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I recently gave birth to Max, my first child, at 39 years old.  I mean, I was 39 years old, not him.  This is not a Benjamin Button scenario.  It was all good with the pregnancy, even though the first doctor I went to said he would need to order some extra tests due to my “advanced maternal age,”  which is obviously just a euphemism for old.  I fired him, but not for that.

I am truly enjoying Max, although there are times when I am convinced that old ladies like me shouldn’t be having babies.  I have developed an ache in my back that will not go away.  When I have to wake up a few times per night to feed the baby, which is pretty much standard, I feel as hungover as if I had been on a two-day bender except that I don’t have all of the great stories at the end of it.  But more difficult than the physical adjustments are the behavioral changes I have to make, not the least of which is the dreaded schedule

Intellectually, I accept the fact that children should be on a schedule; structure is very important for children and the predictability and consistency of a schedule helps them thrive.  But herein lies the problem:  I myself have not been on a schedule for over 20 years!  Actually, I have been on a schedule, it’s just a different schedule every day.  Does that count? 

Ah, my early 20s.  Life was so simple, so straightforward.  At that point in my life my schedule looked like this:

  6:30a – Wake and shower

  7:30a – Leave for work

  4:00p – Work on lesson plans (I was a teacher at the time)

  6:00p – Drive home

  8:00p – Order pizza

  9:00p – Watch Melrose Place and heckle mercilessly

10:00p – Procrastinate

11:45p – Finish grading papers

12:30a – Go to bed

On a Saturday, it might have been more like this:

  1:00p – Get up

  1:30p – Get bagels

  2:00p – Start watching movies on cable

  5:00p – Take a break from movies to order food

  5:30p – Eat and finish movies

  8:00p – Shower and dress

  9:30p – Meet friends at 8th Street Tavern

10:00p – Play pool

  2:30a – Go home and go to bed

Years later a lot had changed.  In my late 20s and early 30s I was more focused on my career, and that created its own set of schedule-related challenges mostly due to the ways in which I had complicated my life.  I would characterize this stage of my life as one when I felt lucky if I didn’t have to eat a meal in my car.  On any given morning when I worked too long the night before, I would have a hard time getting out of bed and end up being late, leading to me shoving a bagel down my throat while driving a stick shift and checking voice mails on my cell phone.  I know that is a frightening image but scarier is that I was still driving better than 80% of the people on Route 78. 

One day I would be able to jet out of the office at 5:00p (rare) and others I would get stuck at work until they turned the lights off at 10:00p (sad and pathetic).   Some days I would plan my meetings so I could escape the office in time to get home and eat a meal at my dining table – I paid extra for a condo with dining area, after all – and then my boss would call about some fire-drill that would keep us working until 9:00p.  On nights like that I would stop at a diner or something on the way home and just eat by myself, a situation which made my mother very sad although I think it would have been more sad for me to have been starving and not stopped because I was too embarrassed to sit by myself.  Besides, eating alone at restaurants helped me find my favorite pastime – eavesdropping.  I might have to dedicate an entire post to how interesting it can be to glimpse into a moment in someone else’s life and then make up the rest in your head while scarfing down a bacon cheeseburger.

But I digress, as usual (stop snickering).  My question is:  How in the hell am I supposed to get a new baby on a schedule when I have spent 20 years just rolling with it?!?  What I described above is only the tip of the iceberg.  Somehow I have to find a way to reshape the behaviors that took two decades to develop! 

It all comes down to this…I have waited a long time to have a family because that’s just how things unfolded.  Now I am a mother and I want to be a great one and I know that means putting my child first which I am more than happy to do.  I just never realized the simultaneously subtle and gigantic ways in which I would have to change my life to do that.  If you thought it was hard to start a workout routine, imagine how hard it is to change an entire lifestyle of frenetic unpredictability.

Wish me luck…I need it.

Having a new baby is an amazing experience in so many ways.  But that’s not what we’re going to discuss in this post.  We’re going to talk about how having a baby can be stressful at times:  the lack of sleep, the constantly dirty diapers, the efforts to figure out why the baby is crying, and….trying to dress the baby.  Would you believe me if I told you that dressing my son has been the hardest part of having a baby so far?

Let me explain.  I can’t dress myself and anyone who knows me would attest to that.  I have never found enjoyment in expressing myself through fashion.  For me, wearing clothes is a means to an end – I put on clothes so I can leave the house without getting arrested.  Does this sound like an exaggeration?  Here are a few data points for you:

  • Throughout the 90s, I wore one type of outfit for weekend nights out:  blue jeans, ankle boots and a black jacket, which my friends referred to as my “uniform.”  There were a few variations on this theme, such as replacing the jacket with a black shirt or wearing black sandals in the summer instead of boots, but that was more or less how I dressed for almost ten years.  Once or twice I switched it up and wore a denim shirt and black pants.  Toward the end of the decade my look evolved to a black shirt and black skirt (that’s right) with black knee high boots for winter or black wedge sandals for summer.
  • I wear black almost all of the time.  One of my brothers actually jokes that my closet looks like it belongs to a super-hero because it is just rows of black clothes that look exactly the same.  I used to let people in the suburban New Jersey office where I worked think that I wore a ton of black because I spent so much time in New York City and I was just that cool.  Neither of those things are true.  The real reasons I wear so much black are (1) if I always wear black I could use the same black shoes and purse all of the time, and (2) if I spill something on myself it won’t show (anyone who has seen me eat knows this is a real issue).  For confirmation about my black fixation, see my previous post about my son’s baptism where I am dressed like I am attending a funeral instead of a Christening.
  • At one point, circa 1997, I realized that if everything I ever bought had a little bit of spandex then I would never have to use an iron again.  I never looked back.
  • A woman who worked for me once called me out for wearing the same black boots every day for over six months.  You should have seen her performance review after that!  Just joking, I don’t believe in retribution in the workplace, as far as you know.
  • A man who worked with me once offered to take me shopping to help me expand my wardrobe – what?!  Yes, it’s true.  He and I worked together when the term “metrosexual” became mainstream, which I thought was impeccable timing on behalf of the Universe.  One time he was explaining the importance of spending $100-$200 on a pair of jeans because of how good they make your butt look and I was just floored because it never occured to me to spend more than $40.  Yet, when I needed new sunglasses because the pair I had bought three years prior had broken, I took him with me at lunchtime to help me pick out a pair.  I bought two pairs and I will never admit how much I spent, but I did get a lot of compliments on them.  As I am writing this it occurs to me that I haven’t gotten compliments on those sunglasses in a long while.  Maybe that’s because the shopping excursion was in 2005 so they are probably out of fashion by now.  Yikes.  I might be beyond help.

That’s enough.  I mean, there’s more, but I am choosing to stop because I am becoming appalled with myself. 

So now I am responsible for dressing another person.  That is, I am responsible for it until my son can pick out his own clothes and then we are Big Daddy-ing it all the way, and I won’t care if his teachers call the Division of Youth Services because his outfit raises concerns that he might live alone. 

For the first couple of  months of my son’s life we both wore pajamas every day.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to put actual outfits on him (or me) since we were pretty much homebound while it snowed outside and I spent every day figuring out the whole “Holy crap I have a baby” thing.  That wasn’t such a big deal except that this phase lasted a week or so too long and one day when my mother came over in the afternoon she said “Aren’t you going to dress him for the day?”  I was like, “Um, I guess.”  

There are some things about dressing a baby that are easy, like how you can buy complete outfits thus taking out a lot of the guesswork.  Initially I thought, “This is a cake walk,” and then tops and bottoms got separated and all hell broke loose.  Maybe what happened was he spit up on the shirt so that went into the laundry separate from the pants, or maybe it was just that when things came out of the laundry it wasn’t obvious what went together.  I would look at a little animal on a shirt and ask myself, “Is that a little bear that goes with the pants with the paw print on the butt, or should it go with the overalls with the other little bear?”  One time I chose a cool shirt that said “Future Rock Star,” which had a white background with lines and stars and stuff on it, and I paired it with navy blue pants.  It wasn’t until we got to where we were headed that I realized the lines on the shirt were red and BLACK, not blue, thus thrusting my son right into fashion victim status with the rookie mistake of mixing black and navy blue.  Where are Garanimals when you need them?!  (Authors Note:  In the process of writing this post I did a quick search and found that Garaminals still exist – woo hoo!) 

Eventually I figured out which tops and bottoms went together, and in some cases I even made little outfits out of things that didn’t come together, so it was all good…for about two or three weeks until the unthinkable happened – my son grew!  And the “uniforms” I had established for him no longer fit.  Back to square one.

Below are two photos of my son. The first outfit I have affectionately termed “Laundry Day” and the second was my favorite outfit for obvious reasons (Go Giants!) but it’s too small now.

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That’s it…wish this kid luck that he won’t be a social outcast someday because of his clothes.

I have decided that I really don’t like salad.  Actually, I can’t stand salad.  To be honest, the only good salads are the ones with a lot of stuff in them in addition to the vegetables:  nuts, cheese, meats, dried or fresh fruit, and so on.  In fact, I am sure that once you throw all of that into the salad it isn’t all that healthy to eat, it just seems healthy because it’s a salad.  Do you remember the series of Bud Light ads called “Real Men of Genius”?  “Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor” was one of the best and it explains how you can actually turn a salad into a 12,000 calorie meal by adding ground beef, re-fried beans, guacamole and cheese to it.  

But I digress.  The actual reason I hate salad is that it involves too much poking.  Way too much poking.  If I want to get a good combination of stuff in one bite, it is a lot of work to poke each individual thing with my fork and get everything to stay on. 

Perhaps an example is necessary to illustrate the issue.  Let’s start by agreeing that there is no point to salad unless you put a lot of the aforementioned good stuff in it.  So say I order a salad with almonds (healthy), goat cheese (yummy), grilled chicken (healthier than breaded chicken), dried cranberries (deceitful, seemingly healthy but loaded with sugar), and a couple of vegetables.  This actually sounds pretty delicious and something you might be able to get excited about.  Well, to truly enjoy this salad I would have to get all or most of the good stuff in one bite, but here’s what happens when I try:

  • I take a fork-full of lettuce and maybe some of a vegetable, because the point of salad is to eat greens and vegetables.
  • I find an almond and stab it with my fork.  If I am successful it gets lodged on the fork; if I am not successful it shoots across the table at my dining partner, hopefully not taking out an eye in the process.
  • Let’s say I am successful and now I have lettuce, a vegetable, and an almond on my fork.  Nice.  But, how will I be able to fit the other stuff on my already crowded fork?  I go for the chicken next.  Got it, because it is a little soft and I am able to squeeze it on after the almond.  This isn’t so bad after all…
  • What about the goat cheese?  I try to poke it onto the fork but guess what happens?  The goat cheese spreads out and flattens, making it impossible to spear.  But I want cheese in this bite, dammit!  So I take my knife in the hand opposite the one that has the fork and use the knife to scrape up some goat cheese.  Then I spread the goat cheese onto the stuff already on the fork.  Sounds like a good plan, right?  Wrong!  It would be a good plan, except that the almond is barely hanging on to the fork and when I apply pressure with my knife it falls off, and now I am really irritated because the crunch of the almond was critical to my enjoying the bite of salad.   And I haven’t even attempted to include the dried cranberries.

I don’ t need to continue because you can see how this plays out.  Maybe you have experienced this yourself and can feel your blood pressure rise as you recall the frustration of how you were just trying to eat healthy, for God’s sake, but there was too much poking involved!  I haven’t even addressed the other salad-related issue of running out of one salad topper too soon, like when the cheese and/or meat is gone and you still have lettuce.  If you are truly honest with yourself, you know you stop eating at that point and throw the rest of the lettuce away.

Take my advice and just have a cheeseburger.  You’ll thank me later.

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I am happy to report that yesterday my son was Baptized, so now he is officially saved from the fiery pits of hell.  Here he is pictured with his parents and Godparents, whose destiny is a little less certain at this point.

This was an interesting day for me.  Spirituality has always had an important role in my life and has been something I have grappled with for the last few years.  In some ways I feel “less Catholic” than I used to and in others I am even more committed.  I have come to the conclusion that all organized religions have flaws, because all organized religions are based on something preternatural but are developed and managed by humans, and none of us is perfect.  As Eckhart Tolle wrote about in A New Earth, when people get too attached to their dogma everything gets screwed up (I paraphrased).  I guess Kevin Smith had it right years ago…

When I lived on Pavonia Avenue in Jersey City in the mid-90s, I became friends with a woman who was twice my age who lived downstairs.  We used to talk about stuff like this while she gardened and I watched, and I remember telling her that I was a “90s Catholic” because:

  • I don’t believe it’s wrong to use birth control,
  • I support a woman’s right to choose because I don’t think I should force my beliefs on someone else,
  • I don’t believe that people who haven’t accepted Jesus as Savior are going to hell,
  • I don’t believe that partnering with someone of the same sex is a sin, and
  • I believe women should be able to be leaders in the Catholic Church.

Her reply:  ”You’re not a 90s Catholic, you’re a Baptist.”

Her comment made me laugh and then caused me to investigate becoming a Baptist.  Turns out, that wasn’t a perfect fit for me either.  Why?  Because I had some issues with that belief-set as well.  What about Taoism and Buddhism?  Better, but still not a perfect fit.  I was even considering Kabbalah because the mysticism of it is so intriguing, but it was too trendy.  I mean, share a spiritual practice with Madonna and Britney Spears?  Come on!  Even on my path to enlightenment that was too much to take.

This was all a little frustrating at the time, because that was when I believed I was a hypocrite if I didn’t accept all facets of my chosen religion.  Now I know better.  They only perfect fit is the one you create for yourself.  As a wise woman wrote, “there are many paths to God.”  I truly believe that each person has a responsibility to develop his or her own spirituality in a way that makes sense to them.  Since every person is unique, that spirituality will look a little different for each of them.

So for me, I came full circle and I am back at Catholic.  I remember a Jewish friend of mine saying that Judaism is not just a religion but a culture.  Well, same goes for Italian-Catholicism.  When I say something off-color or mean, my immediate reaction is to make a quick sign of the cross.  When we listed our house for sale, my mother brought me a statue of St. Joseph to bury in the backyard.  Whenever I lose something, I pray to St. Anthony and he finds it (no joke, I’ll have to explain in a separate post because I have so many stories about that).

Now my spiritual practice includes studying the teachings of Jesus, going to Catholic Mass because I love the solemnity and joyfulness of it and because it is at least one hour out of a week when I will reflect, and raising my son Catholic because I want him to have a spiritual foundation.  Later, he can change his practice to something that better suits him if he chooses, but I want to instill in him the faith that there is something bigger, beyond what we can see around us.  That sort of faith leads to a feeling of peace, and I believe that developing it starts with spiritual discussions at a young age.  My father did that for me every week after Church, when he would annotate and sometimes modify what the priest said during Mass.  Thanks Dad!

Anyway, I covered a lot of ground in this post when I really just intended to put up the picture and make the crack about the “fiery pits of hell.”  Time to wrap it up…

Peace be with you.

I call this "Disturbing Portait of a Working Mother"

I call this "Disturbing Portait of a Working Mother"

I wish that I could honestly say this photo was posed.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t.  I guess the term “balance” takes on a whole new meaning when it is referring to balancing a computer and a child on your lap at one time while trying to make a phone call.  Isn’t that what laps are for?

If Max’s first words are “profit margin” or “cash flow”, I will shoot myself!

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.