Dear New Mother of March 1996

Dear New Mother of March 1996,

This is your future self writing to you. First, congratulations! That was a rather impressive lightening-quick labor and delivery without so much as a single Tylenol. We won’t tell most people that you actually planned to have every drug allowable by the FDA, but nature had other plans for the birth of your first son. “Life not going as planned but still turning out okay anyway” will be a repeated theme for the next eighteen years. Best you learn this on Day One.

The first weeks will be a blur, and I’m not going to tell you to enjoy them. They are the hardest weeks full of fatigue, soreness and worry. It is your boot camp, and you must simply endure. It is not hard because you are doing it wrong, it is hard because that’s how it is. Accept all help that is offered, and ask for help if it isn’t. But maybe ease up on the worry a bit. Humans are resilient creatures from the get-go, and your worry holds no power. You will continue to relearn this lesson for the next eighteen years.

Try not to be an ass about your baby’s accomplishments. They are not your accomplishments and unless something is wrong, there is a very wide range of normal that in no way correlates to intelligence or character. In future years, you will cringe at the memory of responding to a neighbor innocently asking how the baby is. “Oh, he’s wonderful,” you’ll say. “He rolled over at six weeks and he’s not supposed to do that until at least four months!” Your neighbor doesn’t say it, but you’re sure she’s thinking, “Alert Harvard!” Aside from parents and grandparents, no one really cares about your baby’s milestone timeline. Trust me on this. Learn to zip it.

Value your friendships. People will come in and out of your life. Some will be a major lifeline. You will talk to your college friend five days a week, at least one hour each day. You will tackle all of life’s parenting challenges together with humor and sympathy and unconditional support, your families will drive seven hours to visit each other twice a year, but it will not be like that forever. One day, you will not talk at all, even though this is impossible to imagine. This is not due to a big falling-out or disagreement, but other circumstances beyond your control. Honor all the people that have helped you to become a better parent and a better person, and when it’s time, be prepared to let them go without malice or resentment. This will be hard.

Pay attention to the ordinary moments; these are the ones you will miss the most. The cute mispronunciations, the favorite threadbare shirt, the quirky food habits, the excitement over escalators and elevators, the love of yellow (lellow) cars, the glue-sodden homemade gifts and dandelion bouquets, the wiggly teeth, the Raffi songs, even Barney…you will miss all of these things. Years later, you will see other kids doing and saying those same things, and you will remember your own son. You’ll silently will their mothers to be patient and enjoy their kids more, but you’ll know most of them, like you, will just hurry through to the next moment.

Finally, accept the child you have. He is his own person with his own interests and his own agenda, not your chance at a childhood do-over. You will want to give him everything you didn’t have, but don’t. He is not you. Let his interests, passions and unique perspective guide you and open your eyes to more of the world. Stretch outside of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid of mistakes or failure; use them as an opportunity to model grace. Prepare to be amazed at how much this little person will teach you everything you need to know. Buckle up and enjoy the ride, new mother.

Sincerely,

Mom of an Eighteen Year Old

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Haiku for the Winter of Our Discontent

I have started and stopped so many posts this winter. Cooking has been a bust. My recipes these days are:

Ingredients
Doritos, preferably Buy 1, Get 1 Free

Directions:
Open bag. Consume.

This has been a very tough winter for many, especially in my area of the world. I have always loved winter, I have always defended winter when no one else did, and now I feel angry and betrayed. Winter is no longer my friend.

As a long-time fan of the haiku (short poems with syllables in 5-7-5 format), I decided to take pen to paper finger to iPhone 5s and work out my angst via haiku. I present to you Haiku for the Winter of Our Discontent:

Where is my black car?
Help, someone has stolen it
Wait, it’s this white one

School cancelled again
Clever principals “rapping”
Farewell sanity

More snow means fun snacks
Cake, cookies, brownies, not fruit
Yoga pants only

My spirit broken
Nothing is going as planned
Like Sochi toilets

Milk, bread, butter, eggs
Darn, what am I forgetting
Martini olives

Foyer of chaos
Scattered boots, jackets, wet clothes
One lost glove weeping

Graveyard of tree limbs
Preserved in icy landscape
Like dinosaur bones

More snow in forecast
Is this December or March?
Must be a sick joke

Cruel Mother Nature
Why have you forsaken me?
My tears have frozen

Would love to hear any of your contributions in the comments section. Spring will come eventually, and I will cook again. Below are actual unPhotoshopped pictures of my house, lest you think I’m being melodramatic.

Deck

TedSnow

All of the Good People Can Fit

I was talking to my friend at work about New Year’s Eve when she started to do a head count of all the people she invited to her apartment. I lost track after a while, but I think she invited at least twenty-four. Wow, I said. That’s a lot of people in a little bit of space.

Like me, my friend can sometimes be a perfectionist and often wants things to be beautiful and perfect. Like me, my friend worries about details. So I was impressed with her rather uncharacteristic more-the-merrier demeanor. I didn’t want to be a killjoy, as I sometimes can unintentionally be, but as a self-proclaimed entertaining expert, I had logistical concerns for her party and tried to tactfully express them.

She responded in Greek, with something her mother says. Translated, it roughly means, “All of the good people can fit,” or “There is always enough room for the good people.” It was one of those things which instantly stopped me in my tracks. You’re right, I said. I know you’ll find a way to make it all work, and it will be a wonderful night.

Too many times in my life I have let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Ironically, the satisfaction achieved from being perfect, from winning, never measured up to the expectation. But looking back, I’ve never regretted the times I was generous and kind, the times I extended (or overextended) myself to connect with another, even if things were messy and imperfect.

And so as we end 2013, that is my wish for you and for myself: that we just remember to make room for the people who matter. Open up the doors and let all the good people into our hearts and our homes. Don’t stress about the particulars, and be confident that all of the good people can fit.

Now Everything is Easy, ‘Cause of You

Victorious

…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part…

Marriage vows are said for a reason. Early on, perhaps too early on for my liking, we learned that it’s very easy to be married when you’re healthy and wealthy, but that pesky “poor and sickness” part of the vow really puts things to the test. Our twenty year marriage has been incredibly blessed, despite facing various vow-invoked challenges.

When we first moved to this house, early in 1994, I did not like that we had the corner lot. Even though our property is a hair over one acre, I felt exposed to the road and longed for more privacy. That spring, we went to the nursery and bought ten evergreen trees, Canaan firs. They were about six foot each at the time, manageable enough for Ed to plant by himself, but still an awful lot of work. Once the trees were in, they created a six foot tall natural fence, and it felt like a great improvement. I was satisfied, but I still wanted more.

I would often look at the trees and wish they were taller. Twenty feet would be perfect, or thirty feet would be even better. But wait, I thought. When the trees are that tall, we will be much older than today. Taller trees = more privacy but less years together left on earth. Just one more example of me wanting to have my cake and eat it, too.

Today the trees are very tall.

trees

And like the trees planted in 1994, we are mostly strong and hearty. Remnants of twelve hurricanes and tropical storms — some mighty, some just a nuisance — have blown past those trees, and most of them are still standing. Not all, mind you, since life is never perfect. A couple died, and a couple are looking a little rough these days. Separately, they are not much to look at. But standing together, they create a beautiful, full green fence that blocks much of the road year-round. Together they are a force to be reckoned with.

Almost twenty years and many more pounds ago, I walked down the aisle of Paoli Presbyterian Church and took my wedding vows. I still remember that one of my college friends, the kind of person who was skilled at passive-aggressive compliments, told me I looked “victorious.” Not beautiful, not glowing, not joyous, but victorious. Well, if victorious means I won something, then guilty as charged, sister. Yes, indeedy, you bet I won. I hit the jackpot and I’m smart enough to remember that every single day.

Every birthday, every anniversary, every make-a-wish type occasion, I only ever hope for one thing: more years together. As long as I have that, I will have everything I need.

 

Just Last Week

Just last week I pulled into my driveway with a brand new baby. I took a deep breath and brought him inside our house, remembering the words of the nurse who discharged me. When worried I couldn’t handle the job without professional help, I implored her to come home with us. She smiled and told me, “Just love him. You’ll figure out the rest, I promise.”

Just last week I dropped a three year old off at St. Andrew’s preschool for two and a half hours. He was very brave and excited to be there, and I held my tears until I got to the parking lot. Then I went to Target and shopped child-free for the first time in three years. At pick up time, we both were very happy and proud of ourselves.

Just last week I dropped off my Kindergartener to school, and then spent the rest of the day baking cookies and waiting for him to emerge from the big yellow school bus. He emerged, and we ate cookies.

Just last week I sent my twelve year old to Washington, DC for a week long leadership program where he arrived knowing no one and returned with new friends from all over the country.

Just last week I gave my sixteen year old car keys for the first time and then proceeded to practice the breathing exercises I learned in yoga so many years ago. He came home, but I still continue to do those breathing exercises.

Just last week we started to receive college mailings and tour universities, but it still seemed like something very far into the future.

This week everything feels different.

As we’re counting down to the beginning of senior year, I am still pulling up to the same driveway I did seventeen-plus years ago. But there are no more car seats, diaper bags, Little Bear, and favorite stuffed bunny. There are no more babysitters, camps, play dates, comic books, Legos. I am keenly aware that this time next year, God willing, we will be packing up for college. It is simply an impossible thing for me to imagine without tears springing from my eyes.

I expected next summer to be difficult, but I was not prepared for everything I would be feeling this summer. I know I am a gifted worrier, but isn’t this a bit premature?

Just last week, when they gave me this baby to take home, no one warned me about how fast eighteen years would go by. They never told me part of the job requirement is to set him free into the wild one day, and that day comes faster than you’d ever expect. But I continue to love him, and hopefully I will figure out how to handle all the rest.

Finding Nemo a Car

Having a new driver is probably one of the hardest parenting challenges I’ve had to face. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out why; my readers are pretty smart cookies. Even though I have a responsible, logical, fairly cautious child with good reflexes courtesy of Crazy Taxi and Grand Theft Auto, I still worry.

When I was a new mom back in 1996, I was a world class worrier. Part genetics, part circumstance, I could not help myself. MOMS Club meetings? Please. Why would I willingly bring my kid to a Lord of the Flies Germfest! Old school playgrounds? Hello, are you nuts?  Metal bars + gravity = permanent brain damage. McDonald’s Playlands with fecal encrusted ball pits? Right, thanks, I’ll take fries with that. I was never exactly a helicopter mom; we often didn’t make it to the airport.

By the time 2001 rolled around and I was pregnant with my second son, I had finally mellowed. I was a bit unrecognizable to my former self and would often wonder things like, “How did we ever have any friends?” How I got from Crazy Neurotic Nut to Something Resembling Normal is a long tale for perhaps another day, but let’s just say I got there.

In 2003, Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo came out. As a hater of 99% of all children’s movies, I was surprised and delighted by how much I loved this movie. It should be required viewing for all parents. If you never saw it, I hope you will. If I had seen it sooner, I might have enjoyed my first early years of motherhood a lot more. This movie is therapy and entertainment rolled into one.

I’m not great a plot summaries, but the gist of the movie is an overprotective fish father (Marlin) goes on an adventure to find his lost fish son (Nemo) and meets a cast of interesting characters along the way. He enlists the help of fish Dory, who is footloose and fancy-free. And, of course, they live happily ever after. But the following exchange sums up everything I need to remember about parenting:

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.

Dory: That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

So here I am, in 2013, finally drawing upon my stored up wisdom from Finding Nemo. The ocean is a terrifying place full of peril and danger, but that’s life. As my friend Heidi said, what’s the alternative? Chain him to the bed? All we can do is dive in, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, and try to enjoy the adventure. Safe travels, my little fish.

Born at the Right Time

Tomorrow my sweet Nate turns twelve, but the celebration begins today.

Back when the kids were very young and the days were long and sometimes difficult, the phrase we and millions of other parents would utter during the arsenic hour is, “This too shall pass.” And it really did pass, even though I was quite sure at the time I would be stuck there forever. Looking back, I see that so many of the issues that consumed my daily life are barely discernible memories today. Today I am recalling the difficult journey that lead up to Nate’s birth.

We wanted our kids to be two to three years apart, and like many couples, we just assumed that when we were ready, we’d simply pick a month and then voila! Positive pregnancy test. That’s how it happened the first time and had every reason to believe that’s how it would be the second time, too. Not so.

Months on the hope and despair roller coaster of infertility turned into years. Test after test revealed no identifiable problems — all parts on both parties were in fine working order. Unexplainable infertility was the diagnosis, and it felt like a fancy way of saying, “Hmm, who the hell knows? That will be another $500, please.” I wished they would find a problem so we could either fix it or move on to acceptance that there would be no second baby.

When my best friend told me with great trepidation that she was pregnant with her daughter, I said all the right things (“congratulations!” “what a blessing!” “how fun to have two so close in age!”), and later cried my eyes out in the privacy of the shower. Then the baby boom started. Friend after friend had her second and sometimes third child while I still waited and waited for our turn. Slowly we started to accept that we might not get another shot, but we were lucky to be parents at all. That’s the thing about secondary infertility — you don’t really feel entitled to cry too hard. It feels whiny and self indulgent, and then you feel bad for feeling bad.

I am in no way negating the pain of secondary infertility millions of women are feeling or have felt; I have cried with you, believe me. But sitting here today, a mother of not two but three, it’s easy to forget the monthly drama that went on in my life for so long. It truly did pass, and it’s just a distant memory now.

Happy Birthday, my dear Nate. Life didn’t turn out the way I planned it (it rarely ever does), but it turned out the way it was supposed to.

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

— Paul Simon, Born at the Right Time

Greetings from the Trenches

Well, hello, strangers! Remember me?  I have started and stopped writing this post at least three times. There is so much I want to say. There is so much I can’t say. There is so much I’ve tried to say but none of it is turning out clearly. I am supposed to be vacuuming right now. Or folding laundry. Or cleaning a bathroom. Take your pick!

My first week of work went pretty much as expected, which is to say it totally kicked my ass. I knew it would be hard, and hard it was. But not in a bad way.

I am fortunate to have a really wonderful work environment filled with people I respect and enjoy. As one of my coworkers said, “It’s just so civil here.” And it really is. That said, it’s hard being the new girl, the bumbling one always asking questions or looking for clarification or just messing up. That’s all part of the process, of course, and my coworkers have been nothing but encouraging and supportive. In terms of work environment, I’m pretty sure I hit the jackpot.

Back on the home front, I have three responsible, independent, capable kids who do their homework willingly and only turn on each other occasionally. I have a a supportive spouse who is an equal partner and didn’t have to suddenly “learn” any of my mom duties for the first time last week. I have the freedom of knowing that if things get really hard, if the kids are suffering, if I am unhappy or if I simply change my mind, I can always walk away. Not that I’d ever want to, but I can. Knowing that I have support and options puts me in a very fortunate position, and it’s not one I will ever take for granted. Any way you slice it, I am a lucky, lucky lady. And it is still damn, damn hard, this juggling act.

I was hoping to get back into the kitchen to concoct something new and exciting to share, but I’m just not at that point yet. I am sticking to all of the familiar favorites and nothing worth posting yet. I am hopeful that I will find my groove in a few more weeks and carve out some time to write and cook, but for now my goals are meager: clean underwear, food, baseball, sleep. Eventually I will conquer more. Probably.

 

A Few Days in Palm Beach

My rarely spontaneous but always wonderful husband decided to book an impromptu little getaway for us last week to Palm Beach in honor of our April and May birthdays and twenty year anniversary (which is still many months away — we like to get this party started early). We were so lucky/grateful my mom was able to come up and watch the kids. Getting away as a couple has been very important and worthwhile for us, but I’ll admit I dragged my feet about ever leaving them until 2010. The kids were in good hands, and we were both able to take a nice little break from Real Life for a few days.

I am normally not a big Florida fan, but Palm Beach helped to convert me. And the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa (formerly the Ritz Carlton) sealed the deal. We were very fortunate to be upgraded to an ocean front suite, and when I opened to door to see this view, I gasped:

Palm Beach View

It was unseasonably chilly in Philadelphia when we arrived at this beautiful sight. I feel serene just looking at the picture.

Reading is an essential part of any vacation for me. When I wasn’t eating, drinking or napping, I was reading by the pool or beach or balcony. I am currently working on Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stroudt. (Note: also just downloaded David Sedaris’s newest novel last night, and I’ve been laughing my head off, much to the annoyance of my family. I will finish that before the other two).

I am not a trendy person at all, except when it comes to nail polish. Yellow is the hot color of spring/summer 2013, so I got right aboard that train — despite all the jokes from Ed. I think sometimes people in the, ahem, older generation have trouble accepting anything beyond the traditional pink/purple/orange/nude palate for nails. Even though I’m a bit of a nail polish snob, sometimes I slum it with Sally Hansen, which is what’s on my toes below, along with Eliza B flip flops. The formula of the polish is really clumpy, streaky and terrible (further fueling my future rationalization of pricy nail polish), but the color is lemony and cheery. And very Palm Beach, wouldn’t you say?

Years ago, I had the pleasure of knowing this lovely lady during my time in London, and through the magic of Facebook, she has always been generous about dispensing fashion and dining advice for many of my trips over the years. Based on her recommendations, we booked reservations at Buccan and Chez Jean Pierre, and they were both very good suggestions.

Buccan has a wonderful vibe, and despite not being of the Beautiful People set, we were treated very well. We met some friends last minute for cocktails at the Ritz and then dinner at Chez Jean Pierre and enjoyed a very respectable French meal (although in retrospect Buccan might have been the better spot to go with friends). It’s always the quirky, weird things I seem to remember over the years, and I can guarantee that this piece of artwork hanging over my head at Chez Jean Pierre will not soon be forgotten:

baby leg

In case it’s not obvious, that’s a baby leg and a black high heel shoe mounted on the wall. Perhaps after a few more cocktails I could have made sense of it, but instead I just wrote it off to the quirky charm of the French.

It is finally warm and feeling like spring, and I’m enjoying my last weekday of being a lady of leisure by reading, blogging, and watching some Bravo while folding a lot of laundry. I feel rested and restored and ready to return to the workforce on Monday.

Farewell to SAHMhood

On Monday, I will begin a new chapter of my life. Like all new chapters of really good books, I feel a little bit of sadness that the last chapter has ended and a lot of excitement about learning what comes next and how the story will continue to unfold.

After over seventeen years of staying home with the kids, I will be going back to work full-time. While I have dabbled in this and that part-time throughout the years, as well as helped manage our investment properties, I haven’t worked an eight hour day in a very long time. But what have I done?

I have changed a lot of diapers and nursed three babies and attended MOMS Club outings and play groups and swimming lessons and Kindermusik and Gymboree classes. I have treated preschool admissions like Harvard and parent-teacher conferences and well-visit annual checkups like an audience with the Pope. I have been Homeroom Mom and Staff Appreciation Volunteer and Halloween Party Helper. I have been covered in hot glue and glitter and stickers and Sharpie ink and addressed so many Valentines to girls named Caitlin and Kaitlin and Katelyn. I have been to countless field days and school plays and science fairs and chorus concerts and talent shows. I have been soccer mom and lacrosse mom and karate mom and tennis mom and basketball mom and baseball mom. I have driven many miles, mostly in a minivan.

I have dealt with various medical crises, some big and scary, but most blessedly just a nuisance. I have found the best pediatric specialists, whether for ophthalmology or otolaryngology or dental or educational testing or minor surgery. I have fought with several insurance companies, and I have usually won.

I have volunteered as an adult reading tutor and taught English grammar to immigrants wanting to speak better. I have volunteered at the local food pantry and animal shelter. I have happily cooked meals for women’s shelters and new moms and needy families and friends who just needed help.

I don’t regret a single minute of it, but it is finally time for me to move on from the world of stay-at-home-motherhood. I honestly never expected to be here for so long, but that’s what happens sometimes when your children are spaced out so widely. I will still be a mom, of course; that’s a forever job. But I will no longer be that mom.

Years ago, when I thought I knew everything, I was sure staying home and raising children full-time was the only right choice. On behalf of my former self, I apologize. There really is more than one right way to do this thing. I have seen friends and family members with impressive, demanding jobs raise amazing, well adjusted, nice kids who love their working moms every bit as much as my children love me. The answer is there is no answer. We’re all just trying our best.

Like all mothers everywhere, I would happily take a bullet for any of my children, but I no longer feel it’s in our best interest to make them my entire life. It’s time I find another identity besides wife and mother. Wife and mother will always remain my two most valued and important identities, but I am a working dog at heart. I crave a set schedule and a To Do list, and I’m happiest when I’m accomplishing something tangible.

The last couple of years have left me with too much free time, and I’ve not always used it constructively. As much as it sounds luxurious to do whatever you want, whenever you want, I can personally assure you that for my personality type, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. My mother-in-law has a caligraphied saying which reads, “Only through discipline may a man be born free,” and over the years I’ve come to understand that. I need the discipline and feeling of accomplishment that a job outside the home can bring.

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to start this blog. It has brought me so much joy and satisfaction to document parts of our life (and some of our better meals), and I have no plans of letting it go. I may post more, I may post less. Okay, likely less. I still hope to cook real food, although I can guarantee that won’t be happening much until I get my sea legs.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I start this new chapter. As always, thanks for reading.