Archive for the ‘Being Bad’ Category

Peace In A Dyson

June 15, 2009

I vacuumed.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I vacuumed.

We knew last night that something wasn’t quite right about the bug bite on the side of Emilia’s face. It was a little swollen, a little bruised. We debated what to do. It was late, the clinics and pharmacies were closed, and it didn’t look that bad. A bad allergic reaction would be pretty immediate, right? It wouldn’t be a slow swell, right? I wrung my hands and worried; my husband soothed: we’ll check on her in the night. We don’t know that it’s an allergic reaction. We’ll check; she’ll be fine.

We didn’t check.

When my husband went to rouse her this morning, he found a nearly unrecognizable child, a wee thing with a swollen and misshapen face, her cheek and neck grotesquely bloated, her right eye a purple, bulbous slit. My heart stopped.

And then – while my husband gathered clothes and prepared to hustle us all out the door to the hospital – I vacuumed.

I told myself, the floor is dirty and that’s just not helping things. The floor is dirty and it should be cleaned. Somebody needs to do this. Somebody needs to be on top of these things. Somebody needs to pay attention to these things. I told myself, the floor is dirty, it’s dirty, just do this, now.

Because the floor was dirty. But more because I couldn’t look at Emilia without my heart stopping, because I couldn’t speak without berating myself, without berating us, for not getting help for her last night, because I all could do was do something, anything, that felt like it might make some minute bit of difference in the universe. Because my little girl was sitting there, clutching her Toady, whimpering a little, asking why is my eye shut, Mommy? and because I knew that if I hugged her again, I would cry.

And I didn’t want to cry. So I vacuumed. And now my floor is clean.

But my cheeks are still streaked with tears.

———

Emilia is going to be okay. She had a bad allergic reaction to a bug bite, and the good news is that antihistamines are bringing down the swelling and returning her poor face and neck to normal. The bad news is, we don’t know what bit her, and so we don’t know what she’s allergic to.


And no, I didn’t take a picture. I thought about it, once I’d calmed down enough to stop vacuuming. But I didn’t. I don’t want to remember it. It was horrible. She looked horrible. I’m still sorting through my feelings about that – my heartbreak not only at her pain, but at the fact that her outer beauty had been so distorted – but I do know that I’m not keen to revisit them. I wouldn’t have shared the picture, anyway, so.
So.

Ecce Mater

June 10, 2009

Okay, look – and I feel called upon to address this because there are some people out there who are not getting it – when I call myself a bad mother, I do not mean that I condone the neglect or abuse of children. I do not mean that I neglect or abuse my kids. I do not mean that I or anyone should celebrate these things. I mean, seriously.

What I mean is this: I do some things, many things, that would, when held against dominant (mainstream, media) narratives and representations of the Good Mother, appear to be bad. I do some things that are by any measure bad. But I am human, all-too-human, and my inability to be perfect is part of my make-up. And I believe that my quirks and foibles and imperfections as a mother – as a human being – are what make me a wonderfully flawed, perfectly imperfect mother for my children. And I also believe that sharing the stories of my quirks and foibles and imperfections does some small service in encouraging other mothers – other parents – to accept and embrace their own flaws and imperfections, their own quote-unquote badness.

Which is to say, by celebrating badness I am not celebrating a race to the bottom of the parenting barrel. I am not suggesting that it is ‘cooler’ to give your children cookies for breakfast or to let them watch three hours of television or to publicly proclaim your need for Ativan. I’m not trying to conflate cookies-for-breakfast with failing to provide care for your children or use of anti-anxiety medication with drug or alcohol abuse. I’m simply describing my reality, and struggling to accept myself as the wonderfully flawed parent that I am, not despite my flaws, but because of my flaws, because of the total package that I am. And I am calling that package bad because that is what I have been called by some and would be called by others and I want to seize it and claim it and redefine it as my own and apply it to my own particular, quirky brand of flawed wonderfulness. I want to take the power of judgment and labeling away from anyone would use it against me, so that I can say, whenever someone points their finger and whispers, bad, BAD, I can cry out, loudly, I know I am but what are you?

And I want you to do the same. I don’t care what you call it. That’s the point, after all: if we all refuse to acknowledge the supremacy of the Good (good with a capital g, good in scare quotes) Mother and the imperative to pursue ‘Good’ at all costs, then we liberate ourselves to model ourselves however we like, to celebrate ourselves according to whatever measures we choose, and to call ourselves whatever we want.

I choose to call myself Bad. Proudly.

(And then I go steadfastly forward and post a – cleverly edited, but still – picture of my child peeing. Standing up. In the park. WIN.)

The Bad Mother Manifesto

June 8, 2009

There is a spectre haunting the parenting community – the spectre of the Bad Mother…*

My name is Catherine, and I am a bad mother. I (mostly) do not have my tongue in my cheek when I say that. I am a Bad Mother.

I am a bad mother according to most measurements established by the popular Western understanding of what constitutes a good mother. I use disposable diapers. I let my children watch more television than I’d ever publicly admit. I let them have cookies for breakfast. I let them stay up too late. I don’t follow a schedule. I don’t go to playgroups. I stopped breastfeeding because I was tired of it. I co-slept with my son. I didn’t co-sleep with my daughter. I have been treated for depression. I stopped my treatment for depression. I am entirely too attached to Ativan.

I have left my children alone in the bathtub. I have spanked my daughter. I have turned my back on my crying son. I have had intrusive thoughts. I drink. I curse. I have put my own needs first. I have thought that I love my husband more than my children. I have had moments of resenting my children. I have thought that motherhood is boring. I document all of these things and lay them bare for the world to see. I have been called an exploitative mother. I have wondered whether that might be true.

I have thought that perhaps I am not at all cut out for this motherhood thing.

I have thought that I am a bad mother. I know that I am bad mother, in so many of the ways that matter to the people who worry about how and why women should be good mothers, and in most of the ways that don’t matter to anyone at all other than me at three o’ clock in the morning after a particularly long, ego-smashing day.

But:

I reject entirely the idea that I should be a good mother in any manner other than those that matter to me: that I take care of the basic needs of my children, that I love my children well, that I make certain that my children know that they are loved well, that I ensure that a day never passes in which I do not not hug or kiss my children or tell them that I love them, and that I ensure that a day never passes in which they – and I – laugh out loud at least once.

I reject entirely the idea that there can be any community consensus about what – beyond the provision of love and care – constitutes a good mother. I reject entirely the idea that we can or should judge each other as mothers, beyond the obvious and most basic standards of care, and even then, I reject entirely the idea that any one of us is so perfect that she could throw the first stone without hesitation.

I reject entirely the idea that mothers should worry about what it means to be a good mother in any respect beyond loving and protecting and providing for their children.

I reject entirely the idea I should worry, and yet worry I do. I worry because everywhere I look, at every turn, at every corner, in every magazine and on every television show and in every discussion, everywhere, about the what-why-how of motherhood, is the Good Mother.

The Good Mother – the idea of the Good Mother, the theoretical and aesthetic model of what it means to mother well – is the true spectre, the spectre that has haunted mothers since God first smacked our hands for being too graspy and ejected us from the Garden and hollered at us to go forward and to give birth in pain and alone and to mother in anxiety and alone and to basically just angst out for every second of our lives. The idea of the Good Mother has kept us in our place, has kept us cowering, alone, behind the veil; our important work – our critically important work – kept hidden behind the walls of the household; our lives and our stories and our history kept secret, kept quiet, because Good Mothers are private, are modest, are pudicae, because Good Mothers tell no tales. Devoted Good Mothers listen only to community edicts about what the Good Mother looks like and then devote themselves, silently, to the work of emulating the Good Mother. They do not share their failures. They do not share their struggles. They do not tell stories about the dark and the difficulty and the anxiety and the impossibility of keeping one’s cool in the dead of night when the baby is shrieking and the toddler is crying and one hasn’t slept in weeks. They do not talk about shutting the door and ignoring the cries. They do not talk about intrusive thoughts. They do not talk about repeating the words fuck I hate this fuck I hate this like so many Hail Marys, like a meditation upon frustration, like a mantra of failure. They do not talk about these things, out loud.

They keep their silence, and look to the Good Mother, hoping that she will provide guidance, hoping that in her lays the way of all maternal truth and happiness. They look in vain.

The Good Mother is everywhere, all at once, and she looks like everything, and nothing. She stays at home; she goes to work. She attachment-parents; she’s Babywise. She home-schools; she Montessoris. She vaccinates; she doesn’t vaccinate. She follows a schedule; she lets her kids run free-range. She co-sleeps; she wouldn’t dare co-sleep. She would never spank; she’s a strict disciplinarian. She’s an Alpha Mom; she’s a Slacker Mom; she’s a Hipster Mom; she’s a Christian Mom; she’s a Hipster-Christian-Alpha Mom who slacks off in the summers. She’s Everymom; She’s NoMom. She brooks no disagreement: if you argue with her, you start a Mommy War. But the wars are futile and pointless because the combatants are all fighting on the same side, her side, which is no side, and in the end we just batter each other until we are dumb and we give up and retire to our camps, bloody and bruised and determined to just keep it to ourselves next time and so it ends as it always does, in silence, with none of us saying what we really want to say, what we really need to say, which is this: who the fuck cares?

Who is anybody to tell us whether we are good mothers? Who the fuck knows what a good mother is anyway? And why can’t we say this out loud, why can’t we just live our motherhood out loud and proclaim our diversity to ourselves and to each other and to the world and declare the idea of the Good Mother – the all-encompassing, do-no-wrong, one-size-fits-all perfect model of the Good Mother, the Uber-Mom who has been witnessed by none of us – dead? We do not need her, we don’t, we really don’t.

The only persons who can measure our mother-worthiness are our children, and even they are unreliable.

All that we have, then, is this: the measure of our hearts and the measure of our eyes and our ears and our good sense. Do we love our children as best we can? Do we keep them, as best we can, healthy in mind and body? Do we make sure that they laugh? Do they smile in our presence?

That is enough. That must be enough. And if that is not good enough – if there remain those who would insist that there is more to mothering well, that I must do more, that we must do more, that the community must do more to police, to enforce, to uphold the rule of the Good Mother – then, well, I shall remain – loudly, proudly, publicly – Bad.

Are you a Bad Mother? Which is to ask – regardless of whether or not you identify with, or struggle with, the idea of being ‘Bad’ – are you a regular old ordinary flawed-but-awesome REAL mom? Are you just tired of the pressure to be ‘Good’? Then join me. We’ll unite and take over.

*(with apologies to Karl Marx, and, parenthetically, to Friedrich Nietzsche and Niccolo Machiavelli, all of whom would doubtless regard my appropriation of their modes of argument for the purposes of defending the liberation of mothers from old modes and orders of virtue as terribly, terribly amusing and, I would hope, somewhat charming, in a contrary sort of way.)

Good Housekeeping: Totally Slobtastic Slackermom Edition

March 20, 2009

If you were ever to visit my neighborhood, I would love for you to drop by. I’d be thrilled to see you, and I would totally invite you onto my verandah, and I would fix us up a nice pot of coffee and we would sit outside and eat cupcakes – fresh from the bakery down the street – and drink our coffee and chat. Or maybe it would be, like, late afternoon or evening and I would bust out the wine and the cheese and we would sit outside and enjoy the sunset and it would be lovely, really, just perfectly lovely. But I’d really hope that you wouldn’t ask to use the bathroom. Because I’d really kind of rather you not come in my house.

It’s not that I have anything against you, or that I have weird bathroom issues. It’s just that, you know, if you’d just dropped by? And I hadn’t had enough notice to do a total sweep of the house in advance of your visit? I just would totally not want you to come inside. Because, really, it usually looks something like this:


That’s what it looks like, all the time. Worse even. That room at the back? That’s supposed to be the dining room. Needless to say, we don’t do a lot of dining there. We actually moved the table out so that there’d be more room for things like, say, easels and chalkboards and paints. Also, giant stuffed cows and little plastic grocery carts. The piano is there, just off to the right, and it does get played, but it also functions as a toy shelf and Dora puzzle storage unit.

Oh, we try to keep it tidy. Two or three times a day I shove toys and books and miscellaneous child crap into the various baskets that you see strewn about. Then I vacuum. And then the room looks clean for about fifteen minutes before Jasper and/or Emilia begin upturning baskets and flinging toys everywhere again.

And then it looks something like this:

And this isn’t even the worst room. If I, in a fit of transparency, let you in the front door, I still wouldn’t let you up the stairs. That’s where I hide the real mess: the piles of laundry, the unpacked suitcases (seriously), the random pieces of barely used baby equipment, the children. The bathroom is also upstairs, which is why, if you mentioned a need to use the facilities, I might suddenly suggest that we head to the cafe around the corner. For cookies! They make the best cookies! Also, their restroom doesn’t have childrens’ toothpaste smeared across the vanity mirror, and they probably actually put the toilet paper on the roll.

It’s a losing battle for me, keeping house. I just can’t do it. I have a ten-month old baby who is just starting to walk and using his newfound mobility to seek out things to scatter and destroy, and a three-year old who loves nothing more than to mark her territory by spreading toys and books as far as she can see. And I have a husband who has trouble figuring out the relationship between socks and sock drawers and two cats who have an enthusiastic affection for dragging miscellaneous crap underneath sofas and leaving it there to collect dust. It is Sisyphean, I tell you, the work of managing a household while tending to two very small children and a tidiness-challenged husband. It is impossible, and unavoidable, and necessary, and it causes me no end of stress.

Derrida and Bukowski get tossed and stomped. Not shown: destruction of the lesser post-modernists and later dirty realists.

I can look at pictures, in magazines, of skinny mom-celebs – the Gwyneths, the Angelinas – and it doesn’t bother me, because, please. I know the work of a trainer and a private chef when I see it. But I see images of tidy homes – homes that are ostensibly occupied by families, by people with children – and it makes me a little bit crazy. Because even though I know that images in magazines are set-decorated and fluffed and faked, it still worries me, the idea that somewhere out there, other parents are keeping their homes tidy. I do not, and cannot, keep my own home in a state that even approximates something that even resembles a simulation of ‘tidy.’ And I have no idea how to change that. If I really wanted to lose my muffin-top, I would join a gym or do that shred thing and I would have some reasonable expectation of having some success. But getting my house organized? And keeping it that way? Figuring out the alchemical formula for turning cat turds into gold seem seems a more attainable goal for me.

So I’m trying to come to terms with it, in the same way that I have been trying to come to terms with the muffin-top. Embrace my outer slob, as it were. And it would really, really help if somebody – anybody – out there would stand up and to admit to some slobbiness, too. You don’t have to post photographic evidence (although if you wanted to do that, I’d be really impressed. And grateful.) (Here’s a Flickr group to post to, if you’re so inclined.) Even just a show of hands? Anyone else out there losing the battle of the mess? Anybody else pretty much just ready to surrender?

If not, that’s fine. You’re still welcome to come visit me. Just make sure that you pee before you get here.

10 Things To Do Before You Become A Parent

March 18, 2009

I heard a song once – one of those songs that you hear on the radio in someone else’s car, or over the soundsystem at the grocery store – that had a refrain about some woman regretting the fact, in her middle age, that she’d never driven a sports car around Paris, or something to that effect. I can’t remember exactly; what stuck with me, mostly, was the thought that well, I’d been to Paris. So – I thought – I probably wouldn’t have that regret. Which, as it turned out, was quite right: I’m not yet in my middle age, but I can see it on the horizon, and I’m happy to report that there seem to be no travel-related regrets forthcoming.

That said, I do have some regrets, of a sort; they’re just not of the bucket-list variety. My regrets – such as they are, now that I’m a parent, with responsibilities and accountabilities and very limited ability to do as I please – are more of the man, I wish I’d appreciated that when kind of regret. (Regret is a bit strong. Let’s call these retrospective yearnings.) I was thinking about this yesterday, as I lay on the couch with a cranium-rattling headache, trying to amuse the baby by weakly nudging a rattle toward him with my foot. In that moment, the idea that I might ever regret something like not being able to take off to Paris for the weekend struck me as absurd. Paris, schmaris. What I regretted most in that moment was the fact that in my pre-motherhood life I did not appreciate the luxury of being able to take to my bed when I was sick. Which got me thinking: if I knew then what I know now, what would I have done more often or appreciated more before I became a parent?

1. Get sick, and like it: I know, being sick is supposed to be a miserable thing. But is it, really? Assuming that your symptoms are not too brutal, and/or that you’re able to medicate yourself into a happy stupor, there is much to enjoy about being sick. You stay in bed all day, drinking hot steamy drinks and slurping chicken soup and watching bad game shows and soap operas and Dr. Phil and maybe thumbing through some tabloids and napping and just generally enjoying the Vicks VapoRub-scented experience of convalescence. If you live with someone – and especially if that someone is a spouse or romantically beholden to you in anyway – you can bitch and whine at them and they will bring you more soup.

You cannot do this when you have small children. There are no sick days when you have small children. When you have small children, you cannot take to your bed and watch television and huff VapoRub. You have to parent. So what it you’re dripping snot on the head of your wailing baby? That baby isn’t going to feed/soothe/change himself. You’re on duty, bitch. Deal with it.

2. Take naps. Take lots of naps. The kind where you doze off on the couch before dinner, the kind where you nod off at your desk at work, the kind where you just say screw Monday and go back to bed for an hour. Because what I said above about being on duty? That applies 24-7. Which means, no, you can’t just take twenty minutes to “rest your eyes.” Unless the baby is having his own nap, in which case you’re welcome to try to nap, but I’m guessing that you might want to shower/bathe/eat, too, and you’ve probably only got forty minutes, so.

3. Shower/bathe. Enjoy your showers. Take lots of them, and make them long and hot. Also, baths, if you’re a bath person. Long hot baths at all hours of the day. Twice a day, even! With bubbles and oils and magazines.

Oh, sure, it’s not like you’re forced to stop bathing and showering when the kids come along, but you will find that your bathing/shower regimen is seriously curtailed. You’ll skip days – those days when eating and sleeping seem more pressing than cleanliness – and when you finally do get around to performing some ablutions? You’ll be scrambling through that shower in less than three minutes because the baby is in his crib, shrieking, or you’ll be splashing briefly in a lukewarm tub because the hot water tank got drained when the toddler’s tub needed to be refilled, twice, after she a) brought a roll of toilet paper into the tub, because b) her ‘poo-poo was coming.’

You will miss long, hot, leisurely baths and showers, I promise you. Enjoy them now.

4. Have a drink or two at lunch. You know how, sometimes, you go out for lunch on a Saturday and someone says, why don’t we order a bottle of wine/get margaritas/have a beer? and you spend the afternoon eating and talking and drinking and working up a delicious buzz? And it’s, like, totally fine, because you know that you can go home and have a nap and a bath before thinking about what your evening looks like? Yeah, you can’t do that when you have small children, because a) you’re probably not having lunch anywhere that sells a decent bottle of wine, and b) naps? baths? Ha. See above.

5. Cultivate and appreciate a hangover. Hangovers suck, right? Wrong. Hangovers only suck if you can’t take a day off to recover from them. Hangovers, properly tended to, are similar to being sick, only with a little added frisson of shame to make things interesting. When you don’t have small children, you can spend your hangover day in bed, watching television and eating potato chips and warding off that buzz of guilt with Oreos and chocolate milk. When you do have small children, you can’t do this, for reasons that I’ve already stated. But you’re probably not drinking all that much, either, so it’s kind of a moot point.

6. Stay up late/sleep in. See above re: hangovers/being sick. You just really don’t get to spend a lot of time in bed when you have small children.

7. Have sex whenever you want. Ditto.

8. Spend a rainy day watching an entire season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s a theme emerging here, I know: things that you do while curled up in blankets on the sofa or in bed while eating junk food. I can’t recommend these activities highly enough. I miss them desperately. If you asked me, would you like to take the family on a Caribbean vacation, or would you like to spend a week, by yourself, just laying around watching DVDs and reading books and eating cookie dough? I would really have to think about that.

Because, seriously: Paris, Barcelona, Tulum, whatever. Whenever I do get around to going back to those places, I’ll probably want to take the kids anyway, because I want to see it all through their eyes and I want them to see what I’ve seen, blah blah blah. But a day off, where I do nothing but lounge and nap and snack and just generally indulge in some lazy-assed laziness? That place, I want to go to there. ALONE.

9. Eat chocolate chip cookie dough (or guilty pleasure food of choice) without any regard for who might be watching. I love cookie dough. I think that cookie dough is better than cookies. But I would strongly prefer that my three-year old eat, say, apple slices and cheese, rather than cookie dough, and so I conceal my cookie dough habit from her as best I can, with varying degrees of success. Just yesterday I was trying to nibble a hunk of chocolate chip cookie dough, torn from the end of a Pillsbury cookie dough package, when I was confronted by my daughter, who demanded to know what I was eating. It’s cheese, I told her. Spicy cheese. The kind you don’t like.

Those look like chocolate, she said, pointing at the chocolate chips.

They’re raisins, I said. Spicy cheese raisins. Then I shoved the rest of it in my mouth and swallowed before she could get a closer look. It kind of ruined my enjoyment of the experience, quite frankly.

10. Take more naps. Seriously. I adore my children, and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world, but really: most days, I would pay serious cash money for a nap.

Or a long hot bath. Or some uninterrupted cookie dough indulgence. Or a day off. I wish that I’d known that back in the days when I could have them all for free.

But now you know. You’re welcome.

(Parents: what would you add to this list? Would you take Paris or the Caribbean over Lounge Week? Am I the only lazy-assed layabout out here in momosphere-land? Or would you one-up me and demand two weeks? You know, enough time to watch all back-seasons of Lost and maybe also Battlestar Galactica?)

All About My Mother

March 6, 2009

When my nephew, Zachary, was about four years old, my mother pulled a prank on him. This was not at all unusual – according to my mother, children only become fun once they’re of an age to be messed with, and her relationships with her grandchildren are guided by this rule – but this particular prank was pretty epic. She staged an alligator attack in one of the closets in her home – complete with stuffed alligator and screaming granny and arm pulled under sleeve to simulate dismemberment – and Zachary was, I do not exaggerate in saying, alarmed by the whole spectacle. Thrilled, too – he talked about it, delighted, for months – but in the moment, mostly alarmed. And mad, in that adorably outraged manner that only small children can effect.

You, he said, pointing at my mother, are BAD. She just laughed.

She is bad, I agreed. She is very bad. She’s your bad grandma.

No, he replied, stamping his foot and pointing an accusatory finger at me. She’s NOT my bad grandma. She is YOUR BAD MOTHER.

And with that, a parenting philosophy was born, and a blog predestined.

My mom has always been a bad mother. Not in the neglectful sense: she was, for most of my childhood, a stay-at-home mom who baked cookies and led Girl Guide troops and did crafts and told hour upon hour of bedtime stories (and lunchtime stories, and camptime stories, and going-for-a-walk stories, and riding-in-the-car stories…) It’s just that with everything that she did, she put her own enjoyment of the activity at the forefront. Childhood, as she understood it, was a time of fun and magic, and dammit if she wasn’t going to take advantage of that for herself. She’d waited a long time to throw herself into motherhood, and she wasn’t going to waste the opportunity by approaching the whole thing as work. Child-rearing, in her view, was just one long exercise in applied fun and amusement. So it was that the cookies were sometimes made in ridiculous shapes (don’t ask) and the crafts were more often reflections of her own interests and obsessions (during the tenure of Pierre Trudeau as Canadian Prime Minister, who she loathed, we made something that she called TURD-ohs, which I’ll leave to your imagination) and the stories often took perverse but fascinating turns (it was a long time before I understood that my sister had not been found in a pickle patch and that my bum wouldn’t fall off if I unscrewed my belly-button.) She took delight in surprising us and startling us and making the world seem like an unpredictable and fascinating place, filled with benevolent but arm-nibbling monsters and tyrannical fairies and and friendly but overtaxed families of pickle-imps and tiny, turd-like goblins who carried placards decrying the rule of the Liberal Party of Canada.

It was awesome.

I knew, from childhood, that I wanted to be a mother just like her. And I knew from the moment that Zachary called her BAD that that meant being a bad mother.

Which is what I’m trying to be, with some success, I think. She, in the meantime, has moved on to fully embracing her role as a bad grandmother, as the New York Times reported yesterday. (Yeah, you read that right.) Which means that she’s still all about the fun and the games and the perversity, but also that she’s doing it on her terms. And those terms follow this principle: it is, in anything other than extraordinary circumstances (and she does, for the record, grandma-up if circumstances demand it), only about the fun. She’s not interested in being an on-call babysitter (she loves to spend time with her grandchildren, but refuses to regard it as a duty), she’s not interested in changing diapers (been there/done that) and she’s not interested in having her grandmahood defined according to any conventional, matronly terms. The great thing about being a grandmother, in her opinion, is getting to have all of the fun with little of the labour, and she takes full advantage of that.

Which, again, is awesome, but – as I told the New York Times – it’s also a little frustrating, sometimes. I love that my mom is something of an iconoclast, that she’s independent and contrary and entirely forthright about who she is and how she wants her relationships to work. But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t wish, sometimes, that she was the type of grandma who swooped in and gathered babies to her chest and shooed me off to have a nap while she changed diapers and made lasagna (she makes awesome lasagna, by the way), that she were the type of grandma who demanded babysitting duty, who wanted to just move in and help – or, at least, fly out regularly to help. I have, at times during my pregnancies and my post-partums, just wanted my mommy to step in and make things all better, to just take over and be the apron-clad grandma who tutors her daughter in the ways of motherhood and offers free babysitting on the side. But she’s not that – she’s always been more of a hug-you-warmly-stroke-your-head-and-help-you-figure-out-how-fix-things-*yourself* kind of mom – and she’s always been clear about that and never made any apologies for that and I can’t help but think that she wouldn’t be the awesome bad grandma that she is if it weren’t for that.

My tutelage, at the knees of my mother, in the ways of motherhood has always been about this – this spirit of unconventionality, this emphasis on encouraging independence, this insistence upon doing things, whenever possible, out of joy rather than duty, this celebration of being, in some ways, bad – and I do that education an injustice if I demand that my mother be, as a grandmother, anything other her own bad self.

So I’ll manage without the free babysitting and the unsolicited domestic help and the demands for more time with her grandchildren, and let her get on with that bad self.

And I’ll get on with mine.

(Am leaving the family for an overnight trip to New York tonight, which is awesome, but, also, terrifying. I’ve never left Jasper for more than a few hours – and he’s never gone more than a few hours without the boob – but we figure that the break will be good for him and for me. We’re right about that, right? Right? Am freaking out a little bit.)

*Photo by Arantxa Cedillo (who so graciously overlooked all the mess in my house, and who sweetly exclaimed over my copy of the Todo Sobre Mi Madre film poster, thereby making me feel a little bit as though I’d made up for being a slob) for the New York Times

Love Knows No Tact

February 23, 2009


Me: So? What do you think?

Husband: Does it say, belongs to Kyle?

Me: No. It means, love knows no order.

Husband: Not, belongs to Kyle?

Me: No.

Husband: I suppose I can live with it.

Mama Went To Texas And…

February 21, 2009


One thing led to another, and… well, you know.

Ink was spilled.

The Amazing Survivor Race Challenge: Parenting Edition

February 17, 2009

Babies are hard on a marriage.

It’s sort of ironic, really, seeing as babies are so often understood (rightly or wrongly) to represent core bonds of a life partnership, but still: for every measure of centripetal force that they exert upon a relationship and bind partners more closely, babies exert a half measure – maybe more – of centrifugal force, pulling those partners away from their center. It’s true. If I understood Newtonian physics well enough to explain it fully, I would, but I don’t, so just trust me on this: babies bring couples closer together and pull them apart in a million teeny tiny and not so teeny tiny ways, and the yank and tug of this phenomenon can exert an uncomfortable pressure upon a spousal partnership.

Pets do not have this effect, I’ve noticed, possibly because you can just put them out in the yard when they start to get difficult. You cannot do this with babies. When caring for babies gets difficult, you can only turn to your partner (if you have one – I cannot begin to address single parenthood here, other than to say that I have NO IDEA how people do that. Superheroes, seriously) and negotiate some means of coping and hope to hell that you can figure this shit out together. So when the moments come – and they do come – when you realize that you are not figuring this shit out together – that you’re either not figuring it out together, or you’re not figuring it out, period – it can be hard. You can put it down to lack of sleep, to lack of alone time, to sheer exhaustion, but it still feels the same: you’re struggling. And you’re not always struggling together. And in those moments when you’re struggling apart… those moments feel isolating. Lonely.

The first baby isn’t – I don’t think – as hard on the relationship as the second: with your first baby, the novelty of the situation can cause you to overlook or ignore the fact that you and your spouse are almost never together alone, that you almost never sleep, that your romantic dinners for two have become mac-and-cheese for three, that your bed has become the gathering place for a tangle of toddler and toys and cats. The first baby can be a great romantic quest, like backpacking together through Europe – full of all variety of trials and discomforts, but nonetheless an adventure, one that is full of new experiences that you are sharing! Together! So who cares if the hostels are crowded or you’re eating bad food or the pack on your back is crippling you with its weight? You’re having an adventure together, and it is awesome.

But when the second baby comes along, you’ve been there and done that and sent the postcards and you’re just not as open to feeling romantic about this whole journey as a quote-unquote adventure. The novelty has worn off. The hostel conditions – the noise, the squalor, the bathroom shared with too many other, messy people – no longer represent adventure, and their effect on you – sleeplessness, disorientation – is harder to bear. You’re still thrilled to be doing this again – you love so much about this journey – but you’re older now, and more tired, and the sleepless nights and bad food wear you down so much more quickly and so you look at each other and you both wonder why the other hasn’t booked you into a plush hotel already.

And this is where everything – including the extended travel metaphor – breaks down, because there are no plush hotels in New Parentland. New Parentland is not a backpacker’s Europe; it’s not even the outer reaches of the former Soviet Union, where at least they have beds and a limitless supply of vodka. New Parentland is more like a deserted island. It’s survival conditions, no matter who you are, unless you have the means and the foresight to have brought an entourage that will attend to your basic needs and forage for your food. There’s no straightforward solution to your discomfort here; there are no resources beyond what you can gather and/or jerryrig together. Neither you nor your travelling companion has it within their power to make things easy. With the first child, if you’re lucky, this is like Blue Lagoon: you’re so enthralled with the romance of the situation that you don’t care that you are – figuratively – wearing loincloths and drinking out of coconuts. You might even find that kind of thing sexy. But by the time you’re on baby number two? The loincloths are starting to feel scratchy and you’re sunburnt and sleeping on the sand is making your back hurt and that other person is eating your coconut, dammit. You are on Survivor: Child Island and it’s only a matter of time before you turn on each other.

My husband and I haven’t turned on each other (*knocks wood*), and we wouldn’t reverse the steps that brought us here to our own, personal Child Island. We find pleasure in this place; we bask in the sunshine here. But still: we find it challenging, coping with the hardship. I find it challenging. Once the chores are done and the children are tended to and this place falls silent, I am so exhausted, so spent and worn, that I want only to crawl under the blankets and escape – with a book, with some Ativan – and rest and I know that he experiences this as a withdrawal. But then I – perversely – resent him for experiencing it as withdrawal. I’m so tired, I tell myself. This is so hard. He should get that. I tell him that this is so hard and that I am so tired and he tells me that he is tired too and instead of feeling sympathy, I feel frustration. It’s harder for me, I think, and the resentment starts to burble. And then I catch myself and tell myself that hard is hard is hard and just because I have spent whole days and nights on my own wrangling our two creatures and lived to tell about it doesn’t mean that he can manage the same thing and in any case he gets up at night and first thing in the morning with the baby, right? And then I think, maybe if we just had some time together, just the two of us – or better, what if I had some time for me, just me, alone, and THEN we had some together just the two of us ?- but then I immediately think, why doesn’t he make that happen? Why must it be ME?

And then I worry us about turning on each other. I worry about even considering the possibility that we might turn on each other, because once upon a time – in the carefree days before we embarked upon this strange and wonderful and impossibly challenging journey – I would not have imagined for a second that we could turn on each other, that we could be anything other than perfect allies. (This is the tragic innocence, to borrow another pop culture analogy, of couples on the Amazing Race; the bluster behind their bold claims, before running a single step, of being a brilliant team, of knowing that they’ll work together perfectly, masterfully, that they will, as a unit, dominate the race. This bluster invariably end in shouts and tears in the empty corridors of this airport or across the field of that Road Block challenge, and we the audience murmur, from the security of our armchairs, that we knew that they would fall apart and, also, that wouldn’t happen to us.) We are allies, my husband and I, we are, but that I doubt our alliance for even a second weighs upon me heavily, presses the air from my lungs.

It weighs upon me, because how could I feel any doubt? He is wonderful, my husband, really wonderful, and I love him so much and am so, so lucky to have him as my partner. But, still, also, there is this: I am tired, and I want to be carried, just for a little while, just until I get my strength back. And this is where the doubt resides: in my fear that he might be getting tired of carrying me, that although I know he will give me his last coconut, he might resent doing so. That I might resent his resenting doing so. That that resentment might build, and that we’ll end up yelling at each other across the crowded airport corridor that is family life or turning on each other in our own personal Tribal Council. That I want a day off, alone, just by myself, just taking care of myself, more than I want a day alone with my husband – and that I want him to want that – hurts my heart, in a way, because I do want time alone with him, just me and him, with no children attached to our bodies and no cries ringing in our ears, time to reinforce our alliance, our team, so that we can continue to endure the challenges of this island, this race, this reality, with grace and humor. I really, really do. I just need to be rested first. I just need to be carried for a while, or allowed to stop and rest.

We’ve come this far together. We know that our alliance, our partnership, is the key to everything. Our alliance, and maybe a few naps, some liquor and an all-expenses-paid holiday somewhere warm, with soft beds and babysitters and, yes, coconuts.

That’s all.

The Story’s The Thing

January 13, 2009

Here’s the thing about maintaining a personal blog: one sometimes forgets that one is not simply maintaining a diary – albeit a carefully thought-out diary, one that is edited for style and for grammar – but publishing, virtually, a sort of memoir or collection of essays or some combination of these. One forgets, sometimes, that one has made, is making, one’s story public.

I forget this all the time.

The primary danger, here, is not that one might unintentionally reveal something that one might later regret. We most of us hesitate with our cursors hovering over the Publish Post button every time that we write, mentally reviewing what we’ve said and how we’ve said it and worrying over how it might be received. The Publish Post button reminds us, in the crucial moment, that we are in fact publishing, making public, our stories, our rants, our confessions. What the Publish Post button does not remind us, however, is that with every post that we publish we are constructing and furthering a narrative that is followed by tens or dozens of readers, tens or dozens of readers who might well want to know what became of that problem, was that issue resolved, what happens next? They follow a narrative, and our blogging platforms don’t provide tools for reminding us that we’re weaving such narratives as we write. And because we are not reminded, we – I – sometimes forget.

I was reminded – uncomfortably – of this the other day when I wrote a confused, rambling post that was a variation on another post that I’d written a few months ago. I knew that I had already written on the topic – whether or not I wanted to keep open the possibility of having a third child – and was just trying to sort my feelings out further. It was a post that I wrote for myself, not one that was intended to advance my story, such as that story is. And that pissed at least one reader off, a little: she protested that I was just retreading old ground and that it was frustrating and why didn’t I make more of an effort to let readers know what I was doing to prevent what seemed to be my inevitable slide into whiny insanity – for example, what had I done about the sleep issues? Had I taken any readerly advice? – because, seriously, if I kept this up – and certainly if I made the terrible mistake of committing mental suicide by further childbearing – she, for one, was not going to be able to read me anymore. (She later apologized for articulating herself so harshly, and made clear that she was just frustrated because she is a fan of the blog, and I’m totally comfortable with that, so please don’t smack her in comments.) Which: OUCH.

The comment struck a nerve, because a) I’m sensitive about the possibility that this blog can be, you know, angst-ridden at times, and believe me, my angst bores even me, and b) oh, gawd, I like totally can’t maintain the thread on my own stories, can I? But there’re reasons why I don’t always (read: almost never) maintain a narrative thread: because sometimes doing a follow-up on how nothing has changed and how I’m still angsting out over the same old miscellaneous bullshit seems, I don’t know, tiresome, and because – more often than not – I forget. Some other issue comes up – the girl pours canola oil on the living room sofa, or I become obsessed yet again with the finality of vasectomies – and whatever thread I had begun to weave about sleeplessness or feeding baby or finding long lost siblings gets lost.

Which is fine, in a way: this is my story, and if it’s disjointed, so what? But still: I like a coherent narrative thread, and so far as coherence is possible in personal narratives, why not pursue it? I can’t promise that I’ll follow up on every little issue, but I can promise to make an effort to not just abandon cliffhangers (I laugh even as I write this. Who among you was waiting with bated breath to see if Her Bad Mother would ever sleep again, dun dun dun DUN?!?!?) So, to that end: the first of a series of semi-occasional, whenever-the-hell-I-feel-like-it, will-probably-forget-to-do-this-ever-again updates on stories that you probably don’t care about but this blog is a narrative, dammit, and so the story must go on:

1) Did Her Bad Mother ever sleep again? No, she did not, and probably will not again, ever. She has tried most of the suggestions offered and none, so far have worked. She would just give up and look into becoming a vampire, were it not for the fact that she doesn’t want to eat her baby (I don’t care what Stephenie Meyer implied in Breaking Dawn about mother-love overcoming the temptation to sink one’s teeth into buttery baby butt cheeks; if I were a vampire I would totally eat my baby because, my god, the deliciousness), so she’ll just persist in this lovely and only slightly inconvenient sleep-deprived fugue state.

2) Did Her Bad Baby ever take to solid foods? Yes! He did! He does! But only if they’re, you know, solid. As in, able to withstand the clutch of a chunky little fist. Which is to say, hunks of bread or cereal biscuits or meatballs or whole baby carrots or, for some reason, pickles. Anything mushy, anything on a spoon, anything in a bottle (sigh) is rejected with a swat of a chubby hand.

3) Did Her Bad Mother ever find her long lost brother? Has she made any progress? Not so much. Believe me, you’ll hear about it when – WHEN – anything happens.

4) Whatever happened to the Phallic Lovey? He (Christian name: Toadstool) was tossed aside by the girl – who declared herself to be ‘too big for Toady now’ – a few weeks ago. It was like a sad Toy Story 2 sub-plot, really, and Her Bad Mother got a little weepy. Her Bad Husband, however, rejoiced. And then this happened:


And so it goes.

Any other questions on narrative threads that I may have dropped, recently or, like, eons ago? Fire away in the comments, and I’ll follow up them, someday. And tell me, what are the narrative threads that you’ve dropped? I’m not the only one out here who can’t tell a story, am I?

Also, oh, hai: yesterday was Delurking Day, and I missed it. Feel free to make up for that today.