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.

 

 

 

 

 



National Margaritaville Day of Dicipline…


What do you write about when nothing seems to interest you? So just out of respect for the discipline (sounds like more fun than it is) of writing I’m putting up this post.

2 Days Ago…

I woke up at 5am after 3 hours sleep and my brain felt like it was crashing into my skull every time I turned my head from lack of sleep. Melancholy chased around the edges of the day all day, and I tried my best to ignore it. I wished I could ignore going back to Edelman’s Children’s Court once more. For those of you who didn’t know, Los Angeles county has it’s own special children’s court located in Monterey Park…and it’s packed. All the time. My daughter is part of an incredibly large population who requires the intervention of social services. She has had her own lawyer since she was 18 months old, and if she really understood what that meant she would be on the phone to him daily registering her displeasure with the condition of her life. “I don’t like this cereal. Get me my lawyer!”

I have been going to this building with some regularity for about three years now and it has always left me feeling like I’ve had a backstage pass to the Jerry Springer show. Again, the recurrent theme of my life: Irony. I have always been someone with an almost pathological need to avoid officers of the court and their kind. In my universe, being in court tends to mean I have screwed up somewhere (it might be noted that I view the Supreme Court very differently, but I don’t expect us to make any ground breaking points of law here. It’s all so soul-killingly mundane). But here I am, dancing through the court systems of two different counties. That definitely deserves a #FML, doesn’t it? All together now…

I try and remind myself that good things happen there as well. Families are made there through finalized adoptions. Children are saved, that sort of thing. But it’s hard, because I don’t want to be there at all. The whole process went better than I expected. In the end, my niece wanted reassurance that we would have a post-adoption contract in place and seemed willing to go forward if it was. So I will spend the next month getting educated about such an instrument and it’s scope and we will go into mediation to try and structure something that addresses both our needs before taking the final few steps. It seems I am destined for a complicated life, but who didn’t know that already, right?

Moments like yesterday still awaken the hope in me that my niece’s life will be salvaged. I desperately hope so, even while I realize that we are far from the time that I can be instrumental in such repairs. The work must hers, the journey back, hers alone. I wondered on the drive that morning whether or not I was doing what my brother would have wanted me to do. I think I am. I suspect he would have had much less patience with all this than I did. He was always quicker to action than I was. I can’t even begin to wonder what would have been different in his daughter’s life if he had lived. I’d like to think it would have been better…but it’s pure speculation. He had so many hurdles of his own, he just didn’t make it over the last one. I often wish he was here though.

My mother offered to go with me yesterday, which I was grateful for, but I said no. Their relationship is likely irretrievably broken and I felt it would only raise the stress of the whole affair for all involved. But pulling into that parking garage, what I really wanted was a guy. It’s funny how there are just moments in your life where you want a man by your side. Preferably a Navy Seal who can bring it with authority and presence. A decision-maker who has your back and exudes all that other Alpha Male goodness that makes a girl ovulate on the spot. Equally funny is how not real life that it. I never want to bring the children to that place and they end up staying home with the Golf Pro while I go and meet the demands of our family on my own. That’s just life and the real deal and all that stuff. Yes, sadly, these guys were all busy somewhere else…

Navy Seal Team

Who's Got Your Back?

So anyway, that wraps up another round of the Jerry Springer Show court and I get a reprieve until April, when we might see the whole business done and this chapter closed…so another one can open after that. I gave my niece a ride back to the sober living shelter where she is living, and then a stop at my mother’s nearby. But it wasn’t until I saw this view that the beginnings of peace stirred and the weight of the day started to lift …

Favorite Spot on the 405

Hello OC!

This is one of my favorite spots in the 405. It’s where Orange County begins and I breathe a little easier every time I see this spot on my way home. Past this point I begin to feel a little more at peace. But what really makes me breath deeply is this sight…

Closing in on Home

sigh.

This means I am close to home and the children, and that my heart can mend from the day. This sight means gratitude and safety. That day it also meant I got to celebrate National Margarita Day with one of these…

Salt, Rocks

Margaritaville

Goodbye day from Hell…



FRENEMIES?


Cousins, Siblings, Frenemies

These two. They are cousins and, after 3 years and intention, brother and sister. It’s of interest to me that out of the 6, they are the only two without Asian blood in them. My ‘Little Photo-Negatives’ I call them. When summer rolls around again their biological similarities will be even more outstanding as they, like their mother, will fry and burn at the first moment of forgotten sunscreen. All their other siblings will grow darker and darker and darker over the duration of the season, standing in stark contrast to these two.

Their physical similarities seem so highlighted in this photo above and often I wonder at their individual fates. I wonder where their journey will take them. I wonder where will they go from where they started and how much of it will be spent together. I wonder things like this a lot, but such is the case when you are fighting to weld together a family to outlast your own lifetime from such a widely diverse biological field.

He is 2 years older than her and for those first two years he didn’t say anything. At all. And he wasn’t frustrated by it (or anything else). A more easy going baby you’ve never seen. But beneath that easy going nature you began to sense that something wasn’t quite right. While he was very engaged with his father and I, he didn’t interact with anyone else. He was unflappably happy to play by himself. But you began to notice that play consisted primarily of finding bowls and plates and any other circular object and spinning it, like a performer in a Chinese circus. He could make them do things I couldn’t begin to and would watch them with endless fascination. He also liked to play relentlessly with the little toddler size basketball hoop that we had. And all the while he didn’t say a word or make the slightest sound, other than crying on occasion, at which times he was as impossibly loud as he was silent. And content with it. His lack of frustration actually worked against him and the tutors who worked with him 5 to 6 days a week from the age of two in an attempt to push through the peacefully anti-social bubble that enclosed him.

And then, when he was 5 years old we threw a grenade into his life in the form of his 18-month-old cousin. She was his polar opposite in almost in every way possible. Highly verbal at an early age, hyper-competent, controlling and frustrated by everything, content with nothing. This child who had been so traumatized for her 18 months of life was a fighter who was at odds with all of life was throwing at her and provoking in every way. She was a storm of trauma into his placid pool of contentment.

She spent the first year either ignoring him (and forcing me to do the same) by utterly dominating all my attention 24 hours a day, or teaching him how to have tantrums by demonstration and alternately finding every available button on him to push and manipulate for reaction. I tell no lie when I say we used to be grateful that for the sake of the older kids that they got a break from her by leaving for their fathers every weekend. He got no such break. And while it wasn’t enjoyable, I can say that the way she pushed him increased his emotional range for sure, although at first in the most unpleasant of ways as he learned to imitate her tantrums. We can never know what road he might have gone if she had not come into our family. We can be certain of only one thing. She had an unmistakable effect on him.

The next 18 months they spent arguing, fighting and screaming at each other. Gone was our peaceful, gentle, pliable child and mostly it was awful. There were certainly times that we worried about the level of stress that she was putting on him. But later, one has to wonder if somehow his under-developed-for-his-age skills and her pseudo-maturity didn’t cause them meet somewhere in the middle and give them both a unique balance which only they can share.

I can see this now because about 2 weeks ago, something changed. Something that has ended up with whispered confidences and shared giggles, with hugs and casual endearments and heads often touching unconsciously while they watch a show together. Suddenly, they manifest a consideration for each other at moments that I wasn’t sure I would ever see.

Recently, they spent the entire afternoon inseparably in each others company, playing together, sharing confidences and calling each other “Honey”. What might sound normal for two children living together was remarkable when I reflect on where their journey started.

And suddenly, they were magic together. It is wonderful for them, but it is even bigger for her and what it means on her road to just being a child again. It is big and huge, a victory of near exhaustive efforts on the part of everyone in this household that she will now turn to the children in the house for social companionship and attention. And it only took three years…

Heard Today: 5 Year Old “Um Honey? oh sorry, sorry, I mean Jack…”
7 Year Old “Oh, that’s alright. You can call me Honey. I don’t mind.”
And so she did…all night.



Transformations…


A symbol of change and transformation

Within Hinduism and Buddhism the lotus flower has become a symbol for awakening to the spiritual reality of life.







Could you change an entire life in a year?  The answer is almost certainly yes.  My whole life changed in a day once. Actually, it changed in a moment. It changed in the hallway of the Orleans Convention Center in Las Vegas on a payphone when I said “Yes.”  Yes to the idea of having a baby (or three) with a family friend through IVF. It changed that fast – Forever.

It changed again in one night during a moment of intimacy. And it changed again one morning when my mother answered an email. And then it changed one final time during another moment of intimacy between two people set on a course of decisions that I knew nothing about at the time they were being made.  Those are the moments that I can trace back to the beginnings of the 6 children I call mine, and nothing is ever more life changing than children. It’s a lesson that changes that big can come from seemingly mundane decisions.

My journey into motherhood began on a steep curve from the beginning. First, triplets, then a miracle 4th baby and then another child through family tragedy and then one more through the same. From infertility to 6 kids in about 8 years – is it any wonder then that I have long felt that I am more managing my life than I am inhabiting it?  I want to spend 12 months exploring how to be more present in my life and feel less like I’m clinging wide-eyed to the back of a wild, runaway horse.

So, I need to change my life again. And if it can happen in an instant, then one supposes it can happen in a year.  I’ve never, ever been one to go in for resolutions and such. I am not a creature of regiment or structure, and such make-or-break resolutions have always seemed like a recipe for failure to me. But this year, a decade after my life made the most significant evolution of all by beginning the journey of motherhood, I find myself kind of racing towards the idea of a new year, a fresh beginning, the chance to recreate…to create a life that I feel much more in touch with.  The strong desire to grow skin I can feel comfortable in.

A dearly loved cousin recently helped to put it into perspective for me when he reminded me of the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. “  I feel as if I am always making other plans while my life rushes by. Enough. I don’t want to miss the most important things in my life because of its frantic, often disorganized pace.  I want less.  A lot less. Less stuff, less stress, just less.

The first steps to take are to make some admissions to myself. To admit that our circumstances are special and that 6 kids and blended families aren’t easy. That triplets aren’t easy. That neither is autism or attachment disorder or open adoption.  To admit finally that what I’m doing here isn’t commonplace. It’s huge and hard and wide. It requires me to be able to live in ambiguity in a way many, many people can’t. It involves skills and flexibility and a refusal to fail. And it is being done with less than optimal support or recognition, even from myself. I want to say out loud that it’s hard so that I can stop sabotaging myself by expecting to be just like the families with 2.5 carefully tended and organized children. So that I can stop focusing on the idea that I’m never getting this right. I do that a lot. The real truth is that I am getting this more right than I realize. I have 6 examples of it in front of me every day. Refocus!

The second step I’m going to take is to write down the shortest possible list of what I want my life to look like. I’m going to try and distill the essence of what I want my life to be about down to as few words as possible.

Simplify – Children, Health, Create, De-Clutter, Breathe More Deeply.

And after that, I want to start by the simplest possible steps to achieve that.  Simplify? How about saying “no” to a lot more stuff? No to cheap plastic toys. No to too many clothes. No to other people’s expectations. Health? Maybe I’ll drink a little more green tea and remember to take my vitamins. I can do things like this. Small things. Manageable things. Mindful things. And I can remind myself to stop and breathe, deeply and often.

That’s it, just 2 steps on the road to being kinder to myself by not saying yes to all the things that clutter up my house, my life, my time – time that I would rather be spending with my kids and good friends. So that’s my intention for the New Year…just being kinder to myself in general. That’s my gift to my children and to myself for the coming year and I’m giving myself the whole 12 months to get it right

I hope you do the same…

Cheers!



A Christmas Carol of My Very Own…


RbP - Ghosts of Christmas Past

I’m not sure I have something illustrative to say about the season this year, but I do hope to have produced something along those lines by the end of this post.  It was messy, like this post is going to be and I’ve been a bit stuck. But part of learning about the experience of this blog is that I’m going to have to post through these moments, when my thoughts are less than perfect and I can’t seem to get the salient points nailed down…Here’s my less than perfect post. It matches my less than perfect life ☺

The way the season went it turns out I didn’t have to read Dickens this year. I was visited by all the ghosts of Christmas anyway. So let’s hope that, like Scrooge, it will finally help put some things into perspective and release me to move forward.

CHRISTMAS PAST

This year was flavored with more memories of the past than usual, which didn’t thrill me. It felt entwined with spiritual reminders of my teenage Christmases, where I felt very much on the outside looking in, and as a result I just couldn’t seem to get into Christmas this time around. The financial terror at the beginning of the month seemed to just consume all my energy. Then having the older 3 kids gone for the week leading up to it was sort of the coup de grace. And as I drifted, without plan or energy, I was easy prey for a visit from the ghosts of the past, days where Christmas routinely felt like it belonged to everyone but me. For a very long while, light years from where I stand today, it was the loneliest time I ever knew. But for 11 years now, the warmth of all these little bodies and souls has driven those feelings far, far away for the most part. (do I really need to insert the kind of words of gratitude here that I feel? There aren’t enough.)

And so, it was no wonder that I felt removed from it all even while I tried to have Christmas for the little ones. I was only marginally successful I feel, but I don’t think they noticed it too much. Not enough anyway, that it can’t be recovered with a better effort next year.

With that as the goal, what’s the take away from all this? I’m still not living the life I envision for myself. Not really. I think the answer lies in what keeps me from completely inhabiting my own life? Who am I still trying to please and what choices and steps do I need to take so that by next year I am writing a post about how we found our own way through Christmas…and how much better it was.

CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Which brings us to…The ghost of Christmas Present. He came wearing a chauffeurs hat again, as this season found us once more driving the freeways of SoCal trying to make sure everyone was seen by everybody who needed to see them. 6 kids, 4 different houses, numerous relatives, 48 hours. Hard to believe the suicide rate jumps during the holidays, right? You know, if the parents and families of all my children decide to check in someday, I could find myself trying to negotiate 4 fathers, 2 mothers, and an absolutely endless number of other relatives. Hard to believe the suicide rate jumps during the holidays. Oh, wait…I mentioned that already.

I can see things could get even further out of hand and it is too much, for sure. But, to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure how I can possibly edit it. I wonder if the trick won’t be more about crafting the days leading up to the 24th so that we feel we have a greater ownership of our holidays. And then I wonder how many other people talk about having “ownership” of their holidays…is this common do you think?

We opened a “Box of Grandma” again this Christmas, and I found that with it, I opened a big box of resentment I didn’t realize I had been carrying around – ever since “The Phone Call”.   These boxes come at least twice a year and they are huge. I mean H-U-G-E.  As in, “How much guilt can you pack in a box?” and they come for one child. That sounds mean, I know, but so have all her phone calls to me – all 2 of them in the last year. It is certainly their prerogative to send their gifts to only one child, I see a lot of this and it is nails on a chalkboard to me. I admit that I bristle at any attempts to draw lines through my children, and although I will likely never be able to avoid the carving up of my family completely, don’t ever expect me to be ok with it. And so, by all means, you don’t have to concern yourself with my children, but if nothing else, she has a brother who is biologically hers . Not so much as a matchbox car for him. Wow. I mean, WoW. Oh, and also, if you could stop packing that stuff in those Styrofoam packing peanuts? Cause that shit gets all over my living room.

So never mind her brother, or that the other families who have been enmeshed in this through no fault of their own managed to include the other children, or that you are sending items to a child with hoarding instincts, resource hyper-vigilance and material goods issues, just keep serving your own feelings and making yourselves feel a bit better. I wish my guilt at the uncharitable feeling I have towards you could be bought off as easily…but hey, I haven’t tried yet, so perhaps they can! (kthxI’mdone – dusts hands)

But, to get away from all of that (and it’s best we try), this Christmas also brought an opportunity to give hope to someone else. The opportunity to tell the father of my youngest daughter that there is still every reason to believe that he can have a successful relationship with his daughter in the future, despite my move to adopt her. More will be revealed on that front in the future, I’m sure, but even if it never happens, I felt it was of great worth to be able to tell him that he could walk toward a future that would include her as long as it included healthy decisions. Santa likes it when you can reach out and give hope, so I’m trying to build on that moment in hopes that the “Box of Grandma” will get smaller, both physically and metaphorically.  And so, this brings us to…

CHRISTMAS FUTURE

Am I the only one who feels so out of control of their holiday season? Is that more the norm than the exception? I don’t know, but I don’t think I want to spend another holiday feeling like this. I keep coming back to the same word: SIMPLIFY. The fact that our finances dictated a leaner Christmas for us this year is something that I’m hoping to springboard off of in the future. I’ve long been feeling harassed by the uber-commercialism that has become Christmas, as have so many of our friends. I don’t feel that the kids are getting what I want for them out of the season and that we can do much better about discovering the true meaning of the Season.

1. SIMPLIFY

2. PLAN EARLIER

3. MAKE SURE TO PLAN ONE EVENT THAT’S JUST FOR ME AND THE KIDS

4. JUST SAY NO TO CRAZY

5. HAVE DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS

So, come November 1st 2011, my job is to have a plan in place to make the holidays more organized, affordable and enjoyable…but mostly, to make it far more full of the kind of meaning I always wanted the kids to think about.

What do you think? If you have any ideas about things I’ve missed or that might help, throw them out there. I’d love to see them.

Cheers!



Après-ski or…Ménage à NO!


No More Family Vacations

Trip #3: Mammoth Lakes, Ca. 3 Adults, 3 Seven Year Olds, 1 Four Year Old, 1 Two Year Old

To get to Mammoth, we packed 8 people and their gear and supplies into a car designed, in theory, to hold 8 and their gear.  This is only a theory, I assure you. We left for our trip on Christmas night, right after opening gifts at the Golf Pro’s parents house.  It actually wasn’t that bad. They slept, we made a respectable distance and slept overnight before making the final leg.

I was more strung out than usual on this trip. We had recently come into the possession of my great-niece after she had been removed from her mother’s care due to drug and alcohol addiction issues. In reality, what we actually had come into possession of was a child who had deep emotional and behavioral issues due to Reactive Attachment Disorder, but at the time, we were about a year away from that diagnosis.  All we knew was that someone had lobbed a human grenade in our midst and chaos followed in it’s wake.

Also at play was the fact that the triplets’ father and I were entering into the early stages of a very different understanding of each other and how we were going to negotiate the future of shared custody. Time spent together was anything but comfortable…but again, didn’t I want my kids to have as whole and repaired a family as I could give them? Wouldn’t I go to the mat for that sense of security for them?

So  we made the trip and got settled into our cabin, and we waited for the good times to begin. And we waited. And actually, the first night was without incident. That is, if you count the 2 year old waking up 3 – 4 times and screaming absolute blue murder because the wiring in her head has shorted again as being without incident.  The next day saw ski rentals taken care of and snow gear purchased, the local market located.  I will remind you that all these tasks are being accomplished while herding 5 young children from place to place through the snow.

So, up to the ski run we took our crew and after dropping them off and setting a time to return for pick-up, the Golf Pro and I went over to the ski school. I had called when we arrived to ask about classes for kids with special needs and sensory issues.  Turns out they had a fabulous program for that.  Yay! The Kid was going to take a shot at skiing. We went over and signed the paperwork for the next day. This was going to work! At Last! I spent the rest of the day fighting for control of the wild horse that was my 2 year old, buying supplies and exploring the town.

That night, I lost a crown, fought through another scream-fest with my RAD kid and watched as the 4 year old projectile vomited in front of a horrified, yet oddly fascinated group of 7 – 12 year olds.  The curse had clearly not been broken. In fact, I think I may have tempted the gods with my burst of carefree optimism. We treated his fever through the night and did our mad dance with the 2 year old.

The next morning we located an emergency dentist, left the now sleeping 4 year old and 2 year old in the care of the triplets’ father and got my dental emergency taken care of by 9am. We went back in time to release the skiers and to find out that the cancellation policy for the ski school was 24 hours notice. We didn’t make it. They would have credited it to another lesson, but it was clear by now that this kids wasn’t recovering anytime before we left and using what energy he did recover on the slopes when we had a 6 hour drive at the end of our trip was going to be a bad idea. So the Golf Pro paid for the class and the 4 year old lay delirious on the couch.

What we learned from all this was that getting trapped in a small cabin with a child who has un-diagnosed RAD is a recipe for going postal.  Spending time with people you have nothing in common with eventually provides an intolerable amount of general discomfort for someone with my Spidey Senses and that if you put enough pressure on some mothers, they will accidentally teach their 4 year old to repeat the phrase, “Is this some kind of effing joke?”  Except they won’t say “effing”.

I got to go skiing with my kids on that trip for the first time. And despite the fact that I got lost on the other side of the mountain once, it was awesome-sauce.  I had an ipod, skills to match my kids and an entire Led Zeppelin playlist loaded up, starting with the Immigrants Song, a little nod to the skiing of my youth in Reno where one run had the name Immigrants Run. Turns out a couple of my kids are total dare-devils on skis and it was just the best. In fact, I shamelessly wrangled a second afternoon out of an unwilling Golf Pro. I just had to. When his turn came, it was miraculously timed with the leading edge of a white out storm and 30 mph wind gusts.  Sorry Golf Pro, but I admit, I’d do it again to be with my kids.

The return trip found me once again trapped by my shorter legs in the back seat with the kids, which by the second hour left me feeling like a badly abused lab rat.  It also included a 14 minute speed tour through the site of the Manzanar Japanese Internment camp. If my kids recall any of it, I’ll be shocked.

I did not go on the next trip. I’d had enough. In the face of being trapped again in a snowbound cabin with small, screaming, vomiting children I declared the shared parenting divide healed enough and left them to it. I hope they will forgive me for birthdays I’ve missed and memories I wish we shared. But in return, they get a higher degree of sanity and peace in their parent

The trips I have missed since that decision have included another jaunt to Mammoth. Reports came back from that trip of truth or dare sessions and guilty admissions of circle time where they improved each others vocabulary by sharing their lists of  swear words with one another and at least one of the boys jumped into an icy pool in response to a frontal challenge of his burgeoning manhood. Also missed was a trip to Utah that rendered their father almost horizontal for the majority of the trip with altitude sickness and left the kids burning up the phone lines to me so I could mediate their inadequate social skills and tell them that I wanted them to come home soon too. This year they are in Tahoe and I am getting regular phone reports, because my daughter is excellent and understands that I need them. The general outcome of the trip has yet to be reported.

I miss them so much every time…but then I remember all the past trips and I’m distracted by the nervous tic that’s just starting up around my left eye. Perhaps another year down the road,  I’ll allow my optimism to overcome me once more.



Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses…Part Deux


Just Say No to Family Trips

TRIP #2  Big Bear Ca., 2 Adults, 3 Six Year Olds, 1 Three Year Old

I wasn’t present for most of this trip because of work commitments.  Yes, I know it was a blessing.  I left the day of their birthday with the baby to drive up and meet them for dinner. I think I had their birthday cake in the car with me.

The drive up the switchbacks to Big Bear was largely uneventful, except for the fact that I was running late and fielding phone calls from my 6 daughter who was in a state of extreme panic and existential angst because her father had told her over dinner that when you die there’s just nothing after that. Predictably, you would think, her response was stark fear and terror. Nice job, Jackwagon.  I spent the middle part of the trip negotiating dangerous road conditions and talking her down off the ledge, “Well ask Daddy how he knows that?  Where ever you end up going is exactly where I will be going.” “But he said that there was just NOTHING!” “Ask Daddy to prove it!” and in final desperation, “Well, Daddy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, OK!”

By the time I reached Big Bear, it was dark and even more unfamiliar. I was harried and late for my children’s birthday dinner and I am now caught in the cross-hairs of an uncontrollable situation. I was a woman who’s sense of direction measures a -10 on any scale being given directions by a man who’s ability to communicate information is even lower than that.

It’s dark, I’ve never been here, nothing is clear and at one point his exasperated, impatient directions included this gem, “The restaurant looks kind of like a log cabin. You can’t miss it.”  Ever been to Big Bear?  Want to guess how much of the architecture up there is designed to look like a log cabin?  Oh, and the baby has started to get seriously over it by now too.

It took about 40 minutes to find the place and by the time I arrived there, it was the family friend at dinner with my kids who actually took the time to wait downstairs at the restaurant to help me with the baby and their birthday stuff.  But I made it!  Now, I could relax in a restaurant with 4 small children. The waiter came and asked me if I wanted a drink. I think I hate Big Bear by now.

I’m pretty sure at least one of the kids threw up, but I no longer remember who it was, oh and the Baby got his hand closed in the automatic sliding door of the minivan.

Time spent skiing with my kids: 3 Hours



Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses…


Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses

So, my oldest 3 kids are currently stuck in a blizzard having a great time on their annual ski trip with their father.  This year they went to Lake Tahoe and I miss them in irrational ways. To keep me busy while they are visiting one of my favorite places on earth and to make myself feel better about not being with them (it’s not really working btw) I thought I’d take a tour through ski trips past and revisit a little thing I like to think of as Post Traumatic Trip Disorder.  Pay attention now, because I’m about to make you feel better about every trip you’ve ever taken with your kids.

*Please note, this is as faithful a recollection as I can post, but some memories have been repressed for my own protection…

The ski trips began several years back. It’s a tradition the triplets’ father started over Christmas vacation/their birthday.  When he mentioned it after we had stopped cohabiting together and an uneasy truce introduced, I agreed to go for several reasons. Firstly, because it would be the kids first time to the snow right?  Who wants to miss that? Secondly, it would be their birthday, and I’m not missing that. And thirdly, because my presence and that of their younger brother and the Golf Pro was a statement supporting the kind of shared custody that I hoped for them to have.

Trip # 1:  Big Bear, Ca. 3 Adults, 3 Five year olds, 1 Two year old.

When I look back on this trip, I can only tell you that we got in the car and it pretty much went downhill from there.  We made the short trip into the mountains before the gods of travel turned on us.

The vomiting began about a third of the way up in the midst of an absolute maze of switchbacks leading us up the mountain. At least 2 children succumbed (it might have been three, who can say, repression is a wonderful thing) By the time we arrived they had pretty much thrown up in every available thing and I had been reduced to emptying packet oatmeal boxes so they could have something to throw up in.  The humanity, the HUMANITY!

I barely remember where we stayed that year, only that it was night by the time we arrived.  After cleaning things up in the car as best as possible that night, we investigated the cabin and one more child threw up.  Little did I know this was only the beginning of the Bataan Death Marches these vacations were to become.

The next morning brought with it incontrovertible evidence that we weren’t just dealing with motion sickness. Nope, stomach flu – one 5 year old and the baby.  The other two went skiing with the adults while I stayed in the cabin and racked up more laundry. Some time later that day the Golf Pro and I found one of maybe 2 Big Bear Laundromats and began to wash pretty much everything they had touched in the last 2 days, car seats included.

Between tending sick kids and cleaning the results of it, I still hadn’t really seen much (any) of Big Bear.  So after a couple of days of crises management, we , the Golf Pro and I, decided to actually enjoy some of what the mountain had to offer. I had never been there before.

The whole crew (we had friends and their kids with us) had decided to go tubing that morning and we made arrangements with the triplets’ father to come back and get us.  We packed up the two year old and the triplets Dad, who had possession of the only car, dropped us off with the plan of getting a lift back with the others. He had been up all night and was going back to the cabin to sleep for a couple hours.

He let us off in a busy parking lot at one of the tubing places off the highway with directions on where he had left everyone else less than 30 minutes ago. And with a goodnight and good luck, he drove off.  We went over as directed, paid our price and began to search for our people. Except…no people.  Anywhere.  Take out our cell phone and call. No answer either.  WTF? Call their Dad. No answer. Call everyone else we are connected to on the mountain. Nothing. Arghhhhhh!

After an hour of Where’s Waldo, we accept our situation.  We are stranded on this highway with a 2 year old and outside of reasonable walking distance back to the town. Well fine, we can’t just sit out here off the highway forever.  We ask the desk clerk of a nearby motel that was across the parking lot from the tubing hill about ways to get back to the main town.  We learn we can take a bus.  The bus stop is just up the road a bit. We go and wait for close on an hour at the bus stop for the bus. They’re not big on public transport on the mountain. The three of us finally end up on a bus, which I seem to recall had a crazy, homeless person on it conveniently located in the seat next to us.  The day is really starting to take shape. It’s the kind of shape generally achieved only after a really good dose of Chernobyl-style radiation.

We reached the town.  More calls, more no answer from anyone. Let’s have lunch. Still no answer. Let’s window shop. Still no answer. Let’s go and visit the Big Bear Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce.  How about a taxi service, because I’m freaking over this and I’m positive that I can guide him to the general vicinity of our cabin.  There is, it appears, only one taxi guy for the whole of Big Bear. I think his name was Pete. At least that’s what the answering machine we kept reaching said before it informed us that he was currently out of range.  We left a message.   It was one of at least 3 messages we left for him.  We never successfully made contact.

I don’t really remember how we were finally rescued. I have vague recollections of finally hearing their father’s sleepy voice on the phone.  We hadn’t seen him for about 6 – 8 hours. At least 4 of those hours were spent in the Chamber of Commerce.  Big Bear Lake was the first mountain recreation area in Southern California. I know this because I read every pamphlet in the visitor’s center.

We were picked up and because my people are crazy…no one ever acknowledged that our ordeal of being abandoned stranded with a 2 year old all damn day was in the least way remarkable. They just said, “Hey, we’re all going to dinner!”   Yay! Dinner in a nice restaurant with a bunch of small children, my favorite! The waiter that night asked if I wanted a drink, it felt like both the kindest and the cruelest thing anyone had ever asked me.

I remember very little about the rest of the trip. My oldest children had a birthday and they learned to ski. When we went back down the mountain, the one child who hadn’t thrown up on the whole trip, joined the one who genuinely did get car sick in a show of solidarity and they vomited their way back down the mountain. Afterwards, friends had to help me decompress, and I had the shakes for a good month afterwards.

Time spent skiing: O Hours

*Stayed tuned for trip #2 coming soon…



This Year, We’re Going With Festivus!


I was wondering what my topic would be for today, then I came across this post by Erica Ehm at the YummyMummyClub about her trip to Africa and the effect it had on Christmas. (I have to admit that I struggle with the name of this blog…it seems fraudulent of me to hang out literarily with other Moms who consider themselves “Yummy”. You could check into my post about the hat, wherein I explain that this is not a “Yummy” year for me).

That aside, I decided to write this post.  Then I had to decide to post it. Then I had to actually post it…it wasn’t easy. But it seems that if this blog has any value then it has to be authentic.  There will be some things I won’t write about…but I needed to post this because it’s honest and I don’t think I should be ashamed by the admission that money is tight, even though I am just a bit.

So, this year, we’re going to have what I like to think of as the “Broke-Ass Christmas”.  I am learning how to say “Broke-Ass Christmas” in Spanish…and French, just because one should never ignore a chance to learn, even in times of stress, Besides, I have long regretted not speaking a second language.  I’ve always thought of it as kind of rude not to speak Spanish since I live here in SoCal. But anyway, there it is. Our tree will be a little bit bare underneath this year. I’m not a huge fan of having this decision forced upon us, but having my kids know that there isn’t actually a money tree doesn’t hurt them either. They have had many marvelous Christmas mornings before this and will I’m sure have more to follow.

This is not to say that my kids will do without. Far from it, if they didn’t have enough already, and they do, they will receive gifts from at least 3 separate households. It’s just that ours will not be one of them.  But I don’t think that this will irreparably harm them.  I’m kind of hoping it will be the beginning of a new trend toward less materialistic Christmases in the future, because I’ve long been annoyed by the pressure to find gifts that no one really needs.  In this day and age in society, goods are quickly and relatively inexpensively produced and just as quickly replaced. Also, I am bad at giving and receiving gifts and I’d like to be excused.

Mostly, I don’t want to spend hours, days and weeks stressing and searching out presents for other adults that don’t need them in the first place. And really, you have my permission to skip me as well.  I have now sufficiently matured enough to tell you I don’t need anywhere near as much in the way of things as I think I do.  With the possible exception of maybe a house or the gift of having my current dental crises handled, at this age, the things I value most are the kind that generally can’t be put under a tree.  Things like more time, less fear, a deeper sense of peace.

I’d like to have more energy. I’d like to spend more evenings with really good people who have something to say.  I could go for more laughter and kindness. Actually, I’d like to stay in my pajamas for a week and just be generally irresponsible in a way that I haven’t been since before I had kids.  But just for a week, because I don’t know if I could handle any longer than that.

But the thing is, I just don’t know how to break the people around me of the habit.  They would feel terribly, terribly guilty if they didn’t get me something.  For me, much of the pressure comes from the Golf Pro’s family.  They would feel terrible to know this I’m sure, as that isn’t their intention. But you see, they have this elaborate present ritual where we all sit around in a circle and then the presents are given out individually, one at a time. They are not opened until everyone’s attention is centered on the individual with the present and the givers name announced. The present is opened and there is much ooohing and aaahing and admiring. There is a Vanna White moment of display and demonstration and only then do we move on to the next present.  This is all for the adults mind you.  I think it happens because the 2nd generation of children was very late in coming and so they have continued with the familiar traditions of their house when it had children in it rather than being able to incorporate fresh traditions. But perhaps this is a very common way to do it, I wouldn’t know.

In the midst of all this, picture being the ones who are conspicuous by not having gifts to offer up into the display rotation. And yet, they don’t seem to need anything much.  So what do you give that is not embarrassing somehow?  In over 10 years I have never been able to crack this problem.  And it seems like a struggle to me, but at the same time, you have to admire the strength and commitment of their family traditions…it’s just that it feels like theirs, not ours. But that may be on me, it’s hard to say. They are nice people and I don’t want to imply otherwise.  I just never can get comfortable with the formality of it all (says she with her terribly limited Christmas tradition experience).

I think I’d still like to have a less material take on Christmas (thanks this Christmas for lending a hand with that!).  And I think I’m not doing it right, but that’s a problem for next year.  This year, I’m pretty exhausted, and I’m running late putting the tree up and all. And the older three will be gone away for a week on their annual ski trip with their father, which I am doing my level best to pretend isn’t happening.  So I’m looking at a low maintenance Christmas all around…

I wonder if I could get away with giving them all a George Costanza type Christmas gift –

“A Donation Has Been Made in Your Name to the Human Fund.”

Happy Festivus.



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.