A Mother’s Day Even Anne Lamott Could Love

Every year my Facebook feed is fed with a piece of writing from Anne Lamott about Mother’s Day and why she hates it. The essay, uncharacteristically bitter, was  originally published in Salon in 2010. I’m a fan of Lamott and always read the piece when it turns up, even though she sounds like Lewis Black instead of herself. In truth, I agree with most of the essay, but her vitriol is off-putting, and I disagree passionately with parts. By the end, I feel like I’ve been served what might have been a lovely soup were it not peppered with flies. It almost makes me want to throw out my dog-eared copy of her wonderful book Bird by Bird. 

How can I explain? Let me try an anecdote. When I was in high school, I was nominated to be homecoming queen. (Please don’t hold this against me. That was nearly 25 years ago, and this will be the first and last you hear of it.) Anyway, when I ended up “winning,” for lack of a better word, I didn’t think I was better than everyone, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good. The first thing my boyfriend at the time said to me when I walked off the football field was, “You can take that crown off your head now.” He looked disgusted.

That boyfriend made me feel foolish. I’m sure that was precisely the intent, to knock me off my high horse even though I wasn’t trying to ride one. Anne Lamott’s essay has that same feel. Don’t get me wrong: That’s not the only thing that bugs me about it. There’s something very modern-age playground about her message that rubs me wrong, too. I see an aspiration of equality that borders on dystopia.

And yet…

I can’t NOT read the piece every year when I see it. I love giant chunks of it, enough that I want to overlook the rest. Why throw out the baby with the bathwater? Here is the part that reads like gospel to me:

“I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. There is no refuge — not at the horse races, movies, malls, museums. Even the turn-off-your-cellphone announcer is going to open by saying, ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ You could always hide in a nice seedy bar, I suppose. Or an ER.”

Sing it, sister. Amen.

The thing is, I don’t believe that the answer is to lay waste to Mother’s Day. Trust me, I’m not just saying this because I can’t let go of a designated day to be woken up extra early by elated kids stomping on my full bladder, bearing undercooked scrambled eggs and wildly inflated expectations for all the fun I’m going to have with them from dawn to dusk. Nor is it because I enjoy figuring out the logistics of both having and being a mother that day. It’s because of precisely what Lamott says: It CAN be done a better way. Why not try?

Motherhood is big, complex, and many-tentacled. It comes in many shapes. It does have dark sides. It can cause grief. But in honoring those who have experienced that darkness and grief, I don’t think we need to diminish anyone else’s light and joy.

This all leads me to the show I’ll be participating in this Mother’s Day. The Listen to Your Mother Show bills itself as “giving motherhood a microphone.” Reading Lamott’s piece, I wonder what preconceived notions people might have about this show. Will they be surprised that at least two of the thirteen cast members don’t have kids? How could they anticipate the anything-but-sappy piece about one cast member’s complex and disconnected relationship with her mother? Lord knows I never anticipated so much of what I heard when I sat in the audience in the past, stories of miscarriage, infidelity, sexuality, faith, travel, hilarity, and all sorts of things that don’t neatly fit into any category or onto a Hallmark greeting card.

I’m happy to be part of such an inclusive Mother’s Day experience. I think it at least begins to answer Lamott’s call for a different way to do this thing (in ways that I agree have merit): It does not pretend motherhood is all one way or another. It does not pretend that those with kids are more important than those without. It shines light on the great mess of paths leading into and out of this THING that is so tangled up in our identities. I don’t know how anyone could feel left out. And that’s the kind of Mother’s Day I can be proud to celebrate.

Posted in motherhood | 3 Comments

Nothing a Little Lube Can’t Fix!

Even the happiest and best-paired of husbands and wives sometimes have drastic disconnects. My husband and I are generally two peas in a pod. We’re a nice mix of similarity and complement, and this generally keeps our boat floating, even in the worst of circumstances — like when he was deployed to the Middle East while our daughter was a toddler. Sometimes, though, like with any other marriage, we can have the most ridiculous disconnects. Case in point:

Our daughter is set to be the Child of the Week this week at her preschool. This dubious honor roughly translates into Make More Work for Mom Week. While our daughter gets to revel in such rapturous treats as being at the front of the line all week, having control over the classroom light switch during recess, and sitting up front with the teachers during circle time, for me, it means making a “special snack” for the whole class, orchestrating a surprise drop-in from a “special visitor” for her before the week’s end, and helping her create a “special poster” to share with the class that tells them more about her life. Aside from their obvious abuse of the word “special,” the preschool really can’t be held responsible for the grief this event is causing my family. How were they to know that it would coincide with our 11-week-old getting a ruptured eardrum?

After many days of crying, difficult bedtimes, fussy daytimes, and bobbing on and off the breast, my son managed to get through to the mother intuition that I didn’t even think I possessed. (Who can blame me? Our firstborn was an equal-opportunity crybaby, with a scream as shrill for I Don’t Like the View from this Carseat as it was for I Just Rolled Off the Bed and Onto My Face on the Wood Floor.) At any rate, I just got to thinking yesterday that the baby might be coming down with something. My husband confirmed my hunch with his otoscope, glimpsing blood and what appeared to be a rupture in my son’s right eardrum. Probably from our airplane descent last week.

As I was trying to deal with the fussy baby yesterday, I was also trying to help our four-year-old create her “special poster” for school. Being the Child of the Week is an event that comes only once a year for each student, so it’s a big deal. But I had no intention of trying to best any of the other mom’s gratuitious attempts to make their children look like professional archivers with an uncanny mastery of calligraphy. Seriously, I had the notion to just plop our daughter down with some paper, glue, pictures, and crayons, and let her have at it. But I knew it was important to her that I help, and the kid can’t exactly choose pictures off our computer to print, so she and I sat down together for an hour yesterday and carefully went through our digital photos. She meticulously picked which ones she wanted to include — a photo of her first day holding her brother, one of her cat that died this past summer, one of her climbing a tree with her Grandma, etc. Every picture had a “special” story to tell. When all was said and done, she had about 35 pictures selected. I hit print, and then learned that our printer was out of red ink.

At this point, the baby was crying for the umpteenth time, and because I’d been up much of the prior night nursing and comforting him, my energy was wearing out. But my husband had done all the holding that could help, so I had to take back the baby while my husband ran out to Walgreen’s to buy an ink cartridge. He took our memory stick with him, loading onto it the pictures we needed, just in case the store didn’t have the cartridge.

While he was out, my daughter went to a cookie-decorating party next door. She returned from the party high — absolutely HIGH — on sugar cookies with icing and M&Ms and candy corn. She was the epitome of a whirling dervish. I tried to settle her into working on her poster as her dad began whipping together dinner for us all. The baby was crying again, and I tried to nurse him in a sling as I pulled together the art supplies. “Just have to make it to the end of the day,” I told my heavy eyelids and tired arms, as I opened the Walgreen’s bag and discovered that my husband had printed only about 10 photos.

“Where are the rest of the pictures?” I asked.

“It seemed like too many,” he said, “So, I just printed some of them.”

I think fire shot out of my eyes. It was not that big of a deal, but it was, for some reason, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“You mean we spent ALL that time this afternoon going through those photos for no reason!?” I snarled. “I could kill you!”

Yes, I am that ridiculous right now.

I stomped upstairs and downstairs and through hallways, collecting up the goods for the poster and then remembering that he’d also stopped to buy an ink cartridge somewhere else after all. I went to the bag where I thought the ink cartridge would be, and found instead a shiny new bottle of AstroGlide. Um, yeah. Snowball’s chance in hell.

“You gotta be kidding me,” I said. “You’re out of your mind.”

My husband looked up and saw me holding the bottle, that precious little bottle of hope, and said with a smirk, “What?”

“Do you know what I’m thinking when I see this?” I asked.

“I think so,” he said. “You want to tell me I can go f— myself with it?”

I laughed. That wasn’t what I was thinking at all. I was thinking how much that bottle shouted about the disconnect men and women often experience when a new baby arrives. No, I think it says a lot about the disconnect between men and women, period. Her very sanity is hanging by a thread, and he’s stopping off to buy lube? Did he really think that whole business about breastfeeding drying up cervical mucous was all that stood between us and a night of great sex?

When all was said and done, we had a good laugh about it. My daughter’s poster got finished and had her beaming with pride. My son eventually went to sleep. And my husband and I ended up with a little extra oil to burn. I intend to put it right in the kitchen next to our olive and canola oils, where it has a better chance of being put to some use.

Posted in babies, daughters, education, marriage, motherhood, preschoolers, sexuality | 2 Comments

How to Control Your Hygienist’s Uterus

A gal walks into a dentist’s office. It’s the day of her child’s first-ever filling. This is a child who’s uncontrollably afraid of shots–so afraid she can’t even say the word shot. The child has tried, but before she can get it out, her face goes white as a sheet and she looks like she’s going to pass out. So, this gal who walks into a dentist’s office? She’s a little nervous about the Novacaine shot that’s going to precede her daughter’s fillings. She comforts herself with the signs that remind her it’s a children’s dental center. Of course, children’s dentists are trained to create a magical experience, calling their instruments of torture things like Mr. Thirsty and Little Tickler, words that sound dirty and sexy to adults but like a bucket off mewling kittens to kids.

Still, the gal is anxious that someone’s going to slip and use the word shot. If they do, all hell will break loose. There will be whistle-register shrieking and gnashing (instead of fixing) of the teeth. She watches as the hygienist straps the laughing-gas mask on the child. The gal bites her lip as the hygienest begins detailing for the child what she’s up to, showing off the parts of the machinery and such. Here it comes, the gal thinks. She’s going to say That Word. A thin line of sweat comes trickling over the gal’s eyebrow and into her eye. She’s filled with the dread and with the regret of not having properly warned the staff. Oh, sure they’ve seen “afraid of shots” before, but they’ve never seen it quite like this. Eardrums will be ruptured. The windows will shatter.

Panicked as the hygienist continues explaining the steps to come, the gal grabs a large piece of scrap paper from her purse, rummages out a pen, and quickly scribbles a request. She casually walks over to the hygienist and clears her throat.

“I need you to just take a quick look at this,” the gal says. She shoves the scrap of paper under the hygienist’s nose. The hygienist looks confused, affronted. Is this really so much to ask? the gal wonders. She can already feel the brush-off, the certainty of being dismissed. More aggressively now, she sort of shakes the paper at the hygienist. And with her eyes, not her mouth, she says, Look, honey, register what I’m telling you and heed me before you do something you regret.

Then the gal realizes what she’s used for scrap paper, and that she needs to rotate it counter-clockwise to reveal her handwritten secret message:

At least there was a smiley face on it.

“Ahhh,” says the hygienist to the gal, laughing a little. “We never do that here, not even with the older patients.”

And yes, that gal was me.

Posted in humor, phobias | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

My New Favorite Website

Just a quick plug for my favorite new thing to do while killing time on the Web. Here’s a sample of my handiwork:

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Talking until I’m Smurf Blue in the Face

I’ve watched a lot of Smurfs episodes over the last six or seven months — first, because I was pregnant, nauseated, and loathe to run around playing tag with my daughter, and now, because I’m constantly trying to come up with ways to keep her somewhat entertained while I nurse and coddle the sleepless, barfing changeling I spawned. We’re talking dozens of episodes, repeatedly. As someone who never got to watch Smurfs when I was a kid, I now want to formally thank my parents for not getting cable. Those topless little blue freaks are smurfing annoying.

Now that Smurfs are a part of my oldest’s obsessions, however, they are also a part of our bedtime ritual. I have to make up a story involving them every time I put her to bed. In fact, I have spent many lunchtimes pretending to be one or another of them, as well. Last year (and sometimes still) it was the Care Bears that permeated everything we did together. We’d be playing with her plastic zoo animals, and she’d hold up a wildebeast and an ostrich and say, “Let’s pretend this one’s Funshine, and this one’s Grumpy Bear.” And everything would just devolve from there.

Mostly, she wanted me to make Grumpy Bear do grumpy things. Though now that the Smurfs have edged out the Care Bears, she typically wants me to make Grouchy Smurf do grouchy things, like give other Smurfs shots. Sometimes I’m even asked to have Grouchy Smurf give Funshine Bear a shot, and it’s just so confusing. It’s like one big psychedelic trip into a four-year-old’s twisted imagination.

But I’ve noticed something about what the Smurfs and the Care Bears have done for us. They’ve given us an alternative means of communicating our deepest fears and grievances. While my daughter flagrantly uses them to play out her paralyzing fear of shots, I admit I have totally whored out Grumpy Bear to help my daughter understand ME. I sometimes make him seem like a beaten-down soul. When Smurfette gives Grumpy Bear a hug, he softens up a little and explains to her what a terrible day he’s had and how he’s just feeling grumpy because he’s so tired and gotten so run down by Funshine Bear’s incessant talking. Most of my snarky subtext goes over her head, and she gains a little empathy for crabby buttheads in the process, so it’s therapeutic for both of us.

I’m surprised these pretend-play games have done what they’ve done for our relationship, because I’ve otherwise concluded that words have almost zero impact on young children. I can tell my daughter that I love her a zillion times a day, and, God, how passionately I do, but my doing so does just about nothing to take the edge off the fact that I have barely spent a quality minute with her on days like today. And similarly, I can speak to my seven-week-old in the most adoring tone you can imagine, but we all know he could really give a shit what garble is coming out of that toothy hole in my face. He just wants it to shape itself into a smile. While I hold him. And hold him. And nurse him. And hold him. I can talk to him sweetly until I’m Smurf blue in the face, but it’s the caress he’s seeking, the nourishment, the human touch. My nearly five-year-old is not all that different.

Originally published 2009 JLF and the Momplex Blog

Posted in babies, breastfeeding, daughters, marriage, mood issues, motherhood, preschoolers | Leave a comment

The Season’s Hottest New Accessory: My Kid!

At first, I thought that my new baby was kind of cramping my style. I’m literally talking style, because I gained 50 pounds this pregnancy. How does one dress herself when she’s no longer with child and is instead with all the Saltines and root beer she ate over the previous 39 weeks? Not very fashionably, I’ll tell you that. Fortunately, the only way my new baby will stop crying is coiled like a potato bug inside a sling I wear all day long. And seriously, wearing your baby is, like, all the rage these days. I’m super-trendy.

Sadly, my baby likes to be worn in an elasticized black Infantino sling. I don’t mind it so much, but I can tell this sling does not impress the baby-wearing set in our hippie-dippy town. It practically shouts, “I shop at Target and won’t fork out more than $29.95 for my child’s faux womb!” I guess that’s better than the statment I’d make were I sporting an itchy Guatemalan-inspired ring sling in a fabric that doesn’t match anything but Birkenstocks and leg hair. You know, the sort that shouts to the world, “I use all-natural deodorant made from soy and Ralph Nader spittle, and intend to feed my child on demand until he’s 33!”

sling

“THIS is what you’re going to wear to the party?”

Did I say that out loud? Sorry. Clearly I’m getting a little tired of the hard-core baby-wearing set. I do actually enjoy being able to get our little potato bug to sleep in the sling. And it’s not terribly inconvenient having him close to me while I take care of people and things that would otherwise be left to mold, cry, or pile up. But frankly, I’m not trying to be part of an anti-establishment parenting faction. I’m not trying to make some sort statement with my sling.  It would be more truthful to say my son is making one. He does not want any other sling, damnit. He wants the Infantino.

So, he happens to heavily favor a cheap sling that isn’t popular with the aforementioned cult. Many of whom continue to treat me as if I’m some sort of greenhorn that needs to be guided toward a finer baby-wearing device. (And let me just clarify here that by “finer,” I actually mean a carrier that’s more primitive: The more it emulates something worn in the rice paddies, the better.)

I do own a very nice ring-sling by the way. And I tried on a zillion other baby-wearing devices before buying it. With my first baby, I owned a pouch. And a Maya Wrap. And an expensive-as-all-getout backpack. And various other devices that made her scream at me as though it were foot-binding, not baby-wearing. With my son, however, the ring-sling turned me into a 24-hour convenience mart: Strapping a baby’s face against milk ducts is like setting meat on a lion’s nose and expecting him to take a sleep, ever, instead of eat, constantly.

I’ve found that when I wear my baby in the ring-sling, I tend to attract other baby-wearers. It’s like a secret club. The first rule in Ultimate Baby Wearing Club is definitely NOT like the first rule in Fight Club. It’s the opposite. DO talk about it–constantly, if possible. But wearing my baby in a ring-sling doesn’t mean I want to talk about it. It also doesn’t mean I’m automatically like-minded with the next woman wearing her kid. It doesn’t mean I use hemp diapers or had a placenta-eating ritual after giving birth in a wooden washtub. It doesn’t really mean anything other than my baby likes this thing, and I don’t want him to cry all day, so he wins.

Yesterday at my daughter’s preschool, I decided to introduce myself to a pair of new moms on the playground. Maybe I should have heeded the warning. I mean, one of them was wearing a serious ring-sling, a quilted and perhaps even homemade specimen. (The second rule of Ultimate Baby Wearing Club: the more primitive, the better). She took stock of my Supertarget Supershit Sling, and reminisced about the time she’d tried one on and how awful it was.

“Have you ever tried a Mei Tai or a ring-sling?” she asked. “My son really loves his.”

She was referring to her 14-month-old, who instead of being loosed on the playground with the other children was bound tightly around her hip. (Mama loves her accessories!) I explained that I actually use a ring-sling sometimes but don’t prefer it, because it makes my baby frantically root on me. Her disapproval was almost palpable.

“And there’s something WRONG with that?” she asked, judgement steaming out of her flared noseholes.

Truth is, I’m actually quite fond of nursing, but not while shaving my legs, emptying the garbage, or doing various other things that are part of my decidely non-tribal, modern, industrial existence. So, yeah, lady, the day I decide it’s cool to nurse while eliminating in the loo is the day I expect my family to stage a breastfeeding intervention.

Okay, after I swallowed back the hot puke that came up my throat, I explained that I simply prefer not to nurse him every 15 minutes and that I actually wear him in the Infantino because it’s the one place he’ll sleep. Knowing that so many of the Ring-Sling Rambos and women in the Mei Tai Mafia think a baby’s naps are more of a luxury for mom than a necessity for baby, particularly when compared with the benefits of breastfeeding every 2-3 seconds, I should have expected what came next. What came next was her explaining to me that 50 years from now parents will probably all be doing as she’s doing. She said they’ll disdainfully look back at our generation of parents and shake their heads in disbelief.

I’m sure.

Maybe I should start going topless and strapping my baby to my front-side using braided corn husks. Oh, the skin-to-skin contact! The everlasting breastfeeding-on-demand! The primitive gorgeousness of it! Then, as is my obvious wish, maybe future generations will look back at me as if I were some sort of mother-goddess. Yeah, I’ll show them all.

Posted in babies, breastfeeding, general mockery, motherhood | 2 Comments

My Hot Date Night

From the Momplex archives, 2009:

Today my husband and I begin “date nights,” honoring our commitment to set aside Wednesday nights for just each other. Of course, like any other night in our home, these nights will have to start out with nursing and rocking (the baby, not my husband) and wondering why, oh, why my husband thought it would be wise to show our daughter the enticing little crawlspace that leads to our sump pump in the basement. Also, mindlessly eating a dollop of penne con salsicce that I’d dropped on my nursing baby’s bared groin. Bleck. Bedtime for the kiddos has to be handled, too, so I just finished nursing the wee one until even the lung under my boob nearly collapsed. My husband’s still working on the older kiddo’s bedtime.

Wednesdays kind of suck for me, because they’re the one weekday my daughter doesn’t have preschool. When your kids wake at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 7 p.m., and you barely interact with another soul all day, it sort of makes you want to get your tubes tied. (If you’ve never played an hour or so of Mommy Has to Talk for a Herd of Miniature Plastic Horses, you might not know what I mean.) Anyway, I tried. I took the kids out for a walk to the park. Then we went over near some giant rock and dirt piles so that my daughter could play mountain goat. A game of hide-and-seek in a nearby woods followed. As did some tree-climbing. Then we were off to my daughter’s swimming class. Next, to a cafe for lunch before heading over to the zoo to play some more and ogle and harass the meerkats. All this time, by the way, I was wearing our three-month-old (lest you forget, which I surely shall never let you do).

I should mention the baby has his first little cold and was spitting up milk left and right. We were both covered in it. So, I stopped off at Target to buy some magic formula that’s supposed to help reduce spit-up. When I got home, I commenced cleaning and getting dinner started as fast as I could. Then I made a noble effort at dolling myself up in high-heeled boots and jeans and a sexy black blouse before sitting down to nurse the crying baby while also reading a book about dinosaurs to my daughter.

Well, as the royals say in Windsor Castle, screw that horseshit. Seriously. Tomorrow, it’s back to mediocrity, which as far as I’m concerned, is aiming high enough right now.

Wanna know what my husband said when he got home from work? “Awww, man! You didn’t use that $5 formula coupon on the fridge?” Wanna know what he’s getting out of this date night? Scrabble.

Posted in babies, breastfeeding, marriage, motherhood, sexuality, sleep | 1 Comment