By Barbara Matousek
“I wish our family had two moms,” Sam says, and I am caught by surprise. I am loading the dishes into the dishwasher while Sam puts the head on his new Lego alien minifigure and Eva pulls at my pants leg begging for her bedtime cup of milk.
“Why is that?” I ask. Our family has one parent. One mom. And it’s never going to have two moms.
“Because moms are great, and if there were two moms one could play with me while the other mom puts Eva to bed.”
Since he came home from the hospital I’ve been talking to Sam about how all families are different. We have books that talk about big families and small families, families that adopt, families with two moms or two dads, families with just one parent. We have books that explain IVF and how a child can come in to the world without a dad.
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” I say, both pleased and curious as to why he didn’t say he wishes our family had a dad.
We know lots of different kinds of families. Families with adopted kids. Families with foster kids. Families with moms and dads. Families with just one mom. But I don’t know that Sam has ever been exposed to a family with two moms, and I wonder where this came from. Has he already learned the wrong message that moms do all the kid stuff and take care of everything or is he just wishing there were two mommies because he wants two of ME?
I lift Eva on to my hip and drop silverware into the dishwasher before handing her a sippy cup, but these thoughts stay with me as I walk into the nursery and change Eva’s diaper. Eva holds up the Cinderella and Snow White dolls that came with her Little People princess castle from Grandma. Earlier in the day Cinderella drove a dumptruck while Snow White road in the bucket, and Snow White answered the door when the fix-it guy (that actually came with the dumptruck) came to fix the broken balcony on the castle and ended up dancing in front of the princess mirror. And before I put Eva into her crib Snow White and Cinderella will be placed side by side in the little pink plastic bed on the top floor of the castle and Eva will tell me “Shhhhh. They sleeping.”
Eva is just on the verge of learning boy versus girl, and now that he’s in preschool Sam explains to me about girl things and boy things, but I hope that both of my children will always believe that girls can drive dumptrucks and boys can dance and the world is made up of all kinds of families including families with two moms.
For information on Minnesotans United for All Families and the upcoming marriage amendment vote in Minnesota click here.
By Barbara Matousek
The Mazda that I purchased three months ago is dead, stranded at an odd angle next to the stop sign on the county road that turns to The Berry Patch.
I was revving up and passing a Honda, keeping my eye on the clock and thinking we were probably going to be late, when things went wrong. Now we’re definitely going to be late. Across the highway hundreds of small orange pumpkins cover the field, and beyond that the dead stalks of corn that has been harvested but not yet cleared sway in the wind. We are still ten minutes from town.
“What are we going to do, Mommy? Who are you calling?” Sam asks.
He is in the back, his fingers covered with powdered sugar and sticky banana mess. He is buckled into the passenger side and Eva is tucked into her car seat behind me.
“I don’t know, Sam. I’m just trying to find someone to answer their phone,” I say as I try a third neighbor. Nobody answers their phones at 7am.
As we were passing the Honda, Sam cheered the way he always does but then our Mazda revved and sputtered and I grabbed the gear shift. It was in “drive” but we were losing speed. I pulled over to the side of the road and pushed the Info button on the dash. “Remaining mileage” and the clock are on a toggle. Empty.
When my dad died almost a decade ago I laughed at my mom and told her she’d have to start watching her fuel tank. Dad used to rescue her at least once a month. I’ve never run out of gas.
We live in a small subdivision twenty minutes from town, a rural neighborhood filled with families that have bonfire parties and go to Country music concerts, mothers that play bunco together once a week and fathers that go away for fishing weekends together. I was invited to join a bible group a few years ago and I occasionally get a facebook notification for a Pampered Chef party, but mostly we don’t fit in. The only reason I have Mr. Jeff’s phone number is because he changed a flat for me once. He is the neighborhood fireman who takes care of preschoolers during the daytime and mows my lawn in the evenings and somehow fascinates my 4-year-old who thinks that Mr. Jeff is the strongest guy there is.
“Mr. Jeff has real guns,” Sam once told me. “Did you ever see them?” How does he know these things?
Eva starts jabbering loudly and I crawl out and close the door behind me. Cars are whizzing by. Nobody even slows down. When I was in college the timing belt of my red Pontiac convertible went out during a trip to Michigan, and within thirty seconds two different cars pulled over.
Tears are building in my eyes as Mr. Jeff’s phone rings a fourth time and I compose a voicemail in my head. But then he answers and I ask if I woke him and he says he was just getting up anyway. His wife Sarah gets her cell and calls another neighbor’s cell and within fifteen minutes the neighborhood comes to my rescue and the optometrist’s pregnant wife pulls up and hands me two big red plastic gas containers.
When we’re back on the road again we pass a soybean field that has started to turn golden in the chilling fall air, and Sam talks about the Packers and the Badgers and how he wouldn’t want them to play against each other because then he wouldn’t know who to cheer for. My hands smell like gas and my shirt is damp from sweat, and I exhale and let a tear run down my cheek.
This week it would have been my parents’ 47th wedding anniversary.
By Barbara Matousek
“What sports did Grandpa Jim like?” my son asks. We are standing in the kitchen and he is pulling the scissors out from the drawer, cutting the plastic wrap off a frozen raspberry fruit bar.
“He liked all sports,” I say. Sam hands me the wrapper and I place it in the can under the sink. “But I think baseball was his favorite. Baseball and basketball and football.”
We have just snuck inside during Eva’s nap after spending an hour outside in the sticky humidity tossing basketballs into the net from different distances, the point values for each shot marked on the driveway with chalk. Sam was upset when he couldn’t make the shots as easily as he had yesterday, and his voice was getting whinier and higher until finally (thank God!) he made a 5-point shot and declared himself the winner.
Later in the evening we lay in bed next to each other, Sam’s blanket pulled up to his chin while the ceiling fan throws a slight breeze down on us, and Sam asks me if pirates are real.
“They used to be,” I say. “But pirates like you see on TV don’t exist anymore.”
“Is there still treasure?”
“Where did the pirates go? Are they all dead?”
He stops and thinks for a while and we both stare up at the fan.
“Some day when we’re all dead and not here, who will be here?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I tell him. Lately he’s been almost paralyzed with fear of being alone so I tell him that we’ll all be together. “You and Eva and me and TT and Auntie Ann and Zack and Sarah.”
“Will Grandpa Jim be there?” he asks.
“And we’ll all be together. Our whole family. And I’ll get to see Grandpa Jim. I wish I could see Grandpa Jim.”
“Me too, Sammy,” I say. “Me too.”
And as my son rolls over to face the wall I think about the morning before last when Sam finally learned to catch, when he lit up with excitement and screamed “My first catch! I made me first catch!” and he wanted to do it over and over and over again. Or the way he wants to show me how long he can dribble the big plastic ball in the basement having suddenly mastered the rhythmic bouncing after days of practice. As I lay next to my son listening to the ceiling fan, my eyes fill with tears. “Grandpa Jim” died over 8 years ago, and I cannot remember the last time I cried about him, but as I rub Sam’s back and listen to his breathing as he sleeps, I miss my father just as much as I did eight years ago.
By: Barbara Matousek
We are sitting on the wooden deck on the east side of the aquatic center watching our four-year-old boys float on their backs and “do big scoops” and play a game called Mr. Fox What Time Is It, when an older father leads his daughter past us and back towards Sam’s pre-school swim class. Dad stops midstride and holds his foot up and shivers and pulls his belt and throws his head back and coughs like he has a hairball. Then he pauses a few seconds as if to swallow something and then moves on, pushing his wet daughter back to the pool.
“See? That’s what’s out there for me,” I say to Amy and she laughs.
Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t matter to me if he has no hair or his joints creak when he gets up from the poolside loungers. I’m sure he’s a really nice guy. He is, after all, taking his daughter to preschool swimming lessons every single day, and he is patiently leading her back to the water every time she loses focus and heads towards the giant mushroom in the shallow end or the sandbox on the west end. He’s just not my type. Though I’m not really sure what my type is. It’s been so long since I was even shopping.
A few days ago Amy and I watched as another older man chased his pre-schooler around the pool, the scowl on his face not for anything particular. He just looked like a grumpy old man. Amy speculated that he was Grandpa, and I told her no way. Grandpas don’t put themselves through this kind of humiliation over and over again every day. Chasing a preschooler around a pool is a dad’s job.
“He’s her dad,” I said. “I bet he’s not that much older than me.”
She bet me that he was Grandpa and after the little girl ran up to him and said “hi Dad,” Amy was genuinely surprised.
When Hairball guy has to chase his daughter again and chooses instead to head for the exit, Amy tells me about her 32-year-old friend who is frustrated with “what’s out there.” Amy told her friend to go older, to date the 40-year-olds.
“33,” I say. “If you don’t get them before 33—”
“They’re set in their ways and will never marry,” Amy says. “I know. I left that part out. She doesn’t need to know that.”
Amy is a relatively new mom friend, but I like her. She’s matter of fact and tells it like it is and really funny, and when I tell her I’m thinking about maybe starting to date again, she says “Find yourself a rich 60-year-old who is about to kick the bucket.”
I laugh and remind her that 60 is fewer than 15 years away for me. I tell her I don’t need someone else’s money.
“Mr. Fox! Mr. Fox! What time is it?” the kids all yell from the side of the pool.
I just need someone who is available for adult conversations during the half hour between the last diaper change of the evening and the time my exhausted body collapses on my bed, my queen-sized bed that occasionally accommodates a 4-1/2-year-old boy.
By: Barbara Matousek
I’m not sure what I was thinking. Maybe I wasn’t actually thinking. Mostly now I think “midlife crisis.” Why else would a 45-year-old single mother of two children under five commit to something as time consuming and crazy as a Ragnar relay? For anyone who doesn’t know what these are, they are running relays in which you hop in a van with a bunch of other people and take turns running legs of 3-8 miles for roughly 200 miles. It’s a 2-day undertaking, if not more when you count recovery time. Two days of riding in a cramped van filled with sweaty runners and funky smelling gym bags. Running alone at night along country roads. Running uphill through city streets in the heat of the afternoon sun. Running, God help me, in funny costumes or women’s lingerie or t-shirts that say “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” near your ass.
After I finished my first half marathon in May, a half marathon that I said I was glad to have behind me because I simply didn’t have time for all the training, I rested a few weeks and then looked for my next running goal, something to keep me going to the gym so I could continue to eat cheeseburgers well in to my 50’s. A woman I work with did Ragnar last year and she was going back for more, so it seemed like a good idea.
At the time.
That was months ago. Before school let out for the summer and tee ball started and I began using lunch hours for pre-school swimming lessons. That was before the heat and humidity arrived making me crave air conditioning and naps on the couch rather than treadmills and bike paths. That was before my 1-year-old started eating everything in sight making daily trips to the grocery store necessary. That was before it dawned on me that my car had 180,000 miles on it and it’s not terribly convenient to bring children in car seats along when you test drive a mini-van. Simply put, that was before I realized how little free time I actually have. Ever.
And so here I am 3 weeks away from getting in a smelly van with a bunch of strangers. (Did I mention that I don’t know anyone on my team?) I’ve been kind of lax in my training so I’m panicking about whether or not I did enough hill training (did I mention that one of my legs is 3 miles uphill without a break?) and whether I’ll be trapped in a van with a bunch of passionate conservatives (please, please no) and whether or not my old body that hates temperatures over 70 will stay upright during my final leg in St. Paul during the peak of the afternoon. (Why am I doing this again?)
The good news is that, thanks to my amazing friend Jamie, my children will be well cared for and enjoying the air-conditioning while their crazy mother dips her toe in the pool of the none-mommy adult world for a few days. And if I make it back in one piece I might not even care that my ass says “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” on it.
By: Barbara Matousek
“Mom, what does C-H-I-N-A spell?” He asks from the backseat.
This is his latest used-to-be-cute-but-is-now-really-annoying obsession. This morning as I was making pancakes and his baby sister screamed for bananas and milk and uppie-uppie-uppie, Sam read me the titles of all 50 of his Pokemon cards, frequently mixing up the T’s and the F’s and the small L’s with I’s and the B’s and the D’s so that half of what I heard didn’t make sense. (What does K-I-I-I-I-T spell?) Now he holds a tiny white plastic baseball and a little red and white clicking toy that were in the giftbag from a 4-year-old baseball birthday party. Eva screams from the other side of the car.
“Give her a toy, Sammy. Give her something to play with,” I say.
“But what does C-H-I…”
“China,” I say. “PLEASE give Eva a toy.”
Eva’s screams escalate.
“PLEASE GIVE HER A TOY. NOW!”
“But I don’t want to give her any of my baseballs,” he says and Eva adds kicking to the screaming.
“Just give her something.” I turn to look at the cracker-crusted, blueberry-smeared seat in between them. “Give her that plastic Pokemon you got from McDonald’s. It’s right there on the seat.”
“But I don’t want to give her any Pokemon stuff.”
“Sam. Do you want me to take away your Pokemon cards for a week?”
He immediately reaches in to the netting hanging on the back of the passenger seat of the car and hands Eva something plastic.
“Here Eva,” he says “It’s a truck. Take it.” He talks in a high pitched up-and-down baby-talk voice that he uses only for her, and she is quiet. “It’s a truck. Take a fun truck.”
I exhale and put the rear-view mirror back to its right position, and I can actually hear the tires on the road.
“Mom, what’s China?”
“It’s a country. A country way on the other side of the world.”
“Why does this toy say China on it?”
“Because that’s where it was made. Lots of cheap toys are made in China.”
“Do they make toys in America?”
“Then why do we buy toys from the other side of the world?”
“I don’t know, Sammy. Good question.”
By: Barbara Matousek
At Lions Park Eva’s toes push at the leather ends of her pink flower Robeez and she reaches for me. Again. Uppie, uppie, uppie. The sun cuts across the ball field at a sharp angle, and Sam squats to draw pictures in the sand near home plate while the rest of the tee ball players line up and listen to Coach Megan explain how to field a ground ball. I have flashbacks to soccer last year, the way Sam would lay in the grass on one side of the field and play monster with his friend Hamilton while the other 3-year-olds kicked the ball around the other side of the field.
Last year Eva was an infant. She couldn’t walk. Or wander off. Or ask to be picked up. Or throw herself on to the ground and wail while kicking her legs. Eva weighs 27 pounds now, and my 45-year-old back complains about all the lifting and bending and carrying. I hold her for a short while before setting her down and distracting her with a water bottle. Wind whips my hair across my face and I’m glad for the breeze and the shade.
“Mommy does not like hot,” Sammy often says, and he is right. His little sister does not like hot either.
“Uppie, uppie, uppie!” Eva tugs on my pants and the high-pitched cries begin.
I take her water bottle and sit on the grass next to her and begin digging for the strawberry yogurt bites in the diaper bag. A hockey mom friend of mine once told me that the concession stand and the snack bag were her secrets to bringing all the smaller children to hockey practices. Another mom next to us on the grass hands out graham crackers, and Eva and one little girl eye each other’s snacks and do some trading.
The older kids run the bases and then form two lines, and many of the parents on the bleachers laugh when the young coaches pair up the 4-year-olds and expect them to stay focused and play catch. After a few tosses and some time fighting with the wind, Sam runs to the fence and hands me his oversized baseball cap. He doesn’t ask if he can quit or go home. He doesn’t tell me it’s too hot or too sunny or too windy or too itchy. He just runs back out on to the field without a word and continues tossing to his partner while Eva entertains herself with her empty yogurt bites bag and water bottle.
We have progress.
By: Barbara Matousek
We are lying in bed together, curled up next to each other in the twin mattress shoved in between my bed and the east wall of my bedroom. We call it “the pink bed” because of the bright pink sheet on it that matches the decor in Eva’s room. It used to be in the closet in Eva’s bedroom, reserved for guests, but when Sam started to climb in to my bed every night at 3am, I placed it in my bedroom as his backup location. I don’t remember when he started just sleeping there every night. The light from the master bathroom shower casts a light glow over Sam’s face and the scab on his left cheek from where he scratched himself last week is almost gone. He pulls his blanket up to his chest and shivers. I have told him it’s time to go to sleep, that it’s way past his bedtime, that we have an early morning. But as usual, this doesn’t stop him from telling me a story. This is almost always his strategy for moving around Mommy’s rules.
“Sometimes mosquitoes don’t like the blood that they suck out,” he tells me. A mosquito had bit me earlier in the evening and Sam had been fascinated by the way they suck blood out of animals. “Sometimes they don’t like the blood and they shoot it out through their needle things.”
I laugh a little. I know this will inevitably delay sleep but some nights I can’t help it. He knows this.
“They shoot it out through their needle thing and it covers the whole, whole, whole, whole…” His hand comes out of the covers and moves in circles above his head. “…whole, whole, whole, whole yellow line in the middle of the road.”
“It does? That’s a lot of blood for a tiny little mosquito.” I know I shouldn’t ask, shouldn’t continue this. I know it will encourage him. But I can’t help but want to encourage him when he creates stories.
“Yah. It’s lots and lots of blood and it makes the cars slip on the road.”
“Oh no. That’s not good.”
“You have to be careful when you’re driving around mosquitoes,” he says. I laugh and he smiles.
“You’re right,” I say. “Now let’s go to sleep. It’s time to go to sleep. We have a long day tomorrow.”
He puts his hand back under the covers and turns over to face the wall. I close my eyes and take deep breaths but his body still hasn’t stopped moving and I know it will be a while before he melts in to sleep.
“Mommy?” he says as he turns back around. “What is that cart stuff that sharks have instead of bones?” I tell him cartilage.
“Cart ledge,” he says.
“Cart a Lidge. Cart Lidge.”
“Cart a Lidge,” he says. “Cartilage. Mosquitoes don’t have bones. They have cartilage like sharks so they can bend and twist and never get caught.”
“I bet you’re right,” I say and I tickle him a little on the back of his leg. “Now go to sleep Mosquito Boy!”
He laughs and squirms and we say our I-love-yous for the fourth time tonight, and we once again try for sleep that I know is probably a long way off.
By: Barbara Matousek
My sister and I used to stay out in the driveway with my father long after the sun had gone down and the chill had returned to the air. We would bounce and dribble and bang the ball against the backboard mounted just below our bedroom windows, and the whole house would reverberate. Sometimes my mother would join us, challenging my father to hit as many free throws in a row as she did. We would play Around the World and HORSE, the cold ball almost painful in our hands, until we could barely see the ball anymore and we’d head inside to eat ice cream and watch Telly Sevalas or James Garner or Carol O’Connor.
In general I don’t think of our single parent family as missing anything, of being different from any other family. I drop my kids at daycare or pre-school and go to work. I come home at the end of the day and cook something resembling dinner and shove food in to their mouths. While they run around and destroy the living room I rinse spaghetti sauce off dishes and sweep up blueberries and mop up milk and place the errant shoes and coats back in the foyer near the garage. I get down on the carpet and do puzzles and play tickle monster and ride in imaginary spaceships while aliens try to catch us. I change diapers and pull off dirty clothes and replace them with clean (although probably stained) pajamas. I read books about furry kittens and the colors of the rainbow before rocking Eva and placing her in her crib. I do Lego and Tinkertoys and drawing games with Sam before reading his three bedtime books, books that lately have been about animals– sea tortoises and poison frogs and jelly fish. I stand my ground when he begs to stay up for one more story or one more bedtime snack or one more drink of water. I change cat litter and heap laundry into the washing machine and dig through piles of unsorted clean laundry looking for matching pink socks for the next morning. Once in a while I remember to bathe my children or trim their growing nails.
And during all of this, not for one second do I think that our family is missing anything.
But lately I’ve been reading blogs and watching other 4-year-olds, and when I lie in bed at night trying to fall asleep I feel a pang of something resembling sadness. On my friends’ blogs I see fathers who have time to toss a ball to their son and teach him to catch. I see fathers who play basketball out in the driveway for long stretches, dribbling and tossing and lifting their kids up to the net. I see fathers bent over holding hockey sticks while their kids guard the goal. Is Sam missing out because I simply don’t have time to give any more, because there are two of them and one of me? I want my children to know the love of sport that my father taught me. I want my children to stay out long past bedtime throwing a cold baseball into worn gloves or swinging tennis rackets at balls they can barely see. I want my children to be part of family that plays.
I know my memory of my childhood is probably more idyllic than reality, but is there anything wrong with wanting my children to have the idyllic memory too? Why is it that as parents we want to give our children everything right now? I have to remind myself that Sam has years ahead of him to learn ball and chase his sister in the cold grass as the sun goes down. He’s four. And if he doesn’t play ball until he’s 7 or 8 or 10, it doesn’t mean he’s behind or that he won’t ever have the same love of sport and family and cool spring air that my father instilled in me. In the meantime I’ve signed him up for T-ball and I’ve upgraded our faded plastic basketball hoop and I’m ready to admit that I’m really missing my dad.
By: Barbara Matousek
Three deep red lines wrap around my wrist, and although I’ve tucked them underneath the band of my Polar heart rate monitor, the sweat and constant motion have moved them up on my arm. I’m approaching mile marker 4 and I can hear Freebird blasting from an old country farm house on the right side of County Road 29. I wrapped the red string around my wrist last Tuesday night during an informal gathering for a friend preparing to have her second child. She was less than a week from her due date and her first child had been born two weeks early, so we were all surprised to be sitting there with her, still not knowing whether her second child was a boy or girl.
This wasn’t the first mother blessing I’d been to. My friends had thankfully forced me to have one the week before Eva was born and many of my friends have since had their second child. I’ve witnessed candle burning and feet washing and lavender rubbing. I’ve told stories and presented beads and read excerpts from The Prophet. I’ve listened to prayers and sung songs and visualized easy births and smooth transitions. Every blessing has been different, tailored to the mommy-to-be. During our speeches to Robyn I admitted that I hadn’t brought anything to read and no beads to present, but it was important to me to be there. I told the story of how Robyn had stopped at my house during a training ride last summer, how she had gotten off her bike and clip-clopped in to get some water, the back of her legs wet and covered with the dirt that had spun up at her during her 100+ miles of biking. She was the picture of strength, and she told me she was anxious about her upcoming triathalon. It was hard to believe that someone as strong and prepared and together as Robyn could ever have any doubt that she could do anything.
Before we stood in a circle and wrapped the red string around our wrists one at a time but after we’d all told Robyn how much we admire her strength, she showed us that she still had the string from Joy’s blessing on her wrist. We were sitting in Joy’s living room, her two-week-old daughter quietly asleep in the arms of another mother while Joy made sure we all got sparkling apple juice and homemade berry pie. Robyn told us all how she had accidentally cut through her livestrong bracelet when she cut off the hospital wristband after her son was born 2 and ½ years ago.
“I hadn’t taken it off for 5 years before that,” she said, “And just like that it was gone. I guess it meant I was starting a new chapter of my life.”
I thought about this and how becoming a mother had meant putting so much of my own stuff on hold, how I’d nearly stopped reading and writing and running, how finding any time for myself meant I had to steal it in tiny snippets in between laundry and dishes and diapers changes, how only now, as Eva’s on the verge of turning 18 months old, I’m just starting to return to those little pieces of me that have been scattered.
As County Road 29 becomes Fremont Street, I jog the slight incline and come around the corner on to Main Street. People line the sidewalks and at the top of the hill I can hear them announcing runners’ names as they cross the finish line.
Robyn headed to the hospital the next morning, and I got an email just after midnight telling me that her daughter had been born, that Robyn was once again entering in to another new life chapter.
I push myself faster, the muscles in my calves pulling, my heart pounding strong within my chest, as the distance to the finish closes. I glance down to check the time as I cross the finish line, and once again I see the wet red string around my wrist, a string that reminds me of my friend and her strength and my own determination to make small commitments to myself this year. I have no intention of cutting it any time soon.