The Mom Purse

June 30, 2008

When I was little, it seemed like every mom had a “Mom Purse”. You know it – it’s larger than seems necessary, and full of random crap. The stuff of MacGyver’s dreams – a rubber band here, some toothpicks there, a little lotion, some tissues, a few bottles of pills (just in case). Oh, and of course the abundance of receipts and miscellaneous scraps of paper stuffed into (and falling out of) the checkbook. Change dancing around the bottom of the bag.

Addicted to organizing as I am, I never thought I would have one of these clutter-traps. Turns out I was wrong. I think it’s a rite of passage – once you get your “Mom Purse” you’re officially an adult. I just discovered I have one. Complete randomness and chaos took over the second I bought one of those oversized bags. It’s sad, really…but also allows me many opportunities for reorganizing, which is fun…so maybe not all bad. Am I alone in the battle of the bag? Do you have a “Mom Purse”, and are you willing to admit it? What’s the strangest thing you’ve found in there?



Obama to a Two Year Old

June 30, 2008

Obama in the ParkSaturday, we scarfed some free food at the little hut of Obama followers signing up volunteers.

I was a bit surprised by the overwhelming majority of older white folk…

Still, we got free stickers, cookies, and watermelon, and to my toddler, that was great.

But trying to explain what was going on was hard.

It kind of went like this:

I show her the word on the sticker. “Obama.”

Yes, he’s a man who wants to be president. Of our country.
Our country?
Yes, the country we live in.
We live in?

Later, she points at the sticker again: What is it?
Yes. He will maybe be president. He will try.
Yes, in charge. We will all vote – choose – who gets to be in charge of our country.

Later, again pointing to the sticker: Obana? He maybe pee in potty?

I can see the headlines now…Of course, her big thing right now is trying to pee in the potty. It’s the greatest achievement she can imagine.

Burning Man…Avec Toddler

June 30, 2008

I love that this parent took his kid to the Burning Man festival – nice to know there are models of parenthood that involve adventure and art and wildness, not just “Mom jeans” and playgroups.

I do want to complain that, much as part of me would love to go to this festival, I don’t get why it has to be a burning “man” – and since I failed in my attempts to become a hippie, I have a feeling I really wouldn’t fit in.

I also really like clean toilets.

Women’s Work Revisited

June 30, 2008

A friend of mine wrote:

“It’s so incredible what women do.  I find it metaphorically resonant that a pregnant woman looks like she’s just sitting on the couch, but she’s actually exhausting herself constructing a human being.  The laborious process of growing a human is analogous to how women’s work is seen”  (Ani Difranco from May/June Mothering mag).

Add to this idea:  A woman who looks like she is just taking the kids for a walk, just nursing the baby, just giving her child a snack – is exhausting herself creating and nurturing human beings.  How important!

And also, I don’t think of myself as a poor-me feminist, but I do agree that women’s work (in all spheres/settings: factories, fields, offices, homes) is a giant engine that is quietly turning the world, just like a pregnant mama is quietly churning a babe. Isn’t this interesting?  Why are women so humble about their achievements?

So often I find myself talking down my mother-work, speaking about my being with my children – feeding, instructing, playing with, etc. – either by

a) Not even mentioning these things in conversation, because it would seem akin to brushing my teeth – as in, “What did you do today?” “Oh, I brushed my teeth.”

b) Prefacing with “I was only” as if these things aren’t enough – though nursing a baby, for instance, is exhausting and time-consuming and requires attention – I may multitask – but that’s me being crazy – if I didn’t walk the dog/clean/type/read/read aloud while nursing, I wouldn’t be lazy

A Taoist Approach to Parenting

June 25, 2008

Things get hard when I fight them.

I just want to get past them. I don’t want them to exist. I hate them.

All of these approaches turn tasks into boulders, thick and heavy and impossible, as I try to shove them out of the way.

While this post sat here, I read this:

Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, says that stress can be defined as wanting the present moment to be different than it is. Dr. Dr. David Simon, co-director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Southern California, agrees. He says that stress is caused by anything getting in the way of our desires.

It’s especially hard, I find, when the Things in the Way are human beings – and when these human beings happen to be my beloved children.

Nothing gets me more frustrated than trying to get my two -year-old to do something she doesn’t want to do, like put her shoes on, pick up trash, eat, follow me up a hill – oh, it could be anything. We can’t tell if she is by nature a contrarian, or if it’s just her age (both her father and I tend to be stubbornly contrary, so if in her nature, would not be surprising) – but it is SO annoying. And it’s annoying because I face the tasks of Cleaning Up, Getting From Point A to B, Leaving the House, etc., – transition tasks – boring tasks – as themselves Pains in the Ass.

(Of course, I can hear that freaking Spoonful of Sugar whirring in the background, and it d o e s  n o t  h e l p.)

Fighting a toddler is like shoving your shoulder against a giant rock. It doesn’t work. It gets harder the more you push. I get angrier the harder it gets. I don’t want to have to work with her. I don’t want to have to –

– wait, who is sounding like a toddler now!!???

So, if taking a Taoist/Buddhist approach to these tasks that I am currently fighting so much, I think the antidote is the following:

1) Stop trying, pushing, forcing. If I think about it, toddler tends to willingly join in when I am going about my business. It may be that I need to let her join in – and let her opt out, and not stress about whether or not she is ‘doing her duty’ and if I’m ‘tough enough.’ It may also be that the alternatives to her cooperating will have to involve me waiting – doing something on my own, perhaps, but waiting.

As in, “You need to pick up your trash. I am going to go write on the computer. When you have picked up your trash, we can eat cookies and play games together.” If she dawdles, instead of yelling/steaming/boiling/pickling with frustration, I will happily be writing – and maybe she’ll do it. I mean, it may take time, but… fighting her does nothing.

2) Slow down, breathe. In order to do this, I need, for right now, to throw schedules and being on time out the window. Not always practical, but it will have to do for now. Build in extra time for everything. Go slowly. Take my time.

3) Give up the expectation and desire for total control. This may sound an awful parenting strategy, but I don’t mean it like I’m going to stop discipline or expectations. I mean that, I am not living alone. I live with a partner and an animal and children, and I can’t control them all the time. I can’t do things at my own pace. I can’t do things at will. Neither can they. It’s like driving in traffic. Everyone has to compromise and follow some agreed-upon rules so that we don’t crash into each other while doing our own thing.

Actually, the Tao te Ching makes an interesting parenting manual. I must revisit…

Bearing without possessing,
Nurturing without taming,
Shaping without forcing,
This is harmony.

Take a Break

June 23, 2008

What if I took a break this year?

Took a break – broke myself of the habit of – broke out – for a whole year – of needing to achieve something?

What if I took a break from guilt?

What if I broke myself of the need to accomplish anything this year?

What if I just enjoyed myself, took pleasure in my life, relaxed in the moment, relished my children and relationships, didn’t face each day with the burden of needing to do something Big, feeling bitter and guilty by the end of the day that I had done nothing worthy?

See, especially as I approached my birthday this year, I’ve been struggling hard with the sense that my life is going by so fast and I’m doing nothing with it, and I’d better finish those manuscripts and get published and do some art and focus so I can finish projects to have Something to Show for Myself, some evidence of adequacy, some great career or good work begun that will use all my skills and maximize my talents and give back and balance out my negative footprints and contribute something to the greater good and fulfill all my promise…

Everyday I am mentally straining against the thick heaving tide of life to Do Something. It’s extremely tiring.

What if I just gave up?

What sweet relief – how decadent and indulgent and selfish but oh, what a delicious prospect. What if I just gave myself one year to live happily, without needing Make the Most of It?

Somehow, I feel that following my bliss, indulging in what pleases me, will somehow make me more productive in the long run. And there’s something very Taoist about not trying to do things (wu wei) that adds some principled morality to the idea.

But would it be a cop out? Would I be lazy, lacking ambition and follow through? Would it mean a wasted year? Is this an excuse to not believe enough in myself to work hard to achieve things?

Could I do it? Give myself permission to just raise my kids and do my work and love my husband and weed the garden and read books and watch movies and swim in the sunshine and be myself?


June 19, 2008

“WHY do you always have to learn everything the HARD way instead of LISTENING to others? WHY do you have to do it yourself?”

My mother was ANGRY.

So was I. But she was completely right: My life is a study in DIY/LFE – Learning from Experience vs. Learning from Elders.

My 60s-bred dad taught me to Question Authority.

I tend to Question Everything.

Case in point: Thimbles. They exist for a reason. I discovered this, not by trusting the wisdom of the ages and wearing one before embarking on a sewing project that involved thick brocade, but by going footloose and thumb free.

I ended up with a broken piece of needle imbedded beneath my thumbnail. I ended up in the dr office for an extraction that ouch, yuck, ai yi yi, ooh, will cause me to testify to the masses: YES, thimbles, use them! I heartily advocate thimbles! I’m a thimble fan!

Meanwhile, my mother rolls her eyes in exasperation. “DUH,” she would say, if she were me.

Now, this is just one example of me just foregoing the Usual Procedures of Things, ignoring Conventional Wisdom, because I don’t see the obvious need. I’m suspicious that society has unnecessary habits. I get annoyed when people follow the rules blindly without understanding why…

Other instances involve not wearing underwear, not checking the oil in my car, art projects (some successful, some not), and other large-life things where my attitude was, Heck, I can do this my way; it can’t be that hard; why not?

This attitude is exactly what makes me excellent at analyzing processes at work and streamlining them – finding better, faster, quicker ways to do a job, because I question the current procedure in ways others just wouldn’t, because they go along with This is The Way It’s Done and Always Has Been Done. I have been valued for this capacity for critical judgment. I honed it doing critical theory papers in college and grad school.

What hurt when my mother yelled at me was that I don’t do this on purpose – it’s like there’s some instinctual Try it Yourself and Prove it Right/Wrong instinct in me that sends me riding bareback over the plains of experience – sometimes toward disaster; sometimes toward brilliance.

Of course, for my mother, her role is to protect me – not to let me test the Fire is Hot and Burns rule by searing my flesh over the stove, but to teach me to listen and to trust her to avoid that kind of pain. Obviously, somewhere along the line, as happens with all kids, I think, I discovered that one of mother’s rules or laws wasn’t as true as she had advertised.

So then I had to question everything she said.

Some things were very true. Some not. And how else to know but to test them? Good old trial and error?

But of course, this can take a lot more time and pain that necessary. We read history in order not to repeat it.

So when exactly should I test authority, and when should I trust it?

How do I decide and discern?