Tag Archives: life

A sexual harassment story

We are experiencing an interesting and refreshing cultural moment, in which sexual harassment has become a thing that we are talking about publicly. It’s remarkable; not only are we talking about it, but powerful men are being brought low by revelations that they’ve treated people (mostly women, but sometimes men) poorly. We’re finding out that powerful men from all walks of life — luminaries of the art world, successful businessmen, beloved politicians — have done awful, disgusting things with zero consequences. They’ve made degrading comments, they’ve touched and groped, they’ve exposed themselves, they’ve raped. They’ve wielded power to satisfy themselves and to make others feel small. They’ve been doing it for years, decades, centuries, but only now are we talking about it, or perhaps only now are we listening.

If you poke around the internet for even a few minutes, it becomes apparent that a lot of regular, non-famous, non-powerful men are surprised, even shocked, by these emerging stories of sexual harassment and abuse. I’m willing to bet, though, that not a single woman who has ever stepped foot outside her home is surprised or shocked by these stories. I am willing to bet that every woman has her own story (or, more likely, stories) of sexual harassment and/or abuse. These are stories that we don’t like to tell. They’re not fun. They’re embarrassing, even shameful. They make us feel stupid and small, looking back at how we were treated, how we let ourselves be talked to or touched. But now that people have started to bring these festering stories into the light, I think continuing to tell them is important. Exposure and momentum are important. And it can be cathartic to unburden yourself of some of the weight you’ve been lugging around by yourself.

But it’s also scary. I don’t want to be attacked for reporting what someone else did to me. And this is what happens, when people (especially women) speak up about being harassed. People who don’t want to believe them look for reasons to dismiss them, or silence them. Women who tell their stories are labeled as crazy, slutty, stupid, venal, asking for it. I don’t want to be accused of lying or profit-seeking, so when I tell my little sexual harassment story here, I won’t be identifying the man I’m talking about by name. It’s not worth it to me. But it is worth it to put the story itself out into the universe, even without the guy’s name. It’ll make me feel better, if nothing else. (Also, it would probably be REALLY easy to figure out who he is with basic internet research, but I’ll leave that to you, intrepid reader).

I’m sad to admit that I’ve been sexually harassed in some form in nearly every job I’ve had. Some of these instances were worse than others. Some I’ve probably forgotten. But the ones that really stick with me are the ones that happened to me early on, when I was just starting out in the working world.

A few months after I graduated college in 2005, I moved to São Paulo to take a job as a paralegal at an international law firm. I got the job through a Stanford alumnus who had somehow come across my resume. I’d already gotten into Harvard Law School but had decided to defer for a year, and this alum thought I’d be an asset to his firm’s Sao Paulo office. During the recruitment process, my future boss — let’s call him J — promised me a whole host of benefits: an apartment paid for by the firm, free meals, access to a car, fair pay. He set up a video interview for me with his bosses, the managing partners of the office. During the interview, one of the partners kept complaining that he couldn’t see my face clearly and wanted to know what I looked like. It was obvious from his repeated questions about my appearance during the interview that he wanted to make sure I was pretty. It made me squeamish, but I brushed it off, figuring this was the way of the world, especially in a Latin American outpost of a big firm. It wasn’t that bad, just a little uncomfortable.

After the video interview, I was offered the job and I accepted. I was giddy with excitement. I was willing to move to Brazil not knowing a single soul — I had never even met J, the guy who set up the job for me. It would be a grand adventure and a great learning opportunity. A few days before I was to depart for São Paulo, I contacted J, expecting him to let me know where my apartment would be and how I could access the car he’d promised me once I arrived. He informed me that I would be living with him until an apartment could be arranged. You might be thinking that this sounds highly inappropriate and unprofessional. It was. And it made me uncomfortable, just as the video interview had. But I felt there wasn’t much I could do. I was dependent on J to arrange everything for me. At that point, my Portuguese was rudimentary, I had never been to the city, I knew no one, and so felt I had no choice but to move in with J until he could sort out my living situation. I flew to São Paulo and took a taxi to J’s address. His cleaning lady let me in and showed me to the guest room. I was expecting I’d stay at J’s apartment for a couple of days, max. It turned out to be weeks. I felt so uncomfortable living there that I’d stay locked in my room, dreading coming out lest I run into my boss in his pajamas or worse.

I was miserable and asked about my apartment every day until finally, one was procured for me. However, J informed me, quite nonchalantly, that the firm would not be paying for my apartment after all. And the car? That wasn’t happening either. The meal vouchers he’d promised me? No, they couldn’t make that happen; sorry. And the fair pay? Also not going to happen. I was not paid enough to live on. My monthly rent consumed almost my entire paycheck, so I ended up with about $250 per month to live on in a very expensive city.

Here’s part of an email I wrote to my parents a few weeks after starting my job and moved into my own place: 

The apartment is still more expensive than I had bargained for. Now I have to pay for my utilities, which J assures me is cheap (under 100 R a month) but STILL. I almost started crying when [the office manager] told me that — I didn’t though, don’t worry Dad — because honestly. One thing after another. PLUS they require a 1000 R deposit, which of course the office is deducting from my pay, so in August I will only get paid 600 R. Ummm yes. And I haven’t even gone grocery shopping yet or bought myself a towel for the gym, although the flat has some old ratty ones in the closet. I know we will be able to cover all this and I shouldn’t get so worked up about stuff but it really drives me nuts that [the firm] thinks it’s ok to not adjust my pay when they know I don’t have enough to live on. J said in the elevator just now that he would see what he could do, and he thought maybe [managing partner] might give me a raise later on if I proved myself to be a good worker. I guess we’ll see. 

After being at the office for three months, I found out that my bosses were paying a male trainee (a similar position to mine) significantly more than me. I wrote my mom and told her about a conversation I’d had with the male trainee (let’s call him P):

P asked how much they were paying me, and I told him, and he was like, Wow, and I thought they paid ME nothing. So it turns out they paid him significantly more than me (I think like $2500 reais a month), for the same position. Should I bring this up assuming they decide to extend my contract? Because it seems entirely unfair that they should pay me so much less than they paid him for doing the same job… I am presuming it is because he is male. There is a very Boys Club attitude in the office, despite the fact that all the Brazilian lawyers here are female. There is no question that [managing partners] run the place, and they are very Old School with regards to gender, esp. [main managing partner]. Like remember when he interviewed me and was all put out that he couldn’t see me in the videoconference? Because it mattered to him what I looked like in his decision about whether or not to hire me! Anyway what do you think about the salary issue? It kinda pisses me off, esp. since I had a meeting with [office manager] the other day in which she informed me that I still “owe” the office and they won’t be paying me full salary till next month. Long story… oh and she tried to totally f*ck me over by saying that they were going to subtract my meal tickets from my salary, as if we hadn’t been over that before. I put my foot down with her and said that that was NOT the understanding, and she backed off and said, ok, ok, we’ll give you the meal vouchers. I mean, for Pete’s sake. I am trying not to obsess about money but I just feel like I am getting jerked around here. It’s a matter of principal more than of money at this point, because I understand that I am essentially paying for the experience of being here, but they shouldn’t be able to keep me as an indentured servant, you know?

My work life was miserable. I was constantly worried about money and my job performance. To try to save money, I would walk to and from work, over a mile along busy, sidewalk-less São Paulo streets. When a receptionist in the office found out I was doing this, she scolded me, saying that I could get robbed or even murdered and that I had to pay for a taxi instead, fim. I grudgingly agreed. Taxis were expensive and took forever in the brutal São Paulo traffic. I would watch the meter tick up and up and feel like I was watching my money trickle away.

I knew I was being treated unfairly but I was afraid to advocate for myself too strongly lest I be shipped back home, jobless. This was the headspace I was in when J started making inappropriate comments to me. One time, he asked me when I usually went to the gym. I told him I went in the morning. He said he would have to start going in the morning, too, so he could see me in workout clothes. “I bet you look really good in shorts,” he said. Gross. Another time, he said he was going to have a barbecue at his house and I could come, if I promised to wear my bikini.

Things got worse when one of my best friends came to visit me in Brazil. I was allowed to bring her as my guest to a fancy firm dinner, and we were excited to drink wine and eat steak with important lawyers from all over the firm. J made sure he sat next to my friend and hit on her mercilessly throughout the dinner. At one point, he told her, loudly enough for me to hear, “If you were my girlfriend, you’d eat steak every day.” She was 23; he was in his mid-thirties and divorced. Also, as a reminder: HE WAS MY BOSS. Later that night, J and another attorney invited themselves back to my apartment. The other attorney was married, and I saw him slip off his ring as he sat on my couch. They tried to make my friend and I dance with them. We were embarrassed and wanted them to leave. We finally got rid of them but not before the married guy tried to kiss my friend.

Then, my cousin came to visit. J invited us over to his apartment for a cocktail, and we went. While I stepped out of the room to go to the bathroom, my boss grabbed my cousin’s rear. When I came back into the room, she told me we needed to leave, right then, so we did. When she told me what he had done to her, I was livid. But I felt like I couldn’t say anything to him without risking my job, so I didn’t. Instead, I apologized to my cousin for putting her in that situation, and fumed privately, resenting him for being such a dickhead in every possible way while having so much power over my circumstances.

I worked in that office for nine months before I quit. I haven’t spoken to J in years. He is now pretty high up in the Virginia state government. Very accomplished. Very lauded. He ran for Virginia State Senate a few years back and lost (ha). I’m sure he’ll try again. I wonder how many of his female employees and volunteers and supporters he’s mistreated over the years. Probably a lot. And you know what? He’s just one small-fry example of this type of bullshit. He might not have the power of a Harvey Weinstein or a Roy Moore, but he certainly had a lot of sway over my life for the nine months that I was his (underpaid, harassed, fraudulently contracted) employee. The truth is, he’ll probably never face consequences for being a dirtbag. But I sure feel better for having written this. 

Two under two

On November 29, we welcomed Ewan William into our family! He is, as you can see, very cute, and has incredible arm rolls.

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For those of you doing the math, Ewan was born almost three months ago and this is the first I’m writing about it. Yeah. Sorry about that. Turns out, the whole “two kids under two” thing IS, in fact, all it’s cracked up to be, and I am just now getting my head above water. And yes, I am comparing having two children under two to almost drowning. The thing about having two under two (and now, technically, one under two and one who has been two for a couple of weeks) is that it is very hard logistically, emotionally, and physically. Hard in every way, in other words. But, as with all things parenting, the wretched is accompanied by a large dose of wonderful, and in the end, the wonderful wins out. But let’s discuss the wretched, shall we?

Logistically speaking, Lucia’s schedule does not tend to sync up with Ewan’s (and Ewan’s schedule changes every day because trying to get a twelve-week-old on a schedule is like trying to put an octopus in a winter coat), so I often find myself trying to nurse the baby while cutting up chicken for Lucia’s lunch, or holding a pacifier in the baby’s mouth and rocking him while reading a book to Lucia, or trying to figure out which child to unload from the car and which one to leave while I get the other one inside, or wondering whether I can leave Ewan fussing in his bassinet while I put Lucia down for her nap, or whether I should try to bring Lulu into Ewan’s room while I put him down for his nap, even though she is constitutionally incapable of not shouting everything at the top of her lungs because she is two. In other words, everything is just more complicated with two.

Emotionally, I constantly feel like I’m not paying enough attention to one child or the other. It’s sort of impossible not to short-change at least one of my kids at all times, because there is only one of me and there are two of them. I know this will get better as Ewan gets older and his needs become less immediate, but right now, I spend a lot of time nursing or burping him while trying to listen to Lucia tell me something, or putting Ewan on a mat and letting him chill by himself while I feed Lulu, and so on. One kid is always being slightly ignored.

And physically, parenting two very small children is, to put it mildly, taxing. My chiropractor has his work cut out for him now that I have to lug a giant newborn in a heavy carseat up a flight of stairs in order to drop off Lulu at preschool. Then, when I pick her up from school, I must navigate said giant newborn and carseat down a flight of stairs while holding the tiny hand of a toddler who insists on walking down the stairs like a big girl, which takes approximately fifteen hours and may, in fact, be the thing that finally kills me. Then I have to stop the toddler from dashing into the street as I get the newborn into the car (or, alternatively, I leave the baby on the sidewalk while I wrangle the toddler into the car). This, while holding Lulu’s backpack, my purse, and assorted baby detritus, like a burp cloth, a blanket, and a pacifier. GOOD TIMES. While we’re on the topic of the physical toll of parenting two very small children, did I mention I’m breastfeeding, and that breastfeeding makes everything 1000% more difficult (at least for me)? I’ll leave it at that because if I start to list my many boob-related woes here, things will quickly spiral out of control.

Photo by Heather Ryan Photography

Photo by Heather Ryan Photography

BUT! It’s not all doom and gloom! To the contrary, actually. The thing about having a baby and a toddler is that now, on top of my hilarious, sweet Lucia, I also have this marvelous new person to love, and he is, objectively speaking, irresistible. Lucia has been such a wonderful, sweet big sister to her baby bro, which is a joy to see. She “helps” by picking up his pacifiers and diapers and bringing them to me, stroking Ewan’s head very gently, and rather forcefully rocking him in his Rock ‘N Play. I can already see how awesome things are going to be once Ewan is a bit more mobile and is nursing less. I really hope he and Lulu will be great friends. And, if not, at least they’ll eventually be able to split my nursing home costs.

So, as hard as it is having two little people to take care of at once, it’s definitely worth it. All of those cliches about your parental love expanding with the addition of a new child are, in fact, true (thank God, because I was worried), and I know that Lucia’s life is being enriched by having a sibling. If nothing else, she’ll thank me for giving her someone to boss around for the rest of her life. And, I’m happy to report, things are getting easier with each passing week.

Well, that’s all she (I) wrote for now. Both kids are sleeping and I need to sit still with my eyes closed for the thirty seconds that this will last.

Real Talk Wednesday: a plea for (occasional) honesty about parenting

People use social media to lie about their lives. This revelation should not come as news to anyone who even casually uses Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or whatever cool new app The Kids are using these days. These platforms provide wonderful opportunities for all of us to lie to each other, to create sparkling, sanitized, envy-inducing holograms of the lives we’re actually living. No one is totally honest on social media.

This is not news. I know. But I want to talk about it anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how parents of young children, in particular, use social media to craft certain, let’s say, misleading narratives about our lives and what it’s like to be a parent day to day. If you scroll through my Instagram feed, among the cute dachshund pictures and soothing portraits of succulents and heirloom tomatoes, you’ll see an abundance of Shiny Happy Parents and their Shiny Happy Children. It’s hard not to be bowled over by the #joy emanating from these pics. EVERYONE. IS. SO. HAPPY!

Except for the occasional “funny” picture of a kid scowling in a cute, photogenic way, there is nary a tantrum — or even a frown — to be seen. Parents are polished, kids are well-behaved, and no one has boogers stuck on their faces or spit-up on their clothes. Everyone is well-rested and smiling and and wearing cute, fashionable clothes! Everyone is doing SO great, you guys! Hey, look at us picking pumpkins! Look at us snuggling lovingly on top of a crisply made bed! Look at us tidily baking muffins together! We’re so happy! Our house is so clean! We’re so #blessed!

It’s all bullshit, and we all know it. And yet, we all do it. I do it. I’ll admit it.

Do I post pictures of Lucia having her fourteenth meltdown of the day because I wouldn’t carry her upstairs when she can walk and I’m 36 weeks pregnant with a bad back? Nope. Do I post pictures of myself right after waking up after a horrible night’s sleep, looking like I’ve been dragged behind a truck for several miles? Nope. Do I post any pictures whatsoever that would give anyone the impression that my daily life with a toddler and a metaphoric bun in the oven is anything but idyllic, full of laughs and smiles and cute hijinks? Heck to the nope.

There are so many reasons I don’t post pictures of tantrums and insomnia and scrambled egg on the hardwood floor. First, I figure no one wants to see it. My guess is that people prefer the shiny, happy version of others’ lives because it’s less upsetting than the raw truth. Honestly, if I posted a video of one of Lucia’s epic tantrums, I’d have to post a trigger warning with it, letting other parents of toddlers know that what they are about to witness could be disturbing or even traumatizing for them and to practice self-care. For real, it’s rough stuff. Why would I want to inflict that on anyone else? Other people are already suffering through their own quotidian nightmares, I’m sure, so why would I want to spread the misery?

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Relatedly, I don’t want to see the bad stuff about my own life, either. When I post the Shiny Happy pics, I’m practicing a form of proactive memory erasure for my own benefit. A year from now, if I’m scrolling nostalgically back through my own posts, I don’t want to be reminded of the myriad horrors of parenting. No, I want to see the good stuff: the dimples, the toothy smiles, the times I brushed my hair.

I learned this lesson the hard way. When I first had Lucia, I kept a diary, in which I faithfully recorded my thoughts and feelings about new parenthood. Big mistake. I should have censored. I should have edited. I should have crafted a version of my own story that I could live with more easily. When I look back at that very honest diary now, I cringe, because it reminds me of all the bad stuff about having a newborn that I would have forgotten about otherwise: the sleepless nights, the worries about poop and pee and spit-up and jaundice, the struggles with breastfeeding and pumping and bottles.

There’s a reason our brains choose to skip over the trauma that inevitably comes with new parenthood: it’s so our species can continue on. If we all had to be reminded constantly of how hard having a baby is, no one would have more than one child. Not to make too big a deal out of this, but our reproductive destiny as a species is one reason to be thoughtful about your social media posts. And if not for that, do it for your own mental health. When I look back at my own Instagram feed now, 21 months into being a parent, I’m filled with warm, fuzzy feelings of love and affection for my family. If my feed was filled with raw footage of diaper blowouts, tantrums, and insomnia, I’m not sure I’d feel the same way.

However, despite the very good reasons that we all edit our parenting experiences for public consumption, there are some very good reasons to let the occasional brutally honest post slip in. The main reason, I think, is solidarity. As a parent of a young child, it’s easy to feel isolated, like you’re the only person in the world whose kid does whatever annoying or trying or worrisome thing she’s doing. You can know, logically, that whatever you’re going through is probably normal, but if you don’t see any evidence of other parents struggling, it’s extremely discouraging. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told Al that I think we must be the only parents in the world whose child does [x]. Al, eternal voice of reason, always reassures me that whatever infuriating or baffling thing Lucia is doing is perfectly normal, but as the pessimist and official Doubting Thomas in the partnership, I want to see proof, dammit. But if you’re hoping to find evidence of other parents’ struggles on social media, you’re going to be sorely out of luck. Because, as discussed above, social media is where we lie to each other about how easy and fun and beautiful our lives are.

So wouldn’t it be great if, once in a while, we all just posted the real stuff that was actually going down with our kids? Along with Throwback Thursday, we could have Real Talk Wednesday (#rtw), where we share the things that we’d normally keep hidden about our lives as parents. I think a tiny, weekly nugget of honesty would go a long way in reassuring each other that, in fact, we’re not alone. I’ll start! Today, my adorable, sweet, funny toddler took a break from being adorable, sweet, and funny to throw a tantrum when I wouldn’t carry her up the stairs. Important background information: her legs are not broken, I am the pregnantest, and I’ve recently thrown out my back. Also, this was pre-coffee. Yeah. You feel me, right?

Here’s my question: if you, a fellow parent (or even a non-parent) read a post like this on social media, would you feel a little less alone? I promise I’d go right back to posting beautiful, beaming pictures of my gorgeous child in cute clothes and picturesque surroundings right afterwards. I know if I saw the occasional honest post from my fellow parent friends, I’d appreciate it deeply. So here is my little plea for some (limited) real talk on social media. I’m not advocating that we all constantly bitch and moan about how hard our lives are, because that’s obnoxious (and depressing). I’m just saying that we can afford to lower the digital curtain just the tiniest bit and let some real honesty shine in, once in a while.

Please?

In the meantime, here’s a cute, happy picture of my daughter! #blessed

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Writing and motherhood, eleven months out

As the mother of a baby, I spend a lot of time — I mean, a LOT of time — thinking about the balance between motherhood and my would-be career as a writer. Unlike women who work outside of the home or women who embrace the Stay At Home Mom designation, I feel as if I’m caught in a murky limbo wherein I do stay at home with my child, but I also work at home — or, at least, I try to work at home. I’ve heard women in my situation referred to as Work At Home Moms, but that doesn’t quite capture what it is to be a mother as well as a struggling writer or other creative professional whose job is largely unstructured. The problem with having an unstructured — or, rather, self-structured — work life when you have a baby is that the demands of your work — which are often self-imposed — are quickly crowded out by the demands of your child. Eleven months into this motherhood thing, I am still trying to figure out how I can succeed and feel satisfied both as a professional writer and as a mother. Here are some thoughts I’ve been turning over lately.

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Life as a writer, before and after baby

Before I had Lucia, my work life was blissfully predictable. I rarely worried about whether I’d have enough time each day to get everything done. I’d set high word-count or revision goals for myself every day and I’d almost always meet them. Every morning, I would get up, make coffee and breakfast, sit down at my computer, and write for several hours. If I were working on a manuscript, I’d bang out 1500-2000 words, minimum. Then I’d go to the gym, eat lunch, run errands, and finish up any loose ends in the afternoon (freelancing work, short fiction, blogging, etc.) before calling it quits for the day. It was awesome.

But now, my work schedule, such as it is, must bend to Lucia’s schedule. This makes sense; the baby thrives on a predictable routine of feedings, changings, play, and naps. In the morning, my first priorities are getting Lucia changed and fed, and pumping milk for the bottle that she will have before bedtime. After L has had breakfast and the pumping is done, I play with her until it’s time for her nap, two hours after she gets up. When she goes down for her morning nap around 9 am, I have my first sliver of free time. Hooray! But, as it turns out, by 9 am, there’s always a bunch of crap around the house that needs doing: laundry, dishes, picking bits of discarded food off the floor and walls, stashing toys, answering emails, paying bills, returning phone calls, etc. And now that L is almost a year old, her morning nap is rarely longer than an hour, which means by the time I’ve done all of my annoying chores, I’m looking at maybe a half-hour window in which to get work done. I’m a fast writer, and a half hour is sometimes a feasible timeframe for me to crank out a freelancing piece, but for my fiction work, I need longer stretches of time to get any quality work done. It’s a real dilemma. At the moment, my freelancing work is chugging along (yay for deadlines), but my manuscript is languishing. Those halcyon days of cranking out 2000 words in a sitting are behind me, and I constantly struggle to feel productive or like I’m making any progress on my fiction work at all.

Breastfeeding and babysitting

The obvious solution to the problems I’ve just laid out would be reliable childcare, right? Well, yes, except there’s a wrinkle: breastfeeding. It’s true that things on the work-life balance front have gotten much better since I’ve hired a babysitter, who comes three days a week and watches L for three to four hours at a time. Having the babysitter come allows me to leave the house to work (and go to the gym and grocery store and do other adult human activities, sans baby), and it’s great! I’ve gotten more writing done on my manuscript in the past five months of having a babysitter than I did in the preceding six months of no babysitter. But this is complicated by the constraints of breastfeeding. The thing is, I can’t leave for much longer than three or four hours or I will miss several feedings and have to pump to make up for them. I already pump twice a day as it is (in the morning and at night), and the idea of adding a third or even fourth pumping session into the day strikes dread into my heart. When I set the goal for myself to breastfeed L until she was a year old, I didn’t anticipate the crimp it would put on my work life. And now I’m wondering how anyone makes breastfeeding and working work.

I don’t really see this precise issue written or talked about much online or in my group of mom friends. I think this is because most moms who work outside the home stop breastfeeding and/or pumping soon after going back to work because it’s such a giant pain in the ass to try to pump at work, clean and wash all the bottles and pump parts, and then transport the milk home every day. Moms who stay at home (and who don’t need uninterrupted stretches of the day for work) and want to breastfeed can continue to breastfeed (and maybe don’t need to pump much at all) because they’re always near their babies. But what about those of us who want to keep breastfeeding but also need to be out of the house to get work done? The options aren’t great.

For those who have never breastfed or used a breast pump, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Just pump the milk and quit your whining.” The thing is, pumping suuuucccckkkks, literally and figuratively. I’ve been doing it for six months now (since L started taking a bottle at 5 months old) and it’s still the most annoying part of my day. You have to get out your pump, put on a special pumping bra, wash and assemble your pump parts and bottles, hook up the parts and bottles to the machine and your bra, and sit down with a giant bottle of water for ten uncomfortable minutes wherein you can’t move more than a foot away from the pump. Then, once you’ve pumped the milk, you have to pour it into a new bottle, store it, wash and disassemble the pump parts, take off the pumping bra and get re-dressed, and put away the pump. The entire process takes a good 20-30 minutes and it’s just the worst. I really don’t know how any woman does this at an office, since even doing it at home is such a time-suck. (Moms who pump at work: I salute you.). As Hanna Rosin said in her piece in The Atlantic, “The Case Against Breastfeeding,” “[Breastfeeding is] only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”

Weaning and writing

The other option, of course, is to just stop breastfeeding and pumping altogether and put L on formula. The thing is, she’s only three weeks away from being a year old (i.e., weaning age), and dammit, I’ve come this far, and I’m not going to quit now! I guess I’m hoping things will get easier once she’s weaned, because I can leave her for longer stretches (say, five to six hours) without having to worry about pumping. In my fantasies about my post-weaning work life, I return to getting real work done on my manuscript every day. I have enjoyed breastfeeding my child and I will certainly miss the sweet, bonding moments I’ve shared with her, but damn, I can’t wait to be free of that damned pump and its terrible accoutrements.

All of this makes me wonder how I’ll handle breastfeeding with my next baby. Right now, at the peak of my frustration with pumping, I’m thinking I won’t breastfeed for as long, or I will do a combo of formula and breastmilk to allow myself some more freedom. Who knows what my writing career will look like by then, anyway. Only time will tell.

Do you have any thoughts about balancing work and baby? I’d love to hear them.

Thirty-three

Today is my birthday. Hooray! I guess.

I have mixed feelings about the significance of birthdays. I don’t have conflicted feelings about birthdays themselves; that is, I’m not someone who bemoans getting older (at least, not yet). I’m in my early thirties, for crying out loud, and I detest when people my age complain about being “old.” Puh-leeze. No, it’s more that I have mixed feelings about how big of a deal should be made of one’s birthday as an adult. I mean, I’m not going to go all Jehovah’s Witness on everyone and eschew celebrating birthdays altogether, but do I really need to mark the passage of each year or my life with some big hullabaloo? Probably not, right?

This debate is theoretical, really, since I rarely do much for my birthday, anyway. This year my birthday is especially anticlimactic since I’ll be spending it with a baby (my baby, as a matter of fact) and pretty much no one else. Al is traveling for business, my parents are moving into their new house, and everyone else is just going about their Tuesday morning, so it’s just me and Miss Lucia today. (This is not to say that my birthday has passed by unnoticed: Al took me out to a great dinner this past weekend and I think I can probably wrangle another birthday dinner out of him this weekend, too). I’m fine with the fact that I’ll be spending today putting soiled diapers out for collection, doing laundry, taking Lucia to baby music class, working during her naps, and all of the other things I normally do on a Tuesday. This is my life, and it’s a good one.

Last night, I was looking through the journal that I kept while I was pregnant to see what I was up to at this time last year, when I was turning thirty-two. Back then, I was three months away from giving birth. I was going to yoga classes and writing 2000 words a day in a manuscript and practicing Hypnobabies techniques and taking naps (NAPS!!). I had no idea what my life would look like today, but I knew it would involve poopy diapers. Yep. Also, fewer naps, more coffee. But also, way more baby laughter, which kind of outweighs everything else. All in all, I’d say thirty-three year old Steph has the better end of the deal than thirty-two year old Steph, despite all the naps that younger lady got to take. After all, I get to spend my birthday with this hilarious little person:

Anyway. It’s time for me to wake up Lulu so we can make it on time to her baby music class, which might end up being the cutest way possible I could celebrate my thirty-third birthday. Enjoy your Tuesday, everyone.

The fog of motherhood

My baby will be three weeks old tomorrow. In some ways, it feels like I gave birth yesterday (that whole otherworldly experience is still vivid in my mind and even in my muscle memory), and in other ways, it feels like I’ve had Lucia in my life for years. It’s like she’s always been there; she’s always been my child. It’s hard to remember what it was like not knowing her. It seems bizarre that three weeks ago, she was still inside me, and all I knew about her was how hard she was capable of kicking me in the bladder.

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Since she’s arrived, I’ve muddled through each day in a haze of exhaustion and wonder. The hours blend together and the days and weeks turn into a blurry stream of nursing, burping, diaper changes, and, yes, blissful snatches of sleep. My days and nights revolve entirely around the baby. This is not a complaint; it is just a statement of fact. I have accepted this as my new reality and I’m rolling with it. I think if you had asked me before I had Lucia if I would enjoy having my life entirely dictated by a tiny, hungry person with a preternaturally large capacity for pooping, I would have said, and I’m just guessing here, “Oh, hell no.” But, funnily enough, I am enjoying this. It’s not easy — dear God, no! [insert maniacal laughter here] — and some days, I cry just as much as the baby, but despite that, it’s wonderful.

Logically, it’s difficult to understand how caring for an infant, which is a largely thankless job filled with uncertainty and stress and frustration, is actually fun, but I think it comes down to how utterly fascinated I am by this baby and how much, and how purely, I love her. Even when she’s being a pest — fussing and batting me away and peeing in my bed — I think she’s adorable. I mean, this face, for one thing, right?

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I’m meant to understand that his crazy newborn period (you know, the one in which the baby eats every one to two hours and poops and fusses and pees and spits up constantly) does not last. “This too shall pass” is a reassuring mantra for me at the moment. Even though I’m enjoying this experience immensely, sleeping in one to two hour bursts is not something I want to be doing for the rest of my life. So, I’m hanging in there and not trying to worry about the fact that I haven’t done any real exercise or writing in three weeks, or that I wake up each morning covered in various bodily fluids, or that I’ve had to let obligations that I thought I could handle drop, or that I can’t even finish the simple knitting projects I had going before I gave birth, or that I haven’t called half the friends I want to talk to on the phone, or that I’m completely reliant on my parents (who are staying with us) to do my laundry and cook for me and take out the trash and buy toilet paper. Because this period won’t last, and then I’ll be faced with other challenges, and I’ll have to roll with those, too.

In the meantime, I am loving staring into this face. And if this period never passes, that’s okay, too.

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Pregnancy: the finish line

I am 38 weeks pregnant. This makes me, I realized today, the most pregnant person I know.

38 weeks of baby growing, completed.

38 weeks of baby growing, completed.

It’s weird, because occasionally, I feel like I just got pregnant, like, yesterday, but most days I feel like I’ve been pregnant since Jesus was a baby. Some days I really like being pregnant, and other days I am ready to eject this baby from my body and get on with the next step, already. I’ve been having more and more of the latter type of days over the past several weeks as being in my body has gotten less and less comfortable. Please allow me to complain about the many aches and pains of pregnancy for a moment. Putting on and taking off pants, in particular, has become one of my least favorite things to do. Oh, the groin pain! Bending over to put on shoes? Horrible. Waking up in the middle of the night with the whole side of my head throbbing from being compressed on the pillow? ALSO NOT FUN. I guess this is why everyone says the last few weeks of pregnancy are the worst, physically. They weren’t kidding!

But up until just a few weeks ago, I could still put on my pants without making grunting noises. I could still bend over without getting winded. So, like a chump, I thought I was going to escape the worst of the fabled pregnancy aches and pains since I’d had such an easy time of things, for the most part, up to that point. But the last weeks of pregnancy come for us all, eventually, and none of us escape unscathed. I guess what I’m saying is that I won’t miss the physical complications that come along with hauling around a fully cooked baby inside one’s body. It ain’t easy.

But there are things about pregnancy that I think I will miss. For one thing, people have been SO NICE to me since I’ve become visibly pregnant. People offer to carry things for me and let me go ahead of them in line. Strangers smile at me. Strangers COMPLIMENT me. Just today, I was blow-drying my hair at the YMCA in my bra and underwear (that locker room’s a sweatbox, but I’m not about to go full old lady and let it all hang out — yet), and a woman smiled at me and told me my belly was “beautiful.” Another woman in the elevator the other day told me how cute I looked. Listen, never in my life has a stranger told me I looked cute without an ulterior motive. But people genuinely love a pregnant woman, I’ve found, especially ladies who have been through it themselves. Something about seeing a round belly seems to inspire warm, fuzzy feelings in people and they want to share them. At least, this has been my experience. I have heard horror stories about people saying all sorts of outrageously insulting things to pregnant women. But I’ve been lucky in that people have been nice to me, with nary an insult thrown my way. And I have to be honest, I’ll miss the special treatment when this baby is on the outside.

Speaking of which, I still haven’t totally wrapped my mind around the fact that I’m going to be a parent in approximately two weeks. Most of the time, I float through my day in a cloud of denial. That sounds bad, but I don’t know what else to call it. It’s not that I’m not insanely excited about having a baby, it’s just that thinking about the fact that I’m going to be responsible for another human’s ENTIRE LIFE in a fortnight is a little overwhelming. I mean, just typing that sentence is giving me a mild panic attack.

Is this really happening?!

Is this really happening?!

But I hear that feeling overwhelmed at this stage of pregnancy is normal. After all, it’s easy to pretend the kid’s never going to come out when you still have months and months stretching ahead of you on the baby countdown. But when you start counting down to your due date in weeks instead of months, and then days instead of weeks, things start looking pretty real — and kind of scary. Scary wonderful! I think! …Eh, I don’t know. I’m basically a walking bag of hormones these days, so take everything I’m saying with a grain of estrogen.

Anyway, since I don’t think I’ll be writing about this topic again over the next two weeks, this will be my final word on the matter. And that final word is: EEK!

On New Year’s resolutions

I used to be a big New Year’s resolutions person. At the start of each new year, I’d come up with an ambitious list of things I wanted to better about myself. My mother recently sent me a whole box of my old journals (I was a prodigious journal keeper from age nine to age nineteen, when I finally evaluated the wisdom of writing my innermost thoughts and feelings down on paper, where they might become discoverable by other people). I was paging through a journal that I kept in 1996/1997 (so, when I was fourteen — eesh), and I found this amusing snippet from January 1, 1997:

“A resolution… hmm… to wash my face more fervently. Maybe that’s not the right word. Just to be more committed to doing my face. Another resolution: to become my new self and be so cool (not “cool” like kids think, but cool, like my kind of cool), that people will be inspired by me. When I say cool, I mean … artistic, etc. And really nice to everyone, and indifferent to those who are less mature. I think those are reasonable, don’t you? I mean, I’m not going to resolve to cure cancer or solve world hunger. People who do that are unrealistic! Well, the first one might be feasible for a team of brilliant scientists.”

I like how I thought inspiring people with my “coolness” and maturity was realistic, but curing cancer wasn’t. Sure, fourteen year-old Stephanie. Dream big.

This was the girl resolving to inspire people with her coolness.

Resolutions are bunk. Case in point: this was the girl resolving to inspire people with her coolness. 

I made New Year’s resolutions well into adulthood, but a few years ago, I kind of stopped. I think this is because as an adult, the things I need to work on about myself have become so immutable that to resolve to chip away at them afresh year after year feels pointless, or worse, discouraging. If every single January I resolve anew to be less neurotic, worry less, stress less, etcetera, I have to begin to wonder if I’ve made any progress at all over the last year on those exact same resolutions. Because for adult me, my resolutions always boil down the same thing: don’t be such a stress case. Be more Zen. Stop worrying so much.

Another problem with my particular perennial resolution is that it’s hard to measure whether or not one is worrying less than the year before. How would one ever track such a thing? A year-long spreadsheet in which one tallies the time and energy one has spent worrying? That seems, to put it mildly, to defeat the point. And resolving to not worry at all feels, if I may borrow a word from my fourteen year-old self, unrealistic. My solution to this conundrum has been to simply stop resolving to worry less — or resolving to do anything else differently, for that matter.

Part of this failure to make resolutions is informed by my understanding of what a resolution actually is. To me, a resolution is a promise you make to yourself (and others, if you declare it publicly) to do something better or different: quit smoking, eat healthier, spend more time with family, make the bed every morning, etc. And, as I said, the principal thing I want to do differently each year usually comes down to going easier on myself and not stressing over things that ultimately don’t matter. Unfortunately, I suspect that this is something I’m going to have to work on until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil, because I’m sort of a tightly wound lady, and that’s just how it is. So what’s the point of restating the same resolution every year? Better to just keep it in the back of my mind and remind myself not to blow a gasket when things go wrong. That’s seemed to work for me so far. Yoga helps, too.

Making a list of yearly goals, though — that I can get behind. Goals, to me, are far more satisfying than resolutions. Goals are things you can check off a list, or at least work toward checking off a list. They’re fun to think about and to imagine. And, best of all, they don’t require making an inventory of one’s weaknesses and failings, as resolutions do. I have so many goals for the new year, including getting a novel published (or on the way to being published), publishing another short story in a reputable literary magazine, expanding my freelancing work, and keeping a new human alive and healthy. (That last one’s kind of a big one.)

If I had to pick my number one goal for this coming year, it would be to keep another human being alive, and not go crazy in the process. Now this is something I can measure, come New Year’s 2016. If I’m institutionalized next year, we’ll know I failed. As for New Year’s resolutions, who needs ’em?

Happy New Year, by the way.

Book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

I love a good house-cleaning binge. Every year or so, Al and I go through our stuff and do a giant purge, tossing out things with wild abandon, and we always feel SO GOOD afterwards. It’s like a workout for the spirit, getting rid of unnecessary stuff. There’s something deeply satisfying about putting things you no longer need in trash-bags and hauling them to the curb, or, even better, loading them into boxes and dropping them off at the Salvation Army. Yet, despite our periodic purges, over time, stuff — different stuff, but stuff nonetheless — always manages to creep into our house again. Thus, a yearly purge remains necessary for our household. I think this is a typical problem — too much stuff, and negotiating how to get rid of it — but it still bugs me, and I spent a not insignificant amount of time pondering it.

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This preoccupation with purging superfluous stuff and preventing clutter rebounds is why I was so intrigued when I got a copy of Marie Kondo’s slim, attractive little book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo is a Japanese organization expert — don’t you just instinctively trust someone with those credentials? — and she’s devised her own method, the KonMari Method — for tidying up and, here’s the catch, having your house stay tidy. The basic message of Kondo’s method is that you should surround yourself only with things you love, and in her book, she provides step-by-step guidance on how to achieve that.

Kondo’s basic method is different from many other organization experts’ in that she rejects the idea that one should tidy a little each day to make a dent in your clutter. Instead, she supports the idea of one, giant purge, treated as a “special event,” and done methodically, by category. That is, instead of tidying room by room, Kondo recommends tidying by category of thing: first clothes, then books, papers, miscellany, and finally, mementos. The single selection criteria for each item, Kondo stresses, is whether or not it brings you joy. She provides actual guidance about how to determine whether an item — say, a book — brings you joy, which often involves placing all items on the floor and picking them up one by one and waiting for a spark.

There’s a ton of solid, practical advice in Kondo’s book about how to effectively tidy and organize, including tips on efficiently folding clothes and socks, but what I found most useful were the lists in the book of various types of komono (miscellany) that people tend to hold onto “just because.” These include cosmetic samples saved for trips, electronics packages, spare buttons, and unidentified cords. I found Kondo’s observation that “Mysterious cords will always remain that — a mystery,” and that it’s easier and faster to just buy a new one than to dig through a giant tangle of cords, to be particularly liberating. I kept it in mind as I tossed out a huge box of cords and plugs Al and I had been holding onto for a rainy day.

I’m a huge fan of this book and I do plan on using Kondo’s method to tidy my own house from top to bottom — just not right now. We’re having a baby in a month and I know that means we’re going to have a huge influx of new stuff into our house, like it or not. Undoubtedly, some of that stuff will be less useful/joy-provoking than other stuff, and that’s okay. We can make decisions about what to purge later, once we figure out what we need to be parents. Instead, pre-baby, Al and I opted for a stop-gap purge  of our basement, getting rid of tons of cardboard boxes, wires, old papers, books, and household gadgets we’ll never use. I kept Kondo’s advice about interrogating whether an object sparks joy in mind, especially as I cleared out my books. I tend to cling to books (and given the content of this blog, that probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone), so in the past, it’s been hard for me to part with them. This time, though, I found myself easily tossing books away because they didn’t bring me joy. I guess the method works! Recommended for those who are ready to get their stuff organized — for the last time.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Thirty-two

Today is my birthday. I’m 32. There’s nothing particularly exciting about 32, or any birthday, really, after 30 and before 40. They’re all kind of ‘meh’ birthdays, aren’t they? But I suppose this birthday feels more significant to me than it otherwise would because I’m 26 weeks pregnant, and there’s something about having a little person kicking around inside you that imbues everything with a sense of importance. After all, I’ll be 32 when I have this baby, so 32 suddenly has become an important age. This is the last birthday I’ll celebrate as a pre-parent. It’s the first birthday I’ve had in a while where I didn’t drink too much (sigh). It’s the first birthday I celebrated in our new house. So, really, it feels like quite an adult birthday — maybe my first really grown-up birthday.

Spending my birthday in maternity jeans.

Spending my birthday in maternity jeans.

It’s strange to think that this is the third birthday I’ve recorded since starting this blog two years ago. When I started this thing, I was just turning 30, quitting my lawyer job, and moving to South Africa, and at the time, those life changes felt so momentous. And they were, of course. But now, at 32, the changes I’m facing are even MORE momentous. I mean, for crying out loud, I’m going to have a KID in three months! There’s going to be another person living with me and Al — permanently (well, at least for the next 18 years or so). It’s CRAZY. And I know logically that life can’t continue to shift and evolve at the rate that it has for me over these past few years (and I think that’s a good thing), but it is exciting to have something big happening at the turn of every single year. I’m not one of those people who hates getting older, because every year, life gets better. It’s not always easier, but it is better.

In this, my thirty-third year, I know some stuff is going to get harder (see, e.g., poopy diapers), but I am pretty sure that things are going to get even more awesome than they already are. Here we go!