Wednesday, June 25, 2008

First Impressions

Three year-old G's reaction upon walking into the local Value Village for the first time in her memory:

"Hm...Smells good. Nice music."

(Were you to smell the place and hear the 80s pop music over the scratchy speakers, you would see how funny this is.)

Six year-old D's reaction:

"Things are not very expensive here!"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Little Help From Our Friends

I have always been the independent sort. My mom tells me I was walking at 9 months of age (which I am pretty sure meant I didn’t crawl long enough and which accounts for some sensory integration problems that plague me to this day, but let’s not go that direction with this story). When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in my room reading or writing or just being alone. I moved away from home and don’t see family all that often. I didn’t do much by way of study groups in college or even in law school. I lived alone after only one year of living with roommates. I have generally always made my own plans, done things my own way, and limited the time I spent worrying about what other people think about it.

And then I become a mother, and the lives of people who stayed in their hometowns surrounded by extended family and childhood friends suddenly made sense to me. I now envy those friends who have mothers who live next door and who watch their kids once a week. Those people who are super tight with their roots now seem wise.

For a variety of reasons, I am where I am, trying to recreate the village that it takes to raise children. My chosen sisters are my village. And my neighbors lend a hand as well. They rally round when I ask for help and I cannot begin to thank them because they have saved me from certain disaster repeatedly. (And by disaster, I mean when the mommy just can’t cope and everything falls apart at the seams.) From running errands to staying with my kids while I went to the hospital to see my husband, from food deliveries to cleaning the kitchen, friends have made life work for me when I really needed support.

All of the kindness of my friends has gotten me thinking about the village concept. The fact is that everyone knows to rally around a family with food and favors when a baby is born, or when a family member is hospitalized. Yet, there are times, when that baby is 18 months old and tearing the place apart, the older kid has the stomach flu, dishes are piled in the sink, things are tough at work, the cat vomited on the rug, and it’s just too much. But because we are overwhelmed by the pile of responsibilities and worries in those moments, we don’t even reach out to ask for help because it seems impossible.

But on that same night when getting dinner on the table seems a monumental task, your neighbor made a pot of spaghetti to feed an army, and puts half of it back into the fridge because her family didn’t eat it all. Then she dumps some of it into the trash in a few days because they never do end up eating it. And the fact is that your neighbor or your friend across town would have happily helped with dinner or anything else if only they had known you needed it.

Absent some sort of psychic ability to know when our friends and neighbors need help, all we can do is ask them to let us know. Now that I have been on all both sides of this common story – the giver of meals and support, the receiver of meals and support, the silent sufferer who could really use meals and support, and the person with extra food that probably won’t get eaten – I have resolved to do a couple of things.

First, I am offering help when I know someone might need it. When a friend has a baby, I’ll offer the meal train. When someone is really struggling with work, I’ll call and see if she needs help.

Second, I am just going to do what I can when I can manage it. I don’t always have the capacity, so I’ll do something when I do have capacity. The other day I dropped off some muffins for a friend who helped me out with food several times. She didn’t know it was coming, and I just left it on her doorstep. I wish I could know when she really needs help and whisk in and take care of her troubles. I wish I could show up in the middle of the night and rock her baby when he wakes so she can get some sleep. But I can’t do those things. So, I brought her some muffins.

While maybe what she really needs is someone to pick the toys up from the living room floor, I hope the muffins will make that job a little easier this time. If nothing else, muffins can remind her that I am here if she needs me. That’s a one size fits all type of gift.

Monday, June 16, 2008

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We have been living in a rental house now for almost a full year while our house is being remodeled. It has been a test of our courage, our emotional fortitude, our endurance, our decision-making skills, and our wallets. Finally, we are looking at the final weeks of construction.

I am practically salivating over the idea of being back in our old house, with our old neighbors and ample space, not to mention the updated appliances and newly configured layout. While this rental house has been very good to us, I am anxious to leave it and nest in the house we have been planning literally for years now.

Yet, there is one thing that I do not look forward to with great enthusiasm (other than paying the bills for the construction). In order to move back into the house, we have to PACK and MOVE all of our stuff again. Ugh. I shudder at the thought.

Right now I am trying to figure out where to begin. It seems that as soon as I pack up something, it will suddenly become incredibly necessary. I packed up the food processor, which I had not used in months this weekend. The very next day, I realized that it would have made the potato pancakes I had planned for dinner a lot easier to cook. I know that as soon as I pack up the mixer, I will have an urgent need for frosting. At least I know enough to make packing the kids' toys one of the last jobs. Could you imagine how valuable a doll would become the minute one of them found out she was packed in a box in the recesses of the basement?!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

At least I remembered to feed the kids...

Eric was away for a three day seminar this week. That leaves me with three kids and a cat all day and all night. Our regular sitter is out of town this week as well, so I keyed myself up to be on top of everything.

Figuring it's only a few days, I expected to manage just fine. Not that I don't miss Eric's company as well as his help at home. But an able-bodied person ought to be capable of managing for a few days without a partner, right?

Yet, when I am the only responsible adult around the house, I find that I get a little anxious about the pure volume of work to be done. I don't feel comfortable letting the dishes pile up, for example, because I know no kind person is going to wash them for me. It's all up to me. The thought is more oppressive than the work itself.

So, when Friday morning rolled around, and I knew it was my last day without peer support, I felt both proud of myself and relieved. Everyone had been fed and cleaned as appropriate. I took out the trash and the diapers for the diaper service. The sink was free of dirty dishes.

Strangely, the cat spent a lot of extra time with me on Thursday night and Friday morning. "How sweet," I thought, "She must know that I could use some extra support."

Wrong. I went downstairs to feed her and found that the night before, I had dumped the food and medicine (which she takes for a kidney problem - another story entirely) into her bowl and left the spoon on top, failing completely to mix it up. Being the finicky creature she is, she couldn't bring herself to eat any of it in that condition. So, she had spent the entire evening and morning trying to tell me to hurry up and take care of her food. She had nary a thought of consoling me!

I obviously should not have attributed such positive intentions to a cat.

Friday, June 13, 2008


We were reading a book the other day about how to be a good friend. Advice ranged from you need to share to be a good friend to you need to be kind to make people want to be your friend. Tucked into the otherwise sound wisdom on friendship was “don’t tattle.” My kids looked at me quizzically and said, “What’s tattling?”

Apparently it’s time for this tattling discussion because in the same month I have heard it used repeatedly from other people – kids and adults. Most of the people who use the word are those who are, like me, trying to figure out the line between tattling and reporting a problem. Most of those whose kids know about tattling are in school.

The cynical side of me might say, well, if I were a teacher with 30 kindergarteners to manage, I would want a moment’s peace as well, so I would come up with this tattling thing to get them to leave me alone for a minute to think how I will keep them from burning the place down. Fortunately, I know enough teachers to know that there is no government conspiracy to try to quiet down kids.

Still, the tattling thing is consistent with the old “seen but not heard” cultural value around children. While it’s true that they are a lot cuter before they open their mouths to whine or complain, it’s also true that sometimes kids are coming to complain about something that is really important. And if we tell them not to come to us, aren’t we teaching them to shut us out? And then will we find ourselves wondering why they don’t want to tell us about the teenage troubles? This is all not to mention the scary stuff that predators do to kids to convince them to keep dangerous secrets by leveraging the “don’t tattle” rhetoric.

There is no guarantee that if you listen to the complaints of your six year old that you will have a kid who is willing to come to you and tell you about the drug dealer in his high school. However, if we tell our kids that we don’t want to hear their concerns, are we going to be left out later when we suddenly want to hear their concerns?

Regardless of my own desire to stay connected with my kids as they grow older, even during the inconvenient times when they are ultimately pretty safe but sometimes their concerns can be boring and/or annoying, we also have to navigate the social landscape where other kids are being told not to tattle.

Right now, I am going with the working definition that it’s always okay to tell an adult if you feel concerned about something, but that we don’t want to tell an adult about a problem just to make trouble for someone. And when I ask my kids if they are telling me because they are concerned, they generally say yes. Although, sometimes – and this is why I value open communication – they confess to just trying to make trouble.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Identity Crisis Intact

I succeeded in finding a new blog name that satisfies me without having to confront the identity crisis. Being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I figure I can claim that moniker. And since I spend about 75% of my life determining just how much rain we can all manage for outdoor activities and 25% of it soaking up the sun while it lasts, I'll grab the rainy theme.

My quest for a new blog name has only focused me on the fact that six years into this mothering thing, I still find myself adrift on the sea of identity crisis. It's really my feminist ideals which are in crisis. Here I am, homeschooling my three children, relying on my husband for our income, and carrying the lion's share of what is traditionally known as "women's work." And I choose this life.

My feminist ideals are in conflict over this choice. I am making the choice to live this way - that is certain. Feminist ideals validated. Yet, I am choosing to opt out of the profession I am trained for and to only very peripherally participate in a new career, which does not bring me any economic power. Feminist values disappointed.

I can trace back along my path and find the points where I took a turn. No doubt it began when I couldn't reconcile my parenting choices with my legal career, and then again when I couldn't reconcile my parenting choices with my nonprofit management career. So, one could argue that my parenting choices are to blame.

But I argue that my parenting choices are frustratingly inconsistent with the business world primarily because men run the business world.

And they seek to continue controlling it. I am still sore about the race for the Democratic presidential nominee because I think that Senator Clinton was treated unfairly in the media and in other venues. Not that I can complain about Senator Obama's candidacy. It's a far sight better than the alternatives. But I just can't get over my frustration about the unfair treatment of the only woman in the race.

I posit that the most socially acceptable discrimination these days is that based on gender. Yet, I find myself unable to convince most of my friends that women are still all downtrodden and in need of a leg up. I lamented about this to a friend the other day, who reminded me that we all have grown up in a time when we have experienced academic equality. Well, I don't completely buy it. But I can say that the gender barriers in academic life are far less obvious than they were in the past. Which only makes the smack in the fact of barriers related to gender in the workplace all the more a surprise.

Still, the fact is that most people who are able to make my parenting choices have also opted out. I find that I spend a lot of time with really talented, wise, educated women who are also choosing to put their professional lives on the back burner, with their children taking far more of their focus. And while most of those women don't recognize any gender barriers in their lives, I think that most of their lives (and mine) are very much shaped by those barriers because if they could parent the way they wished and still have the professional lives they are capable of enjoying, they just might chose to do that.

Of course, opting out has actually been good for me. I love writing professionally and I intend to do more of it as my kids grow older. I never would have chosen to parent three kids if I hadn't opted out. And I can't imagine my life without any of them - they each bring such a unique joy to our family. I bask in the pleasure of homeschooling more frequently than I cringe under its weight. I am profoundly grateful for every cosleeping, breastfeeding, emotional-coaching, alternative parenting moment. Somehow I don't think I would feel as grateful for the chance to argue with other lawyers for the past six years. Okay, I would be really grateful for the income from all of the arguing. But when it comes to the other rewards, I am far ahead at this point.

If only I could reconcile it all with my feminist values. Oh, who am I kidding? I don't get enough sleep to actually reconcile anything at this point.