Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mommy's First Christmas

How I fear for my second child....who isn't even born yet.

So much attention, praise, admiration and general awe has been showered over my firstborn by friends, family, and admittedly, his own parents, that I know not if there will be anything left by the time #2 arrives.

How many of you out there got multiple "Baby's First Christmas" tree ornaments, onesies or footie pajamas? We also got "Baby's First Thanksgiving" bibs replete with goggle-eyed turkeys and and Baby's First Halloween t-shirts festooned with a variety of spooky bats, cats, and creatures. And earlier this year he was a "First Valentine" and "Favorite Irish Boy" for St. Patrick's Day (he's about 25% Irish). Oddly, we received no clothing or trinkets celebrating his first Labor Day, Columbus Day, or Veterans Day.

Here's my question. What about Mom? It's also MY first Thanksgiving / Halloween / Christmas as a Mom, and dammit, we should be recognized. I don't know about you but I could have benefited greatly from a festive bib and stretchy footie pajamas this holiday season. And the "Mommy's First Christmas" tree ornament should serve as nothing less than our new star. By the time number 2 comes around, neither of us will be very special anymore, the new baby suffering the indignities of worn and stained hand me down bibs and onesies and me probably only dreaming of fitting into last year's celebratory threads.

So here's an idea for budding mom entrepreneurs out there - "Mom's First (fill in the blank)" gear! Nalgene water bottles for Mom's First Walk post partum! Chic ski jackets for Mom's First Outdoor Excursion! Sexy (albeit stretchy) nighties for Mom's First Weekend Without Baby! Bathing suits with "Mom's First Bikini" emblazoned across the ample butt material. The possibilities are endless, ladies.

Go get some!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Bitch with Children Goes to Brunch

We’ve heard from the Childless Bitch (in fact, er, some of us may have been her at another time in our lives, ahem) but have you seen the Bitch with Children? You know the one who publicly / beats / humiliates / screams at her brood, reveling in her power?

I saw her this weekend, which was ironically, my childless weekend getaway. I’d jetted (okay, bussed) to New York City to eat and shop my way through the Big Aple for two days with a long lost girlfriend who also left her three tots at home. Baby and Daddy were home bonding and hopefully, repairing the downstairs bathroom.

We were halfway through our second gluttonous brunch in as many days when we heard a terrible voice hiss, “How am I supposed to spread this butter?!” We looked across the counter. She was redheaded and fatigued, not unattractive. Her daughter, no more than four or five, was breaking apart a blueberry muffin the size of her head (that’s how they serve them at the Brooklyn Diner on 57th Street.) The Evil Mother was snapping her question at the poor waiter as she snatched he muffin from her daughter’s tiny hands.

“What did I tell you?!” she growled at the girl. “If you’re not going to eat it, why did you order it?!” The girl picked at the giant baked item, accessorized with two large squares of frozen butter pads (that’s how they serve them at the Brooklyn Diner). “If you don’t stop it, I’m going to beat the crap out of you!” And she wasn’t talking to the waiter.

My friend and I stared at our smoked salmon benedict in disbelief. The Evil Mother reached over to knock the little boy, who was sitting next to his sister, on the arm, telling him, “And you better eat yours!” The father was seated next to the boy (as far from his wife as the counter seating would allow) and wearing a pained expression and a sweatshirt that claimed, Life is Good! My friend and I exchanged another glance.

By the time I got back from the bathroom, the little girl was crying in her father’s lap. Then I heard him say something hideous. In a soft voice, he asked his daughter, “What did she do to you now?”

How does a family get here? And what should we, the viewing public, concerned parents, do when we witness such a scene? I know, I know - we all have our moments, and all of our kids are uncontrollable brats at one time or another. But to threaten your child that you’re going to “beat the crap out of them?” And it’s not like the little girl was having a meltdown or even doing anything really awful. If I got a blueberry muffin the size of my ass, I’d pick it apart before eating it, too.

Evil Mother and family collected their things and left, jerking on coats and hats and shoving their way to the door. And we thought, what happens when they get home? Should we have said something? Have you ever been in this situation? Tell me this is a rarity and not commonplace. Is the Evil Mother only present in New York during Christmas shopping or does she lurk in all parts of the country…?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Then & Now

Today my son is 11 months old, almost a whole year, and as I changed another poopy diaper and wiped smeared avocado from his smiling face, wondering why his father had dressed him in a rugby shirt for bed instead of actual pajamas, I thought again, as you all do, surely, daily (perhaps some of you hourly) of how my life has changed in the last few years.

For a real eye opener, I decided to read some of my old journals to see what I was doing a few years ago on this date. For those of you who keep a journal, you know this experience can be like shopping for bras pre and post pregnancy/nursing: either a real lifter upper or a super shocking downer. For example, who knew that weighing in at 128 pounds would classify me as "a fat pig" (December 13, 1998). Or that I'd eventually rally against all odds ("I'll never get married and have a baby; I can't even pay my rent I'm such a loser!!" (December 13, 1994). But here's my favorite comparison:

Six short years ago I was a publicist in Hollywood, promoting Guy Ritchie's second movie, "Snatch," starring, among others, Brad Pitt and Benicio del Toro. And oh, Guy was getting married to someone named Madonna....

December 5, 2001
Today was perhaps the most stressful experience thus far of my career in the movie business. The Academy Awards submission forms for all entries were due on Friday (it's Tuesday) and so I made a casual call today to check that the submission forms for all our division's releases had arrived. Somehow, the forms for "Snatch" were missing. My stomach dropped. Was it possible Guy Ritchie and Brad Pitt might not get nominated for Oscars because I forgot to send in the form with their names on it??? What would Madonna and Jennifer Aniston think of me if they found out? Would Guy have me "offed?" What about the other "actors" in the film - Guy's mates are not all exactly classically trained Shakespearan thespians...

I'm hoping it's the fault of a woman in the legal department named Olive, who normally submits the forms, but as the PR person handling the campaign for "Snatch" it might actually be my fault. My boss is going to kill me. She already has a burst blood vessel over her right eye because of this. I think one of us may get fired. During lunch we raced over to the offiecs of the Academy and re-submitted the forms in a plain, unmarked envelope. We also had to let the head of the studio know that "the forms had been lost." I did not say, "because I forgot to fill them out."

Later, the Academy called to say they had in fact, received the application. I gleefully told my boss, who suggested I check on the submission forms for the rest of our movies. Twice. I did so happily. What a day. I'm exhausted.

Luckily this one turned out ok. Please share your THEN & NOW stories, whether not your journal is depressing or electrifying. I want to hear them!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Brenda DiGiacomo's Nikes

Remember these? Do you have a pre-pubescent daughter? How about a daughter who may be 6 months now but one day will be 144 months? Or perhaps you were a pre-pubescent yourself once, as ugly and awkward and skin crawly as the word itself.

Take heart. We were all there. Some of us had the right Nikes and some us us, well, we shopped at K-Mart for the Irregular irregulars.

Here's a story to make you laugh during this difficult time for your daughter, or to help you prepare for it. Enjoy...

“Who is Brenda DiGiacomo?”

I’d mentioned the name; it was only natural for my therapist to ask the question. She was wondering if I felt it increased my value as a person to spend over three hundred dollars on a pair of shoes. Yes, I’d replied. It had started in junior high. With Brenda DiGiacomo, I tried to explain.

“I never felt so ugly in my entire life,” I began, remembering Brenda and the gaggle of gorgeous cheerleaders and - even worse - majorettes who ruled the school with their Sasson jeans and Farrah hair.

“Everyone wanted to be her. I remember she had those perfect Nikes – the red, white and blue ones.”

A hideous memory shot through me. “I smelled them once,” I said.

My therapist looked up. “Why?!”

“Because…” but there wasn’t one sentence that could explain.

Brenda DiGiacomo was the reigning queen of our junior high. She had dirty blonde hair that rolled down to her shoulders in two perfect seventh grade sausage curls, flawless olive skin, and the body of a 20-year-old stripper. She was a cheerleader. She was also our brother’s girlfriend.

Our brother was captain of the football team and the baseball team. Back then he had a lot of hair and looked like Matt Dillon on steroids. He was very popular. He and Brenda had been going out since the beginning of the school year. She would come over after school and they would slink off to his room, where they’d listen to Boston, Journey and Steve Miller Band records and presumably earn the reputation the school had secretly bestowed upon them.

We didn’t know for sure of course, my sister and me. Not that we had any idea what third base was aside from being a very big deal. I was 12 and spent most of my time at the horse farm down the street. People often mistook me for a young lad with a budding weight problem. I was somewhat plump and had unfortunate bangs. I had no breasts and no hips, facts which were glaringly apparent in my hand-me-down Levi’s corduroys. My brother and I could not have been at more opposite ends of adolescence’s ruthless sociological rainbow.

In addition to being a cheerleader, Brenda was on the softball team, even though she didn’t play much. She looked cruelly beautiful in her polyester blue and white uniform that was unforgiving at best for the rest of us. When the team had physicals at the beginning of the school year, we were lined up in the nurse’s office wearing nothing but paper johnnys with a plastic string belt. Brenda’s body made her johnny look like Prada had made it. I remember wanting to look as good in my best dress as Brenda looked in her paper johnny.

When Brenda came over to “hang out” with our brother, she would take off her sneakers and leave them in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. When I came home from the barn each afternoon I would pass by them, sitting there smugly on my carpet - the podiatry perfection of Brenda DiGiacomo personified in these particular Nikes.

The Ladies Cortez, in red, white and blue, was the most sought after athletic shoe in the entire school. If you ever hoped to have a boyfriend or get asked to the dance you’d better have a pair. You simply had to have them. You had to. God forbid your parents couldn't’t afford to shell out $42.99 for sneakers. Desperate, baffled parents would try to reassure their kids that footwear didn’t matter, a sneaker was a sneaker. Perhaps you too, were once told, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts!” Right. When you’re ninety.

For us, the answer was Kmart’s Jox. A sorry substitute, Jox spelled certain social doom for anyone foolish enough to don them in 1982. You were better off going to school with plastic bags on your feet. An early candidate for fame, Brenda DiGiacomo knew this. The rules only came to me a few years ago when I first started therapy.

There they were. Neatly removed from her princess feet, one leaned up against the other, cuteness oozing from every stitch, every lace hole, each perfectly wrinkled bit of nylon down to the beaming red swipe that said I am pretty and popular and you’re NOT!

I stopped in the hallway and looked down at the shoes. I was in my riding boots, covered with wood shavings from the barn. Behind my brother’s door, Journey blared.

One love feeds the fire...
She was so perfect, what was it like? What could it possibly feel like to be the most popular girl in school? What was it like to have the prettiest clothes, to have a new outfit every day for two weeks straight, to have every girl want to be you and every guy - including my brother - want to be with you? Did she have any flaws at all?

Two hearts born to run...
Did she have any self doubts? Did she worry about ANYTHING? Did she have the problems of normal people? Did HER FEET SMELL?

I had to know. I had to be assured that there was one normal thing about her, a single simple detail that made her human. There had to be something she could be vulnerable about. Otherwise life was unbearable.

I picked up one of the shoes. I glanced toward my brother’s room. No one would know, and I’d be so much happier if I knew that Brenda DiGiacomo had smelly feet. I could write it in my journal over and over again and be reassured that no matter how many times a mean kid whinnied in my direction, I knew the truth.

I held the unsuspecting footwear up to my face and looked deep into its cavernous arch, the space that carried Brenda DiGiacomo through her sunny world every day. I looked both ways and sniffed deeply.

It smelled just like my Jox.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A letter to my 10 month old son...

One of the things that changes as you get older is your relationship with your parents. I saw it happen with my parents and their parents and now I’m filled with a sort of melancholy resignation that it is happening to me and my parents. And someday, it will happen, as it is bound, to you and me.

“Your parents get left behind,” my mother said one Christmas, when we were talking about family. I didn’t know then if she was talking about herself or her own mother. Now, years later, I know she meant both. She said it without sadness or bitterness. She can be very sensitive, your grandmother, but also very matter-of-fact.

When you are very young, your parents are everything. They are like God and can do no wrong. They are your leaders, your protectors, your caregivers, your fun providers, your sunrise and sunset and they give order to your world. There is no universe without them for they ARE your universe.

Then you become more independent, and eventually, a teenager, God’ cruelest creation and karmic revenge upon those parents who were themselves teenagers once. You question them, defy them, resent them, hate them even, doubt them, mock them. Every force in you bears the opposite of when you were a trusting child. You feel in your bones that only if they weren’t so stupid and naïve, if only you could free yourself from their maddening, relentless oppression, your life could be everything you imagined. You are not right, but you are not necessarily wrong, either.

But then, a funny thing happens as you approach the twilight of your fiery youth and slip gracelessly into early adulthood. Either you go to college, in which case you learn to think in a new way while prolonging your adolescence, or you grow up quick by getting a job and living in what we like to call “the real world.” You roll your eyes at this. You may begin yearning for your lost childhood adolescence which you never before, it is suddenly clear, appreciated.

And you begin, slowly, to understand your parents a little better. You start to appreciate everything they did for you. You may even begin to see the sacrifices they made - perhaps are still making - for you. You get this nagging feeling that you want to make them proud. You can’t possibly repay them with money or material goods, not yet anyway, so you try to reimburse them in spirit. With kindness, thoughtfulness, maturity. A good job, health insurance, or a spouse with a good job and health insurance. You might pick up the check when you all go out to dinner. You might put more care into selecting their birthday or Christmas gifts. Maybe you now call them regularly, not to ask for permission, money or advice but for no good reason at all.

And you realize, this is the time in your relationship with your parents when you are almost, but not quite, peers. They are your friends. You are a young adult and they are…we’ll call it, maturing adults. They are middle-aged. (My parents’ generation all had their children in their early twenties. At that age I was privileged enough to be traveling Europe, learning French and throwing up cheap red on the Metro but never mind.)

This period - the peer period - is a wonderful time. You feel comfortable and maybe even proud that they can hang out with your friends. You do stuff together – plays, dinners, trips, bike rides – and laugh at other people and gossip about other families.

And you help them, as best you can, which admittedly isn’t much, deal with their own aging parents. You’re still living in the imaginary world where this will never be them, this will never be you, this sad scene in a nursing home or hospital, that frustrating helplessness passing through everyone like a virus. Your grandparents are not your parents, after all, they’re…old. A different generation. You can not picture your parents ever being as doddering or vulnerable as their parents have somehow tragically become. You try not to think about it. You don’t.

Then as you slide toward middle age, grow in your career, maybe start producing a family of your own, your relationship with your parents shifts again. You’re suddenly aware of their politics, and it confuses or even frightens you. You seem to have less in common and you don’t always believe in their advice, though you still ask for it. You are able to see your parents, for better or worse, through the eyes of your spouse. Family holidays and vacations take on the strain of too many preferences. You don’t love them any less but you don’t understand them anymore. Maybe you don’t like to do the same things, and this at first makes you sad, then annoyed. Don’t be.

They might want to get home early and watch the news and not spend money in restaurants. You watch movies and television shows they can’t follow and your kids play with things they find absurd. You can’t bear their choice of music. You don’t understand the car they drive and they marvel in horror at how you grocery shop. Laugh, don’t dwell, on this.

And, a quiet realization is sneaking up on you, year after year. They are getting older. And so are you. You want them in your life but it is increasingly difficult to accommodate everyone’s preferred eating times. You struggle and worry and wonder whose needs to put first, because you have your own family now.

And your parents get left behind. But you know what? They don’t mind.

I understand now, and I won’t blame you for growing up, older and out. But for now we have lots of time. Remember, you don’t have to have it all, you just have to get some.

Love, Mom