Sunday, April 29, 2007

Rad mommy ... I mean Bad MOMMY!

Apparently I've lost my moral compass. I know I had one. It was here somewhere, buried under the stacks of unopened junk mail in the kitchen, or perhaps mingling with the detritus in the disaster area I call my purse.

But according to officials at the Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children (or MCA-UCC for you acronym lovers) where Ittybit attends classes twice weekly, it is gone and I am officially a menace.

A hipster mom. A woman woefully bereft of common sense. I may already be on some early education watch list.

I'm going to say it all started because Ittybit learned to dress herself, and has apparently adopted my penchant for the color black and silly, decadent things that conservative, mommy types who live in the suburbs shouldn't enjoy.

In her self-chosen black Little Girl Big Attitude T-shirt, accessorized with Jolly Roger emblazoned legwarmers covering her exposed arms, we groove to pop tunes and hip-hop in the car; she asks for Bank Job by the "Naked Old Ladies" and sings Black Eyed Peas’ "Let's Get It Started," at the tops of her lungs.

Now, it's not that we didn't try the kid stuff. I suffered through The Wiggles and Barney just like every parent of every tot in the Western hemisphere. I even came to love Elmo despite his red furry insistence on referring to himself in the third person, but Ittybit moved along to our Dave Matthews CDs as easily as I followed to my folks into Folk.

It wasn't intentional. It was pure luck. To have her actually prefer my musical preferences to those of her peers seemed nothing short of miraculous.

But when she takes off her coat in the brightly painted pre-school, and the prim and proper teachers notice the skull and crossbones-knitted woolens warming her arms, two words that never would have occurred to me at this juncture become abundantly clear: DRESS CODE. And listed prominently under the heading "INAPPROPRIATE" would be the Jolly Roger.

Mind you, I saw an inkling of this strict adherence to suitability the last time I showed up at the decorous academy to do my part by assisting with snacks and tripping over myself and the many tiny chairs. Ms. Cuthbert had asked ittybit, as is her custom on a child's "special day," to recite how many people live at her house.

"Mommy, Daddy and MAD-O-LINE the dog ... Maggie dog used to live there, too. But she died. She's buried in the backyard. ..."

"OH KAY" sings Ms. Cuthbert with the distinct tone of uncertain surprise one might have when unexpected unpleasantness escapes its moors. "Moving right along ..."

As a parent teaching their toddler to accept death as a part of life, and as a woman who believes we are fast becoming a society that can't see the forest for all the trees as we try to clear cut to our moral high ground, I find myself wishing that I could muster some righteous indignation. Just enough to show my distain for prejudice based on outward appearances.

I want to rail against how we’ve all come to fear things that are not bathed in sweetness and light, cuteness and bows; and the thinking that the wildest hair color or the wackiest clothing is a dangerous thing.

Skeletons, after all, have a prominent place in medical and anatomical education, too don’t they? Well? Don't they?

The thoughts in my head become as shrill as a scream. But then I realized I signed up for this. By becoming a parent I had willingly joined a club with strange rules and customs and members who have different ways of seeing the world, let alone chart its course. And as a new community member, I'd have to navigate the waters with care so as not to sink the ship. Even though I still see no harm in a pint-sized pirate, I also see no reason to shiver the timbers. Not just yet, anyway.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Prevention may not be the cure

I've heard it a million times: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." But lately I've been wondering if that ounce of prevention doesn’t also equal a metric ton of unnecessary angst?

If you've followed the news at all during the last decade, you’re probably aware of the billions of ailments and hardships we can prevent by eating the right foods, getting the right exercise, getting the proper amount of rest and moving to the right neighborhood ... or being born to the right parents ... or jumping around on our left foot while tugging at our right ear.

Sorting it all out isn't even the biggest problem, although it probably doesn't help that the "Good" list includes coffee, sunlight, red wine, chocolate and sex for their anti-oxidant and stress relieving properties — all of which may also be found prominently on the "Bad" list, presumably for their cardiac weakening and carcinogenic properties, too.

Maybe it's just coincidence that since the advent of safety campaigns such as "Loose Lips Sinks Ships," to "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," we've seen a collective increase in American anxiety.

Is it possible that the idea that we can effectively stop bad things from happening has turned prevention into avoidance and pushed us all into a state of undue anxiety?

Perhaps it's a bit of a leap or an over simplification, but I keep asking myself what has changed since I was a kid and the answer I keep coming up with is fear.
Improvements are everywhere:

*Car seats are safer
*Footwear for kids is better
*Cribs and toys are better designed
*Getting the word out on hazards is instantaneous and fixes are just as speedy.

And yet we'll say "the world is a different place" today as easily as we said an "ounce of prevention ..." yesterday.

We've all seen stories of children abducted from their own homes or on their way to school, and we put ourselves in the place of the victim. But no matter that numbers indicate stranger kidnappings are statistically insignificant, we can only wrap our minds around the fear and the possibility of preventing a tragedy even if we can't do it.

This week, and the many weeks that follow, will be especially difficult to keep from speculating how things went so wrong as the nation mourns the tragic horror that took place on the campus of Virginia Tech on Monday.

How could anyone look around them and see reason for hope? How do we keep from retreating further from the world and each other? And yet we must. We must move forward.

For doesn't it seem strange that very bad things continue to befall us, despite our continuing to meet tragedy with legislation? Or despite the fact that kids aren't allowed to be without parental supervision anymore? The playgrounds in my neighborhood are always empty of the kids I would have known in my suburban pre-adolescence: Kids who showed up after school with their gloves and their bats and wondered who wanted to play pitch and catch. Kids who wouldn't go home until their mother's called or darkness ended the game. Instead there are huge playfields and droves of parents trucking their uniformed children from one league game to the next, setting up the tailgate of their minivan with Gatorade and low-fat snacks, and yaking on the cell phone during play.

Despite all my digging in of heels and refusing to believe the world has changed for the worse, I fall into the trap of such ill-perception myself.

Anxiety is always the first emotion to appear as I drive my family sedan on the windy, back roads I used to ride my ten-speed Schwinn an unhelmeted five miles alone. What ifs start coming like mad. What if a driver didn’t see me; what if there was an accident; what if I just disappeared.

I wonder how my parents were able to let me go. How I will let Ittybit go? But then I realize, sadly, I probably won’t have to let her go: There won’t be anyone for her to meet if I did. All of her friends will be at soccer games with their moms or dance lessons or gymnastics after school.

The playgrounds will still be empty.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A second pregnancy unlike the first

A friend of mine recently relayed a story about how, at 27 weeks gestation with her second child, she'd attended her first prenatal yoga class and nearly cried at the thought of how this time around she hadn't been taking care of herself.

How is it possible, she wondered, that it had taken so long to check in with herself and connect with the newbie? Just one hour a week, that's all she needed.

That's what it's been like for me this whole winter. The weeks just seem to fly by, bringing with them one niggling sickness after another. From one head cold to a stomach ailment and right back to nasty head cold, I've been coping since November with this cyclical suffering.

If it weren't for monthly obstetrics appointments I'm sure I'd forget I was pregnant at all. I can't help but feel sad that I haven't been as present with Thing 2 as I was with Ittybit. I haven't enjoyed it as well, either.

If I say that aloud I instantly feel the cold gazes of women and the incredulous looks from their menfolk. To many of them, enjoying pregnancy is a contradiction in terms. No one is supposed to take pleasure in the discomforts of weight gain and other Kafkaesque changes our bodies go through during fetal incubation.

But I readily admit that I am one of those oddballs who LOVES being pregnant.
For the most part, I feel fine if not better than I normally do during my regular, single-serve existence.

Even the not-so-nice parts -- the heartburn, nosebleeds and itchy skin -- are merely momentary inconveniences easily explained and easily set aside. I know it's the pregnancy that causes it, and as such I can let it go. No worries.

With Ittybit I attended my regular, weekly yoga class religiously; I went to the gym after work three days a week and walked my legs tired on the treadmill; I took time most every morning to follow Shiva Rea's lead on a prenatal exercise tape I vowed would become a staple in my life, even after the pregnancy was over, because I enjoyed its flow.

But my life is markedly different this time around. I come straight home from work, feeling the weight of guilt for having spent so much time away. Every weekend is set aside for "Mommy" time.

"Me" time is what I steal late at night and early in the morning, and cheat my husband out of whenever I get the chance. Me time is for writing about HER, and processing photographs of HER life, and checking in with other moms to reassure myself that I'm at least getting a quarter of it right.

That's the ME I've become. A mother. And not even an efficient one at that. Every morning I pat myself on the back for being able to get out of the house with a kid who's only partially dressed and fed a mere 20 minutes past the time I'd really wanted to leave.

What pains me, though, isn't the "ME" time I'm missing. It's the "HE" time.
I've been making due by keeping score during the morning and evening kickfest game that the inside of my belly has become. I lift my shirt and look down in amusement as one quadrant of my blue-veined abdomen jumps and squirms, seemingly passing some plaything to another area of the field.

I may not feel as if I'm in this game, but at least I'm cheering it on.

... That's what I tell myself, anyway.


Note: I'd like to thank MommasWorld for nominating this site for a Bloggers Choice Award

The thought makes me swoon.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Return to the valley of the dolls

I hate McDonalds.

With the fire of a thousand suns does this hatred burn in my soul. Hate, I tell you. H-A-T-E.

I didn't have such a remarkable odium for the place until Ittybit was born and the lure of easy pancake breakfasts on the run attracted me like a mackerel to a live anchovy.

Because, you see, my failure as a mother is directly and concretely measured by the number of times we visit "Old MacDonald" each week instead of firing up the stove.
This week I'm 0 for 5.

However, this week, and until April 19th, it's not laziness and an inability to subvert the "cheese and whine" that's steering my car to the formidable Golden Arches – it's a fear of the warning: "while supplies last."

You see the Alexander Doll Company, makers of Madame Alexander dolls, has again teamed up with the fast food giant. This year the Happy Meal giveaway is one of eight, 4 ½-inch Wizard of Oz-themed dolls.

While I can resist the remarkably fragrant hotcakes and sausage biscuit sandwiches, and can forgo Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets completely, I can't pass up the toys. For decades I have had an addiction to the cutesy things all wrapped in plastic that Mickey D's been putting in its Happy Meals.

I'm so hooked, in fact, that the one thing I regret about my New Zealand honeymoon was passing up an opportunity to visit a makeshift Happy Meal toy museum in a little drinkwater town, which boasted a million exhibits.

Until this latest promotion, though, I was able to resist temptation. The weird aliens and My Little Ponies didn't reach out and grab me with their wily plastic charms. I successfully adhered to a self-imposed rule of "only on days when the pancake batter runs out," usually a planned occurrence once a week.

But this Madame Alexander thing — this nostalgic trip back to childhood, a behind-the-glass plaything, something to admired more than played with — is too seductive. I NEED to collect all eight.

And that's what they want me to do. They want me to indulge my inner child while I indulge hers. They want to indulge the little girl hiding in the pockets of my maternity wear who, as a child, coveted the super expensive baby dolls, the only purpose of which is for decorating beds. These dolls, mothers would explain, are not for touching. They are not for dragging around by the hair. They are special.

My childhood Madame Alexander Doll – "Beth" from the Little Women series – is still in its original box in my parent's bedroom closet. It was stored there throughout my childhood, taken down once in a while and shown to me so I could 'ooh and ah' at its beauty.

It was a little like the Lionel train set in my father's collection that came out each Christmas and circled the tree. The only difference was that we got to play with the train eventually once my dad had given us the refresher course on model train engineering, which usually lasted at least a week and included various tests in the art of breaking and reversing.

Now it was my turn.

When I opened the bag to dispense the breakfast fare and complementary toy and saw the doll staring up at me I froze. It was Dorothy. I threw the napkins over the package and hauled out the hotcakes.

She was so famished she forgot about the toy prize, and my greedy self decided not to remind her. "That doll is special," I thought with the squinty eyes calculation.

Eventually she remembered the loot and out of the package it came. She named her new doll "Pollycina, her crunchy doll" and immediately "combed" her hair into a do remarkably similar to an ’80s-era Flock of Seagulls look.

I watched in horror, but I knew what I had to do. As soon as I dropped her off at the sitter's house I had a date with a drive-thru.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Role reversal

I am not a morning person. I used to be a morning person. I think. But 11 months of midnight, two a.m. and 4 a.m. feedings – not to mention the subsequent Internet addiction that followed as I furiously searched "Sleeping Through The Night" and found dozens of moms like myself trolling the Web at all hours looking for small shards of useless advice -- has robbed me of my early-morning zeal.

Gone are the 6 a.m. walks with the dogs and the-greet-the-dawn yoga classes with television gurus.

These days my husband wakes me up at the crack of daylight and tells me "If you want a shower, now's the time." Meaning I've got at least 20 minutes before he's got to hit the road.

So under the pulsating needles of hot spray, I linger for as long as I can possibly manage before my skin turns all pruny and the water turns icy.

It's a test of strength really; his strength.

If I stay lost in the steam of the shower, I muse, maybe he’ll have managed to wrestle Ittybit into her clothes. If I rinse and repeat just once more, maybe he'll have managed to get her to choke down a few bites of cereal or a purse-sized portion of pancakes.

It's not often that it happens this way, but when the universe aligns and I emerge from the shower to find a little girl already dressed in her Wednesday best and sporting a big-old milk moustache as she bellies up to a plate of cottage cheese waffles, I think I should probably buy a lottery ticket because this is my lucky day.

Of course the decadence of it all goes straight to my head as I take more time to get ready for work. I'm even so bold as to check my e-mail messages and the New York Times Web site before relieving him of toddler duty.

When that happens I notice there's enough time to indulge Ittybit in an online video game filled with dancing bears and jumping squirrels before I have to coax her into the car seat.

The husband frowns at me as we sit calmly on the couch, giggling as the animated squirrel misses the berries and falls of the window ledge for the gazillionth time. "This is really hard," she says, commiserating.

"Could you at least clean up the kitchen a little before you go," he asks with a familiar sigh. It's the mantra of the one worker, one slacker household.

I turn off the computer and tell Ittybit we’ve got to get a move on. As she pulls on her coat, I grudgingly gather dishes from the table, depositing them into the dishwasher, and clear the counter of the breakfast debris. I apply some spray cleaner to the globs of pancake batter on the stove and wipe.

It occurs to me that this day, of all days, has felt like a role reversal. For the briefest of moments I understand what it feels like to be the proverbial dad. To have someone taking care of the nitty gritty of everyday life because, let's face it, during this window of development all roads usually lead to mom. ...

I want MOM to read to me.
I want MOM to help me get dressed.
I DON’T want DADDY to make me breakfast.

By the time I've grabbed my own coat, Ittybit is halfway down the stairs and headed to the car as her father is heading up the stairs, having forgotten his keys.

"Hey, is your mom on her way?"

"No. She's just wasting water."