Too much hipster

Dear Austin ice cream shop,

I knew that you were going to be trouble. My husband overrode my vote for the soft-serve place, and so we arrived at your doors, at the far end of the hippest street in town. We had just finished kayaking on the lake, and so we arrived in our lame-parent uniform of khaki shorts and T-shirts. On top of it, the kayaking had left us with soggy bottoms.

We perused the menu. I chose the cake ice cream with white chocolate shell and hand-cut sprinkles. Those are the the only type of sprinkles I eat. The ice cream came from cows that did daily yoga and had access to a full range of spa treatments. Okay, okay, but I’m serious about the sprinkles. My ice cream cost the same as a full meal at my favorite hole-in-the-wall Thai place, the one with the non-ironic ’80s decor.

An employee poured some ingredients into a mixer on the counter, and clouds of liquid nitrogen swirled into the air. That is how we make ice cream in this very hip city. Soon, the employee passed a dish to me. The sprinkles were different lengths.

Seating was sparse, with stools that might actually have been pieces of modern art. Certainly, they were not meant to accommodate people who eat ice cream on a regular basis. We perched atop them. One tiny beaded vase holding one tiny succulent rested on the counter. In the corner, a typewriter awaited Millenial fingers with comments of praise.

A few other customers arrived, hunched over iPhones. The males sported the hipster hairstyle du jour — heavily slicked pompadours, accompanied by perfectly trimmed beards. My husband sported an edgier look: unkempt porcupine.

As I dug into my mediocre dessert, all I could think was: Why? Why does an ice cream shop have to try so hard? Why does Austin have to try so hard?

I want to embrace this city, but sometimes I can only roll my eyes.

Next time, twee ice cream shop, I’m getting my soft-serve.


Ending the mid-life crisis

I started volunteering at the hospital a few weeks ago. I started this job both to figure out whether I wanted to try nursing and to feel like I’m involved in the community. Friends, I am home all of the time. It’s hard to have interesting conversations with Greg and the kids because I see them so much. We need a little mystery, you know?

I volunteer one evening a week, and it is a thrill to come home afterward and not know what the kids ate for dinner or whether Eleanor practiced her spelling words. Never mind that I am spending my evening cleaning hospital rooms and sanitizing toys. When I came home after my first shift, I told Greg that I didn’t think I was going to become a nurse, and he gave me a look that can only be described as “Duh!”

That first shift, I wanted to gag when they trained me to clean hospital rooms. Also, it was humbling. A few months ago, I was interviewing doctors for a Washington Post piece, and now I was a janitor, stripping the sheets off of someone’s hospital bed. I have adjusted pretty quickly. I wear gloves and use a lot of sanitizer. Not my favorite part of the job, obviously. I am moving between three pediatrics units, and I can bring toys to the kids or help entertain healthy siblings. I haven’t done much of this yet because I am still learning my way around.

The janitorial work wasn’t the issue though. The reason I don’t see myself becoming a nurse (and the reason Greg gave me that look) is that I don’t think nursing jibes with my personality. I started keeping a journal when I was 8 years old and wrote in one almost daily through college. I have kept my nose stuffed into books since I was very young. The nurses and paramedics I have met have all been friendly and welcoming, but I still have the feeling that I am in a whole different world that doesn’t quite fit. I realize that with several years of school and training, I could make it fit, but I like my other world with all of the writers and readers.

One insight that I have gotten from the volunteering is that I really do want to return to an office job. Even if I am just a volunteer at the hospital, it is satisfying to feel like I am contributing to a bigger goal.

Yes, I did try to return to work last fall and then fell off the wagon and started freelancing again. I applied for at least 20 jobs then and only heard back about two of them, and those were the two where I knew someone at the company. It was mighty disheartening to write so many cover letters and send so many emails and never hear back. I’m right where I was a year ago, just once more around the sun. This time, I am planning to meet with a career coach. I don’t know whether I’m aiming too high or aiming too low or whether it really is impossible for a sort of stay-at-home-mom to get back into the work force.

A few months ago, I was out with a group of friends, mostly stay-at-home moms, and at the end of the night, one friend asked us what our dream jobs were. This is one of my favorite topics of conversation. I listened: teacher, social worker, teacher. Then it was my turn: writer for National Geographic. One of these things is not like the others. I was born with perhaps more ambition than is good for me, but I’m going to try to look at that as an advantage.

Realistically, I would like to get a job either writing or editing. I’m partial to science and health stories, but I have a lot of interests. I don’t know whether I can call the past five years a mid-life crisis. I just know that I finally have some sense of what I want, and I hope I can get on a path toward that goal.


I think grown-up could legitimately be turned into a verb because it is what I have been doing the past couple of weeks. We have let a lot of things slide during the past few months. Or perhaps the past few years. Our to-do list is out of hand.

We have had two doctor’s appointments a week for the past few weeks. We have established that Eleanor’s gluten-free diet is working. She has gained more weight in six months than she had in the past three years. She suddenly has an interest in running. And she gets herself up at the crack of dawn to get ready for school. Someone recently said to me “I’m sorry” when I told her about the diagnosis. Giving up gluten is a small trade-off for a healthy child. I can totally eat lentil pasta for 11 more years.

In other awesome news, Henry is no longer allergic to eggs. We have had waffles and brownies and all manner of goodies that had been failures without eggs. Next up is a test for a fire ant allergy because he had a strange reaction a couple of weeks ago. Also, I have to knock out a bunch of appointments for myself, including a visit to the optometrist because I can actually feel my vision getting worse. Also, everyone’s glasses continue to look increasingly 1980s, so I guess I will get a clunky new pair of frames even though I will regret this choice in 20 years when I look back at our family photos.

One of my friends who works full-time once asked me if being a stay-at-home mom was as much fun as it sounded. Was it all pedicures and fancy lunches while the kids were at school? Well, it is pretty darn glamorous. In the past week, we have replaced a broken part on our air-conditioner and had a leaking tire on my car fixed. We are also carpet shopping. And looking at having someone paint our dinged-up baseboards and trim, which should be done before we put in the carpet. We could do this ourselves, but given that we can’t even manage to replace the ceiling fan that broke a month ago, I’m planning to hire someone.

I think we have enough on the to-do list to keep me busy until Christmas. But maybe not because Henry finally returned to preschool yesterday! (I know this is Texas, but I promise we put shoes on him before we dropped him off.)