Soliloquy on the occasion of one’s second rodeo

My little muffin,

This day is finally here. You are about to enter kindergarten. And while you have watched your older sister learn the ins and outs of the school, while you have already mastered the big kid monkey bars and explored every inch of the playground as her little sister, the key to this kingdom is about to be yours, too.

When your sister started kindergarten, I was nervous and worried for her. I know too many things about schools and schooling. In the last two years, I have calmed some (but not all) of those fears. Instead of worrying about school, I am simply reconciling the idea that you could possibly be old enough to go to kindergarten.

Until the minute you line up outside the kindergarten door, bug, I will be nothing by thrilled for you. On the one hand, I feel deeply remorseful that I didn’t relish every delectable nanosecond of the last year of your life enough. On the other hand, I feel like I’m watching every minute of your first five years in the span of a second flash behind my eyes. And every frame of every memory is stunning.

From the moment you became ours, you have kept us on our toes. We might have been blissfully ignorant yet confident first time parents but your unpredictable baby nature set us off balance. In your earliest days all you did was cry and nurse, and the only peace you found was next to a warm body, cuddled close. It took us a while to realize that you need plenty of space and loads of reassurance and not all at once. Once we figured out your way in the world, we got along fine. As you’ve grown, you have maintained this as a central aspect of your being–you fly far and huddle in.

I know you’re a little apprehensive. You even admitted you were nervous and confused by all of the fuss. You are different from your sister–you live big but you need time to process what’s happening. And right now, it probably feels like everything is happening so fast.

But, life happens fast, little muffin. And I have not done enough to help you because all summer long, I have told you to stay small. I am tempted to hold your small, curly, squeaky, smiley face and freeze time. And yet, you have done some intense shape shifting this summer–your little, squeaky voice hasn’t changed much but boy do you tell us what’s on your mind. And the insight you have, the curiosity brewing behind those brown eyes, you shock us nearly daily with your questions and thoughts. I could watch you get lost in your own world, in your elaborate games of pretend with your dolls and figurines, for hours. You are empathic and sensitive and bold and creative and tough.

And you are ready.

I am stunned that you could be ready to walk through that door.

But you should go through because it is your turn now.

I will tell you what I told your sister when she started kindergarten with one small caveat: be aggressively kind to yourself and your friends, be loud, be patient, be thoughtful, ask for help, and stay innocent for as long as you can. And for you, littlest one, be yourself. Others will think you’re cut from the same cloth as your sister, and while this may be true sometimes, you are your own person and have the right to be yourself.

Fly now. We can cuddle later.

Love,

Mom

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Beyond the Professoriate

May 7, 2016 is the three-year anniversary of my dissertation defense.

Three. Years.

Three years ago, my little daughter was 2, my oldest was 5. We were seriously muddling through day-to-day. Graduation day looked like this:

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Hood askew, girls refusing to smile for just one photo. (May 2013)

I’d like to think that I had a very concrete plan for next steps after graduate school but the truth is that I was not entirely sure what would happen once I finished. I had a short term job lined up, I knew I would have to look for other opportunities, and it was time to start hustling.

And hustle I did. I said yes to everything that crossed my desk: committees at the college where I taught short-term, connections offered by my chair to local organizations looking for a researcher, professional development opportunities in the community. I just said yes.

I kept a list of people I met, organizations I admired, and skills I needed to cultivate. I paid incredible attention to everything. I sowed seeds without knowing when or how or what they would yield. But eventually, little opportunities began to grow. I still reap benefits to this day even though I am settled into a new and different role as a policy analyst and advocate.

So, it is fitting that three years after finishing my doctoral work, having left higher education for the time being, that I will be participating in an online conference for current graduate students and professionals who are considering leaving higher education to pursue other opportunities: Beyond the Professoriate.

Three years ago, I would have clung to the stories and advice that other panelists will share over the next two Saturdays. I am particularly proud of the writing and speaking I have done on this topic and can’t wait to connect with participants tomorrow as part of the Government and Non-Profit panel.

I started Rogue Cheerios four years ago this year as I was finishing up graduate school in part to document what was happening as I finished up one chapter and started another. In that time, I have made a transition out of the academy and into a career that I really love. Instead of reflecting on that journey now, I thought I’d compile the lessons learned posts I wrote along the way:

For now, I am pleased to have a stable job. And though I am squarely settled into my current position, I am always thinking about what I might want to do in the future. I am not one to rest on my laurels–every day there are new things to learn, apps to master, connections to make. In a precarious job market, stability is about all you can hope for.

It is crucial to remember that nothing is guaranteed in life–not even tenure.

 

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being 38

My mother used to admonish my behavior by invoking my age. Whenever she expressed surprise or disappointment at something I said or did, she would add a year, saying “Rachel, you’re going to be [current age +1], so….”

It was such a part of our relationship, that I never noticed it, until, of course, she was gone. The last time she could conceivably age me was when I was 28, warning me that one day I would be 29.

I’m 38 now. And instead of my mother aging me, I have oddly asserted my age in the same way she imposed it all of those years. Rather than state my age, I catch myself saying, “I’ll be 38” or “I’m almost 38” to assert my status in the age hierarchy. Maybe I should have stated, “I’m 37” more plainly over the last year.

38 is a strange age. I have life experiences (gosh darnit) but depending on the circle, it’s like I just turned 16. With enough friends in their 40s and turning 50, I am impossibly (and sometimes enviably) “young.” And with colleagues in their 20s, I’m also inconceivably “old.”

I feel nothing about being 38.

By nothing, I mean, I feel completely and utterly fine with life. There are things I want to do and things I have done. More to do, think, write, cook. And lots that I’ve already done, thought, written, cooked.

Friends one year older, one year closer to the big 4-0 keep telling me that I’ll feel differently in a year about my age. I don’t understand how that could be possible. One year is an eternity and nanosecond. This past year was challenging–transitions into a new job, supporting husband in a major career transition, finding my way back to exercise, launching the podcast–and despite those challenges, I never wished for time back or for time to pass quickly.

In the scheme of things, I am really happy. I don’t feel like I am a year closer to total oblivion because now I’m squarely in my late late thirties. On my birthday, I woke up on clean sheets in a cozy bed. I ran two consecutive miles. My kiddos (with help from my husband) brought me breakfast in bed, I saw colleagues and friends during the day, people sent me Facebook messages, text messages, voice mails, hell, I think a carrier pigeon even swooped by to send me good energy. I ate sweets, felt full of love, felt my entire body bursting with complete satisfaction.

The best part of my day–the piece that put it all in perspective–was the opportunity to participate in a Yom HaShoah ceremony at our JCC. Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day and many organizations commemorate the day by reading all of the names of the Jewish people who died in the Holocaust. I was instructed to read the first and last names along with the ages of the victims. This is the second year I have participated, and I knew what to expect, but was not prepared to read the names of people my own age, people who once probably also woke up on clean sheets, ate cake, felt love. I have nothing to complain about and only good work to do for my family and friends.

So many things are right in the world. I am healthy, we are safe, we have a comfortable home, food to eat, vehicles that work, people who love us. The sum of all of these little blessings is this exquisite sense of comfort.

I can’t lament getting older. At least not today.

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Living with four year olds….

Most of the time, four is pretty supreme.

Everything about the world is almost accessible when you’re four. You can walk, you can climb and run. Nearly everything you say is intelligible to other children and most adults. No one holds you down to change your diaper. You can see on the counters in the kitchen. You can eat food and sometimes the food tastes amazing. You are sometimes tall enough to ride the roller coaster and your parents don’t hover over you at the playground. You love the books on your shelf and the toys in your room, and periodically, playing with toys and books by yourself is totally fun. You get dressed yourself and even match your shoes. The world is opening itself up to you.

Yet, four is also a turning point, a fever pitch.

When you are four, you suffer intolerable injustices. No one appreciates how fast you can run….or how far away you can run, either. Sometimes, grown up people nod and smile when you talk or they ignore you even though you’re telling them just what you want (loudly). Someone is constantly dragging you to the restroom (just in case) and you are sure you don’t have to use it. Grown-ups keep giving you so many foods that taste like vegetables and vegetables are not as delicious as ice cream. Sometimes, you have to be taller to ride the roller coaster, and when you get to the tippy top of the playground castle, it’s actually really scary to ride the slide down to the bottom. You have to share your books and toys, especially with your sister or brother or friend or cousin, and no one seems to understand that it doesn’t matter if you only play with that toy once a year, it is still your favorite toy in the entire universe. You do not prefer any item of clothing other than your favorite shirt which happens to be dirty. And shoes? WHO NEEDS THEM.

I have always loved four. Four is an age of opportunity.

But in our house, four is tempestuous. Our vivacious, spunky four year old is putting us through the paces. We have encouraged independence and she asserts herself to a fault. Her wide smile crumbles into tears at the slightest frustration. She reverts to a baby voice when she doesn’t get her way even though she can go toe to toe with any adult in conversation. And when all else fails, she’ll go boneless on the floor to get her way.

In those tough moments, all I see are dimples. I could disappear in her dimples.

I look at her, and I am lost in how grown up she is. The way she gets lost in play time, setting up her figurines or coloring or putting together a puzzle, she is super independent. Yet the minute I think she’s so grown, there she is in my lap to cuddle close.

Every morning, she wakes up, her nest of curls totally wild, and she is ready to take on the day. Those curls took years to grow–four years to be precise. As a little baby, we had no idea she would have this wild mane four years later. In my mind, she’s still a little person with no hair. But when she sits with me, I run my fingers through her tight curls. I wind them around my fingers until she wiggles away in protest.

Those curls are deceptive–they hide her face. They’re so tight that it’s impossible to tell that her shoulder length crown of curls stretches past her shoulder blades. It is long enough for a ponytail. I resist the ponytail, though, because with her hair pulled back, you can see that she’s not a baby anymore.

Four and a half years have slipped past us.

It is impossible to believe she is four. Soon we will send her off to kindergarten. She asks me sometimes about “before she was born” and she wonders about the wildest things. She does not simply wonder “why” and will not settle until she understands everything that raises suspicion. She’ll ask a tough question, I’ll give her an honest answer, and she’ll string together her version of the truth. It’s the truth she’s after and she is relentless.

It is impossible to imagine “before she was born.” Why?

The world is too delicious with her in it.

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I wear my heart on my sleeve (except on Valentine’s Day)

I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day.

I don’t like Valentine’s Day for completely rational reasons, things I know bug other people about the holiday. Sure, I spent many (okay, most) of the Valentine’s Days of years pre-marriage by myself or with girlfriends but I never felt that jilted lover feeling (only once when an ex showed up at a restaurant with a new girlfriend while I was enjoying my own V-day dinner). My grievances with Valentine’s Day are simple.

For one day a year, we pay a premium for something that comes free and easily on any other day.

Everything that signifies love–flowers and candy and other tokens–costs more on Valentine’s Day. Restaurants create a false sense of romance. Everything is pink and red. And more than the stuff and planning is the PRESSURE to make this one, lone night a time for the truest, deepest expression of your love for your partner.

You may read this and say I’m being dramatic but the social script is the social script. There are Valentine’s Day tropes everywhere the second the dust settles after Christmas.

I don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to tell people I love them. Life is too short. I tell them all the time. I tell my husband every night that I love him. I go out of my way to appreciate him (in word and deed). I kiss my girls billions of times a day and make sure they know who loves them. I sign off phone calls with my sister and members of my family with expressions of love. I tell my friends that I love and appreciate them.

And if I haven’t told you lately, readers, I appreciate and love you, too. You inspire me and make me want to write.

But I’m a parent now. And when you’re a parent, well, things you LOATHE are often the things your kids LOVE. It’s tougher to hold strong stances on something that could be commandeered by your kids and made to be the sweetest little thing ever.

It started last year with the school Valentine’s Day cards for my kindergartner. I object only slightly to the card exchange at school on the grounds that at its core, V-day does have Christian roots. Say what you want about its secular prominence, this is still St. Valentine’s Day. 

When the class list came home in advance of Valentine’s Day, my daughter was overjoyed! With her father’s help, she selected Barbie cards for the girls and Angry Birds cards for the boys. I cringed a little. Then, she sat dutifully with the list of names and addressed each card with care, sealing them with a heart-shaped sticker.

She didn’t stop with her classmates. Oh no. When she was finished with those, she made out little cards for each of us. And for anyone who crossed the threshold of our house any time after February 1st. She was supremely proud of herself. This year, as she did last year, she has collected cards from her little classmates is thrilled to pieces.

Our little daughter is disappointed she doesn’t have a Valentine’s Day card exchange at preschool so she started making Valentine’s for us at home. She has been working on drawing a heart and when she finished, she said, “Don’t look, mama, I’ll leave it on your pillow.”

I’m pretty much a puddle. They love to write, they channeled their imagination into the sweetest little creations. I’m powerless.

I could stand my ground and refuse this silly, commercial holiday. For now it’s love and hearts and cards and cookies. But one day, the social script will flip on them and they’ll suddenly come to understand that maybe this day has more meaning than it should. I’m hoping that day doesn’t come for a long time.

I might roll my eyes at the heart-filled pink and red explosion at the drugstore, but deep down, my dissension is laced with a little concern that my daughters will confuse my own feelings for Valentine’s Day with my feelings for them. I know a flashy Valentine’s Day does not mean I love them more, but do they?

For now, though, my fears are unfounded. Valentine’s Day is still benign and fun. And the confirmation of that is reassuring.

Like this week, when my youngest came up to me holding a teddy bear and snuggling it. “Look, mama, I’m kissing his head like you kiss us.” She covered the bear’s furry head with kisses. She went on, “And watch, I’m nuzzling him just like you nuzzle us.” And she nuzzled away.

I planned ahead and picked up a few things for them back in December knowing I’d been love-weary in February. This weekend, I might just bake them cupcakes and give them gifts. Just to tickle them.

When the cupcakes are gone, though, and the cards crumpled, I am comforted knowing that the little gestures leave a lasting impression on them.

A nuzzle goes a very, very long way.

    
   
  

Posted in everyday life, family, holidays, kids, lessons learned, love, marriage, parenthood, personal, romance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cataloguing 2015

I love New Year’s Eve. I love the run up to the end of something, the changeover, the anticipation thinking about something new. My feed is full of year in review book lists, movie lists, items in the news, things we learned, people we lost. The new year forces you to think about what the hell just happened these past few months.

On the Weiner homestead, it has been a year. A year like any other–full of high moments and low moments, rest, fun, sadness. To say it has been a remarkable year would be overstating things. All years are remarkable.

Among the more remarkable moments: my husband and I went through some professional transitions–mine came at the start of the year and his came at the end of the year. The uncertainty forced us to confront some important questions about what we want and need in our life together–some of the conclusions we reached were deep, others were shallow. It was good to take the temperature of things in our life–we needed it.

Our kids kept growing and changing, surprising and challenging us. Our oldest is almost seven and our youngest is four (“and a half” she would remind us) and they are growing to be great allies and friends (most of the time). The little one will start kindergarten next year, the big one is in first grade. And as they get bigger, I find myself totally stunned by them. They can sing and dance, they can entertain themselves (and us). They love their friends fiercely and are starting to choose things they love to do. It has been a fun year (an honor, really) to parent them.

But there is no way to look back without wondering what I could have done differently, what I should have done differently, or better, or not at all. I was trying to avoid a total look back but then WordPress sent me my blogging stats for the year. Oddly, it was a slow year for Rogue Cheerios–12 total posts including this reflection. It certainly did not feel slow–at times, I felt like I could hardly catch my breath. 

The researcher in me could not let it be and I clicked through to see 2014 in review (38 posts), and then 2013 in review (46 posts). The overachiever in me finds it hard to believe I’ve posted a dozen times. I have been writing in other places, working on new projects, staying afloat. I have spent much of the year in self-preservation mode, working two jobs then transitioning to a new organization. 

Besides the transitions, though, I felt stretched, guilty, absent. For much of the year, I felt like I couldn’t see past my own nose. I wanted to do more for others, with others, but felt like I had to focus on myself first.

I found that I could be present if I fully dropped out of everyday life. We went to the beach for a few days over the summer. Right now we’re on winter break with our kids. Cut off from the interruptions presented by a feed of news and updates, I could focus on myself, on my girls, on my husband. And in those moments of self-preservation, I felt more like myself, and in turn, like I could be someone for other people.

So I have a simple resolution for myself. My goal this year: be thoughtful. That’s it. Be more menschy, my husband and I say to ourselves. Do the right thing when you can, extend yourself to others, be kind, do something unexpectedly thoughtful.

And I have come to discover that being thoughtful does not necessarily mean being selfless which is why I have a few strategies I’ve tied together in a little mantra for myself. Because without a few places to focus my energy, being thoughtful is a rootless endeavor. To be thoughtful, I have to make sure that every week I write, read, eat, learn, move and recharge.

I am not being so prescriptive that I set myself up for failure, for inducing more guilt. And I am leaving things loose enough to remind myself that what I need for self-care (rest, time to think, exercise) are available to me if I can commit to them.

Be thoughtful. Remember to write, read, eat, learn, move and recharge.

Onward to 2016….

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Daddy is not the babysitter

I am headed out of town to attend a conference for four days. I will miss my girls and my husband. My four-year old is in a clingy phase–recently I left for an early meeting before she awoke and she threw an hour-long tantrum. The girls are used to having both of us around and it will be tough for my husband because it is generally tough to be on your own with children, covering every little everything for several days in a row.

But I will be back on Friday.

More than once, though, someone has asked how my husband will manage, if he needs help, if I am worried.

I don’t worry about my husband.

When my oldest was in her earliest days of infancy, my husband took her to his parents’ house by himself–his very first daddy-daughter road trip. I was breastfeeding, and it was the first time she and I were apart. We had introduced a bottle to our little one, though, so he packed up a cooler and took off for the day. I can’t remember why I didn’t go with him–I probably needed the time for a grad school deadline (or to sleep). Either way, it was the first time he took her alone and his parents were really impressed.

After their visit, my mother-in-law called me to tell me how amazing I was to allow him to take her on his own. She told me that I was making him into a great father. Although I can’t remember exactly how I responded to her, I am sure that I insisted that he was a great father because of himself and not because of me. I am sure I was thinking, “why do we assume I’m the one who made him this way?” I remember distinctly replying later in the conversation, “why does everyone assume I’m the natural?”

This exchange has repeated itself in various iterations in the last six years–most recently this week in preparation for my trip–comments about parenting, the children and the role of the mother and the father. Our household may have a gendered division of labor when it comes to many things: I cook, he takes out the trash. But when it comes to our children, it’s as equally shared as we can have it.

Equally shared parenting was a conscious choice, a concept we read about in an NYT spread several years ago. It resonated with both of us. We knew that I would have to gestate the baby and feed it in its earliest days, but beyond those technicalities, we were both in this game together.

Yet, somehow even several years into our family, when our children are not in their usual care arrangement, when the girls are with their father, inevitably at least one person in the world asks him whether he is “babysitting” them. And if I am on my own during a time when I would otherwise be expected to be with children, strangers or friends might ask where the children are, if their father is babysitting them. My closest circle knows better than to ask me this question. “No,” I reply, “he is parenting them.”

Women may still be doing more of the housework or childcare but men aren’t doing nothing. The more we emasculate them, the more we alienate their efforts, referring to their independent time with the kids as “daddy day care” or diminishing their role, the less we’ll be able to trust fathers. My husband is a capable, smart father. When he is parenting, he is silly and fun, sometimes stern, he teaches the girls lots of things, he takes risks and he makes mistakes. And guess what? So do I. I am far from perfect and when I am parenting, I am also silly and fun, sometimes stern, teaching the girls lots of things, taking risks and making mistakes.

Recently, I had a few more evening engagements taking me out of the house around bedtime. These hours after work and before bed are our best and worst time of day, calibrated on their level of exhaustion and the phases of the moon. On good days, it is blissful and on bad days, I start the bedtime countdown as soon as we’ve walked in the door, a blustery heap of backpacks and shoes and coats, whining and crying for a show.

Knowing I would out over bedtime on one of these evenings, my littlest asked, “Is daddy going to babysit us?” I looked at her completely horrified. I called her sister over and said, “Girls, we need to have a little talk.”

They looked at me with solemn little faces.

“A mommy is a parent. And a daddy is a parent. And a babysitter is someone who takes care of you when your mommy and daddy can’t take care of you.”

“A babysitter could be a mommy or daddy in their house, right?” asked my older daughter.

“Yes,” I said, “they could be a mommy or a daddy. But a mommy is a parent and a daddy is a parent. They are not babysitters. Do you understand?”

They nodded. Then I quizzed them again to be sure. “What’s a mommy?”

“A babysitter!” my older daughter sassed.

“No! A mommy is a parent!” cried my little daughter.

“Right.”

I need them to know that their parents are in this together. That we trust each other. Because they are going to hear contrary messages from others. When my husband is with the children, I don’t even think twice about what they’re doing or how they’re doing. He offers me the same trust.

So, I’ll leave on a jet plane tomorrow morning at 6am. And while I will miss them terribly, I won’t worry about them. I’ll just wish they were coming, too.

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