Monday, March 2, 2015

10 Parenting "Musts" That I Skipped

Why follow steps when you can skip?

This smart-ass slacker attitude served me well in school, so I'm rocking it as a mom!

Also still going strong is the voice of my daughter's Queen Elsa doll, which--thanks to the magic of whatever they put in batteries these days--has not stopped reminding me to "Let it go, let it goooooo!"

We live in a culture that is obsessed with telling parents what to do--what to buy, what to eat, what to say, what to think, what to feel, what to fear. Because of this, Elsa's anthem has spoken to many of us on a deep level for the past couple of years, forcing us to recall our youth, all its pressure and those thrills of breaking free from other people's well-intentioned but stifling expectations.

From the moment we get pregnant, our hands are stuffed with videos about what kinds of "birth experiences" we should try to have, what plans to follow, what CHOICES to make. How to not screw up our kids, how to keep them pure and sparkling and optimized, how not to fail at this most important of all tests.

Oh, that word, "choices." It reminds me of crustached middle school teachers with pleated-front, highwater pants giving awkward lectures about puberty and daring not to do drugs. It reminds me of McDonald's commercials for imitation healthy foods. It reminds me of that trick we all pull on our own toddlers when we give them "choices" to create the thin illusion of empowerment.

I'm not really in a position to give parenting advice, mostly because I am the expert on exactly one child, and I am fully aware that no two children or mothers are alike. What's good for the gosling is not necessarily good for the duckling or the hippie chick. So I'm not going to tell you what choices you should make. I'm just here to confess to you that I have derived great joy and relief from completely skipping a whole lot of parenting "choices," methods, tips, fads, customs, struggles, battles, and so-called rites of passage so that I can do more of all the things that are important to me--like catching up on The Mindy Project while my kid dumps out all the Legos.

Today, I will share with you a list of 10 mom things I have skipped with no regrets. I hope you'll share with me some of the things that you have had the pleasure of skipping, too.

1. the birth plan

I was lucky enough to find an ob-gyn and a hospital that I could trust to take the best possible care of me and my child, end of story. I still felt like I had to write a birth plan, because there was this documentary so highly recommended by the chiropractor's wife and I trusted everyone during pregnancy. Everyone! It must have been the hormones. Later, I discovered that writing up a birth plan is like writing a wish list to Santa and mailing it to the North Pole. I have never, ever heard a mother say, "I am so glad I wrote that birth plan! What would I have done without it?" As if your uterus is going to give any f***s about what you just wrote.

2. classes by La Leche League, Babywearers, etc.

It is very cool that there are so many resources available to new mothers nowadays. It can also get obnoxious to attend classes that turn basic tasks into extreme sports. I took several first-and-last extra-credit-mommy-skill classes out of curiosity. I never even started with the baby sign language. It sounded good while I was pregnant, but once I had the little person outside my body who was totally clear with me about all of her preferences... classes seemed redundant.

3. buying all the things

I bought a top-notch car seat, a high chair, and an umbrella stroller. I skipped other "essentials" like that removable infant-car-seat-basket thing that weighs a million pounds and ends up balanced precariously on top of shopping carts and restaurant tables everywhere. And changing tables. And toddler beds. And magic crystals designed to distract parents from the pain of listening to teething babies cry. Just no thanks.

4. food battles

I have never forced my daughter to eat anything, ever. I figure, a kid won't starve herself. When she's hungry, she'll eat. It's normal for toddlers to go through phases of adventurous and picky eating. There has been a solid week of nothing but mac 'n cheese. Fine with me. Instead of fighting at the table, my husband and I prepare and enjoy delicious healthy foods in front of our daughter, and she can have some if she wants. If not, more for us.

5. potty training

In line with our level of dietary strictness, we gave our daughter a spiffy potty chair when she was one or two and said, "Here you go! Use it if you want!" She figured out quickly enough that it was more awesome to go in the potty than in her pants. Hooray!

6. sleep training

I'm pretty sure this can be done. I've heard the success stories. But with a husband who has to get up for work at 4:00 a.m., it was honestly easier for us to put a queen size bed in our daughter's room and just have me sleep in there. I still do. My daughter is four. She's a great snuggler. I've traded the ability to go out in the evening--like, ever--for a quiet life of family dinners at home followed by bedtime at dusk. Sorry, adult friends. I'm not fun anymore. While you are changing from your 9-5 to your 5-9 clothes, I'm getting in my fuzzy Julius Junior jammies. I admit, I kind of love it.

7. formal instruction in reading or anything else

At this age? Why? My husband and I were both reading at three; our daughter is more into numbers and Legos and, at four, has only a tenuous grasp on the alphabet. That's fabulous. Maybe she won't need glasses by first grade like I did.

8. "discipline" (and by that I mean "punishment")

Of course we discipline our child--meaning, we set a good example, show her how to do things, encourage her efforts, and set limits. We've never, ever doled out a punishment. No time-out, nothing. As Nonna says, "When a child or an adult is out of sorts, they usually need one of three things: a nap, a snack, or a hug." Wise words, Nonna.

9. trademarked parenting books, methods, or styles

I read too much as it is. I'd rather spend more time paying attention to my daughter and what works for her. There's always the danger of reading terrible advice, and then there's the danger of reading great advice and interpreting or implementing it disastrously wrong, Amelia-Bedelia-style. Why bother? I find it more satisfying to seek out only the expert advice that backs up what you're already doing, so you can throw it at people who try to offer unwelcome advice.

10. weaning

This might freak you out, but I have tried to wean my daughter as we've approached every one of her four birthdays and broken down into hormonal tears each time, asking, "Why?" It's mostly just at bedtime anyway, and it gives her so much comfort and happiness. I'm sure she'll quit by elementary school or thereabouts, like she figured out the potty on her own (see #5) and is now teaching herself to sound out a few words (#7). It allows me to not worry about how many servings of vegetables she's eaten in a day (#4), makes us both sleepy at bedtime (#6), and will probably transform her into a superhero with magical strength powers. That is, according to the lore of Mongolia (where they nurse kids well past kindergarten) and some old fairy tales I just read that involve magic breast milk.

So I have no advice to give on any of the above topics, because I skipped them. And guess what! My child has not yet turned into a serial killer or (God help us) Lena Dunham. Her day care gives me awesome reports about her behavior. She's bright, healthy, and fun. And her mom is a slacker. There, I admitted it. I humble-bragged it. It's true.

Parents of other lovely and adorable children, your turn! What "parenting essentials" or oh-so-important tasks or rituals have you skipped?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Three Princesses Gone Wild (Grimm Tales You've Never Heard)

Today, in my continued excitement over the first-ever English translation of the Grimms' original, first-edition tale collection (thanks again, Jack Zipes), I am going to demonstrate the act of storytelling in a couple of different ways.

First, I'm going to rewrite, from memory and in my own words, two stories of princesses behaving in a very un-Victorian manner from the collection that I have read exactly once. (No peeking at the book, I promise.) You'll have to pick up a copy of the book to see how closely my retellings match the text. (Here's a hint... I made up the thing about the wigs. But I'm sure that's how it would have gone down, if you think about it.)

Next, I present a video of myself reading a selection aloud, straight from the book. The story I read here is "The Long Nose," which should make Pinocchio feel a little less ashamed of his, uh... nasal enlargement penitence. This is something that has been happening to naughty men (and princesses!) since who knows when, for lying or stealing or eating of the forbidden fruit. (Ugh! So metaphorical!) Please enjoy.


"The Frog Prince"

Once upon a time, a princess dropped her favorite golden ball down a well. She started to cry until a talking frog emerged from the well and offered to retrieve it for her if she would agree to become his sweetheart.

The princess agreed, certain that the silly creature could not actually leave its slimy abode. When the frog brought up the golden ball in his mouth, she thanked him and went home.

As she sat down to dinner with her family that night, she was surprised to hear a series of splats coming up the steps, followed by a knock at the door. Her father, the king, was astonished to find a frog there, calling to be let in because the princess had promised to be his sweetheart.

The princess begged her father not to let the frog come in, but the king was outraged. "A talking frog!" he exclaimed. "You had better keep your promise to him. Now share your dinner with your guest."

The princess barely kept her dinner down as the frog hopped up next to her plate and shared her food. But she dared not disobey her father.

When night fell, the frog demanded to come upstairs and join the princess in her bed. The princess turned to her father with a wounded princess expression on her face. "But DAAAAAAAD!"

However, the king returned his daughter's look with his own Look, and she was obliged to pick up the frog and carry him to her bedchamber. The frog said, "Now put me on your bed so I can sleep with you."

This was the last straw for the princess, and in her disgusted rage, she clutched the frog in her fist and pitched him against the stone wall, hard enough to smash him dead. But when the frog's squishy little body struck the wall, it transformed--not into a grisly splatter but into the tall and handsome form of a naked young prince.

Oh yeah!

"Oh!" the princess exclaimed. "You may join me in my bed after all."

The two young people spent a pleasurable night together, and they were greeted the next morning by the prince's overjoyed servants, arriving in a magnificent coach, so happy that their prince was finally released from his curse.

One of the overjoyed servants was Iron Henry, who had found it necessary to bind his heart in iron rings when his master was cursed so that his heart didn't explode with sorrow.


Yet, they rode off into the sunset to get church-married and live happily ever after.

"Simple Hans"

Once upon a time, there was a king who lived with his only child, a daughter. They lived happily together... UNTIL the day it became obvious that the princess was pregnant.

Everyone side-eyed the king, who lived uncomfortably within a whole oral tradition of molester dad kings.

"Daughter!" he shouted. "You must announce the father of this baby right now!"

"But Daaaaad," she said, "I didn't DO anything."

The two lived awash in hostility and suspicion until the child was born and for many months thereafter. The king demanded again and again that his daughter reveal the child's father, but she refused to admit that she had been with any man.

Finally the king could stand it no longer. "Look here," he said. "We are going to get all the noblemen of the kingdom--just the noblemen, of course--and stuff them in the chapel. Then we'll give your kid a lemon and set him loose in the chapel. The first guy he hands the lemon to, we'll declare him the father and that will be that."

The princess shrugged. And so the plan was carried out, except that a hunchbacked peasant by the name of Simple Hans sneaked into the chapel and pushed forward to see the princess's child. The little boy ran forward and handed Simple Hans the lemon.

The king was furious. "I am so over this shit!" he bellowed, and he ordered his men to throw Simple Hans, the princess, and the baby into a barrel and cast them into the sea.

While the three of them bobbed and rolled on the waves, the princess said, "What the hell, man? Why did you crash this party? It was none of your business!"

"Actually," said the hunchback, "it was."

"What do you mean?"

"I really am the baby's father."

"Excuse me? I've never even met you."

"I know." Simple Hans leered. "But I have magic powers, and anything I think comes true. So I thought you pregnant."

The princess snorted. "Oh yeah? Then think us something to eat. I'm hungry."

"Okay." Simple Hans closed his eyes, concentrated, and poof! A plate of boiled potatoes appeared in the barrel.

"Wow," said the princess. "You ARE magical. And remarkably stupid. This was the best thing you could think of? Wait, hold on. I'll tell you what to think about. Think us a ship."

"Okay." Simple Hans closed his eyes again, and when he opened them, they found themselves standing on a magnificent ship sailing along with a skilled crew.

"Sweet," said the princess. "Now think us an island with a castle on it and a bunch of servants."

So he did.

"Amazeballs," said the princess, stepping ashore. "Now think yourself smart and hot."

And so he did.

And the family of three lived happily UNTIL...

One day, the princess's father sailed his ship across the sea and encountered the new island with the magnificent castle on it. "Huh," he said. "I didn't even know this was here." He decided to investigate.

the HBIC
When he knocked at the door of the castle, he was greeted with warm hospitality. He did not recognize Simple Hans, his grandson, or even his own daughter, who had become rather grand and had all the cosmetics and wigs one could possibly imagine.

After he had spent a few days with the hospitable but still mysterious family of the island, he took his leave. On his way out, the princess slipped a golden cup into his pocket. Then she sent a couple knights up ahead to search him before he passed the gates.

They frisked the old king and withdrew the golden cup from his pocket.

"What!" the king exclaimed. "I didn't DO anything!"

But they dragged him back to the princess, where he begged for mercy. "I don't know how it got in there! I swear!"

The princess crossed her arms. "That's what she said."

The castle burst into laughter, and the princess took off her outrageous wig. "That'll teach you to judge, Dad," she said.

"Ha! Good one, daughter," the king said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

And they all embraced and made up and lived in peace with one another.

When the old king died, Simple Hans inherited the kingdom, and his son became crown prince.

"The Long Nose"

Monday, February 2, 2015

Groundhog Love

Nine years ago today, my love and I eloped at a courthouse. We didn't choose Groundhog Day on purpose; we had already set a wedding date for the spring of the next year, but I started to get a toothache and didn't have health insurance, as I could only work part-time while taking grad school classes. My fiancee chivalrously offered his dental policy, which we needed a marriage certificate to obtain for me, so we booked an appointment at the earliest possible time, a Tuesday afternoon which just so happened to be Groundhog Day--amazingly, the holiday that shares the same name as the one and only rom-com that my husband enjoys.

We've been through so much over the past nine years, keeping the romance alive through a balance of romantic tradition and trying new things. This year, we're having some fun with our personal style--I'm pruning my closet and cosmetics drawers and haven't been buying any new fashion items, forcing myself to get creative with nothing but hand-me-downs, swaps, and gifts. DaddyMan has grown out some impressive, fancy man-locks. We've learned how to keep things fresh and fun between us through several major life changes, hardships, and adventures, pausing to reflect on our shared journey each fateful Groundhog Day.

Although the timing of our marriage was determined by a toothache (and my love's practical sense of romance), the poetry of an early February anniversary delights me. The second day of February falls just after Imbolc, an ancient Celtic spring fertility festival, and directly on the date of Candle-mas, a holiday celebrated widely by Christians in centuries past, marking the presentation of Jesus at the Temple after Mary recovered from giving birth. It is no coincidence that a celebration of new life and "coming out" falls upon this day. The ancient origins of Groundhog Day extend to Germanic weather divination rites involving badgers and bears rousing from hibernation. Since ancient times, February 1 has been a day of hope in a time of change and uncertainty. And, of course, it came right before the lusty revelries of the Lupercalia. Today, thanks to the genius of the late, great Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day has taken on new themes of rebirth, personal growth, and romantic love. It's a great day to think about what it means to fall in love, and how the same two people can fall in love with each other in different ways, over and over again.

Our oldest tradition started moments after our marriage ceremony, when we went out for tacos with our wedding witness, high school bestie Esperanza. While we celebrate our May wedding anniversary in the way most couples do, our February 1 elopement anniversary remains our "tacoversary," acknowledged quietly each year with our city's finest Mexican fare, often enjoyed at home.

Our fifth annual "tacoversary" fell shortly after the birth of our daughter, Nux Gallica. A huge winter storm snowed us in, so we couldn't go out for tacos--but fortunately, that was during the time we had that homeless childhood buddy of my husband's living with us, who had learned how to make devastatingly wonderful tacos in the back kitchens of restaurants in Arizona. Hosting this old pal did came with its benefits but also added to the stresses of new parenthood.

Oh, those new parenthood challenges. The birth of our child came like a cannon blast through our life. 

You know... like a happy, Pinkie Pie party cannon. I am glad that we waited five years to transform our couple into a family of three, and I am also grateful that our daughter did not come any later. She is the greatest light of our lives and the new fulcrum of our existence. Her powerful little presence has taught us that while a marriage certificate matters--and a wedding, in which family and friends sanction a union, does too--creating a child welds two people together in a way that no legal contract or social convention can approach. 

Also, this was the one time in my life when I grew giant boobs--the first time ever that I actually needed to wear a bra for support when not even exercising--and my husband was not allowed to touch them, like, ever. My body was no longer his or mine either, but the property of our voracious progeny, and we found it necessary to develop many new ways of being intimate, physically and emotionally. It was hard for a while there.

Behold the weary bags under our eyes the following year, when we attempted to eat tacos in a restaurant while chasing a gleeful jumping bean around tables and through chair legs.

The year after that, we managed no celebration at all, at home or otherwise. I think maybe I was unconscious from exhaustion. The only date that happened that month involved DaddyMan and our luchador-wielding princess, who attended our township's Daddy-Daughter Dance.

We did much better the next year, preceding our taco takeout with a belly dance hafla. 

Nux learned some of the very dance moves that helped facilitate my labor in giving birth to her, and she entertained us with a variety of joyful noises in the drum circle.

This year, we have another adult buddy enlivening our household--but this time it's our high school bestie, elopement witness, and formal maid of honor Esperanza, who is in the process of re-settling in the frigid North after a seven-year sojourn in Mexico. Esperanza also makes some great tacos. Here she is helping DaddyMan, uh, grind some pork.

Every Groundhog Day tacoversary, we relive certain parts of our relationship that cycle through again and again, and they are always combined with a little something new.

Nux Gallica is four years old now, and she leaves her marks (and stamps and stickers) all over our homes and bodies and hearts. Our marriage, our home, and our souls have expanded with the growth of our family and our selves as different parts of our life together, each year, are torn apart and reborn again in new forms.

If Groundhog Day, as reframed by Harold Ramis, has evolved into a pan-spiritual metaphor of  reincarnation, then I hope to linger in this cycle of samsara with my love for many, many more Februaries to come--sunny and cloudy, through snow and through slush.

My love always to DaddyMan and little Nux!