Saturday, April 26, 2008

Take Back The Girl

I don’t think it takes much to make women happy. I know this because one time I was on an elevator with a four-year-old girl. She stood there holding her father’s hand with one foot extended out in front of her. She was smiling at her pink and shiny plastic shoes as she slowly twisted her foot back and forth. “New shoes?” I asked. “Oh yes,” she said breathlessly. “And they make me so happy!” It is that simple, I thought, as I got off the elevator. Some small gesture, either a pair of shoes or a new shade of lipstick, is sometimes all it takes to make you feel, well, worth it. The problem for me lately is that I have stopped investing in those little things and have begun to proverbially let myself go.

First of all, let me start by explaining that I have never been a “girly-girl” kind of girl. Sure, I look back at pictures and say things like, “Wow, that was a cute outfit” or “What was I thinking with the hair?” But mainly I was not one to spend hours primping and fretting in front of mirror. Maybe I should have, but that is a different post. In my teen years, it could not be said that I was oozing with style. I never had a penchant for designer labels or fashion accessories. I had a few vintage pieces of clothing that I loved and outside of the misguided perm (Dude, it was the 80’s), I think I did all right. At least I thought that at the time and that’s what counts. During the college years, I was thrilled to no longer be donning the standard issue plaid wool uniform and spent whatever money I could on thrift store finds and men’s clothes (most of which were plaid, go figure). I guess the standard term might have been “preppy.” I was no fashionista but I did manage to blend.

During my first post-graduation job I loved “dressing up” for work in my long skirts and ankle boots. I spent my pittance of a paycheck on clothes that I considered classic and hard working. Most of these outfits lasted me all through graduate school. But my paying job as a preschool teacher meant coming home with snot smeared on my shirts and paint handprints on the seat of my pants. Skirts were worse because I often didn’t even notice who or what was being wiped on them as I passed. My internships at the hospital were no easier on the clothes since I worked with children there as well. My clothing is where my worry over my looks stopped – there simply was no money for expensive haircuts and premium make-up.

As the years passed, I was able to invest more money in better haircuts but didn’t bother spending too much on work clothes. Most of the dresses that I preferred to wear came from Target, which was livin’ large for me at the time. As I became more confident in myself career-wise, I became more interested in comfort and practicality in my clothing. I needed to be able to move freely (only sensible shoes for me) and I could not risk being heart-broken if my favorite item was stained by paint or blood or you-don’t-want-to-know-what-else. I was dressed-up if I remembered to put earrings in. If I were wearing stockings, well, I was probably on my way to a job interview.

By my early 30’s, I had two kids and the foregone conclusion that I was simply sexier with clothes on than off (provided said clothes were at least clean). Under my clothes are my merit badges of motherhood – c-sections scars, stretch marks and a few (or 20) extra pounds. On the outside, my clothes hold the tell tale signs of being a mom – snail trails of snot, dirty footprints from holding a toddler, and dribbles of food. I wear jeans or yoga pants, t-shirts and running shoes. The circles under my eyes are darker than my hair. I don’t often wear jewelry of any kind. I haven’t had my hair cut since December. Because of terrible eye allergies and hormone-hell induced acne, I no longer wear make-up of any kind. And while I am fully disclosing the extent of my maternal neglect, I’ve just been to the dentist for the first time in over five years.

All of this has taken its toll on my self-esteem. I would very much like to be kidnapped by a sorority and become their charitable mission. Or maybe you can nominate me for What Not To Wear? Or maybe I should just start spending some more time here or here. I’d like to go shopping and buy a shirt that does not have the preschool’s logo on it. I’d like to find someone to cut my hair that will cut it the way that I ask him/her to and not make me look like a country music singer or some early 80’s icon. And I’d like a pair of shoes that have not been chewed by the dog. I’d like to see my reflection in the mirror and recognize myself. I’d like to post a picture of myself that actually reflects my self-image. I’d like to TAKE BACK the girl in me.

It’s not about reclaiming youth. I love who I am today more than who I was 20 years ago. This is about taking time for Me, time to take care of myself. Then hopefully, I’ll feel better about how I look. It’ll be small steps. After all, letting myself go took years so I can’t be expected to get my girl back immediately. I started with a trip to one of those professional bra fitters to get a bra that fits, I mean, really fits. This is one piece of clothing that I will happily spend money on – they are not called foundation garments for nothing. A supportive, correctly fitting bra is what keeps my breasts from getting caught in the zipper of my jeans. I will not compromise on this one.

As I have mentioned before, I have spent A LOT of time at the dentist in the last few weeks so my smile is finally getting the attention it deserves. This weekend, I will go through my closet and remove any item that is older than my oldest child. Next week, I’ll call the dermatologist to revisit the whole acne issue. And today, I have booked a babysitter. I’m not sure how I will spend that time but it will be ALONE. I may even go get a haircut. I’ll let you know.

Spring is a time for renewal and I declare this spring “TAKE BACK THE GIRL” season. Go get a manicure or a massage. Go shopping and try on fancy dresses. Maybe your happiness can be found in a pair of these or maybe a bottle of this. Spread the word and tell me how you are taking back your girl.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Add to the List of Things to Buy

The bad news first: the beloved family friend, known as the digital camera, is broken. Dropped one too many times, I guess. It finally just gave up after five and a half years of devoted service. Next to the coffee maker and the computer, this is the one device I use daily.

Now the good news: the digital camera is broken. That's right - an opportunity to hemorrhage large amounts of cash. I mean, a chance to upgrade to a nice new camera. Whoo hoo!

But until then, I have asked that my children not do anything cute. Nothing noteworthy that I might want to remember or commemorate by taking a picture and finding it years later in the basement of my computer that is iphoto. No developmental milestones or other feats of growth. No first haircut. No blowing of dandelion puffs into the wind. No admiring yourself in the mirror with your puckered lips and half-closed eyes while you brush your own hair - the same way you look when you are blowing a dandelion puff.

No reading books to your younger brothers while they gaze up at you with those worshipping looks on their faces. And did I just catch you dancing to a song that you are singing to yourself because you think no one is watching? No more snuggling with the dog, who is at his sweetest when he is being snuggled by own of his boys. And no walking down the path in the woods with that dog at your side and the sun filtering through the trees to create halos on both your heads. And absolutely no hugging and kissing of your siblings instead of the usual wrestling that occurs. Please, not that!

I hope we can all hold out until the new camera arrives.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Secret To Tell

Sorry it has taken me so long to meet you back here. There have been so many thoughts, scribbled on bits of paper while at the park or waiting in car line, but no time to put them into sentences here at the computer. I wanted to take the time to tell you about something that has been on my mind a lot lately: work. I have often felt like I am stuck between two dimensions – the past life where everything was centered around my job and my current life that is centered around my children. I admire the women who find the balance between the two, the tightrope thin line that it is. I have tried all sides and know from experience that neither is perfect. I have worked outside the home, not worked at all, and worked from the home. Now I am faced with having to decide again which it will be for next year. And do you want to hear my secret? I think I miss my career as a Child Life Specialist. Shhhhhhh… To avoid the “I told you so’s,” this is between us.

And I say career because I hated my job. Leaving it was the right thing to do at the time. But it was bittersweet. Jobs in my field are hard to come by and I worked hard to get the one I left behind. Ultimately, it was too hard to keep it up with both parenting and the job the way it was. I hated the politics, the administrative tasks that kept me from my patients, the lack of support and resources to do the job at hand. I hated leaving my family behind every day to go to a place I hated being, a place where no one else seemed to care if I was even there. But the work that I was doing, although half-hearted, was special work. Last week, I was reminded how truly special being a Child Life Specialist is. A dear friend who works at Boston Children’s Hospital emailed to let me know that NBC Evening News was doing a feature on her boss, Myra Fox. Here’s the link. For more information, watch this.

By the time the piece finished, I was in tears. There on my TV was a huge reminder of the face I hadn’t seen in so long, the place where I was once a doe-eyed intern, and the career for which I spent much money and time in education and training. Later, when I had pulled myself together, I called that dear friend that I missed so much. We talked about the old times when we worked together here and how happy she is now that she is working there. And then she reminded me of how good I used to be at my job – it was the job that wasn’t good to me. I simply worry that I’ll never be able to reenter the field, unless I move to another state. And could I ever, possibly be good at it again after so many years of being out of the healthcare setting? Has the name I made for myself been forgotten? I haven’t thrown it all away, have I?

Some might argue that I haven’t exactly been out of the field wasting my Masters degree. For the last few years, I have been running my own after-school program in my home. And due to my special set of skills, I have often consulted with parents on various issues and prepared kids for surgical procedures (my own son included). Just the other week, my sister-in-law asked me to speak with a friend who was having trouble getting her son to cooperate with regular blood draws. We reviewed his set of coping strategies and words she could use to explain the procedure. We also identified ways that he could be in control instead of just being helplessly poked with a needle. It was a moment that made me feel like “I still got it.” And maybe I shouldn’t keep it to myself.

Then came another reminder. A few days ago, I was reading Alexa’s blog and she referenced this post. Since then, I have been hooked on baby Emily’s story for two reasons. One, Emily is about the age of Logan so this story cuts close to home. Two, Emily is just the type of child that I would be working with at my old job. I can only send her my virtual well-wishes and know my dear friend up there in Boston is taking good care of her – bringing her all the comfort and support that a Child Life Specialist can give. Just like I would.

Someday, I do hope to work again in Child Life. For now, it’s just not an option and I am OK with that. As far as the next year is concerned, my after-school program kids are graduating from preschool and Jess, my 5 year old, is starting kindergarten. So I can continue my business with new kids that are not the same age as any of mine, reinvent my business with new hours and new kids, or close the business and just be available to my own kids. And that is what my husband and I decided to do. Of course, I have mixed feelings. Will I be able to restart my business in a year when Logan goes to preschool? Will I be wasting my skills? Am I throwing it all away? At the same time, I will be relieved not have extra children around – my three are enough! Hey, I may even have more time more blogging…

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Few Random Gripes

1. Dear Weather,
After almost no rain for an entire year, why do you decide to make it up to us all at the same time, during Spring break no less? Just asking. And by the way, why 80 degrees one day and 40 degrees the next? I need more consistency in my life, please. You had all winter to be cold and mostly you chose not to be. You do not get a do-over in April, sorry. You should know that I have packed away the hats, scarves, and coats until next year. Thanks.

2. Dear Sons,
You know those large plastic container-things in your closets? Those are called hampers. Say it with me, H.A.M.P.E.R.S. They are for your dirty clothes, which are those things all over the floor near the container-things. And the reason you can’t find your clean clothes is because they seem to be stuffed into the hampers where the dirty ones should be. I know – what a mystery!
Here’s another piece of information: I am not the maid. I know this is a bit of a shock but you know how I know the difference? Maids get paychecks and time off.

3. Dear Toddler,
I love that you still breastfeed at 20 months. Really I do. But at night? Every 40 minutes or so? Not so much. That could stop. Think about it.

4. Dear Dog,
Today I have spent A LOT of money on getting the carpet cleaned. If you value your place in the household, you will not, and I repeat NOT, choose today to deposit anything from the inside of your body onto the floor. Consider yourself warned.

5. Dear Husband,
It would have been lovely for you to have taken just a bit of time off from work this week during Spring Break so that we could do something as a family. Like eat dinner maybe? Just sayin’. Also, I could use a break from items 1 through 4. So when you suggested this morning that I take the kids to the museum by myself? I kind of wanted to say, “Why don’t you take them?”

P.S. Speaking of the maid, I think we should fire her because, man, the house is a wreck.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Be Still My Heart

Lest you think my kids only annoy me, a few minutes ago I went stomping into my sons' room to lay the law about sharing the computer. I assumed they were probably fighting over it and actually, I wanted them to go ahead and do something else. I opened up the door quickly, so as to catch them in the act of doing what they were not supposed to be doing, and there they were - sitting side by side, quietly playing with their legos. Together.

I also wanted to take this quiet moment of brotherly love to thank 1blueshi1 and Tootsie Farklepants for their encouraging comments. While I started this blog for me, it is certainly a boost to know that the fellow sisters hear me. I feel like I have truly arrived in the blogosphere. Thanks for the visit and come over any time!