Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adios, 2011

2011, you have been very good to me and my family. The highlight of the year was the birth of Simon, who has brought all of us so much joy. It's been a delight to watch our family grow. I can't believe these two wonderful beings belong to me. I love them so much. Another highlight was having the courage to let go of my firm job, which was an agonizing decision. It was also one of the best decisions I ever made. Our family weathered the blizzard of 2011, the departure of our first nanny, the welcome of our beloved Sabrina. We set our gazes on the horizon and look forward to finding a school for Sadie and (hopefully) a little less travel for Jeff. I hope to find my way back to a professional existence in God's time.

In the meantime, we are rocking the new year with a bowl of cereal for dinner and a bedtime of 10:00 p.m. sharp. Don't tell me that parenthood isn't exciting. I tried a new cereal for dinner: Barbara's Toasted Oats-- no corn syrup.

By the end of this year I will either be vegan or on the paleo diet. I am in the mood for some dietary extremes.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ask me why I hate Steve Jobs.

I have spent hours reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. It's riveting. I have never learned so much about computers or microchips or innovation. I was willing to forgive Jobs for his tyrannical business practices, his ruthlessness in negotiations and the harsh manner in which he enforced accountability at Apple. I read with awe and incredulity how Jobs bent reality to fit his purposes and drive his teams to produce greater products that have actually improved my life. And putting aside the fact that it's actually none of my business what his personal life was like, I still couldn't help but think about his relationships: the one with his oldest daughter whom he initially abandoned and then maintained a rather stormy relationship with for the rest of his life or his subsequent three children.

Because Jobs fully cooperated with Isaacson in the writing of this book, I felt invited to think about Jobs' personal decisions, including those involving his children.

I didn't really start to hate him until I finished the book and saw the picture on the inside back cover. It's a picture of Jobs in his signature black mock turtle neck, jeans and Keen shoes. He's leaning back in his chair with his head cradled in his hands. His gaze appears to be focused on his computer screen: a large Mac (of course) with a picture of his wife and son, Reed, smiling on what appears to be a happy day. That sealed it for me.

Throughout the book Isaacson made several passing references to how Jobs tended to ignore his daughters, Eve and Erin. There are hardly any references to Jobs' actual interactions with his daughters in the entire 571-page book. His disinterest in them was especially alarming in light of his interest in Reed. Reed was allowed to attend a weekend of board meetings in June 2010, when Jobs and his Board were trying to decide how to deal with the technical glitches in the iPhone 4. "Jobs also decided to bring his son Reed, then a high school senior, back with him from Hawaii . . . [Jobs told Reed] 'You're going to be in the room with the best people in the world making really tough decisions and get to see how the sausage is made.'" According to Issacson, "Jobs got a little misty-eyed when he recalled the experience. Jobs told Issacson, "'I would go through all that again just for that opportunity to have him see me at work . . . He got to see what his dad does.'"

Well, that was no doubt wonderful for Reed. Do you think maybe Eve and Erin might also like to see what their dad does for a living? Might Eve and Erin also want to sit in on historic meetings with the "best people in the world"? Might they want the opportunity to be exposed to the rarefied air at an Apple Board meeting? Yes, his girls were younger than Reed, but if you are going to let a 16 year old sit in on top secret Board meetings, why not a 13 year old?

So, here's Steve Jobs, this west-coast innovator, "genius", and "visionary", but he won't give his daughters the same access he gave his sons to his beloved company. It's one thing to read about large sociological patterns and glass ceilings, but it's quite another to see one of the most powerful businessmen of my generation obliterate his daughters. Surely, of any of the young women coming of age today, those with fathers or mothers who are CEOs are at least slightly more likely to rise through the business ranks because of privilege, connections, opportunities, and because they have been parented by CEOs. A CEO parent has a rare opportunity to give his children a portal into the pressures and joys and politics of running a company.

But not if the CEO parent is only interested in imparting that knowledge to his sons. I know that no one, including Jobs himself, holds up Steve Jobs as a paragon for parenting. It's awfully old-fashioned to value sons more than daughters, isn't it? I thought he was supposed to be cutting edge. What's so cutting edge about giving your son a front-row seat to history but leaving your daughters at home to prepare you a vegan dinner? Ok, so he left his daughters in Kona, Hawaii, but still. They weren't invited to the Board meeting and Isaacson suggests that such an idea would have never occurred to Jobs.

How could it occur to his daughters if it never occurred to him?

Isaacson also noted that Jobs solicited input from Reed about the new Apple campus, but ignored Erin-- who was sitting in the same room during the conversation-- who is an aspiring architect and already showing promise in design. (Reed hopes to be an oncologist.) "[I]t seemed not to occur to him to call her over as well." She also really wanted to go to the Oscars with her dad, and while Jobs' wife was game to give up her ticket for her daughter, "[Jobs] dismissed the idea."

Here's a man who may be placed in the pantheon "right next to Edison and Ford." What does it mean for future female executives that "the greatest business executive of our era," brought his son to meetings to show him what Dad does, but left his daughters at home like pets or invalids? Jobs himself liked to see himself as perched at the intersection of science and humanities. He said that "the reason Apple resonates with people is that there's a deep current of humanity in our innovation." Last time I checked, daughters were part of humanity.

While I was reading the book, I tempered my disgust for his treatment of all three of his daughters by reminding myself that he was sort of an asshole to everyone. He was probably an asshole to his son as well. His true legacy is Apple, his company, not his children who can presumably afford any therapist in the world to help them work through any lingering father issues.

But that back cover. I just can't get over it. I am annoyed that it looks like his screen saver is a picture of his wife and his son. I feel like screaming at this dead man that I don't even know, "HEY, HAVE ANY PICTURES OF YOUR DAUGHTERS SAVED ON YOUR FANCY MAC?" Really, at the end of the day, Steve Jobs was just one more man who values boys more than girls. It so happens that he is also became very successful and created an iconic American company. All dads who fail to value their daughters as much as their sons piss me off. If Steve Jobs can't see the value in his own daughters' minds and imagine their contributions to a host of enterprises, then how can he (or any other male executive) see the value and potential in women he did not father?

I can't wait for the day that fathers understand that their children don't have to have a sausage to have a desire and a right to see how the sausage is made. Maybe when there are more females among the top-ranking officials in public companies we will be able to move beyond metaphors that invoke the most phallic cut of meat to something more gender-neutral, like pot roast or brisket.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


The holiday cards are rolling in, and they are my favorite part of Christmas. I love seeing each family's personality reflected in their cards and pictures. I have noticed that they have gotten very elaborate this year. Half our cards were fold outs with multiple pictures of each children from trips to Hawaii and Disneyland and all manner of adorable poses. It reminds me of the saying that parenting is a competitive sport.

And, you know what, I am sort of sick of it. I am sick of measuring myself and my kids against whatever random measuring stick is laying around at the time. I really just want to be kind to my kids and do my best. I guess we'll also get them a good education and some fresh air, but really, I just don't know if I can also eat locally, and get special music tutors, and expose them to the arts and wind farms and worm composting. It's also really hard to be continually nice and kind to a demanding 2-year old who wants her milk cold. No hot. No colder. No, how about juice? Maybe water? Only if it has ice. Two ice cubs, Mommy. Wait, it's too cold. I want an orange. And some macaroni and cheese. And a pear. And 3 figs. And a date. Here, hold my pit. No, Daddy should hold the pit. Mommy, you should get me some artisanal pickles to go with my grilled cheese and my macaroni and cheese.

Are you kidding me that I have to be nice and obsequious to my toddler when she acts like this? And, if you are reading this, don't assume she was using her nice, cute, innocent little kid voice. Assume she was screaming and petulant and angry and surly and coy-- all at the same time. I find myself in those moments wanting to scream my head off. I hear messages that I should be patient and treat her with respect because, after all, she's a little person. The thing is that she doesn't act like a little person. She acts like a little tyrant going through withdrawal from caffeine and having just endured a breakup and a layoff. The drama is high and so is the pitch and the volume. I know I am the parent. I know I chose to have a child who was one day going to be 2 and have to learn autonomy. But, God lord, expecting myself to show up for all of it with nothing but a serene smile and an endless repertoire of cheese-based dishes is too much.

It's just too much.

No more expectations that dealing with this is supposed to be fun or easy or intuitive. If I did what was intuitive, I would lay down on the kitchen floor and beg her for mercy or just to shut up for 5 minutes while I tell her all the reasons why her life is 45 flavors of totally awesome. Then, I would remind her that she asks me for frozen yogurt and figs every single day and has yet to digest either. Ever. So, no, she can't have either one and she's going to get a beverage in the temperature of MY choosing and she's going to drink it, like it, and be well hydrated. I haven't done this. I have stood there stupidly wondering what is wrong with me that the yelling grates on my nerves and pushes my buttons.

Nothing is wrong with me. I am human. 2 year olds are doing something wonderful and hard; so are their parents.

So I am going to be nice and kind and keep the expectations a little more realistic.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Denim Day

I used to love those specialty days during grammar and high school where you got to dress in creative ways: school spirit day, picture day, character fair day. It was a big deal at my Catholic schools because otherwise we were all wearing the same plaid uniform day after day and year after year. I never lost my love of thematic dressing and now Sadie and Simon have to endure my flights of sartorial fancy. Pictured above is our homage to denim: Sadie in her little denim dress and Simon sporting the Oshkosh overalls. If there is something cuter than a chubby baby boy wearing overalls I have never seen it.

I haven't been able to post much during December, even though I thought I would be so above getting sucked into holiday frenziness. Turns out, celebrating both Hannukah and Christmas is actually more work. I didn't see that coming. I was too busy buying blue Hannukah wrapping paper and Christmas tree ornaments. I am also toying with the idea of figuring out how to make a latke a little less...well, fried. It's so damn fried. I want to enjoy the holiday and the traditional food but a plate of brisket and a fried ass potato is gonna set me back a bit on the old health front. I think it's probably rude to mess with a tradition that has worked for Jewish people for many, many years, but I may be brash enough to tackle the latke. We'll see.

Other December highlights include extra time being a super model parent. Ask Sadie about what happened when Jeff and I let her lick a serrano pepper on Saturday? Be careful if you bring it up, though, because she may start to cry and talk about how "spicy" it was. In our defense, she kept asking to taste it and we let her just barely lick it. I honestly didn't know that her whole chin would turn red and she would cry for 30 minutes. After she licked it, we fed her milk and cheese and chips and water and anything we could think of to get the "burning" to stop. I am pretty sure that little exercise qualifies as tough love.

Other than that, it hasn't been easy to buy a bunch of presents for myself, wrap them and put a card on them that says, "To Mommy / Love, Daddy." I am so overwhelmed at Jeff's generosity. He has no idea what he got me, and he's going to be so excited to see it all. I can't wait until Christmas morning.

I also took a night off to go to see A Dangerous Method with a friend. Ah, a movie date with a girlfriend. It's better than a week of therapy, which is a good thing, because guess who's therapist took off for two weeks during the holidays. Don't they tell therapists to stick around during the holidays because of the whole suicide thing? I am pretty sure that people get depressed during the holidays and could use some therapy. I am not asking him to miss the high holidays, I just want him around so I can complain about feeling fat after I eat those latkes. Actually, his absence really just interrupted my running schedule because I run to therapy and that's a nice long 4.5 miler for me. With him gone, how do I get that run in? Nothing says attachment like "you fucked up my running schedule."

Anyway, I am working on my vision for 2012. It's going to be the year of the risk. I am going to push out of my comfort zone and dream big this year. Either that or I am going to keep doing what I am doing and risk feeling more shame about having such a fantastic life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Magic

We have our iconic Christmas Magic photo captured above. We usually get some good Hannukah ones as well, but we were both too busy trying to keep Simon from catching fire to snap a photo. Good thing we have 7 more nights to try!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This says it all

Here's how we wind down before bed: we turn Sadie upside down and run around in circles. She loves it; we are convinced it helps her sleep. There have been no long-term studies on the effects of this on small children. We like to call it "fun."

Actually, both the kids are very physical these days. Simon can walk about 3 steps before falling and Sadie likes to jump on our stomachs and backs and legs. It's all quite cardiovascular and as soon as there is a Groupon for full-body physical therapy, I am signing up. I didn't realize how physical this was all going to get. We are all covered in bruises, but at least I think my kids are getting plenty of my physical attention.

In other news, our friend the mouse is back in the house. I have seen her and so has Jeff. I am sure the little critter is just trying to escape the cold, but I wish she would take up with our neighbors. How much do I NOT want to have to kill one of God's creatures during Advent? On the other hand, how much do I want to be able to come and go into my kitchen without fearing I am wrecking the set of Ratatouille? I have to say that if I was a late-night grazer and wanted to stop, I would get myself a mouse because it's really no fun to eat peanut butter standing up wondering if a mouse is about to run across your feet. So that's my diet tip for this New Year: Get a mouse and you will stay out of the kitchen.

Other causes for celebration:

  • Simon has slept past 5:55 a.m. on more than 3 occasions. Praise Allah!
  • The holiday shopping is almost done and neither of my kids understand presents, or holidays or Santa, which means no long, annoying lists of Disney crap they want (and won't get).
  • Jeff's travels are winding down for the year, which means I don't have to put both kids to bed alone again during 2011. Better than Louis Vuitton.
  • We are narrowing down our school search, which means the home schooling, as Plan B, has moved to Plan C.
  • We surrendered on the topic of getting the perfect holiday picture and made a perfectly lovely holiday card that is en route to our house presently. We will get those out before Arbor Day after all.
  • We have taught Sadie how to say prayers at night, which we have defined as sending good thoughts and kind words to people we love or those who might need it. It's my favorite time of night. She loves to say her prayers and then we put our hands together under our chin and say, "Amen," together. Cutest. Thing. Ever. It gives me a chance to remind her how big of our world is, how full of love it is, how easy it is to send love to others and how thinking about other people we love at the end of the day is a very soothing ritual. Next year we can work on praying for the people we don't like very much.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Card

We have tried three more times to get a holiday card picture and everytime Sadie ends up in meltdown mode and Simon craps his pants. At this rate, we are going to be sending out a holiday card for the ever auspicious Arbor Day 2012. How hard could it be to get two children under the age of 3 to look at a camera and smile at the same time? Maybe I will post the outtakes. Hell, maybe we'll do a card full of outtakes and we'll have the theme of "Keeping It Real," and we can let people know that they shouldn't feel bad that their children are messy and uncontrollable, because, hey, have you seen the Tate-Ellis Christmas card?


Sadie and I went on a little excursion to the Loop yesterday and we ducked into a couple of buildings to take some snaps of my favorite little elfette.

She wears a size 2T clothes, but her hats are extra large, for obvious reasons. Sadie is enjoying having a Christmas tree in our house and I am sure she will enjoy lighting the Hannukah lights. (She's pretty in to fire, which is only slightly concerning to us at this point.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Award Season

They should award Nobel Prizes to moms. To moms like me who do such selfless acts to further peace in the world, such as letting the nanny go home 40 minutes early. I should totally be in the running for this prize. Because what I think my motherhood experience is missing is the dazzling bit of pizazz that comes with awards and honors and ribbons and glory and recognition.

Wait. There is none of that for moms. Maybe I am in the wrong line of work.

I guess I will settle for having a wonderful experience spending time with my children on a daily basis. My dividends will pay off when I don't have to visit them on family day at the Cook County jail or spend their college savings on The Promises in Malibu so they can get sober with Lindsey Lohan or Brooke Mueller.

Actually, there is no guarantee for that either. I don't think science has figured out what makes someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, but if all it took to prevent that was having a semi-sane parent staying home during these formative years, I bet more people would do it if they could financially. They may end up at Ivy League colleges pounding beers and escaping pain that I know nothing about. Then again, they may skip those annoying 4 years of college to pursue a passion like culinary arts or ski instruction. The point is that I don't know what the future holds and 15 years is a long way away.

What I do know is that today was a great day, full of all the connections and activity beyond anything I could have dreamed of when I was toiling away at my former law firm (or staring out the window while "doing" document review or preparing interrogatories). Sadie and I went to visit my friend Trish for a little playdate, which Sadie thoroughly enjoyed as she sampled every single starch in Trish's pantry. On the way home, she kept asking me why she had flax seeds on her hands. I tried to explain that one of the many, many crackers she nibbled on during our visit was full of seeds that she could eat off her hands if she wanted. How there was any room in her stomach after eating cheddar bunnies, aramath crackers, water crackers, rice puffs, flax crackers and her own stockpile of raisins and peanut butter crackers is beyond me.

Then I took Simon to have his follow up appointment to verify that his ear infection has healed and followed that up with a lunch with another friend, Joyce. Simon is a really great 10-month-old dining partner. He likes to look around, take a few bites of food and smile at everyone. That he knocked over a big glass of ice water was really my fault.

I got to put both kids down for their naps. They are napping now. (Hence, the nanny early dismissal.) I am watching the sun start to sink down its wintery path that will leave us in darkness at about 4:30 p.m.

And, it's ok. We are going to have a quiet night here. We are going to play and have dinner and read books. Mommy will probably lay on the floor and see if the kids will just play nicely and quietly around her prone body. Then, they will be in bed and I will have had this day. This day, the prize that is all mine. It could all go to shit later and both kids could cry and whine from 5-8 p.m., but right now, as they lay sleeping and gathering energy for their afternoon assault, I can see a kind of perfection in this day that is what I was hoping to find when I left my job 10 months ago. As everyone else already knows, I only get today, so whether my future holds Swarthmore or DeVry or a stripper pole or anger management classes -- and let's be clear, any of those could be for me or for them-- I have today in my hands and am grateful for the chance to pause and appreciate all that I have.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bad Romance

When I hear Lady Gaga's Bad Romance (and for those of you who frequent spin classes, you cannot avoid it), I think of my breast milk. And my breast pump. And, we are in a bad romance.

Let's review: "I want your ugly, I want your disease/I want your everything as long as it's free."

That's me with the breast pump in a pop music nutshell. From the beginning, I was pumping like mad because I thought I was going back to my firm and I didn't want to worry about supply issues. Then, I kept pumping because of habit, duty, psychosis, the calorie burn, and fear about supply. Even when I decided not to return to work, I kept on pumping at least twice a day because (1) I knew I had the milk so why let it go to waste and (2) I often missed feedings when I was out with Sadie so I had to come home and pump for those missed feedings.

Well, let's just say that I was a little OCD about it. Every now and then my friends or Jeff might casually inquire about why I was pumping so much when I was pretty much a stay-at-home mom. I couldn't articulate it (probably because it's hard to make crazy sound sane), but I knew I couldn't stop. The whole enterprise took on moral and Biblical implications. I felt it was somehow immoral to not pump those extra 5 ounces I got in the morning. They were just sitting there in my breasts and everyone knows breast milk is like gold. How could I just stop pumping? What kind of mother does that?

I kept pumping. Soon, our reluctant sleeper, Simon, started to sleep through the night, which meant that the 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. feedings were consolidated into his 5:00 a.m. feeding, which we still do to this bleary-eyed day. I had a vague idea that my milk stockpile was pretty large, but I never really concentrated on that part of the freezer. I was more interested in the part of the freezer where I kept the ice cream and the frozen brownies.

About 4 weeks ago, I realized that some of my milk is going to expire. I have very carefully dated each bag of milk in the freezer and some of them bear June dates. The guidelines for keeping breast milk in the freezer vary, but generally six months is the outer limit of when it's still considered good nutrition for a baby to have defrosted breast milk. A friend told me about a young mother with "supply issues" (meaning she wasn't producing enough milk for her baby) and I decided to donate my milk. I felt afraid about letting my precious milk go, but the thought of it expiring and going to waste when a little baby out in the world could have it literally make me ill. I spent some time in the milk area of the freezer and separated all the milk by month. I had roughly 100 ounces I was willing to donate to my friend's friend, who actually ended up declining the milk because she was wary about the anti-depressant I am taking.

I tried not to feel rejected or ashamed that I take a low dose (I had to throw in there that it was "low" to mitigate the shame; and it really is low) of an anti-depressant that I started taking when I was a few weeks post-partum with both kids. I don't drink caffeine or alcohol or any non-approved FDA substances, but understandably some moms are nervous about medications. Another mother passed on it for similar reasons. I wish the well and feel grateful that I didn't have supply issues. Well, I do have supply issues, but the issue isn't low supply.

The issue is now I have about 100 ounces of milk in my freezer and it's going to expire soon. All year long Jeff has said that Thanksgiving weekend I can stop pumping. By his calculation, with our extra supply and Simon approaching the one-year mark (when babies are allowed to drink cow's milk so we won't have to rely on formula), I won't need to do that extra pump in the morning. I have been willing to let that go, and it feels really good. With those extra 40 minutes, I have spent more time dancing with Sadie, cuddling with Simon and hiding from both of them in the shower when I wanted to be alone.

But I am still addicted to the pump and sense of control I feel using it, which has been the irresistable draw of the pump in the first place. Why? Because breast feeding is so fucking hard, mostly because even after my boobs no longer hurt through every feeding and I accepted the fact that I couldn't really cavort around town with no sense of time because I would need to feed Simon, I still couldn't control one god-damned thing about nursing. I, like every other breast feeder, never knew if Simon was getting enough. Yes, he was in the 90th percentile for weight, but I couldn't measure it and tell feeding after feeding and day after day. I never knew if a day's fussiness was because of low supply or because I had extra brussel sprouts the day before. I didn't know anything. I hated that most of all, so I enlisted the pump give me a sense of control. I can measure what comes out of the pump. Every bottle has little hatch marks to show me each half an ounce. I can sit on my bed and listen to the wheeze of the pump and watch the drops turn into ounces turning into a bottle that Simon can drink. I have no idea what really happens when he's hanging out on my breast every morning from 5:00 a.m. until 7:00 a.m. In part, I don't know because I am half asleep, and many times, so is he.

I couldn't have done the breastfeeding for this long (and I intend to keep going, one day at a time) without the pump. It afforded me opportunities to sleep and to go places with Sadie while Simon got to nap. It helped me endure some of the tedium that is having a newborn baby. And an infant. It helped me take bottles of breast milk in the few places where I wasn't comfortable nursing.

It's a seriously miraculous invention of the modern world.

And, when I look at my freezer I can see that I quite possibly took it a little too far. A stay-at-home mom does not need a freezer full of 200 ounces of milk, the bags of which will expire one by one starting Sunday. I am not sure I could have forgiven myself for NOT pumping had I encountered supply issues, but I am finding it hard to forgive myself for pumping like a maniac and ending up with milk that will be thrown out.

NOT Coming to a mailbox near you

We tried. We had the matching outfits. We had the camera ready to go. We all had naps. But this photo shot was not meant to be "the One." We were working on the holiday card, but at the end of about a 12-minute period, both kids ended up in their diapers chasing each other around the living room.
We have to try again this weekend. I was hoping to be mailing out some photo magic as soon as Monday, but the train has been delayed. By god, if it takes me until May, I will get my picture. There's nothing wrong with a sweet little Memorial day greeting from the Ellis family.
Yes. It was just wasn't happening.