Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fast Forward, Rewind, Play, Pause and Delete Delete Delete

There is a manic quality to motherhood that I do not particularly enjoy. Or maybe there is a manic quality to my motherhood. The highs are just lovely, those moments when I think how lucky I am, when I think not only how much I love being Madeline and Avery’s mom, but also how I excel at it. But the lows really suck. I hate those not-so-great moments when I feel like I am holding on by a thread and when I feel like I am not the mother I want to be and I should have my mothering privileges taken away from me.

Like this morning: I was at a store picking up Nicole’s anniversary present and the girls were incorrigible. Full-on obnoxious toddler mode. They were both screaming and kicking (fighting over a blanket) and causing such a scene that the guard at the store came over to see what the fuss was all about. I tried to calm the girls down, which is always a challenge when there is an audience. There I was, clenched jaw, measured words, unheeded pleas, getting nowhere fast. I failed miserably at getting the girls to relax. In fact, I needed up getting kicked in the jaw by Madeline. So I gritted my teeth, made a hasty selection that I hope Nicole will like, rushed my purchased, declined gift wrap and even a bag, and high-tailed it out of there. Of course, once we were back on the busy street the girls were just fine. And I was livid.

Rewind to earlier that morning. I had an incident with Avery. She refused to get dressed. This is not new for her: This girl loves her jammies and would stay in them all day if we let her. In fact, she will often disappear in her room and take off her clothes and dress herself in jammies randomly during the day. But this morning, I needed her to get dressed. I had a long list of Things to Do: Laundry, gift, post office, food store, cleaning, phone calls, packing, picking up the car, tracking Nicole’s flight (I take this very seriously). And we needed to get started right away, and there was no time to cajole Avery into dressing.

I tried to remove Avery’s jammy pants and she kicked and screamed and flailed like she usually does. I begged, pleaded, bargained, reasoned and in general tried all the sane, Good Mommy methods I know to get her dressed. None worked. And it pushed me over the edge I was already teetering on. I got so angry. I yelled at her, and told her that she would stay here alone while Maddie and I left. I put her in her room, closed the door and concentrated on putting on Maddie’s coat and shoes, trying not to let my anger at Avery spill over to her. Avery became hysterical and cried so hard that she threw up. She wanted to go too, she yelled. She didn’t want to stay home all alone. I told her she couldn’t come because she had jammies on and because she wasn’t listening to Momma. I put her back in her room, closed the door, and continued to talk in a calm way to Madeline, who, by the way, is unfazed by Avery’s meltdowns.

Now I don’t need anyone to tell me the myriad ways this is all just so wrong. I let my anger, frustration and impatience control me. I “punished” her by threatening abandonment. Abandonment! What the f*ck? I didn’t comfort her when she was crying. And I gave her the silent treatment for about 20 seconds. I know. I felt like a monster and ended up on the floor in tears myself, hugging her and apologizing and, yes, letting her go outside with her pajamas on because I just didn’t have it in me to continue the battle. That is NOT the mother I want to be. That is NOT the method of parenting I want to pursue. I don’t want to dip into this territory of mothering ever. Or look at it this way: If I hired a babysitter who did any of this, I would fire her on the spot.

Nicole has much more patience than I do. And while I will say for certain she is, by nature, a much more patient person than I will ever be, she also is not with the girls as much as I am. She calms the girls in the same way she has calmed me when I am upset: Calm voice, hand on chest, instructions to take deep breaths together. And I try this method sometimes with the girls and it usually works. But I am not always in that place, that place that lets me approach a situation in a calm and rationale way. What can I say? I am human and sometimes I am not on my game. And when mothering is a 12-hour breakless day, I have my bad moments. (And yes, I know it is a 24-hour a day/365 days a year kind of thing).

I know yelling begets yelling and anger begets anger and impatience begets impatience. I try to think “Is this the type of mother I want my girls to be to their kids someday?” After all, they will model our behavior, for better or worse, and parent the way that they were parented. So in a way I am parenting them, and their children, and so on and so on. That’s a lot of pressure. Sometimes I take deep breaths and count backwards. Sometimes I walk out of the room/area/situation and take a moment to compose myself, even if only a few seconds. Call a friend. Call Nicole. But these days, that impatient side of me is rearing its ugly head instead.

Rewind to earlier this morning. The girls slept with me last night since Nicole was still away. This morning I woke up early and stealthily slipped into the kitchen to have some coffee and catch up on email/internet/blogs. Twenty minutes into my alone-time, Madeline scampers in, all sleepy and sad and wondering why I wasn’t in bed. So I took her hand and let her lead my back to bed. We curled up together, her little hand curled around my fingers, and I watched her fall back asleep. Avery was next to us, sprawled out in the exact space-hogging way she favored in utero. That was a good moment. I felt calm and peaceful and grateful and happy and needed. And even though the day started so good, it still deteriorated into what I described above. I wish I could rewind and tart over, or fast forward it, or, even better, just delete it.

Nicole is cruising along at 608 miles per hour (yay for tailwind) at 37,000 feet. Less than an hour and a half away. Told you I took tracking seriously. Once upon a time I used to think, an hour and a half away from reunion. Now I think an hour and a half away from relief. Ugh.

Only 780 More Weekends Till College

The Easter Bunny came a week early this year, to accommodate my brother and his family’s vacation schedule. So they all came up to Massachusetts with us last weekend and we celebrated with the not-so-traditional Italian dinner the night before Early Easter and the not-so-traditional Mediterranean breakfast on Early Easter Sunday.

I love how holiday’s break up the monotony of daily living. The anticipation of a holiday adds such colors to the days and weeks preceding it. I used the holiday suggestions culled from the comments: From the photo scavenger hunt to find the baskets (b-i-g hit) to the arts and craftsy things and bubbles in the baskets. I made cookies and Mina bought some homemade chocolate lollipops. I also recycled the chewed up carrots from the Christmas reindeer (bunnies eat carrots, too!) and left those orange bits scattered by the back door. It was all great. I love that we are building traditions stolen from other families!

The girls are lucky, because the Easter Bunny will visit them again this weekend (a.k.a., Easter Proper) and will leave them a garden bucket, filled with little spades and watering cans and Gummy worms and seed packets and such. I couldn’t resist such springtime cuteness. And I have never met a theme I didn’t like.

Nicole and I went to a Carrie Underwood concert last Saturday night while we were up in Massachusetts, and left the girls with everyone at home. I think the last time Nicole and I were out together was last Easter, when we went to that Jane Fonda play. About once year. Not good. I even bought a new shirt for the occasion, one that my friend deemed “hot.” How can you not buy said shirt when you are told you look hot in it? I bought two, of course, as a little positive reinforcement is all I need, and my self-esteem has been visiting the gutter lately, as it cyclically does, so I soak up any positive image comments like a sponge. I am a salesperson’s/marketer’s dream. Anyway, I didn’t get to wear the new shirt (back in the closet). We rushed back after dinner and ice cream and had to leave in about three minutes. The concert started at 7:30, but I planned for us to get there by 9:00, as I don’t need to suffer through two opening acts. Our timing was perfect and the concert was good.

But the girls, they were not thrilled and their mommies going out. Apparently they both had moments of crying and asking for us. Madeline insisted on sleeping on the chair in the living room, which is where we found her when we got home. We scooped her up and let her sleep with us upstairs and nestled her between us. Her little head was aglow in the moonlight through the window above our bed. She twisted her head around to stare at it. She was taking those long, sleepy blinks. It was just beautiful. I completely understand why many people opt for the whole family bed thing.

We are heading back up to Massachusetts tonight, or tomorrow, depending on how Nicole feels when she gets back from San Francisco today. April 1st is our anniversary, the one we celebrated before we were married, which I insist on keeping and still celebrating. And this weekend is supposed to be gorgeous: Close to 70 degrees and sunny. I am ready for some warm weather and sunny skies and fun weekend plans. As ridiculous as this sounds, we have only 780 more weekends (yes, I calculated) before the girls go to college, and I want to make them count.

Pictured above, Early Easter. I should point out that Madeline had absolutely no interest in her Easter basket. None.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Watch Out, Annie Leibovitz, Here I Come

Forget journalism, education and English: I should have been studying photography. Clearly, we should go to college in our 30s, or at the very least late 20s, when we are more fully formed humans with defined interests, passions and direction. What the hell did I know at 18? Are we really qualified at that age to determine a career path that will span our entire lives? Anyway, my weekend was great and I learned so much. I’m sure much of what I learned is what one might learn in a photography 101 class, but since I lack any formal education on this topic, I found this weekend to be quite enlightening. I was a sponge. I was that geek taking copious notes furiously and sending dagger eyes to annoying people who dared to interrupt the teacher to talk at length about their own personal experiences and brag about personal accomplishments. Every class has one of those. There were quite a few interesting characters at this conference, to say the least, including several people who had no concept of personal space.

I had a good balance of technical classes and compositional classes. I was a little uncertain if a composition class would be helpful. Can a class teach us to have an artistic eye and show us how to compose a picture? I doubt Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz took classes like this. And don’t we all have our own sense of style that risks being squashed if we are taught the “right” way of doing things? What if someone tried to convince Jackson Pollack that paint thrown around the canvas was not art? It turned out to be the best class I took all weekend and will completely change the way I look at taking a picture and will completely change the pictures I take. This weekend really ignited an already smoldering spark inside me. I am studying aperture values and shutter speeds like I am going to be tested on it. I can use phrases like “stopping down” and know what I am talking about. I am studying photos of famous photographers with a more critical eye. I am thinking about making the B&H Photo Superstore website my internet homepage.

I am in the process of turning my chicken-scratch notes, which fill up about half of one of those old-fashioned note pads, into computer notes. A few people have expressed interest in said notes and ideas and nuggets of knowledge. If you want to learn about the rule of thirds or implied motion or negative space or if you want to know exactly what exposure to set your camera to (aperture and shutter speed) to get those silky running water photos (ditto for sunrises and sunsets) then send me your email, if I don’t already have it.

And Burlington was such a nice city. I love a city with brick buildings, a pedestrian mall and waterfront access, from multiple points, no less. I didn’t have that much time to explore it: I was in classes all day, so I was limited to early evening walks. I would love to go back. I was going to explore it more after my last class on Sunday but instead hit the road so I could stop by my aunt’s house in New Hampshire. I was a nice break at the halfway point between Burlington and Northampton.

I missed the girls a lot while I was away. This was the most time I have spent away from them since they were born by a long shot. Naturally, the more the distance between us, the more angelic and perfect they became: I forget about all the pacifier tantrums and struggles to get them to settle down so I can dress them and diaper changing battles and just remember adorable, cuddly, innocent babies. I must say though I was underwhelmed by my welcome home. They didn’t seem excited in the least to see me. Granted, they were in the tub, but they treated my arrival back home in the most nonchalant way, like I just stepped out for a few minutes, and here I was again. I chalk this up to age-appropriate behavior but it would have been nice to get a few crushing hugs. Nicole gets a bigger welcome after a mere day a work!

My brother and SIL and the kids are coming up to Northampton with us this weekend to celebrate an early Easter. The Easter Bunny will visit out yard on Sunday morning and scatter some eggs around and hide baskets. Anyone have any good ideas for easter baskets goodies that don't involve food? I am going to make some cookies, I think, and have a couple of chocolate bunnies. But what else? Any springy ideas? Something original? Perhaps something that would occupy said children for hours on end? As I have said before, I am not above stealing your family's traditions,

Pictured above, there is a conservation area next to our house, which has lots of wide hiking trails. This makes me very excited! I picture al sorts of spring and summer and fall hikes this year. We took the girls for a mini hike on Monday before we left. Madeline loves to hike around. Loves it. She stops and collects rocks and acorns and pine cones. She climbs on tree stumps at jumps in puddles. She is such a little nature lover. Avery enjoys it to, but after a while, she prefers to enjoy nature from the vantage point of a mommy’s hip. Can’t say I blame her. I could get used to being carried, too.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Watch Out, Burlington, Here I Come

The first number on my alarm wake-up time is a three. As in three in the morning. OK, it is set for 3:59, which is the very end of the three hour. I think I need to change it to 4:00 because it may make me feel less tired, psychologically.

I get up that early because it is the only time in the day that I know for certain that I can be alone. I am an early riser by nature, so it wasn’t too hard to make the early morning my me time. But believe me, it was an adjustment. I drink my two cups of coffee and catch up on blogs and email and then head to the gym by 5:00. I am home usually by 6:30 and then the day officially begins.

This weekend I have an extra-large serving of alone time. Nicole booked a photography seminar weekend for me a while back. It is in Burlington, Vermont, which is far, far away. We will drive up to Northampton on Friday, and Saturday morning I will leave at the ripe pre-sunrise hour of 4:30 and embark on a three-hour drive alone up to Vermont. I will be taking classes on white balance and lighting and such all day Saturday and Sunday, and spending the night alone in a hotel. It will be heaven, albeit a lonely one. I tried to convince Nicole that we should all go, but she thought that would defeat the purpose and also be a little too difficult with the girls. Part of me is excited to walk around a new little city and explore. And the other part of me thinks I may just go for a run after Saturday’s classes and then order a good on-demand movie. I have no idea what I will do, but that is part of the fun, I think.

Today the girls have their toddler class. They went Week One, but missed Week Two, thanks to the stomach bug. Tuesday’s class was almost like back to square one: Madeline would not let me out of her sight. So I was not able to leave (I am technically not allowed to leave until the girls are comfortable, as this is a “gentle separation” class). I used to have dreams of wandering around Union Square; now I will settle just sitting against the wall in the hallway for two hours. Avery has taken to the class quite well, I think. She even remembers the teachers’ names. She loves to paint and do crafts and is very independent. But Madeine, who is the more independent child at home, is VERY dependent one during this class time. The teachers said that since they have never been in day care or with anther person, really, it may take the entire eight week course for them to get comfortable. Part of me feels like that is ridiculous, that it can’ possibly take that long. And this tapering method seems like it won’t be effective. I feel like it would just be better to leave tem cold turkey. We’ll see.

Pictured above: We took the girls to the Museum of Natural History on Sunday, without the stroller again. Free range children in the hall of dinosaurs. They were very demanding of Nicole: They both needed Mommy and only Mommy. Which meant my hands were free to take pictures.

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Memory is Bad, But the Memories Are Good

I am feeling old, again. Suddenly I need reading glasses for reading the fine print and follow-up appointments with cardiologists for an irregularly beating heart. I have my twenty year high school reunion coming up this fall, and visits planned with college friends who I haven’t seen in almost 15 years. I have friends who are talking about retirement and old flames who have died. I keep doing the math of how old I will be when the girls possibly have their own children, and have made it a top parenting priority to do all I can to get them to procreate as early in life as possible so I can enjoy my grandchildren. I have a very real sense of the upcoming End of Days and a very real fear of what could possibly be ahead of us. Oh yes, I am all about doom and gloom, and have wiled away many hours wondering what’s in store for me, my family and loved ones. Because if one thing is certain in life it is that nothing is certain.

I was holding a friend’s baby the other day (my friend’s husband, who is FORTY, just had a heart attack…see what I mean?) and I was struck with how I barely remember when my babies were that small. So much focus on the day-to-day survival that all those sweet moments, which I certainly appreciate at times, seem to melt into a background that forms the foundation of a happy past, but a forgotten one. I remember the broad strokes, but not the small ones. Thank God for this blog, otherwise I would not remember a thing. Like, who took the first tentative steps? What were their first words? What did I do when they napped on and off all day? Sometimes, I just do not recall. So many holes in my memory.

This is in part my own fault. I need to slooooooow down and be in the moment more, that ever-quoted “be present” premise that is so easy to forget/ignore when dishes need to be put away and dinner needs to be made and laundry needs to be tackled. I need to turn off the Death Kneel Reel in my head. I need to not borrow worry and trouble (I am getting better at this) and just learn to love living in the gray and truly believe that whatever happens, we will handle. Little steps, little things, little moments.

Here’s an example: I was reading about Carey and Steph’s first trip to Disneyland with their three toddlers. And they did not bring a single stroller. Three kids way under three and no stroller? At first I thought, what, are they crazy? Was this an oversight? I read their logic: How they wanted to experience Disneyland through their children’s eyes and pace and agenda. Strollers put parents in control, not kids, and we adults have a very different idea of “fun” and “interesting” than people who have been on the planet a scant two years.

Suddenly, it made complete sense. It inspired me the very next day to let the girls free roam in Central Park. We went to the playground first and then, instead of wrestling them back in the stroller and going for walk through the Park on our way home, I let them stay out of the stroller and lead me around. It was great! A little slow at times, but they loved exploring and it was so much more rewarding than just me pushing them along, dictating the direction and narrating my journey. They both picked up souvenir sticks and rocks (that they still are playing with two days later) and seemed to extract enjoyment out of every free range minute. Madeline got in the stroller herself when she got tired (so much nicer than forcing her in or bribing her with Raisonettes) and Avery chose to continue walking, holding my hand, till we reached the very southern boundary of Central Park and then I had to put her back in. So, I must say, I am a convert. Of course, many times I will still have to use the stroller because it is a matter of safety in the city. But I am learning to loosen up a little on my stroller addiction.

In the middle of writing this post, I got an email telling me someone I went to high school friend died this morning of a heart attack, leaving behind a wife and three little kids. He was 37 years old. This is the second high school classmate to die in the past five months. How life changes on a dime, and how we worry over such stupid stuff.

Pictured above, the free-range girls. A mere couple hours later, Avery was down with the stomach flu. And below that, one of those little moments, interrupted by my insistence to capture said moment with my phone.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

An Otherwise Beautiful Weekend, Marred

One week of toddler “gentle separation” class and my girls come home with their first art projects (decorated pictures frames and colorful, abstract paintings) and their first communal illness (the dreaded stomach flu). Madeline was the first to succumb: She woke up in the middle of the night on Friday. Nicole heard her cry a weird cry and raced down the circular stairs as fast as she could and made it to Maddie just in time for her to threw up in Nicole’s hand. Poor Maddie spent all day Saturday in various positions of repose around the house, all quiet and tired and spent. Seeing her without energy is truly bizarre, since this child is normally hard to keep up with.

I had big plans to eat my way through the weekend since it was likely that I would end up throwing up too, but decided that was not the healthiest of ideas. We drove back to the city on Sunday and I started feeling cocky that Nicole and I were going to escape this virus. No such luck. I woke up Monday and felt well enough to run five miles, but as soon as I got home the rapid decline began. And by noon I was begging Nicole to come home from work and take care of the girls because I could not stand up, and then texting her every half hour to see where she was and when she would arrive. In the meantime, I lay on the couch, trying to attend to Avery’s many needs (“I need choc milk.” “Maddie took my ________.” “I need to watch a show.” “I need to climb on Momma.”)

As soon as Nicole came home, I locked myself in the bedroom and slept the afternoon away. Around five-ish, Nicole started to feel a little dizzy, and then she was sick. I was a little disappointed that there couldn’t be a little space between our downfalls, because who will then take care of the girls? One sick parent is hard enough, but two? I guess I am not the boss of those germs. So far, only Avery has managed to escape, but we will see what happens today. Nicole is in the weak and very tired stage; I am in the dizzy recovering stage; Maddie is in the full-one energy stage and Avery is a giant, needy question mark.

Yesterday was 60 here in the city and since I was sick I could not go out. I was so excited to take the girls out in the sun; so much for that. I am more than ready for this spring, as is almost everyone else I know. I am just excited for spring in general. Lots of stuff on the calendar. Two weekends from now I am going to a photography weekend seminar, ALONE, where I will learn a little more about how to operate my camera properly. It is in Vermont, so we will all drive to Northampton and then on Saturday morning I will leave Nicole and the girls and drive up north alone. Three hours in a car without having to twist my body around to pick up a dropped cup or toy. I will be spending the night alone in a hotel, which I haven’t done since my go-go days of journalism. The alone time will be nice, but I am more excited to learn more about light metering.

I ate nothing yesterday. As in absolutely nothing. Maybe I should start a fast, since I already have the first day under my belt and absolutely no appetite. This morning I had some coffee, because I don’t need caffeine withdrawal on top of everything else. Hoping for a miraculous speedy recovery, but not holding my breath.

Pictured above, poor sickly Maddie. And a view of the trees: Can you see a very prominent symbol there in the trees? I tell you, signs everywhere. And Mommy and Momma’s upstairs lair. That is what we call it, and now that is what Avery calls it too. I must start watching what I say because Avery repeats it ALL. Which means we are treated to such gems as “Maddie is a little devil” and “I can’t take it anymore.” Gee, wonder where she got those expressions from?

Saturday, March 06, 2010