To My Precious Snowflakes: Mommy Loves You

To My Precious Snowflakes,

Mommy loves you very much. You are the organic apples of my eye, the gluten-free sprinkles on my SAHM sundae. I cherish every cup and kick aimed at my head. It all goes so quickly, especially when I duck for cover. My heart swells each time I think of your delightful shenanigans. 

Bless your little hearts for cleaning those brand new books in the bathroom sink yesterday. Dirty Elmo board books have no place in our humble home. Your stealthy teamwork saved us from the scourge of bookstore filth. And siblings who wash books together, play together.   

Little Boy, I admire your curious mind. Not every child would remove a vent cover to drop his LeapPad down the heating duct. Of course you wanted to find out what would happen. Who wouldn’t? Mommy was honored to spend thirty minutes fishing it out of the duct in the name of science. 

Darling Son, your burgeoning artistic abilities amaze me. Especially when you showcase them with permanent markers on the canvas of your face. Unfortunately, I didn’t give you enough paper. So, why should you have to walk across the room to get more? Your baby sister was right there. It made perfect sense to continue your Jackson Pollack scrawls on her.     

Little Girl, your theatrical flair leaves me speechless. No one can knock food to the floor like you can. There is no better way to tell Mommy that you’re all done. And of course, fork color matters. Silver is bad, blue is good. I should have read your mind, but I failed. Poor little thing. You tired yourself out by shrieking bloody murder for forty-five minutes. I gave you the blue fork, but it was too late. That terrible silver fork touched your lunch. Of course you couldn’t eat it. The pasta was ruined.   

Sweet Angel, Mommy can be a monster. It’s cruel for me to give you a red cup when you ask for it. And all those times you asked me to drive you home and I did. What was I thinking? I don’t blame you for screaming during the entire car trip. Who does Mommy think she is, giving you exactly what you wanted?

Driving around town with both of you and listening to the soothing chorus of “WHY, MOMMY, WHY, WHY, WHY?” from the backseat is the highlight of my day. Especially just as I’m about to make a left turn. Why should a delivery truck traveling towards us at fifty miles per hour during rush hour traffic hold my attention? You need to know how to spell “milk” RIGHT NOW. I don’t blame you for yelling at me while I’m mid-turn. Mommy’s heart palpitations aside, nothing trumps the question of a curious child. Nothing. 

Each night, we wrap up our long days with a spirited two-hour discussion before bedtime. Your favorite book is “The Ten Little Monkeys.” We’ve read it SO MANY TIMES that Mommy sees it in her hallucinations. Oh, those crazy monkeys! Look at them jumping on the bed and getting hurt! And how creative of the two of you to act it out EVERY NIGHT RIGHT BEFORE BED! 

Thank goodness you didn’t pick up your toys from the floor like I asked you. You saved your strength. Using the couch like a trampoline takes a lot of energy. And how brilliant of you to add your own spin to the story. You literally spin yourselves dizzy before running towards the fireplace. And what makes running towards sharp edges even better? Doing it with your EYES CLOSED! And almost face-planting on the coffee table! You sure showed Mommy and Daddy how creative you can be! 

Thank you for sharing those howler monkey protests when Mommy and Daddy throw each of you over a shoulder to haul you upstairs. They would follow me into my dreams if I slept at night. But I don’t want to miss a moment with you. So I spend the rest of the night watching my snowflakes breathe.

I love you always,

Your Devoted Mommy

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What Does “Being American” Mean?

A few weeks ago, my four-year old son, E., approached me with a thought-provoking question.  He wanted to visit my younger sister, R., and her baby boy, AJ.  Despite my East Indian heritage, E. calls my younger sister “Aunt” R., for no other reason than I figured it would be easier to manage when he was little.  But now that he’s four years old, E. has been more exposed to the existence of other cultures, thanks to a horrifying children’s show called Barney.

As a single twenty-something, I swore I’d never allow my kids to watch that mind-numbing purple dinosaur.  But since actually having children, I’ve embraced the hypocrisy of parenthood.  We were watching a Barney video about Spain.  One of the kids on the show addressed his aunt by a “different” name.

E. turned to me.  “Mama, what did that little boy call that lady?”

“Tia,” I replied.  “It means Aunt in Spanish.”

E. scrunched up his face, obviously confused.  “What about Aunt R.?  Why don’t I call her Tia?”

“Well, if we were Spanish, that’s what we’d do,” I replied.  “But we aren’t Spanish.”

“What are we?”

I smiled, because that question from an adult would aggravate me.  I refrained from saying “human,” and tried to keep my answer simple.  “Well, your daddy’s family is from a country called Ireland and my family is from a country called India.”

“So, how do they say “aunt”?”

“In Ireland, they speak English, so it’s the same word.  They would also say Aunt.”

“What about the other country?”

“India,” I prompted him.  “In India, there are many words for aunt.”

“So, what would I call Aunt R.?”

I hesitated for a moment, as I rapidly went through the long list of words for “aunt” in my head.  Since I’m a girl and R. is my younger sister, what would E. call her?  Was it Kuri?  I addressed my father’s younger brother’s wife through marriage as “Kuri.”  Or was it Pehi?  Most of my cousins on my mother’s side called her “Pehi.”  Since they are the children of her older brothers, was it a title for a brother’s younger sister?  “Mahi,” I responded uncertainly.  “I think that you’d call her Mahi.”  Since he didn’t know what the fish was, I repeated the word, exaggerating the pronunciation for him.  “Maaa-heee.”

E. was satisfied with that answer for all of two seconds.  He turned to me and asked, “So, what would cousin AJ call you?”

I groaned inwardly.  I didn’t even have to think about this answer.  My father has two older sisters who still evoke fear in the hearts of anyone who crosses their determined paths.  I admit that I’m already small and bossy.  Do I also need this title to confirm a life trajectory that I don’t want to travel?

“Well, let me talk with your aunt R. and figure that out with her,” I replied.  He nodded, before turning his attention back to the video.  I sighed deeply.  Why couldn’t I just keep things simple and stick with being called Aunt Taara?  Wouldn’t it make everything a lot easier?  But as I studied my half-Indian son with his tilted, long-lashed dark eyes, I felt a pang of discomfort.  It felt as if I was doing him a great disservice by taking the “easy” route and ignoring half of his heritage.

My parents moved from India to the United States in the ’60’s.  As in the 1960’s.  That’s a long time ago. Assimilation was the mantra of that generation.  There weren’t a lot of people of Indian descent in the metro Detroit area when I grew up.  In 1991, I think I was one of six Indian kids in a senior class that had a total of 525 kids.  And all of us were very “western” in appearance.

Unlike many of the Indian households I witness today, I grew up in a household that only spoke English.  In fact, the only reason I even understand the language of my parents, an Indian dialect called Assamese, is that they only spoke it when they didn’t want me to understand what they were saying about me.  So naturally, since I always enjoyed subverting authority figures, I listened for my name and eventually became relatively fluent in Assamese as a child.  My parents had no idea that I understood exactly what they were saying each time they whispered to each other in Assamese.

But my father always drummed two mantras into my head:  “You were born in America, so that makes you an American” and “You should always be grateful to the country that has given us so many opportunities.”  Growing up, we dressed in “western” clothes and embraced everything “American.”  Unless it was a special occasion or gathering, we typically ate “American” fare like BBQ chicken, meatballs, mashed potatoes and salad.  To this day, I wonder if I am rarely taken for Indian because I’ve been so indoctrinated with the notion of “being American” that I can’t shake it off me.

So, what does “being American” even mean?  Does it mean that I have to ignore the culture of my ancestors?  I don’t want that for my children.  I want them to “be American” AND to embrace their heritage.

I looked at my son, who was still engrossed by the show.  “You know what, buddy?  Your cousin AJ should call me Jethai.”

E. glanced at me.  “What did you say?”

“Jethai,” I repeated loudly, squaring my shoulders.  I was determined to own the title.  “Like Jet.  And then Hi.  He should call me Taara Jethai, okay?”

“Like Star Wars?”

I grinned.  That didn’t sound so bad.  “Sure.  I’m a Jethai.”  And maybe one day I’ll even be a Jethai Master.

When An Icon Dies

A few days ago, the headline on my Facebook trending newsfeed shocked me.  “Prince dies at 57.”  I stared at the words in disbelief.  It didn’t seem real.

My mind automatically drifted back to the first time I heard Prince.  It was at a neighbor’s house in 1984.  A friend of mine pulled me into her older sister’s room while it was empty.  After propping a chair against the door, we eagerly searched the room for her sister’s secret stash of inappropriate records.  Eventually, we stumbled upon a new album under her mattress.  It was called Purple Rain.  There was a picture of some guy wearing a purple jacket on it, perched on a purple motorcycle.  Neither of us did much more than glance at the cover.  Giggling, we pulled the large vinyl disc out of the slip cover and slapped it on the record player.

The first song immediately caught our attention.  It was called “Let’s Go Crazy.”  We played it at least ten times, while dancing around the room like maniacs.  Laughing and jumping on her sister’s bed, we followed the song’s advice and went “crazy” until her sister entered the room with a ferocious scowl and kicked us out of her room.

If a 10-year old could be hooked on something, then I was hooked.  I had no idea what the deeper meaning behind the lyrics was.  I only knew that I had to have that song and its pulsating rhythm.  Over the next few months, I saved up my small weekly allowance and eventually bought my first record single.  Looking back, I’m actually amazed that my parents allowed me to purchase that record.  I suspect that they didn’t really understand the meaning behind the lyrics either.

As a member of Generation X, I grew up listening to Prince.  I enjoyed his music, but I don’t claim to be a die hard fan.  There were other artists I preferred.  So why did his untimely death affect me so much this past week?

I’m in my forties.  More specifically, forty-two years old.  For me, the biggest difference between youth and middle age is nostalgia.  Well, that and metabolism.  But the death of an icon like Prince doesn’t just signify the end of an era for him.  It also forces those of us who grew up with his music to look back in time and realize how far we’ve traveled in life.  It forces us to question our own lives and to wonder if there’s still time to make a difference in this world.

And so, I’ll say goodbye to Prince Rogers Nelson.  Although your time was cut short, you made a difference in this world.  Your music is forever etched into the lives of Generation X.  Thank you.  Rest In Peace.

 

The Demon And The Deva (Chapter 1)

Once upon a time, in a world very similar to our own, there was an ancient land called Bharat.  Within Bharat was a small kingdom called Videha.  This is where our story begins.

The ruler of Videha was King Janaka.  Under his long reign, Videha was prosperous.  The people were happy, and life was peaceful.  There was just one problem.  King Janaka was aging and he didn’t have an heir.  For many years, Janaka and his beautiful queen, Sunayana, prayed to the gods for a child.  But the gods remained silent.  No child was born.

One day, a senior advisor in Janaka’s court, named Vyasa, approached the king in the throne room.  “Sire,” Vyasa beseeched him.  “You have heard me talk of the Seers for years.  The time has finally come.  You need their help.”

Janaka’s brow furrowed.  Everyone in Bharat had heard of the Seers.  They were a group of golden-eyed mystics who lived in the kingdom of Mahishūru.  They followed the teachings of an Asura called Mahishasura.  “Demons,” Janaka sputtered at the thought of an Asura setting foot in his kingdom.  “You want me to ask those demon Asuras for help?”

“Janaka, I am your friend,” Vyasa looked him in the eye.  Few others would dare do the same thing.  “We have known each other since childhood.  I will not just sit beside you and feed you idle words in this time of need.”

“I still have time,” Janaka protested, flushing angrily.  He was older, but still one of the most powerful kings in Bharat.

Vyasa raised an eyebrow.  He was accustomed to Janaka’s ego, but the time for soothing injured pride had ended.  “Sire, please allow me to speak honestly,” When Janaka nodded, Vyasa continued.  “Your enemies are mobilizing against you.  They are waiting for the first sign of weakness to pounce on Videha.  You must have an heir and time to train him.  Without one, Videha is in danger.”

“But to ask an Asura for help is outrageous,” Janaka scowled.  His distaste for Asuras was deep-rooted.  Devas and Asuras had been fighting each other for centuries.  It was only in the last two decades that a tentative peace agreement had been forged between the two groups.  But the distrust still lingered.  “There must be another way.”

“My brother, there is no other way,” Vyasa said softly.  It pained him to admit it.  He didn’t want to approach the Asuras for help either.  “I’ve seen it.  This is the only path to an heir.”

“So, who do you propose we call?”  When Vyasa raised an eyebrow, Janaka shook his head.  “He won’t come,” Janaka crossed his arms.  “Even if I ask him to.  There is too much bad blood between our kingdoms.”

“Yes, he will.”  Vyasa smiled.  When his visions were clear, they were never wrong.  “Ask him and he will come.”

One week later, Vyasa’s statement was proven correct.  He rushed into the throne room and found King Janaka conducting his daily meeting with his ministers.  Conversation halted as Vyasa approached the king.

“Sire, he’s here,” Vyasa whispered into the Janaka’s ear.

The king waved his hands, dismissing the ministers.  Once they scurried out of the room, Janaka nodded to two of his guardsmen.

The heavy doors at the opposite end of the room swung open.  An Asura named Mahishasura entered.  He surveyed the room with one sweeping glance as he strode across the marble floor.  Despite his towering height, Mahishasura looked up at the throne from the bottom of the steps.  “Janaka.”

“So, we finally meet,” King Janaka nodded back, and remained seated.  He pointedly lowered his head to look down at the Asura.  It was customary for two royals of equal status to greet each other on level ground.  “I’m told that you are the legendary Mahishasura.”

Mahishasura’s golden eyes eyes narrowed.  He recognized the insult.  “I am.”

“You look more human than I expected,” Janaka remarked casually.  He scanned the Asura from head to toe.  “I’ve heard that you are part water buffalo.  If the stories are true, where are your horns?”

Mahishasura smiled, baring even white teeth.  “Stories don’t always contain truth.”

Vyasa fluttered around Janaka nervously.  He said softly, “Sire, I must remind you that we invited him here.  We need his help.”

“Yes, yes,” Janaka lifted one hand and waved Vyasa away.  The internal struggle was apparent on his face.  After a few moments of silence, he stood up and walked down the steps.  “My advisor has reminded me that you have done us a great favor by appearing in our court.”  He extended his hand.  “Please forgive me.  You have shown us a great honor with your visit.”

Mahishasura raised an eyebrow.  After pausing, he took Janaka’s hand and clasped it in greeting.  “You are forgiven.  Now, what is the purpose of my visit?”

“I have been told that your people have special,” Janaka hesitated.  He searched for the word.  “Abilities.”  When Mahishasura remained silent, Janaka continued.  “I have need of such abilities.”

“Is that so?”  The expression on Mahishasura’s face was mild interest.  “And why is that?”

Janaka grimaced, as if he spotted something distasteful.  He squared his shoulders.  “My advisors tell me that I will never have an heir without your help.”

“I see,” Mahishasura replied evenly.  He didn’t appear surprised by the revelation.  “And if this is true, why should I help you?”

The Asura was trying to bargain with him.  Well, this was something that Janaka could understand.  “What do you want from us in exchange for your help?”  He extended his hand to point out the splendors of the room.  “Gold?  Jewels?  I will pay your fee.”

Mahishasura snorted.  “I am the rightful King of Mahishuru.  It is one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Bharat.  Do you think I could be bought so easily?”

“But you’re not,” Vyasa interjected.  When Mahishasura turned his gaze to Vyasa, the old advisor stammered.  “Your Highness, I mean no disrespect.  But I have been told that you gave up your right to the throne to follow the teachings of the Seers.”

Mahishasura nodded.  “You speak the truth.  I am no longer the King of Mahishuru. But my people still follow my words as law.”

“Then why are you here?” King Janaka demanded.  He didn’t have time to banter with an Asura.  “If not for gold or wealth, why are you here?”

Mahishasura’s brow furrowed.  Why indeed?  “I will help you.  But for a price.”

King Janaka threw up his hands in exasperation.  “What price?  I just offered you all of the gold you could ever want.”

“My price isn’t wealth,” Mahishsura replied.  He glanced over his shoulder and nodded at someone waiting outside the throne room.  “I need your protection.  For him.”

A woman holding the hand of a boy walked up to the group.  The boy was young and handsome.  While the woman kept her eyes cast downward, the boy boldly met the penetrating gaze of Vyasa.  He grinned, showing a flash of even white teeth, before turning his golden eyes to King Janaka.

“Who is this child?”  King Janaka demanded.  There was something about the boy that made him uneasy.

Mahishasura smiled.  He rested his hand on the boy’s thick black hair.  “He is the younger son of the Sage Vishrava.  His name is Ravana.”

The two Devas stared at the boy in stunned silence.  Janaka was the first to speak.  “The son of Sage Vishrava?”  He turned to Vyasa.  “Why wasn’t I told that the King of Lanka has an heir?”

Vyasa shook his head helplessly.  “Sire, I didn’t know.  My sources never revealed that King Pulastya had a grandson.”  He looked at the boy’s eyes again.  There was no mistaking his eye color.  “And certainly not an Asura grandson.”

“How would your sources know if we never told them?”  Mahish chuckled.  At Vyasa’s startled look, the Asura smiled.  “We are aware of your sources.  They only relay the information that we allow.”  The boy stood silently, listening intently to the exchange.  His sharp eyes absorbed the shock on the Devas’ faces.

“How did this happen?”  Janaka could barely contain his horror.  The kings of Lanka came from one of the most illustrious Deva bloodlines in Bharat.  To see it contaminated by Asura blood was appalling.

Mahish replied, “Vishrava has taken a second wife.”

“But after the death of his first wife, Vishrava renounced his claim to the throne,” Vyasa exclaimed, shaking his head in protest.  How had his sources missed this piece of critical information?  “He even vowed to remain celibate.”

“Well, even the most celibate man can be swayed by extraordinary beauty.”  Mahish laughed.  It was amusing to watch the Devas squirm at Lanka’s potential change in allegiance.  “Vishrava married the eldest daughter of King Sumali.  They now have four children.  Ravana is their eldest child.”

“Sumali’s daughter?”  Vyasa repeated.  The princesses of Daitya were renowned in Bharat for their beauty.  Mere mortal men couldn’t resist their charms.  But they were still the daughters of an Asura king who hungered for more power.  This new alliance didn’t bode well for the kingdom of Videha.  “And what of Prince Kubera?”  The younger son of Pulstya was second in the line of succession to the throne of Lanka.  Unless the birth of Ravana had changed that.

“The line of succession remains the same now that Vishrava has children.”  As Mahish continued to speak, King Janaka looked at him in horror.  “Ravana is the heir to the throne of Lanka.  But if Pulstya passes before Ravana comes of age, Kubera will rule in Ravana’s name.”  Mahish caught the look that was exchanged between King Janaka and Vyasa.  “Yes.  Therein lies the dilemma.”

“You fear harm will befall the boy before he comes of age?” Vyasa said softly.  “And if it does, Kubera ascends the throne.”

“Yes.  That is why I am here,” Mahish replied.  He turned to look at King Janaka.  “And that is why I will help you.  But I must have your word that you will protect Ravana with your lives.”

King Janaka could feel Ravana’s penetrating gaze.  He tried not to squirm, as he raised his hand.  “I have heard your plea for help.  I must speak with my advisors before I make a decision.”  He nodded to one of his guards, who left the throne room and returned with a young woman.  “My staff will escort you to your quarters. Please rest and refresh yourselves while I sit in deliberation on the matters we have just discussed.”

Mahish nodded, somewhat disappointed.  It had been foolish to hope for an immediate response.  “As you wish.  Thank you for your hospitality.”

Once Mahish and Ravana left the throne room, Vyasa turned to Janaka.  “Sire, shall I call the others?”

“No,” Janaka said grimly.  “I have no need of their counsel.  But I would hear your thoughts.”

******

As King Janaka sat on the throne, his advisor, Vyasa, paced the floor.  “This child changes everything,” Vyasa muttered.

“Well, this is a fine mess that your Asura Mahish has brought to my kingdom.  Age has addled Pulstya’s mind if he allowed this union.” Janaka’s jaw tightened.  It was inconceivable that Vishrava, the firstborn son of Pulstya, would have married an Asura.  And not just any Asura.  A daughter of Sumali, King of the Daityas.

“It’s an outrage,” Vyasa nodded in agreement.  The entire situation was unsettling.  Sumali was making a power play for Lanka.  “I feel certain that this was Sumali’s doing.”

“Yes,” Janaka pounded his fist on the arm of the throne.  “Sumali and one of his seductress daughters.”  It made sense.  Lanka was the wealthiest kingdom in Bharat.

“He hopes to acquire more weapons with Lanka’s wealth,” Vyasa continued to speculate out loud.  His face was grim.  Videha’s wealth, although plentiful, was no match for Lanka.  And Sumali had always eyed Videha’s fertile land.

“And now Sumali has what he wants.  The thrones of Lanka and Daitya will unite under that boy,” Janaka snarled.  He was consumed by one thought.  Eliminating the boy.

“Sire, we must proceed with caution,” Vyasa said.  His mind was still whirling at the failure of his people.  Were his sources compromised?  How many years had his people been under the control of the Asuras?  The boy, Ravana, was at least five years old.  So, for five years, no one in the kingdom of Videha had known about his existence?  This failure was beyond unacceptable.  Janaka would view it as treason.  Heads would roll.

“Of course we must proceed with caution,” Janaka snapped.  He rubbed his temples, which were beginning to throb.  Once the boy was gone, Lanka would remain under the control of the Devas.  “Do you take me for a fool?”

“Forgive me, Sire,” Vyasa replied deferentially.  Janaka’s thoughts were obvious.  Vyasa knew that he had to tread lightly.  “I speak to myself as well as to you.”

“Enough, enough,” Janaka waved his hand, dismissing the apology.  Kubera must ascend Lanka’s throne after Pulstya.

“May I speak freely?” Vyasa asked.  It was best to change the subject.  Janaka nodded.  “It is in our best interest to have Lanka remain under Deva rule.”

“Agreed.  Kubera is a fool, but he’s a Deva.  He will remain our ally after his father’s death.”  Janaka leaned on the left arm of the throne, rested his chin on one hand.  His dark brows knit together.  “This is why we must return the Demon boy to him.”

“Ravana, sire,” Vyasa said.  He stifled a sigh.  Janaka was working himself up into one of his fits of rage.  It would be difficult to lead him to the larger picture.  “The boy’s name is Ravana.”

“What difference does his name make?”  King Janaka’s loud voice thundered through the throne room.  “He will never sit on the throne of Lanka.”

“Sire, Asura or not, Ravana is still the grandson of King Pulstya,” Vyasa said calmly.  “If we were to harm the boy, Pulstya will have no choice but to attack Videha.”

“I have no intention of harming the boy,” Janaka huffed.  He looked mildly offended.  “But he shouldn’t be here.  There is no need to antagonize Prince Kubera.  Send the boy back to his people and let them sort it out.”

“And what of your quest?  You will never have an heir without the help of Mahish.” Vyasa said.  He watched Janaka digest the reminder.  “And he will never help you unless you vow to protect Ravana.”

The two men were silent.  After a few moments, King Janaka leaned forward and scowled at Vyasa.  “Then find someone who isn’t a traitor and send a message to Pulstya.  We must find out his stance on this grandson.  Until then, the child will remain under my protection.” Janaka’s nostrils flared at Vyasa’s obvious sigh of relief.  “But only until then.”

 

Hey Gen Xer’s! When Did We Hit Middle Age?

Earlier this week, I was standing at the counter of Panera making small talk with the lady behind the register.  The place was pretty empty, so she wasn’t in a rush to take my order.  We started laughing about our favorite sitcoms.  Both of us made the same Seinfeld reference about coffee and started laughing hysterically.  And then it happened.

The girl at the next register stared at us in confusion.  She couldn’t have been more than twenty years old.  “What are you two talking about?”

“It’s from Seinfeld,” I responded with a smile.  Kramer’s antics with his hot coffee and his lawyer’s rant about using a balm were fresh in my mind.

The girl still looked confused for a few moments.  And then I saw the click of recognition.  “Oh, yeah, I remember that show,” she exclaimed.  “My PARENTS used to watch it all the time.”

The older lady and I looked at each other.  She shook her head in mock dismay, while I tried to shake off the horrifying realization.  I looked at the twenty-something girl on my right, and then turned back to the sixty-something lady behind the register in front of me.  I was standing between where I had been and where I was going.  And I had more in common with where I was going.

When did this happen?  When did I hit middle age?  I always pictured middle age as a balding man who drives around in a red sports car, wears absurdly flashy clothing, and tries to pick up indecently young women in bars.  I did NOT picture it as a stay-at-home mother who drives a minivan, wears “slobby chic” clothing from Target, and tries to pick up small, shrieking children without getting kicked in the face.

But the truth is that I’m thinking of dyeing my hair to cover my gray hairs instead of dyeing it just for fun.  I’m plunking money down on department store makeup counters, hoping to find some magic elixir that eliminates the dark circles under my eyes.  I’m friends with people who are suddenly signing up for marathons or weight loss programs.  I’m listening to Sirius 90’s on 9, quoting ’90’s sitcoms, and ranting about how terrible music is today to anyone who will listen.  I’m hearing about people I once worked with who are getting sick or dying.

I’m doing things with a certain urgency that wasn’t there before.  Because if I’m the hero of my journey, then I’m approaching the midpoint of my story.  According to Joseph Campbell and the storytelling pattern he called “The Hero’s Journey,” the midpoint of any story is a pivotal turning point for the protagonist.  The hero stops just reacting to obstacles and starts behaving proactively.

Do I wish I could go back in time?  Maybe back to the ’90’s?  Other than the dance music, my lighter weight, and my ability to breakdance, I can honestly say no.  I like where I am.  I like finally having the courage to chase my dreams.  My heart has grown in its capacity for love and compassion.  I couldn’t have done this in my twenties.

I’m forty-one years old and my time is now.  Not someday.  Now.  It’s time to stop waiting for things to happen and finally take my life into my own hands.  Maybe that’s what I’m doing with this blog.  Some people jog.  I write.  So, welcome to my midlife crisis!  Enjoy the ride!

How To Deal With A Toddler In Just 100 Easy Steps

Step 1:  Get A Toddler.

Step 2:  Toddler asks for something (cup, spoon, toy – anything that can be weaponized.).

Step 3:  Parent gives Toddler the object.

Step 4:  Toddler hurls object at parent’s head.

Step 5:  After getting hit, Parent shakes head disapprovingly at Toddler.

Step 6:  Toddler shrieks like a barn owl.

Step 7:  Parent feels guilty.

Step 8:  Parent gives Toddler one more chance with the object.

Step 9:  Toddler hurls object at a light fixture and chips it.

Step 10:  Parent says “No throwing,” and puts the object out of reach from Toddler.

Step 11:  Toddler shrieks like a barn owl.

Step 12:  Parent tries to assert authority in a firm, but gentle voice.  “We don’t throw things in this house.”

Step 13:  Toddler’s face gets red as rage intensifies.

Step 14:  Parent tries to RATIONALIZE why the toddler shouldn’t throw things in the house.  “If you throw your toys, you may break something in the house.”

Step 15:  Toddler cries harder and throws up the small breakfast that just took two hours to eat.

Step 16:  Parent tries to comfort Toddler.  “It’s okay.  I’ll clean you up.”

Step 17:  Toddler slips in puke and cries more.

Step 18:  Parent tries to peel soiled clothes from Toddler and also ends up coated in puke.

Step 19-50:  Parent wrestles slippery, wiggling, vomit-covered Toddler up the stairs and into the bathtub after nearly slipping in puke herself.  Both parties take a bath and return downstairs clean and fresh.

Step 51:  Toddler demands food.

Step 52:  Parent is uncertain about offering food so soon after vomiting, but doesn’t want Toddler to be hungry.  Parent gives Toddler a small bowl of Cheerios in the high chair.

Step 53:  Toddler knocks the bowl off the tray table, scattering Cheerios across the floor.

Step 54:  Parent reminds herself that Toddler is only two years old, and starts to sweep up the mess.

Step 55:  Toddler shrieks like a barn owl that she’s hungry.

Step 56:  Parent offers a cup of milk to toddler and HOPES TO GOD THAT SHE STOPS SHRIEKING.

Step 57:  Toddler takes two sips of milk, holds out the cup, and announces that she is “All done.”

Step 58:  Parent takes the cup and turns to take it to the counter.

Step 59:  Toddler shrieks like a barn owl.  “CUP!  CUP!  CUUUUUUPPPPPP!!!!!”

Step 60:  Parent grits teeth and returns the cup to the Toddler.

Step 61:  Toddler finishes the entire cup of milk.

Step 62:  Parent cleans up floor, relieved that the Toddler has something in her stomach.

Step 63:  Toddler repeatedly whacks the tray table with the empty sippy cup.  “Mommy!  I dumming!”

Step 64:  Parent makes the mistake of saying “Please don’t hit your table with the cup.”

Step 65:  Toddler throws the sippy cup across the room and announces that she is “All done.”

Step 66:  Parent wonders if the bottle of ibuprofen in the cupboard has expired, because her head is throbbing.

Step 67:  Toddler wiggles out of security belt straps and starts to push herself up from the high chair.  “I STUCK, MOMMY.  I STUUUUUUCCCCKKKKK!!!”

Step 68:  Parent forgets about the Cheerios, throws down the broom, and rushes over to the toddler.  “Let me help you.”

Step 69:  Toddler hangs over the tray table and nearly tips over the high chair.

Step 70:  Parent glances at the clock and realizes that nap time is still several hours away.

Step 71:  Toddler makes a demand.  “Watch sumting  WATCH SUMTING!!!!!”

Step 72:  Parent is tempted to flip on the TV, but plasters a smile on her face instead.  “Let’s do something fun.  Who wants to draw some animals?”

Step 73:  Toddler claps her hands and seems delighted by the suggestion.

Step 74:  Parent forgets that Toddler has the attention span of a fruit fly.  Parent runs through 20 Pinterest-approved, toddler activities in 5 minutes.

Step 75:  Toddler shrieks like a barn owl.  “I HUNGWY.”

Step 76:  Parent wants to teach Toddler a lesson.  “Well, snack time is in an hour.  We’ll have to wait until then.”

Step 77:  Toddler’s shrieks escalate to the pitch of a howler monkey.

Step 78:  Parent tries to distract Toddler with older brother’s toys, since he is away at school and will have no idea.  “Let’s go play in your brother’s room.”

Step 79:  Toddler stops crying and spends the next 20 minutes wreaking havoc on older brother’s room.

Step 80:  Parent makes a mental note to clean up older brother’s room before he gets home from school.

Step 81:  Toddler hurls older brother’s favorite book across the room, breaking the binding.

Step 82:  Parent shakes head disapprovingly and uses a firm, gentle voice.  “We don’t throw books in this house.”

Step 83:  Toddler shrieks like a barn owl before throwing up all of the milk from earlier.

Steps 84-95:  Parent strips the Toddler down AGAIN, but this time, just swishes the toddler around in a tub of soapy water for 5 minutes.  They return downstairs.

Step 96:  Parent gives up, and plops toddler down in front of the TV until lunch time.

Step 97:  While Toddler is mesmerized by Barney, Parent manages to get another glass of milk and a handful of Cheerios past her guarded lips.

Step 98:  Even though it’s an hour early, Parent announces that it’s nap time.

Step 99:  Toddler shrieks like a barn owl.

Step 100:  Repeat entire process after Toddler wakes up from nap.

Dear “Perfect” Parent

Dear “Perfect” Parent:

In the world of parenting, there are really only two teams: Team Perfect and Team Lazy. I confess. I’m on Team Lazy. But it didn’t start off like that. Before the birth of my first child, I had every intention of joining Team Perfect. I decided to stay at home to raise my precious snowflake. I pored over every baby advice book I could get my hands on. I had a free-range, all-natural delivery, baptized by loud wailing and blood-curdling pain. I sanitized everything in the house with bleach, including my husband and the kitchen sink. I gave up caffeine so that I could feed him good, wholesome breast milk (my baby, not my husband). I carried my baby everywhere and rocked him to sleep. I crept around like a cat burglar while he napped. I rushed to his room the moment I heard him stir. I created an elaborate spreadsheet that tracked every doctor’s office visit, feeding, sleep times, wet diapers and bowel movements. For that first month, I could have been the captain of Team Perfect. Hell, I owned Team Perfect.

And then, tragedy struck. My grizzled old doctor informed me very matter-of-factly that my baby boy was crying all the time because he wasn’t getting enough to eat. I was forced to join the ranks of the “lazy” parents everywhere by supplementing my son’s pure breastfed diet with a poison called “FORMULA.” I was horrified. It didn’t matter that my son had the nerve to actually gain weight and stop crying on formula. I was a terrible parent that was going to be ejected from Team Perfect. I would be scorned by on-line parents everywhere.

Despite the formula mishap, I tried to maintain my Team Perfect membership. I didn’t allow my son to watch any television. I never fed him anything with sugar. I made sure that I read him at least ten books a day. I interacted with him ALL DAY LONG, because studies showed that conducting daily dissertations on our surroundings and show tune performances would guarantee my toddler an admission to Harvard. So, I talked and I sang (off-key), and I talked and I sang (still off-key), until I wanted to tell myself to shut up. My son would occasionally run away from me when he was tired of hearing my (off-key) voice.

The slippery descent into laziness began one particularly fussy day. It was a warm, sunny afternoon in the month of June. The birds were chirping and perfect little children were frolicking in parks across the land.  Despite my beautifully constructed Team Perfect plans, my almost two year old son was NOT behaving like the perfect child of a perfect mother. Instead, he was fighting the designated tooth brushing time with the vigor of a rabid raccoon. Out of sheer desperation, I turned to my phone and pulled up a YouTube video. He remained mesmerized for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. I could actually brush his teeth without getting slapped, kicked or bitten. I took my first steps towards Team Lazy. Five minutes can’t hurt, right?  And it’s an Elmo video. At least it’s educational. From then on, I used that video to get my son to sit still for tooth brushing. And for nail clipping. And for when I cooked. And for just about anything that I needed to get done.

By the time I had baby number two, I was a card-carrying member of Team Lazy. My strong-willed toddler son had broken my spirit. I was just too tired to care about being on Team Perfect. You want to eat that food on the floor? Fine, go ahead and eat it. You want to lick the tire of that truck on display at the mall? Consider it your vaccination for the day. You want to watch a thirty-minute Elmo video?  Please, for the love of God, watch a thirty-minute Elmo video. I just don’t care anymore. My final ejection from Team Perfect occurred when I unapologetically loaded up on formula and baby food jars while pushing my newborn daughter IN A STROLLER through a conventional grocery store. Perfect mothers with perfectly slung babies in organic grocery stores across the nation gasped in collective horror when they sensed this disturbance in the force. One of their former members had left Team Perfect to join the ranks of the enemy.

So, there you have it. That’s the story of how I abandoned Team Perfect and doomed my children to a shiftless life of utter despair. There is one bright spot. All of the money that I used to spend on organic food has been diverted to a fund for the trailer that I’ll have to purchase for my jobless, homeless children. I don’t want them living in my basement, but they can live on my front lawn.

Signed,

A Proud Member of Team Lazy

A Farewell To My Friend Jheri, The Hair Dryer

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This morning when I plugged you in, I had no idea that it would be the last time.  Everything started off normally.  When I flipped the switch, your air blew as hot and strong as ever.  For a few minutes, I basked in the luxury of your soothing warmth.  And then it happened.

I heard a high-pitched, grating sound, and your fan came to a screeching halt.  Puzzled, I stared down the barrel of your nozzle.  Within its dark cavern, your heating coils blazed neon red.  I felt a pang of guilt.  You see, I never read your instruction manual.  I took your hot air for granted.  After I waved the smoke from my face and laid you gently on your side, I saw that your air vent was covered with lint.  No vent means no air, and no air means no cooling.  Your poor little coils never stood a chance.  They finally overheated and gave out.

But despite my decades of neglect, you harbored no ill-will towards me.  You didn’t burn my house down with a vigilante spark of justice, or shock me with one last surge of current.  For this, and many other things, I will be eternally grateful to you.

I am grateful for our time together.  Through the ’90’s, 2000’s, and 2010’s, you’ve witnessed my many hair transformations.  Big ‘dos, little ‘dos, curly ‘dos, straight ‘dos.  Bunching and scrunching, and spraying and displaying.  Your hot air has cemented the four-inch waterfall of my Aqua Net bangs, and warmed my tinted waves over the steel bristles of a large-barreled brush.  You’ve seen me on my good hair days and my bad hair days and through it all, you never passed judgement.

And so, my friend, Jheri Rhedding II Pro 1500, I salute you and your decades of hot air.  I’ve never heard of such steadfast service from another hair dryer, and I expect that I never will again.  You were one of a kind and I will never forget you.

What Do I Say?: A Love Story (Part Three)

What do I say?  The small bridesmaid wondered nervously, as she held the cell phone to her ear.  Her trepidation grew with each ring.  When someone finally answered, she hesitated for a few moments before pouring out her feelings to the person on the other end.  It was a relief to finally say the words out loud.

What do I say?  The bridesmaid wondered, when her friend, the bride, proposed a plan.  A game night at the home of the new married couple.  Only a few people in the wedding party would be invited.  And, of course, the tallest groomsman would attend, since the bride would coordinate the party around his schedule.  The bridesmaid couldn’t think of a better opportunity for another casual encounter.  She reluctantly agreed to the bride’s suggestion.

What do I say?  The bridesmaid wondered, as she watched the newlyweds greet the tallest groomsman at the door.  He looked handsome in his navy blue sweater and jeans.  The bridesmaid looked down at her red top and black pants.  She wondered what he thought of her.  Was it obvious that the evening was a setup?  They were the only single people at the party.  How could she face him?  He probably thought that the entire evening was her idea.

What do I say?  The bridesmaid wondered, as the groomsman stretched out on the floor beside her.  He was even more wonderful than she remembered.  The games gradually helped her to overcome her initial shyness.  It was a fun night that ended too quickly.  She and the groomsman left the party at the same time, but they parted ways without making plans to see each other again.

What do I say?  The bridesmaid wondered, as she stared at the computer screen.  Why was she still pursuing this?  It was obvious that the groomsman didn’t reciprocate her interest.  He could have asked her out after the game night, but he hadn’t.  So, why couldn’t she let this go?  Frustrated by her insane need to try one last time, the bridesmaid sent the note and waited for his response.

What do I say?  The bridesmaid wondered, as she rifled through her purse in the restaurant parking lot.  With growing anxiety, she clutched a piece of paper like a lifeline.  This was the most important first date of her life.  Long silences were the enemy.  Preparation was key.  The bridesmaid studied the list of conversation topics as she walked towards the restaurant.  But all of her preparation flew out of her head when she saw the tall groomsman already sitting at the table.  After five hours of effortless conversation, he asked if he could see her again.  She said yes.

What do I say?  The bridesmaid wondered ten months later at his best friend’s wedding.  As the groomsman relayed childhood memories during the best man’s speech, he choked up with emotion.  The bridesmaid’s heart caught in her throat.  “I love you,” she told him that night after the reception.  He smiled back at her and said, “I love you too.”

What do I say?  The bridesmaid wondered, after returning home from a night out with friends.  She had been traveling for work and hadn’t seen her groomsman for a few days.  He wanted to stop by and see her.  The bridesmaid was completely caught off guard when he knelt down and asked her to spend the rest of her life with him.  After overcoming her disbelief and repeating “Are you serious?” several times, the bridesmaid said yes.

What do I say?  The bridesmaid wondered, as she shifted the long train of her dress.  She didn’t want to knock over the flaming candles on the altar or say the wrong words at the wrong time.  The priest asked her if she would take the tallest groomsman, now her groom, for her husband.  She looked into the hazel eyes of her future husband and remembered that night at another wedding.  I could spend the rest of my life with you.  Her happiness nearly robbed her of speech, but the right words finally came:  “Yes.  I do.”

TO THE READER:  This is a true story.  I am the bridesmaid who married this “shy” groomsman.  I plan on spending the rest of our lives together giving my husband grief over this…..  🙂  Thank you for reading our story!  NOTE:  If you missed the beginning of this story, here it is:  He’s Not My Type:  A Love Story (Part One).

Have you ever fallen in love?  Do you have a love story that you’d like to share?  Please tell me!  I’d love to hear about it!  It’s the perfect way to end the week on a happy note.

To My Lost Little One

To my lost little one,

I still think about you and wonder who you could have been.  Your older brother is four and a half years old.  You also have a younger sister who is one and a half years old.  I thought about you today, as I watched your little sister giggling at your older brother’s antics.  I wonder if you would have chosen to sit beside your sister and laugh, or chosen to stand up with your brother and put on a show.  Both of your siblings are already funny, strong-willed characters.  I think you would have been a funny, strong-willed character too.

On that horrible day over two years ago, I had a doctor’s appointment.  It was supposed to be a routine checkup, but I felt dread as I drove towards the medical office building.  The checkup went normally and I nearly left without saying anything.  But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.  So, I asked for an ultrasound.

The silence in the dark ultrasound room was deafening.  I stared at your image on the screen. After twelve weeks, you already looked like a baby. The ultrasound technician Kathy frantically traced my swollen belly with the probe.  As she desperately searched for good news, I studied the gentle curve of your back and your round little head.  I was instantly transported to a happier time. Two years earlier, in the same room, Kathy and I had looked at a similar image of your older brother.  But your brother had been a small wiggling bundle of energy even back then. I remembered Kathy chuckling and saying, “Wow!  You’re in trouble!  This one’s a live wire!” I remember the two of us laughing together.

Not this time. There was nothing to laugh about. There was nothing moving on the screen. Just stillness.

“Oh, honey,” Kathy said softly. “There’s no heartbeat.” She laid a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry.” I saw the tears in her eyes and knew that she was. I just nodded silently when she told me that she would go and get my midwife.

Once she left the room, a wave of darkness crashed over me, almost suffocating me in sorrow and guilt. I looked at your motionless little body on the screen and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I was wrong.” I searched the screen for some sign of life, hoping that my apology would bring your soul back.  I choked out one last plea. “I’m so sorry. Please come back to me.” But you didn’t come back.  Your tiny body remained motionless.

My midwife entered the room just as I broke down sobbing.  I wish that I had looked at you one more time.  That was the first and last time I saw you.

I was ushered into another room where a doctor assured me that it wasn’t my fault.  These things just happen.  I listened to him as he walked me through all of the statistics and what had to happen next, all the while thinking, you don’t understandThis is my fault.

After I drove away from the doctor’s office, I pulled into a parking lot, shut off the engine and wept. I apologized to you repeatedly.  I’m so sorry that I did this to you. I’m so sorry that my doubts drove you away.  I’m so sorry that I was scared to be an older parent to a second child. I’m so sorry that I wished it had taken longer to conceive you. I’m so sorry that I wanted a little more time alone with your older brother. I’m so sorry that I didn’t know if I could love you as much as I love him, because obviously I can. My heart is broken because I already love you so much.

Two years have passed and life moved forward.  Even though I have slowly learned how to live without you, I still think of you.  Our time together was too short, but you existed and you still matter to me.  I will always dream of a place where you run and play with your little sister and your big brother. I’ll never forget you and I’ll always love you.