Monday, December 20, 2010

Thicker skin

It has been a while since my last entry, and there is only good news to blame. I reached the 32-week milestone in my pregnancy two weeks ago (the time when most babies' lungs are fairly well developed and many can survive outside the womb without ventilatory support), and since then I have been able to modify my bed rest routine more and have actually gotten out of the house a few times.

And yet, I have the nagging feeling that something has been lost. It's almost as though I was in a protective bubble, one in which I have really never existed for any length of time in my adult life, and in which I was able to more introspective and reflective than I ordinarily am. At baseline, I would consider myself to be a bit less introspective than the average person, certainly less so than my Viennese husband and his family, but probably more so than the rest of my own family. I have always admired my husband for this quality, but only through bed rest have I been able to actually make myself more like him in this regard. How quickly I reverted to my old habits, though!

In any case, I have one bittersweet anecdote to share, one that is probably best categorized under "Growing Pains of Young Parenthood." I saw adds online for a Christmas concert at a local church by a wonderful adult a capella singing group, Musica Sacra, whom we have heard before and loved. The concert was listed on a number of local parenting websites and the adds described it as "family-friendly, children of all ages welcome." Since I could be dropped off at the door and would be sitting the whole time, I thought this would be a perfect low-risk pick-me-up from months of bed rest. So, we packed up the little one and off we went.

Perhaps the lack of other children younger than about ten in the audience should have been a warning when we took our seats in the audience. My son was happy as a clam, listening for a while to the first set of songs in rapt attention but then beginning to wander, mostly in silence but of course a bit noisy from time to time, as most toddlers are. My husband took him to the back of the church to listen so that he had the option of darting outside if the noise worsened. You probably know where this is going...

After the first song set, the director turned to the audience of about 100 and welcomed everyone warmly. She then said that she took her son to his first concert when he was three and a half. After a pause, during which I innocently thought that she was about to welcome the children in the audience, she said, "AND THAT WAS TOO EARLY." She proceeded to offer up the "green room," where we could listen to a broadcast of the concert and feel "more comfortable" than in the sanctuary. No matter that we later found out the green room didn't exist. I thought I would melt in my seat. I felt all 200 eyes on me, sitting alone in full view of the rest of the church while my husband and toddler were out in the narthex.

And so I did what any self-respecting, third trimester, hormonal mother would do: I gathered up our coats, headed for the exit and was in tears by the time I got there. It was of no particular consolation that the executive director of the choir (and the one responsible for the advertising) apologized profusely to my sobbing self on the way out; she clearly hadn't clued in the choir director that this was a kid-friendly event.

Aside from hormones and the desperation I was feeling to get out of the house and enjoy a nice evening of live music, I think the reason I took the incident so poorly is that I would never have brought our son to the concert in the first place, knowing that he would surely make some noise and disrupt others a little, if it hadn't been clearly advertised as an event for "all ages." Any good white Anglo-Saxon protestant knows that children should be seen and not heard, right?

Anyway, I'm not sure there is any great lesson to be learned from this, except to say that I should grow thicker skin. Or, as my husband commented that night, not plan to move to Vienna anytime soon if this kind of thing bothers me. I'm a little surprised that it took 18 months to get to this point, actually, and I'm sure it won't be the last time we get kicked out of a concert. At least I hope not :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The toddler takeover

I really, really want to get my son a kitchen playset for Christmas.

There, I've said it. I have been thinking about it somewhat obsessively for the past week. He would love it, insofar as an 18-month-old can truly love any toy. It would be fleeting, but for a period of time, he would love it.

But I can't do it. You might say, what would be so bad about a kitchen playset? They come in all shapes and sizes, and I'm sure there is a set out there that is understated, non-plastic, and able to fit relatively unobtrusively into a corner of my kitchen. Here are some examples. (Not that I've been looking.)

And after pricing new cars all week, since our current 6-year-old car needs a $2300 new clutch, even the priciest kitchen set fit for a prince seems blissfully cheap right now.

The truth is, a line began to take shape for me even before my son was born that I have been trying very hard not to cross. Everyone has one, to be sure, and it fades in and out of view at various stages of life. At times it is sanity itself. On mine right now sits any number of things, not just toys or products but also attitudes and behaviors.

During pregnancy, the baby swing was on the line. Things like trendy expensive car seats and fancy bassinet strollers were clearly over the line. Later on, adhering strictly to a sleeping schedule, particularly in the evenings when doing so would keep us from maintaining ties with friends, was mostly over the line. But time has a way of shuffling the deck. As I've written about before, the baby swing was taken off the line and brought into our dining room in under 2 weeks.

And so it may be with the kitchen set - if not now, perhaps next Christmas, when there are two little rascals to occupy during dinner preparation rather than just one. At present, my sanity is still more closely aligned with the appearance of an "adult house" than with a pint-sized budding chef. I think he still prefers the grown up pots and pans, anyway.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Actually writing the check

Today is a big day for me, and one that seems long overdue. I donated to Women for Women International, both on behalf of my closest girlfriends, in place of a Christmas present, and in my name, by sponsoring a woman for a year. Scores of individuals donate money to an international organization each year, so I know I am not alone in this, nor have I given a particularly substantial amount. In fact I don't feel entirely satisfied now that I have actually carried out the donation. Why it has taken me so long to do so, and the source of my ambivilance about, is what I am interested in exploring.

In other words, I'm not as interested in why people give charitably to others, but rather why not. And since I can't carry out a large study from my perch on the couch today, I will settle with exploring my own motivations, and hope that at least some of them are common to others.

The first hurdle that comes to mind is activation energy. As day-to-day life unfolds, I often lack that extra boost that is needed to stop whatever else I am doing, focus on selecting an appropriate charity, and carry out the steps, including locating the ever-evasive postage stamp if the solicitation has come in the mail, necessary to actually give. In the age of the internet, I can't really blame stamps, but I do think that information overload plays an increasingly important role.

For me specifically, I began thinking seriously about supporting an international women's charity much earlier this year, when I read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book, Half the Sky. This husband-and-wife team of journalists tells the story of dozens of women around the world who have been affected by sex trafficing or forced prostitution, gender-based violence and maternal mortality, and they make the case that addressing these 3 critical issues is central to unleashing the economic and social potential of men and women worldwide in the next century. They helped me overcome the daunting task of selecting a worthy charity by providing a short list of reputable organizations, which is how I came to choose Women for Women.

Okay, so in this instance, Kristof and WuDunn helped me solve the activation energy problem, and the ability to donate online also made it easier. But in my mind there are other, less tangible reasons why I don't give that are larger barriers than the "I have alot going on" excuse. For example: pessimism that my small donation will make any bit of difference to such a big problem; guilt that I haven't given more in the past; lack of direct feedback to motivate me to give again; worry that most of the donated money will go to organizational and overhead costs rather than the intended recipients themselves.

For me, I decided to try sponsoring a woman for a year because it will address at least one of these concerns. As part of my pledge, I will exchange letters with a specific woman in one of the dozen or so countries served by this charity, and receive (and give) direct feedback. I think this will be both a challenge and a great learning opportunity for me over the coming year. It's something I've never done before, and I'm excited to see how it plays out. Hopefully it will make me more inclined to get involved in the future as well.

Particularly with a toddler and a new baby on the way, I find it frighteningly easy to become more and more self-absorbed in daily life, both individually and as a family. And without pauses for reflection such as this one, how can I expect otherwise? So here's to the holiday spirit - just write the check!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December already?

I can hardly believe it's December already and I'm secretly hoping for snow. Easy for me to wish for a blizzard, of course, since I'm not working and I haven't even brought my winter coat up from the basement yet. But it would make such a nice scene from my warm and cozy couch, snuggled beneath my blanket. All I would need is some hot chocolate and marshmallows.

What things make you look forward to winter? (For the technically challenged, like me, I think you just click on the word "Comments" below to leave to note. Hint hint.)