La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for February 2011

Whenever Bambina tells me that someone is pretty or cute or good-looking, I always follow up with my now-expected Mama interrogatory bromide: “Cute on the inside, the outside or both?” I know it’s almost a joke at this point, along the lines of, “We don’t use the word ‘hate’ in this house” or “because I said so” as far as Things Your Parents Say That You Can Lip-Synch Simultaneously go. But I ask because I want her to understand that someone can look beautiful but be awful, and that someone can look not so beautiful but be beautiful. I want her to wonder about the nature of beauty, “Do I like this person because everyone else says she is pretty or because *I* think s/he is good-looking? Do I think s/he’s cute based only on looks or on how s/he treats others?”

With that in mind, I was up late the other night and randomly clicked on a show called Toddlers and Tiaras. It has been on for a while so I’m aware that I’m not ploughing new ground here in mentioning it. But if you have not seen it, you really, truly MUST. It’s a show about the child pageant industry. Each episode features 3 kids competing in a particular pageant somewhere in America. The show I viewed had an 8 year-old who knows “I am the prettiest girl ever,” a 4 year old who screams and cries that she does not want to do a photo shoot, then at her mom’s urging turns on the best, brightest, most chilling and disturbing smile you’ve ever seen, and two 1 year-old twins. Yes, that was a “1.” There are indeed pageants for one year-old babies. Babies who cannot walk or speak or possibly comprehend what they are doing, but hey–they can win a prize for prettiest, so USA #1!! W00t!

I was deeply disturbed by the one year-old twins being flown all over the country and dressed in ludicrous outfits and paraded in front of strangers for money. I was more disturbed by the unbearable 4 year-old from Louisiana who had a mouth and an attitude like a trucker, and the obvious developmental abilities of, well, a four year-old. The child needed a nap; no nap was had. The child needed her binkie; momma had hidden it because it was not good for her makeup pre-pageant. The child did not want to get her picture taken for the shoot; she was made up, dressed up, and cajoled until she caved, offering a winning smile that lasted only the necessary .04 seconds for the camera. However, I was most disturbed by the 8 year-old girl who was obsessed with her own beauty. “I am so pretty!” was perhaps her mantra. She was nasty about other participants, hair-trigger angry if she didn’t win every category, and just shockingly and cruelly overaffirmed in all the wrong ways.

So how does this show exist? Because, as with all kiddie shipwrecks, we have fucked-up parents at the helm, don’t we? Or course we’ll start with the moms, all of whom (as a friend said) “aren’t exactly the pick of the litter.” Before you send hate mail to me for being catty, hear me out. I grew up a fat kid. I grew up an average looking girl. I was by no means ugly, but let’s be honest: there are the beautiful girls and there are all the other girls. It’s not a depressive self-hating thing to know–and say–that you weren’t one of those girls in the rareified world of blockbusterdom. Most of us weren’t, right? So don’t send me mail about bad self-esteem either. It’s just a fact: we’re all beautiful in our own way (that’s the mom talking), but some girls are just, aesthetically, prettier than others by our society’s standards. Right? I’m not preaching some new gospel here. Hate it if you want, but it’s the truth and you know it. So, as a former (and sometimes current depending on my meds) fattie, I completely understand what it must feel like to look at your [societally-affirmed] beautiful child and think, “Wow, you are going to have a completely different life experience than I did based solely on your looks.” I might also understand that little itch inside you that wants you to relive or redo something via your child. These are all human emotions that I understand. What I don’t understand is how a mother (in the case of the 8 year old) can so inflate her daughter’s perception of her own beauty to the exclusion of all else that the child becomes a repulsive creature to behold. I watched this little girl go on and on about how gorgeous she is, and how no one is prettier and how everyone else is just jealous, and I heard the sad, mad, thwarted voice of the child her mother used to be. This little girl’s (ie, her mom’s) contempt for other pretty girls was obvious to anyone with eyes to see. This child was ugly on the inside.

Also contributing to this internal scrofulosity were the Dads. The simpering, moronic, idiot Dads. (What? You think I’d be nastier to the moms just because I’m a super-judgmental mom?) When you have a daughter, according to Chris Rock and his disciple my husband, your only job is to keep her “off the pole.” If your daughter becomes a stripper, you can go ahead and admit that you did something real wrong somewhere along the road of fatherhood. I tend to agree. Your job as a father is to ensure that you do not give your daughter any Daddy Issues. Because we all know to what long, dark and hideous roads those lead girls. Again, don’t hate. You KNOW you know girls with Daddy Issues. You KNOW them when you see them. These girls on this show were prime candidates for every Daddy Issue under the sun. My daddy constantly told me how beautiful I was. My daddy took me to contests so I could stand in front of people in different outfits and have my value judged. My daddy never emphasized that I could be validated by anything other than my appearance. These dads are going straight to hell, and with any luck their daughters won’t be dragged along with them.

Hear me out. I’m not a prude. I don’t myself get the allure of beauty pageants, but if some 18 year-old wants to don a swimsuit and say she’s for “whirled peas” or for ending hunger among “cheedren” then have at it. Like I said, USA #1! But please show me a father who wants his young daughter in a tiny outfit parading in front of strangers for the potential of money and I’ll show you a father who needs to be bitch-slapped, and hard, by another father. I have a hard enough time getting the BabyDaddy okay with Bambina’s pierced ears and occasional use of lipgloss on her birthday or days out with Gram. If I ever suggested she get a full face of makeup, throw on a tiny outfit, and go prance around in front of strangers for cash prizes, he’d have my shit on the lawn and the locks changed in about 20 minutes. He’d call the men with white coats, and he’d throw me in the nutbus to CrazyTown with his own hands.

Over-reacting? You can call it that if you want. I prefer to call it “beautiful on the inside.”

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So how’s your February vacation going? Mine is going as expected, which is to say that I have had two kids at home, some playdates, lots of lounging around and relaxing (kids, not me)…and I’ve been pooping my pants for 3/4 of it. I’m half-joking, of course. It was maybe only 2/3.

Vacation itself has been surprisingly fabulous. Bambina has been NAPPING in the afternoons. Yes, my 6 year-old who gave up naps as “babyish” at the tender age of 2.11 is now getting her snooze on as soon as Baby Sister lays down for hers. She is in heaven, even if she doesn’t always sleep. She just goes back to bed and reads and lies around and “shlumps.” Happiest girl on the block. It makes me grateful to be stay-at-home, even though I often rail (in these pages, even!) about what shit it is sometimes. I know there are a million programs and camps she could be in this week, but honestly a)they are too expensive to justify sending her when I am not currently working full-time, and b) therefore “vacation” should mean precisely that: vacation. If that means nodding off around 1pm after a chapter of Beezus and Ramona, then so be it. She has her whole adult life to work vacations and miss naps. If you are over the age of 22, you know what I mean.

Baby Sister has been the Essence of Cuteness all week, currently showing her heart surgery scar to anyone who will look. We’re in the store and –blam!–up comes the shirt, the point, the search for a fist bump. Can she get a witness?!! The unfortunate thing is that, in order to make her feel better about it immediately post-surgery when it freaked her out, I showed her that Mama has scars too. I have four of varying sizes on my chest, from the transplant central line and my various attendant immunosuppressed skin cancer removals. So, in showing off her scars, Baby Sister likes to pull my shirt down to show off mine as well. I was initially mortified, but I felt better as soon as the dude at Stop and Shop gave me a fist bump too.

So, during all of this, I apparently had a rampant norovirus that’s been cutting a swath through the northeast. Only, I did not know this. The first 2 days I thought I had a wee virus. Sucked it up. Then on days 3 and 4 I thought I had GVHD of the gut again, so I was beginning to get worried. Then by Day 5 with no letup in sight (and none of the telltale, pardon the TMI, cramping of GVH) I called my doctor because I thought I might have C. Diff, the dreaded intestinal affliction that visits itself upon you after antibiotic use. C. Diff is something you do not want to ever have, and certainly not untreated if you want to keep your colon. So off to Dana Farber I went to provide the unpleasantly-named stool sample.

This is where I invite you to click to another page, dear reader, should you not appreciate the exquisite joys of scatology. Because when I arrived at DF, after long, exhausting DAYS of what the Chinese, mercifully and politely, call “la duzi (doodzeh),” I Could Not Perform. I shit (ha!) you not. Literally couldn’t leave my house for days, but got myself into the DF loo and could not produce even a nugget. Oh, the stress! It was a one-person toilet, so I knew someone would need to get in sooner or later. And I absolutely needed to give them this sample because I did not want to end up with a destroyed colon if I did have it. And the BabyDaddy was downstairs in the cafeteria with the girls, and how much could he entertain them and for how long if I was in here for an hour trying to bring forth that which could not be named? And what if the guy in the lab came looking for me? Would I just yell, “I’m working on it!”? How does this work? How do you explain that you came in for total nausea and unrelenting explosive diarrhea but right now, at this time–this very critical time–this mother of all times of times–you got nuthin’? How can this be happening??!! This Cannot Be Happening.

So, [story redacted].
Then I turned in the sample, and BabyDaddy drove us all back home (because I was so dehydrated I was afraid to drive in case I passed out). Later, as I detailed my struggle, he said, “You know, it’s a shame they don’t have bathroom p*rn for you in there. You know, maybe some magazines with photos of giant bran muffins and huge glasses of apple juice or something.”

I laughed so hard I almost pooped my pants.

Yes, I watched the Grammys (as soon as the chill’ren were in bed).  Yes, I have many a beef with the outcomes.  No, I don’t really care, but isn’t it fun to bitch and moan about unimportant, mind-candy things now and again?

And so we begin with the love of my life, Mr. Ricky Martin.  Gay or straight, I am all about the amor for Ricky.  Listen, you don’t spend your Saturday mornings as a cartoon-watching kid practicing “tengo hambre, Menudo’s very hungry” without getting breathless over either  R. Martin or Johnny Lozada.  Ricky is the reason I managed to stay in shape back before the Dawn of Children Sucking The Life Out of My Workout Schedule.  Just try to stairmaster slowly to La Bomba; can’t be done.  Ricky is the reason the BabyDaddy put his foot down after the Grammys in 1999 (way back before there were babies or daddies in our lives) and refused to wear Ricky-style shirts I’d picked that were just that hair too tight for a straight man’s liking.  And so we come to Ricky tonight.  I give you I don’t even know what:

Dressed by committee?  The fashion version of a mullet (business in the front, party in the back)?  Victim of the worst clothing accident in history?  I simply do not know what to make of this vestido whatsoever. Ricky has always left me flustered and confused in a dreamy kind of way, but this outfit cruelly twists it,  giving me nothing but that “bad touch” feeling in my tummy.  Desgraciado, Ricky!

Next up, let me say a hearty mazel tov to Esperanza Spalding, this year’ s Best New Artist.  However, may I propose a separate category for next year:  Best New Artist You’ve Never Heard Of.  That way, the BieberFever people can get their swoon on, and the artsy, jazzy people-who’ve-heard-of-Esperanza can feel affirmed as well.  The Academy can thank me later.

Next up, I can only say that sometimes rock n’ roll should have a mandatory retirement age. Or, in Mick Jagger’s case, a mandatory must-consume-calories-so-you-don’t-gross-me-out regulation. I speak of course of the lovely Bob Dylan.  Unintelligible then, unintelligible now.  So thanks for coming out, Bob.  Come back next year for the Lifetime Achievement Award, after which you can recuperate, deviate, try not to hate, sleep in late.

And finally, I must save all my disapprobation for the odious Gwyneth Paltrow whose singing “career” tainted the otherwise inspired performance of Cee-Lo Green.  I recognize that I appear to have a personal vendetta against Mrs. Martin.  That’s because I do.  As you have gathered, I loathe many a thing. But perhaps I can countenance nothing more irritating than insincerity, which Ms. Paltrow has in spades.  One need peruse her GOOP e-zine for a only moment to understand the depths of this woman’s rank inability to just be honest about herself.  Perhaps I could be charitable and just call her offensively, comically clueless.  But take a read:  http://goop.com  She and her millionaire friends are giving me tips on how to be a better working mom! Please note that no nannies, housekeepers or other servants are mentioned in these pages.  Please show me evidence that Gwyneth actually gets her kids up and dressed and fed in TWENTY minutes, all the while having time to shower and do her butt cheek squeezes simultaneously.  Please tell me how “having a trainer come to your house” is my best option for working out.  Let’s also rule out “getting a weekly blow-out” to save time on my hair. Who TF are these women?! And why does G. Paltrow feel compelled to tell me how busy her life is–all the while failing to mention the (I’m sure) troop of caregivers for her and her family who pull the real weight.

She should just be honest: I’m effing rich and my life is “stressful” in a rich person’s kind of way.  Don’t hate, just appreciate. THAT I could get with.  Contrast with Sarah Jessica Parker who is always careful to say that she has help, that she’s lucky, that getting back into shape post-baby was hell on earth–but easier with a trainer that she recognizes other moms don’t have.  Thank you, SJP.   Thank you to Elizabeth Hurley who, when asked how she was gettting her pre-baby body back, said, “I go to bed hungry every night.”  And thank you to Simon LeBon, of my beloved Duran Duran, who during a blog post on a trip to some far-flung location answered the question of why he stays in 5-star hotels when he travels: “because you would too.”  Honesty!  Sincerity. Self-assurance.  Something Gwynnie might gain if she would only read this blog and receive my helpful advice–along with my non-famous/working/two kid/middle-income friends–on how to save money on groceries while still ensuring your kids don’t get rickets.  Retweet this, Gwynnie!  Kthxbye.

Actually, not really.  More like: “Ambivalent Equivocating Blog Post About a Book I Have Read Only in Excerpted Form.” Listen, I’m nothing if not honest.

So by now you have read about Tiger Mom Amy Chua.  You have also read (or written) the hate mail.  Or you have cried yourself to sleep at night, finally thinking you understand why kids in Shanghai are kicking your kid’s ass academically.  Or alternatively you have never heard of this woman, in which case I congratulate you on having no kids and a life!  For those of us with the precious balls-and-chains known as human children, the intertubes are LIT UP! with all kinds of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding Ms. Chua’s memoir of her parenting years.

My journey through her book (=excerpts) went thusly:  Right away one feels really grateful that they were not born or adopted to Ms. Chua.  As Chris Rock liked to say, “I told you that bitch crazy!”  As the book evolves, however, you can see what she was trying to do–and with good intentions.  But as we know from our old friend Deney Terrio, good scores for execution are the key to winning the grand prize, and Ms. Chua really fell down, IMHO, in parts of the execution.  By now the story of the Neverending Piano Lesson is legendary, in which she refused her daughter a drink or a bathroom break until she perfected a piece of music on the piano.  I’m going to go ahead and say that is a little to draconian for my parenting tastes, even though I’m all for a no excuses kind of household.  She at one point (which she freely confesses regret) called her daughter “garbage” just as her dad had done to her.  I could list story after story, but I think you get the point: The Chua house is not like you remember your house being back in the day, and it sure ain’t my house now.

But what did she say that was valuable?  Well, the notion that American parents assume fragility in their children, that not being invited to a party or not getting a prize will somehow damage them.  Chinese parents, on the other hand, she says, “”assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”  She deplores American-style parenting in which even the smallest task is met with gigantic applause and mentions of giftedness.  Tiger Mom expects effort to be put into one’s work, even if it’s a hand-drawn birthday card from her daughter (which, incidentally, she “rejected” because it had been thrown together at the last minute).

I have to confess that Ms. Chua has a point.  I have at times been guilty of assuming fragility in Bambina when none existed. Or, where it threatened, I learned that she needed to be told, “I know you can do this; I look forward to hearing about x when you get home.”  Instead of totally indulging her fears or insecurities, our goal was to acknowledge them and then move her forward with confidence.  Magically, when we began to do this, the episodes of worry, anxiety and trepidation decreased considerably.  Although Bambina has always been a sensitive, slightly anxious soul, the only way out of her perceived stressful situations was through. Obviously, sometimes the “through” was painful and not fully successful, but the mere fact of making it through was a giant victory for her.  And now?  Now she stands on the mountain of each of those little victories, a more confident, happy and efficacious kid.  Precisely the kind of child you think you are building when you are attempting to prevent the slings and arrows of life from harming them, but precisely the growth you are obstructing.

I also agree with Tiger Mom in her eschewing of constant praise for average work. I grew up in a house that was full of praise for deserved achievements, but pretty much silence on what my Dad called, “Stuff you’re supposed to do.”  So–making honor roll. NOT an achievement. Why? Because you’re supposed to get good grades.  Employee of the month at my high school job? NOT an achievement. Why? Because you’re supposed to go to work and do your best.  A car for high school graduation?  Not happening. First, because there was no “car money” available. But even if there were, it wouldn’t have been spent on me because….you’re supposed to graduate from high school!  It’s not an achievement, it’s a responsibility. It’s a fulfillment of something you are supposed to do.  I remember my Dad saying, “Do they throw your mother and I a parade for going to work every day and taking care of our kids? No.  Because that’s what grown ups are supposed to do.   Same for you.  Your job is to go to school and get good grades. No prizes for that.”  It totally sucked, of course. But looking back, he was right, and I am better for the lack of indulgence.  I try to bring a softer version of that to my life with my girls.  Gabriella routinely rushes through her homework and I routinely have to tell her to rewrite something.  I’m told that first grade homework is not a big deal and not important, but the larger point of it is to teach her to respect her work, her teacher and the process. So I know it seems a little insane to be making a 6 year-old rewrite the word “ball” in her neatest handwriting, but that’s what the work asks for, and I’m not going to tell her her work is fabulous when it’s obvious she’s phoned it in.  Even if she’s “only six.”

So what’ s my take?  I think you have a responsibility as a parent to prepare your kid for life.  As in, the place that does not stop to make sure your little snowflake feels valued and affirmed for her very average talents. At the same time I think it’s okay for our kids to be average at some things.  We’re not all sports stars or math geniuses. But we all can be the best that we can individually be.  I guess what I’m saying is that it’s okay for Bambina and Baby Sister to be average at a particular thing, be it a sport or academic or hobby activity. But it will never be okay for them to be average people.

The sweet Mr. Rogers asked that question in a positive, uplifting kind of way.  I’m asking it in the spirit of full-on bitchery, with a side order of despair.

Sometimes neighbors just, frankly, suck.  Not necessarily your next-door neighbors or your street neighbors, but your community as a whole.  For example, I have never been more disappointed in our neighborhood than this winter as I look around and see house after house with an unshoveled sidewalk.  These nice people have shoveled THEMSELVES out and fuck you to anyone else who might, you know, need the sidewalk.  Before I go ranting about my kid and her safety on the way to school  (because almost every one of the miscreants is either a senior or a no-kidder who’ll say, “who cares about your spawn anyway?”), I’ll just say two words: letter carrier.  I don’t know about you, but I totally love Rich, our mail man.  This man humps that stuff up and down our hill, be it 10 degrees or 100.  The man WORKS.  Physical labor, day in and day out, elements be damned.  And now I see him walking in the middle of the street dodging cars. Why? Because why would Bob and Alice shovel their sidewalk when they just need to shovel their own driveway to get to THEIR jobs? Or their senior center.  Whatever.

Either way, the entire phenomenon has set me off, because I see it not just as a rather rude thing to do, but as one more piece of evidence that our civil society is heading toward the shitter.  After all, why should I shovel my sidewalk when *I* don’t need it?  Because, fellow American, other people in your neighborhood DO need it.  Do I want to go check on Mrs. McDooley next door during a blackout?  Not really.  She’s a little off, and she smells like she’s smoked More cigarettes since the dawn of time.  Her home, hell even her front yard, off-gasses the odor of nicotine.  But you know what?  Over to her house we (and by “we” I mean the BabyDaddy of course) go to make sure she hasn’t broken anything in the darkness and to let her know she is not alone.  Fun?  Not particularly.  Are we eager to do it because we’re such nice people? Can’t honestly answer affirmatively.  But do we do it because that’s what neighbors do?  Yes.  So the notion that someone could absolutely shovel their sidewalk but just choose not to completely burns my butt.  Yes, I hear you telling me that not all senior citizens can shovel or that not all people can afford shovelers. Fair enough.  Our town has an app for that.  You just call them and show either financial or physical need, and they will shovel the sidewalk for you.  So, if you REALLY just can’t bring yourself to spend that extra 40 bucks or the extra hour doing it, you can always pick up the damn phone, unless that’s also too much to ask.  One serially-offending house on the corner near Bambina’s school earns the particular ire of parents because this lady absolutely could shovel her sidewalk (which, not insignificantly comprises almost a half block on two streets).  She clearly pays someone who shovel her driveway and path out.  Parents have offered to shovel for her.  No deal.  She just doesn’t think it’s a problem.  Until, god forbid, my kid is sideswiped by a car on her corner and I rain down a shitstorm of legal hurt on her for her total negligence—and her total lack of civility to her neighbors.

So I am in a lather about that when I go to Bambina’s school play, which is held in their “cafetorium,” and in which a mini-brawl breaks out between two grandmas and a dad.  Background: the custom at these shows is to put your coats on seats to save them.  It’s not generally a big deal because a) ALL the seats are not very good, so 2nd row vs. 10th row? Whatever. b) anyone whose kid is in the show has to bring the kid early, so we’re all there at the same time, and c) the show leads get the first two rows reserved for family.  I could add d) it’s an effing elementary school musical so let’s all just take a deep breath and realize that no one is curing cancer here.  But I might offend if I say that, so let’s move on.  These two ladies just moved the guy’s jackets and sat down. So he came running over to tell them that they may not realize that they are sitting in his seats; his daughter is in the show and he had saved these seats for him and his wife. These ladies get very angry, like, kind of ridiculously angry for a school play.  One said, “Well, you weren’t here.”  The other said, “The seats are ours now.”  The poor dad was incredulous, like, are you broads serious? You’re just going to move my jackets and declare these seats YOURS because…you are you and you want a seat?  So the son of one of these ladies comes over and gets into it with the dad, but you could tell he just wanted his mom and MIL to move and stop making a scene. But now he’s making a scene.  And again, the poor dad guy is trying to figure out in what parallel universe someone just comes along and moves your jackets and declares your seat theirs.  Finally the ladies moved, but it was such a disgraceful display by grownups in a school setting, being so petty and so nasty.  I mean, Baby Sister routinely flouts social convention and often takes things that are not hers.  News flash, grandmas: she’s TWO.  You all are there to presumably see your grandchildren on a very special night, so why–in the name of that special night and that special kid–are you behaving so selfishly?  Again, a little neighborliness goes a long way, but when it’s every man for himself–even at an amateur-hour (and I mean that in the nicest way, seriously) kids show–you know your community is going off the rails.

Unfortunately having kids often brings out the worst in people.  Oh yes, it’s all for the purpose of protecting your child’s interests or ensuring your child’s future. But it’s ugliness all the same.  I mean, at intermission, in line for a juice box for Bambina, one mom was pushing her son ahead of me, saying, “Go Henry, get up to the front. Get your snack.”  Oh you mean, Go Henry, cut all these nice people because obviously your snack is the most important of all these children’s.  Poor Henry can’t be blamed. He’s just being physically thrust forward by this crazy woman posing as a mother.

Which brings me to the Target bathroom.  Off the Joneses went to Target today since we were down to one diaper and one roll of TP on the entire Jones Estate.  Bambina (of course) has to use the potty, so we open the door and–hello–there is a ten, eleven year old boy in there.  Standing outside the stall next to the one we have to take.  Obviously his mom is in the stall, obviously he is mortified that he is there, and obviously she is so ridiculous that she doesn’t think her ten year old son can be left alone in a public location for 4 minutes while she pees lest he be abducted by a Target-lurking pedophile.  Please let me not make light of child abduction, friends. It is at the top of the list of my worst fears that wake me up in a cold sweat.  But I like to think that by the time Bambina is 10 or 11 that she’ll be capable of understanding and obeying, “Stand here. Don’t move. Don’t talk to anyone. If anyone touches you, scream like a motherfucker and I will personally run out here, pants down, to put that criminal dog down.  Now, here’s a stick of gum; I’ll be back in 4 or less.”  I mean, this kid soooo did not want to be there.  Much like co-ed sibling bathing, I think when your child is telegraphing discomfort, you’ve pretty much hit the limit on what you can require of him in this regard.  Unless, again, you are a crazy woman posing as a mother and you routinely make your child socially and sexually uncomfortable just so you don’t have to worry about his well-being.