Thursday, April 27, 2006

sibling rivalry

My children squabble and maneuver endlessly, the background stress of my life. The other day I was at my limit, and I forbade my brilliant older child to say anything to the younger one which would make her cry. This sounds asinine and overly favoring of the little one, but indeed the older child took this as it was intended. She has an arsenal of carefully memorized statements which, when spoken, immediately cause the younger, thinner-skinned child to burst into tears. It's a pleasure for her to unleash these at brief intervals, but the maternal authority had to weigh in.

On another occasion, the elder child made up a vicious song about her sister, sung with a sweet, lilting voice. The younger child was beguiled by the melody and began singing her own song. A new rule was born: in my house, you can say any horrible insult you wish, so long as you sing it endearingly.

Likewise a mom friend of mine was recounting her insanely ambitious series of errands involving taking five assorted children to eight places. At one point in the saga, the children were sniping at each other verbally, but the repartee was clever, so even though one child was getting upset, the mother did not step in because the level of discourse was amusing to the bystander/driver. When the conversation devolved to unentertaining insults, the shut-down was enforced.

I suspect that we're breeding bitchy singers (Sandra Bernhards?) or snide comedians (a David Letterman, dare we dream?), rather than the next Miss Manners or Dalai Lama.

tactless things I said, when I was sober

Today I met up with one of my favorite people, a smart and funny overeducated mother. She's back in the stay-at-home world after a foray into the working world, but she manages to be in a band AND be the director of fundraising at her child's preschool. (Needless to say, she's not lazy like certain Drunken Housewives).

We hadn't seen each other in ages, and I was genuinely happy, but somehow I managed to be incredibly rude, and on an occasion where I was stone sober, well-rested, and adequately caffeinated as well. I managed to sound condescending when I complimented her band, and I also said that I'd happily sleep with her husband, but I wouldn't consider him for a commitment. Ouch! Can we count the ways in which that last statement was rude? Or is it too large and constantly expanding a number?

I am a rockstar

Over the weekend, my six year-old daughter made up a song: "I am a rockstar, and I pee everywhere with my penis" were the main lyrics. She sang variations on this theme in the garden, at the top of her lungs, seducing the three year-old into attempting to sing along.

This talk about wanton peeing led to the older child strongly encouraging the younger child to "have a penis" and "pee everywhere." Eventually, taken by the festive air, the younger child fell for this and urinated voluminously, whereupon the older child ran into the kitchen to tattle with vigor. Having heard this whole melodrama from afar, I wasn't inclined to punish the little one, and the manipulative older one was rather taken aback. "But she peed so much, " she wheedled. "All over the garden!"

Sunday, April 23, 2006


So today we intended to have another family over for tapas, but the dad "had" to work (we have issues about that, with this making my husband worry that he doesn't work enough/earn enough & me worrying that I don't work at all/earn at all). I made a pitcher of sangria, shrimp-hazelnut salad in endive and a marinated Spanish potato salad, plus hazelnut-rum cake. I had on tap the fixings for onion crostades and spicy cauliflower (a real crowdpleaser, tho' it sounds like a nonstarter), but held those back.

Big topic of conversation: date-rape drugs & sexualized clothing and how do we instruct our young daughters to deal with them. Charged on many levels.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

the making of a drunken housewife

I never set out to be a housewife, drunken or otherwise. I have always been a feminist, fairly militant (one of my more submissive friends live-in boyfriend once forbade her to hang around me after I discovered that he did no cooking or housework). In my youth, I was insanely ambitious. I went to Stanford for law school and worked as an attorney for some time. People used to ask me if I wanted to have kids, and I said, "I want to make partner, not parent."

As an urban, foulmouthed, hard-working professional, I hated babies. Really loathed them. When people asked me if I wanted to hold their baby, I'd say, "No, thank you" and try not to grimace. Those sticky, gross little hands, shudder.

So right around the time I filed for divorce from my first husband, I gave my phone number to someone who turned out to be obsessed with kids. On our first date, he asked me if I wanted to have children. The next morning, he said to me with inordinate seriousness, "You are perfect for me for the short haul and the the medium haul, but not for the long haul, because I've got to have kids." At the time, I freaked out at this intensity and wondered if he was going to be a stalker. But as the years went on, he grew on me, and all his pressure paid off.

When we got married, we agreed to try for a baby. I didn't expect to stay home with the child. I set myself the goals of breastfeeding for one year and staying home with the baby for that first year. Always an overachiever, six and a half years later I'm still taking care of the children (but not still breastfeeding; thankfully, they have weaned themselves). So now I bring my unique blend of overachieving intensity and laziness to the field of mothering.

My biggest personal problem is a bourgeois one: I get so sick of not being taken seriously by people as a stay-at-home parent. When I was an attorney, people treated me with respect (and sometimes a bit of fear, maybe a touch of loathing, often a sprinkling of lust). Now if people meet me, they aren't interested in talking to me after they've categorized me as "just" a mother. Sometimes I say something, and someone's ears will perk up and the question will follow: "What did you do before you had kids?" Feh.

I'm happiest hanging out with other overeducated stay-at-home parents, who understand my angst at not being in the workplace but my absolute commitment and joy in my children.

When my first was just about to turn one year old, I looked at her perfect face and could not bear to put her in daycare. My husband was thrilled when I told him that (he has a bit of chauvinist in him, and it's an ego booster for him to have a traditional family). I hate the whole working-mothers-vs.-stay-at-home-parents conflict (where are the fathers in that fight? I'm for more stay-at-home-dads). But my personal viewpoint was that I don't want to put my child in daycare until she can tell me, articulately, what happened during her day. That has ended up, in our case, meaning a bit of preschool, but no real daycare before kindergarten.

So where does the drunkenness come in? The other day I was hanging out with another stay-at-home mom friend, an accomplished writer, and we were jonesing for a cocktail. "It's Mother's Little Helper," we told the waitron. You spend the day with little children, and the crying will drive you to drink. All that crying, my god, it can eat away at your soul and shred your last nerve. I used to have a glass of wine every day when "Arthur" came on in the afternoon; pack the children off for a refreshing half hour of PBS and pour myself a glass of Two Buck Chuck, and we could all take a deep breath and continue on.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mothers Who Drink

I've always been annoyed by the smug-sounding "Mothers Who Think" writers. They imply that the majority of mothers don't think, oooh, they are so much more cerebral than the rest of us. I've always been one of the Mothers Who Drink crowd. Two of my favoritests mom friends used to be bartenders.
It's not so much of an Absolutely Fabulous kind of drinking, like it was in my pre-child days; it's more of a "mother's little helper" kind of drugging ourselves into submission.

Amongst mothers I know, the eternal question is "where can we go, with our kids, and drink?" There's a hip bar with a sunny back patio which used to allow children, but alas, their scofflaw ways have come to an end, and they're evicting toddlers. Restaurants are more expensive than dive bars, we have learned. Some cafes have beer and wine licenses, but often we long for cocktails. Often the answer is my own home, where I make a fabulous margarita if someone can keep the children busy long enough. My husand has been trained to make manhattans, martinis, and gin fizzes (I do love a retro cocktail). More likely we open a bottle from my private cellar (i.e. whatever I picked up at Trader Joe's, usually Two Buck Chuck or Four Buck Fred).

You'll run across a lot of people who are all strident about mothers who booze it up. My point of view is that if I'm not blacking out or passing out (and I'm not), then I'm just fine. Mellow me out with a couple of cocktails, and I'm a fun mother with lots of patience and humor.


Now that I have two kids, I have realized that so much of what people say who only have one is kind of meaningless. They might be taking credit for something which is just a natural part of their kid's personality. With two, I see more how much of them is who they are, not me as their parent, and how stuff that is good about them isn't my doing.

For example, Iris, child #1, once she got over her hellish colic, napped like a dream. She took a bottle enthusiastically, and I was able to build a fabulous breastmilk stash. She would nap wherever we were, in the stroller, carseat, any old place. She sometimes would just lie down on the floor wherever she was and nap. Iris was also a world-class, non-picky eater (until the age of 5) who astounded the world by eating amazingly healthy and advanced foods. We night-weaned her in one weekend, and after that, she was sleeping through the night.

Then came child #2, Lola/Lucy, who NEVER napped for more than a few minutes, could NOT be made to nap. She would NOT take a bottle, absolutely not. I actually threw away a bunch of frozen breastmilk and gave up. And as for eating: picky, picky, picky from the day one. Night-weaning: ha, what a horrible nightmare lasting over a month of screaming and battles and stress and no sleep. She's never going to be a big sleeper; I'm sure as a grown-up, she'll be one of those annoying people who gets by on 4 hrs.

On the other hand, Iris had incredibly severe separation anxiety, and Lola's was nothing in comparison, mild and short.

So anyhow all my amazing parenting knowledge and tricks and whatever is mostly meaningless; it's the innate personalities of the children. I knew more about parenting the second time around, but yet I couldn't get my baby to nap or take a bottle. A lot of parents can be pretty smug about their advice and put down parents who can't get a baby to take a bottle or a nap, and I've noticed those tend to be first-time parents.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Laura "J.T. LeRoy" Albert: the real "How Does She Do It" queen

I've been riveted by the revelation that cult literary sensation J.T. Leroy was a middle-aged housewife named Laura Albert. I wasn't a fan of J.T.'s overwrought tales (I couldn't force myself to wade all the way through the emotionally monochromatic "The Heart Is Deceitful Among All Things"). But I am a mom about the same age as Laura, with a child about the same age (plus a younger one), living in the same city, and so I'm fascinated by how she managed to pull all this off. When I was making the rounds of parent-child swimming lessons and playgroups, Laura, just a few miles away, was writing bestsellers under the guise of an abused boy prostitute and holding forth over the internet about the mystical powers of raccoon penis bones. Not only did she do all that, but she managed to wedge her child into one of San Francisco's most exclusive private schools, one which is legendary amongst parents for its snobby selectivity.

Laura spent, by all accounts, huge amounts of time on the phone with literary and show biz celebs. For one year, she spent hours every day talking to famous director Gus van Sant, who says that once they held an all-night phone call. I CAN'T MAKE EVEN ONE TINY, LITTLE PHONE CALL WITHOUT INTERRUPTION. How the hell can Laura spend all night up on the phone? Recently I was taking part in a particularly riveting phone call, where a friend of mine was recounting her ordeal of being dosed with a date rape drug. My husband loudly interrupted to lecture me, as my child (the very same age as Laura's, mind you) had sat down at the internet browser window I'd carelessly left open and clicked on some link, which led her to pornography. "What's that?" the child inquired, and my husband said, "Pornography, and it's for grownups only" as he closed the window. "But I LOVE THE PORNOGRAPHY!" shouted my child defiantly. As the husband attempted to hash all this out with me, my emotional friend was only midway through her saga of dosed drinks in nightclubs.

So, Laura Albert, how do you do it? How can you spend all night on the phone when I can't manage even twenty minutes at a stretch?

Incidentally Laura alienated many of her celeb pals by soliciting donations to her kid's private school fundraiser. I have two children in two schools with endless fundraising, but so far, I've mainly alienated my mother, since I don't quite have the fundraising chutzpah of a literary hoaxster.

Vanity Fair published a long article about Laura online which completely missed the motherhood aspect. J.T.'s agent reveals that Laura was the biggest timewaster he had ever run across, requiring unending amounts of attention and handholding over the phone. It turns out, according to Vanity Fair, that most of J.T.'s celeb pals hated Laura, and Carrie Fisher begged "J.T." to get Laura out of his life. So she did all that sucking up, all those emails and phone calls, only to be rejected in real life by these people. They only liked her when she was behind the J.T. veil. I find this really kind of heart-breaking. Oh, Laura, you were wasted on them, with your energy and imagination.

As a mom of the same generation, I was surprised no one seemed to have caught the They Might Be Giants ref when "J.T. Leroy", trying mightily to maintain the charade, tried to explain how a quasi-agoraphobic, nigh-psychotically shy person could be such a fame whore, pursuing celebrities with such abandon. Movie stars and rock stars are "supertasters", the author explained, and thus "he" could gain so much more by spending time in their company than with regular people, who are fundamentally incapable of living life to the full. Yes, Laura, we have the seminal They Might Be Giants "No" album, too, and I can sing along to "John Lee, supertaster, tastes more than you do", too. I know how you learned about "supertasters", but do tell, what the hell do you do with your kid when you're on the phone?

Not sure how long I can be so perfect

So, lately we've had a lifelong friend of my husband's staying with us, after he was thrown out of another place he was living due to his alcoholism. On top of that, my teenaged pregnant niece came out for a long-overdue weeklong visit.

So add to these new denizens to the already hectic mix of a three year-old, a six year-old, and a husband with two jobs, and the result is a Ton of Work for yours truly. I've been cooking phenomenally healthy meals (such as risotto with leeks and anise, baked endive, homemade vegetable soup). I've been listening sympathetically to our alcoholic friend's problems. I've been balancing on that tightrope with the niece, buying her baby clothes and "Dr. Sears' Baby Book" while advocating for adoption.

I can't keep this up, especially with a severe lack of sleep. There's got to be some backlash.

UPDATE: my beloved niece has gone back home. Our recovering alcoholic friend relapsed, but is back and attending rehab. I've started slacking off on the nutritious meals; recently a box of mac and cheese was seen in the kitchen.

UPDATE MAY: our friend is succeeding in rehab and has become self-sufficient. He's still staying on the couch, but is out-and-about much of the time and fending for himself.