Monday, April 13, 2009

domestic penance

This morning I heard the book, the Ten Year Nap, mentioned on NPR. I haven't read it but I know that a ten-year nap, as a concept, to this weary, rather exhausted working mom, sounds really good. I hate that I've become that harried, over-stretched cliche, of the tired mom you see on commercials for floor cleaner, but I suppose I have, and after only one child. Yikes. In defence of motherhood, I have to say that it's not the child nor the work that really seem the culprit. It's everything in between. I know the Ten Year Nap deals with modern motherhood and the vexing challenge of “making it all work” - the work, whatever it may be, the child-rearing, the marriage, the self. Making it all coalesce into a nice quilt as opposed to a bunch of rags flying around and slapping you in the face. That's what my life has felt like lately - a big cyclone of remnant fabric - some great - lovely, clean and darling - others dirty, gnarly, mildewed and definitely overwhelming the brighter nicer pieces. The pieces are those things that ask of me, that require my attention, that make sleeping until 11am and reading the Style Section of the New York Times, no longer possible. These pieces include my beautiful son, and also my demanding but highly enjoyable work, which I've shoe-horned into a part-time schedule and my marriage which also feels conspicuously part-time lately. What's represented by threadbare, barely-there pieces are my self-care and my social life. If it's doesn't fall into the categories of motherhood or work, it's largely ignored. If it requires me to leave the house and doesn't fall into those categories, it's completely ignored. To my friends who are reading this, this is where I've been.

As for the in-between stuff - the stuff that asks and takes quite a bit of me, which has none of the beauty of motherhood, the fulfillment of my creative work or the companionship of my husband, I'm talking about the drudgery which is housework. It's been sobering to realize that with the commitment to rearing my own child, being his teacher and guide, which comes from a deep desire and belief that it's what's best for my well-being as well as my son's, comes with those pieces - a U-Haul truck chock full of domestic duties I never wanted that tag along with all the beauty and grace of motherhood. With the choice to stay home -whether part time or full time -- comes the responsibility for making the house a livable space.

This is certainly the bitchslap that comes along with being home. The laundry pieces (or gigantic piles, as it were), the grocery pieces (or lack therein), the gotta-go-to-the-doctor pieces or anything that falls into that black hole that is between "Working" and "Mother." They are fringe "pieces" - not meaningful, not profound, not joyful, totally mundane, and yet these are the pieces - the domestic elements that enable us to eat and be comfortable and healthy – which are not optional. Without the mundane, we are unfortunately lost. These domestic pieces - the housewife special as I call it - frustrate me and whisper to me that it's not possible to have a sane life as a working mother. They make a nap that lasts ten years long beckon. Perhaps The Ten Year Nap is about women in search of something more streamlined, simplified, and focused, who have chosen to put their careers and the corresponding skill-sets therein, to sleep for ten years. I like naps and I think for me that could mean professionally sleeping through the younger years of two or three children. It sounds like a neat little package - take ten yeas off - surrender your brain to toddler feeding strategies and storing systems for baby clothing without reservation or apology. Give complete attention to finding the best mommy and me yoga and attend on time, in clean clothes, peacefully. Create a well-oiled machine out of the ongoing, always-on pressures of house-keeping, kitchen-cupboard-stocking and activity-planning. Pour your Excel talents or management virtuoso into school related activities. Arrange for dinner to be a peaceful, healthy event, instead of a task made tortuous without the benefit of planning, time or groceries. Sit on the floor, drink coffee while your toddler takes apart the cabinet, work as hard as the family pushes you. Greet your husband, assuming he works outside of the home, perhaps with fewer stains and having taken a shower during naptime.

This life sounds might appealing. Dreamy even. I suppose it would require lots of letting go – which, I am already inadvertently and involuntarily doing by function of just being disorganized and tired. But there will be more letting go should this vision become my life. I’d need to let the rest go. Let go of what my peers - male and female - are doing, where my neighbors, who might also be mothers, might be going in the morning when they leave their babies behind. Let go of the news of the technology I’m not exposed to now that my computer time becomes weekly or not at all. Let go of lost earnings, possible earnings and any earnings over and above gratitude from my husband after I remind him of my sacrifice and the cosmic income that comes with raising your own children. I hate letting go almost as much as I hate folding laundry. I can’t believe no one has found something to do that for us too. And just so I don't get a lot of negative feedback for crapping on the stay at home mom's parade -- (which I can actually attend if it's on a Monday or Thursday or Friday) I am not in any way belittling or besmirching the kind of cosmic income you get from staying home. I'm totally get it and believe me, it is challenging any type of other income I am earning. I am choosing to be with my son for more than 50% of the time I could be working or creating something other than a well-cared for toddler. And I'm tempted to spend less and less time away from him. I’m also acutely aware that letting go of more of my professional sphere would mean I could do a better job when I am there. Not phoning it in, not trying to caffeinate to make it. In being with my son, in playing, in putting it all together, in keeping jt together.

Because let’s face it, being house bitch isn’t really optional, not for me anyway whether the work is there or not. It’s partly financial – having a maid isn’t really in the budget – but it’s also that I’m a control freak, I like things done my way and it’s also just part of being the mommy. I dare not say that my job is keeping the house clean, orderly and peaceful - that's a little too ambitious. But I have to come close and try - try and do something that is nearly impossible - because I'm only doing it part of the time - try and play housewife and keep the house from falling down due to toddler-induced wreckage.

I guess I should have been born silver-spoon-fed - I was not -because I don't want to follow in the footsteps of excellent cleaners and impeccable home makers from whence I come. I do want to raise my own children, but can't I divorce the child-rearing from the maid-service without winning Powerball? The two seem inextricably fused together - this idea of nurturing my young son and also being the house bitch. Especialy when being home with him means that any outsourced home bitching becomes that much more difficult. The house bitch part seems to occupy the purgatory between my time with my son or and my creative work. And that purgatory makes me want to choose - to choose one side and let the other one go. Why is the middle ground always so challenging?

The middle child of working motherhood is this grey area - between gratitude and angst - to know that I have created a scenario which is neither perfect nor all that painful. That having both is not a free lunch. And to know that in whatever configuration the notion of motherhood and work takes place - it's hard. I only know this because I'm in one or the other several times a week. I've also worked much more, taken care of house much less, and hated it. I've also been home full time and continue to be drawn by work that keeps knocking at the door. Being a working mom in any configuration is a little like living multiple lives. I always thought one of those would include being stripper - but apparently not. You can live two lives as a woman with all her clothes on, once you're done breastfeeding, as a mother and a person who works.

If I want to evolve as a mother, I see that my job is to make peace with dirt and cooking and the ring around the toilet announcing to me and everyone using it that I really do let it go two-weeks between visits from our house cleaner. (Yes, I have a house cleaner every two weeks and I'm still having a hard time.) This is linked to my self-esteem reared in a professional life and a negative identity I somehow have attached to homemaking. Where did this come from? Was this an inadvertent, delayed byproduct of the women’s liberation movement? That we would feel badly about domestic life we could choose and then not change? This is also much about finding myself, as cliche as it sounds, separate from my foremothers, separate from my peers, and with so many costume changes in a single day or week. This is about finding the serenity in the mundane, and realizing that child rearing is not all kindergarten play, but a lot of responsibility and hard work to stay the course - which is course to create a beautiful safe nurturing environment for my favorite munchkin. Perhaps I can make a truce with the work - and work less or the housework, and live in a dirtier environment. I see change a comin'. I am open to whatever is going to give me more peace and the tiniest sliver of extra rest I can find. I’m reminded once again that there is a process of building a mother’s life that works. I remain, in search of the balance of dirty socks, gratitude and comfort with all things in between....

Monday, March 23, 2009

Non Celeb-Mom Celeb-Mom Interview

I typically don't love celebrity interviews with mothers because they seem trite and I can't get it out of my head that they probably have a personal chef. This is my shit, I know. But this interview with Julianne Moore on Babble is interesting to me. It touches, briefly, in the middle, on a topic I've been writing about and will post in a moment or two. I did find a more interesting photo of her than the I-use-Crest toothpaste one that they used, however.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I don't know why she does it

"Some mothers work because they have to - others for their own fulfillment."

And there it was - it might has well come in the form of a back-handed slap. Somehow because I am sensitive about my fulfillment - that it's private and not for outside commentary, I felt like this sentence filleted me and left me for dead. I am sensitive for sure - but on this topic, my sensitivity is off the charts. When pressed, do I have to work? Couldn't we downsize or live more frugally on my husband's income? Yes. Is my own fulfillment an appropriate reason to leave my son? Is that really the only purpose of my work? Somehow "my own fulfillment," sounded about as reasonable for a mother as a heroine addiction.

It doesn't matter that the speaker of this sentence is from another era in time, a different gender, a speaker of throw away statements and meaningless platitudes. It doesn't matter that I like what I do, that I'm good at it, and that I re-affirm these statements constantly. It is nonetheless some sort of painful cross to bear for me that being a working mother isn't a choice that everyone celebrates and respects. I guess I have to ask myself, do I respect women who don't work? Who only take care of their children and their home? Who seemingly have no other aspirations? Even the semantic choice of these sentences implies that I probably don't. I say I do - that I am even jealous of a woman who can be that cut and dry about her life -I am still learning how to manage all the multiple simultaneous players - there is nothing cut, dry, clear, simple or easy about the life of a working mother. And yet I assume that it is much more so on the side of a woman who has chosen to stay home full-time.

These statements about working mothers always seem to hearken the "greatest generation." Either they are uttered by someone who legitimately has membership in said glorified group, or they remind me of a much simpler era for women. An era that I certainly romanticize. When I was in college, I had a passion for vintage clothing from the 1930s and 1940s. When my roommate at the time was asked to describe my personal style, she said, "Paige dresses like she is waiting for the boys to come home." I certainly carry a romance for a simpler time - of pure female domesticity. In turn, or rather in Jekyll and Hyde fashion, I have a passion and love for all the modern electronic, fact-paced complexity that makes up my life today. I have love and hate being a modern woman. I dare not give up all that I have that is career, work, productivity, and yet often I wish I could stay home and bake bread. The idea of living slower, simpler and less attached to things and achievements is attractive to me - but not all of the time.

This is certainly the Gemini in me - at once in rapture with two lives - two options and two choices - when you can really only have one at a time. This latest run in with the need/fulfillment assertion about working women, I found myself clenching my teeth. I said in a total projective non-sequitur, "I think I'm a better mother when I do what I love." It was defensive and laced with the antagonism I'd carried each time I'd heard this opinion. Am I a better mother? I guess my ideal - of the war-time mother - of the woman tethered to home and children and her kitchen, is not really what I want - especially if the way to have it is to give up my creative work. I have colleagues and friends and peers who are so confident in their modern nanny-aided choices. They trust that their children will be OK, that their work is really important, that they can work by day and mother by night, or vice-versa, as the job might be. I don't have this confidence. I still battle each side - not enough to quite my job, obviously. Not enough to hire a full-time nanny. Not enough to make more space on either side of my life. So I remain, often squished by both as they clash and conflict for each of my 24 daily hours.

I sit with this idea - that I work to be fulfilled, even at the expense of my time at home. Is this OK? The veteran women and mothers in my life who I respect (both stay-at-home and work-outside alike) say that this is rudimentary self-respect. Of course it's ok you numbskull, I am sure they want to say. Motherhood is not composed entirely of self-sacrifice. And yet there are others who are of the mind that maternal fulfillment comes after - after the children are born, bred, put to bed and taken to school. After the work is done and by the way, it never will be. I probably respect these women too - I'm afraid enough or insecure enough in my own choices to think they are no idiots or domestic simpletons but that they might have a good point.

I suppose I have multiple-maternal personalities. What makes this worse is how the concept of "enough" in literally any category, eludes me. I never know what is enough salt, enough skinny, enough money, enough stuff done for the day. So it's no surprise that I understand neither enough maternal sacrifice nor enough maternal fulfilment. Perhaps no one knows. Perhaps I need to continue to find out? Its uncomfortable - like the a blister - not to know the answer and to know it will continue to press me for quite a while.

Since I never know what's "enough" for a blog post - I stopped to look up "fulfilment" in the online dictionary.

Fulfillment - a feeling of satisfaction at having achieved your desires.

It doesn't say "fulfillment is a feeling of satisfaction achieved outside of the home - quenching desires of the professional, outside world." Who is to say what a woman's desires are? Perhaps they are professional, perhaps they are maternal. The expression is my heart's desire, whether the satisfaction, the fulfillment comes from motherhood or work, or both or neither - it's up to each woman to decide. So if I can go back to the statement that catapulted me into this argument - a woman's own fulfillment is exactly what drives a woman to stay home or work outside the home - if she of course doesn't "need" to do so. We've given choice to women and we've in term loaded the word fulfillment with notions of selfishness - something that can only be achieved at the expense of her family, some sort of oats she must sew that can't be done with mothering alone. I now believe that fulfillment is the ultimate creative project for a woman - she decides what will fulfill - how to do it - and then to do it if she is graced with choice. And for me, graced with a life of choice - it's certainly both - I am not fulfilled completely by work, nor am I fulfilled completely by motherhood - it's the union of both in my life which makes me feel FULL. The fullness is often overwhelming - too much - completely foreign - in life which is often all about seeking. Perhaps it's this unsettling feeling of fullness that makes me question - it certainly would be a lot simpler if it were just one or the other.

Today my husband will take my son to the park so I can write and finish up some work. After which I will play with my son and put him to bed. At the end of the day, I will be filled with work and motherhood, literally, to my heart's content. It doesn't look like everyone's life (it's Sunday after all) and it's certainly what I need to do, based on my choice - and perhaps that's absolutely enough.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Faith found in the dark...not as dramatic as it sounds

It was the first day of school in seventh grade – French class. I am enjoying the simple pleasures of bare thighs on cool seats and the sight of my now-tan crush from the sixth grade. I consider whether to pronounce my “r’s” correctly, when I see a finger launched in my direction. There is violent laughing, a spasmodic hyena attached to said finger. She is Danielle O’Connor, a girl who let her black bra strap show. Born a non-virgin, she was going no where in life, making her a menacing force in the seventh grade. “Look how HAIRY,” she gasped as she let her head fall to her desk, laughing and shaking with enough condescension to make a super model self-conscious. Each student in my row, and the row next to me, and the row next to them, arched over the sides of their desks to point at the object of Kim’s ridicule, the bulls’ eye of adolescent recrimination – my legs. After a long summer of swimming, hanging out at the beach, and clearly hair growth, Danielle was kind enough to point out that I had shown up without my pubescent homework – cleanly shaven legs. I didn’t know how to use a razor so my mother shaved my legs that night in the bathtub. I sat their naked as she mothered me, not out of the croup or chicken pox, but through a changed landscape of junior high femininity. I needed a new uniform: cleanly shaven legs – and I was willing to go back to early childhood to get them. Now, as a mother myself, I realize how funny and sweet this must have been – enough self-conscious anxiety met with motherly duty to slay whatever junior high demons may come.

Today, I’m not all that vigilant about shaving my legs – my husband has said for the record he doesn’t care and I’ve taken that to the bank. But perhaps the hairy legs event has had its effect on my psyche. I am weirdly aware, even obsessively curious about how I perceived. Naturally I had to pick this emotional scab and go into a creative and wholly subjective career in design, as well as a naked career, on television. I am less sensitive about feedback on my looks –probably a gift of my third decade and filming in my third trimester last year. But what I am doing – how my choices are forming my days and years – and what people think -- this is razor-burn sensitive. Perhaps the voices were born on that day in French class. These are the voices that feud over my life’s options and decisions creating an annoying din in an already noisy life.

As the second baby siren song goes into full swing in my head, background muzak for the committee of voices to talk over, I start to hear all the compelling, triggering, manipulative, emotive and just plain annoying voices on all sides of the debate. In full disclosure, my heart wants to have another baby just about as soon as I can – motherhood has been the coolest, most incredible thrill ride on earth and I want more. That I can write unequivocally. And yet the damn voices that get in the way – those cerebral ankle biters if you will, make unprotected sex less than peaceful. Let’s just say it’s very loud up there.

There is one group, I call them the Sex in the City faction. These voices do Pilates as they say, “Not now hon’, you’ve just gotten into your jeans. You’re just getting to sleep like a normal person. And your sex life… do you really want to put yourself, down there, out of commission again? Remember how long it took us to take the corvette out of the garage after Xavier was born?” Then there is a voice wielding a blackberry and an earpiece that says, “Don’t you realize you’ve just gotten everyone in your professional milieu to forgive, I mean, forget all that pregnancy and baby business not to mention the breast pumping every 9 minutes? Do you really want them to see you in a mammary way again so soon?” Then there is the voice of blasé alarm, “You really shouldn’t wait. It could take years. It could take many years. You’re not really that old I, but as you get older it gets harder and harder.” And then, there is the voice of a woman from another era – some pre-industrial/sexual revolution voice that has never had an orgasm that says “So, you’re putting work, sex, sleep, jean size and your TV career ahead of family? Where are your values? What could be more important than having as many children as possible? What, that’s not enough for you?”

So as you can tell I have a busy head –there is a veritable village of opinions living up there – I would love to say that I meditate to eradicate those voices. I don’t. But what I have done to survive without a triple shot of Xanax with a martini chaser is to invite other voices in. Voices with bodies, ideally. Friends. Nice, evolved, loving friends. One of them always reminds me that I don’t really know anything. That I can plan and think all I want, but in the end, it’s just better to live in the day. I don’t know that it will be the same. I don’t know what reactions will be. I don’t know how I will be, even. Another friend reminds me that I can’t lose – that the reality of life of an American woman in our time, a first worlder, a woman with tremendous opportunities – is a gift any way it’s lived. Another reminds me that she knows me well and knows I won’t regret having a child, period whenever he or she arrives. Another reminds me to trust my heart – that I’m not a flip teenager anymore.

The other force that keeps the pharmaceuticals at bay is motherhood – the daily not-optional care-taking rituals have grounded me in a way I couldn’t have imagined before my son arrived. I find myself feeling unusually centered when I am putting my son to sleep. We are nestled like a pretzel on our old rocking chair. Right after I tell myself I should have ponied up for a glider, I sink my face into his head and enjoy the rarity of his stillness. Then, I take a slow deep breath. I breathe in his softness as his little body relaxes and prepares to sleep. I reflect on the fact that I am lucky enough to be experiencing one absolutely perfect moment. And then another. And then another. Spellbindingly perfect. To be an agent of sleep – to guide another human being into vital, restful, rejuvenating comfort makes me feel like a Greek God sometimes. Like a scene out of Clash of the Titans. And its these times, these quiet simple moments before nap time or bed time, when the voices are generous enough to be on hiatus, that I realize how much I love being a mother and that not only is being a mother again and again whenever and however a gift, but the desire for this experience is also a gift. To have a clear desire for something so simple and life affirming must be a mix of spiritual truth and our DNA – propelling us to joyfully keep going as a species.

My other desires haven’t gone away – to create and achieve and do – to make things other than babies. I truly enjoy my work – even my time away from my son. The only reconciliation comes from my heart – as cliché and banal as it sounds. In a quiet dark room, mine tells me that if I want to have another baby now, that’s ok. How can more of this, not be ok? My heart reminds me that I am ironically intoxicated with the moment when I am with my son. What else can do that? My heart asks me knowing the answer is nothing, and it’s not like I haven’t tried many things – searching for this very moment. Some how in this spiritual foreplay, a fullness of faith is born, right there in the dark. The faith comes not out of effort, but out of comfort. It’s as real and tangible as any faith I’ve ever experienced. A spiritual, centered eureka moment happens as I realized that maybe, just maybe, as I take care of another human being, so am I being taken care of. The voices are quiet and I am tucked into a trust which is illogical and silly to my fast-paced, New York-fueled life. If they were talking again they would remind me just how silly and just how illogical and just how many things I have to do. And yet I don’t let them. My now-Herculean inner peace does not let anything trump that faith born in the dark – the faith born of nuzzling and quiet and deep breaths with my son on my lap. The faith that tells me it will be ok – that this moment is as much a destiny as any other. The faith that affirms creative action in any direction. The faith that quiets those voices, finally.

As I walk out of my son’s room, I often have a tear in my eye as step back into a life filled to the brim with unanswered emails, half-completed projects, voicemails to return and dinner to be made. By the time I get downstairs thoughts of what to eat for dinner – “Go for the salad, remember what the scale said the other day??” ripple across the quiet in my head. I chuckle, at my Skinny Bitch voice. I realize that this as precious as those moments were in the dark – a stark contrast to the rest of my day – my tour of duty as a mother will bring many more. Many more chances to nurture my son and that faith that will surely guide me on this journey of a modern mother’s life.