Monday, February 22, 2010

Stepford Moms

You know the ones I mean here.  They stand in the corner with their other mom friends, all wearing some perfectly coordinated outfit, usually designer jeans or yoga wear, with nary a hair out of place.  They always look relaxed and well-rested.  They totally had time to shower before coming to, well, where ever we are.  And you can also be reasonably certain that they remembered to put on deodarent before they left the house.  And make-up, of course.  And their kids are happily playing together in perfectly matched outfits, probably Baby Gap or Mexx or something reasonably posh.   Their children's hair is combed and slicked and barretted and be-ribboned.  And when it's snack-time, they will pull out their very expensive snack-time bento boxes, filled with  carefully prepared organic fruits and vegetables, which their children will somehow munch on without complaint (and none of it will get on their faces or clothes).  Their children do not look like the wild children from Borneo that I arrived with, now shrieking gleefully and running amok in their not-so-artfully mismatched second hand outfits, bedhead sticking up in so many directions it almost looks like starbursts.  Their children do not look like they are still wearing their breakfast on their face, or on their clothes.   (How these feats of together-ness is achieved, I do not know - but I will guess that lots of money, some nannies, and some housekeepers might assist in this process).

What I do know is that sooner or later, I will get "the look": that pitious glance or eyebrow raise or whispered snicker that says something along the lines of:  "that one really needs to get her shit together," or "another mom who let herself go," or "she must have given her nanny the day off" or something equally dismissive.

And equally inevitably, I will have run out of the house that morning, at break-neck speed, arms so full I could get a job as a professional juggler, determined not to be late (AGAIN!).  I will be wearing my uniform (jeans and a hoodie), and I will not have noticed that my son gifted me with peanut-butter and jam handprints on my ass or that Lucy spit up on my shoulder or that breastmilk is starting to pool in my bra and leak through my shirt, or something equally undignified.  I will not have had time to put on make-up, because Oliver wanted "just one more story" before we left, and even though I read it, he will have had a melt-down on the way to the car, because transitions are hard when you're 3.  I will not have had time to prepare a delicious and nutritious snack in a bento-box that I can't afford anyways, so I will have grabbed a granola bar or some goldfish and juice box on the way out the door.   It will probably be full of trans fats or some form of processed sugar, even though I have the best of intentions to avoid such things.  Half of the snack will end up on them, and on me.   And I will have forgotten to bring wipes to clean any of us up sufficiently, so I will now have to add juice stain to the breastmilk stained shirt, and to the steadily growing list of my egregious crimes to fashion and mom-manity. 

I'm that mom, and I'm generally okay with that.  I don't wear ballet flats and a pencil skirt to the park just because Clinton and Stacey say I should.  (Moreover, I really think someone ought to force Clinton and Stacey to take children to the park wearing ballet flats and pencil skirts, so they can see the error of their ways).  I own three pairs of jeans because we have to be broke if I want to stay at home with the kids.  And I am pretty happy, though admittedly harried, with my jam-stained, dishevelled life.  I don't have a designer nanny or a designer house-cleaner or designer clothes or designer lunch-boxes.  I don't live a designer life.  I live a messy, messy life, in a messy, messy house, with my messy, messy family.    I'm never gonna make the cover of "Yummy Mummy."  This down-to-earth, get-messy-on-the-floor-with-her-bed-head-sporting-kids really doesn't give a rat's ass.  I've got all the matters - happy kids, a roof over our heads, good times, and a partner that thinks I'm smokin', even with peanut-butter and jam handprints on my ass.  So, piss off Stepford Moms.  Flash your tastefully medium-sized bling somewhere else, and save your pity for someone who needs it.

Oh - and one other thing:

Maybe you don't want to be best friends with that fashion-challenged, messy, stained mama in the corner with toddler-sized peanut butter and jam handprints on her ass.  S'alright - if you haven't already guessed, I don't really want to be your friend, either.  But if only by virtue of either had our children via one of four general ways (having pushing their comparatively huge bodies out of one's vagina/having it sliced from one's stomach during major surgery/having endured agonizingly invasive adoption proceedings - or like my partner, living with a cranky pregnant woman and getting your hands nearly squeezed off during two different labours);  we mamas really ought to give each other the time of day, at the very least, and try to save the judging for when the other is safely out of eye and ear shot, alrighty?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

the gay-by boom

Supposedly there is one.  A gay-by boom, I mean.  But I fail to see evidence of said boom here in Edmonton. 

When we arrived here, we were quite surprised that such a huge city lacked a queer parents group.  So we tried to start our own through the local LGBT centre.  It was an abyssmal failure.  (Well, I can't say that exactly.  We did meet one extra-special-fabulous-family through the group).  But on the whole, not a lot of response.

I'm not sure why this is.  It's not that there aren't queers with kids in Edmonton.  I'm sure of it.  I mean, we're like the vampires in a Stephenie Meyers book - everywhere - visible or not.   (We don't actually want to suck your blood - but it does state very clearly in my copy of The Gay Agenda that we get a toaster oven for every straight we turn gay.  Just putting that out there.)

So, if indeed Edmonton does have some queer families kicking around, maybe they all subscribe to the "we're just like them" attitude... which drives me right round the bend.  Mainly because well, we're not.   I'm not saying I don't like straight people.  Hell - some of my best friends are straight! 

But here's the thing - L. and I may look like Ward and June Cleaver, but it will just never be so.   We are not the same as straight families.  Period.  Why?  Because we and our kids have to deal with homophobia and heterosexism (that is, the pervasive assumption that everyone is straight), in big and little ways, throughout our daily lived experiences.    It happens everywhere.  All of the time.  It happens when I asked about my children's father, or my husband in restaurants, grocery stores or in neighbourhood parks.  It happens everytime I hear some teenage boys call each other fag or homo.   Everytime I see homophobic graffiti or some asshole with an anti-gay sign at a Pride march.  Every time some comedian or movie throws in a gay joke or stereotype (and if you listen carefully- this happens A LOT!).  It will happen to my children at their schools, swimming lessons, soccer practices.  It colours the way we see the world, the way we are allowed to live in the world, our sense of safety and our sense of our selves.   Homophobia makes us different.   We are different because we are made to be.

Sometimes I let my guard down, get complacent and hopeful.  I start to think maybe things really have changed.  Maybe, homophobia is getting better all of the time.  Maybe my kids won't be ridiculed, judged.  Maybe they won't have to be afraid that people will hate them just because of who their parents are.   But reality always falls short of this hope.  It could be as simple as a dirty look when I come out for the millionth time on the playground.  Or, something bigger.  A homophobic incident like the one that occured few weeks ago.  Before I got pregnant with Oliver, I'd put out a call for essays and stories about queer fertility journeys on the internet, when I'd had the idea of putting together a book about the many creative ways our community chooses to build our families.  The book didn't ever come to fruition, unfortunately, but that's besides the point).   Then, years later, I get an email from some woman who saw the call for essays, and who feels the need to tell me that she hates queers like me so much that she hopes that I die.   I'm pretty sure June Cleaver wouldn't get those kind of emails.     

My point?  My point is that we have become too complacent.  That there is still a real and pressing need for things like queer parent/family groups.  For a place that us and our children can go to and not only not have to worry about bigotry and heterosexism(because of course we can do this with all of our wonderful and lovely friends), but more than this, where we do not have to explain the differences, the difficulties, the challenges, the fears.  Where we can all just take our queerness and our family-ness for granted because it is a reality that we share.

So if there indeed has been a gay-by boom in Edmonton...

"Queer Edmonton parents, come out, come out where ever you are." 

 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

2

I wasn't prepared for two.  Let me clarify.  Clearly, both of our children were very planned.  "Us" people can't really do it any other way.  What I mean is, I wasn't prepared for the "parent shock" of two. 

Before Lucy was born, I worried that I would never be able to love another child with the fierceness and the depth that I love Oliver.  I just couldn't imagine how I could possibly love another little creature in the same way.  I needn't have worried on that front.  When I met Lucy, my heart swelled and overflowed and grew to make room for her.  It is as if she's been there with me, with us, all along.  What an amazing thing.

But I was never worried that I wouldn't be able to "pull off" two.  I'm not particularly na├»ve.  I knew it would be hard, challenging, difficult.   But what can prepare you for splitting yourself in half?  There it is in a nutshell.  The crux of my difficulties.

I thought mothering was challenging before Lucy came along.  And it was.  Oliver is an extremely bright, inquisitive and high energy child.    Did I mention he was high energy?  Kid has a LOT of energy.  Oomph.  Get up and go.  Volume.  Exhuberance.  And so on and so forth.  This energy is both one of the things I treasure about him, and well, my own personal cross to bear.  But then Lucy came along, and I really had to reevaluate my perception of challenging.   

Mostly, I feel like I never have enough time for either child; like I'm always behind on their kid-rent. 

For example, Lucy is a terrible night sleeper and an even worse napper.  I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get her to fall asleep during the day.  All of this time (and it is a lot of time) is time her brother ends up watching the television because this is the only and I mean only way to keep him quiet enough for Lucy to even consider the notion of sleep  (and people have given me lots of suggestions on other ways to keep him occupied.... let me just assure you, I have tried them all and they have all ended up with him waking his sister just as she has finally, finally, finally freaking nodded off to sleep.)   Some days, Oliver's needs get ignored in the hopes of Lucy sleeping.  Other days, Lucy's sleep needs get ignored so Oliver can get better me time, or outings and other fun stuff). 

That's just one example.  I'm flummoxed.  Swamped.  In over my head.  I'm walking a highwire and most days it's feeling pretty wobbly and teeter-y.    Everything feels harder.  Everything feels amplified.  The joy, the frustration, the fatigue, the anger, the need for my own space, the feeling of being scattered, fragmented, split.  All of it.   And the work?  The mess, the laundry, the snacks, diapers, the noses to be wiped - it's always looming, undone.

People often tell me I'm a great mom, which is super nice to hear.  But lately, I mostly feel like a colossal disaster -- scattered, fractured, emotional, impatient, spread thin, ineffectual. 

Each day is a delicate balance of negotiation and renegotiation.  For instance, today I managed to clean the bathroom and do two loads of laundry.  The toll for this however, is that I didn't manage to get anyone, including myself, out of pajamas and the rest of the house looks like a train hit it).

I know this will get easier.  I know we will find our rhythm, hit our stride.  Eventually the kids will engage each other, need a bit less of me.  And I knew it would be hard.  I guess I thought it would get easier faster. 

For now,  I try to measure my days in the small moments that feel like successes (instead of what really could be a large list of failures and undones and to-do's). 

* A great hug from Oliver
* Lucy's toothless grin
* My kids learning a new skill (Oliver winked at me today, and Lucy just learned how to clap!)
*An outing without a meltdown
*A day without yelling or wanting to cry
* Listening to Oliver tell L. excitedly about his day at dinner time
* Managing to cobble together an edible dinner (by my standards, not Oliver's!)
*A sink full of dishes done out of the way
* A moment to blog about it all
* L. telling me she thinks I'm amazing
* The beauty of Lucy's babbling
* A successful nap (Lucy's not mine, although that would be nice too).
* A spontaneous "I duv you Mama"

These tiny moments are what pulls me back to that amazing feeling of the heart overflowing with love, and making room for two.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The thing about kids...

A friend and I were out with our kids at a local - and purportedly kid friendly -attraction (ahem Muttart Conservatory), where we were glared at, told in no uncertain terms to keep our kids quiet, and instructed not to let them run by attraction staff.  (Each of these things more ridiculous than the last, especially when you consider that at the front door of this attraction is a gift shop with a huge display of candy.)  At first I was embarassed, and tried to shush and slow down my little guy (he is definitely a kid that veers towards the, um, enthusiastic side of things).  But then I was really annoyed.  I'm still really annoyed. They were just being, well, kids. 

But here's the thing about kids.  We don't actually like them.  Now before you jump all over me, I don't mean I don't like them.  I like 'em fine (most of the time!).  I mean, our larger culture doesn't like them.  Hear me out on this one.  Sure, we're baby crazy.  We watch faithfully for celebrity baby bump alerts and wonder which of our friends will get pregnant next.   We delight in baby showers, baby names, baby things, and engage in all kinds of baby over-consumption.  We read diligently read scads of baby books, but how many people do you know who actually do the same reading about child development? 

We really don't value children.  We see evidence of this on a larger scale, for example, our most developed nations have appallingly high rates of child poverty and we think nothing of the fact that those we task with taking care of our children make ridiculously low wages.  On a smaller scale, we are vexed by children's endless energy; annoyed by their volume and exhuberance; inconvenienced over their predisposition to avoid things we think they should do, like sleep and eat vegetables; and we are most certainly ill-equipped to handle the hugeness and wildness of their constantly changing emotional development.  (For instance,  I recently learned that our dopamine levels - that's the happy chemical - are the lowest at the ages of 2 and 14.  Really, this says SO much about the wildness and unpredictability of emotions that come out of our two year olds - and 14 year olds, obviously!)

We glare at parents whose children melt down in public.  We shoot dirty looks at parents whose kids talk to loud, move to fast, or otherwise break social codes of civility.   Why can't those darn kids behave, we wonder?   Why can't they talk instead of shout, walk instead of run, sit still once in awhile, listen the first time, pay attention.  Why do they stubbornly dig in their heels in defiance?  Why do they tantrum? 

But what we really mean is, why can't they be more like us?  More, well, adult.  We like to think we have an appreciation for childhood.  But have you ever heard someone say, "Oh don't be so childish" to a child?  I have.  It says a lot, I think. 

Children are imperfect, messy, impulsive, loud, whimsical, exhaustingly-always-on-the-go, accidents-waiting-to-happen.  They say it like they see it and feel their feelings unabashedly and with gusto.  They need room to move, freedom to explore, and space for their voices to be heard (however loud those voices may sometimes be).   It's as often exhausting and frustrating as it is cute.  But they only get to be kids once.  Why are we all in such a hurry to train it out of them?

The fact that my friend and I were glared at and reprimanded at a public place designed to be an educational facility for folks like kids speaks to the lack of spaces in the world that kids can be themselves.  If children were valued... if we actually liked children... we'd let them be kids from time to time.