Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Bad Moms

Kid Pro Quo - You Throw a Party, I Better Throw One, Too

General StuffTeresa Strasser26 Comments

There's a social contract when it comes to birthday parties for kids. You can't just be a recurring guest, enjoying the bouncy houses, gift bags and balloon animals arranged and paid for by other parents.

No, you have to reciprocate. Like it or not, there's a kid pro quo.

Other parents helped you kill a Sunday afternoon with your toddler, throwing a pirate party, a princess party, a bubble party or whatever, and now it's your turn. Or, I should say, it's my turn. The first birthday I could get away with skipping, but now I have no choice. Like it or not, unless I feel like violating this unspoken contract with the other parents in my circle and at my day care, I am throwing a party for my son's second birthday.

Let's just say things aren't off to a good start. Cancer is involved. I know. I'll get to that.

First, my dream was to never throw an elaborate or expensive or exhausting birthday party for a child too young to care or even remember it. That dream was crushed, as I mentioned, by the social contract.

I decided the only course of action was to suck it up and pay one of these indoor playground places to host us. It goes like this: I throw them some cash, they provide plates and forks, a ball pit, air-conditioning, a giant slide, a bucket of juice boxes and the satisfaction of knowing I have not shirked my mom duties. Again, my child won't care -- that dude just made his first poop in the potty; like he cares if he gets a sheet cake from the grocery store or a chocolate ganache likeness of Thomas the Tank Engine from a bakery that sells $7 cupcakes. Like I said, these parties are payback for all the genuine fun and amusement I've had at the expense and inconvenience of other parents.

Now, how does cancer make its way into this story?

Two months in advance, I book the Saturday of his birthday. Plans are made, invitations (OK, e-vites, sorry) are sent, and what do you know? This indoor playground lets me know they double-booked my time slot. I'm out, the other family is in, here's your deposit back, so long and farewell.

Obviously, there was nothing to do at this point but hang up the phone, get insanely upset, be fully aware that this is the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone and also take a moment to ponder how horribly I've failed. All I had to do was throw a stupid party, like all the other moms do without incident. But I have no luck and no social graces, and this proves it. More self-flagellating to frost the teetering, tiered, rising cake of self-doubt.

Hell hath no fury like a toddler mom scorned. Let me tell you, my Yelp review was going to be none too kind. This is the only petty revenge I had for the horrible wrong this playground did me. They would pay. OK, this would be a waste of my time and probably have no effect on their business. And it would never answer the question: Why me? Why me and not the other family who booked the same time?

I fantasized about showing up at my time anyway. That would show them. They would have dueling parties and perhaps a fire hazard. They had my deposit, and I would have my party, on my day, at my time, their mistake.

That's when the owner called, the mother of a girl a year older than my son. She said she was sorry, that this had never happened before, that she started the party playground to help busy moms, to make things amazing and memorable for the kids, to give herself something meaningful to do after she was diagnosed with cancer. That's right, and that's when I cried. And she cried. And she said things had fallen through the cracks since her treatment and her sister had stepped in to help out.

She offered me the 10 a.m. spot. Mimosas would be nice, she said. I could serve bagels. They would throw in some balloons and an extra hour for my trouble.

There are times when the universe goes, "Here's your gift bag." And you open it to find something more lasting than a painted face or a Curious George sticker. The theme of my son's party this year is obvious. Perspective.

The World's Fattest Toddler: I'm Not Worried

General StuffTeresa Strasser13 Comments
Not making fun. Bless his heart.

 

Step aside, infamous Indonesian smoking baby, there’s a new gross-you-out and get-you-incensed Internet sensation in town. It’s the obese Chinese toddler!

Perhaps you have seen photos of Lu Hao, a 132-pound 3-year-old who eats three bowls of rice at a time and refuses to walk to school. It’s compelling stuff, the swollen kid crammed into a raft, floating in a pool, the massive baby gnawing on a chicken bone or being hoisted by his sweating, regular-sized dad as his girth tests the tensile strength of a T-shirt.

If you see the story anywhere online, don’t even bother reading the comments section. This is very predictable, the kind of kid story that causes parents to do one of two things: A) lots of pontificating about how mom and dad need to take charge and are actually abusive in their neglectful/idiotic parenting or B) feel sorry for the child and post about their pity, which causes group A to attack group B. These two groups will go round and round while missing the point: This fat baby is onto something, and I don’t just mean a steel-reinforced Bumbo chair.

I don’t know exactly what Bethenny Frankel does or is, but I know her name, I know she has written a couple of bestselling books, and I know she regularly trends on Twitter and has been featured on five reality shows, two that focus solely on her life.

Forget about the Strasberg Institute or the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Skip Juilliard, practicing your guitar, attending classes at Second City or even going to culinary school.

Just have yourself some brawls like the "Desperate Housewives" or the cast members of "Jersey Shore." In other words, embrace your total lack of impulse control, and you will be on the road to fame and fortune.

If you find you can’t keep your mouth shut, you might end up getting punched like Snooki and become an overnight sensation. If you can’t restrain yourself -- from toppling a table at a party, screaming, conniving, drinking, vicious gossiping, smoking, having inappropriate sex, having a zillion kids or, in the case of little Lu, eating -- we are going to be very interested in you. You could be five bowls of rice from your own series.

Discipline gets plenty of lip service, but if you want to “trend” in our culture, don’t call a therapist when you can’t control your impulses. Call CAA. I think they are opening a special “Impulse Control” division because that’s how profitable it is to completely give in to your urges, at least if there’s a camera there to capture it. Only suckers bother with training, practice and long, boring, expensive educations that mainly lead to working mundane jobs while hacking away at manuscripts that will never sell. You know who sells books? The Situation. He sells books, and last I checked, he hadn’t “paid dues” or “even read a book” himself.

If TLC doesn’t get ahold of this obese baby, they are missing out on a chance for a docu-soap that could fit nicely into their lineup, the way Lu’s diaper fits perfectly over a queen-size bed. “Little People, Big Baby” could be the story of two little people struggling to raise a giant child. Look out for “The Littlest Biggest Loser,” in which Lu competes in weight-loss challenges with other chubby babies from around the world.

Lu could move in with the Duggars or be disciplined by Jo Frost or perhaps team up with the smoking baby (who has finally quit smoking, by the way) to live in a house on the Jersey Shore with Bethenny, her new family, a few MTV Teen Moms and an aging Puck from “The Real World.” A swirl of ids could provide new catchphrases, books, spin-off shows and viewing parties.

This fat baby is already learning something important about making his mark. The only thing he really has to worry about? The next 500-pound 4-year-old knocking him off his top spot. Or the smoking baby picking up again. Fame is a hard habit to break.

 

* This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Another Pebble on Baby Beach

General StuffTeresa Strasser41 Comments

The way I was going to dodge all the stereotypical haggard new mom behaviors, well, that didn’t really happen. It didn’t happen at all.

Yeah, I hate the sound of my own voice saying things like, “I just want to shave my legs. Is that such a luxury?” Hearing myself make jokes about the spit-up on my shirt makes me want to spit up on the rest of my shirt.

It’s not cute and it’s not adorable to complain about getting peed on or about being a new mother with severe personal hygiene deficiencies. You know why? Because it’s not special. Guess what: You are not the first mother to leave the house with baby drool on your shoulder or with mismatched shoes, and neither am I.

It’s one thing to be a bad mother (in fact, it’s probably the worst thing you can do, and no one will forgive you for that shit), but it’s another one to be hacky in your new maternity complaints. I have not been able to avoid the latter, and only time will tell about the former.

Hold on.

All of this self-deprecation is getting in the way of me bragging. Give me a second, I’ll be boasting about myself soon enough, but let me just finish the self-loathing so I can feel better about the boasting.

Not only do I find myself making all the stock mom complaints (tired, hard to find time for sex, hair not washed, stomach not flat, doing laundry all day, no free time, no girl time, no time with grown ups, back hurts from holding baby, arms hurt from holding baby, asleep by 9 p.m., lost track of world events, baby sitters are so expensive, going to the movie costs $9,000 now, you get the idea) I’m in serious danger of falling into another cliché, the competitive preschool waiting list thing. That’s right, after yapping about how I’m never going to be one of those despicable hover parents who need to get their genius child into the most elite preschool that charges you $17,000 a year for “creative play,” after insisting I was sending Buster to the $60 a month pre-school run by the park and recreation department, this bullshit preschool thing I was outrunning caught me by the scruff. It caught me and now it’s forcing me to go to open houses and do research and figure out what they mean by “co-op” and “Waldorf.”

It was all well and good to flaunt my working class roots, to insist on sending my kid to the same kind of free city preschool that taught me so much about chalk drawing and swinging, but the very impulse that snares all the other normally reasonable parents tagged me. What if I screw my kid by going all cheapo on his first school? Although logic dictates that a tricycle is a tricycle and any place that doesn’t allow him to swallow marbles and eat Laffy Taffy for snack time is pretty much the same as the next, I can’t be sure. What if there really is some voodoo magic in those fancy schools that enables pupils to tackle concertos and theorems while speaking multiple languages and excelling at Irish clog dancing? If I don’t place him in a learning environment that properly conveys “conflict resolution,” will he end up kicking the shit out of people and telling me to go fuck myself? What if?

So, I turned my back on the park and rec school for a moment and went to my first private pre-school open house (well, half of it, I was rolling on “mom time”). I must say, though I didn’t understand most of the information about learning styles, I was truly impressed by the diversity of the other parents on the tour. There were white people, and there were super white people. There were even a couple insanely white people, so at least Buster would be exposed to all manner of white people.

As far as bragging goes, while I might be failing at the job of resisting parental peer pressure when it comes to preschool, I’m already pretty okay with mediocrity.

If intelligence, or physical abilities or appearance, language skills, coordination, if all of these things follow a standard distribution, if most babies cluster around the mean in terms of when they crawl or walk or talk or get teeth or conjugate verbs, it’s unlikely my baby will be an outlier in any area, statistically speaking. And so far, I don’t find him to be many standard deviations from the mean (other than in terms of size, because he has a giant, outlying pumpkin head and is unusually tall and heavy, or in the parlance of toddlers at the park, he “is fat like an elephant”). As far as the type of skills you brag about to other parents, I’m going to say hello to mediocrity and give it a warm bear hug.

My boy is about ten months old, and he doesn’t exactly crawl yet. He just rolls across the floor or scoots on his belly. He has a normal amount of teeth. He kind of says “mamamammam” but he ain’t referring to me as he babbles. He sees the cat and says “kah” or “kee kah.”

So far, he hasn’t set the world on fire with his precocity. I assume he will not be scooting to the prom on his belly, so I’m not worried. Sure, there’s something fun about having the kid who crawls at five months, walks at six, talks in full sentences at a year, writes in iambic pentameter at two. It’s undeniably cool having one of those stunning children about whom versions of the same story are always told (“We were at the mall, and a photographer asked if we wanted to get her into modeling” – “We were out to lunch, and an agent said he’d be perfect for commercials” – you’ve surely heard versions of the show-stopping baby story, the baby who is almost constantly begged to become a child actor by strangers in show business promising residuals and college funds).

I’d eat the cheeks off my boy and he’s adorable, but mama knows he’s not so far from the mean.

When my parents said that they just wanted me to be happy, I kind of believed them but empirical evidence showed me that they weren’t exactly bummed out when I won the spelling bee or the state poetry contest. Side note: earnest poetry written by a nine year-old from the point of view of a concentration camp inmate might win a contest or two, but could also be the worst prose ever written.

I knew where my bread was buttered, and in the land of American Jews, it’s buttered on the side of achievement. I don’t hold it against my people, because my grandparents came here as immigrants and were thus obsessed with public displays of “making it” here in the land of opportunity, but it sucks when the only way to stand out or be unabashedly loved is to become a concert cellist or chess master.

And having only been a mother for less than a year, I already understand the urge to see your child as faster and smarter, to squint and strain looking for ways your child is edging toward the righteous tail of that bell curve instead of hugging the midline, with all the other short stacks, just another pebble on baby beach.

For me, I’m resisting. I’m embracing the notion that Buster, like most of our kids, will be mostly average, and to look into their faces expecting otherwise is to hang a photo of parental disappointment on the locker of their psyches.

So do we go into debt to send our toddlers to the “best” preschool in town because we want to give them every advantage, or are we secretly hoping to maximize the odds of their Harvard admission so we can brag about it later and throw around some false modesty classics like, “I don’t know where he gets his smarts! Or, “How we’re going to afford it, I have no idea, but what can you do? He just scores so well on tests.”

Trying to tie this shit together is like trying to shove everything you’re going to need for the afternoon into a diaper bag, but I usually attempt that, so here goes.

One of my first epiphanies as a mother is that I am not unique. The bliss, the boredom, the sense of grief for the old life, the panic over poop color and rashes, the elation over milestones, the wanting to drive away and never come back between bouts of wanting to stare at his tiny face forever, this is basically how it is. I didn’t break the mom mold, and instead of needing to be different, I find deep comfort in being the same. While the banality of my maternal concerns can bore me, so can a good night’s sleep and a bowl of broccoli, and I need those things.

It follows that accepting my child for who he is, whether he walks at ten months or sixteen, whether he says “kitty cat” or “domesticated carnivorous mammal,” will also be comforting in the long run. Most moms, most babies, toddlers, tweens, teens, young adults, old people, most of us will be unexceptional, we’ll all need buckets of love and acceptance just because, and not just because we have an eight-octave range or can dunk.

The thing I notice about Buster, the thing that makes me want to brag though I usually manage to shut up about it, is that he smiles at strangers. And sometimes he smiles at the front door. Or at the “domesticated carnivorous mammal” whose hair he is clutching in his fat little fists. He smiles. I can’t believe I’m not even slightly full of crap when I say that this thrills me and makes me more proud than anything. If my child is a happy person, if his little soul is peaceful and his moods moderately mild, if he enjoys himself and seems to interact well with others – that will be his inner self enrolling in Harvard and I’ll be kvelling. Happiness has eluded me like the cat (mostly) eludes the baby. I grab at it, I eyeball it, I grasp it momentarily by the tail but it out runs me and scurries away before I can get it to curl up on my lap.

I hope I won’t ever need Buster to do anything extraordinary, but if he keeps up the smiling, and by extension, the overall sense of joie, even his happiness is only average, that will be good enough for me. And much cheaper than a Waldorf school.

The Rabbi, My Mother and the Bag of Crap

General StuffTeresa Strasser183 Comments

Unknown-1 Buster is one month old today.

And I think I am finally ready to tell the story about the rabbi, my estranged mother and a bag of shit, and how this only partially holy trinity converged at my Koreatown home one Tuesday afternoon.

When Buster was eight days old, we invited a rabbi over to circumcise the kid. My husband – not a Jew – was okay with the snip snip but thought it was creepy to turn the whole situation into a party. Fair enough. So it was going to be just the two of us, until he started suggesting it might be nice to have my mom there, my mom who I haven’t talked to in about a year.

Just before the baby was born, a package arrived addressed to the unborn child from “Grandma Strasser.” Inside were a hand-knit orange stuffed dinosaur, a tiny sweater with pockets and a hood, and a powder blue blanket. Though she hadn’t called me since my brother told her I was pregnant, it looked as though she had been knitting ever since.

There was a note to the baby that simply said, “Grandma can’t wait to meet you.”

I cried my fucking eyes out with that orange dinosaur in my hand because I was hormonal, and it was a week before my baby was due, and my mother was reaching out in her own stilted way and while it would be nice if she could say “sorry” or “I miss you,” I stood on my stoop fully aware that some people speak with yarn.

That woman let me down in such a profound way that just the sound of her clearing her throat too loudly makes me want to toss her purse out of a moving car. Try as I may, I haven’t been able to process the backlog of anger at her even after all these years, which has made me an inpatient, puerile, irrational daughter. Yes, the woman put me on many a Greyhound bus when I was in elementary school, but I don’t know how to stop making her pay, so I just stop talking to her.

It’s kind of a mom sabbatical. I take one every few years or so.

Somehow, between the extinct knit creature’s baleful look and the post C-section narcotics, my husband convinced me that we should invite my mom to the bris.

Also, when we went to the rabbi’s website, there was a check list of things we needed for the procedure, gauze pads, kosher wine, ointment and other items the acquisition of which would have been impossible as I could still barely get up and down and my husband couldn’t leave me alone with the baby. I was a mommy and I needed my mommy. I really needed my mommy.

My husband called her for me, and as he predicted, she accepted the invite on very short notice, offered to pick up everything we needed plus a platter of bagels and lox. I could hear her voice over the phone, and the tone conjured something like enthusiasm, maybe even chirpiness. It heartened me that my chronically depressed mom would not only sound psyched, but also drive five hours from Vegas to see her new grandson at the drop of a yarmulke, salve in hand.

So, with the rabbi and my mother heading our way for the afternoon ceremony, my bowels decide, after having been removed and put back into place during surgery, to finally work after several days.

The resulting poop clogs the decrepit toilet in our old house.

At this point, I can’t bend, lift or twist. So, I sit there on the potty with my head in my hands just trying to think my way out of this mess. The rabbi and my mother are arriving in half an hour, my one-week old son is stirring in the next room with his dad, and I am both hovering over – and up – Shit’s Creek.

I am not now nor have I ever been one of those women who impress guys by being really open and carefree about their gas and bodily functions. Even writing this makes me vaguely uncomfortable. I wish I was that fart-in-your-face girl sometimes (I honestly hate even typing the word F-A-R-T), but there came a point in my 20s when I realized two things: I don’t dance and never will, and I don’t enjoy talking about gas or bowel movements, and never will. When I embraced being fundamentally inhibited, it changed my life. I am not the girl pretending to think gas is funny or grimacing my way through the Conga line at a wedding. I’m the one that insists she doesn’t poop, but instead excretes waste through her skin, like a frog. I’m the one finishing off your dinner roll and wine while YOU dance at the wedding, because YOU enjoy it. In summary, while I don’t relish being a pooper, being a “party pooper” suits me just fine. While I have few, if any, emotional boundaries, I make up for it by being private, almost proper, about the physical realm.

Never have I indicated in any way to husband, up until this moment, that anything noxious ever comes out of my ass, but now I’m fucked.

“Baby,” I yell, sheepishly, “I have a problem.” That’s when my husband rushes to the bathroom door. I start sobbing because I’m freaked out and exhausted and I don’t want this magical Jewish ritual to be marred by the smell of feces wafting through the house, my feces, and I certainly don’t want my husband seeing, smelling or experiencing my waste in any way, but I’m out of options. I scrub my hands like I can cleanse myself of this whole situation.

He hands me the baby, and runs to the garage for some sort of drain “snake.” I try to place my thoughts elsewhere, so that I can easily delete this memory in the future. I bounce the boy and look out the window at Koreatown.

There is some running back and forth from the garage to the front door, to the bathroom in back. I hear him call the plumber, who can’t make it until tomorrow. He calls the hardware store to see if they have a larger snake; they do not. I bounce the boy and watch the clock. Fifteen minutes to go.

It is at this moment that I glance outside the window again and see my husband running gingerly along the side of the house holding a bag of shit.

It takes my mind a moment to register the image (again, drugs, lack of sleep, major surgery, sudden life-changing transition to motherhood, heavy emotional family issues about to be addressed, impending removal of my baby’s foreskin).

There it is. My husband walk-running around the side of the house carrying – as one might a goldfish won from a county fair – a bag of toilet water and the offending, drain-clogging crap that he had somehow liberated from the bowel.

Nothing says your life has crossed over like seeing your husband carry a bag of your shit.

If one could die of cringing, I would have.

This is all my fault, I tell myself, for not better orchestrating my life, for having a breech baby and a C-section, for moving to this old house just weeks before the baby’s birth because I couldn’t make up my mind any sooner, for all the chaos of unpacked boxes and curtains not hung. I want everything to be slender and clean and tucked away and predictable, but I can’t go back and I smell Buster’s fuzzy head just to get a hit of the good stuff.

This, too, shall pass, I tell myself, just as that poop did through my colon.

Until now, I didn’t even discuss going number one with my husband and now I’m anxiously running to the front door to find out how it went when he hand-delivered a bag of number two to the trash can out front.

“No big deal,” he says, trying to pass it off. “All fixed.”

A tacit agreement that this didn’t happen is made.

Before the rabbi arrives, a bearded man right out of Central Casting, my mom shows up. She has been driving for hours, so her lime green linen shirt is a bit rumpled, but I can tell she has dressed up. She is carrying a plastic platter of bagels, cream cheese and lox for fifteen, as well as a bag with doubles and triples of all the items on the rabbi’s list. When she opens the door, I hug her and point to the baby, sleeping in his bouncy seat perched on the sofa. She strains to keep a neutral expression on her face, but tears are landing on her shirt. She doesn’t make a move to wipe them away, because her face is still trying to say, “This is no big deal.” I hand her the baby and she cries right onto his blankie, which she must have recognized from her months of knitting it.

“He’s beautiful,” she says. And she manages to sound a way she never has before. Maternal.

And just like that, we make small talk about Buster, his dimples, will his eye color change, did he know what terrible thing was about to happen to his pee-pee. We have a nosh. Like the unspoken agreement never to discuss the contents of the bag, my mother and I silently conspire to act as though the past year, and many of the years before that, have not been crap.

The rabbi arrives, and dips a cloth into some wine while gathering the four of us to talk about the “covenant” and the idea that a circumcision happens on the baby’s eighth day, because there is no eighth day of the week and so the concept is to transcend the earthly plane  – or something like that. I don’t know. Anything a guy with a long beard who has done 15,000 snips has to say seems deep. And we give the child a Hebrew name – David – because my stepfather’s last name was Davidson and I know this will make my mom happy. When my stepfather was around, I could deal with my mother. He was a buffer, like the baby will be.

The rabbi asks my mom to hold the baby and let him suck on the wine-soaked corner of a cloth. This is anesthesia, old school style. The baby is sucking on that Manischewitz rag like maybe his gentile half is taking over, which gives us an easy laugh.

After looking around, the rabbi sets up shop on my desk, because that’s where the sunlight filters in and he wants a clear view. My husband holds the cloth in the baby’s mouth as the rabbi does his thing. Thirty seconds later, with barely a peep from the boy, it’s all over.

The rabbi gives us instructions on how and when to apply the ointment and tells us to bury the foreskin in the dirt to show God we are earthy. It feels like I’ve been sucking on a wine cloth of my own, but I’m just tipsy with a double shot of relief and gratitude; my husband not only fixed the toilet, but he at least duct-taped over the mom problem, which can never be truly repaired but can at least be patched and re-patched. Now, she isn’t just my mother, but my son’s grandmother, and I would be an asshole to rob my son of his grandma because I can’t forgive her.

The rabbi was a man gifted with babies.

He told us to stay calm, always calm, so your baby will do the same. This isn’t always easy for me, because I love that little fucker so much that the idea of making a mistake, of not knowing what he needs or failing him, the worry that something may be broken in his body or mind that I can’t fix, the idea that I don’t have the patience or sweetness or wisdom to deserve him, well, that is the big bag of shit my soul carries around.

The rabbi leaves. My mom heads back to Vegas. Later that night, I send her a photo my husband took of her holding Buster, tears dotting her green shirt, mouth slightly turned down at the corners, staring down at her first grandchild. She emails back, “Please keep the pictures coming, love Grandma.” And we bury the foreskin in the front yard.

The Nine Worst Moms in History

General StuffTeresa Strasser52 Comments

streep I wake up every night with esophagus-searing heartburn and the sensation that I’m suffocating. I cry, smearing the mascara I was too lazy to remove on my pregnancy pillow. My husband tells me it will be okay, which he can now do without even waking up.

I take a bath, eat a peach, listen to Fresh Air podcasts, read a chapter of my Neil Diamond book, and try to fall back asleep, all the while moaning and grunting like Ed Asner at Jazzercise. None of this is a big deal in the grand scheme of pregnancy issues, but would it be okay if I just sat back and crapped on other people for a while to make myself feel better?

Look, I am not a mom yet. I am nervous Buster isn’t going to get the best mom in the world, because I’ve never been baby crazy or even changed a diaper. This list makes me feel better, because in many ways, these ladies lowered the mom bar. Let me know if I missed anyone.

The Nine Worst Moms in History

1. Joanna Kramer: This mother, played by Meryl Streep in the 1979 film, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” represented all that was wrong with ‘70s moms. Meryl ­– icy, selfish and put-upon – bails on her family, only to return a year and a half later to take back her son and screw up the life he’s finally put together with his pops, played by Dustin Hoffman. When she’s done scarring her kid and taking her “me” time, possibly doing some self-actualized macramé, she waltzes in and sparks a big, ugly custody battle. She wins little Billy back, but in the end, decides to ditch the kid for a second time. The whole ordeal is so emotionally grueling for Billy, he gets an Oscar nod, and remains the youngest actor to ever be nominated.

There were so many Meryl moms when I was growing up in San Francisco; they got tricked into motherhood by the ‘60s and didn’t dig it. They spent their food money on babysitters just to get away from the kids who were sucking the lives out of them.

Joanna Kramer was the quintessential Bad ‘70s Mom, with her tailored trench coat, chunky leather boots, perfectly fitted blouses, neck scarves and patrician cheekbones, she made ditching your child so glamorous, it made you wonder why any sap would stick around.

2. Medea: This one is a gimme. Or more of a takey. Takey your own kids’ lives.

You gotta go mythological for a mother this venal. Here’s the story: Medea and her man, Jason, are doing just fine, until he gets an offer to marry a royal princess and bails on Medea and their two sons. In Euripides’ famous play based on the Greek myth, Medea, is so pissed off at Jason for leaving her she pretends to forgive him and sends his new bride some poison-laced robes, which kill her instantly. This is pretty satisfying, but to really stick it to her ex, she decides the only thing to do is kill her sons, not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because this revenge thing really needs a kicker. In the play, Medea leaves the stage with a knife and we hear the boys screaming. Granted, it sucks to be left for a princess, especially after doing so much for a guy, but killing your kids means you will always make this list.  And as a bonus, when someone like Susan Smith kills her kids, your name is going to come up until the end of time.

3. hennerMarilu Henner: I feel a bit harsh putting this beloved actress on the list of worst moms. I mean, all she did was write the parenting book, “I Refuse to Raise a Brat” and plaster her two sons, Nicholas and Joseph, on the cover. I loved her on “Taxi,” however, I would hate to have my mother’s literary career and overall cred depend on my ability to keep my shit together at the grocery store, at recess, at day care and everywhere prying eyes were looking for signs that I was, in fact, a brat.

According to the book’s publishers, motherhood is Marilu’s most important role, and she can tell you how to handle “temper tantrums, bedtime issues, sibling rivalry, lying, and much more.”

Geez, Marilu, why don’t you set the kids up for failure? How will they ever be perfect enough to literally be the poster children for poster children? As if that’s not enough pressure, Marilu penned “Healthy Kids,” in which she explains how to get your kids to exercise and gives “scores of tips on transitioning from dead food to live food.” Isn’t eating “dead food” from time to time what being a kid is all about? Now these boys can’t be chubby or bratty, ever. I know mommy needs to sell some books, but she didn’t have to feature her actual kids on the covers, ensuring them nonstop scrutiny. Then again, as Marilu writes, “Children must learn that they can’t always get their way.”

judds024. Naomi Judd: It’s not her fault, but no matter how old she gets, Naomi Judd is hotter than her daughters. Not even a bad case of Hep C could diminish her timeless beauty. Naomi outshines even Ashley, who is kind of a movie star, with impossibly satisfying bone structure. Still, not as lovely as mom. I file Naomi Judd with Demi Moore under “painfully pretty moms,” who can’t help but cast a big beautiful shadow over their daughters. And as we all know from Bette Midler, shadows are cold, a cold dank place to catch an eating disorder, spend hours in the mirror studying your pores, and generally go through life feeling "less than" and plain. Both of the Judd daughters are hugely successful, which should preclude Naomi from making this list. On the other hand, for all their talent, they always seem pretty bummed out, and tend to check themselves into mysterious hospitals with vague diagnoses like “isolation” and “food addiction.”

5. Terrie Petrie: You may remember her from Dr. Baden’s HBO documentary series “Autopsy.” This befuddled Canadian woman wrote to Dr. Baden for help. First, her eight-day old daughter died of SIDS, and later her three-month old twins also died of SIDS. Only, they didn’t, according to Dr. Baden. After a long investigation, the forensic pathologist concluded that Terrie, who was sleeping with her twins after going out for a few cocktails, managed to roll over on both children and smother them to death. Terrie was bummed when she got the “cause of death” news, because she was kind of crossing her fingers for “genetic abnormality.”

Now you may be thinking, how does this lady make the worst mom list, beating out the likes of serial killer Marybeth Tinning, who lost nine infants in 13 years, and seems to have killed eight of them? Well, Marybeth was a flat out psychopath and cold-blooded killer. Terrie was just a really, really bad mother who had every right to get loaded, but maybe should have considered a crib that night.

Herein lies a semantic distinction: these are examples of horrifyingly bad mommying, rather than a collection of world-class bad people. Terrie has distinguished herself by rising to new heights of neglect. Neglect is probably the thing that the really great bad moms all have in common. Say what you will about Marybeth Tinning, but she was clearly on some kind of mission. For Terrie, killing babies was an oversight, for Marybeth it was a hobby.

spider6. Mrs. Wolf Spider: I had to go into the animal kingdom for mothering like this. A bad mother might not make her children lunch, but a worse mother might actually make her children lunch. What I mean is, a mama wolf spider is generally large and harmless, unless you happen to be her baby wolf spider. Once born, the babies congregate on their mother’s stomach, ready to be fed. In some cases, however, they wind up being the mother’s next meal instead. It’s one thing if your mother just never “got” you, or resented you, or spent all of her time with your asshole stepfather, but it’s another thing if she decided you were more delicious than adorable. Whatever mistakes I make, it’s very comforting that I can’t be a worse mother than a wolf spider.

kate goss7. Kate Gosselin: Forget the usual stuff people hate about Kate, the bossy attitude, the haircut, or the superb exploitation of her brood. None of that lands her on this list. For me, it’s the eight little plates of hummus and sliced apples, the matching outfits, the annoying attention to maternal detail. I know one needs to be organized with that many kids, but Kate just overmoms it. While most of the worst moms in history got there by undermomming it, Kate represents all of the overmoms who not only smother their kids and make them self-absorbed entitled jerks, but also make the rest of the moms feel bad. Overmoms take seven childbirth classes while pregnant, grimly interview a slew of pediatricians, become experts on car seats and the merits of co-sleeping, start a home business selling organic baby food and generally tackle motherhood with all of the spontaneity and unfettered joy of a prison chaplain.

8. Dr. Ruth: America desperately needed Dr. Ruth. We needed her to answer questions about all the sexual nitty gritty. And Dr. Ruth is a hero, a tiny woman who became a big sharp shooter in the Israeli Army, a self-made career woman and survivor who lost her parents in Nazi Germany. I just don’t know if I want my mom writing a column for Playgirl, or bluntly answering people’s questions about G-spots, multiple orgasms, masturbation, premature ejaculation, proper condom usage, menstruation or the dangers of rough anal sex. In a word: eeeewwww. I love that Dr. Ruth exists, but to be the child of the woman whose name is synonymous with frank sex talk must be kind of rough, not as rough as the anal sex she says can be risky, but rough.

joan crawford9. Joan Crawford: “No more wire hangers,” is as famous an awful mom line as there is, representing one of the worst maternal tirades captured on film. Whether or not “Mommie Dearest” is totally factual, or just the way Joan’s daughter, Christina, recalls her childhood, doesn’t matter now, because Joan is the subject of a kitsch classic and seems to have distinguished herself in a very bad way. Faye Dunaway, who brought Joan Crawford to campy life, claims the role ruined her career. The eyebrows, the wire hangers, the violent, competitive, image-obsession, the succession of boyfriends Christina had to call “uncle” and the daughter-annihilating scenery chewing meltdowns forever cement Joan Crawford in the collective consciousness as one of history’s worst mothers.

Inner Child, Meet New Baby, Please Don’t Smother It

Favorite Posts, General StuffTeresa Strasser33 Comments

Being pregnant for the first time I’m scared and I want my mommy. I just don’t want my mommy.

My mom hates babies and kids, always has. She didn’t put her cigarette out on my arm or throw me in a pit of snakes, but having kids just wasn’t her diaper bag, and it showed.

I’m not here to trash my mother, only to worry that I’ll become her.

While most people say having children gives them new compassion for their parents, I’m not having that experience so far. Instead, I’m filled with a renewed, fuming and bottomless disquietude about the mom hand I was dealt, which consisted of one truly evil, now fortunately dead stepmother, and a wildly superior though still problematic biological mom, who raised me with a combination of ambivalence and benign neglect.

For her part, it was nothing personal against me, she just found all babies to be life-snatching bummers.

The syllogism was as impossible to ignore as a tot shrieking in a high chair, spitting noodles: Mom hates children. I am a child. Therefore, mom hates me. I must also be an irritating burden. In fact, I grew up thinking that everyone hates babies. It was all I knew.

Don’t get me wrong. My mom is a fun person, and people genuinely like her. If Auntie Mame were less chirpy, more medicated, and prone to dating angry, homeless Berkeley poets or leaving her kids for a month to chop trees in Vermont, that would be my mom. Part Mame, part maimed, all out of her element when it came to lullabies and hugs.

To this day, if a baby cries in a restaurant with my mom around, we all have to bail immediately, but not before she shoots the family several piercing, withering looks. Long looks. She doesn’t look away until she has properly shamed the parents for ruining her meal and her day. Even when she hears a baby laugh, she fixes her face in an expression to communicate to the world that she is being put upon, that the sounds coming from your child are no less than a knife in her brain.

I am not her, or she, or however you say it. I know it, but there are tinges of her infirmity, her intolerance, times I notice my head involuntarily snapping toward a wailing baby in a restaurant, a vestige of that sticky notion that babies are serenity-piercing killjoys.

I’m terrified that just as I have her broad shoulders and freckled skin, I may inherit her lackluster mothering skills. How can I be sure I won’t resent my baby? My therapist assures me I won’t, that true maternal detachment of my mother’s sort is very rare, that even though my baby is only half-cooked, I’m already bonded to the kid, and that seems true. Still, when I think about how much the whole experience sucked for my mom, I worry.

My mother’s exasperation with me started even before I was born.

She bought “It’s a Boy” cards when she was pregnant, just trying to sway the gender gods. Her desire for a second boy was based on this chestnut, “A boy would be your father’s problem.” This card story isn’t one she tried to hide. In fact, it was in heavy rotation on the “mom’s hilarious anecdote Top 40,” staying there for an unprecedented 20 years.

Mom’s particular bouquet of crazy sometimes has top notes of mean with a strong insensitivity finish.

“If you look at pictures, your mom holds you like a sack of potatoes, like she didn’t connect, I think she must have had that postpartum thing,” says my dad, trying to explain some of this, trying to defend her even though they have been divorced since I was three. He argues that it wasn’t her fault; she just wasn’t cut out for motherhood. In one old snapshot taken in a park somewhere, she holds me as I hold my stuffed bunny. My older brother is down at her feet, and she is looking away, yellow headband in her black hair, squinting. If there was a caption it might read, “How can I get out of this?”

When I was a baby, she got a job as a Los Angeles County school bus driver so she could afford to pay a nanny named Inez to baby-sit me for the first couple years of my life. Let that sink in for a sec: my mother, a college graduate with an above-genius IQ, preferred spending her days driving a Diesel school bus through the smog-choked San Fernando Valley to staying home with her kids, me and brother, who is a year and a half older.

When I was three, she decided she needed a break from the whole married-with-kids endeavor and left the family for six months to take a job in Chicago. By the time she got back, she was starting to get that “you’re not such a good mom” look from people, including the judge, who awarded custody of my brother and me to my dad.

My new stepmother suggested I would be better off with my mom and that’s how I ended up with her, most of the time anyway.

Once a month, starting at age four, she put me on a plane alone to see my dad. That isn’t even legal anymore; kids that young can’t fly unaccompanied. Summers and holidays, she put me on a Greyhound Bus to stay with my grandparents in Santa Barbara. Those were ten-hour bus rides, just one little girl reading Mad Magazine eating Twizzlers with an assortment of vagrants, fugitives and visitors to the California Men’s Colony. When I confronted my mom about it, she asked, “What was I supposed to do? Drive you myself all those times?” Um … yes?

Still, she is not and was not a bad person. In the end, she was simply lazy, not malicious. Here’s where I struggle to say something positive so I don’t come across like a horrible, slandering, ungrateful daughter just for telling the truth; the more self-reliant we became, the more tolerant she was, and I can say she did have some sparkling mom moments, reading us Steinbeck by flashlight when she took us to Yosemite, taking us to great grown up movies and revivals. She also encouraged me to write, something she probably regrets right about now. It was really just the baby thing.

I have been told I am at “high risk” for postpartum depression. My husband will have to look for “signs” and be prepared to toss some Prozac down my gullet if I get all withdrawn and affectless. If this happens, I’m assured that it will pass quickly. Before going ahead with the baby making, I talked about it for months with my therapist, who once offered me a million dollars if I have a baby and don’t love it. She’s positive I’m going to be fine, but she wants me to be prepared.

The plan is to get some help for the first few weeks so I don’t get too sleep-deprived. The rest is just faith. Yesterday, I was working on this column at a coffee shop when a baby started crying into his baggie of Cheerio’s. It’s not a beautiful sound to me, but I forced myself to question whether it’s the worst, or whether an even more festering sound is my mother’s voice in my head.

(This piece appears in the current edition of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.)

Why I’m Finally Psyched to be Having a Boy

General StuffTeresa Strasser43 Comments

Whose vagina exploded?

When I first found out I was having a boy, there were the stages of grief. You know, shock, denial, numbness, staring paralyzed, mouth slightly agape, at all the racks of cute girlie shit in the baby store until the clerk probably thought I was having a mild stroke.

Now, that has all gone away.

Maybe I have Stockholm Syndrome. I have fallen in love with my little captor because I have no choice: this fetus has a penis. Either way, it may have taken me a full two months or so, but I am so good with this boy thing right now.

It started with something simple, just the notion of one single phrase, the vision of me walking through my front door after work and asking, “Where’s the boy?”

I just like the sound of it. This vision extended to me showing up at daycare to pick him up and asking the teacher, “Where’s my boy?” It branched into imagining us gearing up for a road trip and me saying to my husband, “Have you packed up the boy?” The boy. My boy. Both sound good to me. What’s really been singing to me is this idea, and it may be repulsive in its cheesiness, but the thought that I would be referring to my child and my husband as “my boys.” I see myself phoning from the freeway on my way home, asking if “my boys” need me to pick anything up for dinner. “I need a hug from my boys,” I’ll announce on a Sunday morning, over coffee and the paper.

Sure, it may end up being more like “now I have to wipe the poop from between my boy’s balls and thighs,” but cut me some slack for over-romanticizing the boy thing right now. I so desperately wanted a girl, and now, whereas I used to see little girls on the street in their princess outfits and hate their parents out of sheer girl envy, they are starting to look prissy to me sometimes, and bossy.

And they won’t grow up to carry their mother’s luggage, or get all gangly and give those gangly boy mom hugs.

When I was having my moment in the baby boutique, it was too much. I was overwhelmed, surrounded, swallowed up by girlie treats I knew I would have coveted, stuck as if by a taffeta pin to my spot in the center of the crammed room. It looked like a vagina had exploded in there. There was a small purse made to look like a chocolate chip cookie, a set of red plastic lips containing mint gloss, a bubble gum pink voile skirt hanging with a dainty black cardigan, a tiara festooned with powder blue fluff, racks of small orange and yellow boas, a row of fuchsia headbands with white dots, a giant purple flower attached to a silver hair clip and a trio of white unicorns with gold horns and eyes.

You baby store people are totally fucking with me, I thought. And thanks for that one pair of denim overalls on the boy wall with the lame stack of “I’m so Silverlake” Jimi Hendrix onesies. Thanks.

At this point, my boy has quietly but profoundly liberated me from the illusion that having a girl would fix everything that went wrong with my own mother, to whom I haven’t spoken in a year or more. As facile and two-bit talk therapy as it seems, I think somewhere in my mind was this Barbie toy chest full of healing that would magically burst open when I did everything so much better than my mom did with me, when I taught the girl how to shave her legs and showed up to her ballet recitals, when I bought her gauzy skirts and said things like “I know you must be sad right now,” instead of “don’t you dare manipulate me with your tears.” What a bunch of unconscious crap I was swaddling in a pink blanket, that life with a daughter would be one long therapeutic mani/pedi, that I could make her feel okay about being female despite how much my own mother seemed to despise it.

I don’t know much about boys yet. I just know that this one, my boy, is crowding my diaphragm, lungs and stomach, while simultaneously making room in my heart.

You can’t suture years of ripped up mother/daughter flesh with satin ribbon and feather barrettes. Maybe the very idea that I would have a storybook relationship with my own daughter is as mythological as a herd of stuffed unicorns.

Today's Edition of Good Mommy/Bad Mommy

Good Mommy/Bad MommyTeresa Strasser16 Comments

When it comes to moms, I don't really have much to brag about. My stepmother was evil and my mother's style was characterized mainly by benign neglect. For that reason, I fantasize about women I wish were my mommy, and sometimes I get psyched when I realize some crazy bitch wasn't my mommy. Here is today's episode of Good Mommy/Bad Mommy. Meet Elizabeth Warren. I would like her to be my mommy.

She has a comforting grey bob. She makes Bill Maher laugh. She is the head of TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. She is a Harvard Law School Professor. She knows things, and she communicates the soothing sense that she can make anything all better, including the subprime mortgage crisis. I like the tone of her voice. She's written lots of books. Time Magazine says she's one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. I would like her to be my mommy.

And now, for todays Bad Mommy. Meet 23 year-old Tiffany Toribio.

 

bad mommy

This homeless New Mexico mom suffocated her toddler, Ty. She buried him under the sand at a playground.

“What makes this story especially sad was when asked the reason why she took Ty’s life, Tiffany said that she did not want him to grow up with no one caring about him the same way that she had grown up with no one caring about her,” said Police Chief Ray Schultz, his eyes watering.

Makes my mom look like June Fucking Cleaver. Glad she's not my mommy.