Friday, June 29, 2012

Enjoying the empty nest (temporarily)

I think I've mentioned that the girls were in Baltimore this week on a youth group mission trip. And I, meanwhile, have been enjoying the heck out of my weeklong visit to the empty nest!

During a previous mission trip, I asked another of the youth parents if she and her husband were enjoying their kid-free status for a week, and she said oh, no, that they really missed them. I don't recall what I said, but I thought "Really?" Because, confession time: I don't miss mine terribly when they're away for a week. About the time I start to miss them, they come home...

But it occurred to me just today that this woman's kids are a bit older than mine - her youngest is the age of my oldest. So her oldest drives, and presumably both will happily stay home alone if need be. So they probably don't restrict her activities much.

I'm not there yet. Rapunzel will stay home alone, but The Nerd will not stay home with Rapunzel for more than about 2 hours tops, and alone, not at all. Nor is Rapunzel driving solo yet. So it occurs to me that I enjoy their absence more because I'm able to do things I can't when they're around (happy hour anyone??? And yes, it was awesome), whereas the other mom probably feels more able to do those things all the time, because her kids are that bit older and thus more independent.

I realize that day is not long off for me - Rapunzel could be driving solo by October (though it will probably be next spring), at which point, she could do some of the taxi-service duty I do now (like, picking up The Nerd and going to riding if I need to work later). And The Nerd is moving toward more willingness to stay home by herself or with Rapunzel - a year ago, she wouldn't have stayed home with Rapunzel for 5 minutes - me going to walk the dog was a major crisis. And she's talking about aging out of summer camp (except riding camp) after this summer, which she knows means staying home while I go to work next summer.

So, I've enjoyed the temporary empty nest, and look forward to having some of the perks of that without having to send them out of town for a week. And it's all training for 2 years from now, when Rapunzel goes to college (ACK!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wanted: Department social queen. Extrovert a plus, but not required.

I am an introvert. I start with that because, although you all know me, you may not know that about me. It seems obvious, but judging from the fact that most people greet this statement with either laughter or some variant of "Yeah, right," I have to assume it's not as obvious as I think. But it's true: I am an introvert, in the Myers-Briggs sense: when I need to recharge, I need to be alone. When an extrovert is needs to recharge, they need to be around people. I like people, but social activities drain my energy.

Yet despite being an introvert, in the 18 months since I rejoined my current department at work, I have somehow, improbably, become the de facto social queen. I am the one who has a list of everyone's birthdays and organizes cake in the break room each month to celebrate. Who arranges lunches out or just lunches together in the conference room or on the patio. Who instigates baby pools and baby showers.

It had occurred to me before that this is sort of an unlikely thing - most social organizers are extroverts. But I'd never given much thought to how or why it came about until this week.

This week, my girls are away on a mission trip, and Chris and I are enjoying being temporarily kid-free. One of my coworkers, C_____, has been talking about organizing happy hour after work one day this week. This is the one semi-regular social activity at work I don't organize or attend, because I leave at 2:30. There's usually some excuse, like a colleague from the DC office in town; this week, it was meeting up with a coworker on maternity leave. And with the girls away, I was excited that I could go.

But C_____ got swamped, so I offered to pull it together instead. Which was fine, until the pretext, the coworker on maternity leave, couldn't do this week. So I set up lunch with the new mom in a couple weeks, and mentally kissed happy hour goodbye. When I sent out the invite to lunch, C_______ replied "But we should do happy hour anyway, just because you're kid-free this week!"

And that was when that little voice in my head, the one I call The Critic, said "You can't send out an e-mail saying let's have happy hour just because you're kid-free this week and can come! No one will  come for that!" I thought  8 years of therapy had banished The Critic, but apparently not. And in truth, we probably all have a little voice like that, though the things that prompt it to come out and spread its dysfunctional little wings differ.

But it was an epiphany of sorts: one reason I like organizing social activities at work, despite being an introvert, is that it enables me to socialize without risking rejection or giving the appearance of assuming people would want to spend time with me. Because despite a fair amount of empirical evidence to the contrary (people do not flee when I enter a room, and did I mention the 8 years of therapy?), I STILL fear that people's response to the idea of socializing with me is along the lines of "I think I hear my mother calling me..." (or maybe in this context, the client).

I do think there's more to my being social queen than avoiding The Critic's insidious whispers. The other, healthier part of it is that I do like socializing, but as an introvert, I like it best in small doses. A half hour cake break with my coworkers is perfect - it's structured, it has a focus that's not me, it's all people I know and have common conversational ground with, and it's short. So I enjoy that, and am motivated to make it happen.

The happy hour story does have a happy ending. I actually told C_____ why I had punted happy hour (take THAT little voice!) and bless her heart, she set it up herself, and without saying "because Anne is kidless this week and can come." Just, let's have happy hour.

So tomorrow at 5:00, I'll be at City Beverage enjoying a beer with my excellent coworkers. Thanks, C_____!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer bucket list

Another idea for a Friday post, stolen from my niece, Megg. These are the things I hope/plan to do this summer:

  • Take the girls to Europe (the plane tix are bought!)
  • Enjoy the heck out of kid-free-ness next week while the girls are in Baltimore on a mission trip; specifically:
    • Go out to dinner with Chris at least once (and thanks, but only one check)
    • Have my parents over to dinner
    • Go to a movie on a weeknight (oh, decadence...)
    • Go to happy hour with my coworkers
  • Take the girls to the real pool twice (as opposed to the small aboveground pool in our yard)
  • Figure out what the heck to get Rapunzel for her 16th birthday that's portable to Europe (which lets out a horse, sweetie...) If you have suggestions, e-mail me or message me on Facebook, but don't comment here, as Rapunzel reads this blog!
  • Resist the urge to buy an iPad
  • See the new Batman movie, the new Spiderman movie, and the new Bourne movie (yeah, I like comic book and action movies...)
  • Finish the last two Game of Thrones books (ditto fantasy books)
  • Write at least two blog posts a week
I think that's about it. What's your summer bucket list?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"You're taking this really well!"

The Nerd on Ellie in 2009.
The girls are at riding camp this week at the barn where they've been taking riding lessons for 5 years. Yesterday at lunchtime, my cell phone rang, and I could see it was the camp. When I answered, it was S_____, one of the owner's two 20-something daughters who help run the camp.

"The Nerd got knocked down by her horse. She's OK, just bumps and bruises, but she's a little shaken up and would like you to come pick her up."

The longer story, which I got later, is that The Nerd was leading Lily (the horse) at a trot with a more inexperienced rider on her, Lily was having an off day and something set her off, and she and The Nerd got their feet tangled up together and Lily bumped The Nerd with her shoulder. The Nerd fell, and Lily partially stepped on The Nerd's thigh (she has a rather spectacular hoof-shaped bruise...) She wasn't wearing her helmet, since she wasn't riding the horse, and Lily may have just clipped her behind the ear with a hoof, as she has a sore spot there.

Anyway, as I was talking to S_______, she said at one point "You're taking this really well!" I heard that again from the owner's other daughter when I arrived to collect The Nerd, and yet again from the owner when I went back at 3:00 to pick up Rapunzel.

I'm sure they're used to more panicky parents... It's not that I was unconcerned, but then, I've had The Nerd to the orthopedic urgent care for x-rays following falls from a horse enough times that they know us. So my biggest worry was that I would have to take her for x-rays or to the pediatrician to be evaluated for concussion and not get any work done that afternoon.

Or maybe they're used to angrier parents who blame them. But after 5 years, I know them, and I know they are very careful and responsible. Any time you deal with an animal, unexpected things can happen, beyond anyone's control.

But here's the thing: I'm a risk assessor by trade, so I have perhaps a better awareness than most that life is inherently risky. Everything we do is risky to one degree or another. Even things that seem innocuous: The Nerd broke her arm at 18 months falling off a rocking horse a foot off the ground (yet she's fallen off real horses at least 4 times and never broken anything). Rapunzel broke her ankle 2 years ago on a slip 'n slide. My mother broke her ankle 25 years ago just by stepping on it wrong. And I tripped and fell and broke 3 fingers in March just walking down our street, for pete sake...

We can't eliminate risk from life - we can only weigh the risks of a particular activity against the benefits. That's often a subconscious calculation. We all engage in an extremely risky activity every day: driving. Why? Because the benefits outweigh the risks. (Well, also because we underestimate the risks, which is common for activities where we perceive ourselves to be in control. That's an illusion when it comes to driving - no matter how good a driver you are, you can't control the other drivers around you, who may be incompetent, distracted, or impaired.)

Horseback riding is riskier than walking down the street (but almost certainly less risky than driving). So we take reasonable precautions: they wear high-quality riding helmets, and sturdy boots to guard against feet getting stepped on. They take lessons at a barn where the instructor goes slowly, making sure they have mastered and repeated basic skills until they are second nature. But even so, falls are going to happen: horses spook and start cantering, or galloping, unexpectedly. Or they balk at a jump. Sometimes a rider has to do an emergency dismount (something they learn early). Sometimes the rider falls off before they can dismount. Bumps and bruises are going to happen. Yes, more serious injuries can occur too - broken bones, even broken necks (Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a fall from a horse).

But there are also benefits - it's athletic (anyone who thinks horseback riding is not athletic has never ridden a horse), promotes good posture, and with this teacher, promotes empathy (she's always saying after they've completed something "Thank your horse") and responsibility (they tack up and groom the horses as well as ride, and if it rains, they clean tack). Plus, they enjoy it immensely. How many things can you say your kid enjoys immensely that also build character and muscles?

There's always that urge, as a parent, to protect your kids from all possible harm. But overprotectiveness is just as harmful in its own way as negligence. Kids need to learn to deal with risk, not be wrapped in cotton wool for 18 years and then turned loose on the big bad world, unequipped to deal with risk or failure or setbacks.

There was no question that The Nerd was going back to camp today. What's more, she requested the same horse. She fell, she got back up, and she was ready to get back on. There's no better life lesson than that. So yes, I'm taking this really well.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The mother they deserve

I've read a couple comments online recently by mothers saying they wish they were the mother their child deserves. One was a woman I know personally and would have described as an excellent mother - thoughtful, loving, conscientious. The other was a blogger I don't know, but it came at the end of a list of things she wanted her 10 year old daughter to know that caused me to nod in violent agreement at every one. She was clearly also a thoughtful, loving mother. So how did these women think they were somehow not the mothers their children deserve?

Society sets a high bar for mothers - we idealize motherhood to the point that we somehow expect ourselves to be perfect mothers or feel like we're failing short.

Well, pardon my French, but bullshit.

My parenting mantra from the very beginning has been a line my mother (who is, thankfully, not perfect) has always attributed to Jung (thank you, Mom):

Children don't need perfect parents. They need "good enough" parents.

Not that they are just OK if they don't have perfect parents and do have good enough parents. No - he means they actively need NOT to have perfect parents and actively NEED good enough parents instead. Which is a good thing, because perfect parents are a mythical beast, like pretty much anything else perfect.

Now, I say this as a person who has had to fight against the urge for perfection my whole life. If you are familiar with the Enneagram (a personality type indicator in which the types are assigned a number from one to nine), I am a flaming One, whose self-idealization is "I am right." Ones are ALL about perfection, and I'm no exception. But it's a false goal - you will drive yourself crazy in the pursuit of it, and still never attain it.

Most people know that about most things. But, ah, motherhood. It's our most cherished ideal, the perfect mother. When Rapunzel was an infant, I remember thinking I was doing something wrong because it wasn't all joy and happiness all the time. I loved (and still love) her with an intensity I could not begin to imagine before her birth (and I tried). But nobody told me that motherhood is hard work. There are huge rewards, but also huge frustrations, worry, rampant sleep deprivation, and just flat out exhaustion. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I wish someone had told me to expect it to be hard, and not all joy and choirs of angels.

Honestly, I never really expected to be a good mother - I wanted to have children because I wanted to experience what it was to love another human being completely unconditionally (I love my husband to pieces, but it's not and never will be unconditional). I boy did I find out (for the record, it's awesome and terrifying in equal parts. I once read a description of it as agreeing to let your heart walk around outside your body for the rest of your life, and that's pretty dead on.) But even wanting to have children and experience that, I just couldn't mentally fit myself into that idealized image of the perfect mom - you know, the one that never gets tired or frustrated, never loses her cool, always knows just what her child needs, loves nothing more than to sit on the floor playing with a toddler....

Here's my confession: I love babies, but toddlers? Please, no. I don't enjoy playing games with kids. Or doing art with kids. Or cooking with kids. Or doing anything that might make a mess with kids (which is almost everything, if you do it right...) I do not enjoy cooking and don't manage to put perfectly balanced, healthy meals on the table (or indeed, any meals on the table - I don't cook at all, Chris does...) I do enjoy reading to kids, though - anything that involves a book, I'm on board. Although the 50th time through that More, More, More Said the Baby and I wanted to scream. Still, mostly I didn't mind the repetition of reading the same picture books over and over and over. I could do Hippos Go Berserk all day long....

But I was confessing. I found helping with elementary school homework frustrating. And I tolerated but didn't truly enjoy taking them to playgrounds (God, could anything be more boring?) or museums (whee, the butterfly house at the Museum of Life and Science, AGAIN).

OK, I'm overstating things a little, but I was never, ever, that image of the idealized mother. I don't want you to think I hated every minute - I didn't. There were plenty of fun times, too. And somewhere in there, they turned into really interesting little people, and I could TALK to them, and wind up wondering how the heck we ended up talking about [fill in the blank with anything weird or offbeat or not typical kid conversation], and that's been really, really fun. Well, when they aren't rolling their eyes or turning "Mother" into a word of 10 syllables...

But here's the thing: I am not that idealized, "perfect" mother. No way, no how. But I AM a good enough mother. Indeed, I am surprised on a regular basis to realize I am actually a damn good mother. My girls are growing up into awesome human beings, and are the teenagers every parent dreams of. I can't (and won't) take all the credit - they have an awesome (but not perfect) father, great (and local) grandparents, and a church full of people willing to help raise them in a thousand little ways... So there's a whole village that gets shared credit.

But today, almost 16 years down the road of motherhood, I'm not going to be another mother who flogs herself by saying she's not the mother her children deserve. Nope. I AM the mother they deserve: not perfect by any stretch, but more than good enough. Jung would be proud.

Friday, June 15, 2012


I'm stealing an idea from my niece, who does Furbaby Fridays on her blog. The post on motherhood that's in the works needs to percolate some more, so what better than to introduce my furbabies?

Here are all of them in a rare moment of detente on Rapunzel's lap. From left to right are Juliet, Harry, and Othello.

First up is Harry. He'll never be first in the household pecking order, so he might as well get to be first here. He is, in our humble opinion, the cutest dog in the known universe (but it's OK if you think yours is cuter - you gotta be partial to your own babies...) He's half beagle, half chihuahua, and all sweetie pie.

When he's not sleeping, he likes to help around the house. Say, by helping clean the dishes...

Then there is Juliet. She was a stray who was hanging around Rapunzel's afterschool pottery place. I walked in, took one look at her holding court on the studio's sofa, and knew she was ours.

She does have a bad case of chronic grumpy-face, but is really a very sweet girl.

Finally, there is Othello. He's my grumpy old man. He was also a rescue. We call him the attention hound, because he LOVES attention. (That's my brother giving him some...)

And last but not least, there is our dear departed Sebastian. He succumbed to throat cancer in January, but lives on in our hearts...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax

My name is Anne. I'm a shoe addict.

The blue sandals.
I say that in case any of you have missed that about me. I recently bought a pair of blue sandals, posted a picture of them on Facebook, then had this conversation with one of my Facebook friends at church the next morning:

Friend: Oh, it's the new shoes.

Me: Yeah. I took [The Nerd] to buy black flats for the chorus concert, and came home with these. I am not a safe person in a shoe store.

Friend: Really? I would never have known that about you.

Which surprised me, until I remembered she'd met me during The Running Shoe years - kicked off by a bout with plantar fasciitis, and prolonged past usefulness by motherhood and the Mommy Rut uniform (stretch pants, solid colored t-shirts, and running shoes). But long before the Running Shoe years, and even during them, I was a shoe addict.

My addiction has its roots in my childhood. I was knock-kneed, and the pediatrician prescribed some kind of orthotic thingummy to go in my shoes to correct it. This device ruled out many styles of shoes, including, it seemed, all the cute ones. I remember standing in Jacobs Shoes pining after all the cute shoes while the salesman showed my mother which ones I could pick from. They were all reminiscent of the orthopedic shoes my grandmother wore. At some point, I think I gave up begging for the ones I wanted - it was fruitless and I knew it.

But they might as well have let me get the cute ones I wanted - the whole correct-the-knock-knees endeavor was doomed by my refusal to wear the hated shoes at all unless I absolutely had to; I spent a great deal of my childhood barefoot by choice. As a result, I am still knock-kneed, and while that may have killed any chance I had of being a model (a career I never desired and which was already doomed by the inheritance of my grandmother's prodigious bosom), it has not otherwise affected my life for the worse. But it did leave me with an unfulfilled craving for cute shoes that has never abated.

At 16, I got my drivers license and a job at Shoe Town. Shoe Town was everything Jacobs Shoes was not: there was no stuffy and intimidating salesman between you and the shoes - just rack upon rack of shoes that you could take down and try on yourself. No one to tell you they didn't fit right, or weren't suitable. I got to see all the shoes before they ever went on the racks, and I had an employee discount.... I was like a kid in a candy store. My mother had apparently given up on the knock-knees by that time - she knew when a battle was lost. I had my own money, and access to all manner of unapproved footwear. I was unstoppable.

I still remember the high-heeled black open-toed slingbacks I paid too much for to wear to the first Christmas party at my first job out of college. They were my first "sexy" shoes... and they were uncomfortable as heck, but they were gorgeous.

The Sam and Libby wedding shoes.
Eventually I gave up heels and entered the Sam and Libby stage. For those of you too young to remember, Sam and Libby was a brand that made nothing but ballet flats with a bow on the toe, in every color you can possibly imagine. I had at least half a dozen pairs, to go with any outfit, and I even wore a white pair of them with my wedding dress. But although they were cute and went with anything, they also had soles approximately the thickness of a sheet of paper. Plantar fasciitis reared its ugly head, and I had to retire the ballet flats for running shoes that actually had arch support. I felt like I was giving up my last vanity.

Soon after, I had Rapunzel, and although the plantar fasciitis healed, the running shoes stuck as part of the Mommy Uniform. Which I'm sorry to say persisted until Rapunzel was 13 and The Nerd was 10. Then, three things happened in rapid succession to vanquish the Mommy Rut: I got on antidepressants (and started caring what I looked like again), we got cable TV (in preparation for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics), and Rapunzel broke her leg and got us all hooked on What Not to Wear while she was laid up. I ditched the Mommy Uniform, and the running shoes, and rediscovered cute clothes and cute shoes.

And oh, the things you can get now - platforms that LOOK like heels but don't FEEL like heels... wide sizes in cute styles... comfortable shoes that don't look orthopedic... I am in shoe heaven.

And so, once more, I am not safe in a shoe store. My last vanity is back, with a vengeance!

[Oh, and if you're waiting for the ships and sealing wax, I lied - this really was just "Of shoes," but I couldn't resist the Lewis Carroll quote!]

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wedding rings

I don’t usually give much thought to my wedding rings. After nearly 20 years, they are just a fixture on my left hand, like a part of my body. I only take them off once a year, at Christmas, when I make the cookie dough that has to have the last 3 cups of flour mixed in by hand. For 10 minutes, they reside in a bowl on the kitchen counter, until the cookie dough is mixed and my hands are washed. The other 525,590 minutes a year, they are on my hand. 
My rings, on Rapunzel's cord.

That is, until this March, when I broke 3 fingers on my left hand.  In the immediate aftermath, my attention was mostly focused on seeking medical care. But somewhere in those first few minutes, I thought “I better take off my rings while I still can.” I have not been able to wear them since – the ring finger is only mildly swollen now, but the middle joint is still enlarged and will not straighten all the way, and the rings won’t go over it. They have never fit on my right hand, so I wear them on a cord around my neck that Rapunzel made me the night of the accident.

I miss having them on my hand, and as a result, I now think about them a lot – they are made noticeable by their absence. It doesn’t surprise me that I’m aware of their absence. What does surprise me is that strangers, especially men, seem to notice their absence.  
Oh, not that they say “you aren’t wearing wedding rings.” But I’m fascinated by the subtly different way men interact with me now that I’m not wearing wedding rings. Clerks in stores are mildly flirtatious. Nothing offensive or overt; indeed, it almost seems like a reflex. But a reflex that didn’t happen when I wore wedding rings.

Then there was the man at work who offered to share his umbrella to the front door one recent rainy morning. I didn’t think much of his chivalrous gesture (though as a rule, men stride by me making for the front door of the building), until we got on the elevator and he made eye contact, said “I’m John Smith,” and extended his hand. There was no graceful way to not complete the introduction. He then proceeded to make conversation. Not small talk, but actual conversation.

Now, you must understand that this is entirely counter to elevator culture at my workplace. People occupy themselves with their smart phones or stare at the walls. Passing the occasional remark on the weather, the day of the week (“Almost Friday!”), or the sloth-like pace of the elevators is acceptable, but generally eye contact is not made, and unless you are riding with someone you know, actual conversation is Not Done.  So by the time I’d reached my office, I had come to the conclusion that he had been ever-so-gently hitting on me. Like the store clerks, only a bit more focused, a bit less reflexive.   

Then there was the waiter the other night, when Chris and I grabbed an opportunity to go out to dinner without the girls, who asked at the end of the meal, “One check or two?” I can’t remember the last time a waiter asked us if we wanted two checks. But apparently man + woman without wedding rings = date = possible two checks. Or perhaps, given Chris was wearing his ring, the equation was man wearing wedding ring + woman without wedding rings = illicit tryst = two checks, the better to conceal our date from his wife… 

The upshot of it is, I feel less invisible to men without my rings. It’s a curious sensation, the resulting attention. Flattering, but also sort of surreal. On the whole, I’ll be glad when I can get my rings over that knuckle and wear them where they belong again.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pink streaks and celebrating life

So, I decided to start a blog. I had a bunch of ideas of things I wanted to write about running around my head, all too long for Facebook. So, here we are.

A word about the name... I got a pink streak put in my hair recently. It was a sort of echo of 10 years ago, when I was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease, cut off my waist length hair pre-chemo, and on a dare from a friend, dyed it purple. As she put it, "this is your chance to dye your hair a socially unacceptable color. You can always blame it on the chemo." I did it, and a bunch of my friends dyed streaks purple in solidarity.

So to mark the 10-year anniversary of that, and my 50th birthday, I got a pink streak. OK, it's not really MY hair, it's a clip in, but my hairdresser assures me this will last much longer than dye on a bleached out streak. And my daughters, Rapunzel and The Nerd, also got a steak (pink for Rapunzel and purple for The Nerd).

Most people have loved it. My husband took 2 days to notice it. But one coworker asked me if it was "some sort of midlife rebellion?" I think I gaped at her a couple seconds (who actually says that out loud?) and then babbled something about the chemo and the purple streak and escaped.

What I wish I'd said was, "No, it's a celebration of life."

So. This blog is a celebration of life, and a chance for me to ponder out loud some of the things I've learned so far. I hope you enjoy coming on the journey with me.