About Me

San Francisco, California
I am Ethan and Chase's Mama and my man's Sugar. I have flown a plane, driven a race car, and been pushed out of a train. I have swum with dolphins, climbed the Untersberg, and thrown tortillas in more than one location. I have great arms and a law degree. I hate housework. I can't iron. I love my dustbuster because I occasionally allow my kids to eat off of the floors. I wish I were taller and for my boys to grow up in a peaceful world.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lost it

I bugged out today. I unloaded the baby onto my husband, dodged my sick toddler's requests for more, more, more attention because his little lungs have been working too hard and his nose is raw from blowing and his throat is sore from coughing, and I ran out the door. I had thrown a jog bra and t-shirt in the car. My pants had been coated with my toddler's snot. Earlier I had managed to take them off and to put on a cleanish pair of shorts. I got in the car. At the first intersection I yelled at the driver across from me for letting me go first. It was his right-of-way. The a--hole was going to cause an accident being considerate like that.

I drove to the open space to, to, I didn't know. I just needed out. I wanted exercise, but I was sick so I didn't want to tax my body further. My resources from skin to spirit were completely sapped. How could I go hiking too? But spending money would have made me feel guilty and would not have filled the sink hole inside me that was taking me under. I parked in the lot and texted my location to my husband. He wrote back, "Chase is asleep. Take your time." Then instead of jumping out into the fresh air, I stared back into my tiny blackberry and started texting back: "I hate myself for running out like that..." but because I have the social rather than the professional blackberry, the keys share letters and it came out "I gate myself...."

I laughed. Got out of the car. Then I had to face my feelings that had grown dangerous like unfettered jungle vines, curling around my neck and tying my limbs to me so I would fall, unable to catch myself, and finally succumb to strangulation.

It had started simply, I had gotten overly tired. Husband traveling again. Sick kid. Baby still not sleeping through the night. Nursing. Co-op nursery school obligations. Wanting to get back to work and taking on a small project, but getting the sense that the household could not tolerate any new responsibilities, therefore feeling that what I want is totally unreasonable and selfish. Sick husband. Sick self, but not resting because, who am I kidding? If I don't do whatever "it" is, then it won't get done. Not taking breaks in the evening. Not asking for help overnight. No down time on the weekends.

The signs in my life went from mild yellow yeild symbols to the traffic cop blowing a shrill whistle and holding up a gloved hand in front of my face yelling, "STOP!!" But I didn't. Instead I put the sick toddler in time out for not eating his oatmeal (duh, his throat hurt). I stopped talking to the baby. I just held him on my hip as I numbly walked through the house, picking up everybody else's crap. I'd try to be nice when my husband got home, but within the hour I was taking cheap shots at him. "You forgot to turn on the dishwasher again." "Is there a reason why there's no toilet paper in the bathroom?" "Remember the time when you told me a half-truth? Well I still remember it. And I'm still mad." (And I'm bringing it up again to try to make you feel half as miserable as I do right now.)

I blew past that mental traffic cop. Ethan had been coughing and clinging. I was scared to death that he was too sick again. Last year, I had missed the worsening symptoms of his croup only to have the pediatrician call an ambulance to drive him to the ER so he could breathe. So, on top of all my other failings, I thought, I'm a really incompetent parent. Who misses the breathing problem? I did.

This time I HAD to take him into the doctor. Today. This morning. Despite the fact that there was no wheezing in his chest, he had a productive cough, no fever, and was rough-housing with his dad. His dad, who has lived with asthma, told me that the kid was okay and that he would help. He would take Ethan to the doctor on Monday. This could wait. It could. Calm down. It's okay.

But I would not calm down. "He doesn't get it!" I ranted in my head. "Ethan will get worse. And then my week will only get harder even if his dad does take the hour to get him to the doctor on Monday. It will be me giving him the breathing treatments on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Me holding him in the middle of the night after the baby has just gotten back to sleep. Me scrambling to find a sub at the nursery school because we have to be absent again. It will be harder on me." So I grabbed the toddler and toted him to the car. I shoved him in his carseat. "Wet diaper!" he whined. I ignored him. "Wet Diaper!" he said louder this time, as he squirmed.

"We'll change it in the office, I growled.

"NOOOOO!" he protested, kicking and arching his back.

That was when I felt that last straw snap. Can't. Deal. With. One. More. Wet. Diaper.

I sucked in sharply. The yell was in the back of my throat. I am sure that my lips were snarled, eyes angry. I was inches from his little face, which expressed to me in that split second that I was going to do harm if I let that yell out. Only then, I finally realized the danger I had put myself and my children in. I was too tired to make good decisions. I was too tired to take care of my kids. I had been ignoring my needs for too long and was completely exhausted. I almost yelled at my two-year old because he had a reasonable need that I did not want to hear about.

On autopilot, I unbuckled my son. Wordlessly I carried him into the house and plopped him onto my bed, leaving my husband's questions unanswered. I changed the boy. I let him go. I picked up the baby who was fussing in the next room. I gave him to my husband and then I fled.

"I gate myself." I thought again as I started on the hiking trail. Hate was too strong. I had put myself through enough already, so I decided not to say that word. "I gate myself for letting it get to this point. I saw the signs. I chose to ignore them. My husband wanted to help. I shut down. Shut him out. I almost screamed at Ethan for being wet!"

I cried, and I walked, and then I noticed the autum colors smattered on the leaves fallen or still dangling from the trees. The air felt good. The strangle that I had felt around my neck was looser, but I could still feel the viney fingers. "Something has to change," I said aloud. I ticked off solutions. 1. Have husband do night feedings; 2. Cut back on sugar intake; 3. Exercise every day; 4. Schedule time to get away and then have the discipline to take it; 5. Go to sleep. I felt better.

Then I went home. I heard how sick my husband was. I felt how tired I still was. I wiped Ethan's nose. I held Chase. This was going to be hard, still, for a while. I am grateful that I took a break today, but I need more.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How do I keep my boys safe from the mean kids?

I keep revisiting a terrible memory. I was in the second grade at a Catholic school. The school was one long block away from my home. Sometimes I walked to school with a little boy who lived half-way between the school and my house. Like me, he was small. He was also quiet and good-natured. We weren't particularly close - I don't think I ever went to his house for a play date - but we got along and were classmates. Since we were going the same way to and from school, we simply went together.

He was tormented by the other boys in the class. My friend, I'll call him Nicholas, wasn't a fast runner. I remember him tripping over his feet a bit more than the average kid. I recall he was not especially bright, but not behind academically. Sometimes he showed up at school dirty, his hair uncombed, maybe with his nose running. I did not know much about his family, only that he had a little sister and one of his mother's legs was shorter than the other. When she walked the kids to school I could recognize them from a distance because of her lopsided gait. His dad had a blue-collar job. My dad was a professional. These kinds of distinctions between families were important to my mom. She made sure that my siblings and I knew about them, even when we quite young.

I don't remember if the teasing started in the earlier grades, or if it started out mildly and then got worse. I do know that he was regularly picked on. He startled easily, as if always afraid that someone would take a cheap shot at him from behind. They did that, by the way, flicking his ears and kicking him when he wasn't looking. Cowards.

One day, a group of boys really went after him. They were on the playground. I was on the blacktop. I saw maybe four of them running after him, kicking him, tearing his clothes, and eventually pulling him down into the gravel. I watched as he screamed "NO! NO! NO!" over and over. I don't remember how it ended. I don't remember an adult's involvement. But the sound of his screams and the vision of him beaten with his clothes torn are burned onto my brain.

We did not walk home together that day. I didn't tell my parents what I had seen until I tried to go to sleep that night. Only then, I could not stop crying about it. I told my mom. I named names. I still remember who two of the bullies were. My mom called the teacher that evening. I heard her on the phone but could not understand the conversation. I fell asleep.

Nicholas and I stopped walking together soon after the incident. I guess it was because we were getting to that point in childhood where girls have to play with (and walk with) girls, and boys with boys. Nicholas was never beaten up on school grounds again, to my knowledge. He was still teased. He continued on with these kids through the 12th grade. I actually left the school after the 6th because, imagine this, the social pressure from the girls in my grade was wreaking havoc on my self esteem. I am eternally grateful to my parents for taking me seriously when I told them I wanted to go to the public school. They let me go (and on a silly side note, I met my husband there!)

But now that I have two little boys, I can't forget how one sweet childhood friend was targeted by bullies. These bullies were little kids themselves. How do I keep my boys safe from the mean kids?

My eldest is a gentle boy, similar to my childhood friend. I hate that I worry about him, thinking that I am selling him short, but in order to sleep at night I try to make a list of Nicholas' differences from my kids. I rationalize that they aren't like him so they won't suffer the same fate.

My eldest is bright and extroverted; he will introduce himself to anyone and tell them that he's 2. My baby, I'm not yet sure of, but he seems to have a little linebacker in him. Nicholas was average, quiet, and not inclined to sports. Did he have a mild speech impediment? Or am I inventing that memory to make his difference more distinct?

What about differences in his family and upbringing? Was his dad involved? Did his mother give him attention? Too much attention? Did all her loving him make him too gentle? Are my hugs and kisses making my boys too soft? Do I need to sign them up for karate instead of Music Together? Was it the mother's difference? If I keep myself fit and in make-up, will it be easier on my kids? Is it the money? Would more money help? And what of the runny noses? If I never send my kids to school dirty, then will that be enough?

I know this sounds crazy. My kids will have runny noses. There will be mornings when I will have to send them to school with their hair looking like a rat's nest and with a handful of Cheerios for breakfast. I have a penchant for baked goods, so my fitness as the years tumble forward is far from guaranteed. Sure, we could try karate. But I'm not going to stop kissing my boys from top to bottom, letting them wear my high heals and paint with my make-up, teaching them to cook with me in the kitchen, and singing with them for as long as they will let me.

Then again, for the sake of keeping them safe from the mean kids, should I? Toughen them up, I mean. My husband tries to allay my fears by explaining that all kids lose their innocence; all kids are teased for something. But not all kids are beat up. The teasing, as painful as that can be, doesn't keep me up at night. It's the Lord of the Flies stuff, the death of the kid with asthma and glasses at the hands of other kids because he couldn't keep up or acted differently.

I want my kids to be who they are. I want to celebrate their uniqueness. But I'm scared to do it. I'm finding that I want to make little normaltons out of them because I am so afraid that they will get hurt.

How do I let this go?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Excuse me, I seem to have misplaced my modesty

I peed in front of a perfect stranger the other day. It wasn't my fault. It was Ethan's.

Actually, it was partly my fault. I had been drinking coffee all morning and running errands. By the time I found parking it was already a code red situation. I still had to get the baby out of the car seat, grab the books I was taking to the bookshop, and walk the block and a half to the bookshop.

I made it to the shop. There is only one toilet in this place. It's not like you walk through a heavy outer door especially for women then once inside choose an enclosed stall. This place has just a little bathroom adjacent to an open area. It's a door that you go through and inside there's a sink and a toilet. Like in your house. Thank god the bathroom was free. I cannot imagine (okay, I just did. Agh!!) how much worse this could have been if someone else had been in there. No amount of kegels after pregnancy and birth could have repaired my pelvic floor well enough to give me another 30 seconds. I had to go RIGHT NOW.

I entered the windowless bathroom with Ethan. The light was broken. The reason the light was broken is because Ethan and I had broken it the week before. It's one of those naked lightbulbs in the middle of the ceiling with a chain that hangs down. You pull the chain to turn the light on and off. I let Ethan pull it last week. He baredly tugged on it but the damn thing still came clear off. Oops.

So I left the door open a sliver lest we be plunged into total darkness, put Ethan down, and sat. Ethan promptly pulled the door wide open and ran out into the bookshop.

ETHAN! I yelled. And then Sooorry to the clerk, who had the unfortunate view of my perch.

There was nothing I could do. I certainly couldn't stop. I couldn't reach the door. So I just went right on peeing in full view of anyone who dared to be in the bookshop at the time. Gratefully, it was just the clerk and my wild boy.

When I came out I told the clerk, uhh, the light's broken in there.

Yeah, she answered, some woman came in last week and yanked it really hard.

Lies!! I thought. That ridiculous light was decrepit when we found it! But I kept this to myself.

Then I sold my books and read Ethan a huge truck book half his size that he brought over to me with both hands. I walked out of there holding Ethan's hand like nothing had happened. Who needs modesty?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Excuse me, mama, while I kiss the sky

Parenting in San Francisco definitely has its perks. One of them is the abundance of very cool places to play. Although our urban playgrounds may be bound by metal fences and bordered by busy streets, they tend to have just enough green to soften the city's concrete landscape. Somehow nature creeps in. Ethan and I found ourselves surrounded by natural beauty the other day at the Upper Noe playground.

This playground is new and well attended by kids Ethan's age. It has a sand circle, a play structure with slides of varying heights, and swings. It also has a wild, spinning, Christmas-tree looking thing that Ethan L-O-V-E-S.

The Christmas-tree thing is just a big cone. It has a wide round platform on the bottom with a tall pole stuck through the middle. Spider-webby ropes string up from the outside rim of the platform to the top of the pole. Big kids monkey up the outside of the ropes while the thing is spinning. Little ones like Ethan have to wait for it to stop. Then they crawl through the rope on the bottom and enjoy the circular ride. Sometimes Ethan gets up and runs in the direction opposite of the spin. I think he might knock himself out colliding with another kid or that the centripetal force of the thing will send him shooting out of the ropes. It makes me nervous. So while he's in it I run along outside like a tethered pony in a ring, but not really like a pony because I trip around and around and around sideways so I can be ready to catch Ethan if he actually takes flight. I guess that's more like a galloping crab. With arms. Not only does this look as ridiculous as it sounds, it totally annoys the bigger kids who wish I would get out of the way so they can scrabble off and on at will.

Ethan tried a little bit of everything that day. He spent a few minutes in the swing, just enough time in the sand to ensure gobs of it would later end up in the stroller, and he took a few daring twirls on the Christmas tree until he was too embarrassed by his mother, I'm sure, to continue. He also enjoyed hanging from the monkey bars for as long as my biceps could take it.

Then he took to chasing pigeons. I followed him until he tried to climb under a bench after a bird. At that point I caught him up. I sat down and he stood on my lap, facing me.

Across from us there was a line of eucalyptus trees bordering the playground. They smelled good. As a gentle wind came through they made a lovely rustle. There was a young tree behind us. I don't know what kind of tree it was, but its pliable limbs stretched out close to our heads. Late afternoon sun glimmered between the low, bright green leaves. I imagined I could smell the fresh oxygen coming from the tree - it was like inhaling mountain air.

Ethan seemed to sense my ephemeral drift away from urban playground into the natural. He lifted his face upward, letting the leaves caress his cheeks. He smiled open-mouthed. I could see the sweet pink ridges of his palat and his new round teeth like little pearls budding behind his lip.

He reached his arms to the sides and up, touching the leaves. I held him by his little hips. He glanced down at me as if to say excuse me, mama. Then he tipped back again. He extended up as his whole being expressed while I kiss the sky.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I thought I broke my kid in three places

Ethan fell on his head yesterday. We were rough-housing on my bed. I usually throw him into the pillows, leave him in the middle while I run away and then full-speed run back and pounce on him. I chuck pillows at him. I lift him with my legs to do airplane. I swing him upside-down by his feet.

He yells. He giggles crazily. He throws himself into me and onto the bed. He bounces and loses his balance, little feet flying up above his body.

He loves it. I love it. We are like rambunctious puppies, spilling over each other. The wish for rough and tumble play was one of the reasons why I not-so-secretly wished for a boy when I was pregnant.

But yesterday he actually fell off the side. The top of my bed is a good two and a half feet off the ground. Ethan dove off. He was just barely outside of my reach. I missed him. I did not exactly see how he landed, but it must have been squarely on his head. He looked stunned and contorted on the ground. I thought I had broken my child in three places.

It looked like both his shoulders had been dislocated and I was terrified that his neck had been injured. Thankfully he screamed loudly right away. I consider that a good thing. I have no idea whether there are any medical grounds for this, but I think a head injury can't be that bad if the kid reacts to the pain quickly. It would be trouble, on the other hand, if he were too dazed to cry.

Oh. And by the way, my mother-in-law had witnessed the whole thing. Don't get me wrong, I love her. She's wonderful. But no mama ever wants her mother-in-law to see her as Bad Parent. Good Parents tell their kids no jumping on the bed!

I yell Bonsai! as I drop onto Ethan like a wrestler leaping off of the ropes onto a worthy opponent. Bad Parent.

As I pumped Ethan's arms and elbows, checking them for damage, held his neck, touched his back and head, asked him where it hurt, I was genuinely scared. But I was also mortified that I had been caught in the Bad Parent act. Even as the day wore on and my concern for Ethan's possible concussion waned, my fear of being judged as reckless continued. Later on the playground, as I watched nannies carefully handle their charges I thought, really, I would be fired if I ever tried to be a nanny. I imagined having to tell a potential parent-employer why I lost my last job. Dropped him on his head. No biggie.

I wonder if Ethan is safer with his nanny than with me. I wonder if I should be happy about that, or if I truly need to improve my parenting skills.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I want to look not old

Last month I attended a fundraising event at Blossom Birth, a little resource center that helps men and women transition into parenthood. The event was all about pampering moms and moms-to-be with mini spa services like aromatherapy, massage, and make-up. Having not slept for longer than 3 or so hours at a time for nearly a year, I needed a lot more than pampering. But it was a start. I signed up for as many services as I could get.

I want to look not old, I said to the pretty girl at the make-up table. She wore purple eye shadows of different shades from the bottom of her eyelids all the way to her brows. She was maybe 20-years-old. She had bright brown eyes and shiny dark hair. Her skin was flawless. She had on a little black outfit with difficult stilettos. She sort of tottered and shuffled around, unable to walk from heel to toe.

She half-laughed at my request, uneasy with what I had tasked her with. I imagined she thought something like, lady, there’s nothing I can do about your being old.

Instead of addressing my needs head-on, she apparently fell back on her trusty color scheme and asked, How do you feel about purple?

I feel fine about it, I replied. Why not? I thought. It might make me look not old.

Pretty in Purple went to work on me. Eye liner. Shadow. More shadow. More shadow. And ten minutes later, voila! She gave me the mirror.

Here’s the sad truth, I really had expected some sort of change. A mask to hide my mama fatigue, my years in the sun without sunscreen, and my serious caffeine consumption. Instead it looked like my eyes were afraid of the rest of my face and were trying to take flight. I had distinct, groovy purple wings swooshing out from my eyelids.

It looks pretty, Purple said.

Mmmmm, I nodded politely. I looked ridiculous, but I thanked her anyway. In her own way, she had done what I had asked her to do. I definitely looked too weird to look old.

Afterwards, my weird, winged-eyes and I mingled among the other mamas. No one said anything about my daring new make-up. I didn't know whether they were quiet out of kindness or horror, but I no longer cared about what they might think. I was feeling grateful for the chance to feel good and different. I had an artist paint a mendhi flower on my hand. I sipped too much coffee. I ate one of those monster chocolate chip cookies. I visited with old friends and met some new ones. I had a great time.

By the end of the afternoon, I was relaxed and happy. It felt so good to care for myself. As silly as it sounds, the purple wings around my eyes somehow lifted my spirit, even if they had not turned back the clock.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A poem about Saturdays

My son will wake me early
wanting his milk and cuddle.

I’ll hold him then we’ll stroll
down to the market
in the spare lot.

He’ll chomp on pluots, tomatoes,
and apricots, his favorite.
Using his 7 little teeth.
Juice running down his chin.

We’ll buy fresh eggs, lemon basil,
red and white carrots. Strawberries.
Maybe some chard.

I will eat a scone.
Sweet, crumbling, filling me.
Give my son a taste
as he toddles through the stalls.

Walking home. Uphill.
He sleeps. I sweat.
Hoping this activity
balances my proclivity
for eating pastries.

Swim lessons are next.
Daddy with the baby.
Me in the big pool
back and forth
back and forth
breathing left
then it is time to help Daddy
with the wet baby in the swim diaper.

Back home I can rest.
Or prep vegetables.
And dream of someday having
a Kitchen Aid
to keep alongside
my Dustbuster.