Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Frat House

Dear Friends and Family,

If you had asked me, when I was pregnant with T1, whether I preferred a girl or a boy, I would have said I didn't care, either was fine with me. Unconsciously, though, I was expecting a girl. We were a family of girls, and I had only minimal contact with little boys growing up. All I knew about raising kids was what our parents did raising the three of us girls. So, when C and I went to the 20-week ultrasound and the doctor said we were definitely having a boy, I was shocked. Shocked that it was going to be a boy, and shocked that I was shocked. Without realizing it, I had a conception of what having a child was going to be like, which was based on gender stereotypes. What am I going to do with a little boy? I thought. Will we play house and do crafts? How do you potty train a boy?

Of course, I now know that little boys are as individual as little girls, with their individual strengths and weaknesses, interests and aversions. Our now-five-year-old T1 is tidy, physically cautious, emotionally intense, and loves words. Our three-year-old T2 is messy, expressive, emotionally resilient, and loves music. Whether its because they are boys or because of cultural influences, they love robots and monsters and aliens and everything slimy, creepy or disgusting. But they also love to help cook and clean, smell pretty flowers, draw, and take care of their stuffed animals. They play baseball, and wrestling and tackle football with Daddy, but I'm proud to say they know "mommies usually drive, because mommies know the way better."

Sometimes, though, I'm still amazed at what my life has become like. This morning I watched with pride as T2 peed in the toilet standing up, and laughed when he ran through the house afterwards, yelling at the top of his lungs to his brother and Daddy, "I went standing up without holding my penis!" I'm so glad we have boys.

Love always,

Friday, September 26, 2008

For The Love Of Dogs

Dear Family, Friends, and Visitors,

Getting a new puppy has to be one of the most exciting experiences in life. I think I put it fourth, right after falling in love, getting married, and having children. Getting a puppy doesn't have the gravitas of those top three life experiences, but it's not without its own ups and downs, as I found last year when we adopted Pippa.

About a year after our Boston Terrier, Max, died, I was looking on the internet to see if there were any Boston Terriers that were up for adoption. It was Thursday afternoon, and I told myself that I was just looking, as I had been off and on for a few months, taking a little break from work. I knew we shouldn't get a dog; I knew how much work it is, how much time it takes, and how much money. Then I saw it -- an add for a litter Boston Terrier and Chihuahua mix puppies. The puppies would be eight weeks old and ready to adopt in a week. I emailed the shelter right away and filled out an application. I felt excited, nervous and guilty. Would my husband, "C", agree? Was it the right thing to do? I lay awake that night, planning out walks and crates and housebreaking routines, trying, in turns, to talk myself into it and out of it.

The next day I called my sister, H, but she wasn't home, so I called my other sister, K. K has four kids and two dogs. "Don't do it!" K said. "A puppy is so much work." I called H again. H has three kids, and at that time had one cat, one dog, and two guinea pigs. "Bring it on, I say!" said H. "You can do it all." That's what I wanted to hear.  I can do it all, I thought, filled with excitement.

Later, after talking it over with C, I came to my senses again. I was disappointed, but he was right: it would be too much work; we didn't have enough time as it was; we were both working and the boys were little; it wouldn't be fair to the dog. A week went by, and I assumed the puppies must have been taken. I found time to think about other things. Then, on Saturday morning, the woman from the shelter called and said the puppies were ready to be picked up. My heart jumped, but I told her I had changed my mind, I couldn't take a puppy. She suggested I take two, then they would have each other, but I was firm and said no.

The obsession was back, though, and I kept turning the thoughts over and over in my mind. The Boston Terrier mix puppy was still there, in need of a home, within arm's reach!  The little girl in me pleaded, "I want a puppy!"

I went out to lunch with two friends as I had planned, still obsessing over the thought of a puppy. I asked them what I should do. Michelle said she wouldn't get a dog, it was too much to handle on top of everything else; Emma said she couldn't imagine life without a dog.

Finally, I rebelled (against myself; inside my head). Out of every two people I asked, one said I shouldn't get a dog, and one said I should. What about what I think? I asked myself. A dog had always been part of our family, part of our home. Walking the dog was my exercise. Reading about them and training them were my hobbies. Was I split in half, between work and taking care of kids, with nothing left over of myself just for me? I went home and pleaded my case to C (thank you law school training). Being my best friend, he listened and finally agreed. If it was important to me and I was willing to do everything it took, then I (we) should get the puppy.

My stomach was in knots and my hands were sweating as I called the shelter. They had three puppies left! If I wanted to pick one up that day, though, I had to hurry. It was two o'clock, and it would be over an hour's drive. I was so happy, I couldn't stop smiling, and I felt like I could have run the 70 miles to the shelter. I gathered everything I needed, got in the car, and we were off.  I was ecstatic.  And on top of everything, I was able to take T1, four years old at the time, and share the fun with him.

As expected, there were to be tough times ahead, but for a few days there, this little puppy brought pure happiness to our house.

Love always,

Feeling Guilty

Dear Friends, Family, and Visitors,

I'm feeling guilty that Troy and Teddy have so many toys.  We try not to spoil them, but like good middle-class Americans, we buy our kids too many things.  

When I think back to presents that I received in my childhood, there are a few that stand out in my mind.  The year I turned 10, we were in the process of moving (again).  We were visiting friends in North  Carolina, on the way to Germany, on the day of my birthday.  It didn't bother me that I wasn't going to have a birthday party, I never liked them anyway.  I was perfectly happy when my mother pulled one gift-wrapped package out of her suitcase.  It was a Superstar Barbie doll, and I loved it.  She had a bright pink satin dress with a feather boa, and she had a diamond ring and earrings that you could stick into holes in her hand and head.  She had matching bright pink, high-heeled shoes, and her arms were permanently bent so she could stand with one hand on her hip and one hand brushing back her long, curly, blond hair.  She was the most beautiful Barbie ever, at least to a 10 year old in 1977.

The year I turned 5, we were traveling on my birthday, too.  That year my parents gave me a ring, a silver band with hearts stamped all the way around.  I still have both of those presents to this day, over thirty years later.  Barbie is in a box in the basement with her friends, Growing-up Skipper, Ken, and the Lone Ranger (that's another story).  I keep the ring in my jewelry box, and I still like wear it sometimes.  It just fits on my little finger. 

I think those memories are what I'm trying to create for Troy and Teddy, in an awkward way.  I'm trying to give them the experience of getting a present so special that they will remember it -- and me -- for the rest of their lives.  Could I do a better job of choosing fewer but more meaningful gifts?  Probably.  Will they love me more because of the presents I give them?  Probably not.  But I forgive myself for trying.

Thanks for the presents, Mom and Dad.

Love always,


Dear family, friends, and visitors,

I started a blog today. I was inspired by my father, who is writing his memoirs, and my friend Sarah, who is a fearless blogger (suburanrage.blogspot.com), to use this medium to write down some of my thoughts and memories and share them with others.

Reading my father's memoirs (pronounced with an exaggerated French accent, as he always does), I realized how interesting a person's memories can be when they are written as well as he writes. And reading Sarah's blog always feels like she's written a letter just to me, the way people used to write letters in the old days, filled with humor, real thoughts and insight into day-to-day life. I wish I could write letters like that, filled with thoughts and shared memories, to every one of my friends and family every week, but of course I can't seem to find the time.

So, I want to bring those two inspirations together, and use this new technology to spur me to take the time write some letters. The letters start here where I stand, at the intersection of work, life, and two families that have come together to span two countries, four states, and four generations. I'd love to have you visit.

Love always,