Friday, December 23, 2011

The Working Dad

My husband is awesome.  I think that he is typical of a lot of modern husbands and daddies.  The dads of the mid-twentieth century sort of left the heavy-lifting of parenting and housework to the mommies, even if the mommies worked outside the home.  It was the curse of economic equality for the ladies:  you get to have your job, ma'am, but you've still got to cover all the bases at home.  That's not the way we are, now, not at my house, and not at a lot of houses I know.

There's been some criticism of the "companionate marriage" in which the husband and wife are contented friends as much as, or even more than, lovers.  (Does anybody else hate that word?  I couldn't come up with a better one.)  These sorts of marriages are criticized for being sexless and devoid of romance and excitement.  Rather than romanceless, I would say that a companionate marriage, like mine, is realistic, practical, fun . . . and still very loving with room for romance.

I think that our mid-twentieth century mothers helped us out by raising their sons to be helpmeets.  My mom has often spoken with pride about how she taught my brother how to do the laundry and other "women's work" sort of chores.  And I know that my brother is an awesome daddy and househelper.  He does not leave it all to his wife.

Neither does my husband.  My husband is also a lawyer.  His job is, pretty much, just like mine.  It's stressful.  It's demanding.  It's frustrating.  It's enervating.  And, just like me, he's got to balance that job with home and family.  He definitely does not leave it all up to me.

Here's a typical evening at our house:  I come home first, with The Boy.  I try to get dinner started for my husband and me, if The Boy will let me.  I may throw a load of laundry into the washer or dryer.  I feed The Boy.  At some point during the feeding, his dad comes home.  Dad immediately gets to washing all of the bottle parts and other hand washing stuff.  He loads the dishwasher.  After that, he either starts dinner, or picks up from where I left off.  Meanwhile, I finish feeding The Boy, change his diaper, give him a bath (or at least wipe him down really well), get him dressed for bed and then put him to bed.  My husband, during this time, also cleans up the kitchen, cleans the floors and, sometimes, even changes my cat's catbox.  He helps me fold the laundry.  He pays the bills online.  And sometimes, when The Boy is cranking, he comes to help me settle the little guy down and put him to bed.

In the mornings my husband gives The Boy his first bottle of the day so that I can attend to The Cat, who is diabetic.  He fixes The Boy's bottles for school.  He makes his coffee-addicted wife a cup of coffee every morning as she scoots out the door so that she can get to the office early.  If I have not had time to change The Boy and get him dressed for school, he does that too.  Then he takes The Boy to school.  Only then does he get a shower himself, get his own breakfast, and get to work.  And maybe he will play his piano for a few minutes before he heads to the office.  He deserves those few minutes for himself.

Honestly, sometimes I feel guilty that my husband does so much.  And here, in this blog, I have been calling him "Mr. The Working Mom."  Well, that's not fair.  He's not just my husband, defined solely by his marriage to me.  He's his own person, just like me.  And so, he shall be called in this blog, from now on, The Working Dad.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mom Jeans

I bought some Mom Jeans.  Not Mom Jeans like these:

I bought some Not Your Daughter's Jeans.

I'd heard of them many times before, but it took me a long time to actually buy some.  Well, a long time and the birth of my child . . . .

I know it sounds a bit scary, but hear me out.

I was intrigued by the higher back, lower front design that, nevertheless, looks stylish.  My sweet and adorable husband often points out that I get plumber's crack when I wear jeans.  The problem is that in order for jeans to fit my rather generous thighs, they end up being too big in the waist and the result is a little too much exposure in the posterior.

Still, I was hesitant to buy them.  I mean, Not Your Daughter's Jeans is just code for Mom Jeans, right?  I wasn't excited about wearing Mom Jeans, even though I am, you know, a mom.  I like to think of myself as a moderately fashionable, even youthful, forty-one year old.

But then my boyfriend, Nate Berkus, and his show-guest, Tyra Banks, talked about Not Your Daughter's Jeans.  And Tyra mentioned how they did a really good job covering her booty.  I think that she may have even mentioned, in not so many words, that these jeans have excellent crack coverage.  As a sufferer of chronic plumberscrackitis, I was sold.  I got online and I ordered two pair, a straight legged pair and a boot cut pair.

When I first put on a pair of Not Your Daughter's Jeans, I wasn't sure that I liked them.  They've got a lot of lycra, so they're pretty stretchy.  But they covered my behind, even in a squat . . . and the stretchiness meant no muffin-top (which has become a special blight, post-partum).  I got used to them pretty quickly.  It doesn't hurt that they are actually pretty stylish and super-comfortable.  So I like my Mom Jeans.  They may be "not your daughter's jeans," but they're also not your mother's.

P.S.  Check out my friend's recent blog post about her Mom Jeans experience!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Do you work?"

My sweet little son has RSV, respiratory syncytial virus.  Merry First Christmas, right?  He caught it at school.  Actually, I'm pretty sure who he caught it from.  I think he caught it from The Dude.  Poor little guys.  RSV is highly contagious, so I fully expect that nearly every kid in his class will catch it.  It's one of the well-known downsides of daycare:  your kiddo is going to catch everything.

Yesterday, we took The Boy to the doctor because we had learned about the RSV outbreak, and The Boy had a cough.  We wanted to get on top of it if it was, indeed, RSV.  My fellow working mommy friend, whose daughter just had RSV last week, also encouraged us to get in there early to get on top of the disease.  So we did.

The pediatrician, not our normal one because of the holidays, watched him breathe and determined that his breathing wasn't too bad, especially given that his blood oxygen level was 100%.  She noted that his nose was quite congested, and had two nurses come in to suction his nose.  It took three of us to do it:  Mr. The Working Mom and I to hold The Boy down, and one of the nurses to do the actual suctioning.   The Boy is an incredibly strong little creature.  That same nurse also swabbed The Boy's sinuses to get a sample to test for RSV.

While all this was going on, the other nurse, who was in there for God knows what reason other than to annoy me, prattled on about the benefits of nose suctioning, even going so far as to imply that The Boy's RSV infection may have been prevented had we but regularly suctioned The Boy's nose.

Give me a break.  The Boy has RSV because he, The Dude, and all the other kids in his class suck on the same toys five days a week.  For Heaven's sake, they steal each other pacifiers.  When one of those kids caught the virus, it was inevitable that The Boy would get it too.

So I was a frowny-faced mommy.

They offered me the bulb syringe, when it was all over.  I responded, snippily, "I use a NoseFrida to suction his nose," and did not take the stupid torture device.  Mr. The Working Mom, however, politely took the bulb syringe because he doesn't like that I tend to catch whatever The Boy catches by way of the NoseFrida.  (Mister is, generally speaking, more polite than I am, I would say.)

And I really do feel that this nose suctioning is torture for The Boy, even with the NoseFrida, and I don't really like to do it.  Here they were telling me to do it every couple of hours!  (Anyway, I always understood that you shouldn't do it too often or you could give the kiddo a nosebleed.  But nevermind that, 'tis not the point of my tale.)

Around 3 p.m. yesterday afternoon, I got a call that the RSV test on The Boy had come back positive and the doctor wanted us to come back today for a recheck.  So I made an appointment for 1:15 p.m. today.

I took The Boy to the doctor on my own today, which may have been a mistake.  (See superior politeness powers of my darling spouse.)  The Boy and I arrived in the exam room and among the questions asked of me by one of the very nurses who attended to us yesterday was, "And what is the purpose of your visit today?"  Really?  That's not in your notes on your little computer screen there from yesterday?  But I just said, "Recheck because of the RSV," flatly.

Not-Our-Regular-Pediatrician came in to check The Boy.  Among the things she said was that she had heard that I had gotten mad yesterday about the nose suctioning and so she wanted to apologize that the incident was so upsetting.  I wasn't planning to say anything about it, but since she brought it up, I explained to her that it was not the nose suctioning itself, but the unhelpful commentary by the, to my observation, superfluous nurse.  She didn't seem to understand the distinction.  For all I know Not-Our-Regular-Pediatrician also believes in the miracle cure that is nose suctioning.  I sort of let it drop, though.  No sense beating a dead horse.  We were there to get The Boy medical attention, not belabor a trivial personality dust up.  And besides, we are suctioning his nose, not every two hours, but several times a day.  And it comes right back.

The Boy's oxygen level was down and he was showing signs of labored breathing, so the doctor recommended that we do breathing treatments.  We did the first one in the doctor's office, me and a nurse (not the offending nurse).  The nurse commented several times about how strong The Boy is and how difficult it is to control him.  Yes, try to suction that nose all by yourself without two other adults to hold him down.

The doctor came back to check him again after the treatment and he was, sort of, instantly better.  His oxygen level went up a little and his breathing was not as labored.  She told me that she was sending us home with a nebulizer and that the nurse would give me the breathing treatment schedule.

So the same nurse who did the breathing treatment with me came back to give me the schedule.  Twelve days:  four treatments on the first three days, then three treatments for three days, then two treatments for three days, then one treatment for three days.

I somehow feel that it is necessary at this juncture to make crystal clear that I will do anything and everything to make The Boy well again.  Anything.  Everything.  Name it.  I'll do it.

After being given that treatment schedule I muttered (which I am want to do when stressed, I am given to understand) that the schedule might pose a bit of a logistical challenge, especially in the early days with so many treatments a day.  She said, sort of surprised, "Do you work?"


She never would have asked a dad that question.  Never.

I snapped back, "Yes, I work."  I went on to say (mutter) that I barely have any leave because I was on bedrest before The Boy was born, and that this will be hard, but we will figure something out.  It is not a question of whether or not to do it, but managing it.

Still, I was so angered by that remark that I really couldn't think of anything else.  Do I work?  Do I work?  Shit, lady, do you?  Look, some girls actually have fulltime jobs that are just as important as boys' jobs and stuff, golly!

I know I over-reacted.  I wanted to cry.  I just left the office and did not make a follow up appointment. I just could not stay and burst into tears and make a fool of myself.  (And the follow up appointment that I will make when I call back tomorrow is going to be with Our-Regular-Pediatrician.)  I was already stressed about the work that I am missing, deadlines that I have to meet somehow while not actually being in the office, and even more stressed about my very sick little boy.  Do I work?  I have two fulltime jobs, lady!

I called my aforementioned working mommy friend as I was walking out of the doctor's office.  And while talking to her, I did cry.  (And, she also rightly suggested that I was overreacting a bit, and very patiently listened to me and calmed me down.  Yay, friend!)

But this question that nurse asked carried with it all sorts of assumptions that just would not be made of a man.  To assume that I don't work, that I do not have other obligations that need juggling, just floored me.  I haven't asked him, but I suspect that when my brother, just last year, was staying home with his daughter while his wife worked, no one ever asked such a question of him or made any such assumptions about him.  You just wouldn't do that to man.

Who knew that I would face gender inequality at the pediatrician's office?  Certainly not me.

Man.  Wo-man.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Taking Christmas

I guess every new mom and dad faces the same dilemma at holiday time:  We've got our own little family, now, and we want to start our own traditions.  And, still, we want to honor our parents and their traditions.

It can be stressful.

Fortunately for me, I've got some pretty easy-going parents and a doting mother-in-law.  Still the guilt and the stress remains.  Above all you want everyone, especially your husband and your child, to be happy.

This year holiday plans just seemed to pile up and up.  They really weren't any different from the plans of years past.  It's just that, this year, we have The Boy.  Above all, I do not want The Boy to be cranky for the holiday.  But I saw plans with my immediate family, plans with Mr. The Working Mom's family, and plans with extended family as opportunity after opportunity to crank.  Now, The Boy is an incredibly good natured little guy, but when he starts to crank, he is a full-bore master cranker not likely to fill the room with holiday cheer.

So I decided to invite everyone -- grandparents, uncles, aunt and cousin -- to our house for Christmas Eve late-lunch/early-dinner.  The plan was that we would have a lovely meal, open presents, have coffee with a tasty dessert, listen to the Mister play the piano . . . .  The Boy would be in his own environment and would not be wagged around the near geography in the car, minimizing the opportunities to crank.  I was so pleased with the simplicity of the plan.  One big celebration on Christmas Eve with our nearest and dearest.  And then on Christmas Day we would go see my 94-year-old-sharp-as-a-tack grandmother and my extended family.

My Type A, organize-and-plan-everything personality was at peace.

Now, however, I sit in my living room as The Boy sleeps in the pack and play, occasionally coughing a very congested, sputtery cough.  This was not part of my master plan.  The pediatrician seemed to indicate this morning that he would be better, or at least on the mend, in a few days . . . . still in time for Christmas celebrations, in other words.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

So I thought I was going to take Christmas for my little family and start our own traditions.  I still may be doing that, but here lies the lesson . . . one that I should have learned a thousand times over by now, with a nine and a half month old boy.  Something unexpected will always come up.  Plans, it seems I needed reminding, are merely suggestions when you have an infant.  In the end, The Boy makes the plan, whatever it may be.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Girl Power!


Something of a controversial word.

Feminism means the "theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes."

I think that as we close out the first decade of the 21st century, everyone agrees in principal that women deserve "equal rights."  It's just that we all seem to have different ideas of what that means or the means toward that equality.

I am a feminist.  I used to not like to use that word to describe myself because of the negative implications.  Some people don't like feminists -- for some good reasons and some not-so-good reasons, I think.  Feminists of the past -- of my 1970-80s childhood memories, anyway -- seemed less pro-woman and more anti-man.  They countered misogyny with misandry.  They were hard and they were angry.  But, in ways, they had to be.  These were radical times and the world wasn't made for women who wanted more than to be homemakers.  Maybe they felt that they had to be aggressive in order to be heard.

Still, I think it left a bad taste in everybody's mouth for the word feminist, even for some women.

But there is no doubting that I would not be where I am now without the hard work and sacrifice of those women.  And probably their anger too.

There's no doubt that I believe that women should have equal pay, equal access to work, and equal status to men.  And we're getting there, I think.  I believe that women are as capable as men in all areas except, perhaps, physical strength.

And there's also no doubt that I have entered a traditionally "male" profession at a time when it is still dominated by men.  It's changing right before my eyes -- female law school graduates have out-numbered male law school graduates since, at least, the mid-90's -- but the dudes, the older dudes, still dominate the legal profession today.

There's something that I've noticed recently about the younger women of my profession.  A lot of the younger ladies are dressing pretty darned sexy.  There's cleavage.  Some of them will even let you get a peak of their very pretty bras.  There are tight pencil skirts.  There are super high heels with a slight platform sole.  There's a lot of make-up and, especially, red lipstick.  Take a look at this website to get an idea of what I mean.

The 20-somethings are bringing sexy back to the workplace.  I wonder if this is a consequence of the female graduates out-numbering the male graduates for the past approximately 15 years.  Maybe their numbers make them feel more comfortable being a little racy.

Still, I and many of my late-30-something-early-40-something female peers find this development a little disturbing.

Whereas my generation has, by and large, rejected the "bra burner/man-hater" brand of feminism, I think we all feel somewhat uncomfortable with the new sexy female professional.  We middle-aged gals like to be stylish.  We like to be pretty.  We even, and perhaps especially, like to be feminine.  But not sexy, not at the office.  No way.

I think that, fundamentally, we feel that a sexy appearance means that you are less likely to be taken seriously by your peers.  And, too, and maybe as a result of that feeling, we do not take a sexy woman in the office as seriously as we do a more conservatively dressed woman.

Is this fair?  Why should a sexy woman be any less of a lawyer than a mutely-attractive one?  Maybe these young women are pushing that boundary and are really getting to the heart of feminism:  it's not about what you look like, it's about what's inside your head.

But I kinda don't believe that.

Nah, I really don't believe that.

It's always going to be, a tiny bit, about what you look like.  Older guys command more respect than younger guys.  Guys dressed in nicely tailored suits get more respect than schlubby guys.  It's no different for women.  So this phenomenon of the sexy female professional baffles me.  Where did feminism make this crazy left turn?  Did we do something wrong?

I recently heard a new phrase:  "erotic capital."  This is what is really at work, here . . . in overdrive.

Catherine Hakim wrote about erotic capital in reference to the very attractive and stylish Christine Lagarde, the new head of the International Monetary Fund in this Wall Street Journal article (and discussed the concept of erotic capital at length in her book).  She said,

"Ms. Lagarde possesses an abundance of what I call 'erotic capital,' and she has used it knowingly and to great advantage.

"Women in the U.S., Britain and other outposts of the Anglo-Saxon world tend, by contrast, to resist the idea that their physical appearance should matter to their professional advancement. In our age of feminism and meritocracy, women who emphasize their looks are thought to be superficial; it somehow seems like cheating.

"But do we have this all wrong?

Beauty is not limited to supermodels and A-list celebrities. It can be achieved by wearing flattering styles, getting in shape, improving posture and putting some effort into choosing clothing and hairstyles."

But, to me, all Ms. Hakim is talking about is all we middle-aged ladies are already doing.  Ms. Lagarde isn't erotic; she's stylish and fit.  Perhaps she is unique for her age cohort (but I'm not even so sure about that).  Christine Lagarde isn't sexy, she's attractive.  She looks like this.  Not like this.

Now, granted, Lagarde is probably 30 to 40 years older than the DFW Law Lady (her name is Melissa Dubose, by the way, and she appears to have a thriving criminal practice), but so is Sophia Loren.

There's something fundamentally different going on with the younger professional women that I occasionally see around downtown Dallas than what Christine Lagarde is employing.  Is this sexier image merely an extension of the muted femininity of Lagarde and of women of my generation?  Is it something else?  Is it merely good advertising?  If it is good advertising, what, exactly, are they selling?  Is it costing the younger professional women anything to be sexy?  If it is good advertising, is that okay with the Sisterhood if these young women actually achieving success looking like the DFW Law Lady?  If it's not okay, how is getting clients because you're kind of hot any different from getting clients because you're a guy in an expensive suit with gray at his temple?  And why do I, nevertheless, sort of look down on it and reject it?  Am I an ageist snob?  Are these young women asserting some form of female power that we, the slightly older generation, are a little too timid to tap into in the workplace?

I don't have any answers.  Only questions and one observation:

Feminism isn't universal and it isn't easy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Every woman deserves a man who....

Periodically, in my Facebook feed, I will see a post that say something like this:

"Every woman deserves a man who calls her baby, kisses her like he means it, holds her like he never wants to let her go, doesn't lie or cheat...."

It tends to go on for several lines cataloguing a list of fairly predictable, romantic-movie-eligible characteristics of a man who treats his beloved "right."

In sentiment, I completely agree with the notion that every woman deserves to be cherished by her spouse or partner; every man does too.

But I cringe a little bit every time I see posts like this.  They actually make me go a little dark.  I'm not entirely sure why.  Maybe it's because the lists seem contrived.  Maybe it seems sort of like a demand.  Maybe it seems like an Oprahfication of romance.  But, probably, it's because it really doesn't line up with my experience of life and love in these our modern times.

I mean, I feel totally and completely cherished by my husband, and I'm not sure that Mr. TheWorkingMom has ever called me "baby."

And my personal experience has been -- in my close to 20-year dating/single life prior to meeting, befriending, dating, and then marrying Mr. TheWorkingMom -- that every guy I have ever dated who fit the romantic bits of that list never turned out to fit the "doesn't cheat or lie" bit. Pet names and lying cheaters just seemed to go hand in hand in my history.  And I might be so bold as to suggest that guys who call you "baby" and "sweetums" might tend to be doing so to hide something.  But maybe I'm just being cynical.

Nevertheless, today, I hereby commit to cyberspace my list of what I  think every woman and man deserves in a partner for life:

  1. Everyone deserves a person in his or her life who will always tell them the unvarnished truth, even if the truth is not pleasant or complimentary.
  2. Everyone deserves a person who respects their intelligence and seeks out their opinion.
  3. Everyone deserves a person who laughs at their silliest jokes.
  4. Everyone deserves to sit on the sofa every night with their best friend.
  5. Everyone deserves to have a partner who does things for you without asking, and who thanks you when you do the same for him/her.
  6. Everyone deserves to live with a person who has got your back.
  7. Everyone deserve a person whose favorite person is "you."
  8. Everyone deserve a partner-in-crime.
  9. Everyone deserve a sympathetic ear.
  10. Everyone deserve to be loved, no matter how it is expressed.

Well, even my list seems trite and Oprahfied.  So I guess I will stop cringing when I see that list, seeing that my list isn't so much more profound.

Still, here's my point:  it's not about what's classically considered to be romantic.  It's about friendship, respect, and fun . . . at least, for me it is.

And I guess I'll say this to close:  I'm glad that I sit on the sofa every night next to Mr. TheWorkingMom.  I hope everyone else finds the perfect sofa companion too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Woman's Work

I'm not cut out to be a stay at home mom.  And I have mad respect for the moms who do it and do it well.  I know that it may seem like an obvious thing to say, but taking care of a baby is hard!

Imagine for a second:  You are an intelligent person.  Maybe you hold one, two, or even three college degrees.  Maybe you once had a job that paid a handsome salary, maybe even a six figure salary.  People you worked with came to you for advice.  You were lauded among your peers.  You were good at your job.

But that was another life ago.

Today, you have spent your day with a small person who doesn't talk or walk . . . you're not sure, but that could be poo under your nails and somehow you got sweet potatoes in your hair.  And you have to do that every day.

And not only do you have to do that every day, but because your salary isn't there anymore to, perhaps, pay for outside help, you also have to clean the kitchen, vacuum the floor, do the laundry, cook dinner, and, in between, try to do something edifying with the little person at your feet.

You can understand why stay at home moms might need a mommy's day out every once in a while.  Sometimes, after a particularly difficult weekend with The Boy, I feel a sort of guilty relief to be going to work on Monday.  My husband said that some weekends feel like you've been working 48 hours straight for a tyrannical boss who never really communicates to you exactly what he expects of you and, nevertheless, is rarely satisfied with your work.  Yes, and for stay at home moms, there is no break on Monday morning.

Betty Friedan described a housewife's plight half a century ago:  "Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night -- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question -- 'Is this all?'"  Friedan also said that men were not the enemy, but fellow victims of the roles thrust upon us by a society that defined a woman's domain as the home and a man's as the office.  She advocated that we strive for an equal partnership between the sexes.  One last epigram from Aunt Betty:  "A woman is handicapped by her sex, and handicaps society, either by slavishly copying the pattern of man's advance in professions, or by refusing to compete with men at all."

Here's the heart of the modern woman's dilemma:  We have not moved past that point.  It's 2011. Friedan wrote those words in 1963, and professional women like me still know that the pinnacle of the profession is very rarely attained unless we foreswear our families.  Not wishing to do that, many of us opt out all together; we stay at home.  It's a choice, yes, to stay home, but I do wonder if it's a choice foisted upon some moms by the very stagnant shape of professional advancement.  True, more of us can get into law school, more of us are engineers, more of us are doctors, but when we start to have families, the same walls emerge as existed in 1963.  And the choices are difficult and career-threatening.  This is the choice some stay at home moms make:  the choice to chuck her career because the height of professional success is incompatible with motherhood, even 48 years after Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique.

Even I made a choice, long before I was ever a wife or mother, that limited my professional progress.  I saw early on that life in a law firm was not compatible with my hope to one day marry and have a family.  The female partners I worked with or around were, by and large, single or childless or divorce or some combination of the three.  The one female partner who was married with children had her mother-in-law there constantly to fill in.  That's fortunate for her, but it is not an advantage available to all of us.

Why does the choice have to be binary:  successful career or mommy.  In fifty years, we've come no further than this?

Friedan alleged that women handicapped society by copying the pattern of male professional advancement or by refusing to compete at all with men.  What choice is there?  Choosing the middle way, like I have, endows women with no power to change the paradigm for professional success.  That was established by men.  So electing, as I did, to eschew the big law firm life, I chose not to be as powerful or as rich as I might have been had I stayed.  If women want that success, and the power that comes with it, they must compete in the house built by men.  To allege that adopting the man's path to success handicaps society suggests that women can shift society all on their own.  To shift the paradigm, we must have the power.  To get the power, we must follow the established path to the top.  Or it must be given to us . . . or taken by us.

And that's it, really.  I suspect that Friedan would have liked to see women take to the streets, like the temperance movement, or the Suffragettes, or Occupy Wall Street.  Take the power that way.  Demand more flexible working conditions.  Demand companionate marriages.  Heck, demand a different way to think about professional success.  But by the time you are a 41 year old lawyer, wife, and mother, finding the time to hold a sign on a picket line really is not the first priority, even if it would benefit "the sisterhood."  And would I want to do that anyway?  No.  Because by the time you are 41, and a wife, and a mother, most people are also far, far from their passionate youths.  If I ever had radical, protest days (and I think those might have been the days in 1992 when I decided to vote for Bill Clinton), they are far behind me.  I hope, though, that incremental steps over the past 50 years -- more women lawyers, more women engineers, more women doctors -- will mean that by the time The Boy is grown, there will be better options for the little girls his age, and for him too.


The wind was brisk and cold.  Forty-two degrees outside.  I pulled my jacket around me, my hat down over my ears, and I stood on the seafoam green platform waiting.  About half a mile in front of me was the highway I would otherwise be taking, already choked with cars at a bit before 7 a.m.  The sun rose behind me and I peered down the track, like my fellow travelers, looking for the flicker of the headlight.  Five minutes passed and the train arrived, with a modern whir of electricity and speed.  I boarded.  I sat down.  I opened my Kindle and turned it on.  Thirty minutes later, I was downtown, two more chapters into Parrot and Olivier and with no traffic-knots in my shoulders.  I love taking the train.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Weight, Wait, Weight, Wait, Weight!

Looking back at pictures of myself from high school, I was pretty thin . . . except for my thighs.  Take a look:

I've always had chunky thighs . . . and calves.  I've got huge leg muscles that would be the envy of any linebacker.  Those ham hocks also have a generous layer of fat over them, though.  My legs are an unfortunate combination of my dad's and my mom's legs.  In fact, my mom has sort of apologized to me about the heavy legs, once upon a time.  But like she had control of how the chromosomes lined up . . . .

Anyway, those tree trunks up there could also propel me about three and a half to four feet into the air in dance class.  Somewhere in my parents' house is a picture of that too, and that was pretty cool.  Seriously big muscles give seriously big power.

I think The Boy may have my thighs and calves too.  (Then again, my legs, sadly, sort of look like babies' legs when I'm not in shape . . . like now.  Sigh.)  Hubby says The Boy's legs will be great for tennis when he's older.  I sure hope so.

So because of the legs, I've always felt like I had a weight problem.  Even if I otherwise look good and am a healthy weight, there's always the problem of my mega-thighs lurking around down there.

In adulthood, I also met the problem of physical idleness.  See that tutu and those toe shoes up there?  Those, and the related tap shoes and jazz oxfords, were chiefly how I got my exercise until I was about 20 years old.

Here's a secret for all of you 14-year-old aspiring prima ballerina's out there:  you're probably not going to be leading the New York City Ballet in six to eight years.  In six to eight years, you're probably going to be in college, or possibly grad school, never to put your toe shoes on again, except out of occasional nostalgia.  So find a sport you can play all your life to keep yourself fit . . . like tennis, for instance.  Don't get me wrong:  don't quit dancing.  But only for the very few dancers does it last forever.  You need a physical fitness back-up.

But I didn't do that.  I didn't have a physical fitness back-up.  So I didn't enter adulthood with a lifelong recreational sport (like tennis).  I'd like to learn tennis even now, and I think that once The Boy is old enough to take lessons, I will do it too.  He and I can practice together.  And when he inevitably becomes better than me, he can start playing with his dad, who is the real tennis player in the family.

My weight has fluctuated up and down and up and up and up and down and down throughout most of my adult life.  I don't really want to talk about the emotional aspects of eating.  Just that I do eat in response to emotional upset:  If I get stressed or sad or anxious or even tired, the thing that comforts me is something salty and carby or something sugary and carby.  It goes straight to my thighs.

When I got married, I was about 10ish pounds heavier than my high school weight and I looked pretty darned good:

(Notice that you can't see my thighs in that outfit.)

Anyway, the way I got in better shape was pretty simple:  I took up the easiest sport I could think of.  Running.  And I did a lot of that, a lot of riding on the exercise bike we've got upstairs, and I followed, more or less regularly, the Weight Watchers program.  I did a little yoga too.  Wanting to look good for my husband was a great inspiration.  I mean, we began dating when I was a bit chubby, but I wanted him to have a fitter, healthier, more attractive me.  It took that inspiration and it took steely-eyed discipline to say "no" to chocolate cake and pizza.  It was hard.  (And sometimes, I didn't say, "no.")

Then came infertility and the drugs that I had to take (and the situational depression that went with the infertility).  Plus 15 pounds.  Then there was the pregnancy itself.  Plus 45 more pounds!

As a result of all of this up and down and up and down with my weight, I've got clothes in my closet ranging from size 6 to size 14 (and one aspirational size 4 that I've never really fit into).  Now, I'm still about 30 pounds above where I was when we got married.  I had sort of hoped that the weight would go away on its own with breastfeeding, but the magical weight-loss of breastfeeding eluded me.

Still, gosh-oh-golly, I'd like to be back to wedding weight by The Boy's first birthday.

So, back to the Weight Watchers plan I go . . . and bring on the running shoes . . . and the jog stroller!  Fingers crossed that I'll be back into my 6s (or at least the 8s) by March!  Wish me luck!

Monday, October 24, 2011


It took us a little over two years to get me pregnant.

I was 37 years old when we got married, and I was aware that there were risks associated with middle-aged pregnancy.  I knew about the elevated risks of Downs Syndrome and other genetic disorders.  I knew about the elevated risk of miscarriage.  I did not know much about declining fertility.  I mean, I was vaguely aware that as you got older your fertility declined, but I did not know that the curve turned sharply downward at 35, nor did I know about the giant cliff-like drop off at age 40.

See?  Actually, that looks more like a black diamond ski run from ages 40 to 50, but you get the idea.  (By the way, I got that chart, here:

Over the years, I've pondered why I didn't know about this.  Why did no doctor ever give me the hard truth that the older I got, the less likely it would be for me to get pregnant?  My conclusion is that doctors do not want to appear as if they are pressuring a single woman in her mid-thirties to have babies.  What would be the benefit in telling a woman with no husband or partner with whom to have a baby that she might want to hurry up and have one anyway, or it may be too late?  It hearkens back to another era when women told their daughters that they didn't want to wait too long to have babies because of "the change."  In our 21st Century feminism, maybe we're not able to acknowledge biological facts and not take offense, maybe.  Still, it would have been good to have this information.  It would have been good to be somewhat prepared.  Maybe it would not have come as such a shock to me when pregnancy did not come easily or quickly.

Anyway, after trying for about six months, I went to the OB/GYN for my routine check up and to be examined for possible infertility.  The OB/GYN ordered what would be the first of many diagnostic tests, a hysterosalpingogram (HSG).  In an HSG, a doctor expands a balloon in your uterus and then shoots radiological dye in there.  You are then X-rayed to see where the dye goes.  If the dye spills easily out of the ends of your Fallopian tubes into your pelvis, then your tubes are clear.  Good news for you:  you don't have to have surgery to try to clear a tubal blockage.  My radiological dye flowed quickly out the end of each tube like a crazy straw.

The OB/GYN also ordered a semen analysis on hubby.  And it turned out basically fine.  I am sure that he could probably tell you a lot more detail about that test, but my recollection is really the bottom line from the OB/GYN:  "I can't figure this out; you guys need a specialist."

As it turns out, we went to three different reproductive endocrinologists before one finally was able to conjure up an egg healthy enough to produce The Boy.  The first fertility doctor I saw, when I was just a couple of months past age 38, did something called the Clomid Challenge Test on me.  It's a fairly standard test used to determine the woman's egg reserve.  They pump you up with a ton of Clomid, draw some blood and then check the serum follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) level.  If the FSH level is above a certain number, you are diagnosed with a diminished ovarian reserve, which means that you do not have a lot of eggs left in the basket with which to make your little chicken.

I was diagnosed with a diminished ovarian reserve.

And so, here was where the real infertility adventure began.  I would need drugs, lots and lots of powerful drugs, if I wanted to produce a baby.

I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly depressing it was.

The first fertility doctor did not furnish us with optimism.  He, in fact, refused to treat me in any way other than to do two to three rounds of drugs plus an intrauterine insemination (IUI).  He was emphatic that in vitro fertilization (IVF) on someone with diminished ovarian reserve was futile.  (He turned out to be right about that, sort of; I never had a successful IVF cycle.)

We sought a second opinion.  The second doctor was wonderful and kind.  He taught reproductive endocrinology at the local medical school.  And he was optimistic that something could be done, even with my elevated FSH.

We started with Clomid.  Clomid has been the go-to fertility drug for decades, but here's something interesting that doctor #2 told us:  Clomid was originally a birth control pill.  At high doses, Clomid "bums" eggs.  So dosage is important with Clomid:  less is more.  I did three cycles of Clomid with no result (other than hot flashes).  So we decided to move on to IVF.

But before that, in July of 2009, the second doctor wanted to do an exploratory surgery:  I had a hysteroscopy and a laparoscopy.  I was put under general anesthesia, my abdomen was pumped full of CO2 and the doctor entered my abdomen through my naval with a camera to view what it looked like in there.  He also viewed the inside of my uterus with a camera during this procedure.  Here's what he found:  the right ovary was smaller and slightly yellow, the left ovary looked normal, the inside of my uterus was "beautiful," and I had some very small external fibroid tumors on my uterus that should not be a problem.  Basically, he found nothing, other than the shriveled right ovary, that would prevent me from becoming pregnant.

I did three rounds of injectable medications to try to produce enough healthy eggs to get a baby.  The drugs I injected during this period were varying combinations of two drugs called Follistim (which is synthetic FSH) and Menopur, a combination of FSH and luteinizing hormone (LH) derived from old lady urine.  Seriously.  Post-menopausal women have incredibly high levels of FSH and LH.  During menopause, your pituitary gland starts ramping up your FSH and LH production in order to force your ovaries to dump your last remaining eggs.  The elevated FSH and LH are the reason for the hot flashes.  This is also why older moms are more likely to have multiples; their elevated FSH and LH levels cause them to ovulate more than one egg at a time.  And then the hormone levels just stay up there post-menopause.  I haven't been able to figure out exactly how they harvest the old lady urine, though, and I don't really want to think about it too hard.

Back to how the lady-system works to make babies:  FSH and LH work synergistically to encourage the ovary to release eggs.  In ovulation, the LH "surge" triggers ovulation.  It's all controlled by the pituitary gland if things work normally, or by syringes, if things do not.

At the end of each cycle, I would also take a trigger shot, Ovidrel, which would force ovulation within 12ish hours of the injection.  Ovidrel is a recombinant human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which replicates the LH surge telling the ovary to release the egg.

I should also mention that all of these medications came with a raft of side-effect warnings including blood clots, hot flashes, mood changes, weight gain, dizziness, etc.  Thankfully, my side effects were not all that serious -- some hot flashes, some moodiness, and some weight gain.  But I didn't really care much about the side effects and was mostly concerned with the immediate results.  Will this round make a baby?

My husband cared; he didn't want me to die in pursuit of a child. And he did not want me to get ovarian or breast cancer later in life because I was flooding my system with these hormones in my late-30s.  I worry about that too, now.  Will I get ovarian cancer in 10 or 15 years?  Will I get breast cancer?  They assured us that there was no known link between disease and these drugs, but doubt lingers.  And when I'm quiet, I do sometimes worry about The Boy having a sick mom someday.  Without the drugs, though, there would not be The Boy.  There is, accordingly, nothing to regret.

I never had a successful IVF cycle with the second doctor.  I never produced enough eggs.  We converted these failed IVF cycles to IUIs, but neither did those produce a baby.

With each failed round, I became increasingly depressed.  Seeing babies was hard.  Being around babies was hard.  I tried not to be jealous, but was.  I threw a lot of pity parties for myself.  My husband tried to keep me on the rails, but he was concerned as well.  He didn't like what it was doing to me.  Too, my depression -- and, to be honest, desperation -- was affecting him.  And let's not forget that he also wanted a baby.  It wasn't just me in all of this.

We started to consider donor eggs.  In egg donation, young women do exactly what I was doing -- shoot themselves up with FSH, LH and hCG -- and then undergo light anesthesia for egg retrieval, which involves a long needle inserted through the vaginal wall to retrieve the eggs from the ovaries.  An egg donation could produce from five to 35 eggs, with the average number being in the teens. The young woman's eggs are fertilized with the husband's sperm and the resulting embryo is implanted into the wife, who becomes pregnant and gives birth to her non-genetic child.

Egg donors get paid a lot -- usually $5,000 to $10,000 -- but, in my opinion, it's not enough.  They undergo quite a lot physically and even risk suffering side effects from the medications, and even possible infection resulting from the harvesting of the eggs and/or risks to their own future fertility.  They should be compensated for that risk.

Some egg donors get paid very well.  "Harvard" eggs can go for $50,000 or more.  Eggs of certain ethnicities command premiums.  It becomes unseemly, this purchase of genetic material.  Still, we had gone onto a registry and looked at potential donors and had chosen a few of them who seemed like they could be me-only-better.  Looking back, it seems difficult for even me to believe that I considered this option.  I wonder, now, if I would have followed through with it.  Possibly, I was looking into it because I needed to feel like there was one more option out there for me . . . that we hadn't tried everything yet.

Even though I liked the second doctor, I had become frustrated with him.  It had been more than a year and we had seen no result.  Not even a miscarriage.  And he would not consider egg donation on ethical grounds.  Given all that surrounds egg donation, this is not an unreasonable stance.  My husband was also not yet sure that egg donation was what we needed to do.  But after so much failure, and with my 40th birthday looming a few months away, I wanted results.  I wanted to change.  I wanted a baby.

We went to a third doctor who was in a practice that does work with egg donors and recipients.  Our last reproductive endocrinologist has a bachelor's degree from MIT and a Harvard medical degree.  If she could not figure this thing out, what brain could?  At our initial consultation, she and my husband hit it off pretty well.  (Ivy Leaguers.)  I liked her too.  She was slim, Korean, pretty, personable, intelligent, about my age.  From the photographs in her office, you could see that she had two small children.  Her husband is also a doctor.

She was surprised that all of the injectable medication protocols I had been on had been so-called "short protocols."  She emphatically told me that, at age 39, it was not time to think about donor eggs yet.  If I were a few years older, yes, but not now.  She encouraged me to try with my own eggs again.  And, importantly, she would not let me wallow in self-pity about my situation.  I had thought I needed sympathy. What I actually needed was a firm hand from an intelligent, confident doctor.  She really did turn my attitude around.  I agreed to try.

She decided to go "old school" on me and use a long protocol:  six weeks.  This time, I started with Lupron injections, which suppressed my ovaries for about 3 weeks, then I started with Follistim and Menopur injections.  During this cycle (and it was the case with every attempted IVF cycle), I was closely monitored by blood draws and sonograms.

With this cycle, the sonogram showed that I produced five follicles on my ovaries, but only one had matured to a size sufficient to house an egg.  And whether that egg would be healthy was anybody's guess.  She recommended that we convert this cycle to an IUI because there were not enough eggs to harvest for IVF.  When asked, she hazarded about a 14% chance of success given these circumstances.  We've been down this road before, I thought.  Still, I did the Ovidrel shot when instructed to do it, and on a Friday in late June of 2010, we did the IUI.  And then we waited.

A week later, I went back to have my blood drawn in order to check my progesterone level.  It was pretty high.  That was promising, apparently, but I wasn't holding my breath.  Another week later, I went back for a serum pregnancy test.  The phlebotomist asked me if I'd taken a home pregnancy test.  I said, "No, I don't do those.  They depress me." She chuckled.  She'd heard that before.  She drew my blood and I went to work.

Later that day, I got a telephone called.  July 2, 2010:  I was pregnant, about five weeks.  We were stunned, in utter disbelief.  A week later, we had a sonogram, and there was The Bean who would be The Boy one day.  Another week later, another sonogram:  and the strong, tiny heartbeat.  We could see it flutter.  We could hear it.

She released us to the OB/GYN.  No longer an infertility patient, now, I was just a pregnant lady, with a due date of March 11, 2011. On September 17, 2010, bang on at 15 weeks of pregnancy, I had amniocentesis.  Ten incredibly long days later, on September 27, 2010, we found out that The Bean would be The Boy, and that he was healthy.  We went public at that moment.  Not long after that, I felt him move for the first time.

And then lots of stuff happened during the pregnancy that was mostly normal (except for the bedrest for the month of February 2011).  But it all came to fruition on March 5, 2011, when after about 20 hours of contractions and labor, we finally got to meet that little stranger, our little boy. The two years of depressing, painful, frustrating infertility treatments forever receded into the background.  And at center stage lay this happy little creature, The Boy, who was totally, absolutely worth it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

One Bad Thing About Being a Lawyer

I'm a trial attorney.

It's not as glamorous as it sounds.

If it sounds glamorous at all.

I'm a trial attorney for the United States and I go to court, on average, about once a week.  Not all of those hearings are full-blown trials as depicted on your average 50 minute television drama.  Not most of them are.

Mostly, they are pretty simple hearings in which I announce the United States' position on something, or, in fact, I announce that we are actively not taking a position on something or that "I have reviewed the proposed order, your honor, and it is satisfactory."

But sometimes, I do go to trial, with opening and closing arguments, exhibits and witnesses and all that stuff.  (But no jury:  the court I practice in typically does not conduct jury trials.)  I've had three of those sorts of court days over the past three weeks.  Preparing for trial is hard:  planning your questions for the witnesses, studying your exhibits so that you know what you want to highlight to the court, re-reading cases you've read a hundred times before so that you are sure that they say what you think that they say, drafting argument outlines . . . .  Trial is inefficient, time-consuming work.  And stressful.

But the time I hate the most, in all of the time leading up to trial, is that period after I arrive at the courthouse, but before the proceeding begins.  It is typically not enough time to do any last-minute review, but just long enough to allow anxiety to build in your idleness.  And, even though the guy on the other side is someone you've known all of your career, and may even be your friend, you still don't feel much like talking to him (or her) at that moment.  All that tension dissipates the minute the judge says, "You may proceed," because you finally get to do your job.  And importantly, the thing you have prepared days or weeks for has started and so, soon enough, will come to an end.

But in those few minutes after I've arrived at the courthouse but before the action begins, my skin tingles most uncomfortably.  It's but one bad thing about being a lawyer.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Up All Night

Up All Night.

It's a new sit-com on NBC.  It's about a husband and a wife - a working mom - who have a baby in early-middle-age.  When we saw the previews for this show, the hubby and I thought that we had to watch it.  We were primed to watch it; it seemed tailor made for us.  So we programmed the DVR.

I should explain that we really do not watch serialized television shows.  We watch Pawn Stars.  We watch This Old House and America's Test Kitchen.  We watch Top Chef.  We watch the news.  But shows that pretend towards offering characters and plots, we don't watch those.

Alas, the show is, so far, pretty disappointing.

Up All Night is not about what it is like for working professionals to have a baby.  This show is about what it's like for middle-aged adolescents to have a baby.  Let me explain.

We naturally thought the show's title referred to being up all night with the baby. And I supposed, it does that, but the pilot episode of the show reveals that "up all night" also refers to these characters' party past.  The episode features a scene in which the mom and dad call a babysitter at the last minute and then go out on the town for a night-long bacchanalia.  The next you see of them, they are hung over and the child is crying for a diaper change.  How did they get a babysitter at the last minute?  And what babysitter, other than perhaps a relative, is willing to stay the night while mom and dad sing Karaoke and do Jager shots 'til the wee hours?  And when the two inebriates arrived home, did the babysitter just leave them there to drunkenly care for the baby?

Here's the irony:  We watched this episode at four in the morning after our son woke us up crying with an ear infection.  We sat in the twilight of the flickering television, mouths slightly agape in disgusted disbelief.  There was no evidence in this episode that these people have ever been awakened at night by their child.  Indeed, the child seemed to be little more than a plot device there to inconvenience these two incredibly cool people and a prop around which endearing moments could occur at the close of the show.

The pilot episode also features a stay-at-home dad playing video games and talking on the phone with his other stay-at-home-dad friend.  Do any of the writers have children?  This man does not have time to play and chat on the phone.  Here's what TV-dad's real day would be like:  baby cries, feed baby, change baby, baby still cries, rock baby, put baby in swing, feed baby again, change baby, baby finally falls asleep, dad sits down with a cup of coffee, baby starts crying again.  Repeat.

And it's not as if Hollywood doesn't know how to make a program about a baby.  The movie Three Men and a Baby is really about the baby:  Peeing all over the bed.  Endless puking.  Ceaseless, inconsolable crying.  Confusion over formula, bottles, nipples, and types of diapers.  Holding down a job while caring for an infant.  Reading to the baby.  Cuddling the baby.  Playing with the baby.  Singing the baby to sleep.  I'm not asking that Up All Night be the twenty-first century Three Men and a Baby for TV.  I just pose that a show whose premise is the trials and travails of new parenthood should probably feature the baby in more than background shots.

Hubby swore off Up All Night after the first viewing.  I decided to watch the another episode.  This episode began with a whoops-we-forgot-the-baby scene in which mom and dad pack their too-small car with all their beach gear and forget to leave room for the baby.  Whoopsie!  The episode's theme was how uncool it is to have to buy a family car and how Ma and Pa Coolness don't want to be like their nerdy neighbors walking around with the Baby Bjorn.  But they will do it, they will self-consciously sacrifice their cool, for the sake of the child.  (Except they didn't!  Because they got a custom paint job on the SUV!  So they're still cooler than the Weirdlys down the street!)

Without even addressing how the lavish lifestyle lived by these characters does not even come close to approximating your average American's (even your average upper-middle class American's) experience, this show is unrealistic.  It shows you the sort of parent that does not exist.  Parents do not self-consciously relinquish their coolness for the sake of the kids.  Any pretension to hipness melts away with your child's first breath.  That's normal.  That's what's real.  You do not even give your cool rep a second thought and you never miss it.  There's comedy there too, but maybe it's more subtle, more difficult to achieve.

I must confess, that the third episode we watched -- yes, we watched a third episode -- seemed to hold a glimmer of promise.  The latest episode's storyline addressed the angst of a working mom who feels the very real tug of work versus family.  She finds her boss irritated with her commitment to her family and she questions whether her work is having a negative impact on her child.  There's even a little hint of the passive aggressivity that is the hallmark of the Mommy Wars.  But, it's all neatly resolved at the end with the violent destruction of a stroller and a Bangles song.  (Still so cool.)  I'm still not impressed, but, I guess, for the sake of my latent desire to see my circumstances depicted on the television, I will keep watching for now.  If nothing else, it'll be something to watch the next time I'm up all night with The Boy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Boy and The Dude

One of the consequences of becoming parents for the first time in our early 40s is that my husband and I have very few friends with kids who could be our son's immediate peers.  Most of our friends' kids are older, in some cases already in college.  So we do not have a lot of ready-made friends for our boy.

This is an added benefit of daycare:  The Boy has the opportunity to make friends.

I know what "they" say:  that kids The Boy's age don't really play with other kids, they play near other kids.  Parallel play, they call it.  So I had always assumed that parallel play meant that babies don't really make friends.

Enter:  The Dude.

The Dude is just 10 days younger than The Boy.  In fact, he and The Boy look so similar that on The Dude's first day at School, The Boy's dad momentarily mistook The Dude for The Boy (until he saw their faces).

They've developed at different rates.  The Boy is quite analytical and has a pretty long attention span for a baby.  The Dude seems pretty social.  (At least, he always smiles at me!)  The Boy sits well, if you set him on his bottom, but he hasn't actually ever gotten into a seated position by himself yet.  The Boy also army crawls.  The Dude has already figured out how to sit up by himself and, this week, The Dude started crawling.  (I was so excited for him!  Go, little Dude!)  The Dude is also a tad bit bigger than The Boy.  But, generally, The Boy and The Dude are as close to each other developmentally as they can be.

The Dude is The Boy's best friend.

I know, I know . . .  how can I know this for sure?  And is that even possible?

Well, here's what I know:  When we bring The Boy to School, The Dude lights up.  The ladies who care for their class say that these two always want to play together.  The other day, I dropped The Boy off at School and The Dude squealed with delight, smiled, and banged his hand on the play mat until I put The Boy down next to him.  I have come to pick The Boy up from School to find him and The Dude awake in their cribs "talking" to each other.  And there was one day when I arrived, sat The Boy in front of The Dude on a play mat, and the two of them sat facing each other, laughing, clearly thrilled to be in each other's presence.  It was so darned cute.

Who says babies don't have friends?  My baby does.  And his friend is one cool little Dude.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

We Turned Out Fine!

There's a phenomenon of modern parenting that has been dubbed "helicopter parenting."  The idea is that we modern parents are too over-protective.  The term "helicopter parenting" is meant to evoke the image of a skittish, over-involved, wide-eyed, hand-wringing ninny.  You're supposed to hear that phrase and say to yourself, "Oh, I'd never be like that.  My child will roam the world free from my paranoid watchfulness.  I will not buy into the culture of ultrasafety that  inhibits my child's personal growth."

And there's another phrase that goes with "helicopter parenting":

They didn't do all of this stuff when we were kids, and we turned out fine!

Yeah, except for the those of us who didn't turn out fine, or died.

But nevermind the drama of that retort.  The fact is that our world is different today.  Sure, I was allowed to ride my bicycle all over my neighborhood, but everyone in the neighborhood knew my parents, and knew me, and kept an eye on all the kids.  That was the deal in the 1970s.  But our society is more transient.  My husband is the longest resident on our street and he's been here only 10 years.  Our society is more atomized.  We do not live where we work and so we do not engage in our communities the way people used to do.

I barely know my neighbors.  There's the Indian family down the street, whose son we refer to as Kevin Ganpoor after the character in Mean Girls ("I'm a mathlete, so nerd is inferred").  There's the Cheerleader Mom.  There's the guy who never says "hi," whom we see only smoking and walking his Westie (such an adorable dog with such a prune of a man).  The man and woman across the street we know a little bit, but they're older with grandkids.  And our next door neighbor is a nice single guy who refers to what is obviously his girlfriend (from the amount of time her car stays parked in front of his house) as his "friend."

We don't really have real friends in our neighborhood, and I don't think we are unusual in that regard. So pardon us if we're a little less likely to send our kid out alone into this sea of virtual strangers once he's bicycle-age.

Of course, maybe by the time he's on a bicycle, we'll know these folks better.  Maybe raising a child hooks you into the community in a way that simply living in it does not.  But at the rate people move into and out of the neighborhood, I am skeptical that I'll ever be more than "hi neighbors" with them.

Still, it's not just the personal mobility of children that's changed since I was a child.  After The Boy was born, we were terrified by the folks at the hospital to such a degree that we feared that any tiny misstep would kill him.  The nurse who wheeled me out to the car on the day we were released to go home, gravely instructed me, "You sit in the back seat with the baby."  I hadn't had any other thought but to do that, but her tone conveyed that even a short car trip without an adult in the backseat was a tragedy-in-waiting.  It was six weeks before either of us took The Boy anywhere on our own because there would be no one to sit in the back seat with him.  And, even now, when we all go out, I still sit in the back seat with him, even if it's only a ten minute drive.

And maybe that's a good thing. Start the parents off with an attitude of maximum caution and allow them to learn and gain confidence. At seven months, I no longer live in constant terror that I may damage The Boy permanently. I'm still cautious, of course (he's my BOY), but I am confident enough to break the rules now and again . . . .   Sometimes, he gets to sleep with his Paddington lovey even though we are cautioned not to put stuffed toys into his bed because they are a suffocation hazard.  If it's the only thing that will calm him down, he gets Paddington.

Personally, I am thankful for the carseats and the pads for sharp table corners, the BPA free plastic, the toys with no small parts, the cabinet and toilet locks, the swaddle blankets and sleep sacks.  I am even thankful for the warnings that scared us to death in the first few weeks.  I'm happy that my baby's world is safer than the world was for me.  I am glad that the world cares, on some level, whether he lives or dies.  It's called progress.  All the products and the warnings won't save him from every potential harm.  His dad and I know that we still must be watchful.  But it sure helps.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stay at Home Mom Fridays

My work schedule allows me to have every other Friday off.  I call those Fridays my Stay-at-Home-Mom Fridays, SAHM Fridays.  In theory, I would hang out with my boy and play and do fun things.  But in reality, it has recently been what I think most SAHM's every-days are about:  running errands, doing laundry, straightening the house and, in between, tending to The Boy, who is usually a sweet joy, but sometimes is a challenge.

OK, I admit it.  Sometimes I take The Boy to School on SAHM Fridays.

Bad, evil, selfish Working Mom.

But it's not like that at all!

It's just easier and faster to run all those errands and do all those chores if I'm not running to sooth him or make sure he's not hitting his head on the coffee table.  Then when it's all done, I pick him up and the day can be all about him.

But the thing is, when I take him to School, I miss him.  I want to hang out with him.  My mind is always there, with him.  The truth is that I miss him all the time that I am away from him, every day at work.  But when I'm at work, the distraction of the activity of a busy office dulls the ache of missing him.  When I'm doing the grocery shopping and he's down the street at School, all I can think about is him being just down the street at School.  And I wonder about what he might be doing . . . and how I'd rather he be with me . . . and how he's probably having a lot of fun without me playing with his little friends . . . and how the idea of him having fun makes me feel happy . . . and, weirdly, quite lonely.  (I have a suspicion that this is a hint of my life to come.)

Still, I have visions of SAHM Fridays of the future that involve splash parks, zoos, playgrounds, museums, play dates, music classes, ball pits, trampolines and other fun things for kids.  I look forward to SAHM Fridays that are not days in which I get a head start on the laundry or caught up on the family filing.  I look forward to fun SAHM Fridays full of adventures and devoted to the enrichment of my little guy's beautiful mind.  Right now, at age seven months, those sorts of adventures are pretty limited in scope, but nevertheless fulfilling.  (Recently, he touched grass for the first time, which was more fun than you might think.  Think of what he'll make of a pick-your-own berry farm or a petting zoo!)

We're going to have a great time on our Fridays!

But right now, today, on this SAHM Friday, I've got a load of dirty diapers to get into the washer and some dishes to do.  Ta ta!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Love Rat

You would think that what with being a full time trial lawyer and a full time mommy, that I wouldn't have a lot of free time to do stuff.  And you would be right!

Still, one wants a hobby.  One wants a little fun thing to play around with.  In truth, I have a few of those. Occasionally, I will play the piano.  (But my hubby is the real pianist.)  I also like to birdwatch, cook . . . and then there's the cloth diapering (but that's for another show).  Recently, I took up sewing.  I'm not great, but it's fun.  Rather than wax philosophical about the art and craft of sewing, I'll just show you what I did this afternoon . . . .

Ah, well loved, well worn pajama bottoms.  Alas, the waist and drawstring are so worn that they have lost their usefulness qua pajamas.  What to do?  What to do?

"Hey!" thought I, "I can cut them up and make a little bear!"

First, I pinned the front pattern piece to the leg through both layers of fabric, and then cut through both layers at the same time to make two mirror image pieces.  Then, I did the same with the back pattern piece.  
All done cutting, I had two front pieces and two back pieces, which I then sewed together to make the front and the back of the bear.

Next, I sewed the front to the back.  (Sewing around curves is hard!  At least for me . . . .)

Last thing to do:  fill him with fiber fill and sew him up!


Hmmmm.  Doesn't look much like a bear.  More like a rat . . . .
A love rat . . . .

The Boy still like him, though, bear or love rat.

And that means that this mom had a successful Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I miss taking the train.

When I was single, and before I met my husband, I had a house in Dallas.  It was built in 1963.  It was on an enormous third-of-an-acre lot with a gorgeous oak tree in the back yard and crepe myrtles so large you could climb them. (I did.)  It was a fixer-upper with a mish-mash of floor coverings and a foundation problem.  (After over 40 years, the load bearing wall wasn't bearing the load so well anymore.)  It was too much for me.  I never fixed it up.  I did a few cosmetic things:  painting, mainly.  And my mom, dad, and I converted a screened porch with a sauna (seriously) into a screened porch with bar and a sink.  It wasn't perfect.  But it was mine, my little third-of-an-acre.

And when I lived in Dallas, before I became a suburban wife and mom, I took the train to work.  And it was awesome.  Dallas has light rail.  I have always been enamored of urban rail lines.  Maybe it's because I'm from a small town in East Texas that commuter trains seem very glamorous and modern to me.  Maybe, though, it's simply because I hate to drive.

So, even though it sort of smells, I love The Tube in London.  DC's Metro is so slick.  Chicago's El makes you feel nostalgic for a life you never knew, as you wind around the buildings at mid-level.  And the subway in New York?  Well, even though I've visited the city more times than I can count on my hand, I've never actually been on the New York Subway . . . but I love the idea of it . . . and Grand Central Station is cool.  (My husband, who did live in New York for several years, swears that he damaged his hearing on the Subway, but I digress.)

I like everything else about my life in the suburbs:  the fact that the city is small enough to walk just about anywhere, the parks, the running trails, the school district, our house.  And, of course, my family.  Even the fact that my home is far away from my office downtown makes me happy.

But we're not on a DART Rail line. So when I moved to the 'burbs, I gave up my rail pass and, with it, an hour or more of my day in which I would read books.  I would read one or two books a month on the train.  It was my decompression time.  It was my time to explore the paper world.  I felt smarter and more well rounded.  I am sure I was more interesting to talk to.

I also liked that I wasn't clogging the freeway with one more tin can, that I wasn't burning all that fossil fuel, and that I was participating in Dallas's urban-ness.  Taking the train makes you feel differently about the city you live in.  Dallas seemed smaller and easier when I took the train.  Need to get downtown?  Just hop the rail line, and you're there in less than 30 minutes with no traffic snarls or hassels with parking.  You're less likely to head downtown if getting to your destination involves a long drive on a hot and crowded freeway followed by a frustrating search for a $10 parking space.

Now, I drive to work.  I've tried books on CD to fill the dead time in the car.  It's not the same.  I'm not nearly as engaged in the text when I'm listening to a book on CD for all the obvious reasons, not the least of which is that I'm paying attention to traffic.  In fact, often, I'm not listening at all.  The book is just a sound to cover up the road noise . . . might as well listen to the radio.  And the 45 minutes to an hour I spend at the end of each day trying not to die on Interstate 35 exhausts me so much that I am less likely to do the things I need to do to be a healthy human:  cook meals, exercise, read books.  And it makes me less fun for my husband and son too.  I also feel badly about the gas, the pollution.  That's the air my boy will breath for the next, let's hope, 100 years or more.

There's a new rail line that extends to a neighboring suburb.  I would still have to drive to get there, maybe 15 minutes or so.  And then the train ride would be another 40ish minutes.  Is it worth it?  It might be.  Maybe, one week, I will try it . . . .

I miss taking the train.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Working Mom

This essay, in which I explain my Working Mom premise - and in which I also explain to "no one" how I'm not going to do a blog (never say never) - was written on August 12, 2011.

Today, while pouring 1.5 ounces of breast milk into a common container in an effort to come up with one bottle of milk for my five month old son, I decided to start writing essays about, well, me . . . and my life.  This is not a diary.  This is not a journal.  I don’t write those.  I’ve tried to write journals in the past and I find them to be boring and embarrassing.  And most importantly, diaries and journals feel narcissistic to me:  the opportunity to revel in my own thoughts and feelings and write my own story with no scrutiny or edit or accountability.  Who is to say if what I’ve written is true?  So I don’t like diaries.  I don’t do journals.

These are essays.  And they are essays that I am writing as if someone else might actually read them one day.  I thought about doing a blog – that’s the thing to do in 2011.  But, nah.  I’m not interested in being out there immediately with an audience.  I need copious opportunity for editing.  And I’m not interested in your comments.  Isn’t that what blogs are all about, the provocative commentary followed by some give and take in the comments section.  I’m not interested in your knee-jerk responses to my spontaneous blatherings.  Still, I’m assuming that you’re out there somewhere, my audience.

So anyway.  Working Mom.

That’s me.  I’m a government trial attorney.  I’m 41, almost.  I have been married for a little more than three and a half years to my best friend in the world.  And we have a five-month-old son who is the cutest baby in the world (I will hear no argument to the contrary).

“Working mom” seems to be a dying breed from my perspective.  My female peers at work, with the exception of one mother of teenagers, are either married with no children or single with no children.  My son was the first child born to anyone in that office in about a decade.  And my peers outside of the office seem to be, more and more, becoming stay at home moms.  Women with multiple college degrees are electing to stay home with the kids.  Betty Friedan must be spinning in her grave.

And what’s up with that?  Why does it seem like career girls aren’t becoming mommies?  And why aren’t mommies staying in their careers?

My answer will not be that the Patriarchy is still keeping the women down.

Maybe it’s just coincidental that the gals I work with, by and large, don’t have babies.  They haven’t met the right guys yet (the single ones) or have made the life choice not to get married and/or not to have children.

But my own experience of really wanting to get married and have a family, and of not actually getting married until the age of 37, suggests to me that my career choice was somehow incompatible with my life's desires.  When I was single, I found it difficult to meet men because I was working all the time.  And then the men I did meet were just not right.  That being said, I met my husband at the office.  So maybe the problem was with me . . . until I met him.

I don’t have much experience with being a stay at home mom, only the 11 weeks I was home on maternity leave.  It was hard.  Tiring.  Fun to hang out with my son.  But also enervating.  I would get stir crazy.  I would miss adult interaction.  I spent a lot of time watching crappy TV or surfing the internet, and yet I was unable to get everything I needed to get done done in a day.  I developed an unnerving affection for Nate Berkus.

But, being a stay at home mom was never part of my plan.  I always intended to have a career.  What’s the point of going to law school if I’m not going to be a lawyer?  I have a hard time understanding why other women make that choice.  When I hear the explanation, which is usually some variation on the theme of “it’s better for my kids,” it implies that, well, my choice to go to work and to put my son in daycare is worse.

And, thus, the root of the Mommy Wars . . . .

But he’s happy at daycare!  Even at five months, I know that he loves it.  There are times when I go pick him up that I swear he looks disappointed to have to leave.  And, by and large, I like being a lawyer.  I definitely like having the daily intellectual challenge.  And isn’t it better for him if his mom likes what she does?  A day spent in court versus a day of squeezing loads of laundry in between awake-times and feedings (and Nate) is a no-brainer choice for me.  Am I a selfish mommy, therefore?  Because I want that thing for me?

No, I think the real explanation, the unacknowledged and unexpressed one, is that when women make the choice to stay home it is because it is what makes them happy.  They would not rather be in court than doing the laundry.  Can’t we just be honest about that?  It’s not all self-sacrificing and it’s not all “for the kids.”  Not 100%.  It’s no more 100% for the benefit of their children than my going to work every day is 100% about me earning my salary.  There is, in both cases, the very real element of "this is what I want to do."  So is it?  Are we?  Are we all selfish?  I guess I don’t really care that much if we’re all selfish.  That’s being human.  If we have the luxury to make our own paths, we do what we want to do.  Let’s just be honest about that.  I go to work because I want to work.  You’re staying home because you don’t want to work at a traditional jobby job.

But let’s talk about dad.

Here are some things that I do care about:  that my husband doesn’t feel over-burdened; that my husband does not resent me; that my husband sees me as his equal partner; that my husband remains healthy and happy and alive for a long, long time; that my husband respects me; that my husband continues to find me interesting.

I’ve not done an empirical study, but it seems obvious to me that it is a lot more stressful to be the only source of income for the family than it is if you are only carrying about fifty percent of the load.  It also seems obvious to me that the situation in which one spouse goes to a job and one spouse stays home creates an ideal environment in which to breed resentment when, for instance, the wife gets to hang out with her friends at play dates and the husband has to work until nine at night.

My husband is a wonderful, wonderful man, but he is not a saint.  No man is.

So to me, in addition to not being what I want for me, the stay at home mom thing is not what I want for my husband either.  I think it would do no good for our relationship.

Maybe it doesn’t happen in families with stay at home moms.  Maybe all those dads are no more stressed out than my husband in his companionate, 50/50 marriage.  Maybe those dads are fine with bearing 100% of the family economic burden.  Nevertheless, there are two things I know:  (1) If I were dad, I wouldn’t be fine with it; and (2) I’m not going to do to my husband what I would not countenance being done to me.

Hey, I'm not into the Mommy Wars.  Grown ups make choices.  Couples negotiate their marriage contracts differently.  I've got friends, I've got family, who are stay at home moms.  And I love them.  I can't say someone else's choices are not right for them.  All I can tell you is what is right for me and my boys.


I’m proud to be a working mom.