Archive for March, 2011


Mar 2011

Finding Peace in Strange Places

So I have an appointment that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. A chance to stretch out on my belly, under a blanket, in dim lighting, in the middle of the day. No one can call me, email me, pull at me, or ask me any questions. It’ll just be me and a kind therapist, for 45 minutes. Mom nirvana, and I cannot wait.

But this is no day spa, with thick white robes, flickering candles and aromatherapy; no, I’m at Fairfax Radiology, for a routine MRI.

How did this happen?

How is it that a noisy, clanging, banging MRI tube has become my spa?

Or that a longer-than-usually-acceptable-wait at the dentist’s office seems perfectly acceptable now, because it means more time with a trashy magazine on a comfy couch?

That a delayed flight to visit my brother’s family (without my own family) is like an added bonus to an already fabulous solo trip. (More time to grab a Starbucks! More time to people watch at the airport! More time to read my book!)

That I rarely crank the stereo when I’m home alone anymore, because I cherish the silence too much.

That the highlight of a recent conference I attended in DC was not necessarily the speaker’s tips and ideas, but the delight in meeting people who actually wanted to shake my hand rather than hand me their cast-off garbage and used lollipop sticks.

This is pathetic.

This is not what the parenting magazines advise when they feature advice articles about the importance of taking time for yourself and pampering yourself and not losing yourself in the swirl of backpacks and cleats and homework and playdates and PTA fundraisers and social secretary’ing for second graders.

But who has time for leisurely walks through the woods to reconnect with nature when onion grass has taken over my yard, or quiet time with a favorite novel when I have stacks of books that need to be returned to three different libraries?

I sometimes fall into the trap of blaming “this area” (You know the argument: “This area is so fast-paced!”), or pointing a finger (a badly manicured one at that) at “society” and “technology” for speeding up our lives to an impossibly frenetic pace.

But it’s faulty thinking, this blaming of society or technology or the much-maligned Northern Virginia area, because I very clearly remember my own mother—living in a time without Crackberries or SOL testing or HOT lanes—also feeling the need to carve out some private time in places not much better than an MRI tube.

The downstairs powder room in my childhood home, for example, was one of her personal favorites. She’d grab the kitchen phone receiver, stretch the long curly cord into the bathroom, and close the door on her noisy and intrusive world so that she could catch up with a friend in peace.

(I also remember her saying that her dream would be to have an electrified phone booth in the house, so I suppose we should have been grateful that she chose instead to merely hog the bathroom.)

She also reserved her bedroom, particularly during the 10:00 news hour, as a kid-free zone, and although I can’t remember actually wanting to watch the news, I do remember feeling vaguely offended that my brothers and I weren’t invited in. Now I just shake my head in amazement that she made it until 10pm before demanding some alone time.

And wasn’t it Erma Bombeck who literally wrote the book on the trials and tribulations of motherhood—and the pursuit of peace and quiet—in the 1960s and ‘70s?

So I’ve decided, actually, that this pathetic habit of finding peace in peaceless places is no fault of modern culture but is instead an unavoidable byproduct of motherhood. And since I’m in no way a fan of getting rid of my kids, or seeing them exit the nest any sooner than they absolutely have to, I have willed myself to view life’s inconveniences as opportunities for unexpected rewards: A blown disc means time at the MRI spa, a double-booked dentist means quality time with Brangelina.

Perhaps it sounds a little Pollyanna, this insistence on focusing on the positives in the midst of everyday annoyances. But I’m a mother, so I’ll just call it survival.


This article was originally published March 30, 2011 on

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Mar 2011

You Say Goodbye I Say Hello

Ever since my dad took a government job in DC and I trudged up the hill to start off my school career at Peter Piper Preschool in McLean, I’ve considered Northern Virginia my home. And although I know it can’t be true, I feel as though I grew up with, and went to school with, pretty much the exact same group of kids from preschool through Spring Hill-Cooper-Langley.

Diversity seemed a foreign word during my 1970s and ‘80s growing-up years. Try as I might, the most exotic new classmate I can remember hailed from Omaha.

Things didn’t change much when I went to college at Miami University. In Ohio.

But fast-forward to adulthood, and it’s a whole new scene, with a new awareness and a changing population. Today, as a mom with kids in Falls Church City schools, I’m realizing that my boys will have a very different grade school experience than I did, even though we’re living five miles from my childhood home, and even though we have no plans whatsoever to move.

It’s fantastic.

In preschool, our youngest son befriended a little boy whose family lived in the Oakwood apartments, where many families with the State Department’s Foreign Service reside. We enjoyed hours-long playdates in its sunny courtyard, where kids from all nations effortlessly switched between languages until they found common ground. If they couldn’t, no matter: give a bunch of four year olds a ball, and they have all they need to make a new friend.

We’ve had Skype conversations with former classmates who now live on the other side of the world, and it hasn’t escaped our boys’ notice that while we were wearing winter pajamas and getting ready for bed, our friends were wearing shorts and t-shirts and drinking their morning orange juice. It has led to some pretty cool conversations. (Mom, does this also mean that when they stand up, they’re actually hanging upside down under the earth?)

Our shower curtain, which is a world map, has turned into a nightly geography lesson, as we point out Bosnia and Brussels and Cameroon, just a few of the places that friends and classmates have called home.

And just last week, our kindergartner’s class at Mt. Daniel welcomed a new student whose family evacuated from Cairo. So while my son can’t read the front page of The Washington Post, he’s getting a front row seat to our world’s events.

But like everything, there’s a flip side to this coin. The yin to the yang. The other side of the story: People move here, but then people move away.

It’s devastating.

Our son, whose class has an unusually high percentage of military and government agency families, has had to say goodbye to a half dozen friends this school year alone. His teachers have become experts at churning sweet lemonade out of a situation that is, while fabulous for social skills and chock full of teaching moments, pretty tough for five year olds to understand. We’ve explained to our son that it’s been a highly unusual year; his older brother, after all, has seen only one classmate move away during his three years in school. We remind him that we ourselves have moved—changing schools and changing houses and look! look how well it’s all turned out!

But sometimes, I’ll admit that it’s not always easy to put on a brave face for a sad little boy. The other day when we were walking home from school, he asked me if one of his newest little friends would move. I haven’t yet met the boy or his family, so I wasn’t sure.

I wanted to tell him that no matter what happened, every friendship is a gift. That as he looks back on his life, some of his strongest and best memories will be the ones he shared with friends. That every relationship, whether it ultimately proves to be a positive one or a negative one, will teach him things about himself and about what’s important in life. That it’s always worth it.

But he’s five. All he’d hear is blah blah blah friend blah blah.

So I went with my heart, and I went with the truth. And I told him, “I don’t know, sweet baby. I hope not, but I really don’t know.”

And then I asked, “So when should we have him over for a playdate?”


This article was originally published March 9, 2011 on

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