Archives for June 2011

The Bikini Quandary

If you are like me – born under a sign in which water is your element – you probably can’t get enough of the beach, or the lake, or your backyard pool, if you happen to be so fortunate. One of my favorite things to do is sit at the edge of the ocean, with my little beach chair half-submerged in the water, my toes just below the surface of the sand, a cold beer in my built-in cup holder, and sunshine warming me to the core. Ahh… I can feel the calm washing over me as the waves lap at my ankles. I can smell the salty, suntan-lotiony air as peace and harmony envelope me, and all the chaos disappears from My High-Maintenance Life, if only for a few short hours.

Can you imagine it with me? Do you see the boat out on the horizon? Maybe a lazy seagull circling overhead, or even a stingray silently gliding through the crystal-clear water just a few feet away? And then, like a needle scratching across the record, she appears from out of nowhere to interrupt this serene vision. She is a woman that is just a bit too large for her tiny little string bikini. This all too common sighting begs the question: When is a woman too big, too old, or too out of shape to wear a bikini?

Every time I am at the beach, the lake, or my neighborhood pool, I see it. The first thing that crosses my mind, to quote my mother, “Maybe she doesn’t own a full-length mirror.” But, the next thought I have is, “Wow. I should have worn MY string bikini that I bought 10 years ago before I was ever pregnant and thought I was too out of shape to wear today.”

Allow me clarify here, lest you think I am being overly critical. There are three different categories Women in Tiny Bikinis fall into.

First, is the Too Big for My Suit category. And, by “too big” for their suits, I don’t necessarily mean “too fat.” In fact, in most cases, women in this category aren’t overweight at all, in any place other than their chest. But, for some reason, women who are naturally or surgically (“after market parts” as my friend likes to call it) well endowed, like to wear bikinis that are just one or two sizes too small. When I see a woman whose bikini top is filled to capacity (think over-filled water balloons in which the latex is stretched so thin it appears transparent), running the risk of a wardrobe malfunction if she inhales too deeply, I think to myself, “If I tried that on in the dressing room and saw every single fiber in my top fighting to stay together, I’d ask for a bigger size.

Next is the I Might Be a Grandma But I’m Wearing a Bikini category. These are the “older” women who have clearly given birth to more than one nine-pound baby in their lifetimes, but they’re not letting that stop them from feeling sexy! These women make me wonder, “Are we ever too old to wear a bikini?” As one of my guy friends offers, “Maybe she was really hot before she had kids so she still feels really good about her body.” Well, that would make sense, wouldn’t it? I’d LOVE to have that kind of confidence!

Although I am NOT EVEN CLOSE to the age of becoming a grandma, I still think I might be too old to wear any kind of suit that exposes my less-than-svelte tummy. I’m not 23 anymore and I did give birth to one six-pound child in my lifetime. Maybe that means I’m past my peak bikini-wearing season.

Finally, there is the Pleasantly Plump Bikini Wearing Girlfriend category. She is young, she is jiggly and she wants to get a good tan. She has never carried a baby in her belly, she has always been a little overweight, but all her skinny friends are wearing bikinis, so she is, too. And I say, “You go, girl!” Again, to have that kind of confidence – in a world where we are force-fed the ridiculous notion that we must look like the anorexic, chain-smoking supermodels we see in magazines – is to be commended.

So, my dear friends, when are we too big, too old, or too out of shape to wear a bikini? Next time you get ready to head out to the beach, look into your full-length mirror and say, “You know what? After having (insert number) kids, and for being (insert real age) years old, I don’t look half bad.” Go forth in confidence in your two-piece, armed with the knowledge that another woman you’ll see today looks way worse than you do. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

The Mommy Identity Crisis

For the most part, I’ve always been a pretty confident person, with a solid and ever-evolving sense of my own identity. In my youth, it was easy for me identify myself with the activities I was in. I was a dancer and a skier; I played the flute, piccolo, and alto sax; I sang in choir and was involved in theater — your typical artsy band geek. After college, my identity became intertwined with my profession, as often happens with adults. Think about it: the first thing you say to someone you’ve just met is, “Hi Bob, nice to meet you. So, what do you do?” After I had my daughter, I was faced with redefining my identity. The question, “So, what do you do?” elicited a completely different answer.

For 14 years before my baby was born, whenever I heard that question, I had responded happily, “I’m a graphic designer.” When I went back to college, I found myself adding modifiers such as, “I’m a graphic designer, but I just went back to school to pursue my master’s in communication and conflict management.” Either answer sounded respectable and well defined. In one case, I was a working professional; in the other, I was a working professional pursuing another career. It was easy for me to say and something I was proud of, and it was easy for other people to understand. Although evolving, my identity was still based on my professional life.

When I became a mom, however, my credentials in the working world were tossed out with the delivery room sheets. Everywhere I went for the first 17 months of my daughter’s life, she was attached at my hip (more accurately, my breast, but that’s another story). Now when I met people, I was introduced in a way that identified which kid I belonged to. Instead of asking me what I did for a living, other parents said, “Nice to meet you, Karla. Which children are yours?” My response: “Nice to meet you, Mary. I’m Antonia’s mom.” I began thinking about that. I was no longer known in my circles of other mom friends as “Karla the Graphic Designer” but instead as, “Karla the Mother of Antonia.”

Evidently, when you become a mother, you are stripped of your professional identity and instead labeled with which of the screaming rug rats in the playgroup is yours. (This qualifier becomes particularly important when the child’s diaper needs to be changed, as in, “Whoa! This baby is really stinky. Which one of you is Antonia’s mom?”)

One day while surfing the Web (undoubtedly, while my un-stinky baby was napping), I came across a site that was promoting “mommy cards”. That’s right. To my shock and amazement, I discovered that I could actually order what looked like a business card, but instead announced:

Mary Jane Lipshitz — Mother to Jordan, Julie and Sophie

complete with little swirls of pastel colors and cartoon animals.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

“Socialize in style with Mommy Cards” boasted one website. SERIOUSLY? Socialize in style wearing your mom jeans and t-shirt with spit-up stains? Clearly, this whole mommy identity thing is a profitable business.

Why did I need mommy cards? I wondered. Was it because even though I had been robbed of my professional identity, I could still FEEL like I had some kind of authority in the world? I imagined handing these out to other moms on the playground. “Hi, I’m Karla, Antonia’s mom. Let me give you my mommy card so we can arrange a play date. Sorry the card is damp. My container of breast milk must have leaked all over the diaper bag.”

It’s tough to have no professional identity to speak of, but I’m not that desperate. Yet.

After five years in the business of being Antonia’s mom, I’m still hopeful that one of my hard-earned degrees and years of experience (doing things other than vacuuming and putting away toys) will eventually lead me back to a lucrative career. That’s a card I’d be willing to hand out on the playground…with a handwritten note on the back to identify which kid is mine.

How to Have Kids and a Career in the Same Lifetime

I don’t love my job. Isn’t that the plight of most Americans? The problem is, my job is being a stay-at-home mom. I am supposed to LOVE that. It is supposed to be the best job in the world, isn’t it? Sometimes I sit on the couch late at night and while I’m half-paying attention to a movie I’ve already seen, I think about why it is that I’m not ecstatically happy being a stay-at-home mom after five years in this position.

As I was walking my dog Friedrich around the neighborhood this morning, it occurred to me that the reason I am struggling so much is because of GUILT. I am SUPPOSED to LOVE being a stay-at-home mom. I am SUPPOSED to LIVE for my child’s happiness — eat, sleep and breathe activities that keep my daughter’s life challenging and fulfilling. Isn’t that what other stay-at-home moms do? All the ones I know are happy taking their kids to puppet shows at the library. They are happy baking cookies, taking their kids to soccer practice, and making dinner for their husbands. I know they are happy — they post it all over Facebook.

I have come to realize over the last few years that I am in the minority. I do not want to work full-time in an office and send my kid to daycare 50 hours a week. (Why have kids, really?) But, I also don’t want to have only conversations with five-year-olds and be mentally un-stimulated for days on end. I want the BALANCE of both worlds. I want to be at home when I need to be — when my baby is sick, or has a special event at school. I want to work and earn money and be in control of my own financial destiny. I want to show my daughter that women can do anything — like balancing a career while simultaneously raising well-adjusted, thriving children. Most of all, I want my three college degrees to stop collecting dust.

Along with her sisters, a very dear friend of mine was raised predominantly by her mom, while her dad supported the family with his very successful career. All three daughters had the privilege of college educations and all three of them earned master’s degrees. While my friend was working on her master’s, her mom enrolled in college. After all those years of raising children and cooking delicious dinners for her husband and taking care of wounded animals (I remember that part vividly), my friend’s mom courageously went to college, earned her bachelor’s degree, then her master’s, and went on to become a very successful and well-respected teacher.

I was amazed, really. This loving, selfless woman who had spent more than thirty years of her life raising a family, had dreams of her own. Had she always wanted to be a teacher? Did she know what her passion was even before her oldest daughter was born? Did she think about it after her third baby came into the world ten years later? Did she say to herself over piles of laundry, “In 18 more years I can pursue my dreams of becoming a teacher”?

Everything I remember about my friend’s mom is that she always seemed happy and willing to do anything for her kids and their friends. She was even a Brownie troop leader for the neighborhood. She embraced her life as a stay-at-home mother of three. She put her career dreams on hold, raised a wonderful family, and finally picked up in her fifties where she had left off in her early twenties.

So, my dear stay-at-home mom friends, it appears that we CAN have it all, just not simultaneously. And, the reality is that it could quite possibly take thirty years before we have enough time to focus on ourselves. Wow. I don’t even have enough patience to wait for my daughter to pick out what shoes she is going to wear each day.

Get the popcorn and settle in. The all-night movie marathon just started.

Don’t You Wish They Were Still Babies?

If you have children, and they are growing, as is the nature of the little creatures, then you may have had this experience:

Mom A: (observing child doing something on his own) “Don’t you miss the days when Johnny was little?”

Mom B: (correct, expected response) “Yes! I loved holding Johnny and cuddling with him. Now he’s almost seven years old and is just so independent.” (Wistful sigh to follow; possible tear in eye; two moms sharing a common bond.)

However, if you are in that minority of mothers, whom like myself, feel like there might just be more to life than playing peek-a-boo with your drooling toddler for hours on end, the conversation may go something like this:

Mom A: (observing child doing something on her own) “Don’t you miss the days when Antonia was a baby?”

Me: Ha! NO! Are you KIDDING?! I don’t miss changing diapers or feeding her at all! I’m so excited that Antonia can go to the bathroom on her own, hold a fork, get dressed by herself, load a movie into the DVD player… God NO! I don’t miss those days! Ha! (Unintentional snort from me followed by complete look of horror on other mom’s face. Make futile attempt at toning down my enthusiasm.)

As I said in my first post, I am going to be brutally honest here. I don’t LOVE every moment of motherhood, and the thought of going back to the day when my daughter was totally dependent on me for everything, does not appeal to me in the least. In fact, I have a visceral reaction when I see pregnant women. Let me give you an example or two.

One Sunday morning after church, we went to brunch like we always do and happened to run into another family from our church. This lovely family has a daughter the same age as mine (at the time, about 4 and a half); another little girl about two, and on this particular Sunday, I realized that the mom was pregnant with her third child. Right there, in the middle of my omelet, I began to feel panic-stricken and almost overcome with anxiety.

“Oh no,” I said to my parents. “That woman is pregnant again. She already has a 4-year-old and a two-year-old. What is she gonna do? The little one is still in diapers. That’s crazy! Now she is going to have a newborn, too?” I could barely catch my breath as I rambled off my fears for this woman’s life. My parents stared at me. I tried to calm my muscles, which tensed as if I were hanging onto a small branch on the side of a cliff that would break at any moment if I made a sudden movement. Slowly, I released the grip on my fork and set it on the plate.

I took a deep breath and came to my senses. “It’s OK,” I said looking at my father. “I don’t have to take care of all those children. That’s HER life, not mine. It will be OK. I just freaked out for a minute.”

A similar thing happened to me just yesterday when I was dropping my nearly self-sufficient daughter off at summer camp. Again, I ran into another mom who has two boys, one about Antonia’s age and another a year younger. She was visibly pregnant. “Oh…you’re having a baby!” I said to her a bit too enthusiastically. “Yes,” she replied, smiling delightedly. “I’m due in a few months.”

“Wow, that’s great! Congratulations!” I told her while simultaneously thinking, “Why would you want to start all over again? Your boys are old enough to go to school and ride bikes and you get free time while they are at camp. Why would you want another one to take care of while they are at school this fall?”

I know. It’s crazy. I guess it’s hard for me to fully understand that some stay-at-home moms are REALLY HAPPY being stay-at-home moms, and the thought of having more than one child doesn’t scare them. I, on the other hand, break out in a cold sweat at the thought of it. For every mom out there who has more than one child, and still manages to leave the house every day with some semblance of sanity, I bow to you out of respect and admiration. Wonder Woman, please step aside; a mother of three can take it from here.

“Disenchantment” or “Beauty School Wasn’t What I Thought It Would Be”

If anyone had told me eight years ago that moving from New York to Georgia would result in a complete forfeit of my career goals, I would have laughed in their faces, the kind of laugh that Danny Zuko laughs at the Frosty Palace when Sandy asks him if he is jealous of her super-jock boyfriend. Danny replies in utter confidence, “Oh, come on Sandy! Don’t make me laugh. Ha…ha…ha…ha…”

That was me, ha…ha…ha…ha-ing… until I woke up one day a few years later, and realized that I had traded in my career as a successful graphic designer/family mediator (complete with certificates and advanced degrees) for a string of part-time graphic design jobs, a beautiful baby girl, and then at last, a failed marriage. I won’t bore you with the gory details, because that is not what this venue is about, and I apologize for stating the obvious here, but as Frenchy discerns after she unintentionally dies her hair pink, “Beauty school sure wasn’t what I thought it would be.”

In less than three year’s time, I had traded in my professional skills for housecleaning, diaper changing and grocery shopping. I went from working in advertising agencies and the New York family court system, to mopping my kitchen floor and scrubbing toilets. I no longer had a dry-clean-only wardrobe. Instead, I wore comfortable clothes that were at any given moment, ready to be the lucky recipient of my bouncing baby girl’s snot, spit-up, drool and occasionally, poop. I admit it — I wore the dreaded Mom Clothes.

Fast-forward five years. My sweet little cherub is in school and thriving. In fact, I just taught her how to tie her shoes, and she is already reading her own books! Friends and teachers have marveled at her advanced vocabulary and understanding of abstract concepts. She also thinks most of the rules other kids have to follow don’t apply to her. Has being the mom of an always precocious and intelligent child been rewarding? In more ways than I could ever imagine. Does it continue to be the biggest challenge of my life? In more ways than I could ever imagine.

So, that’s where I am now and the reason for this blog and it’s title. My high-maintenance life hardly consists of working out with my personal trainer two hours a day, shopping at Phipps Plaza (read “expensive designer stores” for all you non-Atlantans), followed by sushi and Cosmopolitans on the terrace with my favorite gal pals. (I don’t even use the words “gals pals” to describe my friends. EVER.) And, although I do get the occasional pedicure or massage, and sporadically spend way too much money getting my hair highlighted, lowlighted and balanced with just the right shade of midtones, (I am a graphic designer, what can I say?), MY high-maintenance life is all about the struggles I endure on a daily basis as a result of my own psyche and unfulfilled dreams.

Wow. That sounds so doom and gloom, doesn’t it? Well, truth be told, some days are full of that kind of darkness. (Some days are wonderful and I feel like my life is turning around, and I think that maybe by some small chance, it’s not too late for me to have a successful career. But, those days are few and far between.) What happens on the days when I feel strapped financially, chained to a mentally non-stimulating job of being the maid, servant and teacher of my sometimes cranky, always strong-willed child, is what most stay-at-home moms don’t talk about. In fact, I don’t talk about this with just anyone, either. But, I’m going to write about all of it.

I know that I am not the ONLY mother in the world who gave up my career to be a mom. And I know from speaking to some of my friends that I’m not alone in my disenchantment. A few of them have even thanked me for being so honest for voicing my “being a mom is NOT the single, most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me” opinion. I love my daughter with all my heart and wouldn’t trade her for the world, AND I am sad with all my heart that I have no career to speak of. (Did I mention I have a 90 lb. dog that burps and farts out loud, and chews stuffed animals if he isn’t walked regularly?)

Welcome to my high-maintenance life.