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.

 

 

 

 

 



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.



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.



Failure to Dock With the Mothership…


RAD Mantra...

I think it is no secret that I have been stressed of late.  If we know each other on Facebook, then it is really no secret, since I made my Facebook timeline submit to forcible support the other day while I crawled through a series of pride-swallowing phone calls and other things that must be done when the safety-net suddenly gets cut out from underneath you. Sometimes, that’s the only way to keep your balance…by sharing and hoping someone out there will throw you a rope.  Someone did…and by making a series of positive statements I was able to affirm for myself that I was indeed making it across the rickety bridge.  There are a few more to be crossed, but I think I can lead the children through it, even though they don’t know they’re being led.  Leadership always involves more knowledge than you can share.

But, in the midst of it all, the thing I forgot to factor in was my 5 year old, my daughter, the one with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The one that cannot be parented in the normal way. Traumatized children cannot be parented in the same way as the ones without trauma. In fairness to me, it’s not always easy to constantly straddle and attune simultaneously to the world they exist in and the one that the five other children live in.  Sometimes, when they seem to be doing ok, you can lose focus on the fact that their attachment to you isn’t like that of the other children and the next thing you know, you’ve fallen out of your ‘Therapeutic Parenting’ role. You slipped and just let you be you…and that’s always when they hand you the bill.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) comes in two general flavors: Inhibited and Disinhibited.  Those are the starting points. From there, they can zig-zag all over the list symptoms and ways this disorder presents itself.  But generally speaking, they will start in one camp or the other.  Our daughter is in the ‘Disinhibited’ camp.  She comes to the world like Alexander, where everything is Be Conquered or Go Home. Whatever the type they happen to be however, the battle (and it will be a battle, make no mistake) is to successfully affix a normal attachment between them and one caregiver. After that has been achieved, if it is, then from there they will hopefully have a blueprint to successfully model all future attachments.

We have made progress over the past 3 years, but never as much as I’d like to believe. I have had to learn how to become that “Therapeutic Parent” that she needs, and I am still very much learning. In the normal course of things, when we come to parent our kids, we rarely come to it so clinically. But for RAD kids, they will be saved no other way.  One person has to be willing to go and stand in the storm with them and lead them out. And that storm around them and within them is a howling of the gods.

In an ideal world, that one person has a very good support system, because it’s a relentless job. Most of the time that child is focused on you like a laser,  24/7. They are inexhaustible in their energies and strategies, because they remain in a constant, vigilant state of hyper-alertness. For them, they are engaged in a battle for nothing less than their very survival. This has been hardwired into the brain trauma they have experienced at the most crucial developmental stages of their early childhood.  At times you can well end up feeling as if you have attachment disorder yourself.  And all this effort can be frustratingly empty at times, when they will, with a gesture or a word, show you once more that you are still discardable.

So, yes, I’ve been stressed this week. Terribly stressed. Terrified and feeling without safety. And in the midst of it, my daughter lost her way again because my focus wandered in the moment.  And these kids, RAD kids, are so hyper-aware of your state, and reactive to it that sometimes all it takes is one asteroid strike on the mothership, and like a badly wired escape pod, they will pull the emergency cord and  just detach, floating free into space again, determined that they can survive without you. They have no idea that they are wrong.

And in that moment, all you want to say is…eff it. Because no matter what else you’re trying to do, all crises management has to stop and you have to go after that detached escape pod. You have to put everything and everyone else aside and bring them back into the docking procedure.

I can relate a recent moment that might illustrate the reality. My 5 year old daughter, the child who has been with me, with the exception of a few short months, for over 3 years as a part of our family. She has called me Mom from almost the beginning, zeroed in on my stress, which reads to her as instability of her environment, and said “Mom, you really only have 4 children, cause we’re only living with you for a little while.” That’s a survival statement that says she’s ready to go if things get dicey. Notice that it doesn’t occur to her that staying with her family or her adults is the safest place to be.

Hearing that statement you have to struggle with the knowledge that the most intense efforts of your life as a parent have achieved such incrementally small successes at times. And you have to lock down the feelings of unfairness that you aren’t even allowed to be stressed, even when it is so justified. And you have to pull out the much worn script of the Therapeutic Parent and begin it all again.  For the RAD kid, you have to be “On” 24/7 . There are no carefree moments, no moments of casual parenting. Everything you do can seem weighted down with the most impossibly heavy layers of context.

And then, you do it anyway. Because it’s your child. Because you cannot afford to lose even one pod. Because despite your exhaustion you will never quit on any of your children. Because they are lost, alone out there in the void and failure is not an option. No one gets left behind.

Attachment Disorder – as it appears in our house:

Control issues. Most children with reactive attachment disorder go to great lengths to prevent feelings of helpless and remain in control. They can often be confrontational, disobedient, defiant, argumentative and manipulative

Anger problems. Anger may be expressed directly, in tantrums or acting out, or through manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior. Children with reactive attachment disorder may hide their anger in socially acceptable actions, like giving a high five that hurts or hugging someone too hard.

Difficulty showing genuine care and affection. Easily replacing caregivers, showing no marked preference for a primary caregiver.

An underdeveloped conscience. Lack of empathy. Children with reactive attachment disorder may act like they don’t have a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving badly.

Also included are hypervigilence, sleep disorders, food issues, poor response to discipline and consequences, physical contact issues, hyperactivity and a desire to be constantly stimulated, difficulty learning cause/effect, poor planning & problem solving, pervasive shame, poor communication strategies and failure to produce interactions that facilitate demonstrate mutual enjoyment, appearing to be on guard or wary, engaging in self-soothing behavior lack of eye contact, rage, aggression, lying, stealing, hoarding food, an apparent lack of a conscience, nonstop chatter, a desire to wield control, and a desire to create chaos among others.



A Prayer…


A little prayer I found today:

“Let me change what I can.

Let me accept that which I cannot change.

Let me ignore that which I cannot change or accept.

Let me run away from that which I cannot change, accept, or ignore.

Let me lock myself in the bathroom, hold my hands over my ears, and hum about that which I cannot change, accept, ignore, or run away from.”

Amen.

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Image for a prayer



One More Chance…


The Giants won the Series and for most of the rest of the country, baseball ended in the cool air of Fall. But for us, there is one last battle to be fought.  One last game.

About a week and a half ago, The Kid, my 7 year old baseball rookie, got hit by a ball as hard as I’ve ever seen any of my kids hit.  Turned away and took it in the back like he was supposed to, but it dropped him to the ground as both benches of parents gasped, winced and held their breath, and I did one of the harder things the mother of a child playing sports does. I sat in the stands and let someone else triage my child’s injuries.  And then, since that night, I’ve had to do something even harder. Push him uphill past his fear.

In the way of life’s ironies, the child most terrified of getting hit got hit the hardest.  And now my job is to do my level best to not let him be turned away from something he loves because of terror.

He’s had one game since then, been at the plate twice. It was not pretty.  Picture in your head any of the Warner Bros. cartoon characters at the plate while a squadron of B-52’s overhead rained down rockets and bombs and that was my boy at bat.  In between at bats I spent moments separated from my child by a wall of breeze blocks, our hands squeezed through the gap between the dugout and the fence, fingers touching, while he fought back tears and whispered  “Mom, I’m so scared.”  ohmygodohmygodohmygod went my heart, but from my mouth came the needed words, “You can do this. Don’t quit. Just stay in there and give yourself a chance.”  This is not what I want to do. I want to take him in my arms and leave the field immediately…but I don’t.

We’ve got one more game. If I can get him to the plate, two more at bats to confront the fears he has whispered to me all week and try to win back a small measure of confidence.  And my heart will ache as I keep turning him towards the plate and yelling  “Stay in there. Don’t back out.”  He may or may not in the end be a baseball player, despite his current love for the game, but that won’t be the important part. What matters is not quitting because of fear.



Bass Line


I might be wrong, but I think most people have that inner bass line that tells them who they are and what they are willing to accept. They don’t seek permission. They don’t take polls  to see if they are living their life in a way that’s socially compatible with the majority of other people. And while Litmus tests may come from time to time, they mostly live, within reason, by their own lights.

My light is more like one of Edison’s original models. Flickering, unreliable and given to surprising, but unsteady flashes of both brilliance and darkness.  I don’t always know how to live by it myself.

Am I more tired than I’m supposed to be, is my house less organized than somebody elses would be in a similar position. Am I lazy or do I do better than the circumstances would have dictated? Am I more neurotic than I should be or am I remarkable in some way for having managed to come this far?  I question it constantly and I often don’t know where I stand relative to anything else. I exist in a sort of continuous feeling of social sensory deprivation.  As if I have utterly no context for what I’m doing…and I don’t I suppose I will ever.  The situation is too unique.  But I would give a lot to be one of those people who feels sure of the ground they walk on.