Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I don’t often give parenting advice. I feel like parenting is a messy business and that most of the people in my little social world seem to be doing a great job, even though many of us have wildly different styles.

However, one thing that gets me a little, I don’t know, fired up, is when I run into a “rejected” parent online somewhere who seems genuinely put out that their kid sometimes pushes them away. The context is usually a non-birth mother in a lesbian couple (which is what I am), and I chomp at the bit to tell them how to cope with it. This little essay is me giving in to that impulse.

I have a lot of experience with rejection from my son. A lot. He’s three, and he’s still (very minimally) breast fed, and it so happens when I am writing this essay, I am in the middle of another period of extreme rejection, probably caused by the fact that his birth mom also carried him practically everywhere when we were on vacation a couple of weeks ago. Moments ago, he explained to me that I wasn’t allowed to play Legos with him tonight because he was going to play Legos with his other mom. I was supposed to go cook dinner.

Which is to say that I have some experience in this area. Three years of it, to varying degrees. I am here to share my limited wisdom with you.  I really don’t claim to know any capital-t truths about parenting, but I might know a couple of small-t truths. Here are a few things I sort of know.

  1. Your job is not to be loved by your kid, your job is to love your kid. That’s where your focus belongs
  2. You cannot take it personally.
  3. Seriously. You can’t. Your infant is a small, weird animal who doesn’t even think yet. He or she reacts to smells and heartbeats and familiarity. Your toddler is a bundle of hormones and chaos and nonsense. Rejection from a small child is essentially meaningless, unless you imbue it with meaning.
  4. This one deserves some extra hedging, but I have found that the best way to get my kid past one of these phases is to spend a whole hell of a lot of time with him. I take him out alone. I sit on the floor with him whenever I get a chance. I pay attention to him and not my phone. Doing this consistently, really engaging with him, helps a lot. Almost always. This can be especially important with the smaller children who are still breastfeeding a lot, because it is inevitable that a breastfeeding infant will spend more time with the parent with the magical boobs, and that time spent matters. Sometimes it is going to be hard to have alone time, because you have to get through a lot of fussing, but surely, certainly, you can think of ways to get your child past the fussing, rather than just giving up and going, “Well, he just hates me, that’s why.” Babies don’t hate anybody. Babies like the sound of rain and breezes and songs and textures and silly faces and rhythms and, god, you know all this, don’t you? Put in the energy. You have to make up for the lack of magic in your boobs.
  5. Play the long game. Sure, your kid might tell you that you’re not allowed to play Legos with him at three, but when he’s older he will remember that you cooked him a million dinners and patiently got him dressed most mornings and went out of your way to pick him up early from school. This really just goes back to number 1, up there. Your job is to love your kid, not worry about how much he or she loves you. You’re in this forever. Act like it.
  6. Sometimes, at the end of a bad day, your kid is going to go, “NO GO AWAY” when you try to sit down with him or give him a hug or otherwise spend time with him. And you might burst into tears and have to retreat for a little bit to cope. That’s normal, or I hope it is. The sadness will pass. You can complain on Facebook or eat some ice cream. I understand. Believe me. It’s okay. I’d never tell you not to feel this way now and then.

That’s the sum of my advice, based on my three years of periodic rejection by the world’s cutest kid.  Maybe it’ll help a little, or maybe you’ll roll your eyes and go “she thinks these little monsters aren’t manipulating me? she probably doesn’t believe in gender essentialism, either.” But that’s another essay.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Very short reviews of a few things

The Lorax is a far better movie than you might imagine. The songs are brilliant, the animation is excellent, and it's got Betty White. I think it's true to Seuss's vision, too.

I often do not like spiced teas very much, but I very much like the Christmas blend from Tin Roof Teas. I am normally very skeptical about statements like this, but: I am starting to think it's just that I don't like spiced teas I can get at the grocery store.

I did not very much like the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice when I first saw it. I was all, "Keira Knightley is no Lizzie Bennett!" and I was annoyed at all of the smoldering and the lack of humor. I still feel that way a bit, but last night I watched the end of it again, and you know, it's a lovely movie. It's very slow and pretty and the guy who plays Darcy isn't all bad, and the Jane is actually better than the Jane from my favorite version, which is the BBC miniseries. However, Colin Firth will always be my favorite Darcy, and Jennifer Ehle has a sardonic, cool edge that Knightley lacks and needs for playing Lizzie.

Endless Alphabet is the best iPad app we ever bought for Henry. The Toca Boca apps are also fantastic.

That is all.

Friday, January 3, 2014

"There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later."
--Books v. Cigarettes, George Orwell (found at Breathing Books)

I miss language. I used to be the sort of person who memorized quotes, songs, and poems. I once had a friend with whom I could have conversations composed entirely of lyrics. I kept a list (online, even!) of everything I read, and I was so very pleased with it, even though I never did come up with a rating system. My major in college was linguistics, and one of my minors was French, and along the way I took a lot of philosophy and literature courses, all in the service of my love of language.

Somewhere along the way, my reading habits changed. I still read a lot, particularly for the mother of a toddler, but at some point I stopped being the kind of person who would randomly pick up a book of letters or poetry and joyfully, slowly browse to being the kind of person who plows through books like bowls of popcorn. I have such a hard time slowing down to appreciate what I’m reading on any level other than that of the story, and that makes me sad.

I’d say I’ve regressed, but hell, even when I was a child and teenager, I would write quotes down and tape them to my bedroom wall, just because the language pleased or tickled me. Sure, it was mostly Darkwing Duck and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy up there, but these quotes stuck in my mind due to the way they were said, the language used. As I was watching The Grinch this Christmas, I recalled how I loved the ridiculous names of all of the toys as a child and wanted to write them all down and memorize them. Most of what I read these days does not stick. Romances, in particular, all blur together in my head. I will defend them, and I will keep on reading them, but I will never claim that I am reading them for the lovely language and not for the ever-present romantic tension. The language in my chosen romances is not bad—I’d probably have a hard time reading them if it was—but it is only scaffolding for story and character, and not special in itself.

It’s not that I never read anything but romance. I do. It’s that I don’t savor what I am reading, or at least if I do, I only manage once in a great while, little glimpses of wonder that keep me trying.

I am forever deciding that it’s time I started reading more classics*, and as I’ve thought about my resolutions while leading up to this New Year’s Day, I have been wondering why I am so obsessed with this idea. I am often uncomfortable with this drive, because I feel like it has a little bit to do with what I think of as bourgeois-esque academic striving, and that’s not a motivation that feels comfortable to me.

As I pick apart my reasoning, though, I can recognize that my motivations are complicated, and a strong reason to read more highbrow literature is so I can find more beautiful language, language that really resonates with me and helps me get a little bit clearer on who I am.

And that’s really what this is about, isn’t it: Remembering a part of myself that I miss, but also getting back to figuring out who I am, particularly in the context of this life with my family, because I think, no matter the reason, it was about when I got serious with Melissa that my luxurious reading slowed down. It’s possible it had to do with that slight shuffling of self that happens when you are mingling your life with someone else’s, but this should not have gotten lost in the shuffle.

This stuff, it’s a form of prayer for me. Careful reading, my love of words, is one of the ways I tap into the loveliness of being alive and human and part of the world around me. Stories are another way, but I am pretty sure I can never lose that, even if I tried.

All of this said, I have two resolutions for the year ahead. One, I am going to read five books from this list. Two, I am going to keep a careful list of everything I read, rather than (possibly in addition to) using Goodreads. Goodreads is all well and good, but I want something I own. It might be a private document, or I might stick it online somewhere. If I do, I'll come back here and link it.

How about you? What are your plans for the next year? Tell me what you're going to read.

*And I never get very far, though I do try. In the past year or two, I’ve read about half of Don Quixote, a handful of the Federalist Papers, a bit of Herodotus, and various portions of non-fiction books that aren’t classics but do have to do with economics. I did manage to finish How to Read a Book in my 30 minute portions, which I find somewhat hilarious.