Monday, May 7, 2012

My 5 Unfounded Fears of Motherhood

As we round the curve to Mother's Day I've been thinking a lot about life before becoming a mom.  The role of mom wasn't one I was keen to undertake.  There was a time I vowed never to procreate.  But, accidents happen.  And, I accidentally stumbled onto the craziest, happiest, most maddening, terrifying and purely beautiful experience of my life thus far.

So, what was I afraid of?  Oh. My. God.  So many things!  Much of that fear was completely unnecessary (as for the other stuff...I didn't know the half of it).
Tapping into my pre-mommy brain I've come up with my top 5 Unfounded Fears of Motherhood.  Maybe they'll help ease the minds of those women who are on the fence about this whole mommy business.
1. Poop:  The thought of baby poop on my shirt, face, the couch, the walls, was enough to keep me on birth control for years. Quite frankly, it terrified me. A younger me mentioned this once to a co-worker with a young son.  I said something neutral like, "Doesn't changing your baby's diapers make you gag, like, all the time?"  I'll never forget her look.  At the time I thought she was just mad that I offended her baby.  Now I realize she probably wanted to slap the stupid off me.  Here's the truth about poop; I don't know if it's biological or psychological, but if it comes from your baby it's just not that gross.  (This is especially true for breastfeeders.) That's hard for people without kids to understand.  This is the best way I can explain it:  consider the difference between your poop and that of your husband or boyfriend.  While one isn't exactly a field of jasmine it's not nearly as offensive as the other stuff.

2. Sleep deprivation, forever!:  Sleep and I have had a long and seductive love affair.  And I wasn't about to break it off just for some gurgling, little baby.  When moms would say "you'll never have another good night's sleep in your life", I thought, OK, no thanks, I'm out.  However, that claim turned out to be a big lie.  I won't be the mom who claims sleep deprivation during the infant days is no biggie.  It's a frickin' nightmare during which you may make pacts with the devil and/or threaten to remove vital parts from your sleeping spouse's body. Yet, while a painful time, it's brief.  Lately I've enjoyed many long and peaceful nights.  In fact, I probably sleep even better now because kids tend to make grown-up people tired.  Just don't expect to sleep in.  My darlings still get up at 6am, even on weekends.

3. Mom Jeans:  Have you had that friend or colleague who, once a reasonably hip gal, returns from maternity leave sporting wash-and-wear hair, mom jeans and Reebox?  I have...and it wasn't pretty.  I know this reveals an excessive vanity on my part, but I could not see myself signing up for a program that meant automatic revocation of my fancy card.  Then I had a baby and realized it's all about choice.  Those who hated bothering with their appearance before motherhood now had an excuse to rock sweatpants all day.  I'm not much for sweatpants.  I have traded in my stiletto boots for wedges. But I solemnly swear that pajama jeans will never been seen on my body.

4. "Your body will never be the same":  Women can be so dramatic.  They love to tell you this either a) to make you feel bad, b) to make themselves feel better or c) because they're mean moms. So many women reported this news to me that I had visions of developing lumps in awkward places or taking on the shape of a swollen eggplant.  The truth was far from this for me.  I mean, yes, the boobs are never the same.  After being granted their own zip code during nursing, mine are actually smaller now than before pregnancy.  And they're not quite in the same place.  And, I suppose your uterus is never the same.  But, with the exception of those parts, the rest of it usually pops back into place.

5.  Say goodbye to sex:  It's amazing how personal people get when you're pregnant.  Strangers touch your lower abdomen (a little too close to the lady zone for me), and love to reveal intimate details of their own lives.  I heard countless tales of sex lives that fizzled post-baby.  This was jarring.  Not only in the I-don't-want-to-think-about-my-mailman-having-sex-thank-you-very-much kind of way, but also because I didn't want to imagine this sort of thing, um, fizzling.  All I can say on the subject is your perspective changes after you have kids.  Sometimes people get tired.  Sometimes they don't.  Sometimes less is more.  Sometimes more is less. However, I'm not going to go into the nitty gritty details of my personal experience because, for one, my mom reads this blog and that would be weird.

Of course, you may have noticed the me, me, me theme to these fears.  That occurred to me, too.  But it makes sense.  People without children often consider themselves first.  I guess I did. Things change instantly once children are involved.
And, yes, I did have many other fears related to the health and well-being of the babies I carried.  However, I still hold those close to my heart.  Every day.  All the time.  This very second.  And I'm not able to joke about them.
Still, despite the minefield of trepidation, motherhood comes with a million little rewards.  You just have to be willing to let a little person steal your heart.
Who else is going to offer you gems like this one my daughter gave me this morning?
"I love you so much I want to eat you up like a donut hole!"

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dreaming in French: The footwear edition

The wrong pair can kill the romance of Paris.  The right pair can get you a date.
I'm hoping to score a couple dates while there with my husband.
Possibly the most critical packing decision a person can make when going to Europe involves footwear.
I should know. I've traveled wearing shoes I thought were boho chic only to find my feet torn up, sore and unfit for walking after one day in Europe. Then I've switched to athletic shoes and walked around feeling schlumpy and sorry for myself.

There is a middle ground.

Yet despite the fact that most travelers have feet, there are incredibly few web posts out there offering constructive advice on this topic.
Two years ago, I started my online/blog/forum search for cute, but comfy shoe recommendations for Europe and was disheartened and frustrated by what I found.
It's not that people have vastly different ideas about what constitutes "cute".  I already knew that.
What surprised me was how often these posts turn into judgmental rants from other travelers who chastised the original poster for wanting fashionable options.
Here's the deal.  Some of us are not going to wear "white sneakers" no matter what.  For those who choose to wear them, that's great.  Totally your call.
But I don't wear them walking around Duluth.  I'm certainly not going to do so in Paris or Milan.

So, I've created my own list.  Some of these recommendations I discovered before I went to Italy in 2010.  Others I wear now.  And still others are recommendations from friends.

1.  Jambu sandals
I bought these Jambu Troy sandals on a whim because they were fun and felt great on my feet.  Little did I know they would be my everyday shoes in Florence and Rome. I know the heel makes them look uncomfortable, even treacherous.  But that's deceiving.  These sandals offer tons of support and give feet room to grow after a long day of walking. Although a little on the sporty side for me, they could be dressed up for evening so I didn't have to pack a pair of heels.  Jambu doesn't make the Troy anymore but any of its new wedge sandals would be great.

2. Gentle Souls
I splurged on Gentle Souls wedges last year and have never regretted it.  I've worn them all day, come home and stood in them while cooking dinner.  This brand is part of the Kenneth Cole company. It patented something called Displaceable Solid Technology for its soles.  I have no idea what that means except that it involves flaxseed.  Seriously.  Anyhow, gladiator sandals were a big, big trend two years ago in Italy.  This Break My Heart style would probably be perfect.
Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the gladiator look and would probably opt for these:
I still can't decide if these Juniper Barry wedges are cute or a little on the Granny side. I might order them and see.

3.  Cole Haan
My BFF wears her Cole Haan ballet flats everywhere.  She claims they are the most comfortable shoes she owns.  CH shoes have that Nike Air technology supposedly making them as comfortable as a sneaker.  I've also heard they're incredibly forgiving on bunions. I adore these Air Bacaras...and love the idea of packing flats because they're so compact.  I'm a bit skeptical they can offer the support I'll need for miles of walking.  But it's hard to argue with your BFF when she's also your style icon.

4.  Camper
Everyone should pack at least one pair of fail-safe walking shoes.  If you don't want to look like you're off to the gym, then trainers are probably the best bet.  Merrell and Puma offer good choices.  But I love Camper.  These are called Water Runners which is meant to suggest you can get them wet, not that they are water shoes.

5.  Wolky
As their slogan suggests, these shoes are designed for walking.  Wolky cloggys remind me a bit of Danskos but feel lighter to me, which should make them easier to pack.  If, like me, clogs aren't your thing, they have other cute options.  And I think you can't argue with the arch support they can offer for long days on your feet.

Smart packers will tell you to bring no more than three pairs on a trip to Europe. So, think multi-purpose!
And yes, I do recognize that none of these shoes come cheap.  But, buying just one pair of excellent shoes is worth it, especially if you're going to cover miles of ground each day.
Happy travels!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Dansko Revolt

Since writing my post about Danskos last fall, I've taken a good bit of heat from the 35+ female set.  As it turns out, women are pretty attached to this footwear choice.  And the blowback from my anti-Dansko stand has been, at times, rather emotional.

So, ever since that writing, I've been considering why my response to those shoes is almost always negative.
(And, by "ever since" I don't mean constantly "ever since" because that would be weird.  Despite popular opinion in my house I don't think of clothes, shoes and shopping 100% of the time.  I spend at least 25% thinking about other stuff.)
Let's set aside the fact that, aesthetically, I find Danskos displeasing.  Because, honestly, ugly and clunky were not good enough reasons to keep me away from Doc Martens in my heyday.
In fact, I've held on to my last pair of Docs for twenty years because I still adore this look. And while I'm not sure my age will allow me to resurrect it, you just never know. 
So, I get that things that are seemingly un-cute on their own can be made cute in the right context.

The following were the most commonly made counterpoints to my last post:
1) They're comfortable.
2) They're indestructible.
3) They keep you higher off the ground.
These are all compelling arguments for any mom and/or professional woman who stands or walks much of the day.
I can't vouch for the comfort factor because I've never worn a pair for more than a minute.  I find them hard and stiff on my feet, but many have argued they do wonders for back pain, which is a bonus.
As a short person, I am totally feeling the argument that they keep you higher off the ground.  This is the one bummer about flats that I can't really get over.
And I certainly believe they're indestructible given the thick leather and sole.  But, for me, this doesn't score them any points in the fashion column.
So, while I'm no convert I have been swayed.

Yet, I think I've figured out my biggest beef, what turns me off the most about these shoes. They're everywhere.  I can't go to a gathering of my peers without seeing a pile of Danskos by the front door. (As one friend reported, she attended a party where there were so many black Dansko clogs that someone left wearing another's shoes.)
They've become the 40-year-old woman's uniform, as predictable as leggings and Uggs on a college girl.  And I hope we can all agree that look is beyond tiresome. To me, fashion should never be that.  It should be fun, and surprising and as individual as you are.
But, I guess that doesn't mean that can't happen with a tried and true pair of Danskos.
I like this:

And this:
In fact, these photos are causing me to seriously reconsider my anti-Dansko position.
So, to all you opinionated readers, thank you for opening my eyes.

Now, I can turn my attention to other, more offensive fashion decisions, like stiletto-clad women carrying babies.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ooksi Kooksi

There's one day a year, above all others, on which I think about my grandmother.  
And it's today, St. Urho's Day.
It's a day that pays homage to some guy who chased grasshoppers out of Finland, saving the grape crop.  
Apparently, the legend of St. Urho began somewhere in Northern Minnesota in the 1950's in response, I imagine, to St. Patrick's Day.
And it's been a part of my life since childhood.
Every year in March a poster would go up in my grandparents' house with this poem. 
As kids we memorized it.

So, in honor of my Grandma Ilona Conkright (nee Bjork), my kids and I are wearing purple today.
(I have only one purple shirt.)
As a child she would call the house in the morning, before we got dressed, to remind us.

There are many things I remember about Grandma 'Lona. 
I remember that she was a tough, feisty Finn who created and nurtured amazing vegetable gardens, battled thick brush and mosquitoes to pick buckets of wild blueberries and baked wonderful bread.
I remember her deep chuckle, her irreverent sense of humor, her Sunday dinners and her collection of mini-bar sized bottles of brandy and schnapps.
I also fondly recall that she was a bit of a rebel, a trait she passed on to many of her 7 children including my mom.  
Family legend has it that she wore black lace on her wedding day.  
Ilona Bjork on her wedding day?
Of course, there are so many more things I wish I knew about her.
It is only in adulthood that I realize she knew much more about me than I would ever know about her.  
But I know she lives on through all the rebellious women in my family who continue to challenge authority.
She also lives on through my daughter, her doppelganger, whose middle name is Ilona.
So, Happy St. Urho's Day, Grandma 'Lona.  
I hope you're celebrating somewhere.
And wearing purple.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Minnesota Nice...or ice?

MPR is starting a conversation this week exploring the idea of "Minnesota Nice".
Is it a misnomer or just a grand phrase meaning polite?
In other words, do I have to run outside my house naked with my hair on fire to get anyone to pay attention to me here?
It's not a new topic for any transplant to this lovely state.
I'm from across the bridge.  I could see Minnesota from my house! (not really)
And I still experience the struggle of getting past the polite phase.
Imagine what it's like for people coming here from halfway around the world.
As a former colleague commented, "I quickly discovered Minnesotans will give you directions to any place except their own house."
I'm looking forward to this series.