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The great lies of parenting

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1. Timing contractions is total bullshit. You make these neat little charts well in advance and it all sounds so sane and manageable going into it. Just time how long your contraction lasts and figure out how far apart they are. You’re probably in active labor when your contractions are five minutes apart and 60-90 seconds long. That really didn’t sound too bad to me when I was reading about it on paper. That’s, what, a minute to a minute and a half of pain, followed by five minutes or so to recuperate? What I didn’t know was that you measure from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction, not end-to-beginning like you might think. I found myself flying through labor at this out of control, break-neck pace, and I barely had time to catch my breath in the tiny space of time left over where I was not actively coping with a contraction. There was no time for me to scream at my support person for tickling my arm hair with all their extraneous breathing or anything! I have never felt so cheated in all my life as when I realized that I wasn’t going to have those 4-5 minute quiet calm spells in the middle of double-peaking contraction hell. Welcome to parenting.

2. Babies come with their own unique sleep patterns. You can switch their days and nights around a bit when they’re very new and don’t know any better, but after a few weeks they realize that they rule the roost, and from there on out its total pandemonium….forever. For example, my son sleeps in twelve hour stretches, and likes to stay up late and sleep in. My daughter wants to get up at 4 am, takes two three-hour naps during the day and retires again around 7. Their sleep schedules are wildly incompatible and there is nothing I can do about it. I just have to live through it.

3. Babies are born knowing how to commit murder. I mean that literally. There is nothing quite like seeing your barely-talking baby pretend to slice a doll’s throat for the first time. You want to know why the old fairy tales are so brutal? Because kids are super gory! It is highly disturbing!

4. Kids also come out knowing how to masturbate, and have zero qualms about doing it in front of others. (Or in the middle of a wedding, for that matter.) And if a kid sees another kid masturbating, they’ll think it’s a great idea and start right up themselves. It is unbelievable.

5. Baby girls can poop into their own vaginas. I don’t mean smear a little ON there, I mean IN there. This is how the sink bath became a daily ritual in our home, because what else are you going to do?! I’m dreading the day this happens while we’re out in a public place.

6. All kids eat the same shit. Lemonade, graham crackers, grapes, string cheese, carrot sticks…you can kill yourself cooking up sumptuous feasts for them, you can spend three times as much money providing them with the organic alternatives, but you aren’t going to change their taste buds. Grown-up food just tastes icky to them, and you have to respect that.

7. Kids can tell when the thing they are about to say may offend someone…and they handle that knowledge by raising their voices. The reasoning seems to go, “It may be the wrong thing to *say*, but no one said that anything bad would happen if I *yelled* it.”

8. Kids are very suspicious of variety. The last big change they can remember involved being ejected onto the world and getting their heels poked with needles, so it makes good sense that they’d be wary. My love of logic is not enough to get me through ten million readings of “Fox In Socks,” though. And after two years of sandwich making, the smell of peanut butter makes me gag a little. Oh! The monotony!

9. The word “no” is pure comedic gold in kid world. There is just nothing funnier to a two year old than an exasperated parent trying to stop you from doing what you both know you WILL be doing, no matter what they do, say or threaten. This is why loving parents find themselves doing really bizarre stuff, like pressuring their toddler to run with scissors. “Come on,” you’ll find yourself coaxing them in beseeching tones, “just run to the end of the hallway! Puh-leeze!” Your child and any strangers in earshot will stare at you, aghast, and say something along the lines of, “WHAT?! What a horrible idea! Running with scissors is a highly dangerous activity that should not be attempted at home! Didn’t your mother teach you that?” But we can just smirk after them. We, after all, know the truth; of course Mother told us not to run with scissors. How else did they think we got these nifty scissor scars?

10. It’s a slow process, but an inexorable one. One day you’ll call your husband “daddy” instead of calling him by his real name, and you’ll realize that there are no kids around that were actually fathered by this man. You’ve just grown used to hearing him called daddy and telling other people to go ask daddy and he has now become the man known as “daddy” in your mind. And you will never, ever be able to have sex again.

Written by GRSeim

June 13, 2012 at 6:06 am

Big thoughts

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“Mom,” little blue eyes full of concern gaze trustingly into mine as I wipe sticky hands and cheeks with a warm washcloth. “My butterfly is asleep and it’s not moving anymore. I think it needs more flower juice to wake it up.”

“Let’s look at him together,” I reply calmly, but my mind is racing. I intended to let the butterfly loose before this happened; I dearly wanted to avoid having this conversation with my three year old. What do I do, what do I say? What if I get it wrong?

My own introduction to death came at the same age, but at my grandfather’s passing. I was told that he was resting, that we wouldn’t see him again for a long time but that he would be resurrected into his heavenly body on judgment day and then we’d all be together forever, as if he’d been cryogenically frozen rather than the victim of a deadly stroke.

These are not messages I want to share with my son. I no longer feel any confidence in my knowledge of the future and I am okay with that. I want him to experience that humility in me, to understand that the unknown is not necessarily terrifying.

But…how?

We approach the butterfly’s cheery, flower-filled cage together. The butterfly is crumpled on the floor, its wings wrapped downward around its body. I brush it gently with my finger, but it remains motionless and brittle.

“Is my butterfly okay, Mom?” my son asks uncertainly, his voice quavering with worry.

“Yes,” I reply automatically. Wait, no…um…

“He is okay,” I continue slowly, feeling out each word as I go along. “He is just done being a butterfly now.”

“Oh!” my little son’s face lit up with excitement and relief. “Is he going to go back into his chrysalis again now?”

“Not this time,” I reply, gaining confidence as I go. “This butterfly has been an egg, and a caterpillar, and a chrysalis and a butterfly, and it has already done its flying and drank its flower juice and laid its eggs. This butterfly is all done being a butterfly. It has died now so that it can recycle its parts to make something new.”

“Like…another butterfly?” D follows uncertainly.

“Well, we need to have a little funeral for his butterfly so that we can send it back into the planet. The Earth has lots of special bugs who help take old pieces apart and recycle them into great new things like plant food.”

“So the bugs will feed my butterfly to a flower?”

“Something like that,” I have to chuckle at his bewildered expression. I’m not sure how we’re doing here at all, but I keep talking. “The butterfly parts will get recycled into flower parts and they will be part of the flower. And if a hungry baby caterpillar is crawling on that flower-”

“Then the flower parts will be baby caterpillar parts!”

“Right! And if a chicken eats the caterpillar-”

“Then the caterpillar will recycle into chicken parts!”

“Yes! And if a boy eats the chicken-”

“The chicken parts will turn into little pieces of kids!”

“You’ve got it, kiddo!” I’m grinning now. “What do you think about all of that?”

He pauses to think for a moment, and then- “Do any things eat kid parts?” he asks.

“Not really,” I reply. “Sometimes way out in the wild a creature wants to eat a person. But mostly we are the luckiest creatures of all. We live very, very long lives and use our parts all up, and when we are done with our parts the people we love give us back to the planet.”

“And then out parts turn into flower food?”

“Yep.”

“I see,” he murmurs, squinting his eyes a bit as he contemplates this new information.

“But mom,” he continues at last, “Where do all the parts come from?”

“Well,” I answer slowly, “We don’t know the whole story. But a very long time ago, a star died. And when it recycled its parts, it turned into Earth parts.”

“Was it a supernova when that star died, Mom?”

“Well, it was big. It was a big explosion. I’m not sure if it was exactly a supernova or not but it was enormous.”

“And all of our parts are recycled star parts?”

“Yes. We are all made out of tiny pieces of stars. We are star creatures.”

“So what happens when the Earth dies, Mom?” D forges ahead of me, intrigued. “Will the Earth pieces recycle into a new star?”

“You know what, buddy? I really don’t know. The universe is too big for me to know all about it. I think that is a what we call a mystery. No person on the whole planet knows the answer to that question. We can only make guesses.”

D returns his gaze to the dead butterfly and seems lost in thought for awhile.

“What are you thinking about, dude?” I ask at last.

“I was just thinking,” he sighs, shaking his head as if to clear his thoughts. “I’m going to figure out the Earth mystery, Mom, but later. We need to recycle this little butterfly right now.”

“What do you think about recycling your butterfly?” I ask. I’m still not quite sure how D is taking this.

But D smiles.

“I think it’s the coolest of all.”

Written by GRSeim

May 24, 2012 at 4:02 am

Making something of myself

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My dad’s mom grew up in a log cabin in the Appalachian mountains. She was sexually abused by relatives and married her boyfriend when she was fifteen as a way to escape her family life. She divorced twice and had a child by one of her ex-husbands before settling down with my grandfather. They had three kids together, and my grandfather abused them all pretty horribly. The two girls in the family had completely ended contact with him long before he passed away. My own father is weirdly loyal to his dad and defends his memory valiantly against the completely non-existent attacks he worries someone out there may be leveling against his character. It is impossible to convince my dad that, outside of his own little world, no one else knows or cares about his father. Even now as a grandfather himself, he can’t disconnect from his abuser fully enough to put his experiences into perspective and recognize that his dad was human, fallible, limited. The mind control continues to this day.

I have nothing good to say about that side of my family. Alcoholism, anger management issues, racism, homophobia…you hate it, I’m sure we’ve got it in spades. My grandma claims to be a prophetess now. She. has a whole walk-in closer devoted to the storage of ancient, dusty cassette tapes that contain recordings of her “divinely-inspired prophecies,” which are all, conveniently enough, uttered in tongues. I’ve been told that you have to have the gift of interpretation to understand the tapes, which, fortunately, my dad totally has! Listening to the two of them in prayer together is like wasting an hour on the most entertaining online fortune cookie generator ever. It would be awesome except that they will lay hands on you to cast the demons out of you if you don’t join in and try your best to look really super constipated until grandma gets tired of uttering holy gibberish.

The rest of my grandmother’s home, naturally enough, houses her collection of more than 8,000 dolls, most of them porcelain collectors editions. My personal favorites, though, are the 4′ tall, completely life-like looking dolls tucked away in a closet in a spare room that is stacked to the ceiling with boxes of dolls. I ran across the closet full of grinning, unblinking, kid-sized dolls one day while trying to blaze a trail from the door to the window for fire safety reasons. I still have nightmares about those dolls. There must have been a dozen of them stacked in there, dusty but still smiling, staring blankly into my face. I am not one for big dramatic displays of emotion, but those dolls got a good scream out of me. Grandma may not have been crazy when she moved into that house, but clearly anyone sharing a living space with a basketball team of demonic midget dolls isn’t going to stay sane for very long.

All this to say, I have zero positive associations with my maiden name and would have gladly traded it in for a nice last name like Skocdopole or Bhatnagar. So when my now-husband proposed, my first thought (after “FINALLY!”) was, “AWESOME. New last name, here we come!”

I never actually did get around to changing my name legally, though. I go by his last name, but the paperwork…well…initially I blamed my foot-dragging on the hassle involved, but over the years (we’re approaching our fifth anniversary this June) I realized that I don’t like his name too much. It’s a weird German name and it’s a mouthful to say and you always have to spell and then re-spell it for people and it doesn’t suit me particularly well. It doesn’t have any connection to me, it’s just the name of a guy I married and have kids with. I feel completely comfortable calling my kids by my husband’s last name, but I’ve finally realized that I never got around to actually making the switch because I don’t want to. I want something completely different, in fact.

I want to change my name completely.

I want to take my mother’s maiden name, change my first name and drop my middle name entirely. Maybe replace it with something androgynous and weirdly awesome, like Kirby or Wallis, I don’t know. I feel like you can have more fun with middle names…but I digress.

I’ve talked to a few close friends and family members about my desire to change my name and other than one very dear friend who has known me since infancy, they have all tried to discourage me from taking the plunge. They are worried that I’ll experience some sort of weird personality crisis if I start going by a new name, or that this is a symptom of some sort of identity crisis.

Honestly, I’m pretty concerned that people will always think I’m unstable once I make this change, but it is something I need to do. My given name drips with conservative Christian values and no one else ever calls me by my name. It is humorous to observe the verbal gymnastics people go through to avoid calling me by my name. I have wanted to change my name since fourth grade and have never personally identified myself by my given name, so I don’t expect the change will seriously warp my personality. And let’s be honest…it was a little off to start with, anyway.

Now the question left to answer is how to establish my new name in other people’s minds, how to actually make the change real and stop myself from caving to the well-meaning but suffocating pressure placed on me by family and friends. I’ve been waiting for something concrete to come along to make this all feel real, to give me the little kick I need to actually do this, and I think it came today when my son pointed to a letter on a sign and said, “Look, Mommy, that’s the letter M like Margot! That’s your name!”

And…wow. Like it or not, there is no going back now because I don’t care if the rest of the world sees me as unstable but I will be a rock for my kids if it kills me. He knows my name, the name I love to hear, and he’s never going to have to know me as the conflicted formerly-religious person I was before. He’ll know me as I want to be: fierce, dynamic, countercultural. He’ll know me as I’ve always been, beyond the conflict and guilt and shame imposed on me by religion.

So here’s the plan: I’m putting money aside out of each paycheck, and when I’ve saved up $200 (by the end of July at the latest) I’m going to legally change my name. I’ll post the picture of the name change documents on Facebook once complete, along with a 3-5 paragraph long blog post about why I’ve decided to change my name and acknowledging that people will struggle to accept the change, and that will be that. I’ll change all of my documents to my real name and I will have it. Maybe no one will call me by my name properly, maybe it’ll never catch on but I will know. I will sign my checks and get my diploma all with the proper name written on them.

And my son will know. That is really all that matters.

Written by GRSeim

May 19, 2012 at 6:58 am

Abuse

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The little girl rounded the corner too quickly and nearly bumped into me.

“Ha, oops!” I laughed as I sidestepped her.

But the little girl wasn’t smiling. She held her hands clasped to her mouth and began to tremble.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, her eyes flooded with guilt and shame.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I assured her. “People bump into each other in stores all the time. It’s okay.”

She stared back at me blankly.

“Hey!” an angry adult voice sliced through the store. “I told you to get paper towels and come straight back! If you aren’t back here on the count of five we’re going back out to the car and then you’ll be sorry! You’re really asking for it today!”

The child’s jaw clenched automatically as she turned to duck away from me, returning to her parents, going back into the hell I know so well.

“I like your headband,” I called after her weakly.

She glanced at me over her shoulder, cold, numb eyes shining with tears that she’s learned to keep to herself over the years. I want to hug her, to let her know that she can get herself out of this, that she isn’t powerless, that even at six years old she is not alone and doesn’t have to take what life is giving her, that people will believe her if she speaks up and that help will come.

But that would be lying, and she’d know it. All I could do was stare after her and hope that, maybe by the time she’s a mother, things will be better.

Written by GRSeim

May 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

RIP Maurice Sendak

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Written by GRSeim

May 9, 2012 at 3:53 am

Dreary days

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I hear about people who get depressed and insecure and they start starving themselves. They stay home. They wither and fade and eventually commit suicide.

I, on the other hand, eat. I march myself outside and snap at rude high school boys and give scuzzy old drunk men the eye. I get bigger and ballsier and tougher until I start to believe that the bad stuff is behind me and that I’ve won, I’ve beat depression on my own through sheer determination mixed with a generous helping of chutzpah. I AM THE CHAMPION.

In reality, though, I never really win. I have good days and bad days, but the bad days have been the norm for me since 1998 and it doesn’t seem like that’s likely to change. And if I am ever going to accomplish anything beyond just not killing myself, I am going to need to turn that around. And I know that I can’t do it on my own…but who does one turn to for help?

Written by GRSeim

April 26, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Tumbling head-first down memory lane

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The woman was dressed in white from head to toe, her black curls matted and damp with sweat. She had smudges of oil shimmering on her face from a previous anointing with holy oil, and she was screaming, arms outstretched and face turned upwards as she lost her voice to the empty blue sky.

I was only five years old, and I was worried about my Sunday school teacher.

“Leave your granola bar in the car,” my mother instructed me. “Mrs. D has been fasting for ten days now. It wouldn’t be very nice to eat in front of her when she’s hungry.”

Mrs. D noticed our arrival and collected herself.

“R family,” she sang out in a strange sort of chant, her gaze distant and glazed, “Praise the Lord that you were able to join us! And bless us and your precious, blessed children! May the Lord JESUS bless them! And keep them in His merciful arms forever! Amen!”

Her hands were on my head now. I started to squirm away in fear, but my father held me still.

“Mrs. D is blessing you!” he growled in my ear. “Hold still!”

“It’s fine!” Mrs. D shrieked, raising her arms in the air above her head and twirling away from us suddenly. I had never seen my typically-demure teacher behave this way before. “It is all for the joy of the Lord and His Son, the pure sacrificial lamb! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Oh, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

She began to wander away, and we followed. She lead us through the maze of the gravel parking lot and across a field to a shining white tent, where our pastor and several of the elders were standing around a water cooler.

“Well, R family!” our pastor boomed. “You made it!”

“I was in prayer when they arrived,” my Sunday School teacher cooed. “I think I need to go meditate on the Scriptures for awhile now, alone.”

She left us, and the pastor showed us around the tent.

“It’s a perfect reconstruction of the biblical tabernacle!” he boasted. “We even have an Ark of Covenant. We didn’t put anything inside it, though. We decided to wait for the Lord to communicate His unique covenant with us, here on our newly-consecrated church property!”

“Well, it looks like a lot of fun!” my mother beamed politely. “What time is the groundbreaking ceremony scheduled to happen?”

“We’ll probably get on with the ceremony in an hour or so,” our pastor replied thoughtfully. “We should wait a bit to make sure we don’t leave anyone out. In the meantime, though, feel free to explore the tabernacle, and we have donation boxes placed all around the property. Anything you donate today will go directly to the building fund for our new building! Let’s fill up some seats for the Lord!”

I don’t remember much more about that day. It was summertime in Texas and the heat was intolerable, particularly dressed in our Sunday clothes.

That church building was never constructed, though. I don’t know what happened to the money donated to the building fund. The pastor left the church rather suddenly few months later when his long-term affair blew up in his face. His wife left him and took the kids, and we never heard from them again.

My Sunday School teacher was discovered murdered in her apartment a few years after that. People said that it was because she always wore jewelry when she participated in prison ministries. Looking back now as an adult, of course, I am appalled at the way this woman’s entire social group ignored her obvious drug addiction. They manipulated her into working for the church for free for nearly a decade, and blamed her Cookie Lee collection for her tragic death.

I was the only one who cried when she died.

Written by GRSeim

April 21, 2012 at 5:53 am