Nov 14 2016

Explaining the Loss

She was hunched over her computer, sitting cross-legged on the floor when I pushed open the heavy door to Short-pants‘ bedroom. Fully dressed, ready for school, her purse already draped over her shoulder as though she might need to jump up and sprint out the door at a moment’s notice, her head moved back and forth as she read from her screen.

“He’s winning,” she said, “how can he be ahead?”

De-facto sat on her bed, his hand on her shoulder. I crouched behind her and wrapped my arms around her so I could whisper the news I’d come to tell her.

“It looks like he’s going to win.”

The reality of that – the thing we all thought was impossible – hung in the air over us. It was 6:45 am, the CNN commentators – we’d been up all night with them – were scrutinizing the counties of Michigan and Wisconsin, and though the race had not yet been called in Mr. Trump’s favor, the data did not look good.broken_ideas

Short-pants bent over her screen, her shoulders heaving, letting out her signature moan, a forlorn wail of grief and disappointment.

“But, what about women’s rights? And minorities? The environment? The Supreme Court?”

I didn’t have an answer. I myself was numb with disbelief at how the red and blue graph lines had criss-crossed and grown in opposite directions, a possibility that Nate Silver never ruled out but that I hoped was an impossibility. Even over the weekend, when the polls had tightened, I just couldn’t believe that it could happen. Not in my America. We wouldn’t elect an impulsive, vulgar bully to the highest office in the land, would we?

Absent any authentic words to re-assure her, I simply rubbed her back and kissed the crown of her head.

She began to sob.

When I pushed myself up from the floor and pattered across the hall into Buddy-roo‘s room, it was still dark, just a hint of dawn’s early light squeezing through the shutters of her window. She lay motionless in bed; I crawled in to spoon behind her.

“What happened?” she mumbled, half asleep.

I didn’t answer right away, I wanted to take in the peace of the morning cuddle for an extra beat before spoiling her day.

“Hillary?” she said.

“I’m afraid Trump has pulled ahead, and will probably be the president.”

She’s a lazy riser, Buddy-roo. It takes several nudges, hugs, shoulder rubs and calls-up-the-stairway to be sure she gets out of bed every morning. This time, though, she jerked around and threw off her comforter.

“You’re joking, right?”

I shook my head to answer. She turned back and buried her head in her pillow.

~ ~ ~

The girls took an active interest in the election over the course of the summer. It was hard not to, the media circus that was our election spilled over into Europe. Plus we spent nearly a month in the United States in August, news about the Clinton-Trump red_white_stripedrace was inescapable. These last weeks I was fairly addicted to my various news feeds; by osmosis they had to pick it up on their radar.

De-facto and I lean left, and as long as we’ve known each other (20 years now) we’ve favored the same candidates. Still, we try our best to inform our daughters about politics without indoctrinating them. I know it’s impossible for any parent to hide their bias, and perhaps it is a parental right to pass on political values. But I’ve felt it was important to try to set an example: to speak respectfully, not to be vulgar, dismissive or to demonize the other party’s candidate. That was much harder to do this time around, I’m sure I couldn’t mask my truest fears about Mr. Trump’s character, which from where I sit, was hard to paint in any kind of neutral light. Still, days before the election when Buddy-roo stated emphatically that she hated Trump, I corrected her. She could dislike his ideas but hating him, personally, was not the answer. I suspect my attempt wasn’t very authentic, it was hard to hide my disgust given how he insulted women, minorities, veterans, and the disabled. His cavalier discourse brought out the worst in all of us – on both sides of the ballot.

~ ~ ~

I really want to be a good loser, to take the long view. I want to respect the democratic process. I’ve been reading about the pendulum swings of politics, how it’s going to be okay. (Or maybe it’s not all that okay.) I’ve even been willing to explore how Trump could be a good president after all. I’ve tried to take solace from conciliatory posts asking for respect between sides. Though it’s hard to imagine this when a scan of the nation’s Facebook feeds shows how polarized we are. I’m incensed by the images of racists emboldened by Trump’s election. And just as angry when anti-Trump protestors have turned violent, too.

The meme that tires me out the most is the one about being sore losers. It’s so much more than that. It’s fear. If Romney had beaten Obama four years ago, I’d have been discouraged and concerned, but I wouldn’t have been frightened. I was angry about many of the actions of the Bush administration, but I wasn’t afraid of him. I am scared of what will happen to the rule of law in our country with Mr. Trump as president. I can’t even fathom what this administration will be like to anyone who disagrees with him.

To be blunt, I’m lost. I’ve written before about how I like being other, living between cultures, understanding the codes but at the same time, escaping them. What I know, now, is that I no longer understand the codes of my home country. I don’t know how to explain to my daughters, who still identify as ask_yourselfAmerican despite never living there, when they ask what this means to their future. Even if they never set foot in the states again, they worry about the ripple effect, around the world, of a Trump presidency.

My daughters are worried and afraid. I am worried and afraid. And when they ask me how a man like that could be president of the United States, I have no answer.

How to explain that the party I identify with, a party that I truly believed was trying to do good things for our country and for the world, misunderstood or ignored the suffering and disgruntlement of the large portion of Americans who voted for Trump, or didn’t vote at all? How discouraging that so many people felt so abandoned and ignored that Trump was the candidate they chose. For their sake, I hope they haven’t been conned. Women, minorities, gays, lesbians, non-Christians – and our environment – are all going to pay the price for this decision. If rural, red America ends up getting shafted by Mr. Trump, too, if his promises to drain the swamp of elite lobbyists and cronies turns out to be campaign-speak and nothing more, we will have given up all our progress for absolutely nothing. But maybe that’s what it will take – being in the same boat of suffering and misery – to get America to work together again.


Nov 15 2015

Under Attack

I am not done with Paris. That conclusion I came to just over a week ago, when I was there on a last minute trip, a quick overnight visit provoked by an administrative errand. Usually I pack my schedule with lunches, drinks and dinners, taking advantage of the time on the ground to catch up with Parisian friends. This last trip I organized very few appointments. I’ve a lot of work at the moment and I didn’t metro_signwant to orchestrate every minute of my visit. I wanted to be in Paris with a bit of time on my hands. The way it used to be. Just being there.

Standing in line to board the flight, I cringed at the weather forecast: chilly, cloudy with showers. This was one of the main reasons for relocating to Barcelona. We craved a warmer, sunnier climate. The cold and gray of Paris can wear you out. But luck was with me, the forecast was inaccurate. The Paris weather was milder than predicted and the sun had only a few clouds to hide behind. Walking across the Pont Notre-Dame to the Prefecture for my appointment – one that had been assigned to me so I had no choice but to make the last minute trip – I took in the majestic vista of Paris’ bridges arching over the Seine, and all the familiar landmarks, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Conciergerie. No matter how many times I make the walk between the left and right banks, I am still struck by the stunning beauty of the city. Second only to the friendly upstate New York village where I grew up, this is the place that feels most like home. It was home, for eighteen years of my life.

~ ~ ~

Our try-a-year-in-Barcelona turned into two years (one was not enough to really get a full experience of the city and culture) which then turned into three years (it takes more than two years to feel at home) and who knows, now, how long we will stay. We’re set up comfortably, in a roomy apartment, walking distance to the school, a mere block away from a forested mountain that leads to a track where we love to run, bike and walk the dog. New friends aren’t as intimate or familiar as those we knew in Paris, but there is potential. I am not unhappy in Barcelona. Our life is lovely. But it isn’t what my life was in Paris. And I do miss that life.

De-facto was out playing basketball on Friday night and Short-pants and Buddy-roo and I heaped ourselves together on the couch with Winston to watch the an episode of our latest favorite Netflix series. It was a text message from a faraway friend that alerted me to the attacks that were unfolding in Paris. I plugged into news coverage of Liberation and the BBC and Al Jazeera. I scanned my Facebook feed to see which Parisian friends were online and sharing updates – partly to hearparis_runs their perspective, mostly to confirm they hadn’t been caught in the mayhem.

It was hard to go to sleep and harder still to wake up in the morning to the tally of dead and injured and the stark images of a vibrant city shut down by terror and bloodshed. When Short-pants delivered my coffee – a Saturday morning luxury – I pulled her into bed with me for a morning hug. It made me think of the days just after 9/11 when we were glued to the TV, the altar for our grieving. I was breastfeeding Short-pants – she was only two months old – and while I watched the news, I’d glance down at her little mouth seriously at work taking in nourishment, her tiny fists banging against me and wonder what kind of world we’d brought her into. Now, fourteen years later, I held her (considerably) taller body in a long embrace and wondered, again, what kind of world she was inheriting. How will this ever go away?

~ ~ ~

It’s remarkable how a network of friends reaches out to support one another at a time like this. I was desperately texting my Parisian friends on Friday night, unable to get to sleep until I’d heard from them that they were safe. Saturday morning I woke to a full inbox myself, messages from friends who weren’t aware that we’d moved to Barcelona, or who know I often go back to Paris and that we have many close friends there who might have been hurt. It made my heart grow. In the midst of this horrible tragedy, little pockets of kindness make all the difference.

Later, at lunch, I asked the girls what they thought about what happened in Paris the night before. They both had the same first instinct: to ask why someone would want to kill so many people with such violent attacks. I struggled to respond. How to convey the complexity of such a convoluted reasoning – the perfect storm of anger, hate, disenfranchisement and indoctrination? How to share my indignation, my fear, my grief, but without fueling their prejudice and creating the fear and hatred that only perpetuates a cycle of terrorism? How to tell them the truth without scaring the bejeezus out of them? I always tell them, “Be smart, not scared,” when it comes to dealing with danger. But is that enough to keep them safe from this kind of arbitrary violence? go_paris

I am relieved that my family and I are safely away in Barcelona, that we weren’t subject to the immediate fright of it, the menace of proximity to such a massacre. And yet a part of me is aching to be there in Paris, now, to witness for myself what has happened, to be there not only in spirit but in person, showing my solidarity with some of my dearest friends and with the city that was my home for so long, and in my heart, still is.

But are we really safer here? Any European city – any city at all – might be subject to the same terror as Paris. There’s nothing to do but return to our routines, taking it all in stride, just like we numbly take off our shoes and place our liquids in plain view at airport security, running through the motions of protecting ourselves from a mid-air terror, when simply sitting at a café with friends can be just as deadly. How do I explain that to my daughters?


Sep 6 2012

Things Could Happen

At what age do we start to tell our children about the terrible things that could happen? We try to keep them innocent for as long as possible, perpetuating stories like Santa and the Tooth Fairy. We encourage their kindness and fairness, wanting them to believe the world is a kind and fair place. We build a magic bubble around them so they can grow up feeling safe. I’m never sure if we’re investing in their optimism or shielding them from the harsher truth. Maybe a dose of both.

Buddy-roo thumped down the stairs for one last goodnight kiss while De-facto and I were watching a movie, arriving just in time to see the scene in which a bold manservant attempts to force himself upon a young maid, who, fortunately, manages to push him off her and escape.

“What was he doing?” she asked as I steered her back upstairs.

“He’s trying to hurt her, but she got away.” I didn’t elaborate, partly because I wasn’t sure how much of the attempted rape scene I wanted to explain to a not-yet-nine-year-old, but also because I wanted to watch the movie, not talk about it.

The next morning she descended for the morning cuddle – these are still happening – and after a moment of wordless staring at the ceiling and listening to the familiar morning sounds of cleaning trucks spraying water in the street and pigeons cooing outside the window, she brought it up.

“Why was that guy trying to hurt the girl in the movie last night?”

These are the conversations I wish we didn’t have to have, but I won’t avoid them. One of the reasons I’ve told my daughters how babies are made is so they know how to protect themselves. I can’t warn them to watch out for strangers, without telling them what strangers might do. They cannot defend themselves from an atrocity like a rape if they don’t know what it is or what to watch out for. I hate to frighten them, but I don’t want them to be in the dark.

I took a deep breath and explained that the mean guy was pushing himself on the young woman because he wanted to have sex with her.

“Why was she fighting him back?” Buddy-roo asked.

“Because she didn’t want to have sex with him.”

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

I explained how there are in the world some arrogant men – boys, too – who think it’s okay to force themselves on a woman. They think if she says no, she doesn’t really mean it. Sometimes they don’t even bother to ask.

“If you’re ever in a situation like this, you have the right to say no. Say it loud and clear, and then get out of there.”

I am lucky to have never encountered such a scenario, but I imagine it isn’t always easy to scream no and get out. The whole subject – whether its date-rape or an attack by a stranger – is much more complex and there is no one right way to escape. You’d want to protect your sexual dignity, but you also might have to save your life, if a weapon was involved. Difficult choices might be required. Things could happen.

~ ~ ~

An exhibit at the Hotel de Ville, C’étaient des Enfants, chronicles the story of the children who were deported to the war camps during World War II. A number of these children disappeared right from our neighborhood; almost every school within ten blocks of our house has a plaque to commemorate the children who were taken. Just a few streets away is the address of the apartment featured in Sarah’s Key, the story of a young girl separated from her family during the Vel d’hiv Roundup when, in the course of just two days, 8,000 Jews were collected and deported.

Last week I took the girls to see it. I could have waited a few days until school started and gone on my own or with De-facto. I knew there’d be haunting images, the kind that can produce nightmares. I knew I was putting a sad and frightening story in front of them, but despite the picture of horrific reality that would be revealed, I felt they should see it.

I had to explain, as we toured the exhibit, why only some of the children in the class photographs had stars sewn on their clothing, how in one case an entire class of students completely disappeared, how some families were surprised in the night and then separated and sent off to camps, how the French police cooperated while many neighbors turned a blind eye.

“How could they let that happen?” Short-pants asked, earnestly.

That’s the question, isn’t it? How could they, a modern society, allow a paranoid politician to rise to power and enact legislation that denies the rights of an entire law-abiding segment of the population? It’s preposterous, that this could ever have happened, and to such extremes. But it did. And not so long ago.

~ ~ ~

These days I read the news, and I must admit, some of it seems just as preposterous to me. For instance, it’s become commonplace for white-haired male politicians to sponsor legislation that has a negative impact on a woman’s right to reproductive health. A candidate who knows little about a woman’s anatomy, let alone the reproductive process – and who, remarkably, sits on a science committee – proclaims that a woman’s womb won’t allow fertilization if she’s raped. Another lawmaker proposed legislation that would criminalize miscarriage and make abortion completely illegal, without exception. The bill didn’t pass, but that it was even suggested, that it could possibly be considered illegal for a woman to choose to end a pregnancy that was a result of a rape, this seems barbaric to me.

These social conservatives would insist a woman give birth to a baby that she never intended to have, whether the result of a rape or a broken condom, and that she cannot afford to raise. Yet they would cut a welfare program that would support her when she doesn’t abort, and they would un-fund an organization like Planned Parenthood which – except in the case of rape – might have helped her avoid the pregnancy all together.

It’s preposterous, isn’t it?

I live in a country where abortion is legal, where a big mistake or a violating incident can be remedied. It’s not without angst – abortion is never an easy decision for a woman – but at least it’s without felony charges. If my daughters stay here, they will have the right to choose. But I fret about what’s happening now to women in the United States, how the rights our grandmothers and mothers fought for – my mother was a supporter of Republican Majority for Choice – like the right to make choices about our bodies, the right to obtain safe birth control, all these aspects of reproductive health that, incidentally, contribute to our economic health, that these could slowly be stripped away. How could we let this happen?

That’s the question, isn’t it? How could we, a modern society, allow paranoid politicians to rise to power and enact legislation that denies the rights of an entire law-abiding segment of the population? It’s preposterous, that this could happen. But could it?


Feb 26 2011

Fire Drill

I’m still getting used to the new fry pans. Since we swore off Teflon, I’ve yet to get the right balance of butter and heat and pancake batter to avoid filling the kitchen with smoke. Yesterday’s breakfast preparation elicited the high-pitched scream of our smoke detector. All heads bolted up, eyes rounded. De-facto knew it was the smoke from the stove but surveyed the apartment anyway and then reached up with his long arms to reset the alarm.

As the girls turned back to their syrupy plates, he said, “What if it had been a real fire? What would you have done?”

“Get low and go!” Short-pants and Buddy-roo shouted in unison. This from a Sesame Street book featuring Elmo and several fire-fighters which was conveniently in favor a few years ago, helping us to teach the girls about fire safety.

“Right. You get low,” De-facto said, “and where do you go?”

The girls repeated the instructions that we’ve pounded into them. How they need to call out loud for mama and papa and bang on the bedroom door (if it’s at night) to wake us up. How on the way out the door, they should bang on our neighbors’ doors and shout out to them on their way down the stairs and out to the meeting place down the street.

“Good,” De-facto said, “but don’t spend too much time banging on doors for mama or the neighbors, just enough to alert them. You want to get out of the building as fast as you can.”

He’s right, I know, though it feels a bit heartless, the way he says it, that they would leave me to burn in my sleep.

“Yes, but if the fire is in the hall and we can’t get out the door, we should climb out on the roof!” Buddy-roo says this every time we run through this drill, and every time I’m sure my head jerks toward her with big wide eyes.

I shudder to think of her and Short-pants pushing themselves out on to our roof, which is sloped at a serious diagonal angle. It’s nearly impossible to traverse it. I know, having done so when I was without keys and crawled out of our neighbor’s window and, in my bare feet to keep a grip, inched along the roof to the open window of our locked apartment. I’d give them two steps on that roof before they’d slide down and over the gutter, falling four stories to the cobblestone street.

Short-pants recognized my alarm.

“But that’s a last resort!” she said, to assure me.

“And only if the fireman are there with a ladder, and with a trampoline,” added Buddy-roo.

To say that I’m terrified is too strong, but I’m seriously concerned that in the event of a fire, the two of them would panic and climb out on the roof right away, or that when they’re a wee bit older and lot more daring they’ll try it just for kicks. I always make the big pronouncement about how it really is a last, last, last resort, and only if there’s no other way out, and ideally with the fire department there to help them. I picture one of those blue-uniformed French Pompier – and they are uniformly buff – carrying the girls down the extended ladder. I’d absolutely crawl out on the roof in my nightgown if one of them were waiting to rescue me. If there was time, I’d even change into that sexy little silk number first.

“You only go out on the roof is if there’s really no other choice,” I said.

The girls returned to their breakfast, the kitchen silent except for the sound of their cutlery on the plates and the thought-absorbed chewing of pancakes.

Until Buddy-roo burst into tears: “I don’t want to be without any parents.”

I moved to where she was seated, already big fat teardrops were sliding down her reddened cheeks. I told her I don’t want her to be without parents either, and that the chance of a fire in our apartment is very slim and it would be very unlikely that her Papa and I woudn’t smell the smoke and we’d all go out the door and down to the street together. She slid off her chair and threw her arms around my neck in a fierce hug. I could feel her wet tears on my shoulder.

What I wanted to say to her was, “Don’t worry you’re not going to be left without any parents.” But I can’t really promise that. We all know someone who’s fighting a disease they didn’t expect to get in the middle of their life. The busses in Paris run fast down their designated lanes, I could be hit by one at any time. A tragic or poignant disappearance is, in fact, always at hand. I don’t need to dwell on it, but I can’t hide it from her, either.

So I didn’t say anything. I just rocked her back and forth without words, feeling her against me, her little heart beating, alive, just like mine. Then she loosened her embrace and let go and turned back to her empty plate, and asked for another pancake.


Nov 30 2010

Nobody’s Perfect

Try as I may to let our upstairs be the wild and creative universe of my children, eventually I reach a point when I can no longer endure the disorder. This is usually prompted by a predictable chain of events: Buddy-roo dilly-dallies through breakfast, and the absolute last time of departure (ALTD) to get to school on time is fast approaching so I volunteer to go up to her room and select an outfit. “Pants or a dress?” I pretend this is a fun errand. Upstairs I’m appalled at the clutter that collects in just a few days since it was last in a reasonably tidy state. “It’s okay, they’re being creative,” I say to myself, closing the drawers left wide open and snatching Short-pants’ eyeglasses up off the floor, barely managing not to flatten them, instead stepping on some tiny piece of plastic, an umbrella shaped thing that came home in the favor-bag from a birthday party. It smarts, a lot. I lose it. Get up here now and pick up your rooms! All the reasoning and thoughtful discussions go out the window. So much for being the ideal parent. But sometimes it just feels good to holler.

The results of the first trimester bilans come home. Buddy-roo’s scores are all over the board. Even Short-pants, who actually enjoys doing her homework, has inconsistent grades. I smile at anything equal to or above a score of 8/10. I try not to overreact to that glaring 5/10. I ask her how she feels about it. “I’m not that strong at geography,” she says.

I’m torn. I want to inspire her to try harder, do better. Another part of me remembers a consultant I worked with in my earliest career, Don Clifton was his name, talking about how good leaders were rarely straight-A students; they only excelled in the subjects in which they had strengths or that they felt were important. In other words, they prioritized.

We talk about how to do better in geography and I try not to harp on it. A final summary sentence about how hard she’s worked and how that really paid off with her grades. “Except that one,” I say. (But not out loud.)

I don’t want to pressure my kids to get everything right all the time. But is this a question of individual strengths and preferences or is it just plain lack of trying? It might be that she just got lazy – sometimes that’s all it is – and being reminded might help her do better the next time.

On the other hand, maybe she’s just not that strong at geography.

Buddy-roo can recite by heart entire passages from the movie Hello Dolly, or sing the most obscure song from On the Town without any practice. But ask her to conjugate the verb être, even though we’ve been over it a million times, she still can’t remember the six forms of the present tense without making a mistake. I don’t want to beat her up. But I know she can do it.

What’s the right balance of supporting and challenging your children? How do I inspire them to try to perform well – and take pride in their work – without thrusting upon them the stress of being a perfectionist?

I’m sure I make things more complicated than they need to be. My parents had no apparent angst about how to respond to my report card. Good grades were expected. If you got a B, it was met with a raised eyebrow. Getting a C was grounds for a discussion; you were called in to the living room and seated at the square card table. My parents were never cruel or harsh, and yet we lived in mild fear of disappointing them, and this was what you realized you’d done if you were called in to sit at that table. Would a psychologist today find fault in the way they held us to their standards? Maybe. But they weren’t trying to be perfect parents. They were trying to be good parents.

I sit in judgment of messy bedrooms or inconsistent grades, but what about me? Do I get it all right, all the time? Consider the piles of files and papers stashed in shelves in our office, I mean to sort through them but somehow never get to it. My taxes are never turned in without at least filing for one extension. I ran a workshop yesterday and it went well, but it was far from flawless. I’ve been writing a post about procrastination – for another blog I write with my colleagues – for three months now. (This is not even ironic anymore, it’s pathetic.)

I signed up for the NaNoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November – ambitious if you’re composing a novel from scratch, but the last unfinished chapters of my novel are already outlined, which ought to make the job easier. I started with great fervor, overshooting the suggested daily goal by a few hundred words each day in anticipation of the mid-month business travel that would interrupt the daily exercise. That trip set me back several thousand words, and when I returned home I was bombarded with things not attended to in my absence. I knew I shouldn’t let it stop me, but once I was 10,000 words behind it was too overwhelming. So that novel I’ve been writing for seven years, it’s still not done.

Oh, guess what? I’m human.

As a mother, I’m compelled to fend off the idealized image of motherhood (this is the point of my unfinished book by the way), which has made us a generation of parents that over-protects and over-provides. Our children, in turn, are under pressure to be the perfect children, to have dabbled in all the right extracurricular activities, to get the best scores, to be popular and social and yet independent and self-possessed. To go to the right school, the one most likely to help you get into the next right school. This all horrifies me, having grown up in a generation that did not study for SATs – they were aptitude tests, after all – and I’m fatigued just thinking about what’s ahead for the girls as they grow into young women hoping to find their place in the world.

(And yet I hope is that they will do well – in school and in life – so that they’ll have more choices when it comes to finding their place in this world.)

There is the adage, one I’ve subscribed to in theory but perhaps not in practice, that if you’re going to do something, do it well or not at all. The inclination to cross every t and dot every i and put your best work forward isn’t necessarily a bad thing – until it becomes compulsive and restrictive. Sometimes it’s just fine to be good enough, to let them be the messy, dreamy kids that they are, and to be the mother who does her best while juggling a lot, which sometimes means raising my voice or losing my temper. Besides, sometimes it just feels good to holler.


Mar 4 2009

Parental Therapy

De-facto was bringing home the bacon this week. He got an assignment in London, which means I’ve been flying solo with the girls for a few days. In the old days, I’d have hired the babysitter for a few extra hours, just to me_n_girlscushion the full-on press. But these are the new days. Work isn’t exactly streaming in, and like everyone else, we’re feeling the weight of this bleak economic climate. So I was on my own.

This is not a severe hardship. But as any parent will attest – and let me express the extreme awe I have for single parents for whom this is business as usual – being the lone adult with little kids can wear you down. When there’s nobody to whom you can hand off the baton, even for just ten minutes here and there, nerves get frayed.

This morning, the three-ring circus that is our breakfast routine was running a bit behind schedule. I knew I needed to pick up the pace or we’d get derailed and never get to school on time. But children are wired with an innate contrary metronome. When they sense that you want to speed up, they slow down. Buddy-roo chewed her pancakes in slow motion. I rushed Short-pants upstairs to get dressed.

The first mistake I made was asking her what she wanted to wear. I’m of two mindsets on this. De-facto thinks they don’t have enough choices in their little lives, so he’s always creating some: “Do you want apple juice or milk?” or “You can go to bed now and I’ll read you a story, or you can stay up for 10 more minutes but then there’s no story.” I understand his reasoning, but I don’t always follow it. I think limits are a good thing and this is sometimes best expressed in the form of one firm option. And yet despite the rush of the morning, I offered her the choice.

“Do you want to wear a dress or pants?”
“A dress,” she answered, pointing to her pink striped one, “this one.” pink_striped_dress
It was draped over the wicker toy chest, where she’d left it last night when she took it off to put on her pajamas.
“You could wear that one,” I answered, my voice conveying disapproval, “but you wore it yesterday.”
“I can wear it again,” she said, “please?”
“It’s dirty,” I said.
“No it’s not,” she said.
“I’d really rather you wear a different dress,” I said, “how about the red one?”
“No,” she said, “this one.”

We went back and forth like this a few times. The more I cajoled, the more she insisted. We were at an impasse. I was getting angry and she was nearly crying. And then I said it: “If you wear the same dress two days in a row, everybody might make fun of you.” She burst into tears.

Why on earth did I say that? If she wants to wear the damn dress two days in row, if that makes her happy, who cares? And so what if the kids at school make fun of her? And who says they will? And why am I planting this fear in her little 7-year old head? Like, who’s issue is that?

Parenting is the most transparent form of therapy.

Later, Short-pants sat at the table, wearing the pink striped dress, finishing her pancakes. I’d sent Buddy-roo upstairs to get dressed. “Wear whatever the hell you want,” I said. (Not out loud, though.)
orange_glasses
Short-pants was bravely trying to pull herself together, but having a hard time swallowing because she kept re-erupting in to tears.

“Usually people don’t make fun of me,” she said between sniffles.
“I know,” I said.

I wrapped my arms around her narrow frame and pulled her close. We held this embrace, longer than the usual hug.

Our responses to life’s little events can be so automatic. This comment about kids making fun of her, perhaps it’s a reflection from my childhood, or maybe it’s my worst fear for hers. It was a reflex; I blurted it out. But what she heard must get filed away somewhere in her consciousness. Is it ever forgotten? Maybe if I’m vigilant not to reinforce it, this little seed of self-doubt will slip away, a one-off remark lost in a sea of a thousand other more positive, esteem-building sentences I’ll repeat over the course of her emotional development. Twenty years from now, sorting through my blog archives, she’ll read this post with no recollection of our exchange this morning. But will the residue remain?

Whether we mean to or not, we hand our fears and prejudices to the next generation. The reinforcement of a belief from parent to child is tangible; it is the source of cultural pride and heritage, but also the reason for hate crimes and religious wars. It has funded the psychiatric industry for decades.

But I guess we’re only human, bouncing and bounding off the things that happen to us in our lives, doing the best we can, and (hopefully) wearing whatever we feel like wearing.