Monday, November 23, 2009

Not a Mom

I was not a mom this weekend. I was a teacher, a learner, a researcher, a mentor, a mentee, a friend, and a colleague, but I was not a mom. I spent the last three days engaged in professional conversation without the responsibility of meals, naps, and entertainment for my kids. This is not to say that I didn’t think about them. I did. A lot. I shared anecdotes about their habits with my friends; I kibitzed about the personalities of two-year-olds with other moms of tots; I waited in line for author book signings so I could bring each of them a brand new book to read. But I didn’t worry about where they were in the day’s schedule. I didn’t open the fridge to realize that we had no food in the house. I didn’t feel the guilty tug between work and home.

The weekend was all about me as a professional, and the experience reminded me why I continue to choose to be a working mother of twins. During the weekend I had to prepare two presentations, attend to committee work, and network with other professionals in the field. However, one of the items I carried constantly in my bag was an issue of Parents magazine. I am behind in my parental reading, and I thought I might catch up while I waited for presenters to begin their sessions.

Friday morning I woke early, around 5 AM. In one of the great ironies of sleep, I was not physically able to rejuvenate with rest on a morning when I had no kids to rouse me. I tried, for a while, to force myself back to oblivion, and then I grudgingly got up and went to the hotel gym. After my workout, I dressed, prepared my materials for my day, and looked at the clock. I had two hours before the first session.

Since my babies were born, I have not been able to enjoy the taste of food. I eat in one of four ways:
(1) in a rapid fire succession of fork to mouth that helps to clear my plate before one of my kids throws something on the floor,
(2) in a complete inhalation in one move of everything on my plate before one of my kids makes an impossible mess,
(3) in small bites leftover from whatever remains on my kids’ plates after they have eaten, or
(4) I don’t eat.

Because I had extra time on Friday, I ate breakfast more slowly than I have in over two years. I savored my food, amused by the frantic woman next to me who hassled our waitress, the water server, the hostess, and the busboy because she only had 10 minutes to eat. I understood her stress, and it made me enjoy my leisure even more.

After breakfast, where I remembered what bacon actually tastes like, I moseyed to the convention center for the first session. I use the word moseyed because my path was not straight, nor was it quick. I took a lesson from my daughter, who dawdles much like I did as a two-year-old, and enjoyed life while I walked. By the time I reached my destination, I still had half an hour to kill. I opened my bag and pulled out Parents.

While I was engrossed in an article about the need for moms to exercise and silently patting myself on the back for my early morning workout (ignoring the fact that I haven’t been to a gym in weeks), a colleague I have not seen in a while surprised me. We chatted for a bit, catching up on our lives, and I shifted to put away my magazine. “What are you reading?” he asked.

“Oh, this is my Parents magazine. I’m a little behind in my parental reading,” I said.

“Wow. Your life has changed,” he responded.

My life has changed. I’m not sure what I would have been reading three years ago as I sat waiting for a session to start. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been reading anything. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been sitting in the room before the session wasting time because I had woken so early, my body automatically telling me it was time to start the day – at 5 AM.

The session presenters started speaking, ending my conversation with my colleague. I slipped the Parents magazine back into my bag. I did not have time to read it again until Sunday, when I found myself with 25 unoccupied minutes while I waited for my last meeting of the convention. The final article I read in that issue offered moms advice for responding to “why do you have to go to work” when their toddlers ask. It encouraged moms to be honest with their tots, and it pointedly asked whether the reader was lucky enough to be able to answer “because I love what I do.”

I closed the magazine and reflected on the weekend at the convention. I realized that I had loved my time away from being a mom mostly because I had loved the professional conversation. It energized me more than it exhausted me, and I knew then that I was one of the lucky moms. When my kids make the turn from being excited that "Mama go on the train” to asking me “Mama, why do you have to go to work,” I will be able to tell them, “It’s because I love what I do.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Mayor and The Village Idiot

Occasionally I spend my train ride engaged in podcasts like Stuff Your Mom Never Told You or Stuff You Missed in History Class. This morning I listened to an episode of This American Life called “Starting from Scratch.” One of the stories in this episode focused on the Garden of Eden. The rewrite of the Biblical story caught my attention when the narrator proclaimed: “Every village needs a mayor and a village idiot. In the village of Eden, this is the way it broke down - Eve: mayor; Adam: village idiot.” (Not a direct quote, but pretty close.)


I am getting ready to go to a conference tomorrow. The annual meeting of the professional organization in which I am most active falls every year on the week before Thanksgiving. This makes November a very busy time for me both professionally and personally.

I am preparing for two presentations this weekend and trying to manage my classes, student teachers, and writing obligations. My goal is to put everything on autopilot so I can head to the conference focused only on the four days of professional networking.

My personal life has been set to go on auto for quite some time. Babysitter and grandparent coverage are secured. Today is my last day in the city for work before I head out of town. I have four appointments on my calendar between 9:00 and 3:30, two of which are student teacher observations that have been difficult to schedule. People are counting on me professionally today.

And my babysitter is sick.

She called last night at 9:30 to find out if it would be possible for her to go to the doctor today. She has been fighting something, and she’s worried it’s progressing into something serious. I want her to take care of herself and get the rest and medical attention she needs. Frankly, I need her to be available to take care of my kids the next few days while I am away.

After I hung up the phone with her last night, I put on my mayor cap and started the organizing shuffle I needed to accomplish. “Turn off the TV and get your calendar,” I told my husband as I searched through my bag for my planner. By the time I had convinced my husband to get off the couch and check his schedule for the day, I was looking at my Wednesday and realizing that with my trip to the conference and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, it would be nearly impossible to reschedule the professional obligations I had on my calendar.

My husband’s calendar was easier to manipulate, so I asked if he could work from home, allowing our babysitter to take the entire day off. As we discussed whether my husband could work from home, his anxiety level increased. He knew that it was Wednesday. He knew that the kids had gymnastics. And he knew what that would mean for his daily routine. Last week my husband, whose office was closed for Veteran’s Day, attended gymnastics for the first time. It exhausted him, or in his words, “blew him up” for the rest of the day.

During gymnastics, my children run freely through two large rooms that are filled with springboard floors, tumble mats, balls, trampolines, and various other implements that could, in fact, pose physical danger to our tots. It’s great fun for my son and daughter, but it requires diligence on the part of the adults watching them. When I work and am unable to attend gymnastics, I schedule grandparents to help our babysitter with managing the two during the class. This week G-pa had confirmed his attendance, so we knew that the kids would have able childcare for most of the morning. We also knew that we did not want to ask G-pa to handle both kids by himself for an extended period of time because it can be exhausting. We certainly needed another adult to accompany G-pa to gymnastics to help monitor our kiddos, who rarely, if ever, find the same space interesting at the same time.

As my husband, growing increasingly agitated, talked it through and expressed the obvious drawbacks to his staying at home, I listened patiently. I offered him several options. In response to his concern that gymnastics would “blow him up”, I simply said, “Then don’t go to gymnastics.” I saw the light bulb of clarity and sanity switch on.

I followed with, “Well if you aren’t going to gymnastics, do you really want to make your dad drive all the way to our house.” His panicked expression said it all. “But that would mean I had them all by myself.” The light began to flicker.

To be fair, my husband’s panic was not just about taking care of the twin toddlers on his own. He is more than capable. The panic arose because of the change in his routine. He understood that taking care of them meant that he would not be able to call clients, check financial data, or complete any other task he might otherwise accomplish while he worked at home. He was rattled by this unexpected turn in events while I was trying to take it in stride.

I backpedaled. “It’s 9:30. Do you think it’s too late to call your dad to see what his schedule is like tomorrow?” He picked up the phone and called his dad.

During the phone conversation, nothing changed for G-pa, who had planned to arrive at our house in the morning, spend time with the kids after gymnastics, leaving after lunch to attend a meeting at his golf club. But knowing these details of his dad’s routine helped bring my husband into perspective. After I suggested that he make the decision about gymnastics tomorrow morning, depending on how busy he was with work, his sanity returned completely.

I only got one text this morning from my husband, who asked simply “Gymnastics time?” When I called later to find out how everything was going, my husband said, “It’s great. We’re getting ready to head out the door.” I’m looking forward to hearing about his day today and to finding out how the kids behaved at gymnastics class. I’m curious to find out if he was able to balance working from home with taking care of the kids.

At one point during his frantic display last night, my husband stopped, turned to me, and said, “It’s just that it’s so unexpected. It’s hard for me to process it all.”

I rolled my eyes invisibly, nodding sympathetically as I said, “Welcome to the world of mom.” I then slyly mentioned that other things on our to-do list included 1) researching the H1N1 shots to see if we need to 2) take the kids to get these shots, 3) call the doctor about our son’s teeth to see if 4) we need to make an appointment to go back to the dentist. I suggested that he might take care of these tasks today while he worked from home.

I imagine that my appointment as mayor is not in jeopardy. I would be shocked if any of these tasks is checked off the list. But I’m hopeful that today our village has moved closer to finding a deputy mayor and banishing the village idiot.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ringmaster in Control

I never go into the city on Tuesday mornings. Tuesdays are my days with the kids. We have music class, a tradition I have shared with them since they were 5 weeks old, and I spend the rest of the morning attending to their needs, whims, and desires. It’s five wonderful hours of being a mom.

Because of my work schedule, I rarely do all the morning routine duties by myself. During the week I am often out of the house before or just after they wake up, and on the weekends, my husband usually takes part of the burden. But on Tuesdays, the routine is all mine.

The morning routine is rather predictable. The kids wake up sometime between 6:45 and 7:15. Lately, they haven’t cried out to us, but rather they talk to each other. Yesterday I listened through the monitor to my daughter, Megan, call her brother by our pet name, “Ry-guy.”

He responded, “No, I’m Ryan.”

She countered, “No, Ry-guy.”

“No, I’m Ryan.”

As they continued the banter, I questioned whether my two-year-old son really cared that he had a cute nickname. Is he embarrassed that his mom calls him that? Or was he just asserting his control over his twin sister?

Control is the key word in any family with a two-year-old. Parents struggle to maintain it. Children struggle to gain it. And in our case, the two-year-old siblings struggle with each other to claim it.

After both kids are awake, we usually watch a half hour of Playhouse Disney or Noggin. It’s safe to assume that my son won’t budge until I turn off the TV and make him go downstairs for breakfast. My daughter, on the other hand, often abandons the tube and dances down the hall to our room where my husband and I are getting ready for the day. I think she inherited the gene from my dad’s side of the family, the one that makes it so we can’t sit still for very long.

She is also my picky eater and doesn’t consume the number of calories she should during lunch and dinner, so by breakfast in the morning, she is hungry, very hungry, and it is she who asks for breakfast first.

The rest of the morning routine consists of eating breakfast, cleaning up the mess from breakfast, changing out of pajamas into play clothes, brushing and flossing teeth, and, most recently, earning potty-chart stickers.

Perhaps because I was tired from a 12-hour Monday at work and perhaps because I have been fighting the cold my kids have so generously spread around our house, as I juggled all of this activity myself on Tuesday, I felt like an underpaid ringmaster in a 3-ring circus.

We started with potty time, and both kids earned stickers, which they happily placed on their charts while they danced naked around the bathroom. My son likes to “tinkle on the big potty” so he can flush it, and as I laid out their diapers and clothes in the nursery, I heard the toilet flush again. My stern voice told him I meant no nonsense when I said, “We only flush the potty after we tinkle or poop in it.”

He giggled at me.

I corralled the two naked bodies back into the nursery where I diapered and changed them as we sang the ABC’s (my son’s choice for the morning score). Then we were back in the bathroom for the rest of the morning hygiene.

The dentist recommended that we floss our son’s teeth because of the way they are positioned and because he had some plaque build-up at only two years old. I found colorful plastic flossers that make this task easy. Because one child gets to enjoy the fun of flossing, the other one wants to as well. So even though my daughter’s teeth do not yet require flossing, we dutifully, at her request, take the time.

While I was flossing my daughter, my son jumped off of his stool and hopped in the bathtub. He knows he shouldn’t be in there. Just the other night he told his sister they had to wait for Mama before they got in the bathtub. But for some reason, he loves to climb into the dry tub and hide behind the curtain.

I dropped the flosser, flew to the tub, pulled him out and scolded him.

He laughed at me.

By the time I turned around, my daughter had moved the stool where she was sitting to brush her teeth over to the sink and had climbed up to get a drink of water. Since she can’t reach the faucet, she was teetering on the edge of the stool, and I lunged to grab her before she fell.

As I got the kids their water and found a comb and hair bands for my daughter’s hair, I heard the toilet flush.


“Oh… OK.”

He ran past me as I took my daughter's water cup from her and climbed up on the stool to try to reach the potty chart stickers from the counter.

I grabbed him and sat him on the floor. “Sit here while I do Megan’s hair.”

Putting a two-year-old’s baby fine hair in pigtails is a challenge in and of itself. Hearing the toilet flush AGAIN while I was struggling with my daughter’s hair…

Let’s just say I was done being the ringmaster for the morning, and my kids were very happy to watch another half hour of Playhouse Disney before we left for music class.