Monday, September 26, 2011

I'm No Cleopatra

"Seneca observed, mothers are never afraid for themselves, only for their children."

I am a single working mother once again. Dh went out of town last week, flying cross country on a red eye flight in the middle of the night. Like his previous trip to Kansas, there had been little warning. A casual, "I have to fly to Florida this Wednesday" and he was gone, once again leaving me to struggle with last minute childcare arrangements and a calendar full of family style events to which I would now be escorting our almost 5 year old twins by myself. Never mind that my work schedule and our social agenda had been planned for several months. I had to flip the mental switch in my mind from the reassured vantage of tag team parenting to the more scary single mom perspective of survival mode parenting. And, being the helicopter parent that I am, I kicked my worrying into high gear. Our expectations were abruptly disrupted as my husband's very noticeable absence impacted everything from bedtime routines to preschool drop offs. Would we get to bed early enough? Would we get to school on time? Would I get to work on time? Some of my worst fears have indeed come true. Night after night my mischievous twins have taken advantage of my single working mother's guilt; they have insinuated themselves back into our "family bed" and pushed back their bedtimes later and later. Every morning, my repetitive mantra of "Hustle, hustle, hustle!" as I shuttle them out the door hardly reflects the type of quality time I want to spend with them. Most worrisome to me, however, is that my son has started having pee pee accidents in his pants almost every day since my husband has left. I have no doubt that this is a direct result of dh's absence.

I want to complain. A LOT. I really do. But as I wrote earlier, the ship of self-pity has already sailed. (See "Man Up, Mom!") Furthermore, when I look around for sympathetic shoulders to cry on, I find that most of my closest friends have already been living lives of single moms as those of us who live in northern California pay a dear price to enjoy our beautiful California sun and lifestyle -- we have sacrificed our husbands on the high technology altars of Silicon Valley. My friends have fireman husbands who regularly spend 48-72 hours away from home on a weekly basis, husbands who travel to China or India or Germany for a week or two each month, or, most commonly, husbands who work right here in Silicon Valley from 7 am until midnight every day and are too tired to participate in parenting for the few hours that they are awake at home.

So I have kept the proverbial stiff upper lip, put my best face forward, and kept every appointment and engagement on our calendar. I am marching along like, well, every other single parent before me. We've had play dates, lessons, birthday parties, BBQ's, and impromptu dinners with friends. Despite a couple of interrupted late nights (my son's nightmare during one night and my daughter's ear ache during another) we have not missed a single day of school. And though I have not complained, per se, my friends all know that I am alone these days and they have been wonderfully sympathetic without being indulgent, which is exactly what I need. We've hung out at each other's houses for hours chatting about our kids just as if my husband were here. I've shifted my grocery shopping and subsequent cooking to a more organic menu with more fruits and vegetables. I've stocked up on art supplies and taken great pride and pleasure in watching my children's portfolios grow. The pinnacle for me has been watching my daughter draw picture after picture of the three of us together, me and the children, all with smiles on our faces and butterflies and flowers surrounding us. 

The last time my husband left town, I was reduced to tears after the first week of single parenting. This time, smarter and tougher, I am determined not to let my fear defeat me. Like Cleopatra, the quintessential working mother of twins (and then some), I plan, maneuver, conspire with my allies, and subvert my enemies (okay, I don't really HAVE enemies, but if I did I'd subvert them!). True, I don't have the fate of an ancient civilization resting on my shoulders. But then I also don't have the extensive childcare resources and opulence that she did. And, honestly, I prefer it this way. I can't imagine exchanging the smiles and songs and gentle touches of my children for anything in the world, even the power and privilege of ruling over an empire like Alexandria or Rome. As history will be the ultimate judge, I am predicting that my ending will be somewhat less steeped in misery than hers. Undoubtedly, Cleopatra has left her indelible mark on the world for perpetuity. I am certainly no Cleopatra! But then she is no me.

In Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff digs into the history books to share with us who the true Cleopatra was. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Cleopatra: A Life on book club day, September 27th at From Left to Write.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I love memoirs and autobiographies. I guess it's because I have always been a "people person." I believe that everybody, from the famous to the obscure, has a story to tell. I have yet to meet someone whose life completely bores me to death. And memoirs are an amazing vehicle. They provide voyeuristic insights into the thoughts and personalities of some of the most interesting people. They are the Cliff Notes of someone's life, cutting through the mundane day-to-day activities and distilling down to the meaning of someone's life. It is reality editing at its best.

From the more serious, such as Long Walk to Freedom and Open, to the more light-hearted, such as Bitter is the New Black and Bossypants, I find these life reflections educational, inspiring, and entertaining. At various points, I can usually relate to some feeling or perspective that the author has written about, though I am not the president of South Africa, a professional athlete, a sharp-witted acerbic published author, or a television and movie star. I suspect the success of these writings depends on the ability of the general public to relate to them as well on some level.

I turned 45 the other day. It was around this time that I started reading my latest memoir "In Stitches" by Anthony Youn. I could say that it was because it was my birthday and I was in a reflective mood that I found this memoir more poignant than most. However, this particular memoir is about an American individual born of Korean immigrant parents who grows up in a Caucasian small town and goes on to become a doctor. Did I mention that my parents were Korean immigrants, that I grew up in a Caucasian small town, and that I'm a doctor? Even his parents' background story, poor farm boy meets beautiful daughter of an educator, is the same. Yep -- my father grew up on a farm, my mother grew up in Seoul, and my grandmother was a teacher. I can't decide if the similarities between our lives are uncanny or cliched. Either way, it was a bit unnerving. 

As a start to my lazy birthday morning, I rolled over and picked up the book from my nightstand, reading where I left off from the night before: Tony begins medical school. As I read about his first days of school, I did something I very rarely do these days. I began remembering. Especially since my children were born almost 5 years ago, reminiscing has taken the farthest of back seats in my mind. There are meals to make, parties and play dates to schedule, classes and lessons to attend, and many happy new memories to create with my beautiful children. Looking back at my life experiences is not a big priority these days. Honestly, I just don't have the mindshare for it.

But on this particular day, Dr. Youn's memoir with its uncanny parallels of my own life's course was too overwhelming to ignore. Despite myself, I started remembering my past. Like young Tony, I remembered the anxieties and insecurities of my early medical career, glossed over all too often by embarrassing bouts of false bravado and drunken debauchery performed by both myself and my fellow neurotic classmates. There were the obvious kiss-ass students whom Tony refers to as "gunners" in his book; we called them "squids". I remember the intense studying and test-taking stress especially surrounding the first part of the National Boards. It was a grueling examination, just as Tony describes in his book. Every few years a medical student committed suicide at my school; during my tenure, it was a guy who stabbed himself multiple times. He was a year ahead of us so none of us knew him but there was rampant fevered speculation amongst my classmates regarding the gory details.

My worst night of call as a medical student was during an obstetrics rotation:  four women delivered at the same time in the middle of the night, one C-section and the others by vaginal delivery. With the delivery rooms and the O.R. occupied, one of the women almost delivered in the hallway. At the end of the ordeal, after the entire call team threw each other high-fives and pats on the back for jobs well done, I waited until everyone left. Then I collapsed at the nurse's station and sobbed. There were outlandish encounters with supposed mentors and teachers; on one psychiatry rotation, the attending physician tried to get me to seduce my fellow classmate in a mandated episode of role playing, apparently for his own entertainment. We tossed around the requisite acronyms; terms and phrases like GOMER, AMFYOYO, the "O" sign, and the "Q" sign were bandied about even amongst those of us who had NOT read "House of God" (present company included). As medical students we were routinely treated with contempt, usually with a pointed look of disgust accompanied with the directed comment, "You know what they say -- shit rolls downhill." And we were at the bottom of that hill.

But we also developed a camaraderie amongst ourselves akin to sharing a foxhole in hostile territory, something to which Dr. Youn also refers in his book. Despite our instinctively competitive natures, we helped each other make it through the hard times, studying hard and partying harder. We coped the best way we knew how.

Fast forward about fifteen years. I thought that when I had my children, they would be a hiccup in my career, a small insignificant speed bump that would have little-to-no effect on my medical career and ambitions.

I was wrong.

Now there are very few, if any, who would use the word "doctor" or "physician" to describe me at first glance. Little wonder. Most days I schlepp around in whatever feels most comfortable and won't impede my rapid response requirements for my demanding little progeny. Hungry? Let me whip up some mac 'n cheese. Bored? Let me rummage through the art box for some sidewalk chalk. Which book did you want me to read? Which stuffed animal is lost? You need a change of underwear/socks/shirt/entire outfit? No problem. Most days I feel like a perpetual motion machine. Mind you, it's not all bad but it's also not all good either. My first and foremost title is "mommy." I know this and I am comfortable with the shift in roles. It didn't happen overnight but then my children are almost five years old. I've had time to get used to it. I still work part-time but on such a diminished schedule that it is clear my primary identity is as a mother to my adorable, frustrating, strong-minded, sweet, infuriatingly independent boy/girl twins. The "doctor" part of me takes a back seat -- waaay in the back. 

I don't regret my choices, although I certainly didn't foresee them fifteen years ago when I was sweating through my first medical school lecture. If you had told me then that my medical career would fall so low on the priority ladder of my life, I would have laughed. A maniacal hysterical sleep-deprived delirious laugh. I would like to thank Dr. Youn for reminding me of who I was and for the elucidating and entertaining trip down memory lane.

This post was inspired by "In Stitches." I received a complimentary copy  as a member of the online book club From Left to Write. All opinions expressed are my own. You can read other posts inspired by "In Stitches" at From Left to Write on book club day Tuesday August 9th.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Constantly Camping

Like all children of type A personality helicopter parents, despite the best of intentions my children's "lazy summer days" have been replaced with a crowded schedule of activities ranging from summer camps to swim lessons to sports classes to play dates. I would complain more but since this is a self-inflicted burden, I really don't have much leeway. And in all fairness, my children are happily engaged and genuinely excited at each and every event so really the wear and tear of our hectic schedule seems to be born by yours truly alone. 

While the logical decision would be to reduce the number of activities to which we are committed, logic is no match for my compulsiveness. So, instead, I have streamlined our time management whenever and wherever I can.

Therefore, we moved into our minivan.

While it is true that we sleep in our beds under the roof of our home every night, once our day begins we essentially live out of our family car. At first, there was the occasional breakfast on the run, you know, a bagel with cream cheese wrapped in a paper towel because we were running late to my son's soccer class. Quickly I figured out that bringing a lunch bag of snacks would appease my daughter during her brother's soccer class and my son during his sister's subsequent gymnastics class. It wasn't long before breakfast and snacks in the car segued to breakfast and lunch in the car as our shifting schedule occasionally precluded a prolonged lunch hour between morning summer camp and afternoon swim lessons. And, of course, there were the requisite outfit changes from jeans and jackets as we headed out the door bright and early to shorts and short sleeved shirts in the heat of the midday to swimwear including all the associated water toys for the late afternoon and then the subsequent change to clean clothes for the evening after the chlorine of the pool had been rinsed off. Soon, not only was I packing breakfast, snacks, and lunch for both children, I was also packing three sets of clothes and separate Saltwater Canvas Bags for chlorinated pool days and sandy beach days with different toys and bathing suits for each venue. Plus a big beach blanket.

Hmm. The minivan was starting to seem pretty full. Kind of like we were going on a never-ending camping trip.

Finally the other day I came to a dawning realization. I dropped the kids off at science camp in the morning, headed to a short hike with some friends, returned to camp with popsicles in hand (which I had preserved with multiple ice packs in the back of the car), headed to gymnastics with a packed lunch (also pre-staged in the back of the car), changed the kids at The Little Gym, then followed up with an after class park play date with another change of clothes, more snacks to share, and even a story time book "The Costume Trunk" that I had added to my growing vehicular inventory -- all without crossing the threshold of our house following the start of our day. It was day camping at its finest.

As I pulled out the water bottles and sunscreen and snacks and book, I realized that I was indeed constantly camping with every essential item I needed readily available in my car. I was a nomadic wanderer with a night time home. Just as the humor of my situation struck me, all of the children on our play date gathered on the blanket under the shade of the elm tree. There was the slightest of breezes gently ruffling the stray hairs framing the faces of the expectant four year old faces before me. One of the moms, with an amused smile, picked up the book and started to read, holding the colorful pages before her for all to see. She started reading "The Costume Trunk" in a gentle but animated voice. As I watched all six children (and even the baby) mesmerized by the vibrant pictures and happily munching on Pirate's Booty and Fig Newtons, I felt a rare moment of satisfaction. No one was whining, the weather was picture perfect, and the children were content. 

I have since lightened up our summertime schedule. We are spending more time at home, puttering around the house, sleeping in, and padding around in our pajamas until late morning. If my hyped up parenting seizes control of the schedule once again, I really don't mind moving back into the minivan for a while. There is something to be said for being prepared for good times, both scheduled and unforeseen. In my brief parenting experience, special moments are mostly unpredictable and I feel blessed when I get to witness them unexpectedly. For now, though, we will be eating our meals and reading our books on the couch at home.

This post was inspired by "The Costume Trunk." I received a complimentary copy  as a member of the online book club From Left to Write. All opinions expressed are my own. You can read other posts inspired by "The Costume Trunk" at From Left to Write on book club day Thursday July 28th.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Going Nowhere -- and Loving It!

A little while ago my husband and I were sitting at a red light, stuck in downtown traffic, and I read the following bumper sticker in front of us: My Life is Better Than Your Vacation. It was plastered next to one of those stick figure decals in the rear window of a very large minivan. There they were: stick Daddy, stick Mommy, stick Sister, stick Brother, stick Baby, and even stick Dog, next to their smug self-proclaimed affirmation of a perfectly happy harmonious (stick) family. My husband snorted in disgust, “That’s obnoxious!”

Is it really? Now, several months later, I find myself faced with the prospect of a travel-less summer. We have no plans to stay away from the comforts of our home other than the occasional night or two of camping nearby. After seven months of regular trips out of town, mostly for my work, I am very much looking forward to spending as much time as possible back at home, in the same house with my ENTIRE family, falling into a regular routine and rhythm that had previously been disrupted so frequently before. I am very much looking forward to my “plain old” life. I hear my SAHM friends complain but I still can’t help envying the repetitive reliable cadence of their days. Breakfast, park, lunch, play dates, groceries, dinner, baths, then bed. Sometimes there are morning work outs, sometimes there are music classes, and sometimes there are day long trips to the beach or the aquarium. There are variations and changes and last minute plans and cancellations but the underlying tempo of their households beats steadily without fail, and their families know it. I am counting down the days until I can get my own daily rhythm back.

That being said, however, I still travel extensively -- in my mind. Since my children have not yet turned 5 and since our household budget is tight (hence, the multiple out of town work assignments), actual travel, i.e., a real vacation away from home, is not feasible. And I am a sucker for the ploys of email marketing. Disney, Tahiti, Hawai’i -- they all beckon me, taunting me from the comfort of my electronic inbox, with big blue letters screaming, “Special Deal!” and “Limited Offer!” and my personal favorite “You have been chosen for this Exceptional Vacation Package!” So I surf the Internet and I dream of tropical turquoise blue waters, squeals of delight meeting a life-sized Mickey Mouse, and breezy summer nights in remote locations. And while I’m fantasizing, my children are appropriately thrilled/grateful/enthralled by our fantasy vacation -- again, all in my mind.

Because the reality of my fantasy is this: unless you have a personal nanny who travels with you, traveling with young children is a lot of work and, quite honestly, not that much of a vacation for me. There's the packing, the planning, the back up planning, and, oh heavens, the whining which is almost non-stop between the children and the exasperated grown ups! I read about these exotic vacations where the authors journey to exotic locations ferreting out the non-touristy secret places that are so fascinating to homebodies like myself. They write about adventure, unusual customs, stunning vistas, even dangerous passages and near death encounters. In short, they write of a life I would have yearned for before my children were born.

These days, though, I find that my children are adventure enough for me. The old adage about seeing the world anew through your child's eyes really does ring true. My almost 5 year old twins don't need a trip to French Polynesia to be captivated by their surroundings. Heck, they find a minivan with automatic doors just as fascinating. Seriously, I can let my kids crawl around inside our minivan while it is still parked in our driveway and they will spend the next hour inventing games, pretend driving, and digging for buried treasure. And I can't count the number of times that a couple of flashlights in the hallway closet was all they needed to make their imaginary cave expedition complete. As for me and my "expeditions", I find that there is nothing more amazing and engaging than participating in the growth and development of a human being, from embryo to adult. Stunning beauty? I see it every day through a mother's love in my babies' constantly changing faces. Unusual customs? They make their own rules as they go along; cracks in the sidewalk become rivers of fire we have to hop over and after bath rituals include naked marches in the living room chanting, "New world kids! New world kids!" As for danger, I am so often amazed and bewildered by the ability of my child's tantrum to elicit such a powerful fight-or-flight response in me. I would have to concede that my most frustrated moments are indeed quite dangerous, if only for the sake of my emotional sanity! In the blink of an eye, my children are changing, morphing, adapting, then changing again. Just when I think I have them figured out, they move deeper and deeper into unchartered waters of parenthood leaving me flailing and struggling to keep up. And as they change, I change too. They reveal parts of me I don't like and parts of me that I didn't know existed. I had no idea I was such an awful and wonderful person until my children were born. There is no place on earth that challenges me more than my child's heart.

I will probably never climb to the volcanic rim of Mt. Yasur or swim with the dolphins in the South Pacific Ocean. I doubt I will ever visit Fiji or Tonga. I still enjoy reading about the experiences of other travelers the way I enjoy reading about Internet vacation specials. I still travel to all those places in my imagination. For now, I am perfectly happy, almost in a stick figure kind of way, to keep my REAL adventures at home.

This post was inspired by the book "The Unexpected Circumnavigation" by Christi Grab. I received a complimentary copy as a member of the online book club From Left to Write. All opinions expressed are my own. You can read other members' posts inspired by "The Unexpected Circumnavigation" at From Left to Write on book club day, June 28th.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Man Up, Mom!

I spent most of the month of April mimicking a single working mother. Although my dh had not died, deserted, or divorced me, he did take a permanent full time position in Wichita, KS, over 1600 miles away from our two dogs, our 4 1/2 year old twins, and me. He had received the official offer letter on a Tuesday and three days later he had packed up everything he needed and driven away. He had planned on flying back later in the month to take care of the children while my job called me out of town for a week. Then, when I returned, he would also return to his new home in Kansas. We would be ships passing in the night. Because it was cost prohibitive to visit every weekend, we planned his return trips here only on the weekends when we needed to transition childcare duties, me heading out of town and him heading in. 

It wasn't our first, second, or third choice arrangement. It was our last-ditch-effort choice. But I was burning out. Extra work days during the week and occasionally weekends, daily activities with the kids, school activities, lessons, and my unemployed husband desperately scouring the local job market without success were all taking a toll on me. We presumed that once he secured a stable salary, ANYWHERE, then I could cut back on my work hours and hopefully regain some portion of my lost sanity. Of course in the immediate aftermath of his departure, it was quite the opposite of the relief I so desperately needed (Running on Fumes). 

I didn't cry immediately after he left nor for several days afterwards. I was too overwhelmed by my suddenly single parenthood status. The kitchen sink sprang a leak two days after he left. The dog ran away. The kids decided to clean up all the accumulated dog poop in our backyard from the last month -- using our precious grill cookware. I was suddenly on garbage duty (previously his job), nighttime kitchen clean up (again, his job), and every other task that used to be a shared responsibility, from planning meals and play dates to enforcing regular baths and nightly bedtime routines. Truthfully, I was in shock for those first few days. I was fortunate enough to have wonderfully sympathetic friends, fellow moms who knew all too well how much I depended on dh. They brought me food, invited us to dinner, and watched my kids when my hastily put together childcare plans still couldn't cover my expanding work schedule. Most of all, though, when the tears finally did come, they offered shoulders to cry on and kind words of sympathy as I blubbered over my bad moments. By the second week as a single parent, I cried every day over something, whether it was stressing out over getting to the Easter egg hunt on time, or getting down on my hands and knees yet again because my careless son casually spilled another glass of milk all over the floor, or stripping the pee-stained sheets off my bed when late for school because all three of us had co-slept in it the night before. In the midst of it all, I was vaguely aware that single working mothers do exist in the world and they manage to make it all work without crying every day. But by now, I was wallowing in a pit of self pity out of which I could not seem to get a foothold.

Two weeks after his departure, dh returned while I headed out of town, relieved for the first time to be alone in a nice quiet hotel room where someone else makes the bed and straightens up the room. True, I was still working 40 hours a week but when I came "home" at the end of each day, I had nothing to do except take care of myself. For the public record: "I missed my husband and my children terribly the entire time I was gone!" The truth: It was kind of nice.

The good news is that dh was miserable in Kansas without us. So he recently renewed his efforts to find a local position here and this time he was successful! Hooray! But I am still reeling from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from my brief stint as a single working mother, an experience which I tended to lament quite frequently. In fact just the other day I was relating my tale of woe to another mother at my children's preschool, an acquaintance whom I am slowly getting to know through our brief exchanges when picking the kids up from school. As I unfolded my tragic tale to her, she listened very politely, and then responded with a calm, "Well, yeah, I DO know what you mean." Duh. I had forgotten that she is indeed a single working mother. And unlike me, her husband who passed away last year will most definitely not be returning. I felt a bit foolish when I suddenly remembered her circumstance and the tragedy of her recently departed spouse. In all fairness, the reason I had forgotten about her single parenthood-ness is that, unlike me, she does not wear it on her sleeve. There was no evocation of pity or sympathy for her plight. Neither was it an unpleasant topic to be avoided. She conversationally explained to me how she had been functioning as a single working mom to her two young boys for a while as her husband's health had declined. She conceded that, like me, she had been overwhelmed in the beginning but now she took it all in stride. Hmm. Suddenly my pity pot wasn't so comfortable to sit on any more.

Then this past weekend, we took the kids camping with their preschool. They had a wonderful time running around like wild animals, the grown ups had a wonderful time sipping schnapps by the campfire, and there really wasn't much to complain about. In the wee hours of the night as the fire dwindled, I sat with a couple of moms who happened to be Slavic. As the conversation meandered, one of them, a lovely Ukrainian woman, related to me all that her grandmother had endured, from war to famine to the horrors of an oppressive Soviet regime where the solution to all problems discordant to the state was to shoot first and ask questions later. Like the single widow I had spoken with previously, there was no self-pity or sentimentality in her conversation, just a blunt statement of events and circumstances untinged by pathos. There's nothing like a Ukrainian woman to kick me off my pity pot for good!

And just to make sure the lid of that pot stays firmly nailed shut, I recently read "Good Enough is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood" by Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple. This book is chock-full of examples of working moms who chucked their pity pots out the window a long time ago, including a single mother who is also a top executive at a leading public relations firm. She spends at least one night a week away from her daughter with whom she is very close. While I am typically in the throes of lamentation over leaving my children for my away work assignments, this mom simply says, "This is the job I have, and I have to do it." How very Slavic.

These inspiring mothers deal with the same frustrations and joys of balancing their work lives with their home lives. They just choose to focus less on giving the frustrations center stage and more on enhancing the joys of what they do have. They are problem solvers, entrepreneurs, the proverbial go-getters. There doesn't seem to be a victim among them. They aren't afraid to experiment and they aren't afraid of failure because, as all successful people know, failures are simply opportunities to learn and improve.

I am thrilled that dh is back home with us. With his return, I can feel my blood pressure beginning to return to normal. I have always known his contribution to our family is invaluable which is why I was so upset to lose it even for a short period of time. Thankfully my foray into single parenthood seems to be over but the future is always uncertain, especially in this unfriendly economy. Though I wouldn't choose to do it again, if I had to I now know I can do it. But this time I would leave the self-pity behind.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book to review as a member of From Left to Write. All opinions expressed are my own. You can read other members' posts inspired by Good Enough is the New Perfect at From Left to Write on book club day, May 10th.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Running on Fumes

When my boy/girl twins were born, I experienced the same mixture of joy, dread, and anticipation that most other women feel when they realize, for the first time, that they are actual mothers with all the weight of responsibility that the title entails. Just as I was forewarned, the first year was a blur. "Baby brain" made me forget almost everything besides my name. And despite following the admonishments to "sleep when the babies sleep", I could not shake the fatigue that seems to have permanently lodged deep within my bones.

A bevy of well-intentioned mothers encouraged me over and over telling me, "Don't worry, it gets better as they get older." Of this population, there was a subset who egged me on with, "Wait until they are walking; it will get much easier then." My mother was quick to correct this piece of misinformation. I regretfully concur with my pessimistic but sadly correct mother. Once my children could walk, they could suddenly run -- away from me and in opposite directions. It wasn't any easier than carrying and breast feeding them in tandem and now my fears of injury weren't based simply on insecurities about my own abilities; I now had a whole wide world of uncontrollable variables into which my stumbling toddlers many MANY times waddled headlong into.

Once they had learned to follow instruction (somewhat) and they had finally developed sturdy "sea legs" (the kind that don't cause me anxiety watching them climb down a steep uneven bank into a rocky stream unassisted), then I started to see the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel." They began to play more harmoniously together. I heard less crying and screaming and more conspiratorial giggling and secret conversations. They started spending hours (okay, maybe ONE hour) together in a bedroom playing make believe, constructing fantastical stories of imagination that would make J.K. Rowling proud. Their physical coordination rapidly developed and I no longer had to hover over each of them fearful of unintentional physical mishaps. (Intentional mishaps were another issue altogether, as in, "Mommy! He hit me on the head!" or "Mommy! She pushed me!") There were still bumps and bruises and, my all-time favorite, when my son somehow broke his nose on the play structure at preschool, an event that was oddly unwitnessed by ANYONE. Still, they could pee in the toilet, dress themselves (with cajoling), and eat unassisted (when motivated). I thought I had finally entered the penumbra of the sweet spot in parenting. They were still young and adorable yet I was no longer their only hope for survival in this world.

And then my husband left me.

We had been struggling along financially for a while so when the opportunity came for me to increase my work days and since the children's dependence on me was rapidly dwindling, it seemed like a viable option. My unemployed husband was frustrated by an unfriendly job market and expressed his willingness to be a SAHD until he could find suitable employment. Unfortunately, the nature of MY profession follows the motto "In for a penny, in for a pound." My work hours steadily increased as my husband's job prospects became more and more grim. Just as I was coming out from under the fatigue and pressure of "perfectly parenting" (HA!) my young helpless progeny and grooming them into self sufficiency and resilience, I shouldered an equally heavy burden of a stressful job and maternal guilt as I watched my children shift their previous "Mommy" loyalties to my husband. It seems I couldn't win for trying.

Then, lo and behold, my husband DID finally get a job. In Wichita, Kansas. He received the official offer on a Tuesday. By Friday, he had packed up his essentials into our SUV and he was gone. I was suddenly faced with an unchangeable work schedule (under contract until July), new childcare challenges, and all the tasks of household management that are more easily handled with two people rather than one. This ranges from who does the dishes at the end of a meal (me), who makes the meals (me), who shuttles the kids to activities (me), who takes out the garbage (me), who does the laundry (me), who bathes the kids and fights the good fight at bedtime (me) ... You get the picture. While my husband is languishing in a temporary residence 1600 miles away from us wishing we were with him, it is difficult for me to muster up an ounce of sympathy. That would require my exhausted brain to actually form a coherent thought.

There is only so long a person can endure repetitive stress and extreme fatigue. I believe this is why one of the most effective methods of interrogating prisoners of war is sleep deprivation. I was burning out. I vaguely recall an old Bill Cosby skit that I had once heard. It is a hilarious monologue about his father's car. In his typical exaggerated self deprecating manner, he describes how one day his father came to him very irate because he (Bill Jr.) had used his (Bill Sr.'s) car the night before and then returned it with an empty gas tank. Bill Sr. sticks his son's nose by the open gas tank and asks him to smell for fumes. That's pretty much how I feel. My gas tank is empty. I've been running on fumes. Most days I am in survival mode, mechanically shuffling from one task to another. I would probably notice how stiff my back and neck are from the constant pressure except my entire body aches all the time. My back and my neck are a drop in a sea of pain. And my mind feels like it is constantly swaddled in cotton; my life is a fog right now, the proverbial "new baby blur" -- only my children are not new babies. They are four and a half years old. It is a cruel twist of fate that has landed me here, just as worn out and overwhelmed as when my children were first born. There is a horrible resentment brewing inside me somewhere I am sure; I am just too tired to find it.

In a fit of nostalgia and curiosity I searched for the old Bill Cosby skit on YouTube. I had not heard it since I was a teenager. Here's the funny thing: I had remembered it wrong. When Bill Sr. sticks Bill Jr.'s nose by the open gas tank and asks him what he smells, it isn't fumes. He smells nothing, NOT EVEN fumes.

Considering what I've been going through, yeah, that feels about right.

This is an original post to Year of 4s.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What would YOU do for love?

It's the cheesy kind of question I would never have posed to myself 4 1/2 years ago. Back then, I had nothing to prove. No aspect of my love for my darling husband was ever in question. We courted, argued, broke up, reconciled, and eventually married almost 8 years ago, all against the wishes of friends and family. In marriage, our relationship flourished and we effortlessly proved wrong all our past nay-sayers. It is no exaggeration when I declare my husband to be my best friend and confidante, the only man I desire at my lowest points and all the other points in between. While our marriage is far from perfect and we still quarrel, I know that he is the yin to my yang.

And then my boy/girl twins were born.

Like most (hopefully all) mothers, my love for them grows exponentially every day. I find that all the old cliché's are true. As one new mother declared to me, I never knew I could love someone as much as I love my children. All at once the daunting power of unconditional love has been wielded before me, reflected in the wide-eyed innocence of my son and daughter. I devote my time, attention, and affection to making them happy, keeping them safe, and staying connected to them any way that I can. In short, I adore them.

The problem is, this doesn't leave much time, attention, or affection left over for my beloved spouse. When my children were babies, the allocation of my limited resources of energy was clear. I had helpless infants to care for; my fully grown husband was fully capable of taking care of his own needs. But somewhere along the line, what had originally been a necessity became a habit. My children are now on the threshold of elementary school. They are not the vulnerable infants they once were yet I still cater to their every need at the expense of my patiently enduring husband.

Surely he must wonder what happened to his beloved bride. Where did our loving terms of endearment, tender moments, and sensual glances go? More importantly, are they gone forever?

I had a long day at work today. As I wearily walked through the front door, I was instantly bombarded by clamoring children. I love them, I adore them, and I wish so much that I had more of me to give them than the withered human spirit that I am reduced to at the end of an exhausting day at the office. Sometimes, MANY times actually, I wonder if it is even possible that I am still the same girl my husband fell in love with 11 years ago. And then I looked up and there he was, apron wrapped about him, my favorite Korean beef marinating between us. The slices were so thin that when he finally went to grill them outside, he had to pick up the delicate morsels with his bare hands. With his eyes burning from the smoke, he bravely forged through 3 full pounds of the succulent meat, expertly flipping them on the foil lined surface with a deft flick of his wrist, each piece grilled to a perfect mix of slightly smokey crisp and tender juicy meat. It was perhaps the sexiest thing I have seen in a long long time. Much like Elizabeth Bard's adventures in "Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes", the sensual connection between food and intimacy apparently weaves a thread through our family as well. The power of this sensuality is comforting, sustaining, and thrilling all at once extending beyond the food on our plates and the satiety of our stomachs.  Without a single word being uttered between us, we are reminded that we are still mysteriously united in the tantalizing bonds of seductive affection and palatable romance.

I adore my children. I adore my husband. What would I do for love? I guess I'm already doing it.

Disclosure: This post was inspired by Elizabeth Bard's book "Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes". While I received a complimentary copy of the book, the opinions expressed above are my own. This is a "From Left to Write" book club post.