The Birth Canal is a One Way Street

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When I think of a childfree life it is not one of glamour, adventure, romance, travel and leisure that I envision. Nope– it’s much more basic, encompassing the minutiae of life. It’s sitting down to a meal where the first bite isn’t interrupted by someone suddenly needing the potty. It’s sleeping consistently without someone screeching from night terrors or dropped Pillow Pets. It’s getting out of a car without cleaning the spilled contents of un-spillable milk boxes that have seeped into the crevices. It’s reading Time Magazine’s The Childfree Life on the toilet, undisturbed.

Clearly my dreams are not lofty. For me the short hours of the school day (thank you, September) most closely resemble a childfree life. Oh to go for a run post-drop-off alone in Torrey Pines is simply blissful! Or to be out in the open waters, surrounded by old school surf dudes and some (gentle) marine life–paradise!

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And when I want solitary time–no people, no conversation, no kids– I might find myself here where a swim in a most perfect pool is just two bucks.

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And of course there is the productivity component: being able to accomplish the goals of the day that require a chaos-free environment such as offering nutrition advice, composing blog posts and writing my yet-to-be-published children’s stories. This is my childfree life.

According to the article in Time Magazine some opt for life sans-children because instead of reproducing they pursued interests, talents and careers that yield a certain lifestyle–one that is comfortable and fulfilling. Why change all that?

I had children fairly young, though not according to North Carolina standards where we were living at the time. There if you don’t have several kids by your late 20’s you were deemed barren. Or so it seemed. I finished school, including a graduate degree, and happily worked for $16.50 per hour.  I enjoyed a comfortable life, but not one so luxurious or exotic that introducing kids might complicate. Into this life Thing One arrived. And we were happy. By the time Thing Two joined us our lifestyle hadn’t evolved too much. In fact, living standards had declined due to our move to the pricier New Jersey. And we made the decision to rely on one income largely because my chosen field was not exactly lucrative. Nannies and daycare would be more costly than my own attempts at raising the clowns.

Yet I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t question my choice. At least once a day. I think anyone who claims that he or she doesn’t at times pine for a childfree life is not being truthful. I’m the first to admit that I am completely challenged, frustrated and depleted by my kids. It’s all too easy to imagine what I’d do with my time without them. So much activity and productivity!

Let me pose this question: would I appreciate a childfree life as much if I were actually childfree? It’s like East Coasters maintaining that they need the seasons to appreciate good weather. West Coasters (particularly down in the SoCal) don’t buy it: living in Utopia doesn’t make it any less satisfying.

But of this I am sure: the birth canal is a one way street. You can’t put the kids back (though no doubt one of mine would climb right in if he could). The fact is I do love my kids.  And the last thing I do before turning in at night is remind myself of that. I take a peek at them sleeping, a peaceful snapshot in which they truly are adorable and almost angelic.

I am also quite certain that had I opted for a childfree life, this would be the image I’d conjure when inevitably pining for children.

 

 

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Ugh. Boston.

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Ugh. Boston.

A direct quote from one of my most brilliant, articulate friends. It’s all we have to say because we cannot find the words. Again. As a nation we are left speechless in the wake of yet another tragic, disgusting event that leaves us to wonder what has happened to humanity?

All week I have been careful to keep my kids from media coverage. I was relatively successful until this morning when the radio in the car announced the latest in the unfolding of events in Boston, Watertown and Cambridge*–my former stomping grounds.

Immediately my 8-year-old questioned what had happened. I explained in my best don’t-scare-the-children version that people in Boston had been hurt earlier in the week by a big explosion and that the police were looking for the people who had caused it. Too quick is my child. She pointed out that one of those people had died. Then she point-blank suggested the other be killed as well.

Is this what we have come to in our morning commutes with our children–our babies? How do we go from belting out Katy Perry to discussing bombs, terror plots and capital punishment?

I thought last week’s tackling of boobs and internet safety was challenging. This is far more twisted. I can’t take back what my kids already know, but I can have conversations that really make them consider right and wrong, and how they should foster the good in themselves and see the best in others.

Meanwhile, it’s an uphill battle, but I will do whatever I can to keep them young at heart for as long as I can. Directly after I bid them farewell I went to their school library for some weekend reading. What could be better than to escape into the worlds of Ramona, Beezus and Captain Underpants?

*I have posted this image previously, but couldn’t resist using it here as well. No matter what evil has invaded the city Cambridge will always be this to me. My thoughts are with you all there.

How Does Justin Bieber Do That?

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His music is oddly pleasing, his hair intriguing and his man-child biceps endearing. But what fascinates me above all else regarding Justin Bieber is his massive Twitter following! Is he really that profound? Or eloquent? What is it that well over 33 million people–mobile devices afire–scramble to read?

Perhaps that’s just it: I don’t understand. Twitter and tweet– it’s all lost on me. And when it comes to social media I thought that I could continue to live in blissful ignorance for a while yet. I’ve long since been vocal about my resistance to joining the movement unless by necessity. Of course by necessity I mean  having to help my kids navigate the scene. I figured that would buy me some years, and maybe somehow this would all pass and the pendulum would swing the other way drastically so we could raise our kids without all of this crap technology.

Well, that’s not gonna happen now is it?!

Last week came the brutal awakening. Parents were notified that the second graders were now on Twitter. They’d be sending out tweets (as a group) from social studies, with the first informing us how, according to creation stories, the snake came to have no legs.

Oh, dreaded day!

With my son home sick and napping, I, the reluctant laggard, set up my Twitter account so that just in case my almost-eight-year-old daughter wanted to chat tweets I’d be one step ahead. Fast forward to the car ride back from school, when she asked what we had done all day. With pride and (feigned) enthusiasm I revealed my feat: setting up Twitter. Her response: What’s that?

Now not only did I have to join Twitter, I also had to explain it. My explanation involved birds, and announcements and mass communication and loads of (presumable) misinformation. I even brought Justin Bieber into the conversation to sound relevant. In the rear view mirror I could see her processing thoughts. Her response: So, if I wanted to announce that I were pregnant, then the people in China would know?

Holy S—!!!  Beat that one, Justin.

Can’t we just leave tweeting to the birds?

Apples to Harvard

I had a date last night. We met over a steamy hot chocolate. We discussed lofty goals, reminiscing about the past and dreaming of the future. I hope I had a hand in his destiny. I hope he is accepted to Harvard.

For several years now I have been volunteering as a Harvard Alumni interviewer. Upon relocating, I switched from the Princeton chapter to the San Diego committee, and last night I met with my first west coast applicant. He was reserved, initially, and squirmed a bit in his belt-less slacks, non-button-down shirt, clunky black dress shoes– all of which he was clearly not accustomed to wearing. I could tell that this was not his persona. I could tell that he hadn’t been coached for his interview. Not like the kids I had met in the past– those from extreme privilege who know not how fortunate they are to attend respected east-coast prep schools, and have access to personal SAT tutors, essay counselors and interview coaches. Even those from the excellent public schools in the Princeton area felt entitled to the best of higher education, and pursued Harvard sometimes just because they have straight A’s and access to the common application.

This kid, however, made an impression on me. He didn’t claim to have unparalleled intelligence and he didn’t promise to cure the human race of cancer. He did, however, divulge that he worked a landscaping job last summer to fund his own application fees. And when he earned the coveted National Hispanic Scholar recognition for his PSAT scores, he had to call the number on the form to find out what this meant. He didn’t know that this is something a high school college adviser should inform him of, because he didn’t know that they even exist.

Throughout our conversation this kid warmed up and loosened up. I was able to extract meaningful details of his high school education and catch a glimpse into his character. I’m the interviewer who is more focused on the latter, favoring personal stories over grades and scores. The school can see that part on the transcript. Rather, can you look me in the eye and exchange quality conversation? Can you tell me with sincerity why Harvard is the place for you above all other institutions? And can you relay to me, so that I can convey in my words, to the admissions committee why they should select you over thousands? Here’s a tip: don’t say you applied because your mother told you you should.  Yes, I actually did receive that as an answer one time.

I interview these candidates not because I think it will help my own kids’ chances of being accepted. Statistics say they won’t. My small contribution to the process over the years won’t change that, nor would I want it to. I choose to be involved because I’m interested in keeping current with kids in their high school years. Sometimes I’m frightened by what I see; I’m horrified by their lack of diligence; I’m disappointed by the shortage of appreciation. But most of the time I’m impressed, inspired and humbled by the kids’ talents and accomplishments. It reminds me that the only thing remarkable about me at Harvard was that I was/am simply not remarkable. By several accounts I should never have been accepted myself.

I clearly recall my first misstep, and it goes down in family legend. My initial Harvard interview– the one that assessed my preparedness for kindergarten at Trinity having completed my nursery years at Episcopal–was nearly unhinged due to apples. Yes, the simple fruit came close to destroying my whole scholarly future. How many pieces do you get when you cut in apple in half? asked the interviewer.

Four, I answered. Several times I was asked because, I think, she was in utter disbelief. Several times I answered, Four. I wouldn’t budge. After all, every time the teacher cut the apples for snack, there were always– and I mean without fail– always four pieces. It made complete sense to me that apples were meant to be shared in fours. I used logic. My logic based on my experience. Well, at the very least I showed my unwavering commitment to what I believed was right.

Not too much has changed– I see now that an apple cut in half literally means into two pieces. And yes, I have quizzed my kids on that to make sure they don’t commit the same educational crime. No,  I still believe what counts is not how well one can count, and that good character and commitment to what is right propels us forward.

Just before this candidate and I departed, he turned to me and asked with heart-rending vulnerability, Can I ask you something?

Of course, I replied– both interested and concerned.

If I go on to do more interviews, do you think what I am wearing is OK?

I gave him a reassuring smile. I think you look great; don’t change a thing.

Brave Boy

Motherhood gives rise to various lose/lose situations over the years, with fashion responsible for more than several of them. Surely you can name instances of blaming your mother, “You never let me me wear what I wanted” as well as “I can’t believe you sent me out of the house like that.” My own recollections include Doc Martens (the former) and a certain Dorothy Hamill bowl haircut (the latter). Other questionable trends you might recall with nostalgia span feathered bangs, leggings with scrunchy socks and acid-washed denim jackets. And at the root of each missed opportunity and every regrettable outfit was your mom.

Just for a moment, though, let go of that hostility and step into her Keds shoes. It’s harder than it looks to guide your children through a world of constant and harsh judgment. It’s even harder on those of us whose kids have unconventional predilections. As a mother of two children who are each in their own right out-of-the-box thinkers and doers, I’m ever balancing my conflicting maternal instincts– one of which urges me to protect their vulnerability and the other to nurture their individuality.  To this end, Halloween is particularly stressful.

Spooky in origin, Halloween is actually a creepy night when wallflowers will transform themselves into Slutty Snow White and mansie-pansies into suave Magic Mike. Others perhaps are dripping with gore, or feigning super power.  People let loose, celebrating not who they are but who they could be when inhibitions disappear. They explore the other-worldly on a night when all limits are off.

Or are they?

Some lines just shouldn’t be crossed, such as when Prince Harry emerged as a Nazi. That was simply dumb. Others are more innocent. Cue my son, who makes a darling Merida this Halloween season. If you haven’t seen the movie Brave, you must, if only for the animation of Merida’s wild, fiery hair. Ironically, this was my son’s big draw to the character but now he doesn’t want to wear the defining wig. Herein lies the conflict. Clearly he is a boy in a dress, but with the wig, it’s less obvious. Protected by the wig his gender may go unnoticed as he parades around his new 1,000+ person school, complete with preschool-aged kids up to high school seniors. Without the wig, all bets are off. He is a boy in a dress.

Personally I have no problem with this. I am a woman who prefers to wear pants. This too used to be criticized and jeered– and not so long ago. It now sounds so silly doesn’t it?   I wish you’d all agree that pants and dresses don’t determine our worth as individuals, but that’s a naive request. For some reason not all of us are there yet. Articles celebrating gender creativity appear from time to time, each of which resonates profoundly. The most recent of note, from The New York Times Magazine (August), poignantly highlights boys wearing dresses.

Like several articles before it, this tells the stories of children living life unconventionally and parents supporting them unconditionally. Wouldn’t you do that for your child?

My mother thought she was doing right by the bowl haircut. I can assure you that it was wrong. So very wrong. Time will tell whether my purchasing the Merida outfit will be valued or resented. For now, what I can say with absolute certainty is that there are things much more twisted on Halloween than a boy in a gorgeous turquoise dress. Funny how if we are so concerned with what a child’s disguise implies about his or her future behaviors, decisions and lifestyles, that we condone– celebrate even– the blood-lusting, weapon-wielding, terror-seeking figments of horror portrayed by the conventional boy’s costume. I’d take unique over depraved any day. We witness too much violence in the world already. What we need to see more of are the awe-inspiring characters who encourage us all (and I write this in my best Scottish Princess voice) to follow our heartsto write our own story.

So when you see him, my brave boy, this Halloween give him a cheer. And maybe even an extra piece of candy for his mom. She deserves it.

The F***-ing Fours

I like my children a lot better when I am not with them. It has nothing to do with the time then that I have to myself, such as for exploring the best lunch options in the area (Zinc Cafe on the fabulous Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach won out this week). I was also able to partake in a timely discussion at my children’s school on Raising Kids in a Device Driven World. Note, the handful of very young siblings who were brought along by mothers were all plugged into iPads or iPhones. (I decided it best not to make a snarky comment on the irony, as that is no way to begin friendships in a new community). I attempted to donate blood but was thwarted by my travels to Mexico last spring. Apparently the area around Cancun is now considered a Malaria risk– though my lack of any extreme fever leads me to believe that my blood is actually desirable. And I also participated in a friendly tennis tournament for Breast Cancer Awareness (more later on my reversal of retirement from the sport). How easily I can combine selfish time with selfless acts when unencumbered by children!

No, I like my kids better because I have to believe that they are at their best when I am not in their presence. Just yesterday I asked my son’s teacher if he is always as pleasant as he is at pick-up, or is it just when I walk into the room. She confirmed the latter– fortunately for everyone else.

I’m simultaneously envious of and repulsed by the starlets who incessantly tweet about how in love they are with their babies. Clearly Kristin Cavallari is years away from being called Didiot by her son. Oh yes, at least mine is clever enough to add a consonant at the beginning of “idiot” so that he is not technically saying a naughty word, or so he reasons.

There has to be a bright spot in this madness. I know there is because my daughter was no picnic at four, five and even into six. Now she has terrific moments where she really reminds us that her exceptional qualities can prevail. But my son, well, right now he has a personality that only a mother could  has to love. And for some reason being around me brings out the worst in him, very sadly. The Terrible Twos didn’t happen for us, and at three he was still quite charming. Now we are paying for those years with the F***-ing Fours! Just under six more months to go…

Come March 31st I don’t unrealistically expect a miraculous emergence from this trying phase. But with each passing day there is the promise of raising a self-sufficient, socially-conscious, critically-thinking, compassionate citizen. I look toward positive role models of talent, intellect and humanity to keep me going in these child rearing efforts. How incredibly moving is the plight of Malala Yousufzai, the bright, young Pakistani blogger who fights for her life after a brutal assassination attempt? She is just fourteen. She is a mere seven and ten years older than my kids. Is it possible that my oft whiny, moody, snotty children can evolve in just a handful of years into mature, admirable, inspiring leaders? That may be a stretch, but dreams are meant to be lofty. We’ll keep working on taming the Didiot-shouting beast.

And above all we’ll keep sending our best wishes for Malala Yousufzai’s recovery.