25 April 2013

Ambition

I've been thinking about ambition lately, both in a general way and also as it relates to the workplace.

I've not read Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, but I did read Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in the Atlantic earlier this year about parenting and working, and I just read in the Washington Post this article by Elsa Walsh about a "good enough" life. While I take issue with Walsh's framing of the "good enough" choice as a woman's decision alone (I think problems with work/life balance are not exclusive to women), the article resonated deeply with me overall.

My boss is leaving her job, and many of my coworkers have asked me if I intend to apply. Many of them then seem quite surprised when I say that I don't, and that the main reason for not wanting to is that I'm not interested in taking on any additional responsibility right now (I also don't feel that I'm qualified). I make enough money to support my lifestyle; while I'd rather have more time at home than I do, most days I leave the house at 8, get home at 5:30, and rarely bring work home; my office is supportive of an occasional need or desire to attend a parent/teacher conference, be in the audience at a school play, or stick around to be there with the refrigerator repair person shows up; I get generous vacation and sick time; my employer contributes a generous sum to my retirement plan. In the imperfect world of work/life balance, I have things pretty darn good.

While I appreciate those benefits and support, I would prefer to see Maddie and Riley more. They are at a stage where we all want to be together most all of the time. For me, someone who wasn't sure she wanted to have kids at all and who then for years (years!) did not feel that deep, Primordial Bond to her children that people talk about, this change is a surprising shift. I had begun to wonder if I was defective in some way, rendered callus and unable to attach to people in the wake of John's death. Maybe that was the case for a while, or maybe that had nothing to do with it at all, but now, now! Many nights these days--after years of sleeping in their own beds--I find one or both of the twins in bed with me at night, and on the nights that doesn't happen, I'm sad. We all feel that our family time is at times infringed upon by our busy social lives. When a school friend wanted to stay at our house until 6 the other night, Maddie piped up, "But our mama time starts at 5:30!"

Oh, sure, they still can make me crazy (Will Riley ever give up the constant picking of his nose? And memo to Maddie: six is too young to start with the foot stomping and the eye rolls. Also: I'm on to you guys. I know you're stalling about going to bed.) But mostly, we just like each other so much right now. They are too young to know I'm not cool, old enough to enjoy great books and listen (at least occasionally) to reason. They are enthusiastic about pretty much everything. They are happy, and being together makes us all happy. I understand how they need me in a way that goes so much beyond their physical care and comfort, so much deeper than a predictable schedule, and I want to be there to respond to those needs while allowing them to face challenges and grow independently of my love and parenting.

So I say no to tossing my hat in the ring for what could be a logical big step up the professional ladder. I feel already stretched to the limit on work, home, family, and social life. If I add to the mix, I don't want that addition to come from work.

Does this make me less of a feminist, not taking all the professional risks that I could? Does it make me an underachiever? Does it make me wise? Or does it just make me the pragmatist that I usually am?

Sometimes I think about what I would do if my not working were a viable financial choice for our family. Would it change how I define myself if having an office job were not part of the equation? I think about what brings me joy and satisfaction. I wonder about my responsibilities in terms of who I am as a person, my family's needs, and society as a whole. Other than the paycheck, what is my job bringing to my personal life, to my children, to my community? Other than the paycheck, what would be lost if I were not doing this job? What would I rather do? Or am I where I need and want to be?

I have male colleagues at my level in the workplace who I assume are being asked about my boss's job and their interest in applying. I don't know what they plan to do so, and I wonder if their thought process around it is the same. As I parenthetically stated at the start of this post, I perceive work/life balance as a family/societal issue, not just a woman's issue, although there seem to be ways that women feel it more acutely than men.

I'm looking forward to an evening with the kids, maybe going out for sushi, definitely reading some Nancy Drew (they are obsessed with N.D. and the Hardy Boys right now), some outdoor playtime in the gorgeous spring. While I'm at work, home is never far from my mind. When I'm at home, I rarely think about work. I'm not sure what any of that means, or what, if anything, I want to change or can.

11 April 2013

Six Years

A couple of days ago, Maddie asked me if she had seen her daddy die, and I told her no, that she had been asleep. She took that news with no visible emotion.

John died exactly six years ago today. I'm sure I've written about this day before, more than once, but this is how I remember it now, six years out.
I didn't tell Mads that the door to the twins' room had been open, the distance between there and our room, where John died, a matter of only a few feet. That whole day, it was not clear to me what John could hear, feel, or understand, but I left the door to our room open always, so that the sounds of our life could drift in, just in case. I remember almost nothing about the daylight hours of April 11. The twins went to daycare. I think I ran a few errands. I think a hospice chaplain came to visit John, although maybe that was the day before.

The evening, though, I remember. My mom was with me. We fed the twins, gave them a bath, got them ready for bed, took them in to give John a kiss. It was clear he was going to die soon. We put the kids to bed and called the hospice nurse, and she came, and we sat with John and waited. As with all of those big moments in life, that period of time between when the kids went to bed and when he died seemed to last both an eternity and no time at all.

It was liver failure that killed John, the inability of his body to rid itself of toxins that invaded his body, including his brain, taking away his ability to think clearly. This kind of death is slow and undramatic. He never seemed to be in pain. He was sleeping. Unaware? Unconscious? I don't know. He was sleeping, and his breathing just slowed, and slowed, and slowed, and then it stopped. The hospice nurse then listened to his heart, which kept beating for a while, much longer than I would have expected. And then, she pronounced him dead.

I don't remember crying much. Instead, I remember feeling almost manic. I had an odd, giddy sense of relief that John's suffering was over. For the first time in weeks, I was ravenously hungry. People from the funeral home came, and took John's body away, and then I went to bed. I'm sure I woke up early with Maddie and Riley, and I remember taking them to daycare and starting the wrenching process of letting people know that John had died.

Six years later, that condo has been sold, I've had two different jobs, I've moved across the country, and bought a new house. The twins are in first grade. I'm over 40. The part of my life I lived with John feels dreamy and unreal, certainly not overly rose-tinted, but just so intense that I have a sense of disbelief that it happened and that I kept myself together through it all.

John's brother and his fiancée are coming to town tonight for a long weekend. I like that they are arriving on this day, and I'm looking forward to the time with them, extra time with the twins, an overnight trip to the beach, dinner with my parents.

I never feel the way I expect to feel on this day. I'm never as sad as I think I'll be, but I'm always more preoccupied, unfocused, slower, more patient, more kind. I wouldn't have the life I have now without having had what came before. I don't know what I'd be doing or how I'd be feeling if John hadn't been sick, and at my core, I'm a pragmatist, so I know it's fruitless to try to imagine what would have been.

I've never been much to live in the past; I tend to live too much in the future, thinking about and planning for what's to come. All my thinking and planning had to be radically altered when John got sick, and my grief after John died was very much focused on the loss of the life we didn't get to live together. Today, though, is a day to be in the present, and to remember John.

Love always, Goose.

22 January 2013

Kids (Don't) Say the Darndest Things

What Riley said: "I love the fish gun in that game!"
What I heard: "I love the fisting in that game!"

Not the same thing. Not the same thing AT ALL.

That said, fish gun? I never did quite figure out what a fish gun is or why it is so great.

08 January 2013

Connectedness.

I have my blog to thank for many of the things I love most about my life in the here and now. Job? Check. A reader sent me the link to the online posting. Boyfriend? Check. I met him through a reader who has become a close friend in real life. Speaking of which, social life? Check. A fair number of the people with whom I regularly socialize are readers who have become flesh-and-blood friends. Sanity? CHECK. While I don't blog nearly as much as I used to, blogging, the feedback I get on my posts, and the interaction I've had with the Internets have been a vital part of both my grief and parenting processes.

A few of us in the office were talking about parenting the other day. I was saying how much I love parenting six year olds. Most parents do. The ages of six to, oh, eight or ten or something are known as the Golden Years, and it's easy to see why. All of a sudden, the fruits of all of those parenting labors start coming to bear, and you can see your children becoming fully functional independent beings who still love to spend time with you, their parent, more than anyone else in the world. It's great.

For me this is in sharp contrast to the early years with Maddie and Riley, from birth to age three, or even four. I know our circumstances were not ideal in those years. Be it that or just my temperament, I found those years incredibly hard. I can look back now and see the good parts, and there were plenty of happy, rewarding, joyful times that rise to the surface. But, as I shared with my coworkers, I also remember times of extreme isolation and loneliness. I've never felt more alone than I did on nights when I was up at 2 a.m., by myself with two crying, inconsolable babies. What got me through that was thinking about other people who were up with crying babies, too, and knowing that those folks were in that with me, even if I couldn't see them.

I need to feel connected with other people or I feel lost, almost meaningless. It's almost as though something hasn't really happened for me if no one else was there to bear witness to it. This has become slightly less true for me as time has gone on, but it's still the case that I love the company of others. Being a single parent presents logistical challenges, for sure, but for me the biggest challenge of single parenting has always been the isolation. Regular 2 a.m. wakings are thankfully no longer a part of my routine, but even once those passed, in the early years I still found it lonely to deal with all of the work--and the joy--of parenting on my own.

Now that Maddie and Riley are older, I get a lot of social interaction from them. I think that's one of the reasons it's been easier for me to enjoy parenting, and to feel like I'm doing a reasonable job of it, at this age. I also have many more accessible social outlets now. I have an au pair, so there's another adult in the house a lot of the time, plus I have more freedom to go out in the evenings once the kids are in bed. I have El Verdadero. We live close to family. We have a lot of friends. I'm not exhausted the way I was when the kids were babies and toddlers, so I can enjoy and appreciate my social outlets more.

Ever since my blogging frequency dropped precipitously, I've been trying to figure out why. There's no way I'm more busy now than I was when I blogged daily. There's no way I'm more tired or more stressed. There's no way I have less to say. Anyone who knows me can assure those with doubts that I always have something to say.

I think it's this: I have more in-real-life connections than I used to, connections I know I can count on, connections that aren't going away (barring unforeseen circumstances). Sometimes the online connections--the blogs, Facebook, text messages, email, Twitter, all of it--pull me away from my real-life connections. When my access to real-life connections was more limited, I put more time into the online connections. Now I put more time into the real-life connections. It's not that one is more valuable than the other. It's just a matter of not being able to be fully invested in all of them.

I don't know what that means for blogging. This is not an "I quit" announcement by any stretch. It's just an "A-ha!" moment of realization about why the pull to blog hasn't been as strong for a while, and a moment to pause and think about all ways in which blogging has bettered my life, as well as all the ways in which my everyday connections better my life, too.

Thanks, friends, those of the Internet type, the in-real-life type, and those who are both. Here's to 2013: friendships, reading, running, blogging, cooking, connections, and many other things good for us all.

04 January 2013

Hello, 41. Nice to meet you.

Maddie woke up cranky. There are plenty of reasons for this (including the child's least favorite reason: tiredness), but I knew what the reasons were and was mentally prepared for the crabbiness and was able to deal with it in a calm and reasonable manner. By the time I left for work, she was clearly still not her usual ray-of-sunshine self, but there were hugs and kisses and respectful, kind behavior.

How I handled that is proof that I have grown up at least a little in the last year. (Or at least that I'm less tired myself.)

On the other hand, I was driving to dinner the day after Christmas with el Verdadero (the new nickname for That Guy I'm Dating) and a huge semi was tailgating me and then he HONKED at me and then blocked my lane when I needed to move over and when he went flying past me I flipped him the bird and yelled "FUCK YOU!" as loudly as I could, much to el Verdadero's shock and discomfort.

How I handled that is proof that I still have plenty of growing up to do.

My birthday has been spectacular so far, cranky child and all. I got out for a run before work, my work day has been meeting-free and straightforward, I got to meet my mom and stepdad for coffee, I took a Zumba class during my lunch hour, and I've gotten lots of well-wishes from friends and colleagues. When I get home, I'm going to make a favorite pasta with tuna for dinner, then go out for ice cream with Maddie, Riley, el Verdadero and his kids, and my best friend and her family. Then I'll put the kids to bed, change into my pajamas, and probably have a glass of wine and work on a freelance project.

Various people have said to me today, "You worked out twice in your birthday? You're crazy!" "You didn't go out to lunch on your birthday? Where's the fun in that?" "You're cooking your own dinner? But it's your birthday!" "Shouldn't you take a break from the freelance work on your birthday, for crying out loud?"

One of the ways in which I've grown up in the past forty-one years is to have a better understanding of what actions I can take to feel good about myself, and it seems to me that there is no day better for feeling good about yourself than your own birthday. I know that I feel mentally and physically fantastic when I exercise. I know that I feel fulfilled when I spend time with my friends and family. I know that I like to do things with my kids that we all enjoy. I know that I get stressed out and grouchy when I have things I need to do that I set aside in favor of immediate gratification

So maybe some of the things I've done or plan to do today aren't "fun." But I will feel happy about what I've done with my day and myself when it's over, and that sounds like a fantastic birthday.

Apologies if I sound preachy or Pollyanna-ish. I feel happy. It's my birthday and I feel happy. Perfect, no. But today, happy. I'm still puzzling over things: the never-ending search for work/life balance, what to do about kids and videogames, how to be a better manager, how to be a more patient parent. But now, today, for my birthday, I choose good choices and contentment.

Happy new year, everyone.



26 December 2012

Newtown and Bad Attitudes

Newtown really messed me up. I am not alone in this, of course. Only those with cold, hard hearts of stone could remain unaffected by Newtown. In the days following the shooting, I felt like I should post something, that I should have something meaningful or significant to say, but no, nothing. And now, nearly two weeks later, till nothing, no. I have plenty of emotions and feelings, but they seem small in scale and I can't figure out an eloquent way to express them and most of them have been expressed better by others already.

I have opinions about gun control and mental health access, but they are not revolutionary, surprising, or insightful. I will say that if the idea of arming classroom teachers with guns ever gains any traction, I will be homeschooling faster than you can say dumbest idea ever. See, gah, this is another reason I haven't written about this. I don't want some kind of Second Amendment self-defense debate in the comments because I'm sick of it, but I'm terrified by the fact that giving more people more guns is a "solution" that anyone is actually considering.

(In any case, who am I kidding, my readership is down far enough to make debate in the comments nigh impossible!)

That those children were the same age as Maddie and Riley made the Newtown shooting that much harder to bear. That one of the children who was killed was half of a twin pair, and that the other twin lived, hit ever too close to home.

Two days after the shooting, I took Maddie and Riley to visit some friends, another set of boy/girl twins. Riley fell asleep in the car on the way there. Upon arrival, I took Maddie and our stuff inside, then went back out to the car for Riley. He was sound, sound asleep, and it took a few seconds to rouse him. When he shuddered awake, he barely registered me, but immediately turned his head, saw Maddie's empty carseat, and yelped, "Maddie!" His heart was racing and his eyes were full of fear. I told him that Maddie was OK, that she was inside with our friends. He couldn't get inside fast enough to verify that with his own two eyes. I sometimes think that Riley is still not totally clear that he and Maddie are two separate people. It's touching, and fragile.

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While I have certainly had my don't sweat the small stuff/children are precious/love every moment/hug them every chance you get reactions in the aftermath of Newtown, the truth is that Riley is driving me insane. He is so full of life, so funny and chatty and energetic. But he is also disrespectful, quick to blame others, and obsessed with videogames. And I wonder how much the videogames have to do with the disrespect and unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions.

Since some short time after the start of first grade, Riley has gone from a sweet, cuddly boy who I wanted to shrink down and carry with me at all times to . . . something else. The tone of his voice is usually bossy and snide, he contradicts me all the time (often just for sport, or so it seems), and the "I'm bored!" incantations are constant. I remind him constantly that the tone he's using and his word choice and body language are not acceptable; he says most things twice these days: once the way he seems to prefer, and once the way that is an acceptable way to communicate with others. It's exhausting to be constantly reminding him about how to use kind words and a respectful tone, to answer questions when he's spoken to.

As for the videogames, I allow Riley to have a limited amount of game time on approved games for either Wii or iPad/iPhone. During the usual school day routine, I'm pretty strict. Videogames are not a daily thing, and he has to do his homework before he can have that time if it's one of his days to have it (Tuesday and Thursday). Then it's limited to the time between when I get home and when dinner is served. I also let him play on my phone if we have a long wait at a restaurant, or if we're traveling by air.

That's all fine. What bothers me is his obsession with it all. At any opportunity, he's angling for MORE. He'll walk up to perfect strangers and look over their shoulders at what they are doing on their phones. When my dad comes to visit, Riley barely says hello before he asks if he can play on my dad's tablet. There are certain friends he'll beg me to see not because he wants to spend time with them but because he knows that those friends have videogames that he might get to play.

This is a type of play that's hard for me to like. It's upsetting to me when after opening a bunch of Christmas presents (Beyblades, board games, books), all he wanted to do was play on my dad's tablet. When I told him no, he actually said to me, "What am I supposed to do?" When I reminded him that he had gotten a bunch of new toys and offered to play a game with him, he sulked. The obsessive/exclusionary desire he has to play with electronics gives me a knee-jerk reaction not to let him do it at all, but then I worry about the forbidden fruit syndrome. Argh.

I try to set a good example about this. I keep my phone put away unless I hear a call/message or need to send one. Absolutely no phones at the table, for sure.

I just don't know how to take this interest and special kind of intelligence of his and use it for good. And I worry about how the gaming/electronics stuff is feeding the bad attitude he has had of late. Or are six year olds often testing limits and learning something by seeing what kind of reactions they get to this type of behavior? I could read books about this, I suppose, but here I am, asking the Internet. Internet, what do you have for me? How do those of you with kids this age (and older) manage the electronics? Do you know where my sweet boy went? How can I get him back?

06 December 2012

OMG, duh.

Tomorrow is John's birthday. Forty years ago tomorrow, his mom, as he would say, "dropped the bomb." (Get it? Pearl Harbor day? Get it? That joke got me every time.)

As my sporadic postings here document, I've been overwhelmed and overwraught these past few weeks. An email today reminded me of tomorrow's significance, and suddenly, things came into focus. John's birthday has always been a big grief trigger for me, the biggest one of them all, actually, much bigger than the day he died. Thanksgiving is also charged, both because we got engaged the day after Thanksgiving and because of the emotions and stress that can come from the travel and visit with his family. And the holidays are the holidays: there's just more to do in a life that's already bursting.

No wonder I've been a bit of a mess.

I've spent a lifetime learning how to be true to myself rather than doing what I think is expected of me. It's a huge challenge for me to tune out expectations and "shoulds." When it comes to grief, that means that it can be hard for me to ignore the (loud, insistent, pervasive) societal belief that nearly six years after John died, I should have moved on, or gotten over it, meaning that sadness, anger, and the other unpleasantries of the grieving process should be a thing of the past.

Ha, ha, HA!

Yeah, sure, I've "moved on." I physically moved across the country, I have a new job, the kids are in first grade, I don't cry every day (although I never did), I stopped wearing my wedding rings, I'm in a serious relationship, many people in my life never even knew John or don't know that I'm a widow, my widowed status is not the primary criteria by which I define myself.

But I still miss John. And certain events and times of year and turns of phrase and songs and looks on my children's faces make that missing more acute, and in turn that missing comes out as sadness or anger or crankiness or a lack of empathy about a something seemingly unrelated. The correlation can be so loose as to be lost on me, as it was over these past few weeks. If I can't recognize it, it's highly likely that others don't see it either, especially if they don't think of me as a widow or if they never knew John.

I don't get angry at people who want me to have moved on. Who can blame them? It would be so much simpler and happier if there were a timetable for this, or for other difficult life events. I think that people who are grieving are pushed to "move on" for two main reasons: 1. A genuine desire for the grief-stricken to be happy and unburdened with the mostly negative grief experience, and 2. the well-wisher's inability or lack of desire to deal with unpleasant emotions.

Were such an emotional utopia possible! But it's not. And when I end up feeling addled by grief that "should" be over, it's not always at a time that's convenient for me or Maddie and Riley or my job or anything else. There are plenty of times when I ignore those feelings or take them out on unsuspecting or undeserving folk. In moments more aware, I can acknowledge the feelings, put them someplace appropriate, and move on. Then there are the times like these where I don't even realize what's going on until something makes me smack myself on the head in disbelief.

Tonight I'm going to Maddie and Riley's first Suzuki violin concert. Saturday Riley will play in his first chess tournament. We're reading the final book in the Harry Potter series together. We've moved on because kids grow up and you get out of bed every day and things change whether you want them to or not. I've wanted them to change, I don't resist that. But this kind of change is not the same as an end to grief. It's just life.