Yesterday was a GSD day. A “getting sh!t done” day, that is. You have them too, I suppose. I needed to buy 14 binders, go to the copy center, replace our broken coffee machine, and buy a much needed entryway rug to stop the bits of wet leaves and mud from making their way to our living room.
While I generally don’t like rushing around in the car on GSD days, the one benefit is getting time to listen to the radio for a dose of pop culture. I was cruising through the parking lot to stop #2, and in between songs, the DJs were joking and laughing about that woman whose naked rear is on the cover of a magazine right now (I’m sure you’ve heard). And that’s when I heard one of the DJs—the female one—make an off the cuff comment about this woman’s choice to bare it all so publicly:
Well, I don’t really know what to say about it. She’s a mother now. You can’t do those kinds of things anymore.
And now I’m wondering about that. I’ve been pondering it for the past day, thinking about what to make of that sentiment. Not so much about the bum in the buff (I offer no commentary about that here at all), but the fact that there are obviously people who think that certain things—like some behaviors, hobbies, and/or pursuits—should or must change solely because a woman has become a mother.
I’m not sure how I feel about that, to be honest with you.
Part of me wants to agree with that on some level, but then I have to answer, why? That’s where I get tripped up and don’t like where I’m going with it. Does it have to do with how we explain things to our children? Is it because we are role models to a new subset of people now? But then what about our past—not only can that not be erased from memory and our children’s ability to discover our “before” (especially in the digital age), but how do we just delete a part of who we are and who we might like to be or do despite having children now? Does it have to do with a certain threshold of behavior that mothers are expected to follow (and if so, is that fair)?
Another part of me wants to disagree. Why can’t she do that if she so chooses? Even though I might not want to bare all on the cover of a magazine (and you should be thankful for that!) or do any other number of “inappropriate” things that we are not “supposed” to do, who’s to say that another mother can’t or shouldn’t? You can take any number of examples and replace them into the cover shoot example, and then that’s when it seems a little unfair. Smoking (I don’t), swearing (I do), being a nude model for an art class, wearing revealing clothing, running a Forbes 100 company that requires many hours away from her child, engaging in inherently dangerous professions like firefighters? Where would those lines be drawn? Seems like a slippery slope to me.
No answers to this really, at least not right now. But it got me thinking that’s for sure.
What do you think? Are there certain things that are off the table solely because someone becomes a mother? Why or why not?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Relevance has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ll tell you why, in a minute, but what I find myself mulling over is this:
How does our desire to be seen and heard tie into relevance?
Is relevance one way we value ourselves and determine our self-worth?
Is there an inherent impermanence to the kind of relevance we need and seek?
How does the barometer measuring our relevance rise and fall when we talk about love, friendship, and living on this lovely blue ball?
Do we need to feel relevant? And if so, to whom, exactly, and why?
I was headed into Boston. I was on my way to my first mammogram. The reflection of full swaths of grey hair staring me down each morning usually does it, but I was feeling particularly forty that morning.
I dislike driving in heavy traffic so I took the T. As I waited on the subway platform, I noticed the slant of light that early October morning. It filtered through the almost leafless sumacs across the tracks onto the concrete platform and yellow warning strip. It reflected in irregular glints along the third rail, a subtle spotlight on the danger that lurked six feet below. I thought the light was lovely, calming even, as I waited with the commuter crowd on my way to an appointment which would render me half naked in less than an hour. I dug my iPhone out of my pocket and shared the scene on Instagram. At forty years old, I felt progressive, if not relevant, in this technophile society.
Even though I really don’t like driving, I prefer taking crowded public transportation only a hair more. I’m claustrophobic in a dentist’s chair or in a windowless room, so bodies pressed upon bodies in a hurtling tube of metal is not exactly relaxing for me. So the other thing I do to talk myself down from my anxious tree is watch people.
The pistons inside my brain started firing immediately when I saw him. He was hipster cool with his glasses and standard issue beard. The black denim jacket added an extra layer of New England badass. He was easily fifteen years my junior. But it was his Anthrax baseball hat and the way he sailed right by me like I was invisible that ultimately pierced the thin skin of my “I don’t need to impress anyone anymore” attitude.
The thing is, I was invisible in that moment, standing there in my grey cardigan and practical black pants. A nameless face in the crowd, just like everyone else. I wasn’t relevant, at least not to him.
I wanted to walk down the platform and tap him on the shoulder and tell him that when I was in middle school—and he didn’t even yet exist—that I had the biggest crush on Scott Ian. That I had two Anthrax posters on my bedroom wall. That I knew all the lyrics to “I Am The Law” and was keen on what efilnikufesin meant. That I would go home later to look up a few of the videos for old time’s sake. That I used to be relevant, man, at least when it came to heavy metal music. That this bland vision of a downtrodden wife and mother on her way to a nondescript hospital exam room, hoping to return in time for after school pickup is not who I really am.
Or is it? Is this who I am now?
Am I still relevant?
I think we all want to leave our mark somehow. We want to know that we mattered, and that people noticed. We want to feel relevant in this world. For me, as I get older, I see that the people that I need to feel relevant to has shifted and the circle has gotten smaller. Though as my brief encounter with Mr. Anthrax shows, not always. That self-conscious girl from high school still lurks in the shadows of my mind and memories. When these blips happen, I wonder why.
Perhaps my looser grip on relevance in and to the wider world now has more to do with my growing sense of mortality rather than a base need to feel admired or respected by others like I used to. Maybe I’ve realized that the currency has changed. At some point, it had to. Instead of my tastes in music or fashion trends, I want to know that my love and presence matter more to others and will be what leaves a lasting impression. Yes, I think I’m coming to see that this is what makes a nisefukinlife.
How does your relevance to others play into your life, if at all? Has its importance diminished over time in certain circles?
In case you missed it, I was at Literary Mama earlier this week. Come see!
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I needed to take a shower when I got home. My shirt, a tank top with a thin cotton button down over it, was still damp in various places, the least of which was where the beads of sweat had coursed down my back. My ponytail was reminiscent of a mid-July afternoon run, with strands sticking to the nape of my neck and frizziness providing a subtle nest effect. As I entered the house, my husband, seeing my condition, cautiously asked, “So, was it fun?”
You see, I had gone on an adventure of sorts. It was not a typical Sunday afternoon, at least not mine. There were loud noises and fast movements. There was fear. There were burning muscles in places too many to name. There were many falls and tripped up feet.
I had taken my daughter roller skating for the first time.
It all sounded like a great idea when it had been pitched by another mom friend of mine. Let’s take the girls roller skating! I was totally game. I loved roller skating when I was younger. My friends and I skated for hours in our driveways, perfecting the “Dannon Body” move (something we saw on a Dannon yogurt commercial, low to the ground with one leg extended out in front). My best birthday party was at the roller rink where they played, by my request, my favorite song: The Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”. It was epic.
Yes, let’s do it. Let’s go roller skating!
When we met up in the roller rink lobby, which, I might add, probably had its last update circa 1985, I was instantly transported back to my youth. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the rink I grew up with. They all seem to have an inherent smell, sound and decor.
I was planning on getting skates to skate with our daughters. In my mind, it was going to be just like riding a bike where once you learn, you never forget—heck, even easier since there were six more wheels!! This was going to be a piece of cake. My friend, however, wasn’t planning on getting skates, but was easily and ultimately persuaded my
Let me pause here for a moment, to describe a few salient traits about my daughter, you know, the one who’s actually never been skating before?
A. She doesn’t like loud noises (covers her ears to flush the toilet and use the hand dryer).
B. She doesn’t like to move very fast.
C. She doesn’t like to move very athletically (unless it’s a 90 degree shallow depth pool).
D. She doesn’t like crowds.
And for those of you who haven’t been in a roller skating rink in recent memory, let me remind you about them:
A. They are very loud.
B. Wheels move very fast. People on skates move very fast.
C. You have to use muscles to balance, stand and move while roller skating.
D. Lots of people like to roller skate. All of them were at the same rink as us yesterday.
So, this gives you an idea of how this day could have only gone completely perfectly, right? Oh, and did I add this was the day after the spring time change. You know, the one where you lose an hour and are off the entire day?
Let me give you a brief synopsis of how our two hour skate time went.
2:00-2:30: Get skates on M and me. In addition to the decor being circa 1985, so were the skates and laces, complete with 27 knots per lace. Mild sweat breaking around neck. Remove fashionable scarf that was meant to show the world I’ve “still got it”.
2:30: Gingerly step onto rink in skates. Feel thighs shaking uncontrollably to balance and not fall in front of M (who takes all cues from me about whether we are “having fun!!!!” or “about to die!!!!”).
2:31: Realize my friend should be in MENSA and I am not qualified to walk alongside her because wearing skates was a huge mistake. We should have worn shoes. She is a wise woman and I should have listened.
2:32: Take M’s hand and her “walker” and gingerly get them onto the rink next to me. She’s already fallen three times just trying to stand up. Feel my antiperspirant start to fail.
2:33-3:15: Fall, trip, swear (no one heard me BECAUSE OF HOW LOUD IT WAS), tell M 67,190 times to “stand up straight” and 98,304 times she’s “doing great!!!!!”, take three breaks along the carpeted sidewall, and make it 3/4 of the way around the rink. 45 minutes to go about 50 yards.
3:15-3:30: Pull off to the side near the snack bar to refuel with pizza and water for the girls. Now standing still enough to feel the beads of sweat dripping down my back. Watch the other kids do the hokey-pokey and cursing them out under my breath for all of their pompous self-confidence and mad skating skills. Pfft. Whatever.
3:31: Girls finish eating. I secretly hope they are all done skating for the day.
3:32: Hopes dashed. I return my skates and put shoes on to see if this helps me guide my fledgling, flailing skater girl around the rink.
3:34: M has to pee. Oh, and yeah, she’s still on skates and has that DAMN WALKER contraption! I deserve some kind of medal for the moves I made in that bathroom in helping her go without cracking open her skull on the toilet that might have not been cleaned since 1985 either. I’ll spare you the details.
3:38: Place M and her stupid walker on the rink. Realize that having street shoes on makes no difference in my ability to guide her. Regretting buying bottled water which is now crashing into me and her in my crossbody bag as I lean forward to help her catch up with her friend. Since when does bottled water weigh 27 pounds?! She’s yelling at me to hold on and to let go of her (WTF!?). I’m yelling at her. Neither of us can hear each other because turndownthatdamnmusic!!! Plus side: thighs no longer hurt from clenching to prevent falling. Down side: lower back does.
3:38-4:00: Make it two more times around the rink with minimal improvement over first revolution. I’m pretty sure they put liquid soap on the floor and greased the hell out of the skate axels. The only direction M’s feet are not going is forward. She’s getting frustrated and red and teary. At least nine times she was thisclose to giving up. Her tenacity is fading and she’s losing desire to keep skating. I’m increasing in desire for a cocktail. Or five.
4:00: The girls have had enough. Skates returned. I emerge from the roller skating rink into fresh parking lot air, never more thankful to have both of us without wheels attached to our feet. There is some discussion of “let’s do this again!”. I make mental note to break my leg before that date comes. Dad’s turn next time.
Did we have fun? I’m not sure that that is the right word. But I will say this: I was extremely proud of my daughter. This kind of activity, much less the environment, was well outside of her comfort zone (and, so it seems, mine too). What’s more, I don’t usually volunteer to do these kinds of things with her because I have witnessed her feed off of my negative/anxious vibe—her dad is far more laid back in these kinds of situations and so often is the one we agree is best suited to take her. But this was a girls’ day we had planned and so I wanted to go. She said more than a few times while we were “skating” that she was frustrated and sad because she thought that she and her friend would be able to skate next to each other. She had a vision in her mind that they would be skating hand in hand while skating to “Let It Go” 49 times in a row, with no one else on the rink. You know, like a Dannon yogurt commercial.
Yet she didn’t give up. And so neither did I. We both suck at skating, that was clear. But we didn’t let it get us down. That, perhaps, was the bomb dropped on me yesterday, seeing her with some grit for a change. If nothing else, she will remember this day because she didn’t give up, not because of some marginal level of fun that was supposed to surface.
Plus, that Gap Band song I loved so much as a young girl? They played it yesterday. Considering I didn’t request it, it felt like some kind of sign. And it’s just as awesome now as it was in 1982, even if I no longer have the moves. Here, listen for yourself.
Despite my uninspired clothing choices, I actually enjoy watching the spectacle of things like the Oscars and seeing all of the glamour and fashion. It’s really the only reason I even watch these award shows, having not usually seen a single one of the movies or TV shows being recognized. I’ve even come to love, after years of watching, certain designers like Carolina Herrera and Vera Wang. If I can’t watch the award show in real time, I might recap the Best Dressed lists online while drinking my coffee the next morning.
But lately, something has been bothering me about another facet of these fashion frenzies: the Worst Dressed lists. Don’t get me wrong. I used to go through these lists too and got some entertainment out of it. Remember the whole Lara Flynn Boyle ballerina dress debacle? And even though I am a huge fan of Bjork (one of the best shows I ever saw), even I was scratching my head about that swan!
Yet now, I find I’m increasingly turned off by Worst Dressed lists. So much of it seems, well, mean-spirited. In effect, these lists (and the people who compile them) are making fun of other people for really no reason other than what they decided to wear one night. I’d never let my six year old get away with that kind of commentary (and I’m sure most other parents wouldn’t either), so I wonder why these kinds of lists are deemed acceptable in the media, particularly by us as readers.
I’m also starting to wonder what kind of message these Worst Dressed lists send to girls. It seems like sanctioned mean girl-ness. To an extent, it almost seems misdirected because we are shaming the person (or their stylist) who is merely wearing or chose the dress. After all, it’s not like they designed it. Plus, when I think about how I tell my own young daughter (or heck, myself) to not care what other people think about what clothes she might be wearing (have you seen a six year old mix and match patterns lately?), or that the clothes are not the most important part of the person, it seems contradictory to disgrace people who look “the worst”. If the person wearing the ensemble feels great in it, who are we to say they were wrong to wear it?
Even having a Best Dressed list, much less the three-hour red carpet analysis about an actor’s wardrobe (rather than focusing on their actual talents and the reason they are there to begin with), is arguably also a slippery slope. Then again, it is fun to see fashion done and worn well, and so I don’t have as much of a problem with giving a nod to the best of the best. Let’s continue to be dazzled by interesting colors and fabrics, and celebrate good tailoring and beadwork when we see it.
We all make questionable fashion choices from time to time (me maybe more than others). So why is it appropriate to publicly call these folks out—aren’t we all entitled to a bad day? Whatever happened to if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?
I’m sure that most of the stars on the Worst Dressed list are not losing any sleep about this. But the fact that we, as a society, think that this is an OK ranking to begin with, that’s what makes me squirm a little. I think I am more mindful of the potential mixed messages being sent now that I am living with a daughter who is increasingly attentive to what she puts on her body before heading to school. It’s one thing to not like another’s taste or style. It’s wholly another to call them out with close-up photos and pick them apart from head to toe with a wide media audience watching and listening, especially girls.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Last week was school vacation week, which meant that M was home with me for an entire week, nonstop. My husband was also home for the first three days of the week, thankfully. Yet despite the joint caretaking, and a few play dates peppered throughout the second half of the week when he was back at work, the truth is that by Friday, I felt like I was suffocating. It probably didn’t help that we’ve had about 700 snow days this year, and that I don’t really believe there should even be a February vacation (I’d much rather forgo it if it means an additional week of summer). Also, the inability for me to have the daily breaks of solitude—which I need for both my own mental well being and to accomplish things for my clients—results in me feeling frazzled and inept at everything. I was already starting from a cabin fevered state of mind.
Now six and a half years in with M, and just about three years now of working for myself (at home, about 25 hours a week, give or take…though lately, take) here is what I firmly know:
1) disruptions to routine result in immense frustration for both M and me; and
2) having vast amounts of unstructured, uncommitted time together leads to the perfect storm of tears, guilt and remorse, for both of us.
Don’t get me wrong. We had some fun things planned to fill the time (like a day at the Museum of Science), and I took the initiative to schedule a few playdates for her so that she wouldn’t be totally miserable without some kid companionship during the time off.
Fast forward to the moment on Friday when M made it clear that she felt like I wasn’t pulling my weight in the “Fun, Attentive and Engaging” department around here. Specifically, she observed me on my phone and thought I was ignoring her with something frivolous (not that it matters, but what I was actually doing was responding to an email about some matters related to the nonprofit board I serve on). Her friend had left just three minutes before (after a 3 hour playdate) and I was on my phone for that brief moment as I contemplated what to do next in the wake of her request to “play Frozen”. I felt wholly unappreciated at what I had already done so far in that day, much less that week.
And that’s when I lost it. I launched into a largely unfair soliloquy that was directed at her, with messages that, while not specifically stated this way, essentially were along the lines of “I do so much for you and have made sacrifices by choosing to work at home/less than full time . . . working from home makes it easy to be unfairly judged for time spent on the computer/phone/reading because I’m living in a fishbowl . . . maybe it would be better if I just worked outside the home full time so that it didn’t seem like I was ignoring anyone or anything . . . maybe vacation camp or afterschool would be a better idea instead?”
I didn’t yell. I didn’t wag my finger. I did it largely under my breath as I put down my phone and folded an entire basket of laundry with record speed just to release the frustration I was feeling and the tension now filling the living room. It was undoubtedly awful.
Then she started silently folding laundry with me. Immediately, there was guilt for my reaction, or at least the vocalization of it, and it was crushing. I had tears in my eyes while trying to match the socks. Watching her fold the laundry with me made me feel like an ogre. I suddenly recalled a story from my childhood when I apparently told my mother “I’ll eat the hot dog” after my brother didn’t eat his on a family outing and my parents (one or both, I can’t remember) were pretty ticked off about it. I was trying to keep the peace back then and she was doing that very thing right now, all so our parents wouldn’t be upset.
Later, a day maybe, I was wondering why was I feeling like that. The guilt of saying those things out loud, but also of just feeling overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and utter failure as a parent and woman (I know, it’s hyperbole, but that was how I was feeling the time). We often read about the mommy wars, but honestly I’ve never had anyone directly say anything to me that was even remotely judgmental, either when I was working full time as an attorney or after deciding to ratchet back and be home more. Not other moms, not my friends, not my husband, not my parents. In fact, the fact that no one has ever expressed anything to me about what I might be doing “wrong” made me wonder whether some of the purported mommy wars are more of an indicator of one’s own self-doubt rather than any overt judgment (or ignorance) they’ve actually encountered, but that’s for another day.
What, exactly, was the source of my guilt? I’ve been thinking about it a bit and have come up with a few possibilities. The first is knowing how my mother raised my brother and me by being home all the time. Even if she was feeling it, I never got a sense that she didn’t want to be there or that she’d rather be doing something else to fill part of her days. Granted, the opportunities and expectations for young moms in the mid-1970s were arguably narrower than what’s available for women born during that time, but still she seemed totally committed and fulfilled by being home with us. I know, and M has implicitly pointed it out too, that I have my mind elsewhere a lot of times. It’s clear that there are sometimes other things I might rather be tackling instead of playing an hour of fairies or the drudgery of making another dinner that must be cooked and eaten before whining sets in. I’m sure I carry a subtle air of distraction and discontent too much of the time. I grapple with how this message will come across to and ultimately be translated by M as she treks into her own womanhood, one that will undoubtedly have myriad paths from which to choose. Then, when I think of my own mother and how she did it for us, I feel guilty about my reactions and distractions.
Another trigger for my guilt, I am now only recently realizing, stems from my parents’ divorce. Without giving any details, suffice it to say I am hyper-aware about feelings of abandonment, especially in the eyes of children. Looking back, I now wonder whether this is why I was always so quick to react to her cries and separation anxiety (in the middle of the night, at school drop offs, etc.) or why I would almost immediately allay her worry during times that I might be disappointed with her conduct (I do far less rapid smoothing over as I once did; I now know it’s actually healthy for her to learn how to handle the emotions and consequences that come with being in the hot seat for something, especially because she’s a people pleaser). I don’t want her to think I’m not trustworthy or not “there” for her, even though I know I’ve never given her a reason to think so.
I think, on some level, my shifting—both in content and intensity—of career over the years after college and law school results in some guilt. It’s not like those old college professors and former bosses are still grading my performance, yet I remain inexplicably fixated on the failure to complete my original plan as much as the revised plan(s). I am not doing what I initially set out to do. I am also not doing what I am currently doing particularly well (turns out I am not a good boss of myself). Whatever implicit or expected bargains and goals I had with and for myself, and, to a degree, with my husband, have not panned out. And though that has luckily resulted in me not being stuck in a career that wasn’t for me, it also feels slightly indulgent and self-absorbed to still be figuring out what I want to be “when I grow up.” So the guilt sets in: Why can’t I get my shit together and be really good at this? Why can’t I ever “finish” and stay committed to anything? Am I a good role model to M in this way?
Then the little things creep in too. Am I over-committed outside of my most immediate responsibilities or do I just have poor time management skills? Maybe if we had not chosen to have one child she wouldn’t feel so lonely/bored/clingy sometimes. Maybe if we moved to another neighborhood with children in it, she could get out there and play more. Maybe if I pushed her to do more than swimming (the only thing she loves to do), she might feel more confident/energized/socially outgoing. On an academic level, I know none of those things actually really matters. But when your six year old is essentially chastising you for taking a moment for yourself after a week home together, and you resent her for it, you begin to wonder about where you might’ve taken a wrong turn.
But at the end of the day, I now realize the summation of these guilt triggers all seem to come down to one thing: me. I am my own problem. It appears that I am not so confident about my decisions, choices and conduct much of the time. I am second guessing my actions far too much, and the end result is terse words for other people, followed by guilt. The trick, of course, is going to be learning how to overcome all of this. After a life of being graded and ranked so much of time, whether it be in school or professionally, it is hard to just audit this life course. Maybe that’s why so many of us internally compare ourselves to others. My only benchmark should be against myself, yet I’m my own worst enemy. And when the guilt sets in, none of what I’m doing ultimately ends up being fulfilling or evokes happiness. That, for me, seems to be the most unfair to those around me, those who have unconditionally given me wide berth to be the person who I am meant to be.
I am sure none of us will ever live entirely guilt free, at least not as long as there are multiple options always available to us. For me, I think a good starting point will be some letting go of several preconceived notions about what life should look like at this point. Given my family obligations and the boundaries that I have set down around me, I need to lower my expectations of my ability to do certain other things. But perhaps most importantly, I need to invest in some trust in myself that I am not the other people who’ve helped shape my worldview, inasmuch as I am not the same person I was twenty years ago. I need to accept more realities (and fewer fantasies) and know that there is no room for guilt in doing so.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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