Archive | May, 2012

I’ll meet you on the dark side of the mom

31 May

My children have their last day of school tomorrow. Technically, it’s really just their last hour of school before summer break. The school district is calling that hour a half-day; I can’t help but wonder why we wonder that our children have a hard time with math.

My kids will be home all day for 83 days minus one hour. We’ll reconnect. We’ll sleep late, go to the beach, make cookies, go out for lunch, run through the sprinkler, watch movies, go to the library. By then, we will have made it to about day six. And then I will want them the hell out of my hair.

I realize it’s not very mom-like to dread spending large amounts of time with your children. I realized this when I admitted that I could quite easily spend six weeks away from my kids without really missing them that much. I assumed that the six weeks would be spent doing things like, I don’t know, a writer’s retreat or teaching English in France or writing and reading on a beach in France. Whatever it was, it involved France. Further, I assumed there would be telephones and computers with Internet connections, probably even Wi-Fi, because—again, making an assumption—I figured that they have advanced technology in France. So, I could write and read on a beach in France and my kids could text me. We might even be able to Skype.

But I was reviled. The other mothers pounced on my uncaring attitude toward my offspring. How on earth, they thought, could I be separated from my kiddies for so long?  Apparently, these moms assumed they would spend the six weeks in a sensory deprivation tank. And that their partners would cease to exist or would instantly become insensible, incompetent boobs completely incapable of caring for children.

Admitting to being cool with a six-week vacation wasn’t the first time I realized there’s a dark side to this mom. That happened about two months after my son was born.

I remember falling in love with my son. Not loving him, but falling in love with him. Smelling the top of his head and swooning. Taking pictures of his tiny toes and the soft fuzzy back of his neck, then kissing both. I was smitten. At the same time, I sometimes had an almost overwhelming desire to spike him like a football in the end zone. What kind of mother fantasizes about slamming her baby into the Astroturf, I thought? A bad one, came the answer. A really, really bad one who should have her child immediately removed from her custody.

“This is completely normal,” said my therapist, admitting that while her fantasies were much less violent—she was just going to open her arms and let the baby fall to his fate—they existed nonetheless. Great, I thought, I’ve got a really, really bad mom for a therapist and her child should immediately be removed from her custody.

My therapist also thought it was completely normal when I admitted later that I loved IKEA because I could shop in the calming comfort of cheap Swedish design while someone else watched my kid. I even admitted that, gliding down the escalator, I thought, “I could walk out the door, get in my car and drive away. I could be a long, long way away before anyone even noticed.”

Eventually, I accepted the balderdash my therapist was feeding me: that good moms have deep dark fantasies involving their children. Just because other moms weren’t admitting it didn’t make it any less true.

I didn’t spike my son nor did I leave him at IKEA. He’s sixteen now and still living with us. We even had another kid. Though I have never fantasized about spiking her, I still have my dark moments.

My daughter cries about every little hurt, bump, or scratch she gets. She also cries when she makes a mistake or has an accident. Now, I’m not talking tears spilling gracefully from her cheeks. The biggest—and most racist—misconception about Chinese girls is that they are all delicate, quiet and well behaved. You know, that “uh, uh, uh, oh-oh, Little China Girl” thing.

There are no dainty trails of tears from my daughter; there is wailing, sobbing, whining and lamentation. It drives me crazy. It makes me want to smack her. It makes me clap my hands over my ears. I know these are inappropriate responses, so I calmly tell her I can’t understand her when she cries. She cries more because now she is not just in pain, but also misunderstood. I tell her I need her to stop crying. Now she is crying harder because she’s making mommy mad. I tell her she has to the count of five to stop crying. Now she is crying even harder because she’s being timed. I get to five and tell her I’m going to start charging her a quarter for every minute she cries. All the while, my inside my head voice is screaming “Suck it up, you little baby!”

My husband admits that he has had dark fantasies, particularly involving our son. Our son is not a demon though some have thought so. He has always been difficult and my husband came to parenting late. So, who could blame him when he screamed at his mother that at least he wasn’t “out whoring and drinking” when she mentioned how he might improve his fathering techniques.

Our daughter appears to have cured my husband of his darkest fantasies. Now he’ll more likely fall into despondency over his failures as a father. He does sometimes fantasize about driving away and not telling anyone where he’s gone. He admitted, though, that he’d just go to a hotel for the night and watch old movies in peace.

I realize I’m not painting a very loving picture of myself, but being honest about my darkest thoughts helps take away their power. There are days when going to the beach with my kids is exactly what I want to do. Then there are days when I’d rather clean the cat boxes. So, I’ll suck it up for the summer. The first day of school, though, I’m headed for France, at least in my fantasies.

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What’s in YOUR Beach Bag?

29 May

I’ve been challenged–in public–by my local library, based on my column this week in The Patch. Here’s the link: http://naperville.patch.com/articles/just four books

The challenge? To publicly sign up for the library’s summer reading program for adults. Promised inducements are coupons and the satisfaction of beating my son at something. No small inducement, that. Haven’t signed up yet, but I’m working on two novels,  Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Tricked by Kevin Hearne. Then there is a stack of non-fiction to wade through covering bipolar disorder and running, two of the governing factors in my life.

What’s in your beach bag? Or, if you’re like me and hanging at home all summer, what’s on the night stand?

The Mother of All Cat Fights

24 May

There’s a really ugly battle going on, one that I witness every single day. It’s a battle that’s been going on for years, but seems to have gotten particularly evil recently. It’s not in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria. It’s right here in the United States. It’s the one between the least likely set of combatants: American moms.

Every single day lately, I hear something hateful come from the mouths (or computers) of moms. Moms criticize moms for working. Moms ridicule moms for not working. Moms look down their noses at moms for using formula. Moms secretly envy moms who can breastfeed their babies. Moms hate moms and I’m freaking sick of it.

I’m particularly sick of the battle between stay-at-home moms and moms who work outside the home for pay. I call them Work-Away Moms. I don’t think there’s been a time when the battle has been so filled with vitriol. The Ann Romney/Hilary Rosen thing is only the tip of the iceberg. Recently, I read this from a SAHM regarding a WAM who asked what the SAHM does all day. “I wanted to shove my fist up her *ss.”

The Gallup organization recently released a study noting that stay-at-home moms are more depressed than other women, including work-away moms. Twenty eight percent of SAHMs report depression; only 17 percent of the work-away moms report depression, the same percent of women polled who have no children. The real news here though is that this is old news.

Betty Friedan wrote about stay-at-home moms and their unhappiness in 1963 in her pivotal work, The Feminine Mystique, which became a foundational writing in feminist literature. Nearly 50 years ago, Betty Freidan already knew what Gallup is reporting as the latest news: mothering is difficult work that is undervalued by our society and that pisses moms off. It’s not very PC to get mad about caring for your offspring, so Angry Mom becomes Depressed Mom. It was true then and it’s true now. Of course, today we’ve got a happy pill for Sad Mommy.

Let’s be careful when we look at these statistics, though. Most of the moms slinging mud at each other—staying at home, working at home or working away—are middle- to upper-class white ladies. When we talk about stay-at-home moms, though, we are most often talking about women living in poverty. Women who are at home because they can’t find work. Women who are the sole parent in their homes. Women who could work at Burger King, but then couldn’t afford the childcare. We’re not talking Ann Romney here, though I wouldn’t begrudge her a depressive episode, being married to Mr. Dignity Of Work.

Don’t be too quick to applaud Ms. Freidan for her prescience. Being a feminist is as uncool these days as being…well, I can’t think of anything that’s as uncool. Feminists are responsible for the bind we find our mothers in. If it weren’t for the stinking feminists, SAH moms wouldn’t feel so damn bad about themselves and we’d be celebrating the glory that is being home with your children 24/7. If it weren’t for the stinking feminists, all those women who chose their careers over their kids would get their butts back home where they belong.

Wrong. In fact, there couldn’t be a more twisted, deceitful interpretation of what the Women’s Liberation Movement attempted to achieve. Gloria Steinem and her feminist friends envisioned a society where “the American child’s classic problem–too much mother, too little father–that would be cured by an equalization of parental responsibility.” In other words, Mom and Dad share the parenting—equally. Think that happens already? Who signs the kids up for summer camp? Who makes the doctor appointments? Who washes the sheets the baby puked on?

Steinem saw a world where “there will be free access to good jobs–and decent pay for the bad ones women have been performing all along, including housework.”

How would that happen? How could it be possible? If we could get past our rugged individualism, we could get to a world where we put our money where our mouths are. You can yap about family values all you want, but a Family and Medical Leave Act that doesn’t include pay of some kind is a joke to the majority of workers who can’t afford to go without pay for six weeks. According to Forbes magazine, in 2009, the United States and Australia were the only developed nations without some form of paid leave. I’m Danish, but didn’t have my kids there. If I had, I would have been able to stay home with my son for a full year at full pay. Instead, I pieced together four months of leave by adding all of the vacation and sick days I had to my six unpaid weeks. I saved like a demon so we could get by while my husband worked on building a business. Then I went back to work so we could keep our house.

Feminists didn’t make the world worse for women. Do you like being entitled to half of your marital property? Thank a feminist; it wasn’t yours until 1969. Are you married and use the last name you were born with? Thank a feminist. You couldn’t do that until 1972. Did you use birth control before you got married? Thank a feminist; you couldn’t do that until 1972.  If your husband treats you like crap, you can divorce him. Couldn’t do that in 1969. In fact, until 1976 your husband could legally rape you. I was a senior in high school; we’re not talking ancient history here.

It’s hard for me not to see the trash thrown under the bed in the mom-on-mom battle. White moms—the ones who have the greatest access to political and monetary power—need to be kept busy with stupid crap like whether or not Rush Limbaugh is a pig. If we weren’t, we might get together and work toward healthcare coverage that recognizes hormones are used for more than just birth control.

I’m sick of hearing that work-away mothers chose their careers over their children. I’m sick of hearing that women who can’t breast feed just aren’t trying hard enough. I’m sick of hearing that stay-at-home moms sit around scrapbooking. I’m sick of hearing that work-away moms take advantage of the PTA moms. I’m sick of hearing how hard stay-at-home moms work. I’m sick of hearing how hard work-away moms work.

It’s all distraction, distraction aimed at keeping us from joining together to fight for paid family leave so moms and dads can be home with their kids. It’s a distraction aimed at keeping us from fighting for equal pay for mothers who work away from home—for whatever reason. It’s a distraction that keeps us from fighting for the right to make our own reproductive choices and not be humiliated because of them.

I, for one, am sick of being distracted. Are you?

It’s TIME to stop mommy bashing, you boobs!

21 May

I figured out a way to comment on that TIME magazine cover. I don’t particularly care how long you breastfeed your kid, but I think TIME’s editors are a bunch of boobs for playing on the “I’m a better mom than you are” insecurities moms are subjected to from the time they have their first kid in their arms. Here’s the link to my column in The Patch.

http://patch.com/A-tvh6

Bad Buddhist! No Nirvana for you!

17 May

I am just an angry middle-aged mom. Or is it I’m a bitter old woman. Either one has more than a grain of truth to it, but I didn’t come up with these descriptions. No, these proclamations came from my son, an angry, young man or a bitter (older) teenager. Whichever way you want to look at it, there’s a grain of truth there, too.

My son didn’t say these things in anger; if he were angry, there would have been lots of vile, disgusting words followed by a good, solid grounding. I’d also take away his wireless mouse and keyboard. Technology makes it so easy to remove technology privileges from a young man’s cave now. My son said these things quite calmly, in the middle of the snack aisle at Target, after telling me I am no kind of Buddhist.

Lest you think my son is prone to blurting unflattering statements about me in the aisles at Target . . .wait . . .he is. Ok, he blurts. This time, I probably deserved a good blurting. My daughter had just walked up to me with four packages of candy that she proposed to buy. These were not the cute little one-person servings of candy that I bought with a quarter when I was nine. These were the big honking Halloween bags of candy. I said the first thing that popped into my head: “You’re high if you think I’m going to let you buy that much candy.”

Apparently a good Buddhist wouldn’t say, “You’re high” to her nine-year old anywhere, any time, let alone in Target within earshot of all the other discriminating shoppers. I’m thinking it might be ok at Walmart, but I don’t shop there, so I can’t be sure.

My son is constantly telling me I’m the world’s worst Buddhist and I will give him that, frequently, I am a bad Buddhist. The worst? Nah, but bad a fair amount of time. When I’m feeling particularly charitable, I can convince myself that in recognizing I am a bad Buddhist, I am being a good Buddhist. But then I realize that I am congratulating myself for being a good Buddhist, which certainly makes me a bad Buddhist. Then I realize that I am self-flagellating and I might as well go back to being a Catholic.

I am an especially bad Buddhist behind the wheel. It’s not that my driving is aggressive, but that I don’t have a particularly peaceful attitude toward other drivers. If I don’t like the way you’re driving, I’ll tell you while also calling you a nasty name. Holding up traffic so you can turn left in the “no left turn” lane? I’ll be saying something like, “Oh! I get it! The rules don’t apply to you, asshole!” Of course, you won’t hear me but my son will and he’ll say, “You’re a terrible Buddhist.”

If my son were a Buddhist I could have nailed him with his badness the other day. He just got his driver’s permit so he’s been driving us around on our afternoon errands. Recently, a driver pulled into his lane unannounced. His response? “Nice turn signal, asshole.” I didn’t know if I should be proud or appalled.

I was a better Buddhist before I had kids. I had time to meditate. I was actually pretty good at it. I could drop into a meditative state just about anywhere, even on the bus to work. I read Buddhist teachings. I went to a Buddhist conference.

When children entered my life, meditation time became scarce. My practice moved from meditation to mindfulness. It’s so much easier to parent when you let go of trying to have your own way. Of course, being in the moment can mean sitting on the floor in the aisle of a certain not-Walmart retailer with a two-year old’s face cradled in your hands calmly explaining why screaming “I hate you” is not a constructive way to get one’s needs met.

Lots of mediation instructors tell beginning meditators to focus on the breath. Count one. Breathe in. Count two. Breathe out. Some have you count one for the whole breath cycle, but you get the idea. The trick is to not let your mind wander as you count to ten. Any mental misstep gets you back to one. So, when I started meditating it would go something like this: count one; breathe in; think about cute shoes I saw at Field’s. Back to one. Count one; breathe in; think about what to have for dinner. Count one; wonder if I’ll ever get to ten. Count one. Realize I forgot to breathe on the last one. Breathe. Count one. Count one again to get back in the “count one, breathe” sequence.

Lately, being a Buddhist has been more about staving off panic than finding any sort of peace. My son is failing history but no need to panic; the semester isn’t over today. My father is dying but he’s not dead today.  Money is an ongoing concern, but we’re not broke today. Ok, maybe we’re broke today but we’re not broke broke. It’s a constant struggle to not add the “yet” and slide into that place in my head where everything is crap and we’re all going to hell in a hand basket.

I’ve been trying to focus on my breath again, but more often than not, it comes out in a sigh. I don’t even try to do the counting thing. If being a Buddhist means anything to me, it means cutting myself enough slack to allow one breath to be enough. It’s what a bad Buddhist—and Buddha—would do.

What Do Gloria Steinem, Beyonce, The Avengers and I Have In Common?

14 May

They are all mentioned in my column this morning. I wrote it after a truly astounding event in one of my third grade classes: boys laughing at girls who like The Avengers. Kind of patting myself on the back for mashing history, feminism, pop music and superheros into one 500-word opinion piece. Superman and Green Lantern ain’t got nothin’ on me!

http://naperville.patch.com/articles/who-runs-the-world-still-not-girls?ncid=newsltuspatc00000001

Everything In Its Place

10 May

There is one thing I love almost as much as my family. You wouldn’t know it to look at my house, but I love order. When I lived alone, there was a place for everything and everything was, if not in its place, then at least close. I could find anything I needed in a matter of seconds. All of my possessions had a home, a place they went to when they weren’t needed. My things were where I expected them to be when I expected them to be there. Life was peaceful.

Now that I have a family, there is still a place for (almost) everything but nothing is ever even vaguely near where it is supposed to be. This is because I am the only person who knows where everything goes. Naturally, I have told the people I live with where our things live. I believe they were listening to me when I told them. Apparently, though, my son is not the only one with ADHD.

So, I label. There are labels in the pots and pans cabinet. One for sauce pans, one for skillets, one for the colander, one for the big silver pot, one for the big blue pot. The labels are intended to ensure the item named is placed in the spot reserved for it. This ensures the cabinet is, you know, organized. But my family appears to believe the labels are suggestions.

I thought maybe they didn’t know the difference between a saucepan and a skillet, so I changed “skillets” to “frying pans.” I have since learned that they know a skillet is a frying pan and a saucepan isn’t. My son watches “Top Chef,” after all. They know the big silver pot is not blue and that the big blue pot is not silver. They don’t particularly care. Like Native Americans who believe that they are on time if they arrive the day of the meeting, my family believes that the pots and pans are organized as long as they aren’t mingled in with dishes or baking ingredients.

I see nothing particularly obsessive about wanting the pots and pans to be where I want them when I need them. After all, I am preparing healthful meals for my organizationally challenged charges. Never mind that they won’t appreciate them or, in many cases, even eat them.

I’ve learned, though, that some of my labeling is seen as a bit nutty. I admitted to my niece recently that I had labeled the insides of the cabinet doors in my old house with the contents of each shelf in each cabinet. I thought she’d understand. She did, after all, once compliment me on my system for organizing chocolates, nuts and dried fruits. Instead, she looked at me as if I were obsessively obsessive compulsive. Now, of course, I can’t label the insides of the cabinets in my new house without appearing more than a little dotty.

There are a couple of places in our home where the lights can be turned on and off from either side of the space. From the dining room, you can operate the kitchen and dining room lights. From the hall, you can operate the kitchen and hall lights. Complicating things further, there are two sets of kitchen lights. These switches drive me insane. I invariably turned on the wrong one. I would cycle through the three options—stove light, table light, hall light—until I had the one I wanted. So, I labeled the switches, a perfectly reasonable solution I thought.

A friend, on seeing the light labels asked, “Can’t you just remember which one’s which?” She had that “Oh . . .my . . .god” tone of voice and I think she may have even snickered. “No,” I thought, “I can’t remember which one’s which, hence the labels.” This was immediately followed by a deeply rooted sense of shame at my inability to remember which switch was which. The switches are still labeled, but I feel a tremendous sense of inadequacy every time I flip one.

I hope my friend never sees my office. I have a cabinet where I keep my supplies, things like stamps, rubber bands, tape—all the office-y kinds of things. The cabinet has 12 drawers in sizes ranging from small to large. (Do you know where this is going?) Each type of office supply has its own drawer. Little things live in the little drawers, big things in the bigger drawers. So I have a drawer for tacks, one for stamps, another for staples. Scissors have a drawer as do hole punches, Post-its, erasers and tape. There is, of course, a large drawer reserved for—you guessed it—labels. Each drawer is labeled. My saving grace with the cabinet may be that there is a junk drawer. It isn’t labeled.

When my mother was alive, I had a partner in labeling compulsion. She was a goddess of organization. We would have conversations about organizing; we both found them calming. But I’m a piker compared to my mother. While I have long owned a Dymo Letra Tag labeling gun, she had a Brother P-Touch, the Cadillac of labeling systems. I snatched it up recently while helping clean out her office.

When I lived alone, I was cavalier about organizing. Now that I live in the midst of a storm of people, their things, their needs and their emotions, I crave organization more than ever. So, I’ve built an alternate universe in my mind. One where there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place.  There are no Littlest Pet Shop figurines, clothes are on hangers (no wire) in closets, shoes are in boxes, bath towels are neatly stacked. And everything, of course, is labeled.

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