"Hell to the No" was my favorite song on this week’s gLee. I drive a Mercedes and I love to watch one, too. Click on the link above and tell me you didn’t dance. Hell to the no, I would not believe you.
Mary Tyler Son often comes home from his babysitter with some sort of arts and crafts project he’s done that week. Stickers on colored paper go straight to the recycling bin after I coo over it sufficiently in his presence. Holiday items go into holiday storage to be brought out the following year. The really amazing stuff goes straight to the “gallery” in our kitchen room (a sun room Donna named the “kitchen room” as we eat most of our meals in it) or on the front door. And some of it is amazing. Like the traffic light above. It’s recognizable. It’s clear Mary Tyler Son made it and not the babysitter. And it lends itself to a pretty cool mothering methaphor.
We teach our kids that green = go, yellow = slow, and red = stop a/k/a Hell to the No. I love Mary Tyler Son’s traffic light. It was classified as a ’straight to the front door.’ It makes me happy. And there is not a chance in frozen hell that I would have ever thought to break out the glue and black paint required to make it. Hell to the no. I pick Mary Tyler Son up at the end of my three work days and I embrace that there are benefits for him that I work. He is an adaptable kid, by nature, comfortable in lots of different social situations. He likes being with the other kids and his babysitter. Parenting him has been a joy to date and honestly, pretty easy.
But what’s this I typed about the mothering methaphor? Ah, yes, the mothering methaphor. Art projects with my kids have pretty much been not high on my list of priorities. It shames me to type that, but Mary Tyler Mom is committed to honesty, so there it is. I cringe, more than a little, with the thought of finger painting. And a two year old finger painting? Hell to the no. Not on my watch. Mr. Mary Tyler Mom excels at this. And one of my favorite moms excels at this - - I would visit her with my daughter and our two girls would make beautiful and amazing art together and the whole time I would be hyperventilating into my elbow while this favorite mom friend was cool as a cuke with paint on the floor, fridge, easel, hair, clothing, you get the idea. I am simply missing the art at any cost gene. I wish I had it, but I don’t. Hell to the n - o, I don’t have it. And I’m okay with that.
It speaks to the pressure we put on ourselves as mothers — not just working mothers, ALL mothers — that we want to be everything to our kids, for our kids. It ain’t possible, ladies. If we try it, we’ll be miserable, and everyone knows that when mom is miserable, the family thing just doesn’t work like it should (reference previous post on absent moms writing memoirs to justify their absence, 03.04.11). So my advice to us all is to know our goes (green), know our slows (yellow), and know our hell to the nos (red). Here’s mine:
art projects that involve sticky glue, liquid color, sloshing water, spillage potential, etc.
clipping finger or toe nails; I’ve not done this once, not ever, for my kids
playing in the snow or rain
we’re not there yet, but selling things for fundraisers, like popcorn or gift wrap or crap no one wants, but feels pressured to buy; trust me when I say I will be throwing down $100 per fundraiser to not hit up a single facebook friend or colleague or brother-in-law’s sister to buy something they don’t need or want.
cooking and baking; Mr. Mary Tyler Mom has shown me the light on this one. Whereas I was once fretful over flour and sad about sauce, I strap on an apron, hoist my kid into the learning tower and get busy. I love it now, though clean as we go
taking Mary Tyler Son to the dentist. Personally, I haven’t been to one since I broke a tooth eating a peanut MandM in 2004. I haven’t chewed on the left side of my mouth since 2004 either. You may think I jest or embellish, but you would be wrong. Dentists freak the freak out of me. And yet, somehow, I bring my boy to the dentist, lean back in the chair with him on top of me, and let those sadists have their way with his mouth.
letting two year old Mary Tyler Son walk on city streets without being chained to me; I trust him in the urban environment. I trust that when he gets close to the curb he stops. I see you, disapproving parent in front of the Old Town School, working hard to stop yourself from leaping forward as Jay nears that curb. I got it. He knows and I know that he is trusted, We’re cool, move along.
dance parties at The Candy Bar, or as most folks call it, the kitchen. I like music and I like to dance. I teach my kids to do the same. Dancing in a club is fun, loud music is fun, Stevie Wonder singing about Superstitions is fun. We dance a lot at our house.
discipline. Super Nanny taught me everything I know. No joke. I love and respect this woman. I grieve that her last show aired tonight. I mean, how on earth am I going to handle the next stage of parenting without her showing me what to do on a weekly basis? What were we talking about? Oh yeah, discipline. Kids need it even if they don’t want it. My kids know the terms “non-negotiable,” “unacceptable behavior,” and “time out” from the age of two. And with Donna reaching four and Mary Tyler Son at two, I can count the tantrums they’ve had on one hand. Actually one finger.
the extra toy, cookie, desired thing of the moment. I try not to abuse this, but with the knowledge Mr. Mary Tyler Mom and I share, that kids die, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it, dessert every night and an extra hot wheel is not going to hurt. I indulge knowing that with the indulgence comes the responsibility to teach and appreciate and savor.
So there’s my goes, my slows and my hell to the nos. And somehow, I hope, I’ve deepened the significance of toddler art. Hats off to all the parents out there who mix it up with their little ones with the glue and the glitter and the dripping color on the new berber. For me it will always be a hell to the no. And that’s okay.
Today I’m wearing what I fondly refer to as “soft pants.” Fridays are generally quiet and predictable around these parts. We wake up, I relish in the not having to get set and go by 7:15 in the a.m. Mr. Mary Tyler Mom leaves for the office and Mary Tyler Son and I play and relax until we leave for Wiggleworms class. We dance, we sing, we watch the construction of the new building across the street on our way out. A few errands, then it’s lunch and nap. A damn fine way to spend a day.
This week I started in a carpool with three other gals, all moms or moms to be, making their way down Lake Shore Drive to work in our shiny office building on Michigan Avenue. Our driver is a knockout. First day I met her she was wearing black leather, stilletto boots, and lipstick. She looked amazing and I thought to myself, “Yeah, I can try a little harder.” Me in the gray cardigan and black glasses. Meeting this gal made me remember some of the benefits of working while mothering. Moms who work get the opportunity to be this whole other person separate and apart from their kids - - and it is an opportunity if your work is not on a factory line or something that involves sweat or scrubs. A burden sometimes, to be sure, but only sometimes. So I tried a little harder on Wednesday and a little harder still on Thursday, when I pulled out the black military-style cloth coat and left the puffy parka in the closet. On a whim I also grabbed my favorite black leather gloves with colored inserts between the fingers. Those were a purchase in Italy on my last trip there in 2004. It will be a few more years until I eat pasta the way it was intended to taste.
For most of the time my girl was in treatment for her cancer I dreamed about ditching the soft pants. Mascara and contact lenses and clothing requiring a hanger all started collecting dust during those years. Jewelry and scent were kind of ridiculous. Those were the trappings of a very different kind of life. Cancer Moms wear soft pants and hoodies and superhero capes. We have tissues balled up in pockets, not to clear the crumbs away, but to dry our tears. In the midst of my stint as a Cancer Mom - - I played for the varsity team, first string, yo - - I would sometimes pine for the feel of a trouser rather than denim and spandex, and a blouse that buttoned with a collar rather than a message tee.
And here I am, back where I was before my family moved to Cancerville. I got me a closet full of clothes I can choose from freely. Well, mostly freely, if I pay attention to the extra weight I’ve gained since the last time I worked, before Mary Tyler Son and before cancer and before grief. Last week I left the socks in the drawer and reached for the hose instead. Looking at my hand yesterday wearing that glove reminded me of where I am and where I’ve come from. I’m back to the place I pined to be. There is no daughter’s hand to hold with my gloved hand, but I’m still here. And my new knockout carpool driver was a wake-up call - - it is a privilege to dress for work in the morning. It is a privilege to spritz that scent, clasp that necklace, buckle that shoe that can’t be worn in a gym. So I will exercise it. I will remember what it was like to look out a hospital window and marvel at the turn my life had taken. I will try a little harder. There will be lipstick.
So an old high school friend (shout out to Henry) posted a link yesterday to a news story about a woman who had recently published her memoir (Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto). The memoir is about Rizzuto choosing to leave her two sons and husband, which got me thinking: Why is this news? My first response was that men do this every day. Every damn day men walk away from their families and yes it sucks, but no, it is not news, worthy of a Meredith Viera interview. The gist of the facebook thread was that a) this woman is cold and heartless and b) she should have the common decency to not profit from her cold and heartless ways by publishing a memoir and c) I (the royal I, not me) would never do that.
My interest was piqued. I had read a similar memoir in 2009 after the death of my daughter. Maria Housden wrote her first memoir (Hannah’s Gift) about the death of her daughter to cancer. No fewer than six people recommended it after my dear Donna died. I read it, felt comforted by it and liked it enough to read her second memoir, Unraveled. A second memoir should have been my first clue. This one detailed her decision to leave her husband and surviving children to be with an older Brit whom she had met at a writer’s retreat while finishing the first memoir. My reaction was visceral: anger and disgust. Just because her daughter died did not give this Maria Housden free license to up and leave. I was bereft at the thought of those surviving children losing a sister then a mom and worrying they must feel so much less than their dead sister Hannah. I talked about it to anyone who would listen. It just got to me.
The common denominator here is that both of these gals with their memoirs about moving on and searching for themselves and being better mothers when not living with their children scored major media attention. After reading Unraveled, I was pretty open with my judgment and more than a little obsessed with the choice. An internet search turned up tons of media interviews and lit reviews by female writers who seemed almost a bit jealous they hadn’t made the same choice. Sandra Tsing Loh’s review in The Atlanticwas especially wistful. There just seems to be a certain temerity about a mother leaving her family. And then writing about it? Yeah, the dads that walk away from wife and kids don’t bother with a memoir. So is that the difference? The moms who leave write memoirs, hence the media attention, hence the facebook threads?
Both Housden and Rizzuto have cited work and its importance in their lives as a motivating factor in their decision to call it a day with the kids. They felt lost in the day-to-day busyness and business of running a home. They said the more the family demanded the less of themselves they recognized. I mean it sucks, right? The laundry that freaking procreates in the corner on a nightly basis - - I’ve always been suspicious of hormonal birth control, but damn I would buy it for this laundry I have that loves to get it on with itself. And the perpetual, crushing question of, “What’s for dinner?” And the fact that every top I own has brown stains on the left shoulder from Mary Tyler Son’s graham cracker addiction. And the rising impatience of w a i t i n g, w a i t i n g, w a i t i n g while Mary Tyler Son finishes his dinner knowing that what follows is pajamas, toothbrushing, three books and three songs. All of that sucks. But you know what doesn’t suck? Mixing oatmeal cookie dough with Mary Tyler Son and watching him sneak an extra chocolate chip. And burying myself under blankets to watch Secretariat with Mr. Mary Tyler Mom at the end of a long day at home and office. And beaming with pride as Mary Tyler Son charms his way through the grocery store and music class and walk in the park. Yeah, none of that sucks. All of that is pretty much the opposite of sucking.
So I no longer feel judgmental towards Maria Housden. And watching the clip about Rizzuto didn’t make me feel superior or angry. Nope. They both just make me feel lucky.