Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This Day In History

On August 29, 2001, I had my first session of group therapy (hereinafter "group").

Ten years ago, as a second year law student, I decided that I needed some type of intervention to steer me off of the trajectory I was on, which consisted of paralyzing perfectionism designed to distract me from crippling loneliness with absolutely no clue in hell how to have a real relationship with anyone.

The weeks leading up to the first session, I couldn't sleep. I stared at the ceiling in my one bedroom apartment in Ravenswood shaking with anxiety. Prior to starting group, I had three one-on-one sessions with the therapist, who was scary, and kind, and tough, and hairy, and cocky. I wasn't sure if I liked him, but he was compelling enough and he demonstrated that he was going to pay attention to me, so that was appealing for $70.00 per session. During my last one-on-one session, I remember asking the Good Doctor what was going to happen to me. (I was worried that my law school class rank would slip or that I would gain weight, so you can see I was totally ready to "go to any lengths" to get better.) My recollection is that the Good Doctor said by joining group I was going to experience more loneliness than I had ever felt in my whole life.

Not a marketing genius by any means (I was expecting promises of untold joys and riches), but he predicted correctly. Until I joined group, I didn't know how lonely and isolated I was. I sort of vaguely knew that other people spent more time in the company of other people and most other people seemed lighter if not happier than I felt.

During those sessions, the Good Doctor asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to get married and have a family. He acted like I said I wanted a Saltine cracker; he made a gesture with his hands like "that's it? That'll be easy! What else do you want?" (The answer was nothing. That's enough for me, thank you very much.) He seemed almost to assure me that he and this group business could help me open myself up to a relationship and a family. I will never forget how his confidence in the process made me feel: it was like a little handle of hope that I grasped with both hands and accepted whatever would unfold for me as a member of a group.

Well, 6 boyfriends (5 ending in a broken heart (mine) and 1 ending in a marriage) and 2 children, 1 law career and countless meltdowns later, here I am. I could have never predicted that the mysterious ways of group would work their magic on me and I would end up breastfeeding my son in Millenium Park on a breezy summer evening. If you would have told the young woman back on August 29, 2001, as she put on her khaki skirt, white shirt and her black patent leather shoes that showing up for group week after week, and year after year, would eventually result in Sadie, Simon, Jeff and the woman I am today, I think she probably would have worn more color that morning. But she would never have believed you-- not in a million years. The whole reason I became willing to go to group and see the Good Doctor was because on a hot July day in 2001 I was sitting in the parking lot of Stanley's produce on North and Elston with car full of fresh fruits and vegetables and I heard myself say, in a very undramatic way, "maybe I'll drive slowly through Cabrini Green so there's a chance I will get shot by a stray bullet."

The voice in my head was so deadpan, so beat down, so resigned that when I reflected on it, frankly, it scared the shit out of me. What was this death wish that was bubbling up? I had just had a spectacular finish to my first year of law school and people were telling me I would have my pick of any law firm in the city. Why was I going to put myself in jeopardy by driving through a rough part of town slowly? Why was there even a tiny part of me that wished to be shot? What the hell was wrong with me? What was it going to take to make me feel ok?

And, because I had no clue, I decided I would try group therapy. I am grateful to myself for hanging in there all those years when it seemed like it wasn't working. And, maybe there were years when it actually wasn't working. Eventually, however, I got the relationships I wanted and I got a cup that overflows every single day with blessings and feelings and miracles and more, more, more than I ever dreamed or ever wanted. I sometimes remember back to that summer day at Stanley's, especially when I am irritated that my children don't sleep past 6:00 a.m. and my husband NEVER rinses his dishes. I sure didn't have those problems when I was all by myself in the world. When I think about the despair of my life before surrendering to my group, I think it's a miracle that I am still alive and that I am a mother and a partner and a teacher and a friend.

Not everyone celebrates the day they started group therapy as an important holiday, but it's a big one for me. As a tribute to that long ago time, I like to visit Stanley's with my daughter, who can be a giant pain in the ass in a grocery store setting, and marvel at the advances in my life, but I do it really quickly before Sadie breaks her leg trying to escape from the cart.

Happy Group Therapy Anniversary Day to me!

Travels and Travails

Writing here from my personal ground zero, which is how I think of my household when Jeff is out of town and I am running this show in a solo fashion. I think Sadie's face in this picture speaks to the collective angst we all feel when mom is at the helm and Daddy's in another time zone far, far away.

So far, Jeff's business travels for this week are going rather smoothly. I hesitate to admit it because, if God forbid I jinx this and end up staying up all night with ornery/sick/frightened children, I swear I will shut down the freaking internet. But, in case I am not that powerful, I will just admit that I took good care of myself this morning, then had a great lunch with the kids, we all got naps, and we made it through the evening with only one grueling little hiccup. Here's how our hiccup went down: The three local Ellises (me, Simon and Sadie), arrived home from a pleasant excursion to the gym. It was about time for the little Ellises to eat their dinner and I had started feeding Simon some avocado and prunes. Suddenly, Simon starts crying hysterically (please, let this be teething, oh Lord, please) and demands at the top of his 7 month old lungs to be out of his chair. NOW. I manage to get him out of his chair, though not before he gets prunes and avocados all over his face and in every orifice. Just as I am getting my little produce section poster child out of his seat, Sadie starts screaming, "change diaper! change diaper!" and the scene would not be complete until Sadie too started crying hysterically.

Now, I have 2 hysterical babies who both seem to need both of my hands for very critical tasks. Frankly, I was at a loss. I got them both to lay down on the living room floor so they could at least keep each other company in their cries. You know what they say, right? The siblings that cry together can probably attend group therapy together.

Anyway, Sadie had done a massive job of evacuating her bowels and she's got a very tender diaper rash right now so she was clearly in pain with all that poop up in her rash. I am not a doctor, but it seems like a mom should address that sooner rather than later. Simon, well, we just don't really know what exactly is ailing him these days-- he had the stomach flu last week, which was really something to see all that food spew out of a little body like that-- and he gets really upset around mealtime. He was crying pretty hard too and it's really agonizing to be standing above both of them knowing that I can really only meet one of their needs at a time. I am not going to use any metaphors about choosing children during a Nazi round up, because it was uncomfortable, but it was not life or death.

Needless to say that everyone got their needs met, but it was stressful to have to make that decision in the moment.

Now, everyone is asleep, or at least, in his or her room winding down for the day. With finally a few moments to myself, my head spins with all the things I told myself I would do once the children go to bed: write a short story, edit my essay, blog, clean out my closet, go through our pictures, call my parents, declutter my linen closet. And, guess what: I am too damn tired from being up since 5:45 a.m., after being up 2 times in the night feeding Simon and 1 time saying goodbye to Jeff, who, as I recall it now, ran into the bed on his way to kiss me goodbye? How can I compose a coherent short story when I am literally up half the night?

Sometimes when I have my kids by myself, I think about things we could do to make some special memories. Sometimes I am able to execute these ideas and sometimes they are just absurd. I was thinking that it might be "fun" (loosely using that term) if we ate really strange food every time Jeff when away. Something like asparagus oatmeal or cupcakes with garbanzo beans. The problem with that is it's a hell of a lot more work that just putting some (already cooked) noodles and hummus in a bowl. Also, there is something contrived about working so damn hard to create a memory, instead of trusting that just being myself, as boring as it may be, is good enough. For me. For them. For us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

City Living

If, or when, we pull up stakes and move from our fair city to some suburban hinterland, it will be a night like last Friday that I will miss the most. We took the kids to Millenium Park on Friday evening for some frolicking in the shadow of Cloud Gate, enjoying the best that Chicago has to offer. Sadie is obsessed with water and thinks that the plaza with the water and the people's faces is called "downtown." So, if you are ever around her and you say that you are headed downtown, watch out, because she may attach herself to the roof of your car and beg for a swim diaper.

Simon was not too young to enjoy late summer's gentle breezes, especially when I changed his diaper right in the middle of the whole damn scene. I am not sure what we are looking at in this picture, but it's something tall and fascinating.

As Sadie's speech develops we are hearing new Sadie-isms from her that I hope to chronicle for the ages. The funniest one is when she wants one more of something (one more good night hug; one more chance to swing before we leave the park; one more jump on Mommy's stomach before going to lunch), she says, "last more." We think she's confusing the phrase "one more" with "last one." It makes me smile. She also thinks the color purple is called "purple one." We think this little gem developed because I will often point at something purple and say, "what about the purple one?" It seems that purple is her favorite color, though in Sadie-speak "purple one is her favorite color."

I also noticed the other day that when she wants me to carry her down the stairs she says, "Mommy, carry you." This is conventional pronoun confusion because we always say to her, "do you want me to carry you." To this she says, "yes, carry you." I am way to tired and overwhelmed in my life to try to teach a 2-year old to use pronouns. Plus, it's cute and she can sort all of that out in first grade, or sixth grade if she ends up in Chicago Public school.

In other news, Jeff and I both have seriously strained our backs. It's quite a pickle because Simon weighs 20 lbs and tends to like to be carried, since he can't walk and all. And Sadie's probably about 26 lbs and she likes to be carried, since she is the Queen of the World. So, there are times when both of our juniors want to be carried. We also live in a 4 story house. What are we supposed to do when the doorbell rings, it's a babysitter or someone we can't ignore (like we ignore the UPS guy on a daily basis) and both kids are clamoring for being held, but oopsie, we're on the 3d floor? I will tell you what we do? We put Simon on the left hip, and Sadie on the right hip, and inch our way to the door and then spend the evening feeling like our spines are going to collapse.

All this and we are still in our 30's.

I almost passed out tonight when I was giving Sadie a bath. Do you know how many times you have to bend over to rinse her fro? Only about 7 million times. I was seeing stars and she was unhappy that I kept trying to rinse those damn Burt's Bees shampoo bubbles out of her hair. We finally got it done, but my poor back. All those years ignoring the warnings to strengthen my core are coming to haunt me. I heard on the news that Richard Branson's house caught on fire and that Kate Winslet carried his 90 year old mother out of the flames and to safe ground. After my bathtime hunching there is no way in hell I could carry anyone's mother anywhere, no matter how high the flames.

So I am reduced to this: Complaining about my back on my blog.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Me: Sadie, let's go over and water Hannah's plants while she is on vacation. I told her Mommy we would do it while they were gone.

Sadie: (following me) Ok.

Me: Sadie, SADIE! Can you let mommy have a turn with the hose? Can mommy try to water the plants?

Sadie: (ignoring me)

Me: SADIE! Can you point the hose somewhere besides at mommy's face? Sadie? SADIE!

Sadie: (ignoring me some more; hose in hand)

Me: Sadie! Stop! Mommy is soaking wet and Hannah's plants have had enough. Can you please point the hose at something besides mommy?

Sadie: Laughing.

And that's how it came to be that I had no pants on at 6 pm when it was time to put Simon down. It seemed like there was no time to put dry pants on. And, then of course it was one of those hard nights trying to put Simon down to sleep where he cried and fussed and fought the sleep while I patted his back STANDING IN MY UNDERWEAR for about 35 minutes.

The good news is that we are also getting Hannah's mail and I see that her mother gets a subscription to People, which you damn well better believe I am reading tonight. And I still haven't put any pants on.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stage Mom Alert

Today I took Sadie to her first ballet class, which was so much fun. They encourage parents to stay behind this window so the children can explore the class with our their stage parents. And you know what, it's really easy to make fun of Toddlers & Tiaras, because that's just freaking ridiculous, but I have to say that there is a part of me that could imagine running with MY dreams of being a dancer and trying to force Sadie into it. Of course I have had too much therapy and my husband is paying way too close attention to what goes on to let that happen, but I guess I just have to say that I get it. I really do.

Sadie seemed to enjoy the experience. Her teacher was great with the kids and I was happy that Sadie seemed to want to follow the directions. When they did an artistic rendition of Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, Sadie was the first to volunteer to dance in a circle. All the moms who were watching from the window were friendly and affable. I was actually quite surprised at what little 2 year old girls can do. If it's not for Sadie or she doesn't like it, then I surrender and will just watch You Tube videos of ballet classes to get my fix, or, I will see if Simon has any interest. Otherwise, it will just be fun to try it out for a few months.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have an amazon.com cart full of ballet clothes and shoes. The little leotards with the attached skirts? Are you kidding me? It's too cute. Even if she hates ballet, I think she'll like the clothes. (But maybe that's just me too.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Giving Tree

Beloved children's book, my ass. Sadie has been asking me to read the Giving Tree to her. I remember really loving it once upon a time. Shel Silverstein-- what's not to love.

I'll tell you what's not to love. That asshole kid in the book. I hope my kids don't turn out like him. The only thing worse would be to have them turn out like that tree. Could there be a more codependent character in all of literature? That tree is worse than Dolly Parton's persona in Jolene. I can't take it. Give, give, give until you die.

I think I am going to write a sequel to the Giving Tree where the tree's children learn to take care of themselves and form relationships with kids who not such assholes.

Just a thought.

La Familia

We don't have many pictures of all four of us together, so I especially like this one. Yes, our children are being held against their will, but we wanted a family picture. This was during Sadie's second birthday party (towards the end) so the energy was starting to wane for our junior members. I do love this picture though, because it's funny and imperfect and happy and warm, which is how we roll.

Jeff is out of town this week so I am stepping up with the help of our part-time nanny (actually her replacement because Sabrina is in Algeria getting her trousseau all situated) and additional babysitting at the end of the day so I can do bedtime for my bonzos without losing my freaking marbles. And, I am extra exhausted today because I have been busy schlepping around all this shame for using so much babysitter help to get through a day. I am so tired of feeling like I have to apologize to my babysitters for needing their help. Last time I checked, we paid the upper market rate for helping with our children. Also, they haven't expressed one iota of judgment about me and my putative inability to raise my children alone. (Actually, it's not putative; I can't do and hope I never have to prove that to myself.) Finally, why do I care if my babysitters think I am lazy because I take a nap everyday or because I want to go on a run before heading into bedtime? I always feel like hiding the fact that I am upstairs napping during the kids' nap time or pretending I am running an errand for the Baby Jesus instead of just going to the gym.

Why all the guilt and neurosis?

Because this is all supposed to be harder. Good moms DO errands for the Baby Jesus, which does not include going to the gym to sit on the bike to read a marvelous piece of fiction while breaking a modest sweat. I can't even think of what a worthy errand would even be, even though I pretend to do "IMPORTANT ERRANDS" all the time. I guess if I was going to donate blood for earthquake victims or get my own kidney dialysis, that would be a pretty important errand. I am sure it would be really great for my kids to have a mom with failing kidneys or one who was busy draining her veins to assuage her guilt for NOT WORKING.

Nice logic. How come the logic of shame is never remotely logical, yet I believe it all day long?

I am done. I am done hiding and acting like I can be up 2 times in the middle of the night and then up for the day at 5:40 and NOT need a nap. I am done pretending I am Jeff who really does get by on shockingly little sleep. I am done pretending like I am torn about not working. Guess what? I am not. I used to sit at majestic tables in fancy conference rooms with unlimited sodas at my law firm. My job, while sitting at that table, was to review documents. These were not manuscripts of Great Books, it was more like 2,000 copies of the same PowerPoint presentation that some sales team down in Atlanta did 4 years ago, and I was looking for one of two things: 1. Proof from those sales "decks" as they are called that the company committed securities fraud; or 2. See if there were any lawyers' names on any of the documents.

Days and days went by. As technology got better, we were able to review documents from our desks. All alone sitting in an office clicking through millions of pages looking for those two elements. I sometimes shut the door to take a power nap. One summer we were asked to bill 12 hours a day reviewing documents. This lasted for about 4 weeks. If done correctly and ethically, it should take about 14 hours in the office to bill 12 hours, because you can't bill for time away from the task. That means when you get your lunch, take a bathroom break, go to the ATM, run to a colleague's office to sob uncontrollably about the futility of life, you are not billing. It means you eat dinner at the office with the other chumps who sit down the row from you doing the same thing all day long.

How meaningful was it for me to read millions of pages of other people's sales documents or emails? Do you read your own spam email? I don't read mine, yet it was my job to sift through spam emails and look for document to build our cases. I never found a smoking gun email. Once I found a document where a sales director told his direct reports to "stay the course," which a certain federal agency thought meant "keep on violating federal securities laws." Eventually, we were able to convince that agency that "stay the course" meant "sell the hell out of our products if you want to see a year-end bonus."

I could convince myself that work was meaningful because my firm paid me six figures to do it. Nothing like a huge paycheck to create an illusion that my work was vital. And, of course, someone had to the document review. That's what first and second year lawyers are for. I absolutely knew what I was getting into.

But how come today when my days are filled with laying on the floor while Simon tries to crawl or dancing on the table with Sadie to prepare her for ballet class tomorrow I tell myself that's not meaningful because I am not getting any money to do it? When did my priorities get so out of line that I can only measure meaning by money? It's sort of insane to think that shuffling paper and pulling privileged documents out of a stack of millions is "more important" than teaching Sadie how to bake banana bread (with agave nectar) or nursing Simon throughout the day because he's sick and needs the comfort?

No one has ever suggested to me that being a mom is not meaningful or important. I know some mothers have made other choices, but there is a tacit understanding that we respect each other. I feel lucky that during my motherhood tenure, I have had part-time work, full-time work and now mostly full-time off of work. I would like to stop minimizing what I am doing and assuming that it's easy or insignificant just because I am doing it.

I actually don't think other moms are judging me. I think the real issue is judging myself. I don't really care if someone else is on partner track and has 3 small children. Nor do I care if someone has never worked a day in her life and has 1 child and 2 nannies. I am too freaking tired and self-obsessed to worry about how it's working for other families. Certainly, I have spent time judging other people, including mothers, but that hobby has lost its appeal amid the reality that it's all hard; all choices have serious pros and cons; and nobody does it perfectly.

The other day I heard a male friend (who happens to be a father) complain about another mother. He claimed this other mother is "insane." I asked for a specific example of her insanity. He said, "Well, she has no wipes in her house." Laughing, I asked him, basically, what the fuck he was talking about. He said that when her 20-month old son has a poopy diaper, this other mother takes off his cloth diaper and sticks his bum under the sink instead of using wipes. My favorite part of this story is that I don't give a shit. I don't care if this other mother uses hemp wipes or Evian to wipe her son's ass. I assume she has either thought this through and decided that for her family and the environment that wipes were a pain in the ass (no pun intended). Otherwise, it could be that it's very easy to be too busy to buy wipes (we've been there) and the next best solution is to just belly your kid up to the Moen and let the river run. Either way, it's the first time I noticed that I was cutting another mom some slack. It was my first instinct to assume all was well or at least safe enough and that there was nothing she was doing that I might not do myself.

This is a good development because it's only a matter of time before I start cutting myself some slack. Then, what the hell am I doing to do with my thoughts all day if I am not criticizing myself?


Thursday, August 11, 2011


Everyday after nap time I spend some quality time with both Sadie and Simon. Sadie loves to have Simon in her crib so she can hug him and kiss him and sometimes she likes to "help" him roll over, which means she grabs him and flips him over against his considerable will. It's all the in the name of good fun at my house. I try to walk the line of letting them play with each other without the spectre of mom hovering over their every move, but I also need to protect Simon because Sadie does not always know her strength. She also likes to copy the stuff she sees us doing with Simon, so she pinches his cheeks like mama does, but occasionally her pinches are a little distressing for Simon. I love that time of day, especially if I have gotten to catch a little snooze myself. Everyday I am conscious that that few hours is time I would never have if I was working outside my home.

We are also about to hit the end of an era here. Sadie is starting to be able to pronounce the letter "s" when it starts a word. Our days of hearing her call herself "Ladie" and her brother "Limon" are numbered. When I was driving her to the park the other day, she was in the back seat saying "SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSadie" over and over again. I asked her who taught her to say her name like that. She said, "Sabrina," our beloved nanny. I felt happy. I have never once tried to correct her pronunciation of her name because I think it's cute and the pediatrician said she's got 2 years before she's "supposed" to pronounce her S's. I refuse to spend my time correcting Sadie for acting her age. I am ok with Sabrina working with Sadie because I have seen her lovely, gentle and attentive manner. I will miss her "Ladie" though. I also have a feeling she'll be pronouncing shoes as "loos" for a long time still.

As summer winds down I have a few things on my summer 2011 bucket list. I want to buy ice cream from the little dude who pushes an ice cream cart around our neighborhood ringing a bell. It seems like a quaint way to commemorate summer and support our enterprising neighbors. I also want to take Sadie to the zoo now that she knows more about animals and their sounds. I have dreams of the aquarium, but since we will need all the cold weather activities we can get I will save that for winter. I also included running a 5K on my list, but Jeff and I did that tonight with some friends and it was a perfect evening: 75 degrees, nice breeze off the lake, full moon and delicious al fresco dining. What could be better? It's the kind of night I thought I would never have once I had children and I am happy to be proven wrong.

Other bucket list items: order a marriage license to be sure this whole thing is legal; send out thank you cards for all the generosity we've experienced this summer; make something delicious with summer vegetables from the farmer's market; and clean out our freezer.

Is this the most exciting life you have ever seen chronicled on the internet? Maybe not, but it's the best life I have.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

And just like that, it's August

Excuse me, but how the bejesus did it get to be August? Where did the summer go? Has the heat so addled my brain that I just sleptwalked through the past 2 months? Whatever it was, it's time to face the facts: The greatest summer of my life is slipping through my hands like water my kids peed in. Ah, sweet bath water laced with urine.

I have moments everyday where I think to myself: memorize this moment because it's perfect. Memorize these feelings because they are sublime. Today, Sadie and I spent some time laying on my bed relaxing and her head was on my shoulder. It was totally perfect. We were both still and quiet and in close physical proximity. I felt happy thinking that my daughter could see me and my presence as a place to relax. As part of "home." I hate the thought of her feeling tense or clinched in my presence. It was a perfect moment and over too soon.

And Simon, if he's not the sweetest little pumpkin. My first instinct when I learned of his existence was to call him a cherry blossom. A mom's instinct is a powerful thing. As I spend these days watching him blossom, he's much than a meatball-- he is at once more delicate and more multi-dimensional. He's a cherry blossom. He's also learning how to crawl and his little body keeps trying to make it happen. It looks like he cannot control his brain that wants him to practice, practice, practice all the time. When we are nursing he trying to crawl and nurse at the same time. Do I even need to say more about how awkward that is?

This evening Simon put his head on my lap and rested there for a few minutes. Then, he looked up into my eyes and gave me the biggest smile and make a happy grunting noise that make me think he knows his mama loves him with an inexplicable intensity, which reveals itself, paradoxically, when we are calm and relaxed.

I hope I remember these moments and these days forever, because they are the most important moments that have ever happened to me.

When we aren't all gazing and relaxing at each other, Sadie loves to play "Home Depot," which is when she gets on her Winnie the Pooh big wheel and rides around telling everyone she's going to Home Depot to get nails, a hammer and some paint. Jeff takes Sadie to a kids workshop at Home Depot every month and it's clearly make a deep impression on Sadie. The best is when she grabs one of my purses and puts on her lipstick and then announces majestically that she is off to Home Depot. She's in and out of lots of different stereotypes.

As for Simon, he's physically ahead of his cohorts as he is already sitting up on his own. He's also getting 3 "meals" a day of cereal, sweet potatoes and/or squash. Plenty of his "dinner" and "lunch" end up on his bib, but plenty also ends up in his belly and I have the diapers to prove it. He is officially 18lbs 10 ounces so he's clearly not missing any meals. The smiles on that kid could melt a diamond.

My class starts in about 3 weeks. I can't express how grateful I am not to be spending my day at a law firm and missing these moments. Even the ones that suck, like when Sadie had a full out meltdown at the grocery store for reasons that are still unclear to me (and probably her). That really sucked, but at least I didn't have to wear a suit for the privilege of being yelled at and asked for something unreasonable that I didn't even understand. Children and law firms have much in common