Many of you may know that I had the honor of being included in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir, which was published at the end of March. The book was a compilation of stories from readers/writers/humans who were inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, and were selected by Liz herself along with editors at her publisher, Riverhead Books.
Some of the other contributors, who’ve gotten together via a Facebook group, were a little perturbed we had not gotten to meet Liz, nor had an event specifically for the book. I admit, I thought there was going to be some big launch party where I could wear a fancy dress and drink champagne and get a few minutes to chat with Liz and take a picture.
That didn’t happen.
We now realize that this year has been one of extreme change for Liz. She ended her marriage (you know, with the Brazilian guy she meets in Bali at the end of Eat Pray Love). Months later, she finally revealed the reason why — she is in love with her best friend (a woman), who is also dying of cancer. Needless to say, she’s had a lot going on.
So when I saw that Liz was having a speaking engagement in NYC — the only one in the area — for the paperback release of her creativity manifesto Big Magic, I knew I had to attend, if only to see her in person. I eagerly bought tickets and asked one of my fellow contributors to join me.
Then I decided to figure out how to meet her. It was actually very easy.
Her publicist’s email is listed right there on Liz’s website. I shot off a quick note and within an hour had a response – yes, Liz would love to meet me!
Then, panic set in. OMG, I was going to meet Elizabeth Gilbert. What do I wear, what do I say? Why did I get myself into this? I can’t handle the pressure! Why did I insist on doing this to myself? You know, the normal stuff that happens when I embark on a challenge.
The night of the event, I anxiously took my seat. I knew the talk would be great but the whole time I would be a ball of nerves. I just wanted to get this all over with! Her speech, though, did put me at ease. She spoke about a creative challenge she pursued while on a book tour for the initial release of Big Magic – with every person she met, no matter if it was her cab driver or her German publisher, she would seek to have real communication with them by asking, “What are you most excited about in your life right now?” So much more interesting than where do you live, what do you do, right? And definitely more so than staring down at your phone the whole time. The responses she received were both hilarious and heartfelt.
I thought she’d ask this question of me, so I prepared my response.
When the talk was over, we made our way to the stage to meet up with the publicist, who was also escorting several other people back. Somehow, I expected it to be only myself and my fellow contributor — but instead the room was teeming with people. I waited nervously for our chance. Finally, we were waved over. I had heard before that Liz gives the best hugs, and they were right! She immediately swooped me up into a bear hug (literally — she’s much taller than I am) and suggested we take a picture. Then since she was in picture mode, she moved right along to a picture with someone else. That other person then proceeded to chat her up.
Wait a minute, I thought. Did I just lose my chance to speak with Liz? We waited around anxiously until it was almost time to leave. My fellow contributor asked if she could take a solo shot with Liz (the first pic was the three of us). Then I asked for the same. Liz was about to turn to talk to someone else when I thought, if I don’t speak up now, I won’t get the chance again. So, nearly interrupting whatever conversation she was about to have, I blurted out, “I just wanted to thank you for letting us be a part of Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It. It was such an honor to be included in something so special” (or something like that. It’s all very fuzzy).
She shook her and said, “No, you earned it. Do you know how many people sent in essays? Thousands. Yours got in because it was good. You need to own that!”
We said our goodbyes and I walked out, still in a bit of a daze. She hadn’t asked me what I was most excited about in my life right now, but that was OK. I was so glad I had spoken up, because her words were exactly what I needed to hear. I was in one of my impostor syndrome funks, somehow having to do with the major change in my life as my son went off to preschool. I just wasn’t in a very creative mood and could hardly write. I felt like a failure, like I wasn’t a “real” writer. I wasn’t making a living at this like some other writers I knew. I still haven’t written for lots of major publications (ok well except The New York Times, The Washington Post, Cosmo…but never mind my accomplishments). Why do I doubt myself? Why do I judge myself? Why do I compare myself and measure myself against others?
I know a lot of people don’t like Elizabeth Gilbert. But one thing I will say for her — she makes no excuses for who she is. She owns it.
I will try to do the same.
Do you feel like you “own” your accomplishments? Have you ever met an idol who’s inspired you to have more confidence in your abilities?
So as I wrote in my last post, LM has started full-time preschool. And I’m not doing well. I feel lost, like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with myself all day. I can’t seem to bring myself to write. In fact, this is the first time I’ve written. It’s some kind of block, I suppose. I wander around the house, looking for stuff to do—although there is actually plenty to do.
I know I shouldn’t complain — I have the luxury of not working. But even if I wanted to enjoy it, I don’t feel like I can reasonably sit around watching Food Network all day while my husband is at the office. My plan was to ramp up my freelance writing, and although I have scored a couple new gigs, they have not provided me with as much steady work as I’d hoped. Ironically, the week before LM started preschool, I got six, yes six, assignments, which prevented me from truly enjoying our last few days together. Now, nothing.
So I’ve got more to do to gain new writing opportunities. But instead of doing it, I just, well, don’t. I’m going through some kind of weird period of adjustment—or rather, trying to adjust and not doing a very good job of it. I’ve been trying to figure out why.
For a long time, my job was my identity. Then I got laid off, and “mom” became my identity. Now, I’m in some kind of in-between place in which I can’t figure out exactly who I am or what I’m doing. I have all these plans in my head, but I can’t seem to translate them into action.
I don’t want to go back to full-time work outside the home. I still want to be here at 3 pm when LM gets home from school. But in those six hours he’s gone, I want to have the motivation to write, go grocery shopping, do projects around the house, maybe even (gasp) cook (even though I’m terrible at it, now’s my chance to get better, right?). I feel pressure to do everything, and guilt that I have not been able to get my ass in gear.
I’m projecting all this onto Foggy Daddy, who I assume is mad that I’m not doing as much as I should. (There’s that word again, “should.”) He seems to understand, though, that I’m going through something and has given me time to figure it out.
Change is tough for me, I’ve discovered. I’ve never been so sad to see summer end, to see the leaves start falling. I love autumn, so it bothers me that I’m greeting it with such disdain. It doesn’t help that it’s still 85 degrees out. It’s still warm enough to swim FFS. The weather is in this in-between state, just like I am. It’s like it can’t commit, and neither can I.
To make things worse, I’ve had very little communication with LM’s preschool teacher. I don’t know if he naps, if he poops, what’s he’s been doing all day. He comes home with cute art projects and always has a smile on his face, so I think he’s enjoying it. But he doesn’t have the words to tell me what he’s actually been up to. With early intervention, in which I knew all his therapists and either participated and/or received a session note, I always knew what was going on. This is quite different.
Maybe I need to cut myself a break and allow myself the time to get used to this. After so long of wanting more time to myself, I finally have it, and now I just want my baby back. I see other three-year-olds going to preschool for three mornings a week, and I’m jealous their moms have the rest of the week to do other things with them. I’m just not ready to send him off for so long. I feel like a kindergarten mom, two years early. I’m counting the days to the Jewish holidays LM will have off in October.
I think if I was pregnant or had a new baby this situation would not be as fraught with emotion. I would still have the role of “mom” to focus on. I could justify lying around if I was pregnant or up every two hours with a newborn. I would have another child to take to mommy-and-me classes.
I know I’m just feeling sorry for myself. I still haven’t been able to pass my fertility testing — my damn lining just won’t grow. After the surgery I had in May, I had to have another procedure to get rid of what turned out to be scar tissue. After waiting six weeks to have that done, I went back into my prep cycle and my body just didn’t respond. So now I have to try it again. I honestly don’t know if it’s going to happen for us. All of these things are coming together to make life difficult at this point, when it really shouldn’t be.
Sorry for the downer post. But I can’t be the only one having a hard time transitioning to full-time school, can I? Please tell me I’m not alone!
This week LM started preschool. He had previously been in a “two’s” program, and also at a nursery program though early intervention, so he was used to being dropped off in a classroom setting. But this year is different—this is “official” preschool. It’s public (because of LM’s hearing loss he gets public special ed preschool), in a building with children of all grades who are deaf or hard of hearing. I believe it’s the best environment for him, and I took as much as they would give me: full time, 5 days a week, 8:45-2:45. Gulp. On top of all that, he’s getting “bussed” (really a guy in a minivan), so someone else is driving him, and I have to trust he will get to his destination and home safely.
It’s a lot for a mom of a newly turned three-year-old to bear.
This week was harder on me than it was on LM. His first-day transportation got messed up—the transportaiton company had the wrong number and so I never heard from them. I took LM to school myself (I wanted to walk him in and meet his teacher anyway), but then the van showed up at my house! I finally straightened things out with someone from the company, who profusely apologized and told me the driver would pick LM up that afternoon. The incident did little to instill confidence in them. And who is this driver? Would he buckle LM in right? Would he speed? Would he take the highway or the side streets? Would he get so annoyed at Sam’s crying that he’d pull over and smack him?
Calm down, I told myself.
LM seems to be doing well. He’s all smiles when he comes home, and his teacher emailed that he’s a joy to have in class. Still, my life is much changed. It occurs to me that I need to be doing more, now that I have time for writing, working out, grocery shopping and meal prep. All of a sudden I have all this time, but my worry over LM’s well-being makes it hard for me to concentrate.
Most kids going to preschool are not taking the bus and are not full time. So I’m going through what many kindergarten moms go through, and it makes me want to slow down time. I’m longing for the playdates and activities we used to do. I feel like I’m missing a limb when I go to the mall or Target without LM. For so long, I identified as a “mom,” as evidenced by the crying child attached to me for all the world to see, that it’s strange to suddenly be my own entity again. When I walk in public alone, no one knows I’m a mom. I almost feel like it’s a throwback to my infertile days, when I longed for a little baby to push in a stroller.
Here’s a taste of what my week has been like, in 20 thoughts:
- I feel like it’s my first day! Why am I so nervous?
- Did I get everything on his school list? I don’t want the teacher to start out hating me.
- He’s too young to be going off on a bus by himself!
- The bus is actually guy in a minivan. This creeps me out.
- What is he doing right this moment? (sob)
- Seriously, am I going to get a schedule or something? What the hell is he doing all day?
- There is so much I can be doing here at home that I can’t figure out what to do first.
- Let me go run some errands.
- Oh, look at that little baby in the stroller! (sob)
- Here’s a toddler in a cart. He’s not in preschool. Sam is too young for preschool all day. Why did I do this to him?
- Why did I do this to me?
- Where is the damn minivan? He’s late. Maybe they got in a car accident.
- Seriously, where are they??
- Oh they’re here.
- I wish LM could tell me what he did today. Why doesn’t the teacher write in the little book we send back and forth?
- She wrote in the book! Oh wait, it’s to ask for hearing aid batteries. But I did put in hearing aid batteries because they were on the list. She probably just didn’t see them because I put them in the same bag as his extra clothes. Great. She already thinks I’ve forgotten stuff. But I didn’t!
- I’m on snack duty first. I have no idea how this works: Is it a different snack every day? How to do I get it to school? I have to make sure to get good (a.k.a. healthy) snacks so I can impress the teacher.
- Why did his art smock get sent back home? It’s not dirty. Hm.
- I have no idea what the F I’m doing.
- I miss my baby.
I find myself singing ABBA’s “Slipping Through My Fingers” (really, it’s one of the best songs about parenting ever) while staring out the window waiting for him to get home. Luckily, LM has adjusted really well to being at school. It’s me who’s having a hard time. This parenting thing never gets easier, does it?
What were your thoughts when your kid first went off to school? Am I normal?
We moms deserve a little time to get the hubby to watch the kids (pizza for dinner, natch) and meet up with the girls for drinks, convo…and maybe a movie, if the movie is Bad Moms. I wonder if the film’s creators had this in mind when they came up with the idea: a movie about moms coming together, inspiring real-life moms to come together. That’s one way to rack up box-office sales.
This summer, women across the country had their own Bad Moms Night Out. Not since Fifty Shades of Grey has a movie gotten so many mothers out of the house. And this time, it’s not an S&M (and possibly anti-feminist) fantasy. Nope, this is a movie about what, for many moms, is reality: an impossible balancing act of kids’ soccer practices, jobs with clueless bosses, man-child husbands, all while trying to feed your children organic lunches, make it to work without anything spilled on you, and come up with a nut-free, gluten-free, sugar-free treat for the PTA bake sale.
I wanted to jump on the bandwagon to see what all the fuss was all about, and soon enough I had my chance. One of my Facebook mommy groups was organizing a Bad Moms Night Out, complete with dinner at the Olive Garden. (Don’t laugh. It’s the suburbs.)
After salad, breadsticks and scintillating conversation about our kids (it’s ironic that we arrange these “adult evenings” and then spend the whole time talking about our children, amirite?), we headed to the movie theater. The room was packed, mostly with groups of women. A few uncomfortable-looking husbands took their seats next to their wives. “They have wine!” one of my fellow moms whispered about the women behind us. I turned around to see a full bottle of vino, the entire thing hidden inside an extra-large soda cup, being poured out between them. “Why didn’t we think of that?” my companion asked.
The movie started, and almost immediately we were laughing in recognition. Mila Kunis is a 32-year-old mom of two tweens (how is she old enough?) who constantly feels as if she is failing as a mother, and spends periods of time crying in her car. Her husband has been having an online affair. Her entitled hipster boss doesn’t realize how hard she works, and the bitchy PTA lady (Christina Applegate) constantly badgers her.
Finally, she snaps. Will she go to this evening’s PTA meeting? No.
That’s it, I realize. That’s the word that’s missing from our mom vocabularly (well, except when it comes to yelling at our kids). We overextend ourselves, taking on everything we possibly can, and then some more. We feel like we should be able to do everything, because hasn’t everyone been telling us forever that we can have it all? And if we don’t, doesn’t that make us horrible, selfish, bad moms secretly riddled with guilt?
Faced with this realization, Kunis is joined by goody-two-shoes mom of four (yes, four) Kristen Bell and bad-ass single mom Kathryn Hahn. Together, they get drunk and slow-mo walk into their neighborhood grocery store, making a mess of Fruit Loops, milk and vodka, in one of the movie’s funniest scenes. Later in the film, they slow-mo walk into a cool bar in the city; and after that they host a rager (over by 11 on the dot—they are still moms, duh).
All this drinking was exactly what was missing from 2014’s similarly-themed Moms Night Out, a funny but oddly religious movie that included no drinking (what??), although it also featured the requisite slow-motion walk, which ended with one mom hilariously tripping on her high heels (not a problem for Kunis, who spends this movie tottering around in five-inch stilettos).
But this brings up another point: Why do the moms in this movie, and in real life, need alcohol? Are our kids driving us to drink? (Don’t answer that.) Between all the “mommy needs wine” memes, onscreen mom imbibing and actual wine being passed around the movie theater, it made me wonder: Why do we seem to take pride in needing a drink to get through being a mom?
Maybe it’s that we miss our carefree, kid-free days of hardcore partying. Or maybe there is something deeper going on. We do need to escape—not necessarily from our kids, but rather from the expectations society has placed upon modern motherhood. Drinking is good, old-fashioned rebellion. Because newsflash: We can’t do it all. No one can. Even if you have lots of help, you are still going to have to make impossible choices as a mom, like whether to stay late at the office to make your boss happy, or miss your kid’s soccer game. You’re going to have to deal with critics who say you aren’t doing enough for your kids; or that you get to “leave early” (aka on time) to tend to you children.
And if you don’t work outside the home, you are going to have to answer to those who say you aren’t giving your daughters good role models, or that you’re too dependent financially, or that you don’t “have a real job.”
We still feel the need to criticize women’s choices, no matter what they are, because we don’t allow for the varied aspects of a woman’s existence: She can be committed to her kids and be a hard worker. She can stay at home and still have a fulfilled life. Instead, we pigeonhole a woman into what we feel she is supposed to be, labelling her and creating benchmarks to judge her by (does she make homemade treats for the bake sale, or are they store bought?).
At the end of the movie, Kunis stands up to say we are all “bad moms” (you know, not the kind who beat their kids, but the kind we refer to when we say, “I’m a bad mom”). “I have no idea what I’m doing,” she says. This is the secret you don’t realize until you have kids: You are going to be clueless AF. Yet because no one talks about it, you think everyone else has it all together. They don’t.
Being a mom, at least the kind of mom you expect yourself to be, is “impossible,” Kunis says. And she’s right. This revelation is the reason why mom culture has latched on to this movie — well, that and its hilarious script and its hot stars. But this flick does what others (including Bravo’s series Odd Mom Out and Sarah Jessica Parker’s 2011 starring vehicle I Don’t Know How She Does It) have failed to do: Tell the whole truth about what it’s like to be a mom in the modern world.
So what to we do? Take a line from this movie and start saying no. No to bosses who don’t respect your work/life balance. No to husbands who aren’t pulling their weight. No to mean-girl moms who make your kids’ school like, well, high school. Even no to your kids (they can make their own breakfast and do their own homework, dammit). Once women start demanding more for themselves, society will start demanding less. Eventually—hopefully—women will have the societal support they need in order to be better moms.
As the movie ended (with tearjerking interviews of the stars with their real-life moms), the theater erupted in applause. We all left smiling to ourselves, feeling the solidarity in the room, doing our own slow-mo walk.
Did you see Bad Moms? What did you think?
Two summer vacations down, one to go. Myrtle Beach, the second of our jaunts this season, was, like last year, alternately exhilarating and exhausting. We spent nearly every day on the beach, chasing LM around to make sure he didn’t get swept away by waves. That kid is fearless. We attended animatronic dinosaur exhibitions, zoos and pirate boat rides — enjoyable because of the fascinated look on LM’s face, but not so much fun for ourselves.
Foggy Daddy and I, though, did make it out for one wonderful date night on the last night of our trip. Two hours of kid-free bliss. Where did we go? Wicked Tuna, of course, in an effort to avenge our previous date night semi-fail there last year. If you remember, at our previous excursion to that restaurant we were seated not at the choice tables along the deck’s railing with an uncompromised view of the marina, but at the tarp-covered section generally filled with large family parties. Horror of horrors! The last thing you want to see on a date night are large family parties, am I right?
I was determined not to let that happen this year. As we drove to the restaurant, I psyched myself up to request the table I wanted. I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, dammit! And then…I chickened out and made Foggy Daddy do it as I parked the car. But, he succeeded, sending me a text that read, “You will be very happy.”
OK, so it wasn’t the best table in the house (it was still right next to the family groups) but, after making FD switch seats with me, I had my view. Success!
My drink came out on time and was yummy.
My “dragon egg” appetizer was interestingly delicious, and somehow seemed apropos. (Maybe because I secretly consider myself a mother of dragons. C’mon, LM is a bit like an unruly, fire-breathing monster, isn’t he?)
And although FD’s appetizer didn’t come out on time (which is exactly what happened last year!), it made it out with the main meal, was yummy, and ended up scoring us a discount on the bill (at the waiter’s insistence, not ours).
So, overall, Wicked Tuna has made amends for the semi-fail of last year. Lessons learned: If you want something, ask for it, instead of stewing about it and writing a blog post later. Secondarily, stop making a big deal out of nothing. Appreciate that you even were able to do a date night in the first place. (Haha, who am I kidding? I’m a perfectionist, even about date nights.)
After dinner, we again strolled along the marsh walk. It was sunset, and we lingered in the fading light. People kayaked and boated on the water. I was oddly missing my kid-free life — ironic because back then, I would have given anything to have a child.
As we took one last selfie before leaving, I realized that my only date night regret was that it couldn’t have lasted longer.
How often do you get to go on date nights? Do you miss your pre-kid days?
Ah, summer. It always goes by so fast. For the last two years, this has been compounded by taking not one, not two, but three trips (notice I did not say “vacations”), traveling with my toddler. Each trip was separated by less than two weeks, which is really too small a time to really get unpacked and settled back into a routine. This had the end result of taking up almost two months’ time — practically the whole summer.
This year, we are planning the same thing. A long July Fourth weekend at my aunt and uncle’s lake house in rural Virginia. A trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where my inlaws have a condo. A week-long stay at the Jersey shore with my family.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
And it is. But it’s also a lot of work.
I’m still getting the hang of this traveling with toddlers thing. As is most often the case as a parent, our own fun is a distant second to that of our children’s. So we are like the man behind the curtain, pulling strings to make sure that everything is magical in their eyes. All of the preparation, all of the food and entertainment, all of the concerns about safety occupy our trip, in the hope that fun is the only thing that occupies theirs.
OK, so this year I geared up for the first of the three trips. The lake house. The lake house presented a series of challenges:
- We were sharing the house with my aunt and uncle, my two cousins (one in high school and one in college), my cousin’s friend, my parents, my sister, her husband and their two kids. Including us, that’s 14 people. FOURTEEN.
- There isn’t really a yard in which the kids can run around in.
- The backyard is a series of steps leading down to a dock.
- The water off the dock is very deep.
Then I have the series of particular challenges presented by my two-year-old:
- He’s prone to tantrums because of his communication and sensory processing issues.
- Most people think sensory processing issues don’t even exist.
- He’s not a good sleeper on vacation
- He’s a picky eater. Like really picky.
- If I don’t do what he wants (like bring him in bed with us or give him the food he wants), he will throw a major tantrum.
- No one wants to hear tantrums.
So how’d I do? Well, everyone emerged from the weekend safe and sound, so that’s the most important thing. But there were tantrums, tears (on my part) and some acts of questionable parenting (you want to eat a bazillion chips that will ruin your dinner? Go ahead, as long as it keeps you quiet).
Traveling with your toddler and other people, you have to pick your battles. Do you want to enforce all the rules to a T, or do you want a toddler who’s not screaming? It’s picking the lesser of two evils.
Another problem for us is that LM is all about Daddy whenever Daddy’s around. He wants nothing to do with me. So again, this meant that either Foggy Daddy had to do everything with LM, or we had to listen to him scream. After hearing FD complain about having to put LM to bed again, I told him I would do it. A half an hour of screaming toddler later while his cousins were trying to sleep in the next room, I frantically texted FD: “Please. He wants you not me.” After being relieved of my bedtime duties, I headed upstairs and promptly broke into tears.
The challenges around the water, though, terrified me the most. We came armed with the bubble LM wears for swim class, a puddle jumper, and a life jacket. LM refused the Coast Guard-approved puddle jumper and instead would only wear the bubble, which he was used to. But this unnerved me while swimming in deep water, even though of course one of us was with him at all times. His joy at jumping in and swimming around, though, tempered my fear somewhat.
Going out on the boat, however, he flat out refused the life jacket. FD and LM remained on the dock as we prepared to depart. But at the last minute, FD pinned him down on the ground, strapped the life jacket on as LM screamed, and then handed him over the side of the boat. As we motored out, LM continued to wail, and I felt the heat rise inside me again. We should have just left him home, I thought. Now he’s ruining everyone’s trip. But as soon as we got moving, he relaxed. Soon, he was asking for “more fast.”
Surprisingly, the car rides (eight hours each way) were the easiest part of traveling. LM took a long, four-hour nap, and then watched videos the rest of the time. Great parenting? Probably not, but what are the options for a kid who doesn’t like coloring or other sedentary activities that can be done in the car?
But probably the best moments of the trip occurred when I least expected them to. We decided to take LM to watch the fireworks, which would keep him out past his bedtime. I assumed they would be at nine — but it turns out they weren’t happening until 10. Whoops. But we weren’t going to miss them (great parenting again, I know). Instead, we visited the pre-show carnival. Let me tell you, a merry-go-round is actually quite scary when you realize you’re going kind of fast and the only thing keeping your toddler from flying off is your arms around his waist — and I could barely reach him when his horse’s pole rose up.
As the light faded, I realized I had forgotten the glow sticks I bought purposefully for the occasion. Instead, we let LM pick out a glow toy (a light saber — I groaned as I realized I had just bought him his first weapon), and walked back to our spot to watch the fireworks. The adults threw around a football, and LM wanted to join in too. And then as we settled into our lawn chairs, we read LM a story by the glow of the light saber. Then he drifted off to sleep — completely missing the fireworks. (Bonus to having a hard of hearing kid — loud noises aren’t as much of a problem.)
It wasn’t easy, but we made it through. It took a lot out of me, though, which is in part why this post was delayed (don’t be surprised if the same happens in the next few weeks after our next two trips). But the fun LM had made it all worth it. I guess our string-pulling worked.
Next stop: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Do you find trips with your toddler difficult? Any tips you would recommend?
Every year, summer sneaks up on me. It always seems like winter lags on, reluctant to leave. We have chilly spring days, followed by one teasingly hot week, followed by the cold again. I put away our winter coats, only to have to take them out again.
Then, somehow, it’s summer again. The scorchers are here to stay, and the sweaters that have made a pile on the chair in my room need to get washed and put away until the fall. Schools let out, flooding my FB feed with last day of school and prom and graduation pics. Summer is here.
But it’s easy to remain caught up with everyday chores and routines and responsibilities. All of a sudden I realize it’s the longest day of the year. Summer is in full swing, and if I don’t stop and look around, I might miss it.
Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
It’s almost the end of June and we haven’t made it to the beach yet. I’m working out possible vacations in July with my fertility testing (yep, that’s starting up again). I’m working on my summer bucket list (strawberry picking: check; zoo: check) so that I won’t miss anything.
Last year I mourned the end of summer because I felt like I had let it slip by. I hadn’t fully embraced it or been present for it. I hadn’t been mindful. And before I knew it, it was gone.
When you were young, didn’t it seem like summer lasted forever? I remember being bored, as day after hot and lazy day passed by. But like everything in life, summer seems sped up now that I’m an adult.
In the midst of everything I have going on right now (writing, fertility treatments, preschool evaluations, LM’s hearing stuff), I’m going to try my hardest to be present. I’m going to try to take the time to enjoy the season.
Every time of year has its traditions, but summer seems the most timeless of all. I’m not sure why this is; maybe it has something to do with the natural, organic way it seems to affect people. Christmas is wonderful, but let’s face it, grownups made up the traditions of trimming trees and opening presents. But let kids loose in summer, and they do what kids have been doing forever: running in the grass, digging in the sand, catching lightning bugs, playing outside late into the dusk, swimming in lakes and the ocean. There’s a natural inevitability to it that the rest of the year doesn’t possess.
I love the way the summer encourages us to relax and take it easy. I need that, because I can get a bit caught up in all the to-do’s of life. Summer reminds us to let them go, to sit back and relax. And as LM grows older, I can’t wait to see him more fully enjoy the summer.
So welcome back, summer. I promise to try to be present while you are with us. I promise to take advantage of your sunshine and your long days. I promise to realize how lucky I am to be able to watch my son discover your charms. I promise to fully embrace you, and to encourage my child to do the same.
Do you love summer? What’s on your bucket list this year?
I hate bringing up tragedies involving children. I constantly go there in my head, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Getting blindsided by these terrible stories have made me want to stop reading social media, and even watching television. So I really hesitate to talk about the most recent tragedy on this blog. But I think it’s important not just because of what happened and the lessons we can learn from it (i.e., you’re never safe from gators in Florida), but because of our reaction: Blame.
Blame Disney for not having better signage — although I agree that would help. “No swimming” to me means “The water is gross” or “There’s no lifeguard here” not “You may be eaten by a wild animal.” Plus, gators could attack people who are at the water’s edge. Why were there even “movies on the beach” when alligators could be lurking on said beach?
Blame the parents — why were they letting their kid wade in the water at 8 o’clock at night? Why weren’t they right next to him? Well, maybe they were right next to him. I couldn’t stop my kid from falling into a coffee table and needing 12 stitches when I was right next to him. I doubt I could have stopped a four to seven foot gator that was faster than it looked. As for why they were out so late, blame the movie night on the beach for that.
But didn’t they think about the gators? They were from Nebraska. Without signs or some kind of literature distributed to guests, how would they know? What’s common knowledge for Florida residents or people who travel to the south frequently might not be on the radar of midwesterners. This is supposed to be a safe place. The happiest place on earth.
But none of this is really the point. We could debate all day long how this could have been prevented. No doubt those parents will be thinking about that for the rest of their lives. Woulda coulda shoulda. Hindsight is 20/20. Disney will make the appropriate corrections, and those parents will replay the night in their minds. “If only we had done things differently,” they will ask themselves.
So why the endless debates? Why, after a child gets into a gorilla pit and a $15,000 Lego exhibit is destroyed by a kid and a child is killed by an alligator, do we — the internet, strangers — feel the need to play the blame game?
I thought it was about sanctimommies. But I think it’s actually bigger than that.
It’s actually not about the parents of the child at all. Like any bullying, it’s not about the victims. It’s about the bullies themselves.
Bullies appear confident, arrogant, full of swagger and self-assuredness. Bullies can be mean, but they are always sure they’re right. Bullies are strong.
Except they’re not. Not at all.
Bullies are scared. Bullies are cowards. Bullies bully because they lack confidence, and bullying makes them feel like they have power over something. Bullies know, deep down, that they are not right. Bullies have no self-awareness. They bully to feel better about themselves.
Bullies aren’t just kids. Bullies can be grown-ass adults who are scared shitless that something like this could happen to them. But instead of facing up to that, they deny it. They say they are sure, 100 percent positive, that such a tragedy could never, in fact, happen to them. That their parenting skills and abilities are so much better than these people’s, or the gorilla mom’s, or the Lego parents’, that they spew all over the internet how they would have done it differently. But deep down they must know it’s not true.
It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
What’s more, it’s easy to pretend that everything in life happens for a reason. There is perhaps no platitude I hate more. Maybe it works when you’re talking about things that were unplanned but had positive outcomes. But you know what it doesn’t work for? Death.
Death, especially when it affects the young, is tragic and horrible and doesn’t make sense. You can try to look for an explanation, but there is no rhyme or reason to it. It affects good people and bad people. It isn’t just doled out to people who deserve it. It’s chaotic and unpredictable.
Kids themselves are chaotic and unpredictable. Side note: my son is now very into dinosaurs, so I showed him the parts of Jurassic Park that aren’t violent (pretty much only the baby velociraptor being born and the sick triceratops). But watching further in after he’d gone to bed, I realized how much I related to Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) theory of chaos, particularly as it applies to children:
I love kids! Anything can and does happen.”
Dr. Malcolm gets it. You cannot say with total certainty what will happen to your children. This is why parenting is so terrifying. You can watch them. You can try to follow all the rules. You can feed your kid all organic and make sure his car seat is buckled properly and teach him how to cross the street and obey the no swimming sign.
Except maybe one time you make a mistake. You misinterpret the no swimming sign, because that sign is not very clear. And something tragic happens. Because you are human. Because you erred. Because you were not infallible.
For the rest of us, we don’t want to believe that we could have been that parent. So if we can find someone or something to blame, it will protect against it ever happening to us. If it is everyone’s fault but our own, nothing tragic will ever befall us or our kids.
But life — and death — doesn’t work that way. The world does not follow set patterns. Bad things happen to good people. Horrific tragedies don’t make sense. We spend our life hoping and praying that one doesn’t happen to us. But it could, and we have to live with that.
Where is God in all this? Funny you should ask. I have no idea. But I certainly don’t believe there is some big plan that we’re all a part of. Because death is never a good thing, unless maybe the person was old or suffering. How can the death of a child be part of a plan? I’m reminded of a quote from the fantastic movie Rabbit Hole, about a mom (Nicole Kidman) whose son is hit by a car and killed in front of her home. She goes to a support group, and a fellow parent who’d lost a child (funny how there’s no one word for that, like there is for widow or orphan) says that God must have needed their child to be an angel. Nicole thinks this is bunk:
Why didn’t He just make one? I mean, He’s God after all. Why didn’t He just make another angel?”
Look, I’ve been through six miscarriages. I’ve held my tiny baby of 17 weeks gestation in my arms. Like those who can see thestrals in Harry Potter, I’m a member of that unfortunate club that has known death. So I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about what bad things mean in the universe. I’ve tried and tried to come up with an explanation. Brighter minds than mine have spent their whole lives trying to figure that out. So what did I discover?
Nothing. Not a damn thing.
Basically, shit happens. Sorry, but it does. The world is full of chaos, uncertainty and horrible things. As much as the blame-gamers want to find a cause, because then they can protect themselves against it, it just doesn’t exist. We are human and we make mistakes. Accidents happen. Obviously reasonable safety precautions should be made. But beyond that, we’re on our own.
Does this sound really, really negative? Maybe. But for me realizing this was freeing, to accept that I don’t have power over death, that no one does, maybe not even God. So I can just live every day fully and realize that each day is valuable in and of itself. Nothing is guaranteed, so I try not to take anything for granted. And while I still see danger and tragedy lurking around every corner, I’ve come to realize that I can only do my best and spend the time I have here wisely.
Strangely, this outlook has allowed me to see not only the tragic things in life for what they are (meaningless), but the good things in life for what they are (meaningful). I can appreciate the birds chirping and the flowers blooming and the wind blowing while I sit outside and watch my son play. Things that seemed mundane and ordinary are special. Tradition and family and love — these are the things I’m trying to focus on now, not all the negative stuff. We simply don’t have the time on this planet to do that.
I’ve stopped trying to figure it out. I’ve stopped trying to find blame. It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.
What do you think about placing blame when tragedy occurs? How do you find meaning in the universe when bad things happen?
OK, OK. I know we don’t need yet another post on the boy who fell into the gorilla pit. But on the heels of that, another story of an unruly child, this time a boy who knocked over a Lego sculpture worth $15,000, has come out.
Cue the sanctimommy outcry, yet again: “Who was watching that child?” “Parents today need to mind their kids and teach them rules!” “Kids are out of control!”
The media has now realized that any story of a child misbehaving will sell, which means they run more of these stories, which means that it appears we have an epidemic on our hands.
Remember the song “Kids” from the musical Bye, Bye Birdie? This is how it goes:
Kids, I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today
Kids, who can understand anything they say?
Kids, they are disobedient, disrespectful oafs
Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy, loafers
And while we’re on the subject
Kids, you can talk and talk till your face is blue
Kids, but they still do just what they want to do
Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?
This song was written in the 1950s.
Every generation thinks there is something the matter with kids today. The only difference is that lately, we’re blaming the parents. Parents, says your friendly neighborhood sanctimommy, should have the superhuman ability to control every single thing their kid is going to say and do at every moment of every day.
One might argue the internet is to blame for the rise of the santimommy. Anonymous commenting has allowed us to hide behind our computer and spew all the pent-up aggression from our actual, real lives. But the ironic thing is that even with Facebook commenting, which reveals your identity (and now you’re often even required to be logged in through Facebook to comment on a post on another website) the problem persists. We know who the sanctimommies (and daddies) are. They’re no longer anonymous. And they’re continuing to do it anyway.
This shows the breadth of the parenting experience. While one mom (um, me) might say, “Yeah, I could totally see my wild child doing that” other parents who, presumably, have demure, malleable children say, “My kid would never do that.”
This irks me. So what if YOUR kid would never do that? Do you think that’s because of your awesome parenting? It may be because you lucked out and have a kid whose instinct is to follow direction.
Now, this is not to say that there are not parents who don’t look after their kids. Yes, of course there are parents who are not giving their kid the attention that they should. But how do we know what happened in these incidents? Were we there when the kid got into the gorilla pit? Were we there when the kid knocked over the Lego sculpture? No. So why are we jumping to conclusions?
I have also heard a few parents, who I know personally, say that there’s no way “it only took a second.” This boggles me, because, uh, yeah, it only takes a second for a kid to dart away. Then the panic ensues. While you are frantically looking for your child who was just by your side a moment ago, he has snuck to the front of the crowd, and the people are blocking your view so you can’t see him climbing over the fence. In those minutes you are looking around, your kid is on the other side, through the bushes and down into the moat.
Why people are questioning how quickly it could happen is a mystery to me. It takes a second for a kid to slip out of sight. What follows is that they’re getting into mischief while you’re running around like a crazy person trying to find them. Even more understandable is the Lego exhibit. One whack of a kid’s arm and the whole thing could topple. I can’t even stop LM from knocking over other kids’ towers when they play with blocks.
So whether your own kid would do such a thing is not the point. The point is that other kids may, and can. But what about the notion you should watch your kids? Let me tell you, when you have a strong-willed kid, it’s hard. If I am not physically connected to him, I can’t even turn my head for a moment. This is stressful. There have been times I forgot to get my keys out of my bag before we left wherever we were, and then I was stuck because I couldn’t reach in without letting go of LM’s hand or turning my head away in a parking lot, which I knew wouldn’t be safe to do. This created some awkward maneuvering.
OK but if that’s what your child is like, shouldn’t you just be prepared to be attached to them? Shouldn’t you just get a leash? Maybe, yes. I take all the precautions I can. But we are human. When you have a child like that, who, as much as you try to teach him the rules insists on pushing every conceivable boundary, it’s exhausting. I am already working that much harder than the parents of the so-called “easy” children. I’m not infallible, and I’m tired. If I make a mistake, I just hope it doesn’t have the kinds of dire consequences as these stories did.
And chances are, a lot of the sanctimommy parents have had those moments—but luckily, nothing bad happened, so they’ve forgotten. And then, somehow, these reasonable, nice people turn into assholes, blaming and judging and getting on their high horse like they are the Perfect Parent. Honestly, I am at a loss at this attitude. What gives you the right to assume what happened at the zoo that day, or at that Lego exhibit? Why are you playing into the media’s contention that unsupervised children are now suddenly a huge problem? Why don’t you realize that this is the same argument that’s been presented about children since the generation gap began in the 1950s?
I have to tell you, I live in constant fear of what my kid might do. Remember my post about the tragedy that didn’t happen? I see these things in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I’m scared to go outside with LM because he’s unpredictable. I can’t trust him. And I’m trying my damnedest to teach him the rules, so don’t you dare tell me I’m a neglectful parent. You just don’t know how hard it is.
The most insightful take on the gorilla incident came, not surprisingly, from The New York Times. The Well Family editor, KJ Dell’Antonia, writes:
For parents who are raising a risk-taking child, the story gives us pause. We know most trips out of the house require extra precautions. Closed doors and barred gates are like beacons to some kids, just waiting to be breached or climbed.
Who does that sound like to you? (Here’s a hint.) She goes on to quote an expert:
Those are children who are more likely to react to their environment, to become highly stimulated and to struggle with impulse control. “They’re high energy, they’re intense, and they’re very committed to their goals.”
This is LM to a T. So while all these other parents are saying, “How could this happen?” I know only too well. I just pray it never happens to me.
Would you admit to being a sanctimommy? What do you think about strong-willed children? Do you still blame the parents for their actions?
I am thrilled to be published in The New York Times today, talking about an issue I’m passionate about: my son and his hearing loss.
How to address hearing loss in children is very controversial, which I didn’t realize until I was faced with it in my own child. I felt overwhelmed by the pressures to use sign language, or not. I’m not here to fuel that debate or say one side or another is “right.” Truth is, every child is different and deserves to be treated that way. I do want to thank everyone who offered me guidance, even if I didn’t take your advice! Information gathering is key so that parents can make their own decisions. I just wish there was not so much internal arguing among deaf people, advocates, doctors etc — as I say in the piece, what would help families is better support for their choices, whatever they are.