Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Umm ...

So, I'm NOT pregnant.

Not that there was really a real scare. It was really one of those blown-up-in-your-mind kind of scares that resulted from my belief in things like bad karma and jinxing yourself.

See, I have this friend who, at one point last year, resolutely stated that she was done having kids. And in the same breath, said, "But I'm 7 days late." And, yup, just this afternoon I was feeding her 6-month-old Cheerios.

So, I was convinced that when you say you don't want more kids, that kind of statement steps in and renders your birth control completely ineffective, the way that antibiotics do. And therefore when I made a statement that I wasn't looking to have any more kids, at least for the time being, I figured this would be the month I got pregnant.

Now, I don't like to blog about ... er, um, marital relations, but let me just say that the absolute only legitimate risk we took was my saying that we didn't want more kids. And you know what? I think plenty of women say all the time that they don't want any more kids, and those women don't instantly get knocked up.

But I was convinced that karma was going to come and bite me in the ass, and I would get pregnant, despite taking steps to prevent it. (Because that's how you get pregnant, by getting bit in the ass.)

Further complicating the matter was that I had a full set of dental x-rays last week, and they always ask you beforehand if there's any chance you might be pregnant, and I said no, but then of course there's that voice in the back of your mind that says, "Oh watch, now you will be."

Anyway, I'm not. And some people might wonder if this whole scare was built up in my mind because I'm subconsciously trying to test myself to see if I want another baby. I mean, I wondered that. But the truth is, I'm so overwhelmingly happy that I'm not pregnant.

Maybe that was the test. To see if I was happy that I wasn't pregnant. Anyway, I am. Happy, that is.

I wasn't sure I wanted to write about this, but I'm using it to segue into a larger point.

It's time for me to do something else with my life, and it isn't having more babies. Lately I have realized that all my friends are moving away, having more children, or getting new jobs. And as well they should. I'm not trying to stop them from their life progress. But I feel a little like a recent high school grad who is stuck in her hometown after all her friends went away to college. It's time for me to make progress, too.

But how?

Obviously if I'm not growing my family, I have to grow on the professional front. And I want to work, in theory. I like the idea of having something more to occupy my mind, something else besides the endless cycles of laundry and cleaning. But who will watch Nathan? How will I find something to do that will justify the cost and hassle of daycare? What do I even want to do?

And now that it's almost summer, do I want to give up the freedom to just jet off to the beach anytime I want?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Books and flowers, and books about flowers

Last week I finished reading the book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. In the book, author Judith Warner discusses the tendency for modern moms to try to obsessively control every aspect of their children's lives. She talks about moms enrolling their children in a bevy of activities in an attempt to raise some kind of hyper-competitive superhuman. Or about how moms become control freaks about things like a child's diet or sleep schedule. Warner says that, basically, modern moms feel like they're doing everything wrong in trying to raise these perfect children.

I should point out that the book was published in 2005, and that Warner's data came from, among other sources, interviews with mothers of young children between 2000 and 2004. In some ways I think with the rise in popularity of mom blogs and books like I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, we've experienced a backlash against this drive for perfect motherhood, and back into an "I'm okay, you're okay" attitude toward motherhood. (Though whether or not these blogs/books were a cause or effect of a new maternal attitude, I cannot say.) Still, I think Warner made some relevant points. She hypothesizes that control freakishness in motherhood is a result of the fact that we feel like the rest of the world is largely out of our control. The economy is bad and jobs are scarce. When you do have a job, you have to give and give and give in a way that employees of previous generations may not have had to, all for a company that feels no loyalty whatsoever to its employees. Further, parents feel unsupported, both because of a lack of family nearby or because American society has neither attitudes nor resources to support working parents (e.g. extended maternity leave or strict government regulations on daycare facilities). She made an interesting point about how we all feel that feminism has brought us an incredible level of personal freedoms when it comes to choosing to work or stay home, but in actuality most of us don't have a choice as to what we do. And she isn't just talking about people who have to work because they need the money. She is also talking about how some people are forced into staying home because either their husbands work so many hours that nobody is home to watch the kids (cough, cough), or because women are forced to quit jobs that just aren't compatible with having a family. No matter what, it all adds up to a world where we feel alone, frustrated, and out of control. And rather than turning our frustrations into efforts to change the world for ourselves and other moms, we are turning our attention inward toward being control freaks in our own homes.

Now, there were parts of this book I could relate to so strongly that I thought my name should be in there. (For example, a mom who said she felt guilty if she got a babysitter for her daughter and then used the time to do anything else besides picking up dry cleaning or shopping for groceries. Hello, me.) Other parts I couldn't relate to so much, such as the mom who fretted over what her child's birthday party would say about her social standing. Examples like that made me feel like Warner's points were a little too extreme, and that she found the most outlandish anecdotes to support her theories. And the book was peppered with giant generalizations, as well as an overall negative tone where she pretty much said, "The world is a terrible place for moms, and I don't see it getting better anytime soon."

Now, obviously this book was meant as a call for social action, and, as such, it needed to come off angry and negative in order to get people motivated to work for change. But when I think about Warner's points in terms of my own personal situation, I see my decisions not so much as settling, as they are just making the best of the circumstances I've been dealt. No, I did not feel like working full-time with a long commute, plus having a husband who works crazy unpredictable hours, plus not having any family nearby, added up to a situation I could survive long-term. But I was lucky that my husband earned enough money working those long hours at a job he loved (or, perhaps I was lucky I earned so little working at a job I hated), so I chose to stay home.

I do have the same concerns most stay-at-home moms have. I feel bored and unfulfilled sometimes, and the tasks are monotonous. I worry about opting out of the workforce, and what that means in terms of the work I'll be eligible for when I opt back in. And there's the side issue of not saving for my retirement.

But, ultimately, I think I am making a good life for myself. I do an okay job finding activities for myself, such as working out or blogging. Feeling personally fulfilled as a mother, Warner points out, is the best thing you can do for your child. And, as I said, I do okay on that front. I'm not so wrapped up in taking Nathan to activities that I don't have time to do some of my own things, though I readily admit that I do a lot of activities with him, for my own sanity as much as his. (Warner points out that a lot of this hyper-scheduling of kids actually is related to a mom's need for outside interaction when her husband works so many hours, which is symptomatic of a larger disconnect within marriages. So, again, way to turn an attempt to make the best of things into a big old cause for concern. As you can see, it was the feel-good book of the century.)

In spite of all the enrichment I put myself and my child through, I have felt a little bit of a sense of, "Is that all there is?" lately. Nathan is at an age where he is simultaneously less needy and more frustrating (the latter part largely due to his changing nap schedule), and I'm wondering if I should try to look for some paid employment. Like it or not, you feel more valuable if you are actually being financially remunerated for your efforts.

The thing is, though, I think back on my full-time work-outside-the-home-mom days with absolute horror. (Not to be a drama queen or anything.) I was in the throes of depression, which was not caused by working, but was certainly being exacerbated by the stress of it all. Every day I would deal with getting up and getting Nathan and myself ready to walk out the door, then doing the daycare drop-off, pain-in-the-ass train commute, eight hours of totally unfulfilling work in a florescently-lit cubicle, pain-in-the-ass train commute home, daycare pick-up, coming home to a whole other bunch of demands in terms of dinner and bedtime, and then just crashing for the one hour I had to myself before it was bedtime and time to do it all over again. And the weekends weren't relaxing, because I had to try to cram in all the laundry and grocery-shopping, as well as chase Nathan around through hour after hour of toddler activities. (Though obviously at this point he can entertain himself for a little while longer than he could two years ago, and the places I can take him are a little more fun for both of us.) And I was still a control freak about the way things were cooked or cleaned, so I was doing most of the housework even when I worked full-time. And I had more regular work hours than my husband (plus he taught night classes), which meant I was doing most of the childcare.

So, for all those reasons, full-time work doesn't seem to be the answer. Which means I am looking for part-time work that is not only fulfilling, but geographically-desirable and decently-paying. Which means that I'm probably not going to find work.

I would like to be one of those people who just gets paid tons of money and gets free stuff for her blog. Where can I apply for that job?

I also like flower-arranging. So, this past weekend I went to my second all-day flower class, hell-bent on not-so-subtly dropping the hint that I'm interested in a flower job. Well, it turns out I am too slow to be a professional designer, and even so there's no work for flower designers right now.

Anyway, I made a few arrangements, but these are the only two I photographed.
The top one is designed in the Biedermeier style, meaning that it is a geometric shape consisting of only flowers (no leaves). The color combo wasn't the best, but I had to work with what I was given. Interestingly (at least to me), those round, green things are a type of carnation.

The bottom picture shows a Victorian style arrangement, the defining characteristic of which is flowers arranged at exactly the same height. The alternative to Victorian is French garden style, also known just as garden style, in which flowers have different heights, as they would grow in a garden.

Both of those arrangements were made in a piece of Oasis floral foam. We also learned how to do spiral bouquets that could be put in a vase, which was much more useful for a person like me whose main source of flowers is the grocery store and whose main use of flowers is to dress up a table that is otherwise cluttered by newspapers and sippy cups.

In the spirit of flower-arranging, I decided to read the book Bed of Roses, which is part of Nora Roberts' Bridal Quartet series that centers around four friends who run a wedding-planning business. Bed of Roses is, as you may have guessed, the book that focuses on the woman who is the florist in the business. The next book in the series is Savor the Moment, which focuses on the cake baker. It just came out and is very popular right now, but I probably won't read it right away because these books have to be spread out and saved for when you need the lightest, fluffiest chick lit possible. Such as after you just read a feminist manifesto that makes you question every aspect of your maternal existence.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The latest from Duh! magazine: I'm too hard on myself

Remember yesterday when I was all chipper about how great my running was going, and how positive I felt about my body? Well, all it takes is one humiliatingly bad running experience to shoot all that to hell.

Yesterday I took Nathan to the zoo all day. And then we drove home because he had swimming lessons, and on the ride home I had a sort of miniature panic attack. I think that must of used up all my mental energy, because by the time I got to running class (after swim lessons), I just didn't have it in me to run the 20 minutes, despite having done it the day before. I was very discouraged about the other two class participants being much, much faster than I was, and that includes this 50-something woman who was previously slower than I. And thinking about running 20 minutes, mostly uphill it seemed, was just too much to handle psychologically. (Yes, this teacher has managed to find the neighborhood that everybody's parents lived in during their childhoods, wherein it was uphill both ways on their walks to/from school.) So I just stopped and walked.

Now, rather than just being all, "Hmm, this isn't my day," I had to turn this into a huge production. I didn't want to stretch after, or chat with the other participants. I didn't want to wait around for my stupid weekly reading material to be handed out. I didn't even want to take a shower. I wasn't sure how I would get Nathan fed and ready for bed. I just wanted to sit around and pout. I am such a pathetic, useless person, I thought. It's not like I have a job or three kids or anything that should be sucking away so much energy and time that I can't run 20 minutes.

And then, the endpoint that every single pity party seems to lead to: I'm fat.

Now, here's the thing. I think if I were a more positive person, I would have been able to focus on the fact that I had just spent the day taking my child to a fun, enriching activity (the zoo), followed by another important athletic/life-skill class (swimming). And maybe that was why I was tired when it came time to run. I could think about how awesome I am for going home and feeding him dinner and getting him into bed all by himself because my husband was working late again. In short, I could focus on all the things that were going right, rather than the few things that were going wrong.

But even as I type this, I am dissecting the days' events further in my mind, again with a slant toward beating myself up. Sure, I took him to the zoo, but rather than being a good mom who packed a lunch from home, I let us both eat greasy, expensive food bought at the zoo. And I bought him a toy at the end, which means I spoil him. And for dinner I let him eat a hot dog bun without the hot dog, and then when he wouldn't go to sleep I caved in and let him sleep in my bed. And after that I ate handfuls of chocolate chips and drank sangria because that's what I do when I feel sorry for myself, and that's why I'm Fat.

Topping the list of self-inflicted insults, along with I'm Fat, is I'm a pathetic waste of space who only has one kid and no job. I don't know why, but in life I always feel like I'm competing for some kind of Human of the Year Award, and the chief criterion on which this award is judged is how busy and frazzled you are. So I think, geez, I have no right to be stressed out, because I don't have three kids like So-and-So. And Such-and-Such has a full-time job and runs her own business on the side, so she is clearly better than I am.

Better than I am. On what scale? Why do I have it in my mind that if I'm not giving of myself to the point that there's nothing left, then I'm an inadequate person? Or that if I am an inadequate person, the least I could do is be truly awesome at the few things I do have going on, and I'm failing at that, too? Like if I do just have the one kid and no job, I should make sure that I have a homemade, healthy meal on the table every night. And being nutritionally balanced isn't enough, it also has to be organic and locally-grown. Why stop there? Maybe I should be growing the food myself. And oh, I have to be economical about it. No buying pre-grated cheese, because for crying out loud woman, you have no job and you should have time to whip out the box grater.

Do you see where I'm going here? If you set out to beat yourself up, you will always find a reason. You will never be satisfied. And you know what? I'm the only one who cares about all my inadequacies. Do you really think it matters to anybody else that I only have one kid and no job? Let alone that I don't feed my child organic food? To assume that people even have the time and energy to sit around worrying about what I do with my life is to think way too highly of myself. Which is probably the first time I've ever done that.

No, the only person who needs to lighten up on me is me. So I'm going to end this post by boosting my self-esteem a little. And this is what I want to say.

My name is Shannon. I am lucky to have a son, Nathan, who is healthy and smart. I take him somewhere or do something with him every single day that is enriching to his mind and body. I make sure he eats fruit. I do not have a job outside my home at the moment, but I have supported and sacrificed so my husband could excel in a competitive field that is truly fulfilling for him, and I think his success is my success. I like my marriage because we laugh a lot and have lives that are together but also separate.

I like to think I do things to help out others. Occasionally this comes in the form of actual charity work, but also I will not hesitate to babysit for my friends or bake them pies.

My house is mostly clean. I'm on top of the laundry. I go to the gym about 5 times a week. I read about one book a week. And I'm a good writer, dammit. Plus I have a natural sense of what looks pretty and balanced in flower arrangements. I am proficient with a Crock Pot.

I overcame depression. I have good relationships with my extended family. I won't forget your birthday.

I am grateful to have thick hair and thin fingers. And a sense of humor.

In sum, the previous few paragraphs were not designed to sound conceited or sanctimonious, but rather to slightly boost the ego of a person with very tenuous mental health.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Another 15 minutes

I just made two homemade pizzas. Well, homemade to the extent that the dough actually came out of one of those vacuum-sealed cans that pops when you open it. One pizza is barbecue chicken. This is my best pizza. The trick is to use honey barbecue sauce, especially Sweet Baby Ray's, which might only be sold in the Chicago area. Then you add a combo of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses and frozen chicken strips coated with some of the barbecue sauce. After baking, you add some cilantro. You're also supposed to put red onions on it, but I find most people (myself included) don't actually like red onions.

The other pizza is three kinds of cheese with turkey pepperoni. The three cheeses are mozzarella, Parmesan, and Romano. That's right, I had all three of those cheeses, plus the cheddar, just hanging around in my fridge.

Anyway, the pizzas need to sit and cool for 15 minutes so all the cheese doesn't slide off when you cut it. I'm using those 15 minutes for a quick blog update.

Let me start by discussing movies. The last movie I got from Netflix was Up in the Air. It seemed so light and quirky until the end when there was a surprise plot twist that just made me feel bad about the whole world. But then, I guess I should have figured it would end up being heavy, because no light, quirky movies get nominated for Oscars.

I'm doing a little bit better in the book department. I just read Shanghai Girls, which was one of those books that follows a main character and her family through many decades. The family emigrates from China to live in Los Angeles , and the book mostly takes place in the 1930s through the 1950s. I was especially interested in it because I'm from the Los Angeles area, but I think it would be interesting to people from other areas as well, because a lot of it is about the changing attitudes toward Chinese immigrants in the first half of the 20th century.

Following Shanghai Girls, I had a brief flirtation with the newest Jodi Picoult. Let me tell you how every single Jodi Picoult book works. You take a kid with some devastating disease, the kid's martyr mom who has no outside life, neglected sibling who feels torn between wanting to protect the ailing kid but also wanting attention all for him/herself and therefore acts out in socially inappropriate ways, a father who believes the mother's obsession with the sick kid is ruining their marriage, and some random outside character who later becomes integral to the story. You tell each chapter from the point of view of one of these characters, so the reader has no idea what to think or who to side with. There's some kind of legal battle, and the whole thing results in the characters' lives being driven to the brink of disaster on every front, until the court trial comes out favorably for the family and things improve. And then somebody dies at the end, making the whole legal battle and ensuing drama completely pointless.

Deciding I didn't want to put myself through that sort of emotional tedium, I gave up on Jodi. And now I'm reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which is the story of a curmudgeonly old widower in a small English town. It wouldn't seem like something that would be enjoyable, but somehow that book wormed its way into my heart, and I look forward to reading it every night.

Of course, it has to compete with TV. Glee has been a little bit hit-and-miss since it came back on, mostly because it seems like there is just so much relationship drama going on. But nowhere near as much drama as some of the pointless stuff that happens on Parenthood. Does anybody else feel like Parenthood might be written by 8-year-olds who don't know how to think through logical consequences? Like, for example, on the episode a few shows back, where the cousin Drew gets all upset because Uncle Adam cancels baseball with him because he has to take Max out for frozen yogurt. Wouldn't it have made sense for Uncle Adam to say, "We can't play baseball, but we will come by and pick you up for frozen yogurt with us"? And then last week, when Adam and Haddie argue because Haddie wants to go out wearing a sexy bra? Wouldn't it have made sense for them to just compromise and have Haddie change? But anyway, that show makes no sense, but for some reason I still tune in.

Oh and full confession, most nights I watch DVDs of Seinfeld with the "Notes About Nothing" captions on, which are Pop-Up Video-style notes at the bottom with fun facts. Seinfeld still trumps current TV, even though the last episode aired 12 years ago and I've seen every episode several times.

On the real-life front, I have stopped making Nathan take naps. It's too hard to get him to go to bed at night when he takes a nap, and really every "nap" is just a series of frustrating trips in his room to tell him to get in his bed and go to sleep. But not having him take a nap is challenging on a few different levels. Surprisingly, physical exhaustion on my part is not really a problem, even though I usually took a little nap myself when Nathan used to nap. A bigger problem is the mental exhaustion of not having a nap to break up the day. I enjoyed that time when Nathan was closed up in his room and I was closed up in my room, and then we could be apart for awhile before resuming our day. Now, the days are just long. And yes, I know I could try to institute some kind of "quiet time" during the day to take the place of naps, but I think that will have to wait awhile because (a) right now there's still a chance Nathan will fall asleep, and (b) he's not quite old/mature enough to just stay quietly in his bed.

Another problem is that I had a full schedule of workout-based activities for myself in the evenings, and now that Nathan isn't taking naps he's not quite up to going to the gym after 6 p.m. (Or maybe I'm just projecting and it's just me who isn't up to going to the gym after 6 p.m.) Not a problem, though, because now that I'm becoming an avid runner, I can work out during the daytime. I should go to weight-lifting on Monday nights to help my running/bone density, but right now I'm failing at that. Also I'm failing at Boxing Boot Camp, which I really think does something for my upper-arm toning, and with bathing suit season coming up ... anyway, I'm not going to go on and on about my various workouts and my failures to go to them, because really this paragraph was supposed to be a segue into talking about running.

The running is actually going really great! Everybody told me that if you start out slowly, you will be surprised at how quickly you get to a point where you can run longer distances. A few weeks ago I could not run half a lap around my local park (which has a really weird distance of 4/10 of a mile per lap). And now I can run 4 whole laps, for a total of 20 minutes! My legs are not as sore afterward, and even though I'm pushing myself, I don't feel like I want to die like I did when I first started running. Anyway, the 5K is May 22, and I don't know if I'll be ready, but I have until May 20 to sign up.

So, since I am running, I have promised myself I can't feel bad about skipping other gym workouts. And, dare I say it, am I actually moving toward a point of body acceptance? Okay, no, I'm not, but I think I'm on the right path.

Also the pool opens in a few weeks, so who the hell wants to be spending evenings at the gym?

And the dishwasher finally came, and I'm in love. Because I'm ridiculous like that.