Hashtag momfilter

Change is the watchword.

And me, being me, am packing as many changes as I can into a short period of time. Like how I went through college — signing up for summer classes almost every year so that even though I changed my major in the second semester of my junior year, I still graduated on time.

I kind of regret that now. I wish I’d taken a little more time, explored a bit more, not pushed myself to burnout at the age of 22. But it’s my nature, I guess.

After looking pretty much exactly the same from the age of 20 onward, sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who the hell is looking back. I’ve given birth to two children, breastfed one of them for an extended period of time, and plunged into perimenopause in little more than 5 years. Most women spread these events out over 10 or 20 years, but like everything else, I’m doing this on the fast track.

The person in the mirror is a bit more recognizable now that I’m back to my normal weight, but life has edited my body into something both familiar and all together foreign. The obvious changes — how I dress, how I wear my hair and makeup — were brought about by the fact that instead of working in an office, I spend a great deal of time wrangling squirmy, tantrumy, gooey children. I’m down two moles, but have picked up more freckles and a tan. If I tighten my abs, my belly looks as it always did, but if I relax, it becomes a mom pooch even on my thinnest days. My face, hands, and arms are more lined than they used to be — partly age, partly sun damage.

All of this is to be expected, I know. It’s the speed with which it’s all come about that is sometimes disconcerting.

I see my mother, my grandmother, and other women in my body. Plus my advancing years. Fat has left the places it used to hang out and shacked up with other body parts; my boobs now think my lower back is a great place to be, for instance. My calves and arms, once slender sticks, bear the small but sculpted muscles I failed to build with 15 years of concerted exercise.

But I’m still in here, you know? I see me, beneath all these alterations. Me at 20, 25, 30, 35. It’s like someone slapped a Snapchat filter on me — a Mom filter. All I need to complete the image is a pair of mom jeans. (Which, I’m old enough to know, used to be just jeans until the people who wore them became mothers).

An exchange that took place between me and my offspring this weekend:

Kai: Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!

Me: Why are you chanting my name? Am I a rock star?

Anya: No, you not been a rock star in 20 years.

Me: I’m not a rock star?

Anya: No.

Me: I’m a has-been?

Anya: No, you cool.

Me: What am I, then?

Anya: A mom!

Too right.

Blink and you miss it

The paint splatters on the floor, the ones that won’t come off — those are Anya’s childhood.

As are the scuffs and scrapes on my particleboard kitchen furniture, the stuff I bought with my ex-husband. On the particleboard everything in this house, to be honest. (Which is pretty much all the furniture, save the kitchen table and chairs.) I have already started mentally planning painting and mosaic projects for when they stop being so destructive.  The walls, the carpets, my clothes, my car…everything they touch bears marks from both kids.

Or I suppose I could just buy all new stuff.

But in just a few years — 20? 10? 5? — there will be no evidence that they were ever here in this house.

When I was a child, we moved from Illinois to Tennessee. Before we left my childhood home, I wrote my name and the date inside the closet: black Sharpie on powder pink paint. (And probably something about that being my room FOREVER, because I was 14.) That was nearly 30 years ago; someone has surely painted over the words by now. Probably more than once. No marks are forever, even Sharpie.

This morning, as I sit here PMSing and also hot-flashing (which is a really bizarre mix, let me tell you), I’m getting all misty thinking that these marks last no longer than they do. That childhood lasts such a short time. That in a few brief, brilliant moments, these tiny, beautiful creatures who depend on me for everything are going to turn into adults and move on.

I know it’s ridiculous, but I just wish I could hold on to these years for a while. Even the bad moments, where Kai throws toys at the other kids in the library, when Anya lays claim to every toy in the house and won’t let her brother play with so much as a half-deflated ball.

But I am also so looking forward to getting to know the adults they will become. So I cannot wish to keep them small forever. I’ll just have to compromise by taking 13.4 million photos of them, so when I’m old I can look back and remember these days. Unfortunately, photos and videos can’t capture the smell of their hair, the feel of their skin. So hopefully they will provide me with grandchildren, and thus allow me to recapture a little of these days.

How did I ever think life moved slowly? It goes by so brutally fast.

Settling into the new normal

House listings are my porn. I have accounts on Trulia, Zillow, and RedFin, and visit HotPads from time to time. I have saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of listings. Any time I see a for-sale sign in a neighborhood I’m interested in, I grab my phone and search for the realtor listing. How many bedrooms? Is there a garage? Separate laundry room? What unfortunate color scheme would I have to paint over?

I’m not buying a house anytime soon. I’m too far in debt to even consider it. Nor are we moving away in the foreseeable future; my parents’ health is waning, and they are beginning to truly need our help. Even if that were not the case, my kids enjoy living close to them too much to leave right now.

No, my house shopping is just a dream. But it’s pretty much a harmless one, so I indulge myself.

The other day, I learned that I did get one of the jobs I’d applied for, a part-time contract gig. It’s flexible enough that I can do most of my work before the kids even wake up in the morning, and squeeze in my other freelancing while Kai naps and after R gets home from work. Which leaves me the rest of the day to take care of the kids and help my parents out.

This is not how I’d pictured my days. I was anticipating having to decide between a daycare and a babysitter — a decision I’ve fought since I became pregnant with Anya. Now I’m the daycare. It’s the goal I aspired to before I had kids. I didn’t expect it to feel this scary, though.

If I bust my hump and the work stays steady, with this new job I will be making close to what I made when I was laid off…but without benefits. If we manage to get married later this year, come tax time next year R’s tax return will offset my tax payment…but we may just barely break even. The security of the job I didn’t get was so great that I admit I’m having trouble seeing the bright spots in how things turned out.

But if I am to be honest about it, I think things turned out just as they needed to.

My mother, while not as bad off as we had feared this time last week, is very ill, and recovery is going to take at least a year. My father has health issues of his own that he’s been putting off treating until Mom gets well — and the time has come that he can no longer do that. They need me to help them out.

My kids need me, too. My daughter, while she thinks she is grown, is still little enough to want to spend time with me. And I’d be a fool to regret having the time with my son that I missed with her because I was working so much.

My debt is at times utterly overwhelming to me. Because we had to rely on credit during both of my maternity leaves, my current debt is roughly half my annual income. The first thing I’d intended to do once I started receiving a steady paycheck was to use my freelancing income (because of course I’d intended to continue freelancing, at least for a while) to start paying down my debt. So I could eventually pay back what I took from the kids’ savings accounts and our down payment savings account.

Now it’s going to be a while before all that happens. Years, perhaps. And unless I do return to work full time, the down payment account may never come back at all. My house hunting will remain a pretty dream.

But I’ll hang on to that dream just a little while longer.


Bring on the Pop

I dunno what rock I’ve been living under, but until I saw this article, I didn’t realize that listening to songs on repeat in order to focus your attention was a thing. I read once that Stephen King does it (he subjected his poor wife to Mambo Number 5 until she nearly lost her mind, as I recall), but I didn’t know of anyone else who employs such an annoying (without earbuds, anyway) habit. Turns out I’m not as unique as I thought I was. But when am I ever?

However, I’m guessing that, while I may not be the only one who uses musical repetition as white noise, it’s certainly not a common practice. Recently, someone posed the question to a Facebook editor’s group I’m a part of: What do you do when you can’t concentrate? The responses were pretty standard: Listen to white noise. Or classical music. Or nature sounds. Treat myself (sweets, reading time, video games, what have you). Go for a walk. Sip hot tea. Do yoga. Meditate. Power nap. Of all the answers I read, nobody else said “Listen to Maroon 5’s Payphone on repeat for 6 hours straight.”

Thing is, I don’t even like Maroon 5.

I’m also not a fan of Kesha, or Lady Gaga. In fact, many of the songs I listen to in these binges aren’t songs I particularly care for. But they get the job done.

Maybe it’s because I don’t care for them. Could it be that listening to music that repulses me causes my attention to retreat screaming into whatever is handy — say, the task before me? It’s an interesting hypothesis. And if I’m right, how fortunate for me: Annoying pop abounds. I will never run out of concentration juice.

But I should probably stock up on earbuds. My kids love pop music. Their father? Not so much.

Rethinking how I manage my goals

I’ve been putting some thought into how I want to manage my goals. I keep seeing posts (usually written by young white dudes in startups, so grab the salt shaker) about how important it is to stop thinking and just do, but thinking is my thing. When I get impulsive, I make mistakes. Carefully thought-out steps towards a well-considered goal serve me much better.

There was a time when I did all my goal work on 43t. At one point I even had two accounts because I was doing more than 43 things, but I eventually pared it down. Then 43t closed and I moved to Popclogs, which offers an unlimited list. And now 43t is back and I have too much stuff to fit in one list again. I might have enough for three lists at this point.

For now, I will continue to use both sites. (And post touch-base updates here, because I sense a shift in how I approach goal work taking place and I want to document it.) Since I’m doing the “43 things” goal, I’ll track those items on 43t. But I have other goals I want to keep, on both sites, so anything I’ve put on 43t that’s not one of my 43 things will need to move to Popclogs.

I see myself using Popclogs for three types of goals:

  1. Immediate/housekeeping/bootcamp goals: Things like clutter purges and spring cleans, as well as working out the logistics of balancing my fledgling routines.
  2. Long-range, wish-listy goals: My “someday” list
  3. Diary-type goals: Gratitudes, rants, and everything in between.

Once this year is up, I’ll re-evaluate and see if I want to continue maintaining these lists in this way.

I’ve thought a lot about productivity in the past few years, and I’ve come to realize two things:

  1. I don’t want to limit my goals list to to-do lists and basic housekeeping tasks; I want to push myself to accomplish more.
  2. That doesn’t mean I don’t need somewhere to track my to-do lists and basic housekeeping tasks.

Also, I should add a third item: I don’t want to disregard my someday list, because while my focus is on the here and now, I think it’s good to keep some long-range goals in your peripheral vision.

So. Yes, I did just post a post about what I’m thinking I’ll post at some (as-yet-determined) point. Forgive me. Sometimes I need to think about thinking.

The tides of fashion

I’ve been watching with amusement the shift in beauty trends to…what do they call them? Boy brows? I think of them as Instagram brows, and stifle a snicker whenever I see some poor young thing with comically drawn-on eyebrows. She’s just trying to be pretty. I can’t laugh at that. I’ve been there.

I had, as a young teen, eyebrows these girls would kill for. And a particularly obnoxious “friend” teased me relentlessly about them. Brooke Shields was allowed to have thick brows, but I was no Brooke Shields.

I didn’t pluck my eyebrows because I am an absolute weenie about pain, but as I got older and they grew darker and thicker, I became especially self-conscious about them. One day I coated myself up in Anbesol and plucked until I had tapering, angled brows. (Tip: Anbesol doesn’t really help. It numbs the skin, but only slightly, and makes the hairs slick to boot.) I was left red, swollen, and bleeding, but at least my brows looked good.

As tends to happen when you take drastic measures like that, the trend moved to even thinner eyebrows. I slowly upped my plucking game over the years, trimming off just a little bit more each time I plucked. And then the 90s came, with their whisper-thin eyebrows, and I admitted defeat. No way was I going to achieve that look. I’d just have to be hopelessly uncool.

Not that I was ever not hopelessly uncool, mind you.

Oh, I thought about tweezing my brows from time to time. Even painted the edges of my brows in concealer (in the privacy of my own home, of course!) to see what I’d look like with thinner brows. I decided, ultimately, that the end result wasn’t fabulous enough to endure that sort of pain and let my poor bushy brows live.

These days I don’t pluck much at all. Once every year or so is enough to tidy up strays; most of the hair I used to pluck no longer grows. And so the joke is on those wispy-browed grunge princesses: Thick is in. If you want to look good, you now need to draw them on. Which, I suspect, is why thick brows are popular now: it’s a way to distinguish the young hotties from us old Gen Xers.

I regularly encounter waitresses who look like Red from Angry Birds, and see gaggles of teens sporting the exact same brow regardless of hair color or ethnicity. It’s getting to where I can almost guess someone’s age by their use of eyebrow pencil. And I am glad that I was too much of a wimp to suffer for beauty, because it led me to stay true to my own look. Which, I’ve learned, is the only fashion that ever truly endures.

Hurts less, too.


Coming home

Home is a concept I have been obsessed with since I was a child. I would listen to John Mellencamp songs and feel a swelling of pride that I, too, came from the Midwest. The land, the people, the lifestyle were all so…me. I was also born in a small town, and I figured I would die in one, too. Probably the same small town I was born in. And that was just fine. They understood me there. I belonged there. I had everything I needed.

Then we moved.

To say that I faltered in the face of this event is an understatement. I drowned.

I did not fit in, nor did I want to, in my new locale. The land, the people, the values were so very different from where I was from. And I couldn’t wait to leave. I spent every holiday, every vacation, returning to my hometown. In between visits were long phone calls and letters to my friends back home. I trudged through my days in one place while living out a parallel life in my head. What would I be doing, had we never left? What would my day be like? I was certain I knew, and certain that everything would be better.

Each time we drove up to visit, I would drink it all in — the miles and miles of farmland. The landmarks of my childhood. The smell of the water, the taste of the air. It isn’t much, my hometown. But it was home. Each time we left, I looked out the rear window until the last familiar curve was out of sight. And inside I would die a little for the loss.

If you’ve never done the long-distance thing, it’s half a life. Your body is going through the motions in one place while your heart resides in another. Even when you get to visit, or get a phone call or a letter from someone back home, your happiness is finite. Visits, letters, calls…all end. And you’re alone again, until the next time.

One visit, I didn’t look back. Something had changed — I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. I didn’t feel any more at home where I lived, but my hometown wasn’t home anymore either. I was spiritually homeless. And I remained that way for roughly 20 years.

Not that I didn’t still enjoy visits to my hometown; I did. And not that I didn’t dream of moving somewhere else — I was constantly applying for jobs far away, looking into grad schools, researching housing and weather patterns and local amenities. Oregon. Vermont. Maine. Wisconsin. Iowa. Hawaii. England. New Zealand. The Netherlands. Scotland. Canada. Somewhere (though not just anywhere) else. Somewhere I might fit in. Somewhere I could belong. Somewhere that could be home.

In the meantime, I had created a sanctuary of sorts. My apartment was me — the space itself, and everything in it. Together we had survived new loves, faltering loves, dying loves. Illness and death and despair and divorce. I loved the neighborhood I lived in, the apartment I rented in it. I didn’t feel completely settled or satisfied, but it would do for the time being. In time, I ended up staying in that apartment longer than I lived in what I consider to be my childhood home.

And then, once again, I moved.

We moved. My fiancé, my newborn daughter, and I.

Into a rental house next door to my parents. The same house they bought when we moved down here all those years before. The yard upon which my new house sits used to be part of my parents’ yard. Talk about coming full circle.

It felt like a failure, though. Yes, I had all sorts of good reasons for opting to move when and where I did. The bigger space, the cheaper rent, the proximity to grandparents. It was the right move for the time. Didn’t mean I had to like it. The house hasn’t been kept up well. The yard is swiftly eroding. The deck is on the verge of collapse. The air conditioner keeps dying and half the outlets don’t work and we get wolf spiders the size of teacups if we don’t have pest control come out 6 times a year. Everything smells of mildew. I traded my bright and airy southwest-facing apartment in a swanky part of town for a cramped, shadowy north-facing house with peeling paint and moss growing on the sidewalk in the small hick town that I’d left ten years prior without a backwards glance.

So I began to look at house listings, and dream. If we couldn’t move away, and we really aren’t in a position to move away right now, then we could at least move up. Bigger, nicer house. Better neighborhood. First I tried to move us back to the town we’d been living in before we had Anya. Then I was just trying to get us into a better area of the town we’re in now. But two maternity leaves plus a move plus both of us getting laid off in a 5-year time period — and don’t forget the wedding! — means no, not now, and not for a while.

However, I can no longer tolerate living half a life. I have children. This is their childhood. This house, for better or worse, is their childhood home. And I’m tired of the future. I want to live in the right now, and be happy there.

So I’ve made some changes. I found a park where I like to walk. Found places the kids like to play. We’ve explored local festivals, visited gardens and museums, started annual rituals of zoo visits and drive-in movies and trips to the farmer’s market.

We’ve started living here.

The other day, I realized that home wasn’t someplace I had yet to find. Home has been within me this whole time. Wherever I am, I can make home. For me, for them. For us. Should we move someday, we will make home somewhere else. Should we stay, home will be here.

Home is where you make it, how you make it. Because home is who you make it for.

The walls, the town, the sky are irrelevant. Home is where you love, and who you love.

It feels good to be home.