Arcane Matters

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

This is (sort of) Goodbye

It's been a good run on Blogger, but I am closing the shutters on this place.

I have a hundred different reasons for making this move to wordpress. For example: I feel the need to protect the girls' privacy more. They are getting older and at some point I will have to explain to them why I chose to share their lives with the world wide web. It's time to narrow the audience a bit.

I am also doing it because I am tired of censoring myself. I want to write about certain people (who, incidentally, have neither computer nor access to them, and if you don't know who I am talking about, then you might not be a long-term reader!) and yet I feel nervous that somehow, in some way, my words—though honest and I stand by them—will get back to them. That's way too passive aggressive for me.

But what pushed me over the edge is the fact that I lied. It's a medium-sized lie, but it can slide into some negative consequences quickly. I'm still kinda treading water on it, and I want to write about it, but I can't. However, with password-protected posts, I can let the words flow.

So this is how this will work. For now, the blog will remain open. I may turn it into a subscriber-only blog down the road, but for now, some of it will be open for all to read. However, a majority of the posts will be password protected. This means if you want to read the post, you need to email me for the password. I will use one password to unlock all of the posts. Easy breezy!

I'm still FTPing and tweaking and designing and protecting and lots of other gerunds. I hope to have it all worked out soon. However, if you want to get a jump on it, email me for the password at niffernet at mac dot com. It might take me a day or two to respond with the password.

And now I need to figure out how to redirect people from blogspot. Anyone care to save me the google search?

Click on the title of this post and it will bring you to the new site:

It's gonna get a lot more open around here. Or there, I should say.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Picture is Worth 1,475 Words

Two of my top fears: (1.) Flying and (2.) seeing pictures of myself. And I get to do both in the same month!

Anyone who knows me knows I do not like the way I look in photographs. I try to trace this back to some insensitive comment or some rude remark or some especially awful 80s permed-hair, Silver City pink, turquoise eyeliner picture, but I got nothing. I just don’t like the way my face looks huge, with eyes, nose and mouth clustered haphazardly in the middle of it, almost like an afterthought. My face is a wide, round entity that spreads like pale yellow pancake batter on a grease-slicked griddle. I am not fishing for compliments; it’s just reality. And yes, I am prone to hyperbole.

The rest of me, I’m okay with, I think. I say “think” because the constant inundation of images, advertisements, studies, comparisons, reports, special reports and very special reports makes me feel like I must constantly adjust what idea of what is “good” and “not good.” But in general, I think I’m realistic and accepting.

There are things about my body that will never be the same, thanks to that ten-month miracle called pregnancy. I am no anatomy expert (I found out in my 20s where my kidneys were located, around the same time I discovered that Bermuda was located off the shores of the Carolinas and not nestled down next to the Bahamas) but I am pretty sure that my c-section has created a stomach bubble that will never go away. I chalk this up to the fact that the doctors said they were having a hard time getting my uterus back in place — which seems an unusual thing to admit to a patient — and that conjured up an image of one doctor stuffing my uterus in while the other frantically sewed me up. Kinda like sitting on a suitcase and zipping it up. At my last sonogram (cysts, no, I’m not TTC) the technician said, and I quote: “Wow, they really botched you up, huh?” So I say this has caused a fancy little roll, and now I have this not-so-tiny reminder that flat stomachs are for people in their 20s. And yes, I am happy to trade bikini-ready for Mom jeans.

We did the family portrait this past Saturday. And on Monday, a woman from the studio showed up at our apartment, set up a projector, and beamed 25 of the best pictures from the hour-long session on the wall above out couch. It was surreal!

Surreal, and finite. We can only select one picture for the oil painting, and 8x10 photograph prints cost $300 a piece. This isn’t snapfish! So while we scrolled through the images, I realized I was watching something that I will never be able to view again, like a space shuttle launch, or Barbra Streisand singing Somewhere at Madison Square Garden. I felt possessive of the images and thought a few times how these images are juuuust over there, on the woman’s laptop. What would happen if, for example, I were walking with a disk and, hypothetically, I fell on her computer, and disk completely accidentally was inserted in her drive and I surreptitiously copied (Apple C Apple V!) the images? Believe me, I thought about doing that when she went into the girls’ bedroom to meet Avery’s goldfish, Fishy Friend. Alas, I could not move fast enough and Nicole didn’t read the look in my eyes that said “Just keep her in that room for abut four minutes.”

The sitting itself was a unique experience. The studio was in the St. Regis Hotel in New York, and our dressing room was a giant wood-paneled, mirrored enclave. It seemed more like a space were deals were closed, not bra straps adjusted. It was the largest room I ever stripped down in, I am pretty sure.

We went against the strong recommendation of back tie and instead wore something that was more us: So the girls wore their Easter outfits, Nicole dressed up like Ricardo Montalban on Fantasy Island (white linen suit!) and I wore a simple linen dress. And Madeline, much to my glee, decided to wear her socks pulled up, like Velma on Scooby-Doo. I love that she put her own stamp on this family project.

Despite the fact that Nicole and I were both sipping coffee in china cups on saucers, the girls, immune to the genteel atmosphere of the room and the spirit of white linen, were off the hook, running around, screaming, sitting on each other’s heads and generally acting as if the forthcoming session would be The Madeline & Avery Acrobatic show. “Look at us! We will not be corralled!” If I had a tranquiller gun, I would use it.

But once we went across the hall into the darkened studio, the girls were appropriately reverent and quiet and calm. Magic! I was totally entranced by the photography geekery of it all. The lights and tripods and lenses and light meters. It was like a B&H showroom. In my next life, I want to come back as a photographer. Or as my children.

We were posed in three configurations: The four of us; the two of them and the two of us. And the girls were angels. Stunningly poised and appropriate, even if they did at times look like the creepy Shining twins. They pointed their feet when they were asked to point their feet. They held hands. They smiled real smiles and not the crazy cheeeeeese smiles that they have been partial to lately.

The result was stunning. They looked awesome! But I guess I am partial.

Keep in mind that these pictures that I took are of the projected images above our couch. So they are not the best quality. But you get the idea.

Nicole was almost exactly the same in every picture. She smiled and froze and came out beautiful in each shot. She photographs really well, which made me nervous to stand next to her, with her dark and properly proportioned features.

The best picture was the last one. He decided to pose Nicole and I together on the ground, lounging, shoulder-to-shoulder. I laughed when he told Nicole to get on the ground because Nicole doesn’t get on the ground easily. It takes her about 40 seconds to arrange her bones and limbs and the look on her face when she squats down is priceless. He then settled me next to her, telling me to square my shoulders, lean in a little, point my chin, lift my head, and various other subtle directives that eventually lead me to face his groin square on. At that point, I just started laughing and couldn’t really stop. Once behind the camera, he kept admonishing me to have a “soft mouth” but the more he said that the more I laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed. All I could think was, this pose is such waste of time. There is no way we would select this over a picture of the four of us or the girls. And I can’t stop laughing.

A friend emailed me a pose I wish we did: Back-to-back with hands folded on our chests. That would have been awesome! Especially if one of us had a pencil tucked behind our ear!

And then it was over. We changed back into our clothes and headed home, stopping at a street fair, where Nicole won the girls their first pet— two goldfish! One, of course, has already died.

The saddest part of the day was going to bed, because I knew my magical blow-out, which turned out really good, would not last till morning. And that was the best hair day I have had in a decade! It looked particularly good from behind.

But the final result, the picture we chose to be converted into an oil painting was this one. Of course, Photoshop will be employed to even out socks and fix stray hairs and smooth skirts. And I did ask if they could trim about three inches out of my cheeks, so we'll see. But seeing the four of us like this, all together in one place and not scattered, was totally worth the stress and worry.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Have Boat, Will Travel

Easter has come and gone. Ours was great. Despite a freak mini snowstorm the day before (an hour and a half of snow, people!) it was a beautiful day up here. We had a pancake breakfast (Nana’s Famous Yeast Pancakes!), went for a hike to Picnic Rock (that’s what I named the quarry pond, because I like to name things) and ate a late lunch in town at a restaurant that was just barely appropriate for the girls (i.e., all crystal glasses, no children’s menu, lots of cloth and two kids who think it is funny, no, hysterical to yell out POOPOO DIARRHEA). All this, followed by ice cream and a relatively smooth bedtime for the girls, which meant Nicole and I could watch not one but two episodes of Modern Family. Easter miracle: she actually laughed out loud a few times!

I was having some Easter insecurity. Last year, my niece and nephew were up here with us and their absence this year left two little holes in my heart. I did not spend nearly as much time this year basket planning as I did last year, and I wonder if this is in part because all Easter prep work made my thoughts turn to Leif and Skye. Avery asked several times if they would be with us again this year. It was so hard to tell her no, they won’t.

This year, I didn’t even have a theme. I know, the horror. Nicole reassured me by saying how many themes can there really be, without getting redundant. But still. Bugs would have made a really get theme. Our eggs were sloppy (is there some sort of trick to this? Mine were awful!) and our house decoration almost nil, though I must say that is because I am not a fan of pastel or overly cutesy decorations. And I even waited uncharacteristically to the last minute to finish up basket shopping. Still, the girls seemed happy and I can always save my “bugs” theme for next year.

While we were all about chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, a friend of mine celebrated her 40th birthday on Easter. All I could think was, wow, what a great thing! Turning 40 on Easter, a day that celebrates rebirth and renewal. Imagine focusing being ‘reborn’ on your 40th, instead of feeling ennui and dread “the end is near”, as many do? Imagine thinking, this is a new day, a new start, a new birth?

When I was younger (yes, this means my 20s) change was elusive. I was more likely to float along and see where the tide took me instead of actually steering my boat. That lead to all sorts of chaos and interesting situations. By “interesting” I mean not good. This is not a recommended nor beneficial course for one’s career, social life, or romantic life. By 30, I patched up my hull, started steering, navigating by both stars and GPS. There was wind in my sails, a back-up engine to boot, and even a pair of emergency oars to help me push out of particularly murky, sludgy spots. I still take wrong turns and sometimes spend a little too much time in Toxic Coves, but eventually I remember, oh yeah, I don’t have to wait here for someone to tow me out. I have my own engine, and I am getting the hell out of here. And I’m really trying to remember this good advice I got: You can be upset for the next hour, then move on. Because, really, life is too short.

The older I get, the more cliché I am. To wit: It really is ALL in the journey. How often are we focused on that end goal and forget all the work that leads up to it. There are lessons in that work, and value in it, and fun. And that the decision to make a change in itself, that split-second moment when enough is enough or your back is against a wall or you are just ready, carries more weight and importance then the goal itself.

Like running a marathon. The reward is usually said to be crossing that finish line and getting that foil blanket. But really, what about the hundreds of miles of training? What about all the effort and time and dedication put forth? What about the lessons one learns about prioritizing? What about the days when you pound out a bad day with a good run? What about the bonds created by sharing this journey with others? So really, is the finish line the reward? Or just the start line to a new goal?

All things I need to remember: Boat, engine, stars, power, change change change and one hour, people, just one hour.

Pictured above, look closely at Avery in that top picture and, I hate to say this, but doesn’t Avery look a little…. possessed? But so cute in her little dress! I am destined to NOT have one good picture of me with my children!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Top Nine-and-a-Half Surprises About Parenthood

Arts and Crafts? What Arts and Crafts?: I am generally a crafty person. For me, the urge to craft can be acute, and if I don’t get a glue gun and some sea shells in my hand, I will explode. I always imagined myself as the mother who would idle away hours at a table with children coloring, gluing, stamping, creating, building, folding and lots of other verb gerunds. I imagine children with sticky fingers, gluey fingers, wearing Nicole’s old button down shirts as smocks. That didn’t quite happen. My girls are lucky if I toss a bunch of crayons on the floor and grab a couple of pieces of paper from the printer. OK, maybe that is a slight exaggerations (who, me?) but still. I am not nearly as creative as I should/could be.

In The Case of an Untimely Death: And I thought choosing a sperm donor was hard. Choosing a guardian for the girls spins me into a panic. I know this is because I set unbelievably high standards, higher standards, in fact, then I set for myself as a parent. I figure if Nicole and are gone, then the girls might as well upgrade in the parent department. So instead on focusing on figuring this mess out, I will instead focus on vigilantly guarding the continuation of Nicole’s and my lives. Which brings me…

Health Panic: Is it just a headache, or a slow-growing brain tumor? A slight cramp, or the beginning of uterine cancer? I’ve never been one to worry much about health (See: My 20s) but since having children, I feel particularly concerned about health and wellness, both mine and Nicole’s. Sure, I have my lapses, like that whole biopsy thing, which seemed easier to ignore than to deal with, but in general I am more apt to visit a doctor than I ever was.

Up Next, More Spongebob Squarepants: Before I had kids, I was convinced that television was The Devil and I would not let my children partake in it and its evil doings. Ha. I have since embraced television as the companion, babysitter and teacher that it is. The girls watch more television than I want them to, and I am okay with that. It is such a slippery slope: It started with “Just Sesame Street, and that’s it,” and I comforted myself with its overall educational message and alphabet teachings. The next thing I know, they are complaining that they already saw that episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (just kidding…). That said, they watch significantly less TV when we are in Massachusetts. But on a day like today, rainy, windy and chilly in NYC, we are stuck inside and well, I already wrote about the whole crafty thing so what else I there but TV?

Food, Glorious Processed Food: Oh, the food plans I had. You know how they say God laughs when you make a plan? Well, He must have been doubled over breaking ribs with laughter when he heard my food plans. To wit: I will breastfeed for a year, and not a drop of formula will pass these girls’ lips. The Reality: Madeline and Avery were happily drinking formula before they celebrated their 12th hour on earth. To say breastfeeding was not a successful venture is an understatement. I rallied when they started solid foods, blending and pureeing most of the food that they ate. But that stopped once they started eating finger foods. I say with pride that they have never eaten a hot dog, but they have eaten their weight ten times over in chicken nuggets. All those organic, healthy balanced meals that I vision in my head and just that: Visions. A typical meal is the aforementioned chicken, ketchup, carrots and cut-up apples. Keep in mind this is what is offered to them. What they actually eat: Usually just the ketchup, which they shovel to their mouths with a carrot stick. I am a very picky eater, so I give them wide berth when it comes to these things. When I whip myself up into a panic state I tell myself I will not be worried until their doctor tells me I should be worried. That works most of the time. But other times, I fret. Are they getting enough Omega 3s for brain growth? Am I stunting their growth by not enforcing a strict, organic, locally grow diet?

Braveheart: I killed four stink bugs the other night and didn’t even flinch. Believe me, ten years ago, I would have gone running from them. This new found bravery isn’t an instant thing. It’s not like I had kids and suddenly –POOF— I erupted with courage and fearlessness. It was a gradual onset of fortitude. I can’t stress this enough: The fact that I can sleep alone in Massachusetts with the girls is huge. Huge! It is one of the few things that I am really, really proud of. And yes, I know we have an alarm system, but let the record reflect that I started the whole sleeping there alone thing before ADT came to our house.

Now, With More Cynicism!: I think I became slightly more cynical the second those little embryos adhered themselves to my uterine wall. Politics, the planet, human rights, gay rights, war, big business, banking: Everything seems to be going downhill. This was especially obvious this past presidential election, when I refused to get on board the Obama fan train. Yes, I voted for him, but I was cynical (there’s that word again!) that change would actually come. I will admit that he has checked off a few things on the list of Good Deeds Done, but it doesn’t seem like enough. Sometimes I wonder if this is just a by-product of aging. After all, people in their 20s can be so passionate about politics. But the older we get, the more jaded we are, the more we start thinking “What’s in it for me?” Will this eventually landslide into indifference? For now, I cleave to my cynicism, as it is better than being blasé.

Who, me, Paranoid?: This is a conversation I have imagined that my children will have when they are 22 years old:
Avery: Maddie, do you ever wonder about our sperm donor?
Madeline: Yes:
Avery: I hate Momma!
Madeline: Me too!

Again with hyperbole, but it gets the message across: I worry more than ever. I wonder all the time, am I a good mother? Am I doing a good job? Am I affectionate enough? Firm enough? Loving enough? Doing enough? Are the girls going to look back and say “Yeah, we had a really good childhood?” thus setting them up to create really good childhoods for their own children. This paranoia goes beyond my parenting skills. I worry about making the best educational decisions for them, too. But that truly is another series of posts.

I Make A Lot of Sound Effects/I Scat: Jewp. Scoodely Bop. Eeeps. Dingu dingu. Jeep. My children are almost four and I still say the most ridiculous things to them. This surely will lead to malnourished, TV-addicted, uncreative, hot-dog eating teenagers who speak sound effects.

And now for one thing I do better than I thought I would: We have all been inundated with studies that say how important this reading to your child is. I have written papers about this in grad school. I would spout statistics to anyone who would listen, even way before I had kids, which I’m sure wasn’t annoying (ha!). So I always thought I would take my own advice and read to my children, but I must say I read more than I thought I would. And believe me, this is not an easy task. At this age, Madeline points to EVERY person, animal or thing on a page and asks “What’s that guy saying?” and expects me to tell her what that guy is saying. And Avery likes to trace the letters. One book of, oh, 200 words and a very limited plot could take twenty minutes to get through. And after I finish a book, Madeline likes to "reread" it for Avery and me. It can be exhausting.There are times I want to snap the book shut and flip on the TV. But I don’t, and I am proud of that.

Pictured above: I wonder if my Facebook friends get tired of seeing me post the same pictures on my blog as I do on Facebook. I am Lady Redundant Woman. There’s Avery with her Do-Do-Do-Do-Do Dora “ice cream” pop. Yet another thing I swore my kids wouldn’t eat! And Madeline and Avery sitting on a bench. Do you think Avery will hate me for posting pictures like this some day?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

When Karma Takes Itself a Little Too Literally

• I totally believe in karma, but didn’t realize it could sometimes be so tit-for-tit, tat-for-tat literal. About a year ago I ran into a neighbor at the bank. We both did our business at the ATMs, and he left a minute before me, as he didn’t need to hassle with rounding up toddlers. I noticed his ATM on the ground. He was long gone, so I brought it to his apartment. He was so grateful. Flash forward to yesterday. I am walking in my building and my neighbor is outside the building with his dog, chatting on his cell phone. I pull my keys out of my pocket and, apparently, my credit card falls to the ground. He yells to me, points out the card on the ground, and saves me the hassle of closing my account and getting a new card. I found his card, and he found mine. Literal karma. I had another almost literal karma incident, but that one was not as pleasant. That’s another post.

• Tomorrow is our 9th anniversary, which means starting the day after that, I will round up our “years together” to ten. As in, a decade. As in, a tenth of a century. As in, a drop in the bucket on the way to forever. We will not be celebrating officially, as Nicole is heading to New Mexico for work, and I am heading to Long Island with the girls for my niece’s confirmation. That is the beauty of having two anniversaries, I guess. This one is the anniversary we celebrated before we were officially married. I refuse to relinquish it. It seems silly to pass up a gift-giving occasion, I mean, a day to celebrate our love.

• Speaking of gifts, I got Nicole a totally symbolic gift that I am now second-guessing. Was I high when I decided this? Like, completely stoned out of my mind? It seems like an idea ripped out of the pages of one of those Harlequin romance books. Or Jane Eyre. Full of symbolism and treacle and awww, shucks. Left to my own devices, I am a total romantic who sits around dreaming up things like this. Not even sure I can give it to her with a straight face anymore. Can’t say what it is yet, but I will after Nicole gets it. If I give it to her. Ugh.

• This is the worst spring ever. Cold, windy, dreary. And snow is forecasted for tomorrow. That’s not stopping me from wearing a strapless dress to the confirmation. I willing the sun to come out by dressing as limitedly as possible. I’ll be properly covered in church, though, to shield the congregation from my heathen cleavage.

• Speaking of worst, I joined the Worst Gym in America. It is underground; has no towels; has no signal for cell phones; the treadmills are prehistoric; and its three TVs are set to SportsCenter and music videos and CNN. Oh, and there are closed captions because there are no outlets to plug your earphones into to listen. I mean, who doesn’t love watching music videos? The good part of this gym is that it is only $25 a month, which is unheard of in NYC. I tried it out for a week, and when I didn’t join right away, they emailed me, asking me to join for $70 a month. I ignored that email and they sent another. This time, $50, then $40, then $25. A waited to make sure no emails were forthcoming and then joined at that rock-bottom price.

• I find that when I am, say, cooking in the kitchen, and the girls are playing by themselves, unsupervised, in another room, it is wise to yell out “No” periodically and randomly. I usually then hear the girls scramble, then giggle, and say “OK, we won’t do that anymore,” which means I was right. They were up to no good. That’s parenting at its intuitive best.

• I signed the girls up for swimming lessons. I’ll save you the “Time is going by so fast” rant. But time really is going by so fast. 17 months till kindergarten.

Pictured above, glorious signs of spring, that were covered with fresh snow not long after this picture was taken. And more snow to come tomorrow. Longest winter ever. Silver lining is, I will totally appreciate the spring like I haven’t in a very long time. Also pictured, Avery and her cousin Isabelle (who is in costume for a play. She doesn’t normally run around with a bow like that.). You can’t tell this by this pic, but Avery worships her. Which makes me happy, as she is a perfect role model: Smart, kind, evolved, talented and beautiful!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Butter and Japan

Tonight I took the girls out to eat. Dinner started with an otherwise routine adjustment period of negotiating seats; removing sharp silverware; analyzing potential water spillage patterns and arranging water glasses to minimize soaking children; tucking away the unused-ever-at-our-table wine list and asking the waitress for just two more minutes. Bread was dropped off at our table, just in time to tame the hungry toddlers, and I had a flash of annoyance when I noted that the butter was frozen solid. Don’t restaurants realize frozen butter is completely unspreadable, thus rendering is useless? This always bothers me, frozen butter.

Almost as quickly as that thought entered my head, I thought, what the f&ck is wrong with me? Annoyed by frozen butter? How petty and insignificant and trivial and stupid when measured against real problems in the world.

There are so many real problems to choose from, but the earthquake/tsunami in Japan really struck a nerve in me. Maybe because I see my sister-in-law and her sister’s face in the faces of the Japanese women and because I see my niece and nephew in the faces of the children. Those Japanese genes are powerful. The footage makes me cry. The coverage makes me angry. I have officially changed my “homepage” because I am annoyed beyond belief that CNN makes me watch a 30-second commercial before I can watch their video reports. Really, You are going to try to sell me a car before I can see the story about the man who escaped the path of the deadly tsunami with his three-month old child? Or the report about the mother who ran to get her son from his kindergarten class and book it to higher ground? Or the residents of a home for the elderly, sitting dazed in hard plastic seat, with looks of the saddest sadness etched on their faces? And, that video making the rounds on facebook, with the sirens and the view of the horrific water sweeping away a town, will give me nightmares tonight. If I can sleep. It’s almost 1:00 and I’m still up.

Haiti and Chile and Australia and New Orleans (so poorly handled), all recent victims of horrible, terrible, unimaginable natural disasters. And now Japan. I don’t mean to get all John Lennon and peace-y but, wow, what a different world this would be if we used our armies and resources and money and budgets helping people devastated by natural disasters, instead of “wars” and “defense.” Why can’t we mobilize our armies (which include such much needed people like doctors and nurses therapists and social workers, in other words: People who care for people) for powers of good?

It’s all so heartbreakingly sad. Tonight, after a perfectly perfect day with the girls (play school, store school, play date with a friend, dinner out, couch snuggling, book reading) I was even more grateful for home and safety and no sirens. Avery fell asleep in front of my eyes (looooong blinks to peaceful sleeeeeep) as I lay with her in her bed. And Madeline, who, an hour after she went to bed, came out into the living room and asked me for a just one more hug. Tiny, perfect moments.

Pictured above, scenes from the weekend. We tagged along with Nicole on a work trip to Boston. I am constantly amazed that my two girls have two different personalities, because I, too, sometimes fall into that trap of thinking that just because they are twins, they have the exact same personalities. Madeline’s fearless in the water. Absolutely fearless. She just jumps in, goes under, and comes up laughing. Avery loves swimming, but she requires a little more support. She will do everything Madeline does, but she needs a little more hand-holding. Just look at the looks on the faces before Nicole dunks them….Avery is so serious and focused, and Madeline is so excited and happy. Every day they teach me that mothering must be dynamic, detailed and focused. And end-user specific.

Friday, March 04, 2011

You Win Some, You Lose Some

And this is exactly why my next stop is password-protected posts. Because these are the times when I cannot stand the muzzle I put on myself, and choking down the words is, well, choking me. Yet what I want to write will hurt another, so I can’t bring myself to do it. I am an open book with (most of) my life, but it is hard for me to share portions that directly involve others. So, no post. Instead, I sit here, close to midnight, unable to sleep, with this burning away inside me. Can’t call anyone this late and can’t pound out a blog post. Yeah, maybe I am being dramatic. Burning, choking, muzzles, mixed metaphors… classic me. But there are times when I feel completely overwhelmed and just not capable to dealing with situations on my own.

[and this next part was deleted this morning….]

Thursday at the Post Office, an obnoxious and disheveled man shushed the girls. The best part is, they weren’t even being loud. My last trip to the post office included the girls knocking over of velvet corral ropes and general antsy mayhem, and culminated in Avery biting my ass (literally) while I tried to make that very important decision of one-day, two-day, three-day or parcel post mail.

This time, polar opposite. Madeline sat like an angel in a chair while Avery stood next to her. They were passing a plastic Lego tree back and forth, laughing and obviously happy. Avery would pretend to take a bite out of the tree and Madeline would laugh and say “Avy, do it again!” And Avery did. (Maddie calls her Avy…)

This grinch kept shushing them, in a loud and undignified way that sent spittle spraying in their general direction. First time, I ignored it. Second time, I told the girls to quiet down, all the while thinking to myself “What am I doing? They are not being loud.” But the third time, I let loose a little. I told him that the are not being loud and he can stop shushing them, as they have been taught never to take orders from strangers.

I was angry. Maybe sort monthly chemical shift (which gets worse as we get older? WTF?) prompted that not-very-controlled response, but it was rude, and he needed to not get away with that. And he struck me as the type of man who has gotten away with a lot. I’m pissed that I had to be semi rude to him, and that I must have seemed like that defensive mom, and embarrassed that other people waiting on line had to see that. And I am pissed that I will not be able to protect my girls from losers like that. I love my girls more than anything. How will I ever be able to protect them, from spittle spraying strangers?

That’s my state of mind. Let’s hope sleep cures this. Friday has to be better.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

In Defense, Yes, In Defense of Charlie Sheen (a little...)

It’s been hard lately to avoid the overexposed Charlie Sheen. He is all over the morning news, which, in a lovely twist of events, I have been able to watch (the news, that is) a little of this past week. Thank you, tea set and magnets, for occupying my children’s early morning hours. I have never seen an episode of the show he is on and I’m not a follower of his film work. And I don’t know much about his life, except for the broad strokes as covered by tabloids and gossip columnists. But I won’t let that stop me from weighing in.

I have two comments, maybe three. One, it is indeed interesting that his show was halted after he insulted the producer. Make fun of management and bam! the show is shut down. Yet, beating his wife and holding a knife to her throat while threatening to kill her? Destroying a suite in The Plaza after some sort of binge? The show must go on! Interesting….

Second, if he is as messed up as everyone is saying he is, then wouldn’t the media be, you know, exploiting him? Hmm. Everyone is quick to say he is crazy or high or losing it or not sober or insane, but damn if he isn’t good for their ratings. Last time I checked, that is indeed exploitive. I find it all a little sickening. And yet I can’t stop watching either.

Third, I think that he actually has a provocative message that is getting lost in the mix of his bizarre verbiage. I am fascinated by his outspoken break with AA. Clearly, he is done with AA. Not only is his done, he is espousing deep hatred for the organization. This time, he got (is getting?) clean by doing it himself at home, without the support of AA. And, believe it or not, I admire him for this.

Let me explain: I know a few people — whose sobriety I truly admire — who are in the program, and swear by it. I wanted to be one of those people. I wanted to sit in folding chairs in a church basement with a cup of bad, lukewarm coffee in my hand. I wanted a sponsor who I could call in weak moments. I wanted a blueprint for sobriety. I wanted to tell my stories to an audience of people who would get it. Seriously, AA is a dream for emotionally needy/barnacle people like myself! Alas, I tried AA for a while and did not find a fit for me. I was very, very disappointed.

At first I had no faith that I could do it alone. But I had to. So I dug in my heels and did this stop drinking thing by, as Avery would say, my own self. Well, I did have Nicole and the support of most of my friends, but, in the realm of recovery world, I did it alone. No AA, no therapist, so counselor or social worker. No nothing. And here I am, eight years plus later, living proof that you CAN do it without AA, or a counselor, or a therapist, or anything. You CAN do this alone, in your own home, and I think that is a really important message that needs to get out there.

There are many people don’t try to get sober because AA and counselors and rehab aren’t their bag and they don’t think they can do it alone. And they can. Is Charlie Sheen the best spokesperson for this message? Right now, not really (again: that verbiage). But he has the biggest megaphone right now. Too bad a good message is getting buried in bad interviews. And, his name will most likely soon be a verb.

Coming up, mini breakdowns, compliments of Google. And, I’m looking into wordpress and its fancy easy import.

Pictured, Madeline and her Match Game.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Except Accept: A Journey Indeed

My latest philosophy—and I can say “my” with some assurance, as I have not read any self help books lately and haven’t had the benefit of therapy—is that the less you (I) fight against reality, the happier you (I) will be. Anyone smell overtones of “Que Sera Sera” here? Or the whole “ accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” OK, so many some self-help ideologies linger.

This concept can apply to 17 different areas of my life, but here’s a case in point: I mentioned this a few blogs back (study up; there will be a quiz): I really miss my niece and nephew, who have relocated, without my written consent, to China. Just thinking about them now is making me cry. I think about them every day and lament their leaving and mourn the distance and get frustrated with the time difference challenges and wish they would come back. I am wistful for the days when they lived a mere ten miles (or, 40 minutes, in NY driving time) from me. I torture myself by recalling specific memories. In other words, I have done pretty much everything… except accept.

What I should be doing is focusing my energies on care packages and hopefully Camp Cousin this summer, when they return for a while, and Skpe calls, which are all destined to be at awful and inconvenient times. That is what I should be doing. I should be striving to make sure that my children maintain a connection with them, their cousins. I should accept the fact that this seemingly sudden and drastic move across the WORLD is one of life’s latest little twists, and there is nothing I can do to change it. But I can accept it. Settle down, and settle.

Which brings me to settling into that acceptance. I love the duality of the verb “to settle.” Forget duality, there are actually almost twenty accepted definitions of this verb. One definition means to come to rest, to adjust to something. To become calm. Settle down. Settle on the couch with a good book. Settle in for a long winter’s nap. There are slight variations there, but they hover near enough the same concept, around the same core. And then there’s “to settle,” as in to settle for something. As in accepting something even though it is not the best and not what you (I) want. Accept something in spite of incomplete satisfaction. Settle for less than perfect. Amazing how one word can span such two (or twenty…) disparate ideas.

“Settled” brings to mind such a peaceful feeling. “Settling” makes me want to fight. In this particular situation, I am settled and settling for. I am doing both. The one-two punch. I am trying now to accept this situation, and stop the runaway thought train of “If only…” and “why can’t…” and “If maybe just…”. But I am also aware that this cross-world paradigm is not MY preference, that I am trying to accept it, in spite of incomplete satisfaction.

So I am trying to let these two definitions marry into one psychologically strong concept. I can be settling for something (unsatisified), and still feel settled (satisified). A paradox, no? And I can take that excess “energy” in the awful, damaging forms of torment, sadness, anger and frustration and put them to better use. Like sending my niece a birthday present (which is in two days….)

Next up, Redundant vs. tautological: What’s the Difference?” Just kidding. Maybe.

Pictured above, Leif, Skye. Not only to I love them three days past forever, I love their names.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Secret Emotional Life of Bloggers

My brilliant privacy solution: I was thinking about starting an email digest of posts. In other words, I would email posts that I worry about having WWW exposure to a select list of email addresses (that you readers must provide me) in lieu of attempting password-protected posts or starting a new blog. I like the idea of having some sort of reader transparency….if I have an email address then I know who’s reading, and can somewhat control exposure. Right? I don’t know. Jury is still out.

I will lament again how I wish I blogs could be more personal and detailed and truthful. Some people like to use blogs as a sort of Trapper Keeper of daily thoughts and events, and that’s fine. It’s their prerogative, after all. I now some bloggers in real life, whose lives are much much more layered and complex than the one they reflect on computer paper. I guess I just want more sometimes, for myself.

There are several blogs that I read that have recently just dropped bombshells: Everything is fine, fine, fine; the typical ruminations of a woman in her mid 30s or 40s. A collection of the normal ups and downs of life, spliced with witty insights and funny commentary. Then, all of the sudden, there is a break in posting, followed in due course by the Final Post. The “I’m shutting this blog down” with a quick explanation that usually involves some awful blindside of a reason that was never written about, never hinted at, never discussed. I hate reading a book and not being able to finish the ending.

Blogs used to be so interesting because they were so honest, raw, and exposing of truths that were for so long forum-less. Finally there was a place for women to talk about, say, the horrors of infertility in detail. Or the difficulties of being an alcoholic mom who is trying to get sober. And the whole mommy blogger revolution, where moms were exposed as people who—horror of horrors—were sometimes annoyed, overwhelmed, horrified or left unsatisfied by the process of raising children. Who doesn’t like to read a blog from a person who is telling it like it is?

If I can’t discuss in detail my relationship with, say, my mother, then what good is a blog, other than to record some daily events? Yet, I can understand why we all self-edit, why we all hide what we hide. I do see how one-sided blogging is, and how unfair it might be to paint a portrait of another person without their portrait of me. But, hey, they can start their own blog, right?!

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get into all this again. I was going to write this post about the duality of the verb “to settle.” But that will have to be for tomorrow.

Pictured above: Haircut Number Two.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nobody knows where you're going; nobody cares where you've been

I grew up on Long Island, and knew even in those formative years that I wanted to go to a college in a city. Not just any city; New York City. I applied to tons of schools located in bucolic settings, with squares and quads and trees and woodsy paths. And I applied to NYU. When I got into NYU, I knew without hesitation or equivocation that that is exactly where I wanted to go. That is where I belonged. I promptly started playing “You Belong In the City” on the car radio (had to rewind it to listen on repeat!) and tried to make sense of the tangled colored spaghetti lines of a subway map, even though I was initially afraid to take the subway. I bought black jeans and black turtlenecks, because my only role model for NYC Cool was the Sprockets on Saturday Night Live. I was so sure that I made the right decision and couldn’t wait for my “real” life to begin. See ya, one-horse town, I’m off to the Big City! But that wouldn't be the first time my "instinct" was wrong.

Well, not wrong. Life is one big experiment, so to look at decisions as bad or wrong seems to undermine the whole point of life. Everything is an experience, right? We learn from the good decisions and the bad. But, looking back, I think I would have been much happier in a much smaller college setting. In a leafy place in a small town with a tight-knit community. A place where I might have bumped into my professors walking across a Quad. Where connections might have been forged by the seemingly insignificant events like getting coffee at the same time every day and the same place.

NYU is very, very big and very, very easy to get lost in. And that is exactly what I did. I sort of disappeared into the chaos of the city and a giant university, and ran away from childhood issues and all that, and let the city shape me. Passive maturation at its best, and most expensive.

While most of my friends have a cadre of friends from their college days, I have just one. It’s easy to see how that happens: While my high school friends were in their dorms in their non-city schools, making friends and finding the one bar in town that served the underaged, I was roaming aimlessly around an entire city. Dorms at NYU were mainly places you slept, not places to bond with floormates. There were no campus hangouts. No one spent time in the Student Center. And, sealing my fate in the friend department, at NYU I roomed with one of my best friends from high school. I don’t regret that, but I do see how that makes it harder to find new friends.

But this city. What a love affair. I love New York, and always have. I have lived here 21 years. I feel like it is more my home than Long Island ever was. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Until recently, that is. This morning, on the treadmill, I was thinking about life in the city vs. life in Massachusetts. I was thinking how in just over a year in Mass, I have carved out a social life there that I never had in New York. When we are there, the girls have active, fun-filled days. We go to the play group every day. They have Store School. A backyard accessed through a door, and not from a stroller walk to a park. We are starting to make friends, which will certainly lead to play dates in our future. I have never managed to do that in NYC. Here, the girls’ play dates are with my group of high school friends. (I am, if nothing, a loyal person. In fact, today I will head to Long Island to visit with one and her three little girls.)

So it all has me thinking, is this another case of thinking NYC is the best place for me, the only place for me, but it really isn’t? Am I still blinded by the lights of the Big City? Am I still fooled into thinking this is the only place to make a happy, fulfilling life? Would my life be more rounded living full time in Massachusetts? The poignant part is, it’s not about me anymore. Now we need to make decision based on what’s best for the girls, and what makes sense for Nicole’s career. I take solace in knowing that I love both places. But there is a part of me that really wants to see how this story ends.

Right now, we have the best of both worlds. The truth is, I love New York and Massachusetts. And I am working on finding that ever elusive balance between the two. I don’t like spending too much time alone with the girls in Massachusetts, with Nicole in NYC working, because that fritters away the connections of our little family of four. Next year, the girls will most likely go to preschool, but the big question is, where? We are looking into some Mass schools, and will be applying to some in the city. And then there is kindergarten. Same thing: Where will they go? Where will our primary residence be? I feel so in control of this, and not.

Yeah, I can’t stop this blog. I just can’t. Thanks for your comments and emails. I will always need a forum to work through my thoughts and I truly do like feedback and other perspectives. Oh, except for the homophobic perspective. The big dilemma: How to be truthful without infringing on other’s privacy.

I'm being beckoned to a ball. Princess is encoded in Avery's DNA.

Pictured above, Valentine’s cupcakes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Maybe I am Over Thinking It

There seems to be an epidemic of “I’m not going to blog anymore,” and bloggers who are blogging less and less. I am swirling in it too. And there is part of me that thinks I may stop soon. There are multiple reasons for this:

1. I’ll admit it, the homophobic comment freaked me a bit. I posted about it on facebook: Someone left a nasty comment here that basically said I had issues because of my sexuality and that my children will suffer in a gay family. Nice, right? I deleted it, so I doubt anyone saw it. But it really bothered me. I get that my family is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am not thrilled when people feel like they have the right to tell that to my face, via blog comment, that is. It made me feel very exposed, and very exposed for my children.

2. Time is at a premium: In fact as I sit here, Avery is squirting leave-in conditioner in my hair and brushing it, as Madeline builds magnet boxes next to us. Taking the time to write seems like a luxury. I feel guilty, like I should be engaged with the girls instead of engaged with my own thoughts. I don’t want to take away from their time. 18 months till Kindergarten. Yes, I’m counting.

3. Not full disclosure: One of the reasons I write is because it helps me sort out my thoughts and issues. And I really value other people’s thoughtful comments. But I am having a hard time writing about certain relationships with certain people. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you will know most likely of who I speak. There are things in my head that I am trying to sort out. For example, how awful I feel about my niece and nephew’s move to China. How I feel like my relationship with them is forever cracked, due to the distance. How upset I am that they were in the US at Christmas but I didn’t see them. However, I feel like I can write about all that in detail. “I miss Leif and Skye” isn’t exactly encompassing. It’s ok for me to expose my life, but I just don’t feel like it is my right/place to expose other people’s lives and/or issues.

4. Privacy: My girls are getting older, and I feel like I need to protect their privacy more. Down the road, they might not be thrilled with the stories and anecdotes I share. There could be a lot of retro bitterness. And more of that exposure word. Or, overexposure.

There you have it. I’m still trying to figure out what to do. I sit down and write and what I write is to personal to post. Or is it? I can’t figure it out. All I know is, I will be lost if I don’t write. It is the last thread of me, who defines who I think I am. So I need to figure it out.

Something I can post about is this: Parenthood, the television show, makes me cry every episode. Every single one. I find it to be a very realistic and well written show. I did have one issue with it, though. A few weeks ago, I saw an episode (I think from the first season) that included a story line of how the teenage daughter was so impressed with her aunt’s fancy career, but she seemed not so impressed with her stay-at-home mom. I thought it was great that a television show was addressing this. This resonates with so many moms. Every single close friend mom friend I know has expressed to me at one time or another how they feel like they aren’t contributing anything/doing anything/etc. if they stay at home. So I was thrilled when I saw this very issue on television! But then, not so much. This is what happened next: The father took the daughter to a beautiful park and said, essentially, “See this great park? This park wouldn’t be here if your mom didn’t petition some people and raise $200,000.” The message that that sends is, it’s ok to be a stay at home mom, as long as you, you know, do something important, like raise 200K to build a freaking park. Maybe I am over thinking it.

Earlier this week, my friend Jen made Chicken Lo Mein for dinner. As what usually happens with us, her cravings become my cravings, and vice versa, so naturally I had to make it. The next day, she tells me how it took her two and a half hours to make and how her kids didn’t even eat it, though she and her husband loved it, even though it was too salty. (Mental note: Chinese five spice + soy sauce + Hoisin sauce + oyster sauce = seltzer all night long.). She lamented how she spent so much time —time that she COULD have spent with her kids — and to what gain? This didn’t deter me, and I subsequently spent two and a half hours doing the same thing, and ending up with the exact same result: good, but salty; kids won’t eat it; and was it worth it? Wouldn’t that time have been better spent with the girls? Should I be cutting slivers of cabbage or reading with the girls? Maybe I am over thinking it.

On an exciting note, I won a one-hour session with a psychic, and my appointment is tomorrow. I want to be a believer, I really do, but there is a giant skeptic that lives in me. I am looking for some hard-core evidence of an after-life. Which I guess proves that I suffer from a crisis of faith. Isn’t faith, after all, believing in what can’t be proven? And yet I need proof? Maybe I am over thinking it.

Pictured above, winter and scribbled art. And Avery, at the dentist, because how cute is that?

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.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Out of the Cacophonous World Symphony, A Melody Emerges

Geez. A month between posts. This is my longest hiatus since I started this thing. And I don’t even have a good excuse. I feel rusty, disconnected and a little lame.

The simple reason is my routine has shifted, and when my routine shifts as significantly as it has recently, it takes a while to figure out how all of my life parts fit in. The girls and I have stayed up in Massachusetts since Thanksgiving, with only one week back in NYC. Nicole comes up on the weekends, or longer, if she can. She comes back this Wednesday, and will then be here for the rest of the year.

Up here, seemingly out of the blue, the girls and I suddenly and serendipitously found a rhythm. It’s like we jumped into a fast game of double-dutch with both feet. I discovered an amazing parent’s group that meets every morning for two hours. The girls and I go there, and I get drink coffee and make mom friends while the girls start flexing their social muscles and playing. Then, we go to the library to pick out books and DVDs and color pictures at the crafts table. We take mini hikes in the woods or play outside in the yard, collecting rocks or sticks or leaves or whatever Madeline deems collection worthy. Even going to the mailbox is an adventure. I take them to the food store and shopping, two tasks that are much easier here than in the city. We pop popcorn and watch movies and take long bubbles baths. And at night, I read them two books, tuck in one (Maddie) and uncover the other (Avery), and kiss them both goodnight and then I relax on the couch, reading books luxuriously like I haven’t a care in the world or catching up on TV shows (Dexter, Nurse Jackie, Good Wife) that I have missed over the past two years of our TV-less life. It’s all very good. Except for that Nicole-in-NYC-thing. It’s hard on the girls and it’s hard on me, and it’s hard on her. After this season, we will need to find a better balance.

And now we are distracted by holiday madness. Last Monday I spent a lovely evening wrapping presents and drinking egg nog and feeling the spirit of consumerism I mean Christmas all around. It was all good, and I was merry indeed. The very next day I inconveniently became sick. I developed a dry, hacking cough, which turned into a rattle, then a wheeze, then back to a hacking cough, with low fevers sprinkled in here and there. I tried to carry on with the play group and the girls’ busy social agenda, but I think that in the long run prolonged my illness. Only now, on Sunday, a week later, am I staring to feel like I am turning the corner. Thank goodness, because there is less than a week till Christmas and there quite a few loose ends to tie up.

There’s a lot to look forward to this week. Nicole comes up Wednesday, which makes all of us happy. There will be lots of holiday baking. I can’t wait for our Christmas Eve fondue. And to make cookies for Santa with Avery and Madeline. And to for our annual screening of Love, Actually. And to see the looks on the girls’ faces when they wake up Christmas morning and see that Santa visited. This is it, the beginning of the wonder of childhood, unfolding before my very eyes. The magic reel that plays until it is replaced with the jaded version. How many years do we get until they stop believing? I want to appreciate and enjoy this while it lasts.

I also need to figure out which smoke detector is chirping in this house. It is driving me crazy!

Pictured above, Madeline meets a sure-to-be very important player of her childhood memory bank. And, while I was watching TV, Nicole was spending her evenings with Arianna Huffington. Yes, I am jealous! Very jealous!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tis the Season For Tis The Season Blog Title Variations

I have a Facebook friend who is constantly broadcasting her good deeds: How much she volunteers and how much she donates and how much she does for others, with no gain for herself. And I find it perplexingly annoying. If you do a good deed and feel the need to announce it, then that seems to make it a little less altruistic, no? And yet I feel ridiculous lambasting a person who does indeed help others.

This is something interesting I noticed: In NYC, at the food store checkout line, there are little slips of paper that you can rip off and add to your bounty. Each slip is a little under seven dollars and it buys a meal for a homebound person in the city. It is subtle and casual and oh so easy to do. Here in Mass, I was at the grocery story and I nearly ran into, literally (runaway toddler) a giant display of those now lead-filled recycled bags filled with food. You can lift one of these ten pound bags of food and put it into your cart, taking up a good quarter of your cart, then pay for it, and — this is the kicker — put the giant bag in a giant box at the front of the store, to be delivered to a food shelter. Why not just employ the same slip of paper method? Why waste so much space and effort?

This is my very unscientific survey: In the city, I am a the grocery store every day, and frequently waiting on lines, and I have not seen one person take one of those clandestine tickets and buy a homebound persona meal. Not one. But in Mass, every time I am at the food store, I see DOZENS of people lifting those big, showy bags and putting them in their carts. Sometimes, even, two bags. I know there are all sorts of studies about this. Turns out we adults are a lot like kids, and we respond well to recognition and reinforcement for good behavior. “I Voted!” stickers come to mind. And the blood donation stickers. That sort of thing.

And, as long as we re talking about giving, it has always bothered me that some celebrities refuse to do commercials or endorsements, even though they are promised millions of dollars. I always think, why CAN’T you do a commercial for a freaking jewelry line that will be aired only in Japan, and take your $5 million dollar endorsement fee and, I don’t know, build a school? Make a food shelter’s year? Support a library? The celebrities say doing commercials and endormsemt will hurt their career. So what does that say about our society? Are we really going to stop watching someone’s movies because they did a commercial in Japan? It’s all so absurd. I would think that it would help their careers. Instead, pseudo celebrities are taking money for their own gain. Those ridiculous family of sisters have their clothing line and credit cards and TV shows and will show up for the opening on an envelope, especially if they get aid for it, and they are laughing all the way to the bank. Are they sharing? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no.

Something I love about my Massachusetts town is that they just approved in their budget to spend just over 100K to help secure housing for the “6 to 7” homeless people in town who are committed to sobriety. I love that. The local food shelter recently received a 200K donation from a local school janitor, who saved that money his entire life. I love the sense of community here.

So what is the point of this whole post? I have no idea, really. All this is running though my head and the girls are sleeping and I have the luxury to raamble on.

Pictured above, I took the girls to Friendly’s. About halfway through our meal, a Veteran (he was wearing one of those war hats) came over and gave me a coupon for a free kid’s meal. It made me cry. Here is this hunched over man, who gave his time to serve our country and even now, in his old, old age, he is still giving. What can I say? I’m feeling sentimental these days. Meanwhile, the sundae looked nothing like the picture on the menu! False advertising. Who can I sue?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mother/Electrician/Emotional Caretaker/Mere Bystander

Tonight Avery was climbing up the steps to the deck and said something when she got to the top that stopped me in my tracks, literally: “You can’t get me, monsters.” Now, there is little doubt that Avery and I share nearly identical emotional circuitry, but this particular statement is one that I used to say often (and its variation, “Monsters come and get me”) as a child. My own battle cry, of sorts, that I would declare once I was certain I was in a safe zone. And hearing Avery say it…How does that happen? How does Avery echo iterations identical to mine, thirty years later? My personal childhood soundtrack, in her three-year-old mouth?

She’s sensitive, this we know for sure. She is very loving and affectionate. She’s creative and gentle with animals and infectious with her joy. She has a sense of humor that cracks me up. And…she’s a little needy, which, of course, is adorable when one is three, but not so much when one is, say, close to 40. Life is hard when you go around with your heart stapled to your sleeve. But how do you warn a toddler about that?

Avery is also very impressionable, which was reinforced today when I introduced the Elf on A Shelf thing to her and Madeline. I told the girls the whole story (elf watches the girls all day; flies back to Santa and reports at night; relocates to new spot each morning). This highlighted Avery’s other quality silmilar to mine: She asks a LOT of questions. How does he fly, she asked. He has no wings. I said he flies by magic, like Santa. But Santa has flying reindeer, she responded. Oh. So that’s how it is now. I actually need to work on my lies. I can’t leave Grand Canyon-sized holes and assume she will not see them. I wormed my way out of that one. Just barely.

She kept an eye on that elf all day. I caught her sneaking peeks at him. She even referenced Chaco to her sister: When Maddie misbehaved, Avery warned her that Chaco saw it and Chaco would tell Santa. At the end of the day, she asked me to pick her up to see if Chaco was smiling. I assured her that Chaco would deliver a glowing report, and she seemed visibly relieved. I swear she sighed with relief. It is cute and charming and all that, but I felt terrible. I know there is a tangible reward for all of her good behavior (lots and lots of presents) but the writing is on the wall: We have a people-pleaser, an approval-seeker; keep-the-peacer on our hands. Hello, Mini Me.

We went out to dinner tonight, and meet up with Auntie Annie. The girls were both a little not tame, which is never good when spaghetti is involved. Madeline literally had a hysterically laughing Avery in a head lock and Auntie Annie told the girls that the waitress talks to Santa, so they better behave. Avery’s face went white and she became still as a stone, lips pursed, hands down at her sides. Maddie continued her hi-jinx — if not escalating said jinx — as if to pooh-pooh our waitress and her Santa connection. Then Auntie Annie delivered the best line of the night: “Maddie doesn’t care about Santa because she can make a toy out of a stick and a rock.” And that is so true. Maddie doesn’t need the toys. Or approval. Or incentive. Or even to please. I don’t mean that in a bad way; indeed those very qualities will serve her well in life. I admire that immensely. Maybe she can teach me a thing or two. But my Avery, she just sat there, almost petrified. Because she is afraid she is disappointing Santa and disappointing Santa hurts her.

So all day I found myself delivering Yoda-like speeches to Avery: “You don’t have to be perfect all of the time, but you must show remorse if you were not good.” And “Being good is its own reward sometimes.” I delivered various other statements that I am sure went over her head because the truth is, I have never been good at imparting lessons to the toddler set. It’s an art, really, and this coming from someone who is good with metaphors and similes and such.

But let the record reflect that there is a smidge of concern over here. I want Avery to be Avery, but I also want to shrink the lessons I learned after almost four decades of living to fit her. Going through life overly concerned about what others think is not the greatest way to live. How do I dial that down without overly distilling who she is? How do I cater to her emotional needs, while also showing her that she doesn’t need to be so needy? How do I let her exercise free will while also molding her? This is the parental paradox. On one hand, I am just a caretaker of this beautiful blooming flower. In a way, my job is just to protect it in the most basic way and watch it grow, because with or without me, she will. On the other hand, I am trying to add some fertilizer to the soil and help the flower be the best it can be. I love my daughter exactly how she is. But I can say with certainty that her emotional makeup will lead to quite a few sad days in her later life.

In many ways, I am proud that my daughter will grow up and be like me. In a way, seeing this girl evolve into me — especially lately — has made me feel a little more confident about myself. But I don’t want her to suffer the heartache and break that comes to those of us with such raw emotional circuitry. So I find myself scrambling a bit now, to burn the end of my own emotional circuits and disconnect a few wires that have proven to always end in sadness; to remember that while my job is to feed and bath and clothe, it is also to be a role model for my children, which is a role that often gets lost in the shuffle.

But if Avery chooses to live her life that way, then I am fine with that, too. I know how to feed that kind of soul. And I can promise her that I will always be there to help her pick up her pieces.

It is raining and I love the thud of the big drops on the roof. My girls are up now. It’s time to see where the Elf landed last night.

Pictured above, this is the face Avery had when I told her that Nicole and Maddie went for a walk alone. Avery, like me, wishes she could Velcro herself to Nicole. Alas. Also pictured, the Elf on the Shelf. And Avery, concentrating on painting her spice rack for Nana.