Sunday, February 26, 2012

Packing Up, Packing In

It's a rare moment when you know you are reaching a new plateau as you are arriving there, and not just in retrospect. Three things happened today that made it clear that whether we like it or not we are in a new place. The trifecta of events proves that a new chapter awaits us all.

First, and most emotionally, I packed up all the baby bottle paraphrenalia. It's been sitting on our kitchen counter in a very prominent spot, even though Simon only drinks out of a sippy cup or nurses. I have been resisting the pull to put it away, because I think it may be going away forever.

God. Just writing that makes me want to sob hysterically with my face on Jeff's pillow. (I don't want the snot all over mine.) Really? I will never shove my breast into a pump nervously checking as the ounces add up (or fail to add up)? I will never spend hours of every day sterilizing bottles, bagging up milk for the freezer, and searching the house for a clean nipple that's not attached to my body? It seems like just yesterday I gave Sadie her first bottle and sat down with the calendar to figure out how many more weeks I would have to nurse. Now, here I am doing "extended" nursing with Simon and praying each day for one more chance to share the nursing experience.

Ladies and Gentlemen, not 2 minutes after I had creased the Zip Lock bag with all the old bottles, Sadie ran into the kitchen telling me that "the poopy was coming, the poopy was coming." Then, she sat down and pooped into her potty for the very first time in my presence. Jeff joked that Sadie had been waiting for me to move through the emotions of putting away the bottles to show me what a big girl she is. He was joking, but that's exactly the way I think: My willingness to put the bottles away shifted the energy in my house enough to pave the way for her to shit somewhere besides her pants. Laugh if you want, but I believe it.

And, finally, and most relevant to you, is that I am starting a new website/blog. It's time to seal up the _____________ With Joy series. I started with Bridled With Joy, then there was Bundled with Joy, and now Swaddled With Joy. What an amazing experience to chronicle my wedding and the births of my two children and the expiration of my law practice.

The new site launches early this week, so check back here for more details.

All new beginnings entail a death of that which is passing. I do love a nice dose of melancholy on a late winter evening.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bedtime Stories

I am not complaining, but if I had to read another book about Llama Llama or Dora the Explorer tonight, I was going to lose my biscuits. Our nighttime routine needed some sparkle and some inspiration. I decided it was time to introduce Sadie and Simon to poetry.

Where better to start than with the Beat poets. I sure as hell didn't want anything that rhymes, because that's too close to sing-songy children's dreck that I wanted to step away from-- even if it was for just one night.

And even though the mood was far from lachrymose at my house, I was called to the Kaddish. I forgot what a wild ride that poem is. There were notes in the margin from graduate school, which basically track my 22-year old self's understanding of repression and Cold War politics, as well as the personal nature of the poem: Ginsberg wrote the poem for his mother, who spent most of his youth committed to the Communist party and going fucking insane. In fact, Ginsberg and his brother agreed to allow doctors to perform a lobotomy on their mother in 1948, as her behavior had grown so bizarre and erratic. And the psych meds made her fat. You can imagine that a little Catholic girl from Texas might have a bit of an uphill battle putting that all together. (In Texas, it's worse to be fat than to be lobotomized.) And because I am a giver, I figured I would spare Sadie and Simon the fate of having never read the Beats or having never been exposed to poetry at home.

On some level I hope that Sadie and Simon never know Ginsberg's anguish-- he missed his mother's funeral and later learned that because there were not enough men present, the kaddish (prayer for the dead) was not read. Two years and lots of drugs later, Ginsberg writes the kaddish. (It's never too soon to start subtly and subliminally informing your children that their presence at your funeral is a non-negotiable.)

I skipped over the parts that hint that Ginsberg's mother may have been more than a little sexually inappropriate with him. We focused more on themes of memory, forgiveness, and specific images from New York and New Jersey.

So, yes, I read them the Kaddish while they scrambled around the living room-- Simon chasing Sadie with a plastic golf club and Sadie, clad in her new Dora swimsuit, running back and forth from the living room to the kitchen so many times that her hair was matted with sweat when she finally collapsed and asked me: "Are you done reading that recipe book to us?"

Ah, the mouths of babes. I knew she would "get" Gingsberg. My wee genius.

Excuse me, have you seen my Republican son?

He's angling to elevate himself out of the 99% and into the 1%. I told him he needed to upgrade his wardrobe if he wanted to "look the part" of a business tycoon. This is what he chose: The sweater vest, which is a solid, upwardly mobile staple. The plaid in the shirt matches the plaid in the sailboat applique, which is also sartorially winning. He's got the deadpan stare and the side-swept hair line, both of which whisper faintly of aristocracy. He just might be able to pull it off as long as he doesn't let his professional peers come home to meet his mama, because when I roll up in my Marshall's spring finds and my sailor's etiquette, there will be no mistaking Simon's true roots.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stepping Out

Holy crap, I am either going to throw up or scream into my pillow for five minutes. I just did something AMAZING and happy and so fucking brave. I kind of can't believe I just did it.

I am so proud of myself.

It would have been so easy to sit on the couch and peruse the TV shows we've recorded. Hell, I have enough Rosie Shows to keep me busy until the ides of March. I also could have stuck my head into my latest book and spent the evening living the life of the mind.

But, I didn't. I just spent 2.5 hours polishing an essay that I previously spent about 15 hours writing. Originally, I wrote it as a Hanukkah gift for my therapist. I wanted him to know all the ways in which Simon reminds me of him. It was long, rambly and full of charming non sequitors.

Not anymore.

I cut it down by half, since the submission guidelines said essays could only be 1700 words. Initial versions of my essay were over 3500 words. I had a lot to say and it was painful to cut out my witty asides and self-deprecating one-liners. Right now I am so tired I don't even know if the 1700 words I left make any sense or say anything remotely compelling. I decided I would just send it off and keep moving. Keep writing. I promised myself I would do a blog entry to memorialize this feeling, which I think most closely approximates pride. And it's not the pride of having won or been chosen or having reached any particular place. What I feel right now is the pride of having just jumped.


I did it. I didn't think I could do it and I just did. What's the worst that could happen? I wholeheartedly embrace any rejection letter that may be coming my way because inherent in the rejection letter is the truth of the fact that I stepped out into the world and said, "here's this piece of myself that I think you should publish." The rejection means I asked for entry. Hell, the rejection doesn't matter one bit. To me, it's proof that I haven't spent my time plugged into the OWN network watching inspirational TV about how to live my best life. I am busy living my best life. I have spent my time making something and sending it out into the world.

I feel like throwing open my window and screaming, "I DID IT. I DID SOMETHING NEW AND SCARY AND I FEEL SO HAPPY. (Now, please tell your stupid dogs to shut the fuck up!)"

Fucking A: Yes, I did send an essay to the venerable NY Times tonight. I have a little something I want to say about modern love and what the hell? If I have to get rejected, let it be from one of the most popular and well-respected newspapers there is.

Go BIG or GO HOME (and sit on the couch and watch Dancing With the Stars)!

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that this burst of courageous joy was inspired by Sadie Anne Ellis. She's been doing gymnastics for 6 weeks. For the first 4, she wouldn't hardly do anything except tremble with fear and call my name to get her off whatever apparatus she was on. I didn't push her; I just decided we'd go each week and she could do what she felt comfortable doing. Last week, a light switch went off. I couldn't keep her off the rings and the bars that just one week before she refused to touch. To see her swinging from the ropes today asking me to push her higher with a smile that lit up the sweaty old gymnasium was sublime. She beamed at me through her sweaty curls and flushed cheeks: "Look at me, Mama, I am swinging."

Yep. Look at you, kiddo. I have no idea what the fuck changed inside of you that made you want to hurl yourself off a mat onto a trapeze, but it looks great on you and I will try a little of that myself.

So, take that, New York Times. I am swinging for you.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bronzed Beauties

Next to my stellar memory (which was recently vindicated when I learned that there was indeed a Maudie Wheatley in my sorority), I take great pride in my gift-giving skills. I love giving gifts exponentially more than I like getting gifts. I spend a lot of time thinking about gifts and bringing a unique blend of humor, compassion, luxury and whimsy to the gifts I give to my loved ones. Not every gift from me is a slam dunk-- there have been plenty of lame fleece jackets or scented candles. Like writers' block, I sometimes get gift block, which happens when inspiration fails to strike and I am left standing in the check-out aisles of T.J. Maxx with some bath gel and socks.

I find it torturous that some important people in my life do not want things. For example, my husband never really wants anything. Golf stuff? No, he would rather get that himself. How about a book? No thanks, I don't like reading. Magazing subscription? No. iPad? No, I bought one for myself. I refuse to phone it in by giving him a gift certificate, so I have had to get creative. Specifically, I have resorted to getting Jeff gifts that he doesn't know he needs and for which he has not yet tapped into his desire.

Some gems I have given Jeff include a subscription to the Meat of the Month club, which entailed a different exotic meat showing up at our house each month. That was a bit of a fumble for me since I didn't really think through the fact that I would have to eat that nasty meat myself. That was the winter that found me eating such delicacies as elk stew and ostrich soup, both of which were quite gamey.

Most recently, I took a pair of Sadie's shoes from Jeff's office and decided to get them bronzed. I had no idea what a firestorm that would result from that stroke of pure genius. It all started in mid-December when I was sitting at Jeff's desk looking for a pen and noticed that Sadie's old Mary Jane sandals were sitting there all little and precious and cute and sort of sweaty. My first thought was that it was kind of gross. Then, I decided I would turn it into a present for Jeff. I googled "bronzing baby shoes," and found a great place on the west coast where they would turn Sadie's sweaty castaways into timeless treasures.

Later that week, Sadie and I boxed up her shoes and sent them to the bronzery. I spent a long time trying to explain to Sadie why I was sending her shoes to California. Anyway, weeks passed and I decided I would give them to Jeff for his birthday in March. Unfortunately, I didn't really stay on top of the shoes' journey, because one random night in January they arrived along with some other packages from Amazon. Because I wasn't paying attention, I told Jeff to open all the packages and next thing I know he's holding the shoes asking me "WTF are these?"

Damn. Foiled. I explained that they were Sadie's old shoes that I got bronzed for him.

What followed was something akin to radio silence. Jeff's response was a mixture of amused and perplexed. My response was abject disappointment: I thought it was a great idea and here it arrived and without any ceremony or preparation Jeff opened it. Later that night, Jeff made an off-handed comment that while he knows that he is one of the most difficult people in the world to buy a gift for, he wondered if maybe I bought him gifts that I wanted for myself.

Ooooohhhhhhhhhhh Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. That was NOT the right thing to say. I couldn't decide how to proceed. I know he was mostly commenting on how hard he is to shop for because he wants for nothing. All I could hear was "so you got yourself some bronze baby shoes and said it was for me." Let me be clear, World Wide Web, this is NOT what he said. As is often the case in the sacred institution of marriage, I on occasion hear more (or less) than what is said. It was a crushing blow to my self-esteem around the subject of gift giving. Understandably, Jeff was at a loss of how to discuss the topic with me because of my adorable tendencies to over react.

The next day I started to poll my male friends, asking their thoughts on the bronze shoes as a gift. The general tenor of the comments from my male friends was outrage and shock that I would pick such a terrible gift for Jeff. Let me recap some choice quotes:

"If my wife gave me those shoes for my birthday, I would throw them back at her and tell her to 'F' off, because clearly the shoes were for herself." -- Bobby A, age 49.

"Oh, I remember when [my wife] wanted to bronze one of the kids' pairs of shoes. I was so appalled. I thought it was so middle class to get the shoes bronzed. I wanted them just as they were, not all bronzed...and middle class." Robert S., age 50 something.

Alrighty then. The comment about the "middle class" nature of the gift pretty much deflated my spirits so utterly that I stopped asking. I don't even really know what that means as an insult, but I know it's not good. I am still trying to understand what exactly someone is saying when hurling the insult "bourgeouis," so it's not likely that I will figure out the nuances of "middle class" any time in the near term.

The problem is that Jeff's birthday is fast approaching and I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Even worse than that, I have perfomance anxiety about gift giving. All I know for now is that exotic meat and shoes made of metal are off the table. It's highly likely that Jeff will get a vanilla-scented Yankee candle and some Addidas socks if I don't think of something magical soon.

UPDATE:  (1) For his birthday, I took Jeff to a pig butchering demonstration, which did not entail me having to eat any of the pig. (2) I started a new blog where you can read all about my gift-giving talents and the myriad things I do for love-- Come check out my new digs: (and while you are there, like my Facebook page and send me some vanilla-scented candles).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Old Age

My college roommate, Alice, and her daughter came to visit us last week. They live in Colorado so we don't get to see them nearly enough. Alice is one of my oldest friends and seeing her last week really crystalized one thing: I am getting old and losing my memory.

I have always been extraordinarily proud of my memory. I am one of those people who remembers all kinds of details that most normal people allow to slip well past the recesses of their mind. Jeff and I actually had a minor little tiff about my memory last Sunday. We were having dinner with friends and someone mentioned the Disney movie, The Lion King, which happens to be one of Jeff's favorite movies. A few minutes into the conversation, I leaned over to Jeff and said in my best stage whisper: "I know the date I first saw the Lion King. It was January 7, 2008, and we watched it on a laptop in my old condo. I was running a fever that night."

Jeff's response (which provoked the "words" we shared later) was "and why are you telling me this?"

Oh, internet, my feelings were hurt. To me, it's a precious memory and I remember crying when Simba was dancing in the African sunset to that Elton John song about the circle of life. I actually remember the date because was the night my nephew was born, so right before we started the movie I called my sister to get all the gory details on birth. (Ok, I was also really crying, not for Simba, but for the part of me that felt sad that my little sister was beating in the race to do all the cool stuff procreate.)

After hearing about my sister's contractions and epidural, I settled in for a little Disney magic with Jeff. I don't expect him to remember the date, but I do expect him to show a little reverence for the steel trap that is my mind. Remembering things like that date or what I wore when Jeff and I went for our wedding cake tasting or when I ate quesadillas for the first time in Chicago (April 2002, Harmony Grill, Thursday night, 8:00 p.m. with Coley Gallagher and Steve Nakisher, and I was wearing a cute floral top from Gap and a pink pencil skirt from Filene's basement) makes me really happy. Those memories are links to my former self, which in turn help me appreciate (and have compassion for) who I am today.

During the visit with Alice, I found myself grasping for hazy memories-- names forgotten and events erased by time, stuck in the resin of my gray matter. She mentioned a former suitor of hers (Phi Delt, a few years older) for whom I have neither name nor hometown recorded in my mind. How can this be? I then spent about 7 hours trying to remember the name of a woman in our sorority whose face I can see so clearly-- actually, I can see her hair even more clearly, because it was the thickest, blackest hair I have ever seen. (Think Adele meets Texas in the early 1990s.) I swear her name was Maudi Wheatley, but Alice looked at me as if I had just asked her to recite Jaberwocky in Chinese.


"Maudi Weatley. Remember her? She pledged during her sophomore year and she had that amazing black hair and blue eyes. I think she was a Kappa Picker."

"I have no idea who you are talking about," Alice insisted.

"I could almost swear her name was Maudie Wheatley."

Shit. Maybe I am thinking of Phyllis Wheatley, the first African-American poet and writer to publish her work. How could I confuse Phyllis Wheatley with this phantom woman I am sure was in our sorority.

Now, I am constantly thinking about things I am sure I will soon forget, which is a really sure-fire way to fuck up the present. I wonder if or when I will forget all the details around my children's births. How long will I remember that Jeff and I had lunch at Cafe Baci on Wacker the day I bought my very first pregnancy test-- we dined on the salad trio, a Baci staple, and Jeff made a face when I told him about the pregnancy test, the expression of which can loosely be translated into, "Go ahead and take the test, Miss Crazy Town, you are not pregnant."

How wonderful it felt to be right for once!

Will I remember that about 10 hours before I peed on that test I watched McCain give his concession speech and I bawled as if I was a Republican-- great big heaving sobs and tears and heartache for poor McCain who seemed so sad and ashamed during that speech. As soon as the last tears spilled I fell into a deep sleep while sitting up and trying to stay awake to see Obama's speech. Will I remember that I was too hormonally saturated to hear the first man I ever voted for accept the presidency, even though I had been hysterial only 12 minutes earlier as I raptly listened to McCain?

And, what about Simon's auspicious beginnings? Will I remember that I was in a hotel in Oxford, Mississippi for an evidentiary hearing when I first got my period after Sadie's birth? Will I remember what the hell an evidentiary hearing is? Will I ever get to tell an adult Simon that I bought him some orange and blue shoes as soon as I found out I was having a boy? Or that I got to tell most of my beloved friends I was pregnant with Simon in person because we went to a wedding the day I found out I was pregnant?

So many details that may not matter at all to anyone except for me, but I already feel a sense of grief about any of it slipping away from me. When I really want to freak myself out, I think about how Alzheimer's runs in my family so I am genetically a time bomb. But I guess that's part of the reason why I blog: to memorialize the trivia and to tell the stories that live inside of me and pump through me like blood and breath. I would keep a diary but then how could I share it with all of you? Also, if there is a fire, I don't have to run back into the house and save the internet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

This morning, Simon, who's suffering from a cold, woke up with the crustiest boogers I have ever seen in my life. I pulled something out of his nose that was as hard and big as a stale crouton. Gross, right?
Well, I got up to throw it away and then I found my hand over the trash can and couldn't do it. Yes, I was unable to throw away my son's booger.

I am super sentimental.

You can't be too hasty with these precious childhood artifacts. I still have his umbilical cord thing that fell off when he was 5 days old. Is this really so different?

I put it on the counter in our bathroom. Actually, I put it right by Jeff's sink. And then I forgot about it.


Just now, a mere 12 hours later, Jeff was brushing his teeth, but then it suddenly got very quiet.

"Christie. Is this Simon's booger on the counter?"

"Yes. I couldn't part with it."

"What are you going to do with it?" Jeff asked.

"Um. Happy Valentine's Day, sweetie."
Ya'll. Come on. I am still recovering from Amy Chua's book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It's the last book I read before giving birth to Simon. I still quake when I see it on my bookshelf because just the sight of the book's spine reminds me of how awful and mediocre and American I am.

If Oprah ever asks me to contribute to her magazine by naming the 5 most influential books, which of course she will as soon as she gets all the way through the D list, my honest answer would include this book. I literally think about it at least once per day. I think about it when I am at gymnastics with Sadie and I find myself praising Sadie for doing nothing more than remaining conscious and refraining from homicide during the 45 minutes we are there. I think about it when she shows me a picture she has drawn and insists it's an octagon, when it's just a straight-ish line down the page. I want to praise her joy and her delusions and her sheer audacity-- she's trying to convince me that a line is an octagon-- my little future lawyer or Republican. I usually do praise her, but then I fret about whether I am fostering mediocrity or teeing her up for a lifetime of jobs at the Old Country Buffet or a currency exchange.

I also sometimes wonder what Amy Chua, who famously rejected a birthday card made by her daughter because she didn't put any effort into it, would think about my genuine joy and elation at my children's creations. Because, you know, sometimes I just feel happy that my kid put a crayon to paper instead of eating it and throwing it on the floor for me to pick up. It's genuine joy. And yes, my bar is low.

While I do not aspire to spending my vacations looking for a piano for my kids to practice complex sonatas, I do want them to have the experience of discipline and mastery and expertise. I won't lie: I do not know if my parenting style will result in any of those things. It's taken me about 55 weeks to come to peace around the fact that I am not a tiger mother (or a Yale Law professor or a daughter of an immigrant).

Enter the French. Circulating among Facebook friends and other mothers is an article all about how the French are apparently stellar parents who raise children who sleep through the night straight out of the womb and never binge on jelly packets at Wishbone.


Here we go again. Let's get a few things straight: I am totally defensive. About everything. I am defensive about being American and being a lawyer who is currently non-practicing and being a mom who stays home (mostly). So when someone tells me about a great article on French parenting my first reaction is to close my mind shut and remind myself that I live in the good old U.S. of A and I don't have to pay any attention to the freaking French model of parenting. And while those are true statements, they don't really advance my deeper calling to keep an open mind.

I decided it wouldn't kill me to read the damn article about the perfect French families who can dine al fresco with their wee tots and sip wine and never have to rush through dinner hoping to avoid a public nuisance fine because their children have turned croissants into missles.

I read it. (There is a book too: Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.)

It's compelling. I thought about it all afternoon when Simon woke up from his nap in an extra-clingy mood and Sadie thought it would be funny to break all of her colored pencils. I thought, "This shit is happening because I am American. If I was French, I'd be standing here in a black pencil skirt and preparing a brie tart while my kids played with their free trade toys and left me the hell alone." You can tell I really absorbed the finer points of the article and applied them to my situation.

The bottom line for me is that this article and the debate it has generated are just more fodder for the mom anxiety and handwringing that I despise. Do any of us need more information about how we are doing it wrong? "You can't make your child the center of your life!" "If you were more present with your child, she would be better behaved and happier!" "You shouldn't push your children because childhood is short!" "If you want excellence, stop giving every kid a trophy!"

What does this new anecdotal "study" of the French do for me?

It's given me the opportunity to do some more math, because now I can be sure that the mothers in the play group who know how to decoupage better than I do (because I don't do it at all) are not the only ones better than I am: the entire country of France is too. Add that to China and the Attachment Parenting moms and the moms who can balance full-time careers and motherhood and that makes about 1 billion people doing it better than I am. I bet the Finnish people are better at getting their children to pick up their clogs than I am; I also bet that the Tibetan moms are more attune to spirituality than I am.

This may sound crazy but I mostly feel like it's too late for me. Yes, my kids are both under 3 years old, but it's too damn late for me to revise my whole nationality and cultural orientation. Call me crazy, but I believe I should probably spend my time trying to figure out how to cook a decent chicken recipe and not worry about how people along the Seine have figured out ways to have more pleasure while raising children.

I will henceforth console myself by telling myself that the French are enjoying it more because they are all smoking and drinking Beaujolais and paying more attention to their lap dogs than their children. Of course that is no more true than the notion that American parents suck and are raising a nation of self-obsessed, uncontrollable, illiterate children and having a miserable time doing it. At the end of the day, I answer to the three people who live under my roof, and we're muddling through the best that we can in our clumsy, idiosyncratic, and sometimes haphazard way. If that's not American, what is?

Thursday, February 9, 2012


We are so grateful we have dear friends visiting us from Colorado, because it distracts me from thinking about when the mail is going to come. (Oh, and we really love mommy's college roommate, Alice, and her daughter, Kate, because they are superb people, not just great distractions.) Today, as I was driving the crew back from the Children's Museum I spotted the mailman one street from our house.

I won't lie. I started to salivate. Mostly, I was hoping that we would have an acceptance letter from a school (any school) so that I could cancel an interview we had this afternoon (in one hour) with our final school. It retrospect, we probably wouldn't have cancelled at the last minute, but still. I was hoping for some break from the whole "describe Sadie..." routine. Between the time we got home from the Museum to the time we had to get into the car and go to the interview, I checked the mail 3 times. In 25 minutes.

I finally surrendered and got into the car with Jeff and Sadie. I was wearing jeans, which felt sort of sacreligious. For every other interview I picked out outfits that projected school-friendly images: Room mother! Host of the Annual Auction! Bake Sale Coordinator! Book Drive Champion! Today's outfit said, "I just came from Navy Pier, where I lost a little piece of my soul when I bought Sadie a Happy Meal at McDonald's so judge me if you must, but I am not putting on any tweed for you."

Here's me, letting the chips fall where they may.

So, we all showed up for the interview. Sadie was required to be with us and let me just say that after a morning at the Pier and a Happy Meal and lots of fun with out-of-town guests, she wasn't really up for sitting quietly while we chatted about curriculum. I would probably do it differently next time. Jeff and I were not really on our best behavior and we had zero mojo for answering the questions. When asked what I would contribute to the school, I blurted out that I would organize a career fair day for parents to come in and talk about their jobs. To the preschoolers.

Awesome. There's nothing a three-year-old likes MORE than hearing about accounting or being a consultant or being a legal writing instructor. Do I know kids or what? Jeff, sensing me floundering, offered that I could teach legal writing to the kids.

More awesome-sauce from the Ellis family. I know kids want to learn to use the Blue Book and work on legal citations.

We really just choked and Sadie kept trying to steal post-it notes and sheets of the calendar off the principal's desk. We asked if we could show Sadie a classroom with students in it, which seemed like a great idea to generate more enthusiasm for school. Maybe we overdid it, because Sadie had a four-mile meltdown on the way home because she wanted to stay at the school. Forever. I should never have gone to a classroom where they were having snack.

Anyway, we shuffled home and consoled ourselves by saying we did the best we could and hopefully we'll just get in somewhere.

When I got home, what did I do?

CHECK THE MAIL-- are you paying attention or not?

Yep. We got a fat envelope from a wonderful school inviting our resident genius to come and join a community of learners. It's terribly exciting. Now I can breathe easy because it means Sadie and Simon will be educated enough to get jobs and support me and Jeff in our old age.


Monday, February 6, 2012

"Lies Don't Work"

What's worse: Being sneaky or not being good at being sneaky?

I am pretty sure it's worse to suck at being sneaky because you still have a guilty heart, but no pay off, no success.

This morning was a triumph for capital T truth because I tried to be sneaky and the fickle finger of fate smote my head in about 3 different ways. I suffered consequences far beyond the magnitude of my success-- had I been successful, which I wasn't.

Lucky for me, I get to bathe in all the shame that comes from trying to be sneaky and confessing my human frailties to Jeff, who could only laugh in what I would generously characterize as pity.

Every Monday morning I have a doctor's appointment downtown. (Here's a hint: it's not for a torn ACL.) This Monday, it just so happens that the good doctor is out of town, so there was no therapy. I also just so happens that I didn't mention to Jeff that there was no doctor, so I simply proceeded as if there was. I was going about my business in the frenetic haze that is Monday morning at my house. I had a plan and if asked, I would have copped to the truth about where I was planning to go.

No one asked.

So, when I got into the car at 6:50 a.m. I had a little rush of adrenaline sort of like the one I used to get when I would sneak out of my house at night in high school. The heady mix of exhilaration and fear of being caught. (Sadie and Simon, if you are reading this, I never did that. This is all creative writing. I never, ever snuck out and took the car to Kevin McConville's house for a party and most certainly did not ever engage in underage drinking.) Except when you do stuff as a 38-year-old parent that you used to do when you were an 18-year-old jackass, you should probably stop and ask yourself some key questions. For example, you could ask yourself "What the F*ck is wrong with you? Why are you sneaking around like some delinquent adolescent?" Or there is always the obvious, "Why are you acting like Jeff is your parent (or your super ego) when he's your friend and a huge supporter of you taking care of yourself?" (Now you know why I USUALLY go to therapy on Monday mornings.)

But NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. The daredevil in me had a spin class to get to that runs at the same time as my therapy usually meets. It was too perfect. As I looked at the schedule of classes, it felt like a sign from God to see a spin class when I usually am downtown.

"It's meant to be!" I exclaimed to no one, since this was all a secret.

I am flying high as I walk into the gym with exactly 4 minutes to spare for the big, old sneaky spin class. The teacher is already there futzing with her bike. She gives me a polite, "good morning," and I throw on a little Texan and reply, "Sure is. It sure is." I spend the next three minutes checking email on my phone and looking through Facebook articles on Contador and his drug doping scandal. (Does everyone who bikes live a life of moral failure?)

It's getting to be about 7:11 a.m. It seems weird that the class isn't starting. Where's my warm up music? Where's Beyonce and Pitbull and Gaga?

Next thing I know, the teacher walks out of the room and turns the lights off. I thought it was strange, but spin teachers aren't exactly known for their balance and rational actions. By 7:15 a.m. I know that something is amiss. I am alone in a dark cycling studio and the class was supposed to start 5 minutes ago. (Just like the picture above, but without the people and the lights.)

I am loathe to consider what is the only obvious option: The class isn't about to start. In fact, it just ended. That's why the teacher just left. With the sound system in her hands. What the hell did she think I was doing in there?

I admit defeat. I go to the front desk feeling lost and abandoned-- my initial exhileration and rebelliousness completely diminished by sitting alone a little too long in a darkened cycling room. Turns out, the group exercise schedule I was consulting is out of date. Monday's spin class is now at 6:00 a.m. I guess that funny smell in the cycle room really was human sweat.

But it wasn't mine.

I didn't break a sweat this Monday morning. I sat on an exercise bike going about 4 miles an hour and read a book. Then, I decided I had to atone for the sin to my family and get some groceries for a gourmet, recompense meal I planned to cook. When I got home the nanny told me she was not coming in on Tuesday, which means I will put Simon in a Bjorn while I take Sadie to gymastics and just hope I don't konk Simon's head on the parallel bars while trying to keep Sadie from hurtling her body on other children. It's really beneath me to complain about having to take care of my own two children all day long without any help. Wait. No it's not. I think I just did.

I took it as a sign that God didn't enjoy my devious plot, and Divine forces were going to make me pay. It's my own understanding of karma. Losing a babysitting opportunity falls somewhere between losing a limb and losing a lifeline. I smiled to myself thinking about how it's the least I deserve.

My friend Krista once told me that she saw a little girl with a sign that said "lies don't work" in her room. I never forgot it. I have always been pretty slippery when it comes to lies of omission. I don't know what I would have felt if I had actually gotten to take the spin class, and I will never know. Because I don't plan to sneak around anymore. It wasn't worth it.

Guest Post: BaR Tender

I did a guest blog entry for Sara Lind at Moments of Exhilaration. Sara's blog is awesome and I was happy to oblige. She's taking the bar so let's all say a moment of silence for the hell that is the bar exam.

Here's my advice for Sara:

* * *

This is all new to me, this guest blogging. I fancy myself the Joan Rivers to Sara’s Johnny Carson. I sure don’t envy Sara right now as she studies for the bar exam. That was a dark and stressful summer (2003) when I was holed up in different libraries across the city trying to cram three years of law school into my head by the end of July. I remember the stress rising with the temperature as the summer days ticked by. That whole summer I took 2 nights off: one to celebrate my 30th birthday at a drag show on Clark Street (the Baton Club? Holla!) and one to see the Dixie Chicks at the United Center.

Other highlights of that summer included when, in a fit of exhaustion and drama the likes of which I didn’t see again until early motherhood, I took a teddy bear home from my therapist’s office and ripped the arms off. Why? I have no fucking idea. You tell me why the rule against perpetuities is on the bar exam and then I’ll tell you why (1) my therapist had a mangy old teddy bear in his office in the first place (2) that I pilfered, and (3) then defiled. That’s the kind of inexplicable, wacky crap I did to “relieve” stress. I still have that teddy bear but my kids are afraid of it. Because it has no arms. I now have better ways to deal with stress that involve on-line shopping and chocolate pudding.

I clearly remember the day after the bar exam was over. It was a hot Thursday. I actually remember that it was July 30. I barely slept that night because I couldn’t get the last question from the exam out of my mind. It was a question about whether polygraph tests are admissible in court. For the non-legal readers, that question was what’s known as a “softball.” The problem is that my brain by then was softer than Charmin. Still today I can’t remember what the deal is with polygraphs and I chalk that up to post traumatic stress disorder. I am pretty sure they are inadmissible. But all night long I kept trying to remember both what the correct answer was and what answer I chose. After all those nights of studying (and dismembering innocent plush toys), I was finally free and still couldn’t get my mind to rest. The following day I wept every hour. I sat in a friend’s car and just cried and cried trying to purge myself of all the stressful toxins and to take in the stunning realization that I could go to lunch and take as long as I wanted. I could lie on the couch. I could watch the Jerry Springer show. I could do any goddamned thing I wanted. As soon as I stopped crying.

When I started to recuperate and regain my previous mental footing (such as it was), I gathered my wits about me and decided to buy myself a present. I wanted a token of appreciation for myself, recognizing all of my hard work and commemorating the beginning of my lawyerly life. Of course I turned to Ebay. Only in the post-bar stupor could this make any sense. I had a few thousand dollars of salary in advance from my firm and my first stop was not Neimans or Barneys or even Ann Taylor. Nope. Ebay for me, thank you very much. Maybe it was the lure of competition—trying to be the winning bid on Ebay was a methadone for the heroin that was all the bar preparation. In any case, I decided I wanted to be the winning bid on a Tiffany’s bean necklace. (Please reserve judgment; I never said I had good taste.) How elated was I when that satisfying little “ding” of a new email was from Ebay informing me that I had won. My bid for 68.00 on a “mint” condition, authentic Tiffany’s necklace was the winning bid. It was mine, all mine.

That night when my boyfriend came home, I bragged about my Ebay victories and that I was able to go about 4 straight hours without weeping out on the streets. I told him I got a great deal, which I took as a sure sign of my ability to negotiate great settlements as a lawyer. The necklace was my talisman and predicted future success. He looked over the email from Ebay and remarked off-handedly that it was funny that I bought a necklace from England.


Turns out, the legal genius herself missed a few details on the Ebay posting. I missed that the necklace was coming from London. And then I missed that the cost was in pounds, not US dollars. My perfect little coup was actually going to cost me more than if I had walked to Tiffany’s on Michigan Avenue and asked for the top-shelf sterling silver bean necklace. My boyfriend at the time thought that was funny and laughed in that humiliating “I swear I am not laughing at you, but really we both know I am laughing my ass off at you” way. Dear readers, I got him back. I convinced him to go to law school before we broke up so that one day he too would have to face his own bar exam demons. I can only hope that his celebrations included some intemperate Ebay-ing and googling his ex-girlfriends (whose firm picture prominently featured her fancy English Tiffany’s necklace).

So, good luck to Sara. Do call me before you make any bids on jewelry and remember what they say about polygraphs . . . whatever the hell it is.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tis the Season

I am starting to get nervous about checking the mail everyday. It's reminiscent of the spring I applied to college, and then the one when I applied to graduate school, and then again, when I applied to law school. In some ways this is more intense because it concerns my children. My children who I would like to attend preschool.

If you would have told me that checking my mail for Sadie's preschool admissions letters would feel like college admissions, I would have suggested that maybe you had huffed too much cough syrup this cold & flu season.

"That's insane. She's not even three."

Right. And, the situation we find ourselves is this: We would like to continue to live in the city. Our local public school is about as safe and cheery as Pontiac Prison so we have to look for alternatives. If you will recall, the housing market is less than robust, so selling our house to get into a desirable district will only happen if we take a huge loss on our house. Because that is unappealing for a variety of obvious reasons, we have spent the better part of the past 4 months looking at private schools. That shouldn't be too hard, right?

Because we don't want to be dependent on a plan that requires us to move, we have concentrated on schools that go through at least 8th grade. That buys us plenty of time to figure out any address changes. We even looked at 2 that go through high school, which is appealing since it means I don't ever have to do those stupid essays describing my children. The first time we worked on the essays and aplications, it was fun: "Pick three words to describe your daughter."

I wanted to pick "inscrutable, obsequious, and persepacious." Jeff nixed it because it was clear I didn't know what those words meant and they probably didn't apply the Sadie anyway. The novelty of the admissions questionnaires quickly waned as we ended up applying to six schools. It's not clear to me which, if any, Sadie will get into.

And that's the thing. It's one thing to reject me for a PhD program (I am looking at you Princeton, University of Texas, University of Georgia, and Berkeley) or a law program (I am still looking at you University of Texas, and also staring down Northwestern, Stanford, Notre Dame (WTF?), and Duke), but it's another to reject my baby girl. Because, I know it's a numbers game and I know these schools need plenty of mega-rich families to fund the youngsters trips to Mackinac Island and Paris, but it will feel like rejection if Sadie can't get into a Montessori school within 10 miles of our house. So sorry we can't contribute 50,000 to the auction, but could my daughter still come and play for a few hours everyday?

By the time this spring is over, we will have done 6 tours, 6 parent interviews, 6 playdates and 3 coffees at various schools across the city. We can't bankroll a silent auction or donate an arts wing, but we can offer 2 freakishly genius kids (see above: Sadie has figured out to wear her gloves if she wants to play in the snow-- genius), 1 neurotic mom with some time on her hands (for volunteering in the organic food-peanut-free cafeteria), 1 stable and capable father, and a promise never to dispute any grades that either of my children earn on their report cards. I also promise I won't be one of those annoying parents that does all of her children's projects and homework. That being said, I do have some great ideas for a science project that I have been sketching in my free time.

Simon's Preschool Application

Three words: Energetic, effervescent, and easily amused (duh!)

Interests: Being photographed, swinging and trendy hats made out of socks

Biggest challenge: Trying to smile with those bulbus cheeks

Biggest strength: Holding on tight and enduring his mother's idea of a photo opportunity

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Naps Interrupted

Right this very second I can hear Simon talking. That means he's awake from his nap, unless of course he's just babbling in his sleep.

I wish.

Nope. He's awake. I was sort of counting on a 2-hour nap and fantasizing about the long shot that he might go for 3 hours. He's actually never done a 3-hour nap, but everyday it crosses my mind that he might.

Apparently not today.

I also toy everyday with the idea that he might fall back asleep, which is not something he has ever done. Still, I have dreams. Most of my big dreams involve my children sleeping past 6:00 a.m. and taking long naps. Is it any wonder I am a bit frustrated when my dreams are thwarted every morning and with every nap? That's 5 thwarts everyday for those of you counting.

Maybe it's time to let it go. I have been chasing sleep for so long that I don't really remember what it's like to just roll with however much sleep I get (or don't get) and fixate on something else.

(Simon is still down there talking, but it's getting quieter. Might he be getting drowsy and going for double dip of nap?)

Since Simon's first birthday, I have been noticing the ways in which we are not operating in emergency survival mode. One day I found myself cleaning out and washing the diaper bag, which no more would have occurred to me three months ago (or three weeks ago) than applying to run the NASA program. And the diaper bag wasn't neglected because it didn't need some TLC-- for God's sakes, that thing is how I tote around dirty diapers when I can't dispose of them in public.

And it's not just me. Jeff rearranged and greatly upgraded our spice rack. Let's just say spice feng shui is not the task of a weary, end-of-the-rope family. In some sense we have arrived to a new place, where free time is not just a blessed moment to shut my eyes. Sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I return a phone call. Sometimes I listen to voicemail. (Just kidding; I never listen to voicemail.) With more time comes more responsibility and I wonder how to use it wisely-- for myself, for my family, and sometimes I think about using my time best for the world. I definitely need about 7.5 hours of sleep on a consistent basis to ask questions bigger than "who crapped on my favorite pillow?" The bigger life questions only come into focus when I can actually get enough sleep to focus beyond my nose and the killer headache that accompanies fatigue.

(Simon has been quiet for about 10 minutes. Could he have really gone back to sleep for the first time in his life at 368 days old?)

In the meantime, I will do one of the 300 tasks that are staring me in the face and assume that it's good for the world for me to take care of myself and my family. And as much as I wish it would, that laundry isn't washing itself.