Archive for the ‘family’ Category

The Decision to Work

I never felt I made a very good stay-at-home mom. My idle hands and mind crave deadlines, accountability and lots of social interaction. I am reminded of this every time I have a few days at home by myself or when I have been in between jobs. The first few days function like a water faucet, filling up my emotional and physical energy depleted from running around like a crazed superwoman short on time. But once I’ve had my fill of solitude, the quiet settles around me, heavily. I don’t enjoy the stillness in my mind, wonder what everyone else is accomplishing and assume that while they are out creating very important documents for very important people and curing cancer and saving the world and educating kids and laughing and enjoying themselves, I am home, with my forehead pressed against the sliding glass door, questioning my purpose in life. Those voices in my head that come out around day three of quietude and pester me about my existence? Yeah, they can be mean.

Between the time Lennon was an infant until he was three years old, I stayed home with him off and on, and honestly, I was terrible at the job. Lennon was bored, and I was bored. Even when I structured and scheduled out the day and signed him up for art and gymnastic classes and sought out play dates and remained vigilantly on the look out for massive and enthralling road and building work where we could gawk at backhoes like construction groupies, I still pined for 5:00 p.m. and my hubby to come home. I knew exactly how long it would take Scott to drive from his office to the house, and if he hadn’t arrived by 5:15 p.m. I was on the phone, crankily demanding an ETA. The mornings when I called him at work before 8:30 a.m. desperate to know how I was going to make it through the day are not what I consider highlights of my parenting career.

I really wanted to feel fulfilled staying home, but I never felt at ease in the role of a stay-at-home mom. By the time Calla was born, I had already tried various combinations of work and staying home, and I had determined, that for the sake of my sanity and our pocket book, it would be best if I headed back to work full time.

Fortunately, my kids love going to school. They spend their days with teachers who enjoy teaching them about things like the lifespan of a whale, and painting water-colored sunflowers and singing songs, and socializing with their friends. I think one of the best things I have ever done for my kids was to be honest about my need to work full time, and to acknowledge my limitations as a parent, and to be okay with calling upon the help of loving and caring teachers who have been thrilled at the idea of spending their days crawling around on the floor with my kids.

As much as I am at peace with my choice, or as much peace as I can possibly be in this society of guilty parenting, I still second guess myself regularly. Especially when a well-meaning parent raises her eyebrow about the amount of time my kids spend in after school care each day and launch questions at me, like when will they have time to study the violin or piano. And to this I say, three things: first, my kids don’t play the violin or piano, nor do I expect them to start anytime soon. Second, they take their lessons when we get home from work, and so far, that seems to work for us. Third, us mommies, we need to stick together and be supportive of the choices we make or are forced to make with our lives and our kids. There is no perfect parenting environment that fits for everyone. What works for one family isn’t necessarily going to work for another, so let’s be mindful and kind to each other.

I have spent the last seven years refocusing my career so I can work normal hours in an environment that is flexible and allows me to chaperone field trips and attend school events when they arise, and I have come to realize that I am a better mother when I balance my life with a career. A dear friend of mine realized she needed to quit her job to be home full time with her kids. Both decisions were difficult to make, and both are equally right.

I had a hard time trying to decide what sort of recipe to include in this post, but I think the most appropriate option for a piece like this is to just encourage take-out. On the toughest of days, a local restaurant can be the best friend of working and stay-at-home moms alike.

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Last Thursday, Calla suggested we eat snacks for dinner. Her menu included soy yogurt, ice cream, spring rolls and Popsicles. Lennon requested Costco-style “samples” and dim sum. I didn’t feel like cooking a full meal and neither Scott nor I were interested in the remaining items on our weekly menu. He had eaten Asian food for lunch and didn’t want stir fry, and I had eaten a burrito and didn’t want Mexican. We weren’t able to find cilantro at the Farmer’s Market so fresh spring roll salad with a peanut sauce dressing was off the menu and Falafel would take too long.

After a week of crazy deadlines, skipped lunches at work and general heat malaise, I was feeling a lack of motivation and desire to enter the kitchen. Grabbing a recipe book for last minute dinner ideas wasn’t going to happen. I liked Calla’s idea of snacks for dinner, with some healthy modifications, of course.

Calla wasn’t happy that I changed up her menu. There was some compromising from me and lots of whining from her. I eliminated all the desserts, which basically left the spring rolls. I pulled out some hummus, leftover tofu ricotta from a stuffed shells recipe earlier in the week, carrots, celery, raw broccoli and marinated tofu and put together a veggie platter. I heated up the leftover pasta sauce and threw in a handful of frozen veggie meatballs, microwaved some cashew cream cheesy sauce leftover from a macaroni and cheese casserole from earlier in the week and assembled a couple of sandwiches which I cut into quarters. And I heated up a bagful of those awesome frozen vegetarian spring rolls from Costco–snacks and dim sum all in one. A container of seaweed salad, which Lennon deemed, “too chewy,” rounded out the meal.

Snacks for dinner wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great either, but I’ve been trying to be better about using up the leftovers in our fridge. I can’t say the fusion of Italian, Asian and hummus felt particularly awesome in my stomach, but for dinner on the table in 25 minutes after a long day, a much needed clearing out of the fridge, and a win for the kiddo who suggested the idea in the first place, snacks for dinner served its purpose.

Snack managers surveying the samples.

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I didn’t know my cousin Rory nearly as well as I would have liked. It didn’t help that we lived at least two hours away from each other at any given point during his life or that I was thirteen years his senior. I remember him being a spry and skinny little kid with a crazy dry wit at an obscenely young age. He motored around in that manic boy way, and if you got him to stop for a moment to talk, his raspy voice would spout a shocking amount of sarcasm wrapped around a dose of insight. Afterward, he would bolt away, all the while rubbing his hands together like a pint-sized mad scientist gearing up to do a touch of evil.

A lack of Generation Xers in my family forced me to learn how to interact with adults at a very early age. When the family baby boom finally began, I was already well on my way to becoming a self-absorbed teenager. As a result, I have a tendency to feel awkward around kids. My children are teaching me how to interact with other children, a skill I seemed to have missed learning while growing up. I feel a deep regret that I let my awkwardness get in the way of getting to know the Tomasello boys. A look through Rory’s MySpace page tells me we would have gotten along well.

Rory died abruptly this week at 22 years of age when he was hit by an SUV while riding his bike. Somehow the death of my elders seems easier to handle. They lived a full life–death being the natural next step. But when someone young dies, well, a bit of my soul dies with them. Sequestered away in my heart, in that void that death created, is a vault that holds the stories of the people I’ve loved and lost. I will pull out Rory’s story when I think about a bacon and white bread sandwich, hear the voice of a small child threatening to kick someone’s ass, renew my license and check off the box that says “yes” to donating my organs, or when I reflect upon my missed opportunity to reconnect with my young cousins at the last family reunion.

Death is a harsh and demanding teacher. Grief pushes aside all of our filters normally clogged full of busy details and allows in a stark clarity. The lessons are immediate when death makes an example of someone we love. In the book, Journey to Ixtlan, The Lessons of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, the shaman teaches his pupil the importance of living life as an impeccable warrior. His lesson is, “In a world where death is the hunter there are no small or big decisions. There are only decisions that we make in the face of our inevitable death.” So I get it, death. I hear you. My lessons are this: push past my awkward shyness and weakness for small talk and get to know people better; slow down and ask questions and make sure to listen to the answers; make decisions with the finality of death; reflect the best of myself; and always drive my car like a mindful Jedi knight.

Below is a recipe for a vegan BLT–a sandwich I am sure my late cousin would have shunned as a young boy for the lack of real bacon and written jokes about as an adult.

Vegan BLT

Sourdough bread
Tempeh bacon (Yeah, it is a far cry from the real thing but the smokey flavor kind of makes up for the lack of bacon grease, kind of.)
Vegenaise (There are lots of other types of fake mayonaise out there. This is the only one that comes close to the real thing.)
Olive oil
Avocado (optional)

Heat a non-stick pan with enough olive oil to coat the pan. Separate and place the tempeh bacon strips in the pan and brown them. A couple of minutes on each side should suffice. While the tempeh is cooking, toast the sourdough and then slather with Vegenaise. Add a liberal helping of lettuce and tomato. If you need some extra triglycerides, Mash on half an avocado. Add the tempeh and cut that baby in half. Close your eyes and pretend you are eating the real thing.

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