Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Balancing Act

I second Karen's "back to work blues." There are only two more weeks left in my life as a stay-at-home mom. Whatever that means. I know few moms who just *stay at home*. And being at home is a very hard job. Most moms I know have if not formal jobs -part time or full time outside the house or work from home - they have some sort of consulting, or tutoring, or fledgling new business ventures. And if they are not currently moving toward these formal or informal work modes, they are in school, or are planning for school, or planning what they want to do in the 2, 3, 5 more years that they plan to be home with their children. And almost all of the moms I know wish that there could be a balance between having enough time with kids, and enough time to work on a career, enough money to take care of family finances, enough of a sense of self that going back to school, or a job seems to help fulfill.

I feel that it's a wonderful thing to make the commitment to be home with children. As many wise people point out to me, no one looks back on these days with our children and thinks "God, I wish that I hadn't stayed home while my kids were little." I believe this, and yet, I'm going back to work. My choice to work full time as a teacher for the board of education was long thought out, pondered upon and cried over.

After I had my first child, and the first blurry, exhausting and overwhekming month had passed, I thought, "What do I do now?" So many questions ran through my head. Among them: "What is my life going to be like now- when its just me and this baby for 12 hours out of the day?" and then: "How will we make enough money to survive in the city?" and "What's enough money to survive in the city?" That was point one: I had to bring some money home.

And, I wasn't so sure that I could hack it at home. It's really the hardest job when you are the sole caretaker for a little one (at last my husband would be home by 7 each night- I was lucky), let alone taking care of the house and everything that goes with it. I was so sure that I would want to work part-time as a contract speech-pathologist for early intervention. I had done it after my day job in the past, going from home to home during the afternoon and early evening hours. It was fun, the children I worked for made progress, and I really enjoyed working with families. But the reality of trying to make a family friendly schedule with just contract work proved difficult- most people wanted me at their homes in the afternoons and evenings, as did trying to find a baby-sitter willing to work my schedule. And I realized how much I liked having colleagues. Doing home therapy means that 99% of the time, you are the only therapist in the house and are working with the parents and child.

So I went back to working in a school and then to the department of education for NYC. Yes, there's red tape, yes, there are a few whiny teachers that I have to deal with once in a while. But, I love my job, I love (almost all of) the teachers I work with, and I really love the kids. For all of the bureaucratic nonsense, I feel like I have a lot of freedom in planning what I do. And, I can leave the job there when I come home. I usually do a little paperwork each night and plan a project or two on the weekends, but I am able to be at daycare to pick up my son by 3:30. And summers off are really sweet when you can spend the time with your kids! It took me a full year to reach that decision.

Still, I have conflicting emotions. It will never feel like "enough" time with my kids. And not that it's easy to do much housework with a six month-old who wants to be held all of the time, or keep up after a three year-old who unloads box of toys as soon as I clean up, but there will be even less time for house-work. I can do a little after they go to bed, but I'll also have paperwork and want to hang out with my husband. And I want to make sure that we have a little time together, too. And for me: time for friends, and family, and remembering to do things I love and spend time with people I care about.....on the weekends, after school....play dates, day trips, cleaning, cooking, reading, church, and when am I ever going to see a play again? Go to a book reading?

I know that I'm lucky. I have 2 sweet, healthy kids and a wonderful husband. I have a job that is family friendly. Even though we've just been scraping by, I was able to take off six months to be at home.

But, selfishly, I think about the *what ifs*- What if I decide to stay home some day? What if I decided to change careers? What if I want to go back to school? And: What if I've made the wrong decision? What if I don't have enough time with my kids? What would ever feel like enough in my life to feel balanced?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Back to Work Blues

I've got the back to work blues. My baby is so little (well actually she's huge) and my son just turned 3 and is so much fun to be with, and here I am going back to work. How can I do this to them? How can I do this to me? Don't get me wrong, I love my job. And the best part is, I get to go back 3 days a week. So I consider myself lucky to have a job I love that is part-time so I can spend time with my kids. Sometimes I feel its the best of both worlds. Sometimes I find myself wishing my husband made more money so I could stay at home full-time. I have so much respect for my friends who are full-time stay at home moms. It takes so much energy, patience, creative thinking. My husband's job is out on long island and every year we talk about moving out there so that he would have a short commute and maybe I could stay home with the kids. I guess now would be the time to do it while they are small, but we love Astoria and love the life we have here, even if its not perfect.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jena 6- Could it ever happen here?

I've been reading with outrage the news about the "Jena 6". You've heard of it, I'm sure: the six young men (who are black) are being charged with murder and assault and batttery after getting into a fight with another kid (white) at their school after weeks of escalating tension and altercations stemming from one black student asking an assistant principal if he could sit underneath the tree where the white students routinely sat (he was told, "You can sit anywhere you want."), followed by nooses being put in the tree, followed by black students being (rightly) outraged, followed by an altercation at a convenience store between some of the black kids and white kids, with one of the white boys pulling a shotgun out of his truck and one of the black boys taking it away from him (the black young man was charged with theft of a firearm but nothing happened to the white young man!), followed by the scuffle at school, in which a white boy got hurt (and was treated and released from the hospital that day) and the 6 young black men, who by some accounts may have not done anything during the fight other than stand there, will do time in jail.

here's some info from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

NPR has some photos of the town and some of the people involved in the case.

It's outrageous! It's disgusting! And I think, "that would never happen here," but of course it does!

The reason why these children are now on trial is because of a physical fight. But there was so much that happened before the fight, and the authority figures in these children's lives (teachers, prinicipals, police officers) should have stopped it then.

It should have stopped with the idiots who put nooses in trees. They should have been expelled and the principal and superintendent and police and whoever else should have been involved to help declare a "no tolerance" policy for racism. But that's not what happened.

We know why..... because people in that town tolerated the racism. What I mean is, the white people in that town allowed it. The racism had been unspoken, and when it was given a voice (the black boy asking if he could sit under that tree), acknowledging that the racism was real, then that was enough of someone "stepping over the line" for the white people and the beating back began. The white people allowed it to fester and grow (this town is 85% white). The people in town let it fester. I don't know if there were any black teachers or staff in authority at that school.....

here's a post by someone about being in the south and dealing with "stepping over that line".

I can't help but think about my kids. I mean my two boys who I gave birth to but also to the young men who I teach. Most are black, or "people of color." Could something like this happen to them? Yes, I bet that it could. (Many of my students lack the critical thinking and reasoning to always avoid situations that could turn out terribly! What I mean is, they don't know how to high-tail it out of there if something looks like it's gonna turn bad. And it seems to happen to them more often than most...) But I don't think that it would ever happen to them at our school. I'm not saying that teachers and principals in the NYC public schools are not ever racist and vindictive (I'm sure that there are some!), but I feel assured that at my school they are cared for by staff who do not feel that way. Our staff are very protective of our kids. We love them and care for them and do what we can while they are with us. (It's what happens once they leave us for the day that scares us sometimes) it also helps that though there are white teachers at my school, there are lots of "people of color," too (including our principal).

But I feel terribly sad for all the young men and women who now must feel betrayed by what happened at a place where they are supposed to feel safe: school.

I love being a teacher, and I do it because I love the kids. Yes, even when they are rotten to each other and rotten to me (on occasion it happens) or to another teacher or to themselves. But imagine being in a place that is for learning and growing, and not feeling safe!

Is it any better here? No, it's just different. One of the reason I moved here is the mix of people who live here. There are a lot of people who recently came to America from somewhere else- Brazil, Bangladesh, Honduras, Mexico, China, Croatia, Montenegro, Ukraine, England, and so on. Plus, there are people who are a generation or so removed from another country (who still have a few varying ties to the old place), and some who's people have been here for some time.

Also, there is a mix of money and social class (which is not the same thing!)- there are people just holding it together, and some who have a lot in the bank- there are people here who are the first to finish highschool and some professionals....There are a few hipsters and artists, civil servents (like me!), yuppies and lawyers and bankers and mechanics and construction workers.....

I'm not saying that it's a perfect mix- it isn't. And there are definitely mixed feelings about the mix....

When we moved into our house in 1999, I was gardening in my mini "yard" in the front of my house. An older woman stopped to say hello and told me that she was my neighbor. No one had said "boo" to us yet, so I was thrilled to talk to a real, live neighbor. She told me about how she and her husband purchaced their house when she was a bride, how nice the neighborhood was but how the place had changed. Oh no, I thought, here we go....

"There are a lot of Orientals living here now. I don't like them."

I thought to myself- "Lady, you're telling me!" Cause there were 4 of them in my house! (3 Japanese students were our tenants uptairs and my husband is Filipino)

There was no way that I felt like telling off an old lady (who has since passed away), so I told her how much I loved living here and how nice everyone was. I added, "A lot of people from all over the world live here and I think it's great!" And after I had my first child, she often stopped us during walks in the neighborhood and was always very sweet to us- including my husband!

Is there racism in Astoria? Of course! and classism and sexism.....
But I feel safe, and I think that most people I know feel safe.

But, I hear little kids say things to each other on the playground about color and race in ways that aren't endearing inside jokes (the way my husband and I talk about how are kids look "filipino," or "not so filipino"), but sound like deliberate, hurtful jabs. Could those jabs escalate and fester into a situation like that in Jena?

I don't know how the fight at the high school in Jena started, but I do think that there things are "black and white," and because that kind of racism is such a sick, insidious kind -the kind that created the situation that trapped the Katrina victims- that is passed down from parent to child.

this is a great post, too:

Do I know what it is like to be a person of color in America? Nope, I don't. But I know that I don't want to help continue racism and want to help fight it. I'm doing it for my kids- the ones in my house and the ones in my school (because they are all in my heart).

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Prisoner Release

I actually went out Friday night! It took some doing - my 3 year-old was fighting sleep as well as my 5 month old, but as soon as the bigger one was down and the little one passed out in my arms, my husband gently took him from me and said, "Go! Now!" I grabbed the car keys and ran out of the house. The dinner I was trying to get to had started at at 8, and it was now 10, but I arrived before the check and got to have post-dinner coffee. It was literary night. OK, fine, call it "book club" if you must, but really it's an excuse to go out to dinner. The books are always discussed at some point during the meal, but never the focus. The focus, really, is getting out of the house without your children, and though I love the very rare times that I am able to go out with just my husband, I also am thrilled to go out with my friends.

I am 34, and had lots of "me" time before having children. I used to go out a lot and work a lot, and did just about whatever I wanted to do when I wanted to.

After 2 kids, I think, am I still me? Of course I am. And yet, I am changed in many ways. Life changes happen all of the time (relationships start, or end, our parents die, we feel transformed by a cause, by the need to help others, a new job, or we move, travel), though there are few that cause as many changes as having and caring for children. My life now happens along with and because of (at least primarily) my kids. I'm still "me" because I want to feel like I am.

I think that having a sense of "self" and being "myself" is feeling contented with the choices/things that have happened to me, invigorated to act by the things that excite me or that I feel need to change. Of course it's no longer- "just about me"- it's about my family - my kids, my husband, and my extended family too (including friends).......

After my first son was born, for the first 5 weeks, I no longer felt connected to anything- my friends were working, or lived far away, and my family is scattered across the country. I felt very alone and did not want to be. My life had been centered around going to work, seeing friends, going to lectures and book readings, movies, rock shows, and the occasional play, dance performance and political rally and protest. And I was now alone (during the day), caring for a crying baby all day and barely sleeping at night. There are no breaks once you are a parent- no nights off or just an extra hour of sleep in the morning. I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed.

I finally met some other new moms in the neighborhood and joined a "moms group". It is such a good feeling to get to be with other people who understand where you are coming from- a lack of sleep, a feeling of disconnect, and also coming to the realization that everything has changed.

And now I have made lots of wonderful friends who are also moms in my neighborhood who I would not have met (probably) if I did not have kids and had not had the need to reach out to other moms.

I'm grateful in the ways that being a mom has made me more "myself". I get to love, and be loved. I get to experience life as my children experience it. I get to learn with them (and from them). I love being a mom.

I'm so lucky! So lucky that I have met these wonderful, fun, smart, caring, compassionate moms (and some dads) who I spend time with- in playdates, during our literary nights, at the park and playground..... And I have met fantastic women who are moms and lawyers, and activists, and artists, and teachers, and writers, and who are tons of fun to be with to boot.

Being with these moms inspires me to experience more- I want to make ties in my community, I want to help raise money for causes, I want to volunteer my time, I want to write, and create- and I can. I finally have a community, I finally have causes that I really, deeply care about.

I realize that having children has not made me less of myself, but more of myself. I can feel true love- the love of a mom for her children. I have reached out to others when I used to be reserved. My life is not just about me, but it never really was supposed to be in the first place. And a life of just me was not a rich life at all- my life is really much richer for knowing these great people - the moms who I have met have become great friends, and because being a mom gives me the impetus to want to make these connections. And because being a mom has made me feel so deeply for my children, and husband, and family, and friends.

And of course, out of these changes arises "mom blogs," or "parent blogs," the need of those forever changed by a child and exiting the life of me and entering a life of me + we to share it with the world.

It's a much better life, at least for me. And though sometimes setting up the train tracks for my 3 year-old for the what feels like 100th time that day and trying to soothe my screaming 5 month-old for the 50th time (literally) that day causes me to feel like I am in a place I can't escape from, I am also grateful that I am here. I may seem like a prisoner in self imposed mom jail, but this is the same place that also gave me the freedom to feel like I could fly.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What are you gonna be?

So my dear son is really happy and exited about starting pre-k this week. You know his father is a teacher so for him going to school is like having a "real job". A few weeks ago he asked me if he was gonna get paid to go to pre-k.

This afternoon our conversation went as follows:
-Am I going to teach to the other kids? No honey, you are going to be a student.
-Is my Dad a student sometimes? I said yes, when he goes to Pace he is (he is working on his masters).
-Am I going to be a teacher when I grow up? --You can be whatever you want honey, a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, an artist...
-What about a race car driver or a MUFFIN MAKER!!-- You can also be that, honey...
(Little pause)
-Mom, what are you gonna be when you grow up?--I still don't know baby.

And I truly don't know. Sometimes I think it is unreal that I am married, and that I am a mom to 2 amazing boys. That I have a kid that is going to start pre-k and next year he will be in kindergarten! I mean, my oldest one is only 3 1/2 and I am learning so much from him, he is an incredible person, a great brother, so caring and worried about all of us, me his dad, his family. And he always wants to learn, to know stuff. I just feel so blessed to have him. And my little one, he is 2 already and he loves to make me laugh and whenever he sees I am not feeling well he offers me a band-aid. So cute, so loving. Being a mom is nothing like what I signed up for, is way more challenging, every second, I feel like am being tested on something.
I know am going to go back to school, I've been wanting to change careers for a while now. I still haven't decided what I want to study. But it doesn't matter what else I choose to do, I never imagined that my best teachers were going to be less than 4 feet tall and that they would snack on goldfish and juice.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Books, letters and maternal feelings - Part II

I am here, looking at the computer screen trying to understand why I am writing this post. Thinking "Am I being selfish or silly?". There is always a maybe for every question we ask ourselves. There is always a thought nourishing a mother's heart. So please, once again, excuse my deviations.

As I read Dhuoda's handbook for her son William, I keep thinking about my own book of letters. An attempt. That one for Estela. Thoughts of failure that like fog keep me away from doing things that I like to do. And the motherhood routine that fulfills me in many directions.

My great concern, my son William, is to offer you helpful words. My burning, watchful heart especially desires that you may have in this little volume what I have longed to be written down for you, about you were born through God's grace.

When I started writing the little book, my grandmother was still alive and so were my hopes. When Dhuoda started writing her guide, her son William was also alive. A mother's desire is atemporal and universal.
Unfortunately and because life is a never ending circle, my grandmother passed away. And the letter was discontinued. Period.
The Carolingian scene doesn't go any further than mine. Dhuoda's husband was executed by Charles the Bald, and her son William was killed in an attempt to avange his father. A much worse conclusion.
Hers, was a lonely text.

Sometimes I believe that our noblewoman was fortunate. Fortunate and providential not to have known about her son's loss while she was writing the book as, in my modest opinion, it was a form of redemption, a lament for her personal circumstances. The only way she could probably express her most secret feelings, fears, love and beliefs. It is hard to imagine how life was for a woman of the ninth century whose lineage - "cutting throats, but endowing churches" - was the ideal example of the Frankish aristocratic values. It is even harder to conceive the life of a mother who was separated from her children.

My curiosity and knowledge regarding the Middle Ages tend to be very romantic and immature, fed by fairy tales, picture books and movies such as The Name of the Rose. So reading the Handbook for William is helping me to expand my repertoire, my point of view and my admiration for those brave women from the past.

Her handbook throws welcome light on women's history, the history of childhood, and the self-perception of the Frankish nobility. The Carolingian Renaissance (...) left many literary remains that testify to the liveliness of its intellectual life, but the overwhelming majority of ninth-century books are the works of male clerics. Dhuoda's work, a married woman's book, makes at least a partial break with that monopoly.

Below, two of the Dhuoda's basic and precious advices on conduct:

(From Book 8)

11. For those who were truly good:
For those who were truly good, we offer thanks.

12. For those who were not truly good:
For those who were not truly good, propitiation.

Listening "In heaven (lady in the Radiator Song) everything is fine." Pixies