Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Birthdays...

When it comes to birthdays, I have one word for you. Outsource. I’m old enough to remember when this concept first became the biggest buzz ever to hit the business world. At the time, I neither knew nor cared about why I should pay attention. But today, the very idea I considered with such laissez faire has become the single most cherished, mental-health-preserving strategy I’ve had the good fortune to come across. Well, Mom’s Day Out is good. And, of course, there is the well-placed glass of red wine…movies by myself…Girl’s Night. But you get the picture – it’s right “up” there with the best of them.

As with any good revelation, it came at a price. And here’s where you may as well know that before I began using “Mother of the Year” as a facetious moniker, I actually believed that the notion was within my reach. In my previous life, I’m pretty sure I was able to juggle complex events, multiple projects and whole groups of colleagues while using my “free hand” to have some semblance of a life. Despite all that heady corporate experience, I now find myself at a bumbling loss managing two diminutive humans who can’t even read.

But at the time, I had high hopes for pulling off my ill-fated attempt at an event of Martha Stewart proportions for my son Jack’s three-year-old birthday party. I thought that I could have my perfect mother, perfect entertainer, eerily-in-control magazine page moment in the sun. I spent months ripping through glossy periodicals, scanning the Internet, and revising “to do” lists that were too long in the first place. I’m not allowed to go into the details as my therapist has advised me not to, but let’s just say that the occasion was enough to snap me into reality and put me off home-celebrated birthdays forever. The bits of blood red icing from the themed sandcastle cake I botched, still embedded in my prize Persian rug, help to keep me honest, too. (My apologies, by the way, to the eight people I thanked for the wrong gift because twenty toddlers converged on all of your beautifully wrapped packages like a pack of hungry wolves.)

So that brings us back to today, cured of my delusions and happy to report that birthday years four and five – while not without their challenges —were pulled off without a lingering twitch in my left eye. This is because I outsourced the details to somebody else: People much more talented and better equipped than I to pull off a child’s birthday party of any proportion. Yes, there is a God. And sometimes He comes in the form of JumpZone, Pump It Up or Mid-America Karate. I mean, really, you’ve got to hand it to these places. If you can find the staff equipped with the iron stomach necessary to handle breaking up fights, teetering ice cream cones, regurgitating toddlers and flying cake, then you deserve every red cent you get to pull it off.

In fact, both birthdays ended with me thanking the poor high school students they hired to host the little rascals for two hours of sheer mayhem, while doing my cutest, shoulders up, wincing apology for all the little mishaps and colossal mess left for them to clean up. Then, after delivering the classic Saturday Night Live skit send-off, “Buh, bye” and sinking into my seat for the drive home, a satisfied calm came over me knowing that I wouldn’t have to spend the next three weeks digging smashed cake sprinkles out of the grooves of my kitchen table with a toothpick, rubbing greasy little handprints off my mirrors and windows, or gluing the heads back on Jack’s Star Wars action figures. Now, if only I could outsource getting back into shape…

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On Resolutions...

I have this recurring nightmare that hosts Stacy and Clinton from “What Not to Wear” are lurking behind every corner I pass just waiting to drag me into the car as it burns skid marks into the street careening back to their studios. Once inside, they hurt themselves trying to figure out which army of extreme makeover specialists they’re going to enlist to put me back together, but my case is so complicated I turn into a year-long series.

I used to have it together – or maybe I just remember it that way – you know, like how you perceive all your old relationships? There was a good reason it didn’t last, but once a little time has passed, you can’t remember why you broke up. You convince yourself that the “babe” with the stunning green eyes didn’t really mix-up the meanings of “monotonous” and “monogamous,” or that the witty marketing director was kidding when he suggested you buy your own birthday dinner with your Christmas bonus. But I digress…

The fact is, 2009 is a particularly powerful resolution year for me because I’m no longer hanging on the edge of 40 – the last pinky has been plucked off the cliff and I’m going to find myself free-falling into oblivion unless I get serious about re-introducing myself to myself.

Somewhere between “I do” and “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” I’ve forgotten almost everything I used to love about me. And it’s not my kids’ fault and certainly not my husband’s. I think as women, we’re just engineered to put ourselves last. It’s been years since I’ve arrived at a hair salon without an inch and a half of my “natural blonde” cascading out of my roots. And I can’t remember the last time my esthetician hasn’t had to navigate a jungle to reshape what used to be my eyebrows. Or for that matter, the last time I actually enjoyed wearing pants without an elastic waistband.

I think “Mom, Tate Emerson” is nice. But maybe “Tate Emerson, Mom, freelance writer, etc.” might be even more interesting. As it stands, once the lunches have been made, clothes are cleaned, everyone’s well-fed, and tucked into bed for the night, there doesn’t seem to be anything left. Time-wise or otherwise and I find myself depleted, collapsing into the sheets and muttering to myself that I’ll start tomorrow.

Well, my friends, tomorrow has come. There’s a reason that the word “her” lives inside “mother.” Come to think of it, it’s at the end there too. So forget the semantics. 2009 has to be the year that we Moms reconnect with ourselves, because the day our little ones go off to college – we should be able to enjoy our own company. Unless I start making progress now, one day you might find me wandering aimlessly in a field somewhere, uttering something unintelligible about the impossibility of keeping lunches interesting in a peanut-free zone.

So let’s get going! But, take it slowly. Don’t get overwhelmed with all that needs to change, just start here: commit to putting a little of yourself back into your life – in any way that means for you. It could be stealing 15 minutes a day for a cup of coffee and a few pages of the paper in silence. Joining an adult soccer league, or getting up an hour earlier to get the little exercise in that won’t happen unless it’s done before sunrise. Maybe it’s getting your hairstyle out of the 70’s. Come to think of it, I might want to start there. I wear a hat so often, I couldn’t even venture a guess as to which era my follicles align themselves. It could also be as simple as buying a journal so that you can remember the things you were passionate about before you had a family. Start small, but make 2009 the year you start to mother yourself. And if you’re still confused about where to start, take it from the top. Look in the mirror, and say, “Hi, my name is…” Then, just work on filling in the blanks.