Monday, April 14, 2008

Thelma and Louise and Me

Ever see the movie Thelma and Louise?

Well....while I'm not a criminal/fugitive like these two gals....I felt like a stifled suburban mom yearning to bust lose when two friends recently invited me to join them on a jaunt upstate NY.

Both are empty nesters looking to enter the next phase of their lives and reinvent themselves, including moving from Long Island, NY to some place two or so hours away. An easy drive is the goal, as well as a great view, and cool town offering culture, shopping, restaurants, etc.

I had mentioned in discussions with them that perhaps Marc and I might consider buying a weekend condo upstate, if our budget permitted. Nothing definite. (Part of me would love to have an apt. in Manhattan, but it's gotten prohibitive.) I was curious about what the money could buy in a smaller town, and how it would feel to have another place. The last thing we'd want is to have to take care of another home...but a condo in a development might be feasible.

So...when one of my friends emailed me about joining them in their home quest, I first thought...hmmmm.....should I go? Will this be fun? It's a Sunday...would Marc mind being with Seth? We had an appointment with a decorator scheduled (we plan to redo our basement). Could that be changed? (She's super busy, so I wasn't sure.) I was scheduled to do a podcast interview on the phone re: Motherhood Later. Could I do that from my cell upstate? Would I get reception? And....on top of it, these friends mentioned that they might decide to stay overnight, depending on how things went. How would that sit with me, they asked?

After debating it a bit and discussing with Marc, my decision was made. He was totally agreeable to spending solo time with Seth, and the decorator was able to give us another weekend date in April. And, I decided to take a chance on the reception from my cell phone, and advised the interviewer that I would be on the road.

I jumped at the chance...and tried not to feel the need to justify it in my mind!

The reality was.....I SO needed this. And, a few of my close friends echoed that sentiment. Had they been sensing in me a restlessness? Perhaps......I certainly know it's been there.
I find it's so easy to feel stuck in a rut. I have confessed in the past that being a suburban work at home mom isn't the easiest thing for me. I miss the company of others. Though I do have an occasional lunch with a friend and schedule playdates for Seth, it's not the same as working in an office.

Beyond that...what I experienced on this trip was a welcome sense of abandon. On that Monday, we walked down the cool, artsy, retro streets of Woodstock, and I have to confess, I didn't want to go home. It felt so good to be free, and we only stayed over one night. But, that was enough to whet my appetite and be reminded of myself. To be Robin...and not just mommy, daughter, wife, etc.

I was speaking with a friend after the weekend and telling her what great fun I had....and I found myself discussing how I felt a little "guilty not to feel guilty." Does that make sense?

Seth and Marc both said they missed me when I returned. And, yes, I missed them, but not while I was shopping in Woodstock. Should I have? I don't want to overthink the situation. It certainly doesn't mean I don't love them.

Suffice it to say that it's so important to take time for yourself. And, even a quick jaunt with friends can be enough to rejuvenate you.

Go for it, if given the opportunity! It's so important to remember who you were before motherhood...and us moms have the right to enjoy time away. Give yourself permission.
My next trip is with Seth and Marc for spring break shortly. Surely that will be an entirely different experience. We are meeting friends there, so perhaps I can snag a little pocket of time to hang with my girlfriend a bit. We'll see.............

Either way, I look forward to going. But, would also return in a heartbeat to Woodstock or wherever with girlfriends for a quick getaway!!

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The New Party Invitation

And so it has begun. We are now being invited to birthday parties for little kids. Not that we haven't been invited in the past. It's just that we never had children before so it never seemed like a fun way to spend a Saturday with dozens of screaming little kids and bad pizza and too much cake (what I imagine little kids birthday parties to include).

We will be attending our first little kid birthday party next week for a 2 year old boy. I will bring Joey who loves to play with "big" kids and will leave Lyra with my mother. Here's my dilemma. Do we bring a gift (the invitation doesn't say not to). What do we bring? How much do we spend?

It seems like it should be a simple thing to figure out but I really need some help with ideas. I always get caught up in "oh he probably already has a dump truck/toy cell phone/stuffed doggy." And "I'm sure clothes are soooo boring for little boys to receive." And "He is the only child with upper middle class parents. What could he possibly need/want?"

Even though I have three nephews, I can't for the life of me remember what I got them when each of them turned 2.

So, any advice for a first-time 40-something mom who is attending her first official little kid birthday party?

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Magic of Six

Thirteen used to be my favorite number. Now it is six. There are six members of my family (including our dogs). My children are six months apart. And I am a proud contributor to the recent NY Times bestseller: Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure. Check it out at

I first heard about Six-Word Memoirs while listening to the radio on a drive to the San Francisco Bay Area for the holidays in 2006. It was Christmas Eve and they were accepting entries until midnight that night. I thought it was a cool idea so started composing my own in my head. At that time, my husband and I were forging full steam ahead with a gestational surrogacy arrangement with his cousin, who had volunteered for us. She had been cleared medically by my doctor and we had a schedule in place to do IVF and implant her in early February. I came up with and submitted the perfect memoir: "Multiple miscarriages. Cousin will carry baby."

In early February, our cousin had to pull out of the arrangement on the eve of my egg extraction due to medical problems that surfaced in the prior two months. We were devastated and knew she was our last hope. Not a week later I received an email from the editor of Six-Word Memoirs, Rachel Fershleiser, that mine had been selected out of thousands of entries to be included in the book, and could I please send some sort of photo. Oh the irony!

I wrote to her explaining that my memoir was no longer true and perhaps she should reconsider including me in the book. She wrote back to me and said, yes, she still wanted my contribution and that each memoir is really only a moment in time. I agreed but did not have a photo to include.

Fast forward one year later to February '08. I get another email from Rachel that the book is published, that all contributors will be getting a complimentary copy, and please share any updates: "P.S. Is there a story-behind-the-story of your six-word memoir? Did you find our contest in an outrageous way? Has there been a major update in your life? Please write back to me with anything you can contribute to the lore of project. It's fascinating and will help us do interviews. Hell, if one of you could be so kind as to fall in love with me, we could be on Good Morning America!"

Well, I shot her an email as fast as I could type: "I do have a major update: I am sitting in my new home with two babies to my name..." and gave her the rest of my story.

Rachel's response to me: "Joanna! I can't tell you how happy I am to hear from you! I am dancing around my bedroom! I swear, when I wrote that P.S., I was thinking about you. I was so touched by your emails. I even quoted part of what you wrote to me in the book's introduction, about lifetimes happening every day and truth changing. But I wasn't about to write a "yo lady, you knocked up yet?" email. But you are! Or were! Or whatever, look at those beautiful, perfect babies and that happy, happy family! I'm not usually such a mush but you have entirely goosebumped me. I'm so incredibly thrilled for you, and so honored and grateful to have stuck my little nose into your incredible story."

I rewrote my six-word memoir for Rachel: "Adopted baby. Got pregnant. Instant family." She put my new memoir on CBS' Morning News:
Life In Six Words

When I met her in person at the Los Angeles book launch, I shared my newest six-word life story: "Two children six months apart. Huh?"

So, sorry for the shameless plug but Six-Word Memoirs are now all the rage. I invite you to try writing your own. But be careful, it's addicting. (You might even try writing them for other people, like I do. Can I make a living at that?) So, please share your six.

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Going Back to Work (3)

I went back to work this week.

The first week went by, embarrassingly uneventful, compared to the angst I felt until the moment I arrived at my office. The night before the first day, I dreamt that I was Colin Farrell (don't ask how I knew, it's a dream), a secret agent, and was locked in a room with my partner, an older guy. The room started to fill with water, until finally there was only a pocket of air left, just enough for our noses to take in quick sniffs of air. Then I kicked the door open, the water gushed out. Unfortunately, my partner died, but I survived. The dream was so vivid! I woke up to get ready, had my breakfast, then threw up.
The babysitter came on time, my daughter cried but not for long (30 minutes). And I drove to campus, on the first day of classes.

All day, I had to run around like a mad woman, not a moment to idle away. In other words, business as usual, as I remember ten months ago. And I felt at home.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Pop-Tarts and menopause

Ladies, can we talk? Okay it’s been 84 days since I got my period. And there is no way I could be pregnant because my husband, Tom, had the big V, when my third daughter Melanie, now 6, was just five months old. After having three in just under four years, I told him flat out, that’s it—I can’t have anymore kids and meant it, banishing him to another bedroom. All bets are off honey. Go away with that thing. And he ran like hell to the urologist’s office to get snipped thinking we’d have wild, passionate unprotected crazy sex like we used to…..or at least we thought or Jeez could’ve sworn we did…once.

Now, I’m hormonal, bloated, breaking out with acne, crying and just plain nasty some days. I’m 42. There’s been no warning of this coming, yet. I haven’t had any hot flashes. Although I’m very dizzy sometimes to the point that I can’t even watch my kids go on a Merry-Go-Round let alone go on any rides with them at all. I’m an earth bound mother. I can’t even turn around in the mini-van when Tom’s driving to answer a question or hand them juice. I get that dizzy.

So I buy a pregnancy kit. Because I've heard all those urban legends about can get reconnected somehow; someone knew someone after 10 years they had a child...Tom sits on the bed waiting, while I do what the instructions tell me to do in the bathroom. I’m cranky. I thought I’d never have to buy one of these kits again in my life. I fuss with the thing, put the cap back on and wait.

I open the door from the bathroom and look at my husband. And I see, in his eagerness to hear the news, I can’t believe it and blink twice. There it is—a giant Cheshire grin as wide as the parting of the Red Sea spreading across his face. He’s HAPPY. He wants another child. Number four!!! He’s acting goofy with a twinkle in his eye I haven’t seen since the hospital when he cradled each newborn in his arms. And this makes me…MAD. Because I just got my life back.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children all three crazy kids that run through my house, screaming, fighting and gluing things onto the refrigerator. I adore it. Wouldn’t have it any other way, except for those stickers on my hardwood floors that I can’t scrape off. I’m blessed, but I just came up for air. I began to have full length conversations with my friends again while out to lunch. Shoot, we actually GO OUT to lunch! Our family’s sleeping through the night just about every night. I am absolutely no good without sleep-as all moms are. I can’t be pregnant. I can’t do it, again.

We wait. The line was negative—thank god.
Tom’s sad but I realized, he was more puffed up and proud at the thought, although cut off for five years, that maybe his boys, or just that one miraculous rebel golden seed, broke the boundary, escaped and found its way to glory.

Me, still bloated cranky and irritating to everyone within a 2 mile radius of me, scheduled a doctor’s appointment to see what’s up. Then I ate four Pop-Tarts at once and cried at a sappy commercial.

Help. Any advice?

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Keeping Up with the Mother Joneses

I've never considered myself a competitive person. An achiever....yes. Driven.....yes. Perfectionist at times....sure (not that I've succeeded at that, or should want to). Control freak. I do like things a certain way, I admit.

Well, that and more, needs to be abandoned when it comes to parenting, I'm quickly learning.

And, the other thing that I'm learning is not to compare myself or my child to others.

No book comes with parenting, though plenty are written on the subject. When Seth was little, I used to peruse some of them. These days I have little time for that and would sooner reach out to a parenting expert or seasoned mom friend who has been there, done that.

I did both recently after a chat with a mom friend that left me thinking...a lot.

She was speaking about a series of well-regarded books a friend had recommended as learning tools to teach your child when they are very young. And, she applauded how a couple of moms, in particular, who she knows, have used them with their children to teach them to read at a young age, etc.

I wondered what Seth is supposed to be capable of at this time. I spoke with his teacher who said he is progressing as he should in terms of knowing/writing letters, names, numbers, etc. But, I thought, is this enough? Should I be doing more? As a parent, we want our children to succeed. We have high aspirations for them and want to know that we're doing/have done our best.

No doubt there are varying schools of thought on this subject. But, there is something to be said for letting a child be a child. Sure academics are important, and school does seem WAY demanding these days, but quality play time is essential too. And, according to a parenting expert I well respect and have consulted with, at the age of 5, allowing your child's imagination to soar through creative play is something to strive for.

We can expose them to new experiences, and endeavor to share what we think is cool about the world. And, that is important. But, ultimately, they are their own person with interests, strengths, challenges, etc. that we can do our best to support and nuture...and they may not coincide with ours. But, that's ok.

One day our kids will fly on their own, and their childhood should be just that. A time of fun, games, love...and certainly learning...but it shouldn't be about "keeping up with the mother jones." And, I'm not saying that this mom friend or others I know view parenting as a contest. I'm just speaking for myself in that I need to...and want to... focus on Seth and his uniqueness...and let his natural abilities soar. Comparing him will surely not do either of us any good.

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