Monday, September 28, 2009
The other blogstart is on an index card that came from the stack I had in class last week. It begins, “Moms aren’t allowed to get sick.” I wrote it while my students were working on their own writing during class, and I wanted to model the “teacher as writer” ideal that I believe they should enact in their own classrooms. I filled the index card with feelings about the previous day, when my work had to take a backseat to my expanding headache, primarily because my house and kids could not. I intended to blog about those feelings on the train ride home from the city after class. I closed my eyes and listened to my iPod instead.
So I haven’t found the time to update this blog, but that doesn’t mean I have been an unproductive writer. On the contrary, I made headway on a research article that has been sitting on my shelf for too long, and I started an article on texting language as a follow-up to one that was recently published. Considering that I have been procrastinating this academic writing for a while, I am pleased to be making progress.
My impetus for working on both of these pieces, aside from the looming reappointment I face in February, was a scheduled meeting of the RU-Moms. Last Friday I met SA and HM at a café for the inaugural meeting of our writing workshop. The three of us have a lot in common. We all graduated from the same PhD program. We were all landlocked in our job searches because of the needs of our family, and we all have young children that we are raising while we pursue tenure at our respective universities. When we met for the first time last spring at a park for a kiddo play date, we realized we could help each other professionally. So now we are meeting once per month to support each other in our research and writing, to offer feedback, and to share our similar frustrations.
During our meeting last week, we spent surprisingly little time asking about our kids, which tends to be the common thread of conversation when moms get together, and we instead jumped right into our work. It was focused. It was helpful. It was refreshing. I needed the push, and these gals were there to give it to me.
At one point in our conversation, HM asked whether we liked the kind of writing we had to do for our jobs. It’s a question I have long struggled to answer because the truth is that I do not particularly like the reading OR the writing I need to do in order to stay current in my field. I’ve always enjoyed listening to experts more than I have reading them or writing about them. So for me it’s part of my job but not part of my passion, and this makes academic writing particularly difficult.
Writing and I have always had a love-hate relationship. I’ve been an on-again/off-again journal writer from the age of 9. I would faithfully keep a diary for a week, and then I’d let months go by without an entry. This pattern has continued through my adulthood. I turn to journaling when life takes interesting turns, and despite the many resolutions I have made over the years, gaps of time stand like craters between my journal pages.
When my babies were born, I wanted to give them the gift of words, but I knew that I couldn’t maintain daily entries for two. The idea simply exhausted and overwhelmed me. As a compromise between the mom-me and the individual-me, I decided to do “a line a day” for each of them, figuring I could commit that amount of writing at night before bed. Realizing I had much to say each day about my kids, my line-a-day journals quickly became anecdotal records of the babies’ growth and development, and the writing soon became a burden. Two years later, I force myself to continue documenting their lives from my perspective so that they can know how they amaze me on a daily basis. I give myself permission not to write these entries everyday, but I feel guilty if a week goes by without thoughts and observations documented.
Guilt and writing are inextricably linked for me. I feel guilty that I don’t write more, either personally or professionally. I don’t write personally because I feel guilty that I should be writing professionally. I write professionally because I feel guilty that I can and should do it. I think I need to find a way to sideline the guilt.
As I completed graduate school courses in the teaching of writing, I discovered joy in being able to express personal stories effectively. I love to make my family of readers smile, cry, or simply feel emotion when they read my work. I feel great accomplishment at completing an academic piece and even more satisfaction at having it published. But despite all of these traits that indicate I am, in fact, a writer, I don’t particularly like to write.
Perhaps it’s because writing is hard work, and writing effectively is exhausting. When I add the effort it takes to write on top of the guilt associated with so much of my writing, it simply wears me out. Perhaps that’s why it often takes a backseat to the myriad tasks I have for my job, and perhaps that’s why I have two blog ideas scribbled on bits of paper at the bottom of my backpack, those great ideas sidelined by the “real” writing I accomplished last week.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
My mom understands discipline. It’s about being clear and consistent, and she is fantastic on both accounts. There are many examples that I could share from my youth to demonstrate my point. However, since it was always my brother, and never me, at the center of these stories, I will refrain. Perhaps he will entertain the blog world with "tales of a boy and the construction workers outside his school window" or "sitting in the chair with my hands folded." From each of these examples I learned important lessons about being a parent: 1.) Always follow through. 2.) Sometimes you need to work really hard to hide your smile.
These lessons served me well the other day when my son decided to misbehave at dinner. He screamed. He cried. He threw food. He put his feet on the table. He did everything a two year old wants to do, and none of the things his adult parent wanted him to do. I cajoled. I warned. And then I served the ultimatum. If he continued to act inappropriately, he would not be allowed to watch Hi-5, one of his favorite shows, after dinner. I could see his wheels turning. I knew he was going to test me. I did my best to hide my smile, which involuntarily came out in response to the evil grin on his face. And then he threw his pasta on the floor.
Sighing inside, I knew I was in for a struggle as I carried out the ultimatum. However, I didn’t realize how difficult this punishment would be – because he is a twin.
My daughter had earned her privilege of watching Hi-5. I had to allow her to do so in order to reward positive behavior. My son did not earn tube time, so I had to follow through with the discipline and keep him away from the TV. Enter the twin problem. Though they are fairly well-behaved kids and not overly courageous in trying new things, I did not feel comfortable leaving my daughter alone downstairs while she watched TV, and I certainly did not intend to allow my son, my little troublemaker, alone upstairs while my daughter finished her show. Our house has an open floor plan, and the only room with a door on the main level is my office, which is adjacent to the family room – and the TV. With no other option, my son and I ended up sitting in the office, where he could clearly hear the sounds of Hi-5. He sat quietly on the big leather chair, dutifully answering my questions about his behavior. He knew exactly what he had done wrong. He listed his misdemeanors without prompting from me – "throwing pasta," "foot on table," "banging fork." He sweetly said, "I’m sorry" and jumped from the seat, rushing to the door and the familiar sounds of "Paz", the cartoon that precedes Hi-5. I quickly foiled his escape and explained, again, that there were consequences to his actions. He climbed back on the big leather chair.
His furtive glances toward the door became more and more despondent as "Paz" ended and the introductory music of Hi-5 began. He looked longingly at me and asked, "Watch Hi-5?" I bit my cheek, so wanting to smile at my sweet little boy, knowing that the demon from the dinner table was learning its lesson. My heart ached as I struggled with the fact that I had forced him to sit in earshot of the TV, making the punishment more drastic than if I had taken him to the playroom to play with toys, distracting him from that sweet reward that he had not earned and that his twin sister had.
I imagine scenes like this will play out regularly in my house, and my son will undoubtedly be at the center of them more than my daughter. Perhaps it is genetic. When he gets the devilish grin, the one that reminds me of my brother, I try to be clear and consistent, just as my mom has modeled for me. Yet I have begun to realize that I have a challenge my mom did not have. Even though I have one relatively tractable child and one who pushes the limits, just like my mom did, in this case, the twin factor makes my job more than twice as hard. Discipline with twins has a unique dimension. Rewards and punishments with two children of the same development and age takes even more self-control on my part. In so many ways they are treated the same, and it is difficult for them to understand when one is allowed to do something that the other is not. It’s difficult for me to separate their individual actions from the routine we have established for the two of them and to realize that being fair means more than doing the same thing at the same time.
So with thanks to my mom and the lessons she has taught me, I enter a new challenge on the discipline path as I learn to see clearly what is "fair" and discipline myself while I follow through.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Having twins meant that my husband had to be involved from day 1. Actually, he became very involved during week 29 of my pregnancy, when my doctor sternly told me, “You’re on bed rest.” I’ve never been very good at slowing down, but bed rest was the perfect way to make sure that I cooked our kiddos as long as I could. I listened to the doctor and stayed in bed and on the couch. It wasn’t hard because I was physically unable to do much besides watch TV. Dr. Phil and I became good friends during that summer. My husband and I… well, let’s just say after one big fight, we learned to be co-parents.
Bed rest wasn’t easy for him because he had to adjust his schedule overnight. He had to come home early from work to take care of me since I had to continue eating for three, but I wasn’t allowed to cook for myself. He had to take care of many of the household tasks because I was confined to the couch and bed. He had to do the shopping because I didn’t know about online grocery services at the time. In short, he had to become a wife, and this new role was challenging.
In hindsight, bed rest was the perfect preparation for having twins. I learned to accept help from other people, and he learned to pitch in. By the time our bundles arrived at the end of the summer, he had adjusted to being a caretaker, and with two infants in the house, he had to be involved from day 1. On that first day in the hospital, when I was still confined to the bed from my c-section, he heroically offered to change our son’s meconium diaper. Having never changed a real, live, squirmy infant before, he watched intently as the nurse donned gloves, disassembled the diaper, cleaned the baby, and re-diapered him. The next time one of the two needed changing, he was ready to jump in. Following exactly what the nurse had done, he donned gloves…
I didn’t say anything, but smiled as he worked his way through his first (of many) diaper changes. Our pediatrician wasn’t so sweet. When she saw him putting on the gloves at the next diaper change, she said, “Dad, why are you wearing gloves to change a diaper? Do you know how many diapers you are going to need to change? You can’t seriously tell me you intend to wear gloves for all those????” I smirked behind him, knowing my entertainment at watching him be a daddy had just begun.
Because he is such an attentive dad and so worried about doing things “right,” I’ve never felt uncomfortable leaving him alone with both kids. His willingness to do so over the last two years has given me time to myself, time to work, or time to nourish my friendships. When they were infants, he introduced them to the Mets, our favorite baseball team, and he engaged them with toys, tunes, and books. Now that the kids are able to play happily alone, he will often watch them in the basement play area while he works out across the room. Sometimes he will take them for an hour or two in their room upstairs, playing cars or reading books, and it makes me smile to hear him interacting with them as they learn and grow. I frequently, however, have to roll my eyes when he sends one or the other to Mama for a “new diaper.”
Yesterday he handled the kids outside while I wrote a check for the tax man, another one of my household managerial duties. When I joined them in the backyard, they were practicing their “home run grips” and hitting balls off a tee. I watched quietly from the sideline for a while, unnoticed in the commotion, as my husband jumped over a flying ball, ducked two little bats, safely rescued my daughter from the harsh swing of my son, replenished balls on the tee, and altered their grips to perfection. It was amusing – and it was beautiful. A dance only a loving father can perfect.
So while I would never attempt to do what he did – two toddlers with baseball bats in the same five foot radius – I do appreciate that he did it. I also appreciate that when I send the kid back to him with the dirty diaper, he will change it – without gloves.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Many of my Facebook friends have posted status updates that praise fall. It seems that I am the only one who laments the passing of summer, and this year I am particularly surprised that so many are happy that fall is here. Summer was short. Too short. We had only two weeks of quality hot, and even those two weeks were spread across the season. On top of that, the not-so-hot days were not-so-nice.
This brings me to one of the great paradoxes of being both a mom and a woman who works a portion of her career at home: It is much easier to be a mom when the weather is nice. It is much easier to accomplish career work when the weather is not-so-nice.
Any mom will understand the first statement immediately. For those of you who might question why being a mom is easier when the weather is nice, let me take you through a rainy day with my twins.
My son wakes early, probably around 6:30, and my husband and I begin our game of feigning sleep to each other and convincing our tot to go back to bed. (See previous post for more detail.) Finally, I cannot put it off any longer, and I go to my kids, change their diapers, sing appropriate morning songs, and begin the day. We don’t watch much TV in our house, but Playhouse Disney often makes an appearance while my husband and I shower and dress. (And ok, I’ll admit that sometimes I grab ten or fifteen more minutes of sleep rather than shower while the kids are engrossed by Mickey or Handy Manny.)
Breakfast is at 8, or whenever my daughter asks for “Oaptmearl.” (Note: I can’t quite get the spelling to match the phonetic sound she makes. But this is close.) I make oatmeal, or eggs, or cheerios, or some other delightfully deeeeeelicious!! breakfast. (This one sounds just like this. Exclamation points included.) After eating, we return to the nursery, brush teeth, change clothes, and tidy the room.
All of this activity takes us until about 8:45 AM. The kids start bedtime around 6:30 at night, and if I’m lucky, my husband comes home by 6 to help with bath and bedtime. That leaves about 9 hours to fill during the day…
Lunch, naps, and snacks take time, but indoor activities are limited to the kitchen, where we color or do painting, the basement and play area, which houses our various toys, and the couch in front of the TV, which I really, really try to avoid. While it may seem like we have many options, my toddlers are not quite ready to entertain themselves for extended periods of time – and I only have so many rounds of Mr. Potato Head left in me before I end up poking my own eyes out.
So when we are inside, we sing, we dance, we play cars, we color, and each activity lasts the attention span of a toddler – about 3 minutes. It’s exhausting, mentally and physically.
But when we can go outside, the world is our playground. We watch butterflies on the butterfly bush. We swing on the swing set and play in the sandbox. We ride our cars in the driveway. We go to the park. The kids run wild, exhausting themselves, and I sit on a bench nearby enjoying their play. Time passes quickly, and magically their attention expands. My daughter can play safely for an hour in the sandbox without intervention from me.
Thus, nice days are good days. Except, of course, when I’m working from home. I probably don’t need to explain to anyone how hard it is to stay inside on a nice day, eyes locked on the computer or nose buried in an academic article or book. It’s extremely difficult to hear my children’s voices, jubilant as they play on the swing set right outside my office window. As the sun streams through the glass, all I want to do is join them in the sunshine. And I often do, making my work productivity plummet.
So my life is a paradox. Mama loves the sunshine, but Dr. T needs it to rain - every day.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
This morning I left the house at 6:15, and I didn’t see my kids. I don’t know if they slept until 7 or if they woke my husband early.
I am a morning person. It wasn’t always this way. When I was a teenager, my dad, who has always been a morning person, would wake me for school by singing, in a dramatically loud and overly operatic voice, “If I were king of the forest.” It drove me nuts. But somehow, somewhere inside of me, my dad’s genes, and his song, reside, and now I am a morning person. I work effectively in the morning. I think more clearly. I accomplish a lot. When I taught high school, I would rise at 5AM just so I could get to school early to grade papers. My husband thought I was crazy. My dad thought he had succeeded.
Now that I teach graduate courses, my schedule has flipped, and I often work at night. I’ve had to adjust to thinking after 5PM, yet I still love the quiet time of the morning. Today I caught the early train, rising even before my 5:45AM alarm, just so I could get to my office in the city and get some quality work done.
So yes, despite the years of exhaustion at the hands of my children, I am still a morning person. Except when it comes to my kids. For some reason, the 2 years that I went without normal amounts of sleep while I comforted, nursed, and catered to my children, have prejudiced me against waking up early to take care of my tots. I hibernate in the morning. I feign sleep when I hear them crying, forcing my husband to make the trek down the hall to the nursery. I wait until I can’t wait any longer to roll out of bed to answer their calls for “Mama.”
Several months ago, when my son began shifting his waking time earlier and earlier, I devised a scheme to keep him in bed. Since he had started pointing out the letters A, B, and C on our magnet board, I figured I could teach him the numbers 6 and 7. I drew a big, orange number 7 on a sheet of paper and taped it next to the digital clock at the end of his crib. I explained that when the clock said 7, it was time to get up. If the clock said 6, he had to go back to bed. My trick was very successful in getting him to recognize the numbers. It was even more successful in getting him to ask at any time of the day, “What time it is?” After a few months of practice, I have been successful in getting him to say, “Clock says 6. Back to bed.” I have been less successful in actually getting him to do it.
So I don’t know if this morning was one of those mornings where he stayed in bed until 7 or whether my husband had to rise early, perhaps catching just a few more winks on the floor of the nursery until our son announced, “Daddy, get up.” What I do know is that I didn’t hear, “Mama, wake up,” and I made it to my office early today, enjoyed the quiet of the building, and got my work done. Because after all, like my son, I am a morning person.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I would like to explain to my neighbors why I made two u-turns in our neighborhood this morning.
The morning started very well. Nobody woke up early. I slept quickly last night and felt refreshed when my alarm went off at 6:15. I found an outfit easily. My mom emailed me to tell me she and my dad would be my personal shoppers and hit the grocery store and Wal Mart on their way to NJ to visit the kids today.
Last night I had prepared my “box.” My box is a black, rolling crate that holds the materials I use to present workshops. I took the time to double check my presentation, organize my handouts, and collect all the necessary materials in my box. My husband carried it to my car for me in an effort to “be sweet” (his words). So I was ready for the day and off to a good start.
And then I went downstairs and nearly walked out the door barefoot.
I could blame my error on my blonde hair. I often say, “The blonde is kicking in” when I do something silly. But in reality, it’s my kids’ fault. Mama’s closet is a favorite play area for both my son and my daughter. They are fascinated with Mama’s shoes, and they bring them, in pairs, from the closet to my room in order to try them on. Most of the time it’s cute to see my little girl with my sandals, correctly positioned between her big and second toe, sliding along the floor. It’s always hilarious to see my little boy in my dress shoes, especially when he mixes up the left foot and the right. It’s not always enjoyable to put all of the shoes away when it’s time to clean up, so I usually ask them to do it for me. They are pretty good at putting them back by throwing them in the closet on the floor in pairs, but sometimes they miss one. At some point in the last two weeks, one of my brown sandals ended up downstairs in the laundry room, and the other made it into my closet. I’m still not entirely sure how this happened, but at least I did know where the second sandal was this morning when I went to pull them out to match my easily found outfit.
I love being barefoot. I go shoeless whenever possible. When I was a kid, I would run around my parents’ 10 acres without sneakers. I would walk across the stone driveway without a thought. I enjoyed the freedom, and perhaps the social rebelliousness, of wearing no shoes. I’m not much different today. So it wasn’t a big deal for me to carry one sandal down the stairs in order to find the second. I put the sandal in my hand next to the one in the laundry room and went back to the tasks of the morning. While I was on the phone with my mom, giving her my shopping list, my husband walked down the stairs and into the office to let me know our son was awake. (You can read into this my reaction to why he needed to tell me that when I had already told my him that I was leaving, and he was in charge of the kids.) I quickly ran upstairs to kiss my baby and headed back down, grabbed my purse, ran through the laundry room and right past my shoes. I noticed my bare feet when I hit the cool garage floor.
None of this, however, explains to my neighbors why I drove up and down the street repeatedly this morning. I was nearly at the stop sign to turn out of the neighborhood when I realized the directions to the school where I was doing my workshop were still sitting on the kitchen counter. Turn around, neighborhood pass #1. I didn’t make it quite as far down the street before I realized that my Invisalign retainers were still next to my toothbrush. Turn around, neighborhood pass # 2. Finally, I made it out the door, out of the neighborhood, and into my day.
I guess I can’t blame this one on my kids. So I’ll just offer as explanation to my neighbors --- “the blonde kicked in.” I now have coffee, so I’m hoping I can keep the blonde at bay for the rest of the day.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
My colleague said to me today, “What a cute dress. No one would have any idea that you are the mother of twins.” I replied, “What, you can’t tell from the circles under my eyes?”
I am the mother of two-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, but it isn’t them that gives me circles under my eyes. Chasing after two toddlers, one of whom recently flicked his “terrible” switch, might make me insane. It might contribute to the crazed look in my eye, the one that made me recently take a spontaneous trip to the beach --- for two days --- with no plans. I don’t do spontaneous. But that mini-vacation was heavenly. I didn’t worry about the kids, who I left in good hands, and I didn’t stick to a schedule. At 10 AM, I wasn’t worried about whether they were drinking milk. I didn’t eat lunch exactly at noon. And I stayed at the bar for happy hour right through bath time. It was exactly what I needed as a mom. But it didn’t get rid of the circles under my eyes.
The circles come because I can’t sleep at night, and I rarely sit down during the day. I am the mother of twins, AND I am a working mom. This makes me tired.
I am currently pursuing tenure at a research university. For anyone not familiar with the world of academia, tenure ensures my job, and it is something I earn after years of hard work. Before achieving this goal, my university evaluates my scholarship, teaching, and service contributions on a regular basis. They decide to renew my contract based on the work that I do. I earned reappointment last year and I am working toward a second reappointment now.
My job is ideal for a working mom because I can work often from home, commuting the 1-2 hour time to my office in the city only a few days per week during the academic semester and occasionally on the off months. Working from home has its challenges – four hands banging on my office door, two voices shouting, “Mama, where are you?”, and many distractions from diaper blowouts to fun on the swingset rip me away from my office regularly. But I cherish the time I can spend with my little ones at snack or lunch time, for a quick book, or in a deep cuddle. I cannot complain about some of the things that other working moms suffer.
But working from home has another disadvantage. Daytime hours are not only eaten by the distractions of my kids but also by the tasks of my other job: household manager. My husband assumes that because my job is relatively flexible, that it is my responsibility to handle the majority of the household needs. Yesterday I had to run the kids to the doctor in the middle of the day for their checkup. (Side note on the fact that my husband didn’t even know they needed a checkup, and he certainly didn’t call to make the appointment… perhaps an idea for another blog.) Today I had to drop my husband’s car at the shop on the way to the city. Tomorrow I need to call the exterminator and possibly the plumber (During my relaxing bath last night, a piece of metal fell in the water. I will need to diagnose this issue tonight before adding the plumber to my list of tasks tomorrow.) Somehow I have to get to Wal Mart and attack the growing list, which includes much needed toothbrushes for the kids. (Again, my husband usually brushes their teeth as part of the nighttime routine. I noticed the worn toothbrushes just yesterday when I did the duty myself.)
Yesterday was the perfect example of how managing it all leads to exhaustion. I had been sick over the weekend (just a cold, but enough to tire me easily), and the kids had been rambunctious. My son refused naps both weekend days, and my daughter decided to wake up at 3:30AM (and stay up until 5AM) Monday morning. My weekend wasn’t just about being a mom, however, and at night my mind raced with deadlines for work and the start of the school semester. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep this weekend.
I worked nonstop Monday morning on a workshop I am presenting tomorrow, guzzling more coffee than normal, took the kids to the doctor midday, skipped lunch, worked nonstop through the afternoon finishing the workshop and then organizing clothes and toys for a tag sale in two weeks, and greeted a friend who stopped by with belated birthday gifts for the kids just before I answered the door to the cable man, who was three hours late for his appointment to fix my husband’s TV. By the time I bathed the kids, I was exhausted. By the time I cleaned up the bucket of water my son had dumped on the floor during bath while I was washing my daughter’s hair, I was done. Luckily, my husband arrived about that time and read the nighttime story. As I lay on the floor, listening to Go Train Go for the fourteenth time in four days, I realized it was the first time I had stopped – just stopped – since before the weekend.
When my husband asked me if I had eaten dinner, I replied, “I have no idea.” He aksed if I wanted to eat – which is his way of asking, “what are you making for me?”, and in response I collapsed, somewhat dramatically, on the couch and said, “I just want to sit for ten minutes.” As the tired seeped through my bones, I knew I couldn’t find the energy to eat, and so I took a bath instead.
So my dress today is cute. It’s also a little big on me, partly because I skipped two meals yesterday and partly because I’ve worn it three times without washing it and it’s stretched each time. Perhaps tomorrow I will tackle the pile of laundry in my room - right after I conduct my 6 hour workshop, go to the grocery story, call the exterminator… and maybe the plumber.