Bite From the Magic Apple

Apple with a bite taken out of it.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

A Recipe for Parenting Panache

Exhausted. Cranky. Worn down, worn out, used up.

Kids at the table bossy and ungrateful, impolite and obnoxious.

The Birthday Girl and Agent 006 are already snarling at each other over the breakfast cereal. I am parenting alone, again, unloading the dishwasher and delivering delayed eggs to the table. I have twice already invoked my ironclad rule of home dining—only polite and grateful children permitted at my table—and sent the children to their room for a time out. Now they are back; they don’t realize it is their father’s absence that is making them feel grumpy and out of sorts. They think it is my fault. I need an ally. Out of desperation, I start grumbling to the apple in my hand. Continue reading

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A Mother’s Day

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11:00 p.m., Mother’s Day Eve–I creep into my children’s bedroom to take my son’s temperature as he sleeps. He tosses his head irritably away from the thermometer, but I still get a read. 101.7, down from 102.5. According to Tripit my Fictional Husband is about to board a preposterously tiny plane from Frankfurt to Dusseldorf, so it’s down to me if the fever spikes. Still, I think it’s safe for me to go to sleep at last.

4:00 a.m., Mother’s Day–Dink dink dink dink thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk. The Birthday Girl comes scattering into my room, followed closely by her big brother. We all cuddle for a little bit in the big bed, then I lead & carry them back to their beds. I know I’m going to need my sleep for 1-2 sick children, wide awake in just a few more hours. I tuck them in and lay with my hot boy until he falls back asleep.

(I find out later that he had woken up scared in the middle of the night, crying. Me sound asleep at the other end of the house. “What did you do?” I ask. “I called for my sister. She woke up and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I told her I was scared to go through the dark house. She said, ‘Come on, I’ll take you.'” And so the three-year old led the six-year old safely through the frightful night.)

6:00 a.m. The Birthday Girl totters into my bedroom, crawls up in bed with me, and falls promptly back to sleep. She’s too tired from night duty to even cuddle.

6:45 a.m. Agent 006 is back. He comes in loud, in his hands a homemade card. I’m so touched I just hold it and gaze at him, stroking his arm, now thankfully a bit cooler. Finally he says, “Cards open, you know!” so I sheepishly open the card. It’s double-layered, one page from my son and the other from my daughter, facilitated by the babysitter who’s been taking care of our kids since she was twelve and is going off to college at the end of the summer.

We read the card together, Agent 006 lying next to me for the barest minute. Then he leaps out of bed and my eyes drift closed again. I dream to the metallic clatter and bang of vigorous kitchen activity. A short while later, he comes back in, two bowls sliding precariously on the cookie tray he’s carrying. In one bowl are washed cherry tomatoes. The other bowl has a grapefruit, crookedly sawed in half, each triangle of fruit carefully loosened with the grapefruit knife.

Over a three-way breakfast he narrates making breakfast for me, how he knew I wasn’t eating wheat so he couldn’t make toast, and he couldn’t toast it anyway since he’s not allowed to use anything that makes heat. I love hearing the rambling story of how he arrived at grapefruit–which he could only cut with the grapefruit knife, since he’s not allowed to use other knives unsupervised–and cherry tomatoes for breakfast. Sweetest of all he said,
“At first I thought my fever would ruin Mother’s Day for me because then the mom would have to take care of the kid and it’s supposed to be the other way around, and Mother’s Day only happens once a year! But I got rid of it.”

8:30 a.m. Breakfast entertainment over, facing a long Sunday with a still slightly feverish boy and energetic little girl. Grass is still wet outside, so I start by showing the kids selected shorts from the Ironman movies, just the lab scenes where Tony Stark is inventing or trying out his new suits.

9:30 a.m. Run the hose to the sandbox, where Agent 006 constructs a river and dam in spite of his sister’s interference. I finally get her productively engaged at the outdoor easel. She starts with blue and yellow, and suddenly shouts, “Green!” Her brother overheats, so I set him up inside with a bath and the audiobook The Cricket in Times Square, which we got from the library.

11:30 a.m. Sister joins brother in the bath, mostly for the pleasure of splashing or talking over the story.

11:45 a.m. Two children crying in the bathroom. Agent 006 is cold and miserable. The Birthday Girl is rejected and miserable. Really, they’re both just hungry and I’m late with lunch, instead arranging stems in the annual Mother’s Day garden bouquet.

© amomnextdoor, 2013

© amomnextdoor, 2013

12:00 p.m. Kids gobbling the carrots, hummus, olives and cucumbers I have slapped on their plates while I finish boiling water for pesto tortellini. They are quiet. We are officially halfway through the day.

1:00 p.m. I tuck the Birthday Girl into her bed and set  Agent 006 up on the couch with plenty of blankets and books, hoping that in separate rooms they might both actually sleep. I am the only one who manages to nap, a refreshing 45 minutes of silence in the house–the outer limit of my children’s capacity to control their need to be with me every instant of the day. But their long experience with awakening Tired Grumpy Mama prematurely has actually taught them to enjoy having some down time to themselves, so “Rest Time” is now officially established for the summer and for ever.

3:00 p.m. More movie time. Yep. Again. This time they watch by themselves while I get the audiofile of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban set up on my iPhone, since I’ll no doubt have Agent 006 home from school with me tomorrow, and Cricket will be done by 9:51 a.m. Normally a work day for me, but maybe the sitter can watch both kids here while I barricade myself in the studio to get some needed revisions done on my manuscript.

4:00 Sitter cancels. She’s afraid of fevers.

4:01 We all watch a consolation movie together, Monsters vs. Aliens. I have not previewed this movie, and would prefer that my children had never seen agents entering a secure facility via “butt scan,” but…the homemade popcorn is good.

5:10 We all pile in the car to go get take-out Indian. I have a coupon–the curry will last for days of no cooking. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, both my children put on their shoes and are waiting by the door when I ask them to get ready. I am floored. Cabin fever?

6:30 Back outside after dinner. Agent 006 falling apart and Birthday Girl having a tantrum. Lack of naps is showing all around. I bring the boy inside and tuck him into bed. Tantrum continues outside.

6:32 Sudden silence.

6:33 “Mama?” from outside.

6:33 Two large soft poops on patio by easel. I lead a dismayed and distressed three-year old inside to the potty.

6:35 Both children brushing their teeth, in bed.

7:00 Agent 006 laments his day as I snuggle with him in bed. “That was my worst Mother’s Day ever! We couldn’t do anything fun because I was sick.” “Well, I had fun,” I tell him. “Really? What made it fun for you?” he asks, genuinely surprised and relieved. “I think it was fun because we all just did whatever we needed to do in that moment.” My son feels the truth of this in his body, which relaxes against mine. I kiss his brow and climb into bed with the Birthday Girl. She hooks her hand around my bicep to draw me closer. I feel her eyelashes on my collarbone. She rubs her feet together against my shins, just the way I rub my own feet together to soothe myself to sleep. (Note to self: Cut children’s toenails tomorrow.) “I love you,” I whisper. “I love you, too,” she whispers back. “Happy birthday.”

It has been a good day.

 

This Happens to Me Every Year

Mother's Day flowers for you, in case everyone else forgot... ©amomnextdoor, 2012

Mother’s Day flowers for you, in case everyone else forgot… ©amomnextdoor, 2012

Once again, alone on Mother’s Day. Alone with my two young children, that is. My Fictional Husband (FH) has gallivanted off to Europe for business, and just about now is probably stepping bleary-eyed and crick-backed from one plane to another. My son went to bed with a fever of 102.5, and we three–the Birthday Girl, Agent 006 and I–are home alone together all day tomorrow, for Mother’s Day.

My FH kept asking me what I wanted for Mother’s Day and I confess I was unable to come up with a good answer. Am I supposed to want to glory in my motherhood, the fevered whining and competitive bids for negative attention from little sister? Or am I supposed to want a break from it all, all the everything I normally carry? And if that’s what I want, who’s going to give it to me?

I’ll settle for a healing full night’s sleep and maybe a side of epiphany. Since I’m too busy momming to come up with anything new for this year’s Hallmark Moment, I’ll have to settle for regurgitating past miracles of wisdom. I write to remember what I know, and this is all I’ve got so far–some of my favorite posts about being a mom, in case you haven’t had a chance to see them yet:

Lao-Tzu Was Never a Mother

Rage, or the Distress Call of the Modern Mother

Ten Things She Can Do For Herself: Apologize (Less)

or simply, The List

Two and the Double Negative

Me! Too!

The Smile That Saves

The Mother’s Day That Didn’t Happen, and the One That Did

For all you moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day! If you’ve got a favorite post about being a mom on your blog or someone else’s, please post a link in the comments below. I’m probably going to need it.

Imaginary Conversations With My Fictional Husband

A room of my very own, in the beginning     © amomnextdoor

A room of my very own, in the beginning © amomnextdoor

I think he said to me once, As long as you can cover the cost of childcare.

Another time he referred to my writing as a “hobby,” but a severe weather system moved in after that, and the thunderstorm that followed obliterated the word entirely from his vocabulary, if not his thoughts. I am the stay-at-home mom of two children under seven—I HAVE no hobbies. If I am writing, it is a necessary act. But how to get him to understand that—this man who reads neither packages nor instructions nor street signs? A steady diet of work emails, the New York Times and the occasional Lee Child bestseller does not exactly constitute a rich and vibrant literary life, from which to judge my scribblings.

But why have they come up for judgment at all? Another time, when a last minute business trip meant I wouldn’t be able to attend my writing group, I told him that I didn’t want my career to always come second to his when making decisions about our time and priorities, just because I earn less money than he does (in fact, at this point in my writing career, no money at all). He conceded the point, but objected to my use of the word “career.” A career denotes a salary, set responsibilities, a defined position in some organization. What you have, he said, is a business. Much as I hate the term, I conceded his point.

So now I am working on a business plan. And the first question that rises in me, like hot magma or the fury of Yansá, is this: why is it my job to cover the cost of childcare? When we married, I was working full time; my husband was jobless and getting his MBA. We paid for his education. Our child was born. I gave up my teaching career and salary, and instead worked full time from home taking care of our child, our house, and him, while he started two businesses. I was not compensated financially for this work. He did not claim the cost of childcare as a business expense.

(A mild digression, since I fear you may be asking, Who is this guy, anyway? I actually have some trouble naming this character–my husband–so central to my life. Many mommy blogs refer to a “DH”, or Dear Husband, but I am put off by the subtle implication of sarcasm in the word “Dear.” Especially since the term most often comes into play when referencing said character’s propensity to throw his dirty socks into the laundry hamper inside out, or put the can opener away in the wrong place. My personal nickname for my husband is the Big Man, because he measures in at a broad-shouldered 6’3”, can carry anything, takes good care of me, and scares the cat. But “The Big Man” has Orwellian overtones and an unfortunate acronym. I could call him more affectionately my BM, and that would be appropriate in so many ways, perfectly capturing the occasional constipation and effort of marriage, but new readers of my blog would definitely get the wrong idea.

I’d settle for Fictional Husband, FH for short, but that might lead some people to question whether this man—who dedicates his life to building wealth for his family, loving his children, and pleasing his wife—actually exists. I really do have a husband, it’s not just a blogosphere fantasy, but I guess it turns out that I’m also a bit of a bigamist. I’ve taken a second husband here in these pages and posts, an absolutely essential member of our family. My Fictional Husband, who does not, actually, exist or say and do all the things I report here, takes the rap for the man I love and married first. My FH is a necessary construct, because this society that underpays its women, undervalues its children, fails to protect and nourish its most disadvantaged members, has banned Art from its soul to worship Money instead—this society comes down pretty hard on both of us sometimes, and I won’t let that confine me, hurt him, or come between me and the man I love. So my Fictional Husband steps forward here in these posts to take up that burden for both of us.)

But back to money. Because that’s what all this really comes down to: time is money, my time in particular, more valuable than ANY segment of our society ever lets on. How do I carve out and protect time for my writing life, if I am not making money from my writing? How can I legitimately claim this as a valuable use of my time, when there are dishes to be done, bandaids to administer, stressed-out husbands to soothe?

Pat Schneider, founder of the Amherst Writers and Artists movement, gave a talk recently at the Pacific School of Religion about her life’s work and most recent book, How the Light Gets In. She spoke passionately about our culture’s tendency to define as writers only those who have had access to education (and money)—writers with MFA degrees, writers on this list or that list, writers with prizes and incomes and bestsellers. In her book Writing Alone and With Others, she suggests that “Art is the creative expression of the human spirit, and it cannot–it must not, for the sake of the human community–be limited to those few who achieve critical acclaim or financial reward.” (Oxford University Press, 2003).

So many voices are silenced when we believe that to be a writer we must sell our work. There is value in a drawerful of scrawled poems, in a stack of brown journals with black cloth binding, in the lists layered on a kitchen door, in the bits and pieces of blogs. And as women who write, we MUST believe that this activity–this art–is worth our time. We must tell that story–we must sell that story–to the men we marry, the men on the committee for the National Endowment for the Arts, the men in the legislature who decide how much money to spend on supporting the arts in our society, and to the children who want their diaper changed, or help with their homework, or another glass of water.

Ursula Le Guin writes in her essay “The Fisherwoman’s Daughter,” (Dancing at the Edge of the World, Grove Press, 1989) that “the artist with the least access to social or aesthetic solidarity or approbation has been the artist-housewife. A person who undertakes responsibility both to her art and to her dependent children…has undertaken a full-time double job that can be simply, practically, destroyingly impossible….the difficulty of trying to be responsible, hour after hour day after day for maybe twenty years, for the well-being of children and the excellence of books, is immense: it involves an endless expense of energy and an impossible weighing of competing priorities.”

I am lucky in my husbands, Fictional and real. They have worked hard to overcome the training they’ve received at the hands of our society, “the spite that so often a man is allowed to hold, trained to hold, against anything a woman does that’s not done in his service, for him, to feed his body, his comfort, his kids.” (Le Guin, 1989) Like many artists, I expect “to work against the total, rational indifference of everybody else” in the world, but at least I do not have to work against a “daily, personal, vengeful resistance.” (Le Guin, 1989) I have a husband who recognizes that I am a writer, and that writers must write. He has built for me a room of my own. There may be days when he wonders what I have done with my time, why the rice is burnt and the laundry festering in baskets. But like Le Guin’s husband, he brings to our marriage “an assumption of mutual aid,” (Le Guin, 1989) which daily brings to life the epigraph we chose for our wedding invitations:

“And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone”

Robert Frost, “The Tuft of Flowers

To my Fictional Husband, and the real man who stands behind him, to all you stay-at-home moms and dads who managed to post to your blog today, to the art that feeds us and sustains us, that challenges and defines us, I dedicate this moment of my time.

Thank you for reading, for this moment of your time.

Spring Break Blues

Or, Didn’t Children Used to Keep Themselves Busy?DSC_0150

This is my third time through elementary school. I went through myself as a child, then I taught for ten years, and now I’m back in first grade again, as the parent of a first grader. I’m pleased by the promotion to first grade, because it means I’ve been at this elementary-school-parenting thing for two years now, and for me the second time around at anything is always better than the first.

At least this time I knew enough to be afraid of Spring Break. See, I’m an 80% stay-at-home mom. Eighty percent of the time, I can pretty much be and do whatever my kids and family and home need from me. And eighty percent of the time, being with my kids at home is just what I need and want, too. It’s the other twenty percent we all have to watch out for. If we’re lucky, I’ve managed to time my childcare and work just right, to coincide with those days when I really shouldn’t be anywhere near children, especially not my own. Continue reading

Motherhood: The Vacuum Cleaner Diet

or, A Diet Better Nutrition for Busy Parents

Photo by Rich Pompetti

What would you grab first? (Photo by Rich Pompetti)

Okay, I’m not about to tell you that housecleaning will get you in the best shape ever. I’m the mom whose vacuum cleaner sits stoicly in the corner of the pantry, waiting in vain to rescue our Pergo from its filmy scrud. My kitchen floor boasts layers of archaeologic proportions. I try not to sweep until everything is nice and crusty: sodden gloms of noodles and dirt gross me out, especially when I have to actually bend over to remove them by hand from the broom bristles. But inevitably, a stowaway disk of flattened food will stick to the bottom of my shoe—or worse, my bare heel—depositing smashed peas and streaks of ketchup all over the house, where they will slyly collect cat hair and dust until someone more industrious than me finally swipes them up with a rag.

The filthy underside of this mom gig I have...© 2013, amomnextdoor

The filthy underside of this mom gig I have…
© 2013, amomnextdoor

Continue reading

The Smile That Saves

Aside

Honey honey

Honey honey (Photo credit: weirdfishes/arpeggi ( Ashnaa Rabbani ))

The Husband is still traveling (eighteen days out of thirty-one this month, back and forth three times!), and I find myself turning for encouragement to stories I wrote down last year, at this same juncture. Every time dad comes home and then leaves again, I discover anew the big difference between being a stay-at-home parent, and a left-at-home parent.

Number Two demanded eleven time-outs before noon today, and we reached the developmental limits of Five’s long-suffering stoicism just a few hours after that. It feels good to remember how much more impossible it was to be the left-at-home when my kids were Four and One. Here’s a little something from way back when.

Date: Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time: 7:27 p.m. PT; 4:38 a.m. in Dusseldorf

Subject: Hard day

<mamabee@yahoo.com> wrote:

Hi Honey,

I couldn’t do this without my children. Each of them, in turn, sustains me. And this trip, for the first time, they comfort me together. They don’t mean to be a comfort to me, but they can’t help it.

It’s hard when I know that I am scary to my children. I’m not frying-pan scary—I hope you know this by now—but there are days, and sometimes days and days, when I simply cannot find my smile. When I scold my daughter for being hungry, or awake, just because I am tired, or covered in yogurt. Or when Four backs himself into another corner and all I can do is growl in vindicated satisfaction.

But these two children have come into my life to teach me how to live. Let go. Be in the moment. Do less. Say what’s in your heart. Sleep when you can. If you can’t sleep, rest. Step back. Accept forgiveness.

What broke my heart today? The way Four translated for and defended his sister: Mom, she just wants her own spoon. Her advocate. Came up to me and laid his palm on my cheek: Everything’s okay, Mom. Then goes and whispers in his sister’s ear, glancing sideways at me with a look somehow wicked and serious at the same time. And One, not getting the joke, huffing her imitative, infectious laugh.

Me, suspicious, asking: What are you two up to?

Oh, Mom. We’re just planning to poop at the same time.

And then the smile bubbles up inside me, the smile I’ve been waiting for all day, the smile I so desperately needed, the smile that will save us from me.

Everything will be okay.

Love,

Me

Two and the Double Negative

At Two, my daughter is queen and conqueror of the word “No,” but its repetition gets old pretty fast, even for her. At snack time yesterday:

Two: Me cack koos?

Me: You want some crackers?

Two: No cack koos.

Me: You don’t want crackers?

Two: No, cack koos!

Me: You do want some crackers.

Two: No cack koos!!

Me: Oh, I see, there are no crackers in the cup. Do you want some more crackers?

Two: No cack koos.

Me: That’s right, there are no cack koos, I mean, crackers, in the cup. (pause) Do you want some crackers?

Two: No cack koos.

Me: You don’t want crackers?

Two: No, cack koos.

Me: Do you, or don’t you want crackers?!

Two: No cack koos.

Me: Okay, you don’t want crackers.

Two: No, cack koos!!

Me: You do want crackers!

Two: NO! No cack koos!

Me: Ohhh! You want new crackers. We don’t have any new crackers. We have the old kind of crackers. Do you want some old crackers?

Two: No no cack koos?

Me: That’s right, there are no new crackers. Do-you-want-to-eat-some-crackers-yes-or-no?

Two: (definitively handing me the empty cracker cup) No, please. Thank you.

Ten Things She Can Do For Herself: Apologize (less)

Part I: Apologize (Less)

I still recall with great tenderness the woman I became upon the arrival of my firstborn. Suddenly dependent, physically limited by recovery from birth, exhaustion and my inexperience with the quotidian tasks of caring for a newborn, hormonally irrational, new in my marriage…this fragile woman had none of the competence or independence by which I defined myself professionally for so many years. Yet, in those first two weeks before I slipped on some Baby Blues and skidded into a downward spiral of post-partum depression and marital confusion, I had a laugh like none other. My newborn son, belly to belly with me, delighted in the great rolling laughter that shook through his mama from her breath to her bones.

I still have days when I feel like I have lost my smile. A grimness settles over me when I know I have deeply failed my children. I recently read that having a reason to rage does not give me the right. I know this. But there are days when I still do not know what to do with the rage that overwhelms me when my children choose escalation and I can’t unstick the conflict. I’m not Cast-Iron-Skillet crazy, but I can tell from the look in my children’s eyes that even Get-to-Your-Room-Now-and-Stay-There-So-Help-Me! disturbs and intrigues them in ways I would prefer not to repeat. They simply don’t realize what I am trying to save when I-Have-Had-Enough! Continue reading

Rage, or the Distress Call of the Modern Mother

I write to remember what I know. Recently a mom in my Mother’s Club posted a distress call on our online chat board. After watching her two young children all week and through most of the weekend, she became inexplicably enraged at her husband, innocently returning from his relaxing three-hour Sunday workout. She abashedly described herself as screaming, name-calling, slamming things around and basically engaging in an entirely unprovoked adult temper tantrum.

Boy, did reading her post take me back to the days! The last one was about two weeks ago, in fact. Her question to us was: What to do? But I think the more important question is: Why? Continue reading