Due to Extenuating Circumstances

Adventures in Unplanned Parenthood

Archive for the month “January, 2016”

Reasons My Baby is Crying

One year old edition:

  1. He is not allowed to stick his head in the living room trash can
  2. I won’t let him eat splinters the cat has scratched off of the baskets that were supposed to be a tasteful and low-budget place to put away toys in the living room
  3. He waved a plastic spoon at the cat, the cat tried to catch it in his claws, and it scared him. Which then scared the cat. I now have a crying baby and an actual, substantive scaredy cat in my living room.
  4. The baby isn’t allowed to throw Cheerios at me while I’m trying to feed him food that contains anything other than Cheerios
  5. The Cheerios are damp because he drooled on them
  6. The Cheerios are missing because he threw them on the ground
  7. We’re out of Cheerios
  8. Mommy left him alone to put on pants that can be seen outside the house so she can BUY MORE FUCKING CHEERIOS WHAT, DID YOUR BIRTH PARENTS BUY YOU STOCK IN GENERAL MILLS?
  9. Daddy can be heard on the stairs but not seen.
  10. Daddy can be seen in the kitchen but isn’t talking directly to him.
  11. Daddy is looking at him and talking to him but he wants the cat.
  12. He’s not allowed to eat paper towels
  13. He’s not allowed to suck on the ends of computer charging cords
  14. He is only allowed one episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood a day, and that’s 7/8 more of an episode than Mommy can handle without doing something more stimulating, like sticking her hand in a Veg-O-Matic
  15. He wonders why his train stops rolling when it hits something
  16. He stood up using the bottom of the couch for support then got scared of heights
  17. He smelled his own fart and got angry
  18. He saw a picture of himself on my phone then got sad when the screen went blank
  19. “Rock Out Elmo” fell over and it looks like he’s having a seizure
    • OK, I’ll give him that one
  20. I came in from shoveling snow and directly went to put my cold hands in his pajamas to change his diaper.
    • OK, I give him that one, too.

Iowa, one year later

Dear Iowans,

I generally enjoy your state, although I can’t claim any regular or lasting contact with it. I have fond memories of high school speech tournaments in Ottumwa which is famous for being the home of fictional character Radar O’Reilly and a Breadeaux pizza which tasted liked youth, enthusiasm and freedom when I was 15. My cousin got a very nice doctorate from one of your schools and she seems to being doing quite a bit of good with it, so well done there. You supported us for 3 weeks when the Baby came barreling into our lives at the speed of light. You probably shouldn’t put the Horseshoe Hotel and Casino on your postcards, nevertheless we have great memories of completing our family there. You even have a baseball movie about you, which is a very nice feather in your cap and it should feel good that you made the last ever Kevin Costner movie that wasn’t an hour too long or needed a budget concerning Kevin’s vanity CGI hairplug requirements.

You’re pretty liberal for a place as close to Nebraska as you are. In 1869 you had America’s first female lawyer. You were ahead of us on gay marriage. Your 2013 Miss Iowa was a fantastic lady named Nicole Kelly; she had one arm. That’s progressive, and, full disclosure, Nikki was Mac’s student and she let him wear the crown and everything. You need to be confident in your masculinity and genuinely be liked by your students to wear Miss Iowa’s crown with a smile on your face. He had fun and Nikki has helped lots of people born with disabilities, so thanks for that.

On February 1st you’ll caucus, Iowa. It’s America’s first real litmus test on who is going to be primetime and who’s left in the dust of election history. As you prepare, I ask you for this, as a humble Nebraskan who is the mother of a son born in your great state:

IMG_1316

Please remember that this is the little boy that Donald Trump dismissed as being lesser. Trump said we can’t be sure what kind of person he’ll be because he was born of Mexican residents currently residing in the US. Donald Trump thinks he knows something about how this little boy will behave, will dream, will think, will act because he is of the same blood that brought us Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Guillermo Del Toro, Anthony Quinn (yes, really!), Octavio Paz, Pancho Villa and Salma Hayek.

I’m not asking that all of you vote for a Democrat. I strenuously believe in the economic values upheld by the Republican party; without them, people like Mac and I would tax everybody 87%. We’d have three protective social policies in place for every human in the US, plus some very nice programs for cats, dogs, hamsters, under-appreciated plants, foods that are no longer trendy and a Medicaid equivalent for unhealthy looking goldfish. There needs to be balance for the system to work and that makes sense to me.

Iowa, can we agree balance doesn’t involve tracing Muslims? It doesn’t require policing breastfeeding? Should balance look like shaming the overweight, making fun of the disabled or infantilizing women? Can we shake hands on finding a conservative candidate who isn’t actually a radical in expensive sheep’s clothing?

Iowa, your Mexican-American son needed you a year ago to guide him to my loving arms. You were so generous you let him come to Nebraska when you could have selfishly kept such a superior baby for yourself. He needs you again. This time, he needs you to fight for the right to be a fully invested, flag waving, America loving, real-live nephew of his Uncle Sam. Please vote for somebody that lets my son proudly be the American in Mexican-American.

Thank you, Iowa.

Fondly,

Sarah

Falling Slowly

I’ll warn you now, if you have yet to see the 2006 movie Once, you’re about to have it spoiled. If seeing it was not on your current list of Must Do’s, you’re safe. You have made a terrible error in your priorities, but you’re safe.

Once is one of my all-time favorite movies. This is really saying something. I hesitate greatly to give that title to any movie because so many films have meant a lot to me at different times, for different reasons. I think most people are that way with books, movies, TV shows, songs. There are some you can’t shake, but the best and brightest might change over time. Why is Once one of my favorites? For those that know me well, the next sentence may suffice: it’s an independent film that is as much a love letter to Dublin as any other point it serves. But that isn’t the real reason. The real reason is much more personal than that.

Once is the story of Guy and Girl. Guy plays the guitar on Dublin’s main shopping street. Girl has immigrated from the Czech Republic. She is younger, and she has a daughter by her husband who can’t really understand her passion for music, for a beautifully crafted piano, for life. Guy and Girl share stories of former loves, make (literal) beautiful music together, and then spend one epic weekend recording their best hits so that Guy can move to London to start a music career.

I love that Once was done on a small budget and that many of the “extras” are people who blundered onto the set. I love that it has been turned into a beautiful stage show, with imaginative use of a single space and insanely talented musician/actors. I love that it does not have a happy ending; it has a grown up ending. Husbands and children do need to be considered. Fantasies of running away and starting a band are usually just that: fantasies. I love that in real life the Guy and Girl DID fall in love (albeit with a rather large age gap) and their dreams of a small film with original music came true. I love that they later broke up, because as painful as it must have been, not all fairy tales last forever. I love that they won an Oscar for Best Song with “Falling Slowly.”

Most of all, far and away most of all, I love that this movie is about a man who is pursuing his dream, trying hard to make it come true, a man who won’t give up, a man that everybody knows has it but he hasn’t been able to show it, a man who is 36. A 36 year old man that just hasn’t gotten there yet. When do we quit trying? When do we accept that if we were truly good enough we would have “made it” by now?

Glen Hansard had a group before this movie, and his songs had been on the Irish charts, but he didn’t truly find an international audience until his mid 30’s. He’s a voice in the industry now, moving along through his 40’s in a world where you need to be young (and beautiful) or lucky or exceedingly talented (with a break) to get enough money to make art. He bet long odds on his talent. Do you know how many people I’m friends with that are exceptional actors, directors, writers, singers, dancers, that aren’t working? Or they book a few jobs a year and spend the rest of their time doing whatever it takes to make it to the next gig? Do you know how many of them give up? How many gifted performers you’ll never see in anything because they couldn’t find the right break at the right time? They burn out. They tell themselves it’s better to kill it themselves than watch it fall slowly until it smashes to pieces. Or, like me, they take a few commercial jobs a year and hope like hell for the chance to make some art. When the art gets swallowed in nepotism, unannounced pre-casting, insistence that actors brought in from New York are necessarily better than actors in the Midwest…it doesn’t take long to suffocate hope.

Today, after an exceptional audition, an exceptional callback, even personal notes from people present congratulating me on a great audition…I got the official notice my dream job went to someone else. Another woman will stand in front of thousands this summer. She’ll wear the costumes and say the lines. She’ll look out and see the faces I’ve imagined for 20 years.

That’s why I love Once so much. It’s why I’m watching it now. Great music, unknown talent, daring film making, and a grown up ending about giving the 36 year old The Break. I’m still Falling Slowly, unwilling to kill The Break on my own. I volunteer to keep falling.

 

A Day in the Life of My House

We live in a small house with two bedrooms, two baths and an open kitchen/living room. I’m the night owl, Mac is the early bird. Baby is the wild card. Here is the diary of our domicile:

Midnight: Baby in bed, TV snacking completed. Mac downstairs to finish emails and brush teeth. Dishwasher loaded, counters wiped, toys put in basket. Why is everything so dusty?

1:00 am. I shower. Various foam cutouts shaped like fish, octopi (octopuses? Dictionary disagreements abound) shoved around shower in space not under my feet but also not clogging drain. Step on squirting plastic blowfish and get jetstream of freezing water all the way up to my own blowhole. Screaming muffled, blowfish thrown near sink.

2:00 am. Arrange various pillows, blankets etc, climb into bed.

3:00 am. Elves turn on dishwasher. At least I assume that’s what happens.

4-7 am. House remains in near-perfect state of least-possible-amount-of-chaos.

7:00 am. Mac up. Downstairs to his bathroom, I assume (based on time spent) to shower, shave, write a chilling exposé of the sheep shearing industry, check in with his MI-6 handler (codename Canuckle Sandwich) plus use toilet facilities in masculine yet dainty manner.

8:00 am Baby UP! This means total rearrangement of living room. We need him contained there, and there’s no door. So, he’s blocked off using a chair at one end, my rocking chair at the other, and a long ottoman in the middle. He also needs to be fed, so pull his high chair towards table. This is important later.

9:00 am. I’m up. It takes three minutes for my hair to fall into place, I throw on casual trousers and a silk top, then slick on some NARS lipgloss and emerge ready to face the day. No, I’m lying, but this is my blog and Mac can tell his truth in another blog if he likes. My schedule to get out of bed has a simple mathematical formula:

Mac leaves for work – 5 minutes (four if Baby is screaming)= Sarah is up

Here’s what that, in reality, entails: I need to put away all the pillows used to keep comfortable in the night (you think somebody with severe chronic pain, back issues and abdominal muscle weakness sleeps with a single pillow under her head? Moron. If I had anything more propping me up I’d be a banana republic). I throw on an abdominal brace over my nightshirt (Anonymous Black Jersey, size Baggy) and stagger towards the bathroom. I get halfway to the sink, groping for my contacts and mouthwash, when I step on the goddamn blowfish. Throw blowfish back in tub. Mentally vow to cut blowfish to ribbons while his friends Octopus and Squeezy Gator watch. Find baby.

10:00 am. Minimal food has been prepared but kitchen is a disaster. How? HOW? Husband used one plate for toast, baby ate Name Brand Grain Circles. I see a bread board out, crumbs, salt, pepper, cumin (huh?), three unwashed pans, formula powder and two empty bottles with rings but no nipples, two bread knives, a potato peeler, two coffee mugs (aHA! Proof husband has MI-6 handler. He looks way too stressed to be having hot, salacious affair), and the ceremonial cake server from our wedding. Whatever.

11:00 am. Baby naps. Move highchair away from table, so can move ottoman back, so can fit vacuum through to living room space. Try to move stuff from living room into kitchen to dust. Dust just falls all over floor. Pick up everything on floor, place on furniture, so as to vacuum. Now fallen dust transferred from shelves to things on floor to furniture. Dust furniture. Falls on floor. Fuck you, dust. Fuck you.

12:00 noon: Put toys back on floor, barriers back in place, vacuum back against wall, put highchair next to table, get baby, feed baby. Kitchen mess now includes dishes from thawed pureed carrots, thawed pureed peas, the spoon I fed him with, the spoon he needs to bang on the tray while I feed him, crusty puffs I picked off the side of the chair, the pot, pan, spatula, plate, cup, knife, fork and spoon involved in me making my own eggs before giving up and microwaving individual pizza, and pizza tray.

1:00 pm. Empty dishwasher run by elves. Throw everything in it, make sure to leave room for dinner atrocities.

2:00 pm. Imaginatively rearrange toy baskets and the ottoman to make my living room look bigger. Realize the reason it doesn’t look bigger is because it’s small. Try to put smaller basket back where it belongs, run into stupid highchair.

3:00 pm. Realize it’s really, really stupid for people with my particular health concerns to dust, vacuum, lift baskets, rearrange ottomans and run into a high chair all in one day.

4:00-7:00 pm. Move baby from crib to living room to changing table to high chair to jumperoo to floor. Realize everywhere he goes there is a trail of trucks, stuffed animals, plastic rings, Scare the Hell Out of Me Elmo, crusty puffs and Name Brand Grain Circles. Don’t care, it’s not poop.

8:00 pm. It’s poop. Bathtime! Pulls out foam toys, Squeezy Gator, and blowfish. Mental note to remove blowfish directly after bath has drained. Baby is washed, shampooed, rinsed, dried, lotioned, diapered and pajamaed. He then drags his butt on the floor and collects, naturally, dust.

8:45 pm: Emergency non-hourly entry to report we do eat dinner. Eventually. When we can find the potato peeler. Kitchen now full of final dinner detritus including plates, mugs because I’m too lazy to reach for the clean cups one shelf up, pots, pans, bread board, knives, cumin? Whatever.

9:00 pm. Baby should be in bed. Attempt every ten minutes until achieved. Get him final bottle, which means locating those two mystery bottle seen this morning. Yeah, good luck with that, Bordens!

10:00 pm. We should clean kitchen now, answer emails, pick up toys, prepare for bed. We watch Swedish TV with subtitles. We are very happy, especially when the baby refuses to sleep and it doesn’t matter how long he wails in my arms; we can just read the subtitles.

11:55 pm. Throw everything in the dishwasher and push the buttons that invoke the elves.

11:59 pm. Did I drain the tub and put away blowfish? Yeah. I’m sure I did.

 

 

The Something About Mary

In Defense of the School Bully

If you have kids you may know Mary. Your preschool age daughter came home crying because she got bitten, or kicked. Maybe she was screamed at or at recess Mary struck her in the face. You get a call that your 5 year old son isn’t seriously injured, but you should know today a girl flew into a rage and throttled your son. The student involved will (of course) be dealt with but you think to yourself “how?!” This isn’t the first time Mary has done this and every parent in the class knows Mary will be there again tomorrow. It beggars belief, but not only is Mary there the next day…she does it again. She tries to choke your son again. Nobody is dealing with this. How do we have the teacher, the para, the principal and half the parents in the class complaining AND NOBODY IS DEALING WITH THIS?

You wonder what in God’s name the parents are doing. Or not doing. It’s practically impossible to run out of theories: dad is abusive, mom is helpless, Mary is severely mentally ill, Mary might be the victim of molestation, they’re too strict, not strict enough, her pediatrician is clearly incompetent and on and on and on. Mary must be in distress and no one is helping her, is she neglected, do older kids beat her up? Can they afford a child psychologist? Finally, what in the hell do you tell your own kids? Stand up for yourself (yes, but how and what does that mean?), we all face bullies in life (but when you’re old enough to deal with it?), turn the other cheek (and get throttled?), all kids go through bad phases (like this?), she’s sick and needs help so run to an adult, run away, hit her back harder WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

Every Mary is different. Please let me tell you about my Mary. I’ve known her since she was born. I fed Mary her first bottle after tying her exhausted, breastfeeding mother down and insisting she take a nap or I would taser her. Mary has a toy zebra I gave her that she gets out when I come to visit. Her fashion sense is miraculous, she puts on 9 random items of clothing in no particular order and looks like an ad for a children’s boutique in Manhattan. She is small for her age but strong. She had a serious speech delay because she required a procedure to fix something with her ears. When you can’t hear what’s being said, how can you repeat it? She loves singing and will dance to the movie Annie using a broom as a prop. Mary will do anything for the chance to play with makeup brushes or splash in water. Mary understands she had a baby brother but he died when she was 4. She remembers him. I remember the pain of her whole family, everyone understanding what it meant to them but nobody understanding how much a 4 year old truly gets about the baby who came to the house but then went away forever.

Mary is very careful with my tummy because she knows it has bad ouchies. She delights in bringing me my cane. She has also purposefully hurt me. She once slammed my hand with a hair dryer and after I told her it hurt she looked me right in the eye and did it harder. Mary has physically hurt other children I know and it hurt to hear the other child say he doesn’t want to be friends with a bad girl.

She has been moved to her new “big girl” school, because the local public school couldn’t handle her outbursts even after an IEP had been established. I sent her stickers to congratulate her on going to the new Big Girl school. In addition to the specialized school she has two therapists, an army of devoted family friends, a nanny she adores and two parents who know exactly what the other parents think. What they say. What they would say, if the tables were turned and Mary had been the victim, not the bully.

Do you know what it’s like to be Mary’s parents? I have seen Tina freeze and go pale because the school’s caller ID appeared on her ringing cellphone. Heard the panic and defeat in her voice when she learns Mary is no longer allowed in this school, this day camp, that dance class. She wonders how she could have been so (anything) to have made a daughter that behaves like this. Was it the speech delay? Was it her brother’s death? Would every other mother have noticed The Thing that predicted violent outbursts? I’ve watched her dad painstakingly reinforce every gentle touch, every kind word, constantly trying to give her positive attention for following rules. Mary gets stars, stickers, dessert, special bath toys, anything he can devise to find the way to get Mary to realize that good behavior will be celebrated.

I think most of us know Marys aren’t inherently bad kids, if there are such a thing. The thing is, some Marys come from great homes that have endured horrible misfortunes. How can you guess your child isn’t communicating well with others because she can’t hear? She looks like she can hear. She responds to every sound. She simply hears it differently than you do. How can anybody possibly know what death means to a four year old? Think about how much it tears us apart from the inside, the howling scream of pain that some people never fully let out. Be honest: if you could, wouldn’t you like to scream, bite, kick and punch your way out of the worst pain of your life? I sure as hell would. There are a hundred horrible things that adults can barely survive that children absorb in subtle, unpredictable ways.

Your child will meet a Mary. Nobody is suggesting your child must be put up with abuse or threatening behavior. When you have a second, think about the hurricane that must be happening inside the other child’s mind, body and soul. Think about the hours her parents may have spent praying to God, Allah, Dr. Spock, anybody that would soothe the hurricane inside her. In Mary’s quietest, most secure moments she is loving, gentle, funny and kind. Imagine how she might feel that your child doesn’t know that. The Something About Mary is part of her. I hope you get to meet the rest of her. She’s especially poignant singing It’s a Hard Knock Life.

 

 

Screw Batman; Send Robin.

I had a meltdown around Christmas. I choose my words carefully. I didn’t get a little upset things weren’t perfect and throw a hissy fit. We’re talking complete, total, full-on meltdown climaxing with me telling my one year old (yes, really) if he hated me that much he can return his Christmas presents, thrusting him into the arms of the grandma he much prefers then running out of the room into the front yard where it was both dark and 25 degrees and screaming until three elderly neighbors turned on their living room lights and my furry coat hood stuck to my face with the snot running out my nose. If there was a Bat signal for Shady Pines, one of the old folks probably would have turned it on. I was in Trouble.

This was nuclear-level mommy meltdown. I had HAD it. I was DONE. This was for a few reasons, but the most glaringly obvious and painful was that my son is going through a phase where he just doesn’t like me very much. There are a few logical reasons for this, most notable amongst them that since my abdominal issues have gotten worse I can’t pick him up and play with him. Also, he’s one. He throws a tantrum when he gets peach puffs and not sweet potato puffs. But let me tell you, logic has nothing to do with the Mommy Meltdown. It is complete and total pain. That’s all it is. Lest you need reminding, not only did I want this child so much I got this child, I wanted this child so much I involved a fingerprinter, a social worker, two state agencies, a lawyer, a judge, more money than I make in a year and a midnight trip to Walmart three days before Christmas. Mac and I really, REALLY wanted this child. But right now the baby doesn’t want me very much. He thinks the sun shines out of his father’s ass (which makes waking up next to him a real fucking joy) and he thinks Grandma is pretty great. We recently returned from Canada and he thinks Grandma and Grandpa Canuck are pretty awesome. His cousin the Dude is fun. In fact, my son likes everybody that comes into contact with him. Except me. Hence, the complete meltdown.

So, mid-meltdown I realize I can’t stay out front forever. My parents live in a retirement community and I’m not kidding about the lights coming on. This was the most action Shady Pines has seen since they decided hanging beach towels on your deck rail was “unsightly” and the Towelers fought the non-Towlers on the grounds of being stodgy old party poopers (yes, that happened). I was crying, screaming, cursing, crying some more, ugly crying, hyperventilating-crying, and wondering how the hell I was going to spend 17 years raising a kid who screams every time I try to talk to him. It was like starting parenthood with a teenager who poops his pants. God, the level of anger and hurt I felt was overwhelming and massive and unbelievable. I’ve had some epic breakups in my time, some honest Guinness world record holders. But I have never felt as rejected as I have the last few months. He doesn’t get that I CAN’T throw him in the air. I CAN’T pick him up and hold him for an hour or two. I CAN’T put him in his carseat. It has been medically impossible. And he will never, ever know it hurts me more than it hurts him. It hurts me more than anybody has ever hurt.

So I crawl back into my parents’ enclosed porch, because my snot is, and you know how I feel about using this word inappropriately, literally freezing into the fur on my coat hood. My eyes have swollen into puffy little slits. My father knows I’m out there, but good timing or abject fear, doesn’t matter which, has kept him from coming out. Finally my sister Robin and the Dude arrive. Robin sends the Dude inside (“Where’s the baby? I wanna play with the baby! He loves me!”) and asks what happened. To her credit, she doesn’t laugh. Instead, she tells me the story of our Good Friends. Miss Good is 5. When she was 16 months old, she went through a phase where she hated Mr. Good Friend. Seriously, like yelled at him “NO!” every time he tried to interact with him. OK, I think, that’s pretty reassuring. Mr. Good Friend is up for several prestigous parenting awards I just made up, including Most Invested in Raising a Liberal and Compassionate Child and Healthy Diet Without Being Snobby About It. He’s a really Good Dad. She acted this way? She LOVES him now!

Robin tells me to get in her car. We go to the grocery store, and she buys me some really gross treats, including Ho-Hos that were set to expire that week. Have you ever has a Hostess cake less than a year before it’s set to expire? No. I didn’t think they existed. They do. And they are ungodly.

Then we went back. I went inside the house. I tried to wash my face, and we had dinner, which was chili with cinnamon rolls and if that confuses you then you’re not Nebraskan, more’s the pity for you.

There are plenty of signs Baby can tolerate my presence. I’m trying hard to see them. I’ve also gotten the big, ugly cry out of the way for awhile, which feels good. Most of all, this was a good lesson that I don’t need Batman, Superman, Spiderman or any of those other childless, freewheeling, testosterone driven “heroes.” The next time my world is falling apart, send Robin. Robin has a kid. She gets it.

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