"Stella! No, use two hands! Gentle! Ah, crap. Just hand them to me."
Cody, Stella and I were all over at Cooper’s house the other day while his parents enjoyed a date night, an event that Cooper (Stella’s best bud and play-date companion) refers to as an “update,” which really makes sense if you think about two parents going out and spending time together away from their one-year-old. Music is almost always playing while Stella and Co0per are together, because they love to dance (which looks a look like jogging–actually, sprinting–in place) during play dates and within five minutes of arrival one or the other starts in with, “Music? Musiiiiiiiic?” So, we’re intermittently bopping to the music and sending miniature skateboards down ramps when this irresistibly sweet, poppier-than-pop song by Meaghan Smith comes on. The chorus innocently asks, “What’s the use in fixing what’ll only break again?” And good lord did it hit the proverbial nail on the head. Pesky tears invaded my eyes and a boulder lodged in my throat and I just danced toward the corner until it passed.
As you now know, Stella got her glasses on Friday. We were in the optical shop for an adjustment today, Monday. Already. At first, on Friday morning, I thought she was taking to them amazingly well. She wore them for a long stretch on the playground, briefly removed them and asked me to put them back on while in the car, and she wore them all through lunch. But now I’m realizing that her initial interest can be chalked up to sheer novelty. The more she realizes they’re sticking around, the less wants to do with them. Usually, she’ll wear them for two to five minutes before ripping them off with one hand, stretching the frames in a way that looks like nails on a chalkboard sound. It’s excruciating to see her twist and throw them. But it’s not just that. It’s tough because it’s such a battle, actually more of a war with many, many battles taking place and well-thought out strategies and tactics required for victory. It’s stressful and exhausting to see her tear them off, and then my brain starts whizzing, as in, “Okay, how long can I give her before I put them back on? How long before her eyes are in danger of crossing? What will I distract her with this time–a book? No, we’ve gone though all her favorites already. Stickers! I’ll try the stickers. What if she doesn’t let me put them on–for the fourth time in a row during these last few minutes? Should I put them in the case for a while or is that like giving up? Wait–have I eaten yet today? When does Stella need to eat? Maybe she’ll wear them if I give her some chocolate chip.” Cue the screaming.
Like a well-programmed mombot with super human strength and endurance (but not really), I automatically bend over backwards to repair a fragile something that is forever poised to break. The glasses. But also something in me (and maybe Stella, too?). When Stella got over her feeding aversion, no longer required a feeding tube and learned to enjoy eating, I thought we were clear. We were going to be okay from then on. But it wasn’t true. That’s impossible, and every parent on earth faces the same perilous reality. There’s always another challenge, frustration, or heartbreak around the corner. Thank god they’re so damn cute and resilient. And for every soul-searing ER visit and agonizingly difficult hurdle that you somehow muster the strength to clear, there’s–oh, where to begin–thousands of laughs that lift you up so, so high, dozens and dozens of triumphs that affirm you, your child, and life itself, and about seven hundred smiley, silly dances. Not a bad bargain at all, even if the song makes me cry.
I had the pleasure of meeting Erin Clark during my time as a copywriter at an ad agency. Erin managed a couple of the accounts I worked on. At that time, she was at a crossroads–dealing with the fallout from a divorce and wading further into the waters of single parenthood. She was always very honest and open, whether about what the client was actually saying and demanding (no sugarcoating, but no panic either), her addiction to designer jeans, or her motherly pride and concern about her girls, who were “tweens” at that time.
Unlike me, she doesn’t have a self-torturous tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario. She’s a stunningly positive person, as evidenced by her near-permanent smile. Inhumane deadlines and outrageous client demands couldn’t diminish it. And it turns out, concussions, bloody noses, and cracked ribs can’t either.Those are the three injuries she’s sustained in less than one year on the track in the Jet City Roller Girls, a flat track roller derby league based in Everett, Washington.
Here’s a woman who can push through fear, take a hit, and get back up again. A valuable lesson for any mom. (It’s a particularly well-timed message for me.) Here is my interview with the newly transformed Erin Clark, or as she’s known in the rink, Devilynn Syde (#666).
Life and Times of Stella: Motherhood is not so new for you. But roller derby is! Wow! What prompted the decision to become a derby girl and how has it affected you?
EKC: Prior to derby, my hobbies consisted of watching TV and shopping on eBay. Not very productive, and certainly not healthy or character-building. I’d always been envious of those who had hobbies they were super passionate about, hobbies that were an away-from-work outlet… something that provided different challenges, and an opportunity to meet new people. Derby has provided this–and then some. It has, quite literally, turned my world upside down. It is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, and my girls, without question.
My interest was initially piqued by a friend of mine telling me that he had taken his family to a Rat City bout, and his comment, “I can TOTALLY see you doing roller derby.” I thought about it for a minute, and ultimately agreed. The girls and I went to our first bout, I got some information about how to get started, and dove right in. The toughest thing was deciding which league to try out for. I ended up deciding to give Jet City (the Everett league) a try, for three reasons: one, they had a boot camp coming up, Rat City did not. Two, a friend from my childhood was on the league and had nothing but good things to say. Three, Jet City teams practice twice a week… Rat City had up to five practices per week. Not ideal for a single parent. I went with Jet City, attended boot camp, and was picked up by Camaro Harem.
Life and Times of Stella: How hard was it to enter the derby world? How were you tested and challenged along the way? Ever want to give up or were you 100% confident and determined the whole way?
EKC: “Booty” camp was HARD! I skated a ton as a kid, and occasionally took the kids to Skate King for a public skate as an adult…but derby is an entirely different form of skating. A whole new world. There were nine girls in my booty camp. Booty camp is eight weeks long, four practices per week. I was one of the weaker skaters when I started. I went to each practice feeling sick to my stomach. I knew the entire league was watching me, and I genuinely felt like I sucked. I definitely was NOT 100% confident, at any point, during booty camp. There were several times that I considered quitting, due to not feeling good enough. I was tested and challenged at every single practice. I never considered myself a competitive person… derby has brought that out in me, in a big way. Initially, my goal was to not be the worst skater in camp. Towards the end, I strove to be the best. Mostly, I just didn’t want to look like a dumb-ass. Despite growing as a skater in that eight-week period, I wasn’t sure I was good enough to be picked up by a team. The anxiety and pressure to succeed during that time-frame was probably the most intense and overwhelming experience I have ever had.
Life and Times of Stella: What lessons has derby taught you? Are there lessons or benefits that moms in particular can glean from derby?
EKC: The most important thing derby has taught me is to be patient, and always always ALWAYS focus on the positive. Learning to play derby is an evolution. It is impossible to be awesome right off the bat. It takes time to learn the rules and master the skills. Allowing yourself to get easily frustrated… or bashing yourself for all the things you are doing wrong… have a negative impact on progress. I did this at first, and learned my lesson the hard way. It is SO much more productive to focus on the things I am doing well, and recognize that there is always room for improvement. This is absolutely something that can be applied outside of derby. I’m typically a glass-half-full person anyway, but I definitely find myself using this philosophy more in my parenting now vs. my pre-derby life.
Life and Times of Stella: What do your daughters think of your roller derby career? Are they proud? Inspired? Jealous?
EKC: My kids absolutely LOVE the sport and are having a great time. I sincerely hoped that would be the case, but of course you don’t really know until you try it out. I didn’t jump into this lightly. One of the main reasons I took on this endeavor is because it is family-friendly… and is something all three of us can participate in together. I had many conversations with my daughters prior to trying out. I needed to make sure they would be okay with the time commitment (which is huge), and an interest in the game itself, as I fully intended to drag them with me to all associated events and activities. They are both very involved (Elly plays, too), and really enjoy the community aspect. Like me, they now have a wider circle of friends who love and accept them. They are both very proud of me. They like to tell their friends that their mom is a derby girl. I know it was my involvement that inspired my younger daughter to play. My older daughter doesn’t feel it is a good fit for her (she doesn’t like the idea of hitting/hurting people) and has definitely expressed some jealousy as a result… but I try to shift her focus to other areas of contribution. She is a fantastic photographer, for example. So, she can take pictures of her sister and me playing. [insert big smile]
Life and Times of Stella: Best and most challenging aspects of roller derby life?
EKC: The biggest challenge is by far the time commitment. I’m skating five times a week. In addition to my own team/league responsibilities, I’m also coaching a junior team (Elly’s team), which takes up even more time. I love it, but as you can imagine, it takes a huge toll. I’ve lost touch with my family and non-derby friends as a result. Dating is pretty much impossible. I have a hard time keeping up with domestic tasks. I’m away from my daughters three nights a week. I just don’t have enough time to get things done. It’s hard. The other big challenge is being okay with my skill level… accepting that I’m still a work-in-progress. Staying positive, when I’m not nearly as good as I want to be, is a struggle.
The best part of derby is by far the support and encouragement of my teammates… and being surrounded by such a fantastic group of women. I’ve never played a team sport before, so this feeling of unity, the pursuit of a common goal (outside of a work environment) is new for me. It is truly hard to put into words how amazing this feeling is. But, suffice to say, I absolutely love it.
Life and Times of Stella: How old are your daughters, and what is the biggest parenting challenge you face right now?
EKC: Emma is 14 and Elly is 12. They are good kids overall, but of course there are challenges. They are in their teen years, and they are girls. In this day and age, that alone is a scary thing. The way that girls dress and interact, and their accessibility via online networking tools, goes WAY beyond what I experienced at their age. It requires close monitoring and boundaries. Because I’m away from home quite a bit, I have to be extra diligent here… which is often hard. I trust my girls, but don’t trust others. I do what I can to keep them on the right path and, of course, safe from harm. I worry about both my daughters, for different reasons, but don’t want to be one of those paranoid parents, ya know? In general though, I’d say the biggest challenge really is their access to things and people that should be off-limits.
Life and Times of Stella: You said that as always, you’re open to discussing anything. So, exactly how long ago was your divorce, and how did it affect you and the way you mother your daughters?
EKC: My ex and I separated in September of 2005. Our divorce was final in February of 2006, so I’ve been divorced for four years. We attempted to co-parent the kids, but had an exceptionally difficult time communicating, so never really got the hang of that. So, we pretty much each parented in our own way when the kids were with us. When my ex moved out of the state (December of 2007), I retained sole custody of the girls. The girls visit their dad a few times a year, but I am ultimately responsible for their parenting. This was a bit of an adjustment, but we’ve managed and are doing fine. It sometimes sucks to be doing everything by myself… but I like to think that I will eventually have a partner who will help balance things out. That is a whole other topic, though.
Life and Times of Stella: Is there anything you worried about when they were little that you now realize was a total waste of time? Help us worry less!
EKC: Hmmm. This is a good question. I’m not an excessive worrier by nature. But there are two things that come to mind. One: Don’t compare your child to others. Just because someone else’s kid does something earlier than yours does NOT mean there is something wrong with your child. All kids develop at different rates. I remember that being a concern when my girls were younger. Another thing… if your child wants to express herself/himself by wearing clothes or a hairstyle you wouldn’t be caught dead in, let them. Trust me, you’ll have bigger battles later. Your child is not you, after all. Individuality is a good thing–even if you think it means your kid might be perceived as weird.
Life and Times of Stella: What is your biggest fear and biggest hope for your daughters?
EKC: That’s easy. My biggest fear is that my kids will be harmed in some way, or go down a bad path and be unhappy. My biggest hope is that they will work hard and be successful and happy. I could expand on either statement… but it really comes down to unhappy vs. happy. I choose happy!
Life and Times of Stella: Advice for other parents of girls? Especially those of us with ones that are wee and, try as we might, can’t predict all that’s in store.
EKC: I think the biggest thing is teaching them how to be safe and use good judgment at all times. I encourage openness and honesty in my house, something that wasn’t truly valued in my upbringing. Remember what it was like for you as a child or teenager, and recognize what options are available for your child in this day and age (specifically, things that could get them in trouble). Assume that they will want to experiment and stretch boundaries. Be available to guide them in the right direction when they are tempted to try things you disagree with. Be willing to talk about things that make you–or them–uncomfortable. When they are old enough, be honest about the challenges and temptations in your past. Allow them to learn from your mistakes, and expect that they will make their own.
Do you remember the media hubbub from a couple years back, when a woman labeled by some as “America’s Worst Mom” let her kid ride the NYC subway all by himself? I thought so.
I chatted with Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids one recent Sunday afternoon as she made chicken soup from scratch—and no. Sadly, I didn’t think to ask if the chicken was free-range.
On April 1, 2008, Lenore wrote a column for The New York Sun: “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Take The Subway Alone.” She never imagined that it would land her on just about every talk show under the sun. Ever since then, she’s been taking hits and garnering praise as the bold leader of the free-range parenting movement.
She’s painted as a renegade in the media, but the woman I got to know over the phone seemed more like your average, concerned mom, just doing her best to stay sane like the rest of us. The only difference? She thinks the anxiety parents face today is out of control, detrimental, and largely out of place. And she’s doing her best to fight fear with fact, as seen in her book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.
Lenore certainly has some avid detractors. But to me, her message rings true.
The purpose and principles of free-range
I asked Lenore to quickly define the parenting style she’s helped champion, and the well-worn line rolled off her tongue. She called it “an old-fashioned approach to parenting that lets us give our kids the freedom we had.”
More explanation can be found on her website: “…we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less.”
Her parenting approach, by the way, isn’t based on a hunch. Or nostalgia or laziness. It happens to be backed by a lot of research, which can be found throughout her book. Lenore points to the crime rate as a prime example. It’s much lower today across the board than in the 1970’s, yet kids have less freedom and parents more fear than ever.
Free-range, but not necessarily organic
Lenore has two boys, now 11 and 13 years old. I asked her if she was free-range from the start, when her first son was born. Her very honest answer surprised me.
“No, not at all!” She explained that while she’s an advocate for free-range parenting, she isn’t always able to put everything into practice. She recalled an incident from when her oldest son was one. He was in his car seat, with Lenore and her mother-in-law sitting by him, and her husband driving. “The boy was crying. My mother-in-law said to give him a bottle. I was like, ‘No! I can’t give him a bottle! What if the nipple lodges in his throat?’” She laughed, recalling how in that moment, she trusted all the baby books she’d read, rather than the common sense of her mother-in-law, who’d raised three kids.
Lenore acknowledged, “It’s hard to take a step back from the culture.” But there was something that came much more easily to her than it does to most people: “Trusting strangers more.” Lenore credits this trust to 20 years as a reporter in New York City. “I’m always talking to people in different neighborhoods from all different backgrounds. And everyone’s been great. I really do trust people… and I always felt like if you go into a Starbucks and you have to go to the bathroom, you can ask someone to watch your child.”
Based on what I’d read about Lenore, I knew there were a lot of things she didn’t worry about: her young son riding the subway alone, for starters. So I wondered, what does the free-range generalissimo worry about?
Lenore sighed, and the list began. “I’m worried right now that my sons aren’t reading enough.” She also worries about their level of communication or lack thereof—especially in regards to one of her sons in particular. “I asked him, ‘what’d you do on your camping trip?’ and he said, ‘Stuff.’”
She admitted, “I worry about their dependence on electronic amusement. Should they not be on the computer? Are they eating too much junk food? Are they nice to their friends? Do they have friends?”
Lenore paused and remarked, “The idea that I’m not a worrier cracks up me and my sister. We are such worriers.”
“I don’t come from pioneer woman, cavalier background,” Lenore continued. “I grew up with a stay-at-home mom.” Yet, she pointed out that her “child-focused” home environment never neared the “level of paranoia about the world that has been foisted on parents today.”
Keeping free-range kids safe
Lenore may be a legend among free-range parents, but she’s very concerned about safety. When her youngest son turned ten, he had a football-themed party. The sole item in the goody bag? A mouth guard.
Free-range parenting isn’t a free-for-all for kids. She explained that, of course, “You’re responsible for them. You teach them how to cross the street. You teach them to be where they say they’re going to be.”
Lenore stated her belief that, no matter how many people are placed on the sex offender registry, “It’s safest to teach your kids to say no to whatever creeps them out,” and to make sure they know that they can always tell you. Lenore emphasized that it’s absolutely crucial to say to them, “I won’t be mad at you.”
“It’s incredibly important to keep the line of communication open. That’s going to help them a lot more than telling them don’t talk to strangers and keeping them inside… Besides, most sexual predators are people they know.”
According to Lenore, the most important message to kids isn’t “Don’t talk to strangers,” but, “You’re allowed to say no and you should tell.”
The goal, she says, is to build confidence in kids. “The confidence to say no—to predators or bullies—comes from doing things in the real world and feeling pretty good about yourself.”
Nothing to fear but fear-mongering?
I’ve often wondered, in regards to myself and other parents I know, “Why we are so scared?” So I asked Lenore to explain the forces undermining parental confidence today, and why the free-range mentality doesn’t come naturally for most.
This is Lenore’s hot button issue, and I could tell by the way her voice changed—slightly higher and faster—when she responded. This is clearly an area she’s studied in-depth, and in her educated opinion, it boils down to “media saturation” and the “safety industrial complex.” Profit-driven messages are messing with our vulnerable parental minds.
The Law and Order phenomenon, she explained, sears graphic images and story-lines of victimization into our brains on a near-daily basis. Coincidentally, Law and Order went on the air in 1990, in the period when parental and general fear was soaring to new, paranoid heights. Our parents simply weren’t bombarded with terrifying and disturbing stories and imagery of sexual and physical violence in the way that we are today, which helps explain our more fearful, mistrusting mindsets.
Lenore said that when you follow the trail of fear, it leads directly to a giant dollar sign. “It all comes from the money to be made via advertising on TV or money made in selling products.” Parental fear is profit-driven, from TV ads to “class-action lawsuits about a drop of lead in Barbie’s eye.” Take a closer look at all the protective measures that at first seem instinctual, “and there is money behind it.”
Lenore highlighted a few products that may seem innocuous at first glance: knee pads, infrared baby monitors, and bath water thermometers. She noted that their very existence and widespread availability have heavy implications for parents. The message: You aren’t capable of keeping your kids safe without the help of products from more knowledgeable companies and experts. For that reason, it can be very hard to walk away from Babies ‘R Us feeling remotely confident as a parent, unless you spend a lot of money.
She explained that the knee pads imply that your baby isn’t safe even when doing a fundamental activity like crawling. The bath water thermometer suggests that “you’re about to scald your child.” The infrared monitor tells us, “At no time is your child is safe and sound.” Lenore pointed out that until recently, when your baby was asleep, you could take a break and “breathe a sigh of relief.” Parents today are afraid to let down their guard for even a minute, and it’s exhausting.
Lenore sees these products and their relentless proliferation and promotion as posing a fundamental question: “Don’t you care enough to save your child?” Of course, our instinct as parents is to say yes. And we spend a lot of money in order to do so. But no purchase is ever enough to take away the fear that has been planted.
My jaw dropped when Lenore told me about perhaps the worst fear-based money-maker she’s ever seen–an ad for a GPS device that’s also a 911 phone. In this short commercial, a kid is lured away from his bus stop by a remote control car. The next thing you see is the kid in the trunk of a strange man’s car, followed by a highly suggestive scene in a dark alley. If you watch closely enough at the end, when a SWAT team arrives to rescue the boy, you’ll notice that the stranger is pulling up his pants. I wish I were kidding. Honestly, I’d hoped Lenore was exaggerating. She wasn’t. See for yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you, and don’t take their misleading stat at face value:
Yikes. No wonder fear is so rampant, Lenore commented, despite the fact that crime is down, child abduction is rare, and that when abuse and kidnapping does happen, it’s usually at the hands of an acquaintance or estranged parent.
Lenore pointed out that whenever something does happen to a child, from a bump on the head to something more serious, parents are attacked or blamed to the fullest extent possible. She lamented, “We’re so afraid these days. Fate used to be part of the bargain. Now, anything that happens to the kid isn’t blamed on fate, it’s blamed on the parent. ‘Why did they let her eat that grape? How did they break their arm?’ It’s all traced back to negligence on parents. We’re blaming them because we’re scared and if we can distance ourselves from that parent’s disaster, it gives us a sense of control.”
Lenore added, “Our litigious society makes it seem like everything that happens has cause or blame.” In other words, there are no accidents anymore. It’s always somebody’s fault.
“Everything is now seen in terms of cause and effect. If we turn our backs for a second, then we will be blamed.” As a result, we’re always looking for possible ways our kids could be hurt, and willing to spend money on products—previously non-existent or considered unnecessary—claiming to protect them.
It’s hard to be a confident, free-range parent today because our commercial culture is constantly feeding our fears.
Sheltered kids lack coping skills
Lenore explained that today, some college administrators refer to incoming freshman as tea cups, “because they’re so delicate.” Sure, they’re “beautiful and perfectly made” but take them out of their protected display case and they break. They don’t stand up to everyday wear and tear, because they’ve always been shielded.
Lenore noted that college students are using mental health services in record numbers. “More college kids are depressed now than during the Depression,” she said.
“The point is,” she continued, “self reliance doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. Sometimes you have to figure out your own route home because you missed the bus and can’t get a hold of your mom.” Unfortunately, most kids are bailed out and don’t get the chance to build confidence by overcoming obstacles.
How to worry less? See adversity as opportunity
I asked Lenore what she’d say to a parent who wants to stop worrying, but can’t let go. She said that parents need to take the pressure off of themselves. When her best friend read her book, she told Lenore how much she appreciated “whole chapters telling you to relax.” The fact is, Lenore explained, “Not everything you do has a big impact on your child’s development.”
“It’s a big relief when you realize it’s not all up to you. Not every synapse is up to you to connect in the brain. Not every day has to be perfect. They’re going to fail and that’s probably good in the long run.”
Lenore believes that when adversity strikes, we as parents have the opportunity to say, “Okay this is the punch, and now we learn how to roll with it… Life isn’t going to be perfect. The sooner they realize it, the better they can handle it.”
As for a specific strategy to get nervous parents started, Lenore suggests leaving your cell phone home for a day, giving your child the opportunity to problem-solve on his or her own. (More concrete free-range parenting ideas can be found in the FAQ section at Free-Range Kids.)
It’s a wide, enriching world for free-range kids
I asked Lenore to think of an incident—something her kids said or did—that affirmed her free-range parenting style. I wondered if she’d seen behavior that let her know that the freedoms she’d given them were fruitful investments in their character.
She thought for a minute, and then perked up. She explained that her youngest son takes the subway to school and transfers in Manhattan. Along the way, her son has befriended, as Lenore put it, “the guy who gives out free newspapers.”
The man’s a fixture at her son’s stop. “The guy has been through some hard times,” Lenore said, adding that he’s likely been “homeless or incarcerated… and doesn’t want to see my son go the same route.” This man has not only become a friendly acquaintance of her son, he’s become interested in and invested in her son’s future.
In fact, this man wrote her son a letter, amounting to a pep talk on paper, urging him to stay the course in life. He also gave her son a book about John F. Kennedy, meant to inspire.
Lenore shared her feelings on the unusual relationship. “It made me proud that he [Lenore’s son] connected with another person, that the person is looking after him… and that the man feels good about it.” Lenore, the seasoned reporter, couldn’t help but add, “And it makes me happy that my son reads the newspaper.”
Lenore is delighted to see that her son is “not writing people off because they’re a different color or poor or hard up.” It’s just one of many lessons he’s free to learn.
Hi all, I’m super tired and have been working (freelance writing) like crazy, during naps and until midnight most nights, and I need sleep and definitely shouldn’t be blogging right now. Just wanted to check in, I suppose. By the way, I am almost done editing my interview with Lenore Skenazy, and will post early next week! The free-range parenting guru is still popping up in big-time media a lot these days, and I felt honored that she spent close to an hour on a Sunday to chat with me. It was a delight. Also on deck for my Confident Mom Interview Series are a roller derby mama I once had the pleasure of working with and Cody’s 90-ish year-old grandmother Torie, who is sharp as a tack and one of the most open-minded, least judgmental people ever. Which brings me to my thought of the night.
I read a blog post today, in which bedtimes like Stella’s (8:30pm these days) were deemed inappropriate. You know, it was just another mom, blowing off some steam, admitting that she judges moms who are out with their babies past 6pm or so. My first response was to laugh so hard tea came out my nose. Then I got annoyed and even a little bit mad and defensive. I wasn’t afraid to post my response. And my response to her response. And then I realized it was karma.
Not too long ago, I left a slightly jokey, gentle, but still essentially critical comment on a certain blog by a certain “crazy mom” (those are her words–the very ones I use to describe myself). She’s pretty well known (not in Dooce’s league, but way above mine) and wacky and brutally honest and I’d be amazed if she didn’t wind up with a reality TV show. About five minutes later, I felt mildly sick to my stomach. I knew it was wrong to judge her. I knew it wasn’t my place. Yet I’d given in to the urge to judge, something I usually try hard to suppress. I thought about the lactivists who have posted hurtful judgments on the Fearless Formula Feeder‘s site, as if just to shame moms who have already made their feeding choices, and realized I was no better.
The much-more-popular-than-I blogger that I’d criticized responded to my judgey remark, and in the very succinct, reasonable message she sent me, it was confirmed: I was an ass. I didn’t really know that I was talking about. Be ye not so stupid. Do not judge another mom’s choices (or any person, for that matter)–you know, the kind that don’t affect you at all and you have no business contradicting? Especially not based on a small snapshot of their life. That’s arrogant. You are most likely 100% incorrect. You haven’t walked in their shoes. You may, in fact, be doing it to feel superior or secure yourself. It probably has little to do with the judged, and a hell of a lot more to do with the judge.
To the certain someone that I judged: I am so very sorry. You were right. I was wrong. Won’t happen again. To the person who inadvertently judged me: Get ready–the cosmos are currently concocting a serving of of judgment for you. Wait for it… wait… for… it…
This is what an 18-month-old cutiepie with a 110th percentile head looks like.
On Saturday, Stella demanded “more pie.” Then on Sunday, after spying the gleaming white Trophy Cupcake bakery box, she shouted “CUH-CAKES!” Today, she’s been crying out for “BAGEL!”
I’d read in The Scientist in the Crib that “around 18 months” is a time of unbelievably fast development, including a “naming explosion” wherein the child can hear a word once (used as a label for an object) andsay it with ease forevermore. I knew it was coming. I just didn’t expect Stella’s language explosion to be so intensely focused on desserts and carbs. And I’m actually quite proud of it–her love of eating is beautiful to me.
Of course sweets aren’t the only emerging area of identification and communication. She knows at least several each from the shape, color, number and letter families. Some more reliably than others, of course. She’s all, “Seven? What the HELL is that alien scribble?” but “Two and Five? Hell yeah, I can spot ’em from across the street!” “Diamond” was the first shape she could easily say and identify, which I find funny for some reason. She’s starting to string words together, and the phrase of the day is “Buckle up!” Feeling really proud and curious, I tried to count all the words she knows, and gave up when I got to 125. She’s adding more each day. This blows me away. Now that there is so much to report on, the first thing I tell Cody when he comes home is, “Here are literally all of the things Stella said, ate, did, thought about and looked at today!” And then I don’t shut up for about 90 minutes. Dinner is always done way too late.
The way Stella views the world and her place in it is clearly different now, and you can see it in the way she plays. The playground, two blocks away, is her domain. But she’s oh-so-boldly venturing out into previously uncharted territory. She’s no longer content to run over the toddler bouncy bridge, go down the big slide, climb the stairs, or even to scale and descend the steep rubber mounds lurking beneath the tallest playground structure. For many months now, from the safety and comfort of the bucket swing, she’s intently observed adventurous, dirty-kneed boys and girls hiking and climbing amid the boulders and tree-root-studded dirt path that make up the strip of elevated land along the edge of the playground. She now deftly explores this rocky frontier without fear, making me nervous and proud at the same time. By the time we left today, the knees and butt of her pants had dirt ground into them. There were wood chips on her sweater and hat, and sand in her shoes. She looked like a full-fledged KID.
Today we hit the pediatrician’s office for Stella’s 18-month check-up. The weigh-in that used to fill us with dread is now just a point of curiosity, a nice bit of reassurance about her continued growth. The doctor, GOD bless him (he’s seen me at my worst), always seems so happy to see Stella. He’s just so thrilled to see her thriving after those tough early months. He “gets” how hard it once was for us, and how momentous a seemingly routine and uneventful check-up is. He seems genuinely proud of all of us, happy to show us her “beautiful” growth curves, charted electronically on his fancy tablet. Stella’s now in the 40th percentile for weight and the 90th percentile for height. Her head is still off the charts, having drifted just a touch further away from the 100th percentile, which is probably why it’s such an effective counterweight for hoisting herself onto ottomans, coffee tables and assorted off-limits areas. She’s lean. She’s tall. She’s healthy. She’s fabulous. I could not ask for more in a daughter than Stella, just as she is.
The point. Right. She’s not a baby anymore. I’ve teared up (okay, maybe even wept pitifully) about this fact numerous times, of course. Because it’s all too short. Unfairly short. As a parent, just when you get the hang of babyhood, it’s over. Just when you settle into the knowledge of “16 months”, she turns 17 months old. Then, before you even realize that she’s outgrown all her pants, 18 months. All you can do is be glad you squeezed her all those extra times, just because you couldn’t resist, and that you read her those board books a billion times even though you really would’ve preferred to watch Ellen while eatinga bar of chocolate the size of a small couch. All you can do is hold on–while letting go.
But I’m not sad. Babyhood is over, but full-fledged toddlerhood is just beginning, and if the past couple weeks are any indication, it’s going to be fun–challenging, but really funny and fun and crazy. I’m proud of how far we’ve all come. Amazed and impressed by her new independence and communication. And in awe of her passion for dessert and dirt alike.
I’d like to introduce you to my cousin Jennifer. There are a few things you should know about her. First off, she’s really, really smart. Or as they say in Massachusetts, where she lives and where I’m from, “wicked smaht.” Like, she could’ve gone to Harvard. But didn’t choose to. Which brings me to my next point: She doesn’t care about fancy, superficial bullshit that doesn’t matter in the end. She wanted to stay home with her daughters, four-year-old Marley and 14-month-old Rudy, and made sacrifices to do it.
Jennifer, sharing a moment with Marley and Rudy
In addition, Jennifer faces challenges that many moms don’t. Her daughters have a health condition that, while not life-threatening, requires extra care and calm on her part every single day. Oh, Jennifer’s mom also has severe health issues requiring not only lots of extra care and calm, but (as you’ll learn below) life-saving measures from as far back as when Jennifer and her sisters were in elementary school. Maybe that help explains Jen’s toughness. In any case, Jen handles motherhood and life in general with grace and a sense of balance and realness that I truly admire.
She very rarely, if ever, complains about anything–okay, unless hard cider is involved. She can laugh just about anything off. To quote Tim Gunn (someone her daughter Marley can do a pretty darn good imitation of without even trying), she makes it work.
Life and Times of Stella: Your blog is a very honest and uplifting take on motherhood. How did you come up with the name “Sweet Futility“?
Sweet Futility: First of all, it’s weird that anyone who wants to check out my blog won’t be able to since I made it private about a month ago. Someone I didn’t know left a comment that may have been innocent, but I felt like protecting my kids just in case it wasn’t. Maybe eventually I’ll open it up again. In the meantime, anyone who’s curious can leave their email in your comments section and I’ll send along an invite? I guess? (Life and Times of Stella notes: Or readers can just email me, and I’ll relay the info to Jen at Sweet Futility.)
A friend actually uttered the phrase “sweet, sweet futility,” during one of Marley’s tantrums. He was witnessing her wrath for the first time, and foolishly trying to dismantle her craziness. I told him it was futile, and then he called it sweet, and right away I thought that it was a fairly accurate description of parenting. Because really, as parents we’re in charge of some things, but ultimately, our kids are going to be who they’re going to be. And it would be wrong to take that individuality away from them. Which is what I tell myself when my daughter Marley asks for things like POM-POMS and swoons over anything pink and sparkly.
Life and Times of Stella: On your newly exclusive blog, you revealed that Rudy and Marley have a condition called x-linked hypophosphatemic rickets. How does it impact everyday life for you and them?
Sweet Futility: This form of rickets affects their bone development, and my understanding is that without treatment, their little bones will bow as they grow and cause them a lot of stress and pain. The condition can affect their stature, which may be why my girls are in the first or second percentile for height. Daily, I have to make sure that they’re taking phosphorus and vitamin D supplements; frequently, I take them for blood work and check-ups with their pediatric endrocrinologist; annually, they have x-rays and ultrasounds to monitor their growth.
Because my husband has this condition, and because it’s x-linked, we knew that any girls we had would have rickets. I think that helped me to take it in stride. It wasn’t a surprise or anything. And while all the medical appointments are time-consuming and therefore, often irritating, I know that this isn’t anything life-threatening. I mean, I worry that like their father, they’ll have terrible knees and have to deal with pain and maybe not even have the option of going for a run if they want, but I know that in the grand scheme of things, my kids are healthy, and I’m lucky.
Life and Times of Stella: Rudy and Marley share a room. What was behind that decision and how is it going?
Sweet Futility: After Rudy was born and I asked the doctor and nurses to confirm that she was a girl, I was crying and murmuring, “I’m so happy that Marley has a sister.” I have two sisters, so of course that’s all I know, but I just think they’ll have each other’s backs, growing up and as adults, in a way that a brother and a sister can’t. (I know that’s a valuable relationship, too, of course. I’m just saying.)
I want for Marley and Rudy to be silly little buddies, and I think that a shared room can nurture that, at least while they’re young. I also think a shared room is a way to teach things like sharing and cooperation and appreciation in both subtle and dramatic ways. Already, Todd and I hear them in the morning talking to each other, and it’s hilarious. I mean, Rudy’s pretty much saying, “Be-beh” [baby], and “Nuh-Nuh” [pacifier], but Marley’s got this full-on monologue going, and they’re laughing, and it’s great.
I shared a room with my younger sister my whole life. The first time I had a bedroom to myself, I was a junior in college. (That was a little too long to wait, for the record.) But it helped me to fully appreciate my own space, and I certainly wasn’t spoiled in that way, and I don’t want my kids to be either. Plus, now we use Rudy’s old nursery as a family office, where most of the kids’ books and art supplies are. At least a couple of times a week, Todd’s up there working at an adult-sized desk, and Marley’s at her little table, doing her preschool homework or concocting imaginary dinner parties and making elaborate invitations for them.
Life and Times of Stella: In addition to taking care of your daughters full time, you help take care of your mom. Ever get overwhelmed? How do you cope?
Sweet Futility: Hoo boy. My mom has early on-set Alzheimer’s, and she’s a type one diabetic, which is a pretty terrible combination. Because she and my father are separated and he’s in Florida literally doing things like basking by the pool or ocean and enjoying week-long cruises with his lady friend, my sisters and I have taken on the responsibility of caring for her. My older sister especially, because my mom lives with her.
Because I’m a stay-at-home mom, I’m responsible for bringing my mom to daycare when my sister’s at work, and I handle all of the doctors’ appointments. It’s tedious, and depressing, but it’s also nothing new to my sisters or me. My mom didn’t do a great job of taking care of herself and managing her diabetes when we were growing up. We’ve brought her out of hypoglycemic shock more times than we can count, since we were really young. It’s the kind of thing that you think is normal when you’re young, and then, when you’re in therapy you learn that it’s not right to be constantly saving your mother’s life when you’re in elementary school.
My sisters and I are a great team, and sometimes we’re bitter and angry, but we support each other and we can laugh about the ridiculousness of our situation, too. Mostly, we just get the job done and keep the focus on our kids. And we take care of ourselves and each other because we know what can happen when moms don’t. Ugh. Next question.
Life and Times of Stella: How and when did you decide to be a “stay-at-home mom” and leave your teaching job?
Sweet Futility: My last full-year teaching, I was given three classes of eighth graders. It was not hard to walk away. Seriously. The people who teach middle school kids because they “just love that age” are saints.
When I started teaching high school English, I had sweet classes like creative writing and AP English Language and Composition. I loved teaching those kids. They were mostly nerds and overachievers like me, and they loved reading and writing. I got into the profession because of my love of grammar, not because I watched Dangerous Minds and wanted to teach inner city kids poetry. This makes me sound like an elitist jerk, so I should mention that a part of me did absorb Dangerous Minds when I was becoming certified to teach, and I will always love Stand and Deliver. Defy the odds! Like in Rudy!
When I was pregnant with Marley, my husband and I were both full-time teachers. And teaching is a full-time job. Especially for English teachers. The day is over at 2 p.m., sure. But then you’re not really out of the building until almost four, and you’ve got this gigantic pile of mostly mediocre essays to read and grade, and that’s at least three hours of work, and so we knew that if we both worked, we wouldn’t get to hang out with our kids at all. And I really, really wanted to be at home with them while they’re little and funny. So we have been stretching our dollars ever since, and I still coach, teach a night course twice a year, and fit in private tutoring whenever I can to keep us afloat.
Life and Times of Stella: What is a typical dinnertime in your home like? What’s on the menu in terms of food, conversation, and antics?
Sweet Futility: Dinnertime is not where I want it to be right now. Unless I’m really on my game, it’s suddenly five o’clock and I’m just getting something going for Todd and me (and Marley) while I’m microwaving small plates for Rudy (and Marley). We try to overlap our eating so that we’re all sitting together for at least five or ten minutes, but that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.
And I know there are all these people who say, “I’m not making six different meals,” and “If my kids are hungry, they’ll eat it, and if not, they can eat again at breakfast,” and I certainly agree with that in theory. But Marley and Rudy are both wee kids, and every time we see their pediatrician, she’s on me to be sure that they’re eating healthy and gaining weight. So right now I’m balancing filling their stomachs the best I can with what I know they like, and making sure they at least try whatever Todd and I are having, too. I’m hoping that in about a year, we’ll really and truly be sitting together and eating the same things.
That doesn’t really answer your questions. So I’ll tell you that the other night we had chicken thighs braised in white wine, stock, and some dijon mustard, toasted basmati rice with shallots, cumin, and coriander, and some green beans. And tonight, we’re going to drown ourselves in french fries and bacon cheeseburgers at Five Guys, and I’ve been thinking about it ALL DAY! We eat healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables, as often as possible, and I don’t really buy junk food for snacks. But I use lots of butter and salt when I cook.
One of my absolute favorite cooks is Nigella Lawson. And I was once watching this documentary about her, and she said how it really affected her when her mother got cancer and said something like, “Well, now I guess I’ll finally eat what I want without worrying about my weight.” And clearly it’s affected me, too. Why deny yourself? I still don’t think I’m answering your questions the right way. I have a lot to say about food, I guess.
Life and Times of Stella: What do you find most challenging about motherhood?
Sweet Futility: I think it’s hard to be the kind of role model I want to be. I want to show Marley how to maintain a sense of calm when she’s mid-tantrum, but sometimes I still blow my top. I want to exhibit things like kindness and compassion, but that can be difficult depending on who I’m dealing with. (Ahem.) And I want to be assertive and stand up for myself, but I also really hate confrontation. So it’s probably the same stuff a lot of moms feel: I’m setting some impossible standards for myself and just doing the best I can to meet them as often as possible.
Life and Times of Stella: Tell us one thing about each of your daughters that you admire.
Sweet Futility: I love Marley’s spunk. Even though it can drive me bananas, her feistiness is something that I really admire. I don’t see her ever having trouble standing up for herself. And at the same time, she’s such a little lady. She will know more about how to properly apply eyeliner at age fifteen than I know now. I don’t even wear it, for crying out loud. She will be truly embarrassed by my ensembles in the next year or so unless I stay on top of things.
Rudy is a model of living in the moment. She is slow and deliberate and sweet. Sometimes I call my sisters with her, and they’ll answer, “Hello?” And then Rudy will say, “Hiiiii.” And then Heather or Danielle will realize who it is and take in this sort of pleased and contented breath and then say, “Hi!” and then Rudy replies, “Hi. Hiiiii. Hi!” And these greetings can go on for about three or four minutes. I feel like when I’m holding Rudy and she’s smiling and taking things in, my blood pressure goes down.
Life and Times of Stella: What is your biggest wish for Marley and Rudy?
Sweet Futility: I want most of all for Marley and Rudy to be truly, deep down, happy with who they are and what they’re achieving, throughout their lives. I want them to laugh as often as possible.
Life and Times of Stella: In closing, can you recall a proud mothering moment, when it was clear that something you’d done as a mom was definitely not futile?
Sweet Futility: That’s a tough one. I think it’s still too early for me to answer this as far as Rudy goes, but I’ve got a few examples of Marley making my heart swell. Or melt. Depending.
The first is something I didn’t get to witness. When my sister Danielle was watching Marley last year while the Boston Marathon was on TV, Danielle pointed out how fast the female runners were going. And Marley said, “Yeah. Girls do sports. My mommy does lots of sports.”
Last week, when Marley and Rudy and I were wheeling our red carriage toward the registers at Target, I was trying to get Rudy to say, “Buh-bye.” So I was all, “Bye! Bye, Target!” And Marley, skipping alongside the carriage, said, “Bye, Target! I love you!”
And every time I drop Marley off at preschool, she has to give me a hug and a kiss and squeeze my nose, and then she does the same thing to her little sister. It’s adorable, I promise.
I took newly 17-month-old Stella out for ice cream last week. Just me and her. There was no special occasion other than “mama needs ice cream NOW.” We headed out on foot at around 7pm to sneak in our treat before her 7:30 bath (which, of course, didn’t happen until 7:45). On the “walk” home, she stopped between wind sprints to request “more more more.” I happily served her bites of my mouthwatering masterpiece: perfectly salted caramel and rich chocolate Molly Moon’s ice cream in a waffle cone made two minutes before we ate it. I didn’t even mind sharing, until I realized she’d finished the salted caramel, leaving only chocolate and destroying the dessert’s mindblowing salty-sweet synergy. Really, the outing itself was a treat that instantly turned into a sweet memory.
So imagine my reaction to an increasingly popular declaration being made on mommy blogs lately: “My toddler eats no sugar or white flour whatsoever.”
First thought? Sheer defensiveness. Then, “WHAT DID YOUR POOR TODDLER DO TO DESERVE THIS???” Lemme tell ya, I gave up dairy for two and half months in a last-ditch effort to make breastfeeding work, and it eroded my soul. I’m 27% more evil now. Had I been forced to give up sugar and white flour too, which to me means insanely sexy chocolate and crusty loaves of French or Italian baked goodness, I would not be here today. With no caloric or emotional reserves to draw from, no boost from my extra special favorite foods, the breast pump would’ve eventually worn me down to a pathetic pulp. The way our dryer would wear down my jeans if I put them through an unrelenting tumble cycle every three hours for two and a half months straight.
Maybe it’s because I just finished reading “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan, which I highly recommend as an enlightening antidote to our need to control and monitor everything we eat. Maybe it’s because for a few hellacious months, my baby refused to eat and required a feeding tube. In the process of helping her learn to embrace and enjoy eating, I had to let go of my own lingering fear and anxiety around food. (Fear is likely behind parental sugar bans, by the way.) Whatever the reason may be, I find sugar-free righteousness to be ridiculous, unrealistic, unhelpful and practically inhuman. Mark my words: An all-out sugar ban will backfire.
Am I the only mom who waffles more than IHOP? I have a feeling the answer is no, but I had to ask.
Because there are days when Stella and I are in a groove, the house is cluttered but not too messy, we have an deeeeelightful outing to Gymboree or the library, Stella sets a new smiling record, and I sink a flag triumphantly into the top of Good Mom Mountain. Then there are the days in which Stella wakes up at 4:30 a.m., eats nothing but cheese and carbs, we don’t leave the house, Stella’s whining reaches epic heights, and I feel like I’m putting FEMA’s Brownie to shame. “Hek of a job, Mommy. Hek of a job.” I get depressed, usually only very briefly but it doesn’t help the rally effort. (That’s when I turn to my sidekick, Coffee.)
Of course, Stella’s eating is an easy trigger for me. When I think back about what she ate today, I don’t feel great. (Why am I thinking back on it then? Great question! Also, ever notice how “not great” is always used as a huge understatement and rarely in a literal way?) My posture reveals that I feel “less than” today. I want to confront it right now to see if my guilt is even justified. I want to look this sinking feeling in the food-covered face. So, LET’S DO THIS…
She had cottage cheese for breakfast with maybe 4 ounces of OJ and a couple bites of wheat toast with the best apricot jam ever made on this planet. Then she had half a banana and water as a rather minimal snack considering the size of breakfast, the kind of snack you might enjoy if incarcerated. Followed by a large helping of my own mac n’ cheese (at least I use whole wheat pasta) and some canned-but-organic baked beans (“lots of iron” I tell myself every other second while she’s eating the sugary legumes) and whole milk. I diced some granny smith to go alongside, knowing full well it was pointless. (I think she had one piece the size of a pea.) She reluctantly had a small serving of oatmeal cooked in cider (with apple sauce and canned pumpkin or squash and milk mixed in after cooking) for the second snack. Then, as seems to be the trend, she didn’t really have a proper dinner because it wasn’t ready by the time she got hungry, so I just fed her many bits of leftover turkey, and a couple grapes as she ran around. (Stella will only eat grapes standing up, she will only spit them out while sitting in her highchair.) As always, we sat down as a family for supper, and I think she had half of a baked sweet potato fry, a few bites of toast (not even close to whole wheat) and more turkey, and milk.
Oh, just reading that, I feel like an idiot. I can see that it’s not a big deal. I can do better, sure. A consistent serving of vegetable would be ace. She’ll do zucchini and cauliflower if I sautee them in olive oil and throw some grated Parmesan on them. Sometimes, peas. If I roast them in just the right way with tomatoes while the planets are aligned with the sun, she’ll have a few pieces of soft carrot. She’ll eat broccoli if we pretend it’s only for us and not for her (I wish I were joking). I’ll work on it. Or maybe I won’t “work on it.” I’ll just try to cook up a batch at the beginning of the week, freeze/refrigerate servings, put them out with her meals and do very little working or worrying on or about it.
So the only other thing hanging over my head at the end of this somewhat “off” day is our activity–or lack thereof. I’m still so unsure about what Stella needs in terms of activities and outings and socialization at this age. I wish I could be more confident in regards to what we do or don’t do. I’m still a bit overly concerned about making sure she snacks and eats well at meals, and this prevents me from being more adventurous at times. I wind up feeling like a lazy ass, or that I’m dooming Stella to my legacy of social awkwardness. But again, I waffle. Sometimes I’m utterly convinced that a 15-month-old does not need expensive “lessons” or other structured programs and that we all need to chill the hell out. Then the next minute, I’m terrified that Stella is missing out or not getting what she needs.
I guess I have some questions: Is mothering confidence even achievable, realistically? How do you know that your toddler is really getting what they need, as they’re moody regardless of what we do? Stella is 15 months old and not in preschool yet–is she going to fail out of kindergarten?
To complete this waffling cycle, I’ll end on a high note. Cody, Stella and I had a fabulous day on Friday at Seattle Center. We hit the Children’s Museum, then walked around the International Fountain, which Stella and I both love and could watch and listen to for hours. (The sky-high and dramatic waterworks are set to sync up with music in mesmerizing fashion.) While at The Children’s Museum, we watched Stella have a ball. Then it happened. In the kid-sized mock grocery store, she played in an amazingly collaborative way with a slightly older boy. OH MY GOD. They were an awesome team. Totally in tune. She unloaded plastic produce (totally eschewing cans and packaged goods, by the way) and handed it to this kid one by one so he could scan it. They were a MACHINE. The timing was amazing. Just as he was done scanning the last item, she was there with the next. He said, “Thank you!” (Stella’s favorite thing to say) every time. She smiled. This was more than mere parallel play and it went on for a very long time. We were ridiculously proud and impressed.
So, what am I worried about? Clearly, Stella is already more socially adept than me. And she’s obviously ready for part-time employment. She’s wonderful. I’m doing something right. Or maybe we parents think we’re more important than we really are. What a relief that would be. At the end of the caffeine-laced, near-veggie-less day, I just want her to be healthy and happy, without my going insane.
Babies and toddlers are social magnets. Compliments zing through the air to make their way to you. Strangers swoon in your direction. Silly commentary slides along the sidewalk and lands at your feet. It warms my heart to see people react in an open and friendly way to Stella and all children for that matter. That’s the way it should be. Children, especially little ones, are still deciding just what this world is all about and gauging their place in it. A warm reception to this planet is what they need and deserve.
But that magnet sure is powerful. I’ve noticed that once in a long while, a baby’s magnetic magic can draw out the ugliness in some not-so-well-adjusted folks, the ones who perhaps were not warmly received here on earth themselves. So, not all of our run-ins with people on the street have been positive. Maybe it’s because we live in an urban area, where there are many people living very close together yet somehow with much distance separating them.
I’m still processing what happened, but while strolling Ballard this morning, we had a disturbing run-in with two men. I really don’t want to ever repeat what they said, which apparently seemed to them to be a harmless, hilarious joke. It was too disturbing. Beyond inappropriate. Pretty much unfathomable to me or any parent.
Here’s what I’ll say about the interaction. They said something friendly to Stella. They seemed happy to see her. I said hello on behalf of Stella and myself, Stella stumbled, they reacted in a jovial manner, and I smiled and moved Stella along. They laughed a little too hard as we walked away.
Then, a block or two later, I processed their jovial response. And I got the joke. And it was not okay, not remotely okay. And I’d smiled at them as we parted. Did they think I was in on the joke? Oh god, no. No, no, no. I turned around. They were nowhere in sight. I made a quick, admittedly unfair judgement based on the way they were dressed that (at that non-commuting hour) they may have been headed for the bus stop. Two or three blocks later, I found them there. I confronted them. I confronted them because it was not right in any way. Because that kind of bullshit toward children can not be tolerated, and because I desperately, desperately needed to defend Stella (and me).
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as confident heading into any other confrontation in my life. I was so calm, so lucid, so certain of what I needed to do. With Stella in my arms, I approached them and said, “Excuse me. Did you make an inappropriate joke about my daughter?” There was a brief but possibly telling pause. Or maybe they were in shock. They denied everything, and explained what they’d said. They made very sad expressions. I looked them both dead in the eye, I told them I’d heard the joke and heard their laughter. Again they tried to explain it. I took in their solemn faces and their responses. I so, so wanted to believe them, but upon reflection, my gut did not. There was nothing more I could do, and it didn’t really matter. I’d done what I had to do. I told them, “Okay, I hope not. I’m a protective mom and I needed to stand up for my daughter.” The more vocal of the two said, “That’s good.” We turned and left them there, waiting for their bus.
This had not been on my agenda, but I proceeded to walk into the boutique behind the bus stop, where I bought a pair of ass-kicking Frye boots for me, and some rain boots for Stella. Somehow, it seemed entirely appropriate.
My boots. The ones I wear all the time. Eventually found them in the front closet with the rest of our shoes. I’m pretty sure Cody put them away just to mess with me.
Stella’s right shoe. It was nowhere near the left one. Later discovered in a far, dark corner of the living room between our hutch and the wall. Of course.
The ERGO carrier. Turns out it was in the same place as always.Where it belongs. In the kitchen by the back door. Hadn’t used it in a couple weeks, and it hadn’t moved in that time.
My mind. Still looking.
Minor inconvenience? To most. For me, it resulted in clenched-fist fury! I could not see straight, which only made the hunt more difficult. I was so angry, because we’d already been awake for two and a half hours without doing anything semi-productive or quasi-enjoyable (productivity is not how I measure a morning, trust me) aside from picking at breakfast. Where do those hours go? I remember reading Stella a few stories, which slowed down my post-breakfast clean-up efforts. Then I sort of just hung out with her on the couch in the office for a while, helping her do somersaults–she recently figured out how to climb up on the furniture and treats couches as gyms. At some point, I wet my hair and dried it about halfway so I didn’t look quite so nuts and disheveled. We brushed out teeth together. I rinsed off my face, which is close enough to washing it–I’m out of cleanser and moisturizer and resorted to using olive oil last night. From the permanent pile of clothes on top of my dresser, I unearthed yesterday’s jeans and deemed them clean enough to wear. I cobbled together an outfit for Stella that passed my minimum cuteness standards. I packed a makeshift diaper bag with the bare essentials. And that’s precisely when steam began pouring out of my ears as I tried to pinpoint the location of our footwear and ergonomically superior baby backpack. Of course, as I searched high and low for these items (ie looked in the same potential hiding spots over and over again expecting them to suddenly appear), Stella grabbed books, brought them to me, tugged on my pant leg, and cried. The entire time.
At one point during the morning’s madness, I actually stopped and listened to what I was saying to myself. I’m pretty sure I called myself an idiot about a dozen times, not to mention a frighteningly disorganized failure and lazy mom whose shoe-losing ways are no doubt eroding Stella’s potential and endangering her even foot development. And to make matters worse, I’m pretty sure that the stack of thank-you cards on the bookshelf, with names written on them but no addresses, looked at me and nodded in total agreement with these negative thoughts. Not only is my mental dialogue insane and uncool, it’s melodramatic.
I have phases where I get so down on myself so fast. Examples abound, but Facebook comes to mind. I want to quit Facebook, but can’t. I’ve noticed that the oh-so-sunny and wonderful virtual representations others create of themselves using pictures of their gorgeous new homes and perfectly happy children and new cars and other symbols of “success” lead me to feel crappy. Don’t get me wrong, if we owned a lovely home, I’d be showing it off for sure, because due to the hard work and pride naturally involved. But status updates like, “Feeling so grateful for my life. Everything is wonderful!” kind of make me want to vomit, especially when posted every other day. I hope that these are genuine expressions by well-intentioned people, but come on! No, Facebook is not all bad. I do enjoy some fun banter with Facebook friends which helps me feel less isolated, but sometimes, I log off feeling “less than.” It sucks. I’m reminded of a brilliant quote along the lines of, “Don’t compare your inside to someone’s outside.” I try to keep that in mind, but it doesn’t help. I’m holding myself up to some high standards, and I’m not sure they’re even possible to meet.
Well, after a couple of emails to my husband, who has nothing better to do at work than help me find things that are right in front of me, I found all the “missing” stuff. Almost three hours after waking up, Stella and I headed downtown on a birthday mission for Cody. He turns 38 today. Happy Birthday, sweets! (I’ll report on the birthday festivities once they are complete, this weekend.) While he and Stella attend Waterbabies, I’ll be cooking a German feast for him, with ingredients sourced from Pike Place Market, to be followed by his favorite dessert in the world: Dahlia’s coconut cream pie. We won’t eat until just after 8:30, when Stella goes to bed. You know, so as to spend more than five minutes with a meal.
Our morning completely turned around once we were out and about. Funny how that happens. Stella clearly loves Pike Place Market, and being downtown with all the people, sights and sounds, and I love that about her. We had a fabulous time. The ladies at the bakery were fittingly sweet. We snacked on Dahlia’s sour cream vanilla bean coffee cake and sampled organic plum and pear. We stopped to listen to a piano man, and Stella particularly enjoyed (judging from all her bouncing) the old timey tunes by The Tallboys. One of the gospel singers that are stationed near the original Starbucks cheerfully called Stella “a bottle o’ joy” and pretty much made my day with his enthusiasm. Stella took a stroll down the less-busy Post Alley, where she tried on some boots and an old woman in a tall leopard-print hat stopped to chat with her. We watched and waited as someone spent about $500 on ingredients for an Oktoberfest dinner at Bavarian Meats Delicatessen. I was inspired but all I had left on my list was swiss cheese for spaetzle. On our way out of the Market, I grabbed some plums and pluots and Stella and I shared a smoothie in which every single ingredient was grown at a local farm. They use their own cider as a base and Stella and I agreed that it really worked.
Then I saw it: the parking ticket. We were ten minutes late. But to my surprise, fire did not shoot out of my eyes. I simply didn’t care. We lingered at the car, continuing to enjoy our smoothie. It dawned on me in that moment to appreciate how content Stella had been throughout our long-ish adventure. It was worth an extra $25.
This calls for a new Facebook status: “Wow, what a fabulous morning. Life is good and I’m truly blessed!” Gag me with the truth.