Jan 212012
 

This was just posted over on Huffington. Thought we might want it here, too. You Monkees have a wonderful weekend. ENJOY EVERY MOMENT. The weekends go so fast….

I recently heard a vicious radio debate between women who believe that mothers should stay home and others who believe that mothers should work outside the home. All the debaters were mothers themselves.

As I listened wearily while ducking and dodging the ladies’ sucker punches like a cornered boxer, I thought… this is really getting old.

I’ve been both a “working” and a “stay-at-home” mom so I’ve experienced both sides of the internal and eternal debate moms endure all day, every day. When I worked outside my house, Mommy Guilt rode shotgun with me each morning, chiding me for dropping off my sick boy at day care instead of keeping him home and for rocking him the night before instead of preparing for work. When I got to work each day Mommy Guilt whispered that a good mom would still be at home with her son and when I returned home she’d insist that a better teacher would have stayed at work longer. When I’d visit girlfriends who stayed home, Mommy Guilt would say “See… this lady’s doing it right. Her kids are better off than yours are.” And Mommy Guilt certainly had a lot to say when Chase’s day care provider admitted that he had taken his first steps while I was working. Every night when I finally got Chase to sleep, finished grading papers, and collapsed into the couch, Mommy Guilt would snuggle up next to me and sweetly say “shouldn’t you spend some quality time with your husband instead of checking out?” And finally, before I fell asleep each night, Mommy Guilt would whisper in my ear, “YOU KNOW, THE ONLY WAY YOU’RE GOING TO BE A GOOD MOTHER AND WIFE IS IF YOU QUIT YOUR JOB AND STAY HOME.”

And so now I’m a stay-at-home mom. And the thing is that Mommy Guilt stays home with me. These days I experience her less as a drive-by-shooter and more as a constant commentator. Now she sounds like this:

“Did you go to all three of those college classes just so you could clean the kitchen and play Candy Land all day? And how is it that you don’t even do those things very well? Can you concentrate on nothing? Look at this mess! A good mom would clean more and play less. Also, a good mom would clean less and play more. Also a good mom would clean more and play more and quit emailing altogether. Additionally, I’ve been meaning to ask if you’re sure you feel comfortable spending so much money when you don’t even make any. Moreover, when was the last time you volunteered at Chase’s school? What kind of stay at home mom doesn’t go to PTA meetings or know how to make lasagna? Furthermore, nobody in this house appreciates you.”

My favorite, though, is that when I finally do sit down, concentrate on one of my kids, and read a few books all the way through… instead of saying “Good job!” Mommy Guilt says, “See how happy your daughter is? You’re home all day…why don’t you do this more often?”

And of course, before I go to sleep every night she whispers… “YOU KNOW, MAYBE YOU’D BE A BETTER MOTHER AND WOMAN IF YOU COULD JUST GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND WORK.”

Mommy Guilt is like that scene from “Liar Liar” in which Jim Carrey enters a bathroom, throws himself against the walls, slams his head into the toilet, and rubs soap into his eyes. When a confused observer asks what on Earth he’s doing he says, “I WAS KICKIN’ MY ASS! DO YA MIND?”

I understand the act of kicking one’s own ass. I do it all the time.

What I don’t understand is why some ladies insist on making everything worse by kicking each other’s asses.

To the women who argue vehemently that all “good mothers” stay at home: Are you nuts? If you got your way, who would show my daughters that some women actually change out of yoga pants and into scrubs and police uniforms and power suits each day? How would my girls even know that women who don’t feel like carrying diaper bags can carry briefcases or stethoscopes instead…or also? How, pray tell, could I tell them with a straight face that they can grow up to be whatever they want to be?

And to the women who argue that all stay home mothers damage women’s liberation: Are you nuts? Aren’t you causing some damage by suggesting that we all must fit into a category, that women are a cause instead of individuals? And doesn’t choosing to spend your limited time and energy attacking “us” set “us” back? But for argument’s sake, what if you got your way and every mother was required to work outside of the home? What would that mean to ME? Who would volunteer to lead my son’s reading group at school, host his class party, plan his Sunday school lesson or wait with him in the parking lot when I forget to pick him up? Who would watch my daughter while the baby gets her shots? Who would knock on my door and tell me that my keys are still in the front door, the doors to my van are open, and my purse is in the driveway?

And if every woman made the same decision, how would my children learn that sometimes motherhood looks like going to work to put food on the table or stay sane or share your gifts or because you want to work and you’ve earned that right. And that other times motherhood looks like staying home for all of the exact same reasons.

As far as I can tell, no matter what decision a woman makes, she’s offering an invaluable gift to my daughters and me. So I’d like to thank all of you. Because I’m not necessarily trying to raise an executive or a mommy. I’m trying to raise a woman. And there are as many different right ways to be a woman as there are women.

So, angry, debating ladies… here’s the thing. My daughter is watching me AND you to learn what it means to be a woman. And I’d like her to learn that a woman’s value is determined less by her career choices and more by how she treats other women, in particular, women who are different than she is. I’d like her to learn that her strength is defined by her honesty and her ability to exist in grey areas without succumbing to masking her insecurities with generalizations or accusations. And I’d like her to learn that the only way to be both graceful and powerful is to dance among the endless definitions of the word woman… and to refuse to organize women into categories, to view ideas in black and white, or to choose sides and come out swinging. Because being a woman is not that easy, and it’s not that hard.

And speaking of “Liar Liar” – angry debating ladies . . . when you yell about how much peace you have with your decisions, it just doesn’t ring true. The thing is, if you’re yelling, I don’t believe that you’ve got it all figured out. I don’t even believe that YOU believe you’ve got it all figured out. I think your problem might be that you’re as internally conflicted as the rest of us about your choices. But instead of kicking your own ass, you’ve decided it’d be easier to kick ours.

Which is tempting, but also wrong.

So, maybe instead of tearing each other up, we could each admit that we’re a bit torn up about our choices, or lack thereof. And we could offer each other a shoulder or a hand. And then maybe our girls would see what it really means to be a woman.

911

Jan 142012
 

 

 

When Tish was three weeks old, I peeked into her bassinette one morning and discovered that she was blue.

I punched Craig awake, and he looked at Tish and ran to the bathroom to vomit on his way to the kitchen to call 911. He returned to the bathroom with the phone while I held baby blue and lost my freaking mind. Craig connected with the 911 operator and screamed her directions to me from the bathroom. “Is she still blue?” YES. “Is she breathing?” I DON’T KNOW. “Hold your mouth to her ear.” WHAT? “THE LADY SAYS TO HOLD YOUR MOUTH TO HER EAR. HURRY UP! ” “All right,” I said.

Three minutes later, when the paramedics burst into our bedroom, this is how they found us: Craig was in the bathroom holding the phone with one hand and the toilet with the other, I was hunched over Tish on my bed, eating her ear. There was a moment in which everyone stared at each other and no one moved or spoke. One EMT broke the bewildering silence by stepping forward and saying, “Ma’am, give us the baby.” I was afraid to stop the life saving function the mouth to ear maneuver was serving, so I kept my mouth firmly in place and replied as clearly and with as much authority as a panicked idiot with a mouthful of baby ear can muster…”OKAY, BUT MAKE SURE YOU KEEP YOUR MOUTH ON HER EAR.”

After the embarrassing ambulance ride during which the EMTs asked me very hard questions that a terrified mother should never be expected to answer , like “when is your daughter’s birthday?” we arrived at the hospital and the doctor reviewed the events of the morning. At one point she asked, “Did you check her breathing? “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, did you put your ear to her mouth and listen? “ OH, I said.

OOOOOOOH.



Fast forward three and a half years. Tish is complaining that her cheek “huwts vewy bad.” This cheek report usually indicates that an ear infection is on its way, so I lay her on the couch and call Craig. I tell him we probably have a sick kid and that he should cancel his “Networking Event” (Happy Hour with other guys who also happen to have jobs) and come home instead.

Right after I hang up, Tish screams, and as I lay her in my lap, I notice that she is burning up. Then she starts convulsing. When her body stills, I stare at my horrified son who stares back at my immobile, helpless, planless self. Chase runs to the freezer to get the Elmo ice pack, which is the only strategy we have to fix anything . As soon as Chase holds the Elmo pack to Tish’s head, she starts convulsing again. I tell Chase to dial 911, since that’s what we do when Elmo doesn’t work. Elmo, then ambulance. It’s all we’ve got.

Chase hands me the phone and when I hear the operator ask “What is your emergency?” I describe what my baby looks like at the moment, what she sounds like, what she feels like. I fight the urge to start sucking Tish’s ear. I watch Amanda crawl up the stairs and start fiddling with the electric socket on the landing, grateful that Elmo’s already within reach.

The operator asks me impossible questions again, like “What is your daughter’s name?” and the dreaded “When is your daughter’s birthday?” which by the way, is February 9, 2006. I know because I have begun writing it on my hand every morning, just in case. Since I hadn’t started the hand writing routine yet though, I repeat to the operator “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” The only question I ask her is “Where the HELL is my husband?” She doesn’t know, which is a shame, but also might not be a totally fair question.

We continue this back and forth of unanswered questions for four long minutes, at which point the EMTs arrive in my family room with my panicked husband right behind them. I feel both relieved that help has arrived and embarrassed that there is an entire box of cheerios on the carpet. Earlier that day, I discovered that if I spread the baby’s snack all over the floor of the family room, she would have to crawl around and find it. This would mean that it would take her much longer to eat and I could sit on the couch for an extra ten minutes. I felt like a genius at the time, but now my cheerio plan meant that there was a sound track to Tish’s rescue effort, consisting of black boots crunching cheerios as the harmony and three screaming children as the melody. But mostly, I don’t care. Help has arrived. I’m not in charge, or the most experienced, or the most expected to have a plan anymore. In short, I’m officially not responsible, which is all I’ve ever really wanted.

So I just start breathing and hold my baby and follow directions… and I even remember to tell Chase “it’s going to be okay, honey” which makes me feel very selfless and grown up. And this time when the EMT’s tell me to get into the ambulance, I don’t sneak away to put on a headband and refresh my powder first, which makes me feel very efficient and unfrivolous, like a real mom. And as my pes de resistance…in the ambulance I resist the urge to stab myself in the arm with a syringe in the hopes that it might be a tranquilizer, which is such a sober and rational thing not to do that I decide it totally makes up for the unknown birthday issue. Besides, shouldn’t 911 have my kids’ birthdays on record by now? Jeesh.

In the ambulance, The EMT gives Tish a fever reducer which stops her seizures and calms her down. She falls in love with the ER, especially the Tylenol with Codeine, and asks for seconds. This makes me more nervous than the seizures did. She is her momma’s girl. She cries when she learns that we have to ride home in the van instead of the ambulance. I assure her with me for a momma, she will undoubtedly be back in another ambulance within the year, not to worry.

When Craig picked us up at the ER, he remembered our punch card; and I think we only need four more punches till we get our set of free steak knives. 12 hours later all was back to normal (as we know it) in Casa de Melton. When Tish demanded to wear her tap shoes to her follow up appointment the next morning, I knew we were in the clear.

Our ER stories are comforting to me. They remind me to be grateful for the incredible privilege of raising my kids in this country. In America, if one of your babies gets sick, and you are terrified and helpless with nothing better up your sleeve than Elmo, you can summon a team of heroes who will drop everything to race into your home, crunching cheerios and stepping over dolls, with the singular goal of making your baby better. They will tell you and your children that everything is okay now because they have arrived…and they will whisk you away to a clean, safe hospital where another team of experts will nurse your baby back to health and and patiently talk you down from the ledge upon which you are still panicking. One might even give your baby a teddy bear made by a community volunteer or offer a steady hand to calm the fear. This is all that matters, I think. If your child gets hurt or sick, you will have the best help available on Earth. Millions of mothers around the world are on their own. Today as I relive these stories that have already become family folklore, I thank God for the gift of perspective. I’ve spent a lot of time grumbling about money, the economy, the state of the country. These memories put me in my rightful place… knee deep in Cheerios and gratitude.

 

 

Jan 122012
 

 

Craig came home with this the other day.

 

 

 

It’s a new vacuum. An unsolicited new vacuum.

Back story:

Like cooking, I consider vacuuming to be something that show-offy people do. And also people who are not quite as deep and sentimental as I am.

The floors in my home read like a history of our family. In that corner you might find a pile of special Cheerios and under that rug you’ll find glitter from a family Christmas project. It’s lovely, really. And since I am incapable of ordering pictures or assembling family photo albums, Craig and I just sit on the couch in the evenings, gazing from pile of floor crap to pile of floor crap, reminiscing. We find this quite special and creative. But if you are the vacuuming type, I don’t want you to feel badly. I’m just suggesting that kids grow up fast, so you might want to consider setting aside some floor memories. That’s all.

Several years ago, I started suspecting that my friends had different beliefs about vacuuming and memory-keeping. It seemed they were opposed to using floors as scrapbooks, because their carpets always had those fancy lines in them. You know the lines to which I’m referring? Those fresh, show-offy, “I just vacuumed” lines? So I started getting a little uncomfortable about my un-liney carpets. Now, one might predict that this discomfort led me to re-evaluate my vacuuming boycott, but one might predict wrong. I find my vacuum to be very heavy and ugly and inconducive to relaxing. There is nothing that leads me into a cursing tirade faster than trying to lug my vacuum up two flights of stairs. And Jesus said: if your vacuum causes you to curse, gouge it out . . . or something like that. So actually becoming a real- life vacuumer wasn’t an option, since I love Jesus. (If you do vacuum, I’m not trying to suggest that you don’t love Jesus. I assume it’s possible to do both. I’m just saying it’s not likely. Not likely at all. )

In any case, it was becoming clear that I needed to start thinking creatively about this vacuuming issue.

One day I was watching Tish stroll her baby-doll around the family room in a little pink baby stroller. And when my gaze fell to the floor behind her I noticed that the stroller wheels were making perfect lines across the carpet. Perfect, fancy “I just vacuumed” looking lines. And I thought…CHA-CHING!

For the last three years, before company arrives, before Craig comes home from a trip, every time I feel like playing dutiful housewife, I call Tish and ask her if she’d like to take her baby for a walk. And Tish says, “A reg-a-lar walk or a careful walk, mommy?” And I say, “A careful walk, honey.” When she was two, I taught Tish that a careful walk is when you stroll your baby back and forth across the carpet in such a way that the stroller lines run perfectly parallel to each other. . . back and forth, back and forth, back and forth . . . you see where I’m going with this. And so for three wonderful years, mommy sat on the couch and cheered for Tish while she and her baby-doll vacuumed.

And Craig would always come home and say, “WOW! You vacuumed!” with the same proud tone he uses when I cut a tomato all by myself. And I would just smile and bat my eyelashes coyly but never answer directly because honesty is very important to me.

It was a miracle, really. Except that one night I saw Craig looking quizzically at my carpet lines . . . and I realized with terror that he was finally noticing that my fancy lines were completely surrounded by our usual piles of floor crap.

I had anticipated that this might be the fly in the ointment. So I real quick mumbled something like “Stupid vacuum’s broken. But nice lines, huh? Look! Shark Week is on!” I have been mumbling variations of those sentences for three years now. With great success.

So when Craig walked in the house recently with this surprise vacuum, I was suspicious that he was suspicious.And so I watched his face verrrry closely. And right after he said, “Look! This will make life so much easier! I hate for you go to all that trouble with that broken vacuum and never get the results you want . . .” I noticed a faint smirk and an itty bitty centimeter of an eyebrow-raise. It was almost imperceptible. But I saw it. And so my first thought was . . . He knows. He knows about the stroller vacuuming. The jig is up.

But I recovered quickly. And my second thought was: Oh. The poor guy really doesn’t know who he’s messing with here. He has grossly underestimated the depths to which I am prepared to sink to preserve my way of life. He just doesn’t know.

The other day, after Craig left for work, I told Tish that I had a surprise for her. I announced that since she was such a big girlnow, it had become time to pass down her itty bitty baby stroller to Amma, because I had bought her a brand new, big girl stroller. I explained that big girl strollers look very, very different than little girl strollers and even make big noises like cars! Because big girl strollers have engines.

Time for a careful walk, baby. Back and forth. Back and forth.

 

 

Your move, Hub Dog.

 

Love,

G