Friday, May 31, 2013

Views from a Passenger

I've been encouraging my husband to write a guest post for my blog for awhile. He would come up with one topic about Claire, another one about fatherhood. I would say, "Great! Can't wait to read it." Then, he wouldn't write it. So I was more than a little surprised when I woke up to find that he had written this piece while Claire and I were asleep. I was blown away that he chose this topic and wrote these words. I am lucky to be his wife.

I want to remark on the religious path of motherhood from the point of view of a father and a husband. By religious, I'm talking about the Latin root of the word, re legio: to reunite with things.

In giving birth, I've seen my wife, Rachel, reunite with parts of herself that were far away from her, or at least, parts that had been safely transposed into the intellectual archives of her past.

But when Claire arrived, I saw and heard Rachel touch base with things long gone: clarification of distant, vague moments that she knew had affected her. I saw her reach back to connect with the early experiences of her life, making religious connections.

I have made religious connections, too, but Rachel was the boxer, and I was the trainer in the corner with the spit pail. That's not a cop-out, but a fact: women take it on the chin, no matter how "involved" a father is. Claire passed through Rachel's body, not mine, and the echoes of that intimacy will always keep her a shade closer than I will ever be to Claire.

For Rachel, pregnancy was hard, and exhilarating, as religious journeys are. She suffered, got to know herself, and was transfigured. She got to know disappointment, and joy. She got to know midnight, as well as high noon. And I got to love her more deeply as I watched her take this ride, this scary ride, that she took partly for the love of me. What to say? I am thankful for my wife's courage to have a baby at 44. For her to have a baby at all.

And I am thankful my wife writes. Puts it into words. The "word" surrounding this religious experience. I love her writing, and I think, one day, Claire will treasure it as well.

And when Claire has branched off into her own life years from now, not needing us so much, Rachel and I will sit on the couch, hold hands, and leaf through her blog. We will read aloud the words she has put down about this incredible journey we took together. And it will be better than any photograph or home movie ever recorded.

- By George Demas


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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Mom with a Past

The Cloisters Museum in New York City is a great place to take a child on a rainy day. What better way to occupy a child for a few hours than to transport her to the Middle Ages? I’m carried to a time in the not so distant past too.

It was 1999, and I was planning a wedding at The Cloisters. Everything was set; the RSVP's had been taken. A month before, I called it off.

I would share with you the painful particulars about what went down, but I wouldn’t want my lawyer ex-fiance to sue me for libel. It wouldn't surprise me, even after all these years. Let’s just keep it vague, and say it was not a good period in my life.

Anyway, the reason why I am bringing up the past has less to do with him and more to do with Claire and me.

Moms all have a past. Claire doesn't know mine.

When I learned my mom had a life before me, I remember experiencing major cognitive dissonance. In the egocentric world of a child, it’s hard to understand that your mom existed before you. After all, your mom is your world.

And, from a mom’s side of the fence, giving birth is like being reborn. Becoming a mom is nothing short of a complete identity transformation. I do mark time as “before Claire” and “after Claire”.

This clear-cut definition of time and identity makes it tempting to put the bad relationship on the "before" side and be done with it. I have a desire to tuck away my almost wedding into a locked compartment in my brain.  I would like to join Claire in a place with no history. She’s oblivious to my past, she lives in the present, she represents the future.

But it’s tricky. On the one hand, I want to be with Claire in the moment, living as if the world was born when she was born. I want to believe like she does that The Cloisters was made purely for us.

Yet, I had her at 44. When her life started, I had already lived one. It’s impossible for a child to take away the experiences of my life.

I wouldn’t want her to anyway.

When that relationship ended, I felt like a turtle turned upside down, vulnerable with my soft underbelly exposed for everyone to see. It took me a year to right myself. I found I had the ability to surrender to feeling raw and lost. I found I could survive still. I found just how much the love of friends and family can feel like grace.

I walk with Claire as her mother, because of who I was before I was her mother. She doesn't need to know what has brought us to this place, but I do.

Still, it’s fraught to be at The Cloisters. Somehow, Claire seems to make me feel more present with both the pain and the beauty of life, of my life.

It's like I'm unearthing my past in an archeological dig. Claire has added another layer to the excavation.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Reckless Behavior

"Don't even think about it, jerk!"…"What in the world was that move for?"…"Expletive, Expletive…and big.giant. EXPLETIVE!!!"

Maybe, I'm talking to a telemarketer? Nope. Customer service? Good guess, but no. You'll be relieved to know my daughter is not the target of my venom either.

I'm not talking to anyone, per se. I'm yelling at cars whizzing around me so recklessly that you'd think we were in a race of some sort.

stop_signsThis persona of mine, which resembles an obnoxious loudmouth, rears its ugly head in New York City traffic. I call it my achilles heel on wheels.

If anything could justify my temporary insanity, it would be operating a motor vehicle in this city. It's an unwritten rule that you drive like a maniac, or risk getting run off the road. But the operative word is drive. It doesn't mean I need to act like a maniac also.

In fact, now that I have fragile cargo riding behind me, I should be doing neither.

Sometimes, I need reminding…"Mama was mad," Claire says as I lift her out of her carseat at the end of the trip. She sounds so matter of fact when she says it. She almost sounds like she feels compassion for me. I pick her up and melt. Melt at how sweet she is, and how awful I feel for subjecting her to my craziness. She was so quiet in the back, while I was having my temper tantrum behind the wheel. I wonder if I scared her, or if she's imprinting my antics on her brain as the way to behave while driving (or anywhere else for that matter).

Both are unacceptable to me, and I feel about as tall as she is in this moment.

If there were ever a reason to stop, Claire would be it.

My bad habit will be hard to kick though. I've been driving in NYC for over 20 years now, and, unfortunately, you do need a bit of adrenalin pumping and/or large cojones to match wits with cabbies, delivery trucks, and the many other aces who think they are Mario Andretti.

I can do it though! I might not win the race, but I'll certainly get the prize.

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Photo Source: Cyclops-Unicorn, Deviant Art

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cupcake Wars

"We're celebrating Claire's birthday this week at baby class," I announce to my husband. "I need to make cupcakes."

"Why don't you get them at Walmart?" George says, nonchalantly.

"WALMART! NO WAY!" I respond, emphatically. "I'm baking them myself!"

George nods his head and smirks just a bit. He knows better than to argue with me. I know what he's thinking anyway. And he knows that he's got me thinking too, even though he hasn't said a word.

My many thoughts: "Yeah, I know. Just because Marlene made those great cupcakes from Nigella's recipe and pretty much every other mother has brought some form or other of gourmet cupcakes doesn't mean that I have to. The kids are one and two, for Pete's sake. They don't know the difference. Why am I getting myself all worked up? I haven't made cupcakes in a bazillion years. George is right.  I just want to look like some idealized vision of a perfect mom, and he's calling me on my B.S.!"

So here are the cupcakes...


When the other mothers at the baby class said they looked great and asked if I made them, I said, "I cannot tell a lie…WALMART!"

All the moms laughed. None of them seemed to care. Or, if they did, they kept it to themselves like the gracious ladies that they are. Probably, one or two even appreciated the preemptive move of forfeiting the cupcake race entirely. And a few even indulged in a big-box-store-brand, assembly-line-made cupcake.

Oh, and, they were a big hit with the kids, too.

When my husband and I talked about the giant cupcake score, he said "Good call getting them at Walmart, Rachel!!"

Then, he smirked again. This time, I smirked too. And said, "Thanks!"

We both knew exactly what the other one was thinking.

Do you ever have an idealized vision of a perfect mom sitting on your shoulder and nagging you?

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fifty Shades of No

NoThe phrase “rules were meant to be broken” was tailor-made for children. There should be a phrase for parents that goes something like: “rules were made to be repeated".

My toddler has recently morphed into Ms. Independent, so I’m just beginning to get the lay of the land of "no". I’ve noticed that there are many shades to her burgeoning ability to test me. Much to my dismay, she tries each one on for size several times a day:

The Ignorer: I’m going to pretend I’m fully engrossed in this play-doh, while you ask me to pick up the almonds I just threw on the floor.

The Evader: If I run away from you fast enough, I can surely keep this cap-less pen in hand. I’m enjoying this game, anyway. It’s hilarious listening to you repeat “Gimme that, gimme that” over and over, as you chase after me. So go ahead and catch me. Then, we get to do it all over again...

The Defiant One: I hear you saying, “don’t sit in that puddle”, I’m gonna do it anyway. In fact, I’m going to stare directly at you, while I do it. I dare you to try and stop me.

The Equivocator: “I want to carry that!”…”No, Mama, you carry that!”…”I want to carry that!” “Mama, you carry that!”…

Sly as a Fox: If I’m extremely quiet and hide in this corner, there’s no way you’ll notice I’m drawing on myself with magic marker.

The Determinator: I am determined to wear you down by returning repeatedly to the thing you said not to do and/or touch. You will relent. I've got time.

The Terrible Twos: Tantrums are a great way to get my way, no?

The Bully: If I yell my request at the top of my lungs, it will be granted. You just needed to know that I really, really wanted it. Or, maybe, you're hard of hearing.

The Flirt: I know that if I look at you and giggle as I bat my eyes, I can do whatever I want.

Just Plain “NO!”: Self-explanatory and loud, preferably someplace like the library where the sound of my voice can pierce through silence, reverberate against the walls and/or pierce people's eardrums.

As I said, I’m new to the land of "no". I’m sure there are more seasoned moms among you, who have more to add to the list. Please feel free to do so. I would appreciate the heads up about what's in store for Claire and me down the road...

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Braggy Mom or Bloggy Mom?

I would not have the following conversation with a mom friend of mine:

Mom friend: “How are you today, Rachel?”

Me: “I’m great, mom friend. Claire just said an 11-word sentence, which was grammatically correct. It was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever heard. It made my day!”

I would share that sentiment with my husband, Claire’s grandma or a friend who doesn’t have kids. My friends without kids would probably say something in return like, “Cool! Is an 11-word sentence good?”

I was reluctant to start a post like this too, even though it's the truth about Claire's current state of language acquisition, as well as my feeling about her blossoming ability to share her thoughts with me.

After all, I’m breaking serious mom etiquette. I’m not supposed to a) admit to keeping track of my child’s development so blatantly as to count the words in her sentences or b) be bragging about her mad skills in any particular area. If you google “bragging mom”, you can find tons of articles shaming such officious behavior.


I’m by nature a rule follower. I fear I’m exposing an obnoxious, squawking side of myself that is derided by mothers everywhere.

It’s precisely because of my fear that I swing to the opposite direction in daily interactions, which is equally annoying. I find myself being apologetic, diminishing my daughter’s very own strengths. I can see the wheels turning in other mom's heads as they compare their child to my daughter:

“I can’t get over how Claire talks. Sarah doesn’t say a word yet,” mom friend said, recently. “Do you think she’s autistic?”

“Wow, I want Max to hang around Claire more often,” another mom friend said. “Why can’t he say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ like her?”

Another mom was more direct: “I’m jealous! I wish Cassie talked like that,” she said.

I can’t take these statements. I don’t like feeling that Claire and I have made other people feel bad or uncomfortable. I just can’t seem to help responding by sharing Claire’s weak spots. She does not have the greatest gross motor skills, and could care less about figuring out how things like puzzles and blocks work.

I do also make a point to share the strengths that I see in each child. Sarah has amazing emotional intelligence. Max is a great problem solver. Cassandra has a long attention span. I mean what I say too. If there's one thing that I learned as a teacher of kids with special needs, it’s that all children have strengths. We are better off focusing on a child’s strengths and interests than comparing him or her to others.

But it’s human nature to compare. I do it too. That’s fine. It’s also inevitable that we want to celebrate our own children’s abilities.

Yet, as I go to hit the publish button on this post, I’m still worried about how you will view my words. I'm praying that you'll see me as less of a braggy mom, and more of a bloggy mom wanting to shine some light on a complex issue. (You do, don't you? Please tell me you do!)

I doubt I’ll be doing any such bragging to my mom friends any time soon either. I’m probably going to stick to being proud of Claire with my husband, grandma and friends who don’t know any better.

I have made a pact with myself though. I refuse to diminish my daughter any longer. That stance is ridiculously excessive. It’s a projection to think that other mothers even want this kind of reaction from me anyway.

Besides, even if they do, Claire deserves a mom who errs on the side of singing her praises, not one who is worried about people seeing her as a braggart. (You don't, do you?)

How do you feel about sharing your child’s accomplishments? How about when others share their child’s accomplishments with you? Is there a difference between 'bragging' and 'celebrating a child'?  Do you ever find yourself comparing your children to others?

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Photo Source: Jeremiah John McBride, Flckr 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sting, My Husband and Me

Right now, my husband is at Sting’s house overlooking Central Park West! I picture George with cocktail in hand, trying to follow along as Sting (who is dressed in some black, flowy, Asian-inspired garb) talks to him about tantric sex.

Significant others were not invited to this soiree. My husband was more disappointed that I'm not there than I was. Frankly, I was relieved I didn't have to go. Is it weird that I don’t care?

If it were 1983, I would have cared. I even ruined a childhood friendship with Jenny Crandall* because of Sting. Well, in reality, I was more to blame than Sting.

Jenny was out of town, and I kissed her boyfriend Steven (I don't remember his last name). My youthful indiscretion was due to too many cans of cheap, domestic beer, and the fact that “Wrapped Around Your Finger” was playing on the radio every five seconds. I was sure that marrying Sting at the tender age of 16 was my destiny. Since that fantasy wasn’t panning out quickly enough, I tried kissing Steven (he was blond like Sting), as the Police played on KLZR.

Ah, youth! My friendship with Jenny was never the same. Plus, I didn’t marry Sting as a teenager (in case you were wondering).

Fast forward the mix tape 30 years (bypassing 90’s grundge music entirely), and I still regret the mistake that resulted in the end of my friendship with Jenny. I don’t regret not marrying Sting (even though I really didn't have a choice in the matter anyway).

I like my funny, little life. My lovely, brown-haired husband helped me make a special little girl. Yes, they both drive me crazy sometimes. Sure, I get tired and bored, on occasion. I wish we had more money, at times.

But life has given me everything I could ever need and want and more.

I hope my daughter will read this post in her teenage years, and realize earlier than I did that a simple life filled with people who care about you is more important than fame and fortune.

I have my doubts though. Every teenager needs to figure out his or her own path. Just like me, her journey will be filled with pitfalls and detours. When she loses her way, I’ll still be here, married to her greying father and loving her.

I don't think Sting will factor into this picture at all.

*Names changed to protect the innocent

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Photo Source: David Shankbone, Wikipedia Commons

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Good, The Bad and The Toddler

My baby girl turns TWO! Really, not my baby anymore. She's a person!

I couldn't be more honored to be the mama she chose to witness her transformation from baby to

However, the miraculous milestones of toddlerhood give this mama equal opportunity to celebrate, and to complain. Half the time I'm down with the peace sign for two, the other half flipping the bird!

Here's what I mean about toddler schizophrenia:

My toddler has her own personality!
She insists on wearing a hat in eight degree weather, decides she only wants cake for breakfast or refuses to get into a car seat without a huge commotion.

She puts on her clothes all by herself!
After an hour's worth of effort.

She can undress herself too!
In public.

She understands cause and effect!
She opens the refrigerator to dump out the contents of an entire can of coffee or bag of walnuts.

She has a mouth full of baby teeth!
Which she uses to bite the cat, her parents and friends in baby classes.

She climbs up onto her chair to eat all by herself!
She climbs onto tables, bookcases and over various barriers meant to contain her.

She can talk!
Whine, say "no" and imitate my curse words with great precision and impeccable inflection.

She can walk!
Into a crowd or oncoming traffic.

She's gotten so big!
She can reach up onto kitchen counters and other surfaces that contain dangerous objects like knives and pens.

She's even tall enough to reach up and hold my hand when we're walking together!
She refuses to hold my hand when we're walking together.

She can run too!
Away from me after placing beads, pebbles and other random debris in her mouth that she's found on the ground and that are dirty and/or may result in choking.

She eats with a fork!
The fork makes a perfect catapult to propel food away from the table.

She's old enough for potty training!
Oh, yeah, we need to start potty training.

She throws a ball!
Or rocks, blocks and other heavy yet aerodynamic objects capable of breaking windows and/or causing bodily harm.

She likes to draw!
On walls, furniture, expensive family heirlooms and the entire length of her body.

Happy Birthday, sweet girl! I marvel at my growing, learning, curious beauty, who embraces the world with arms wide open!
When she's not making me want to pull my hair out.

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Photo Source: Mike Bailey-Gates, Flickr, this photo was resized, which does not suggest that the licensor endorses me, this site or its content.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Get Out of My Bed!

If I said to you, "your baby is going to grow up emotionally unattached, because you let him sleep in his own crib", you would yell "Poppycock!" (or use some other form of strong language).

You would be right to do so. Making such a broad prediction about a child based on a family's sleeping style is not only taking a rather limited view of child-rearing, it's insulting.

So why is it considered ok by some to say that co-sleeping families are sure to raise indulgent, dependent children? I've been hearing this opinion about our own family's decision to co-sleep, since before Claire was born.

I read it again recently in the comment section of an article entitled "Have American Parents Got It All Wrong" in The Huffington Post. The gist of the article is that parents in other countries do a better job bringing up independent and self-reliant children. The reader commenting shared her opinion that co-sleeping is adding to the problem of needy kids in America.

The ironic part is that some of the countries touted in the article as raising more independent children have high rates of co-sleeping. The National Institute of Health compiled data that showed that 88.2% of Korean families co-slept with their children aged 12-82 months. Data from another study showed that 65% of Swedish families co-slept at three months.

Honestly, I'm not even trying to make a case for co-sleeping here. Other countries that were mentioned in the article have much lower rates of co-sleeping. The same study found that 23% of German families co-sleep at age three months.

I do have a challenge for the woman who wrote the comment critical of co-sleeping, though. I dare her to stand in a room with 10 kids and tell me which children slept in a crib as a baby and which did not. I bet she couldn't.

Parenting is not so simple. It's not an all or nothing game. The idea that a baby's level of independence while sleeping results in greater autonomy later in life is as narrow-minded as the idea that a baby's dependence equals more connectedness. Individual personalities and characteristics of children that have nothing to do with parenting styles surely come into play. Then, there are the millions of interactions between parent and child that take place during daylight hours. I'm sure there are plenty of bed sleeping children who are cautious, just as there are co-sleeping children who are risk-takers.

And, lady, just plain stop the judging. My gut feeling about parenting styles in general is that children intuitively know when you believe in the way you are raising them. If you are confident in your decisions, they will be too, which will go a long way in growing secure and capable beings.

Paradoxically, too, our children are going to struggle in life, because of and despite of some of our parenting choices. We must be humble enough to admit that there is much about parenting that is out of our control. Wouldn't it be great if we could just all be there for one another when our children falter, instead of finding fault or blame?

And, speaking of judging. I don't know why anyone cares when, how, where and how often my husband and I have sex, which is yet another preoccupation of the HuffPo commenter and many others who are critical of co-sleeping.

Worry about your own marital bed, lady, not my family bed.

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Photo Source: Shiny Things,

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bad News

Elected officials as corporate puppets, the longest war in American history, terrorism, gun violence, drone strikes, climate change. Any of you still reading? It's easy to want to look away, throw our hands in the air.

It's hard to contemplate the world that our children will inherit.

I remember Walter Cronkite in black and white voicing over horrific pictures of children whose bodies were distorted, ravaged by hunger. Stick legs carrying bloated stomachs. Arms too weak to swat the flies away from their faces. The eyes of the mothers were animated with anguish.

My father sat on the couch watching, too. The images didn't seem bother him like they did me. Looking back on it now, I think I misread his helplessness for callousness.

I asked him why their stomachs looked like they did. My father, the scientist, could answer that question. When I asked him why we let children die from hunger, the scientific method seemed to fail him.

"It's complicated."

I remember thinking that I would do better, if I were a grown-up.

That day, my father fell off the pedestal on which I had placed him. Sooner or later, all parents fall, like Icarus flying too close to the sun.

We are not invincible, like our children believe. Like we would like them to think. Like I believed my father was back then.

Right now, Claire is ignorant to the suffering of the world. I am her sun. She circles me confidently and predictably, like a planet.

She will come to expect answers one day. As she should. As we all do.

Really, I'm stuck with a question though. I ask myself the question that I posed to my father then; Why is it so complicated?

I can answer it the same way my father did...I don't know.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wonder and Fear

My two year old, Claire, ran straight through the front door, bursting with news to share with a particular member of the family about her trip to Grammy's house.

"Look, Lloyd. Grammy gave me chalk. It's red and orange and pink," she said over and over again excitedly. He listened patiently, while sniffing the pieces of chalk she held under his nose.

Yes, Lloyd is our cat. He is Claire's good friend.

I was grateful to Lloyd, the cat, for being so obliging. I was in awe of the magical world of my child.

In Claire's world, sticks of chalk might as well be nuggets of gold. Cats are confidants who will be sure to concur with you on just about anything you tell them. The world is surprising and new and everything is possible.

But wonder has a shadow side, too.

"Pink scary," Claire said, while we were at Grammy's house. She gestured to the bathroom door with one hand and clung to my pants with the other. Grammy's pink satin robe hung on the back of the door. Claire became fixated on it as unfamiliar and mysterious -- an object of terror.


I tried to coax her toward the door to look at it. I wanted her to believe that the robe was something mundane and ordinary. I wanted to talk her out of her fear.

"Look," I said. "It's like a coat. See the buttons."

Sometimes, reassurance does the trick. Not this time. For all Claire knew, the robe was going to leap off the hanger and swallow her whole.

I started thinking about how fear springs from the same place as wonder. I stopped trying to reassure her. I decided just to be with her.

Each night, Claire sees the moon and I swear she believes it has risen for her and her alone. With great joy, I go along with her on this flight of fancy. I realized that I need to be able to roll with her when she's suspicious of the everyday too.

In time, Claire won't see the world as such a magical place anymore. For now, I want to treat this magical world with respect and empathy.

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Photo Source: Capture Queen, Flickr. This photo has been adapted and does not suggest that the licenser endorses me, this blog or its use. License.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Grieving the Unknown

I was eight weeks pregnant when George and I were married. I had a miscarriage at 13 weeks. At the time, I wrote this piece to mourn and heal.

I thought there was no grieving without knowing

I thought mourning was fueled by

Lost relationships and experiences shared

Losing you is a different thing

Potential uncoils,

Missing the change in the curve of my waist

The place I touched to remind me that you were there, oh, so, barely there

Letting go a shift in consciousness that readied to make room for you

Getting used to no morning sickness, for Pete's sake!

Such elusive things seem to add up to knowing you

Well, you will remain in a million wedding pictures and I will remember the proverbial twinkle in your dad’s eye

He wondered if you had thoughts before this

He would talk to you, just in case

We had so many questions, my mystery and my hope

I have them now too,

I want to know could I have saved you

Did I do something wrong?

I want to know if you knew us, if you will remember us

I fear the answer is no

But I’ll never know

Something else to grieve

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