Motherhood and identity

photo by Bob Packert

I stood in my gown frozen by the moment that had just passed, the room around me buzzed with beautifully dressed people.  I was at a Hospital gala event with my husband, in the middle of his first year of residency training.  Having just had our first child, I was stuffed like a sausage into my dress, so my confidence was far from its peak to begin with. The conversation had begun innocuously enough, with an introduction, and cordial small talk.  She was a fellow physician who worked with my husband.  A moment before she had innocently asked, “So what do you do?”  For the first time ever the words “I am a staying home with our new baby” would cross my lips, and I will never forget their immediate effect.  I had answered with pride, still excited at becoming a new mother.   Her reaction stunned me as the smile on her face faded, her eyes glazed, and subtly searched the room for an escape.   She excused herself with a polite, “oh, well, it was nice to meet you.” and moved on.  As I watched her walk away, the strangest thing happened, an internal voice shouted after her.” Wait! But I used to work on Hollywood movies! I have travelled all around the world! I’m a Scuba Diver! I really am an interesting person!!”  I was shocked by my internal reaction.  What was that!? What was the sudden plea for validity that sprang into motion?!  My whole life I had wanted nothing more than to become a mother, and was thrilled that I was able to stay home with my baby.   If this was what I had wanted so badly for myself, why was that external validation suddenly so important to me?

After that evening, I became interested in the identity shift that takes place when a woman first becomes a mother.  Whether she works, stays home, or does both part time, I believe in no judgment, there is no right or wrong.  It is such a personal, case-by-case decision; there is only what is right for each individual. In the end, women need to do what makes them the best mother, and what is best for their family, in any permutation.  Personally, although I had always wanted to be a stay at home mother, I loved my job, so when the time came I had tried to stay on part time.  I quickly figured out that after what I would pay for child care, I would take home about $100.00 a month, and in the end it did not make sense.  There is much ado about the effect of retirement on men, and how it impacts their identity.  I believe women who leave careers behind to stay home with their kids go through a similar identity shift.  Mothers who go back to work have to deal with a new paradigm as well.  I have been quizzing women, testing a theory since that night.  I wonder how much of what a woman’s mother did in the last generation, may dictate the daughter’s decision when she becomes a mother herself.  My own mother was a career woman with a Ph.D., as amazing as she was both as a woman, and mother, as a latch key kid, I idolized my neighbor who was home with her kids.  I know that is where the strong desire for me to stay home with my own kids came from.  I have a friend with the opposite experience, she decided she never wanted to be a domestic servant, and be in a position of financial dependency, as she viewed the situation of her stay at home mother.  Today she is a successful career woman, with a family.    I would love to hear your own experiences with this issue, and how they may relate to your own mother’s experience.

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The Pick Up Artist: A girl looking for girlfriends

Photo by Bob Packert

I rushed into my husbands’ arms when he came home from work, planted a kiss, and announced,  “Honey! I picked up a woman at the zoo today!”  Now, I know what you are thinking, but please don’t judge me, it was a moment of desperation.  You see, we had moved to a new state a couple of months before, neither of us knowing a soul.  We enjoyed exploring on the weekends together, but during the week, while he went to work, and engaged with other adults, I was keeping company with our 4 year old, 2 year old and 3 month old.  The most sophisticated conversations I had in a typical day contained words like boo boo and sippy cup.  As you might imagine by the time my husband walked through that door in the evening, I tackled him with pent up conversation, plans to go out, or threw the screaming, kids at him, and hid.  I knew that these were not the greatest receptions from long days of work.  I also knew what I needed.  Girlfriends.

It had been much easier to make friends in school, at work, or in playgroup, but as an adult with none of the outlets listed available, I found myself at a loss.  That day I had been at the Zoo with aforementioned children, and noticed a woman at the Terrapin tank.  She was pretty, and fashionably dressed, but what attracted me to her, were the two children by her side.  They looked to be similar ages to my two oldest, so I made my move.  I walked away from my children, and sidled up the Terrapin tank (not unlike a bar, sans hair flip), then called them over.   “Look, it’s a Diamondback turtle!” I exclaimed, sounding a bit too loud and excited, but sure enough, my children rushed over, and the other kids looked up at me.  Their mother now noticed me too.  I took my opportunity, and struck up conversation.  It turned out we only lived a few streets apart, and as our kids began to chatter about the turtles, we exchanged numbers to set up a play date. I was elated! I had a friend!

Years later, I have friends here whom I cherish, and feel like I’ve always known, but I think back to how I got to this point, and remember that void . The process seemed not terribly unlike dating, Searching out another soul looking to connect.  Wanting, no, hoping, to be attractive, and interesting enough for them to want to see you again. There have been good play dates and bad.  Women along the way who were charming, but turned out to be just like those charismatic bad boys who had once seemed so alluring.  Hurtful, and untrue. There were women who I met already with a close-knit group, not looking to add friends to their lives. There were also pleasant surprises, finding the most genuine, funny and caring friend I could wish for in someone who had flown under my radar.    I joined all the playgroups, book clubs, and parent teacher groups I could, and through it all friends with common interests filtered through and filled my life in a way that only good girlfriends can.    Now if my husband is pounced on when he gets home from a long day at work, it is more likely a joyous child, than a disgruntled wife.  A more welcome reception indeed .

 

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White Chocolate Fruit Tart (Dole California Cook-Off)

I was so excited when I first saw this contest from Dole;  I have the most amazing recipe using Dole products that I knew I could win a fun trip to L.A. with adorable celebrity chef Ben Ford! The only problem is, the contest is for a GRILLING recipe, and my Dole recipe is a dessert (that doesn’t require the grill)!  I decided instead to pass the challenge on to you all, and let you in on my amazing recipe as well, sans trip to Hollywood.  Keep in mind, the Dole contest ends on May 15th, so fire up those grills, stat!

The secret I am about to share will pull back the curtain on my pastry chef skills.  I’ll never forget how impressed I was when my friend Karen Vernacchio walked into a dinner party carrying this dessert years ago.  I was skeptical when she claimed the recipe for this beautiful, mouth-watering treat was easy. It has since become my staple, simple yet elegant, dessert  for entertaining. I am grateful to her every time I make it. I even keep the non-perishable ingredients in my pantry, (I almost always have milk, butter and cream cheese in my fridge) so in a pinch I can just grab the fresh berries and whip it up.

White Chocolate Fruit Tart

Tart crust:

¾ c. softened butter

1 ½ c. confectioners’ sugar

1 ½ c. flour

Filling:

1 bag White chocolate chips

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese

½ c. milk

Topping:

Kiwi, assorted berries, Dole canned pineapple

Glaze:

¼ c. sugar

1 T. cornstarch

½ c. Dole pineapple juice

Preheat oven to 300. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Blend in flour.  Press mixture into 12 inch round tart pan, or pizza pan.  Bake 20 min. until lightly browned.  Cool completely.  In a saucepan, melt chocolate and milk until smooth.  Add cream cheese and mix until smooth.  Spread over crust to cool. Arrange kiwi, Dole pineapple and berries on top of filling.  In a saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch, stir in Dole pineapple juice. Stir constantly until thick. Drizzle over fruit topping. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

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How to Become an Extreme Couponing Master

     We both have four kids, a husband, and a dog to feed, yet Kathy Spencer spends 75 times less than I do each week at the grocery store.  Clearly, I had to find out how.   She is, of course,  the self made Coupon Guru, with a new book out on the topic, and a website, where she shows shoppers how she does it.  When I heard she was giving an hour and a half “coupon class” at the RI Home Show, I knew I should to attend.Coupon Queen

     I was impressed not only by her ability to feed a family of six on $4 a week, but by her candor, her humor, and her willingness to share her money saving secrets.  Paying it forward seemed to be a large part of her message.  Along with the information she generously shares, she donates those items that she does not need, to others that do…pediatric hospitals, nursing homes, food pantries or friends in need.  She strategically combines coupons found in fliers from the newspaper, with sales going on in the store to get items for pennies or free.  One example of how she shops would be a  $1.00 off coupon used for an item that then happened to be on sale at the store for 3 for $3.00 that week, in which case she would by three & use three coupons.  That means free!   Another of her tactics is that when she does find those amazing deals on non-perishables like toothpaste or toilet paper, she stockpiles them to avoid having to pay full price in the future.   What she wants us as consumers to understand is that to survive day to day, improve our lifestyles, or to get the things we want, more money is not the answer, but saving money is.

     I was so excited by what I learned I immediately went home and started clipping away at coupons.  What I found when I tried to put what I had learned into practice, is that I have a lot to learn!  I combined coupons with sales, but only a few items I had coupons for coincided with sales, and I still needed some things that I did not have coupons for, or were not on sale.  On my first enthusiastic foray into coupon shopping I ended up saving $23.00 off my still astounding shopping bill , and  then $25.00 the second time around.  I have to admit the wind was taken out of my sails a bit, but I am determined to work on my strategy and figure this out.  I don’t ever expect to be able to cut my bill to mere dollars, but with a family of six every bit counts.

     Extreme couponing gained momentum with the economic downturn, and there is an entire T.V. show on TLC about it.   We don’t all have to go to the sometimes crazy lengths that extreme couponers might be willing to go through to get a bargain, like leaving their house at the crack of dawn, and going store to store to get the deals.  Kathy seems confident that we can all save with coupons, even if it just means cutting our grocery bills by 10 or 20 percent.   It takes some organization, but the payoff can be big.  Hearing her speak certainly inspired me to try.  My coupon organizer, (of course I had to run out and buy a cute one) is now bulging with yet to be had deals.  I guess if I can manage to shave $25.00 off my weekly food bill, adding up to $100.00 a month that is a pretty good start.   

     If any of you have mastered the art of coupon shopping, or have tips to help me learn I’d love to hear them!

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Birth of A Mother

holding hands The last words my mother spoke to me were “I will always hold your hand”. I held her tiny, cold, and puffy hand through that last night of her life in the hospital. In the morning I watched her chest rise and fall, as she slowly took her very last breath. I truly expected to feel her presence then, as she had promised, but felt nothing. I looked for her everywhere for weeks, for months, but she was gone. The stark finality of death confounded me.

When my first child was born three months later, I half expected to look into her eyes and see my mother’s soul. It was clear however, that my daughter was a unique individual from the very start. I had to come to terms with the fact that my longing was just a wishful notion. The magical thinking that follows death of a loved one.
I did find her,  eventually, but not where I would have expected. A year and a half later, on a wintery night, my baby woke me with her cries. With a fierce mothers need to warm and comfort her, I brought her into bed with us. I hushed her, and soothed her, and held her hand as we both finally drifted off to sleep. My epiphany came somewhere in that half sleep state. The hand that I was holding was suddenly so familiar, tiny, cold, and puffy in mine. I had held this hand before.
I was flooded with the exaltation of a reunion with a long lost love, wakened now by the realization that a baton had been passed. My mother was there, where she had been all along. That intense mother love, that profound need to soothe my baby’s cries, resonated within, and I found her deep inside me. I was the mother now. She had shown me the way. I understood that the incredible depth of what I felt for my daughter, was how my own mother had always felt for me, and she was there. Honestly, for the first time I reflected on the gestation, birthing, nursing, and holding, all of the draining things mothers give to their new child with love. All that she gave of herself was what brought me here, to my own motherhood. Now, whenever the small hand of one of my own children slips into mine, I hear her words, “I will always hold your hand, ” and she is there with me.

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