Monday, December 22, 2008

Shopping List

A few nights ago I casually mentioned to K. that I was going to run to the grocery store to pick up a few essentials. Winter had arrived with a vengeance in Iowa City, with sub-zero wind chill, ice and snow. K. immediately objected to me going out in the snow and ice, fearing for the ever-growing cargo I am packing around in my 7-month womb. His offer was kind, even chivalrous, but sending K. to the grocery store unattended is like opening a box of chocolates a'la Forrest Gump--you never know what you're going to get.
I gave him my four-item list, stressing that this was just what we needed for the morning:
1 gal. milk
Orange juice
Fiber One Cereal
blueberries if less than $3; otherwise, a bunch of bananas

40 minutes and three-phone calls from the cereal aisle later, he arrived home with a face as proud as a cat who has just left a dead mouse on the doorstep. Look what I did! I shopped! The contents of the bag included:
1 gal. milk
1 pt. chocolate milk
Orange juice
Fiber One cereal
1 doz. Rhodes frozen orange cream cinnamon rolls
1 bag Totino's Pizza Rolls
Generic Fruit Loops

and...1 dozen roses. Needless to say, the pizza rolls were instantly forgiven.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On the spot

Now that I am in my third trimester, I have become the subject of public curiosity. Random people make comments about my new stature, mere acquaintances have opinions on how much is too much coffee for my unborn child to withstand, and sometimes, a particularly annoying person will say something at just the wrong time. This happened today, as I was waiting to use the bathroom at Starbucks (where I was consuming my 1 serving of doctor-approved caffeine for the day):

Random person with no social boundaries (referring to my mid-section): "Wow, looks like you've been busy!"
Me (pointing to my mid-section): "This? Oh, it took like ten minutes."

Inner monologue: "Sorry dude, this isn't an iVillage moment; it's finals week, I need coffee, and I have to pee."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Big Girls, Little Girls

Heather from Dooce, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote this to her daughter about their upcoming addition to the family and it made me think of my sisters. She writes,

"Mostly, I am excited that this baby will have you as an older sister...I can only hope that you will have with this one what I have with my own, a bond so strong that it doesn't even matter that we have nothing but our parents in common. They are lifelines, people who were there, who were witnesses to everything that made me who I am, and I am the same for them in return. Is the relationship perfect? No, but we all know that we would sacrifice anything for each other, and one of the many reasons we decided to have another child was to give you the possibility of that friendship."

I immediately thought of my three sisters. The four of us are dubbed "The Big Girls" and "The Little Girls" because of our range in age. We are all so different, yet I cannot imagine any other combination. Next week they will all be together in Oregon for Christmas. They will gather in the house where we grew up, where it will be loud and comfortable, with little cousins spilling over the arms of my dad's Lazy Boy recliner. I will be here in Iowa, nesting and setting up the nursery for Baby A. Even though I know I'll have my hands full with one baby, moments like this make me hope she gets to be a sister someday.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Clever Lawyer

If you haven't picked up on this little fact about my personality, I have the tendency to pull what I like to call the "Clever Lawyer" tactic when faced with difficult emotional situations. Dr. R was the first to officially diagnose this condition when I was seeing him in the midst of a very difficult time in my life. He noticed that he had a hard time focusing and being serious because I was so adept at distracting him with my witty banter and humor. I also pride myself on the fact that I am not a sappy, sentimental person. I don't collect knick-knacks or stuffed animals. I don't save cards and love letters. I laugh at The Notebook while the other 99% of the population (my husband included) weeps. I choose to save my tears for the really big stuff, like statistics exams and missing the bus. I am a compassionate and loving person, don't get me wrong. But, when it comes to my own stuff, I am a human Tootsie Pop, with my hard candy shell and soft, chewy middle. It is a brilliant defense mechanism, but one that I have had to learn to check when it's time to get down and psychoanalysis-dirty.

Now, as I'm faced with a huge life change a' la Baby A., I find it necessary to get in touch with my soft, chewy middle, and not just because it's so big that I can no longer see my toes. It's a completely new feeling to just give in to the unexpected, the unpredictable, and the wholly unplanned. I have never been on the verge of having all I've ever wanted, all at once. I have my health, my family, my friends, my husband, a home to call my own, a puppy, a Phd that's relatively around the corner, and now a baby. And I'm getting really excited, gushy, and sappy inside. This little girl that I have never met is going to be the most important person in my life.

And, as my advisor told me this week, I will figure out that I can have more than one important thing, but for a while, I can give in and let her be it. All the way to the soft, chewy middle.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Procrastination Progress....Sort of.

I couldn't very well write a blog yesterday about how I'm working on my procrastination tendencies and then put off writing about it. That's right, folks, just when I think I've hit the end of the psychiatric road, Dr. U has presented me with a new challenge. Being an emotionally intense, driven, and did I mention emotionally intense, person has its drawbacks when that same person is preparing for another human being to enter her life and throw a wrench into everyday tasks. Because I am working on "role transitions" in my latest round of therapy, I have to examine my everyday routines and reflect on how they will change when Baby A arrives in February. My homework for last week was to keep a journal of my stress and emotions and reflect on possible triggers. Over the course of our hour-long appointment, I walked Dr. U through the previous week and noted those times that I felt particularly stressed. The highlight of my stress came last Wednesday night when I got home from school, sat down to load new Office Word software onto my computer, only to find that it had some technical malfunction. Now, rather than just sit down and write my 5-page paper that was due the next morning at 11:00 on the current version of Word that was successfully loaded on my machine, I had to fix this problem immediately. I got on the phone to the Geek Squad and they couldn't send anyone out, but I could bring the computer to the store and they would give it a look. Again, rather than just wait until the weekend when my husband had offered to either a. take a look at the problem and see if he could figure it out or b. take the computer to the store to get it fixed, I had to solve the problem. Now. So, I hefted the 20" monitor/computer into a laundry basket because I was too impatient to figure out how to put the machine back into its box, drove the 8 miles to the computer store, and hefted the computer into the store.

Now, with two hours to kill while they fixed the problem and loaded my software, I figured I may as well get the grocery shopping done. Again, I could have gone home and worked on my paper, but it seemed wholly inefficient to drive all the way home and back. I left my computer and drove to the grocery store, then to Target (may as well stock up on toilet paper and read the latest magazines while I wait), and finally, at 9:00 at night, back to the computer store to pick up my machine. At this point, Dr. U stops me and says, "What about your paper? I'm nervous for you just thinking about this paper that needs to be written!" I tell her that I am not paying her to project her "stuff" onto me, and could she please let me finish?

By the time I get home, it's 9:30. My five-page paper is due in 14 hours and I still have to unload my computer, haul it upstairs and hook it back up to the printer and keyboard, bring in and put away six bags of groceries, eat dinner, and put my feet up before my ankles disappear. Being a pregnant procrastinator is all the more exhausting! By the time I sit down to eat, I decide that I cannot possibly write a good paper when I'm tired, so I turn in for the night. My alarm sounds at 6:00 the next morning and I mentally count back the time from 10:55 when my class begins, with the soundtrack to Mission: Impossible playing in my head. Here's the part where you would think I'd be a nervous wreck. But I'm not. I'm ready to go. I eat breakfast, watch last night's episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta, which is cut from 60 to 43 minutes thanks to DVR. At 8:00, I pour a cup of coffee and head upstairs to write. Two hours later, I have a five-page paper on "The Conceptual Place of Communicative Theory" with citations and a snappy metaphor in the introduction. And, I tell Dr. U with a proud smile on my face, with time to shower and get to class on time!

Dr. U says she guesses that this method has worked for me, that I get a rush from working under the gun and manage to produce good work. Yes! But here's the thing: While I have learned to truly immerse myself in my doctoral study and actually enjoy spending hours readings, writing, theorizing, planning and producing the best work I can for my courses and working on projects for my assistantship, these smaller assignments just seem like a game to me. A five page paper? Are you kidding me? I could find a five-page paper along with some loose change and lint under my couch cushions! A one-page case summary for Law class is like a "detour" in The Amazing Race. In order to deal with what I deem the mundane tasks of academic life, I make my own reality show: Survivor PhD.

(Dr. U is still distraught over the fact that I put off the paper, so I spend a few billable moments reminding her that it is a good thing that she is freaked out by this. I would be worried if she agreed with me and admitted that she, too, blew off prepping for her brain surgery clinical until the morning she was going to practice her technique. Unlike her "homework," no one dies if I chose the wrong dialogic theory for my paper.)

And then we get to the dilemma this presents with my transition to student/mother: What if, Dr. U says, I wake up that morning and Baby A has an ear infection, or is just crying and needs to be held all morning long? Right. That. Suddenly my tightly-woven Mission: Impossible scenario has turned upside down. We spend the next part of the session brainstorming ways that I can retrain my brain to break things into smaller tasks, leaving room for error, or life, or a crying baby. I guess I have to find a new theme song for my daily assignments as I have practiced all week planning at least one day ahead of time for the small stuff. And it's felt pretty good.

p.s. Because I just have to show her what I'm up against in changing my mindset, I will also bring my graded 5-page paper that I got back from my professor today. I got an "A," with comments like, "nice metaphor" and "fine articulation of your theoretical position" in the margin. What a rush!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Inside My Head: The Final Frontier

I have been going to therapy for my entire adult life. Beginning with my anxiety attacks in high school, moving through the exhilarating train wreck of marriage, divorce, and pseudo-dating I call my twenties, and finally to the self-actualizing 30s, I have heard and said it all. Reclaiming my inner child? Sure. Dealing with perfectionism and stress? You bet. Depression? Yes! Love addiction? Sign me up! Psychopharmacological therapy for intensely emotional and intelligent syndrome? Why not! The great part about moving to self-actualization is that I can speak openly about these issues. Not in an inappropriate catch-you-in-the-bathroom-while-you're-washing-your-hands-and-mention-that-your-sweater-reminds-me-of-the-color-of-the-room-where-I-was-inappropriately-touched-by-Pastor-John kind of way. But, in the "Hey, now that you mention it, I've been through some stuff." The only problem with having this many therapy notches on my belt is when I meet a new therapist who is not prepared for the new and improved, evolved Sherri. Case in point: My recent session with Dr. U.

Because I am taking a drug for one of the aforementioned issues (I'll keep you guessing on that one. Is there really a pill for love addiction, you're wondering?), my OB/GYN and I thought it prudent to see a psychiatrist during my pregnancy. You know, to work through "role transitions," and so as to have a relationship established with someone should I run into any post-partum mental health issues. My body once grew a tumor with extra teeth, for Christ's sake; the odds are great that a few extra hormones could mess with my system. So, I made an appointment with Dr. U, Chief Resident of Psychiatry at the hospital. I sat down for my "intake" appointment and proceeded to answer her question: Family medical history? Yes. Personal mental health history? Yes. Relationship history? Yes, yes, and yes. Current medications? Just a little something to take the edge off.

As she asked more detailed questions about life events, I began to tick off each of the key events or relationships that precipitated visits to therapy throughout the last twenty years. I was careful to show just enough emotion so as not to prompt her to order a battery of Rorschach ink blot tests to see if I was psychotic/anti-social, but not so much that I would end up in a fetal position on her office floor and miss my 3:00 class. Her eyes got wider and her pen flew across her notebook as I answered her questions.

Dr. U: Tell me about your relationships, Sherri
Me: Oh, I'm married to a wonderful guy who loves me and supports me and is just great. Phew, what a change from the alcoholic boyfriend in high school, and the anti-social abuser in my thirties, with a few meatheads, cowboys, and one really lovely soul that I married and divorced in my twenties.
Dr. U: Um, how about your family?
Me: Oh, you know, the usual June and Ward Cleaver upbringing, except my mom had undiagnosed OCD until a few years ago, and my grandmother was bi-polar and then there was that one time when I was five, and that incident in the dorms freshman year...
Dr. U: And have you undergone therapy in the past for any of these issues?
Me: Um, let's and on I've seen two individual therapists, a marriage and family counselor, and two psychiatrists, one of whom was named, appropriately, "Joy." And now you.
Dr. U: Yes, right, and then, were diagnosed with depression in 2006?
Me: Yep.
Dr. U: And, how are you doing with that now?
Me: Oh, great. I mean, diagnosed depression sure beats living in the deep, dark place where you don't open your mail for a month, forget to eat, and wonder why you don't feel worthy when you are obviously a great person.

At this point, Dr. U tells me she is going to step out, consult with the attending psychiatrist, as is common practice with residents, and then return with the attending to review my case. Ten minutes later Dr. U returns, armed with Dr. C and they are happy to recommend Dr. U work with me on a series of interpersonal therapy sessions to work on role transitions and my general mental health management. And she was happy to refill my prescriptions as needed.

Our weekly conversations consist of talking through how to manage my stress, communicate more effectively with my partner, and setting realistic expectations for myself, among other things. Looking back, I am pretty proud of the progress I've made in the mental health department. I know I will always have to fight being a little nutty and emotionally intense, but that's all part of what makes me me, after all.

This week's topic is my propensity to procrastinate, which may present the greatest psychological challenge of all. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hey Baby

The other day, I felt it. Not the fluttering, "quickening" or kicking of my baby moving, but a feeling all the same. For weeks, the only indication I had that I was pregnant was the all-day sickness, frequent trips to the bathroom, and an appetite for nothing more than baked potatoes and my mom's pancake recipe. When I finally felt better, it was time to host family and friends, get married, and begin my third year of school. Thoughts of this elusive baby were centered on finding daycare, shopping for a crib, stockpiling diapers, squishing my expanding waistline into my jeans, and generally worrying about how I would juggle being a mother, student, and research assistant in a few months.

On this day, however, I was sitting on the couch after class, hand on my belly. I had read that I might be able to feel the first flutters any week now so I was concentrating on any kind of feeling. And then it happened. Not a kick, but a realization. I understood for the first time that I had a baby. My baby. I could picture her, just big enough to fit in my hand. And I fell in a kind of love that I'd never felt before. A protective, I will do anything, anytime, anywhere for you because you're my baby, kind of love.

I immediately emailed my mom and tried to put the feeling into words, but I didn't have to try very hard because she understood. I finally had a tiny glimmer of how much she must love me. I cannot imagine how I will feel when I finally meet this little one.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Iowa City 52245

I am going to begin by explaining myself to anyone who has grown impatient with my absence in the blog-o-sphere. Here's the thing: I've had news, excitement, goings-on in my life that I have been bursting to report. But, being the humble woman that I am, I recognize when I need to step aside and let others have the spotlight. I thought it was only fair to let Brenda Walsh and the rest of the 90210-Redoux have their little premiere before turning the attention back to me. I even waited a respectful 48 hours, giving viewers a chance to watch the encore presentation tonight. So, there you have it.

Now, back to me. Step aside, Beverly Hills, because Iowa City 52245 has been busy getting pregnant. And married. In that order. I am not going to say that I got pregnant by accident. I KNOW how accidents happen, and for the past 16 years of my sexual life--mom, stop trying to do the math, you're embarrassing me--I have not had an accident. I also came of age in the ABC After School Special Era. The poignant story of Rob Lowe becoming Dana Plato's baby daddy after "just one time" at summer camp in School Boy Father was embedded so deeply in my 10-year-old brain that I never once sneaked out of the house in high school (that, and Dad's custom-fitted wooden security dowels on all of the windows pretty much guaranteed abstinence for my sisters and I).

There must have been some small part of me that wanted to get knocked up on that fateful afternoon in June. I am, according to the medical community, of "advanced maternal age." Basically that means that I have like a dozen viable eggs, and most of those have had knee replacements or moved to time shares in Florida. My beloved is 38 and, according to the medical community, he is rockin' the same fast-moving, voluminous goods that he had at 17 because that's just the deal with being a guy. At any rate, we are not young and had decided that we would start "trying" to get pregnant next year, after at least six months of honeymoon bliss. I had honestly begun to worry that maybe I would have a difficult time getting pregnant, so I figured that, at the very soonest, I would have a baby after my coursework was completed, after sitting for my comprehensive exams, and after successfully defending a dissertation proposal. Not once did it enter my brain on that June afternoon, sunlight pouring into the bedroom, that not one, not two, but all three of my sisters had gotten pregnant easily.

16 weeks later, we have fully embraced the excitement that comes with being expectant parents. We've stopped circling the Clear Blue Easy test stick with steely eyes and shaking our fingers at one another, cursing, "One time!" We've given up on shaking our heads over the timing and the implications. Instead, we realize the full import of the "miracle of conception" cliche. I had no idea it was just the right day and just the right moment, but one of my eggs got off her ass and hobbled over to greet her 10,000,000 suitors and hooked up with what I hope was the smartest, fastest swimmer in the bunch.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The New Classics

Sara H.P., one of my all-time favorite bloggers, invited me to participate in a reading challenge based on Entertainment Weekly's 100 "New Classic" books, part of their June 2008 special issue on the 1000 best books, movies, innovations, style moments, and more of the past 25 years.

Of the 100 books on the list, I have read the following:

3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)*

That leaves 75 books deemed important, provocative, and classic by EW. Of those 75, I have started, lost interest, and put down another 10, and read the back covers of at least another 20 still. That left me with at least 40 books to consider reading. The challenge is to pick six books to read between now and January. Here are my picks:

18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)

Some of my picks made the list because they are a genre I have never read (#24), a recommendation from a friend that has been filed away in my mental to-read list (#27), because I love mysteries (#30), or because he's Gabrial Garcia Friggin Marquez, for Dios' sake! I'm going to start with Lonesome Dove because summer seems like the perfect time to read a Western classic.

*Technically, I did not read this one. I listened to it in the car on a road trip with an ex-boyfriend. Said boyfriend's mysterious behaviors made Robert Langdon's journey seem like a walk in the park, so I'm keeping it on the list. I earned that classic.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Actually, Denise, It's Not That Complicated

In my never-ending quest to relate my life to reality-television stars who, like me, are just trying to make their way in this world, I watched the premiere of Denise Richards' new show last night. Her show's title, Denise Richards: It's Complicated seemed appropriate. Anyone who reads tabloids could argue that Denise Richards: It's Simple would not accurately depict this former-model-turned-bad-actress-turned-Sheen Dynasty-gold-digger-turned-Heather Locklear's-home-wrecker's life. I also thought (mostly to rationalize to my fiance and half-owner of the DVR why I needed to record this show instead of his favorite Discovery Channel show) that since Denise and I are both 30-something women, I could relate. Granted, it would mostly be a "cautionary tale" kind of relate, but still. I think I read once where the the Dalai Lama says we can learn from everyone who comes across our TV Guide.

Ten minutes into It's Complicated, I was suspect. We meet Denise as she is headed to the DMV to change her name from Sheen back to Richards. When her number is called, however, the clerk informs her that her official document does not have a required signature to complete the change. I felt for her because we've all had the unpleasant experience of waiting in the DMV only to be turned away for one bureaucratic reason or another. But, as frustrated as I've been at the DMV at one time or another, I have never said, 'this is F-ing ridiculous!' She asked to see the manager, and then the manager's manager, all of whom told her the same thing. Her final response was that this whole thing was making her 'hot and itchy' and, again, that it was 'f-ing ridiculous.' Seriously, Denise, it's not complicated to understand that if Jesus Christ himself walked into the DMV with insufficient documents he would be turned away. It's also not complicated to show a little decency to others, especially those who are doing their job. Hey Denise, no one cares that you were a Bond Girl!

Throughout the show, she is a complete B-word; an F-ing baby who bleep, bleep, bleepety bleeps her narrative to the camera crew. Sure, we've all had hard days, having to book last minute spray tans for blind dates, finding a boar to impregnate our pet pig, and standing in line at the DMV, but most of us find a way to do it without getting 'hot and itchy.' Good thing she talks about her late mother, because from the way she talks you would think she was raised by wolves. The most complicated part of this show, it seems, is the job the sound editors will have bleeping out all of her expletives. Too bad her little girls have to hear the un-cut version of her narrative. Denise, on behalf of women everywhere, I say to you: "Have some f-ing class, it's really not that complicated."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Woman Without a Cause

About six weeks ago I ordered a "Hillary for President" bumper sticker. On Monday, it finally arrived in my mailbox. I think it is about six weeks too late, as even staunch supporters like myself are beginning the painful process of accepting that her bid is over. I love Hillary, and it's no secret that I also love Bill. So the thought of Hillary and Bill in the White House again? Well, that was just too good! And, no matter who you stand by politically, there is no doubt that at least some portion of this campaign has been about gender. She is an aggressive, powerful woman and that just doesn't sit well with those who don't like to see that in a lady. And I'm not afraid to say that I would have supported pretty much any woman for President besides of course Ann Coulter. Alas, we've waited nearly 220 years for a female President and now it looks like we'll wait at least another four years.

As I sat and stared at my shiny bumper sticker, it seemed as though I was going to be a without a cause, left without a woman behind whom I can rally, support, and place my hope for the future. And then I turned on my television and remembered there were still two women on the national scene that had victory within their reach: DeAnna Papas and Kristi Yamaguchi. For those of you who do not watch reality television, first of all, I'm sorry. You miss so much. But, if you remember, DeAnna was the woman left at the pre-altar-altar on last season's The Bachelor. America (and the producers at ABC), felt sorry for DeAnna, the Greek goddess with a winning smile, and were furious with Brad for leaving her standing there without a rose. Now, she has her chance as the star of The Bachelorette. This time, 25 eligible bachelors will vie for her attention and ultimately her love. During the first rose ceremony, she chose to keep both a snowboarding "dude" who wore a jacket that would make even Joan Cusack in Working Girl cringe and a self-proclaimed 26 year old virgin. These poor choices only make it more interesting to watch, if only for the huge amounts of fodder that judgmental women like me will have for the next eight weeks. And, unlike The Bachelor, we get to see hopeful men drop like flies as DeAnna slowly weeds them out of the running. No super-delegates or popular vote to keep her up at night. She is in control.

ABC also gave women everywhere hope as we watched Kristi Yamaguchi compete in the final episode of Dancing with the Stars. Last night she beat a football player and a soap opera star to win the gold mirror ball trophy. Again, for those of you who don't watch reality television, this was a really big deal because she was the first female champion in five seasons.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Because sisters need a cause and if we can't get it from the national political scene, I feel it my patriotic duty to remind you that the national television networks have not forgotten us.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cleaning with the Enemy

I grew up with a father who labeled his dresser drawers with an automatic label-maker, as a "guide" for my mom to put away his clothes in the proper place. My mother ran surveillance on the clutter in our bedroom like a Patriot Act agent, scooping up any idle toys and selling them in the next yard sale. Yes, she sold our idle things. Hmmm....I wonder why I have such a hard time relaxing? Needless to say, I grew up in a clean house. Now, I am an adult who abhors clutter. I don't buy knick knacks because I still feel slightly guilty when I lay on the couch at 4:00 watching Oprah; I certainly don't need some bisque figurine staring at me from the bookshelf, judging me with frozen eyes.

Turns out, I don't need a judgmental tchotchke to make me feel like my bathroom will never be clean enough. I have a fiance for that. I really thought (and my sisters would agree) that my dad was the most meticulous person I'd ever met. And then I met Kyle. I remember going to his apartment for the first time when we started dating. I was impressed with how clean and put-together it was for a bachelor's house. He had art on the walls, hand soap in the bathrooms, and matching towels hanging in the guest bath. And, just as with every other encounter in my life, I failed to see the red flag in all of this. The alarms didn't sound because I was so wrapped up in the "nice, clean guy" idea. If I had only looked closer I might have noticed that the toilet paper rolls were always hung the same way. Or, that the matching towels were never used. Because, as he explained, they are the "pretty towels." Again, not noticing that my new love interest was freakishly clean and ignoring the fact that a 6'4" man used the term 'pretty towels' to describe his bathroom decor, I looked up at him and said, "Wanna play house together?"

I soon learned that my sweet Rain Man craves routine and order. He arranges his toiletries in order of use, from top to bottom, in his shower caddy to "save time." The logic behind the aforementioned toilet paper placement is because "that's how they do it in the hotels and it just looks nicer." He cleans both ears at the same time, a Q-tip in each hand, because it's "more efficient." And the pretty towels, well, let's just say that they are never, under no circumstances, to be used to wipe Great Lash off of one's eyes. Not even in a pinch. That was a long night. Mostly these little quirks and preferences are endearing. Who doesn't want to just pinch the cheeks of a guy that sits frozen on a toilet, unable to wipe his bum, if the toilet paper is upside down? But sometimes, as is the case with housecleaning, it is just plain annoying.

According to Kyle, my version of cleaning is "putting crap away." Kyle approaches cleaning with the ferocity of a meth-addict with a toothbrush. Surface cleaning is for amateurs. We also have very different understandings of what "let's clean the house" means. Just last week we were "cleaning" and I went upstairs to run the vacuum, dust, strip the bed sheets, and turn my nose up at the bathrooms. I came downstairs and found Kyle with his head up the gas fireplace insert in our living room in some sort of weird Sylvia Plath interpretation. I watched as he stood up, replaced the faux wood and screen, turned to me and said, "There! Much better!" Uh...much better than mopping the floor? Apparently, whomever installed the fireplace had placed the faux wood incorrectly and the vents were in sore need of cleaning. Being the ever-encouraging fiance that I am, I said, "wow, what a difference that makes!" He sat on the couch opposite the fireplace, turned the switch and beamed as he saw the gas flames flickering in perfect symmetry, unobstructed by a crooked log. Talk about an inability to relax! I was more than a little concerned.

I left him to warm his neurosis by the fire and started sweeping the floor. He watched me and my half-baked attempt to corral our scum for a few moments before he just couldn't stand it anymore and said, "you're doing it wrong." Uh, what? Last time I checked sweeping consisted of pushing a stick around a room. My first instinct was to unleash a diatribe about what an obsessive-compulsive, chauvinistic jerk he was But in a moment of genius, I looked up at him with a furrowed brow and said, "I know, I just can't do it the way you do," and handed over the broom. I felt like Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy, when she outwits her psychotic husband by jumping off the boat when she supposedly "didn't know how" to swim. I escaped upstairs, reading magazines, until I heard, "Honey, come look at my shiny clean floor!"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Book Meme

Book Meme

My sister and friend introduced me to the "Book Meme." My sister, in her usual truth-telling manner, asserted that I would not post just because I haven't updated my blog in, oh, two months or so. Therefore, in my never-ending quest to surprise her by following through, here is my selection. Here's how it works: Pick a favorite book with at least 123 pages. Turn to page 123, find the fifth sentence and then write down the next three.

Many of my most treasured books are packed in boxes in my parents' garage, so I chose a recent favorite instead. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is a book mostly about the writing process, but also about learning patience and the sometimes exhausting task of practicing discipline on whatever your craft happens to be. The title of the book comes from a conversation her dad had with her brother one night. Her brother was writing a report on birds that he'd had three months to complete but had waited until the day before. He was sitting at the kitchen table, paralyzed by the huge task at hand. Her father sat down by him and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." Being a self-proclaimed procrastinator who, after nearly 10 years of higher education, still sits at my desk paralyzed by huge papers and the fear of failure, this book speaks to me. This particluar passage is about the jealousy that she felt when her writer friends were enjoying success while she struggled:

"You are going to feel awful beyond words. You are going to have a number of days in a row where you hate everyone and don't believe in anything. If you do know the author whose turn it is, he or she will inevitably say that it will be your turn next, which is what the bride always says to you at each successive wedding, while you grow older and more decayed."

And that pretty much sums up what I feel for days on end working through this PhD thing. Mostly I'm plodding along, my piles of books like the young boy's binders full of bird descriptions. But some days I ask myself, "What if there are just too many birds?" And then I look out my window and hear the actual young birds that have built a nest under the eaves of our garage. And I realize that, if they don't chew through our DirectTV cable and ruin my tv life, they are a constant reminder that spring is here and school is out for the summer in just two days.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008


My sister wrote about our parents in her latest blog post. She commented on how fortunate we are to have a mom and dad who care about and love us unconditionally. They have always, unfailingly, been there for us, putting our well-being above themselves. We grew up thinking this was the norm, but each of us have discovered in our adult lives that this is actually an exceptional experience. This past Saturday I was reminded of this fact. One of the freshman girls that I work with in the college readiness program lives with her aunt and her boyfriend as a result of being removed from her home. Each month I meet her and five other kids at the pick-up spot where we wait for the bus together, and then I wait until the parents or relatives pick them up. Every week all the parents except this girls' are there. This aunt is always late or forgets to pick her up altogether.

I remember getting off the bus after a track meet and calling my dad from the gas station to come pick me up. And they always did. One time I called and the phone was busy (what did we do before call waiting?) so I called the operator, faked an urgent voice, and requested an emergency break-through to get my mom off the phone. Needless to say, I was an especially impatient and indignant teenager. I had no idea that not all parents are dependable.

We'd had a great day on the college visit and this girl was laughing and talking to her friends all the way home. As soon as we got off the bus and she looked around for her aunt's minivan, however, her expression changed. "Where the h** is she?" she said, and then turned to me and said, "sorry, but she forgets every time!" I suggested she call her but the phone just rang and rang. She called her grandparents, but they weren't home. We waited 15 more minutes before I suggested giving her a ride home rather than waiting outside in the 20-degree weather any longer. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone forgets. But being forgotten and constantly waiting chips away at a kid's already crumbled self-esteem.

The point is, being safe and being cared for are two different things. I assume her aunt's house is a better environment compared to living with her mom, but the little things, like remembering to pick your kid up when she gets off the bus, are important. I hope I'm as dependable as my parents were and still are. Some things are worth waiting for, but knowing you are important enough to not be forgotten is not.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When is Coffee Not Coffee?

A couple days ago, I walked a mile in the snow and ice (yes, part of it was actually uphill, in the wind) to meet a few other students across campus for a group project. Now, everyone who has ever gone to college bristles when they hear the words "group project." Yeah! Let's synchronize our wildly different schedules and work outside of class together! In an effort to make the experience less painful, I suggested we have our first meeting over coffee. Starbucks and homework in one shot, pardon the pun. My plan fell apart, however, when one of my partners invited us to her office across campus. She said, "I'll make coffee or tea." Uh, do you have a personal barista?

So there I was, trudging across a bridge to the other side of campus, freezing cold, just betting that her idea of coffee would be very different from my own. I know this because I have seen her drinking tea on several occasions. I have always viewed "tea drinkers" as suspect, and those that drink tea, yet offer to make coffee for others, even more so. How can you understand robust, earthy, and strong coffee if you spend your life drinking flaccid hot water with sugar? Sure enough, when I arrived, she took my coat and led me to the table where packets of non-dairy creamer and sugar substitute awaited. Red flag! Even though I am one of the most critical people I know, I also understand how to grin and bear it, or, in this case, gulp and bear it. So, I took a deep breath and poured a full cup of Folgers. She warned me that it was "really strong," but I took a sip and said, "oh, it's just right." For the first time, I actually craved a cup of Constant Comment.

Some may say, "coffee is coffee" but I vehemently disagree. Coffee is not coffee when you can 1. see the bottom of the cup; 2. say the word "bleck!" when you taste it; or 3. close your eyes and visualize you are in a truck stop when you smell it. At least the grinning and bearing it tactic allowed me to breathe through my mouth and avoid the offending smell.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cuba vs. Couture

Yes, I'm one of those people: I love pop culture and following celebrities along with my friends on E! News and OK! magazine. I especially love that my favorites use an exclamation point in their titles, aptly describing the fervor with which we follow their subjects. OK! would not be the same without the exclamation point. It would be, "she looked 'ok' in the Ballenciaga," rather than "OK! let's see who's fabulous, scandalized, or rehabilitated this week!" But I digress...

I found out just how attached I was to pop culture when I received an invitation for a dinner hosted by the graduate student association. It was scheduled for 5:30 on Sunday, February 24th. My first response was, "Who the hell schedules an event on Oscar night?" Now, I am as commited to my program as the next person and I understand the importance of bonding with my cohort, not to mention having the decency to show up when my faculty advisor hosts a party. But not at 5:30 on the 24th of February! On this night, I am transfixed on my couch, holding my breath until George Clooney arrives in a perfect-fitting tuxedo.

Alas, I had to go. I reviewed my Operation Oscar exit strategy with my partner before we walked up the driveway: Greet, eat, and then a gracious "oh, wow, time to get back to the books" exit. Unfortunately, I missed all the glamour and arrived just in time to see Daniel Day Lewis wearing brown suede Hush Puppies with his tuxedo. Fortunately for him, the best actor votes were already tallied. The next morning, I woke up like a little girl on Christmas morning, excited to creep down the stairs and turn on my DVR to see what E! News Red Carpet coverage had brought me. And then, a dilemma: My alarm clock is set to the NPR station. When it sounded, the news was all about Raul Castro and a new leadership for Cuba. Damn. Now what was I supposed to do? Cuba's future, or red carpet recap? Quick! Rationalize! I laid in bed for approximately 45 seconds before I made my decision. No political pundit or E! News correspondent knew the designer Jennifer Garner would choose. But Raul is, after all, Fidel's brother and Fidel remains the leader of the Communist party. Not exactly another revolution, right?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Now THAT'S Self Worth!

Yesterday, my mom recounted a conversation she had with my nine year-old niece. This little girl is our family's resident "kick-ass kid." Forthright, stubborn, and very smart, she never lets you off the hook when she asks for what she wants or deserves. This past weekend, she and her sister babysat Aunt M.'s two kids. My mom assumed $5 and a trip to the movies was a good payment. She didn't agree:

Granny: Here is your $5.
B.: Granny, I did all the work so I deserve more money.
Granny: How much were you thinking?
B.: $10 from you and $10 from Aunt M. But, I will count your $10 as the movie cost and treats.
Granny: How about $5 for M's share?
B.: No, $10 is my final offer.
Granny: Ok, I have $5 now and can give you the other $5 when I have some change.
B.: You don't have to go to the ATM today; next week is fine.

Once again, I was struck by the difference that good parenting (and grandparenting!) can make in a child's behavior and outlook. My older sister is pretty "kick ass" herself and her kids benefit from her allowing them to grow into self-sufficient, confident individuals. I hope she understands what a great job she has done. And we're all confident that Miss B. will never lose her sense of self-worth!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Self-Worth in Sheep's Clothing

I have enjoyed what you might call a banner year in the self-esteem category. I love my program at Iowa, am connected to my dearest girlfriends and family, and looking forward to my wedding this summer. Who knew, then, that the biggest challenge to my esteem would come in the form of a 36-pound boy and his ten-year-old sister?

But challenge they did! For five weeks, I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to take care of two children who were accustomed to having every detail of their lives attended to; every whim fulfilled. I mentioned in my earlier posts some of their antics, but I did it in my usual funny narrative. Truth be told, it was awful. I have extensive experience with children of all ages and temperaments, but nothing had prepared me for their behavior. The screaming tantrums, constant demands ("soup OR sandwich, not BOTH!") and chipping away at my self-esteem. Not in the global, I-am-questioning-my-very-identity sort of way, but chipping nonetheless. Imagine waking up every morning and hearing, "You're chubby!" "I hate you" "Get out of my house!" "I don't like you!" "You're skin is like rubber because that's what fat people's skin is made of!" "You're stupid!" And those were the things the boy would say when he finally came up for air after screaming for 30 minutes straight that he was "TOO TIRED!" to get up. His sister would spend her mornings firing put-downs at her brother, throwing things at him, throwing things at me (scrambled eggs, anyone?), screaming when she realized she forgot to do her homework, and examining her packed lunch to be sure I included everything she wanted and nothing she didn't.

How could two children be so awful? The one-word answer? Parents. Not having kids of my own, I know I can't understand actual parenting, but I do know there are basic things that children need: consistency, boundaries, and positive attention to name a few. These children had none of the above. Their parents were both surgeons, and accustomed to holding their hand out and someone handing them a scalpel to do their job, and nannies to do their parenting. They programmed their children like a universal remote, sending them to Hebrew School, Chinese lessons, ballet, tap, and jazz dance, basketball, and ice-skating. I can only hope they did a better job of closing incisions than they did raising their children.

It didn't take long before I woke up each morning dreading my job. It took longer, however, to realize that I had a choice in the matter. I asked the parents twice to schedule a meeting to talk about the kids, but they never had time. Once again, it was my friend A to the rescue. She listened to my stories and offered advice for weeks before giving me the best advice of all: Quit. This happens to be my four-letter word. I'm no quitter! I finish what I start! I am loyal to the bitter end! What does she know! After I calmed down, I realized that this sort of misguided loyalty had gotten me in trouble in the past. Remember that man whose name we do not mention? He did so much chipping he needed an ice pick, yet I stayed for two years. And now, here he was again, 150 lbs. lighter.

For the first time, I realized that while I had learned to respect myself in the man department, having self-worth means requiring respect in all areas of my life. Bosses, friends, co-workers. Everyone. It is not my responsibility to make the best of a bad situation when it is clear it will never change. I can say, "wow, those people don't respect me, I think I'll quit." And quit I did. It was scary, I agonized over what they'd think of me, I fought the urge to call myself a quitter, and then I wrote a succinct resignation letter and hit "send." And, just like the man whose name we do not mention, the mother tried to get me back. She emailed, called, and had her children send hand-written apology letters and Valentines. When I refused to compromise, she got nasty and called me "incapable." This time, instead of begging her to take me back, I didn't respond, stayed firm, and left Ms. Bad Mommy to throw herself on the floor in a tantrum.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bragging Rights

I spent yesterday with a group of high school freshmen and sophomores as part of a College Readiness program I am involved with. I serve as a mentor to low-income, first generation and minority students, helping them learn the skills they will need to get into and succeed in college. This is a passion of mine, and spending one Saturday a month with them reminds me of why I am in higher education and helps me stay in touch with "today's student."

This month's topic was career exploration. We took them to a local radio station for a tour and conversation with a couple DJ's. They shared their college experiences and talked about turning college experiences, interests, and majors into fun jobs. After that, I led an activity called "Dependable Strengths." This involved writing down ten things that you are good at and enjoy. Examples could include sports, volunteering, taking care of family, learning to ride a bike, or drawing. Next, they prioritized the top five and wrote down what strengths were included in each of the experiences. Being a team captain demonstrates leadership, for example. After the activity we talked about the process and I asked them how it went. Right away, hands went up and one student said, "It was hard!" When I asked him why, he said, "Remembering mistakes and bad stuff is easier than the good stuff."

This 14-year-old boy voiced what we have all experienced at one point or another in our lives. Our mistakes, missed opportunities, and failures can loom larger than our successes, talents, and bold moves we make in our lives. As I helped them identify their strengths for this exercise, it reminded me that we could all benefit from an inventory of the good stuff in our lives. This is especially important if you are lucky enough to have an influence on others, whether it be your kids, friends, or people in the community. Seeing confidence inspires confidence. So go ahead, make a list of your accomplishments big and small, remember the things you most enjoy, and make room for the "good stuff!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Null and Void?

These past few weeks I've wrestled with the problem of having to "shop" for a church in which to get marriedfor our wedding. I was raised Catholic, and he grew up in the Lutheran faith, but neither of us practice anymore. Kyle wasn't crazy about having to go through the Catholic hoops and I just couldn't get excited about a Lutheran ceremony. We were a mini-reformation in the making. I have to say that I was leaning toward going through the Catholic hoops for the sake of tradition when I realized that the Saturday evening mass would conflict with my vision of an evening wedding. Having the wedding at a secular site was the best solution.

All was well and good until I called my maid of honor to tell her we had the wedding site settled. We chose to have our wedding and reception at the same place. I explained that it was just easier and we loved the space. Besides, I told her, I couldn't have a Catholic wedding because...and she interrupted and said, "because you'd have to get an annulment." An annulment! I completely forgot! Here I thought the biggest conflict was the Saturday worship schedule. We had a good laugh, but later I thought more about this concept. If you are divorced, and you wish to get remarried in the Catholic faith, you must petition for an annulment and a tribunal decides whether or not the previous marriage was deemed valid or if it can be nullified. The Bible says that if a man marries a divorced woman, he is commiting adultery because, once married, always married. So, no annulment, no Catholic marriage.

I'm not writing to rant against the church. I'm no expert on the subject and I have far too many other wedding details to consider without crafting an argument against this archaic and patriarchal practice. It's just that the whole thing prompts me to reflect on what it has meant to be a divorcee. As much as I would like to "nullify" certain events from my past, my marriage is certainly not one of them. Yes, it was not the right decision after all, but my ex-husband was a good and kind person with whom I shared nearly ten years. To erase this relationship would be to forget days spent on the ski slopes or cross-country skiing around a silent, snow-covered lake, countless road trips, camping, and going to concerts in the height of the grunge era. I would have to forget winter nights pouring over seed catalogs together and drawing our summer garden plans, and then summer months of picking basil and turning it into pungent pesto and sharing late dinners on the porch with friends. And most important, I would have to forget the moment when I stood at my kitchen sink and realized I had to leave him in order to be the woman I wanted to be. My marriage did not work for many personal reasons, but throughout the separation and divorce, I learned much about myself, my values, and what I wanted my life to be. Deciding to divorce him was, at once, the most painful and brave thing I've ever done. Now, ten years later, I appreciate these lessons even more. So I say, thanks but no thanks Father, I'll keep my past intact.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Nanny 911

After my fourth day on the nanny job, I was doing fairly well getting the kids off to school and was learning the routine, but discipline....ah discipline. It's hard! It's hard under the best circumstances, but being a nanny for children that have never had discipline is much more difficult than I imagined. By day four, I was at a loss, so I made an emergency call to my friend A. A is a seasoned mother of two with a master's in elementary education to complement her natural parenting and people skills. She is one of those kick-ass women who approaches every life situation with a can-do attitude and practical solutions. I explained my situation and she immediately knew what to say. I had to establish myself as the alpha dog, the pack leader, a'la Cesar Milan. If they complain about their breakfast, simply say, "That's your breakfast. Eat it or not; I don't care." End of story. If they call me stupid, call each other stupid, call one another's stuffed animals stupid, throw their breakfast across the table, or fail to follow directions, I must have consequences in mind and mete out consistent punishment. She said that I need to be respected, not liked, and that kids crave structure and consistency. She was my Nanny 911! What would we do without our girlfriends?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sherri Poppins

For the better part of a year now, I've been preoccupied with finding a fun part-time job. I know, I know, I'm "working" on getting a PhD, but the gratification is so nebulous, the reward so far away. I want something startlingly different from scholarly work, something with a clear objective: demonstrate a skill, punch out, go home. Oh, and the extra money for my wedding fund would be nice. The tough thing is that part-time student jobs always seem to include unpredictable schedules and working weekends and nights, two things I'm not willing to give up As much as I'd love to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a Starbucks barista, free coffee and $4.00/hour after taxes is not worth working the 5:00 a.m. shift on Saturday.

With these restrictions in mind, I discovered the perfect job: babysitting! Before I was a doctoral student, before I was a professional, even before I was a cook/busgirl/grocery store clerk, I was a babysitter. So, I found a job listing for a part-time nanny for two children. Now, nearly 25 years later, I'm a babysitter again. I'm happy to report that the pay has increased from the $2/hour I earned in 1984. This job fits my schedule (6:30--8:30 a.m. M-F) and includes helping two kids, aged 10 and 6, get up and off to school. I pack lunches, make breakfast to order, organize backpacks, oversee teeth brushing and weather-appropriate dress, and walk them safely to school before the 8:20 bell.

The family moved to town a year ago and as a result the kids have had to adjust to new schools, friends, and nannies. According to their parents, the previous nanny doted on them, providing a lot of love, but no discipline. As a result, one of the tasks for myself and the afternoon nanny is to help them become more mature, respectful, self-sufficient young people. This is a daunting task for 6:30 a.m.! I discovered on the first day that I was "stupid" for waking the six year old up at 7:20 instead of 7:30 and he "hated" me for making his bacon on the stovetop rather than in the microwave. The ten year old girl was happy to inform me at the breakfast table that the little boy still wore diapers to bed and that his stuffed dog was mentally retarded. What? Public shaming over bagels? Fortunately for the children, I had already consumed two cups of coffee and could respond in my zen-caffeinated state. As we walked up the stairs to finish getting ready, the boy commented that I had a "big fat butt" to which I responded, "That's not an appropriate comment." I wanted to say, "You are far too young and it is far too early to objectify women based on your preconceived notion of butt size. Now run along and brush your teeth!" This job may not be so "part-time" after all!