Tag Archive | identity

On Baked Goods, Gardening, And Cultivating Career

You already know the writing of Carinn Jade from her popular website Welcome to the Motherhood, as well as her pieces from Mommyish and the New York Times.  She’s the real deal– real writer, real Mom, real lawyer, real friend.  I could go on, but let’s hear from her as she embarks on a new chapter in her careers with a heart full of acceptance and a future as bright as a cluster of stars on clear summer night.

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Lately I’ve been struggling.  I’ve also been succeeding.  I’ve been picking and choosing and placing and planning.  Through this process I’ve been visualizing what’s really important in my life.  I imagined myself as a pie with three thick slices*.  Fill it with whatever pleases you (mine is peach cream) but picture it.

image credit: weareoregon.com

image credit: weareoregon.com


(*Note: there are other slices of my identity such as wife, yogi, dysfunctional twitter user, but those are firmly established.  The three slices below are the ones I’ve been struggling with over the past few years.)

One slice of me is a mom.  The kind that gets down on the floor to play cars, who runs over the jungle gym bridges, and who delights in making my kids laugh by doing crazy things.  I have enjoyed my days at home with my children without a shred of regret.  That’s not to say I haven’t lost my shit on occasion or doubted my ability to be a full-time parent, but I never regretted giving up my career in finance for them.  For the most part I was exhausted but happy, even more so when I became a freelancer who channeled that leftover longing into writing.  Which brings me to the next slice.

Another part of me is a writer.  I have written all over the internet about myself, my struggles in motherhood, and my opinion on popular headlines from a parent’s point of view.  Since December I have also written two very shitty first draft (a la Anne Lamont’s perfect phrase) novels.  The first one was DOA, but I am in love with the second and am revising my heart out.  I recently pitched an agent who requested a full before I had to admit I didn’t have a full.  I do have a polished 50 pages that I am willing to show and I let that fly today.

Another part of me is a lawyer.  I spent almost 20 years either dreaming of, studying to be, or actually being a lawyer.  I’ve spent the past 4 years trying to reject it.  I was disillusioned by the lack of women role models and simply didn’t have it in me to put in the number of hours it would require to break that glass ceiling over a lawyer trying to be successful in finance.  As a mother of two young kids, honestly, I just didn’t think I had it in me.  I have regretted that a lot in the past year and many of my Mommyish posts revealed my struggle.  While I was happy in my personal choice, I felt I was letting down all female lawyers, or at the very least my daughter if she ever wanted to practice law and have a family.  I had opted out and blamed the culture (which is partially to blame) instead of continually trying to change it or finding a better fit.  That time is over.  I start full time next week with the law firm that gave me my start right after law school.

I know what you are thinking.  This is a lot of crazy shit.  Going back to the law full time after my writing career really gained traction — how does that make any sense?  You’re thinking “blow up that three-piece pie, Carinn, because something’s gotta give.”

It’s true, things will change.  But I am hoping it’s mostly my analogy.  A pie, I’ve realized, is a fully baked and completed product.  Which I am not.  I am more like a farmer growing a vegetable garden.  I’ve got my plot of land.  The soil is rich and dark and fertile.  I’m growing carrots, snow peas, and beets.  Each one requires attention at different times, each one has slightly different seasons.  Learning which crop will sustain me will take time and careful tending.  Season after season I will improve my product through trial and error.  It will take many seasons of work, no matter how much I try to muscle through it faster.  Turns out, vegetable gardens don’t respond to my strong arm attempts.

I have no idea what this next chapter looks like in real life.  I do, however, know that I will practice acceptance daily — of all the competing parts of me and all of the good and bad parts of this journey.  I’ve learned that by rejecting an important but complicated aspect of my life, I was rejecting part of me.  All this did was invite struggle.  If a part of my identity falls away, it must do so naturally, rather than me trying to push it out of the picture because it’s not always comfortable.

In the past few weeks during which these changes have been set in motion, this quote rings true.

If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

-J. Krishanmurti

Here’s To Transformation.


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If you would like to post here about your work life (or lack thereof), contact me at Christie.o.tate@gmail.com


Mama’s Ready For The No-Frump Pumps

There’s something about a pair of red shoes. Heels.  The right pair sends a message.  I’m not scared of being seen.  I am alive.  Sometimes, I actually have sex.

I have the perfect pair.  I fell in love with them in 2008 when I bought them.  I wore them exactly once: on November 28, 2008, I slipped them on, shimmied into a new BCBG dress, and floated through  my rehearsal dinner on a cloud of love, wonder, and first-trimester pregnancy hormones.

Seven months later I became a mother, and I lost track of my red shoes.  What do I need with shoes like that anyway?  Sure they were versatile, but they wouldn’t work at the park or Gymboree.

Eventually, another  member of my household co-opted them, crystallizing my feeling that they were no longer “me.”

Someone was enjoying them.

At least someone has been enjoying them.

One day I’ll get back to those I promised myself.  One day I’ll be a woman who wears red heels.

But there was always a reason to shove them to the back of the closet and find a nice staid pair of black shoes. Something stylish, but infinitely more sensible in case there was ice or gravel or the need to break into a full-speed sprint. It’s Chicago, so you never know.

I always knew they were there, though.  They emitted a secret heat, radiating from the back of my closet.  As I sifted through my clothes, I’d sometimes catch a glimpse of their satiny sheen.  What are you waiting for? they questioned.

But the time was never right. I wanted to wait– until I found the perfect jeans or had a fancy wedding to go to or my bangs grew out or we solved global warming.  I was waiting for my weight to fall, my fortunes to rise and the weather to turn.

But the longer I waited for my Gap “loungewear” to make me feel that certain sparkly specialness, the farther away I felt.  I had bought a one-way ticket to frumpdom and couldn’t seem to escape.

What’s it gonna take? I wondered.

My mind alighted on those shoes. Maybe on Saturday night for Jeff’s birthday dinner.  No! Immediately, a series excuses flashed through my mind.

You need a pedicure.

It’s too cold.

The restaurant is too casual.

You’re too old.

You’ll look like a character from Mama’s Family– that white trash Naomi.

I let each excuse make a case for “NO” but slipped my feet in anyway.  I ignored my raggedy toe nails and pretended my jeans were the perfect length for 3-inch heels.

It's mama's turn

It’s mama’s turn

I made it down the flight of stairs where Jeff was waiting for me.  As we strolled to the restaurant hand-in-hand, I ignored the fact that we would have dinner while the sun was still up and we’d be back in time to put our kids to bed.

This counted as a night on the town, and I was wearing my red shoes.  The wait was over.

The Baby Question

I think I made an important discovery this weekend: no matter how I proceed with this baby business, at some point, I am going to have to deal with the feelings that come up around the prospect of being done making babies.  Early predictions are that the chief feeling will be sadness.

Image credit: http://www.chirky.com

Image credit: http://www.chirky.com



This weekend, I spent time with dear friends who are in various stages of working on their third babies.  I was thrilled to hear friends who had proclaimed, “WE ARE DONE,” had changed their minds and plan to go for one more baby.  This whole “making a baby” enterprise always excites and delights me.  Also, it calls the question on my baby fever.

When the weekend’s festivities finally died down and I was still enough to hear my inner voice, I heard it say, “you can’t side step the sadness.”  I was awake enough to put up a fight.  I am not sad about being done having babies because of these great reasons:

  • I’m old
  • I’m tired
  • I am ready to get on with my life
  • I’m not sure I have enough energy for three children
  • Moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney
  • I have two beautiful, healthy children of each gender– don’t be greedy

That still, inner voice doesn’t care about logic, though.  She wants me to know that there is no path without mourning.  Also, she suggests being sad about it doesn’t mean I should run out and get an ovulation kit.  It simply means that there are intense feelings around the question of whether I will procreate one more time.

Last night, I felt like the answer was definitely “yes,” we are done.  I think that’s why I was crying so hard.  It’s also ok that it’s over, and it’s sweet that I liked it all enough to cry when it’s time to move on.  It’s ok that little Smile or Sand or Skyler will probably be a goldfish and not an heir to the Outlaw Mama throne.

What was weird about last night was the message I found inside myself that having babies made me worthy in a special way, so not having any more babies means the end of a certain kind of specialness that I am scared to let go of.  I had no idea that message was in there.   Seems like I would have seen that coming, but I didn’t.

What feels scary about following this whisper that I am done with procreating is that I am not sure what’s next.  My kids will go to school, and I will have the opportunity to find new directions, pursuits, and work.  I feel tremendous excitement about that, but I’d be lying if I said I had a clue about what it will look like. Will my ankles swell and will strangers give me their seats on the train?

I am looking forward to finding out there are lots of ways to be beloved and precious besides carrying a baby in my womb.  I simply can’t imagine anything I would do would match that, but I am willing to find out.

Dreams Deferred

I’ve got dreams.  They don’t include the corner office or being famous or winning the lottery.

But they are dreams still.

I dream of sleeping all the way through the night until at least 8:00 AM.  I dream of waking up rested and pain-free, including that horrible ache in my sacrum that is my daily companion.

I want to leave lipstick or gum lying around without worrying that both will end up on the carpet, the walls, or someone’s hair.

I dream of tossing my purse on the floor without a care in the world that someone will find my pen and stab me with it or ruin my new bedspread.

God.  To be able to pick out a nail polish color without hating it once it’s painted on my nails and totally envying everyone else’s nail colors, especially whoever sat next to me and picked the most on-trend-but-still-classic color.

And to order in a restaurant without regretting my choice for the next half week? What does that even feel like?  I perseverate during those agonizing pre-order moments and then something insane comes out of my mouth when the waiter comes: “How about the tofu pot pie with chesnuts?”  That. I want those moments to not happen.

Who am I even kidding? I barely ever go to restaurants, but someday it won’t be a newsworthy event when I do, and I will order something magical and delicious and I won’t spend a red hot second staring at your food wondering why I ordered the most esoteric and unfilling dish on the entire menu.

Someday I’ll learn how to gather, wash, and fold clothes all in the same week.  And maybe even put them away within the same calendar month.  I’ve heard it happens.  Never seen it myself.

And on that same week, maybe I will figure out how to cram all of the following into my son’s 2-hour nap time: write a blog post and at least 1000 words in novel, get eye brows waxed, call old friend I miss and adore, schedule dentist appointment, read my email, prepare my mise en place for dinner, and get in a run. Or maybe I’ll stop trying to cram so much into such tiny spaces.

I dream of opening the mail– not hiding it on the stairs for Jeff to handle.

I dream of always knowing what to wear and how to wear it.

And– of always (or even sometimes) knowing where the hell I put my sunglasses, that coupon I was going to use, or the recipe I tore out of Cooking Light at the doctor’s office.


Langston Hughes: an inspiration for this post (image credit: http://www.greengoddess-vidaverde.com)

Langston Hughes: the inspiration for this post (image credit: http://www.greengoddess-vidaverde.com)

I’ve got big dreams made of tiny moments and imperceptible gestures and domestic tasks and commonplace situations.   They seem as far away as the Big Stuff I used to dream of, these dreams of mine, deferred for now.  But someday.


Paper Trail

This says it all (image by Jay Roeder, at http://jayroeder.deviantart.com)

This says it all (image by Jay Roeder, at http://jayroeder.deviantart.com)

It was 6:15 AM, and I was searching for a space in my house that would seem novel to Simon, so that I could entertain him while everyone else slept in.  I couldn’t face our dirty, toy-strewn living room, so I took Simon upstairs to Jeff’s office.

After accepting that Simon wasn’t going to peacefully sit in my lap drawing loopy “circles” with his new box of 64 crayons, I turned to the computer to entertain us both.

As I reached for the mouse, I saw a sheet of paper that had various cab and restaurant receipts stapled to it.

Jeff’s expense report, I realized once my eyes focused on the details.  In his orderly way, Jeff had labeled each receipt and arranged them to form a perfect puzzle of expenditures for the second month of the third fiscal quarter.

I moved the expense sheet and Googled “hot air balloons” for Simon who’s recently become enraptured by the sight of inflatable transportation.  My eyes kept returning to Jeff’s expense report.  Each 4 inch by 6 inch slip of paper formed a breadcrumb trail of his work travels — an early dinner eaten at Ray’s Hell Burger– (I hope he ate with someone else because the total was $54.58).  Later that week, he had some Gatorade at the National Airport Grill– (It was pretty cheap, only $2.25 at an airport no less).

I bounced restless Simon on my knee and tried to find images of something that would excite — quietly– a curious toddler.  “How about some giraffes? You love giraffes.”  Simon sat transfixed by images of giraffes, and I similarly transfixed by Jeff’s expenses.

Why was I so hung up on the record of the 8-inch meatball sub Jeff ate at Bozzelli’s Italian Deli in Arlington, Virginia?  I hate meatball subs, I reminded myself.

But those slips of paper proved something about Jeff.  They were tangible evidence that he was out in the world.  He existed because he crossed state borders and time zones and ate exotic sandwiches south of Mason-Dixon line.   Each receipt marked Jeff’s footprint in the big, wide world.

I rarely leave my zip code.

Jeff eats in restaurants I have never heard of with people I have never met. I rolled this thought around in my head as if it was the first time I realized that Jeff had to eat and socialize with other people on his trips to D.C.

It wasn’t that I felt threatened that Jeff had co-workers to eat burgers with or elite status on American Airlines.  I remembered having co-workers not so long ago, and I spent a lot of time thinking of excuses to avoid joining them for dinner or a Bulls game.  I also detested month-end when my secretary would send me email reminders about my expenses.  Begrudgingly, and always at the last minute, I would gather up receipts I stuffed, all wadded up, in my wallet.  I usually had to troll around asking co-workers for blank cab receipts so I could be reimbursed for my trips to and from O’Hare.

I hated that shit.

But, now I feel shame about how familiar my life is.  There are three places I eat: at home (standing up), at Wishbone Restaurant (because it’s exceedingly kid-friendly), and at the gym snack bar.  Jeff knows those places intimately.  Everything about me and my life is known to him.  And there’s no paper trail for my comings and goings, unless you count the trail of baby wipes and snotted-on tissues that fall out of my pockets.

I have the more familiar life, and I have made an uneasy peace with that.

In the face of Jeff’s expense report, however, I felt every inch of my unease.  It was like a layer just under my epidermis– it covered everything.

But that morning was different because I let that uneasy feeling be.  I didn’t try to fix it by brushing up my resume and pretending I would check Monster.com for jobs that “look interesting.”  I let myself feel the free-fall of dis-ease without trying to distract myself or beat it back with platitudes about motherhood or choices.

Later that night, in the dark stillness, I felt the unease settle next to me, as close as my pillow.

What do you want to say to me? I asked it.

In the silence I heard, “It’s ok to want more.  There is more.  For you.  But for now, sleep, because you need your rest where you are headed.”

Hooking up again with the writers at Yeah Write. If you are curious, hop along for the ride. It’s about community and writing and bath tub gin, but you don’t have to drink to get the buzz.


Two Poles: Ideal Christie and Real World Christie

There are at least 2 people competing inside me all the time: the Ideal Christie and Real-World Christie.  They represent two poles I bounce between as I navigate every single role in my life, including wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, customer, etc..  All that bouncing is hard on a woman; it makes me want a sports bra for my psyche.

I suspect that everyone confronts the battle of the ideal and the actual within themselves.

I have noticed that Ideal Christie is much more likely to show up if there is an audience (besides my children).

My Two Selves Apart, image courtesy of www.elfwood.com

My Two Selves Apart, image courtesy of http://www.elfwood.com

For example, Jeff just left on a golfing trip with his father and brother.  I am so proud of all three of the Ellis men for getting themselves to Oregon for a dream golf vacation.  Ideal Christie-Wife drives Jeff to the airport and sends supportive texts like “We’re doing great here– Enjoy that coastal sunset, OXOXO.”  She refuses to act put out or annoyed in front of others because she knows that Jeff deserves this joy in his life.


There is also Real World Christie-Wife, who is tempted to go all Joan-Of-Arc martyr-y about parenting solo for a few days.  You know, a few sighs as I reflect on my heroism and the 4 straight nights I will do the bedtime routine by myself.  (Again, still waiting for the Pulitzer Committee to include a parenting category.)  Real World Christie-Wife tallies how many days away he’s had versus how many days away I have had since our children were born.

And, the disparity between who I am and who I want to be is even worse with parenting.  God, these two poles conspire to drop ropes for me to hang myself all the time.  Ideal Christie-Mother isn’t some crazy bitch from Stepford with good housekeeping skills.  In fact, my aspirations don’t really extend to my physical space at all, because I am consumed with the emotional space.  My Ideal Christie-Mother is P-R-E-S-E-N-T emotionally to herself and her children; she is available for joy and connection.

I know it’s unrealistic to expect emotional presence all the time, but I still strive for it.  And I have moments, hours, and stretches of time where my head, heart and soul are present and joyful as I parent my children.

But in times of stress (say, dinner time or when Sadie crushes Graham crackers on Simon’s head right after I clean the floor), Ideal Christie-Mother can only show up if someone else is watching.  Like that time at the gym snack bar when Sadie threw her sippy cup across the room and my whole entire body was coiled for a red-hot reaction. My lips were forming the word, “SADIE!” and my lungs were preparing to bellow, but before I made a sound, I caught another mom watching us curiously.

Do you think I used my hot-headed at-home voice? Oh hell no I did not.  I paused and offered a gentler version of myself, one who knows a teachable moment when she sees it.  Ideal Christie-Mother emerged out of nowhere.   It was a virtuoso performance of mothering– it was art.  It was a lot of things, but it wasn’t my first reaction, and it would never have happened if that woman wasn’t sitting 10 yards away.

I don’t bring this up to hate on Real World Christie, because I love her humanness and her honesty and her frailties.  Good thing I do, because she’s here to stay.  I also love Ideal Christie, and I’m grateful she’s out there ahead of me as an aspiration.

I need them both.

This One’s For Outlaw Mama

Cue tears of longing

It had been a long time since I lost my shit on public transportation. But I had on my big sunglasses and decided that my train car was just full enough to give me the requisite dose of anonymity.

From behind my shades, I saw a group of teenaged boys passing around an iPod so each could take a turn listening to a song that made them smirk. I wondered if it was LMFAO.  A girl with a pierced nose saw me wipe away a runaway tear.

I didn’t care.

Once that first tear slid down my cheek, I knew I would cry all the way downtown– through all six train stops until I got where I was going.  I stood in the back of the very last car letting each bubble of grief rise up and spill out of me.

When the train stalled at the Chicago stop, I was crying hard enough to need to blow  my nose. “Atta girl, let it out.”  I was being so nice to myself, and it was making me cry even harder. As the train sputtered and lurched on its way out of the station, I softened my knees so my body could move easily with the jolts. I leaned in to each curve and bend.  The more I softened, the harder I cried.

I cried because I am stuck, and I am searching.  And, I haven’t found “it” yet– that place that’s my own.  The place where I don’t have to share one fucking thing.  With anyone.  My friends. My kids. My husband. You.  The place where I get to unpack my own toys and make my own mess.  The place where I get to truly exhale, unhook my bra and slouch while eating crunchy, fatty potato chips straight from the bag– pausing only to lick the cheesy, salty residue from my fingers. I am thinking Doritos.

The space is emotional. That’s obvious, right?

I am not searching for this just because I am a mother, though mothers do have a reputation for struggling to find “their own space.”  I am searching for this because it’s worth finding, and it so happens I also have children.

I am looking for the place where there is only me.  There’s no audience to woo, no followers to attract, no competition, no sisters, no parents, no kids, no therapists.  There is no relentless chasing– of Facebook or Twitter or Freshly Pressed or Huffington Post. There are no comments to monitor or to which I must respond.

There is no one to please, because it’s just me.  And I don’t have to please myself.  That’s the great thing about having a relationship with myself: I decided long ago I wasn’t going to bring my everyday bullshit into my relationship with myself.  Because the relationship has to be a refuge from all of that. Otherwise, why bother?

Some posts are for you.  Some are for laughs.  Some are for contests or attention.  Some are for the people I imagine never believed in me or hope I fail even a little bit.  Some are for my idealized version of myself.

And some posts are just for me.

This is one of those.