Friday, October 1, 2010
I click on Shine articles like other people lock their keys in their cars. I see it happening in slow motion, but by the time what I've done sinks in, it's too late. I'm right in the middle of an article on why I should love my giant butt (which I do, with or without Shine's blessing), or The Top Ten Ugliest Men's Fashion Trends, or how to stop your child from taking a dump on the kitchen floor.
Today's assault on my intelligence was an article entitled "The Ten Secrets of One Unflappable Working Mother". Ah, yes. The elusive "unflappable" working mother. Like the Yeti, she seems to exist only in tales told 'round the fire, or blurry images burned into shaky, black and white 8mm film. "I seen her, once," says the old, one-eyed woman as she stirs her cauldron of gruel. "She wore a spotless white blazer and wrinkle-free power slacks, all while changing her baby's diarrhea diaper. Such courage I ain't never witnessed 'afore or since."
Okay, I can begrudgingly admit that some of the ten secrets really weren't THAT bad. Number 5 is reasonable, if slightly retarded:
5. Getting out the door in the morning (without anyone in tears) is the only thing you have to achieve before 8:30 a.m.
Agreed. If I can't manage to avert an 8am weekday meltdown (and that's just me, never mind Madeline!), then perhaps I need to rethink the way I'm doing things...but only if it means I don't have to get up before 6:45am. If it does, forget it. I'll deal with the ensuing drama in exchange for a few more minutes of sleep.
But here's one that made me BWAHAHA! out loud (BWOL? Can I get that one into the digital communication lexicon?):
3. Make your home office a command center. Those pesky experts say that to get any work done at home, you have to be cordoned off in a room far away from anyone who can nag you. This makes me wonder how many experts have children. Instead, figure out which location in the center of your house provides some privacy, while reminding everyone you are a presence to be reckoned with. From this spot, you should be able to stir a pot of simmering soup or assist with a history project that involves the use of glitter (by nixing the glitter).
In other words, DO EVERYTHING ALWAYS AT ALL TIMES AND NEVER STOP. Multitask until your head explodes. Better yet, make your home office/command center the can! That way, you can pee and wash your face and work on that report for your boss and finish your kid's homework for her and stir that pot of soup simmering away on the hot plate precariously balanced on the bathroom counter ALL AT THE SAME TIME. And it's also private! Another directive from the Unflappable Working Mom! It's private, but don't you dare close the door in case your eight year can't stand to be separated from you by a thin vale of rotting, landlord-neglected wood for even 30 seconds. Those pesky experts! I bet they don't even have children.
I think it's safe to say that I'm never going to be an unflappable working mother. I'll be the first person to admit that I flap. All the time. I'm completely, 100% flappable. I'm flapping so hard, the flag in the courtyard of my office building is jealous of my mad skillz.
There is clearly way too much emphasis on being able to de-flap your busy life and be perfect all of the time, in every capacity. To that end, I offer my Five Secrets of One Completely Flappable Working Mother (I'm only offering five because who has time to do TEN things during the day, amirite?):
1. Stay up too late at night. You've worked all day, and mothered all evening. The 9pm bedtime finally rolls around, and after tucking them in, reading to them, fetching their glass of water and blowing the 1000th kiss, you can finally put your butt on the couch and stare, drooling, into cable's comforting glow. Those pesky experts will tell you to go right to bed yourself, so you can get up at 5am and manhandle the morning in order to avoid all that crying and mental anguish that will almost assuredly come before getting everyone out the door by 8:30am. Don't listen to them. Stay up way too late. Karaoke in your living room. Eat spicy food at 11pm. Get into a fight with your partner right before bed. Whatever. Do what you have to in order to fit in all the extraneous stuff that you missed by having a job and being a parent. Get no more than 4 hours at night. You can sleep when you're dead.
2. Remember that breakfast is for sissies. Those pesky experts tell you that you should eat a healthy breakfast, because it's the most important meal of the day. Again with those pesky experts! You don't have time for breakfast. Remember what we said about how getting out the door in the morning is the only thing you have to do before 8:30am? Well, guess what, sweetheart. That does not include eating. Chug your coffee and pop your four Advil like a good little girl. Your boss doesn't eat, and neither should you.
3. Overdo it at the gym. Let's face it: It's tough to work out when you're so busy bringing home the meat products and applying heat to a cooking implement in order to render them palatable. You can only do what you can do. And since you recognize that a quick 20 minute walk around the neighborhood everyday is a huge waste of time because who really breaks a sweat doing THAT, just exercise when you can. Really, really hard. Like, waaaaaaay beyond your capabilities. For hours on end. If you're not injured or vomiting by the end of it, you've done it wrong. You're only working out once every three weeks, Mama, so you better make it count. Oh, and make sure you eat an entire pizza right afterward in order to celebrate calories burned and muscle tissue lacerated.
4. Cry at work. Preferably, in front of your boss. If you work for a man, his innate instinct will be to comfort you and offer his assistance, due to your natural emotional state and your distinct lack of upper body strength. If you're employed by a woman, she will feel compelled to put her arm around you, say, "I feel you, sister!" and take you out for shoe shopping and appletinis. People feel sorry for you when you cry at your job. Talk about how hard your life is and how you're just spread way too thin. Make sure to mention that you're on the rag and your emotions are going CAH-RAZY right now. Bail on meetings and conference calls due to same. Everyone will respect that and totally get it because we've all been there and you're only one person and it's good to just take some time out for YOU, you know?
5. Due dates are a suggestion; timely bill paying is unnecessary. Everyone knows that there's an unwritten grace period before your service is cut off, your car gets repossessed or the bank forecloses on your home. Due to an endless, Byzantine network of bureaucracy, utility companies and lenders won't know for weeks if you haven't paid by the invoice date, so make sure you milk it for all its worth. Turn on every light and electrical appliance in the house and put an extra 10,000 miles on your vehicle. It's like going to the dentist; if you have to do it, anyway, might as well eat some chocolate cake, a whole raw onion and smoke 7 or 8 cigars before you do. Even if they do turn off your electricity, make it into a game. Take that big stack of unopened bills and make a burn pile in the bathtub. Have the neighbors over for S'mores and tell scary ghost stories to the kids in front of the flames. And don't worry about smoke damage. Them Revenuers won't want your home if it's all messed up inside.
It's tough being a working mom. Why would you even bother? But since you're not going to listen to those pesky experts and avoid the whole messy experience all together, you might as well get your hands dirty and screw things up a whole bunch. Because you're going to, regardless of how much your suit costs, where your "command center" is located and whether you remembered to put your emergency high heals in car in the morning because you never know when an executive meeting is going to come from nowhere, as you stand there aimlessly flapping, like the mainsail of the HMS Bounty on a blustery autumn day.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
This revelation came to me while reading an article in New York magazine. Enveloped in a comfy bathrobe, I was waiting in the "relaxation room" at a local spa, minutes away from a 60 minute deep tissue massage. I hadn't had a professional massage in several years, and with Michael and Madeline gone and my teetering ever-so-precariously on the depression precipice, I thought it would be good for me. And because it seems I can't do anything enjoyable without some sort of Amish-like desire to make it slightly painful to stave off the guilt of doing something enjoyable, I went for the much-dreaded deep tissue.
Turns out, I have a high tolerance for pain, and the deep tissue massage was really great.
Anyway, as I sat and waited for my turn on the table, I read an article by Jennifer Senior entitled "All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting". Of course that headline caught my eye. Kudos, New York. But about one-third of my way through the piece, I realized how completely erroneous and misleading the title was. This article wasn't about why parents hate parenting; it was an article about how people with children are comparably less happy than their childless counterparts. Sort of.
What it's really about is the fact that it's extremely difficult for parents to even think about, much less utter the words out loud, that more often than not, when the daily stream of bodily functions and ridiculous demands and the just plain inability to keep up with the boundless energy of a small child, makes them feel...well, less than happy being a parent.
Okay. Go head. Get your "duhs" out now. All set? Good.
What you may not understand is that there is an enormous amount of pressure put on parents, especially mothers, to walk around with the glow of child-rearing shining about them. "Oh, it's hard," they'll say, "but it's so rewarding." No it's not, not always. That's a lie, and a well-worn, perpetually peddled and successful one in order to make parents feel that if they don't spend their days emanating the cheery light of parental responsibility, there is something terribly wrong with them.
And if you're a single mother who works, you might think you're exempt, but you aren't. You better feel it, too, even if you're working the graveyard shift.
We are doing too much to feel happy and fulfilled all the time. As much as some people use the step-ladder of, "Well, if you're doing so much, why don't you stop doing so much?" as a means of getting up on their high-horses, believe it or not, some of us weren't given the shiny feminist option of "working outside the home." Some of us were presented with the choice of "work outside the home, or starve and live in a refrigerator box." We're not bucking the system; we're just trying to survive. And yet, in spite of the exhaustion and frustration involved with both working full time and parenting full time, we still must do our part to prop up the notion that we are never allowed to be miserable doing it, and that the simple act of baring a child has made it All Better. And if we mutter anything to the contrary, we're bad moms and there's something wrong with us.
There was a bit of a media frenzy after this article was published, although I'm not exactly sure why. The only reason I can think of as to why it caused such a dust-up is that it revealed some ugly truths about parenting that nobody likes to think about it.
"Everyone's just so selfish now," read one comment on a blog that discussed this article.
"Get over it and shut up," said another.
I take some umbrage to those comments. The parents featured in this article were not standing on the mountain top with a microphone, proclaiming in a booming voice, "I HATE BEING A PARENT!!!!" In fact, it was quite the opposite. These parents were asked by the author of the article for their views on parenting, and most of the quotes sounded like this, taken directly from the article: " 'I have two really great kids'—ages 9 and 11—'and I enjoy doing a lot of things with them,' she told me. 'It’s the drudgery that’s so hard: Crap, you don’t have any pants that fit? There are just So. Many. Chores.' " It should be noted that this woman is a single parent.
I don't read quotes like this and think, "Wow. What a selfish, horrible banshee. I really wish she'd just shut up about how hard it is for her." I read quotes like that, and I feel empathy for her. My heart breaks a little bit for this woman. Because it's not the big stuff, like whether your children are going to grow up to be good and honest people, or whether or not they will be truly happy in their lives. In fact, that kind of stuff is so big, it's kind of hard to wrap your head around it on a daily basis (even though it's always there). It's the little stuff, like having to buy yet another pair of sneakers, or feeling nickeled and dimed to death by your kid's school, or never having any leave time built up at the office, not because you're taking vacations all the time, but because your child has had three ear infections already this year and you've had to take multiple days off.
And if you couple this with the searing loneliness of having to share time with your children with the other parent because you're divorced, you can throw that wonderfully fun element into the mix, as well.
Don't think I'm letting stay-at-home parents off the hook. They've got it rough, too, given that their entire day is spent in the company of someone who is a lot dumber and more reckless than them (no, I'm not saying your kid is dumb. I'm just saying that sometimes, it's tough to discuss art and literature with a 6 year old). I've seen my boyfriend crumble after having to deal with Madeline for days on end while I've been at work. "It's the whiny voice," he's told me again and again, "that really gets to me." And believe me, Michael loves Madeline fiercely. But it's true. There's nothing like a whiny, nasally voice all day to make you think that you might just say yes to drugs, after all.
I think it's time we stopped making parenthood out to be the the thing that will make everyone Forever Happy. It's unrealistic, and it's unfair to scores of young couples who are in for a rude awakening about what parenting is really like. We can no longer look people square in the eye and say, "Have a kid. You'll be happier if you do." Parenthood is amazing. Parenthood is, at times, fulfilling, and, at times, horrifying. Sometimes it's fun, and sometimes it's painful in ways you never thought possible. And if you're like me, you will lose sleep many nights, wondering if something terrible is going to happen to your child if you drift off for even a second (I lived with that crippling anxiety for about three years after Madeline was born. There's something they don't tell you in "What to Expect When You're Expecting").
But one thing parenting will not always bring you is happiness. Sometimes it will, in immeasurable ways, but often, it won't. And pinning all of your hopes on a baby to make your world one big amusement park ride is a fool's game. It's unfair to you, and it's unfair to your child.
Don't go thinking I'm hatin' on having Madeline. I would never go back in time and change that, even if I could. For me, parenting gave me focus and forced me to think of someone other than myself. And I love that little girl more than I could ever dreamed possible, but it's tough, this kind of love. It isn't for the faint of heart. Thank goodness for calluses.
It's also worth noting that parents who live in economically prosperous countries with reliable, available health care, longer paid maternity leave and access to quality education are much happier than parents who don't. America is pretty far down on the list of industrialized countries. Not editorializing. Just looking at the numbers.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Friday, June 4, 2010
I’m still a little unclear about when it’s okay to start feeling my age. Because, invariably, there will be someone in your circle of friends who will pipe up about how young you are. So where do we draw the line? Can we all mutually agree on when it’s okay to begin feeling some sense of inevitable mortality? Can we decide on a number, just so we’re all clear and on the same page? Can we decide on 35, or 45, or 50, or 60?
Age is something that’s been on my mind for about the past 3 years. And I kind of feel like I need to apologize for that, due to the fact that I’m really not that old. Because if I express out loud that I’ve been reminiscing that I graduated from high school nearly 20 years ago, or that I was handed my college scroll in a ceremony that took place in 1998, I’m belittling someone that’s a few years , or a few decades older than me, so I just try to keep my mouth shut about the fact that sometimes, I stress about my retirement fund, or how I’m going to put my kid through college, or whether I’m going to have to keep working my job until I’m 70 so that I don’t have to eat catfood for breakfast during the sunset of my life. We live in such a weird, nebulous time in which everyone’s telling you that you need to get your affairs in order RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE TWO MONTHS AGO so that your lazy progeny will have a trust fund, but hey! Don’t bitch to me about how old you are, because I’m WAY older!
Where do I align myself? Do I join with the young, or do I relate to the old?
I can’t even shop for clothes that are age-appropriate. I walk into a department store, and I’m left with the choice of either the “Junior Section” or the “Missus Section”. Can I have something in between? Where’s the “I’m Still Somewhat Attractive and I Have Very Few Wrinkles and My Waist is Still Smaller Than My Hip-Line Even Though I’m Finished With Starving Myself To Fit Into Single Digits and I’ve Had a Baby” section of clothing? I’m talking to you, Marshall’s. I always thought you were on my side. I’m not dead, but I’m not a teenager. I have no desire to dress like a hootchie; however, I don’t need a baggy track/mall-walking sweat suit with various zippers and pleats and an over-abundance of cargo pockets.
Please, just tell me where I fit in, as a 35 year old. I feel like things are easier if you’re ten years on either side. Twenty-five is really young. Forty-five really isn’t, and that's very definitive. I can’t relate to kids who just graduated from college, but I can’t relate to their parents, either. I can’t comfortably talk about the fact that I hurt my back while stretching in the morning, right after I wake up, but sometimes, for some reason, I have unlimited, weird, adrenaline-driven strength after Madeline goes to bed at night. I have a boyfriend, which is such a juvenile term to describe my soul mate and the love of my life, but he’s the first person I’ve ever been with that made me feel like I was worth something, and that I was good and important and actually, truly, completely lovable. And I also know enough now to recognize that marriage doesn't guarantee happiness, and, frankly, I wouldn’t have known fifteen years ago, when I thought that marriage was The End and Final Destination of any serious relationship.
And yet, if I had met Michael when I was in my 20s, I wouldn’t have been remotely, sufficiently equipped or capable of having the type of relationship we have now. I wasn’t ready for it then. I am completely ready and mature enough now. So when Michael and I do get married, and we will, it will be an expression of how far we've come, a snapshot in a life that we've already established, not the end of a journey. The beginning of the next chapter. That is something I couldn't wrap my head around when I was much younger.
How do I reconcile my youthful and stupid mistakes with my ability to see that I’m not the same person now, even though I’m not that much older than I was when I made those youthful and stupid mistakes? They occurred just a few years ago, and yet, they happened so very long ago. Where do I go to meet it in the middle? Where does the wisdom I gained from those mistakes meet my desire to hit the shiny red candy-like rewind button of my life so I can take back those mistakes, knowing what I know now, being the Monday morning quarterback 35-year old I’ve become?
I just need some instruction on how to be closer to 40 than I am to 30, because everyone keeps telling me that the gulf is very wide. Please don’t tell me that you’re always going to be older than me, because that only makes me speculate on how I’ll feel when I’m your age. Please don’t remind me of how young I am, because, in the great, grand scheme of the human life line, I’m pretty ripe. Please don’t tell me that I’ve got lots of life ahead of me, because part of recognizing one’s mortality is realizing that death could come at any minute, either by bus accident or by rare disease. And, for God’s sake, please don’t tell me that whatever age I’m approaching is “the New Black.” Because I’m young and sharp enough to know that saying something is “The New Black” is rapidly becoming a cliché.
Just tell me how I’m supposed to dress for the next five years, and we’ll be good friends forever. Or, at least until I’m too old and senile to remember your name.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Most recently, it’s FTD.com. Yeah, they deliver pretty posies and whatnot. They also deliver anger and heartburn and seven different kinds of meshugass. More importantly, what they don’t deliver is anything resembling what they have on the website. Say, for example, that you decide to have a combination green plant/cut flower arrangement sent to your mom for her birthday, because, you know, you get the nice flowers and the added bonus of a plant that doesn’t die after a week (unless you’re me, the Dr. Mengele of the plant world).
Now, let’s say that, hypothetically, this arrangement isn’t exactly cheap. But you knew that going in, and your mom is worth it, and let’s face it: It’s a really nice surprise to get flowers delivered to your doorstep. It’s kinda special, in a special kind of way. So you throw caution to the four winds and order the arrangement, and you're thrilled that in spite of the fact that your mom lives in remote North Pole, Alaska, there was a local florist willing to arrange and the deliver on the very same day you ordered! Yay! Success! High fives all around!
But wait! Now your mom has posted a picture of said "arrangement" on your facebook profile, thanking you for your lovely thoughtfulness or thoughtful loveliness or whatever...and the arrangement in question, the one you picked out all special-like for your one and only mother, the one you dropped some mad ducets on....is a potted plant. That's it. Just a potted plant, and not even a terribly impressive one at that. But where are the blooms FTD.com so loftily promised? And the description said they'd be arranged in a nice basket. Where's the basket? There's no basket! It's bad enough that they didn't even send the arrangement you ordered...but NO BASKET? What kind of sick, twisted bastards are you, FTD.com?
Well, if you're me, you spend a half hour complaining and calling FTD.com a few choice, x-rated epithets (I like to throw in a few farm animals, too, just for color), and then you pick up your phone and call customer service.
I have a long and checkered history of calling customer service lines. Usually, I have to do this because I'm behind on a payment and I have to sweet-talk my way out of a late fee. I'm a pro at that. Don't judge. It's called survival, Richie Rich. Anyway, occasionally I will have to call customer service if I simply have a question. "Hi, Bertha. I have a question about your fine product, Crest Toothpaste, Regular flavor. What exactly are you basing the description 'regular' on? 'Regular' as opposed to 'irregular', or 'unusual', or perhaps 'intermittent', depending on your definition of 'regular'?" And then Bertha and I have a good laugh and I say, "thanks again, Bertha! Same time next month?"
Every once in a while, I'll have to call customer service to apply a verbal smack down directly to The Man. And by "every once and a while", I pretty much mean at least once a month, and it's usually to AT&T. That's a whole different blog, though, and probably will be very soon. So I felt like calling someone other than my Massive Evil Unreliable Ridiculously Expensive Cellphone Corporation was almost palate-cleansing.
Captain Customer Service at FTD.com did what most customer service operators do: They listen to your complaint, they supply a cursory apology that's been written on a note card and pinned to the wall of their cube, and then they offer to forward your comments up to their manager, with flowery promises that it will be responded to immediately. I was told I’d get a call back within 24 hours.
Three days later, I received an email from FTD.com, stating, and I quote:
"Good morning. In response to your ordered item, we spoke with the florist who informed us that this was difficult order to fill and deliver and can not give a 15% discount on the arrangement. We apologize for any inconvience [sic]. If you have any questions please contact us. Thank you for choosinf [sic] FTD.com."
This definitely made me reconsider "choosinf" FTD.com for all of my flower delivery needs, and all the “inconvience” it caused me. I think my response speaks for itself:
"First of all, it was not an 'arrangement'. It was a potted plant. That's it. I'm still struggling to understand why it was a difficult order to fill, since clearly it simply involved picking up a potted plant and delivering it. I paid for a greens and blooms arrangement, and I did not receive it. Why was this option offered in the first place if the florist contacted by FTD was unable to meet its commitment? Essentially, I paid $75 for a potted plant.
Ultimately, your response is perfunctory and unsatisfactory. Therefore, I will not be using the services of FTD.com again, and I will make sure I inform all of my friends and relatives that they should not use FTD.com themselves, especially given that the vendors they choose to use for local deliveries are unreliable and unwilling to make amends for short-shrifting their customers. This is truly disappointing."
After this, I received an autoreply with the whole "Thanks for your email. Your message will be forwarded to the appropriate member of our staff..." song and dance, and that simply wasn't good enough for me. So I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. I didn't think this action would yield anything. Turns out, businesses really, REALLY don't like it when they get nastygrams from the BBB, so within 4 hours, I was refunded the full amount I spent on the "arrangement" to mom, plus an apology from FTD.com for the order substitution.
I've wasted a lot of time in my life keeping my mouth shut when I should have been advocating for myself. Sadly, I can't get those years back. But I can start advocating now, and I still occasionally have the pang of "Oh, it's not a big deal. It's really not worth getting worked up about." You know what, though? It is. When the economy tanks and people start losing jobs and income and homes, you better believe that they’re going to be extremely conscientious about what they spend their money on. They might still spend it, but if customers don’t get what they pay for, you better believe there’s going to be fallout. And if companies hope to weather bad times, they sure as hell better respond to their customer’s complaints satisfactorily. Apologizing for the “inconvience” is insulting. Buck up, be a man, admit your mistake and refund the money. With any luck, you’ll have saved yourself from an angry customer who would like nothing more than to slag off your company in her blog.
Are you listening, AT&T?