Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Brief History of Motherhood

It used to be that people had kids because they couldn’t not have them, and then they were just there, like your hog or cow or field of corn.  Slightly more intelligent, slightly more useful, slightly more cherished.  You fed them whatever you had, I’m guessing some pork or beef or corn, and put some home-spun organic clothes on them, because there were no Targets, gave them a bed of some kind and then went back to churning your butter.  Which was a lot of work, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I want to churn butter.  And the kids crawled around and pooped in the corner every now and then, but your floor was dirt, so what did you care.  And occasionally a kid contracted a diphtheria or got trampled by a horse, and it was super sad but you had twenty more, so you got over it.  If they didn’t die young, you turned them out into the barn or field or chained them to a butter churn.  That was the way it was, and if anyone had anything to say about it, like, “I don’t wanna churn butter!!! I want a popsicle!!!” then you just beat them with the butter churn, and that pretty much solved that problem.

Parenting was not something that was given a lot of thought, certainly not something “experts” wrote books about and read books about while anxiously biting their nails and worrying it was too late for Johnny, he was already destined for a lifetime of wearing baseball caps backwards while gaming in the basement and watching internet porn and it is all your fault because you only breastfed him for 2 years and his baby food contained a preservative that Jenny McCarthy has since made illegal.  No, those parents had enough on their plates just putting food on their plates, and actually, they may not have even had plates, or else they had to make their plates themselves, which was hardly worth the effort when you can just eat off the pooped-on floor.  Life was pretty brutal in general, and children probably figured out early on that they had better shut up and help themselves or they weren’t going to live to acquire their own butter churn.

Now we buy butter in a store, or if we are a midwestern grandmother with a cholesterol problem or Fabio, we buy I Can’t Believe It’s not Butter.   But in a store. With all the extra time we save, we do crafts with our children and teach them to compose symphonies and shuttle them to their Chinese/ballet/Chinese-ballet classes and generally make a huge deal over them.  They come to the very logical conclusion at an early age that they are, in fact, Beyonce, or some other like celebrity, and can say things like, “Get my damn milk already” without endangering their lives.  And parenting is now officially a THING, an occupation all to its own, at which you can either succeed or fail.  You can even get fired, in the form of CPS showing up at your house, although that is a level of failure that I suppose doesn’t exist in the work world, unless you are a CEO or a President of the United States, in which case you may still keep your job.

Now, there was a golden decade or so after labor saving devices, store-bought butter, and disposable diapers somewhat relieved women’s past burdens in the home but before they discovered that television and tobacco kills and your children have to ride in car seats and wear sunscreen at all times and need constant attention and nurturing and crafting or they will hate you.  That period was called the 60s, maybe into the 70s, and I know from watching a lot of movies that mothers sat around smoking cigarettes, drinking boxed wine, playing bridge, and getting their hair “set.”  True, they did still have to cook and clean, or at least cook, until shag carpeting went out of style, and everyone realized things were disgusting down in there.  But then the microwave was invented.  One of my earliest memories was our family buying our first one circa 1978, after which my mother converted every recipe she had to a microwave version (which probably used up all the time the microwave saved, not to mention making the chicken really rubbery) and allowed her to do… I have no idea.  Because whatever she was doing, she wasn’t doing it anywhere near me.  I was either watching The Brady Bunch, roller skating in the basement or picking my nose and wiping the boogers on the wall behind my bed (was THAT ever a horrifying moving day).

But then lots of women got all educated and started entering the work force in large numbers and people in general got more educated and children became fewer and more precious and people started studying children and coming up with theories of parenting the basic thrust of which were that YOU SUCK, and a bunch of other stuff happened, too, like car seats being invented, including dire warnings that if you don’t break a couple fingers tightening the straps to maximum capacity, your child will die a painful death next time you have a fender bender.  And then women started feeling guilty about working, and a lot of them started going back home, college and graduate degrees retained, to raise their kids guilt-free (as if that is even humanly possible anymore) and to the best of their extensive abilities, and the ones that kept working started looking for more and more ways to assure their kids that they were extra-extra-special and Mommy loves you even though Mommy, gulp, likes her job somewhat but not too much and really I would stay home if we didn’t need to save up for your medical school.

And thus, motherhood—whether performed by over-qualified former career women who now directed their talents and ambitions toward their children, or angst-ridden current career women looking for ways to assure themselves, their kids, and society writ large that they were not horrible people—became a full-fledged profession, complete with its own journals, best practices, and review panels (i.e. other mothers, as well as your children’s future therapists).  

Here’s the thing, though:  While only certain women become accountants, doctors, lawyers, teachers, chefs, or whatever, most of women, statistically, will become mothers.  And while one’s choice of an occupation is usually correlated to one’s suitability, talent, and passion for that occupation, one’s choice to become a mother—and in some cases, there is no choice, there is more of a, What, it’s Tuesday?! This pill pack says it’s Saturday. I’m confused—is not.  We become mothers because we become obsessed with our partners and think our love is so great, it needs another body or two to inhabit.  We become mothers because we want to be genetically immortal.  Because we want someone to wipe our butts for us some day.  Because our marriage is too easy and perfect and we want to see if it can handle an existential threat to its life. Because we love Star Wars and want an excuse to play with our action figures again.  Because we are committed to the continuation of the human race, and we see a bunch of stupid people reproducing and become concerned.  Because it’s just what you DO, according to society.  Just because.

And some of us, maybe even most of us, become mothers because we are very well suited for it.  We have the skills and temperament not just for the relationship, but for the job.  We dreamed of nothing else as little girls, love the smell of babies, cry about children growing up, do not feel nauseous when we encounter a woman breastfeeding, like making cupcakes and other baked items, do not just wrap our Christmas presents in a perfunctory way but actually put curled ribbons and other crap on them, and can cook dinner while children incessantly whine and scream all around us.  We are maternal.

Then there are the rest of us.  The ones who as little girls could not understand why their friends were so eager to live a life of enslavement to mercurial masters, think toddlers aren’t so much cute as RIDICULOUS TERRORISTS, like eating cupcakes and other baked items made by other people, put Christmas presents maybe in a gift bag without tissue paper or just whip them out of the closet unwrapped on Christmas morning, and approach cooking dinner with unrestrained children in the vicinity as if we are climbing over a chain link fence with a pack of Rottweilers chewing our toes off.  If there were an interview process to become a mother, we wouldn’t even know how to lie.
“In a hypothetical scenario, if a child throws up on you while you are sitting on a sofa, what would you clean first, the child, yourself, or the furniture?”
“None of the above? I think I would just start crying and maybe run out of the house.”  
  “I’m sorry, the correct answer is ALL OF IT, simultaneously, but if one thing has to give, it would be yourself.  If necessary, you would wear those vomit clothes until the child’s high school graduation as long as he needed something and your house was a mess.”
“Oh. I guess I don’t get the job.”
“No, you’re getting the job. You’re just going to be really, really bad at it.  And you get some stretch marks, too.  Congrats!”

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Want to Wear a Tunic (and other thoughts on aging)

I want to wear a tunic.  A big, soft, flowing linen tunic.  I want to wear it over soft linen pants with an elastic waist band.  I want to push the boundaries of pajamas-as-clothes as far as they will go.  I want to wear this all of the time.  In the winter, I will trade linen pajamas for leggings and a massive, cuddly sweater.  That's what I want to wear.  I can't really explain this per se.  It is a deep-seated urge that is steadily growing within me.  Although I have put on a few pounds post-40, my body is roughly the same size and shape as when I desired to wear jeans.  But now I require extensive negotiation with myself to maintain any sort of relationship with denim.

The last time I wanted to wear massive clothes was in my early 20's.  Because at 5'9" and 135 lbs, I thought I was obese.   Starting from my teenage years, I desperately tried to acquire an eating disorder, but I just didn't have the discipline or blood sugar stability for anorexia nor the gag reflex for bulimia.  And that's the truth, I am not making light of eating disorders.  I had one on the inside, and it wasn't funny at all.  I hid beneath ugly clothing that was several sizes too big, hoping not to be noticed and to be noticed all at the same time.  

Now it's totally different.  I still don't love my body, this is true, but I'm getting sick and tired of not loving it.  And I'm getting sick and tired of dealing with its outfitting.  I am weary of shoving it into skinny jeans and high heels and anything that feels scratchy, skimpy, or squeezy.  I still do, mind you, I'm not quite waving the white flag yet.  I have a husband I still hope to impress anyway.  But I want very badly to wear a tunic and call it a fashion day.  I am growing bored and fatigued of trying to fulfill the loudly unspoken female calling of beautifying the world.  Grow some flowers, world.  I will be over in the corner draped in linen.  

I have become obsessed with chin hair.  I have tweezers stashed everywhere. I am constantly searching for something to pluck, carefully scrutinizing my face in any mirror I encounter and running my finger tips over my skin the rest of the time (which by the way breeds acne, with which I am also obsessed and which has nothing to do with aging).  I confess to having a bizarre fascination with facial hair, the way it seemingly appears overnight like young, female pop stars who sing like nauseous cats in their efforts to be alluring.  I go to bed fresh faced as a choir boy only to wake up with with a 2-inch-long thick, black hair growing in the middle of my cheek like some sort of anomalous robot character in a Civil War drama.  I am horrified but also thrilled by the magic of it.  And there's something so gratifying about plucking it, seeing another good half-inch slide out of the recesses of my face.  I imagine what else is under there--chocolate bars? orphan socks? the remains of a fetal twin?  It's terribly compelling.

I want to adopt all the young adults in my life.  They are already raised, for one thing, and they are all so shiny and confident compared to how I was as a young adult.  I was roadkill compared to their leaping gazelles.  My youth was indeed completely wasted on me, while I wallowed in grief and faux eating disorders and imagined obesity and stupid decisions, and it's good to see so many of my young friends already thriving.   I can't be them, so I'll just make them all my grown children.  And the ones that aren't thriving, I want to mother even more.  I know what it is to be lost and wandering in the dark of self-hatred.  I want to tell them they are precious.  And that they should eat that cookie while it won't reappear as a chin hair or butt bulge in 24 hours.  

Despite my best efforts, my back goes out annually, like some kind of lumbar birthday celebration.  I find myself telling anyone who will listen about my degenerated discs and how they slightly herniate on occasion, impinging upon my sciatic nerve and various other painful things.  I do this even though I know they can't possibly care.  I have no idea why I tell them. It is a compulsion, just like the plucking and the tunics.  

I strategize sometimes about what kind of old lady I will be.  I don't think I can pull off the Sweet Old Lady type.  I find myself growing increasingly blunt and sarcastic.  So I imagine going with the Edgy Artist type with spiked hair and large turquoise jewelry and loud opinions.  But then I realize I have rarely sustained the energy to routinely accessorize and highly doubt I will suddenly want to change my earrings every day when I turn 65.  Beyond tunics, I can't say exactly what my future holds.  I'm thinking something akin to Betty White.  She's my senior citizen spirit animal.  

But I'm looking forward to it, in a way.  I'm at the age now where I am very much aware that my time is short.  40 or 50 years doesn't sound like a long time when the last 10 have zoomed by like a binge-watched Netflix show.  I feel more at peace about the prospect of death now than when I was younger (and, ironically, much more religiously certain).  But I am sad that my life is essentially half-over because I feel like I've just now figured some things out.  I'm looking forward to figuring more things out and living in the joyful knowledge of those things.

And as a woman, while part of me is desperately, frantically afraid to see my beauty (such as it is) fade, part of me is relieved at the prospect of lowered expectations and greater invisibility.  Perhaps the plentiful number of heinous men out there will no longer accost me in the grocery store or otherwise burden me with their need for gratification.  The thought of sliding through life unseen has its appeal.   I just hope my lover still sees me when I'm old and finds me beautiful in some way.  The thought of losing his gaze or that it might be disappointed when it finds me is one of the most shattering things I can imagine.  I think of the Emma Thompson character in Love Actually, whose husband loves her but is captivated by his young co-worker.  Kevin is a big reason--really THE big reason--I still want so badly to be beautiful.  

Right now, I'm still in that transitional space, where societal expectations and stretch-denim still lurk in my closet even while wrinkles and cellulite spread on my body.  There is some anxiety.  But I know the Tunic Days are coming, and I'm betting they will be good.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Grandma's Marriage and Family Therapy, LLC

As have pretty much all couples who have been married for more than 2 weeks and/or have children/marital kryptonite, Kevin and I have been to couples counseling.  I obviously won't go into details because even I have some discretion, but it was during a time when Kevin's job was extra-demanding and our kids were regular-demanding.  And I was demanding him to come home earlier and he was demanding me to leave him alone can't you see I am doing my best.  There were lots of demands.

We went to therapy for a few months, and it was fine, good stuff.  We picked up great tips like "Just talk about the chair."  I don't remember what that means, but it was helpful at the time.  We talked about our childhoods, obviously.  You ain't getting out of the Trump White House without legal bills, Congo without dysentery, or therapy without careful dissection of your family-of-origin dynamics.  We practiced listening and empathizing and learned to say things like, "I'm feeling stressed," and "I'm hearing you say you feel stressed."

But then we went on a trip.  No kids, just us, for one whole week. Kevin's mom came and kept our kids.   We went to Arizona, which was incredible, but we could've gone to Omaha, didn't matter.  We learned many things on that trip including:

  • We are both really nice people when there are no kids around
  • There is not much to fight about when there are no kids around
  • We are both incredibly attractive when there are no kids around
  • We sleep much better when there are no kids around
  • We are both super funny and entertaining when there are no kids around
  • Neither of us has any annoying habits when there are no kids around
  • Our families of origin dynamics are totally functional and compatible when there are no kids around
  • We don't need to talk about the chair or even know what the chair symbolizes when there are no kids around. We don't even need chairs. We can sit on the floor.
  • No one feels stressed or says they feel stressed or needs to communicate that they hear that someone feels stressed when there are no kids around
  • Food tastes better, the air is cleaner, skin is clearer, the weather more temperate, God is on his throne, and Abraham Lincoln is the president again when there are no kids around
We came back feeling like newlyweds, and while that wore off some, this one week brought real, permanent change to our relationship.  It was like a miracle.  It turns out the main challenge in our marriage is that we share it with two other, very demanding people who turn us both into trolls.  We can't do much about them, they are here to stay and we of course love them, but we can periodically run away from them and our troll-alter-egos.  And that is what we have continued to do.  A week in California here, a weekend at the beach there, a week hiking in Maine.  Less glamorous, weekends at in-town hotels.  One time we stayed at the airport because we had points to burn.  We stared into each others' eyes serenaded by the sounds of planes taking off.  Needless to say, all of this is far more fun than sitting awkwardly in front of a marriage therapist and talking about chairs and feelings.  

Of course, the only way we can do this is because of Kevin's mom (my parents have their hands full caring for my 97 year-old grandmother).  She has literally broken bones taking care of our kids so we can recollect what we look like on a full night's sleep and why we ever liked each other in the first place.  I'm not joking--She called us in California to tell us she had broken her foot "but I'm doing just fine! No need to come home! Have fun!"  Is it terrible that we did what she asked? I told you we had troll-sides.  

The only downside to all this is that our kids are seeing everything their grandmother is doing and I fear will expect the same of us.  I guess I'll worry about that later.  For now, I'm sticking with this program.  Some people stay together for the kids, but we leave the kids for the marriage.  I think everyone is better off in the end. Except maybe poor Grandma, hobbling around on one leg.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How to Dismantle a House in 10 Years or Less

Those of you who are newly-wed or soon-to-be, take a moment to look around your home.  It is no doubt stocked with brand new towels, pots and pans, furniture, dishes, and bedding that kind friends and family have bought you or you and your beloved have bought together.  There may be a new coat of paint on the walls, a clean rug under foot, a lovely blanket over the arm of a sofa in a way that looks casually thrown but is in fact neatly styled.  Things are just the way you like them, shiny and new.

Take a good look.  Take some pictures.  Bask in the Pottery-Barn-like-beauty.  Because it won't last.  In 10 years, you will be living in filth and chaos.   And this is how it will happen.

Year One--Your perfect beloved will break some dishes while trying to wash them. It also turns out he has an annoying habit of leaving change lying around and never throws away receipts.   But that is neither here nor there.  It also turns out he doesn't know what a coaster is. (Clarification:  I am seriously not talking about Kevin.  I have used generic annoying things as a stand-in for things about Kevin that are annoying, in that they don't exist.  There is nothing annoying about Kevin.)  Your coffee table now bears the insignia of the coffee cup Olympics.  A klutzy friend will spill a glass of red wine on the rug.  Someone will grab one of your white Turkish towels to clean it up.

Year Two--Maybe you get a dog, maybe he eats some tupperware.  Or maybe you just have friends who never return the tupperware.  Some of it gets melted in the dishwasher or microwave.  Regardless of how it happens, you soon have 3 lids and 2 containers of tupperware, none of which goes together.  Also, your non-stick pan coating starts to peel regardless of how fancy the brand.  You have to throw it out and you buy cheap Target stuff because you don't cook anyway and you are saving for dog obedience school.  Also, the hangers in your closet are now all those cheap wire dry cleaner hangers.  It's not clear what happened to the other hangers, but they have clearly moved on.

Year Three--your white bedding is now brown.  Which is fine, you never make your bed anyway and the throw pillows for it are always underneath it.  It bothers you that your bedroom no longer looks like a magazine, but you have to leave the house at 6 am for your new job, so it is what it is.  The walls of your house now have a millions scuffs and chips and things from people recklessly kicking their shoes off.  All the baseboards and corners of every room have a thin film of grime and lint.  Your sofa at this point bears the unmistakable marks of hosting numerous picnics.  Also, you now have 4 kinds of glasses in your cabinets, none of which match.

Year Four--Hurricane Katrina hits your location, flooding your house with raw sewage and all manner of disgusting filth.  Just kidding, you have a child, which is worse.  You can get insurance money for Katrina and fix things up in time, whereas with a child, your house will never be clean again.   Despite your firm declaration that your hone will not be littered with baby items, there are in fact bouncy chairs, swings, play gyms, diapers and stuffed toys every 3 feet.  At first you try to buy things that match your decor, but then you just say Trump It, the garish zebra striped exersaucer with the blinking fluorescent lights entertains the child 3.2 minutes longer, and that's definitely worth it.

Year Five--As your child begins walking, you start losing control of where the items in your house reside.  You will find stuffed animals in your oven, hopefully before preheating it. You will find your blowdryer in the bottom of a dress up bin.  You will find cups of coagulated, molded, rancid milk between couch cushions.  None your upholstered furniture is the color it was when you bought it.  You can no longer remember what color it was, and you can't really say what color it is now.  It is the color of all the colors mixed together or all the foods mixed together and vomited up.  Your dining room table is bedazzled.  You can't see out of your windows for the finger smudge.  Also, all your cups are now ones acquired from Happy Meals.  Also, your walls are covered in stickers.

Year Six--Well, you done lost your mind and had another kid.  Why would you ever do that.  Because you done lost your mind, that's why.  In rare quiet moments, you can audibly hear your house begging you to PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.  Or is that your own soul.  It's hard to tell and kind of doesn't matter because there's nothing you can do for either one.  So.  Now you get to start all over from the beginning with the ugly exersaucers and spit up and poop.  Meanwhile, your older child continues to grow in assertiveness, mobility, and artistic expression.  That child now wants to paint and cook and attempt to clean in a way that is not cleaning.  Also, your bathroom rug is now completely mildewed.

Years Seven and Eight--These are the years when your oldest child develops their own social life.  They start going places without you--school, Sunday School, sports events and birthday parties--and they start acquiring things at those places and bringing those things into your house without your permission.  Your house is now a junkyard of drawings, popsicle-stick sculptures, plastic tops, and fake tattoos.   You spend 75% of your time sorting through things and making agonizing decisions about what is trash and what is not and how you might dispose of all the things without anyone realizing it.  75% of your home is covered with the stuff you were unable to dispose of without someone noticing and having an annyeurism.

Year Nine--Now you have entered a new, horrible phase that can be described with one word: LEGOS.  Which are very fun. They are also very small and disperse like dandelion seeds in stiff wind.  Your entire home is infested with them, like lice in the the hair of a girl with very thick, very curly, very dark hair.  You find them ground up in your garbage disposal, in the gear shift of your car, in pockets of clothes that have been washed, dried and put away, in pillow cases and shoes and bathtub drains and light sockets and in your ears and between your toes and worse.   Also, you have two kids attending birthday parties and getting the horrible favor bags.

Year Ten--The dismantling of your once-pristine home is now complete.  There is not a single item or surface in the entire place that is truly clean and unchipped, unbroken, unscratched, unscathed or otherwise bearing any resemblance to what it was when first acquired.  Even your own underwear is disgusting, we won't go into all the reasons why, but it doesn't matter. Nothing can stand pure and undefiled in this place.  And it's not like it doesn't bother you.  You are highly bothered.  But you are resigned to the reality that it is easier to just lay down and take it than to try to order and clean a house while it is being ravaged by a tornado.

There are forces of entropy in the world, my friends.  Things that were once new and perfect decay and get dirty and fall apart and unravel and get overgrown and break and get jumbled unless carefully maintained.  Cars. Gardens. Faces. Muscle tone. Panty Hose. Language skills.  Relationships. Book shelves.  Eyebrows. Democracies. I wish that once you achieved something or cleaned something or set something right or got it where you wanted it to be that it would stay that way, even just for a year or two.  The maintenance of life can be overwhelming.   Then you add a couple kids and it's like the Millennium Falcon going into hyperspace or being put into a wood chipper.  Or flying at hyperspace speed into a wood chipper.

Some people spend their entire existence trying to beat back every inch of chaos and they end up on an HGTV show.  Other people just say Trump the Whole Thing and do nothing to beat it back and they end up on a TLC show.  Most of us fall in the middle, and my own strategy--in addition to medication--is to spend the bulk of my time maintaining what is truly valuable and/or what I enjoy maintaining.  My marriage and my physical health are at the top of this list.  With the rest of it--to include my house--I try to do a little bit every day, but then to let it go.  Sometimes I survey the chaos, take in every imperfection, and practice doing nothing at all about it.  I can feel the anxiety creep up, the sheer panic that everything is falling apart around me and it's on me to keep it together or....or...or...or What? Will the smudged windows and chipped dishes harm us? Will the expanding lines on my face rob me of value? Will the realization of my spouse's imperfections make me unable to love him?  Will the meaning of my life be measured by how organized my closets are?  And on the flip side, would a Pottery Barn house or a cellulite-free butt or a husband who throws away all his receipts make my life appreciably better or my worth more?

However, I truly do believe that I would be happier with some ankle definition.  I will never know, because, tragically, that is the one thing a plastic surgeon can do nothing about, but I think it might make a difference.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Games Will Keep Us Together

We have crossed an important Rubicon in our house recently--our children can now both play games. I'm not talking about head games or other forms of psychological manipulation--they've been doing that since birth--and I'm not talking about the toddler and preschool versions like Chutes and Ladders or Hi Ho Cherry O that present all of the risk of loss-induced-fit-throwing with none of the enjoyment of brain activity.   I'm talking about REAL GAMES, games I might play in my normal adult life, games that require sentient thought.  Catan. Ticket to Ride. Clue. SPADES, friends, SPADES.  

We've had Charlotte on board for awhile.  As an oldest child, she generally wants to be as adult as possible, as early as possible.  As a youngest child, this is not a mentality I have ever been able to understand.  However,  I can understand why she would rather play Catan with the grown ups than another round of Candy Land, a game with the triple advantage of being boring, annoying, and promoting tooth decay.  Over the past year, she has been learning to play Bridge, which is practically a religion in my extended family, and recently made her official debut at our very indulgent monthly Bridge group.  She did well, but was aided by our group's preference for drinking wine over serious competition.

Lawson--being younger, generally opposed to the rule of law, and more interested in a digital life than a social life--has taken longer to come around.  He first started playing the various games we wanted him to play with us on his tablet (of course).  He in fact taught himself how to play them all, which is good, because teaching him anything is akin to doing brain surgery with a very stubborn version of Robin Williams.  Half comedian, half militant,  all Lawson.  After some months of leaving him to his (own) devices, we began coaxing him to the game table.  He's not playing Bridge just yet, but he does enjoy a rowdy game of Catan, just so long as you never rob him, a tragedy any mere mortal will greet with some amount of chagrin, but which Lawson considers a war crime.  His new favorite game, thanks to babysitters Bill and Nancy, is Exploding Kittens.  Although he would prefer that real kittens actually explode, he does enjoy reading the ridiculous captions on each card that refer to things like back hair shampoo and poop.

We are all getting along so much better now that we have the games.  We now have some suitable alternatives to screen time, dinosaur fights, lego construction, and writhing around the floor in boredom.  Not only do games engage the mind and focus social interactions, they can be played comfortably seated in a chair.  Everyone in fact gets their own chair, no one is climbing atop the others. True, only one person wins, and that person is almost always Kevin, and he almost always does so using some kind procedural Mitch-McConnell-like jujitsu, much to everyone's annoyance.  And at times the losers throw fits, and sometimes those fit-throwers are even children. But generally speaking, all the people have fun.

As previously referenced, I come from a great game-playing tradition.  Growing up, our nuclear family played various card and board games, mainly because I refused to learn how to play the holy grail of games, Bridge, mainly because I could tell my parents really really wanted to teach me, exhibiting a soul-crushing obstinance that proves the genetic link between myself and Lawson.  They loved to play and often joked they had 2 kids in order to have the required 4 players for a Bridge game.  As an adult, I finally cooperated and learned this amazing, sadly going-out-of-style card game.  When I met Kevin, I taught him to play.

I don't think it's too much to say that besides the bonds of blood and affection, Bridge is the glue that holds our extended family together.  My grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle and assorted others always got a table or two going at every family gathering.  My late grandfather had an entire lexicon of bridge-related phrases that sounded nonsensical to the uninitiated.  Heck, they were a little weird even to the initiated. "Get them kids off the street," "It twisted off," "A sea of faces and aces," "I'm gonna pass on account of my cards," "This ain't worth setting' up," "You got that one at Woolworths."

My grandmother is still an amazingly sharp player at the age of 97. She in fact has no compunction with pointedly asking you, grandchild of hers though you may be, "Now why did you play that card right then?"  at which point you can find no excuse for yourself.  She always knows what card to play when.  For a couple of years when I taught at a college near her house, I would drive over every Tuesday afternoon to play with her Bridge group, a charming assortment of small town folks all many decades my senior who gathered in the Gold Room at the First National Bank to drink weak coffee and play cards for spare change.  They were really good for my self esteem, always going on about how young, smart, and pretty I was.   I paid no mind to the fact that many of them could barely see their cards.  There was the occasional dust-up over Dottie's chronic underbidding, which was really about the fact that everyone knew Dottie was having an affair with a married man, or Maggie's repeated reneging, which was really about the fact that everyone knew Maggie owed Joe $100 from several years prior.   I stayed out of the internal politics and enjoyed the game.  Not many Gen Xers play bridge, much to their detriment.  I'm hoping maybe the hipsters will bring it back, as they have names like Herbert, massive glasses, and crocheted capes.

My parents are likewise really great players.  Well, if you discount my father's complete and utter disgust when he goes several hands without getting any cards and his complete and utter unwillingness to give up a bid when he does get cards.  Even Charlotte knows Baba to be a recalcitrant over-bidder.  He and Kevin, who always team up, share a desire to win all games at all costs, and they are both annoying.  Neither allow any mercy even for the mothers of their precious children and even when reminded of the maternal pain and suffering experienced when bringing said children into the world.  I do not care, they say, I will get this bid, and I will crush you.  The only feeling more powerful than the frustration one feels with them is the sublime joy of dishing out their comeuppance in the form of a sound beating.

Bridge is an aptly named pastime for our family, because it has in fact bridged divides over the years.  It brought together my strictly devout parents and my party-animal grandparents.  It now brings together me and my parents, though our views increasingly diverge.  There are a range of topics we can't discuss anymore, mainly because we can't seem to do it calmly, and I have an anxiety disorder.  But we can always play Bridge.

And now me and my kids--whose very existences can seem at fundamentally cross-purposes, in that I am trying to say sane and they are trying to drive me insane--can play various other enjoyable games together, and maybe one day all play Bridge, if Lawson cooperates, which is not to be expected.  I suck at crafts, I don't enjoy baking cookies, I am a terrible disciplinarian, and often bribe my children to go in the other room and leave me alone.  But I am incredibly good at losing gracefully at Catan, and everyone can appreciate that.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Screen Queen

It remains to be seen which aspects of my parenting prove to be truly disastrous.   Charlotte may never get a job because of my failure to insist that she wear anything but shorts and T-shirts or brush her hair (or she could just become an academic).  There is a very good chance Lawson will have no teeth and an enlarged bladder.  They are probably both going to have back trouble from sleeping on the floor (their choice, I did buy them beds).  And diabetes.

But my worst failing is definitely my substandard policing of the dreaded Screen Time, that existential threat to the human capacity for focus, speech, relationship, critical thought, or even basic brain activity.  I do think there is something to the experts' alarm, although they get pretty hyperbolic about it, and anyway, no one can really conduct properly controlled experiments on parenting outcomes.  I'm betting all those sickly kids who weren't breastfed were always going to be sickly, bless their hearts.  But I know from my own experience with my beloved iPhone the addictive and seductive power of the screen.  And I feel dumber.  And I don't like it, because I am still smart enough to know that I used to be smarter.  So I can't quite roll my eyes at the parenting experts on this one.  

I've been through various systems of limiting screen time to include:
  • Set screen hours.  For instance, telling them they can use screens from 7-8 am, 5-6 pm.  But Charlotte regularly sleeps in past 7 and so this is SO NOT FAIR, and when I try to find another time for her to have screen time, Lawson ends up watching over her shoulder and then THAT is so not fair and then I just get tired and go eat chips.
  • Popsicle sticks in a can.  Each stick represents a half hour of screen time, and they get so many for the week.  But then they start watching shows that are only 20 minutes, and that is not a full stick and so it's SO NOT FAIR to count it for an entire stick.  So then I fix that and make each stick 20 minutes, but I still have the problem of figuring out how much screen time TWO SEPARATE CHILDREN are using every day.  I get to the end of the day and try to remember who did what when. My brain hurts and I go look at Cape Town real estate online.
  • Go tech-free every Sunday.  So, this is a great plan, because I figure if we can do this for an entire day, the rest of the week probably doesn't matter too much.  But here's how it breaks down.  First of all, it's SUNDAY. As in, a day we really don't want to wake up at 6 am.  Problem is, Lawson wants to wake up at 6 am EVERY DAY OF HIS LIFE AND EVEN IN HEAVEN.  Now, if allowed, he bounds out of bed, sprints down the hall, grabs a device and may actually leave us alone.  This is not 100%, however.  Sometimes he still feels the need to inform us of his whereabouts, as if we are going to wake up, see his bed empty and immediately think Jesus has returned, and in ironic twist, the boy who makes farting noises in church is the only one who made the cut.  Sometimes he doesn't go for his devices anyway, he comes to get in bed with us just to chat.  At which point we begin begging him to play a video game.  On a Sunday, which is No-Tech Sunday, as Charlotte informs us when she gets up at 9 am, enraged to find that a rule has been broken somewhere in the universe.  Just go crap all over gravity why don't you.  Then she asks if she can have tech on No-Tech Sunday. We say No, it's now too late, which is of course SO NOT FAIR.  And that is just the first few hours of No-Tech Sunday.  The rest of the day consists of 15 minute intervals of children finding something to do with 45 minutes in between of them writhing on the floor in something akin to heroin withdrawal.  The other option is to go on a Fun Family Outing, and you know how I feel about those.   
  • Use Parental controls on the devices to cut them off or limit the use of certain features.  This would be an ideal solution--they have these great kindle fires with a kid zone and an adult zone, and in the kid zone you can do all kinds of controls.  But turns out the Minecraft packs (and honestly Minecraft is one of the better things they do on a screen) they need are only available on the adult side, so I had to install their Minecraft on that side, which only has some parental controls, so that I can make sure they don't watch porn but I can't really limit their use of various non-educational apps without getting a computer science degree.  Plus, even if they can't use their kindle fires, they can still play the Wii and watch movies on Netflix.  This once again involves me paying attention to what they are doing at all times, and I get tired and go lay in bed and play Catan on MY device.  
  • Pray to God the experts are WRONG ALL WRONG about all the screen time devastation and just surrender completely.  
  • Feel guilty and declare a "reset" and proceed through every one of these attempts yet again.  
This is what I want.  I want my TV, Wii, and their tablets all synched to a timer in the sky that calculates how much combined screen time they have each had and then when they have reached their limit for the day, all the electronics magically disappear without involving me at all.  Which still won't work because there are two kids and they use some of the same electronics but not at the same time...Oh I know.  The timer in the sky keeps track of what each of them have their eyes on, and when they have had their eyes on a screen for a certain amount of time, they magically lose their eyesight for the rest of that day.  That way they can't eavesdrop on the other one's screen time.  Problem solved.  

I know what those of you who don't have kids and those of you who do have kids but who don't have any mental illness or who just have super human powers are thinking--Just lay down the law! Tell them this is how it is! Get rid of the wii and the tablets! Let them writhe on the floor!

Those of you who aren't parents are just going to have to shut up on this one, and pretty much every other judgement you have about parenting, because you cannot possibly know what it is like to fight this brutal war of attrition day in and day out.  Those of you who do have kids but don't have my brain may have a case--I could definitely do better, anxiety disorder or not.  I will concede that.  

But the screens are my friend, y'all.  They give me room to breathe, to cook, to write, to think interesting thoughts.  I love my kids, but I need them to leave me alone for periods of time that are longer than what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for screen usage.  It's a quandary.   The other quandary is that my brain does not do logistics of any kind. ANY KIND.  When confronted with the task of tallying up what my two kids are doing for how long while I am also making grocery lists and doctor's appointments and arranging babysitters and trying to remember why I walked into this room--my brain says, WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE HORRIBLE, BADLY ORGANIZED DEATHS BECAUSE WE CANNOT DO THE LOGISTICS.   This is what my brain says.  

Bottom line: It's not my kids who are addicted to screen time, it's me.  And I do think it's a chemical addiction, too.  Too bad there's not rehab, because that sounds really relaxing.  

Monday, October 9, 2017


I've been seeing a lovely psychiatrist named Dr. K for almost six years now.  I got his name from a fellow mom at my church mom's group (aka The Breastfeeding Society) after one of the times I melted down in public.  "You know, like everyone here is on Zoloft," she said, as if she were reminding me the world was round.  NO, I didn't know that, why have you all been keeping this important truth from me all this time?  Where were you the previous 23 times I melted down in public?

I naturally assumed my diagnosis would be postpartum depression.  Because I had recently had a baby and felt pretty darn depressed.  Also, everyone knows PPD is a respectable mental illness.  No one thinks a lady with PPD is really that crazy. Hey, girl just had a baby, she's not allowed to sleep, and she has no clothes to wear.  Also, breastfeeding. Or ritual shaming if she can't hack that. Give her a break.  What kind of crazy person WOULDN'T be depressed?  After talking with me over the course of a few sessions, Dr. K explained that my depression seemed to be rooted in anxiety--as in, I was feeling overwhelmed and that was making me depressed.  Whatever theory you like, Dr. K, still sounds like PPD to me.  That's what I went with.

But then I saw a form with my actual diagnosis on it.  It said "Generalized Anxiety Disorder."  What? No PPD?  Not even a mention of the horribly dismembering journey that is childbirth? And a DISORDER??  My reaction was like that of my colleague when she got the results of a personality test we did for some team-building thingy.  She had thought she was a nice person. Maybe a little aggressive, but basically nice.  Her readout all but said, "You are a b****."  Similarly, a Generalized Anxiety Disorder diagnosis is not messing around.  You are straight-up crazy and without any excuse for yourself.

The omniscient authority that is Wikipedia defines it this way:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry, that is, apprehensive expectation about events or activities. This excessive worry often interferes with daily functioning, as individuals with GAD typically anticipate disaster, and are overly concerned about everyday matters such as health issues, money, death, family problems, friendship problems, interpersonal relationship problems, or work difficulties

As in, people with GAD worry about actual problems that are scary.  Yes, they worry too much about them, but let's be honest, death is not a fun thing, and it will happen, and that's a concern for all but the most hard-core evangelical Christians.  My fellow mom friends who are also on Zoloft for GAD mainly worry something bad is going to happen to their children. You know, like a normal worry a loving mom would have.  It’s not only understandable, it’s admirable, a clear demonstration of a mother’s fierce devotion to her children. Yes, they get a bit dysfunctional about it, but everyone understands the impulse.

So, that's not me.  I don't worry about something bad happening to my kids.  I mean, the fact that there are pedophiles and black widows and brain-eating bacteria lying around passes through my mind on occasion, and I might think to myself, Hmmm, hope nothing happens to my kids.   But then I move on to the REALLY scary things in life and have panic attacks over those things, including:

  • Grocery stores with more than two kinds of each product 
  • People asking me math questions while I am cooking dinner
  • New items of any significant size being brought into my home without my permission because WHERE IN THE TRUMP WILL I PUT IT
  • People crying while I am cooking dinner
  • Weeds
  • People informing me they are hungry while I am cooking dinner
  • OK, let’s just get to the heart of the issue. I HATE COOKING AND IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER IF EVERYONE BEHAVES.  
  • My husband leaving forks and cups out as if he will use them again but in fact will not. Or even if he will, it doesn't really matter, THEY ARE TAUNTING ME EITHER WAY  
  • Having to decide what to cook for dinner WHEN THERE IS SO MUCH FOOD IN AMERICA
  • Kids using scotch tape  
  • Stickers of any kind
  • Glitter of any kind
  • People using too much paper towel BECAUSE THEN WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORD SHOES
  • Legos that are not properly contained in a designated bin BECAUSE EVERYONE KNOWS THEY WILL RISE UP AND FORM AN ARMY I SAW THE LEGO MOVIE
  • My husband identifying something that is broken or amiss or lost AND THEN HAVING NO PLAN FOR FIXING IT NOW
  • People asking me where something in my house is located AS IF I SHOULD KNOW
  • Those wretched bags of plastic crap children come home from birthday parties with. Is it trash, is it a toy, WHAT IS IT AND WHERE IN THE TRUMP WILL I PUT IT
  • Noticing that something over there is really, really dirty and needs cleaning while I am cleaning something over here AND THEN WHAT DO I CLEAN
  • Toys, games and crafts with many small parts, or any parts at all. ALL THINGS SHOULD BE A MONO-THING.  
  • Cleaning people coming to my house and rearranging my African knick-knacks because it may be worth living in filth as long as things are not askew
  • Recipes with steps and ingredients. Recipes.  
  • People throwing couch cushions on the floor BECAUSE THAT IS JUST BARBARIC
  • Things we no longer use or need continuing to reside in our home BECAUSE THEY MUST LEAVE IMMEDIATELY
  • Packing for a trip and getting to the airport in time BECAUSE THEY WILL EXECUTE US
  • People who don’t appreciate why you would want to leave for the airport four hours ahead of your flight because, I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE SO WE DON’T DIE
  • Kid art that you really really want to throw away but you feel like you sort of can’t and WHERE IN THE TRUMP WILL WE PUT IT
  • Receipts that people don’t immediately throw away BECAUSE YOU WILL NEVER NEED TO KNOW YOU SPEND $5.62 AT WENDY’S 
  • People demanding that I hurry to complete a task while I am trying to do it. Just fire missiles over my head while I'm doing brain surgery next time.
  • Parenting magazines that inform me of more things I could be doing for my children THAT I DON’T WANT TO DO WHICH IS ALL OF THE THINGS
  • Planning birthday parties BECAUSE CHILDREN WILL BE AT THEM
  • Bringing in the s*** load of gifts from birthday parties into the house after and wondering WHERE IN THE TRUMP WILL WE PUT IT
  • America  (And no, not whether our democracy and national security are in danger.  Just America.  It has too much stuff and details and logistics)
  • Logistics 
  • Details
  • Stuff
I in fact can't be bothered to worry about death, disease, and destruction because I am too busy worrying about dinner, WHICH IS HAPPENING TONIGHT.  Besides, I don't control death, but people are expecting me to control dinner. And I can't handle that.  

“Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” is too kind a label for what I have going on.  I think they need to call it what it is, “Ridiculous Anxiety Disorder” or RAD.  I won’t be offended.  In fact, part of my anxiety is due to my utter frustration, as I am descending into the anxiety, that I am freaking out over something really, really, really stupid.  I love how my doctor pretends my panic attacks are somewhat legitimate.  I’ll be telling him, “So then, Lawson asks for a popsicle very insistently WHILE I AM CUTTING CHARLOTTE’S NAILS.  That’s when I completely lost it and ran into my bedroom crying.”  “Right, of course you did, because it’s very stressful to have to deal with fingernails AND popsicles.  Who wouldn’t have a panic attack?”

You’re very kind, Dr. K, but you, too, are RIDICULOUS. JUST SHUT THE TRUMP UP AND GIVE ME THE DRUGS.