as my mother did before me. After all, she raised five children, and has 11 grandchildren. She knows her way around babies!
But the thing is, a lot has changed in the pediatric field since she was raising her kids, and even her grandkids (think rice cereal in the bottle, whiskey on teething gums, stomach-sleeping, and formula versus breastfeeding).
And I'm a pretty independant thinker. If I have a question about Isabella's health, or behavior, or diet, I'm going to either call her pediatrician, research it online, post it here on my blog, so one of my knowledgeable readers can offer help, or ask one of my friends if they've encountered something similar. And when all else fails, I'm going to go with my gut in doing what I think is right. I didn't necessarily trust my parenting skills when I first brought home my newborn baby, but I've gained confidence as the months have gone by and my little baby is not-so-little anymore.
I love my grandma to pieces, but lately, she's been driving me a little crazy.
Wait until she hears I'm getting Isabella's tongue pierced as soon as she finishes breastfeeding. That will really send her over the edge.