Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm Okay, You're Okay

Last week I was over at my good friend's house. She opened up her hall closet, to reveal the most organized closet situation I have possibly ever seen outside of the Container Store website. Toiletries were organized into small plastic boxes with cutesy labels like "I need pampering" and "It's personal ..." (Yep, first-ever box label featuring ellipses.) And then, and then, on the inside of the closet door, she had a computer-drawn map of the location of each box, followed by a list of items contained in each box. She said it helps her to figure out what she's out of when she makes a shopping list.

My toiletry-replenishment system is more like, "Oh crap! We're out of toilet paper! And I was just at four stores yesterday that sold toilet paper!" and then the next day, "Oh crap! We're out of shampoo! I was just at a store yesterday buying toilet paper, and I could have bought shampoo then, except I didn't remember I was almost out of it!"

I will never, never, achieve a level of organization wherein I have everything in a labeled box, nor will I have a map of the location of each labeled box.

And that's okay.

Her system works for her, my system works for me. (Okay, more like I manage to meet my family's basic needs in spite of my lack of a system, but whatever.)

This particular friend and I spend a good amount of time together, and so of anybody I know, hers is the life I have the best glimpse into. I truly believe that you can never, ever know exactly what happens in the life of another family, but you get closer the more time you spend with somebody. And so, because I know her pretty well, I compare myself to her a lot. And I believe, in my low self-esteem ways, that she is better than I am in all areas. She spends less money than I do. She's a better wife and mother than I am. And, in the case of the boxes and the map, she is much better organized than I am.

She's better organized with her time. She plans out her grocery shopping trips weeks in advance, and her whole family is on a schedule that even the 4-year-old has memorized. I aspire to be like her.

Well, I thought I did. But, now I realize her systems wouldn't work for me. They work for her. She needs her systems. I need some systems, but not those systems.

It's funny how a little thing like a plastic box of toiletries can sometimes trigger a whole new outlook on life. But I realized that just like I can't organize my belongings like other people do, I don't have to live my life like other people do, either.

I know this seems like a very basic realization. A total duh, in fact. People are different, and we all live our lives differently. But I think for mothers, and maybe for women in general, there are certain unspoken rules about the right way to do things. (See this absolutely hilarious series of short cartoons about what those right ways are. Seriously, if you are a mother, watch them.)

But, you will go crazy trying to do everything right. And, as a friend once told me, if you compare yourself to others, you will always lose. I also think that I never focus on what I do right. It's always what I could do better, and what somebody else is already doing better.

Just for now, though, I'm telling myself that I am doing okay. I am not wracked with insanity because I'm having it all with some kind of hybrid PT/WAH/freelance job that allows me to juggle 3 kids and be president of the PTA.

I only have one kid. I failed to give him a sibling within the socially-accepted 3.5 year time limit. (That deadline passed on August 28, although the opportunity to achieve that deadline obviously passed 9 months before that.) And I don't have a job, either. Oh well, I won't win the Human of the Year Award. Life feels a little busy, but not insane. When Nathan goes to bed, I enjoy some free time. I'm not killing myself from the minute I wake up until the minute I put my head on the pillow at night. And when my kid is at preschool, I'm not running around like a loon running errands and cleaning. Instead, I write this blog.

There are a lot of things I want to improve about myself. Self-improvement goals swirl around in my head at a near-constant rate. I should lose weight. I should work out more. I should clean out the garage. I should organize that drawer. I should, I should, I should.

But for this week, I decided to focus on eating better. I know I have said this a million times (and counting), but I am re-starting Weight Watchers. That is my self-improvement for the week. That's the thing I most need to do, because carrying around all this extra weight, I am exhausted. I'm keeping up my workout schedule in conjunction with Weight Watchers, but that's it for lifestyle changes this week.

I have other things I want to change. But for this week, I am okay with focusing on eating and exercise. Maybe in time I will make more improvements. But for now, I am doing okay. Yes, you can only fit one car in my two-car garage, and that car is filled with a little bit of clutter itself. No, I cannot tell you exactly where we'll be at 4:15 p.m. on a Tuesday a month from now. My kid still watches too much TV. My husband and I still suck at date nights. I stop in the middle of the day to read books instead of cleaning all the time. Oh, and sometimes I buy those books from bookstores instead of being green and frugal and checking them out at the library. My kid never eats more than 3 bites of the dinner I make, and he only eats those three bites because I bribe him with fruit snacks.

But, for now, I'm doing okay.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Two Days

While you guys were probably bored to tears with my last post, I will say that writing it down really allowed me to clarify some things in my own head. After I wrote that post and read some people's comments (here and on Facebook), I started to have a new awareness of the forces at work in our new preschool-going, non-napping life. And I think, in the two days following that post, I really looked at those forces, the good and the bad, in a new light. And, dare I say, a routine began to emerge. I didn't realize how good it felt to be in a routine, albeit a fledgling, imperfect one. (Though really, a life where we're always in a perfect, unwavering routine would be boring and a little bit unrealistic.) Anyway, the following is an account of those two days.

After his usual protests, Nathan went to school. (Seriously, where does a 3-year-old learn "I'm sick, I can't go to school"?) I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill. I'm following the Couch to 5K running plan, and I decided I would train both Tuesday and Thursday after preschool drop-off. (See, routine. Yay for me!) Then I decided I could use the time after the gym to do a quick errand, not a full-on, big grocery shop, but something like the dry cleaner or a toilet paper run. This usually leaves me with about 45 minutes left before I have to pick up the boy, which I have decided to use to just decompress at home and relish the only quiet part of my day. I either read, watch TV, surf the Internet, or listen to silence.

So, my Tuesday/Thursday plan for when Nathan is at preschool is as follows: gym, errand, decompressing. (In case anybody was worried about my hygiene, there is a shower in there somewhere as well.) Then I pick up Nathan and give him five minutes on the couch at the park district to tell me about his day. Next we go home and have lunch and quiet time. The afternoons are a little bit ill-defined, but on this past Thursday we just hung out at home. I actually played with the boy, much as it pains me to take part in games that are based on some illogical narrative that exists only in the boy's head. Then we went to the park and ate an early dinner. Bill was working late, so I wanted to get Nathan to bed early. He was asleep by 7:30 and I had the whole evening to myself. Good day.

Not such a good day, although you learn from the bad days as well as the good. (I can't really call it a bad day, just a frustrating day.) I don't really have a workout plan for Fridays, which meant I was left without any endorphins or structured activities. I participated in a shopping activity that was not so preschooler-appropriate. (I know that sounds like I went to some kind of smutty store, but I just meant I was shopping in some stores where a lot of things were breakable.) And there was an incident at home involving my husband and the dishwasher, which left my kitchen totally disgusting and unusable. So we ate all three meals from restaurants, which it turns out makes you feel kind of like crap. And Nathan was kind of bad in the restaurants and stores, because he gets that way when not every activity revolves around him. I felt bad about my parenting and about myself in general.

Friday afternoon just dragged. I was thinking about how the weekends aren't that different from the weekdays when you have my particular lifestyle, and I was, therefore, dreading the upcoming weekend. I just wanted to call my friends and my mom for support, but the kid kept dogging me to play with him. I did not give in. I ordered some takeout for dinner and gave the kid a bath before Bill got home. Then I told Bill that I needed a break during the weekend.

He did end up giving me some time to take a bath and read on Saturday, and I went out with some friends for drinks/dessert. And we all went out as a family on Saturday (to the library! and Target!), which made me feel less alone. However, I really only want to talk about Thursday and Friday in this post. Thursday I learned what works well for us, and Friday I learned what does not. I learned that a day without any structure is kind of bad.

So, I'm trying to eke out a plan where we have at least one scheduled activity per day. I signed the boy up for a free Gymboree trial class, and if Gymboree works out, we will have their free play option during other parts of the week as well. I don't really have anything for Fridays, which is a problem, but I think that's the day we should plan all those fun outings that I always say we should go on. There's enough unstructured time left that I don't have something every minute, because of course you still have to do stuff like chores and errands. But the goal is to have enough outside-the-home stuff to make the times when we're home welcome and enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scheduling, or lack thereof

Well, the boy's preschool experience has improved since the first day. Apparently on that first day, he just didn't understand that the craft was mandatory. Which is understandable, because there aren't too many activities in a little kid's non-school life that are mandatory. Yes, there are the basic details of life, like getting dressed, taking a bath, eating, and going to bed. Those are mandatory. But I think it's hard in the toddler mind to draw a comparison between mandatory bedtime and mandatory art activities. Everywhere we go with art activities and their analogues (defined as "fun stuff for kids to do"), Nathan gets to pick what he wants to do. At the children's museum, if he doesn't want to go over to the art area, he doesn't have to. Why would I force that? (Even though I want to, because crafts are a distinct weakness in my parenting at home, and I want him to take advantage of some other crafty person's set-up/clean-up efforts.)

And speaking of stuff we do at home, I'm struggling to get us on any kind of schedule/routine. I know I have said this before, but the boy's giving up of his naps has really thrown me. In the nap-taking era, our days went kind of like this: get up, TV, get ready for day, participate in some kind of fun toddler activity and/or errands, lunch, nap, dinner, crazy hard evening gym class designed for young professionals, and then bedtime.

Now, though, the days are so long. It's easy for me to just let the boy's morning TV go on too long, because he's not taking a nap, and it's going to be a long day. I don't even care if we do any toddler activities in the morning (other than preschool), because I'd rather save all the fun for the afternoon (when, really, there are no toddler activities planned, since most of these kids are still taking naps). We have lunch, which, at this point, is in front of the TV for the boy. I know ... bad, bad, bad. Then he has his total joke of a "quiet time," where the only thing I can do to get him to sit still is ... wait for it ... turn on the TV.

Contrary to what some people say, quiet time is a very pathetic substitute for a nap. First of all, I can't sleep during it. I feel that you should generally be awake during all the hours that your kid is awake. Mother of the Year!

Also, at most, I can get the child to sit for like 45 minutes. Then he comes tearing upstairs, where I am getting a few pages of my book read, and he's ready for more action. And really, what am I going to say, "Get back and watch more TV this instant"? This is when he gets in one of his weird moods where he just needs to grab and squeeze and pummel things. Is this need to get out physical aggression a boy thing?

Anyway, holy crap, at this point it's only 1:30. One effing thirty! It is a long time until bedtime! We've been going to the park in the afternoons, which is a great choice now (free, close, wholesome, energy-burning), but I'm going to have to come up with something else in the winter months.

Somehow we get through the afternoons with some combo of park, errands, snacks, and playdates. Then it's 5:00 and all hell breaks lose. The boy has lost what little shreds of human decency he even possesses to begin with. Now it's all, let me see what happens when I put the remote control in a cup of water! (Answer: it breaks.) Let me throw every toy I own around the living room!

It's time for me to get moving on dinner/bedtime, and fast. But how to control this wild fiend while I assemble some sort of meal? Oh, I know! Television. And sometimes if Bill isn't home yet, I just let the kid eat his dinner in front of the TV, because I don't want to spend another meal staring at a preschooler.

I guide him through his whole bedtime routine, and just when he's all bathed, settled, and read to ... DADDY comes home! Let's get all worked up again! And can I please play a game with Daddy? PLEEEEEEASE! And not wanting to deny the two an opportunity for father/son time, I allow the game. But Daddy has to eat first, and change his clothes, and whatever, so now it's getting late and the boy has achieved his goal of being the World's Best Bedtime Staller.

Finally this game takes place, then ends, and I have to lie down with the boy to get him to sleep. I swore I would never have a kid who needed somebody to lie down with him to go to sleep, but here we are. And it has to be moooommmmm-yyyyyyyy! And no reading, lights, or TV. And I know I could engage in some kind of systematic battle wherein I force him into his bed, over and over again, until the getting-ups gradually decrease night by night. But, it's 8:00 at this point, and I'm just dying for some time alone, and I throw all my parenting ideals out the window and just do whatever it takes to get him to sleep.

He goes to sleep. In our bed. I go downstairs and give him some time to fall into a deep enough sleep that I can move him to his own bed. And then I get a few hours to watch TV or read on my own, and then sometime in the middle of the night the boy rejoins us in our bed. I have no idea how to handle that one.

And when the morning light comes streaming in, I get up and do it again.

So, to sum up: totally thrown by lack of nap, adjusting to preschool, no schedule, too much TV, kid totally worn out and irrational half the time. And yeah, we still go to museums and other local attractions, and we go to the library (a lot), but there are just so many hours to fill, and you can't go to these places all the time. And despite needing several hours of entertainment, Nathan is still unable to handle activities that go on for several hours.

(As I look back on the preceding paragraphs, I realize I am making it sound like I think I need to put on some kind of entertaining show for my kid all the time. That isn't the case. Of course he can play by himself sometimes, or I play with him, or we do something simple like go for a walk. But the fact is that even if I'm not doing some big production all the time, I still need to find a way to keep him occupied all the time.)

I've had a few months since The Great Nap Give-Up, so I'm starting to eke out some inkling of a schedule/plan/routine. Here are some things that I have done right:
  1. I get up before Nathan. This gives me some time in the morning to sit with my coffee and surf the Internet before chaos ensues.
  2. I have recently started handling transition times by giving Nathan a lot of attention and hugs. So, when he wakes up, I'm all, I'm happy to see you! When I pick him up from preschool, we take some time to sit and discuss his day/look at the craft(s) he made. When he's all weird and aggressive after his quiet time, he gets some crazy tight hugs and tickling. Anyway, I think this is called "being present" for your child.
  3. I just decided that I'm going to have a policy that he gets to watch TV during the following 3 periods: right after he wakes up, during quiet time, and while I make dinner. While I still think this is too much TV, I think being slightly vague as to exact time limits on TV will give us enough flexibility to have days where there is less TV and days where there is more TV.
  4. We now go to the gym in the morning. Although I like a lot of the classes they offer in the evenings (daytime ones tend to be for the senior citizen crowd), Nathan is just too irrational by 5 p.m. to get him out the door. And I'm exhausted by then, too. And saying we're going to go every morning gives us a routine.
  5. I've been getting Nathan totally ready for bed by the time his dad gets home. This way we're not doing the whole bedtime routine after the too-late Daddy game-playing time.
I'm still struggling with how to fill the days. I kind of felt like preschool on T/Th and library storyhour on Weds. would be enough, but there are still a lot of hours. Should we overschedule ourselves so that there are 50 classes/enrichment activities we need to go to? That seems like a little too much in terms of cost/exhaustion/overstimulation. (Also swim lessons start this Saturday and storyhour starts next week, so we haven't really had an opportunity to see how our weeks will go when all the activities are in full swing.)

I'm thinking about doing Gymboree. I realize this is the kind of thing that people usually do with infants and young toddlers, but I've never done it before. There are two Gymboree facilities that are about equidistant from our house, in that they are each 10 miles away. That's a bit of a drive. Plus it seems so expensive. But I'm wondering if I should just throw some money at my problems at this point.

I guess I could also get all crazy homeschool and start planning structured activities at home. Like, "Tuesday is cooking day and Wednesday we do a craft." But, I mean, come on. That just isn't me. I think I'd much rather outsource these activities to paid child-enrichment professionals and librarians.

So, bottom line, our schedule is evolving. And I need to give myself a break and let it evolve.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Dot Com: If you want to win your “O” you have to reconnect with your roots.
Tracy: No I don’t. I was on a yacht with the Roots last week.
-From 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 21: "Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land"

Nathan's preschool is called The Learning Tree. (It's affiliated with the park district. Get it? Parks ... trees?) Each class has a tree name. The two-year-olds are the Willows. (I think originally it was the Weeping Willows, because two-year-olds cry so much.) Nathan's class, the three-year-olds, is called the Ginkgos. The four-year-olds are the Oaks.

In the first issue of the year of the preschool's newsletter, Branches and Blooms, the director drew and analogy between trees and families. She said that children are like a tree's branches, and their parents are like the tree's roots. While the roots do the job of supporting the branches, they also continue to grow themselves.

Since I'm a big fan of cheesy metaphors, the director's message really resonated with me. As a parent, I feel like I am supposed to go into every situation being The Expert, The Perfect One, The All-Knowing Voice of Authority. (I think teachers are held to the same expectations, by the way.) My son expects this of me. Society expects this of me. (Generally speaking, it's always safe to blame all your problems on society.) And the worst part, I expect perfection of myself. I get upset when I am less than perfect.

Except, guess what? This is my first time doing all this. I do have more life experience than Nathan, but I have been a parent exactly as long as he has been a child. We're both first-timers. We will both be first-timers in everything until he goes to college, until he is an adult, until ... forever.

So, I am still growing, too. I am his roots, and, as such, I have to be a little bit stronger so I can support us both. But I am not full-grown either. I have to allow myself room for growth.

I am his roots.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September Eleventh

Today is a day that people tell their stories. Where you were when you heard the news, what you did, who you knew. To be honest, most people's stories aren't that interesting; most of us lived far away from the horror and didn't have any personal connection to it. But each person's story matters to him or her. That story is the story of the moment your life changed.

Many years, it seems September 11 passes without too too much mention. The little blurb in the upper right-hand corner of your paper says something like, "Families remember victims of September 11 attacks, p. 8." There's some brief news clip of some memorial service. And that's it. Feel free to go ahead and plan your wedding, birthday party, yard sale, fair, or cat show that day. (I actually went to a cat show on Sept. 11, 2004.) It's just another day.

This year it seems people are remembering a little bit more, no doubt in response to the latest idiocy that has given bad publicity to Sept. 11. I'm talking about the whole flap over the Muslim community center at Ground Zero and the guy in Florida who wanted to burn the Qua'ran.
But, it's good we remember.

My story is one of the ones that is totally uninteresting to outsiders, but represents an important lesson for me.

September 10, 2001 was my very first day as a teacher. Preparing your classroom for the school year, especially your very first year, is one of the most stressful parts of being a teacher. There was so much stress and anxiety and anticipation going into that day, and when nothing went as planned on that first Monday I went home and wilted into a heap of tears. I fell asleep at 7 p.m., not even making it to Ally McBeal. I probably didn't explicitly think the words It cannot possibly be any worse tomorrow, but I think my feelings were somewhere along those lines.

And then the next day ... well, you know what happened the next day.

It got worse.

It was an emotionally exhausting day, week, and year for me, and for our country. How could we go on? What should we do? How could this happen? What would happen next?

In some ways, I think nobody will ever be able to comprehend the magnitude of the horror that happened that day. We can't wrap our heads around it. We don't want to.

And so, we move on. That's the way it should be. It would be strange if, for the rest of America's existence, everybody walked around looking sad like they did during the weeks after the attack.

But, some days we should be sad. We should remember. I should remember the lesson I learned that day; that it could always be worse.

It's a trite lesson. A total cliche. And, quite frankly, it's a lesson that doesn't have much usefulness. My job every single day is to make sure my family and I stay alive for another day. Remembering those less fortunate gives me some perspective when I'm feeling sorry for myself, but it doesn't get Nathan dressed for the day or food in the cat's dish. And when I remember that my problems are dumb and petty compared to the horrible problems of others, that doesn't help me solve my problems. Sometimes it just makes me feel like a self-centered jerk.

But what we can remember in the face of tragedy is to appreciate everything we do have. Again, it's a cliche, but somehow in spite of its triteness it's still hard to count your blessings.

Today, I counted them.

Here is what I did on September 11, 2010:

Today the little monkey and I went to the farmer's market. It has recently become a Saturday tradition for us to go to the farmer's market and the library next door, and to stop at garage sales that we see along the way. I am not naturally a garage sale person. I'm a little grossed out by other people's belongings, and I still can't bring myself to buy their clothes. But lately I have realized that I could spend way less money if I bought things second-hand, so I'm dipping my toe into the resale world. But mostly I go to garage sales for the boy. If you can find a fun toy for a quarter or $2, you can get a lot of bang for your buck in terms of pleasing little kids.

Now, yesterday we happened upon a garage sale where he got a really fun scooter for $1. But today's garage sales were kind of duds. If they don't have toys that they're getting rid of because their kids happened to outgrow them, they usually just have crap they're getting rid of because it's ugly. As in, most of the non-kid items I find at garage sales are hideous things that I would try to sell, too, if I owned them. But then I feel bad if I don't buy something, especially when the sellers are talking to me. So I bought Nathan a 25-cent patriotic bear stuffed animal. (See, for Sept. 11?) This violated two rules of mine: (1) Never buy anything with a soft, germ-absorbing surface from a garage sale, and (2) Do not seek to actively acquire more stuffed animals for the child. But, since the bear still had the tag on it and was being sold by elderly people (thus making it less likely to have been drooled on by a child), and since my kid was over-the-moon excited to be getting such an item, I said yes.

At the farmer's market, we spent $20. I did not come home with a single item of produce. Instead we bought expensive aged cheddar and smoked string cheese, a big fat cookie with M&Ms in it, a long baguette of pretzel bread, and a bag of kettle corn.

We went to the library and signed the boy up for story hour. And then I bought him another book from the library book sale. It was a crappy book that he just bought for the sake of buying something, but, again, if all it costs is a quarter to make the kid happy, I'll take it. (Of course, given that he doesn't really understand the value of money, he'll probably still end up all spoiled.)

I showed Nathan some books from a library display on Sept. 11. I explained that on this day some terrible people did some terrible things, and many people died. He saw a book about how dogs helped in the rescue efforts. He asked if the dogs killed the bad guys. Clearly he didn't totally get it. But then, who does?

After the library (oh, and another dud yard sale), we went home and got Bill, and we all went to a local fair. I collected a bunch of free tote bags, and Nathan got a fish tattoo. The rides were free, so he did a bouncy castle and the horrible spinning strawberries. (The latter really only being horrible for me, because I get dizzy easily.) We ate more junk food.

Those were the parts of my day that were the blessings I counted. And I really thought, as I was going through these activities, that I was really enjoying simple activities with my family. I thought about how lucky I was to have such a wonderful family.

When we got home, that wonderful family and I cleaned the house. You have to work really hard to count your blessings while cleaning. I mean, yes, the fact that you have a house and so many, many belongings to pick up are, in fact, blessings. But come on, who am I, Ned Flanders?

But I am truly grateful for what I have. And, just for today, I take a moment to remember those who were lost on this day 9 years ago.

Here's a picture from today. It reminds me both of who we lost and of what I have to be grateful for:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mom Blog Stock Topic #851: Work-Life "Balance"

(To be found between Mom Blog Stock Topic #850: How can I lose the baby weight? and Mom Blog Stock Topic #852: I think that guy at the park was a pedophile.)

Sometimes when a bunch of thoughts are swirling around in my head, I turn to my blog to sort things out. I know, I should really take a walk, which would help me lose the baby weight, but on the other hand that guy there is probably a pedophile.

Anyway, hello, blog. This morning I had a phone interview for a job. I was really shocked that some random click of an "apply" button on CareerBuilder actually resulted in an interview. And it was with an educational publishing company (good) that is only 15 minutes from my house (good).

So, the phone interview was at 9:30. I had to drop off Nathan at 9, which was anxiety-producing enough because please oh please oh please let him get a good report from preschool.

The problem with the interview was that I had applied for this job at a company that is within my field of experience/expertise, except the actual position was maybe not in an area that I know or care about. (Basically it would be editing trade and technical textbooks, like info on welding or automotive repair.) And also it was full-time, and I don't want to work full-time. So I applied for this job maybe to just get my foot in the door (or, you know, near the door) with the company, not specifically to get a job editing welding manuals. Which meant I had to go into the interview with the following questions:

(1) Don't you have anything else I can do there?
(2) Don't you have something with fewer work hours?

I know, I am just a dream candidate.

Anyway, I have sort of always been brought up to take the attitude that you should be willing to take whatever work comes your way, especially if it's in a field/company you want to stay in. So, it was sort of against my nature to come into the interview and make a bunch of demands. I once heard that a way to boost your confidence in an interview is to look at it like you're interviewing them. Like, I am awesome, and I'm just going to find out if I'll be willing to grace you with my presence. Except in my general, low self-confidence life, it's more like, I am barely competent, and thanks for not letting the door close in my face.

Whatever. Back to the two above questions. Basically after the brief rundown on the company and job, I asked the two questions and got the wrong answer (no) to both.

And the call was over.

Now, really, I'm back to exactly where I was before. Unemployed. And really it's not like we're going to go broke if I don't work. So, I shouldn't be upset. But having to ask those two questions was a big sticking my neck out for me, and getting rejected takes a little bit out of you.

The funny thing, and here's where the work-life balance issue comes in, is that I don't really know if I would have wanted to work again. I mean, yes, this company is in my field, nice and small, and very local. And given the right subject matter (like, hello, they publish culinary school textbooks) and a part-time position, I would have been dumb not to have pounced on it. Although at this point that's like saying I really would eat more broccoli if it tasted like candy, cost nothing, and was prepared by somebody else.

Anyway. I didn't get the job and I'm sad, but I don't know if I wanted it anyway. I know when I worked full-time at a job that was downtown (thus necessitating a 45-minute train commute each way), I was way unbalanced. For better or for worse, I am the one primarily in charge of childcare and household chores/food preparation in my house. And that goes whether I work full-time, part-time, or not at all. So any employment I got would have to be juggled with those other duties. (Except if I earned enough, I would hire a cleaning service.) In that sense, I don't want to work.

But also, I feel like I need to get out a little. Nathan no longer naps, and having to be with him for so many hours a day, just the two of us, is getting so hard. Each day feels like a marathon. It might do me some good to have a break from him.

But of course, that's on a good day. A day where it's all "let me just juggle all the responsibilities of life in a way that makes me feel fulfilled in all areas of my life, like I'm freakin' on the cover of Working Mother magazine." That does not include the days where my kid is sick and can't go to preschool, but he has to because Mommy has a conference call and I don't need a bunch of yelling in the background. Or the days when I'm up half the night getting kicked by a toddler in my bed, and I have to appear competent and professional. Or husband is out of town and can't pick Nathan up. Or, or, or ...

I don't have the answer. And now I have to go pick up my kid and hope he gets a good report from preschool, because currently he is my only job and my entire sense of self-worth is based on his preschool behavior reports.

And I'm kind of thinking it would have done me some good to learn about automotive repair. Because my car is falling apart. Except if I had that job, I could afford to buy a new one. Ahh, the irony.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The First Day of Preschool

Remember yesterday how I was all philosophical about embracing changes in my life? With all that "everything has a season" crap?

That was before today when I had to SAY GOODBYE to my BABY at the front of a drop-off line in a hallway and send him into his preschool classroom all by himself.

This baby:

is in preschool:

I woke up with a feeling of exhaustion and dread. Even though nothing is really all that different, there's just something about the day after Labor Day that makes you feel like a big heap of responsibility has been dropped back on the world.

I decided to devote 7-8 a.m. to getting myself ready, and then 8-9 a.m. on Nathan. I forced him out of bed. I made him eat half a cereal bar. He got dressed, not in the new shirt I bought him because you are supposed to wear a new shirt on the first day of school, but in a dinosaur t-shirt he insisted on wearing. That's not how it works! screamed my inner need to compartmentalize. That's a summer shirt! This is fall! Fall shirt! School shirt!

But, you know, whatever.

The back-to-school photo shoot was not awesome. As a mom, all I cared about was getting a back-to-school photo. The iconic photo in front of the front door, with the backpack and the forced smile. The one I will post on Facebook and e-mail to the grandparents today, and then put in his rehearsal dinner slideshow someday when he gets married.

But of course he was too excited. So we got shots like this:

and this:

and then this:
That last photo? That one's in THE HALL. The hall where you say goodbye. We waited in that hall, the one outside the classrooms, with the 3-year-olds on one side and the 4-year-olds on another. We waited ten or so minutes, because of course on the first day of school everyone is early.

The line started to move. At orientation the teacher told us that she wanted everyone to say goodbye out in the hall, and then the kids should walk into the room on their own.

As a teacher, I understand this policy. Physically there just isn't enough room to have a bunch of adults crowding the doorway. And it's a good idea to dismiss all those emotional, clingy parents before school starts, so you don't have a situation where they're unsure of when to leave. That's distracting for all involved parties.

And besides, I wasn't going to be one of those parents who couldn't let go.

Except, the line in the hallway started moving. Soon Nathan and I would be on deck to say goodbye. And there was something about the time-sensitive nature of it all, the fact that there was a deadline to say goodbye to your child, that began to stab me in the chest. I felt like I did when my parents dropped me off at college. We got my dorm room set up and my bed lofted, took a quick tour of the town, bought my textbooks, and then there was nothing left to do but say goodbye. I walked my parents down to their car, and I could just feel it coming. The anticipation of the goodbye was probably worse than the actual moment.

Same thing with all the times I had to say goodbye to Bill when he was in law school in Chicago and I still lived in Los Angeles. You'd get off the freeway for the airport. This was it. It's a quick drop-off at the curb, and the TSA isn't concerned about your emotional goodbyes. Move this car, lady! Get on with it.

Anyway, back to preschool. I did the quick kiss and drop off. And on the way home I cried. It was all too much.

Once at home, I sat for a minute and heard myself think. Then I spent an entire hour putting away laundry, something I hadn't done in at least 2 months. Why, why, why, do I let it get to this point?

When I went to pick Nathan up, I couldn't wait to see him. It was a near-perfect fall day, breezy and sunny, and I thought, This is one of those little moments in parenting that just feels so wonderfully rewarding. I pictured myself walking back to the car with him, hand in hand as I carried his backpack and listened to him chatter about his first day of school.

And then I found myself at the front of the line in the hallway again, and the teacher told me this:

We're still working on getting him to sit down and do his work, like we had trouble with in the summer at camp.

Umm, hello. We're in the big leagues now.

My eyes stung with tears. He isn't perfect! What I wanted to do was yell and scream and rake him across the coals right there in the parking lot, but I knew this was one of those moments when you need to tread lightly. I asked him some questions about school, told him I was proud of him, and then went into the speech about how you have to do things you don't like sometimes.

On the trip home he was completely beside himself. He was hungry! He was thirsty! He needed his blanket RIGHT NOW! I realized that he was completely overwhelmed. I imagined how hard it was for his irrational three-year-old brain to take in this situation where suddenly his mom was dropping him off in some new place where he was expected to conform to The System.

After he got some food and drink into him, I sat him down on my lap to have A Talk. More I'm proud of you. More I know preschool is scary. More for crying out loud please do your work when the teacher tells you to.

I had mentioned the preschool report in my Facebook status, and since that's what passes for marital communication these days, my husband called when he read my status. And then he and Nathan had another Talk.

And then it was quiet time and I did a lot of taking it personally. Have I not been harsh enough in his discipline? Did I pick the wrong preschool? Why was I so harsh to all the parents whose students I taught all these years? Was it because I had no sympathy for the parents of problem students that I was destined to become one?

I know, I know. Overthink much?

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that this is a transition for us all. I guess I didn't realize what a Big Deal it was to start preschool. I feel like I did on every first day of school that I was a student or a teacher: I made it through the first day, but how can I do this again the next day?

I guess my spirits are a little bit crushed to have gotten a "bad" report on the first day, but ultimately I am glad the teacher was so communicative with me from the start, so we can hopefully nip this in the bud right off the bat. (Let me use a few more dumb sayings there.) And I think maybe she didn't sugar-coat it with me because I already know her from my running class at the gym. (Hey, let's bring up all my past failures!)

Plus, I need to remember that the point of school is to learn, not to demonstrate how perfect you are already.

And as much as I beat myself up as a parent today, I am giving myself credit for being a parent who takes education seriously.

It's been a tough day for us all.

Monday, September 6, 2010

To everything there is a season

I forgot to mention back in August that it was my Chicago-versary. It was six years ago that Bill and I, and our then-tiny cat, packed up our Toyota Corolla and headed across this great land of ours (Nebraska excepted) to start a new life in the Midwest.

Four days, one speeding ticket (mine), and countless moon pies later, we arrived in Chicago and eventually found a home in the south suburbs.

Six years, one child, and many cat-pounds (and, if I'm being honest, human-pounds) after that, I can't imagine calling anywhere else home.

Now, when people evaluate life in Chicago, they immediately mention the caveat of the weather. As in, "I love it here! Except for the weather, of course."

And it's true. There's some sucky weather here. The winter lasts way too long, and the summer is humid. Between bitter cold, uncomfortable humidity, and torrential rain, there are about ten days a year that are pleasant to be outdoors in Chicago.

But, underneath it all, there are some good things about Chicago weather. One, it gives us something to talk about. What would we talk about if not for the weather?

But also, I find a certain comfort in the changing of the seasons. As one season ends, you look forward to the beginning of the next. And then when that seasons ends, you look forward to the beginning of the one after that. And so on.

Back in May I was chomping at the bit for summer. And in June, we embraced summer activities. We went to the beach:

We swam in the pool:
And, as summer wore on, we packed in all kinds of other summer activities: waterparks, summer camp, swimming lessons, and playgrounds. We entertained out-of-town guests at our various Chicago-based tourist attractions. There were more camps, more outdoor enrichment activities, and more trips to the pool. So many bottles of sunscreen. So many towels in the laundry. So much fun.

But now, it is time for summer to end. And as eagerly as I anticipated the beginning of summer, I find myself happy to say goodbye to summer and welcome fall. So happy that we've already packed in some fall-based activities in the four days since the autumnal weather began.

We went on a nature hike:

We went apple-picking:

I bought Nathan some new jeans, and brought mine out of the closet (and, thankfully, they fit). I made chili. I put out a scarecrow.

And, tomorrow, my sweet baby will start preschool.

In my mind, I know that it's not a big deal. It's just a two-mornings-a-week preschool. It's not like I'm shipping him off to college.

But still. But still.

It is a new season. We will be in a routine. Back to the grind. School.

There will be a schedule. I love schedules. I love getting back into it. I will rally to be more disciplined in my eating, my exercising, my cleaning, my life.

And perhaps, I will start a new chapter in my life. Find new work. The new season reminds us that there are always new opportunities.

To everything there is a season.