Why 40 Matters

934057_10151381850292553_1017918452_nI’m not gonna lie. The lead up has been a bit of a mind fuck. It’s been a – what am I doing, what have I done, how do I compare to other 40-year-olds, should I take Xanax – type of situation. And it all begins with nostalgia, which can be an incredibly dangerous emotion.

My nostalgia typically goes back to around age 23. At that time life was about taking risk and exploring. I had the freedom to do anything, nothing felt impossible. I tend to associate that time and freedom with not having kids. But now that I really think about it, the freedom came from knowing there was time. There was time to get there and to make mistakes along the way. But time is only generous when you’re young. When you’re 40 you have to think about things like retirement, things like, “I better write this book before my memory goes”, or “my body doesn’t bounce back like it used to”. All thoughts which lead me to focus on what I can’t do anymore. For someone who always thought they could do anything they put their mind to, this feeling sucks. I didn’t do it all. I didn’t manifest every dream I had and now I’m running out of time.

becca

And this is the feeling that makes 40 really hard. It’s nostalgia and wondering what would have happened if I had taken a different path. And it’s annoying. Because I have liked my path, but I’m the person who is never satisfied. Until I start to reflect, and I start to write.



1909717_31581201464_6463_n
PICT0009 (1)P1050668

Continue reading

Introvert or Extrovert

I talk to people all day. Twelve people report directly to me at work. This means 12 hours of check-ins, loads of questions to answer, encouragement to give, feedback to deliver, meeting on top of meeting, talking.

When I get home there are kids to encourage and discipline, there is a husband to talk to about said encouragement and discipline, there are plans to discuss and feelings to wade through. Outside of the house there are grandparents to Skype and friends to call to keep in touch. And I used to consider myself an introvert.

It’s a little rough, I will admit. I’ve definitely become more comfortable in this space as I’ve gotten older, but it gets harder and harder to have the energy for the bigger conversations with the husband and the reaching out to friends (I’m so sorry guys!). I loved working from home when I had that opportunity, I love to write, to put on headphones and edit video, to go for a run alone, I really enjoy the moments I don’t have to talk, to anyone.

These moments are few and far between and savored. But, as is the nature of human beings, if I leaned to the other extreme (as I did when I first moved to Portland and didn’t know anyone) I would be trying to find a different balance.

I am lucky. I am allowed the freedom and opportunity to think about these things. I am safe. I am fed. I can clothe my kids and keep them safe and fed. That means things are loud at home and to keep them fed and clothed I have to talk a lot at work. I’m ok with that. But I will still try to go for a run today to keep myself sane.

 

 

Smaller Increments of Time

I haven’t written in months. It’s time. It’s time I find the time. Like yoga, it’s better to commit to a few minutes per day than to wait until you have two hours twice per week.

There is time. I am done with kid duties by 9pm each night. From 9pm until I fall asleep, there is time. I feel pressure to do something productive with this time. I don’t own any other time during my day, I am someone else’s commodity for nine hours. To backlash against this lack of ownership, I want to do something that feels meaningful with this “extra” time. What usually happens, is one of two things, I fall asleep reading to Luca, or I get back on the computer and work, lengthening the number of hours that my identity is tied to being a commodity. And then I fall asleep.

What is my success metric for each stage of life? Is it ok to fall asleep? Will there be a time when parenting isn’t so exhausting? Will I be too old at that point to make something of myself or put time into something that gives me more fulfillment? Not knowing these answers is why I feel compelled to write again. I am committing myself. It makes me feel healthier and more productive. Just a few minutes per day.

 

 

 

 

Just Another Mid-Life Crisis

The phrase ‘mid-life crisis’ generates an image for every American. Older man, age undefined, sitting next to a young woman, driving a sports car. Now shift your thinking to replace the older man with an older lady. What’s the image? Because women feel more pressure to be youthful, they feel old long before mid-life. Enter crisis number one, age 25.

According to Erik Erikson, this is the first stage of adult development. It is the moment when the reality of paying rent and ones own health insurance (circa: 2000 BO – before Obamacare), forces an influence on decisions. The world still felt very much my oyster, I remember wondering, very sincerely, if I should pursue Film or Music in order to decide my next move. I could still make decisions and then change course, I could travel and be spontaneous. In retrospect, as “easy” as it seemed, the ‘identity crisis’ part left me reeling to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

It’s the toiling that I’d forgotten about for awhile. 3 years ago, which feels like 10 years, I came back to Portland to pursue a great opportunity. I was in a fantastic place as a new mom. I got to pursue a fulfilling career opportunity, while having flexibility to be with Luca. That was a good moment. It kept me in a suspension against the Erikson’s stage 7 crisis: generativity vs. stagnation. In the last month or so, this crisis has hit me straight on. Now, just like a mother who births a second child because her memory of the pain of the first is hard to conjure up, I’m in this moment where I can’t remember how I got myself out of the former crises and on to the next stage.

This is the moment where people begin to question if what they are doing is what they want to do for the rest of their lives. It’s possible, if you are not comfortable with where you are at this moment, that you could have feelings of regret or uselessness. This is the moment where, if you weren’t successful in bringing your most grandious of dreams to fruition, you must look yourself in the face and have the ultimate reality check. The last reality check. It’s the time you must begin to shut those dreams down one by one and then try to make the best of it.

Or, if you’re like me, you refuse to let them die and you plan your next, although most likely your last, big move. Because at the end of the day, I want to mellow the f out and be one of those people who is comfortable and not regretful. And so I toil. And I define the toiling to make myself feel better, as just another mid-life crisis.

Transition

Parents talk a lot about transition, “the process or period of changing from one state or condition to another.” We use it to describe moments or events because it implies something more traumatic than just “change”. And in a parent’s life, change, and the preparation around change, is traumatic for us when it has to do with our kids.

Kids, ultimately, are malleable. Although we want to protect them from change, change prepares them for life. Life is full of change and transition and we want to give them the tools to handle it. But when we feel like we are forcing change, it makes us feel bad.

I felt bad today. Luca started at a new preschool. I made the decision to switch schools for adult reasons. The way the admin staff were treating the teachers, the number of school closures, the commute; none of these reasons affected Luca (except perhaps the first one which caused 6 teachers to leave his class within 8 months). Luca was perfectly happy. He started this school at 18 months and never knew anything else. He met his best friends at this school, he knew the teachers, the yard, the routine. And we, his parents, the people looking out for him, took that comfort away.

Today I walked Luca into his new school and onto the playground. I hadn’t met the teachers so I was as much a fish out of water as he was, I didn’t know where to go or who I supposed to find. But little by little Luca and I made our way to the right teacher, we met the kids in his class, their parents introduced themselves, and we started to feel welcomed. But when it was time for me to leave, when I saw the tears, my heart broke. Luca was going to be left on his own, to navigate a new routine, a new space and new people, all alone and it was my fault.

Somehow I managed to step out after a big hug and the tears dried up. He interacted with other kids, slowly, and asked to keep his jacket on (which he wore all morning). He chose a seat next to a little boy from his old school for lunch and navigated the new space staying close to the teachers. It was a big transition for a very shy little boy. I handled it terribly. My work is a few blocks away and the short distance wasn’t enough for me to fully recover. Upon walking into the office I had to swallow the tears that were fighting to break through the surface.

I love change but I hate transition. I wish I didn’t have to put Luca through that moment, one he was sure to have created a memory of. However, if I hadn’t of put him through that moment, I wouldn’t have had the joy I experienced when I spied on him at lunch time and saw him talking with friends, eating, smiling and following directions. I was infinitely proud like no other time as a mother. Luca is painfully shy and here he was, learning a life skill and doing it with such grace. I recognize how the changes I dealt with as a child, moving to a new neighborhood, changing schools, even going to college, helped me develop the tools that I lean on regularly in my work and social life. I was painfully shy, I couldn’t even raise my hand in class because the heat of my flushed face would make my eyes water and my voice shake. I got over it, but only because of the changes I had to navigate, and because I knew I was missing out on things by not contributing.

I just hope he doesn’t resent me for it.

The New Feminist

Doris Lessing died last week and it brought up some feelings I haven’t known how to process. I loved “The Golden Notebook” and I respect her well-earned place in the Nobel laureate group, but something about her attitude, her ungratefulness towards her luck and fortune, her past deeds, it’s been grating at me as I reflect on her as a “feminist”.

The dictionary defines a feminist as, “a person who advocates equal rights for women and men”. If every woman believes they should receive the same benefits as men, why are there women who label themselves as feminists and others that cringe at the word?

The “old” feminists, the women who started the National Women’s Suffrage Association and NOW, the Susan B. Anthonys and Betty Friedmans, these women fought for the movement. They wrote amendments to the constitution and helped with the passage of laws that fought discrimination. They worked hard for my generation to vote, to have access to birth control, to be pregnant at work without the risk of getting fired. These women changed people’s lives.

I understand the place “The Golden Notebook” serves in our history. It was risque, it talked openly about women’s sexuality, it discussed ambitions beyond motherhood and marriage, but does that make it “feminist writing?” Doris Lessing herself fought the label, and really any feminist would. Any woman who wanted to have equal footing with a man would think it absurd that writing about sex could put you in the same category as Susan B. Anthony. Would a man ever be put on a pedestal for writing about sexual escapades?

Perhaps it’s the way Doris Lessing led her life that makes her more of a feminist. She believed a woman should live her life as she wanted, without being held back by familial responsibilities. If this is the new definition of a feminist, then why is Sheryl Sandberg considered a “faux feminist”? They both left their children behind, one to her husband, the other to a nanny, both to pursue things other than raising children. Aren’t they basically touting the same ideals? Don’t work in the home, sit at the table with the men, push yourself to achieve your goals, allow your kids to fit into your life somewhere around your huge ego.

Feminism is a political movement, the necessity of women to be treated equally, lawfully. There’s a fight for feminism and a fight for femininity. Not all women have to be feminine or feminists. I just want the right to be a caring, nurturing mother as well as the right to explore work outside of the home. The problem for me is that I can’t do both. There is no flexibility in the current workplace for the kind of work/life balance that feels like a real balance. At least not in America. If I could have spent the last two years of Sabina’s life at home with her, with the option to keep my job and partial pay, I would have jumped. Take a two year break without jeopardizing the place you are in your career, that would have made all of the difference.

Instead, I’m supposed to “lean in” to my job and “lean out” of my life. My relationship with my kids, with my husband, they have to find a small nugget of time around my 50+ hour work week. If I want to prove myself at my job, and sit at the table with my workaholic counterparts, I have to sacrifice my biological need to be with my kids.

But now, more than ever, I feel like it’s not about the equality between men and women, it’s about fighting for a work/life balance, and that desire comes from both women and men. We raise kids together now, with equal responsibility, we can’t afford to rely on one income, we have to navigate the desire to spend time as a family and the desire to feel challenged in other endeavors. It’s a new fight, a new feminism and one I feel like I’m not currently winning.

Competition

The notion of “keeping up with the Joneses” never meant anything to me until recently. It’s not so much about competition as it is measuring your successes against someone else and then feeling like shit. For instance, you show up at a birthday party where the mom spent a week building a rocket ship cake by hand (and not just a rocket ship, the ship had landed on the moon and there were circling planets and stars) with meticulously placed frosting. My first unfair instinct was, “she must not work.” But she may very well work, this is just her innate talent. Not in my repertoire.

Ok, so I don’t bake. What about the parents who sew clothes for their kids or paint murals on their kids walls? Not me either. And the parents who build treehouses? Also, no. Am I a terrible mother? I have to admit, I use my kids ages as an excuse for my ineptness. I tell myself, “Once they are older and will remember, I’ll try harder at these things.” But I’m only recently admitting to myself that I won’t magically become good at sewing or baking just because my kids are older, and chances are I won’t magically have more time either. (Unless I manage to retire early or win the lottery – working on both).

It’s not only my lack of talent that makes me feel behind. It’s walking into someone’s ultra chic house, with a two story playroom, the house that they built while they were pregnant because they planned everything out perfectly. They have a beautiful house and fancy furniture and a two-story playroom with hand-painted murals and meticulously carved wooden toys from some ultra-sustainable tree that only grows in the Northwest.

Instead, I live in a rented house, with carpet, in a town I haven’t fully committed to, I have old furniture and no playroom. And I feel guilty that my kids are missing out on something. Or that I’m missing out on something. Or that somehow I’m behind where I should be at this point in my life. By the time I build my fancy playroom, my kids will be too old to play in it. Time just moves too fast.

Now my friends aren’t trying to make me feel this way, in fact I’m sure they have no idea that I feel this way when I peer into what seems like a perfect life. It caught me off guard when someone said a similar thing to me the other day. I saw an old friend from high school who I hadn’t seen for years. We were at a baby shower together. She said our mutual friend (the guest of honor) had asked if she had read my blog. She told me that all she could think of was, “Jaime totally has her shit together. She has two kids and time to write a blog. I’m such a mess.” I told her it was quite the opposite. I keep a blog as a record of how much of a mess I am. I write at 3am when I’m stressed out and have no outlet.

The truth is, we are all struggling, we’re human. It’s all relative and we’re all different. At the end of the day, it’s less about what you have or don’t have or how your struggles compare to someone else’s. It’s about how you handle it. It’s much more important to do the things that mean something to you, than to try to do something the way someone else does it. It’s still not easy, but if your kids are healthy and balanced, nothing else matters. I won’t be trying to make a rocket ship cake or a treehouse, they would come out as a disaster. I’ll keep writing about being a mess, to make people feel better about how much they have their shit together. Nothing to compete with here.

Love or Marriage

Because I will watch any movie starring Ryan Gosling, I often find myself in an odd state of mind for a few days after watching one of these movies. There’s a similarly conflicted emotional state of the characters in his films, leaving me emotional and conflicted after spending time with them. Last night I watched Blue Valentine. Never have I seen the line between romantic love and marriage so realistically, and sadly, depicted.

The love stories we love typically end with the characters young and with all of life’s possibilities reaching out before them. Rarely do you see how their story pans out after kids have tired them out, life has passed them by, dreams and potential never having been reached. It’s hard to watch on screen and even harder to watch when it’s people you know. People you knew who had big dreams, who were full of potential, whose relationships made you pine for one of your own. Then to watch these people get lazy, or depressed; to see them give up themselves to dependent relationships or to see them filling an endless void with SUVs, big screens and endless other things, material and otherwise, it’s easy to understand and hard to see.

People fall in love and people fall out of love. The saddest thing about this movie is that you desperately want them to remember their courtship, how they were with one another when they were still ambitious and inspired. But they don’t remember, they never remember and finally this guy, who on the surface is the right guy, is rejected by his wife, but not in the Hollywood way where it’s easy to explain. There’s no one else. There’s no real reason. Just baggage and time and more baggage. They can’t see themselves how they were and their reality is too grim to look at head on. And that’s it. That’s the American dream. Get married, have a kid, start to hate yourself, hate your partner for making you hate yourself, get divorced 8.8 years later (the average length of a marriage).

I cried watching this movie. I cried thanking whatever fortunate spirit has kept me from a similar fate. But I also cried knowing I’m not at the end of my story yet. So I cried for our younger selves, for our love story, for the night I ran through the streets of Rome hoping he’d be awake so that I could tell him how I felt about him. I cried for the road trips, the movies I made, the photos he took, the songs I wrote for him, the letters we wrote, the conversation we had about getting married after knowing each other for a summer.

Eventually I woke him up. I had to tell him how much I loved him, that I needed him to love me even though I’m boring, even though I’m getting old, even though I work too much. I told him he had to love me even when all of our dreams have faded away and we exist for grandkids and solitaire. He smiled when he realized I had been crying because I was thinking about how much we love one another. When I apologized for waking him up he pretended like he hadn’t been sleeping (even though he was snoring). And that he was happy to be woken up to hear such things. He said he would always love me, that he was boring too, or maybe just tired, and that I had to love him despite all that too. It was a great moment.

And then, as if on cue, Luca walked in. He said he wanted to sleep with us. He sleepwalked himself right into our bed and said in his grumpiest voice, “I’m gonna sleep right here!” It was such a classic parenting moment I couldn’t help but crack up. I cracked up all the way to his room. He finally asked me why I was laughing. I was crying and laughing at the same time. He hugged me, I rubbed his back, it was 1am and I was happy.

When I got back to our bed I said, without context, “I’d rather be poor.” Lorenzo knew exactly what I meant. In our life together, we have mostly been poor, and it has never stopped us. It has kept us on our toes. It sounds elitist to act as if it’s a choice, it never is, but if the choice is to pursue opportunity because of the monetary value, that will never be my motivation. Keeping work to ensure their’s a roof over our heads, yes, working hard for cash rewards that keep me from my family or my soul, never. I will always work hard, I will just never make that larger sacrifice. And I hope I always have some level of choice.

It’s scary with kids to take risks, especially financial risks. But we do it in order to keep challenging ourselves. We unfortunately aren’t comfortable having it any other way. I think our kids will be better for it. Then again, I have no idea how things will end up. I may not manifest my biggest dreams, but at the very least I can keep the doldrums at bay. That’s the hope anyway.

 

 

 

 

In the Moment

In reality it’s only been a month and a half since I last wrote here. But in my world, not writing daily is like a marathon runner who stops exercising cold turkey. It’s a lifestyle, an identity, and without it, I feel a little off, out of shape, and disappointed in myself. A month feels like a year because I’ve imagined a hundred posts between July and now.

I have a shed in my backyard full of boxes, journals I have never read, and will never read for the same reason I hate pictures of myself. But for some reason I can’t seem to part with the pages of words that helped me get through important moments in various stages of my life. And now, although my journal is blank, when I see that my last post was from July, I feel guilty, and sad. So here I am, inspired by a night spent with important old friends, feeling the necessity to add more words to this online space.

Now to the point. What the inspiring friends talked about at length: acceptance. This moment. Transcending the inner dialogue. Wondering, should I keep chasing the dream I’ve chased my whole life, the dream that I still can’t seem to define clearly, or take a breather and enjoy this place. And as a mom, as a person whose life, from the perspective of two small people, didn’t exist before July, 2009; how does one find significance and meaning when there’s no external vindication?

My parents have stories. My dad has stories. Stories that top all stories. Stories that involve the FBI and surveillance and Lufthansa flights out of Mexico, flown by Vietnam vets stories. But post-my birth, the stories trail off. We had some family adventures, a lot of nice times, but mainly, let’s be honest, there was a lot of just hangin in the suburbs, watching t.v. and driving cars to strip malls. And for people with stories, this was maybe right where they wanted to be. Growing up however, I projected that it probably wasn’t enough for them, which is why I think I want so desperately for my stories to continue. I want to be a mom with adventures and inspiration and drive. But I also want to be the calm, cool and collected mom who is comfortable and happy where she is no matter what’s happening, or not happening, around her.

As I see time passing in the faces and milestones of my two small people, my mortality and age and insignificance is reflected back to me in a way that it never was before. My grasp on what’s new and hip and relevant and innovative, it’s loosened, and I have to be ok with that. There’s a coming to terms. It’s just a weird place to be. It’s new and unchartered territory and I have to be ok with enjoying this particular moment and place in time rather than constantly projecting myself to a future place where the kids are older, where things are “easier” or where I’ll get my time and hobbies back.

I like my life. I like where I’ve been. I am embarrassed by my failures and mistakes, but am so glad I made them and have moved on. I love being older and wiser and less a drain on people and resources. I’ve whittled my need for friends down to a group of friends that I need. And they all hold an important place that has nothing to do with how much time we spend together. I’m glad I’m not a kid going through the growing pains, I don’t yearn to be back in that place. I just don’t know how it goes from here. My path isn’t in exact alignment with that of my parents. The new is scary and worrisome and leaves me wondering where I’m headed.

But, for this second, this moment, as I train myself to let go of the worry, I will revel. I will revel in ages 4 and 2; in meltdowns and loud dinners and crying fits. I will revel in tickles and silly dance parties (our dance parties are out of control lately). I will revel in our health and our extended family, in our friends and the fact that we are lucky to be working. I will take a breather. I’ll stop projecting and planning and wondering what’s next. I’ll fucking seize the day and make a day last a week. I’ll be here…until I can’t be.

Our Milestones

photo(4)Let me start this post by thanking you. Thank you for giving me a reason to write. I started this blog as a companion to take with me to Rome, when we ambitiously, and somewhat irresponsibly, moved there as new parents with our five-month-old in tow back in 2009. I was petrified of being a new mom in a new city without a support network around me. This blog became my mobile support network and a place for my friends to keep tabs on my ex-pat life. My fears and worries became conversation starters and this became a place where it was ok to admit my faults and know that I wasn’t alone in them. Thank you all for being amazing parents and for sharing your stories, even when sharing them meant admitting that it’s been hard for you too.

What I am realizing as I get farther along in the journey of motherhood, is that the hardest part is in letting go. I have to let go of the expectation that things will go a certain way, or that I can control anything. I have to force myself to change, to understand how to control my emotions, to move into my next developmental stage faster than my kid’s do, so that while I’m telling them not to throw tantrums, that I’m not actually in the midst of throwing one too. Marriage has been a great way for me to see my faults and baggage through someone else’s eyes and to work to improve the things I got away with for too long, but marriage creates an emotional out too. You recognize the issues, but you can push back on your partner or find reasons why you shouldn’t have to work on those things. Parenting however, makes you confront the issues head on. You simultaneously identify with your child, remembering when a parent did that same thing to you, while immediately seeing the need, as the parent, to change the behavior. It’s in your face reflected back to you in real time. And if you care about making such changes, you pay attention, you let go of patterns, and you do your best to be your best for this little person who shouldn’t have to continue the bad pattern because you were too lazy to make the change.

And this part of parenting is much harder than all of the other parts combined. It’s emotional and mentally exhausting and you don’t always realize that this is what’s going on when you’re drained at the end of a long parenting day. But on the other hand, it’s the most rewarding for all of the people who love you. Because your best self, the part that you always know is there, but that sometimes gets hidden by things like work and life stress, this best self starts to shine more often. Even through the stress. For me, when I see my silly, playful, loving, non-stressed side from my kid’s perspective, it’s easy to remind myself that this is the mom I want to be for them, even when I’m in those stressful moments. It gets easier to compartmentalize the other stresses and to dedicate the good side to times with them, because the reward is a smiling, happy child. It’s an incredible motivation because they are your mirror, literally. You will notice them mimicking things you never realized you did, but that you can’t deny came directly from you. Parenting is life’s grandest and most difficult growth spurt, but one that I am so glad to be experiencing.

I’ve finally come to the important realization that it’s ok to parent my way, that I’m improving on what I know, that of course I’m making mistakes, but always with the best of intentions and my kid’s best interests at heart. I will never find perfection as a mother, but I will find peace (eventually) in knowing I did everything I could to grow and change, to adapt to this lifelong role.

I love being a mom, it’s become a definition I’ve grown to love, and the reality is that we are in these difficult trenches for a short time. Parenting continually has it’s challenges, even as kids become adults, but the adjustment period, the on-boarding if you will, it’s a process, it’s a developmental milestone that we have to conquer, and sharing stories gives us a measure to weigh our progress against. Keep sharing your stories, the new parents in our lives need to know that no one has the answers, that it’s everyone’s personal experiment.