Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Back to Work

Growing up, all I wanted was to be a mom. It was the answer I gave whenever someone asked what I wanted to do with my life. Even through college, honestly. I had a terrible time picking a major because no career path drew me in the way motherhood did. Of course I knew the pay was nonexistent so dutifully went to college and chose a theatre major because it was the only thing I could stand doing with my time. If I had to work, I guessed I wouldn’t be miserable working in theatre, biding my time until I got my big break in the parenting world...

**You can read the rest of this post over at Mile High Mamas!**

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Let Me Explain..

Hi guys.

Hey, I'm sorry if we haven't talked in a while and I'm sorry if you've been avoiding calling or writing because you don't know what to say. I can't lie, this is a hard time for us. Nathan and I are being put through a really big mental/emotional strength test right now and while we both feel confident we will come out on top, the bumpy road there is making us kind of car sick.

Here's the deal. We are finding out the people warning us over the past five years that the job market for PhD's (theatre in particular) is brutal were not lying or exaggerating. We've been frequently warned the chances of landing a good, steady job right out of grad school are slim at best but have been soldiering through, choosing to label those people "Negative Nellies" (well I have anyway) or that with a little positive thinking and honest hard work, we would beat the odds. We used all of our savings to move out here and have lived off loans (aka accrued a ton of debt) with a lot of help from government assistance (aka lived as frugally as humanly possible). Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how thoroughly my kids understand what I mean when I say "No, we can't get that because we don't have any money." Nathan has worked so much and so hard that most days we only see him for an hour each morning before he heads off to the library. We've made the most of all of this because we had a finish line we were headed for. For four and a half years, we've been saying our hard work will be rewarded when he graduates. His tireless efforts would for sure translate into a great job and we could move on to the next chapter.

Don't get me wrong, we've had a blast out here and feel lucky to be able to show our kids you don't have to have a lot of money to have fun and feel good about life. I didn't just tell you all of that so you could feel bad for the life we've lived out here because it's been a gift in countless ways. I wanted to explain it all so you could understand why traditional attempts at cheering someone up may not work on me right now. One of my sisters found that out this morning as I countered all of her bright sides with "yeah, but"s (sorry Rach!). It's reminding me of the days leading up to Owen's birth. One of my midwives asked how I was feeling and I told her I was feeling nervous about going into labor. She said "Why are you feeling nervous? You can do it, you've done it before and in the end you'll have a beautiful baby!" I knew she meant well, and I agreed with her but I just laughed and said "Because being in labor is AWFUL! Yes, the reward is great, but it SUCKS getting to that part!"

We are plugging away and finding little happy moments in our daily life, thanks mostly to the kids. We are getting our ducks in a row for our "Plan B". We aren't getting drunk in the corner while gorging on fast food and chocolate...not every day anyway. In other words, don't worry about us. We are going to make it work and enjoy life along the way, it's just that it's taking a lot of extra effort to do so right now. Sometimes, seemingly harmless everyday things can get me all teary when they remind me of our situation and that is exhausting. Yes, at times it's sad and disappointing and scary but Nathan and I are no strangers to overcoming such challenges so we know we can do it.

Thinking back on the person I've been for the last few years reminds me of how I think of the college me. The one who thought she knew everything about life. There's no way that girl could have accepted how humbling life can be until she lived through it herself. Similarly, I've realized that while I'm a little embarrassed about how naive I've been during this chapter in my life, I know I couldn't have believed those people who warned us of this challenge until we were actually in the middle of it ourselves. How can you blame us, I suppose? Thinking negatively about everything wouldn't have changed the mechanics of our journey, it just would have made it a whole lot more unpleasant.  Still, it's hard to face which is why I've probably not jumped at the chance to pick up the phone to call anyone and talk about it.

Imagine you're running your first marathon. You are shuffling along and have reached mile 25. You're going to make it. You can't believe it. After the months of training and the grueling miles behind you, the finish line is just up ahead. Then, a stranger ambles up next to you from the sidelines and whispers in your ear, "Sorry but there was a mistake in the mile markers. The finish line isn't for another ten miles" and then slips off into the crowd again. Or, for my fellow Amazing Race fans...imagine you reach the mat and Phil says "You are team number 1!...(dramatic pause)...however, this leg is not over. You are STILL RACING!" I think it's fair to say you would need a minute to adjust to that. That's where we are right now.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Picture Window

Sitting behind the colossal observation window outside the gymnastics room, I quietly read to Owen while sneaking peaks at Zoe during page turns. We've been coming here three years and I'm still one of the hovering parents, watching as if not doing so will mean missing her childhood altogether. I'm so stereotypical it's pathetic, but I don't care. I love it. I love watching her work hard at something she loves as much as she loves gymnastics.

This day is like the rest. She listens well and has fun with the kids in her class. She is confident but doesn't show off. She does well with some things and fumbles through others. The transition she just made from the "little kid" program to the "big kid" one doesn't seem to be phasing her in the least. If anything it's made her more confident, as her teachers have started telling her (and me) she is a talented beginner gymnast. They want her to keep coming and growing with their program and she knows it but hasn't let it get to her head (too much).

After stretching, her group heads to their first station of the day, the balance beam. They have some high beams and some low and I see her eagerly raise her hand to start on the high ones. They all pop up on their beams and start walking except Zoe, who is uncharacteristically scooching along on her bum. She makes eye contact with me and smiles an embarrassed sort of smile before looking at her teacher, who has just said something to her. She comes up to her hands and knees and freezes, face hidden from view behind her falling hair. Her teacher goes to her to take stock and I see Zoe is crying. Hard. Her teacher gently coaxes her to her feet and holds her hand until she reaches the end of the beam and gives her a high five. I see that Zoe is trying to compose herself but she can't shake it and is still crying.

It takes everything I have not to run in and hug her. She is right in front of me, but on the other side of this big pane of sound proof glass and it's breaking my heart. Even as I feel this urge to run to her I know doing so would be the absolute worst thing for her in this moment. So, I keep my eyes glued to her, waiting for our eyes to meet again so I can flash a warm, encouraging smile. I get my chance and, to my dismay, it doesn't help. In fact every time she looks at me, she gets teary again. I can relate. I get like that when I'm upset. I can't handle people being nice to me because it makes me cry.

I can't leave my baby in this moment though so I change tactics, reminding her to take deep breaths. It seems to help a little and she does really well, accepting her teacher's helping hand in some moments, waving it off in others. My heart soars with pride as I see her standing tall, chin up, legs kicking out and forming beautiful straight lines while holding back tears. At the same time I know her pain and feel a sadness at knowing she is in the middle of a difficult lesson. That sometimes the best stuff has to follow some really hard stuff. That the coming out of the hard stuff part is exactly what makes the best stuff so great.

She eventually shakes it off and the rest of the class goes predictably well. When she comes out afterwards she collapses into my open arms and buries her face in my jacket. I ask if she wants to talk about it and she shakes her head. I tell her she can talk to me about anything so whenever she is ready, I'm open. This makes her cry a bit more. She wants to leave. To move on. I completely understand.

We get in the car. There are a couple of things I want to be sure to tell her before we move on though. That I'm proud of her for continuing on after feeling scared. That everyone in that room, including the coaches, can relate to how she was feeling. As soon as I start talking, she hides her head under her jacket. I go on anyway. One of the things I tell her is it can be helpful to write down difficult thoughts. Stuff you're not sure you want to share with anyone. I tell her all about diaries and how no one but the person writing in it is allowed to read what's inside. Even Mommy and Daddy. This gets her attention so we make a plan to head to Target to pick one out.

As the tension subsides and the tears surrender, Zoe perks up and excitedly chooses a diary. She writes a version of what happened right before bedtime and decides to show me. I thank her for sharing it with me but remind her she only has to do that when she really wants to. She happily drifts off to sleep but I sense a new element of maturity mixed in with the innocence that's always been there. I realize this is how it happens. Little by little, until twenty years from now when she and I are marveling together at the swift passage of time over a glass of red wine.

I realize, on this day, it was a colossal sound proof window but in the years to come it will also be my seat in the bleachers or a dark auditorium. It will be a boyfriend or girlfriend. It will be a verbal request to mind my own business or impenetrable teenage silence. It will be a driver's license and a party. It will be physical miles between us and a life of her own. As she grows up, the window will become tinted and scratched but I will never step away. I will forever wait  by that window for my chance to make eye contact.