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tradition!

14 Dec

Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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A certain newborn may be faulted for our procurement of a 2009 holiday tree at what some might call the last possible second — Christmas Eve — but in actuality I think we could’ve managed a trip to the tree lot if there’d been some kind of pre-set plan. A presumed time with corresponding stop at cute cafe and a swing by the most festive neighborhood lights display before heading home to drink cocoa in our matching Hanna Andersson jammies. Also, you know, two-thirds of us are Jewish, so this may not have been a realistic scenario. But you get the idea.

Since George has been alive, I’ve put my holiday planning into overdrive which, to me, is really intense but, to you, might look significantly…um, less so. Not impressed by that L’Shana Tovah banner I hung in the front window for Rosh Hashanah, eh? Well, I tried.

This year, we’ve persevered despite having a two week-old sapping our energy as one of our thirtieth birthdays passed by and realizing the night before Thanksgiving that we may not have money to buy the makings for the standard Macy’s Parade-watching quiche (we scraped it together). But, do I want George to be a part of a make-it-work-with-a-little-felt-and-a-WIC-check kind of family? Little by little, we’re getting it in gear and I’m pleased to report that Hanukkah has been our best showing yet. Homemade food, homemade gifts, thoughtfulness in the place/face of blatant consumerism and as much family time as we could muster with a papa who works two jobs. That said, our biggest, most tradition-y effort still lies ahead.

I’ve talked a little bit about George’s naming ceremony, or brit shalom, in the past, but it, like his first birthday, always seemed a loooooong ways off. We chose a name to honor a very special lady, picked a date for the party and made the invitations, and even THEN its imminence didn’t sink in. We’re now at T minus about two weeks, and I am staring down the barrel of the first culturally significant milestone of my baby’s life. An event steeped in tradition. And meaning. And I’m a floppy felt banner in the window sort of mom.

This was all giving me a serious case of the worries until one of our dear friends said something that I know resonated with, well… everyone in the room at the time, because it applied to all of us in different ways. Your children won’t remember that you’re poor; they’ll remember that you loved them. Will George look back on photos of his naming ceremony and birthday party and think, “Wow! What a tiny, crappy house! And you couldn’t spring for a real mohel?”? Or will he see all the friends and family? Will he see the homemade food and decorations for the loving contributions they were? I needed to check myself and stop reading so many design blogs.

The facts are these: We aren’t wealthy. We aren’t organized. We aren’t a traditional family. But we’re creative, and as I assembled and addressed the invitations to George’s naming ceremony and birthday party this evening, I took heart in that. Because some years, we might not get a tree until Christmas Eve. We might have fettuccine alfredo for Thanksgiving dinner and make Purim costumes out of the Goodwill bag. But I’d bet money that in the pictures, we’ll be smiling. And that’s a tradition I can get behind.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

put on your yarmulke

1 Dec

This was the first night of Hanukkah last year:

I was about to burst, we kind of half-assed it. My celebratory glass of wine put me right to sleep.

This year, we were (almost) totally ready at sunset. Presents wrapped, food cooking, baby’s new mama-made kippah loosely attached to whatever wispy hairs we could snag.

George helped to light the candles. He ate some of the challah we ran all over town to find this afternoon.
Mama got a new calendar; Papa got a new coat.

We learned that one of us doesn’t like couscous

But really likes paper bags.

This Hanukkah, when we celebrate miracles, I am most thankful that this — my commonplace — feels so miraculous.

thumbs up for hanukkah

Happy Holidays.

disappointment

28 Nov

With the holidays approaching (and with them, the birthdays of most of George’s little friends), I’ve been waist-deep in production and all the stuff that comes with it. Trying to figure out what to make. Pick fabric. Choose trims. Do it right. And once it’s made, hope the recipient likes what I’ve done. Anyone who handmakes gifts has made something that was poorly received. My own favorite story — the word ‘favorite’ being a relatively recent development, as the multi-level bummer finally wore off — is of making something for someone who probably thought she was being tactful by tasking someone else with the chore of asking me for the gift’s receipt. Whether I should’ve taken the fact that the thing passed for storebought is the only possible positive of the whole deal, because when the middle-woman asked for the receipt, she turned what may have otherwise been a somewhat laughable oh-haha-err-awkward! situation into a fight. “It’s HOMEMADE?! What were you thinking? You should’ve just gotten her NOTHING. Can you at least get her a real present now?” Seriously. If you will, dear reader, please imagine my response and make it as — ahem — colorful as you’d like.

Regardless of how shitty that lady was, the sting of disappointment is harsh when you’ve worked hard on something that isn’t well received. It can feel like a personal affront; your choices and efforts are entrenched much deeper in a handmade present than one bought in a store. And sometimes that fact falls on deaf ears…or into unappreciative hands.

When I was pregnant with George, I told my mother — a longtime smoker — that she could not continue to smoke and have a relationship with my child. As a child myself, my parents’ smoking was a constant embarrassment and nuisance. Like when you give someone a homemade gift (George is, afterall, about as homemade as gifts get), the gift my mom got in her grandson was not customizable after-the-fact or exchangeable for another size or color. But the gift she got was good. The only appropriate reaction, in my book, is akin to mine when I was given my first, beautiful handknitted wool sweater: what do I have to do to keep this gift as perfect as it was the day I got it?

My mother’s reaction was… not that. Over the past year and a half, she has lied about giving up smoking, told me the cigarettes in front of her weren’t hers, insisted the smell on her clothes wasn’t smoke, and snuck away during Thanksgiving festivities to light up in the bathroom, bringing with her upon her return a foul stench that required my entire family to bathe when we got home. Before we could collapse into bed with a tired infant whose sling also reeked of cigarettes, who was exposed to third-hand smoke for an entire day. And that was my last straw.

I love my mother. We have our issues, most of which revolve around situations just like this one, wherein she has sold me out in favor of someone or something more important to her. But there will be no selling out of my kid, and I didn’t hesitate for one hot second when I called to say we’d made it home through the snow to add that until she stops smoking, she will not have the privilege of seeing George. Because she’s setting a bad example. And even if you don’t believe the studies about third-hand smoke, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that a baby should not smell like cigarettes.

I wish I could say that my mom’s reaction was a hearty hey-whatever-it-takes-because-I-love-that-kid. But it wasn’t. And my feeling was similar to the one you get as you watch your friend or family member’s face go from I’m-opening-a-present-this-rules! to ummm, WTF? when they peel back the tissue paper on your homemade table runner and matching napkin rings. But, like I’ve had to do with people who felt my gifts missed the mark, I’m letting go of my mom’s complete lack of appreciation for what she’s been given. If she chooses to throw it out, that’s entirely up to her.

the best costume for the day

23 Oct

Today we went to the pumpkin patch. I had never been to a pumpkin patch, at least not one that I remembered. This one kind of blew my mind: apple pull-aparts with caramel and ice cream, photo-ops a plenty, a rocking horse corral, chickens(!) and a contraption that lead a goat through a path into the air where it stopped to take a nap and your child could ring a bell furiously from a seemingly related station on the ground. What? I know!

The farm was huge and beautiful, with an apple orchard where you could choose an apple and eat it straight from the tree for a mere 25 cents, which is a markup of about ten percent from the grocery store down the street from my house that sells exactly the same apples. If you care about those things. But I don’t! So we did that.

I dearly love dressing George for these sorts of outings. Wondering which jacket, romper, hat or t-shirt will become one of his signature pieces — the kind you look back on in photos and remember wearing — is such great fun. This was no exception, and since I knew we’d be taking lots of pictures of him, his little baby BFFs and us as a family, I made sure his outfit was representative of what he normally wears but still festive. I tried to do the same for myself, but there’s just no competing with a vintage Izod hooded, argyle sweater. Without further ado, here we are, as style-y as we get with any regularity:



I simply can’t bring myself to take a straight-on, posed photo of myself, you guys. Those who do this monthly or weekly, my hat is off to you.

On me:
t-shirt: art in the age of mechanical reproduction
cords: old navy
jacket: Ralph Lauren, from Macy’s
sneakers (almost dead, alas): Jack Purcell, from (I think) Famous Footwear, like 3 years ago
sunglasses: F21

On George:
sweater: vintage IZOD, Value Village
pants: Target
onesie: Carter’s, but probably from Value Village
legwarmers: mama-made, from some ladies’ cashmere socks
shoes: Robeez, hand-me-downs

that was your mother

12 Sep

George, man, you are really tiring me out. These days, I’m lucky to get a brush through my hair which is not even close to the amount of “doing” that my hair requires. Speaking of, I really hope you got your pop’s hair and not mine because despite boys getting a near pass in the grooming department, you still gotta do something and some days there’s just no option but copious bobbypins and a bun. Technically an option for you, but to be honest, not one I would necessarily encourage.

Also, on the papa front: I am beginning to forget what it’s like to have a fluid talk with him. One that isn’t interrupted with baby-juggling and redirection and trailing off, having forgotten what the next conversational turn was to be. Please, kid, don’t misunderstand. Usually one of us is sidetracked by your cuteness. And even when we’re not, it’s okay, because you’re a baby and you’re fun to be around most of the time and when you’re not, well… nobody’s always pleasant company. Including me. In fact, I’m probably pleasant company less often than most. But when my life is so consumed by the baby-related, I’d really kill for a start-to-finish conversation about that New York Times article I read while you were sleeping, or fashion week or what I should do with my 401K money — take it out or leave it in? Anything other than what kind of diapers I now prefer, how to wash them and what they look like after you’ve eaten black beans. I swear, I used to be a reasonably interesting person.
We just celebrated your first Rosh Hashanah. You slept through most of it, and it didn’t go the way I wanted. I was supremely bummed, scared of letting the few traditions I hold dear slip under the wheels of busy-ness, exhaustion, convenience, disinterest. Get rolled over and left for dead. I made no apologies this year; I made no resolutions. But as with most things, time may sort that out. My hope for this year, my thirtieth, is that I’ll reclaim a little of my adultness. Adultness that may never have been fully realized to begin. Ballet will start again, I will get a facial, I will have time and hands enough to keep a tidy house. Maybe. I will eat breakfast again, and work. Deadlines will loom and I’ll meet them. Your papa and I will learn to put you down, will learn that to let you nap alone doesn’t mean we love you any less, even if it really, really pisses you off in the beginning.
xoxo,
mama

You are the burden of my generation
I sure do love you, but let’s get that straight.

(Paul Simon lovingly quoted with abandon and no permission)

george lejeunesse, freaking out squares since 2009

25 Aug

I should start by saying that it was gut-wrenching just now to look at what search terms brought people to my blog in the past three days, #1 being “jane schaffer died.” Because she did. And so it goes.

I’ve been working on a post about naming and names, unsuccessfully. It’s languishing in my drafts now, having been deleted and rewritten and deleted again, then mumbled out through my fingers, still unsatisfactory for public consumption. The time is coming — has come and gone, some would argue — to give George a Hebrew name. There was no recently deceased person to honor, but now there is, and that’s kind of that. We’ve already discussed the other part of the naming ceremony that we won’t be inflicting (that’s right, inflicting) on our boy and when the whole thing is said and done I’ll be glad to have it over with.
Naming, which I’ve always taken a special delight in, has been an unforeseen area of conflict where George is concerned. While I know I’m not the only one who gets grilled about her kid’s name(s), it seems that people who would otherwise just smile politely at what they consider a stodgy moniker see an open door for debate when it comes to George’s last name. Which is my last name. Which is not his father’s last name. GASP, CHOKE, how could you immasculate your husband — WAIT HE’S NOT EVEN YOUR HUSBAND?!?!?!? that way?
If you only knew, stranger in the grocery line, what other misdeeds I’m capable of.
There are lots of reasons we chose George. My abiding love of George Balanchine, of George Fayne, of Georgia Hubley. The two real, quality people in my life named George and the fact that they are entirely different people with vastly different interests, personalities and body types but both are unmistakably George. Singer as a middle name followed easily, for, dear reader, when you birth this:

It can only be seen as a sign to name him after your favorite writer, your favorite Pole, your favorite Yid and Pulitzer Prize-winning, superstitious, rice pudding-loving sometimes-curmudgeon:

These names are acceptable for most people, charming for some and stodgy for others, but the most common response is “I have a great-uncle named George!” Familiar but not common. Comfortable, I hope.
Sometimes, though. Sometimes people want to hear the whole shebang, to see if it has that certain ring. Does it rival the ring of Kaydynze Austyn Danger (haha; get it?!) Johnson? So I accomodate them. “Your husband must be French!” They say. And then, oh then.
Well, actually, it’s MY last name. (And here, for your reading enjoyment, a conversation that took place at Target, potentially in the same line where a woman who’d just given her toddler a swig of soda asked me Is that one of those slings that kills babies?)
Stranger: Oh, God bless you. Being a single mother must be so hard at your young age (…thanks?)
Me: I’m not a single mother. I have a partner. We just chose to give George my last name.
Stranger: …And your…PARTNER? He didn’t mind?
Me: No more than I’d have minded.
Stranger: Are there lots of boys in his family?
Me: Nope!
Stranger: Why didn’t you hyphenate it? Lots of people are doing that now.
Me: Um, it’s kind of cumbersome…
Stranger: Well, good luck to you! (Shakes head)

And you, I said, though I wanted so badly to throw that three-pack of wipes at her head as she lumbered away.

unscathed…sort of

11 Aug

One of my greatest fears in raising my son and any future children we might have is passing on my (many) neuroses. I inherited so many of my parents’ problems. So many undesirable familial traits that our blue eyes and thin wrists are, in the cafe of genetics, drowned out by the din of phobia, depression, addiction, walls built so high and thick that the few who tunnel in are usually sorry they did.
One of the things that’s struck me about having a child is that my personal attachment to these neuroses is waning. I have identified, for better or worse, with my eccentricities for as long as I’ve had them. People could take me or leave me and I was always relatively unmoved by their decision. Dorkily, I realized this had changed while listening to Bjork’s song Hyperballad, the lyrics of which I had never given much thought:

We live on a mountain
Right at the top
There’s a beautiful view
From the top of the mountain
Every morning I walk towards the edge
And throw little things off
Like:
Car parts, bottles and cutlery
Or whatever I find lying around

I go through all this
Before you wake up
So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you

(lyrics posted entirely without permission)
Besides our fantastical, magical wardrobes, Bjork and I apparently have something in common. We psych ourselves up for the day with our kids. We shake off the nasties and pull ourselves up by the old bootstraps because nobody wants a crazy mama despite how appealing her craziness made her to boys at nineteen.
I feel that I usually do a pretty good job of this. The fact of the matter is: I am not one of those cooing, adorable moms who revels in playgroup and shopping at Gymboree. I hope George loves me for these characteristics and not in spite of them, but if he doesn’t, you know, kind of oh well.
On the other hand, there are still problems I just can’t get in front of. They outpace me or circumstance renders me somewhat helpless and I’m suddenly that crazy lady with a baby on a plane who’s crying over the number of seats across the aisle and the fact that the customer service representative lied about KLM Royal Dutch Airlines because why the fuck would a European affiliate be flying from Dallas to Atlanta? Yeah. That was me.

post-freak out


I made it through a week of mother-in-love being all shifty-eyed at my hippy parenting and father-in-love pretending he wasn’t going to AA meetings and sister-in-love getting unceremoniously dumped and sorta-neice eating nothing but shit carbs to my shock and horror and my stinking phobia fells me in the final seconds. True to form, you all might be amused to know, I was thinking for the entirety of the flight that when we crashed I would be vindicated. I just love being right, even hypothetically, posthumously. That’s commitment to the cause.
This was our first Family Vacation. We flew in a plane, we had a destination where we stayed for a week. We saw people to whom George is related but with whom he has nothing else in common. I did not grow up going on these kinds of vacations. I was sent alone to see foreign family or was drug to conferences where I fell in love with hotel living, the fluffy robes, the over-chlorinated pools, the familiar strangers and the approximated comforts of home. All involved, primarily, time alone. Predictability. The things I used to thrive on. Those days are most definitely behind me. And I think that’s okay.

authenticity

8 Aug

So far in my parenting experience, I haven’t spent much time around people whose parenting styles differ greatly from mine. Of course — we find people who validate what we know. Or “know.” Whatever. I knew (“knew”) that our trip to see Nathan’s family would bring about the first situation where our choices would be repeatedly questioned, albeit in what I anticipated would be tolerable ways. We are raising George, communicating with George, even being around George in ways very different than Nathan’s family are used to seeing, let alone doing. I can handle it; I am confident in my choices. Right? RIGHT.
Cue the “tips,” on the way home from the airport. Poor George was overtired from his long day of charming everyone half to death and trying to discern if that bizarre smile plastered on his mother’s face was genuine or meant “I am trying not to give you the impression that I am waiting for our impending grisly death.” He needed to sleep. And oh, George’s attributes are many and varied but his sleeping habits are not exactly a selling point if we’re being honest.
“He might surprise you,” Nathan’s mom kept saying, suggesting repeatedly that we just buckle the poor kid back into the carseat that held him captive all day. The thing is, he might’ve — sure. He also might’ve chosen to, rather than sleep, start reciting Shakespeare while strapped into said carseat on the ride home. I didn’t care to test my child one more time on what had already been a very long and very stressful day for all of us.
“I think he might surprise you,” she said one last time. “You would be wrong,” Nathan replied, and we went to Target while Nathan slung George for a nap. Go team.

We did, however, have to get back in the car eventually, and he 25 minute nap at Target was so, SO insufficient. The whining let to hooting led to whimpering led to hey-I-really-mean-it-I’m-about-to-cry. So I shushed. Nathan’s mom kept saying, “He’ll be fine.” (Like, I am sitting 3 inches away but I should just let him cry?)
But I shushed him and shushed and shushed until long after everyone had decided I was annoying and crazy and George was finally asleep, having been put in that state as gently as I could put him while seatbelted, myself. I was proud of my authenticity, my commitment to my child in that moment, glad to have chosen caring for him over convenience or the culture of the car or suggestion or self-consciousness. Us:2 World:0

fear of flying

23 Jul

This post has nothing to do with Erica Jong. Sorry.

We are taking our first family trip via plane next week. To say I’m an uneasy flier is an understatement. Usually, I need to be drugged and/or drunk to get off the ground. This hasn’t always been the case. When I was young, I loved to fly and did often, even alone, comfortably. People like to chat up children traveling solo, and I made a game of lying to my seatmates. Creating new, rather mundane (so as to remain believable) personas was a fun way to pass the time and put one over on the mostly condescending adults who always assumed I was going to visit my grandparents.
Even in childhood, though, I had rules for travel by plane. I never flew on an airline that sounded “American,” which excluded (obviously) American Airlines, USAir, Delta (for the color scheme, ha) and United. These rules have remained fast until now; we will be flying on Delta because tickets for three were about $1000 cheaper than on the cheapest “acceptable” airline. I’ve never flown Delta, but I think it’s safe to assume they don’t have soothing purple lights and fancy, well-dressed boys to serve my liquor ala Virgin/Virgin America.
Wah wah, you are probably saying: This is a first-world problem. And it is! Yes, I have the luxury of choosing from several airlines that likely will not kill me. This fact is little comfort to someone who, somewhere along the line, has developed crippling flight anxiety. I’ve read books about the fear of flying. I’ve looked at websites that offer explanations of “that noise” (as in WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?!) or simplified the facts of turbulence for someone who is not a meteorologist. The funny thing about those websites, though, you guys? They all have links to other “helpful information,” like crash statistics. And photos. And transcripts of black box recordings. THANKS FOR NOTHING, websites.
Since my fear has gotten really bad, I’ve solved the problem with alcohol. Easy! It takes the edge off enough for me to enjoy those purple lights and whatever’s on the TV in front of me. Xanax works even better. So well, in fact, that once, a sweet flight attendant had to wake me up post-flight to say we’d arrived. But here’s where breastfeeding your kid takes an unfortunate turn: no drugs for mama. And while I’d be relatively comfortable having a well-timed drink, dealing with the inevitable nastiness from paternalistic fellow fliers is not gonna decrease my stress.
I can’t overstate my discomfort with taking George on the plane. We’ve gotten him a seat of his own for safety, but I still feel irresponsible for putting him in what I consider to be harm’s way. The higher likelihood of being hurt in a car accident is no consolation, incidentally (lots of people offer this up — seriously?!). I hope that I’m able to enjoy the time spent with Nathan’s family, but I know that I’ll breathe a lot easier when our plane touches down — or rather, when it gets to the gate — back in Seattle. Wish us luck!

(Are you afraid of flying, too? Have you flown with your kid[s]? Help!)

mustaches & mimi

21 Jul

Two things.
One, I think George is going to have a mustache-themed first birthday party. It flies in the face of all my superstitions to announce such a thing, but I’m kind of really into it. Plus, he looks great in a mustache.

Two, my mom. George loves her. He thinks she’s funny and may be the only person on the face of the Earth who does. My mother is not funny unless you mean “funny,” in which case she’s “hilarious.”
My relationship with my mother is fodder for another post. A long one that you don’t want to read, that I will never write. Probably. Let it suffice to say that I have my reservations when she promises to ride bikes with him by the bay and teach him to skip stones, for this twee sort of childhood is nothing like the one I experienced. The fact remains, however, that my son loves my mother and not, apparently, in the way that he loves everyone. I’m lucky to have a mostly-willing babysitter with what I can assume is a vested interest in my child’s happiness and wellbeing. And yet.

His love for her grates a little. Only sometimes, and not too badly. Nothing like it does when my friends find her quirky or amusing. Or worse, entirely normal and pleasant. I am already quashing the instinct to tell him he has no idea what she’s really like, because sabotaging their relationship is the last thing I want to do, and if I started talking character flaws with a seven month old, I think it’s safe to say I’d be the one who’s “off.”
The best thing to come out of watching them, though, is the reminder of my mum in the photos from my infancy and toddler years. My long-haired, folky mum that played the guitar and sewed her clothes and was really devastatingly gorgeous. The intervening years have all but washed that woman from my memory, but I’ve always looked at those pictures from my childhood and thought she’d make a good friend. There, she appears as she does in photos with George: a toothy, crows’ feet marked grin, self-unaware and guileless as someone who’s unabashedly in love.