Carol Kaufmann

Writer, Editor, Etc.

Wrapping Your Head Around Motherhood January 27, 2010

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 10:06 pm
Mama Tricks: Wrapping Your Head Around Motherhood

busy momBy Carol Kaufmann
I had the chance to go on a retreat for work. It was to be held at my boss’s weekend house, with promises of creative brainstorming (which I love), socializing (which I love), and good drink (which I could use). A further bonus: helpful hubby encouraged me to go, thought it would be good for my career, and was willing to go two-against-one with our bundles. Problem was – it was a three-day trip and my baby girl wasn’t yet three months old. Aside from the obvious problem all nursing mothers have – pumping and storing milk – I had a bigger one: Precious Baby doesn’t like her bottle, no matter what’s inside it.

When it comes to trips, I go. A weekend jaunt, a last-minute air deal to London, trekking in the Sahara – I’m there, suitcase packed, passport ready. And I’m a relatively ambitious career gal who would never minimize the importance of meeting colleagues face-to-face, especially since all my bosses are in New York and I work in a satellite bureau. To them, I’m a one-dimensional picture on our phone directory. Passing up any trip, especially one like this, would have been unheard of two, three years ago. Then again, babies have a way of redefining you. The best decision was to stay home. Fortunately, my boss understood. But the subsequent guilt over bypassing this chance to be an adult stung.

This recent decision highlighted a gnawing life trend that I know has grated on many moms since the advent of two-income families and streamlined personal technology that only makes your life busier. The pangs of choosing.

No matter what I’m doing, I question whether I should be doing something else. If I’m with my kids, I feel the tug of work. If I’m working,  “irresponsible mother” eeks out my pores. Then, once that balance is as good as it can get, I start thinking of other deserving life-priorities: phone calls to friends, visits I owe extended family, exercising, buying healthy food, (then there’s fixing the healthy food) and saying yes to my exhausted husband who’d love for us to actually make it through a whole movie before falling asleep.

All good choices. But it kills me that there MUST be choices and I’m never comfortable making any of them. I’m not comfortable always being torn.

I was expressing this frustration to my hubby for the 64th time. He told me F.Scott Fitzgerald once defined genius as being able to hold two opposing views in their minds at once. Hmmm.

Genius I’m certainly not. And with the permanent effects of sleep deprivation, I’m sure few new-ish moms would make such a claim. But we can dare to emulate the intellectually gifted. Why couldn’t we hold the idea of being a full-time mom, full-time professional, full-time friend, volunteer, daughter, medic, housekeeper, and fill-in-the-blank at the same time? Why couldn’t that imagery always be present in our minds, available for recall at a moments notice.  Isn’t believing also being?

Imagine yourself a fully functional mom, a professional who can bring home bacon, and whatever other identity you value. You are these people all of the time, whether or not you’re wearing that particular hat at the moment. While you’re fully engaged holding your infant or rescuing a toddler from a tumble off the sliding board, your dormant professional is still there ready to take up residence when called. So is the loyal friend, house nutritionist, the amateur athlete. One identity is on and the others work subconsciously. Just like a diamond – no matter which facet of the stone is in the light, the whole gem shines.

So while I missed the brainstorming retreat, I did come up with a few new ideas for work that weekend. It happened when I least expected it, during a full-mom moment at home, sitting on my juice-stained couch, while my toddler was streaking through the kitchen and I was feeding Precious Baby. I also figured out what we could eat for dinner. Genius, indeed.

Carol Kaufmann will regularly share her Mama Tricks with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, toddler, newborn, and two obese rescue cats.

First published on on October 17, 2007.


THE MAMA TRICK | The Well Mom September 22, 2009

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 7:25 pm
Tags: , , ,

By Carol Kaufmann
Let me guess. You’ve given birth for the first time in your thirties, maybe forties, during a successful, all-consuming career. You used to consider yourself fairly together: a well-used PDA, food in the fridge, and regular plans, like dinner and yoga. Then, Precious Baby came along and that life vanished.

The initial heady period of motherhood sustained me for a good three weeks. During my two rounds in the maternity ward I spent virtually every hour holding my Precious Babies (PB), smiling down at chubby folds in skin and every exquisite gesture. The prescription drugs kept me from feeling the c-section’s incision and the realization I wouldn’t be sleeping for more than three hours straight for a very, very long time. But eventually, the well-wishers and food-bearers trickled to nothing and my husband and I were left with unwashed piles of laundry and the guilt of unordered baby announcements. Maternity clothes looked stupid and, after nine months of wear, bored me, though none of my other pants would rise past mid-thigh. I was grumpy and eating way too much dark chocolate. Worse loomed the nagging question: Would the rest of my years be a blur of washing bottles and stolen catnaps?

Can you relate? Maybe right now you’re wondering, with a sinking feeling, if you, too, will ever get back to normal.

Yes. And no.

I’m learning, slowly and painfully, how Motherhood requires a major mind shift. Obviously, prioritizing your children is paramount, but equally so is adjusting your own world view. I call this the Mama Trick.

Your home, personal calendar, car, yard, Blackberry, office files, gym locker, refrigerator, whatever space used to feel like your own is never going to be up to the par that once worked for you. Par is history. But it’s ok. It’s OOOOOOO KAAAAAYAYYYYY. Each day, if you and your children’s basic needs are met, you win. The rest is gravy – even that daily shower where you use soap, shampoo, AND conditioner. You’ve taken on the most important responsibility in the world: the care and nurturing of another human. If you succeed at that, what else is there?

I know, I know. You still don’t feel like it’s enough, do you, Superwoman? Me either.

So if the race to the end-of-day finish line is simply not satisfying in that deep, soul-fulfilling way, try this. Give yourself one task. ONE. You could choose to file your nails. Reorganize your panty (still a size or two above your norm, right?) drawer. Rush over to the Banana Republic sale (with or without the coupon you intended to use). But times have changed. And Mommyhood has changed your time. What you choose to fill your day (hour, half-hour, five minutes) with is now, by process of elimination, more precious. So make your daily do-for-me thing count. Download your photos of your child’s first three months. Journal a few sentences. Call the friend who makes you laugh harder than anyone else rather than watching TiVoed Grey’s Anatomy episodes. Haven’t you seen them all, anyway?

When my Life With Kids gets truly hectic, I slip into what I call “Organization Fantasy Mode.” Just last week I found myself daydreaming about eliminating all the clutter in my house. My brain went wild. If my mind couldn’t ooze tranquility, my four walls could. So in my overactive head, I reorganized the family room, eliminated some major (heavy) pieces of furniture that contained family heirlooms, turned our dining room into a playroom (would we ever be using the family silver now?), and converted our bedroom into a bastion of peace. The problem with all this is that while streamlining looks good in my mind’s eye, the reality requires lots of hefty lifting, moving furniture that may or may not fit past absurdly small doorways, a complete purging of the attic, painting a few tables and walls that will no longer be covered by previously mentioned furniture, and relocating most of our electronic equipment – which I don’t know how to reconnect.

Even without small kids (and a job and cats), such a project would take the better part of a week. With small kids? A six month minimum. But since tranquility in some part of life is now crucial to me, I settled on initial task: Discarding old shoe boxes. It doesn’t sound like a lot, true. But this tiny job, accomplished in about fifteen minutes, made room in our attic hell for the aforementioned family heirlooms. I’m on my way. And given everything else that life hands you in the early days of motherhood, that fifteen minutes made me proud – and even a little more balanced.

Think about it. In your former childless, perhaps even self-obsessed, life, did discarding shoeboxes ever take on such meaning? Did it ever positively exhilarate you? Try it now: One Mama Trick. And notice how you feel like Wonder Woman wrestling baddies to the ground with her lasso.

And while you’re catapulting your own proverbial shoe boxes from your cramped attic, consider your new identity. You, this new gal with the disorganized abode, never-ending laundry piles, and little people who constantly need need need, you’ve YOU’VE become something better, someone more important, than you’ve ever been.

You’re someone’s mother.

Carol Kaufmann will regularly share her Mama Tricks with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria,
Virginia, with her husband, toddler, newborn, and two obese rescue cats.

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