Monday, December 17, 2007


One of the million things that I currently love about my daughter Chloe is how comfortable she is just being herself -- and how she never tries to be anything different.

This became strikingly clear recently, at Parent-Teacher conferences at Chloe's school. Yes, even the academic life of two year olds require conferencing.

So A and I arrived at Chloe's class, and I sat in a tiny chair far too small for my post partum posterior (more on this later). Her two teachers faced me, and I waited for what I expected to be tons of compliments about my lovely little girl.

And I was right. They told us how sweet she was, how adorable. And then the unexpected.

"Until two weeks ago, Chloe did not speak a single word in class."

My heart sank. I could not believe it. I heard myself babbling on and on in her defense and in my own outrage. I told them how talkative and bossy she was at home, how she literally narrates the entire day. They quickly reassured me.

"She has a quiet confidence", the teacher said. "She was always busy. Even when she was not talking, she would not let anyone push her around. In fact, her first sentences in class were "No, that's mine" and "I don't want bread, I like Cheerios". Oh, and she is the best in the class at solving puzzles".

I was shocked. Every day for three months, Chloe happily went to school. She barely uttered a goodbye. She never asked to stay home. She could barely wait to get there, and immediately got to work on a table filled with puzzles. How could she be so excited to come to a place where she did not talk to anyone, and barely anyone talked to her? This would be my own private hell. I hated starting a new job, mainly because I would not know anyone and would not have anyone to talk to. I was always looking forward to the point where I knew everyone and had limitless people to chat with.

But as I listened to her teachers describe how she cheerfully, yet quietlu, goes to each activity, I began to understand. Chloe and I are different this way. While I could talk to a tree, Chloe truly blossoms only when she is completely comfortable. Where I would be sickened to go somewhere every day where I could not yammer up a storm, she is happy just doing her thing, being her independant self. Unlike me, she does not need a million friends around, she is happy doing her own thing. So she may not be head cheerleader or sorority president or all of the things that I ever wanted. She is happy just being who she is, no pretense, no apology.

I am intrigued by this moment in time when she is so carefree. I wonder if next year she will cry that she has no friends, trapped by her own independance. I try not to think about it. For now, I enjoy sitting back and admiring all of the things I never had as a child: bravery, confidence and comfort in the periphery of things.

When do we lose the ability to embrace ourselves so completely and without shame? Currently, my crisis is that of clothing. In my mind's eye, I am a size 26 skinny jean, in high heeled boots, a top that does not open for some sort of lactation and perfect highlights. In reality, I recently went to buy some jeans and demanded a "mid-rise" (they should call it "mom-rise"), I wear long shirts that are roomy enough to cover my midriff and be yanked over a screaming baby, and if I splurge on haircolor that is not applied at my sink, it is single process only. My penchant for perfume has been cast aside, for fear that my baby will smell like Bulgari. I am often in a ponytail. At a recent indulgence at a makeup counter, the saleswoman said that she was "concerned about my skin's dehydration". I nearly laughed, as I am often concerned about my life's dehydration, as I thirst for who I once was, at least on the outside.

I should be thrilled. I have lost almost all of my baby weight, the crows feet have not yet landed around my eyes and at least my breastfeeding boobs are perky. And yet, I am somehow embarassed, that the life I have chosen, which is largely without time for indulgence or interest in bettering my body, is so much less than it was - or should be. There are moments when I am ashamed to admit that sitting on my bed in stained sweatpants, kissing my children's bare feet, feels better than the best moment in the office. And then I am equally ashamed when I long for a reason to wear my new heels, to spend four hours at the salon, to call a meeting when the participants are not in Pampers.

My new year's resolution is to embrace my new life, and the body that I use to travel through it, without such constant critique. I can be doing better, and I hope to make time for some crucial self improvement (or at least some crucial cardio)! But until then, I will take a chapter from Chloe, throw caution to the wind, and enjoy the puzzles right in front of me.

Wishing all of you a year filled with self acceptance. (I'll be back in 2008)!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Green mum

In my world, the only granola around is the kind I mix into yogurt. I am not the earth-mother type. I leave that to some of my friends who are much more enviornmentally aware, and socially conscious. I learn from their time at the Food Co-Op and I try to "co-op" some of their green ideas, but basically, this urbanite does not have a whole lotta crunch.

But if motherhood has taught me anything, it has been to be more caring, overall, of the world within and outside of your home. So I am sharing my two most recent findings that have given me pause and lead me to make smarter choices for the health of my children and the world around them.

1. MDF: Medium Density Fiberboard. Basically, it is faux wood. Particleboard. Looks like wood. But it's not. Many styles of children's furniture is made of MDF (including almost EVERYTHING at Pottery Barn Kids!). MDF emits formaldyhyde gases which slowly enter the air and cause health problems, especially for children. There is much written online about this:

In all fiberboards, formaldehyde resins are used to bond together the constituent parts. This is usually urea formaldehyde, but some fibreboard including exterior or marine quality board will use stronger glues such as phenol formaldehyde.

Even at a low level, exposure to formaldehyde though inhalation can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and mucous membrane. Formaldehyde can also affect the skin, leading to dermatitis, and the respiratory system causing asthma and rhinitis. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, quoted evidence that even short term exposure to formaldehyde, at far below the legal limit allowable in Britain, could cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.

The IARC's findings also stated that wood dust is a carcinogen' (cancer causing) and that 'formaldehyde is probably carcinogenic to humans'. IARC was also concerned about the reproductive hazards of formaldehyde'. "
To add insult to injury, real wood is hard to find! Especially when it comes to children's furniture. I am trying to replace all of my MDF furniture, which is thankfully only my kids table and chairs and changing table. The best way to find real wood is by googling "Amish furniture". Who knew the Amish were so busy creating all of this non toxic furniture? I am thrilled to have found this. I will buy something untreated to avoid the whole lead paint issue, which means it will likely be ugly but at least it will be safe.

By the way, if you find a furniture company that you like, don't just ask "Is this real wood?" because they will say yes, even if it includes particleboard and MDF. This happened to me at Pottery Barn Kids and finally someone printed out descriptions which are not available to the public which listed MDF as the "wood". You need to be specific.

2. Bisphonal-A: Bisphenol A is a chemical found in almost all baby bottles. When heated, bottles can leach this chemical into the liquids inside. Bisphenol A has been linked to cancer, diabetes, immune dysfunction, hyperactivity and an alarming range of other disorders.

With Chloe, I used Dr. Brown's bottles which contained Bisphenol-A. This time around, I found Green to Grow bottles (, which are Bispehenol A-free and overall have a great mission and products (also phthalate free).

Aint it nice that I can package my neuroses in an eco-friendly brown bag?

Monday, December 03, 2007

From mother to mother

I lay awake last night, thinking about you. I was wrapped around my infant son, who was suffering from his first fever. As endless heat emanated between us, you entered my mind, chilling me briefly.

It has been a long time since I thought of you in this way, and I have to admit, it has been a relief. Last month marked 14 years since your son's death, and the first anniversary of the accident where I did not think about him. Last May, at my 10-year college reunion, I sat at a small memorial service for him, surrounded by the friends who had also surrounded me at his funeral. They cried softly, but I remained remarkably still. In a terrible way, it felt good that I could not exactly remember, even though we were walking the grounds where he lived.

The last time I heard from you was five years ago, a month past my wedding. It was right after September 11th, and you had sent a letter to my office. You had enclosed sunshine-shaped sequins, your trademark. They bulked the package in a way that made it appear suspicious at a time of high alert. It was torn apart, and then restored. Much like you, I hoped.

Your letter wished me well for my marriage, the news of which you had read in the paper. "I'm sorry I did not respond to your last note," you wrote. "It's just hard to find the words sometimes." We had traded words in letters for years on and off since your son, my friend, was killed in an accident just three months into his college career. I was by no means the closest to him, but I had been the newest, a romance just beginning to bloom. "He told us how you had watched a movie together," you had written in your first letter. I remember thinking how amazing it was that he had shared that with you, the hours we spent entwined in darkness, hearts and hormones racing. I would write back in an adolescent attempt to soothe a mother's wounds that were unreachably deep. You called me once, left a message, wanting to talk. I am ashamed that I never returned the call. I was too scared to hear your voice, to embrace the full measure of a pain that I could never understand.

Last night my mind returned to you, to a nuance that I had forgotten from that time. I needed a black dress for the funeral, and I had claimed that I had nothing to wear. Days before I had worn a black dress for Halloween, when friends and I dressed as slutty witches. This is what you do in college, when you are young and silly and carefree. That was the very last time we could be classified in those terms, as we were immediately aged and hardened by death. I would borrow a friends dress, and it would prove too tight, as I remember standing at the funeral, unable to breathe.

So I thought about that dress, and then it all flooded back, the music of that time, the searing emotions, your letters, the pain. These images entered me in the dense darkness of night, in that vulnerable place when you are neither asleep nor awake. I did not understand why now, of all times, I was back there again.

In the light of day, as my son's fever has come down and the sun has come up, it is clear to me now why I thought of you then. Now, I am a mother too. With a girl first, then a boy, just like you. I have never handled my children's illnesses well, yet there is something even more terrifying about my son when he is sick. He embodies a vulnerability that my daughter has never really shown, a neediness from the very core of him. I am his protector, in every sense of the word. And as he gripped my finger in his fat fist, burning up beyond belief, I dared to imagine losing him. And with that thought, came one of you and of your son who I barely knew. I wish I knew then what I know now. When the sunshine of your life was gone, the fact that you went on breathing, much less writing, and remembering, is miraculous. And just like my teenage words on looseleaf paper, I know my admiration does not dilute the pain. But from mother to mother, you are my hero.