Monday, February 23, 2009

Be The Mommy

Raising children is not for the faint of heart. Hell, life is not for the faint of heart and when you add two little people who depend upon you to keep their world right side up, motherhood can be daunting. I’m not a parenting expert, I’m not a pediatrician, or child psychologist; I do not possess a degree in early childhood education. I’ve never taught public school. I am not a perfect mother, although I believe if ever two children existed in the world that were close to perfection, mine would be them. My only qualifications to speak about motherhood at all is my own personal experience.

I’m a voracious reader and would like to become a writer that voracious readers read. I encourage reading in everyone I know: my children, my husband, my friends. However, there is one small group to which I actually discourage too much reading. That group is new mothers. Why? Well, because from my perspective most of what is written about how to mother is not helpful. What a new mother needs more than anything is to learn how to mother her particular baby. And if you can encourage a new mother to listen, her baby will teach her all she needs to know.

Now, I’m not talking about chucking all the technical manuals out there that serve as much needed reference guides on the topics of diaper rash, colic, or how much breast milk or formula a baby of x months of age should be eating. I’m not talking about the books that guide new mothers’ expectations as to when their baby may roll over, crawl, or walk. I’m talking about books that make sweeping generalizations about the kind of mother one should be. Books that set an expectation that if a mother is not doing her mothering a certain type of way, then she’s not doing it correctly. New mothers are insecure enough, they don’t need reading material that speaks in absolutes. Absolutes like: working outside of the home and mothering a young child are incompatible; you must always feed on demand and never let your baby cry, or the reverse of you must keep your baby on a strict feeding schedule even if that means letting him cry; never, ever let your children sleep in your bed, or the reverse of co-sleeping is the only way to insure a proper mother-child bond.

Here is what I know to be true. Each child is unique, special, and unlike any other. Just as each new mother comes to the task of mothering with her own history, background, and expectations, so does each child come into the world with its own temperament, personality, and set of needs. My son, a snugly sleeper who was only contented by being next to me while he slept. My daughter, an independent sleeper that would only sleep after being laid down awake in her crib. My son, a happy homebody who thrived on me being a stay-at-home mom. My daughter, a restless and curious child who was never happier than the day I dropped her off at full-time daycare. My son, a pacifier-sucking, formula-loving, happy, and chubby baby. My daughter, a pacifier-rejecting, stubborn, and screaming baby. Same gene pool, same parents, different children.

Here’s the point. If you’re a new mother, get quiet and still and listen to your heart and to your child. If you want to be a stay-at-home and you and your child have the temperament and financial situation to support that, DO IT. If you cry every morning while watching with envy as other women drive out their driveways to work, find the best available care for your baby and go back to work. You choose. Not someone who has never met you or your child. If you want to breastfeed until your baby is two, go for it. If the thought of having a baby clamp down on your tender and swollen nipples makes you want to scream, ask your pediatrician what bottles and formula he recommends. If you want to co-sleep, take down the crib and slap a double bed in the nursery (it’s allowed, I’ve done it). If your baby needs to be put to bed awake, then kiss her goodnight, lay her in the crib, and turn the monitor on.

If you were a fly on the wall in my home, you would often hear me say, “Because I’m the mommy, that’s why.” If you’re a new mother, be the mommy you know you are. As your baby responds positively to whatever decisions you’ve made about working, pacifiers, or sleeping arrangements, trust the confidence you feel and roll with it. Know this: whatever you decide, there will be a library full of reading material to support your decision. Go ahead and decide first and save yourself a lot of unnecessary and unhelpful reading written by people you will never meet and who have no business expressing their opinion about the kind of mommy you’ve decided to be.

Friday, February 20, 2009

When A Cartoon Is Not Just A Cartoon

I don’t know what I’m more irritated about, the NY Post’s publication of what was at best a thinly veiled racist cartoon and at worst (and in my opinion) an overtly racist cartoon or their “apology” for said cartoon. In my book, an apology goes something like “I’m sorry. If I had to do it over again, I would do it differently. I never intended to offend you, but now I see that I did. Sometimes I’m ignorant and I am sincerely remorseful that my ignorance hurt your feelings. I now see the error of my ways and nothing like this will happen again. Please forgive me.” Something like that from the NY Post might have given me pause. Instead what I read is not an apology at all, but a defense of their decision to publish the cartoon in the first place. That does not qualify as an apology. What it does show is that they indeed do know, and did prior to publication know, that the cartoon is racist. Otherwise, no defense would be necessary.

For those of you who might have a hard time following my logic and who may feel compelled to educate me (via the comment section of this article) on political cartoons, let me proactively respond. Maybe you’re not from the South (maybe you are and you’re just in denial), but there is no way possible for someone from the South to view this cartoon and not see it as a racist comparison between a black President and a chimpanzee. It is a historically racist comparison that has been made over the history of this nation and it makes me sick. We can all pretend like those comparisons never happened, don’t continue to happen, or that we have moved past them. Wrong. It’s a lie. Racism is alive and thriving.

We’ve made great strides in this country regarding race. The historic election of President Obama has done much to move us forward. Unfortunately, there are those among us who are not intelligent enough to debate the legitimate differences concerning how our country should move forward during these difficult days. Unfortunately, those same people resort to behavior that is beneath us all. Yes, sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon. However, in this case, sometimes a racist is just a racist.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mid-Life Crisis: Not So Much

I am not having a mid-life crisis. Really, I’m not. In spite of what I know has at least crossed the minds of those closest to me. It is not true.

I vividly remember the exact space and time coordinates I was occupying the very first time I heard someone refer to me as middle-aged. I was attending an early summer cocktail party in a friend’s backyard in Stepford. I was thirty-six years old, lightly tanned, and was wearing a denim sundress with white sandals. My hair, freshly colored, was twisted into a loose knot at the base of my neck, my bangs tucked neatly behind my left ear. After spending the afternoon in the pedicure chair, my toes were freshly painted metallic blue. My lips were sporting Philosophy’s latest flavor of lip gloss. I had been back at the gym for eight months, my younger child being two and a half, and was at a very good place regarding my body. I was about two-thirds into my second martini when the conversation turned to grey hair. And as tends to happen half way through martini number two, the filter between my brain and my tongue began to intermittently fail. I proceeded to make a comment that was overheard by a Stepford husband who was sitting about three feet away on the patio. (It’s possible I misjudged the volume of my voice. It happens.) My comment was something to the effect of, “I don’t really mind having to color my hair. But the grey pubic hair I discovered last week is over the top. Who knew that could happen?” And as will typically happen at Stepford cocktail parties, I received the appropriate outrage and sympathy to the plight of a greying pubic patch, but no admission from any of the other Stepford Wives that they had experienced such a ghastly event. (I suspected this had more to do with the prevalence of bikini waxes than me being the only person with the issue.)

After a couple of moments, I became aware that the husband sitting on the patio was not so subtly laughing to himself about our conversation. Not a very clever way, in my opinion, to join the conversation, but I had never in the past thought him clever so I was not surprised. I had always considered this particular husband a voyeur of sorts—you know the type—always lurking around the edges of a party for an opportunistic nugget of gossip, always turning up in the butler’s pantry at the same time as you saying something lame like, “Oh, excuse me ... tight fit in here.” Yeah, dude, something like that. So, I turn to him while finishing off the last third of my martini in one unladylike sip and say, “And what exactly is it that is so amusing to you over on the patio all by your lonesome?” My friends are silent, recognizing the cross hairs of my glare. Mr. Voyeur says, “Oh, I just love hearing middle-aged women talk when they are drinking.” Okay, the dude not only lacks cleverness but has apparently mistaken me for my mother. Not good. What followed was an informational session that I was not, nor would I be anytime soon, middle-aged.

At that, I flip-flopped my white sandals and sundress off across the lawn in search of martini number three. This was almost six years ago. Me? I’m still not middle-aged. Mr. Voyeur is now divorced (something about an Internet porn addiction that his wife found intolerable) and extremely active and repentant in his uber-conservative mega-church. I haven’t seen him at a cocktail party in quite sometime.

Which all brings me back to this ridiculous notion of middle age. What is that anyway? First of all, I plan to live until I’m one hundred and twenty, so if we’re being technical about it, I won’t be middle-aged until I’m sixty. An when I’m sixty what if I still feel, as I do now, as good as I did at twenty-five? And what if my mind, as it has so far, continues to become sharper with age? And why exactly does my newly uncovered voice have to be labeled as something as negative as a mid-life crisis? I’m not in crisis. I think the real mid-life crisis is when NOTHING different happens to you after acquiring all the knowledge that surely must be gleaned in every life by just the living of it. Would not it be a crisis to have lived, learned, and grieved over a period of forty plus years and have absolutely nothing to say about it? For sure, for me, it would be a tragedy.

So no, I’m not having a mid-life crisis. I don’t consider myself middle-aged. I refuse to label myself any longer. Yes, I am a wife, a mother, daughter, an employee, a friend, at times a bitch. But I am so much more and I can’t wait to tell you about it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gun Control Stepford Style

Certain patterns are repeated over and over again in my life. Some of these patterns I create subconsciously and others, at least on the surface, appear to be random. One pattern is that similar things happen to me in threes. Most of the time, I don’t pick up on this until after event number three has occurred. However, this week I noticed immediately that two similar events had occurred in short order and I was bracing myself for the third. And it was a doozy.

In the months leading up to the election, the political climate in Stepford was, let’s just say, odd. There was an unusual blending of the Stepfordians and the Rednecks who live in the areas that surround the suburbs. There was a dawning disbelief, despite the Stepfordian and Redneck cult-like certainty that they were on the right side of history, that McCain may lose the election. The frenzy of anti-Obama emails, bumper stickers, and water-cooler talk was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. It was as if the Stepfordians and the Rednecks believed if they said Obama would lose enough times, they could make it come true. I kept imagining Dorothy repeating, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Imagine their disappointment on election night when their mantras and clicking of their symbolic ruby slippers did not produce the desired result. Many McCain/Palin signs remained in the front yards in Stepford well into December. It seems no one has gone to the trouble to remove their McCain/Palin bumper stickers. And the anti-Obama chatter? While most of it now goes on outside of my earshot, it is as vicious as ever.

It’s no secret I try my best to stay away from right-wing propaganda. No Fox News, no talk radio, and absolutely, positively, under no circumstance do I allow Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh into my head. However, I’m neither blind nor deaf, so I’m not completely successful at eliminating all sources of offensive material. Last Friday night on my commute back into Stepford was one of those times. Just as I was about to cross into the Stepford city limits, I pulled the Palinmobile to a stop at a red light behind a very nice and new Ford F-250. On the back glass of this truck was a bumper sticker that I had never seen before and I hope I never see again. My reaction was instantaneous irritation at the sticker and the driver. I understand completely—oh trust me, I really do understand—that in Texas I am surrounded on a daily basis by people who feel the way this driver does. However, the audacity and anger that would propel a person to put this sticker onto their truck for the entire world to see is beyond anything I can wrap my mind around.

The sticker was black with white lettering. It had two lines. The first line read “Obama, you want my gun?” At this point I’m thinking “Okay, seriously, you paranoid Redneck, I am very doubtful that the President of the United States cares what the hell you have tucked under your seat as long as you a) leave it there and b) have the proper permit.” The second line read “MAKE MY DAY.” WTF!? I’m thinking “OH, uh-uh ... Oh no you didn’t just make a not-so-veiled threat against the life of our new President.” I picked up my cell phone and shouted my outrage at my dad all the way home. Thank God for my father. He was appropriately outraged in return.

Saturday morning produced event number two. My family is currently ridding ourselves of our four ATVs and the ridiculously large trailer that is required if you want to ride said ATVs anywhere but our backyard. We have a small ATV that my eight-year-old daughter rides listed on Craigslist. Last Saturday morning my husband calls me into the office and says, “We have an offer on the small ATV.” I can tell by the way his goatee is slightly skewed that something is up. So I put my hands on my hips and say “What is it?” He says as monotone as he can muster, “They want to know if we would be willing to trade the small ATV for a 40 caliber handgun.” I stare. He waits. He knows this is not going to be good even though in a sadistic way, he will enjoy my reaction.

I take a deep breath and say “Let me see.” He rolled the chair back from the computer and there it was in black in white. “Would you being willing to make a trade for a very nice 40 caliber handgun?” I took a deep breath and said to my husband, “May I respond?” He quickly rolled the chair back to the computer and said, “I’ll tell him we want cash.” So I say, “No, you need to tell him yes. Tell him that your wife feels she has a moral obligation to remove his 40 caliber handgun from the double-wide where the child he wants our ATV for happens to lay his precious head at night.” He wouldn’t do it. It was probably a bad idea anyway. It’s been my experience that you shouldn’t really mess with Redneck handgun owners living in double-wides.

Which all brings us to event number three. Monday morning while driving to work, I’m talking to a friend who has approximately the same commute time as I do. It’s a ritual she and I share a few mornings a week. Our husbands are very close and get together with a few other Stepford husbands once a month for breakfast. The monthly breakfast happened to be two days prior to this conversation. The very same morning of the ATV/handgun email offer. Anyway, I’m relaying my story about the bumper sticker and ATV/handgun trade when she busts out with, “Well, what do you think about the boys getting their handgun permits?” I’m thinking “Boys? What boys? Even Texas wouldn’t let our eleven-year-old sons get handgun permits.” After a pause, I say “What?” She says, “The guys. They decided at breakfast Saturday morning that it would be fun to get their handgun permits.” I’m almost speechless. I manage another “What?” She says, “I guess he hasn’t mentioned that?” Ummmm. No. He hasn’t.

You know you’ve been living in Texas too long when … okay, okay, when any of the above happen to you.

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