She steps inside the car, wobbling over a book, crunching something green and once edible, and passing by melted crayons. Three others make the same perilous journey to the back of the car and buckle themselves in. I mean, like really dirty. I turn the key and pull away from the curb. I see her lick her finger and start drawing a picture on the window. You should get a job. Then your car will be cleaner. You should be more like my mom. Jennifer Christgau-Aquino is a freelance writer and former newspaper journalist who can often be seen lounging in her front yard while her two kids clean the car.
She lives in California with her husband, children, dog, cat and two fish. We proudly waved at pedestrians, bikers, and other drivers so much for holding on tight. Can you imagine doing something like that today? The authorities would be notified faster than my sister and I could have splattered onto concrete. My mom would stand at the curb smiling and waving as we drove loops around the block. When I was 6, our old Pontiac had a hole in the floor. Nothing stood between my dangling feet and the open road. I could have easily pulled a Fred Flinstone and been flattened by our hunk-of-junk.
This time it was a red Chevy that was safe enough to chauffeur the Pope in, at least compared to our previous clunker. That is until my mom accidentally hit a brick pillar and the back passenger side door caved in. From that point forward we could not enter or exit from that side of the car. Why on earth my mom never duct-taped that sucker down remains a mystery to this day. Every time someone sat in that spot of the back seat, the wire would snag their pants, or worse, their nude nylons, and often resulted in blood shed.
My sister has a scar on her thigh to remind her of those delightful joy rides. It was a poop brown Oldsmobile that drove okay for a while until the fabric on the roof of the interior began to sag. Soon, the drooping material became a hazardous obstruction. Since safety first was our family motto, my mom cut the whole interior part of the roof off with a scissors.
It was smooth sailing until the heat broke. Chicago winters and no heat is a bad mix, yet we went an entire frigid season without getting it fixed. I needed a safe, reliable car to get me back and forth from my student-teaching assignment. What could be safer than a used, rusty, powder blue Chevy station wagon? The car drove like a dream except for when it died at every red light. Approaching intersections would induce a panic attack, so I stuck to highways as often as possible.
I spent my formative years being mortified by our junkyard cars. My mom worked her butt off to fulfill our basic needs. We showed our appreciation by continuously whining and complaining about our embarrassing cars and lack of other material possessions. The truth is, my mom was doing the best she could under very difficult circumstances. Only as an adult and a mother myself can I understand the sacrifices my mom made. After a year of teaching, I traded in my old Chevy station wagon for a spanking new red Ford Escort with cloth interior, manual windows and door locks, and… wait for it… AM and FM radio I know, I know, it was a major splurge.
To me, it felt like I was driving around in a Maserati. Lisa Goodman-Helfand is a freelance writer and professional speaker living near Chicago. Connect with Lisa on her blog or on Facebook. It will remind me of the the injury I sustained wanting to kiss your damp sleeping sweaty forehead. But could you clean up a little? Honey, how could you think that?!? I was referring to the Sensei Wu minifig wig that I had just stepped on, sweetheart. My foot was bleeding. I hit my head on your lamp shaped like Lord Vader. For a moment I saw stars shaped like Princess Leia.
My foot was bleeding, and I thought maybe a raccoon had gotten into your room because I had to fight off something furry. That turned out to be your bathrobe. Covering a pile of overdue library books. How many times do we have to talk about the library book thing? Also, I thought your laundry pile was a bear. The darkness at night was immense and disorientating. What the h-e-double hockey sticks!? But not to you, darling. We might laugh about it later. We all know sometimes Mommy gets angry and threatens to sue toy companies for outmoded gender roles, racism, predatory pre-blockbuster movie marketing, and the degradation of our suburban landscape with plastic.
Mommy is in a period of life called Perimenopause. This is not something you would understand. Furthermore, please tidy your gym clothes. Love you forever, even if I have a limp because of—you know. There is nothing to do. Which is why my year-old-daughters end up sitting around the breakfast table for hours every morning listening to him tell stories.
In fact, during our most recent visit, he showed up to the table with a phone book. We were deciding, as we do every breakfast, where to go for dinner. Breakfast, for my father, is a thing. It was the same every winter vacation of my childhood which we spent with my grandparents in Florida. No one had a tee-time or a tennis game to get to. But all the while, they are learning, like I did, despite themselves. From their penance in Palm Springs, they know how to work a dice board, the same way I learned from my time around the table how to smoke a cigar.
They know how to drive a car. And we all know how to dance the Charleston. And therefore, so are they in his. They check their phones at the counter, just before the kitchen table where they munch on bacon and fried salami while they listen to his stories, the same ones my brother and I also know by heart. They rely on a regular cast of characters and a predictable plot, that of the underdog overcoming against all odds a series of hardships that tend towards the ridiculous and make his presence at the table nothing shy of a miracle.
From the practical—like entertainment need not come from a screen and success need not come from school. Only salami and bacon and a perspective that is priceless. Especially now that my kids are teenagers and tend to tune me out. Especially now as their confidence waxes and wanes with the moon, with their identities up for grabs and the pressures of tomorrow upon them.
They are, these days, preparing to go to high school, which means making decisions in areas in which they lack the necessary information. What subjects interest them? What activities do they want to do? I can tell from the way they laugh as he talks and they recount throughout the year. Pops is living proof that there is more than one way to skin a cat, which, in a society ridden with rules and driven by convention and a fear of the road less taken, is a valuable lesson. As valuable as knowing how to use a phonebook. I am excited to say that between the time I wrote this piece and now, my father acquired an iPhone.
Of course, owning the iPhone and using it are two different things. He is set to start iPhone classes this week. According to my mother, my father says he will attend. However, when asked to comment, he told me only that he is not throwing out his phonebook anytime soon.
Francie Arenson Dickman is a contributing blogger to Brain, Child. He was so young! No sense scaring him with qualifiers like my mother, the eternal pessimist, had. She gave me such a complex. Two mice for dinner? Do you think I got dorsal humps like these eating two mice? Remember, a male can only spawn with you if he can get his forelegs around you! My tongue darted out and I gulped down a struggling dragonfly. It was a bit of a nervous habit. Not to mention I already had hindlegs by that time!
Geez, did I freak out the day that happened—I was certain I had tail cancer until my classmate Rhonda explained the life cycle to me. Taking a deep breath, I began. Your hindlegs will grow, then your forelegs. Next, your tail will be absorbed into your body. Not as disgusting as your tail falling off , which was what I thought happened from my solo reading of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know. What would YOU have thought? Your voice will deepen and soon you and your friends will be sitting by the pond, chorusing for the attention of the female frogs.
Why had I mentioned the frog chorus? Suddenly our little mother-son chat had taken a giant leap in an unintended direction. In the evenings, the males gather and sing a low, rumbling jug-o-rum. And the females come hopping to meet them. It was springtime and we were like a couple of horny toads. All I cared was that I had a clutch of eggs waiting to be deposited, I was in the mood for a snack, and Jim was sitting next to a particularly tempting mouse hole.
I wracked my brain, trying to think of something, anything. It just goes to show how abnormal my relationship was with Mother that in that moment my thoughts went to her. If only Mother could see this! And that handsome Ernesto was definitely trying to catch my attention. I have standards, no matter what Mother says. But the book sure glossed over how long the whole ridiculous process would take. All to make a few thousand tadpoles? When he ignored me the trouble really started. How many times had Mother callously pretended not to hear as I begged for a bite to eat?
What did she think I was, an African Dwarf Frog? A bullfrog is supposed to have meat on her legs! Suddenly the shame, the anger, all those unfulfilled cravings welled up until I barely knew what I was doing. And all I could do was tell the truth. When my own little son grew curious about reproduction, I thought I was well-prepared. Trumpy lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons.
She is a Montessori teacher who enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction. You need commiseration, you need a laugh, you need advice—but not from some overachiever with sparkling bathrooms and abs of steel. Grab one of these books, some new and some classic, and take some deep breaths. Not surprisingly, you will find some overlap here with a previous Brain, Child Top 10, on humor. Lamott wrote Operating Instructions when she was in her mid-thirties, broke, pregnant, and single.
While her survival strategy of creating the proverbial village to help her raise her child is inspiring, the true sanity lifelines are the moments when she reflects on her own mental state. Motherhood has beautiful moments, she says, but who needs help with those? The Hip Mama Survival Guide is like your smartest, funniest friend for the tough moments. The flies, she says, want breakfast and tv and candy vitamins. They do not understand coffee or NPR. My son was born just before The Big Rumpus hit the stores and I was floored with gratitude to discover that the time in the afternoons between nap time and dinner time were torturous for someone besides me: Honest Toddler , first the social media posts and then the book, is written in the voice of the little despot inside every toddler.
You are not paranoid. The little stinkers ARE plotting against you. Hungry for Ritz crackers. When my kids were little, the scrapbooking craze was peaking and so many moms in my neighborhood were selling pricey scrapbooking gear that I had to question the concept of supply and demand economics. On the other hand, getting through the day can still feel like a series of minor miracles. Her epic treatment of the battle against the pestilence of head lice had me in stitches and her claim that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of effort you put into food and how much your kids like it is some sort of parenting law.
A good deal of the unscientific science deals with chaos theory, entropy, and random variables… Beautifully produced. This is hot off the presses and will make a perfect gift for mom friends. Wow, some of these kids in middle school are real creeps. These two books will explain why they are horrible and provide you with the perspective that hellish middle school experiences may help produce successful adults. Because I have a daughter and a son, I read both of these books. An unexpected mental health challenge of reading these books is that they can plunge you back into that strange place.
She manages to interweave scientific insights bizarro sleep schedules are developmentally appropriate! Whatever ragged remains of mental stability you still possess may yet survive.
Diamonds is the perfect combination of the kind of high art that soothes the soul and reflections on the trip of parenthood that you need in order to start getting your head around the looming empty nest. Her poems are not sentimental but will remind you here and there that these increasingly delightful adults were just a few short months ago the wonderful horribly frustrating, clever, complicated, and messy people that they really have been all along. She will ask if it was alive, and how big it was. Are you going to want it? Because we saved it.
I have it right here. Baby worming appointment set for Check to make sure that preschool daughter Billie is wearing an appropriate outfit and tell her it is time to get ready to go. Double bag wormy diaper in a second ziplock bag and add to the pile of outgoing mail and reusable grocery bags you will be taking to the car with you.
Make sure everyone has coats, socks, and shoes on, with a hat and gloves for preschooler. Drop eldest daughter, Bela, who slept in, off at elementary school. Try not to sound neurotic and self-involved. Ask panicked questions about life cycle and obsessively nibble your nails until the kindly nurse practitioner mentions twice that she has emailed the prescription to the pharmacy and stands up.
He does not seem concerned at all about the army of worms he may have wriggling inside his bottom. You can barely finish your coffee for thinking about it, however. As the nurse is leaving, grab her sleeve. Inform him that your baby has been diagnosed with roundworms, and that you are obese. There was a BMI chart in the bathroom. It seemed like a victimless crime at the time, but now it turns out that your husband is the victim. The baby has roundworms from eating dirt, or eating vegetables that were grown in the dirt, and his wife is obese. Say no when she tells you to buy her gum at the pharmacy.
Ask if you should give the medication with food. Stare at the counter in horror. Beg him to wait to poop until his father gets home. Do not shout at her first grade teacher that the baby has roundworms and that you are obese. Put everyone into the car and drive home, where you will serve Goldfish crackers and sliced apples with cheese before you try the coat on the goat.
It will be too big. She is author of The Great Burn, a memoir about modern marriage, rural living, and kid-having. She can be found MissesPlum and at her blog, www. On any given day, there are at least three sticks of butter in, of all places, the refrigerator. Just as you are walking out to take a much-deserved yoga class, your first in ages, the babysitter texts in a cancellation: Bobo, the bright-blue elephant, is usually splayed out on the kitchen floor—right where he was left!
Your 2-year-old daughter returns from preschool clutching a bag of clay and detailed homework instructions involving said clay. You cancel wine night with the girls and dutifully follow the instructions, cheerleading and coaching your toddler along with enthusiastic fist-pumps. The next day you help your daughter pack her clay creation ohsocarefully into her backpack. For weeks, you inquire about this important and unannounced! She never collected it! You leave your 3-year old son and 4-year old daughter in the car for a blip of time that does not exceed one nanosecond. In an attempt to be an involved mother, you volunteer to organize the kindergarten end of year party.
You receive 47 emails to discuss and re-discuss, hash out and re-hash out, schedule and re-schedule the five tasks that need to take place to pull off a one hour party for five-year-olds. You send your son to school wearing red pants and a black Spiderman T-shirt. He awaits you at pick up wearing shoes, a pull-up that does not belong to him and nothing else in degree weather. No explanation for his strip tease is provided. The mother-loving lice are back. Your children will now wear tea tree oil-dipped ski caps at all times. You are thrilled to receive a last-minute invite to see Phoenix, your favorite indie band.
You call your top five babysitters; none are free. You try the B-list babysitters, eight of them: You receive a 5-inch thick packet in the mail from the school your children have attended for three years. As you are applying mascara for the first and quite possibly the last time in , the just-hired-quadruple-reference-checked babysitter calls ah-ha! Jackie Ashton is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Way to make a girl feel like an outcast. Way to make me feel like.
What, you thought I was referring to being the only white cast member? Skin color never made an ounce of difference to any of us. Being the only cast member on The Parkers without a kid made me feel like a petulant child in a roomful of working adults. And I wanted it desperately. So desperately, in fact, that I started adopting dogs. Which led me to believe, in all my twentysomething wisdom, that I knew what it meant to be a parent. Why alienate me just because my kids had four legs instead of two? Because they barked instead of crying? Because they left their toys strewn across every room of my house and drooled all over my furniture?
Technically the latter two examples cover both dogs and children, but you get the idea. I thought parenting puppies should at least grant me a pass for their elite clique, but no one else seemed to take that notion seriously. Single life was sucking big-time, and my biological clock was spinning out of control. I wanted a family to ground me; I wanted to finally belong. So much for a feeling of belonging. Turns out I had no clue what to expect when I was expecting, dogs or no dogs.
After all, my canine kids go to sleep when I tell them to, clean up any food that gets dropped on the floor, and were potty trained by two months old. And wanting a family to ground me? What was I thinking? Thank you, faceless authors, for stating the obvious and handing me my sign. After waiting for so many years to get knocked up I was thirty-five when I gave birth to my first daughter, Gray , I wanted a parade in my honor, dammit! But one has to start somewhere, right? Parades take time to plan, and I suppose a float in the shape of a uterus would be a little weird.
But how about adding a little enthusiasm to the mix so it sinks in? You got the little guy to swim upstream! Either way, consider this my written version of a celebratory rally for you. Most days, I talk to no one outside of my family. Yep, me and my laptop. My next-door neighbor, a fellow work-at-home mom, used to be reliable for a couple of chats a week near the mailbox. My other friends are weighed down with homeschooling, from-home businesses or traditional jobs. We catch up once a month in person, a true treat. So, fellow soccer mom, when I see you standing near the field, I smile.
Forgive me, my smile might be too wide, and as I approach you, I might talk too loudly. You can talk about whatever you want. My face did the same at our last game, when my son saw an old friend and actually walked over to him to talk. I will commiserate and share that mine is hoping to drive to the next practice. What if one of your children has an afterschool club and no school-provided transportation back home?
The trade-off for a full-time job is a gut-wrenching juggle of responsibilities. As we continue to talk, you can even go political and tell me you love the candidate I hate. Kristen De Deyn Kirk is a freelance writer from Virginia. She writes about parenting, education, politics and wine — and dreams of regular assignments that combine the four. She tweets at KristenKirk. I could cover the little guy with a scarf to spare us both any blushing, but I suspect if the waitress asked either of us to eat with a tablecloth over our heads we would be aghast, an unpleasant, hot and bothersome way to take a meal.
I could remove myself to avoid your embarrassment, feed my hungry child in the bathroom but then, the idea seems somewhat ridiculous and, not just a little, unsanitary.
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If the manager suggested you or I munch our margarita pizzas to the backtrack of hand dryers and toilets flushing we would, I suspect, protest. I understand that the sight of me feeding my child is a painful experience. Getting to the point of being able to feed him was something of a painful experience for me.
Initially it was agonizing, so much so I almost threw in the towel, then an infection meant I was unable to feed him for two weeks. Again, with much support and encouragement from friends, family and an incredibly patient partner, we persisted. I had that same look as my boobs were manhandled by a wonderful breastfeeding counsellor who came to my home and worked with myself and my son as we tried to get it together as a feeding team.
I know you came here hoping to enjoy a delicious meal, good company and maybe a beer or glass of Chardonnay. I can only apologize that the sight of something so offensive, so freakish as a mother mammal feeding her cub is putting you off your potato dauphinoise and putting a real chink in your dining experience. Maybe if we both focused on our own meals, our own friends and their lively conversation it would make life easier. Allison Martin is a freelance writer and mum-of-one.
She lives in London with her partner, three-year-old son and a goldfish called Bookworm. You can follow Allison on Twitter AlliMartin. The year Ginger was three years old I started dressing witch-ugly instead of witch-sexy. I painted my face green and blacked a tooth. Of course, they still depend on me for some things: Witches too are useless in a way, beyond the demands of husbands, children, town or civic associations. Maybe this is why they are scary: Sometimes they are seen together, in the dreaded covens.
But they are more often outsiders — alone. I am not exactly alone tonight. My house is full of enough to delight even that cranky, child-luring, deep woods creature made notorious in the story of Hansel and Gretel. My husband is out of town and both of my daughters are getting ready for the evening with their own covens of friends. The archetypical witch rides a broomstick, converting that modest implement of domestic order into a vehicle for nocturnal flight.
Her hands are free to clutch the broomstick while she is riding it, even when she dismounts, she is often seen holding the thing. When the girls were small, I barely swept, let alone drag a cleaning utensil around for show. Instead of taking off on a broom tonight, I ply the plunger. Dressed in my long, black witch dress, wearing the green-face I have carefully applied, I confront a familiar adversary — the toilet in the second floor bathroom.
I have a complicated relationship to plungers, more fraught than the question of order or flight provoked by the broom. Instead, when the need arises, a request must be made from the master of the house. A big deal is made of the inconvenience. The plunger is then paraded through the house, before being deployed in the bathroom. Only the master of the house can use it; the rest of us are forced to stand by. This happened on two successive visits, before I realized I had to conjure an alternative.
I now make a habit of driving to a nearby gas station once or twice a day during visits to that household. That solved that problem. But somehow, our toilet at home also backs up frequently. Thinking it might have to do with the ancient plumbing in our house, we eventually sprang for a new toilet. And somehow it often seems to fall to me. Plunging takes skill as well as courage.
First, when the water refuses to go down, there is the grudging realization that something will have to be done. The shit lurks towards the bottom, silently threatening to ride a swirl of water back up, even out. So I try again, flushing and jiggling the handle, hoping for a miracle. I panic as the water swirls up and threatens to surge over the top of the rim. Then I am antic with the plunger, relentless, until that sound I have learned to wait for—the unmistakable suck, the still second before the water swirls and goes back down, this time. What would a real witch do?
I hitch the long black dress up and deal with the situation, emerging victorious from the bathroom. There is riotous teen laughter on the front porch, where Celeste and her friends are handing out candy and waxing nostalgic about the costumes they used to wear. Ginger and her friends are roving the neighborhood, dressed as pirates and hippies; they are almost too old for costumes, but still flushed with the excitement of the cold, dark night.
My current long black witch dress was once a pregnancy shift. The label announces it: That night, the dress caught moisture from the air, from the ground and from puddles. It lengthened, trailing behind me as we made the rounds of our neighborhood.
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I was a few months out from giving birth to Ginger then, that elasticity a welcome reminder of what the dress and I could be capable of. Growing up, I never thought that witches were ugly. I knew that the Wicked Witch of the West was supposed to be dark and ugly in contrast to the simpering good witch of the North. But Margaret Hamilton looked a lot more like the women in my family than Glenda ever did. I am far more scared of simpering blonde locks than scolding dark tresses. Since my twenties, the opportunity to dress as a witch on Halloween has seemed like a relief and a party rolled into one.
A cackle does not ask for or require an audience. And dressing up as a witch is a popular costume: Ginger cried until I convinced her it was really me. After that she always recognized me, waiting impatiently for Halloween and planning ever more non-traditional familiar outfits. The witch archetype reaches back, through wicked Hollywood witches west and east, to Salem, to the medieval European archetype and her troubles with the law. Witches are scary because they are powerful outsiders. And because of that cackle. Small children had to be escorted out of an early screening.
Having cleared the toilet, I rove the house. Most of the candy has been given out; I locate a bag of Snickers my husband has hidden for himself, pour it into our black plastic cauldron, and hand it out to the last tiny stragglers. Ginger and her friends go up to the attic to engage in elaborate candy trades.
Just then, a boy of around 6 in a rainbow afro wig rings the door. I have seen him already and given him candy. He shakes his head and gestures to a tiny, barely-walking girl dressed as a pumpkin. She is almost completely hidden behind him. I crouch down and address her. She shakes her head. Her brother nods vigorously. I prop the screen door open, looking beyond the porch to the sidewalk. A woman bundled up in a wheelchair waves and nods emphatically.
Her brother stays on the porch. Halfway up the stairs, I realize that this tiny pumpkin girl, her brother and her mother in the wheelchair have to put their faith in me: Pumpkin girl is small enough that she needs me to help her get her pants down and sit on the toilet. I wonder if I could have let tiny Celeste climb the stairs with a stranger who would have had to help her in this way. Pumpkin girl slides off the toilet; I help her with her pants. She pauses at the top of the stairs, and I pick her up and slide her onto my hip, carrying her down to where her brother waits. She grins at me and snatches a Snickers bar from the cauldron.
Her brother takes her hand and they run down the stairs to where their mom waits for them. I take off my hat and close the door. Sitting on the couch, I sort through the cauldron to see whether there is one Almond Joy left for me. For several years, off and on, I have had the feeling of flying. It comes at odd times, like when I am driving Ginger and Celeste to the dentist and we are all singing songs we remember from the Shrek soundtrack; or when I am walking the dog in the morning after we have all eaten breakfast and the girls have gone off to school and I am thinking about what to do with a couple of hours of writing time.
It occurs to me to google this, just to see if I am suffering from some identifiable syndrome: I turn on the computer and get to work. Rachel Ida Buff is a mother, a writer and a history professor who has already stocked both greenface and tooth blacking makeup for Halloween. She is a writer of essays and short stories as well as academic articles and books.
Currently, she is completing a novel, Into Velvet. Parenthood introduces us to a rich new vocabulary. To help make better sense of it all, here is a glossary of psychological terms for parenting:. In the car, twenty minutes later she becomes anal-expulsive. Parents just want child to cut id out. For a mother with i. Often cause of defiant disorder in new mothers.
Return to the October Issue. Lately my bedtime has not been to my satisfaction and there has been some confusion about what I require. Here are just a few tips to help clear things up. I prefer a bath that is warm, with some more cold water, and then some more hot water, and then some more cold water, with a little bit more hot water. Only empty the bathtub after I am done playing. I prefer to climb to the potty on my potty steps myself.
Please know which one it is. I prefer at least three books from each parent. Because I love you. And then another one. Because I love books. Please rock me in the big chair until I am ready to get in bed. I will indicate this by going stiff as a board. I want to climb in my own bed. Do not help me. Except if I slip. I think I need dinner again now. Thanks for the cold milk cup that is only cold enough if it waits in the fridge until the minute I need it. I will keep telling you I need milk until you get back upstairs in case you forget.
My bed feels nice. A clean sheet each night helps my complexion. My bed is too hot. I need a different blanket. My bed is too cold. My bed is not right. If I get out and climb back in that might help. Please cover me up with almost all of my arms covered up, but not covered up too much, and my feet, but not my left foot. Now that I think about it my teeth are a bit sore. Medicine would be great. Purple would be great. I will say please over and over until you get back with it. You like it when I say please. I need to go potty.
You like me to go potty. You ask me all day. I will make you proud now and use the potty! Please cover me up again with my blanket. But not this blanket. The one that is in the washing machine. I miss that blanket. Please pat my back for a little bit. A little bit is the same amount of time as when you say we will be at the grocery store for just a little bit more. Please put sweet dreams in my head. Only the best dreams. I have suggestions if you need them. Sit with me and I will tell you about them.
The door needs to be open a crack so I can hear you. If I am not asleep please see above steps. You must have missed one. I can remind you of them if you want. Please note that I have a separate issue with your naptime performance. I will address this in a separate memo. Christine Alderman has worked with children, youth, and adults in juvenile detention, prison, and schools. She lives in Texas with her husband and her threenage daughter. Mindi Wisman is an American social worker and freelance writer living with her family in Brussels, Belgium.
She has worked as a mental health therapist, sports psychologist, and academic researcher, but is still trying to make her dream of being a back-up singer to Dolly Parton come to fruition. You can find her on Twitter. One sip of hot coffee with milk, swallowed seconds before toddler topples her breakfast off highchair tray. Rest of now-lukewarm coffee with congealed milk. Serve over ice and gulp while trying to convince toddler to wear something other than her zebra dress for the fifth day in a row. Cheese stick inside folded over bread heel with mustard dollop.
Fish dirty dress out of laundry basket as a change of clothes. Scoop up toddler and click her into stroller. Banana chocolate chip muffin is an unplanned purchase to placate toddler, which could be argued is the slightly healthier option over a donut. Occasional sips of lukewarm water from fountain covered in pigeon poop. Temperatures have already reached 93 degrees on this smothering, wind-free morning.
Stand on black rubber mat that is flip-flop melting hot and push toddler on swing. Sweat cascades from armpits, forming a tributary down the lower back area. Smells from overflowing garbage can and glass-shattering shrieking from nearby children create head-ache vortex. Especially when toddler looks over at her longingly. Nearby dad provides a long detailed discourse on how the nose is blown to his son. No, look at Daddy. Watch Daddy do it. No, not like that.
Temptation of Day-Glo orange crackers proves too overwhelming and suddenly they are completely gone. Dry off toddler after she has crawled through the sprinklers, using crumpled up napkins discovered at bottom of backpack. Move to sandbox area. Hurry home with hungry, snack-deprived toddler. After feeding and changing her, wipe her off with washcloth and put her down for a nap. Cold, macaroni and cheese rejected by toddler.
Banana-chocolate chip muffin crumbs straight from the paper bag, using fingers as shovel. Make coffee and bring to desk. Decide a fruit snack will help with concentration. Cut up apple into slices and return to desk. Get distracted by folder filled with pictures from high school. The only thing to show for this day so far is pushing a stroller five blocks without getting hit by a car.
Whatever is left of a professional life feels far away. Frozen ice water during excursion to the library and supermarket. Underbelly of stroller weighted down with books and groceries, balanced only by toddler body. Tall Boys with dinosaur chicken nuggets on Curious George plate and side of uneaten peas after bath and bedtime story, toddler slumbering soundly in her bed, the New York City night pulsating outside darkened living room windows. She teaches creative writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women.
Your husband comes home and asks how the day was. You managed a trip to the grocery store without having to stop to change a diaper or breastfeed. You cleaned the kitchen, the toilet, or some Goldfish crumbs from the bottom of the diaper bag. Plus it was ridiculously cute and helped diffuse some of your frus-ter-a-tion…. The two of them spent a moment lying on the floor gazing at each other. You put your feet up and let your heart melt a little. It lasted about 4 seconds, but it was really nice. The baby snoozed in the swing long enough to allow you and your toddler some much-needed cuddle and story time.
You prepared and served dinner. Bonus points if it was something other than hot dogs or frozen tortellini. Your husband brought you flowers. Or leftover Danish from a morning meeting. Whatever little treat makes your heart skip a beat. Please attend to the above before I am forced to walk into your room and attempt to confiscate your electronic devices.
And while we are on the subject of rights, let me assure you that allowance is not a human right. Neither is it your indisputable right. Similarly, you cannot grab our cell phones whenever you want to take a selfie. Perhaps next time when you fix your phone again you can keep it intact for longer than just two weeks. Borrowing my bras, shoes, and clothes without prior permission is not okay.
Or for a language paper. Or for a math exam. People have been known to go outside during weekends. This brings me to the subject of holidays. And we are definitely not trying to take all fun out of your life when we take you to explore Catalunia or Cantabria or Asturias during a long weekend. Just think of all the Snapchats you can take and share. You may want to save your voice for all those renditions of Adele we hear regularly from your shower.
So will you be my friend? Margarita Gokun Silver is a writer and an artist. Start reading on-line parent forums about what to do when a toddler keeps leaving his room after bedtime. Read about people claiming to have solved this problem through the purchase of special sheets and fun tents! Read posts accusing these parents of either lying or having simple children. Note the number of people publicly losing their minds online due to powerlessness in the face of toddlers.
Commend yourself for not losing yours. Read about those for whom calmly walking their child back to bed worked after two nights. Curse them loudly into the computer. Accuse her of lacking an inner life. Start counting something besides the number of times you, or your husband, have done this. Focus on the tiny hairs on your fingers or the not so tiny ones sprouting from your toes. Remember you have a husband. Attempt conversation with him unrelated to children or bedtime or exhaustion level.
When this fails, contemplate his toe hair. Startle-sit to the full upright position. Your baby has woken to find himself in the comfortable confines of his crib and is screaming as if someone just removed his liver with a soup spoon. Try soothing him using the many methods you have devised.
Listen to him wail and wonder what could possibly make anyone being held in the arms of a familiar, milk-scented giant this unhappy. When the only thing that gets the baby to sleep involves clutching him to your chest while bouncing in the dark, or spinning in a circle while rhythmically lifting your heels off the ground while trying not to fall, commend yourself.
You will have another opportunity to not cry in less than hour. Have a delirious conversation with your partner in voices laden with misdirected accusation regarding whose turn it is to go to the baby. Feel a sweaty palm, heavy as a wet towel, on your shoulder. Shove it away only to discover your toddler softly sobbing, clutching his arm to his chest like a wounded wing. Walk him back to his bed. Stay with him until he falls asleep or you begin to drift off on the thin rug beside his bed indifferent to the feeling of your spinal column, disassembling.
Observe your toddler, bed height, exhaling CO2 directly into your mouth. If he is still staring at you, give your voice the cadence of a new and exciting challenge. Ask if he wants to try something new and exciting. Come up with a developmentally inappropriate and therefore time-consuming task. When the self-deception that you are getting anything approximating sleep ends, beg your husband to take the toddler to the kitchen.
I had to carefully navigate the eggshells I tiptoed on around my adoptive mom. The issues they each had with the loss of never having their own biological children were never dealt with an adoptive mom had a competitive and jealous spirit. I spent my whole life not looking like anyone in my family. I remember when my son was born and he looked just like my husband, Jim, I felt so disappointed. And the same when my daughter Lydia was born.
She looked like him, too, and I was sad all over again. I think as adoptees, we have always been looking for that familiar face. I can understand how that would be hurtful and disappointing. It was a very lonely time. These days I derive a lot of benefit from the online adoptee community. As an adoptive parent, hearing the voices, thoughts, experiences and opinions of adult adoptees has made me a better, more responsive parent. I am grateful to the participants for sharing their stories with me. I hope other adult adoptees as well as other adoption constellation members—birth family members, adoptive family members—will feel free to comment with their thoughts.
Comes wrapped with a bow and gift card. Sometimes, the mom I used to be shakes her head at the mom I have become. The mom I was when my children were clothed in outfits selected for maximum cuteness cringes as the mom I have become escorts her daughter down the front steps in socks, pants, shirt and sweatshirt selected based on four-year-old logic that all stripes match regardless of color, thickness or orientation.
I should insist on politeness and I acknowledge — begrudgingly — that there is such a thing as too much cheese. She holds the future version of herself to an unrealistic standard and passes judgment on things she has no clue about yet. Her convictions and ideals have not been tested in the lunch packing, shoe tying, laundry folding, dinner cooking, homework completing, sibling refereeing parenting crucible. But typically, her voice is best responded to with the use of a particular finger and a self-satisfied smile from the mom I have become:.
A mom who realizes the impact of one more book is greater than the impact of one fewer dust bunny. Everyone wants to know what it was like to be raised by lesbians, how we functioned, what made it different. I want to talk about other things, the things that formed me and shaped me and scarred me.
But all of that is a lie. Of course it mattered more than almost any other aspect of my childhood. It is not something you can place a value judgment on, because it is not something my moms had any control over. I prefer to use my writing to scold them for things they could control. I resented every straight adult asking me if I ever thought I was a lesbian.
I wish there was a way to define who makes up your family without the connection to what happens in the bedroom. The most interesting thing about my life is not about me at all; it is about my parents. Perhaps I deny its importance because I want to be the most interesting character in my own story.
I can tell you what you want to hear. I can tell you about the fight I had with one of my best friends in the locker room after gym class where she accused me of being a lesbian just like my mom and how I never forgave her. I can tell you that I needed a boyfriend for years to prove I was straight to anyone who wondered during my teen years. I can tell you that I had nightmares that I would wake up one day and find I had turned into a lesbian overnight, and no longer was the person I was when I went to sleep.
I can tell you about the blue-collar, republican parents of my friends who never batted an eye about my two moms and allowed their daughters to have sleepovers at my house. I can tell you about the family my parents created, made up of other lesbian women, because my cousins stopped talking to us after my mom was outed. No teacher ever made me feel weird when I made my moms name tags for open houses or introduced them at parent teacher conferences.
The Boy Scouts allowed my mom to volunteer with the troop when they asked for father-helpers. The Girl Scouts gave my two moms a troop to lead. Another popular story of neighborhood hate can be told two ways; maybe once someone threw a rock through a window, or maybe it just was kicked up by a truck and meant nothing at all. Most people prefer to think it was a hate crime, although there was no note to clarify. I have no other point of view. Lara Lillibridge is a mother, writer, off-key singer and an occasionally inappropriate dancer.
Kuchen Backen —with a photo attached. The photo featured a relative in Germany baking a cake with her granddaughter at her side. Flour floated in the air around them like fairy dust. The photo made me feel a little sad. Those Kuchen bakers, in their matching aprons, live just steps away from each other. We, on the other hand, are among those modern families who do not live near family—a drive several hours one way, a flight several hours the other. We do not bake together without significant planning; no extended family would be at our home for cake-baking or even cake-eating this birthday.
But unlike the relative in the picture, I am not known for my elaborate and delicious cakes. And so I sought out the easiest recipe I could find. I avoided any version that required flour to be sifted and eggs separated. I mixed and measured and added the one egg while the children played around me, and the cake looked nice enough when it came out of the warm oven. A little flat perhaps, but absolutely like a cake. It smelled very cake-like, too. My husband and I meant to send a photo of our decorating efforts Subject: Rain pounded the windows the next morning, and the birthday girl coughed and sniffled.
We called off the party we planned to have in a nearby park. Instead, we stayed in our little house for a quiet day. Presents were opened and played with and fought over and played with again. We ate lunch, we did laundry, we took naps. After dinner we pulled out the polka-dotted dessert. We sang the song and the birthday girl joined right in with glee, blowing out her two candles with gusto. My husband took a few pictures as I lit candles; at least we caught a few moments to share. As warned, the cake I baked seemed to lack something. Maybe it needed more than one egg, or some sifting and separating, or more flour fairy dust.
And as I cleared dishes from the table, the big chunk of cake still sat in the middle of the table. Far more than my little family could eat. So I called a friend who lives just a few blocks from our place and far from her own parents and aunts and uncles. We loaded up the sniffling birthday girl and her older brother and drove the few blocks in the rainy fall night.
Warm light filled the windows of her lovely home. Her children greeted us at the door, eager to play. The children disappeared in search of toys. The birthday cake rested, sticky and sweet on the table, still in the Tupperware. My boy on far left and Alisa, the new City Councilor. Tuesday was Election Day. The Mayor ran unopposed for his second term.
There were, however, a couple of heated races for seats on the City Council. One was in our ward; another was across town. My fifteen-year-old cared about the latter more. He is a political guy, a newspaper reader, conversant in current events—and a rabid fan of The West Wing and Allison Janney. His extracurricular activities demonstrate this, like Model U. When he was in eighth grade, he asked me to take him—we went on foot—to an anti-death penalty vigil.
My fifteen-year-old woke up, watched some television, ate some breakfast, took a bath—in other words, a lazy, cozy morning and then asked to go to the polls to help out. He needed a little help to push beyond the first email inquiry—and being a teenager, he needed a ride. I would like to be clear to anyone reading this with toddlers in the house: The small creatures you wrestle into clunky harnesses will sit next to you one day and demand to go places.
Other times, adolescent sullenness will rub off on you. Personally, I am not a terribly eager driver. Long road trips feel more like injuries to be accrued than places to conquer. Achy neck or back or arm or hips bother me more than the reward of arrival at the other end or the music and the ribbon of road and adventure and the snacks along the way. My sense of direction is shockingly terrible. This past weekend I drove my little gal and her pal to a birthday party and took the wrong road in the suburban outskirts of our town. It was pathetic and a tad bit embarrassing.
Election morning, the ride was not a hardship, merely an inconvenience. I lost ten minutes to the drive, maybe twelve from my workday. We spent some of the drive time discussing who would pick him up from the polls short answer: My feelings changed instantly when we got to the middle school-slash-polling place, where I left my tall boy with his grey sweatshirt and big green Alisa Klein button and sign beside the candidate to wave at voters and drivers and walkers and bikers. I felt proud of him. Later that evening, I went to Zumba class.
This particular Tuesday night class is taught by our housemate Mim, age twenty-five, and has recently become populated with loads of younger than me dancers, including some high school seniors. Immediately after class, I called home for election results class ends at 8: Alisa had won, unseating a conservative incumbent cheer with me, feel free; it was super exciting. The thing about rides and teens and kids is often they are the way to help your kids become involved—in politics, in the community, sure, or whatever else. I find it very difficult to remember that when I feel reduced to taxi service provider.
By Anne Sawan When he was small, he would ask me to sleep with him every night. And most nights I would. I would snuggle in next to him, feeling his small body pressed against mine, an arm thrown across my neck as he burrowed in so close our noses would touch, his breath minty and sweet against my cheek, his hair still damp and fresh from the bath. He would whisper his dreams and silly rhymes in my ear as the room slowly darkened, a gently stillness seeping in, his chest rising and falling in time with the soft whir of the overhead fan. All thoughts of the piles of laundry that needed to be washed, the already late bills to pay, the sticky dinner dishes that should be rinsed, floating away as I lay with my arms around my child, both of us drifting into sweet, sweet slumber.
On those long, hard days when I just needed some space to think, wanting some peace and solitude to collect my thoughts and mull over the day. Those nights when all I could dream about was an empty chair, a cup of hot tea and a good book, or a piece of the couch, a mindless television show and a glass of wine. The asking had slowed down, becoming more sporadic over the years as he grew, separating from me, as he needed to, but still, occasionally … after a scary movie, a hard day at school, a lost baseball game, he would ask … and I might.
Then came the dark, dismal, cloudy days of preteen rolled eyes, low mutterings, and out right defiance. Days of arguing, yelling and talking back. He came to me after one of those long days; one of those days that left me still seething hours later from his insolence, the bitter taste of disrespect rolling around my mouth, the heavy buzz of surliness ringing in my ears. I was too annoyed to care that this humble asking was his best apology. Too angry to see that this might be the time he needed me the most. The clock on the wall steadily ticking out the beat of time … passing.
I heard him turning in his bed, but he never called out. Never asked for water or a nightlight. Never pleaded for me to open the door just a crack … and the dull space that had started in my head slowly wormed its way down to my heart and landed with a heavy thud in my stomach. The silence of the night surrounded me, and in the quiet, sliding through the anger, I heard the whir of a soft whisper.
Not much more time. And alone, in the darkness, I remembered. I remembered the little boy that dragged his yellow dump truck all over the house carefully putting it next to him on his pillow at night as he pulled up the covers. The boy who had me read the same dinosaur book over and over until we both could name and identify the eating habits of each creature. The boy who held tightly to my hand as we crossed the street, readily sharing his vanilla ice cream and always saving the very tip of the sugar cone for me.
The boy who showed me the joy of finding worms in the rain, how to collect baseball cards and tried to teach me to like roller coasters. The boy who snuggled next to me, his chubby hands on either side of my face as he whispered about what he wanted to be when he grew up—a baseball player, a rock star, a paleontologist, a dad. I climbed in next to his awkward almost adolescent body, the sour smell of sweat surrounding him but this time there was no hand thrown across my neck, no noses pushed together or silly whispers in my ear, instead he moved away, turning to the wall, and we slept in uneasy silence, our backs pressed together.
Anne Sawan is a mother to five wonderful and aggravating children. Last week, I spent the last three dollars and sixty-six cents of our nutritional assistance, also known as food stamps. My husband and I, along with our two little girls, waited five and a half hours before we were asked for I. Not that we had been singled out for such treatment. We waited those hours in a large holding pen-like waiting room, crowded with other similarly eligible Arizonans.
Then, until last month, we received a couple hundred dollars a month loaded on a debit card, which could only be used for food. When the form letter came in the mail, that was that. Because really, I never thought I would need it again. To say that we lived frugally is an understatement. We had recently been experiencing the working graduate student life, then, the working graduate student life with little children, so we were used to a relatively low standard of living.
If you bought us dinner or groceries, or gave us a ride, or brought us a pizza, or gave things to the girls, or made sure we had gifts at the holidays or took us for coffee, a bagel, and a much needed laugh this year, you know who you are. I love you all the more for that help and for giving that help without making it obvious that needing help meant we were kinda dumb. I really love you for that last part. And for giving me the opportunity to practice this grace around the girls.
We teach our kids to help, to share, to give, because we want them to be good people. And we are always noodging them to say thank you, but we might not get the opportunity to teach them to really be grateful, because it is sometimes so hard to set a good example. It has been one of the hardest things this year. I am sincerely thankful for everything my children received that I could not have possibly afforded, but still, I sometimes have a real pang that I am not the one giving the gifts. EBK Riley is a mother, wife, and writer who tries to apply her philosophy degree and dry sense of humor to the joys and sorrows of everyday life.
Nor can I graciously receive a compliment since what I hear from others is often exaggerated as well. All I did was sit in a chair for two hours while reading three magazines with Kate Middleton on the cover. But every adulation feels questionable when accompanied by the equivalent of a standing ovation. I want to graciously give, accept, and even believe compliments, but our hyperbolic language has rendered the entire industry of verbal admiration meaningless. In fact, I see and hear adjectives used so far past their definitions that the excess can have the effect of making me think the exact opposite of what the speaker or writer likely intended.
The giving of over-the-top compliments is related to the extreme deflecting of them, too. She was objectively very pretty. It got to the point where flattering her in any way became an uncomfortable endeavor. Nevertheless, I sometimes hear myself engage in this hyperbolic deflection, too. Was the meal I cooked good? The best brisket ever? However worrisome I find exorbitant compliments between adults, the problem is worse when it comes to the way we speak to kids. I need to remember the satisfaction I feel on the rare occasion of a tempered compliment.
When an editor accepts an essay or a short story it is never with dozens of exclamation points, smiling emoticons, or disproportionate adjectives. And perhaps not every proverbial moment at the plate needs to come with all this commentary one way or another. Brain, Child readers, do you find it difficult to give an authentic compliment or to receive one? Any other ideas to stop this cycle of exaggeration? My year-old son can be a train wreck.
His limbs are growing faster than he knows, and his brain is all over the place, from the world of Minecraft to the Marvel Comics Superhero Universe to the Greek gods of the Percy Jackson-verse. When he wobbled his bike down a path through the park, I winced as he passed pedestrians, afraid that he would ride into them. And he hardly ever seems to walk by his little sister without bumping into her, sometimes jostling her playfully, sometimes just knocking her over. It took a while, but I think I figured out what was wrong, why he had an incessant need to bump into things, consciously or not.
My wife always suggests exercise: Another dad at soccer practice was telling me his son needed tackle football—that boys this age just needed to run into each other and get some of that energy out. I thought back to wrestling with my son as a toddler. Part of the reason it took me so long to understand is my experience of my own family. I never doubted that my parents or my sisters loved me, but I also remember how bizarre it seemed the first time I saw my parents holding hands. This is a clear memory since I was probably about 16 at the time. They are fairly traditional Chinese people who are not into public displays of affection.
The next time he bumped his sister, I got reflexively mad again, but I kept my temper in check and took a deep breath. Come over here, I commanded, and then, to his surprise, I gave him a big squeeze. He returned the gesture and, after a minute, it seemed to make him feel better. Just like anyone, I know my son needs physical affection. They race side by side, they climb trees, they sit next to each other playing video games but they get embarrassed when they touch. Once after a brief falling out with a friend, I told my son and his pal to shake hands and I could sense that the physical act was as awkward as the apology.
So now I hug him. I was taken aback. My social engineering was totally transparent to him. In fact, it was backfiring—he took a hug to mean that I was mad at him. The worst part was, he was right. My heart was in my throat. He came over and we held each other tight. When I let go of him, he wiped his eyes, but he assured me that that was just his allergies. Follow him on Twitter: Part of the article discussed the underground re-homing movement, specifically quoting two posts from adoptive parents asking people to take their children from the group Christian Homes and Special Kids CHASK.
Movement from family to family like this often happens underground via yahoo group or online message board, out of reach of agency homestudies or social work visits. Recently a series of articles published by Reuters, The Child Exchange: Children who are sent to through these underground networks are sexually, physically and emotionally abused. The report highlights the importance of helping countries keep children in their countries of origin whenever possible and when that cannot happen, internationally adopting families should have a great deal of pre-adoption education and post-adoption support.
Currently, many agencies pay lip service to educating prospective parents on the special needs of adoptive kids but do very little in the way of real training and do even less when it comes to supporting families post-placement. As the report states, nearly half of all adoptive parents who adopt overseas end up parenting a child with special needs although only a quarter of them realize this pre-adoption. Many families go overseas to adopt with the understanding that they will be able to avoid some of the challenges of domestic adoption.
They hope that there will be fewer birth family complications, a clearer timeline and more control over their choices a boy or a girl, a child with a physical disability or not, etc. But as the report states, international adoption has its own unique challenges including the possibility of adopting a child who was trafficked and who was not legally free to adopt, a child whose health history is unknown or deliberately hidden, or a child who was abused while in care. Too, children who spend time in orphanages have institutional behaviors that require a different kind of parenting.
They may be developmentally delayed, have feeding challenges or have problems with attachment. Domestic agencies who serve hopeful families here in the states to adopt internationally may collude with unscrupulous brokers overseas or they may know as little as the adoptive parents they serve. Some downplay the problems that most internationally adopted children have or do little more than recommend books for families to read beforehand.
Once the children are home, most agencies offer nothing in the way of support. Potential adoptive parents need to be smart consumers, researching the agency, the state of adoption in the country of origin, and identifying the support in their community before they adopt. For example, a family lives in a rural community where there is little in the way of special needs services; they may need to reconsider their adoption plans given the likelihood that they will adopt a child who will need those services. These are difficult conversations to have and potential adoptive parents are sometimes so enamored with the idea of adoption that they have a hard time hearing the potential pitfalls.
The responsibility then falls to the agencies who are placing the children. Social workers who do homestudies and therapists who help families make adoption decisions need to be firm and direct in order to best serve those families as well as the children who may arrive. Families need to be screened more carefully and a safety plan should be in place, addressing what the family will do if they begin to feel overwhelmed, where they can ask for help, and to identify their local community supports.
Hopeful parents also need to understand that children who have faced tremendous loss and trauma usually have challenging behaviors. This does not make them damaged goods; it makes them children who need more loving support and parents with the skills to parent them. We must understand that the children are ultimately innocent parties to a complex, sometimes corrupt and always difficult system. Children who act out or struggle post-placement have the right to have their challenges understood and appropriately treated.
Would you like to purchase the Brain, Child Adoption Bundle? Includes four back issues with essays that explore the joys, difficulties and questions related to adoption. Those gritty, witty lyrics, dealing harsh truths that I never quite lived but knew I wanted to know about. As a teenager, I listened and I loved the dark worlds he painted. But later—I am not even kidding about this—Lou Reed was the heart of my parenting soundtrack, my melodious Dr. Because in addition to songs about edgy experiences that I never had and never would, Reed wrote, so eloquently, to the world I do live in.
Gifted children get enriched to within an inch of their lives in my world, and while I can mostly recognize this is bullshit, I am also easily seduced. But Lou Reed always called me on it. Teach the gifted children, Lou told me, and then he listed exactly what those children need to know: Teach them to have mercy. Teach them about sunsets … about anger … about mystery … about forgiveness ….
That path of those other lessons is not nearly as well-marked, and comes with very little college-admissions upside. Lou Reed knew what kind of gifted mattered most, and the characters that populated the underbelly-world he mostly sang about were not that. Teach them about mercy, he sang, and for children born into lives of education and enrichment and power, what more important subject could we possibly teach?
Baby Mozart, surely, is secondary. But in my own small corner, it was his ability to mix light into all the dark that spoke most powerfully. But at last, gathering strength, the backup singers start to chant: Life is absurd-funny and absurd-horrible. Deeply unfair, and deeply good. Youngest was ten when she, too, lost one of her closest friends to cancer.
She hurled her shaking body into us—her daddy, sister, brother and me—and we made it to the couch.
She lay across all our laps at once and we wrapped ourselves around every trembling bit of her, murmuring. It is the worst possible thing, and it is not fair. He simply knew that sometimes, there is no sense to be made. That spring, Youngest approached me, a little shy: Does that make me a terrible person, thinking that?
But now, everyone just plays with everyone, and is nice to each other. Thank you, Lou Reed. Not just for your brilliant raising up of streets and grit and darkness. Though every milestone my youngest child reaches is exciting, left behind are discarded remnants of the familiar, and I feel an ever-increasing ache for the now unreachable past.
My freshly minted name is just another reminder that a period of my life is changing and morphing into something else. Echoes of that Mommy live in a jumbled heap in my memory—midnight dashes to bedrooms when they were sick; holding them close when nightmares would interrupt their peaceful slumber; and those frequent moments when they were hurt, frightened, or unsure of a new situation.
And suddenly I look up and that Mommy has vanished, the only evidence of existence in hazy memories and fading photographs. A new person known as Mom is clumsily emerging in her place. This Mom is still a stranger to me, though I am quickly learning her role. New Mom has children in school all day and can relish in a quiet house to work and write in. But this Mom sometimes confuses herself with Mommy and secretly follows her children to school just to make sure they get to their classrooms safe and sound.
When there are stories of school shootings and violence, she has an urge to email the teachers just to make sure her kids are okay. I am meant to help my boys grow and evolve into loving, moral, and engaging young men. I am supposed to foster their independence so they can make their way into the world with confidence and success. And I will grow and evolve too. My role will naturally shift from primary caretaker to a secondary support system. This mother warrior will eventually shed her armor because she will have taught her sons to wear their own.
And then she will discover who she is all over again. She is a busy mother to her two active boys and scattered wife to her understanding husband. She is writing her way through life one paragraph and one cup of coffee at a time. I never co-slept with my kids when they were little. I was against the idea on principle. Not for safety reasons, mind you, but because I love my sleep and I love my space. One of the guiding lights of early motherhood for me was to encourage in my babies a similar reverence for the beauty of slumbering alone.
They were all sleep-trained as a result. I am in his single bed, pushed up against the wall. We are on a sleepover night. He has always needed a lot of rest, he was that baby. The one who could nod off anywhere, anytime. The toddler who took the three-hour nap and then still went down at 7: Some nights I hear his footsteps on the stairs and it is touching distance to my bedtime. He has finished reading; he has switched off the light. No such luck with his mind. I know the feeling. So when his head appears in the living room window, bobbing up and down like an apple, I smile and wave him in.
I pause the TV or fold closed my book and we walk back up together. Or maybe because there is a part of me that feels like I owe him. He slept like the baby of proverb and, in doing so, he allowed me to enjoy him unambiguously, to loose myself from the grip of the newborn period with no scars other than the one across my abdomen. For that I will be forever grateful. But I also feel like I owe him for the present. There are too many of them for that. Here we all are in the kitchen, a line of dominoes, one need pinging off the next. The second twin is asking me an unending chain of questions, from the potty, some of which involve the very existence of the snail itself.
And then there is Oliver. He is the one who can wait, so he waits. He is the one who can sense the chaos, so he retreats. Probably a bit of both. Most nights, especially school nights, I return him to bed, with a quick tuck in and tussle of his hair. But on sleepover night, there is no end-time for my attention. I lie with him for as long as it takes and, on this night, he knows I am not rushing off to do the next thing. To sop up the milk, to blow the nose, to tie the laces, to answer the email. Often on these nights I fall asleep myself and Oliver is out cold by the time I leave.
Sometimes, though, he dozes first. When they are tiny, the babies, they are wonder and mystery and vexingly sleepless at times you want them to sleep. As parents, especially the first time round, you imbue so much upon these tiny creatures. Who will this become? You, or speaking for myself, I shook my head many times over at the absurdity of the enterprise, equal parts grateful and bemused and horrified and exhausted.
My eldest recently turned eighteen. I felt a little sad about growing up, I recall, even though I cannot say I was so very happy as a child. Three pregnancies later, swings make me nauseous. During her infancy, I was pulled in two directions. I thought I knew what there was to know about babies, as in how to smush her into a ball for comfort and improved digestion and how critical it was to set her on her tummy.
Did she cry more than the others? Did she nap less? Did she laugh more? Some babies sleep more. Biology is a piece of a larger puzzle. I had an inkling of that as the bigger problems began, as in small children small problems big ones big ones—mostly the ones that awareness of the larger world bring. One of the first glimmers of this happened while we waited for this last baby to be born. I was so blown away by his ability to feel for everyone at that moment. I just felt awed. And I felt humbled.
In The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way , Amanda Ripley shines a spotlight on three countries that successfully teach higher-order critical thinking skills to almost all of their children. She introduces us to Kim, a sharp, sensitive Oklahoman, who travels to Finland to expand her horizons beyond that of her sports-loving, underperforming public high school; Eric, an affable Minnesotan, who spends a post-graduate year in South Korea; and Tom, a bibliophile from Pennsylvania, who sets off for Poland with visions of Chopin dancing in his head.
Poland, meanwhile, has enjoyed an upward trajectory of achievement, thanks to 15 year old reforms based on accountability, autonomy at the school level, and early remediation for both students and teachers. According to Ripley, if the U. That was the core consensus that made everything else possible.
So can the U. And perhaps recent economic turbulence will inspire us, just as it did Finland, South Korea, and Poland, to improve education in order to make our people into our most important resource. A while back, I met up for a play date with another white mother to children of color. As we sat chatting and watching our daughters play, I noticed something about her daughter, next to Annika, and no doubt, she noticed that same thing. And so I said it aloud. And since, I have reflected upon it many, many times, wondering exactly what it meant.
Both of our girls have skin tones similar to the average African American. Both, very thick, curly hair. It was not an amused or casual acknowledgement. It has never bothered me that my daughter and I have different skin colors. People tell me all the time she looks like her dad. She has my smile and the shape of my eyes and my cheekbones. But the first thing we see about people is the color of their skin. And the shape of their bodies. And then we begin to look into their faces. To see me in my daughter, you have to look into her eyes and gaze down at her face.
The only people who will see that will also have to know me. Not my actual skin color. But what I get because of it. There are many other things that have to do with white privilege. These are just the beginning of what I worry about. I did these kinds of things too, as a young woman. And it never occurred to me that anything terrible might happen to me if I were caught.
A slap on the wrist perhaps, or maybe a fine to pay. So, I worry about my daughter. I worry about when she becomes a teen and has grown up in, essentially, a white world. So what is white privilege? It is the reward we get for being white in a society that has historically used skin color as a determination for societal status.
While I listened to the people who said racism still existed, before Annika was born, I never really felt it for certain until I began to raise a daughter. A daughter who will become a woman of color. And I realize just how unbelievably lucky I have been to escape so many bad things that could have happened to me. I know now that there were situations where had I been a woman of color, perhaps I would not have been so lucky. Perhaps I would have been abused or ignored because I would not have the shield of white privilege. I wonder what would have happened if I had been black and snuck out of my bedroom window when I was 15; if I had gone walking around my mostly white neighborhood, a block away from a Christian university campus, with white men patrolling and lots of street lights.
Or perhaps, someone might have seen me as an opportunity, someone without the protection of white society. When you become pregnant and dream of the life you wish for your child, you might imagine all the things you can teach your child. I started out motherhood with a very idealistic and naive view of what I would do for my daughter.
It never occurred to me that her life would be taken control of in some ways because of the color of her skin. I can teach my daughter to be proud in spite of the racism in the world. She need not be defined by her blackness—unless she choses to be. Martha Wood is a single, white, female; a work-at-home mom; mother to a biracial daughter. You can follow her on Facebook , Twitter and Pinterest.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a government agency dedicated to medical research, at least half of all cases of lifetime mental illness appear before age fourteen. Parents who are raising children with mental illness must contend with social stigma, lack of psychiatric support, and a dearth of appropriate interventions. Yet we hear very little from those parents and kids who are struggling except when the cases are outrageous and tragic.
I brought together two moms who are parenting children who are mentally ill and who are out-spoken advocates for greater support and information. My oldest is 23, and our biological kid. Our next is Tim, 19, adopted at birth, diagnosed Pervasive Developmental Disorder at 4, Bipolar at 8, and Schizoaffective at Our daughter is 18, adopted at age 4. She has Reactive Attachment a Disorder and epilepsy. I am also guardian to E, 17, who is a precocious teen diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
I blog about parenting kids with mental illness at www. A vision disorder they share, our girl has an additional vision disorder, they both have kidney disease ARPKD which led to kidney transplants at age 8 and a liver disease congenital hepatic fibrosis , learning disabilities and our son has a depression with suicidal tendencies, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and ADHD with severe impulsivity.
I co-founded a site for families touched by special needs, www. Unless you live in or very near a large city, finding a doctor who has experience with childhood onset mental health issues could be a week wait. We literally stumbled on our current doctor when we had to admit Gage because he was suicidal. We consider ourselves lucky.
If you have a child in crisis, you need a bed in a decent facility. The availability of beds on psychiatric units has been rapidly declining over the past two decades. Same with our pediatrician. We basically were on our own to find our own help. In a lot of cases the adults were raising kids that also treated my son unfairly. We were very fortunate to have a few families who were willing to encourage their kids to befriend my son. He had one special friend through the worst times.
Laura accepted Gage the way he was in all of his wonderful oddness; this happened because of her parents. They showed compassion towards Gage and Laura followed suit. I remember when Tim was eight he wanted to play tackle football, really badly. So we decided that he could if my husband could be at practice every day. Tim made friends with the other boys on the team and they had a great year. The following year the league made sure to put him back on the same team. The plays were getting more complicated, but the kids got in the habit of the boy playing the position next to Tim giving him instructions as they set up on the line—they figured that out all on their own.
When Gage had his most horrific time a school administrator asked me not to blog about him because they were worried the kids would hear parents talking about him and then take it out on him at school. While I very seriously did consider not blogging about his mental health for a few days in the end I decided to keep blogging and told them that students and parents were already talking about Gage and I wanted to share the story and the truth.
I learned at the time there were parents approaching the administration requesting our son be removed from the class he was in and the school all together. Luckily, our principals were supportive of Gage and his quick return to school and routine after his admittance into a psychiatric hospital. Just ask the kids that have gotten to know him.
We moved away from that town when Tim was about 12 but he has kept in touch with a few of those boys. The thing I want most from parents of kids around my son is to be open. Be open to hearing about the issues we have and encourage your child to be open as well. Kids need friends and connection. When a friendship happens between a child with mental illness and a typical child a special thing happens between them. For the child that is different it means validation and comfort and for the other child it means they have a personal experience getting to know someone with gifts that few people see.
Our son really saves his best self for those who accepted him for him. My daughter, just the other day, gave me her 4 th Grade school picture and I got that feeling. You know how when you want to say something about rivers, the intangibility of memory, and a fork slicing through a piece of blueberry pie? Sometimes the content of the feeling veers away from imagery and seeks to announce itself in sound.
I mean, it erupts into words but it yearns rather to be heard as opposed to dwelling in what the words mean. But I never do. And so that feeling stays lodged in my chest, caught in my throat, restless, urgent, waiting to explode. Often, in relation to that feeling and its expression, I discover that it pushes and kicks at its boundaries in an effort to be a song. I hear the fast rippling notes of an acoustic guitar that come and go like a waterfall and the lyrics drip like syrup in a foreign language that belongs not to another country, but dreams.
She is in the picture. This contradiction creates sparks that flicker into imagery, poetry, and music. And there she is, frozen in a blink of time, well lit, smiling, wearing a purple leopard-skinned top and a light blue sweater peppered with the silhouettes of dachshunds. And I get that feeling. The ancient aesthetic gasp.
There she is, a 9-year-old 4 th Grade girl, trapped in a rectangle but, like a song, she pushes and kicks at the boundaries, dripping like syrup into the past and the future. She was my baby, a speck of pink flesh in tiny pajamas with zebras , and I rocked her to sleep night after night to the tune of Lou Reed crooning Pale Blue Eyes. And, still dripping from the picture, she will one day be an old woman with wise eyes that seem to float in a calm sea of memory and wisdom.
What also comes to mind are the conventions where adults dress up as their favorite characters from video games and movies. A mask, too, implies phoniness. Costumes, even aspirational ones, are not necessarily a false path to reaching a new goal or milestone. In my days as an English teacher during my mids, for example, I wore pencil skirts, blouses, and heels. Some of my colleagues in the English department wore jeans, but I wanted to appear serious and confident despite worrying that I was only one page ahead of the students most of the time.
For my first year as a licensed teacher, I was assigned to seventh and eighth grade classes in the morning and ninth grade classes in the afternoon. Every day I needed three sets of lesson plans and I had to arrive at two buildings on time the first one at 7AM. Most of the time I felt like a disorganized, underprepared disaster.
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But in my teacher getup, I made it through the year at least looking professional. I did a decent job and earned a position teaching full time at the high school for the next year. I still never wore jeans. I only taught for three years before I had a baby and took on the role of stay-at-home mom. A laptop, a new notebook, and a few special pens helped me ease into the writer persona long before I would publicly call myself a writer and even consider writing a realistic career path.
I had to convince myself first. My writing uniform now includes scarves, sweaters, and a vest no matter the time of year because the air conditioning is as miserable in the summer as the cold air from the door is in the winter. Some accessories and outfits help us ease into a new role while others develop out of practicality. Then there are my exercise ensembles. About a year and a half ago, I really got into exercise for the first time in my life.
I remember acknowledging at one point during that particular transition that I was finally putting the yoga in my long-loved yoga pants.
Who does she think she is , we ask ourselves. By Kelly Hirt Yesterday, I sent the following tweet: When I look at my son lying in his bed, it is as if I have forgotten all the rough parts of the day. That is some Mama Amnesia! When my precious boy is getting ready for bed, he begins to get softer around the edges. For some reason, his questions flow once the lights are turned off and while others can quiet their mind, his is just getting started!
One of our bedtime games that he loves is to remind me how quickly he is growing up. We laugh and he loves it. I was happy being a positive influence to many children as a teacher and then returning home to a tidy house and quiet evenings. My partner and I were both established in our careers and secure in our relationship when we finally began to wonder if we wanted a family … a larger family than just ourselves and our beloved terrier.
After a few years of talking and listening to each other, we decided it was time and we reached out to a local adoption agency. Our journey was unexpectedly challenging and there were times of true uncertainty. However, we are so very thankful for the process because we now have a precious boy of our own. He is quirky, sensitive and intense and his favorite place to be is at home. He is most comfortable in front of his computer or sitting between us on the couch during family movie nights. Out of the blue, he has recently started playing Pat-a-Cake again.
When the talking and reading is complete, the lights turn off and the calm music begins. I sit in the darkness and I think about being his mother … all that it means and all that I have experienced because of him. I am forced to be more intentional with my words and actions since I have this boy watching my every move. I censor my speech and I try to model the healthiest ways to express frustration and stress. I must be my own best friend now … instead of my own worst enemy because he should see how to forgive yourself for mistakes and to learn how to celebrate your own strengths.
On this night, after the talking has stopped, I have a new appreciation for how hard it must be for MY parents to see me grown up and independent … making my own choices. She started her blog http: By Kathleen Harris My first-born child—my daughter, my baby, my soft, powdery, little one, whose infant body shook with love and the very electricity of life as she clutched my face, and bestowed upon me the most precious gift of open-mouthed, applesauce-ed kisses on my lips and nose and cheeks—will be twelve in the fall. My baby girl is gone. She no longer shakes with excitement at the sight of me.
It would be odd if she did. This light—her fiery, warm, living light—must envelop and surround other people, and be directed towards other passions. And inward, to stoke the furnace of her very being. She started middle school in September. We are lulling ourselves with the illusion of control. It seems to be a common practice among mothers and fathers. The anticipation of its arrival awes and frightens me. I had my own twelve.
We all did, of course, if we found our way through the blind maze of adolescence out into the harsh light of adulthood. But I—shamefully, secretly—superimpose my twelve over hers, like fragile onion skin paper, noting the similarities, the places where our outlines run together, so alike, so close, and then spread so far apart. My twelve took place in —the summer before my parents and I moved from Queens, New York to the affluent suburbs of Connecticut. I was a city kid, although it never occurred to me to think of myself that way. We were simply where we were, where generations had lived before us, and where we always expected to be from.
But we were all harder and wiser than we knew ourselves to be. All of us were. Every single one of us who called a New York City borough their home. At twelve, I smoked Parliaments, wore ice-blue eyeshadow and roll-on lip gloss, and started being silent. That summer, I sat on a soiled, abandoned couch in a wooded area that separated my childhood playground and the Interboro Parkway. Instead, my friend Debbie and I—the girl who sat next to me, hands folded and knees together under pleated plaid skirts in our kindergarten class photo—now held hands and pressed knees together in some sort of naive united front, and both shook our heads no while the boys laughed too loudly at our refusal.
Michael had red-rimmed eyes every day that summer. I watched him adeptly twist the rolling paper, and thought of him crying at his desk in first grade because he missed his mother. He had a bowl cut as a little boy, and his hair fell in a thousand, swaying strands of yellow, brown and gold. I remembered his clip-on tie, which was always askew in class when he was little, and that at seven or eight, I had yearned to straighten it. That was the summer my friend wanted to set me up with a boy from the neighborhood. His name was Johnny. We moved to Connecticut at the end of that summer.
I tell myself that the world is different now, that parents are more aware of problems, that we see the signs of worry or trauma, long before it indents forming souls. But I think of the fact that I became silent. Kathleen Harris is a fortysomething wife, mother and writer, living in northern New Jersey with her husband and two children. You can find her regular blog postings at The Mommy Chronicles http: Follow her on Facebook or Twitter at tristatemomma.