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Guest post by writer & TV personality Teresa Strasser - On BELLYITCH
When I use the word “exploitation,” I don’t mean in a white slavery, making Adidas in a Thailand factory kind of way. I mean it with the utmost admiration. As a new mother, I can tell you that my baby certainly exploits me, so the least he can do is to provide me with a fresh perspective and perhaps a slightly more marketable identity.
When I talk about celebrity baby exploiters, I do so with love, as these ladies are walking a trail blazed by such greats as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Irma Bombeck, Lucille Ball and Tori Spelling. In transforming motherhood from mundane, task-filled drudgery to career enhancer, these baby exploiters are getting just a little payback. As I like to say to my baby, “Kid, I made you a spleen and two eyebrows, now you can make me seem warm and relevant.”
The Top Baby Exploiters
Sarah Palin – Did she mention she was “just a hockey mom” from Wasilla? Oh, wait, that’s her WHOLE ACT. That’s why folks love her. Can you even imagine a childless Palin?
She exploded onto the mom scene from the remote wilderness of nearly Russia. With great persistence and verve, this Mama Grizzly has artfully used her kids to show the world her protectiveness, family values and homespun ways.
With four kids and even a grandchild to exploit, she trots them out with glee, even featuring them on her own reality show on TLC. She also “reflected” about her babies in the second of her two best-selling books. Brilliantly, she even converted her daughter’s turn on “Dancing With the Stars” into an opportunity to remind twenty million Americans of her fierce maternal loyalty, sitting in the front row, simultaneously beaming – and moving those books. Making this family a Russian doll of baby-using, daughter Bristol is already following in mom’s snowy tracks, hauling little Tripp out for dance rehearsals, or at least for the part where the camera could capture her interacting joyfully with her toddler, who most likely spent the rest of the day with his nanny. But I don’t say that to judge. I don’t judge, I marvel. I stand back in awe of Sarah and her ability to turn what could be an overwhelming, career-halting number of children – and an unexpected grandchild – into a multi-media empire.
Kourtney Kardashian – There used to be only Kim – and those other nameless, faceless Kardashian sisters no one cared about. Now, there is THE ONE WITH THE BABY. That’s right, step aside Kim, because MAMA Kardashian had a baby – and now she has a career. A reality show in Miami with sister Khloe and baby Mason? You bet. Life & Style covers? What time does the photographer arrive? The Kardashians exploit everything that can be exploited, and now they finally have an accessory to help Kourtney on her journey from the side of a milk carton to front and center with a milk bottle.
Sandra Bullock - She sort of unintentionally found that adopting a baby spun her sad tale of woe in a new direction. And she nailed it with an under-the-radar New Orleans adoption. Very PC, very not Jesse James.
Kendra Wilkinson-Baskett – What an incredible year for this former Hugh Hefner girlfriend and Playboy model. Before having little Hank Baskett, Jr., she gave herself a head start by marrying an NFL player (taking a page from Baby Exploiting Hall of Famer Elizabeth Hasselback). In 2010, she was on the cover of OK! Magazine more than Oprah was on the cover of O. Though I wasn’t exactly sure who she was, believe you me I couldn’t resist reading about her C-section, how she “got her body back,” how she “loves being a mom,” how she “balances work and motherhood” and anything else she does with that adorable little baby Hank. Why do I care about this woman, whose reality show “Kendra,” consists exclusively of baby exploiting? Because she was a hot chick and now she’s a mom and that’s pretty compelling. She’s even written a book, “Sliding into Home,” about her exploits. Can you name the other two Hefner girlfriends from “Girls Next Door”? Neither can anyone else, which is why Kendra makes this list, because she used not only the outside of her lady parts for fame, but also the inner ones. She made a baby, and made herself interesting to a whole new demographic of the magazine buying population. Honorable Mention
Carrie Fisher – And a special nomination to Carrie Fisher for working the having-been-the-exploited-child angle so expertly. Her book “Wishful Drinking,” which explores, among other things, being the child of superstars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, was first adapted into a one-woman show before hitting Broadway and has just premiered as an HBO special. Exploiting her own exploitation has turned her into not just a successful humorist, but also a jolly, electro-shocked plump ball of WTF. God bless her.
The Exploiting Father of the Year
Michael Lohan – Let’s hear it for the dads. Where many saw Lindsay’s death spiral as shocking and sad, Michael saw opportunity. From tweets to interviews, he never shut up about Lindsay. Then, after he finally agreed to stop talking to the press about his own daughter, he gave his two cents on Miley Cyrus smoking a bong-load of Salvia. This guy is so skilled, he even has the power to exploit someone else’s kid.
Lifetime Achievement Award Cher – For her decades of exploitation, I must salute her. She made you love her every time her adorably awkward daughter Chastity toddled onto the stage of the “The Sonny and Cher Show,” thus making the duo seem more like affable, family-friendly goofballs and less like garish, freak-show hippies. Then Cher generated tons of media attention when cute, little Chastity became a dude named Chaz. “Cher the Mother” is a Cher we can understand and embrace, despite the extreme plastic surgery, the hooker outfits and her parade of peculiar boyfriend choices. We don’t truly know how she is as a mother but you sense that, no matter what role she plays on screen or in concert, she will always play a mom first, one who clearly and genuinely loves her children and accepts them for who they are, even if that “who” swaps out her bra and for a buzz cut. What all these women have taught us – or at least taught me – is there’s no better PR move on the planet than being a mom. And now that I know how spectacularly hard this job is, I think it’s only fair that our kids do their part by making us seem like slightly better people than we really are – and perhaps provide us with a bit of content. So, when I have no idea what to write about, I can look into the crib and say, “I got you, babe.”
ANOTHER PUSHY BROAD WHO HAD SEX AND IS RUBBING OUR FACE IN IT By Libby Molyneaux
Do we really need another book about pregnancy and childbirth?
Well, if you've ever been pregnant, you know that reproduction and all its related nausea/mood swings/stretch marks/elastic waistbands are an endless source of material. Teresa Strasser cuts right through the mucus plug with Exploiting My Baby*: *Because It's Exploiting Me. With such titles as "Sitting Stretch Mark Shiva" and "I'll Miss You, Toxins," Strasser's funnier than your funniest friend and her neuroses are more acute than Joan Rivers' Having a Baby Can Be a Scream. From the initial wondering, "Would both my ass and my mind wear mom jeans?" to her post-birth home that "looks like Chuck E. Cheese after an earthquake," Strasser's hilariously forthcoming about every step of the process. And as for exploiting her little bundle of joy, she states: "Kid, I just made you a spleen and some eyebrows. The least you can do is get Mommy a book deal." Strasser presents and signs her book but probably won't show you her one measly stretch mark.
Thanks to: LA Weekly
Parenting On The Edge: When Your Baby Exploits You BY: The Madeline Brand Show
Lots of books celebrate all the joys of bringing a new life into the world. This snarky memoir is not one of them. Adam Carolla's news gal, Teresa Strasser, reveals many of the not so pleasant realities of being knocked up in her book Exploiting My Baby: Because It's Exploiting Me (NAL Trade). - KPCC: NPR Affiliate
Exploiting My Baby, Because It's Exploiting Me: A Memoir of Pregnancy and Childbirth (New American Library, paperback, $15) By Teresa Strasser The L.A. media personality says she took a cue from other actresses cashing in on their babies and got herself (and baby) a book deal. Out: Jan. 4
Adam welcomes Teresa Strasser back for today’s Adam Carolla Show. They talk about her new book, Adam’s final days at Love Line, and play a round of Tales from the Cheap.
Adam sits with Teresa Strasser right from the top of the show. Bald Bryan and Jessica Golden are there as well, and Adam compliments Teresa on her intellect and her writing ability. Teresa talks about the importance of having a zero tolerance policy while she was pregnant, and tells a harrowing story that nearly sent her into an early labor. - Adam Carolla.com
Here is a very short show I'm doing for Yahoo's Shine and Moms everywhere. It's not life changing, but kids eating lemons and green beans never gets old.
Green beans are FOWL!
If you don't have kids, it starts out old. Anyway, this will take up less than three minutes. If you like it or are inspired to leave a comment, mama likes. Look.. this isn't the edgiest thing I've ever done. For THAT, please read my upcoming memoir released by Penguin Jan. 4th. So much edge.. I'm thinking of leaving the country when it comes out.
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.
So, I've been getting lots of questions and just wanted to let you guys know the story. Adam has decided to start recording his podcast at night, which means I'd be home too late for my morning radio wakeup call of 4:30 a.m. I'm really disappointed, but I totally understand. Adam thinks night time is funnier, which it is, and he also finds it difficult to schedule meetings, etc., around the afternoon recordings. After so long being the regular news girl, I'm kind of still in shock that I won't be hearing my usual, "F you CNN" sound off, at least for now. The show is searching for a permanent replacement. I consider myself part of the Carolla show family, and I'll be stopping by to fill in whenever they need me, as well as showing up as a guest to promote my book in both December and January. Like I said, I hope to darken the Ace Man's door frequently and if I can get DAG to snore at either my news stories or personal stories, all the better. Can't believe how much I'm going to miss seeing Bald Bryan and Larry Miller and all our great interns, including Blaster Girl Katie, who did such a great job sitting in for me. Anyway, my new morning show at KABC 790 (the Peter Tilden Show) is available on iTunes or you can listen at the website online. Peter is great, and I wish I could do both, but multiple jobs at odd hours and a one year old is a combination that can only lead to high doses pf Wellbutrin and my kid asphyxiating on a leaf while I check my iPhone at the park. Bad times. Working with Adam has been one of the best experiences of my professional life and as I said, I'll be making as many guest appearances as I can before they get sick of me. Meanwhile, if you haven't already, you should think about ordering Adam's hilarious book, "In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks" and help him reach the Amazon.com top ten list. He may not be a reader, but the writing is sublime and you shouldn't miss it. Mahalo.
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.
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.
At first, I tried to blend, just made my baby a bottle of formula beforehand and fed it to him during the group hoping people would assume it was previously pumped breast milk. But I’ve gotten brazen, and now I just take out my little bottles of Good Start and feed him right there, as the other moms try not to stare in horror.
I guess I’m just lonely.
That meeting is a good time killer. You drive over there, stop by the Astro Burger drive-thru for a Diet Coke and some zucchini sticks, sit in the meeting for an hour and a half and next thing you know, the afternoon is almost over.
Any guilt I had about weaning at four months is healed by these weekly meetings, the non-stop obsessing about what size breast shields to use, whether the babies are gaining weight (many moms weigh their babies daily at the store that houses the group), what kinds of supplements to use to keep the milk flowing, how often to pump and for how long, how to wake up in the middle of the night to pump so the supply doesn’t drop, the best way to freeze and store milk, how to deal with plugged ducts and babies that need to nurse every hour through the night.
Sometimes, I just want to raise my hand and say, “Listen you crazy bitches, it’s not all about the breastfeeding. I’m sure you can bond with your babies in lots of ways that don’t involve turning your lives inside out just to make sure you never expose your baby to an ounce of formula. It’s not poison.”
But I was one of those crazy bitches. I took the herbal supplements and drank the tea. I tried to go as long as I could, but at four months, supply just couldn’t meet demand. Did I want to keep taking drastic measures, to make motherhood all about nursing, or did I want to let go knowing I did the best I could? Well, I didn’t want to let go, but my body was in charge and that’s how it went. The well ran dry. To see the pressure these women put on themselves, is to look in a mirror. Would I have been a better mother if I chose to get up every couple of hours and pump so I could keep nursing? Or would I have been a sleep-deprived mess who let myself get brainwashed by my peers? So I go to the group. Maybe just to kill time, but maybe also to feel better about the formula thing, because these moms look downright miserable. Lots of talk about cutting out dairy and soy and how long to nurse on each side and what kind of pump is best and in the end, instead of feeling inferior, I just feel relieved. I have enough crazy, bullshit obsessions without adding this one. It’s over. And as much as I truly understand that breast milk is superior, I wonder about all the struggles that seem to go with nursing a baby.
It’s natural. It’s right. It’s what Mother Nature intended, and yet, so is breathing and most moms don’t go to breathing support groups or breathing consultants. My pediatrician says we need help to nurse properly because we no longer live in communal situations with aunts and cousins and elders who could show us how to do it. Stores and groups and books and consultants are the new “village” it takes to raise a child, or at least nurse it successfully.
The dark secret for me is that I had to work. Worse: I chose to work. I had a book to write and I went off for four hours a day and let the baby have a bottle. I pumped in my car in the parking lot of the library every couple of hours, but still, I worked. And maybe that’s why I stopped making enough milk. The less I made, the more formula I needed to use, the less I produced, the more I used formula, the more demand shrunk, supply shrunk, the whole thing unraveled and it’s all my fault for working. Or that’s what I tell myself when I’m kicking myself in the ass about the whole thing.
The pendulum has swung so far since the days when doctors advised moms that formula was best, when nursing was seen as radical and kooky. Now, at least in my little corner of the world in East Los Angeles, if you don’t nurse your baby for at least six months, you are a failure, you are a lazy mother, you are selfish. In the tacit competition between the moms over who can nurse the longest, the competition that may exist only in my mind: I LOSE.
Yes, I liked nursing. It was pretty sweet knowing I could keep my baby alive with my boobs. I did feel like a natural woman. At the pediatrician, I felt like a rock star. Around formula-feeding moms, I felt a potent mixture of superiority and pity. And after awhile, I felt like an idiot for my nonstop focus on how I could keep it all going, the breast milk in a cooler in the car, the washing of the plastic parts, the pumping in the middle of the night.
When I see what these nursing moms are going through, I don’t miss it. I’m angry that the unintended consequence of this well-meaning “breast is best” movement is to guilt working moms into nursing on demand, all the time, all night long, for six month or until most jobs won’t want you back. The accidental message is that if you don’t press the pause button on every aspect of your life to nurse the shit out of your baby, you are the worst thing in the world: a bad mom.
So maybe I don’t just go to the nursing moms support group just because I’m lonely, maybe I go because I’m guilty.
Yeah, so, I was on Dr. Phil today -- totally exploiting my baby. He was well-behaved, but more importantly, he was well lit, a lesson you can't learn too early in this life. The topic was about moms and free time; some social scientist came out with a study saying moms have 30-40 hours of free time. In my estimation, this is a loose definition of the term "free." For example, if my head was in the guillotine, technically, I would have to log that two minutes before my execution as "free time," yet it wouldn't seem that relaxing. I made this analogy on the show, but I assume it was removed because a) French execution jokes not in line with Dr. Phil audience taste 2) It wasn't really funny, but I think the point is apt. Perhaps a sociologist can log our time and show that we have more of it than we thought, emotionally, though, it's all screwed up. When my baby is napping, he could sleep an hour, he could sleep two hours, he could start wailing ten minutes after I put him down. I have to be prepared for all of these eventualities, thus, this so-called "free" time is not free of worry. You know what I mean if you're a parent, because even though you may get a few spare minutes here or there, the kid doesn't fax you a schedule ahead of time and he doesn't give you a heads-up when his needs are going to change. The notification that you are on duty isn't subtle or polite. Anyway, the professor who did the study was a very nice man in a serious Bill Cosby sweater. They may have also cut this out, but I'm haunted by it so why not let it all out here? I mentioned his sweater on the episode as if to say, "You must be smart, look at your sweater" --- meaning, "professors always wear tweed and the like, and you are obviously in the garb of a learned man." Sadly, it came out more, "you're sweater is ugly and I'm being a snarky asshole."
Tone, tone, tone. Sometimes, mine just sucks. I apologized to him after the show, and he couldn't have cared less. In fact, he told me he loved that sweater, had owned it 25 years and wouldn't let the wardrobe department talk him out of wearing it. Bless his smart heart.
Still, it wouldn't be a day if there wasn't something I wish I could take back. Too bad I used my life time supply of "do-overs" playing ping pong with my brother.
Also, a female comedian, Leanne Morgan is on the show, and she is way funnier and more prepared. This woman is folksy, southern accent, hilarious and also a believably sweet mother of three. Watch just for her. Audience loved her, as well they should. God, she is really good.
Here is more info and some clips from the show, if you're interested.
I know not everyone loves Dr. Phil, but he and his staff are so mom-friendly. In fact, just before this episode, I was pumping milk in my dressing room, which they arranged so I could have some privacy. He hired me when I was eight months pregnant, three weeks post baby and now, so I'm grateful. Mommy needs to keep her union insurance.
Buster, let the exploitation begin.
If you leave a nice comment, Dr. Phil may have me back. No pressure. Buster and I will be just fine at the free clinic when our coverage runs out.
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.
Five minutes into Baby Music Appreciation class, I am huddled in the corner trying to nurse my frazzled baby as parents waltz their children around the room so that they can feel the rhythm. Slow, fast, fast, slow, fast, fast, slow, fast, fast, sings the teacher, which also describes the tempo of my meltdown.
We go around the room with a chant welcoming each baby by name.
"We clap for Chloe, hello Chloe, we snap for Olive, hello Olive, we bounce for Jake, hello Jake, we emotionally shut down for Teresa, hello, Teresa." Goodbye sense of peace. This welcome thing goes on forever. By the end of it, my head is tucked into my husband’s shoulder as he holds Buster in his lap.
The other parents seem to be exploding with euphoria, psyched to be slow, fast, fast, slow, fast, fast dancing and bonding on a Sunday morning, and this makes me feel insane, because I’m not just emotionally miserable, I am experiencing a full-on body cramping, head in a vice, eyeballs aching kinesthetic undoing. Several parents come up to us and say, "Claire hated this the first time, too. She nursed the entire class. Now she loves it!"
They say it's for newborns to 18 month-olds, but I'm starting to wonder if a four month old baby like Buster really needs music appreciation. It's hard for me to philosophize, because I'm sweating and blinking excessively. The fluorescent lights are too much, as is the clanging of tiny bells and other baby instruments and the intermittent squealing of babies.
Just when Buster is calm, one of these tots lets out a shriek, and he doesn't know what the fuck.
And I realize that I can't handle small crowded rooms, or loud noises, or bright lights, never could. My mom took me to Chinese New Year once in San Francisco, where I grew up, and I begged to wait out the whole thing in the car, away from firecrackers and throngs. I still loathe the Fourth of July, with its unpredictable bursts of noise.
The baby is holding up better than I am, but something about the exhaustion and exaltation of new motherhood has made me quicker to dog the things I used to have to pretend to like.
On the way home, I announce that I am never, ever going back there.
Those other parents loved it, their kids seemed okay with it, but I couldn't hack it. My baby listens to Neil Diamond’s “Hot August Night” every morning in his swing (minus “Sweet Caroline,” because the Mister removed it from the playlist after declaring it f-ed out) and that's music appreciation enough for now. I am, I said, I quit.
Mommy and me movie? A dark theatre, no forced mingling with other parents as we are ordered to doe-see-doe in parallel lines across the room, that's just my speed. The breast-feeding moms support group? Didn't mind that. Anyone who has been a mother for a single day longer than I have has something to teach me, and I'm all ears.
But speaking of ears, mine can't handle the symphony or horrible songs and baby screams that make up baby music class.
Instead of feeling like a failure, which is my "go to" and always has been, I feel like Julia Roberts in the movie "Runaway Bride." She doesn't know what kind of eggs she likes, because she always just orders what her man likes, so she sits down to an egg taste test to find her true self. This is part of a very touching montage. Sorry about using such a lame movie to make a point. I know it ain't Kurosawa, but I liked it. And I related.
The kind of parent I want to be is the kind that can announce, even in the midst of two-dozen parents with massive loyalty and mad love for baby music class, that I think it sucks. For me, it's a sweat box of idiocy and overwhelm that Buster doesn't need and neither do I.
That goes for everything, as I try to sort out what kind of eggs I like. You sleep train, I don't. That works for you, I think it's a fad that makes moms feel like powerless losers most of the time. You don't use a pacifier, I do, cause it works for me and maybe my child will never learn how to soothe himself but I used one when I was a baby, and as my mom says, "You were over it by college, don't worry."
You don't swaddle, I do. You put in your solid ten minutes of tummy time, I cheat the boy out of fully "experiencing" his arms because he loathes it and I'm pretty sure our parents had no idea what the fuck tummy time was and we eventually rolled over and walked, as I walked away from that music class, as I will continue to walk away from things that just don't make sense for us.
Here's the music I appreciate: the volume turning up on my own inner voice about how the heck to spend our time. I hate that I just used the phrase “inner voice,” for the record, but how else can I put it? The baby books, the classes, the parenting advice, it can all get loud and bright and cause a girl to panic, and cause a girl to pretend she enjoys crap like waltzing around a packed room with a bunch of strangers and a confused baby in the hopes that he will one day play first violin in the philharmonic. I don’t even know what a philharmonic is, and I don’t care.
Buster has permission to be average.
That’s right. I’m a Jewish mother who doesn’t need her child to be excellent. When that kid flashes me his gummy smile, when he seems content, that’s the beat I can dance to, that’s the way I like my goddamn eggs cooked.
Next time I’m not feeling a baby activity I think I should be doing, here’s how I’m getting out of there. Slow, fast, fast.
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.