Brownies and the 4th of July

Omigod…these ribs taste so good.  The sauce is awesome.  And this corn…so sweet.  Nothing like the farmer’s market.  I love the fourth of July!  

“Hey! Arjun, honey bear, please get down. That’s Grandpa’s seat.  Your plate is over here.  See?  Mosie put a small plate out for you.”

This potato salad is probably killing my Weight Watchers points for the day, but…so what!  This is delicious.  

“Arjun! Get your hands out of the salad bowl. I know you’re hungry, but just wait, I’ll spoon some out for you.  What?  No, you cannot have a brownie!  You have to eat your dinner first.”

Those brownies did look good.  I hope there are still some left after dinner.  

“Pumpkin, please don’t touch the silverware. That is Auntie’s knife, okay?  Leave it alone!”

Should I go grab a brownie real quick before they’re all gone?  Last time Mom made those, everyone ate them up before I finished dinner.  They looked so fudgy.  I think she put chocolate chips into them.

“Dev, Arjun is acting up.  Can you come over here and help out?”

I’ll grab a brownie real quick.  I’ve been outside all day with these kids.  I deserve it!  Just one brownie. 

“What, Arjun?  No!  You cannot eat the salt.  Do you want some corn?  Here, have an ear of corn.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have a brownie.  Why did Mom have to make those?  She knows I’m on Weight Watchers.  God these holidays are crap for a diet.  No…not a diet…Weight Watchers isn’t a diet, is it?  Just points.  Points I killed with chips and beer and all that other crap I ate on the deck earlier.  But…what will a brownie do now?  It practically doesn’t matter at this point.  

“Hey, Arjun, no picking lettuce from the salad bowl.  Or tomatoes.  Just settle down and eat your corn!  Dev!  Please…can you help?”

I shouldn’t eat the brownies.  No brownies.  I need to be good. Have to wear my bathing suit on Monday for that play date at the pool.  

“Honey, no you cannot drink Grandpa’s wine.  Please just sit in your seat.  Come on, honey.  Please?  Dev, what are you doing?  Can’t you come over here?  Oh…sorry, didn’t realize Indira was doing potty.  No, help her…I’m fine.”

You know, the brownie might actually be good for me.  Chocolate is good for my heart, right?  Is that dark chocolate or light chocolate?  Is it good for my liver?  I know I read that somewhere. 

“Oh, God!  Arjun, did you poop?”

God he’s cute when he giggles.  But that smells awful.  Sweet lord have mercy.

“That smells awful, Arjun! What, Dev?  No, it’s ok.  Just a poopy diaper.  No, take your time with Indira.  Get some food when you get a chance.  The corn is great!”

I should ask him to grab me a brownie before they run out.  Omigod what a huge poop.  When will this kid potty train?  I cannot wait to be done with this crap.

“What?  What, Dev?  Yes, Indira likes beans.  You can give her beans.  She already ate them?  Okay, fine.  Whatever…why are you asking me, then?  Okay, Arjun, all set.  Let’s go back to the dinner table!  Finish our corn!”

I should grab a brownie while I’m up.  Yes…I do deserve it!  I just cleaned my third poopy diaper today.  That warrants a brownie for dessert, right?  Yes!  It does!  I can start Weight Watchers over again on Monday.  This week is done anyway…over…I killed it with like, a gazillion points already.  Brownies brownies brownies here I come!!!!  

“Arjun you sit here…Mommy will be right back.  Eat your corn.”

Oh no!  Only one left…let me grab it before anyone else-

“Oh!  Hi Indira!  Papa said I’d give you a brownie?  Because you ate all your beans? And your potatoes?”

Damn.

“Yes, honey-bunny, here you go!  You get the last one, you lucky duck!  Go back to Papa now.  Eat it at the table, don’t let the crumbs get on the floor.  Here, put it on this napkin and walk back to the table.”

Man…these kids are a real buzzkill sometimes.

Updated Definition of “Torture” Added to Dictionary for 2013

The meaning of torture was updated this week.  Updates are highlighted in blue.

Tor-ture  /’torCHer/

Noun
The action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.  The deprivation of sleep inflicted on parents caused by a toddler’s fears of the big bad wolf, “the evil witch,” a psychedelic candy house made of gumdrops, or some other fairy tale crap that scares little children.

Verb
To inflict severe pain on.  To deprive those who feed you, love you, clothe you, and bathe you of sleep due to overexposure to fairy tales filled with characters who belong in jail or psychotherapy or on Death Row.

Synonyms
noun. torment – anguish – agony – pain – excruciation – Disney stepmothers  wolves dressed in matronly clothes  cannibal witches – cats that creepily sing “we are Siamese if you please”
verb. torment – excruciate – agonize – tantalize – plague

Examples of TORTURE

  • Getting stuck in traffic is torture.
  • This heat is torture in the summertime.
  • I love my kids but they are torturing me each night at 2 a.m. when they climb into my bed.
  • Abby’s Flying Fairy School used to be torture but now it is one of few things that will keep the kids quiet in the morning so it’s no longer torturous
  • “I don’t know how much longer I can take this torture,” the mother said to her husband as their Irish twins snored in their bed. 
  • “I didn’t know parenting was such torture,” the father said to himself as he pecked away at his keyboard, thankful he had an office to escape to.
  • Though small and adorable by day, the toddlers meted out torture on their parents in the night, citing wolves, witches, and “nothing” as reasons for being scared.
  • Bedtime was torturous for the mother due to incessant demands by her toddlers for sips of water and pillow fluffing before the lights were turned off. 

Reader-Provided examples of TORTURE (need not be related to sleep deprivation)

  • The mother felt tortured when her 3 year old absolutely refused to potty train.
  • “It is torture trying to remove crayon artwork from our living room walls,” the mother said to her husband when he returned from work.

Tootsie Pops

“Here you go, kids.  Tootsie Pops!  Stay in the stroller, we’re going for a walk, okay?”

Maybe now they’ll be quiet for five minutes.  How can they go all day without a nap?  What the hell…I’m so tired.  Just need five minutes.  God…they talk so much.  

“I see you have a lollipop, Arjun!  Just eat it!”

 I really want to listen to the new Daft Punk album.  If I walk along the water I can put my earphones in…

“Arjun!  Don’t bite on it!  Suck it.  It’s dangerous to bite it right away.”

Crap, he’s gonna bite it.  And chew straight through to the Tootsie again.  I just know it. Then whine for another one.  I should’ve bought extras.  Too much sugar lately, but-

“What, Indira?  You won’t bite it?  Because you’re a big girl?  I know that, honey bunny, you are a big girl.”

Why am I always affirming her?  Mom never affirmed me that much.  It’s not like she’ll be damaged if I don’t tell her how big a girl she is because she won’t bite a lollipop.  Or would she? Is it a three year old thing? I should google that.  Can I just ignore her?  No…but maybe? Would her confidence be impacted?  What would-  Wait.  Why the crap am I thinking about this?  

“Kids!  Quiet time starts now.  It’s Mommy Time.  Don’t talk.  I mean, you can talk to each other but not to me.  Mommy needs a break.  From talking.”

Oh, thank God.  They’re quiet.  Where are my ear phones?  Ugh!  Why do I have so many receipts in my purse?  

“What, Indira?  Yes, but we’re just stopped for a minute.  Mommy has to get her ear phones.  Mommy time!  I want Mommy time, guys.  Be quiet.  Please.  Please?”

Ah.  There they are at the bottom. All coiled up.  Why can’t Apple make earphones that don’t tangle?  They made the iPad but they can’t make non-tangle earphones? Why are we even using a cord anymore?   They should have cheap bluetooth earphones for music.  Apple is so overrated. 

“What, Indira?  I don’t know.  The moon?  What?  Oh, yes, you’re right.  We can see the moon during the daytime.  No!  I don’t know why!  Huh?  Yes, maybe it’s because that’s the way God made the world, honey.”

Aww, that was cute.  I should really take her to Church more.  God, I’m such a bad Catholic.

“What?  Indira! I don’t know why some trees are tall and some are short.  I just don’t know. Maybe because that’s the way God made the trees.  It’s still quiet time, honey.  I-”

GODAMMIT!  Who is that coming over to us?  She’s so old.

“Oh!  Hi!  Sure, no problem, we can stop. You’d like to meet the kids?  Indira, Arjun, say hello to the nice lady!”

My life sucks right now.

“She’s three and a half, he’s two and a half.   Oh, his hat?”

Oh, here we go again with the hat. Yes, a two year old wearing a fedora is cute.  If I had a nickel every time someone-

“Yes, he loves his hat!  Wears it to bed, even!  I know!  Can you believe that?”

Ughhh.  Kill me now.  Indira’s down to the nub on that lollipop.  I’m screwed.  No Daft Punk.  

“What’s that?  Oh, thank you, yes.  They are blessings.”

Blessings, my ass.  Lady, you don’t know shit.  Let these kids wake you up at two a.m. every night for five weeks straight, then let’s see what you say.

“Oh, ok, take care!  Kids…say goodbye!”

Maybe I can still make it to the waterfront-

“What Indira?  You’re done?  Ok, give me the lollipop stick-”

Oh, gross!  It’s sticky.  Did I bring wipes?  

“Yes, I know your hands are sticky, Indira.  Now mine are too.  Hold on.  I think I have wipes.”

They’ve gotta be in the bottom of this stroller somewhere.  Crap!  They’re not.  How could I have left them.  Oh, that’s right.  Arjun had a poopy diaper right before we left.  God that was a huge poop.  I left the wipes by the front door.  Dammit!

“Indira, I know your hands are sticky!  One moment!  Please!  What, Arjun?  No!  You cannot have another lollipop!  You just had one!”

Maybe I should have bought more Tootsie Pops…  No!  Too much sugar.  Too much sugar lately, Dev is right.  

“What, Indira?  Yes, I know you’re not crying.  Yes, you’re a big girl.”

Again!  I did it again!  Why am I always affirming her?  I’ve got to work on that. 

“Arjun! Stop screaming!  Indira, please wait.  I don’t have the wipes right now.”

AHHHHHHH……SCREW IT.

“Kids, change of plans.  Let’s go back home and have an early dinner.  How about pancakes?”

The Prisms in Our Lives

Wisdom is like the full spectrum of light revealed through a prism; beautiful, spectacular, yet born of the ordinary.

When I was twenty-six years old, I snapped at my father with harsh words.  We were sitting in a crowded Starbucks around the corner from Washington D.C.’s Superior Court, awaiting the first day of the murder trial for a friend who had been killed two years before.  My father had traveled to Washington to attend the first few days of the trial, in part to support me, in part to bear witness to justice for my friend.  My father is like that; steadfast, righteous and honorable, like a rock planted in a riverbed, unmoved by rushing currents and shifting tides.  I do not remember exactly what caused me to snap at him, only that it was a momentary release of hot anger, profound stress escaping like steam from a kettle’s whistle.  As soon as the words flew off my tongue I felt guilt and shame burrow into my gut.   I apologized several times, but after my third or fourth apology, my father folded his NY Times in half, looked across the table, and said, “Brigid, I’m your father.  Don’t worry.  I forgave you before the words left your mouth.”

The impact of his words was immediate and lasting.  Guilt and shame washed away.  In their place, a feeling of profound security settled in.  The notion that my words and actions were incapable of altering his love for me, or his capacity to forgive, was extremely comforting.  It was comforting in the moment, but it also altered my consciousness about the nature of unconditional love and forgiveness.  Now that I have kids of my own, I think of my father’s words often.  I want my kids to feel the same sense of security that my father gifted to me that day in Starbucks.

Which brings me to my daughter.

She is only three years old.  Her mind is like fertile soil teeming with optimism, curiosity, and an ever-constant ache to please Mommy and Papa.  Yesterday she had a tantrum at the park; it was a monumental meltdown after a long day with her grandparents, water sprinklers, and a pickle from the farmer’s market.  It culminated with the tinkly song of Mr. Softee’s ice cream truck parked just beyond the swings.

“Mommy,” she whined as we walked towards the car, “I want ice cream!”

“Absolutely not,” I responded.  “You’ve already had a pickle.  That’s enough treats for one day.”

“But a pickle is not a treat!” she wailed as I strapped her into the car seat.

Later, over dinner, I asked her if she felt better and she said yes, but then ducked her head away, perhaps still angry, perhaps a bit embarrassed.  Perhaps feeling a bit of guilt at having screamed so loudly at me.   So I asked her, “Indira, how big is the sky?”

“So big, Mommy,” she responded, her eyes wide, her chubby arms outstretched to measure the bigness of the sky.

“Well,” I said, “Mommy’s love for you is bigger than the sky.  I never stop loving you.”

She looked at me, her eyes ever-wider.  “Mommy do you love me with every feeling?”

I felt a small lump lodge in my throat.  My eyes watered.  My little girl was my prism.  “Yes, honey.  I love with you every feeling.”

“Even when you’re upset?”

“Yes, even when I’m upset. I love you with every feeling.”  Then she asked me for more grapes.

What a simple truth.  Yes, of course I love my children with every feeling – joy, anger, frustration, hope – yet how easy is it for a child to assume the love stops when our faces darken in disappointment?  Would I have even considered this notion of loving with every feeling had she not asked the question?  Probably not.  I was attempting to transform my daughter’s comprehension of love and she in turn transformed me.

Life is an ever-changing, fantastic journey.  Made even more beautiful, and transformative, by the prisms in our lives.

Parents – A Poem

Today my 3 year old said “I don’t like you!” for the first time.  It was pretty funny…there was such angst-ridden passion in her voice, her face pinched into a sincere little scowl.  She followed it up ten seconds later with “Mom what’s for breakfast?” in her normal sing-songy voice, the fleeting emotions of a three-year old restored to normal order.  It reminded me of a poem I wrote when I was ten years old for my parents; I left it for them as I stewed over whatever injustice they had meted out on me – probably forcing me to eat my dinner or turn off the TV.  The only memory I have of writing the poem was this: as annoying as my parents were, they still were the link between me and dinner.

Parents (1986)

Parents are rude, and mean sometimes,
They’re unfair, almost not caring for a soul,
Except, for themselves.
Parents are guardians, wow! Big Deal!
They think they can bounce you like a ball,
In a pinball machine.
Not me! No sir-ree
They can rant and rave all they want,
But they will never control me inside,
They will never try to make me think their way.
Because parents are older bullies,
That will always be there,
Be there in rough times,
Be there in fun times,
Always bossy, and always mean.
I hate big bullies!
Parents maybe.
But I still like them, because they
take care of me.

The Best Gift on Mother’s Day

What’s the best gift on Mother’s Day?  Every mom may have a different answer to this, but here’s mine: healthy children.  Not just my own, but as many healthy children all around the world that we, as a giving, loving, society can afford.

Six hours after my first child was born, one of the maternity ward nurses woke my husband and me in the middle of the night.   My husband was asleep on a daybed under the window and I was resting fitfully.  Our exhilaration at being new parents was tempered by bone-deep exhaustion from the afternoon’s events; my water had broken unexpectedly at home so we rushed to the hospital forty minutes away where I had an emergency C-section.

Hours later, the nurse was in our room.  “We want to send your baby up to the NICU.”

“What’s wrong?”  we asked, frozen with fear.

“Your daughter had an apnea episode.  She didn’t breathe for about twenty seconds and her lips turned blue. We could take a chance and see if she improves, but we’d rather send her upstairs and ensure she is more closely monitored.”

We had to wait an hour before we could visit her in the NICU.  We were buzzed in and passed babies inside incubators, babies with tubes inserted into their abdomens, babies who looked as if they weighed just two or three pounds.  At the end of the hall, we found our daughter wrapped in a receiving blanket under heat lamps and sucking on a green pacifier, her nickel-sized palm wrapped in a heartbeat monitor strap while machines above her beeped and flashed with mechanical precision.  I immediately burst into tears; the site of our tiny six-pound baby hooked up to medical equipment was jarring.  As a parent, it is absolutely awful to feel so out of control.  We spent the next three days in the NICU as doctors monitored her breathing to ensure her oxygen levels were normal.  In the end she was cleared to leave the hospital on time; we considered ourselves extremely fortunate, particularly after passing the other babies who remained hooked to ventilators and feeding tubes.  Our daughter is now a thriving three year old.  What she experienced as a newborn was frightening beyond measure, but we were fortunate, extremely fortunate, to have health insurance and access to quality healthcare.  As a mother, I do not for one second take my children’s health for granted.

It is because of this experience that I passionately support a new organization called Kangu.  Kangu is meant to evoke the Kangaroo, an animal whose young are carried safely, protectively, in the mother’s pouch.  Kangu uses “crowdfunding,” a type of giving that enables individuals to easily co-fund a cause they believe in.  Kangu’s cause is healthcare for mothers who might otherwise not be able to afford it.  Kangu mamas are currently living in places like Nepal, India, and Uganda.  I recently helped fund healthcare services for a mom named Fathima in Hyderabad, India; it was the best investment I’ve made all year. Kangu’s mission is a beautiful, empowering concept; small contributions, when pooled together, can yield disproportionately huge benefits for moms in real need.  A few dollars to you and me can be life-changing for a child gulping in his first breath of air.

So, what’s the best gift on Mother’s Day?  Flowers are beautiful, but their colors eventually fade.  Chocolates are delicious, but in the end you’re left with crinkled wrappers and a healthy dose of Monday morning guilt.  But a donation to Kangu?  That is a gift that will benefit a child in need for many, many years to come.   And on Mother’s Day, that is the best gift any mom could ask for.

To learn more about Kangu, please visit www.kangu.org.

Office Man

Hey, you.  Yeah you, Office Man.  With your chic Prada glasses, your fancy striped tie from Barney’s, your slim black brief case. Cheeks flushed, catching your breath as the PATH doors close behind you.  Wondering why the train smells like poop, then glancing down at my stroller.  I see those glances while you pretend to itch your nose.  Yes, that small pile of dust next to your shoes are Cheerios, Office Man.  I’m soooo sorry that I defiled this God-awful PATH car with my toddler litter.  I’m sorry I brought an open cup of Cheerios on the train, but you try leaving the apartment with toddlers screaming for cake. Don’t judge me, man.

I know it’s rush hour.  I know this stroller is huge.  I get it.  Toddlers and commuters on a cramped train don’t mix.  Yeah, I get it.  You’re soooo busy.  You have your gym appointment to rush home to, your happy hour with college friends, your Thai take-out in front of Breaking Bad.  I know you’re tired.  You slogged into the city, passed by construction equipment that buzzed and hacked and drummed holes into concrete and cement, hiked escalator steps, rushed through turnstiles, pushed past slow tourists who annoyed the piss out of you.  I did that grind for years, Office Man.  But you know what?  You can do all that crap in peace in quiet.  You can tune out to Maroon 5 or Jay-Z or whatever it is you listen to, Office Man.  

I’m soooo sorry my kids are screaming “Thomas!” like banshees.  Yes, I know they’re loud, Office Man. I listen to it. All. Day. Long.  Do not start with me.  Do not-

“Huh?”

Is Office man talking to me?  

“I’m sorry, what was that?  Sorry, I was lost in thought.  Oh!  Yes, I’m getting off at the next stop.  Yes, thank you so much, I’d love some help with my stroller! Thank you so much!” 

“Oh, you have two kids too?  Oh, gosh, please don’t strain yourself, this stroller is so heavy.  Yes, it’s big, and so heavy!  Oh, you have the same stroller?  Your two kids are only eleven months apart?  You’re on your way to pick them up in daycare?  Omigod!  You must be so busy!”

“Yes, you have a nice night too!  Thank you!”

Wow, I’m a real bitch sometimes.  

Paradise

Paradise, I am coming.

Early morning, sun scraping up over the horizon.  Taxi-driven, far from home.  Alone.  Shards of sunlight dance across the cold white metal of the Airbus wing.  Bone tired, crushed with fatigue, I crave teal blue waves crested white with foam.  I long to feel powdered sand slip through fingertips dried and cracked from a winter that refuses to thaw.  I want to escape.

Escape from the kids, who build up my love with each smile, each giggle, each new word spoken, but then suck me dry with sleepless nights, shrieks and whines, and endless demands.  Escape from the chores; dirty diapers, milk-stained clothes, grapes squashed into a scuffed wooden floor, meals to cook, dishes to wash, clothes to fold.  Escape from the elements, which offer no reprieve; from park swings dangling by cold metal chains and mud-tracked slides puddled with day-old rain, from winter jackets, mittens, scarves, and hats; from whipping winds, ice tinged air, and steel gray skies sliced by shallow rays of sun.

The plane soars skyward, through the clouds, away from home, to paradise.  To fields of sugar cane swaying in the balmy breeze.  To bone white beaches and teal blue seas.  To a room that overlooks the sea.  I open the door and find a suitcase against the wall, a toothbrush still wet in a glass by the sink, and crumpled receipts by the phone.  I smile and drop my bags, then pause and take in his cologne that still lingers in the air.  First hints of paradise.

Detoured by a business trip, he finally greets me on the white sand as dusk settles in.  Gentle waves lap against our feet, the salty water licks at our toes.  In one hand, my purple drink, a thick, cold, delicious slush cut with rum.  In my other hand, his fingers linked with mine.  His hand is warm and soft, tender but strong.  I feel the fading Barbadian sun envelop us, love us.  Our hands, our love, our lives intertwined. We talk about home and his work, we talk about the kids, we talk about the mundane moments that add up to a life built together.  I feel the tangled pit of stress in my gut start to unwind, months of pressure uncoiling, disappearing into the balmy breeze. The conversation stops and we sit in comfortable silence, the stillness near-perfect. The marrow-deep fatigue drips away and I look past him to the horizon beyond, where the sun sets slowly, and I smile.

Paradise.

The Princess Firefighter

My daughter and I have a secret: a Princess Firefighter lives in Jersey City.

Her name is Constance Zappella and she is Jersey City’s first female fire captain.  I met Captain Zappella at a meet & greet for toddler girls.  The invitation read “I Want to Be Captain Connie!” so I took the morning off work, pulled my daughter out of daycare, and trekked to the firehouse, determined to show my daughter a woman with guts.  A woman with heart.  A woman who swam against the current and shattered glass ceilings.  The anti-princess if there ever was one.

Captain Connie & Mom
Newly sworn-in Capt. Constance Zappella is kissed by her mother, Maryann, at the end of the ceremony. Photo/Caption by Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal (Article from December 17, 2011 written by Terrence McDonald)

Oh, how I needed an anti-princess.

I was not shocked when my daughter first started showing a preference for all things pink. When she started demanding choice over what she wore – usually with a stamp of the foot and an exasperated “but that onesie doesn’t go with those tights!” – I assumed it was a control issue.  When “princess” started to dominate her vocabulary, I smiled, thinking “so cute that she’s passing through this phase.”  But then it persisted.  “Princess” encapsulated all toddler aesthetics; princess toys, princess shoes, princess toothbrush, princess hat, princess stroller, and so on. She had never seen a Disney movie and her TV was limited to Sesame Street and Thomas the Train; where in God’s name was this coming from? What would happen as she grew older?  Was my daughter going to get sucked into the Cinderella storyline?  Become a Snow White stalwart?  Start to ingest the female-as-submissive fairy tale theme at such a young age?

As my confusion grew into outright concern, I received the invitation to meet Captain Connie.  The perfect opportunity to nip this princess persuasion in the bud.

When we arrived at the fire station, Captain Connie was there to greet us, dressed in navy cargo pants, a short-sleeved navy shirt, and thick-soled boots.  With soft blue eyes, blonde hair swept back into a tight ponytail, and manicured nails painted pearly white, Captain Connie cut against her workplace like a diamond in the rough.  The fire station was all function, no beauty; straight lines of concrete, cold gray steel, and piles of coats and boots stored behind metal cages.  Not exactly princess territory.

IMG_3384
My daughter sitting at the kitchen table inside the Grand Street Fire House in October 2012. The metal cages holding gear are visible in the top left of the photo.

We gathered around Captain Connie as as she knelt down and held out a fire helmet for the little girls to touch and explained how firefighters climbed up ladders to rescue people from burning buildings, wore heavy coats and big boots, ate together in a big kitchen, and rushed off to a fire when the bells rang.   Before long, the firehouse speakers blared to life announcing a fire emergency.  Captain Connie donned the heavy coat and boots and the firetruck roared to life. She jumped into the shotgun seat and, with sirens blaring, bade us farewell.

As I walked home I felt like a failure.  The metal cages filled with gear and the fire truck pealing out of the driveway had frightened my daughter.  The kitchen was all she was interested in, which seemed a pointless reason to drag her out of daycare and miss a day of work.  I felt more confused than before.  I was not connecting with my own child.  Worse yet, I came to a realization – felt it in my gut – that trying to tamp anything she expressed so naturally, so innately, was wrong.

And then fate intervened.

Several weeks later, I was strolling my kids across a busy downtown boulevard in Jersey City when my eye caught three figures marching towards us.  Two men in uniform and a woman wearing a knee-length skirt and heels.  The JCFD Headquarters was across the street so I pegged the men in uniform as firefighters.  The woman’s hair was blonde and it bounced off her shoulders, worthy of a shampoo commercial.   As they approached, I could barely contain my excitement as I leaned down into my daughter’s ear and whispered, “Look, honey! That’s Captain Connie!”  Then, without thinking, I added, “Doesn’t she look beautiful?”  My daughter glanced up just as Captain Connie and her colleagues walked by.  “Where is she, Mommy?  Where?”  Her eyes darted in all directions, but Captain Connie had already passed us.  But then, her interest piqued, she proceeded to ask a litany of questions about who Captain Connie was, where she worked, why she was pretty, and why she was walking across the street.  Without so much as a second thought, I found myself telling her that Captain Connie was a princess firefighter, that she was brave and bold, and that she was dressed in her princess clothes because she was going to a big party.

It was a breakthrough moment for me.  I met my daughter on her own turf, using princess power to communicate and connect.  I also realized a grievous shortcoming within myself; I had boxed Captain Zappella into the box of “firefighter” when in truth she was a whole person, a whole woman, more than just a career.  From that day on, I threw aside any fear that using “princess” to describe the life around us would somehow harm my child.  In fact, I have found it is very healthy; it allows us to connect, it validates what comes to her naturally, and I can gain greater insight into what she finds interesting, challenging, and at times frightening.  I march with her through imaginary adventures and join her in a revelry of pink, ruffles, and all things sparkly.

Every child’s life is fraught with complexity as the years progress.  But for a toddler, those years, and those discussions, can wait.  Because for many little girls, mine included, princess power is real.  Princesses can have guts.  Princesses can have heart.  Princesses can swim against the current and shatter glass ceilings.  Just like the Princess Firefighter.

My Speckled Notebook

My favorite place to journal when I was a teenager was my black and white speckled notebook. The smooth laminated cover, the thick white thread cutting the book in half, the dull black tape serving as a spine. It was a companion.  A private space to experience Life through words.

The world has changed dramatically since I was a teenager twenty years ago.  Private thoughts splash through LAN lines, across wireless networks, into living rooms and bedrooms, all in an instant.  We share who we are – sarcastic, introspective, sensitive, vitriolic – through words, sometimes typed carefully but often typed hurriedly, a momentary flash of emotion etched permanently in bits and bytes on server boxes that hum and click in protected solitude.  In this world, now, more than ever, words matter.  They are a record of who we are.  A record of who we become.  They provide a transcription of the journey we take as human beings, as mothers, fathers, children, and as neighbors.

As for my journey, I now stand at a nexus of my own making. I can pivot in many directions, and for the first time in a long time I feel a sense of profound choice.

For eight years I slogged it out at a consulting firm.  Most of my time was spent on PowerPoint decks, Excel spreadsheets, emails, client calls, team meetings, or some form of travel.  The frenzy of life had a cache to it; I was important, critical to the team’s success.  I stayed in five star hotels, traveled in business class, and was on call with high tech devices that I checked, by habit, seven days a week.  My mind was always at the office, always thinking about the next sale, the next project, the peers I had to out-compete.  Fifty plus hour weeks were considered light while eighty hour weeks were unspoken quarterly mandates given the ebb and flow of the work, the constraints of an understaffed team, and the expectations for yearly compensation bumps.  Go, go, go.  Don’t stop. The Job is Life.  Life is the Job.

Then I had kids.

I took on new jobs – mother, nanny, cook, laundress, healer, advocate.  New priorities surfaced. Health, schooling, community, personal growth of toddlers becoming conscious of their world and demanding explanations, insights, knowledge; every day I juggled these priorities, none more important than the other, yet all co-dependent, all critical.  I stretched in different directions, reached for new meaning in the face of observations posited by children who were awakening to a world with no Before, no Later, only Now.  My life demanded a change.

So I quit.

I wrote my first and, until now, only blog post about quitting my career in consulting a few weeks ago.  My friend Patricia, the writer behind GoodMomVsBadMom.com, invited me to write about transitioning from working mom to stay at home mom.  I was surprised at how cathartic it felt.  Putting words to my feelings gave me the same sense of satisfaction that my black and white speckled notebook gave me so many years ago.  Words are gems that can sparkle off the page if we take the time and care to nurture them.  They can help us define ourselves to others.  They can help us come to terms with our own lives; who we are and who we want to be.  So now the journey continues, one word at a time.