Friday, July 3, 2015

My Lap

A couple weeks ago, the extended family gathered in a row of $20 balcony seats at Hinsdale Central's auditorium to watch my niece, Ellie, chasse and pirouette through her first ballet recital. Initially, I thought the steep fare was a suburban rip off, but the combination of baby ballerinas, seasoned company performers, and catchy tunes was well worth the money.

Bobby and Mary shared a VIP seat during the show. Mary had it for the first half; Bobby for the latter. Perched on my lap, they both felt the rhythms that carried the dancers from one bar to the next; they heard the lyrics of 'California Girls' and 'Put on a Happy Face' echoing in their ears; and they hopefully inherited a little more of my enthusiasm for the performing arts.

Around the fifteenth number though, Mary made an escape so she could practice her own routine in the aisle, while Bobby was snatched up and moved from one hot seat to another. As his face went from a gaping smile to perplexity, Mimi laughed and said, 'he knows this isn't his Mommy's lap.'

While he was content shortly after, it did make me think about the kind of comfort I offer my kids, how they perceive me, and just what my lap must feel like?

Even now I can remember exactly how my Mom's lap felt. Falling asleep on it in the car; sitting on it to read stories, crying on it when the world seemed too big for a little girl to handle. It was soft, embracing, warm, and filled with a cushy kind of love that made everything okay.

While the former lacrosse player in me doesn't love that my lap has gotten a little squishy over the years, I know my kids have appreciated the extra padding. They've loved the pony rides, booster seat, and proximity to their food. And as they start to realize that at times life and its bee stings, boo-boos, rainy days, teeth, and bad dreams can be a little scary, I love that scooping them up and offering them an insulated seat can cure any ill.

This week alone, there were thunderstorms, a reoccurring nightmare about a 'scary man', pangs from first teeth, a bee sting(!), and several other cuts, scrapes, and bumped heads.  


But as fast as fear approached, there were chocolate chips, ice cream, carousel rides, rice cereal and extra doses of hugs and kisses from Mom, Dad, and Eva as rewards for bravery.
In a way, I wish they could always stay on my lap, safe from the world. I know as quickly as Bobby turned five months, they will crawl, run, and graduate off my lap and into independence. And I will long for their little bottoms. But I love that each week brings new developments, adventures, and lessons. And I couldn't be more proud of the accomplishments they've already made.

Lo.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Daddy's Girl

Several months ago, during a trip home to visit my family in Pittsburgh, I witnessed my younger brother helping his daughter get dressed up for dinner. He had helped her wiggle into her red dress, pull up her white tights, and strap on her shimmery red shoes. As she was standing on a step stool, looking in the mirror, my brother quizzically brushed her hair, evaluating how to pin it up, away from her face. Inside, I imagine he wished Mom was there to work her magic, but outwardly, he confidently tied a rubber band into her silky blond hair and swept her bangs up with a little red bow. Their eyes met in the mirror and he told her that she looked beautiful. 

A couple weeks later, thinking back on that portrait of love and attention, I texted my brother and told him what a great dad he was. He humbly said that he tried; and that he an amazing role model to follow. Noted. We have share an incredible father.  

Thinking back on all the times my Dad did my hair as a little girl; brushing it one hundred strokes before I went to bed, tying it back in two french braids for dance recitals, and holding my crimping iron steady so I could turn my poker straight hair into a decadent 80s do; I realized that even at his young age, my brother must have been paying attention. 

***

As a woman, there is something inside you, a void waiting to be filled, that beckons many of us to become mothers. And in many ways, the bond you form with your children can be rather universal. It's starts at interconnected place deep inside, it is nursed through the early stages of life, and it is cradled in the soft lap and tender hugs you provide.

On the other hand, the role of a father or father figure is a little more interpretative. There are commonalities: love, patience, security, beers, tees, tools, suits and neckties that help color the character. But after that, each Dad seems utterly unique: distinctive styles of play and education, and varying ways of solving for the moments in life when Mom is absent. 

Every night, as I'm nursing Bobby to sleep, I hear Mary and Peter chasing each other, running around, and laughing uproariously in the basement. They are playing the Orange Ball or the Green Ribbon game. One of the two. Silliness leads to a more serious state as Mary asks her Dad to play tools. Peter gets out his tool box and challenges Mary to match a particular bolt to the right sized wrench. Nine times out of ten, she will find it. He asks her to identify the needle nose pliers and sort the sharp from the blunt. After that, I can hear them ascending two flights of stairs. 'Where's Mommy, Bobby? I want Daddy read me stories.' No longer does Mommy do bed time best. Daddy now has his own rhythm for Dr. Seuss' rhymes, key in which to sing Bobbidy Boop, and good night message to signal her eyes to shut. Last night as lightening flashed and thunder cracked, Mary told me that she wanted Daddy to keep her safe. Not Mommy. 

Watching Peter's Dad with his kids and grandchildren, I can see there are many aspects of Peter's parenting that he learned from his father. He has taken those nuggets, layered on his personality, and found a way to bond with Mary and Bobby that is his own. And there's no doubt that they will be smarter, more thoughtful, more discerning, and more adventurous children because they have Peter for a Dad. 

I can sense, that sometimes Dads doubt themselves. That perhaps Mommy knows where or how or what's best. But what I've observed over the years, is that the best Dads jump in, and figure out their own way of doing things. And it's those ways; those breakfasts for dinner, icy toboggan rides, dollhouse assemblies, calculus lessons, duets, stick shift tutorials, college tours, father daughter dances, and beautiful hair dos; that makes kids who they are.

Thank you to my Dad, for helping shape me into the woman I am today.

And thank you to my husband, for helping our kids become who they are meant to be.   
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Lo.

We celebrated last night during a little cookout at our house: rotisserie chicken, salad, bread, and Rose; cousins running around in the yard; toasts to three wonderful fathers; and a raccoon crashing the party.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Nannyship

12 and 13 years ago, I spent two summers in a row working as a Nanny. While my undergraduate colleagues were polishing their egos with unpaid corporate experience, I was sitting by the pool, playing with three great kids and getting paid. To this day, I commend my choice of summer professions. My classmates returned in the fall with another bullet to add to their resume, and I returned with a tan, a couple new pairs of shoes, and some life lessons that I could only have learned in Speedo's version of a power suit.

I learned how to stop fights before they began and how to prevent tennis bags from ending up in the pool. I learned how to divvy up my attention and how to dry sad, frustrated and I'm really mad at my brother tears. I learned how to make kids laugh, deep down in their bellies, I learned that being a big kid is way better than growing up, and I learned that having three kids and two careers shouldn't prevent a household from eating, drinking, and being merry. Take that interns.

One of my favorite things about working as the Vernallis Family nanny for two summers, besides the special bond I formed with the kids, was the leftovers: the expertly grilled vegetables and lemony summer salads; the tabbouleh, hummus and parceled chicken kebabs; the brownies, lemon squares, and plump chocolate chip cookies. Mom Vernallis wasn't just a kick-ass lawyer with a sharp sense of style and humor, she was her own personal caterer, with a portfolio of rehearsed recipes that had me salivating and sampling every Monday morning.

A handful of those Mondays, I wasn't only greeted by side dishes sealed in Tupperware, but by a tiered yard, sprinkled on every level with the remnants of a great party. Wine glasses with one sip left, stray bites that rolled off a plate or two, and a couple upended patio chairs told the story of great friends having a great time. Lesson learned. Yes, you can do it all, and still have fun.

***

12 years and two kids later, I'm still putting lessons from my Nannyship to use. I've taught Mary and Bobby how to play nice, they laugh at my slapstick humor, and for the most part, I'm able to get a somewhat boast worthy meal on the table each night. I'd say my Nanny can attest to the quality of leftovers, but she's a vegetarian and my recipes are bound by the ultimate carnivore.

However, now, with two kids and a more stressful work environment, I was doubting my ability to throw, but at the same time craving, a good party. On Saturday, I decided we should bite the bullet and do it. And believe given a few guidelines, it was completely manageable, not to mention utterly enjoyable. To summarize:

  • Party started at 4:00 PM. I never thought I'd be that person, but hey it's 5:00 somewhere.  
  • The backyard was the backdrop. When kids are invited, it's best to keep everyone outside.
  • Which meant, a rain date was a good idea if the weather hadn't cooperated.
  • Paper and plastic. Picnic style. Probably should invest in more patio furniture though. 
  • A specialty keg was a big hit.  
  • Made sure there were leftovers. After entertaining, I didn't want to have to worry about dinner for a few days. 
  • Party ended at 9:00 PM. Babies needed to sleep. So did (this) Mom. 
  • Figured out which neighbor was hosting the next party.  

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As a new wave of very serious, very studious interns floods my office, I can't help but smirk, thinking my summer job won (hands down.) To the babysitting and burger flipping; life guarding and lawn mowing summer workforce out there, enjoy your youth. And never doubt how much these experiences can prepare you for the future.

Lo.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Two Weeks

In the Fall of 2002, my junior year of college, I took the pursuit of Art History to Rome. As a Varsity Athlete, my collegiate sojourn abroad was a little more problematic than others; that is, there was a high probability that while away, I would lose my starting spot to some up and comer, leaving me benched upon my return. Whatever. I decided to gamble. I could smell the focaccia, gelato, and Italian leather from South Bend. Go ahead, duke it out on the field; I was going shopping. Internationally. And I was never coming back. 

I had packed my lacrosse stick, a pocket sized training regimen, and the intention of staying in shape, which I took to the smelly, spandex ridden Italian gym promptly after unpacking. But a couple weeks into my love affair with Europe, I traded in sprints for long leisurely runs that stretched from Brunelleschi's arms to Constantine's feet. I translated weight lifting into carrying fresh vegetables home from the market. I put away my shot guns and took out Barolos and Chiantis. I found a host of unathletic friends who taught me to laugh in new ways. And I loved every second of it. 

When November turned to December, I started to dread by return home. Never was suddenly now, and I wanted to avoid it at all costs.

After the holidays, I walked onto the turf for the first time in six months. A two hour practice, weight lifting session, and timed sprints later, I crawled off the field in tears and called home. I told my Dad that I was quitting. Then and there. I wasn't the same person anymore; I had matured; out of this and into something else. My Dad digested my garbled sentences, told me to give it two weeks, then passed the desperate message onto my brother. In so many words, my younger sibling told me I was idiot; he told me to get down off my four inch stiletto pedestal and back on the field. 

I told myself I was doing it for them. So I would go back tomorrow. And the next day. The first couple weeks were tough. Our first game that season, when I warmed the bench after working so hard for my starting position the year before was even tougher. My body ached and my spirit was bruised. But bit by bit, I regained lost ground, won back my spot on the field, and found a rhythm and balance to my experience at Notre Dame that fit. I was still able to keep the identity that I had uncovered in Rome while riotously laughing in the locker room. In the end, I think I was a better student and a better lacrosse player, because I did both to the fullest. And to this day, I thank my Dad and brother for telling me to stick it out.  

***

Just about two years ago, I dropped Mary off at day care for the first time, and drove to work as wells of tears fell from my eyes and soaked the steering wheel. They were sad tears - like really sad tears. It was an uncontrollable pain that I had never felt. The little baby that needs you, her mom, so much is suddenly separated from you for eight or nine hours a day, and you have no real oversight over her care from minute to minute. I could sense her fear, hear her cries, feel her hunger from miles away, and I hated not being able to comfort her. Three days in a row my boss sent me home at noon. The puddles of tears around my desk were starting to flood the office. And she knew I needed a lifeboat.

Each night, that first week back to work, I cried as I nursed Mary to sleep. I looked up at Peter with the most pathetic pout and asked how we could make it if I stayed home instead of working. We ran some numbers. We could make some concessions if that's really what I wanted to do. But just like my Dad and brother, he told me to give it two weeks. 

Day by day, as Mary settled into her new routine, and as I settled into mine, life got easier and I was finally able to come up for air and dry my eyes. Mary seemed happy in her day care classroom. My mind was ecstatic to be exercising again. And our house knew nothing but love and joy when everyone was reunited under one roof at the end of the day.

Last week, I thought back on previous returns. And last Tuesday morning, I was prepared for tears. But they didn't fall. I went back to work almost ceremoniously. I waved goodbye to the kids as they were enveloped in love by our Mary Poppins, and drove to the office with a competitive charge pulsing through my body. I was ready to get back on the playing field, to help turn the business around, to take my starting position, and to kick Taco Bell's ass. 

The past two weeks at work, despite the tenuous business environment, have been wonderful. (My colleagues are likely rolling their eyes.) And with each passing day, I confirmed something about myself. I'm a better mom as a working mom. And I'm a better employee because I'm a mother. I realized, more than ever, that I need the kind of balance in my life that comes from two intense regimens. There's no denying that there are days and weeks when it's really tough. Generally, I'm always exhausted. And there are certainly sacrifices that we, as a family, have to make. But honestly, everyone seems happier choosing their own adventure during the day, then coming home to tell their unique tales around the dinner table. 

So I'm giving working moms the same advise I was given by working dads in the past. Give it two weeks. Or a little more, if you are still on the fence. Don't quit until you're absolutely sure that you can't stop the tears. Don't quit until you find a childcare solution that really works for you and your family. And don't quit until you've found a job that gives you the balance you need as a Mom. We need more Mothers in the workforce, working their ways to the top. You earned that spot after all. Don't let the pompous Freshman take it from you.

And let me just tell you; the weekends (oh the weekends); having work weeks, makes quitting time on Friday so. much. sweeter. 
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Lo. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Best Job Ever

In sixth grade, I was on a mission to replicate Au Bon Pain's tuna salad. They had perfected the recipe in my mind; light on the mayonnaise, shaved carrot, seasoned with a hint of lemon; and I was convinced, armed with a can of Chicken of the Sea, I could bring it home. By the third trimester of that school year, I believe my version rivaled theirs, and buying a better baguette from Breadworks was my trump card.

That Spring, as I was mixing up yet another batch, I asked my Mom if she wanted me to make her a sandwich as well. She nodded as she told the school secretary, Mrs. Feeley, that I wouldn't be coming in today. Instead, I would be shadowing her, participating in Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I was so excited; not only to miss school, but to ride next to the Road Warrior all day, solving the mystery of what makes her power suits so powerful.

After dropping the kids off at school, my Mom and I used the car phone (novel technology in 1994) to check in with the office. Through a sniffily nose, her secretary Chris said everything was quiet so far. We hung up, then made our way to Mount Pleasant, a small coal mining town about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. We had one mission today: take a deposition. It was a term, like asbestos, toxic torts and dictation, that I had heard a thousand times around the dinner table, but like everything my Mom, esquire, did, I had a (very) limited understanding of what the legalese meant.

During my day on the job with my Mom, I learned that a deposition happens outside of a court room, that lawyers ask a lot of questions, that small towns have comically gigantic books where they record all that has gone on in their sleepy history, and that people from Mt. Pleasant speak a mean Yinzer. The thing I remember most though, was sitting side by side in my Mom's maroon Buick Park Avenue eating tuna salad sandwiches after the deposition was over. There in the car, my Mom broke out of her litigator tone, laughed with me about the size of the massive ledger, called Grandma to give her the play by play, and complimented me on a sandwich well made. Sure, she was one of the top lawyers in Western Pennsylvania, but in that moment I could tell her favorite job was being my Mom.

Despite not digesting the finer points of litigation, I learned a lot on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Namely, that I wanted to be just like my Mom when I grew up. I wanted to have a career, and a car phone, and silk blouses tucked into tailored pant suits. More importantly, I wanted a family that I was working to support. I knew, judging from the occasional angst my Mom directed toward the PTA Moms, it would be a challenging pursuit, but I couldn't imagine doing it any other way.

After all, there was something more magical about my Mom pulling up in Sewickley to watch me play Field Hockey, or seeing her smiling face in a pew at Chapel or opening the lunch she had packed for me, labeled with her stylized handwriting. I knew how busy she was and how stressful her job could be, but my brother, sister and I always came first. And in her way, she took us to work every day - framed and arranged on her desk, as dividends of her pay checks that made private educations, vacations, dance classes, piano lessons, ski school and Au Bon Pain lunches possible, and in her thoughts and prayers as she road the interstates from Pittsburgh to Wheeling, West Virginia.

My mom taught me that motherhood is the best job of all. That family always comes first. And that paychecks are much better spent on the people that you love. As I head back to work on Tuesday, I will keep my Mom's example close, and my family closer.
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To my Mom, on her special day, thank you for loving me so much and working so hard for me.

To my husband, on my special day, thank you for making me a mommy two times over. I am so (SO) blessed.

To SGS, thank you for hosting such a lovely, bubbly celebration at the Chicago Yacht Club today.

And to all the other mommies in my life, thank you for passing along your tips of the trade. Your support over the past two years has been invaluable.   
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No doubt about it. I have the best job ever. 
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Lo.