Friday, December 31, 2010

The Top Ten of '10

Au revoir, Brooklyn!

My sister's Christmas card was fabulous this year. Rather than a long letter of all her family's triumphs and woes, she made a bright, vibrant top ten list of their stand-out moments. Seeing as she's a wonderful graphic designer, it was not only poignant, it was visually stunning.

Mine will just be poignant. Maybe.

After the horrible year we experienced in 2009, 2010 was a year of reconstruction - pulling ourselves together after the brutal wars we fought. The war against a corrupt landlord who refused to dispose of both lead paint and a violent neighbor properly. The war against my possibly nearly fatal (TMI?) post-partum depression. The war against our budget after Dave lost his job at Forbes. The war Dave and I fought against each other as we tried to make sense of the constant sleeplessness we were experiencing combined with seemingly constant moving.

2010 was definitely an improvement. We had settled into an apartment that was devoid of lead paint and had a reasonable neighbor. I'd gone back to work part-time at my beloved school in Brooklyn. Stella, thank God in Heaven, had not only begun to sleep, but began to be possibly the best sleeper in her class -- middle-weight toddlers. And, despite Dave's work situation, we'd tightened our apron strings sufficiently to avoid going into debt or claiming bankruptcy.

We had climbed far enough up Maslow's hierarchy of needs to stop simply surviving and start self-actualizing.

For me, that meant being brutally honest with both Dave and myself about the fact that I couldn't stay healthy as a "middle class" (i.e. impoverished) parent in NYC with no family support. I had to stop finding a way to try to fit my square self in that round hole and just start searching for a freaking square hole (they're hard to find).

So, keeping that long-winded prelude in mind, I present to you The Brooklyn/Bluegrass Baby Momma's Top Ten Profound Moments of 2010:

10. Getting bed bugs - TWICE - and dealing with record low temps and large amounts of snow while living in a place with limited heat.
9. Finally convincing Dave that we had to give moving back to Kentucky a shot, after the above events showed us that just moving out of Little Russia wasn't going to solve all of our problems and that possibly NYC was simply not for us.
8. Working my butt off to find (and succeeding in that endeavor) what people told me was an impossible situation: working for a rural, high-needs school an easy commute away from our urban life in Louisville.
7. Moving to the nicest apartment we've ever inhabited without seeing it first. (Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for finding it!)
6. Finding that I love being a middle school language arts teacher, and that I really do love being back in a school where I feel needed.
5. Reconnecting with wonderful Louisville friends while missing wonderful NYC friends.
4. Finally finding a spiritual home at Adath Jeshurun after years and years of searching.
3. Finding so much joy in the fact that we can afford to send Stella to preschool here without knowing the mayor or president or dishing over her entire college fund.
2. Watching with glee as Dave has the time and energy to write awesome freelance stories and perform his wonderful, original music in a band composed of cool, sweet, trustworthy guys.
1. Getting to be with my family again in a normal way (well, as normal as we get) after 12 years away. And the best part of that is watching Stella fall madly in love with them and vice versa.

This is the kind of year that really showed me the power of prayer and positive thinking. I really thought this move, this job, this drastic change would never happen, but once I set my mind and heart and soul into trying to achieve it, it's amazing how things just fell into place.

I hope that we can all keep that in mind in 2011. We are our own worse enemies. Our fear and doubt and self-loathing and petty differences all serve to distract us from our awesome potential.

What does your heart really want for you in 2011? Are you willing to shut up the negative voices in your head and just GO FOR IT?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My One Resolution

This is the kind of person I want to be in 2011.

Unlike many people I know who hate New Year's resolutions, I love them. Or rather, I love making them. Keeping them is an entirely different story.

But I love the chance to start over, to write a new chapter, to turn over a new leaf.

And I've been thinking a lot about how I want 2011 to be different, see as how 2008-2010 kind of kicked my ass.

And my list, the one I was composing in my head, grew longer and longer, more and more intricate, even including a weekly schedule of things I'd need to attend to in order to improve my weight, my financial state, my mental well-being, my professional success, and so on.

And then, tonight, it hit me. Dave and I were engaged in Stella's bedtime routine - a multi-step, deeply involved process that we developed during the sleepless and crazy period of time from her birth until she turned 16 months old. It goes something like this:
1. Warm bath.
2. 5, 3 and 1 minute warnings that the bath is ending, so she doesn't flip out.
3. Having her help us clean up the bathtub while singing the Clean Up song.
4. Full-body massage with lavender-scented lotion.
5. Not one but two different songs that we made up about being sleepy.
6. Pajamas, then tucking her into bed with soothing words about the good dreams she'll have.
7. White noise machine and pitch black bedroom.

We do this the same way. Every night. And whether or not our now wonderfully-sleeping daughter needs it, it just feels right. In fact, it's the sweetest time of day, at least for Dave and me, one we look forward to consistently.

However, I rarely take that same amount of time - roughly 30 minutes per day - to do anything for myself. I rush out the door each morning, either skipping breakfast or packing a banana. I take 5 minute showers and crawl into bed each night after minimal face-washing and tooth-brushing. I've neglected exercise in favor of working late or being with Stella or just sitting on my butt out of fatigue. And, although we make most of our own food and eat pretty well, I still feast on sweets late at night and make a lot of foolish food choices during my weak time - post school, pre-dinner.

Consequently I'm overweight, exhausted, lacking in self-confidence, a bit depressed, riddled with achy joints, wearing poorly-fitting clothes, and often feeling frazzled and/or pulled in 1,000 directions. Oh. And unappreciated. I'm definitely feeling unappreciated.

I realized that the 452 resolutions I was making all really stem from one big one:

Take care of myself as well as I take care of Stella.

If I can manage that, everything else will fall into place. I will:

1. Eat the correct number of healthy, whole-food meals per day with no night-eating.
2. Drink only water and sometimes milk - no more sodas. (Coffee, though, coffee gets to stay.)
3. Get sufficient exercise in varying, fun ways (I'm thinking more hot yoga, zumba, and wii fit over playgrounds and bouncy rooms, but still).
4. Take good care of my skin. (In fact, maybe I'll give myself nightly massages with scented lotion, too.)
5. Do something, each day, just because I want to, and not feel guilty. (This could include reading, calling a friend, going to see a movie by myself, or writing a blog entry.)
6. Just as Stella tidies up the bathtub while singing "clean up, clean up," I will find a way each day to help our home stay clean and welcoming.
7. Laugh freely and easily, sometimes for no reason at all.
8. And, finally, I will not be afraid to say "NO!" Loudly and jubilantly. To people, to responsibilities, to guilt, to uncertainty, to situations that make me unhappy.

It will all come full circle for me. I can be a good mom, a good teacher, a good wife, AND a happy, healthy woman who cares about herself. (I just have to wait until January 1st so I can sneak in a few more days of crappy eating and laziness.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yes, I'm alive.

I would have settled for this cake. Seriously.

Alive but incredibly busy and, as of very late, in one of my famous "funks."

I must say this about myself. As my age has increased, so has my ability to handle my trademark funks - the times in my life when I feel the world is crashing down, that nobody has ever cared for me, when I wonder why I ever was placed on this earth to begin with. In fact, now the funks are few and far between, and normally, when they occur, I can usually take a long, hot bath and remind myself that this is mostly chemical and will pass. That my life is really not one big pattern of people abandoning and neglecting me. That I am blessed beyond belief but that I've developed some unhealthy habits that need to be reversed.

I tried to handle the past week this way, but I have failed. After several months of working my butt off - both as a mom and as a teacher - spending what little spare time I have trying to nurture my gratitude and serenity, this week has royally and completely kicked my ass and broken down my resolve.

I wasn't happy about my birthday to begin with. Thirty-five. Middle age, if I die at seventy. The time when, should we decide to get pregnant again, I will most likely be asked to take a battery of tests and will be at a higher risk of problems - both for myself and the baby. An age where it's even harder to lose all the fat I've accumulated, where wrinkles and gray hairs are multiplying like bunnies, where I'm routinely referred to as "lady." This is even harder to take when I realize I spent all the years I should have been young and sassy curling up into myself and feeding my "funks."

Regardless, I shook it off and told myself to be a big girl. And then, then came the middle schoolers. I'm loving my job, I feel I'm 100% where I need to be, I really love the staff and administration, but I'm still acclimating to the mood swings and occasional attitude of middle schoolers. Particularly the "mean girls" who bring back WAY too many painful memories of Sonora Middle School and the psychological raids I received.

So, I should have just shrugged it off when one of those "mean girls" sang the first part of "Happy Birthday," but finished with "you look like a monkey" and a howl of laughter. I should have just calmly written some detentions slips and then let it go while another "mean girl" joined in, pointing and cackling. I should have focused on my incredibly sweet third block class who sang "Happy Birthday" to me (the normal version) and gave me gifts like a candy cane and an apple, rather than fuming over those girls whose punishment I'd already doled out.

Instead, I loaded it onto my shoulders and into my heart, bringing it in the door with me. There was my gorgeous daughter who immediately wanted something from me and my sweet husband, consumed with his 4,000 writing assignments. No bouquet of flowers, no handmade card from Stella, nobody hugging me and shouting out how happy they were that I was born. I sagged even more into my sadness.

So much so that I couldn't really appreciate the delicious steak dinner Dave made, because I was consumed with the lack of wine and a cake to go with it.

A word about cake. I bake. I love to bake. I especially love to bake cakes. I really, especially love to bake birthday cakes. And I love to blow out candles and eat birthday cakes on my birthday. It's really the only thing I need to have a good birthday.

However, it seems that the universe has decided that is not usually in the cards for me, no matter what.

In Dave's defense, he bought ice cream and hot fudge for sundaes, but the ice cream was "off" somehow, and besides, all I ever want is cake. Cake. Just cake.

It should have gotten better the next day when I had a snow day and Dave and I had plans to go to dinner at a place I've been dying to try - Hillbilly Tea - and a show at a fringey, cool theater we've heard about. However, the weather that created my snow day also created icy roads, and we couldn't bring ourselves to ask our friend (and babysitter) to risk her life for us, nor could we handle the thought of getting in a wreck and dying, leaving Stella to fend for herself. So we ate split pea soup, sans cake, and I tried to tell myself that all would be better when I joined some local friends the next night for cocktails.

Now, I had wanted a little party - reminiscent of the ones I used to throw for myself in Brooklyn ages ago. However, this year, I stubbornly refused to plan it myself or make all the food, seeing as I'm working full time and being a mom in my off-hours. So I kept throwing out hints here and there, and those hints fluttered on up to the heavens where they shriveled up and died.

And I was too busy to keep on top of things like I should have, so, about a week and a half before my b'day, I sent out an email seeing if anyone would want to join me for a karaoke party. Only two people responded positively, so rather than book an expensive venue and have nobody come, I decided to demote my "party" to a night of cocktails with friends - an informal event where people could drop in at whim. This received a scant more positive RSVP's. (Having a birthday 10 days before Jesus's means that most of the free world is already spoken for when you so arrogantly want to celebrate the day you were forced to enter this earth.)

But, still, I was excited. I just wanted to get out at night and join the rest of the world, sipping a silly cocktail and laughing loudly and forgetting all about my responsibilities for five minutes.

However, that pesky ice remained on the road, and OOPS! We forgot to book a babysitter. So, no cocktails with friends. And still, believe it or not, no blessed cake.

So, I made backup plans to meet an old friend who lives a mile away for dinner at a nearby restaurant. At least, I thought, I can get out of my cabin-fever-diseased home and eat a bite. Maybe drink a micro-brew. MAYBE BUY MYSELF A SLICE OF CAKE. And, can you believe it, my friend stood me up. STOOD ME FUCKING UP. Excuse my language, but really? I got a text, saying an "unexpected visitor" was occupying his time. I hope to God that visitor is Barack O'fucking Bama, otherwise - there is no excuse.

So...the funk descended. I cried. I threw a couple of things (safely - in a room with no one else in it). I went to Chick-Fil-A by myself and read my book and ate a fried chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and a peppermint chocolate chip shake. I considered an alcoholic drink, but I could feel a cold coming on, so I crawled into bed.

And I awoke with a cold. Sore throat, snot, aching joints, chills. I mean, really?

Still, we had a better, more hopeful day - taking Stella to see "The Nutcracker" as performed by my old dance school - The Dance Centre of Elizabethtown. I got to see my old dance teacher, Mrs. Banard, for the first time in 17 years. As wonderful as this was, it also brought back memories of my difficult youth - a time when the beauty and grace of ballet was one of the few refuges I had against the turmoil and violence of my home and the almost non-existence of a social life at school. I was chubby, it's true, but ladies and gentlemen - I could dance.

I enjoyed time with my family, marveling, as I always do, at how much Stella adores them and how good they are to her. But my cold intensified, and although this would have been the perfect opportunity to let my precious mom shower me with affection and GET ME A FREAKING SLICE OF CAKE, all I wanted to do was wrap myself in 1,000 blankets and sleep.

So, the funk is here. I know it will pass, I just need time, but right now, I'm just kind of pissy and frustrated. It's a hard time of year to expect people to take care of me, I get that, but there were just too many unfortunate events in a row in a week where I was already emotionally raw for me to feel particularly forgiving and understanding of anyone whose name isn't Randi or Stella right now.

At least, today, I managed to get myself some cake. Red velvet cake from The Homemade Pie and Ice Cream Kitchen. And, although my cold has abducted my appetite, I ate EVERY FREAKING BITE.