Thursday, December 6, 2007

Status: SINGLE (deconstructing

There is something about "the single mom" that either strikes fear or longing in the hearts of men. To some she may be "the hot, fun MILF" and to others she is merely "laden with baggage and unsightly stretch marks." But what does the term "single mom" strike in me? The notion of being older, having marriage and childbearing out of the way; the freedom and strength that come with being a consummate provider and nose-wiper. Those qualities can dangerously bleed over into the lives of men who may not wish to be spoon-fed or have their noses expertly wiped….and how do we balance those imperatives? It's our nature to nurture and to love sometimes with too much selflessness because that is, after all, what we do best.

I am waxing poetic on what it means to truly be a single mom, in all her unbridled glory. I choose to take the road that is about steel-willed determination; the path that allows us to fight the cyborgs while we do chin-ups on the pipes of our prison cells [that's a "Terminator 2" reference for those who asked me]. It's a force that propels us into the reserves of power and confidence that got us over all those obstacle course walls to begin with. Being on your own, with kids, is an exhilarating and exhausting place. Being "single by choice" is a step that women from prior generations would only have considered under the most extreme circumstances. Ultimately, we are all about our kids and should we choose to have a man in our life he might be the cherry pie on the side or may be a loving partner; but never should he broach the territory of becoming our ultimate source of joy.

Shifting focus from what single means, to what the alternative means says much about the woman in question's needs and desires. It's my wish that all single women would unite against looking for their validation and answers in that xy chromosome-holder. Currently, I am approaching my well-earned title not with trepidation but with a fierceness that refuses to back down or wallow in self-recriminations. "Why not embrace my singleness?" I thought. "Let's put it to the test and see where it takes me…"

And so, one part social experiment, one part required ego-stroking, I put myself up on the infamous Dr. Phil endorsed, (and that ought to give one pause from the get-go) is the largest online dating site in the world. Apparently, more than 42 million singles globally have registered with since its launch in 1995. Not long ago, entered into a strategic partnership with Dr. Phil, who provides tips and advice to subscribers willing to pay a premium.

My first task was to write a profile description so subversive and snarky that I'd immediately weed out any prospect too stupid or humorless to be of even passing interest. I began by presenting myself as a falconer and asserted that for fun "I enjoy digging in my children's ears with a q-tip". I put up a rather fetching photo of myself (perhaps too fetching) and left the prey to enter my lair at their own risk.

Though my profile received over 1,800 perusals to date, only a few dozen guys were willing to venture a tentative email query:

I don't know if I'm really scared or terribly excited but the fact that you make snarky remarks - I am in.

Uh, that's right, send your prey's head into a spin and then devour at your leisure.

You write like the poster-child for natural amphetamines.

WOW! Funny and cute too!!!!!!

Great ad - most creative I've read - will you marry me?

DO you have any imaginary friends? Do things taste salty to you?

You may be crazier than me, I thought that was impossible!

Just who are these guys, I wondered, glancing over my burgeoning inbox. Many were divorced; some had children; some were successful or just struggling. Most liked to travel and do things that we ALL like to do, yet itemizing those activities can't help but sound completely banal. Entering this world was a bit like frequenting the largest, most generic bar you'd never want to visit. I'm all about the sparks between two people and the online format does not allow for such nuances. Another single mom said it so well: "I could never find a guy online! I have to be able to smell him first."

I heartily agree; though I dutifully answered every email with a kind, but clever turn of phrase, the chemistry was never there. Shopping for a mate on the internet goes against our primal need to read a person's physical cues. We are blind to the physical in this arena, yet fixated on mini digital replications of a prospect's visage. How many men in my life have I been smitten with not based upon their physicality, but on their chemical cocktail of personality, humor, and yes, their smell. You can mask it with cologne or Axe or Irish Spring soap, but I will smell beneath the layers to your essence, to the musky pheromone that speaks to an ancient part of my female viscera and will tell me whether or not I might want to pro-create with you.

Try doing that in an email.

In any case, I am not totally giving up this experiment and still do enjoy the occasional witty repartee that is part and parcel of the dating ritual. After all, if you follow the Cyrano model you could certainly fall in love with the poetry and literary prowess of a potential match. But even with a love for his words and turn of phrase you could get face to face and find he's just another guy in Gap chinos and a weak chin. All the brilliant emails in the world might not overcome the simple fact that attraction is an intricate alignment of qualities.

I prefer to get out and meet people in person; where I can smell them at close range.

And so, I leave you, dear reader, with the sound knowledge that online dating might be for the birds, but not the falconers. I'm happy doing my thing the old-fashioned way and am surprisingly in-demand all of a sudden.

Incidentally, I may have some inevitable baggage, but you won't find a single stretch mark on this bod.

Signing off for now, RaptorBabe....

Monday, November 5, 2007

Call 911 or "every parent's nightmare"

My girls, as I've said before, are exceptionally "rough and tumble" tough chickies who take their knocks on the playground in stride. When they fall off their bikes they jump back up with a startled, "I'm fine! I'm fine, it didn't hurt!" as though they were convincing themselves and me in one swoop.

One evening we were playing at our favorite playground right in the middle of Soho, New York. This newly renovated park has a swimming pool, just for kids, and brand new play equipment. The girls and their friend had been swimming, sunning and playing for a few hours and were busy on the swings, twisting themselves up into whirling dervishy twirls.

Then, in one ill-timed moment, I watched as Bebe lunged toward an empty swing, just as a little boy began the backward arc of his speeding swing. In a split second the swing and her face collided and she was thrown backward several feet.

I froze for a second knowing that the impact was hard, but I watched her response before I made a single move. This is a child who never cries when she gets hurt and suddenly she was screaming a cry that I knew spelled trouble.

"Oh Jesus," I heard myself say, as I dropped my bags and ran to her. Blood was spilling from her mouth and I felt myself fighting back the wave of panic. The words of comfort I said to her were as much on my behalf as hers. She could barely catch her breath as I shouted for someone to fetch my water bottle from the bench. She continued to spit blood, and when she said she couldn't close her mouth I thought, "Okay....she has dislocated or broken her jaw."

I felt time grinding to a different, drawn-out pace as I worked through the possible scenarios. "Just breathe," I said quietly to her as I followed my own advice. I heard someone say, "Call 911!" and another mom who happened to witness the collision asked if I'd like to bring her to the hospital. There was no way I was taking that road until I was certain that Bebe's jaw was truly injured.

Finally, she caught her breath and stopped sobbing. Taking inventory, I could see that she had a few nasty bruises on her body from being thrown onto the ground; I was able to look in her mouth and see that the blood was, in fact, coming from a bite to her tongue.

There I saw the most startling hematoma I've ever had the opportunity to view: It was a giant purple welt, the size of a grape, on the side of her tongue that had apparently absorbed the colission's impact between her teeth. Tentatively, she allowed me to examine her jaw and we determined that the inability to close her mouth was simply because that blood blister was so huge it was literally in her way.

Once the crowd cleared and more water had been spat out, then drunk, Bebe went back to playing on the swings - nearly good as new. She had no further complaints and was happy to receive ice cream as a remedy and relief. Another mom who I had been chatting with said, "Wow, that was impressive. I would have been freaking out and screaming for help."

"Nah," I said. "You wouldn't do that because you realize that your child is taking her cue from you. The calmer you stay, the swifter the crisis will pass."

Panic is one of the worst things to teach a child and I should know as that was my mother's default reaction to everything from a bee sting to gaping head wound. My resultant reaction was to lose consciousness in an attempt to remove myself from the situation. From childhood onward my default coping mechanism to pain or medical stress was to faint.

As parents, we often try to undo the wrongs that were inflicted upon us. We never will achieve this goal completely - and we'll unwittingly pass along other psychic traumas, no doubt. But my personal mission was to react exactly in the opposite fashion as my high-anxiety mother.

Thankfully, purple hematomas withstanding, I think I might actually achieve this goal.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Sandwich Generation

Last "Questionable Judgment" column I really beat myself up for being what I called a "crackmom". This was because I occasionally forgot homework, or sneakers, or made the kids late for school and so forth. Many readers said to me, "Hey, don't be so hard on yourself….we all have days like that."

Then I was having a moment recently where I thought: You know, most of the time I'm a damn good, rockin' out, pigtail-wearing, supremely adoring mom. No crack involved.

My girlies, now 6 and 5, like to know in advance what their weekend plans will be. On Friday eve we lay in their little futon bed together and discuss the activities ahead so they know what to look forward to (playdate with Isabel) or what to possibly dread (visit to grandparents – more on that later). Generally speaking, there should never be anything not to look forward to, only two days jam-packed with fun.

One Saturday, I sat at the indoor city pool, breathing in the chlorinated balmy air, feeling weary but content. The girls swam around in the shallow end under my watchful eye (because those lifeguards were too busy playing footsie with each other to be totally trusted). I thought about the day, last winter, when the girls had their first swim lesson on a Sunday morning. We had to drive from my friend's house in Connecticut all the way to this pool on a snowy winter day. I woke that morning with a stomach flu powerful enough to force a puking pit stop at least twice on I-95.

We made it to the swim lesson right on time - then I dozed fitfully in a chair, still wrapped in my down jacket, fighting off chills. Okay, so that is an example of what a "crackmom" does NOT do. The "crackmom" would have blown-off the whole thing and stayed in bed in Connecticut, allowing her friend to tend to the kiddies all day. Come to think of it….maybe that would have been smarter.

The girls hate to go their grandparents' house; and I cannot blame them. It is a truly awful experience, and that they are my parents, makes it okay for me to admit that. My sick and elderly folks are just a ventilator's breath away from being holed-up in a nursing home – yet they persist in this nearly vegetative state. Welcome to what is now called "The Sandwich Generation". This is when your kids are young and your parents are old, becoming a burden and responsibility themselves. You are literally "sandwiched" between the obligations from both sides – and you become a parent, effectively, to both generations simultaneously.

I am intrigued by this label "Sandwich Generation" for several reasons. One, it's sort of non-descript and self-defining, as I suppose "Generation X" also is, so you can interpret it in a few different ways. One parent I know asked, "Oh, is that because we're all so busy we only can make sandwiches for our kids' lunches?" I also find it amusing that Wikipedia states: "There are very few or no other articles that link to this one." So, not only do people not really know about this phenomenon, but people don't seem to care that much about it either. I'm living and breathing it, so when I heard my situation described with this bland moniker I thought, "Ah, finally! I have a definable syndrome."

My parents wear diapers. I'm not exaggerating when I say that as soon as my children were out of diapers my parents were in them. Kids' diapers come with images of princesses and superheroes on them. A friend joked, "Couldn't your dad's diapers come with say, a photo of Ed McMahon on them?" Though this made me laugh, I could not get the image of those giant-sized white diapers out of my head; nor how awful it looks to see your parents wearing them as they toddle – always too late—to the toilet.

Both my parents became dysfunctional old people before my eyes. My father used to drive into Manhattan and watch my daughter when she was small. They'd eat at Joe Junior's diner together then hang around in the playground with all the nannies. From that level of independence my father quickly became a menace behind the wheel, lost most of his common sense, and suddenly developed a mean, argumentative streak.

Soon after, my brother and I discovered that he was spending thousands of dollars a month on worthless coins from the infamously fraudulent Franklin Mint. I cried to him, "Dad…I could have used that money to pay for preschool! For a college fund! For gymnastics – anything! What are you thinking?" But he truly believed that the coins were an excellent investment – perfect for hoarding until the kiddies were older.

However, that was not the case, we learned. Some coins worth only $75 were never going to be valued at the $1,500 my disillusioned father had paid for them. Eventually, we managed to wrestle control away from him with his coin craze. As he grew more confused and forgetful we were able to take his credit cards away. I took Power of Attorney and my brother and I created living wills complete with a "Do Not Resuscitate" order. Talk about cheery dinner conversation.

Back in the present, this explains why the girls do not like visiting their grandparents. It's downright depressing and it smells bad at their house.

Sometimes we pull into the driveway and I pause to prepare them: "Girls…I know this isn't easy. I know you don't like coming here and frankly, neither do I. But they're my parents and that's what children do. However, if I get ever this bad please smother me with a pillow, okay?" All right…I left out that last line which clearly indicates "questionable judgment".

I could write about the downfall of my parents, but I shall stick to the topic in this particular little essay: Not such a "crackmom", after all….

And so, after I scored a superlatively loud mini-sound system, the girls and I danced around to Avril Lavigne in our empty living room to cap off an action-packed weekend of fun. There will always be visits to the grandparents, but hopefully this anti-crackmom will balance the chore with all the great things that make us rock out....with hula-hoops and pigtails no less.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Blog of Love (don't bother if you're a cynic)

Without sounding excessively sappy -- having two daughters is a wonderful gift. They could not be more different from each other both physically and in temperament which gives me a full range of appreciation. Bebe, who is my firstborn, is most like me both in her appearance and personality. You might think this would make us more compatible, but the truth is it's painful to meet yourself as a child. I watch in dismay how she laughs at the same things as me, and sometimes gets this familiar self-conscious expression on her face, how she distrusts adults who condescend to her, and the way she mimics rock's all me in junior size.

Sometimes we are truly oil and water, yet I cherish her mirror to my psyche - difficult as it is. Without that I might not come to understand better who I am and how I got this way. I have to separate my discomfort in watching my clone and love her for who she is – both like and unlike me. I can nurture her in gestures that were never expressed to me as a child and hopefully bypass some of the neurosis my own mother passed down to me. But who am I kidding? We all hand down our issues - consciously or not - to our children. So while I might rescue her from fearing the dentist I might not be able to prevent her resistance to change, and so on.

My baby girl, Evie, is most unlike me in all manners. Though her willfulness and passion can often try my patience I also celebrate her differences as though she was not born from my genetic code. When she was an infant I didn't believe I could love her completely. After all, my eldest was still a baby when Evie came into this world. I didn't understand the capacity one's heart has for expanding itself. When she was still tiny, under six months, I watched her half moon eyes crinkle up at me with joy. I realized that not only could I love her with all my heart, but I gave her love untainted by my own self-scrutiny. Now, at nearly five years old, her eyes are exactly the same as that baby that kept me up all night just crying to be in bed beside me. I gave in then and I shall give in as long as she'll have me near.

Now both girls are safely tucked in the same bed. I put them at opposite ends like the grandparents in "Willie Wonka" and sometimes their feet collide. I would never think of having them in separate rooms as they are exceptionally close as siblings and friends. That is my gift to them too…fostering a bond that will be with them always. My girls are resilient and slipped so easily into their new home and my new status as a single mom that I often wait for the other shoe to drop. I'm a much better mother to them on my own terms than I ever was in my glass cage. And that is my strength, in case you were wondering.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Held Hostage By a Birthday Party...

Okay, I confess: I do not like throwing birthday parties for my kids.

I find it stressful for several reasons: I don't like having a bunch of people in my home, the mess, the cleaning, the coming-up with party games, the preparation of food to be served, the cake to be baked…and oh, the goodie bags I hate above all else. I can never come up with the right combo of items that parents won't disapprove of (i.e. candy, candy and more candy) or cheap toys or useless doo-dads that will promptly be lost, discarded, or choked upon by younger siblings.

I like to TALK about the party with my daughters, I like to THINK about the party, but when it comes down to preparation, I am definitely the hostess with the leastess, not mostess.

So, for Evie's fifth birthday it was all decided: We'd pay a small fortune to throw a fete at "The Little Gym" – everyone's answer to generic party fun. They give you the invites, they provide the pizza, and they entertain the kids with an hour of gymnastics and tumbling (before pizza, that is, so there is minimal puking to be had).

Big "however" here: I booked the party too late – and the only open slot remotely close to Evie's actual birth date was on Mother's Day! Yes, my most favorite of all Hallmark holidays. Taking a quick poll of friends I decided that Mother's Day would not be great timing for all, what with conflicting plans, brunches and corsages….so I was back to having the party at home.

I thought, Hey, I have loads of space at the Firehouse, we'll dance, have fun, and maybe we'll take all the kids over to the old preschool location just for old time's sake. I still have the keys to the yard and they can run around if it's a beautiful day.

Well, Saturday was indeed a beautiful day and I was ill-prepared for hosting a party, as usual. I stayed up late hanging with The Polyphonic Spree (it's true), woke up too early and still managed to procrastinate for a while. I had a cake to bake, frosting to make (yes, I'm fussy and make my own) decorations and balloons to string about ….plus I had to hide all my paperwork, magazines and other detritus that manage to gather in this or that corner.

Cutting to the chase, I got most of that stuff done when the kids started arriving two by two. "Ohmigod," I said to my friend, "I invited too many boys." They were all simultaneously going mental, running around like unruly simians and screaming at the top of their lungs the whole time. They climbed in the loft beds and threw down every last doll, book and harmonica they could find. The girls squealed in that irritating girlish way and the noise level was instantly raised to hair-tearing proportions.

Meanwhile, this age-specific party phenomenon was occurring that I had not anticipated. At a certain undetermined age, parents begin to DROP-OFF their children at birthday parties. And leave. Indeed, they can go food shopping, get their toenails painted, or lay in a hammock all afternoon while their child is busy pouring milk in his ears under someone else's watch.

Now I was stuck watching my home get wrecked and I had very few parents around to help reel in the escalating chaos. Finally, after pizza and cake I marched them all over to the old preschool which was just a block or two away. This was kind of a weird and desperate maneuver. The school had a wonderful garden, but we all got the heave-ho about six months ago. The old "pave paradise put up a parking lot" was the order here as two ambitious Jersey City developers purchased our preschool from the landowner (a corrupt church, actually) and told us, kindly and gently, that we had to move. It took almost two years for all the technicalities to be worked out, but finally in late 2006 the move happened.

So the beautiful preschool yard, with its many flowers, fruits and veggie stalks had all gone to seed. The grass was iridescent green and nearly a foot tall. The play equipment was starting to rot and we noticed nails protruding from the playhouse. Spiders, allergies, no bathrooms, nails, old rakes, fetid trash and a few moldy mats were just some of what we had to contend with that afternoon. Yet, in my mind, I preferred this over watching my house be torn apart by its seams.

By 4 pm parents began to pick up their kids. But only SOME parents. I had mentioned that the party had an "indefinite" end time – but I wasn't picturing dealing with kids all alone in that scenario. So, as the last parent left the party he looked around the yard and counted children.

"Um, Jayne," he said, frowning into the setting sun. "You are the only adult here. There are still seven kids left."

"Yeah…I'm aware of that."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm not sure, but I'm tired, it's getting chilly, and the kids are completely filthy."

"Okay…I'll help you get them back to the Firehouse."

And so we walked them back, mindful of on-coming buses and the like, and set them loose once again in the house. This time they were covered in silt-like dirt from head to toe. I ushered several girls into the bath but not before they all grabbed the white shower curtain, leaving muddy paw prints all over it. Once in the bath something on their skin – dirt, the particles of grass, some errant allergen – made them scream with pain; pain of intense itching, that is. I don't know what it was, but it irritated the kids into a screaming fit and I quickly pulled each child out. Then I had about five naked girls running around taunting the boys by wagging their tushies in the breeze.

I think at that moment I simply gave up and started calling parents.

"Where are you? I'm losing it, you have to come here!"

"Um, you need to pick up Pauline, she's having an allergic reaction."

"Hi, can you get JJ? He just threw my cat off the roof."

Finally, every last child was picked up and no joke, reader, it was 7:40 pm. The marathon birthday party, sans borders, was over at last. Corralling my girls into brushing their teeth and crawling into bed was a piece of cake after all that. And speaking of which, I never even got to try my special black & white cake…but I heard it was delicious.

Man o man....never again. And I mean it!