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The Hot Mess I’ve Become

I used to care about my appearance. I did. I used to get dressed up, matched my shoes to my purse, used to look in the mirror, brush my hair, put in my contact lenses, paint lipgloss after lining my lips to make them look fuller, I used to dab on concealer. I used to have the time and energy for such things.

Now, I exclusively wear the mom uniform of yoga pants and crustied t-shirts. My glasses are lazily perched on my nose, making me look like Donald Rumsfeld. Once the kind of person who would get a blow-out before a night’s big event, I am now breaking combs in half trying to get them through the snarly rat’s nest of hair piled atop my head.

I don’t take care of my things, either. My car suddenly has some inexplicable scratches and dents on the doors. My iphone’s camera lens is so dirty that all my photos look like a dream sequence.

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All This Fear

These horrific bombings and shootings make me not want to leave my house. They make me want to home-school our babes and spend 24 hours a day campaigning for gun control and build a bunker and forbid them from leaving the premises. Ever.

But alas, this is sort of irrational and entirely unrealistic. (Because where am I going to find a contractor who can build a bunker?)

There are things I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed before I had kids, when it was just my husband and me. When I didn’t have dependents. For instance: It seemed to be Terrorist Day at the mall today – everyone looked vaguely suspicious, and all were carrying backpacks. Lots and lots of backpacks.

When I was “merely” a married woman and mother of two canines, I might not have even noticed the backpacks, and certainly wasn’t as concerned about my well-being. If I was tragically killed then, my husband would eventually move on – after much intense grieving, of course – and my dogs would be okay with his new wife, provided she wasn’t a cat person. (The beagle would always hold a candle for me though.)

Now, with kids, I don’t even eat anything with BUTTER in it, I’m so terrified I won’t be around to watch them grow up. That’s the first part of the fear: that something will happen to me. The second part of the fear is worse: that something will happen to them. My nightmares are full of catastrophic images too tragic to describe. And every single day I think about the parents in Newtown, CT who lost their 5 and 6 year olds. I can’t even fathom their grief.

Though it may seem like I complain about my kids a fair amount, in fact I live for them. They are sweetness and light. Just leaving them for an evening out and I’m a basket case. I make my husband drive away slow as I wave at the living room windows like a maniac from the passenger seat. The younger one cries, the older one (who, I think, has already learned to play me like a fiddle) gets very serious right before I leave, then puts her hands on my cheeks and kisses me on the lips. Suddenly she’s a character in the Godfather.

I shake off the scary thoughts as often as I can, as I know that none of us will benefit from a fearful, over-protective life. But sometimes, like when the evening news is on, it’s tough to imagine them out there in the wide world.

There’s the saying that goes: ‘The hardest thing about parenting is you have to give them both roots and wings.’ I’m okay with the former, doing a darn good job at it so far, if I don’t say so myself. The latter? Not so much.

Too soon to start pushing for in-state colleges?

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Things I Have Said and Meant in the Moment But Later Regretted

-To my husband: “If you sneeze one more time I’m gonna need you to leave the house. Or take some allergy meds. You could wake the kids.”

-To my brother, who called me once at 7:15pm: “How dare you call me this late?! You know the kids go down at 7.”

-Out the window, to my next door neighbor after he set off fireworks in his backyard: “I will FUCKING CUT YOU.”

What are yours?

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A Question of Security

A few months ago, my husband and I started our preschool search in earnest. In Los Angeles, preschools have become a source of parental hysteria, the belief that if one’s child doesn’t get in to a good preschool, they won’t get in to the “right” elementary school, or high school, and then they can kiss all their college dreams goodbye. You hear horror stories of professional photo shoots for the “informal” family photo, hiring writers to pen the essays, bribing of school administrators. Since all of them are private, preschools are quite pricey, and we’ve somehow been convinced that our kids need three years of preschool (four if you count the increasingly prevalent and often required Toddler Program) before Kindergarten even begins. All of that said, my husband and I chose not to opt out but, instead, to throw ourselves into a search for the perfect preschool for us. We tried not to catch the hysteria bug.

For our young daughters, we wanted something “developmental,” code for learning through play. This is preschool, after all. We feel children have the rest of their lives to color inside the lines, so when either of us would visit schools, we’d first look at all the artwork on the walls, hoping to see diverse, kid-directed (not teacher-dictated) work. In order to foster a lifelong love of learning in our daughters, we want their first school experience to be fun. Creative. Messy. A place where they can play, learn, and thrive.

Last month, I went on a tour in a lovely, quiet, tony residential neighborhood. It was love at first sight – everything I could’ve dreamed of for my kids and more. The school had a white picket fence around it, a garden of flowers spilling over it. I walked in, along with 20 other parents arriving for the tour, and admired the raised beds of vegetable gardens, each with handmade signs saying which preschool class planted which. The tour began and I loved what I saw – the unabashed joy on kids’ faces, the doting, patient teachers, the excellent adult to student ratio. A cooking class was in progress; the kids were making rhubarb bread from stalks grown in their own gardens. I was smitten. I noticed I was starting to sweat a little, not just from the mid-morning sun but from the thrill of finally finding “the one.” I texted my husband at work that this was it. I’d found the place, it’s “everything we want.”

After the tour,  the prospective parents and I sat down in tiny primary colored chairs with the head of the school, a bright woman with a very clear and admirable philosophy. She took questions. A man raised his hand immediately and asked about “all the gates with no locks on them.” Other parents nodded their heads emphatically.

How had I missed this? Was I so in love with what I’d seen that I had completely missed – or deliberately skipped over? – the flaws of the school? I thought back a mere ten minutes: 20 parents and I had walked through three different flimsy waist-high gates with no locks on them. Nothing held us, 20 strangers, from standing among a sea of 70 kids on the playground.

The school director had clearly been asked about this before. “We find it upsets the children if we put up extra walls or locked gates,” she said.

The man who asked the question shook his head, gathered his brochures, and stormed out.

We all sat in stunned silence for a moment until another parent asked: “How many entrances to the school are there? And are they all unlocked?”

The school director replied, “I don’t know, maybe 4 or 5?”

Two parents walked out.

She became defensive: “You have to think about how this affects kids psychologically. What happened in Newtown last year was awful, but it was rare,” she said. “We can’t live in fear.”

I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want sharp shooters on the roof of my kids’ school. But don’t we have to learn from the past? A month before, my husband I ruled out another school because it was right next to a dilapidated liquor store. We wouldn’t even go on a tour.

As more parents filed out, I stayed, wanting to hear the director’s explanation for the lack of security. I wanted her to say something that could make this okay.

“A gunman is going to find his way into any school if he wants to enough,” she reasoned. “Sandy Hook elementary WAS locked, the gunman broke a window,” she said. “If we try to explain why security is so tight, we will scare the children even more. And it teaches kids that there is always some bogeyman to fear.’”

On some level, I agreed with her. I know I worry about everything too much – I am parent, therefore I worry. And sending my child to preschool is the first step in letting go, sending them into the world, which I’m not sure I’ll ever be fully ready to do. But I started to wonder if what the director was saying was true and based in core beliefs or merely defensive about a flaw she hasn’t gotten around to fixing at her school. Did she really have positive faith in the world or was she justifying a budget cut that won’t allow them to afford taller, stronger gates and a security system?

I thought about the Newtown families. Their school was incredibly secure even though they lived in a beautiful, idyllic small town, where “crime is low and values are strong.” I remembered reading that, since the tragedy, some of the victims’ parents started Safe and Sound (safeandsoundschools.org), a Sandy Hook Initiative. It’s completely apolitical and focuses on making schools safer. On their website, they wrote about when their family members boarded their school buses the morning of December 14th. “We never imagined it would be the last time we’d see them alive.” I think about the heroic principal and teachers who tried to protect the children and lost their lives in the process. I remember the TV footage that awful day – chains of children being snaked out of the school. From my tiny red seat in this classroom, it’s so hard to imagine that my daughters live in a world where not only could something like that happen, but it did.

I stare at a wonderfully messy picture of a heart, painted by one of the students at this Los Angeles preschool. There’s so much paint it is practically caked on, crusting off. It’s every shade of blue. “I love you!!!!” is written in huge, exuberant letters beneath the heart. My older daughter paints like that, as if the amount of paint is proportional to her pride in the project.

As a parent – and, as I imagine, a school administrator – we try to find the line between paranoid and practical, a balance between being protective but not so overprotective that our children are scared of the world. They run around and trip and fall and learn through these experiences. There’s no way to eliminate risk. It’s impossible. And I don’t want to exaggerate the statistical likelihood of a tragedy like Sandy Hook happening in my town.

But a lack of security seems an unnecessary risk for a school to take with their students’ – our children’s – lives.

Two more parents walked out. “Does anyone want to hear about our early readers’ program?” I heard the school director say as I, too, gathered my belongings and left. I already knew I wouldn’t even apply because the security issue outweighed everything. Outweighed her philosophy, the vegetable gardens, the perfectly imperfect blue heart on the wall. I’d never let my kids attend. Maybe that makes me overprotective. Maybe it means I’ve let fear win. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, the never-quite-healed wound left on our world last December 14th.

 

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The Resentment

I overslept. I took what was supposed to be a 20 minute nap this morning after a sleepless night with the youngest, but the nap stretched to 38 minutes, enough over that my husband missed his gym class, his one time per week when he can work out. I ran downstairs, feeling awful, apologized. But it was too late – the silent treatment portion of his day had already begun. He is mad about the class, of course, for which I apologize again. He then breaks his silence for a moment, to say “it’s not that.”

And now we’re on to the guessing. It’s time for…nobody’s favorite game show: What Could My Spouse Possibly Be Mad At Me For Now? I scan the room for clues. The children are dressed and eating, the kitchen is a mess as one would expect it to be, the construction workers are already outside working – record scratch: I scan back to the kitchen. Ding ding ding! We have a winner. Last night he had asked me to wash the dishes. He usually does the dishes and he might’ve not even asked me, I might’ve volunteered, in a moment of good wifedom. But that quickly gave way to exhaustion, as all moods lead back to exhaustion, and I fell asleep instead. The dishes were still there. This morning I go to the sink and start washing them. But it’s too late – martyr act already underway – he moves me aside and washes them himself. He won’t speak to me for the rest of the day. And when he does, he will start with something horrific like, “I don’t think I can go on like this,” something that implies divorce without actually saying it. Enough to frighten me. And because my default belief is that I am always in the wrong, I will accept this and ingest it, and live scared for a few long days.

Lest you think he’s the monster in Sleeping With The Enemy who hits Julia Roberts for hanging the powder room hand towels wrong, let me be clear: the guy isn’t a monster at all. He’s a lovely man and husband about 77% of the time. And the best father you’ve ever seen.

In calmer, happier moments, he has asked me about my mom-guilt, and he always remarks that I’m doing a great job, and all that’s going to matter in a few years is that our children were fed and happy. And what I always forget to say in those moments is that he contributes to my mom guilt immensely, when he hints at divorce over something that, in the grand scheme of things is trivial, like dirty dishes or unfolded laundry. The children ARE fed and happy, and that IS what matters most. Dishes will get done eventually, laundry may sit in the basket for a little while, might even function as a drawer right there on the kitchen table that I just take clothes out of. But our older child learned her shapes yesterday, and it was because of the time I spent teaching her.

But that’s a later conversation. Right now, he is silent, and I am yet again standing in the wake of his disappointment.

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The Despair

Our younger child stopped sleeping through the night two months ago. Now, she wakes up every two hours some nights, or every hour on the hour, like a broken, sadistic alarm clock. Last night, it was every 15 minutes until 4am, then she was up at 530 for the day. Because she has a horror-film-scream (no build-up, no warning – just blood curtling right out of the gate), we’ve found that one of us has to sleep in her room, because otherwise, by the time we run to her room to tend to her, she will have already woken her sister, asleep in the room next door.

So my husband and I switch off who sleeps on the couch in her bedroom. It’s not ideal.

I think the loneliest time of parenthood must be 3am, awake with a child when you wish you could be asleep. A kind of despair sets in, especially when it’s still dark out. Even the sun has the decency not to be up at that hour.

During the daytime, I reach out to other mom friends with kids, in hopes someone knows someone who can sleep in this child’s room instead of my husband or me and get her back on a schedule. (We are not above throwing money at this problem.)

I send emails because I don’t have the energy to talk on the phone anymore.

“I am sinking,” I write. “I am in the weeds,” I write. “Help me,” I write.

“I will throw you a parade,” I say at the end of the emails, in hopes it will brighten the mood a bit, sound less desperate, less girl-on-the-ledge-about-to-step-off.

(For the record, I am not suicidal – way too tired for that. Am in a haze. Lost. Extreme fatigue can do that.)

No one has written back. Or, rather, a few have to say they’re sorry to hear it, “no sleep is the worst!” but so far, no recommendations for people to hire or classes to take or books to read.

Am a few nights away from enlisting the homeless lady in front of the Walgreens a few blocks away. “Wanna place to stay? Here’s a very comfy red velvet couch in the room of a sleepless infant. Good night and good luck.”

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Well hello there.

Maybe you’re here because you read my LATimes piece, or my Brain, Child piece. Or maybe you accidentally stumbled onto this page through Google. Any which way, welcome!

I started this blog (and modeled it after those ubiquitous What To Expect books) because I feel that, while those books were informative, they didn’t tell me diddily squat about what to expect emotionally or mentally upon joining the parent-’hood.

(Please check out the Momifesto to the right —–>)

So here’s my latest idea in blog form. Enjoy!

Hopefully it’ll work out better than the last big idea I had, my ill-fated jazz trio.*

(*For the record, I still think Pelvic Mesh Lawsuit was a killer bandname.)