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Recreating a Life September 30, 2007

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It’s been kind of a hard semester so far, and now I’m scrambling to figure out how to make life go a little more smoothly. Summer was full of kids and travel and moments of sibling rivalry which left me wondering if we’d make it through to September, and I think I went into this fall needing a break already. (Next summer? The city-run daycamp at the local park is where H and J will be for a few hours each day. We all need some respite from each other sometimes.)

Anyway, coming into the academic year feeling frayed around the edges has meant I’m doing some refiguring. What can I drop? How can I make up for lost income if I drop something that pays? And so on. More than anything, how can I have the time and energy I need to supervise homework with three kids without losing patience and keep the house semi-together and food in the fridge when the amount of food eaten daily is kind of amazing now that H and V especially are clearly GROWING boys while still doing my paid work well? And then there are lunches and laundry and so on…

I think part of what’s got me down right now is 1) teaching freshmen for the first time in a year–hard to come back from teaching children’s lit and older, mature students and have to start thinking like a newbie. All kinds of basics, like cell phone etiquette and getting rid of the seat-time mindset are needed, and I’m doing my best, but it’s definitely a bit more of a drag than usual. Three of my four classes are freshmen, so I’m spending most of my work week in that world. Large class sizes–five more students per section than when I first started teaching–suck, too. 2) Watching baby nephew once a week is wonderful, but it makes me want to slow down to watch him more, as his dad did for us when our kids were babies. So I’m feeling torn.

However. My kids all have teachers they’re learning a lot from, teachers we’re thrilled to know are passionate about teaching, and school has been relatively smooth going for all three of them so far. The weather is beautifully cool and colorful right now; my hydrangea is producing all sorts of last-minute blooms, the pink roses are consistently colorful, and the magnolia tree is blooming like mad. And the mysterious shrub next door is perfuming the air as it does each fall–our neighbor says she came across one of these plants in China and knew she had to have one. So glad she does!

Getting Older Without a Role Model September 25, 2007

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I watched the movie Away From Me last night, and I realized, watching it, how rarely we see older people on screen just living their lives–without plastic surgery or major makeup or hair dye. Julie Christie stars in it, and she’s as beautiful now, with snowy hair and a deeply-lined face, as ever.

I’m 36. My body is the body of a woman who has carried two babies to full-term and spent a full year in the first trimester of back-to-back pregnancies (the first ended in a miscarriage). It’s the body of a woman who spent six years breastfeeding.

It’s the body of a reader, of someone who thinks exercise is a brisk walk. It’s also the body of a woman who reached my full height and current bra size at age 12.

I’ve been finding gray hairs lately, and the crow’s feet I had at 20, due to fair skin, sun exposure, and a dislike (which I’ve overcome) of sunglasses, are more and more apparent. I get “ma’am” from the grocery store clerks on a regular basis, and my eighteen-year-old students don’t need to be convinced, as they did when I started teaching at 23, that I’m an adult.

And mostly, I love this. For years, I’ve gazed at silver-haired women at Trader Joe’s, looking forward to the day when I would join their ranks. (Side note: Why is it only Trader Joe’s where I see older women I’d like to look like someday? Never at Savemart or Target.)

But I’m a little lost right now. I’ve had moments of feeling invisible. I’m not used to it–it happened without my noticing. I had to get used to visual attention in the sixth grade, when I was wearing a DD bra and had long blond hair. I was just a kid, but I suddenly received the attention of teens and adults. I hated it for a long time, and then I got used to it.

Then I had kids, and any attention paid to me in public tended to be aimed at my children. This was mostly wonderful, as I’m shy, and having children seemed to provide this bridge to conversation with all kinds of people.

But now my children are all in school, and the person I see in the mirror is plumper, with shorter, darker hair and a few more lines. It’s taking some getting used to, and it surprises me that this is so. I wonder if my lack of role models plays a part; after all, both my mother and grandmother have had multiple plastic surgeries, from breast augmentation after motherhood to facelifts and eye work. My mother is 22 years older than me, but right now, she and I look like we’re close to the same age. My grandmother is 80 and looks 60, maybe. Neither have gray hair. I love them, and I know some of the complex reasons why they have spent so much time and money on looking young. I don’t envy them the experiences and emotions behind those surgeries and hair appointment. But I just want someone to look up to, you know? Someone to show me how to grow older honestly and gracefully.

Wake me up in 2007 November 21, 2006

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Good lord this is a crazy time of year. Parent-teacher conferences last week, minimum days for the kids last week AND this week, and frantic, stressed-out students are kicking my butt. Plus, I know that I won’t actually die if I have to sign one more homework sheet or create a “Family Turkey Project” with one of the kids, but it FEELS like I might. Writing down every. single. page. we read together is seriously fraying my nerves, too. So yeah, I’m stressing, and somehow knowing that the semester will end in a few weeks isn’t helping tonight.

My grandmother is moving into a new place right now, a much smaller house than her old one. It’s the right thing for her to do right now, but Thanksgiving with our thirtysomething family members (that’s numbers, not ages) is going to be crowded. If it doesn’t work, we’re going to have to move to separate gatherings, I think, which I don’t want to do. Life seems to be moving on and changing, and you KNOW I hate that.

Gone private November 14, 2006

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I’ve made the blog private for now, as I wasn’t writing during this intense awareness of the world’s eyes judging all mamas, including me, so harshly that has hit in the past few months. I’ve stopped writing almost entirely, partly because I’ve lost some of the childcare I had when Josie was in full-time daycare, but also because the initial euphoria of finding people who have the same concerns and interests as I do has worn off. Now I’m more aware of the freaky and often mean people out there who like to read and rant and judge.

So, enough about them. Reading “hope is the thing with feathers” with one of my classes right now is bringing me back to poetry. Seeing the obvious seems necessary right now, because what used to be obvious–be hopeful, comparisons are odious, etc.–isn’t at the moment.

Ignoring the Obvious August 3, 2006

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So, yesterday? When I was reflecting on how life right now is going along at a semi-manageable pace? I forgot one huge factor: Mr. T is off work all week.

When J began to throw a tantrum at Costco yesterday, I could look at the other adult with me and laugh when J told us, “You ALWAYS do this to me!” (“This” referred to letting her brother hold the Costco receipt the man at the door had drawn a funny picture on.) Without Mr. T there, I would have been struggling to buckle a crying child into her booster seat while also dealing with a cart full of too-heavy groceries.

Well, okay: without Mr. T there, I wouldn’t have taken two kids to Costco because I’ve pretty much given up on that exercise in frustration — long lines, crowded parking lot, food/movies/toys they both wish they could have at every turn.

In my dream world, he’d work a few hours a day, I’d work a few hours a day, and we’d be able to share the daily parenting stuff like making lunches and taking kids swimming and arranging playdates the way we have this week.

Don’t get me wrong — he’s far more available than many parents I know with full-time jobs, mostly, in my opinion, because he’s had working mom bosses who absolutely understand that kids get sick or have appointments with specialists that can’t be rescheduled or field trips that need chaperones. These women have been balancing full-time paid work with mothering for longer than we have, and they’re under no illusion that every dad has a wife at home to pick up all the slack.

He’s also got a pretty generous vacation and sick leave allowance, so taking a day off here and there to work in a kid’s classroom or stay home with a sick child on one of my teaching days is usually no problem. Being able to work from home on the laptop makes a huge difference, too. More than anything, he’s an equal parent in his mind; he doesn’t think of any of the work of raising children as being specifically my job, now that breastfeeding is no longer a part of our lives.

But right now, when we’ve both got extremely flexible work schedules going on and no sports practices or school dropoffs and pickups to fit in, I can see where being independently wealthy would be kind of nice. I just like having him around, you know? He makes me laugh and he takes over when H is starting to lose it and he brings me the new Sonic Youth album before I’ve even asked for it. I’m lucky.

Annual Summer-Will-End Panic Attack August 2, 2006

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Yesterday, H and J each had a friend over to play. At one point, H and V and H’s friend were doing a puppet show (with many scatalogical references) and J and her friend were out back painting the playhouse with mud.

I had two seconds of smug happiness: “See? Benign neglect DOES work…” before the panic hit me full-force.

Because right now? The kids don’t have to be anywhere early in the morning. I am not teaching four college classes. There are no homework logs to sign off on, no permission slips to frantically search for in the pile of school papers that takes over the kitchen counter from September to June, no desperate requests from PTSO members or children’s teachers for more glue sticks or more volunteers in the classroom/at the bake sale/whatever, no student papers to grade or emails to answer, no classes to prepare for.

And still, we’re out of bananas and juice and down to the last few inches of milk. We had Chinese food delivered last night, and I’m fully planning for us to live on the leftovers for another day. The laundry is still kicking my ass (those damn beach towels from all the swimming are the bane of my existence).

But then I remembered what will make that fall switch into our mama-at-work lives possible: public school, which is free and where my children–all three, for the first time ever–will be each day for six hours.

I have this same panic each summer, when I can’t imagine how I’ll fit full-time work into an already full life. It’ll happen. We’ll be fine. Cereal and scrambled eggs ARE fine for dinner. (And truly? J has eaten tortilla chips for dinner three of the last five nights. Cereal and eggs would be a huge improvement.)

Random Thoughts about BlogHer 2006 July 31, 2006

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1) It turns out I know more about blogging than I thought I did. I expected to be blown away by how much I would learn about audience building for mamazine.com and other areas I always feel like I should study up on. I’m over that now.

2) Weird swag. I expected to see lots of cool tech products and maybe even find stuff about them in, say, the free tote bag. The free bib was nice—I gave it to my daughter for her baby doll—and the condom was fine, although now that I’ve had my tubes tied, condoms are no longer a part of my life. But the cheesy huge silk flower was just weird. And the diet water? No thanks.

3) The people who can come to these conferences probably aren’t representative of bloggers as a whole in terms of personality and socioeconomic class. The BlogHer organizers did everything they could, I suspect, to make it affordable, and companies like ClubMom helped subsidize the on-site childcare. But it was still $75 a day, and that’s still too much for many, many people. For us, it was a BIG financial stretch to drive an hour and a half and pay for two nights in the (not swanky AT ALL) hotel, not to mention the conference fees.

For most bloggers, I’d guess plane tickets and hotel and possibly babysitting costs were too prohibitive. So there ended up being a lot more people there who blog for money and possibly for a living than is probably true of bloggers in general. That’s not a criticism of the conference, just an observation. I’ve only ever attended academic conferences, too, so my perspective is different from someone who regularly goes to conferences with corporate sponsors who aren’t textbook publishers.

4) The corporate sponsors didn’t really seem to get who their audience was, with the Be Jane weirdness being the primary example. All around me, people were making comments about feeling like “Math is hard” Barbie was up on stage talking WAY down to us. Here’s a hint: if you’re facing a ballroom full of hundreds of smart, tech-savvy women, “home improvement is scary” isn’t the way to our hearts.

5) I like sleep more than partying.

6) The Mommyblogging is a Radical Act session was disappointing. Not because of the moderator or the panelists, who were as intelligent and funny and thoughtful in person as on their blogs, but because question-and-answer sessions only work if people ASK QUESTIONS rather than make statements promoting their own blogs. (The next session I went to worked better, though, because there was a wireless mike being carried around the room and people were able to ask questions in response to what had just been said and/or asked.)

Also? The room was way too small and really hot. It’s possible that I was also hungry and cranky by then, too. Plus, the only other session I really, really wanted to go to, the Edublogging session, was at the same time. What–mommybloggers can’t also be educators? I know it wasn’t intentional. I just found it interesting that once again I found myself choosing between the two main parts of my life–teaching and mothering.

7) I feel generally blah about the whole experience, and that surprises me. I usually come home from conferences feeling inspired and full of new ideas. I just don’t have that feeling after this weekend. Maybe it was the focus on blogging for money (which I’m not opposed to in theory, at least)? The idea of a person being a brand? For most of us, that’s not what blogging is.

Cooperation July 2, 2006

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When I was a kid, Sesame Street was one of the few TV shows we were allowed to watch. The way I remember it, every episode had a major lesson somewhere in it about the importance of cooperation. I can hear the word stretched out into long syllables: “CO-OP-ER-AAAATION” whenever I think about watching TV in our red family room with my brothers.

I’m thinking I need to find some clips of those lessons in cooperation on YouTube or something and show them to my kids (and maybe to the neighborhood group trying to start a community center, too, but that’s a whole other story). The sibling wars, they’re a-killin’ me. Or at least exhausting me. Am I the worst mother on earth? Or is it just summer?

Overloaded March 4, 2006

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Yes, I am. With an embarrassment of riches–kids, husband, paid work I love, unpaid work I love, books to read, music to hear, friends and family I don’t see enough of.

But also: laundry. Grocery shopping. Cooking. Packing lunches. Keeping track of field trip slips. Baseball practices and games. School fundraisers. Required parent hours. Two cars whose interiors have NEVER been cleaned the entire time we’ve owned them (2+ years). Two bathrooms and many square feet of floors which LOOK like they’ve never been cleaned the entire time we’ve lived here.

I’m feeling like Toad in Frog and Toad today. Blah.

Finished Black, White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker, which gave me some good insight into how it must feel to V to have two homes. Just started Dan Savage’s new book, The Commitment, and I love it so far.

My Poor Neglected Blog February 25, 2006

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Little Teachermama blog, I want to post more. And I will–in two weeks, when I’m on spring break and not overloaded with student papers. For now, here’s the updated list: Morningside Heights by Cheryl Mendelsohn, Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck, and Literary Mama: Readings for the Maternally Inclined.