A Short History of My Daughter’s Life as a Mother…


Both Mother and Daughter

My daughter is a born mother. I am (in my own opinion) decidedly not, despite my long desire to have children and be at home to raise them. I would argue that mothering is more science than nature in my case. But I have watched her in fascination for some time now, all the while struggling with the faint discomfort of someone raised by a 70’s era mother who, like most of her sisterhood, ran from the kitchen and child-rearing as a sole occupation. Our mothers sought to have a bigger life than the one that was offered to them and there has been a burden on us, their daughters, ever since – to expect the same.  Some wear it more lightly than others to be sure, but there can be a guilt at work for wanting to stay home. Perhaps it is connected to the lack of a paycheck associated with it, but being just a mother is only given lip-service as an occupation. And yet, here is this girl who is  two generations away from Gloria Steinem, obsessed with baking, asking for cross-stitch lessons and mothering her brothers and sister, and sometimes me, and I think, aren’t we supposed to be pushing her out of the kitchen?

She was born an adult, and at all of 11 years of age she acts with perfect comfort embracing the responsibilities of the business of our home. There have been moments where it has been hard to tell which one of us was leading in this mother-daughter dance we do. She has been my equal in certain subtle ways since she first weighed in at 3 tiny pounds of certainty, and her imitations of me, which have not always been flattering, began at a profoundly early age. The most curious part about it was how really clear it was that it wasn’t a recreation of me personally that drew her. It was the role of motherhood that she aspired to.

It didn’t start out this way. If you went by our earliest conversations about “How you get a baby” you would never have suspected that she would be who she is now. I can still recall the frantic, panicked conversation she had with her frantic, panicked mother who was trying to merge onto the Southern California freeway system (I am always trying to get on the freeway it seems) with no sleep and the equivalent of the new Starbuck’s Trenti in her system.

“I don’t want to have a baby!”

“Well, you don’t have to.”

“Well how do stop it from happening?!” she asks, starting to cry

“They have medicine you can take so you don’t have one.” I say, wondering why we were having this insane conversation anyway.

“Well, I want the medicine!”

OMG. “You don’t need it yet!  You don’t have to worry about this right now. Can we just let mommy get on the freeway and worry about this later for the love of all that’s holy?”

She was 5 at the time…

And yet, despite this, in her tiny heart resided the sensibilities of a born mother, which despite the aforementioned conversation were clearly evidenced by the arrival of her younger brother when she was 3 years old. She found him irresistible in every way, announcing to all and sundry, “This is MY baby” and showing him off.  She watched carefully the pattern of his care and at the slightest cry from him, little hands would appear out of nowhere and begin pulling at my clothes, undressing me as she announced, “he’s hungry.” And more amazing still to me was when I would lie down to nurse him, she would lie on the other side, putting him in the middle, and stretching her tiny arms as far as they would go, around us both, making herself part of the tableau.

I admit, I am sensitive to the idea that I am unfairly making her care for the children that I had or agreed to take on, but she really did sign onto this with me during one of our early conversations about whether or not we were the best place for her two young cousins. Could we give them what they needed if there were 6 kids? She asked what would happen to them if we didn’t do it and I told her about foster care. And she told me that it wasn’t happening. That no matter what I decided, she wasn’t going let that happen. She wasn’t being defiant, she was being who she was. She just knew the answer deep in her own heart and wasn’t afraid of stating it.

Also, the boys, when asked to meet the same mark, well, they are just ever so slightly more lame in some incomprehensible, DNA-related fashion.  I’m sorry guys (Mommy totally loves you), but they’re just different.  I can give you evidence of this genetic difference. When the triplets were born and we had absolute teams of people coming in to help care for them, not one of the men ever knew which one they were holding. They visually could not tell them apart. They were not identical. 3 different eggs. None of the women had this problem. I found that fascinating. Our brains are built differently, thank god, and I value them as well, but we’ve stopped pretending by now that the male and female brains are similarly structured, right?

So, through all this, my daughter has been the blessing I never knew I was going to get. She forgives me for all my many mistakes as a parent.  She has been my hero and my partner in holding our family together, and it must be said, she is amazing. I miss her terribly on the weekends (especially now that she has become my chief ally in the current war against the 2 year old). I didn’t expect it to happen this way, but my gratitude for who she is as a person knows no bounds. I could even begin to do this without her.

To say that I rest uneasy at times in our partnership wouldn’t be overstating it.  I am not looking to produce a resentful young adult who felt that I had kids and made her look after them, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have held onto the words of a young cousin, the oldest of six herself, and her observation about the younger sister who just always seemed to know she wanted to be a mother. It reminded me that it was alright to have motherhood be one’s highest aspiration. After all, feminism was about being valued for our choices as woman equally, no matter where they took us, not just being free to choose from the “Man Menu”.  I wish for my daughter whatever she most wishes for herself. She is one of the best people I know.

 

 

 

 

 



JUST BRING ON THE LOCUST AND GET IT OVER WITH…


It’s started. The beginning of the end is here. The Ten Plagues.  The punishment of God upon our people. Woe be it unto all those who didn’t believe.  Out of fear, I will be marking the door with lamb’s blood, but really, nothing can save us now.

My daughter, who is an angel on earth if ever there was one, disappeared last week, almost overnight. In her place, for 48 hours was an alien creature armed with a stony expression and burning coals for eyes that shot death-lasers of hate at me, and everyone around her, anytime I dared speak. The alien creature spent the whole of the 48 hours making snarky asides to any conversation, whether she was in it or not and provoking fights and dissension with those around her. When she wasn’t doing this, she was stomping around the house, slamming doors and shooting us glares of contempt.

We’ve seen little signs of this before now. Every so often, in the course of the normal day, you’d look into their eyes and you’d see something peeking. A little crazy that wanted to come out to play…but that was still years off, right?  Oh, wrong…SO. WRONG.  My girl just disappeared. Like overnight!  I had no idea that it would be this fast, but when I think about PMS and how fast that arrives, I guess I should have figured it out, because it’s like a dose of PMS, but on Human Growth Hormones.  Perhaps I will entertain myself by thinking of it as “The Cream” and “The Clear”.

My Bestie, The Dragon Lady, was all tea and sympathy for her, “Oh, maybe she needs chocolate!” she said over the phone.  “What she needs is gin, a cigarette and some Valium, but as this isn’t the 1950’s what I’m going to do is offer her some chocolate and a hot shower.”  But the message of what she was saying got through to me.  My Darlingest One was unconsciously dipping her big toe into the waters of The Sisterhood and she would need love, and a guide…and a horse tranquilizer from time to time, but hey, don’t we all some days?   So After the first approximately 6 hours of it all and finding that she had actually barricaded herself into her room to cry with rage and confusion, I brought some tough love into the mix, since she had proven to be utterly intractable in the face of every other piece of love, reason and understanding.

I took a deep breath and stormed the room, ordering her to march herself into my bedroom and get in bed. Then I announced that she would now be subjected to forcible hugging and comforting.  Once she had wept a little more I broke out the understanding and empathy for how hard her day had been.  And then I talked her into a hot shower to help her feel more herself, then back into bed for more cuddling. Basically, I tried to draw the roadmap to self-care for her.

This is not to say that I got the whole 48-hour event right. We clashed, I ranted, we cried and made up, dogs howled, swine gnashed their teeth and men fell, because perimenopause and teenage hormones, as previously noted, are bad. They’re BAD!  At other various times the two girls, my preteen and my five-teen year old were secretly at work sharpening spoons into shivs in their respective cells so they could go after each other in the exercise yard, occasionally triggering a lockdown. Sisterly love, I am told, sometimes looks like this.  One of the nicest women I have ever met, back in our church-going days, once admitted to me that she made her younger sister drink perfume, just because.  I suggested that a real older sister would send her perfume as a reminder for all birthdays and Christmases. How did I get here?

One of the chief features of this hidiosity seems to be the fact that they are unable to assess their own state. They think they’re fine. It’s you (and all the other clueless bastards in the house) who are the problem.  The other exciting discovery I made is that for much of this, there is no right answer. You can’t win and you can’t head it off; you’re just going to have to experience the event.  I think my early assessments here are correct, and it leaves me speechless with horror and fear. I think I’m going to miss my babies over the next few years and I hope they’ll come around for brief visits, but by and large, I fear it will be these evil aliens who will sleep in their rooms at times. I mean, it’s not as if there’s some sort of strong family history for hormonal stability at work here.

Case in point, the following week, her two brothers became snake-charmed as well.  The Golf Pro kind of freaked out a bit. He’s so mellow that he didn’t have an actual mood swing as a teenager. But I argued that if you think of them in single terms, if you isolate their behavior into individual events, then it seems actually kind of normal. However,  if you take that one of them and their head full of bad hormones and have all their interactions take place with 2 other people who have heads full of bad hormones…well, that’s just bad science folks.  Don’t put three people who have undeveloped brains, bodies being poisoned by their own body chemistry and poor social skills together. The results aren’t good.  Then you add the five-teen year old and the 7 year old, who imitates everything, the perimenopausal parent and the coping-challenged 2 year old into the mix, and seriously, I don’t know why the Golf Pro even comes home at all. And I don’t know what’s to become of us all.

To top it all off, during the 8am Friday school drop-off, when I told the 2 year old that he could have a lollipop for breakfast, from his little rocket seat in the back of the car, he screamed “I Hate You.”  #FML. But, during one of the breaks in the storm, I got to hold my baby girl in my arms and watch this video with her. I guess those will be the moments to look for to keep us connected over the next few years…




The First Year Meant…


Learning to surrender your vulnerable first born to strangers when you couldn’t be at home with one and at the hospital with the other two at the same time.

Learning to feed 3 babies at once.

Following an ambulance back to the hospital and praying that the lights won’t go on.

Getting less sleep than a Navy Seal during Hell Week (granted, however, I didn’t have to carry “Ole Misery”).

Living with strangers.

Knowing how to do CPR on a baby for real.

Driving 45+ minutes each way back and forth to the hospital every day.

Living with the sounds of alarms meant to warn you that your child had stopped breathing randomly going off.

Measuring out and monitoring careful daily doses of medicine for 2 out of three children.

A complete and total loss of privacy because I kept the bassinets in my bedroom.

Living off of take out Chinese, Teddy Bear grahams and pink vanilla frosting.

Learning that Girlfriends are the best things God created.

Calling 911.  More than once.

Driving through a 5am downpour on the phone with the hospital desperately trying to locate them while the monitor on your child keeps going off to tell you her heart rate has plummeted again.

Totally hyperventilating the one time you go out to lunch with a friend and realize you’ve left your phone at home.

Loving firemen, nurses and EMT’s.

Learning the true meaning of desperation every weekend when you know you will be alone till Monday morning.

Saying hello to high blood pressure.

Learning the nightmare of 5pm colic.

Making midnight phone calls hoping to hear that they have gained grams rather than lost them.

Sometimes already feeding two babies and just having to listen to the one who just woke up cry until you are done.

Being mobbed at malls and answering questions about them, like “Are they natural?”

Never going anywhere without two fully loaded diaper bags and two strollers.

Memorizing medical records until Doctors ask if you’re one of them.

Never, ever really sleeping no matter who offers you time to rest because you’re a first time mother, and they don’t do that.

Becoming a better person the moment they were born.




Circumcision Decision…The Debate Lives On


I was reading Lisa Belkin’s NY Times blog, the Motherlode, which recently covered the ongoing circumcision debate in this country.   Not surprisingly, there are some strong feelings on this subject on both sides of the issue, and I guess I can understand, although I must admit, I draw the line in equating what we do in this country to newborn boys and what happens in other countries to young women and it’s reasons. They are not equivalent in anyway. But that is a different, and more horrifying post. I just had to say that, because certain groups have tried to group the two things together to lend weight to their argument against.

The circumcision decision came for me over 10 years ago. And it was influenced by everything but personal preference. In our household, we have 4 boys and, well, we swing both ways (couldn’t resist the pun. It won’t be the last either, so consider yourself warned). Like so many of our destinations, the journey we mapped was anything but straightforward.

Can I start by saying that I had always just assumed that, if I had boys, they would be cut.  That was the cultural norm to me. I remembered my brother was and I was of a generation where all my personal experience took place in a heavily circumcised society.  Well, I did indeed become a first-time mother to sons. They are sons who are, how to say it…Uncut. Intact. In their natural state. In their original packaging.

This is not due to any driving need to make a political statement. It was largely a matter of circumstance and until recently, still a bit foreign to me. It has certainly led to a couple of interesting moments for us as we’ve negotiated basic bodily care, and I fully expect that there will be one or two more delicate moments before the privacy door closes on me permanently, as I expect it to during their teenage years. Physically, being the mother of sons who seek an owner’s manual to their body has been a bit of a journey into uncharted territory for me. But I bravely shouldered my Mom backpack and walked into the land of male parts.

So if it wasn’t my intention, then just how did it happen, you ask?  Preemies, that’s how.  Triplets and a high-risk pregnancy that led to my boys and their sister being born at just after 29 weeks and less than 3 pounds each.  Due to their medical issues, the very first of them came home after 6 harrowing weeks in the NICU (my other son was not stable until several weeks after that). The choice to circumcise them was not even raised until then, and in the end, my answer was no.

The reasons for my refusal are visible ones. If you ever look closely at the arms and legs of my oldest children, they still bare the faint scars of countless I.V.’s , cut-downs and several other invasive procedures that were required at a time when their lives were on the line and their successes were measured in mere grams of weight gain. When the moment came that they were medically stable enough to be circumcised, I simply couldn’t bring myself to put them through one more single, unnecessary procedure. They had already struggled through so much discomfort and risk that I said no and took my intact little males home with me.  And I rested with the decision in an uncomfortable way; even knowing I wouldn’t have done it any differently for the next few years, until gradually it became normal to me. Meaning, I looked at my sons’ physical state long enough that my own cultural norm started to change.

And then, 3 years later, I had another son. Born to a different father. A father and a whole other family to whom circumcision was the cultural norm.  And when this son was born. I said no again, and I said no in the face of, dare I say, stiff opposition (you were warned). I said no against my own personal preference. I said no because of an already existing hypersensitivity to the fact that my sons would not completely share the same DNA and in the face of that, I wanted them to share as much as possible otherwise, most especially in this most personal of appearances. I said no.

As time has rolled on, there is no doubt that several family members would rather they looked different than they do, but I believe these concerns are likely more about the fear that they would stand out somehow, be too different than their peers in the locker room perhaps. I too have worried about the reception their respective male parts would receive from future peers and girlfriends. But I’m happy to note the statistics seem to indicate that they won’t be greeted into future beds and gyms like John Merrick or Quasimodo. According to sources quoted in Belkin’s article the procedure is “on the decline in the United States (down to 56 percent, from 80 percent in the 1960s), Jewish families excepted. And I pacify myself too with the knowledge that if any of them that are so traumatized by the state of their Johnson, they can sign up for plastic surgery of the Wang.

I suppose that is the source of this discomfort.  We really fear that one day, they will look down at this universal source of male pride and feel inadequate.  But I’ve been given reason to believe that they see something entirely natural when they look down there.  You see we had one more son after this. He, unlike his brothers, is cut. His birth mother made the circumcision decision soon after he was born decidedly in favor of.  I wondered, when he joined our family if this would mark him as too different. But by then I was piecing together a family from so many different sources that all pretense of sameness had to be abandoned.  That worry soon passed anyway when I saw how loved and accepted he was by his siblings. They would be brothers irrespective of physical differences.

An incident during a diaper change was what made me relax completely about it.  One of my older sons noticed finally that he was different. It took awhile, 9 year old boys not traditionally being interested in diaper changes, but when I say noticed, I mean he pointed at the baby’s little circumcised specialness and said with great giggles and hilarity, “He’s naked! There’s nothing on his. He has no foreskin” I smiled too, amazed at this inside view of the male mind, however young, and how he viewed the issue. “Is that how you think of yours,” I asked,  “as clothes for the penis. Like a little jacket?”  Giggling with boyish delight at getting any chance to hear the word “penis,” he said, “Well, yeah.”  So obvious I guess when that’s what you’ve always known. Boys live in a very different world. It’s been interesting to walk through some of it with them.



T.G.I.F? More Like F.U.I.F…on Shared Custody.


That’s right. You read it correctly. Friday, that godsend to the rest of the working world, is my least favorite day of the week. For a long time now.

For starters, it’s traditionally the day of the week when the Golf Pro opens and as a result, he’s long gone by the time the alarm sounds to call us to the morning get ready for school routine. So that means it’s me vs. 6 kids with two school drop-offs to make. It used to be three different schools. And it used to be Hell on earth, but I have to admit, this year it got slightly easier now that we have one less school, the baby can get himself to car with everybody else and the 10 year old’s are better able to assist in the routine. But still, I have no doubt that Friday mornings have shortened my life. If I ever succumb to the family history of aneurysms, mine will have Fridays written on it.

The mornings always start the same, with me hitting the snooze button as many times as I can get away with. And in between five minute intervals, I try and rate myself on a scale of 1 to “irresponsible as hell” how bad it would be to just call everyone in sick that day.  I eventually realize I cannot do that and lurch out of bed (read – Not A Morning Person).  I wake up the 5 school-goers, gently at first, then with threats of violence and tearful pleas for help. When this behavior fails,  I bust out the trump card – I tell them they will walk if they don’t get up and help me. That always works.

The next part of the negotiation is where I stumble to the kitchen and mentally start counting up how much money is in my wallet so I can get out of the monotony of making lunches. At some point in time, while I am making my coffee and still yelling threats of missing the ride up the stairs, I will have talked myself into actually caving in and will have sent my childish, petulant, non-lunch-making self to another room in my head.

The third phase of the negotiations begins during the lunch making, breakfast, serving, traffic-directing time. This is the one where I start figuring whether I’ll be late to just one school or both.  It’s usually around this time, I usually see a glimmer of hope and realize that we are doing better than I think we are and I kick into gear…and mostly, everyone gets breakfast, to school and has a lunch or snack in their backpack. On time. Every Friday. I don’t know why I have to play this psychological game with myself, but I do. Mentally, it’s like some sort of Friday morning airbag deployment.

But all the above isn’t the real reason I hate Fridays ( although I think it’s enough of a reason).  On Fridays, my oldest children go to their fathers house for the weekend. And I hate it.  I will never, ever be used to the fact that my children have another home where they live without me. I will never be happy about the disruption to our family routine or the pressure I feel not to argue with them and end our week on a bad note right before they leave. Or the dreaded “re-entry” period when they change houses, routines and general expectations. But on the whole, they have always handled it fine, because that is what I worked so hard for. For them to feel that all this is exactly the way it is supposed to happen. And they do.

When this arrangement all started, I would breath deeply, smile and deliberately open my hands to release them with exhortations to go and have a wonderful time with their Father. At the time we were engaged in deep hostilities. The kind that involve lawyers and mediators while we negotiated what I call “The Un-Divorce”.  It was one of the lowest points of my life.

Every Friday, without fail, I would suck it up and send them away from me to the place that had been our home. Now it was only theirs and I was not welcome in it at the time.  I never once made them carry my burden of how would I live without them for even 2 days, when they had been every minute of my whole life up to that moment. I made no panicky demands that they call and I placed no such calls myself. I gave them no burdens to carry with them and behaved as if it was all perfectly normal. And to his great credit, so did their father, even though we were not on speaking terms at the time. That they never experienced any of the conflict the adults were experiencing is something I count as one of the most right things I have done.

And then, once they left, I would lay down on the couch with total numbing grief and mute from the pain of having my entire impetus ripped away from me. I would not get up again until they returned and the earth would right itself on it’s axis and begin revolving once more.  They had been the sole focus of my every minute for 3 years. Years riddled with health crises and emergencies that required a watchful eye and hyper-vigilant focus, as well as a total mental record of their rather complicated medical histories. How would I trust anyone else to guard them? When they left, they took my reason for living with them.

In those days, only one thing kept me from sliding completely into the darkness that threatened. If it hadn’t been for the Kid, who, at just 2 years old, still had those pesky needs to be fed and changed and kept from choking on things, I don’t know if I could have coped.  He kept me going until the others returned. He has always been my miracle, and on the weekends, even though we all still miss the older kids and our family is incomplete, we all still get by with each other.

Things got better between their father and I over a period of time. Being able to put their needs above everything else made that possible for both of us, although it’s still a journey. And I catch a break because of the sports.  I go to every game to see them and in that way they are not gone quite so much. But I still don’t like this day of the week any better than I ever did . So from me to you Peggy Sue…Fridays, you can Suck It.