Monday, June 19, 2017

Not Ready for Reruns

So this is one of those pieces that has been percolating for months, bouncing back and forth between the two blogs, ever since The Cosby Show ("Cosby") quietly returned from syndication purgatory last fall. And this is my umpteenth attempt at writing it, which now seems timely given the events of the past week. But here goes:

I was not eager for Cosby to return to the airwaves, even though it was is a beloved sitcom with many memorable episodes and characters. I missed the show, but only to the extent that one misses a show that could be on TV but isn't. Like What's Happening, which makes periodic returns every few years for about three months then disappears again. And when it returns, I act like I really missed watching it until about the second rotation of reruns and then I remember why it's OK for it to go away again (because those episodes from the last season really sucked).

Well, except Cosby wasn't that bad...although there were plenty of corny episodes that we prefer not to remember, like any episode that featured Sandra and Elvin (except maybe the one when Cliff prefers the guy that comes back several seasons later as Denise's husband or the one when Claire reads Elvin for implying that she was too good to serve her man).

And that's the thing about Cosby...we know all of the episodes, just like we know all of the episodes to Good Times, which is the only other black family sitcom with memorable episodes. (Nobody, and I mean NOBODY remembers a single specific episode of Family Matters, The Parenthood, Moesha, or Sister, Sister.) How many of us remembers much from family sitcoms anyway? Quick, in ten seconds, tell me the name of those later in life kids from the final seasons of Family Ties, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or Growing Pains. I think we can all admit to watching the Olsen sisters on Full House and forgetting that they were portraying one character and not a set of twins. And if you can name five episodes of The Brady Bunch not including the scene when Jan cries "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha" then you get a gold star.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Father's Day Tribute to My Dad

It occurred to me earlier this week that I rarely mention the existence of my Dad on this blog...and just in time for Father's Day, I need to remedy that. For all who might not know, I have a living father, we are close, and I am extremely protective and proud of him!

My mother has been an over-shadowing figure in my life for a lot of reasons, some of which I have addressed here as we have traveled on this journey through Alzheimer's disease. Ironically, I was working on a piece about caregivers that would have been pretty much all about my Dad, which I intend to finish, but I wanted to write something more lighthearted first.

So let me start with offering how my Dad often demurs that my Mom was the more present parent and how his absence during my formative years makes it difficult for him to be of much assistance to me now as I navigate parenthood. Well, that is just a convenient excuse. It isn't like he was totally missing in action during my toddler years, since I have a brother who is three years younger than me, but yes, it is fair to note that he was preoccupied with graduate school. So my Mom did handle all of the day-to-day parenting stuff like feeding, bathing, and clothing us. And I had grandmothers, aunts and cousins around who were not interested in permitting his active involvement. It was the 70s for heaven's sake.

By the time my youngest brother was born in 1980 and fathers were encouraged to be more engaged, my Dad still had the excuse of school to keep him sufficiently detached. But I still have a pretty good memory, and there were specific occasions when he took us on solo trips to events and activities, so he cannot claim that he was totally uninvolved. He enjoyed the luxury of being surrounded by a close-knit extended family that made it unnecessary for him to step in unless there was the need for strict Daddy-discipline. So his recollection isn't faulty, circumstances in those early stages were just very different.

Because in truth, my Dad was around and involved and present for plenty of our milestones. He was the one who pitched a tent in the basement to allow us the experience of "camping out" when we were kids. He was the one who played with us in the sand at the beach and even waded into the murky waters of the Chesapeake Bay with us. He was the one who taught us how to ride our bikes. He was the one who faithfully took us to Sunday School with our grandmother. He is the one who drove the van just at the speed limit so that we arrived on our college campuses safely. And he paid our tuition bills from middle school on and refused scholarship money that he thought would be dishonest for us to accept since we weren't Catholic. So to suggest that his role in our lives was ancillary is an inaccurate re-envisioning of our family history.

My father was there. He made sure that I enrolled in STEM-based summer enrichment programs back when no one was all that concerned about STEM. He bought me a computer and connected me to the internet back when the only folks who had access to that type of stuff were the academics or the military. He made me listen to jazz and NPR whenever I rode with him, which was often enough that now I listen to both jazz and NPR whenever I drive.

He took a back seat to my mother in the sense that he didn't cook or clean or buy our clothes or do any of the stuff that mothers typically did. But he did the stuff that fathers do, like attending my dance recitals, going to my youngest brother's basketball games, and beaming with that father-to-son pride when my brother took up playing the trumpet (like Daddy did in high school). He is proud of the fact that his sons attended his high school alma mater, and I think he would be proud if they decided to join his fraternity. He is happy to finally be a grandfather...even though he is more like his father which is to spoil them through his actions and deeds, not through affection and stuff.

And he is a devoted husband to our mother. He has been present for her by being there and caring for her as best as he can. He retired to be at home to care for her. His life revolves around her care.

I know a thing or two about absent fathers from my law practice, so my Dad is wrong about not being as involved in our lives. An uninterested father doesn't stay up all night with his procrastinating daughter to make sure that she finishes a ridiculous homework assignment. An absent father doesn't build the world's most complicated science project for his sons and then keep it intact for 25+ years. The distant, detached father doesn't take care of the family dog that he didn't want for years while we each went away to college.

I guess I can forgive him for not offering to change any diapers. But he will throw them out for me, so that is something.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Day I Almost Lost It

Edited repost from the Cafe:

Can we start with the fact that I have some kind of terrible cold, the first one that has actually slowed me down since I gave birth to the Toddlersaurus? So I was in no mood for two-year old drama, yet that is apparently all she had on the menu today.

So I almost lost it when I dragged that child outside with her stupid rain boots barely on her feet to let her scream on the front porch for about five minutes. This was after she spent the morning climbing all over me, not eating her lunch, refusing to nap, dumping all of the clothes out of her drawers, scattering her jewelry, biting me (twice), and generally getting on my very last fucking nerve. If I had yielded to temptation and shut the front door in her face, then I think you could declare me lost. Luckily, one of my curious neighbors happened to walk up to check on things...

My bff called right around the time I let the kid back in, and when I told her that I sent the Hub to work because it wouldn't have made that much of a difference having him here catering to her instead of me, she offered to come rescue the kid tomorrow after work. That was not exactly a firm offer.

When I first wrote this piece in frustration that I could not catch a break, it was also while I was wallowing in my self-pity pool of failure. Having been a perfectionist for a while, I know its pitfalls. I could be exaggerating, but in all likelihood, I'm grading myself on a curve. Barely passing is only the difference of a few points.

Because the fact that she is not even interested in the potty, is just starting to speak jibberish, still addicted to the pacifier, cannot go down for a nap on her own except when she's in her car seat, and it is a month before she is supposed to start at camp...yeah, I might not be hard enough on myself. And that village that I should be able to rely on feels deserted.

And on top of all that, I am writing yet another piece on motherhood and THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE MOMMY BLOG! And because I have no idea how to import a Kermit gif to illustrate my frustration at this moment, I guess this will have to suffice:

Monday, May 29, 2017

Red Beans and Rice Mondays: Summer BBQ Rules

I used to have these special posts on random topics that I would post on a specific day of the week, but it has been so long that I forgot the rules! But who needs a reason to resurrect an old forgotten label for the sake of shaking things up a little? Besides, it is Memorial Day weekend, so I thought to perform the very important public service of providing a few guidelines to clarify expectations for those who might not know the appropriate summer BBQ etiquette. Here goes:

1. Know your audience: There are different standards at play depending on the host(s) of the let's just get this out of the way up front so that there is no confusion--white folks operate on slightly different rules. Don't get offended if you are reading this and are thinking, "Wow, that is an unwarranted generalization, possibly racist", because it isn't. White folks host summer parties where there might be some grill action, some pool action, and probably some business/networking; whereas black/brown people host cookouts for any random, arbitrary reason. I could write an entire post about the differences, but I will distill everything to these three (3) main points:
  • There is never enough food at the white folks' BBQ, but there is always plenty of beer and chips. Eat before you go.
  • Because there is never enough food, being a vegetarian or vegan at the white folks' party actually works in your favor. The opposite is true at the black/brown folks' gathering.
  • Unless you are or will be related by marriage to the white folks hosting the event, there is always a networking component, so govern yourself accordingly.  
2. Politics: Before January 2017, the rule was that you could only talk politics at the BBQ with that one conspiratorial uncle who sits in the same chair all day and still doubts that the moon landing occurred. He probably doesn't vote, but somehow has a theory on everything from international climate agreements to trash collection in the hood. He criticized Obama from jump and also predicted that Hillary Clinton was going to run for President back in 1994 (and that she would lose).

But the shock of this last election finds him disillusioned to the point where you dare not say anything, even as he hints at his need to unload. The election of Montana Max has him so upset that he now defends Obama, Hillary, George W. and even Ronald Reagan, which is why you need to listen politely and have your escape plan ready to execute after about 15 minutes.

3. Special Dietary Issues: Eat before you come. While there will be plenty of food options available, just know in advance that if you are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, have food allergies, etc., you are probably out of luck. Everything will have come into contact with meat, dairy, or whatever triggers your allergies at some point, so don't even ask. In fact, you should assume that unless you are at the white folks' party, the only safe thing to eat is the green salad with no dressing and the chips.

4. Attire: This is a matter of extreme importance, because you will always be judged by that really unfortunate outfit you wore to the BBQ, so play it safe. Maxi dresses with cute accessories are standard for the ladies; cargo shorts and polo shirts work for the guys. If you are not a maxi dress person, then wear your cropped pants and a nice tunic. But do not show up in the mini-dress that only slightly covers your behind, brand new high-heeled sandals, team apparel, or any kind of romper. And don't just throw on a tee shirt and shorts unless you are at the white folks' party for your kickball team. Because somebody's grandma is at the BBQ and not only will she notice, but she will say something directly to you if you are dressed inappropriately. You've been warned.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Mothering Expectations

In spite of my whining to the contrary, I actually do have Mommy friends, but as they are veterans with tweens who are way too busy to usher me through my Toddler madness, we rarely get to connect. Recently, I had the chance to catch up with both of them (OK, I probably have more than two Mommy friends, but this is my blog and I'm sticking with that number for the time being.)

Anywho, my talks with both of them happened to occur within the last week, one taking place earlier on the day right before I ended up watching Bad Moms; the other within a few days of when I started writing this post-Mother's Day piece. Well, I'm back to make a grand, omnibus statement that attempts to unify all of those random situations, so here goes:

Expectations. Lower them. Trust me.

Mother's Day
I feel the need to admonish everyone to just settle for something simple and uncomplicated. Just get dressed in something nice for church; kindly accept the flower(s) that you are given by that fine deacon/trustee/young preacher at the church; go out to eat somewhere with your family; smile appreciatively at the homemade card/gift your kid(s) gives you; and accept that your husband/significant other/baby daddy will disappoint you if you were hoping for some grand gesture. Not because he is insensitive (although in some cases he most certainly might be an asshole), but because he is generally clueless.

Let's refocus our energy on making Mother's Day a celebration brought to us by our children, and not by the men who are to blame for making us mothers. Yes blame, because once we adjust our language to acknowledge them appropriately, then we'll know better than to presume much appreciation from the guy who has just as much trouble finding matching clothes as his children. Just remember that come Father's Day and buy him another tie. Problem solved.

Mommy Shaming
I had just finished posting a feel-good piece about coming to this place of peace with Mother's Day, and as I went to post it to the FB page, I saw a message somewhere that triggered my need to write this apology truth. Because I am that messy mommy that some of y'all talk about. And as my child is a reflection of me, then I guess she is a hot mess too. On most days I am cool with that.

I admire how disciplined and courteous your children are in public. As you already know, my daughter can be extra...and I've gleaned much from your FB musings of disapproval. Not directed at me personally, but generally to the world about what your kid(s) better not do in public; meanwhile I let my child scream at the top of her lungs in the middle of the Macy's. And no, I did not spank her, shake her, or do anything other than let her cry until I realized we had another errand to run. Then I led her out of the store as her tantrum continued. So if you happened to be in the vicinity of that scene and posted a video of it on You Tube, be sure to spell my name correctly.

Because for all of that lovely Mommy wisdom I see on FB, I know the truth. Children are irrational, unpredictable, sweet, charming, cute, and insane. Your cherub was once like my Toddlersaurus, or perhaps s/he isn't there yet (just you wait). And it's okay because she'll be two until she turns three, and I've been told that's another ride through the carnival fun house. Then God willing, one day she'll be 22 and I will invoke the memory of these epic meltdowns to get her to plan a decent Mother's Day outing...

Mom Squad Goals
So yeah, I have two Mommy friends. And I got to hang out with one for about an hour before she had to dash to pick up her kids from school. I got to speak to the other one for about an hour before she had to dash to attend to some function with her kid. So I guess the theme of those encounters is that in the real world, Mommies don't have a whole lot of time to sit and chat because we are always in transition about to do something for our kids.

And so I will stop envying those pics of happy carefree mothers I see hanging out after spin class at the bar drinking mimosas because those gatherings are probably staged. Ain't nobody got time for that, between filling out forms for preschool, taking the kid to the dentist, spending an hour in traffic to get across town for an event that only lasts 45 minutes (and you were late because there was no parking so you only got 30 minutes worth), and rushing home before 9 so that no one judges you for being that messy Mom whose kid has no real bedtime...

But hey, can we commit to getting coffee at least once every two to three months? Or a drink if you can hide a flask in that ginormous Mom bag (I saw a cute collapsible one online, just in case).

Movie Review: Bad Moms
Which brings me to the penultimate point where I take the advice of my Mommy friend and offer up movie reviews as a feature on the blog. I finally saw Bad Moms on Showtime and to borrow a phrase from Charles Barkley, terr-bull.

I just watched a clip compilation on YouTube to confirm my initial reaction...and yep, in a nutshell predictable, funny in parts, yet the kind of sophomoric stupid that we've come to expect from a certain genre of comedy <---whoa, did that sound like an Ebert review??? Wanna know what I thought was the dumbest part? The fact that there will be a sequel.

I used 'God willing' in a sentence. Expectations officially lowered.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mommy Needs Vodka

Am I the only mother who needs a drink by 11am on a Sunday morning because as you were getting ready for church, your toddler decided to (possibly) swallow her earring and then throw a ridiculous tantrum because you asked her to tell you what happened?

Yeah, thought so. It is just me.

I could recount all of the steps that led to that fateful I-NEED-JESUS-OR-A-G*DAMN-DRINK moment--right when we finally got in the car to go to church, but really, does it matter? As someone said to comfort me, I have a two year old.

The Hub hears my complaints and stares as if I am speaking jibberish, then he defends her by reminding me that she is a two year old. Yeah. MOFO I know how old she is. I was there when this chick was born (it was my vagina, by the way). I am here with her all day, every day when her two year old shit riles up and becomes these ridiculous tantrums at the worst possible moment.

You are here for all of the cuteness.

You are here when she empties out each of her toy boxes that Mommy has organized and sorted according to type...and then barely plays with them. You are here when she takes every crayon and draws all over everything, except for your stuff. You are here when she drops and spills food all over the floor leaving a residue of sticky shit all over said floor that you never sweep or mop because you fear that she might impale herself on the broom handle (by the way, I'm convinced you don't actually know how to use either a broom or a mop, but I digress). You are here for the chaos that you allow her to leave behind for Mommy to clean up.

So let's get something clear if y'all want this child to see three: Mommy will not live with two chaos Muppets!!!

No, I am not raising Animal. Or Oscar (because this house will not be a fucking trash can for the rest of my life). Or Elmo (who is not perpetually cute). At some point, this Toddlersaurus needs to get it together or she and her beloved Pushover Papi can go live in the shed.

Who's buying the next round?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Dear Daughter

Well, it is almost Mother's Day again, and as usual my emotions are all over the place.This year I am making the difficult decision not to spend the day with my extended family, so I want to explain that to my daughter in this letter.

Dear Daughter,

We will be spending Mother's Day at church in the morning, then at the ballpark, and then at some random restaurant that your father selected to make up for the fact that we will be at the baseball game. We will not be spending it with your Gamma and the rest of the family.

This decision does not require too much of an explanation because I can quickly and efficiently tell you that I just do not wish to spend the day with everyone else. I do not wish to worry about whether my Mother is eating and then spend half the time attending to her, then you, and then come home hungry and exhausted. I do not wish to pretend that I am on the best of terms with everyone assembled, and I don't want to give anyone the excuse that my presence made it necessary for them to back out at the last minute. And in the midst of family drama, I am not interested in being congenial around strangers.

For the first time, I am going to claim that Mother's Day is for me, too. I am not going to walk around in a tiara or a sash that declares me to be Mother of the Year (because we know that I am not, especially after my recent FB posts). I am not expecting any special gifts or extra niceties, nor do I intend to demand anything to prove your love to me as you get older. I just want to spend the day with my family engaged in an activity that we enjoy.

It would be nice to have a spa day or to receive some really nice, thoughtful gift. It would be nice to do more than eat out. It would be nice to receive a bouquet of flowers or a box of candy that won't get consumed by someone else. It would be nice to spend time with my extended family under better circumstances. It would be nice if your abuela was still alive or if your grandmother could notice you. But life is not always nice.

Dear daughter, beyond the celebration of this day, I want you to know how much I enjoy being your mother, even when you drive me insane (as evidenced by my recent FB posts). I think that for me, honoring this day will be more about taking time to appreciate why this journey is so special. And in so doing, I can spend time with my mother and not hang on to any lingering resentments from Mother's Days past. Because Lord knows, this has been an unpleasant obligation for the past 20 years.

Yes. I have hated Mother's Day ever since I came home from law school.

Our first Mother's Day occurred a month after you arrived and while it was nice to be surrounded by family, it was more about celebrating you. Last year I was frustrated at your father for some reason. So this year I have adjusted my expectations. It is just a day. So if it is to be memorable occasion, then I need to make it special for myself by choosing to just enjoy the day. Maybe in the future, that might mean something different, like special activities that you and I enjoy on our own.

I have finally come to a place where I can make peace with my Mother. It is because of her that I am here, but it is because of you that I can celebrate this day. I've had anxiety for years that I was not the ideal daughter, and the truth is that I may never be. However, I am a good enough daughter and for too long I have been awaiting validation without realizing that on my own. The expectation should always have been for me to simply be present...grand gestures are nothing if there is no substance in the movements. And I guess it took having you to realize that.

So dear daughter, YOU are enough. Remind me that I wrote this in case you feel unworthy or that you need to do something to impress me. You are here. The other day you sat still long enough in play group to have your hand painted for my Mother's Day card. I appreciate that because you hardly ever sit still for anything other than your favorite TV shows. You are the most on every level--rambunctious, emotional, frustrating, spirited, thankful, intelligent, sweet, adorable...I could keep going, but you need aspirations for when you turn three. Your life gives me every reason not to lose hope in my life.

I have no idea if my Mother ever felt that way about me, but I know how I feel about her so it doesn't matter. I may never be able to write a tribute grand enough to describe her, but I think the point is that I would be able to write something to express what she means to me. She means the world to me, just as you do. Since some sentiments aren't easy to compress into 800 or so words, I will just say thank you.