Saturday, November 24, 2012

Family Tradition

Macy's State Street Chicago - Family Tradition - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
The day after Thanksgiving holds a tradition for me of shopping on State Street in Chicago with my mom.  The holiday lights, the cold weather, the roasted chestnuts (yuck!), the windows with their colorful displays, the gifts we buy to give to loved ones at Christmas, and the people we encounter make it a sensory experience like no other.

As a young child growing up in Indiana, my mom would leave my sister and me at home with my dad while she and a girlfriend would spend the weekend after Thanksgiving in Chicago Christmas shopping.  They’d check into the Palmer House, shop on State Street and Michigan Avenue for 2 full days, and come home with shiny bag after shiny bag full of gifts that would make their way under the Christmas tree on December 25th.  

Once we got old enough to “run the streets,” as my dad would say, my mom included my sister and me in the annual shopping trip to Chicago.  As a young girl I remember sitting in the lobby at the Palmer House, playing games and running up and down the intricate staircases with my sister, while my mom and her friend would smoke cigarettes and people-watch.  As an older child, I remember drinking steaming hot chocolate and eating Frango mints after dinner at the coffee shop in the hotel’s lower level.  As a pre-teen, I’d meet up with my Indiana school-friend, who also traveled yearly to Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend, to have tea and crumpets at The Drake, where they stayed each year.  As a teenager, said friend and I would hope to meet, sometimes successfully, young sailor boys that we could spend the day with walking to the Rock CafĂ©, or taking in a movie at Water Tower Place.

While the leisure activities of the trip changed each year, based on our age and our interests, one thing remained constant in our Chicago trips:  the job of shopping.  

My mother is a shopper.  Not just a garden-variety, “I like to shop because it’s fun” shopper, but a shop-til-you-drop professional, armed with coupons, discounts, and insider knowledge of how to get the most bang out of her buck.  She dresses according to what’s comfortable for carrying shopping bags, and won’t wear a coat in the dead of winter, as it will slow her roll inside the stores.  She knows how many bags are too many bags to carry while on the hunt and which stores offer lockers, free boxes, and gift wrapping.  She knows how many hours she can make it without food or water, and which stores require a post-shopping cigarette.  While the art of shopping is appealing in itself to her, the real golden ticket lies in the merchandise.  She loves clothes.  Garments for herself, apparel for her kids, frocks for her friends, jumpers for her grandkids, and zoot suits and tutu’s for the babies in her life.  She loves them all.  Clothes, clothes, glorious clothes. 

It’s only natural that her love of shopping and clothes would pass down to her children.  My sister unapologetically followed in my mom’s footsteps.   From the time she could walk, she was a natural in the stores, a member of the fashion society, studied apparel merchandising in school, and even today works in the clothing industry.  While interested in shopping and clothes as a kid, once I hit college, I rebuffed shopping, and honestly decent clothing, as well.  I spent a decade trying to be the anti-shopper, turning my nose up at all activities related to any mainstream shopping and instead bought and wore all things black.  From shoes, to clothes, to makeup, to hair, they were all ebony.  I still shopped, but it no longer resembled the mainstream shopping I was raised on.  Instead I’d visit Army Surplus stores for military boots, resale shops for worker coveralls, and underground boutiques for nose studs.  During that time, I broke formation from the family pastime of shopping.  It was a dark time.

Once I started having kids of my own, the clothing and shopping bug worked its way back into me.  While I didn’t personally shop a lot for my kids, I learned to once again appreciate the beauty of clothing, as my mom, my sister, and all of our friends, went nuts clothing our new baby.  We had received so many onesies, PJ’s, dresses, 2-piece rompers, Halloween costumes, shoes, and hats for our daughter when she was born, that we didn’t have to buy her a single article until she was over two years old.  With all that fashion in the house, it served as a natural aphrodisiac for shopping with my family again, as we all had a common interest….clothing the babies.  Over the years, with my sister’s kids and mine, we have added four girls to the mix of shopping and clothing, not to mention the spouses, partners, and in-laws.

Over those years, I’ve woven my way back into the shopping routine with my family.  Even if I don’t buy anything, I’ve learned to enjoy the shopping we do together.   While I don’t promote shopping for shopping’s sake alone, as an activity to make one feel better or blow money to fill a void or spend moolah that you don’t have because you need to keep up with the Jones’ on fashion, I do advocate shopping as an approved activity for bonding.  It’s not about the labels or the money saved or the exclusivity of the merchandise, or even about a single item purchased.  It’s about the time spent together.  It’s about gabbing with your shopping partner about life and all that goes with it.  It’s about sharing the excitement of buying a gift for someone else.  It’s about looking at yourself through a different mirror when you try on new clothes that could be part of you new style.  It’s about working together to accomplish a task of crossing off names on a list, or to accomplish nothing at all, except to enjoy yourself in the process.

The Palmer House Chicago Christmas Tree - Family Tradition - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
As my mom and I stepped onto State Street yesterday morning for our annual tradition, the magic of the holiday shopping season overtook us.  I can go an entire year without purchasing a single item of clothing for myself or my kids, as we typically practice thrifty budgeting.  But on the day after Thanksgiving, all bets are off.  We had no list, no agenda, and no have-to’s.  We spent hours shopping, walking, eating, drinking, people-watching, and reliving shopping days gone by.  We laughed about the funny stuff we’ve bought over the years, the strange and awesome people we’ve encountered, and the ridiculous thing we’ve done, all in the name of shopping.  We bought clothes unabashedly for ourselves, our kids, and our family members.  We worked the Black Friday sales and we most likely paid for a week’s worth of Macy’s electricity bill with our clothing sales.  We drank $15 cocktails at the Palmer House and we kept track of how many men we saw wearing grey sweatpants in the lobby.  We had an outright ball.

While I love all the clothes we bought, I could go back tomorrow and return every garment purchased, as they truly don’t matter and we honestly don’t NEED a single item.  But I would not trade the experience of the day spent shopping alone with my mom for a thing in the world.  It is what family is made of:  time spent together.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Enough is Enough

“Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go, I want to be sedated,” sang Jordan Catalano with his band Frozen Embryos, covering the Ramone’s classic.

My So Called Life - Jordan Catalano - I Wanna Be Sedated - Enough is Enough - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
It’s all that keeps looping through my brain.  I don’t want to do anymore.  I don’t want to process anymore.  I don’t want to take in any more information.  I just want to numb out.

I’m filled to the brim with tasks and deadlines and activities.  I want to empty the bucket and start afresh, as I know there’s no way humanly possible to finish all the things I have on my self-created plate. 

Finish unpacking, repair the damage the movers made to the building, congratulate the neighbor on her new baby, take out the window AC for the season, trim the hedges, coordinate new day for piano lessons, shred the outdated documents, unload the dishwasher, pay the bills, coordinate the repairs to the upstairs apartment, finish cleaning the basement, paint the dining room, write, find the holiday decorations, do bookwork, catch up on my class assignments, find a new stereo that still plays CD’s, fix the old stereo that plays LP’s, prepare for dinner with friends tomorrow, try on the new clothes I had my partner buy for me because I didn’t have time to look on my own, send out birthday cards, workout, finish my craft project, work a few hours for my actual job, and extend my support to an acquaintance recently diagnosed with cancer.

I have a habit of continually listing off all of the tasks I need to complete in my head, and sometimes aloud, every day, all day, and sometimes before I go to bed.  Inevitably the tasks work their way into my dreams as well.  I am in a constant state of agitation.  I can’t ever seem to just be in the moment these days.  I’m always leaning toward that next thing that needs to be done.  It’s a constant state of motion that keeps me from fully experiencing the information that I meet on a daily basis.  My daughter told me 2 days ago that she got a poem she was really proud of published on the school website.  I just remembered this moment that I never looked at it.  That same velocity pushes me towards making mistakes because I’m going too fast and physically failing and falling because I’m not even focusing on where I’m going.  I just know I have to get there.  The scrapes and bruises on my knees and shins never heal, as I keep re-injuring myself every few days when I trip or fall. 

“Hurry, hurry, hurry before I go insane.  I can’t control my fingers and I can’t control my brain.”

Why can’t I make it stop?  Why can’t I just sit and read the newspaper and drink a cup of coffee without thinking that if I get a subscription to the Trib, which I so enjoy reading, it will turn into an obligation to read it every day?  Why do I look at my steaming cup and think that I need to add coffee to my grocery list?  I don’t know if it’s sedation that I really want, or just for the spinning to stop.  I just want to slow the hell down. 

So why not?  Why can’t I slow down?  Who says I have to do all this and work so hard and efficiently to successfully function?  Is it my family?  My partner?  My boss?  My friends?

No one or thing puts any more pressure on me than I do.  I’ve been a list-maker since I was a kid, but the pressure I put on myself to actually cross of those tasks ebbs and flows not only with the seasons, but also with the situations I’m currently experiencing.  Every now and then, I can take a whole day and just do whatever comes my way.  Other days, when I’m behind the 8-ball, the pressure I put upon myself spills over to added pressure of my kids to do their “tasks.”  The crazy part is, everything that really needs done, always gets completed, whether by me or someone else.  The world doesn’t come to an end when some timeline is blown.

The birthday card didn’t get mailed and a month passes.  It’s too late to send a belated card, so I pick up the phone to call.  I haven’t physically spoken to my aunt in years, and we have a lovely 20-minute conversation that never would have been happened had I sent the card.

My So Called Life - Angela Chase - Enough is Enough - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
The packed boxes accumulate dust and when I return home on day from errands, they’ve miraculously been unpacked and cleared by my partner and the kids, who all feel great not only for being able to choose where stuff goes, but also for being able to help me.

The reading doesn’t get done before class, but the class covers the material so well, that when I do get around to reading the words on the page, they have a deeper meaning.

Enough is enough.  I don’t need sedation.  I just need to be Brian Krackow and just look in from the outside every now and then.  Maybe I should just sit down and watch a whole season of My So Called Life.  Maybe I’ll pencil that in for a week from Tuesday.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hats Off to the Working Parents

Just got a call from the Girl Scout leader from my daughter’s school.  
“Our meeting is over and your (4th grade) daughter is here and says she’s supposed to walk home, but it’s dark outside.  Did you want her to walk home?”

I hadn’t thought about that.  Of course it’s dark in the late afternoon in the early winter in Chicago, even though I can't see that as I sit inside the windowless cubicle of an office.

"She's fine" I tell the troop leader, hoping the extra confidence in my voice quelches my own feeling of unease about the situation.

After that it was the piano teacher calling me from my own front door step telling me he’s ringing the bell and no one’s home.  He’s partially right.  I’m not home but my kids and the babysitter are and they probably can’t hear the bell.  With a phone cradled under each ear, we arranged for his entrance.

Last week it was opening the fridge door to make lunches before school to find no food.  The after-work market stop just didn’t happen as it wasn’t in position 1, 2, or 3 of my priority list.
Any of these things could happen to anyone.   But these things aren't supposed to happen to me.  You see, I like to think of myself as relatively in control of most situations.  But that was then as a stay-at-home mom.  This is now.  I recently took on a temporary part-time job.  I knew I had bit off more than I can chew in the time department.  The hours were more than I wanted.  The hours were more than I could afford to give. The hours are ones that I now borrow from other people and things.

I knew that taking on the role of working outside of the home would have a price attached to it.  I honestly thought the price would just affect me, though.  I assumed that the hours I would work would take away from my much-needed free time, my time alone to write or spend time with friends or create new kickboxing playlists.

I also knew subconsciously that the job would mean less time with my family, as I'd need to spend more time getting daily chores done when I'd normally be hanging out with my partner or kids.  What I hadn't considered at all, though, was the absolute crippling effect me working would have on my self-esteem,as I started to feel like I was screwing up all the things outside of the workplace, the things that really matter to me.

It started with little things, like not having enough time to make the girls' lunches for school, so my partner began stepping in to help.  Then it moved on to not being able to help out at my daughter's school or on field trips, or even make it to the school for drop-off or pickup.  I then hit the plateau of picking up my younger daughter late from preschool, as in the-only-kid-left-in-the-class-late.

Although overwhelming if one has time to ponder these things, I instead laughed off those warning signals as being temporary setbacks, since the job would be over in few months.  Then the shit hit the fan.  We moved to a new home.  Something that should have been so exciting and fun, instead pushed me into official overload.  With no time to unpack and even less time to help the girls, much less my girlfriend and I, adjust to our new surrounding, I realized I was digging myself a hole.  With work hours borrowing from home hours, my attention has started to wane from important things, like quality time with my partner.  Doing or thinking so many things while I'm talking to her, as I constantly feel "in the weeds," I sometimes forget what was even said.  Where a few months ago I would have taken a few minutes to explain a viewpoint on something we disagreed on, I find myself today just losing my patience and temper and stomping off with the issue unresolved.  Today I feel myself starting to unravel. 

Then there's my health, or general well-being.  I'm giving no reverence to my body whatsoever.  A cold turned into a month-long infection, which led to lack of exercise and loss of strength.  In turn, I've grown constantly tired while running and thinking at warped speed.  The headaches I've developed while constantly multi-tasking play second-fiddle to the numerous accidents and injuries I've had due to falling.

Falling down a lot is a part of who I am.  I'm a clutz, without a lot of grace on my feet on a good day.  Add to that me physically running from place to place trying to finish tasks at home and at work, and I'm an accident waiting to happen.  Falling up the stairs, tripping on the sidewalk, and falling asleep at the computer while holding a steaming hot cup of tea all leave marks.  Marks on my body, one, and marks on my psyche, two.  I feel like an absolute crazy person, spinning my wheels without actually getting anywhere.    

Maybe I’ve just been out of the working parent scene so long that I’m having a hard time adjusting getting back into it.  Maybe my once-stellar multi-tasking skills have dried up as I’ve gotten older.  Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill.  Or maybe it truly is difficult to juggle working and family life.

I’ve run the gamet in the last decade with work.  I’ve done it from home, I’ve done it in an office, I’ve done it on the road, and I’ve done it with both traditional and non-traditional hours.  What I’ve found is that it’s plain-out tough to do, as you’re always sacrificing one thing for another.  If it’s not the kids, it's the work performance.  If it’s not the sex, it's the PTA meeting.  If it’s not the laundry, then it's the friendships.  Something always suffers.

Lucky for me, I’m in a temporary work situation that will end soon and I will go back to being at home with my kids and my partner, where I truly believe I belong, not because that's what anyone should be doing, but because that's what works best for us.   

Most of the working parents I know have jobs that are permanent, though, making their juggling acts a regular routine.  Kudos to those parents.  I applaud your ability to hold it together.  I admire the way you balance your priorities and your demands.  I respect that way you let things bounce off of your back and just roll with it.  I wish I possessed more of those traits.

But I don't.  And I'm too tired from working to hone that skill set.  So instead I salute you working parents for all that you do, for the balance you initiate, and for the superman cape you hide in your lower left office drawer.