The Fall of Adam: An Issue of National Security

December 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, News, Parenting, Sheana Ochoa

By Sheana Ochoa

 

 

On the morning Adam Lanza discharged countless bullets on two rooms full of children and staff in Connecticut I was sound asleep next to my four-year-old son in Los Angeles. His grandpa was visiting and using his room so he slept with Mommy and Daddy. On the morning of the Newtown massacre, my son and I awoke, opened our eyes and smiled at each other. By then the children were dead. The rainstorm from the previous night had passed, but the temperature had dropped and my son and I stayed snug under the covers. “Will you scratch my back?” he asked and I did, reveling in the touch of his silky skin, still so much like a newborn’s. One day that baby softness will toughen from the elements and time. His heart will harden too as he learns prejudice and judgment and fear. This is the problem and there are solutions. It isn’t just my responsibility, though parents play the major role; it is this country’s obligation to help rear healthy, compassionate, and usefully whole human beings. But we need the resources.

As the investigation in Newtown ensued that day, I was still uninformed. My son and I dressed for school. He was excited that I’d be staying at school with him for the Christmas party. Christmas songs punctuated our play as children made paper and yarn stockings and heart-layered Christmas trees. Not all the parents came, and so I helped a couple kids make stockings of their own. We cleaned up, and after all the hullaballoo, the children were placated with plates of cookies and chips and juice. My son, content with treats, asked, “Aren’t you leaving, Mommy? All the other parents are going.” That was my cue so I left and if I had turned on the radio I would’ve heard what happened in Newtown and turned the car around to bring him home, but I did not listen to the news. As twenty bright stars lay extinguished in the classrooms where they fell I was gluing sequins and glitter onto Christmas stockings with my son. Yes, there’s guilt, which is unreasonable. But mostly there’s grief.

The day after the killings I awoke hoping it had been a nightmare, but when I saw the front page of the LA Times, I realized it really did happen. And now here were more pictures, more details to burrow into the recesses of my gnawing heart. I couldn’t remember the gunman’s name yesterday. But it rang like an alarm the next day: Adam. Original Man.

On the day of the massacre, it wasn’t until my dad and I were on the 10 freeway heading to UCLA Pain Management (the reason for his visit) that I turned on the radio and heard that 20 children and 6 adults had been slain. Eight and half hours had passed. The gunman was dead too. After my initial disbelief came incomprehension mixed with outrage: Why would somebody attack defenseless children? Then came a strange sympathy. Whoever did this, I thought, must be incredibly sick and in pain.

We don’t spend this country’s abundant resources on our children. On Monday, President Obama addressed Newtown at the high school saying, “This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.” I agree, but his words are mere platitudes if he doesn’t implement institutional change in health care, social services, teacher’s pay, school security, community awareness, resources for parents, and all the components that create the villages we need to rear healthy children.

If we spent as much money on our children -their empathic instincts, their emotional needs, their handicaps, their education- as we do on the war economy, perhaps Adam Lanza would have been given the tools to deal with his demons early on when he was as unblemished and vulnerable as the children he murdered. Our obsession and consequent immunity to violence has permeated the nation’s very soul. Mass murder doesn’t happen in other countries on this scale, and it’s escalating. The president is aware of this. Talking to the citizens of Newtown, he said, “There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America.” Obama said we have to change, but again, how is he, as our leader, going to do this?

As I waited for my father in the doctor’s office on the day of the shootings I visualized picking up my son. At his preschool, the door is locked and there’s a buzzer. A staff member sees the person at the door on a monitor and unlocks the door. There’s a sign-in/out sheet at the entrance, more to track attendance than as a security precaution. When I first enrolled my son, I remember thinking how unattractive this system was -the gates, the buzzer, having to wait for someone to let me in. At Sandy Hook Elementary, the late Principal Hochsprung had just installed the exact same security measures. It didn’t prevent Adam Lanza from entering the school.

At my son’s preschool, a substitute or class helper can buzz someone in. To clarify: they don’t have to necessarily identify or recognize who they are letting in with the children. It isn’t monitored. This has to change. We must institute a universal security system in every school throughout the country.

When I enrolled my son I signed a release form listing the specific people that could take him to and from school. It should be required that the parent supply the school with photos of these people and when someone announces that they are dropping off or picking up a specific child, there should be a security guard whose only job is to man the door, verifying on his computer that the person standing at the door matches the photo of the people on the child’s release form. Software would have to be developed. Cameras would have to be installed with a 360-degree view of the entrance. Employees would be required to meet with a relative or associate outside the school premises. These are logical and reasonable precautions. It isn’t rocket science. It surely wouldn’t cost a fraction of what we spend on our defense budget.

Without a doubt school safety is an issue of national security. These are demands every parent in this country needs to make. How many times will we live under the delusion that our children are safe with evidence to the contrary? I realize this isn’t fullproof. A “gunman” could still attack children at play outside. Or in the case of Sandy Hook, he could force his way in through a window.  But deterrents must be put in place if for no other reason than to buy time to call for help and secure the children in a bulletproof safe room out of harm’s way.

When I finally retuned home from the hospital, my son was watching a cartoon, happy to see me, but engrossed in the action hero. I hugged him, felt his baby smooth skin. As much as I wanted to hold him all night, I had to keep my distance, as my heart was in such turmoil, cycling between shock and fear and tears. I didn’t want to frighten him. I let him stay up after Daddy and Grandpa went to bed. We watched a Christmas movie and ate sweets, my gratitude overflowing. The parents whose children didn’t come home from school could not even say goodbye to their kids.

Before the first Adam committed the original sin of knowledge he knew nothing of fear. He lived in harmony with the world. Whether one believes that Adam’s fall was a fable or truth, it boils down to the same principle just like the laws of physics which we seem to have no problem following. That principle guides the spiritual, or moral, laws of our higher selves. The first Adam turned his back on his higher self when he placed self-will above that of the Universe. The moral of the story is that we all suffer when self-interest is placed above the greater good, that of the community and most importantly that of our most valuable asset, our children. Children in this country are not taught and have fewer and fewer examples of how to listen to their higher selves. Nor do they have the resources to get back on track when they lose their way. We have forsaken them. But we can change the destructive course we’re on. We can create the villages they need to thrive by investing in our schools and communities and by supporting parents.

A universal security system is simply one small measure of protecting our children, but it doesn’t resolve the root problem. The president has the majority of Americans supporting him. It is our job to let him know what we want him to do. It is our obligation to listen to our higher selves and prevent the massacre at Sandy Hook from happening again. Again, this is an issue of national security -not the war in Afghanistan, drones, or semiautomatic guns.

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Pretending Normal

July 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

Here I am with my dad before we walked down the aisle.  Pictures can be so deceiving.  That morning I had to take an ambien in order to nap; if I hadn’t napped, I would’ve felt very weak around 4pm when this picture was taken because I have an energy-depleting disease.  Just short of two weeks before this photo was taken my dad lost consciousness while driving. He veered off the road, but continued after he came to, thinking he could make it home.  Next thing he knew he lost consciousness again and was choking in his vomit off the highway. Paramedics rushed him to the ER. He was still sick and weak on my wedding day, but I think we held each other up pretty well.

In my penultimate blog, I wrote about my dad’s failing health.  Since he lost consciousness he hasn’t been the same.  There’s definitely something wrong, but we don’t know what.  We only know what is not wrong with him: the MRI showed his brain is normal, while the EKG and stress test show his heart is also in good shape.  I was sure his syncope while driving was due to a stroke, but apparently it wasn’t. Nor did it have anything, apparently, to do with the heart blockage they operated on back in January.  After a month of not finding any answers, I finally got him referred to UCLA medical center.  He came to stay with me last week and we started over with new doctors.

By the end of the week I felt I were reliving my three-year search for the cause of my own illness in which every test came back normal. Ultimately a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia was declared when all other illnesses with the same symptoms (MS, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis) were ruled out.  I wondered how they were going to find out what was wrong with my dad.  Throughout my own journey to figure out what is wrong with me, I’ve learned how little doctors know and how when they don’t know, they are loathe to admit it. They turn the tables and blame you for your woes.

More alarming for me this past week was how quickly I unraveled physically after taking my dad to doctors’ appointments, tests, calling and calling previous doctors to have his records forwarded to his new doctors.  Unable to focus on myself, I realized the extent to which I micromanage my life in order to make the outsides appear normal.  It may take all day, but by the time my husband comes home I’m usually bathed, my hair cleaned and brushed, the beds made, the dishes put away, and I try to find time between appearances —even if it’s only thirty minutes— to do something for myself so I don’t feel entirely useless at the end of the day.

While running my dad around (which I was honored and happy to do), I couldn’t keep up the façade. My husband had to do things I would usually do, like find an outfit for Noah and take him to daycare, pick up his apple juice, wash the coffee pot. It was truly eye opening to see how quickly my disability announced itself and my foundation crumbled. I couldn’t lie in bed if I felt dizzy or fatigued.  I couldn’t plan downtime to be alone and regroup in order to avoid stress so my symptoms weren’t exacerbated.  I couldn’t do the things I do, in effect, in order to have the wherewithal at the end of the day to pick my son up from daycare and be present with him and enjoy it. I couldn’t pretend to be a normal mother.

Instead, at night I found myself depleted, stressed, emotional, on the brink of being taken over by the illness. Just now I referred to “my disability”, not only owning it with the possessive “my” but naming it a disability.  I looked up disability: “a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job.”

I don’t even identify myself as disabled. I spend every day disguising it.  It feels as if I’m giving in if I say: “I’m disabled”, even though I receive a disability check, even though I take medication every day, even though I have a disability placard for when my energy suddenly abandons me and I can barely make it to my car. With all these factors, I still don’t think of myself as disabled.  I think of someone without a limb as disabled, but not someone with a chronic disease.  I guess it’s all semantics anyway, but it was brought home to me this last week.

Spending every day with my dad, I realized I was just as tired as he was.  I had to lie down in the middle of the morning just like he did, and then again when we returned from our office visits.  I had to take my medication just like he did.  I had to eat many times during the day in order to stave off nausea and weakness.  I was behaving like a sick 70-year-old.  I’m not humbled; I’m pissed off.  I listened to my dad, bewildered that all his tests were coming back normal.  He was frustrated and I identified.

Ten years into my illness I’m still trying “cures”. I’ve been on my present protocol for two years and it seems to be addressing the pain component of the illness, but that could also be the anti-anxiety medication I take.  In theory, I should have reversed the illness by now, but I’m maintaining faith that this time, this doctor knows what he’s doing.

All these years I’ve been telling myself that there has to be a reason for being sick. I’ve gone through variations of reasoning, from blame –“the illness was brought on by my own inability to accept unrequited love”, to altruism –“I got this in order to help others who are sick”.  Then I figured I must have this illness in order to transcend my corporeal body into the spiritual realm.  Spiritual transcendence dignified the illness, but never really explained it, mollified it, or answered the obvious consequential question: How does spiritual transcendence serve anyone (me, others, the universe) if I am STILL sick?

So I’m left, like so many others, to just live the best life I can with what I have.  There’s no doubt I’m blessed to have been able to have a child.  Still, I grieve where I could’ve been and what I could’ve accomplished this last decade if I had lived through my thirties (my prime!) in good health.  But I’ve learned one thing: you are what you focus on.  If I don’t focus on my illness (how do you not think about something that engulfs you everyday?), perhaps the good things in my life will flourish. I still believe deep down I will cure myself and that hope keeps me going. Focusing outside of myself is still the best cure.  I think it may just be the best cure for everything since our society is ego-driven.  And I’m back where I began: spiritual transcendence. If I could forget about myself, the illness would disappear too. It doesn’t get the dishes done, but maybe it’s made me a better person?  Right now, I’d just like to get to the point where I stop asking “Why?”, stop feeling I have to pretend to be normal and stop judging myself for not accepting that I am sick.

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Plan B: Marriage

By: Sheana Ochoa

After getting married I knew my status as a blogger for The Next Family would have to change from “single mother by choice” to “urban dweller”, which, I told my editor, didn’t sound as sexy.  I wondered how an urban dweller is representative of a modern family, the audience to which The Next Family caters?  Haven’t there been urban-dwelling families for centuries?  Sure, the fact that I had my two-year-old on my own by anonymous donor and then married the man who would become his father makes this urban-dwelling family different.  So different that I have new worries I hadn’t considered before:

-Since Noah won’t be asking why he doesn’t have a father, he will assume my husband is his bio father.  When and how do we tell him he is not?

-If we have another child, how will Noah feel that s/he is Daddy’s biological child and Noah is not -that Noah is different?

-How will Daddy’s feelings about his biological son or daughter be different from those he has for Noah?

There’s no doubt that having a father around is a good thing.  But although I knew Noah might encounter feeling different among his peers at school, I didn’t anticipate he might feel different in his own home with his own father.

Among the SMC community, we mothers have predecessors to help us answer certain questions, with “Why don’t I have a daddy?” being the primary one.  When the day came, I knew I would tell Noah: “There are lots of different families.  Some kids are raised by their grandparents, others just their moms or two moms or two dads.  You have one mom and everyone else that loves you from your aunt to Grandma.” And depending on his age when he asks, I might be able to add: “I wanted you so much that I had to actually plan to bring you into this world.  I had to save money and have long serious talks with Grandma and wait a year until I felt healthy enough and I had to make a lot of doctor’s visits even before I got pregnant.  It was the biggest decision of my life. Do you know why?  Because I knew that I would love you so much that I couldn’t stand living without you.  And now here you are because Mommy wanted you so badly.”

I am grateful that Noah is young enough to not be aware that my husband isn’t his “real” father.  Experts say that kids learn their most important social/emotional coping skills by seven years old.  So, if Noah gets to seven feeling secure and confident, I think he’ll be able to deal with “the truth.”  For instance, if he sees our wedding photos and notices he is the ring bearer, he’s too young to ask why we were married after his birth.  But I’m sure there will be many other “clues” along the way that will prompt him to ask questions and I want to be prepared to answer them.

Presently, I’m not.

When I decided to have a baby on my own, I didn’t have to think about this turn of events.  I never thought Plan B would be “marriage.”

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Pop, When Will You Listen?

By: Sheana Ochoa

Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from my brother saying that my dad had a heart attack.  This happened two months ago as well, and it ended up not being an attack, but a blockage, for which stints had to be applied in his arteries.  Although the first thing I wanted to do was make the three-hour trip back to the central valley (from which I just arrived that morning to retrieve my son after returning from my honeymoon), I called the hospital instead.  My dad was lucid and talking.  I learned we had to wait for the test results to see if it was indeed a heart attack this time.  This morning, I’m worried.  They’re still running tests, but I’m worried because here it’s gone and happened again.  It shouldn’t have if he were following his doctor’s advice.

This is the thing: my father doesn’t listen.  The running joke is that he has selective hearing and I do think his hearing has diminished with age (he’ll be 69 next month), but he can hear well enough. When I was a young girl I loved to listen to him.  It was fascinating the way he weaved stories together.  He would start on one topic such as something a friend said to him or something he saw on the street and weave it into a philosophical web that somehow spoke to what I was presently going through or thinking.  Just when his monologue turned an obscure, seemingly irrelevant corner, my dad would return to the initial impetus of the story, like a good raconteur, and conclude with his main point, which was now imbued with the weight of metaphor, didactics, and well-placed curse words such as “And just between you and me, I told the pendejo, ‘chinga tu madre,’ with all due respect to your mother, mija.”

Even if I could transcribe one of his stories, like any oratory, you really have to hear it for yourself to get the dynamics.  One thing I notice he does is meander into philosophy, quotes (often misquotes) from literature, and most importantly, he relates his message, very briefly, to something his listener is actually going through at the moment.  This keeps a captive audience as he continues to pontificate.

As an adult I still enjoy Pop’s gift of gab, but in any healthy relationship, it’s important to have two-way conversations.  In this way my dad is a lot like U.S. foreign policy: he monopolizes the conversation so insidiously, acknowledging your part in the discussion just enough to make you think he’s listening to you and taking what you say into account only in order to placate you enough to proceed with his own agenda.

As a result, I’ve learned to be very direct.  It’s the only thing that gets through to him.  You can’t get his attention with your insight on his topic and expect the conversation to become a mutual exchange. You simply have to say, “Pop, you’re not listening to me!” And then he’ll let me talk until he forgets he’s supposed to be listening and begin another soliloquy.

My dad has never worked for anybody but himself.  He was a painting contractor, which allowed him to be his own boss (and by default he didn’t have to listen to anyone else or be told what to do). I used to love to go bid jobs with him. Sales are all about feeling you can trust the person and my dad had a way of garnering that trust.  Who would say no to a father who brought his four-year-old daughter with him to work? Problem was that since he worked for himself, he never had to do things entirely by the letter.  He cut corners, didn’t pay his taxes, and of course this all caught up with him –although with absolutely no retirement, there isn’t much the IRS can do to him now.

My dad has always played by his own rules, and I admired that about him, but now with this second cardiac scare, his ineptitude at listening is turning into a tragic flaw.  All five of us kids came to his bedside when he was hospitalized in April.  I had become engaged and it was a temporary distraction for all of us.  When I was alone with my dad I told him about my then-fiancé’s father: “He had the same thing happen to him and the doctors told him he had to change his diet or he would die and he didn’t change his diet and died two years later.”  Again, I didn’t expect my dad to listen to this advice, not even after his doctor gave him the same directive, but then post-surgery my dad told me he kept thinking about Jordan’s dad and knew he had to make a lifestyle change.  I was thrilled.  He had listened to me!

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon. My brother told me my dad was still eating high fat content foods.  The test results show that his cholesterol level is off the charts. It isn’t surprising he’s back in the ER.  I know how difficult it is to change your lifestyle due to illness. But this is life and death and I’m not ready to lose my father; Noah needs his grandfather. My dad has so much to live for, especially his reunited love affair with his art.  And of course, there are his stories, the endless labyrinthine stories that bedazzle us all, even though we’re loathe to admit it.  Last time I touched my father, he walked me down the aisle and handed me off to my husband.  Next time I want to hold hands and have him show me his latest paintings, his garden, and tell me how willing he is to listen in order to save his life.

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My Mom, My Best Friend

May 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Single Parents

By: Sheana Ochoa

 

In my family of five siblings you can imagine all the trouble and worry we put our mother through.  She has always provided for us, bailed us out, and held us together.  Without her forcing us kids to be there at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I don’t know if I’d see my older siblings as much as I do.

I’m the youngest and because my parents divorced when I was seven, I think I had the least direction and stability growing up; consequently as an adult I lack self-discipline and have needed my mother for direction.  In the process, she has become my best friend.  She’s the only person I gossip with, whose feet I massage, watch old movies with; she’s my favorite travel companion because, like me, she’s game for anything –from bathing with elephants to tasting questionable food.  She’s been my champion throughout my life, and without her, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.

Case in point: I graduated high school at 17 and planned to backpack across Europe with a girlfriend who ended up reneging at the last minute.  I was inconsolably disappointed.  My mother found me on my bed crying when she came home from work. I sniveled, “Now I can’t go to Europe.” She sat on the bed and asked the simplest, most obvious question: “Why not?” She was the reason I went solo and became a fearless feminist in the process, experiencing the world on my own two feet.  And, many years later, when I failed to find Mr. Right and my bio clock was ticking and my mother and I were traveling in Thailand and I broached the subject of having a child on my own, without a thought, she pulled out a pad of paper and started writing down the pros and cons to see if my idea was even viable.  My mom is not a dreamer; she gets things done.

I knew as a girl that I wanted to be a writer and there was never a time that my mother discouraged me from following my dream.  She never suggested majoring in something more practical (translation: lucrative) than comparative literature.  She never hinted that I have a Plan B.  I had learned to be self-supporting by her example; I was young, with boundless energy and so she never had to worry about me taking care of myself financially while I pursued a writing career. I put myself through college and graduate school working and with scholarships.   But in my 30s, I contracted a baffling disease and ever since I’ve been struggling with not being the superwoman I was.  Still, I continued working till I collapsed, and it was my mom who would nurse me back to health, sometimes for several weeks before I could work again.  Those were precious and scary moments: a mother and her temporarily disabled daughter barely able to lift one foot in front of the other.  Before it got too dark, she would take me outside and hold me up and we trudged down the driveway and back to the house.  By the next week we’d make it all the way to the end of the block. Then all of the sudden I’d be better, skipping out of her house and back to my life. There is no way to thank her for those moments of healing in the dusk.

Back to my mother’s role in my family: perhaps other families have the same phenomenon, but there’s an expectation of my mother to be perfect.  I imagine because my mom has always been there to bail us out and listen to our woes, it seems we siblings expect my mother to be a sort of savior and when she doesn’t live up to that status, resentments abound as if she’s fallen short.  My father is not subject to these expectations.  I’ve participated in this patriarchal exception of the father’s role, which invariably comes from an American, puritanical view of an aloof, breadwinner who’s not to be bothered, and the hearth warmer whose day is never done cooking, cleaning, coddling.  But in my family, my mother was the breadwinner. The question begs what came first, the chicken or the egg?  Do we expect mom to be perfect because moms are supposed to be perfect, or because she herself has perpetuated this myth by striving for perfection, bordering on martyrdom?

Now that I’m a mother, I know how imperfect motherhood is.  I planned and fanatically researched the birth process and babyhood to the extent that when things didn’t go as planned, I took it out on myself. The failure and stress of breastfeeding compromised my already delicate health postpartum.  I became bedridden the first year of my son’s life.  Again it was Mom who came to the rescue, caring for my infant those first few precious months of life as I healed.

I’m getting married next weekend and it must be a relief for my mother to know that I will have a partner in life, other than her, whom I can turn to.  (She would say she misses me, but I know it’s also a relief.) Still, it is she I cry to when life gets me down.  She’s the one I call to share a new, funny thing my two-year-old, who we absolutely idolize, did that week. We went wedding gown shopping, and afterward, we stopped at our coveted bakery to gobble down our favorite chocolate cake.  We have fun, like two girls laughing and joking and holding hands.  I never had this with another woman in my life, and I don’t think I will unless, perhaps, someday I have a daughter of my own.

I could end it here, but there’s a coda.  I adore my father.  He’s quirky and eccentric and generous and sensitive.  But he lives to the beat of his own often-egomaniacal drum and after telling me he’d come to the wedding rehearsal dinner, he has changed his mind because something better came up.  I almost want to have my mom walk me down the aisle.  Still, after all the disappointments, I’m still daddy’s girl.  The thought of hurting his feelings and not letting him walk me down the aisle feels wrong, because I know he’s looking forward to it.  So, I’ll be holding on to my dad’s arm, but in my imagination, to my left, my mom will be holding my other hand.

 

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My Toddler’s Funny Bone

May 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Single Parents

By: Sheana Ochoa

I’m in love with my two-year-old son.  I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Because believe me, he is a gas. Even though the first words out of his mouth when he wakes, when I get him from daycare, and all through the evening are “I wanna,” I’m in love with him.  Only other parents get this, just like dog lovers when they start talking about their pets.  But whenever another mother finds out I have a two-year-old, she says, “Oh that’s the funnest age!”  And that’s true —I can’t see how it can get any more fun.

My kid has a fanciful funny bone!

I just never imagined a two-year-old could have a sense of humor.  When and how does one acquire a sense of humor?

Besides “I wanna,” Noah’s favorite refrain is “That’s funny.”  A dog licking him, a man wearing a strange hat, spilling juice as I’m pouring it into his sippy cup are all cause for laughter.  And we laugh hard.  We guffaw.

I need this right now.  In three weeks to the day, I’m getting married.  It’s a stressful time, busy-stressful.  So, although I want to check the order for party favors or call the hotel to see if people are reserving their rooms or finish writing thank you notes for our engagement party, I can’t do any of these things with a two-year-old’s constant need for attention: more juice, let’s run, I’m hungry, let’s read a book, sit down, let’s jump, come here!

He knows who the boss is, but boy does he do a lot of bossing around. So, although I’m put out for a second to have to stop what I’m doing, I end up having more fun being with him.  (Just now, my fiancé and I are at our computers [both on deadline] and he comes over from his temporary babysitter, “Baby Einstein”, and throws a big cloth globe at Daddy’s face.) Earlier when the plumber was over, Noah was naked (so that I can tell when he needs to pee —we’re potty training) and I didn’t want him running around willy-nilly, forgive the pun, in front of a stranger.  He’s in the hall and I whisper, “Hey, come here, let’s put some shorts on you.”  And without skipping a beat he looks at me, resolute in his decision not to follow my instructions and begins to walk away. “Noah!” I whisper louder so the plumber doesn’t hear.  He vacillates between coming into his room to change and going on his merry way, when I whisper more loudly, trying to sound authoritative: “No, really, Noah there’s someone here and you don’t have clothes on.”  He copies my tone with all the gravitas I’ve just displayed: “I’ll be right back.”  It was hilarious and suddenly I couldn’t care less about his willy on display.  We both laughed so long, the plumber was gone by the time we were done.

Noah will of course be our ring bearer.  That’s another thing on the list: getting him a tuxedo.  A tux at two, what could be cuter?  I’m gushing now, I know, but I guess what I’m getting at is this: if you’re planning a big change in your life: moving, a wedding, going back to school, changing jobs, etc, time it so you have a two-year-old around.  Most people would say a toddler would only make the situation more complicated, but it isn’t true: they make it fun.

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Losing My Religion -Southern Expression for Losing Your Cool

April 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Single Parents

By: Sheana Ochoa

In college I took a class called “Historical Jesus”, investigating the life of the real man who had older siblings and eventually married.  Whether accurate or not, it made me question what I had learned as a little girl that Jesus was immaculately conceived by a virgin and he himself was celibate.  Seeing Jesus as a man, rather than the “son of god”, perturbed me, because I felt I had been duped.  I remember thinking that children should not be taught religion.  They should be allowed to find “god” their own way through their specific life journey so as to never have to question whether they believe in something because they were brainwashed as a child or because they have personally experienced it.  Now that I have a son, I have a different understanding of god, but I still don’t want to introduce him to my ideas because I want him to follow his own path.

However, I do want him to understand there is intelligence behind nature’s design.  Soon he will start asking what makes the sun come up everyday and where did the “booboo” go that was on his finger when he cut it at the playground.  I guess I can explain the earth’s orbit and the cellular biology that heals wounds, but he might still wonder, as I do, who’s behind the design of all these things that happen so perfectly. I might just say, “Well, I call it god but that name is really arbitrary. You could also call it life force or love or whatever you like.”

In the meantime, I also want to practice some aspects of my spirituality without inundating him with my personal god-concept.  Mainly, I want to get into the habit of praying with my son at bedtime. For me prayer is not a supplication (although I’m guilty of that), but rather meditation, simply expressing gratitude and opening up a line of communication between my higher power and myself.  I know I could easily throw it into our bedtime routine between putting on a fresh diaper and filling his sippy cup with water, but I’m just not organized enough.  I mean, I forget to brush his teeth some nights; so throwing in another task seems daunting.

And then there’s his daddy (yes, it took some getting used to, but this single mother by choice’s fiancé has officially become “daddy” by Noah’s own choosing) who’s not particularly religious, but does happen to be Jewish.  Noah will be attending his first Seder during Passover.  I don’t think exposing Noah to Judaism as a culture is the same as indoctrinating him with religion. (Besides he isn’t circumcised so there you go.)

I want my son to grow up with the golden rule.  I’ll be happy if he simply practices tolerance, patience, and kindness, which starts by example at home.  Personally, in order to practice that myself, I have to keep a connection to my god.  When I lose that, it’s easy to lose my cool, and god knows (no pun intended) I need all the patience I can get with a toddler in the house.  So, Noah won’t be baptized; he won’t have a bar mitzvah, but he’ll know the stories of the Bible because it’s great literature; he’ll know how to give thanks through prayer and he’ll know the best he can do everyday is be kind to himself and others.

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Just Right

April 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Single Parents

By: Sheana Ochoa

single mom by choice

 

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”.

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A “Morally Exhausted” Navel-Gazer

March 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Single Parents

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.

 

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A Shared Life

March 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Single Parents

By: Sheana Ochoa

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If you’ve followed my blog, you know that in recent days I went from being a single mother by choice to an engaged mother and life partner.  We (suddenly it’s become “we” instead of “me”) gave ourselves a month and a half to find an apartment, which turned into six eager, disappointing, exhausting weeks before finally finding where we now call home: Noah’s bedroom is too small to play in; the kitchen cupboards are too short to fit cereal boxes; there’s not enough closet space for my clothes; there’s no appointed parking (which should’ve been a non-negotiable, living in LA); there’s no grass in the back; the rent is higher than we wanted to pay.  Despite all my complaints, I’m grateful to be living in such a lovely, large apartment with high ceilings and hardwood floors.  And more importantly, we are an official family living under the same roof.

Finding domestic bliss did not happen over night.  Throughout my thirties, I fell down and got back up again more than once and I’m still getting my legs back, but I’m up. Life was sad and frightening at times and joyful and free at others.  Mostly, it was falling in love enough with myself so that I could do so with a child and husband.  Love works that way; otherwise, your hang-ups will keep you from finding a long-lasting partner.  You have to have enough for yourself to give it away and still feel whole.

Relationships are like mirrors and even though we all seem to be looking for one, life is easier alone.  Who wants to look at herself and all her flaws of self-pity and self-righteous anger and defensiveness? The difference for me now is, I guess when my flaws rear their head, I catch them more quickly instead of letting them run riot like a snag in a stocking; I take out the clear nail polish quickly before it gets to the point where I can’t wear the stockings again.  I’m finding in my case, it’s mostly restraint of tongue –both with my relationship with my fiancé and that with my toddler.  I have to be patient, listen, and choose kind words.

For the past seven days I’ve packed a house, moved it, and unpacked it, plus that of my fiancé’s. I’m tired.  There are still boxes everywhere and nowhere to put things like games, old photograph albums, and office supplies.  I rarely get the opportunity to test my strength because of the fibromyalgia, but it seems that my fiancé, Jordan, is as exhausted as I am so I feel kind of normal.   At this point, we have a functioning kitchen with food in the fridge; the television and couch are etched out among boxes and clutter so we can watch a movie at the end of the night if we want; and the necessary toiletries have been unpacked.  Wonder of all wonders: most of our clothes are even put away, though we’re using the coat closet, hall closet, and Noah’s closet to do so.  The Internet was finally turned on yesterday, allowing me to write this blog.  And after contacting the Los Angeles Times this morning to deliver to my new address, I have finally finished all the address changes.

It doesn’t feel like home though, and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps, it’s because I’ve never really made a home for anyone other than myself before.  Maybe it’s because as we unpack our books we’re throwing out double copies, and every time one of mine goes, I feel as if a part of my history is being deleted.  Maybe it’s because I don’t know where I will do my grocery shopping.  Maybe it’s because my belated companion and best friend, the sweetest doggy in the world, isn’t coming to this new home with me as she had the previous twelve years whenever I relocated.  Maybe it’s because I don’t recognize this Sheana, returning to wedding plans as the house gets settled.

I’m planning a wedding, the ceremony to celebrate living a shared life.  I think I’m pretty good at sharing in general, but when it comes to sharing decisions, a household, disciplining Noah, I don’t have that much experience.  While this new, shared life sinks in, I realize I have no context for it.  I feel as if I’m in a foreign country and not only do I not speak the language, but the alphabet is so different I can’t even make educated guesses.  And so we –and not just Jordan and I, but Noah, too –we all create this family each day.  I’m looking forward to the time when anywhere we three go feels like home.  For now, I’ll do what we all end up doing in times of transition: practice.

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[Photo Credit: @kevin033]

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