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Mar 4 2014

What You Learn in Your 20s

By at 10:52 am

highway

If all goes according to plan, this article will come out just shy of my 28th birthday. Since Pamela Druckerman is enjoying a lot of attention for her recent New York Times piece “What You Learn in Your 40s,” I thought I’d piggyback on her success and add my own two cents on what you learn in your 20s.

First and foremost, things you thought only happened to “other people” can very well happen to you. When I was 25 and sitting under fluorescent lighting in a stark office across from a geneticist who informed me—much too blithely for my taste—that my “fetus” was incompatible with life, I remember thinking: “But…but this kind of thing happens to other people. This kind of thing is not supposed to happen to me!” This was the first, rude awakening that expecting tragic circumstances to affect only other people is neither realistic nor very charitable of you. Why do you deserve to lead a more charmed life than someone else? News flash: you don’t. I don’t recommend walking around with the specter of doom and gloom at your elbow while expecting tragedy to befall you at every turn, but it would behoove you to remember that you are part of that amorphous “other people” to someone else. You are not untouchable.

Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 26 2014

Dear Media People: Quit Using the Word “Adoption”

By at 10:39 am

brangelina

Dear journalists, scriptwriters, and other members of the media: I officially revoke your ability to use the word “adoption,” in any of its related forms.

The lead story on CNN recently (which was not about adoption in any way, shape or form) pointed out not once, but twice, that a couple adopted their son. In one instance, they use the line, “…[She] carried him out of the hospital in her arms, as ecstatic as if she’d carried and birthed him herself.” A sensation, indeed: imagine, a woman whose name is on her own child’s birth certificate is over-the-moon at the anticipation of parenting her actual son. A banner day for mothers everywhere, to be sure.

Also on repeat, a show named “Bubble Guppies” on Nick Jr. (listen, I know it’s not exactly Masterpiece Theater, but sometimes I need to do things like take a shower) described adoption (in this case, the adoption of a puppy…or a mer-puppy, to be specific) as “giving someone a nice place to live.” If that’s all it takes, then I’m going to skip the college fund and start vacuuming more often.

(As a side note: While I applaud a marketing-job-well-done by the animal rights industry, until a cat is able to go to court and sign away her or his parental rights, there is absolutely no connection between pet ownership and parenthood.) Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 28 2014

What Happens When My Child with Autism Becomes an Adult with Autism?

By at 2:50 pm

uncertainty ahead sign

My daughter is a 10-year-old living with autism. As I watch both her body and her mind grow, I am hit in many different times and many different ways that my daughter is not a little kid anymore.

Gone is the unsteady toddler on wobbly legs and the silky hair that could be washed with a washcloth. Gone is the little one who at the end of the day would cry a sea of warm tears because she was so tired, but who couldn’t relax enough to fall asleep without my hand stroking her back. Gone is the little child’s whose differences often hid behind chubby cheeks, dimpled elbows, and the world of being a small child.

My daughter is growing very quickly. She’s hit puberty early and even though her capability and maturity levels are consistent with a 7-year-old child, I am having a hard time escaping one simple fact: It won’t be long until my child with autism will soon be an adult with autism. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 25 2011

Pressure in Pink

By at 11:54 am

Not my kid, but this is how she likes to dress.

When I got pregnant, my husband and I decided to find out whether it was a boy or a girl. We both had a vision for which we’d prefer, and wanted to know ahead of time. Personally, I really, really wanted a girl. Really badly. Turns out I was carrying a girl, so I was thrilled.

Now that my daughter is 2, I’m past the just caring for the kid phase and well on into the active parenting phase (if you have a toddler, you know what I mean–not just clean, fed, and happy, but also disciplined, entertained, and filled with trips to the  playground, park, and zoo), I wonder whether I should’ve wished for a boy.

Why?

Because it’s amazing to me how much my daughter, at 26 months, has already internalized about the world. She gets dressed and says “I pretty,” or, if wearing a skirt, “I spin like ballerina!” We were in Philadelphia last week, on a street we’d never been on before, and walked by a store. It had pink tutu in the window, and a few purses. My daughter said, “I go in dere. Dat for girls.” I stopped in my tracks. How did she possibly know that? Because of the pink? Because of the purses? In what ways had I unconsciously conveyed society’s assumptions about femininity to my 2-year-old?

I’ve been reading a book by Peggy Orenstein called Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It’s fascinating, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so slowly in my life. I have to keep putting it down. I’m terrified of this book. I try to not create gender roles in my home, to allow my daughter to build with blocks and play with cars as much as she plays with dolls and her kitchen, but I feel like I’m failing, constantly. Especially when my little girl wants to go shopping in a store just because of the pink. Or the purses. Or both.

There was recently an article in the Huffington Post called “How to Talk to Little Girls.” The author basically said that our instinct, when talking to girls or women, is to compliment them. We start this at an incredibly young age. And let me tell you, I see it when people talk to my kid. I do it myself. I think that’s why she compliments herself every day when she gets dressed. And of course I want her to have a healthy self-esteem, but I don’t want her to think that her appearance is all that matters. A Facebook friend of mine’s comment on this article was to tell a story of what happened at her Jewish summer camp, every Friday, when everyone dressed up for Shabbat. Girl campers would come up to her and say, “I like your hair/dress/skirt/makeup.” She’d respond, “Thanks, I like your personality!”

I hope I can work harder on complimenting my daughter–and all girls–on the things that truly matter in life. Their intelligence, sense of humor, determination, and kindness. Because life is about so much more than simply what we look like on the outside.

The other day, my daughter wanted to wear her pink tutu (which was a gift from childless friends and I usually hide it in the back of the closet). My mother obliged. And then my daughter climbed into my bed and sat down on top of the book I was reading. Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

I can’t decide if it was irony or a premonition.

Jun 14 2011

Stop Using Parenthood as an Excuse

By at 2:30 pm

Just because you're a dad doesn't mean that you can't write a book.

Sometimes, when I want to take a break from blogging, I read other people’s blogs. And sometimes I just sit back and gaze at my own navel, but let’s talk about the other-people’s-blogs thing. The New York Times has a cleverly-titled parenting blog entitled “Motherlode,” which focuses on the juncture between parenting and life generally. Recently, I was intrigued by a post in which a father wrote in (anonymously) to talk about how much he regrets having become a parent.

“A Father in Florida” writes that he and his wife didn’t get married until they were in their 30s, living la vida loca (or as he describes it, a “jet-set lifestyle”). They now have two kids, 4 and 1.

“No matter how well prepared I thought I was, I was not prepared for the sheer magnitude of changes to my life,” Father writes. He bemoans no longer being the go-to guy at work, no more playing golf or basketball, no more bohemian loft apartment, no more evening classes for his master’s, no more book-writing or marathon training. All gone.

So if I knew then what I know now, I might have only had one child, or zero. I really, really lament the fact that I can’t have any of those (admittedly selfish) things anymore. Instead, my life’s focus is now providing for my kids. I have committed myself to being the best darn father I can be, and I have slowly accepted the fact that all those personal dreams are basically pushed to the side because of that.

Father notes that “a lot of people get very judgmental on this topic,” but says he has “a hard time believing the parents who claim to have absolutely zero regrets, and who love being a parent 100 percent of the time.” For the record, I don’t even know any of those people, so I find it hard to relate to the last part.

The complaints continue. He hasn’t slept more than 4 hours. He hasn’t gone on a vacation with just his wife in 5 years. He’s only gone on three or four dates with his wife this year.  “This is quite a change from going out to a fancy dinner with cocktails, etc., every night of the week.”

Father concludes his gloom-and-doom by writing that being a parent means being willing to sacrifice all personal dreams. (I’m guessing his as-yet unwritten book wouldn’t go in the “humor” section.)

Now, the Times blogger writes back to him, saying basically “It gets better.”

“I can tell you that the way you feel about being a parent will change, sometimes several times in a day; and the fact that you feel like this right now doesn’t mean that there won’t be days when you wonder how you ever wanted anything else.”

I don’t really completely agree with either of them. Surely, this is in part because I’ve been hopelessly spoiled by divorce. You say “alternate weekends with their dad,” I say “free babysitting.” You say “too bad you miss out on Father’s Day,” I say “romantic weekend away.” I’m a silver-lining kind of gal. But I think there is a value to adult life as well as to parent life, and have had the luxury of not really having to forego either entirely.

But it’s more my optimism than my divorce that makes me think this Father in Florida is a sad-sack pessimist – and my acknowledgment of reality which makes me know that without the adult element of my life, the parent part of my life would suffer.

Having children is great. There are also crappy days and nights with kids. I know this both as someone who has provided my own parents with ample crappy days, and as a mother who has been trapped in the house with Purell and two little boys with pinkeye. There was the late night when I delivered a monologue about the soul-sucking nature of breastfeeding and motherhood to a gray potholder in my Upper West Side kitchen (now, of course, people can blog about such things). There was the day when I sent the kid to school vaguely pissed that they got mud all over the seats of the car – and then got a call from the nurse that the kid might have a concussion. I raced to the school, heart in throat, realizing that if something really bad happened to my kid, my life would not be worth living. Now that’s fun!

But I also know that having children is also a convenient excuse for falling back on your own insecurities and faults instead of pursuing your dreams. Lazy? “Oh, I had no time to do that – you know, the kids.” I’m sorry, Father in Florida, but you’re taking the easy way out. People have lived through Auschwitz, amputations, cancers and other horrors to write books, win Nobel Prizes, run marathons and move mountains. You see where I believe that it’s possible for you to handle your 4- year-old and 1-year-old. If you build it, they will come. No, seriously – if you want to accomplish something, you make the time and you force yourself and you can do it. Stephen J. Hawking doesn’t sit around because it’s the easiest thing for him to do – and I’m sure it would be. Instead, he writes unintelligible books on levels of brilliance I can barely comprehend.

Basically what I’m saying is, don’t surrender. Live your life. Be the best person you can be, both for your kids and for yourself. Show your children what it is like to be a loving, happy adult – not only because it will be a hell of a lot more fun for you than bitching, but also because then they will have a role model after which to pattern their own loving, happy lives.

Oh, also? Every now and then, I highly recommend getting a sitter. Trust me.

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