Monday, December 27, 2010


Today was a great day for at least three reasons. The first was my morning - I got back to the gym for a great workout this morning, the first since the rush of the Christmas season was upon us, with its lack of time and abundance of sweet treats! The second reason was my evening, when I went sledding with Sadie over at her best friend's house in Windsor Farms. Sadie and Bella were hilarious as they rode down the sled together time and again. It was the first time that Sadie has sledded down a hill (versus Mark and I pulling her sled around our local park) and she just loved it, no fear, all laughs, for hours.

But the third reason my day was great was my unexpected bonus hours playing with Daisy.

In the way Mark and I generally divide things, he gets far more Daisy time than I do. It just is the way things fall, far less than by design than just by routine. I seem to require far more sleep than Mark does so he ends up taking Daisy for her early morning and late night walks around the block. I am often the one who heads Sadie up into her bath, or finishes a project with her, and he will take Daisy out for a quick walk when he comes home. I feel like once a week or so, we make a point to switch things up and I will take Daisy. But those walks are generally times of quiet solitude, where I am thinking through the list of what still needs to be done at home, or what happened that day at work, or other deeper issues. I admit, they are rarely times that I spend dwelling on positive thoughts about Daisy. And... it has been really cold here!  So those thoughts that I have are often "Come on dog!  Mama's freezing out here!"

This Fall, Daisy had some recurrent health problems. I felt terrible for her, and worried about her, but in hindsight, I resented having another thing added to my to-do list on the days that I had to take Daisy to the vet. It is clear now that a large part of her issue was not liking the nanny who was with us for a short time between Lisa's departure in September and Tyler coming to save us in late November. But Mark and I were stressed about the nanny situation as well, so while Daisy's position on the issue was very evident, we were more concerned about Sadie at the time.

So the last month has been heaven for both Sadie and Daisy, both adjusting so well to the new nanny.  Daisy came with us to Thanksgiving dinner at Mark's brother's house and the 24+ attendees all remarked at what a great retriever she was, even when she accidentally fell into a fish pond trying to catch a tennis ball that someone accidentally threw in there. And of course, when we had our Christmas party last weekend, 90+ guests got to see Daisy hanging out under the dining room table.  We never shun Daisy, or Sadie for that matter, from our parties.

Then my sister Carolyn came in from Denver a few days ago, as she hadn't been to our house since she and her dog Nella came to the beach with us in late June. And late the first night, after we had all been driving around to look at Christmas lights and she and I were wrapping presents and drinking red wine, she said to me "Daisy has really aged."  And I turned and looked at my yellow lab, asleep right next to us on our new shag rug, and it hit me like a cannon ball... she really looks old.  Her face is almost all white now.

So today, back to today, was a bonus. After I worked out, Sadie's best friend's nanny called and asked if Sadie wanted to come play in the snow with them today. And my afternoon was suddenly free!  Before we left, I looked around the kitchen to survey all that needed to be done in that room alone... there was something on every counter that needed to be put away from our big Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. There were three sets of Playdoh cutting sets that Santa had brought, along with the crusty remnants of various shreds of the doh left out on the counter for two+ days. Laundry needed to be washed and folded, toys organized and put away, perhaps a long bath and magazine read for me, the day was my oyster. But as I was getting Sadie ready to play, Daisy sensed that snow play was in the cards and she ran to get some tennis balls that were hidden from her after Christmas morning and was rapidly dropping them in my lap. Sadie suggested it out loud "Can we bring Daisy Mom?"

And into the car we all went. Daisy sits on the front seat now, generally too achy (or too stubborn) to hop into the hatch back of the Pilot. And after I dropped Sadie off at Bella's, I took Daisy to the park by the house where she and I first lived for three years before Mark and I got married.

Daisy is a yellow lab, and by nature, she likes almost anything.  She is happy to see any visitor to our house, whether they be the cleaning lady, contractor, or a grandparent. She is happy to go for a walk any day of the year, even in the rain. But aside from the deep devotion to her People and tennis balls, she loves nothing else like she loves the beach, and a good snow.

Williamsburg and Hampton, the moment comes out of the tunnel crossing the Chesapeake Bay, she is awake with her head at the window whining for it to be opened so she can breath in that good salt air. She is the first in the ocean (the moment she hops out of the car at the beach house) and refuses to stay in the house when she knows that any relative in our family is down there (she hopped a gate to follow Mark down there one time a few years ago and ran into the ocean thinking he was throwing a ball when in fact, he was surf fishing... but when he saw her go after the bait, he quickly found a ball in his fishing gear and threw it to her). She loves to swim and retrieve and will do it for hours on end at the beach.

But she is just as passionate about the snow, even though she really only knew it her first three years, and then had a break for five years or so until true snowfall returned last year. And as the snow was falling on Christmas Day, Daisy looked out the window whining for someone to take her out and throw ball. Both Mark and I obliged, usually with Sadie and her sled in tow.

Today, the focus was all on her. I was well bundled up and had nowhere really pressing to be for a few hours. And boy did we have fun. I was thinking about all the days that I had taken her to that park before Mark and I got married, when it was really just Daisy and Jill, pretty much every morning and night, retrieving there. Then she could sniff the ball from far away, even if her eyesight didn't follow my throwing it (we use a Chuck-it to throw the balls, so they can go really far). Today she missed the ball's path a lot of times, and it was clear that her eyesight and her nose are not as good as they used to be. She runs a lot slower than she used to, and sometimes will walk back instead of run. But she always wanted to do it again, and again, and again. And several times she did this trick that she did even as a puppy (nothing we taught) where she would spy the ball, and then slink down to the ground and tip tow to it, like she was a lion being sly and quietly approaching something to kill, and then from 10 feet away pounce on the object of her attention. In Daisy's case, it is always just a tennis ball. But in her mind, she must imagine all sorts of wonderful things that it could be instead, and this trick that she has done now for nine years, it never gets old for her, or for me.

She's asleep with me now, at my feet, as I type this. She sleeps a lot more now than she ever has. The vet told us earlier this month that she is in good health but that we would notice her really start to slow down now, and I feel like once he said it, it has been dramatic. While she enjoyed Christmas morning, she spent most of the dinner time asleep on the floor of the living room instead of lining herself up for scraps under the dining room table like she has in year's past.  While she's only nine, she just seems old. Maybe that's because up until a few months ago, she always looked and acted like a puppy. So it is like she went from looking like she was four years old to like she is thirteen in three months.

At my old firm, I worked with a wonderful older gentleman who lived in Atlanta. He became very much of a father figure and mentor to me, as well as a terrific attorney. He could talk to me on the phone for hours a day, which admittedly I resented a little when I had other things to do. But in the midst of a 70 minute conversation, he always dropped these nuggets of wisdom that made the other 69 minutes worth the wait. And one thing he said to me that I always remembered was that the problem with dogs is that they died just too soon. He loved dogs, has always had them, but it was clear that the dogs he loved the most were those that here about 6 years old and older. When they don't chew, need only walks instead of constant exercise, when they would nap along with you instead of wake you up wanting to go out. When a dog became a truly devoted companion. He told me how he buried all his dogs in the back of his property and how he still goes and talks to them a lot of evenings because he really misses them.

Daisy has always been a great dog, she was a fun puppy and I was lucky to have the time and energy to devote to her then. But now, she is just such an incredible companion dog.  Thanks for a great few hours today my Daisy girl. I promise to do that a lot more often. Now could you please promise to stop aging?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Forever Grateful

Yesterday was Sadie's school's Song Fest. Sadie has gone to this preschool since she was 18 months old, but the one-year-old class and the two-year-old class are too young for this wonderful tradition. As Sadie proclaimed proudly, "They are still babies Mom, only big kids like me get to be in Song Fest." She was so excited about it, randomly practicing her songs (most of them with words that I had never heard before, and we didn't have the words, or thankfully, any "practice requirement" from the school). Several kids in her class have come down with strep over the last couple of weeks and I was sure that Sadie would be the next victim, based on her track record of the last three years. But the days were passing, she was humming along (literally and figuratively).

Mark, Tyler the nanny and I all made it to the school's Sanctuary at the appointed time. As did more than a couple hundred other parents, grandparents, caregivers, et all. All of us had digital cameras with charged batteries, most also had video cameras. We were all craning our necks to see our child process in the door.

I was so proud!  I tear up now thinking of watching her coming in. Looking for us way back in the rows of parents. And then her face just lit up upon seeing us. She broke into a grin and waved madly at us. Notwithstanding the fact that over half of the kids were waving to over half of the parents probably at that same instant, my daughter was just elated that we were there. And I, once again, was elated that she was there. That she... is... here.

Of all the comments that well-intentioned friends and relatives said to us about when we were going to have another child, the most memorable one that stuck in my claw so-to-speak was someone who said "You need to have another one Jill, you are going to suffocate the one you have with love otherwise."  Because part of me worried that she was right. 

Can you love a child too much? Will she one day say to me "Leave me alone... don't you have something else to do other than smother me?" 

Even with four children, my mother had an amazing ability to make each of us feel smothered at one time or another. Loved to the extreme? Ummm, not words any of us would have used. But she meddled, she focused, she intervened. She knew what each of her children were doing when we lived at home, at all times. I yearned for a mother who "had a life" other than her kids' lives.

Here I am a career mom, but am I getting soft? Will Sadie judge me the same way as I judged my mom?

I used to be known as being somewhat "contrarian" in my ways. I know more than a few of my partners at my former firm (and a lot more than a few associates) who would say that I have been, let's say, difficult on occasion. Not particularly understanding of others' priorities when it came to my transaction.  Sometimes argumentative. Kind of a bitch, some days, a few would say. I wouldn't say that this is a requirement for a female attorney with a financing/transactional practice, but the few that I have met over the years that do what I do, we all face the same criticisms.  People don't usually refer to us as most agreeable. Or laid back. Or grateful. A ball of fire, yes. Maybe pretty fun once the closing dinner comes along, yes. But appreciative of life's blessings? Humble?  Not so much.  A partner at another firm who I knew, but really hadn't stayed in touch with after having Sadie, ran into me after I moved to my part-time counsel role at my current job.  "I was really surprised when I heard you left the partner role," she said to me.  "You never seemed the type of woman who would give that up voluntarily... I think you will have it back in no time," she laughed.

Sometimes I wonder if Sadie will know me as a mom who had character, and spine, and independence when a lot of days now, I would rather be at the Song Fest than anywhere else. Yesterday she just saw a woman standing on her chair trying to get the perfect picture while tears were swimming in her eyes. I am just so grateful for this kid. I am so grateful to go through life as her mother, to have some afternoons and most every evening to talk with her, explain things, engage in debates, read to her, laugh with her, lay with her, listen to her. I am so grateful to be the person that she reaches for, that she waves to when she leaves, that she runs to when I come home. She is at such a fun age, going through such a great stage.  I honestly can't get enough of it.

Will she grow up suffocated by this love? I hope not. Will I become the dreaded helicopter parent that wants to be present at every occasion? I hope not. But for now, I can't stop feeling blessed.  I can't stop feeling like God gave me this tremendous gift to be her parent. And I am so very grateful for it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stay just like this... now.

We had a wonderful weekend. In all honesty, we have had an incredible month.

Sadie made the transition to another new nanny in the middle of November, and Mark and I can't believe how fast and how well she has adjusted to another change. Our new nanny was truly an answer to a prayer and she is already feeling like a member of our family. Sadie bonded to her very quickly, and nothing could make me happier. Even in our very chilly last couple weeks, the house has been warm with celebration as they make cookies, lots of great art projects, and play pretend games like turning the house into a restaurant complete with menus, waitresses, and quite an array of choices. It is a wonderful feeling -- Mark and I both remarked the other evening -- to come home and hear Sadie laughing and singing, so very happy with what she is doing.

And thus, the weekends have been great too. We saw The Nutcracker for the first time yesterday. Sadie didn't quite make it though the length of the production -- she and her best friend Bella insisted on sharing their seat and once things got a little scrunched (in the second hour), there was a little bit of a battle over who was going to move :) And I forgot to bring a snack (the play was from 2-4:15 or so) and the lines for the food there were way too long during the intermission. We have learned that Sadie is a different child when she gets some nuts or some other protein mid morning and mid-afternoon for her snacks.

Today we rewarded her great behavior recently with letting her sit up in the balcony at Church. She loved being so close to the choir, and most of all, the massive organ that is St. James's.  There was a few times that my heart skipped a few beats as I worried that she was about to thrust the hymnal over the balcony's edge to the crowd down below, but that never happened. And up and down the stairs we went, first for Children's Chapel during the sermon (kids go to another smaller chapel), then to sit on the stairs of the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and finally during Communion.  Sadie loves going to Church though, and I could use the extra stair climbing workout.

It is nice to be writing this blog about how great things are, rather than sitting at the computer researching  the Internet to see if a developmental phase will pass. It is tempting to want to freeze her right here, right now. She is so loving, so apologetic when she misbehaves. She wants to do chores... loves to help sort the laundry, put it in the washer, fold her sheets up (though most of that happens on the rug in her room, which no doubt has some dog hair on it).  She helps me unload the dishwasher, and puts the silverware away. Pinch me and wake me up!!

I love to see her growing and changing, but it scares me sometimes to see how fast it happens. We received a Christmas card from a wonderful friend from my childhood this week and her grandchildren, who I babysat for when they were infants when I was in college... two of them recently got engaged. Shouldn't they still have their braces on? Speaking of braces, one of my nieces got hers off recently and I just saw some profile pictures she posted on Facebook which are... quite grown-up.  Not in a bad way... but not in the fun loving wide ear to ear grin that I am used to seeing. I won't stop them from all growing up, I just want to freeze my own little one.

I remember when Sadie would wake up during the night for, let's say, maybe 2 years?? Something like that. And I would think "when will this pass??" I was impatient.  Now she sleeps on, very well, from 8:00 last night to 7:40 this morning, and woke up in the best mood that Mark and I can ever remember. Pinch me.

The days do fly quickly, and what I can do is write about them. Try to memorialize the funny things she still says. The way that she has asked me so many times how Jesus could be born in the manger with no doctor there, and then resolved it as she play acted with her own manger and found some hospital equipment under the hay. She's a creative girl, always finding the solution. I just need to listen for it every day.  She has indeed completed our family.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We Decorate to the Extreme

This is our house. Yes, our gingerbread house, but it kind of looks like our real house too. Ok, well not really. But it isn't so far off the mark. We love Christmas decorations. I am actually not sure where this stemmed from in my case. My parents were never without a wreath on the front door, and I remember a childhood "chore" being the one who had to go around and plug in each of the candles in the lanterns every night (my mother can't believe that Mark and I leave ours plugged in all the time). But we never had lights on trees outside, or bushes. The inside was decorated, but I remember the tree always went up around the middle of December. Mark and I put our tree up here on the Friday after Thanksgiving. 
In fact, just the other night we agreed that our tree might not make it until Christmas with all the needles that it is quickly dropping (most of them, on my head as I crawl under it to water it every morning and night, as thankfully it is still drinking). This would be the first year that we had to get two trees for one location (we do have three threes in the house, so getting more than one tree is not that unusual for us actually). I can't imagine taking down the tree and all the decorations to just put it up again, so that would be a first.

The Christmas before Sadie was born, we were moving on December 27th. We were moving to a house whose property line was actually 12 feet from our then-current house. And in the Fan of Richmond, where houses are built on an eighth of an acre I think, saying we were "a stone's throw away" means literally that I could throw a stone, accurately, out of the dining room window of one house into the kitchen window of another, with little effort.  We still needed a moving company (most importantly to empty the attic of our first house, which was stuffed full with no easy way to get items out of, especially for a woman in her third trimester). 

But notwithstanding the move, and the fact that I was due with Sadie in March and had basically sworn off any activities that required any more exertion than growing said child, we decided to put up a Christmas tree at our old house. And since Mark was helping the movers move our belongings as well as finish the actual remodel of the new house (we moved in three weeks before the kitchen was usuable), I was the one in charge of decorating and undecorating the tree. It was still worth it. I remember standing in the old house with no furniture left in it, taking ornaments off of the tree, and thinking to myself that it was still worth it.

So far, this is the best Christmas we have ever had. Sadie's yet to catch anything more than a cold (knock on wood, she usually has an ear infection or strep by this week annually). And she is so into Christmas. Last year, I remember how she was learning Deck The Halls and singing it enough that we grabbed the video camera to preserve her newly understandable voice. This year she sings every song. And she randomly makes up her own songs, all of them praising the birth of Jesus Christ in some totally exaggerated way, while working in Santa, reindeer, and her list, all in one song. It is just so cute to watch. She is loving toward Mark and I and Daisy in a whole new way. It is just really cute. It is like the celebration of the season that Mark and I take to the extreme has really been passed on to her. 

Sure one day, she might choose to take a different path. I now practice a different religion than that which I grew up in (Catholicism), and I sure do a lot of things differently than my parents did. But right now, it is really fun having a mini-me (or mini-us, giving Mark some credit). It is a great Christmas so far, and to think, we are only half-way through Advent!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Depth of Faith

When we were at the beach this fall, with no prompting, Sadie laid down in the sand and proclaimed that she was making "sand angels" instead of snow angels. I remember again thinking that God has touched my daughter in a very real and special way, and a way that as an adult, I am lucky to witness this.

There have been a over-flowing handful of moments in my life where I have felt God's presence in a dramatic and tangible way. Without exception, all of those times were times of joy and celebration. For those friends from Mt. Vernon days, there was Youth Encounter in high school, and so very many youth group events at Good Shepherd where we all felt physically touched (or "zonked by the Holy Spirit" as my mother used to say).

In adulthood, those times continued. The moment Mark asked me to marry him was certainly memorable, but even more poignant for me was about an hour after that as we walked across a field from the restaurant where we got engaged over dinner, I remember looking up in the dark sky of Irvington, Virginia and thanking God, feeling His presence. 

When Mark and I were married, as we stood on the black and white tiled floor of the altar at St. James's, I remember an instant where I felt like God was sitting right there with me, in a very real and tangible way. While the moment of Sadie's birth was incredibly special, there was another moment when Mark and I were putting her to bed in the bassinet that my mother used for all of us, and she must have been only a month or so old, when I looked down at Sadie's face and I just felt God there, right there, and I just wept from the magnitude of that feeling. 

Last Sunday Mark and Sadie hung all of our colored Christmas lights in the back yard. Mark agreed that he would do a "test run" for Sadie to see them lit, but this would be the only time they are turned on until December 1st. We warmed up some apple cider and the three of us sat on our back porch's steps, drinking from our mugs and looking out over our tree-lit back yard. He was there. It was tangible. Big tears rolled down my cheeks as I thanked God again for my family. Our next door neighbor called and said we looked like a post card sitting out there.

So, I feel like I have my whole Faith-thing down in moments of joy.

But not so much in moments of darkness.

And yet, that is, by the essence of the term, that is when Faith is what it is. It is pretty easy to Believe when there is proof everywhere around you. I have no problem Believing in God and Jesus and the fundamentals of Christianity when I look at my daughter and it is clear to me, proven to me, that she is not of only me. That something higher than me created her, blessed her, blessed me by giving her to me. Those moments when I felt touched, it was easy to feel like God was there. Whenever two ore more are gathered in my name, yes, I agree!

But it is the times of just one, of only one gathered, of one walking alone on the beach, it is less clear then. Notwithstanding the poem Footprints, it is really hard to accept that it is then, we are carried.

We are not in a period of complete darkness right now. We are not undergoing any health scares. All of our parents, Sadie's grandparents, are all still alive. We are entering Mark's and my favorite time of the year, Christmas carols are already being played, the manger is set up (well, one manger of the ten plus that we have). Tangible signs of our practiced Faith are abundant.

But we continue to have changes. We continue to find something lacking in our lives. So many things are easy, but the ones that are hard, that aren't perfect, those seem to cloud the others. The days fly by. Days of working in an office, planning travels, conference calls. Dinner is upon us and I nuke some broccoli and put in a Trader Joe's pizza.  "I hate this food" someone says (and here's a clue, it wasn't Sadie who said it!) and I think to myself "Why can't I get this right?". Why are most moments still rushed, hurried, alone, not blessed? Snarky comments. A computer locking up. Not having time to learn something. Being rushed in a bed time routine. I hear myself saying "Sadie, I am counting to three right now..." so many times, she has started begging me "Please no more counting!!".  Last night I was exasperated and said "Sadie, why are you acting like this???"  Because I am three. Because this is what I do. Because I need to test you every few days to make sure indeed your love is unconditional. "Do you still love me?" she has said a few times. Of course I do, I tell her a million times. I hate that she asks though. Then again, she has asked me many times why there are lane dividers on highways. I guess the questions just keep coming and I shouldn't make too much of any of them.

So back to Faith. Faith in times of change. Faith in times of happiness, but in times of frustration too.Still learning.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Head and Body

I love to color. I would not say that I am artistic, though I have attempted my share of pottery and painting classes over the years thinking that there must be some creativity in me yet unleashed, but they never revealed anything great. In fact, as much as I have some incredibly creative friends (my best friend in college is an art teacher now, yet none of her skills rubbed off on me), I have never found the patience to "practice" art enough to actually have a hope at getting better at it. I practice running and other forms of exercise; I practice reading; I attempt to practice cooking; and oh yea, I do practice law. But art... it is one of those things that I would sit in various art classes over the years and just not have the patience to enjoy it. I was just bad enough to want to improve, but too bad to think it was possible. And this didn't really bother me actually, I just figured it wasn't my shtick and moved on to something that I showed tangible improvement with, such as running.

But oh, I love to color, with Sadie.

Being the third of four children growing up in the 1970s, we didn't have much in the way of "art supplies". I remember my father's old dress shirts being used as smocks, so we must have painted. And I remember a roll of newsprint that my mother kept in the basement and we would tear off long sheets of paper to do something artistic with, but I don't really remember what. As much as my parents relished in creating time consuming (and pricey) fourth of July projects every year of my late teens and 20s, this was not a childhood memory of mine.  The packet of construction paper that my mother kept in her closet had permanent fade lines (the packet must have sat in the sun on our kitchen table or something, so one side of a piece of red paper was more like a tannish brown from fading).

Today I told Sadie the story that I never had new crayons as a child. I thought this story was timely and important since Sadie loves taking the paper off of her crayons and sharpening and resharpening until they are nubs, and now we probably only have 45 or so crayons from the packet of 64.  All of my crayons growing up were hand-me-downs (or communally owned) from Lisette and Scott. In fact, I remember one day seeing my mother come home with a brand new box of 64 crayons when I was 6, and I remember the feeling of excitement. She had bought them (plus 20+ spiral notebooks and the like) during a Sunday afternoon trip to a drug store called Dart Drug, presumably for school supplies. I was thrilled, my first set of new crayons. And I laugh as I remember my older sister telling me in the nicest way possible that they weren't for me, or for her or Scott, as Lisette had somehow discovered that my mother was pregnant with who was to be my younger sister, and the crayons would be for the new baby!  This is not a sad memory or a 'woe is me' memory at all, for it must have been later that night that we did confront my parents and they did share the wonderful news of our expanding family, and I didn't bring up the crayons. But I honestly don't ever remember getting them to use. I really do think that my mother bought them for Carolyn. My mother still has a crazy habit of buying things to use YEARS in advance if the price is right at the time (thus the construction paper, probably decades old by the time I used it).  She is one of those people that never is without a box of spaghetti noodles, but the 12 that she has in her cupboard are probably more than 5 years old.

But back to Sadie... I love to color with Sadie. And she is just really beginning to love art. In fact, just over the past couple weeks, she turned the corner on her own and started putting bodies on people as she drew them. Last March, the pediatrician asked Sadie to draw a happy person on, of all things, the top of the tongue depressor with a ball point pen. I was so proud to see Sadie's perfectly shaped happy face. And then from the sides, right next to the ears sprung arms and then below the chin, sprang legs. The pediatrician laughed and said that while a child knows his or her body parts, the cleared vision is of the face so that is what is drawn.

And so, just recently, Sadie has started drawing the body. So instead of asking me to do the outline of it so she can put on shoes, arms, and plenty of rings and bracelets, she does it now. And the grass is often green, and the sun yellow. The letters are written in a cute vertical fashion. And while the "E" usually has 4+ horizontal lines, the "S" is now front facing. And she can draw petals on flowers. I used to do the petals, and she did the nectar. We were a team that way.

So long longer am I hearing, as much, "you draw it Mommy."  Or even worse "I am not good at writing."  Sure there are times she isn't in the mood or would rather peel the crayon paper off. But more often than not, my role now is to tape the finished product up on the door.

I love how she is growing up. I loved every minute of today with her. No tantrums, no sullenness.

She saw a statue on Monument that had an angel figure on it (Jefferson Davis, for you Richmondites) and she asked me what the angel was doing. I said I wasn't sure, and a few minutes later she said "I think she is pointing to heaven, so others will know the way, and maybe she is doing that so Lily will know the way back and she can come back to us on earth."  She is deep.

I am glad to be at the head and body stage, even if it means that I am not as needed to color. Because she has a lot bigger questions going on with which I can help.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Do you [ever] work?" she asked...

The "ever" was implied, not actually said. But definitely implied.

This comment was said to me this morning. As I was taking Sadie to school. By someone who probably meant well, but it just didn't come across that way.

As a working mother, I have often felt like I needed to justify why I do what I do. Its a complicated decision, not one that either Mark or I took lightly. And one that we seem to revisit endlessly, especially during the last year. Do I need to work? There is not an easy answer to that question. In this economy, giving up a very well paying job is something that we can't take lightly.  We bought our house on Monument at the height of the real estate market and then renovated it from four apartments to the great single family home that it is. There are several houses that have been foreclosed upon in the block just east of us, and countless houses that have been for sale for the last 6-12 months, and remain unsold. Public schools in our area have certain drawbacks (and benefits, I agree) and the private schools are not inexpensive. And job security isn't something that is abounding in our community, let alone our field.  It is not easy to turn down a well-paying job at 41, especially in a field that is notorious about its obstacles to re-entry. I don't judge the women who have decided to stay home -- and I am jealous of them. But for us, this just isn't a smart option, right now.

When I went part-time this summer, it was after a lot of hand-wringing. I was giving up the goodwill, friendships and working relationships, client relations, and a multitude of other things at one place to start fresh at another firm, to make less money, but be guaranteed less hours. Again, a decision that we didn't make lightly. And one that the transition to hasn't been easy. I come to work, do my work, and go home. I don't hang out and socialize like I did at my old firm -- in fact, I pretty much don't talk to anyone. Am I happy there? Well yes, I am happy what being there does for my life. I get far more Sadie-time. Less money, but less stress.

I am an attorney. I have been an associate and a partner at a large firm. Long hours, endless deals... these are not unknowns to me. I have billed dozens of 18 hour days. I have missed family holidays. I have cried and slept in the office many times. I know what all of this means. I am glad I did it, but am more glad that I am not doing it now.

But just like some people "work from home", there are times that I spend now "homing from work" and I am not ashamed of this. There are times that I linger longer than maybe is necessary with Sadie in the morning, or I run home at lunch. I schedule an appointment during the work hours. I feel like these balance out, though. Because before I give Sadie her bath, I am notoriously on the blackberry at 7 pm at night. And before I go to sleep myself, I am sending more emails and tying up loose ends. Gone (for now at least) are the days where I am tackling substantive work projects for hours on end at night, but in the world of 24-7 accessibility, there is not a night that goes by that I am not responsive, and responding!

So maybe yes, I do work. My hours aren't necessarily set, or maybe they aren't conventional. But they are meaningful. 

I won't lie -- I see women getting promoted to senior executive positions in companies and part of me is jealous. I used to think that was a path that I would be on. Having my first child at 37 effectively means that most of my friends my same age, at 41, have teenagers. Teenagers that need guidance and attention, certainly, but not the same as Sadie commands. Those moms, in my opinion, have more time. And sometimes I feel like they have more drive. It wasn't long ago that I had that drive. Today I took a shower before work and got here before 9:30 -- that's about the most drive I could muster. My daughter will be a teenager and maybe at that point, I will also free up. But gosh, at that point, I will be dealing with osteoporosis, among other things I am sure.

My life is what it is, and with it, I am happy. Content? Well rested? Stimulated intellectually? Hmmmm. But non-judgmental, yes. Most definitely.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Advent, Lent and Ordinary Time

Growing up Catholic, I knew the the "seasons" of the Church calendar at one time. Now, not so much. But I do know the Big Three, and for different reasons, I love each of them.

Advent, of course, is the season anticipating Christ's birth. I am not ashamed to admit that I have taken the Christmas season (which technically follows Christmas) and super-imposed it onto Advent. I love the carols, I love all of the decorations. While we read Sadie her favorite book "Fancy Nancy's Splendiforous Christmas" almost every night, I can't fathom waiting until Christmas Eve to put up and decorate your tree. We will be lucky if we wait until the day after Thanksgiving to do ours. I just love everything about the anticipatory feeling of waiting for Christ's birth. And I love the whole manger concept, that it was the pure souls of the animals who received Him first. Sadie has another book called "Room for Little One" that has the most beautiful illustrations of the animals who invite the Tired Donkey (and Mary and Joseph) into the stable "There's always room for a little one here." after they invite all the other animals needing shelter and safe care. It is like the first time we turn on the radiator heat in our tall drafty house... there is just instant warmth. We love Advent.

And the last few years, we have loved Lent too. In the past for me, Lent was always a time of suffering and doing-without. I remember the rainy season in college in Williamsburg, and to me, that epitomized Lent. Duck boots, eyes cast downward, sprinting from class to class. Waiting for Spring. More anticipation, but not like the happy anticipation of Advent.  Until, that is, my third tri-mester with Sadie.

Lent with Sadie was not a season of doing-without.  It was indulgent, and not just in terms of food. Everything in my life was full in the most marvelous way. I truly felt like Jesus rose for us a few months early and I had him all to myself. Never before in my life did I feel that I embodied a Blessing in my belly like I did with Sadie those last few months of pregnancy.  Lent has always meant something more to me since then. It doesn't mean suffering, it means contemplation. It means making yourself ready.

And there is a lot to be said for Ordinary Time. In fact, we could use a few more weeks of it honestly in our house. Just some stillness. The weekends fly by with such rapid speed now that I blink, and they are over. And yet my nights of insomnia or restlessness and worry, those seem to drag on. Sadie calls me at work and begs me "when are you going to come home Mama?" and my heart breaks for her. And yet I get there sometimes, and she chooses a silly television show over our time together and I realize that she is growing up and really doesn't need me the way that she used to.  And then, hours later, I lay in her bed with her and she holds my hand as she falls asleep and I pray inside my head "stay like this forever little girl, know that I adore you."  The moments pass though, there is too much to be done, to get ready for this or that, to clean up from that or this.

I want the next two weeks to fly by, and yet, I want some moments to last forever. 

Saturday we took Sadie apple picking at Carter's Mountain Orchard. Sadie was so excited about going to the mountains, she had been asking about it all week. We turned off the main road to take the road up the mountain and she was gleeful in the back seat. "I love it here!!" she called out. Just from the beauty of seeing it. Just from the elevation lifting her upward in a car. She was gleeful!  She is such a celebratory child. And there I am, teary with emotion "remember this moment remember this moment remember this moment" I told myself as I watched her see the Purple Mountains Majesty for the first time in her life.

I found this picture today... it was a picture my parents took at their house the day Mark and I announced to them that we were pregnant. This picture is all seasons, Lent, Advent and Ordinary Time. Nothing guaranteed that this pregnancy would last... I think this picture was probably taken within a week of a positive test. We didn't know what exactly we were anticipating by this point. And honestly, things felt  pretty darn ordinary here.  We were just enjoying it. We were hopeful.

That's what I want for right now. I just want a few weeks of being hopeful. Not worrying about the consequences. Not wondering if I have made a good or bad decision in the past.  I want just a mini-season of Hope.  Maybe after all, that's what Advent is.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Slowing Down

After traveling the last two weekends, I was excited to be in town for this one. Lots of friends I know go out of town weekend after weekend but this is not a lifestyle that I adjust to well. Both the last two weekends (one in Duck with Sadie's godmother and her family, and then last weekend in Irvington for a wonderful Webb family wedding) were mentally and physically consuming, wonderful memories -- but coming home to a house that needed the weekend of attention, not getting it, and three loads of laundry to run starting at 8 pm on a Sunday night. I fell out of the rhythm of working out, we ate out a ton,  yada yada yada.

So I was so excited to spend this weekend at home. My list of what to do was long and detailed.

And then, Friday, our new nanny got run into in our car. Thankfully, Sadie was not with her. And I say this first because Sadie was not injured. But second, honestly, I can think of nothing worse right now than getting into an accident and having the running commentary of my three year old detailing the next hour while you waited for a police officer, sorted through insurance information, made sure that the other driver accepted fault, talked to witnesses, etc. I adore my child, and I wouldn't wish her presence on my worst enemy in that circumstance!  She has an uncanny ability right not to see the "crack in the armor" and exacerbate it enough to fly a jet airplane through.

So the weekend started out with my Friday night plans getting out of sync, and we opted to eat out instead of in. And then we got a great dinner invitation from a couple in Sadie's class to have dinner with a few other parents and their kids on Saturday night. We had a ball there, but of course, the laundry didn't get done or the closet organized, both of which were on my Saturday evening agenda. Aren't I fun??

But truly, we had a blast at this small gathering. Sadie and the other girls ran around non stop for 3 hours. Mark and I had great conversation, and great wine, with two other couples. We literally had not a care in the world. I realized how much I miss going out and being social. But when I am away from Sadie all week, and we pay sitters $15 an hour when we go out without her, it is really nice to go out and bring Sadie with us and not have to watch her like a hawk the whole time. We really had a great time!

And tonight, we had the Willow Oaks Halloween Party. This is one of our favorite parties year after year. They have a DJ there and the kids love to dance. This year Sadie is really good at the chicken dance, the YMCA song by the Village People, and so many others. I really enjoyed dancing with her too!  She dances with true Misage style concentration -- her tongue is usually out.

But one of the best parts about this weekend was what she and I did yesterday for an hour and today for about two -- we collected food for her plastic pink butterfly named Bite. This butterfly is something Mark picked up one day at a convenience store counter, literally at the check out line, which you can wind up and the wings will flap. I don't believe it works anymore. And while it was immediately loved, it (I should say "she") was lost for the last couple months. But she has been re-found, and now she is hungry, Sadie is constantly reminding me. She doesn't eat what we eat, at least if given the choice. She would rather have milkweed (which Sadie knows grows on trees) or yesterday we discovered how much she really liked clovers from cloverpatches. Today we added some branches to it. And both days, we had to bring home hundreds of yellow and red and brown leaves that had fallen into the median of Monument. And some fresh new grass that seems to be growing on some places in our neighborhood park. We spent hours crouching around, she and I, choosing just the right assortment of things to bring home to Bite to dine on.

During those hours... Sadie was largely focused on the task at hand but she would talk to me while doing it, and many times she told me how glad she was that I was helping her. I was impressed with how important she believed this all to be. And how she didn't give up on the game (it wasn't a game she told me a few times). The weather was beautiful, and while I looked at my watch a few times, I am so glad I spent the hours doing just what we did together both days.  She teaches me to live in the moment, in the hour, in the day... instead of conquering the task list.  This is a lesson that I have resisted from every teacher for the past 41 years. I am so glad I am learning it finally, now.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

She's never met a stranger she didn't know...

Yesterday, Sadie was a flower girl in her cousin Ryan's wedding in Irvington, Virginia.  Sadie had only attended one other wedding in her life (well, not counting our wedding, in which Sadie likes to tell everyone she was a baby in my tummy because one time I thought it might be easier to just tell that white lie when she got all teary and asked if we left her alone in a hotel room while we got married, since she couldn't conceive of her not being with us for such an important event) (and shockingly, now she loves to repeat this untruth any chance she has). So in any event, she wasn't really prepared for her flower girl role. Mark and I wanted to play up the excitement because we both love weddings, and we really love any reason to get a family together from far and wide (especially for an event for which I don't have to stuff a bird or clean my house, or both!).  As our parents are getting older and even friends and family our age have passed away recently, being together really is a reason for celebration!  But Sadie, at 3.5, can be... well, um... let's just say "unpredictable" especially when she needs to perform. And as you readers know, we have had our share of change of late which adds to a little bit of chaos in said 3.5 year old's predictive behavior.

So as much as we had the wedding on our calendar and told her about her role, we didn't want to make it into too big of an affair. And we weren't able to get to Irvington early enough on Friday to actually attend the wedding rehearsal at the small Catholic church in the next town over. Kudos to the bride who was more than fine with that. I figured if we got Sadie to walk down the aisle once, it would be a success. But knowing my kid, she would do it great for the rehearsal and then refuse a repeat performance at the actual wedding, so we left the rehearsing up to those who really needed to know where to stand, the grown-ups.

So upon entering the Church 30 minutes before the wedding and seeing Jesus on the cross, she asked loudly for everyone to hear "WHO IS THAT??"  I had to laugh, since I had grown up Catholic and everyone Catholic knows that you never see a cross in a Catholic church that doesn't have Jesus upon it; and yet we are raising Sadie in the Episcopal faith where you never see Jesus on the cross. I said to her "That's Jesus" thinking that telling a lie in a church of all places wasn't really an option.  She paused for a moment and then said "What happened to him up there?"  I am not sure actually how we got off of that track onto the flower girl role, but we did.

And truthfully, I have no idea how she looked going down the aisle of the small church since I was hanging in the back, ready to give her the appropriate shove-off if she needed it (or more importantly, the glare if she dare turned around like she might want to come back). But she made it up the aisle without a pause.

 And while I am proud of her for that, I have to say, I am more proud of her for what resulted at the reception. My girl, she simply rocked!

There were only a few other kids there, but the band was fantastic and the grown-ups were all in the mood to dance. And Sadie didn't sit many songs out. She had no hesitation to show her dancing moves in the middle of the floor, shaking her hips, hopping along. Mark and I watched her ask unfamiliar male faces (most of whom were in their late 20s and had attended Hampton Sydney with the groom) if they wanted to dance.   All of them had a ball with her. One guy came up to Mark and I afterwards and said "She's hilarious... you can tell she's never met a stranger she didn't know."

And I thought to myself, and I sit here thinking about this now, that is one thing that I love most about my daughter. She has gone through some phases in her short life where she has been a little shy, and has clung to me, or her nanny, many times during some transitional phase or another. But now, she just really has come into her own. She seizes the moment. And she reminds me to do that too.  She is just a really happy and outgoing kid!

I have always been an extrovert. And as the third of four kids... I was never shy. For if you didn't speak up in my house, you wouldn't get fed!  But you don't always expect that personality trait in an only child.   But at least for now, we seem to have the life of the party living amongst us.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Accepting Half-Assed

One of the hardest things about motherhood has been learning to be satisfied with getting things done half-assed.  My father was an eye-doctor who worked with the same partner in the same building in Old Town, Alexandria, for more than 40 years. He sold his practice a few weeks after he turned 65 and he and my mother sold their house in Mt. Vernon and moved to Williamsburg, Virginia. While I had no legal skills with which to help him on the sale of his practice (I am not sure my father understood how inapplicable my legal skills would be to family matters like estate planning, real estate matters, and sales of small businesses when he agreed to pay for my law school education), I remember sitting down with him and asking him if we would consider going just cutting back, maybe consulting, taking a few extra days off a week or setting a more relaxed schedule instead of retiring completely. And his answer was "I can't do something half-assed."

That's how my father has always been. If he set his mind to cleaning the rec room or the garage at our house growing up, it meant that he would take every single item out of said space and wash down the walls, vacuum the floors... I recall getting a steel wool pad out to clean our basement floor with him more than once. Every Spring and Fall he would take every storm window and screen off of our house (in my mind now, while they have been gone more than seven years, I can count 15 windows), wash them off with Mr. Clean in the driveway, dry them meticulously, and wash and dry all of the windows on the house, then put back all of the storm windows and screens, and finally, wash the driveway!  He not only would wash the chandelier in the dining room and kitchen when company was coming, he would actually wipe the dust off the light bulbs too.  My mother had a similar cleaning mentality, so I can't sell her short by not mentioning her. We didn't have a cleaning lady growing up, but even with four kids, our house was never dirty or ill-maintained.

My first few years on my own, I probably met most of the standards of my upbringing. Even when Daisy and her perpetual state of shedding arrived, my homes were always pretty clean and organized (though admittedly, due to a cleaning lady). When I set my mind to a project, it was completed in the time and order I expected. I remember deciding I would make my own wedding veil instead of spend $200 for something that looked relatively simple. But instead of just one veil, I made three of them as I wanted to make sure that I had one fresh one for my wedding portrait, and just in case it got ruined I made an extra one for the wedding day and just in case it got ruined before the wedding, I made an extra one after that. Of course, none of them were ruined, so now I have three perfectly good wedding veils that I hope Sadie will find use for one day.

After graduating from law school, I moved six different times before Mark and I got married, and every time I moved I made sure that my bed was made and my bedroom fully organized before I would go to sleep the first night. Then I would spend the next few days unpacking every single box and organizing things. I never let things go unfinished.  Maybe my fetish was unhealthy and a little more of being just "Type A" or OCD, but it was my way of life.

I am almost a complete reversal of that person now. And every several weeks or so, I try to revert back to my "full ass" ways and end up flailing about for a few days barking orders at my husband to help me maintain order in the house, and collapsing into bed exhausted at night after fully finishing several tasks. This morning it hit me that I would be happier if I just accepted that this is the Stage of Half-Assed.

Mark's been out of town for three days. Sadie misses him and wants to talk to him repeatedly, but bedtimes have been a breeze because he sublet his half of our bed to her. Last night our routine was crazy -- I got home at 6, picked up a fed-ex package from my neighbor, walked Daisy right away with Sadie (it is my hope that her UTI's have been caused by holding her urine too long), realized that I had locked myself out of the house with the backdoor but the nanny didn't hear me so told Sadie to stay in the back yard while I ran around to the front door, let myself in the front door with said nanny only to see that Sadie was no longer in the backyard and had followed me and was now alone on Monument, grabbed her and admonished her but not enough to cause tears and thus ruin dinner, assemble dinner, spend 20 minutes trying to bribe Sadie to eat one more bite of something nutritious and withhold dessert, admonish Daisy is for barking at the table to eat Sadie's "something nutritious" (avec peanut butter) other than her own food, answer the phone call of Daisy's vet to discuss test results which are largely inclusive while Sadie begs for television time and Daisy is still begging for leftover peanut butter which is somewhere invisible to me but smellable by her though out of the reach of her lengthy tongue, quickly change out of work clothes, read some books, play a game, bed for Sadie at 8:00, complete with five stories in our bed (and she has learned to choose the five longest books she can find now) and trying to explain (or debate, rather) that the world and the earth are the same thing.  Last night I left her nodding off at 8:45.

I came downstairs and there gleaming in our foyer was a perfectly white box with a silver handle on it, my new iMac computer!!  It looked so inviting!  It was like it was chiming "set me up set me up" from the box. I even had a message from my father on my blackberry telling me how quickly he was able to set up my mother's a few weeks prior.

On the other hand, the cleaning lady was coming today, and I really needed to straighten up for her. And  the dinner dishes were still on the table in the kitchen; there were bills to be paid and mail to go through. And I needed to get out my Disney folder to organize it to call for dinner reservations at 7 am this morning; and I wanted to get my exercise DVD and clothes all laid out so I could work out from 6-6:40 this morning; and I promised Mark I would call him and let him know what the vet said when I talked to her after dinner; and so on and so on and so on.

In the end, I took the iMac and set it up on my desk upstairs, and reached facebook and sent a few emails from it. I clicked to open iPhoto and then closed it down, it would take more time than I had to learn it.  And I got the Disney folder out and laid it on the kitchen island and the put dishes in the dishwasher and started it. But nothing else on my list got done and I was in bed at 11 pm. And the poor cleaning lady came today to a house that is probably at its most cluttered state.

I know there are mothers out there who still maintain an organized house, a fit and exercised body, and get their mail sorted every night. There are countless chat rooms and blogs out there with helpful hints toward achieving the same. But I am not one of them, and frankly, I am tired of trying to meet that standard.  I think I am ready to accept the merits of Half-Assed.  My parents had two children already in college when they were 41 like I am -- they had far more energy raising toddlers in their 20s than I do raising them in my 40s. My mother used to lament that my father worked all the time but that's a laughable complaint now, as I remember his schedule and compare it to my own husband's (and mine!), who is out of town at least a few times a month and lives on the blackberry for work even while home.  It is just a different world now.

In reality though, my parents don't try to hold me up to their standards when they come visit (or even by email). My mother still sticks to some rules like a thank you note needs to be sent within a few days of receiving a gift though, and my father couldn't understand why I couldn't get the iMac up and running while the three year old was awake, so they haven't completely abandoned their old ways. But they largely look at me and my siblings (who are probably more Full-Assed than I am, admittedly) and tell us that we are doing a good job raising creative, imaginative, passionate, loving, good-natured and intelligent grandchildren for them, all things that they aspired to do with us. But I am my own sense of pressure most of the time, and like I said before, every few weeks I revert back to languishing about how organized I used to be.

So the struggle will probably always continue, in my own mind and my own journey. But today at least, half-assed feels damn good.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Choosing Health

Today's a cold wet day in Richmond, Virginia. I did my best and packed my lunch of broccoli, rye Wasa Crisp crackers, sardines and some cantaloupe. But I just wasn't feeling it... and I have the tell-tale-twitch in my throat which indicates that Sadie's cold has shockingly spread from her nose to my hand that holds the Kleenex for her to blow her nose. So I went to Wendy's instead, for the first time in the month that I have been working here. I got a kid's meal which was pretty good (I insist on no-HFCS ketchup at home and had forgotten how good plain old Heinz tastes).

But after lunch, I felt like I needed something sweet and unfortunately, turned to what has become a daily jaunt to the vending machines on the 2nd floor of my building for what has become a daily intake of a rice krispie treat.

So I slid in my dollar and pushed the buttons and the twistie thing twists and twists and low and behold, my rice krispie treat gets stuck in the last twist of the twistie thing, hanging precariously inside the machine. I look at it and for a moment I actually ask myself (inside my head) "Is this a sign that I am not supposed to eat this crap and start choosing health now??"  But before I really give myself any time to answer my own question, I lean into the machine with my right shoulder and give it a shove. Yes, 41 year old mother lawyer in a dress and heels decides to shoulder-butt the vending machine without barely a pause. And what happens?

The twistie thing actually gives about 5 new twists, so both my original paid for rice krispie treat comes out and it is followed by a SECOND ONE. Gratis!  A free treat. And then for about a split second, I ask myself (inside my head) "Is this a sign that I am supposed to have both?" And before I give myself time to answer my own question, I pick both up in my hands and hightail it back to my office.

And here I sit with the extra treat left. I ate the first one upon sitting down here, but the second one has given me pause.

I think I have been been on some sort of diet for the last 30 years or so. And I have always been trying to lose what dietitians now have termed "vanity pounds".  These are the pounds that squarely put you in the overweight category on the weight charts but fall short of the "obese" range. Sometimes I actually believe that I would rather be in the obese range so it would become more obvious that these need to be lost, instead of it just being a smart option. Kind of like when our nanny discovered she has Type 1 diabetes last year and she immediately tracked everything she ate and made smart choices, so she could use the right amount of insulin. For her it became a matter of life or death. But for me, it is really a matter of between a size 4 and a size 6 in most pairs of pants. Who cares what the scale says, I will tell myself, if I can still wear a size 4 in Talbot's pants. And if I can't, or if a 6 in another brand feels snug... I  just don't buy the pants. Yes, that is the mature thing to do... Instead of boycotting the food that makes me put on weight, I boycott the brand which don't provide size number that I like.

I have been super thin in the past. When Mark and I got engaged and then married, I was at my thinnest. But planning the wedding was a wonderfully happy source of anxiety, and Daisy and I lived together in a house from which I could ban all junk food and most carbs. While Mark and I used to eat out almost every meal of both weekend evenings, I was so regimented in my eating and my exercise during the week that it didn't matter. 

And then, I feel like we blinked and I was putting on weight either trying to get pregnant, or happily, when we were pregnant. And the weight just didn't come off easily after she was born. And now, she is 3 and 1/2 and I struggle to lose the last 10 pounds again and again and again. Less than 10% of my body weight, just a measly 10 pounds. I can lose about 5 of them and then, something in life happens, either good or bad. Either a dinner out to celebrate something wonderful, or a weekend at home where we relish in our family time and eat Trader Joe's pizza and gelato for dessert. Or stress.  A new job, a new nanny, a sick dog, a traveling husband, aging parents, tough questions posed by said 3 year old (last night's was "but what if you aren't my mom forever mommy, what if you switch?").  And before I know it, my scale is right back to where it was before I recommitted to try to lose the weight.

Exercising keeps me from being even more overweight (and from going clinically insane) but more exercise isn't really an option based on the time that I want to spend with Sadie at this stage (and given the fact that I had pregnancy insomnia, and she has been up pretty much at least once a night for the last 3.5 years, so by my calculations I still have about 9 more years where I am entitled to 8.5 hours of sleep before I catch up to where I was before conceiving her). I love to sleep actually. I love going to bed at 9:30 and sleeping until 7:30, which I think I did last night (interrupted once by said child standing by the side of my bed wanting a Kleenex and then, to sleep in the middle). But I also love thin crust  pizza that has lots of sodium in the crust. And I love gelato. And I love red wine.

Other than that though, we eat really healthy at home. We eat almost all organic, and minimal junk food. I eat plenty of veggies, fruits, and most of the time only whole grains. I get plenty of fatty acids and omega 3's and 6's (I must eat more than most... I don't have many friends bringing sardines in their lunch boxes).  When I had to get my cholesterol down this summer, I added 1/2 of a cup of toasted oats to my greek yougurt every morning. We don't keep cakes, brownies, or donuts around the house, so Sadie eats pretty well too.

But it is when I am at work, or when I am tired, or when I am lonely, overwhelmed, and when I fret... those are the times that I just yearn for the pleasant feeling that one gets from eating something decadent. And for that moment or two, all of the planning that I have done for the last few weeks, all of the books that I have read and magazine articles about healthy eating, all of the wonderful visits with my dietician... they go out the window. And my motivation dissolves.

I don't need two rice krispie treats. And I don't need to sit here and worry about things I can't fix, at least, not right here and right now. And I do need to realize that eating rice krispie treats are really not going to make me feel better or have any effect whatsoever on said things that I am worrying about trying to fix.

I don't know anything about raising boys, and honestly, I probably don't know much about raising girls either. But I have learned a thing about raising my girl and that is that when I tell her she is so beautiful right now and that I am the luckiest mom in the whole world because I get to be her mom, she believes me. She doesn't doubt her own beauty or her own worth. And while she loves ice cream and cupcakes, she will leave a bowl half finished if she isn't hungry anymore. I am pretty sure that she would eat the first rice krispie treat without much thinking out loud or in her head. But probably not the second one.  And I know that she wants nothing more than a mother to be with her and promise forever. And the liklihood of forever decreases maybe ever so slightly with each rice krispie treat. And I am more fun, I can climb more structures at the play ground, I can run faster races around the park, I can catch her and flip her and hold her longer if I am stronger and healthier myself.  And that's what I want too. I just want forever.

And until then, I will take being more strict with my diet until Christmas time. The treats of that season are much better than this darn machine made rice krispie treat anyway!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Conquering Fear

We took Sadie to the Virginia State Fair on Friday, and this was her favorite "ride". I am not even sure that we can call it a ride, as it didn't take a ticket, but instead was a $5 cash item which she insisted she do, even though her friend Bella was not ready to try it with her (or after her, even though Sadie said it was fun). This picture, and the actual jumping contraption, immediately reminded me of a Sex And The City episode when Carrie learns to to do some similar act of bungee jumping to overcome some sense of fear and start anew.

I am a fretter. While I have a tremendous sense of faith and confidence on so many areas of life, there are instances every year since law school that I really get lost in the act of fretting. This only happens over certain events though, and generally speaking, I don't really think I live with anxiety. But it happens, and it has gotten worse since Sadie was born. I pretty much spent my entire maternity leave fretting and researching Sadie's birthmark on her face (a hemangioma) while she sat in the swing or jumpee seat beside my computer. It is probably the only thing I regret in life is wasting so many of those days.

On the other hand, I am adventurous and spontaneous about so many facets of my life. And I am happy-go-lucky-come-what-may about so many other areas.  But the things that I choose to fret about, I really take fretting to the extreme. And it isn't events like taking the Bar or running a marathon that bring it on. Even in the high stress environment created by being a partner at a law firm, there are only a handful of times that work has ever stressed me out, and every one of them was really driven by events outside of work that were happening at the same time. Everyone who has seen the great disarray inside of my office (and currently, my house) would know that I am pretty far from being OCD. And my nickname in college was Millie, given to me by my sophomore  hall for my propensity to mill around instead of buckling down to study and complete assignments. Study breaks were really much more my thing.

But somehow between youth and now, between living-blind-to-consequences and being-a-grown-up, I developed a real ability to fret about things. Unfortunately, most of the time, they are things that I haven't much, or any ability, to really control.

And that's been the last few weeks for us. The Summer Of Change drew to a close and we made so many transitions, me to a new job and leaving partnership to begin at a new firm as a part-time of counsel, all of us losing our nanny for the last nearly 3 years and Sadie forming a new bond with a new sitter who would be with her during the afternoons since Sadie would be in preschool 5 mornings a week. September was earmarked for transition, and I thought that we would be all settled in by October to experience our favorite three months of the year and all the holidays that they contain.

But Daisy has been stricken with repeated urinary tract infections, so that she will finish a course of antibiotics for one week only to display the tell tale signs of an infection the next weekend, and Mark again was a the emergency vet with her last night for three hours and nearly $700 later as they checked for what the doctors believe might be something as serious as cancer. Sadie has the first of many coughs and colds. And along with this wonderful phase of talking in depth about everything under the sun and really understanding concepts, she asks the most troubling questions about why do people leave, why do things die, why do people get mad, and does so-and-so still love her (much of the time, it is me she is asking about). These things are keeping me up at night, as I lay there and wonder if we have scarred her by all of these changes, are we making the right decisions for her and for us, and will I regret them one day. And while I spent the summer really targeting my cholesterol and getting that number down after a physical in June, other numbers are creeping up and I have realized that even with my daily exercise (well ok, most days), I feel old, and if it isn't one ailment that shows up, its a freaking other one. It is driving me crazy.

Last Wednesday I spent the morning volunteering in Sadie's class, and it was the best day that I have had in months. But I had to laugh when Mark pointed out that of course it was fun, the teachers did all the work preparing the class for me and all I had to do was waltz in as the volunteer and sit down to a class full of behaving children while I read Corduroy.

And so, I continue to fret. I tell myself to worry about the things that I can actually change and not those that I can't, and instead of just worrying, to write down steps of things I can do to change them, and then act. But its hard. I saw this picture and I wished that getting over this difficult phase was as easy as attaching myself to this contraption and then jumping with all my might for 10 minutes like Sadie did. But in reality, that hasn't stopped her questioning, and it would likely not stop mine either.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Cupcake Phase

During my run Wednesday morning (most blog topics come to me during my runs), I was thinking about what a wonderful phase we are in with Sadie right now. A few weeks into 3 and-a-half and I think I can say, out loud, that I have the daughter I always dreamed of. Mark said commented on it a few nights ago too "doesn't she just seem so happy these days?" Gone are the tantrums that we seem to have been experiencing for the last year. Gone are the antics about going to bed (and staying in bed). She is sweet and loving, curious and quizzical, but calm and contemplative too. She is, like I said above, the daughter I always wanted.

I remember a mother at the pool telling me this would happen when we spoke of it back in June. Her daughter was turning 4 in July, and I actually had thought to myself a time or two this summer that her daughter was so much friendlier to me than she had ever been in the past. She had seemed to be a tad broody before, and I kind of thought that this was her personality. But not this summer -- this child had really come out of her shell around both other adults and kids alike and was really a pleasure to be around. She was engaging and just happy. Meanwhile, my formerly sweet toddler was sitting on the side of the pool in one of many time-outs while this conversation was happening. I was telling the mother how hard I thought the "threes" were, making the terrible-twos like look a cake walk frankly, and she agreed. But she told me it is a flip of the switch when they turn 3.5, she said to me that she actually felt like she had "the daughter I always wanted." 

And indeed, in our time of crazy transition with my new job, a new nanny, a lack of any strict schedule all summer for Sadie turning to preschool 5 mornings a week -- out of this emerged a wonderful thoughtful little girl.  And I thought the cupcake costume that she picked for Halloween this year embodied that. But I am sure that the remnants of being a cranky kid will resurface from time to time and we are not out of the woods yet. After all, she is insistent that this costume is not of a cupcake but of an ice cream cone, regardless of what the tag says. I can handle strong willed and thinking-outside-the-box as personality attributes however.

I started to read an article this summer that philosophized on whether mothers and daughters could really be friends or were destined for a difficult relationship. I do know plenty of people my age who have a true friendship and admiration of their mothers, but probably far more woman who share stories like mine of being somewhat of a daddy's little girl (and an abhorrent teenager to her mother). I stopped reading the article, as I see that I share some of the "helicopter mom" personalities that seem to create these difficult relationships. But heck, I am up typing this now because I am still freaked by the two new episodes of Law & Order SVU that I watched last night both of which involved (1) examples of child abduction and (2) examples of little girls feeling unloved by their mothers in a horribly abusive get-under-your-skin-and-don't-let-you-forget-it kind of way. Maybe it is because I had difficulties getting pregnant, or because she's my only, or maybe it is just in my Cancer personality make-up, but I can't ever imagine being distant from this child.

I am not sure that we did anything differently to bring on this happy phase of 3.5 that we weren't doing at 3. We got a little firmer with bedtimes maybe, I finally for the first time since I returned to work from maternity leave leave her to go to bed at night when she is awake, instead of not waiting until she falls asleep (either by rocking her as a baby, or laying with her even when she was in her own bed). I read the books advising let your child learn to fall asleep on their own, but I figured she was only that age once and I needed to be there for her (my parents, for all of their strictness on some matters of our own youth, were appalled when I suggested I might sleep-train Sadie and let her cry-it-out). And as a result, as my good friends reading this know, Sadie has been an objectively difficult sleeper from about 4 months of age and I have pretty much been up with her at least once a night for over 3 years. Until this summer that is.

Would I tell someone else to do things differently than I did? Probably, at least if I had a glass of wine in me at a party, or maybe if I were chatting on the internet... but maybe not, not to Sadie at least. I do not really have any regrets with how we have spent many (any) moments of her life. And part of it truly is an age independent thing. Just in the last month she has learned to not call us from her bed when she woke up (which we taught her to do instead of climbing out of her crib, which her 5 year old neighbor taught her to do too early). Now instead of calling us, she will come and find us. The first time, that was startling as all get out, having her standing by our bed in the middle of the night for the first time. But now, she doesn't get up until she is ready to really get up and thus, is is almost always cheerful instead of whiny (and amazingly, so am I). Maybe I could have taught or encouraged some things earlier than I did, but still, no regrets.

And I am sure that our honeymoon of this current phase will dissipate soon enough.  While she doesn't fight over our rules or order for things so much now, she has a million questions and I can see her mind working through and finding different ways to approach things than Mark or I do all of the time. But just last night out of the blue she told me on the couch that she is glad that out of all of the moms she could have, I am the one that is her mom.  So for now, I guess I can just sit and enjoy the sweet days filled with this cupcake, I mean ice cream, personality.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My 63 year old first born

My first born turned 63 on September 11th.  Or September 12th. She was born sometime during the middle of The Night in 2001 and her original human owners were glued to the television (with the rest of much of the world) and weren't quite sure when the number of puppies born in there jacuzzi bathtub grew from 10 to 11, but my Daisy was the last one born, at least 6 hours after the rest of her siblings, and only the second girl. I learned about her birth 4 weeks later and saw her the first time as a 4 and 1/2 week old yellow lab puppy. I saw her again weekly as I visited her, and then brought her home to live with me at 8 weeks. I took the first week off of work, a vacation which I felt was akin to some sort of maternity leave. The first weekend with her I stayed with her nonstop but like a puppy often does, she would fall asleep mid-play, and I probably took 2 rolls of film (pre-digital camera) and it was pretty easy. One memory of that first week stands out... going for a run (without her  of course) and leaving her in her crate alone for the first time. I remember standing in the front yard and hearing her crying (high pitched barking) from outside the house. I heard that same barking all the way down my block, as Daisy yelped and screeched to get out of her crate. I think my run was very short... motherhood guilt still gets me most of the time!

Very soon thereafter (probably later that day), I learned the trick of luring her into the crate with the reward of a small nip of peanut butter, from a Skippy jar which I then kept on her crate. She never minded the crate much, if at all, afterwards (and she, like me, is a peanut butter addict). In fact, when I had her spayed at around 8 months, she came home with her lampshade collar on and went straight to the basement door, which I opened for her out of curiosity and she followed her nose, bump thump bump thump the collar knocked against the wooden stairs all the way down them, to find her old crate which I had put away and stored down there 3 months earlier. She yelped just once for me to come down and open the crate door and in she went, in the crate on the cold basement floor, a place of known safety when the real world felt particularly raw and painful. 

After the horror of September 11, Daisy came into my life as something that I could nurture and love. And like every animal love before and after me knows, she gave me back ten fold at least over what I put in.

I have several friends who don't have children, either by choice or by circumstance, but with just one exception that I can think of, all of them have dogs. One friend on Facebook will post the most wonderful pictures of her dogs, no more often than I post pictures of my Sadie, and she posted a comment to her picture one day a few weeks ago admitting that her dog was like her child (and thanking us all for understanding) since she couldn't have a baby. Another of her friends remarked to her that she should consider adoption (of humans). I have thought about that friend (and her friend) a lot since that week, and it pretty much consumed me in my run this morning (during which I artfully wrote this blog in my mind, and I am regretting not typing it out 8 hours ago when it was most fresh).

Before Mark and I succeeded in getting pregnant, we had people offer all sorts of advice, and I used to wonder if they might think we lived under a rock and hadn't thought about every darn alternative there was in the universe. I know the advice giver was well intentioned, but instead of everyone saying to me "it will happen one day", I kind of wish someone has said instead "if it doesn't happen, you are going to be just fine!"  I have plenty of friends who don't have children, and without exception (even the one without a dog) they have lives that are just as fulfilling as mine is, perhaps even more so some days!  And I say this after having a great day with Sadie (not from the frame of a tired mom). She has added incredible experience to my life, but I would never suggest that someone who doesn't have children (out of choice or circumstance), holds a life of less value or meaning or depth than my own does. And this friend (whose friend made the comment) might not have meant that either... it just struck me and took off in my own mind.

Back to Daisy though. Daisy's had a tough week. While Sadie really did adjust to the new nanny without much trauma (well, Thursday appears to have been a really rough day, but I thankfully didn't hear all those details until Friday which was much better, the corner having been turned!).  While our new nanny seems to be just as deep of an animal lover as our old nanny was, we have no way of explaining things like this to Daisy, and every time old nanny's name was mentioned, Daisy would run to the front door expecting her to be arriving any minute and to take her walking or to throw ball. By Friday afternoon, Daisy was just plain spooked and wouldn't come into the house without much luring with treats, and wanted to return out back the next minute. This happens from time to time (Daisy has a great fear of both the oven and the grill... she must have died in a fire in her first life) so I didn't think much about it. But Saturday morning she was worse... she would follow me around the house and just stare at my face whenever I turned around to look at her, in a really unnerving way. Mark and I guessed that she wanted treats (she is a yellow lab after all, largely motivated by food, or the chance to go throw ball) and we have been trying to train her (after 9 years) not to beg for food, so I would ignore her. But she was driving me batty. And Sadie and I had a list of things to get done, Mark was down with a cough and cold, and Daisy just got in the way, a lot.

Finally around 3 yesterday afternoon I said to Mark that I was taking her for a walk. I should say here that Daisy doesn't tinkle or poop (sorry for the terms, with a 3 year old I live in these terms) in our yard, which has no grass and is largely a stone/paver patio with much and plantings on the sides.  But she had been walked in the morning, by me when I was still half asleep perhaps, and nothing seemed odd. But at 3, it was apparent that Daisy was in distress. And there I was walking with her, trying to get eye level to her rear-end as she marked every 3 feet or so to see the tell tale signs of a urinary tract infection. Not to be gross, or hyper technical, but if you have a dog who has had one, you have seen your dog with blood in her urine and know what this means.

To add insult to injury, I practically sprinted home with her once I saw the blood. My poor dog wanted nothing but to linger in the grass and try to relieve herself to stop the sensation, but not me, I wanted to get her to the vet as soon as humanly possible. I was the one who had missed the signs... dammit I was the one who actually saw the signs and remarked out loud "This dog is neurotic and driving me crazy!"

We spent about 3 hours (and $217) at the emergency vet yesterday afternoon, Mark and I took turns and Sadie stayed the whole time. The antibiotic was first given last night around 6 and like clockwork, she was more herself by her second dose this morning and even better after her evening dose tonight. She will be just fine.

I have never had a cat, and I have only had one dog from birth (Mark's dog was one he adopted when she was 3, and she died at 13) and my "step dog" Lily was a constant in my life for 10 years.  But our dogs have offered us unconditional love in a way that no toddler does.  While my love for Sadie runs deep and is unconditional, she is still learning how to love, and like, me back (she came out of me needing me, a skill that was perfected from day one). But Daisy... Daisy has been my rock for 9 years.

We look at the pictures we took of Sadie as a baby on her blanket on the floor, and there are very few of them that don't have a dog's paw in the edge of the frame, scooting closer and closer onto the blanket, ready to wipe that baby's face with a big old lick of affection. Every time anyone in our family is up in the night, sick or well, Daisy stays with them, her bloodshot eyes trying to stay awake, but laying on her side near you, letting you know that she is ready to defend you. I put Sadie to bed tonight and as she fell asleep (me laying on her bed with her, actually in the middle of the second story I tell  her every night), I was thinking about this blog and thinking about how Daisy was surely laying up near Mark's feet as he was blowing his nose and coughing a lot in our bedroom. And then I heard it... the deep breath and peaceful shudder that was Daisy's. She was next to Sadie's bed of course. Reminding me that she holds no grudge against me.  She is our constant.

I love to hope that we will have 4 or 5 more years with Daisy, but her face just this year lost that puppy look that strangers walking by her on the street have always commented on. She is nearly completely white now. It makes me sob to think that we could lose her at such a critical time in Sadie's life, where Sadie truly sees Daisy as her sister, our family, and has no understanding of heaven (goodness, she saw Obama speaking from a pulpit a few months ago and said "Is that God?" to me during dinner... we have failed in our religious training lately). She is just a perfect dog right now, she wouldn't chew a toy or furniture if it were bathed in steak sauce (ok, maybe that's an exaggeration). She requires just a few walks a day and ball throwing only has to happen a few times a week, and only for 15 minutes or so. She lets you know when she is tired, and it is always before you as her human are ready to come in, so she will just lay at your feet and relax until you take the lead to your next destination.  The only thing she asks is to be included. So we bring her most places we can, and we rent a dog friendly beach house for the beach every summer. She is in her own heaven there.
As much as Mark and I keep mentioning the need to get another dog, I don't want to do that as a way to get less attached to the dog we have now. As much as I don't want to ever be without a dog, the thought that we won't grieve the loss of Daisy as much because we have another dog just seems kind of cruel in a way. And yet, on the other hand... Daisy has lived every single day of her life with her only purpose to provide love and attention to us, her family. To think that she would want us to cry without a dog there to enjoy the salty benefit of licking the tears seems wrong as well.

So my whole purpose in this rambling episode, love your dog. Of course, love your child too, and your spouse while you are at it. But love your dog too. They generally ask far less, in the form of attention and these days, in the form of explanation too.  And I realized this weekend that they are too easy to ignore or cast aside, and they generally never deserve that, when you measure the love and attention and protection and just plain company they have provided their humans their whole life long.