Daddy Issues

We spent the past weekend in Whitstable in Kent.  To picture Kent, imagine if the Jersey Shore had babies with the Hamptons, then sent them off to a British boarding school.  It was full of run-down shabby beach shacks and castles and art galleries and really overpriced boutiques selling necklaces made of safety pins?  I don’t know, there’s a lot about this country that confuses me.

We planned the trip to top off Shane’s parents’ last visit to the UK before their Axis of Evil tour kicked off on Monday.  Virtually the only way for Shane to get out of work mode is for us to get out of London, so off to Whitstable it was!  We had an incredibly fabulous time, beginning with a trip to a fried fish shack on the beach that also served fried doughnuts (donuts? is the “ugh” pretentious?).


Knock-kneed much, there, Pops?

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Let me tell you something: if you want to receive a bevy of concerned inquiries from faraway friends, prompt your nearby friends to confess their own mothering low points AND give your mother a guilt and worry-induced nosebleed, nothing does the trick quite like a lengthy, hysterical, wine-fueled whine-post.

Anyways, things are considerably brighter than they were when I felt the need to bare my soul to everyone I know.  We’ve had an excessive amount of socializing, but the good kind of excessive.  During the week, my gym wife and I have been taking turns feeding our kids fish sticks together while we drink wine and gossip about people at the gym that we don’t know but for whom we’ve constructed elaborate back stories.  Our expat friends have been on a party tear, with bowling nights and pub crawls and St. Patty’s Day parties, culminating in an outdoor picnic dinner that felt like an ad for parenting: beautiful children, gorgeous weather, glowing pregnant women, dads playing soccer.  I’m sure that if the cameras had followed everyone all the way through our respective bedtime routines things would have unraveled pretty quickly, but for one bright, shining moment it was Camelot.

Poppy was an exceptional babysitter the entire evening.  Or maybe she's just a cougar?  Probably the latter.

Poppy was an exceptional babysitter the entire evening. Or maybe she’s just a cougar? Probably the latter.

We also joined the zoo, and went to the safari-esque branch an hour away with a fabulous family.  We only had one injury (Poppy) but none of the roaming wild deer peed on us out of their butts (which apparently happens with alarming regularity) so it was a win.

Yay for no animal urine!!!

Yay for no animal urine!!!

Then this week we had not one, not two, but three lovely couple dates, one with a friend from Princeton and her husband, one with Shane’s co-worker and her husband at quite possibly the coolest restaurant in London at the moment, and one with one of my best friends from law school that reminded me how incredibly wonderful it is to have an old friend when one has been friend-dating for months. We also had a lengthy family brunch with a family that has a kid in each of our kids’ classes, which makes ignoring children while they play so much easier, and have had Shane’s old friend James staying with us, who always brings a lot of lovely energy to the flat.  On top of ALL of that, I also hung a painting on the wall.  I know, right?

Of course there are still the usual parenting challenges.  Yesterday when I was making muffins with William for the brunch, I had to field each of the following questions within a 15 minute period:

“Mommy, what is courage?”

[I give a long explanation that makes a little sense but maybe not]

“Mommy, I think it’s like telling someone you like them.  That is hard.  All my friends do that but I don’t think I can do it yet.”

[My heart melts into the muffin batter]

“All the boys in my class want to marry each of the girls.”  [lists a few of the pairings] “And I’m pretty sure [Boy] wants to marry [Girl] because they both have dark skin.”

[My heart leaps out of the muffin batter.  I attempt to explain that skin color shouldn’t determine who you marry, and that, incidentally, neither should sex, but also somehow end up talking a bit about the slave trade? I don’t know, shit got dicey.]

“OK.  But we should still be careful of brown people. Because remember that time you told me that brown people take babies?”

[WTF.  Seriously W.T.F?!?!?!?]

Apparently, I told him once that I was going sell him + Poppy to the gypsies (moms, feel free to use that parenting gem whenever you want, free of charge).  To explain what gypsies were and why they would buy him, I read him a bit from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame picture book, which depicts gypsies in a rather unfavorable light.

Discount for the pair!

Discount for the pair!

Thankfully, I was able to clear up that little misperception and William is no longer afraid of gypsies or brown people.  As a side note, it turns out that gypsy references in America are kitschy, historical references.  But in Europe, where the history and plight of Romas are constantly plastered all over the news in the context of EU migration rules?  Not so much.  Kind of like how Captain Hook pirates are funny, but Captain Phillips ones are not.  The more you know!

Expecto Patronum!

I’m sitting here in the dark in the kitchen in a dirty bathrobe, face lit by the glow of my laptop, drinking wine.  A full two hours past their ideal bedtime (and 45 minutes past their usual bedtime), I can hear the kids playing in the shower together down the hall – totally an AAP-approved mom-move, since no one can drown in a shower!!!  Especially because, as an added safety measure,  I’ve avoided cleaning the floor tiles for the past few months so that the limescale build-up from this horrid British water has created something of a natural anti-slip mat for their little feet.

In the time that I’ve been ignoring them, they’ve resolved a couple of fights without me intervening, and now William is giving Poppy some lessons about how to wash her hair and Poppy is trying to convince William that he is a monkey and that he “better be careful or he gonna break that!”, all while laughing like an insane clown.  Cute.  Not so cute that I’m going to come out of hiding, but cute.

I’ve enrolled myself in the Mommy Protection Plan because it’s just been one of those hard weeks.  One of those harrrrrrd weeks, when no one individual thing is that insurmountable but when all of the things, combined, just break your heart and your soul and make you cry to your parents over Skype at 7:30 PM because the children will NOT stop talking SO LOUDLY.  What little nudges, exactly, have banded together to push me completely over the edge?

Well, first of all, I’ve had too many social events (I know, cry me  a river), each of which set me off on an emotional triathalon featuring .47 miles of self-doubt (who the fuck do I think I am, thinking I can just go to these events and not have everyone realize how weird and odd and twitchy I am???), followed by 12 miles of  manic self-consciousness (I must – MUST – be the funniest, nicest, coolest person here!!  chugging several glasses of cheap Prosecco will certainly be the performance-enhancing drug I need!), capped off by a leisurely 3.1 mile jog through Anxietyville (oh my GOD, why did I say that?  That wasn’t even funny, and now I’ve been offensive, or rude, and they all think I’m mean and silly and horrible).  Rinse, repeat.

Then, these old ladies at the gym keep stealing my spot.  I get there early, set up my little mat or weights or exercise ball, and they slowly encroach upon my space until I have to move. I fucking hate it. I passive aggressively make exasperated (and unreciprocated) faces to the other people in the class, and I seethe with anger during the full 60 minutes of “Booty Blast” and “Steel Body”.  BUT IT NEVER ENDS.  It’s like they sense my life force and are trying to steal it, “Coccoon” style, by standing too close to me . Or, y’know, they just have spots they like and don’t give a fuck about being a little rude to keep them.

And then, of course, there are the big things: the huge website build that I’ve spent months working on (on a volunter basis) that just launched tonight; the huge source of stress that is my regular “job”; the constant homesickness for my parents, my brother, my aunts and uncles, my friends and my New York; the never-ending housework and life-work that doesn’t stop building up just because I have other stuff going on; the lonlieness of being a Big Law wife, even if I understand the hours because I was there myself; the soul-aching worry that the choices we’re making for our family aren’t the best choices for our kids; the fact that I have two Ivy League degrees, I’m closer to 40 than I am to 20, and I still don’t know what the hell I want to do with my (professional) life.

I wrote an email reply tonight to a dear, dear friend with a young baby that I think kinda sums up what I feel like I’m dealing with right now: “Dude, what you are dealing with is hard.  It’s always hard.  I am drunk right now because I have had a really horrible week full of nothing that’s really that horrible, but even then: being a mom and a wife and a friend and a daughter and an employee and yourself is HARD.  But because nothing individually is really *that* hard you feel like a loser for feeling like you can’t deal (or at least I do).  But you are not a loser. I might be, b/c I have had too much wine and I’m sitting in the dark in my bathrobe just because.  But not you!”

On a lighter note, here’s a picture of Poppy + Will dressed up like Harry Potter for some random-ass dress-up day that British private schools seem to have all the time:

We totally didn't mean to Catholic-bait by doing this get-up on Ash Wednesday.  But sometimes the jokes write themselves.

We totally didn’t mean to Catholic-bait by doing this get-up on Ash Wednesday. 





Nine Valentines

2006: Philadelphia, PA

Our first Valentine’s Day together, our third year of law school.  We went to a pizza place down the street from the apartment I shared with my best friend Dan and split the bill before heading to the Penn v. Princeton basketball game.

So young and unwrinkled!

So young and unwrinkled!

Two fun facts: (1) it was my first Princeton basketball game, despite the fact that I spent 4 years in much closer proximity to them, and (2) it was our first technical “date”, despite the fact that we had been together for over 4 months already.  Apparently our entire relationship up to that point consisted of drinking cheap beer at home or in crappy bars, and…ummm….studying the penal code.

In the midst of the "Fat Phase" of relationships, which comes immediately after the "Honeymoon Period" and some time before the "Gahhh, Can You Not Eat So Loud??!" phase.

In the midst of the “Fat Period” that all relationships go through, which comes immediately after the “Honeymoon Phase” and some time before the “Gahhh, Can You Not Eat So Loud??! Era”.

2007: New York, NY

We went to Les Halles, where the entire staff seemed genuinely surprised that people still went there, let alone made reservations as we had.

It was also a particularly icy evening, due to both the melting aftermath of a brutal NY winter storm and my constant nagging about when, exactly, Shane was planning to finally propose to me (I had already booked the venue, so this was not just an academic concern) (yes, I am crazy)(and maybe a little controlling, possibly?).  I am almost 100% certain that I refrained from pouting or bitching the entire night, after declaring a week earlier that I would bitch no more but might “start making other plans”.  He is certain that I did.  I guess we will never know.  (We know).

SIDE NOTE: Because there is no night quite as romantic as February 15th, and because the guy has great comic timing, he proposed to me the next night.  The proposal, the gorgeous ring, and the surprise trip to Paris that weekend were all well worth the wait.

Look how PARALLEL our EYEBROWS are!  It's like we were meant to be together.

Look how precisely aligned our eyebrows are!  We pass the New York Times photographic compatibility test with flying colors.

2008: Colorado

We were on a ski trip with 4 of our closest friends, also couples.  It turns out it was also Will’s first ski trip, though we had absolutely no idea that THAT was why I was unbearably exhausted and nauseous the whole time.

2009-2012: New York, NY (We think)

Although Valentine’s Day certainly must have occurred during these years, we have absolutely no memory of what exactly we did with them.  I do recall Shane meeting me in Grand Central with a bouquet of roses after work one year and a quick Gmail search reveals that, in 2011, we ordered Grand Szechuan from Seamless Web.

Photos reveal that Shane was also treated to an early morning be-gloved serenade.  Fancy.

Photos reveal that Shane was also treated to an early morning be-gloved serenade. Fancy.

Though apparently unmemorable, I’m sure each  was filled with wildly romantic gestures and extravagant displays of affection.  Or, perhaps, Thomas the Train and passing out on the couch at 9 PM with a half-finished bottle of rosé.  Either/or.

2013: New York, NY

Valentine’s Day 2013 was the hottest one yet!

Is that a fire in our apartment, or are you just happy to see me?

Is that a fire in our apartment, or are you just happy to see me?

Mostly because our apartment almost burned down the night before.

So, on Valentine’s Day, we were stuck living in the hotel across the street while our home was made livable again.  Even though it was a logistical nightmare, and I was suffering from self-diagnosed PTSD from having to run shoe- and bra-less out of a burning building carrying both my frightened children in the middle of the night, we were all alive so it truly was the greatest Valentine’s Day of all.

Best Valentine's Day dates ever.

Best Valentine’s Day dates ever.

2014: London, England

My sweet husband rushed home from work with a lovely card and a box of fancy-pants chocolates to find a grumpy, annoyed wife who had (passive aggressively?) failed to find time to even round up a card at the drug store.  We walked all over Primrose Hill looking for a restaurant that suited my rather-undefined criteria for the appropriate meal for the night, before ending up at a perfectly suitable Mediterranean joint.  I calmed down after a few glasses of wine, we both loved the food, and we weren’t impaled by any tree limbs during the walk home through 1,000,000 mph (or, I should probably say kph) winds.  Perfect night.

January is the Cliché-est Month

So, a lot has happened in the last month and also absolutely nothing has happened in the last month.  I have, however, spent a considerable amount of time thinking about clichés and how they seem so utterly dull…until you realize that often clichés are clichés for a reason.

Livin' the (clichéd suburban) dream: two kids, one dog, and a three-row Volvo station wagon.  Someone break out the tequila!!

Livin’ the (clichéd suburban) dream: two kids, one dog, and a three-row Volvo station wagon. Someone break out the tequila!!

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You Say It’s Your Birthday?

Last Saturday was my birthday, and Shane threw me a fabulous party with all of our new friends at a bar down the street.  Thirty people showed up, and I ended the night drinking directly out of a bottle of wine purchased by a gentleman raised in the great state of Missouri AND walked home shoeless.  Wins all around.

It also got me thinking about all of the various birthday party stages we all go through:

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Operation WAHM

Operation WAHM (Work at Home Mom), Field log, 1/6/2014

00:00 – 01:30: Continue ongoing anti-terrorism measures first launched at 23:00 on the prior day in response to a solo operator who would NOT STAY IN HER GODDAMN ROOM.

It seems the opponents "orange peel elephant" disguise must have been irreparably damaged during prior strikes.

It seems the opponent’s “orange peel elephant” disguise must have been irreparably damaged during prior strikes as it was noticeably absent.

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The Audacity of Hope: 2014

We’ve just gotten back to the flat from a flight that was transcontinental, transatlantic, and replete with a stop in a dazzling foreign locale (kisses to you, Minneapolis!). It was simultaneously uneventful and psychologically scarring, as is most travel with little kids.  It always starts like this:

At the beginning of the flight they're all, "awwww"

So sweet.

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Mastering Christmas

It’s extremely important to me that my children grow up in a home where holidays are celebrated, traditions are built AND maintained, and their heads are filled with visions of dancing sugar plums and jolly old elves.  That is why, yesterday, I frantically started trying to pretend like it’s Christmas up in hurre, a mere 6 weeks after I first thought about taking some Christmasy steps and less than a week before we leave for Seattle.  A brief primer on my expert holiday homemaking:

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Things You Need To Be Told

When my parents were visiting, it came up that I’ve never really done laundry before we moved here.  In New York, I either sent it out or paid a cleaning lady to do it.  I must have done it in law school and college, but I don’t have many vivid memories of it (except for one of sitting on a dryer in Forbes reading Gogol; y’know, typical Princeton nonsense).  Before that, my mother did every stitch of laundry in the house.

Let me back up.  When I say my mother “did my laundry”, it’s an understatement.  She doesn’t just “do laundry”.  That woman MASTERS laundry.  In my mom’s house, 30 year old towels are as fluffy and soft as the day they were purchased at Montgomery Ward; whites are brighter than bright; and there is nary a stray pink undershirt in the house.  At any given time, there are no fewer than 6 buckets scattered around the basement containing varying degrees of detergent/bleach/stain remover, each calibrated perfectly to address the specific stain blighting the football jersey or cheerleading skirt or dress shirt hosted within.  When Mama Franklin does laundry, she does NOT fuck around.

So, I think she was a little surprised at how thoroughly I suck at laundry.  And since she is a mom before she is a master laundress, the immediate response was guilt. Massive guilt.

That week she gave me the best primer on laundry and folding ever.  Now nothing is pink coming out of my washing machine that wasn’t pink going in, and I know how to fold the shit out of a fitted sheet (which, fyi, Martha Stewart confessed was the demise of her first marriage – not, as you might suspect, her insanely demanding perfectionism and general see-you-next-tuesday-ness).  Since then, my mother has also apologized no less than 5 times for not teaching me how to do laundry.  In her mind, she explained, letting me focus on school, and studying for standardized tests, and extracurriculars, was a much better investment than teaching me the importance of separating my reds from my blues.

I totally cannot disagree with her analysis.  It’s similar to the one I did tonight when Poppy KEPT coming OUT of HER GODDAMN room, and then finally stayed there while aggressively screaming “Mummy!  MUMMY!!!  I NEEEEEED YOOOOOOUU”.

I had a million body parts telling me to go in there immediately, because what if the ceiling had fallen in on her and she was slowly suffocating? What if she had managed to swallow her pacifier and was choking to death?  Or, what if she was just scared and I was teaching her that her feelings were unimportant, authority figures are not to be trusted, her instincts are completely incorrect and her mommy is a horrible witch?

I also had another million body parts telling me that Penelope needs to learn how to go to sleep by herself, and it’s my responsibility to make that happen.  Also?  That I’m a much better mommy if bedtime is not “stroke their hair until they fall asleep then set your alarm for 8:30 PM so that you can get out of their little bunk bed to do more laundry before your husband comes home at midnight and you have to be the good wife who talks about his day and watches Luther with him before you fall asleep on the couch.”  And my husband and kids deserve a mom who isn’t totally annoyed all of the time because she goes to bed at 7:30 in a twin bunk bed.

Tonight, the second million body parts won out, and Poppy went to sleep on her own.  I am wracked with guilt over it, just as I would be if things had gone the other way.

Basically, being a mom consists of navigating a series of diametrically opposed instincts and praying (PRAYING) that we’ve chosen the correct one.  Do I add laundry to the list of things I’m asking my 17 year old to accomplish, or do I do it for her so she can focus on studying for her SATs and, one day, make enough money so that she never has to do her own laundry?  Do I run to my 2 year old when she cries for me so that she knows she has a rock-solid safety net, or do I teach her how to soothe herself so that she learns how important self-reliance is?   

I don’t know what the answer is here.  But I do know one thing: if I show up at Penelope’s house when she’s in her 30’s and she still needs to put her feet on someone’s bare stomach in order to fall asleep?  I’m going to freak out WAAAAAYYYY more than my mom did when she realized that I had no idea why that whites+blues+red sock load was such an epic failure.

And one day, God willing, Poppy will be in the exact same mama guilt boat.

One day, God willing, Poppy will be in the exact same mama guilt boat.