Bad Hostess

Posted: April 22nd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Boredom, Parenting, Working World, Writing | 9 Comments »

I think I forgot how to write. But maybe if I just start doing it again it’ll all come back to me.

You see, for a while—this fall and winter—I had a freelance job that paid me money. Like a big girl! And I showered every day and drove on highways during the trafficky times and went to lots of meetings. One day I was even the last parent to pick up my kid from preschool. (Although, blessedly, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I think it’s cool.”)

I had forgotten so much of this life. When two parents are working and there’s milk in the refrigerator it’s a freaking MIRACLE. Wheat Thins can become the main course in a working parents’ family dinner because, hey, they’re wheat. And one can quickly adopt a European “wear it twice before washing” attitude about laundry.

My circadian rhythms were out of whack too. I started using an alarm clock again—sometimes even waking up BEFORE THE CHILDREN. And I don’t want to brag here, but a few times at the end of a long work day I managed to stay up past 8:30. That’s a solid 30 minutes of Me Time after the kids went to sleep.

I did NOT however maintain my consistent workout and daily green-juice-drinkin’ routine. But I did replace that with a rigorous I’m-stressed-so-I’ll-treat-myself diet that included the M&Ms, potato chips, and candy-like granola bars that the agency I was working at kept on hand. In my three months of office work if my FitBit could’ve talked to me I’m sure it would’ve just laughed.

The thing is, my gig wasn’t even full time. I was cruising in mid-morning after dropping the kids at school and darting out early some days to chauffeur them to ballet and the horse ranch. Then we’d swing by the grocery store at 6PM in a mad dash to forage for food. So I guess when I think of it that way it was really more like I was doing two jobs (but only getting paid for one).

And let it be known my volunteer commitments didn’t lag. I still ran the school’s monthly coffee party (vintage tablecloths, home-baked muffins, ‘n all), kept Room One’s parents abreast of upcoming field trips, and hit up unsuspecting families to donate to the school—all while typing emails on my phone and taking conference calls in the short-stalled girls’ bathroom.

I spent plenty of time at my office too. I perfected the art of tossing carseats on our front porch on days that I knew might go sideways. If I sensed a meeting would run late I’d text a slew of sitters in the hopes that one was free to zip by our house, grab the boosters, and careen over to the kids’ two schools in time to lay claim to them before after-care ended and CPS was called.

It was like playing with fire—not knowing if my client presentation would sink or swim, while concurrently wondering whether my girls would be busking on the sidewalk for dinner money by the time I got over the bridge to fetch them.

If this sounds like a stressful, miserable existence, you might surprised to hear—now that the project I was on is over—how desperately I miss it. How muchly much muchly I was energized by every over-scheduled minute.  And how, dare I say it, during that time I appreciated every moment with my children and engaged with them wholeheartedly, unlike these days when I sometimes go to the bathroom just to hide from them.

Here’s a shout out to the Grass Is Always Greener Working Mother Club. I’m here to tell you how incredibly boring it is to have a fully-stocked pantry and fridge. Clothing that’s clean—and folded—and put away—for the whole family. And a fresh filter in the water purifer. My typical tower of store returns—various things we didn’t need, that didn’t fit, or were found to be faulty or broken—is non-existent now, which I tragically see as distressing since it means that I have no errands to run.

I mean this is how bad it’s gotten: We don’t have A SINGLE OVERDUE LIBRARY BOOK.

I think what I miss is the stress of having something challenging in front of me, and having to think, hustle, work away at it and finally conquer it. Try as I do I’m not getting deep satisfaction from having discovered new lunch items Paige is willing to eat at school. (Sliced turkey is a contender over the poppy seed bagels we used to pack every day. Huzzah!) Nor am I smug with satisfaction because I’ve read several novels, gotten back on the elliptical regularly, joined the coconut water craze, or finally tended to our front porch ferns that had experienced a savage two-month drought that I’d cruelly imposed upon them.

They are, unsurprisingly, not springing back to life. Yet.

And to show you just how freaking bored and on top of the homefront shit I am, I even pulled out my scrapbooking box. Kill me now! I have made a total of nine—count ‘em NINE—scrapbook pages in my life. (All frickin’ works of art, mind you.) They include me pregnant, Kate as a newborn, Kate’s first Christmas, and a road trip we took when she was like 5 months old. Someday when we are decrepit and infirmed, Mark and I will reflect on those four events, without so much as one photo of Paige to jolt our addled Alzheimer’s brains into remembering that we did in fact have a second child.

Despite how very little attention I’ve given to the housewifely art of scrapbooking (far less than I’ve ever bestowed upon our ferns) I appear at one point to have spent roughly $2,000 on every possible scalloped-edged photo cutter, colorful adhesive-backed letter, patterned background paper, and floral sticker. Really, I could pay for two semesters at Harvard with the money I spent on that crafty crap.

Anyway, because she was home sick but wasn’t really sick (long story) I got Kate to make two scrapbook pages. Then I tucked it all away for another six years. With enough neglect, all that stuff will start looking vintage. Maybe then I’ll think it’s cool and want to do something with it.

In the meantime I’m trying to remember what I used to do before my freelance project left me so stressfully, blissfully over-occupied. And I think the answer was: blog.

So here I am. I’m back.

I feel kinda like I left my own party to go to a movie or something. And now I’m sneaking back in, shamefacedly trying to hide my Raisinets. I have no idea if anyone’s even still here. And if there are people here they’re either mad at me for being such a crappy host, or are expecting me to do something really dazzling and entertaining to make up for my absence.

Trust me, if I could find that thing, I’d be doing it right now.


9 Comments »

Paige’s Birthday Interview, Age 5

Posted: February 15th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 17 Comments »

I’m worried about how Paige is going to handle turning 30. If how she dealt with her fifth birthday is any indication, 30 will be a doozey. With the amount of discussion, processing, anticipation, and anguish that’s consumed her over this five-fingers-old b-day, you’d think she was in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

A few weeks back Mark was bathing Paige after dinner, and from my perch folding clothes on the couch I heard her start crying. This is not a terribly unusual occurrence, since by the end of the day exhaustion can get the better of Paige’s amiable disposition. I had no idea what she was bawling about but assumed Mark had it under control, so I forged on with my folding.

Five minutes later a toweled-off but still-wailing Paige dashed into the living room to find me. She was buck naked, her hair a mass of dripping wet, matted curls.

Ma-maaaaaaa,” she blubbered red-faced. “I don’t waaaaanna turn five! Everything’s gonna be different!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, wrapping her up in my arms.

“I don’t wanna leave my school! I love my teachers and my friends!” she wailed. It dawned on me that she thought she might be shunted directly kindergarten upon turning five. But before I could open my mouth she bellowed, “I don’t know how to do math! And I don’t even KNOW what P.E. is!”

Is it wrong to laugh at your sobbing, inconsolable child?

One thing Paige did embrace this year for her birthday—aside from her animal-themed party, which she counted down to starting some 20 days out—was her birthday interview. Yes the annual talk we have that I share on this very blog.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation:

Me: Do you feel different now that you’re five?
Paige:  Yes.
Me
: How?
Paige: 
Why is it called an interview?
Me
: Why do you think?
Paige: 
Because it’s interviewing you?
Me
: Well, yes.

Me: So how do you feel different now that you’re five?
Paige: 
It feels like I can do more things by myself.
Me:
Like what?
Paige:
Um. Hmmm…. Write!

Me: What do you like most about preschool?
Paige: Drawing.
Me
: What else?
Paige:
Play with my friends.

Me: What do you like to do most when you aren’t in school?
Paige: Read. Read Jack and Annie.
Me
: Do you know how to read the words?
Paige:
I am just doing it in my mind. I look at the words and I make them up into one whole words. That is how I read. Like w-x-n and z—but that doesn’t really make a word. That is how I read.

Me: If a genie could grant you only one wish, what would it be?
Paige: Having a house with dogs and cats allowed. Having a dog.

Me: Where do you think you’ll live when you grown up?
Paige: In… [long pause] Japan.
Me
: Why?
Paige:
I just do. I wonder what it’s like in Japan.

Me: Who do you think you will live with?
Paige: My kids and our father.
Me
: Like your husband?
Paige:
My husband.
Me
: Do you have any idea who that’s going to be?
Paige:
No. Well—I do have two ideas. I might marry two of those guys.
Me
: Who?
Paige:
Jonathan or Elliot. I mean Jonathan or Ezra!
Me
: Why them?
Paige:
I don’t know. I just like them. Jonathan isn’t into marrying me. He’s maybe going to marry Ania, one of my friends.

Me: Do you think you’ll want to have children?
Paige: Nah. I don’t know.
Me
: Well you were saying you were going to live with them so I assumed that meant yes. But you’re not sure yet?
Paige:
Not really.

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them? Do you have a best friend?
Paige: Well, not really. But I do! It’s Jonathan and Ezra.

Me: What do you think are the biggest problems in the world today?
Paige: That is kind of a hard question. Making a trap.
Me
: What do you mean by that?
Paige:
It’s the hardest thing to do today. Like a mouse trap. Well it’s not exactly a mouse trap. It like catches bugs and things like that.

Me: What would you do if you were the president?
Paige:
Um. I would live with all the kids that I like. Yeah I would I would I would I would I would!

Me: Would you do anything to help people in the world?
Paige:
Help kids—like things they can’t do and reach. And teach. Teach kids how to do things like swim.

Me: What do you think you are an expert on?
Paige:  On the swings. Because I can go really high on the green one, not super duper high on the blue one. Just medium on the blue one.

Me: What do you want to learn more about?
Paige: Science and spies.

Me: What have you done that you’re really proud of?
Paige: Going to swimming today and going underwater.

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Paige: An acrobat.
Me
: What do they get to do?
Paige:
They get to go on trapezes and do all fun stuff. And they’re freeeee!

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Paige: I’m lucky.
Me
: That’s cool. Why?
Paige:
Because I have a safe family and I have a house and toys.

Me: What songs are special to you?
Paige: “Super Trooper,” “A Sun of a Mass of Incandescent Gas,” and Phineas and Ferb songs. [Looks up at a poster] And Pinkalicious songs! No more songs that are special to me.

Paige: When is the boyfriend one gonna come up?
Me:
The boyfriend what?
Paige:
The boyfriend question? Meep.
Me:
What is the boyfriend question?
Paige:
It’s when you ask me if I have a boyfriend or if I want one.
Me:
Do you want to answer that?
Paige:
Yeah.
Me:
Are you going to?
Paige:
Yeah.
Me:
Okay, so what’s the answer?
Paige:
I want a boyfriend.
Me:
What would you do with a boyfriend?
Paige:
I would play with him.
Me:
Anything else you want to say about that?
Paige:
No.

Paige: Mommy you are just making up questions to me.
Me:
That is what an interview is.
Paige:
So you’re really doing it?
Me:
Doing what?
Paige:
Um. Making up questions.
Me:
Yeah, well I had them written here. Do you think I should have done it differently?
Paige:
Yeah.
Me:
How?
Paige:
Are there more questions?
Me:
Yeah.
Paige:
Oooooh!

Me: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Paige: I would go to Hawaii to see the hula dancers.

Me: What are some of your favorite places you’ve gone to?
Paige: Rhode Island. New Yowk. Where else have we went to?
Me
: Minnesota.
Paige:
Minnesota! Where else?
Me
: Ohio, Kentucky…
Paige:
Ohio!
Me
: Not every place has to be your favorite place.
Paige:
[quietly] I really want to say Kentucky…

Paige: Is the interview done?
Me
: Almost
Paige:
Yay!

Me: If you could have any super power what would it be?
Paige: Ice.
Me:
What do you mean?
Paige: Freeze bad guys.
Me: Then what would you with them?
Paige:
I don’t know. I would be Freeze Girl!

Me: What are you most afraid of?
Paige: Um… John. The ghost of John. It’s a ghost named John. This is its song: [singing] Have you ever sawn the ghost of John? Long white bones and nothing left. Oooooh. Wouldn’t it be chilly to have no skin on?
Me:
[laughing] Where did you learn that?
Paige: A book.

Me: What makes you happiest?
Paige: Going to the ice cream store.

Me: Is there anything else I should be asking you for this interview?
Paige: What is my favorite movie. Um, what is that movie that we watched where the girl is the lead and there’s a bad girl? It’s something like Fiona? Where she gets a horse in the end?
Me:
Oh, what we watched last night? Flicka?
Paige
: Yes, I love Flicka. Flicka. Flicka.

Paige: Is my interview done?
Me: Yes. What did you think of it?
Paige: Good. It was a little different.
Me: Than what?
Paige: My other interviews.
Me: How?
Paige: I didn’t like what I said.
Me: You can change any of your answers.
Paige: Okay, what should it be?
Me: What answers should you change? I don’t know. I liked your answers.
Paige: Okay. I won’t change any.

Happy happy birthday and huge big love to you, dear Paige. This mama wouldn’t change a thing about you.


17 Comments »

Guest Post by Miss Kate, Age 7.5

Posted: January 15th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Guest Posts, Holidays, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Travel | 11 Comments »

A Great Winter Braeck

HI! I am Kate and I am going to tell you about my winter break.

So it all steard in the airport. I was pulling my things so were my mom and dad. my sister was dansing  all about are feet. oh great. On the plane I playd  on the ornge ipone. before we  new it we were in NYC.

In NYC we were staing at or friends Mick and Lorn’s house.

My mom and dad took me and paige to FAO SHWOTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was soooooo cool. Then we wint to American Girl and had a tea party with the dolls! It was sooooooo cool to!

I loved it in NYC! In NYC we wint on a horse dron carge ride. The horse’s name was Bruno like my grandpa and grandma’s dog!

After 2 days we wint on a bus to Bristol, RI. In Bristol we selberadit Christmas with my grandma and grandpa, thare dog Bruno, my Aunt Ellen and 2 casins and my Aunt Mrey, Uncal Jonh, and casins Rory and Jonh.

My sister thinks Christmas is geting not giving. Not rite.

IT SNODE WEN WE WERE THAR! I made a snow pup!

My Dad left bofor New Year and my mom and sister and me had New Year in Bristol too.

On or last day we wint ice sckading! I loved it! It was my first time. My sister did not go on the ice. It was silly. Ice sckating was her iday! But she is going to try agin.

So that was my winter brack!

The end.

 


11 Comments »

Lessons in Gift Giving

Posted: January 7th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Holidays, Little Rhody, Pets, Shopping, Sisters | 2 Comments »

The holidays are the perfect time to show kids that giving can be as much fun as getting. But I bungled my shot at teaching that lesson this year.

At Thanksgiving I had the harried working-mother last-minute realization that I wanted to find a way for us to give back somehow. But by the time I tried signing up to serve at a soup kitchen, all the places were flush with other more organized, plan-aheady do-gooders.

At Christmas I wanted us to bring toys to the local firehouse for Toys for Tots. At least, I had that thought then must’ve seen something shiny, got distracted, and forgot about it. It wasn’t until YESTERDAY when I saw a weeks-old photo of my friends’ kids on Facebook, arms laden with toys for those less fortunate that I slapped my head in a shoulda-had-a-V8 kinda way and remembered my intention.

Oh well.

Of course, it’s never too late to help others. All those soup kitchens still need donations and help and homeless kids need toys and clothes even though the Christmas spirit has been packed away and stowed in the attic for a year.

And it’s not like my kids learned nothing about the finer points of gift giving this year. There were plenty of gift swapping exchanges between them—trading toys they’d gotten that they decided they didn’t like as much as the thing their sister got. Inevitably once the new recipient of the item showed interest in it, the original owner howled to have it back. And Big Sis Kate, who’d usually contrived the often-unfair trade, would call Indian Giver. Which of course, we were always careful to point out should be Native American Giver.

They’ll learn eventually.

Other lessons in giving and receiving took place, and not just with the kids. After a long campaign between my three sisters and I, I’d tiraded against getting the ‘rents iPads feeling certain they didn’t want and/or wouldn’t use them. Instead I convinced one sib that a year-long subscription to The New York Times was just what they needed. On Day One of our visit home—with zero shopping days remaining—I saw that they already got the Times. D’oh! (And they LOVED the iPads they got from my other sister.)

This, I’ll note, was my follow up act to the previous year’s attempt at paternal gift giving. I’d decided a donation to a school in Africa was just what the man who had everything would appreciate. Paige’s preschool has a sister school in Zimbabwe and the kids there needed water canteens for their epic walks to school. After conferring with a sister on this donation-in-Dad’s-name concept, I was convinced that a gift card to a local restaurant would be more appreciated.

Dad called that Christmas, his voice cracking with emotion, to report he’d received the best gifts ever that morning. His wife had paid for some third-world kids to have surgery on their cleft palates. Another of my sisters bought desks for a dirt-floored school somewhere in Africa.

“Such incredible, thoughtful gifts,” he croaked huskily. “It was really the best Christmas ever.”

Seemed silly at that point to inquire if they were looking forward to their dinner out.

This Christmas also provided us with lessons in re-gifting. Dad and his wife received a bag of red and green dog biscuits. For their pooch, of course. They have one of those immensely-adored retirement dogs who lives the life of Cleopatra. No nutritional or manufacturing information came with the canine treats—they were in a clear plastic bag cinched with a festive red bow.

The dog treats were deemed suspect. References to babies dying in China from bad formula were made. Undaunted by the potential harm they could cause I grabbed the sack before heading to visit friends who have two very large, very hungry dogs. Those nefarious biscuits might take down Dad’s small Dachshund, but my friends have a German Shepherd and a Great Dane. I figured a few bum biscuits were less likely to kill them, based on their body mass alone.

Batting the muzzles of the dogs away, my friend took the bag, thanked me and holding it up out of reach, twirled it around to find an ingredient list. Did I know, she asked, if they contained chicken or beef? Turns out that Duke, their Great Dane, is allergic to the processed versions of those proteins. But, she said, setting the bag on her counter, her dog walkers’ dogs would most certainly appreciate the biscuits.

Or would they?

Let it be known that there’s a bag of Christmas-colored doggie treats currently making their way ’round South Eastern New England like some hot-potato fruitcake.

So then, my gifting take-aways to keep in mind for next year:

1. Reserve volunteer opportunities early at soup kitchens. Turns out those are some of the hottest reservations to book at the holidays.

2. Prioritize gift-buying impulses in this order: anything related to children in Africa or made by Apple.

3. Do not consult with—or lobby to—your siblings when buying gifts for your parents. Both approaches inevitably backfire.

4. When it comes to selecting gifts for pets, dispense with any notions of packaged snacks or treats. Opt instead for a gift card to the local fancy restaurant.


2 Comments »

All I Want for Christmas

Posted: December 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Other Mothers, Scary Stuff | 11 Comments »

My friend Lily is having brain surgery today to remove a tumor. And if all goes well, ten days from now she’ll have a second, smaller brain tumor vaporized with a kind of turbo-charged super focused radiation.

Needless to say, this was not part of the plan.

Of course, cancer never is part of the plan, but Lily has already been down this hellish road. It started with breast cancer, which she soon found had made its way into other parts of her body. She slogged through a year of surgery, chemo, and radiation, and endless doctors appointments, tests, scans, and a host of other drugs.

And then one day she and her husband and kids hosted a huge ice cream social blow-out at their house because her treatments were finally over. Ding dong the wicked cancer was dead.

She spent the past 13 months cancer free. I’d get thrilling texts saying she’d just had a scan and it was completely and utterly negative. And we—her parents, her brother, her friends, her children, her neighbors who had delivered dinners and even cocktails—we all exhaled.

But recently she started having issues with her legs. When an hour-long walk had been a breeze weeks before, she was suddenly taxed after a 20-minute stroll. And when another scan blessedly showed her to still be cancer free, she got an MRI of her brain. And so here we are.

Or she is. Because as much as any of us want to go with her on this journey, share the pain, truly empathize, what makes me sob for my friend at times is the terrifying fear that must spike through her because this is all taking place in her body. Not even her husband who has no doubt felt immense terror, can know, can truly share, what it is she is feeling.

My mother had what I can only explain as a New Englander’s sensibility about misfortune. If someone we knew was gravely ill or if someone close to them had died Mom was a proponent of “not bothering them.” Sure she’d drop off a homecooked dinner on their front porch, but even a phone call she often felt was too intrusive.

And so, in the same way that I buy Tide laundry detergent and whole milk and vote Democratic because my mother did, I followed suit. Then when I was in my twenties my boyfriend, a long-term beau who I’d recently broken up with, died suddenly. And while I went through those first days in a miserable haze, people reached out to me—even when they said they didn’t know what to say (frankly, I didn’t know either) or all they could muster was the stiff, traditional “I’m sorry for your loss,” I was so so grateful. I could barely crawl out of bed but my answering machine was collecting all kinds of love and support and offers to “do anything—anything you need.” Even the calls I never managed to return helped me through an immensely bleak time.

So I changed my tune. I don’t worry about bothering people in their “time of need” any more.

The thing is that being the person reaching out can be awkward. Scary even. Even with a really close friend, through Lily’s rough patches I’ve struggled with wanting to say and do the perfectly appropriate thing, bring the right little indulgence to her, be the one she knew she could lean on in her darkest hour. And really, that all amounts to so much selfishness, right? It’s like wanting to get an A in friendship. It’s like making someone else’s problem all about you.

The thing is that I’ve learned so much about how to do all this stuff from Lily herself. She was a rock to me when my mom was sick. I don’t even remember the things she said or did but they were always so genuine and spot-on. When I’d be stupidly annoyed with other people, or when I’d act out and be inappropriate or too drunk or emotionally unstrung, Lily got it. Got me. Reeled me in. Helped me out. Was just there and unwavering. And so I want with everything, really everything I’ve got, I want to be that amazing friend for her. I want to find the magic lynchpin to set her free from all this.

And I’m so pissed off that The Big C has randomly struck her of all undeserving people.

Saturday as our kids decorated gingerbread houses in her dining room, devouring half the candy and gouging their fingers into the sugar frosting to even eat the “glue,” Lily and her husband and our friend Maureen talked in the kitchen. We got the in-person rundown on the treatment plan, on the decision about doctors and hospitals, on the wonderfully optimistic comments made by the surgeons and oncologists. And, true to form, Lily’s attitude about it all helped me. Even though all this crap is happening to her, she’s helping me get through it.

I haven’t seen her cry once during this. Not once has she pulled me aside to confess how terrified she is. She hasn’t vomited up an emotional tidal wave of fears about her wonderful young children and what their mother being sick is doing to them. And it’s not that I need to see that, but I worry about the things that happen when she’s not being positive and “we’ll get this because we have to” about it all.

She opened the door to her house yesterday wearing huge yellow foam Minnie Mouse slippers. They were utterly ridiculous, but totally perfect.

I hugged her hello and we both looked down at her feet. “We’ve got to have some levity around here, right?” she said.

Anyway, if you’re reading this I feel like I want to give you some assignment to help out somehow because I’m a huge believer of strength in numbers. What can you do? Send happy healing thoughts Lily’s way today. Or if you’ve got some extra anger and hatred on tap, send some of that energy towards those frickin’ tumors. Hung up on what to buy someone for the holidays? Consider a donation to an organization that’s funding cancer research. (Here’s one–and I’d love to hear of others that put money to good use.)

As for me, I’m going to do some version of praying my way through this day. And I’m crossing everything off my wish list. All I want for Christmas is for my dear friend Lily to be happy and whole and well.


11 Comments »

Vulnerability 101

Posted: December 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Clothing, Housewife Fashion Tips, Husbandry, Misc Neuroses, Style, Working World | 10 Comments »

We do more than drink wine in my book club. We also eat. And talk about our kids. And sure, there’s some book talk too.

Last time we met our conversation led to my friend Margot mentioning Brene Brown’s 2010 TED Talk, which she’d just seen on YouTube. It’s worth watching if you haven’t checked it out.

Margot was telling us how Brene’s research is centered around shame, vulnerability, and imperfection. If I’m getting this right, she says that being vulnerable—something a lot of people tend to think of as negative—actually allows you to make human connections. And it turns out that human connections are what bring us joy. A surprising, and very cool, cycle.

So I started a new freelance gig a few weeks back. (Hence my shameful blog neglect. Apologies if you’ve been forced to read a good book during my hiatus.) I’m doing some client relationship management for a creative agency in San Francisco. And even though I know a couple folks there, I’ve never worked with anyone on the team I’m on. So I’m in that mode where I’m hyper-aware of the first impressions I make. You know, sharpening my pencils and brushing my teeth even more than usual.

Now, creative workplaces present a special kind of fashion quandary. As the new freelancer you want to look professional and polished, but nearly everyone in the office has jeans on. Over-dressing is downright dorkish. Under-dressing can come off as cavalier—especially if you’re in a management role. So for my first day, I attempted to strike the right balance. As I left the house the girls and Mark gave me a thumbs up. I had on wool pants, boots, a white long-sleeved t-shirt, and a chunky necklace. As I dashed out the door I grabbed a cardigan.

As my first meeting started, the project manager launched into an overview of the work we’d be doing. She mentioned that Sam—another employee at the agency—had been invited to join us, but she wasn’t sure if he was going to make it.

About 10 minutes in, this Sam guy arrives. He slides into a seat at the conference table, smiles, and holds out his hand to introduce himself. He’s in a hoodie, but it’s probably cashmere. He’s got on jeans and some huge watch that’s sporty and probably pretty schmancy. He’s clearly clearly cracked the clothing code of the place, and for that alone I am humbled.

After a brief pause before launching back into our agenda I asked, “So, Sam, what do you do here?”

“Brand strategy,” he said brightly. And then he added more quietly, “And, I’m also the founder.”

Yes, boys and girls, I asked the president of the company I’m working at what he does. As if he was like, the Latte Boy or something.

By gum, I was off to a good start.

I got home later that afternoon feeling excited about my new gig. The agency folks were smart, the client was cutting edge. There were cute dogs and good snacks in the office.

The Husband was in the kitchen. He’d been working from home. He looked up from the sandwich he was assembling and said, “Hey! How was your meeting? Your sweater’s on inside-out.”

I looked down in a panic. Two bright white tags emerged from the waist of my chocolate brown cardigan. Ridiculous. Why do they even need those Care Instruction tags anyway? For God sakes, don’t people know how to manage wool at this point?

As Mark sliced his sandwich in two he said, “You’ll get the hang of this work thing soon, honey.”

I dashed to the bathroom mirror and twisted to see my back, hoping my hair covered the label at the top of the sweater. But OF COURSE IT DIDN’T. It was sticking out proudly just below my hairline.

I also saw that the exposed seams were jagged and thready-looking. I mean, Helen Keller would have noticed this sweater was on inside-out.

I could only hope that I distracted the meeting attendees from my madwoman fashion stylings by asking the president what he did at the company. I mean, if I was lucky one of my humiliating faux-pas might have overshadowed the other one.

In bed that night I whispered to Mark in the dark, “Do you think I should tell them I was recently struck by lightning? Maybe that could explain the sweater thing at least.”

Last weekend we went to a weird fun performance called Mummenschanz with Lily and her fam. In the endless concession line at intermission I stood behind a heavyset woman and her young daughter. As the three tones rang out indicating our break was ending—as was our hope of getting a snack—I noticed the mom in front of us had her long, tan cardigan on inside-out. I didn’t know her, but in that spinach-in-your-teeth way of the sisterhood of woman, I felt it was my duty to tap her on the arm and quietly point it out.

“Oh God,” she harrumphed, as she peeled her sweater off to turn it around. “Thank you.”

“Trust me,” I said as I took Kate’s hand to head back to our seats. “I’ve been there.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I too am seeking joy by making myself vulnerable! The clothing trick is only one of my moves.” But I thought there was a good chance she’d have no idea what I was talking about.


10 Comments »

Post Election Wrap-Up

Posted: November 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Politics, Preschool | No Comments »

Last night as the networks reported poll results from Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida, monitored the Senate race, and Vanna-Whited high-tech color-blocked maps, I know what you were thinking. This is all very interesting, but what I really want to know is what’s happening at the McClusky house on Election Day.

Thankfully I’m here to tell you. (Although my infographics aren’t very impressive.)

Our day started early. Painfully early. At 5:30AM, in fact, when Kate—excited by the prospect of coming with us to vote before going to school—ran through the house turning on all the lights. This was followed by Mark bellowing just inches from my ear, “BACK TO BED, Kate! It is 5:30 in the morning!!”

At 6AM—around when we might have dozed off again—Paige banged open our bedroom door like she was walking into a Wild West saloon. “Is it time to do voting yet?”

Oy. Remind me never to hype an early morning activity to the children again.

I crawled into bed with Paige in the slim hope that we’d get a few more minutes of shut-eye. No luck. Instead I heard her four-year-old commentary on the presidential front-runners. “I want Brock Obama to win today, but then after he takes a turn I want Matt Romney to win.”

Yes, Matt.

At breakfast Kate channeled her Election Day excitement into sign-making. (She’s big on signage for our front door, as well as greeting cards for nearly every occasion.)

Some highlights from her rabidly enthusiastic, grammatically-challenged signs:

“Go! Oboma! Go! Go!”

“I [heart] Oboma xoxo”

“Goob luck Obomo! xoxo”

“Oboma Peawr!”

I don’t know about you, but I think these are all very peawrful messages. Looks like somebody might have a future in politics.

At our neighborhood polling center—a Korean Methodist church—two lines were formed. Depending on the street you live on you were shunted into Line A or Line B to vote. The girls waited patiently, waved to various neighbors and friends, and were stoked to each get an “I Voted” sticker.

On the walk home Kate skipped through the leaves and trilled, “I reeeeeally hope Obama wins!” Paige reached for my hand and asked, “Is Obama Line A or Line B?”

I’m so happy she’s grasped the two party system.

At the end of the day we got an email from the preschool. Turns out the political banter continued throughout the day. The teachers shared a snippet of a conversation they overheard on the playground.

Paige: My mommy is Mrs. Claus and Matt Romney is on the bad list. [She's referring to my Halloween costume, the dear.]

Annie: I want Obama.

Connor: I’m Bock Obama.

Miles: And I’m Mitt Romney.

Annie: I’m gonna choose who wins. You have to talk a lot. You are on the TV.  Now I’m gonna choose who wins. Eeeny-meeny-miny-mo. Obama wins. Here’s your trophy!

Miles: No fair! I want a trophy!

Paige: Now I’m gonna pick who wins. Miles! Here’s your trophy!

Annie: My brother wants Mitt Romney to win. But he’s disgusting. Like throw-up.

Ah, good stuff. You’d NEVER guess that these kids were at a progressive preschool in Berkeley, would you?

The teachers’ email went on to report, “Everyone in our class voted on a ballot and decided who they wanted to be our next president. Ballots went into a voting box. At our afternoon meeting, we counted each vote, made a tally and determined a winner. It was a landslide, folks. Obama: 25. Romney: 0.”

Move over Nate Silver. Paigey’s preschool is nipping at your heels.

And who knows, Paige’s personal prediction might also come true. Maybe Matt Romney will be the president in 2016. Whoever the hell he is.


No Comments »

Control Freak Mom

Posted: November 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Holidays, Kate's Friends, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, School | 3 Comments »

I admit it. I had three different costumes this Halloween. And I’m not including the ones I made for the kids. I personally had three. There was the Mrs. Claus, the Preppie, and the Haunted Housewife.

I mean, it’s not like I spent gadzooks of time on the last two—those were sort of quick throw-togethers when I got sick of the unwieldy, uncomfortable Santa dress. Let’s just say the fur-cuffed fashion from the North Pole is a bit toasty given the Bay Area’s balmy fall temps.

But the fact is that no matter which of the costumes I wore this Halloween, it was the Control Freak Mom that I was really rocking. On the inside at least. And you can’t blame me. It’s not like I like being Control Freak Mom, it’s more that my judgment-challenged children force me into the role.

Though I did do what I’d call an impressive job of shoving Control Freak Mom down down down and outta sight. I guess you could say I managed to control my inner control freak.

Man, I’d be soooo good at therapy.

Anyway, take the pumpkin patch preschool field trip. (God help me.) Of all ten kazillion pumpkins at her disposal my darling Paige lovingly picked a dented, scratched-up little number with no stem. No freakin’ stem AT ALL.

And I’m telling you, someone would be hard pressed to find a crappy looking pumpkin amidst all the perfectly round, fresh-skinned gourds in the place. They’re genetically engineering pristine pumpkins these days. They practically have those carving kit stencil cut-lines already on them.  Paige had to look long and hard to find THE WORST pumpkin in that epic field of pumpkin perfection.

She hugged that thing fiercely like she’d found a Cartier tank watch in a hay bale. And instead of asking her why the hell she wasn’t going to pick a GOOD pumpkin, I just smiled weakly and took her picture.

SEE what a good mother I can be?

With the girls’ costumes I also had to suppress the Perfectionist Creative Director Control Freak in me. Though Kate did well deciding to be an Olympic gold medal runner. As a veteran of the newsy-timely costume myself, I thought her choice was a strong one. (Clearly something I passed along in the genes.) She had the running shoes, the little track skirt, a race number, and of COURSE a medal. But she needed the U.S. flag around her shoulders—right?! THAT makes it the perfect costume.

She was willing to drape the thing there briefly so her Obsessive About Photo Documentation Mother could take some pics. But after our extensive shoot (which DIDN’T make us late for the Halloween parade this year, thankyouverymuch) she tossed the flag aside and said breezily, “Yeah, I’m not taking that.”

WHAT?!? It is ALL ABOUT the flag with that costume.

But you know, I just folded that damn flag up all nice and popped it back in the bag to return to Target. Bless their flexible return policies.

Paigey was a mail carrier. Though it took several semantic attempts for her to settle on that term. When asked what she was going to be she knew Mail Man was all wrong. This is a gal who freaks out when you compliment her cowboy boots. “They are cow GIRL boots,” she’ll correct. So she told folks she was being a “mail girl.” This had gender-bendy San Franciscans thinking, “A male girl? Oh, nice idea, honey.”

She had the pith helmet, the blue shorts with the marching-band-like stripe down the leg, the U.S. Postal Service light blue shirt. I even bought her a pocket chain for her mail box keys and geeky black knee socks that totally rocked. But every time Kate and I suggested she have a stuffed dog biting her in the butt Paige started to cry.

Why you would ever CRY at such a brilliant suggestion is beyond me. It’s like sometimes I don’t even think the children find obsessively perfecting their costumes the highest calling in their lives. And yet, they expect me to be seen trick-or-treating with them.

Life can be so unfair. But you know what? Since I didn’t think a crying mail girl with a stuffed dog on her ass would be very in-character, I dropped the whole matter.

Let them pick crappy pumpkins! Let them have their costumes the way THEY want them to look. Whatever.

I don’t know, maybe if my kids and I were from the same generation they’d understand me better. Of course, I realize that by nature of the fact that I’m their mother this same-generation concept is an impossible dream. I mean, I’m not an idiot.

But at Kate’s school parade this notion really hit me. I was in my Haunted Housewife costume. You know—June Cleaver wig, gingham dress, tray of cookies right out of the oven, fake blood dripping from my mouth and eye sockets.

A girl tugged on my arm and asked me, “Kate’s mom, what are you supposed to be?”

I smiled lovingly at the little dear, leaned down and cooed in my best smooth mama voice, “A haunted housewife, honey.”

“Oh,” she said thinking. “Like, you mean, a haunted-house wife? Like… the wife of a haunted house?”

The poor lamb had never heard the term housewife. Which made me assume that “homemaker” would also be lost on her. She’d probably construe that to be some kind of residential architect.

Which wouldn’t be all that bad really, but of course I’d need to be carrying some AutoCAD drawings for that costume. Duh.


3 Comments »

Not Feelin’ It

Posted: October 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Clothing, Daddio, Doctors, Husbandry, Learning, Miss Kate, Parenting, Preschool, Sensory Defensiveness, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Halloween is like black licorice. You either love it or hate it.

Me? I loooooooove Halloween. It’s the attention-seeker’s favorite holiday. The one time of year when you can unapologetically dress to elicit attention. You get to be creative. Plus there’s candy. And jack-o-lanterns. And cinnamony, nutmeggy, pumpkiny foods.

And did I mention the attention part?

Junior year in college I lived with a family in France. The mother was in her forties. Super young-looking, fashionable, and pretty. And she was a maniac extrovert. When my friends would come over she’d run around opening wine (as if we needed encouragement), cranking music, and dragging the furniture to the side of the room to get us dancing.

Her teen-aged daughter would be cowering in the corner. She was painfully, hideously shy.

Our parenting days were light years away, but my friends said, “That is SO going to be you and your kid some day, Kristen.” (They called this up to me while I was dancing on the couch.)

Weirdly, neither of my girls has retreated like a threatened snail in the wake of their mother’s extroversion. In fact, Miss Kate, my oldest, holds her own quite well. She’s one of the youngest in her class, but as other parents have commented, “You’d never know it.” I think that’s code for, “She’s all  in your grill with the sass and spunk you’d expect from a much older kid.”

Or maybe they’re just referring to her mad reading skillz.

Anyway, it turns that I’m worried about Little Miss Self Esteem. On the one hand she’s so socially bulletproof. She went from camp to camp one summer without knowing a soul, and without batting an eyelash. She was the only girl in an animation class with 19 boys. And she was totally un-phased.

She’ll happily let anyone babysit for her. (I should take advantage of that and work a deal with some homeless folks.) She’s independent, confident, funny, and a good big sister—90% of the time.

She blew away her preschool teachers by asking if she could lead Circle Time. Apparently no kid’s ever done that, and her teachers ended up handing her the Circle Time reigns a bunch. (“Today,” she’d report, “I led the kids in some yoga poses and we sang a song about snowflakes.”)

These days as a big second-grader she volunteers at Paige’s preschool reading to the children and leading art projects that she comes up with on her own.

My Kate is the future Most Likely to Succeed.

And yet I’m fretting about all the things she isn’t doing. It’s not that I want her to do more. It’s not that she’s disappointing me in any way. It’s that there are things that I know she wants to do that she isn’t doing.

And it’s all because of clothes.

You may’ve seen me write about this here before. Kate hates clothes. She’s not a nudist, just a super-sensitive kid who can’t stand the feel of seams, stiff fabric, sewn-on decals, and zippers.

We’ve gone through phases with this. As a baby it seemed non-existent, but somewhere along the way she forsook pants for dresses. She whittled her wardrobe down to a handful of acceptable well-washed, worn out, super-soft cotton clothes.

She saw an OT a couple years ago and we brushed her and did some other exercises to desensitize her skin. It seemed to work. A bit, I mean. Even just learning other kids have this problem helped us all.

But it’s far from behind her. I’ll nearly forget about it, then she’ll need new shoes and I’ll realize how not-normal this behavior is that we’ve become so accustomed to.

So we started with another OT this fall. A well-respected woman who’s in walking distance of our house. She gave us some new insights and exercises, and already Kate seems to feel some things are easier. She recently wore a long-rejected shirt that Mark had bought her on a business trip. We nearly fainted when she walked into the kitchen with it on.

At school the other day I caught the end of her P.E. class. She was wearing a red vest along with her teammates. I was thrilled. We went shoe shopping a few days later and to my shock she picked out a pair of tall leather boots.

Things like these are victories. Totally unprecedented stuff.

So, what’s the problem? What I’m worried about is all the things she doesn’t want to do because of an outfit or uniform or some kind of gear.

She used to love ballet. Everyone else wore tutus and tights and slippers. Katie was in a baggy cotton dress, barefoot. This was fine with her teacher, but somewhere along the line from toddler to first-grader Kate decided ballet wasn’t her thing.

She adored choir until the performances last spring where I had to coax her into her uniform while drugging her with TV. This year she quit choir after one rehearsal.

She still has training wheels on her bike since she can’t tolerate a helmet.

And she’s expressed interest in horseback riding and theater, but admitted that the required clothes or costumes made those things a no-go.

I also think she’d love Halloween, but—in my mama brain at least—she sees it as a day when she’ll have to wear something other than her four soft-and-cozy skirts or her three approved cotton shirts. Dressing up is anxiety-provoking. What’s fun about that?

A few weeks ago I’d just about decided that we’d put her in therapy. In addition to the OT, I mean. Might as well come at this from every angle, right? My dad and I had a long phone conversation about this and he agreed it was a good idea. Let’s hit this thing with a hammer.

But a chat with her pediatrician later that day had me reconsidering.

“Is she doing okay socially?” he asked.

“Yeah, totally,” I said. No-brainer to that.

You’ll go through two or three years when she’ll say no to things, the doc said. But you have to trust that she’ll pull out of it. Eventually there’ll be something she wants to do badly enough that she’ll be willing to wear whatever she has to for it.

Putting her in therapy, he contended, will just solidify this as a big issue in her mind. It could make it even harder to shake.

I called my dad to discuss this new perspective. And we agreed that it made sense too.

Oy! What to do?

It’s hard to resist that modern-day reflex to throw as many resources and specialists at a problem as possible. Especially when that problem relates to your sweet young child. Isn’t being a good parent about removing whatever roadblocks prevent your kid from being their best selves?

I said that to a friend the other day who replied, “Or maybe it’s about letting them remove those barriers themselves.”

For now at least I’m back-burnering the therapy idea. Mark agrees. Let’s focus on OT now and see what comes of that.

So then, time to hone my maternal patience skills. Time to sit on my hands when I see Kate yearn to do something that she ultimately decides against because some part of it won’t feel good. Time to sit back and appreciate all the dazzling things that Kate IS doing, instead of fretting over what she’s not.

And time to go put the finishing touches on my own Halloween costume.

Happy Halloween, y’all.

A friend emailed me a link to this excellent short video. (Thank you, Melanie!)
My husband and I related to so so much of it. In fact, Mark said it made him cry.
Check it out, yo.

The Emperor’s New Onesie from Hillary Frank on Vimeo.


7 Comments »

Everything Old is New Again

Posted: October 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, City Livin', College, Friends and Strangers, Mama Posse, Milestones, My Body, My Temple, Other Mothers | 3 Comments »

When I first moved to Oakland I still went to my dry cleaner in San Francisco. It was a 30-minute drive, if traffic was with me. And it wasn’t that my dry cleaner was even that good. It was more about my denial. Denial that I’d left the romantic, world-famous City by the Bay. Denial that we were moving to the ‘burbs. Denial about change in general.

We moved because we were having a baby. And our landlords broke up and were selling the condo we rented. It seemed like the universe was giving us a kick in the real estate keister. A nudge to move to a more family-friendly area where we could have a house and a yard, and not drive around looking for parking for 45 minutes every night—despite how much fun that could be.

Other things were changing in my world too. Two months after we moved I had a baby. Then I quit my big fancy job.

It was like I was systematically removing everything that was familiar and normal in my life. I walked around like a person who didn’t know herself. When people met me I wished I was wearing a sandwich board that said, “This isn’t really where I live. Sorry about that screaming baby—I don’t know it very well, but it turns out it’s mine. This is NOT my real ass, by the way—or gut. And don’t even ASK me what I do for work. Unless you want me weeping on your shoulder.”

Thankfully I joined a mother’s group and discovered a gaggle of other women who were as perplexed and outside their comfort zones as I was. Eventually I stopped saying, “I just left a job as the VP of yadda yadda…” and ‘fessed up to being a stay at home mom. Over time I also changed dry cleaners. But when I’m out of state I still tell people I live in San Francisco. So sue me.

Fast forward seven years. [Picture pages being torn off of a wall calendar. Lots and lots of pages.] Speaking of pages, we had another baby, named Paige. And at some point before her arrival and after a nice long stretch at home with Kate I did go back to work. I managed to fall into another great job, hired a nanny, and alligator-wrestled with that age-old work-life balance I’d heard people talk about.

Slowly all these changes settle in and become the new normal. Eventually friendships formed and I stopped lamenting the miseries of Oakland. And when the toddler called out “Mama!” most of the time I realized it was me she was talking to.

But amidst all this acceptance there was still one hold-out. One pre-parenting part of me that I wasn’t returning to. Something I wasn’t willing to accept as the new me. And it was kind of a big one.

It was my body.

Not that I’ve ever been terribly overweight, but four years after Paigey’s departure from my womb, I still wasn’t the slim-legged gal I used to be.

Until now. Because, thanks to a hand-me-down elliptical machine in our garage, and a juicer, and let’s not forget my step-counting FitBit, this little Mama’s got her groove back. I’m hardly wearing the jeans I had in college mind you, but I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

Or, as Kate puts it, “Mama is strong and healthy.” Fearful of passing bad body-image baggage on to her, as she watched me slog through routines on the elliptical and blenderize metric tons of kale, I avoided saying I was “trying to lose weight.”

After three children—two of whom came at once—my friend Meggie has been kicking her own ass at the gym, and swimming, and doing yoga. And she recently dipped her toes back into the work world. A pants-pissing email she sent out after dusting off her resume reported it was so long since she’d worked that under “Skills” she had a line about “using the internet as a research tool.” Hilarious.

When I got back from the East Coast this summer she’d just done a Master Cleanse and had lost even more weight. I think we spent the first few minutes in her doorway circling and looking each other up and down clucking “Looking good, girl!”

After seven years of friendship it was kinda like, “Kristen’s ‘real’ body, meet Megan’s ‘real’ body.” Like, this is what I’m supposed to look like! Even though you’ve never seen me look this way, this is actually me!

And NO, perverts, a topless pillow fight did NOT ensue.

Anyway, Efficiency Diva that she is, Meg made lightening-fast work of revising her resume and getting it out on the scene. And in record time she landed the perfect part-time entrepreneurial flexible gig. Plus: free beer. (No joke!)

I am crazy, silly-pants happy for her. I can’t wait to hear about the “I still got it!” surges of job satisfaction that’ll hit her once she starts. When I first went back to work I was thrilled to just pee without anyone knocking on the door begging me to read to them. Then someone asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch and my head exploded with the fancy-free, Big Girl in the City wonder of it all.

I’m so lucky to have an honest, authentic, hilarious group of mama friends with whom I’ve hit my stride, and a few the skids along the way. (OAK-land in the house!!) And now we’re kinda reaching some cool plateau where we’re less kid-focused and can squeeze a little time into our days doing things for ourselves. Even my friend with a nine-month-old is impressively back on her game. It’s like everything old is new again.

Is this what they call getting your groove back? Except without the affair with a younger hot Caribbean man, I mean.

Yesterday I got on the scale. It’s one of those digital ones where the numbers go to zero, then you step on and it calculates your weight. The first number that came up was one that I hadn’t seen on my scale for YEARS. And oddly was the exact weight I always used to be. But then—like some cruel joke—it blipped off, and changed to my real weight. Which I’m actually still quite happy with.

But it was so weird to see that old familiar number I couldn’t help but step off, let the numbers go to zero, and step back on again. And weirdness of weirdnesses, it happened again! That old weight—just for a second or two—flashed up then changed to my real weight.

It was like some message from the Intergalactic Scale Fairies. Sort of like “that was then, honey, but this is the new reality.”

So how’m I feelin’ about that? You know, I don’t need to get to that old weight again. I almost can’t imagine being that skinny any more. Just like I can’t imagine not having my daughters, or moving back to San Francisco. But if my dry cleaner makes one wrong move, I am dropping them like a hot potato.


3 Comments »