giving up the ghost

Oddly enough, one of the biggest things that scares me about having a baby is feeling like I’m going to have to stop improving myself. Most of my life seems to be spent “working on” goals that I never achieve. Losing weight, making art, working on the house, cooking more, keeping the house clean, become proficient in something. As it is I constantly feel like I’m getting nowhere with these things, and now throw a baby into the mix and my goals are going to be absurdly out of reach. I know it will only be temporary, but “temporary” could mean five or ten years for all I know.

But even if I weren’t having a baby, I’m not sure it would mean getting any closer to these goals, which is so frustrating. Why are they so elusive? Why can’t I seem to stick to anything? I guess I never followed in the great “getting things done” tradition of SMART goals – it’s 7am so don’t ask me to remember what that acronym stands for, but I know the M stands for “measurable”, which I’ve never done. “Lose weight” isn’t a goal – “lose ten pounds by April 30th” is. Another issue is that I take on too much – I get so excited about my goals that I make too many of them and that in itself is setting myself up for failure. I know that I need to focus on one or two things at a time, but the thought of leaving the other 20 things by the wayside freaks me out, and I can’t seem to even choose the one or two MOST important things. I suppose maybe the point isn’t to completely leave the other things untouched, but at least to commit to the top one or two and work on the rest whenever I feel like it.

The thing about having a baby is that you’re absolutely surrounded by a culture of mommy martyrs who would laugh at the idea that you would have time to do ANYTHING but fulfill your child’s every need 27 hours a day, 9 days a week. And I obviously know that the first few months that’s probably true. But I never understand all these drastic statements like, “Taking a five minute shower is a complete luxury and I get to do it once a week.” Like, is that really a thing? I’m sure I’ll live to eat my words, but I just refuse to believe that a baby is literally a 24-hour-a-day time suck, and that it will be ten years before you’ll be able to go to the bathroom with the door closed. Is it really true, or have we just become such a culture of extremists that we feel the need to make this basic process of species propagation into something more complicated than it needs to be just to validate our existence?

Sometimes when I get in a panic about this, I try to think about artists and how they raise their children. I follow a few bloggers who have children, and the kids don’t seem to take front and center, at least on their blogs. They are prolific and make things and take beautiful photographs and talk about things that aren’t E.R. visits and poopy diaper stories. I guess thus far I don’t get the appeal in that stuff. One of my most hated things is internet meme’s describing life “before kids” and “after kids”, because it seems to just reinforce the idea that once you have kids, your life basically sucks forever, and I just don’t see the humor in that or the benefit of perpetuating it. Not to say that I won’t find humor in things once they’re happening, but if I’m going to go to the trouble of posting something funny on Facebook it’s going to be like a Louie C.K. clip and not something about how your Christmas tree looks before and after you have kids.

I think artists start out as somewhat selfish – you would really have to be in order to spend your life doing something self-indulgent like making art. And don’t get me wrong, I mean that in the best of ways, which is what is so wonderful about art – you’re really doing it for no other real reason other than to make yourself happy, and if other people get enjoyment out of it all the better. So I think they’re a good model to look at with having children, because they seem to be able to balance it and not give into the temptation of making your children your entire existence and identity.

I could seriously go on and on about this, but it’s time to get up and get ready for work. Getting out of bed at 7:38, what a luxury for all the moms out there, amiright?!?

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home away from home

Weekend in the country up in Woodstock, and it’s heavenly. We’re staying at a little cottage we found on Airbnb – it belongs to a very sweet older retired woman who lives on the property. The cottage is bright and simple, painted white with natural wood floors and furniture, nonchalant plants, books and clay pottery here and there. It’s total heaven. Why can’t real life be this simple? Every time I come to a place like this, it makes me wish I could simplify my own house, down to just the necessary details. My house feels stifling sometimes. I’m addicted to housewares and decor, so I’m always bringing home some kind of knick knack, or trash picking a piece of furniture that I swear I’m going to reinvent, but that sits in the basement for years. I shop at places like Ikea and feel such a strong need to buy the latest piece of modern whatever. The house is full of patterns that don’t necessarily go together but that, on an individual basis, I can’t resist so I buy them. I think of myself as someone who likes bold colors, crazy pattern, and vintage modern furniture. I agonize over every purchase because it has to be the perfect thing in itself. Then I come to a place like this that is so basic – everything is painted white and all the furniture is natural wood, one open kitchen shelf with six mugs, six glasses, and a few spices, a small antique table, some peg hooks, and mostly empty surfaces – and I’m instantly relaxed. There’s not even a tv here, so Greg and I just spent the entire evening last night reading and listening to music. Why can’t I do this at home?

It’s funny because I do think that slowly my tastes have been evolving over the past ten years. I’m more drawn to simple and natural organic design than sleek modern pattern and color. But how do you actually make that transition in your home? It would involve getting rid of so much – so many possessions that I spent time sewing or paid good money for, all down the drain. Then there’s the self discipline involved in keeping things simple and keeping surfaces clean. When I see a set of curtains that catches my eye or a table or a bedspread, I need to resist the urge. I need to be comfortable with clear surfaces and not immediately feel the need to fill them with more chatychkes. That’s hard stuff!

Maybe part of the issue is that it’s easy to appreciate something when a) it’s not yours and b) you didn’t have to make any of the decisions. Like some of the stuff in this cottage would not have been something I would have consciously chosen if I were out at a store, but in here they work and I love them. I have a friend whose house I’ve been to a few times and I love that it feels so natural and nonchalant. As if she just pulled it altogether by spending $200 and one day thrifting and that’s that. Her house is a rental and it has weird kitchen tile and an old seventies bathroom with a door that doesn’t even close all the way – things that in my house would drive me absolutely berserk, and yet she makes it all work so that i even *like* it. When she serves wine, it’s in tiny little old fashioned juice glasses, and at dinner you get a cloth napkin from a mishmash pile of them that she obviously sewed herself. It all feels so effortless, in a way that my house feels I’ve put SO much effort into but still doesn’t quite feel like home. And again, maybe it’s just easier to embrace things when you don’t have to live with them day in and day out. But I think there’s something to be said with a house that doesn’t feel so precious, that feels like the person is just doing a fantastic job with the resources at their disposal and then moving on with their lives, not agonizing over every single piece.

Coincidentally, Greg got me this book about tidying up for my birthday, which was the perfect book to read in this environment. It’s not the most revolutionary thing I’ve ever read, but it makes a case that discarding most of your possessions can open up huge opportunities in your life due to the emotional weight that’s lifted. With the baby coming, we’ve basically been trying to slowly do this, but this book combined with this trip might actually help speed up the process a bit.

well that’s just, like, your opinion, man

I had a rough day on Sunday. Pretty sure it was mainly hormones, but I haven’t cried so much or so hard in ages. It was prompted, of course, by the baby shower discussion, and the feelings that dredged up. I talked to my mom about it for like five minutes on Saturday night and that was enough to send me into a downward spiral. My mom has generally been pretty helpful with the baby stuff – after all, she had four of them when all of this crap didn’t exist and she didn’t have any money to buy it anyway, so she maintains a pretty no-nonsense approach to child rearing. But then there’s the part of things where she’s out of touch with the modern way of doing things. When I brought up having the shower at my house, she immediately said, “No, I don’t want you having it at your house.” She then recommended the club house at her condo complex, which I immediately rejected due to the fact that most of the guests live in the city. “Okay well then we’ll have it at a restaurant.” To which I also said no because I hate things at restaurants – it feels incredibly rushed and impersonal, not to mention expensive. So that basically started the conversation out on the wrong foot. Then we talked about gender neutral clothes. I’ve actually seen a ton of cute gender neutral stuff online (not so much in places like Target or Babies R Us). But of course my mom’s idea of gender neutral is green and yellow all around, whereas mine is cool modern prints, neutral beiges, etc. And of course she said, “I haven’t seen much good gender neutral stuff, just a lot of BROWN….yuck!!” Okay, so we don’t agree about shower location OR baby colors, check. Then she started asking about names, which is the kiss of death – I HATE talking about names with my family because they’re all entirely too a) traditional and b) opinionated. I tend to just plead ignorance when they start asking me and commit to no particular names. But of course she jumped in with, “Whatever you do, just don’t name your kid after a THING…like a FRUIT or something dumb like that.” Okay, no fruits and no weird names, got it.

All of this came to a head on Sunday when I had some serious breakdowns about the whole thing. Then Greg came home and I flipped out about something that was totally my fault but it didn’t stop me from yelling at him, running upstairs and slamming the door.

This all describes one of the things that brings me down: the very public nature of having a baby. In most areas of my life, Greg and I live a pretty happy and insular life, where people are mainly unaware of our day-to-day decisions. But once in a while something comes up where I’m exposed to too many outside opinions, such as our wedding. The wedding was the most stressful experience of my life, partly because I was inundated with the things I was “doing wrong”. “Cupcakes??! Who has CUPCAKES?!” This is what happens when you’re planning something that is so visible to the public, people feel the right to give you their opinion about everything. And even if they’re not technically giving their opinion, I still feel self conscious about all of my decisions – because of what other people might be thinking. Even something as simple as a brand of pacifier, I feel like, “What if I’m making the wrong decision and everyone thinks, “Oh, nobody buys GERBER pacifiers, EVERYBODY knows you’re supposed to buy [insert name of another pacifier brand because I don’t even know THAT yet].” And it’s not so much that I care what people think as much as it all makes me doubt myself. What if they’re right? What if I DO buy a stroller that’s not nearly as well designed as some other stroller? And I know that’s not the end of the world, but I could wind up spending tons of energy trying to hold a baby in one arm and get some crappy stroller folded up with the other. And yes yes, I know that’s what friends’ opinions and Amazon reviews are for. The minute my mom questions a name choice, it makes me wonder, “Maybe that ISN’T a good name.”

All this being said, I should note that my friends are supportive because they’re not family and they have a way of a) being more polite and b) not having as much invested in your life as your family does. And even with my family, it’s really just my sister and my mom who are the opinionated ones. But I don’t think they appreciate how sensitive I am to flippant comments that don’t take my feelings into account whatsoever. My sister and mom are the queens of making offhand guttural scoffing noises if they don’t like something, regardless of whether or not they know that YOU like it. E.g., “I’m reading [insert name of complicated and book] now.” “UGHK! Why?!” Like, who says that to someone when they obviously know that you’re not reading it for a college class but because you want to? I’m entirely too susceptible to those sorts of comments, and I know I need to grow a thicker skin.

So add to the many many sources of stress the stress of trying to maintain your identity while pleasing your family.

But let’s end on a good note. When I told my mom last night that I had been a hormonal wreck on Sunday, she gave me a great pep talk about how it’s really not as hard as everyone makes it out to be, and that it’s only as complicated as you make it. She said after a few days of having the baby in the house I’d be an old pro at everything, that instinct would take over and I would know what to do, and whatever I don’t know I’ll figure out along the way. And she reminded me that she would stay with us for as long as we need her, so she’d be there to show me what to do. She really is a comforting presence in all of this craziness, even if we disagree about color choices.

the modern materialistic mom

I had a bit of a tough moment today. Greg’s mom was asking him about the baby shower, and what I wanted – did I want it to be a surprise? When did I want to have it? Unfortunately, as it turns out, she’s also going on a three-week trip to Florida right after new years. I’m due on Valentines Day, so waiting for her to get back isn’t really feasible. But this means I have to have it at the height of holiday season, when everyone’s incredibly busy and distracted, or just plain not home. To add to the mix, my sister lives in California, which I always knew would be an issue when it came to having the baby and now I’m having to face it. She’s actually coming home for Christmas this year, so I was half thinking we could manage to have the shower while she’s here, maybe right after new years. But now I’m having to choose between her and my mother-in-law, and obviously my mother-in-law is going to have to win out here.

Then there’s another thing weighing on my mind, which is that I HATE BABY SHOWERS. I’ve been avoiding thinking about it because they make me gag a little. Then there’s the ever-pervasive fact that I don’t have a best friend to do this for me. My sister still lived here when we had my wedding shower, so that was easy peasy, she just had it at her house. Now it’s up to my mom and mother-in-law to throw it, and since they live in the suburbs it’s going to fall on me to host at my house. In my head, baby showers are always thrown by your best girl friend at her house, and since she’s your girlfriend, she knows you well enough not to allow any bullshit baby shower games. But not having a best girl friend, I’m at a loss here. But I guess maybe I just need to own it, and basically throw the party for myself in the way that I want it. No stork paraphernalia, or diaper decorations. I was actually thinking we might be able to squeeze it in on a Friday night, which feels so much more festive to me than a depressing Sunday afternoon affair.

I have this hippy dippy book that someone lent me called Birthing From Within. I’m not *particularly* hippy dippy, but I probably lean more that way than, say, to The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy. Anyway, I was just starting to read it today, and it talks about baby showers and childbirth in general, and how it’s become completely geared toward the baby and pays almost no attention to the mother. It talks about an alternative to a baby shower called a Mother Blessing. And okay, never in a thousand years would I make someone send out invitations to a Mother Blessing, but I like the concept a little better. It’s really about getting together to honor the mother along with the baby, and share stories and good thoughts. The idea of baby showers being solely for the purpose of unwrapping breast pumps and rectal thermometers and oohing and ahhing over frilly bubblegum pink dresses or onesies with sports motifs grosses me out. Honestly if it were up to me I probably wouldn’t have anything, I’d just buy pacifiers and bottle sterilizers on Amazon and call it a day. But I do like the idea of having a gathering of ladies to chat and get excited about the baby. So I need to do some research on non-traditional baby showers.

Oh the trials of a non-traditional mom-to-be.

the circle of life (and death)

I had said that I wanted to start blogging more because I actually have stuff to share, then I fell off the face of the earth again.  But I’m back to share more (old) news with my nonexistent readership: I’m pregnant!  Not exactly “news” since I’m more than 5 months at this point.  But I feel like for the first time in a long time I actually have things I’d like to articulate to the world.  (Oh YES!! Another mommy blog, right?!)  Wrong.  I feel like I have some kind of unconventional thoughts on pregnancy and parenting, and although I’m sure they’re not THAT unconventional, compared to most things I read or people I talk to, they feel a little weird.

Gosh, it’s hard to write blog posts when you know nobody reads them and you also kind of have this feeling that you probably won’t follow through with your resolution to keep up with it.  But here’s to trying and failing, I guess.

Last year was a piece of shit.  My dad died from lung cancer after a very long two years.  My mom was alone in a far-flung house in a depressing area of the Poconos, I had a miscarriage. A friend of ours committed suicide.  And I generally had a pretty raging mid life crisis going on.  But something kind of magical happened – I came out on the other side relatively unscathed and having a much more positive outlook on life.  Maybe it’s something in the water, because Greg was just telling me yesterday that he has been feeling really happy since the spring, happier than he has in a long time.  There’s something reassuring knowing that you can go through some bad shit and not have it break you.

So first let me talk miscarriage.  As far as miscarriages go, it was really no big deal at all.  It wasn’t even a “real” miscarriage, because apparently what had happened was that I sort of started to get pregnant – the test came back positive, the gestational sac developed, but no embryo.  I was only about 8 weeks or so, not enough time to get too attached to the idea.  And truth be told, I wasn’t ready.  Sure, we had been trying for a few years, but that moment in time really wasn’t the right moment for me, I was in rough shape emotionally – it was August and my dad had passed in June, and I was still in the middle of wrapping my brain around the fact that things were changing, and I needed to grow up and put away childish things and become a parent, because I was 34 and way too old to be going out getting shitfaced with my younger coworkers all the time.  But I just couldn’t face it at that moment.  So when I took that test, I actually sat in the bathroom crying, and cried several times throughout the day.  When I told Greg that night, he seemed more weird than happy.  There was also the little matter of not even feeling like I was pregnant – I had no morning sickness and had been getting my period, just a tiny bit of breast tenderness, which is what made me take the test in the first place.  In the three or so weeks I had to wait before going to the doctor (can you believe they won’t even SEE you until you’re at least 9 weeks?! It felt like an eternity!) I wasn’t even really convinced it was real.  I even said that to the doctor when she took out the ultrasound wand.  I assured her that if she didn’t see anything, I wouldn’t freak out.  And then I didn’t. And a week later I went back for a procedure that took 5 minutes and was much less painful than what they’d warned me about, then Greg and I went out to breakfast and talked a lot about everything and then I laid on the couch watching Twin Peaks for the rest of the day.  It was almost an enjoyable day off.

I’m talking about all of this because before you have a miscarriage, you don’t realize how common it is, because people don’t like to talk about it.  But once you tell people, you get a barrage of stories from other women about how it happened to them, and these are usually women who have kids.  I know my mom had one before me, and Greg’s mom told me about hers, and I know at least a few other people who have had them.  But again, on the surface it’s a depressing topic that people don’t want to talk about, but I try not to make a big deal about telling people so they know for themselves that it doesn’t mean anything, or that they’re not alone if it’s happened to them.  And obviously I don’t want to downplay it because for some women it IS really bad – I know someone who recently had a miscarriage at 5 months, which is scary as shit, and another girl who’s had a bunch of them and was never able to get pregnant, so it’s not a joke.  But for the most part it’s not indicative of any overarching problem, and for me at least it wasn’t this horrible tragedy that it had always been in my mind.  The whole time I sort of just naturally felt like, “Hey, I’m halfway there.”  When I told my mom what had happened, she didn’t even blink before she said, “That’s wonderful! That means you can get pregnant!”  I think she was more excited than upset.

And now here I am, a year later, feeling balanced and content, and as an added bonus, watching my belly grow every day.

goodbye is too good a word, babe, so I’ll just say ‘fare thee well’

Welp, yesterday was my last day. Twelve years. I had a nice day, but basically anything is anti-climactic after twelve years. Someone brought in donuts, I had coffee with my old boss, and a bunch of us went to lunch together. It was very nice, and a bunch of us had a cookout in the park on Tuesday and played badminton for my “going away.” But the tricky thing is, after twelve years of moving around from brand to brand, I’ve accumulated lots of friends that I don’t currently work with, but are a part of my life there nonetheless – I run into them getting coffee, I’m friends with them on Facebook, etc. It’s just that the people I currently work with don’t know thhat. So while we had a great time at the party, I felt like I didn’t really get the full going away treatment.

I was totally fine all day, up until I said goodbye to my boss. The funny thing is, she’s probably the one person I won’t particularly miss, but something about her giving me a hug, knowing that she’s not someone who hugs or has any personal attachments to anyone, made me cry. Then of course that was the end of my composure – I cried on and off for the next hour while I finished saying my goodbyes and made one last trip out to my car with the plant from my desk.

I got home from work and told Greg about my day, and I said, “The only thing is that they didn’t give me a card. A few people gave me individual cards which was great, but there wasn’t a big card that everybody signed. Like, when Rachel left, she was just going to a different brand and they gave her this little journal that we all signed. But I didn’t even get a card. So that was a bummer.” Two minutes later I looked at my email and saw one come through from my coworker that said, “There’s a surprise in your purse!” When I opened my purse, there was journal (a Ryan Gosling journal, no less) that everyone had written entries in. Greg and I laughed for a good five minutes, and I sat there for a half hour reading all the entries, laughing through my tears at everyone’s lovely notes. Then Greg made fun of me some more. It was really something.

There’s a lot of levels of leaving a place after so long. It’s a big change, obviously, and that place is responsible for about 96% of my social life in the past decade. There’s also a lot of cache associated with saying you work for a company like that. But there’s another piece to it, which is that it was my first job out of college. I started that job admidst a whirlwind of life change. I moved away from home into my own apartment in a city I barely knew anything about. I had another very serious boyfriend when I started there. I walked to work every day through this brand new city, looking around in wonderment at everything, unable to believe this was really all happening. Walking through those doors was part of my first real experience of being a grown up. And yet, I was also this young kid. I can remember the way that Kate dressed, and what she listened to, and the way she decorated her apartment, and the people she hung out with, and when she first met Greg. And as long as I had this job, I felt like in some small way that young Kate and this old Kate were still tied together. There were still a few people around who remembered that Kate, and who went to happy hour with her and sat next to her and laughed with her. So ultimately I feel like leaving means I’ve lost a bit of a connection with her.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited for my new job, and ultimately I know I made the right decision. Although this place on a lot of levels has been like a magical wonderland, the job itself and the downsides to it were wearing on me. So when I tell people that I’m sad, they’re very quick to tell me that my new job will be great. But for now I really just wanted to focus on the present, and allow myself to grieve the loss of this part of my life. People don’t let themselves be sad enough. It’s not going to kill me to shed a few tears over this, and it doesn’t mean I’m not happy for my future. But life is full of these decisions where you have to close one door in order to open another, and it’s not supposed to be 100% pain free. It’s life – you have to feel pain to feel happiness.

Am I doing this right?

Since giving my notice, every day shit gets realer and realer. It’s incredibly hard for me to really understand that I won’t be here anymore, that I won’t continue to be some kind of honorary member for life, like, come on guys, I can still show up at the holiday party, right? And you’re not really going to take my discount card away, right? And of course once you tell people, you have to start justifying your choice out loud, which leaves big wide cracks for doubt to seep in. People, especially people who stand to lose from your decision, push you on whether you think this is really the best decision, and ask for fifty reasons why you think it’s best, and then they go through and try to debunk all fifty reasons. Like an overprotective parent, except these people actually don’t have any personal stake in your happiness or unhappiness.

When I mentioned to my friend the other day that I worried whether I’m making the right decision, she just said, “There are no right decisions.” And I guess that’s really what this comes down to for me. I think this is a good move, but it’s not the defining decision of my life, it’s just a decision. I could stay here and be totally fine, or I could leave and be totally fine. You simply cannot drive yourself crazy picking over every little detail or possibility. Life is basically one long continuum of decisions, both big and small. This is a slightly-larger-than-normal decision, but it’s nothing on the scale of getting married or having a baby. Most other decisions aren’t something that a different decision can’t undo if necessary.

When it comes down to it, unless you’re really doing something that is your life’s passion, a job is basically just a job. It shouldn’t be the source of your joy or pain, that’s what real life is for.