What Was Really Done This Break

Tomorrow is back to school after a long holiday break. And about one hour before bedtime tonight, one of the girls found her homework, meant to have been easily done one page a day over the break. I, of course, hadn’t opened anyone’s backpack since they got home two weeks ago. (Their lunches may still be rotting, but that’s another story.)

She did as much as she could of her homework, and wrote, “Forgot” on the pages she didn’t get to finish; I laughed when I saw that, but it is indeed, accurate. I was annoyed with myself for not making sure the kids were doing whatever work they were assigned all along their break–how many times had I screamed about too much television anyway? Why hadn’t I just been a little more organized from day one–or three or four or seven? Why can’t they just be more organized? Why do I have to remind everyone of everything all the time; don’t I get a break?

And then I thought about all the “projects” they worked on–the bizarre, rambling, sweet stories and songs and plays they authored; the pictures that were drawn; the shows performed in the living room and at grandma and poppy’s house–and I realized their time was spent sometimes being very loud and messy, but often using imagination and skill. Certainly, there were too many Good Luck Charlie episodes playing on weekends (I had a dream I was in an episode recently if that tells you how many I have seen), and there are many new toys now played with and ignored; but balanced with those have been original and strange stories about confused princesses and sinister foxes and superheroes tapped out on the computer or written in magic marker with accompanying drawings.

As well, the girls started reading new series of books. I know because they like to tell me when they finish each chapter, sometimes when they finish a single page.

Anyway, I have to brave the lunch boxes. But here is an original recent short story by the six-year-old girl. (I fixed up her grammar a bit. Her spelling was actually fine.)

Once upon a time it was a sunny day and everyone went outside. But only one person did not. He was home watching T.V. and eating a sandwich. But then it got dark and he went to his room and cried. And he did not get to go outside the other days either but then it was snowing, so he did not get to go outside when it was snowing. So he cried until January. Then he went to his papa’s house. It was too hot to go outside, so he cried even more but he got over it in April. 

 

 

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SpongeBath Is Perfect for Germaphobes in the Kitchen

I have, for many years, been more than a bit of a germaphobe. Before I had children, I was actually more anxious than I am now. Having children forces one to accept that sometimes dog pee will end up on little shoes, and those little shoes will end up padding around the apartment. As well, warnings of “DON’T PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH! IT’S FILTHY,” only increase the likelihood of found objects being put into mouths.

So out of necessity, I’m more relaxed now.

At home, I try, however, to reduce germ-y disgustingness wherever I can: canisters of wipes are out in both bathrooms and are used and emptied constantly (I know because I am pretty sure I am the only one using said wipes); floors are washed several times a week at least; kitchen counters are wiped down after every use (again, me and me); and dishes are washed and the sink cleaned several times a day (guess how I know this).

To clean counters and the kitchen sink, I have always relied on paper towels. Sponges become gross collectors of germs, and I never understood how to correctly “clean” them. I buy paper towels in bulk, and we go through them with impressive speed (impressive being the rate at which we are creating waste).

Recently I was sent SpongeBath to try and to review. I rarely review products; when I do, it is because the product fits into our lifestyle. A germ blasting sponge attacker I knew was up my alley. (That is a figure of speech: alleys are of course notoriously dirty.)

SpongeBath sanitizes the sponge continuously, so that you are never spreading germs on a clean counter. The product was developed by Tod Maitland and Matthew Flannery and is represented by New York City internist, Dr. Keri Peterson (who is also a friend of mine). I was quick to set up SpongeBath next to the sink; the set up took about five minutes and has eight steps to get started–to get started cleaning that is.

With honesty, I have to tell you that it took some getting used to–this grabbing a sponge to clean things. Remember it’s clean, I had to repeat to myself at first. But it’s quite easy to use the countertop system, and the cleaning cartridge can be replaced every month to ensure optimal cleansing.

Now there are fewer paper towels going into the garbage, and I’m confident surfaces are still getting clean (again and again and again).

Although I was sent the first generation of the product (currently sold at Bed Bath & Beyond), SpongeBath is in its Next Generation of production and will have more improvements to design and efficiency when launched; visit the Kickstarter campaign to learn more about SpongeBath Next Generation.

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Disclosure: I received the product and compensation in exchange for a review. All opinions are, as always, my own.

 

 

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On Fear, Love, Family, and Speaking Out: a Review of GIRL IN GLASS

This summer after I read the beautiful memoir, Girl in Glass: How my “Distressed Baby” Defied the Odds, Shamed a CEO, and Taught Me the Essence of Love, Heartbreak, and Miracles (Bloomsbury), I had the opportunity to ask its author, Deanna Fei, a few questions. Ms. Fei, also the author of A Thread of Sky (Penguin Press), details the frighteningly premature birth of her second child at 25 weeks, and the very unexpected public aftermath that changed her family’s life as it was covered in the media widely.

Out of nowhere it seemed, one year after the baby’s terrifying birth, when the family was finally enjoying being together and healthy, the world became aware of the infant’s many medical interventions; the CEO of AOL, Ms. Fei’s husband’s employer at the time, cut employee benefits, citing the expensive premature births and care of two babies under its insurance. One of these “distressed babies,” as they were called and would become known, was Ms. Fei’s.

Ms. Fei’s writing on her daughter’s birth, her tenuous hold to this world, and Ms. Fei’s feelings as a mother shocked, devoted, often horrified is moving; every parent will relate to her fear and love, and all else which moves between the two. The book explores expectation and reality, how they manifest in our everyday lives and how we suddenly face extremes for which we are not prepared. Her insight into the unexpected turns of strength and weakness as well helps Ms. Fei tell a complex story of compassion as she touches upon our shared human history of caregiving.

I asked Ms. Fei about motherhood, marriage, and how speaking out on an experience that resonated with so many others helped shape her book.

You have said part of the reason you wanted to go public with your story was to expose the myth of the perfect pregnancy—that women are supposed to “naturally” be able support easy pregnancies, and when something goes awry, it is the mother’s “fault.” And even though the literature supports there being little to no reason for premature birth – or miscarriage – in most cases, women will still blame themselves. This myth of perfect motherhood extends past the myth of an “easy” conception; past pregnancy; and into motherhood itself, where we give little leeway for mothers to experience feelings outside of joy and mild irritation. Society blames women to a significant degree when mothers have a difficult time managing the emotions of motherhood. Do you feel on any level the extension of this similar guilt and blame into your years now as a mom of young kids, and if so, how do you handle it?

DF: Yes, in the same way that women put tremendous pressure on ourselves to do everything right in pregnancy and childbirth, we often berate ourselves for not being perfect mothers. And the expectations for what mothers are supposed to do keep expanding. We’re not only supposed to be perfect nurturers, we’re supposed to be able to mold every aspect of our children, from their eating habits to their self-esteem, from their language skills to their test scores. All of which can make the stakes feel absurdly high. If I let my kids eat too many snacks, am I putting their future health at risk? If I lose my temper, am I scarring them for life?

For me, the guilt and self-blame get compounded by those long, dark months of watching my daughter struggle on the edge of life and death. I tormented myself with everything I might’ve done wrong to cause her premature birth. I used to tell myself that if I could just bring her home one day, I would somehow make up for everything that she suffered. Also, when she arrived, my son was only 13 months old, so there’s always a part of me that wants to atone for all those times when he suddenly had to make do without me.

That sense of helplessness is probably the worst feeling a parent can experience, but it can also be profoundly liberating. Ultimately, we don’t control our kids’ destinies. All of it – the uncertainty and exhaustion and frustration and chaos and despair – is part of the journey. As mothers, we all need to be more forgiving of ourselves. At the end of the day, if my kids feel safe and loved, that’s enough.

You mention in the book the differences between the ways you and your husband dealt with the crisis of your daughter’s early birth at the beginning and the differences between your feelings and reactions ongoing as you manage the new normal of your family. Having young children adds enormous strain on a marriage for most couples, how did you and Peter deal with each other in those early days to help and not hurt each other, and how do you manage stress as it comes up now? 

DF: I always used to pride myself on being strong and self-reliant. But after my daughter’s birth, nothing terrified me more than being alone. Because that’s how the catastrophe struck: one moment, everything was fine. Then my husband left me alone in the dark, and suddenly my child slipped away from me. For the first time in my life, I found myself wanting my husband to be a superhero. I wanted him to save our daughter. I wanted him to rescue me from that terrible limbo of not knowing whether she would survive another day—or whether she should.

He and I were always very close as life partners, but facing a life-and-death situation day after day strengthened our marriage like nothing else could. And it forced us to find a new balance. I needed to lean on him, but I also needed to let him have moments of weakness and anger and fear and doubt. We each needed to extend a hand whenever the other faltered. And, even when there weren’t enough hours in the day to care for one baby in the hospital and the other at home, we tried to find moments to simply be a couple again—even if that was just me leaning against his shoulder by our daughter’s incubator while we took turns holding her hand.

Now, in our daily life with a two year old and a three year old, it’s easy to get caught up in the ordinary stresses of life. We bicker like every couple with small kids. But we also know that the foundation we’ve built has already endured one of the hardest tests life can offer.

Most mothers I know agree that having children changes your perspective on just about everything—we can’t watch movies we once watched because they now make us cry. We worry about things we never thought about. Having lived through the possibility of literally the worst thing in the world happening to you, do you feel you worry more about your children and family than you did when you had one child? Do you work on staying in the moment or do you find that having been through a terrifying crisis makes it easier to do so?

DF: Once you’ve had a child on life support, the experience never really leaves you. At any given moment, an ordinary anxiety about my daughter can take a terrifying turn. With my son, I used to worry about every milestone just because that somehow seemed to be my job as a mother. With my daughter, I never knew if she would smile or walk or sing until she did, and that carries a special burden of worry and fear.

But I also carry with me some hard-won perspective. As parents, we want to protect our kids from all the suffering in the world, but sometimes we can’t. Life is inherently fragile and uncertain, and that’s part of the beauty of it all. The greatest challenge for all of us is to live in each moment. To make peace with the past and accept that the future holds no guarantees. To allow ourselves to be awed by a child’s resilience. Every time I see my daughter laugh in the swing with the wind ruffling her hair, I know what it means to feel blessed.

The health care portion of your story cannot, obviously, be separated; how did you decide how much of your book to dedicate to talking about the problems and challenges facing families and health care as a whole in this country?

DF: Yes, my daughter’s story became deeply entangled with larger issues about health care, insurance, and privacy that affect all of us. And in researching and writing Girl in Glass, I came to see that how we care for a child like my daughter is a reflection of our fundamental values as a society. How we treat our most vulnerable citizens is a measure of our basic humanity. These issues are so rich and fascinating and important that they could have filled a whole separate book. But Girl in Glass is, above all, my personal journey to making sense of my daughter’s place in the world, and that had to be the guiding principle of the structure of this book.

What will your next book be about?  

DF: When my daughter was born, I was working on a new novel about a female journalist stationed in post-invasion Iraq as the country descends into civil war–who then loses her own mother to suicide. After my daughter arrived, I was too traumatized to even contemplate writing another word. But in many ways, my daughter taught me how to face down my worst fears. And the characters still haunt me. So I think I’m finally getting ready to dive back into this project.

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By Any Other Name (A True Story)

Do you have one of those things that is long and you make noise by pressing the holes like this–?

Then as if in a movie, or a nightmare, my words slowed to half-speed drawl, and before my brain could stop my mouth from continuing: You mean a recorder?

YES A RECORDER! WHERE IS IT?

Did I say recorder? I meant a reporter! I have a reporter.

Mommy, where’s the recorder?!

I meant I have to re-order! I meant I need a porter!

WHERE IS IT?

I have a court order.

I’m going to look for it.

I call after her, I think I have some mortar! I’m getting shorter!

I know it’s here. JUST SHOW ME.

And here I am, searching for it myself, this instrument of torture, like a lamb to the…well, you know.

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Everything You Ever Wanted: Review and Giveaway

Author Jillian Lauren’s second memoir (her third book) begins by taking us back briefly to her first best-selling memoir, Some Girls, which detailed her earlier life in a harem. At the opening of Everything You Ever Wanted, Lauren has met her future rock star husband and the details of those colorful, broken years come spilling out over the table at a throw-back local Los Angeles diner.

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We, like Lauren, know there will be no judgment for her past, not from the man who recognizes she has “guts for trying to change” her life. The author clues us in that this is the beginning of a hard-earned second act; this is her “redemption story.” And while the book is accurately titled, it will be nothing that she expects.

Three stories of motherhood and family intertwine their roots in this book: Lauren’s own adoption as a baby; her long struggle with infertility; and the family finally completed with the adoption of her son, T, from Ethiopia. Each long winding root, however, comes with its own revelations and regrets, its own understanding and failures. These are the places Everything You Ever Wanted explodes with emotion and truth. Lauren is a daughter, wife, mother who can sharply articulate a most elemental human desire: to belong to some right place in this life. At the same time, she comes back to our nagging universal anxiety—is everyone else bound to be happier than we?

This is a woman’s story about becoming an adoptive mother and facing her own dark fears and truths. When confronted with violence from her past and her own sudden unwelcome understanding of rage, Lauren, filled with a shame most mothers know intimately, admits, “I could never summon any compassion for people who hit their kids. How could you? I’d think. What kind of monster are you? Now I know what kind of monster.”

Motherhood, Lauren learns, will show you for better and worse of what you are capable. And you have to live with that.

Thus this is also a story about becoming humbled by one’s desires and self-doubts. Lauren’s struggles will resonate with parents profoundly, but anyone who has wanted something with every bit of her heart only to question her worthiness upon its arrival will see herself in Lauren.

When T’s significant behavior problems become apparent early on, like any good mother Lauren tries every contradictory measure to help him, without success. So she blames herself:

“I fear their judgment, but mine is worse: if I were just around more, if I didn’t have a babysitter, if I never yelled at him, if, if, if . . . Tears prick my eyes. Did I think that motherhood was going to make me feel a part of something? It has done exactly the opposite. I’m more isolated than I’ve ever been.”

Every dream comes with a hopeful promise and a harder truth.

But Lauren is without question the heroine of her own life, and as she deepest down suspects she will be, that of her son’s. She is not broken, as she feared, but bolstered by tragedy and disappointments. Both hers and young T’s lives will heal greatly and largely because Lauren never stops fighting for her son; as parents, we may repair our own wounds when we work to heal the hurts of our children.

With biting humor and inspired self-awareness, she negotiates the ridiculousness of modern parenting in Los Angeles (at mommy-and-me yoga, “One of the mom reads The Very Hungry Caterpillar in an enthusiastic stage whisper.”); the cruelty of systems meant to help our children; and the sacredness of her marriage that must withstand career separations, extreme family drama, and every trapping of a real life.

Lauren’s memoir reads as a real time journey from her despair and envy in infertility through a motherhood marked by curling up next to a sleeping child one night and lowering her head on the dining table to pray in frustration and tears another. We can agree on every page that happily ever after is a day-by-day affair.

Early in Everything You Ever Wanted, when she and her husband are considering adopting a child, Lauren describes the sensation of sitting in an adoptions seminar, “This just feels like a roomful of people we should be with.”

Her story will leave you with a similar feeling.

[closed]Giveaway: Leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy of Everything You Ever Wanted. Winner will be chosen by me via random.org on Friday, May 22nd and notified by email. Purchase Jillian Lauren’s new memoir here.

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Unsteady Trajectory

Some mornings I ignore email until my kids are in their classrooms and I have returned, coffee in hand, to sit at my laptop at the kitchen counter. Others, I am unable to keep my fingers off my phone the moment I wake. I am curious those mornings after I have published a post, and excited; I receive many emails from other parents (mostly moms and mostly supportive) who are eager to share their own stories, many who want to thank me for my honesty, and others who are seeking personalized advice. Writing for this specific audience, and being reachable via social media and e-mail, is a great responsibility; and when I fail in my own life, I fail all of us. Or so it feels.

Recently I wrote about how I became a “softer” parent because I realized how great the stakes were: my own children were modeling my harsh words and behaviors; my years of self-abuse had armed me with vicious words, unrealistic expectations; what I demanded of myself seeped into relationships with my children, and the dynamics were becoming toxic.

The response was humbling. So many asked for more details, more specifics from me. How did I use yoga? Did therapy work? Why kind of therapy? What meditation? What medications? Please, could you write back? I began several emails and stopped. I wanted to take time to answer questions with thought and accuracy. But there was a weakness when I started to write, a vague tug of something that had been left unsaid.

Right after that post was published, my husband left on a two-week business trip; New York City had a bad snow storm; then my son was sick with asthma complications for days; several of us got pink eye.

During that time, it seems I was not so soft. I was pissed. There was no time for me to work, or no energy when there was time. I wanted the peace of bad television and self-pity. I felt trapped, irrationally, but there you have it. And I fell quickly into the decades-old habit of blaming myself for my feelings.

Not only was I letting my family down, now there were scores of readers, I imagined, waiting for me to respond to their sincere inquiries. Their emails and comments had meant so much but what could I say? In theory, I know what to do. But when things get tough, like when my husband goes away, I revert to all my old ways…

I tried to write through my self-doubts but nothing gelled. So I silenced the keyboard for a few weeks and doubled down on yoga and exercise to silence the voices in my head. I sought inspiration in simple meditation apps on the iPhone. And I found wine still helped.

And then as the snowy New York days cocooned us, life nudged me toward a hard truth. Just as I had been writing about healing. Just as I had said humility was so crucial in the process of becoming a different kind of parent: one who pauses, one in whom mercy has been introduced and nurtured. It struck just as I had questioned whether I could really feel softness for myself again, but not in any way I expected.

I exploded in anger one night at my oldest when she wrote on a new leather chair. I demanded she tell me just who she thought she was destroying this new chair! I put her to bed promising she would be grounded for what she had done, amid very familiar parenting guilt and vaguely familiar shame from all my own past mistakes.

I sat grimly for hours after she went to bed. I wished I’d been different with her. But more, I felt knocked over, knocked off a perch to which I had been clinging with ferocious fear. I didn’t want to fail at this. When she woke in the night for water, I walked her back to her room. “You know I will not stop loving you no matter what you do. It’s just a chair.”

I repeated myself in the morning.

“Yes, I know, mommy. You told me. It’s okay. Really.”

Forgiveness was the only option. It always is. I had already forgiven her. It is just a chair.

Returning to my readers, I wish this were a process of steady trajectory. For my sake but more for theirs. I wish it were an easier story to tell. At the same time, however, I know that I am not a simple equation; my path represents parenting for many of us. When readers share their lives and brave questions with me, I often read in tears. I am reminded how much we must love the broken, the bent, the endlessly confused, the parts of us that have been shamed; I regret and then I forgive, daily. And then I am genuinely shocked when I must do it again. So arrogant are my pride and fear. Why can’t I be done with it? But we are never done; it is not when we overcome our faults that we get permission to be soft, but rather when we embrace the entire clumsy journey to get there.

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7 Ways to Make Mom Friends, or Be the Weird Mom

Motherhood can be a lonely endeavor. However fulfilled we are with our children and jobs and families, we are often without meaningful adult conversation for hours or days at a time. The most common complaint I hear from fellow moms is how hard it is to make new and genuine friends—the ones that allow and encourage you to really open up. These moms can be hard to identify at first, but they are around. So when you start to hang around the baristas at Starbucks, asking how they really feel about the new mocha-caramel-peppermint-pumpkin latte, it’s time to work on finding new mom friends with whom you can relate, rejoice, commiserate, and be your frazzled, cranky, delightful self.

These seven tips may not be fool-proof, but at least you’ll be interacting with people who are not paid to have to talk to you. All you have to lose is a little pride and possibly a lot of bottled up confessions about this crazy thing called motherhood.

 

1. Determine your most important criteria for your new mom friends. Remember that nobody is perfect, so you may have to compromise. Here are my list tops: Did you see last night’s Dateline? and, Is that a bottle of wine stashed in the bottom of your stroller?

 

2. Approach all potential new mom friends with an intriguing opening line. I have found that “#$@% I was close to putting the kids out on the street with nothing but a bag of Oreos this morning,” weeds out the women who can’t stomach cursing or hyperbole. (This also weeds out moms who will judge your breakfast food choices.)

 

3. Know how to interpret responses: Is she dialing 911? Best to keep moving. Silence. Don’t give up. She may be recalling the last time she locked herself in the bathroom with a pint of mint chocolate chip. Nervous laugh. This can be a good sign. She hasn’t met anyone like you. (Just ease up now on listing all the places you’d be happy to leave your children.) *&%^ yes, me too! Congratulations, you met your soul mate.

 

4. Bond over clothing or accessories you have in common. “I have those SAME yoga pants,” works for me. This is similar to recognizing gang colors, I am told. (Hair scrunchies, head bands, and cardigans with pockets are also easy items to spot; you are likely wearing two of these items at any time.) Approach one potential friend at a time. In other words, separate your prey from the pack. Groups of moms are difficult to crack. Wait until one is left behind at the playground. She won’t see you coming.

 

5. If you are lucky enough to have a child melting down in public, gauge the reactions of the moms around you. The one extending a fist-bump is your gal.

 

6. Be persistent. If your first attempt leaves you disheartened, try again. Try with ten or twenty women until you find one mom who, like you, is waiting for someone to share embarrassing stories and frustrations and laughs that accompany raising little beings.

 

7. Give someone an opening to tell you how she dosed the kids with Benadryl after the third sleepless night. Nod if someone tells you she often pretends that tantruming child in the grocery store aisle is not hers. In the meanwhile, enjoy your status as the weird mom who makes everyone a little uncomfortable. Know that all the other moms secretly envy your courage to be honest (and probably your yoga pants).

 

Posted in Family Life, Humor, It's All About Me, Mental health, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments