Monday, June 30, 2008

On Invisible-ness, or, How I feel about 10% of the time

Jenna and I are walking into Walmart to get some groceries and we pass by another mom with a small child hauling her bags into the car. Her child is about 18 months old. The mom looks tired and a bit frustrated. She looks just like me: ponytail in, unshowered, minimal makeup on, flip-flops and jeans. I find myself looking at her and wondering if we will catch each other's eyes and smile the smile of the stay at home mom: weary, friendly, I know how you feel.

She doesn't look up.
I am invisible.
So is the other mom.

Jenna and I proceed in and enter our world of Walmart or any other store at 11am on a weekday: filled with women like me and men and women older than 65. I went to the mall a few weeks ago in the evening and was stunned to see men- men in their 30s and 40s and 50s- walking alongside of me. The daytime crowd is slower, due to the needs of babies or the issues of old age. There is nothing powerful or brisk about us.

This idea of invisibleness has been with me for a few weeks now. It is my number one complaint about what I do each day: my job is invisible. I am invisible. My work is invisible. It takes up only negative space. It is really only noticed if something is NOT done: if there is no dinner made, clothes aren't washed and dried, dishes not put away. And not only is it invisible, it is constantly being un-done. The clothes get worn, the meals get eaten, the beds get slept in. There is no end to this cycle of doing and getting undone.

I am in my own private house, doing what I want to do and have to do, wearing what I want, eating what I want, away from any other measure of performance. The Stay at Home Mom Evaluator doesn't come through every six months to give me feedback... areas of competance, areas of excellence, and of course, the dreaded needs improvement category. And this is probably a good thing. For all the days my house is decent, the laundry is only a load behind and we have a relatively sane schedule, there are many days when all hell has broken loose and everything -the house, the kids, me- is a mess. Those days are the hardest because that's when you think: This is all I've got. This is my job and I'm failing.

There are days when this invisible-ness is a luxury and there are days that is it a curse. There are days when you feel like you are clawing your way through the day, wishing someone, anyone, would say to you: I see you! I see what you are doing! You are a real, thinking, feeling person with needs of your own and I really see you! I see what you are giving up to do this wonderful job of being a mom at home with your babies. I see. I know.

I feel sometimes that I should care more about what I look like when I go out. Most days, I do shower and do throw my makeup on and do wear clean, unstained clothing. But there are days that we've gotten a late start and Jenna has changed her outfit and shoes three times and I have to get out before the whole day is off-kilter. I should care that my hair looks terrible and my face is washed out. But you know what? Noone really looks at me. They may look at Jenna, 'cause of course she's so darn cute, but they're really not looking at ME. I'm okay that Jenna is the extension of me. I am comfortable that if she has a nice outfit on and her hair is brushed that WE look good. She's a reflection of almost everything I do and when she's good, I'm good.

And who am I looking good for? The other stay at home moms pushing carts in Walmart? The 70 year old man with the shorts and knee brace shopping with his wife with the tight perm? I know, it's for myself... and I have absolutely nothing against those who make it a priority to be well-put together when they leave the house. I was like that once, too, but somehow have slipped away.

To some extent this invisible-ness is a welcome relief after the public-ness of pregnancy. When you're belly is out to there and everyone just stares at you as you waddle and feels the urge to touch you and ask you questions- that is hard, too. I remember a sense of relief after Michaela was born that now people looked at her instead of me. Talked abut her instead of me. Touched her instead of me.

But now, six and a half years later, the invisible-ness can get crushing. Women whose job it is to spend time at home with their children have to really work at feeling like a whole person with dreams and goals and desires and competance. Our space is internal, private; our work is minute by minute, hour by hour; our strengths are patience, balance. There is no pats on the back from bosses. There are no big projects finished that really stretched your skills and you can say "Look what I did!". No coworkers to chit-chat with and take a quick coffee break with. Our home is our office. Our children are our product.

I read a beautiful analogy once that motherhood is like being a stonecutter on a great European cathedral. You may not see the work that this one man did for months and maybe even years, but the cathedral as a whole is there just the same for generations to admire and cherish. The stonecutter himself may not even live to see the cathedral finished in his lifetime but it is beautiful and breathtaking and permanent just the same.

My work, day to day, is invisible. My job is invisible. But my children and my family are the fruit of all my labors and when they go out into the world happy, healthy and whole, I know I have achieved a job well done: beautiful and breathtaking and permanent.

Look what I did!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Personal Trifecta

When I was in late middle school/ early high school, I only wanted three things. I felt, with all my heart, that if I had these three things,especially during the summer vacation time, I would be whole, complete, fulfilled, and very very very happy.

Wow!, you may exclaim. What on Earth could these three things be? Good health, love and a family who loves me? Good friends, wealth and insight? A sense of purpose, a sense of humor and a sense of well-being?

Remember, I was about 13 when I decided on these things.

This was my personal trifecta of perfectness:
1. A boyfriend
2. Long hair
3. A good tan

Over the years I have had varying degrees of success with this list. Of course, Dan counts as my boyfriend so that one is now pretty well wrapped up. The long hair comes and goes and I am happy to report that my hair now is on its way to being on the long side. The tan... well, the tan is always tough for me and my fair Welsh and German skin. I am really not meant to be tan but I wage the battle all the same each summer. I have tried self tanners, tanning beds, spray tan (what a nightmare: messy and ridiculous standing naked in a glass tank and posing like an Egyptian to make an even coat... I was embarrassed in front of myself) but have discovered on a fun trip to Sephora my newest plan for maximum tannage: TANtastic Body Bronzer and Luminizer. Just the name alone is fun and it works beautifully. Dark color and lots of shimmer. Delicious. And I am luminous.

So, now that I have bared my somewhat embarrassing (and I might add no longer really applicable- I mean, I am in my 30's now) list, what are the things you thought were important years ago? What were your middle school goals?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Today's Serendipidy

Dan was mowing the lawn last weekend and came around the side of the house and found this:

It is a gorgeous climbing rose that we didn't even know was there... and look at the beautiful flowers on it. Unexpected joy.

Here is another flowering bush we've had for a few years and it never really took off... never really got enough sunlight. So we moved it mid-summer last year to a new, sunnier spot and now take a look...

Our newly-minted Second Grader

Can you believe that? Second grader? How is this possible? How can my little baby, who I stared at for hours as she slept while I held her, be old enough to be in second grade? But, alas, it is true and today is our official First Day of Summer Vacation. Michaela had a birthday party to go to today and I was a bit irrationally annoyed that I had a structured activity to plan around today. But she had a great time- they had a cotton candy making machine and a huge dragon Bouncy-Bounce you could climb inside of- and now I am little calmer.

We went to a local bookstore today to get the gift for the party and I told the girls they could each get a book (you know, to spur on that summer-time reading and all, just like a Good Mother would do) and of course we walked out with two stuffed dogs. And no books.

We have officially spent more money on stuffed dogs than we would have if had just bought a real dog and housed, fed and groomed it for the last four years.

Anyway, before first grade slipped by, Michaela had an Open House at school and showed off her pictures, poems, and writing from the last few months. It was fantastic! Her poems were wonderful, including my favorite, Ode to a Cupcake. (See picture below.) Michaela is a great writer and it was a joy to see her grow this year in every area. Here are a few pics from the night.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Today's Joy

Today's Joy is realizing that at this moment, Jenna and I are not in a tepid indoor swimming pool with a group of five other strangers and their children singing the Hokey Pokey for the ninth time.

At one of Jenna's first swim lessons, one of the teachers said, "I have a hankering to do the Hokey Pokey!" and literally two months later I cannot get that phrase out of my head.

It swirls around in there and pops up at the weirdest moments and the only thing that gets it out is to say the phrase out loud and that's just plain embarrassing.

Today's other Joy happened this morning as I was helping Michaela get ready for school. It is Field Day at school today and she looked adorable and sporty and wanted a ponytail. I was combing her hair too aggressively (which meant the brush was actually touching hair on her head) and she started screaming and whining and she said to me, "Please don't get me upset!!! Today is a Special Day!!!"

A Special Day indeed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Some Days It is A Waste of a Good Brain to be Home with My Children

Actual transcript of Michaela's Father's Day card to Dan:

My Dada

My Dada mows the lawn a lot in the Spring. My Dada is the best of all dads. My Dada has Big hands and Big feet. My Dada likes to eat spaghetti. My Dada's favorite color is blue. My Dada also likes to eat brownies. My Dada likes to play games with me and my Dada mostly loves Me!

P.S. and My Dada loves himself.


You just can't make this stuff up. I could analyze this card for the next six months: all the layers of subtext, observations of a six year old, and things/ activities that made the cut to be included. There is something so Oedipal/Elektra about it...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Field Trip Musings

Went to PetSmart the other day with Jenna.
Walked around.
Looked at pets.
Was very glad we don't have a small, rodent-type animal in our house.
Saw the fish.
Lots of fish.
Panicked slightly when Jenna asked why some of the fish were at the bottom of the tank.
"They're resting," I said.
"Oh," said Jenna.
"Good one," said the PetSmart associate nearby.

Saw the big goldfish, little neon fish and fish that were clear and you could see their bones.

Watched the sucker fish... you know, the ones that attach open-mouthed to the side of the tank and their little bodies filter water in and out, in and out, in and out with minimal movement as they clean the algae off the glass.

And all I could think of was nursing Jenna for the last three years, one month, and six days.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day gift

Happy Father's Day to my hubby Dan, who does a wonderful job of providing a great home and security to us; gives lots of love and kindness to us; is unendingly loyal; loves to be with his girls; and only occasionally gets irrational. He is right now golfing on a beautiful sunny day with some friends and will enjoy a steak dinner upon his return. For his gift, he is going in a few weeks to Fenway Park for an overnight road trip with three other friends which has been predicted to be legend- wait for it, wait for it-ary.

I brought the girls to church this morning where (if I may brag just a wee bit) both girls got certificates of attendance for missing only two Sundays the whole year. They were happy and I was proud of them. We wrapped up our year with a nice breakfast and then went to church. (Cross another thing off the Activities list!) Towards the end of the service, Michaela started breaking down, whining, whimpering, leaning on me and just general carrying on. For the next hour she cried about the following devastating events:

1. The new shoes she got last night which she tried on at two different times and places hurt her middle toe on her left foot.
2. She was hungry but refused to go to the nursery to get a snack or eat a piece of cake offered to her after the service.
3. The pavement was hot on her foot because she refused to wear the left shoe. (See #1.)
4. The cat wouldn't play with the new cat toy and Michaela wanted to see her "go crazy".
5. The card she signed for her dad wouldn't fit inside the envelope provided.
6. The shoes she wanted to wear for the rest of the day (new faux crocs) are at my parents' house and while we are heading over there in a few minutes, that is just too long to wait. I suggested she fly over there, pick up the shoes and come back but she failed to see the humor in that and only cried harder.

She finally has pulled herself together and had a little lunch.

Jenna also pitched in and was miserable as we were leaving, yelling out, "My mosquito bite! It hurts! It hurts!" as we headed towards the car. There was great uproar as well at the temperature of the inside of the car when we first climbed in, because, really, Mommy, can't you make it cooler in the car when the sun is shining and it's 83 degrees outside???

Jenna has also enjoyed some lunch and has calmed down.

As for me, there were MANY points during the morning that I felt like crying and carrying on. But, I, too, had a little lunch and have now posted and am feeling better.

I am realizing that the REAL gift of Father's Day was that Dan didn't have to live through this with me.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I'm sorry, so sorry...

... to all my loyal readers who have been dying, just DYING to know what's going on at our house recently. Well, all I can tell you is my wekly planner looks like a war zone: we have just had Stuff- all fun, all wonderful, but Stuff nonetheless- going on every morning and every evening for the last week. Thankfully, things are wrapping up and soon the carefree, schedule-free summer will be upon us. Ahhhh.....

One of the really nice things we attended this week was Michaela's closing ceremony for Brownies. She got a special pin and a green membership pin for her second year of being in Girl Scouts. Her leader (and my friend) Dana just does such a wonderful job at planning great things that the girls really like and learn from. Here are some pictures:

Jenna liked the ice cream afterwards!

So now Michaela's Brownies are done, her swim lessons are done, we have one more swim lesson for Jenna left, two more weeks of soccer for Michaela, one more playgroup for Jenna, a couple more softball games for Dan, and I think about eight more days of school for Michaela and then .... summer!

This afternoon I am going to Michaela's school to see the different grades do a short presentation for Flag Day. Each classs is doing something different; Michaela's class is singing "She's a grand old flag, She's a high flying flag..." WITH coordinating hand motions, thank you very much. Dan and I and Jenna saw a preview last night and we almost cried it was so cute and Jenna immediately got up and wanted to learn the motions, too. She's soooo second born.

Have a great weekend!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Out and about with Cheryl

I am happy to report that all is back to rights with the Libuttis... we have all stopped puking and pooping and zoning out and sleeping endlessly or not at all... and most thankfully, we have all stopped wrapping chewed gum around our legs (see previous post).

That said, we have ventured back out into the world and encountered some funny people lately: one was the sample lady at Walmart and the waitress at a restaurant.

Jenna and I were grocery shopping last week and at the end of our trip we came across a lady, moderately advanced in years, somewhat rough looking, but very pleasant, and clearly not into Health and Wellness as a personal life strategy. She kind of reflected the general population of your basic Walmart worker/shopper. This is a reconstruction of our conversation:

Lady: Do you want to try some yogurt?
Me, thinking Jenna might like to have some: Sure. I'll take the vanilla.
Lady: It helps your digestion and it REALLY WORKS. I mean it WORKS. It's MIRACLE WORKER.
Me: Wow. (Digesting both the yogurt and the copious amounts of information about her digestive tract she just laid on me.) It's good.
Lady: Looks like you have nice grapes there.
Me: Yeah, they look good. And they're cheap.
(Then ensues a whole convo about the prices at Walmart vs. other stores, etc., etc.)
Lady (now my Best Friend): Listen... they're having a sale up at the registers... (lowers her voice in a conspiratory way. I start to get a little nervous about what she's about to tell me or offer me or what exactly she's whispering to me about.) The Hershey's Special Dark candy bars are only 20 cents! Each!
Me: Wow.
Lady: So I bought ten. (Shows me her stack of candy bars.) And they're GOOD FOR YOU!!!!
Me: Wow.

I honestly didn't know what to say. Do I try to do a little nutritional education about the Special Dark? This is clearly someone who has heard in an offhand news report about the antioxidants in dark chocolate and has extrapolated that to mean that Hershey's Special Dark is a nutritional powerhouse. I mean, they're GOOD FOR YOU!

But she was so sweet and offered me more yogurt- and then proceeded to completely overflow the little plastic cup so it was spilling all over everything and it became clear she wasn't super educated about portion sizes, either. I just said, "Wow! Thanks!" and walked away, happy that I had made a new friend. In Walmart.

My next Out and About Encounter was when Dan and I went out to dinner last night. We generally are very pleasant to service staff and have good experiences. We had a waitress Nicole who was a little, well, off. It was clear she was trying to schmooze us up a little which is fine... we can play along and be friendly... but she was the type of person who says stuff and there's nowhere to go with the conversation. And she was a touch assertive for my personal taste.

So here's our conversation:
Nicole: Are you out for any special occasion?
Me: Yes, it's actually my birthday today.
Nicole: Wow! Happy birthday! (At this point it truly looked like she was about to ask me how old I was. I could feel it coming and then felt her stop herself. She turns to Dan and with more than a casual interest asks...) What did you get her?
Dan (laughing): Actually, that's a bit of a sore subject...
Me: He gave me money. But he made a nice certificate with it. I'm going to do a little shopping for myself.
Nicole (totally jumping in where I can't follow her): You know where you should go? New York City! The South ...Street Sea... PORT is having, like, a huge street fair this week.
Me: Wow. (Do you see how I tend to say that when I'm thinking of what to say?? Do I tell her I have two small children under six and I can't just jet off three hours south for a carefree day? Just thinking about the logistics alone make me cringe. I was more thinking about picking up some new lip gloss and a couple of shirts- maybe a new pair of flip flops- and I don't even know if they have that at the South Street Seaport Street Fair. Which I've never heard of. Or gone to. Or thought of going to. But instead I recover and say...) I think I'll just stick to Crossgates Mall.
Nicole: Colonie Center is actually much nicer.
Me (again, nowhere to go): Mmmm...
Nicole: Have you been to the new movie theater there yet?
Me: No, but I'm going this weekend.
Nicole (now really ramping up): Are you going to see Sex and the City???????
Me: Actually, yes, with a few friends.
Nicole (now sitting on my lap): Can I come? Can I be your friend? You should get popcorn, but not extra butter because that's gross. Do you want to share a soda??????????

Okay, I made up that last line of Nicole's... but I could feel myself physically backing away from her at this point. Just bring me my dinner and replenish our Diet Cokes, honey. That's all we need. Really. Thanks. We're good.

Double Wow.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Reprieve... almost

We had a wicked fun night on Friday... the girls ended up puking every hour or so on a half-hour schedule (Jenna on the hour and Michaela at half past) until everything settled down at about 3am. Michaela, Jenna and I ended up sleeping in the living room and watched countless hours of Playhouse Disney and Nick Jr. Jenna bounced right back on Saturday after a few hours of sleep but Mimi was down for the count the whole day. She is generally so energetic it was hard to see her listless and just zoned out and exhausted for the day. She took a good shower that night and rebounded nicely this morning. Last night I started to feel kinda yucky- not sick, really, more like not hungry/ not myself. We all went to church and I took a good nap with Jenna in bed this afternoon. Michaela was given strict instructions not to disturb us by Daddy, who was mowing the lawn and washing the car. This plan worked fine until....

Michaela tiptoes into our room and whispers: Mom, I don't want to disturb you but if you hear the shower running it's because I wrapped a piece of chewed gum around my leg by my knee and now I can't get it off so I'm going to try to wash it off.

We all got up, smeared peanut butter all over her leg and the gum came off.

And so the never-ending job of motherhood continues.