All posts tagged: Children

Choosing Calm Over Chaos Made Me Less of an Asshole Mom

(Image: Isabella Giancarlo) For a long time, I couldn’t relate to mother-daughter relationship drama stories. I was way too preoccupied with an operatic level of paternal drama for that. My father’s attentions, and the absence thereof, consumed my childhood. I was too busy being adored, smacked, screamed at, and gaslighted by my dad to have any emotional space left to hate my mom. My own daughter, Amira, was born 11 days after my 30th birthday. Four and a half years later, my son Lev was born. I did the stay-at-home-mom thing for 10 years, throughout my 30s. My job performance was fair. In the “pro” column: I think I gave my kids pretty good advice about how to stand down bullies. “If someone teases you,” I said, “squint real hard, look totally grossed out and say: ‘Ewww…! What’s that green stuff coming out of your nose?!?’” They both say it never came to that, but I know they knew what I was getting at: Don’t dignify shitty behavior. You’re bigger than that. My temper, however, …

The Day I Stopped Trusting My Memory

“I don’t have time for this shit,” I grumbled to myself as I searched the apartment for my keys. Moving piles of unopened mail around on the kitchen table, I felt the familiar pit in my stomach begin to grow. “Why didn’t I put the keys on its porcelain dish as usual?” I chastised myself. “And why was this happening so often lately?” Just last week, I went searching for my iPhone and found it in the freezer. In the freezer. Don’t even ask me how I did that because — guess what — I don’t remember. Back in my years before Impending Cronehood, I had a remarkable memory — almost photographic. Dates, names, and intimate details were etched into my brain so clearly that I could recall them vividly, and I was often used as my friend’s journals, to be opened when their own recollections of the past grew hazy. “Hey, Issa, what was the name of that guy I used to date our freshman year in college? You know, the one who was …

Baby Shower 2.0: Celebrating My Transgender Son’s New Identity

The blue jellybeans were assembled in pint-sized mason jars on my kitchen table. My husband was about to head to the store to pick up the balloon bouquet while I put finishing touches on the decorations. The kids and I had made a batch of homemade chocolate ice cream, and the giant, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie was frosted in blue with our son’s new name: Max Grayson. “It’s A Boy!” read the banner across the wall and on the sign in the front yard. We were thrilled to welcome so many excited guests to our home for “Baby Shower 2.0.” We had already thrown our child a baby shower back in 2008, back when we named him Mary Grace and thought he was our daughter. Our son is nine years old now and has been telling us he is a boy since he was two. Once we were able to finally recognize that he was transgender — a process that was neither fast nor easy — and then took the steps necessary to officially …

When My 4-Year-Old Punched Another Kid, I Became That Mom

So. My kid punched a kid. Let’s just start there. It happened at preschool, on an unassuming, every-day kind of a day. But at pick-up, the teacher slid next to me on the sectioned colored rug and delicately started in, “…so, your son was a little off today…” What’s that? She then unveiled my son’s litany of attacks that day: a shove, a push to the cement and the whopper finale of three sucker punches to the ribs of his classmate. Oh. Oh, God… When she asked him why he did it, he stared blankly into space and said, “For no reason”. Quick backstory on my kid: He’s a hyper dude — but not a violent one. His body goes before his brain, and sometimes it’s a struggle to calm him or focus him or get him to put on his shoes (putonyourshoeswillyoujustputonyourshoesyourshoesrightthere…), but he is usually a keep-his-hands-to-himself kind of a kid. Until today. The teacher excused herself to talk to the parents picking up their wounded children. “So, Jasper was pushed…Markus was shoved…Michael was punched …

Sister, Sister: I’m a Black Woman with a White Sister

When people ask if I have brothers and sisters, I don’t know where to begin. Do I say, I’m an only child, the youngest of seven or the seventh of nine? In fact, all these answers are true. I’m my mother’s only child and the youngest of my father’s seven biological children. But if we’re talking the order in which my father’s children entered his life, then I’m not the last. When my parents divorced, my father remarried and I inherited two step-siblings. Still, however I go about answering the “Do you have brothers and sisters?” question, I always get to this part: I am a black woman with a white sister. Her name is Amy. People would come to my old Harlem apartment see her photo on my bookshelf, the one where I’m standing next to her on her wedding day, and they’d ask, “Who’s that?” But I would never just say, “My sister.” I knew that I must follow up with an abridged version of my family history, saying something like, “My parents divorced …

Faith in Boys, Bikes and Wallpaper

I had all kinds of faith when I was a kid. Faith in Christmas presents, in the sweetness and chaos of my brother, in pathological lip-gloss reapplication, in swimming pools, in ketchup all over everything, in my bike. I had faith that my mother would remain fierce and beautiful and my father funny. I had faith that I could be those things if I paid attention. I would cherry-pick and incorporate. Season myself to taste. I would control myself. Everyone thinks they can do this. I didn’t know that then. But I had faith that concentrating really hard was the answer. Sometimes I notice myself being the things that they are, all kinds of things, and their voices are suddenly inside me, finding their way out. I’m surprised every time. Like I’ve belched in public. I have faith it doesn’t show. Did you read that on my face? I’m very good at not showing. I ask all the questions. I have faith that asking all the questions will fill me up. My story and others …

Making Room for an Older, Adopted Son

When you renovate a home, you tear down walls, gut rooms, rip out old pipes and wires. You empty out to rebuild and refill it. When you renovate a family, you push, stretch, pull and shift, too. You push past fears of it “not being the right time” or of you “not having enough money.” You stretch your thinking about the structure of your family and where everyone will fit in with a new addition. You stretch the shape of your heart to fit a new child into it, one that didn’t come from inside of you but is placed with you. You shift the space within your mind, your heart and your home to make room. “I want a baby brother,” my 9-year-old daughter told me for the umpteenth time. My “bio” daughter, or “biological daughter,” as she would soon be known, was eager for a sibling and no amount of “Mommy can’t have any more babies” satisfied her want. And then one day, something shifted. “I want a baby brother,” she said. And …

My War Against Mommy Frump

In six weeks of pre-adoption training, no one ever mentioned that I would lose the fight against becoming a frumpy mother. While I was prepared for the mental, emotional and physical exhaustion of dealing with social workers, birth families, teachers and cultural judgments, I had no inkling that my sense of style would crash and burn. Having skipped the required change in wardrobe demanded by pregnancy and with no post-baby weight to lose, my dress code was never supposed to change. I would remain sexy, current and not look like an 8-pound bowling ball had been dragged from my loins. My breasts would sag from maturity, not a tour of duty in the hands and mouths of babes, and lace would trim my dainty panty sets. Yes, sets, because that’s how one purchases undergarments, not piecemeal when panties get stretched out and bra padding goes limp from being machine-washed with Tide, rather than Woolite. In my new parenting days, I wore skinny jeans, willing to suffer through the squeeze marks left on my abdomen. I …

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20 Years Later: Reflections on JonBenét

On Christmas Day 1996, a little girl named JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in Boulder, Colorado. Any murder is horrific, especially that of a child, but this crime was particularly shocking, generating massive attention from the media and the public. The nation was mesmerized by the case with its unending supply of lurid plot lines. There was the angelic yet weirdly sexualized victim, whose beauty pageant photos featured teased hair, a full face of makeup and a flirty smile. There was duct tape and a knotted nylon cord and whiffs of jealousy, incest and revenge. And there were more theories on whodunit than an Agatha Christie mystery. I love puzzles and this one was a killer. It had solid leads and red herrings and just enough clues to implicate and exonerate every potential suspect. Just one of countless such clues: Before JonBenét’s body was found, her mother contacted the police, saying her daughter was missing and she had found a ransom note in the house demanding $118,000 – the very same amount that JonBenét’s father, John, …

When My Perfect Dinner Caused a Nervous Breakdown

I believe I have suffered two nervous breakdowns in my life. The first was the day my mom dropped me off at college. You mean I’m staying here?!? The thought of that much freedom, that far from home, made me woozy. My more recent breakdown came in the weeks after my second child was born. You mean we have to keep them BOTH alive? Somehow the responsibility didn’t feel like it had doubled — it had exploded into millions of tiny needs, each of which was wriggling away from me no matter how hard I tried to contain them, like the magic green seeds in James and the Giant Peach. I know we actually had it very good. I had an involved husband who wanted to help out. We had money to hire a sitter. Both kids were healthy. It’s just that it felt like there was so very much to do, all of it essential. Breastfeeding. And naps. And vaccinations that I wanted to space out so as not to expose either of my …

I’m Incredibly Nearsighted but My Hindsight is 20/20

I did it again last week. We reach the moment in my son’s annual physical where the pediatrician checks his vision, and I instinctively held my breath. He’s turning nine, and his brother is now 12, and neither one needs glasses yet. But odds are it’s only a matter of time. My husband was just nine when a pair of glasses first was perched on his nose by a cheerful optometrist. We’re both ridiculously nearsighted. I was turning 10 when I got my glasses, just weeks into the fall semester at a new school where I had no friends yet. I can still picture the school nurse checking my eyes and ears, then handing me a folded slip of paper. “Take this note to your mother,” she said. “Tell her you needed glasses.” “What??” I wanted to scream. “I’m the new kid! I don’t know anybody yet! Now I’m going to be the new kid with glasses!” But I said nothing. She’d already moved on to the next kid in line, and my fate was …

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margit

Over the last three years, my body has slowly closed up shop. Four months between periods, then six, then almost a full year. So, I guess we’re done here. It’s a weird, bittersweet feeling — no more bloats, stains and mishaps. I’ve started to feel as if I’ve floated into another galaxy, where most of my friends are still on Planet Menses. That one time a year when it does arrive, it’s cause for a minor celebration. I secretly tell myself, maybe, just maybe at 47, I could still have a kid. Even though I know it’s a distant, nearly improbable concept. I do have a few friends who’ve had planned kids at 45 or even second and third “oops” kids at 45-plus — one, in fact, who grabbed me by the proverbial collar the other day, glared at me and said, “what have I done?!?” [pullquote]I’d never once fantasized about the perfect family, being a mom, spending time packing up carrot sticks in plastic baggies. That was, until I met my wonderful husband, who would, unquestionably, be …

#SoProud Moms on Facebook, We Need to Talk

Dear Moms on Facebook With Above-Average Kids (hereafter referred to as MOF-WAACs), Your children are unique in their accomplishments. They exceed in a wide range of sports: soccer, basketball, field hockey and then soccer again, but of the “travel team” variety. They are given baffling-to-me-and-perhaps-other-people-who-don’t-live-in-your-town awards like “regional,” “all-city” and “division champ” (I say choose one geographical designation and go with it, but I don’t live in your town.) They always get A’s, and you, as a MOF-WAAC, have never failed to photograph their report cards and upload them to Facebook with the hashtag #soproud. In fact, from their post-natal APGAR score (perfect 10s, scanned and uploaded) to their college diplomas (magna cum laude, ditto), they’ve done nothing but made you #soproud. One noteworthy example (and I’m not making this up): Your toddler photographed mid-defecation, straddling a low plastic toilet with the caption “First poop in a big-girl potty!” And the hashtag #poophappens. On this point I couldn’t agree more: Poop does happen. But ask yourselves, MOF-WAACs, do we need photos of it online? Setting …

Peeing on Sticks: When Your Body Just Won’t Comply

I’ve learned on my journey to parenthood that I have fertility issues and it’s very hard for me to get pregnant. Also, I am prone to miscarriage. After my most recent (third) miscarriage, I asked the doctor if there’s a correlation to having both issues, like maybe one makes you more likely to have the other. She replied with a simple and direct “No.” My uterus gets a big fat C-.  It gave me one beautiful, intelligent son, so it doesn’t get a total fail, but I did nearly lose him at 17 weeks. This third miscarriage was just brutal, both physically and emotionally. I was just about to enter 10 weeks in my pregnancy when I received the awful news that there wasn’t a heartbeat any more. Getting pregnant in the first place was difficult because I don’t ovulate monthly. It’s more like quarterly. And after that pregnancy had ended I begun the cycle of getting pregnant all over again. Seriously, how can my reproductive organs just not work? It’s unknown why! They just …

This Story May Actually Make You Want to Buy a Pet Rat — or Two

Here is a tale about two tails. Two long, scaly grayish-pink tails that skeeved me so hard I could barely look at them the first time I saw them. Two hairless appendages that caused me to backpedal furiously on my promise to my son that today was the day that he could finally choose his very own pet rats. We were at the pet store, thanks to my cousin, whose son had a rat of his own. When he showed me a photo of it, I drew back a bit, gave a sidewise look at my cuz and said, “Really? A rat?” She nodded firmly and said, “Annette, it costs six dollars, lives three years, and eats whatever you have lying around in the fridge.” Hmmmm. My son was nine years old at the time and aching to take on the responsibility of a pet. We already had a dog, but she’s always been my baby and barely gives him the time of day unless he happens to have bacon stapled to his shirt. He …

10 Years After Losing Twins, A Mother Reflects

I was almost six months pregnant with twin boys after undergoing IVF when, at a routine anatomy ultrasound, we discovered one twin had died, and shortly after we got the rest of the bad news. I was suffering from preeclampsia, a severe case, and I had to be admitted to the hospital immediately. Twelve hours after I was admitted, the doctors surrounded my bed and told me that I was going to die unless the pregnancy was terminated. Either my son and I could both die, or I would just lose my son. It was the worst day of my life. After I came home from the hospital I disappeared into grief. For three weeks I lay on my couch, watching reruns of the vampire show Angel, and listlessly eating junk food. I spent most of my time in the gray of loneliness, a hand on my empty belly, feeling terribly lost. I remember handing out Halloween candy to the neighbor’s kids while silent tears ran down my face. I remember occasionally swimming out of …

What Lurks Behind the Word ‘Wife’?

My young son recently asked me why some words are “bad.” He’s at the age where saying an illicit word brings a certain measure of delight and thrill due to the reaction of others, namely me, his Mom. He lets a naughty word slip, I admonish him, and we do it all over again. My daughter has a workaround. “I may think those words, Mom, but I just don’t say them aloud.” So when he asked me: “What makes a word bad, Mom?” I had to think about it. We, the users of language, assign meaning to words. If a society agrees on a meaning, it sticks. But language is a living thing. It changes. The meanings of words that have been around for thousands of years often transform, over time, into different meanings. So while I’ve been busy correcting his language for polite company, I’ve also been thinking about my own “bad” words. I surprised myself with the revelation that there has always been something about the word “wife” that bothered me deep down. …

How I’ve Taught My Kids to Give, Save and Spend

The “Give Save, Spend” system is something many parents use — it’s a great technique for kids (and heck, anyone) to learn the value of money. We ran this piece over on the WhatsYourSystem.com site back in 2010. We thought we’d republish it and check back in with Valerie and her girls to see how things had changed four years later.  2010 Who: Valerie (the mom), Maya and Rachel Gardner Job: Singapore denizens, world travelers. My sister-in-law and nieces. The System: Valerie introduced the concept of “Give, Save, Spend” to her two daughters a few months ago. The idea is that each girl gets an allowance equal to her age (Maya is 8, Rachel is 3) and then they allocate the money in three envelopes – one to give to charity, one to put in “savings” and one to spend. “They can do any allocation they want,” says Valerie, “but at least one dollar has to go into each category per week. So, yes, Rachel then only has one discretionary dollar but it’s just to get her used …

Mom, The Costume: When My Daughter Wants to Dress Like Me

Dressing up is one of my daughter’s favorite pastimes. In her seven years, she’s logged a lot of sartorial hours. It started with Princess gowns, because when isn’t it a good day to be royal? Then came Halloween – kangaroo, fairy and vampire are her faves. And of course there’s The Dressup Bag.  A jam-packed pink canvas number that holds the aforementioned Halloween costumes, plus boas, scrubs, leotards, pearls and at least four tiaras. It’s a winner for almost any playdate. But it’s the Mommy Costume that always gets me. When out of nowhere trots in my little 4-footer donning one of my dresses or sweaters or nighties, invariably with a pair of very high heels. Sometimes there is also a hat. Occasionally, lipstick. It’s really, really cute. And, in my wistfully analytical moments, it’s a good reminder, too. For her, “being me” is fun. It’s still something to aspire to, up there with princesses and gold medal gymnasts. In those moments my heart aches just a little, because I really hope she always thinks …