Monday, July 31, 2006

Heartbreakers - They come in all sizes

So here is the scene:

Barnes and Noble, 86th street. Kids section, toddlers galore. My Chloe, resplendant in a white ribbed tank top and miniskirt is "crusing" the stacks. Not for books. For BOYS. She is using a big clifford book as a prop, or an icebreaker of sorts, as some of us might have used a martini. She is wobbling through the strollers and the nannies until she sets her sights on THE ONE. He is drooling, so profusely that his shirt is soaking wet. I try to coax her towards some of the "drier" boys in the Dora section. There is lovely Alex who is very dry and seems to be giving her the eye. She is not interested. She follows "the drooler". He is 11 months old, says the nanny. A younger guy. He eyes her warily. The clifford book is abandoned as she reaches both arms out, lunging for him. Her mouth is open, in her patented kissing position. She grabs him, and plants a smooch right on his head. She is pleased for a moment...until....

...he smacks her in the face.

I immediately removed her from the scene and we did what all girls do in the face of their first rejection. We ate ice cream.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Its a classroom, but instead of desks, there are metal folding chairs arranged in a semicircle. I am reminded of the hip teachers who would say "everyone arrange their seats in a circle!", shunning conventional classroom standards, much to the thrill of the students who knew that she would be the type to teach fractions using pizza slices and never read passed notes aloud. I walk in late, and every seat is taken, filled with an exhauted looking yet remarkably pulled together woman in her 30s or so, holding a tiny baby in one hand and her own breast in another. It is a breastfeeding support group, and the leader, the "lactation consultant", is a size two blonde who refers to her children but I find it impossible to believe that this woman has birthed anything besides a great idea of how to get paid to feel other women up. I actually have great appreciation for anyone who help women learn to breasfeed - but I am testy today, because my daughter is 11 months older than the rest of the children in the room and struggling to escape my clutches. Every mother is preoccupied and no one even attempts to make room for us as we struggle through the maze of strollers, but they snap to irritated attention as my daughter starts to grab at their massive bottles of Purell.

They are sharing breastfeeding woes - from cracked nipples to husbands that they wanted to send packing for being so unhelpful. Engorgement, mastitis, leaking...the list goes on and on, and it's ugly. The women have that "new mother" look that makes me shudder in empathy. That vacant stare, the cellulite shoved into too tight denim for the rare public outing where maternity clothes were too depressing, the smiles full of phony euphoria where deep inside I am sure they are thinking, "get me the hell out of this cow class!"

I am what some would call and Uber-Boober, having breastfed my daughter for close to a year. It started as something I thought that I had to do to be a good mom. My one mommy friend, older and wiser who makes it all look easy nursed her kids well past the year mark so she was my Olympic trainer of sorts. My first week post-partum, when attending a support group was as likely as wearing a thong, she brought me cabbage leaves and her stretched out nursing bras. But I had it pretty easy. My kid took to the boob immediately. My biggest problem in the early months was "overproduction", as the sweet sounding La Leche League counselor referred to it when I cried to her about milk stains on my hardwood and my newborn child's face drowned under what looked like a looge. Once that settled down it was an easy, portable, free way to feel that I was doing the best for my baby, which is a hard feeling to come by as a new mom.

Which lead me to this meeting, almost-toddler in tow, begging for some advice in weaning her. I head heard about babies that self-wean. That was not my kid. Chloe was such a happy nurser that mom would ask, "What do you have in there?", as Chloe would pull off of me with a face of sheer afterglow. But after months of pumping at work, my Medela whirring a few feet away from many rabbis, after six teeth and never more than three hours away, I was ready to stop. Or so I thought. When the lactation consultant had finally gotten around to me, after almost an hour of nipple latching instruction, she told me that I was not ready.

"I just need a how-to manual" I almost cried, as my daughter yanked at my tank top for well timed illustration.
"What's motivating you?" she asked, suddenly the therapist.

I felt all eyes on me.

"Um, well I would like to go away with my husband without machinery, and she is getting kind of big, and I would like to wear some dresses that don't open in the front..."

My reasons sounded silly, even to me.

"You're not ready". "When you are, you'll know what to do".

I paid my twenty dollars and left, feeling guilty. I was conflicted. It would be the first time in a year that I would deny my daughter something that she loved (other than the times I denied her the pleasure of putting her fingers in the outlets.) I was doing this mainly for me, for some freedom. I had held the year mark as a finish line and as I approached the tape, ready to break through, I felt triumphant despite the fact that I was unsure if I wanted the training and the race to end. I would miss the snuggling. The cries of "mamama" that only I could fix. I would even miss the fabulous cleavage, the lightening fast metabolism, and most of all, the smug superiority that I had lasted so long. But I would not miss nipples on display at Starbucks, beating fists on my chest or the feeling that I was denying independance that both my daughter and I would benefit from.

But help was hard to find. Breastfeeding websites were scant on the weaning details. Books dispensed antiquated advice including application of "foul tasting fluid" to the breasts. And I feared that the La Leche League, much like the Lactation Consultant, would magnify the little voice inside my head that said "just six more months".

So much like many of my other experiences in new motherhood, I decided to wing it. Offered some bottles, some ice cream, some cuddles. Called in for back up (the husband) for bedtime routines. Regressed when she suddenly ran a fever. Dealt with engorgement worse than when the milk came in, and took the ever elusive sick day while I held ice packs in my bra. And one day I realized that it was the first of 365 days when I had not nursed. And we both survived.

When the New York Times article came out, "Breast-Feed or Else", espousing the importance of nursing and shunning formula feeders, it struck me that whatever choices we make as mothers, it is important to find support and validation. It is so easy to tell a mother who wants to wean that she's not ready, or a formula feeding mother that she is harming her baby, but aren't our own doubts and fears bad enough? I know that I could have been spared much physical and emotional torment on this topic of weaning if someone had really listened without judgement. Those are the real "consultants" that every new mom needs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Whats with the wanting?

About fifteen days ago (but who is counting?) I got my period for the first time in fifteen years -- unassisted by the Pill or some other means of hormonal encouragement. I don't ovulate often if ever, so it was a historic event when I discovered this (unfortunately I was in Burger Heaven bathroom at the time). Luckily I was with my friend D who managed to muster some excitement despite the fact that she is 20 weeks pregnant and it was about 100 degrees outside. "This is a good thing" she said. "Right?"

Despite a week of bloody hell, I was pretty proud of my ovaries, which had been previously written of as crippled - they had somehow found away to release that egg (or whatever they do). Everyone likes an "against the odds" success story - like that movie Rudy about that tiny football player. My ovaries are Rudy! Ok - bad analogy.

Since then, I have been waiting to see if I have somehow been healed or if that event was some bizarre anomaly. For the millions of ovulating women, this all reads very strange, I know - wanting a period. But somehow my body's stubborn denial to get with the program and act like the girl that I am has made me want a cycle more than anything. Its an outward sign that all is well on the inside, and that when and if I want to become pregnant again it can happen without drug (or other) intervention.

All of this has made me wonder if we are always in a perpetual state of "wanting". Wanting something different than what we have, even if what we have is a bloat-free, cramp-free, tampon-free existence.

Is there such a thing as being totally happy with the "here and now"? Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome really so bad in the face of, let's say, Ovarian Cancer (my latest unfounded yet overwhelming fear). Am I too happy in life that I always need to feel like I need to be wanting something that I don't have (even if that something can stain permanently an otherwise very cute khaki suit -- damn you super but not super-enough tampons!)

Pin straight hair. Poreless skin. Math to come easy. I have spent alot of time desiring these things and more. When what I have are curls that strangers stop to admire, skin that I am comfortable in and the ability to count on my fingers under the table. Not perfect, but damn near.

Unrelated: It has been brought to my attention that I misuse quotations. Real quotations, not Britney's air quotes, thank god. A rabbi at work told me that it implies a lack of commitment that that which is within the quotes. Hmmm...commitment phobia when it comes to words? Now there is a whole separate post!

Monday, July 24, 2006

To My Chloe - On Your First Birthday

What I love about you (just some highlights):

1. The way you dance, even when its a commercial that has music
2. That you love Daddy best
3. Your enthusiasm for Cheerios
4. How you stand up right before the hair washing portion of your bath, trying to escape
5. Your toes
6. Your curious, contemplative, questioning personality
7. How you point at everything, from the moment you wake uo even before you are fully awake
8. Your love of puppies and pigeons
9. Your wet kisses
10. When you finish a meal by smearing food on Daddy's arm
11. How you smell after a bath, or a nap
12. How you look in yellow, pink, blue, black...
13. The sound of your laugh
14. When you take books into bed by weaving them through the crib slats from your shelf
15. How you unpack the drawers
16. How you know "what the doggy says"
17. When you wave goodbye to me in anticipation of breakfast alone with Daddy
18. Your airplane pose before you learned to crawl
19. When you clap out of pride for yourself
20. Your suprisingly blue eyes
21. Both sets of cheeks
22. Your delight for the grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles
23. The drunk way that you walk
24. How you never want to waste a moment..its always time to GO GO GO
25. Your tomboy-ishness coming through despite my frills
26. Your appreciation for my shoes
27. How you have never cried when I left for work
28. Your armpits
29. The magic of your teeth breaking through
30. For never crying for no reason
31. For being a champion nurser
32. For adding even more love to our lives

We could not ask for a better kid. I love you with all my heart. Mommy.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

For the Love of a Mutt

It does not get much worse than a rainy day on a family vacation to Florida. That might be why 14 years ago, my mother loaded my sister, brother and I into the car and took us to a local animal shelter in Naples, Florida to escape the inevitable cabin fever.

I remember being startled by the miserable conditions at the shelter. We were lead down a dark hall to an even darker room where the dogs were kept. It was loud and smelled like…you know what. My siblings and I hung back, still unsure of what we were actually doing there. My mother followed a woman to the very back of the room, kneeled down, and reached into what looked like an empty black hole. Incredibly, she showed no fear even though all around her dogs were barking, growling and heaving themselves against the doors of their cages.

She emerged with what looked to be a puppy but we could not be sure. A small, homely dog covered with matted black fur with a white patch under its chin. The woman said that she had been adopted and returned. We all walked into the shelter's office where my mom placed the dog down. We all stared at her. The dog immediately found some gum on the ground, ate it, and then peed. "We'll take her", my mom said, scooping her up. Somebody named her Oreo.

The three of us kids were still in shock. We had never discussed getting a dog. And my mom was a certified "cat person". My father had grown up with dogs and used to dream aloud about having one someday. A Springer Spaniel – fancy, pure bred, aristocratic, outdoorsy…much like him. We came home and my mother presented him with Oreo, not much larger than a handful. My father was shaving in the bathroom, and he met Oreo eye to eye. My father – clean, pristine and perfectly groomed. The dog – filthy, panting and barely recognizable as a dog beneath a tangle of fur and god knows what. "Is this a rat?" my father asked, only half-joking. "We have a dog now" my mother announced. "This is Oreo". My father was less than thrilled. "She's a mutt" he said. "She's a schnoodle", she protested. "Half schnauzer, half poodle". We all knew that she was giving Oreo more credit than she deserved, and it would not be the last time. I could see my father's pure-bred fantasy of fishing trips in Eddie Bauer gear with his Springer Spaniel sitting beside him was dissolving. Oreo howled. My father turned away and continued shaving, pretending to grimace but we all saw a sparkle in his eye.

As the years went by, Oreo was a constant companion for my parents and particularly, for my mother. She stayed small, with a loud bark reserved for the doorbell, the cat across the street and any new visitor to the house. Oreo tried her best to serve as watch dog, though she was dwarfed by even a raccoon. My mother dragged Oreo everywhere, a fuzzy, drooling appendage. When my siblings and I left the house for college and beyond, my parents still had a child in Oreo -- to feed, to clean up after, to try and teach things to. Most of all, she filled the house with youthful activity and chaos that would have vanished in the absence of children. Oreo loved table scraps and when there were none, my mother would cook a chicken, allegedly for my father but we were never really sure. She also loved car rides, belly rubs and the sight of either of my parents first thing in the morning. She won my father over with her loyal and loving demeanor, and despite her lack of pleasing aesthetics, my father walked proudly beside her down the street, even when picking up poop in his business suit.

Oreo never got any better looking. She always looked somewhat unwashed even after a
visit to the groomer's, her eyes were often leaking something and she gnawed the fur off
of her paws. My parents live part time in an upscale New York condo where Oreo was confronted daily by Chihuahuas, Shih-tzus, Labradors, or any other chic dog-of-the-moment. But neither my parents nor Oreo ever shrank back in embarrassment. My parents were often stopped in the street and asked about her, because there was something irresistibly cute in her ugliness. "Is she a puppy?" they would ask, even as she reached 10 years old. "What breed is she?" It became clear that even in the dog-eat-dog city of New York, Oreo wore her mutt status stylishly.

Like anyone else, as Oreo aged into what would be her late eighties in human years, she required a cocktail of medications. She accepted them only when spoon fed by my mother, mixed with some canned food that was reserved for special treats – the veritable "spoonful of sugar". We were told that she had congestive heart failure for years, but Oreo's effervescence and zest belied that prognosis. Even when her walk slowed, and her eyes clouded, she maintained her "puppy personality", flipping over in the snowy grass, following my parents into their room at night despite her bed downstairs, greeting strangers with a bark that said "hello" and "you better not mess with my mommy" all at once. Seizures ensued – they could never really tell us why. My mother would hold her afterwards, often covered in urine, and tell her that she would be fine.

My daughter Chloe was born this past summer – the first grandchild. We did not know how Oreo would react. It became clear that she feared being displaced. She dragged her frail legs from room to room when my mother cared for Chloe – following her, as if to remind her that she was here first. We never needed reminding. "You are my baby too" my mother would call out, as Oreo would sullenly watch her every move with palpable jealousy. One night when my mother was out, as Chloe sat in her little bouncy seat and I sat on the floor beside her, Oreo limped over to us. I hovered carefully as any new mother would, despite the fact that Oreo never exhibited an ounce of aggression. She wagged her tail with as much fervor as she could muster at 13 years old, as if to say, "We can keep her".

Over the last few weeks, Oreo stopped walking. She used her bark to alert my parents to
carry her to the bathroom. She watched the family's hustle and bustle from her pillow in the corner, wanting to join in as she always had but opting instead to observe restfully. Bystanders would recommend that my parents put her down. But it was an impossible thought. After hundreds of car trips together, my mother could not conceive of putting Oreo into the passenger seat for a final journey together. We hoped nature would take its course – a divine intervention such as the one that brought Oreo to us in the first place.

Unfortunately, Oreo's doctor made a careless mistake that ultimately took her life. A rabies vaccination later deemed unnecessary and too lethal for her kidneys to bear. She held on for a few days. My mother fed her with a syringe, held her close and told her what a good dog she had been. A long goodbye culminated in Oreo's passing in her sleep, on her favorite pillow, defying the doctor who told my parents that she would not go that way.

What I did not know 14 years ago is the joy that a dog can bring into your life. The fantastic harmony of mutual unselfish love, the deliciousness of routines such as walks and baths and late night feedings. The irreplaceable gift of an enthusiastic greeting every time you walk through the door. These things never grow old, even when our dogs do.

Goodbye, little Oreo. I regret the times that I did not stop to pet your smelly head. I thank you for the love you gave to us and the laughs we had at your expense. I am glad that my mother took the risk of reaching into that black hole 14 years ago. For as is often the case, the brightest lights can emerge from the darkest places.

Birthday Blues

The first year of motherhood is replete with forays into new, unchartered territories. Breastfeeding. Baby Bjorn. Booger-Sucker (or whatever that bulb-shaped thing is called.) And as my daughter nears the end of this ferris-wheel ride of a first year, I find myself staring down at yet another new challenge: The Birthday Party.

Let me preface this by saying that the hurdle of creating a first birthday party might be more easily leapt over if I did not live in Manhattan. Having a child has lead me to romanticize the suburbs on more than one occasion, and her first birthday party is one of those times. I imagine that is somehow simpler "out there", where children can frolic freely in magical spaces like "finished basements" and "playrooms" and "backyards", all of which are missing when you reside in 800 plus square feet. And don't the clowns and the magicians all live in the suburbs? Not that it matters – because I have been told that they have gone out of style, along with diaper services, many years ago.

I challenged a friend who hails from the suburbs and hired a pony for her daughter's first birthday. "Why can't I just let the little ones eat cake and ice cream and play pin the tail on the (fake) pony?" She responded defensively. "Kids today expect more", she said. If you don't have a big activity for them they go nuts. They are accustomed to a bigger deal".
The biggest deal that I can remember from any of my own birthday parties was making necklaces out of shoe-string licorice and Froot Loops – a very big deal in my home where sugar was saved for very special occasions. Had so much changed? I am not sure my husband ever had a big deal birthday party, and he is one of the most well-adjusted grown-up kids that I know (despite his lingering affection for weird cartoons).

Still, I find myself getting sucked in to the "bigger is better" mentality of New York City parenting. I bring my ten month old daughter Chloe to her first birthday party, at a posh New York City kid-space on the Upper East Side. There is "valet stroller parking". It’s a beautiful set up, complete with Cheerio-appetizers for the littles and a make-your-own cookie bar for the "bigger-littles". An energetic band performs for what seems like forever. I look around at the groupies. Some are dancing, some are crying. Mine looks a little bit dazed and waved an egg-shaker around listlessly. The birthday girl seems most excited all day when sucking on a French fry in her high chair next to grandma. But I can't help being swept away in the magic of the day which likely cost more than my monthly mortgage payment. I tugged at my husband. "What are we going to do?" I whisper, stressed out. "We only have two months to plan". "I don't know". He replied. "Get lunch?" He gestured to the piles of petit fours and finger sandwiches piled on a table meant for adults. "There's nothing to eat here", he whined. My "other" baby was beating on my chest for "milk". Before things unraveled any further, we left.

Generally, I think I am pretty down to earth. I shop sale racks like it's my job. I don't frequent fancy restaurants. I buy my purses from street vendors. But somehow, after birthing my child in the "city that never sleeps" (how appropriate), I often feel like my face is pressed against glass – in this case – a window looking into a room filled with $800 Bugaboo strollers, bilingual music classes and baby yoga. Much like my daughter looks when sitting outside of the plexiglass door that keeps her out of our kitchen, thinking – "it must be better in there than out here."
And this perpetual state of wanting more, of insecurity-bred fears that you are not "keeping up" does not only apply to the choices we make for our children. Every mother in a ponytail and spit-up-splatter who has not wiped the crust from her eyes or her tee-shirt is immediately reduced to a pile of poop when the "Madison Avenue Mommy" breezes by her. You know the one – who is not only pushing the $800 stroller, but is somehow gliding in stilettos, gilded highlights, designer cargo pants and a definite return to her pre-pregnancy figure. Her baby never cries nor has explosive diarrhea, you are sure. Her diaper bag is always stocked the night before. I have been told that these mommies have oodles of child care help, as I touch up my roots at midnight with an at-home kit from Duane Reade and curse the spare tire around my middle that has not seen a gym in months.

In order to take a break from obsessing about how to celebrate Chloe's first birthday, I indulge in one of our weekly mini-celebrations – sharing a burger at a local restaurant. Afterwards, I am nursing her awkwardly in a too-tight booth. A Madison-Avenue Mommy stops in front of me, and I attempt to hide my embarrassment. "How old?" she asks, smiling at me through perfectly-glossed lips. "Almost one", I answer, barely believing it myself. "It's so terrific that you are still breastfeeding" she says, and I can't help but notice the twinge of sadness/jealousy in her voice. "I just could never do it. And I still feel badly about it." And with that, she glided away.

I realized in that moment that a rite-of-passage of parenthood is always feeling like you could be doing more, doing better. Sure, it’s probably a little harder in the Big Apple, but something tells me that new moms everywhere are chastising themselves for one thing or another, even as their children thrive under their care, oblivious to the very high expectations we set for ourselves. From Birthdays to Bugaboos, is bigger always better? Or is it just about making the best choice you can in the moment, and spending more time enjoying them.

Welcome to Mama Dramas

After a whole year of motherhood, my swirling stories have finally taken over the space in my brain, and need to spill out somewhere. Welcome to Mama Dramas - a compilation of creative non fiction and journal entries for mamas and non-mamas alike.

I have a daughter named Chloe, a husband I'll call A and a whole cast of characters that have been with me on this journey of parenthood and otherwise. One of the hardest things in embracing motherhood has been some identity crises which many women speak of -- the abandonment of things as small as time for the deep conditioner to take effect and as large as the farewell to the intimately amazing twosome that Abs and I had together. I have used writing to allay some of my own concerns, and reading to validate others, and hope I can provide a few out there with similar comfort, companionship, or the need to say
"hells, yeah!"