To Lean Or Not To Lean?

19 Mar

Last week I received my pre-ordered copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial new book Lean In, and I gobbled it down in just a few days.  I’d been reading a lot of the reviews and hearing a lot of press (including, annoyingly, discussions on shows like Bill Maher where it was obvious none of the panelists had read the book), and I was very curious to read it for myself and make up my own mind.

I could write many posts just on this one book (and I may eventually do so), but what’s on my mind today is the notion of when to lean in and when to lean back.  Sandberg points out, I think accurately, that men are generally more likely to be confident and to “sit at the table,” faking it till they make it.  I’ve certainly witnessed this phenomenon amongst friends and colleagues.  But what I think is also true is that men are more comfortable saying no to certain opportunities or responsibilities — in other words, leaning back — when they don’t feel that it will serve their present needs or schedule.  Sandberg talks about burnout, and I think saying no is a key aspect of preventing burnout:  the ability to trim the fat and avoid those activities that are unnecessary or unproductive.  

I have almost always “leaned in” at work.  But because I have an extremely hard time saying no (guilt isn’t new to me as a mother after all), I find myself sometimes just trying valiantly to keep my head above water.  I’m not talking about things that are part and parcel of the job: as a lawyer (and a relatively junior lawyer at that), I obviously work on any cases to which I am assigned and try to provide the best possible service to the clients.  I’m talking about all the extras: committees at work, charitable organizations, networking groups.  Some of these things energize and excite me, and allow me to meet interesting people and support worthy causes.  But some of these things, admittedly, become just another item on an overlong “to-do” list.  

Recently an article has been circulating about never saying “yes,” only ever saying “hell yeah!” or “no.”  Critics of this philosophy point out that some people don’t have the option to say no — for example, if you need to work three jobs to make ends meet, you are hardly going to turn down opportunities.  But for a discussion about trimming the “extras,” I think this philosophy is basically a good one.

When I was growing up, my mother was always very committed to her work, whether she was teaching elementary school, later being a professor, or doing consulting and workshops in schools.  Before retiring last year, she was also often overcommitted.  Some of the things she did so clearly brought her immense joy and satisfaction, and so she didn’t mind her plate being so full.  But with others, I knew they were more of a burden than a pleasure.  I often lectured her about scaling back and learning to say no to people.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized how similar I am in that respect.  But whereas before my daughter was born, I was resigned to continuing with all these various activities, I am now forcing myself to take a hard look to see if there is any fat I can trim.  Once I go back to work, I will have very little time to spend with her, and I know I will be resentful if too much of that time is spent on additional meetings or conference calls.  The difficult part is trying to figure out which things may be helpful to my career advancement (even if not terribly exciting in the short term) and which are not.  I previously operated under the premise that if someone offers me an opportunity of any kind, I should grasp it, because it will wind up being helpful in some fashion at some point down the line.  That may be true in the long term, but I know I need to think more critically about what I want my life to look like in the present.

Among professionals and new mothers alike, there seems to be a cult of sleeplessness, of bragging about how much can be accomplished on minimal sleep.  But I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m exhausted, and that I don’t want to be indefinitely.  For that reason, I’m committed to getting my head permanently above water so that I can really swim.

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Not A Newborn Anymore

18 Mar

It happened.  I blinked my eyes and suddenly my tiny newborn isn’t tiny or a newborn anymore.  

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Newborn Lucy and Hubs

Lucy is four months old now.  Multiple friends have had babies in the meantime, and they have taken over the newborn title.  Lucy is rolling over, babbling, grasping objects with both hands, laughing out loud, holding her head up strong, and looking into our eyes with what everyone notes is an intense gaze.

 

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And, most recently, on Saturday Lucy moved into her own room to sleep at night.  I totally felt like the last holdout in this regard, at least in my Mommy & Me class.  The other three women had moved their kids to their respective nurseries long ago, leaving me to mutter about how I was “getting to it…”  We had started putting Lucy in her crib for naps a few weeks ago, and had started putting her to bed in the bassinet in our room a couple of hours before we went to sleep, but I just wasn’t there yet.  Though she’s certainly not a newborn anymore, when I hold her and look into her eyes she is so young and so vulnerable.  It was comforting to know that if I woke up and wanted to check on her, all I needed to do was peer down the end of the bed and make sure she was OK.  (Speaking of that, I read an article the other day about how new moms demonstrate signs of OCD, such as repeatedly checking that the baby is breathing. Um, yeah!)  

So I surprised Hubs and myself when I was the one who suggested last week that we should finally make the move.  The bassinet Lucy has been using in our room is a mini version, and at 26 inches long and the 96th percentile for height, Lucy is definitely not mini.  She is also a Houdini and, once she inevitably escapes her double-swaddle (which we need to stop using right about now — shudder), her fingernails would scratch against the mesh sides.  Plus I suspected that Hubs and I were also potentially disrupting her sleep with our noises.  (At least one of us snores.  Out of respect to Hubs — ahem — I won’t mention which one…)  

Hubs was actually hesitant about making the move (with the same “but she’s still so little!” rationale) but he was easily convinced.  I, on the other hand, continued to waffle.  I postponed making the move until the weekend, and then once Saturday night rolled around, I was still hedging: “But I really do love having her in the room with us…”  Finally I decided we just needed to try it.  She was going to outgrow the bassinet sooner rather than later, so either she was going to be sleeping in her crib or else we would have to figure something else out.  We had a ginormous Pack n Play that wound up in the living room because I didn’t realize when I bought it that it would obstruct the path through our bedroom, but moving that to our bedroom and forcing us to squeeze through every time we needed to get in and out of bed was not appealing.

As seems to be the case with most things, Lucy handled this whole thing much less neurotically than me.  We did the bedtime routine like normal, except instead of putting her into the bassinet, we put her into the crib.  She barely fussed, and then she had the best night’s sleep she’d had in days: 7:30 pm to 6:00 am.  Hubs also slept better since we weren’t having to listen so loudly to her every whimper and coo, not to mention her sounds when she flops around like a fish.  (I still can’t make it through a night without waking up multiple times, and I’m still getting up in the middle of the night to pump, so my sleep is another issue.  Baby steps!)  

Also as seems to be the case with most things, this step is simultaneously wonderful and heartbreaking.  Of course we are so blessed that she’s growing and thriving, which is as it should be.  This is the first little step towards her being more independent, which is also as it should be.  But it’s the official end of the era of her sharing our room.  The era of her sleeping on our laps has also mostly ended, sooner than I would have liked.  I know that she is only four months old, and so I should really rein in the thoughts of “Ohmygod, before I know it she’ll be in preschool and then she’ll be dating boys and driving and going off to college and ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod….” And admittedly there are some days where my constant exhaustion gets to me, or the fact that I hardly ever wear makeup anymore, or the fact that by the end of the day my shirt almost always has spit-up on it.   In those moments I think I might be OK fastforwarding to a time when Lucy is more independent and I have more time for me.  

But then I realize that like it or not, the days are whizzing by.  In a month and a half I’ll be back at work, and these days spent with Lucy will begin to fade from memory.  When I think about that, it seems impossible to let this phase go, and I want nothing more than to  press pause.

 

 

Loving Lucy’s Identity Crisis

18 Mar

Hello, dear readers!  I know I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus, so I wanted to take this opportunity (while Lucy is taking a hopefully-long afternoon nap) to catch you up on what’s behind the radio silence.  Part of it is logistics: as I’ve mentioned before, Lucy hasn’t been as great of a napper as she used to be, so I just haven’t had the time I had before to plug away at blog posts in the middle of the day.  But the larger issue is that my blog is going through an identity crisis, and to be perfectly honest, so am I.

When I started this blog I saw it as a fun way to document Lucy’s first few months, stretch my writing muscles, and keep my brain from completely turning to a big pile of mush during my maternity leave.  From my perspective, it was great on all three fronts.  But then it started to evolve, and I found I wanted it to be something more than just a forum to discuss naps and breastfeeding and my new-mama struggles.  So I started to explore other topics, and took the leap of unveiling it and sharing it more widely with people I know, and revealing my name. I jumped aboard Twitter, started getting more followers and blog subscribers, and had one of my blogs published on Project Eve.  I was thrilled and excited by the forward momentum of the project.

But then my momentum came to a screeching halt.  Somehow, knowing that people outside of my circle of close friends might actually be reading what I’m writing has given me a serious case of writer’s block.  I want to be writing something thoughtful and meaningful (or at least witty and entertaining) and so, stumped, I write nothing at all.  Is this blog supposed to be a mama blog?  An online diary?  A series of essays?  Humorous, or serious?  I find myself self-conscious about my topics and my tone and so I am silent, which is the complete opposite of what I want for this blog.  My goal, above all, has been to write — something, anything.  

And this struggle, of course, mirrors my own struggle.  For seven plus years I’ve been a lawyer and that’s been a big part of my identity.  Now I’m a mama and that’s where my focus lies.  I am challenged by trying to reconcile all the various aspects of my life: being mama, wife, daughter, lawyer, writer, and my own separate person all at once.

I think getting this off my chest is the first step to breaking through the blockage and starting to write again.  There will be more to come this week on Lucy’s 4-month doctor visit, Lucy’s transition to sleeping in her own room at night (tear!), and Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In.  For now I need to be OK with the fact that — just like me — this blog will remain a work in progress.

Why I Care About Marissa Mayer

5 Mar

I’ve been thinking of writing about this topic ever since word emerged that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, was abolishing the company policy which previously allowed employees to work remotely.  But I was particularly inspired to do so when I read this post by Sarah Lacy on Pando Daily, admonishing that anyone who disagrees with Ms. Mayer’s decision– which Lacy equates to my decision to eat Chinese food for lunch–should just shut up because Ms. Mayer is busy keeping her head down and trying to run a company, thankyouverymuch.  Lacy previously issued a condescending response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in which she basically said Slaughter should shut up about women not having it all because Lacy has figured out how to “have it all,” thankyouverymuch.  (The one part of Lacy’s piece I did agree with was that every person has a different definition of “having it all.”)

By the way, what’s with this preoccupation with shutting people up?  Disagreeing with people’s viewpoints is one thing; trying to silence dissenting viewpoints is another.

On the topic of “having it all,” as well as on the topic of Marissa Mayer’s policy edicts, I think Lacy misses the point.  Just because Lacy has figured out — kudos to her — how to create a balance that works for her family doesn’t mean that there aren’t institutional problems.  The fact remains that, as Slaughter discusses at length, the American workplace is generally unfriendly to the realities of family life and child-rearing.  This is not just a woman problem or a feminist issue.  It is a problem that affects us all.

As for Ms. Mayer, I can’t disagree more with Lacy’s suggestion that her decisions don’t matter unless you work at Yahoo!  At this moment in our society, we can either move toward policies that are more progressive and flexible, or away from them.  Companies and their CEOs do not make these policy decisions in a vacuum; they look to other similar institutions to see what’s being done.  Yahoo! may have previously been used as a template for flexible work arrangements, and now, it will likely be touted by those in favor of the traditional emphasis on “face time” to insist that we haven’t moved past needing to be at our cubicles all day, after all.

One thing I can concede is that I don’t work at Yahoo! and I don’t know the realities of the company’s operations.  Perhaps Ms. Mayer’s conclusion that her employees need to be in the office to do their work is well-reasoned based on past performance.  And as Slaughter herself points out, Mayer’s job is first and foremost to save her company, not to concern herself with the cultural zeitgeist.  But there is still no doubt in my mind that how Mayer runs Yahoo! –as well as how other CEOs, men and women, run their companies– will have a broader impact, and for that reason it matters to me.  If you care about how America’s economy and society are structured, it should matter to you, too.

Catching Up

4 Mar

Hello, dear readers!  I know it’s been too long since my last post.  I’ve had lots of thoughts and post ideas percolating in my head, and not enough time/energy to get them down — I was going to say “on paper,” but I guess “on screen” is more accurate!  

Before I dive into my more substantive posts, a quick update on what’s been going on over here at Loving Lucy.  Hubs’ parents visited this weekend and we had a lovely time.  Lucy has been showing off some new skills, including increased comfort with tummy time and an ability to grab onto toys with both hands and move them around.

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We also visited the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at LACMA, which I found extremely cool.  I admit. though, that I was relieved when Lucy slept through most of the visit.  I found myself preoccupied with whether she’d see something bizarre that would then be burned into her subconscious and give her nightmares for the rest of her life.  (Is that even a thing at this age?  Better safe than sorry, I guess.)

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All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

And in what is probably the most exciting news for this mama, Lucy has become even more of a champion sleeper.  A couple of weeks ago, at the urging of my Mommy & Me instructors, we initiated a bedtime routine.  Before that, I admit that we hadn’t had much of a routine at all.  When bedtime approached, we went from having Lucy with us in the living room while we watched TV and played with her, to moving her to her bassinet when we were ready to retire to the bedroom and expecting her to go right to sleep.  As a result, her bedtime was late (9:00 or 10:00 pm) and it sometimes took a long time of Lucy whimpering and us retrieving her dropped binky before she’d finally go to sleep.

Now, the routine is bottle, bath (or at least wiping down with warm washcloths), PJs, sometimes more bottle, some snuggling/rocking, and bed.  In the beginning, this entire process could take up to 2 hours (including a lot of screaming and crying), and I was on the verge of giving up and thinking that maybe we were trying to make her bedtime too early.  But now that we are settled in the routine, I am a total convert.  We try to start the routine between 7:00 and 7:30 pm, and she is asleep between 7:30 and 8:30 pm.  Ideally it will eventually be consistently on the earlier side of that time frame (or even earlier), but we are definitely making progress.  Some nights I end up having to rock her to sleep or at least rock her until she calms down enough (despite the top sleep tip from Mommy & Me being “DO NOT ROCK YOUR CHILD TO SLEEP!”) but it only takes 10-15 minutes max.  Plus, while I understand why you don’t want to set a precedent and end up having to rock your 5-year-old to sleep, my feeling is that they are little for such a relatively short period of time, and I want to get my baby snuggles while I can.  I may or may not tell my instructor that part…..shhh.

Anyway, once she is asleep, most nights Lucy is sleeping 10-11 hours straight!  And because she is well-rested and the timing of her sleep is better, she is now putting up much less of a fight at naptime.  This also means she is mostly extremely calm and happy during the day.  (She’s always been a pretty easy baby but a few weeks ago we had several days of her being a  fussy bunny.  That has passed, at least for now!)

Speaking of the little bean, she is waking up from her (2.5 hour!) morning nap now.  More to come this week on the Marissa Mayer controversy, my own struggles re work/life, and my admittedly bad tendency to be a Judgy McJudgerson.  Stay tuned!

The Other F Word

25 Feb

This morning, bright and early, I received the following text message from my friend M. who lives in New York:

Oh what a FUN WEEKEND I had!!!! 🙂 

M. is in the process of getting divorced and she is admittedly devoting herself almost exclusively to the pursuit of pleasure: dating, going to lots of parties, dressing up in wild costumes, taking burlesque dance classes, etc.  I know from her emails from last week that this weekend she attended a huge dance party on a boat, and I saw photos of her decked out in amazing false eyelashes and glittery mask.

Needless to say, M.’s life and my life could scarcely be more different right now.  Her main “down time” to send me long gushy emails is when she’s bored during her day job as a paralegal.  Mine is in the middle of the night when I’m pumping milk for Lucy.  We try to find times to chat on the phone, but I am always tiptoeing around during one naptime or another, and she is always on the go to another event.  We’re lifelong friends, so we are trying hard to navigate our friendship despite not only the many miles that separate us geographically, but the vast differences between our current day-to-day existences.  I’ve known M. since I was seven years old, so I’m sure we’ll figure it out, but it may take some doing.

I admit that whenever I receive these effusive messages from M. (which, these days, is very frequently), I am struck with competing emotions.  On the one hand I am genuinely happy for M. because she really does seem to be doing well and having a grand time.  On the other hand, it always leaves me with a glimmer of doubt:  am I not having enough fun?  When was the last time I sent someone a text message crowing about my uber-FUN (with a capital F) weekend?

Then I think maybe that’s not the correct criterion for my life.  Every day I look at Hubs and Lucy and I am full of love for my family.  Every day I am grateful.  Every day I am content.  We do have fun: Lucy makes us laugh and makes us smile and sends my oxytocin levels through the roof, but it’s still a quieter happiness.  More steady enjoyment, less exclamation points.  When Hubs and I heard Lucy in her bassinet at 2:00 this morning and found her smiling up at us ready to be fed, even my bleary-eyed self could appreciate my happy baby, but still wouldn’t necessarily say it was “fun.”

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In a few minutes I’ll sit down and write M. a long-overdue email.  I’ll tell her how Lucy rolled over for the first time two weeks ago, and started making lots of funny and cute sounds.  I’ll tell her how sweet my mom and dad are with Lucy when they babysit.  I’ll tell her how my favorite part of the day is when Lucy smiles up at me from her crib.  I’ll tell her that Hubs and I have reestablished our date nights and how nice it is to enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine and really focus on each other.  I’ll tell her about seeing several of my best girlfriends this weekend and catching up on each others’ lives.  

I probably won’t use lots of exclamation points or emoticons.  I will stop trying to compare my life to hers.  And I will try to work my way back closer to M. — and to myself — by just being me.

What’s In a Nickname?

22 Feb

I don’t know about the rest of you parents out there, but I was basically obsessed over Lucy’s name before she was born.  We revealed to everyone that we were expecting a girl, but we kept the name (and before we chose it, the short list of names) under lock and key, even from the grandparents.  My very clever mother-in-law even tried to trick me into revealing the name through this text message exchange:

MIL:  Don’t worry, we will be waiting on you, you don’t need to do anything for us.  It’s all about you and the baby!  What was her name again?

Me: Can’t wait for your visit!  Nice try with the name.

MIL:  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I bought or borrowed multiple baby name books and trolled BabyCenter.com daily for new ideas.  Ultimately, the short list included Josephine (Jo or Josie for short), as a nod to my favorite Little Women character.  (By the way, I read that book again recently.  It seems all the religious overtones were lost on me as a non-religious kid.  But I still love it.)  We also thought about the name Lucia (pronounced Loo-SEE-yuh), with Lucy as a nickname, but I was concerned that people would pronounce it “LOO-sha,” as in the Virgin Island.  Ultimately we settled on Lucy Claire, which was Hubs’ favorite and which has a meaning I love (“bright light”).  

During this process, Hubs humored my fixation on names, but he didn’t really understand why I was so preoccupied with it.  (C’mon, what else was I supposed to think about when I was eight months pregnant and trying to sleep half-sitting up on the couch in a ginormous nest of pillows?)  But In my mind, this task of naming had taken on monumental proportions.  After all, it was my first real, decisive act as a parent.  I had followed all the pregnancy food rules fairly strictly, I had taken my prenatal vitamins, I had attended my doctor visits — but what if by choosing the wrong name I charted a disastrous life course for our precious angel?

This week it occurred to me that despite all the deep thought we gave to the name Lucy, we gave little to no thought to the nicknames that we’ve ended up calling her.  When I was pregnant, we called her Bambina (not sure how that one started, but it was definitely Hubs) or just Little One.  Now, we call her Luce or Lucy Lu (which rolls off the tongue with such ease, but unfortunately calls to mind the Asian actress), and I call her Baby Bear.  (Hubs thinks this is strange and “not very feminine” — I guess I started calling her that because if I’m the mama bear then she’s the baby bear?)  

But the most frequently used nickname we have for her is “the little bean,” often shortened just to “the bean.”  (This leads to very strange statements and email exchanges such as “the bean is sleeping” and “feeding the bean.”)  She was indeed a little bean when she was born — 6 lbs. 10 oz.  Now, she’s long and lean — in the 98th percentile for height and the 18th for weight — so I was inclined to start calling her “string bean” until my mom admonished me that she could end up being self-conscious about her height/weight.  I stopped immediately:  I certainly don’t want to give my infant daughter body issues!  (But it’s so dang cute…)

Names are chosen with care, but nicknames often stick and can have an equally big impact.  Now that I have a laundry list of parenting issues to keep me up at night, this one has moved down the list.  Still, whenever I find myself trying out a new nickname, I can’t help but thinking about what Lucy will think about it in five years, ten years, fifteen years (if it lasts that long).  On the other hand, if as a teen she isn’t horrendously embarrassed by everything I do and say it will probably be a minor miracle.

Dear readers, what are your nicknames for your kids and what do your kids think of them?