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.

 

 

 

 

 



Solomon’s Sword


The Judgment of Solomon



(The arguments in my head all night long…)

Why adoption? Why now? Can I start by saying that I think remaining in guardianship would probably be the easier thing to do. Fewer uncomfortable decisions, that’s for certain. The easiest thing in the world would be to just not rock the boat. And I imagine that there exists the belief that leaving this as wide open as possible and trying to create a situation with as many options as possible would be the way to go. Before anything else, do no harm. But I’ve thought about it and thought about it, and it is not, in my opinion, the best possible way to guarantee success. Making a freaking choice is. Making a decision is. Letting the situation drift, what does that say to her? What does that tell her about her own importance?

This has not been an end that I have raced toward, but when I look at her and my other children, I can find no other reasonable option that honestly meets her needs, nothing else that gives her the absolute best chance of having a successful foundation. Those other options, they meet the needs of the people around her, not hers, and this is supposed to be about her before it is about all of us. And if you need to know the reason it won’t meet her needs, well, chief among them is the marks left on her by Attachment Disorder.

We’ve lived with those words for some time now and it all comes back to that. At it’s heart, how can I teach her to become attached if I am still in a holding pattern myself, still seeing myself as a placeholder in her life for the mother that isn’t available to her? She needs to be firmly and securely attached to someone at the beginning of her life so that she can be allowed to get on with the all the very necessary business of her life.

Over these last three years in my stewardship of her and her mother’s relationship, I have tried to be very, very careful, worked to the best of my ability not usurp her mother’s place anytime it could be helped. I have worked to the absolute best of my ability not to offer judgment of your successes or failures as you struggled with your addictions in the firm belief that the weight of it could not contribute to your success. I tried to offer you a clean slate, but there was always a time limit for how long we would all live our lives in stasis and I was clear with you about that too. Promises have to be made…and kept. No matter what.

Perhaps you could argue that some kids can live day to day with only a substitute mother, but this one can’t. She’s different. She’s special. She is not a child who can be satisfied with half measures. She needs fiercely to possess and be possessed. To belong, and she has made this need clear in most every crayon stroke she’s made. This is a child who shouts with her drawings. They are, and have been, pictures of families and Mommies and homes and she has been making them since she could draw. Pictures of herself with whatever people were presented to her as available for a family. For a child who had no clear family structure to lay hands on in her experience, she has always been remarkably clear about having one. Determined about that as she is about everything else, she lives it out loud and in this, as in so very many other things, she has always been her own light. Listening to her has always allowed us to know her deepest needs. She exemplifies one of my favorite Eunice Kennedy Shriver quotes “…the love of a family, nothing else matters. If you haven’t got a family, go out and get one.”

You’re asking for more time. I suppose five years out of the life of an adult is recoverable, an undesirable, but acceptable loss when you look at the arc of your time on earth. But for her, it’s been her whole life. You can’t be a mother to her now or any time in the foreseeable future and somebody has to be. She deserves to be chosen, claimed, told she’s wanted in actions rather than words.

While I understand your need to preserve a place in her life for yourself, for 3 years now, people have been trying to tell you that the way to having that place is through actions and choices, not by gouging an empty space in her life so that you can have a place to return to when and if you manage to assemble your own life. For her sake, it has to be done in the opposite way. Go out and really find your life. Heal yourself. Build a life…and then come and earn your way back into hers. I promise she will want to have that relationship with you. I have always and will always raise her to welcome a relationship with you when you are a healthy, positive and contributing factor in her life.

So, despite the fact that I desperately did not want to be the person to make these decisions, no one else has shown up to make them, and we would be lying to ourselves, all of us, taking the cowards way out by pretending we could just not make a choice. The life of a child goes on despite the fact that the adults aren’t yet ready to show up. Why should she have to wait?

So here’s me, trying to address the idea that I’m closing the door on you, her other mother. It’s more that I can’t hold it open this way forever. You’ve put her and I in the position of having to fight for each other. Fight hard. The damage all this has done to her is the very reason for having to take this step. More than most children, she simply cannot live in ambiguity. If she had been stable when she came to us, perhaps it would have been possible, but I just don’t think it’s a viable option. I have fought harder for her than any of the other 5 and she has fought harder for herself than any 5 year old should have to, and I still can’t give her a single promise or hope regarding your presence in her life. If anything, your situation has worsened rather than improved and I cannot just hold your place forever. I don’t know how to do that anymore and believe that she, and my other children will have their best interests served.

By this method I am legally buying myself a seat at her table forever. I am promising her that I will always fight for what she needs. I am telling her that she was important enough to take this hardest of steps for. This is also my way of saying that I don’t want my life, or hers, dictated any longer by people who lack the ability to arrange their own affairs, and I certainly owe that to my family after all I have put them through by choosing to stand in for this. I am doing this to teach her and the rest of my children one day that it is desirable to take steps to be the author of your own fate. That “you must make decisions based on who somebody is, not who you think they could be.”

In a life full of hard decisions, this has been one of the hardest and most complicated and I keep circling back to the Old Testament story of the baby who was claimed by two mothers before King Solomon. That story was all about judgment in various ways, and so, finally is this moment because I have to wonder if withholding judgment has caused you to mistake my feeling about this. I love you and I hope you get well, but none of this is even close to ok anymore. You have reached the place where you have asked too much. You were expected to show up as their mother and when you didn’t you bought yourself out of her life through your choices. I’m not sure why you think it should be otherwise.

And through it all there are my other children to consider. Why should they be asked to live this way anymore? There are not words for how big an apology you owe them. Your choices have asked sacrifices of them you don’t begin to imagine. They have rights and certain expectations that must be met. I try and remember that because of your own childhood, you cannot begin to know this. But that doesn’t mean that it can still be condoned.

I hope you will remember that they will still be here for you. They will still be here to be part of your life, provided that life is really healthy. I think anyone else would have stopped this long ago. You’ve had everything that we could offer you in the way of support, whether you knew it or not. You still do, but the work is yours and no one can do it for you. And no one can pay the freight on your life anymore, even though you might deserve it. It’s time to make different choices and there is still a lifetime of good choices out there for you to make, but cutting the baby in half won’t be one of them.





Because she makes me feel stronger…



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…




Way to Go Egypt…But What About Anderson Coopers Mother?


Way To Go Egypt

Photo Credit - Tara Todras-Whitehill - AP

It’s definitely a side story.  Egypt is rocking the world in the best of ways and it is changing as we watch and hope so rapidly that there is no telling what it will all look like in a day or a week or another month from now.  And while I am cognizant of all this, another thread keeps weaving itself through my mind as I am watching the coverage Anderson Cooper struggles to broadcast.

What about Gloria Vanderbilt?  I think of the mother who, having already lost one son to suicide, watches another son rush repeatedly towards violence and danger, driven to witness some of the world’s toughest moments.  I like that about journalists, I think that a good journalist is one of the best examples of bravery there is, but what if it was my son?  Obviously I am not privy to their relationship, but it seems to be a very affectionate one, so how do you measure a woman who manages to get out of the way of her child’s need to live a life of dangerous adventure.  It seems to involve a bravery and respect for her child by giving him the endorsement to lead a life that is of his own making.

Could I give such a life to my own children? I have wondered it before. How would I respond if one of my children chose the military, or fire fighting or law enforcement as a career. Could I suppress the entirely self-serving moment that would need to keep them from harm’s way to let them live their most authentic life? Could I get out of their way and allow them to lead the life they need to?  I hope I could. That seems to me to be the purest form of love, letting them choose things that have meaning to them and them alone without having to calculate the cost to me.

I think it was Simone De Beauvoir who wrote to her mother from the Spanish Civil War in response to her fear that she was there, “If I had two lives to live I would give one to you, but I don’t…” that seems to capture it all right there. We all want greatness and success for our children, but how must Anderson Cooper’s mother fare, watching tape of him being targeted by the violence of a mob that threatened to turn deadly any moment?  How many mothers have stood back to let their children pursue the things their inner maps told them to pursue, sometimes knowing that they would pay with their lives?

We are not them. It was one of my first lessons as a parent as I watched my triplets fight for their lives in a struggle that all but excluded me from its outcome. Their lives and fate are their own. I can protect and guide them within reason, but where they ultimately ended up was not mine to control. They are they’re own people and they will fight battles that have nothing to do with me at times. I would do the one thing I could. Show up, stand shoulder to shoulder with them and tell them they were not alone. I can give them my belief in their ability to fight and win, but I could not fight the battles for them, nor should I.

And so while I watched Anderson Cooper fly in, and ultimately back out of Egypt, I thought too of Danny Pearl, and I wonder, how does Gloria Vanderbilt ever think of anything else when she sees her son under siege in foreign countries? Journalists die in situations such as that with regularity, and nothing that happens to AC can ever be anonymous anymore.  And then I thought of Anderson Coopers mother again.  I hoped that he would get home to her all right.



Far, Far Away…


Today was one of those days. One of THOSE days. The kind that by the end of it I was looking at pictures over at the Pioneer Woman’s site and wishing that I could magically be transported away into another life. One that has landscapes in it like these…

The Pioneer Woman picture

thepioneerwoman.com

Somewhere that looks like the renewing can begin.  Somewhere warm and soaked with good things and full of soul healing peace…

I spent the morning once again working on a solution to our current dilemma. In time, I’ll be able to write about it, but for now, it’s too fresh, too raw, too much. Instead, I’ll keep trying to reframe and bend the humbling forces that these tasks ask me to walk through into something soul searching and worthy. Tasks like spending four hours waiting to throw myself on the mercy of others. And then three hours among the Jerry Springer folk at the court for child support issues instituted by the county regarding our foster kids.

As I sat and watched, an entirely unwilling participant I was forced to entertain the idea that I might have to join this fray in time. I’d rather drive needles into my eyes. Money has always been one of the LAST things I was willing to fighting over. There is something absolutely gut-wrenching about listening to couples argue over the money needed to make children safe. Hearing them use phrases like “that amount is calculated on a 28% timeshare” and to know that they are referring to children.  To seeing people arguing 5 years after their relationship is over about the care and feeding of their children is demoralizing in ways I cannot describe. On the surface, knowing what the right thing to do is when it comes to your children seems about the least complicated thing in the world, but I guess I miss something.

Maybe when you’re alone you can pursue the kind of soul-intact sanctity of walking away. Once children are in the picture, however, you have to get into the trenches.  So, I will do the things that I never thought I could do…and by and by, it will be ok. But right now…it’s awful and full of indignity and fear. But it is also full of the opportunity the make the right choice and I also suspect that when I’m out the other side, I will find that I have come away with more of those character building gifts that sometimes only seem useful when the next storm comes. Whatever. Maybe, if I evolve to a high enough level, I’ll get to come back as this…

Wabbit!

I hope so. Because after the Jerry Springer show was over, I stopped and brought donuts home with the idea of creating some  good cheer to erase the trials of the day. But my newly-minted teen still ended up looking at me like she hoped I would step into a fire and die. And the baby was still peaking with his terrible two year old tantrums, and the impulse-control-challenged child still lost control and spewed rage all about, and the child who isn’t on target in science whinged his way through any attempts to study and the 5 year old and seven year old drew swords once more…and it all went round again. It was just as if the pilgrimage to hell had never ended.  And I have to admit that I couldn’t find my sense of humor about any of it, and I drove the parenting car into the ditch. Again. Those are the times when all you can seem to be able to do is call in the crews and do your best to pull it back out of the ditch, a little worse for wear, but eventually still drivable.

At the end of it all, I have to say, that even though I know it is an utterly useless, soft-headed wish, it would have been nice to have been welcomed home to some kind of tender care. Something that said we know you had a tough day, but we’re together.  You’re home now and safe and we love you. Something that looks like this…

A Hug

Once I recover, I guess I’ll have to teach them how to do this, by doing it to them.  But for now, I’m just going to bed, grateful that tomorrow will provide another 24 hours of opportunity to make amends and get it right again.

Cheers…



Stress, Ebola and Preteen Mood Swings…


Germaphobia and kids

The Doctors office. It’s on my list of things to do in hell when I get there. I don’t know if there’s anything crueler than locking a germaphobe in a tiny doctors office with a bunch of kids for hours on end, but they’ve been doing it to me for years. Do anyone else’s kids just sit quietly and wait? I don’t know. My kids do their level best to take the place apart. Maybe it’s because there’s almost never been less than three of them and they tend to egg each other on in all things, but it’s insanity to lock a bunch of people with boundless curiosity and no impulse control in a room full of things that they’re not supposed to touch. A room crawling with virus.

So the last week has seen us in our own mini-family land rush to various doctors offices across the county as we fulfill our commitment to the state by proving that we are not requesting permanent legal placement of two small children into a home that may be lethal to them in some way. That’s right, physicals and TB tests for everyone involved. Six kids and two adults. Yay. Break out the Purel and let the rodeo begin.

So yesterday found me for the third time filling out endless paperwork, telling people not to touch anything and pinning people down so they could be injected with immunity producing miracle drugs. Like Noah’s Ark, we broke them down two by two. The littlest two went with me first and lately doctor’s visits have been a prime opportunity for the 5 Year Old to indulge in the kind of soul-soothing drama that she requires. I mean, is there any place with greater potential to be the center of all adult attention? It affords repeated opportunities to wring your hands and ask in a quavering voice if you’re going to have to have a shot. And this can be done no matter how many times your exhausted adult has explained to you the full scope of the visit. It’s a chance for someone who already has issues with ‘dead air’ and nonsense questions to scale a whole new level of her own private conversational Mt Everest.

All the while, her brother is wandering around button pushing, touching, opening and closing and climbing anything and everything, and pausing every few moments to lick the excess Ebola off his hands. We were all sick two days later, but the shots were handled with relatively little fuss and chocolate handed out to calm people who have been manhandled in the name of science. It has long been my policy to stand in front of trembling children with absolutely giant sized, unwrapped candy bars held ready at eye level to both medicate and distract them once they have had the steel driven into their puny little arms.

Visit number second involved Middle Son and Oldest Daughter, who decided silently to enter into a competition for child with most personality in front of the doctor and the nursing staff. With 11 year olds, this is usually not something good, as eventually one of them will cross into the land of disrespectful speech and smart-alecky tone. On this visit it was my normally charming and gentle daughter who was overcome by a combination of sibling rivalry, impending vaccine stress and unsteady hormones. The combination produced a gentle, but clear talking to by the Doctor about her improper interactions with the adults in her general vicinity. I was a tiny bit surprised but I did not intervene. While I will not let someone abuse my children, I have no problem with their experiencing the natural results of their actions when delivered appropriately, and it was. Our doctor is very nice, but no push over. In the end, I also had to break up the stress she was unwittingly pouring out onto the nurse after the second shot by forcefully reminding her that the nurse was doing her job, not fulfilling a personal vendetta. She’s a very good girl, but I begin to see what people mean when they say that puberty is an alien abduction.

Visit number three involved my two ‘Stress Cats’ – Oldest Son and The Kid. I had back up this time in the form of the Golf Pro, but really, his effectiveness there was canceled out by the presence of the 2 Year Old. And here we go again, except the rodeo was for real this time. While we were still waiting for the Doctor, and telling the 2 year old to stop touching stuff and don’t lay on the floor until we were blue in the face, I drew the short straw on a diaper change and thoughtfully excused myself and 2 year old to the next room. Halfway through the change, I heard the screaming erupt in the other room and realized that I may not have drawn the short straw after all. It’s all a matter of perspective, am I right folks?

The screaming it turns out was from the finger stick. Oh great, I think, because that means that it can only go down hill from here since we still have 11-year-old booster shots and TB tests still to go. From there on out, both kids bordered on the edge of panic, greeting everything from the earphones for the hearing test (“is that going to hurt?!”) to the Otoscope for the ear exam (“What’s that?!!”) like skittish, wild-eyed, wild horses. In the end, both kids went down with stress, “My stomach hurts. I don’t feel good. I’m dizzy.” We had to skip the TB test because we couldn’t get them read over the weekend, so The Kid gratefully escaped having only gotten a dose of Flu-Mist up the schnoz. The 11 year old, well his panic got the best of him and he had to be held down. Like horses, you basically have to put your full body weight on their neck, pinning the non-shot arm underneath you and holding the other one down exposed. It also helps if you think about the drink you’re going to have that night.

Despite my all but burning the fingerprints off my hands with Purel, I am pretty convinced that I acquired 3 separate colds from the three different visits.

And we still have to take the two Stress Cats back to be rodeoed through their TB tests. Dear God…



Whatcha Readin Fer?


United States Constitution and Public Education

photo © 2010 Ted | more info (via: Wylio)

“The correlation between student achievement and zip code is 100 percent,” he says. “The quality of education you receive is entirely predictable based on where you live.” ~ Marco Sommerville, City Council Member Akron, Ohio

On a week when my childrens school held an early morning coffee to celebrate being ranked the top elementary school in an already good district, Kelley Williams-Bolar was released from 9 days in jail for lying to have her 2 daughters attend a better school than they were zoned for. The disparity between her experience and mine really struck me.

A special education teachers assistant, who was studying for her teaching certificate, Williams-Bolar may not be able to become teacher, having been charged with a felony for records falsification. The case has prompted national outrage, but an investigation of the widespread discussion shows that it quickly stalls when it comes to solutions. Current and future Presidents can talk all they want about what our educational standards and ideals should be, but with over half of the funding for public school districts coming from local property taxes, they (the federal government) lack the real means to effect change.

Our decision to move here was predicated almost entirely on the school district, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I have not felt gratitude for having that option. It hasn’t always been easy, and I know many families who make regular sacrifices to afford the district, but it’s been entirely worth it for the experience that my children have had at their schools. I believe their experiences here will contribute directly to their future success and I know that I would hate to be in her place. It is definitely a “There but for the Grace of God” type situation.

What makes our district great? Great funding from the high property taxes, additionally, our district get strong financial support from the Irvine Company and that has allowed us to retain music, art and science classes. The economic situation of many families in our district allows a higher than average number of parents to stay at home and this helps to create not only a thriving PTA, but also increases vital support to the classrooms through parent volunteering. And lastly, the educational level of the households in the district; college graduates tend to produce more college graduates. Even through some steep budget cuts, we’ve remained in decent shape as far as our schools.

But at a time when schools are reeling nationwide from the housing collapse and it’s property tax ramifications, I wonder what I would do in her place. I don’t suppose I’d try and beat the system, but I also know how much less my kids would be getting…and how hard that would be for me to tolerate. Our district has taken some hits, and I still know how lucky we are. I have wondered often over the last few years how districts with considerably less resources than ours have managed. My kids have had computer access and teachers with the highest qualifications, music and science and art. What are the schools in the poorest areas doing? What must it be like to be struggling for chalk and textbooks? To have computer access be an unreachable dream, to be unable to afford to hire any but the least talented teachers and administrators?

“When parents flee troubled schools under the No Child Left Behind Act School Choice option, the district loses not only the per-pupil funding, but must provide transportation to the new school. This causes a funding drain that may seriously impact the students left in the school.” ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_choice – cite_note-12

Vouchers, Tax Credits, Charter Schools, Standardized Testing, Systemic failures in teaching methodology, Parental economics and education, there is little consensus for what improves a districts performance. Like most things, it is likely a mix of remedies, and in all honesty, these days I place far more hope and confidence in private entities to make the biggest gains when it comes to repairing our educational system. I think the future lies with groups like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the innovation behind crowd-sourced creations like TED.com, just to name a few, rather than our government.

There is no question that Williams-Bolars’ two daughters would receive an entirely sub-standard education by attending their home school. A quick check of greatschools.org shows a wide gap between the performances of the district they were zoned to over the one they were schooled in for 2 years. How much difference do we suppose this will make to their future? And how great a leap do we ask them to make to overcome their circumstances? Then ask yourself how many children those two girls represent? And then expect our country to do well on just the backs of the children in this district and the minority of others like it. That seems, at the very least, to be doing things the hard way, if not outright building failure into the system.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of the story, but there is no doubt in my mind that several opportunities were missed on both sides to resolve this issue at a less critical juncture. And it is entirely clear that she willfully broke the law, but it seems equally clear that being put into this position should be unacceptable to Americans across the board. Is it really so hard to believe that our children here in this district cannot ultimately do well with the education they receive if such a large majority of their future fellow citizens will not be equipped to lift up the society in which they live. Her children and mine are not separated by the possible successes of their future. They will live and contribute to the same country and the health of that country will depend on both of them. Children who are unprepared for the future do not just disappear from society.

To charge this woman with a felony seems unreal. The school district valued the cost of the education that her daughters received illegally at $30,000 for two years. I can’t imagine she had the resources to repay that either. She was given two concurrent, 5 year sentences, suspended to 10 days plus time served and 80 hours of community service, possibly jeopardizing her future as a teacher and in effect, putting 3 lives under the sword if she cannot create a better future for herself and her daughters. I’m not saying she was right, I’m saying she shouldn’t have had to face that choice. It is the sickest of jokes, that in our country you can go to jail for trying to get your children a better education. In the American education system, we are not creating all men equally, and it is time to stop pretending that educational access is part of a grand system of meritocracy.

What would you do if your children were doomed by your economic circumstances to attend a school that you knew would fail them?



The Other Woman…


Tea-ceremony Roomphoto © 2007 Masahiro Hayata | more info (via: Wylio)


I first noticed their relationship on Facebook when I was doing a routine maintenance check of my son’s friend list. Huh. My son is friends with the PTA president from his school. I’m not friends with the PTA president, I thought, feeling again both the irony and gratitude of my son having superior social skills to me. Well he’s become pretty good friends with her son this year, I thought, I guess that makes sense.

As the year went on, her house became his preferred after-school destination and she and I eventually became ‘Facebook Friends’ and every now and then she would remark on how she missed him as well when he was gone over-long at his fathers house. Oh, that’s nice I thought, she doesn’t find him annoying. He hasn’t worn out his welcome. He’s behaving well when he’s over there.

And then the moment came when I realized she was more than just the mother of a friend. She was the Other Woman. That day, he stormed into the house, home well before the regular time, and trying to contain tears of rage and hurt, wordless with anger and frustration. What happened, I asked? There had been a fight. In the way of 11-year-old boys, roughhousing had gotten out of hand. Push had come to shove. And although no one was hurt, he could hardly spit his anger out and I put everything aside to try and help this son, who is often my most short-fused child, cope with this moment. But as I was talking to him, I recalled something. The first thing he had reached for upon bursting in the door was his iPod Touch. He was, of course, friends with his friend on Facebook…Uh oh. Two and two came together fast in my head.

Were you going to write something on his wall? I asked, because just stop right there and calm down. One of the worst things you can do is write your anger up in a public forum. This will blow over but if you do that, you are inviting everybody into your private business, and that’s a very bad idea. I went over the whole social media policy with him right there, until he seemed reasonably able to promise he wouldn’t write anything on his friends wall. I mean it, I said, wait until you calm down. These things blow over. Promise? Yes, he said again and we went on to talk a bit more. And although his anger didn’t seem to dissipate too much, he went to his room to chill for a few minutes.

But an itch in the back of my mind kept at me and I checked Facebook just out of caution. He didn’t write anything on his friends’ wall. He wrote something on Her wall. He wrote something awful about her son on her wall. Something including a prime four-letter word we don’t let him use. He wrote it for her and all her friends to see, many of them, one presumes, the parents and other PTA members at school. Oh. My. God. And just like that, we were in a whole different moment. A whole different, potentially crappy moment from which there could be no escaping the judgment of who knows how many other parents besides the recipient. Oh Crap.

The whiplash of my voice dragged him from his room and I think I could hear the sound of the ocean in my ears as I stared at my son. This child I adored. The one with the long history of letting his temper get the best of him. The one with the easily touched pride, the one with the amazingly high I.Q. that he had masked so extraordinarily well in this moment and I was horrified at what this could mean for him. I was furious that every word of logic and reason had been thrown out even as it left my mouth. “Delete it,” I demanded, “and get in the car. We’re going over there for you to apologize to this woman.”

That’s not all I said. I probably fit more scathing and castigating disapproval into that three block ride than at any other time in his short life about how ill-conceived an impulse it was. About what if the mothers of his friends at school see that? What will they decide about him, as well as his brother and sister based on his willingness to publically address another adult like that? We talked about Facebook and rage, we talked about actions taken in the heat of rage, we talked about my rage. And we talked about how I wouldn’t spend his childhood apologizing to other parents like his grandmother had done for his father. We also said goodbye to his iPod.

She wasn’t there when we arrived, but he saw his friend…and immediately began to laugh. Predictably, all was forgiven, which is what I could have told him would happen if he had ever bothered to listen to what I was saying about 11 year old boys and scrapes and feelings blowing over (for the record, no I don’t really think he will learn many things from my words. I actually know it doesn’t really work that way). And as they made up, his mother drove up. And then the laughter was over as it was time to face the music. I told her that Middle Son had something he needed to apologize to her for and I stood behind my son while he braced himself to do the right thing.

She, it turns out, had not seen the post; although I made him tell her about it anyway, because decisions that poor should produce discomfort. Or better put, according to a friend’s bumper sticker, “Stupid should hurt.” But I hated that we were in this position at all. I prayed that having two boys herself would help her to be understanding about the idiocy that they can find themselves in.

What actually happened was totally out of the realm of my understanding. She wasn’t mad. There wasn’t even the pretense of a stern parental face of disapproval. Both my son and I stood there braced for her reaction and she did the most extraordinary thing. Her face was utterly transformed by compassion as everything about her posture gave itself over to this child. She enfolded him immediately in forgiveness. And then she reached out and her hand touched his face, held his cheek as tenderly as I have done myself and I never saw anything beyond that moment, so stunned was I.

It was a moment that triggered a thousand things for me. I don’t know what it triggered for her. Her attention, thankfully, was so focused on him that I doubt she noticed my mouth fall open as I was struck by so many things simultaneously. Her stark empathy, her forgiveness of my son in my place, the easy physical contact, the total lack of judgment, her willingness to absolve him from any burden and her total lack of offense. There wasn’t even a question of forgiveness.

All the way home I examined my own surprised reaction to this moment, mostly my shock and surprise at not being harshly judged and what this told me about how I still came to the world. How completely I expected to be judged. No other outcome had occurred to me, it was only a question of how severe would be the blow. Why was I still living in this mindset? More importantly, was I passing this belief down to my children?

She could not know my shock at that gesture. Not one of the people I come from could have made that gesture, not even the kindest of them would have made the move to break that invisible barrier of physical space, the reserve is that deeply ingrained. And in that moment I understood, his relationship with her was different. It was a relationship of it’s own. In that house he would find something that he hadn’t found at home.

Don’t get me wrong, in reaction to my desperate desire for a more physically affectionate childhood I am very physical with my kids. I have had almost no barriers between their space and mine, often laying about at home like a mother lion with cubs piled all over her. I have only recently moved to reclaim my space when the number of children on me threatened to become suffocating. But with other people, even my closest friends, I am no longer able to cross that space. It’s the legacy of a reserved childhood.

All of this is why she is such a likely candidate as the first ‘Other Woman’ in my sons’ life. And after the first tinge of jealousy passed, I realized that she is exactly who I would want for him. She really likes him. She has shown him unbelievable tenderness and patience. The kind of tenderness, kindness and benefit of the doubt so absent from my own background that it stunned me into complete silence when I saw it.

She is the first female outside the family that he has had this kind of relationship to. The fact that we are not friends is the very thing that makes her the Other Woman. We are not ‘not’ friends either, but if we had been very good friends, her liking him the way she does would have been something that I still shared in, instead of something that was exclusively his.

This is the part where he (and his siblings after him) go out and discover how to like and be liked in the world, how to place value on his relationships with other people. It’s the first step into an independent world, where he will define himself, without my presence, in the eyes of another adult. It’s important. And it’s the first real moment illustrating a truth I’ve know for 11 years now…that from the moment a child is born, they are in the act of walking away from you.

He likes to tell me that she’s nicer than me and that her chocolate chip pancakes are better, but it’s the first chance for this child to hit me with that “his parents are so much cooler than you” right of passage. And I know this child, I know him so well, because he’s so like me. And I also know that differentiating from me, when the time comes, will be a stickier thing for him because of that, and I will have to try hard not to be surprised if he has to strike at me more deliberately because of it.

In the meantime, I think this will be a good first experience for him. She likes him it appears, enormously, and I will always be glad for women in his life that turn a face of approval on him and treat him well, who show him affection without judgment. And in the end, we have to let them love other people…as much as they love us. But in a way, it also felt like a small goodbye, as I became a little bit smaller in the landscape of his life. Don’t these moments always feel like that?



Where is My Inner Chinese Mother?


I am not Asian enough with my children. This is not a new feeling for me. I felt this way long before Amy Chua and the WSJ decided to run her article, the one with the regrettably inflammatory headline about “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and just piss everybody off.  Nope, I felt not Asian enough long before that, but until I read her article I wasn’t really able to quantify why my parenting actions didn’t match up the standard of excellence that I thought I’d have.

When I embarked on my efforts to become with child, I completely expected that said child would be as carefully tended and enriched as any of the other children appeared to be around him. I would be paving the way, laying the genetic path for a new generation, who would go on to save the planet and reinvent world cuisine in a way that would make Ferran Adrià weep bitter tears.  Dreams of second language immersion classes, piano lessons, readings of poetry and the classics danced in my head. Then I had the actual kids.

There were piano lessons, which should have come with combat pay and they do indeed attend Japanese language school every Saturday morning but since those 3 and a half hours only the only exposure they get to the language I’ll be as shocked as anyone if they retain any of it (although I don’t necessarily believe their exposure to a second language is wasted and I absolutely haven’t given up on Spanish since we live in California).  We had Asian intentions, but they were married up to Western follow-through.

Like the rest of America, the WSJ excerpt from her book got the girlfriends and I talking. As a group, we tend to be less interested in fielding emotional responses than understanding what about the article produced the furor and what, if anything could be taken away from it all.  My girlfriends and I run the gamut of expectations and actual achievement among our children and we have a great acceptance of this. Parenting is about as personal an endeavor as there is, tailored so individually to suit each different family that right answers are very difficult to come by. Advice and collaboration trumps judgment in all ways when it comes to how we parent.

Our resident Chinese parenting expert, who just happens, conveniently, to be a Chinese parent herself and no slouch in the areas of high self-esteem, self-confidence and academic success, gave her opinion. “She’s a Chinese mother with no soul,” she explained amidst bringing up points about Confucianism and Legalist origins in Chinese parenting, issues of biracial identity and the different value system immigrant parents place on things

We have long noted that our Chinese friend comes to parenting her twin girls with very different expectations and attitudes than we do. This is the same girlfriend who once told me and another girlfriend to “channel our inner Chinese female”. We both shuffled uncomfortably, exchanged baffled glances and were forced to announce, “We don’t have one.”  And it was as true as can be. We don’t. But there are plenty of moments in parenting our kids that we both admit we wish we had one.

A very large part of the reason that I was interested and open to Ms. Chua’s very candid and intimate invitation into her home and parenting dynamics was that I has recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book “Outliers: the Story of Success”.  One chapter in particular discussed Asians and math.  Along with discussing certain cultural advantages he felt were inherent in the language and number systems, he chiefly identified an attitude and ethic stemming from, of all things, the agricultural history of rice farming in Asian societies.

The understanding of success being equated to effort is very different in Chinese culture…“throughout history…the people who grow rice have always worker harder than almost any other kind of farmer.” Rice production is more intensive and grueling and requiring of skill than the history of Western farming and this cultural legacy has meaning.

Most of, if not all of my friends, approach things like talent at math or science to be innate in some way. It is still requiring of effort to be successful, but Gladwell argues we fundamentally believe that you’re either born good at something or not.  The Chinese believe that such success and achievement has everything to do with how much effort you are willing to put into mastering a subject in a way that we excuse ourselves from because we want to see skill to begin with before we deem the effort worthwhile.  This might be where the chief difference lies.

Gladwell argues with clarity that cultural legacies matter deeply and I think that in our need to apply the whitewash of equality as rapidly and as liberally as possible, we loose sight of this.  I’m not saying that it should be emulated. Ms. Chua is an extreme example, and she knows it. But I can see in myself that very Western belief that talent is a matter of birth and that perhaps if I were more ready to put in some of the kind of efforts at the kitchen table over homework achievement that she does that we would see better results.

I am sure that there are plenty of Chinese children for whom this style of parenting is less than efficient, and I’m still a fan of trying your best to parent to the temperament of the child, but why discount such an extreme and extremely candid view of this other culture of parenting? What I’m saying is that there was so much more to Amy Chua’s story of her family and it’s foolish to let the trumped up title claiming “superiority” get in the way of a really interesting and important cultural exchange.

In the meantime, I will take her honesty and extremity as fuel into the furnace of my own parenting, I will continue to question why I feel stressed about asking my children to do even the most basic chores, and I’ll stress about being able to give them more effort than I do while my father’s voice continues to ring in my head when I look at report cards that are less than straight A’s “Well, the world needs ditch diggers too.” I will worry, as I always have, that I am raising a house full of under-achieving little slack-asses, who will end up working for my Chinese girlfriends kids.

Perhaps that will be the new tagline for my blog from now on, “Raising Hopeless Slack-Asses Since 1999” Perhaps I will just think about challenging my ideas on what my children and I can achieve and try a little harder to do more.

More complete articles about Amy Chua’s book can be found at Slate here and PBS here and at Gawker here.

And a more measured rebuttal was rus in today’s WSJ



Bathing in the Blood of Virgins…


Real Menopause looks like...

What The Hell?!!

Every few months or so, I look like this for about 5-8 days. Picture it in your head, but in your head, replace the blood with hormones…then add the blood again. Then fall to your knees and thank all the gods of the known world that you aren’t a member of my family, who would desperately like to be absent from these moments. I can tell you I’d like to be absent from these moments myself, but, other than some short separations from reality, it appears I’m not allowed to be, because this is the way that my body has decided to stop having babies. Apparently, no one told it that the doctor and I took care of that over 7 years ago.

Welcome to the End of life as we know it the beginning of perimenopause. For some women, perimenopause comes lightly, without much of a ripple in the serene pool that is their female journey. To others, it hits like the uglier, meaner older brother of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Welcome to madness. Welcome to your new, starring role as Lady MacBeth for an eight-day run! Welcome! (Now is a really good time to just start saying, “What the Hell?!!” because you’ll be saying it a lot). You and your family are going to love this!

I have always had my glorious journeys through the land of PMS, but previously it was mainly confined to random bouts of hormonally driven weeping, sitting around eating potato chips and Ben & Jerry’s, and a few irrational accusations and a slight hysteria over how I suddenly have nothing to wear. It was never this…this total, split-second transformation into a demon from the garden of hell, who sits on the chests of her babies and sucks away their souls. WTF man?!

I was tipped off to the fact that this month was one of the months where the curtain would be going up when I spun out of control and once again found myself beginning to resemble Lady MacBeth more than my regular waking self (some might argue the difference is slight). The trouble is, these days she’s there before I know it. I mean, my emotional mood swings have now attained the kind of speed and velocity previously only known to the makers of the Bugatti Veyron. I can now go from 0 – to rage in 2.7 seconds. What the Hell?!!

I have read too that it is genetic to some degree. (I can recall that my mothers journey through this land was, what’s the right phrase, oh yeah, Scary as Hell). I even remember praying a year or so ago, “please don’t let me get as crazy as my mom was. Please, not that…” And then I went back to my task of making wild accusations, shining bright spotlights into the eyes of my children and demanding to know what they really think of me as a mother. I can only hope the The Golf Pro is coaching them through it with whispered advice like, “Freeze! Maybe she won’t see you. Don’t move. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t make eye contact! They see it as a challenge and she might charge!” I hope he is helping them learn the 28 day calender. I hope they learn to be more in tune to their sisters, future girlfriends and wives in some way.

Also, I begin to fear with real cause that I may have timed this absolutely perfectly, so that my hormonal madness will coincide with the hormonal surges of three teenagers. Go Me, right? Or rather, oh dear God, what am I going to do? This has to be one of those unspoken, widespread events that is connected to a new generation of women who are delaying having kids until their 30’s and even their 40’s nowadays, but I don’t hear that much about it. Where’s the sisterhood?! I can’t be the only one to find themselves in this position. (…annnnnnd cue the crickets)

The thing is, I hate myself as Lady MacBeth. It ruins my hair and skin, the stage lighting is harsh, and it has changed my metabolism for the worst. But more than all that, it steals me from my children because my focus has to leave them and turn to the management of my own out of control madness. It takes me away from my role as a therapeutic parent, away from the years of hard won patience and affection and empathy I’ve fought to give them, and worst of all, it steals my sense of humor. Unforgivable for me, as it is my chief coping mechanism. I don’t want this to be the person they assume their mother is, but I don’t know how they can render any other portrait. They have no context for the arc of my life outside their own. For all they know, I’ve always been this crazy (shut-up Madilyn).

Is there a bight side to all this early exposure they are getting to the Classics? I hope so. I hope there is an upside to the fact that every couple of months they get to experience both Shakespeare’s and all the Greek Tragedies compressed into a week long festival of bloodletting and baby-eating protagonists right there in their own home. Perhaps if they are ever required to read Medea in high school they won’t need the Cliff Notes, they can just roll their eyes at the idea…”Puh-leaze…Been there!”

This last time, in an effort to give them some insight into what was happening, I chose a child to sit down with and try to explain it in a way they might be able to relate to. I began by comparing it to the teenage hormones we’ve talked to them about. The ones that we’ve told them are going to make them kind of insane. The ones that are coming their way.  The child looked at me and said “So,  you’re going to blame the hormones?” And that’s when I looked at my child and wondered if it was part of the madness that made me choose a boy first to try and explain this to.