Sunday, February 28, 2010

Other People's Kids

So, I have been invited to join Perpetua as she and other bloggers take on some of the more controversial issues of parenting in Controversundays. I have always been more apt to shy away from conflict rather than stepping up to the plate, even when I feel strongly about something. This is because I am a very delicate flower. But, becoming a mother has emboldened me, forced me to come to terms with my flaws, and try to become a better person. You could argue that I shouldn't have needed to give birth to a child before trying to become a better person, but DON'T! Lest I wilt. Remember? Delicate flower. Get it? Okay, moving on.

This week's topic is on other people's children. She left it pretty open, so I'm going to focus on discipline. What is our role? Do we discipline them? If so, where is the line? I love this topic because, as someone who has extensive experience caring for other people's children, it has come up A LOT.

I got a job at a private school as a teacher's aide when I was eighteen. I had always dreamed of working with kids, especially little kids, so I was really excited. I had visions of running reading groups, passing out snack (because in elementary school, you eat "snack". Not "snacks" or even "a snack". Just "snack"). These dreams would eventually come true. But, part of my job description also included yard duty. And, as soon as they handed me that walkie-talkie and whistle? I was TOTALLY drunk with power. Oh, how I loved bossing those kids around! I became a total hard-ass, and it was not uncommon to find at least half a dozen timed-out kids pouting and scowling in my general direction when you visited the playground under my jurisdiction. Don't, however, assume that I was some kind of nursery school nazi. The kids loved me. I played with them, made silly jokes, fixed their ponytails, and held their little hands on the way to the nurse's office for Band-Aids. But, when they misbehaved, I was a force to be reckoned with.

I've always been a bit of a stickler for rules. I rarely break them myself, (a personality trait which has earned me much scorn and derision from my friends)so it is not surprising that I have always had pretty strong opinions about how kids should be disciplined. And worse, I was also sure that if I were in charge, those kids screaming in the toy store or throwing food at the restaurant would be in check so fast, it would make their bratty heads spin. And, even though I'm not there yet, having Charlotte has definitely made me more sympathetic. She may not be old enough to talk back or defy me, but I know it's coming. There were so many opinions I had about parenting that I recanted upon becoming a parent myself, and I think that has made me more cautious about judging. Of course, there are exceptions: there are many things I see that are just WRONG, and although I have never been the variety of person who actually approaches people, it is difficult to refrain when I see parents with an utter disregard for the safety and health of their children (and others).

Having said all that, I do think there is something to be said for what I will call "community parenting". Did I make that up? Or is that a thing? What I mean by this is that if I send Charlotte to play at a friend's house, I want her to fear that child's mother as much as she fears me. Did I say "fear"? LOVE! I meant "love"! I want her to respect other adults and to know that there are consequences for her behavior WHEREVER she goes. So, that means Grandma can and should put her in a time out. Her aunts and babysitters should feel free to take a toy away from her if she isn't sharing it, and so on. Sure, there is a limit to what I expect others to enforce. After all, it is mine and Chris's job to discipline her, primarily. But, I am also a big believer that anyone who is a part of her life will influence her, and I want it to be for the good. It won't always be easy to see others be stern with her; I have already been known to bristle at the suggestion that Charlotte "needs to learn" this or that. I know as much as I want to guide her with a firm hand, I also LOVE to indulge her. And so will everyone else. Just as long as she doesn't become a tyrant the second she leaves our house, I'll be happy.

I think maybe we all get carried away with the not judging, not butting in thing, and are too scared to speak up when other people's kids are terrorizing our homes, our kids, our pets, our sanity. When I was child-free, I adored parents who were conscious of what their kids touched, said, or asked for, and gently reminded them to behave, and it was even more refreshing when they didn't mind me chiming in with an admonition for their kids if something escaped their radar. Watching my nieces has always been a pleasure because they are delightful girls (most of the time), but also because my brother and sister-in-law encourage the adults in their children's lives to aid in the discipline. And so when my middle niece was in her terrible two's and heaving herself onto the floor amidst shrieking and violent kicking because I would not let her "make dishes" (a term she used to describe her version of washing all the plastic dishes in the sink) for another five minutes, I had recourse to put her in her room until she calmed down, rather than feeling pressured to indulge her when she looked seriously into my eyes and said through sobs, "I. WANT. TO. MAKE. DISHES!". And, I truly believe these girls are as polite and respectful as they are because of this shrewd move on their parents' part.

So, that's my take on it. Don't go grabbing candy bars out of a stranger's hand just as they are about to appease their bratty child with it. Don't yell at a mom who is choosing to ignore her child's screaming so as not to give in to his whim (Yes, it is a public place. But if she buys him that toy, he'll be encouraged to do even worse next time, so suck it up and be glad she is at least TRYING not to raise a future delinquent). But, if your friend's kids are walking on your couch, tell them to get off! And if their mom doesn't like it, too bad. It's your house. Your rules.

What do you guys think?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Who are You, Really?

In a few, short weeks, I will be a free woman.

Last month, I resumed working at the tutoring center at my school and began attending my most recent grad class. Granted, the class is a lot of work, but you would think a person could handle fifteen hours of work and one, measly class, right?


Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am a lazy individual. One of the only things I enjoyed about pregnancy was that I had an excuse to sit on the couch and request that things be brought to me. I will forgo an extra cookie if it means I have to get up and get it myself. I am a master procrastinator, especially when it comes to my school work. And, I hate getting up early for work; I have been known to whine all through a work day about how tired I am. Superwoman, I am not. However, if something in my life needs to be done, I get it done. I might be kicking and screaming the whole way, but I do what I need to do, and I have successfully held down a full-time job and gotten A's in many grad classes at the same time.

So, why am I having such a hard time this quarter? The answer to that question is at home with her daddy, eating animal crackers and pushing all the buttons on the DVD player.

I never thought I would become one of THOSE moms. The ones who can't be separated from their kids for more than a few minutes without totally losing it. And, really, I don't think that I am. I am in the process of trying to convince my mother-in-law to keep Charlotte overnight so Chris and I can drink and stay out late at my mom's St. Patty's day party. I've gone to concerts without her. I like to get out of the house to write. Sure, I always miss her while I'm away. But, it never stops me from going away to do the things I care about.

And there it is. The reason I am so resentful about being out of the house for fifteen hours a week has less to do with the fact that I am away from the baby and more to do with the fact that it isn't worth it. I want my Master's degree, sure. And, I will get it. But now is not the time. Right now I want to write. If I'm going to be away from Charlotte, it had better be for something I am passionate about. So, I'm taking a break from school and concentrating on pursuing a career doing what I love to do. I am very fortunate that I am able to do so at this time.

I've always been a big believer in maintaining an identity that is separate from your identity as a mother. Even though I now realize how much motherhood permeates all the facets of my life, how it has changed me from the inside out, I still believe that it is crucial to not lose sight of who you were before having children. I think we all need to have something we are passionate about, besides our kids. For some people, that thing is their job. And, hey, that's awesome! If you can get paid to do what you love, I say that's a win-win. Unfortunately, some people hate their jobs. Their very necessary jobs. And that, well, to put it eloquently, blows.

And then there's me. Like I said, I am very fortunate that, at the moment, we are able to stay afloat on Chris's income so that I can be a stay-at-home mom. I want to soak up every second of Charlotte. I want to feed her every meal, put her down for every nap, change every diaper...

Ha! Kidding. Can you imagine?

Truthfully, I want to be with her most of the time. I really enjoy the day-to-day responsibilities of taking care of my family. But, as much as I enjoy folding laundry in the company of a good television show, I wouldn't exactly call it fulfilling. And as much as I adore making my baby laugh, I wouldn't call it intellectually stimulating. I, and we all, I would argue, need something else. A creative outlet. Something that's just for us.

I started this blog a few months ago, and since then, I have grown to love writing. I am having fun doing it, and I want to make this my career. I have a book I want to write. I'd like to spruce up this blog and see it take off. I would like to do freelance writing. For the first time in my adult life, I have a career goal that I am legitimately excited about, something I am motivated to work hard to achieve. And that feels really good.

I am a mother first, sure. Charlotte and any future children I may have will be my priority. But as much as I don't want to miss a second of my children's lives, the reality is that I might HAVE to. And that's okay. Mommy guilt is a potent and powerful thing. It whispers lies into your ear, lies about not being good enough, making bad choices, and letting your kids down. Our children need us. No question. And in a way, they might always need us. But, isn't our job to teach them to grow, to be independent, and to ultimately take care of themselves? And, if we haven't been taking care of OURSELVES in the meantime, nourishing OUR dreams and goals, where will we be then? We'll be more in need of our kids than they are of us.

Please understand that I am not knocking being a stay-at-home parent. I'm just saying, make sure you are taking care of yourself. It can be so overwhelming, being a woman today. We are in a constant state of maintaining a very tricky balancing act. My husband told me last night that for him, it is so simple. He goes to work, comes home, helps with the baby, and sleeps (soundly). He told me that he appreciates how much more complex my life is. I take care of all appointments (social and otherwise), I keep the house clean, I do the shopping, I do all the packing and organizing for schlepping the baby, I try to go to the gym, I try to plan meals, and I go to work and school. I constantly have about a million things on my mind, including, now, my career. For more on balancing motherhood and a budding writing career, check out this post by Brooke, of Mommy In Chief. It rang so true for me, as I'm sure it will for any woman who struggles with maintaining more than one title.

No one said this was going to be easy. But, I am having a blast figuring it all out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Murder, Monsters, Mamma Mia, and Motherhood

There is a reason I try not to say things like, "You'll understand when you have kids", other than the fact that it's obnoxious My motivation in avoiding such clichés is that now that I'm a mother, I don't always feel a sense of being let into an exclusive society and finally having access to their secrets, like I thought I would. In fact, in my experience, some of the old standards put pressure on me to feel things that I just...didn't.

For example, that tried and true cliché about looking into your newborn's face for the first time and "feeling a love you never thought was possible" did a fine job of triggering paroxysms of guilt and panic when, in place of that all-consuming love I was meant to feel, was an overwhelming sense of confusion. Maybe it was the drugs, but my foggy head was so busy trying to piece the puzzle together, it didn't really have time to bask in my daughter's glory. In the midst of the "Wait. This is MY baby. It's over? Placenta, what? You're putting stitches WHERE? Oh, right. I have a baby. I should be feeding her. With my boob? Huh?" madness, I had an unsettling revelation:

Love! I'm supposed to be loving her. It's supposed to be core-shaking! Earth-shattering! Where's all the love?

And I didn't cry. I thought I would cry.

In the days that followed, I was so preoccupied with making sure Charlotte was breathing at all times by employing a regimented schedule of staring at her and arranging for someone else to stare at her while I napped, I didn't have time to feel the love! And then there was the jaundice to consider. Not to mention changing the ice packs stuffed down my hospital-issued-granny-panties.

It wasn't until much later and after talking to others about their experiences that I realized I was normal. A friend of mine told me that when they handed her her first son in the hospital, she looked at him, then at the nurse, and said, "What do I do now?". I think that's how we all feel the first time around. And it's normal. And all that fear and anxiety and watching our babies breathe with our hearts in our throats, IS the love.

I digress. My point is that I don't tell people how they will feel or what they will or will not understand when they have kids, because I honestly have no clue. They might greet their new baby with a deluge of love and groovy vibes, and anxiety will be nowhere to be found. Or maybe they will, unlike me, find breastfeeding to be the magical bonding experience of their fantasies. Maybe they won't want to have sex with their husbands for a year, or maybe they'll be marking off with a big, red pen each day on the calendar that stands between them and the six-week green light. Maybe they will co-sleep, or maybe they, like me and Chris, will be at their wit's end and Ferberize the hell out of their kid. There is just no way of knowing.

But, there is one thing that I have found to be a constant amongst the mommies and daddies I know, and that is a marked difference in how one views music, movies, and other media upon becoming a parent. When I was pregnant with Charlotte, I was out with a friend. We had just dropped her kids off at her parents' house where they would be spending the weekend. On the way home, we listened to the Mamma Mia! soundtrack, and when the song Meryl Streep sings about her daughter and how quickly she's grown came on, my friend's finger was already on the skip button. She told me she had a hard time listening to that song, especially when she wasn't with her daughter. I must have nodded and said "Oh" or something equally profound. But on the inside, I was rolling my eyes. Cut to me this afternoon as I hear two notes of the song and promptly change it because I don't want to be forced to think about the day my daughter will grow up and get married, and I REALLY don't want to think about the fact that it will be here before I know it.

I mentioned this phenomena to that same friend after we watched a movie wherein the main character loses her mother as a small child. I found myself fighting tears while watching her clutch her mother's possessions to her heart and other such maudlin gestures, because the thought of not being there for my little girl killed me. My friend told me that she experienced a similar breakdown while watching Titanic. While I was caught up in the Kate and Leo teenage hysteria, my friend had just given birth to her first son, and the image of watching a mother tuck her children into beds on a sinking ship was more than she could handle. I read in a fellow mommy's blog once, that she had sympathy for the Cloverfield monster, once she learned that it was just a baby monster who was looking for his mother.

And then there is my mother, who says that she had to stop reading her beloved True Crime books when she had me. Reading about deceit, lies, and homicide was exhilarating for her. But, as a mommy, every victim in every book became her daughter, and she had to quit cold turkey.

Maybe this is one things all parents can agree on. But, probably not. I'm sure for every person that sees their child's face on the screen of every horror movie, there are five who can easily separate their real life from the lives of those they read about in books or hear about in songs. And, that's just fine.

But, I'm curious as to what you guys think about this topic. If you have kids, did your perceptions change? What surprised you? If you don't have kids, what expectations do you have, and what are you excited/terrified about?

Speak up!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ode on a Mexican Husband

Today, Chris and I have been married for six years.

I met Chris through our friend, Valeri, over eleven years ago. He was older than me and unlike any guy I had ever met. He wore black eyeliner and a fishing hat with patches and pins advertising his love for bands like The Cure and Pink Floyd. His cut-off thrift store slacks grazed the top of his beat-up combat boots. There was something very striking about his physical appearance, too. Chris’s face was, and still is, perfectly outlined by his jet-black goatee and naturally arched eyebrows. He has beautiful, chocolate-brown eyes and longer lashes than any man should be allowed to have.

I was instantly attracted to him, and by the end of the night, my crush was out of control. We spent the evening with our mutual friends, but, at least for me, they faded into the background as I tried to impress him with my proficiency for the Kevin Bacon game and watched him drink coffee, holding his mug with fingers adorned with chipped, black nail polish. One of the things that struck me about him was his unabashed confidence and propensity to speak his mind, no matter how unpopular the contents of that mind may make him. To this day, it is one of the most inspiring and wonderful things about him (even when his irreverent humor sometimes embarrasses the hell out of me).

Chris and I became friends at first, the difference in our ages being an obstacle to becoming anything more. I tried to convince him, first by merciless flirting, later with outright begging (I know. Sexy, right?) that we should be together. And even though he rejected me, began to see someone else, we remained friends. We had an unmistakable bond that began the night we met, sitting across from one another in that crappy coffee shop, and it continued to grow over the months. We had late-night conversations in the car, hastily pulled over just blocks away from our friends’ houses, knowing that we would not be able to talk so freely and intimately once we were in their company.

The months leading up to the day he finally kissed me sitting on the green couch in my mother’s house were heart-wrenching for me. They were filled with longing, mixed signals, compliments, presents, and rejection. The fact is that we were falling in love, but being six years my senior, Chris tried to do the right thing by pushing me away. And when he finally gave in, there were many obstacles. There was the day he angrily stormed out of his mother’s house when she tried to convince him to break up with me. As he drove away, she yelled after him, “She can’t even get into a rated R movie!”. That was a bad day. There was the day my mom had to defend her decision to let me date a boy who could buy alcohol to my relatives. She was exhausted after a day of explaining what a good kid he was, how mature I was for my age, before ultimately throwing up her hands and letting them think what they wanted. That was a rough day, too. Mostly for her, I imagine. And then there were the many periods of doubt on my end. I had the damned bad luck to fall in love with my perfect match far too early, and I had to wrestle with the urges to experiment, to date other people, while the person I wanted (No, NEEDED) to be with gave me his blessing, letting go of my hand patiently and lovingly, telling me to do what I needed to do. If you love something, set it free.

In the end, I never left. I couldn’t. And now? Now the woman who once wanted to save her son from me and my wily, under aged ways, she loves me, I think. And I love her. And we drink wine together. I watch her play with her granddaughter, my daughter, and I can’t believe how far we’ve come. Now, Chris, once a sexual deviant preying on an innocent young girl, is the golden boy in my family. They love him for the way he takes care of me, his daughter, all of us. They love him because he’s polite, but sarcastic ( a must in my family), and because he makes them laugh and takes the garbage out.

For the past six years, I have not doubted, not once, that I was with the right person. I get to wake up every day, supremely confident that I made the right choice and grateful that he did, too. In the past six years we have partied together, laughed together, fought with one another, lost grandparents together, a baby. We have watched hours upon hours of television, laughing at the jokes before they happen because we’ve seen this episode so many times. We’ve moved away, gone to college, went to fancy restaurants, museums, gone hiking, and spent the day in our pajamas.

We had a baby together.

Nothing has made me more sure that my marriage is anything less than fate ( a concept I don’t even believe in) than the experience of bringing Charlotte into this world with my husband. It has been the most stressful time of our lives. The lack of sleep, the compromised sex life, the hormones (Oh, the hormones!), the body image issues, the doubt, the frustration, it has all taken its toll. But, getting through all that, supporting each other, stepping up to the plate when the other has just been clobbered by the bat, these things test us, but ultimately make us stronger. And the moments of darkness are no match for the sheer elation at watching our perfect little girl tearing around the house, giggling as she knocks over cups of water, pulls books off the shelf, and eats Cheerios she finds on the floor. Of all the things we have done together, my favorite is racing each other down the hall to be the first to rescue Charlotte from her crib when she wakes up.

Last night my mom and her fiancé watched Charlotte so we could go out to dinner. We drank martinis and talked for hours. It was the first time in a while that we were able to be away from the baby, away from the T.V., buzzing on gin and enjoying each other’s company. It was wonderful. And even though we spent half the time talking about the baby, even though we missed her when we got home and she was asleep, we needed that. We stayed up long after we got home, long after the baby went to bed, talking some more and drinking champagne. And this morning, we played peekaboo with our daughter. The perfect mixture of the old us and the new us.

Happy anniversary, Chris. I love you.