Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Craziness

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.

Want to Feel Isolated? Try Social Networking

General StuffTeresa Strasser15 Comments

On Facebook, “ladies night out” never ends with you getting cornered by a former Arizona State sorority girl who is two mojitos past dullard. On Facebook, the valet doesn’t lose your dirty Honda for twenty minutes while you calculate how much sleep you’ll get if there’s no traffic on the way home. On Facebook, it’s all sombreros and private jokes and close-ups of sushi and magnificent, unattainable Bourbon-hued camaraderie. Your online “friends” have more community, more sisterhood, more fun than you do. Science can now prove it.

When it comes to parenthood, all the children on Facebook do adorable, precocious things with both pets and instruments. These angels wear stain-free sailor suits. They make sand castles, kiss puppies and giggle with rash free cheeks. That’s why every time you sign off, you feel just a little bit depressed by the vividness of their joie. Their brightness dampens you. This is something you’ve always known, but now science has an explanation.

Thanks to researchers at Stanford, we pretty much have proof that social networking is bumming us out.

Okay, I’m extrapolating here, but what they found (in a paper titled “Misery Has More Company Than People Think”) is that as human beings, we tend to overestimate how much fun our peers are having, while underestimating their negative experiences.

After perusing the photo album “Jordan Turns Two,” you will never know the cake wasn’t moist, the pizza made everyone gassy and Jordan had to be carried out like a surfboard when the pony peed on his shoes. You will never know most of the kids left sunburned and at least three viral infections were spread like cheap dip.

Personally, I don’t post much, but I lurk. I watch. I silently compare myself to these gleeful visions, especially to other moms, whose online family portraits have often been shot through a lens of manufactured, carefully produced joy and spiked with a dash of selective storytelling. No matter. It still sends me into a mood.

It’s not that I don’t have moments of transcendent joy, it’s that I don’t know how to share them.

No, not spiritually, I mean I literally can’t figure out how to make photo albums or upload images efficiently. Or, as I’m on the verge of mastering some major misrepresentation of the totality of my life with one kick-ass shot of my toddler’s dimples, he actually needs me to stop him from tumbling down the front stairs. I have neither the time nor the aptitude to fake you out.

I guess I don’t get the spiritual part either.

Last night, when my son got home from daycare, he pointed down the block, so I walked with him. He ran ahead. He ran four straight blocks, his hair flying up, little shoes smacking the pavement, going nowhere, just toward the flat-out euphoria of his body moving through space. I welled up and thought remember this remember this remember this.

Sure, he cried when I washed his face in the bath later, and left most of his rice on the floor, and whined when I put his arms in the sleeves of his pajamas, but I had that moment.

The thing is, that moment is boring. In fact, I’m sorry for boring you with it. If there’s a way of sharing the beauty without sounding braggy or hacky, I haven’t figured it out.

I do know this: I rarely feel happier or more connected after checking FB or Twitter.

There is often documentation of some social function from which I suddenly feel horribly excluded.

Intellectually, I know it’s just an illusion. Stanford proved it. No one is as happy as I think they are, and of course, I understand nobody posts a shot of their positive herpes test with a :-(

Armed with this new information, I can at least adjust for the human condition. I can assume your reunion was 33% less “awesome” than it looks, and that your kid probably crayons the wall after eating a frozen dinner you failed to chronicle for an album titled “Sodium won’t kill him.”

This column originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

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.

Oprah, I Never Should Have Doubted You

General StuffTeresa Strasser25 Comments

It was worth having a kid just to know that Oprah didn’t lie to me. I thought she was pandering her ass off when she’d stare into the camera at her audience of stay at home moms and tell them, “You have the hardest job on earth.”

C’mon, you’re better than that Oprah, I’d think to myself. Eye rolling became one of my Favorite Things.

Here’s what I didn’t know: Whether or not you like gambling – and I never have­­ – when you’re a mom every hand is all in. The stakes are painfully high and there’s no leaving the table. Ever.

If I tune out at my radio job, maybe I mispronounce Fallujah or Jermajesty. I make a mistake on baby duty? My kid drowns in a bucket of water and I end up on “Dateline.” They replay the same thirty seconds of footage of me from happier times over and over in slow motion, laughing and kissing what used to be my baby. A grave and deliberate voice-over will introduce the grisly tale, which will be titled something like “Drowning in Guilt.”

At work, maybe I say something spectacularly mundane, at worst, maybe I slip and drop an F bomb and get fired. That’s bad, sure, but not as bad as turning my back for a second at the park just long enough for my son to shove a leaf in his mouth and asphyxiate.

Every moment, I’m one choking hazard away from a cautionary tale.

I get distracted as a mom, and next thing you know I leave my baby in the car thinking I’ve dropped him off at daycare, he overheats in a tragic and stupid accident, and I’m right back on “Dateline.” One sloppy baby-proofing job and my boy is guzzling nail polish remover and chomping fistfuls of Ambien thinking, “These Skittles are kind of lame. I’m tired. Nighty-night forever.”

Aside from the unimaginable pain of losing one’s child, I’ll be that lady – the lady whose baby drowned in two inches of water in a bucket. For life, I’ll be the mom who let her kid choke on a leaf because she was checking email on her iPhone. There’s nothing worse you can be in this life than a bad mom, so if you let your kid overdose on Ambien, you have a serious PR problem to go with a lifetime of guilt and loss. And it’s going to be hard to get another prescription.

As a working mom, I can honestly say that going to “work” is like a vacation, because the worst that can happen there really isn’t that bad compared to the ever-present possibility of turning my back for two seconds as my son flips off the changing table into a long-term coma. Working is quarter slots, sipping a watered-down drink, just killing time until the buffet opens. Being responsible for a human life, the one nature has designed you to love and protect, is being pot committed, every second. You may have a pair of threes, but you just keep sliding chips into the pot until you’ve mortgaged everything you have and pawned your gold teeth to stay in the game. You may have to hit the emotional ATM all night long, but you have no choice, nervous as the size of that pot is making you. You can sweat and fidget all you want, but you just can’t leave. It’s like an awful Eagles song.

Sorry I thought you were pandering, Oprah.

I just assumed you had to suck up to moms, that you owed it to them for their boundless devotion, for their categorical embracing of a tycoon with a pack of Cocker Spaniels and servants.

I assumed Oprah was just making moms feel meaningful as they defrosted chickens, vowed to get to Curves to lose those last 20 pounds of baby weight, ordered diapers in bulk online, vacuumed partially masticated cheese puffs out of couch cushions, poured capfuls of detergent on mounds of laundry, and prepared to climb into the mini-van for either a grocery run or to drive into a tree.

Yeah, yeah, I would think. I know it’s probably dull and trying being a mom. I know you have to shape young minds and the children are our future and all. I know you have to set boundaries and make rules and be a bummer and please and thank you over and over and eat your vegetables. I know. But is parenting the hardest job? Wouldn’t that be running a Fortune 500 company, sitting on the Supreme Court, dismantling bombs, air traffic controlling, or being a theoretical physicist, chess master or cellist or something?

Now I get it. The stakes. That’s what I couldn’t have understood before. Cellist. Cellist, my ass.

Sure, the average 23 year-old mom might not consider every grim possibility, cause she hasn’t watched as much Oprah as I have, but I do.

Yes, There’s something about the combination of aching boredom (at least at the baby stage, sorry, newborns aren’t that scintillating all the time) punctuated by moments of transcendent parental joy, all coated with a thick paste of danger and shellacked with a coat of exhausting hyper-vigilance that is unmatched by any other “job.” Coal mining, yeah, that’s boring and grueling and dangerous, but if you screw up, you don’t kill your kid. So parenting is basically like coal mining without the lunch break.

And this is why I shouldn’t write Mother’s Day cards.

That is so much darker than I mean it to sound, because only if you have something of value does the losing of it haunt you.

Being a mother is everything great I thought it would be: I don’t sweat the small stuff, my priorities are reshuffled in a good way, I don’t waste as much time worrying about who likes me or whether or not I’m good at things, I’ve experienced the refreshing lack of self-involvement that comes from total focus on another human being. It still feels foreign, like a play princess outfit I’m trying on at the store every time I say it, but “mom” really is the title I’m proudest to have, and when the kid clings to me because he’s scared and I’m comforting, I do feel a rush of achievement, because I’m that person for him. I just have to get used to the idea that while I used to see myself as a nickel poker kind of girl, I’m a high roller now.

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.

Me Trying to Avoid Lame Book/Baby Metaphors. Failing.

General StuffTeresa Strasser30 Comments

Books, like babies, are hard to deliver. They can tear you apart on the way out. I finished the first draft of my book this week. The baby, well, that rough draft will be on my hard-drive for years to come. I hope Buster will be compelling, rich and hard to put down, but if he ends up in the remainder bin, I guess that will also be on me.

Like having a baby, writing a book is something I thought I could never do, even though I’ve been a writer since I was 19, even though I’ve been turning out copy for years, I didn’t see how I could be an actual “author” a title that, like “mother” seemed too saintly and profound to ever belong to me. There are other parallels, although while babies and books are both challenging and life-changing, the baby at least smiles at me, whereas the book deadline mostly just glowered.

When I was writing the early chapters, sneaking off to the library in four-hour increments and pumping breast milk in the car of the library parking lot, I often wondered what I had gotten myself into, a sentiment that I assume other new moms feel from time to time about motherhood itself.

This morning, without the book crying to be picked up and rocked and fed, I took the baby to the park, where I realized that what mostly happens at the park in the early hours involves vagrants collecting cans and old people doing what appear to be very specific and very strange workout routines. As Buster looked up at the trees chewing on his lip, an elderly woman strapped her elastic exercise band around the slide in the playground for some squats. She eyeballed us like, “What the hell are you doing at my gym?” and we looked back like, “Listen lady, we got a lot of hours to kill so deal with it.” Meanwhile, an even older dude stretched his hamstrings out on the swing set.

Buster is decent company. He doesn’t just smile with his gummy mouth, but seems to express joy with his entire body. At just under six months old, I take this as a good sign that he’s turning out all right so far. On the other hand, he is easily bored, and taking care of him is often a matter of switching his position every five minutes, moving him from station to station at home (the ExerSaucer, the play mat, the pack and play, the bouncy seat, and back to one) or engaging him with various toys, songs and positions while out and about. Either he isn’t the kind of kid, or isn’t at the stage, to amuse himself for long periods of time.

It dawns on me that you can be a good mom, attached and in love, while also finding this time in your child’s life mind numbingly dull at moments.

I’ll shut up about comparing the book and the baby, because that can only lead to cloying metaphors about chapters ending and the future being unwritten, and I don’t want to sound like that Natasha Bedingfield song I’m embarrassed to like. I hope the book is good. While it’s a memoir about being pregnant, it turns out that the process for me wasn’t just about dealing with acid reflux and the like, but about exposing the other stuff that comes up and burns, the issues about my own mother, whether I would turn out like her, how motherhood like my old clothes, might not ever fit right.

Writing this blog helped, the posts were like notes I kept along the way. Still, the term “mommy blogger” makes me gag more than morning sickness, and I’m not sure why.

When I was a columnist, and wrote about being single, I hated being called “singles columnist” because it seemed so reductive and belittling, and I was just writing about my life, which at the time, involved dating. Now, I’m still writing about my experience, and I guess that makes me a “mommy blogger,” and I guess it’s snooty to think to myself, “I’m not some lady who had a kid and now thinks she’s Irma Freaking Bombeck; I was a writer before.” And let’s face it, the good mommy bloggers have figured out how to make money from their online enterprise, and I certainly haven’t done that yet, which makes me an amateur baby exploiter and only two-bit mommy blogger at best.

Only now, I’m dangerously close to also being an author. Because books kind of raised me, when my mother shut her bedroom door and left with me with a stack of them, I only hope the book I birthed can do the same for someone else, just keep her company for awhile. Or him. Whatever. I gotta sell books.

As for Buster, he didn’t kill my dream or turn me into a bore, as I sometimes feared. For one thing, I was already a bore, and for another, having a baby not only gave me new material to exploit (why else have one?) it also gave me the discipline to just hack away, a page at a time, knowing there wasn’t some brilliant, perfect, literary masterpiece out in the ether that I could never capture, but just the simple things I have to say, pedestrian as they may be, the best I can do and still make it home in time to nurse the baby and relieve the sitter.

When I had a child, I lost the right to show up only when I feel inspired. While that’s not something I would have thought to put on my baby registry, it’s a gift I love almost as much as I love my ExerSaucer. And I love my fucking ExerSaucer.

I Said A Lot of Things

General StuffTeresa Strasser106 Comments

One promise I kept: not to take one of these photos. Ever. I was full of pronouncements before I had this baby.

While new moms seemed to whine incessantly about not having time to shower, in a triumph of will and excellent planning, I was going to be the impeccably groomed mother of a newborn. I would make time for blow-outs and pedicures and basic hygiene, because I’m vain, own 17 tubes of lip gloss, refuse to wear too-tight Juicy Couture sweat pants and be all sacrifice-y and bland.

Cut to me sitting around in my own filth with breast milk stains on my husband’s giant plaid shirt, spit-up on my jeans and hair so dirty that when I finally went to the salon, the hairdresser asked me, with more genuine curiosity than disdain, “How long has it been since you’ve washed your hair?”

“Maybe four days?” I lied, before playing the new mom card. And there I was, in that second, manifesting the cliché and flying right in the puffy face of my own naïve declaration. On top of which, I had to ask the hairdresser to hurry it up, the sitter was waiting. The sitter was waiting. This is my life now. I’m this person.

It’s not unusual for me to take a hooker shower in front of the bathroom sink with a couple of baby wipes and almost no shame.

Like I said, I made a lot of pronouncements.

I also proclaimed I would never be one of those moms who has entire conversations about my child’s poop. So, last night I Googled “green poop” on my iPhone while nursing and have now had lengthy conversations with several moms about the causes and potential dangers of green poop. (Just so you know, poop is only concerning if it’s white, black or red, according to Babycenter.com.)

Now, I get it, I get the poop talk. As a new mom, I’m just trying to do right by Buster and he is very limited in his modes of communication. At ten weeks old, he has to let his poop do the talking. We have even photographed the green poop, lest our idea of green and our pediatrician’s differ. Mint green? Forest green? Mossy green? Let’s break out or camera and show you the exact hue. On my camera, there is more than one picture of my child’s poop. This is my life now. I’m this person.

To anyone who would listen, I announced that you would never catch me in any kind of Mommy and Me bullshit, or one of these New Moms support groups at the Pump Station. Now, I’m desperate to fit one into my schedule. If you have been a mother for even one day longer than I have, you know things I don’t and you have things to teach me. Whereas I used to assume I would never fit in with women who would populate these classes, that I would never be one of the stroller lugging mom masses who give a shit about the tensile strength of swaddle cloths or the most effective diaper cream, now I just want some more mom friends. These days, it’s not unusual for me to practically molest moms I see on the street, at restaurants, anywhere, peppering them with questions: Do you like that baby carrier? Does it hurt your back? How long did you breast feed? How long does your baby sleep? When did she start sleeping through the night? What exactly is a Sleep Sheep? Did your baby ever get a rash on her cheeks? What pediatrician do you go to?

I start feverishly taking notes about whatever sleep schedule DVD or book she says was the magical sleep maker. I buy it all.

When I get a mom in my clutches that seems to have her shit together, I don’t stop at the easy questions, I pry her for information about vaccines and anything else she seems open enough to reveal.

Just like the new kid in school who is trying to fit in, I’m starting to inch up to the mom crowd, to figure out what they wear and how they act and think. The clerk at the Pump Station told me that the Monday afternoon support group is empty, because all the moms go the Mommy and Me movie over at the Grove that day. Get there early on Tuesdays, she added, because it’s standing room only. And I realize, the moms travel in a flock, and maybe I’d be better off getting in formation than flying solo.

If I go where they go, maybe I can learn what they know. Part of me is still wary of joining, because I want to do everything my own way, but I’m starting to think my own way sucks and that there is an inherent wisdom to the flock. Besides, in every social situation I’ve ever been in, I always find the one other girl who feels like a complete outsider and we become friends, even if that bond is at least in part based on judging everyone else who seems happier and better adjusted.

What I’m saying is this: yes, I am sitting here in public (very public, at the Public Library, in fact, where a girl can look homeless and stink a little without bothering any of the registered sex offenders) wearing what is really kind of a nightgown with ankle socks and sneakers. This is my life now. I don’t even care. I’d rather not run into any ex-boyfriends, but essentially I don’t care.

I said a lot of things before.

I said I would never use a picture of my child as my profile photo anywhere, because I would rather lose my identity in more subtle ways. While I’ve resisted, my cell phone wallpaper photo is just Buster, no me, no dad, just the boy. That is a gateway baby photo, which can only lead to more serious use of the baby’s picture to stand in for my own. It’s happening.

Only stone cold bores and anti-intellectual twats spoke for their infants, imbuing them with all kinds of adult thoughts and feelings they could never, ever possess, the way a spinster announces that Mr. Fluffy loves “Friday Night Lights” but doesn’t care for the sound of the mailman’s voice. That would never be me, I said.

That was before my soul took a dip in maternal hormones and dried off only to find it appropriate to say, “Buster has a crush on you” or “Buster is flirting with you” or “Buster loves Jimmy Page guitar solos” or “Buster just can’t wait to see grandpa” or “Buster feels so dapper in his cardigan” or “Buster just loves his bath.” Like I know what the fuck that guy thinks or feels.

The fact is: I don’t show shit. I literally don’t know shit about shit.

I don’t know why poop is green or if it matters, I don’t know what goes on in my child’s mind, if anything, or how best to plan his nap and feeding schedule so he sleeps through the night, or when to stop swaddling him or what causes a baby rash or if I should really stop eating milk or nuts or soy or whether he really needs all of his vaccines on one day or if he’s fussier than other babies or cries more or sleeps less or if, in fact, he is totally average. Do I hold him too much or not enough? I just don't know.

It’s like I met a guy, fell in love at first sight, flew to Vegas to get married that day, and woke up a couple of months later to find I was madly in love with a stranger.

I know I love the child, because when I listen to John Denver songs and look down at him I cry right onto his onesie with a feeling of euphoria I can only call narcotic (later I cry because my stomach still hurts from the C-section and I just want to put him down, but he needs to be rocked all the livelong day).

Yeah, I'm certain I love him, I just don’t know him, or if there is much to know. I'm not totally sure how to make him happy yet, or how best to care for him, so until I get that down, which may be never, all of my pronouncements are out the window.

When he smiles up at me in the morning, squirming on his changing table, it’s like a shot of morphine right to my heart. I spend the rest of the day chasing the dragon.

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.

My Dad Writes a Letter to the Editor

General StuffTeresa Strasser47 Comments

My dad holds Buster, who he will soon exploit for letter-to-the-editor *  A Note: People who write letters to the editor to their small town newspapers are generally crazy old coots. That may be true of my dad, but he makes some solid points nonetheless. As those who have heard me talk about my dad ad nauseam on the radio already know, he was an auto mechanic for 35 years (alternators, generators and starters) and now tutors kids part-time. He probably reads a couple books a week, as well as renting out his services to whack the weeds from neighboring lawns for $50. He is my idol. And possibly a crazy, old coot. Here is a letter he wrote to the venerable Record-Bee:

Letter to the editor:

A few weeks ago I went to Los Angeles to be with my daughter and son-in-law at the birth of their first child (and my first grandchild). It would be a C-section and we knew that going in: A week before, my daughter was handed a sonogram which said “Frank Breech.” Her first  thought  was  that she had gotten the sonogram of the wrong child, a child named “Frank Breech.” She was soon to realize that “frank breech” means the baby is lined up to come out feet first, just the opposite of ideal.

The night before the surgery they took me to see  the new Michael Moore movie, Capitalism, A Love Story.  The movie had a newsreel of FDR, filmed  a year before his death, earnestly expressing  his vision of the fulfillment  of the New Deal. FDR enumerated four things that every American should have: healthcare, decent housing, a decent  job, and an education. That is the legacy I want to leave for my grandson. And, I want that for all children.

Then I thought, “what good are all these things if there is no planet?” And, how can we do any of these things while our precious resources and genius and life are spent  on the folly of foreign wars?

What to do? I am prone to get self-righteous: I ride my bicycle to work a few days a week, I don’t eat meat, I go to Democratic Club Meetings, I occasionally volunteer to help. I tell people about  what a champ I am (and, by implication, what losers they are) and it all makes me feel good. However, the reality is that I have not made a damn bit of difference. This thought leads to a “pity party.” But, then I remember the words of Norman Mailer, “self-effacement is the worst manifestation of the ego.” The other side of “self-righteous” is “I suck.”

But, they are two side of the same coin and only cause my mountain bike tires to spin. That having been said, I feel that I should try to work toward some worthy ideals. And, as the character of Shirley McLaine put it in the movies, “There aren’t  that many shopping days ‘til Christmas.”

Somehow, I began to think about Lech Walensa  and the Solidarity movement in Poland during the Cold War. At one time, I had thought  that the movement  spontaneously grew out of the working class. I was to find out later that that the movement  was born at a meeting of  a few college professors. “Solidarity” was born as an idea. Maybe, what we need are ideas.

However, many of the folks that have ideas have those ideas influenced by corporate power  (money). Most of the elected leaders that I see on TV are gray haired men, widening at the girth, wearing big shiny rings, drooling with self-satisfaction, and taking care to do and say the things that will perpetuate their time in office.

So, here is my thought: change must come from the bottom (us). We need some ideas to fuel that change, and as starters, what better ideas than those propounded by FDR?  I think that most of us could rally around those four crucial ideas. When my grandson or better yet, all our grandchildren ask us what we were doing when the dream soured, we better have an answer.

Nelson Strasser

Other Pregnant Ladies Kind of Ignore Me

General StuffTeresa Strasser62 Comments

Getting all self-reflective and shit.

Hey other pregnant ladies, quit avoiding my gaze.

All I want to do is chat you up, and find out how many weeks pregnant you are and maybe talk some shop – you know, where you’re delivering, what you take for heartburn, what you think of cord blood banking and the new iPhone app that times contractions.  I just want to be friends, pregnant strangers.

I’ve never done this baby thing before, and I’m always hoping we’re going to see each other and do a secret handshake, and have a moment.

However, it seems you gestational types aren’t that into me. For a while, I tried to smile at you when I saw you in line at the movies, or feeding your meter, or buying groceries. I tried to look welcoming, but you looked right past me, and off I went with my tail between my crampy legs.

It’s not like you don’t see me. Yeah, I’m the one that looks like a physics problem, like I shouldn’t be able to stand upright without toppling over. At first, I wanted to assure you that I wasn’t just carrying my weight in a very unfortunate manner, make sure you knew I was really pregnant, so I would rub my stomach in that ginger way only pregnant women do, but no dice. You and your fetus snub my fetus and me. The truth is, I’ve been a social disaster most of my life, so I’m not unfamiliar with the sensation, I just can’t figure out why this dismissal is so pronounced.

Honestly, if we ran into each other wearing the same shoes or handbag, we would probably at least look at each other and chuckle and maybe say, “Nice purse,” or “You have great taste.” A richly hued and hilarious interaction it would not be, but a human connection, yes. If I were walking a mini-schnauzer and so were you, we would stop and have a chat about our doggies, compare schnauzer notes. Arguably, an entire friendship could spring forth from this one, shared characteristic. If we were both wearing Phillies hats, or driving Mini-Coopers, or reading “Eat, Pray, Love” at The Coffee Bean, there would be a warm interaction, but both heading into child birth (big deal) and motherhood (biggest deal ever) and nada. Nada?

Important point: this pregnant girl snubbing only pertains to complete strangers.

I have now made three new friends, simply because we are all pregnant at the same time and mutual acquaintances hooked us up. I love these moms-to-be and seeing them feels so right and comfortable that even when we don’t get together, we end up texting and emailing all day. I’m more pregnant than two of the girls, giving me a few extra weeks of wisdom, which is a luxury in a situation that is so new I mainly feel like a bloated dunce who is constantly faced with decisions she can’t understand. That’s right, I’m 33 weeks pregnant and have yet to choose a hospital, a name for the baby boy or even a brand of nipple pads. I’m lost, and sometimes euphoric, and 40 pounds heavier and three cup sizes bigger and 20 degrees hotter than I ever was.

Pregnant ladies who walk right by me on the sidewalk and turn away like I’m about to make you sign a petition about saving marine life, I know you can relate.

So I can only imagine there is some sort of animal kingdom thing at play here.

When I see you out and about, I sense you getting protective about your personal space and your baby. Maybe this is insane, but it’s almost like I represent a threat, another mother bear that might somehow compromise your safety or shrink your available resources. Is there something evolutionary going on, as in, that lady better not get more shelter, berries, attention or protection from strong males in the tribe?

Alternatively, this could be endemic to the Hollywood, Los Feliz, Hancock Park areas where I live and write in various coffee shops and drop off dry cleaning and wander. Last week, I was in the Valley and struck up a conversation with a lady who was nine days overdue and she was perfectly genial. The Valley could be a less competitive and more family-friendly place. Maybe it’s just more relaxed in the 818.

Or, both of these theories could be bogus. In the classic horror movie, “When a Stranger Calls,” the most chilling moment is when cops tell the terrorized babysitter, “The call is coming from inside the house.” There is a decent chance that this call is coming from inside the house, the house being my own haunted mind. Either I am unknowingly giving off a cold vibe that freaks out the women I’m trying to befriend, or I’m reading into this parade of pregnant girls some animosity that doesn’t exist.

Like I said, my social skills have never been great.

In the end, this could all be solved with an ice-breaking secret handshake. Or if that’s too intimate, maybe we just throw up a sign, one finger per trimester, sideways, OG style, and know for a sly, passing moment that we’re in the same crew.

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.

Babymoon in Vegas: Bet on a Crisis

Favorite Posts, General StuffTeresa Strasser55 Comments

vegas

On the way to Vegas, things start to go wrong, as they so often do, at the Mad Greek.

Within a couple of hours, I will be trying to locate the nearest hospital, but now I’m just waiting for the beefy, sunburned guy in front of me to stop yelling at the clerk about his $3, and how it was her mistake, and how he’s going to file a claim with the state. Behind me, a man eats sullenly at a booth with his well-behaved toddler, who silently chews one fry after another.

The place smells of coconut sunscreen, with base notes of diesel and feta.

Soon, I will make my husband promise I won’t end up at Summerlin Hospital, 20 minutes or so from the Strip. My mom – whom I haven’t talked to in a year – lives in Vegas, so I know it’s nearby.  I have no idea if what is happening to me is serious, all I know is that I don’t want to end up at Summerlin, because you go there to die, or at least my stepfather did. When he passed (as Hemingway would say “gradually and then suddenly”), his death certificate described him as “white” and his cause of death as leukemia.

Only he was black. And died of congenital heart failure.

Probably an honest mistake, but doesn’t point to great attention to detail. That place reminds me of sloppiness and slipping away, and while I have a long history of being lukewarm on my own existence, the pull to keep this baby safe is tethering me to this world like nothing else has.

Baker, CA is right off the I-15. I’ve broken down here many times. In the past, it was just my car overheating, or my psyche decompressing from a weekend with my mom, and her wall of bird-themed paintings, and her obsessive studying of restaurant menus, and her autistic tuning out. This time, however, it’s my body. I’m 29 weeks pregnant, it’s 110 degrees, I have no business being at the Mad Greek no matter how much I love their greasy pita bread and fresh strawberry shakes, no matter how much I think the me that will show up in Vegas for a last hoorah won’t look like she’s in her sixth trimester, or have trouble breathing, or be sure she’s washed up in show business or be concerned her baby won’t be healthy or his life won’t be perfect.

The third trimester is no time to head into a desert, no less toward Vegas, a city filled with smoke-choked casinos, frat guys who shove you insouciantly on elevators, free booze you can’t drink, mile-long walks to everything, crypto-hookers whose frosted hair and legginess is an attack on your swollen feet and Target maternity maxi dress.

I begged my husband to take me to Vegas, because I was doing what they call in recovery programs “pulling a geographic.” As in, If I just leave Colorado, I won’t wake up in my own vomit anymore because I’m not an alcoholic, I just need to move to Boston. Instead of just going on a normal “babymoon” to say, temperate San Diego, I decide that in Vegas, I’ll be the old me. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you, which is one of the annoyingly true bumper stickers they tell addicts. The same is true of pregnancy, and the crappy mood that has come with it for the last couple of weeks, and the not working and the visions of myself rocking a baby with spit-up on my shoulder staring blankly at a freshly painted yellow wall and asking myself, “Is this how I’m supposed to feel?”

In Vegas, or even en route, I am still big and uncomfortable and scared with a tinge of pre postpartum. Only on I-15, I don’t drink any water because I’m nervous about having to pee.

At the Mad Greek, I order an omelet. When the cashier asks me what kind of toast I want, I hesitate, ask what they have. I mumble “French,” and look backward at my husband as if to ask, “Do I really want French bread toast? Will that taste good to me? Would I prefer wheat? Who am I?”

He snaps. “Yes. French. Good.” Only I would know he’s snapping, because he’s a subtle snapper. My husband has a very long fuse and almost never loses his temper, but when you’re seven months pregnant, you can’t sustain even a small snap.

I slide into a booth as he orders, sip on my fountain drink, eye the kid eating his fries. Feel a kinship with the little dude in his denim overalls, because we both seem lost and like we need our mommies.

My husband returns with our food which we both just stare at until I tell him I didn’t like him snapping at me, and he apologizes, and admits he has spent the last two hours regarding the temperature gauge, worried he was going to break down on the side of the road with his pregnant wife. He’s been worried about lots of things, he admits, being a good enough provider for us, having enough room, having to move back to Koreatown so we can have a nursery, making sure the air conditioning is working and the windows are sealed. I tell him I don’t need much, and that he’s going to be a great dad. I start crying, wiping my eyes with scratchy Mad Greek napkins. He doesn’t touch his food, and his hands are shaking a little bit, which only happens when he’s really upset.

My nose starts to bleed, just a trickle. My stomach starts to cramp, and I figure this must be one of those Braxton-Hicks contractions I’ve heard about. I wipe my bloody nose, wipe my eyes, don’t mention the cramps because I’ve just finished assuring my husband there is nothing to worry about, that we won’t break down in the desert, that we’ll get the windows fixed, that I know he’ll provide us with all we need, that he married a girl who cries and bends but doesn’t really break.

The French bread is toasted on the outside and soft inside, so I eat the entire giant roll. We hit the road.

“This trip is going to be great from now on. I was just worried about getting you there. Now, I’m psyched,” he says chirpily, but most of his food is crusting over on the plate he tosses into the Mad Greek trash.

The cramps abate until we exit the 15 in Vegas. Only now, they are about ten times worse than extreme menstrual cramps. I have to take off my seatbelt. I check the clock, and it’s been 20 minutes or more. I quietly Google “Braxton Hicks” on my iPhone so as not to panic my husband, and from what I can tell, those last a short time, and this isn’t letting up. About a half an hour goes by, which is when I decide to tell my husband just in case I’m having preterm labor.

I’m doubling over now. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to walk through the lobby of the hotel without some help, but I can’t panic the Mr. because this whole stupid Vegas thing was all my idea and it was obviously completely idiotic.

Somehow, we make it to our room at the Palms, call our doctor, who says I’m dehydrated. Drink water, he says, rest, and if things don’t improve in two hours, call.

My husband pours me a bath and I drink four bottles of Smart Water. In two hours, I’m fine. I glance out the window at the Palms pool, where it’s “Ditch Friday,” a packed party the locals call “sweaty ball soup.” Part of me feels like I’m watching children trick or treat from behind a curtain, nursing a case of mono, but most of me feels I’m exactly where I should be, cool and safe, away from the blaring Kanye and the pool-friendly canisters of Miller.

Sometimes I make bad decisions, I drive right into oppressive heat and smoke.

Often, I wonder what’s on the other side of this pregnancy, whether being a parent will be a blissful shuffling of priorities or just something else that’s supposed to come naturally to me, but doesn’t. I’m tired of grubbing for gold stars to justify being alive, and I wonder if caring for another human being and loving him as well as I can will be gold star enough.

Sitting naked at the desk in the room, cramp free, my husband rubbing my shoulders, I think I’m almost ready to qualify as a mom, because I’ve never felt so protective and so relieved. As long as Buster is okay, I don’t care about being a has-been (that barely was), or having kind of a double chin now, or wearing outfits Kate Gosselin would suggest are too “middle America” or gaining 45 pounds. I don’t care that I’m not at the party pool; I don’t dance, I’ve always hated crowds and I burn. I don’t want to be down there, or back home, or in my old body, or anywhere else. My husband demands I drink another bottle of water, and I imagine him with Buster in a Baby Bjorn, holding my hand, and I don’t know how I ever got out of the desert intact.

I only know as sure as I can take a wrong turn, I can right myself, usually by just sitting still.

Episiotomy: A Cut Above (the anus)

General StuffTeresa Strasser60 Comments

Lyricist of my vaginal nightmares. Let me throw these two words at you: fecal incontinence. Now that I’m seven months pregnant, I have finally gotten around to taking a break from worrying about what kind of mother I’m going to be in order to get to the urgent business of stone cold panicking about how this kid is getting out of me, and what damage he might do as he leaves. At my last doctor visit, we had the episiotomy talk, and now I can’t stop thinking about the potential slicing of my privates, or the uncontrolled tearing, or the aforementioned fecal freaking incontinence, which happens to some women after childbirth.

According to Rod Stewart, “the first cut is the deepest,” but I think it’s safe to say any cut that might lead to bowel leakage is the deepest, at least emotionally and spiritually.

First and second trimester concerns seem almost quaint in their solvability. Nauseas? Enjoy some ginger chews and pop some B-12. Leg cramps? Stretch your calves before bed and eat a banana. Your baby’s head is too big to exit your vagina? Slice open the area between your anus and vulva, stitch it back up, and hope you don’t end up with the inability to control the seepage of gas and stools from your bowels due to a torn sphincter.

Perhaps I was intentionally fuzzy on the episiotomy thing. I wasn’t ready to know about my perineum. Call it squeamishness, or emotional immaturity, or just ignorance.

That is, until last week, when my doctor told me that he was a big fan or cutting, that most women will tear and if you do a preemptive cut, you can control the severity and direction, keeping the tear away from the bad place. Fecal incontinence and severe, lingering sexual pain averted.

Sounded reasonable to my husband and me, until we got home and consulted a few pregnancy books, most of which suggest that cutting is old school, and that perineum massage during labor can help the vaginal opening stretch, leading to just a small tear or no tear at all. Friends who have had babies are all over the place, some insisting, like my doctor, that cutting saves you from a jagged tear, others saying a rip is more natural and heals more easily.

I’m in labial limbo – okay, not precisely, but alliteration is so seductive.

At times, I feel guilty for making such a big deal out of this cut/tear thing when I’m bringing a person into the world. Why should I care so much about my little old vagina and anus? That’s when I come to my senses. This is a big deal. Fecal incontinence hangs in the balance. I have no idea which is best, and I assume it depends on you, your baby, your labor and I also assume that you probably want a doctor who hopes for a tear but makes a cut if need be.

I haven’t figure out what to do about this yet. I comfort myself with the notion that just as boots are made for walking and kidneys are made for filtering, vaginas are made for stretching. I should be fine. Sometimes, this is obvious, and other times, it ‘taint.

New Pregnancy Meltdown Caught on Tape

General Stuff, Preggisode VideoTeresa Strasser28 Comments

Can't breathe at night. Normal pregnancy symptom, I'm told. Still, it feels so torturous I keep expecting John Yoo to write me a memo.

The good news is that this middle-of-the-night meltdown was captured by the Mr. If I'm going to exploit my baby, why not start now by exploiting my baby-related meltdowns?

If you are pregnant and panicking 'cause you can't breathe, know you are not alone. If you are not, please enjoy a private but satisfying sense of superiority. That's what I would do.

Oh, and this is NSFW. Sorry, I’m short of breath, but long on swears.

Enjoy another offering from Sonny and Overshare.

Preggisode: Week 25, Suffocation from Teresa Strasser on Vimeo.

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Exploiting My Meltdown

Cracking Up: Not the Laughing Kind, The Crazy Kind

General StuffTeresa Strasser64 Comments

Feeling blue. Too literal?

With one goal in mind, to buy a car seat online, I sat with my laptop and a toaster waffle at the kitchen table this morning.

An hour later, I’m sobbing in bed, yesterday’s mascara smeared across my once white, noodle-shaped pregnancy pillow. There is a small chance I am cracking up, because I am weeping like Sally Field in “Steel Magnolias” during the funeral scene, only no one has died. Nope, I just can’t figure out which car seat to buy today.

Disproportionate emotional response + crying in bed before noon = going mental.

I consider calling someone, but how can I explain that I’m losing my shit because I can’t figure out the difference between a Snap-n-Go and a SnugRide?

I had wandered into an online netherworld of car seat bases, attachable strollers, locking clips, 5-point harnesses, boosters and retractable sun canopies. It’s like I didn’t get the travel warning from the Department of State telling me that going to the Republic of Car Seat alone was a bad idea. Honestly, I would have preferred taking a Sunday drive down Jalalabad Road in Kabul. That would have been more soothing.

There was no map, I didn’t speak the language, and I had not one coin of the realm.

When I went looking for an expert to translate, or at least tell me exactly what to buy, I found this on a popular baby site:

“Parents often ask which of the many car seats is the best car seat on the market. The truth is, the best car seat is the one that fits your vehicle, your budget, your baby and that you will use properly each time your baby rides in the car.”

Thanks, douche bag. That’s helpful.

You ever go to therapy and instead of just having your thoughts and feelings mirrored back to you (you seem angry at your mother, sounds like work is really frustrating right now) you just need the shrink to tell you what to do (break up with him, he has serious attachment issues and they aren’t going away)? Sometimes you need your GPS just to tell you which way to turn, not to ask you which route you think is best for you right now at this juncture of your life. Thanks, baby seat expert, for telling me I have to look within myself to find the right car seat for me, but I wouldn’t be going to you for answers if I had any clue so just give it up. Give me a link, a brand name, a model number, I’ll give you my credit card number, and let’s do this thing. Just tell me what to do because I am lost.

This isn’t a life or death decision, I try to tell myself as I click around.

Oh wait, I guess it is. There are numerous car seat experts telling me all of the things that  can do wrong, from buying a recalled model to installing it improperly. If you don’t want to take the time to figure it out, to purchase the perfect car seat system, it’s on you if the baby flies through the moon roof. It’s on you.

Worse than the overload, the onslaught of products and fear mongering and confusing plastic parts, are the reviews from moms on consumer sights. Wow. These are some opinionated ladies, and they know it all, know every niggling detail about why this travel stroller is too bulky for a trip to Costco and why that one has sub-par anchor straps.

I just wanted to have a baby with five seconds to spare before my fertility window flew shut on my fingers. I didn’t want to know about anchor straps.

It’s so difficult to work up any tolerance for these mothers, who post 400 word treatises on the relative merits of Britax vs. Graco. They intimidate me with their superior knowledge of which products are the most useful, and they rattle me to my very core with their single-minded momminess. I don’t like how repelled I am by these well-meaning strangers, who just need to share with the world, or at least to those on Amazon.com, how the cup holder on the Nautilus 3-in-I is just too darn narrow for baby’s fave sippy cup!

And maybe it’s not just about my inability to purchase the ideal base, seat, stroller combination that has me freaked, maybe it truly is the neighborhood. It’s Nightmare on Mom Street, where the monster doesn’t wear a clawed glove but instead dons a pastel yellow Slurp & Burp Nursing Cover Up and an all-consuming, full-time focus on babies and their gear. I’m six months pregnant. I live here now.

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.)

Don't Get in the Ring With a Sandwich

General StuffTeresa Strasser37 Comments

homerMy husband takes me to Ojai for the weekend, where we find a little coffee house in town and I order a veggie sandwich with pesto and Swiss cheese. I tell myself I’m going to eat only half of it, like an alcoholic tells himself it’s just a slice of rum cake and it won’t trigger a bender and than he ends the night with one shoe and 47 stitches at County General trying to remember his sponsor's phone number.

I am just going to eat half the sandwich, and wrap up the other half for later. And maybe a few bites of the fruit on the side, because you know, it is Ojai and everything’s organic and there must be some nutrients in there the baby sorely needs. Don’t want a fetus with scurvy just because I’m trying to keep the eating under control.

I feel like someone who has had gastric bypass surgery. My appetite is bottomless, but even half a sandwich makes me feel painfully full these days.

Every single time I eat, since about week 19 of pregnancy, it's like I just pushed back from the table after bingeing at some sort of Roman bacchanal. I am both starving and obscenely full almost all of the time. It’s weird for your mind to want something your body can’t tolerate, to be insatiable and over-stuffed, magnetized and repulsed, craving and bursting.

He ain't heavy, he's my fetus.

 

And as I’m ordering the sandwich, and planning just to eat half, I’m seriously considering a chai latte, because we’re on vacation and it’s a vacation chai, and I think I smell nutmeg and what could be as creamy and comforting as a warm spicy beverage on an overcast day. It's not a glass of pinot or a puff of a Camel Light, but everyone knows empty calories take away the empty feelings, or the uncertain feelings or make the thoughts stop skipping like a broken record in my brain: how much is childcare? Is my vagina going to rip when this kid comes out? How exactly do stitches in the vagina feel? Where are we putting the crib? Are we supposed to take some sort of parenting class? How much does that c-section thing scar? What is a layette and do I need one? My stomach itches. My stomach itches. My stomach itches.

And that’s where a giant sandwich stops the record skipping with the mollifying power of pesto. Of course, when you use a sandwich to solve a problem you than have two problems, especially if your stomach real estate is being encroached upon by a six month old fetus.

I eat the entire sandwich before I remember not to.

There is now a pressure on my diaphragm like someone has glued a 30-pound lead paperweight to my solar plexus.

A stupid sandwich from an Ojai coffee shop involves a two–hour recovery period and an existential crisis. And by dinner, all I can hear is the siren song of homemade cornbread, singing to me from a basket on the table, luring me into dark, carbohydrate infested waters, where I will find Davey Jones’ locker filled with pats of butter and frosted with chocolate ganache. 

Exploiting My Meltdown

Favorite Posts, Preggisode VideoTeresa Strasser75 Comments

Preggisode: Week 11 from Teresa Strasser on Vimeo.

If I'm going to exploit my baby, why not start now, by exploiting my pregnancy-related emotional problems?

In this video, my husband tapes me freaking out during my first trimester. Someone told us to keep a video diary. Self absorption meets hormone surge and they get along great!

The Mr. is just a regular guy who works for a computer company, which is why he adorably, but unknowingly, shoots right into a mirror. Still, he does a decent job tamping down the tears. I'd like to say we're kind of Sonny and Cher, but more like Sonny and Overshare.

Today's Edition of Good Mommy/Bad Mommy

General Stuff, Good Mommy/Bad MommyTeresa Strasser26 Comments

When it comes to moms, I don't really have much to brag about. My stepmother was evil and finally had the good taste to shuffle off her mortal coils, leaving nothing but mounds of debt and a lollipop tin full of ashes. My biological 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. Being five and half months pregnant myself, this is a preoccupation. So here is today's episode of Good Mommy/Bad Mommy.

Bad Mommy

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Yeah, it’s easy to kick around Dr. Laura, what with her intolerant comments about the gays and her idiotic decree that women should never return to work after becoming mothers (except for her, but that’s diff). She just released a new book, In Praise of Stay-at Home Moms, and I say, sure, they should be praised, but pack your bags if you don’t want to leave the work force, cause Dr. Laura is taking you on a long guilt trip. Think you might be valuable on the job? Prepare to tune into your local news one day and see the child you broke with your selfish “employment” picking off college undergrads with an assault rifle from a clock tower because that’s what happens if you don’t listen to Dr. Laura.

I digress.

This feature exists not to point out intolerant people, but simply those from whose vaginas I am happy I did not emerge.

There are times I enjoy her radio show, because she’s a talented broadcaster and it’s kind of fun when Dr. Laura snaps at callers and gets all “bottom line” on them, but when she comes back from commercial breaks and introduces herself as “my kid’s mom,” I get nauseous. Now, I’m pregnant, so I get to enjoy nausea all the time, but this catch phrase allows all of you to experience it with me.

I get it, the idea is to communicate that being a mother is Dr. Laura’s number one job. So, why does the whole forced endeavor seem like so much number two?

It’s one thing to take motherhood seriously, bravo to that, but it’s another thing to turn your grown ass child into your battle cry. Makes me appreciate the checked-out ghost of a woman that was my mother. In short, glad she’s not my mommy.

Good Mommy

On the other hand, how does this sound?

“What does my mom do? Oh, Nothing. Justice on the United States Supreme Court.”

 

<p>good mommy</p>

 

For some reason, ever since I first laid eyes on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s lace collar and tasteful gold button earrings, I felt a surge of longing. I would like nothing more than to crawl into RBG’s lap, have her pet my hair and tell me it’s all going to be okay. After which, she can explain to me what it was like to be the first woman to be on both the Harvard and Columbia law reviews. Ruthie wouldn’t be much for bragging, but after digging our forks into some of her homemade kugel, she would tell me all about her dissenting opinion in the case of Bush v. Gore.

If Ginsburg were my mommy, when things got tough, she would remind me of the time she learned Swedish just so she could co-author a book on judicial procedure in Sweden.

Ruth would be the kind of mommy who wouldn’t lecture, but simply do things like, say, undergo cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiation without missing a single day on the bench.

My wanna-mamma Ruth just had a second bout with cancer. She was released from the hospital after surgery, and just weeks later returned to work and attended President Obama’s speech before the joint session of Congress on February 24th, 2009.

Her own mother died of cancer just a day before her high school graduation, so Ruth and I would share a special maternal bond.

Her actual kids seem to be doing pretty well, those lucky fuckers. Jane is Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law at the Columbia Law School while James runs a classical music recording company.

Hope these kids realize that it least from where I sit, it looks like they won the mom lottery. I know I’m old as hell to be saying this, but I want Ruthie to be my mommy.

* I had to remove the photo of Dr. Laura's vag I posted. It was probably in bad taste and NSFW (just learned that one). Sorry for grossing anyone out. If you still want to see Dr. Laura's Bush, here ya go.

Pregnancy Reality Check From the Smoothie Dude

General StuffTeresa Strasser12 Comments

 

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I order a smoothie and the man doesn’t offer me a free boost.

“Can I get a Vitabek?” I ask.

“Umm. Those aren’t good for pregnant girls.”

And this is the first time someone, totally unprovoked, alludes to the baby. Just from looking at me.

Which makes today one of those times I know for sure that I’m pregnant.

This isn’t just something I want to be true. This isn’t just some fantasy my doctor and husband are in on, cooking up fake sonograms just to make me happy and using some other baby’s pre-recorded heartbeat sound to convince me. No, it’s on.

The confused background processing that passes for thinking in the pregnant mind can present this as a real possibility: every symptom, every item of clothing that no longer fits, every middle of the night leg cramp, every barely digested breakfast tossed into the toilet for the last five and a half months, these are all just figments, coincidences. It could be a delusion, a sham or a wishful trance. Or maybe I’m just carrying my weight all wrong these days.

There can’t really be a baby.

That would be too weird if you just wanted to have a baby, had unprotected sex, and two months later peed on a stick and got a plus sign and pregnant. That could not have happened. Not to me.

Yet this smoothie guy is a total stranger. He could not be in on it. He took one look at me and decided it would be a bad idea to offer me a boost. Because I’m PREGNANT. I tell him I think the vitamins will probably be okay, and he says he didn’t want to say anything to me because last time, the lady turned out not to be pregnant, so he just didn’t offer, and I check out the reflection of my belly’s profile in the glass door of the smoothie shop and announce, “Well, I really am pregnant, so don’t feel bad.” 

And the most banal of errands, just running out to get a raspberry banana smoothie, turns out to be pretty juicy.

(Carrie Bradshaw just vomited when she read that last line. Give me a break, they can’t all be gems).