Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On Being A Mom

I'm finally posting after a several-month hiatus. On December 27,2009, at 3:18pm, I gave birth to my second daughter, who entered the world at a healthy 7 lbs., 11.6 ozs, 19.5 inches long. As time has gone on, and I enjoy this second child as much as I did my first, I have realized something about myself: I am not only a stay-at-home mom, I have become one of those women who define themselves by their children, not by my chosen career. Or, I should say, "career from outside the home"? Because, really, motherhood is a career as well.

There will be those who look at me and think that I am a giant step back from liberated women because I say that. I say, no, I AM a woman who is liberated enough to say that she enjoys being a stay-at-home mom. I love being a mom raising her children herself, rather than sending them off to daycare. I enjoy knowing that if they grow up into wonderful women, I will have been the one to have taught them to be such wonderful women. Knowing that, if they don't turn out well, that's a reflection upon me as well.

I don't feel I've lost anything by defining myself through my children. I don't feel that I've lost my identity. I feel that, if anything, I have added to my identity by having children.

I didn't know, back when I carried my first daughter, how much I would love them. I didn't know that I would put my children first, before even my husband, not because I was required to but because I wanted to. I didn't know how much I would enjoy every second of motherhood, even the ones I complained about, simply because it was about my children.

Even now, nearly five years later, and I still get a chill of wonder down my spine when I look at my children and realize "I had a part in creating that perfect child. Me." I still look around for someone else when I hear the word "Mom", and still grin like an idiot when I realize that now the word refers to me, not my mother.

I didn't know how scary and yet exhilarating this career move would be. I worry about everything. I have nightmares about everything. I lose sleep, every night, imagining every horrific thing that could befall any child, and yet I wouldn't change a single thing! Insanity. But I am happy with my career choice.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

To Spank or Not To Spank

Here we have a very controversial question, and I don't really understand why. Arizona is right now trying to pass a law to make it illegal to spank your child, which I think is utterly ridiculous. I grew up in a time when spanking was the norm, and I don't see a damn thing wrong with it unless you take it too far! I was one of those hard headed kids. Send me to my room? Everything I own is in there! Ground me? Please. Put me in a corner? Ha! Break out a spanking? Instantaneous and utter respect. I didn't turn out all that bad, either.

I belong to the school that says your rear end, heinie, derriere, butt, whatever you choose to call it, is padded for the express purpose of giving your parents a spot for the application of the palm of their hands. You do not own that particular portion of your anatomical real estate until you move out of the house. Period.

Look, I will be the first one to admit that if I didn't receive a spanking on a particular day, I was either sick, or I was not home. I will also be the first to admit that there are children out there that will never need to be spanked. Those children are devastated by the very idea of displeasing their parents, and a simple talking-to is enough. But a child like me?? Have you ever seen "Bill Cosby: Himself"? His description of his five children as they were growing up was like listening to a recitation of the faults of myself and my brother, and, honestly, every other kid in our neighborhood. All of us got spanked regularly, both publicly and privately, and I can't think of a single one of us that didn't turn out well.

There is a huge difference between spanking your child and beating your child, okay, people? And yes, sometimes a spanking has been called a beating, i.e., "If you don't stop that right now, I am going to beat your behind." A spanking involves the flat of your hand being applied noisily to the padding of your child's hind end, maybe once, maybe several times, depending upon the infraction. That's really it. You never close your fist, you never punch or kick, you don't use a baseball bat or some other ridiculous item capable of inflicting true harm.

Now, you've got all these people nowadays who call CPS on a dime. It happened to us at a WalMart, when my daughter took it into her head to misbehave and really put on a show when her father tried to talk to her. He swatted her butt once and didn't even connect, and this strange woman walked up to us and informed us that she couldn't believe what she had just seen and was a mandatory reporter and was calling CPS to turn us in. I couldn't believe what I had just heard! People: unless you see a clear-cut case of child abuse, do everyone a favor and mind your own damn business. If you see a father twisting his child's arms behind his back, call CPS by all means. If you see a mother beating her child with a bat, feel free to call whom you will! But when you see a parent trying to discipline his or her child, please make the common sense distinction between a swat to the rear and actual child abuse. There are children out there who really do need the help of CPS, and if you are calling because someone spanked their kid, there's another kid out there who needed someone to come save him that is slipping through the cracks because another idiot got involved in someone else's business and tied up the CPS workers with stupidity. Save the CPS calls for the kids who really need help, not the ones who just want their own way and get mad because their parents had the audacity to be parents.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Six years old

That would be my alpha dog, Smoky, who, along with her sister, Bandit, turned six on the 29th of this month. She has been with me since she was seven weeks old, and I don't know what I would do without her!

Smoky is my reincarnation dog. I say that because she is actually Smoky II. She didn't get that name because I gave it to her, but because she chose it.

Let me explain, and if I sound crazy, well, so be it: Smoky I was born in my bedroom back in May 1999. She was the runt of the litter, and the feistiest little thing you ever saw. She would stand her ground and face down the bigger dogs in my house without batting an eye. Just adorable.

One night, I woke up to a keening sound. I turned on the light, and there she was, curled in fetal position up the wall. I mean that her head was on the floor, her hind end up the wall. In her mouth was the electrical cord to my stereo, which was still plugged in. I was terrified when I yanked the plug out of the wall, but she was none the worse for wear. But she was no longer feisty; she became the shyest member of the litter, fearing even the cats. Still, she became my velcro dog. She was the only one who could be walked off-leash, because she would never leave my side. I loved and adored her; who wouldn't?

Four years later, a Chihuahua started a fight with her and her brother Bandit, which resulted in the Chihuahua's death. Animal control was brought in, and the owners demanded the death of my dogs. Two towns away, right after Smoky I and Bandit I were put to sleep, another litter of pups were being born. Seven weeks later, we saw a woman at the convenience store with an adorable puppy, and my other half asked where she had gotten it. We got the number and address of the woman who had bred the puppy, and called. She said she had three pups left. When we arrived at her house, she had two, which we took as an omen that we were meant to have these two dogs. They were christened Lakota and Bandit.

Right from the start, Lakota was a fat, feisty puppy, while Bandit was fat and quiet. Lakota saw the world as a mountain meant to be conquered, and literally climbed over every obstacle. Sure, going around might be easier, but it wasn't as much fun!

As time went on, the pups slowly switched personalities, with Lakota becoming the calm, quiet one, and Bandit becoming hyper and playful. Lakota looked just like Smoky I, except for the fact that it appeared she would be a bigger dog in adulthood, and her coat was a deep, dark chocolate, whereas Smoky I had been jet black. But she had Smoky's habits and ways, and I was beginning to be convinced of her reincarnation when we went to visit my parents and left the pups with friends. My friend's husband called us to let us know that Lakota had been found the night before, curled up in fetal position against the wall, the radio cord in her mouth and chewed. It was eerie.

A little after we got back from the parental visit, Lakota stopped answering to her name altogether. She just flat out ignored it. After about a week, Troy suggested that I try calling her Smoky. I thought that it was a bad idea, but I did it, and she responded on the first try. It has been the only name she will respond to since, so I have no choice but to believe in reincarnation. Troy simply said that there was so much love between the two of us that she couldn't bear to leave me behind. I can't argue with that. It has been five years and eight months since she stopped responding to anything but Smoky. She is still my velcro dog. She is the only one who will sleep in our bed at night, all night. The others will visit, but they won't stay. She is the only one who will be there all night long. Her favorite place, like Smoky I, is right between the two humans in the bed!

When I was pregnant with my first child, she knew it long before I did. If she wanted attention, she used to come and stand with her forepaws on my stomach, but from the second she realized I was pregnant, she would instead distribute her weight by lying down across my stomach, belly to belly. And when my daughter was born, she would be frantic if we took the baby out of the house and out of her sight. She would walk by the baby in her swing, stop the swing long enough to thoroughly clean the baby's cheeks, and wander off on her way. She has been the most loving, patient dog I have ever met in my life, even now when that same daughter is now four and the bane of her existence on some days! I love you, Smoky Bear, and I'm so glad you came back for me!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some Things Should Never Have to Become Mainstream

When you live in the southwest, it is inevitable that you are going to come into contact with country music. Good or bad, it is what it is, and you will occasionally find that if you listen to the lyrics, whether or not you like country, many of the songs have messages to pass along. Some are the stereotypical "My woman/man left me yesterday, I lost my job, and my dawg ran away", but others have inspirational messages, and still others have sad-but-necessary messages. That's the case of "Alyssa Lies":

My little girl met a new friend just the other day
On the playground at school
Between the tires and the swings
But she came home with tear-filled eyes
And she said to me "Daddy, Alyssa lies."

Well, I just brushed it off at first
'Cause I didn't know how much my little girl had been hurt
Or the things she had seen
I wasn't ready when I said you can tell me
And she said

"Alyssa lies to the classroom
Alyssa lies every day at school
Alyssa lies to the teacher
As she tries
To cover every bruise"

The song goes on, telling the story of how his little girl prays for Alyssa, and he takes her to school, intending to report what his daughter has seen, only to find out that Alyssa is dead, and how his daughter wants to know why this happened.

I listened to the song and its lyrics, and tears just poured down my face. Oh, I know it's a fictional song, at least I hope it is, but I know there are little girls and boys out there in Alyssa's situation that fall through the system's cracks every day. It breaks my heart to know that the problem is so prevalent that it would become the subject of a song that receives so much airtime on the country stations. It saddens me to know that there are women out there who would give anything to have children and can't, for whatever reason, and there are others who can carry a child to term and have no compunction about beating, selling, pimping, drugging, killing that child.

Every time I hear a news story about parents who killed their children, I wonder how it is that they can do it? How can you carry a child for 40 weeks, right under your heart, feel that child move in your stomach, hear that child's heartbeat, give birth to that child, and turn around and kill it? How???

I will not lie: there are times when my daughter drives me absolutely insane. But hurt her? Deliberately? Not a chance in hell. Holler and yell, certainly. Put her in one room and myself in another, definitely. Send her to a friend's house to play so I can have some time to myself, oh yeah. But never hurt her.

I've tried to put myself in the place of those women who have killed their own children, tried to understand what made them do it, but it's impossible for me. My mind just isn't that dark. It's easier for me to understand the terror that their children must have felt.

I can't remember the exact quote, but to paraphrase it, " 'Mother' means 'God' in the eyes of a child." Children look to their parents for protection, guidance, and love. I can't wrap my brain around the concept of fearing for my life when looking at my parents. I can't wrap my brain around the concept of my daughter fearing for her life when looking at me. I can't sympathize or empathize with those parents that harm their kids. They make me want to vomit. Hell, they make me want to be, just for a moment, the type of person who could be a vigilante. It comforts me a bit to know that they won't last long in prison.

How has child abuse become such a huge problem? Is it simply that it has always been this big, but in years past we didn't have the widespread media and communication that we have now, and thus did not see it, or has it really grown so much? Why is it so prevalent now? What can we do to reverse the trend? Children are innocent. There isn't one of them that asked to be here, not one that has a choice in who its parents are. It's our job to take care of them, to love them, to raise them right, to discipline without breaking them, so that when it's their turn to become parents, they can do the same for their own children. Why are so many parents doing exactly the opposite?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Strongest Woman

The strongest woman...and the scariest!...that I ever knew was my mother, Ora Holder. If I can be half the woman she was, I would be content in my life.

Everything Mom did, she did with elegance and class, even up to and including cussing you out for something you did. I know my friends grew up fearing my mother in the same way one fears whatever god they believe in! I certainly did!

Mom was born on September 21, 1933, to parents that had immigrated to New York from the island of Trinidad. She grew up in Harlem back in its heyday, and met our dad when she went to Hunter College. I used to tease Dad about the lack of romance in his soul: he proposed to her over the phone. No getting down on one knee for him! But she accepted anyway, and they were married on February 23, 1957. They built the house we grew up in back in the sixties, in Westbury, Long Island, New York. She worked as a librarian at the Westbury Public Library until they adopted me, and then my brother a few years later. Then she stayed home with us until I was twelve, and Seth was ten. She went back to the library she loved, but made sure to work only part time right up until she retired years later. She wanted to be home when we got out of school, which was something she was always very involved in. She was class mother more times than I can either count or remember throughout elementary school, for both of us. She went to every event we ever took part in, from Little League and Girl Scouts on. I can't remember anything she ever missed, and she never forgot anyone, either. She might not remember the face of the person I mentioned to her, but she always remembered the name and where she knew them from, even years later. She could even remember the names of the kids I had gone to elementary school with, which was almost eerie. And always asked about the kids that had spent the most time in her house or on her phone. She remembered them all, no matter how long it had been since I had seen so-and-so, and we would often have conversations that began with "Guess who I heard from today?"

Mom was an awesome woman. She could...and often did...wear a caftan to entertain, and it always looked elegant rather than frumpy on her. And Mom never just entertained, she ENTERTAINED. She had different sets of dishes for different types of dinner parties, and she never catered, she always cooked everything herself, even if it meant spending the entire day in the kitchen. No one ever left her table hungry. When finally the reins of Christmas dinner passed to me, I was frantic. Everything had to be perfect, because Mom was coming to my house for dinner! I started the turkey at five in the morning...and I am NOT a morning person...and I can barely remember what else I cooked, there was so much food! And I was so proud when Mom raved about everything, especially her nearly-seven-month-old first grandchild, who she was seeing in the flesh for the first time.

That Christmas of 2005 was one of the hardest ones for me ever to get through with a smile. I knew, the second I saw her, that it was the last Christmas we would ever spend together. Mom had Type II diabetes, and had been on dialysis for years at that point, and that year confided to me that she had had triple bypass surgery when I was having my daughter. It was so hard to see how much she had aged over the previous two years, to see her permanently attached to an oxygen tank, to realize that this woman, who had always had an iron core, could barely walk up the front steps to my house even with assistance. But she never seemed to let it get to her.

I had told her she couldn't leave me. I so was not ready for it. You live your life knowing, at the back of your mind, that if life goes the way it's supposed to, you are going to outlive your parents. But no matter what your mind tells you is logical, you are never, ever ready for it.

It was my other half who finally sat me down and made me face what I had to do. He told me, "You have to tell her that it's okay for her to go. It's not fair for you to hold her here when it's time for her. Even if you're lying, you have to tell her." I didn't want to hear it. I knew he was right, but I didn't want to listen. It was several months before I was finally able to lie convincingly and tell her that I was okay with it.

Mom made it to my place one more time, for her granddaughter's first birthday in June. She was so frail that on both occasions she visited, she could never stay for more than three hours, so we were making plans to take our daughter for a visit to their house so Mom could spend more time with the grandchild she had been asking for for years. We were going to go in August. I thought, well, Mom was just here in June, and traveling with a baby is difficult at best, and we have to make arrangements for the dogs and the cat while we're gone...and Mom sounds much stronger on the phone...we'll go in August.

But in mid-July, 2006, Mom went into the hospital for the last time. We made the fastest arrangements for the animals that we could, and jumped into the car the next morning for the six hour trek to California, where Mom and Dad had moved into a Sun City in 1998. We missed visiting hours that night, so Dad enjoyed his time with the little one, and we went to the hospital the next day.

Mom was in ICU. She had left a "no intubate" order, so she was on forced air and every other piece of life support equipment I'd ever heard of. She was unresponsive, but I just thought she was asleep. Comatose never even occurred to me; I don't know why. Denial, I guess, especially since it was also in my mind that if she saw her granddaughter, she'd snap right out of it and all would be well. She lived for my daughter, after all. She adored her, kissed her picture goodnight every night, and called long distance every other day to hear what her grandchild had done that day. Why shouldn't it work? Bring in the child, and everything would instantly go back to normal.

But the doctor came in and smashed that illusion immediately. He told us that Mom would never be able to get off of the machines again, that she was essentially already gone, and that we had to make a decision. This is not a decision anyone should ever have to make; I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. But Dad looked at me and asked what I thought, and I was honest: Mom wouldn't want this. Not this. And he agreed.

Troy brought in our daughter, so he and she could say their goodbyes, not that she understood what was going on. Then Dad said his, and I said mine. I told her that she had been the best mother in the world, that I couldn't have had a better one, and that I loved her to no end, and asked her if she heard me. She made a sound then, the only sound she had made since we had been there, so I can only assume...hope...that she did. It was July 21,2006. A bright, sunny, summer day, and the world as I knew it was ending. It should have been raining. Mom was two months shy of her 73rd birthday, and seven months shy of their 50th wedding anniversary.

It has been three years since then, and I still catch myself saying "I've got to call Mom and tell her...oh. Yeah." But I know that my mother, social butterfly that she was, is having a grand old time where she is now, and I know that she visits her granddaughter often. Every now and again, my daughter will stop whatever she's doing and announce "Nana!" She has done this ever since Mom died. And I just tell her, "Tell Nana hello for me, and tell her I love her." Children see better than we do, and I hope that she never outgrows that ability. I will certainly never be the one to tell her that she doesn't see whatever she sees. Just because I can't see Mom doesn't mean she isn't there. Maybe the fact that I can't see her is meant to tell me that I don't need to, but our daughter does. I don't know. But I will miss her for the rest of my life. Rest in peace, Mommy. We love you.

Orabelle Stephanie Holder September 21, 1933 - July 21, 2006

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

House Beautiful...Sort Of!

I have a subscription to House Beautiful. I am endlessly fascinated with design shows and whatnot, and my favorite channel is HGTV. I like their shows because they actually stay within a fairly reasonable budget to make a house or room look great. House Beautiful, by contrast, is utterly ridiculous and amuses me to no end. Yes, sometimes I get some ideas from reading it, but overall, in a world where most people are shopping at Wal Mart, Target, and Ikea, the prices I see in HB are enough to make you choke!

Couple of cases in point from the July 2009 issue: as you flip through the magazine, you will come across a stool with hundreds of balloons tied all over it. Not blown up, of course, just stretched all over the place and tied to each other to keep them in place on the stool. You are never told what the stool itself is made from. The whole thing is absolutely hideous, and sells for $215. Are they serious?? It looks like an idea my preschooler had, and I can rest assured she would have done a better job for less money!

Further on, they do a feature on wastebaskets. Fifty of them. I'm not talking about kitchen garbage cans, I'm talking about the ones that you park next to an office desk or something like that. You never put what I call real garbage in these things. The most these will ever hold is paper, paper clips, and staples, maybe a dead pen or two. Two in particular just about made me swallow my tongue. One is painted to look like a Tole drum, whatever that is, and its cost is $495. No, that is not four dollars and ninety five cents!

The other is solid brass and designed to look like a big tote shopping bag from the departments store, and priced at a whopping $660. They're wastebaskets, for crying out loud. Those prices are higher than my mortgage payment!

And finally, the last amusing feature was on beanbag chairs. Yes, beanbag chairs, only now they've been revamped to be more modern and appeal to the rich with money to throw away. Let's just say they ranged in price from $80 to...drum roll...$2,190! Yes, there were at least two, and possibly three, that broke the $1000 mark. Scary stuff!

I gotta say, even if I had that kind of money, I don't think I'd spend it that way! Especially with kids, who draw on everything or worse. I think I would still have a decent set of furniture, nice decor and what-have-you, but I'd keep the rest of it for vacations, clothes, and toys for my kids that wouldn't give me a heart attack when they got broken!

Cooling Off

This is a question I've posted many times in many places, and to which I've never gotten an answer. I probably won't now, either!

I mentioned earlier...I think...that I live in Arizona. Southern Arizona, at that. This is an area that is hot pretty much nine months out of the year. Compared to the rest of the country, there is almost no rainfall. Water shortages are the norm here. Drought is also normal. That being said, the most popular method of cooling a home in this state is the evaporative, or swamp, cooler. For those not in the know, this is a box with pads on four sides with a pump constantly pumping water to the pads to saturate them. Air is sucked in through those wet pads and expelled into your house. This also means that everything in your house is slightly dampened by all the moisture in the air.

Now, when you start getting temperatures of 85 or better in late March, early April, the coolers start running. By the time "actual" summer arrives, the coolers are on twenty four hours a day, and will remain that way until November or December. Now remember, these pads are being constantly saturated with water. Imagine how much water goes through one cooler per year, then multiply that by at least one million! This, in a chronically water-short state! Yes, using swamp coolers is easier on your electric bill than air conditioning, but in the long run, what is really more expensive?

It gets better: the hottest months of the year, naturally, are July and August, which make up Arizona's "monsoon" season. What this means is that for these two months, the coolers are essentially useless, since they work by putting moisture back into the air. But since the humidity is up due to nearly daily rain, the coolers do nothing.

So now, after all of this, can someone tell me why these damn things are so popular?!