Saturday, February 26, 2011

Professional Parenting

Stories from the Trenches

I am waiting for the Beast’s fencing class to end. I am trying to read my New York Times in the little café area outside the fencing room. But there is a constant chatter, no banter, no…no…the more I listen—I realize it is the retelling of war stories—MOM war stories. I pull my attention away from the art and culture section that I have been craving like a like a crystal meth addict all day and look up at my distractions.

There they are-- two moms, professional parents—you know the type—one-upping one another with tales of their difficult lives: one child was on a traveling sport team, while the other was in a gifted program on Saturdays at a local college. There was more…a lot more…boy scouts, school team sports, volunteer service, bar mitzvah preparations….they barely had time to chauffeur them from one activity to the next. The lists were getting longer and longer. They both had two children.

After that first night at home with the baby Beast—we were pretty sure we were single kid sort of parents—so I bow out of these busy mommy competitions on lack of team members alone.

I always try to avoid the martyr mommy syndrome---I first encountered this ailment shortly after The Beast’s birth. Many mommy martyrs start with birth stories and I have heard a ton of these tales doing playground duty those first few years of parenthood …the many hours of labor, being stitched up after the gargantuan baby finally arrives…all NATURAL…naturally.

I, of course, never one for pain or personal suffering of any kind— was screaming “DRUGS!” from the get go, promptly followed by “knock me out and get it out.” Because REALLY—what is modern medicine for?

The mothers notice I am looking up from my paper and then invite me into their Homeric story telling session with an encouraging question. “Oh but it must be so difficult with a girl—right?” They say pulling me forward into their web of saintly motherhood. I am tempted, but as I think—I come up blank. I enjoy The Beast, I am charmed by her friends and for the most part, they are pretty independent and have always been so. “well…I start—she wears A LOT of eye makeup….And” I say fishing in my memories for something—“She was a little snippy with me the other day when I tried to get her out of bed for school….”

The mothers waited with encouraging smiles—but I just couldn’t do it. Life is good. We do stuff, but fun stuff. I sometimes end-up sitting in places like this one, but I view it as an opportunity to A) read my New York Times or B) Get a Blog post. Their smiles fade and they turn back to their Blackberries to check their schedules.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Marriage--You Have to WORK at It!

I was telling a happily, single, older woman, co-worker about what I had done for Valentine’s Day with my husband which was not much because…REALLY everyone knows it is one of those holidays that is just there to make everyone feel like losers—like New Year’s Eve. Millions of desperate people looking for the one good time on that one night of the year. You can cut the angst with a knife. The same goes for Valentine’s Day.

The older woman said to me in a serious voice: “ you know…with marriage—You really have to WORK at it.” I looked at her for a split second before we both dissolved into a school girl giggles. This is when she pulled up the study on happiness and marriage. Apparently single women are the happiest, followed by married men, then single men and then married women. “ Interesting” I said. I normally question studies because I am like that—annoying. But this one seemed to ring true in my gut.

There is an inordinately large body of work designed to tell women how to make men happy….from marriage books, to so called women’s magazines which are all about how to please your man—what to cook for him, how to dress for him, what to do in bed…for him. I, of course, blame THE MEDIA for selling this mind set and women for buying this huge load of crap. Not that I am an expert, but you don’t see magazines for men on how to treat women well. Do you?

I have been around the block…so to speak and I can guarantee you—men are pretty happy furry creatures to begin with. They don’t need a lot of care and feeding—they just want you to stop asking them if your butt looks big—because then they have to think. My advice, not that anyone asked, is to have fun—men will come along for the ride. No instructions needed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

She's Back....

The Beast is back!

Just when I thought I could breathe easy and talk about my parental angst about things like:

1) Should I attempt to talk about contraceptives one more time or will it turn her into a nun due to the grossness factor, or perhaps, will it make her more intrigued about the whole process?

2) Is it okay to go to high school parent orientation either with a travel cup full of wine or down a glass ahead of time? The only reason why I ask is that I feel I would have had a much better time at those seemly endless kindergarten orientations if I had brought a bottle of wine for all us nervous moms.

And there are many more issues I want to discuss, but alas…I must go to that high school orientation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mismatched Dishes and Other Signs of True Love

He has an easy cat-like walk— unhurried, gracefully and strong. His face with its large dark, dark eyes competing for attention with full beautiful lips—it is a face that I will always love to look at.

We met in high school, but never connected. 20 years later we did and 9 months later we decided to have a baby and 9 months after that—the Beast was born.

I was, at first, reluctant. Our styles did not match. He loved the country, having a house, driving cars. I loved the city, the energy, the people and taking cabs. I tried to explain—it seemed so clear to me. Our first date alone was enough to illuminate our differences: I was wearing a small black Betsy Johnson dress—he, shorts with hiking boots. But he was so sexy—a summer romance seemed like a good idea.

But, of course, things snowballed… I tried to stop it, but he promised me that mismatched dishes are not something to break-up over. And it was a true to credit to my former therapist and my slowly evolving maturity that I took our mismatched dishes, not as a sign of a doomed destiny, but rather as true love.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I think the Beast has forgotten about my blog. Be very quiet. She has gone off to plan her birthday party or bake Valentines day treats for friends or research European vacations for us....I don't know what she is REALLY up to. I think she might be a spy from the former Soviet Union. Children become so secretive and scary when they turn teenagers.
She just better not be in an outfit like this.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mountains of Flesh

I feel myself sinking into my normal winter sloth…a hibernation really. The only thing I want to eat is pasta. Red wine is my only other desire. I don’t know why I obsess about my weight in the winter when the my body is swathed in layers of cloth rather than during the warm months when there is far more flesh exposed…I think it is all those New Year’s Resolutions

My normal passion of walking in the city is stymied by unforgiving weather. I, instead, am reduced to wandering the hallways of the university like some forlorn and chubby ghost.

I attempt to pull myself out of these winter doldrums by taking out my barely used yoga mat and exercise DVD and following instructions of some overly perky woman with tiny, bizarrely rippling, stomach muscles. Together we bounce through seemingly pointless exercises….SEEMINGLY until the following morning when I realize exactly where all those little tiny muscles are on MY stomach.

This mind-numbing torture goes on for several days until the morning I wake up late and the following morning when I realize I would really rather have another cup of coffee than an earful of “1, 2, 3, 4—inhale, exhale…GOOD JOB. “

This is my downfall…because once I miss a few days—really—what’s the point of continuing during the week—I can make the rest up during weekend when I will have PLENTLY of time…of course on the weekend—the couch beckons like an old boyfriend I know is no good for me. And I fall and the cats and The Beast fall with me. We all lie on the couch like bears in the den—waiting and weighting for the winter to end.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tiger Mom--Stop and Smell the Bacteria

We heard him coming. Footsteps pounding down two flights of old wood stairs in our ancient house. He pushed passed everyone lingering in the kitchen…which of course was EVERYONE because it was a late Saturday afternoon and we were hanging by the fireplace in the dining part of the kitchen and watching my mother mangle some poor large piece of meat for dinner. The oven was on and my brother flew by my mother and tossed a test tube into the oven and slammed the door. There was complete silence. “Potentially Dangerous Bacteria” announced my brother calmly as he strode back upstairs to his lab…I mean bedroom.

“See! See! He is going to kill us ALL. He is going to kill the whole town!” my other brother shouted. “ No one believes me.”

Granted…the boys had the third floor of the house and no one EVER went up there. One brother was a WWII naval buff and had, if not the largest, close to the largest, collections of model battle ships. The other brother was the mad scientist with his own models of genes, skulls, human organs and of course the microscope and test tubes etc.

My sister normally tucked in her “squirrel room” with slanted ceilings, odd corners, mountains of books and an electric typewriter humming wandered in to agree. “Did you see the dead frog he had pinned to the cutting board last week that he was dissecting and now Mum is using the same board for the roast beef as though nothing happened.” My father looked up from the Foxfire book he was reading with quizzical amusement and took another sip of coffee, as my mother, never one to be concerned about germs, waved away the apprehensions—“For heaven’s sake—I washed the cutting board—it is perfectly fine. “

Hernan (my Peruvian friend) and I sat by the fireplace with a mound of clay-like mud we had pulled from a neighbor’s ditch attempting to make pottery bowls. Inspired by My Side of the Mountain, we made flimsy shelters from small tree limbs and kite string all over the in the woods near our house and now were attempting to furnish our rustic homes….the old fashioned way.

No one in our family had time to study long hours or practice instruments way into the night. We had agendas of own. We ALL had a agendas—my mother and father included and being a private tutor to four kids who were smart enough as-is was not on the list.

What I find odd about the Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom—everyone seems to SO WORRIED about the kids…my concern is with the mother. For heaven’s sake, to quote my mother, does the woman not have anything better to do than torment her children? I am sure the children will be fine, but doesn’t poor Amy have any friends to go out with? Model ships to build? Amateur experiments with potentially dangerous bacteria? Another book to write?

Enjoy your kids and your life. Life does not have to be one long struggle. Sit back and smell the bacteria, enjoy the failed pottery attempts, absurd obsessions with models and relax.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Piano Teacher

“Do you know how to play?” the silver haired woman asked the little girl who was sitting on the piano bench.

Just as I was saying “no, “

The Beast piped up: “YES!”

“Wonderful—could you play me something?” asked the piano teacher as she relaxed with smile to hear the performance.

The diminutive Beast composed herself and dove into a dramatic piece of music bursting with emotion. Five minutes later the final notes where softly played and the child slowly looked up in triumph at her audience—the music teacher and me.

“That was beautiful.” Said the teacher, “Was it your own composition?”

“No.” said the Beast, “I made it up.”

This was the Beast first piano lesson so many years ago---I was sitting there thinking…because I am not the nicest person—“this is sort of an expensive play-date with the nice lady” UNTIL the piano teacher launched into an engaging lesson about what a composition is and what notes are… The two of them chatted away and tapped out notes on the piano for a half hour. I have never learned so much in my life….the child also had a good time.

As I sit here now—I hear The Beast working on a song that she wanted to modify. The piano teacher helped her explore the process of arranging a piece of music. This piano teacher is a rare find. She has infused the child with a love of music which I feel is a gift that will always be with her. And the Beast is not alone—every child who enters the teacher’s house is eager to come and excited. I think the excitement is because the teacher listens and teaches to the children—she starts with their interests and builds on it. If only we could all have the ability to pass on passion for what we love to others. Like morning coffee.