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Dear Mom, this is what I wish I could’ve written in my Mother’s Day card to you

As I write this I am sitting in my doctor’s waiting room nursing something that could be strep, a common cold, or the bubonic plague. You have selflessly driven to brooklyn from Queens to watch K, even though you have to work in the afternoon and this is a giant hassle for you, and despite the fact that you have been sniffling for days and have not once vocalized your own discomfort. Before I took off for the doc, you were sitting on the floor next to K, watching her place “Princess” on the Little People potty, over and over again. There you were, asking me if I wanted to pick up the ingredients to make chicken soup and offering to whip it up for me instead of rushing back to your home the minute I return so that you could, you know, live your life.

Yesterday on Mother’s Day I gave you a beautiful card and I wrote some sweet sentiments inside. The usual. Thank you. You are the best mom. You have shown me how to be a good mom to my daughter. The card took me five minutes to write (that morning) and, though I mean everything I penned, those words neither created a warm sensation within me, nor made me pause and reflect.

And that was wrong of me. Because there are things you should really know. There are multi-layered thoughts that actually race through my mind when I think about you late at night. When I let myself go to that ugly place where I imagine your death and realize that, at 64, you could have 30 more years or five. These are the facts about you that inspire me. That make me proud. That make me feel pity for you. That break my heart:

1. You never joined the other women when they cleaned up after Christmas dinner. You, like them, are Italian American. You, like them, learned your place in this world. Yet you, unlike any of them, refused to sit at the women’s table. Refused to leave meat on on your plate. Poured a second and third glass of wine. And then sauntered off to the men’s table and, without asking, plopped down next to Uncle Nick to play cards. You assumed the role of dealer. Blue and red chips accumulated in front of you. You didn’t bother to organize them into neat piles.

2. Your parents didn’t feel college was for girls. You always believed things would have been different if you were Jewish. Jewish parents encouraged their daughters to get a college degree, or at the very least, to sit in a college classroom for two years so they could marry a more respectable man. You would have been a lawyer. You tried to go back a few years ago. You attended classes for two semesters and quit with a 4.0 GPA. Why did you really give up?

3. I’ve tortured you through the years with cutting remarks about how you were never around. Yes, it hurt me when you weren’t there. But if I focused as much on the memory I have of you making me Stelline pastina with melted cheese when I was sick, of lying next to me in bed to watch The Muppet Show, of sitting by the radiator on snowy mornings while you made us fresh juice and oatmeal, of playing beauty shop with me and letting me brush your hair (thicker than mine, oily, darker, with deep red highlights…during this game you taught me the word “auburn” and this new unusual sounding trait made me wish my hair would change into something with an exotic name, something other than “brown.”)–if I focused on these memories instead of how often you were absent I would realize your need to look for fulfillment outside of the house (because one can only play beauty parlor with a four-year-old while watching All My Children for so long) wasn’t unusual or sinful. It didn’t have anything to do with your love for me. I would realize you were there as much as you weren’t and that our ideas about people, and especially about our mothers, are 30 percent fact and 70 percent emotion and resentment. I would confront the realization that forgiveness is not my strongest quality and that I expect you to be a Madonna, while I hold no such expectations for myself.

No Mother’s Day card could hold all these thoughts. And there are more. Decades of thoughts. I’m waiting for the day when I have the courage to spill over.

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Discipline tips for wussy moms

According to this article published in Redbook, the average toddler hears the word “no” 400 times a day. If the average toddler spent more time with me, she/he would hear things like, “Let’s not do that” and “Don’t you want to do this instead of that?” Total wussy mom. I want a respectful, amazing child, but man do I have to work through my whole aversion to discipline.

I’m going to be a good American girl and blame this on my own mommy. Any toddler who spent as much time with my mother as my K does would hear 400 “no’s” in addition to all of the following:

* “Don’t fall down, gonna get a boo-boo!”

* “Be careful!”

* “Watch how you sit in that chair!”

* “Don’t run!”

* “You’re going to trip on the rug if you walk that fast.”

* “You’re going to get a splinter if you don’t put on your shoes.”

* “Brrrr…it’s cold, where’s your hat? Did mommy forget to put you in an undershirt?” (It’s 60 degrees outside)

I feel I have to pepper each of these rants with the obligatory–Holy crap, my mother is saving my life by watching K while I work. Which is true. She is.

But our parenting styles differ greatly and I’m trying to find painless ways to recommend to her that she not fill K’s head with morbid ideas about the countless dangers pervasive in our universe. Do I really want K to grow up and, like me, imagine she has 8 forms of cancer on the basis that “something around her waist area” hurts?

I heard the word “no” regularly as a child. Every answer to every question was “no.” Do I think it screwed me up? Probably not. Do I think it’s odd when parents refuse to ever say “no,” as if it’s a dirty, shameful word? Yes, a little. Regardless, I would much rather maintain a positive home environment, and I am wondering lately if it would be enough to subtly model some of these Redbook suggestions in the hopes that my mother will catch on? Or do I have to have an uncomfortable talk with her–the mere thought of which makes me want to slap myself because (as I mentioned before) she is saving my life by watching K..?

I will paraphrase Redbook’s suggestions on how to discipline children without saying “no:”

1. Instead of saying “no, you can’t so this,” explain why the action shouldn’t be done (example: “We only eat dessert after dinner so that we don’t fill up.”) By the way, do you love my wussy way of saying “we” instead of “you?” It’s a teaching trick I use to make my 8th graders think I am on their side…

2. When your child misbehaves, explain your feelings to him/her. (Example: “It hurts mommy’s feelings when you purposely rip up her term paper. Mommy is going to grad school to make your life better–if it were up to her she’d be drawing in a whopping $4 an hour to write professionally. Don’t make mommy feel bad.”)

3. Provide choices. If your child is doing something you don’t like–such as dragging a blue crayon across a white wall, as K did last night–offer him/her the option of either sitting at the table with her crayons, or–I’m thinking, I’m thinking, what could be more fun than coloring a wall?–I’ll get back to you on that one.

4. Show, don’t tell. Here’s one suggestion that makes sense to me. Instead of saying, “Don’t kick mommy in the tummy when she’s changing you,” take her little hands and pat them gently against your tummy. Show him/her what you want instead of shouting about what you don’t want.

5. Develop a mean voice and look. My husband is the master at this. I’m still working on not laughing every time K does something ridiculous.

Overall, I have some issues with numbers 1 and 2, like 3 and 4, and can’t master #5.

Feel free to send your wussy mom discipline tips my way!

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5 dumb reasons why daycare freaks me out

The jig is up.

Over the past month, our caretakers have been slowly exiting the scene, like visitors at a wake. My father-in-law is sick. My mother-in-law avoids our calls. And my mother recently confided in my brother that she’s burnt (thanks, mom for telling me! thanks brother, for sending me a panicky Facebook message at 3 am instead of picking up the phone and calling me the next morning…next time, just post it on my wall–much quicker).

It’s not that I blame them. Watching K is like what I imagine it must be like to be married to Joan Crawford. But now daycare, which was an abstraction for so long, is becoming a reality.

And I am freaking.

I’m not sure what to expect. In no particular order, here are all of my unfounded and idiotic concerns:

1. Another child will steal my K’s beloved marker, which she carries everywhere and at various times of the day serves as a spoon to feed her stuffed animals, a doctor tool to examine their eyes, and a brush to comb mommy’s messy hair. She will quickly learn that other people are mean and this experience will deeply impact her ability to form attachments later on in life. Plus, I will want to beat up this marker-stealing child’s mother. And I’ve never been in fight, so these negative feelings will simply bubble beneath the service until I snap at a nice clerk who can’t help me find mangoes at Foodtown.

2. K will steal everything not tied down, including other children’s prized possessions. Popular Toddler Head Cheerleader with cult-like toddler following will influence the other girls to stay far away from my kleptomaniac, doesn’t-know-how-to-share little peanut.

3. Daycare snack break room will serve double duty as creepy place where uncredited workers take pornographic photos of babies, similar to those described in vague detail in two-part episode of Diff’rent Strokes.

4. I will pack organic homemade meals for K, but she will be lured into the temptation of eating Hostess Cupcakes and Cheetos, all of which will be readily available at daycare. Naturally, pot and cocaine will follow.

5. She will cry uncontrollably when I leave in the mornings. She will cry and cry all day and wonder why I abandoned her.

Or

She will not cry at all and wish me gone. She will refuse to leave with me in the afternoons and call her daycare provider “mommy.” I will smile and die a little death each time.

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You walk into your caretaker’s house. Your baby is standing on a toy, pushing on a window screen. What now?

Caveat: the caretaker in question is K’s stepfather, who watches my 22-month-old along with my amazing mother-in-law. A-ha, you say to yourself, you are more screwed than I thought.

I love him to death. He’s a caring and humorous Irish man who puts me at ease whenever I worry that K is going to die. Which, when she was an infant, was every half hour. In the last few months, however, his health has been in decline. He falls often and has had to visit several doctors, including a neurologist. Despite the chaos around them, he and my MIL have insisted they can still care for K a few days a week. We’ve been more than happy to oblige because K adores her “ma-ma” and “pop-pop.” And because daycare costs more than my mortgage.

The other afternoon, however, my husband walked into their home and found K standing on her little toy kitchen, which had been positioned against a window, and pushing on the window screen–which does not feature a window guard. Grandpa was sitting a few feet away on the couch, not stepping in to stop this from happening. Needless to say, my husband freaked out and snatched K up. I think he is still shaken over the incident.

We’ve been lucky enough to avoid the incredible expense of daycare up until this point (did I mention the expense of daycare?) I realize we are embarrassingly fortunate. Aside from the cost, of course, we felt and still feel like K benefits more from spending so much time around caring grandparents than caretakers who aren’t truly invested in her well-being. But my husband and I waited until our early 30s to have a baby, which means our parents are well into their 60s. This isn’t old. But there are times when my mom forgets she has told me something–and then forgets again. My father sometimes struggles to hold K–a big girl at 30 pounds–for longer than a few minutes. And I already outlined some of the issues my step father-in-law deals with.

Is it ever fair to expect our aging parents to double as caretakers? Even if they insist?

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Myth: “Just buy baby a stack of onesies–baby isn’t going to need all those clothes.” – Grandma

Laundry used to be an every-other-week undertaking that took up no more than two washing machines.  

Four days' worth of laundry

Well, those days are most assuredly over, aren’t they? At least until baby stops defying the laws of gravity by pooping both vertically and horizontally.

I now average about six loads of laundry per week. I’ve started to notice that I’m getting annoyed looks from the folks in my building who are either baby-indifferent or just plain “over it” when they see me hurling two heaping bags of half-sopping wet and soiled baby clothes, blankets, and towels – alongside mine and the husband’s sweaty and spit-up soaked clothing. I can only imagine how yucked out pre-baby me would have been to have to use the same machine(s) to wash the one amazing pair of J Brand jeans I own (and will clutch to until baby is 30).

But the greatest change has to be the way I now take obscene interest in washing all of baby’s clothes in $800 Dreft detergent and folding them to perfection, while my underwear and bras are washed in what pretty much amounts to dishwasher detergent by comparison, and then shoved into the nether regions of a drawer that also now houses K’s extensive winter hat collection.

Equally bewildering is the fact that baby has her own pristine white crochet laundry bag that hangs three miles away from our holey synthetic laundry sack, as if co-existence would result in our sack infecting hers with chicken pox or typhus.

When laundry begins to feel like the one controllable aspect of life with a newborn, don’t even bother questioning it. If you’re lucky enough to not own a washer/dryer, use the time as an excuse to hide out for 20-30 minutes in the laundry room and catch up on your reading (remember when you read?) Also, ignore the urge to call and castigate all those women who told you newborn clothing is a waste of money. In the long run, I’m guessing they’re probably right.

Then again, you’ll just wind up spending that money on Dreft detergent, so let’s call this one a draw.

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When your mother hates you but adores your child..

Childcare isn’t cheap=understatement of a lifetime.

There are two reasons why I consider myself very lucky. One: I quit my job as a newspaper reporter right before I became pregnant and began teaching because a) the business of education fascinates me (policy, history, the politics behind it, etc), b) I love kids, and c) I couldn’t imagine having a baby and a job that required me to go who knows where at a moment’s notice and stay at the office until who knows when waiting for an editor who has nowhere else to be while he takes smoke breaks (because he’d like to think this is still 1965 and he works at The Most Important Newspaper On Earth) and takes his sweet old time deciding if my sentence needs a comma or a semi colon.

Second reason I’m lucky: my mother has pretty much freed up her entire schedule whenever I need it to watch K. I love her for it, but at the same time, I can’t help resenting the hell out of her for it. Are you seriously that ungrateful, you ask? Yes, possibly. But I, like millions of women out there, have always had what you’d call a strained relationship with my mom.

She would die for me—there’s no doubt in my mind about it. But she doesn’t actually like me. She constantly says I “lack roots” (You could say I was slightly flighty in the past…and have no interest in sitting still at long Italian dinners). She has told me my lack of church-going makes me a disappointment in her eyes, which is fair to say, I guess, considering how passionate she has become about Catholicism in her later years. She’s entitled to her opinion, right? One night, however, after drinking a bit too much wine, she blurted out that she was going to tell my daughter a person who doesn’t go to church is going to hell. Hmmm. Is she entitled to that opinion, too? You could say that made me reconsider my daycare options.

But I didn’t. Despite many, many arguments with my husband, we continued to let my mom watch K. The thing is, she may dislike me, but she is wild about my daughter. She looks after her—for free, mind you—in ways I can’t even begin to describe. She trims her hair and makes her homemade fruits and $15 filet of sole dinners and reads countless books to her and has taught her to sing “Happy Birthday” in Italian, and gives her endless kisses and hugs.

The good outweighs the bad. But boy, does it sting sometimes to rely so much on her.

Sometimes when she kisses K good-bye and proclaims, over and over again, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” I wonder if she isn’t overdoing it because she feels she can’t do it with me. Then I realize I’m the mom now and this has to mean I’m too old to obsess over whether my mommy loves me or not.

Still, I wonder how others would handle similar issues with grandparents…