|APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
|Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
|Memory and desire, stirring
|Dull roots with spring rain
Remember when we were pretentious enough to quote TS Eliot and mean it?
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If you don’t, ride the Red Line a while, and catch the college students on their way to internships, interviews, and lunch. Or find a restaurant that serves $3 margaritas at happy hour. They are generous with their insights, loud, happy to be heard, boldly, annoyingly, cluelessly us.
They know from otherness and isms, I’ll tell you that much.
These are the cherished end product of two decades of good parenting. Good kids, at good colleges, with good intentions. They sort of embarrass me by wearing the Doc Martens I liked at that age. You are not Sid Vicious, Chelsea. You are not from a dying steel town, Tyler.
Many of them graduated this weekend, resplendent in blue satin gowns and mortar boards, parents in sundresses and linen blazers.
They are beautiful, confident, and almost all of them have been parented. They look about like we did, and sound about like we must have. They are skinnier than we remember being—as it turns out, they are as skinny as we actually were.
|But seriously, AP—where the hell have you been? (Signed, about 100 emailers)
I’m getting to it.
These people our kids will become have more to say about parenting than the chat boards, the experts, and even, dare I say, any of us. Sometimes I try to trace a line backwards from them to first grade, like doing a pencil maze in reverse.
So in answer to the many nice people who’ve asked where I’ve been and when I’ll write again, I’ve been right here and I write every day—but not on line. When I went cold turkey on DC Urban Moms around February, my own oft-spoken observation proved true—in daily life, you really don’t run into mean people all that much. In real life, the small stuff need not be sweated. There’s only so much space that Mommy Wars and mean mommies can occupy—and that space is as small as you wish it to be.
|She breathes a sigh of relief.
Remember the end of Breakfast Club, where you’re left with two couples plus Anthony Michael Hall clutching his detention essay, blushing, congratulating himself on what he’s done? That’s me when I write something I like. Over the life of the blog, I had many Breakfast Club moments. Shucks, ya like me Open Salon. Ya laughed, Kojo. Shucks, shucks, shucks.
I’ve had moments where I felt like a college kid on the metro—like I’d discovered something. Except at 39, I actually know I’m about the 6 billionth one to discover it. Twenty years and a deep eyebrow furrow later, I’m very happy to laugh at myself.
And leave you with a college pretension, from which you may extrapolate freely (then get back to work, already).
|These fragments I have shored against my ruins
|Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
|Shantih shantih shantih
Like Verizon Wireless’ billing department, love is a mysterious thing. Over the years I’ve learned a few things about the latter. As for VW billing, I’ve delegated that to my husband, who has a higher tolerance for hold music than I.
Since I began my exploration of the modern parenting discourse, I’ve come to think that a spectrum from least to most, more to less, is not an apt way to describe relationships.
As Ayelet Waldman can tell you, writing that you love your husband more than your children is going to get you a fatwa. And a book contract. As the mommy website people will tell you
Did you know?
I haven’t visited DC Urban Moms, Urban Baby, or any other mommy war battlefield since February 12! 2011 is shaping up well.
–as I was saying, they’ll tell you that this sentiment is treasonous, pathological, and likely to inflict lasting psychological trauma on your 7-week-old. It’s also kind of dumb, in the way that “I like metabolizing protein more than I like breathing” is dumb.
As I’ve written before, I use the term “Eggmus” as shorthand for the love that we feel for our children—so different than what we feel for the adults in our lives. Eggmus is your child complimenting your “fancy” 10-year-old t-shirt. It’s the mispronunciation you hope she won’t outgrow. It’s kids.
My daughter and I had a really cool talk about this recently, during which we took turns telling one another what we love about one another. Our loves were different, but they’re equally strong. There are wide differences of opinion about this, even among my friends, but I’m squarely in the camp that says that my kid has to be considerate of my feelings, but not at all responsible for my emotional needs. I don’t think that she’s old enough to cope with being needed by a grownup—partly because she’s old enough to know that she doesn’t really get what it is that grownups give one another. I feel I should earn her affection—she has the right to my effort.
That’s unlike any other relationship I have. No adult friendship or marriage could survive that dynamic.
I love the way my child pronounces ‘eczema’ (Eggmus). Without her, there would be no Eggmus. I would, ummmm, not have that feeling that, ummmmm, Eggmus is the best word ever and I would, ummmm, just be friggin miserable. When I see her my heart melts. Eggmus. You know?
This love is sublimely, gorgeously free of need.
To me, this is the mystery of mothering. You spend your life learning to cultivate mature relationships that begin with doing and evolve to inchoate feelings that make life great. Then this little soft person plops into your world with inchworm-sized fingers and the capacity to come up with “Eggmus.” And she becomes the keystone relationship of your life—the one you’ve been training for since you first managed to share a spittle-covered alphabet block with the kid next to you.
People who think Big Thoughts About Brains have partially explained how our relationship-building capacities develop.
An infant feels the warmth of proximity, the security of needs met.
This is a three-year-old’s idea of friendship:
Why is Julio your friend?
Because I like him.
Why do you like him?
Because he’s my friend.
Why else do you like him?
Because he lives next door.
At eleven, the child answers this way:
Why is Amber your friend?
Because I can trust her with my secrets.
Why else is she your friend?
Because we think the same way about things.
With respect to Mr. Loaf, we want you and love you. Need, not so much.
So in the middle school years, when kids start to be more like us, they seek to differentiate themselves from parents. Maybe that’s when they need more out of us than our capacity to be selfless with the spittle-covered block that is our love.
Through adolescence and beyond, our children go through the same evolution that we remember—toward being engaged and loving friends and spouses. And then plop, here comes kiddo. Whom they love because he is their child. Whom they love because he is there, in their arms. Much like their first friend.
In my Eggmus-filled home, love is once again primal. Have we come full circle?
Maybe not yet. Every couple of months I visit my 97-year-old grandmother. My life has spanned that cycle of relationships with her—from infant in her arms, to playmate in her condominium, to confidante who wanted “a private conversation,” just us. She lives surrounded by photos, the viewing of which occupies half of each visit.
Our private conversations have changed. I report the news. She reports on visits. She reminds me of important things—her new twin great grandchildren, the location of the mail room at her residence. Which is very close to her apartment, by the way.
Her face is bathed in the serene and glowing Eggmus of stored love. A goodbye hug is heady, simple, and primal, even though saying goodbye to a 97-year-old necessarily makes one worry. But her own Eggmus, love that has been built for so long it is self-sustaining, floats above the room, patient wordless, and not tethered to need.
|Got Eggmus? Send me your thoughts on what love means, what makes you go “awww,” or anything else that is arguably on point.
Bounty, you’re off the hook. Just when I was ready to slam you for the Worst Commercial Ever, Toyota came along and one-upped you.
|I will therefore limit the Bounty bashing to a text box: Suburban kitchen. Father and son chat at the counter. Father spills drink. Woman swoops in from off camera with (Bounty!) paper towel and wipes the spill. Woman beams with satisfaction. Fade to product shot. It’s a great sales pitch for a Y chromosome, but turns out to be a paper towel commercial.
It’s almost unfair to expect anyone to make a commercial I hate more. In the wake of Toyota’s Lethal Floormat Incident, they knew they needed game. And they brought it.
Toyota’s newest ad campaign for the Toyota Highlander, an SUV that starts at over 27 grand and gets 20 MPG city, 25 highway, claims that the car will help parents become cool enough for our kids. They go all out: in the first commercial, a tow-headed 10-year-old spokesman, equipped with electronic gadgets (that his parents bought him!) sulks in the back seat of a lame car (that his parents bought!) that he’s too young to drive. The boy generously explains that though his chauffeur is an embarrassment, he has potential.
Good news: according to towhead, parents don’t have to be lame! They can buy the car that the kids want, so that in the next commercial he can brag about setting them straight. “They used to be total dorks,” the child says on voiceover. On screen, we see him taking down an embarrassing family Christmas portrait. “I got them squared away.”
More like cornered. Bound, gagged, and thrown in the trunk of the discarded Ford Tortoise.
|Did you know? I can make fun of cars I don’t like. Cuz I can drive. And get a car loan.
Toyota congratulates child on ordering his parents around and parents for spending nearly thirty thousand dollars to placate someone who is not competent to enter into a contract, weighs half as much as dad, and is unarmed.
|Some restrictions apply. Offer not available in Texas.
Who the hell would fall for that? Top ad firm Saatchi and Saatchi apparently did some market research before selling this ad to the world’s top car company (now available with non-lethal floor mats!). Who is this market segment?
Lighten up, you say. It’s just a commercial. Actually, it’s a series of commercials. Here’s the next: opening shot shows child crowing about how cool the Highlander is. He’s rockin’ a porkpie hat and sunglasses (that his parents bought!) and acting as a bouncer for the party barge that is his (parents’!) car. The towheaded bundle of joy leers at a blond girl, his head cocked, looks her up and down and lets her have a seat. He turns away a boy whom we are supposed to understand is less cool than he is.
He revels in the power that his formerly-lame parents have just made even stronger. Now, he not only exerts control over them. He gets to decide who else is cool and where they can sit.
The parents (who bought the car!) are nowhere in sight. He doesn’t need them (except to drive the posse to the mall).
I don’t like this 10-year-old douchebag. Fortunately, he’s fictional. But still.
I know it’s a joke. It’s a joke in a commercial. But it’s scary because there’s this tiny shred of truth to it. Everyone has a memory of some stranger cowering before their tyrannical child in a restaurant. It’s linked to a rare memory of feeling like a pretty good parent oneself.
But I also think there’s a little voice in every parent—more than a little voice—that tells us to prove ourselves to our children. That’s the scarier part—knowing that you really do want your kid to think you’re a rock star. I do, anyway.
But there’s no way I’m buying the rust coating.
Parents: some day you might have the pleasure of joining your children on college tours. You will walk with them beneath sturdy elms and past neoclassical structures named for decidedly non-ethnic people from days past. You’ll soak in the honor of helping your excited offspring decide where to spend your money to serve a thinly-veiled agenda of ditching you. When that day comes, this could be its least festive highlight:
Love is strong as death.
Love is strong as death
That’s the inscription on my alma mater’s clock tower. Love is strong as death (taken from the Song of Solomon). The 16-year-old me was instantly suspicious. If love is strong as death, that’s a tie. Meaning that the best thing you will ever have in this life is no stronger than the worst thing that will happen in this life: the loss of a loved one. Fan-freaking-tastic.
I somehow overcame the bleak future presented on the Carrie Tower at Brown, and instructed my parents to send them my money, buy me some extra-long twin sheets, and get out of my face. My seventeen-year-old freshman self accepted that while love might not win out over death, sex, unscheduled Wednesdays, and my first hours hanging out in a coffee shop were sufficient to avert a major existential crisis. Back when my breasts and buttocks were closer to my brain, I spent less time thinking.
This is my “somebody died and I’m scared” moment. I’m 39, my husband is 45, and I am helplessly watching my neck’s and boobs’ growing estrangement. Somebody died, and I’m scared. I didn’t know her well: she was my husband’s cousin’s wife. Like us, they met in middle age. They were together 14 years, having planned on a lifetime. They got one—her lifetime. Over at 50.
At 53 he got another. So far it has been all about death and love. And catering, and accepting hugs and condolences, and apologizing for death’s inconveniences—travel, standing in the cold, fumbling over what to say to the people you hadn’t met. It’s been a reverse wedding, the widower thanking guests for joining him as he begins life without her. It’s been about the hollow thud of the first shovelful of soil hitting a casket. When life really stops. It’s been forgetting that sound, which is the only way to continue.
It’s knowing that there’s an empty apartment waiting when the crowd disperses.
Next will be healing and adjusting, though how these things will happen we can’t say. Rebuilding, certainly. But what? All that is certain is that even if love survives death, companionship does not.
Someone’s spouse has died, and because I love my own, I’m scared. We say we couldn’t survive a day without the other, but we must, so we will. Love and death are tied, but life inevitably wins out—for someone.
I freely confess that this doesn’t make me think about my daughter at all. Like every parent—including those whom I just witnessed burying their own daughter—I expect to pre-decease her. If I’ve done right by her, she’ll miss me but love her life and the people in it too much to remain heartbroken for long. If I’ve done my job well, she will be mad at me because I took so few pictures of us, leaving her little to show her own kids. To which I say, screw you. I paid for college.
Welcome to Stuff We Like. At some point this will become a separate thing on the side bar and I’ll send reminders on Facebook, but in the meantime, share Stuff You Like with your fellow parents and parents-to-be here. This is a safe and welcoming space to praise cheap strollers and thrift shops.
Thing One: the master key to your house arrest ankle bracelet– best restaurant seat booster on the planet:
Thing Two: wicked awesome lady who helps new and expecting parents (adoption or birth), without being an uptight crazy person. We love Becky.
Thing Three: Me.
Thing Four: the guide to a tolerable life with an infant:
Thing Five: something that actually makes a difference in kids’ lives. I’m talking to you, type A breast-obsessed stroller reviewing foreskin mourning playgroup judging in utero PSAT prep course buying ninnies.
Keep ‘em coming, ladies and gents.
I’ve said that parenting has the lowest barrier to entry of any profession.
I’ve said that I’m sick of baby pictures.
Et maintenant, je m’accuse.
Today I got my favorite kind of email—news of a family coming into being. Nobody’s pregnant. Well, millions of people are pregnant. But a pregnant person isn’t relevant to this story, which is a good thing. Pregnancy news is nice, but like babies, pregnancies proceed unremarkably. The best part is the mother’s face as she learns that one can be pleased about nausea—a sign that all is well in there, in the dark, unreachable recesses above her bladder. Mostly it’s a drag to feel guilty drinking coffee in front of her.
Today’s news and baby picture made me cry, a little. This family is being born across 7,000 miles. You picture the moment: this is his name. Here is his picture. This is your son. I haven’t lived this moment myself, so I can’t imagine what it feels like to be that family. My family got started by cell division. This family by covalent bonding. This is your son.
This family had to audition. How does one put into words “I want to be a parent because” when scared shitless about hearing “yes?” How can one say “I can do this,” searching for something to prove a talent for family? This is his name. Here is his picture. This is my brother. Do you see that I call him every week? This is her name. Here is her picture. This is my niece. Do you see that she loves me? These are our names. Here is our home. Here is where our child will sleep.
And all I needed to become a parent was a car seat.
To everyone who has lived this moment, seen his picture, inhaled her sweet scent amid the institutional smells of a government office, hospital, or airplane, congratulations. It’s been a long journey, and you made it. You’ve earned your moment on Facebook and more.
The bad news is, from tomorrow on, you’re as screwed as the rest of us, and your child as unremarkable. Which, if you think about it, is remarkable in itself.
If I were a stronger woman, I could duck out of the Tiger Mother conversation that has bunched our national panties beyond our fingers’ reach.
However, since the eensy beensy bikinis started their hike up Mt. Buttock, dozens of people have asked me to weigh in, which I did in this post. Most recently, people have asked whether the highly-educated, highly-competitive mothers on urban discussion boards are an iteration of the tiger mother.
I believe that the phenomena are related but different. Both “Chinese mothering” and “western mothering” are three-way relationships, each with its big cat. After that, they diverge.
To understand, we must see that “intensive mothering” and mommy wars did not emerge in a vacuum. Many women make sacrifices on the way to, or during motherhood. Whatever path we choose, women give something up. We’re trained not to expect or want “it all” before we set eyes on our babies. We often buy into the idea that being “a mom” means that these are solely women’s concerns—and this impression is validated everywhere we look. By the time we visit a parenting site, we’ve conceded something.
The media is fascinated with privileged women bickering about the choices we’re fortunate enough to have, but spends little time addressing whether men play a role in this war, or whether the mothers with fewer choices deserve more column inches. I have to admit that I’m complicit in this, even though I like almost every mother I meet and empathize with every struggle apart from “maternal guilt.”
Enter the tigers.
In Chua’s portrait of Chinese mothering, there are three players: the tiger mother, the daughter on the piano bench, and the world. The world swallows mice but a tiger can swallow it. The American world is populated with herbivores and declawed tigers—which leaves a vacuum at the top of the food chain. The tiger mother knows that the top spot is ripe for the taking—but only for a tiger. The person on the piano bench is not a deer. She is a tiger cub.
So-called “western women” may also function in threesomes. I have observed two types.
First, what some call helicopter parenting. Helicopter parents attempt to reduce perceived risks to zero. They protect children from being the youngest in kindergarten, exposure to a microgram of bacteria, and from receiving the Bs they earned. These parents sacrifice to give their children a place at the top of the food chain. Like a housecat rearing an orphaned squirrel, they seek to empower by providing. In these cases, the sibling kittens, though its natural predators never eat the squirrel because the mother cat eliminates the risk. Squirrels raised this way typically can’t function in the wild. There’s no data showing that children of helicopter parents are similarly challenged, nor am I qualified to say.
As I see it, this is the helicopter threesome: the parents are nurturing cats. The children are orphaned squirrels that the parents perceive as uniquely miraculous and uniquely vulnerable. The world is the litter of sibling kittens. It can be shooed away and sated with milk, uninterested in consuming a squirrel. If necessary, the world can be picked up by the scruff of its neck and shaken.
Then there is the soldier in the mommy war, who isn’t a tiger either. By the time we become mothers, we’ve read “what to expect” and we expect to sacrifice. It isn’t true that no one is prepared for parenting. We at least know where we’re going to sit.
We are the girl in the bench. We forego dinner until noses are wiped, fevers are cooled, homework is done, and the hamster is mourned. We calculate whether we can afford not to work—or afford to work. We take sick leave for our child’s annual check-up, accept lost pay, or regretfully forgo it.
We all sit on the piano bench. Some have the power to take a bathroom break. Sometimes we wonder if we’re rearing tigers that are eating us one pound of flesh at a time. The outside world we used to inhabit is a deer the cub chased down and extinguished. We are in awe of the beautiful cub, but sometimes wonder if we’re sending a deer out into a carnivorous world. Most of all, we hope that life will not pin our daughters to the piano bench. That the world will be kind to deer, or that we are raising tigers.
In most partnerships, before children come along, (at least) one family member plays a non-trivial role in the happiness, decision-making process, and schedule of the household. When children come along, this household member takes a tumbling, decidedly non-slippery slide into anonymity.
Though a non-voting member of the micro-society (except by proxy), it once had a place at the table. And against the refrigerator. And in bed, and across the desk of what will never again be the home office.
When a child arrives, It becomes a displaced person. And for the time being, not even the most quixotic NGO is interested in repatriating it.
Oh, woe to the parental penis.
Quoth the sleep-deprived, nipple-sore, vomit-stained, prematurely-aged,
|Did you know? I’m not leaving out the gay boys. I just wanted to write “nipple” in a non-sexual context. Also, you look so great. Who are you wearing?
Surreptitiously-regretful mother: “are you out of your freaking mind?” Also, “nevermore.” At least until Father’s Day. Maybe not then either.
It’s been brought to my attention that some new mothers are mean because we are paying insufficient attention to the lonely household member and giving way to cranio-labial dissociation.
Really? Well said, Sherlock.
Until you’ve expelled a cat-sized, omniurnal human from your erstwhile coochie (renovated to baby hole), you are as qualified to comment on this as Christine O’Donnell is to teach fractal geometry.
|Did you know? That was a non-partisan dig. Find me a similarly-ignorant liberal who is willing to put down her bong long enough to run for public office, and I’ll make fun of her too.
|Did you also know? Medical marijuana clinic does not count as public office.
I’m talking to you, Emily Kaiser of the Washington City Paper.
Unsurprisingly, so went my own marriage after childbirth, expelling its most well-intentioned member. Nor was it able to recover sufficiently to stay together. A divorce, six hundred batteries, and several dire lessons learned from innocent Salon.com flirtations later, I’m happily remarried. And I had the chance to regain a sex life without having to work with another person to, well, ride the slippery slope back to connubial door barricading.
My journey from postpartum sexual armadillo to enthusiastic partner didn’t require me to build a bridge—it involved a massive leap into an unrecognizable place, and a blind climb back toward something I couldn’t see. This makes me profoundly unqualified to comment on whether any mom, urban or otherwise, is making a sufficient effort to get back in the saddle again. What I do know, Emily and titillated commenters, is somebody or a vast sea of somebodies isn’t necessarily working to earn these mothers’ considerable charms. Both members of any marriage have to play nice if any other member has a chance to get back to the table. Or up against the refrigerator. Or behind the couch after he cries uncle and watches a Carey Mulligan movie with her.
For readers too exhausted or too over me to read 500 words: suck it Emily. Take one for the team.
Adequate nation (village):
I’m appearing on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Monday at noon.
If you’re in the DC area, tune in to WAMU, 88.5 FM. If not or are “working,” you can catch the show on line at http://thekojonnamdishow.org/
Tune in, call in, enjoy.
The following 4am feeding drivel is brought to you by a mighty adequate parent:
Talking baby but not sickly sweet infant worship crap.
Please use the comments to post whatever you stare at/ read/ laugh at when you’re either supposed to be doing something else or are enjoying the blessed motherly art of having a bald, toothless person suck on your nipple.
Rule #1: NO PORN!!!
Rule #2: NO MACCABEATS!!!
Rule #3: NO YESHIVA UNIVERSITY-BASED PORN! (redundant, but important enough to warrant repeating to the sleep-deprived)