Friday, December 9, 2011

If That Mockingbird Don't Sing

Getting some forced writing time here. Picking up toys will wake the child and the bath has been forbidden until the washer and dish cycle finish. The dish cycle, mind you, has been running for over three hours. We’re in dire need of a new septic system, and we’ve been waiting since before Thanksgiving for the job to get done.

It can’t come soon enough. A mom’s life is already tough without having to live with a bath Nazi. Every time I run a tub for our little one who gets into so much stuff all day long the bath Nazi comes in warning me not to fill it too much. It wouldn’t irk me so much if he didn’t take twenty minute showers. But he does. He takes long, luxurious showers while he expects the rest of us, who don’t “work in the public”, to go without. Today he actually said to me, “You’re not actually doing anything to get dirty.” He’s obviously unaware of the maple syrup our son transferred to my hair and shoulders when I took him out of his booster seat, or the grit that I accrue from cooking and cleaning and diapering, not to mention the cat pee on the floor that he never seems to notice, or the fact that there has been a lice situation at the local play center.

Sometimes it astounds me how much he doesn’t get, then I remind myself that men have selective knowledge the same way they have selective smell [cat piss and dirty diapers never come to his attention] and selective hearing [if I ever need to do something that involves him watching the boy, I somehow never said anything to him about it] oh and selective reasoning, as in, my time with our child is a day at the beach until I need back up, and then it’s, “like I need a fourth job.”

I know the denial is just a part of how he copes, though. It’s hard to acknowledge that your lady could use some degrunging when you’re worried your pipes are going to burst.

Still, please, will somebody back me up here and debunk his myth that a few inches of bath water for a small child uses more than a twenty minute shower? Seriously. His showers produce steam that evaporates into a lake on the bathroom floor. Hey, maybe I could recycle that water to wash the nits out of my hair. Now we’re thinking on our toes. [Just kidding. I don’t actually have any nits. At least, I don’t think so. But how can I be sure when I can’t get the man to even look at my scalp, or at the very least, let me run some water to wash my hair.]

So, for Christmas, all I want are bath salts, and a nice bottle of wine with the perfect glass to perch on the side of the tub while I linger to my heart’s contents in aromatic suds.

But I’m a little worried. Because while Santa Clause’s existence is ambiguous at best, there can be no refuting the existence of Scrooge. Scrooge comes in many costumes, but right now he is embodied by the man with the backhoe, the man with the backhoe who parked his big rumbling machine on our lot at the beginning of the week just to taunt and torment us. The man with the backhoe who literally holds us on the edge of our seat should we need, heaven forefend, to use the can. That backhoe man, aka, Scrooge, better get here quick, or our merry Ho-ho’s will soon be cries of Oh No.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Good Cop

Two seconds. Maybe three. Okay, maybe six seconds. Maybe as many as six seconds passed while I was waving goodbye to our friends, suggesting a play date for the next day, squeezing in a detail or two about my son’s climbing fort in the yard and maybe some cocoa afterwards. Then I turned around. And my child was gone.

We were at a big home town football game, which had just ended with a three point loss. We were behind the concession stand, near the floats, which loomed up from the parked trucks like stoic mascots, the blue and white painted whales, the streamers and balloons waving in the wind.

People were starting to head up to the parking lot behind the school. I don’t know if they were there for the other team or what, but at first those who passed seemed quite heedless of the panic in my voice as I shouted my son’s name and pivoted around in circles scanning the periphery of my vision like a sharp shooter desperate to find my target. I tried shouting up to my friend Holly, but she couldn’t hear me in the wind, and as the figures of she and her son receded toward the parked cars, I knew I couldn’t afford to run up to her without risking losing time and distance with my child.

With the speed of ricochet I was zipping around, trying to cover all the bases, when a friend from the community saw me and heard the fear in my voice. “What’s he wearing, Rachel?” she asked, and I promptly answered, “Brown.” Great, just great, I’m thinking to myself, I might as well have dressed him in camouflage. “Brown corduroy coat, brown pants, blue hat.” Then I added, “He’s probably back here at this tent.” I dipped back into the tent set up for the home team, but saw no little person in brown.

In my two minutes of frenzied zigzagging, where I had that sinking feeling of a nightmare descending upon me and bearing down hard, where all the horrendous scenarios started playing in my mind…what if someone had taken him? What if he was right now speeding away in some car? I knew that I couldn’t waste any time. I had seen a man in uniform standing on the other side of the concession stand… the unmistakable dark blue of a police officer. I ran right to him, stood in front of him, and realized I knew him.

“Steve,” I said, my urgency crystal clear in my staccato bark.
“Hi,” he said, with a friendly warmth in his voice. The last time I had seen him, we were at a community gathering for a child who had just drowned, a seven year old boy from our community. He was the first born son of my oldest friends on the island. I had been visibly distraught, Steve had embraced me. “I can’t find my kid,” I said now.
“Okay. How old?”
“Two,” I said.
“What was he wearing?”
“Brown. Brown corduroy pants, brown corduroy coat, blue hat.”
My voice was breaking.
“You stay right here,” he said, pointing to the space directly in front of the concession stand,” and he took off around the corner, talking into his radio.

I stood there for a few moments, stunned, a deer in headlights. I hated the helpless feeling of having to stay where I was, but I also understood completely. People passing were taking notice now… “What happened?” a woman said to her friend. “A child?” They looked over at me.

And in the next moment, there was Stephanie, the friend that had come to my aid, walking toward me, holding the hand of my little two year old, who with his other hand was still happily holding and munching his barbequed chicken sandwich. Save a little stream of snot under his nose, he looked unfazed, no worse for the wear.

I crouched down to embrace him, tears now streaming down my face. “Oh Cayce,” I cried. “You scared me. Don’t scare me like that.”

“He’s not upset, though,” Stephanie said. “He’s fine. He was behind the tent.”

I pictured him standing behind the player’s tent, happily eating his first ever concession stand barbequed chicken sandwich, taking in the scene, completely oblivious to the fact that he was lost or that, in those few moments, his mother’s world had turned upside down and just as swiftly righted itself again.

I thanked Stephanie, saying now I just had to let Steve T know. And in the next moment along came the uniformed officer, assessing the end of the crisis and talking into the radio clipped to his lapel.

Squeezing my little chicken sandwich eater tight in my arms, I headed up the hill to the parking lot to go home. My friend Holly and her son were still in their car, trying to make their way out of the parking lot. I breathlessly recounted how in those five or so minutes that had passed I had called in the cavalry because I had lost Cayce. I felt a little embarrassed, deeply guilty, and even incompetent.

At home, C’s father echoed that sense of embarrassment in having gotten the police involved. But telling the cops was the best thing I could possibly have done.

I would rather be embarrassed, even mortified, than sorry. And while there is always the possibility that I “overreacted”, or that I could have found him myself without causing myself the embarrassment of notifying the authorities, why take that chance?

Earlier yesterday I signed on online petition requesting that the Chancellor of the University of California, Davis, step down from his position after allowing local police in full riot gear to pepper spray a bunch of peaceful student and faculty protestors in the face. An old professor of mine, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Hass, was among the protestors who were hit in the head by a police baton. The whole situation makes me sick and sad. They are just working stiffs trying to hold on to their jobs. But the job they are being given right now is nothing I would wish on my worst enemy.

In the midst of these dissonant times, where police all over the country are being put between a rock and a hard place and viewed in a very unflattering light, yesterday’s lesson serves as an important reminder. Never be afraid to ask a cop for help. They just might jump in to save your day. I have a feeling that, given the choice, that is what they would almost always rather be doing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kids on Crack and Other Spooky Thoughts

My note to the bank teller says, “This is not a ransom note. I just want to request that you PLEEZE not mention the L word in front of my child. He doesn’t want a lollipop, doesn’t need a lollipop, and doesn’t even know what one is, despite your repeated attempts to destroy his body and his innocence every time I come to the bank.”

I know, it seems extreme, perhaps even ridiculous, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and this whole idea of propelling a dumb tradition just for nostalgia’s sake is corrupting our children. Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions.

My little boy is just over two, and so far I have managed to avoid any candy in his diet. Heretofore he has been blissfully ignorant of it. Even when there was a piƱata at a friend’s birthday party last month, I found myself giving in, showing him to pick up pieces of candy and put them into the little bag we had. He dumped them back on the ground. And I was happy to leave them there. He seemed not to show one sugar fleck of interest in the little foil wrapped prizes. I was relieved, a bit prideful, while at the same time looking around at the cast of candy hoarding kids stuffing their bags full and realizing that our time with this phase was dwindling fast.

Now I’m looking at the plastic pumpkin candy bowl with a handle I bought him two days ago for Trick or Treating tomorrow. I’m watching him run around with it, crying “Happy Halloween.” He sure is a fast learner. But how can he not be, when everything in our culture has been programming him for the spooky fun kid’s holiday all month long, from the crafts in his playgroup to the discussions on Sprout to the shelves front and center at the supermarket stuffed with big fat bags of bite size candy.

I’m wondering how I’m going to handle the impending transgression in my parenting principals. The early indoctrination of his little body to this wicked shit that, once he gets his first lick, his first chomp, he'll want, and pine for, and b-line toward at every glimpsed opportunity.

I know many of you seasoned parents of older kids are thinking, “Lighten up.” I guess I have that voice in MY head, too… It’s the one that told me to buy him the pumpkin for his skip-to-ma-loo trip to corruption. But I have scars, I tell you. When I was pregnant with my little boy I was the substitute teacher for a kindergarden class on Valentine’s Day. A big party was planned, with the parents all bringing in treats to contribute. aApparently no restrictions were made on what they were to bring, and by eleven a.m. I had a room full of five year olds high on Fun Dip. If you aren’t privy to the wonders of Fun Dip, it is colored sugar in a pouch, with a dipping stick made out of sugar with which to eat it. After lunch the wildest ones were writing FUN DIP on the blackboard, chanting the name as if they could summon its spirit, stomping around the room in a frenzy of adulation and crashing like a roomful of burning stars.

I had the headache of my life when I got home that day. It was by far one of the most colorful and memorable days of my teaching life, but not in a good way.

The fact that I have an advancing digestive condition of my own, my tricky and sometimes scary and potentially fatal diverticulitis, adds to my concerns about bringing the candy in the house. I don’t want my kid to end up like me. And if I end up eating the candy, which I am likely to do unless it is locked away in the safe, I could bring on another one of these attacks that leaves me breathless and puking and with the overall feeling that I am going to die.

But yes, we have that handled pumpkin. The festivities are expected to commence. Our plan is to let him have his American Trick or Treating experience. We would be such cads of we didn’t partake.

We plan to take control of the junk and dispense it very sparingly.

Heeeeeeehheeeeeeheeeee. The last spooky witchy cackle will be on me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Parenthood

Yesterday, while driving around the island to lull the babies to sleep—my two year old, that is, and the almost one year old I babysit—I made a stop at the free store, the TIOLI, or Take It Or Leave It station at the dump. I popped in there for two minutes with the smallest baby in my arms and my boy still asleep in his car seat. I scored some fun Melissa and Doug rubber stamp and ink sets, and then, on the way out the door, found a pair of Kidorable dinosaur rain boots in new condition, in the perfect size for my son.

One benefit of living in the vacationland of the wealthy is that the junk is often really good junk. Since I’m home with my son and only working part time, I’ve become a regular at the free store. I put away any kind of dumb pride I may have had about taking other people’s leftovers, and reminded myself that the tradeoff was invaluable if saving money shopping at the TIOLI, yard sales, and consignment shops, made it possible to stay at home with my son. And then I discovered what good stuff I could get, and it was all over. I’m a TIOLI addict. It’s a beautiful drive out there, and who doesn’t love a good deal?

So. Occupy Parenthood. In many respects, consumerism undermines families. That has been my heady thought, of late, as I reflect on OWS, and how it bears upon me, and upon my life as the parent of a dynamic two year old whom I’ve had the joy of raising at home. Before I had the baby, I was working twelve hour days and spending the money just as fast on things I thought I needed for the baby—cribs and crib bedding and bottles. Many things that, two years later, still have not been used, or were used very little. The minute you buy your first baby thing online, you become a targeted consumer. The catalogs start deluging your mailbox and your inbox. Swings, bouncy seats and basinets. Each new stage of development comes with a plethora of options slews of different companies are competing to sell you.

They tell us we need a whole load of things, from formula to pacifiers to footwear, to make our parenting easier. Meanwhile, parents stretch themselves thin to be able to afford these things, these props and substitutes for our own loving arms, our own singing voices, our presence in their lives, which is all our children really need.

It’s a Catch 22. It’s a vicious cycle that breaks our backs, vexes our spirits, and weakens our emotional, physical, and moral core-- our family time.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t value hard work. I’ve always worked, and parenting has been the most demanding job of all of them. And I want to instill in my child the value of hard work. But I want to instill in him above all else the values of love, family, and community—things that should come to us for no cost, but seem to come at the highest price of all—the loss of quality time.

So for me, making shifts in our economic system also means shifting our values back to the things that really matter, our families, and our communities, and our collective wellbeing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Nothing embarrasses me anymore. I mean, NOTHING.

I left the house yesterday for a trip to see a doctor on the Cape in maroon velvet pants and a pea green sweater. Then, to top off the color clashing, I threw a periwinkle blue raincoat over the whole charade. The scary part is that I didn’t even care. I guess that last must go without saying. I must not care if I were caught dead in that get-up, let alone seen taking a trip to the “real world” for a doctor’s appointment.

And that is still sparing you from the detail of my socks… I told myself that no one would notice the hefty, mismatched man’s socks under my pants. Until I sat down, that is, or crossed my legs, or bent over or squatted or did anything that involved motion. Then anyone with eyes would catch a glimpse of my gnarly, pilly men’s socks that resembled wadded up dryer lint around my ankles.

I seriously need a lift. Not a face lift, an everything lift. The frump is alive and well, residing in the messy corners of my soul, devouring every ounce of vanity I ever had.

It is little consolation that I have finally figured out a way to keep track of my hairbrush--keep one in the car at all times-- when I have to work it through several inches of split ends. The result is the “tossled” look of a person who has just stuck a finger in an electrical outlet.

My man wanted to know what I wanted for my birthday. I told him clothes. But whatever you do, I said, DON’T give me cash. The last two years in a row I got cash and it all fizzled up in petty expenses like diapers, snacks, and alight, maybe a bottle or two of decent vino. So what did he give me again? CASH, dammit. And a gift certificate to a high end lingerie shop… you know, the kind where the more flimsy the garment, the higher the price. Lingerie is nice. But it won’t get me a job. Not a job I’d want, anyway. And it won’t keep me warm. And it won’t even put the slightest little dent into this wild state of outerwear disrepair in which I find myself.

While we were off island, I spent money I didn’t have-- the birthday money was long gone-- on a few clothes for the little man. For myself, I bought two pairs of fuzzy socks. Meaning, women’s socks that are SUPPOSED to be fuzzy. Hey, one pair is leopard print. That’s sexy, right? Whatever. A mama’s got to start somewhere.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Bridge to Language

Too often I talk about what I do wrong with my parenting, and not often enough about what I do right. I guess it would be fair to say that my little one is verbally precocious. Everyone remarks on his many words.

Twenty-five month old Cayce is talking a blue streak these days. He’s putting together complex phrases with compound words, ebulliently uttered sentences replete with rich sounds, alliteration to amuse any poet worth his salt.

When we drive around the mid-island and the new windmill at the High School is in view, as it is from Surfside Road and from Sparks Avenue, Cayce says, “Wind mill turn. Energy round round round.” Thank you Ziggy Marley, for giving my two year old the words, and thank you Nantucket for giving him the daily visual of what it means to have wind energy.

Saxophone, motorcycle, siberweb, helicopter, sunset, breakfast, grapefruit. “Like some apple juice please.” “More butter jelly toast please.”

For a two year old, and I guess, the studies suggest, especially for a boy, he is cultivating quite a rich vocabulary, and mastering a complex array of sounds with precision and incredible musicality.

So what have I done? Well, being outspoken and chatty by nature hasn’t hurt. I’ve always kind of needed a microphone, and the second I had a baby it was an instant excuse to talk out loud.

But also, I think my background in poetry, as well as acting experience, have helped me to find my stage voice, which basically means finding the music, the cadence, the incredible array of sounds across the scale that are available in language. My wonderful experiences living in the Happy Valley of Massachusetts, near UMass, and in the Big Apple while attending NYU of hearing great poets read their work, lyric poets like Jack Gilbert, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnel, Robert Hass, with whom I studied, and so many more that I got to hear read.

So poetry is great fodder for motherese. And what is motherese, but emphasizing the music in words? So when we talk, we are not just saying words; we are singing. The appeal of children’s books is that, in their simplicity, and their repetition, they allow the music to happen in language. They are poems that tell a story.

Because I love music and drama and poetry, and I am a ham at heart, I’ve always read to my son with a lot of drama. Go big. Be goofy and free with it. Use a range of voices. Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Moon, two classics, are two of our favorites.

And I have sung to my son since he was in the womb. That last summer before he arrived when I spent twelve hours a day taxiing people around the island, the radio was constantly on, and I was constantly singing to it. When we came home from the hospital, we switched to kids music. We had a blast with a wonderful collection called Humpty Who? Nursery Songs for Clueless Moms and Dads, a wonderfully arranged CD with all the classics, which comes with a lyric book. From it I learned the words to Brahm’s Lullaby, The Noble Duke of York, and other classics. I also learned a really fun Burl Ives song from a mix my sister in law made, Little White Duck, an early Disney song.The songs, which I learned in the early days of long hours of nursing, have since kept us company on stroller walks, car rides, nap time, or whenever calming is needed.

In addition to all of this, I should also mention the Your Baby Can Read program, developed by Marc Titzer. I was skeptical, but my mother was intrigued, and bought me the program when Cayce was eleven months old. A multipronged approach to early literacy using videos, music, flip books and word cards, Cayce immediately began learning from the program. It definitely has a lot to offer, and I highly recommend it. However, it is expensive. A wonderful early literacy enrichment program can be created in your own way without need of these marketed materials, just using books, music, speech, pen and paper, letter magnets on the fridge, and seeing each moment as a fun opportunity to describe the world and fill it with voice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Child Inside the Parent

When we become parents, long forgotten things from our own childhoods return to us. Consciously or unconsciously, we are often make our parenting choices within the framework of our own experiences. Those experiences always seem to loom in the background, both what we want to keep, and what we would just as soon let go of.

As I have been thinking about the reasons why I co-sleep with my two year old with my recent blog post, The Road to Resilience, a poem I wrote in my early twenties has come back to me.

Now, as a mother, I am understanding the childhood memories I described in a whole new light.

Here's the poem:

Intimacy and Absence

There was a time when intimacy
meant floorboards under my feet
cool, then warming with the weight
of my slight
child’s body.
Absence was the terror
between two worlds,
my room, where I hardly
knew myself,
and my parents’ bed.
Held between them
their sleeping breath
song in my hair, one
of them would turn away,
my mother a cheek,
my father, the whole crib
of his body.
I’m tunneling backward
on my belly
with a lantern
into the hallway
where my father left us,
where my mother adorned us
with autumn sweaters
and then winter coats.
Farther still, the rooms
we lived in,
the smell of birth giving,
my mother’s huge
effort visible in the
vapor of her sweat
and the blood of the meat
my father cut in the kitchen.
His hand coming up with the knife
has also come to me
with sweets, my mouth
gorged on its sugar.
It has cupped my cheek
with his “I love you.”
I have danced with my mother
in the living room
in our nightgowns
her legs bandaged
the length of my body.
Our triumph then
over all that was
to come.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Road to Resilience

I haven’t written in a dog’s age-- nothing coherent enough to post, anyway. I guess life has taken it out of me. I’ve been in a fog. The fact that I live on an island so often shrouded in fog is not just physical; it’s metaphysical, and metaphoric of a state of mind. Like the fog, sadness has seeped into everything. It clings to surfaces like the droplets of dew, hanging on, leaving a mold.

The glass of happiness tipped over six weeks ago, when a long time friend’s seven year old son drowned in the waters off our north shore. On a brilliant afternoon at the end of summer. While at summer camp. Inexplicably, and unnoticed by anyone, Will’s bright light went out. And whole worlds were plunged into darkness.

Perhaps a price for living in paradise is complacency. We tend to become inured to the danger that lurks around us. Whether it’s the actual water that surrounds us, or just the sense of isolation that it fosters, we have challenges that are unique to our environment. We have our share of tragedies. You could say that about any small town. But because our community is small and isolated, because we live close to the elements of nature, because we are all so interconnected, we take our blows collectively. Grief, like the mold, touches us all, and blooms in our souls.

This recent loss really hit close to home. Not only because I myself have a young boy. That alone would cause it to strike at the heart of my fears. But because the parents this happened to are my oldest island friends, the very people who first brought me to Nantucket fourteen years ago, when they were married. And also because it was only a little over a year after my own sister’s sudden death, when she jumped from the roof of her coop apartment building in Brooklyn, when my baby was only eight months old.

When little Will died I found myself cut loose, adrift in an abyss of immeasurable sadness.

I have learned a lot about myself, and about grief, these last several weeks. And I have been learning about life. It takes its toll. And there is not enough straw and mud in the world to fortify my house against the harsh winds of the Big Bad Wolf. The winds will come. The walls will falter. The resiliency must come not from the beams of our houses, but from the architecture of our hearts.

In my own life, I’ve known too much of loss, too much of absence.

I guess this is why at night I take my child and return to the wild. We go back to the proverbial outdoors, where the fog lifts and the starry universe holds us beneath its canopy of clarity. Together we lay down next to a river. The river flows, abundant, unending. It runs through us as the moon glows and the stars shine and crickets chant nocturnal rhythms. It comes both from me and from beyond me. It flows as food for my child, quiet white milk that sustains him. Sometimes it tickles a little. Sometimes it is just a soft feeling like silk, or the smoothness of his feet after bath against my leg. Other times I’m aware of his breath and effort. We curl together in an enduring embrace. Later he’ll turn away for a while. And then maybe throw his little leg over mine. Maybe turn his face toward mine. We’ll lie like this, in the warmth of touching skins, exchanging our breath, as the planet rotates and the first dawn light rises. My two year old may nurse again before he climbs down from the bed to start the day.

Oftentimes I feel in the minority as a mother who nurses and co-sleeps with her toddler. Talk of bottles and cribs and toddler beds elude me. While I do have a couple of friends who admittedly co-sleep with their babies, they are just a few. And the older my son grows, the more alone I feel in my position. I found myself being apologetic about it, in a recent conversation with a friend, calling it a “bad habit. That’s why I decided I have to write about it.

In fact, choosing to nurture my child skin to skin throughout the night has been one of the best decisions I have made as a mother. In fact, because Cayce is active and adventurous throughout the day, making social connections, trying out new words, scaling heights and launching somersaults, he really needs the time at night to refuel.

Is it because of all of our nighttime skin to skin that words and people stick to Cayce like glue? What is language, but an effort to connect, an extension of skin to skin? What are words but an expression of love? What is intelligence itself but a manifestation of the bonds of love?

Co-sleeping and extended nursing are the two things about how I have mothered that I wouldn’t change. You might think I’m clingy, that deep down, I’m afraid of dying, or of my child dying. You might be right. But I want my child to grow up with a stronger feeling of security than I ever had. And so far, as I watch my two year old grow and flourish, I feel that I am paving him a road to resilience by loving him today as if there is no tomorrow.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dump Run Ramblings

I’ll call it the Dump Run Blog, because I’m writing it in the short window of time I have while the boys do their weekly male bonding dump run together. I don’t know what it is about the dump. It’s a guy thing. I think Cayce is just thrilled to be with his dad. It wouldn’t matter to him if it was a princess birthday party they were going to together.

But as it happens they’re heading to the big stinking mound of trash known as the Nantucket Environmental Park. It’s not the state of the art composting facility they're after. Dad in his salty New Englander manner will say that the whole thing’s a bunch of crap, a waste of money, and in the end they put all those sorted recyclables back together anyway. He won’t let me bring home any of that free compost, either. So while they’re not likely gawking at the miracle of renewable energy, they’ll have fun watching the big trucks and cranes pushing all that energy around. Then on their way home they’ll stop to see the horses in the pastures on Madaket Road.

A second pot of java’s percolating, because I’ve decided that if I’m going to have so little time to myself in my life then I had better be on speed during it, so I can make the most out of it as possible. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I pride myself in being more efficient these days not only in actions, but in mind. Necessity is the mother of invention, darn it. When I do get around to the cleaning, you should see how fast I’ll make that dirt fly. And if you could only hear my fingertips right now rapping the keys with furious speed and intensity. I’m a whirling dervish of multitasking because I need to be. Something needs to get sacrificed somewhere, and I’ll be damned if it’s going to be my shower.

Once, I said to another mother, “What do you do when the hairbrush goes missing? Am I the only one this happens to?”

“Stash a few around the house,” was her prompt answer, as if, indeed, she was an expert on this particular form of Mother’s Malaise, where all of your personal effects go missing.

So that is what I’ve done. Gotten multiples of everything. Except for the cell phone, which I’ve learned to do without entirely, because it was just one more damned thing to lose, and lose it I did, far more frequently than I ever found it again.

If you happen to spot me parked somewhere around town brushing my hair or plucking my eyebrows in the rearview mirror with my child watching from the car seat behind me, please forgive me. Some things are just easier to accomplish when he’s in bondage. The only straps that he’s not usually breaking free of these days are the car seat straps. It’s that simple. And the glove compartment is just a useful place to stash a spare brush and tweezer. And the mirror on the visor is, well, it’s the only mirror I never misplace.

If I have the forethought to tidy up before leaving the house, I try to at least perform my toilette in the privacy of my own driveway. But if I must stop everything to address some heretofore unnoticed offense in my appearance, I at least try to pull off the road. Don’t text and drive. Don’t tidy and drive either, Mamas. But always keep the AC flowing, the tunes blasting and your own little fashion consultant in the rear to remind you that in his eyes you’re beautiful, no matter what.

The boys are back. This Dump Run session is now over.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

When Mom Behaves Badly

I generally feel that I exemplify good behavior for my child. While there may be some tight ass conservatives out there who don’t like my big ass liberal mouth, I am genuinely a nice person. Even a well spoken person. I try to be polite and kind to everyone. I like to think that much of my small child’s charm and social grace is a reflection of what I’ve taught him. And he is friendly to everyone.

But there have been many times, of late, when I am concerned by the poor example I’m setting for my child. Things have been coming out of my mouth when I’m behind the wheel of our small car, things I say most of the time in a lowered tone, but occasionally in a fear and adrenaline induced outburst.

Things are very hairy around here, traffic wise, in my small island town. This is the month when everyone wants to be here, and it all becomes a game of survival of the richest. It is the law of the land in terms of traffic rules. No stop signs anywhere and narrow old streets are the pride of the community, the proof of our historical integrity, but also the pudding in our lives in August that slows everything down and turns the civilized into beasts.

My god, the look on my child’s face. The look of disappointment when I transgress. When I fall into this fit of name calling using rude words that start with a and j. It’s like he doesn’t recognize who this is. This is not his mama.

And thank heavens, so far, as if he knows, this child of almost two who repeats everything his parents say has not repeated my occasional traffic induced swearing. He has only repeated certain perfectly acceptable phrases like “Slow down,” and “Stop sign.”

We’ll see how long I get away with this. Because I mutter, growl, honk, and much worse. I’ve even flipped the big fat bird out the window when some j-e-r-k in a red BMW convertible whizzed around me as I was turning into the hospital. A lady coming out looked at me in utter horror.

Yes, there it was, me looking like the jerk because I reacted to the jerk. You can’t let them get a hold of you. You really can’t.

But it’s really hard. Especially around here. And every year it gets a little wilder, the driving, more and more cowboy rodeo and we’re out there in our smallish car surrounded by massive SUVs armed with kids and wives and credit cards and dads getting their week to shine and heavy on the gas and soft on the brakes.

So out comes Augusta, my alter ego. She’s a bitch in high heels, a broad in mirror glasses behind the wheel of a Dodge Durango or an Excursion or some such version of a living room on wheels rigged with wifi and surround sound and Connecticut plates. She won’t stop to let anybody in. She leans on her horn She gets her way, but she’s not nice about it. She’s not really anyone a person should aspire to be. And I can tell that my child is confused and baffled by Augusta.

So I am making a promise to Cayce and to myself to keep Miss Augusta at bay. So shoo, Meanie. Hex on your gnarly self. Sca-dattle. And Septemba, with your milder moors, will you get here already?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Fifty Minutes of Me Time

Probably the biggest impediment to the therapeutic process is resistance. Consciously or unconsciously, none of us likes to be pried into too much. Our psyches have a way of putting up road blocks, preventing access to that inner truth that we are trying so desperately to uncover. The id and the superego, forever at odds, duke it out, keeping one another in check.

While a big part of me is available to therapy, and really trying to put my best foot forward with it, I have my own kinds of resistance. Not usually being able to part with my son long enough to have a truly focused one-on-one is a manifestation of my resistance.

Doing therapy with a toddler in tow is a wee distracting. After my child on several occasions ransacked the office, moving on from the stuffed bears, which were fair game, to the business cards, the brochures, the meditation bowl and mallet, the keys and the CD player stacked with the New Age music, the candies wrapped in foil … we decided to take the dog and pony show outside. At least if the baby was in the stroller we could focus on the conversation. Or so it seemed.

Until summer came and the neighbors were all outside and there I was hanging my dirty laundry out to dry in front of whoever was within earshot. You know, I’m an actress. I don’t have a quiet voice. Add to this the heat of July and the fact that my guy is no spring chicken and tends to sweat and even pant a little bit and I am made overly aware of his fragility and then, as a testament to this idea he bursts out with a random comment about the surrounding architecture.

And here we have a real conundrum. The hard thing about resistance is that it’s not necessarily just one way. Through transference, a well-known process by which the therapist gets into his own subjective and unconscious role playing, a therapist may put up a great deal of resistance as well. I have come to the conclusion that there is something about me that my therapist finds deeply intimidating. I remind him of his mother, or something. It is really not very productive as a patient to feel that I intimidate my therapist. No, this whole scene could really backfire on me if I am not careful.

Ever since I told him that I didn’t want to spend my hour chit chatting about what was playing at the local theater, he has, I feel, been rather unfocused and unresponsive toward me. I still remember the look on his face when I said it. Crestfallen. You would think I was telling him that a mutual friend had died. My god, and I was only warming up! Is this what I will get when I push him?

Another huge obstacle to the therapeutic process is lack of confidentiality. On a small island where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, confidentiality is hard to maintain. When I did therapy in NYC, my therapists had waiting areas, usually shared with other therapists. When I crossed paths with someone coming out, I had no idea who they were, and I had know way of knowing whether they were the client of my therapist or of someone else. This arrangement helped to preserve the sanctity of the therapeutic relationship. One does not really like to think about their therapist with other clients, even though we know, rationally, that we are just one of many. The therapeutic process demands us to be able to feel as if we are the only one, the only one that matters, at least. For this reason, a good therapist will keep a very tight schedule, to minimize the chance of clients crossing paths. They will usually allow a ten minute window between sessions in their schedule. Hence the fifty minute hour. It’s worth losing those ten minutes on the couch to feel that those boundaries are clearly maintained.

Anonymity and boundaries in therapy on a small island can be a little more complicated. In truth, they have been largely lacking since I started my therapy over a year ago. I have often arrived to my appointments at the one-office cottage on time to find another car in the driveway. I then must drive down the road, turn around, and wait on the side of the road till I see that car leave. On this island, people are often recognizable by their cars. So this situation is less than ideal. And when I leave, there is often a car hovering by the roadside at the end the driveway. How do I know that some stalker dude doing therapy as part of his sentence is not watching me, memorizing my plate number? Once there was a client standing out in the yard by the time my child and I were leaving the office. He was sweet with the baby.

Later I saw him outside the courtroom with my therapist when I showed up for jury duty. He saw me, too. Later, the whole jury was dismissed because, according to the bailiff, the accused had “backed off” when he saw the jurors show up. Didn’t he expect jurors to show up? Maybe he didn’t expect certain jurors to show up?. Poor guy… little did he know that I was hoping to use our mutual therapist as an excuse to get dismissed.

That situation didn’t deter me, but when I arrived to a recent appointment late and found two other cars in the driveway, I found myself reeling. Granted, I was a half an hour late. My car battery was dead, and I’d been at the beach and didn’t have a phone to call him. But I had just confirmed the appointment time on the phone with him that morning. I couldn’t believe he would be so swift to put someone else in my place. To use a favorite expression of my partner’s, would he jump in my grave that fast?

If you think I’m overacting, this was the second such occurrence. On a previous occasion, months prior, I had been running late and passed him on the road with someone in the passenger seat of his car. I feel that if this is my time, then this is my time, and running late on occasion is just part of it.

I wrote him an angry email saying that I felt that he couldn’t handle his feelings of rejection if I was running late.

He wrote back saying we could discuss it at our next appointment. I wrote back with further complaints. He wrote back saying we could discuss it at our next appointment. I balked, at first, and didn’t respond. Finally I acquiesced to his terms. A next appointment. And so it continues. My quest for enlightenment in fifty minutes (or a half an hour) of me time.

Monday, July 4, 2011

America the Beautiful

Happy Birthday, America. I am thinking today about what makes this country great, and also those places that people never look at very closely where the flag and all it represents is actually quite tattered. We talk about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We think about our fallen soldiers. They went willingly into the fray, and died as martyrs to our cause of freedom. Their families will go to their graves today, to lay down a small flag, or a clutch of carnations. Someone will say a prayer, someone will put a hand on their heart. An ache will ripple through the bodies of those left to remember. The news will show their faces today, the faces of the young men and women recently fallen. The voice of a mother or brother will share a glimpse or two of their stories, their remembered humanity, as the screen flashes their faces in uniform.

I’m thinking about our unsung heroes, the civilians who fall every day without pomp and circumstance, without Taps, without a holiday celebrating them. They too are the shoulders on which we dance. I’m thinking about the veterans who return home to disrepair, whom we leave to suffer PTSD. I’m thinking about the blown off face of the man we can’t look at. I’m thinking of the harried and overworked civilians, the families put through the ringer of daily survival. I’m talking about the people who fall prey to alcoholism and mental illness and divorce.

I’m talking about my sister, an I.T. security worker at a large law firm, who took her own life last year. Her face will not be flashing up on any screen, with a memorable anecdote about how sweet she had been in her youth.

My sister also fell in the line of duty. She fought on the front lines of our recent banking wars. Rather than being honored, her face has been erased. It has come to my attention that Gaby’s Facebook page, which will go on for posterity post mortem, no longer bears her picture. She has been reverted to a generic “female silhouette”- the white shape with the bob do. Of course, all of her notes, her status updates, remain: the depiction of a woman going right out of her mind. A woman who is no longer a woman at all, but an empty silhouette.

The reason Facebook has removed my sister’s profile picture is quite evident. The picture was from her job. It bore the name of her firm across the bottom, beneath her pinched, over-serious demeanor. Clearly the firm did not want the bad PR, to be associated with a crazy person. A person who described her hallucinations in all their twisted glory. A person who would be incarcerated in the HR Office when she couldn’t grasp that her time was up. Who was incredulous once she was cuffed and spit in the face of the cop. A person who spent three weeks in a psyche ward, refusing medication, and then was released, only to take her own life.

My sister fought in the front lines of a New York law firm during the biggest banking debacle of our time. She worked on the fortieth floor. She took her job seriously. The fact that she used the picture from her firm for her profile picture suggests how important her work was to her. She was charged with confiscating the files of attorneys about to get the axe. She held her poker face through wave after wave of layoffs. She watched as her friends, who had much greater longevity with the firm than she did, were quietly put out to the streets.

When my sister’s time came, she would not go quietly into that good night. As the IT Manager, the go-to person who battened down all the hatches as the firm weathered tidal shifts in their loyalties, she waited for the time when the spotlight would turn on her.

That kind of pressure could get to anybody. Well, it got to Gaby, all right, an incredibly intelligent person with a lurking mental illness. She went from being one who preached the dangers of the internet to one who exploited the internet’s dangers, and used it to exorcise her madness. My sister went nuts with an audience, on a social networking site. She remains there on her wall like a butterfly pressed beneath glass. But what a freakish, faceless specimen they have allowed her to become by removing her profile picture.

So I want to take this special day to honor the everyday, unsung heroes who are breaking under the pressures that our fucked up social structure puts on them. We value work over family, war over love. We value those who are young and whole, and turn our eyes away once they are broken. Let’s look in the mirror today, as we enjoy our watermelon and our ice cream and our fireworks, and think about what we can do for those who are hurting, both far and near. When I glimpse my loved ones’ faces in the glow of the sparklers tonight, I will think of those who are no longer able to taste this happiness. And I will make a wish upon a falling ember that their lives and deaths will be remembered.

Yes, let's remember the soldiers who fought for our freedom. But let's also remember the everyday heroes among us, the fathers, and sisters and friends who fought or are still fighting the good fight, the fight of love and loss and struggle, the fight of the family, the fight of our souls, the fight of the fragmented trying to become whole. We are America the Beautiful. But we are also America the Broken. Let’s begin to own that, too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

All That Glitters: Notes from Under the Poverty Line

Many people often assume that folks must be rich if they have a Nantucket zip code.  This assumption is one of our local inside jokes.  Because we know that nothing could be further from the truth.  For most who live year round on this summer resort island thirty miles out to sea, life is hard.  With the highest grossing branch of Stop & Shop supermarkets in the entire country, and the additional shipping costs of many of our resources that put a high premium on everything from screws to fuel, we must support a very high cost of living.  Most people work a few jobs just to get by.  And if you want to go anywhere else, well, you start adding the cost of planes and boats and rental cars to the cost of travel, and you are talking about putting down a lot of loot.

Year round life on Nantucket takes a certain person.  A certain character.  If you aren’t that person when you get here, the winters will season you fast.  We are physically disconnected from the mainland, and we don’t have any traffic lights.  The cobblestones streets, the dirt roads and the uninterrupted stretches of beach and the abundant nature conservancy give it a real old world feel.  On warm, rainy nights down by the docks you can still smell the whale oil.  We are rich in quaintness and breathtaking views and a tight knit sense of community that’s rendered from our common isolation.  We have what is I believe one of the very first Historic District Commissions ever established in the country.  We have an annual town meeting.  To live here is to have a sense of reverence for the past.  It is quintessentially nostalgic.

Now that I am a mom, I am realizing how much the simplicity of life here is an asset.  I have been losing sleep worrying about how I’m going to support my son and give him a good life, a life that isn’t merely rich in love but also rich in the opportunities and experiences that can come from having means.   You know, the ski trips and the summer camps and that trip to Alaska you always wanted to take.  Not to mention music lessons and colleges and medicines should he god forbid become ill.  You all know the hankering, nagging fears.  You twitch with them at night the way your kids twitch with growing pains.  If you're lucky, you remember to close the window as the birds start to sing so you can catch a little more shuteye.     

Thank god I did get that shut eye.  Because I can relax a little today, and look around and see the abundance all around me.  New summer blossoms have left bursts of color all around our yard.  There are new sprouts from the vegetable seeds we recently put in our garden.  We have farms and fisheries right here.  We have talented artisans and musicians and teachers and businesswomen and men.  We have so much here at our disposal.  So much at hand. 

So while we may live hard we do live rich. I remind myself that it’s not all about fast tracking my toddler to the Ivy Leagues. What I give him just in being here day to day, sharing moments together like when a bee sips from the lavender, or the way the sun and rain left bright blossoms smattering the green like exclamation marks. So I guess whether I am rich or whether I’m poor is a matter of perspective. We don’t go out much, or drive fancy cars or talk on “smart” phones. But we can lull our little one to sleep at night with the sounds of the ocean and the wind in the trees. We can show him how he can dance along the tightropes of stars through his dreams.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Ways We Work

His jeans wear thin and fray, the pockets faded in the shape of his cell phone and carbon order pad.  He replaces his boots each year.  The uniform is completed by a lumber company tee, always dirty on the right shoulder where he carries all manner of building materials from two-by-fours to bundled shingles to sheetrock, and an old camo cap, a pen behind the ear.  This is basically the appearance of the man three hundred and sixty-five days of the year.  Even on his days off, the boots stay on.   He’s a working man.  He’s a company man.  He’s a stick-it-out-through-the-thick-and-thin man.    

And now, at the age of forty-two, he is learning how to slip out of this persona.  For the sake of the family he is slipping into whites and khakis, eschewing the camo cap so the world can see his dimpled smile.  He’s translating his time coming up in scallop shanties to high-wheeling parties with raw bars on ice and oysters, oysters, oysters on the heavenly half-shell.  Last night he threw off the jeans, showered, put on the khakis and was out the door before his little boy could say “Boo!”  He was back home near midnight.  Then this morning, another shower  (yes, he slept with all the oyster juice in his pores so he wouldn’t wake the baby with our old plumbing and thin walls), a fresh pair of jeans, a clean tee, feet back in the old boots, and back out the door.    

So frequently is his working father in and out of the door, doors have come to be synonymous with “Dada.”  There are a couple of random closed doors down at the playground: one to a dormant information booth, the other apparently leading to some storage behind the bandstand.  Cayce pulls on the handles of these locked doors calling for “Daddy.”  Of course, in addition to the doors that Daddy leaves and returns by, there is the door to his man cave, his decompression zone, where he watches Deadliest Catch and sneaks cigs, his home away from home.  Daddy always seems to be behind one of these doors or another.  

I launder Daddy’s clothes, iron the shirt and khakis so everything is ready for him come changing time between jobs.  I stay home with our child, chase him around the playground, keep him plied with snacks, dress him, hold him and bath him, change him and nurse him.  I keep track of the laundry, the dishes, getting groceries in the house and dinner on.  I don’t always do it well, but I do my best.  I do manage to be a loving and attentive mother, and partner, and now one who can pull in a pay check or two to boot.  When I am babysitting or typing I am also able to pay for most of the groceries while he tackles the mortgage and all of the nagging bills associated with owning a home. 

I never thought I would be a woman who stayed home and ironed her husband’s shirts.  I don’t even have the benefits of marriage, and yet somehow I seem to have become a wife who irons her husband’s shirts.  Raised in the era of feminism, I looked at it from the outside: it looked stifling and small.  In college we read books like Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering, where the idea of women as sole nurturers was revealed as a social construct, born of a patriarchy.  I thought I had it down pat.  I threw around terms like “the division of labor” like I had no intention of ever succumbing to a life in which this division was unequal. 

But in practice, it’s hard to find a healthy balance where men and women can share equally the responsibilities of parenting and work.   It sure would be a lot easier if our society didn’t put so much pressure on the men to be the breadwinners, and the women to be the nurturers.   Sometimes I think maybe Erica Jong was right when she wrote her article The Madness of Modern Motherhood.

The other day, a friend mentioned the word balance.  It has resonated with me all week.  She works full time at her gardening business and wishes she didn’t have to give up the time with her young son.  I envy her working and being out in the world, the power and strength that comes from making her own money.  I wish I could walk a little bit in her shoes.  It is small recompense that she may also wish sometimes she could walk in mine.

Some days I am able to feel the enormity in my small little life.  I don’t see myself as someone who is sacrificing herself for her family.  I don’t see myself as chained down.  I see myself as linked in to an ever growing web that will hold us like a net and keep us from getting hurt as we climb to soaring heights. 

I am grateful to be able to write.  It is like the umbilical chord that keeps me tied to the power and strength in my stay-at-home life.  All the wonderful moments along the way that aren’t likely to make it to the evening news, but really deserve spots on the World’s Funniest Videos.   The tiniest little moments loom large when they are voiced.  And this voice just might be a raft that will carry us all down the river to an easier place, where there is plenty of money for continuous fresh, organic fruits, music lessons, summer camps, and our pick of schools.   I could make it happen, couldn’t I?

Stay right there.  Hold that thought.   

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Nature of Nurturing

When I agreed to take on the care of a six month old baby for sixteen hours a week, I was a little concerned that it would have a negative impact on my 20 month old.  I was worried that he would have a hard time sharing me with her. 

In fact, he has become so attached to Baby, he has a hard time letting her go at the end of the day.   Since last Friday, he throws his arms around the little one when he sees her mother turning into the driveway, or hears the squeak of the screen door as she comes into the house at pick-up time.  He cries, “Baby! Baby!”  He asks about her after she leaves, bringing up her name.  When she is with us Cayce loves to brag about her and show her off, pointing her out to everyone.  Indeed, he thinks she’s ours.  Last week I took them both to Stop and Shop to get a few snacks, and Cayce, who talks to every Tom, Dick, and Harry he passes, pointed baby out to everyone in our path. 

It broke my heart a bit when, that evening, I returned to the store with just him, and he kept chiming Baby! Baby! again, as if she were a limb that had been severed from him, and yet he could still feel, a dull ache where that part of himself had been.

We have come a long way since the first week when Cayce seemed to want to throw the baby’s teething toys at her because she wouldn’t stop crying.  On day five I finally wore the baby in the gorgeous blue embroidered Ergo carrier that has been on loan from a friend since Cayce was small.  I walked with her little legs wrapped around my waist and her head resting on my chest, the way I had worn Cayce for so many walks when he was small, and for the first time she slept.  The next day, when her father brought her to us at noon, she smiled for me.  She made it through most of the day without crying.   I began to wear her in the Ergo more frequently to help her feel secure while her mommy and daddy were working.   And the ease of our time together increased exponentially. 

I will admit, that first week, the baby’s level of distress made it hard for me to bond with her.  It wasn’t until that first day that she smiled at me that I realized how darn cute she is.  Before that, well, she would never let me put her down even momentarily to nurse my own child, and I undoubtedly had some misgivings about that.  Here I was now with not one happy baby, but two unhappy ones.   They would set each other off all day like little ticking time bombs.  I would coo and cajole, as if none of it was fazing me one bit.   Then, when the baby went home and I felt like decompressing, my own child needed me intensely.  Aha… so this is what it’s like for working moms.

Now that we have been doing this for a little while things have begun to hum along quite nicely.  The babies make each other laugh.  Today, Cayce turned her on to his favorite singer, Ziggy Marley, and I so hope I can get the camera rolling sometime when they are rocking out together.  They also played a duet together on Cayce’s Little Tykes piano.  When the baby’s not around, Cayce is pushing around a pink doll stroller I picked up at the dump.  He puts into the stroller the yarn-haired cloth doll that also came from the dump, whom he calls, simply, Doll, or else his Elmo doll, or else his yard-sale Bert doll whom he insists is Ernie.  (In the Book of Cayce, Cookie Monster will always be Oscar, and Bert will always be Ernie.) 

On Sunday, as I was getting us all ready to go out for a family walk, Cayce insisted that Doll get a hat just like the rest of us.  I rummaged around my various and sundry piles of infant clothes that Cayce has outgrown until I found a cotton cap small enough to fit over Doll’s frenetic yarn head.   I know, that wouldn’t suffice to protect Doll’s face from the sun, but it served to make Cayce’s make-believe baby a bit more real.  Once outside, we left Doll under the shade of her stroller awning while we headed off in the car to find a nature trail.  We won’t talk about how mommy totaled said stroller a few days later when Cayce left it in the driveway with Elmo sitting in it.  Luckily there was a pair of them at the dump, and I took them both.  (I said to K,  as I held up the flattened pink metal frame, Do you think this is God telling me that I shouldn’t let our son push around a pink stroller?  No, he answered, it’s God telling you to drive more carefully.  So of course, what I have taken from that conversation is that he thinks it’s perfectly fine to let our little boy play with dolls and doll strollers.)

As Baby comes and goes (and will soon be going for six or seven long weeks of summer), Cayce’s Dolls and stuffies have become important characters in Cayce’s world.  When Cayce brushes his teeth, he also brushes Elmo’s teeth.  When he nurses, he holds his stuffed bear or Elmo up to my breast for some “Na-Ni.”  (Doll, our recent dump find, has not yet reached this level of status in the hierarchy of Cayce’s affections.)   This is the same little boy who can’t get enough of Daddy’s truck and tractor mower.  The same little boy who can dribble a soccer ball around like nobody’s business.  The same little boy who seems so contented and rosy cheeked as he nurses during our sweet, one-on-one time after Baby goes home, saying “Mmmm…. mmmm!” so that I think he must be getting the flavors of strawberries and maple syrup from our pancakes that morning.

Whether or not we have a second child (and at this stage of the game, it’s unlikely—although it also seemed unlikely the first time around, so who knows?), I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to see so early in my son’s life how attachment-parenting has impacted his ability to attach to—in fact, to love—others. Yes, saying goodbye is hard.  But won’t it always be?  Saying good-bye is just part of it.  As long as we get to say Hello again, and get a few squeezes in with Elmo, Beah, or even Doll.  And even if we never have a second child, I sense that Cayce’s childhood is going to be rich in real little friends.      

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How the Cookie Crumbles

Later I will be patient.  Later, when my toddler wakes from his nap, and the baby I take care of comes for the afternoon.  Then I will coo and calm others.  Now I just need to vent, rant, whatever you want to call it, I need my little window here where I am allowed to be utterly and entirely frustrated with everyone and everything.   I need to sever the ties to any image of me as easy going and care free and nurturing and just have a straight out bitch session.

I am tired.  I’m tired of the permanent kink on the left side of my neck where my boy is constantly trying to pull down on me, using ropes of my hair as his personal pulley system.  I’m tired of his deep teething frustration that caused him to bite me hard in the forearm this morning, and then later practically squeeze off my spare nipple while he nursed on the other one.   I am tired of the people that would respond to this by telling me that it’s time to wean him.  My little angel was just having a moment, okay?  Just a moment.

I am tired of the hairbrush I can never find  and the professional coloring I can’t afford and the sad way I have settled on hats as a catch-all remedy that people will accept as a way of protecting my skin, except when it’s raining.  I am tired of the dumb cell phone that always seems just out of my reach and my dumber need for it and the queer way that when I see women driving and talking on speaker phone I feel that their lives are somehow more valuable or meaningful than mine.   

I am tired of the way my mind is cluttered with silly songs and rhymes and the way sometimes I just want to shoot that dog Bingo for making it so hard to count the claps.   I am annoyed with the way I rely on television and videos to help me parent.  I hate the ads on kids channels that use ridiculous unattainable adjectives like “mommy-perfect” to describe the school lunches one can put into an insulated lunch bag.  Make no mistake: I will never be mommy-perfect, and anyone that thinks they can be mommy-perfect is a mommy from Mars.  (I’m sorry—Venus.)

I hate that strange Australian cartoon on Sprout with the cartoon toddlers with photo-collaged on oversize mouths that are strangely sexual, all tongue and teeth, so that when they talk and sing all you are aware of are those mouths.  Is it me?  Am I the only one that has this reaction?  Does my mind just go that way? 

I am tired of the cat that stopped peeing and pooping in the house only to pee and poop in my sunflower beds.   I am tired of the way my partner dotes on the cat, but leaves all the misplaced excrement for me to handle.   I am tired, so tired, of the way he keeps comparing me to his mother, and the way I never hold up to the image of this woman who supposedly took care of twenty-two children and managed to vacuum the house everyday and put a square meal on the table at the same time every night.   I hate the way people always seem more perfect when they’re gone.   I hate the way I manage a thing like grilling sausages while also getting the baby bathed, only to be criticized for not having run a comb through his hair.   He’s clean.  He’s happy.  What more do you want? 

I am tired, so tired of people who think they work harder than everyone else.  I am tired of resentful people that hold grudges.  I am tired of all the grandparents that are showing up to spend time with my friends’ kids on our beautiful beaches and the recognition that my boy’s one grandparent is a workaholic with clients whose lives will fall apart if she leaves them to come see her grandson.  I’m tired of Skype and email and the way it will never replace the touch and smell of a living, breathing person.

I am tired of the rotting windows and the peeling paint and the effin National Grid who, every time we seem to have two dimes to rub together, takes the money and runs.  Guess we can’t afford to replace those windows yet.  But someone has given us a brand new wood stove, so take that, National Grid.  Next year it’s your turn to be in the poorhouse.

I am tired of that one phrase that keeps bouncing back into my head… my mother’s therapist telling her that she needed to get in touch with the part of her that is comfortable with self-deprivation.  I am tired of the gnawing feeling that this same trait has rubbed off on me.  I am tired of feeling the massive, immovable wall that I feel when I try to get up over that shit. 

I’m tired of not being able to say what I want or find a way to get it.   I’m tired of feeling that parenting may be the only thing I have done well in my life, yet even this sometimes feels like such a friggin’ crap shoot. 

I’ll tell you two things that I know very clearly that I want.  More money and more time.  Now if only all it took was finding a pair of sparkly shoes and clicking my heels three times.    

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Song for a Suicide

Well I seem to be doing a lot of counting these days.  Yesterday marked 20 months of being a mother.  Today marks the first anniversary of my sister’s death.  Her suicide on a mild May night knocked the wind out of my family.   And as I wake up this morning in Nantucket, and my brother wakes up in Holyoke, and as our mother wakes up today on Roosevelt Island, not far from where my sister tried to get to a better place by jumping from her roof in Brooklyn, we will all be reminded of where she ended up: broken, crushed, and gone forever on the ground of a neighbor’s garden. 

My mother got the call around 10 p.m.  Because she didn’t want her two remaining children to lose the night’s sleep, and in order to delay, as any mother would, our eventual and inevitable heartache, she waited until 7 a.m. to call us.  She did call our stepdad, Lowell, and his girlfriend Gail, with whom she is close, so she was not entirely alone, but it still pains me to think of her on that fateful night in the partial light of the city darkness as the grim and painful reality of a child’s abrupt death bore down on her psyche, and as she tried to replay the events of the previous five weeks to make some kind of impossible sense of this final event in her first child’s life.  I want to reach through her solitude right now and rub her back, and remind her how much I love her, and what a wonderful mother she is.  Most of all I want to tell her that it’s not her fault.  This last piece is the hardest, because the feelings of guilt grip us all.   We tried to save her.  But did we do enough?   Or did we do the wrong things?

We will never feel that we did enough, and that will be our cross to bear for the rest of our lives.  That is the sad truth of it.  Therapies may help alleviate the guilt, but we will never truly be free of it. 

On the night she died, my mother had spoken to a Brooklyn hospital and asked them to send over their ambulatory service to see if they could talk my sister into recommitting herself.   Based on her posts on Facebook, and on her sudden proliferation of Facebook “notes” it was clear that she was having suicidal thoughts, as well as hallucinatory experiences.  She had left my mother a voicemail message the week before, to discuss the idea of taking her to dinner for Mother’s Day, but then she never called her or answered the phone when my mother called her.  The not calling was something she had done a lot of throughout her life, but not on the heels of losing her job, getting arrested at her office, and spending two weeks in a city psyche ward. 

After two weeks of refusing any medication, the hospital released my sister.  My mother had had some role in this.  She didn’t want Gaby to end up virtually lobotomized by substandard state level care.  She thought if she could get her out of there she had some chance of getting her into a private hospital.  But Gaby actually did a terrifyingly good job of convincing her own mother and the hospital staff that she was in fact quite sane.   She pulled out a name in a phone book and set up an appointment at an outpatient clinic to satisfy the psychiatrist assigned to her, but she had no intention of showing up for it.  Once she was out on her own, she was out on her own, a forty-seven year old woman with a will of her own, and there wasn’t a hell of a lot anybody could do about it.   You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.   You can’t talk to a person who won’t listen, who most of the time won’t even pick up the phone. 

Throughout her life, whenever Gaby had hit her “rough patches” and shown signs of trouble, she had eluded us by creating a tremendous distance between herself and us—us being anybody at that moment who was onto the fact that things were not too hunky-dory in Gaby Land.  In a way, each time she did that, she committed virtual suicide.  That was how helpless we would feel each time she would cut us off.  Then, over time, she would eventually reemerge, in her stiff way that we had become accustomed to, acting as if there had not been a whiff of trouble.  Soon the whiff was indiscernible.  We’d all forget about it, or agree to ignore it.  It was a silent agreement we made with Gaby to keep in her good stead… to keep her with us. 

And life would go on.  Such is the way the current moves in a family that comes to rely on denial to stay afloat.  Until the crack in the riverbed gapes open and all the water is sucked under.          

As a teenager, Gaby had been a top student and athlete.  Her moves on the uneven parallel bars were fearsome.  She made it look so easy, her toned body whitened by the resin powder that would help her feel less of a burn as she slid over the wood bars, reaching and pulling herself up over the higher bar, tucking herself in pikes and flips as she lowered herself back down.  Her self-control was marvelous.  The whole gym would fall silent, save for the squeaking of her skin on the wood, that little song of friction that held her back to the earth. 

She had been brilliant, had her pick of colleges, and chose Harvard.  She returned home at Christmas torn at the seams, and didn’t return.  She survived a drunk driving wreck, and a major episode of depression, and managed to get her life back on track and become a homeowner and rise to the top of her field in antivirus security.  She took in stray cats.  She loved children, had been a doting aunt to my brother’s stepson, and loved the son of another man as if he was her own.  She would have gotten such a kick out of her nephew Cayce.  She had been so excited when he was on his way into the world. 

When I had first learned of my pregnancy, I had been anxious about telling my sister.  She had no children of her own, and I was afraid she would be envious.  In fact, she met my news with such warmth and joy.  A new chapter was writing itself in our relationship.  For a little while, I had the nurturing soul sister I had always longed for.

But I think the reality of Cayce’s arrival into the world was in fact hard for my sister to take.  When he was born, she didn’t call me.  I looked up her Facebook page and saw her status update on the day Cayce was born.  The tone and wording struck me as odd.  Far from celebratory.  She spoke of my c-section, and how that had not been what I had wanted.  But then she wrote, once the baby was born, “She got what she wanted.”

I sensed bitterness, more than joy.  I had been home with him for three weeks when I finally called her.  I told her I wanted her to meet the baby.  She said that she wanted to wait until he was a little older, because newborns weren’t “really that cute.”  She never said, “I’m so happy for you.”  She only said, “I’m sorry the birth didn’t go the way you had wanted.”  I told her that I didn’t care about any of that now that I had this healthy, beautiful bundle of joy in my arms.

The many pictures I emailed and posted on Facebook were met with silence.   Finally I emailed her and told her that her silence made me feel sad.  She wrote back asking what kind of a response did I want?  She didn’t think they warranted a response, since my photo emails had no text.    I wrote back saying, oh, any response that was genuine would do.  To which she replied, “I know you know I think he’s beautiful.”     

It still makes me so sad to think that my joy in some way heightened my sister’s pain over not having her own child.  Certainly I had been well on my own way to becoming a bitter woman who would regret being childless.  But I would like to believe that, had she stuck around just a wee bit longer, Cayce would have proved to be a force that would hold our family together, rather than tear it apart. 

For who could look long into this child’s loving eyes and not be made whole again?  In the light of this little boy’s eyes, we can begin to forgive ourselves, and remember our goodness, and our fierce capacity to love and be loved.

We love you still, Gaby.  We love you still.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Counting to Twenty

First freckle.
First skinned knee.
Shins bruised in constellations.
Several scratches
from upending himself
in the toy box.
16 gleaming teeth.
First wagon ride.
First tussle
over a toy phone.
First coffee talk, “Ho?
First saying “I’m sorry”
First phrases, “uh oh”
“oh my”, and “woah!”
And the ever useful
sentence, and answer
to every question
“I don’t know!”
First washing his own hands.
First starting to carry
a tune (in key, no less!).
Mama still no better
at baby pedicures
than she ever was at her own
and with the co-sleeper
thigh art
to prove it!
Loving him so many
gazillion times more
than I ever thought
Twenty months old
and counting.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

P is for Play

As I write this my child is getting bored by the same old toons on the T.V. and emptying my wallet of its contents.  I will be scouring the house later for the whereabouts of my insurance cards, credit card, and driver’s license.  I will waste at least a half an hour of my nonexistent time trying to make up for these moments of neglect.  If my cell phone turns up in the process, I will be pleased, but no more whole feeling than I am now,  during one of the countless times when the phone is MIA.   It is safe to say that I am not a Type A mom.

But I do, in my B or C or X-Y-Z way, care deeply about what my 20 month old needs.   Structured playgroups seem like a great idea, in theory.  Cayce certainly enjoyed his time at the last play group, and lord knows that our Thursday mornings at Let’s Get Messy helped get us through a long winter on an island thirty miles out to sea. 

But in many ways it seemed to me that the time at the play group was so structured that the kids didn’t really get a chance to get to know one another.  Of course they got to know one another much better than they had prior to the group, but I find myself wondering whether, had we included more free time and less story time, singing time, and craft time, they might actually feel yet more comfortable with one another.

The principal behind a structured play group for a tot is to give the tots a chance to socialize.  To learn how to play together, and share toys, and take turns on the slide.  It’s a beautiful concept.  But it won’t work if we parents don’t relax a little bit and stop micromanaging their every interaction.  The time in which Cayce had the greatest opportunity to play with his friends was in the free time after the play group was over, but many parents were quickly ushering their kids off to another structured group at the library.   

Even when you think about the name of the group, you understand how far away we’ve come from things that should be natural to us.   We need a class to teach us how to loosen up and have fun?  It reminds me of one passenger I had in my taxi when I was pregnant with Cayce, a young caretaker of a home in Pocomo.  He cackled heartily at the sight of  The Pregnancy Book by Sears and Sears.  You need a book for it? he cried, incredulous.   

I have just started Cayce in a new group, and the change has refueled my reservations.  First of all, there is the way that I project my performance anxiety onto him at the start of each new session.  A new teacher, a new set of people, and suddenly I have forgotten that my little boy is just a little boy who wants to follow the beat of his own drum.  Deep down I have forgotten that this is okay.  I think I must corral him, reign him in, make him sing when the teacher says Sing!  The room is chock full of toys to play with, a climbing structure with a slide, a play kitchen.  Is it really fair to place all these distractions before him and then expect him to focus on the story?  It seems to me he is more focused at the library galley movement and singing classes, where there are no toys around except for the antique dolls in the window.  Here at the ECC my child moves from play station to play station.  I go back to being that little girl breaking out in hives every Sunday night, before the start of every week at a new school. 

But compound my own personal anxiety with the anxiety of all the other mothers.  A strident, nails-on-blackboard motherese in stereo.  It’s not pretty.  All these mothers of small children that are enough just as they are were suddenly mothers of very small children that have to prove themselves in some way.   Names were sung in the most saccharine sounding high pitched voices as very small children were ushered from what they were doing on the stairs or the slide and lured into finding their name cards on the rug in the circle.

I heard myself doing it too, and was horrified.  I balked at the specter of an eighteen year molding process.  What we were doing in that moment didn’t feel like it was for the benefit of our kids, as much as for each other.  And certainly our kids could see through this crap?  I mean, this was not the way we behave at home.  We don’t ask them to perform on the spot at home, do we?  It seems to me my son just charms us and shows us what he knows naturally, when the moment inspires him.  Not that I don’t show him off a bit for Grandma on Skype, or for friends who haven't seen him since he started stringing together sentences and little expressions.  

I’m sure tensions will ease as this new grouping of mothers and their children get to know one another.  I wish I could kill the fluorescent lights that give the room an institutional feel.  But we can make up for that with our human warmth.  Whether it’s competitive or nurturing, freeing or stifling to our kids is up to us. Will it be a place where each child is encouraged to be his or her full and unique self? Or will there be a hierarchy, where each child is ranked against the other?  Will it be a place where the children learn to trust one another, and themselves?  These are the things we determine each moment, in our actions, in what we do with what we’re given, and in what and how we give to our children.