“Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home”

At our inaugural Sew Day I darned and hemmed, and altered Mr. Bennet’s dress pants. (I won’t say which way I took them.) Mom and I shared the comfortable confidences that women have long shared over needles and thread. (I’ll remind you here that I refused to learn to sew when I had the chance of living full-time with the woman who could craft a barge for those LOST people from the scraps in her fabric pile; Martha Stewart I am not, but I am exploring my girl-Thoreau impulse to self-sufficiency, or maybe a resurgent terrible-twos need to do everything all by myself.)

I mentioned how yummy my compost is looking, from the point of view of next year’s seedlings. It’s dark and earthy and rich. Except for the golden zucchini plants I haphazardly chopped up into it. They’re resilient buggers. When I ripped them from the earth, I discovered my poor, stunted cantaloupe* vines cowering beneath. One of them has an runty melon on it, about two inches in diameter, rind withering prematurely. I mourned the loss, after tasting the magnificent fruit my mom’s ministrations produced.

But, said my mother, I thought you didn’t like cantaloupe?

Well, I do like cantaloupe now, actually, though it was Susan who picked those plants.

I like a lot of foods I hated as a child.

Foods I hated as a child that I now love

avocados

onions

nuts

garlic

bell peppers

olives, black, canned

shrimp

most all other seafood, though I think I used to choke down fish sticks

mushrooms (still hate canned mushrooms, ick)

cantaloupe, honeydew melon

pickles

asparagus, brussels sprouts

eggs over-easy

ginger, sparingly

crunchy peanut butter

celery (used to make the inside of my ears itch. I don’t really love it now, but it gives a crunch, doesn’t it? Kind of a necessary evil, like water chestnuts).

Foods I still don’t like despite pretensions to a sophisticated palate

corn tortillas

sesame seeds, except in awesome Asian-style sauces

stinky cheese

octopus, squid (I do like a good fried calamari)

kimchi, except in very small amounts as a prelude to awesome Korean barbecue

wasabi, no exceptions

gourmet olives (you know who you are)

poppy seeds, unless drenched in glaze atop lemon muffins

malt, even disguised by chocolate

I think there are a couple lessons to be learned here. 1) If you have a picky eater, don’t despair. 2) You can take the girl out of Utah and introduce her to the best cheese and olives Zabar’s has to offer, but you can’t make her like it.

I wonder if I like as many more non-food things as food things now?

What foods do you now like that you used to hate?

Layers

When I was eight I had bad hair. It almost reaches my shoulders, pointing out but not flipping up, in the family picture we have from that time. A picture my dad isn’t in, because (as I remember it), Mom got tired waiting for him to be available for pictures. (Dad was in the Navy doing a medical residency; this was before the rules designed to keep residents from working 72-hour shifts five times a week, which I know isn’t possible, but that’s how it seemed).

I wanted to get my ears pierced. My friends must have had pierced ears, and it seemed unfair that I had to wait till I was 16 (or 14?) before I could get mine pierced. My dad, in a nostalgic move (I was the oldest, and there is something about the oldest, something about the first experience of being a parent). Anyway, he made a deal with me. I could get my ears pierced at eight if I’d cut my hair to a short bob, how he liked my hair when I was three and four and singing into Great-Grandma Belle’s four-legged cane/microphone.

I was stubborn, though (maybe I didn’t realize how scarecrow my hair looked?), and in the end he paid me twenty-five dollars plus getting my ears pierced so I would let Mom cut my hair. I bought two ugly dresses with that twenty-five dollars. (This must have been right before I stopped wearing dresses for fun).

The weird thing about this is that I usually think of my dad’s parenting style as on the authoritative side of things. Really.

If you know my dad, and his dad, you believe this authoritative interpretation I’ve held for thirty-two years, but reading this story, he doesn’t have a very heavy hand, does he?

So you can imagine: My dad is authoritative yet he bribed me with something I wanted most at the time to cut my hair a way that suited his picture of me as a little girl, a way he thought suited me best.

With that as a baseline (Dad=Authoritative, Eight-Year-Old Me=Complete Autonomy in Matters of Hair), you can appreciate maybe why the story of a daughter (age eight, the age of my oldest girl, my old self’s age) not allowed to have her hair as she wanted, filled me with . . . indignation.

I apologize for taking it personally enough that I was mean with it.

That wasn’t the last time Dad made a deal (or dare) with his kids. When I was twelve-ish? Before Karin and Ryan were born anyway, we were staying at a hotel in St. George in the winter, and Dad bet us money (again, $25?) that we wouldn’t jump in the winterized outdoor pool. We did (Marcy, Brad and I), and I remember I bought a phone for my bedroom that time.

In high school we made fun of beauty pageants by calling them cattle auctions, and Dad bet me I wouldn’t participate in one, so I did. I think I got fifty dollars that time, plus pageant fees and my (long-suffering) mom’s expert seamstressing of a gorgeous Snow White evening gown. I also learned a lot about poise and self-confidence and interviewing.

I wonder what I can get Sally to do with the right incentive?

(And Dad, you were a lot more fun than I sometimes remember.)

Love of my life

Sometimes I would like to think that I have Tourette’s Syndrome, because the things that come out of my mouth when I am tired or hungry or cranky are shocking, or would be, if my poor family were not already inured to the sound of the f-word exploding from my lips. If I felt I could control it and use it (not in front of the kids) to good effect, I wouldn’t really care, but it shames me that it is too-often on the tip of my tongue when totally uncalled for.

Still, my children get excited to cuddle in my bed in the morning, and Sally, who leaves early to ride her bike in the cold morning, eats the oatmeal I make and thanks me for her lunch. She goes out the front door and I open the garage as she comes back for her helmet. Her friend looks on as I approach. Sally slows, tips her cheek up for my kiss (had I telegraphed my intent?) and, after my lips brush her soft, smooth cheek, she smiles a bit and says, “Gross.”

In other news, Spot ran to tell me that Susan found her bunnies under the blanket on the queen-sized bed they now share. Spot had thought, so they tell me, that those odd under-blanket lumps were the Holy Ghost.

My daughter, herself

The other night I was helping Sally with her homework. I am fundamentally opposed to homework for elementary school kids, but Sally, age 8, third grade, feels better if she does it. So I help her with it. And some of it isn’t bad; it’s games for her to play with a parent, or a twenty-minute reading assignment that she does over by a factor of ten.

That night we were doing math. Mr. Bennet helped her first the night before, but he does not see math as clearly as I do, so I took over. Sally tells me that she doesn’t like math, isn’t good at it, it’s hard.

This breaks my heart. Why? Because I was good at math. Ergo, the oldest fruit of my womb is also good at math. Naturally. (Ergo, also, anything she wants to master she can, though we are not responsible for musical aspirations.)

(And when I explain it to her visually, concrete-ly, metaphorically, the light does go on.)

I asked her about piercing her ears at eight, because I was eight when I got my ears pierced.

She likes many foods that I did not as a child, but when she gags at the thought of onions or garlic, I smile tolerantly. More for me, I say, and you might change your mind when you’re older, I say.

I joke a lot about not looking forward to the teen (and pre-teen!) years with my three daughters. If they are anything like I was at that age, we are going to need a lot more kleenex, several beater cars, and patience as vast as the Sargasso Sea.

If they are anything like they are now, and barring alien personality-transplants they should at least resemble their current selves, it’s going to be awesome, a cross between Little House on the Prairie, Rainbow Valley, and Little Women, only with better hair, fewer Presbyterians, and no infallibly-wise Susan Sarandon mother figure. (Just me).

I read a post the other day where a mother was complaining about how difficult her daughter (also eight) is. Mother and daughter fight over what the daughter will wear to school. The daughter throws a tantrum to end all tantrums after not being allowed to cut bangs in her hair like her older sister. Mom and dad prefer their girl with long, thick hair, so no bangs it is. The daughter holds it together at the stylist, then cries inconsolably for an hour once home over wanting her hair how she wanted her hair.

And all the comments, many from mothers of similar daughters, commiserate. So sorry you have to deal with such a recalcitrant daughter! So headstrong! So willful! So impossible!

I check my calendar. And my passport. This is the twenty-first century, right? This is America?

Of course there are forms of self-expression that I will try my hardest to stamp out. Smoking. Sex before marriage. Swearing of the excessive and uncreative variety.

But bangs? Plaids paired with polka dots?

H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks, GIRL, shave your head if it makes you feel better! Wear magenta with burgundy! Ride your bike faster than all the boys! Get mud on your face! Everyday!

(Just don’t say math is too hard.)

Magnets, Design Squad, and Thanksgiving Point

Susan came home from preschool the other day bubbling over about the magical magnet at school, the one that moved ALL BY ITSELF on the top of the table. I asked gently if her teacher had been moving a magnet underneath the table as well. She thought for a second, thinking back, and then her eyes lit up: “You’re right Mom! How did you know?”

What can I say? Moms know everything. Which is why we take our kids to Thanksgiving Point a lot, because not only will my kids have fun and learn something, but I won’t be annoyed, as I am by some specialty childrens museums. Although to be honest, I don’t know if a family pass is going to be in the budget next year, which is why we’re going a lot in the coming months.

This Saturday (September 26th) PBS’s Design Squad is filming at Thanksgiving Point and I’m thinking of sending Tom and the kids (I will be going to the first-ever Sew Day with my mom and sisters). The filming is free and open to the public at 11:30 am. The Museum of Ancient Life also has a new Magnets, Motors, and Mind exhibit which I think Susan would really like.

And since I knew their PR rep in college (just kidding, she totally still doesn’t remember me, but I’m lucky enough to be on her list), I have a family four-pack of tickets to the museum to give away. Today I’d like to reward a faithful commenter (okay, and save myself the trouble of forgetting to pick a winner and so forth), so I took the top five commenters for this month (see widget in the sidebar) and ran a random number generator:

random

Congrats, Sharla! You’re going to Disneyland The Museum of Ancient Life!

Does it matter?

sally's shadow

A couple weeks ago, Sally rushed into the house with a roar of MOM that was half-way between mad and hurt. At least it sounded mad a bit, but turned out to be all hurt, and a baby cub’s aggressive appeal for comfort. She had fallen off her bike on the way home from school and busted up her chin. I gave her sympathy, hugs, ice, and decided after a couple minutes that I was glad I’d showered that day because a trip to Insta-care was in our immediate future.

Sally got scared when I mentioned stitches. Years ago, when she was our only child, Mr. Bennet and I taught her to say please before she took her medicine or got a shot, on the theory that she’d view them as desirable if she had to ask for them politely. Sometime in her seventh year she wised up and regressed, shaking and crying (quietly, which is even worse in these situations) before any traumatic medical intervention.

I said it wasn’t a very deep cut, but since it was on her face, she’d probably want stitches so there wouldn’t be a scar. And she asked me, “Does it matter?”

I know part of that was her fear of pain, but a good part of it was her really asking if scars matter, and I am still trying to think up a good answer for her.

It would take all of my fingers and all of my toes to count up the small scars on my body: on my shoulder from two surgeries, my hands from cooking and carelessness and living, my forehead and knee from chicken pox, my abdomen from appendicitis, my shin from the time Rory chased me on the bleachers in high school.

Does it matter?

Last week was our first time to drive Susan’s preschool carpool. We pulled up to her friend’s house and his mother said for us to go ahead, she wasn’t done doing his hair yet. At my blank look she reminded me that it was picture day. I looked at Susan, with her bedhead hair for afternoon preschool, and the outfit she’d put on: blue shirt under a pink and green plaid jumper. And I shrugged, half-rueful, half-proud.

When Sally turned eight I asked if she’d like to get her ears pierced; at first she wasn’t interested at all, and I didn’t push, but several months later when it came up again, she asked if it hurts. I said it did a little, but not bad at all, and she asked for clip-on earrings. Those pinched, and now she is thinking it over, or would be, if she hadn’t already forgotten all about it.

Then yesterday I noticed something odd in the laundry. Sally’s pants, bought over the summer on several trips to DI do not have holes in the knees. I lamented for years over the holes in Sally’s pants, not that she was active enough to rip them, but that pants are expensive. Three wearings from Sally the Horse or Sally the Cheetah, and even the nicest jeans from the Gap (a gift) were shredded at the knees.

Now her pants are un-holey. A bit grass-stained and stretched out at the knee, but not holey anymore.

So to answer your question, Sally, three weeks and four stitches later: Scars don’t matter, and if you need to get holes in your pants to play the way you want to play, please do.

Maybe if I could make music with my legs

The wide walking and biking trails in our town are littered with crickets in summer. On family bike rides, Sally squeals each time she almost runs over one, which leads to a lot of squealing. Worse than riding over one, though, is having one fly up in a panic and ping your leg or arm or face.

Last Friday there were only a few crickets enjoying the last gasp of hot weather, but somehow each one was directly in the path of my front tire. Each one, at the last possible moment before the rubber rubbed him out forever, flung himself up and out, towards the brush that lines the asphalt, sometimes making it, sometimes splatting just a ways down. Crickets do not look before they leap, at least not when faced with death by squashing.

They land awkwardly, legs and joints akimbo. Sometimes even on a wing or tipped to the side. I didn’t stop to see how the recovery went, but the aimless, frenzied flight, the fearless self-flinging was as exhilarating to watch as that moment on the runway right before your plane takes off and you hold your breath.

Those crickets reminded me of Mr. Bennet, because he has this thing where he’s writing a page a day without any special goal in mind. Which really isn’t a stretch (much less a wild, fantastic leap) for a technical writer with a blog, but it’s what he’s doing at night instead of watching (more) TV with me.

Usually I am enamored of more purpose-driven endeavors, more exotic goals and expected outcomes. Like cooking 524 intricate French recipes with Julie and Julia, spending no money with Bye Bye Buy, forgoing toilet paper with No Impact Man, and fasting with Sister Kent from my parent’s ward who decided as a teenager to not eat until she heard from God (it was three days before He spoke).

The more extreme and impossible-to-sustain in the long run, the more inspired I am. I tell myself that as soon as I find my passion, I’ll sprout this devotion to live it madly for a year. (A year seeming to be the accepted limit for moonstruck deliberation.)

I have been telling myself this for twenty years.

In the waiting time, though, as each solstice and equinox beguiles with hints and promises of new starts, I add one or two small things from my list of envied dreamers of dreams. I start making yogurt and baking bread again (though not from a cookbook); I resolve to buy less, especially as I realize that the waste I now compost is not nearly as large a fraction of what we throw away everyday as I thought it would be. I stop drinking Mountain Dew, so that when Fast Sunday comes along, I can commune without wanting to take a chainsaw to my skull.

Next spring I will plant my beans and peas earlier, and tally my costs like Thoreau. And I will write one page a day, because what else would I do while Mr. Bennet ignores the dishes in the long winter evenings?

Someday I will fling myself into something, and like the crickets, I won’t think first of my landing.

Sometimes it takes a man

On my post about joining the Bad Mother camp, our good friend Josh left a comment that ends:

It’s funny. “Bad Fathers,” I think, are men who suffer from strained (or non-existent) relationships with their children. “Bad Mothers,” it seems, are women who suffer from strained relationships with other women.

At first I thought this was the most profound thing I’d ever heard or read on the good/bad mother issue. Then I felt defensive — my relationships with other women are just fine, thank you very much. Now I’m back to thinking Josh is really (really) smart.

Because it is my relationship with this women that I mourn. I no longer look forward to spending time with her. I don’t want to share with her what is going on in my life. I can’t imagine opening my heart up or being honest about my worries.

(And if I am apparently such an inadequate mother in her eyes, she can’t possibly want to spend time with me, either.)

Josh is especially right that the good/bad mother label, as I now see it, as we feel it projected on us or think in our minds about each other, is not about the kids, how healthy and happy they are, but about how we compare, how we differ, from other mothers.

And that STINKS.

I also wondered, in the weeks after this experience, if I have often been so sanctimonious and insufferable to other mothers, and you know that I have. I know that I have, especially when I was first a mother. The older I get, the more conviction I have that the choices I have made are right for my kids and myself, and at the same time, I have less and less conviction that they are necessarily right for other people. Even the things that I love/value/admire most about being a mother (like breastfeeding) — some otherwise charming and delightful women get tunnel vision with their issues and I gotta tell you it is the opposite of appealing, no matter how much I like them personally.

I don’t even want to make a list of the things I do or believe in as far as mothering goes, because this isn’t about the disposable diapers or public schools in Utah or atavistic rejection of all things babywearing and co-sleeping — it’s about any woman thinking she knows what’s best for anyone other than the people who live at her house. (Sorry, I snuck a list in there, but if you’ve read this website before, you’re probably not surprised by anything on it.)

I guess my main point is: An apology to good mothers/bad mothers everywhere. May I never use either term ever again. Please forgive me if I have ever made a judgment verbally or to myself about the way you go about being a mother.

The End.

Camera: check, Models: check, Skill: only a matter of time, maybe

3 girls

I got a new camera for the unique purpose of taking cute photos of my kids (and because Best Buy had no-interest financing and Mr. Bennet still felt bad about the belated Valentine’s Day camera I returned last February.) In August Tara and I road-tripped to San Francisco by way of Vegas (not a very direct route, if you’re wondering), where I took a crash course in real photography from Nicole Hill. And what I learned there is that I really don’t want to take photos like Nicole, I want to be Nicole.

But I needed something a little more long-term to cement the aperture and ISO thing, so I started a community ed photo class last night, where I was shocked to see the room full of other thirty-something women with brand-new DSLR cameras who want to take cute photos of their kids.

For some reason my love of technology is not really translating to a desire to memorize the f-stop thirds and shutter-speed intervals, so I worry that our “investment” will pay off sometime in 2028, when Sally makes do with a fuzzy image for her wedding announcement.

But I can’t complain about the quality of the models I have to work with here. Looking at them through a nice lens is about as forgiving of their naturally irritating tics as watching them in sleep.

(Let’s also call these our back-to-school shots, since that actual morning I put the camera on automatic by pointing the arrow at the big A which turns out to be “aperture-priority” or some such nonsense and those didn’t turn out so well. I know Nicole told us to never set our cameras to automatic again, but it turns out I have a latent talent for disregarding instruction.It hardly needs saying that these have not been retouched, as the only thing I hate more than WordPress (which I love! keep working for me, baby!) is Photoshop.)

sally tongue

Mr. Bennet and I can both roll our tongues, so Sally’s genetic virtuosity has not caused any problems.

susan

Susan got her eyes from my mother, who has one brown eye and one green eye (both with gold-ish undertones).

spot

Spot tells me I can only eat her up “a little bit.”

sally stitches

I took out Sally’s stitches right after this picture. They’d scabbed over a bit, so a couple of them I had to finish pulling out while she slept that night, after coating the area in triple antibiotic ointment and promising Heavenly Father I’d never sin again as long as I didn’t have to admit to the InstaCare that I’d tried a bit of homedoctoring.

susan again

When we were shopping for backpacks last month, Susan pleaded for a pony play kit similar to one her cousin has. I conceded that her cousins do have lots of pretty shiny toys, then finally in a fit of frustration I said that their daddy doesn’t live with them so sometimes he gets them expensive presents to play with, and wouldn’t she rather have her daddy around all the time, even if it means not having all the latest toys? And Susan said, no, she’d rather her daddy stayed away because she would really like to have that pony stable set.

spot duane

Spot still has Duane Syndrome.

heads together

When we drop Susan off for preschool two days a week, Spot is disconsolate. Once she’s home, the Jane Austen/Louisa May Alcott/Rainbow Valley rejoicing in sisterly affection lasts until Spot bites or Susan hits. Reminds me of the good old days when I used to kick Marcy under the covers at night. Now I kick Mr. Bennet every so often, but it’s not quite the same.

With apologies to Bad Mothers everywhere

Several months ago I wrote an impassioned argument against the Bad Mother Manifesto. I felt that proudly proclaiming oneself a “Bad Mother” as a way of standing up against (admittedly insane though often-projected) societal expectations was unproductive and defensive. I even went so far as to say that the kind of women who couldn’t shrug off such perceived criticism had a weakness of personality and purpose.

I’ve changed my mind.

Honestly, in my eight years of being a mother, I had never experienced the sort of criticism or judgment that these women described as the reason for wanting to carry the Bad Mother banner.

And then I did.

Recently I spent time with a Type-A, Alpha, Helicopter, hyper-focused maternal being who made me feel inadequate, defensive, judged, combative.

I wanted to park my kids in front of Phineas and Ferb for six hours while I gorged on bad carbs and made love to Spot’s leftover disposable diapers.

I wanted to smash her smug face in.

The way some women act, mothering should be an extreme sport or an Olympic event in the constant orchestration of a perfect childhood. And not just “a” perfect childhood, but “the” perfect childhood. With extra marks for each nutritional supplement and organized activity, bonus points for organic cleaning supplies and never desiring a babysitter.

I want to shrug it off. I want to go back to being a good mother and ignoring the corrosive effects of competitive mothering, something I so recently dismissed as easily ignored.

But now I’ve seen it, heard it, felt myself shrinking in and shutting down, giving up on sharing what works for me and mine, I wonder why we women do this.

Is it a female thing?

Do men sneer at the non-homeschoolers as they play pick-up basketball? (Maybe they do, but Tom has never come home wringing his hands over class sizes.)

Is it a cultural thing?

“Society” and the magazines at the doctors, the guests on Oprah, the blogs of perfect mothers, the parenting books by experts, all those things I can easily ignore. But when it’s your friend at the park, your neighbor at church, the checker at the grocery store, a sister or mother or the in-laws, then it is harder to disregard. Especially if that person points out your flaws out of “love” or “concern.”

Or, as C. S. Lewis put it:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Is it an identity thing?

From the time Sally was one month to eighteen months old, I worked at Columbia while Tom stayed home until his evening classes. I was so happy with that arrangement. My supervisor was supportive of my pumping and condensed schedule, my baby was being cared for by her father, and I was talking with adults every day. Later I was the stay-at-home parent.

That’s been up and down, mostly up, recently, but there’s a huge difference in how I stay at home and how he did. When Tom stayed at home he didn’t join playgroups or sign Sally up for classes. He fed her and napped her and took her to the park. He wrote his novel as he watched her in the baby swing. He put wooden letters from her puzzle on her head and took silly photographs.

Staying at home was what he did, not who he was. As soon as I started staying home, I set out to create a new identity for myself. It wasn’t what I did, it was who I was.

And now I think that was largely the problem.

The good mother/bad mother thing is a female thing because we’re naturally pretty competitive creatures, especially when it comes to our offspring. We fought for power and influence on the playground and now we fight for moral superiority . . . on the playground.

It’s a cultural thing too, because there are all those books and blogs and experts and a national holiday. And because your friend, your neighbor, your sister probably does things differently, and in order to feel a success, the things she does (the things I do) become the better way, the best way, the only way.

And, most of all, for me, it’s an identity thing. Attack my mothering, and you criticize not what I do, but who I am.

If that’s what it takes to be a Good Mother?

I hope there’s room in the Bad Mother tent.