Friday, January 27, 2006

On Being Mom

I love my children with all my heart. I have twin boys, aged 7, going on 16, going on 2. They are big, blond, cute, funny, smart, and a royal pain in the ass.

There, I said it. Most kids are a pain in the ass a lot of the time. I think we could relieve many parents and children from the unrealistic expectations which we put on them if we could more openly acknowledge a fundamental principle of parenting: it's often no fun at all.

I left a thriving career as an attorney in part because I felt perpetually inadequate as a mother. Parenting is very demanding, and so is lawyering. My clients expected me to be on-call 24 hours a day. So did my kids. Obviously, my clients paid more, but I felt that being with my kids after school, and being mentally present, as opposed to on the phone or the computer, was more important. So here I am: being a mom, and trying to teach/write/go to school on the off-hours.

Yesterday was a particularly tough day. The boys griped at me since the moment I picked them up from school. "Did you bring us a treat?" they demanded as they got in the car. "Why don't you ever give us a treat anymore?"

Actually, I did have the aforementioned "treat" -- the coveted Fruit By the Foot, 3 feet of compressed sugar and food coloring sprinkled with a bit of apple juice, so General Mills can put the word "fruit" in the title to relieve parental guilt about plying them with candy.

As I handed them the box -- with a stern lecture about saying thank you and appreciating small gestures, instead of demanding them -- a fight promptly ensued over who got what flavor. This was a completely unnecessary altercation, as it was an unopened "variety pack" with two of each flavor. Since they could each have only one, they could both have what they wanted, no risk of shortage, and p.s., they both like different flavors anyway. Nonetheless, at least in the world I live in, there is apparently a great deal of risk of UNFAIRNESS, so there is always a hue and cry arising over some perceived lack there of: "That's not fair!" is definitely the team motto.

Lest you think that I am raising untamed heathens with no discipline whatsoever, let me assure you that the skirmish concluded with another stern warning from me that there would no treats from me for a few days, because of the lack of gratitude and needless arguing. This prompted a chorus of "Thank you, thank you, thank you so much," and "It's not my fault, he started it" (our other team motto).

We got home from school around 3:45, and there were demands all around for snacks. These demands were not met, of course, until I got the required "please" in front of the "Make me some popcorn!" From there, I dealt with video games (25 minutes each, take turns, no arguing, hitting, or feet stomping when your turn is up), homework:

"You won't help me! You NEVER help me!"

Me (calmly): "I'm happy to help, but I'm not going to DO your homework for you. Do the reading, then we'll talk about it."


"Do not raise your voice."

"I hate homework, my teacher is SO STUPID!"

(Less calm): "Do NOT disrespect teachers in this house!"

"You NEVER help me!" (tears of recrimination)

(No calmness whatsoever): "Now I WON'T help you. Put that homework away and ask Dad to help when he gets home!"

And so on, and so forth, until as we sat down for an early 4:30 dinner before I took them to wrestling practice. Of course, there were complaints about the type of pasta ("Spaghetti?!"), who sat where ("My turn in the good seat!"), and who got served first/more ("Not fair!").

If you are exhausted reading this, imagine how I felt. Relentless, constant correction and discipline is absolutely NO FUN. In fact, as I sat there watching them eat dinner, all I could think is, "I've got to get a full-time job." They didn't seem to enjoy having me home, and frankly, I wasn't enjoying them a whole lot either. It's like having clients who complaint constantly that I'm the meanest, most unfair, most unreasonable lawyer in the world, AND they don't pay their bills.

Maybe as you read this, you think, "Geez, what out of control kids." On the other hand, if you've spent any time around seven-year-old boys, you may think, "Sounds pretty typical."

I took them to wrestling practice, after telling my younger (by a half hour) son that he was going to have to pay me the $100 wrestling fee from his allowance if he whined about going one more time (I'm convinced we're raising a generation of complainers and quitters, but that's another story). For the first time, I decided to stay and watch the whole practice, since at the last one, the coach said that they hadn't paid attention and had distracted some of the other kids.

I stayed and watched, sitting with another mom on a folded-up mat in a corner of the gym. My boys did the warm-up laps, calestenics, races, and instruction with all the other kids, most of whom are much older. They then did wrestling drills, wrestling each other or different kids while the coaches looked on giving tips. Whenever they caught my eye, I smiled and winked or gave them a subtle thumbs up. When one of them started crying because he got taken down by a smaller boy, and wandered over to complain, I gave him his water bottle and told him to go back to his group. They worked hard, tried hard, and their rallying cry of "it's not fair" was almost non-existent.

At the end of practice, the coach came over to us as we were leaving and said, "You boys did a great job today. I'm really proud of you. Keep up the good work." To me, he said, "It's like night and day between this practice and other ones."

I knew why. It's because I stayed. It's because Mom was watching, keeping tabs, paying attention. It made all the difference.

Kids are a pain in the butt, no doubt about it. Being a mom means constantly nagging, correcting, disciplining. Telling them to brush their teeth, make their beds, wear underwear, find socks, zip up their coats, remember their backpacks, do their homework, say thank you, stop fighting, don't complain eat some fruit turn off the TV drink your milk put on your pajamas pick up your room it's time for bed don't come out of your room again good-night for the last time no you don't need another drink of water. Moms are often every bit as much a pain in the butt to kids as they are to us. We're killjoys. We're also the conscience, the sounding board, the yardstick, the guardian, the ultimate authority, and, if we're lucky, the bedrock solid foundation of our kids' lives.

It's not much fun sometimes. Sometimes it's downright unpleasant. But I think, if I keep at it, they might grow up to be nice young men. Maybe they would anyway, but I'm not taking any chances.

Why aren't you wearing socks?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pausing on a Sunday Night

Sunday evening melancholy often hits me hard, and I end up lying in bed, unable to sleep, trying to figure out if life is full of futility or purpose. Tonight I'm feeling more focused than usual, because classes resume tomorrow at the college where I teach, and I'm putting the finishing touches on my syllabus (can't you tell?)

Tonight, the Sunday night sum-up is pretty good. I've been thinking about friends a lot. I spent Thursday night having dinner and conversation with some relatively new friends. At this point in my life, it's pretty rare that I have time and opportunity to make new friends, especially male friends. I meet people all the time, but they tend to be women about my age, with children. It looks like I might actually be making some nice friends who are both older and younger than me, with completely different lives, issues, careers, etc. It's kinda nice. Thanks Bill, Brett, and Patti, for a nice evening.

I spent Saturday going to New York with my two college roommates to celebrate the 40th birthday of another college friend. We went to a surprise 70's theme costume party. Most of my college friends were there, and we had a great time dancing, drinking, and reminiscing. I love being with them because they are all great people who are funny, smart, and fun. Also, for a few hours, we got to be who we've always been with each other -- Staci, Lucy, Jan, Val, Debbie, El, Renee, Charlie, Matt, Gary, etc. No getting acquainted, no summing up, and no trying to impress. I look at them and they seem mostly the same as when I was partying with them at Cornell twenty years ago...and they see me the same way. There's comfort and security in knowing that we've got each others' backs forever, no questions asked.

It's hard, maybe impossible, to get to the same place with new friends. The college folks have years of joint misadventures, shared trust, and growing up together behind them. Nonetheless, I like making new friends (sounds a little trite, but how else do I say it?) Just as I like reliving my past with my old buddies, I like sharing my present with the new ones. Plus, new friends challenge me. My college gang is made up mostly of people like me...similar life experiences, similar views, similar ages. Newer acquaintances aren't necessarily drawn from a readily available pool of women my own age, like I had in college. Hence, I hear new views, new ways of looking at things, new perspectives. All of which makes my life more interesting.

As Jan and I took the train back from NYC this afternoon, she fell asleep reading her book. She was snoring a little and it made me chuckle. I sat there as the train swayed, drinking soda, reading a little, and looking at the houses and trees rushing by the window. Completely peaceful, completely comfortable. Being friends, having friends. That's something I can count on on Sunday night.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Back at ya, folks

First of all, thanks for the encouragement from you guys out there. Sometimes I just have to let my hair down once in a while and look at the bugs crawling on the underside of the log. Having done so, I can hopefully turn that sucker back over and walk on with some more confidence.

For the first time in my adult life, I am not gainfully over-employed and working like a fiend to juggle a million different things. This semester, I stepped it down to teaching one class twice a week, and taking a class at Trinity on Tuesdays. This is a change, as I tend to compulsively fill my days with work and "stuff," so I feel like I am accomplishing something. I chose this less-is-more approach on purpose, because I wanted to give myself a chance to see what develops, especially with my erstwhile writing career. If I keep myself busy with the business that I plan, how can I ever have something unexpected? And as my hubby says, why can't I just fucking relax and enjoy myself once in a while?

I just finished this great book, Tales from the Bed. It's about a woman with ALS, and how she finds her life work as she's dying. She finds it's work that gives her life meaning. I get that. My work has always been one of the driving forces for me. Without it, without a "I have to get up and go do this right now," I'm floundering a bit.

But not to worry (I say to myself). I am going to create my work right now. My goals are at least one hour of writing per day. Starting now. Let's see how that goes. I have to have faith that from that, something will grow.

But enough about me. How YOU doin?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

On the edge of the abyss

My friend Bill sent me an email that basically said, "Where ya been?" First of all, I appreciated that someone actually notice and/or cared that I'd been neglecting my blogging. Second, it of course set off a chain reaction of guilt that I had somehow let people down by NOT writing anything lately.

I realize the absurdity in my guilt. But alas, it's who I am. I haven't been blogging because I've been immersed, more or less happily, in playing with my kids, cleaning out my closets, and getting ready for the upcoming semester of teaching. That's part of it. However, only part.

I actually play things pretty close to the vest. Nonetheless, Bill's email hit some kind of nerve, so I'll tell you -- aided by the fact that it's Saturday night and I'm freshly gorged on French food and good wine -- the unvarnished truth.

I want to be a writer. I've got about 60 pages of a novel finished, and another one under way. However, I stand on the edge of a vast, simmering cauldron of self-doubt, wondering how I have the audacity to think I can actually ever finish a book that would be worth reading. Case in point, I've only got about 3 readers of this blog at last count, and I've disappointed them. My sense is that real writers are driven, compulsively, to write, despite the fact that there are a million other things in their lives that demand their time. My friend Brett wants to be a writer, and he writes all the time, and even put a novel online. Colin, who is in many ways an inspiration, is all over the place writing, talking, blogging.

I, on the other hand, have started about a zillion witty, fascinating posts in my head, and yet rarely seem to get around to putting anything on the damn computer. This clearly indicates some kind of character flaw on my part.

I was having lunch with Linda (you don't know her, but I'm trying not to compulsively say "my friend," which reminds me of My Friend Flicka, a tragically sad story, but that's off-topic), and she said, "What do you want to do that you haven't yet." Of course, the book thing jumped to the forefront. I want to write a book.

But this is hard. And hard to admit. I'm probably just another average Jane trying to get by. I may fool myself into thinking that I'm good at some things, that I've made some good connections with people, but I think writers are special. I'm not sure I've got the goods to deliver. Writers are right up there with earthly gods to me, because they create connections between people, complete strangers, that draw us together and help explain our lives. I can't help wonder: what can I possibly add to that dialogue?

I'm not asking you to rush in and encourage me. "Come on, old girl, you can do it." Nope, I'm really not fishing for praise. This is it is. That seemingly endless well of derision and self-doubt that I tend to keep lidded somehow scorches to a roaring boil when I sit still and try to write. It makes it hard. Very hard. So I make excuses about all of the other perfectly legitimate things I need to do before I get started/keep going/finish up. So maybe I'm not a real writer. Sorry Bill.