More proof that babies are brought by the stork.

victorian-postcard-flummoxed-woman-swats-away-stork-parasol-baby-delivery-villain-still-pursues-her-drawing-paiting-image

In a lot of ways, I’m grateful that my kids are nothing like me. I’m the most disorganized person in the world. Messy. Distractible. I can’t draw. I can’t keep cupboards organized. I lose socks. I can’t balance checkbooks. Forms confuse me. I sometimes lose steam on projects due to crushingly low self-esteem. I didn’t do that great in school and I royally sucked at standardized tests. The things I could do well in childhood (and if we’re being honest, adulthood too) fit on an index card: tell stories, talk about stories, sing songs and make people feel wonderful about themselves. That’s pretty much it.

My kids, though. They are not like me at all. They are focused. Intense. Wicked smart. And crazily organized. So where does that come from? How does a So Not Type-A She’s Practically Type-Z And If There Was A Past-Type-Z She’d Be That mom give rise to three very Type-A kids. Even Leo – my sweet Leo! – if viewed through the lens of third-grade-boydom is pretty dang Type-A. He keeps his drawings organized and his magic cards organized and his Scouts stuff organized, and he does his homework the SECOND he gets home so he can check it off on his checklist. He’s even starting to organize his legos. (Good luck, kid.)

But of the three, it’s my middle child who is not just Type-A. She’s Type-A+. We went to her parent teacher conference the other day, and got to hear her teacher gushing about how organized she is, what a leader she is, how she comes up with creative ways to make even dry subject matter come alive. How she organizes other students into schemes to enrich the class – skits, songs, interpretive dance, all with an eye to making learning interesting and collaborative and fun.

“Yep,” I said. “Of my three kids, she’s the one who was born to run things.”

“My guess is that she’ll be my boss someday,” her teacher said. “Or maybe she already is.”

At home, she writes up schedules for the family. She makes goal statements. She starts making homemade Christmas presents in July. She is eleven for god’s sake, and she’s already written out the christmas cookie baking schedule.

We are going out East this year for Thanksgiving – something that we usually don’t do, but it was the only time to get Ted’s side of the family all together. And because it’s not the usual time that we travel, it kind of snuck up on me this year. I was eating dinner with the kids, and my oldest remarked that she has a two-day week next week.

“What?” I said. “Why?”

“Thanksgiving, mom,” my oldest said.

“Are you sure it’s November?” I said. I had honestly forgotten. All three rolled their eyes.

Mom,” they sighed.

“Huh,” I said. “Well. I suppose you guys should pack this weekend. Then you won’t have to do it after school when you’re crazed.”

“You should pack too, Mom,” said my middle child.

“I totally will,” I assured her. But I won’t. I am physically unable to pack before T-minus-five-minutes. I make sure everyone else is packed, and I check their bags to do a socks-and-underwear-count and that there are enough sweaters. For myself, I shove stuff in a bag and hope for the best.

“Well,” my middle said. “I’m already packed.”

“Really?” I said. “We don’t leave for a week.”

“I’ve been packed for a while.”

“How long?”

“Two weeks.”

Two weeks?”

“Maybe three.” She blushed. “I like to make sure the things I want are clean. And maybe I’ll forget what I like to have when it’s almost time to go. I also packed my activity bag. They’re under my bed. I made a list for you, Mom.”

What kind of crazy person packs in advance? My own little crazies, that’s who. They did not get this tendency from me, and they certainly didn’t get it from their dad. They arrived – a crystalline distillation of their Utter Selves, hard, bright, whole, and completely separate from me. And I love this about them, even as it makes my heart break to pieces. They are growing. Even as we sit at that table, they are light and cloud and wind. Energy. Change. Potentialities. They are growing wings. And they will fly away.

(this thing that I have. this life. it will pass away. indeed, it is passing already. and oh, my heart, and oh, my heart, my heart, my heart.)

“You think I’m weird, don’t you,” she accused.

“No, darling. You’re the most normal thing in my life. I’m the weird one. Good thing I have you.”

(What will I do without you? whispers my heart.

I have no idea, I whisper back.)

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Wherein I Utterly Fail As A Parent

If I was a teacher grading my parental performance, I would have to give myself an F.

No….an F-.

If I was the principal of parent school I would expel me.

I keep on running the events of yesterday through my head and shuddering. It was, by every reckoning, a spectacular failure.

Here’s the thing: I knew, as the mother of daughters, that the specter of body image issues and low self and imagined ugliness would one day show its ugly face in my family. And I thought I was ready. I thought I was armed. This was a battle I had fought in my youth in the rocky and precarious territory of my own crooked heart, so I felt ready to  fight for my children. I was Joan of freaking Arc and I was preparing for war. 

Armor: Check

Shield: Check

Sword: Check

Righteous rage: Check

Religiously ecstatic devotion to my cause: Check

Possibly futile war that I have absolutely no hope of winning and that will probably destroy me if I try: Check and check.

Here is what I know:

We live in a culture that teaches girls to hate their bodies.

We live in a culture that tells girls that only their body matters – not their thoughts, not their talents, not their kindness and their care, not their grace or their poise or their generosity, not their hard work, not the amazing things that they can do. We live in a culture that teaches girls that, if they are not skinny, none of those things matter.

We live in a culture that makes healthy-weighted girls think that they are not good enough.

And what kills me – what really really makes my blood boil and my skin bubble and my hair catch on fire – is the fact that the magazines these kids see and the websites they look like don’t even bother photoshopping their anorexic models anymore – they’re using digital models with real-girl (though photoshopped) faces. It’s digital mannequins and it’s harming my child. And I hate it. I am made of hate. I am built of swords and rifles and tanks and laserbeam eyes. I am a one-woman army. SO LOOK OUT.

So I sat down with her, after she had said a couple things at dinner that troubled me.

And I was already upset (what do you mean you feel bad about the ridiculously healthy dinner that I just made for you?) (what do you mean you think you’re too fat?) (you are so beautiful I can hardly see straight) (I love you I love you I love you I love you Iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyou). My head was a whirlwind of words. My heart was racing.

“Honey,” I said. I took her hands in mine. And oh! Those hands! Those beautiful hands! And oh! That beautiful child!

And I said some stuff that I really don’t remember, and probably didn’t matter much. Something about healthy weights and how our bodies are our interface with the world, and that we experience all pleasure, all joy, all love, all adventure through and with our bodies and that any second we spend feeling bad about our bodies is a total and complete waste of a second – and one that we will never get back. I told her that we only ever get one body – only one. And it is a gift. I told her that I love her. That she is beautiful. That her body is healthy and lovely and strong. But that her beauty is only a small part of who she is – that the really amazing stuff had absolutely no bearing on what she looks like – that her talents in art and mathematics and music and writing and basketball, as well as her innate curiosity and deep thinking, made her a gift to the world. And that the world was lucky.

And then. Then.

Oh you guys.

I cringe at the thought of it.

Then, after all that blather, I said this: “Here’s the thing, honey, nobody gets to tell you that you aren’t good enough, and nobody gets to tell you that your body is nothing short of perfect, and nobody gets to tell you that you aren’t beautiful and astonishing and a miracle on this earth, and if anybody ever tells you anything different then I will punch that person in the face.”

Ella stared at me.

I sat there for a moment in a sort of stunned silence.

Ohgodohgodohgodohgod!

Did I just say that?

Oh my god I did. I DID! Bloody hell.

Ella swallowed. “Um, mom?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling my sense of flamey, knife-wielding rage vanish like the dew of a summer morning. I tried to adopt what I felt might be interpreted as a breezy tone.

“Don’t you think that’s a little extreme?”

“No,” I said. I was, though calm now, unwilling to backtrack. I mean, I said it, right? I couldn’t unsay it. “I really feel that. And I would. I would punch that person in the face.”

She gave me a skeptical look. “Have ever actually punched a person in the face.”

I sighed. I have a policy of not lying to my children (except in the case of the tooth fairy, santa clause and the easter bunny. Those aren’t lies per se, but rather are ritualistic and long term storytelling. They are pageantry.) so I had to come clean. “Yes,” I said.

“IN THE FACE?”

“Yes.”

“In a fist fight?”

“Yes.”

“Has daddy ever been in a fist fight?”

“I have been in exactly two more fist fights than your father has.”

“How many times?”

“Two. But that was a long time ago.

“How long?”

“Way before you were born. In college. I was….hot tempered back then. And I didn’t always make the best choices. And I wasn’t as smart as you.”

“But, you’d get in a fist fight for me? That’s what you’re saying?”

“Oh, honey,” I said. I didn’t cry. I honestly didn’t. But I wanted to. “In a nanosecond.”

“But what if…..”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“What is it?”

“Um, can we have this conversation later?”

Of course we could. And we will. We’ll have conversations after conversations. I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her and she started getting ready for bed.

But here’s the thing:

I know what she was going to say.

What if the person making me feel bad is me?

And it’s a good question. And a fair one. But in light of the nonsense that I had just spouted, it puts us in a bit of a conundrum. Because I told my child that I would punch the person who made her feel bad. In the face. And that person, right now, presumably, is her. Which means  that I have just threatened to punch my own child in the face.

In the face.

Oh for god’s sake.

I’m the fucking mother of the year, goddamnit. Oh, god, you guys. I’m cringing at the thought of it.

In the meantime, I’m bracing myself for more of this nonsense. And I know it’s coming. I wasted my entire adolescence and much of my young adulthood despising my body. This body! This is the body that carries me across this green earth. It digs in gardens and treks through forests and dances when it feels like it. It produced three beautiful children and it loves my husband and it is imperfect and awkward and mine. And I love it. And it wasn’t until I loved my body that I could start to love my life.

So I pray for my daughters now. And I pray for strength. Because, I’ll tell you what: This fight is gonna be hard, it’s gonna be brutal, and it’s gonna suck. And I know that anything I do will be futile and wasted.

My only hope is this: If my daughters see me fighting for them, maybe – just maybe – they’ll learn to fight for themselves.

 

My Baby Is Twelve

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Twelve ridiculously short years ago, I was sitting in a hospital room, amniotic fluid dripping down my legs, playing cards with my brother and my husband. Hearts, I think, and I won – though truth be told, given my delicate condition, they may have let me win.

You see, I suck at cards.

Anyway, I was supposedly in labor, but I didn’t feel like it. Just some cramps here and there and a bunch of ominous nurses keeping hepped up on antibiotics and using sinister words like “pitocin” and telling me my labor was “delinquent”. They regarded me with tight lips and narrowed eyes.

I actually liked being called a delinquent.

But here’s the thing, despite the slow start, my labor went from zero to a million later that afternoon, and my child emerged – bloody and gooey and squalling – in a single push. A thing of beauty. A howling angel. A screeching goddess. And I was terrified.

Here she is:

Clearly, the child’s a genius.

And there I am, clearly clueless. When I became a mother, I was twenty-five, shiftless, rootless, directionless, in love with my own youth, in love with my own plans, and terribly, terribly in love with my husband.

 

And over the moon for that little girl.

 

That baby, those blue eyes, that red skin, that complicated heart – she made us a family. We were not ready for her – not in the least. She didn’t care. She made us ready. She made me a grown-up, because I certainly wasn’t one just a few days earlier. The reason why I work as hard as I do, the reason why I throw all of my intelligence and my spirit and my being into my work as a writer, is because of that little child. So I can deserve her. So I can be the mama that she needs.

Twelve years ago, I sang and sang and sang myself hoarse. I sang as she cried, I sang as she nursed, I sang as she slept in my arms.

Welcome to the world, my darling, I sang. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

And now, a dozen years later, I continue to sing.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I am a better person now, Ella. Every day that I am your mom, I am a better person. Thank you for surprising me; thank you for challenging me; thank you for your presence and your spirit and your intelligence and your joy.

And I will sing my love to you forever.