Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Cankles

It takes a certain amount of ego to procreate. At the very least, you have to assume your genetic material and child-rearing abilities are quality enough to ensure your offspring will not destroy themselves, you, others, or the world with their stupidity and/or evilness, or you have to not care, which also takes some hutzpah. Or you have to lack the intelligence to properly use birth control, which I suppose isn't an ego issue, so let's just ignore that category of people because they don't work with my analogy. Most of them seem to live in Hollywood anyway.

But the egos of most of us parents and wannabe parents is such that we move beyond hoping our children will have simple decency and basic street smarts and believe we will birth a child who will really contribute something to society and who will at least not be so hideous looking as to frighten small children. Maybe our kid won't cure cancer, but it won't be because they aren't smart enough, because we are that smart, it will be because they sign a modeling contract at the age of 15 and figure they can do more good becoming a millionaire by age 20 and participating in a Save Haiti telethon with Matt Damon. OK, so I am exaggerating here, most of us don't really believe our kids will be supermodel geniuses, especially since that would require a level of genetic engineering that doesn't exist outside of sheep. But we may take an inventory of our qualities and that of our spouses and figure, yeah, there's at least one awesome human being lurking in here. In the case of Kevin and me, I'm not really worried about personality or intelligence too much; I figure our kids will definitely be smart enough to support themselves and nice enough to get along in the world, even if you just discount me altogether and dilute Kevin's offerings by half (not a bad idea). Unless some concentrated form of my great granddaddy Turner's personality sneaks through--he used to set off firecrackers under the beds of visitors for kicks--I think it's unlikely any of our kids will be genetically predisposed to be Hitler, although there is no accounting for bad parenting, of course.

Physical appearance, while not as important in the grand scheme of things, is more of a crap shoot. I think we all know of very attractive people with ugly kids (I have a certain celebrity couple in mind, but I'm not going to name names on the internet as these are "real people"). Even if both parents have perfect features, not every combination will work out that well, just ask Mrs. Potato Head. Once you consider that most of us don't have perfect features, all of a sudden there is the possibility you could give birth to a warthog.

There are definitely some physical qualities I am hoping not to pass on. Weak jaw, big nose, bad skin...the list goes on. But above all, I do not want to pass on my truly fatal flaw, the one thing that cheats me out of a modeling contract and Haiti telethon with Matt Damon more than anything else. I give you The Cankle (Brace yourselves for the horror):

Yes, that is really my ankle, not that of some 80 year old slavic potato farmer.

The Urban Dictionary gives several definitions for "cankle." I'm going to by-pass this one: "An ankle of a very fat person that is so fat that it combines with the calf of the leg to create one large formation and it no longer has the definition of an ankle" and this one: 'A grossly malformed, disproportionate, and tree stump-like ankle that seamlessly merges into the calf, so that there is no singular "ankle" or "calf".' I'll go with this one, which conjures up a slightly less ghastly image: "the meeting of the calf and the foot where an ankle is not present due to lack of ankle definition." Regardless of which definition we go with, I think you can see why I would not want to pass on this trait to my offspring.

Unfortunately, while she is, I think, still too young for a definitive verdict to be reached, Charlotte is giving every appearance of having acquired the Cankle gene. Hard to say if it's just baby fat or if it is indeed bone structure, but she definitely has stocky lower legs. It's really a shame, too. Her father's legs would be the envy of Tina Turner. Seriously, give them a good shave, put a pair of panty hose on them, and you've got the inspiration for a ZZ Top song. But Charlotte does not appear to have gotten these legs. Maybe that is because she is perfect in every other way, and this was needed to give her character. Maybe God is just a comedian. So a Haiti telethon with Matt Damon probably will not be her grand contribution to human civilization.

Curing cancer will have to do, although based on her current aptitudes, which include knowing every name and face she has ever encountered, it is more likely she will be a politician. OK, perhaps I shouldn't take that simple decency thing for granted after all.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Side-by-side play

Childhood experts describe the interaction of toddlers as "side-by-side play" or parallel play. It basically means that they are ignoring each other. That is until one of them takes the other's Elmo doll, then it means World War III has broken out, kind of like how the US bombed the crap out of Afghanistan after 9/11. Apparently this kind of interaction has deep meaning and real relationships are being formed:

"The togetherness of playing beside each other is what draws children together," says Alice Sterling Honig, professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. "If two young children are playing beside each other in a sandbox, they may seem like they aren't paying attention to each other. But if one gets up and leaves, the other one will be upset that their playmate has left."

I have no idea if this is the case for Charlotte and her little "friends." But I certainly hope it is true in my own "side-by-side play," with their mothers, and other would-be friends. Unfortunately this kind of distracted, self-absorbed, and superficial relationship is about all I can manage these days. Much of my time spent with other women is with other mothers and our kids. While we try to carry on a conversation, our kids are climbing our legs, destroying our homes, hitting each other, and screaming for our attention. It's hard to get past topics like, "What diaper cream do you use," to actually get to know the PERSON, as opposed to the mother. I have spent substantial amounts of time with women about whom I know almost nothing beyond what they do about their children's constipation. I don't know to whom they are married, what he does, what they used to do, where they are from, what they like to do when they aren't changing diapers, nada. Attending to my child's needs and simultaneously demonstrating interest in another adult is seemingly a multi-task too far for me. For example, Charlotte and I met my friend Jeannie and her daughter Skylar at the zoo recently. Charlotte and Skylar enjoyed seeing the lions, tigers, and bears, oh my. But I think I might have found the mental energy to ask Jeannie at most two basic questions about her well being. If I recall correctly, I may have asked her if her other child was sleeping better at night and if she was enjoying her job. I don't think I could tell you her response if you water boarded me.

Example number two, my friend Tanya called me today. Props to Tanya, she is a single woman with no kids and therefore can move on with her life and pretend I don't exist anymore post-baby (and in a way I don't) like most of my other friends without children have done. But Tanya made the effort, and I really appreciate that. Pretty much the only friends I have now that I had B.C. (Before Charlotte) are those who do make the effort, because I sure as hell don't have time or energy to chase people down anymore. People who call, people who email, and especially people who invite themselves over--or better, people who invite me OUT, who don't assume that because I have a child, I no longer own clean clothing, must go to bed at 7 pm, and consume nothing but chicken nuggets and milk--those folks are my true friends. So I was talking on the phone to Tanya, God bless her, and she was updating me about her life. Meanwhile, Charlotte was sitting beside me watching TV, which had transfixed her in a wonderfully hypnotic state. But then the show ended, and I usually don't let her watch more than one show at a time, and she started making her charming "give me attention" noises, which sound something like a cross between a rabid bat and sorority girl being chased by a serial killer. I instantly recalled the last time I had the gall to speak to another human on the phone in her presence. Since, in that case, it was her endlessly forgiving grandmother, I ignored Charlotte and continued to talk. Charlotte then threw herself on the floor and had herself a fit worthy of Miss Scarlett, only this time she was convinced tomorrow would not be another day. So, recalling that incident and not wanting to scare Tanya or have her eardrums burst from the screaming, I let Charlotte watch not one, not two, not three, but four shows so that I could have a reasonably decent conversation with Tanya. Even so, I had to silently play the tickle game with her (Charlotte, not Tanya) to keep her appeased.

So I'm hoping those experts are right about side-by-side play. And I hope my little "friends" can tolerate my distracted friendship. Just don't take my toys, people.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Raising your child, Raising yourself

Parenting a small child can be so humbling, assuming you have any amount of introspection. Toddlers exhibit humanity at its most primitive; they are 100% selfish. I'll cut them a break because human selfishness is at bottom rooted in self-preservation, and when you are 3 feet tall and unable to operate a microwave, you have to be pretty insistent (and dare I say a wee bit rude) that someone feed you and that your other needs get met. Once we are grown and can operate a microwave, we can afford to be a bit more polite, unless we are very hungry and our spouse gets his frozen burrito in there before we do. Then someone will have to die.

It is a bit counterintuitive that to grow up and become a happy, well-adjusted, and successful human being--in order to preserve yourself--you have to learn to put your needs, or at least what you think you need, aside on occasion. But that is indeed the case. Those adults who continue to act like toddlers on a regular basis are not going to effectively get the basic human need for relationship met. Unless of course they become a military dictator and have everyone around them living in fear, which works fairly well for a time, until they are pulled out of a rat hole in the Iraqi desert on a very bad hair day.

As I am beginning to teach Charlotte these important life lessons (i.e. Do NOT become a dictator), it strikes me how poorly I have learned them myself. Here's a few examples:

Lesson Number One: We do not throw a fit just because we aren't getting enough attention. This is a hard one for Charlotte. If I am around and doing something other than adoring her, she will see to it that, whatever it is I am doing, I will not be having fun doing it, because she will be giving her best impression of a puppy being tortured to death. If I do not get the attention I think I deserve, I don't quite throw myself in the floor and writhe around while screaming. But I might go on and on to Kevin about how Debbie's husband gives her a foot massage every night and brings her flowers at least once a week just to thank her for being born and isn't that so sweet and oh by the way you forgot to take out the trash again this week (loser). Not a fit, but just as charming.

Lesson Number Two: We do not eat things that are not good for us. In Charlotte's case, this would be Play Dough or a stick. But I am just as guilty; I pretty much ate one of her two birthday cakes all by myself, and I think a stick definitely has more nutritional value than that, at the very least more fiber anyway.

Lesson Number Three: If we can do something safely by ourselves, we don't nag others to do it for us. I am trying to teach Charlotte that she does own a pair of working legs and can in fact walk and grasp things with her fully functional opposable thumbs. We do not need to play fetch with Mommy. Mommy is lazy and prefers to stay seated. But then I recall the last time I badgered Kevin about doing ______ (fill in the blank with anything besides our taxes, as this is not something I can safely myself. We will both land in prison if Kevin does not do this.).

Lesson Number Four: Patience is a good thing. Charlotte unfortunately acquired the phrase, "Right NOW!!!" fairly early. I really don't know where it came from, probably those Nazi daycare workers. This phrase has wide application, including, "I want crackers Right NOW!!!" "I watch Yo Yo Right NOW!!!" "Mommy read Right NOW!!!" and seems unfazed by the lovely Patience song I sing in response (She will sometimes then yell, "Mommy stop singing Right NOW!!!). I myself am not the most patient person. I would say that my impatience is demonstrated in a more subtle way than screaming NOW!!! at the top of my lungs, but I have even done that on occasion. I am even impatient about things that don't matter in the least. I'll be watching Charlotte try to put a puzzle piece in its place and feel the anxiety welling up in me as she wriggles it around unsuccessfully. It's all I can do to sit there and do nothing. That's when I start singing the Patience song to myself, which actually does make a dent.

Lesson Number Five: Imperfection is "not a big deal." I was shocked, SHOCKED to discover that I have a child who has a panic attack when food gets on her hand and would not walk or feed herself until she could do it almost perfectly. How did she become so anal? It could not have anything to do with the laps I did around her high chair, catching every morsel of dropped food before it could even hit the floor as if I did not have a 10 year supply of paper towel in the garage. It couldn't be because I conscientiously told her as I heroically saved every bite that it was "OK, not a big deal." Now I try to restrain myself when she accidentally shovels oatmeal onto the table and use the "it's not a big deal" mantra on myself.

Maybe by the time Charlotte is 18, her mother will be a civilized human being.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A rare Classic Mom moment

Well, I think I can die now. I have thrown my child a moderately successful birthday party, complete with a theme, decorations, TWO homemade cakes, and a person dressed up in a costume. Of course, there were hardly any actual guests, but this is a minor detail. So I'll just start with a picture of my grand achievement, I give you The Brobee Cake:

This cake is probably in the top 10 of my proudest accomplishments, right up there with my doctorate, Charlotte herself, and singing karaoke at my husband's office holiday party (this was somehow not one of his proudest moments). It was not easy, I'll tell you. I of course stole someone else's idea, I'm not that good. I got step-by-step instructions from the blog of a REAL Classic Mom, who did think of it herself. I did adapt it a little bit, for instance, I ignored all the instructions to use various organic ingredients and used a cake mix instead. There were some tense moments--The initial layer of icing did not go well. The sides of the cake crumbled horribly when I tried to ice them, and I thought I would just have to stick with icing the top, which would have been a humiliation. Even Kevin balked--I was telling him I thought I would only be able to ice the top of the cake, and all he said in reply was, "Couldn't a bakery have made a cake like this?" I got very huffy at that, he had obviously missed the point, which of course to prove to myself and the world that I could SO be a Classic Mom.

But I did not stop with the Brobee cake. I also fashioned creative party decor from paper plates and hats (Don't tell me this is not just ingenious):
Then of course I had the easy back-up cake in case the Brobee Cake did not turn out:
Finishing touch, I forced my husband to dress up as DJ Lance. You ask, did I feel bad subjecting him to this costume? Let me ask you, Did he give birth to the child in question?

There was one thing I kind of overlooked, however. Well, not overlooked, really, just miscalculated. So there was only one actual child in attendance other than Charlotte. There were several very indulgent adults, but only one actual child. Here's the thing. In general, it is a good rule of thumb to invite double the number of guests to a party than you actually want to attend, assuming that around half will not materialize. But you run the risk that everyone will come, which, if you are talking about a bunch of adults, is not a massive tragedy, it mainly will entail a beer run or two. But if you are talking about a bunch of small children, this is a risk on par with drinking tap water in Kinshasa. You could end up with an explosive situation either way. I, not really liking small children all that much, did not want to risk having a buttload of them running through my house, so I limited the guest list to what I could tolerate. The problem was only one of them actually came, which made the party kind of lame, even if it meant my house was still standing at the end of it.

Maybe next year I'll just make one cake but aim for two child guests.

Friday, March 5, 2010

When the going gets tough, the tough run off to Africa

So--I'm pretty sure being a good mother does not entail leaving one's offspring in a massive blizzard for two weeks while one enjoys the warmth and beauty of East Africa. I'm guessing. But that is exactly what I did last month. I had the great fortune of leaving the morning of--the hour before, in fact--the arrival of Snowmageddon in DC to go on a work trip to Uganda and Kenya (which is where I grew up and literally one of the most beautiful countries in the world, not biased at all). Although I left Charlotte in the far, far superior hands of her grandmother, a "classic mom" if ever there were one (see "The Moms"), Kevin cautioned me about going at all, because according to all those ridiculous child development books and studies he insists on reading, Charlotte is at the peak of her attachment to me, and my leaving for two weeks might irreparably damage her psyche and probably at least give her an eating disorder. My response to this horrifying information was that of any decent mother: Screw you.

So I left. I did feel a little bad when I saw on CNN International Washingtonians wading through 3 feet of snow to toilet their dogs, the dogs peeing all over themselves because they couldn't lift their legs high enough. I became very concerned in fact when I saw forecasts that another 2 feet of snow was right behind that. Although there was pretty much no chance my family would run out of food anytime this century--thanks to the massive freezer parked in our garage, which is in fact bigger than our car, and Costco--I had visions of our roof caving in, or Kevin losing Charlotte in the tundra when they went out to play, or America turning into some kind of Lord of the Flies world without a federal government for week (funny how that didn't happen). But I got frantic when I heard there were thousands of people without power in the DC area. I could imagine Kevin, Charlotte and Grandma huddled around our fireplace, their only source of heat, burning my cherished collection of African wood carvings for fuel. I called every day with a new suggestion for how they could cope without burning any of my things in the event of a power loss. These included chopping down trees in our yard with the hand saw in our garage, cross country skiing to my cousin's house 20 minutes away, and somehow hooking our heating unit to the car battery.

But they all survived just fine, and soon I was luxuriating in a childless existence. Between the plane rides and the 24 hour satellite movie channels in my hotels, I watched more movies in two weeks than I have in the last two years. I even had the pleasure of watching half of "All the Right Moves," a lost Tom Cruise flick from the 80's. Despite its gripping plot--Would Lea Thompson sleep with Tom Cruise? Would Tom Cruise get reinstated on the football team? Would Tom Cruise get into college without a football scholarship? Could Tom Cruise keep his face in a cool yet earnest expression the entire film?--I fell asleep before the end. But I did finish a host of other very fine films, which could have been anything, because no one was bothering me while I was watching them. A Steven Seagal film suddenly becomes Oscar-worthy when you are a refugee from motherhood, much as stale bread probably tastes like mint chocolate chip ice cream when you are a real refugee, I imagine.

In addition to watching millions of movies, I slept in several times; ate numerous meals in peace (and gained 5 pounds as a result, but whatever); read actual books, as opposed to "Bambi Gets Lost;" routinely went to the toilet by myself (although I'm assuming I shared some of them with numerous germs and diseases just based on appearance and smell); physically went shopping, as opposed to doing it online; and generally enjoyed my own company and that of some relatively mature adults. True, I had to work and even got stuck overnight somewhere I did not anticipate staying and had to wash my hair with hand soap, but who's complaining. It was awesome. Best of all, I missed being confined to my house for 10 days with Charlotte, who, while perfectly angelic when under the care of others, acts as if she will in fact die a painful death if she is not touching me at all times when I am around.

Since my return, I have fielded some horrified queries from other mothers about how I could stand being apart from Charlotte for that long. In response, I quote Yo Gabba Gabba, Charlotte's favorite TV show: Try it, you'll like it. Probably too much.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rebranding myself

Kevin has long argued that I need "a concept" for my blog, that "all things in moderation" is really too random and catch-all, and therefore it will never find a niche audience, and I will never become rich and famous like Julie of "Julie and Julia" fame. I have ignored his suggestion for several reasons, the first being of course that I will never become rich and famous like Julie of "Julie and Julia" fame no matter what I write, so I might as well make it easy on myself and just write about whatever pops in my head/whatever I want to bitch about that day.

Another reason I have ignored him is that I have no concept. Someone has already read the entire encyclopedia and written about that, dammit, otherwise I would totally do that. OK, maybe not, but I would totally watch every episode of Oprah and do everything she says and buy every product she recommends, but dammit if someone hasn't already done that, too. Then of course there is Julie herself, who cooked her way through Julia Childs and wrote about that. But cooking dinner, period, mostly Hamburger Helper in my case, is a major achievement for me, but funnily enough not one that others would find monumental enough to want to read about. And I am no longer qualified to write about politics, books, movies, or current events since last time I had time to check, Joe Lieberman was a Democrat, Arlen Specter was a Republican, Lindsay Lohan was a major movie star, and Michael Jackson was just creepy, not dead. At bottom my problem with the "concept" concept was that all concepts require I actually do something besides just write about it. And I don't do anything.

The one thing I do is be a mother, but that still seems awfully trite to write about. There are a ka-jillion blogs and books about motherhood. I mean, there are only so many poop jokes or breastfeeding diatribes out there. So this is not likely to be a raging success. But it's all I have, so we'll give it a whirl.