Sunday, August 31, 2008

Identity Quakes

I read recently another blogger talking about the shift in identity that took place for her when she became a mother, how unprepared for that she felt. Reading her thoughts led me to reflect on ways I experienced this when I became a mother. There was definitely some new terrain to explore in terms of how I identified myself, what had shifted in terms of my interests, priorities, and values, and how I felt about all that. I don't want to downplay these things.

But, when I think about sudden, massive, disorienting identity shifts that I've experienced, there are two events that spring to my mind: moving to Minnesota, and being laid off. Moving to Minnesota for grad school really shook my foundations in a way I had no expectation of in my conscious mind. Clearly my unconscious was plenty aware because as I headed out of the beloved state of my birth, my dad driving me, my (formerly his) truck, and a paltry load of possessions, I bawled like a baby. A baby who somehow knew she was entering a colder world than she was used to.

It took about five years to settle into this new place. Now, sixteen years later (gulp), there are so many things I love about the Twin Cities, and I've made many friends (though most are transplants, too), and I get the weather now - here on the last day of August I am already wondering when the first snow will fall and pretty much looking forward to it. But, when it's time to write a biographical note for a competition or an artist's statement, or a program...the first thing I say is that I was born in California. When we fly back to visit, I cry when I see palm trees. On many visits I have not been able to face the ocean, because it just is too heartbreaking.

I was also surprised by the shifts that being laid off triggered. When you are laid off, if you want to collect unemployment, you have to attend a session at the unemployment office on dealing with being laid off. One of the things they tell you is that being laid off launches an emotional shitstorm surpassed only by the death of a child. I thought this wouldn't be true for me, given that I didn't even LIKE the job I was laid off from - the company was entirely dysfunctional as were many of the people I worked with. Frankly, I think the company made me dysfunctional as well - compartamentalized, bitter, angry, cynical...and those were the good days.

But, it was still where I spent the vast majority of my waking life. It provided me with the biggest salary I have ever made. I had very enviable benefits. I saw a good friend every week day. I had the kind of job title that people recognize and find respectable. I still took pride in my work and in the accomplishments of my department. I still tried to be the best manager I could be in the conditions provided. I had a lot of myself wrapped up in the work I did, and to have it made so clear that someone else found all of this completely disposable was very, very hard to take. I was amazed and appalled both at how hard it was to take, and for how long the shadow of this fell across my life. I would say that it took at least a year for that shadow to dissipate. I'm not sure it has completely vanished yet, and it happened six years ago.

So, when motherhood came along, a state I had avoided so well for so long, and then decided to pursue, and then found within my grasp so quickly and easily, I was braced for another big identity quake. And I found it just didn't happen that way. There were - and are, still - moments where I do feel a kind of disorientation, but it doesn't feel like the same kind of awful drowning, of being totally unmoored from myself. Maybe because I expected it? Maybe because I tried to meet it head on? Of the three events, motherhood was perhaps the one I entered into most wholeheartedly, but I know many women who would say the same, and who felt the identity quake more strongly.

Identity can be tricky ground - it can look and feel solid, until that faultline deep underground twinges. And then when the shaking stops, it looks solid again, and we can feel betrayed, tricked. When the faultlines are active, when the plates are shifting, there's havoc. Sometimes the shaking stops and everything looks different. Sometimes the aftershocks are more devastating than the initial quake. Every once in a while it turns out to be such a little thing that it was almost enjoyable, a gentle rolling just to keep us awake. Because, as much as we try to remember, in quake country, that our solid ground can shift, in the day to day we forget. We have to, in many respects, in order to keep going, even when we really know better.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Two exciting weekends

We went to Madison last weekend, where we saw this guy at the Farmer's Market. Also - Cora got to play with some cousins! This is so exciting to me because my own cousins were my favorite playmates when I was growing up, and they always seemed extra important since they were both my friends and my relatives. Of course, when I was little most of my cousins lived two hours away or less. I really hope that as Cora gets older she gets to have these kinds of relationships with her cousins, but I don't know - we're all spread so far around, from Minnesota to Colorado to Georgia to California to Germany. Travel is tough for us - financially and emotionally. Four hours is probably our top driving distance at this point, without serious abuse of the portable DVD player.

And then, this morning, we had our annual State Fair excursion. I'd been talking it up with Cora about the animals we would see, and she was most interested in seeing the pigs. Excuse me, the piggies! Funny, since last year it was a pig that scared the bejesus out of her and made her cry. But, this year, the piggies were all that and a bag of chips. She even got to pet a member of the Best Litter. And she was very proud of her pig ears crown.

Of course, we'd started with the cows, who turned out to be a little bigger than she expected, and a little scary. After pigs, she wanted to see horses. But, the sheep and goats come first. We saw several lambs getting shorn (meat lamb judging day), and a nice man gave Cora a piece of wool to feel. Goats were okay by Cora, but I didn't get to pet too many.

Then, finally, on to the horses. Who were way bigger than expected. When one swung her huge, gorgeous head down towards Cora, who was in her stroller, Cora almost pushed her way out the back of the stroller, shrieking “Scary, scary!” I think she now officially gets the difference between scary and exciting. But me, I was happy to pet that friendly horse.

We hit the poultry barn next, which includes rabbits, in addition to all the crazy hens, roosters, ducks, pigeons, and turkeys. Cora loved this part. When we tried to leave in search of fresh air (man, those chickens stink!), she demanded more. More what? More turkeys! More big bunnies! OK.

Along the way we also had corn dogs and ice cream. Whew. Oh – and before we left we went to the Miracle of Birth Center and saw some lambs that were about six hours old and some piglets very fresh from the sow – still walking around with umbilical cords. So, tonight, Cora and I looked through her newborn pictures, too. One of her favorite things at the fair was seeing baby animals drinking their mama's milk, so we found pictures of that, too. She was rightfully proud of being like a baby piggie.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Just taking a moment to note that this year's incoming crop of first-year students were born in a year such that it would be possible without being scandalous for me to be their mother.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Last to know?

Oh. My. God. So, I finally figured out that this Dr. Horrible thing I keep hearing about is a Joss Whedon project (put the important facts first, people!) and finally get to take a look at it.

Utter glee. Total bliss.

I had to stop it though, so that I can watch it with Chris tonight. I'm afriad the Olympics will have to go on without us for a while, because this is just too delicious.

I'm sure I am the last person to know that this fabulous thing is out there. But, if I'm not, if YOU are, then you should totally go watch it now.

Now! (Don't make me call Dad at work.)

The last 30ish days

Apparently, I haven't downloaded photos from the camera since July 11th. Hmm. Did I mention that the passage of time, here at the end of summer, seems to have hit warp speed? A brief, illustrated recap of things that have happened since 7/11:

Grandma Jan, here is the end result of that time last January when you told Cora that the cupboard with all the pots and pans was her cupboard.

Early in August Chris and Cora both were sick for a day with fevers (embellished by Cora with vomit, and by Chris with mere groaning and grimacing). Vomit notwithstanding, she remained rather cheerful.

For some reason, August was also Back to the Binky month. Usually one is enough, but if you happen to find two...well, why not?

Wearing a towel on your wet head is the one true sign that you are a big girl now.

We made bread for Cora to take to her daycare class for "Share something special day" - it ended up as a loaf of cinnamon swirl bread. Those toddlers ate the whole damn loaf. Aided, no doubt, by the teachers! Cora loved the rolling pin, mashing her hands in the dough (you can just make out her handprints there), but unfortunately what she loved most was pinching up bits of dough or flour and eating it.

Riding on Daddy's shoulders is a big fun thing to do these days, especially while singing.

And, oh the fun you can have with a pan of water, a sponge, a bowl, an old pastry brush, and some little scoops! Who knew?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Love, love, love

Cora has discovered love. She has started declaring her love for certain things and people, and the effect these declarations have on us range from laughter and delight, to emotions more bittersweet. Some examples from yesterday:

Yesterday. Cora and I were sitting at the table while she ate her lunch, and she was staring intently into the front room, and we had this conversation:
"What are you looking at, Cora?"
"My pictures."
"The ones on the TV?"
"Yes! My kittycats!" We have photos of the cats - what we call their "glamour shots" - on top of the TV.
"And Uncle Ted's picture is there, too, right?" Ted is Chris's brother who died when Chris was 18. His high school senior picture is also on the TV.
"Yes," Cora said with a sigh, "I love my Uncle Ted."


Last night Cora and I were watching the Olympics Opening Ceremonies. It was still the pre-ceremony hoopla, and she was sitting on my lap. I asked her, "Who does Mommy love?"
"You love Daddy!"


Finally, the performance starts. I am an Olympics junkie, and I love the opening and closing ceremonies, especially. This year's was absolutely amazing - the parts I was able to watch. Chris was playing a gig, and Cora was having an off night for falling asleep. But - she did watch the first part, with the 2008 drummers. She went and got her rhythm sticks and was playing a drum too, and at one point she shouted, "I love drums!"

This combined with her answer to a friend's question of what instrument she wanted to play when she was older ("Drums!!"), tells me what we might be in for. Hopefully she can be steered towards the marimba. I can totally see her as an amazing marimba player.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I forgot to mention that my interview is up at Forever in School - part of the huge interview project from Citizen of the Month. As you know (as I so often say to my students), I am a big geek. I actually like taking tests. As an adult, the next best thing is to be interviewed. Maryam asked me good questions - ones I've thought about before, and ones that I hadn't. Plus, I totally love the name of her blog!

I think my own interviewee is on vacation. (In August?! No way!)

Mommy's Turn

Throughout the day at our house you can hear these words sung out, howled, screamed, whispered, and cried. It is almost always Mommy's Turn. To get her dressed. To watch TV with her. To take a nap (which is not as restful and generous as it sounds - it involves lying on the floor and being covered with ten blankets, having your thumb stuffed in your mouth, being told to close your eyes, being patted rather firmly, and then just when you think it isn't so bad after all, having "wake up!" shouted at you. And then, "again!"). To help her brush her teeth. To read stories. To drive the car. To unbuckle her booster seat belt.

But most of all, it is Mommy's Turn to change the diaper.

While I'm sure this is "developmentally appropriate" (a term we once heard used to describe children running wild screaming in a small enclosed space where other children were trying to do a planned activity), it is not exactly convenient. Not only does Mommy need for it to be Daddy's turn once in a while, but after a day or two of near total exclusion, Daddy really does want a turn. If only to stop Mommy from drinking so much. Not to mention hiding in the bathroon reading month-old New Yorkers. (Not that I would ever do this...but did you see the article on the prehistoric cave paintings? Very cool.)

It is nice to be wanted, but exhausting to be always in demand.