Monthly Archives: December 2011

Post #200: On Passivity, Confrontations and Trying to Learn From Mistakes

“But sometimes, if I don’t push you in the right direction, you end up standing still.”

Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation

Today I had the tremendous pleasure of meeting the fabulous blogger Luna and her beautiful children. She is so smart, witty and kind. And both of her daughters are gorgeous. They were so well-behaved and just a joy. After reading the surprising, harrowing and exhilarating tale of baby Z (which was more thrilling than most books I read this year), it was so beautiful and moving to see her with her mother and sister.

And then there were my children. I love them dearly (I know I don’t need to tell YOU this) but my children are different than me. Darcy is someone I would describe as a strong personality. He confronts life head-on, tackles problems directly and quickly. Like the literary character I named him after, he’s blunt, forceful and says what he thinks.

I am none of these things. I am supportive, nurturing, complimentary, and passive. I’d run a mile to avoid a confrontation.

My children are strong-willed. I am not. So parenting them is a challenge.

The way I have dealt with life is sometimes passive. I do my best and work hard but don’t chase down the great opportunities. I let pretty good opportunities come to me and so my life is filled with mediocre achievements. I have a blog with mediocre traffic. I haven’t redesigned the site yet, because the designers I reached out to were busy for months in advance. So I…took no further action.

Anyway, this brings me to the tussle I had with Esperanza, and it was pretty close to the fight between Ann Perkins and Leslie Knope on my favorite ever episode of “Parks and Recreation”. In the episode, Leslie, a type A go-getter gets annoyed at Ann for not pursuing an opportunity and says often Ann stands still.

Esperanza’s concern with me is that I wasn’t taking any strong steps forward to developmental specialists who could help me manage the kids better.

Here’s an exact copy of our exchange, in which I admit I was humiliated by the way my children behaved around Luna’s angelic children.

Me: “I had a playdate with Luna today and the kids were awful. I was so embarrassed.”

And then she responded, via text, this:

“I don’t mean to sound harsh, but if I were you I’d be doing something proactive with the kids. Trying a new strategy or having people from Xxxxx help you out. You can learn that stuff and get better at it.”

And then, I burst into tears.

The truth is I have been working with a child development specialist to try to help me better manage the twins. She tells me they should be incredibly successful adults, but as a non-strong-willed adult, it is very difficult for me to maintain the energy needed to provide the structure, the nos, the answers, the feedback they need. I do it, every day, and will continue to do it, but at great cost to me.

Esperanza’s right: I need to continue to take a very proactive stand with my kids.

They say you can change a habit in 30 days. Is it possible to change an innate personality trait, like passivity, and get rid of it? If I could and standing up to them all the time wasn’t so exhausting, maybe parenting would be easier?

Have you ever been able to change an actual part of your personality? If so, how?

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Filed under Parenting After IF, SAHM

The Year of Living Joyfully: What Did I Learn?

I proclaimed 2011 the year that I would live joyfully. I even said I would try to write every day about joy.

Eh, I mostly complained.

I found that trying to live joyfully was not really practical. As my dad said a few weeks ago:

“Maybe joy just happens and you enjoy those few moments. But you don’t try to plan your day around it.”

I think that’s maybe the definitive word on the subject.

I did make five unexpected discoveries through the process of writing this blog which directly led to more happiness in my life.

1. Friends. I was really lonely in my SAHM life, and until this year didn’t have any real friends who understood the sort of strange hold infertility still had on me. They couldn’t comprehend how anxious I was to keep my twins safe and secure. They didn’t get why I was so devastated by my miscarriage, since I already had two kids. I pasted a fake smile on my face everywhere I went and acted the way I thought someone should. It felt like a charade.

But this blog opened the door to a whole secret society of women who wrote about similar feelings. About survival guilt, the need to always be grateful. These women were funny, bitter, real, optimistic and helpful. You all made my life so much better, richer, thoughtful and more fun. I really can’t thank you all enough.

2. The importance of making occasions special

I tended to slog through life as if everything was a chore to be gotten through. That is a natural tendency of mine. It’s probably some sort of genetic thing, plus a legacy of the pain and tragedy endured in my 30s. But this year we did a few things that were SPECIAL. We went to Disneyland, we saw my parents for Thanksgiving, my daughter and I saw The Nutcracker for the first time, I went to a concert with Esperanza and Bodega on my birthday, Darcy got a hotel suite for our anniversary. Those moments when I was able to break free from routine and enjoy either the wonder of others or be silly or live glamorously: those were joyful moments and I think I did a pretty good job of inhabiting them fully. It’s those moments that I remember as I look back on 2011.

3. The lessons of “Status Anxiety”

I tried to embrace different philosophies in my attempt to seek joy. Most of them didn’t help me, and a comment Lut Cass made stuck with me for the most part:

“I find that philosophy was invented by men who had too few household chores.”

Isn’t that awesome?

One book, though, I did enjoy: “Status Anxiety”, a prescient slim tome written almost a decade ago. Botton encourages people to not keep up with the Joneses, but to live a simpler, slower life devoted to more bohemian ideals. He also taught me that spending time with my peers in my area, who only really talk about working out, how perfect their kids are, remodeling and starving themselves is not good for me. Each time I would return from speaking to people like this, a little bit of my soul would die. That’s why the blogosphere is so necessary to me. Y’all are real and down-to-earth.

4. I love writing

Blogging, which some people consider writing and others don’t, is something that makes me tremendously happy. Everyone in my family is a published writer (my brother was nominated for a Pushcart this year, my dad is a well-known Bay Area journalist and novelist, my mother has won several major poetry contests) so I was the rebel who worked for the “man” and turned my back on my heritage. I so didn’t want to be a writer, mostly because I would never measure up to my lineage. Now I know that while I am by far the lesser writer of the Carrolls, I don’t really care anymore. I just love what I’m doing.

5. Laughing is really important

Whether it was:

– Texting with Esperanza about what cars are the douchiest. (Her: Audis. Me: Range Rovers.) And our bottom fives. (1. War 2. The Babble Top 100 Mom Blogs List 3. Social inequity 4. The Kardashians 5. Disease)
– Hilarious Tweets from The Bloggess

– Laughing at Darcy’s stories
– Listening to the epic tale of the time well-known, sincere, urbane Brooklyn musicians Matt and Kim played at a last-minute concert promoted and organized by my brother. The concert featured a buddy’s first (and last) performance as “Mr Hand”: he played samples of obscure dialogue like “I smell a rat” over loud, techno beats – and Caged Match to the Death. Talk about a mismatch of audience. “Kim looked really scared.”
Cake Wrecks

SO that’s what I learned. In short, laugh, have friends, enjoy the fun times and don’t hang out with douchebags.

What did 2011 teach you? What’s your current Bottom 5?

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Filed under Discovering joy

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Study of The White Picket Fence and the Life Less Chosen

So, in case you didn’t know, I grew up with Christmas. My dad is even one of those Bill O’Reilly “War on Christmas” guys. I love everything about Christmas: the carols, the pageantry, the food, the eggnog and most especially the tree. Each year when I was growing up, just like out of some wacky sitcom, my family would pick out a tree that was too big. Too big to tie to the top of the car, too big to fit into our ridiculously rickety tree stand. My dad would swear a lot the day we brought home the tree. But somehow my mom would always make it work. She had a handmade skirt that she always tied around the tree as the first order of business. Then we would listen to a TERRIBLE record of Christmas carols by, I believe, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as we decorated the tree. The worst song was called “Christmas Tree”, a cheesy, 80’s style ballad, complete with a 40 year old woman pretending to be a six-year-old girl. “ChhhhrrriiissstttmmAAAAS TTTRREEEE!!!”, she would sing, in what was supposed to be the winningly off-key style of an adorable little girl, but in reality was a banshee wail which would send our family pets running into another room in terror. Ah, memories.

My husband is Jewish and one of the things I gave up for loving him was Christmas. I do get a few things: I get to take our children to The Nutcracker and each year I watch “A Wonderful Life”, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Inevitably, it makes me emotional for several reasons: the first is the regret that I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore. But the second and more powerful reason is that I don’t know that there has ever been a more accurate depiction of the American Dream in all of its complicated glory and splendor and difficulty.

I mean, who better embodies the 1% than Mr. Potter? So much about the movie is timeless: the ideals of small town life versus the constraints of ambition; the desire to travel, see the world and make it on your own versus the pressures and the constraints of family and romantic love.

George Bailey is seriously flawed: he’s often sarcastic, he tells it like it is, but he’s an idealist ultimately who realizes his family is the most crucial element of his life. Honestly, he reminds me so much of Darcy and that may be what I love most about him. But there is nothing sappy about his eventual realizations and the movie has very, very dark moments.

I feel the closest modern-day equivalent we have to this movie is “How I Met Your Mother”, which honestly does contrast both the joys but also the boredom and sacrifice involved in choosing a traditional married life with the glamorous, fun, yet sometimes sad “life less chosen” path: Robin clearly won’t have children and it is doubtful now that Barney will either. Although I’m pretty sure they will have an awesome and “legen-wait for it-dary” life. Mostly.

Anyway, I envy George Bailey his beautiful Victorian house and his many children and his friends and relations who bail him out of trouble in the end, because he has helped them so many times in the past. But he would envy me too: he’d envy me for my travels and adventures. He’d envy me for going to Paris and living in London and honeymooning in Africa.

And in the end, that’s the movie’s great point. We all have Wonderful Lives. Just by being alive and being in others’ lives and trying to do good.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Indeed.

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Filed under Discovering joy, Family

Why I Won’t Ever Send a Holiday Card

Ah, the holidaze. Time for the beautiful cards, postcards and letters telling friends and family how wonderful Madeline and Jackson are. Winsome photos of beautiful couples and lovely families show up in those not-so-personal envelopes from Shutterfly and Tiny Prints. I secretly LOATHED receiving those envelopes from 2003-2007.

Obviously, those were the years we wanted children, but they were not forthcoming.

In 2004, we decided to take a photo with our surrogate child: our Corgi. We adopted our Corgi as a puppy in 2003, when we first moved back from London.

I am not a very religious person, although I did try throughout my childhood to be so. I grew up in a conservative church which preached that girls who were the victims at the age of 9 of incest should still become mothers. I was taught that women who had been raped, women who were going to die if they bore a child should still bear that child, even if they both died. I fought with my pastor about these policies: I am proud I did so. But I was taught that my attitude was wrong, evil even. It turned me off organized religion, probably forever.

But I believe in one thing and that is the power of luck. I think that holiday cards tempt fate for me. I will never, ever send one out.

Why is this?

Well, in 2004, after I had suffered from and recovered from a debilitating illness, and when we were trying very hard to make a baby and it wasn’t happening, we decided to send out a card of us and our dog. Our Corgi, which we had bought from a reputable breeder and assiduously trained at the Humane Society. This dog was our child, we thought. Our surrogate child, in lieu of the human baby we were unable to produce. We took a lovely picture of our “family”.

Luck did not enjoy our family card. As soon as it was sent, I noticed an unusual presence of black crows in our back yard. I had never seen any before 2004, and suddenly I saw them everywhere and that continued until 2006. Also, after that card was sent, our dog changed his behavior. Before a cuddly and friendly and reassuring presence, our beloved dog started growling at us and our extended family. It grew worse and worse until he bit my brother-in-law hard enough to break his skin. I took him to several behaviorists until one told us that our dog was the most aggressive dog she’d ever seen in her long career. She told me there was no way that he was going to change, he was only to get worse until he caused serious harm.

I did not accept her answer. Our dog was the one bright light in my life: to have him become dangerous was inconceivable. I asked for all her advice, and gave him lots of love and discipline as recommended: training him (again) to heel on walks, that I was his master by treat-training him. Helping our dog became my whole life.

Until the day Darcy went out of town and the dog attacked me. As part of the training, I could never allow him to enter a door before me because then he would know he was the Alpha Dog. Well, I was on the phone, and not paying attention that he was trailing me down the hallway. He sprinted ahead of me, entered a door before me, and attacked me. His form of attack was to relentlessly bite my ankles until I collapsed onto the floor, and then he began attacking my stomach, by biting me. It was a ruthless attack. I somehow dropped the phone, got up, ran into the pantry and slammed the door behind me. I then used the phone in there to call the breeder, who took the attack very seriously.

She came that day (drove from several hours away) to assess the situation. I stayed in the pantry until she arrived. Once she arrived, she decided that the dog was aggressive beyond what a normal person could handle. She took away the dog.

And there began a new sort of hell. In the addition to my infertility, I was also a failure to my dog, whom I loved more than most things on earth.

And the crows circled my back yard, cawing, triumphant. They proclaimed my ineptitude. I wanted a dog I could love. Not even that was going to be allowed.

And I crawled into the fetal position. And stayed there for a weekend.

It was all because of that holiday card. Never again would I want to proclaim any type of domestic bliss of any kind. Because the black crows of doom still linger. This morning, early, I saw them landing one by one, in our back yard.

I grabbed the broom out of our pantry and I chased those crows away. Never again will I let them linger on my property, cawing that I don’t deserve happiness. But nor will I flaunt any happiness. Because if I do, they will circle our home, overjoyed at my hubris.

Do you believe in bad luck? Do you think that flaunting happiness can lead to hubris?

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Creme de la Creme: My Pick

I totally forgot to submit my entry for Creme de la Creme this year. Last year, I had only blogged a handful of times, so it was relatively easy to pick my favorite out. This year I have quite a few posts to choose from. And, so on the very last deadline, I am submitting something.

It’s a dilemma to choose one. Should it be what you consider to be your best work? The one that got the most comments? The one you thought maybe changed things? (Or tried to?)

I decided to go with the third option. I took The New York Times to task for their very strange coverage of infertility. I’m sure no one who matters saw it, but at least I tried to change something? Or maybe I am self-aggrandizing. I’m sure that’s what Darcy would say.

Without further ado. Voila!

How did you pick your post, if you chose to participate this year?

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Filed under writing