You should not be reading this blog. You should be watching Transparent on AmazonTV, like I am. Remember how the best gift I got Herr Husband for Christmas was FiveTV for the bargain basement price of $79? It let me rewatch all of Arrested Development, and now it’s letting me continue the Jeffrey Tambor party with Transparent.
So, it took me until today to understand fully get the title. My brain isn’t always functional. It’s not just transparent as in transgendered, or as in coming out and fully visible as oneself. It’s Trans-PARENT. Duh. Because it’s about Maura (Tambor) a transwoman who comes out to her three adult children. There’s heartbreak and humor and great characters and incredible writing. Go watch.
Do you live locally? If not, skip this post. If yes, keep reading. Do you have kids? If not, skip this post. If so, keep reading. Have we discussed Jam Time already? If yes, you too can skip this post. But if not, hold onto your hats! I’m about to drop some useful parenting info on that ass. (I wonder if that phrase has ever been uttered/written before? Google says no.)
Go to Jam Time in Natick (or in Maynard, but I’ve never been to that one). Before you go, you and your children can shout Jam Time in a silly voice and amuse yourselves endlessly. And then once you’re there, you can alternate between playing with your children and practicing benign neglect as they work on their independence and you gab with your friends (today, Rocky and her pals).
Jam Time is clean, quieter than other indoor play spaces (it’s the carpet), and friendly. It’s small enough that you can let your kids wander and then find them with ease. The people are friendly and they have organic junk food for sale (they understand their client demographic well). There’s a bounce house, a ball pit, a train table, a pretend fire station, a lot of ride on toys, costumes, and climbing stuff/slides. Everyone leaves happy, and my kids fall asleep on time. Win.
I hate that my Ferguson post has to be short. You may hate that I’m writing one at all. So we’ll call it even.
A lot of things break my heart about the fact that an eighteen-year-old young man was killed by a police officer, and that said officer doesn’t even have to stand trial for his death.
But this is, for better for worse, mostly a mom blog. So I’m going to look at this as a mom. A mom whose heart broke for Trayvon Martin, for Eric Garner, for Tamir Rice, and of course for Michael Brown. And for so many more. And for their mothers.
Because here’s the thing. We all worry about our children. A lot. I may even worry about my son more than most (and it’s not a contest, but I can tell you that I worry more about him than I do about my full-term daughter. His start was scary, and I may never get over it.).
Of the five women with whom I became close while Das Big Boy was in the NICU, four were women of color. Two of those women have sons. I know they poured every ounce of worry and love into their sons just as I did into mine. I know they worry to this day. But they have a worry I don’t. Because their sons are black. And that’s an injustice that really, really pains me. They have to worry that some people may respond to their sons with fear or aggression just because they are black. And that sucks, because we moms, especially we preemie moms, have enough to worry about.
I’ve broken some laws in my day. I needn’t detail them here. But if you went to college with me, you know what I mean. And my sole brush with law enforcement illustrates perfectly the concept of white privilege, that unearned privilege that my children will inherit from me unless our world changes.
I was twenty-two, recently graduated from college. A friend from high school and another friend’s ex-boyfriend and I took a cab home from a Boston bar to a Wellesley street in an effort to find the first friend’s ex-boyfriend. My friend may have vomited in the cab. I may have offered, in the ultimate act of lady chivalry, to wear her pukey shirt so we could spread out the stink. We may have changed clothes in the street. Someone (wisely) called the police. Surprise! The police did not even chide us. They drove us home to our parents’ respective mansions with friendly banter the whole way. Not a word about keeping it down at 2 am, nary a suggestion to lay off the booze, not even an allusion to any puke stink. How do you think that would have gone down if we’d been three black young adults in Wellesley, (a town where for every 1000 residents, 110.3 black people are arrested while only 9.4 white people are arrested)? And that, people, is white privilege. It doesn’t mean that all white people are overtly racist (although some of them are). It means our social structures benefit white people.
So what can a mad white mom from the suburbs do? How do we raise children who will work for justice and equality, who will reject their privilege or extend it to everyone?
I don’t have big or great ideas. I have little ones. But I’m going to try them and hope they help. And I hope you’ll share your ideas for teaching our children as well.
1) Read children’s books with black protagonists. My community is pretty white. My son has one black classmate. My daughter thinks the African-American baby on the diaper box is Rudy (daughter of our friends the Huxtables, who are South and East Asian). But I’m a big believer in familiarity being possible through art, too, and in that familiarity building understanding. So I’m going to get my children five books for the holidays that feature black protagonists. When I’ve chosen them, I’ll share the titles.
2) Give money to an organization that advances racial and social justice. It’s holiday time, when we all pick our charities. I’m always nagging you to give to preemies and lungs and hearts. This year, I also gave to The Southern Poverty Law Center.
3) Start talking about race and justice with my children early. Earlier than may be comfortable. I heard on NPR once that the average age at which black families start discussing race with their children is three, whereas in white families it’s thirteen. Because for black children it’s a fact of life and experience, but for white children, it’s an external, even intellectual exercise. It’s why kids can describe black culture but not white culture. White privilege again. But clearly the hippie love stuff–we’re all the same, yada yada–that we white liberals (or me white liberal) have always been fond of doesn’t work so well. We need to have conversations about race from an earlier age. I’m going to research this one, too. But if you have ideas, let me know.
4. Don’t stay quiet. I’m not saying I plan to get in a flame war on Facebook or a throw down at Thanksgiving dinner. But I do have to say that most of the people responding to Ferguson with dismay on my FB feed last night were either a) people of color b) sociology graduate students/professors or c) superpolitical people (and I DON’T think this is a political issue). But I know more of us care. We can share our thoughts without getting into fights. I’m going to try to do so.
5. Put more love into the universe in general. This is a goal toward which I’m always striving. Be kinder. Less gossipy. More tolerant. More patient. I’m trying to teach this kindness and generosity to my children, too. I’ll write about those strategies on another day, because I don’t want to detract from today’s goal of doing something about racism, however small, in my own white suburban mom way, in my own white suburban family.
Peace. Really, I mean it. Peace.
A lot of parents hate bedtime. It’s odd how something that we so love and long for as adults, and so need as children, is pure anathema to the under-twelve set. But actually, my children, who stink at plenty of things–one won’t eat fruits or vegetables in solid form, the other would rather concuss herself than put on a jacket no matter the temperature–have historically been fairly agreeable at bedtime. Yes, in his early toddler days, Das Big Boy required lots of rocking and singing, and on most days Little Liebchen still weasels her way into our bed in the early morning. But they’re pretty good about the act of going to bed. After our bedtime routine (potty, jammies, teeth, books, “best part of the day,” songs), Herr Husband takes the recently nursed Little Liebchen to her crib, then returns so we can both say goodnight to Das Big Boy. And until recently, that was the end of the story. Yes, Das Big Boy would play in his bed for a while, but he’d stay there.
Then all of a sudden he had that realization that children have repeatedly until adulthood: adult authority is a myth if you don’t give a fuck. When I was a teacher, some colleagues would express bewilderment at students who didn’t come to school. Frankly, I was amazed that so many of them showed up. I mean, nerds like I was, yeah, of course they would come. But I was truly stunned that the bad ass kids who did drugs and got into fights and yelled at teachers came to school as often as they did. To this day I find it profoundly moving that they did so.
Anyway, bedtime is a social construct, and Das Big Boy suddenly wasn’t having it. I feel like a lot of kids go through this when they first move to big boy/girl beds, but he was quite good about staying in his bed unless he really, really needed something. He was still much more likely to holler for us.
And then suddenly, about two months ago: Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me. He was out of bed. He was playing with his toys. He was in our room. He was blaming his stuffed animals for the loud crashes we heard. I didn’t climb on the shelves to get the jellyfish; Clifford did it.
We tried putting desirable toys “to bed” by hiding them under blankets. We taped down the light switch and told him the light was sleeping. On one particularly ugly evening that I caught him making book towers, I told him that if he did it one more time I would take every single book out of his room. And then when he did so, I had to honor my promise, practically spitting with rage as I dragged probably two-hundred books out from every corner of his room. It was not my proudest parenting moment.
But I think we’ve finally hit on something that works. His current nightlight is very dim, such that he wants us to leave the door open so he can see his books (yes, I let him take books to bed. I was a sneak-reader and I feel like there are worse things to be) by the hall light. The deal is, if he gets out of bed, even once, the hall light goes off.
This leads to some squeals of, “Help me! Mom, I can’t reach it!” as he tries to keep his feet on the bed while reaching for a book and gets trapped in a sort of wheelbarrow pose, but the stakes seem just high enough to keep him where he belongs.
Until he realizes, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” and starts turning his own light on again, probably so he can do things like remove all of the clothes from his drawers or color on the walls.
It’s bound to happen.
Edit: Just read that the grand jury decided not to press charges against Darren Wilson (ugh), which makes my use of “Killing in the Name of” for my suburban mom blog seem a bit too cute for tonight. Apologies for that.
Today is World Prematurity Day. Obviously, I’m acutely aware of prematurity, and chances are, if you follow this blog at all, you’re aware of prematurity, too.
I have to be honest. I always have a bit of a squeamish reaction to prematurity awareness. That’s because one of the main goals of the day is to reduce prematurity. Now obviously, I’m all for reducing, nay, eliminating, prematurity! But to suggest that it can be done feels like suggesting that Das Big Boy’s premature birth was somehow preventable if I had done something differently. Prematurity prevention often talks about getting mothers prenatal care, and of stopping pregnant women from smoking and/or using cocaine. I’m here to tell you that I had topflight prenatal care, and that I didn’t have so much as an Advil before I was admitted to the hospital with PPROM. I took my bedrest extremely seriously, both at home and in the hospital. I only ate pasteurized cheese. I didn’t touch soft serve or smoothies. Or penne a la vodka. I didn’t clean a litterbox between 2010 and 2014. I was ridiculously, overly careful. And I still had a preemie and a baby who I managed to get to 36 weeks and 3 days which felt like an elephantine effort for not only me, Herr Husband, and Das Big Boy, but also my parents and Nanny Sunshine, not to mention a cadre of talented medical personnel. So preventing prematurity isn’t always possible, no matter how hard we try. And sometimes suggesting that it is fires up that tiny voice that wonders if I could have done something differently.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t love the March of Dimes and give them money in Das Big Boy’s honor. Please feel free! They’re the ones who helped get the surfactant developed which enabled him to breathe. They conducted the research into the betamethasone that grew him the paltry lungs he had at birth so he could survive. And they fund research into PPROM’s causes, and many other issues associated with prematurity that could have helped me, Das Big Boy, and our many preemie pals.
But rather than talking about preventing prematurity, I want to think about how we can respond to it. The doctors and the organizations like MoD have the medical research and stuff covered. So we can think about the personal responses. And this is really my advice for how to support anyone going though a stressful situation: preemie, sick kid, sick parent, illness, what-have-you:
Be present. Give presents.
Call to check in even if you think the person wants some space. Send texts. Emails. Leave voicemails. Don’t expect to hear back, but be there. If you talk to the person, listen. Offer empathy. Hope, but not false hope. Support. Tell the person how awesome they’re doing (but don’t say you don’t know how they do it. They don’t have a choice. They just do), and ask what you can do. We loved when people visited the NICU (as long as they were healthy!). Our people treated Das Big Boy like a person who mattered to them, which helped him feel like part of our lives even when he was stuck in the hospital. Finally, don’t hide from even the scariest or saddest situations. I know my friends who’ve lost children love the opportunity to talk about those children, to be reminded that they existed for everyone, not just for their families.
And send something, if you can. I’ve written about this before, but people sent us stuff for Das Big Boy even before we knew if he would survive until birth. That meant more than I can express to this day. That people believed in him enough to send him a little outfit (Thank you still, A and M!) still brings tears to my eyes. When something is so uncertain, tiny tangible things mean so much. It’s why we took multiple photos of him every day that he was in the NICU. It was, I think, our way of proving that he was there, that he existed.
Friends also sent stuff to support us and keep our spirits up. Cupcakes delivered to the NICU. Gift cards for grocery delivery. A couples massage. Having our team care for us enabled us to care for our little dude. And it reminded us that we were part of a larger world that loved us.
Prematurity isn’t all tragedy. We loved Das Big Boy more than we thought possible. We celebrated his milestones (His first ccs of breastmilk! The first time we held him! His attempts at nursing! When we had to change his incubator because he had such an explosive poop!). We held him, cuddled him, read to him, and sang to him for up to fourteen hours a day. We befriended our nurses, doctors, and staffers, and of course the other families (and we celebrated their babies’ milestones, too!). The NICU became our community. Our home.
And during our 114 days in the NICU, Herr Husband and I also had a lot of laughs. We wrote songs like “Could be Gas, Could be Sepsis” (ok, it was a whole musical called NICU, the Musical), perfected our imitations of some of the NICUs characters and acted out scenes with them, and played a weird version of “chuck, fuck, marry,” in which we had to select a staff member to hurl from the window, one to bring to Boston, and one to leave at CHONY. We imagined setting up nurses with our friends and decided whom we would want to go for a drink with or invite to a party. Even when you’re miserable, misery doesn’t define you. You be you.
The last thing I think we can all do for World Prematurity Day is something to thank the best humans on the planet, NICU nurses. If you’re a NICU parent, you can do something to thank those nurses. Send them a treat. Donate something to the NICU that they can share with their patients. Write them a letter with a picture of your kid. And if you’re not a NICU alum, and you want to do something, you can still donate something to your local NICU. Or to the next best people: teachers or therapists or doctors who work with NICU alums. Looking for a new charity? You can give money to the Center for Healthy Infant Lung Development (CHILD) Clinic, or the Home Oxygen Parent Exchange (HOPE) program, both at Children’s Hospital Boston. These are the places in which Dr. Larry Rhein works his magic, helping preemies learn to breathe, and even more sweetly, to play. The HOPE Program is Larry’s passion project, where babies who are on germ isolation can take a music class safely without worrying about the common colds that could send them to the hospital. And where their parents can make pals with other folks who’ve had this strange introduction to parenting: (blue babies, plugged in babies, boob-to-pump-to-pump-to-belly, etc.)
So Happy World Prematurity Day, or something like that. Thanks, as always, for following our journey. Prematurity doesn’t define it anymore, but I do appreciate the opportunity to remember and reflect. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.
I thought I’d recommend some children’s books tonight. These are some of our favorites with which you might not be familiar. Do me a favor and share some of yours/your kids’, too. As always, I recommend you support your local bookseller (or mine, Wellesley Books!).
1) Dinosaur Rescue, by Penny Dale
Ok, so high literature this one is not. It’s essentially pandering to the interests of preschoolers: dinosaurs, crashes, railroad crossings (what, your kids don’t demand you drive them past certain crossing gates multiple times a day?), trains, emergency vehicles, and easily-resolved crises. You pretty much can’t go wrong with this combo. Repetitive, readable prose and brightly colored, highly detailed illustrations make this one the whole package. And it’s led to some fun play schemes in our house, too.
These charming books are translated from the Finnish. Written in whimsical, rhyming couplets, they’re quirky and heartfelt. Toffle is about a lonely soul who finally finds his match, and Mymble is about a quest to find a lost sister. Both take place in the same mystical world. Mymble has spectacular cut-outs on every page, and both use vivid drawings of their invented beings. They’re on the long side (especially Toffle), but they hold my kids’ attention.
3) Stop Snoring Bernard, by Zachariah Ohora.
Bernard is an otter with a snoring problem. His pals kick him out of the otter exhibit, and he tries to find a new spot in the zoo. Don’t worry, it ends happily. The heavy line drawings look like woodcuts, and the simple prose, animal characters, and opportunity to make loud snoring sounds will amuse toddlers and preschoolers.
4) I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen and Marc Rosenthal
Willy’s lovey is his sock monkey, Bobo. But Earl the cat loves Bobo, too. So they battle over him. The line drawings use pops of primary colors, and the words take over the pages at some point. Simple enough that little ones can start “reading” along with you. A favorite of each of my kids between eighteen months and two (but DBB still enjoys it at four).
5) Listen, Listen, by Phillis Geshator and Alison Jay
Another rhyming book with highly detailed illustrations: cute little animals, lovely landscapes, and frolicking folks. The book goes through the seasons, describing the changes in nature and the different activities people can enjoy. It highlights the sounds of each season with lots of opportunities for kids to make sound effects. Charming and beautiful, it’s a great book for games of I spy.
So what are your family’s favorites? Share in the comments! We’re always on the hunt for new books and love getting favorites from friends. We were just introduced (via gift) to the wonderful Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen. Circus animals survive a wreck at sea and become valued members of a Maine community! And a Facebook post taught us about Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen’s Mercy Watson, the toast-loving, problem-solving, trouble-making porcine wonder!
It was a lovely day for the Husband Hausfraus, or at least for the Hipster and her offspring. Herr Husband was at work. But we three walked to Trader Joe’s, had lunch at Sweet Corner, made a UPS truck out of an Amazon box (that had ironically arrived via Fed Ex), and capped it off with a delightful wine-fueled play date with ‘Burban Bestie and her babes.
But the day was not without a teachable moment, which I feel duty bound to share.
Sometimes, when Hipster Hausfrau is walking around her idyllic suburb, she starts to feel a little boss. It began at TJs, where they were playing “Tell Me Something Good.”
Who doesn’t want to dance when they hear that song? And one great thing about children is that they totally legitimize singing and dancing in the grocery store. What a great mom, people think, totally unafraid to make an ass of herself in order to keep those babies happy. To be fair, what I really wanted to do was cut loose with some hair swinging, getting low, grinding it out stripper dancing, but I held back. Almost entirely. And then my smugsbyness continued on the walk to lunch; this may have been related to my outfit choice which involved skinny jeans, legwarmers, and some gray go-go type boots with little heels. I confess that I may have been checking myself out in store windows.
After lunch, at which the children earned accolades for their behavior, I was basically feeling like hot shit as I strolled home.
And then the weight of the food I had purchased to feed my family outweighed my children, thereby causing the stroller to tip back in middle of the street, such that my children and groceries were flat on their backs and I was flat on my face. Yup. I totally bit it. Blame the heels on the boots.
But anyway, the kids were totally fine, the groceries were totally fine, and I was totally fine. Not even embarrassed because when I’m in a good mood, things like this immediately strike me as hilarious. But oddly, the woman who had pulled up as I was crossing the street just sat there. She, her daughter (about my age), and two grandchildren (about my kids’ ages) waited patiently as I checked on my kids, adjusted my groceries, and dusted myself off. I waved an apology, and she nodded.
But then she drove off. Didn’t roll down her window to ask if I needed help or even if the kids and I were ok.
What the fuck is up with that?
I would have gotten out of the car to make sure the mom was ok. Isn’t that what friendly, busybody-small-town living is all about?
Asshole, I muttered. And not that quietly. It’s a word I know Das Big Boy already has access to, because I am usually careful about my swearing until I’m not, and he once informed me that a truck was fixing some assholes in the street.
But then I realized this was a teachable moment.
“What do you think that lady should have said to us?” I asked DBB.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“When she saw that we had fallen, I think she should have asked us…” I looked at him expectantly.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“Exactly.” I told him. “Are you ok? Do you need help?”
So that’s my lesson people. I guess it’s two lessons. If you think you’re hot stuff, the universe will remind you to take it down a level. But also, if you see your fellow man (or mom) in trouble, help a sister out. Don’t ignore her because you’re worried she might be embarrassed or you’re in some all-fired hurry.
Check on people.
Make sure they’re ok.
Show a little love.
Tell me something good.