Friday, November 22, 2013

Letter to my First-Born

Dear Noah,

In a few weeks you're going to have a brand new little brother.  You love your "big brother" books, and you regularly kiss and high-five my belly, but as a 2yr old, you probably can't really process what this means.  Hell, as 32yr olds, I'm not sure your dad and I have really processed the life change that is about to happen.  For 2+ years it's been the three amigos.  You never have to choose who to sit next to because you're always in between us, when you yell out "mommy COME HERE!" I always do, when you want to turn the lights off in your room and look for airplanes, stars, and the "real moon" in the sky for a half hour I happily oblige.  But all of that, and much more, is about to change.  Maybe it sounds strange, but as excited as I am for the new arrival, there is a part of me that is a little sad that our threesome is about to get shaken up.  I know there will soon be a day where we can't imagine life without your little brother, and you will never remember a day when you didn't have a sibling, but I want you to know that you will forever hold a special place in my heart as my first-born, the one who changed everything...

- You were the one who taught me what true, unconditional, scary, something-beyond-yourself, LOVE really is.  I love your daddy in unparalleled ways, but I know that he would agree that our love for you and our family surpasses anything we could have imagined.  I know I will love your brother as much as I love you, but it will always be you who first tore open my heart & soul in such a profound way.

- You were the one who taught me how strong, and how weak, I really am.  You think you know yourself until you have a child, but you little creatures force us to test all of our theories about ourselves.  Some of them hold steady, many of them don't.  It's humbling, and restorative all at the same time.

- You made me appreciate my mom and all women in a way I never had.  I love that a little boy made me a feminist. 

- You made me love your dad even more.  We had 11 years together before you were in the picture, and yet seeing his love for you, and your love for him, was profound to me.  He's the only other person in the world who truly understands and loves you the way I do.  How amazing that he and I get to share that?  You made us a family.

- You were the first baby to kick the inside of my belly, nurse from me, call me "mommy", say I love you, hug and kiss me unprompted, call out to me in the night, run to me when scared, trust me with your whole heart....these are firsts I will treasure until my last breath.

- You were the one who made me really understand that creating, birthing and raising another life is a true gift.  As natural and commonplace as it is, it is nothing short of miraculous.  It is never lost on me, even the second time around. 

- You were the first to teach me the hard lesson of giving up sleep...and free time...and privacy...and not having encumbrances.  But you made me realize that none of that actually matters.  I would give all of that up again, and again (and I suppose I am).  I hope one day your brother thanks you for paving the way, as I'm sure (well, I hope) I will be much more patient and centered this time around. 

- If in the next several months it seems like I'm holding or cuddling or kissing your brother way too much for your liking, it's because you taught me how quickly babies grow up and wriggle away. 

- You made me want to live forever. 

- Last but not least - despite my kicking and screaming - you taught me to let go.  Let go of expecations, of fears, accept and appreciate the present, and have faith that we're not given anything we can't handle.  I'm not sure how such a little boy taught me such big lessons, but apparently you are wise beyond your two short years. 

I'm sure I will re-learn all of this when your baby brother arrives, and you both will continue to change my life in ways I can't yet imagine...but you will always be my first little love, and the past 2 years will always be so dear to me.  Thank you for giving me the honor of being your mama every single day!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Goodbye to the City

This past month has been utter chaos.  After looking for months for a house in anticipation of baby #2 (more on that later) and having all but given up, we found one.  Exciting yes, but also put us on a roller coaster ride of dealing with the purchase, deciding what to do with our condo in the city, setting up the move, figuring out our nanny situation and the list goes on and on and on.  All while 7 months prego.  In all of the craziness, I haven't processed a reality that is only now starting to hit me....that in in 2 weeks, we will be leaving the city...forever. We'll be leaving our condo....the first home we've owned, the home where we opened our wedding gifts, had many parties, the home where we brought our son from the hospital for the first time and the place he, now as a 2yr old, refers to as home.  We're leaving a neighborhood we have grown to love, and the things we don't love about it are things in a way I can't imagine living without.  I know we will find completely different things to love about our new neighborhood, and we are ecstatic about having more space and a yard, but I feel the need to say goodbye to some of the things that will be missed most as we move on to the next phase:

Goodbye to walking.  When you live in the city, you are used to walking everywhere.  I'll miss our walks to the farmer's market, parks, restaurants.  I'll miss walking Noah to the end of our street to watch choo-choos.

Goodbye to our dry cleaner, our 7-11 employees, our nail salon peeps.  We have oddly close relationships with all of them.  Our dry cleaner gave us money for our wedding.  Our nail lady (I say "our" because they know Adam better than me, not for pedicures, but for foot massages ha) has texted me for playdates.  The 7-11 guys know our kid's name.  It's weirdly awesome, and will be missed.

Goodbye some of the best food in city within delivery range.  Macku, Flub a Dub, Yen's on random Sunday nights, oh how you will be missed.

Goodbye to the crazies.  You get very accustomed to crazies in the city.  I may miss the guy on the El wearing sweatpants with no underwear while eating egg salad with his bare hands  Or I may not.  TBD.

Goodbye to summer street festivals.  At least we'll have Ravinia.

Goodbye to Gay Pride and Market Days just outside our condo.  I can't say I'll miss finding random condoms in the alley, but the sheer spectacle of it all, sure I'll miss it.  On that same note, goodbye to the trannies, cross-dressers, and the men who wear bikini bottoms at any time of year.  It all seems so normal to me now.

Goodbye to the Cubs.  While on one side of our condo we have Boystown, on the other side we have Wrigley. Goodbye to the "bros" who get kicked out of Houndstooth every game day, goodbye to the drunk girls in shorts on 40 degree opening days, goodbye to being able to walk to one of the best places in the country to eat a brat, drink Busch Heavy and watch baseball.

Goodbye to cabs.  Oof, hello to designated driving.

Goodbye to the energy.  You suburb veterans may call it noise, but to me the ambulance sirens, the honking, the people walking at all hours of the night, and yelling over the sounds of the El while on your phone is all part and parcel of an energy you simply can't match anywhere else.  I'll miss catching whiffs of pee in random places.  I really will. 

Goodbye to lugging groceries/dry cleaning/kids up stairs, to tight parking spaces, to hearing people walk above you, to walking with bags of groceries, to walking in the snow to the El, to spacebagging everything, to driving through snowy alleys to park at your house, to treating a balcony like a yard, to condo association meetings.  Ok, so I won't miss any of you.  But we'll always remember how it "once was", and our city-boy son who currently knows the difference between the 8 bus and the 22 will wonder how we ever lived that way.

So goodbye city....goodbye to Roscoe, to our "Chicago" address...I am so thankful for the many years of joy you have brought to us.  I am so excited for our new adventure on the North Shore, but you will always be our first home. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Are you a bad mom?

At some point (perhaps daily), every mom feels like she is doing a shitty job.  Am I spending enough time with them?  Do I do too much/too little for them?  Do they even like me?  There are moments where you feel like you are doing it right (for example, I got home yesterday and my smiley son looked right in my eyes and yelped "happy (to) see you, mama!" - yay!  I guess I'm doing ok!), but then something else happens and you are back to reassessing and doubting your abilities.  When you really think about it, though, it's actually pretty hard to be a "bad mom."  Abuse and neglect would certainly count as bad mom activities, but if you love your kids and are mostly sane, these aren't possibilities for you.  The love part is easy, a given (maybe not the sanity).  There is nothing more natural or unconditional than a mother's love for her child.  Tale as old as time.  One of the main reasons humankind and animalkind persists.  Most moms put their kids first because there is no choice not to, anything else would go against instinct.  This doesn't mean you have to be president of the PTA or that your child never leaves your sight or that you never admit that bedtime is a relief (ha!).  It just means you love your kids, are there for them, and make sure they have everything they need (even if it means you don't have everything YOU want).  Even when you think about the girl friends you have who you can't imagine with kids because they've never taken care of so much as a plant or because they take 2 hours to get ready everyday or have never cooed at a baby, chances are if they actually have one of their own, you'll see a kind of transformation that can only arise from being ultimately responsible for another being.  Will they actually enjoy motherhood?  Maybe not as much as some, but perhaps more than they (and you) thought they would.  And they probably won't be a "bad mom." 

Though raising a kid is hard work (and raising a good kid even harder I think), feeling like a good mom isn't as hard if we just remember what really matters.  I think we are all trained to think we have to do more, be more and have everything figured out at all times.  In reality, if we love our kids and are invested in their happiness, as well as our own, we probably can't screw it up that badly.  So next time you feel like a bad mom because you let your son walk outside barefoot and he screams because his feet are burning.....or, you have to leave for work while he hangs onto your feet crying "mama please sit".......or, you turn on Mickey when you get home from work so you can just sit for 24 minutes..............try the love test.  Do you love him, does he (most of the time) seem to love you?  Are you all safe and (most of the time) happy?  Then you're doing just fine.  And when he tells you he's happy to see you, dammit, believe him and relish in it.       

Monday, June 10, 2013

Traveling WITHOUT Toddler

As a counterpart to my post about traveling with a toddler, I thought I should write about a recent trip my husband and I took without our son.  It was our first weekend away from him, ever.  Without family closeby and because I nursed over a year, it just wasn't easy to be gone for any extended amount of time.  And honestly - although I often fantasized about sleeping in until noon - we never really felt like we "needed" it.  But we did it, a three-night whirlwind weekend in NYC, and it was pretty awesome.  Our nanny stayed with Noah (I highly recommend this if it's an option, no offense to grandparents!).  Here are some things I didn't miss while being away, and some things I did miss. 

Didn't miss....
- Being on an airplane with a toddler.  Remember when you could have a conversation with your spouse, read magazines, slowly sip your beverage (or even order one for that matter) and drift off to sleep on flights???  Oh man, was this one great.  Maybe a vacation in of itself.

- The morning wake-up call.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'll ever physically be able to sleep until noon (or even 10) again, but waking up a few times and going back to sleep, and then lazily starting the day without someone immediately asking for waffles is pretty damn nice. 

- Being high-maintenance.  My husband and I are low-maintenance travelers.  We never used to check bags, we are adept at walking or using public trans in whatever city/country we're in and can fly by the seat of our pants on trips.  Being away reminded me how high maintenance even the lowest maintenance people are forced to be when there are kids involved.  You're working around nap/bedtime schedules, you are looking for particular types of restaurants, carting a stroller, packing snacks and sippies before you can leave, and you can't just be outside all day long.  A couple days of simplicity were highly rejuvenating.

- Being regularly interrupted.  To go 2.5 entire days of talking to your spouse, to friends, to a waiter, to ANYONE without at the same time simultaneously saying "please put that down", handing a little someone a firetruck, and cutting a banana?  Yea, pretty amazing.

- My toddler.  Obviously!  I didn't cry when we left and I was happy for the time off, but damn can those rugrats invade your mind.  I can't tell you how many times we said "Noah would really love this" or "we should bring him here when he's older."  No matter what your intentions are, you spend much of your time talking about your little ones.  We spend A LOT of time laughing at him behind his back, fantasizing about his future, and wondering where he gets his smartass attitude (must be Adam, right).  Makes me miss his stinky butt when I'm away from him.

- The morning wake-up call.  As much I appreciated waking up later and lazily starting our day, is there anything sweeter than waking up to the sound  of "mama?  daddy?"  over the baby monitor?  Sorry, there isn't.  So I missed that, and I missed walking into his room and seeing his sleepy smiley face and hearing him say "hi mama" .  I didn't miss him immediately thereafter asking for milk, daddy, Mickey and breakfast (in that order), but all the stuff before it, yeah, I missed all that.

- The afternoon nap.  So it's great being able to be out all day and not tied to a nap schedule, but then you know what you miss?  Your own downtime/nap!  Turns out I've gotten rather used to being "forced" into rest-time on the weekends.  We were exhausted by dinner.

- Family time.  On the weekends, we 3 hardly leave each other's sides.  We play in bed in the mornings, we eat our meals together, we go out, we run errands together, we take afternoon naps.  We try not to have too many weekends in a row w/ external plans/parties/responsibilities because we need "us" time.  This how we've kept a life that is inherently more high maintenance as simple as possible.  So an entire weekend without one member of our threesome feels...unnatural.  I feel the same way when Adam is busy with work and Noah and I are on our own.  We're happiest when we're all together.  I still think you absolutely must have adequate one-on-one time with your spouse, whether it's making the most out of your evenings, making an effort to do date nights and trips like this are great for the relationship.  But do we need an entire weekend very often?  Nah.  I'm thinking that's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lean In, Be Fearless

Ok, so we've all heard of Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In by now and many of us have read it.  If you haven't yet, in a nutshell, she's encouraging women to "lean in" to their careers by, among other things, reaching for opportunities, taking a seat at the table, raising expectations, managing fear of failure, and making "real partners" out of their spouses.  I first have to say, thank the Lord someone important is starting a public dialogue about working women's issues.  A big part of the reason I started a blog was to do that and it feels like the public conversation has recently exploded.  The book is not just for those who are striving for CEO status (forget all of the "Lean Back" or "Stand Straight" or whatever talk), you can take whatever you need from it.   

My greatest takeaway from the book was that we need to take personal ownership of our success and be fearless.  Fearless in setting goals, fearless in going after them and fearless in structuring our lives to have all of the things we want.  She sends this message mostly through a retelling of the internal struggles and insecurities she has overcome (that she believes most women face).  If you think the biggest challenge to your career advancement tends to be you (how you set your goals, thinking you're not as capable as you are), then this book will be really helpful for you.  But if you are generally not afraid to sit at the table (proverbial and literal), but feel that your biggest challenges are instead institutional barriers and the ability to structure your career such that you still have a personal life, then you may find yourself wanting more from the book.  To her credit, she makes clear that it was not meant to be focused on the external, institutional issues, but I think as you read you still hope it may be.  At least I did.  I don't really feel stifled by most of the self-limitations that Sandberg discussed.  Not that I'm always confident, or speak up as much as I should or am immune to wanting to be liked, I just don't feel that limited by those things.  To me, it's not just about the "faults" women should improve upon and the personal choices we have to be really careful about when making ("choose the right guy" being one of her examples, oof), it's more about the faults we have institutionally and as a society that make it difficult for women AND men to live and work to the greatest of their abilities.  I don't believe that blindly hoping that pioneering women who reach the top will change the rules is enough (See my post about Marissa Mayer -- and btw I utterly disagree with Sandberg's opinion that knocking Mayer's latest decisions is in itself anti-feminist, nice try defending your friend).  

That said, I do not discount the research that suggests that women negotiate salaries less, are less likely to ask for promotions, etc, but let's think about why that may be.  Is it because we inherently underestimate our abilities?  Maybe.  But I think Sandberg hit the nail on the head when she said that women "leave before they leave".  That is, women might be afraid that aggressively going after a promotion will mean that if they get it, their superiors will be unwilling to give them flexibility or time off in the next 5 years when they may start a family.  Or maybe they are reluctant to start down a particular career path around child-bearing/rearing years because they are unsure of how their life will be affected.  Sandberg says to put those concerns out of your head and keep your foot on the gas pedal until you absolutely have to slow down.  I don't find that to be very realistic.  The truth is, you do often have to plan ahead and make choices before you start a family.  For example, if you are a physician, you might have to pick a specialty in medical school, and perhaps you choose a specialty that has more predictable hours knowing that in the future that will be more suited to family life.  Or if you are a lawyer working at a big firm like I did, you may choose to take a great in-house opportunity when it comes rather than slave for 10 years on the partner track only to realize you don't actually want the partner lifestyle and are now overqualified for many in-house jobs.  There is often a "right" time to make career choices, and depending on your career it might come before you establish a family.  I think that if you keep your foot on the gas like Sandberg suggests, you may end up so invested down a particular path that you give up on some of the things you thought were important before.  I think if, institutionally and as a society, companies made it easier for their employees to give 110% even if they have kids or other external responsibilities, it would help people stay in the game.  If you knew that getting that promotion would not meaningfully affect your ability to have a balanced personal life, wouldn't you go for it no holds barred?  I have faith that most women - whether they doubt their abilities or lack assertiveness - would.  It's just not our reality, yet.  A good example of not being forced to leave before you want to leave is a friend of mine who was due to have a baby right when the state representative for whom she was working was running for state congress in Austin a few hours away from where she lived.  She let him know that she wanted to work on his campaign, but she and her new son couldn't realistically live hours away from her husband for 6 months.  The state representative let her work on the campaign remotely 2 days a week and she traveled to Austin for the other 3 days to make it work.  Though she probably would describe it now as some of the hardest months of her life, she was not only able to keep her job, but her boss is now a U.S. Congressman and she is one of his district directors.  Not being afraid to ask for what you need AND having a boss who values you enough to work with you and adjust as necessary is key. 

Sandberg also proposes that men should split household duties 50/50 for women to be able to optimize their careers.  But do you know of any families where this actually happens?  I speculate that Sandberg and her husband don't really share all of their family's responsibilities, but instead rely on a great deal of outside help for the day-to-day and then share the rest.  And she's probably the one who manages that outside help.  It's all just a guess, but a good guess I think.  Even if husbands pitch in with housework/childcare, women still tend to do more (they do 2/3 of it, say the stats) and also tend to be the primary planner of the family's lives (managing kids' schools/extracurriculars, planning vacations/holidays/special events, ensuring a social life).  And I'd even venture to say that women generally prefer to be the master of the household in these ways.  They may care more about certain things than their husbands, hell they may even care more about their husbands than their husbands (hence the reason why I pack my husband's lunch every morning, he'd be fine w/ Arby's everyday).  I also think for the most part women are just better at multi-tasking work and home, so from an efficiency perspective it often makes more "sense" for women to have more home responsibilities.  These are obviously huge generalizations, but I think they ring true for many families.  I know moms who make more money than their husbands (and whose husbands are home a lot) who still opt for less demanding jobs after kids so they can be more in the home.  Doesn't make economic sense, so what is it?  When I worked for a law firm, I knew several women who were married to other big firm lawyers (so they made similar salaries/had similar career potential) and when they had kids, it was the wives who went part-time, not their husbands.  Maybe women actually prefer that the home responsibilities not be split 50/50 even if in theory that seems fair.  I 100% agree that responsibilities have to be shared as much as possible and couples can strive to get better at that, I just think that ultimately women will always do more.  Maybe that means acknowledging that the working mom's situation is unique.  Maybe it means accepting that the gender wage gap partially represents different preferences and therefore may always exist.  It could mean a lot of things.  But calling for a 50/50 split in the majority of families who don't have a lot of outside help as an essential way for women to succeed just isn't that realistic to me.  (Btw, I caveat this with the fact that when I started my new job after maternity leave, my husband stayed home with our son for a few months while he studied for the bar, so of course I know it's possible for dads to step up when they need to.  I just don't think in most families' day-to-day lives it quite works out that way). 

So those were some of my thoughts.  Sandberg's book was a good reminder to not hold myself back and be more aware of things I may I do or think that could get in my own way. And as much as I didn't think I really needed the reminder, I realized half way through it that everytime I read the book in a public place, I'd subconciously set it down cover-down, as if it were embarassing to be reading about my interest in succeeding.  It's currently sitting on my desk, cover-up.

Would love to hear others' opinions on the book or any of these issues!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Traveling with Toddler

We somehow ended up with 4 trips in 7 weeks.  3 of them involve flying.  All of them include an 18 month old.  Sound insane?  It is, absolutely, but has been totally doable with some preparation and forethought.  Here are some tips I've amassed on traveling with a wild little one:

1)  Don't expect your kid to sleep on the flight.  This means not scheduling a flight during regular naptime or in the evening post-bedtime.  The downside is you will likely be entertaining them the whole flight (but if they happen to fall asleep, yay).  The upside is they won't be an overtired disaster because they are unable to fall asleep in your lap, and you won't be stressed out about trying to make them fall asleep.  We made this mistake when we first flew with Noah at 4 months old.  He cried for about 2 hours.  We almost killed ourselves.

2)  Plan on your kid eating on the flight.  Even if this means skimping on their prior meal.  Snacking/eating is a great way to pass time.  The sticky placemats don't work on the trays, but take paper towel/tape or a little plate.  Small things that they can eat slowly work well.

3)  Don't forget your f'n iPad.  No matter what your opinion is on tv, video games, blah blah blah, let it go for your sanity and the greater good of other passengers.  Download a movie they like before you leave and make sure their fave apps are on there (if they don't use iPad regularly, show them bits of a movie or apps prior to the trip so they will be excited to play w/ them on the plane).  This doesn't buy you a ton of time when your kid is under 1, but it still helps as part of the rotation (see #5) and only gets better as they get older.

4)  Toys:  dont bring ones that make noise, but ones that take some dexterity/time to use.  A big book of stickers and a couple sheets of paper work well.  Books, crayons, an empty little box to take stuff in/out of, kids' laptop turned on low volume.  Variety is key.

5)  Switch between #2-4 constantly.  So eat for 30 mins, then do toys for 30 mins, then iPad, and then repeat.  Don't start it until you are in the air, because until then they can be quite entertained with what's outside the airplane window.

6)  Bring 2 or 3 changes of clothes, and one for you/your spouse too.  Out of the 12 flights we've taken Noah on, only 2 were total disasters (not bad, right? but the bad ones were epic).  The first I mentioned in #1.  The second was on our way to Texas this past Thanksgiving when Noah conveniently began to show signs of the stomach flu on our way to the airport and threw up all over himself and the car seat we were taking with us on the plane (see # 7).  So, because I was SO prepared (ha!), I had a second outfit handy and did a quick change at the airport.  Then he threw up again ON the plane, all over his second (and last) outfit and me.  We had to change him back into the first outfit because it was less pukey (but still pukey, mind you) and I had to rinse my jeans off as best I could...all in the wonderful confines of the airplane bathroom.  So....yeah....third outfit.  Maybe a fourth. 

7)  Keep packing SIMPLE -- Rent a car seat with your rental car when you get to your destination, and buy a cheap light umbrella stroller for travel.  If you go to a destination often (like grandparents' house), keep a pack n play, car seat and high chair there so you don't have to bring any of it.  We usually just check 1 big suitcase and just carry on 2 backpacks full of #2-6.

8)  Be reasonable about your plans.  If you are traveling w/ a baby under 3 months or so, a driving trip is great because they can sleep on and off much of the time (we drove to Nashville at 6 weeks with 1 overnight stop in between and it worked fine).  If you have a toddler who can't sit still for very long, don't think that a long flight will be smooth sailing.  Be careful about scheduling trips with layovers.  3 hour non-stop flights have worked well for us so far, and since we're centrally located we've still been able to go to a variety of places like Texas many times, Florida a couple times and Maine.  There is plenty of time for longer trips.

9)  When you get where you're going, chill out and go w/ the flow.  Let them be off their schedule if it works out that way, know that they may not sleep well while away (again, this gets better when they're toddlers), let them eat ice cream at night, just don't stress about any of it.  It will all go back to normal once you get home. 

Even if your little one does great traveling, it's never easy.  Don't be too embarassed if your kid cries on the flight, anyone around you with kids will understand.  And the ones who don't will be listening to music with their noise elimination headphones while reading on their iPads - God that sounds like a vacation within itself.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Manners and Mysteries of Marriage

Next week is a big week for marriage.  The Supreme Court will be reviewing same-sex marriage laws for the first time ever and its ultimate decision on these issues could be as influential as Roe v. Wade has been to the abortion (and anti-abortion) rights movements.  Tuesday's question is whether California may define marriage as only between a man and a woman (Prop 8), and Wednesday's arguments will focus on whether DOMA (already declared unconst by Obama - can he do that?) can deny benefits to married gay and lesbian couples that are a right of heterosexual married couples.  As gay marriage is one of the most politically charged issues of our day, often debated in terms of religion and social custom, I think we have to ask, what is marriage really

At a recent wedding I attended, the pastor gave a beautiful homily on the definition of marriage.  I believe borrowing from a female writer Flannery O'Connor, the pastor talked about marriage as a combination of mystery and manners.  The mystery, as I interpret it, helps define the abstract fundamentals of marriage.  Marriage is, fundamentally, a promise.  It's a promise to live life as a unit, take care of one another always, and share in life's inevitable joy, disappointment, sadness and triumph.  Being able to keep that promise and endure in a such a way that each person is able to experience overall happiness is somewhat of a mystery.  After all, you aren't happy every single day, people evolve, and you have no idea what's coming at you 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road.  But we keep faith in the mystery.  No one, Supreme Court or otherwise, can dictate who we share that with.  It is intimate, intangible and a couple's journey to take alone. 

But there are many tangibles that breathe life into a marriage.  Manners that serve the mystery.  They are the everyday things like starting the car for your wife so it's warm by the time she gets in it, packing your husband's lunch, and saying I love you (or something ridiculous like me and mine do) before you leave the house.   There is calling each other husband and wife to other people (seems small, but there's something so meaningful about that, isn't there?).  There are also the legal ramifications that have long-lasting impacts on your life.  Perhaps sharing a last name, making financial decisions that bind the unit, having or adopting children together.  Or being able to cover your spouse on your insurance, spend the night w/ your spouse if he/she is in the hospital, and be assured you won't lose your house or children if your spouse dies.  No matter how long you date your sig other before you get married (and I dated mine for a LONG time), there is a distinct and wonderful shift that occurs once you say "I do."  I no longer believe in the, "we're basically married" concept.  You either are, or you are not, I think in large part because of all of the tangible rights marriage affords you and how those rights change the shape of your relationship.

A friend of mine getting married next month told me that she was most excited about the "little" things like being able to file a joint tax return and merging bank accounts.  Another two engaged friends are technically getting married in court well before their actual ceremonial weddings so their parents will be comfortable with them living together during their engagements.  But these things are not little, they are not technicalities.  These are just a few of the rights afforded to married couples so they can make joint decisions, and take care of each other and their children in life and after one passes on.  They allow couples to truly live a unified life, to fully trust in the mystery that otherwise binds them.  They are what gay rights activitists are fighting so hard for because getting married is much more than making a simple promise.  You need manners to keep it. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Essentially Disappointed

My post about workplace flexibility was apparently very well-timed, as days later the work/life balance debate became front and center in the media when Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo! CEO, announced that Yahoo! would no longer allow telecommuting.  Mayer also happens to be a new mother.  Many are outraged, they fear that such a rule sends the wrong message about workplace flexibility in corporate America and will disproportionately affect working mothers.  Others, even if they disagree with the ban, feel that judging Mayer for making such a choice is a bunch of feminist essentialism.  That is, if we wouldn't have questioned the decision if a working dad made it, we shouldn't be questioning Mayer (interestingly, the two women I found who shared this sentiment have had work-from-home careers and admit they wouldn't be in the workforce without that type of arrangement.  See here). 

Should we ignore the fact that she's a woman and new mother in the name of feminist non-essentialism?  I don't think so.  We only have a handful of Fortune 500 companies run by women (18 maybe, and that is a record high) and this one was juicy because, as the media kept pointing out, she was the youngest female CEO of a Fortune 500 and she was pregnant when she accepted the Yahoo! job.  I don't think that information is irrelevant or anti-feminist to talk about.  I think people's interest in watching how a young mother of a newborn would handle running a large company shows how important of an issue work/life balance is to men and women in this country.  It is true that if the new Yahoo! CEO were a man whose wife was having a baby, there would be no headlines.  But I think that is ok, because the headlines acknowledge the reality that balancing childcare and career is more of a woman's issue, and that  a new-mom CEO of a large Fortune 500 company may be able to set a great example for a more balanced perspective in corporate America.  If only she were interested in doing so.

Instead, she publicly commited to and took only two weeks of maternity leave and now has ended telecommuting at a company in a poster-child industry for workplace flexbility.  I don't think she decided either because she wanted to hurt working moms/dads - everyone experiences parenthood in different ways, so maybe 2 weeks was enough for her (what!) and she had very reasoned business justifications for the ban, but the message Americans are forced to swallow is, this is what it takes.  Seems daunting and most of us won't make the cut, as not all of us can build a nursery next to our offices like she did or have the help she probably does.  So it is disappointing, at least to me, not because I think she "owes" me anything, but because I made the assumption that if women ruled corporate America, it would look different.  Turns out that may not be the case.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Balancing Act

The second question I'm almost always asked by other moms about my relatively new job after "How's your job going" is, "Do you have flexibility"?  There are many aspects to one's career -- how challenging and interesting the work is, what your future potential/plans may be, how you handle managing others/being managed, etc -- yet a primary concern for working moms is figuring out how others are balancing full-time careers, young children, and otherwise full lives.  It's that elusive, mythical, "work-life balance" we are all after.  I think the balance looks different to every parent, but one common thread in attempting to achieve it is the need for workplace flexibility.  This sounds like a dreaded term to an employer, doesn't it?  It sounds like it may require an employer to lower expectations, or make exceptions for an employee.  The need for it can come across as a sign of weakness, of not being able to handle the job.  So as common as it is to talk about it among other working women, and as necessary as it is for most to getting closer to that balance, many feel hesitant and anxious to talk to their employer about it.  Should women have to wait to be perceived as indispensable before they can bring such issues up?   Should they feel less valuable as an employee or like their future potential with the employer is diminished for needing such an accommodation? 

As I expressed in my lament about the misdirection of Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" comment, I don't think that women will have equal pay/status in this country until we get better about workplace flexibility and address a host of other working women's issues (paid maternity leave, child care benefits etc).  Flexibility might mean different things, and not all jobs allow for the same types of flexibility.  It does not, however, mean decreased expectations or requirements.  It means being creative.  For example, you can't work from home in your regular duties as a physician, but maybe there are administrative tasks that can be done remotely or an earlier or nighttime shift that would work better with your kid's schedule.  If you frequently have evening client events, possibly a later morning start time or a longer break midday would help.  Maybe you'd prefer to work more on the weekend and have shorter weekdays.  You're not "entitled" to these things, of course, but thinking through the possibilities may prevent valuable women from being forced to leave their full-time professional careers or the workforce generally. 

Of course, the choice to have a child is a personal one.  So I understand the argument that if you make that choice, you have to be prepared for consequences, including some to your career.  This is a fair point, but stopping there ignores the impact on women, families, employers and society as a whole.  The truth is, the majority of Americans make the choice to have kids.  Women make up about 47% of the labor force and the vast majority of them are or will become mothers (over 80% of women aged 35-44 have at least one child).  And 77% of moms choose to be in the labor force.  Working moms, therefore, are a powerful group and keeping them in the labor force full-time and allowing them to advance is advantageous to the economy as a whole.  For employers, happier employees likely make for more productive, enthusiastic and long-term employees.  And think about the recruitment and retention benefits if an employer is forward-thinking on these issues.  Plus, parents being able to spend more time with their kids while also being successful in their careers has societal benefits we should all be interested in.  It will never be perfect, but it's something we can improve.  At a minimum, we should stop being afraid to ask for it.  (And, by the way, I'm all for dads and those who take care of aging/sick parents or other loved ones having options, as well.) 

I'm curious to hear from others what kind of flexibility you have, what you would like, what has worked best for you, etc, either offline or on the blog.   

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Just Another Day

Is there anything more chaotic than the weekday mornings of dual-working-parents?  Sometimes it just aint pretty.

This morning we woke up to Noah with a cold (seriously, are toddlers sick ALL winter long??), and he was a snotty, clingy, cranky disaster.  So between our getting dressed, packing lunch, prepping for dinner (yes, 12 hours before!), making tea, etc, we were passing him back and forth, cleaning out his nose, and entertaining him to alleviate the whining.  His sickness-induced clumsiness meant that he kept stumbling between me in the kitchen and Adam in the bedroom, tripping over his toys and spilling milk.  And then crying.  It was just..chaos.  After my daily debrief with our nanny, my hubbie and I both leave.  (Not without each of us taking out 2 bags of trash, of course!)  Finally in my car, I blast the new Alabama Shakes song and I feel a bit relieved to drive away.  But then I feel guilty for feeling relieved.  All he wanted was for one of us to pick him up and give him undivided attention, and neither of us had time for it.  He wanted a weekend morning.  On Sat/Sun mornings, we bring him to our bed and watch Mickey (or "dickey" as he calls it), play for a long time and enjoy a slow start to the day.  It's one of our favorite times of the week.  A far cry from M-F mornings when I'm trying to do 18 things at once, am always running late, and only get 15-20 mins with him (it's a good and bad thing when you're kids aren't crazy early risers).  He desperately needed a weekend morning today and we couldn't give it to him.  And so I felt shitty.  Guilty and shitty.

The pre-work chaos followed me into work.  Within a half hour, my nanny texts me about a problem with the window in Noah's room, and that he is acting really exhausted.  She sends me pics of his window, and also pics of him laying down half asleep in the middle of the living room on his stuffed monkey.  Daggers to chest.  I call people to come look at his window this week, reschedule some other stuff to make that work, and bite my nails over Noah feeling sick.  Our nanny is more than capable of taking care of him when he's not feeling well, but shouldn't one of us be there?  Adam can't go home because he has a client meeting, and I can't easily go home because my work situation isn't as flexible and I have work to do (especially now that I have just spent half the morning dealing with all of this).  So we don't go home.  Oh, there's that guilt again. 

For every morning like this, there are several others that are just another day in paradise (if you're not a country music fan, Phil Vassar has a song that always reminds me how rewarding and beautiful family chaos is).  The bad ones make you feel guilty and doubt your ability to do the work/parenting thing, but the good ones make you feel superhuman and whole.  It's a tension I'm learning to handle more and more each day.  I'm very lucky that we have a wonderful nanny to rely on (how do moms get kids ready for daycare in the morning on top of everything else? I am not worthy), a helpful and supportive husband, and most importantly a healthy child.  I'm also very lucky to have a great job that I truly want, rather than one I hate or feel stuck in.  Sometimes reminding myself of that makes it easier to stick out the inevitable hard days like today.  And the truth is, if I were a stay-at-home mom, we wouldn't be watching "dickey" in bed on the weekdays......would we?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stir Fry Crazy

Stir frys make quick, tasty and healthy dinners.  I'm a big fan of making meals that you can constantly change up, so that you don't get bored and you can use whatever ingredients in your fridge that particular week (this is also evidenced by my soup/stew post back in November).  Here are some tips on a good stir fry:

1)  Start a base by heating up oil (on medium heat) in a wok or a deep pan.  I like canola or peanut for Asian style stir fry, or olive oil w/ butter for a lighter taste. 

2)  Add veggies.  Anything!  Spinach, onion (white or red), broccoli, mushrooms, baby corn, julienne carrots, peapods, bok choy, etc etc.  Like I mentioned in my soup/stew post, I often buy pre-cut veggies at Whole Foods and just throw them in.  Saves a lot of time and sometimes they think of veggie combos you wouldn't.  Toss with the oil, add a few pinches of salt, and let the veggies sweat for a few.

3)  Add a protein.  Chicken (buy tenderloins so you can just throw in w/o needing to cut), shrimp (pre-peeled and even pre-cooked makes it faster), tofu, beef (pepper steak works well), etc. 

4)  Make a quick sauce.  Can make separately and pour in, or just start throwing stuff in (I prefer the latter!) Here are a couple options:
  • For an Asian-inspired stir fry, I like to combine fresh ginger (I buy pre-chopped), fresh garlic, sesame seed oil, soy sauce and/or tamari sauce (richer soy), fish sauce (don't have to use if it scares you, but it's delicious in cooking), and some sort of chili sauce (if you like a kick).  If you like a sweeter taste, use hoisin sauce and nix the fish and chili sauce.  There are lots of pre-made Asian stir fry sauces you can buy, and it makes the dish even easier, but I think they taste kind of "fake" and much prefer to use separate ingredients.  The best part is that you can't really go wrong - just don't add too much soy (it's easy to) because that taste can overpower.  Add a little, taste, and then add more if necessary.  Simmer uncovered for a bit.
  • For a lighter lemon wine sauce, remember you used olive oil/butter as the base for this and that's a lot of the sauce already.  When your protein is nearly cooked, add 1/4-1/2 cup of dry white wine, let it cook down a bit, and then add lemon juice (a couple of tbsp).  Salt, thyme and any kind of lemon herb you may have all the spice you'll need.  I also add a little more butter at this point (who doesn't like more butter?) because the butter you originally added as the base has cooked down a lot and I want that taste to be fresh and my protein to feel nice and moist.  Simmer uncovered for a few, but don't keep on heat too long.  This is a great sauce for shrimp, crab, etc. 
5)  Toss with rice or Asian noodles (for the Asian stir fry) or angel hair pasta (for the wine sauce) or eat plain if you're anti-carb (yuck). 

You can get this done in 30 mins, esp if you go the pre-diced route on protein/veggies.  If you're really short on time or not confident about making a sauce, just start with canola or olive oil, simmer some white onions and garlic for a few, add the veggies, protein, salt, cover and let simmer for a while, and be done.  I do this all the time for just plain veggies. 

Go crazy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nature vs. New Trier

When my husband and I bought our condo in the city, the decisions we had to make felt fun and easy.  Walk-up or high-rise?  (Walk-up!)  Lakeview or Bucktown? (Lakeview!)  But now that we are starting to think about moving out of the city, it feels like we have to consider life choices that go way beyond the choice between Brazilian cherry or oak hardwood floors (cherry!).  And it's tough.

The main issue we're wrestling with?  Schools.  And, more specifically, HIGH SCHOOL.  Yes, I realize our son is only 16 months old and our other children don't exist yet.  But assuming we will stay in the same home and/or neighborhood for the long-haul, our decision now could very well determine where they will attend.  We are pretty decided on living somewhere along the North Shore and are very pro-public school when there are great options.  So it's an easy decision, right?  New Trier is regarded as the best school in the Chicagoland area, it's public, and it's on the North Shore.  Done and done?  I'm not entirely convinced. 

From what I hear, the school is huge and extremely competitive.  I would worry that our kid(s) would feel a lot of pressure in that kind of environment.  And given the wealthy neighborhoods that feed into it, I would worry about the lack of diversity in background and ethnicity, as well as social pressures to fit-in (exacerbating my lament in Keeping Up With The Patels).  But, to some extent, these pressures exist at any suburban high school in an affluent area, right?  Should we purposely not choose something that, on paper, is the "best", because we fear that our kids - some of whom don't even exist yet - aren't going to be able to handle it?  Can't we just raise them right so that they can?

My husband and I came from completely different environments and both ended up in the same place.  I went to a small magnet high school in inner-city Fort Worth where white people were the minority, academics were the focus, and where walking through a metal detector before prom seemed completely normal.  He grew up in small-town Illinois, where there were no African Americans in his class (a few Indians, though, because their parents were doctors or motel owners ha), and where going to college wasn't a given.  But we both did well in high school, graduated from Northwestern and became lawyers, and look back on our unique experiences as fun and fulfilling.  So perhaps success is more a function of the individual person and the family in which he or she is raised, rather than where his or her school ranks.  I know that's true, and that success means a lot more than grades or college admission, but there's also a tiny Indian mom inside of me who wants what is considered to be the "best."

Anyone have strong opinions on New Trier, other North Shore schools or schooling decisions generally?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Everything is Fine

Have you ever noticed how much women dish on their boyfriends, but how little they talk about their marriages?  When your girl friend is dating someone, you hear about their fights, what she loves about him, what she hates about him, what her greatest fears about the relationship are, how good (or not good) he is in bed, etc. etc (men - do y'all do this too?).  But as soon as couples get married, they rarely talk about their relationships.  It's as if, miraculously, everything is always fine.  Why the veil of secrecy?  

When I got married, I felt an intense sense of peace and certainty.  It wasn't just a piece of paper to me.  It was finality.  Perhaps that's why couples don't talk about their marriage with others, what's the point?  Either you are happy and content, and discussing that seems irrelevant and braggy or if you are dealing with a problem, you tend to just find a way to work through it or chalk it up to regular relationship stuff.  This is a far different approach to when you're dating.  When you're dating, you overanalyze everything, if you get into a big fight you may question whether you should be in the relationship and when things are lovely you acknowledge how lovely you feel.  While it's a huge relief to leave the bipolar land of dating, maybe having an external outlet to check-in on your feelings regularly and having friends to talk through issues is something we shouldn't give up when we tie the knot.  Ideally you are able to do those things within your relationship, but you may need help every now and again. 

I mean sure, the my boyfriend-hates-when-I-talk-to-my-ex stuff is usually more interesting.  But consider the long-term implications if we talked more about all of the wonderful things and the challenges in our marriages with a few trusted people, as well.  Maybe we'd learn that others deal with similar issues.  Maybe we'd be reminded how strong our marriages really are.  Maybe we could borrow ideas from others on how to make our relationships even better.  The risk of sharing is that you'll feel insecure about your issues, of course, but my guess is everyone navigating a long-term relationship goes through some variation of the same things.  Don't judge your friend's stuff and they won't judge yours.  And know what to keep sacred.  The reward within our relationships could be great. 

One thing I read somewhere that's totally true, though - if you have no one else, bitch to your spouse's mother, not your own.  Their mother will forgive them.  Yours never will.  :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Can We Slow Down Time?

The older you get, the faster life seems to move.  We all know that, and generally accept it is a reality of life, but maybe it doesn't have to be so.  After all, the spacetime continuum does not actually change as we age,  just our perception of it.  And if it's just a matter of our perception, can't we just choose to slow it down?

I started thinking about this because I got a notification from a financial institution about our 2012 tax documents the other day and, as I think I do every year, I exclaimed "is it that time of year AGAIN?" as if it were an f'n surprise.  But alas, January 2nd waits on no one. While you are still closing the loop on the prior year by returning gifts from Christmas, the world has moved on to new deadlines and plans.  It seems like you have to stay on that moving train and actively manage what really amount to redundancies that recur in your life year after year...whether it's planning life around your kids' school schedules (back- to-school, Christmas, spring break, summer, repeat!), buying your tx/ou tickets, booking your annual summer trip to [x], coordinating holiday traditions with particular sides of the family, whatever your annual "stuff" is.  The year sometimes feels a bit pre-determined.  Though interspersed might be important and unpredicted life events like starting a new relationship, having kids, or getting a new job, the general structure of our year in large part stays the same after we reach a certain age.  And as each year gets busier and we are forced to think about what we're doing next week/month/year instead of just living in the present, life seems to move faster and faster. 

Interestingly, if you think about it, your memories of the past probably aren't sorted by specific bouts of time in your mind, but instead are grouped by experiences.  Time, or our perception of it, feels more stretched out in the past.  You may think back to the overall experience of high school generally, rather than specifics from, say, 1997 (unless you're my friend D.S, then you do think in terms of specific dates).  Or if you used to spend just a week each June at a lake as a kid (a trip that whizzed by while you were there), it may feel like you spent your whole summers there.  I think back to opening one measley gift  (a Barbie Ferrari!) as helping define my overall memories of Christmas as a child.  Perhaps it's all of our past experiences (including those "redundancies" I mentioned earlier that in retrospect are valued traditions) clustered together over time that ultimately give us a sense of our "life." 

So why shouldn't we be able to think like that in the present?  What if I thought about today, January 8th, not as a day when I have to accomplish xyz, but instead as a small piece of a longer arc of experience -- being mom to a fun toddler, being in my 30s, living in the city, etc.  Then maybe it doesn't seem like today goes by quite as quickly, because those experiences will still be true tomorrow and for awhile thereafter.  By defining today as part of those longer-term experiences that I love instead of in terms of ephemeral measures of time, perhaps I can be more present and appreciate them even more (smell the roses, if you will).  It's quite possible that none of this makes  sense to anyone else and I swear I'm not smoking anything, ha,  it's just a theory about how we perceive time/our lives that I'm willing to test in order to slow it all down.  Thought I would share it in case anyone else was having a "where did last year go!" moment :)