Mom vs. Mom

August 3, 2011

It goes something like this:

I need to go to sleep so we can wake up early and get to the doctor.

— No, I don’t WANT to go to sleep… the kids are sleeping, the house is QUIET, I want to goof off.

You’ll regret it when you wake up cranky and eye-baggy. You’ll feel lousy. Grow up, lady. You’re a mother.

— O pickles, just let me have a night to watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report, eat provolone slices and drink crappy wine.

I’m just sayin… you won’t like it in a few hours…

 

this is the Me vs. Me debate that often happens when the night is late and quite. I did the dishes. I even swept the floor, made my lunch. I wrote a poem. It’s past my bedtime. But I don’t want to lose this precious time to myself. I can barely keep my eyes open, and still, I’m just like my kids, crying I’M NOT TIRED!!!

I will totally regret it in the morning, but I love these nights.

Will I ever REALLY grow up?


Cross-Posting: Healthy Mind Platter

July 24, 2011

It seems like a good idea, but I can’t imagine trying to get all this scheduled in – still, I love the organization of it!

By “it” I’m talking about Dan Siegel’s “Healthy Mind Platter,” which I wrote about in my other blog. 

Let me know if it makes sense to you!


3 Parenting Classes We Never Got – But Need

July 22, 2011

Listen up, you local hubs of educational offerings – like UVA Health System, you offer some really necessary basics, and we’re grateful for them. Yep. And they stand us in good stead during those first few months of pooping, breastfeeding, bathing that runs us through the ringer of our own mental fortitude harder than a drill sergeant in one of those Vietnam movies.

But then the kids graduate, the classes for parents disappear – now all you can find are ballet, soccer, karate for the kids – and your brain, while not taxed to the maximum of human endurance, now faces ever increasingly mind-boggling strains of the psyche for which this parent at least feels utterly unprepared.

We need some Continuing Ed, people!

Here are my suggestions.

1. Scientific Answers and Cop-Outs

Okay, I somehow swam my way through advanced chemistry and physics in high school, and I doggy-paddled to some As in college biology. Still, my five-year-old daughter manages to come up with some questions that stop me in whatever tracks I thought I was making away from having to recall any of that stuff.

I can handle the philosophical whys, because the answers are themselves questions. I can handle rhyming games. And, English major that I was, I enjoy the word-origin queries – “Why is it called a Kitchen? Why is a seal called a seal?” and the abstract concept confusions – “But what is lying?” These are challenges I am happy to meet. That’s why I studied English. You could find the answer in a dictionary or make up a theory. I got that part nailed.

But the bulk of the questions fall into the category of Things I Should Know Because Didn’t I Learn Them in Earth Science 101? And they come. Incessantly.

Today:

Before dinner: “Why is part of the air conditioner outside?”

At the dinner table: “Why do we put things in refrigerators? But what does a bacteria do? Why are some good and some bad? Are they in the air?”

And, right after lights out: “So many animals have black stripes. But why?”

I don’t know. It seems like I should know, but I really really don’t. I’m making dinner, I’m trying to keep the three-year-old from somehow getting all of his dinner on the floor and not his mouth, I’m hoping they’ll fall asleep – I don’t know why the air conditioner is halfway out the window. I start to explain as if I DO know, and it becomes incredibly obvious I haven’t a clue.

“Well, you know, it brings in air and cools it” – and then is there too much air in the house? “or does it pull out the hot air?” – seems too old to do all that – “well, it pulls it out and puts it in – ” I’m scrambling – “so it sticks out.”

Bacteria? I try to steer the convo to a rationale for why she shouldn’t suck her toes. Yes, she needs one. But it just brings on more questions. I go to Wikipedia for a quick fix of facts. Good god, the explanation is complicated. I don’t have time for all this chemical crap and canoodly language. Do bacteria eat stuff the way worms do? Is that how they make things rot or curdle? Just tell me so I can satisfy the kid and finish my beans!

Scientists don’t excel at really getting to the nitty-gritty, concrete, obvious terms and analogies to help a parent like myself offer a kid like my daughter something that is both basically true and equally simple to grasp. Give us a class! Or at least a support group.

2. First Aid 101

No, I don’t mean Red Cross certification. I’m talking about your kid gets a cut on his or her face and you call the doctor and he asks you to examine the wound.

“How deep is it?” he asks. I dunno.

“Is there a separation in the tissue?” Huh?

“blah blah blah compression blah flap of skin poodle poo can help you determine whether or not to go to the ER.”

Huh? I have to know what kind of cut looks like it needs stitches? How the hell do I know? I grew up in the land of the 70s. We didn’t have helmets when we rode our bikes, seat belts in the backseat of the car, organic food, and we certainly didn’t go to the ER when we got gashes, sun burns, what have you. We just scarred and waited for the skin cancer.

So I need a class in how to talk to my pediatrician on the phone, what to look for in my kids’ symptoms, how to know if the thermometer isn’t working, whether you’re supposed to use a bandaid or not, what constitutes throw-up vs. regurgitation, etc. Basic stuff that some people learned and the rest of us didn’t but are expected to know, obviously, because there are no remedial classes around to take.

Subjects to be covered also include:

  • A little rehash of germ theory wouldn’t be hurtful. For instance, when my first baby peed in the bathtub at 9 months, I freaked: Evacuate? Restart? Let it go? No clue.
  • Temperatures: How to take them, read them, and what they should be (so I get confused sometimes)
  •  How to read OTC medications – Do I want the kid to suppress the coughs or express them?
  • Is the little proverb “starve a fever, feed a cold” true or a myth?
  • Cutting toddler nails and hair 101

3. What Can I Get Away With?

Other possible titles: How Bad Am I? or How Much Will Therapy Cost? or Grab Bag Miscellany

So this sounds bad, but seriously, there are some legal and psychological mysteries hanging around out there that I think all parents should have a clue about, like:

Is it allowable to leave your kids in the car while you run into 7-11 for a soda? (Answer: No.)

I accidentally swore in front of my kids. Am I going to hell?

Are five year olds really preteens?

Is two really terrible? Because it looks pretty good now that we’re in three.

How long can they go without a bath and still be considered civilized?

Do they always need underwear?

What’s the appropriate etiquette in a restaurant when your two year old poops in the aisle in plain view of all the dining customers?

Do you give a child a time out for drawing on her arms a tattoo – when I have a tattoo, a real one?

How much TV will scar them – really?

How long can I let my kid suck her thumb? Her pacifier? Her feet?

Please let me push them in the grocery cart, even though it says they’re too heavy?

Is it ok I can’t answer all her questions?

Are they screwed because they get chicken nuggets (vegetarian at least) at least once a week because I’m a single parent and I’m tired?

Will they ever sleep?

Will I ever sleep?

Alone?

Will they ever wipe their own butts?

Will they ever eat healthy meals?

 

So, those are the three I need. Any others I should add to the wish list?


The Gender Thing

July 19, 2011
My son in a dress

My son in a fancy dress

As those of us who waste time at work reading media headlines know, the issue of little boys playing with girl stuff has gotten a lot of panties wadded around a lot of conservative ankles recently. There was the ad with the boy getting his nails painted, the kid dressed as a girl for Halloween…

…and, simultaneously, there was my then-two-year-old son donning his older sister’s dress to preschool, pretending to walk in my shoes with his heels up, and getting deemed a girl by passersby because of his flouncy golden curls. Even today, at 3 1/2, Sam sometimes goes for days being a fairy princess named Chana, arguing with his sister that he IS a girl and DOES have the necessary equipment, and speaking in a high-pitched voice.

But is he a cross-dresser or gender-confused?

No. He’s THREE. He also tells us that he’s four, lives in an imaginary office where he has five daughters, shoots imaginary rainbow pellets with anything long enough to work as a gun, and believes he can fly.

He also pretty much adheres to a standard of saying the opposite of whatever his sister says. So, if she says it’s cold, he says it’s hot; if she says he’s a boy, he claims otherwise. (And she gets annoyed. It’s so predictable.)

What gets hard is all these voices out there, around us, telling Sam what he can and can’t be, in ways you wouldn’t, these days with a girl.

No one ever told Josephine that she needed to:

– Wear a dress

– Only wear pink

– Not play with balls or cars

– not pretend to be a boy supercharacter

And if anyone had, I would have hit them (like a boy?). But no one would; we all know better. Yet frequently, caregivers and others tell Sam – in my presence – :

– Boys don’t wear dresses!

– You don’t need a headband

– Be a big boy, don’t cry

– You’re a boy, you can’t be Supergirl

– You don’t want to play that, you’re a boy

– He needs more boy things

– he’s  a mama’s boy

There’s this huge concern that somehow, if he puts on a skirt or plays with Jo’s pony dolls or cries or prefers fancy clothes that there’s this huge, pending danger that he’ll end up – oh my gosh, as a girl, or gay. That if we don’t beat in enough Boyness now, he’ll be lost to that gray land of indeterminate identity…

…and what? He’ll actually know how to do laundry? He won’t beat his girlfriend? He’ll have healthy emotional expression? He’ll know how to trust people? He’ll be a fun dresser?

It distresses me how ANXIOUS people get about this.

Now, I didn’t really have a tomboy in Josephine; she has definitely been a girly-girl. But she does love to climb trees, kick balls, see fire engines, play rough and dirty with dogs, have adventures – she and Sam both. No one is worried about her not being girl enough.

I look around at most of the men I know who are my age, and I feel a great deal of pity for how many of them are so emotionally retarded, expressively restricted, psychologically bound up. Males in our society are offered such a limited range of identity – their clothes are standard-issue bland, their demeanor can range from tough to tough & quiet, their hair can be short and maybe a little shaggy, etc. And when they skew even slightly off this teeny band of Normal, they risk getting harassed, called names, beaten up, discriminated against, worse.

As I’ve often thought, feminists have only done half the work by trying to get women outside the strict boundaries of cultural gender biases. If we don’t get guys, starting when they are little boys, accepting themselves as whole people, developing their whole selves, we’re going to have an unequal society still, perpetuating this notion that women are civilized and men are not. Which is actually a very old notion. And doesn’t hold men accountable for much.

In an age when we need role models of every kind…

… well, I just beg you: Let my son wear a dress. Let your son try nailpolish. Let your kids cry. Let your children explore what it means to be human, whatever that means. And breathe. They’ll be okay – they’ll be even better than okay, if you just let them be who they are.


Be Yourself: Kid-Advice That’s Good for Moms, Too

July 7, 2011

Playing with my daughter

Something happened to me when I had a baby.

And I don’t just mean my body turned into a bloated pickle, though that happened, too.

Another transformation began, out of my desire to Do Well and Be Good for my child. I went from being “Amy” to “Mama” – I became “a mom.” A Mom. Not myself.

Mom: A role I was playing without any rehearsal, an archetype I was enacting without any experience.

My little girl tottering in my heels – me teetering in mom shoes.

Of course, you have a baby, you stop certain things, like swearing; and you start other things, like caring about nutritional values and safety ratings. Your goals shift from enjoying yourself and achieving personal aspirations to keeping this little needy little human from getting run over or choking on a safety pin. The years blur.

And then, several years into Motherhood, you realize you’re trying really hard to be This Person, this Mother, and you’re failing, desperately, and the reason you’re constantly stricken with bouts of inadequacy is because you’re striving to be something that you’re not.

Contemplating this recently, I asked myself: What would it be like if I gave up trying to be A Mother, and instead was just me, myself, Amy again? Amy, who is a mother, but who is – still! – Amy. Me.

I’m not sure if it was the kava-kava tea or not, but relief flooded my veins, just at the thought.

In my meditation practice, I’ve been learning to be true to myself, to find my authentic self. But I noticed when it came to mothering my kids, I felt this requirement to listen, not to my own needs, instincts, and preferences, but to some strange idea of Perfect Parentness.

Included in this was:

– trying to get the kids to behave properly at all times

– ignoring my own feelings

– behaving like a drill sergeant

The real Amy:

– sings incidental songs

– is playful and flexible, but definitely not perfect

– has feelings and needs

Of course, there are things that go against my original self that I still try to do – creating/adhering to routines, eating regular and robust meals, being on time to things.

But I think being honest about these challenges – to myself, and even somewhat to my kids, is more helpful than my attempt to just make them happen, forcing myself along with my kids.

Being a single mother is harder than anything I’ve ever done. It frays my nerves, it strains my heart, it kicks my ass on a regular and nonstop basis.

But I think remembering myself in it and through it, being myself and being present, I can draw on my strengths and be honest about my weaknesses and survive with an adequate amount of humor and grace. Trying to be A Mother is just pure exhaustion and totally unachievable. Trying to be myself is both a help and a hope. It’s a lot more fun. And being a mother is more fun, too.


Good With Kids

June 19, 2011

Thought struck me yesterday, as I was analyzing the state of my Motherhood at the moment. Admittedly, I’ve been exhausted. I don’t feel like I’ve been a whole heck of a lot of fun.

Sometimes parenting when you also work full time feels like the army, and I’m the reluctant drill sargeant: Brush those teeth! Wash that face! Eat those greens! Do ten on the floor if you mouth off!

Last week I went with my daughter on a field trip, held her hand and sang funny songs and talked to all the kids. I was entertaining. I made them laugh and feel special. I’m good at that. I’m “good with kids.”

I normally don’t have the energy or drive to joke, sing, tell funny stories with my kids on a daily basis. No doubt I’ve had my Julie Andrews moments…

But you know, kids might adore their parent for being funny. But being a parent isn’t about performing. Being ‘good with kids’ isn’t about making animal balloons, doing magic tricks – on the field trip, the enthusiastic police officer interrupted the tour of the station to open up his tackle box and do some slight of hand tricks.

Someone had decided that his magic show abilities -and how loud he talked – made him good with children.

But I noticed that he rarely listened to them. He didn’t inspire dialogue. He was proud, I guessed, of how loudly and slowly he could talk about what it’s like to be a police officer, but he didn’t connect. He was giving a presentation. And it really held very little meaning or impact for the children.

Being able to listen to a child – I think that is the skill that makes you good with kids. They can turn on the TV or go to the police station, apparently, for entertainment. What they need from me, from you, from the rest of us – is the chance to ask questions, to design ideas, to share feelings, to tell their own stories and dreams. They need to be heard, they need our undivided attention.

“Children should be seen and not heard.” What kind of idea is that? I am not at all advocating for pure child-centered or child-led child-rearing – kids need to listen, too.

But where are they going to learn how to listen?

From you – listening to them.

 


Body Image: Thinking from the Inside Out

June 17, 2011

Close your eyes.

(I just realized, if you close your eyes, you won’t be able to read this post. So – metaphorically speaking, close your eyes. It’s an exercise. )

Envision your body, just as it is – pear shaped, apple shaped, kumquat shaped, mashed banana shaped – whatever it is, the thick thighs and the deflated boobs (that’s me, by the way) – see your body, flaws, muscles, poofs, pudges, dimples, spots, inflammations, bulges, creases, bloats.

Now step into an alternate reality with me and imagine that your body – just as it is – is the ideal form for a woman.

All the magazines suddenly feature models with your breast-to-hip ratio; all the celebrities get their bodies done to have their thighs match the width of yours; and when you walk by the male construction crew, they all nod and whistle and say, “Lookin good, lady.”

Imagine that you do look good. Right now. Just as you are. Just how you are supposed to.

Imagine that your body is perfect, just the way it is. (Now you can close your eyes, stop reading for a second, and see if you can give yourself this mind trip. It really is a trip. A kind of vacation away from the normal ideas you take for granted as factual.)

Now, I’m not addressing here whether my body or your body is in “healthy shape” or not. I know some of you reading this will start protesting with me that you don’t care about looking good, just being healthy, and that the fat or lack of muscle or whatever you know to be wrong with you really is a problem or flaw that needs to be fixed.

I’m not going to argue with you. (Nice of me, huh?)

I just want to ask you to try the mental experiment. Just for today, remove the concept that is corseted around most of our brains that there is something wrong with our bodies if they don’t manifest certain features – minimal fatty tissue, proportions that emphasize our busts, muscle tone that doesn’t admit to any aging. Play Bruno Mars in your head – he’s serenading you – you are amazing, just the way you are.

Try it.

What does it feel like?

For me: Relief.

Relaxation.

Deep breaths.

I’m interested in the body image as an idea that I know I have ingrained in me as a Fact of Life – my breasts are too small, my tummy is too big, my jaw pokes out too much, my eyes are squinty and increasingly surrounded by undesirable puffs of skin.

I might rationally ‘know’ that I’m supposed to not have a negative body image; I’m a lesbian-feminist, for goodness’ sake, with a daughter to whom I want to present the most positive endorsement of female physicality possible. I abhor the sexual objectification of women; I try to stay aware of how I’ve internalized ideas of the ‘right’ way for a body to look.

But I’m a product of this society, and ideas slip under the door of our consciousness all the time.

So, take away the idea your body is wrong – looking at your body from the outside – what does it feel like from the inside? What feels strong, what feels pained, what feels comfortable? Can you construct an image of yourself from the inside out?

This is not happy therapy talk; I’m not encouraging you to love your flaws.

I’m asking you to stop thinking about your body as a separate thing, like a car, that needs to be fixed.

What is your relationship to your body? Do you think of yourself as being in – even stuck in – it, like it’s a jar?

As I try to understand myself as not in my body but as my body – I am my body – any idea of making it being wrong – any part of it being shaped “wrong” – is ridiculous, irrelevant. That would be like a tree wanting to bulk up or slim down, a pig feeling her figure needs to be an hourglass – well, it would seem silly, no? Why? Because they are the shape they are supposed to be, right? Can you apply that logic to yourself?

I have heard people say, have said myself, when disappointed or disgusted with my body – “I just can’t live with myself.”

Well, goodness, how can you live with yourself if you believe that yourself is somehow not okay?

It strikes me that our society benefits from this divide and conquer strategy – dividing us within ourselves, so that we are never comfortable or okay with what we look like. What a transformed world it would be, here in consumer-materialistic land, if we weren’t spending our money and time on endlessly adjusting our appearances…

Try it, for one day at least. Feel your body, yourself, from the inside out – remove the good/bad comparison with the manufactured ideal, and see how you feel. You are perfect. Just the way you are. Try it on. How does it feel?


The Dinner Drill

July 14, 2010

I’ve never been a cook. I don’t have the gene that causes a person to derive pleasure from constructing a meal and watching people’s pleasure as they scarf it. I love to eat, and I can find ways to enjoy meal – making – but really – alien territory for me, mostly.

(Just ask the people who have had to eat my bizarre food combinations.)

Anyway, as a single working mother, I have to make dinner every single night – for two picky children, and sometimes for adults who require more sophisticated creations. Yikes.

One of my favorite ways to deal with this daily challenge is as pictured – my fresh fruit and veggies with hummus and cheese plate, easily turned into a ridiculous happy face, easily put together, and easily ramped up into something more spectacular. (I would assume.)

Make Me Dinner!
I will never forget the radio story I heard on NPR about the place in Spain where mamas whose children have left the nest but who want to cook big, traditional meals have formed an online service where young professionals who don’t have time to cook can order this home-cooked food – even form a steady relationship with a local mother.

Collective Solution
Wouldn’t that be fantastic? I would like to see more collective-type enterprises like this start up in Cville. I’m thrilled with the new local Retail Relay service – that’s the right idea – a grocery delivery service that shops at a variety of local stores and CSAs.  Sure, Cville has a bunch of stay-at-home moms and those who can afford help, but there’s a lot of working parents, too.

Toy shares, toy exchanges, CSAs… all heading in the right direction. I don’t think the barter thing took off… but I like the idea…

The only problem: I don’t know that I have either time or money to put in the pot. Unless you can somehow quantify my children – certainly their health and wellbeing is worth something to the larger society?

Thoughts, ideas?


What Twilight Tells Us (maybe)

July 14, 2010

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to on long commutes is Mark Kermode’s film reviews from Britain’s Five Live radio broadcast. He’s frumpy and funny and insightful, and complimented well by his sidekick, Simon. I don’t watch movies these days – too busy – but I can certainly listen to these reviews, which are entertaining, whether the movie was great or rubbish.

So, Kermode liked the latest installment of the Twilight series. Unlike some other haughty reviewers, he views Bella’s decision about which guy to go with – werewolf or vampire – not as just a whiny Which Boy to Date melodrama, but as representing her choice about who she is and who she wants to be, what world she belongs to – a deeper question of identity.

I have not seen any of these movies, nor have I read the books.

But this comment struck me, twice:

  1. First, I thought, How Refreshing, not only that the movie actually is more than just about superficial teen attraction, but that this very opinionated guy recognized that, beneath the hype and the hot film stars. Yay for feminism, I thought. Too quickly.
  2. Second, I thought, Yes, but would this story line work in reverse? Would there be a boy choosing which girl to date in the same emotional mood?

That is, why is a girl choosing her life path having to do so through the catalyst of a male/relationship, while a guy would be choosing – what – an action? Which adventure? Why does romance represent the most significant choice a woman makes?

Yeah. Boo, feminism.

I’m glad there’s movies demystifying the male aesthetic, but I want more. I want a teenage boy to get a makeover. I want a teenage boy to weep over his divided heart, and the choices that will have ramifications the rest of his life. I want men to suffer from relationship choices as much as women do. In the movies. In real life.

Do women still see the arc of their lives in terms of love and marriage? Despite all the careerists and working women and all the rest?

Do girls emphasize relationships at the exclusion of their spiritual, financial, and other considerations?

I think – yes. We have only to see the movie to know this – art is imitating life, and life is still true to the usual form. The power balance in relationships remains tilted towards dudes. It’s women and girls who get date raped, who get killed by angry boyfriends or pissed husbands. It’s the female of the species who carries the child to term – or not. It’s the woman who gets paid less for the same work. It’s women who have to contend with stereotypes and malignant assertions if they act at all uncouth, willful, strong, aggressive, and fail to procreate, settle down, domesticate, and send greeting cards.

Men get to be vampires and werewolves – hungry, hunting creatures whose animal instincts drive them and excuse them for their rash and often childish behavior.

Men get off easily (pun intended).

Women are left to choose between them. Or, failing that, to not choose men at all, and live with derisive labels. Or suffer their anger at her rejection.

Are there movies I’m missing?

Am I too callous and cranky?

Let me know. Also, I do want to see the movies. I love vampires and romantic triangles. They get me every time…


The Woes of Finding a Job

June 28, 2010

It’s getting ridiculous.

How many resumes have I sent?

How many interviews have I been on?

I’m not sure I can even tabulate.

I feel like I should somehow be exploiting this miserable process – a reality show?

A sponsorship? Kind of like one of those fundraising walks – you know, five bucks for every resume I submit, ten for every cover letter, and fifteen for every phone interview… Maybe it won’t help cancer, but it will keep me funded for all the coffee drinks I seem to need to fuel me through this ego-busting experience…

The problem is, when it’s been going on this long, finding a job starts to feel like a job, and you don’t really want to actually get one. Well, of course you want to get one, but part of you feels like you’re maybe getting used to the panty hose and the questions about your greatest weaknesses.

I think that even tripped me up a little on my latest interview.

The question came – What would your current employer say is your biggest weakness?

To which I used to kind of say something vague like “Oh, that I work too hard, that I’m a perfectionist.” I actually am a perfectionist, but I don’t know that any of my supervisors would complain about that. I don’t really know what they would complain about, and that question is so darn tricky. Who wants to talk about weaknesses to a possible employer?

I’ve been doing this so much, I actually was bubbly and enthusiastic about my faults, and I think it did me in.

The main hindrances to me finding work include –

  • the economy
  • my main job skills are extremely niche – web writing and strategy positions do not abound
  • the jobs that do exist in my general area of expertise tend to not pay enough to make it worth it
  • I’m overqualified for the jobs that are available – people are reluctant to hire me to be an admin assistant because they probably worry I’ll leave as soon as something better comes along, or won’t be happy enough to be productive
  • I’m pretty sure there’s a voodoo doll with my name on it somewhere

Okay, maybe not the last one, though sometimes it feels like there are forces at work that have nothing to do with the quality of my cover letter or the abundance of my experience. People have friends. Personalities have preferences.

I haven’t had the worst of it. If I’ve sent out fifty resumes, I have heard of professionals having sent out a hundred. If I’ve been looking for three months, I’ve heard of people unemployed for over a year.

To all you out there hitting the pavement – good luck and keep your teeth clean.

To all of you with jobs you hate – be grateful – at least you do not have to talk about your weaknesses to total strangers while sweating in your possibly running pantyhose while your bank account bleeds…