Our Neighbors Stole Our Jagermeister (A Cautionary Tale for New Parents)

We had a hell of a rainstorm two years back. It was called Hurricane Sandy, and it caused a lot of people a lot of genuine heartache. Despite our being in the safest part of Manhattan, where the lights didn’t even flicker, we did lose something profound that night, something that can never be replaced: our youth.

It was a few nights before Halloween, and my family was dutifully locked indoors per the advice of the mayor.

As 100 mile per hour wind gusts carried leaves and trash up our sidewalk and tree branches lashed against our windows, we tried to keep a baby who had just learned to crawl contained in less than 600 square feet.

Upon hour twelve, I was pretty sure I saw her scurry backward up the bedroom doorway. Every roll of Saran Wrap and aluminum foil had been tugged out in miles, with our blessing. By the time the baby had fashioned a hat out of my nursing bra and was banging on our front door with a macaroni-encrusted wooden spoon, I knew we needed a magic portal out of this place.

Then I heard the lobby door slam shut against a gust of wind. Boots stomped and trudging commenced. I swept my baby in my arms and opened our front door to see a woman in fishnet stockings and knee-high boots making her way up the stairs.

I blocked her path with my speed demon baby. I wanted to know where she was headed. Whose apartment? Why was she risking life and limb to visit anyone in our building? Did she want our baby?

She caved to my congenial interrogatory style and I got some information. She was visiting Mary and Tom upstairs. They were going to hunker down with pizza and wine and watch CNN and light candles if we lost electricity. A party in the building!

Mary had told me I was welcome to drop by any time to see the R line of apartments and how their layout differed from our F line’s floor plan.(This is a Manhattan tradition. You don’t have to be friends with people to ask to see their apartment, ask their square footage and the amount they pay in rent.)

Well, ANY time was clearly now!

Mary had long shiny hair and always wore heels. Tom did some sort of-non-profit work in Brooklyn and they collected vinyl records. I saw the brown paper packages delivered to our lobby each week. I knew we must be role models for Mary and Tom. We were they in five years. We were showing them how to raise a baby without giving up your style, your deadpan morbid humor, your effortless New York warmth sprinkled with cynicism.

I just needed something to launch this rocket. I mean, technically, we weren’t invited to the party.

I imagined Mary’s and Tom’s apartment. It was decorated with photos of their safaris in Africa and their honeymoon stroll by the Seine. A guitar and possibly a ukulele hung from the exposed brick wall.

Fishnet stocking girl was slipping past and I had to act fast.

“Our television isn’t hooked up yet – I wish we could see the damage in real time too!” I exclaimed. (Lie: we’d moved in four months ago, all our wires were connected.)

“Why don’t you guys drop by? I’m sure that’d be fine.”

We were in!

I couldn’t wait to show Mary and Tom just how little changes after you have a baby. They would be awestruck by how sophisticated and hilarious people with babies can manage to be.

I found my husband in the closet that would one day be the nursery, banging away at his screenplay. My husband is introverted. He can sometimes be anti-social to the point of avoiding the grocery store lest a stranger ask him if he knows where the lactose-free milk is.

Twelve hours of keeping a speed-demon locked in barely 600 square feet had made him willing to HOST a party if we hadn’t just been (pretty much) invited to one. He was thrilled by my news.

We brainstormed. You can’t show up empty-handed to a hurricane party. You also can’t bring the three jars of Oregano and a tin of artichoke paste that you squirreled into your Zabar’s cart in the midst of pre-storm shelf-looting.

“We have Halloween candy,” I said.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Alcohol!” I said. ” It goes with pizza.”

“All we have is half a bottle of Jagermeister in the freezer.”

“Perfect,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“You go,” he said. “Do reconnaissance. I’ll join if I get a text from you.”

He handed me the Jagermeister and wished me luck. If he’d been watching me take off in the space shuttle, he could not have been more nervous about the outcome of my expedition.

With a baby on my hip and a freezing bottle of Jagermeister in my hand, I mounted the stairs and rang the bell.

Mary and her shiny tresses opened the door. Down the long exposed-brick-hallway, I could hear the party in full swing. I smelled pizza. I heard Wolf Blitzer.

“You had mentioned we should stop by some time so we could see the layout of your place and the baby is stir-crazy and I brought some Jagermeister. Your friend mentioned you were watching the storm reports, so…” I trailed off.

I knew she would pick up my unfinished thought and invite me in.

“Oh wow,” Mary said. “That’s so nice! Thank you!”

She clutched the bottle and called out to Tom. My daughter jumped out of my arms and raced down their hallway. I followed her. Soon I would be texting my husband! It was falling into place!

We exchanged a little neighbor first-date talk. Mary would be suggesting that they babysit our daughter soon. They needed practice after all; they were next, having been just married, right? I was always telling my husband, this is all it takes! A little effort, a little extroversion, and New York City can be a village!

“Thank you so much for stopping by!”Tom, non-profit, working-in-Brooklyn, record-collecting tight-jeaned husband put in. Someone was putting pizza on paper plates behind him and someone else was pouring wine.

I got dizzy. There was laughter and chatting in the distance. I struggled with blurred vision. I heard Wolf Blitzer’s monotone.

I pried the baby off a potted plant and waved goodbye. Can you be gracious and awkward at the same time?

My husband’s face was puppy-dog expectant upon our return.

“Well?”

“I don’t think you need to put your shoes on, we’re not going to a party.”

My husband swallowed. Then he smiled appreciatively.

“Thanks for making the effort. It was a great idea. Should we put the Jagermeister back in the freezer or drink it?”

“I don’t have it.”

“What do you mean?”

“They liked the Jagermeister. I mean, they took it.”

“What do you mean, they took it?”

“They took it. I guess for their party.”

“What did you say? Here’s some Jagermeister, have a swell time with it?”

“No. I invited us to the party. That was inherent in the bringing of the Jagermeister.”

“You couldn’t have been clear. Nobody takes half a bottle of Jagermeister. It isn’t done.”

“I think it was.”

“You must have said something that implied it was a gift.”

“Why would I bring a gift in the middle of a hurricane to people we barely know?”

“You must have said something that led them to believe we didn’t want it anymore.”

“I didn’t! ”

My husband got very quiet.

“They stole our Jagermeister.”

“If you think you could have done it better, then you should have brought the Jagermeister.”

“You must have implied –”

“I didn’t!”

We went around like that for a while, as the baby dumped laundry on her head.

Mary and Tom don’t live here anymore. Their sublease ran out.

I think we are still friends on Facebook, but I haven’t checked in a while.

Maybe I should stalk Mary’s page and try to spot our bottle of Jagermeister in the background of one of their parties.

I haven’t the heart. They taught us a lesson on that fateful evening: We aren’t the cool kids. We aren’t kids at all. We are parents.

Against the mayor’s order, our youth had scurried outdoors, to be swept along at 100 miles per hour along with the brittle October leaves.

Bio: Leslie Kendall Dye is an actor, dancer, former nanny and mother of one two year old. She was graduated from Columbia University and studied at The Neighborhood Playhouse. Her writing has been featured in Nanny Magazine, on Mamalode, Mamapedia, Off The Shelf and The Huffington Post. She lives in NYC with her husband and daughter and writes essays at Hungry Little Animal when her toddler takes a nap.

Range Rover, Range Rover. Are Brook’s Parents Really Coming Over?

Throughout our lives, we make friends. On playgrounds playing kickball, over a game of quarters in college, in offices working collaboratively and repeatedly on another PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes it is serendipitous while taking the A train. Sometimes random through a friend of a friend at some other friend’s party. And sometimes it takes years of touch-and-go connections that can start with tumult finally coalescing into true admiration and respect. But whatever or whenever it happens, you are the master of your own fate, captain of your own friendships.

And then you move to the suburbs. Where the sweet scent of fresh-cut grass leaves your post-adolescent social life controlled by your pre-school child. Yes, who they like, you must like. (Or at least pretend to like.) It’s speed-dating thrust on you by the “Red Light, Green Light” generation. One sunny day, they’re sharing blocks and two weeks later, you’re feebly constructing interesting conversation and breaking bread with a couple of blockheads aka “Little Skyler’s” parents. Little fingers joyously playing with manipulatives to enhance fine motor skills and you’re manipulated into a fine night of dining with Jack and Jill. A tedious hill-top rendezvous of overpriced wine that hopefully will satiate Jack’s overinflated, underfed ego before you go tumbling off to bed.

Two for the seesaw and it’s four for paella followed by a fist-full of Paxil. Saturday soccer leads to Saturday-night double dates where the din and discourse provide only culinary indigestion. Talking politics with inarticulate living-room diatribes offering no room for debate. Missiles of mass destruction? Who needs drones when old comb-over Curt is droning on about derivatives and divots? I’m already shell-shocked and bombed before the latest rage in chef-inspired bombes hits my plate.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a social animal. I thrive on chitchat and banter over a greasy spoon burger or bed of high-end wilted organic greens. I talk to anyone and everyone (according to my kids who text and tweet in desperation while I converse with the entire CVS pharmaceutical staff). But I’ve been to too many old goat rodeos of red wine and Whole Foods cheese in some French Country meets Navajo chic great rooms to know adult play dates are not often fun and play (or great). I may love my suburban home-on-the-golf range but do I have to see every imported range in renovated kitchens near and far? I might choose to live with a picket fence and a shed full of unopened pickling jars but do my kids get to pick my friends? Can’t I choose the pick of the litter myself?

And it doesn’t get better as the kids get older. Yes, they no longer care about Curt’s little princess (who they stopped being friends within milliseconds) but now they dance, dribble and dive afterschool and weekends, which means you’ve been enlisted in a sideline posse of highly enthusiastic parents that act like lemmings on a ledge. Pizza and Panera’s in every town from Boston to Baltimore where teammates meld while parents spar over checks and New Balance running shoes. Forget date night or those best friends that live only fifty minutes away… you’re too mentally and physically fried to see them or even watch NetFlix. It is Love it or List it on HGTV, a Facebook like or two and off to dream about days of endless bongs and relaxed banter gone by.

But just when you think the grass is greener in Facebook flashbacks, it happens. You look across the bleachers and there’s a guy with the same pained look as you. Suddenly, your eyes meet, followed by the nodding of the heads and gentle smirk of collective indignation over black cookie-cutter SUVs. He too has had enough of cocktail shenanigans and insidious play dates gone bad.

Breaking free from the shackles of a white colonial, black-shutter conformity and acquiescence, you both tentatively make your way to the water fountain where two “Hey’s” erupt in laughter that flows as easily as it did when you were 13. All at once, you’ve once again have made a new friend in a high-school gym deep in the heart of the suburban darkness. And you have your kids to thank.

Brian Rutter is a work-at-home suburban dad and husband. His blog focuses on his view of life as a 50+ man surviving in the trenches of suburbia. You can visit him at  The Burb Man, @theburbman on Twitter or contact him at bprcomm@optonline.net.

Friday Favorites (September 15-19)

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Have you ever felt like you need to stop reading a blog because of how it makes you feel? Read this for thoughts on that and more social media frustrations from the lovely Haley!

Did you know that one of our fabulous contributors, Amy, just had her first piece featured in the Huffington Post? We are so excited for her, and she shares how she did it in this great post from her blog, Using Our Words.

This isn’t exactly a typical Friday Favorites feature, but we thought it was such a positive and productive space for women that we had to share it!

Lara weaves words into a rich tapestry in all of her posts. This one is particularly gorgeous!

On Quiet and Eating Alone

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement. –Alice Koller

I sat alone on a crowded restaurant patio. On my right, there was a couple that appeared too careful during the meal. Her blonde hair stayed still even when the wind blew. She chewed with her mouth closed and laughed inside herself because a chuckle would reveal too much. The man was trying too hard; his sports jacket and khakis didn’t make sense in ninety-degree weather. My eyes darted to my left, where I saw two men raising their beers, saying cheers, the bottles’ cling echoing in my ear. A mom sat with her four year old, the hair from the little-girl’s pigtails curving up like a smile.

I looked down at my table, where there was only one place setting, a single glass and no one sitting across from me. In my teens or early twenties, the thought of eating alone in a crowded restaurant would cause a rippling anxiety in my stomach. What would other people think? Would they feel sorry for me? How would it look? Too concerned about other people’s judgments, I strayed away from eating alone. Instead, I craved noise and the security of family and friends in my dining experience.

In the last five years, I have noticed a shift in my own personality. Silence is welcome. Too much chatter and noise makes me nervous. Technology has increased these decibel levels. Sometimes I am too connected to Facebook, my cell phone and computer, but I am unable to disconnect from it even though I know I may be missing pockets of silence.

I know I like holding on to empty space. In my kitchen, I quarantined a cabinet, deciding that I wasn’t going to fill it up with anything. Sometimes I look in that cabinet space as a reminder to honor the quiet. Acknowledging the part of my personality that gravitates toward noise sometimes prevents me from reaching the stillness and mindfulness that I need for my mental sustenance.

But as I sat in the restaurant, I know I’ve made progress. I walked into the restaurant and with confidence asked for a table of one. As I ate my salad, I savored each bite, tasting the texture of the romaine lettuce and the crunch of the croutons. I smiled as people passed me, looking at them in their eyes, not afraid of their reaction.

Another part of me realizes that I still have more to work to do. Eating alone doesn’t mean staying out of touch. Of course, my iPhone sat next to me and settled in as my lunch companion. I perused Facebook and texted a few people while I drank a sip of my water. I knew my mind failed to embrace the purity of the solitude.

I suspect I am still afraid of completely dipping into the quiet.

Rudri Bhatt Patel is a former attorney turned writer and editor. Prior to attending law school, she graduated with an M.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. She is the online editor for the First Day, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, freelances for various parenting websites, and writes her personal musings on her blog, Being Rudri. She is working on a memoir that explores the Hindu culture, grief and appreciating life’s ordinary graces. 

An allergic reaction rash and our atopic journey begins

My son had eczema as a baby which became progressively worse until he was in wet-wraps all day every day. He wore bandages which covered his body from his toes to his neck for the first three or four years of his life.

When he was around 9 months old I gave him a taste of formula. He was going to be looked after by a close relative for the first time in a week or so. He hadn’t been looked after by anyone apart from his dad or I because of the amount of care needed to manage his eczema.

I had trouble expressing milk and even though he was only staying for a few hours, I wanted him to be used to the formula by the time of his visit.

The discomfort from his eczema meant we used many types of aids to help him get to sleep. A bottle before he went to bed was something we had all come to rely on and he was still only a wee babe.

I remember he put the teat in his mouth and screwed up his face. He didn’t swallow any formula apart from the few drops that were clinging to the top of the teat from when I had shaken the bottle.

I put him down for a nap and had a coffee with my mum-in-law who would be looking after my son in a week’s time. I went into check on my boy a short while later and found him on his back with vomit all over his face and clothes. He’d changed colour, his face was swollen and he was covered in bumps.

I didn’t know about allergies.

I should have called an ambulance.

I think at the time I thought that ambulances were for serious things like heart attacks or when elderly people broke their hips, not a bit of vomit. So instead I cleaned him off and we drove him to the local doctor. The doctor looked at him and suggested I wean him completely, put him straight onto cows milk and sent us home.

I can’t believe how stupid I was. I am grateful beyond words that he recovered by himself and that life as we knew it, carried on.

Of course we ignored the unsafe advice about cows milk (which we are advised here shouldn’t be given before 12 months of age).

When we next visited our own doctor and described the situation he told us of a specialist allergy team at the public hospital. He suggested we take our son to the hospital car park and give him the same formula.

We could then rush him inside when he had a reaction thereby ensuring he got the urgent care he needed while also allowing the hospital to validate the condition for themselves. In this way we would soon be connected with the specialist team.

He would ask some questions in the meantime to see if there was a way we could be referred to the team.

There was.

We soon had a letter arrive in the post advising us of an appointment with the Paediatric Immunology team at the children’s hospital.

This was the beginning of our relationship with the Immunology nurses and doctors who continue to have oversight of our son’s allergy management to this day. Over time I’ll tell you a bit more about it.

I was just conscious of not having given you any context about why I might blog about allergies. I hope this goes some way to explaining why I would be interested in sharing our experiences and learnings.

Mostly it’s because of that day when my boy had his first reaction and the many days afterwards when we struggled to work out how best to care for him. Maybe the things we’ve picked up along the way might help others in the same situation.

Just a wee postscript – no, we were never going to play russian roulette with our boy in the hospital courtyard and yes, we changed doctors.

Lisa lives in a 100 year old ramshackle wooden house which clings precariously halfway up the side of a hill in Auckland, New Zealand. Her four children and husband make the house a lot messier than Lisa would like but she likes having them around. When she’s not wondering why her children aren’t asleep Lisa can be found attempting to blog at Lifeblooming. She also muddles her way through various social media networks including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ and would love to connect with you there. Primarily so you can show her what to do.

 

Friday Favorites (September 8-12)

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Kindness and Competition: Women Can Get Along

A beautiful post sharing the trials of emotional and physical violence: Why I Stayed

Check out A Mom’s Eye View of Ferguson

Enjoy a bit of thought-provoking comedy from The Animated Woman as she shares Rocks

 

 

My Wrung Out Heart

Click – no. Click – no. Click –no.
My thumbs move faster than I can control.
“No, no, no, no, no,” I scream inside, sounding like my toddler.
It’s been a long day. I simply can’t hack another essay, another article, on how tough it is to be a mom, on how tiring it is to have young children, on how helpless and hopeless and miserable it all is.
Click – no. Click – no.
I am desperate for inspiration and for motivation. I turn on my phone, cup my hand around my glass of red wine, and after a long day of struggling to balance it all and failing miserably I want relief.
This was a day where my 2 year old had to skip his nap so I could manage two different meetings at once. This was a day where I had not one but two rejections in pursuit of my dream, all received while my 4 year old hacked his lung in to my armpit. This was a day where I had to decide between eating food and doing a conference call for my job.
I cried in the shower, wondering the point of it all. As the hot water christened my head and released my emotions the tears mingled with the soap. “I can’t do it all. I just can’t.”
And so after all of that (the crying, the letting go), I sit with my phone and the wide world of the Internet. I want to remember what is beautiful, gorgeous, and perfect about motherhood. So what is my Google search, then? Can you search for “Help Me Feel Worthy?” Is there a Google prompt for “Why Motherhood is Worth It?” Is there a site called “You are Doing Great Mama?”
Instead I open my tried & true’s. Yet it is all so desperate, so stale, and so predictable tonight.
Tell me that funny thing your kid said.
Relay that outrageous stories of peeing with a kid in the stall, of gross bodily functions you are to clean up, and throw in a flowery curse word.
Give me yet another weepy story about how no one appreciates being a mom.
It all feels the same, Internet. Hollow.
Another essay on turning 30, 40, not turning 29…on the yoga pants mamarazzi judging you…on the plight of travel with kids, dining out with kids, taking kids to the grocery store…
Click – no. Click – NO.
Because I know this already. I live this stuff. And tonight I weep over those moments.
Is there anything left that is new, raw, and untold about motherhood? Does anyone really understand what I need now?
I need a story that makes me feel warm inside without making me feel judged.
I need an essay hug that makes me feel understood.
I want to laugh but laugh over the beauty, not the shame and pain.
I want to remember that it is all worth it, my struggles are not solitary.
But I don’t want to hear about the stinging messiness or the uncontrollable exhaustion that is motherhood.
Our mom blogs are broken. Our records are on repeat.
I want an Internet savior.
Finally, frustrated and overwhelmed I firmly announce, “NO.” Click.
I turn it off. I throw my phone in to the dresser drawer and take my wine to my heavenly bed. As I sink down, I sigh. Not with relief, not with hopelessness. This is a sigh that reminds me to start the breathing I had neglected all day.
And at that moment I hear little feet patter in the room above my head. My toddler is up.
He cries out for me, he needs me. “Mommy!,” he sobs sadly.
Click—yes.
My heart clicks in. He needs the comfort that only a mother’s love can provide. That is me: I am his mother.
As I climb the steps up to his bedroom my emotions soften. In the dark I sweep him in to my arms and smell his soft, wispy hair. He buries his nose in to my neck, slams his arms against his side, and snuggles in to me as hard as he can. It is as though he wants to return to me, in to me, and be one with me.
In that precious, perfect moment I get tears. This is the essay I needed tonight.
I clicked through dozens of blogs and websites but in that one moment, with the lights off, when my eyes are rendered useless, I get what I need. That one breath is worth every second of argument, pain, hurt, frustration, and sobbing. Blogs are not my savior. My children are.

Bio: Allison Carter is a mom still trying to figure it out, and chronicling the highs & lows at Go Dansker Mom. You can also find her on Twitter.

Norma

norma

When my sister was a little girl, she had a favorite cashier at the grocery store. Her name was Norma. I wish I knew more about Norma but I don’t.

Norma was important to my mother because she was black. My mother decided to buy my sister a black doll and I think they named the doll “Norma,” after my sister’s friend at the grocery shop. I have no photo record or memory myself of the doll. Both “Normas” have become abstractions, family lore. The notion my mother had, however, that color-blindness begins at home, stayed concrete these many years.

My allegiance to my mother’s traditions has grown fierce as my mother has aged. I have always held certain aspects of my parents’ view of the world as universal truths. Now, as the hour has grown too late too soon for my mother, who suffers from dementia, I am ever more loyal to the memories I have from my own upbringing.

When my daughter was six months I bought her a first doll. There was a small basket of “miniature” newborn dolls at the toy shop: They came in two colors. White and, well, if not black, then certainly not white. I think they were meant to be African-American. I seized on one of the dark dolls. Someone had to remember Norma.

Dolls are of little interest to six-month-olds, so the baby lay fallow for a while.

When my daughter was 18 months, we took her on a trip to Los Angeles. She had a new backpack and was eager to put things in it for our trip.
And so the baby made her first cross-country voyage. Perhaps in being something familiar or perhaps simply because it was now “time” for dolls, the baby became a constant companion on our trip.

When we ignored the signs and waded in the fountain at The Pacific Design Center, we were soundly scolded by the security guard. The baby doll was knee deep in culpability along with the rest of the family. When we walked down the street in my father’s West Hollywood neighborhood, the baby doll’s tiny hand was offered to passing dogs, and when we went to Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard, the baby doll went traveled the carpeted stairway to investigate the books on sale. When my daughter climbed on the stage of one of the many nightclubs that line Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, the little baby doll was propped up on the pole intended for dance of a more mature nature than my daughter was aware of. She danced to Madonna and enjoyed the attention of numerous cooing men dressed for a Mardi Gras celebration. They patted her head and asked what her favorite song was and if they could give her little plastic maracas to commemorate the holiday. We still have them.

For Mother’s Day, my husband took my daughter out for a couple of hours so I could do whatever I liked. I went back to Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard. As every parent of a young child knows, lingering is a rare pleasure.

My cell phone rang. My husband wasted no time with pleasantries. If a voice can be ashen, his was. “Before you get upset, please know I realize the situation is serious.” Pause. “We can’t seem to find…and yes, we have re-traced our steps, every fountain on Santa Monica Boulevard has been drained…the baby doll is not anywhere.” He took a breath. “I lost her. Stay with me, he continued. Rather than trying to find, um, a replacement, there was this car that she really liked in the playground today. It was a tiny red matchbox car…”

I got upset. “You expect to replace a baby doll with a little red car? WHAT is the matter with you?” I couldn’t conceive of how we would get through bath time or bed time or any time without the baby doll.

“Hear me out,” he said. “We’ve discussed it. The baby took an earlier flight to New York. She’ll be waiting for us there. We are at the drugstore and we found the exact car she liked on the playground. The car is making her happy. I think this will work. We fly back tomorrow and I will meet the baby on the street and bring her to our apartment.”

I knew from how he had chosen his last words that at that moment our daughter was listening to every word her father said. I sighed. How could he lose the baby doll?

When we returned to New York, my husband got up early the next morning and made a trip to meet the baby. (He met her at the toy store at ten am, the minute the shop opened.) I’ll never forget his triumphant stroll down our block, holding a red umbrella against the spring rain, while my daughter and I watched from the shelter of our building’s awning.

“Hey,” he said, as he approached. “Look who I found having tea around the corner?” Oh, how I fell in love with the suave savior holding a tiny baby doll behind his back!

A cautious smile spread across our child’s face before the big reveal. And then she was reunited with her baby. What cements devotion more than absence?

Two months later, I noticed a new basket at our local toy shop. It was filled with “Mini-Corolles.” Corolle dolls are an extravagance. They are French. They are vanilla-scented. The biggest selling point was that among the assorted nationalities and races, I spotted a black Corolle. A very black doll. And she was beautiful. Her limbs could be placed so gracefully in their beanbag pliability.

I brought her home. I tried to name her “Norma” in honor of my mother’s choice so many years ago. The name was rejected. My daughter called her Big Baby because she was a bit bigger than the other baby doll. The original became “Little Baby.” My daughter dragged both dolls all over the city. I was precious about the French doll for a while. I begged my child not to remove her beautiful pink jumper. I pleaded that she not to put her in the dirt. What if the vanilla scent didn’t survive? I’ve since lost the compulsion to keep toys clean. A child’s toys are by definition scuffed and worn and have lain in places we’d rather not think about, like the insides of trash cans and city sidewalks on humid summer days.

I don’t think I am changing the world by buying a doll of a different race. When we moved to our block we discovered another family there with a baby one week younger. The mother worked for the NAACP and spent long days getting people who had wasted away in prison for offenses in their youth off of death row. She is a lovely and funny woman and I had been afraid of her seeing my child’s black doll as an embarrassing or empty gesture. Instead, she seized on it gleefully and bought the same one for her child. I took this as a seal of approval from a very high place indeed.

It is mostly for my mother. My mother played “Free to Be You and Me” for us and survived a bleak childhood to become a much gentler mother than the one life allotted her. She had also endured some painful anti-Semitism in her youth. She was excluded from the Manhattan Skating Club because she was a Jew. She held a card from the Brooklyn Skating Club in order to be able to perform at Rockefeller Center. My mother loved South Pacific and sang it all the time.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

No one has ever asked us about the two dolls who occupy my child’s bed and heart. I often wonder if people wonder. Do they think: There are two liberals who aren’t doing much but buying a doll? It is amazing how frightened we can become of what people might think. It is amazing how wrong we usually are.

My mother doesn’t remember Norma or buying my sister the black doll. Yet when she visits, she is always delighted to see that her granddaughter’s babies are black. “Oh, I see you are raising her well!” she says. Because of my mother’s dementia, she says this every time she visits; indeed, whenever the dolls catch her eye. She has lost even much long term memory now, but her values remain. I’m grateful for that.

So “Big Baby” and “Little Baby” belong to my daughter, but also to my mother. And to Norma, wherever she is.

Leslie Kendall Dye is an actor, dancer, former nanny and now a mother of one two year old. She lives with her husband and daughter in NYC and has written for Mamalode, Nanny Magazine and others. Find her at: Hungry Little Animal or at Twitter

Friday Favorites (September 1-5)

fridayfavorites

Baddest Mother Ever talks about our best…and how our best can change.

Looking for a cool project for the kids? The Kitchn tells us how to plant succulents in eggshells.

Education and standardized testing is a hot-button issue. One professor shares the flaws in this system and the testing company responds!

How important is play to your children? Just as important as it is for you! Just ask MamaBird.

Here’s When I’m a Fan of Old-time Gender Roles

Retro-Thinker-Mom-Image-GraphicsFairy-543x1024One evening last summer, my husband was teaching a late class and didn’t get home until after ten. After kissing me hello and shedding his computer bag, he poured himself some wine and headed over to the sofa, untucking his shirt, getting ready to relax after a long day.

“Before you get too comfortable,” I said in a tone that was part beseeching, part apologetic,“there’s something I need you to take care of outside.”

Scott stopped and looked at me. “There’s something dead in the backyard, isn’t there?”

The man knows me so well.

The “something dead” was a squirrel, located (ironically enough) right underneath the St. Francis shrine on the side fence. I’d noticed it earlier that day, when I was out watering flowers with my son Matthew. Not wanting to get too close, I’d peered at it from a very safe distance. It was difficult, at several feet removed, to tell whether this squirrel was whole or partial, but the tail was unmistakable. Through great artfulness and strategy, I managed to get Matthew out of the yard before he noticed it, but it had been looming in my mind all day.

It’s not that I was mourning the little critter. Beatrix Potter notwithstanding, I don’t have a particular fondness for squirrels, who seem inordinately fond of our yard. We have a very tall palm tree, and the squirrels love to nest high in the dead hanging fronds; it’s basically like a luxury penthouse for rodents. Occasionally they climb down, chasing each other around the fence and eating my yellow rosebuds (this.is.war.) and just generally being a pain in the bum. I see all this from my kitchen window, which looks right out onto the tree.

Once, in fact, I was standing at the sink when I saw two squirrels venture out from the fronds and move partway down the trunk, where they stopped. One of them then proceeded to move toward the other in a way that left no doubt as to his amorous intentions. I immediately threw open the backdoor with a great clatter, scaring them away. It’s not like I relish the role of rodent morality police, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to just stand by and allow more squirrels to come into being. In fact, when I’ve seen the local homeless tabby cat look with alert longing at the squirrels as they scamper down the trunk, I’ll admit that my usual pacifism is tempered by the thought, Well, that would be a nice way to keep the population down.

But when confronted with evidence of the cat’s success at the base of the palm tree, I quailed. (Actually, maybe it wasn’t the cat’s doing. Maybe the squirrel simply fell. Or was he pushed?)

At any rate, this unfortunately meant that I had to keep the boys out of the backyard all day, reneging on my prior suggestion that we do an afternoon sprinkler party. Call me a wuss, but I didn’t want them to be confronted with such stark evidence of the circle of life. And there was no way I was going to pick it up myself.

And you know what? I’m totally fine with admitting that. Over the course of my life I have done many gutsy things. I have gone to live alone in a foreign country and have taught high school and have done other things that have made people say, “Wow, you must be really brave.” So if I have can’t stomach removing a dead squirrel, I’m okay with that; in general, I think I’ve proved my courage. And though I am normally not one to fall back on old-timey gender stereotypes, in this one area I can make June Cleaver look like Gloria Steinem. The sun rises in the east, and men get to handle the vermin. (And, yes, I always say thank you.)

Bless his heart, Scott didn’t roll his eyes or push back or say, “No, you do it.” Instead, he sighed ever so slightly and asked a few questions (what? where? etc.) and took a flashlight to go investigate. He came back in and said, “Yeah, I saw it. I’m going to relax for a bit, and I’ll get it later.”

He watched TV and unwound for about half an hour, during which time I started to fear that maybe he’d forgotten. Then finally he said, “Okay. I’ll go take care of it.” I channeled my best Bette Midler and sang, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” as he resolutely and generously headed out to do the unmentionable.

I think he already knows, and if he doesn’t, he does read my articles. Honey: you truly are my hero. One of these days, I just might greet you at the front door with your paper and slippers.

Ginny Kubitz Moyer is an English teacher and the author of the book Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two boys, and thirty thousand Legos. She blogs about her messy, mostly-mindful life at Random Acts of Momminess.

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

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