Black Lives Matter. The fact that it needs to be said shows how very far we still have to go as a country. We hear you and we are with you.
There used to be this commercial on TV from Staples, the office supply store. You know the one: a white, overweight, balding stereotypical “dad” guy dances while pushing a cart full of school supplies. Two tweens, presumably his children, sulk behind him, dragging their feet and looking forlornly from one another to their uber-embarrassing father doing arabesques through the aisles to the tune of Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Then they look at the floor and follow their dad slowly off screen as the week’s sale items are displayed for our viewing pleasure.
As a kid, I hated this commercial. I thought it was lame and overblown. Parents don’t really feel that way. They’re so trapped by their crap jobs and stultifying worldviews, having the kids home would have to be great, right? Everyone knows parents have no desires of their own, because as we all learned from John Hughes movies and Peter Pan, when you grow up, your heart dies. The fun part of your parents’ lives is over! Stupid Staples. Parents don’t dream of their kids going back to school, much less dance through the aisles of a store (in public!) at the mere thought of it. Yes, I actually thought this. Now that I have children, I realize how foolish I was.
My kids were enrolled in camp 5 mornings a week for 7 weeks this summer. Since the kids were born 3.5 years ago, these 7 weeks have been the best part of my life. I had my mornings free! Tuesdays and Thursdays I was free until 1 o’clock! Oh, joy of joys! Free time! I could do whatever I wanted to do! I could even practice ballet moves behind a cart at an office supply store! I didn’t, but I could’ve.
Every morning after I dropped the kids off at camp, I felt like painting half of my face blue and running down State Street in a kilt yelling “FREEDOM!” at the top of my lungs. It was better than the feeling of 3 o’clock on the last day of school before summer break. I could take off the Mommy hat for a few hours and put the Nicole hat back on. The kids were safe. They were happy. And I had time to become myself once again.
And it wasn’t just me who experienced this transformation. All the other moms and even some nannies were so much more themselves once the kids were in the able hands of the preschool teachers. The parental film was blinked away from our eyes. We saw the world anew. We drank coffee together. We talked about things other than children’s shows and potty training and others we knew who were pregnant (suckers!). We swore and told stories about drunken debauchery in college and more recent years. We showed off tattoos and talked about crushes we had on various actors, singers, guitar players. Yes, we devolved. And it was delicious.
We’d all been wearing the mantle of parental responsibility for so long that it felt great to put it down (folded properly, of course) for a while and let our inner giggly girls run free. Except now our giggly girls are much wiser women. We still love to giggle, but it’s giggling with a purpose. Just as giggling at age 12 and 13 helps distance you from your parents, giggling with peers as a thirtysomething helps distance you from your children. It reminds you that not only are you still who you are and who you’ve always been, but also that you’re not in this thing alone. You have your sisters to help you through it. Your girlfriends helped you grow and survive the crazy transition from childhood to adulthood. (Oh, adolescence. So painful, but so necessary.) Your girlfriends will also be there for you in the even crazier transition from non-parenthood to parenthood. I can’t speak for the dads out there, but I’m sure a similar safety net of friends exists for men, too. If not, man, are you guys screwed.
So there I was, happy in my small amount of freedom each day, when the unthinkable happened. Camp ended. It was over July 29th. School doesn’t start up again for the kids until September 15th. That’s 6 whole weeks for those keeping track at home. My initial response was to go out and buy a couple cases of whiskey and Scotch, aka magical mommy juice, that would ensure maximum relaxation for me once the kids went to bed. I didn’t do this. I seriously thought about it, though. But at the last minute I was once again saved by a girlfriend. In this case, it was my own mom who saved the day.
She offered to take the kids back to Ohio for two weeks to give me a break from parenting and to let me work on some non-kid-related projects I’ve started. She even drove out here to pick them up! Who is this woman? How is she possibly the same person who used to yell at me when I’d play my music too loud or nag me incessantly about getting homework done or caution me about the boy I was madly in love with who would only go on to break my heart? She was so clueless and such a bore. How did she become so awesome?
The answer is that she always was. She was simply cloaked in that parental mantle I was talking about, hiding her true self from me. But now that I’m an adult, she can be herself around me. I can join her circle of girlfriends and giggle knowingly about the world. We can all dance together down the aisles of any store, office supply or otherwise, and embarrass the hell out of our children and grandchildren because we know the secret. We know that people never really change. They simply have responsibilities. And when raising a child is their main responsibility, they take it very, very seriously.
This is why you rarely see any holes in the mantle when you’re a kid. It’s because your parents care about you and want you to be safe, happy, and healthy. It’s only when you get older and can take care of yourself that you see who your parents truly are. They are the kind of people who tell dirty jokes, drink too much on occasion, make stupid decisions, and sing along with their favorite songs on the radio. They are people like you. I don’t say this to frighten you. I say this because it’s true. We’re all pretty much the same when you get down to it, we just express ourselves differently. For some, it’s dancing at a store, for others it’s dressing up like an extra from “Braveheart” and running down one of the busiest streets in the world proclaiming your freedom for the world to hear. (I didn’t actually do this, but wouldn’t it be great?) However you choose to express it, express it you must. But I would seriously recommend against dancing to anything sung by Andy Williams. That stuff’s not cool no matter how old you are.
As many of you already know, I could definitely be described as an unconventional parent. I don’t really care if my kids swear (colorful verbiage is an important part of everyone’s lexicon), I let them eat way too much candy (they both have a sweet tooth the size of Jupiter), and I don’t bathe them every single day like all the parenting books recommend (dirt builds the immune system and prevents allergies, right?). So when my husband asked me what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day this year and my response was, “Get the hell away from all of you crazy people,” his laughter and eye-roll to the ceiling could have been predicted.
I know Mother’s Day was started as a day to honor the woman who changed your diapers, made sure you had clean clothes to wear, carted you around town until you or one of your friends could drive, and then sent you to college and paid for it, but it’s still just as much of a faux holiday as Valentine’s Day. Just as you should celebrate the love you share with your special someone more than one chilly day in mid-February, so too should you remember to show your mom (or grandma, or aunt, or godmother) some gratitude most days of the year for all the things she does for you. And let me tell you a little secret: A mediocre brunch, some flowers, and a mawkish card once a year is not even close to enough. In fact, it so misses the mark that it’s kind of insulting.
Allow me to describe what would be a perfect Mother’s Day for your truly: I wake up to the sound of a silent house. No toddlers screaming. No dog whining to be let out. No husband next to me snoring loud enough to wake the dead. No cat meowing plaintively, waiting for food. Just me, the subtle sounds of a spring morning and muted sunlight coming in through the drawn curtains. sigh Oh, and the all-important smell of freshly-brewed coffee (that was made by someone other than me) is wafting up from the kitchen.
Wearing my comfiest pajamas/slippers combination, I descend the stairs completely refreshed from a full night of sound sleep. I find that when I look around, the house is clean. No toys strewn about. No mystery chunks of what may once have been food stuck to the table and/or walls. No stray coats/socks/shoes/ sweaters littering the floor. All surfaces are neat and dust-free and the rugs have been recently vacuumed. The table is set for one—just me—and is filled with my favorite breakfast foods. My laptop is set up, too, and already displays my favorite website, ready for perusal. As I sit down and begin to eat breakfast, my favorite music begins playing on the stereo. Life is good, indeed.
After my shower, from which I emerge smelling and looking fantastic, I put on some ridiculously comfortable and stylish clothes completely devoid of random stains, rips, and snags that decorate every at-home mom’s wardrobe. A beautiful—and small—handbag waits for me by the door, so unlike the giant backpack I usually use to carry things like blankies, favorite toys, snacks, and sippy cups. Today, Dream Mother’s Day, I carry only what I truly need: my wallet, keys, lipstick, sunglasses, and of course, my iPod. Oh, and did I mention someone has already cleaned up the breakfast dishes?
I leave the house without giving any thought to whether I have brought along every toy that someone might scream for or whether I’ll be gone long enough to need extra diapers or juice. I don’t even worry about whether I’ve packed band-aids and Neosporin, just in case someone falls down at the playground. I just leave.
I drive to my best friend’s house where she and a few other close friends are gathered, waiting for me to pick them up. My car is adorable and totally un-momlike. It’s shiny, fuel-efficient, and small, yet, in my fantasy world, can easily accommodate seven or eight adult women.
We arrive at a very posh spa, where we spend the day getting massaged, waxed, plumped, manicured, and perfumed—all without charge, of course. We emerge even more breathtakingly gorgeous than when we entered (as if that’s possible…) and we walk to a sidewalk café where heartbreakingly attractive men bring us all of our favorite foods and beverages for the duration of the afternoon. Mmmmmm. (eyes glazing over)
Wait. What I was I talking about? Oh, right. Mother’s Day. Ech. I’d completely forgotten about my family there for a minute …and that is EXACTLY what I want for Mother’s Day. All other days of the year, I will submit to the needs of my children—at least while they’re awake. I’ll run the house. I’ll pay the bills on time. I’ll do the laundry and the dishes and all the other thankless tasks that need to be done. I’ll even be sympathetic when my husband complains about his job, which we both know is infinitely easier than what I do everyday. But on Mother’s Day, I just want to be left alone. I want a break. I want to take a vacation day and do what I want to do without my family. Is that so much to ask?
I mean, really. Think about it. On Labor Day, when the country is supposed to celebrate how awesome all the employees of the world are, do you want to hang out with the jackasses you work with? Hell, no. You hang out with your friends and/or family and you engage in activities you enjoy. For at-home moms, Mother’s Day is simply another Labor Day and we don’t want to spend it with the jerks from the office. Yes, we love our particular office jerks unconditionally, but we still want a break from them. I realize I don’t speak for every at-home mom—or working moms for that matter—but I definitely speak for all the moms I like to hang out with.
So, Sweetie, if you’re reading this (which you’d better be if you’d like some “attention” later), please try to make my fantasy Mother’s Day happen. To be honest, I’m not interested in the beautiful clothes, stupid cars, or expensive spa trips described above. Just take the kids and leave me alone for a day. That’s all an overworked mom really wants. Oh, and servants. Every mom deserves silent, compliant servants. Personally, I would love me some robot servants, but as I said, I’m a little unconventional.
I take my camera with me wherever I go. You never know when something noteworthy will reveal itself and I like to be prepared. (Oh, and before you ask, no, I was not a Girl Scout.) For instance, yesterday while running some errands, I noticed an excellent juxtaposition of storefronts. In a strip mall up here in Rogers Park, there’s a very large candy store right next to a dentist’s office. Cause and effect? That’s probably overstating it, but there has to be some kind of cosmic symbiosis at play here. And, like every Gen Xer, I appreciate irony above all else, so I snapped a quick photo.
Generally, this photo-snapping habit is enough to quench my thirst for irony and humor in everyday life, but there have been a few times when I’ve wished for a video camera to record entire events in real time. This past Saturday was one of those rare times when I wished to all that’s holy I’d had a video camera on me. The resulting film would have been an instant classic (a term that is not thrown around lightly here at CHIRP). There was drama. There was action. There was comedy. There was even real vomit! It was a three-year-old’s birthday party and it was fantastic. Never before have I been so happy not to have been involved in any way with the success or failure of an event. I was a guest, as were my three-year-old twins and my husband; but truthfully, we were peripheral actors in a carnivalesque scene of absolute mayhem.
First, a little background: My kids attend preschool in the Gold Coast. Ironically, my husband and I chose this particular preschool for our kids not because it was posh and all the moms/nannies dropped their kids off in Lexus SUVs; no, we chose it because it was the cheapest we could find. (And for the record, I drop my kids off in a hand-me-down Ford with a huge dent in the front, a peeling bumper, and a semi-functional defrost system). Posh Preschool is even cheaper than the preschool classes offered by our neighborhood Chicago Public school—no joke! Oh, and the quality of education my kids receive at Posh is amazing. For what we pay, comparatively speaking, it kind of feels like stealing. (Win!)
So my kids attend Posh with other toddlers who will, no doubt, grow up to attend private schools around the city and then go on to become international ambassadors, brain surgeons, and multi-billionaire real estate developers—or so said schools would have you believe. Knowing that this road-to-achievement mindset is shared by school administrators and most of the parents of my kids’ classmates, it gives me so much joy to attend early birthday parties where these little would-be rocket scientists and diplomats behave like complete barbarians. Throwing tantrums, throwing shoes, in one case throwing smaller siblings…nothing is out of bounds for toddlers jacked up on sugar and adrenaline.
My son is usually freaked out by birthday parties, with good reason given the attendees, so he tends to hang out with me. My daughter, on the other hand, is content to find something to play with (at this last party, it was fairy wings and a magic wand) and will watch the wanton destruction from the sidelines with a friend or two. This is not to say that they abstain from barbaric behavior the whole time, comporting themselves with the utmost in proper etiquette. Quite the opposite. Yesterday, Squeaky and another girl rolled a third child headfirst down a slide and giggled maniacally all the while. The third child, understandably, was in tears. Winchie, who despises sitting in a circle for reading time, exacted his revenge on the unsuspecting leader of Birthday Story Time by hurling a large metal watering can full of fake flowers in her general direction and roaring at her like a monster. And while I quickly stepped in to curtail this kind of behavior in my children, I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of their completely unhindered ids at play.
Enter the wish for a video camera. When my kids are all grown up and have the obligatory white collar desk jobs that modern middle-class education prepares them for, there won’t be any opportunity for them to let their ids run free and participate in a truly wild rumpus Maurice Sendak-style. Instead, they’ll bottle it all up inside and release it in the form of mid life crises. At least, that’s my theory. How else does one explain old men with combovers buying up the world’s supply of virility substitutes—oops, I mean sports cars—and marrying bubble-brained bimbettes like it’s a perfectly natural thing? It’s funny, sure, but also kind of sad.
So I want a video of kids being kids because it’s such honest behavior. They’re too little to subscribe to the rules of society that further schooling and class consciousness will put upon them. It’s so great to watch them roar their little hearts out over the injustice of that kid over there getting a cupcake first and getting to see them stomp their little feet with righteous indignation over having to wait for a turn on the slide. I mean, really. Don’t we all want to get the first cupcake and be the first one down the slide? And when that doesn’t happen, don’t we want to scream and stomp our feet, too?
It would be so great to capture, just for a minute, the essence of all these little developing people. And before you run for your tinfoil hats or accuse me of stealing the plot of Dr. Strangelove, here’s what I’m getting at: One day, the little people engaging in birthday party shenanigans will be all grown up and messed up just like their parents. But they’ll still be the same basic person inside. Temperaments generally don’t change with age, barring unfortunate accidents and/or abuse of some kind. So here would be this little recording of a room full of toddlers just having a great time running, pushing other kids, screaming, chasing, pounding fists, eating too much cake, and generally behaving like the little primates they are. No lame posturing, no inhibitions, no affected ideological philosophies, nothing fake. Seeing how little people navigate the world in this state is one of the best parts of parenting. (Well, that, and getting to re-watch your favorite cartoons while eating ludicrous amounts of Rice Krispie treats). It’s nice to be reminded that we all start out on pretty much the same level and while we’re all destined for different things, there once was a time when even the seemingly all-powerful CEO of Amalgamated Conglomo Widgets R Us picked her nose and cried for her mommy when another kid stole her favorite My Little Pony toy.
Initially, I purchased the Dum-Dum pops because I thought they’d be kind of a fun little treat for the kids once in a while. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come to curse the existence of that little cartoon drum figure and the insulin-spiking, fruit-ish flavored globs of pure evil on a stick that he peddles. Dum-Dum pops, almost at the bottom of the candy hierarchy in my humble estimation (they rank just above Laffy Taffy/Now ‘N’ Laters, and those weird British licorice things that look like black spots of tar surrounded by day-glo pink, yellow, or orange fondant. Yuck.), have become my kids’ junk food obsession du jour.
Frankly, I’d rather eat a nearly-petrified peanut butter drop from my grandmother’s purse than a Dum-Dum pop. It’s not that they’re gross, it’s just that they’re so boring. It’s like they’re trick candy. You think it’s a delicious treat, but NOOOOOOOOO. It’s really furniture polish or LSD or crystallized goat innerds. Dum-Dums are suspicious. I don’t trust them. People give them out at the bank, for Chrissakes! And yet I bought them for my children. Such are the lengths a mom will go to to keep her kids quiet for 10 seconds.
Given my distaste for Dum-Dums, I never thought my kids would take to them more than cookies, cupcakes, marshmallows, or another type of mass-produced confectionary treat. Yet, as I type this, there’s a huge jar of them up high on a shelf in my kitchen with two little kids dancing a pagan jig beneath it, clamoring for the sugary goodness that only the Dum-Dums in question can deliver.
When I ask my daughter what she wants for breakfast each morning, the response it always the same: “lollipops!” When I tell her that lollipops are not a breakfast food and she can, instead, choose from cereal, eggs, fruit, waffles, yogurt, toast or a muffin, she shifts into Linda Blair mode and screams as though I’ve burnt up her favorite toy in the furnace. I always turn my head away slightly to avoid the pea soup that I’m certain she’ll spew at any second. Seriously. It’s frightening how quick the transformation can be from happy, compliant toddler to twisted demonic banshee hell-bent on destruction due to the utterance of a simple word: No. Yikes!
Her brother has a slightly more devious approach. Instead of getting upset at being denied the sugary snack for breakfast, he will seemingly shrug it off and walk away. Does he wait patiently at the table for toast and jam? Does he go to the refrigerator and grab some yogurt? Does he pick a banana out of the fruit bowl on the island in our kitchen? Oh, no. Instead, he attempts to scale the shelving unit on which the lollipop jar rests. Or he pulls the drawers out from under the counter, climbs up them onto said counter, and attempts a 10’ standing long jump across the kitchen to the shelving unit in the hope that he may land somewhere in the vicinity of the lollipops. I would applaud and encourage his feats of athleticism if I weren’t so scared that he’ll break his neck, or worse, the shelving unit. Those things can be pricey!
Seriously, though, I feel like a drug dealer. I’ve unintentionally gotten my kids hooked on the white stuff: Pure, unadulterated sugar. I’m sure pediatric endocrinologists and dentists alike approve of my innocent blunder. It’s seemingly innocuous mistakes like mine that keep them in business. But I curse the day I ever put that brightly colored bag of treats into my grocery cart. Fortunately, my kids haven’t stopped eating their vegetables and they always leave room for dinner, but still. The lollipop obsession is annoying and I’d love to put a stop to it. I know I can’t do this without creating a mutinous environment in my house, so I’m taking aim elsewhere. The lollipops can stay, for now, but other junk has got to go!
In an effort to cut down on the amount of processed and pre-packaged foods my kids eat, I’ve decided to start making much of my own bread, waffles, crackers, etc. I know what you’re thinking: “But, Nicole, that’s just more work for you!” Yes. Yes, it is. However, having received an amazing bread maker for my 32nd birthday (thanks, Sweetie!), it’s not as bad as it sounds. The bread machine has turned the tedious job of making bread at home to something so easy, even my 3-year-olds can do it—as long as Mommy’s around to do the measuring and push the buttons on the machine. My advice? If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. It is so choice. (Full points to anyone who gets that reference.)
Likewise, I picked up a cheap waffle maker from Walgreen’s (of all places!) last week. It was ten bucks and I’ve already used three times. The recipe it came with produced heavy, terrible waffles, that I could probably sell to the IOC for use in a gold medal hockey game. But a Google search remedied that. I found a much more suitable recipe in about 5 minutes thanks to the magic of the interwebs. Subsequent uses have yielded light, fluffy, TASTY waffles better than pretty much any others I’ve eaten. All this from relatively inexpensive kitchen machinery and ingredients I already had in my pantry. Sweet.
So how do the kids like the change thus far? Frankly, they love it. They get to help make their own food by putting pre-measured ingredients into the bread machine, helping me stir the waffle batter (the best part being when they get to lick the spoon, of course) and using their great-grandmother’s heavy rolling pin to flatten the cracker dough. I tried letting them sprinkle salt and sesame seeds on the crackers, but that devolved into a ridiculous food fight that was damn near impossible to clean up—the dog is still shaking out the occasional seed from her fur. So, as with every other parenting aspect, it’s all about trial and error.
And none of this even takes into consideration how much more the kids like what they eat. As anyone who’s ever made bread at home can tell you, it tastes significantly better than what you can buy at the store. It doesn’t last as long from a hardening- and mold-growing perspective, but smaller loaves mean fresher loaves. Plus, the kids feel a sense of pride at having contributed to making their own food. They’re starting to understand it and see the connection between what’s on the shelf and what goes into their tummies. As a parent, that’s pretty cool to see. (As an aside, I feel the need to give Michelle Obama some serious props for bringing this issue to the national stage via her organic garden. Any time people get the chance to take a direct hand in the production of their own food, they will benefit. Yay, Michelle!)
I realize that this effort is not something that everyone is willing or able to undertake. Not everyone has the time or energy to make much of their own food. But, as any of my friends or family members can tell you, I’m a total control freak who distrusts industrialized food products, so the production of food at home is ideal for me. I control what goes into the food, so I know it’s good. Now that I make the waffles my kids eat, I don’t worry what hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and/or preservatives are doing to their little systems. Likewise, the bread I make doesn’t have any ingredients you’d need an advanced degree in Chemistry to identify.
All of this makes me sleep much better at night and keeps me from begrudging my kids their lollipops. Yes, I wish they’d get as excited for fruit and veggies as they do for candy, but I’m not living in the Twilight Zone here. I know that will never happen as long as humans are hard-wired to crave sugar- and fat-laden foods. But it is nice to think that I might be imparting some small appreciation of good, healthy food to my kids. And isn’t that one of the best things I can do as a parent? Give my kids good food, nurture their innate self-confidence and curiosity and then turn them loose on the world to discover, learn, and grow? Yup. That pretty much sums it up. And if Dum-Dum pops are part of that experience, I can live with it. There are worse things. Like Velveeta. Seriously. Processed “cheese food” that requires no refrigeration? What? Who decided THAT was a good idea? Frightening.
*This title was stolen directly from “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys.
On Saturday mornings and afternoons, my beloved husband takes over the child-rearing duties which enables me to run necessary errands (groceries, dry cleaning, pharmacy runs, etc.) and also to have some time to myself. Because I’m the biggest dork in the universe, I tend to frequent stores selling fabric, art/craft supplies, coffee, and records. (Hey, Entrepreneurs! I would LIVE in a store that sold all of these things under one roof. I’m just sayin’.) But really, any location that offers relative peace and quiet and a chance for me to geek out about some of my favorite things is where I’ll be on any given Saturday.
This past Saturday found me indulging the bibliophile side of my personality at the library. After browsing through some new releases and picking up a variety of interesting-looking novels, I headed straight for the art section looking for something to inspire me to complete the piece I’m currently working on. Because I’m a total bookwhore, I couldn’t help glancing at the shelved tomes on the way there. In the parenting section, which I usually avoid like the plague, I spied a book called . I hurried past, thinking, “My kids are happy, right?” I paused. Hmmm. Are they? Really? “Crap,” I thought to myself while pivoting on the spot, “I’d better read this book just to make sure.”
Such is the seductive power of so-called self help books. Damn you, Random Author with no extra letters after your name to denote a graduate degree! You have no special training in child psychology or a similar field, and are, therefore, no better qualified to write such a book than I am. You may not even have children! But I am compelled to pick up your book nonetheless. The title is written in a decent font, so you were at least smart enough to hire a qualified graphic designer. Dare I judge a book by its cover? Might you have some insights after all? I doubt it. And I intend to call your bluff.
I touch the book gingerly on its spine. I look around to see if anyone notices. My mind screams, “Nooooooo! Don’t do it! Don’t listen to the voice of doubt! You’re better than this!” And yet, like Orpheus looking back to check on Eurydice, I cannot resist the temptation. What if I’m wrong? What if the seemingly unqualified Random Author does know something I don’t? I quickly slip the book from the shelf into the middle of the pile I’ve amassed. Whew! That was close. That lady over by the computer terminals. Did she see me? Is she smirking? Crap. I abandon the promise of the art section for the time being, hang my head slightly and dash to a nearby study carrel to indulge my insecurities in peace.
Scanning the Table of Contents/List of Childhood Traumas, I ask myself what I’m most dreading as a parent. I’m not going to read the whole book, after all, just the portion that pertains to a truly odious parental responsibility that I’d rather avoid. I hit upon it towards the end of the list: The Talk. That awkward discussion about the birds and the bees that we all had with our hopelessly clueless parents at some point in our lives. Some of us giggled our way through it, others stuffed our fingers in our ears and shrieked “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! Lalalalalalalalalala!” while we ran at warp speed out of the house. Ah, adolescence. Good times.
I begin the rationalization process: Valentine’s Day is here after all, and with all that romance in the air and naked little putti waiting to hit all unsuspecting humans with their aphrodisiac-tainted love darts, it could happen. My three-year-olds could ask me about where babies come from, right? Yeah, totally plausible. I’d better read up on how Random Author suggests I handle the situation. I turn to the correct page and commence reading.
Yada, yada, yada. Be a good listener. Use correct terminology for body parts. Don’t forget to address the emotional side as well. Yeah. All stuff I already knew. Sweet! My self-awarded Parent of the Millennium status remains intact! I knew it would! Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.*
This entire, and somewhat harrowing, process could have been completely avoided had I simply had confidence in my own parenting skills. My kids are normal toddlers who do not display any behavioral maladies for which I should actively seek out professional help. They aren’t cruel to animals. They don’t start fires. They don’t hit or bite other kids. They don’t even swear! So, what am I doing picking up a parenting-advice book written by a marginally-qualified author? Why this culture of fear and doubt? The problem is larger than the middle class parental milieu to which I belong. It’s endemic to all things American. But this is a subject for a dissertation, not a so-called parenting column written by a marginally-qualified at-home mom in Chicago.
As with all good life experiences, I learned a little something from my time at the library. (And truthfully, isn’t that what libraries are for?) I learned that I shouldn’t listen to the voice of doubt who tells me I may not be doing things correctly. With parenting, there is no incorrect as long as your children are safe and thriving. There’s simply doing what you know and trusting that your kids will be fine. Let’s face it, you survived being brought up by your parents, right? Your kids will survive, too.
When people ask me what I do to get my kids to do X, my answer is always the same: nothing. I’m there to guide them, but they’re driving the stagecoach. When they get too unruly, I calm them. When they get tired, I put them to bed. When they get bored, I read to them or play trains with them or engage in another similar activity that they find fun. I’m not constantly hounding them with flashcards to make sure they’re maximizing learning time, nor am I pushing them to achieve athletically or to become involved in activities I find interesting and/or valuable. Winchie and Squeaky are fine how they are. The world is theirs to explore and they will naturally gravitate toward and learn about things they enjoy.
So to parents who are all freaked out that little Johnny or Susie isn’t reading by the time they’re two or haven’t reached superstar status in their preschool by replicating Rodin sculptures with Play-Doh, I say this: chill. Take a deep breath, throw out all of those What to Expect… books and simply get to know your child/children. Your kids will tell you everything you need to know about them and when problems arise, trust your instincts. You’ll be fine. I promise. You don’t need questionable advice from self-helpers. You are all the authority you need.
Now go out there and have a great Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s kind of a crap holiday created by Hallmark and their ilk, but it celebrates love, which is never a bad thing. Go find a special someone and give him/her a squeeze. And because you are all the authority you need, the location of said squeeze is entirely up to you. * wink, wink *
*Thanks, Thom Yorke! Ok Computer rules!
Is anyone else sick to death of the holidays already? I was all set to write a column about how my husband and I celebrate this time of year as an interfaith couple with toddlers, but I had to stop in the middle of the second paragraph. Gag! Who wants to read any more articles about how to make sure each tradition is respected and that the kids are exposed to the best of both religions? Besides, neither my husband nor I are what you’d call observant. We bow down to consumerism—patriotic and otherwise—at the end of the day like everyone else, whether you admit it or not. I want a framed print I saw at a gallery and a dress form for Xmas. As long as they’re under the tree, this is a successful holiday in my estimation. Jesus? I like him very much, but he no help with curveball. And candles are pretty, so we light up the menorah, my husband says some Hebrew words that my kids will one day understand (I’m all about phonetics) and we all have a cup of cheer. Then it’s back to watching TV, reading kids’ books, and building forts in the living room. Yay, interfaith holidays.
In my family, I’m famous for saying that I’d rather be put into a medically-induced coma than have to endure the holidays. Put me under right about now and wake me up on December 31st in time for a kick-ass, child-free NYE bash with all my good friends, bottomless champagne flutes, Nirvana as the house band, and Elvis, The King himself, serving up fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches sprinkled with powdered sugar all night long. (What? This is my fantasy. You don’t like it? Dream up your own!)
The holidays are all about indulging in fantasy and I don’t want to be responsible for making sure others’ wishes are fulfilled. Does that make me lazy? Maybe. I like to think it makes me realistic. Making sure everyone in the family gets to live their more-realistic-than-mine holiday fantasy takes work. Hard work. And the thing about holiday fantasies is that they’re damn near impossible to pull off sans flaws. The planets have to be aligned with your family’s collective chakras and there can be no disturbances in the Force. It’s a LOT of pressure and responsibility, which, frankly, I don’t want to take on. As an at-home mom with volunteer duties, a small business in the works, and parent-teacher conferences to attend, I have enough on my plate already.
I think this is why humans invented Santa Claus—to have someone to blame when the kids get upset that they didn’t get that gold-covered PlayStation they begged for or when your in-laws give you a not-so-subtle hint via a gym membership and/or cooking classes. Santa must’ve stopped at the wrong house! Maybe our neighbors got the stuff we wanted. I think humans invented God for a similar reason—the desire to place blame on someone other than themselves when things don’t turn out as planned—but that’s a topic for a separate article. Like I said, I’m not exactly observant.
Anyway, as I sit here typing and thinking, thinking and typing, I can’t help but wonder whether my kids are picking up on Mommy’s jaded attitude toward Xmas. As far as parenting-style goes, I’m much more like Roseanne than I am June Cleaver, so the kids shouldn’t really be surprised that I tend to buck the trends espoused in popular parenting magazines and mawkish talk shows. That said, I don’t want them to have the same hang-ups that I do. If they like this season, I want them to enjoy themselves. And I will willingly don the June Cleaver mask if necessary to make sure they’re happy.
I guess that’s why I dislike this season so strongly. I feel like everyone is being disingenuous just to please others because they feel they have to. But, in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what parenting is and why it’s such a difficult thing to deal with. I’d love to wear the “Nicole” hat, but find that I have to wear the “Mommy” hat all the time—even when kids aren’t involved—because “Mommy” is the one responsible for making sure all of the holiday magic happens. “Nicole” is content to lounge around all day in a Snuggie watching the usual Xmas specials and drinking hot cocoa.
So for those of you who are lucky enough always to have had perfect holiday seasons without a parent going postal, congratulations. Hug your mom and thank her for the effort—then nominate her for beatification. For the rest of us, do the same. Creating holidays out of nothing is one of the things moms do best. Truthfully this statement applies to anyone who is the head of a household. If you were raised by your dad or a grandparent or aunt, etc., give that person a hug, too, and let him or her know how much you appreciate their efforts. Better yet, offer to help them out this year and in the future. Making spirits bright is a tough road to hoe. I know the maxim is that whatever doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, but I don’t think that’s true. The holidays don’t really kill people, it’s the stress and unrealistic expectations that do. And they don’t really leave us any stronger. They make us grumpy, irascible jerks for most of the season.
So, yes, I’m ready for the holidays to be over. I’m also looking forward to NYE. For me, it’s not a celebration to welcome in the new calendar year. It’s a congratulatory party to honor those of us who created the holiday fantasy for everyone else and didn’t lose our minds in the process. In reality my NYE will not feature a live set by Nirvana and sandwiches by Elvis, but it will feature good friends, good music, and good champagne. And, frankly, that’s enough to keep me going through the end of the month. That, and the promise of Santa delivering my heart’s desire on Xmas Eve. I’m not too old to live the dream.
Holidays are anniversaries of a sort. We’re celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice/Saturnalia/Festivus like we do every year, by getting together with our families, eating huge meals, watching TV, and giving gifts. These holiday get-togethers are usually hectic and always chock full o’ nostalgia—we miss those family members and friends who are no longer with us and we reminisce about the events of past holiday seasons. We can’t help it. It’s either something in the air or those tasty gingerbread lattes that everyone mainlines this time of year.
At the risk of sounding like a bad Hallmark commercial, as I stood in a favorite coffee shop debating the merits of hot spiced cider versus said gingerbread latte, I came to the conclusion that life is short. This silly decision shouldn’t have required the amount of time and brainpower I was giving it. So, I’ve decided to make my new year’s resolution early this year—or late, depending on how you feel about Rosh Hashanah. It goes something like this: Don’t waste time sweating things like mortgages, waist circumference, and whether anyone at future class reunions will notice my ever-deepening crow’s feet. (Of course they will. And they’ll all have their own sets, too. Oh, the joys of aging.) Enjoy the time here because it is a precious thing that should be spent it in the company of loved ones and friends. Engage in enjoyable tasks, not tedious ones.
Why the platitudes, you may ask? You can chalk it up to holiday-related nostalgia, but, as with many things, you can also blame Facebook. Thanks to a status update by one of my cousins, I was recently thinking about the last words of famous people. It got me curious, so I googled some of them. You’d be surprised how many pages are devoted to the subject. By and large, there were three themes: One, I’ve been a bad, bad person and am going straight to hell, so don’t bother praying for me (aka Repent Sinners! The end is near!). Two, I’m going to say something funny because I fancy myself a renegade and humor at this point seems inappropriate enough to cement my irreverent persona (see: Humphrey Bogart, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas). Three, most applicable here, life is so short that I would give anything I possess to have just a few more minutes with the people I love. My dad falls into this latter category, so I find it especially poignant. (Sidenote: cancer sucks.)
This is what was on my mind while searching for just the right toy for my kids this year. I’m sure I’m not the only person on the planet to think about death while in a toy store at Christmas time, but really—what‘s the point? Is it worth giving yourself an ulcer worrying about whether Toys R Us will have enough of this year’s cool toy so your kid(s) won’t curse your name on Xmas morning? And what exactly does that teach your kids? What’s the point of walking around in a Norman Rockwell-inspired fog of idealized family life when in reality the same idealized set of people tend to drive you past the point of rationality in a mere 20 minutes? Of course you’ll have a profanity-laced meltdown a la Clark Griswold in “Christmas Vacation” if you set yourself up like this. Who was it who said that TV is the only thing that keeps families from killing each other over the holidays? Whoever it was was surely a modern day sage. (Now that I think about it, perhaps it was Bart Simpson. Yay, Simpsons writers.).
So, why do we delude ourselves into thinking materialism or notions of perfection are remotely important? And why do they always enter the forefront of our collective mind this time of year in particular? I realize these questions have been asked ad nauseum—Miracle on 34th Street, anyone?—and, because I’m not terribly clever, I’m asking them one more time. Seriously. So I’ve decided to dare my readers (all three of you—Hi, Mom!) to make this holiday season as stress-free as possible. Find the thing that drives you craziest about the season and neutralize it.
Hate buying useless crap for people just because it’s the holiday season and you think you have to? I dare you not to do it. Maybe buy one really nice gift, or, better yet, make something for your loved ones (DIY!! DIY!!) and leave it at that. It will be much more meaningful to the recipient(s) than a truckload of junk du jour and you will escape the mall zombies and subsequent stress, not to mention the amount of money and resources you’ll save on wrapping accoutrements. Your relatives will thank you and so will Mother Nature.
Hate cooking a huge meal for everyone—or worse, cooking a huge meal and then having people gripe about it? I dare you not to do it. Start your own tradition of pizza and/or Chinese take-out at holiday gatherings. I know I give thanks for my local restaurants all the time, why should the holidays be any different? Or have each of your guests bring a favorite food for dinner. Sure, you may end up with an entire table of donuts, goldfish crackers, and peanut butter cups, but is that really such a bad thing? At the very least it will be memorable, and isn’t that the point?
My family always wanted the “perfect” holiday. The problem is that such a thing doesn’t exist, hence the quote marks. Mom and Dad may have wanted me to remember fondly the Cabbage Patch doll for which they engaged in fisticuffs with other suburban parents when I was 7, the perfectly-roasted turkey at each Thanksgiving, and the lack of televised football at family shin digs each holiday season, and I do remember that stuff. But I also remember them freaking out about charred potatoes au gratin (Dear God! Now what will we serve our guests?!?), a tarnished silver coffee service set (Mom’s gonna be pissed! It never looked like this at her house!), and post-party stains on the rug (Goddamn that kid! He doesn’t understand the value of anything!!) Why? In the grand scheme, did any of that really matter? My dad’s last words were about how much he loved me and my mom, not about how much he wished he’d polished up that sugar bowl for Grandma’s coffee on Christmas Eve 1982.
So I dare you to have fun this holiday season. I dare you to let go of the stress and create something meaningful. Enjoy each other’s company as best you can. This is what I want for my kids. They will be getting toys on Christmas, but only a couple. They will be getting a tasty meal for Thanksgiving—sans turkey carcass as we’re vegetarians. And most importantly, they will be getting sane parents who show them that we care about THEM, not about stuff. I dare you to start your own traditions this holiday season—whatever you find most meaningful—and free yourself from needless pressure and corresponding regret. Enjoy yourself, because life is short.
One of the most fun parts of parenting is becoming proficient in all the stuff each of my kids thinks is cool. Winchie is very clear about his likes and dislikes. He likes trains, trucks, cars, baseballs, basketballs, and soccer balls. He also likes to dig holes in the back yard. That’s pretty much it. He loves to jump and run around, but will sit and read a book, too, provided the subject matter is something from his list of likes. Oh, and he also likes to build huge Lego towers only so he can stomp on them or crash one of his many wheeled toys into them. He loves his sister and his parents and we love him back. That’s all he needs to know. Give him a Thomas toy, toast with peanut butter on it and a lap to sit on when he wants it, and he’s the happiest camper in the universe.
I’m totally comfortable letting him engage in typically-boy activities like playing sports and crashing toy trucks into things because these activities bring him obvious joy and satisfaction. And I’m always more than happy to indulge him when he wants to engage in typically-girl things like playing with dolls or putting on lipstick. He’s open-minded and willing to try anything that looks like fun to him. He’s curious, but uncomplicated. What a great kid!
When it comes to my daughter, though, things are a little different. Of course, she is also a fantastic kid in my humble opinion, but she’s much more complex than her brother—or maybe it‘s just my relationship with her that‘s more complex. I’ll admit that I have the usual parental dreams of her turning out to be a little version of me (minus my insecurities and hang-ups, of course). So while I’m more than happy to let Winchie play with his trains and dig up the garden, I find it much harder to hold my tongue when Squeaky wants to do something that falls under the umbrella of “girl stuff.”
For instance, as those who know me well can attest, my everyday uniform consists of black, black, and more black, silver jewelry, chunky shoes (black, of course) and, now that I’m a mom, an industrial-sized canvas tote bag for all of the essentials like stuffed animals, blankies, and extra diapers. I wear so much black, in fact, that my husband will occasionally refer to me as Morticia and is visibly shocked when I wear anything in another color. I don’t do it because I miss the heyday of Wax Trax! or harbor secret vampire fantasies. Rather, I do it because I’m the laziest person on earth. Black matches everything and I don’t have to spend ten years searching my closet for something to wear. Oh, yeah, and I look good in black—all of us dark haired, dark eyed, olive skinned girls do.
Then there’s my daughter. She LOVES frilly, puffy, sparkly pink clothing. If it’s not entirely pink or has pink on it somewhere, she won’t wear it. Because she’s only 2.5 years old, she doesn’t yet know that tiaras exist, but if she did, she’d want to wear one around the house at all times and expect her subjects to genuflect accordingly. Her best friend is a stuffed pink bunny named Pink, when she grows up, she wants to be “a mommy,” and she loves playing with the kitchen set at preschool.
I’ll be honest. All of this makes me want to gag. And, so help me, the day she asks for a Baby Alive doll or Easy Bake oven, I will need to strength of 1,000 Hoover Dams to hold back the verbal condemnation of such hyper-gendered products. Yet, on the same token, I have no problem buying entire train sets and various sport-related toys for my son.
It’s like I’m living in one of those Frosted Mini Wheats commercials. The feminist adult in me wants to destroy all Easy Bake ovens, princess-themed toys, and anything that comes in both a blue version (for boys) and a pink version (for girls). If it appears in that Pepto Bismol colored aisle in the toy store, I’d like to take a blowtorch to it. I know toys are supposed to be all about escapist fantasies, but Bratz dolls? Really? I’d much prefer my daughter pretend to be a construction worker or a doctor or a rabbit than an empty-headed, materialistic, boy-crazy prostitot.
On the other hand, the kid in me knows Squeaky hasn’t read feminist theory and likes frilly, sparkly girlie stuff simply because she likes it. I didn’t teach her to like pink. She has always liked it. I didn’t teach her to like baby dolls. She just does. When my grandmother bought me a baby doll when I was three, I took one look at it and told her to give it to my cousin Jimmy. I wanted a Dukes of Hazzard guitar! When my mom bought Squeaky a baby doll, her face it up, she hugged it tightly, and asked for another one so her baby wouldn’t be lonely. She likes dolls and inwardly, I seethe. Her brother likes trucks, and I’m all for it.
So what’s a mom to do? In private, I throw up my hands and wonder aloud what planet my daughter came from. In public, I talk to my friends who also have kids and ask if they are as bothered by this gendered-toy dichotomy as I am. As one of them (a very intelligent and doting father of an adorable girl) recently pointed out, the problem isn’t with the products themselves, it’s with telling girls that they don’t have a choice and that cooking and childrearing are their only options in life. They can play with that stuff as long as they know it’s not a death sentence. As adults, they will have other options.
Of course, he’s right. These kinds of toys are only one avenue of many available for girls to explore. This may just be a passing phase for my daughter en route to another set of likes and dislikes My hope is that when Squeaky grows up, she will have even more avenues to choose from than those available to me or my mom. Fortunately, society seems to be moving in that direction, it just isn’t reflected in the toy aisle—yet.
And no, it hasn’t escaped me that I am a homemaker, so I shouldn’t be shocked when Squeaky asks for kitchen-related toys because she sees me cooking something everyday. My days consist of adult versions of the Easy Bake oven and child-sized dolls. But I don’t revel in it the way my daughter does and perhaps that’s the source of my ire. I did, however, choose this life (for now), and I know that it is temporary. Once the kids go to school full time, I plan on devoting more time to the business that I am just now starting up. (It would be off and running if I only had more time…) So I am definitely one of the beneficiaries of societal changes wrought by First- and Second-Wave feminists. I made a choice to stay home and I still have the option to work when I want to, how I want to.
But all that doesn’t stop my blood from boiling at Target when I see the face of a smiling little boy on a Doctor toy set (in a red and white box) on the shelf above the face of a smiling little girl on a Baby Care toy set (in a pink box). Yes, I can tell my daughter she has choices, but how can she believe it when faced with an option like this in the toy aisle? As a kid, I decided to reject all things pink and frilly when selecting my preferred toys and maybe that will be Squeaky’s decision as well. A mom can dream. Until then, I’m off to write a flame latter to Fisher Price, creator and distributor of the previously-mentioned toys on the Target shelf. I mean, really. How difficult would it be to use a picture of two kids—a boy and a girl—to sell both products?
Hey, kids! It’s that time of year again. Time to carve up squashes and gourds so the squirrels, rats, and pigeons can eat them before you’re able to use them as luminaria. Time to invest in bags of high fructose corn syrup-laden treats to pass out to the costumed neighborhood kids who ring your doorbell. Most importantly, time to sing yours truly a rousing and heartfelt “Happy Birthday to You”!!!
As those of us with October birthdays well know, this month belongs to ghosts and ghouls, not to us. Every year it’s birthday greetings with pumpkins and scarecrows, birthday cakes decorated with candy corn, and plush jack-o-lantern-themed birthday gifts. I hated it as a kid, but now I think it’s awesome in a kitschy kind of way. I mean, really—what better way to celebrate the day of your birth than with skeletons, vampires, demons and other symbols of death? Sweet!
So, yes, my birthday is nigh on 6 days away and for the first time in years I’m actually looking forward to it. Why? Because my husband and I are getting the f*@# outta Dodge! Woo hoo! My mom is coming in from out of state to watch the kids (and also get some quality grandma time with them) so that the hubby and I can have a weekend to ourselves. I can’t wait! It’s a chance for me to take off the 500-pound mantle of parental responsibility that I schlep around on a daily basis and don the carefree ingénue face that’s left over from the halcyon days of my youth. Okay, okay. So I’m too old to be an ingénue, not to mention infinitely over-experienced, but it’s a nice fantasy in which I like to indulge from time to time. Seriously, though, the difference between life with kids and life with kids at Grandma’s is akin to living a Jekyll and Hyde existence.
At home, I’m an ber-responsible mom of twins who dutifully reads and rereads toddler books to her kids, helps build forts out of folding chairs and comforters, composes new and exciting renditions of “Bingo”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, and “Old MacDonald,”— not to mention watching endless hours of quality children’s programming. I try to engage in activities with the kids that are fun for all of us, too, like building huge Lego towers and then stomping them into oblivion, pretending to be Godzilla. (I’ve even gotten Winchie to scream “MOTHRA!!” a couple of times!) It’s fun for the kids and it’s a surprisingly effective way to relieve stress for me. Win-win!
I should add, in spite of the fun activities, that most days when I’m in mommy-mode I feel like I’m 438 years old. Yes, I expose my kids to underground music, vintage claymation, and outsider art, which a true 438-year-old probably wouldn’t, but the extra responsibility is what makes me feel older than Yoda. (I know…I know…Yoda was 872 or something, but you see what I’m getting at here). In my mind when I’m with the kids, I’m this bizarre chimera with Queen Elizabeth II’s hair, my grandmother’s wrinkled octogenarian face, the body of the Venus of Willendorf, and the feet of a Hindu sage who is still getting used to walking over hot coals: cumbersome, frumpy, and, for lack of a better term, ooooooooolllllllddddd. When I look in the mirror, it’s me, but with a crusty, curmudgeonly veneer, not unlike the ubiquitous latex masks for sale in every Walgreen’s this time of year.
When the kids go away, so does said veneer. In my husband’s words, I lose that “dead look” in my eyes and the sprightly, mischievous sparkle I had as a nullipara returns. I suddenly feel like I’m 25 again and that the world is mine for the taking. I’m not beaten down, resigned to my fate. No! I am the Lizard Queen! I can do anything! I can shatter the veneer of responsibility with sheer will and shine all the brighter for it. I’ve been known to dance in the streets and sing bawdy songs about the circus. Never having been incarcerated, I have no idea how it feels to be released after an extended stay in jail, but I’m guessing it’s something like this.
Does that mean I hate my kids? My role as a mother? My life? No. Of course not. My kids are kick ass and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. I enjoy being a mom, if, for no other reason than to ensure that there will be artists, musicians, writers, and dreamers walking the planet for generations to come. I love having the time I do at home with my children. Watching them grow and learn has been the most joyfully edifying experience of my life. I have grown and matured right alongside them. Having had this experience, I would never return to life the way it was before they arrived.
But, tempus fugit and all that. It’s birthday time again and time for me to let my inner Hyde out to explore the world, if only for one short weekend. Like a kid, I’m hoping to get one of the two things on my b-day wish list: white 20-eye Doc Martens or a framed mirror decorated with pictures of vintage Mexican pin-up ladies, sequins, and glitter. (Fingers crossed!) But the best present of all will be from my mom: Time. Time to reclaim some of my pre-parenthood identity. Time to shed the veneer of responsibility for a while. Time to reconnect with my senses of humor, style, and self. Time for me. And, of course, time to eat my weight in peanut M&Ms and Almond Joys. Hooray for Halloween! Have a great one, y’all!
Hi. I’m Nicole and this is my new column, “Midwestern Housewife”. Ostensibly, it will be about parenting and my experiences being an indie parent in a J. Crew world. But I also want it to be a place where fellow moms and dads can discuss relevant issues pertaining to their kids, or simply to commiserate. So please make use of the comments section. I look forward to hearing about what interests you and I’m always excited to meet and hang out with people who, like me, enjoy being a good parent but who also understand that you can do so without completely losing your own identity in the process. Yes, Virginia. You CAN resist the pressure to become a Soccer Mom. (Or a Hockey Mom, for that matter—especially if you’re not particularly fond of either pitbulls or lipstick).
First, a little bit about me:
I’m currently an at-home mom with boy/girl twins who will turn 3 in February. Yes, it looks like a Toys ‘R’ Us exploded in my living room. Yes, multicolored finger-paint masterpieces are currently tacked up on the fridge. Yes, the dog occasionally sports tempera paint racing stripes and the cat has been known to cough up a Lego or two, but all of it is much more rewarding than slaving away as an office drone. Oh, and before you ask, yes, I do occasionally wonder what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.
I’m also heartily committed to indie/DIY culture, which often brands me as an outsider in the usual parents’ circles. Maybe “outsider” is too strong a word. Perhaps “unusual” or “unorthodox” would be more precise. For instance, I’m used to getting the stink eye from older parents when my daughter, Squeak*, wears the “Mama said knock you out!” t-shirt (complete with little boxing gloves applique) that I made for her. I’ve already had a discussion with one of the preschool teachers about my son, Winchie*, and how he protests when they play the occasional Raffi CD during class because, in his words, it’s “just terrible.” (On that same token, one of my proudest parenting moments came when the kids were packed in the car recently, ready to go to preschool, and Winchie asked if we could listen to The Clash. I put in London Calling and he rocked out in his car seat with his best pal, Thomas the Tank Engine. God! I can’t wait to see what he’ll be like when he gets older.)
While other parents might cringe at this, I love that my kids are unapologetically themselves. I realize that some of this comes from their age and that they haven’t yet learned inhibition. But this also means that they are still open to suggestion on all fronts. I love showing them that there are many different ways of looking at the world and choosing an unusual perspective is often times the best route to take. What can I say? I’m an indie mom raising a couple of indie kids, of whom I am extremely proud.
I wouldn’t know what to do with a kid who liked exclusively pretty little princess wear and/or Raffi. I guess I’d suck it up because you have to let your kids be who they are, but I’m certainly glad mine aren’t afraid to stand out a little. Is it because I played them New Order and the Sex Pistols in utero instead of Baby Einstein Mozart concertos? Doubtful. Besides, if their fetal movements were any indication, they much preferred Bad Religion and Ladytron.
But, by and large, my kids get along really well with the other kids in their class and, I’m happy to report, they love going to school and doing all of the usual preschool activities: painting, singing, reading, drawing, circle time, etc. They’re normal, well-adjusted tykes, like I knew they would be. It’s dealing with the adults where things can get dicey.
The teachers are great. I’m talking about the mom crew at the preschool. Oh, dear God. It’s like high school all over again. Some of them are excellent people indeed and I’m incredibly lucky to know them. Others, well, let’s just say that I don’t wear the right clothes and my car isn’t expensive enough for them to treat me with anything close to respect. Some of them assumed I was the nanny and were surprised to hear me speak unaccented English when they first met me. And they had no problem admitting this to my face! (Picture a group of tall, slender, typically WASP-ish women in their late 30s cackling with glee about how I look so much like their Central American-born nannies, they just assumed I spoke Spanish. Never mind that my daughter is a virtual mini me and my son has my exact laugh.) Yikes. So while there are a handful of preschool moms I dig, it’s not really a club I want to belong to. It’s just not a good fit.
Where I do fit and where I’m most comfortable are all the geeky craft places around town. (And please note that I said CRAFT and not art, despite my degree. There are differences, and craft rocks! It has all of art’s creativity and none of the pretension. But I digress…) So while I love to get my geek on and craft my ever-lovin’ heart out, oftentimes it’s just not feasible with twin toddlers in tow.
So what’s a girl to do? Volunteer for CHIRP and write a column about bridging the indie/DIY-Soccer Mom gap, that’s what! Neither the preschool moms club nor the childfree craft alliance will grant me a full docket of membership benefits, so instead I’ll do what I’ve always done and find my own place. Here it is. Thanks for being a part of it.
* These are my kids’ nicknames. I know they’re perfectly plausible first names for the spawn of Hollywood-types, but, fortunately, I’m no Nicole Richie.