Archive | January 2014

My Four Year Old Wants To Chop Her Hair Off

Mama can't let go!

Mama can’t let go!

The plan was simple. I was going to be a mom who knew which battles to pick.  That is, I wasn’t going to sweat it when my kids wanted to plaster the walls of their room with obscure German punk bands or vintage Ralph Macchio posters.  I also wasn’t going to power struggle over their clothing choices so long as their private parts were covered.  When it came to their bodies, my guiding principle was to let them be.  I was prepared to honor just about anything they did in the name of creativity and self-expression.

Then, my actual child started asking me for a hair cut.  My daughter, she of the lovely curls around which I had woven a bit of an identity, wanted a short, short hair cut. Like any good mother committed to honoring her daughter’s process, I ignored her.  I literally refused to engage in a conversation about her cutting off all of her curls.  I think the technical term is DENIAL.

Because she’s smarter than I am, she started pointing out people who had hair she wanted.  She held up a Harry Potter book and said, “This, Mama.”  In public, she voiced her desires, knowing I couldn’t very well ignore her all the way through Target.  And I couldn’t.

But I also couldn’t very well say to her, “No, honey, that’s not what you want.”  Rule numero uno in my parenting manifesto was (and is) Don’t invalidate children’s reality.  She wants what she wants.

Plan B was to hope she changed her mind.

It’s not working.  The only reason I have any solid ground on which to stand for not marching her over to Snippets Hair Salon is that sometimes she changes her mind.  Like when she begs for strawberry ice cream and then cries because she really wanted chocolate.  Or when she desperately wants to go to the park only to reach hysterics when she leans she had to forego a chance to take a bike ride.

She’s four.  She’s fickle.  I can’t very well take her at her word about something as drastic as a haircut, can I?

But I never wanted to be a mom that treated my kids like dolls to dress up and force to conform to my vision.  I also never thought a four-year-old girl would want to chop all of her hair off.

It’s a dilemma.  Next time she brings it up, I swear I will make an appointment and take her at her word.  I’ll let fate decide what happens to her glorious curls.  And if the end up on the salon floor, I’ll sweep them up and make myself a wig, since I’m the one who loves the damn curls so much.

For more on my curl quandary, clickety click here.

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The Difference Between A Badass And A Jackass?

Here lies a "badass"

Here lies a “badass”

The revolving door spit me straight into The Loft’s sweater section, where patrons like me were offered 50% all new arrivals.  I touched the top row of acrylic cardigans displayed on a table, my hand stopping on the last one (black) while the pain passed and I checked the time.

9:07 AM

I was using the stop watch function on my iPhone, which required me to do math.  “Fifteen minutes,” I said aloud, to a saleswoman who approached me to tell me about the sale I already knew all about, thanks to the seven-foot signage.

Spotting the lounge wear, I bee-lined for the back wall.  My vision was something comfortable but stylish, with the added obstacle that the waist had to be stretchy, since I might have an incision.  I found a striped blue and white outfit meeting my criteria.  Extra bonus: it was vaguely nautical, which seemed cheery because it reminded me of Gilligan’s Island.

I massaged a few more sweaters in the outerwear section and then paid for my new outfit.  The revolving door spit me back onto the sidewalk.

9:23 AM

I had another one sharp enough to take away my congested breath.  When it was over, I shuffled down the sidewalk into my office building, one hand fishing for my access card, the other timing contractions on my phone.

Everyone was expecting me to be out the following week, but no one knew I was actually in early labor as I sat at my desk finalizing discovery requests for a case in New York superior court and preparing to turn my entire caseload over to my colleagues.

My stomach tightened and released all morning long.  The smug smile on my face that no one could see said it all: I’m a mother f*cking bad ass doing my job while having contractions.

By 2:00 PM, the yellow post-it note where I was recording the timing showed my contractions were seven minutes apart.  I shut my door and called the doctor.  I was told to call back when the contractions were two minutes apart.

Still enthralled with my own badassery, I attended a firm party held in honor of the receptionist’s 56th birthday.  “When do you think you’re going to have this baby?” my boss asked, chocolate frosting gathered at the corner of his mouth.

“Probably tonight,” I said, straight-faced.

The horror flashed on his face instantly.  “You probably shouldn’t be here then,” he, the father of three mumbled, cake crumbs raining on his tie.

He didn’t know that I had to be there.  I had something to prove.  I wanted to look back on this last day of work before my second child was born and see myself giving it my all.  I needed to be there alternately gripping the desk while the pain subsided and shuttling my files to and fro.  I still thought the whole enterprise of being a mother was about being this particular kind of badass—the kind that works through labor pains to prove that she’s tough, no—tougher, no—toughest.

I know better now.  I know better than to endanger myself trying to prove something.  I know better than to chance having my water break in the employee kitchen next to the dude from accounting.  I know better than to buy nautical-themed lounge wear.   I know I don’t really have to prove anything.

And I know the difference between a badass and a jackass.

This entry was posted on January 27, 2014. 37 Comments

Making Lemonade From Mother Nature’s Frozen Lemons

lemonade1

 

Like everyone being battered by the nasty winter weather, I see Mother Nature handing me lemons.  Actually, she’s not handing them to me; she’s pulling them out of an old-fashioned ice box somewhere in the Arctic tundra and chucking them at my exposed head. 

But guess what, Mother Nature, I love frozen lemonade, and I know how to make it from your stupid lemon grenades.

You’ve underestimated me. You’re so giddy from the thrill of torturing millions of people and stranding a bazillion travelers, that’s you’ve forgotten the deep reservoir of resilience that resides beneath my puffy down coat and the subsequent four additional layers of fleece.

To you, I proclaim, “I love this weather.  Bring it on! You and your frozen lemons don’t scare me.”  What’s the worse that could happen? I die of complications from a lemon concussion? 

Oh, I don’t think so.

Are you, gentle readers, not feeling the love? Are you fixated on the annoying salt dust that’s all over your new boots and your old coat? Are your wood floors ruined because pipes burst and your kids can’t figure out how to take off their boots in the “mudroom” you fashioned (from mud and an old beach towel) at the edge of your garage?

I was too, honestly, until this: I realized that this weather is the greatest agent of social change in my adult life to date. 

Check it out: I now have something to say to absolutely everyone in the universe. Cliche to discuss weather? Probably.  I don’t care.  I’ve got a golden ticket into conversation.  This morning I discussed how long I waited at the bus with the most un-chatty person in my office.  Oh, she chatted back today, alright.  She had to outdo me with her wait time, of course.  So she won, but who cares? We chatted.

To the gruff old security guard in my building, I offered this opening salvo, “Can you believe this cold?”

How could he resist me?

My boss and I discussed how many layers it takes to survive public transportation.  My mother and I have texted about the barbarism that is winter 2014.  So what if I am complaining and asking my Mommy to come to Chicago and rub my feet? It’s still communication and there’s plenty more where that came from.

Jeff’s out of town this week, which means that before we collapse in our respective cities at night, we have the obligatory spousal phone conversation.  During the summer, we are so beat down by our days we can’t think of anything noteworthy to say.  Not last night.  He had a snow story; I had a snow and a windchill story.  Then he trumped me rhetorically when he described how he slipped on the ice.  Plus, he got to regale me with stories about how some cities (*cough* DC *cough*) cannot handle snow.  We must have talked through meteorological issues for a good seven-minutes. 

That, people, is what you call keeping the sizzle in your marriage.

So, thank you Mother Nature for giving me sound bites (and frost bite, you Bitch) for every situation in the foreseeable future.  You and your lemons don’t scare me.  Keep it coming– I’ve got a dinner party in a few weeks, and I’ll need some small talk material.

I Smell A Diet Tip

I’ve got a diet tip.  It’s hard core.  You’ve gotta be serious about shedding unwanted weight, though.

Trust me, I drive a mini-van.

It’s not about stocking your fridge full of kale, chia or whatever bullshit faddish thing everyone is yapping about on bona fide health blogs.  You’re welcome to do that, but honestly it’s beside the point.

It’s also not about having a buff and gruff personal trainer who will lift your leg so high over your head his face will be in your crotch and you’ll be all  is this good for my marriage?  But if you’ve got a kettle bell coming from Amazon Prime or just bought a treadmill on eBay that’s cool.  Again, beside the point.

If you want to just cut the heart out of your appetite and win the calorie roulette game, get yourself a small animal.  Any one will do: mouse, rat, hamster, ferret.  If feral cats are your thing, go for it.  Just the other night, I saw a raccoon as big as a kindergartener with giantism.  If you can catch one of those, you’re golden.

Now, take your animal and bury him somewhere in your car.  No fair just lifting up the floor mat.  Really wedge the critter in somewhere good.  Perhaps remove the glove compartment and shove it back there.

If you are sensitive, you can have someone else do the burying.  Better yet, you can just leave some Pirates Booty or Goldfish in your van, forget to shut the doors, and let Nature takes its course.  That was the method I used, but I know you– You are proactive. You want results.  You don’t want to wait for a family of rats to inhabit the car where you take your precious children to school and to the pediatrician.  Have it your way; take life by the balls and shove a small marsupial in your chassis.

Did I mention you should do all of the above right before a polar vortex? Because plunging temperatures are going to sap the life force out of the animal and the very natural process of decay will set in. (Don’t go all PETA on me; it’s nature. Don’t hate the player; hate the game.)

Here’s the magic of my diet: All you have to do is carry on with your life while there is a small animal decomposing in your car.  You will lose your appetite.  You will be unable to get that heinous smell out your nasal memory so when you step into a kitchen that has odors of any kind, you will be immediately transported to your car where that smell.  Ohmygodthatsmell. (Click here for the science on smelling and losing weight.)

But you’ll get skinnier.  You will be so nauseated that you will pass up chances to eat Nilla Wafers with the Baby Jesus because that smell.  You may start to think that the rotten milk left out on a west Texas highway in August sounds like Heaven compared to the rat graveyard in your car.  This is normal.  Do NOT panic.  But if you do panic, don’t worry– you’re not going to emotionally eat over this because, that smell is now everywhere, even when you are ten miles away from your car and dousing yourself with Jo Malone’s Pear & Blackberry perfume.

If you’re serious about losing weight, try it.  Like me, your skinny jeans will have a little more give and you’ll have more breathing room in your thong.

It really works.  You just have to commit murder.

So, who’s in?

Newborn Babies and Book Manuscripts: Not Much To Look At But So Much To Love

This is beauty defined for a child born in Texas in 1973.

This is beauty defined for a child born in Texas in 1973.

When my first baby was born, I thought she was more beautiful than Lynda Carter in the TV series Wonder Woman, my previous standard for “most beautiful thing on Earth.” Other than a little birthmark on her temple from trying to squeeze herself outta my chute, there literally were no flaws.  I was helplessly, foolishly, blindly enamored with her.  I wouldn’t have changed one thing about her– not that high-pitched cry or her inability to sleep more than 3 hours.  Nothing.  I loved her; she was mine; we weren’t changing a thing.

And everyone agreed with me because that’s what you do with a new mother who has breast milk dribbling down her rotund stomach, and one eye shut from fatigue poisoning.

When I look back at pictures from that time and that tiny baby, I see that same newborn and admit that in a certain light, Lynda Carter had her beat in the looks department, mostly because in a lot of lights, newborn babies, including mine, don’t look very … human. Other people who were more human-looking than my newborn daughter: Steve Buscemi, Jared from Subway, and Yoda.  But as a new mother, I only saw perfection.  I had no idea how much better it would all get: She’d get more “normal” looking, I’d calm the fuck down, and eventually, we’d find a little family rhythm that allowed us to hum along in relative peace most of the time.

That’s how I feel about the book I’m writing.

That first draft was a newborn. Those hunky, wordy, messy pages.  Sure, I knew they needed work, but I still thought they were beautiful.  Maybe not Lynda Carter, but at least Linda Evans or Linda McNeal, my mom’s friend from the bowling league circa 1977.  I had the same helpless, foolish, blindness vision about the state of the draft and its beauty.

My first draft looked about as much like a “real book” as my daughter looked like a “real kid.”

Now I know that books start out about as beautiful as brand-spanking new babies, which is to say, they are definitely beautiful in their own weirdly wrinkled and scrawny way, but they get so much more accessible and gorgeous as they grow.

Like my daughter, my book had (and has) a lot of growing up to do.  So many changes and so much development still needs to happen.

I happened to look back at my early manuscript– handwritten pages of the opening scene written in April 2012.  Not so long ago, but long before half my characters were even born.  Before I knew about story arcs or plot points. All I knew then was that this thing was crowning, and I had to get it out.  Messy, bloody, uncomfortable.  Births are generally like that.  And while my children’s births were surgical, my book’s birth is vaginal– lots of pushing, sweating, swearing, pleas to be delivered.  It’s raw and it’s unmedicated (but only because I can’t find the epidural that lasts as long as it takes me to write a book) and it requires strength and stamina that I just can’t believe I have within me.

Those pages from the beginning, they started it all.  Almost all the words from that scene have been cut or changed (also, I’m not sure it’s actually a “scene”), but the seed is there.  Just like how I can see in those pictures of my daughter’s first days of life, the flicker of her spirit that I know and love today.  She was in there; she always was.  She just needed time and space to grow up.

Just like my book.

Making Every Mistake In “The Parenting Book”

 

open book

 

Am I going to have to make every single parenting mistake in the book? You know, THE BOOK, the one where sage wisdom is collected. It says stuff like “walk your kids back to their beds when they show up at yours or your lazy ass is gonna have helluva time getting them out.”  That BOOK.

According to the tests of the material in that BOOK, I’m an average student.  And that’s if you grade on a curve.  In reality, I’m sort of below-average and that’s a hard rock for this valedictorian to swallow.

As alluded to above, I have a small child that comes to my bed every night.  He comes when we are already asleep, which means he’s not interfering with “adult” time, but still.  It’s like sleeping with a windmill or an angry judo master.  Chop Chop Chop go his arms and legs all night long.  Jeff and I take turns acting like shields for the other when Simon crawls into bed.

Just walk him back to bed, right? Of course.  Except, that requires me navigating a flight of stairs.  And it’s cold.  And he won’t stay in his room without a battle royale, so screw it.  He says; we get bruised in our sleep.

Then, there’s schedule.  My kids are under five, so of course I know not to overschedule them.  But I did. Oh yes I did, because I got sick of lying around at home watching them fight over toys they ignore until the other one shows interest.  In addition to preschool, I’ve got them in soccer, art, golf, tennis, gymnastics.  It’s insane. It’s not recommended by the BOOK.  In my defense, I’m not building a get-into-college resume; I’m trying to survive the polar vortex.

The BOOK also suggests less snacking so kids will eat meals.  My kids have trained me to get them a snack to tide them over as they walk from the living room to the kitchen.  A twenty-foot walk.  Yessiree, I pack them pretzels or Graham crackers so they can walk to the other end of our modest townhouse.

Insane.

Bedtimes should be before 8PM? Um, not happening.  Toys should be rotated and selectively displayed for maximum enjoyment? No and no.  Parents should avoid bribing kids for good behavior and compliance?  Well, do stickers, candy and cookies count as bribes?

I’ve created all this. I’m the one who rolls over when Simon shows up at midnight.  I’m the one who signed my kids up for seven park district classes.  I too am guilty of indulging every snack whim no matter how many seconds before dinner they want a whole mango with some full-fat yogurt.  I carry around a cache of goodies with which to bribe them to get into (or out of) the car or to be quiet while I’m on the phone or trying to take a nap.

The mess is mine, all mine.  There’s no one to blame except myself and I gave that up for 2014.  So, I’ll just live with it and accept my mediocre grades.

When Your Therapist’s Mother Dies, Send Flowers and Shut Up

image credit: NPR.org

image credit: NPR.org

 

I have a theory.

When an adult loses a parent, what follows from that loss is a transformation– where once the surviving child was blocked, she now soars towards freedom; somehow invisible forces that kept the child locked in old patterns evaporate.  It’s as if the parent’s death allows the child to live in ways that simply weren’t possible while the parent was still drawing breath.  I’m not only talking about strained parent-child relationships; my theory covers all kinds of parent-child relationships.

I saw it happen when Elizabeth’s mom died in 2004– she started dating for the first time ever.  Then when Laney’s dad died in 2007, she moved out of her dysfunctional living situation and bought a gorgeous one-bedroom apartment.  When Jay’s dad passed unexpectedly in 2010, he re-evaluated everything, ended up quitting his law job to go back to school to get his teaching degree.

Just the other night, someone told me that the very first time he went out after his father passed, BOOM!, he met his wife at a bar.

See?

Don’t ask me about my sample size.  I’ll admit it’s small.  I’m not a social scientist, nor I have I tested this theory on myself (and hope I don’t have to for decades).  But I still believe it.  I’ve watched friends face grief head-on and then find themselves for the first time ever in long-term relationships, new jobs, cross-country moves, creative successes.

I don’t go around whispering in grieving people’s ears, “Hey, something really big is going to shift now that your parent has passed.  Think plate tectonics.  The loss sucks, but trust me, something big is coming your way.”  I don’t even hint at it while tears are flowing and the pain is still raw.  Grieving people need casseroles, help picking up dry cleaning, and someone to sit next to them while they watch Sanford & Sons re-runs.  They don’t need my theories.

I’ll be testing this theory for the next few months, thanks to the email I got last week that my therapist was cancelling sessions because his mother had died

I’m already anticipating his Great Shift.   I can see it now: he’ll tap into his deep-but-repressed-all-these-years passion for parasailing, and he’ll close up his practice to live near the ocean.  Maybe he’ll decide to buy a villa in Italy and work three months per year, asking us to Skype in when he’s abroad.  My fantasies about what his loss will unleash in his work life vary wildly: one second I imagine him growing ever more Zen, quoting ancient philosophers and encouraging me to let go of suffering or to light more candles.  Then, I imagine him engaging in brand-new ways of being– like screaming or singing or pounding a drum–  embolden by his new status as a motherless child.  Maybe he’ll recommit to his practice (read me) and stop taking twelve weeks of vacation every damn year.

I wonder if I’ll tell him my theory and if he’ll see me watching him for signs that my hypothesis is solid.  Like science.

Mostly, I wonder if I’m right, and whether I should keep my mouth shut and just send flowers.