Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Never say never

Forever terrifies me. The irrevocable nature of it shakes me to the core. I crave fluidity, flexiblity, the promise of a brand new tomorrow. After my last summer at camp, on that final night, I cried large and choking tears, not because I would miss the bunks or even the friends but because I would never be a camper again. After college, I spent many a day with my stomach in knots, nauseated by the end of an era.

My aversion to forever surprised me when it appeared with a vengence when my daughter was born. I found her lovely and delicious but was plagued by her permanence. I lay in bed beside her bassinet, when she was barely a week old, sickened by worry over things like college. It was far away, unimaginably far, but she would be there and it would be up to me to get her from here to there. I could not imagine how I would factor her in, much less centrally, to my already full life. I passed a restaurant, watching childless people clink glasses and lean over plates with sunglasses on their heads. While pushing her stroller I thought, "I will never eat out again". My world was suddenly filled with nevers and forevers.

Thankfully, my anxiety dissipates once the change settles in and blends with the panorama of my life so that it becomes unnoticable. But I still crave options. Recently, my best friend asked me if I would have a third child. I had always planned on three, but this was before - before the financial, emotional and physical burdens of child rearing became real. Less real than the joy and love perhaps, but still there and huge. I am pretty sure that our second child will be our last, but I found myself unable to commit to that resolution. Because that means I will never again be pregnant, never give birth, and forever be a family of four. All of these things might be more than fine, they might be the way they should be. The way that I want things to be. But that little voice still wants to crack open a window, a maybe.

The only time in my life when I seamlessly slammed the door on one chapter and eagerly ripped open the next when my husband proposed. I enjoyed my single life, but when presented with a forever with my husband A, total love and assuredness rendered any little voices mute. It is this experience that made me believe that I could be alright with earth shattering change, with reinvention and final farewells. It has never again been that easy, but at least I know I have it in me, and beside me.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


You think you want it. Just a moment of peace - to pick up crushed Cheerios, to go to the bathroom, to watch Sex and The City on On Demand, to just be YOU for a minute, or anybody else.

"It's Naptime!", you declare, with an artificial brightness reserved for dental hygienists and stewardesses. There is pain and turblunce ahead. Her face falls. Fun is over, and usually abruptly, because there is never a good time. "Mama, No!" she cries. She is despondent. Betrayed. She is on a seemingly great date who suddenly remembers he has an early meeting in the morning, hours before last call.

Tears ensue, with more "Mamamamamamama"s, making you wonder why you ever looked forward to hearing that little voice form words. Guilt mixes with anger and exhaustion. You plead behind clenched teeth, "just a few minutes. Why can't I just get a few minutes".

And usually you do. No one is crying out for you anymore. And it feels good, for a little while. The indulgent silence, which you never thought you'd want since you are usually such a noise person. But minutes turn to hours, and the decaying feel of Sunday night sets in. You miss your pal, your playmate. You miss feeling needed and wanted in a primal way. Everything you wanted a short time ago is yours, but now it feels desperately lonely and all wrong.

That's the thing about needing space. Whether from friends or lovers or kids. It can go from liberating to lonely in a matter of minutes. Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Taking Sides

When my husband A proposed, we were on vacation in Antigua. He got down on one knee on the very first day, leaving me with a week on an almost deserted island, head spinning with details of our impending forever together. I remember thinking: Our children with be dark haired and brown eyed! We both were. I had no doubt, and it was exciting to "know" yet another previous "unknown".

When I was pregnant, A would whisper to me at night about our daughter's curly hair. "She'll have hair just like yours!" he said. And I believed him, imagining little ringlets that I would know just what to do with (unlike my straight haired mother).

Sure enough, Chloe entered the world with a head full of raven locks, which started out black like A's but eventually settled in lighter than both of ours, an ashen brown with blonde flecks. But her hair was straight, and continues to be, with a lone stubborn wave on the nape of her neck. I still don't know what to do with her hair, except to brush it, and unlike my own it settles naturally after being raked over, needing little extra attention.

Her eyes were most startling. They are huge and blue. "They'll change," everyone told me, as they would look to me and my husband in confusion as we stared back behind brown eyes. But they won't. She is nearing two and they are a dark blue with brown rings around the pupil, a small homage to her parents. And they are gorgeous, surrounded by lush dark lashes. They are alluring and flirtatious and demanding and will surely be the downfall of many suitors.

So she looks much unlike me and while she is a softer looking spin off of A, she is not an exact replica. She is her own person, who sometimes looks more like my blue eyed friend Gail when she holds her than like either of us. So I find myself identifying other ways that she resembles us, just to make sense of this blue eyed beauty.

And there are many. Watching her personality develop has been perhaps the most miraculous thing about being a parent. While she has created her very own harmony of both nature and nurture, she manifests many qualities that are "just like us". And while I revel in her individuality, it is somehow comforting to know that she is still very much a part of us, even as she grows away:

From Daddy:
Your serious kindness
Your love of counting things
Your enjoyment of air-travel
Your love of the outdoors, trees and leaves, and autumn
Your hatred of mushrooms and other suspicious looking foods
Your quiet work focus
Your love of walking and running
Your tendency to wake up too early
Your disdain for wasting time
Your ability to multi task
How unaware you are of your own beauty

From Mommy:
Your obsession with high heels and makeup and clothes on hangers
Your affinity for reading alone in bed, the same books over and over
Your love of dance
Your stuffed animal family
Your love for grandparents and small babies
Your rough and enthusiastic hugs and kisses
Your chattiness, especially on the phone
Your love of cookies
The way that you share
Your morning grumpiness

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


It started with slouch socks, gold plated best friend necklaces and scrunchiis. Somwhere along the way, it morphed into Tiffany toggle bracelets, satin Prada purses and stilettos.

Accessories have followed me for a lifetime.

As a rule, I am not big into decoration. My jewelry is always meaningful and generally minimal. I sleep and bathe in my necklace and ring, both designed and gifted by my very gifted husband. I admire women who change purses and jewelry as regularly as their underwear. I could never do this. I am too picky and generally running too late to wonder which bag my wallet and metrocard are in.

Accessories can be burdensome, both emotionally and physically. When my husband got down on one knee and offered me his life and a diamond, it was immediately intermingled with an apology. "If you don't like it, we'll exchange it" he said as he anxiously pushed the ring on my finger.

Accessories can cause second guessing and worry -- about style, about loss. What does it say about you? It never ends, the pressure to accessorize our world. I find this maddening in motherhood. There is always something, an extra, that I can be purchasing to better my daughter's life. The stores are teeming with extras that appear the same except for that all important nuance that promises to change both of our lives. It's big business, and it's easy to get caught up. Not because I fear that anyone is looking or judging, but because I am afraid that I might be depriving her.

And then I watch her play with a tupperware bowl for 45 minutes, and I am reminded that the extras in life are just that...sometimes meaningful, often disappointing and generally disposable.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Put everything that means anything to you in a box. Your money, jewelry. Your credit cards, family photos, grandmother's candlesticks. Your ketubbah, the dress you broke the bank for, birthday cards from your kids. Your pet. Now close it (but don't forget to punch holes in the top if Rover is in there).

Now imagine that you need someone to watch the box for you. And it can't be anyone you know. Sounds insane, right? A stranger off the street holding the things you hold most dear.

Now multiply this infinitely, and you have got the experience of find a caregiver for your child.

I am searching for a nanny. I have never left Chloe with anyone I did not know well, or through a very close contact. But the time has come, to engage a stranger and hand over our own life.

Some don't overthink it at all. They interview, make some calls, and hand over their kid and their keys and a list of to-dos and not-to-dos. I, instead, lie awake at night, thinking of all the crazy people I know, those who have been damaged along the way, those who I would never leave Chloe alone with but at first and second and third meeting seem totally....sane.

The initial phone conversations are the most difficult. My worst tendencies kick in. Are they upbeat? Articulate? Educated? Does their kindness just ooze over the phone? In my profession, giving good phone is critical. As words bounce and stumble between us, my chest tightens. How will my kid understand you if I can't?

And then you come to my door, and it feels like dating. My heart will soar or sink immediately, and I will know right away if you can possibly be "the one". If you are not, I want you to leave, but I need to smile and drag my child in front of you, and pretend to buy into to the exaggerated gestures that you believe proves that I can trust you.

"I believe that most people are inherently good" I always say at these interviews. And its total bullshit. But I spread it on, thick and dripping and sticky as honey, trying to gauge your reaction perhaps. Will you flinch, and show me that your intentions are less than pure? Or maybe I am saying this to make sure that you know that if you mess with my kid, you will be destroying my whole outlook on humanity. None of it matters, really. Because as you sit on my couch and eat or don't eat my cookies, you are the same potential phony that I can be upon first meet. We have all done it, whether interviewing for a job or hunting for a spouse. "My greatest weakness is that I am a perfectionist". "Of course I know Powerpoint". "I have no problem with micro managers". "I just had an STD test". "I totally wouldn't care what my engagement ring looked like". All benign lies really. No one's life is a stake in these situations.

Babysitters for an evening are easier to take. A teenager can watch TV with my kid, eat my icecream and no one is any worse for wear. But a nanny will be with my child for more waking hours than her parents. I am interviewing someone with huge influence, who my child will look up to, will emulate, will learn from, will want to be like if for no reason other than the fact that they are around. And I won't be there to ever know what happened if anything does. I am not just worried about something bad. I am worried about not good enough.

When it is sunny outside, I slather Chloe with SPF 50. My mother thinks I am nuts, and I have my own freckles to prove it. I know Chloe will make her own bad choices, create her own dangers some day. But right now, it's just her parents making the choices, because that's our job. I want her to go through life without burns for as long as possible. But when I open my home, her life, to a stranger who is doing the job that many will consider mine, it feels like playing with fire.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fashion Weak

Every February, when the white tents cover Bryant Park like some alternative circus, I get a little weak in the knees. It's not because I wish I were a model strutting the catwalk -- I got over model glorification after watching one lose her shirt in the middle of a show. It's because I remember Fashion Week February 1999, when I made one of those choices that forever changed my path.

I had been working at a beauty/fashion public relations firm, for Vidal Sassoon. It was my first job out of college, and one that I chose in the same manner that I had made so many other too-important choices at that age -- my friends were doing it. Specifically, my best friend J, who is the type of girl who had a "Job Hunt" binder, complete with dividers by industry, lists of contacts and coverletters. I was lost, unable to find a career that would "just let me write". "Go into PR!" J pleaded with me, as I sat on the lowest step of the staircase of the house I grew up in, where I found myself living once again, unemployed after college. I sent a few resumes and got even fewer bites. One, which we'll call Sabrina Star Communications, seemed most promising.

My interview was in Manhattan, and I prepared by reading my sister's "PR 101" textbook on the bus ride to Port Authority, squirming in my cheap cotton suit. The agency was designed almost entirely in hot pink, the signature color, I would soon learn. It was on Park Avenue, where I had imagined all of corporate life happening. I walked through rows of cubes and offices, as heels clicked around me and women in varying degrees of trendy dress rushed, as if I was in some sort of "Fashion E.R.". My first interview was with a woman named Laura, who intimidated and charmed me equally. She was pin thin, in the manner that I coveted at the time. She seemed much older to me then, but I now recognized that she was likely no older than 33. She talked to me about the agency, their beauty clients, the meetings, the travel. The glamour was building. I stared at her highlighted blonde hair, her designer suit and perfect makeup and suddenly worried that she would notice how unlike her package I was.

Luckily, the second meeting was with an overweight Jewish male VP, who could have easily been my father. We hit it off instantly, as I was much more accustomed to people like this. I knew that I would be hired, as they lead me out behind glass doors, handing me a glossy bag filled with press kits and client products. I was "in".

My comfort and confidence at Sabrina Star lasted no more than that one day. When I started my work as an The company, comprised almost entirely of women who might as well have had well manicured claws, was lead by Sabrina, who was almost cartoon like in her evil. She was anywhere between 50 and 80, with skin pulled tight across her face. She teetered in stilettos and wore Chanel suits from the 80s. A decrepit dog would follow her forlornly around the office until the day he did and was immediately replaced with the same breed of dog and given the same name. Her best features, piercing blue eyes, were constantly narrowed in discontent. She invoked extreme fear, and had no qualms about calling coordinators at home to ream them about messy offices or overdue deadlines. This woman made me shake, she made me loathe my unpolished nails and knock off Prada shoes. "No one uses hair gel!" I remember her screaming through the office at a member of the Vidal Sassoon staff. "Unless you have hair like her!", she seethed, pointing to me with a withering look. My hands ran quickly over my hard and crunchy curls as I tried to dissapear. And Sabrina always sniffled, which was either due to a hideous tick or an equally bad cocaine habit. Probably both. You could hear her sniffling before she found you, giving you time to brush crumbs from your desk or kick the sneakers beneath it.

Still, as I stood pressed against proverbial glass, hunched over a tiny desk which was forever teeming with tiresome "to do"s, I longed for the glitz. My first client was a motorized toothbrush, and I dealt daily with dentists and gingivitis and plaque. It was far from the world of beauty that I imagined when I interviewed. I am sure they believed me to be a better fit in the world of oral health care than that of Cover Girl, and they were probably right. But I pushed to get closer to the prettier people.

Which lead me to Vidal Sassoon. I was finally moved to that part of the business, only to be met with more difficult bosses. There was the one who was happily married to a clearly closeted air steward, who would conveniently lose his wedding ring on overnight flights. She was a pleasure to work for, her mood solely determined by his travel schedule. To augment an already stressful situation, I had begin dating the boy who I would ultimately lose my virginity, and my mind to. I cried easily at work in bathroom stalls, wiping my face fast enough to start inventory on the many different shampoos. And while there were exciting moments, eventually running my own fashion show for one, they were few and far between. On the surface, I had it all, a job in the beauty industry, a handsome latin boyfriend who wanted to kill any man who looked at me twice. But I was falling apart at my sale rack seams.

I pinned much of my hopes on Fashion Week, which Vidal Sassoon was sponsoring. It was the ultimate manifestation of all that I wanted to be a part of. I loved the production end of the shows, watching them all come together from casting models to that very first strut. Not that I was a part of any of this. My first formidable task was to find some sort of solid honey that Mr. Vidal Sassoon enjoyed with his tea. This was pre-internet accessibility, which meant hours and days of calling. When I finally found the jars I bought several, and would snack from them as my only sustenance in the impossible long days. As I met more and more people from this glamorous world, I was more and more unimpressed. The best folks I met were the staff from Proctor and Gamble, who owns Vidal Sassoon and traveled in for the shows in faux fur vests and leather pants, clearly trying too hard, all hailing from Ohio.

When I finally got to the shows, holding my laminated pass as tightly as a life preserver, the aesthetics were everything I had hoped for. Beauty was everywhere. Crisp white fanned out over a beautiful park. Celebrities who looked even more ethereal in person. Lights, camera, action. It was perfection. And it was also freezing.

In all of my Fashion Week fantasies, I never took into consideration that the tents might not be heated. They weren't. I spent day after day stuffing gift bags until my hands were blue and my teeth chattered. Only colder than I was likely the models. Tears pricked my eyelids. And on my last day, my rented cellphone rang. I stiffened in anticipation of my next set of ridiculous orders. It was my boyfriend. Who, in a rare moment of conventional niceness, had sent my resume to a local non profit. "They want to see you", he said. It sounded bland and boring and totally unglamorous. But it also sounded warm. And it was.

So I took the job, bidding farewell to free cosmetics and celebrity sightings and lying awake at night feeling terribly unfulfilled. Years later, I would meet my husband through this job, which would lead me to forever thank my terrible ex, those freezing cold tents, and my ability to have the strength to choose a life that was much more "me".