Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Far West Peace Talks

With all the brouhaha surrounding the Mideast Peace Talks (a one day meeting of speeches where leaders of various nations decided there will be peace by the end of 2008), I was reminded of the daily struggles for peace between men and women, husbands and wives, selfish jerks and cranky bitches, in the never ending quest for balance in what we call "family life."

There are two sides to every story, unless you're in a marriage, where there are seventeen, depending on the day and who's in therapy. So herewith, straight from the Navel Gazing Academy at Happy Lane Estates, a list of demands - I mean resolutions - from each side:

The senior representative from the Selfish Jerks rises, straightening the tie his wife had dry cleaned and laid out for him last night because he'd otherwise never be able to find it hanging in front of the bathroom mirror:

"We come here in the hope that our differences may be resolved, that we can work together to better understand each other's needs (he struggles with this last word; having difficulty reading his secretary's writing) and live in harmony together, sharing the land known as "our home," in peace."

Several coughs and sighs are emitted from the rows of Cranky Bitches.

"We hereby list, in order of preference, our dema -- (he squints at the paper, frowning at something) "-er, resolution requests:"

One - We request the right to buy whatever we want when at the grocery store, especially if the packaging appeals to us, whether or not it's on the list, on sale, and whether or not the household has a specific and timely need for it.

Two - We request at least a fifteen minute grace period when being called to a meal, unless the meal is held outside the home at a steakhouse.

Three - We request that all pink razors be removed from the floor of the bathtub. We are not stupid, and we know a booby trap when we see one.

Four - We reserve the right to archive select newspapers and magazines in the bathroom for up to one year.

Five - We move to submit the motion that calling to say we'll be late is just as good as being on time.

Six - We request that when dressing the children, outfits are not scrutinized for cleanliness or "matchy-matchyness."

Seven - Finally, when initiating conjugal relations, we respectfully request that the response, "I guess so but can you brush your teeth first?" be stricken from all records.

Polite applause as the lead delegate from the Cranky Bitches rises, smoothing her inappropriately expensive Anthropologie skirt.

"Thank you delegate Hot Stuff. Nice tie. We too come in the hope that in the spirit of our children's futures we can and will work together to resolve our differences, even when it's obvious someone is right and someone else is just being a selfish jerk."

Uncomfortable shifting in chairs is heard, one low whistle echoes across the chamber.

"And so, herewith follow our requests:"

1) We humbly suggest that you do what we ask, when we ask it, without debate or confrontation, and without offering "options."

2) We request that when household flowers / plants appear to be, or are in fact, dead, they be thrown away by the first person who sees them and has in fact, noticed they are no longer alive.

3)Ditto with visible, recent cat vomit, dead spiders and accidents committed by the dog.

4)We hereby move to limit any and all pretense of sleep and excessively loud snoring when a child is crying / whining / asking for a puppy.

5)We humbly suggest that when you ask us how we feel about something and we tell you, that you assume the response is true and non-negotiable.

6)We reserve the right to be emotional, weepy, cranky, tired and generally bitchy at any certain or uncertain time for any and all reasons, due to hormones and various planetary alignments.

Loud cheering and applause by the other bitches; while the Selfish Jerks roll their eyes and exchange knowing glances.

The participants exit their chairs, find their partners, and embrace in one giant though imprecise group hug.

Hot Stuff stands atop his chair, stoking his tie and gazing lovingly at his smartly tailored wife.

"Here's to Getting Some!"

Monday, November 26, 2007

MomWear, Part I

How should I dress, now that I’m “at home?” I’m still working, part time, from home as a consultant, but not many people see me all day. My son’s daycare, the local coffee shop, the lawn guys. My husband occasionally. It’s a peculiar dilemma. You have your work clothes of course, the chic, the conservative, the daily staples from Anne Taylor Loft (a real bargain for corporate wear that’s not necessarily sexless). You have your fun-night-out wear, which doesn’t really fit anymore but whatever. You have your public weekend J. Jill catalog look. That’s it! It must be.

MomWear. The good yet sensible jeans, snug (but no so snug as to accentuate the UGL - Unexpected Gelatinous Layer - where your abs once summered) long sleeve T-shirts and a cute fall vest or sweater, reasonable suede boots of some sort, perhaps. Matching belt – more of a benefit to your fashion sense than a device to actually hold up your pants but whatever.

Still, you can’t shake the feeling that you’re dressing up, sort of. But for whom? Your infant or toddler? The women in your playgroup? The UPS guy?

A recent New York Times magazine article (one of the funniest things I’ve read in ages) reviewed a series of wardrobe changes for the author. He described what each outfit said, since clothes do make the man and have a way of well, talking. I happen to agree. Your daytime MomWear can’t scream, Look at me! I’m LEAVING THE HOUSE! HUBBA! nor should it mutter shamefully, That’s right, I never leave my neighborhood and have forgotten how to dress myself. In fact, I don’t even know what looks good on me anymore. Pass me that Mumu.

I had been going for coffee (just me and the baby) in yoga pants, imitation Ugg boots and a large hooded sweatshirt. No, I haven’t been to yoga in months and yes, an old fashioned, bulbous sweatshirt, not a cute, fitted “hoodie.” This even after I’d managed to lose the baby weight. One day I realized I hadn’t put on a pair of earrings in weeks. And why not? Just because there’s no one to see them? If a stylish mother falls in the forest of diapers and onesies and there are no women or gay men there to check out her shoes, is she still stylish?

Yes, I say. Because she is the only one that matters. After all, we dress for ourselves, right? What I mean is, we do and you should. Put those diamond or cubic zirconia studs in, give yourself a good blowout and use a handbag you love to go to Stop&Shop, dammit, not the plastic coated diaper bag that’s cool but not a purse. Put on an outfit that makes you feel happy, even if it’s imitation Ugg boots and yoga pants.

And if your clothes don’t fit, you have my permission to buy new ones. At least a good pair of jeans. And once piece of cashmere. On sale at Marshall’s or Loehman’s.

Take Mr. Kanye West’s advice: Go on, girl, go’head, get down. Here are a few more suggestions to get you started (or finished as the case may be).

1. Check out other women. Come on, admit it, you’ve been doing this your whole life. Whose style do you admire? Whose could you afford? Whose could you reasonably mimic, without seeming like a Single White Female?

2. There’s nothing wrong with Loungewear, but there’s everything right with quality loungewear; it lasts longer and doesn’t look cheap. Remember Carmela Soprano’s sweatsuits, so elegantly accessorized with heaving mounds of gold and diamonds? The woman never worked a day in her life, yet she was masterful at fashioning the right outfit for every occasion: therapy session, sons’ suicide attempt, rival family wake, dysfunctional in-law weekend on the lake, etc.

3. The right jeans. I can’t tell you what they are for you; there are thousands of options. But you know what you look good in, what’s comfortable, what’s in your budget. They don’t have to cost $200. You’d be surprised what the Gap has to offer these days. Magazines like In Style are always running articles on how to find the right pair. Invest.

4. The right jacket – Cropped or long, denim or cotton, this gives the long sleeve T or fitted sweater a stage. And the UGL (see above) some much needed confidence.

5. Accessorize – Especially if you’re not at your ideal weight and don’t want to spend on clothes that might not fit next week / month. Earrings, scarves. Even fun hats in fall or winter. Belts can make an outfit. And we’ve already discussed your favorite handbag. If you don’t have one, find one and put it on your birthday / Christmas / Valentine’s Day / I’m-just-an amazing-wife-and-mother / list.

6. Makeup – It’s not an indulgence if you feel better wearing it. Drugstore varieties (i.e. reasonably priced) abound. Allure magazine is fabulous at listing them, with fun photos of crushed powders and smeared lip gloss. Call me shallow, but I always have a better day when my lashes are coated and curled. There, I said it.

7. Layers – can divert to attract or detract the eye from our “special areas.” (I don’t call them “problem” areas, that would give them a complex and they have enough challenges.) Long tank tops from Old Navy under fitted shirts, crisp (or not so crisp; they have stretchy ones now) oxfords under a V neck (try Eddie Bauer), even the right scarf can update any exhausted mom. French women know this. And some of them do get fat, so there.

You don’t have to be a fashion rock star. You just have to rock your own world. Remember, you don’t have to have it all. You just have to get some.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Poo Also Rises

Have you been here? Sitting in your car in the driveway 1) reading 2) eating 3) sleeping or 4) writing because your baby is asleep in the back and you stupidly made the move from removable carseat to non-removable carseat because you were thrilled your baby was ready for it? You didn't stop to think if you were ready for it, did you?

Not to worry - we've all made this mistake and now here we are, imprisoned in our cars in our own driveways, waiting for the baby to wake up and feeling idiotic. Use the time to do something productive - like take a nap. I'm serious.

When this happened to me yesterday, I reflected on the morning's events, the Morning of the Infinite Poo...

It all started when I assumed I could take 23 seconds to review the life insurance policy I'd just opened which had arrived three weeks ago. Standing in the middle of the kitchen with my 9 month old happily entertaining a plastic potato masher at my feet, I made the mistake of focusing on what I was reading. When I realized that nearly half a minute had elapsed without my looking at the baby I glanced down to see...a slump of brown matter near the fridge and several, smaller islands of brown surrounding it. Fearing at first it was a dead rodent family of some kind, I put down the policy and bent over the baby. He was staring wondrously at a smear of the substance on his finger and another the size of a Nike swoosh on his left thigh. I breathed a gasp - Poo! But how? When?! He was fully clothed and diapered. Then I remembered - he's a baby, he can do anything.

It was a regulation "backupper" - that is, an overflowing diaper that releases excess contents "up the back" although in this case it was more like a "neck upper." I'd never seen anything so monstrous come out of him (since the first, tar-like poo in the hospital but let's not). It reminded me of Poltergeist.

In these situations a mother makes choices. Clean the baby or kitchen floor first? If I took seven seconds to wipe the floor, said baby would waste none of them in further exploring the delights of his own hideous creation, spreading it on his hands, face and eventually, mouth. Am I right, o tired moms of the world? I scooped him up and at a complete loss, deposited him fully clothed into the tub.

Things were progressing in a generally forward direction in the tub when the spouse re-entered the kitchen. "What happened here?" came the bewildered cry. Then, "Is everybody allright up there??" God bless him, he actually sounded genuinely worried.

"A slight accident," I reported, wondering anew whether to clean the newly poo-spackled bathtub or dry the baby, who was now headed for the door / hallway / emergency room.

Guess which I did?

Please share your favorite back-upper story. I know there are worse ones out there.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shorter, Darker, Colder

Shorter, Darker, Colder

If you live in the northeastern section of the states, you've set your clock back, reveled for a few days in the extra hour of sleep (even though the baby didn't quite get it despite your explanations) and watched the curled, brittle leaves raining down in blustery gusts that have arrived like a mother-in-law post partum: here to stay.

Fall is finally here, really here, and the holidays are gathering steam. Maybe you'll delight in shopping and prepping a big Thanksgiving dinner at home, maybe someone else is cooking, maybe you're gearing up for the trip from hell complete with lugging strollers and carseats down the jetway while on the cell phone yammering your flight number to your drunk brother-in-law while having to pee really badly. Or maybe you're still arguing with your spouse about whose family gets to spend Baby's first Thanksgiving / Christmas / other PC holiday with you and why can't you just stay home and watch football?

The days are shorter, darker, colder. It's a time of year, despite the festive glow launched by the pumpkins and skeletons of yesterday (yes I'm still dutifully polishing off the bite size Snickers and Milky Ways, you?) when some people get depressed. Some suffer from SAD syndrome - Sun Also Disappears. Some of us just get the blues. Most of us just feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Joyful yes, but resigned to being exhausted and overwhelmed until January 2, when we start a new anxiety over taxes and losing weight.

If you're a first time mom, maybe you're remembering fondly the year you abandoned Christmas in favor of a romantic getway to Hawaii or Chile. Seems like a lifetime ago doesn't it? Sister, it was.

Not to fear - there's a new lifetime ahead. One where you get to gloriously re-live all your bizarre holiday traditions through the eyes of your child. If you're like me and put off having a baby til the last chime of the clock, you might wonder sometimes if you really have the energy to do this. You do. You can.

Bring the baby to the early parties and start thinking right now about getting a sitter for the ones with spiked punch and late night charades. For God's sake, shop online, unless you're one of those creatures immune to mall rage. Give. As much as you can, without draining your reserves of cash /kindness / compassion.

And don't forget to panic about unsafe toys from China. Consumer Reports has launched the "Get the Lead Out This Holiday Season" campaign. Check it out here.

Speaking of safe toys, click here for something proactive and positive you can do

If you need more tips on how to calmly launch yourself into the storm of the holidays, read one of those helpful yet overly ambitious articles from Martha Stewart Living or Real Simple or watch the Food Network. Or book a trip to Hawaii or Chile - you, the spouse and the baby - and leave it all behind.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What the Breast Pump Said

Why did I start this blog?

First the orchid died.

It was a parting gift from my supervisor who left the Company the week I returned from maternity leave. “It’s yours,” she said after I commented how gorgeous it was sitting on her window ledge, observing downtown Back Bay from its comfy perch in her corner office. A week later, relocated to the desk in my windowless box under fluorescent lights, it was shriveled, drooping forlornly like a used penis toward the floor, its stem brown and leaves withered. Dead. I wondered vaguely about the effect the office had on me after four years. I was thirty-nine and my new baby was four months old.

A few weeks went by, the “transition” back to work which everyone said would “get easier” even though it “was awful” at first. It stayed awful. And I thought, does this really “get easier” or do you just get used to it, like insomnia, cheese and crackers for dinner and the brand new roll of skin over your jeans?

Oh, I tried. I tried to settle into the “normal” routine: Up at 5:30, feed and dress and try to interact with the baby before showering, dressing (and for the first few days, redressing, after he puked on me as soon as the power outfit was assembled) and getting us both out the door with the pets fed by 7:45 a.m. Drop him at daycare, then stop at the corner store for the breakfast of champions (pastry, coffee and a granola bar) which would be gobbled navigating the morning rush hour traffic while tuned to NPR (thinking, somehow, that if I listen to the traffic reports it might actually improve my commute), and hallucinating about all of the things I could alternatively get done with the 75 minutes of sitting in my car that lay ahead.

Two weeks of this and I’m sitting on the floor of a takeout Mexican restaurant outside San Francisco, plugged into the Pump In Style Medela Breast Pump. Yes, it is actually called Pump In Style, as if there were an alternative to being unstylish when pumping out one’s breasts. Whirr umpahhh, whirr umpahh, it says to me. We have a pitch meeting with a potential client. The rest of the pitch team are next door lunching at Panera Bread Company, but their public restrooms had no electrical outlets so here I am on the floor of El Coyote, my pitch outfit - a combination of chic and deeply competent - on a hanger leaning against a box of industrial paper towels in the corner. It was a six hour plus flight, and American Airlines has no outlets in their bathrooms. Like so many moments of my new working motherhood, this one involved a choice: eat my lunch or empty my breasts. There wasn’t time (ah, that four letter word) to do both, and so, fearing an embarrassing and inappropriate leak situation (and I don’t mean confidential corporate information) mid-pitch, I opted for the latter.

Whirr Umpaah, Whirr Umpahh.

Wow, look at me. Glamorous six figure working mom, on her way to a big pitch meeting with a sexy entertainment client. Whirr Umpahh Whirr Umpahh. I’m one of them, now. Working mothers. Those women who have it all.

Whirr Umpaah, whirr umpaah!

There is a knock (or is it a kick?) at the door. “Hola?! Jesus, is anyone in there? How long you going to be?”

Should I shout, about ten minutes per breast? I wonder what my son is doing right now. Drooling, perhaps. Peeing. Wagging him arms like the Lost in Space robot. Wondering where I am. The floor here is not very clean. I think of the movie star Will Smith and his son, spending the night on the bathroom floor in a subway station in last year’s film, “The Pursuit of Happyness.” At least I’m not homeless, I think. I’m getting like my husband, who chooses to see the bright side of a situation. “It could be worse,” he is fond of saying.

Yes, I think, I could have a two hour commute and one leg, I suppose, but its hard to muster up sympathy for the hypothetical when you’re busy feeling overtired and sorry for yourself and your breasts are in danger of exploding in front of your colleagues…

“Hey! Hello? Come on, man!”

Whirr Umpaah, Whirr Umpahh.

The sound of the familiar Pump In Style is oddly comforting. But after a long while, its chugs and hums assume the shape of words, a special message that only I can hear, a dog attuned to the high pitched whistle of its master. It sounds like this: What are you doing? Is it worth it? Why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove? Is it about the health insurance? Cause you know that’s not a reason to be trapped in a job that’s not right for you. But it’s your choice. It’s your life, and your motherhood. You do have a choice you know. You don’t have to have it all. You could just get… some. You know that, right?

I detach myself from the cone shaped receptacles and pour the milk my body made down the sink of El Coyote. I coil the plastic tubing and zip closed the case of the pump, so that now, in its discreet state, it could be a large briefcase full of case studies and not the substitute for my infant that it is. I squeeze myself into the pitch outfit, careful not to let any drops of milk touch the freshly dry-cleaned blouse. I exchange my clogs for pumps, reeling at the thought of my bare foot touching this floor, and pack up. Another knock.

“Hey, Brady, you in there? We’re getting ready to go.” It’s John, the creative director with three kids back home. John is talented and exhausted. “Be right out,” I chirp, sucking in my belly and zipping my skirt. I look into the mirror, greasy and steamy from the hot water rinsing the pump parts. My face looks more determined than confident. I sling the device over my shoulder, grab my bag and open the door. Showtime.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Welcome to "Getting Some"

A blog by new mom, writer and former corporate achiever Tracy McArdle.

“Getting Some” is a chronicle of a new life stage for first time moms over 35, who have come to realize it’s an existential joke to “have it all” and who have settled for just getting, well, some. Bold indicates links for articles or sites for more information.

We were hot, hip and had careers. At least, we thought so. We had mocha lattes and conference calls, Jo Malone and Treos. We flew business class. Yes, we were privileged. Fortunate. Lucky. All that. But now things are different. We have thicker middles and shorter energy. Someone else comes first now, and although we love that little someone with the entirety of human existence, it’s so consuming that sometimes we forget to brush our teeth or insert a tampon.

Occasionally, we secretly think things suck and we long for our old life. Getaway ski trips, weekends that started at noon and $200 jeans. We have been humbled. Sometimes we are lonely and frustrated. Confused. Feel like Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County, a desperate housewife of the other kind. We’ve thought about buying an apron. We’ve thought about antidepressants.

But somehow, we are also secretly delighted to discover the unexpected nooks and crannies of this new life. Music classes and the local library, first teeth and the delirious joys of Target. Buying groceries in sneakers, in the company of your child instead of everyone else in your city doing the 6:30 what’s-for-dinner panic. The surprising fun of floor play. The shaping of a little soul that’s yours – for a little while.

We struggle with guilt and entitlement, identity and self worth. Money, of course. Relationships. But as long as we can laugh at ourselves, it’s all going to be ok. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. As songwriter Ben Lee said, we’re all in this together.