Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

motherhood

Pregnant Again: It's A Do Over

General StuffTeresa Strasser28 Comments

I’d like to go to my senior prom again, but not be blackout drunk with a 26 year-old date.

For a brief period during which I hosted a basic cable decorating show, I was kind of famous. I wish I could be famous again, without having to emotionally implode from the cognitive dissonance of thinking I was a nobody and the world thinking I was somebody and the compulsive need to prove myself right. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t glower at people who shouted my name at airports. I would wave and smile. Like I deserved it.

If I could be pregnant, give birth and care for a baby again — oh wait, I can.

For once, life has given me a do-over. Of all the major life cycle events, the big moments, the passages and transitions, the ceremonies, beginnings and endings, of all the big deals I have screwed up just by being terrified of failing at them, I never get a chance to try again with the full knowledge of how I will look back at it. However, as I sit here four months pregnant with my second child, all I can think is: this pregnancy thing certainly is different when I don’t spend the day Googling “miscarriage causes” or “chromosomal abnormalities of Ashkenazi Jews” or “the dangers of eating soft cheese during pregnancy.”

The kid is just fine, my two year-old. What I couldn’t have predicted is that my love for him would give birth to some kind of ever-multiplying fear monster, that instead of just experiencing him growing in my stomach, or instead of just watching his tiny face sleeping, I would spend most of his early days on a maternal death watch. If he slept for too long, my heart would race, something was wrong. If he had the hiccups, or a rash, or a fever, or a crying fit, I knew the end was coming.

Sorry, this is dark. But I have to admit it. My love for this creature, before he was born and after, made caring for him a perpetual shift on the front lines of a little war I was losing against my own anxiety. Bad things happen. Terrible things happen. Those things still might happen to me, to this new baby, but I can tell you this: I truly don’t think my contemplation of doom either manifests or protects against it.

And another thing. Another thing about the first-born. You don’t know anything about anything. Or at least I didn’t.

Now, I can tell you how a Braxton-Hicks contraction feels as opposed to real labor, I can school you on when to take away a pacifier or how to pack a diaper bag. I already have a pediatrician, I even know the parking drill over there and it won’t panic me. I have a daycare. I have hand-me-downs. I know where to find indoor playgrounds and I can tell you which bookstores and restaurants in Los Feliz have changing tables in the bathroom. I got this.

The first time around, thanks to the omnipresence of www.babycenter.com, I knew exactly how many weeks and days pregnant I was, whether my fetus was the size of a plum or kiwi, whether it had eyebrows or a spleen yet. This time, I lose track. Sometimes, at least until someone offers me a cocktail, I even forget.

The most prominent symptom I had the first time around wasn’t morning sickness or bloating, though I had those, the most pronounced side effect of carrying a baby was acute self-absorption. It’s not that I was self-involved out of some sense of my own importance or awesomeness, I was just so scared something would go wrong that I somehow became convinced, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, no one had ever carried a baby to term before. I was the only pregnant person on the planet, it was all about me, my swelling ankles, my ultrasounds, my need to find a name, my due date, me. The thing about this pregnancy is that I’m finding it almost impossible to focus on myself, on all the bad things that could happen, while caring for a two-year old who needs me to play garbage trucks and spray Oxy-Clean on butter stains.

So, here’s to do-overs. Oh wait, I can’t drink.  Just pass the Camembert.

Insert Freakishly Small Hand Gesture Here

General StuffTeresa Strasser16 Comments

It had never come to my attention before a certain freckle-faced, scrawny, corduroy-pants-wearing bully named Robin brought it to my attention: I have freakishly small hands. I have hands like a carnie. I blame the bullies I knew before Robin for being off their game and letting the small hands slide. A bully’s whole raison d’etre is to notice any slightly unusual feature that could be exploited for mockery. Before Robin made it the subject of an impromptu song parody one afternoon in elementary school, I really hadn’t noticed the small hands. Neither had anyone else.

Every day, for maybe a month or two, Robin tormented me with her song.

And I’ll be honest. It was pretty catchy. The other girls would join in. Teresa has small hands, small hands, small hands. You get the idea.

There was no escaping. I could hide my hands in my pockets or behind my back, but that song was No. 1 with a bullet. And with a bully. The other girls, most of them generally pretty harmless, would fall under the cruel spell of the ditty and feel compelled to join in until the song swelled, overtaking the street outside of school, a chorus of curious and silly childhood angst.

This small hands thing is small potatoes compared to some of the bullying explored in the new documentary “Bully.” But for reasons I don’t fully understand, it was only the beginning for me, and the film reminded me of some of those times.

I was bullied that year, most likely because I had skipped ahead a couple of grades and was too emotionally immature to blend well with my peers. I was bullied even after rejoining my own grade level, but mostly on the public busses I took to school. Kids ripped the ribbons from my ponytails, made fun of my off-brand sneakers, pulled my hair, grabbed at my backpack.

In high school, one of only a handful of scholarship kids at a private prep school, I was frequently the subject of toxic rumors, mostly sexual in nature: I was pregnant (I was a virgin). I was a slut (see the former). I made out with some older boy in his car. You name it.

Just as Robin zeroed in on the small hands, sometimes I wonder whether the more sophisticated bullies zeroed in on something harder to see but just as enticing: the unstable home life, the chaotic family, the lack of any sturdy adult figures in my orbit. I was weak and insecure and wanted to fit in so desperately that I always got it just a little bit wrong, like an off-brand shoe, all ugly angles and loud Velcro.

What’s more, it’s not much fun for a bully if they poke you and you don’t bleed. I bled.

In a moment of exemplary parenting that stood out amongst her other mostly tuned-out, mediocre moments, my mom said the thing that would carry me through. These popular kids, she pointed out, they would all grow up to be bores, enjoying their finest hour now, in school. The nerds and geeks and losers, she said, would be interesting and creative. Inventive. They would rule the rest of life.

“Do you think Steven Spielberg was one of the popular kids?” she would ask, staring out the window, tucking her silk kimono around her waist.

It was a decent point. Still, I would have traded the prospect of my future creativity for a pair of real Adidas and some normal-sized hands, but I didn’t have that option.

If it turns out Spielberg was really popular in high school, I never want to find out about it.

Through the magic of social networking, I can track my mom’s predictions. Almost all of the popular kids I knew throughout my school life, including Robin, seem to be leading lives of quiet desperation. Of course, I am, too; mine is just louder, and doesn’t involve middle management or Friday nights at Ruby’s. As for some of the other kids that got picked on with me, it’s almost uncanny. An outcast boy from my fifth-grade class is one of the best-known children’s authors in the world. A pasty-faced girl with giant, red lips and thick glasses left high-school nerdom for a career as an international fashion model. Extreme facial features are terrible if you want a date to the junior prom, but awesome if you want to make a shitload selling cosmetics.

Me? I still have small hands. But they can work a keyboard just fine.

 

I Can’t Be the Badly Dressed Mom at Pick-Up Time

General StuffTeresa Strasser7 Comments

Today, I stopped home to change my outfit before picking up my kid from daycare.

What, because you never know who might snap a photo as I lure my child into his car seat with the whispered promise of a Grover juice box? No one cares. Except now that I’m a parent, I care deeply about lots of things that are totally meaningless. For example, what I wear when I fetch my kid.

It’s not that I want to impress the other moms, or the woman who runs the place, or her assistant. It’s that on some level, I need to impress them.

Or at least that describes the urgency with which I want to stroll in wearing skinny jeans tucked into high heeled brown suede boots with a casual but clearly expensive t-shirt.

It was one thing for me to show up places with a guacamole stain on my sleeve when I was only representing myself. Maybe it was even cute, not Zoey Deschanel in a romantic comedy cute, but I like to think it was close. Now that I’m a mom, for some reason it seems important to look important, or at least like I don’t eat in my car and buy accessories at Claire’s.

Yep, get ready, because this is one of those mom moments triggered by one of those daughter moments. Get cozy, it’s blame mom time!

It may not surprise you that keeping up appearances wasn’t exactly a thing to my mom, and bless her heart for being all free-spirited, but her free spiritedness cost me big time.

My mom wore what she wanted, regardless of the setting. Graduation from Confirmation class at Temple Sherith-Israel, the other moms wore knit separates and wrap dresses, my mom wore something with a batik feel, something Mrs. Roper might have sold at a yard sale after placing it in her “too loud” pile. My mom never shaved her armpits, but always wore sleeveless. Granted, it was San Francisco and the hippie thing was arguably fashionable, but not at Hebrew school.

Part of me wished she would see that, and bend to the obvious notion that all kids want to fit in, and by extension, they would like their parents to blend.

Blending is an important skill I had to teach myself, the way I taught myself table manners and cursive, because counter-culture childhoods kind of skip those stops on the growing up train.

Looks matter. And by that I mean the sideways looks you get when your mom is sporting an exotic beetle sized amethyst brooch to the dentist’s office.

What never fails to surprise me is the pressure I put on myself not to make a single mistake my mom made.

No epiphany about perfectionism or how shallow wardrobe is as an assessment of a person’s character is going to stop me from being aware of my wardrobe choices from now until I’m dropping my son off at his college dorm room (or visiting him in prison, I don’t want to jinx anything). I can’t hide how deeply I want to do better than my own mother, because I’ll be wearing it.

Ironically, I’ll be wearing wrinkle-free and appropriate clothing as I make a bevy of other untold errors in judgment that my son will go out of his way to avoid when it’s his turn. That’s how it is. We over-correct. In doing so, we make all sorts of other gaffes. There’s a closet full of ways to under-achieve, so grab whatever is on the rack. There’s something to fit everyone.

* Thanks to the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles for running this in print. 

Some Half-Baked Class I Took With My Kid

General StuffTeresa Strasser9 Comments

As a mom looking for shit to do with a toddler, I’ve kissed some frogs, and not just the kind at the zoo’s house of amphibians.

I try stuff. You never know what your kid might go for. And that’s how I came to visit the private home of a woman offering a bread baking class for kids. I made a reservation for the class online, paid via PayPal, and received an email with the super secret location of this teacher’s home up in the hills somewhere above Hollywood. I would be enlarging my son’s brain by exposing him to measuring cups, sensory experiences, dough, flour and the majesty of baking. After class, we would pack up our delicious handmade bread and I would drop him off at daycare — his frontal cortex enriched — just in time for his lunch and nap.

This is the stuff working mom fantasies are made of: the scent of bread baking, being with your kid on a weekday, maybe a gingham apron, maybe make it all up to him, a child rolling out dough, beaming up at you.

Like I said, I try stuff.

Because like most moms, I want my child to have delightful experiences, and of course to end up brilliant and well adjusted because of all my efforts. And that’s how we ended up at some lady’s dark, cramped house one Tuesday morning. There were no other students, just me and my two year-old and this lady’s fluffy black cat with big, topaz, saucer eyes looking at us like, “What the fuck are you losers doing here?”

The detailed email I got after signing up said to be early, so there we were, awkwardly standing around as she set up her kitchen for class.

“Play with blocks?” asked my son.

“Well,” said the baker lady in the sing-song voice of someone who has, perhaps, a little too much information about hippy dippy early childhood development methods, “We don’t normally take out the blocks, but since you came so early, here you go.”

She trudged to the back of the small house and emerged with some wooden blocks stored in an old FedEx box. We unpacked the blocks and played, but only after a stern (but pleasantly sing-songy) warning that the blocks MUST be put away.

Amusing a toddler in a dingy living room with a dozen wooden blocks and a suspicious cat works only for so long.

“When do you think you might start class?” I asked. No one else had arrived, and she wanted to wait.

“It’s just that you guys were soooo early. The moms get here pretty late.”

Okay. I can go with the flow for a while, but I had to get this kid to daycare before lunch or the whole day would crumble like a dry scone. And I wasn’t early because I was rude; I was early because that was the deal. Her informational email said so.

“Okay, I guess out of respect for how early you were, we can start,” she said. It was already 20 minutes after the official start time.

Again, a small thing that wouldn’t matter were I not plotting the day of one working mom and one antsy toddler who likes change in his routine about as much as Rain Man.

We commenced to a very lonely Welcome Song, during which there was only my son to welcome. We struck a metal triangle a few times with a mallet. Finally, it was time to bake.

There was no measuring, just some pre-made dough that we decorated with chocolate chips and jam. And it was kind of fun. Another mom eventually showed up with her toddler, and the kids were encouraged to play with a few dress-up items in a straw basket as the dough went into the oven. Trying to make conversation, I looked at my son in a pirate scarf and Snow White dress and mentioned he hadn’t played much dress up.

“You don’t have a box of dress-up clothes at your house?” the baker, also a mother of two, asked me.

“No,” I answered, thinking that would be the end of a not very rich conversation.

“Why not?” she countered, incredulous.

She wasn’t being judgmental as much as she was genuinely puzzled by my lack of parenting skills. It was almost as if I had admitted not owning a car seat. I thought about it, and tried to answer honestly, but wasn’t sure if I had walked into some weird attachment parenting thing about gender or imaginative play or something. Why didn’t I have a box of dress up clothes? Why didn’t I?

“I don’t know. Because I’m not a Montesorri teacher?” I answered, innocently, as the other mom turned to stare at me, dazed by my idiocy. Time stood still. The cat licked itself. Both women regarded me, and after sizing me up, decided in an instant I was probably more lazy and clueless than venal and closed-minded. We tacitly agreed to drop the subject.

We baked our dough, took it out of the oven and had a little tea party on the weedy lawn while the teacher gamely tried reflecting back every emotion the kids expressed. You want juice. You want to see the cat. You’re saying you want his cookie. You’re ready to go. And you might think the moral of the story is that I ended up at the home of some woman whose quasi-home-business of teaching kids to bake isn’t quite taking off and isn’t quite organized and lesson learned. But I might go back. For all I know, I should have my own dress up clothes. And a tea party on a lady’s lawn never hurt a lonely mom trying to find her identity in a box of make believe costumes and flour dust.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

General StuffTeresa Strasser10 Comments

A few months ago, I recorded an episode of "The Mental Illness Happy Hour" with host Paul Gilmartin.

I've gotten so much lovely feedback from those who have heard it, I thought I would post a link here. Also, I understand from social media experts it's good to update one's blog quarterly.

I must admit, I do own the Fear-Off. I have finally found a sport at which I can excel.

Personally, I enjoy hearing about other people's emotional problems. So, help yourself to some of mine on Paul's podcast and take a listen.

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.

So, Are You Having Another One?

General StuffTeresa Strasser24 Comments

"Desitin in my cuticles" is not the first line of a poignant country song, but I keep thinking it should be. No. Desitin in my cuticles is what concerns me when I'm asked the question I get at least once a day: "Are you having another one?"

Really, this should not be an annoying question.

It's a perfectly normal way for you to take an interest in my family and in me, and I don't mind it. In fact, I mind people who mind it. Moms of babies or toddlers who get twisted when asked if they plan on having another are like the women who wore "Touch the Bump, Get a Thump" t-shirts when they were pregnant. A human growing inside your stomach is compelling, and no t-shirt is going to change that. Similarly, when strangers or relatives see your baby hitting milestones, getting out of the crib and diapers, it is totally normal to ask if you will do this whole thing again.

What they are really asking--and the reason why this is a tough question to answer is, "Does this whole kid thing ruin your life, or did it work for you?" For me, both things are true.

I mean this with tremendous love and no regret; my life, as I knew it, is over. There will always be a part of me worrying about my child, whether he's at daycare or camp or college or on his honeymoon. So, I feel vulnerable in a way I never was before. It's terrifying, all this love and these high stakes. But, ruined is too strong a word, especially for something that can be so euphoric.

On that front, having another kid is sort of neutral because I am already in the game. How much harder can it be? Probably a lot. When I look at the infant toys now collecting cobwebs in the garage, a part of me never wants to go back. Just eye-balling that stupid, red baby play mat with cheap plastic mirrors and crinkly fabric birds and recalling "tummy time" or the washing of various breast pump parts makes me want to donate every single baby thing I own to the Salvation Army and say "Night, night" to ever reproducing again.

It's an inexplicable thrill ride to watch my two year-old suddenly string a sentence together or count to ten (even if he does throw in "three" where it doesn't belong). At the same time, there's a part of me that exhales when certain stages are over. When he gave up the pacifier, I thought, "Thank you. Thank you. No more scrambling for fallen pacifiers to wash. No more stuffing them in my glove compartment. No more." And a whisper in my head added, "Unless you have another one." Which explains the jar of pacifiers in a cupboard somewhere. I'm in baby purgatory, with a jar of pacifiers in one hand and a birth control pill in the other.

Most couples I see with two young children look pretty miserable. Or maybe I'm just seeing that because I'm scared. A big part of me wants to do it again, this time knowing how to take a temperature rectally and how to swaddle and not being so terrified and just taking in the joyful parts. Part of me wants a do-over, a second chance to live the peak moment of having a new baby, only without all the paranoia, the inexperience.

Each night, when I put on my toddler's pajamas and diaper, I cover his little bum with Desitin and there it is, the white paste that clings to your cuticles with the adhesive power of ten thousand barnacles. I can attack it with a towel, or go at it with a wet wipe, but that stuff is powerfully sticky. And I wonder if I'll miss it.

* This piece originally appeared in print via Creator's Syndicate and online at the Huffington Post.

Sharing the Shame

General StuffTeresa Strasser9 Comments

Parental shame is a two-way street, and my kid is already pedaling down it -- in the pink tricycle he insisted we buy him. Will I embarrass my son? Sure. That’s a given. But that dude is going to shame me, too.

Enough worrying about all I have done and will do to make him slink down into the front seat of life. It’s time to talk about me, and all parents, and how we sometimes get embarrassed, too.

Of course I’ll show up to soccer games in vintage mini-dresses suitable only if I were opening at Coachella. And 23. There’s no question that as a parent I’ll wear and say and do things that make him wish he lived in a group home in New Mexico sustaining the nightly possibility of being molested by his bunkmate. It’s a given that parents shame their children.

However, it’s a tricky thing to talk about being embarrassed by our kids. Because no matter how illogical it may be, messes they make will always seem a bit like our fault. And they may be.

Look, I don’t care if my son prefers a pink tricycle or wears a tuxedo to day care every day and goes to “Glee” camp. None of that does or would bother me.

However, when I look around with my new perspective as a mom, I see every human creature as someone’s child (I know, duh) and can’t help wondering: When your kid does something -- from mildly idiotic to massively criminal -- aren’t folks secretly blaming the parent? Even when they understand that a person has free will or some biological predisposition to act out, or is simply a full-fledged grownup who should be responsible for her own actions, don’t most people look a bit askance at mom and dad?

When Michael Douglas has a kid in jail, don’t we think "absentee dad"? If Lindsay Lohan were a shy veterinarian living in a condo with her accountant husband, would her parents seem like pieces of work?

I’m going extreme here for a second, but don’t worry. I’ll come back to the small stuff our kids do. I just need to make this point: Have you ever seen an interview with Jeffrey Dahmer’s father? That guy seems really normal, even caring.

His kid ate people.

Yesterday, my child didn’t want to leave the sidewalk because he was staring at a giant truck removing slabs of metal from the street. We sat there for 20 minutes. I tried everything -- getting down on his level, reflecting back his frustration, giving him a countdown. I finally had to pick him up and surfboard him to the car. The lady walking her dog in a chartreuse Juicy Couture sweatshirt? She judged me. The guy selling hot dogs in the parking lot? I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m an incompetent mom. Anyone without significant hearing loss within a mile radius? Well, it’s safe to say they thought I was using enhanced interrogation techniques on a high-value prisoner.

When you see a parent prying their screaming child out of a restaurant booth for a little timeout in the alley, trust me, that parent is acutely aware that his child’s behavior is reflecting on him.

My toddler was just being a toddler, and I was doing my best. Still, I got in the car and we both cried, and that kid, by way of a little garden-variety freak out, made me pretty self-conscious about my parenting and, thus, the very core of my being.

So, yeah, he’s not eating runaways.

There’s a continuum. You get credit when your kid gives the valedictory address or strikes out the side, and you get the blame when he eats people. Or, to work our way toward cannibalism, when your kid fails algebra, bites the teacher, gets busted smoking pot, gets a DUI, ends up at sober living, ends up on the pole, holds up a bank or just plain doesn’t write a thank-you letter to his grandmother, fair or not, that looks bad for you.

Keep Mr. Dahmer in mind. He has it worse than you do. While you're complaining about your kid’s pink tricycle, you know what he’ll be thinking? Eat me.

* This post was originally published in print by Creator's Syndicate and online by the Huffington Post.

On Second Thought

General StuffTeresa Strasser3 Comments

Even after 19 months as a mother, it’s not unusual for me to notice the car seat in my rearview mirror and for just a second think what is that doing there and whose car am I driving?

The gauzy vision of giving birth and instantaneously becoming a heavenly, patient, luminescent creature who instinctively knows what to do with her child? Wipe that from the cosmic Etch A Sketch.

I’ve been a second-guesser since way back. Let me tell you, it’s not one of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," and it most certainly doesn’t make parenting a nonstop joy. Just when I think I have an excellent idea about childrearing, it isn’t long before I send it back to my frontal cortex for a thorough and punishing review.

Gymnastics seemed like a great idea, for example. Build muscle, coordination and social skills, kill a couple of hours and come out with the ability to do a “front roll.” The place even has a coffee machine. I was feeling pretty enthusiastic about my find, until my son’s feet broke out in a rash accompanied by a fever and followed by vomiting.

Rinse, and repeat four times since we began gymnastics. Yeah, I’m like the Dr. House of moms. It took me a mere six months to realize that my child climbing on the same foam mats as 17,000 other toddlers in the greater Los Angeles area wasn’t such a good fit for his immune system.

Bela Karolyi would have been gentler on my child than pediatric drool. That was a landing I did not stick.

Really, I’m not sure how long I can play the new-mom card or when I’ll know exactly what I’m doing.

When choosing my pediatrician, I waited for that this is the one feeling, but settled for, “I like Canadian people.” And I loved her, mostly because she was a young mom with a child about the same age as mine. As it happens, she missed the viral infection and gave me some ineffective skin cream. And let’s face it, anyone with a toddler is hard to reach by phone, my doctor being no exception.

I know I didn’t know, but what do I know? I faltered on the beam big time.

Showing him an Elmo video on my phone seemed a brilliant distraction once when he was sick in the middle of the night. Now, every time he sees my phone, he freaks out and screams for “Elmo’s Song.” Don’t open Pandora’s box, because it’s filled with technology and Sesame Street characters.

Almost every bad idea could have been a great idea. If I hadn’t been up the past three nights tending to a kid with a fever, I could see that better.

That’s the paradox about new parenthood. Much like Navy SEAL training, we are expected to learn fast, under pressure, without sleep, and it’s life or death. Except you can’t ring the bell and bail (at least that’s how they did it in “G.I. Jane”). You can’t give up. So that leaves trying and failing, second-guessing, feeding him apples only to learn they make him choke, choosing a sitter only to find out she likes beer and hates clean dishes, buying generic diaper cream only to realize you never, ever go generic below the waist.

When the baby is well and we’re all rested and rash-free, I can embrace the trial and error nature of the whole endeavor. The rest of the time, I still can’t believe I’m actually behind the wheel. And as has always been true of my non-metaphorical driving, I’m not much for orienteering. I get there, but not without lots of backtracking and some dodgy U-turns. The best I can do is endure the scenic route.

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.

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.

Nathaniel James

Favorite Posts, General StuffTeresa Strasser305 Comments

With my son. Just wanted to type that. He was known as Frank Breech, but after a C-Section and a few days of toiling over his official name, Frank "Buster" Breech became Nathaniel James.

He was born 7.7 pounds, and when he came out, he looked purple like a bunch of grapes held up at a Sunday farmer's market. I don't know who it was - a doctor, a nurse, the anesthesiologist, someone announced, "He's a chunky monkey" and I've never been more excited to hear the first fat joke about my son. I knew no one would be joking if he didn't have all of his fingers and toes and appear to be in good working order. You don't start rhyming and referencing Ben n' Jerry's flavors when things are going awry. Even someone with a spinal block, restraints and a nasty case of Hebrew panic knows this on some visceral level. Especially, maybe.

To say I've never been more relieved is such an understatement it's kind of a shame; I should probably not be allowed to write until I can actually pass a reasonable stool. Maybe normal movement of one's colon is critical to self-expression not involving lame cliches and semi-obvious declarations. Please, humor me until the Colace and prune juice kick in.

So, after he was pronounced a chunky monkey, and the doctor said, "He was definitely breech ... and definitely a boy ..." (guess he presented with a big rump and typically swollen baby balls) I started bawling right there on the table, tears pooling around my oxygen mask, trying not to choke on snot and shock and the weird mucus that collects when you're on your back and pregnant. Until the second they brought him over to me and let me kiss his goopy, red face, I was convinced that setting up a crib, and buying a rug for his nursery and occasionally imagining he would be okay would all have cursed him, and that I would never, ever be lucky enough to get a real live healthy baby.

No matter how many tests told me otherwise and how often I saw his heartbeat, even moments before they removed him and I could hear his heart thudding steady and strong on the fetal heart monitor, I was sure this was all a big mistake and that something would be wrong and everyone had missed it.

All that being said  - and I promise to say more once I'm back in business - this C-Section was gnarly. I know some people find them easy, I am not one of those people.

The recovery was and is more difficult than I imagined, the surgery was terrifying and maybe this is just me, but I think I even caught a 24-hour bout of PTSD.

And I'm glad no one really gave me the nuts and bolts of the C, because it would have freaked my shit out. So I feel funny saying too much if anyone has one of these on the horizon, because you will be fine. Again, more to come, but I'm just so grateful to those of you who have followed this blog and sent your well wishes that I wanted to let you know that baby, mom and dad are doing great. Dad has changed every diaper and burped every burp because though I'm up to breast feeding the little guy, I can't do much else with breaking doctor's orders to avoid BLT: bending, lifting and twisting.

I'm yammering.

Sometimes it's kind of nice to find yourself living a cliche, deliriously happy and deliriously tired mom. That's me. Mom. I'm someone's mom. He is my son.

For someone who wasn't baby crazy, who didn't really get babies at all, I do all the disgusting things like smell his head and take pictures of him incessantly and become convinced that I'm not biased at all, but that my baby actually is extra adorable with fantastic hair.

It's my first day out of the hospital and like I said, I'm feeling pretty wrecked. Haven't even had a chance to check out my new slice but I have run my fingers over it and I will tell you, they need a little extra room to remove the frank breech types. Seems about five inches or so. I'm okay with it, I just don't want to look. And I still appear almost as pregnant as when I went in there. And my legs are swollen. On and on. Hard to wrap up this post which as far as prose goes is kind of a disaster. Time for a feeding, and yes, time for the boy to exploit me, as I have been doing him for the last six months.

Again, thanks for all of your kind words and well wishes and more than that, all of your very specific advice and recollections from everything to car seats to nipple pads to latching to morning sickness.

I read every single thing you wrote, and I often took your counsel and many times I dragged my husband over to read what you posted, because I was touched or consoled, because your experience was just like mine, and that made me feel less lonely. And I know that the sensations I'm having now, the baby "high" and the rubbing his velvety arms and the crying cause I can't poop or sleep and the sad sack thoughts when I catch my bloated reflection and the surreal smacking myself over being his mom, and him not being in my stomach anymore, but instead sitting there in his bouncy seat, I know this has all been said and done and felt. Maybe by you. Instead of that taking away from its value,  today, somehow it seems to add to it. Instead of scoffing at the human experience, I'm just giving in.

There aren't that many main courses on the menu in this life, when it comes to the big experiences.

So, despite wanting to be terminally unique, at some point you order the chicken or the steak. Maybe the surf and turf. Because there are only so many dinners available at the cosmic table. The real comfort, and the big bombshell, isn't how I felt too good to have what the rest of you were having, but not good enough. And here I am with my baby, like a billion and a half mothers before me, and we all want to hear that our children are chunky monkeys, and that we are not, and that's where I find magic where I least expected it, right in the hackiness. There aren't many offerings for dessert, either, and that's the sweetest part, that we're all telling the same stories and scooping our cold spoon into one infinite pint.

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.

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.