Taking My Own Medicine

February 24th, 2009

Four days in San Francisco with my husband.

A nice hotel–with a king size bed.

A trip down memory lane (we used to live in Noe Valley).

Drinks at Specs in North Beach; dinner at our old haunt.

A day with my best friend.

Vintage clothes shopping on Haight Ashbury.

Reading a book front to back on the plane.

Sound good? Well, that’s what I was GOING TO BE DOING this week. That is, until the kids got sick. My kids are older, so we’re over the constant ear infections, endless strep and mysterious “aches” that require nursing. They usually power through being sick and get better pretty fast.

Not this time, oh no. Peter was out 4 days last week, and until the last minute I held out hope he would improve enough that I could feel okay about leaving. I mean, I had already put in about a week’s worth of work setting up carpools and overnights, food, homework, thank you’s and I O U’s etc… I’d laid all the groundwork…

When he woke up with a fever on Saturday and I realized my long-awaited trip was kaput, I felt like an eight year old throwing a tantrum, except that my tantrum involved going very, very  quiet and drinking too much vodka.

For a day I wallowed in my own misery. What made me feel even worse was knowing I was being a drama queen, and that there are plenty of moms out there who are REALLY struggling, and not throwing hissy fits because they can’t get their own way.

Still mad as hell, I nonetheless plowed through it and made protein shakes, dispensed medicine, gave advice about cracking lips and bleeding noses (bad bad bad head cold), helped with missed homework and called the doctor to make sure I was doing everything I should be doing. Oh and I canceled all those carpool and overnights and favors.

I looked at our book, Mothers Need Time-Outs, Too and thought, Christ, if there’s ever a time I need to take my own medicine!

So I took out my trusted little notebook and listed all the good things I’d do for myself while Kevin was in San Francisco on his own, and I was here holding up the fort.  I was going to: work out vigorously every day, watch the Academy Awards with friends, watch a movie of MY CHOICE each night in bed, work doubly hard on my writing projects and eat well. No vodka. No self pity.

And presto, I felt better already!

Life in the Doctor’s Office…

February 19th, 2009

Did you hear about the 12 year old Massachusetts boy who DIED from the flu this past weekend? One day he’s fine and a few days later, gone.

I remember going to the doctor when the kids were little and often feeling like a total moron. The doctor would ask how long has he/she been coughing, or does he/she have a fever, and it never seemed long enough or bad enough to have warranted a visit (or a cure). I’d skulk away feeling like an over protective mother who had just wasted everyone’s precious time.

Then I got over it. The winter when Peter got strep five times, Greta had three ear infections, two colds, plus stitches, and Svenja had strep three times and the stomach bug twice, I almost lost my mind. The HOURS I spent in that doctor’s office, desperate for help. By springtime, I felt as though I’d practically qualified as a nurse: if you’d asked me a medical question regarding bodily fluids or upset stomachs, ear-twinges or muscle aches, I usually had an answer. Not always the right one, but I’d sure try.

I think mothers are vastly underestimated on the health care front. Take orthodontistry or dentistry as just one example.  I have three kids with three sets of braces. I work full time (thank GOD I have a flexible schedule or my kids’ teeth would be rotten and buck…). They need to go to the dentist every six weeks for a tune-up, and every three months for a clean-up. I can NEVER get appointments at the same time. Today I made eight appointments between now and September, and only two of them are on the same day.

My son’s school is a good 45 minutes away from the dentist’s office. Do they have evening hours? No, of course not. I have to pick him up early from 9th grade and have him miss school.

I’m not moaning here. I’m just acknowledging how much work we do that even WE don’t appreciate. I hate the dentist and always have. I now spend half my life at the dentist. I’ve made peace with that. I still don’t like it, but when I was driving home today, I thought, we’re making progress here! One down, hundreds to go.

In the end, my kids will have nice teeth and I even snuck in a good 40 minute chunk of quiet time in the waiting room reading The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.

See, my “wasted” hours today weren’t a total write off!

In the Now: Bedtime Stories

February 11th, 2009

When my ten-year old asks for a bedtime story, as she does every single night without fail, my husband and I play chicken. I always hope he’ll drag himself up to her room and read to her, and he always hopes I’ll do it (99% of the time, he’s already asleep and I read to her).

I hate admitting this. How can I try to wheedle my way out of a routine that is so sweet and loving and will go on for only such a limited amount of time? She’s already ten years old–will she still ask us to read to her next year? And the year after that?

No, by then she’ll be too busy texting her ten boyfriends and updating her Facebook page. (NOT.)

Come 9pm, I am so desperate to crawl into bed that reading to Svenja seems like a chore. Yet every night, when I lie beside her still-tiny body reading, I end up sinking into the moment and enjoying it. Once I have cracked open the book and started, I no longer feel as weary and bored of chores. I read, I ask her questions, I talk about tomorrow, and I always, always get some quality moments with her.

And yet, every night I feel the same pull of reluctance, and I have to remind myself that these days are numbered, and that those precious quiet moments with her are worth way more than the 15 extra minutes I’d get watching some mind-numbing schlock on TV.

The Best Laid Plans…

February 3rd, 2009

My plan for today was great. It included a 40 minute run at 8.5 minutes a mile (tough for me), getting the train into Boston to work a full day (always a treat for me to be out of the house and in the city). The kids’ pick ups were all organized and I was FREE TO WORK UNENCUMBERED.

Alas, for the working mother, the best laid plans are often the ones that shatter into a million pieces. But we are so inured to all the shifts and complexities, we take a deep breath and re-asses. Then we just get on with the new plans.

Looks like I might spend the day at Children’s Hospital instead of working on our book presentation to a big Alumni group: Svenja woke up today unable to sit up in bed because she is so incredibly dizzy she keeps throwing up.

Last time this happened, we went through a battery of tests at the Hospital (and spent seven hours there, which I guess isn’t really too bad) to discover it was a deep ear infection. That was great news. Anti nausea drugs and antibiotics and she was right as rain.

So, here I am. I predict I will do little or no work today (and have to spend tomorrow catching up), not achieve my run, and spend hours in waiting rooms, holding my sweet little girl who cries like a wounded animal when she’s hurting. I will stroke her face and tell her that I am here and I will take care of her, and I will try my best to do that.

And all the while, I will be thankful, so very thankful, for our overall health, and that I’m not one of those moms who has to live in  hospitals tending to a very sick child.

Oprah, We Are Ready!

February 1st, 2009

We had so much fun today taping a “home video” pitch for Oprah. We sat in Susan’s living room, surrounded by all our kids (minus Greta who is sick and barking like a seal). This is the fun part of PR– reaching out to media people by being honest, down-to-earth, creative and, well, maybe a little hokey.

Oprah, if you’re out there, we have things to say! It’s our mission to help moms slow down and reconnect with their instincts and passions, and we know you are on the same wavelength. We’re ready to take America by storm, and change women’s lives for the better.

I’ll post the YouTube link here once we can get the technology figured out (no mean feat for a techno-phobic wordsmith!).

Snow Days–Heaven or Hell?

January 28th, 2009

All the kids are out of school today. It didn’t even start snowing till this morning at 6:30, but school administrators are remembering the disaster last year when people were stuck on the roads interminably, trying to get home from work and to pick up kids. In many cases it took them eight hours to make a trip that would normally take one.

Snow days can be hell. Today I have a cold and don’t feel like working. But I’ve got five kids underfoot (including my sister-in-law’s). They’re busy spilling Rice Crispies across the newly cleaned kitchen floor. They’re fighting over the Wii. They’re hungry (again). They’re bored (again).  I want nothing more than to crawl into bed with a book (I’m sick! It’s a snow day! Don’t I deserve a break?) and yet I’ve got 12 eyes on me. That includes my husband, who is working from the kitchen, messing up my routines and using the phone when I have a conference call…. ahhh, you get the picture.

But then, snow days are a gift, too. Everyone’s tired and gets an unexpected break. Kids can have some screen time without all the guilt–you’ve got the whole day to fill! Often, the outdoors is more alluring and magical, and it’s fun to go sledding or take a walk in a snowglobe of cottonballs. It’s as though you’re given an extra 12 hours to just relax. So instead of stressing about the cereal on the floor, the unanswered e-mails or the screams from the girls’ room, I’m going to do just that: relax.

Why not? Tomorrow it will have stopped snowing, everyone will be gone and it’ll just be me again, with my work and my chores and the quiet of an empty house.

Wrong About Obama

January 21st, 2009

So, I was kinda wrong in my post yesterday about Obama.

The guy’s not quite as bereft of family as I was supposing. He may not have his mother or grandmother anymore, but he has plenty of brothers-in-law and a step sister. I read today about his extended family–Indonesian, Chinese, Kenyan, even Irish!

Let me say it again: wow.

If you believe in heaven, those powerful women must be looking down on him now and bursting with pride–in him, naturally, but also at their own steadfast efforts.

Oh Mama, Obama!

January 20th, 2009

One of the thoughts that churned through my mind during President Obama’s speech today was how he is largely alone in this world. He’s a relatively young man, and yet his parents and grandparents have passed away. There is no one who brought him up who watched him by the Capitol today and thought, I did that! I helped him tie his shoelaces, I punished him when he was bad and rewarded him when he was good, I passed my values on to him and look where he is today!

I wonder if there could be a greater achievement as a mother (or father) than to see your child grow up to serve his country in this way.

I wonder for parents who send their children to war, if they feel this kind of pride or only fear.

I wished his mother could have been alive to see him today. This woman who had a baby so young with a man who was not a good life partner, yet she raised that child well.  A patchwork family who suffered from instability and insolvency and yet instilled in the young Obama a sense of service and imagination and possibility so enormous, he lived to be the first Black President of the United States of America.

Wow. What a day.

It makes me think: what do we want for our own children? We want them to find love and happiness. We want them to be successful and to believe in their power. We want them to understand how to work hard, and how to relax. Are these things we teach them? Each and every day, we model for our children the behavior that they will either reflect when they grow up, or reject.

How much are parents responsible for how their children turn out, and how much is it a fluke? If you accept credit for their successes, do you accept blame for their failures?

For me, the single hardest thing about parenting is taking myself out of the equation. Bad grades are not a reflection of poor parenting. Eating fish for dinner is not a reflection of my excellent parenting skills. Getting them to make the bed does not make me a great mother, just as failing to get them to brush their teeth does not make me a bad one.

All I can do is the best I can do, and hope that my children make me proud.

Suburban Malaise

January 12th, 2009

Run out and buy Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. NOW!

The movie is stunning, and worth seeing, but a sore disappointment after a book that is so deep, nuanced, achingly realistic and, frankly, relevant for those among us not living the lives we imagined we’d lead.

A reviewer on Amazon put it this way: “The real theme of this book is much deeper, and it transcends the era and even the plot of the book: what do people do when they are intelligent and spirited enough not to be satisfied with the conformity and blandness of their surroundings, but lack the drive to ever escape mediocrity, because they are, fundamentally, much more a part of their environment than they imagine?”

Ouch. If you’re anything like me, you’ll read this book and wince on every other page. Yes, these characters are in many ways mediocre themselves, unable to live up to their dreams, afraid of change and supercilious to the extreme, but I felt for them! Who among us hasn’t aspired to more than we believe we might be capable of? Who among us hasn’t judged others as inferior, or looked to our spouses to solve our malaise instead of bucking up and taking responsibility for ourselves?And who hasn’t wondered–and felt guilty for doing so–if there isn’t more to life than domestic chores and work, two mainstays of life in a family?

Interestingly, the characters in this book find no joy at all in their children. Children are seen as objects to care for, and we never catch one single glimpse of genuine happiness in a shared life with youngsters. There’s no notion of what we as adults can learn from our children or how much silliness and fun they can bring into our lives.

Poor Richard Yates, poor Frank and April. Yes, there’s boredom, pedantry, mediocrity, and selfishness in many of our run-of-the-mill lives. But if we work hard enough at becoming fulfilled as individuals–tapping into our passions as women not just as mothers–we can begin to live in the moment and find real happiness in the simplicity of our everyday lives.

Living in a dream world, blaming others for our own inadequacies, being reactive rather than proactive… these things will lead us to a life full of petty (and sometimes deep) dissatisfaction. Instead, we can decide to know, honor and value ourselves and our needs, to become better and stronger individuals more capable of handling the daily disappointments of our lives, and more able to find the simple joy in them too.

The Work of Happiness

January 9th, 2009

The Work of Happiness
by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall–
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.