Notes from SAHM-hood

I spent 3 hours this morning baking heart-shaped pretzels for my daughter’s class party tomorrow. Then I spent another hour cleaning up the mess from when the pot of boiling water and baking soda exploded everywhere. I’m still not done cleaning. If anyone has any genius solutions for cleaning streaks of baking soda from in between the layers of the oven door, I’m all ears.

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Tomorrow is the party, which is where I will be from 9:30-11:30, handling setup and food and facilitating a craft and story time for the kids. Then, Charlotte will throw the ultimate fit when it’s time for me to leave because she’s had to share me with her classmates for the last 2 hours and she was already on the brink of a breakdown because her best friend wouldn’t let go of my hand.

Next week is grandparents day at school, which coincides with the bake sale. I have “volunteered” to bake cookies for the bake sale. They need to be “individually packaged” and “visually appealing.” Then, I “volunteered” for a 3-hour volunteer shift at the bake sale. Volunteered is in quotes because I am a room parent and although they say we are volunteering, it is actually expected of us. Supposedly it was all in the contract I signed when I agreed to be a room parent. Clearly, I did not read the contract before signing my life away.

The day after the bake sale, I have “volunteered” to sell tickets to the school’s gala for a few hours before/after drop off.

Speaking of the gala, all room parents are responsible for creating a project of some sort to be auctioned off at the gala. Fortunately, my wife has been a tremendous help on this. So much help, in fact, that I volunteered to help two other room moms with their auction projects. When my wife accused me of over-committing myself, I threw my hands up in the air muttering something about “making friends with these people.” Because you know—when you’re trying to make friends, it’s always best to segregate them into a group you frequently make fun of (*cough*we call them the Range Rovers*cough*) and refer to them as “these people.”

Somewhere in the midst of all of that, there is a ridiculous amount of my own schoolwork to accomplish, parenting to attend to, dogs to walk, a house to maintain, and a marriage to weed and water. And tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. We still have to fill out the Paw Patrol cards we bought for Charlotte’s friends. And maybe I should shower at some point.

I also really need to start thinking about finding employment or generating some sort of income again because we are drowning in debt.

Being a stay at home parent is absolutely nothing like I imagined it would be. Most days, I find myself complaining about it. At the same time, I dread the day that this is not my life anymore. As much as I don’t find it particularly fulfilling, I do see how it benefits our family for me to be here, doing these things I never imagined I’d be doing. I don’t want to emerge from this little stay-at-home-parent-cocoon I’ve nestled myself into. I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it.

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Career 2.0

Ever since I quit my job, it has been haunting my dreams. At least a few times a week, I have vivid and intense recurring stress dreams about returning to work there after an extended absence. I’ll start showing up for work and jump right back into things, and then something will happen—it’s never clear what—and suddenly I am trying to leave again, but it turns hostile and bizarre right around that point. Last night it included me having a total nervous breakdown triggered by my former boss’s belittling chuckle

I’m writing about it here today because I would love to get a handle on these dreams. I’m tired enough courtesy of our 3 year old who doesn’t appreciate sleep the way she should, and I don’t need to be waking up in a cold sweat with a racing heart thinking about work that is not mine anymore.

If I had to guess, I’d say that the root of these dreams is the unknown. I know that my financial cushion is running out faster than I could have imagined, and I have no real plan for what’s next. The fear I experience in these dreams is not literally about ending up working there again, but it is about not knowing what the future of my career will look like.

When I chat with people about the future, I’m quick to answer that I’d like to get into copywriting because it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing and I’m reasonably good at it. The catch is that being a freelance copywriter means leaving behind the corporate structure with steady paychecks, benefits and retirement. I don’t know how on earth I could make that work. My salary has always been larger than Catch’s, and we rely on that. Giving it up is terrifying.

Much as I love the quips from people in my life that I should pursue photography as a career, it’s just not reasonable. As a hobby, yes. I’m not going to stop taking pictures. I just don’t see myself being able to make a career of it. Not in Los Angeles. The market here for photographers is over saturated as it is, and most of them are immensely talented and educated in their craft on a level that I’m just not interested in pursuing. I am already paying through the nose for a communications degree, and I feel it will serve me well.

Giving up my freedom is equally terrifying. I am LOVING this time away from the corporate world. I feel like I’m finding myself right now. I am thoroughly enjoying my (straight A) student status. I love being able to be present when my daughter needs me. I love that we have the flexibility of only one work schedule to accommodate—and since that schedule is a teacher’s schedule, it gives us so many opportunities to take off when we want/need to. Although it is fairly intense, my schoolwork is completely portable, so as long as I have an internet connection I can work from anywhere. I love this life.

We are rapidly approaching the one year anniversary of the day I quit. ONE YEAR. It has literally flown by. I’d like to have steady work lined up by the time Charlotte starts her final year of preschool in September, but I’m so afraid of that change. I need to start slowly working to accept the reality that I can’t live in this beautiful bubble forever.

I quit my job with the absolute confidence that everything was going to be okay and that this was going to be an important turning point in my life. I think these dreams have been shaking that confidence a bit, and I can’t let them. It’s too important for me to keep my head in the game. I don’t know exactly what Career 2.0 is going to look like, but I know I can’t let the residual yuck from Career 1.0 call the shots.

Motherhood

Charlotte was in our bed this morning when I opened my eyes. She had an accident in her bed last night, and rather than peeling back sopping layers on her bed, we just changed her and put her in bed with us.

She woke up so happy. Rolling around and goofy in her mismatched, grabbed-from-the-drawer-in-the-dark-of–night pajamas. She was smiling her brightest smile with shining eyes, cooing at Twix, who was cuddled on Charlotte’s pillow. I watched her, and thought about how she is truly just a beautiful child. Inside and out. When Charlotte smiles, everyone smiles.

Soon, we were forced from our little cocoon of wiggly cuddles into the throes of the morning routine.

“Mama, can I watch Blaze on my computer please?” she asked as she swung her legs out of bed.

“What are the rules in the morning? First potty, then breakfast, then you get ready for school. If we have time, THEN, you can have your computer for a bit.”

I knew in that instant that it was all over. My happy, beautiful child was about to transform into a kicking, screaming, emotional wreck incapable of reason. I was right.

The next hour was basically one series of standoffs and horrific tantrums after the next. She didn’t need to go potty. She wouldn’t. She was going to go pee on my bed. I’m a bad mom. She wants Little Mama RIGHT NOW.

Then, she told me she wished I wasn’t even alive, and then she could just be with Little Mama. That was basically the lowest blow she has ever dealt. I walked away.

Within a minute, she was pleading with me to come back. “Don’t leave me alone! I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE!” she screamed for the world to hear.

All I wanted in that moment was to be alone. If I could have blinked and made her disappear to preschool, I would have right then.

After something like 45 minutes of this battle of wills over going potty and getting dressed, she grew tired. At that point, I don’t even think she knew what she was fighting about. She was just screaming for the sake of screaming. She grabbed her sunshine blanket and tearfully crawled into my lap and laid in my arms like she did when she was a baby. I rocked her a bit as we talked quietly about making good choices and about how there are consequences for bad choices. She closed her eyes and cuddled into me.

Now, she is at school. I told her teacher that she’d be staying for extended care this afternoon and that I’d pick her up around 4. Her teacher just posted a photo of her dancing with one of her best friends and their smiles are total perfection. I miss her, now. It’s pouring rain outside and the thunder is so powerful that it’s shaking the house and causing the power to surge and flicker on and off. I keep thinking about how I could go pick her up from school and we could spend the day cuddled up on the couch watching whatever Nick Jr. shows she wants with a giant bowl of freshly popped popcorn.

I’m sharing this because I can’t be the only mother in the world who feels like having a three year old is a bit like being in an abusive relationship. They smile and you melt because they are just so lovely. That smile gives you life. Then, they turn around and spew their unique brand of emotional abuse, and when it’s over, they need you to comfort them. You know you need some space, but you are addicted to that smile and find yourself craving it the moment they’re away.
I love my daughter more than anything in the world, but there are mornings like this when I wish I could just curl up with the dogs and a bottle of champagne and forget about my parental obligations for a while. A few days? Maybe a week? Just long enough to relieve the ever present crick in my neck from sleeping with my arm around her because if I don’t, she will scream, “SNUGGLE MEEEEEEE!” until she wakes up the whole neighborhood.

Parenthood. It’s the only abusive relationship that binds you both legally and morally.

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If I only had a brain…

Once upon a time, I had a brain. It was a lovely brain. Truly. It often received compliments for its well thought out responses and ability to apply reason and logic to various situations.

Then, Charlotte was born.

Between the extreme lack of sleep (remember how she woke up every 50 minutes for a year?) and the stress of managing work, marriage, child, dogs and house, my beautiful brain started giving me warning signs that it was unhappy.

At first, it was tiny things… Mismatched shoes, or an inside out blouse post-pumping at the office. We tried sleep training to appease my unhappy brain, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there were cracks forming in the foundation of our relationship.

Months passed, and my brain’s unhappiness persisted. Warning signs escalated. Now, it was a forgotten pin number for a debit card, or a meeting that I should have been at an hour ago. Did I ever send that email about the Very Important Thing? Where is my wedding ring?

My brain started singing, This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.

It is really difficult to silence one’s brain once it starts singing Talking Heads songs. It’s not as if you can just pop in some earplugs.

I pleaded with my brain to give me another chance. I just need more time, I told it. More sleep. Please, just let me get some more sleep and everything will be better.

I thought my brain had reached its breaking point the day it made me quit my job, but it denies having influenced the situation. It blames my heart for my abrupt departure from the working world. I’m not so sure. I feel like the two have a habit of making one another their scapegoats.

I really believed quitting my job was precisely what my relationship with my brain needed. Less stuff to remember! Fewer people to please! We can spend the whole day in our pajamas together if we feel the need!

My brain was skeptical, but my heart assured me that this was exactly what my brain needed and everything was going to be okay.

I decided that what we really needed was a vacation. Quality time. Just me and my brain… and Catch and her brain and Charlotte and her brain and Twix and her brain. In hindsight, a road trip with all of those brains to please probably wasn’t the sort of quality time my brain was hoping for.

My heart told me that my brain was missing the challenge of working. It was feeling neglected. I had the solution! Let’s go back to school, I told my brain. It will be great! We’ll read and write—we love reading and writing! Brain uttered some expletives that probably aren’t appropriate for mixed company, but I went ahead and registered for classes.

Brain was THRILLED for a while. I heard it thinking, This is fun! Let’s get an A! Let’s get ANOTHER A! I feel so used and loved for the first time in 3 years!

Then, Christmas rolled around and I’m not entirely certain where I went wrong, but my brain appears to have filed for legal separation. I feel lost without it, but I’ve spent the last 3 years trying to make our relationship work and I don’t know that I have much more to give.

I  miss my brain, though. I would love to have it back. Working on my classes this term has been a real struggle without it. The two of us were made for each other. How do I make my brain see that?

Brain, if you’re reading this, please come back. I promise I’ll do better. I promise to stop playing mindless games on my phone instead of sleeping. I promise I’ll listen to you when you tell me I should be studying instead of spending more money at Costco. I promise that I will put you first. We can do this, brain. Don’t leave me now.

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In terms of the number of legs in our household, not much has changed since Charlotte was born. We started with 12 and Charlotte made 14.

So someone please explain to my why I suddenly need to buy cleaning products in bulk. Seriously.

My mom added me to her Costco membership at least 15 years ago. It’s always just been a thing I use maybe once every few months.

Suddenly, I’m a Costco regular. I’m sitting here looking at bulk laundry soap, bulk floor cleaner, bulk toilet paper, bulk disinfectant, and let’s face it… bulk mac & cheese.

How is it that the addition of only two legs has created so much damn MESS?!

Kindness

I’m sitting here writing a lengthy paper about genocide on the anniversary of the murder of a bunch of kids not much older than my own, and it’s weighing heavily on me. I’ve been at this genocide research for 6 weeks, and while the work is important and I’m learning so much from it, I wish I’d chosen pretty much ANYTHING else to write about.

I’m just popping in here right now to remind everyone to be kind. The world needs more kindness.

Oblivious

I wanted to tell you a story about Charlotte that will make you laugh your eyeballs out of your head, but after I typed it out I decided it’s really not the sort of thing that needs to be on the internet. Let’s just say that 3 year olds have some interesting ideas about how things work, and mine can be particularly creative with her interpretations of menstrual happenings.

Instead, I’ll tell you a story about me.

When we chose the preschool  Charlotte attends, there were two huge factors that influenced our decision: 1) the place is a mile from our house, and 2) their outdoor space is huge and it’s full of different types of play areas for the kids to explore. I checked a few reviews online, but I didn’t go very far into the web. We based a lot of our decision on our gut, and our gut said THIS IS THE PLACE SIGN US UP. We filled out the application and put down the deposit immediately after we finished the tour.

Mind you, this is Los Angeles, and the preschool scene can be a bit competitive–not to mention crazy expensive. We didn’t have any trouble getting into this school and the tuition was just barely on the high end of what we’d budgeted, so it never occurred to us that this preschool was anything other than your average LA Suburb preschool.

Color us WRONG.

Forget Yelp. Apparently, I should have checked the celebrity gossip sites prior to enrolling our kid in this school.

Last year was reasonably normal. We definitely got the message that we were not the average clientele of this school, but we managed. I just tried really hard to avoid the sea of 6-figure cars in the parking lot, and we opted not to go to the school’s spring gala where I later learned that a PARKING SPOT in the school’s lot was auctioned for $5,000. Cool.

Cut to this year. C is in a small class this year. 12 kids and one teacher, versus 20-ish kids and 2 teachers last year. (They have aides who float around throughout the day, too.) I am the room parent for our class, so I’ve had a lot of interaction with the parents in the class and I’ve spent quite a bit more time at school this year.

So here’s the thing. I’m not the most observant person. Truly. I tend to be very much in my own head, and I don’t really pay a lot of attention to other people unless I am directly interacting with them. Also, celebrities don’t tend to use their real names on lists that are published with their personal phone numbers and email addresses.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came face to face with one of the moms who volunteered to help with our holiday party this week and realized AFTER I introduced myself and clarified which mom she was that I am a fucking idiot and of course I know who the hell she is. It took me about a half an hour into setup to realize what an idiot I was, and I was suddenly acutely aware of why she gave me such a puzzled look when I asked who she was. This is right on the heels of learning that there’s another well-connected Hollywood family in the class as well.

Immediately after the party, I was leaving when I recognized the face of someone I went to high school with (and hated!) who is also an actor. C-list at best these days, but still probably recognizable to a significant chunk of my generation.

At the PTA meeting a few weeks ago, I was seated next to a parent who was obviously an actor and was promising all kinds of crazy experiences for the auction. I have no idea who she was, but I probably should know. Maybe if I ever had a chance to watch TV. Although honestly, one blonde 3-something famous mom in yoga pants looks a lot like every other blonde famous mom in yoga pants.

Anyway, I’m feeling a bit weird about this because these just aren’t my people. I mean, they’re lovely and kind and generous, but I guarantee that they do not live 1 mile from school in a house with one bathroom, DIY landscaping and a dirty Ford in the driveway.

I think the thing that bothers me the most is that I went to private school with the children of people like this all throughout my school years, and I never felt like I fit in. Ever. I don’t want to be setting Charlotte up for that kind of social experience. I also don’t want to be projecting my own insecurities and issues on my preschooler.

I’m glad winter break starts tomorrow and I can have a few weeks to force these insecurities from my system. They certainly won’t do any of us any good.

 

 

Paw Pa-nope

There was a day two weeks ago when I thought I might seriously sell my child to the highest bidder. We’d been having awful mornings. She would wake up grouchy as hell and it would just spiral out of control from there. On this particular morning, she slapped me across the face so hard I saw stars and then kicked me in the shin and ran to her room and slammed the door. Where does she even learn this stuff?! 

When I finally got her to school with her face blotchy and red from tears and her handprint on mine, I wished her teacher good luck and ran out of there as fast as possible. I called Catch the moment I got in the car and told her I wanted to do an experiment. NO TV on school days. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Effective immediately.

It wasn’t so much that we were relying on TV to babysit our child. Except that we were relying on TV to babysit our child. It crept up on us. She had always been so good at self-regulating her screen time, and then while she was sick a month or two back, she got a bit too comfortable on the couch. I was letting her watch TV before school because I am barely alive in the mornings, and all I wanted was a chance to drink some coffee before I had to be wonder mom. After school, we’d let her watch a show with her snack so she could have some wind-down time. Then we’d let her watch another show after her dinner so we could finish our own meal in peace and tackle the cleanup/prep for the next day.

I imagine our story is not unlike many others. You used to scoff at the screen time guidelines in the pediatrician’s office because your kid just wasn’t interested. Then you blink, and suddenly your kid can sing the Sofia the First theme song from memory and she’s talking about Paw Patrol in her sleep.

So we pulled the plug. We told her the TV was broken. She was understandably devastated, but we held firm. It was broken indefinitely.

After a week, it was like someone sprinkled our child with magic dust. We watched as her play became more and more creative. She was less dependent upon us to provide guidance in how/what she should play. She was pulling out toys we’d forgotten about. Even her ability to sit still and focus for longer than 30 seconds was improving. ALL IN THE SPAN OF A WEEK.

I won’t lie. It was really hard for me at first. Especially in the mornings. I just don’t want to have to be “on” in the morning. I’m coming around, though and it gets easier every day. We’re spending a lot more time cuddling on the couch and reading books after we get dressed. Mornings have been easier. Her mood has been better, too. She still has her difficult moments, but not nearly as often or as extreme.

Last Friday night after about 10 days of no TV, we cuddled up on the couch together and watched the Polar Express. ALL of us—even the dogs. It was LOVELY. It felt really special. Like a treat. We weren’t using the TV to occupy her while we were elsewhere. We used it to bring us all together under a big fuzzy blanket and be close as a family. Charlotte’s school holiday show is tomorrow night and the theme is Polar Express. Even though I’d read the book to her a bunch of times, we wanted her to see the movie since they’re singing some songs from the film.

Charlotte still sat on Santa’s lap and asked for Paw Patrol toys for Christmas, but instead of asking to watch Paw Patrol, she’s been asking me to read her the book we bought. We read it over and over again and talk about the characters and analyze the pictures. It’s the first time she’s ever been so interested in books. She always liked books, but she never really had the attention span to sit for the longer ones. Last night, we read the Snow Queen, which was easily a 10-minute bedtime story. Afterward, she fell asleep faster than she has in weeks.

All of this is on the heels of some research I did for school last term. I wrote a paper about the effects of television on preschoolers, and I really found the research fascinating. I’m really interested to see how this all plays out for Charlotte.

 

Election Day

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The only thing more American than casting my ballot this morning is the 2.5 hours I spent wandering aimlessly through Costco afterward. Alas, even in this sweet land of liberty, it was too early for the free samples. Fortunately, it is never too early for a $1.50 hot dog. I’m reasonably certain that’s even in the Bill of Rights.

My aunt posted a photo of my great grandmother Lucy Richardson on Facebook today. Lucy was born in Maine in 1900, and waited 20 years for women to have the right to vote. I’m so grateful for that reminder from my aunt today. I often take my right to vote for granted because it’s always been there waiting for me. Although intellectually I know better, when I think about women’s suffrage, it always seems to be associated with anonymous women from long ago, rather than this very real woman who knew me as a little girl.

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So, fellow Americans, I hope you’ve taken this opportunity to give voice to what’s important to you today. If you haven’t, close your eyes and imagine what it must have felt like to be a woman prior to 1920—to be told by your country that only your father’s or husband’s opinion matters. Imagine how it must have felt marking a ballot for the first time. Don’t take that for granted. Voting is not just our right, it’s our responsibility.

On a lighter note…

Charlotte is also learning a lesson in democracy today as her school votes on ice cream flavors. The winning flavor will be served to the kids at an ice cream party on Wednesday. Charlotte appears to have voted for both vanilla AND strawberry, so I’m calling her a rebel with a cause.

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