Someone Hit Pause: I’m Just Going to Need a Minute

I lay awake. The pillow feels all wrong. “Is this my pillow?” I wonder. I enter that weird space between waking thought and REM before my eyes snap back open in the darkness. My heart races, and I see him.

He’s a tiny newborn too jaundiced to latch without falling back asleep. He makes the tiniest whimpering sound (like a puppy) as my mother holds a cold washcloth to his feet, attempting to keep him awake. The cold washcloth, it tortures all of us. Then he’s eighteen-months-old with full red lips and blonde hair curling at the base of his neck, all sweaty from a nap. He looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. And then I see him running at age two, in those tan corduroys I loved so much. He bounces down the cobblestone sidewalk at the shopping center where I took him to Gymboree. He jumps on and off the planters, holding my hand for balance. He giggles as older shoppers look on with sweet smiles. My belly is big with his sister. We go to a café where he gets mac ‘n cheese and a cookie, our weekly tradition. He dips his bread into my soup and eats only a fourth of his cookie. He forgets about the rest.

baby_O

He’s now four and a half.

I could tell you that those Friday afternoons in the café feel like a different life. It was a different life, but it really does feel like it just happened last week.

Just recently I noticed he has become long and lean. I try to playfully pinch the fat on his cheeks, but there is none. Before he gets into the tub I look at his body from behind. His legs, butt and back look just like his tall broad shouldered Daddy.

His breath stinks now when he wakes up in the morning. His feet smell now too. He will be five in a few months.

Five. An age that for me has always signified the entrance into actual childhood.

And here I am at midnight, restless.

I’ve been here everyday since that morning the doctor pulled him out of me with forceps, my whole body shaking from the pain, from the relief. My boy and I have been together everyday, but somehow I feel as if I missed it. Missed it all.

I lay in the dark and tears start to stream down my face. I wish I could hit rewind.

I remember when he was just a baby listening to other mothers talk about No Child Left Behind, standardized school testing, and opting out. I stood there with him in a baby carrier and thought kindergarten was a million years away. I thought to myself, “They’ll have all this stuff figured out by then. Education will improve, or at least I’ll know more by then.”

At the eleventh hour we have decided to enroll him in public kindergarten in the fall. I don’t know anymore now than I did then. It was always my intention to keep him at his private Montessori school for kindergarten. I wanted to delay. I wanted to keep him little. I told myself it was what was best for him.

But we’ve had to admit it’s not what is best for him.

There’s something about it that feels final, like there’s no turning back. The school district handbook freaks me out with its chapters of state and federal laws. The charts on minutes spent in school. The intense focus on bullying. The idea of not just fire drills but now the drills they must learn in case of a violent incident.

I want to fold him back into me. I want to keep him home. I want to move far out into the country and homeschool him.

Only I don’t.

Not at all.

I CANNOT teach this child. He is far too much like me.

When he has a “bad day” at school I listen to his preschool teachers with understanding. I try to be a grown-up and not make excuses for my child like those idiots who think their kid is blameless. But every damn time I want to say, “Oh yeah? Really? Did he, really? Well screw this place, we’re outta here!”

I want to burn rubber in the parking lot and never look back.

But I know he is to blame. So instead I listen. I swallow my pride. I ask for advice. I take him out to the car and ask why he’s had a bad day. We talk about respect and listening. I hold him while he cries broken with shame. I kiss his face all over and remind him that he had a bad day but he is good all the way through. From the top of his head to the tip of his toes. We talk about having a better tomorrow.

I can see the teachers inside watching me stand next to my car for ten minutes as all the other parents load kids up and drive away. I feel like I’m being judged. They probably think I’m too soft on him. They probably think his defiance is the result of my parenting.

But they don’t know my boy.

We drive home and listen to Joan Jett. I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation.

We do dinner, bath time, PJs, and read books. I lay in his bed and we talk more about listening and respect. We talk about what his father and I expect from him. I ask him what the best part of his day was. He often answers, “Being with Mommy.”

I kiss him. I smell his hair.

And then hours later as I lay in bed I have the deep desire to sneak back into his room and snuggle him while he sleeps. While he’s still little.

While it’s still ok.

I know five is nothing. I know kindergarten will pale in comparison to him getting a driver’s license one day, or getting drunk for the first time, or smoking a joint, or getting his heart broken. I know we have many more “bad days” ahead of us. Days that will be light years more difficult than the first day of kindergarten.

I know.

But my first baby becoming a boy? This one is going to take me a minute.

I just need a minute.

Dear White People, Just Listen

So I sat down and started to write about how the last week has sucked. It snowed, a lot. Big shocker, it’s winter. Then we got sick. I mean really, I should be writing about how amazing it is that my kids have barely been sick this season. We were due.

But what I really want to talk about is Beyoncé and that Formation video. I want to talk about how totally powerful her Super Bowl performance was. During the performance the audio wasn’t good enough for most distracted viewers to actually hear the lyrics. When I talked to my husband about it his response was, “Oh, I couldn’t even hear what she was saying.” So, it’s fair that most viewers missed a very important thing about her backup dancers, that they were dressed like the Black Panthers. It’s understandable that many were confused having not seen the actual music video for “Formation” that was released just the day before. They didn’t understand the significance of what she was doing. A friend told me there were people on Facebook and Twitter actually asking why she didn’t have any white backup dancers.

Stupid. So so stupid.

Shit like this makes me embarrassed to be white. Hell, it’s embarrassing to be the white girl anytime I’m in a room filled with people of color. Why?

Because white people, on the whole, don’t get it. They just don’t fucking get it.

Do I get it?

Nope, I don’t.

There’s no possible way for a white woman raised in a predominantly white town to have any idea what it’s like to be African American. But I understand that I don’t “get it,” and I think that’s a good starting point.

baby_doll

When you admit that you don’t understand, you open yourself up to the possibility to listen. Because that’s the problem, white people aren’t listening to black voices. They disregard their plight. They minimize, they deny, they find excuses. They pick apart one specific news story about police brutality or discrimination and try and find the reason as to why it happened. “But not all cops are bad” they say, “But, but, but, he reached for the cop’s gun” they say, “He was a known criminal” they say, “That boy really did look suspicious in a hoodie,” they say, “That little boy’s toy gun looked real!”

But we need to step back from a single incident and look at the larger picture. We need to ask ourselves the hard questions. We need to admit that these things aren’t happening to white people on the same scale as they’re happening to black people.

Not even close.

And when you try to rationalize, when you try to “explain” why these things happen more frequently to African Americans, well, there’s just no way to do that without being racist. There is no explanation for the the subjugation of an entire race of people. Ever.

There are things you need to understand my white friends. There are terms you need to learn. Terms like: the suppression of Black Joy, the adult-inization of black children, the sexualization of black bodies, and most importantly you need to school the fuck up on White privilege and what that actually means.

A friend of mine said her husband takes umbrage with the term White Privilege because he thinks it implies that what he earned was simply handed to him for being white. “I got to where I am by working hard,” he says, “not because I’m white.”

He’s right, and he’s wrong.

He worked very hard to get to where he is, but a black man would have to work harder.

He went to college, studied and became an engineer, got hired, got promoted, and bought a big fancy house. But he’s in denial if he thinks that his whiteness didn’t give him an advantage over a black man doing the exact same thing. If all the people interviewing you are your race, you have an advantage. Even the fact that you could buy a fancy house. Did you know we have something called the Fair Housing Act? We had to pass a law to make it illegal for real estate agents to purposely avoid showing homes in white neighborhoods to black families. Guess what? They still do that. Don’t believe me? Ask any realtor and they can name a racist agent that is all about segregation when it comes to “improving” home value.

When I bought my first house at the age of twenty-two a white client teased that it must be in a bad neighborhood by asking, “And are there any white people in your neighborhood? Hahaha!”

White people, go ahead, admit it.

This shit happens All. The. Time.

And we don’t say anything because it’s awkward. No one wants to own up to their own racism. I’d like to say that I’m going to be the one that calls you out on your shit; but damn if it isn’t awkward to make someone feel like an idiot.

Really, I could go on. I could give you the facts of the huge disparity between whites and African Americans when it comes to serving jail time, for the same crime. But you already know that one, don’t you? You have an explanation for that one too, don’t you? Or how about the fact that black women with breast cancer are more likely to die from the disease than their white counterparts. How about the fact that white people adopt black babies all the time? But a black father with his adopted white daughter had the police called when he took his own child to the park. They thought he had kidnapped her.

But I don’t have the time in a blog post to give you a history lesson (black people were still being lynched in America in 1968) or enlighten you on the current statistics about discrimination.

So for now maybe this will help. Here’s a new definition for White Privilege, and I’m not talking about that self involved Macklemore song.

White Privilege: The undeniable fact that it is easier/better/safer to be white in America than it is to be a person of color.

If you can’t agree with that then I hope you enjoy your next Klan meeting. No? Not in the Klan? Then how about you open your mind and listen to black voices.

Who Ever Said We Were Supposed To Enjoy It?

Motherhood.

It seems like everyone does it, billions and billions of people, but damn if it isn’t hard. My whole generation seems to feel the need to talk about how hard it is. It’s like we’re all just a bunch of overgrown children turning to each other in line at the grocery store, “You have kids? Me too! Man, this shit is hard. How did our parents make this look so easy?”

Like who the hell am I now, I will never be the same again, hard.

And I liked myself before.

Maybe our society isn’t set up for motherhood. There’s no communal support. No babies running close by in the fields burning off that energy while we hang laundry, or tend a fire, or feed chickens. All the while together.

The women all together, suffering it mutually.

Enjoying it mutually.

There are only fences to climb, couches to jump on and endless hours of screen time on a winter day to squash the boundless preschool energy. Energy that could leave a little boy hit by a car or snatched by a stranger. There are nights to lie awake wondering how badly their little brains are being distorted by too much TV.

There are Mamas at desks, in cubicles, hooked up to pumps in a broom closet at work, and babies always sick from daycare. There are the other Mamas at home, with greasy hair and un-brushed teeth with the laundry and dishes still not done.

crazy

I know there are other mothers who feel they’re doing it well.

I’m not talking to those mothers.

There are spouses wondering why it’s so damn hard to get the laundry done, the kitchen cleaned, and the dinner cooked. Even the most feminist of spouses eventually grows accustomed to their wife being home. They forget it’s temporary. They begin to see themselves as bread winners, “heads of household.” They forget their wives have dreams, goals. They forget to view them as people. They focus on their own careers. They find reasons to stay late at work to avoid screaming toddlers. It is how they make all the money after all, and goddamit that’s important! They pat themselves on the back because their wife has the luxury of staying home.

With the babies.

Alone.

glove

There are grandmothers who don’t help out because they “already raised kids.”

And here is the rub, no one is enjoying it. I mean, really enjoying it, like on the daily. Because when we go it alone without mothers, husbands, aunts, sister-in-laws, cousins, neighbors and friends, things become a lot less enjoyable. A toddler will not sit down and share coffee with you. They also won’t go play outside alone, nor should they. And in desperation they won’t even sit and watch a movie, not all the way through.

And yes, we know to “cherish every moment” which makes the uncherished moments all the more guilt inducing. We really do enjoy motherhood in all the ways we knew we would. It’s just that those ways are few and far between, and they bookend a whole lot of whining, crying, demanding, defying, jumping, “whooshing,” yelling and messing.

For me, motherhood is something I longed for. I always wanted early nights, bedtime routines, trips to Disneyland, G-rated movies and story time at the library. I wanted everyone around the Christmas tree. I needed to see the world through a child’s eyes. I needed to love on my babies, to whisper in their ear, “I’ve got you. Mama’s here, Mama’s always here,” in order to heal my broken heart. Because as much fun as a night at the bar can be, the bottom of a bottle always left me empty.

So, what if we confronted a different truth?

What if we questioned the idea that we’re supposed to enjoy it? I’m fairly certain many of our grandmothers didn’t enjoy it. They just married and had kids because it’s what you did.

Some of them loved it.

Some of them took Valium.

What if we admitted that motherhood isn’t 100% fulfilling and it’s damn sexist to expect it to be?

Let’s admit this. Then let’s find our own tribe.

For me, in the suburbs, this looks a little different than children running in the fields while the women tend the fire. It looks like packing the kids up and driving my filthy minivan to a health club where they get checked into a daycare for two and a half glorious hours. It looks like me listening to music while I workout, then meet up with like minded Mamas for a shvitz in the steam room. After showers we spend an hour in the café drinking coffee and commiserating. Hell, sometimes we skip the first two steps and just have coffee for the full two and a half hours.

To my solo Mamas, my stay-at-home Mamas, my working Mamas and my military Mamas far from family, I say this, you aren’t supposed to enjoy it all the time. It’s ok if some days you hate it. But if you seek out some other mothers who you can laugh with, you will suffer it mutually. You will enjoy it mutually.

You will enjoy it.