Thursday, May 29, 2008
There are other moments, though, when I can admit to myself what a toll staying home as a full-time caregiver has taken on me, on my psyche, on my body. I carry around daily physical reminders of my struggle; the extra weight on my frame, more poundage than one of my five-year-olds, envelopes me. No, I haven't gained the weight from eating my kids' leftovers. It's just been from eating. Eating when I am tired. Eating when I am frustrated. Eating when I'm lonely and my self-doubt is consuming. Yes, it's nonsensical-- food doesn't make F sleep later in the morning; food doesn't make C put his shoes on more quickly; food doesn't form community around me; food doesn't give me worth or value.
And I am afraid to put into words how low the extra weight drags me down. I expect everyone I meet to judge me as harshly as I judge myself. And I wonder constantly why don't I just stop, why can't I just stop, how do others have this figured out and I don't. And sadly because I feel this way about myself, my memories will be the only reminders of hanging in the park with my two-year-old leaning up against me, giggling, because I would never allow a camera to capture the moment. I have loads of pictures of my sons, but none with me in them.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
TV, TV, I want to watch TV. TV, TV, I want to watch TV.
I guess I've been saying yes a bit too often...
P will be home in nine days. Nine. At that time, we will be unplugging the TV and packing it away.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I just finished something well worth reading. I was listening to NPR this morning and heard this reporter, Joanna Connors, being interviewed. Connors just published an account of her rape 20+ years ago and her investigation about its lasting effects on her and her family, and about the man who did it. I went to her paper to read the series, and I while I know this is not a cheerful thing--- the story is really worth reading. Really.
Beyond Rape: A Survivor's Journey by Joanna Connors, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Friday, May 23, 2008
I have always hated the sexualizing of children. I'm not even referring to the ridiculous clothing with outrageous sayings marketed to young girls and don't get me started on those.... those Br***z dolls. I'm including those 'innocuous' questions people ask three-year-olds; "So do you have a girlfriend yet?" since I don't find them innocuous in the least. I really managed to piss off one of my NYC neighborhood moms when the twins were four-months-old. Six years ago there seemed to be a big ol' batch of boys born up in Washington Heights, and many of these new mamas found each other while walking laps around Ft. Tryon Park, self included. One day, our informal posse gathered for some companionship and it turned out there were six infant boys and one girl. The mom of the girl remarked, "Oh, lucky her! She'll have her choice of boyfriends." "Unless they are interested in each other," I quickly replied. I don't make assumptions about my sons' sexual orientation and truly, what a silly thing to say about infants anyway. Hey, wanna ride in my double stroller? I can imagine the pick-up lines now. Mom of Baby Girl did not like my retort and I don't think we did too much hanging from them on. Maybe she found my response obnoxious. Maybe she didn't like the idea of her child being rejected. Maybe she was a proponent of (cough-cough) "traditional" marriage.
Anyway, marriage talk has infiltrated the five-year-olds' classroom. Here's what I learned:
C: I asked Serena that when we grow up, would she marry me, but she said no. Maybe I'll ask her again and tell her how fun it is to be a wife.
Wow, I didn't know I was such a role model for the funness of wifedom! And then:
S: Fiona really wanted to marry Jacob but we took a vote. We decided that I should marry Jacob. Now we just need to figure out how to adopt children.So kids have no issue imagining this possibility. Why so much trouble for some adults? And I can no longer abide by the 'religious' excuse. Are these same folks not eating lobster? Are they stoning their daughters? Do they really know what the Bible says in context about the issue? Do they know what Jesus said? (That would be nothing, and remember with whom he was hanging out day after day). On the back of our minivan, we've affixed two stickers: One is of the Episcopal Church. The other reads Love ALL families. Support ALL marriage. I guess my sons and some of their classmates have gotten this message.
Go, Massachusetts. Go, California. We hope Connecticut is right behind ya.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
My oldest two were early readers. This is something a bit difficult to talk or write about because it invariably sounds like I am bragging. However, since I honestly take no credit for their reading and see plenty of other things the boys struggle with (that may come easily to others), I view it more as a statement of fact than oh-what-a-great-mom-I-am and oh-aren't-my-children-brilliant sort of thing. Yes, the boys have grown up in a print-rich environment, a fancy, educator's way of saying that P and I have a huge collection of books, newspapers, and magazines, read constantly ourselves, and have a hard time leaving a bookstore without a bulging bag. Yet most everyone we know has exposed her/his kids to books early on, read to them on a regular basis, and have their own book collections. We did not actively teach the guys to read. They learned it on their own with the help, I strongly suspect, of some good kids' television. We weren't secretly pushing phonics or quizzing them with sight word cards like some scene from a parody of the over-the-top parents interested in their two-year-olds prepping for their Harvard application sixteen years early. It actually took someone who doesn't live in our house to clue us in that the boys were full-out reading, not reciting well-known stories from memory.
There are a few downsides to have early readers, I have to say. I get asked questions about topics I haven't been prepared for, like one inquisitive three-year-old, viewing an advertisement in a newspaper in a bakery--a bakery!, and asking, "What are Hooters, mommy?" ("They're not a nice way of talking about women's breasts," I replied truthfully, because we all know they aren't referencing owls.) I hold my breath just a bit while driving the interstate, passing billboards for 'gentleman's' clubs and erotic boutiques, now that we live in a state that allows billboard advertising, waiting for the inquiries from the back seats. I need to be constantly aware what is on my computer screen when the boys are around and one guy, in particular, loves reading over my shoulder as I blog ("Are you writing another story about us now?"). Finally, getting so engrossed with reading, has caused potty accidents and grand delays, worse than any of the airlines' these days, in putting on shoes, coats, pajamas, etc.
A few weeks ago, the boys spent the night with one of my sisters. On the way home from her house, the twins pulled out the booty they acquired from the remains of older cousins: Encyclopedia Brown books. They were so excited to tell me about this boy detective and I became excited as well because 1. I loved Encyclopedia Brown as a girl and 2. it would not have occured to me that they could read those books now. It is so fun and fascinating to hear them talk about the characters I spent so much time with as a kid: Encyclopedia himself, Sally, Bugs. Since their initial introduction, we have made two forays to the library, tracking down more EC books in the S- shelves (Sobol), and thankfully, there are many to be found. And now at night, after p.j.'s are on, teeth are brushed, and the boys have climbed into bed, C and S request that the lights remain on, just for "three more cases, Mom, just three more". As a flashlight-under-the-blanket-reader kid myself, I don't have the ability to say no to that.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I had to bite back the words that immediately jumped in my brain and/or were some sort of Pavlovian response from my own childhood: Either a comeback full of great sarcasm (and five-year-olds don't get sarcasm and it's just mean, anyway) or the infamous "Well, you're not like all the other kids. You're a/an ___________ (fill in last name here)!" The second response must have been taught at parenting school in the 1960s-70s as both my husband and I have talked about hearing that endless times growing up and swore we would never say it to our own kids. It was so fraught with both expectation and elitism. While pregnant, we would laugh about doubling up on the kid with a "You're an A-------C-------!" where the child would get the weight of both sets of names and all the numerous expectations that combination carries.
Don't get me wrong. I love being identified with my family name. I kept it when I was married and all three of my sons carry it as their middle name. When my father died this past December, I was moved beyond words reading his obituary and seeing the list of names he was survived by, six of the seven children still carrying our family name. A----, A----, A----, etc. just had some sort of power to it.
So, when I heard the "all the other kids" thing, I pushed back my initial responses and went for an innocuous, "Well, all different families do different things. Different families have different rules." And despite my vow to say, "yes'' this week, I still didn't let them watch television before school this morning because that's how we roll in the A------C------ household.
*And no, I didn't bring out the if-all-the-other-kids-jumped-off-the-bridge response either---yet.
Monday, May 19, 2008
For in these next two weeks or so, if I say "yes," my sons will not suddenly become overindulged, impolite, nonreading, slug-like, or violent creatures. The truth of the matter is that for all the times I complained about my parents being "the strictest parents ever" (and they were honestly the strictest parents I've personally known), in the end, I, too, have become a strict mom. I say "No" often and most of the time, I am right to say "no." And my boys, for the most part, know limits and use polite words and treat others kindly. And all of this matters.
However, while their dad is away on his African adventures, I'm saying, "Yes." I've decided that I am sticking closely to the set bedtime, for their sakes and mine, but other than that, all the other stuff can slide. I will keep them safe and I will keep them fed and I will keep them from pummeling one another, but they will eat hotdogs for dinner more than once a week, and they'll likely hang in front of the t.v. for too many hours, and they'll jump on the couch, and they'll create spectacular messes, and we'll go out frequently for chocolate ice cream.
And you know what? It will all be OK. And we'll enjoy our time together while we miss P. And I'll say,"Yes," and they'll smile and laugh and delight in all these "Yeses."
Just remind me of this tomorrow....
Saturday, May 17, 2008
C: I can't sleep and it's not because of the talking. It's just that I still have movement in my body.
S: People say you can't make red because it's a primary color, but you really can make red because if you mix red with red--it makes red!
As I nibble his neck and ear:
F: No, I am not a pancake!
Friday, May 16, 2008
I guess P got tired of seeing it sitting on the windowsill above the sink where I had put it after wrestling it off my finger some time ago. The truth was that the band was always a bit small, but ten years of marriage, three kids, and too many pounds gained to name on a public blog later had made it incredibly uncomfortable. Taking my wedding band off was no literal or metaphorical statement about the state of our marriage. The truth is that my wedding band just no longer fits me. I did find it interesting that the skin beneath the band had grown white and puckered, just a little bit raw, certainly worn and changed. Maybe that's a general metaphor about marriage, but I think of when I got that ring--- I never would have taken it off. Never. Not for anything. Now with our marriage partnership coming up on ten years, with three sons, three moves, the deaths of both my parents, one huge career change, a potentially big health issue, somehow the physical ring doesn't make me feel any more married. It's these other things, intense shared experiences, that make me married.
Please don't misunderstand. I love my ring. It suits me perfectly. I love its history. I love the story behind it.
P and I became engaged as Peace Corps volunteers serving in the Philippines. We had met the first week of training. We arrived in Manila on a Sunday, kissed by the following Friday evening (in a crazy bar called the Hobbit House that was staffed by little people, but perhaps we'll save that story for another post), and that was pretty much it. When we went off to our respective sites, we wrote letters to one another--lots of letters-- mimicking, perhaps, an old-fashioned courtship. Thankfully, we were posted on the same island so were only eight hours and three buses apart. We made that trip whenever we could, and I remember Sunday mornings when he visited me at my site, walking him to the bus stop and shedding incredible amounts of tears, thinking about not seeing him for two weeks, maybe three or more. Sitting on the jeepney back to my home after his departures were some of the most desolate trips I ever took. I imagine the Filipinos, witnessing this pale, tall, white woman, with her knees crunched up on the small seat benches, with red-rimmed eyes, calling out "Bayad-do" in a small, croaky voice, must have thought I was quite a strange foreigner indeed.
After landing in the hospital for the second time thanks to some cheeky parasites who made themselves at home in his intestines, P headed back to NYC to check in with a doctor there. When he left, we didn't know if he would return. He wanted to fulfill his two-year commitment to the Peace Corps, but it was unclear if his GI track or the Peace Corps health advisers would allow it. I remember thinking that this was the first time, really the first time, I would ever contemplate entirely altering my plans for a guy (and I was 28!). If he couldn't return, I would be faced with a dilemma. To steal that well-known line from The Clash, I kept thinking, "Should I stay or should I go" if he couldn't return. I had been raised to never quit anything; no matter what, you stuck it out. I had worked hard to make connections with people at my site, but here I had found P and I couldn't imagine being separated from him for a year-- really, really physically separated.
Thankfully, I never had to make that decision and we were both incredibly joyous when he returned. Our kind program director had scheduled us to train the incoming volunteers in the same week so we could be together, which happened to coincide with P's return. We ran our workshops, schmoozed with the new PCVs, enjoyed spending time with our former language instructors, but were happy when our commitments ended so we could head off for an overnight trip to a tiny, beautiful and lush island off the coast of Dumaguete, where the training happened, called Apo Island. We had visited Apo once before with our fellow batchmates during our training, when our relationship first blossomed, so this was its own sort of coming-home. We were the only tourists on the island that night and we chose the best nipa hut, octagonally-shaped, situated on a slight hill, overlooking the beach and water. That evening, over warm Coke and bad corn chip (Chippies), with the sunset being blocked by a large and poorly-situated rock, P slid a small jade box with a red ribbon across the table to me. Assuming it was a birthday gift as he had been back at home on the day, I was surprised to find the white gold band and even more surprised to hear the "Will you marry me" question-- so much so, that my first, far-from-eloquent utterance was (and I am not proud of this fact), "Are you shitting me?"
P went on to tell me that this had been his grandmother's wedding band, and knowing that I wasn't a diamond girl, he thought it would suit me well. I never met any of P's grandparents, nor he mine, but I knew two things about this grandma: 1). She and her husband died three days apart. His grandfather, at P's grandmother's funeral, said he didn't know how he would live without his wife and he didn't, sinking into my mother-in-law's arms mere days later. 2). She must have been small. Really small. We call my mother-in-law The Elf Queen, in part because she is under five feet tall so I gather that neither of her parents were particularly tall. So here it was relatively remarkable that I could get her band on my finger in the first place. I wore the ring on my right hand for the year of our engagement and switched it to my left hand during our wedding ceremony. And it has sat on my hand these past nine-and-three-quarter years (as my five-and-three-quarter-year-old boys would say), until it became so tight, I soaped it up and yanked it off my finger, and sat it upon the windowsill over the kitchen sink.
Now, we suddenly seem to have hit a stage in our lives where we have a few friends begining separation and divorce proceedings. And I have to admit, I get this--not because I think we are headed there-- but I get how complicated and tough marriage and partnership are in ways that I never did during my teens or the easy times before children. And I stop for a moment to be thankful that I got lucky enough to meet P when I did, when the time was right for both of us, and remain somewhat awed at how well-suited we are for one another. And I am thankful that he's been a true partner in this crazed adventure known as parenthood, in ways well beyond most men I know are, even the progressive, involved, sensitive ones.
And so as my wedding band sits with a jeweler for the next ten days to be heated and stretched--surely a metaphor in that one-- I say good-bye to P for the next 18 days, the longest time we have ever been away from each other since we married. He's off to Ghana on an incredible adventure, but one we can't share together due to three little people living in our home that need us. I will look forward to slipping the now-fitted band back on my finger, and I will look forward to having P home again.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
While I respect so much of what my mom did for us, my feelings are far different than hers were towards Mother's Day. Hell, I look forward to this day for months. It's not that I am waiting for flowers or jewelry or even breakfast in bed (but I do love, love, love it when P brings me coffee while I am still wrapped up in the sheets, prying my eyes open). While these are certainly kind and thoughtful gestures, I am not particularly interested. No, what we've established as our traditional way to celebrate Mother's Day fits me perfectly-- a day completely free of mothering. Yup. I'll happily take the boys' morning kisses, cuddles, and hugs, but then joyfully wave them off for the day, preferably waving from bed, still in my pajamas, with a steaming mug of coffee. I spend my Mother's Day alone, completely by myself, in my own home. Wow.
Before I had kids, I rarely yearned for time alone and would look for endless opportunities to hang with family and friends. However, in the last six years, there has been so little time by myself. If I am ever driving alone in the minivan, it startles me when I look in the review mirror and see the three empty carseats; it completely catches me off-guard since it it rarely happens. In fact, it is far more normal for me not only to be with at least one of my guys, but to have one of them physically hanging off me as if my life were a perpetual three-legged race. I can't even seek refuge in the bathroom given an apartment with one toilet for five people and little fellows who have yet to understand the concept of privacy. Now, I jump at the opportunity to go to the movies by myself or at least, hide in the bath with a book. But to be in my home, by myself, it really does not happen. So I say--- there should be more Mother's Days. Perhaps once a month? Every third month?
I do know that there will come a time when my boys are grown and busy hanging with others far more cool than I. And when this happens, I will hope to spend that designated May Sunday with my fellows. But it's like this-- One day I will also complain that my sons sleep until noon or that they are eating us out of house and home. But as they now wake too darn early and their dad and I actually beg them to eat a slice of pizza, I live for the days of late waking and big eating.
So here's to our current Mother's Day tradition. The day when I can sleep for as long as I want, laze in bed with a good book, watch whatever I want on TV, and the only bum I need to wipe is my own. Yes, I married a good man. He need not buy me diamonds and pearls. Just take our sons and go away!
So for this I say, Yes, we need a day to be nice to your mother or at least to this mother. I sure wish I could say this to my own mom. If only I knew this, if I had been a mom, when I lost mine...
Monday, May 5, 2008
Pink- butterfly- pajama- clad legs dance around the breakfast table where half-eaten pancakes sit, forlorn in a puddle of syrup. Up goes one leg, in a half skipping movement, hop on the other foot. Ahhh, this looks like the well known, practiced for ages, pee-pee dance.
Do you need to use the bathroom?
Nope, I'm just dancing to music in my head.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
This story is heartbreaking on so many fronts:
- She had the baby alone (in a shower and clearly, with no pain management!).
- Mama is 17 and a sophomore in high school.
- She went through her entire pregnancy without her own mom knowing.
- She kept the pregnancy a secret because she feared she would be kicked out of her house.
- And finally "[She] did not call 911 because the home phone was disconnected, and she did not want to wake the neighbors because it was so early. Instead, she wrapped the baby, got dressed and went to the hospital on foot."
We're not talking of this happening in a developing nation. No, this was in California, people! Imagine walking down the street in order to get to a hospital , carrying your newborn, with the placenta still inside and the umbilical cord still attached?!!!
Why didn't people realize she was pregnant? Did she get any prenatal care? Where is the father in this picture? Ahh, I wish her and her son well, and I am glad that both are OK physically. I hope she can continue her education, that her son will be well cared for, and that her family finds some financial stability.
Here's to all the young girls who suffer pregnancy in silence and fear, without support and perhaps, care. Really, who honestly thinks that girls/women are the weaker gender?! Please...