By: Melissa Mensavage
When it started
I was sitting there rubbing my cold, clammy feet together waiting in the crisp, mauve-pink paper vest and sheet laying across my lap. I was wondering how long this was going to take and how soon I could get back to the office when the doctor walked in.
We said the usual uncomfortable greetings to each other. I was ready to rush through the visit because I really don’t enjoy the annual gynelogical exams (as if really any woman does!). The doctor then turned the usual visit down another road after reviewing my chart.
“Do you want to have children?” he asked, with his back turned to me, standing at the counter.
Floored, and annoyed, I responded. “Yes. Someday.”
Looking over his glasses at me, smiling, he said, “well now is the time.”
“Now is the time,” I repeated.
“Yes. You are thirty-five -prime time to have a baby -or it will be too late.”
“Yes. Well I need to find the guy,” I said, with a defeated tone.
My heart sank so far into my stomach I thought he was going to see it when he completed the exam. I felt the tears well up behind my eyelids. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that the window of opportunity was getting close to an end. I wasn’t anywhere near close to snagging a husband, let alone a date. How in the world was I going to have a baby?
The appointment came to a close. He wished me luck and left the room. I proceeded to lie on the patient bed for a few more minutes when there was a knock at the door. The nurse wanting to clean the room for the next patient didn’t realize I was still there. Still undressed. I was feeling paralyzed with this information. The nurse was startled, said her pardons, and proceeded to leave when that nagging, uncontrollable, I-am-not-breathing sob escaped. She turned around and reached her hand out to me, with kind words of “his delivery tactic can be very poor sometimes. Do your research on this and call me with any questions,” and lastly, “it’s not over yet; you have time.”
Feeling lethargic, I got dressed, wiped the mascara off my cheeks. I put my game face back on and returned to work, not giving this appointment and conversation another thought. I had big time travel plans for work coming up. I was a part of a high exposure project. I needed to make a name for myself. I let work runneth over everything baby related in my brain.
I was surprised to find myself feeling an emptiness within me a couple of months later, after the project came to a close and I was starting to resume my regular responsibilities. I wrote it off to post-implementation let down/depression. A few more months passed and this emptiness was still lingering. The emptiness would appear in the mornings before I arrived at work, it would appear as a heavy heart and the same lethargy I felt the day of the appointment. I would go through the motions but at a slower pace and internally I felt like I was a zombie.
This was also around the same time Angelina Jolie had just adopted -or was in the process of adopting -a child internationally, as a single parent. I read an article about her decision in one of the fashion magazines that contained the most adorable picture of her and her son. He was sitting on the bed, she was laying with her head in his lap. He had one hand on her face, embracing it, cuddling it and was kissing her forehead. I felt the love. I felt the connection between the two of them. I felt the same tears stream out of my eyes as they did the day of my appointment.
Through the tears and the mascara, I flipped open my laptop and starting searching the internet for international adoptions. Overwhelmed by the countless number of links to adoption agencies, websites with tips on adoptions, and online adoptive parent communities, I closed the laptop and again put it out of my mind.
It had been about eight months since I had completed the international adoption search on the internet. I hadn’t really given the baby thing too much more thought after that. Though I did focus on dating very seriously after that appointment. I joined Match.com and eHarmony.com, and communicated my ass off with dozens of men. I had numerous first dates with all the WRONG men. Date, date, date, date, date, and as I sat there in the bar or restaurant or coffee shop with these men, I knew within ten to twenty minutes of meeting them that they weren’t going to be the next boyfriend or husband, which meant no marriage, no baby. I would completely check out of the date. Trying to find a nice break in the conversation so I could make up an “emergency” and bolt! I was getting super frustrated with the dating process. I had nothing nice to say about it. I then met a man from work who I connected with while traveling in Mexico. I thought he was nice, somewhat funny, cute. He and I were both so cynical about dating. I immediately had us married in my head because now I was 36. One year older, one year closer to that cut-off date.
We had chatted via instant messaging quite a bit, grabbed drinks and dinner a couple of times. It was after one date when he proceeded to kiss me goodnight with chewing tobacco in his mouth that I realized that I was done with dating for a long time. I mean, really, who does that?
As I drove home from the restaurant, I knew I was never going to hear from him again. And it was then the adoption/single parent idea just popped right back into my head and settled in. It felt real and right, comfortable, like an old shirt.
The next day, I opened the laptop and again Googled “international adoption”. This time, I read each link that was returned, one at a time. So much information to process, so much to consider regarding what country, age of child, costs, etc. I wrote down as much as I could on the countries that accept single parents. I put all of this information in my purse and kept it there. Before I did anything I needed to tell my mother. She is my sanity, my insanity, my rock. Whether or not she approved, I was moving forward with becoming a mother.
I picked up the phone, dialed her work number and before she could say hello, I blurted out “I want to adopt a child internationally. I want to be a mom. I want to give a child a good home.”
I was nervous about her response. I expected her to either say nothing or have a negative comment about being a single parent. She had neither. She said, “have you considered having one of your own?”
“Uh, you need a man for that mom. And I don’t have one.” (Hello, mom, obvious? Thanks for rubbing it in!)
“No, you can try using a donor. I am sure there are donor banks somewhere.”
Dumbfounded by her response, my lower jaw hit the desk. After a long pause I said, “Ok, never thought of that. I’ll consider it.”
And that was it. Call was over. I went back to work.
That night, instead of doing more research on adoption, I Googled “donor sperm”.
It came time for my annual appointment. I had a different kind of nervousness going into the office. I wasn’t nervous for the exam as I usually am. I was nervous because I had planned to ask about the donor insemination process. This meant I was going to tell someone about my desires. My unconventional, non-suburbia way of achieving my dreams of being a mother. I was shaking when I wrote it down on the paperwork. I was petrified of the judgment the doctor would have about me wanting to be inseminated using a donor and not having a husband.
I didn’t say a thing when I was called back to the exam room. I let the nurse take my vitals, and when she asked if I had any concerns for the doctor, I bit back quickly, “No!” I know she read the paperwork I had completed when I arrived for my appointment. I didn’t want to tell her; that would make it real, and I wasn’t ready for the judgment.
Then I waited. And waited. It felt like an eternity for the doctor to enter the room. My hands and feet were clammy and I could feel my heart pounding so hard it was coming out of my chest.
Finally, the doctor entered. We exchanged the usual uncomfortable greetings. He flipped open my chart and started mumbling off my vitals, my history and then paused. He sat down in his chair, and turned around to look at me.
“So, you want to have a baby with donor sperm?”
“Yes,” I replied, biting my tongue to a point of bleeding, fighting off the tears, praying my heart stays in my chest.
“Ok. Well, we don’t do that here. You’ll have to see Dr. XYXY. Do you understand the process?”
Fumbling over my words, I said, “Yes … not really …well, no.”
He explained the details in his thick Irananian accent, never making eye contact with me. I kept my head down, repeating “uh-huh”, to all of his statements. It was like neither of us wanted to have the conversation, but he was doing so out of medical obligation and I was doing so because if I didn’t, I’d be letting myself down.
Appointment came to a close and as he walked out of the exam room, he said, “I’ll have the nurse give you Dr. XYXYX’s phone number. Good luck. We’ll see you when you are pregnant.”
No sooner did the door meet the door jam, was I standing over the garbage can vomiting up whatever I had left from breakfast. I couldn’t believe I did it. I actually told someone who could make a difference in this plan, of the plan. An action step completed. An action step that actually had action. No more dreaming about this, no more fantasizing. Actuality. Reality. “Holy Crap Melissa” I said to myself, looking in the mirror on the wall as I pulled myself together.
Standing at the nurse’s counter, with the doctor next to me, he instructed the nurse to provide the phone number and the reason why. I could have fallen over and crawled under the carpet at that point. I thought I was going to get out of the office before it was mentioned. Nurse looked over her glasses at me, and said, “ok” in a disapproving this-isn’t-the-city-this-is-married-with-two-kids-suburbia tone.
I grabbed Dr. XYXYX’s card and hightailed it out of the office. I cried all the way back to my car. How dare she judge me? I thought to myself. She has no idea what I’ve been through in my life. No idea that the quality of man that I find attractive and available today is far less than I had ever imagined. No idea that if I don’t become a mother, it’s a life deal breaker (now, not sure exactly what that means because it’s not like I was going to die if I didn’t become a mother. And there are many avenues of motherhood other than just giving birth to your own biological child).
I put the card in my wallet, where it sat for almost a month before I looked at it again.
Interview with Holly Vanderhaar by The Next Family
TNF: How has it been blogging for TNF?
It’s great. I tend to think in “personal essay mode” anyway, and I often find that, in the process of writing my entries, I work through the issue and I find answers to questions I didn’t even realize I was asking. I’m also honored to be able to contribute my voice to such a wonderful community of families.
TNF: How is your family like every other family and how is it different?
Wow. This is a tricky question. I expect that we’re like every other family in that we have our ups and downs, moments of tension and turmoil and not liking each other very much, mixed with laughter and adventures and moments of being completely in sync with each other. Those are the extremes, and most of the time, we just kind of roll along and live our lives. My job is to try to make the positive extremes outweigh the negative ones!
I think every family is unique, though, so pinning down how ours is different is tougher. You could argue that we’re unique in that I’m a single mom by choice who has identical twins; I only know a couple of those, even counting my wide circle of online acquaintances. I think my membership and participation in Single Mothers by Choice (an international organization started by Jane Mattes) makes me feel like I’m part of a huge community of “like” families. But we’re different in the same way that individuals are different.
TNF: Did your family accept you and your lifestyle? If yes, explain and if not, explain what you have done to help them to accept your decisions and your lifestyle.
Yes, my family has been incredibly supportive of my choice to become a single mom, even if some of them had their doubts in the beginning. I get a lot of help, even though we don’t live near them anymore.
TNF: How do you juggle the work at home with your jobs?
Not well, I’m afraid. I feel like I’m constantly three steps behind, remembering appointments at the last minute (or not at all), and I often end up working after my kids go to bed. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a flexible schedule, so I can pick them up from school and help with homework and violin practice, but that means that I end up working after they go to bed at night. I do try to focus on them for those few hours, but I’m not always successful, and if I have a deadline looming, I end up working on the weekends when I’d rather be hanging out with my daughters. But I’m not an organized person by nature, and my house is a mess, and I’m constantly shamed when I drop them off for play dates at their friends’ immaculate houses. My fantasy is to live in a spotless, uncluttered, and well-run house, but I’m afraid it’s probably destined to remain a fantasy.
TNF: What lessons do you feel are the most important to teach children in this day and age? Are there any lessons they, or perhaps we as parents should unlearn?
I think generosity is incredibly important. Generosity of time and attention and support as well as generosity of material goods. Compassion. Thinking of others and not just ourselves. Approaching life from a position of abundance and gratitude for what we have rather than what we lack. Taking a long-term view: what kind of world are we leaving behind for future generations? And a love of learning. All of these are very important.
I think we have lost sight of the importance of the common good, of sacrificing some things to help those who have less. We’ve also forgotten how to slow down, I think. And we have lost the art–if we ever had it–of disagreeing in a civil and respectful way. We as adults have a responsibility to model mature behavior and civil discourse to our children. We demand it of them, but we aren’t willing to demand it of ourselves.
TNF: Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?
Joseph Campbell said it first and best, but my advice is “follow your bliss.” And believe that everything you need will come to you.
TNF: Anything you want our readers to know about you or your family?
Not really. It will probably all come out in the blog eventually!
By: Holly Vanderhaar
“Why are we here, again?”
This is the question I found myself answering —over and over again— when my daughters and I attended the 30th Anniversary Celebration of Single Mothers by Choice. I had of course told them that the celebration was the main reason for our trip to New York —their first trip— but they were more caught up in the excitement of the cabs and subways, the Empire State Building, and the cheesecake…ohhhh, the cheesecake.
“This is a big meeting with other families like ours, other families without a dad. Some of the other moms used a donor, like I did, and some adopted their kids.”
Then: “I thought you said there would be donuts.” And, “Can we go back up to the room and watch TV?”
When I started my journey to single motherhood in 2001, I was going to do this right. I joined SMC. I made friends with other local SMCs. I rehearsed the “why we don’t have a daddy” speech until I was comfortable. I was going to spare my child as much existential angst about our unconventional family structure as I could.
I should have known that road maps are useless on this particular journey, at least in our case. I should have known this when the ultrasound revealed I’d conceived identical twins on an unmedicated, poorly timed, “Hail Mary” insemination. The Daddy Question was posed not while cuddling up at bedtime as I’d always pictured it, but in the hosiery department at Target on a Sunday morning with other shoppers around (who were, no doubt, listening avidly). There went my composure, and I panicked: I didn’t think it was any of the nosy shoppers’ business, but I also didn’t want to give my daughters any sense of shame, any impression that it was something we Didn’t Talk About. So I stammered my way through a truncated version of my carefully crafted speech.
We lost our local SMC support system when we moved from Phoenix to St. Paul, Minnesota so I could go to grad school. The girls were four at that time, and I had every intention of connecting with the large community of Minnesota SMCs. But our weeks were hectic; the girls had started full-time pre-K, I was busy with my coursework and coping with teaching undergrads at the same time, and by the time the weekend came around, we just wanted to nest at home. My personal support system ended up being rebuilt out of my fellow grad students, one of whom was a single mom by divorce. And my daughters had each other. And time passed.
So now here we are, four years later. I still want to provide them with a community of families that look like ours. But I’m realizing that it’s not necessarily something they want —or, more accurately, it’s not something they see the point of. It may be a twin thing, first because they’re used to being different from their peers just by virtue of having a twin; and second, because they have a built-in support system that no singleton will ever understand. This is clearly my baggage. It doesn’t stop me worrying, though. Should I push them more, encourage them to build relationships with other SMC families? Or, by pushing, am I putting at risk their perception that our family structure is, if not normative, at least unremarkable? They don’t feel a need to have their lives normed by association with others “like us” and that’s a good thing, right?
Holly Vanderhaar is a freelance writer and a single mother by choice. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her twin daughters, two cats, and too many books.
By: Julie Gamberg
At the zoo, all my toddler wants to do is touch the animals. “No, honey,” I tell her, “This is their house and they want to stay there and they want us to stay here and they do not want us to touch them. But we can wave hello.” “But,” she says, “I want hippopotamus to go uppy” (meaning she wants to lift up, cradle, and hold the nice little 500-pound hippopotamus).
We just started a small class in someone’s house which involves having several animal visitors with whom we can interact – including petting, touching, and in some cases holding and feeding them. During our last class, we met a juvenile wolf, a chicken, and a pot-bellied pig.
My child loves the idea of pigs. She loves wolves. But did she want to touch and pet them? Did she “want wolf to go uppy”? Of course not. When the animal was there, without restrictions, without a cage, she was hesitant. “But look honey, you get to actually pet the wolf. It’s a very friendly wolf. Let’s pet it.” Suddenly she is way more interested in snacks and playing, and opening and closing the gate to the pen.
I’ve realized through watching her how true it is that children process the world at their own speed and in their own time and I’ve also had to realize that I need to make a concerted effort to adjust my own thinking to reflect that. Just as my perception of time shifts depending on if I’m, say, having a good time, or bored, so does it also shift depending on how pressured or relaxed I’m feeling, or on other aspects of a situation.
It may appear to me that all my child wants to do at the zoo is go after the forbidden fruit – touch the animals behind the cages – but it may be that in reality we’ve already been at the zoo for 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or an hour, before she feels “ready” to touch the animals. It may be that I’m so sick of telling her she can’t touch them that from my perspective I feel like she’s been asking forever.
And likewise, when we’re at the animals class, which I have paid for, and at which we only have a limited amount of time in which to interact with the animals, it’s quite possible that time moves in the other direction. That I can’t believe six whole minutes have gone by and she still doesn’t want to cuddle with the wolf.
Oh, kids. Oh, parents.
By: Julie Gamberg
I work within the community with children and their parents and I see again and again how much learned behavior comes directly from parents. Parents who behave in a generous, caring way, who offer to help, who are involved and engaged, generally have kids who exhibit a lot of the same behavior. And vice versa. Yet at the same time, when the kids are siblings there are clear, strong differences between the children – begging another peek at the age-old question: What is learned and what is innate?
There are three children in one family I work with: An older child, Marcus, a younger child, Brian, and a middle child, Sarah. The children seem vastly different from one another: Marcus is incredibly outgoing, bright, sweet, and a total showboat. Sarah is a little bit shyer – she prefers quieter activities like reading and drawing. She ponders what others say and she thinks before she speaks. Brian is painfully shy, often hiding behind his father’s sturdy legs, or literally running outside to sit alone. He can sustain quiet activities with an intense focus.
Now that I have my very own child – with her emerging strong personality – I look constantly for signs in her of what I am teaching her and what seems to come from her very own inner place – from synaptic connections, from a pre-ordained personality, from stardust. I think about how to give her the absolute best of me, and how to keep the worst of me off of her radar. I worry that she sees that I get anxious. Am I teaching her anxiousness? I know she sees that I don’t bound out of bed in the morning – that I am spacey and like to spend time staring off into the middle distance, or thumbing through a magazine. Am I teaching her lethargy, or worse, some sort of rejection of life (or at least of mornings!)? I sometimes get lost in work – in the computer, in my smart phone. Am I teaching her to value technology over human contact? Does her fierce independence come from my own? Will she know it’s okay to need and depend on other people?
I think about Brian, and Sarah, and Marcus. Their differences. And I think about their parents. One is quieter, one is more outgoing. They are both smart, and thoughtful, and incredibly kind and giving. And I think about the kids again. For all of their differences, all three kids are also incredibly kind, in their speech and in their actions. However, they demonstrate their kindness in very different ways, and with shy little Brian, it’s especially hard to see. Yet I remember a discussion about teasing in which one child said that it was okay if it was meant well, and Brian shook his head. Someone asked him what he was thinking and he said, “It’s not good to hurt somebody’s feelings.” Shy Brian is five years old.
When I think again about my daughter, I imagine she will probably pick up on many of my habits, good and bad. I think that she will undoubtedly have a personality which at times confounds me – with her own set of rhythms, preferences, quirks, and behaviors. And I’m also going to assume that the core values I hold – those which I show her again and again through my actions and my behavior – especially my behavior toward her — will be perhaps the strongest single influence in her life. No matter what kind of kid she is, what kind of adult she becomes, no matter what personality emerges, I am plowing forward with the assumption that her behavior will be very connected to my own.
The year before last I volunteered on my birthday, and I loved it. My daughter was six months old. This year, I didn’t get it together. My daughter, at a year-and-a-half, is soon entering an age where I can start and sustain traditions and she will grow up thinking this is what people do. I can create a world for her and invite her to see certain behaviors as normal, certain values as a given. I realize how easy it is though to get lost in the endless variables. The influence of media and peers. The differences between siblings and how this can seem to indicate that parents do not have a major effect on their children. The innate personalities of our children which can sometimes seem so different from our own. The developmental stages in which children exhibit all sorts of behavior that make us worry that they will grow up to be psychopaths. All of this is a distraction from the plain truth – children learn how to be in the world from seeing how those who raise them are in the world. The closer I look – the more I look underneath the surface – the more I’m reassured that, for better or worse, I am making quite an impression.
By: Julie Gamberg
My next-door neighbor has terminal brain cancer. When I hear him coughing, which is, intermittently, twenty-four hours a day, I imagine many a touching independent or foreign film in which two urban apartment neighbors who have never really met come together over something serious and profound and both of their lives are changed forever while a young child learns the values of compassion and overcoming social barriers to care for those in need. But instead, when we see each other in the hall or–cringe– in the elevator, it is incredibly awkward.
I should say, he has never actually told me he is dying of brain cancer. I learned it through someone else living in the building, and then from his girlfriend as she was moving out because she “can’t handle it,” she told me. I also want to say he has always been very reserved, at least to me. Once, when my toddler wandered out of my apartment and into theirs in a never before or since seen moment of both doors being open at once, I went to get her and found him and his girlfriend in an intimate embrace right inside the door. Their faces looked pained and deeply sad. He shot me a look that was hard to read, but it seemed to be a combination of annoyed, angry, and embarrassed, underlined with a polite butt-the-fuck-out. I took my daughter, mumbled an apology, and went back inside. This was the week before his girlfriend left, so hindsight puts such a lump in my throat at having witnessed what must have been a devastatingly difficult moment for them both.
When I think of the movie version of what could be, however, I imagine that my neighbor witnessing budding new life next door – a pregnancy, a birth, a little baby becoming a toddler –would be both difficult and somehow redemptive. That I would bring casseroles, and offer rides to the hospital and he would play with my daughter and derive some comfort from that. Maybe he would tell us something he’s never told anyone else, and I would encourage him to try something he’s always dreamed of. He would give my child a small stone of special significance from some far-away place that she would treasure forever. Yet when I actually see him, I fear my daughter and I are an annoyance. That the loud message of life going on, of new life coming to take the place of the lives which are gone, is a painful sight, and that if he had his druthers, he would not be dying, a middle-aged black man, in a one-bedroom apartment, next door to a single white mom and her baby.
I feel such pains over this alienation and isolation. Over our urban condition. I would like some way to be there for him that doesn’t fill me and him with such awkwardness that we are both, literally, shuffling a bit. I was in my same apartment when I went into labor, alone, and it was an extremely fast and painful labor. I was screaming uncontrollably and in between screams, my first and foremost wish was that no one, no stranger who doesn’t even know my name, who will undoubtedly say and do the most very wrong things, that no one from the building, would come to my door. So I understand what he might be feeling. That I might be the most wrong possible person to bring casseroles, to offer trips to the hospital. And I also want to say, he is not alone. He has family and friends that come and visit him. I think one might be a grown child. I occasionally hear an “I love you,” as someone is leaving. I do not want to say, “I’d probably be in the way anyway,” as an excuse. Yet I fear that might be the case. That for him to share such intimacy, such heartache, with a stranger who he would have to continue to see every day would be incredibly painful. I wonder and wonder about this now especially, because it’s not just me. I’m modeling all the time for my child how to be in the world. I dread the day that my neighbor will no longer be there. That ambulances will come in the night, or that his family will escort him out, or that they will find him there. There is a moral reckoning that I don’t want to save for that day. I want to do it now. I want to make conscious choices about how I behave because I want to create, as much as I am able, the world that looks like the one I want for my child. Yet as much as I imagine myself reaching out, as much as I’m the type of person who would reach out, somehow I always stop short.
By: Sheana Ochoa
I’m glad Noah is a boy. This is a sexist remark and I admit it. If we lived in a gynocratic society, I’d wish he were a girl. As a mother, I just want him to have the smoothest path through this unwieldy road of life.
This morning my fiancé and I had to pay the rent. I said, “I’ll pay $1000, you pay $995.” He said, “Let’s do it the other way around.” I smiled and wrote my check for the lesser amount, because, for whatever reason, he felt better that way.
“When are you going to change your last name?” He asks me, meaning to his last name once we’re married.
Right now as a single mom I get a lot of advantages, one of which is great health care for Noah through Healthy Families. If I get married or call attention to the fact that I’m married by changing my name, I could lose that insurance. Noah recently had a chronic ear-infection. He had to go under anesthesia and they took out his adenoids and put tubes in his ears. The whole thing cost five dollars. If I had to pay for this we wouldn’t be going on a honeymoon and we’d be in debt.
The other day, I had to return to the mechanic because my car was still out of alignment after paying them to fix it. My fiancé, Jordan, followed me there, as we expected to leave my car. When we arrived, he waited in his car while I dealt with the mechanic who said he had test-driven the car himself and it was fine and could I have hit a pothole?
Are you seeing the pattern? Double standards everywhere.
The mechanic condescended to me because I was a woman and I wanted Jordan to come with me to talk to the mechanic because he’s a man. However, after thinking about it, I would expect anyone to come with me, even if a girlfriend had driven me, because let’s face it, mechanics take advantage of women who (generally) don’t know a lot about cars. I’d want some back up.
When I got perturbed at Jordan for not instinctively accompanying me, he said he was going to alert the “feminist brigade”, because I was being sexist. He said I would have to start ironing his shirts, which is a running joke with us. I don’t iron. I buy clothes that don’t have to be ironed or I go wrinkled. So, the joke is that he “got jipped at the Latina store.”
The other day he asked me if I knew how to sew a button and I was actually pleased with myself to answer in the affirmative. I didn’t ask him if he knows how to sew a button and I don’t want to know, because sewing that button made me feel wifely. Did I just write that? What I liked is he didn’t ask me to sew the button, assuming I knew how. This is how I want to raise Noah, to not assume the stereotypes. To not expect his girlfriend or wife to know how to make pasta or change a diaper.
If you ask me, I would say I’m not a hard-core feminist. Why? Because I expect Jordan to open the car door for me. It makes me feel special. Does this small act of kindness that makes me feel special perpetuate inequality of gender? I really doubt it. But I could be wrong. The word “feminist” just doesn’t resonate with me because of all the negative connotations that come with that term. I do believe, and fiercely, in equal rights for EVERYONE. Still, I prefer Jordan to drive and to take out the trash. In the same breath, I’ll assemble curtain rods, shelves, hang pictures.
I picked the perfect partner. He’s not metrosexual, but I wouldn’t call him a man’s man either. And yet, when Noah screams high-pitched, he has said he shouldn’t scream “like a girl.” But I’m guilty of the same thing. When our nanny brought Noah a toy her other client was going to throw out, a pink bus filled with cooking utensils, I said something along the lines of it being a “pussymobile.” Alas, my generation is still socially ingrained in gender prejudice. Noah likes the pink bus because it lights up and its door opens and it’s different from his other toys. Noah screams at scary spiders and dinosaurs because he thinks it’s funny. At this age, gender socialization hasn’t kicked in yet. I don’t want it to, but I also don’t know how to keep my fiance’s or my indoctrination from Noah.
Still, I confess, I’m glad I had a boy. I also want a girl. In fact it seems to me that I would be more aggressive with a girl when it comes to gender prejudice. I’d buy her trucks and balls from the get-go, whereas I wouldn’t think of buying Noah a doll. There’s a game Noah and I play. He gets in the bath and says, “Not too hot.” Then I say, “Not too cold.” And together we say, “Just right.” This has evolved into other areas: not too wet, not too dry, just right, etc. So, I’m aiming to rear a well-balanced boy –not too macho, not too metro. Just right. And just to be clear, if he turns out to be gay or bisexual, the previous sentence still applies. Although I want him to be “just right”, I’d hate for him to be drearily “normal”.
By: Julie Gamberg
I know another single mom who, after feeling very disconnected from her tween son, embarked on a project of spending just fifteen minutes a day where she is totally present with him, and then journaling about it. I was privileged to hear some of her journal entries and it’s clear that both her relationship with her son, and also her own feelings about herself are improving.
Inspired by this project, I set out to do this same thing this week. Spend fifteen fully present minutes with my 16 month-old, and then journal about it. And let me tell you folks, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Here was the score at the end of the week:
Fifteen consecutive fully present minutes: 1 point, me. 6 points, scattered days
Journaling about it: 0 points. me. 7 points, way too much to do
If I had had time to journal about it, I might have written about how as soon as I sit down to read, and cuddle, and then follow my daughter around the apartment where she’s jumping on things, playing ball, driving her little car, asking for crayons, and getting into the child-proofed drawers … mere minutes after starting out to focus just on her, my mind is a’flitter with everything that needs to be done around the house, on the computer, on my phone, as well as everything that we have coming up that day, or that night, and how I will have to pace things so that my daughter eats, and sleeps, and has time for transitions. Before I know it, she is engrossed in an activity, and I’ve slunk off to wash some dishes, or eat for the first time, or return a quick phone call. Through this exercise, I’ve realized that my undivided attention to my daughter tends to come in very short spurts. As soon as she turns away to do something else, so, often, do I.
As a working, single mom, my time is especially limited, but I’m seeing that this is why it’s even more important that I carve out time just to connect with my child. A friend of mine talks about parenting as a spiritual or meditative practice. When I think about it that way, making time to be present seems even more important. This week I’m going to try double journaling (two chances to increase my score!). A few minutes of journaling before our fifteen minutes, to clear some of the clutter from my mind, and to concretely set my intention. And then, after our deeply connected time, and after finishing dinner, and the dishes, and putting her to bed, and finishing my work, I’ll remember that there was also supposed to be a post-fifteen-minutes journal, and I will fall asleep dreaming of the stories my friend used to tell me about when she would sit Zazen and be hit with a stick while meditating to keep on task. I’m looking forward to trying to connect with my child with greater awareness. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. And I’m glad there are no baby monks to make sure I stay with it.
By: Sheana Ochoa
I’m writing under duress because my son is crying as my fiancé puts antibiotic drops in his ears. Once they’re done, he will come to mommy and I will have to stop writing because he is going to want me to rock him or play hide and seek or get him something to drink. So, here he is and well, I didn’t guess correctly: He wants to read a book. I’ll be back shortly . . .
When I awoke yesterday morning, I felt resentment towards my son, this baby I chose to have on my own to love and nurture and rear to be a well-adjusted, thoughtful human being. The feeling was new. I’d never felt resentment towards him, not when he woke me every two hours to nurse in the beginning, not when he whacks me in the face, not even after the time he embarrassed me in the grocery store screaming because I didn’t give him the cookies he wanted. Those things are part of being a good, patient mother.
What I resented yesterday was opening an email from a good friend to discover she wouldn’t be attending my wedding because her mother has an operation scheduled in May and she will have to take care of her and that was as far as I read before Noah began screaming at me because I was reading an email instead of watching Jurassic Park with him. What I resented was that one of my other best girlfriends returned from Germany last weekend. I haven’t seen her in five years or met her two sons and I haven’t had a minute to even talk to her on the phone. What I resent is that I have this blog due tomorrow morning and I don’t like doing things last-minute (which, as you can see I’m writing now and everything’s okay). What I resent is I have a good friend from Japan and I haven’t had a chance to call him and see if his family back home is all right. What I resent is that my eyebrows aren’t plucked, my hair is dirty, the house is a clutter. I resent that I’m writing this without my glasses and my eyes are burning because I’m afraid if I stand up and look for them, my son will notice me and realize I’m not paying attention to him.
This, like every feeling, will pass. But, while I’m feeling it, I’m not going to beat myself up. In desperation yesterday morning, I called a mentor of mine to confess how self-centered I was being and how it was wreaking havoc on my state of mind. She told me it wasn’t my job to write a blog or clean the house. My job, she told me, was to be the best mother I could be today. That made me feel better. For about an hour.
Another strange phenomenon I’m noticing in addition to the self-centeredness: blame. I remember when I was in prenatal yoga class with several other moms-to-be who all had significant others except me. I remember how happy I was throughout my pregnancy even when I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep or when I couldn’t stand up straight the last month because of Braxton Hicks contractions. (Ironically, I was just interrupted, not by my two year old, but by my fiancé who needed me to get an itch on his back real quick, which of course called attention to my presence and the fact that I wasn’t paying attention to my son and now he’s whining.) Where was I? My point is we all, my fellow yoga mamas and I, had things to complain about –from swollen ankles to sleep deprivation –and what I noticed is these women took it out on their partners. Why didn’t they help around the house more, massage their feet, make dinner once in a while? And I, having no one to blame, reveled in the good and the bad of the miracle of life growing inside of me.
Now that I have a significant other, I noticed these past two days that not only was I resentful towards my son, I was angry at my fiancé. Why? Because I was, as he said this morning when we woke up, “morally exhausted.” That got a much needed laugh out of me and put me in my place. I don’t know why we take things out on the ones we love, but here I have been extremely intolerant, probably even a wee bit irrational with my poor husband-to-be when the problem is me. I just haven’t been accepting that my un-met agenda is not important enough to ruin my day, or anyone else’s.
Here’s my angel, all three feet of him, staring at me with that puppy-dog plea, actually waiting for me to address him instead of hitting my leg and shouting “Mama!” which is the usual protocol for gaining my attention from the computer. And so I have to go. It isn’t the best way to end a blog, but I have to go.
By: Julie Gamberg
I love reading, and books, and language. I like academia and I’m a bit of a (non-technical) geek. Which means, research shows, that it is very important that I do not push my child in any of those directions, and instead allow her to slowly, developmentally, find her way to her own academic interests. So I resist my inner-desire to help her read at three, as I did. I resist my desire to point out letters, and sounds, and teach her the ABC’s. In fact, so great is my resistance, that we do not even sing the ABC song in my household. Where academic learning is involved, we’re a no-fly zone. It’s all developmental around here.
Or it was.
Somewhere, somehow, just this week, my daughter heard the ABC song. And she loved it! And she started requesting it. A lot. The first day she requested it, she asked me to sing it perhaps, no joke, 50 times. She wanted it for diaper changes. She wanted it in the car. She wanted it for her lullaby.
Two days later, she had not tired of the ABC song. My moratorium had taken a hit. And then, a startling bit of academic development happened. I opened the refrigerator with her in my arms, and she pointed to a plastic tub of S-A-L-S-A, put her fingers on the words, and said “ABC’s.”
Now I realize that all of you with children older than mine (she’s 16 months) have already experienced these learning surges that seem to come from the ether. One moment she doesn’t know something, nor does she know the first thing about it, and the next moment she’s the resident expert.
But still, the alphabet?? Letters? Letters which later make words which then make lines of poetry, or sentences, which lead to brilliant ideas, short stories, and novels? In our non-academic, play-based, developmental household?
I had a brief internal struggle and then thought: Okay, hold onto your onesie, because if ABC’s you want, ABC’s you’ll get. Since last week, I’ve begun to sound out some letters when we read, to say the title of the book and then to re-read it, saying each letter one by one. She pays closer attention to the letters-part of the title and often asks me to do them again.
I know that there may come a point, possibly very soon, when she loses interest in letters, numbers, words, the alphabet. And I hope to remain as committed to play-based learning at that point, as I am now. To leave her with a few vowels in one pocket and a couple of consonants in the other and ignore reading for as long as they do in Sweden (age seven!). But, as long as she is asking for it, demanding it, delighting in it…then a moratorium on the moratorium! For this moment, I am following my child’s lead.
I’m grateful for my knowledge of developmental theory and my continual research which tells me that I have not been given carte blanche to push as hard as I can from now until my daughter is safely deposited at the doorstep of an ivy league college with a full scholarship. This means that even if she retains a childhood-long interest in academics, it will still be child-led, and as much as possible, play-based. But I’m equally grateful for moments when I can see past the general and hear who my kid is telling me she is. And for this moment, she is, like me, a person who loves reading, and books, and language.
[Photo Credit: camknows]