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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A really long run...

I am a runner. I am not a runner that has always been so, though. In fact,  the readers who knew me in high school and college might have thought I would grow up to many various things, but I doubt an athlete would be in the top 10. I am like the 70 year old swimmer who takes off her bathing cap in the pool for the Geritol commercial from several years back and talks about how she started swimming at 50 (but taking Geritol makes her feel 18, or something like that).  I didn't start running until I was in my late 20s, and I didn't get good until the year I turned 30. I can say get good because I truly did excel at running in a way that stunned me (and everyone that knew me). The problem was is that I peaked quickly and then just as fast, a year or so later, returned to my slowish ways.

You would never know that I was good at running except that I find ways to remind just about everyone I meet (especially those that look at my muffin belly or my wider backside and indicate some doubt in believing that I used to be very fast) that I qualified for the Boston Marathon the first time I ran a marathon (which was the Marine Corps Marathon in 1999). I had some 8K and 10K times here in Richmond (the beauties of google, they will be preserved forever!) where I ran sub 8 minute  miles (for 5 or 6 miles) (in a row). I do brag about it when given the opportunity (and sometimes, I create my own opportunity). Why? 

Because me being a fast runner, an athlete, a marathoner... these are all things that I never imagined I could actually be. I exceeded my expectations and my beliefs, my dreams. People compare training for a marathon like taking a bar exam, you put in the time and you will pass. I agree to a point, having done both. My second marathon was almost 40 minutes slower than my first one (my first one was 3:40:52 in case you cared) and the second one was like the bar to me --- long, painful, slow... to the point that when I was done with it, even though I finished, I wasn't proud. I was just done.

But my first marathon, and several shorter races that I have completed over the years... those were times where I overshot my wildest dreams. And that is such an incredible feeling.

So anyway, my point in this posting, is that I feel like I can still call myself a runner now, even though I don't dare try a race again because I don't want to disappoint myself. But I get out there and put in the miles. Several days a week, every week. I stopped running (exercising at all actually, never even lifted a jug of milk) when I found out I was pregnant with Sadie. And I didn't start running again until Easter weekend when she was a year and a month old. It took me her whole first year to feel like I was ready to do something for me again, and not something that would immediately give some tangible benefit to her. But I have run ever since, sometimes with her in the jog stroller but increasingly, by myself.

And I truly do love it. Every day I get in a run... I am a better person. A better mother, a better lawyer, more patient, just happier.The days that I don't get a run in (or any exercise) are days where I feel like I am trapped in a shell of a body. I get moody, I get nasty, I just get irritated. I just need 45 minutes. Maybe an hour.

Tonight it occurred to me that I feel like I have been running a marathon, but it is far more like my second race than my first one. Not a good feeling. These changes... anticipated as early as last Christmas so basically 9 months in the making... have been like one long unforgiving tedious impossible run. A really long one.  The job change, the nanny change, this crappy economy that never seems to be on the upswing longer than a week or more. I feel like I have just kept my head down and trudged through the miles, over and over again, for a really long time.

Now our race is over. The economy might not be back, but I am in my new job, and I am really starting to enjoy it. While I know that Sadie (and all of us) misses our old nanny, she has adjusted amazingly well to our new hire, who also seems just great. The time of great flux is finally over. I can stop running. I should feel relieved. I should feel proud.

Instead, I want chocolate. I want s'mores actually, and a big glass of red wine. I want College Deli cheese fries, and a pitcher of beer to sit out on their patio with. I went through every cabinet in our kitchen, to no avail (my healthy eating kick of the last year resulted in the ban of processed food). I found a gallon size container of goldfish (Sadie's?) which didn't hit the spot. I looked at the bottles of wine in our cellar and decided that they were too expensive to open just for myself. Then I remembered that the cleaning lady was coming tomorrow and I have a chair in our bedroom that I tend to lay clean clothes in for a week, and tonight is the night I need to take the 30 minutes to put them away. I felt silly for thinking of drinking alone. And I figured in my mood I would spill it upstairs. So I ate some goldfish, and some frosted mini wheats. And now I am up here (staring at said chair piled high with clothes)blogging.

I guess there are good runs, and not so good runs. Runs where you qualify for Boston and surprise yourself. And other runs where you feel like you were in a sea of sand without an ocean breeze and you just never feel strong, at all. Runs that feel like they will never end, and when they do, you say you won't ever run again. This is one of those runs. We all survived. We made good decisions, we thrived actually. We didn't burn any bridges, and I truly hope I will keep my Troutman friends and our wonderful relationship with our former nanny (who is meant for greater things and will achieve them, as will our current nanny after she is with us 2 years, I have no doubt). Everything went as good as we could have hoped.

But I am just so darn tired.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hello, I am the bride

This is such a silly picture, which documents a silly moment. This silly moment happens the exact same way twice a day, and has for the past couple of months. Honestly, it has happened pretty much this same way for the past three and a half years, but just with the same commentary the past two months. The exercise of taking one's shirt off.

Incredibly routine. And without exception since I can remember dressing Sadie, has happened when I was in a hurry. Who gets a three year old dressed with a leisurely attitude? Not at this house. I was always hurrying,  to (a) get to the office, (b) get Sadie to school, or (c) on the weekends, get Sadie to a daddy-daughter-date morning so I could go exercise. We might have leisurely breakfasts any of those mornings, or morning play times, or story times... but getting dressed time was never fast enough for my liking. Not sure why it turned out like this -- for there have been enough mornings over the last three and a half year that this child has woken up before the sun and we have had ample time to get dressed in slow motion and without stress... but that has never happened.  I have lingered over plenty of cups of coffee, but never over getting her dressed.

And then in the evenings... somehow we seem to hurry through the getting undressed and back into pajamas with the same sort of hurry. We slow down for stories (we read four books every night and then I tell her two stories on top of that... so we are well practiced in 40 minute plus bedtime routine). And Mark has incredible patience with delay tactics in brushing teeth and getting just the right amount of water in a Dixie cup for drinking, or washing her feet to get the remains of Meadow Park dirt off, or finding the moon outside of one of our windows.

But again, the concept of dressing and undressing always seemed rushed.

Until sometime earlier this summer.  Sadie discovered the feeling of taking the t-shirt (or nightgown, as the case may be) most of the way off, but just so the neckline gets caught up around her hairline, just like in this picture. Gone is the panic that a baby or toddler feels when mom (or dad) isn't visible and child is STUCK in the shirt.  Sadie relishes in this simple action now. The feeling of the shirt pushing her thick hair straight back; the feeling of the hem of the shirt or nightgown cascading down her naked back.  The first time she did it, I had to laugh... remembering the feeling I had myself when I did it as a child.  I told her that I loved that feeling too when I was a little girl.

"Hello..." she says, in the exact same tone, every time the shirt is in the exact right place, "I am the bride." 

I stopped hurrying the first time, the very first time she said this.

"Who are you marrying?" I would ask. "You" she replied. The moment was worth it. I froze it in my memory.

Mark will ask her the same question, and without fail, she doesn't vary her answer. "Mommy" is who she is going to marry.  He is lucky, she does agree to invite him to the wedding. But I still get to be the one who she celebrates with first.

I try not to have regrets with Sadie. I have always known, from the moment that we read the pregnancy test, that she was a gift.  But life does happen quickly, and as I admit above, a lot of our routine is indeed, rushed. But not the taking off of the shirt, at least not this summer.  She is elated to be getting married, and if it happens 100 more times like this before the "real event", I will know that I am lucky to witness it, in whatever role she has me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The First Few First Days

Will I take these first day pictures through grade school? Maybe as long as she lives at home? Will I be a 'helicopter mom' who reappears a few days after moving my child into a dorm room (perhaps from my convenient apartment rented just off campus where I will do her laundry and bake her cookies) to make her pose for a first day photo even in her college years. Who knows?
The other day, I turned the TV off before the commentator could begin his story "Is it possible for daughters and mothers to be best friends?" Modern psychology talks about how this relationship is fraught with difficulty. The daughters will give great thought and attention to their fathers walking them up the aisle one day and exactly what song will capture their first dance, but to their moms, they roll their eyes with an expression of "enough already mom!" Will that be me? Who knows.
But for now, she is everything I wished her to be, no more and no less. She is someone that I admire because, in all honestly, she handled the change of today far better than I handled the changes of the last few months. I hope I don't expect too much of her, and yet I hope she knows that I do expect her to continue to do her best.
Today, from across the new classroom in her familiar preschool she said to me "See you later Mom" without even looking up from the 12 pairs of scissors laid out before her on the art table. I watched her for a few minutes as she surveyed the plethora of possibility before her, and then in a moment she looked at me with those dancing eyes and smiled "I said goodbye Mama." That's my daughter.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

And we begin again

We live in a very urban and very old neighborhood, and behind our house (and most every house around) runs an alleyway. Ours is cobblestone and was in place when our house was built in 1905. The garbage cans are kept here and the garbage trucks use the alleys once a week. Many residents also have garages that open to the alleys, including us. Sadie (and Daisy) have always enjoyed their walks in the alley behind our house. While there are cars, they generally can't go but so fast over the cobblestones, and they are fewer and far between than those that whiz by in front of our house.
This picture, above right, was taken the morning Sadie started preschool at 18 months of age, 2 years ago. I am not sure what my mother was more upset about when I sent her this photo the night after it was taken... that I was putting an 18 month old baby into preschool or that I let her walk this far away from me in the filthy dirty alley to take this picture. (As recently as this past winter, my mother asked me when Mark and I were going to get out and wash the cobblestones in the alley behind our house as they were very dirty).
Sadie was not much bigger than her tote bag when she first started preschool 2 years ago, and here I am preparing for another year to begin tomorrow. The tote bag is now packed with all the supplies for the first day. Sadie's class of 12 is perhaps half filled with kids she knows from the last 2 years, or kids that she has met through our summers at Willow Oaks pool. Her very best friend Bella, who was born 2 days before Sadie and has the same size birthmark also on her left cheek, is also in her class and they basically had to be bribed to leave the school orientation last Friday. I have no doubt that Sadie will love her school this year as she has the last two years.
But tomorrow brings us a new nanny too, and we will say goodbye to Lisa who has been Sadie's caregiver 47 hours a week for the past nearly 3 years. Lisa came to us when Sadie was a very timid and shy 9 month old, never having been socialized by our first nanny (who was a sort of baby nurse, as she held Sadie nonstop every day she worked, but wasn't very adventuresome). Lisa introduced Sadie to story times, shopping trips, park adventures, her own family which runs wide and deep, and Bible Camp at her church every summer. Sadie is close to fearless, in large part due to Lisa's willingness to be on the go with her every minute of every day. But Lisa has talents that run larger and deeper, in fact, than being a nanny, and she would be selling herself short by not following them now in her 30's (cake making, being one of them). We were lucky to have her every day that she was with us, but it is time to move on to another caregiver. So tomorrow we will welcome Ashley, a new college graduate, with a whole new skill set in art (and a lot of energy too). Sadie's nervous, and she is torn.
Sadie asked me today how could she love someone new when she still loved Lisa. I pointed out how I loved my own parents, but when I met Mark and met his parents (another set of grandparents who Sadie knows and loves well) that I loved them too. I told her how I had room in my heart to love many friends equally. That love never runs out, and the more special people that are in your life, the happier you are. But the mind of a 3 year old is not quite sophisticated... there are times in my life that I even doubted this logic at far more advanced ages. She thought about it, you could tell that she was working through it in her own mind, and I think she trusts me enough to know that I am not lying to her. And she liked Ashley immediately when she met her, as did Mark and I, and first impressions usually hold true for me.
So the week will bring challenges I am sure. But this is the end of what we knew would be a summer filled with difficult challenges and transitions. New job for me, new nanny for Sadie. I am ready for "ordinary time" as they say in the Church calendar, and to settle into where we are. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tryin' to deal with change, ch-ch-changes...

I wasn't gone from my old job for an hour before I was reminded that transitions generally aren't my forte. What should have been a freeing feeling of being unleashed from the confines of employment (but financially stable) for two days instead left me holding my blackberry the very moment that the most meaningful of good-bye-and-good-luck emails were no longer openable. And I was devastated. Its laughable now that one of my former partners suggested that my decision to leave was the height of selfishness (when he had given me every opportunity of my career, etc.). Anyone who knows me knows that I don't handle transitions well --- the more selfish maneuver by far would be to have stayed at my job and just continued complaining for another couple of years. I have been at my new job for almost three weeks now, and I am still far from mastering the computer system for document saving, or how to enter time, run conflicts checks, etc. I still miss terribly the familiarity of my old job, especially coming to work every morning to a cheerful greeting from my secretary of 12 years, her hello and meaningful inquiry about me, my sleep, my daughter and my dog (and Mark). She was so much more than a fantastic secretary -- she was the person who stood with me moments before I walked up the aisle to get married, she was the one who greeted every friend and family member who would call in the office remembering who they were and talking personally to them, she was the one who would tap on my office door to gently wake me as I would catch a quick nap on the couch just a month or so pregnant, and too scared to tell anyone else for fear of losing the pregnancy. I asked Tammy advice on every single problem that I ever encountered in the last 12 years, and her positive outlook often grounded me and showed me the best outcome. Over these three weeks, I have really worried that I will pass on my fear of change to Sadie (as well as my evident inability to learn new computer skills). But I came across this picture of her tonight, and it has eased many of my fears for her. I actually went searching for this one... this is the picture right as Sadie was preparing to walk across the kitchen floor for the first time. Sadie was not one of those children who took a step here and a step there around the time that she turned 1, falling down and getting back up again. Nope... my child waited until she was absolutely ready and certain she could do it on her own, and was almost 15 months old before she walked without holding onto one of our pinkies. I looked for this picture because I thought it would demonstrate a look of fierce determination, kind of the look that I think I have worn the past 3 weeks. A look that says "I am scared, but I will master this, just bare with me." A grimace. But when I found the picture... here I see that Sadie looked far different. Her look was one that was thrilled with the opportunity. Sure she waited until she was good and ready, and I don't really remember her falling much when she started walking. But she was thrilled with it all. She looks like a surfer. She enjoyed the wave. Once again, I learn more from her day to day than I think she learns from me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We have been here before...

One of the drawbacks of being a full time working mother (especially one that has a nanny who is incredibly talented with a digital camera) is that it was not unusual to have hundreds of pictures each month detailing places and occurences that I missed. And I say that's a "drawback" only because I would look at the pictures and the happy expression on my daughter's face and think "I should have been there for that trip". In fact, this skill in a nanny was invaluable -- we have some fantastic pictures of Sadie over the years having wonderful joy filled times. No mother ever truly wishes anything more for her child other than that she be happy and loved even when she's not there. There's not a single picture, in the literally two thousand or more than I have, where Sadie's expression indicates that she misses her mother, or frankly that she is lacking for anything (other than maybe a napkin for her face and hands!).
I would sift through the pictures though and imagine being there with them, exploring the territory, discovering whatever they discovered. Of course, my imaginations never had me running ragged after said child, or threatening to take away some privilege like icecream or television if she didn't follow my instructions, even though in reality I am sure those things occured during the week (as I know they did on the weekends).
Sadie and Lisa returned to Maymont today and I have 57 new digital photos documenting the experience. They go to Maymont several times a season, and after nearly three years of Lisa being Sadie's caregiver, we have lots of Maymont photos. But as I was going through today's pictures, I remembered that I had seen that very tree stump in a photo before. And so I found it, the picture on the right, taken early in the spring before Sadie turned one.
My parents used to take a photo of all the Misage kids on the stairs in our house before coming into the livingroom on Christmas morning. It was a neat tradition, and one day I am sure we will digitalize the 32 years of photos there, each taken exactly 365 days apart, and compare them to each other and remember that notch taken out of the bannister, or the way the carpet met the wall on that stair (or likely, the way that someone would chase someone else up or down the stairs). And of course, the remarkable "change yet stay the same" that each of my siblings and I had in our faces and hairstyles.
But these stump pictures... I guess they just struck me. In all our digital picture taking of Sadie and Daisy, I don't think we have the same scene captured quite the way we have it here. Sure we have the birthday picture of all the kids on the couch in our den for each of her parties, but similarly to the Misage family Christmas photo, the expression of the little ones is generally "finish the photo op and let's move on to the presents!" Gosh, we have documented impatience quite well. "Let me grow up already Mom!" is the telling caption in so many of our photos.
But I like these pictures because of the stillness them. The peace that only comes from sunshine on your face for more than an hour. Of being away from the bustle of the day and just plain exploring. How facinating is this stump! I can imagine that Sadie was thinking of that both of these times. I hope its there when we happen on it again!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Escape to New York

This past week in my new job, I was lucky enough to walk into two financing transactions that were basically overnight deals, a lot of work for a very short time, and then a glorious and successful closing for each. Just the kind of deals that securities-lawyers-who-also-happen-to-be-mothers-of -young children love. No (or at least very few) long nights stressing over numerous documents. No argumentative drafting or negotiating sessions with opposing counsel. No travel schedules to manage. And in the end, everyone wins... $500million is raised very quickly and at a very low interest rate.
But during one of the few face to face meetings that we had with opposing counsel during these deals (these days, everything is done via email), I had the opportunity to talk to the second year female associate on the other side of the deal. The first remarkable thing about this conversation is that this second year female associate was at the same firm where I was one of a handful of female partners in the office until two weeks ago, and in fact, she was just a few doors down from me. I am the first to admit that since Sadie was born, I wasn't very social in my job and gave next to no time to any marketing roles, as I wanted to bill my hours, service my clients, and then get home to Sadie as fast as I could. So it is kind of a sad admission to say that now that I left the firm, and am part time at another firm, I had my first conversation with this female version of who I was 16 or so years ago (gosh that makes me feel old).
But the second remarkable thing about this conversation (more meaningful to me than my own tacit admission that I sucked at mentoring anyone over the toddler age for the last three years), is that this woman confessed that she has never been to New York City. And it wasn't the fact that she hadn't been there on her own vacation time that stunned me (when I was her age, my last true vacation to New York City had been my 6th grade field trip there when I saw a bird fly into the World Trade Center and hit the glass and die, about a foot from my shoulder). Instead, it was the fact that she hadn't traveled to New York City in her work as a securities lawyer.
Last night (three days following said conversation), after my first day off as a part-time lawyer during which I did a Bob Harper exercise DVD, mountain biked with Mark for almost two hours, and then sorted through mounds of old baby clothes collecting bags to go to Goodwill and then taking them there, I was as tired as I think I have been in months. And I knew exactly what to do to unwind... return to my safe place. Crawl into bed at 9 something at night and watch a couple of On-Demand episodes of Sex and The City. My escape back to New York. Carrie and the girls, and admittedly, Big, have gotten me through many exhausted-yet-sleepness nights since they originally aired on HBO.
I spent a lot of time in New York as a young securities lawyer. Perhaps that is more remarkable than the fact that this other second year associate hadn't been there at all... I mean, what's a law graduate from a law school ranked 123rd the year I graduated (and yes, I am proud) practicing in the small city of Richmond, Virginia actually doing traveling to New York City regularly? But I did. And it was great.
The memories of those trips run together now, and perhaps, they grow rosier in time. While sometimes we would travel in a client's corporate jet, more often we would fly commercial and arrive at the airport a mere 20-25 minutes before take off time. No fear for lengthly airport security those days. Our meetings were often held at the various buildings in the World Trade Center and sometimes we would stay at the Marriott located right there. Other times, as we became more seasoned travelers, we would pick our hotels based on where we wanted to eat dinner following the meetings, or the proximity to Central Park for morning jogs. Drinks at the Oak Room in the Plaza were fairly routine. Dinner at the restaurants in the first several listings of Zagat's guide. Shopping at Bergdorf and other places that Richmond lacked. I remember buying Kiehl's shampoo on those trips for use back home. Heck, when I first started traveling to New York City for work, Richmond didn't have a Starbucks anywhere near where I lived in the Fan. Imagine going to the City where I could walk out of my hotel and have a grande coffee every single morning on my way to work.
Seeing the U.S. Open as I tried to find Sadie her show on Nick, Jr. today reminded me of our annual trip that we would take to NYC to watch the Open, care of a financial printer who we worked closely with. Most viewing was from the box with its own chef whose name began with "T" but which for the life of me I just can't remember now. But there were also two seats which were courtside, and a dozen or so of us "clients" could rotate and watch a match or two in the second row of Center Court. This was the life!
Mark and I met through work and we got to partake in a lot of these events together. What's not to like when you are dating someone and you get to take these kinds of trips together. When we got married six years ago, our wedding included a lot of our friends through work from law firms, corporations, and investment banks. One of those investment bankers planned a work trip for me which was actually a ruse for Mark to propose. Those are the bonds that form when you work together so closely, and for such long hours, as we did for so many years.
In a silly way of viewing things, in a way it was awfully convenient that my own journey into motherhood happened to coincide with the collapse of the financial markets. I never had to turn down trips like those ones so I could be at home to see Sadie each night... they just didn't happen nearly as often anymore. Unfortunately, most of the very friends that we worked so closely with lost their jobs. In a way, I get to be like the selfish teenage girl who says if she can't go to the party, she hopes it will get cancelled so no one else can have fun without her.
But I will be the first to admit that there have been a lot of nights when I have come home to my life that is here right now, and miss my life that was there back then. Who doesn't miss waking up in a room at The Plaza? Oh, to just wake up to a computer generated wake-up call at 7:45 sounds heavenly right now.
Just today, Mark handed me a towel that we have from The Plaza. It wasn't a romantic gesture of a memory (even though we stayed there several times this very same weekend when we went to watch the Open). No, this time he threw me the towel in response to me shouting from the shower "Next time you decide to wash the bath towels I really wish you would put a second set out so I wouldn't find myself sopping wet from the shower with no towel!" The Plaza towel that he threw me isn't exactly our "second set".... it is a dog bathing towel actually, that somehow made its way from the basement to the abyss that is our hall linen closet (suggesting that Daisy has gotten a bath or shower upstairs recently). No, we aren't spending time these days reliving the memories of our dating life travels to New York. We are dividing and conquering instead, who throws in the laundry, who takes the load to Goodwill, who walks the dog, who gets Sadie her lunch, etc.
But for several moments since my conversation with that young female associate on Thursday of this week, I thought how lucky I was to get to experience that life for the years that I did. And I thought how silly it is to think of those days as "peaceful" compared to what my life is like now. I wouldn't go back to them now, but I am glad I had them then.

Friday, September 3, 2010

When I grow up...

Does Sadie look a little different to you? Perhaps you can't tell from this angle, but she has a certain new look about her. In this picture, Sadie has a baby in her tummy! And pretty much all day, every day, Sadie has at least one, and up to three, "little ones" that are waiting to be born. Some are animals, most though are dolls, and they are placed under her dress, tucked into her waistband, and usually mommy and daddy are given one or two to tuck into our clothes as well.

Several months ago, Sadie started the age-appropriate-obsession with having a younger sibling. And at first, this 41 year old mother also obsessed with how to answer these pleas. Do I tell her honestly that I would have loved nothing more than to have given her three siblings, as her father and I planned when we first got married to have four children like the families from which each of us came? I feared that this answer would make her sad, and see that we were sad, and indeed we can't give her everything she (and we) want -- isn't it too early for her to learn that we are actually mortal? Or do I tell her that we only wanted one child, just one just like the one that we have, and didn't need another because we had achieved perfection the first go-around? This answer might cause her to believe that her parents are in absolute control of fate and destiny, which is also a lie (not to mention encourage an ego of great proportions!). Or do we do, what we in fact did, which is go between both answers depending on the time of day and the energy we have for explanation, leading the child instead to perceive that her parents are totally inconsistent and don't have a uniform approach to even the most important questions?

Yes, that's pretty much what we did. I was afraid that she would notice the "crack in the armour" and perceive, for the first time, her parents didn't really know how to answer such an important question. But she rolled with it. Sure she asked it again and again, but she didn't seem to hold our answers against us, which I guess is what unconditional love is truly about.

But more recently, Sadie came up with her own way of looking at the question that really stunned Mark and me. And demonstrated once again that even the biggest questions have a way of demonstrating their own answers, and working themselves out in a way that no amount of planning could ever yield.

Sadie's obsession with having a sibling has subsided. A few weeks ago she was asked by a neighbor what she wanted to be when she grew up. Typical answer had been that she wanted to be a mommy, with anywhere from two to ten children. But this time... her answer came out clear and concise without a pause for thought "I want to be a doctor that cuts mommies' tummies open and gives them their babies for the first time."

And she has repeated that every single time that she has been asked, since (which is a lot). The only variance is that one time she asked me if she could have that same job but do it in outer space? To which I said, indeed, she could.

While both my father and Mark's father are doctors, we never suggested that Sadie undertake this occupation. This obsession with being a doctor that gives C sections (she knows no other way of delivery, as we have told her of her own birth story) is just something that she came up with on her own.

And so this picture shows me that there are indeed, always multiple ways to view a situation, and indeed they can be polar opposites of each other. The grin on her face, at least this time, is not the grin of one expecting to give birth to a child, about to experience the life changing event of being a mother. Indeed, not. She is grinning because she was watching me play the role of the doctor who was going to pretend to cut her tummy open and lift the baby up, immediately run over and place her under the light and count her fingers and her toes, and then prepare to return her to her new mother (who instead of laying there basking in the enormity of the event was instead sitting up and preparing to sew herself up, since that was the really fun task).

Sadie has heard me tell her many times a day how being a mother, and being her mother, is by far the best thing that has ever happened to me. She knows that. But she has taken her difficult question of "why aren't there more?" and turned it on its side. My daughter (and her father and I, as her nurses and assistants) can give birth to dozens of children a day, and no one is sadder or troubled by those outcomes.

Motherhood is full of hard questions and coming up with an honest answer is surely a job that I will have a thousand times over. But it sure was nice for now, to have this slight reprieve. Instead of the pressure to answer, I got to see my daughter herself come up with another way of solving it. And for that, I am most proud.