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.