Tribes, Keyboard Courage, and Parenthood


I missed the memo about tribes, keyboards, and Parenthood.

So, in my last post, I made a pretty unapologetic pronouncement of my own opinions about vaccinations…and over on my personal Facebook page, it created a little skirmish in what is tiresomely, but accurately described as, The Mommy Wars.
I wasn’t entirely surprised, but I was a little sad, by how it went down.

Given my own feelings about vaccinations, I’ll admit I felt a twinge of smug when I first read this headline:  Once A Vaccine Skeptic, This Mom Changed Her Mind.  But once I read the story, my heart broke for this mom.  By the cruelest of ironies, her unvaccinated child did have autism.  But to me, that wasn’t the sad part of her story.  The sad part was that this mom felt, that in ultimately choosing to vaccinate her kids, she would pretty much have to hand in her “crunchy mom” membership card.  (And “crunchy mom” is her term…I don’t use it either flatter or denigrate her.)

This reflects part of the experience of modern motherhood, which seems to be increasingly tribal.  Instead of just doing what we do as a matter of pragmatism and preference, everything is identity and ideology.  We encamp with parents who think like we do.  We strap on our baby carriers like body armor and wave our cloth diapers like battle flags.  The folly of this was illustrated hilariously and very effectively in this brilliant Similac commercial which showed the various factions getting ready to rumble, until they get a reminder of about what’s really important.

I suppose parents have been judging other parents since we came down from the trees.  Most parents I know would say that raising their kids is the most important thing they’re doing and thus it’s natural to get invested in believing that our own parenting choices are right, and if I’m right, then someone who’s doing things differently from me must be wrong.  But before the interwebs, all we could do was have coffee klatches and just occasionally gossip about that mom, the one who’s doing everything wrong.  But now, with social media in its many forms, parenting has become a 24-hour-news cycle with everything and everybody up for discussion.

Make no mistake, I’m no Luddite who wishes we could go back to the dark ages before the internet.  Having such easy access to so much information and communication is mostly a blessing.   Mostly.  The dark side, of course, is that emojis, though adorable, are no substitute for hearing the tone of someone’s voice, the look in their eyes, and the millions of other little cues that really help us understand each other when we’re talking face to face.  Things get lost in translation, and then worse, we tend to get emboldened by the experience of communicating online, and that’s when stuff can really get ugly.

To take a break from the noise and confusion of real parenthood, may I suggest….Parenthood.   I’m not sure if it was that outdoor dining room, or maybe it was my insane pencil skirt envy for Julia Braverman, but I really loved Parenthood and really mourned its recent finale. It was a weekly retreat into relationships that seemed very warm and very real.  And that’s not to say everything was always rosy in that world…far from it.   The show has a very high Kleenex quotient, that’s for sure. If you haven’t watched Parenthood it is definitely binge-watch worthy.

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I want The Bravermans to adopt me.

And even if you’re not on Team Braverman, when it comes to this parenting thing, we’re all in the same tribe.  Memo received.

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Mother’s Milk, Medicine, and *sigh* Measles.


I missed the memo about mother’s milk, medicine, and measles.

Recently, my family endured another wave of stomach flu.  It wasn’t as epic as the Great Flu of 2006, but it was pretty bad. We all had some symptoms, but my 2-year-old and I seemed especially hard hit.  My poor little guy…he started getting sick on his birthday of all days, which seemed especially cruel given he’d had Roseola last year on his 1st birthday.  The kid cannot catch a break.

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The two of us in happier times, before we both rapidly lost alarming amounts of body fluid.

In the midst of trying to manage what was coming out of his orifices, I was also working on what was going in…since he’s now 2 and all, I’ve been trying to coax him in the direction of weaning.  This meant that Daddy has taken over the nighttime routine to try to break the bedtime boob habit.  And we’d been making some progress.  But as his flu symptoms persisted, I knew my son needed to be with me.  And I needed to be with him.  I needed to hear him breathe, to hear if his tummy gurgled, or if he made that weird popping sound that comes a split second before he barfs.

This experience with my son’s recent illness called to mind a really amazing moment on a great show, BBC’s Call The Midwife.  In the particular episode I’m thinking of, an immigrant mom of many has had a premature baby.  She’s sick and so is the baby.  As was customary for the show’s time and place (post-war, East End of London), the baby had been born at home, and as the characters worry over his health, they entreat the mom to go with him to the hospital.  Her response slayed me:

“I’m his hospital.”

I think for all parents, but maybe moms especially, this is just gut-true.  Kids come from our bodies, and we heal our kids, with milk, with the comfort of our softness, with everything we’ve got.

Now in the case of a garden variety stomach flu, I’m probably all the medicine my son would need.  In point of fact, the only things a child with stomach flu really needs are someone to do his disgusting laundry, bring him beverages, and offer gentle assurances that, despite all outward appearances, death is not imminent.  These are things I am well-qualified to do.

And this brings me to the current state of affairs involving measles.   I think most parents are equipped with an instinct for survival and nurturing that they channel in a mostly constructive way to protect their kids.  I think this is why that “I’m his hospital”  line resonates so much.  But I also think that instinct can get morphed into a pretty dysfunctional sort of arrogance. Yeah, no one knows my kids better than I do, but no one knows about vaccines better than, um, scientists.  And scientists are fallible and sometimes disagree among themselves, I get it.  But I believe in vaccines.  And not the way my kids believe in Santa Claus.  I believe in vaccines the way I believe in seat belts. Because just like seat belts, the overwhelming truth of the matter is that vaccines are safe and they work.

If my kids were not vaccinated, no amount of breast milk or wishful thinking would offer them any protection from the measles outbreak.  Sometime’s a mother’s love is all a child needs, but sometimes what they really need are routine immunizations. Shots administered and memo received.

Toe Picks, Dough Hooks, and Perfect French Bread


I missed the memo about toe picks, dough hooks, and perfect French bread.

Because of our collective inability to check the pantry before making a shopping trip, my husband and I managed to purchase approximately 20 pounds of flour over the last few months.   To work through this ridiculous surplus, I’ve resolved to bake.  A lot.  And since my oldest son is obsessed with “the long bread from the grocery store”, I recently embarked on a quest for the perfect French bread recipe.

I can attest that this recipe lives up to its name…it is the perfect loaf of French Bread.  It’s simple and reasonably easy, but you’ll note that it involves the use of a dough hook.  Now, when I got married nearly two decades ago, my mom gifted me a really nice stand mixer, with all the bells and whistles, which I barely used.  It just seemed kind of big and unwieldy, and I didn’t really know what all the tools did, so I mostly left my stand mixer to languish in a dark corner of a cabinet.

But this new venture into baking had me rummaging through my kitchen to set up my stand mixer.  I took a deep breath and attached the dough hooks, and literally gave it a whirl.  After seeing the labor saved and the good results, I had to ask myself, why the hell hadn’t I ever used these things before???

And that called to mind this awesome montage from The Cutting Edge...remember that movie?  It’s basically “Taming of the Shrew” on ice, pairing Moira Kelly and D.B. Sweeney as an odd-couple who are thrown together to compete in a figure skating competition.  What makes it extra cute is D.B. Sweeney’s character is a former hockey player, so he is unaccustomed to skating in actual figure skates, and thus he resists the use of one of their essential features, the toe pick.

I profess to know exactly nothing about figure skating, but the toe pick is supposed to really help with all those amazing gravity-defying jumps that elite skaters are able to do.  But D.B. Sweeney’s character refuses to use them…he’s a crazy good hockey player, so he thinks he knows everything he needs to know about ice skating.  But as he falls again and again, Moira Kelly’s character takes great pleasure in quipping, “Toe pick!”  It becomes a perfect shorthand for reminding him he has a lot to learn.

Likewise, I thought I knew all I needed to know about making bread.  I had made a fair amount of bread in my life, mostly kneading it by hand.  I figured the use of a dough hook couldn’t really make that much of a difference.  I now admit my folly. Like that stubborn hockey player-turned-figure skater, I resisted using a tool just because I didn’t really know how to use it. Admitting you don’t know something can be a hard sort of vulnerability…you expose your ignorance, you risk failure.  But the reward can be sweet.  Or a little salty, and chewy, with a perfect crust.

French Bread
My technique still needs a little work, but this was gooooood.

Bon appetit and memo received.

Superpowers, Ripples & RFK


I missed the memo about Superpowers, Ripples, & RFK

I have a six year old son and he and I have our best talks when he’s in the bathtub. Maybe it’s the time of day, or maybe there’s something in the water in California, but something about being in the tub makes him loopy and truthful in a way that’s pretty entertaining. It was during one of these bathtub talks that my son asked, “Mommy, do you have any secrets?” I was charmed and intrigued by this question, but I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, so I asked him, “What kind of secrets do you mean, sweetheart?”

And with the sincerity that only a six year old could muster about this kind of thing, he asked, “Are you a superhero?” I guess, to him, it seems totally plausible that I have an alter-ego and that I’m out saving the world when he isn’t looking. 

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I love her, but I ain’t her.

Now, to be a superhero, one must have superpowers, so I started to take an inventory and feared I came up a bit short.  It’s not just that I can’t fly or leap over tall buildings in a single bound, it’s that I’m also not rich or famous, I haven’t won any pageants, I haven’t invented anything or cured anything, in truth I I haven’t really made a big splash, but I’d like to think I’ve made a few ripples.

And then it occurred to me…maybe the ability to make meaningful ripples is my superpower.

Now, a ripple is just a a transfer of energy. If we are talking about throwing a pebble into a pond, the energy is transferred from the hand that throws it, to the flying pebble and then to the water, causing the water to move.  But if we’re talking about people, it’s our actions, even our really small ones, that cause our energy to be transferred from ourselves outward. The Dalai Lama eloquently tweeted:

Now, making ripples isn’t always easy.   It takes effort…it’s overcoming your inertia and your trepidation and just doing something that makes a bit of change.  Even with the best of intentions, the big ocean of life has a way of getting busy and bureaucratic. Instead of getting to enjoy the ripples, we sometimes just hold on for dear life as we try to stay afloat amongst the tidal wives that come with demanding careers and busy families.

But returning to slightly more uplifting thoughts…another kind of amazing thing about ripples is their collective effect. In speaking at the University of Capetown back in 1966, Robert Kennedy said something about this that is bigger and more eloquent than anything than I could ever say, so I’ll share his words with you:

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Tiny ripples of hopea million centers of energy and daring…wow, do you get the Kennedy chills from that one?  I sure do.  

So, I suppose I’ll just try to keep throwing pebbles in the pond.  Making ripples and memo received.

The Home Row


I missed the memo about The Home Row.

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Gentle readers, man, it has been more than a year since I have posted anything here…that is just inexplicably lame.  I’m really busy, life happens, blah, blah, blah….

This has been a really long hiatus, and lately I have felt increasingly drawn back to this little space I’d created…and I think that’s because I have felt really scattered and frazzled a lot of the time.  And I think that feeling stems from drifting away from things that help keep me centered.  Things like this blog.  So here I am.

The idea of feeling centered got me thinking about The Home Row…ya’ll remember learning to type and experiencing that initially awkward feeling of resting your fingertips on those particular keys?  Once you get the hang of it, the Home Row is a terrific strategy…when your fingers know where they are starting from, they eventually learn to stretch in efficient ways so you can whip out that Great American Novel, or that brilliant dissertation, or a little blog post with relative ease.

But have you ever had the experience of looking to your screen or page and realizing you’ve just typed a bunch of gibberish?  I’ve done that and often I’ve found that it’s because I’ve inadvertently strayed from the Home Row.  With my fingers out of their centered position, my digits are really just going through the motions of typing, but the result is just a bunch of nonsense.  When I’ve found that I’ve made this mistake when typing, I wouldn’t dream of just persisting with my fingers off the Home Row and just hoping that my keystrokes would eventually make some sense.  That would be crazy.  Yet, in life, I think I’ve been doing just that in recent months.

I’m finding that when I stray too far from the things that really make me feel like my natural self, nothing else makes the kind of sense it should.  For me, one of those things is letting out the words!  Words are just always flowing through me, like, all the time, so maintaining a fun outlet for them is just the bee’s knees as far as I am concerned.  That’s why I started this little blog in the first place, and that’s why I probably shouldn’t neglect it so woefully in the future.

So this blog is one of the keys on my Home Row.  I’m trying to find the others places that make me feel centered, so I can begin stretching again, in ways that make good sense.    A good stretch feels good, doesn’t it?

Typing, stretching, and memo received.

P.S.
What’s on your Home Row?  (Is it me, or does that sound oddly like a Capital One commercial?)

Sighing, Santa, and Sucking It Up


I missed the memo about sighing, Santa, and sucking it up.

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I sigh a lot.  And groan.  And roll my eyes.  I do all manner of inarticulate gestures which communicate my displeasure, impatience, and frustration.  And I make these gestures at my kids.  I think I had rationalized that my little, alright, big sighs, were somehow better than actual words of displeasure, impatience, and frustration.  But then my 5-year-old clued me in that all my sighing was probably turning him into a crazy person.

See, my 5-year-old is no dummy and he has come to understand that the loud exhalation of air from my lungs means that he should probably head for the hills.  But rather than just hightailing it out of my sight, when he hears me sigh, my sweet boy asks me what is wrong.  And what is  really wrong is that the 5-year-old is doing the asking instead of the 40-year-old just “using her words” to make sense out of whatever is irritating her.  A sigh leaves my darling son to wonder what could be bothering me, and worse, to wonder if he’s bothering me.  He hears the sigh and thinks, “Uh oh, what’d I do?” And so often, I’m sighing because I’m overwhelmed by the baby pulling my glasses off my face while the cat nearly kills me by walking right under my feet as I am trying to get the baby out of the carrier because I am trying to get the bathroom since I have to pee really bad and the whole time the 5-year-old is talking, talking, talking (about Christmas, mostly.)  In that moment, I’m not sighing because the 5-year-old has misbehaved, I’m sighing because the Universe is forcing me to take a deep breath.

I think I’m more aware of my sighing these days because I’m doing more of it.  Because Christmas.  I’m not one of those people who joyfully welcomes all the extra stuff that comes with the Christmas season…that crap is work and I already have a lot of work to do.  But I’m trying to remember that every time I sigh or roll my eyes, a little bit of my son’s childhood evaporates.

And here’s the thing, for all my wordless complaining, in spite of myself, I do find at least some joy in the all the extra Christmas crap.  I present Exhibit A:

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Kind of on a dare, I made a Santa face out of bread.  Because Christmas.  And even though this took some time out of an already busy day, after I was done, I was happy to have made the effort.

And Exhibit B:

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My perfect family Christmas card photo.  That I had to figure out what everyone was going to wear for, figure out when we could meet the photographer, get the cards ordered, get the envelopes addressed, etc., etc.  There was a significant amount of sighing involved in this production, be assured. But in the end,  I love this picture and I’m tickled I get to share it with my nearest and dearest this year.

So instead of sighing all the time, I’m trying to suck it up a little more.  My kids will only be little for so long, and when they’re grown up, I’ll be  sighing wistfully as I think about the sweetness of this time with them.  At least I hope so.

Today, may all your sighs be sighs of contentment.  Merry Christmas and memo received.  

Insurance


I missed the memo about insurance.

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In recent days, news about the Affordable Care Act has been dominating the headlines.  All the hubbub about Obamacare got me thinking about insurance, and it called to mind a time when I really, really needed an insurance policy of sorts.  Brace yourselves, folks.  This is going to get a little gross.

One afternoon at work, I started to feel a little queasy.  As the day wore on, I shivered miserably in between trips to the bathroom as I cursed my husband, who happened to have my car that day. With him across town, I toughed it out through the rest of the day, but by the time my husband picked me up, my digestive system was in full revolt.  I had been trying really, really hard not to barf, but as I rode down the 17 floors from my office to the lobby, I confronted the mortifying reality that I was going to throw up, like, immediately.  As soon as the elevator doors opened, I stepped into the plushly carpeted lobby and lost my lunch.  Those cute Mary Janes with the rosette on the buckle that I got in France?  History.  

Once home, the situation deteriorated quickly.  I will not mince words, people…I was basically peeing out of my butt.  And then vomiting.  Or doing both at the same time.  It was…undignfied.  I’ve  had stomach flu a time or two before, but what made this particular episode particularly gnarly was that the early warning system that usually permits a potty-trained person to make it to the bathroom in time to take care of business had been completely short-circuited.  I soon realized that in addition to losing my lunch and my dignity, I was starting to have a real laundry problem on my hands.  And then it occurred to me that in my state, I would not be able to sleep, like, at all.  I needed every second of vigilance I could muster and even that wasn’t really cutting it.   This was not just a “gambled and lost” situation…I was not even making it to the table to place a bet. 

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Seriously…this was me. But I mercifully had the presence of mind to take a seat and position a bucket in front of me. It’s the small things, really.

But I was exhausted and desperate.  Then it occurred to me…if I was going to get any rest, I needed… a diaper.  Yep, a diaper.  To this point, my husband had wisely been giving me a wide berth, but since I couldn’t go to the store in my condition, I beseeched him to go and get me some Depends.  Because he was a little embarrassed at the prospect of buying adult diapers, he questioned whether I really needed them.  I said, “Don’t judge me!  In sickness and in health, dude!” 

When my husband dutifully returned with the bulky purchase, I gratefully donned a diaper and went to bed.   In those stretchy, papery, plastic underwear, I slept like a baby, at least until I had to barf again. 

When it comes to insurance, it’s all about risks and odds…I had calculated that the odds of me falling asleep and suffering the rudest of awakenings were pretty good, and that was not a risk I was willing to take.  I needed insurance…in the form of a diaper.  Memo received. 

P.S.
As noted, when I asked my husband to get me some diapers, he initially balked a bit.  In his estimation, a diaper represented over-insurance.  But he was making his calculation as a person who was not in the throes of epic diarrhea.  A couple of days later, however, he came down with the same flu.  I went to work and came home to find him lying miserably on the couch.  When I asked him how he was feeling, without a word, he pulled down the waistband of his sweats and revealed that he had reassessed the risk and taken out a little insurance policy of his own.  He got the memo, too.