Monday, April 29, 2013

Spin City

Dana Perino

Being a mom is often like being the White House Press Secretary. Both jobs require spending a lot of time fielding questions and/or requests, then figuring out how to snow your public by massaging the truth a bit.

Fortunately, the creative spin that a mom does on a daily basis isn't as dangerous as that of the White House. No, moms don't sit around conference tables coming up with ridiculous phrases like WMD's on a regular basis.

I've noticed that the type of propaganda I push on my kid has to do with temporal markers, such as:

1. When I say "LATER", I really mean "I'm hoping you'll just forget your request, or find a toy to distract you."

2. "MAYBE" actually translates to "NEVER".

3. Saying "SOON" means "Bug your father about that when he gets home."

4. In the bathroom, I say, "I NEED A MINUTE." Translation: "I need an hour…a day…a week, maybe. A minute will suffice."

5. "HOLD ON" is shorthand for "Take it down a notch, if you want me to handle your request in a timely fashion."

6. When we're in the car and I say, "FIVE MINUTES until we're there", I know Claire actually hears "ETERNITY".  I'm just hoping that my "FIVE MINUTES" will buy me another FIVE MINUTES before she loses it again.

7. It's truly dire, when I say "ALMOST THERE!" in the car. The toddler translation is "Get me out of this car NOW!" Mama's thinking "Get me the F@#K out of this car NOW!"

8. Toddlers can get in on the action too, though…when I say, "NEVER touch that electrical outlet", I really mean "NEVER". My daughter thinks that "NEVER" is a suggestion to "Wait until mom's not watching."

We often perceive time the same way, though. When we say, "I LOVE YOU", we both know that we mean "ALWAYS and FOREVER".

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Essential Vitamins and Minerals

George and I have begun reliving our childhood through Claire. As products of the 70's and 80's, he and I have much in common. Some of our memories are joyful, others painful or perplexing. Some make sense for the first time, now that we are on the parental side of the family table.

And speaking of tables, the diet of our childhood days has had George and me laughing lately.

As children, we both woke up to cereal that turned white milk into chocolate or had marshmallows shaped like stars, complete with a leprechaun's promise of talismanic powers. Perhaps, mom rationalized that they were “fortified” with vitamins, or that the milk made up for the sugar high.

Lunch was manufactured instead of cooked. Wonder bread and American cheese slices individually wrapped in cellophane – the American public actually paying companies to deplete foods of their natural goodness. Bologna earned the term “mystery meat”. Likewise, I’ll give someone a dollar if they can tell me what fruit was in Hawaiian Fruit Punch.

Every now and then, I could understand a weary mom serving these meals. They were typical fare back in the day.


If breakfast smacked of Willy Wonka and lunch represented the Corporate American Wasteland, dinner was purely puritanical. The dinner plate divided into a peace sign – a dry, unseasoned piece of meat in one quadrant, a potato in another. The last section was reserved for frozen vegetables revivified by boiling. Calling something a “medley” does not make it more appetizing. And carrots and peas are not tastier because they make pretty colors together. Either way, vegetables handed off to the dog or chucked into the nearest spider plant have no nutritional value whatsoever.

Salad served up in individual wooden bowls was no better. We didn't know that iceberg lettuce is as nutritious as water. Much to our surprise, the tomato turned out to be a fruit. (Yet, ketchup was a Reagan-era vegetable. So confusing!) Thousand Island Dressing was a fancy term for ketchup and mayonnaise. The red flecks in Wishbone salad dressing were supposed to be red pepper, but really had the consistency of wet confetti.

Dessert required no cooking, just a can opener and a flexible wrist. "Heavy syrup" cancels out the anemic nutritional value of a canned peach anyway. We are still scratching our heads over why they were called "cling" peaches.

But, all joking aside, let’s let our moms off the hook here. First, dad wasn't pitching in. Second, meals weren’t always that bad. There was the occasional French bread pizza or stir-fry when woks were all the rage. Third, even when the food was bad, we did gather around the dinner table as a family every night. And fourth, it’s clear our moms didn’t create this culinary poverty. It was a national phenomenon. The 70’s cultural vibe reached from George’s Connecticut upbringing to mine in Kansas. Television and magazines like Family Circle are probably responsible.

Surely, there will be culinary contradictions that Claire will make fun of someday. When did Cheerios served up in baggies become a ubiquitous snack? Do we really think cheese crackers shaped like fish are any more nutritious? Has anyone seen the sugar content in Dannon yogurt with the “fruit” on the bottom? Or just because Subway is a little more nutritious than McDonalds, does it really mean it’s healthy?

Plus, right now, Claire eats anything put in front of her. If and when she reaches the picky eater stage, Count Chocula just might do his thing on Claire’s milk too.

{pulled from the archives}

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Photo Source: Diderot's Dream, Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Body Image

Apropos of nothing, my two year old, Claire yells out, "I LOVE MY BELLY!"

This kind of joyous non sequitur is what makes being a mom to a toddler so fantastic.

But just as quickly as my delight and love for my daughter washes over me, I start to wonder when her love for her belly will end.

I know. I'm a buzzkill. Or I read too much news. I prefer to think my doom and gloom is related to the latter, as well as living in a society obsessed with body image. I can't help but remember the article that I read last year that stated that 80% of ten-year-old girls have dieted. Ugh! Or the alarming trend of teens obsessed with measuring the gap between their thighs. Insert jaw drop here.

My own life is not the roadmap that I want for my daughter on the subject either. I think back to my college days and remember that it was easier to count the girls with an eating disorder than the girls without one. My friend's sister died from heart failure at age 22 courtesy of bulimia.

At worst, these issues can be deadly, at best, they can shift a young girl's focus from nurturing nascent parts of herself to obsessing about things that should be a given. I spent just as much time worrying about my looks, as I did about scores on final exams. I look back on my preoccupations as a complete waste of time.

Society's influences today are no help either. Claire will contend with a world of photo retouching, and the speed with which potentially damaging images can be accessed on the internet. Now, the messages are not only hostile, they are truly unattainable and available at an accelerated pace.

Of course, I will strive to be a role model for my daughter. Yet, I still struggle from the aftershocks of the messages of my youth. Can I say that I love my body now? I am in awe of the fact that I made a baby with this body, which is an improvement.

But I'm not yelling, "I love my belly!" anytime soon. That would be absurd.

Why is this affirmation so absurd?

I'm not going to write on and on about this subject. So many other men and women have done it more eloquently than me. In fact, I was hesitant to publish this post, because my views and fears about the subject have become so commonplace as to possibly render them boring.

But I do have a few more personal things to say...

I know my daughter will experience pain in her life. Someone will break her heart for the first time. She will lose a race for student government or the state track meet. A friend will betray her. She will believe she will never recover, and I will be there to tell her that she will. And to love her. These experiences are part of growing up, no matter how much I wish it to be otherwise.

Having to hate her body is not a necessary part of youth. 

My mothering impulse is to want to silence whoever or whatever may be perpetrating such needless pain on young girls.

The only problem is there is no one object towards which I can direct my anger. I fear I'm less a lion slayer than someone in the lion's den.

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Photo Source: Public Domain Pictures

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dueling Drama Queens

Tantrums are reaching a fever pitch in this house. The toddler is not the only offending party. She and her mom (that would be me) take turns dawning the drama-queen crown. Wait, let me explain. I have an excuse for my bad behavior.

(My daughter does too. She's a toddler. Her excuse is better.)

I've been sick the last few days. And not just with a garden-variety cold. This bug was flu-like. I swear even my eyelashes hurt. Light and sound aggravated the pain. You can probably guess which of these two triggers my daughter exacerbated. Her cries, yells and demands were like daggers to my head.

I needed relief. It was not coming quickly enough.

At this point, a part of my reptilian brain decides that yelling "Stop! I just can't take it anymore" (and things of a similar ilk, sometimes laced with profanity) is a good idea. Momentarily, I actually feel better. But amping up the temperature of the situation is not a great long-term strategy. It doesn't work for me or my daughter. In the end, I don't know who ends up feeling worse. Probably me since I'm the one who is supposed to be the adult (or at least act like one a good deal of the time).

I don't have much else to say, other than to qualify the confession above by saying that I don't behave this way with the regularity that it occurred during my recent convalescence. Really, I was just wondering what the rest of you do when there's no relief in sight, when you have had it, when you don't have any more resources at your disposal and you can no longer rise above yourself.

And, please, don't tell me to walk away and take a break. My daughter just follows me. And cries louder (my eyelashes start hurting again just thinking about it).

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Beautiful Mama

My mother was a woman of wonder to me.  I remember watching her as a child. I would watch her cutting carrots or reading a book, and wonder what she was thinking. I would wonder if I would be like her someday, cutting carrots and reading books. She was quiet and methodical doing these tasks. Sometimes, she looked sad. I wondered what I could do to make her feel better, my wonder woman.

She could press the black and white keys of the piano and transport the room to the time of Beethoven or Chopin.


I remember her head full of giant, round curlers that made her look like a warrior princess. It was a grand ceremony watching her remove them one by one and slowly reveal a head transformed.

She created miracles with pianos, with curlers and carrots. In her hands, the most mundane of endeavors were elevated to meditative mysteries to me.

I don't remember watching anyone else this way. She was a singular presence in my eyes. I wonder if Claire sees me like I saw my mother. I bet she does. It's a gift and a responsibility to have someone behold you with such reverence and expectation.

The gaze of child makes a mama beautiful. In fact, when a child says "mama", I think "beautiful" is implied in it.

A child creates a beautiful mama. When others see you as such, it's simply acknowledging the world of a child.

Thank you Sarah, Sadder but Wiser and Layana, Raising Reagan for calling me beautiful mama.

beautiful mama

These women are beautiful mamas to me,

Kristi, Finding Ninee

Kerri, Undiagnosed but Okay

Jennifer, The Jenny Evolution

Marcia, Menopausal Mother

Jen, Life on the Sonny Side

Meredith, The Mom of the Year

There are too many more mamas to mention. If you want to participate, find the rules here (I didn't follow them).

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Unhappy Homemaker


My husband did our taxes this year. All I had to do was sign the bottom to make it official. Simple enough. Until, I saw what he had listed next to my name as occupation. Evidently, I am a "Homemaker". Indeed, the top of the form indicated that it was the 21st century. For a split second I thought it was 1952 instead. Then, I remembered that I'm not at home making meatloaf, shining silver or adding just the right amount of starch to freshly-washed shirt collars, as I imagine the happy homemaker did in her day.

Anyway, I went ahead and signed the form because a) the IRS just wants our money, b) I was much obliged to my husband for doing the taxes, in the first place, and c) I'm just as confused as George is about the nature of my newfound occupation.

In my mind, the term "Stay-At-Home-Mom" and it's less-than-appealing acronym aren't exactly progressive alternatives to Homemaker. Contrary to the connotation, I have been known to venture into the world with and without my child, since I left the 9 to 5 world behind. I'm not a Victorian shut-in, for crying out loud. Of course, "Housewife" sounds terrible -- I'm no longer merely stuck in my house, as SAHM implies; I'm married to it. I'm certainly not a "Domestic Goddess" either. I don't define myself by my domesticity, nor could I call myself a goddess with a straight face.

On the flip side, I'm not considered a "Working Mom", which seems to suggest I sit at home watching talk shows all day. Or that I need to get paid for what I do all day, in order for it to be considered a meaningful contribution to society. Still, I wouldn't call myself a Working Mom, even if I could get away with it. Yes, caring for children is work. But Claire is a human being and my daughter, not a job.

Nothing's just right. We need to rebrand people.

I like to think of myself as "a woman who left her paying job to care for her child". That description represents my reality more accurately, but it certainly isn't very PR-friendly. My brain hurts trying to remember it or give proper consideration to an appropriate acronym. The term would not have fit on an IRS form either.

Claire calls me "Mama". I've become quite partial to being identified by that term. I think next year I'm going to put "Mama" on the tax return. Done. I'll leave the rebranding to the career women out there...

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Post-Baby Body

The other day at the gym, I found myself on the middle bike between two single ladies on my left and two on the right. I didn't know for sure they were single. I just had a feeling born out of years of being single myself.

Let's just say they were young, energetic and one other thing that I was not…I was not wearing an outfit like theirs. Their outfits seemed designed for the gym. The clothes were put together with consideration for fit, performance and appearance. They each had shoes that matched their shorts, shorts that matched their shirt, etc. Their outfits suggested thought about the lift of the backside and the poof of the pony-tail.

mom's celebrating their post-baby bodyI used to have gym outfits like theirs. Since becoming a mom, it's become hard to distinguish between the clothes that I wear at home and ones for the gym. My outer wear is likely to reflect my internal harried state. My gym clothes are sure to symbolize my lack of free time and the nature of my 24/7 job.

Frankly, I just don't care what I look like at the gym. I feel like a bad-ass dressing like a slob. I want my clothes to say, "I pushed a baby out of this body without drugs; I've earned the right to dress however I want!"

If this posture sounds obnoxious, please hear me out. It's not lost on me that not caring about clothing this vociferously seems oddly related to caring about it. Still, there's something empowering in this stance for me. My choice in clothes (or lack thereof) reflects the fact that my workouts have become more about taking care of myself and being healthy than using exercise to pursue a body that conforms to a standard of beauty dictated by others.

I'm not implying that woman with nicer outfits than me or women who are single and/or without kids are ill-intended in their workouts either. I don't know their intentions.

What I do know is that they remind me of pre-baby me. I spent too much time worrying about how I looked before I had Claire. Like many women, I've struggled to gain acceptance of my body.

Having a baby has been a rite of passage for me, in this respect. I've learned that my body is so much more than its appearance. I grew a baby with this body. That's a revelation. Some women do it more than once. I am in awe of them.

Of course, I still have days when I wish I had flatter abs or I worry about fitting into my skinny jeans.

On other days, I experience my body as bountiful. I look at my daughter, and it isn't possible for me to believe otherwise. She exists regardless of my physical appearance or what clothes I wear.

I feel grateful for the body that made her. I feel its power and its wonder. I deserve to feel this way more often.

We all do.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Daughter was in a TV Commercial

vintage television

Claire has an agent. She goes on auditions. She earned her first paycheck for a commercial for the NFL.

The backstory is that my husband, George, is an actor. Our friend Jerry is a casting agent. He recommended Claire to an agent. The NFL job was her first audition. Out of a cattle call of 100 babies, my baby booked the job. The shoot for the commercial was a blast. If you watch closely to the final spot, Claire's has the money shot at the end, thus, confirming her star potential. Her grandmas were excited to email the video to everyone they knew. Of course, I was proud too. I didn't balk at the cash added to the college fund either. It was a great experience all around.

Those of you who know me surely realize that I can't be writing about this subject to just fawn on and on. You must know that I'm experiencing a chink in the works somehow.

Here's the thing. When Claire did the commercial, she had just turned one. She didn't even know what was going on. Now that she older…Can anyone say "Toddlers and Tiaras"…."Dance Moms"?

I wonder about the message I'm sending my daughter. I worry about rejection at a tender age. I ponder its effects on her unformed ego. I don't want her to have to deal with the adult pressures of work. I don't want her to have to perform on cue for a professional industry known to chew up and spit out heartier folk than my innocent babe in arms. I don't want to emphasize physical appearance, teach my daughter that self-esteem is based on the superficial, or show her that she can use her looks to sell product.

Yet, my husband has a very different opinion than me. He believes that being in the industry works to demystify the industry. He thinks that Claire will be like Dorothy in the Great Oz. The curtain will be drawn back to reveal the ordinary. The artificial air of glamour and power will be removed, along with rose-colored glasses. She will have the opportunity to see television and advertising for what they really are -- illusions. Or, to put it simply, that a camera is just a camera.

He also envisions a world full of options for Claire. He see himself opening doors of opportunity for her, for which many people would give their eye teeth. I am intent on unceremoniously closing them. He thinks that having the experience now will serve her well should she want to be an actress as an adult.

That's a big "if" to me. What about doctor, lawyer, or candlestick maker? Of course, she could get practice playing one of these things on television too. It worked for Doogie Howser. Still, while I find some of his arguments compelling, I'm just not convinced. In fact, the more I write about it here, the less I want my child to spend any time in front of the camera in a professional capacity.

Yet, I'm trying to be open-minded. I don't want to make a definitive decision before giving my husband's viewpoint serious consideration. I am a member of a partnership. I can't just make unilateral decisions now. We get equal say in how our daughter is raised.

Generally, when George and I have different opinions, we rely on objective research to tip the scales to one side or another. But when I googled "long-term effects of child modeling" and similar terms, I didn't find any research in scholarly journals or advice from expert psychologists (other than the opinion of one psychologist that Sally Mann's kids are well-adjusted).

So dear readers, I know that you are not short on opinions. What do you think about child acting/modeling? What do you do when you and your spouse have polar opposite opinions? Am I attempting to control my child's life or protect her from its dark side? Do I have legitimate concerns here or am I just being a worry-wart? I could really use some advice…

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dear Mr. Stranger on the Elevator,


Dear Mr. Stranger on the Elevator,

Let me take this moment to apologize for my daughter's behavior the other day. A two year old is too young to understand that the elevator has rules and etiquette. My daughter can't yet read the nuances of human behavior and posture that scream "back off" to a more world-weary adult. She doesn't know that, when confronted by a person who is closed off and defended, she is to retreat quietly to the other side of the car.

So forgive my daughter for trying to engage with you. Forgive her for smiling and waving at you. Forgive her for wanting to connect with you on the short ride between floors.

Clearly, it was too much of a burden on you to reciprocate. I can't begin to imagine the years of loneliness and disappointment that have hardened you to the sweet innocence of a child. I pity you the inability to share a moment of warmth with another human being. Or, who knows, maybe, you were just having a bad day.

I must try and have compassion for you. If I don't, I will want to annihilate you. I will want to destroy you for rejecting my daughter, and initiating her into a world that can sometimes be cold and harsh. If these thoughts seem extreme, please try and understand a mother's impulse to shelter her child from the reality of human stinginess as long as she can.

Mr. Stanger on the Elevator, unfortunately, you aren't the first person to treat my daughter this way. Luckily, you are a minority. Luckily, my daughter continues to greet everyone with the great joy that God seems to have reserved for young children. Thankfully, most people on the elevator respond to her in kind.

For your sake, I'm hoping that you were just having a bad day. What that would mean is that, the next time you see my daughter on the elevator, you will get to experience her great joy. It is a gift. She is a gift. I wish for you to be on the receiving end of her gift.

Claire's Proud Mom

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