Partying With Your Parents

We get our first birthday party invite in Levi’s daycare cubby. We don’t really know the little girl, but the rule is that if you want to invite one kid from your child’s class, you need to invite the whole class. This is not a dilemma for us: We will never invite one kid from his class. Two introverts, we deliberate over whether or not to attend. “I just wish we knew who was going to see if we will know anyone,” my wife keeps saying.

“Honey, we don’t know anyone,” I keep reminding her.

Still, I think this might be a good way to meet other parents from Levi’s school, and so shyly, nervously we show up. We scan the large room filled with tumble mats, balance beams, bounce houses, and parachute cloth, looking for familiar faces. There aren’t (m)any. The mom of the birthday girl comes up to greet us and points to her husband. We wave and then settle in, alternately chasing our little guy around and watching in wonder as he parallel plays alongside his classmates.

At one point, they round up the kids for parachute cloth games—versions of “Row Row Row Your Boat” and “Wheels on the Bus.”  I watch the children and primary colors pass by me, ‘round and ‘round, while trying to catch a quick video of the moving target that is my son.  As I move my arm and observe the party through the screen, I suddenly become aware of the other parents.  I note their wrinkle-free faces, tanned and taut skin, white teeth, lack of bags under their eyes.  I take in their energy and realize suddenly that my wife and I are probably old enough to be the parents to some of these parents. I swallow deeply and let out a little breath.  Is this why none of the parents walk and talk with me as we exit school after drop off each day?  Is this why I am never one of the moms standing in the hall or parking lot chatting each morning?  At the end of the day I squat near my son at the low-to-the-ground snack table and talk to him, while around me parents exchange tid-bits. They ask questions like: “Did you already travel to London?” “I go to my conference when Diane gets back.” “We should get together….”  From my vantage point of looking up at all these young faces, I get it.  Hanging out with my wife and I would be a bit like hanging out with your parents.  And who wants to do that on the regular?

While being queer parents has seemingly been a non-issue, I start to feel like maybe the real gap between us and other parents is the rather hefty age difference. Or perhaps this is all in my head. It could also be my introversion coupled with my walk that’s nearly a run (I’m late for work, people!) that send the message to other parents:  Don’t talk to me!  On the other hand, age differences—even at the stage in life where we tend to group people by decade—can feel very real, especially when the age differential puts you in different decades!  Despite it being increasingly common for people to have kids later in life, this tends to be defined as (early) in one’s 30s.  Parents with the kind of grey hair and neck wrinkles that I have are still fairly difficult to come by.

This summer I met two moms on a local beach who are 46 with 3 year olds (and 5 year olds). I’ve been both inspired and comforted by this chance encounter everyday since. When school started this year, we ran into one of the moms at parent night! We chatted again and, to our surprise, discovered that our kids had been enrolled in the school the year before as well. We were unsure why our paths hadn’t crossed previously. In thinking about this, it seems to me that part of the reason I hadn’t noticed this other old(er) mom during the year prior is that she just doesn’t stick out as, well, any different than the moms in their 30s. And that too, comforts me, because maybe it’s the same for me. Maybe the red letter “O” (for old) that I feel adorns my chest while in a gathering of daycare parents, is only visible to me.

 

 

Advertisements

The Endless Punches of Parenthood

In my pre-child life, a friend and I would always remark on how our lives were like a house of cards or a carefully aligned row of dominoes.  Assuming everything went exactly according to schedule, then the house would stay standing and the dominoes would fall in perfect execution.  All it took, however, was one small diversion from the schedule–an unplanned vet visit, a fire to put out at work, an illness, a fight with our other half–and chaos would ensue.  This is, of course, the case with anyone’s life; however, some people are better in chaos than others.  And a rare few actually thrive in it.

One aspect of parenthood that I still cannot seem to adjust to is the frequency with with the cards shift and the dominoes fall out of alignment.  As Levi has gotten older, we’ve been able to more easily establish and maintain a routine.  We are just about to hit the year mark of him being in daycare (!!!), and that alone has required more consistency in our day-to-day life.  His sleeping has been in the realm of regular for just over a year now as well (perhaps we have daycare to thank…).  However, whereas in my old life, my perfectly constructed plans could stay put for a few months at a time, in my new life (yes, it still feels new to me…), we are lucky to get through a full week without some kind of disruption or sudden change to the course we are on.  Cards flying through the air; dominoes run amuck.

Lately I feel like I’m getting better at rolling with the endless punches that parenthood uppercuts my way.  Like a GPS, I’ve developed this skill of immediately recalibrating when a change in the routine has occurred.  I start mentally shifting hours, moving plans to other days, reconfiguring dinner, removing a workout, sneaking in writing time.  This morning, however, as I chased my poor dog with diarrhea through the neighborhood, soaking up heavy morning dew into my wool socks and squinting in the thin light of early morning for any signs of poop on the neighbor’s lawn, my newly found skill wasn’t apparent.  Nor was it apparent this morning when I woke at 5:20, cleaned up dog poop in our bathroom and then discovered the filter to my Aeropress was missing.  I fumbled around, tearing the kitchen apart in search of it, finally realizing that Dawn must have accidentally thrown it away yesterday morning while cleaning it.  [A side note regarding parenthood:  you are forced to multitask, but you are doing it with a very minimal amount of brain power].

[Update:  Dawn dug through the trash and rescued the Aeropress filter.  We’ve returned to the route…].

This week is coming to a close and we’ve survived not having daycare (they’ve been on a three week break); unplanned vet visits, interrupted sleep, and lots of poop clean-up due to poor little Rasta’s bouts of diarrhea; the missing Aeropress filter; and bees starting to enter our home due to a nest in our fireplace vent (and subsequently unexpected visits from local bee experts–none of whom seem equipped to deal with removal).  I’ve somehow managed all of this with only one glass of wine and half a pint of ice cream.  Tomorrow school year number two starts for Levi. We are old pros now, and I expect a smooth transition back. But you just never know….

 

 

Life-long neurotic

We recently took Levi on his first camping trip.  In preparation for the weekend, we took our sleeping bags to the laundromat to clean them.  As I removed mine from the oversized dryer and slung it onto one of the folding tables to begin rolling it, I was hit with a childhood memory defined by frustration:  I hated rolling my sleeping bag up as a kid because the silky softness of it always created movement so that it never lined up properly (read: perfectly).  I was always trying to get the “perfect roll” where the sides of the bag stayed evenly aligned and the end result was tight enough that the ties were able to wrap easily around the bulky mass of stuffing and fabric.  I rarely, if ever, achieved this and it drove me crazy.  I have numerous memories of ending fun sleepovers in a state of aggravation simply because I had to roll my sleeping bag up, and I knew it wasn’t every going to be quite right.

What struck me about this rather intense and long-forgotten flashback was that clearly I have been neurotic since I was a small child attending slumber parties with friends.  (My sleeping bag was used only for this purpose as a kid, since we did not actually camp).  In some ways this is hardly surprising.  My need for control and having all things in order are clearly deep in my core–a central part of who I am.  But this did make me start to wonder about where perfectionism comes from.  We tend to think about it as a result of societal influence–a kind of “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality related to how our lives and belongings appear to other people.  We’ve learned that perfect = admiration, and who doesn’t want to be admired?  But I was just a kid, and we are talking about a sleeping bag here.  I feel quite certain that the desire to have it rolled perfectly was mine and mine alone.  So where did that desire come from?  My parents aren’t particularly interested in everything being perfect, or at least that was never shown to us as children. I didn’t look at magazines, nor watch much TV as a child.  All in all I was fairly shielded from a lot of mainstream media and typical values.

I think that maybe there is an element of “nature” to perfectionism that doesn’t often get talked about.  And because, I believe, nature is a bit more challenging to overcome than nurture, it seems addressing this side of the quest for control and perfectionism is an important angle.  Perhaps this has been written about and discussed, but it hasn’t in any of the books, articles, blog posts, etc. that I’ve read.  And perhaps psychologists, sociologists, and self-help gurus don’t think it matters where the issue comes from, we just need to get over ourselves.  But I do think there is a difference between saying:  “look – society has asked you to be this way.  It’s unnecessary and potentially harmful, so just look society in the eye and say you don’t care.  You be you.”  And all that.  Versus saying:  “wow – this a deeply embedded part of your core personality (life-long in fact).  How can we address and change that essence of who you are?”  And should we?  These are obviously questions and ideas that I cannot answer.  Yes, I believe people can change.  I am always changing and always striving for change.  Yes, I believe in therapy and self-help approaches.  But I also believe that “you be you” can mean that I’m a damn perfectionist, obsessive, controlling, anxiety-ridden person who cares about the sides of the sleeping rolling up in perfect alignment for me, not because of the person at the next dryer over (who could give two shits anyway).

Maybe the self-help folk and CB therapists are right–maybe it doesn’t matter how far back this unhealthy desire for control and perfection goes; what matters is addressing it now.  And so after camping and sunning out my sleeping bag, I rolled it up to the best of my ability.  I let go of the seeming inadequacies of my “roll” and tossed it in the rubbermaid camping bin in the basement happy not attempt the process again until next year.

Every little thing gonna be alright

As much as I loved the movie Pollyanna as a kid, I tend not to move easily toward seeing the bright side of things. In fact, I often roll my eyes at Dawn who can be a total Pollyanna. I see it as not being grounded in reality. If the truth is that something is shitty or hard or insane or frustrating or wrong, then we should name it as such. Ultimately, of course, it is fine to call a situation what it is. The issues arise when we get bogged down in the negativity of it all and/or start to weave intricate stories of catastrophic, apocalyptic outcomes (which is my tendency).

My anxiety is a very real thing (let’s call it what it is), and I am not naive enough to believe that it is going to be truly addressed with a little Bob Marley song (or Pollyanna’s “Happy Texts”), but I have tried lately to try on this song as a kind of mantra and/or reaction to circumstances that are causing me deep worry and fear. Surprisingly, it kind of works. It is hard for me, as I said, because I want to roll my eyes at and resist this kind of oversimplification. I want to scream, No! Everything is NOT going to be alright. How could anyone be so ridiculously simple-minded enough to believe this?

But it’s like anything else in life, if you tell yourself (or someone else) something enough times, you (or s/he) will begin to believe it. I’m definitely not at the point of fully believing it yet and probably never will be. My apocalyptic, Hunger Game-level fears are still very strong (and, as I like to point out, most likely warranted). However, we all need to find ways to get by; ways to not always be in state of fight or flight (because the converse of the idea that my fears are warranted is the fact that 99% of the time there is “no tiger” in the room at that very moment).

Sing it with me now….  🙂

Rise up this mornin’
Smiled with the risin’ sun
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Sayin’, this is my message to you-ou-ou

The Myth of “The Lazy Days of Summer…”

My household is comprised of a two year old and two working adults (one of whom works two jobs).  Yes, it is summer here, but there haven’t been any “lazy” days.  I’ve been feeling really disappointed about that fact, as I watch days and weeks disappear, as the dark arrives earlier again, and as the start of the school year looms large ahead of me. Then I remember that this concept is captured in things like the old Country Time Lemonade commercials where there was often a pair of feet propped up in front of some kind of body of water and a hand holding an icy glass of artificially colored liquid. In some representations those feet would belong to a mom, kicking back, while her kid jumped off a rope into a watering hole. Let’s just face it:  1) I’m never going to be sitting with my feet up while my kid is anywhere near water; and 2) Those advertisements are capitalism in action. They are selling us a mood or feeling that we want and can supposedly achieve by purchasing the lemonade (which we all know is bullshit, and yet we do it anyway…).

In my typical fashion, however, I continue to resist what is and yearn for what isn’t or hasn’t been or won’t be. I am struggling to embrace what summer actually is (at least for us):  a bit chaotic, very busy, without routine, and not as productive as I would like it to be (which, I guess, could be spun in some ways as “lazy”!). I keep staring at the calendar each day, willing it with my eyes to slow down, to allow me to get to all the things on my summer 2017 goals list that I haven’t gotten to (which, is practically everything!).

The other night when an unexpected medical issue with Dawn’s sister (everyone is fine) had me home from work early and then rolling solo for the evening, I tried on the idea of embracing the crazy–like really trying to like it. I had to rearrange my work–doing some after Levi went to bed (not my brightest time)–give up my morning writing time to do more work, and skip my run. I could have felt resistant and resentful, but I instead I just tried to tell myself, “I love this crazy life,” and I tried to make myself believe it. I wasn’t entirely successful, but I wasn’t entirely unsuccessful either. (As a side note: I think this was an easy moment in which to practice, because I was focused on my concern for Dawn’s sister. I just truly didn’t feel angry or upset about the disruption).

I don’t believe that the Country Time Lemonade portrayal of summer exists for anyone. That, after all, is the point of advertising: to create a want, need, desire so strong that we are willing to drink overly sweetened yellow powder to attain it. So while our summer has been more curve balls and chaos than “lazy,” this also means that we have had a lot of adventures and time to make memories. Highlights from our lively and industrious summer successes (so far):

  • A trip to visit Ama and Papa (my parents) during which we played in the ocean, made bubbles, and took Levi’s first train ride (the highlight). Dawn and I also ran the firecracker four (together! alone!).
  • I attended the Iota Conferences with one of my bestie writer friends.
    • This included spending a night in the Stone Turret in Gardiner Maine
    • And a night in a stranger’s house (Air Bnb) in Portsmouth, NH, where I also met up with my parents for a couple of meals
  • We are nearing the end of a very stressful hiring process at work.
  • I am closing in on a submitting two chapters of my research project for peer review process.
  • I attended and presented at the Computers and Writing Conference (which means I traveled to Findlay, OH–wherever that is…).
  • Attended (and helped with) three birthday celebrations at Grandma and Grandpa’s (Dawn’s mom and step-dad) house.
  •  Took Levi to his first “rock” concert (Cracker and Soul Asylum) on the Empire State Plaza.
  • Countless dog walks, trips to the farmer’s market, play time on the playground, hanging out with friends, and so on….

Attention Male Drivers

Dear Male Drivers Men,

It isn’t okay to slow down next to a lone woman running (or any women for that matter) and yell out the window, “Hey!  Looking good!”  Even if you think you’re simply extending a compliment.  Even if you think you’re just sharing what’s on your mind. Even if you think it’s harmless.  It’s not okay.  In case you missed the abundance of headlines and news stories recounting horrific incidents that happen to women by men, we live in a “rape culture.”  We live in a patriarchal society.  Perhaps you didn’t have the privilege of studying gender with amazing professors in college.  For this, I try to extend you the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe you truly believe that cat-calls are compliments and something a woman might appreciate.  I am here to tell you that is not the case.  I am here to tell you what happens when you do that.  First of all, it is startling. Runners in general don’t really want to be yelled at, rudely honked at, or have cars slowing down near them.  We tend to be in what’s known as a “zone” when running.  Usually we are wearing headphones and are deep in thought and/or deep in a performance of the current tune playing in our ears. Yelling, honking, sudden movement–these things make us jump. After I jump, as a female, I immediately start trying to figure out if you’re going to fuck with me any further. I refrain from giving you the finger, though it is knee-jerk, because I don’t want to encourage any further interaction.  I see your SUV ahead stopping at the intersection, so I slow down my pace so as not to encounter you again.  As you drive out of sight, I have to wonder if you’re going to turn around and head my way again.  I start scanning every car coming toward me, on alert, flight or fight, looking to make sure there are people around, and that I have an out.  I’m running, so really my heart rate is going quite fast enough, but thank you for giving it that extra boost into race day mode.  Once you were out of sight, I did manage to shave some seconds off my pace as I hurried to make a turn onto a road where you could no longer see me.  I am not sure if you intended any of this, or not.  My generous thought is that you’re just clueless.  That you just have no idea what it is like to be a woman, and that you’re not paying attention to all the red flags society has raised around these issues. My less generous thought is that this is typical male behavior in a society where making women feel uncomfortable is a kind of pass-time for many; a joke; something to ensure continued male dominance.

I am not going to change my behavior.  I am entitled to run on city streets, country roads, backwoods trails.  That is my right.  Unfortunately, this means that you don’t have the right to yell things out your car window or as you’re passing by on foot or by bike, as I engage in my activity of choice. Maybe this seems unfair to you.  In general, I don’t prefer to take rights away from people, but as you know, sometimes we have to take away the freedom to act like an asshole in order to keep society safe. I too wish we lived in a society where women felt safe.  I too wish men could extend a compliment without it seeming creepy.  But that is not the case. I just wish more men realized this.  And that, dear male reader, is why I write this.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Nothing ever stays the same. This we all know.

Having children means things stay even less the same.

I’m not good with unpredictability.  This we all know.  And so I have been making it a daily goal and practice to get better at it.  Better at going with that proverbial “flow.”

Back in late March I had set up a five days per week writing plan for myself (I had been writing daily for close to a year at this point, but developed a more goal specific schedule in March).  This included getting one blog post per week written (with 1-2 of the days devoted to that goal).  The other days were devoted to revision (mostly) and new writing and reviews (very little).  At that time I was getting up at 5:30 every morning to write.  Generally Levi was sleeping until 6:30 (earliest) and sometimes as late as 7am.  This allowed me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour of writing time, after I got my coffee, which I divided between journaling/warming up and the tasks I just named.  That time alone to write, think, and dream was my lifeline.  It made me so happy that every night when I got into bed, I’d feel joy just thing about that morning cup of coffee and time at my desk.

During the first week in June, that morning routine–that lifeline to sanity–was abruptly broken by my son’s new morning routine:  waking up at 5:30 instead of 6:30.  (One morning it was 4:30 and he was all, “I want to read a book,” which makes all things relative, but still…).  At first I was steaming mad.  I couldn’t get a handle on the fact that my time to center and begin my day in a somewhat sane fashion was being taken away, seemingly to never return (ah…but all things change; nothing stays the same).

For awhile I spent every morning spitting and fuming and every day feeling lost, like I was missing something fundamental.  And I was.

Ultimately though I had to change too.  I had to go with this new flow–the new direction the river took that I wasn’t expecting (and didn’t want to go down).

So here I am writing at NIGHT!  Night is so not my shining time.  Morning is.  My brain works only minimally at night–enough to help me find my pajamas and my bed, but that is about it.  It doesn’t construct interesting sentences or tease out complex ideas.

And yet in showing up to my desk at almost 8pm, I got to look up and watch the sun set between two trees in my backyard (lined up perfectly between those trees like it wanted to nest there).  And I’m in my pajamas.  I don’t have coffee, which makes me feel a bit “off.”  Perhaps I should try wine (if I can EVER get over these allergies).  But there are 421 words on this page–even if they are more therapy than meaningful (not that those two things are mutually exclusive.  I fully realize that they are not, but this is more rant than craft.  That is what I mean).

While showing up and sunsets = evening/night writing, mornings have become spontaneous surprise.  They all look different.  I’ve found that I can cope more easily as long as I do something that centers me; it just now has to include Levi.  Some mornings this looks like having him in our bed to read a book.  On super early weekend mornings this might be TV in bed together.  My favorite way of coping has been having him sit at my desk with me, and we “journal” together.  The other morning Levi comes climbing up into my desk chair asking, “Can I work with you?”  Insert bursting heart with fireworks here. “Yes, of course you can.”  He has his own packet of paper that he “works” in, while I attempt to journal next to him (both of us smooched into a chair built for one).  I cannot really focus on writing, as he wants me to look at each line he draws, but whatever I get on the page is just a bonus really (or at least that is how I am trying to see it).  What the morning time lacks in solitary centering and progress in writing, it makes up for in preciousness and bonding time.  And this too won’t last.