Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Donuts and Diving Boards

Twice in the past couple of weeks I have been stricken by the realization that my daughter doesn't know all of me. It bewilders me that I could birth this being and give her 100% of my emotions, and probably 97% of my body's energy since she was conceived, and have moments where I realize that she doesn't know me equally as well as I know her. After all, I know all of her, I know every crevice of her 43 inch body... to the point of knowing which of her teeth will be easier to floss because of the different size of the gaps between them. I can tell by just glancing at her if her expression is saying "I am starting to get an ear infection" or "my feelings are hurt" or "I need some protein for energy" or "I need to go tinkle."  I feel like I wake up often an instant before she does, as if my umbilical chord is still there, I still can sense her.  When she went to camp yesterday, even without a quiver of her lip, I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was scared to be there without a friend. And when she got out of the car today, I could tell from her eyes that she was confident and ready to try it again and hopefully have a good day.

But it does strike me me when we discover that there are things that she doesn't know about me. Sometimes it is reference to people, such as the family friends that I grew up with, and Sadie will say "who is that?" And I am shocked that she lives a life not knowing exactly how formative my best friends from growing up in Mt. Vernon were, my first crush at Mansion House, the friendships with the priests at Good Shepherd Church, people like my aunts and uncles, or my brother Scott because he doesn't visit ever (hint hint), or so many other people that I knew and cherish in my heart but don't see now.

Surely a child can't learn everything about a parent's past, especially at the age of 4. But it is the things in the present that tickle me even more. Sometimes she will say things that confirm in my mind that 4 year olds are truly highly egotistical creatures who think that if they didn't see their mother do something, then it just didn't happen.

A humorous recent example involved Krispy Kreme donuts, an institution here in Richmond, and in Winston-Salem where I went to law school, and in Mt. Vernon where I grew up. I am thinking I would be hard pressed to find a friend, coworker, or acquaintance who knows me in real life who would not know how much I love to eat sweets. That I have been battling the same 10 lbs since I was about 14 (OK, those that knew me in high school or immediately past birth will know that it was more than 10 lbs.) -- and the obvious reason why I can easily run seven miles, or work out every day during lunch, or train for marathons, and yet still not be able to lose those 10 lbs is that I love to eat. And I am not talking about vegetables.

A friend of mine was talking to me at the pool last weekend and we were saying how much we love going down to Captain Franks in Nags Head when we are vacationing at the Outer Banks, and she said "The trouble with that place is, I eat my hot dog and I find it very hard to stop at one dog... I always really want to order a second one but I don't."  That's the difference between her and me. Mark who heard the conversation laughed... because when he and I got to Captain Franks, I order two hot dogs off the bat and then casually ask him if I worked out enough to deserve a third that day (to which he is mortified, and says "Please don't eat more hot dogs than me in front of all of these people.")  I love their hot dogs. But I love desserts more. And I love Krispy Kreme donuts a lot.

My breakfasts at home are Greek yogurt with toasted oats sprinkled on top. Every day of Sadie's life, I think, I have had this breakfast. When naming my favorite food, Sadie will say it is oats. How pathetic is that? But she believes it to be true.

She and Mark have a Saturday morning routine that they call Daddy Daughter [and often Daisy] Donut Date. They head  out at the same time I leave for my long run, and they hit Krispy Kreme. I don't go with them. And I don't ask what they order. Somehow 90 minutes passes, they get Daisy exercised at some park along the way, and I get my run and shower accomplished, and then our day carries on. I don't ask, and they don't volunteer any of the details -- it is just their thing.  And I like that they have their thing. I have never asked to join, as donuts are much easier to avoid when you don't see them.

One day a couple of weeks ago, Mark needed to spend the morning with his dad again in Williamsburg. So he got up at 6 am or something like that, and he went to get hot donuts and have them at home by the time Sadie awakened. She was ecstatic to discover this, and they happily munched on their warm donuts as I was getting ready to leave for my run. There were two donuts left in the box that I noticed as I was getting ready to throw the box away. Sadie suggested "Mommy, those are for you, you should have those donuts."  I was ready to decline. In fact, I was declining loudly in my head. But they were still warm. And they smelled so good.

So on a whim of sorts, I said "OK, I will." and I sat down with a donut and my daughter and her Daddy to eat it. I took one bite and Sadie grinned and said to me "Do you like it Mommy? This is the first time you have ever had a donut!"  Mark and I almost choked at this. I almost responded with "Sadie, Mommy has probably had 500 of these donuts over the years" but I don't think she would have believed it. It just makes me laugh... that anyone who spends as much time with me as she does actually believes that I had never had a donut before.  I did manage to throw the second donut away, by the way.

Another funny occurrence was last weekend at the pool. Sadie loves to watch the kids go off the two low diving boards that are there. They do regular jumps, or flips, or cannon-balls, and she just loves watching them. She has begun to ask when she will be old enough to go off the boards, but then she answers her own question with "When I am 10. Then I will be able to do it."  She is scared, and while some of her four year old friends do it, she can't imagine that she will be ready for many years. As we were having this conversation (rather, as she was having this conversation out loud with herself)... she said to me "Well I can't go off the board Mommy, because you can't go off of a diving board either, and we can only do the same things."

This is her logic for why Mark can eat hot sauce ("Mommy and I don't like hot sauce, do we Mommy?") and many other things these days. More evidence of Team Mommy and Sadie.

But I couldn't let that one rest. "Mommy can go off the diving board", I told her "I did it all the time when I was younger."  She was stunned. Visibly, like mouth opened stunned. Not like an "I dare you Mommy" grin, but she honestly did not believe this could be true.

So I had to show her.

Out of the three feet I climbed and I walked around to the 10 feet. Up the ladder and I walked down the long board. It wobbled and shook. Two thoughts crossed my mind instantly as I stood there. The first was that I didn't think I had been on any sort of diving board in about 24 years- the summer I turned 18 and stopped spending every minute at Mansion House pool. The second was remembering walking on the high-diving board at Mansion House one time when I was about 6, with my brother behind me on the ladder, as I begged him to let me get off and climb back down the ladder. I remember vividly the images of the other kids waiting on the ladder stairs or in the line and wanting so badly to be down there instead of up top. I must have jumped into the water from there, as I know that my brother would not have let me chicken out. I don't recall the jump at all, I just remember looking down the ladder and wishing that I wasn't where I was.

The same feeling, amazingly, came over me on the low diving board at Willow Oaks. There were a host of other boys and girls, all somewhere between 5-10 like I had been, waiting in line behind me. And I thought "this is silly, I can just climb down the stairs and not go now" as I was on the board at 42. But I could look out to the three feet and even with my recent nearsightedness, I could see Sadie and Mark watching me, cheering for me. And I thought "What kind of signal would I send to this child of mine if I chickened out?"  I would do it of course. Because, after all, she thought that I couldn't do it. And she needed to be reminded that she, like me, could do anything she wanted to.

So I jumped off the diving board. 25 plus years after I had done it last, off of some measly low diving board, I overcame my silly fear and jumped. And the water rushed in my head... it was like my ears had just opened up and I could feel all the water pressure in there. And I did what I did as a kid and went all the way to the bottom and touched it with my feet and then pushed back up.  I felt both very young and very old at the same time. It was very momentous.

Being a mom to a newborn was physically hard. My life immediately had become someone else's and not my own, and that was physically exhausting.

But now, the challenges of being a mom to a four year old are also difficult. I should be able to decline having donuts and have whatever I want to eat for breakfast, for goodness sake. But I want to send a signal to her that no foods are off limits, that everything is OK in moderation, that I have self control and so does she, and that I work hard enough to have treats every once in awhile for goodness sake. I want to prove to her that she doesn't know everything, and that just because she didn't see it happen doesn't mean it isn't true. I want to teach her faith. I want to teach her that her mother can jump off a diving board, just like I can go to a meeting and she can go to a new camp where she has no friends and still make friends. I want to teach her what it is like to fail and to succeed. To try and to decline. That there are some times that you can chicken out and that's OK.

And that there are some times that you need to just jump.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sometimes I Can't Figure Out How I Got Here

This week has been one of those weeks. After the high drama of Sadie learning to swim last week, this week had a more normal schedule. Sadie's been in a wonderful ballet camp every day from 9-12 so our mornings are more like they were when she was in preschool, and we get motivated and get going earlier.  We are back in our normal routine.  Well, that assumes that anything is "normal" these days.

Yesterday I was talking to a woman who works at my old firm. While there, I was on the recruiting committee and this woman came through as a summer associate sometime back when I was a senior associate and then a new partner. She was clearly a top recruit. She had passion for an area of the law, and she was an extremely hard worker and a great team player. She also had a great personality, very social, loved animals, loved running and all sports. I felt like I was looking in the mirror to my slightly younger (and blonder) version.  Sometime after I had Sadie, she had her first child, a son. And since then, she has also had a second son.  Before we had children, we had a lot of fun cocktail party chats, or talks about our mutual passion for animals or sports.

But yesterday, in our short catch up call, we both were echoing the same sentiment. How did our life get to where it is?  And didn't we think it was going to be easier?

Both of us have dear husbands who are hugely committed to large tasks right now that take them outside of our nuclear families.  Hers is running for political office. And mine is deeply entrenched in a combined care giving and estate advisor role for his parents, balancing multiple, conflicting and highly emotional views every night it seems.  Both my friend and I were saying that as the wife, mom, primary caregiver of young children, and employee -- we can't seem to get our own bearings straight.  And yet, we aren't allowed to fail.  We barely are allowed to rest, let alone fail. 

No one in their right mind wouldn't support our husbands in the external roles that they have. Public service is admirable. And my husband's care for his parents -- I would want to do the same for my own, and hope that Sadie will do it for us one day. But there is someone in the background holding the daily life together. And that job is exhausting.

Mark and I are getting ready to celebrate our 7th anniversary this weekend. My wonderful Aunt Claudia sent us a anniversary card a few weeks ago that has been propped up on our island since it arrived. She wrote something like "Lucky 7, what a year it will be!" inside.

Humph, I tend to think when I see the card every day.  I adore my husband, don't get me wrong. Someone asked me the other day if, knowing what I know now, I would do it all over again, and without hesitation, yes!  I loved getting married to Mark, I can still feel the excitement of that day. And without hesitation, I love the experience of motherhood to the daughter that my husband gave me. All the sleepless nights and all the daily drama has been worth it.  My husband is a character, and I knew his personality for nine years before we married.  I love the person that he is, without hesitation.  With less, I would be bored.

But it is hard. It is far more difficult balancing roles than I thought it would be. I watched women "balance" working and motherhood for my early career and my conclusion now is that they did a superb job of hiding the anxiety that seems to overcome a lot of my days. At my early stages of motherhood, I wondered if they had some secret remedy that they would share with me that would make this any easier. Even last year, I thought that part-time work was the answer... balance would come easier when I had more time with Sadie and less time at work.  But it is funny -- this year it is not the job that has created the stress, it is all the other stuff. And less time at work means more time at all the other stuff.

Everything has consequences now, and nothing has easy answers. Mark's parent's situation is so very difficult, but far from black and white. And in the meantime, Sadie is the most skilled observer, asking the hard questions. Reacting to the stress. Wanting reassurance, and yet wanting to fly herself.  Next Fall we will be making decisions about which school will be best for her from K-12th grade. While Mark deals with so many external issues right now, the school research has become my focus. No decision is easy, or clear.

Those women who I used to think made motherhood look easy, do they write notes on their hands daily, pay their estimated taxes a day late, determine that they could pass another day without a shower without seriously offending someone, and decide that indeed, eating bag of goldfish while cleaning up the kitchen at night does make you feel better?  Because that is my life. Part time or not, the stresses of each of the roles just do not get easier.

Weeks, months, and now years have gone by since Mark and I got married and started this journey together.  I didn't see how difficult and conflicting this role would be. How I can be the mom that my daughter tells with blind determination that she hates my outfit in the morning, and also calls at 3 pm tearfully telling me that she loves me so much and begging me to come home early. How I am the wife that tells my husband I love him and then watches him on the phone every night and wants to take a frying pan to his head and say "WHO CARES!! This is your daughter, here and now, relish in her and get off the phone!"  How I get to be the mother than goes to Martin's at 9:45 at night to return two containers of milk that was dated July 8th but was clearly sour when we opened it yesterday, then wonder what would happen if I just turned right instead of left out of the parking lot, and drove away, far away, instead of returning home. Would they miss me? Would she brush her teeth instead of me chasing her as she slithers down the hall like a snake every night? Would my husband grab me in an embrace and kiss me like he did before we were married and promise to get off the phone, get off the computer, put away the crossword, and just talk to me?

Sometimes I get tired, very tired, of holding all the pieces together. The roles exhaust me. I hate hearing my own voice count 1-2-3 over and over and over again in the bedtime routine, or asking Mark the same question over and over again while he focuses on the episode of  Criminal Intent. Sure TV is an escape. But I am not allowed an escape, I want to plead. I just read the Parent's Magazine article about the young child who had her lower intestine pulled out by the drain of a baby pool -- isn't this issue more important right now? Don't you want to talk about it, don't you want to call our pool, don't you want to inspect the drains? Aren't you scared, so very scared, that this could be us.  Aren't you terrified like I am that we won't be able to protect her every minute of every day for the rest of her life?  How come you are not scared?  Maybe because you know that I am? That I will monitor things. Because I always do.

I got ready to go to bed, but before I did, I went out to get the recycling container and looked up at the moon. It was huge, like a big ripe honeydew melon just perched atop the trees at the end of our street. For a moment as I was watching it, I wondered if I should wake Sadie up to see it. She would think it was neat, it was so big and bright. She would want to fly there. She would want me to promise that we could, and we would be safe in doing so. We are a team these days, and it would be an adventure, Mommy and Sadie flying to the moon.

But instead I went inside to get Mark and brought him out to see it. And we looked at it together and marveled in it. No easy answers came to us as we were there. The problems and tasks before us, insurmountable as they appear, are still there. But for a few moments we were the team of Mark and Jill again. It doesn't happen often. But it happens enough to remind me of something remarkable.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

She Learned to Swim, and I Learned to Parent

Today I went the watch Sadie on her second to last swim lesson.

The last two days of lessons were dramatic for her, and for me. Tuesday she sobbed the whole lesson, begging Coach Lauren not to make her put her head all the way under, not to make her swim to the wall in a place where she couldn't touch the bottom. She begged me to come closer to where she was, then for a new coach, to let her stop, to let her go home. Tyler, Mark and I mostly sat under an umbrella and watched. This was her second week of lessons and she had mastered the kickboard and kicking, and arm strokes in week one, but this was the week to sink or swim, as the saying goes.  Tyler was openly emotional watching, and worrying. Sadie is her care every day, she lives with the fear of going under, and probably better than me, she lives with watching Sadie want to swim like her best friend and preserve her own sense of value when she was too scared to. Mark was the most stiff lipped; he is the most dedicated to swimming for exercise even now so he values it the most, and yet he was also completely confident that she would learn. I was constantly going back and forth, worrying that we were pushing too hard, and yet not hard enough. Wanting to believe that she could do it, and yet worrying that we had emotionally scarred her with our own confidence in her.  Tuesday was a horrible day for me even after the lesson, I read every article I could find on building confidence in swimming as I worried the whole rest of the day.

And then came Wednesday. Sadie surged forward. There is no more descriptive phrase. She powered through it. She crossed her hurdle and came out the other side with grace and strength and confidence. I watched in disbelief as she tried to swim to the wall over and over again, through a few tears, but insistence that she keep doing it. When I left 45 minutes later, she was supremely confident. And when her best friend's nanny sent me a video four hours later, she was an underwater swimmer, confidently sticking one arm up and waving it toward the camera. The movie playing mechanism that we have on our work computers don't play sound, but I could read everyone's lips. It was like an old Wonder Years episode, I could see the nannies shouting how proud they were of her, I could see Sadie mouthing "Hi Mama... Watch me!" as she dunked herself down to swim over and over again. I watched the video 20 times I bet, over and over again. Tears of pride running down my face. I forwarded it to good friends and relatives and relished in their reply emails of praise.

So today I arrived at the pool to watch the second to last lesson and just tell Sadie again how proud I was of her. Tyler pulled me aside immediately and said that Sadie had been really quiet, and upset this morning. She then came running to me and started sobbing. Fear, I wondered, that she couldn't do it again? Too much pressure? Did we make too big of a deal? Too much praise?

What she told me, and she had told this to Tyler too, was that she was sad that this was the second to last lesson with Coach Lauren. The child was an emotional basket case that this journey was almost over.  Tyler and I were immediately overcome as well. Watching Sadie just sob at this prospect was too much.

I never really understood how hard parenting would be. While I am not minimizing the sleep deprivation and times of dealing with a sick baby, both of which we experienced and lamented during, I find the parenting of the last three days harder in many ways. The instinct to want so badly to not have your child emotionally hurt. To want them to succeed, and yet to not want to push them too hard. When Sadie mastered going under repeatedly yesterday and not crying, there wasn't a person in the pool area who didn't know it. Because I was screaming, I was jumping, I was hugging her, I was crying.

Can you praise too much? Some parents probably think so, and they might think that I am over the top. But I personally don't think so. I ran two marathons several years ago, and what got me through each accomplishment was the cheers from the crowd every step along the way. This week was Sadie's marathon, and I have no doubt that seeing her mother sweating in her work clothes in the 95 degree heat at the pool showing her two thumbs up and clapping every time she came out of the water helped her feel confidence. Will I be there ever step of the way? Is that helicopter parenting? I don't think so. Sadie and I are social creatures. There are people that succeed based on their own inner drive, and more power to them. We are not them though. We succeed based on the feedback from friends and loved ones. We get our energy and drive from others. That's the E in Extrovert I think, and that's who we are.

My parents were a lot like this.  Someone was always at our sporting events. My mother was always active in our schools. I didn't appreciate then their praise, but I see now that just being there is a form of support that a lot of kids don't have. On days like today, it would have been easier for me to stay at work, kill down-time on facebook, it is 100 degrees outside, is there any doubt that climate control is the way to go? But these events, I try not to miss them. I took this job so I could be there. I had a child so I could be there. Sure I need my breaks and my downtime, but I wouldn't trade the moments of watching her this week for anything.

As much as Sadie learned to swim this week, I became more confident in my parenting style. And as she left the pool to go to Chick Fil A for a big chocolate milkshake and some downtime before going to her friend Bella's pool later today, I got in my car to come back to work.