The Balance Beam

Walks in the time of pandemics.

Within the last twelve months there have been studies conducted, research gathered, subjects interviewed, charts plotted and analyzed, and plenty of firsthand introspective stories about the quagmire women find themselves in right now.

Here is my introspective, and I’m not just writing in order to publish the word quagmire.

The career mom has long been fodder for researchers. Out of the workforce to raise children, then coming back with higher heels and thicker skin to shatter ceilings. When no one is looking, she cleans up the glass because she cleans up almost everything while balancing on the beam between career and parent. She’s fascinating.

Some days, that beam feels about a half inch wide, and I’m no Simone Biles.

During the pandemic, in a five day workweek, you can find me doing morning drop offs, afternoon pickups, sports, and I’m stepping into single parent life. Everyone needs to be fed, and no one ever seems to like what I prepare. I also have a career.

I genuinely enjoy work. It’s my mental outlet, it’s a way to focus, and I can see results through action. I am challenged to think and have others who are better thinkers to guide me.

Then there is mothering, where hard work sometimes gets you a whiny cry, bickering, and several announcements during dinner declaring you so, so mean. My two little bosses at home would be shellshocked at my 360 feedback some days.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have flexability at work since the beginning of the pandemic. I log on after the kids go to bed a few nights a week so I can shuttle to karate. PTO is there when I need it, either for a sick child or a child who just needs me. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I’ll say it louder for people in the back- how are we supporting parents who never had a choice to work from home but had two children with no place to go during the day?

How will life, already precariously perched on that beam, tip next school year? Many women have been tumbling for months.

We learn from mistakes, but there are two areas where a woman just can’t fail- her career, and parenting. These two beasts are the anchors of my life, and I love them both.

America’s return to work buzz is starting, with office-based businesses large and small crafting re-entry plans. I’m sure printing shops are in overdrive, churning out masks with company logos. It makes me hopeful that most companies are returning thoughtfully and gradually.

I think returning to work is great, but where does this leave the single parent who doesn’t have a well thought out re-entry plan because there is no definitive place to actually re-enter the home side of things? What if that single working parent is a woman, who has the additional pressure of having to be good at both career and kids?

A good gymnast, like Simone, looks at her beam and takes a deep breath. She has practiced what she’s about to do thousands of times before, but there are minuscule differences in each attempt that become the variables that decide victory. She can plan for these, even anticipate them, but only until she pivots a few degrees too far left does she know whether the wobble will make the difference.

She hopes she doesn’t lose focus, fixate on a missed step that was seven steps ago, or realize in midair that her hands are positioned wrong for a landing. I’d like to think that she improvises if she has to, and does what she has to do until the end, no matter how sore and tired she is.

If Simone misses her dismount, she will still earn points for her other technical elements. But will anyone remember the hours of effort this woman has put in if she can’t make it all come together when it matters?

The Wrong Gene

My children with their own ice cream.

Ever hear a mom say that she doesn’t mind getting up four times a night for feedings, or say that she doesn’t believe in raising her voice when shit hits the fan at home? She may tell you she has THE MOM GENE. She’ll say this and you’ll nod knowingly. She loves being a mom. She LOVES IT!

Does she feel the incredible amount of societal pressure put upon us moms to proclaim that we were put on this earth to mother? Maybe. But she is letting you know that she’s great, everything is fine, it’s all under control. She has The Mom Gene, she’s made for all things parent.

I hate this, The Mom Gene. The implication is that you’re not good enough if you don’t tell people you love it, and provide examples of sacrificial acts (like getting the most amazing ice cream for yourself and trading it for a half-eaten, melted vanilla because someone spies yours and suddenly NEEDS it, and you hand it over). It also implies that those who don’t like mom things aren’t good parents.

I love my children. They love me back (pretty sure). I make the best decisions I can for them with the skills and knowledge that I have, hoping they can make good decisions when they have the opportunity to do so. All I want is for them to be happy, successful, and own homes with an in-law suite for me when I’m old.

Mom things I am not good at: Playing Barbies. Sitting on the couch and doing nothing else but watching kid TV. Playgrounds. Patience. Controlling my anxiety when I hear, “Guess what? We decided to get the paint and Sharpies out while you were in the shower, so come into the living room and sit on the new couches when you’re dressed!”

Mom things I am good at: Organizing and cleaning a room when children are actively using it. Scheduling appointments, practices, games, playdates. Reading. Cleaning paint and Sharpie off of things. Laundry. Dispensing vitamins.

I’m still a good mom even if I have no interest in participating in a complicated made-up game that combines hopscotch, tag, costume changes, and Uno cards. I’m still a good mom when I measure the days in fifteen minute increments because the thought of making it twelve hours to bedtime is overwhelming.  I’m still a good mom if I tell my child they can have a taste of my ice cream but they can finish the half eaten vanilla cone and, next time, I will help them choose something different.

My Mom Gene may be a bit different, and not just because I immediately think of high rise denim. I celebrate my parenting strengths and occasionally see opportunity in my weaknesses. It’s ok to naturally be an operational, logistical mom.  

When I feel that pressure to show The Mom Gene, I don’t pretend everything is fine, that I LOVE this all the time. There is a lot of hard work and stress mixed in with the joy of mothering. To not outwardly acknowledge how tiring this can be perpetuates the pressure to have The Mom Gene, and continues to make moms who don’t like tea parties feel inferior.

Next time you see a mom talking about The Mom Gene, pull her aside and tell her it’s ok if hers looks different. Then, get her an ice cream cone she won’t have to share.

The Skin And The Arils

A dormant pomegranate bonsai, Longwood Gardens

This summer, results from bloodwork and imaging landed me in the office of a gynecologic oncologist. Let’s operate, he said. I don’t think it’s cancer, but we need to operate.

Twelve days later, I would wake up in the post-surgical recovery unit and have to be told what scenario happened while I was anesthetized. My answer was a total hysterectomy and a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.

When I got into bed that night (At home! Thanks, laparoscopic surgery and robotic surgery!) I mourned.

The place where I grew my babies, all four of them, was gone. The space that saw a miscarriage at 12 weeks. The space where Hank unknowingly passed away at 33 weeks. The space that, finally, got it’s shit together and figured out how to produce two living children.

The physical thread between this mother and those children was gone. Where did this leave me? I had more identity in my fertility than I realized.

In 2010, when I was newly pregnant for the first time, I read Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-daughter Story Novel by Ann Kidd Taylor and Sue Monk Kidd.

I learned that the pomegranate has great significance to many cultures and there are lots of references to them in religious text. It’s obviously a symbol of life and fertility due to the abundance of jeweled seeds. It is also a symbol of blood, and death.

My surgery this summer was necessary. There were too many reasons for it to take place, quickly. Is this what a pomegranate feels like once it’s peeled, with seeds gone? Is this what it’s like to let something meaningful go?

Even though there is a lot that is missing now, there is a lot that isn’t. The physical piece of me that carried my babies is gone, but so much isn’t. Like, my health.

The beauty of the pomegranate lies in the luscious, deep red arils. These babies are the prizes of life. The arils are the legacy, and the next step in the cycle. If women are peeled like the pomegranate, no longer the holder of the ruby gems but only skin around a hollow space, are we still as valuable and prized?

Yes.

A View From The Top

My 40th birthday is this year. All of the 1981 babies will stop climbing up the hill and actually be over it. Why are there no cocktail napkins or evites proclaiming someone has reached the pinnacle of the hill? Where is the “Lordy Lordy, Look Who Is Going To Take Some Time And Appreciate The View From The Top!” yard sign?

Why don’t we take some time to look at how far we’ve come before we cross that magic finish line and start to decline?

I was thinking today, January 1st, that it would be a good time to prep for this 40th trip around the sun. What are my goals? What do I want to do on that ski lift up the mountain?

Overall, I’ve loved the upward journey. Some days I need a dozen sherpas, some days it’s a sprint with a smile. There are plenty of things I can do this year, but instead of focusing on the way up, I’m going to plan my moments at the top.

So, on my 40th, instead of being over the hill, I want to be at the top. Look for me in the queen’s crown, surveying my territory below (maybe with a blowout, toned arms, some fresh Botox, and a gorgeous gown). To the left is the summit I’ve conquered. To my right is the downward journey.

But, maybe I will hang out at the top for a bit. A week? A year? A decade? However long it takes me to revel in the achievement of living, loving, doing, being.

I’ll let you know when you can call me over the hill, but my descent on down to the next chapter in life will not automatically start on September 8th. I’m going to enjoy my view from the top.

For The Love of Numerals

It’s no secret that I’m bad at math. Ask my family, who for years would stop in the middle of something and say, “Anne! Quick! Eight times six!” I’d pick a number in the fifties and hope for the best. I only got A’s and B’s in high school – except for one D (a D!) in Algebra II. My freshman year college transcript is crammed with all of my math requirements, I’m a bite the bullet and get it all over with kind of gal. Most of them end with “for the non-math major.”

I love numerals. My favorite Reddit thread is DataIsBeautiful. I count while exercising (cinderblocks in the wall, color blocks in pool lane lines, houses passed), and I’m a sucker for a good graph (lots of colors, horizontal font please). My late night Google searches include skimming articles written about numerology in religious texts and culture (does this count as a real life application of my Cultural Studies minor?).

Numbers are comforting through consistency, which is something I crave more and more as I age. I get a sense of calm knowing that seven squared will be 49, every time. No one likes change because it’s new and uncharted territory. Numbers never have that problem (see what I did there?).

Life is an accumulation of experiences, thoughts, and interactions. If we see these as distinct, individually defined events, we are lucky to have an infinite number. The idea of a never ending count of accumulations doesn’t weigh heavy but provides lightness through opportunity and anticipation. A collection of consistency is how I’m moving through life these days, and that’s a data point I’m happy with.

Happy Spring, Y’all!

My friend A and I aren’t fans of the fall.

People are all pumpkin spice this and pumpkin pie that! Flannels and tall boots! Pumpkin picking and apple picking and scented candles and the crisp air. Isn’t this where the basic bitch came from? She reigns queen in autumn. The fall has become a state of mind, which means it’s on kitschy signs and kitchen towels.

A and I joke about this season. We can’t wait until we can say “Happy Winter, Y’all!” No one says this but me and A, probably. No one really likes winter. The two of us, we sort of do. Winter closes the chapter on all things hayride and PSLs. You can’t go to the Hallmark Store and buy a Happy Winter, Y’all! wooden sign for your mantel.

Why don’t we like fall? We both lost our sons in October. It gets darker earlier. It’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I happened to lose both of my grandparents in October. We both agree that fall can take it and shove it.

The arrival of the winter solstice isn’t always wonderful, let’s be clear. It gets darker even earlier. The holidays are near. Everyone is celebrating, and I sometimes find myself wondering what for.

My return date to work after my maternity leave with Hank was early December. I’d drive home from work in the dark, the wreaths on the lampposts with jaunty bows shining in the light. This time every year, the wreaths in West Chester cross my mind. I’m reminded how I felt that December of 2012.

Longwood Gardens is thirty minutes from my house. My family has a membership and we use it a lot. Around the holidays, it’s especially crowded. Lights and music, spiked drinks, and large displays of the finest in holiday horticulture. I’ve been once.

As much as I want to be immersed in a magical, twinkling light of a night, I’m afraid that I’ll just be sad. I’d need to go into the evening with someone who gets all of this. Someone who knows that it’s both beautiful and bitter at the same, and someone who can hand me another cup of rum and hot cider and make me feel like Anne, a mom who hasn’t lost her baby.

I’m going to message A now and tell her that we have to hang in there until spring. The season of newness, rebirth, and fittingly the time of year our rainbow baby girls were born. Life comes back, we get a second chance at whatever we need.

Maybe spring is when we will both be happy with the season. And maybe next year, she and I will go to Longwood in the winter, mixing mulled wine and memories as we count down to March 20.

An Honest Plate

Hank’s Hope had its monthly peer to peer meeting last night. We talked about how it feels when you get honest with what you want. We immediately feel ungrateful for not appreciating what we have. It’s a shitty feeling.

A theme of life, especially this year. We’re hurting, we’re missing people, we’re wanting more. Then, the guilt barges into the home of the mind, tells us to shut the hell up and count our blessings, then slams the door in our face, leaving us more empty than ever before.

I’ve done plenty of this thinking, especially in 2020. Covid hit our home. I’ve been crushed at work, especially this fall. We’ve had house repairs and insurance claims, injuries and surgeries. We’ve had a job loss, and unemployment checks are the unicorns that I’ve long stopped chasing. My kids have been yanked around with school and seeing friends. I hate myself some days. I’m tired. I’m so, so tired.

I feel guilty (see a theme?) for writing this. My family had the space to isolate someone so covid didn’t rip through the whole family. I work for a company that has been extremely flexible and supportive. I have a credit card for tight financial times. My family is fed and warm (well, except for that fun time when we had a gas leak and the HVAC was out of commission). I’ve not been a victim of a hate crime, or discriminated against because of my race or sexual orientation, and I’ve not worried about whether or not I can afford medication.

This year, I’ve had friends and family members lose parents, fight cancer, divorce, miscarry, bury pets, and helplessly watch their businesses go under.

Compared to others, 2020 was a very good year.

2020 has helped me to know it’s normal to feel negative emotions when I think about what I don’t have. Of course, it’s positive thinking to count your blessings. But one does not negate the other. You are allowed to do both, equally.

It’s a balance, and it’s fair to say that 2020 wasn’t exactly a calibrated scale.

I made it through (well, almost, we have two weeks to go and I don’t want to jinx myself). If you’re reading this, you made it, too. I remember at one point I laughed until I couldn’t catch my breath, and had one (or four) too many glasses of wine. I celebrated with people I love, provided words of comfort to those in need, and rubbed my eyes in public with reckless abandon. I sneezed and coughed back when all I had to do was say “allergies!” and no one batted an eye.

I am choking down the boiled, unsalted, overcooked vegetable that was this year, cursing the whole time. I am also aware that I’m fortunate enough to have dessert. 2020 is a meal of my own palate of rancid and delicious, guilt and gratefulness, and the entire thing is my honest meal.

Don’t Save The Good

The “nice” napkins.

Mrs. W came over to meet Elise shortly after her birth. She brought the most beautiful outfits- soft white organic cotton sleepers, a delicately embroidered ivory dress, and some other things that should be ten feet away from a baby.

These elegant pieces looked perfect, expertly wrapped and nestled in a box. Mrs. W must have known what I was thinking (that I would never put a newborn in white, there would be poop and barf all over them in minutes, who is going to see these beautiful clothes since we aren’t going anywhere because this baby needs to eat every two hours and I feel like my shirt is always off so we just sit on the couch topless and watch reruns).

She looked me in the eye and spoke with a firm voice. “Don’t save the good.”

She’s right.

The wedding china isn’t used for leftovers or pizza. There is a piece of jewelry, forever sitting in a box (because it’s only appropriate for a black tie event that you’ll go to on Saturday, the 5th of never). Our wedding memories are allowed out on the anniversary. The special handwritten note is tucked away. And that air hockey puck we may or may not have taken from the boardwalk arcade to remind us of someone? It’s in a drawer. Some drawer, maybe. Maybe?

My grandmother also subscribed to the same theory. Why wait? And, for what? For who?

We are worthy of the nice, even if it’s just us. Every day. And the people we surround ourselves with are most deserving of the good. It’s counterintuitive to let your children know what it feels like snuggle in the delicate quilt that has been passed down from generation to generation. But who better than them?

The extraordinary moments in life come without the foresight of knowing when they will happen. Don’t wait for the right moment, only to open the drawer of life and find that baby romper, two sizes too small, with the tags still on.

Shrooms For Days: Food for 2020

I’m a victim of the quarantine 19, and I’m blaming my husband.

He’s a chef. When someone makes food for a living, really really good food, and they live in your house, you don’t stand a chance. When you have no place to go, you give in to the kitchen.

When we first were home, in mid-March, my husband started a spiral notebook. The left page was a menu for the week, with recipes at the bottom. The right page was the grocery list.

We always meal planned (if you don’t, you really should). But, Noah took it to a whole new level this time. What else was there to do? It also gave the kids more foods to add to their gross list.

We’ve reached the end of the notebook. We jokingly asked if that meant covid is eliminated (we can only hope).

Maybe one day, Noah will publish his spring/summer 2020 volume. In the meantime, we’ll get a new notebook, start into a fall/winter edition, and keep looking ahead.

Below is one of the surprisingly best things that he’s made. Enjoy!

Mushroom Burgers

  • 1 lb mushrooms (we did a mix of white and brown)
  • 1 cup panko crymbs
  • Two shallots
  • 2T. Tamari
  • 1/4 c. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1T. Maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/2 t. Smoked paprika
  • 1 cup cooked rice (sushi or risotto)

Slice and cook the mushrooms and shallots over medium heat. Add the tamari, vinegar, and maple syrup. Add the paprika. Cook until shallots are translucent and soft, and the mushrooms are soft. In a food processor, lightly pulse the shroom mix, flax, rice, and 1/2 of the panko. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the rest of the panko. Shape into burgers, and brown in a little olive oil in a pan.

Normals

I tried yesterday to figure out why I was so anxious. It really helps that my friends are therapists. They ask the right questions and allow my answers to tumble out. Only then do I stop and realize what I couldn’t articulate has become a defined, organized thought.

I didn’t realize what my normal really was until it was gone.

My social media feeds are full of mommy-loves-wine jokes, how to keep your kid busy suggestions, and streaming yoga at 2pm (Can’t! Representing the new work at home mom!). One thing I haven’t seen on Facebook is how to explain all of THIS THAT IS HAPPENING to yourself.

Who would have known that my new normal would involve coaxing my kid into watching Mo Willems draw an elephant at lunchtime while I make a PB&J with one hand and type emails with the other? I do love Mo, though.

It is not possible to return to a pre COVID-19 world. That makes me scared. I’m afraid that I will lose people I love and the life I have with them. We take our current normal for granted.

My hope is that relationships will go on, kids go back to school, and I will go to my office to work. We will pay bills, pick up dry cleaning, cut each other off on the highway, and hold doors. We will high five and hug.

I’m also going to hope that all of my people and relationships stay put. These are the important things and if you’re lucky, you take them with you as you move through phases of life, no matter how normal or abnormal those phases are.