Zen and the Art of Inclusion: How to Show Gratitude to the Parent Who Excluded Your Kid


To the mom who (repeatedly) didn’t invite my kid to her kid’s parties, I want to start off by saying two, little words to you. Thank you. No, seriously! I’m not being facetious. Thank YOU. I have spent my whole life trying to understand what you have just taught my child in one, unfair swoop.

When you chose, for whatever reason (frugality, early onset dementia, or a massive brain fart) to exclude my child (and only my child – magically everyone else was there!) from your child’s special activities – and therefore taught your child that it was okay to continue such exclusion during the school day – you were offering a very important treatise on life. Namely that there are assholes in this world. And they are everywhere, even where they are least expected to be.

Trust me – following the amount of tears that those actions have caused, it was an invaluable lesson that won’t be easily forgotten. By either of us. But here’s why that’s important and why I’m thanking you now. Because life is full of people like you. And your child. People who are callous, unempathetic and just plain rude.

People like you will someday fill the spots in her life as teachers, bosses, frenemies and maybe even in-laws. But that’s just how it goes. And we can’t make it better by wishing or trying or pleading with the higher reasoning of the unwaveringly cruel. Some people just don’t care about others. And they never will, no matter how many smiles are flashed their way or kind acts are offered in their direction.

So, now, thanks to you, my kid knows the truth about the big, bad world. Life isn’t fair. People are mean. Even people that we think of as friends. I expected a big, scowling bully to teach her that. Or a nun with a ruler in hand. Or maybe even a street thug – you know, the kind that they always show on T.V. But, I absolutely didn’t expect it would come from your direction.

Needless to say, though it happened earlier than I thought it would, it’s over and done now. The innocence of childhood utopia is finished for my daughter and now it’s off to the starting gates of adolescence. So, again, I say thank you for stripping her of this cumbersome youthful happiness and showing her what it really means to be human.

Thank you, also, for teaching her, through example, exactly what I have been trying to teach all along. How NOT to act and how NOT to treat others. As a parent, I have always taught the “Golden Rule” to my child. Tried with every effort to plaster it into all layers of her conscious and unconscious mind. Sometimes, though, as with all verbal lessons, I have felt that it has fallen on deaf ears. But, not now. I think she gets it. Finally and completely. Knowing firsthand what the pain of rejection and exclusion feels like, I am certain she will never do that to someone else. At least, I hope not.

Believe me when I tell you it hasn’t always been a picnic for us to extend birthday invitations to the entire class. The expense has often been A LOT and I’ve had to work hard to restrain my cheapo instincts from using the line “sorry, your invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.” Like it or not, we’ve always sucked it up and included everyone in our parties. Everyone! From the whiny kid that always tattles on others to the infectious kid who likes to smear cake icing with their booger-y fingers. It hasn’t always been pleasant, but it has always been the right thing to do.

You see, in our household, the feelings of others matter. They factor into our decision-making process almost always because we realize that none of us is a universe unto ourselves. How we treat other people is important since our actions are like a ripple in a pond. Our life is a silly chain of dominos, endlessly clinking one against the next. We can pretend to live in a bubble, untouched by others, unable to bring about change, but inevitably we are all linked. And our actions are the very creations of tomorrow’s new horizons. For better or worse.

All of that aside – regardless of what you do or have done, regardless of the way my daughter found out about your kid’s awesome parties that she was never invited to attend (for whatever reason, it was never clear), regardless of the ripple effect that has since ensued on the playground (since kids are so easily swayed to act like their favorite alpha-kid), and regardless of the rage I felt towards you as her tears grazed my shoulder when she came home a sad mess – we would still invite your child to her party. Because that’s just who we are. And what you are, whatever you choose to teach your family, will NOT be allowed to shape what we do. The “Golden Rule” still lives strong under our roof and even your thoughtlessness won’t change that.

Soon enough, it will be time for another birthday party. Ours, not yours. I will be addressing envelopes and stuffing cards, tucking them in neatly and with great care. Even though a large, maternal part of me wants to tell you that your kid’s invitation just got lost in the mail, I won’t. Because it won’t. Unless, of course, it does. But, if so, it won’t be my fault. Rather, it would be the fault of the US Postal Service. And, if that day should come, I will only offer you one last word to go with my previous two. Karma!

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The Truth About Santa (and other people)


There comes a time in every child’s life when the leaps of faith in fantastical beings (like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus) get trampled and overtaken by more mature thoughts of probability, pragmatism and logic. My friend’s daughter reached that stage this past weekend. There were some tears (from both sides). They had a talk. And, then that evening she left her daughter a note that she would find when she awoke. Here is what that note said:

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To back up a little, this girl has been a “believer” in all things big and small since she was a mere tot. And, her mom had a huge part in shaping those beliefs. They basked in every holiday, adding magical lore and fanciful figures to each and every celebration.

At Christmas, the traditional tales of Santa were told, as well as many untraditional stories her mom made up. These stories explained everything from why there were different Santa’s at every mall, how he made it to all of the world’s houses in one night, and of course the amazing “Santa election process!”

At Easter there was an Easter Bunny. But, unlike most that just leave Peeps and cheap trinkets, he would instead leave plastic eggs with scavenger hunt clues that lead to a bigger prize in the end. And then the Tooth Fairy – she left glittered notes and a magical two dollar bill in exchange for each tooth lost. A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me! Of course, the story behind why she needed children’s teeth became very intricate and had something to do with powering an entire city. Ever heard of “tooth juice?” Yea, me neither, but her mom did and that was a whole other topic of its own!

Yes, my friend had created a very elaborate world of lovely folklore that her daughter ate up with delight. The very best of them all, however, was the Elf. You know, those elves that everyone displays during the holidays. That brilliant Elf on the Shelf from which some ladies amassed and empire?! Yes, those! My friend had gone above and beyond each Christmas season, preparing intricate and exciting Elf displays. Each year had a theme. The first year started off small, with little inspirational quotes.

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The following year got more educational, with the elf embodying notable figures throughout history. (If you want to see all of them, go here. They are pretty darn cool! http://www.boredpanda.com/inspirational-elf-on-the-shelf/)

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And last year, the Elf went all out reenacting scenes from movies. (More here: http://www.boredpanda.com/the-quotable-elf/)

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It was pretty great!

But now it can be no more. Her daughter no longer believes! I know I was sad to learn of this new reality. And I wondered, in my time of pondering, was there anything wrong with instilling such a detailed belief system only to have it shatter and fall to the ground one day?!

The answer is simply: of course not! By telling these stories and keeping this mythology alive, she did a wonderful thing for her daughter. Though it’s not quite how we do things in our house, I understand the logic (or madness!) behind it. She gave her child something we are quite lacking today – the gift of imagination, belief in something grand as well as pure and simple joy. Even though none of it was real, even though some could contend it was nothing more than a web of lies, it was done with love and the good intentions of a parent who wanted nothing more than to give her daughter some special childhood memories. And, that’s pretty great, if you ask me – a cynical girl who always knew such things didn’t exist.

Maybe those tears they shed together were necessary. Maybe this conversation about the “truth” was hard. But, from what I hear, it also ended in hugs and a new sense of wonder. This time, though, the elation existed over what *other* things they could create, together, that could be just as fun as an Elf, a city run on tooth juice and a fat guy who delivers good memories for all! And, boy, I can’t wait to see what they come up with together!

Killing Time: A Mother’s Confession


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Oh, time. How I wrong thee.

 I spend opening lines of conversation asking where you went. Wondering what happened to you. Thinking about you, in your absence. But really, what did I ever do to appreciate you in the first place?! I act like we’re besties and you just took a hike, but really it’s my fault that you vanish so quickly.

 I walk around in this life, killing you at every turn. Killing. That’s right. With a capital K! All. The. Freaking. Time. And, what did you ever do to deserve that? You operate in a slow and steady motion, incremental, succinct, constant. I should anticipate your metered breath. I would be wise to move as steadily and as reliably as you. But, I don’t.

 Instead, I waste you. I throw you away. And, by doing this, I am losing the best parts of my day. My week. My year. And, if you want to get downright dramatic about things, my very existence!

 For starters, there are so many times when I should be on the floor, playing with my toddler, sucking in his sweet, pudgy-cheeked cuteness and breathing in these moments before they float into oblivion. But, I don’t. Instead, I zone out. I check my phone. Read nothing of importance. Do nothing that matters. I fritter you away on foolish things, momentary chores and tasks that I could put away for later. And I think I am deserving of these frivolities because I’m just trying to “get through” the day.

 These time-wasters are my reward. Or so I think. But, really, they just make me sink further into the rabbit-hole of time loss. They are the cause of my wild recklessness and existential crime. They rob me of small moments. And, in turn, I rob you of my allegiance.

 So, I’m writing this confession to you now. I have been your worst enemy. Your fair-weather friend. Your slayer. And, for that, I’m truly sorry. I ask for your forgiveness. I beg for it, in fact!

 I apologize for causing my children’s youth to blur because I was so hell-bent on rushing you away. I’m sorry I mapped out our days, in a fuzzy, pseudo-involved way, so that I could find things to do to spend you in order to “make it” until nap time. And, I’m sorry that, once my kids were in their golden slumber, I used you for nothing more than a couple of endless hours of internet surfing and candy bar eating.

 I feel ashamed. And disgusted in myself. But mostly, I just feel sad. I look at my daughter, now a saucy pre-teen, and wonder why it went so quickly. Why she isn’t still my sweet, slathered in pink princess who loves tea parties and Disney movies. Where did she go? Did you take her away from me? No. I guess I did that all by myself.

 The haze of parenting and the fatigue that sets a stage for adult life made me push her into that curve faster than I wanted. And all because I just wanted to “get through” it. “Make it.” Reach my end goal of nap time, bed time, weekend time, whatever. Faster and faster and faster! Never wanting to live now. Never wanting to stop and slow down. Never allowing myself to enjoy it all just yet. Waiting, instead, for that magical, elusive “someday.”  

But now that I am finally there, you are gone. And so is she. At least, that part of her. That era.

 I know you stop for no one. You won’t even slow down if I ask you nicely. But, please, be kind. Just know that I am small and weak. And, did I mention, tired. But I’m willing to give it another try…if you are!

 So, let’s be friends. I’ll be there for you if you’ll be there for me. I promise not to stare too much at your long and wiry hands, hoping they gallop along while in the midst of a Daniel Tiger marathon. Nor will I wish that those school choir events will zoom by at a higher tempo than their typical molasses pace. I won’t even dream about a way to fast-forward my son’s potty-training that is to come (despite my awareness of many hardships and pee puddles that await!).

 Instead, I will try to be content in my surroundings. Happy in my home. Present for my family. And aware of each and every second that I am lucky enough to call them my own.

 At least, that’s the deal I can promise for right now. Of course, these feelings may change in a heartbeat if I have to attend a season of swim meets or soccer matches – in which case, please know that my desire to assassinate you will only be in self-defense! But hopefully it won’t come to that.

 Just know, in the meantime, that I’m trying. Desperately. And I love my kids. Wholeheartedly! But I am flawed. Completely. Not like you, dear time – my perfect and reliable (albeit, not necessarily forgiving) friend.

Nothing Means Anything: Anarchy for the New Year


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The new year begins with resolutions, self-reflection and an endless cesspool of thoughts relating to the umpteen ways I did not measure up to last year’s goals. And with so many metaphorical bruises I have given to myself, it almost seems unfair to hope for change. After all, how can I even muster the strength to transform myself when I am obviously at an emotional disadvantage?! That’s why this year, a year like every other, when I have already started to nit-pick over a new set of failures, I decided to try this one anti-resolution instead: live life unchecked.

That’s right! Live life. Unchecked! In other words, fuck that little voice in my head that says “Don’t eat that piece of chocolate, you fat cow!” Fuck that shiny quarter who believes itself to be intended for the “swear jar” just because of a momentary fit of road rage. Fuck the PTA and HOA who constantly make me feel like I’m not being a good (enough) citizen. Fuck Dr. Oz, Deepak Chopra, “Hands Free Mama” and any other person who claims to have all of the answers (for a mere $24.99). Fuck pretentious friends and presumptuous people. Fuck the Joneses – fuck their manicured lawns, their shiny new cars, and their vacation pictures. Fuck Facebook and those who feel a constant need to post on it. Fuck Pinterest and all those crafty bitches who can’t stop making shit. Fuck scales and numbers, fads and fashion, comparison shopping and coupon clipping. Fuck everything. Why? Because I have come to realize that none of it means anything. That’s right. Nothing! As the Buddhists would concur, it’s all just an illusion.

Case in point, I have one friend who is Vegan. She chooses not to eat any animal products because of the ethical issues surrounding their treatment. And while that is all fine and good, she does love to peruse the world on her iPad – which, ironically, is one of the most cruel devices known to man. On the surface it wouldn’t seem so; but, taking a closer look, the poor laborers who assemble them make roughly 10 cents a week, live in a studio-apartment-sized dormitory with seven other people and have “suicide” nets surrounding their prison/office. Cruelty-free life?! Not quite. Oh, and another interesting note about this person: she likes to shoplift. A lot.

And then there is another person I know, one who presents her surface life as fictionally grand though in truth it is earnestly vacant. She is always busy doing endless crafts to adorn her home, making all of the other moms stand in shame because they didn’t think to make more of a celebration of Arbor Day or Independence Day, just like she did, by making children’s handprints into trees or cakes look like flags. Picture perfect to a tee. We all know this type. And yet her kids are total and complete assholes. Period. And while we shouldn’t judge a child any more than we should judge an unfinished painting….let’s just say, it’s clear that some forms of coddling and catering can’t be cured by time. They will be, without a doubt, people who have greatly inflated ideas of their own worth to the detriment of all others. CEO’s in the making!

Even further on the rungs of examples are the myriad of people I know in therapy. Paying people to “fix” their flaws, work through their “issues” and being charged hefty sums…for years…with no end in sight. And how much more sane or content are these folks? Probably less than the homeless guy on the corner! And he ate a day-old moldy burger out of the trash. Yeah.

So, then what are the answers?? Heck if I know. That’s not what this is about. But if I were to guess, I would say that no one knows. Not your sister, your pastor, your lawyer or your lover. We are all just groping in the dark. Without any answers. Without any guidance. People walk around in a state of belief that they are somehow different; but, no one is. We are all, unquestionably, failing in some way or another. And none of it means anything. It doesn’t make us any less important. Or special. It doesn’t mean we don’t deserve happiness or respect. It’s just the truth that we all try to ignore. Especially during the beginning of a new year.

With that in mind, one may wonder what it would mean to live a life unchecked. Does it mean there’s no conscience? No responsibilities? A free-for-all? Anarchy?! Ha! I wish. Simply, it means this year, for once, I will no longer compare myself to others. I will end the need to aim for other people’s unattainable goals. I will stop focusing on illusions and cease using the phrase “If they could do it, so can I.” I will close my Facebook account. And my Pinterest account. And will never, ever go to an Old Navy changing room again.

I will eat when I’m hungry, rest when I’m tired, work out when I’m motivated and do all of the things I need to do to sustain life, forsaking the rest unless desiring them in truth. In other words, I will do what makes me and my family happy. I will put my heart and soul into the things I care about. And I will be okay with the fact that I will sometimes fail. And the fact that sometimes those failures will make me sad or mad. But I will not let lofty dreams of unattainable quests (for self, for family, for creative or personal goals) set me up for upset. I will not buy into fantasies. I will live, not for tomorrow, but for right now. Today. The only thing I truly have of value. And I will not center my life around those holograms (of perfect weight, of perfect families, of perfect lives) that are meant to only torture souls.

This year my resolution is simple: I will live. And, I don’t know for sure, but I think that’s the whole point.

It


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As we were waiting for my daughter’s swim class to end, a sweet old lady came up to my son’s stroller with a look of adoration in her eyes. Even before seeing him, an abundance of kind thoughts were mapped on her beautifully wrinkled face. Her mind was geared toward feelings of pure joy, befitting for the presence of new life – an event, I must admit, that is only fully savored by those who have lived long enough to understand its splendor. New moms, with their haze of sleeplessness, often miss its subtlety and don’t catch up on this grandeur until they become of the grandmotherly-age themselves.

Babies are almost swallowed whole by the flattery of old women such as these, and my son was no exception. However, as she neared closer to the stroller, her smile delineated from its original beam into something slightly less bright as she exclaimed with confusion, “Isn’t that a sweet baby. What’s its name?”

It?! I took a pause before blinking and then replayed the words in my head. Surely I had been mistaken. Surely I had misunderstood. Did the old woman call my son an “it”? I thought it would be fairly obvious that he was a boy, with his blue and brown striped shirt and pant suit, pieced together ruggedly with a thick and mannish pair of sandals. And not only did his outfit suggest masculinity but his demeanor should have given it away. He sat up strongly, gripping the life out of his favorite toy monkey, gnawing and grunting over it like a wild beast chewing a bone. It? Him? Who did she think she was, mistaking the identity of my baby! I figured I would let her cataracts and her kind smile pass. She was old and didn’t know any better.

Then, a few weeks later, it happened again! At the grocery store checkout line. With a young couple. And they did not get a pass. They gripped their hands in a loving embrace, while peering longingly at my son, and mentioned casually how they were looking so forward to the time when they too would be parents. After their breathy sighs concluded in unison, and the saccharine sweetness of their smiles waned, the woman asked me, “So, how old is it?” How old is what, I thought. The aged cheddar? The Genoa salami? The Triscuits? I was lucky that they were easily distracted by their infatuation and not interested enough in my response to care that I moved ahead in silence. It, indeed!

These particular instances would have been easy enough to write off had they not become my new norm. It seemed, with each passing week, I was finding more and more encounters like these. At restaurants. In waiting rooms. At the post office. In stores. Even at weddings and funerals. Everywhere!

It almost became comical to decipher the ways in which a wide array of people could ask the very same question – all, I might note, in such a colorful and greatly varied manner. Some more polite folks, ever-fearful of a social faux pas, would say things like “What’s the baby’s name?” Sly and crafty, I knew these words were parsed carefully, concealing the fact that they had no clue as to my baby’s gender. Still, other more blunt types, culled from the ever-growing population that is free from the shackles of shame, would just blurt out abrasive phrases like “What the heck did ya have? A ding-dong or a ho-ho?”

Apparently, blue is the new black for girls. And there are no fire-truck or football  appliqués big enough to denote boyishness. Nor even do the words “brother” or “little man” seem to conjure a masculine presence anymore. Clues flow freely to those who care to observe, yet at the end of the day gender judgment boils down to one thing – the hair.

My son, just like my daughter, was born with a thick heap of black hair covering his entire scalp. As a result, he never needed hats. He never felt the cool breeze of air atop his noggin. Instead, his fluffy follicles covered him like a thick shag carpet lining the halls of the Brady Bunch home. As the months started to pass, his mess of hair slowly grew to be more of a mountain. Sweet, wispy strands would protrude and wave in an uncommonly gracious way. It started to grow long in all the wrong places – like a reverse mullet or the hair worn by a student of Rabbinical studies. It was uneven, but in the most perfect ways; accentuating his already obvious (to my prejudiced eyes) cuteness.

I loved his hair. I thought it was beyond adorable. And, in addition to that, I considered it to be the only thing (aside from his entire body) that he brought with him during his transition from womb to world. It was like the last vestige of his past during that time, from that place. After his umbilical cord had been cut, the crusty vernix wiped away and downy lanugo shed, his hair was the only thing that remained. A sweet souvenir. And I cherished it so dearly.

However, as time carried us further along life’s journey, I started to realize how his hair was becoming more of an impediment than an asset –  getting in his eyes, growing cumbersome; a nuisance which distracted his daily tasks. There were times when I would notice him moving along in pursuit of his favorite toy, only to stop, midway, and brush the locks from his face. That was when I realized we were long overdue for the obvious rite of passage. We had reached a new era and were about to turn over that proverbial leaf.

When we finally took him in for his first haircut, it was a lazy Sunday morning. We had no plans for the day. We hadn’t put a lot of forethought into the moment. It was an off-the-cuff suggestion to fill a lull in our weekend. We figured it would be fun. We thought it was more productive than milling the aisles of Target. But, more importantly, it was something that needed to be done.

In and out, the experience took no more than five minutes. There were no lines and little fanfare. Our son, as expected, cried big tears and screamed his way throughout the entire ordeal. This was, as we were told by the stylist, the typical response. But, after all of the wailing and protesting was made, the experience was finished. Behind us. Another of life’s big milestones checked off our list. And now there would be no more confusion – he had undergone his official transition from an “it” to an “he.” From a baby to a boy.

As we were about to leave, I thanked the stylist for her patience and told her how nice it would be that people’s confusion over his gender would finally cease. She chuckled, with a jovial lilt in her tone, and remarked with something that had never dawned on me before. She said, “If a boy is mistaken for a girl, it just means he’s a pretty baby. But if a girl is mistaken to be a boy, then she’s got a long road of hardship ahead of her!” I don’t know if that’s sage advice or just a kind adage from a person seeking a tip, but I took it at face value. And, judging from the face of my sweet little boy, with his newly trimmed sideburns and evenly shorn hair, I would have to agree that she’s right!

Our Summer Not-So-Merry-Go-Round


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As summer drags on, and my duties as “cruise-ship director” cease to make the time pass for my family without complaint, our collective nerves begin to fray. The earlier grandiose hopes of packing fun-filled educational experiences into weeks of family bonding have been thrown to the wayside. They have, instead, been replaced by so many hours of exposure to My Little Pony and Power Puff Girls that I feel quite certain my daughter’s eyes are bleeding from overuse. And when I ask her as much, just to check in and maintain the pretense that I am a responsible adult, her glare says it all. It reads a familiar stew of disdain and annoyance. Almost as though her break in activity caused a new form of ocular sign language to emerge, and with it, her eyes send the words: “Silence, old woman, and leave me to the addiction that you have forced upon me!” 

But it wasn’t always this way. In summers prior to this one, television was virtually non-existent. Instead of succumbing to its lustrous glow, we spent time absorbing real life in places such as parks, the zoo, and a variety of museums. We picnicked, we swam, we hiked. And on the rare days that we stayed at home, we filled our time with activities of substance. We learned about many things – the constellations, the history of rock and roll, the names of Egyptian Pharaohs. Summer used to be about exploring. Questioning the world and being challenged by it. And, most importantly, having fun and spending endless hours basking in each other’s company. 

What changed the landscape of this year has been the fact that I swam from the placid sea of mothering one child to the coarse and murky waters of caring for two. With a new baby in the house, there is not a great surplus of energy on my part. Whatever I have left over after nightly nursing sessions and my sleep-deprived stupor, I tend to save up for remembering where I put my car keys or how to boil water for our Pasta Roni. In other words, I just don’t have a lot to give at this point in my life. So, it makes it hard to be creative. Or educational. Or even nurturing. Thus, instead of being any of those three things, I have taken the easy road and have given her complete control to watch as much T.V. as she wanted. I knew from the first instant that it was wrong – and that it was a world from which she might never return. But, upon the genesis of this change, I was honestly too tired to care. 

It sounds horrible to say it out loud. I do care. I have always cared. It’s just that being deliriously fatigued – to the level that all new mothers are – is like being tortured. And, while some moms can still keep their shit together, other moms tend to “break” quite easily. Before having kids, I always liked to think of myself as being tough; however, after the extensive hazing my son has decided to make me endure, I now know that such thoughts were merely illusions. I am not strong. I am, in fact, quite weak. Without sleep, I readily roll over to any demands and allow all of the lawless things that go against my better judgment. Candy for breakfast? Why not. Wearing pajamas all day? Of course – that’s what Momma does! A daily marathon of cartoons? Heck yes. I honestly wouldn’t have any other summer plans for my daughter. I mean, I could have signed her up for camps and activities, but that would have involved me having to put on clothes to drive her there. So much for that… 

I tried to justify it in my mind. I first told myself that it was just a “film festival.” A special event that she deserved for being such a patient big sister. So, I tried to make it a significant moment. I
popped popcorn. Let her choose the movies. Pretended it was a rare occasion that would only be revisited from time to time – an event that would be savored and enjoyed rather than a daily happening which would be used to merely kill the hours between daybreak and nightfall. I had only the best intentions in mind. After all, I didn’t want her to be bored or feel abandoned during the times I would have to feed, diaper, and care for her baby brother. I figured, with the T.V. amusing her, she wouldn’t even know I was in the other room. 

Remarkably quickly, though, this crutch has become our new standard of living. Just the mention of turning the T.V. off now sends my daughter into tears, akin to how reasonable people might respond to the idea of losing their home, their spouse or a major organ. She just can’t deal with its loss. Not anymore. Not after so long. Experts say it takes two weeks to break a bad habit and four weeks to make a new life. What they fail to mention, regarding the reverse situation, is that it can only take a couple of days to make a bad addiction stick. Yes, it is so easy to begin something terrible yet so very difficult to make it stop. 

I should know. I have been battling with my son’s simultaneous addiction to my breasts. Not that nursing a baby is foul or subversive. It truly is the most natural act of human-kind. So natural, in fact, that it’s one of the few remnants left which remind us of our honest-to-goodness mammalian nature. But, with that said, it has come to the point where doctors, both real and otherwise, agree that he no longer needs to quench his motherly thirst at night – meaning: he should be sleeping through the night without waking for food. So, we’ve come upon a Catch-22, it seems. His nightly-feeding schedule has lead to such severe sleep-deprivation in me that I have stopped monitoring the daily content of my daughter’s hobbies. Her daily hobbies have come to include only one activity: television. Thus, if my son did not wake in the night, I would get the ample sleep needed to properly entertain my daughter so that she would not be a cartoon-addict. And all would be right with the world again. The question is how do we all get off of this very bad and seemingly endless merry-go-round? 

In my quest to find answers, I do what I do best: read books. I scour the shelves for tales written by this sleep-trainer and that baby-whisperer. I inhale the booming words of doctors and sleep pathologists, pediatricians and nannies, even mothers, grandmothers and concerned “aunts.” I ask friends what they did. I glance through message boards and MSN articles. I search everywhere for this holy grail to appear. 

But, honestly, after weeks and weeks of trying new tactics to no avail, I am beside myself with anguish. I feel that, not only will I never again have the energy to pick up my hairbrush and make myself look decent again, but I will never, ever regain what seems to have become lost between my daughter and I. I start to believe that our relationship will be irreparably altered, having mutated into something stereotypically bad. With each deepening breath from her many cartoon overlords, I feel as though I have lost her to the television cult. Possibly forever. And that my presence has been drowned out from her mind, overtaken instead by the voices of SpongeBob and one of the malevolent Disney Princesses. 

This isn’t really true, of course. I know that once I am given a nap and allowed to catch up on some personal time. Grandparents are helpful in this arena. After I have had an afternoon to myself, I start to calmly reevaluate our situation. My son is five months old. Despite what other people say, what other children have done or what I might want him to do, it is not really so unusual that he still wakes me in the night. It will continue as long as it needs to. As long as it is supposed to. And that’s all there is to it. No book has a solution beyond that. So, I have to deal with it and catch sleep when I can. 

But, as for my daughter, if I really want this summer to be more productive and memorable for her, I need to do one thing: be present. I realize that in years past, what she really responded to was my being there for her. Hugging her. Laughing with her. What we did and where we went was just something to fade into the backdrop of a memory. Our relationship thrived because of our happiness together. Sleepless or not, we can recapture that here, there or anywhere. Over rattles and burp cloths or beneath a sea of diapers. I know that she won’t care if it was like last year. And chances are, next year will be different in still another way. But, if we can just forget about standards and stop trying to be picture perfect, maybe we will have what matters most – pure joy. 

So, I decide that we will spend time together, doing whatever we can, whenever we can. When he naps, we can play dress-up. When I have to feed him (in isolation, since he is so finicky and easily distracted), she can play with her dolls until I can rendezvous with her when he’s done. I have so many new ideas about how to take the television out of most days. There’s just one thing stopping me from enacting my new and exciting plan for the summer: her glare when I try to turn off the tube. Those eyes speak to me again and they’re not happy. And now my son is crying. It’s time to nurse him, again. So, being decisive rather than weak, I decide I’ll tell her all about it later. After all, one more episode of The Care Bears won’t hurt anyone.

Who’s The Momma?


mixed

A workman came to our house last week to repair our washing machine. He was a nice man. He walked into our chaos with a happy smile and a courteous salutation. But, after the pleasantries were out of the way and he had started to tackle the job at hand, he sprung me with a question that was all too familiar. He commented on my son – a big, long-limbed, black-haired four-month old baby who, as my father-in-law likes to brag, is 98% exactly like my husband (never mind the 23 chromosomes that come directly from me!). The workman’s question was one I have heard before – too many times to count. He asked me, “So, who’s the Momma?” As if it wasn’t obvious. 

Well, truth be told, it isn’t obvious. I know that when I look in the mirror. I know that when I see our family photos. It’s like one of those puzzles on an I.Q. test in which you have to point out the item that doesn’t belong with the others. My husband, my daughter and my son all look like they are from the same group – tall (the kids are for their age), olive-skinned, semi-Dravidian-looking, brown-eyed brunettes – but I am the sore thumb that sticks out. I, with my pale, semi-translucent skin, my dusty blonde hair, my aquamarine eyes. I, with the short stature of a teenager, and the youthful face of a kid. Me, the only one with glasses. The only one with thick lips and a thin nose. Me. I am the different one. 

But, regardless of this truth – regardless of the fact that I am in an interracial relationship and have two children that others would likely call “mixed” – I live my life day-to-day forgetting this fact. Forgetting about how we look to others and how, when I’m with my children alone, it can sometimes be confusing to an outsider. So, when these questions come up, sometimes I am taken aback. I then have to remember what we are and how people expect me to respond to a question I would never ask. 

Usually, it plays out the typical way. I answer honestly, telling them that I am the mother and go further by explaining that my kids look just like their father. Two chips off the old, proverbial block. That usually quells their thirst for knowledge. But not always. Sometimes that’s just the beginning of a round of interrogation. “Where is he from?” “What does he look like?” “Does he speak English?” “How did you meet?” “Have you been to his homeland?” “Are his parents okay with the marriage?” “What did your parents think?” “Do your children speak his language?” “Do you speak his language?” “What language do you speak at home?” “Is it ever difficult to be with someone from somewhere so different?” AARRGGHH! Being quizzed like this can be more exhausting than taking care of two children all day! 

I know that most people ask questions without any malice and are interested because of their true curiosity about our lives, but it can still be difficult when this barrage of questions comes as frequently as it does. There have been times when, in my earlier married days, it was sort of fun to answer such inquiries. I felt like I was being interviewed for a magazine or television show. Interested parties would ask me things I was too happy to answer because I was in the blissful throes of newlywed love. I couldn’t answer enough about the tranquility I had found with this wonderful man. How easy our relationship was. How nicely our parents got along with each other, how our extended families had effortlessly merged into one. It was like a dream. Everyone loved everyone. Languages, cultures, maps were no boundaries. We were just one, big, united family joined by our matrimony and a common love of food. 

Once our daughter entered the picture, however, it became less fun to answer such questions. In fact, there were times when people teetered on the line of being down-right rude and nosy. They would ask about my daughter, skirting around the topic of her coloring, saying things like “My, you have a nice tan. Looks like you didn’t get that from Mommy,” or “Gosh, she is so dark. Is she really yours?” The worst of all assumptions was when my child and I were playing at the park together and one of the mothers asked, “So, how long have you been her nanny?” 

Now, with my plump, swarthy infant in hand, it seemed that this repairman was making the same assumption. How long have I been the nanny? That was what he meant when he asked who the Momma was. How long, indeed! Too long. Too long to keep being passed over as the rightful mother to my two beautiful, “mixed” children. After almost six years of being a parent, I felt like saying “Enough is enough!” 

I am the Momma! I am the one! I carried, gave birth, nurtured, nursed and yes, even “nannied” these children – because they are mine. 50% mine! 50% me. Whether they look like it or not! Whether anyone in the world could point out our similarities or not. I am the Momma! And I am proud. After all, having children doesn’t mean that you have to produce your exact carbon copy because, frankly, that would just be boring!