Monday, December 29, 2008

This, that, and the Other Mom

Rowan has taken to calling me and Rachel by our first names. It happened suddenly — and pretty much wholesale — about a month ago. “Good morning, Susan,” he said to me one morning as I stumbled into the kitchen. “Did you have a nice sleep?”

“Why yes, Rowan,” I said, slowly. “I did. Did you?”

“Yes, Susan,” he said. “I did.”

Some things are not worth processing before caffeine.

The processing post-caffeine hasn’t been particularly intense, either, at least for me. “Why do you call me ‘Susan’?” I asked him, a few days into the new regime.

“Because that’s your name,” he said, predictably.

I left it at that. For some reason, it doesn’t overly bother me, this shift in nomenclature. After the initial, jarring, effect wore off, I don’t really notice any more, unless someone points it out to me. Maybe it doesn’t bug me because, well, “Susan” is my name.

I should also point out that, for the past two years or so, Rowan has called me “Uh-mum,” which is short for “Other Mom.” The “other” being in relation to Rachel, who scored the coveted title of “This Mom” in the great toddler name shakedown of 2006. I have mostly come to terms with being (at least on paper) the second-string mother, have even come to embrace my title and its short form. But perhaps it is fair to say that being “Susan” is no better or worse than being Rowan’s other mom.

This Mom, however, begs to differ. Rachel has had a harder time with the new, first-name basis. “My name is ‘Mommy,’” she tells Rowan. “Or ‘This Mom.’ Or ‘Mom.’”

“Okay, Rachel,” Rowan will say.

“You and Isaac are the only people in the world who get to call me ‘Mommy,’” she continues. “That’s your special name for me. That’s what I like you to call me.”

“Rachel, do you want to play trucks?”

I can see why it’s frustrating. But here’s the thing: whatever they call us, it doesn’t erase the fact that at 6 a.m., when we hear a small body slide out of bed, pad across his bedroom floor and the hallway, and open our door, we know that it can be nobody else but Rowan (and, eventually, Isaac). Nobody else but Rowan and Isaac will ever stand, small and pajama’d, at the foot of the bed and say, “Rachel, will you please come cuddle me in my bed?”

At that moment, really, what’s in a name?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In the battle of the sexes, we may all have lost

Overheard in the living room yesterday afternoon, 4:50 PM:

Rowan: Where does toe jam come from?

Rachel: It comes from fuzzy socks.

Rowan: Robyn doesn’t have toe jam.

Rachel: Oh. I guess Robyn doesn’t have fuzzy socks.

Rowan: No, girls don’t get toe jam.

Rachel: Girls totally get toe jam!

Rowan: No, they don’t.

Rachel: They do so!

Rowan: And womens don’t get toe jam either.

Rachel: Oh yeah? Look! See? I have lots of toe jam! See?

Me: Excuse me while I go blog about you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pajama daze

So, it’s pajama day at school today, where all the kids are supposed to get a thrill out of wearing their nighttime clothes during the day.

Predictably, Rowan wasn’t interested. He just looked puzzled when we suggested that he could wear his new Thomas the Train pajamas to class. “But I want to wear my daytime clothes,” he said. And really, who can blame him for not seeing the point? Pajamas are pajamas, and wearing them to school just seems odd to him, not some big special treat

And, frankly, I’m not so disappointed. It’s not like we haven’t spent the better part of the last three years trying to convince him to take off his goddamn pajamas in the morning and put on his daytime clothes. I’d hate to have one morning at school unravel all that work.

Still, we packed up the pajamas and stuck them in his backpack, just in case he had a change of heart once he got to school. And we picked the Thomas PJs, an early Christmas/Hanukkah present from Rachel’s mom. That is, we chose the “boy” pajamas. Instead of the pink-and-green striped pajamas that he’d been wearing happily for the past month or so, underneath the fuzzy pink fleece set we got him for cold nights.

Yes, after getting on my high horse about why boys should feel free to wear pink, I am actively steering my son towards leaving the pink at home and entering the public realm in some nice, serviceable navy blue. With trains on it.

Why? Good question. Partly because we don’t want him to come home telling us that “those are girls’ pajamas.” He loves them, and we want him to keep loving them, untainted by any potential preschooler peer group disdain. Partly because we don’t want to open him up to unnecessary bullying or ridicule. Don’t get me wrong: if he insisted upon wearing the pink and green ones, we’d let him. But if he’s indifferent, which he is, we’re going with Thomas for the time being. Because, sometimes, pajamas aren't just pajamas.

I’m a bit torn about this decision. Am I letting fear steer me toward entrenching gender norms I don’t necessarily agree with? Maybe I am. It’s just that I don’t think I’m ready to send him out in the world without me. That is, when my four-year-old son wears pink pajamas in public, I feel that it’s my duty to be there with him — just in case anything comes up. He’s just a bit too young to stand on his own as his parents’ gender spokesmodel.

Just in case you think I’m a complete sellout, however, I’m being interviewed today by the local CBC about my book, which will essentially involve me using the word “dyke” about a hundred times as I talk about how queers like me are choosing to have kids with known donors and parenting partners and the like. The part of me that isn’t a media whore is worried about getting a rock thrown through my window. But I can take it — I’m a big girl.

Monday, December 15, 2008

With apologies to a certain credit card company, and original thinkers everywhere

Meccano toy? $29.95.

The hour spent with Zaidie putting it together? Priceless.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bianca’s here for a reason

Have you seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl? If not, go rent it right now, and not just because you shouldn’t put off for even a moment more the chance to see the smokin’ Patricia Clarkson in all her awesomeness.

In L&TRG, Clarkson manages to eat up the screen in every scene she’s in, even in her understated supporting role as Dr. Dagmar, a widowed family physician/therapist in a wacky little town in northern Minnesota. Her patient, Lars, played by Ryan Gosling, orders Bianca, an anatomically correct, life-size doll over the Internet, and then the entire town helps him to perpetuate his delusion that she’s a real, live (if sickly) girl — the wholesome girl he’s going to marry, once she’s well enough. In the meantime, Bianca gets a job, joins a church group or two, and accompanies Lars to his office Christmas party.

Clarkson’s character is charged with “fixing” Lars, by way of covert weekly psychotherapy sessions while Bianca receives “treatment” for her unspecified illness. But what I love most about the movie is the fact that, while she takes Lars seriously, Dagmar doesn’t seem too worried about the whole imaginary friend thing. In her consult with Lars’s frantic brother and sister-in-law, she’s cool and unruffled. “Well,” she says, “Bianca’s here for a reason.”

And that, my friends, sums up the attitude I aspire to as a parent (and as a person in general). Yes, I know she’s a fictional character and all, but Dr. D. just exudes the kind of competence, compassion, acceptance and unflappableness that I would like to exude around my children. (And if I happened to resemble Clarkson physically at all, well that would be a bonus, now, wouldn’t it? I’m just saying.) Even at 5:30 in the morning. Even as the boys shriek “No!” back and forth at each other. Even as Rowan melts down over who gets to lift Isaac out of his crib or walk down the stairs first. Even as I try to make dinner, one-handed, with a clingy McClingypants toddler who wails if I try to put him down. Even in the face of a four-year-old who has appointed himself household dictator.

They do strange things, these children, but they do them for a reason — even if those reasons seem a little, well, unreasonable. And who am I to assume those reasons, however frustrating, aren’t valid?

Well, of course, I’m their mother — one of them, at least — which means that it’s also my job to gently steer these children towards increasing levels of so-called reasonable behaviour. Here’s hoping that my methods and my standards are adequate to the job. In the midst of chaos, I am trying to channel my internal Patricia Clarkson, muttering to myself, “She’s here for a reason. Bianca’s here for a reason.”

Thursday, December 4, 2008

So it’s not quite Lord of the Flies... So sue me.

Until Tuesday, Rowan’s best friend at school was Robyn. Robyn with a Y not an I, as Rowan tells me, repeatedly. Robyn, who sits on the Q on the alphabet rug, right next to Rowan on the Y. Robyn, who we saw one time at the swimming pool with her mom and her baby brother. Robyn, who once showed up miraculously at the public library while Rowan was there and was all he talked about the rest of the day. “If we go to the library, will Robyn be there?” he now asks.

When I dropped him off at school a few mornings ago, Robyn was waiting for Rowan in the junior kindergarten courtyard. They stood, silent, facing each other in their snowsuits, smiling shyly, rapturously, for about a minute. Then they ran off to play together. And a little piece of me melted inside.

But yesterday, yesterday Robyn got mad at Rowan for pushing her. “But I didn’t push her,” he tells me. I am the recipient of enough flying hugs and inadvertent head butts to know that Rowan isn’t always necessarily aware of the degree to which his body, his actions, can affect others. I’m fairly sure he didn’t mean to push, and I have no doubt that she could have easily misinterpreted his clumsy puppy love.

In any case, Rowan is a bit forlorn. He told the story to me and to Rachel. He and his babysitter drew a picture for Robyn after school. And during last night’s bedtime story, when Rachel got to the line in It’s Okay to Be Different (which you should buy, by the way, and not only because it’s been banned by several uptight school boards) that reads, “It’s okay to make a wish,” he said, “I wish Robyn were my friend again.” I nearly cried when she told me that.

Internet (as Dooce would say), it’s taking a lot for me not to swoop in and fix this. All I wanted to do for a few minutes last night was to get hold of Robyn’s phone number and call her parents, explain the situation, and get the two of them back together. I wanted to write a note to their teacher, asking her to intervene, to make that little girl be friends with my little boy again. I imagined walking Rowan to school tomorrow, waiting for Robyn, and brokering the peace.

But I will do none of that. I will stand back and offer support judiciously, quietly, when asked or when it truly seems that Rowan is in over his head. I will let Rowan give his picture to Robyn himself. I will talk to him about his feelings. And I will see what happens. And I am sure that I will do the same thing over and over and over, when Rowan is 12, 14, 17, when his heart is broken and he broods silently in his room for hours, playing ballads on his guitar, writing bad existential poetry. Here’s my pledge: I will watch, and I will ache, and I will listen, and I will nod and cluck and — if permitted — hug. And I will not interfere.

But, man, it’s gonna be hard.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The best eleven minutes of my life

Less often than I’d like, I do yoga in our bedroom, where my mat is a permanent fixture on the hardwood floor. Hanging out upside down in downward dog gives me a whole new perspective, sometimes too much perspective: it’s its own exercise in Zen just to accept without judgment the dust bunnies and clouds of cat fur and other assorted detritus collecting under the wardrobe and in the corners rather than stop my practice and grab a Swiffer.

Yesterday, as I was doing a seated forward bend, my meditation on the state of my toenails (verdict: could use a pedicure) was cut short as I notice the state of the bedroom door. At about ankle height, I noticed a few spots of what on closer inspection appeared to be dried blood.

Yes, absolutely — dried blood.


It’s my blood on the door, one last relic from Isaac’s birth, likely splattered there as I squelched, stunned, across a bridge of towels from the bathroom to the bedroom carrying the seconds-old baby, still attached to me via umbilical cord. Isaac was born after approximately 11 minutes of hard labour, which had been preceded by a lazy day’s worth of intermittent, mild-ish contractions, never less than 12 minutes apart. “Call us when they’re lasting about a minute each, five minutes apart,” our midwife told us. Never happened.

The plan — not my plan — had been to labour at home and deliver at the hospital. Rowan, a breech baby, had been delivered by planned C-section, and our community standards did not allow a woman with a previous C-section to deliver naturally at home. Which pissed me off, especially after the OB/GYN with whom I was required to consult to get the green light on the natural birth started rhyming off all the reasons why a second C-section would be infinitely preferable: pain, incontinence, and all kinds of “damage” to my pelvic structures (which he would then have to repair, no doubt heroically), not to mention uterine rupture, the chances of which, according to the research, doubled from less than 1% to about 1.5% for births following a caesarean.

“In my career, I’ve seen that happen twice,” he said, looking at me coolly over the tops of his glasses. “Both times, the baby died.”

If I needed any more reason to want a home birth, this guy sealed the deal: the thought of him being on call when I went into labour was enough to make me contemplate heading to the woods at the first contraction.

So, when our incredulous doula, Tara — who had come over, ostensibly, to help out while Rachel fed Rowan dinner and put him to bed — said, “Hey, are you pushing?”, and I realized that I was, I was thrilled. “You’re not going to any hospital,” said Tara. “You’re having your baby right here.”

I looked up at Rachel, who no doubt was envisioning my uterus rupturing, and said (apparently a little too sternly), “Don’t cry — this is good.” She paged Lillian, the midwife. Seconds later, Isaac’s head appeared. Behind me, Tara was talking: “Okay, one more push and this baby is going to come out. One more push — it’s gonna be a doozy — and I’m going to catch the baby. I’m going catch the baby.” I thought she was talking me through the birth; later, she told me she was talking herself through the delivery. By the time our midwife arrived, nine minutes later, Isaac was lying on the bathroom floor on a towel grabbed from the home birth kit I had put together, hopefully, on the sly.

“Baby’s out,” said Rachel. “So I see,” said Lillian. Still on my knees, I pushed aside the umbilical cord. “Oh, look,” I said, “it’s a boy.”

I cut the cord myself. The baby nursed. Lillian stitched me up by the light of the bedside lamp. One of the cats stretched out on the bed next to Isaac as we went through the newborn checkup. We called our families. Rachel changed diapers. We spent a sweet, mostly sleepless night in our own bed, Isaac nursing and snuffling between us. And when Rowan woke up the next morning, we introduced him to his baby brother. “I take her downstairs,” he said. “I read her a book.”

Someone — Tara, I assume — threw in loads of bloody laundry and wiped down the floors. But she missed a couple of spots on the door, apparently. And I will never, ever wash them off.

Yes, Rhys, there is no Santa Claus

“Mom?” Rowan asks at the dinner table. “Mom? You know who Santa Claus is?”

The hand lifting the fork to my mouth doesn’t even tremble.

“Well, yes,” I say, slowly, evenly. My eyes meet Rachel’s across the table. “I do.”

Inside, however, I am moving into crisis mode, trying to quell the five-alarm siren that my son’s question has set off in my head. It’s okay, I remind myself — you’re prepared for this.

“He brings you presents,” says my four-year-old.

“Well,” I say, choosing my words carefully, trying to remember the script. “Some families tell a nice story about Santa Claus, and how he brings presents. But not all families tell that story. Our family tells a different story.”

“He comes down the chimney,” says Rowan.

“Yes,” I say, “that’s part of the story. Some families — okay, lots of families — have a holiday called Christmas. And they tell a story about how a man named Santa Claus comes down the chimney and brings presents. But we have different holidays. We have Hanukkah and Pesach and Rosh Hashanah. So we don’t tell the Santa Claus story.”

Rowan looks at me, eyes wide, absorbing my carefully thought out, painstakingly rehearsed presentation on “How Families Are Different (Or What It Means to Be the Only Jew in Your Junior Kindergarten Class).”

“And he brings you presents!” he chirps after a moment.


There are benefits and drawbacks to living in a small city. One of the hardest things — more than even the Safeway cashiers who talk too much, way more than being queer — is trying to raise Jewish children in place where they are a rare species. There are fewer than 30 Jewish families here, total, most of them older couples, many of them (like us) interfaith. There is one synagogue, with a tiny but active core, and a handful of children (one of whom, by the way, was born in the wee hours of this morning — we got a call at 4 a.m. and Rachel went over to take care of her older sister while her parents went ever so briefly to the hospital. Mazel tov!) Everywhere we go, well-meaning people ask Rowan if he’s excited for Santa to come. And this year, he’s old enough to know what they’re talking about.

I’m torn. It’s not that we don’t celebrate Christmas in some of its forms — I draw the line at a tree or wreaths, but we have hosted and attended lovely Christmas dinners. The kids get Christmas gifts from Rachel’s family and from their dad’s. And this year — right after doing Hanukkah with my side of the family — we will spend the holiday with Rachel’s sister in full-on Christmas mode. But I just can’t get it up to get all ho-ho-ho for the guy in the big red suit. Especially not in the absence of other stories.

So, what’s a Jew to do? In a couple of weeks, I’m going into Rowan’s class with a Hanukkah book and a menorah and some dreidels, and tell the kids a story. It won’t even things out, but at least I’m making an effort. What would you do?