Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reasons I Was Made to Be A Mother, In No Particular Order

Reason #3: I know what I’m going to say when Charlie encounters foul language.

My sister Mary Claire and I were about 9 and 7 when we had our first brush with profanity.  We were on the school bus, just doors from our stop, when a mean-looking girl barred the center aisle.  She was probably a perfectly normal child in a Catholic school uniform, but in my imagination, she wears a leather jacket and has a cigarette dangling from her lip.*  She has a lumpy scar on her right cheek, a faint German accent and greasy, unwashed hair.  She smells of B.O. and she is 10.

Standing in the aisle, the German stared down her nose at my sister and, as if she’d had years of practice, said, “Bitch.”

Mary Claire and I were rooted to the floor.  My stomach lurched and I wondered what circumstances would give a pass to a second-grader for wetting her pants. Then, as quickly as she had materialized, the German was gone, and Mary Claire and I rocketed off the bus and up our driveway.
I don’t know who had enough bravery to broach the topic with my mom.  Probably Mary Claire.  With a strong tendency toward brooding in silence, I typically left most of the up-front communication responsibilities to my older sister.  In any case, somehow my mother learned that we had heard – nay, we had been called – a bad word.
Here’s the part I remember with utmost clarity.  My mom put one arm around each of us and reiterated that “bitch” was not a word we used in our family.  We nodded solemnly.  “It’s not a nice thing to call someone, and it shows that the girl on the bus has a small mind and a small vocabulary.”  This was new.  My mother went on: “When people swear, often it means that they don’t know any better words to use.  For example, would you rather that word went around school that you were a bitch, or that you were a dirty pig who never bathed?”

A dirty pig who never bathed?  The horrors!  Mary Claire and I confirmed that the pig thing was much, much worse. 
My mom summed up, “So when people use swear words, we know that it’s not only impolite, it also shows that they’re not very creative.”

I took that lesson to heart.  In about fourth grade, I made waves during recess for calling a bully a snot-sucking bottom feeder.  In eighth grade, I got in huge trouble when a note I had written to my friend Roberta was intercepted, disclosing—with pictorial representation—that I thought one of our teachers was a crusty-skinned, crooked-fingered fish-woman whose face was made of Play-doh.  Throughout my professional life, though I never dared say them aloud, I found tremendous satisfaction in cooking up colorful epithets for imaginary use against workplace nemeses.  When I left one job, I was sent an exit interview survey to fill out, in which I finally got to refer to a coworker as a toxic weasel who had destabilized the department by digging a network of fetid tunnels into its foundation.

Thanks to my mother, I now know that not using swear words isn’t a restriction.  It’s liberation!  Think of all the things you can call that large-pored Norma Desmond in your yoga class who always takes the good spot in the corner.  Or your fleshy, girlish male co-worker whose midlife crisis tattoos make you vomit a little bit in your mouth.  Or how about the washed-up beauty queen with the visible underwear lines and 1992 bangs who stole your parking spot?  Just try it!  Once you get on a roll, there’s no end to the nasty things you can come up with, all far more insulting than “bitch.”

That mom of mine.  She really set a good example.

* I am renowned in my family for my Swiss cheese memory.  Mostly, I remember pieces of things and then fill in the holes according to what Anne of Green Gables or Nancy Drew would have done.  It makes for a colorful set of remembrances, but I often tell a story and then hear, “Meg, that’s not what happened at all.  It was your arm that was eaten off by the bear, not your leg.”  Point being, you can trust the major points in my stories to be true to the spirit of the occasion, but if you think the details should have gone another way, they probably did.  I bet Mary Claire tells this story a lot differently.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reasons I Was Made to Be A Mother, In No Particular Order

Reason # 2: I will have no problem being a curmudgeon about terrible choices masquerading as fantastic opportunities.

I’m sharing this video for a couple reasons.  One, because it is, indeed, Fryee-day, Fryee-day, and everyone I know is, in fact, looking forward to the weekend.   Two, it’s one of the most marvelous, horrible, embarrassing, hilarious videos I’ve ever seen.  (Thank you, Dan, for posting it on Conor’s Facebook wall.)

I don’t think there’s a rhyme in the entire song, and while I know of some very accomplished musicians who don’t rely on rhyme (see Ben Folds’ “Cigarette,” or a bunch of Radiohead songs), it seems like you should have to achieve some level of artfulness with intonation and melody before you’re allowed to strip away the basics. 

Just for emphasis, this is the bridge:

Yesterday was Thursday, today it is Friday. 
We, we, we so excited, we so excited.
We gonna have a ball today. 
Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards.

There’s a lot of commentary I could add, but I don’t think it’s necessary.  I’ll meet you over by whatever long German word it is that means “the enormously satisfying feeling you get from experiencing something that is phenomenally bad.” 

I get a kind of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God feeling when I see stuff like this.  When I was a kid, I loved to sing. I participated in all kinds of plays and show choirs and performance groups, and when directors said things like, “This group is the most talented cast we have ever had!” I ate it up.  If someone had approached me with a recording contract and told me that I could have the next teen hit, I’d have sold one of my sisters to get that deal. 

But then I’d have taken the sheet music for “Friday” home, where my mom would have plunked it out on the piano and pronounced it drivel, and my dad would have asked about the credentials of the music company, going on for 45 minutes about the implications of a contract, especially at the age of 13.  I’d have been crushed, of course, because I had been forced to miss out on such a golden opportunity, such a once-in-a-lifetime chance!  Millions of dollars!  The cover of People!

But Rebecca Black didn’t live in my house.  I’m not saying that she has rotten parents; they’re probably very nice people, who got really excited over their daughter’s opportunity.  I’m just saying that Rebecca Black is all over Facebook, YouTube and Twitter trying to decide whether to sit in the front seat or the back seat, and whoever should have seen it coming didn’t. 

I'll take away three points from all this: First, I am eternally grateful that I was born to parents who could tell the difference between shit and shinola.  Second, I'm praying to the Lord above to let me be such a parent.  And third, someone did allow Rebecca Black to record “Friday,” so the damage is done and I might as well enjoy it.  We we we so excited.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reasons I Was Made to Be A Mother, In No Particular Order

Me on the left, blissfully unaware of
the pressures of "bathing suit season."
Reason #1: I never liked my stomach in the first place. 

There have only been two summers when I could have been described as “bikini-ready,” and during each of those, I was either training for or ramping down from a marathon.  In other words, for me to come close to measuring up to magazine standards of beach preparedness, I have to be running more than 30 miles a week.  Unfortunately, since I am also kind of lazy, the tally will likely remain at or close to two.  And I really don’t mind.

I used to.  There were whole decades during which I was fixated on attaining the ever-elusive “flat tummy” that Fitness Magazine promises in at least 2/3 of its issues, especially in the lead-up to summertime.  Having grown up in a tank suit kind of family, I held fast to my childhood beliefs that bikinis were kind of racy and only intended for people of star status (you know – like Susan, the self-assured, fast-talking Californian half of Hayley Mills’ role in the original The Parent Trap). I didn’t permit myself to sport a two-piece suit until I was 23, and even then it was a fairly conservative tankini, usually worn draped under some kind of elaborate wrap item.

But now that my husband and I have this perfect little son, and our first summer as a family approaches, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I never had a gorgeous, flat belly.  Why?  Because I have nothing to miss.  I don’t own 15 cute bikinis that will languish in the back of a drawer, taunting me with their tortoiseshell hardware and snazzy prints.  I don’t resent my stretch marks, even though they make me look like the survivor of a tiger mauling.  They’ll look just fine under my serviceable Speedo and a breezy cotton cover-up.  When I do examine them from time to time, I won’t curse them for altering my physique, because they exist on a part of my body that has only been tan once in almost 34 years.  If they mellow out over the years, fine.  If not, big deal.  

I know it sounds kind of girl power-y or hippie-dippy, but I’m proud of my post-pregnancy stomach.  It’s the oddly fascinating, kind of surreal result of bringing a whole new person into the world.  It’s evidence that nature is powerful and miraculous and awe-inspiring, and I’m a tiny part of it.  It’s like erosion or a volcanic eruption or plate tectonics—on a very small scale.  And after all, gazing at the Grand Canyon, nobody says, “That looks horrible.  I hope they can get it to go back its pre-glacier landscape in time for bathing suit season.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Overheard: Big, Fat Baby

We have a standard bedtime routine for Baby-o that includes a couple books and then a few songs with the lights out.  When I’m the singer, I often perform my rendition of  “Maybe” from Annie, I occasionally throw in a ditty from Pete’s Dragon and I always bring the house down with “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins.  When my husband, Tim, is the singer, the tunes are more frequently peaceful bluegrass numbers or some of the Grateful Dead’s less jam-based songs.  From the kitchen, I can often hear Tim crooning, “Go to sleep you little baby …” and I know that the Honey-boy is on his way to Dreamland. 

Then, there are the nights when Tim lulls Baby to bed with a childhood classic.  Except he doesn’t really know any of the childhood classics.  Or, more accurately, he knows a lot of the first lines, and then he gets creative. 

Last night, I heard this:

London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.
(So far, so good.)
London Bridge is falling down, big fat Baby.
(Hm.  A personal touch.  Our baby is, indeed, big and fat.)

See the people on the bridge, on the bridge, on the bridge.
See the people on the bridge, big fat Baby.
(Intriguing.  I had never really considered the people, probably tourists, on the bridge.  What will become of them?)

They should probably get off, prob’ly should, get right off.
They should probably get off, big fat Baby.
(Not a cautionary tale, really.  Just an observation.  As if Tim and Baby were sitting at the top of the London Eye watching London Bridge begin to give way, saying to each other, “Hey, those people should probably head for the Tower.”)

Now the bridge is in the lake, in the lake, in the lake.
Now the bridge is in the lake, big fat Baby.
(I’m so relieved.  This can’t be a true story, because London Bridge doesn’t span a lake.  Whew!)

With that, Tim came out of Baby’s bedroom, closing the door gently.  “He fell asleep in my arms,” he reported.

Monday, March 14, 2011

If the yoga pants fit …

Overall overload.
I’m a chronic re-wearer. Once I find something that I feel good in, I wear it until it has holes in it and almost all of its original dye color is washed away. My whole family knows it. My siblings still tease me about my collegiate addiction to overalls. Those bibbed pants did serious yeoman’s work, over tee shirts, button-downs, sweaters; to class, parties, movies, dates. I honestly believed that you could dress them up, if you matched your socks to your shirt and blew your hair dry.

When I became a functioning member of the work force, my re-wearing tendencies cooled slightly. I intuited that, for a public relations professional, wearing the same sweater every day for three weeks would be frowned-upon. I guess I backslid on the weekends, relying on the same rotation of shirts and jeans, but I knew enough to twist the Rubik’s cube of my limited wardrobe at least once before every outing.

Here’s the thing: Now that I’m staying at home with the boy-o, the re-wearing censor is dead. Every day – unless they’re in the wash – I wear Lululemon yoga pants, a white J. Crew “perfect fit” tee shirt, and a Beyond Yoga wrap that my sister Anne gave me. Every day. I go to the Lexington Co-op in them. I show up at the library in them. I take Baby to Itsy Bitsy yoga at East Meets West in them. (Here, you might say, “Well, there you’re appropriately dressed, at least.” Not really. It’s yoga for the babies. The parents could wear snowsuits and still not break a sweat.) I even have multiples of one particular Bravado nursing bra that I rotate according to the laundry cycle. The only things that vary are my socks, and if I could find a perfect pair, I’d probably buy seven pairs and add them to my repertoire.

I’d been told that this could happen: That, once you stay home with a child, you rely more and more on what used to be work-out apparel. That you “try less” because your audience is usually limited to one small, fashion-indiscriminate person. And I suppose I knew that, with my history, I might find myself going back to the same comfortable clothes day in and day out. But what I didn’t expect was the total lack of self-consciousness I have about my uniform. Seriously, who cares? Does the cashier at Wegman’s mind that the last time I pushed my cart through the aisles I was wearing the same thing? Nope. Does the hipster chick who hollers out the orders at Spot Coffee even notice that the lady who ordered a decaf Americano had the same thing on yesterday? Uh-uh.

Because you know what they notice? The sweet-faced little blue-eyed baby with the long, long lashes who’s strapped on to the front of me. At 33 years of age, I have found the ultimate diversion from my re-wearing habit. Even my siblings, who can usually be counted on to taunt me for my fashion don’ts are oblivious, as long as I have my sonny boy in tow. It’s so liberating! So freeing! My fear that I’m being lazy with my appearance has evaporated. Poof! And just this one beautiful child is bound to buy me, oh, five years of yoga panted bliss. All I have to do now is figure out how long I have until this yoga wrap wears out and then make sure that I always have an infant until then.

Now that’s what I call family planning.