Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nag, nag nag, nag nag . . . .

I swear, in my pre-mom days, I was a patient, calm, quiet person who never raised her voice, who handled conflict with serenity and aplomb, who never sweat the small stuff, who rose above petty annoyances. That was before I had to get recalcitrant kids to do homework, clean their rooms, take out the trash, practice drums/sax/voice/etc., feed the dog, rats & fish, study for an upcoming bar mitzvah, and so on - all of which take multiple reminders, and supervision, and maintenance visits to make sure one kid isn't spacing out and another isn't slacking off after 5 minutes. ("I swear, mom, I worked so hard, I need a break, and my clock says it's been 35 minutes!") I think I spent more time yesterday reminding Ben to practice drums than he actually spent at the drum set - and this is a kid who actually likes playing an instrument, I shudder to imagine the suffering of my friends whose kids resist piano lessons.

When my mom nagged me, I remember vowing, "I will NEVER bug my kids, I will teach them to be conscientious and responsible on their own." Oh, how charmingly naive I was. First of all, 'self-reliant teenager' is the ultimate oxymoron, because although they really WANT to be independent, they keep forgetting little details, like oops, that 8 a.m. call right after you've gotten home from carpool, "Mom, I forgot my lunch/spanish book/science project". And face it, their standards of cleanliness and hygiene are somewhat different from those of anyone above 18. (My friends with teenage daughters claim they have it worst, describing rooms with piles of discarded clothes from the last "I have nothing to wear" melt-down, but I defy them to complain to me after they've smelled the room of a teenage boy who gets any sort of exercise. I once picked up a pair of freshly-used tap shoes, and nearly passed out!)

So sure, I have the best intentions of staying detached, letting them suffer the consequences of a forgotten lunch, a disappointed drum teacher, a room that needs fumigating. But I'm a mom, too, and sometimes I can't help myself. I think they need a new 12-step program for moms who struggle with letting go - "Hi, I'm Lauren, I nag my kids." "Hi, Lauren!". But come to think of it, nearly every one I know would need to join.

At least now we have very public examples that make the rest of us not look so bad. Ayelet Waldman has a new book out, "Confessions of a Bad Mom", that glories in her non-perfect parenting (as well as revealing way too much information about her wild sex life as a teenager). And apparently the talk shows and blog-o-sphere are all a-buzz with a recent episode of Jon & Kate which showed her screaming at her kids not to eat so many strawberries, and commentators are debating whether she is a control freak or just a human mom with way more kids than anyone should have. So all of us who merely nag can take comfort not just in numbers, but in knowing, hey, at least no one has caught me yelling at my kids on national t.v., or talking about my sex life on a book tour. And next time my kids accuse me of being a mean mom, I'll just rent "Mommie Dearest" and hope they appreciate me for never screaming "No wire hangers" at them - sure, maybe that's because I can't find a path to their closets, and they never hang clothes up anyhow, but at least in comparison I look like the saint I used to be pre-kids!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Surprise - you're old!

My first-born turned 16 recently, and that was just the latest in a series of reminders of my own aging - roots that need touching up way more often than I can afford, having two children with hair on their legs, my own dear husband referring affectionately to his '50-something' sweetheart (I'm 50, not 50-something!). But it wasn't so much the fact of the birthday that made me feel old - it was the celebration.

Between starting his summer job and exhaustion from the end of the school year, David was too wiped out to plan anything but let me know he'd be okay with it if I took over (by saying discreetly, "Mom, just in case you feel like giving me a surprise party, I wouldn't mind, and Danielle might know who I would want to invite, because you know my guy friends are clueless about this sort of thing.") So with the help of his friend, Facebook, and a quick trip to Costco, I was ready for our house to be invaded by teenagers.

It all worked perfectly - Husband 2.0 got David out the door for a driving lesson, his friends showed up on time to help me frantically set the party up (getting 24 helium balloons out of my car, where I'd hidden everything), and he was suitably surprised (yelling something unprintable). I was definitely in the thick of things, supervising the set up, telling kids where to put their coats, suggesting good hiding places, but once the party got started, I realized that despite my internal sense of youth, I was not a peer, I was merely the party planner/caterer/maid. The kids thanked me for the sodas I distributed and the pizzas I cooked, a few even politely asked where to put recyclables, but that was it.

At least I was used to being a wallflower as a teenager, so that sense of being ignored was familiar. For husband 2.0, it was an unpleasantly novel experience. He'd been one of those popular kids in high school who wouldn't have deigned to socialize with a geeky nerd like I'd been (although the biger obstacle to our early romance might have been the fact that when I started high school, he was in first grade). So after he'd made a trip through the living room collecting used dishes, expecting to be fawned over like back in his glory days, he came back crestfallen. "When did I become invisible?" I reassured him that I still thought he was fascinating and the girls who ignored him had no taste . . . .

As I refreshed platters, cleared garbage, and tried to keep the 12-year-old little brother from being too much of a pest, I felt a weird sense of being a housewife from a 50s sitcom, like June Cleaver chaperoning one of Ward's parties and reminding Beaver not to annoy his brother's friends. (At least under my apron I had on cute jeans and platform wedges, instead of a starched shirtdress & pearls.) Sure, in many ways we've changed as parents (I listen to my kids, I never say "Wait til your father gets home", and I don't roll my eyes at their taste in music, since they like what I like), but on a basic level some things never change. Teenagers have always ignored parents at parties, little brothers have always been moderately annoying, and adults have always felt weird about getting older.

I went to wake David up the next morning and looked at his long leg sticking out of the covers, thinking, "Wow, that tall hairy man was once my baby", I realized June Cleaver, my own mom, and generations before them have had the same feeling - and it was actually comforting to realize I was a cliche, sometimes. Then I touched up my gray roots, put on some Lynyrd Skynyrd, and washed the rest of the party dishes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

. . .snips and snails and puppy dog tails . . .

Okay, I've known from the beginning that boys are different from girls. I tried to be a gender-neutral parent, and when my boys were toddlers they used their dolls for weapons and their play cooking tools for 'rhythmic instruments' (i.e., noisemakers). I cope by taking neighbors' girls to movies and malls, and I let husband 2.0 teach them to play "Dodgeball In The Dark" and other games of mass destruction. But sometimes a girl just has to draw the line - or so I thought.

My boys have always been animal lovers. They've had hamsters, and a lizard, and various other small caged pets at various times. I said okay when the boys' godfathers wanted to give them tropical fish (and now that the weird-looking algae-eater keeps the tank walls clean, I actually enjoy them). And of course I was more than happy to get the dog (who, by the way, is a total girly girl, and refuses to do 'Sit' or 'Lie Down' unless she's on a soft surface). But for years Ben has begged for pet rats - and I refused to discuss the matter.

It's not just the basic idea of a rat. I lived in New York City for 5 years, and I saw subway rats the size of german shepherds, and I even had rats in my apartment. One night I woke up to an odd sound coming from the box of Rice Krispies on my make-shift shelf (created out of salvaged milk crates, painted green & nailed to the wall of my studio apartment). I turned on the light and noticed that the box was moving, with a large, brown tail coming out of the top and extending down the side. I did what any independent, Cosmo-girl Living In The City would do - shrieked, grabbed an industrial strength garbage bag and thick rubber gloves, and sent the cereal box & its inhabitant down the incinerator shaft. But it was as close as I ever needed to come to any of that species.

Ben pleaded, he showed me internet articles about how smart and trainable rats are, but it didn't matter how many times I agreed that the character in Ratatouille was cute, I wasn't sold. Until I needed a good 'hurdle helper' (a.k.a. bribe) to get him to keep his room clean, and I'd also run out of good chanukah present ideas for a kid who was too old for Bionicles and too young to appreciate clothing as a gift.

So Ben is now the proud owner two very cute, clean, white rats with subtle markings of caramel (which he named Peanut) and brown (Mocha). I actually enjoy feeding them, watching them take a nut into their tiny paws that look surprisingly human, seeing how daintily they nibble, how sweetly they nestle and groom each other. But I still don't like to hold them - it's too hard to ignore the tails, which still are awfully reminiscent of the Rice Krispies incident.

These days, I go to Petsmart for an assortment of rat food, dog toys, and aquarium filters, and I feel like the owner of a menagerie - but then again, that's what having a house full of boys feels like anyhow. (And at least the boys will go shopping with me when it's to the pet store - not exactly what I had in mind, but it's something!)

Thanks for the Mammaries (sorry!)

Women are notorious for being able to bond in almost any circumstance - my husband is constantly amazed at the conversations I strike up with other women in check-out lines, airports, doctors' offices, any place where having to wait in one place creates an opportunity for temporary kinship, and we can talk about children, trying to lose weight, the cute earrings someone has on, or any number of subjects (whereas men seem limited to 'how about those Lakers!'). So it didn't surprise me when I began chatting with a group of strangers in a waiting room, as we all sat around in our plush yellow robes listening to subtle contemporary jazz.

Only we weren't waiting for exfoliation treatments or pedicures, we were all there to get mammograms or related services at the oh-so-subtly named Women's Breast Center. (The name, prominently displayed on the wall, makes it hard to pretend we were there for any other reason, although it also made me wonder what the waiting room would look like in a Men's Breast Center . . . . ) At first we all stuck to our magazines and Blackberries, but eventually the long wait broke down our isolation and we began chatting. (There's something about the prospect of having your breast mashed between two metal plates and being told, Relax!, that breaks down barriers real quick.) We learned about each other's previous mammogram horror stories (technicians with cold hands!), we compared notes on whether it was more unpleasant for smaller or larger breasts (the jury is out, we all think it hurts!), and we wondered how weird it would be to do a mammogram for Dolly Parton or Pamela Anderson. And of course we cracked the inevitable jokes about men having to undergo a similar procedure for their prized appendages.

We also got into family history (many of us had relatives who'd had cancer) and one woman told us her bone cancer was detected by what she'd thought was an overly picky radiologist whom she now credited for saving her life. (Which made us all ashamed of the times we'd griped about those other 'overly picky radiologists' who wanted to take just one more image.) And of course, we all agreed that the whole experience would be more pleasant if the facility also offered the body wraps and massages that the robes & music seemed to indicate.

In my case, my wait was longer because my family history and cystic tissue merited an ultrasound (which is just like the ones for pregnancies, with the blue goo and the fuzzy black & white computer image - god, did that bring back memories!, but nowadays they warm up the goo and give you lots of towels, as opposed to back in my pregnant days when I felt cold & greasy for hours afterwards). But eventually I was told I was done - until next year, of course. I have that wonderful sense of accomplishment, of ticking off, and being free from, one of those unpleasant maintenance duties for a year or so (dental exams, blood tests, cleaning out the stuff that leaked in the freezer). (Okay, I don't clean out the freezer every year, but I know I should and I just did it so it counts!)

Meanwhile, I can rejoice in being part of a gender that bonds so easily, and if the Women's Breast Center takes the suggestions we all promised to send in, maybe next year I will be able to get that post-mammogram massage!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"At The Ballet" (in pink tights)

When I was 9, after taking ballet lessons for about a year, the teacher took me aside and told me that at my advanced age, it was time for me to decide between dancing & playing the piano, and given my ballet skills, she suggested I choose piano. (Yes, it's funny now, although I was traumatized at the time) But after a few decades (and a couple of good therapists along the way), I gave it another shot and enrolled in an adult ballet class, at a studio where I'd already been taking tap dancing for fun & exercise.

It was a scary transition. Tap dance is satisfying - it doesn't take long before you can make some cool sounds, tap prowess relies more on rhythm & relaxation than on the ability to put your leg over your ear, and classes are full of an assortment of body types, laughing and having a blast. Ballet is more serious, the music isn't as fun, and it tends to attract women who were serious ballet students as children - and who still have classic ballet bodies. (Every time I'm in class, next to those impossibly lithe, leggy beauties, I have this urge to hum the Sesame Street song, "One of These Things Is Not Like The Other". I'm a healthy, normal size who looks decent in regular clothes, but let's just say pale pink tights do not flatter my healthy, normal, and comparatively short legs, particularly when this nice Jewish girl is overdue for a leg wax!)

Still, I've persevered for several years, forgiving myself (sort of) for my slow progress, making adjustments for my limitations (proudly kicking my healthy, normal leg almost up to a 90 degree angle while everyone else has their feet at eye level or above) and trying to remember that my husband prefers my healthy, normal curves. And class has become my meditative oasis. Ballet is so demanding, my brain doesn't have room to focus on anything else, so I have an enforced break from money worries, kid stresses, or wondering if I forgot someone important on Ben's bar mitzvah invitation list. Plus there are wonderful moments of joy - watching someone who started out gawky do something graceful, hearing a favorite piece of music, or an unexpected bit of entertainment. For example, many of the women in my class are thin enough and wealthy enough to have had a bit of silicon enhancement. Most are extremely subtle and natural looking, but there was once a woman who must have been 6'1", almost all in her legs, gorgeously slim but with Dolly Parton's bustline; when she jumped, her double Ds didn't move an inch, despite having no more support than a flimsy spaghetti strap top. (To give you an idea of how weird that was, my healthy normal chest requires 2 bras and a leotard with a built-in bra, and I still bounce all over the place.)

And sometimes, I do feel like I've made progress. I realized how good ballet was for my healthy, normal body (have I said that enough already?) when I went for a physical several years ago. It had been 2 years since they'd measured my height (during which years I'd started ballet class and ended an unhappy marriage), and the nurse was astounded to see that I'd grown two inches. Vertically. All from the posture improvement I'd gained from dancing, with a bit of the divorce thrown in. There are the smaller accomplishments - like FINALLY remembering the 8 body positions (Efface or epaule?) or realizing I could do chainee turns across the room without getting nauseous, just dizzy. And this week, I completed a fouette turn (a pirouette while whipping the leg out & back in - hard to describe but it's what ballerinas do a dozen times in a row when they're showing off). It wasn't pretty, but I got around without falling on my face, and for a moment I felt like a real dancer. (Until my teacher returned me to reality by reminding me that my feet weren't pointed, my shoulders were hunched and my leg wasn't straight. . . . . But at least I did it!, I wanted to protest, which I guess was like saying, Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?)

So it's taken many years, but I think I've finally healed that childhood wound of being told I had no future as a ballerina. I still know I have no future as a ballerina, but after 41 years I can feel good about my healthy, normal body despite the pink tights and rail-thin gazelles, and occasionally do a wobbly fouettee. Sometimes, that's all it takes to make my day!