Wednesday, May 23, 2018

our night selves

Artist Minna Dubin started making #MomLists as a way to continue her artistic practice when time was fragmented but her parenting experience called out for documentation. She encourages others to make them too. 

Photo by Nong Vang / Unsplash
1. Our routine is already haphazard. You ate peanut butter crackers and a cookie for dinner. Can I even call it a routine? Or dinner?
2. Neither of us is good at this—the pivot from semi-solidity into liquid night.
3. Your other mom works late. We Facetime with her and you cry into the camera.
4. You shift again. We sing “The Scientist” (the Glee version). Your voice is sweet and I marvel that you already carry a tune better than I do.
5. Your bedtime babble: a pastiche of airplanes, police dogs, your school friends’ catch phrases.
6. The negotiation phase: You run to the living room for “one toy!” I eat the quesadilla you abandoned next to the bed.
7. Yes, we eat in bed.
8. You are distraught. It was your favorite “taco.” I make another one, but the tortilla crumbles like my will, and you want yellow cheese, not white.
9. Neither of us is good at this. You kick and howl and hit me in the face.
10. I text Mama: I’m a jerk who does not know how to put a child to bed. I shouldn’t have eaten that tortilla. She says: He’s three. I say: Am I one of those parents who, if my kid came out as gay in 1975, would sob “WHERE DID I GO WRONG?” like a martyr/narcissist?
11. When I was a kid I would stop my mom in the doorway after she kissed me goodnight. I lobbed the big questions like a slap: Am I normal? She always said yes; I always suspected appeasement.

Photo by Larm Rmah / Unsplash

12. Sleep comes. It is heavy, graceful, fickle.
13. My night self is an addict: for the blue light of my phone, the dopamine rush of its games, the thumb-flick of scrolling.
14. For handfuls of Goldfish crackers and time alone, off the clock for the first time since 6 am.
15. You half wake, angry about a handful of toy cars I put away. 
16. Our night selves suspect we are powerless—to the control of parents, the creep of disease, the threat of apocalypse. To dream demons.
17. Our night selves are not wrong.
18. Daylight always comes, but so does nightfall. I suppose it’s good that nature can find a rhythm, even as we fight it.
19. “The sun is up?” you say. During the night, you landed in our bed. My hand covers most of your chest.
20. We peer between the curtains. We see roofline and palm trees and sun.

Photo by Devin Avery / Unsplash


Friday, May 18, 2018

the girls i grew up with and the women of the year(s)

My predecessor at work just had a baby; this morning I did the math and realized that she must have been in her first trimester when she left to start a freelance career. Inexplicably (or totally explicably, if you have access to my therapist’s notes from the last eight years) this revelation filled me with rage, despite the fact that she has been nothing but generous to me, and I almost never see her.

When she departed, she left a 20-page, impeccably organized legacy document with links to relevant spreadsheets. When I spoke with her on the phone the day before her due date, she said she’d had her hospital bag packed since her second trimester. She’s that kind of person, the kind who makes a brilliant plan and sticks to it. My boss often gets wistful about the good old days of her, and that doesn’t help my feelings of inadequacy.

According to my messed-up brain, my predecessor is living a better version of my life, and I’m slopping along behind, splashing in the rainwater in her footprints. Therefore she is my new arch nemesis. (Sorry, Hillary Toomey.) Never mind the fact that, if my life had gone according to plan, I never would have met AK, let alone Dash. 

*

In one of the best storylines, New Becky plays a woman living a posh version of Old Becky's life.
I’ve been watching the new Roseanne. There, I said it. All of Emily Nussbaum’s beefs with theshow and its dog-whistle politics are dead-on. I do think there have been smart episodes about intergenerational childrearing debates, but I also know the real reason I am into it is because of Becky and Darlene. I grew up with them; the episode where Darlene got her period hit so close to home—I worried that having my period would make me bad at gymnastics and push me toward a sexuality I didn’t want to deal with—that I literally ran into the kitchen because I couldn’t handle the white hot shame of its truth.

Fewer Beckys, more scrunchies.
I—and maybe most people? But not everyone; not AK—have a deep need to See How People Turned Out. It’s not quite nostalgia, but it’s not unrelated to nostalgia, either. It’s the appeal of Fuller House, of which I also watched a couple of episodes. I know.

The new Roseanne killed off Mark, Becky’s high school boyfriend/husband, and Fuller House killed off DJ’s husband, leaving her available to rekindle a flirtation with her boring high school boyfriend Steve. Maybe it’s telling of the shows’ differences—in social class and commitment to reality—that the tragedy in Becky’s life has left her with commitment issues and a dead-end job, whereas DJ is left with three cute kids, a career as a veterinarian, and the opportunity to rejoin an idyllic home life. Even though, in both cases, I’m pretty sure the writers killed off the husbands for casting reasons.

Fuller House has also added one character of color; you can tell because she periodically points out that the Tanners are white. That is what POC do on TV--tell white characters they're white.
But in real life, spouses do die. And on some level, life has not gone as planned for Becky, Darlene, DJ, or Stephanie. Because if you look at twenty or thirty years of almost anyone’s life, things don’t go as planned. That’s the nature of life and plans; they are at odds with each other. But I happened to grow up during a long run in my parents’ lives where things went mostly according to plan, or at least they created a successful fa├žade of stability and meritocracy, even when my dad was lying awake at night worrying about money. So I am surprised over and over again.

*

I walked home from high school most days with Karen Hallett, a fellow JV cheerleader who was working on a novel in creative writing class about four high school friends who grow up together and then one of them gets AIDS. I never read her draft, but—no offense to Karen Hallett—I have my suspicions about its quality.

Still, there was something about this plotline that lodged in my brain, and even now, when I’m daydreaming story premises (which I don’t do as much as I used to because adulthood/bad phone habits/ugh), I tend to come up with stories about A Group Of High School Friends And How They All Turned Out—a mix of romance and tragedy, babies and alcoholism. These are not good novels. They are not my life’s work. But they are my default, and they have a sitcom quality that pulls in threads of both Full House and Roseanne.

Michelle is like, Get me out of this scrunchy-loving backwater.
The sitcom formula is to throw disparate personalities together and have them wildly insult each other with no real threat of change to the status quo. Twenty or thirty years later, the reboots admit that the status quo has changed, even as they try to recreate the feeling that it won’t. The originals are the plans we measure ourselves against; the reboots question—ever so mildly—whether that’s a good idea.

*

A few weeks ago, AK and I went to a luncheon celebrating Congresswoman Judy Chu’s Women of the Year, of whom our very own Suzie Abajian was one. There were plaques and photo ops and okay pastries. There were folding chairs and apologetic whispers from Suzie: “It’s like a graduation,” she said. “Really important and wonderful, but really long.”

It wasn’t, though. The Women of the Year had not only done vital and largely unsung things for their communities. They’d also all lived interesting and winding lives, from the Chinese immigrant housewife who became an advocate for children with disabilities after her daughter was born with Down Syndrome, to the woman who siphoned food from her job as a nutritionist to feed civil rights workers in the segregated South.

Suzie, an Armenian who came to the U.S. from Syria as a tween, has a PhD in education and regularly speaks truth to power in the friendliest way possible, which helped get her elected to the South Pasadena school board. She used her time on stage to speak out against the bombing of Syria, and in favor of education.

Collectively, they were a beautiful lesson in rolling with the punches and punching back in unexpected ways. They exemplified what happens when you allow that life is not a sitcom, but you don’t let it break you.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

someone needs to make my kid sit in a circle

Yesterday my friend Holly took a tour of Dash's preschool; she got a new job recently and needs to make a childcare change. She liked a lot of the same things that I like about the school, namely that teachers encourage play, meet kids where they're at developmentally, and take a constructive approach to discipline. But ultimately (and with more apology than was necessary) she said that it wasn't for them.

I had these as a kid. I remember chewing on Cookie Monster's eyeball.
Approximately 3% of me was like What?! It's a great school! Another 12% was like Uh-oh, maybe it's not a great school and I've been fooled for three years! But one of the factors on the "meh" side of Holly's pros and cons list was that the school has a fair amount of structured learning, i.e. lining up, sitting in a circle, and doing specific activities at specific times.

This might seem ironic, because I think of Holly and her husband Joel's parenting style as pretty structured. They cook at home and eat dinner together almost every night. They have a solid bedtime routine, after which W goes to sleep by himself in a dark room, usually no later than 7:30.

Last night was typically atypical at our house, meaning that Dash ate handfuls of grapes and goldfish crackers for "dinner" while he and I did a weird toddler exercise video from the '90s.

Maybe W needs a school where he can be a Wild Thing as a counterpoint to his orderly home life. And while there a few routines I would like to cement more firmly into our home life, I also kind of love the low-grade chaos of our household. If school for Dash is less like a cutting-edge fun-splosion of project-based forest learning and more like, well, school, then I can rest assured that someone in his life is teaching him to sit in a circle.

Circle time! White kids!
I texted Holly as much; I think we were both trying extra hard to value each other's parenting choices even when making different ones.

I am thinking right now about my senior year of high school, when I saw a row of four freshman girls walking down the hall and noticed that they all wore the same baggy corduroy pants and white V-neck T-shirts (because 1994). I was only a couple of years older than them, but I had friends who dressed like skater girls and friends who veered hip-hop. I was proud that we were mature enough to be friends despite listening to different radio stations.

This is not a revelation, but the older and more confident in my decisions I become, the less I need other people to mirror and validate them.

(That said, there's a particular brand of over-achieving helicopter parent who pushes my buttons, as do most upwardly mobile, unblemished specimens of humanity who have never had a nervous breakdown. They are not my people. Maybe someday I'll be mature enough to let them back in, but I'm not there yet.)

Rotary: not just a club that gives scholarships!
School is such a necessary supplement to home life. I know that parents decide to homeschool for all kinds of reasons--some excellent, some disturbing, IMO--but a through-line seems to be a desire to control the influences in their children's lives. I get the appeal--my default settings are to control everything--but I am so grateful that I have opted out of control on that front. It is nothing short of awesome that Dash's school is teaching him things I can't, things I'm too lazy to, and things it would never occur to me to teach him. If the price to pay is that they occasionally teach him something I dislike, well, I'll fight speech with speech, I suppose.

That is one part of Teacher Appreciation. The other part is the teachers themselves. I want to give a retroactive shout-out to Teacher Kelly, the lead teacher in the Infant Room when Dash was a baby. Fr. Greg always talked about the importance of receiving people, which I didn't understand for a long time. Like, just say a friendly hello? Isn't that kind of shallow? But for people who are still developing (or in the case of homies, rebuilding) attachment styles, there's no substitute for communicating You're important. I want you to be here. Kelly receives people like no one else I know, except maybe Fr. Greg. Her whole being exudes peace and warmth. She talks clearly and respectfully to each kid and lets them know she sees them. My friend Sawyer is sharing his Play-Doh with my friend Ari! 


Basically a Vespa for babies.
In a different universe, as many articles would be written about Kelly as about Fr. Greg. One day I heard Kelly chatting with another teacher; she mentioned something about expecting to braid someone's hair until midnight, despite working an opening shift the next day. "You know I go to work after work," Kelly told her coworker. She wasn't grouchy about it, but she probably should have been. In a different universe, we would pay preschool teachers a living wage.

I can't say that the other teachers at Dash's school have Kelly's beatific vibe, but they have qualities that make them Enough for Dash in the same way that I am (because lord knows I don't have anything beatific going on either). Yesenia taught babies to be independent with the calmest kind of sternness, while gossiping happily with parents (she's the main reason AK and I ever knew what was going on at the school).

The good old days when toys were made of tin and painted with lead.
His current teachers, Belva and Alfredo, are an enjoyable odd couple--an older East Coaster who gripes lovingly at the kids, and a chill Texas Millennial who told AK that he was going to redecorate the classroom to make it more bangin'.

I'm glad they're in Dash's life. I appreciate them truly; we pay them more than we can afford and much less than they need and deserve. I want to live in a different economic universe, but they help make our existing universe pretty bangin'.


P.S. I've been blogging a bit less here because I've been writing a monthly column for MUTHA. But I'll still blog here, my six loyal readers!