We’re Not in Kansas Anymore Toto

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase “It’s all about balance” in the context of a conversation about being a successful parent. If I am like most moms, which I think I am, what “balance” means is that I fling myself head first into the tornado that is parenthood and spin and spin until it dumps me out. Then I stand there, disoriented, wondering if the feet sticking out from underneath the house belong to me or to someone else. I don’t often realize I am in danger of being sucked into the vortex until I find myself either a) for the third time that week crying to a co-worker while she stares at me, wide-eyed with thinly veiled horror or b) crying over a bathtub full of kid poop at 9 at night wondering how this could be my life. Then and only then do I realize I have to jump out before I twist right out of Kansas.

I have long thought that there is something inherently wrong with the phrase “working mother”. I have my work, I have my family and somewhere deep in the middle is also that little part of me that isn’t reflected in my work or identified by “mommy”. That is the part of me that sometimes seems to get swept up and carried off to some unknown land.

I found myself several months ago crying over a tub of poop. Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t a pretty picture. For too long I had been ignoring the fact that I hadn’t had a hair cut in over 6 months, that I had not made that necessary doctor’s appointment or that dentist appointment, that I had not renewed the gym membership that had expired two months previously, or that I had not done anything for myself in several months.

My mornings are waking kids, dressing kids, feeding kids, rushing kids, buckling kids, driving kids, dropping kids and turning around and rushing to work. I eat a breakfast in the car that had been hastily wrapped in a paper towel with a mug of strong overly sugared coffee in one hand. My days are phone calls, meetings, court appearances, hurried trips to the grocery store on my lunch break and then the rush home at 5:00. My evenings are playing, making dinner, getting baths, getting jammies, bedtime for the baby, story times for the twins, bedtime for the twins, clean up, laundry, packing school bags and lunches. Basically, all the things that a moms do. Don’t get me wrong, there is also a lot of beauty in the everyday minutia of being a mom but sometimes it can start to feel like a hamster wheel. Sometimes the result is crying over poop.

If I let it go on too long, as I inevitably do, I become the mom and wife I don’t want to be, harried, flustered and sometimes, resentful. I become the employee I don’t want to be, late, emotional and distracted. I begin to imagine how my children and husband picture me, crazed, wild-eyed with my hair matted. I begin to imagine people saying at work “She was really good until she had kids. Then she just kinda went off the deep end.”

The bigger issue is that I become the me I don’t want to be. It isn’t necessarily how my kids picture me or the potential gossip at the office but how I see myself and what part of me is left. It isn’t really my kids, my husband or my job that make me into that unrecognizable mess scooping poop out of the tub. It is me.

I am the one who lets it get to that point. Somewhere along the line I have to decide that I matter, that my appointments are just as important, that my interests are as important, that I do need a haircut or a massage or exercise. Naturally, if I am a better me I am going to be a better parent, wife, friend and employee. I can spin in that twister for a really long time before there are really any consequences but as any parent knows there are always consequences to our actions. The problem is that once you get too far down that yellow brick road it is not as easy as clicking your heels to get back home to where you belong. The key is seeing that tornado in the distance and making it to shelter before it hits.

By Erika: B Minus

I was at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in a crowded facility over the weekend. Kids and people everywhere milling about, with lots of excitement and stimulation and entertainment. As one would expect, my two boys trolled the halls of this place with more than their usual energy and broke out into a run every minute or so. There was also chocolate involved. After one particularly annoying episode of energy, where they almost plowed down some people and just kept running, I pulled them aside and gave them the stern lecture about it being crowded, the need to mind their bodies, not be too wild, etc. As I stood upright after delivering the requisite lecture, an elderly man stopped and touched me on the shoulder. He said, “I need to tell you that you are doing a great job as a mother. Just fantastic.” Then he walked away.

I suspect that at least nine out of ten times that a stranger talks to you regarding your children or your parenting, it is an unsolicited criticism, or at least a veiled expression of disapproval. Rarely have I had such an out of nowhere compliment from a stranger. What was even more interesting was that I didn’t think what I did was so fabulous… to me, the best mom’s children wouldn’t be acting like bats out of hell in the first place. But as the night wore on, I was reminded once again about the variation in parental influence attempts with their kids, as well as the variation in effectiveness. Again, chocolate was involved. At the end of the night, I was still not so sure what got me singled out by the elderly gentleman but I didn’t much care. I liked the compliment, and it got me thinking.

Parenting is the most long-term and interaction-intensive thing most of us will ever do. Quite possibly more so than a marriage relationship (or maybe that is just true for me since I am not married to a talker). I find myself constantly assessing how I am doing. Am I doing a good job? A bad job? Overall, how would I rate myself as a mother? For me, part of why it is so hard is that it never ends. Sure, there are milestones for my children like becoming a toddler, potty training, becoming school age… later there will be graduation, marriage, and whatever else comes next. But you never really get any objective summary feedback about your parental quality, and I want it!! I think I do because I have become so acclimated to
being evaluated for everything else. You get grades in school. At work, you get an annual performance appraisal. Maybe you also complete projects and are evaluated on those. Or perhaps you complete a major landscaping renovation and your neighbors walk by and tell you how nice it looks and what they like most. I mean, even as a stay home mom I can be readily evaluated by my laundry productivity or my effectiveness at not getting ants in the house this spring.

If, at the end of our lives, we did receive some sort of evaluation about how we did as parents, who has the authority to determine such an evaluation? The kids? Our friends? Our own parents? A formula like (income x happiness)*grandchildren^2? And what is the goal? If we don’t know the goal, then how do we know if we have been successful? Of course, there are no answers to those questions, but it doesn’t stop my quirky mind from thinking them.

Rather, I think my success will be judged cumulatively by thousands of small moments, good and bad. Just last week I was relieved to overhear a conversation where my 6 year old was telling my 4 year old that you can’t have babies until you are at least 23. That isn’t anything I ever said, but like a lot of those kinds of moments, you know that somewhere in there your child has absorbed a positive value or preference or life practicality from you and it feels good to hear it come back at you. The occasional “dammit!” out of the mouths of babes is the down side of that reality…

I am sure there are no perfect parents out there. However, I am not sure who, other than myself, will ultimately hold me accountable for the job I do as a parent. What I do know is that in order to accomplish a goal you have to have a realistic target to be able to aim for. If by the end of my days, I can achieve a parenting B-, I think that is pretty fantastic. To do worse would be a disservice to my kids. To do better might be a disservice to me.

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.

By Tina: Milestone

2011 was a year of milestones for me.

But before the milestones of 2011, let me regress a bit to my reflection related to an earlier post entitled “Reincarnation”.  Currently, I work in law enforcement. In a past life, I was a graphic artist. I know. How do you move from graphic designer to working in law enforcement? I am still asking myself that.

As a graphic designer I worked for a small suburban newspaper in the Advertising Department. Not very sexy some might say, after all it wasn’t a high-powered ad agency, but we had fun and frankly, there was a lot of talent at that newspaper. We worked under extreme deadlines three times a week. The other artist and I (she was the lead) designed advertisements and newspaper page layouts for special features. We worked with artists, writers, account executives and editors. On Friday afternoons we went to lunch at McMenamin’s or some other pub. We ate lunch, drank beer, and reveled in the relief of another week of newspapers “put to bed”.

At that time, I already had a daughter, Bethany. In the beginning, I did not know if I wanted to have more children. But when Bethany was 5 years old, without going to into a lot of details about the craziness of getting pregnant, I eventually did get pregnant. At 10 weeks along I was informed I was having twins. Christopher and Corey were born on Christmas Eve 1987. Then I had McKenzie 24 months later. And so with a 6-year-old, a set of twin 2-year-olds, and a newborn I left the world of graphic design and for a time, I focused on a my young children while working at a job with more flexibility. Eventually, of course, I did end up in Law Enforcement, a field I still work in today.

Back to the milestones of 2011.

In 2011 my oldest daughter turned 30 years old.  Those around me who have small children, which is many of my friends, have heard me say ad nauseam how fast “it” all goes. There is a reason I repeat this cliché over and over, because it is freaking crazy how fast it goes. One day I am being wheeled out of the hospital with my little baby in my arms and the next, bam! My kids are adults with lives of their own.

Weirder yet is another milestone. I turned 50.  In your 20s and 30s, 50 seems like a long time away. Your brain tells you “being older” is inevitable, but somewhere else in your body it seems like forever away as if you will never actually be 50. Somehow, it’s a bit hard to image yourself being 50. Well, I don’t have to image it anymore. Ladies and Gentleman, it has arrived.

The other day, as I was listening to some 70’s music while driving in the car and “dancing” down the highway I was struck with the fact that a big part of me does not feel 50. I suspect my “moves” which seem to me as the same as my 20-year-old self, don’t quite look the same on the outside as they feel on the inside.

In other milestones of 2011, my “baby” girl, McKenzie, got married to Brian and together they created the event that has trumped all other milestones. They created my first grandchild Henry.

I watched McKenzie as she went through the stages of her pregnancy. As the birth of Henry approached I secretly hoped she would let me be there when he was born. I never asked her, but still, I was really hoping. The moment came and I was invited to stay for Henry’s birth. Upon learning I was going to witness this amazing event, on the outside I said a quiet and subdued yes, on the inside I was jumping up and down and screaming, YES!!!!

Having never been a grandparent before, I didn’t know what it would be like. I had no doubt I would love Henry, but how was it really and practically going to feel to have this little person around? In the moment that Henry was born, it was instant, powerful, and real; I loved him with a love like that for my own children. There was an immediate connection that goes beyond explanation.

It is amazing watching your children parent. I love watching McKenzie and Brian love and care for this little person that means so much to me. And now, this milestone called Henry has changed much of the focus of my life. I want Henry to feel Opa and I are always there for him. I want Henry to feel safe, loved, accepted and cherished. I want to be the Oma that attends his school plays, helps him with homework, and kisses his skinned knees. I want to be involved in the minutia of his life. So every chance I get to spend time with him, I take it. It is precious time, time gone all too soon. I want to see, experience, and give as much love as possible to his 5-month-old self, his 6-month-old self, and so on.

Secondly, I want to be a support for McKenzie and Brian, and our other kids when that time comes, in ways I hope will make their lives a little easier. I remember how it was to be the parent of small children. It was busy, and of course wonderful, but exhausting. Now that we are grandparents, I hope our home will be a place McKenzie and Brian can bring Henry, and any future grandchildren, where he is happy and loved, giving them time to nourish themselves and their marriage. I hope this will be our gift to them as a family and as a couple. And I hope it is a gift to Henry and a place he stores up lots of fond memories to take with him through out his whole life so that, even as an adult, he looks back on his time with his Oma and Opa and feels the warmth of our love long after we are gone.

In the meantime, I am so proud and honored to be living out this milestone with the little boy who makes the sun rise in the sky and the stars give light at night, Henry.

 

Tina works at helping people play well with others. She is a mom of four, Oma of one, and married to a man also trying to help people play by the rules.

Snow Day

I remember as a child awaking up to find my little world covered in a crystal blanket of snow. I remember that intense quiet that seemed to settle over the morning. I remember that flutter of excitement when school was cancelled and I was gifted that free day of burning rosy cheeks, wet socks and cocoa. A whole day to pretend, build snow forts and to come into the heat and foggy windows of the house.

“It’s wake up time!” My son shouts as he pushes open the door to our room at 6:00 am. He pulls himself up onto the bed and snuggles in next to me in his fleece footie pajamas. I pull the down comforter in around us.

“I have som-ping to tell daddy.” He says with his nose pressed against my neck.

“What do you want to tell daddy?” I whisper and kiss his hot little cheek. “Daddy is sleeping Bubba.”

“It’s a snow day!” He exclaims at full volume.

“It is? Did you see snow outside?’ I ask in an excited whisper, feeling that old familiar flutter of anticipation and that feeling of hope creep over me.

“Yes! It’s wake up time!” He says pressing further into me.

The yard is covered, the trees are hanging heavily with snow and the strawberries we planted last weekend are now hibernating under a thick, down blanket. The kids have slipped their rubber boots on over their footie pajamas too excited to put on their clothes. Their hats sag over their little heads covering their ears. I watch from the window as they stomp through the snow singing happily as their noses turn the color of cherry tomatoes.

My husband shakes the snow off his shoulders as he comes in with an arm load of wood. The fire crackles as the bite in the air starts to melt away. The tea-pot is on for hot cocoa. I curl my legs under me on the couch. I watch as the snow drips from the trees and becomes pock-marked with imprints of little boots.

I plan a day of snowmen, damp clothes by the fire, stories, cuddles and sleepy naps. I take a sip of coffee and listen to the giggles coming from outside.

“Do you want me to set that hearing for you at 1:00?…. Stacey?… Stacey?”

I turn from watching the snow fall silently outside my window. My secretary is standing next to my desk. “Oh… um… yes, 1:00 works. Sorry, I was just daydreaming of a snow day…”

Kelly Day

My husband is a fire fighter. Every 13th shift he has Kelly Relief Day. In other words, a paid shift off. I don’t know what it means or why they get it. And before all you fire nerds write in comments to explain, I have to honestly tell you… I DON”T CARE. What it means to me is that my husband is home for 5 days in a row and he sleeps in our bed 5 nights in a row.

To be honest, I don’t really think that Kelly Relief was designed for fire fighters. I think it was designed for their wives. I told my husband once that if there was no Kelly Day the divorce rate would be a lot higher. By the 12th shift when I am about at my wit’s end, he has a Kelly Day and I remember, for a short time, what life used to be like. What it used to be like when we saw each other every night and every morning. What it was like to have two parents at dinner time and two parents at bath time and bed time for more than two nights in a row.

Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to the fire fighter schedule. My husband spends way more time at home than I do and way more time with the kids. He has whole days while the kids are in school where he can get things done around the house. Sometimes he even comes and has lunch or coffee with me, WITHOUT THE KIDS. So we can actually talk for more that 2 minutes without being interrupted or having our lattes spilled in our laps. Again, not complaining but sometimes it is just not that easy to get into the rhythm of being a single parent every third day.

Those days that he is not home are pure survival. The school bags are packed. I have clothes laid out for all three kids. I have a plan for breakfast. The timer is set on the coffee pot. I have the right snacks in my purse to keep the kids occupied on the ride home. I cook the fastest thing I can make for dinner. No baths, a wet wash cloth is just fine. I put on a show for the twins to keep them safe while I put Sissy Little to bed. The doors are locked. The alarm system is set. Check the doors again. I go to bed alone in a king sized bed with one eye open and one ear listening.

So whatever Kelly Relief Day is or means I think it should really be called Spousal Relief Day. I may just start a petition to change the name permanently. I think I would get a lot of signatures.

By Erika: Measure Up

This past weekend, my family and I went away to a lodge with an indoor water park. It was pretty much exactly what you would expect from such a thing. However, there is one little thing that stuck with me. When children enter the water park, they must take off their shoes and have their height measured. There is a color coded measuring board they use with great precision, using a clipboard to determine their exact height. The result yields each child being strapped with a wristband that is either green (48″+), yellow (42″-48″), or red (under 42″). From then on, your wristband color is the indicator used to determine which slides you can and cannot go on. Safety first.

For us, it was neither here nor there which color wristbands our kids had. We had one yellow and one green, and the yellow kid didn’t want to do anything “scary” anyway. But the more time we spent there and I observed the inclusions and exclusions within the families of children where some had the “scarlet wristband” (as I began to call it in my head) who could not participate in all they wanted to do. I started to wonder, did the kids notice each others’ wristband colors? Were some of the kids taking pride in their green bands while others felt sad to not have one? Were they all too young to really notice anyway?

Personally, I was spending a lot of time struggling with being in a bathing suit for two whole days feeling bad about myself. I was grateful that there was little chance of seeing someone I knew. I was also thankful that most of the adults there were not looking any better. Nevertheless, I started to link together the wrist band experience with my own self-esteem, wondering if it is a patchwork of these little life experiences of comparison that have created the queen-sized quilt of issues that I own. Not too long ago I was showing friends some photos of my teenage years, as we debated who may have been the ugliest teenager. As we looked through them, I could remember many of those exact moments and how I felt about how my hair looked, what I was wearing, who I was with, or how fat I thought I was. My friends were unimpressed, declaring me not at all ugly as a teenager. You would think I would get over it. But for me, those feelings never stopped with being a teenager. With each milestone birthday… 21, 25, 30, 35, 40… I thought I would finally reach the age where I would accept myself. But then all I have to do is look back at photos through all those decades. In some of them I looked better than now. In some of them I looked worse. Without a doubt, in ALL of them, at the time they were taken, I remember very clearly that I was not happy with myself. So then I think, “Darn! I looked so good back then! Why didn’t I appreciate it when I had it??”

I really thought that becoming an at-home mom would give me all the time in the world to build my selfesteem through any means necessary. But as it turns out, quitting my job last year was just another dagger taking a stab at it. The “no matter what else, at least I am a successful career woman” idea evaporated overnight. Even almost 8 months later, when people ask me “What do you do?” I have to resist the urge to say, “Nothing.” What I do is a long list of really mundane tasks that keep my family going. If I shared it, the person who asked would probably fall asleep. In all honesty, I am proud of what I do at home and of being a mom, but I am not skilled at explaining that to others without feeling some need to make excuses for the rest of it. To compensate, I hear myself committing to things by joking, “Sure, I’ll do that. What else have I got going on?” Follow that by regret as I take on too much and am left feeling inadequate.

At 41, what is clear to me is that I will probably never feel like I am good enough. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t spend more than 5 minutes a day thinking about these things. I am too busy living my life. But, I will always worry about my weight, fight with my naturally curly hair, believe that I look old, and wonder if the guys at the fire station think my husband has a frumpy wife. And I am not sure how or why I got to be this way, whether all women are this way, or all people in general are this way. I want to try to keep my children from being this way, but have no idea how to do that since I am not sure quite how it happened to me. So, I don’t have some witty or wise insight on this one. What I do know is that I love my family and they love me. Somehow, that’s going to just have to be enough to measure up.

 

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.