Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Strange, Since I've Always Been A Self-Service Kinda Girl Anyway

We are up in Massachusetts and as far as the eye can see is beautiful, fluffy, snow-white snowy snow. This is why I came up here this week, to be here for the storm, so the girls could experience Winter Wonderland, because they haven’t had much of it this year. But this is snow of the useless variety. We can’t sled on it, make good snowballs with it, or make a snow village with it. We can barely walk in it. Waist-deep for the girls; knee-deep for me, and difficult to trudge through, to say the least. A giant white blanket of tease.

That didn’t sop us from trying to make he most of it. I took the girls out in it today. It took forever putting on their socks and snow pants and mittens and boots and hats and coats. Snapping, tying, Velcroing, poking, prodding, pulling, all in an effort to cover every inch of their mini bodies to protect them from the frigid air. The girls looks ready for an Antarctic Expedition. The best part is, we almost spend more time getting ready than we do being outside! They trudged around for a little less than an hour and then started requesting “inside” and “movie” and “snacks.” So much for my dreams of taking them for a long walk in the snowy woods. I forget that their legs are like a foot long.

Still, it was a great day. And yesterday was a nearly perfect day, start to finish. I would like to take those days, Apple C them and Apple V them (copy and paste, in Mac world) on my calendar to the days that follow. I feel content and satisfied and busy. I feel like a good mom and, though Nicole is still in NYC, like a good wife, like I am keeping up my end of the unwritten, unspoken, fuzzy bargain/contract of stay-at-home mother. I felt full.

But this in not by accident. I have been working hard lately at learning how to fill up my own tank. Not easy at first, believe you me. Especially for such a Needy McNeedystein as myself . I used to have a tank that only Nicole could fill. A Nicole-shaped nozzle and hose. When I was empty, I asked her to fill me up. Not just a little….allllll the way to the tippy top. After all, we don’t put gas in our car a gallon at a time, right? All or nothing, baby.

But how can one person be solely responsible for another’s tank? It’s romantic, and practical, in some ways, but unrealistic by a mile. Maybe this would work if we were prisoners who shared a jail cell. So I added mini nozzles for the girls, thinking, oh, this will take the pressure off of Nicole. After all, I let the girls live in my womb for 38 weeks; it’s the least they could do. But filling another’s tank is way too much pressure for people who don’t even understand how to add and subtract. And besides, if I’m going to be honest here, I am not going to raise my children in a paradigm where they are responsible for the mothers’ happiness. Their very existence makes me happy. Period. And almost every night, when I go into their rooms while they are sleeping, and re-tuck them in and kiss their sleepy sleeping faces and I lay my hand over their beating hearts (I really do) and whisper that I love them and that they make me so happy. And just to be sure the message sinks in, I tell them this all day too.

This big old tank of mine, turns out, it is pretty easy to fill up. It’s obvious, I guess, to most people. But did you know that each of us are responsible for our own happiness? That we need to fill our own tanks? That there is more than one gas station? And that we can’t let people take from our tank unless we let them? There's Self Service and Full Service, and both are fine. Thunderbolt! I know I am making this all seem so simplistic, and its really not. At least, not for me. But, my goodness, I have a big tank and access to a lot of nozzles. Just sitting here, writing this blog, listening to Ingrid Michelson while also googling boxing lessons (I’ll explain later) is adding to my tank. And then, drinking some tea while I catch up on the Good Wife adds some. Tomorrow, when I take my girls to Play School and watch them run across the room and hop into the Cozy Coupe (M) and onto a trike (A) and ride around in circles for two hours fills me up twenty times more. And the best, best, best living metaphor part part? They love to play “gas station.” So I sit in my designated space on the steps of the altar (!) in the church basement and put gas (!) into my girls’ Coupe and trike tanks (!) and the realness of it, the literal, the figurative, the imagery practically makes my tank overflow. Visceral, indeed.

Pictured above, snow! Notice Avery is clutching snow balls in her mittens. They were for me, those snowballs. Also pictured, scenes from Maddie’s and my Momma/Maddie date. I love that she is holding a cupcake-to-go in a cup. Literally, a cupcake! Clever, Cupcake Cafe staffers!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

I Was Feeling Part of the Scenery/I Walked Out of the Machinery

This year will go down in the record books as the year that I learned that there can indeed be spaces in togetherness without causing the entropic collapse of the universe. Or even my emotional universe. My most favored state of being is that of barnacle (as wife, mother, friend, etc.) and I am really, really good at it. I require almost no alone time. Ever. Lots of therapists have had lots of theories, but I don’t need a theory. And I don’t need to force myself to spend time alone when I would rather spend time with others. I don’t need to imagine what alone time would look like/feel like/taste like. Sharing space with others is my most favorite pastime, and I can do it until someone peels themselves away from me.

I am back in NYC after spending nearly three weeks in Massachusetts. I headed up there with the girls early December and never came back. Nicole came up for long weekends and then for the week after Christmas, and then we all headed back to NYC together on January 1st. And now, I am going though a mini culture shock.

Originally, the idea of spending time up in Massachusetts without Nicole seemed preposterous. Why ever would I go up there with the girls alone when we could all be together in NYC? Why would I want to parent (The Verb) on my own when I could look forward to company/relief/help/companionship when Nicole came home from work? And why would I even think of spending the night alone in a house in the middle of the deep dark woods, outside of screaming distance of the neighbors?

But I did it, this fall, and I worked through the fear. I am proud to say that I no longer sleep with a knife, car keys, phone and flashlight under my pillow. And I even stopped sleeping with the girls and now sleep on the couch. Sleeping upstairs alone: The final frontier. One of my Christmas presents this year should help with that. Though I still think Nicole really got this because she can control the heat from her computer, thus lowering my 80 degree thermostat setting to a more reasonable and chilly 70.

And now, I’m sort of going through this period of wondering where I belong. Ah, yes, the first existential crisis of the year Twenty Eleven. Existential with a touch of narcissism, since it isn’t just about where I belong. Madeline and Avery are power players in this scenario too. And Nicole, of course. There is no “me” in family or “I” in team and all that. And yet every me and I in a family is very important.

Winter in the city scares me a little. There is a serious deterioration of quality of life as the snow banks in the city make the sidewalks even harder to navigate and the freezing weather keeps up locked inside. Our daily trips to the park/playground/zoo halt until March. Our daily wandering walks are replaced with most-direct-path errand running. Last year was rough. It was too cold to go outside and the girls were too young to take to places like movies and museums with any sort of favorable outcome. I felt cooped up in the apartment with two energetic toddlers who didn’t understand why we could go to the playground. But in Massachusetts, there is no cooped up. There’s the parent group and Store School and all that land. And there, I feel like I am a better mom. More patient and more sane and more balanced. With a huge carbon footprint.

And yet, when I am in Massachusetts, I feel like I am leaving part of me in New York. And I don’t just mean Nicole. I do like the duality of it, and love and am grateful that we can expose the girls to the best of both worlds. But the other side of me that loves consistency and routine is feeling the burn as I straddle. And I am seeing these two sides of me emerge: The fast-walking, aggressive driving New Yorker with the meandering, “no, please, after YOU” New Englander. My parenting styles are even quite different. In NYC, I need to, for example, yank Avery by the coat collar if she dashes too close to the sidewalk’s edge and traffic. There’s mere inches between children and horrific traffic accidents. But in Massachusetts, if she is running down the driveway, I can just tell her to slow down and wait for me at the end because there is not a car in sight. And now, I feel just a little less New Yorker and a tad more New Englander, and I think that’s a good thing. Although, the New Yorker side does rear its head in Mass at time, to uproarious effect. But that’s another post.

I always said that I don’t care where we are, as long as we are together as a family. And that will never change. So this is very much a work in progress. I am very much a work in progress. And the girls, bless their little hearts, are just going with the flow.

Pictured above, snow fun! And Avery, my emotional doppelganger, with Nicole, her physical doppelganger.