Tuesday, December 28, 2010

You know you're a mother when...

...You go out in 20 degree weather with wind chills making it feel like single digits. You find yourself wading through snow after a massive blizzard just to get emergency supplies from the grocery store. You have only your two frozen hands and know you must have equal distribution to save you from slipping on your way home.
You have been trapped indoors with a toddler for 9 hours. You have seen so much Caillou that you worry your own child might never grow hair.
And then you find yourself in the midst of a dilemma that can only be described as of ginormous proportion.

Wine or diapers.


You find yourself in the checkout clutching pampers. You know you look like a hag. You have no makeup on, hair pulled back, an angry zit that is bubbling under the surface and feels like a bruise on your chin. A woolly hat that won't sit on your head properly so it looks like a wizard's cone and your teeth feel furry no matter how many times you rub your tongue over them. Worse still, you have a visible granny knickers line through your jeans because you are wearing bikini bottoms. Then, just to top off the class act, as you rummage around in your altogether too large purse for your wallet, you put your handmade Estonian red mitten in your mouth and try and make a noise that could convey - "debit, I'm paying by debit".

Even the guy bagging your groceries doesn't find you attractive.

The irony is that you need a drink more than ever. The reality is you are going home to change a diaper and then later find a pebble of poop on the couch that escaped. Worse still, after gorging yourself all week you actually wonder for a second, if it is a leftover Lindt truffle that got away. You pick it up and before putting it close to your nose you realize - no, that's poop that my thumb and forefinger are holding.

You need a drink.

I am a walking contraceptive for under age sex.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Yesterday I walked past a man in Grand Central Station that had the exact same smell of my father when I was a child. It caught me by surprise and I came to a complete stop. I was immediately taken back to Christmas Eve and my father pouring cocktails for his daughters. I was perhaps 13 and being handed a glass of something sour and foul to toast with that I would insist on finishing, while sneakily trying a taste of every other glass at the table. Hey, why not? I wasn't driving.

This is my favorite memory of my family. My father. He would return home late afternoon on Christmas Eve. He would slink into the house and enlist one of us, his daughters to wrap a last minute gift for my mother. Of course, in reality it would have been purchased weeks before by his assistant and it was an elegantly concealed cover up for his other doings. He was drunk to my mother. He was fun to the three of us. He was laughing, dancing and he was home. We were wooed by this man. A man in hand tailored suits, shiny spats and a glint in his eye that every other man in our lives would be forced to compete with. We were terrified and thrilled by him on any given day, but on Christmas Eve he only had eyes for his girls. He was ours for the day. Or so we thought.

Truth is he had already had three too many. He was already fed and would ruin my own mother's hard work by not clearing his plate as her bountiful feast deserved. As the courses neared dessert we knew we were losing him. As Santa Clause approached he retreated into himself. That must be why my mother was the one dragging pillowcases to the bottom of our beds in the middle of the night.

I can see my mum looking at his mum and my Nana throwing daggers at my father's father urging him to pull his son in line. By the time we cleared the dishes, he would be in bed. Exhausted from eating two Christmas dinners, from drinking enough to entertain two families, from the pretence, no doubt.

Of course, we didn't know this at the time. Not until later. Not until much later did we realize where our new toys would disappear to in the days and weeks that followed Christmas. Why my mother would dread him returning late and had to stifle her anger that he had cajoled us into believing he was the ultimate romantic; that he had been out for hours finding the perfect gift for his beautiful wife. Instead of eating with his other family. His secret family.

One moment in Grand Central this week, 3000 miles from where I grew up and at least 20 years from those special evenings and I can still smell the Christmas tree in the room, can still see the scrunched up wrappers on the dinner table from the After Eight mints we ploughed through. I see my grandfather reaching down to pick up his paper crown and my Nana's arthritic fingers fiddling with her charm bracelet. I see my beautiful mother in my memories but I always see her from behind. She is always at the sink in my mind, or at the window arranging flowers.

Christmas Eve always packs a punch in my heart because of these memories. They are not bad. I only have to remember setting the dinner table to Wham's Last Christmas and see my sister on the phone to her boyfriend, so irritated that I won't leave the room and give her some privacy and I smile. It just makes me all the more aware of our own little family unit and the importance of making our own little traditions and the memories that we will create. No pressure, huh?

Funny thing is - I already bought Tom cologne for Christmas from Olive. I'll have to remind him that with great smell comes great responsibility. Or something like that...

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Best Things In Life Are Not Free

Tummies! Tummies! Tummies! If they are not growing, they are popping. It's baby fever, baby, and I'm a little worried it's contagious.

Deep breath.

No, No, No - I'm (emphatically) not preggo. Dear lord, no!! I'm hemorrhaging as I type. But, for the first time today when one friend reminded me of those first butterfly kicks and another of seeing her tummy pulse as a limb bulged...just for a moment, I was well, envious.


I'd heard that this happened. Mothers lose brain cells or have to give up precious archive memory space to make room for remembering all that other daily stuff. Diapers? Check. Cheese sticks? Yep. Garbage bags? Got 'em! Milk? Oh crap - back to the store. They forget the lack of sleep and the lack of sleep and the lack of sleep. Anyway, I'd heard that you start to romanticize pregnancy and then POP, before you know it you are pouring away half a bottle of white wine...well, most of it.

So, I'm on the subway and I catch myself thinking about it. And I think about it. And then I'm distracted by the thought of the boots that I tried on at lunch, that I really need, but I didn't buy them because we can't afford it. Back to thinking about babies - wait, what? I can't afford a pair of winter boots yet I am actually wondering about having a child? (for the record I do have a husband that this would be discussed with before I yank out my paragard).

Oh yeah, i'd forgotten - that having a baby thing is so expensive! Actually, it's not just when they are babies - it's never ending - I think I actually owe my mum money at the moment and I'm 31. So, if we're so in debt now, how can we logically afford number 2?

(insert stomp of foot here) BUT I WANT ONE...maybe.

Now I've heard what people say... 'it doesn't matter how much money you have, you just make it work' - but in that case, can I go back to Nine West tomorrow? I know you can't compare boots and babies. Boots are actually useful. Boots give something back. Yes, but babies give you love. Babies are for life, not just for Christmas. Yeah, yeah..so are dogs. And cats. And I can't afford one of those either.

The sad reality is, our generation is now set to work until we are 72. This giant national ponzi scheme called Social Security is going to cripple a country before long. If you thought Madoff was bad, wait till it's us.

And yet past generations had more than one or two children. Perhaps it was because they had the rest of the family around them for support. They would live in the same house they grew up in until they married? Family would help family and family businesses were literally that. I mean, I have heard my parents and grandparents talk about being poor and working their way up the ladder. Here's the difference, we not only have no money - we have negative money! We are the debt generation.

The generations above us may look at our generation as not having the same traditional family values. "Our priorities are mixed up". Fact is - we can't afford to. These days, it's more common that both parents have to go to work. College debt crucifies us before we get out of the gate. We have to go where the jobs are and often that is not where we grew up or near the retirement villages our parents have gone out to pasture in. Sadly, grandparents can't always save us a killing in childcare. We can't pay back into our own family because we are trying to survive ourselves.

I think that that is why our generation isn't the 2.4 children that our parents were. More and more parents are perhaps asking those same questions - can we afford another child? Especially when 80% of the week is spent away from them working to afford them and ourselves a better life.

Plus - if we are going to live until we are 92 (Lord willing) that's 20 years of retirement to have to save for. Oh God - I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Anyway, before I schedule a hysterectomy (think of the tummies, the tummies, the tummies) I just wondered if in any other part of your life, would you encourage getting something that you can't afford? Probably not.

Except for boots from Nine West.

(And probably a second child - who am I kidding?)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From Mewling and Puking...

As I jollied along to the subway this morning, I was nearly knocked off my feet by a young girl hurtling past me waving at the yellow school bus in the distance. I smiled to myself. I was as smug as Jeremy Beadle and was pounded with a large dose of nostalgia as I remembered my own self sprinting up the lane we lived at the bottom of (with a steep gradient, one might add) weighed down by my sports kit, school bag, all the while waving my hockey stick - desperately trying to catch the school bus. Ah, memories. And then the smile and smug faced atrocity was slapped in the face by Father Time - that was over 20 years ago. I'm sorry what did you say?

Just like that - the next 20 years flashed before my eyes. I actually thought I was about to drop dead and see the light. My time is up, I thought. I backed away from the edge of the subway platform for fear of being shoved on the tracks. I was sweating as I stepped on the train, all the while wondering if i would ever get off. Was this it? Was this what people experienced just before death? A flash of their lives before seeing the tunnel and a garden. Time was running out. As i started glancing around for suspicious folks with oversized backpacks, i was somewhat pleasantly distracted by a couple of people throwing down over the fact that one of their purses hit the other's back. Excuse me, said one. Shut the beep up, beepity beep beep, said the other. And so it went on.

Now, i was no longer convinced of immediate death, i had merely calmed to the neurosis of someone who became aware that time was running out. Wait, what? Time is what? Ok, so I am being ridiculous but being contained in that subway car all i could think was that time was moving faster and faster. And then I remembered hearing my mum say that when I was a kid. What was happening? Was this real? Had I officially gone mad? Was Paul Bettany actually my imaginary friend?

I rushed down to the gym on my lunch. I had an hour and just wanted to fit it in so I wouldn't have tobother lying to myself that i would actually get up the next morning and go before work. Anyway, I breezed in and...wait for it...no, literally I had to wait for it. Time was running out and I was bloody waitlisted for the class. I have an hour on lunch - I had no time for this. Anyway, 5 minutes later (tick tock) I got in and just wanted to switch off. I wanted to zone out, listen to some music and turn my legs quickly while composing long overdue emails to friends in my head that I could then mentally vomit and type up later. Nope, not the case, no thank you - I had some fresh faced pit bull instructor that must have been 10 years younger than me (See? I'm saying things that parents say. I'll be suggesting to today's children that they should listen to Jason Donovan as a young pop idol of our time - not Justin Bieber). Anyway, just as this little thing was yelling and blahing at the class - guilting me into pedaling so fast I thought I was going to fly into the sky with ET in my bike basket - she suddenly went from drill seargent to life coach.

"Nothing that you really want in life is without a struggle. Make it count"

Focus. Oh god - i just wanted to forget that my time on this planet was a never ending egg timer. Was today my day? I didn't know if to pee or cry - so I did a little of both.

Walking through Grand Central on my way home this evening, I walk past a newstand and a glossy magazine showed Michael Douglas' face - with headlines such as the final farewell, goodbye to Catherine. I'm saddened - I think of watching Basic Instinct on the school coach returning from a ski trip to Austria when i was in my early teens. Blushing in the dark. How many years back was that?
And now...right now, on the TV, I see Jennifer Grey on Dancing with the Stars and think of her dancing on a log with Patrick Swayze. (All the while wishing she had never knocked her nose into shape). How on earth is that 25 years ago?

Good Lord! If the next 20 years go that quick, I'll be having hot flashes and buying vaginal lubricant before I know it.

**Okay, okay...issue disclaimer here - I have no qualms about my age - i'm 31 years. I hope to grow very old. My shock was in the way it creeps up on you - suddenly you go from wearing knickers over your tights to hold them up to looking in the mirror to see if skinny jeans are appropriate on a post baby body. **

I digress.

It's just that...When i was 10 I wanted to be in Andra's Flitwick Drama Club, by 13 I had vowed to be captain of the netball club, by 17 I was determined to be head girl, my 20s in New York training to be an actress. Done, done, done. The next stuff just tumbled into place. Married, Pregnant, Happy? YES. Yep, Yesiree. But - wowzers - I hit that point? I'm at the family stage? You grow up just knowing those things will happen, right? You're never really expecting them. Holy catcrap - that means a second child, a mortgage, an SUV and school runs must be pretty close. Resistance is futile. In suburbia nobody can hear you scream. Breathe - you live in NY...for now. Yeah, but we all know that's not going to last...

Remember when Christmas took an age to come round? When Summer holidays were so long, you were almost bored? When your empty Forever Friends diary at the start of a calendar year had numbers on each page counting down until a you went on holiday with your best friend and her family to their caravan in East Anglia. The cover of which was graffitied with so many practice fake marital signatures that you had to white them out by May, when the next week long BF came along. Remember when playing Murder In the Dark with your cousins on Boxing Day was almost as exciting as watching Moonraker with the family on Christmas Day? Time dragged. Weekends were only fun if they were full. Good lord...that certainly changed.

Now...instead of lining up in the school yard, I stand in a crowded elevator making small talk if someone's phone rings with the same ring tone as your own. Weekly phrases include "Happy Hump Day" and TGIF. I don't buy sweaters if they are dry clean only. I wear practical shoes. I. Wear. Practical. shoes. God, I never thought I would say that.

Just as I am about to purchase a burial plot for me and Tom, I see a poster on the train for Florida. Ah, Florida. I am transported to a world of sun, sea, sand and old people. Old people. I'm not there yet. I am crinklier than I ought to be and as this thought crosses my mind, (leading me to hope that by the time I am older and wealthier and am ready for some lifting and tucking), I think of the movie, Cocoon. Now, this is my favorite movie of all time. Whereas Beaches eventually failed me as a surefire bawler, Cocoon never let me down. Here's why...I think...

So, I get that it wasnt a fly on the wall documentary, BUT...there is something interesting about watching these actors play characters that confront their mortality and old age when the actors themselves must have scarily similar thoughts about their own near future. Is that the point in all this mindless drivel I am spouting? - it's the pace? The pace of the actors/characters/having conversations. They don't speak slowly because they are old and struggle to put sentences together. They just listen. Old people listen - how's that for a sweeping statement?! Now, i like to think that I listen but when i think of conversations I even had today with people, it's so rare that you ever actually drop the ball when talking to someone. I'm agreeing with someone before they finish their thought or they are already sharing a similar experience before I get to my point. You'd think we were the ones on blood pressure and cholesterol tablets not knowing if this day is our last. Where am I going with this? Well, there were no roses smelled today. How about that?

So - obviously there is not some enlightening conclusion or moral to this tale. What the heck do I know? With age comes that sort of wisdom. I'm just saying that I can't beat time. The clock is running. That's that. I just don't have to always keep pace with it.

So, how do we sweeten that blow? Well, i've kind of always thought that our time here with the ones we love is the greatest gift we are given - the cruel irony being that we never know when our time is up. That thought could keep you up at night. I mean, I'm not sure I completely sucked the marrow from my grandparents. And that is not to say that I don't believe I will see them again - but is it their legacy - their time spent on Earth that can only surely not be considered futile if it is passed on? We are the granchildren of the dying generation of World War survivors - it's quite terrifying that those stories will no longer be told first hand, when we grew up able to share in a history class with living testimonies. How important is it that we continue to pass them on? To have the answers to our granchildren's questions? I should think incredibly important to them. It's not the facts that we can't get, it's the experience and that is something time gives us. If the currency is age, then sign me up. And perhaps that is what is important? Perhaps that is that actually how we beat time by living on through those those we love? Those we spend our time with? I hope so. Makes the clock a little friendlier.

Steve Guttenberg in denim short shorts. You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Working Girl: For anyone who's ever won. For anyone who's ever lost. And for everyone who's still in there trying.

I'm back at work.

At lunch it dawned on me that I had not thought of my daughter for about 3 hours.

This afternoon I thought of her playing at the park and my nose ran.

I missed taking a nap at midday. Instead, I called a friend at the exact time I had promised I would.

Nobody scampered after me when I left the room. I peed alone.

I fed myself.

I felt fulfilled. I felt fragile. I felt relieved. I felt like a weirdo for smiling at every adult holding a child. I felt like shouting, "I have one too."

I am surrounded with women that commute with this conflict. That share the same anxieties, enjoy the same adult interaction, get a kick out of knowing something. Knowing something else. Working hard but with clear working hours.

Motherhood is an exempt position. It doesn't pay extra for overtime. The glorious second shift is where worry comes with the turf. No 401k, just TMJ. Lying awake wondering if your daughter's teeth are going to rot because you forgot to brush her teeth after her night milk is the motherhood version of carrying a blackberry at all times.

There's conflict.

Since we moved cross country and I had time between jobs I was able to spend the last 5 weeks with my daughter. It was an incredibly special time and I'm glad that in all the change, I was her constant. We became very close - you might call her clingy but I would counter that I needed her just as much. Yet there was conflict there too. I loved the time together but found the loss of independence and spontaneity hard.

See my last post. Feel me at the end of my tether. The grass isn't greener. It's equally green. Or brown or whatever it is that we are trying to get away from.

And so back to work.

But, it's harder this time. Somehow.

Yet I need this.

But, it's not without conflict.

So - to combat the disappointment of zero trashy reality television on a Wednesday night (seriously, why cram it all into Monday and Tuesday?) I hit the world wide web on the hunt for trashy celebrity musings and trip up on a blog. I shan't name the blog because I respect the difference in opinion and enjoyed the writing if not the content. This was a post on the role of the mother in a household. Anyhow, I love to read the comments after a blog post (bizarrely, I am actually interested in what people that I will never meet have to say) and as I scrolled down I read one that felt like being slapped in the face with a wet fish.

"Amen. The reason we have so many lost, dysfunctional, selfish, and, dare I say, even evil, people in the world today is the fact that they’re mothers effectively abandoned them to the child-care machine."

Ouch. I take comfort in her poor grammar and incorrect spelling.

Deep breath.

Perhaps if she just noted the conflict I would feel better...?

"Amen. The reason we have so many lost, dysfunctional, selfish, and, dare I say, even evil, people in the world today is the fact that they’re CONFLICTED mothers effectively abandoned them to the child-care machine."

Perhaps not.

Anyway, I'll go back to searching for childcare now - right after pulling a knife from my back. You see, I'm a monster ;)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Wonder Years

It's hard this parenting lark. And I'm not sure I am any good at it.

My husband just came home from work. I was feeding our daughter and as she threw her spoon full of food over me, I exclaimed her name, Olivia. It's always serious when it's her full name. Perhaps a little too loudly, perhaps a little too brash. I don't remember. I do remember my husband's shocked face and his concern as he came and lifted her from my lap.

Am I a monster?


How do you explain that this was the umpteenth time she had done this today and i was at the end of my tether? That i had a second degree burn from a pan that i lifted off the stove earlier today and all day long it had rained so i couldn't take her outside even if i wanted to.
How do you explain that I just wanted my mum today so I could just cry over my stupid burnt finger? That I didn't have it in me to entertain my daughter.

You don't explain. You just stand up and walk away and feel like a monster.

Actually, more of a monster.

Since returning to New York, i have been a "play all day in the park mom" with Olive. I've been on both sides of this in the past 18 months and a return to work will be inevitable in the very near future. Being a "you must nap between 12-2 mom" is the most taxing job in the world. Yet, I have to work. Financially we have no choice.

But isn't that actually a wonderful cop out when really, I've discovered these past two weeks, (deep breath) that I actually don't enjoy it. At least, I don't think I do.

There, i said it.

It feels like a club that I have no idea how to get into and i don't really want to anyway. I can't explain it. You are left utterly drained, exhausted, flat out crazed and yet, there's an entire part of me that is left brimming with stuff that needs to get out. My mind whirrs. It is constantly singing a song that is designed to educate toddlers. I couldn't sleep for the sound of Hey Diddle Diddle pounding my brain the other night. And, guess what? I have a favorite cartoon. Not since the age of 8 have I actually contemplated which animated character is my favorite. Yes, I have formed opinions on these things. Even worse, my favorite is not Olive's favorite. In fact, one of her favorites is an irritating animal bouncing around discussing nature. I turn this one off if she hasn't already seen it start.

You see, I'm a monster.

I think i am more fulfilled/balanced/ less unhinged (!) when i go to work. I think.

Ok, so how can I reconcile loving my daughter more than anything in the world and not wanting to spend all day, every day with her? Yes, I have no choice because of finances and the need for insurance for her but if i did have a choice?

IF i had a choice, what would i choose? I honestly don't know, but my head tells me that it would be going into work. My heart wilts. How can this be a legitimate question from a mother?

I'm a monster.

Is there something wrong with me? Is there a gene missing? I didn't enjoy pregnancy. I suffered with post partum depression and now this? Am i a man trapped in a woman's body? Am i one of those people that shouldn't have had children?

But I love her. I know her better than anyone. I fantasise about throwing myself in front of cars, bullets, knives - I'm back in Brooklyn now ;). I would let someone burn every finger I have slowly just to save one head on her hair from being touched. I nearly kicked a kid in the face yesterday when he tried to push Olive and he hit another little girl. You see, I'm a child abuser - i wanted to kick another child in the head. And really hard, too.

Yet, would i willingly pay someone else or a daycare facility to look after her during the day so i can go to work? You know, work, that thing that you moan about everyday and then dread on Sunday night. Makes it worse, doesn't it. I see the nannies at the playground and immediately pass judgment. I imagine wealthy parents that have little time for their children. Ouch.

I pushed Olive in a swing yesterday next to another lady pushing her daughter. She also had a 2 month old strapped to the front of her. We did the usual chat and I was so desperate to find an ally or someone to talk to that when she told me that she was returning to work the following week, I asked her if she was excited? The pause was painful enough for me to realize that she likely thought she was being attacked. I quickly explained that i was likely returning to work and was looking forward to that adult interaction. She agreed. And then it was like we were in a secret club. We weren't giddy about our lack of enthusiasm for being at home with our little ones, nor were we melancholy that we felt this way. We were just honest. It's hard being apart from our children but what we get from going to a 'formal' job (I'm careful about wording because there is nothing stay at home about a stay at home mum) is food for our soul.

We wouldn't question the fathers on this. So, do i have a gene missing? Do other women feel this way? How can we claim to love our children more than anything and yet not want more than anything to be there all the time. Olive bumped her head today and as i snuggled her I took back every thought of wanting to leave her in the arms of someone else. And when she woke up and asked for a hug, my heart melted. I can't describe the pain of this conflict. Yet, it's a moot point. I HAVE to work. But, what if i didn't, a little voice asks?

I know this is a divisive issue. I offer myself up as sacrifice. I know people who will read this and take comfort in pulling me down to their spouses. Why bother having children if you don't want to look after them? If that helps them sleep better and not question their choices, then what do i care? I also suspect that there maybe more of us that feel this way. By that I mean conflicted. Torn. Confused. There's nothing easy about thinking these thoughts. I'm just choosing to share them.

Does this make me less maternal? Should women like me not be allowed to have more children? Well, i'm ridiculously maternal. My breasts just about leak everytime I see a newborn. And as for more? God willing, yes, please.

Do I secretly wonder if my husband is disappointed that I don't seem content and fulfilled when he comes in from work? Actually, I don't. I flat out asked him and he flat out told me that he knew who he married and he loves me more now that ever before. I mean, it's not as if i don't get giddy when i show him videos of her playing at the park at the end of the day. You see, i enjoy it...but...but...that's it. There is a but.

I'm lucky. My husband knows me. But his face this evening? Was it concern for me or for my daughter? I'll know soon enough - the end of day chats in bed will tell me and either way i know that he will love and support me. Yet when we roll back over to our sides of the bed, I will lie awake and wonder.

Am I a monster?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Forgive Me Olive For I Have Binned...

Dear Olive,
I want you to know that I am sitting here selling your toys. Your ExerSaucer (you loved that - do I have a picture of you playing in it?) your high chair, your train (you just started moving backwards), your busy ball popper...and it is much harder than I ever thought these things can be.

It's not every day you move 3500 miles cross country. Ok...so we have done it twice in one year - well, why not, eh? Back to your Manhattan roots. It's all a big adventure and although financial necessity has forced us on this road, I like to think that we are thrifty (Portland) trailblazers moving the wrong way on the Oregon Trail. (Thank you, thank you...i'll be here some of this week).

So, we are selling everything and while my life is now in one smushed suitcase (no, really) - getting rid of your stuff seems, well, wrong. Now, this is not 'willy nilly' trashing. I'm storing anything that holds strong memories of you. Yesterday that was everything - this morning I was down to 4 boxes, well, plastic tubs, large plastic tubs. I can't help it. I started purging with anything blue, then yellow and was going to get to purple but thought better of it. However, as I just shed a tear over donating your first pair of converse - I realised how many items from my childhood I still have. Um, that would be none. I think my mum still has my baby teeth. Does that count? I'm sorry, darling, everything must go...except the sleep suit you came home from the hospital in. That and your blankets and the first hat your daddy bought you.

Easy? No. Emotional. Yes, yes, yes. Yet, as the last of the Craigslist buzzards arrive to take the couch, I am strangely liberated. Your fascination with Tupperware and a wooden spoon has me a changed woman.

Anyway, as you read this in 20 odd years time and you ask about your favorite toys and games, please know that I am capturing this memory and storing it here. Nothing you can touch, but something I hope you feel.

I'm going now - there's someone at the door coming to view your Boppy and Peanut Sling (who does that?)

Love, Mum

P.s. You have had an awful lot of fun bouncing on the air mattress these past two weeks.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sisters Are Doing It For...Themselves

It’s no surprise that when a woman becomes a mother she changes. Your body changes, your attitude changes, your pee schedule certainly changes but perhaps most interesting of all is how you suddenly develop super powers. You become adept at identifying the smell of your own child's poop in a crowded room, you wake in the night anticipating your imminent baby's cry and in defecting to large knickers over the floss string thongs, well, then super hero status is of no question. Yet perhaps her most honed talent, the one that sets her apart, is her newfound skill of stabbing other women in the back.

I had a hunch when I entered the minefield of motherhood that suddenly the idea of sisterhood was lost, trampled somewhere between conception and the announcement of impending baby. It became stomped on and replaced with women feeling forced to defend their lifestyles and actions. It typically starts with comments on your bump. Wow - you are huge!! How pregnant are you? They must have your date wrong! Or, you are tiny - Are you not eating? Why can't we just tell a pregnant lady - she looks perfect - just beautiful? A flood of what I thought was well meant advice would infiltrate the forty weeks - on best vitamins, best classes, natural childbirth, Lamaze or Bradley, midwife or doula, induce with pitocin or wait and do it 'naturally' with sex and bouncing balls and curry can be overwhelming. The advice comes flooding in - emails, voicemails, text messages and Facebook posts from people you haven't spoken to since you were 5 offering "Try having sex. It worked for me." Thank you, oh perfect stranger.

Then after you give birth comes the real fun - the piece de resistance - they just come out of nowhere - literally clawing out of the woodwork. Before they are five feet into the door and handing you a casserole dish comes the question - "So...are you breast or bottle feeding?" The disappointment shown with a head tilt and scrunched face when you say formula is paralyzing. You'd think they had just started with a urinary tract infection or something and before you can even explain why, (which you never need to do) they have moved on to telling you that it will be better 'next time.' Next time? What? My stitches are still healing and my hemorrhoids are still hanging out. Two words that I wished had used (and please excuse my vehemence) - Screw You! (And my anger is directed at one woman who made a snide comment in a park that will forever hurt). Shame on any woman to put pressure on another - particularly a new mum. I spent months hiding away from these breastfeeding nazis for fear of being confronted or shunned in public about my nursing failure. I had tried, dear God I had tried, and had more milk in me than a cow at market but it didn't work out and I will not now, not ever bother to defend myself again as I spent doing months after. It is no surprise that this perceived failure led me to fall down the rabbit hole into post partum depression.

And then for me the most recent line that I have noticed drawn in the sand by women 'Stay at home mums' vs. 'working mums'. Instead of supporting one another’s choices - because that is what feminism gave us - the choice - we instead make slight comments, questioning remarks. So, which bee hid in my bonnet today? Sadly, it's my own fault - my guilty pleasure is an online tabloid that spouts celebrity gossip. However, today my quick fix was not nearly juicy enough to avert my eyes from the juvenile journalism that makes up this crappy newspaper. Lesson learnt! There lay an article celebrating the 'Return to Housewifery' and after torturing myself through the whole thing I was left feeling inadequate and attacked. I shook myself out of the stupor realizing I had been subjected to something on the reading level of an 8 year old. Nevertheless, in an effort to perhaps make you laugh or cry or both... I thought I would share some with you some of this stellar commentary... Brace yourself.

Kate, who is due to give birth to her second child in six weeks, adds: 'The idea of leaving him with someone far less qualified than me while I go out to work doesn't make any sense. 'My education wasn't for nothing. I use what I learnt to make learning fun for him. We do so much together - swimming, football , tennis, playgroups, music groups and pre-school clubs. 'I love it at night, when we snuggle up and read books together. Paul agrees that I've made the right choice for all of us. 'We don't have many meals out or designer clothes, but none of that is important to me. We live in a two-bedroom cottage, and we would love a bigger house, but we'll have to wait." How wonderful! How delightful. Gosh, what a selfless woman you are. And to survive in a two bedroom cottage wearing non designer clothes?- Goodness me, what a sacrifice!

Another interviewee, Poppy Pickles, simply became a Saint in my eyes with this glorious assumption... 'Children have really lost out by being parceled up into day care. Surveys show that young children thrive through getting one-to-one care from a loving adult. Mums are best placed to do that.' English graduate Poppy Pickles is another highly- educated young mother who is adamant that she doesn't want anyone else looking after her children Daniel, five, and Rosanna, three. She says: 'I worked hard at school and I enjoyed university but I never saw myself as having a high-flying-career, leaving my children to be looked after by someone else. 'The best person to look after my children is me. They are both very secure, very loved children, and they take me entirely for granted - which is what I want. 'They know Mummy is always here, and always at home for them.'

Wow Poppy Pickles, (now there's a good working class name) who we later discover used to work at Sothebys - thanks for making us other mothers whose children have to go to day care feel really good about our 'choice'. Incidentally, those surveys that showed that "children thrive getting one-to-one care from a loving adult" - are they the same surveys that suggested that only children delivered naturally, exclusively breastfed and fed entirely organic produce would emerge as scholars and global leaders? Thought so.

Poppy who obviously feels she has a voice for the unheard generation adds: 'I don't feel as if feminism has passed me by - surely it is every woman's right to choose. I choose to be at home. (Absolutely right, Poppy, we do have a choice- now leave it at that) - "I want to see my children's first steps, hear their first words, and be there to take them to school and pick them up. Those tiny moments in the day are so valuable to children, and you can never get them back."

Oops, nope, instead of balancing your argument or throwing in a "but that's just my choice" you just had to throw a knife in the heart or back of every mother who doesn't follow your example or hasn't a choice in this. The article continued to voice the opinions of several other women - although none with such a perfect name. For me - it served only to reaffirm the thinking that when women become mothers they feel so under scrutiny and fearful of making a 'wrong' decision that they go on the attack to defend whatever 'choices' they make. Sadly, it ends up being something like - It's your choice - we all have a choice - except you are making the wrong choice. Even more frustrating is that it is just the women doing this to each other! We wonder why men don't struggle with the worry that their children will transfer the love that they have for them onto someone else during daycare. No - we claim that 'society puts such pressure on us' - but who in society? This is solely put on mothers shoulders...by other mothers.

If we choose to go work, the argument is that we are 'failing' our family. We might be championing ourselves or affording our family a better life but we can never quite escape the mud that is thrown our way by the homemakers, the domestic goddesses, the SAHM's that we are somehow denying our children and ourselves the most primal instinct. If we stay at home we are so fearful of appearing dumb or without drive by the 'career women' that we fight back claiming that our children will know their mother and as a mother we will never miss a thing. Why on earth are we so intent to pull each other down?

And then there are the mums that don't have a choice? That have to work for their families to survive. Whose belts are already tightened with both of them working and yes, they have crunched the numbers to know that 'one of us not working isn't a better financial choice than having a child in child care'.

One woman in the article actually addressed this - "it all comes down to having the right priorities. It is entirely possible to survive on one income - but you have to be prepared to live a far simpler life. 'We have very little money,' she says. We live on my husband's salary in a two-up, two-down, terraced house and there is nothing left over for any extras. None of us has had new clothes for ages. We drive one car, a Ford Focus, and we allow ourselves one meal out a month.'

adly, giving up new clothes or a trip to The Cheesecake Factory is often not enough and please don't suggest that our priorities are not in order. Food on the table and a roof over heads will always trump staying home, and that's not choice but necessity talking. However, the funny thing is - for the women that have no choice - they are perhaps least attacked. They are not a threat to their 'mother' friends and make no comment on their peers' choices. In fact, perhaps given that they have fewer friends to bemoan or compare themselves to at the end of the day they probably have more time spent focused on their children. Ah, it's a cruel irony.

We women fought so hard to have a choice and now we have to question each other by suggesting what exactly the right choice is. Of course I have no answer and even if i thought I did i wouldn't offer it to anyone else. That's because in all honestly I don't believe there is any one right choice. Not for the children. Not for the parents. Not for any of us. There is only what works for each of us.

So women, (and if I was Oprah I'd have you sign a petition) how about we try and do the following:

1) When a pregnant friend tells you that she plans to give birth naturally no matter what your thoughts - you respond positively, ignoring every urge to tell a horror story, or even worse throw a flippant remark like, "That's what we all say." Wacka wacka...

2) When you visit your friend that has just given birth, you do not need to ask her if she is nursing. If you stay more than an hour you will know and if you can't stay that long you probably don't need to know. If she is bottle feeding - NEVER tell her that it might be better next time. It might be but it might not and either way her nipples are never your concern.

3) When a new mother tells you that she is either going back to work or staying at home, you just say "good for you". That's it. If it's her choice it will make her make her feel good and if it is not her choice it will make her feel less anxious.

I've come to the conclusion that when offering unsolicited advice to a woman on motherhood, less truly is more. It's funny but the word sisterhood sounds so inclusive, yet motherhood can often feel terribly lonely. It shouldn't.

To view the article in full: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1294231/How-latest-generation-graduates-choosing-time-motherhood-high-flying-careers.html

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When Love and Hate Collide

This weekend was another example of how far a mother's love will take her. On Saturday I went for a hike. To be fair it was just a walk in nature - but I gather that that is described as a hike. I was excited to view the waterfall I had been promised and it did not disappoint but then we were to continue on a trail. Just typing it makes me weak. I can't stand walking somewhere if I don't know the route. I dislike not knowing the 'turn around' spot. It evokes a sort of fear in me. Before I go on, it is perhaps important to know that I grew up on a farm and spent weekends gathering eggs from the hen house, mucking out the goose hut and throwing corn at ducks. I truly tried to embrace it and would grab my grandfather's walking stick and pretend to be a member of the royal family viewing the gardens of Balmoral Castle. I would walk into the woods, taking newspapers to sit on and would read a chapter of my book before heading home. I gave it a fair trial. Yet sadly, after drama club ended on a Saturday morning I would dread the rest of the weekend without the promise of a sleepover or a birthday party to escape to.

I believe this is why Summer has always been my least favorite season. It undoubtedly places the expectation that one should be outdoors. Rubbish. I have red hair and fair skin for one reason and one reason only. To be excused from direct sunlight and fresh air.

I digress.

Before we started our nature trail, I needed the toilet. In an effort to pep up my spirits, I had drunk the face off an iced coffee and now because I couldn't gauge the length of this 'hike' I had to do a security pee. I swung open the door to a vile stench. I'm always terrified that a snake will just pop up me when I pee, so I habitually check every toilet I use. Every toilet. This is an irrational fear that has no origin.

However, instead of a beast, I found an abyss of poop. I gagged and held on to the rail whilst hovering above death. My security pee turned out to be the longest pee I had ever done in my entire life. Legs shaking, I ripped a couple of pieces of the roll holder that would not roll. Did a quick wipe and threw it. Whipped up my shorts and scarpered. As I pulled the door I noticed that the toilet paper had missed the gateway to hell but I couldn't go back. I feel bad about that. I do.

So, as we continued past the waterfall and my daughter joyfully walked toward bushes and leaves and other green things, my eyes were peeled for dirty, rotten snakes. I knew I shouldn't look but I did. No sooner had the sight of twigs made me twitchy I felt the most irritating touch known to man. That of a mosquito. I am subsequently aware that I should have doused in "Off" or something but I hadn't expected a tropical pest to be in the high desert of Central Oregon. I thought they lived in swamps and poo and Africa. I was mistaken.

It was over for me. I was bitten. Now, it would be of interest for you to understand that all this was internal conflict. I was trying desperately hard to be a 'good sport'. It was sunny and there was a waterfall. My sister and brother in law seemed enthused. Tom loves that stuff and dear Lord, Olive was properly giddy and waving at trees and dogs and every child that crossed our path...all of whom were headed in the other direction.

So, I am just smiling and trying to pretend that this is wonderful, but when the second mosquito bit my neck I just blew. Just as my panic escalated so did the intensity of the attack. They were literally everywhere and not even hiding. Blatant feasting on human flesh. I think that this is what you might call 'beyond a joke'.

In my defence I offer a visit to Spain when I was about 8 years old. It was a hot sticky night on the Iberian coast and I awoke to my face itching like I'd had an allergic reaction to an epidural. I had been bitten about seven times on my face and had mumps like lumps all over. I tried to rub them with my wrist rather than scratch them but fearing a further attack I pulled the covers up over my head. I was sharing a bed with my sister at the time and somehow the West Nile virus had failed to pierce her olive skin and infiltrate her blood. In true sibling irritant fashion, she pulled the covers down, I pulled them up, she pulled them down. For the record, this wasn't nearly as much fun as when we threw our knickers at the ceiling fan and watched them whizz round before flying off around the wall. No - this was serious. This was literally a matter of life and death. Sadly, being four years younger and afflicted with the pain of a face blowing up like the Elephant Man, I never stood a chance. In my delirium at being bitten alive I climbed into a suitcase and pulled the flimsy lid on top of me in the hopes of shelter. I lasted about a minute before my father came in and told me to get back into bed. At that point in my life, had he told me to drink the Spanish tap water I would have obeyed.

Seeing my daughter on that nature trail brought it all back. She was too young to run for shelter and there was no haven in this mess of dirt and shrubbery. When I saw one land on the back of her neck, I exploded. I grabbed her and ran. I must have looked like a loon but I didn't care. I wrapped her tight into me and covered any bare skin with my hands. This was survival of the fittest. I was wearing short denim shorts and a pair of white converse and knew this slippery trail laden with tree roots was designed to make me stumble. Yet it was no match for me. Until Olive started to cry that is. Now, this is not the point where I tell you that I relented and went back for more for the love of my child. I merely embraced my sprint as a game and started whooping and woohing my way downhill. Before long she was loving the escape and oohing and giggling her way to safety.

Now I'll admit, I did feel a bit like an idiot. As my other family members sauntered back prematurely, I did wish to have been more 'baby in a sling' relaxed. I just don't like surprises and nature is just bursting to show you new things unexpectedly.

There is no moral to this nor change in store for me. No feel good ending to this tale. In fact, to further fuel my fire, my initial bug bite became so swollen that I have decided that a spider bit me when I was in poop grotto. I believe he saw his opportunity while I was holding onto the railing in avoidance of the rim of danger.

To conclude, I stand by protecting my daughter from such misery. As the great Meatloaf once sang, I would do anything for love...but I won't do that.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

All I am is just a...

I was asked last week, "so are you just a mum these days"? Somewhat dumbstruck I fumbled to give a response. I don't remember what i said except that it was far too long and far too nice. I have since spent hours trying to conjure up a response that was neither insulted nor defensive.

What I wished i could have done is grabbed a microphone, nodded to a pianist and sang the following. I would have sang loud and proud and hoped that every word sprang saliva into her pity ridden eyes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Role Over

Dear God, please forgive me for directly quoting from People magazine. Amen.

"Every single day I second guess myself as a mother...it's frustrating because I feel like i'm failing on both ends". Naomi Watts - on juggling a movie career and motherhood.

Not exactly Gandhi - however, as I was perusing the pages of People magazine in the grocery store last week, i read this quote and my nose began to run as i struggled not to cry. I know, how embarrassing - i'll be quoting Kate Gosselin next. However, somewhere in me it hit a nerve. She had articulated in two lines what i had been feeling for months.

Later that week my meltdown escalated into a full on dissolution of mind, body and soul. No nose sniffing could stop these mammoth tears of literally monsooning my face.

I came home late from work. I had a warm dinner waiting, my house was clean and my laundry folded. Olive was bathed and in bed. I should have been kicking my heels off and singing (quietly) some Lionel Richie. Instead i found myself literally destroyed.

I tried to reason with myself to understand why I was lying on the bathroom floor bawling my eyes out and gasping for air. I was one phonecall away from being sectioned when i picked myself up and looked in the mirror knowing the shock of seeing a blotchy, freckled panda would scare me into silence. The tears stopped and were quickly replaced with rage. At the world. At everything. But mostly at myself. I was furious with myself and i couldn't figure out why. I just sat on my bed for what seemed like an eternity revisiting the past 30 years - random memories flooded my brain, of running to catch my school bus, a dance teacher straightening my arms, of showering in flipflops, of olive, of tom, of new york. Of new york. I knew I had no reason to be sad and every reason to be thankful but in that moment - that one moment - I wanted to scream to the world - my life is a compromise. There, I said it.

I'm sweating as i type.

In my tiny mind all I could see was that I'm not around to look after my daughter during the day, I hadn't cooked my family dinner, I had left my house a mess and I had left my laundry in the drier. I can't even call my day job a success because it used to be my career that defined me and now it hurts to even think of that. I felt utterly redundant as a mother and a wife. I had never cared about this before. At least I never thought that I cared. But in that moment I did. I do. It wasn't about wanting to slave behind an oven, nor sing to the sound of my vaccuum or even play with tea sets and teddies all day. Now, these duties are not expected of me - i was met with no disappointment. In fact, nobody could understand what was up with me. It's just that those roles have become a part of me and much of being a mother and a wife seems to come out of being needed. Subsequently, in that moment, I felt unnecessary. And guess what? It's downright painful to fail at something you became by default.

Of course we all give up things when we become parents. Sleep, impromptu showers, dreams. Rarely begrudgingly. It's all worth it when you see the love you have shining back at you. It's tough when you miss that. If only for a day.
The reality is that something has to give. If you are on the fast track in your career then maybe the payoff is affording your family a better life. If you are a stay at home mum then you do perhaps lust for your career but rest easy in knowing that you can give 100% to your child. For me, I fall somewhere inbetween and so I have become precious over what is under my jurisdiction and the desire to do it well.

And yes, I know, I do, that I am a lucky lady if my biggest problem is coming home to a clean house, a warm dinner, folded towels and a loving family. However, this is a confessional (I know, - get a journal) but I have to believe that there are other people that feel this way. And so I go back to quoting a movie star (was she the one in King Kong?) and agree that sometimes I feel like I am failing on both ends.

The tears stopped. The day ended. My headache passed and after letting it all out I felt a bit daft but I refuse to dismiss that meltdown as anything less than real. That night I found myself consumed with the thought that I'm not the mother that I thought I would be. Over and over I ran this through my head. From vowing never to use pacifiers, to insisting that my child will cry it out, and of course the cardinal sin - never having a child sleep in bed with me. There I was, lying in bed, wide awake at 3am with Olive uncomfortably nestled in my armpit and I couldn't understand where I had gone wrong.

The following day I blurted this out to a friend over a toilet stall. "I'm not the mother I thought I'd be."
As if to add insult to injury i had to repeat myself because of an unexpected flush from another stall. - Yet over the rustle of toilet paper my fears were allayed. "None of us are. You're the mother you need to be."

That works. I'll take that. Right now that's enough.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lost In Translation

Something that I always agonize over or at least occasionaly think about is moving back to England. Why? Not for the Victorian gardens, the tea, surely not the Tories...no, it is so I can once again shine on the rounders pitch.
Allow me to share with you a tale of a woman shoved into a foreign culture with only her memories to keep her safe.
Last night i debuted on the company softball team. They were short of people and I was essentially doing them a favor. I adopted a Hugh Grant dithering demeanor when asked and feigned fear of sports. "I am just making up the numbers", i kept saying and then chuckling nervously. Inside, i was giddy. I would return to my former glory running from base to base with my hair blowing in the wind. Ok, so I come from a land of small bats and small balls. Softball was a little different, but, I was raised on rounders. How hard could it be? Plus, I work with a bunch of shirts and ties...I was a maverick, a former sports star, I would show them I was more than a skirt in an office.
I arrived 10 minutes early. My hair was up in a ponytail and I had that song from A league of Their Own in my head. Not "This Used To Be My Playground" - don't be ridiculous - the other one. Anyway, I arrived after a minor directional disaster ( in hindsight this was the gods trying to avert embarrassment) I checked myself in my rear view mirror and aside from the crows feet and blonde facial hair glistening in the sun light, I was 12 again. I could smell the changing rooms and sense the verrucas.
I walked over to where my team mates were throwing a ball. They were wearing mitts. Ha! I guffawed. Just like that american football stuff with the shoulder pads. Wait till you see my hands of steel catch those suckers. I approach and am ignored. Not quite the thank you for saving the day welcome I had imagined. "Hi", I shout to the guy that recruited me. He catches the ball and responds, "sorry i can't hear you". Dear lord. I mean, if you see someone for the first time wouldnt you at least say, "hi, sorry I can't hear you"?
I wave my hand across my chest giving the old international sign for don't worry about it.
Everyone seems to have a partner that they are throwing to and I don't seeem to know any of these people. Eventually a young man throws me a ball and gasps when I catch it bare handed. My insides burn with excitement. My hand burns with pain. Good pain. Feel the burn. I fire it back at him and nearly knock him off his feet. The Burt is back. After the 16th throw my hand is hurting and so I decide to bumble over and 'up' the Brit thing. Little less Grant, little more Firth. "So...may I see the size of your bat?" Thought that might raise a giggle, to which i could pretend to have not noticed my double entendre. I could blush and before long they would be asking me where in London I am from? It would be like Beatlemania.
Crickets chirping.
Am handed a bat - something the size of an AK-47. The ball is the size of a large hand grenade (should they come in sizes). No wonder they can hit it. Keep cool. Hustle.
I decide to lean over and talk to one girl and tell her it is my first time playing this game. She says that it is hers too- i smile and put my hand on her arm and say, oh it's all a bit of fun. She tells me she was joking and this was her sixth year playing in this league to which I remove my comforting hand and tell her that it really was my first time. We laughed. It was a clumsy exchange. Ahh, softball humor.
Anyway, I bided my time. I was the eighth hitter/batter and the seven before me had managed contact. I was ready to knock this ball low and hard.
I approached the dusty square and waited for a nice underarm ball to come my way. I swung with all my might. It was beautiful. I missed. Cue embarrassed giggle. "It's my first time", I told the backstop (catcher) to which she laughed and told me to just keep swinging. How nice, I thought. She spoke to me.
Next ball, it was like slow motion - a perfect rise and fall. I swing and....i'm out. Apparently, we all start with one strike against us. What. A. Load. Of. Rubbish.
I walk off the field and nobody said anything to me. I am left to sit on the bench on my own. Maybe it was because I clapped when the other team caught us out or because I whooped when they hit a good ball...but I was just being supportive of everyone.
Anyway, to make a horrid story short - it happened again...and again. I was officially playing for the other team. I eventually offer my batting position toward the end of the game to the girl beside me. I expected her to reassure me that it was just a game. Sadly she couldn't have been any quicker to snatch my bat.
You see...to be honest, I just wanted to immerse myself and learn the sport. I have the fondest memories of my mother practising rounders and netball with me and sadly those sports never caught on over here (because they are wholesome and non contact, no doubt). I was a bit of a wizz at rounders. Here, i'm the foreigner with no friends. As I sat on the bench, kicking my feet in the dirt, I wondered if this is how extremists start. A bit bullied and made to feel like an outsider -and before you know it you leave a carbomb in Times Square. Poor chap probably had a rough time on the softball field.
I digress...
To be fair, these were no doubt lovely people taking their game seriously and probably found me to be a bit ofa bumbling irritant. My point is...yes, there is one...i'm discovering that it is rather strange for me to raise a child in a country that i didn't grow up in. The other day Nellie the Elephant fell on deaf ears. The wheels on the bus don't go all day long, they go all around town and don't get me started on the hokey pokey. Even family fortunes is called family feud. It's the simple things. Marmite costs $9 a jar. I miss fruit machines and drinking Top Deck. I miss citing Timothy Claypole as a comedic figure. I especially miss referencing a Neighbours episode when a friend needs advice. No complaints just observations - it's not as if I am in a country where I am forced to eat dog because there has been a run on chicken.

Now, I know you don't want to live through your children but it is lovely opportunity to relive some fun moments through their eyes.

I leave you now complete with bruised ego and bruised hand. I put my rose tinted specs back on and remember myself as a good player - one who would race round the stick bases to the chant of "raandur, raandur". (That's rounder with a Bedfordshire accent).

On the plus side, i didn't pee myself. Silver linings, people...silver linings...

Monday, April 26, 2010

5 minutes

I'm sitting on a sandy beach. It's not quite warm but it feels nice when the sun hits. In the distance I can see Tom walking with Olive taking her to the ocean to dip her feet. I resist every urge to run over and tell him that it is too cold. Instead I sit, I watch and I remember.
I am 10, standing on a balcony overlooking the sea. I see myself, I had a thick and uneven fringe. My mum comes out to join me. She pulls me into her. She has the sides of her held back with tortoiseshell comb grips and she is beautiful.
I see myself in Spain. It is dark and I can hear the sound of the sea inbetween the jukebox switching records. I turn and see a table littered with empty bottles and shot glasses and three people laughing at something that none of us will remember but all of us will never forget.
I am wrapped up, holding hands, mind full, mouth shut, just married.

He has her feet in the water and she is fearless, laughing as he dips her in and out. My heart is so full it hurts my throat.

I think I get it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This too shall pass...

When was the last time you peed yourself?

As you stretch your mind back to a time when you would perhaps find yourself standing on a towel, while the school nurse rummages through the lost property for a pair of navy blue PE knickers, let me share with you a more recent memory...say yesterday.

Yesterday I realized that I was a woman. Now, I know the breasts, childbirth, vagina thing should have been a giveaway but what I mean is that yesterday I moved from being a normal woman to a bit of a weirdo woman/grown up.

I went to the gym and in a bout of unexplained bravery opted to take a class...because somehow after you have a baby you care a whole lot less what people think about you. You care what they think about your child and what they think about you as a parent, but in terms of your general appearance (did I shower this week?) and trying out new things - it's as though you download the independence app on the iPhone of life. It's simply a case of - I've had a baby and I don't care if people laugh at me. Yep - that's it - after flapping your legs open at anyone that even walked past your hospital room it now takes a lot to cause a mother honest embarrassment. Or so I told myself...

I arrived a haggard mess - rushing from work, sipping an iced coffee...because that's what I used to do in New York and somehow I thought I looked cool sipping a drink as I walked in, clutching my gym kit. After rummaging around in my bag for my ID huffing and sighing, the receptionist offered to look me up in the system. She smacked of pity...but it's okay because I've had a baby and it doesn't matter if people laugh at me. I try to redeem myself by striking up conversation with the young girl. I ask about the class "Turbo Kick" that I plan on taking. "Is it suitable for beginners?", and then I sort of pulled my lower lip down in a mock nervous pose. She smiles and tells me that she doesn't know, she has never taken the class. Fifty percent of my brain gets the hint that she doesn't want to talk - the remaining 50% has a stroke and I find myself winking at the girl before adding, "I'm sure I'll be fine". Erm, am I Magnum PI? Am I an Internet web cam pervert? I shake my head and hurry to get changed. Good lord - who am I? I hate strangers and small talk yet just found myself being a complete weirdo.

I have birthed a child...it doesn't matter if people laugh at me.

I pull on my sports bra from 2003 and some old capri pants and a tank top that I usually sleep in/slept in last night and just threw in my bag. My bra has lost all elasticity so my fish head breasts are set to swing in the wind. However, I'm excited.

Knowing that my bladder is unstable I rush to the loo to squeeze out anything that might be there before the ice coffee trickles through. Trying to do two things at once I hover over the loo, (but give up mid stream - weak thighs), then drop my hairtie on the pee encrusted floor as I try to tie up my hair. I lean down and as I reach for my elastic band my head rests on the side of the cubicle. Then I realise that my head/hair is actually resting on that vile swing bin where people discard their tampons. Deep breath. Onwards.
I wipe, wipe again. Pull up my scrag pants and then reach down and give an extra wipe for security.

I pushed for 32 hours...it doesn't matter if people laugh at me.

I rush upstairs and (deep breath) enter the room. I know I'm in trouble because all the people that look like me, in old gym clothes, are flanking the walls. I am forced to take a somewhat central position surrounded by women that have been poured into their workout gear. POURED. They are wearing Tour De France pants and I am not even in a spinning class. Their calf muscles are pronounced and they are not even on their toes. There are towels and water bottles everywhere. I put my half empty grande cup of ice coffee to the back of the room and wished I was wearing something that said New York or Brooklyn on it so I could feel a little cool. God, even typing that sentence is a travesty.

The woman walked in. I think she was a woman. She looked around the room and asked if this was anyone's first time. I hate this sort of thing. I hate it in church. I hate it anywhere. Why does anyone need to know? I just give a lips together smile and look around the room. I have done a TaeBo DVD with Billy Blank - I can do this.

And so it began...

Now, try to imagine a really embarrassing moment. Perhaps when your OBGYN checked you for hemorrhoids in front of your partner? Perhaps pooping your pants whilst making a daisy chain at lower school? Then mix it with say the memory of kissing someone whose lips were so dry they were flaking off into your mouth. That was the first 30 minutes of that class. I felt like I was in Cocoon but I was the geriatric that hadn't yet swum in the pool. These people were serious punch, skip, ski, kickers. I just knew how to do that speed bag move and that was covered in the warm up.

To be fair, there was a guy in the front row that was clearly insane and was just jumping around doing his own routine. People were no doubt switching their disbelief between the two of us. I kept checking the clock. This too will pass.

Forty minutes of sheer cringing pass and then I just let go. I became a crazy, grown up weirdo. I started whooping. Yes, I started whooping. And then, in one of the bits the instructor started slapping her bum (punch, punch, ski, ski, slap bum). It was just her - nobody else was doing it but I was delirious. I had no water, no towel, I had drained my ice coffee, and was just sucking the ice dregs. I was reminded of a homeless lady on new years eve 1999, kicking a receipt down Exeter High Street. I started slapping my butt too. And then I started laughing. Not like the clown in poltergeist, more like the drunk person on the subway that is laughing at their own joke. I was officially giddy and the more I looked at my Ribena face the more I found myself hilarious.

And that is when I peed myself.

She said "jumping jack" and between a giggle and an arm flap I just dribbled. What's worse is that made me giggle/dribble more. I stopped the jump out part, squeezed my kegels for dear life and conspicuously tried to rub my legs together. Thank God my legs were hairy - that was bound to slow the flow. The class ended at some point after that. To be fair I was so sweaty that one could be forgiven for thinking that the wet between my legs was just some deep thigh perspiration. Right?

So now, I just laugh at myself. I encourage Depends, Tena lady, full bottom knickers, black pants. I heavily promote kegel muscle exercises whilst pregnant. I now totally understand why celebrities have C-sections. Can you imagine them getting snapped by the pap with wee stains post workout or strutting their stuff on the red carpet and suddenly realizing that their pee is streaking their fake tan legs? And,think of that poor Duggar lady (and her husband) with 19 children - she must permanenetly smell like a park toilet.

Now, don't worry I'm not incontinent. You could hang out with me without wondering if you were wearing damp clothing or sitting near a wet dog. I'm just a little less wink happy and more understanding to the people browsing the fragranced panty liner aisle.

** The writer of this blog would like it to be noted that she had a vaginal delivery of an 8lb 11oz baby.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Long Days, Short Years

I graduated. One year. One amazing, exhilarating, emotionally debilitating, utterly exhausting year that changed my life forever. Now, before I get all crazy, drink one too many glasses of frixy in celebration and convince myself that if we survived one why not have another...I have to take a moment betwixt the giddiness and remember. Just remember. Of course, it's easy to say that the year flew by if you conveniently forget those long days and the longer nights in those first few weeks. The nights where you would just pray for the sun to come up because somehow it was easier in the day. Time wasn't flying as the teething began and the laundry pile grew. Time stood still as the silent debate raged as to whose turn it was to get up for the umpteenth time in the middle of the night. The days when you wouldn't get to shower, might get to brush your teeth. When you would look at the clock and see just how many hours you had left before the cavalry arrived and you could thrust your child into your husband's arms. When you would look at your child and amidst all that love you silently wondered, will my life ever be the same again? The weeks where the George Michael designer stubble became a full grown Barry Gibb beard on your legs. When your eyes would sting. When your breasts would ache. If you were wet you didn't know which body part was leaking. When your hemorrhoids would act as a plectrum on your G-string. No, no, no, time didn't just fly. As the very wise, Dr. Bernie Russell, medicine woman, once said, "parenthood - long days, short years."
Of course, as I look back I am forcing myself to remember it this way. The truth is that the rose tinted glasses are firmly on and things are so rosy I hot flash my way around town. I see babies on the street and I hear my ovaries clicking. I gravitate towards pregnant women and (I know, I know) I have even found myself striking up conversation with perfect strangers pushing pink babies - desperate to share that I too, have a daughter at home. Pre-baby I would finish work and do 1 of 2 things: hit happy hour or nap. Sometimes both. Yesterday, I raced home, stripped off work clothes, strapped Olive on and raced to the park. I cannot describe the sheer joy I experienced in watching her explore the play frame, the slide, the swing. Despite an uncomfortably close proximity to nature, I felt like every ounce of me was being poured into her.
Yet the journey wasn't smooth - I was terrified about becoming a mother, I was devastated to struggle with breastfeeding, I was disappointed that my depression returned after giving birth. I didn't understand a lot of things, I still don't. I'm learning every day. I only know that motherhood is an incredibly levelling experience. I love wholeheartedly and am fiercely protective of my family. (Insert sunburned bald headed Mancunian at Alicante airport "I'd serve time if anyone touched my child" here).
So, upon graduation, I would like to transport myself back to February 2009, about a week before Olive was born, when inbetween gobbling pineapple curry and forcing my husband to mount me, I would pontificate as to what sort of parent I was going to be. As the ghost of parenthood yet to come, I would jangle my chains and offer the following pearl of wisdom...
Dear (you have no idea what tired is) Paula,
You may think you'll never have an epidural. You'll never give your child a pacifier. You will make your own organic baby food. You think you'll never bottle feed. You will absolutely never share a bed. You think a smack bottom will be easy and letting them cry it out a breeze. You will never go away and leave your child with anyone else.
Nobody likes a smug new parent, so never say never....except for never judging another parent.
Kind regards,
Your much more tired and even more wrinkled self.

Of course, as the graduate of parenting 101, I now embark on a new course and am still welcoming any and all crib notes. I am completely in awe of those on the accelerated course with more than one child.
However, as I hear the faint strumming from the inside of the back of my pants I am reminded that it will take another couple of 'short years' before I can forget enough to return to those 'long nights'.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Smug as a bug...

I've always hated smug people. Anyone that even faintly whiffed of Sandi Toksvig or Jeremy Beadle had me running out the door. Yet, I confess, last night I smacked of smug. I'm not talking about sitting around counting my blessings smug, just a sort of self imposed authority on those around me.

I confess...I've reached the age where I sit as an adult and discuss my parents. I sat last night with my husband and we discussed why we thought our parents were the way they were, I looked at my daughter and realized that one day she will do the same. One day, this girl that I gave life to and will gladly die for will discuss me with her friends, her family and make idle suggestions and incorrect assumptions as to why I am the way I am. Now, not maliciously...at least I hope not. Dear God, I hope not. But, at some point in her adult life, she will, as I have, discuss, dissect and give weighted opinion on her parents. The way we all do.

I took my daughter swimming for the first time yesterday. My heart was full as I watched her fearlessly splash and squeal. I wiped her tears a day earlier when she bumped her head, my heart breaking as she sought to catch her breath between sobs. This girl holds the key to my heart. She is my heart. It's painful to imagine that there will be a time when she'll discuss my faults, my annoying habits, and share stories that she remembers from her childhood. Stories that cement our relationship good and bad. She will not remember that I forgot to pack a towel at swim class so dried her with my clothes whilst standing shivering in my own wet suit.
Her memories will of course be different to mine.

The more entrenched I am in parenthood the more I realize one thing - we are all just trying to do our best. That's it. I'm on a wing and a prayer and all I ask when my head hits that pillow is simply that - Please God, just let me do my best. It's hard to fault your parents when you realize just what unconditional love is.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A helping hand

I was late for work this morning. This is my worst trait and consequently, I spend each commute conjuring excuses and responses should my tardiness be called into question. I have yet to use any of them.
However, this morning was different. This was legitimate. This wasn't the extra 5 minutes in bed, the indecision over my wardrobe, the last minute root through the laundry basket, not even an accident on a freeway - who can argue with traffic? No, this morning motherhood beckoned on my way out of the door. My daughter cried and only a mother could help. And so, when I rolled into work 15 minutes late, I did so loudly, hoping that my boss might ask, hoping that someone might wonder, might miss me...perhaps? I was ready. I was fired up. I am a mother first. A working woman second. Yet...Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not even a voicemail!
And so, I say to you world - "Sorry I was late this morning, I had my finger lubed in vaseline trying to help my daughter poop in order to stop the salty tears rolling down her poor little red cheeks. On ejection, the said item flew out onto my sleeve and I had to find another jacket that would work with this ensemble".
My Olive. I left her smiling and I see her face beaming up at me right now from her framed picture in my office. Yet, unsurprisingly, it is my finger clicking on my mouse today that keeps her fresh in my mind.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mother's Little Helper

It's not everyday that you compare yourself to Brooke Shields. Now, granted I am the fatter, slightly less bushy-eyebrowed, a lot less famous actress version but when it comes to battling (post-partum) depression I'm right up there alongside her.

Now, it's an ongoing battle and I've been at war for a number of years. However, it is only in the past year since becoming a mother that I have taken the fight a lot more seriously.
You see there was something almost bohemian about being an actress in New York city that battled depression. You say crazy, I say genius. I could write tortured entries in my battered journal whilst sipping dollar coffee from the street carts. I was brilliant but misunderstood. I could lie for days unable to get out of bed, only able to text or email people to make excuses for my inability to appear at scheduled functions, work, auditions. I would let time slip away and a mantra would run through my head telling me that I would be 'better off gone'. I would eventually come out of it, rejoin the real world, and wait in fear for the next time.

When you are a mother, you don't get to hit the self destruct button. You have to function. After giving birth, I was dizzy with joy. In fact, I think they must have slipped something into my IV because as my doctor was stitching me I was telling Tom that I couldn't wait to have another baby...but after a few weeks the familiar anxiety and fear crept in. I knew that I couldn't wait for the inevitable to cripple me. I couldn't wallow. Because I wouldn't be 'better off gone' - I now had a role and a purpose in this world.

Of course, that's easy for me to say when I am healthy or not in the throngs of an attack but when it happens for the first time or comes out of nowhere it can be very difficult to accept that you have an illness to fight and you are not crazy. For friends and family around you it can be hard for them to understand that it is not 'just the baby blues', you are not 'just tired', 'not lazy', and not 'having a bad day'. Yes, we all have days that we don't want to get out of bed but our difference is we can't. We are paralyzed by our sadness, our fear, our anger and anxiety and utterly overwhelmed and confused as to what caused it. Living in the depths of depression is to experience a hell on earth. It's irrational, unexpected and unexplained. Often we know we have no reason to feel this way. This only makes us feel worse.

I had two friends this week share with me their struggle with depression and with an almost painfully embarrassed admission that they had gone on medication. They were terribly ashamed, which in turn made me terribly sad. Now, not 'depressed sad', just 'sad sad'. Still with me?

I'm not going to spout on about how depression is like having a cold and just like having a cold you take medicine - I don't know nor do I pretend to understand the best course of action, be it medication, prayer, vitamins or exercise. However, I will tell you that gobbling a lot of St. John's Wort didn't help so much...thank you anyway for that suggestion Tom Cruise.

I have taken medication off and on for a number of years. Don't feel sorry for me. This is not a cry for help. I promise you that I am not wearing a mask of happiness silently singing "Send In The Clowns". People that have this disease are not miseries (at least not all of the time), unless of course they are just plain old miserable people in the first place. We are still the fun loving people you once thought we were. We are just like nurses, lawyers and perverts - we could live next door to you and you wouldn't necessarily know it.

I'm not advocating anything here nor am I preaching to the choir. I know that depression was once so taboo that mention a peep and they'll have you tied to a gurney getting electric shock treatment faster than you can sign up for Scientology. I don't think it is as much taboo now as it is misunderstood. Our parents generation was told to 'get on with it' and if you opened a dialogue with them about it now, they might tell you to cheer up and count your blessings. They might also reveal that they too have struggled for years.

I am not an expert but I am more than prepared to say that this is my illness, my disease in life and when I take care of myself, I live a happy and optimal existence. I function. And as a mother and a wife I need to. I am neither proud nor ashamed. I am however, medicated and happy.

Finally, I wanted to share a letter that the brilliant actor/writer/comedian Stephen Fry had written to a woman in response to a letter that she had sent him about depression. I find his words honest and refreshing. In turn I am forced to laugh at my recent move to the pacific northwest...roll on summer... ;)