Posted by Deborah Huso on Dec 9, 2013 in Motherhood
, Mothers and Daughters
Not everyone within my sphere of influence agrees with how I raise my daughter. I’ll admit, there are things about my parenting that look a little risky. Not the least of which is the way I don’t protect her from the realities of life.
For example, I cry in front of her. I have done this since she was very small. Thus, she has come to see tears as a natural expression of sadness, which like any human emotion, is a temporary state. And she knows instinctively, so it appears at times, what to do with another person’s sadness….
“Mommy, why are you sad? Who has been mean to you?”
And I will explain in the best terms I can for a six-year-old to grasp. And Heidi will put her soft little arms around my neck, plant my cheeks with kisses, and say perfectly reasonable and comforting things like, “Sometimes life is complicated, but it will be okay. I will always love you and be here for you.”
Profound yet so simple.
I asked my friend, Bill, the father of three, how my daughter knows to say these things that adults are so often incapable of saying, “Children are pure and untainted,” he says. “Honesty and sincerity come naturally to them.”
And then life breeds it out of them. Sometimes parents do, too. I know my parents did. Their efforts were well-meaning. They thought they were doing the right thing, both in protecting me from their adult troubles and in teaching me to protect myself from letting others see me.
But the thing is—kids have emotional intuition on a scale that most adults do not. No one has to tell them that Mommy and Daddy are worried about how to pay all their bills or that Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other anymore. They may not know what is wrong, but they know something is. And then they act out and fret themselves silly the way children who are afraid and uncertain will do—maybe they will misbehave at school; maybe their grades will plummet; maybe they will have anxiety attacks.
My parents never fooled me. And their efforts to protect me often had the opposite effect. I tried to fix complicated things that were broken. When Dad didn’t give Mom a Mother’s Day gift one year, and I saw how upset she was by it, I changed the card on the rhododendron I had given her to read Dad’s name instead of my own. I figured it was much more hurtful to her to be neglected by my father than by a little girl. She saw through my ruse, of course.
And then when I couldn’t figure out how to fix the things I didn’t understand because no one was explaining them to me, I would cry…only to be confronted with admonitions from both my parents to quell my tears, not to alert the world I was vulnerable.
Trust no one, my parents words and actions told me. Rely on yourself. Keep your true feelings to yourself. Don’t let anyone know they are getting to you. Then they hold power over you.
I do not resent my parents for any of this. They did the best they knew how. They raised me as they had been raised. Granted, it took me nearly 20 years to train myself out of that mode of thinking, to be fearlessly who I am before the world, to let people in even at the risk of great pain, to both give and receive love and solace openly.
Honesty and sincerity still work in this world…if both sides are willing to offer them up.
When I’ve had a rough day, and I snap at my daughter for being too chatty and asking too many questions of my exhausted brain, she will frown, look me in the eye and say, “It hurts my feelings when you yell at me.”
How many adults would do this? Most would walk away, resentful, and give me the silent treatment for the rest of the day for wounding them.
Not Heidi. No way is she going to let anger fester.
And I recognize what I have taught her—honesty, straightforwardness no matter what.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’ve had a stressful day. I did not mean to yell at you.” And I kiss her on the forehead. She is satisfied. Everything is as it was two minutes before.
Heidi knows people get over shit.
If they allow themselves to….
But hardened adults that we are, wounded by life, torn asunder by love gone wrong, protective of what little hope we have left, carry our resentments, our anger, our pain under lock and key, where it festers and corrodes, slowly destroying any chance we have left of unfettered joy—the joy of being who we are and letting others love us for it.
Heidi knows, even at the tender age of 6, what pain and trouble look like. She has seen her parents divorce. She has seen her mother hurt. She has seen elderly relatives sick and fading, slowly losing their minds. She comes home from school some days and tells me plainly about a boy who pushed her on the playground or a girl who called her a mean name and asks my advice. I tell her, “Keep your distance from people who hurt you. Surround yourself with good people, people who make you feel good about yourself.”
I did not come to this wisdom easily. I have learned it from long and difficult experience and from deeply kind and loving friends like Bill, whom I’ve known since childhood. When I commented that openness and honesty, though I strive for them, often leave me in the lurch when it comes to human relationships, that too many people seem to find those qualities threatening, he remarked, “Be true to yourself, and you will draw good people to you. Don’t waste your time on people who can’t take you exactly as you are.”
It was the same advice I had given to Heidi hours before, just spoken a little bit differently.
May my daughter remember it always, even once she is gone from me, that she may not waste time, as I too often have, on people who are afraid of themselves and, therefore, afraid of her.
Posted by Claire Vath on Dec 3, 2013 in Musings
, Success Guide
, Writer Rants
A year ago, I walked into a meeting and was introduced to a longtime editor. “I’m an admirer of your writing,” she said.
I turned to see who it was she was complimenting.
“Me?” I asked, flushing. There was no one else there.
“Yes, you,” she said, smiling. “I love your work.”
It’s something I’ve been doing professionally for a decade now—and something I’ve been doing informally my whole life—but when people ask what I do, I sort of laugh when I say, “Well, I guess I’m a writer. I write, at least.” Because, even to my ears, it doesn’t sound real. So when someone gives anything close to recognition, it’s just … odd.
Apparently other people think it’s not quite a real thing either. In a meeting a few months back, a client leaned back in his chair and asked, as though he were joking: “So if you do a lot of work for us, do you give us a discount on your hourly rate?”
It ain’t manual labor, folks, but writing is hard work. (A point which Mollie Bryan made a few weeks back.)
You’d pay me if I sat at a desk all day inputting numbers into a database. Right? Or if I answered phones all day and made copies. Or wasted time playing Solitaire at an office desk. (Does anyone actually play Solitaire anymore??) Or if I cleaned your house or mowed your lawn or cooked your meals.
But yet … some people balk when you ask for money in exchange for words.
My job as a writer is to come up with smoothly flowing sentences and correctly spelled words so you come across as competent.
Nine-point-eight times out of 10, writing is far from inspired. I’m not exuberantly scratching out with my quill pen some existential work that will transform mankind with the gravitas of my words. Mostly, I’m drinking too much coffee and sleepily squinting as I slog through a story that doesn’t particularly interest me while trying to make it sound interesting to a reader. Or I’m crafting interview questions designed to draw out from an interviewee a really great quote that will neatly fit my ideal of what a story should be.
And then there’s the mental toll—mulling those sentences and leads over and over again while I can’t sleep at night, while I’m taking a shower or doing the laundry. It takes time, effort, careful culling and editing to craft a story, a press release, an e-mail. I may not be doing manual labor, but for every physical hour I spend typing up a blog post or your newsletter or web copy, I’m spending at least twice that working it out in my head, editing and re-editing for you.
To ask me to discount that is frankly insulting.
So when that prospective client asked me about my “writer’s discount,” I gasped but recovered quickly.
If I’d had my wits about me, I’d have said: “So, do you take a pay cut if you work more than 40 hours a week?” (Judging by his shiny Lexus that was parked just outside, I’d be willing to bet not.)
Or: “My job as your writer is to make you sound less like the idiot you apparently are.”
Instead, “Do you know how expensive diapers are?” in a saccharine-y sweet voice that showed I was also pretending to joke, was my response. (Judging by my post-college compact car stuffed with diapers and car seats, I was not joking.)
I got the job.
And, a few weeks later, an e-mail. That same client sent me his self-written press release as background for an article I was supposed to write.
The press release copy was rife with misspellings that could have easily been caught … with spell check.
“Did you mail that out yet?” I wrote him back.
His reply: “Yeah, LOL. Did you see any boo boos? ”
… I’m worth much more than my hourly rate.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Nov 23, 2013 in Men
Before I get called out for my blog post title here, let me make an acknowledgement: I’m a hot mess. Not a hot mess on the scale of Rihanna, for example. That’s blazing hot mess. I’m more like a just above luke warm hot mess…on an average day anyway.
Thus, you won’t find me judging men who are hot messes, but I will comment, particularly since men are so darn fond of denial. The first time I ever told a man he was a hot mess, he gave me that famous deer in the headlights look, chuckled a bit, and became thoughtful for a very long time. Uh-huh. Wheels turning. Maybe I AM a hot mess, he was thinking.
Of course, he is! As my friend Sarah points out, “Let’s face it: at our age, there’s gonna be baggage. No way to avoid it.”
So dating and falling in love in one’s 30s and 40s is not about avoiding baggage. It’s more about deciding how much baggage you’re willing to take on…in addition to your own, of course.
“My preference is a carry-on bag,” Sarah says. “I’ll let a man have that one for free. But if he’s got extra baggage, I think there should be a handling fee, just like the airlines.”
I couldn’t agree more, particularly since I’ve had the foolhardy experience of falling in love with men dragging steamer trunks.
The worst part is if you’ve got someone traveling with a steamer trunk, you often don’t know it. That’s because, in this day and age, they disguise the trunk as a cocktail table or other piece of interior decor—an antique conversation piece that they claim is empty. It’s just there to enhance the eclectic design of the room.
Um, no shit.
Maybe steamer trunk is the wrong word. More like Pandora’s box…because women being women, we rarely give up hope entirely. And because we’re naturally more curious than men about the contents of personal baggage, we open the steamer trunks, find them bursting with paraphernalia, but by the time we shut them in a desperate act of regret, it’s too late. The guy’s shit has flown the coop and, more often than not, squarely landed in our laps. (You might want to refer to my post “Emotional Diarrhea” for more on how that feels.)
For better or worse, the two longest term romantic relationships of my life have been with men dragging steamer trunks. The first one at least acknowledged on occasion that there was something in the trunk: twice divorced parents, childhood emotional neglect, parental brutality, etc.
The second one, however, was always sitting on the trunk, legs crossed, looking smug. He was so good at hiding his baggage that he actually convinced me for a time that I was the one with excess checked luggage plus a rather weighty carry-on. (And I will admit, I always overstuff my carry-on. I hate baggage fees.)
One day, however, I gave him a hard nudge, knocked him off his “decorative” steamer trunk, unlocked it, and lifted the lid wide open. I got hit hard with more dirty laundry than I’d ever seen in my life. Fortunately, by that point in my life, I’d learned what to do with clothes where you just cannot get the stains out no matter how hard you try: throw them out and update your wardrobe.
The interesting thing about this last experience of loving a man with excess luggage, however, was that he seemed even more shocked by the contents of his steamer trunk than I was. (I gather he had probably not unpacked it in a long time.)
And right now, I cannot help but wonder if he’s actually trying to launder and repair all those old musty shirts and slacks and torn up underwear or if he’s just locked them all back up in the trunk again and thrown away the key…hopeful that the next woman won’t be smart enough to find it or will at least believe him when he says he’s cleaned up his act…ahem, I mean baggage.
In the meantime, I’m quietly lugging my own overstuffed carry-on. It’s on roller wheels. (It became too heavy to carry via shoulder strap years ago.) I always worry I might have to unzip it and share some small tidbit of the past with another passenger on this trip called life, and that scares me a little because, once opened, my overstuffed bag, is hard to get shut again. Sometimes I have to sit on it. And, even then, the seams threaten to burst.
Which is probably why another friend of mine and fellow contributor, Susannah, is quick to point out the other reason one should never settle for a man with more than a carry-on bag. “After all, you want him to have a free hand to help you with your luggage, too….”
Posted by Mollie Bryan on Nov 19, 2013 in Men
, Mothers and Daughters
My daughters with Princess Belle
When my daughters were small, we’d play the princess game. I’d make up little quizzes about each Disney princess and they would guess which princess belonged with which trait. I also played this game with Goddesses—but that’s another story.
I always told them that Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was my favorite for two reasons—she loves books and she sees the beast for who he really is. And hey, it worked out for Belle, didn’t it?
I think a lot about myth, story, and fairytale. My girls and I never miss an episode of “Once Upon A Time,” which is a modern-day mash-up of fairy tales. I also loved the “Beauty and the Beast” show that was popular in the 1980s. The “beast” lives beneath the streets of New York City in this fabulous underground space full of books and antiques. So romantic. He was another beast that had that softness underneath him.
I love that kind of man—sort of rough and bristly on the outside, but a real sweetheart underneath. Part of the deliciousness of a relationship with this kind of man is that very few people know him like you do. My own husband is kind of like this. There’s something about a man who is confident, in-charge, and knows what he wants—and feels good about taking it.
But the danger in falling for a beast type, of course, is that sometimes a beast is just a beast.
Which leads to the arduous trial of trying to separate the real beasts from the crusty on the outside but soft on the inside ones.
So much of that can mean years of sorting through our own personal mythologies where we tell ourselves things like “boys will be boys,” (or Goddess forbid) “If I give him one more chance, I know he won’t drink/cheat/hit me again.” These are the kinds of beasts that deserve no second glimpses. Maybe someday he will change, but probably not, and who has time for that crap?
Move on, sister.
On the other hand, a cool part of the story is that Belle overlooks the beast’s horrific face to see him for who he is. And this is a great lesson. I can point out several men that I’ve been attracted to immediately; then they start talking and reveal they are sexist or stupid, and suddenly the attraction is gone. I’ve had it work the other way, too, where an attraction grows as I get to know someone. This is definitely, for me, the best way.
So as the mother of two daughters who love story, I use the “Beauty and the Beast” story sometimes in my parenting. My oldest daughter is almost fifteen, and she flits from crush to crush and boy to boy. But every once in awhile, a boy comes along that she falls hard for—and most of the time, he’s more of the “beast” variety.
For example, her current crush is a high school senior. (She is a freshmen.) One minute he seems to be leading her on, the next minute he acts like a jerk. Of course, I took the opportunity to point out that, first of all, he’s too old for her. Secondly, whether he really likes her or not is not her problem. You judge people on how they treat you. Period. Okay, he’s basically a kid and maybe a bit confused himself. I get that. But his confusion is not my daughter’s problem. She needs to believe that.
I also took the opportunity to point out that he may be very cute on the outside, but may be a beast on the inside. It’s so hard to see people for who they really are. In truth, I still struggle with this in my own life. I wish I could see my own friends, colleagues and so on as clearly as I can see hers. The cute guy on the outside really will do nobody any good if the inside is beastly.
Sounds very simple doesn’t it? But the truth of the matter is we are emotional creatures, responding to attractions on base levels at times. I’ve made those mistakes where I don’t listen to the voice in my head, but instead I follow the more fun lusty voice that made me feel sexy, even for just one night. Or two. Hell, maybe even more than a few years. “He’s not really as bad as he seems.” Or “I will be the one who can save him.” It never led me to a good place.
I’m not exactly Belle, who ended up living in a castle with a prince—most of us are not. And while I find myself wanting to sharpen my swords and cut down the beasts in my daughter’s lives, I know it’s futile. They will each have to find their own way, learn their own lessons of the heart and body. I can advise, but mostly, I will have to watch from the sidelines, open mind, open heart, open arms.
But I’ll keep my swords nice and sharp—albeit tucked behind my back. You never know when there might be a real beast to take down.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Nov 15, 2013 in Motherhood
, Mothers and Daughters
Eating gelato in Venice on Thanksgiving Day
A friend of mine whose had some pretty sad experiences over the holidays, ranging from ending her marriage one year to losing her mother to cancer another, told me recently she was making her home into a “holiday-free zone.” “No turkeys, Christmas trees, or mistletoe are getting into this house,” she proclaimed.
I regret to say I fully understand. I haven’t exactly had the best run on Thanksgiving/Christmas seasons myself. Long married to a man who eschewed much celebration of Christmas because it reminded him too much of being tugged back and forth between divorced parents as a child and having long been a member of a dysfunctional family extraordinaire (i.e. relatives who can sit at the same dinner table for an hour or more and never make eye contact much less speak), the holidays often seem to me more like something to “get through” than to enjoy.
The last couple of years I’ve found creative ways to escape the holidays. I spent Thanksgiving 2011 in Venice, Italy, where there was not a sign anywhere that Americans across the Atlantic were gathering around extended dining room tables carving succulent birds and spooning cranberries onto the fine china that’s pulled out only twice a year. And Christmas 2012, I was so desperate to escape family drama, I opted for taking my daughter to Disney World as an excuse for not showing up to the holiday dinner table.
So far my daughter hasn’t minded…or at least hasn’t noticed. But I wonder sometimes if that’s because she just hasn’t had much experience with the Norman Rockwell version of Christmas. And honestly, do any of us? At least since passing the age of 12 when we started to notice that maybe our aunts and uncles really weren’t that fond of one another and that Grandma so-and-so hadn’t spoken to her son’s wife in five years?
Another friend has troubles at Christmas because her mother can’t bear to be in the same room with her father. They are divorced but can’t make nice even for a day. And honestly, why should they have to? How is it the holidays have become this obligatory family-free-for-all, where if the relatives aren’t engaging in shouting matches over some 20-year-old spat, they are at least sitting there sullenly wishing they were home instead watching football or reading a good book?
I have some acquaintances who hold what they term “a dysfunctional Thanksgiving.” It’s a gathering of friends, not family, over a prodigious feast and is open to anyone who would rather be there than at a family dinner table. Not surprisingly, it draws quite a crowd.
Christmas at Disney World
I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to establish my own version of a “holiday-free zone” this year. Granted I’ve already started putting up a few Christmas wreaths here and there (though I’m truly debating whether or not to drag the 9 ft. tall artificial fir tree out of the basement and spend 6 hours decorating it while stepping precariously from step ladder to step ladder).
I might just send my daughter off to spend Thanksgiving with her father’s dysfunctional family and curl up in front of the fire with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. As for Christmas, I found myself eyeing some winter trips to Austria and Germany that, as luck would have it, fall right over December 25.
And in an effort to avoid the over-the-top Christmas cheer already showing up in shopping malls and department stores, I think I’ve figured out a way to order all my gifts online and have them delivered to my doorstep…or someone else’s. Heck, with any luck, I might even be able to avoid wrapping paper, ribbons, and Scotch tape.
Though to be quite honest, it’s not the decorations that get to me so much or even the hours and hours of gift wrapping. It’s the childhood memories of traditions that will never be again that often make my Christmas blue.
I know my grandmother, who now lives in a nursing home and is suffering from Alzheimer’s, will no longer oversee my creation of Lemon Cloud. Nor will I ever watch her and my mother roll out dough for flatbread and lefse anymore. Dad and I will never sit together competing over who can make the most elaborate bow to plunk on a gift, and I’ll never climb into bed with my giggling cousins and store contraband soda pop in frosted bedroom windows for midnight snack.
And in the midst of all that loss, I struggle with how to shape the holidays for my daughter, wondering if I would even be doing her any favors by trying to recreate the holidays I thought I knew as a child, holidays where my parents and grandparents may have felt just as displaced as I do now.
Perhaps, in the end, it’s better to scoop her off on a Christmas Caribbean vacation or to spend Thanksgiving reading books in front of the fire. These are traditions that can keep going and going, that don’t require loads of extended family, that don’t rely on rituals that will die when the grandparents die, and where the holiday décor and baking isn’t associated with a sense of loss.
Because I don’t want Heidi feeling one day, as I do now, that January 2 cannot get here fast enough. No, I want her to feel confident in celebrating the joys of the season without the guilt-ridden obligations of family or the sense that her life is somehow inadequate if it doesn’t include a spouse, two kids, and a dog.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Nov 11, 2013 in Motherhood
, Mothers and Daughters
Me with the object of my mother love
My dad often tells me I am a lot like my maternal grandfather. That may seem a strange thing, but my dad loved his father-in-law, probably more than my grandfather’s own children loved him. “I missed him for years after he died,” Dad tells me every so often.
So did I. I still do.
I was not quite six years old when he died, but he was like glistening sunshine to me. Lanky and energetic, he smoked a blue streak. To this day, I get lonesome for him when I smell Lucky Strikes. He drank coffee by the gallons, walked fast, dreamed big, worked hard. He wasn’t perfect. I know he had a firecracker temper. But for me, at five, he was the man who scooped me up into his lap and taught me to butter Norwegian flatbread, called me “Grandpa’s cocklebur,” and took me for rides in his big Case tractor, played with me on the floor, put together my doll carriages, held me in his arms while watching football.
His love was big; so was mine.
Because of him, because of my grandmother (his wife), my dad, and later, my dearest friends, I know what love looks like. It is full on, vulnerable, brave, beautiful, self-sacrificing, and wild. It is “no matter what.” And it lives through fear, and anger, and disappointment.
It is not the kind of love I ever knew from my mother, and that is a hard thing in a world where mother love is celebrated as the greatest love there is.
My mother taught me many things when I was a child—to think for myself, not to follow the herd, to stand up for what I believed in, to do my best. But, contrary to popular notions of motherhood, she was not the one who taught me love.
And it’s okay.
Not that it always feels okay. But rationally, it’s okay. I receive my “mother love” from nearly a dozen other sources. From the women friends who text me in my lowest moments and tell me I am “an awesome person, mother, and friend.” From the mother of my childhood best friend who has half adopted me and told me she will always be there for me. Even from my own daughter, only six, who wraps soft arms around my neck, plants wet kisses on my cheek and says, “I will always love you, Mommy, and always take care of you.”
My daughter is, in the end, the true measure of my mother love. In many ways, my mother no more approves of her than she does of me. Heidi is, in her view, too opinionated, too vocal, too willful, too brave. She asks me about Heidi’s academics, wants to know if she is the smartest kid in class, wonders why I don’t push her harder.
And it’s simple. That’s not my way. My love is different, not wrong, but different. I don’t care if Heidi is the smartest, the most talented, the loveliest. I do care, however, if she is kind, loving, generous. When I attended my most recent conference with Heidi’s teacher, my heart swelled when I heard my daughter made everyone laugh, made people happy, made her peers, especially the new kid in school, feel welcome.
Because my life experience has taught me one can indeed get a fair distance in the working world with smarts and drive. But getting somewhere in life…that’s about love. And Heidi overflows with it.
When I tackle her in a hug and send her to the floor in kisses and tickles until she is squealing with delight, my mother will frown at the noise and fuss that no one is helping her make Christmas dinner. My dad, however, will peek around the corner with a grin and say with mock sternness, “What’s going on in here?”
That’s what’s going on.
Mother love. And you don’t have to be a mother to give it. Or perfect to receive it. One day, I know, my little girl will grow up to be the kind of woman that people miss for years after she is gone…the way I miss my grandfather. Who loved loud, and hard, and big.
Posted by Claire Vath on Nov 8, 2013 in Motherhood
, Success Guide
My serene work environment….
It was my dream job, the one I imagined while I sat in meetings sipping tepid coffee out of a styrofoam cup: I want to be a stay-at-home mom and writer.
“It will be great!” I mused to my husband. “Don’t you want all your laundry done, a hot meal, and clean house?”
He rolled his eyes.
“I’ll work too!” I told him. “I’ll need something else to do anyway. I’ll write and edit from home,” I said, picturing myself sipping a cup of coffee and flexing my creative muscle while my child played quietly at my feet.
The driven, perfectionist side of me believed I could be at home all day, cook a hot meal, keep a clean house, find time for hobbies, laundry and meet deadlines.
Those were the lies I told myself pre-children.
But I am a “Yes” person, finding it hard to turn down freelance jobs … mainly to prove to myself that I can do it all and do it all well.
Then I began working from home. My son was 4 months old, and I had a phone interview. In addition to my research preparation and list of questions, I had a spread-out blanket on the floor beside me, a myriad of chewed-on toys that jingled and made music, a bottle and three pacifiers for good measure. I was leaving nothing to chance.
Once on the phone I was confident that, put to the test, my child would be great.
I asked the first question in my list and the person on the phone launched into an explanation which I furiously scribbled down on a pad while keeping one eye on my child.
And my baby, well, he projectile vomited all over me, the floor, himself. On the first question.
One tiny, helpless human being was difficult, yes, but then when I found out a second helpless human was on the way—the first only 7 months old—I panicked. But the second was born, and I was even more determined to do it all, be it all. Maybe even while wearing a dress and makeup?
“Wouldn’t it be even more impressive if I took on more work and responsibilities while raising two children under the age of 2?” These were questions I asked my subconscious, as I told clients “Yes” in the same breath.
“Yes, I’d love to edit monthly copy for you.”
“Sure, I can fill in this month.”
“Next month? Well, yes. That’d be fine.”
“Oh, that story sounds like it’d be fun. Yes, I’ll accept the assignment.”
“Yes, writing product copy would be great!”
I was Rosie the Riveter! I could be it all! The consummate professional, maternal goddess, Martha Stewart, made-up wife.
But my life is far from Pinterest-worthy. It’s 11:30 a.m. as I type this. I am wearing Christmas pajama pants with a T-shirt—my husband’s undershirt he wore yesterday, because it smells good. Forget the bra; I haven’t gotten that far yet. And likely won’t, if I’m being honest. But here I am, pounding out the words on my keyboard for a story well before its deadline.
My third cup of coffee was consumed by 9 a.m. It coincided with my son’s third timeout. I’ve wiped more runny noses so far than typed words. Both children are currently wearing diapers and little else—it’s easier to change them that way—and vestiges of their breakfast yogurt remain in the corners of their mouths and the crevices of their hands.
Last night’s dishes litter the counter. A host of half-empty water glasses and coffee cups surrounds my computer desk. Graham cracker crumbs litter the floor around me from the children “quietly playing” at my feet. And when I get up, I trip over a singing teapot.
Some days—hell, most days—I let my children watch too much television—the same “Daniel Tiger” and “Sesame Street” episodes on Netflix. It is the only way I get actual paying work done sometimes.
Then it’s finally nap time—time for me to get a good chunk of work done! But I’m exhausted. So I choose sleep for an hour … until a child cries out. I’ll work later. You know, when I’m supposed to be cooking dinner.
And when I’m particularly busy, dinner turns into a handful of out-of-the-can almonds and often the discarded food on my children’s plates. Maybe a stray grape or half a sandwich if I’m lucky. All this as I sit with a pen in my hand and a stack of copy on my lap.
I am not a total loss: minus the dirty faces in the morning, my children are well-loved, well-fed, well-tended, well-disciplined. I religiously take them to the zoo, story time, the park. We read books, sing songs.
I may not know how to turn down work, and I may not have it all—but my deadlines are met. Screw the mopping; I’ll peel the dinosaur stickers off the floor tomorrow!
Will I accept another story assignment or editing job if I’m offered one? …Yes. Probably. A deadline met gives me a fleeting sense of “I did it!” that doesn’t nearly as often come from raising children.
And, maybe tomorrow I’ll find the time to put on a bra?
No. Probably not.
… See? Maybe I can get the hang of this saying-no thing.
Posted by Susannah Herrada on Nov 4, 2013 in Girlfriends
Before the blowout…
There comes a time in life when a woman starts to feel a little rough around the edges. A bit raggedy, feeling like she’s losing a little bit of her edge. Maybe it’s after a baby when she’s feeling sleep deprived and a wreck. Maybe it’s when the grocery store clerks stop asking her for ID when she’s buying wine. Or it could be the first time she’s called “Ma’am” (I remember the first time for me—it was at the Perryville Exit tollbooth on 95). Sometimes it’s as simple as gaining a few pounds, going up a size, opening her closet, and finding nothing to wear.
All women go through this, often many different times over their lives. Sometimes it can feel like a mid-life crisis, only you feel like you’re having one every month or sometimes every week.
So that’s where I find myself this month. Up ten pounds (Ack! I’m embarrassed to even write that!), nothing to wear, looking rough around the edges, hair’s a wreck, teeth look crooked and yellow, skin is full of blemishes and scars. I won’t go on, but you get the picture. And for those of you who see me often, you’ll probably assert it’s not really that bad, but for all intents and purposes, this is how I feel.
Regardless of how neurotic and self-damaging this kind of thinking is, the scary part is what I considered doing to try make myself feel better.
This downward spiral started about a month ago at my annual ‘well-woman’ check—you know, what they call the appointment for women who are not going to have anymore kids. It’s vaguely disguised because the doctor doesn’t want to call it what it really is for the next ten years: menopause watch. An hour later, I was dressed, albeit still feeling rather slippery in my nether regions (what do these doctors use, and why is it so persistent?). Walking out of the appointment, it hit me that I had just signed myself up for some elective surgery.
It’s not a tummy tuck, but good hair can work miracles….
The next week, I was getting my teeth cleaned. I love my dentist. He’s not ten years out of dental school, charming, and never starts a sentence with, “At your age…” Anyway, at my request, this patient young thing spent ten minutes talking to me about cosmetic options—veneers, whitening, gap filling. Sadly, my smile is the one thing I’ve always loved about myself, but it turns out that veneering that big Ronald McDonald grin would cost a fortune. Big teethy smiles equal lots of visible teeth to veneer.
Wondering that afternoon how I would convince my husband that I really needed to spend over $10,000 to get a perfect smile, I recalled a similar conversation with a friend a few months ago. She didn’t seem to have much trouble convincing her husband that a tummy tuck was the way to go. I wondered if I couldn’t get Jorge to spring for the teeth, would he consider some other work? Maybe I’d have more leverage with a lift of some kind since he probably spends more time staring at my butt than my teeth. Actually, maybe not. Maybe like every other man, he spends more time looking at my smiling face when he’s not checking out other women’s rears on the sly. Either way, I think I’d have an easier time convincing him to spring for the lift or tuck. After all, have you ever heard someone say, ‘he’s a teeth man?’
So I found myself in the unfortunate situation this week of feeling mildly depressed over a bunch of silly little things, frustratingly researching the scary downsides of surgeries and procedures and even gel manicures, and knowing in the back of my mind that none of them would really make me happy. I know there should be an insert/sidebar here about self-acceptance, beautiful on the inside, yadda, yadda, but that’s for a different blog. At this time, I just had to get out of my yoga pants and into my jeans.
So I did what any rational woman would do in a similar situation: I ate.
Warm baguettes with soft butter, homemade apple cobbler (for breakfast?!), dark chocolate, or any chocolate for that matter, Ben and Jerry’s Fudgey Candy Bar Cookie Dough Nutty Overload.
Screw the yoga pants. They’re comfortable and trimming with their dark color and flared cut.
Unfortunately, things were going from bad to worse.
By now it was Friday. I had to meet friends for drinks in Georgetown that night. I had to face the reality that yoga pants are just not evening wear, particularly in Georgetown. And even if I had $10,000 to spend…that wasn’t going to do me any good this afternoon.
Nursing my ridiculous woes over a pumpkin latte, I saw a picture of myself flash up on the digital frame in my dining room. The photo was from this past spring, a short six months ago. I looked young. Much younger. And thin. Much thinner. But all that aside, what I really noticed was my hair. It actually was highlighted, cut stylishly and blown out in a smooth, finished look.
I immediately called my stylist. Not deterred by the lack of Friday appointments for highlights, I found myself sitting in a drive-up strip mall parking space, in front of a Hair Cuttery. I knew it was a risk, but I reasoned I had lots of hair. The worst that could happen if this went wrong is that after a repair job at my regular stylist, I’d have a bob instead of hair that fell well below my shoulders. So I walked in. The lady was cranky. She told me about three times in her thick Eastern European accent that my hair had three inches of growth at my roots and looked terrible and needed to be highlighted. Today. By her. It’s one thing to have some random lady cut your hair, but I can’t trust highlights to a stranger. I declined, politely at first and then eventually with a sternness matching her own directness.
After forty minutes, she turned me around in the chair. I looked at the woman in the mirror. No perfect teeth, no nip or tuck, no Botox or peel. Just me, with straight, healthy-looking (highlight-needing) hair. Thirty dollars later, I walked out and wondered if this wasn’t what I had needed all along. It seemed rather shallow, but still amazed me that a $30 haircut and blowout could change my whole outlook.
I know that $30 can’t usually solve life’s problems. In fact, it can often solve very little and sometimes make things worse. Case in point being that between the Ben & Jerry’s and wine, I spent well over $30 this past week. But there’s something beautiful about someone else taking over, doing something for you like brushing your hair, paying attention to every strand, looking at you closely and making you feel beautiful again. No, this is not a promo piece for the Hair Cuttery, but it is a little nudge to every women who reads this to find something to do that’s kind for yourself. And I’m not talking sitting with a cup of tea and reading People magazine. Find some way to really pamper yourself, have someone else care for you, look at you, obsess about only you, even if it’s just for a short time.
And then go home, slip out of the yoga pants for an even more comfortable pair of PJ bottoms, and know that you have great hair (or nails). Know that really nothing that big has changed; you haven’t gone down a clothing size, you don’t have a perfect Chicklet smile. But you do have a quiet message taking root deep down inside that you are worth pampering and that you can pull yourself out of a rut with something much simpler than a tummy tuck.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Oct 30, 2013 in Men
With all the drama surrounding politicians and celebrities who cheat, one might gain the impression that cheating is pretty pervasive. And it is. Psychologists estimate that more than 40 percent of all married relationships have at least one partner sneaking out on the other. That number jumps to over 50 percent for non-married committed relationships.
Don’t misinterpret this as a judgment call. I honestly couldn’t care less if Bill Clinton came on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, if Anthony Weiner sexted sexually explicit photos to young women, and whether or not Tiger Woods needs more than a Swedish blond to keep him satisfied. To each his own.
But I do wonder a little about something…and that is, why seemingly perfectly decent men in seemingly perfectly happy relationships cheat on their wives and girlfriends. Not that women don’t cheat, too. They do. Some estimate that as many women are cheating as men. And it may be true.
This may draw some flak from female readers, but I actually can understand, if not necessarily condone, a man who cheats on a partner because she’s no longer having sex with him or the relationship has staled to the point that neither party takes much genuine interest in the other any longer. The right thing to do would be to get a divorce or break up, but statistics also show that men are pretty complacent. Under a third of divorces are initiated by them. Much easier to cheat. You don’t have to pay alimony or child support or risk not having a warm body to come home to at night.
What baffles me, however, is how so many men married to or in long-term partnerships with beautiful, charming, and generous women who intellectually, emotionally, and sexually thrill them still feel compelled to step out. As a rule, a woman will be utterly devoted to a man who satisfies her on all these levels…so incredibly rare is the find.
A friend of mine whose long-term partner cheated on her repeatedly, says, “Once a man discovers that more than one woman finds him attractive, it becomes like a drug. He just wants more and more.” Even, ladies, if it might cost him the fantastic woman waiting at home in his bed. (Because remember a lot of women, unlike most men, will leave a dead-end or troublesome relationship…or a man who cheats on them. Women aren’t as inclined to “settle” as their male counterparts.)
So what’s up with the male compulsion to constantly scope for greener or just different pastures?
Some anthropologists will argue it’s basic biology, that humans aren’t actually wired to be monogamous. Some psychologists will call it sexual addiction. I’d like to call it something far simpler, however: an easy ego boost.
Who doesn’t like to be admired by the opposite sex? I won’t lie. I like the fact that perfect strangers will open doors for me, lift my luggage into overhead compartments on airplanes, or give me free drinks just because they think, in that particular moment, I look pretty hot. It reminds me I’ve still got it and, to be quite honest, gives me greater confidence with the man on whom I have exclusively placed my affections if I’m in a relationship.
But I can’t say as I have a compelling desire to jump the bones of the mixologist who gives me a complimentary glass of his latest concoction or the random guy in tango class who offers to give me a private lesson in the figure 8. I smile, soak up the ego boost, and go home.
A fair number of men, however, push the envelope on female attention and go as far as the attending party will allow if they feel they have a good chance of getting away with it. (Though admittedly, the “getting away with it” concern often doesn’t enter their heads till after the deed is done anyway.)
But the sad truth is just about every man with whom I’ve been in a semi-serious to serious relationship, save my ex-husband (so far as I know anyway), has cheated on me in some form or another, whether emotionally or physically. And I’d say more than half of my female friends and acquaintances and their female friends and acquaintances have had similar experiences. And I know some of these women are far from duds in the bedroom, on the dance floor, or at a cocktail party. They shimmer with life, and intelligence, and confident sexuality. Yet…the men in their lives still cheat….
A friend of mine explains it this way: “Men go through this thing where they need to feel validated by other women even if they don’t care about those women.”
She has a point. And I, like a lot of women, have been both the “cared about” woman whose romantic partner is off “validating” himself as well as the one doing the validating for the man.
Neither position is one any woman wants to be in, trust me. Because a man who is feeling a need to sow his wild oats is not a man who has your emotions in his line of sight. It’s not that he wants to hurt you. He just doesn’t consider the implications of his actions on people with feelings—i.e. the women who have made the mistake of caring for him.
Unfortunately, all too many men have competing desires of wishing for the stability and security of a long-term relationship while also wanting the excitement of painting the town red every weekend…with a different woman each night. Too often they try to have both…at the same time.
Of course, I realize nothing here so far is providing you any insight on how to prevent that man in your life from cheating. The reality is, I’m afraid, you can’t prevent it if it’s something he is prone to do or is in a place in his life where he feels compelled to do it. It just isn’t in the average guy’s mental makeup to consider long-term, widespread implications of actions outside the boardroom. They are compartmentalizers. They really do believe they can do A without affecting B.
It’s the old “have your cake and eat it, too” scenario. Of course, we all know how that usually works out. And the guy who is running around validating himself will learn how it works out, too, but usually only after he’s lost everything he didn’t realize he valued.
Posted by Mollie Bryan on Oct 28, 2013 in Motherhood
, Success Guide
After quitting my editing job about 15 years ago and moving to a different area of Virginia to stay at home with my new baby, I expected to feel a sense of relief. But what I felt was isolation, frustration, and a sense that, all of a sudden, I had become invisible to certain segments of the population.
In some ways, I still struggle with those issues—but I like to think I have a better perspective on it now.
The relief I expected to feel was a sense of freedom away from the pressure of deadlines, of selling my writing and editing to people who really had no appreciation for the skills I offered. In fact, some of them could barely put a sentence together. My writing was just another task they checked off their list. In the meantime, I sweated over every word and stayed late to meet my deadlines.
I was starting to make decent money in my career—but the lack of respect wore me down. That, along with the daily D.C. Beltway grind of just getting from point A to point B and loads of my time being sucked away in the process, pointed me in a new direction. As did the fact that my husband and I were lucky if we saw one another by 7 p.m. every night. We knew we wanted to spend more time together and more time as parents. What was the point of having a baby if we would hardly ever see her?
Freelancing, after close to twenty years of publishing experience, and moving away from the D.C. area, seemed a viable option. My role in my family began to be a shifting balance between writer and stay-at-home mom.
Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m pretty much broke, ridiculously busy shuffling my girls to all their activities, am never caught up on anything, and am still dealing with feelings of isolation, frustration, and invisibility.
Part of this is self-imposed.
I am a writer of novels. It is my choice to sit in front of the computer alone each day, spin stories, and meet my word count goal. The other part of it is that I live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where there’s no real outside work for me. When I’ve tried to enter the workforce, it’s been an utter failure. I’ve written and grown myself out of the local market.
So I need to make this novel thing work.
And my books do well enough to offer hope. I’ve been able to patch together a sporadic professional life freelance writing and editing, along with book writing and consulting, while maintaining a certain focus on my family.
Even with the financial woes and the other frustrations, I don’t regret the choice we made for me to stay home, freelance, and write, and for my husband to take a job eight miles from our house. This has allowed him to be an active partner in our parenting.
I know that the confident, secure, bright, and fabulous daughters we are raising owe a big part of their magic to my husband. But they also owe a part to me—the one who is always just a phone call away if the girls leave an important paper at home or if one of them gets sick in school. I’m also the parent waiting at the bus stop every day— and the one who asks how their day went and talks with them about the boy who’s their crush-of-the-week. All of that matters.
And then there’s all the volunteering I’ve done over the years—school, music, and dance studio functions—even when I’m not as available as what some people think I am.
I am not a stay-at-home mom. I have deadlines. I write books.
Yet I do try to be available because I want to be an active parent in my kids’ lives. Sometimes I stand back and think: How did I become THAT person? I often shake my head when I remember that at one point in my writing career I was called a “radical feminist poet.” Heady stuff.
So on the face of things, I’ve gone from radical feminist poet to mini-van mom in a matter of a few years. But I’ve also penned a couple of cookbooks, four mystery novels, and countless articles in magazines and on blogs.
My accomplishments outside of parenting are also for my daughters. I hope someday they will see and appreciate how I’ve managed to maintain a sense of self and patch together a writing career in a world that is constantly chipping away at selfhood.
I’ve decided the sense of relief I was after is not ever going to come. Deadlines are like heartbeats to me—part of what gives my life energy, balance, and structure.
Knowing who I am and what I can realistically accomplish has been a gift of maturing. Now I wear the skin of novelist, mother, and wife. In a few years, I’ll be a different kind of mother as my kids go off to college. My writing self will adjust. But for now, I walk a precarious line, gathering new strength along the way for whatever comes next.
Neither the path of mothering, nor the path or writing is an easy one. Some of us are compelled to do both. As writer Julianna Baggott so succinctly put it: “My fear was that if I gave up writing because of my children, I’d resent my children. If I didn’t spend time with my children — or didn’t have them to begin with — for the sake of my writing, I’d resent my career. I had to do both.”
And so have I, balancing my roles precariously at times but balancing them nevertheless. I am not a stay-at-home mom, but I am a mother…and a writer…who happens to work from home, the deadlines of editors and the deadlines of parenthood ever looming. And no matter how old I get or how much my girls grow, I will always occupy these roles–writer and mother, crafter of words and crafter of heartbeats.