Sunday, February 22, 2009

One

My dearest Christopher,

How is it possible? I do not understand. How is it possible that in one short year you have gone from this:


to this:

It seems that we have met our greatest enemy: time. Every day you are stronger and more independent. You sit up and crawl away. That toy across the room is so much more interesting than mommy. You can put your toast with jam in your mouth all by yourself. No need for mommy's help.

Although I welcome every new step and rejoice in your development, today I am sad. With every step you make, I begin to realize that you will not always be my baby boy.

It has been quite a year. To be honest, there were days when I did not think that I would make it. There were days when you had me beat down. But with a smile or a giggle, the sleepiness and frustration would slip away. Sometimes I still look in the mirror and cannot believe that I am a mom. Sometime I look down at you and cannot believe that you are a part of me.

But in the morning hours when you nestle up into me and take your bottle in your hand, for at least 10 minutes there is just me and you. I love these moments more than you will ever know. The pediatrician said that we should stop giving you your morning bottle. But I can't just yet say goodbye to my baby boy and hello to my toddler. Perhaps you can indulge me for a few more months?

As sad as I am, I am so excited about the future. You explore your world with eyes so fresh and innocent that it makes me stop and enjoy the small moments. I cannot wait to show you things and teach you games and discover the world together.

So on this, your first birthday, I wish you much love and happiness, joy and health. It is but one year in your life, but it has been the world for me.

All my love,
Mom

Thursday, February 19, 2009

True Words

These days it is all about the Dude. That is because on Sunday we are celebrating his first birthday and I want everything to be perfect. Naturally that means that it won't. Also there was a vaccination and getting his hand slammed in the door; just your typical week. Some nights I feel so exhausted that I fall asleep by 9pm. When I saw this posted on Facebook, I could not help but laugh. She described my day perfectly. But she forgot my part-time job teaching English, plus the research and activism. I know I am forgetting something . . . oh, yeah, my husband!

For all my mommy friends, and mommies-to-be, this made me laugh.

(First Published in the Washington Post Wednesday, May 23, 2007; Page C10)

Carolyn:

Best friend has child. Her: exhausted, busy, no time for self, no time for me, etc. Me (no kids): Wow. Sorry. What'd you do today? Her: Park, play group . . .

Okay. I've done Internet searches, I've talked to parents. I don't get it. What do stay-at-home moms do all day? Please no lists of library, grocery store, dry cleaners . . . I do all those things, too, and I don't do them EVERY DAY. I guess what I'm asking is: What is a typical day and why don't moms have time for a call or e-mail? I work and am away from home nine hours a day (plus a few late work events) and I manage to get it all done. I'm feeling like the kid is an excuse to relax and enjoy -- not a bad thing at all -- but if so, why won't my friend tell me the truth? Is this a peeing contest ("My life is so much harder than yours")? What's the deal? I've got friends with and without kids and all us child-free folks get the same story and have the same questions.

Tacoma, Wash.

Relax and enjoy. You're funny.

Or you're lying about having friends with kids.

Or you're taking them at their word that they actually have kids, because you haven't personally been in the same room with them.

Internet searches?

I keep wavering between giving you a straight answer and giving my forehead some keyboard. To claim you want to understand, while in the same breath implying that the only logical conclusions are that your mom-friends are either lying or competing with you, is disingenuous indeed.

So, since it's validation you seem to want, the real answer is what you get. In list form. When you have young kids, your typical day is: constant attention, from getting them out of bed, fed, clean, dressed; to keeping them out of harm's way; to answering their coos, cries, questions; to having two arms and carrying one kid, one set of car keys, and supplies for even the quickest trips, including the latest-to-be-declared-essential piece of molded plastic gear; to keeping them from unshelving books at the library; to enforcing rest times; to staying one step ahead of them lest they get too hungry, tired or bored, any one of which produces the kind of checkout-line screaming that gets the checkout line shaking its head.

It's needing 45 minutes to do what takes others 15.

It's constant vigilance, constant touch, constant use of your voice, constant relegation of your needs to the second tier.

It's constant scrutiny and second-guessing from family and friends, well-meaning and otherwise. It's resisting constant temptation to seek short-term relief at everyone's long-term expense.

It's doing all this while concurrently teaching virtually everything -- language, manners, safety, resourcefulness, discipline, curiosity, creativity. Empathy. Everything.

It's also a choice, yes. And a joy. But if you spent all day, every day, with this brand of joy, and then, when you got your first 10 minutes to yourself, wanted to be alone with your thoughts instead of calling a good friend, a good friend wouldn't judge you, complain about you to mutual friends, or marvel how much more productively she uses her time. Either make a sincere effort to understand or keep your snit to yourself.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Birth of an Activist

Way back in August / September my inner politics junkie woke up. The election held me captive and I spent hours reading everything I could find. Seriously everything from Huffington Post to National Review. Because I love a good argument, I will go almost anywhere. Except here. I never go here.

I wanted to get involved and jump into the fray, but my tiny town in Germany did not leave many options. Thank goodness the Internet stepped in.

First, I discovered American Citizens Abroad. I stumbled across the site as I was researching the impact of tax legislation on Americans living overseas. This organization is dedicated to protecting the rights of those that live far away but hope one day . . .

After I volunteered to help, they were excited to hear about my political science background. They sent me off to the Overseas Vote Foundation and Susan, who would quickly change my life.

OVF is a non-profit, non-partisan organization which provides Americans abroad with the information they need to vote. They provide forms and addresses and answer your questions via the help desk. Because of my background I was put on help desk duty. The Dude had finally started to develop a regular nap schedule and all I did was surf the net anyway. It is profoundly rewarding to help someone get their ballot. And, yes, I helped both Obama AND McCain voters.

In December OVF initiated their two post election surveys; one of voters and one of elections officials. The surveys are designed to help pin-point problems in the process in order to facilitate policy recommendations and also improve voter services. In January, I began helping analyze the data and writing the report.

What is that line in the Godfather? "Every time I think I am out they pull me back in." Two years ago I thought that I had shut the door on that part of my life. But just because academia was no longer in the cards did not mean that I could not be active in other ways. In fact, it seems odd that I did not try this before.

I have taken to this roll like a duck to . . . well, you get the picture. I literally spent sleepless nights last month trying to get the report into shape. This is why I have not been blogging. Last week the report was released at a press conference, which you can read the report here. It was very successful and even quoted in the New York Times and Stars and Stripes.

My research and work has even led me to re-join the American Political Science Association and I submitted a paper proposal to the annual conference. No word yet on if it was accepted, but fingers are still crossed.

Did I mention that I am not getting paid for any of this? I am also doing some volunteer work for ACA. My involvement in these organizations has been the most fulfilling part of my life in the past six months. It has given me the opportunity to use skills that I had written off and made me realize why I studied politics in the first place.

What is this all leading to? I have no idea. I am still teaching English, because day care is not free (even if the Oct-o-Mama seems to think so). In fact I am taking more hours on. For the time being I am taking it one day at a time. There is a new glimmer on the horizon. I am not sure where it will take me, but I think I will enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Denial: Not Just a River in Africa

I was going to write about the research project that I have been involved in. But then I saw a video clip and decided that bringing the crazy was a much better idea.

Although I have not blogged regularly over the past few months, I have kept my eyes open for potential stories. One of those stories involves the Octuplet Mama, Nadya Suleman. She has been debated all over the blog0sphere, but it was her interview yesterday that was the final straw for me.

Honestly another multiple birth was not shocking. They seem to occur more often these days. However, the more I read the more shocked I got. Nadya is a single mom. She does not have a job or a source of income. She has six other children. One of them is autistic. She lives with her parents. Her father is going to Iraq to support the children.

All of these things made me angry. It all seems so selfish and irresponsible. As I watched her interview with Ann Curry with NBC, my worries seemed to be confirmed.

First let me point out that I think Nadya made a few good points. She is right, very few people would be judging her if she were married or in a relationship. If it is okay for couples to have large families, why not a single mom? I have good friends who are single moms. They love their children with a passion that is hard to match. But they also struggle financially and emotionally to support their kids. And oh yeah, each of my friends only has one baby; 14 would probably make them explode.

Thus, I do not think it is about whether an individual is single or in a relationship, but rather if they are able to handle a large family. Nadya does not appear to be able to support her children. When asked, "How are you going to feed them?" Her response was, "I will do it in my way." What does that mean? PB&J until the kids are in college? Will Jesus return to earth and multiply fish?

Second she did point out that being "present" for her kids and making them her top priority was the most important thing. She is right and many people do not do this with their kids. But she is delusional if she thinks that she alone can be "present" for 14 kids, all the while going back to school to provide for them.

When asked why she wanted to have such a large family, she responded that she was so lonely as a single child. She needed connections. Dude, have one or two and then get a dog! Having children because you do not feel connected to other people is dangerous. It is about as bad as having a child to save a marriage. I also have friends who tried that. It never worked.

In the end she sort of reminded me of individuals who have lots of cats or dogs. I don't mean just a few, but the crazy cat lady who does not talk to anybody and keeps getting more and more cats. That is actually a mental health issue and I am deeply troubled that her fertility doctor did not explore these problems with her.

Some good friends of ours are in the process of trying IVF and I have others who are desperately trying to get pregnant. They just want ONE little baby to love and cherish. Our friends are loving professional couples, who have excelled at everything but making babies. I cannot even bring this topic up to them because I am afraid of the reaction. Jealousy. And sadness. Those 14 kids have a long road ahead with a "present" yet delusional mother who may not be able to provide for them. Love don't put meat on the table. And our friends have plenty of love but no one to give it to.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A Friend in Need

Last weekend I took a little trip to Boweltown. It was my first trip alone; away from my boys. The Dude was packed off to Oma and Opa's and the German geared up for an evening of fun with his soccer buddies. Jen was the reason for my excursion.

For those of you who do not read her blog, HeisseScheisse, she is a dear American Ex-pat who is currently 9 weeks from the arrival of her very own little one. (Yes, a baby; not a cat.) We have chatted over the past few months and I noticed a bit of panic in her voice. The baby's room is not done. She is not sure what to do about the mid-wife. And who made all those stupid rules about no Epidural anyway!

I know that angst. It took over my brain a year ago, but thank GOD my little one is almost a year old. However, I jumped in the car and prepared to help my friend by joining that most prestigious of clubs, Mothers Who Know Better Than You (aka the Most Annoying Women on the Planet).

Over the course of the weekend I convinced her that not all baby furniture in Germany is hideous and the majority of the stuff they sell at the drug store is crap. I am not sure how much I helped, but it was amazing to me to reflect on how much I have learned over the past year.

The funny thing is, I was not the friend doing the helping. I was the friend getting the help.

You see, I have been in a bit of a funk ever since Christmas (hence my very irregular blogging). As the Dude turns 1, he is getting increasingly independent, and so am I. I feel ready to do more work and venture out into the world. I am letting go of some of the control issues with the baby, and trying to take on more. Unfortunately, I feel a giant identity crisis coming on.

As I drove down to Boweltown, I popped in my favorite Beatles CD. I played that CD at the beginning of every road trip I took in the US, which feels like several life times ago. One the one hand I felt like the old me, but on the other hand I realized that I can never be that person again. I am Mom.

The past few month have been like a holding pattern. There may be changes on the horizon, but I am not sure what or when. I am trying to figure out the next move but cannot get a good grasp of the game board. I have been using WAY too many metaphors . . .

I will fill you in on what I have been up to the past few months. Jen got me energized again. A friend, in deed. But until then I will curl up in a button down and drink a cup of tea.

PS I know what you are thinking. NO! I am not pregnant.