Tuesday, April 28, 2009

There Is No "I" In Motherhood

It would seem that six and a half hours away from husband and kids on a Sunday in April to spend time with friends—friends who did not have children--was a gift handed to me directly from the bosom of God.

Here is what we did: We waited one hour to have brunch at a restaurant where it’s worth it to wait an hour to have brunch. (I had Mahi Mahi fish tacos and the kind of fountain Diet Coke that makes you believe that there actually is a God who gives gifts from his bosom.) Then, we attended an opera.

An opera?

An opera. One of my friends had directed it. It was The Marriage of Figaro. This was the second opera I had seen in my life, and being there broke the promise I’d made to myself after seeing the first opera: never go to an opera again. Ever.

Don’t get me wrong. I love musical theater. I force my kids to listen to the show tunes channel on our digital cable, which really means I force them to listen to me sing every single song. At full belt. Occasionally with choreography. My husband believes that, no matter the situation, I can pull a show tune out of my bum that’s entirely apropos.

But this was opera. A very well-done opera. But still: All singing. All Italian. All three-and-a-half hours.

As I drove home (after two voicemails from Thad saying, “Where in the hell are you? I’m about to throw these kids through a wall!”) I wondered what I would do if one of my girls decided her one dream in life was to become an opera singer. I pictured Thad and I, from here to eternity, sitting in too-warm theaters on Sunday afternoons, listening to our baby, in her Viking hat, vibrato-ing her little heart out. This, I think, is what people mean when they say, “Love stinks.”

Back when I was in fifth grade, I joined the swim team. I remember seeing my parents sitting way high up in the bleachers at the swim meet, cheering for me during the 72.3 seconds of the four-hour event, when I backstroked the one length in my relay. I quit swim team the following year, though I can’t quite remember why. I do remember, soon after, my mother driving me to auditions for The Sound of Music.

Only much later, when I was in my early 30s, did my mother tell me the truth: “I hated when you were on swim team. We couldn’t even see you. And it was so hot. And long. I thought I would die.” Did she have anything to do with the end of my swimming career?

“Oh,” she said. “The theater was so much more fun…for you.”

She came to every show.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cute Child Abuse

Here is why my husband is a good man: he takes the girls to get their hair cut.

Here is why my husband is a terrible man: he takes the girls to get their hair cut and they come home looking like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.

It’s particularly bad for the two year old.

“It went really well this time,” Thad explains last Saturday when he and Drew walk through the door. I wait for the punch line. I’m assuming there’s a punch line coming because, when I look at Drew, I have to squint my eyes to actually see her bangs. They are so short, they almost don’t exist from a straight-on view, instead sticking out from her hairline like a shelf.

“This is ‘going well?’” I ask, as I do one thing I swore I would never do as a mother, and wet my fingers with spit, patting it on her quarter-inch-long bang-remnants to see if I can convince them to stand down. They will not stand down.

“Well,” Thad explains, “the problem is, she just keeps turning her head, so the girl has to keep cutting it shorter and shorter to make it even.”

“This is not even,” I point out. “This is child abuse.”

“But it’s such cute child abuse!” says Thad, a man whose own mother used to tame the cowlick above his forehead by forcing it down with masking tape.

The truth is, though, it is cute child abuse. The way her face is now literally consumed by her eyebrows as they wiggle up and down like worms? Cute. And the six-mile-prairie of forehead visible between those eyebrows and her hair? Cute. And the hair shelf? Cute, especially when viewing it from the side, where the horizontal-ness of it truly shines.

I tend to roll my eyes about such abuses to other moms. Oh she’s wearing her dangly, clip-on, plastic-diamond earrings again. Eye roll. Oh, she insisted on turning this empty Tampax box into a hat. Eye roll. Oh, her father took her to get a haircut again. Eye roll.

But I secretly love it. It’s kind of like putting pantyhose on the dog’s head and watching him try and get it off. That haircut? It equals a month of parental entertainment. At least. If that's abuse, I'm guilty.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Little Lemonade Girls

Blair had a lemonade stand last weekend. Actually, we had a yard sale, and set up a lemonade stand for Blair to run so she would tolerate being at the yard sale instead of watching Wow Wow Wubzy. She thought the lemonade stand was the coolest thing she’d ever done in her life, all four years of it, which was saying something.

I decided that this was an opportune “teaching moment” and explained to Blair how we’d give all the money she made to Alex’s Lemonade Foundation, the charity started in Philly years ago by a four-year-old named Alex who had cancer and held a lemonade stand to raise money for her hospital to help find a cure. Alex didn’t stop at one stand. In fact, over four years, she raised $1 million, declaring that, the following year, she’d raise five times that.

Then, Alex died. She was 8.

Not long after, I interviewed her parents for an article I was writing for Philadelphia Magazine. We were naming Liz and Jay Scott “Best Philadelphians” for 2005 because they'd decided to continue their daughter’s mission—raising $5 million through lemonade stands—by quitting their jobs and focusing their lives on what their daughter had begun.

I was pregnant with Blair as I sat in the Scott’s living room with my tape-recorder running. Liz talked about how she could tell, early on, that Alex was sick. I asked her to explain that in more detail, thinking not about the article, but about the baby in my own tummy, wondering how would I know if she ended up being sick. Liz cried only once talking about her daughter Alex—not about the illness or about the lemonade stands—but about the little girl who liked the color purple. She missed her daughter. She missed her. I couldn’t fathom it—missing a child who had died. I couldn’t even fathom having a child. I had no idea how enormous, how consuming, how life-changing my love for that child would be. I didn’t understand.

“Who wants lemonade?” Blair yelled--screamed, really--to people on Saturday as they were getting out of the cars, as they were browsing our card tables set up in the driveway, as they were standing right in front of her with quarters in hand.

“She’s really learning how to be a savvy business woman,” more than one person said to me. Each time, I thought how Blair was the same age Alex had been when she had her first lemonade stand—both of them so alike, two little girls who believed that selling lemonade was the coolest thing they’d ever done. I couldn’t allow myself to think beyond that—to think about what happened to Alex, to imagine that happening to Blair. I couldn’t. Because that would mean I’d have to imagine missing her. Missing her.

I realized now, finally, I understood.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

When Mothers Attack

I know what the woman behind me has just said to my mother.

We’re walking though an arts festival in Florida last month. Thad and my dad are a few yards ahead, pushing the stroller with Drew in it. I’m hanging back, watching Blair as she gallops back and forth between her father and me, like a dog does—back and forth, back and forth—covering twice as much ground (meaning one very important thing: guaranteed nap). My mother’s a few steps behind me.

The woman leans over to my mom, nods to Blair, then whispers: “Mothers these days just don’t watch their kids.”

I don’t hear this. Or see it. (My mom fills me in later.) All I hear my mother’s response. And I know.

“What?” my mother says. I assume she points at me. “Are you talking about her? Because I’m her mother.”

I love this moment. I can’t see it but I know that, if I could, I’d freaking love it: watching all the color drip out of the woman’s cheeks, her mouth hanging open, where she’s about to insert her big fat foot. You judged the wrong woman today, I think. Prepare to receive the wrath of a woman whose daughter you’ve just scorned! Ha. HA!

But, then, my mother speaks:

“My God, you think this is bad? Yesterday, we were at the beach and, the next thing you know, a lady comes up to my daughter and says, ‘I think your little girl is chasing that bird way down there.’ And we look, and there’s my other granddaughter. She’s about five blankets away from us, running down the beach after seagull. Four adults and we couldn’t keep track of a two year old!”

My mom stops. Then, as if she hasn’t made herself perfectly clear, she decides to add one more point: “We lose those kids all the time.”

Monday, April 20, 2009


My four-year-old Blair came home from school a few months ago with a new word: “Huggies.” From that day forward, when she fell, or tripped, or stubbed some appendage, she'd turn to me and shout, desperately, “Mommy! Huggies!” The goal, of course, was for me to hug her.

Obviously, the hugging part of “huggies” was delicious.

But the word itself--"huggies"—made my skin bunch up around my neck. I literally shivered every time it was uttered allowed. Which, as the weeks progressed, ended up being roughly every other word out of her mouth.

For me, coming home from school one day demanding “Huggies,” was almost as bad as the day she came home calling me “A poopy diaper” or the day she came home and “tooted” (our word) long and loud, then announced, “I farted,” (the school word), followed by 10 minutes of laughing, all fake and maniacal, like she knew she’d figured out I had a button. And that she could press it.

This was why: Before I was a mom, I promised myself I would not turn into one of those mothers who attached the suffix “ies” to every word. “Stinkies.” “Poopies.” “Peepies.” “Juicies.” “Milkies.” “Beddies.” “Nummies” (a.k.a. “Boobies”). Granted, I also swore that my kids would never watch Dora. Or eat at McDonalds. Or misbehave at Target. (I also swore I would never, ever blog about motherhood.) But, still…I had control over the “ies”-ing of things. I could resist the “ies”-ing.

I was wrong. Because, soon, our house was ringing with “huggies.” Blair demanded “huggies” from me. From her father. From her sister Drew. From her best friend Haley. From her best friend Abbie. From her best friend Shirley. We needed to have “huggies” before dinner, before bath, before bedtime, before story, and before back-rubbing. She yelled for me to come back into her room after I finally convinced her to close her eyes. For “huggies.” More “huggies.” “Huggies.” “Huggies.” “Huggies.”

I actually cringed last week when I was out of town, and called home before bedtime. Thad was wrangling the girls for bed.

“Do you want to talk to mommy?” he asked them.

“No,” Blair answered. (Translated: “Bare chest. Insert knife.”)

“Drew, wanna give mommy huggies?” Thad said. Oh Thad, I thought. Please! No! Et tu?

I heard Drew bumble her little two-year-old feet to where Thad was standing. I heard her mumble something, then the connection sounded, suddenly, muffled. Thad yelled in the background, so I could hear.

“Drew’s giving the phone huggies,” he said. And I realized what she’d been mumbling: “Huggies! Mommy! Huggies!”

I decided, maybe, “huggies” weren’t so bad after all.

But, with "kissies" I am so drawing the line.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rabid Mother Loose

I'm afraid I might kill someone.

This is not good.

Especially since I started off the day feeling rather good-mom-ish since, before 10 a.m., I packed my girls (and lunches that I made for them) into the minivan to go to the Please Touch Museum in Philly--one of those interactive kids museums where they can play in water and climb in race cars and pretend they work at McDonalds by hammering on a working cash register that will inspire them to be cashiers when they grow up. (Or, at least, when I was four, that's what I told my mom I wanted to be when I grew up).

Blair spies a machine. It's a back-hoe, bright gold-yellow and everything, where you can maneuver these little levers to pick up plastic, multicolored balls, move your balls, then dump your balls. This machine...using this machine...becomes the goal of her life. If she doesn't get to do it right now, she will not be able to go on. She informs me of this, then takes off in a sprint, running up the steps to the platform where the machine is, cutting ahead of about nine other kids who are in a line waiting for the machine, certain that they, too, will cease to have a reason to live if they do not play with this thing immediately.

"Blair, you have to wait in line," I say, smiling at the other moms in that "Don't worry...I know the rules" kind of way, despite the fact that Blair's reaction to my words would make them suspect I'd just told her she would never see her father again. Still, she waits. We wait. It takes approximately 47 hours to get to the front of the line. But, we make it. Blair stands at the bottom of the steps, waiting her turn. Beaming.

Then, he arrives. No, he doesn't arrive...he swoops in like a jackal, clawing up the steps, pushing people out of his way. He was big. And tall. I swear he had to have been at least 6 years old. Blair cowered away from him like he was a shark.
And that's when I felt it--the mama bear. Rising up, fast, like a geyser in my blood full of fury and hell. My skin seems to expand, puffing up from muscles and thick blue veins that are popping out of me, making me want to lean down to this kid, my eyes green and shaking, and whisper, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

Except, it's too late.

"You need to wait in line," I say to the kid with so much acid in my voice I'm sure any spit from my mouth landing on him would sizzle his skin. I think about roaring. I want to roar. Roaring seems appropriate, somehow. But I don't. The kid moves. Blair gets her turn. All is well in the world.

But I can't quite decide what this means. Am I a good mom for wanting to protect my child? But, at the same time, am I a bad mom--a bad human--for feeling that I was just one roar away from pulling apart a six-year-old, limb from limb?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Quickie

I got to leave town today, to sneak off on assignment for an article I'm writing, leaving the kids for 24 hours, and Thad for 24 hours, and life as I know it...for 24 hours. Which means I get to do the one thing I love to do more than anything in the world.

Listen to a murder mystery book-on-tape as I drive alone in my minivan.

In my previous life, there were far more devious things I loved to do more than anything in the world. But, that was before the minivan. Now, the thing that functions as currency in my marriage, the thing that my husband and I trade in, that we barter back and forth, is "alone time."

Because even showering is not alone time. Showering is me standing in the tub while my two-year-old climbs up on the toilet and turns on the water in the sink, which makes her sleeves soaking wet (sleeves of the shirt that I gymnastically dressed her in roughly six minutes before) and makes the water in the shower hot as exploding lava bubbling up directly from hell. And pooping? There is no "alone time" in pooping, considering my four-year-old inevitably barges in, stares at me the entire time, then asks, "Can I see it?" Even on weekends, when Thad and I sneak away for a little nooky when the kids are napping is not alone time. Because Thad is there.

So, we do what we can. We each take a turn sleeping in on one day over the weekend. It's not that I'm sleepy. It's that I get to be all by myself. He plays X-box late into the night. And, sometimes, I pretend I don't feel good on Sunday afternoons just so I have an excuse to "go lay down," like some kind of 1950s housewife who drinks too much.

I walked into the library this morning all giddy, like I suppose people feel when they're meeting a lover for an affair, and scan the books-on-tape. I pick a James Patterson book. He never lets me down. And this one seems like it can't fail. It's called "The Quickie." I literally can't wait to get in the car, to get on the road, and put the first CD in. The narrator is Mary Stuart Masterson (who had me at Some Kind of Wonderful.)

Halfway through my drive, as I switch from CD1 to CD2, sad that I'm actually that far through the story, it occurs to me--I think I prefer this "Quickie" to the other kind.


I know I do.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bourne Again

I dreamt last night that I had an affair.

With Matt Damon.

This is a recurring dream--me having an affair with Matt Damon. Except, in my dream, he isn't Matt Damon. He is "Matt Damon as Jason Bourne." Last night "Matt Damon as Jason Bourne" was in Philadelphia filming a movie. We ran into each other, of course, and immediately remembered each other (presumably from my last dream where I had an affair with "Matt Damon as Jason Bourne"). He and I never have had sex in my dreams. We just randomly find ourselves meeting on the street, where we have that awkward "We have to pretend we don't know each other even though we've been having an affair ever since The Bourne Identity was released" moment. That leads to the dream "flashback sequence" where I remember that great date we had where we connected and he listened to me, really listened to me, in between killing people by snapping their necks with his big toes.

Oddly, my husband Thad is also in my dream. And he is always walking around with a dish towel hanging out of his pants, as if he just spends his days doing dishes and cleaning up after the girls. Which is not how he spends his days. And I wonder, maybe, if the message of the dream is this: If Thad actually did the 4 million things that I complain that he's not doing, maybe I wouldn't like him anymore, and be forced to have an affair with "Matt Damon as Jason Bourne."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Maybe We Should Just Get A Fish

I seriously thought my ovaries were going to explode out of my body.

I was walking out of the OBGYN's office after my annual and all that small-talk during the breast exam. I checked out, paid my co-pay, and then I heard it. A baby crying. It wasn't even a cry, exactly. More like that twisting, cranking yelp that babies make in those first couple of weeks. I knew that sound very well--I had two daughters, Blair, 4, and Drew, 2. And I knew that I never, ever wanted to hear that sound again.

Or so I thought. Because, when I heard that cry, my ovaries immediately started to pulse. Like they were on speed. I pulled out the cell and called my husband, Thad.

"I have to have another baby," I said.

"What?" he said. He was a country away from me, on business in California.

"I HAVE to have another baby," I said again, and I knew exactly what he was thinking: That means some sex when I get home.

The weird thing was, I was carrying a pamphlet on an IUD. I'd asked the doc about it, thinking that it might be a good idea to stop the pill that I'd been on, pretty much, since I was 19, and try something else. Yes, it freaked me out a little that the thing looked like a Mini Pet Shop bow-and-arrow and would be placed somewhere up there in my lala. But it had to be better than hormones. I did NOT need any more hormones.

However, my body didn't seem to want a bow-and-arrow. My body wanted another baby. My brain did not.

I called my friend Lynne. She has two daughters who are 15 and 17. I knew she would say what she said: "Are you freaking kidding me???? You do NOT want another baby. Wait a few minutes and it'll go away."

She was right. It did. Especially when I picked up Blair and Drew at school and neither had napped, and they were covered in what I hoped was chocolate, and they refused to eat any dinner, not even ketchup.

No more, I thought. Noooooooo more.

Until the next morning. When I put their chocolate clothes in the washer. Their skin had been so dry and sensitive all winter, that I decided to buy Dreft, the baby detergent. I started the water, I packed as many kids clothes as I could find into the machine, and then I opened the bottle of Dreft. The scent shot up into my nose like a train.

And there it was again.

That aching. That pulsing. Those ovaries telling me what was not in my master plan: You are not done.

Monday, April 6, 2009

She Gets Her Drama From Her Mama

Today, at 4:00, while I was watching myself on Oprah, my 2-year-old daughter was at the sitter's where she is every day when I work, watching me on Oprah.

The sitter thought Drew would love seeing mommy on TV. Plus the sitter wanted to watch Drew's mommy on TV. Everyone was excited that mommy was going to be on TV. On Oprah, no less.

As soon as Drew saw mommy's face on TV, she ran up to the TV, yelling, "Mommy! Mommy!" Then mommy went off the screen. And Drew started wailing, "Mommy! Mommy!" Then she started clawing at the screen, "Mommy! Mommy!" Then she fell down to the floor in her very dramatic Drew way, which involves balancing, somehow, on the tip of her head and the tips of her toes, in an inverted-V shape. It didn't matter that, a few minutes later, I was on the screen again. Drew couldn't see me through the tears, dripping off of her upside-down head.

The sitter turned off the TV.

Drew cried for an additional 27 minutes.

It is possible that Drew will never watch Oprah again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

This Is My Dance Space

I'm addicted to Dirty Dancing.

When people ask me which movie I'd take to a deserted island (and, strangely, people ask me this a lot), I say, without shame, "Dirty Dancing." They wince. They laugh. They think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding. No matter where I am, in what state of feeding, clothing, bathing, coloring, or pretending-I-think-building-forts-is-fun with my kids, if I come across Dirty Dancing on TV, I am compelled by some inner force to watch.

Just yesterday, after Thad and I put the kids down for a nap, we were flipping through our 843 HBO channels and...there it was. Of course. As if a day goes by in the turning of the earth where Dirty Dancing isn't on a channel. Somewhere.

"Keep going," I said. He clicked past it, past 27 Dresses, Harold and Kumar, Terms of Endearment, 27 Dresses in Spanish....

"Wait!" I yelled, too loud. "Just go back and see what scene it's on."

I remember the day when I was 16 and my cousin told me I had to see this new movie, Dirty Dancing. I wasn't interested, and not just because she lived in Texas. I mean, she'd recommended La Bamba. I saw La Bamba. I liked La Bamba. But Dirty Dancing? People grinding against each other in a Catskills resort 20-plus years before I was born? I'd never been to the Catskills. I didn't even know where the Catskills were. I'd barely even been to overnight camp, especially if I didn't count that week at Church Camp, where I had to sing the lead in the Church Camp musical, "Down By The Creekbank," which completely ruined all chances of having any kind of romance with the blond boy named Scott who was a year older than me and infatuated with my blond friend Jodi who actually looked like I girl and didn't have to belt about crickets and tadpoles and frogs "down by the ole holler log."

But I saw Dirty Dancing anyway.

My life, henceforth, was never the same again.

At the time, I assumed my obsession was because of Baby's hair. Because Baby had the best hair. And she got to wear cut-offs. And she learned to do that lift in the water with Patrick Swayze. A few years later, I liked it because she got to have sex with Patrick Swayze. Then, a few years later, it was because Patrick Swayze came back to get her, and pulled her out of the corner, proving that it's always wise to wear a lovely low-backed dress to any end-of-the-season gathering. I wanted to be Baby. I would have killed to be Baby. And I was Baby, except things for me never progressed much beyond walking into the cool dancer's cabin with a watermelon in my arms.

So Thad clicked back to Dirty Dancing. It was at the scene it seems to be at about 87-percent of the time when I randomly come across it on cable, where Baby and Johnny are dancing together in the studio, post their big sex night, singing "Come HERE loverboy," right before Neil walks in on them and says, "Hey Baby...I could teach you a few moves," which, to this day, still made a little puke swirl up in the back of my throat. We watched it to the end, with not a single protest from Thad, who I suspect harbors a little fantasy himself of being Johnny Castle in the rain, who unlocks the door to his Chevy by breaking the back window with a cement pole.

I know I'll make my girls watch this someday. And I know they'll roll their eyes like I did that time I was home with the flu during high school and my mom brought home Breakfast at Tiffany's on video. It was cool and all. But it was no Dirty Dancing.