Caution: Road Work Ahead

As a mom who works full-time outside of the home, I constantly question whether the decisions I have made are the right ones. It is inevitable that I question whether working is the right thing for my kids and if it is the right thing for me. It is not likely to be a question that is easily resolved. It is easy to see signs everywhere, in emails I get, articles I read, comments people make or stories I hear on the radio that sometimes lead me to believe that I should be doing something different. Sometimes, it is construction zones.

“You’ve got to be F—ING kidding me!!!” I scream as I pound the steering wheel. It is clearly not one of my finer moments. I am running 10 minutes late already and I am only 3 minutes away from work when I drive up on a barricade reading “Road Closed”. The first detour I take results in a line of stopped cars. I flip around and head down another road, which I soon find is equally as backed up.

About a year ago, I started to notice the literal “road blocks” to getting to my office. First, it was the bridge across the river that was a short cut to my kids’ school. The city closed the bridge for two years to do some necessary repairs. This required me to take a completely different route to school, one that necessitated a roundabout detour onto the freeway. In actuality, it shouldn’t have taken any longer to get there but then, there was the traffic. Getting on to the freeway was no problem but inevitably it was stop and go due to the influx of new traffic caused by the bridge closure as there was no other way to get across the river.

Not long after I began the freeway detour the city started a construction project on the on-ramps I took to access the freeway. This caused a back up of traffic to get onto the freeway in addition to the backup already on the freeway.

Several months later on my way to work, after I fought the traffic leading to the on ramp, fought the freeway traffic and headed back to work I was surprised to find that Main Street, literally two blocks from my work was under construction. The cross street was entirely closed and to get through I had to sit and wait for a flagger.

It became almost comical. That is, if I didn’t cry. I was already chronically late for work but what used to be 5-10 minutes late was turning into 20-30 minutes. The city had essentially decided to start a construction project on every possible street on my route to work. Why was it suddenly so hard to get there? Could it be sign? Could it just be coincidence?

So all of this road work was making it hard for me to get my kids to school and hard for me to get to work. I started thinking that maybe it was divine intervention. There was a higher power that was throwing out bulldozers, hardhats and road signs to get me to go down a different road. Not the one that led to my office.

The truth is that it is easy to find “signs” when I want to. It is easy to think the universe is trying to tell me something if I look hard enough. It is like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see that same car everywhere you look when you never noticed it before. I guess it was same with me and the construction zones. They were probably there all along I just didn’t see them until I was looking for them.

What is harder is coming back down to reality and to sift through what it is that is making me see those signs and whether to pay attention to it or not.

Working is a blessing and a sacrifice. Staying home is a blessing and a sacrifice. I stay home for a week or two and I am ready to go back to work. I go to work for a week or two and I am ready to stay home again. There is really no happy medium. I go through all the justifications and rationalizations for doing what I do, what I choose to do. In the end there really is no answer.

When it comes down to it no decision can be based solely on constructions zones no matter how inconvenient they make my life. It is just not that simple. I just have to do what I think is best and stay on that road and hope there aren’t too many orange cones.

By Erika: Judgment Day

Sometime in the last couple of years, I was boarding an airplane to travel for business. A child of about the age of 5, clearly did NOT want to get on the plane. The result was the parent forcibly carrying her in a full body hold onto the plane while she repeatedly screamed, “I don’t want to go! I don’t want to go!” It was quite a scene. As I waited to board and could hear this commotion going all the way down the ramp in front of me, I actually wondered how long it could continue before the flight personnel might have to ask them to leave. Then my attention was grabbed by a couple standing in line ahead of me. They were probably in their fifties, and the woman actually said to the man, “Seriously, why doesn’t she just tell her to BE QUIET?!” I almost laughed out loud and then almost choked due to trying not to laugh out loud.

Before kids, I hated flying with children around me. I would rather die than end up next to the unaccompanied 8 year old who wanted to converse about the various qualities of ninjas. To be sure, I was a very well-rounded misanthrope — I pretty much hated talking to anyone on an airplane, ever. Maybe it is because my parents were divorced when I was a toddler and we were always living quite a distance apart. I ended up spending more time in the air under the age of 18 than most people do in their entire lives. What I learned about more than anything during those years (aside from the true absurdity of a “non-smoking section” that ends the row behind you) was the distinct incapability of the general public to pick up on social cues. And boy, have I worked on honing my cues.

For example, maybe a decade ago I was on a totally full 4+ hour flight, and all the seats were assigned. I was on the aisle in the back, so I got a very clear view all the way to the front as I watched a woman and 6 children under the age of 10, all frazzled, and the last to board. She ditched one child after the other into their scattered middle seats that took up the span of the airplane. All I could think (with an empty middle seat next to me) was, “Seriously? What insanely incompetent mother travels alone with 6 children and then doesn’t even have the foresight to get seat assignments so they could all sit together?!” Well, you know how this ends. Not only did she have a three year old and a baby left with her when she got to my row, but then I noticed there was an empty middle seat in the row in front of me. I knew then that I was going to get asked to move so they could have the two seats together, and I was ticked. However, I am also conflict-avoidant, so yes, I moved. When she thanked me profusely, I didn’t say, “You’re welcome.” I didn’t say anything, because what would have come out if I had opened my mouth would not have been very nice. I just used my social cues.

So there I ended up one day, on an airplane with a baby and a toddler, knowing the less than stellar karma I had built up was about to get me back. While planning the trip, friends and family were very quick to congratulate me on the fact that at least one child was under the age of two and therefore his seat was “free.” Actually, no it wasn’t. It was MY seat that I had PAID for and this little do-no-gooder was along for the ride on my lap. In reality, the worst of it wasn’t that. It was the fear of the other people around me, who might be like I used to be, and would spend the whole flight judging me or being irritated with me. Suddenly, my pride in being funny and judgmental (I like to think being judgmental is a requirement for being funny) evaporated. I was terrified. All that was left to hope for was a screaming baby in the next aisle, to totally overpower any poorly-timed tantrum my toddler might set his sights upon.

At the end of the trip, while it wasn’t great, it wasn’t horrible. And it hasn’t been horrible on many other trips before and since. I swear there is something about having a child with you that enters you into a club of nicer people. I started noticing them when I was pregnant, and continue to notice them more as time goes on. And on the bright side, I work harder to also try to BE one of the nicer people, especially when children are involved. I think it is the least I can do.

Seven years ago, I might have agreed with the “BE QUIET!” woman. Now, I find her nothing short of ridiculous. Even though I am striving to be a nicer person, next time I am going to laugh out loud.

Erika is a recovering workaholic turned at-home mom of two boys ages 4 and 6. She is married to a recovering chemical engineer turned firefighter. Erika is slowly discovering what she likes to do now that she has time to do it.

Love and Modern Science

My twins are turning 3 today. Their preferred words are “no” and “mine”. Although I love them with every inch of my being there are days when they make me so crazy I could curl up in a ball on my closet floor and pull out my hair strand by strand. Some days I have to take a deep breath and remind myself why I thought having kids was a good idea.

I spent my 20’s trying not to get pregnant. Not that it was that difficult. I was busy with law school, traveling and training for the Olympics. Kids were the last thing on my mind really. But then I met my husband when I was 26. Suddenly I couldn’t think of anything more perfect than a baby that was a little bit of me and a little bit of him. We got married when I was 30 and started “trying” about six months after our wedding. A year later I called to make our first appointment at a fertility clinic.

We hid it like a dirty little secret. It was not until recently that I have become more open about how our twins came to be. Guess what? Twins don’t run in our family even though there are 3 sets. They are all the product of love and modern science.

Who knows why I had to be so secretive. At first I think it was denial. The first year we waited in limbo convinced that it was only a matter of time and patience. Then I think it became embarrassment. We had to admit that something wasn’t working, that something was “wrong”. Like it was shameful that my body didn’t work right, that our bodies didn’t work together. That I was broken. After awhile the embarrassment just gave way to dull, aching pain that was too raw to talk about.

Making a baby became clinical and sterile and expensive. It involved needles and drugs and schedules. It was white paper sheets, hospital gowns, lubricant and ultrasounds. And crying. A lot of crying.

I cried at the clinic. I cried every time the pregnancy test was negative. I cried every time someone announced they were pregnant. I would smile and congratulate them, then I would find the nearest room with a door and cry until my head hurt. I cried the day the clinic called and told me for what seemed like the millionth time that I wasn’t pregnant and then I got dressed and went to a baby shower. I wanted to hide in the bathroom and cry. I cried when I was holding my niece and my husband’s grandmother said to me “Doesn’t it feel nice to hold a baby? Don’t you want a baby?” As if I were holding out. I had to remind myself she didn’t know. I smiled and walked away afraid I was going to be sick. I cried after every time someone asked us “Do you want to have kids?” and I had to watch my husband awkwardly reply “Oh yeah, some day.” My husband held me silently so many times while I cried.

Even though time seemed to creep by I felt such a sense of urgency. I wanted a baby so desperately that I could feel it in my arms. Each time I believed I was one step closer to having that only to be disappointed again.

Then that day came. I was rolled into the O.R. On the flat screen in the corner I saw two perfect little cells. They looked like they were practically bursting at the seams. The doctor said “Those are your embryos. They are beautiful. They look just like we want them to look.” I smiled and then I fell asleep.

I am one of the lucky ones. I don’t for a second take that for granted. I had the resources. I had family support. Eventually my body cooperated with love and modern science.

So despite the excitement of the candles and cupcakes and gifts today I will remember how my twins came to be and I will celebrate that quietly.

By Diane: Mema

I remember laughing at my younger sister, who had married earlier than me and become a grandmother before my two daughters were married.  She was ridiculous – a grandmother (MIMI) and just over the top about her granddaughter.

 I told her “I will never be like you.”

 Well folks, here I am a few years later with four grandchildren and I have to tell you I am ridiculous too.  I am now MeMa and love being called that.  I am filled with love and pride when one of my grandbabies tears across the room and tumbles into my arms.  The words “I love you MeMa,” can bring tears to my eyes.  I worry when they are sick, I am afraid they will get hurt, I can laugh and cry with them at the drop of a hat.

 It is pure joy and unconditional love on both sides.

 The other part of being a grandparent that is so special is seeing your children parenting.  I am continually amazed at how intuitive, caring, and loving my girls are as mothers.  I am filled with pride and a sense of accomplishment – even though I made mistakes as every parent does – my children have turned out alright and are loving, thoughtful parents and spouses.

 My own goal as a parent was that my girls would grow up to be “good, happy” people. I can see that I have achieved that and now I am watching them do the same with their own children.

 All I can say is that I loved my children deeply but in a slightly different way. There was always the fear that the mistakes I made as a parent would traumatize them, that they would go the wrong way, that drugs or alcohol would be a hurtful part of their lives, that they wouldn’t somehow meet my expectations, and on and on.  As a grandparent those fears as not as prominent – I have to admit they lurk in the background still – but they are just not the focus.  Watching, loving, helping and nurturing, laughing, singing silly songs, changing their diapers, kissing and hugging are the things I love about being MeMa.  “I love you MeMa,” makes my day.

 What joy!

 

Diane is Mema to four grandchildren and splits her time traveling between Alaska, Oregon and Virginia. She is retired from a long and successful career in education and her second career is in the summer tourist industry in Alaska. Diane has a passion for the arts and has spent much of her life promoting arts in her community and state and bringing arts into the schools.

By Cara: Kid One

It was four years ago on Valentine’s Day that I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, Hope. It seems like just yesterday even though, Hope has clearly transitioned from a baby to a little lady. We start dance classes this weekend! She’s ready and it’s time. She’s come into her own and the baby stage is over. This means, by conventional American cultural standards, that she, and we, must be ready for a sibling. Predictably, I am often asked the million dollar question, “are you going to have another one?” Then, inevitably, I freeze.

Depending on the day, I can say that we’ve decided one is best for our family with either genuine conviction or an angst-ridden betrayal of my true wishes. It’s a funny question. Funny because the asker usually assumes it’s rhetorical, and consequently, portrays both the answer they expect and the answer they hope I will give through non-verbal cues like leaning in and head-nodding while asking. What follows is an awkward pause before I respond. I use this pause to process the initial guilt I feel for having to disappoint them, and then, to check in with my own uncertainty about having “just” one.

I won’t lie. There is a part of my heart that wants to mother another child. That part wants to see Hope put a blanket on a newborn little brother or share princess dresses with a little baby sister. That part wants to smell another baby’s hair, my baby’s hair. That part wonders, simply what another child would BE like. And at the same time it whispers to me from a deep place of maternal fear, that maybe I should have another one, you know, just in case. This portion of my heart has quite a lot of power to persuade.

And yet, there is also the place within my heart that senses, on a rock-solid gut level, that it’s not that simple. That “can” does not equal “should.” Like anything else, I have to do what is best not only for me, but for my family. This part of my heart rises up to look me squarely in the eye and reminds me that what we have now, works. Then it reminds me of a very difficult pregnancy and weeks of bed rest. And this is all before it starts in on the very real (and unpleasant) risks to my long-term physical health if I were to deliver another baby. In short, it doesn’t fool around with whispering but says very directly, that yes, it could work if we added a second, but that it also could not. It makes lists about how tired me and my husband are at night, how demanding our jobs are, how financially difficult it would be with another, and how we don’t have time for ourselves or each other that we would want to spare. It reminds me, firmly and loudly, that my husband is a giving, honest man who knows himself and also knows he is a recovering alcoholic. That his health, sobriety, and the time for each, are critical. This voice, my voice, reminds me that it’s not just about me. It’s about the heart of my family. This family. Now.

Amidst this internal debate I do know one thing: ultimately, it’s not about the answer. The longer I’ve struggled, the more I’ve begun to see that life is not going to become complete once deciding whether we do, or don’t, have another baby. Life is already happening in this process of  loving, growing, being and dancing. There is no right or wrong. There’s just today. So next time, and there will most definitely be a next time, someone asks if we’re having another one, instead of trying so hard to give the “right” answer, perhaps I’ll simply smile and say “maybe, but right now I’m just enjoying being Hopeey’s mom.” After all, when I’m not worried about what might be missing, I find I’m already complete.

 

Cara is a displaced Texan who is a full time prosecutor for the long arm of the law. It is law and order on the home front too, as she and her police Lieutenant husband proudly parent a bright, sweet little princess sassy pants, 3 year old Hope. When she is not making sweet tea for Hope or teaching her how to properly apply eyeshadow, Cara enjoys quilting, reading mystery novels and playing with Addie and Brandon, her dogs. 

By Erika: Not My Job?

I am not sure where I first encountered it. Maybe in a parenting book or maybe in a conversation with someone. It is the notion of a child having a “job” to do. For example, “It is the child’s job to test limits. It is how they learn about rules and boundaries.” Ladies and Gentlemen, your child has a built-in excuse for any behavior they can muster — it is their job as a child.

I worked for 20 years in an assortment of educational, non-profit, healthcare, and high tech settings. At least half of that time I was responsible for other employees. The leadership positions were the most challenging, because not only was I responsible for my own work, but my job also included making sure that the people I managed had what they needed to be successful. Moreover, I was now under more intense scrutiny, as my behavior would set some kind of standard for what the expectations would be of anyone who wanted to be successful in the company. I felt like I was on stage.

I stopped working last year for one simple reason. I was too darn stressed out. Poor me, for sure… I know I am one of the lucky ones who even has a choice in the matter about whether or not to work. But a workaholic and perfectionist finds its roost in any circumstance, even as an at-home mom. Once it became my JOB to clean the house and do laundry, I believed I would do it to a higher standard. I say this like it was necessary, as my children have grown up in a very clean house and been chased around with paper towels their whole lives lest their kid grime be transferred onto household objects or furniture. In my house, spilled milk results in looks of horror in my direction, waiting for my reaction. Rather than higher standards, being at home resulted in me wondering how I ever did it before, since my house doesn’t look any cleaner, laundry doesn’t seem to get done any faster, and toys stay scattered around on the floor overnight (I never tolerated that when I was working). I can say that I am no longer stressed out. But the pressure is still there.

The expectations of a parent are not that different than those of a manager. Be friendly and polite. Set high standards and clearly communicate when they are not met. Ask questions and seek to understand. Think “out of the box” and seek continuous improvement. Be approachable. Be fair and follow the rules. Listen.

I most definitely did a better job of meeting those expectations as a manager. I think that is why I was so stressed out. I am not sure why (apparently) my kids don’t deserve as great of a performance from me as when I was paid to do it. Sure, the people I managed were grown-ups (although any of you managers out there will agree that it often doesn’t seem that way). But there is something about your children that is so deeply personal when they “fail to meet expectations” that it makes it so much harder to keep yourself from melting down.

So as I contemplate my children and their job, which is apparently to do whatever they do in order to become whatever they will become in life, I am also evaluating my own job performance. What I have decided is this: Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a built-in excuse for any behavior I can muster — it is my job as a parent. By watching my neurotic and sometimes inflexible behavior, maybe my children are going to learn how to be organized and analytical. By hearing me preach about what will happen if you continue to do X, and then seeing it happen, maybe my kids will learn to think things through. By sharing my disappointment in them (maybe too loudly) but then giving them a sincere goodnight kiss and “I love you,” maybe they will learn that true love is not always pretty but it is unconditional.

Parenthood is one of those wonderful-yet-creepy life spaces. Someone is always watching, absorbing, evaluating, and questioning. But I don’t get stressed out, I just try to be me. It is all I can do. It is my job.

 

Erika is a recovering workaholic turned at-home mom of two boys ages 4 and 6. She is married to a recovering chemical engineer turned firefighter. Erika is slowly discovering what she likes to do now that she has time to do it.

And Baby Makes…. 5?

You know how in those commercials you see the bright room with the white fluffy blankets and pillows on a bed and the kids coming bounding in and jump on the bed? The mom and dad pop up from the covers smiling huge smiles and they all laugh together in slow motion. Well, my life is TOTALLY like that except for a few small things. For one, my sheets aren’t white. And usually it is dark in my room when the kids come in because it is around 6 am. And well, they usually aren’t bounding it is more like shuffling in footie pajamas. The laughing is usually a little more like one whining, “I am hungry” and the other saying “I need to go pee-pee” with the baby crying in the background. To be honest we don’t usually pop up from the covers laughing but I do roll over and groan “Oh God, please no.”

Call it bad planning or lack of planning or even no planning, but I got pregnant with my third baby on the night of my twins 1st birthday. I remember thinking at the time “This might not be the best time for this.” Turns out it was the best time for it. Call it what you will, but after a lot of chocolate frosting and clearly too many glasses of wine we celebrated surviving one of the hardest years we’d had… yet.

Within a week I knew. After three consecutive days of feeling that familiar nausea, I knew. Let me remind you that it had really not been that long since the last time that I had had that familiar feeling.

My husband was two months into the fire academy, working four, ten-hour days and studying late into the night. He was under pressure, exhausted and stressed. I remembered three weeks after our twins were born we were awake in the middle of the night feeding them. My husband looked at me with pure exhaustion and said, “We are not having any more kids.”

I knew as soon as I had the twins that I wanted to do it all over again. I secretly thought that if I waited until the twins were around 4 years old that I could convince my husband that it would be “fun” to have another one. I knew that I would have a third and I knew it was going to be a girl. But when I thought I was pregnant I wanted to be sure before I said anything to him because I imagined the fallout. The freak out, if you will.

I was sitting on the edge of the bathtub when I told him. We had put the twins to bed and were brushing our teeth in the bathroom adjacent to their room in our tiny old house. My husband covered his face with both his hands and started to laugh. He gave me two thumbs up and said “Yeah!” with a big, goofy, terrified smile on his face. I think he was laughing to not cry.

As it turns out, the freak out was all mine. A week later we stood in our tiny kitchen also adjacent to the kid’s room after they had been put to bed. I cried and let the guilt and fear pour out of me. We were going to have three kids that were 20 months apart. My husband told me that it was going to be okay, that we were going to be okay and that we could do it. He told me that our twins were going to be great, older siblings. That we were going to love this new baby and the twins were going to love this new baby and that they were all going to grow up together, playing together and doing things together. That this new baby was going to be loved more than any baby could ever hope for.

In that moment I remembered all the reasons why I married him. I felt courage. I was going to need it.

So yeah, there are no fluffy white sheets and there is no slow motion laughter in our house. It is constant noise and constant triage. Someone is always hungry and someone always has to go pee or just went pee or just peed on the floor. We will always be that crazy family that everyone turns to look at in public. We will always be that family that everyone prays they don’t have to sit next to on the plane or at the restaurant. People will always say, “Wow, you have your hands full” or “Wow, I am tired just watching you.” No, we will always be THAT family but my husband was right about all those things that he said that night nearly two years ago and we wouldn’t have it any other way.