expectations

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sometimes, i have to laugh at myself.  take today, for instance.  this morning, i found myself eating a fresh breakfast bagel slathered with cream cheese on a grassy hill in the warm sun, sipping coffee with my mother-in-law, while ruth jumped merrily nearby.  who lives like this?  the day progressed and we dabbled in some playground toys, took a walk by the river, pointing out some ducks, and through the nearby neighborhood where we came across a house for sale which ruth poo-pooed as a potential before dozing in her stroller.  while she slept, we chatted about relationships, neighborhoods, and food as we sat on a bench by the river and i found myself feeling….good.  as though i was exactly where i should be, which has been a fleeting occurrence in much of my adult life.  since ruth has been born, i have felt a connectedness to life that i have been all but a stranger to before.  i feel like i belong somewhere…and not just anywhere…here!  the sunlight turned golden with the late afternoon and we headed home, exhausted from conversation, early spring wind, cream cheese, and glaring sunshine.

after greg came home, we ventured out again, this time to the Environmental Interpretive Center on the U of M-Dearborn campus.  we ran into some of greg’s old co-workers from when he worked there as a college student.  these people have known me since i was in my late teens.  as usual, greg did most of the talking, but when there was a lull in the conversation, a few times, someone happened to glance over at me and ask what i was up to lately.  what was i up to?  should i launch into a detailed account of my morning at the park?  its not that i’m ashamed to be a stay-at-home mom, but there is something so uncool about the phrase, and there is not much to respond with but “oh”.  we eventually continued on walking along the bike path as ruthie took her second nap of the day, a bonus.  i won’t say it wasn’t odd walking through my old college campus pushing a stroller  (well, actually, greg pushed it, as he always does).  i got to thinking.

i got to thinking, as i have since ruth has been born, about what makes people who they are.  there is something ingrained in all of us, from the start.  a certain disposition.  however, it is becoming clear to me, much to my dismay and fear, that a lot, if not most, of our personalities are determined by the different influences in our lives.  i felt it so clearly today.  i could feel the way that greg’s old co-workers looked at me, as though i had a hold of all of this potential that maybe they once had, but has since slipped away from them.  they wanted to hear that i was doing great things.  i felt slightly ashamed at not being able to deliver.  i wanted to please these people, these people that i looked up to.

and there’s the rub.  why do i look up to them?  because they are older than me, and for some reason, that makes them my role models.  we live up to the expectations of the people in our lives, and especially, the adults, because they have all of the answers, don’t they?  depending on who we are around, we will grow or shrink to fit expectations.

who will ruth look up to, admire, and want to please?  greg and i, sure.  we are already doing our best to be good role models.  but who else?  the answer to this, that struck me so clearly today as i looked at all of the sprouting green buds around me, is anyone that i am friends with, that greg is friends with, or people that we have around.  ruth will grow up thinking that these people have all of the answers.

that is why it is so important for us to surround ourselves with good quality people.

in conclusion, here is my personal ad: married parent of one seeking role model friend types to demonstrate active citizenship in community.  can be male or female but must have strong feminist leanings.  high moral fabric a must, honesty and humility required.  average to ugly looks preferred.

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the mother-in-law trade off

so, let me begin by saying that, over all, i have great in-laws.  we owe a lot to them; one thing being our house and another the reassessed value and therefore way lower taxes that my father-in-law handled (there are perks to having former finance directors in the family).  these are the big items; there are many more every day things.  however, there are times when, benevolent intentions aside, they tend to step on some toes, namely mine, with all of their do-gooding.

take today, for instance.  my mother-in-law came and picked us up to take us to the Mother Goose Story time at the library.  not only that, but she dropped us off at the door so we wouldn’t get wet (it was raining; and not a warm spring rain, a cold winter one).  she brought in my purse.  this is all fine and great.  then, the program began.  we all sat down in a circle, mostly mothers with young children under 4, and sang the hello song, read a book and then did a nursery rhyme with hand or body motions.  it wasn’t long before Ruth had been scooped up by my mother-in-law from the space between us on the floor and was sitting on her lap, doing all of the activities.  for a little while, i tried interacting with Ruth as she sat on my mother-in-laws lap, but then there were two of us doing all of the hand signals and movements for Ruth and it seemed a bit redundant.  i found myself stopping the activity and just kind of sitting back and watching and feeling a bit like a useless lump.  hey!  i like if you’re happy and you know it, too!  plus, i’m really good at it.

the flip side of this is that when it came time for free play, i was able to chat with other parents a lot more easily as my mother-in-law interacted with Ruth.  this is how we got invited to a birthday party that same day.  we would have missed out on rice pudding, brazilian soup and making some new kick arse friends.  i have no idea how people do it alone.  if i didn’t have a grandma to help, i would need an au pare or something to at least carry the diaper bag and help to distract ruth as i changed her diaper.  at the end of the session, she got Ruth dressed in her warm clothes and then brought the car around to pick us up.  to top it all off, she bought me coffee from Tim Horton’s on the way home before dropping us off and even letting my dog out into the yard.  what service.

a few times, other mothers have commented about my mother always being around and sometimes, i wonder what they think of us.    but it is difficult for me to feel anything but lucky that i have so much extra help and that Ruth is able to form a relationship with her grandparents.  it is a trade off, i suppose, just like anything else.

two piece pajamas

ever since she has been born, ruth has worn one-piece pajamas to bed, the kind with the footies that you can’t wait to put them into.  i have always thought that these must be the epitome of cuteness.  that is, until yesterday, when, for the first time, i put her into a two-piece pajama set from my grandparents with yellow ducks printed on a white background.  there is just something so irresistible about the tight bottoms pulled up over a diaper butt and her little belly poking out here and there.  plus, she just looks like such a big kid in them, especially when she does her Frankenstein walk across the floor, supported by a shopping cart toy on loan.  so, for those of you wondering, it depends on the print, of course, but two-piece pajamas are more cute than one-piece, in general.

baby knee pads

yesterday, while struggling to change ruthie’s diaper as she practiced her roundhouse kicks on me, i noticed that beneath both of her knees there were dark purple shadows, which, on closer examination, i realized were bruises due to practicing her new skill: crawling about on our hard wood floors!  ouch.  one to nurse my own tiny bruises for days and show their progression to anyone who will look, i searched her face for any signs of pain or distress, but she just kept kicking and grunting away.  it is true what they say, that pain has a cultural base and is a subjective response to an objective stimuli.  a few times, when she has been bouncing away on my lap, she has konked heads with me and it is me, not her, who pauses for a moment to say “ouch” and rub the spot.  i wonder when i learned to be such a wimp (i could go into detail here about how i thought that i would fare during childbirth and how i actually fared, but i will save that story for another day).

i know that baby knee pads are on the market, along with a slew of other amazing products aimed at helping babies along each stage of development.  my mother-in-law just yesterday delivered a bath scoop with a flexible rubber spot to put against the baby’s forehead for rinsing hair, which is the biggest struggle during bath time.  people from earlier generations, i’ve noticed, tend to scoff and turn up their noses at all of the modern inventions, stating defensively that they never used such silly things and all of their kids did just fine.  it is interesting to be able to see the shift in the cultural attitude towards children so clearly.  just a generation ago, my own mom told me of a trip she took with her parents during which my older brother began to cry in his car seat, which were relatively new inventions and weren’t even required to be used.  now, you are not allowed to leave the hospital with your baby unless you have a properly installed car seat.  in order to keep him quiet and not lose any travel time, my mom simply took him out of his seat and fed him in the moving car.

my grandparents had ten children.  being good parents in the fifties meant not using birth control and letting God decide how many children you would have, then working to make sure they were all kept clean, well-dressed and polite.  my parents were good parents because they stayed married and gave us the freedom to be individuals.

keep in mind that before i had ruth, i was all but oblivious to the latest culture surrounding procreation, but since she has been born, and a little before, i have been immersed in it.  it is clear from the parenting magazines with articles on how to make cuts in your budget, work odd hours or figure out how to work from home that parenting has been taken to a whole new level.  there are websites detailing the development of your baby first inside and then outside of the womb that send weekly e mail updates to your inbox.  Baby Einstein and Your Baby Can Read are all the rage, and most of the kids i see tottering around are better dressed than the models in the latest Abercrombie and Fitch catalog.  i once had a conversation with a mother who bemoaned her daughter not yet having teeth at age one and saying that she was still just on breast milk and “organic purees”.  when i took ruth to jc penny to have christmas pictures taken, the photographer told me that  i would become addicted to getting her picture taken and would soon be a weekly visitor, like so many other mothers she had experience with.  for a moment, i thought she was joking until one such patron walked up, proclaiming that on her son’s first photo shoot, she had spent two hundred dollars, so if i could manage to hold myself back and spend under that amount, i was doing good.

with this new world i have unwittingly entered into, much of the time, i feel myself running to catch up.  maybe i will host a play date soon and bake some cookies from scratch, made with organic, local ingredients.  do i have it in me to be so kitch?  how would i look in an apron?

ten years

alright, so this doesn’t have anything to do directly with being a parent, although i guess i could never have become a parent if my parents hadn’t been parents, so in a round-about way, it does.  also, the more and more time i spend as a parent, the more i realize how our strengths and insecurities are passed from generation to generation (it’s one of the things that scares me most about being a mom).

today is the ten year anniversary of my dad’s death.  ten years feels weighty.  a decade.  especially when i think that i was only eighteen when he died.  this means that he has been dead more than half as long as i knew him alive.  did i word that right?  the mass of ten years seems to have hit me full force in the stomach, knocking the wind out for a moment.  can this be true?  has he really missed ten years of…everything?  my dad never met greg.  he doesn’t know the things i have done in my life.  he never knew me as an adult.  and now he is missing his granddaughter growing up, bit my bit every day (every once in a while, as i am carrying her asleep to bed, i will stop to look at my reflection in the hall mirror and each time, i am shocked at her thick, long limbs, her full cheeks and lengthening hair).

my younger brother, david, made burgers on the grill for the occasion.  we stood together in my mom’s yard, where we grew up, and huddled in the icy rain in front of the grill, talking about our health issues.  yes, we are growing up bit by bit, too, dad.  david looks a lot like you, receding hairline and all, and, for the first time in my life, i see your influence in my own features when i look in the mirror  (perhaps it is my manly haircut).   today wasn’t like the day you died.  that day was warm and bright and felt like a renewal of life, after months of slowly dying.  today was grey and wet and cold and the yard around us looked a bit like a wasteland, what with the Sycamore that mom had butchered standing lopsidedly overhead and the grass brown and anemic-looking.

earlier in the day, i searched Kroger’s diary isle for your old coffee creamer, international delight cinnamon hazelnut.  they don’t make it any more.  i bought cinnamon vanilla creme, which was the closest i could come, and you’d better believe that i had a brimming cup, light as tapioca pudding in color and sweeter than syrup.  just like you used to drink it.

after dinner, we all told stories and shared memories of you.  it was close to seeing you again.  it felt like you were alive for a moment, just outside the room, maybe listening to our stories with a smile on your face, chuckling to yourself.  mom told of you getting in trouble at different music concerts.  more clearly than ever, i could see what you brought to her life.  a bit of inspiration and dreaming, and a lot of chaos, sometimes good.  david had stories of you acting irrational and irresponsibly that we all laughed at.  i just remember you in your everyday routines.  i remember you slowly pacing from the kitchen, taking a few puffs from a cigarette, a few sips of coffee, to the front door, peering out, thinking to yourself.  about what? i would like to ask you.  i remember how long it took you to leave the house.  how we would all be waiting for you in the car for ten minutes before you would appear from the house, meandering over the front lawn with your coffee cup and tattered slippers.  i remember sitting on the front porch steps with you, just watching the street, the day progress, and maybe daydreaming about something, maybe giving something some thought that we would never have a definite answer to. like what happens to you when you die.

ten years is wide, and grows wider by the moment.  so, here is to you, dad.  ten years later.  we miss you.

a typical day

yesterday was a typical day.  my mother-in-law picked us up in her escape (what are we escaping from?) and drove us to the Gymboree in Riverview.  for those who don’t know, a Gymboree is like a gym for babies.  it is where ruth sculpts her abs and puts work in on the guns.  actually, it is a brightly colored padded room with lots of big foam shapes to climb in and under and through, none of which ruth does as she just began crawling.  the session is 45 minutes long and ends with about 20 minutes of singing/dancing/bubble activities and also an appearance by the star of it all: Gymbo the clown, a puppet who holds celebrity status with the kids.  I fed ruth puffs on the way to quell any hunger pangs that might get in the way of a good work out and drank my coffee in the back seat.  yes, once again, i am drinking coffee.  big surprise.

it was up and down day.  it is a parade of awkward, stumbling babies.  up they go, up the foam steps, and down the plastic slide.  then they get distracted by a brightly colored ball and stop to chew it thoughtfully.  meanwhile, the parents, mostly moms, i will admit, hold on to or hover over top of their son or daughter, talking in speedy half sentences to the other parents about who is teething, walking, sleeping and how old everyone is.  i know all of the regular kids by name but not a single one of the parents.

during parachute time, amidst a shower of bubbles, a usually shy boy caught sight of ruth and came over to her with outstretched arms, ready for a passionate embrace.  ruth shoved him hard in the chest before his mom stepped in and redirected him.  later, she explained that ruth’s face looks just like a face on some flashcards they use with him, and they always have him “kiss the baby”.

by the time we were packing ruth back into her snowsuit, yes, i know there is no snow on the ground, she was holding her cheek and barely made it five minutes in the car before her chin was on her chest and she was snoring steadily.  ones to not look a gift horse in the mouth, we quickly drove to Kate’s Kitchen in Flatrock, where our take-out order was filled by the original Kate’s granddaughter.  For those who have never been, Kate’s kitchen is a crooked little diner with small town charm and are supposedly famous for their cinnamon rolls and pie.  i had chicken salad and my mother-in-law had tuna salad, both barely contained by the bread they were served on.  we chewed as quitely as we could on either side of sleeping ruth in the back seat and toasted our genuis at choosing this stop with matching cinnamon rolls, which were very light and fluffy.

a quick look at the summer fare displayed at Sweet Pea baby boutique resale shop and a stop at Bigby coffee and our morning was complete.

after we were dropped off at home, ruth had a very unsuccessful and perhaps the most messy lunch on file.  it required an outfit change and a high chair scrub down like i have never experienced before.

greg took her to swimming at the Performing Arts Center, where she always comes home with a gold medal.  to end the day, greg and i loaded ruth into her car seat for an early evening nap, while we drove through the Ford Historic Homes District in search of our future dream house. there were a few potentials, and i went to bed trying to picture a future me, looking very together and stylish, which is how i always picture my future self, walking ruth to kindergarten down the street and wondering what a person does with a living room and a family room.

 

 

the trip to cincinnati

This past weekend, Ruth and I left Greg at home to get some real work done on his thesis and drove with his parents to Cincinnati to visit his two nun aunts, Aunt Raine and Aunt Hud.  We were hoping for some real spring weather five hours south, but the temperature and feel were all too familiar.  The only thing novel was that the Magnolias and Forsythias were in bloom.

We stay at the Motherhouse, which is a kind of indoor, self-contained nun city on a big hill near the river. It even has its own post office.  It used to be some sort of school and the rooms that we stay in were once dormitories for the students.  We arrived just in time to catch dinner, where a stir crazy and very mom-centric Ruthie freaked out on some nuns and demonstrated her ear-piercing shriek that she saves for public appearances.  Not that she is one to ever shy away from “getting loud”.

Before we left, I made the comment to Tom, my father-in-law, that I would have to be on alert because if I turned my back on Ruth, the Aunts might just quickly try and baptize her in a sink.  They pointed out all of the saints statues that we passed to Ruth, who greeted each one with a cordial “hi”.  One nun tried to make the sign of the cross on her head but she balked and the nun, taking this as an unholy sign, scampered quickly away.

Between naps, playing, and diaper changes, we managed to fit in a few activities.  We walked across a bridge into Kentucky and visited a Barnes and Noble there, where my biggest purchase was a monster coffee, which I sucked down ravenously.  (The coffee at the Motherhouse isn’t what you would call satisfying).  I was pleasantly surprised to bump into a lesbian mother of an eighteen-month-old, which inspired me to give the south another chance.  Maybe they are more progressive than I thought.  We also visited Hobby Lobby at my Mother-in-laws request, although Ruth and I could have skipped this.  Especially since we were still planning to try and take Ruthie out to dinner afterwards.  I could tell we were in for an unpleasant meal when she was holding her cheek and making tired noises on the way there.  True to form, Ruth was a tyrant from the time we plunked her into the high chair at the restaurant.  The other nuns didn’t quite know how to receive this behavior, and one suggested I try shushing Ruth.  It didn’t help that there was a one-year-old one table away eating puffs like a champ and drinking her juice box serenely.

I felt as though most of the energy during the trip went into planning and preparing for Ruth’s meals.  I used to see parents feeding their babies, all taught and angsty and I used to wonder what their deal was.  Why didn’t they just calm down.  And now I know.  There is so much going through your mind all the time, but especially at meal time.  Trying to feed a baby, who doesn’t like to eat, while simultaneously trying to keep her happy and from grabbing things off the table and eat a lunch yourself is like keeping a dozen plates spinning.  Add into the mix that people are trying to talk to you and give you pointers on what the baby might like or need, and you are lucky to make it through a meal with your sanity in place.  After every meal, I found myself heaving a great sigh of relief and consciously releasing the tension that had accumulated in my back right between my shoulder blades.

We worked to time our departure to coincide with Ruth’s nap mid day and managed to repack everything into the Escape while still leaving room for ourselves.  The ride back always seems twice as long as the ride there and by the time we pulled up into the driveway, we all exploded from the car.  Ruth spent the rest of the day bouncing around the living room and crawling around like a mad woman.  Greg had, in typical Greg fashion, neglected much of his thesis work to trim the shrubbery in front of the house and catch up on his sleep.

What I took away from the trip is a much greater respect and awe for single parents and wonder at how we are going to make our summer camping trip way up in the U.P., a ten hour drive, work.