George and Claire went out together for a few hours yesterday. I was alone in the house. I let the obligations go. I listened to the blood rushing through my head, the heat circulating through the pipes, my breath's rhythm.
Silence like this is novel. It's quiet when my baby is asleep. But not silent. The absence of sound becomes filled with my anticipation of her cough, a bad dream, or a movement of some kind.
A mother's connection to her child makes a sound, even when her child naps.
Yesterday, I had free time. Free time. Let the words roll over your tongue slowly. Imagine not being hurried, not being needed, not feeing like you're stealing a moment for yourself.
Yesterday, I didn't want George and Claire to come home. I wanted to run away. I didn't want to have any responsibilities.
I write often about the way our identity changes when we become a mom, the reshuffle of priorities, the parts of ourselves that get put aside, because of the all-encompassing nature of being a parent. I don't write about my hatred for how these changes make me feel sometimes, or how I want to quiet the voices in my head.
You see, it's just that I don't want to choose between me and my daughter. I don't want to see my daughter as a chore. I don't want to have limits. I don't want solitude to get pushed aside. I want there to be more time and less obligations. I want my husband to take her more. You see, before Claire, there was more time. It all makes me so mad, I could jump up and down and throw a tantrum the likes of which even my daughter couldn't muster.
But, then, I feel guilty.
"I called my daughter a chore! How can I want to run away from my family?" I start to panic a bit, making up doomsday scenarios in my head. "What if they went away forever? That would serve me right." Self-recrimination sets in about now. "I need to just suck it up! I need to just be grateful for the time I have. I don't even work and I only have one kid; I don't have nearly as much on my plate as some people. What am I complaining about? I need to stop complaining!"
There are many truths. other than the ones in my head. I know that my feelings will pass. I know that I could not do without my daughter and husband for that long. I like that they need me. I need them too.
I also know that I really do need more time for myself. And that I'm probably not going to get it.
Yes, so many truths. Ones that refuse to be reconciled.
Reposting today, because I watched the video again and felt sentimental.
I watched our birth video today for the first time. I had to get up the courage beforehand. I had a pretty crunchy birth – midwife, birthing center, no drugs whatsoever -- but I was never one to want a record of the whole scene.
I was pretty sure that I didn’t want the clinical perspective - a blow by blow, so to speak. I figured her birth would be better left filtered through the gauze of time and the haze of memory.
Then, while we were in the final stages of labor, George asked me and I changed my mind. At the time, I wasn’t really sure why. I guess you could say that I was a tad preoccupied, so it just didn’t seem to matter.
Actually, I think that’s the point. The only thing that mattered was getting her into the world safely. I didn’t care if someone was videotaping. The President could have walked in the room, and I wouldn’t have been bothered.
As I was watching the video today, I seemed to have this same focus. The gory details (and there were some) and the bits of my anatomy revealed seemed secondary to watching her come into the world for the first time.
I never really understood how people could describe the birth of a child as beautiful, given the pain and gore. Well, I found it stunningly beautiful. I stand corrected.
I swore I wouldn't give advice on this blog but, if you are having a child, videotape the birth. If you decide you don’t want to watch it, you don’t have to. You can always just delete it.
Or you may surprise yourself. I didn’t think I wanted to watch it either. I’m really glad I did.
Two work colleagues and I had our babies months apart from one another. They both decided to return to work; I did not. The prevailing media narrative would have you believe that we were critical of each other's decisions.
Supposedly, we are in two opposing camps: the SAHM's believe that WM's aren't providing their children the care they deserve, and that nannies are no substitute for the love of a mother. It's more likely that working mothers know they need to nurture many sides of their identity, in order to be better parents. Or, maybe, they need the money.
WM's supposedly believe that SAHM's are denying the side of themselves that needs fulfillment outside of the home, as well as conforming to traditional gender roles that are designed to diminish women. Maybe, they just aren't so concerned about "having it all".
In both camps, a million other things, which are entirely personal and individual, surely go into the decision-making process too.
Thankfully, these divisive narratives (dubbed the "Mommy Wars" by journalists looking to fan the flames between mothers) did not play out in my relationships with my two colleagues In reality, I found great support from these two women. I supported their decisions as well.
I remember a particular conversation that occurred between me and one of my colleagues:
"I don't know how you have the energy to work and care for kids, " I say, "I wouldn't be able to do it. My hat's off to you."
"No, really, it's the other way around. I don't know how you stay at home all day with kids," my colleague says. "I need to get out of the house or I would go insane."
Not opposing perspectives; different ones. As it should be.
I started thinking about this conversation again, because of three posts that I read recently. Meredith at Mom of the Year writes a beautifully honest piece about being home with children. Jen at Life on the Sonny Side writes a heartfelt and funny post about balancing work and home life. Annie at The Rational Mind of a Crazy Woman writes a funny post about transitioning to the home after leaving her job.
Three very different realities of life with kids that share a common denominator. Each mom talks about how hard it is to be a parent.
That's the reality that joins us all. That's the reality that connects my colleague and me, even though we are perched on opposite sides of the fence.
At the end of the day, we all have way too much on our plates to get bogged down in judging one another. I feel so much more buoyed to face the challenges of being a parent by seeking the things that moms have in common rather than what makes us different. I am less alone when I am able to recognize myself in other people.
"It take a village" means more than the practical reality of taking care of children, it means uniting with one another to do so.
I've noticed that the writing on this blog swings between two wildly, opposing tones. I either can't believe my good fortune to have such a lovely, beautiful and strong daughter, or I find Claire to be the most frustrating person on the planet.
I must admit I'm becoming paranoid that my readers find me a tad bit schizophrenic (and that my daughter is going to catch on soon too).
Yet, I've noticed a similar swing in other mom blogs too, so maybe I'm not alone. Janine from Confessions of a Mommyholic writes about expecting the usual fight with her daughter, and sharing a precious moment with her instead. Deb at Urban Moo Cow expresses her desire to get the weaning process over, only to discover that she mourns the loss of breastfeeding after it's done so quickly.
Before I had Claire, I had plenty of schizophrenic relationships. I'm no stranger to bad-boy boyfriends, who I would describe as addictions and who certainly weren't good for me. In those relationships, the ups and downs were part of the attraction, and seemed to keep things exciting in a codependent, neurotic kind of way.
Funny, I would never describe my relationship with my daughter as an addiction. She is definitely good for me, and schizophrenic is the wrong word too.
Really, this ebb and flow is a rhythm inherent to the parent/child relationship. It's one of the fascinating, maddening, confusing and beautiful things about parenthood.
Being a mom stretches you in ways you could never imagine -- to the depths of despair and the heights of grace. These two states seem wildly opposing also. In reality, they are both at the heart of what makes us human.
We moms. We're a bright bunch. It's been said that we have eyes in the back of our heads. We can distinguish the particular brand of silence that says our children are up to something, even when we're in different rooms. An instinct kicks in when they're ready to act like a bull in a china shop. We know the look in their eyes that means they're hatching their next plan or telling a lie, sometimes even before they know it.
So why are we so surprised every time it happens? By "it" I mean the endless supply of irrational, impulsive and destructive things that occur on a daily basis.
When Claire rubs crayon into the Oriental carpet or sticks her hand in the trash for the hundredth time, I'm always shocked. Each time, it feels like the first time.
Each time, I want to say "Why did you just do that?" I want to say, "Didn't I just tell you not to?" I want to say, "Why don't you listen?"
When I'm particularly flabbergasted, I want to scream "Why, why, why?" to the heavens. Sometimes I do.
Am I just an eternal optimist, whose hopes are dashed each day? Do I wake up every morning believing that today will be different? Today she will listen. Today she will respect my things. Today she will follow my well-defined rules.
Of course not. I know a child needs to learn how to behave. She needs practice. She needs to be told over and over again. She needs to break the rules, even.
Yet, each time my child shows a kid's nature, I'm surprised.
I think it's because I want to be able to let my guard down every now and then. But, when I do, no good comes of it.
It sucks not being able to let your guard down every now and then.
George and I started talking about one of those 529 funds for Claire for college. I fear I'm going to break out in hives every time I think about it. Not for the obvious reasons, like the rising cost of college or that my daughter will be ready to leave the nest.
My reasons for gloom and doom are more self-centered. I start thinking about how old I will be then. When you have a child at 44, you're staring social security in the face (if it exists then) by the time your kid graduates from high school. In other words, mom is grandma's age.
I mentioned our impending golden years to George and he said, "Oh, I'll be 60, when Claire goes to college. Jerry's age. He looks great."
I just stared at him. It's true; our friend Jerry looks great at age 60...
"Jerry doesn't have kids," I said.
"You're right," he said. "I'm not going to look like Jerry."
Case closed. I usually don't win arguments that easily.
I recently found a picture of George and me online that was taken before we were married. I was on Google images with Claire looking at the Statue of Liberty. She wanted to see pictures of papa, so I searched my husband's name.
I was surprised when this one popped up. I had forgotten about it. We were at a fancy benefit for A.R.T. New York. Here we are with Director Ginny Louloudes.
Don't we look fresh faced? George doesn't have grey hair yet. I'm actually tan! I don't even remember the last time I was tan. Well, clearly, the last time I was tan was when this picture was taken. Wearing a dress is a distant memory also.
I can't say I would want to go back to the time before we had Claire. My life is much richer and more rewarding now. Before Claire definitely wasn't the good old days. But the days were certainly easier. And I miss that black dress.
I need to find a place to wear that again, no matter that I'm getting old.
Whole new categories of pet peeves grab hold of you, when you're a parent. Take shoes: Why can't they design children's shoes that go on tiny feet without major time and effort and/or struggle with your child? Or zippers; they've become my latest nemesis. How about drivers? I never noticed how many people get behind the wheel and act like they're in the last lap of the Indy 500.
I have a list of complaints about children's music. Buying a CD seems simple enough. I suppose I'm looking for the nursey rhymes I heard as a kid. Yet, take it home, pop it in…Hickory Dickery Dock's done rap style…Old MacDonald plays like a Southern rock song from the 70's, complete with guitar solo in the middle. My personal least favorite is Baa, Baa, Black Sheep done in quarter time with the chanteuse crooning as if she's Whitney Houston. A sheep just isn't that emotional, nor is the song itself.
These classics contain creative license, are full of artistic spin. Do they think they're appealing to parents' tastes or are they just frustrated rock stars sublimating their ambitions by producing children's music? I have a feeling it's the latter. Either way, the songs aren't as remarkable as the singers seem to think.
Genres reinterpreted. Classical music done on a recorder, Jazz-lite. Mozart and Coltraine are rolling over in their graves. Why not listen to the originals? Well, except for the classic Irish music that you maybe want to listen to on St. Patrick's Day (sorry Irish readers).
Then, there are the lyrics that I didn't notice as a child. Three blind mice is just plain sadistic. And Skip to My Lou? Who is Lou? Why are we skipping to her?…him? Who knows.
Forgive me, I clearly spend too much time for my own good listening to this music.
Of course, it's really for my daughter's benefit, and Claire doesn't seem to mind. She's blissfully oblivious to my pet peeves. Although, her favorites are Itsy-Bitsy Spider and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star -- done as they should be with simple melodies and straightforward lyrics.
Perhaps, my daughter isn't buying the artistic flourish either.
Mashed avocado hangs precariously from the bottom of Claire's plastic spoon, as she inches it to her mouth like a drunkard.
I want to intervene, badly. I know the odds. In the race
between speed and gravity, gravity usually prevails with a baby learning to eat from a spoon.
"Oh, no!" Claire says, rubbing the glob of green
that has hit her shirt further into the weave of the fabric. In the process,
she elbows the sippy cup off the table and onto the floor.
”Yup. I was right. I win,” I think.
If my baby could talk better, she would respond with something like, "But who needs to win, mom?" Why you spoiling all the fun?"
Each meal is new adventure for Claire, an opportunity to
investigate properties, try new things, practice hard-won skills. She's part
explorer, part scientist, part conqueror of the world -- planting her flag
gloriously atop a mountain of guacamole. When I look at it from a baby's
perspective, I'm happy to serve as her guide, to be the Sacagawea to her Lewis
The problem is that I don't always see things the way Claire
does. Instead, I see the big, giant mess she leaves in her wake. And the chaos
that I am left to clean up.
The funny part is that I'm not considered the Donna Reed of
housekeeping anyway (my husband would concur). I often wonder how moms with greater
perfectionist tendency than my own deal with the amount of daily mess that
toddlers make (and I'm clearly not talking only about disarray in the eating
arena here). It must be a challenge.
I'm able to temper my own inertia about the Groundhog's Day
phenomenon of toddler chaos by putting on my teacher's hat. I find inspiration in the beliefs of the 19th Century father of American education, John Dewey:
To 'learn from experience' is to make a backward and forward connection between what we do to things and what we enjoy or suffer from things in consequence. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it is like; the undergoing becomes instruction -- discovery of the connection of things.
-Democracy and Education
I'm reminded to value the time that Claire gets to experiment, explore and play. It's
the best way for her to learn about herself and her world, to gain
confidence in her abilities and to grow more independent.
The part that Dewey leaves out in his philosophy is that the process of learning can be extremely messy, particularly when the learner in question is of the baby or toddler
variety. Still, I’m a believer. His ideas embrace exuberant curiosity about everything around us; a quality I desire to instill in my daughter, even when I’m wearing my mom hat (or cleaning gloves, as it were).
Yes, being a mom is filled with daily banalities like rubbing Spray & Wash on green stains. Thinking about some of our great philosophers makes these routine things about motherhood feel a bit more heroic!
Claire loves music. We have a treasure trove of children's music on iTunes, 311 songs with a playing time of 11 hours. Of course, my daughter just has to hear a song that doesn't exist in this collection today.
I'm undeterred. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star can't be too hard to get online, I figure. I find it quickly on a children's music site online. I find something unexpected also.
As Twinkle, Twinkle plays on my laptop, a picture flashes on the screen. A woman mugs at the camera with pouty lips. She's stands with her back arched and chest out. A skin-tight mini-dress shows half of an immense cleavage and barely covers an ample behind that's pushed into the air, as if to suggest an offering. She pulls at the bottom of the dress around her crotch to keep the thin, stretchy fabric from bunching up in front and revealing even more unsavory bits.
So many questions go through my head at once. What are they advertising? Why on earth would they think that someone coming to a children's music site would click on that picture? Why would I want my daughter to see this representation of femininity? How in the world do you shelter your children from these things? And, if you can't, how do you explain their existence?
We used to sneak looks at National Geographic, when we were little. Girlie magazines were hidden away in drawers. The good ol' days. Now, we have the internet.
It's stating the obvious that I want my daughter to grow up with a healthy body image, and a positive attitude about what it means to be a woman. We all want these things for our children. It's clear that it has become a growing challenge to accomplish these goals, when we live in a world overly-saturated with sexed-up advertising imagery and media outlets obsessed with the superficial. We all probably agree.
My viewpoints aren't on the extreme end of the spectrum either. I believe in freedom of choice. While not my particular cup of tea, an adult has the right to look at this kind of imagery. I should have a choice NOT to look at the picture too. I should be able to have some control over what my daughter sees also.
We try in our family too. We don't have a television. Our daughter doesn't spend time on the internet. Perhaps, we need to take more extreme measures, like moving off the grid.
It's disheartening. I didn't expect to have to start thinking about these issues, when my daughter is this young. I had hoped I wouldn't have to start facing my feelings of powerlessness about them just yet.
I am unprepared. I fear that nothing I could possibly say or do is a match for the pervasiveness of objectifying messages about women that our world has to spare. Now, I can add paranoia about my lack of control over when and where they will suddenly pop up.
I mean, come on, I found an incredibly objectifying and offensive image today on a children's music site, while my daughter and I listen to a nursery rhyme!
Shock jocks and political pundits predominate the testosterone-filled airwaves of talk radio. Breast size? Sure, tune in to the Howard Stern show. Breastfeeding? (insert crickets chirping here).
The female voice, particularly that of the mom, is like an endangered species on the radio. Not considered sexy enough, I guess.
The two women of Messy Mom's Radio are out to even the score. They've gone around the powers that be, and staked their claim to a piece of the internet radio airwaves.
On Thursday, I'm being featured on their show as the Messiest Mom of the Week. I wear the mantle proudly...Wait, no, tiara? Come on, now! The Tao of Poop digs Messy Moms' message. The more we embrace the mess and find inspiration in the everyday, the happier we will be.