Girlfriends' Guide to Getting Your Groove Back: Loving Your Family without Losing Your Mindby Vicki Iovine
Moms will find humorous and helpful advice on:
* How to focus at work when things at home are in chaos (and vice versa)
Fresh from the battles of baby- and toddler-hood, Vicki Iovine shows moms how to navigate the twists and turns of perpetual parenthood-and find time for their kids, their spouses, their homes, their work, and themselves.
Moms will find humorous and helpful advice on:
* How to focus at work when things at home are in chaos (and vice versa)
* Rediscovering the boyfriends living in the bodies of their husbands
* Homework help-the transformation into human flashcards
* The dinnertime crush and how to relieve frozen pizza fatigue
* Making time for yourself without feeling guilty
With great humor and frankness, Iovine addresses the topics most women talk about only with their best friends. (USA Today)
Author Bio: Vicki Iovine is the mother of four children between the ages of six and twelve. A syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a monthly columnist for Child magazine, and a frequent contributor to Redbook magazine, she is regularly featured on such national programs as Oprah, Today, and Barbara Walters' The View.
- DIANE Publishing Company
- Publication date:
Read an Excerpt
It's a Marathon,
Not a Sprint
Grooving, Now and Forever
Not too long ago, I emerged from my writing cocoon to have coffee with my Girlfriend Sally, the mother of two terrific grown children. I told her the occasion for celebration was that I'd finally discovered the key to getting my groove back, just in the nick of time, since I happened to be writing a book about it. As I vaguely recall, my epiphany consisted of something about wearing higher heels to look taller and thinner and subscribing to Oprah's magazine. Sally tapped her latte cup against mine and congratulated me, but still, she seemed to be holding something back. Not in the mood to hear that I was delusional about my "eureka" moment, I pretended not to notice how hard she had to purse her lips to keep her own perspective from pouring out. Still, as a journalist of sorts, I could never deliver a book to you, my Girlfriends, that failed to take in another valid point of view.
"Have you realized yet that the real truth about getting your groove back is that you have to do it over and over again for the rest of your life?" Sally sweetly inquired while I was busying myself with the half-Equal, half-Sweet `n Low mixture I use in my coffee to spread out my chances of getting rat cancer from all the chemicals.
"Huh?" I replied, nearly spilling the latte over both of us and suddenly feeling that panicky sweat that humidifies the hair surrounding my face. "What do you mean, `over and over'?" What was she telling me? I'd spent monthsand months on this book just framing the problem of what it means to lose our groove, then even more time struggling with gathering some solutions, no matter how feeble, for all of us in search of our grooves.
It seems to me that our grooves are like towers made by a deck of cards. Each card represents a single issue including everything from our sex lives to our acceptance of our children's true natures to what we wear to whether we attend to our physical wellness to trying to find that magical balance between work and family. Take one card out, and the groove tower tumbles. That alone seemed like a tremendous epiphany to me, and I guess I believed that just dealing with these issues once and restoring our towers would be an incredible feat. I sort of trusted that this one gargantuan effort would finally bring me the satisfaction, fulfillment, and balance that I yearn for in my life. Can you blame me for hoping the high heels were my trump card?
Well, according to my Guru Girlfriend Sally, the most we can expect from this great endeavor to recapture our grooves is the experience and strength to do it again, and again and again. Like a ship that has a hole in it, you can bail out most of the water and enjoy a patch of smooth sailing for a while, but sooner or later you're going to find yourself knee-deep in the tide of change. You either stand still and whine that you've already bailed out the water once or you remember where you placed the bucket and bend over to start bailing again.
"But once your kids are somewhat independent and your marriage rescued," I asked frantically, "what else do you have to worry about?"
"Let's see, where do I start?" asked Sally, trying hard not to sound too patronizing. "How about after you've managed to reestablish your career and your husband's work requires that you move the family across the country? Or how about when one of the grandparents moves in with you because he's alone and sick? Then again, we could talk about the predictable trials that even a `good' teenager will put you and your co-parent through. And what if you find a lump? What if one of your children has a learning disorder? What about what happens when your children leave the nest and your reason for existence flies away with them? There's always the prospect of menopause, of course, and what about your plans for retirement? will your children marry appropriately? Will they get good jobs in a nearby town or start their families two airplane connections away? When one gets a divorce, will you still be able to see your beloved grandchildren? And, speaking of grandchildren, can you even imagine a passel of little kids calling you `Granny' right out there in public?"
Although the prospect of redefining myself and coming to terms with unexpected (hell, even the pretty predictable) sea changes in my life as a mother and woman had, up till Sally, seemed like a onetime proposition, the truth of what she said rang in my head like the Liberty Bell before it cracked. Some little voice inside my head had been placating me for the last thirteen years by insisting that all the changes and upheavals and loss of control that I'd experienced since I first joined the Sorority of Moms would be put to rest as soon as I'd found the most efficient and expedient way to return to the glory and balance of my prepregnancy life.
Like you, my Girlfriend, I couldn't envision, nor did I want, a life that didn't include my beautiful babies. I had no doubt that they were the greatest, most amazingly significant achievement of my humble existence. I guess what I pictured was a kind of circle; a journey in which I picked up a few fabulous souvenirs from other universes I'd visited along the way, be they little people or just more wisdom or examples of how much larger my heart had grown, but a journey that ended back where I started. I'd be this fabulous mother, but I'd have the body of a bride, the style of a starlet, the wisdom of Job, the professional accomplishment expected of a Phi Beta Kappa, and the sexual appetite of that girl who could spend an entire flight from Los Angeles to New York thinking of tantalizing games and positions to try out on her beloved. Like Dorothy, I assumed that once I'd clicked my ruby slippers together a couple of times, I'd be back in Kansas for business as usual. That was what getting my groove back meant to me.
What Sally told me changed my entire plan. She was telling me that the journey was a line, not a circle. Most terrifying, she was telling me that the finish line was nowhere in sight, but that the race had to continue. Whether I felt up to it or not really didn't matter, because that's just the way it was. I could either keep running, adjusting, and reevaluating, or I could fall out of the race and have my tarnished groove thrown out on top of me.
Setting the Pace
Shocking though Sally's insight was. I wasn't completely surprised. You will remember that it was I who told you in earlier Girlfriends' Guides that motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint, and not to waste all your energies on the breast-or-bottle controversy, or the proper age for potty training or whether your brilliant child should be reading by kindergarten. I knew to expect the rejection I'd feel when my daughter's best friend wanted to enlarge her social circle, the sense of ineptitude I'd know when my son couldn't put a project together for the science fair without the intervention of three engineers and a Computer programmer from my office, and the shame I'd suffer when I waited patiently in the school parking lot to pick my child up after a three-day Astro Camp sleepaway after he'd only been gone for two days. Even though I suspected that making it through the long haul of my life as a mother required that I stay light on my feet about all matters pertaining to raising my children, I realized that when it came to my long haul as a woman who happened to have children, I was wearing a pair of cement sneakers.
I know there are lots of women out there achieving more and sweating much less than I, but I swear, I'm running as fast as I can. I am hustling every single day, just to meet the demands of running our house, turning in the unending medical history forms for my kids' schools, providing a comfortable and welcoming home for my husband (yeah, I have one of those kinds of marriages), keeping in touch with my mother and mother-in-law, faking my way through algebra (yet again), and meeting the deadlines of my writing career. I start thinking about summer camps for the kids in April, I prepare for their return to school in July and start thinking about how we'll celebrate Christmas by October, at the latest.
I do my best to keep true to those plans and commitments and end up feeling like one of those crazy dogs that chases cars to bite the tire. Then Mother Nature looks down from her place in the heavens and hits the brakes. One of my kids breaks a bone and needs surgery to fix it. Another one needs to be assessed to see if she has attention deficit disorder. My mother needs heart surgery, and I'm getting my period every two weeks. This is when the rubber hits the road, with my teeth lodged in it.
They Keep Moving the Finish Line
Raising children reminds me of roasting a turkey; it looks like it's done, all golden brown and crispy on the outside, then you take it out to carve it and realize it's not done cooking. And since the turkey is the most important part of a meal, no good cook begins making the salad or steaming the vegetables till it's done. I guess I just kept waiting for the turkey to "drip clear juices" before I could focus on all the aspects of my life that had been neglected. The day we removed all the baby proofing from the cupboards, stairs, and toilets and put away the last carseat seemed like a reasonable cooking time. My groove would come naturally to me and I would start focusing more on my job, getting fit, learning another language, and visiting art museums. And, of course, my darling life partner would be there beside me, sharing my new interests.
How does that old Yiddish proverb go: "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans"? Well, God must be splitting a rib up there when he eavesdrops on me. It's been three years since we got around to removing all the safety latches and passing the carseats on to the local Head Start program, and by my calculations, I should be ready for a marathon, speak Spanish fluently, and volunteer as a docent at the Getty Museum. Instead, I find myself overwhelmed by a whole new set of responsibilities, crises, and agendas that actually make me yearn for the less complex time when my kids were babies.
When I was trying to get pregnant, I could imagine, sort of, a life of nursing, burping, changing, worrying about daycare, and avoiding all open pools and parking lots. What I never imagined was doing homework every night till nine or ten P.M., watching my child strike out at every Little League game, comforting a little girl who wasn't included in a slumber party, or dealing with several little people who wanted to negotiate every rule I set. Even more shocking, I never imagined what it would feel like to fight with my husband and not be able to walk out the door and drive off into the sunset.
I may be slow, but I'm not stupid. It only stands to reason that these life surprises won't just disappear one day. If things keep going this way, I can safely expect to move right into another life phase where I have to explain what condoms are for, why I don't think all teenagers should get their driver's license at sixteen years of age, and why teen pregnancy only looks interesting in the movies. If I keep waiting till the day when I think my kids are fully baked, I will never get that salad made. That leads me to two conclusions.
First, if I'm going to keep pulling this family train, I should take better care of myself.
Second, if I want to do anything with my life besides raise my kids, I'd better get started because the race has already started.
In fact, it might have started several years ago, and I was just too distracted to notice.
We're the Locomotives Pulling This Train
I ran into one of my closest Girlfriends, Marty, recently at yet another school fund-raising function and immediately asked her whether she'd gotten the lump on her neck checked out by a doctor. She'd shared her lump discovery with me while we were wandering around the zoo as chaperones for our children's class, and I'd been fretting ever since. There's something awful happening to me these days; I no longer dismiss all physical ailments as temporary, insignificant lapses in our general robust health. I don't know if it's because I personally feel more fragile or if I always extrapolate from the simplest little clogged pore to the orphaning of children. It's so much more fun and interesting to be sick on your own, but when you might be unable to meet your motherly duties, it really sucks.
Anyway, she had, indeed, seen the doctor and been told she had a lymph infection and would be able to clear it right up with antibiotics. She was clearly relieved, but she jokingly said that she kind of wished that the doctor had insisted on putting her in the hospital for a few days of rest and recuperation. I knew exactly what she meant, only when I have those same secret wishes, there's not a jokey tone for miles.
I know this makes me sound like an idiot or a wussie, but I have had the deep desire more than once to just drop the kids off at school and keep going straight to the hospital to beg them to put me in a room with a TV and an intravenous drip of some mild sedative. You know as well as I do that just getting a cold or a migraine isn't, nearly as much fun as it used to be. Instead of curling up on the couch with a pot of tea and the television remote, most of us have to live our regular lives with the added impediments of nausea, pounding headaches, and drippy noses. PLUS you might have to find time in an already frantic day to go to a doctor, and everyone knows you'd rather phone that inafter all, you just need the prescription for the antibiotic or the painkiller, and you're going to ignore the doctor's advice to rest in bed for a couple of days.
This is one of the most astonishing effects of looking at the world through Mommy-colored glasses: We become almost psychic in our ability to detect a fever in our kids at forty paces, and yet can live with walking pneumonia for two or three months, only pausing to wonder why we fall asleep standing up in the checkout line at the grocery store. If only my own mother still had the authority to keep me home from school and in bed, sipping chicken soup ... I crave a world in which a note from my parent could insulate me from all responsibilities until I feel up to facing them again.
Who Sets This Pace, Anyway?
Most of my Girlfriends live like this, too. We create lives that run so fast on all cylinders that we haven't got an inch of tread left on our tires when we most need the traction. It's like motherhood abhors a vacuum. Hey, if you have time for a regular exercise routine or to read the newspaper from front to back, you really should be volunteering more in the kids' classrooms, heading up the neighborhood hospitality group, or cleaning your husband's drawers.
Where in the world does this insanity come from? I have my suspicions. First, I think the constant depictions in the media of other people's apparently perfect and significant lives is a big culprit. Martha Stewart alone has raised my blood pressure at least 10 percent. Then there's that nasty inclination so many women have that I call Competitive Mothering. These are the unGirlfriendly gals who show up completely groomed at school drop-off, drive cars that show no debris of spilled sunflower seed shells and empty diet Coke cans, who dash confidently off to work and mention how "terrific" they feel now that they get up at five A.M. every morning to do yoga and spinning classes. I don't know about anyone else, but after seven or eight years of sleeping around the schedules of my kids, I have turned into a bed hog. I awake each morning, no matter how close to eight hours of sleep I've gotten, thinking that I cannot possibly get up and face the music of another day. Psychiatrists call this depression, but I don't think that's it. I think it's entirely rational for me to be fearful about beginning a day that will have me running faster than a hysterical roadrunner until I collapse again into my beloved bed.
Take my Girlfriend Shirley, for example. She hasn't called me from anywhere other than her car in four years. I swear to God, she lives there. She has three teenagers who are, unfortunately for Shirley's groove, very athletic. They're so good, in fact, that she has to drive them miles away from home so that they can compete against the best athletes Southern California can offer. We all know this would be impossible in itself, if only for its tedium, but Shirley works, too, selling fine clothing and jewelry in trade shows and home parties. That means that in addition to loading her Suburban with everything from bats, mitts, and soccer balls to cleats and changes of clothes, she has three fifty-pound suitcases of fine fashion to hoist in, too.
Neither my Girlfriends, Marty, Shirley, or I would suggest for a moment that we dislike any single thing we do. In many ways, we are enjoying the most gratifying and stimulating times of our lives. It's the totality of it all that kicks us in the butt. We don't want to give up a single thing, but we all know that we're doing far more than we can enjoy or even endure.
So, even more potent than any television propaganda or pressure from our effervescent and in-control colleagues, I confess that I think we are our own worst enemies. I'm not saying that we all should sit back on the new chaise lounges we've just bought for the backyard and dig into Oprah's Book Club Selections till we've read them all. Hey, We have jobs to do, people who depend on us, and usually, money to be earned to support them. Why do we keep running ourselves down without staying in shape for a life that should, knock wood, last another fifty years?
It's because we are so blinded by motherhood that we lose sight of all the other parts of life that matter to us, that's what I think. Either because of wishful thinking or sheer shortsightedness, we can't see past the day when our children will be launched into their own independent lives. We want them to be great, we want them to have the opportunities we didn't have, and we want them to love us so much that they would never dare utter about us any of the crummy things that so easily roll off our tongues about our own parents. We want to be loved, admired, significant, and never left in their dusty pasts.
Were parents of generations past so neurotic and frantic? I don't think so, but I can't speak for the universe. First of all, the rules and behavior seemed more defined and easily followed than they do now. Some mothers had jobs outside the home, but not in the numbers they do now. Marriages tended to last longer, too. And, perhaps most important, the community provided a prop for parents trying to keep a protective tarp of concern and care over their kids' heads. In my neighborhood, if you smart-mouthed the lady next door or were discovered with a pack of matches by the father of your partner in pyromania, not only would you get a verbal lashing from the adult witness, but your parents were sure to hear about it sometime before dinner.
In our generation, we often get pregnant within the asexual environments of our jobs (well, I don't really mean the act actually happened right there, but the repercussions are experienced in that setting). As I mentioned in The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy, many of us don't "grow in the garden in which we were planted," which means that the tribe of women we might naturally rely on to help us raise our kids has disappeared. A lot of good it does a mom when her sister has taken a teaching job in Auckland, New Zealand, her mother has retired to Florida, and her school friends haven't been heard from since that agonizing high school reunion you attended ten years ago! I believe that if we had stronger support groups around us, as in the form of a whole city block of blood relatives, we might be able to shoo the kids out the door and into Grandma's or Auntie Janet's so that we could really succumb to a case of cramps, the world would be a more hospitable place. It also wouldn't hurt to have several wiser women around to keep us in check when we were spinning like Tasmanian Mommies.
One is Silver and the Other Gold
In the early years of my pregnancies and new motherhood, I aggressively sought out other Girlfriends who were in the same boat. Lucky for me, I found several and we embraced each other with an affection and trust that I still have never again found in a friend. My Girlfriend Nikki maintains that there are only four windows of opportunity for making lifelong friends: high school, college, first job, and pregnancy/new motherhood. I suggested to her that I thought there was a fifth window, also known as widowhood, but she told me to bite my tongue and keep the evil eye at bay, so pretend I never mentioned it.
The Girlfriends I acquired during the pregnancy/early motherhood window often had nothing else in common with me besides a delivery date near mine, but the really golden ones were those who also shared my concerns about returning to work, my dilemma about whether to pump my milk at the office to keep nursing for six months to a year, and my constant ambivalence about being able to work, be a wife, and be a mother simultaneously. No matter how inconvenient, I was the first to call reunions of my Lamaze class or drive thirty miles to connect with a Girlfriend who had a baby my baby's age and crises my crises' ages. While much of my life seemed beyond my control, I was the boss of my friendships and those of my babies.
There came a day, however, when the babies began to have minds of their own. They had absurd ideas, like inviting strangers' kids to their birthday parties and joining Brownie troops with a bunch of girls from first grade. I confess, I fought it, but I knew I had to follow their lead and let them branch out from the protective boughs of the charter members of the Girlfriends' Family Tree.
By the time the new Girlfriends starting making their way into my heart, everything was different. Simply stated, I hadn't kept enough time and energy in reserve to nurture these unexpected blessings. We didn't have long leisurely afternoons watching our toddlers splashing in a blue plastic pool to bond sharing secrets about how our sex life was surviving the parental onslaughts, who had a secret crush on their Tae Bo trainer, or who worried that she was pregnant again, at least a year ahead of schedule. More to the point, these friendships were no longer about ME, they were determined to a large extent by my children.
The new Girlfriends were great, but they were already on the parenting conveyor belt and so much of our getting to know each other was punctuated by shared complaints about how hard the second-grade homework is, how devastating it is when your child is the only one who still doesn't understand phonics, and who would drive whom to the next weekend's dance competition or T-ball practice. Yes, we struggled to get to know each other in the bleachers, in the buses, or sitting in the waiting room of the orthodontist's office, but there was little time spent getting to know each other over a cup of coffee while we nursed at one or another of our houses. We were on kids' turf and usually introduced ourselves not by saying, "Hi, I'm Vicki Iovine," but rather, "I'm Jessica's mom." We could become quite intimate as "parents of" and never once discuss how we spent the rest of our life and dreams. I swear to you, I stood beside "Rosemary's mother" for two years on the local softball field before either of us discovered that her company and I were developing a T.V. show together. It just never came up once. The erosion of our groove was happening and we didn't even know it.
Public Opinion, Our Worst Enemy
After all this evidence (plus your own poignant recollections), it's obvious that we are selling ourselves short, both as mothers and as Girlfriends, by living our lives as though we are being graded for effort, not fulfillment. When we overextend ourselves, we get all sorts of societal applause. Our mothers-in-law begin to think that, perhaps, their darling boys have found a girl who doesn't just sit around in her gym clothes all day eating Power Bars. We match up to the Superwoman descriptions in Cosmo quizzes, and we feel entitled to our subscriptions to Working Mother. Most pathetically, those of us who live our lives as if they were one big itinerary, the bigger the better (hey, I thought that was the men's mantra!) are gratified, even if we're not particularly grateful.
It goes without saying, at least in my little world, that the Mommy Triage goes something like this: Meet all real and imagined needs of your children first. Career comes second. Any attention or caloric investment left goes to the home and its empty refrigerators and stopped-up toilets. After that, we devote our zombie-like bodies to our mates and hope that they don't notice that they're sleeping with a pod, not a real human being.
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