momlife

Gratitude, A Photo Journal: Brain-Picking Becky #14

I just can’t with the news this week – so much violence, anger, fear, greed. I decided that rather than focusing on how awful our world leaders are, I needed to take a break from current events and focus my energy on the little things in my day-to-day life that make me grateful. In the past, avoiding the news felt like I was being irresponsible, neglecting my duties as a citizen, but now, taking the space I need to focus on gratitude seems like the best way to resist the hatred and negativity that’s spreading through our country, our world, like a disease. It’s a lot easier for me to be kind to others and treat them with respect and compassion when I’m feeling full of gratitude, and kindness, respect, and compassion are exactly what this world needs more of right now. So whether you continue to tune into the news or not, I strongly encourage you to also tune into the grateful wavelength. It might take some reminding at first, but we are all capable of making this choice and sticking with it. Here are some photos and thoughts to hopefully get you started.

IMG_1027I very much appreciate green things growing out of rocks. I also appreciate the sound of lapping water and my silly/awesome star tattoos and the way sunshine feels on my
bare feet.

IMG_1019There is beauty everywhere if we allow ourselves to see it, even in steel and machines and concrete. I also love the fact that five different countries were represented on this single subway car; NYC is proof that people from all of the world can live together in harmony.

IMG_1024From the subway to the bay to the ocean. My commute is special. When I look out at this body of water that goes on and on until it reaches another continent where someone of a different race and a different language is, like me, staring into its depths, I feel grateful that I am so small yet also connected to something so tremendous.

IMG_1016Not everyday can be sunny. And that’s okay; I appreciate a gray sky and the smell of rain and the sound it makes as it falls against my umbrella.

Okay, I confess it’s perhaps ridiculous to have this many animals in a Brooklyn apartment, yet at the same time, it’s magical. I love my little menagerie and I love being loved by them. I greatly appreciate that we all make it work.

IMG_1059And, of course, this boy. Every day I am grateful for him; becoming a mom is the most incredible and rewarding thing I have ever done.

BeckyLewCryingAlso, the craziest. But I’m grateful for the imperfect moments, too, for the screams and the exhaustion and the ink stains on towels. I’m glad that life is complicated.

IMG_1077And I’m glad that in the midst of these complications, we find opportunities to relax and reflect. As a child I dreamed of something different than the cow farms and cul-de-sacs I grew up with, and now here I am thriving in New York City. May all people have a dream and the gumption to go for it.

IMG_1084And may all people also have the luxury of a summer afternoon with Prosecco, good friends, and a beautiful view.

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

Brain-Picking Becky #13: How We Tell (and Edit) Our Stories

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the micro memoir. I’m a wordy writer (and person in general), and I typically fall victim to over-explaining my ideas in an effort to be extra sure that what I’m trying to say is understood. This often results in clunky sentences and unnecessary repetition, not to mention how time-consuming it is. When I edit both my fiction and nonfiction, I try hard to channel my inner Hemingway and delete, delete, delete. Focus on the power of what is left unsaid. Except I’m bad at leaving things unsaid.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the way we tell our stories, the choices we make when it comes to mood and tone, the language we use silently in our minds versus the language we share with our mouths and our fingers. So much of how we see the world, our place in it, ourselves in general, is our own choice, and this is so deeply affected by the way we frame our own stories. Yet how much of this framing really is our choice? How much of our personal narrative comes from our parents, their parents, and their parents? How much comes from early childhood memories we don’t remember but feel like we remember because our family has remembered them for us? From our genetic makeup, from the makeup of our neighborhoods, from the makeup we put on before we go out into the world?

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Last year, Lew loved the ocean water. He would run into it and shout with glee, jump, splash, run away, run back. This summer, he is two-years-old and has developed the capacity to fear. Now when he goes close to the water, he freezes and screams, partly playful, mostly afraid. He loves it when I carry him in, he’ll beg me to go deep enough that the waves splash against his delicious round belly, yet he clings to me so tightly that I can let go of him and he doesn’t even slip down my torso. The other day, as he and I were digging holes in the sand and filling them up again, my friend asked me if Lew liked the water and I said, “Oh he loves it but he’s also scared of it. It’s a new development this year, I hope it doesn’t last long.” Later that afternoon, Lew and I walked to the shore hand-in-hand and then right when we approached the ocean’s edge, he stopped, scrunched his nose and eyes together, reached his arms to me and cried, “Mommy, up, up, I scared of ocean water!” He had never used the word scared before.

In thinking about my story, Lew’s story, the story of my family and the tiny pieces that come together to make up these stories, I am deeply grateful for all the things I get to experience. Yet at the same time, I am deeply exhausted. An editor might say that my story is going in too many directions and needs to be pared down.

Leave more unsaid.

I’m reminded of Rivka Galchen’s book Little Labors, a beautiful, unique collection of short essays about new motherhood. I feel like these snippets, these micro memoirs, capture the reality of our existence so well. In the end, isn’t life really just little pieces of memory put together and called a whole?

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Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

Brain-Picking Becky #10: Still A Feminist

There’s no shame in craving domestic order, only shame in genderizing its production.”
  ~Sarah Curtis Graziano

From when I was a baby until I was in middle school, dolls and stuffed animals were my favorite toys. I talked to them constantly, brushed their hair and washed their faces, made dresses for them out of leftover scraps from Mom’s and Granny’s sewing projects. When I turned eight, Granny hired me for my first job, cleaning her house from top to bottom once a month for $50, and I saved up all of my profits for our biannual trips to the flea market in Louisville where I splurged on Madame Alexander porcelain dolls (the seller told me I was the best bargainer she’d ever met). I displayed all 30+ of these dolls on a shelf in my bedroom, and I’d often lie on my Pepto-Bismol-colored carpet and stare at my collection, admiring how beautiful they all were.

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This passion for taking care of things didn’t stop with inanimate objects. I regularly played with the little kids at church while the girls my age played their own games, I started babysitting when I was 14-years-old, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, I taught in a daycare after college, and I always dreamed of having my own baby one day. While the environment I was raised in may account for some of this, a large portion of it is just something that’s been inside of me ever since I can remember.

I’m gonna get even “girlier” on you: I also love to cook, and even to clean. Some of my favorite memories are of Mom, Granny and me making big dinners together in the kitchen. I baked my first strawberry pie when I was seven, took it to a church potluck and hid near the dessert table so I could watch people eat it without them knowing I was there. The enjoyment in their faces, their generous second portions, their unsolicited compliments, all filled me with so much pride that I decided I was going to be a baker when I grew up (spoiler alert: I didn’t). And when I say I like to clean, I mean it – the act of it in addition to its results. This is probably connected to having OCD, but it’s also connected to those sweet memories of long Saturday afternoons cleaning Granny’s house, smelling her shirts as I folded and put them away, rubbing my fingers over her silk pillowcases as I made her bed, dragging dust rags across framed photographs of her in younger times. I remember feeling so satisfied at the end of the day, especially when Granny showered me with compliments (and, let’s be honest, also when she gave me that $50 bill).

Dolls, cooking, cleaning… Some people might say I was trained to be a perfect little wifey. But you know what? Those people are wrong. I wasn’t trained to take care of a man – I was trained to take care of myself. I was taught how to be independent, to make my own choices and feel good about them. These ideas of independence, freedom, and confidence are at the root of feminism, yet I hear over and over how being domestic means I’m not a real feminist. All of this infighting and nitpicking amongst modern feminists is killing the entire movement, and, in my perspective, is exactly the opposite of what the movement is (or at least should be) all about.  

So yes, Mom and Granny did all of the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. But that doesn’t exempt them from being feminists. While they always wanted me to get married and have kids, they didn’t want me to need this. They never once positioned marriage and motherhood as opposed to my dreams of pursuing my education and being a writer. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to cook with them until I finished my homework, and they often told me to stop washing the dishes so I could go write a story I was blabbering on about. And guess who else also had to cook and wash the dishes? My older brother. But he was so lazy and annoying about it that while they still made him regularly contribute to the chores, they didn’t take his food to the potlucks or hire him for the big cleanings. And they encouraged me to get married and have kids because they wanted me to be happy, not because they saw this as the only path available to women; they equally encouraged my brother to get married and have kids. Turns out, they were right. I love being a mom. I love being a wife. I love it when my husband tells me I’m beautiful and I love watching people eat my food and I love when my kitchen is neat and orderly and smells like fresh mint. None of these loves of mine have anything to do with whether or not I’m a feminist.

I think a lot of this current backlash against domesticity comes from that idea that second-wave feminism in the U.S. revolved around the renewed, forced domesticity of women post-World War II. But the key word here is “forced” – the deeper-rooted issue was that women didn’t have a choice. They were shoved into a role based on their gender and were held back from other opportunities as a result of these roles. To me, feminism is about equal rights between men and women, about having the same opportunities and the same options to make our own choices, not about whether we as individual women are traditional, domestic, radical, or rebellious (or, crazy as it sounds, all of these things simultaneously). Women should have the same freedom as men to forge our own way. Some of us will choose domesticity, some of us won’t. That doesn’t mean that some of us are worse feminists than others. Feminists come in all kinds of shapes, colors, sizes, and forms, and it’s time that the greater movement focused on how to embrace this rather than argue over it.

Mural: Las Milagrosas: Tribute to Women Artists by Franco Folini / Creative Commons

Earlier this week, a friend of mine, Leigh Hecking, tackled modern feminism’s inclusivity and race problem though analyzing Hulu’s recent release of The Handmaid’s Tale, and she came to an insightful, eloquent conclusion that sums up my sentiments exactly: “We need to approach feminism from a place of empathy, openness and inclusivity. We need to challenge our own views of what it means to be a woman (women don’t need to have a vagina or breasts, for example). We need to stop viewing other women’s lives as fiction and ours as reality.” I LOVE the way she phrases this. Honestly, everyone in the world needs to practice more empathy right now, but it feels especially awful to hear women attacking other women over if they’re a good enough feminist or not. The fact that feminism is super white is a real issue, but you know what won’t solve it? White women yelling at other white women over what is and isn’t a feminist. You know what will solve it? Practicing this empathy and openness that Leigh is calling for. Being supportive instead of overly critical. Listening, honestly listening, to each other.

So on this note, I’m asking some friends of mine who identify as women of color to answer two questions: 1. What does feminism mean to you? and 2. What is your advice to white feminists on how to create a more inclusive movement? I hope you check back next Friday for their answers, and please feel free to offer your own answers, as well – as long as you’re nice!

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

The Terrible/Terrific Twos


Lew is two-years-old now, and it’s like he received a text message on the night of his second birthday: Time to be terrible! Literally the next morning, his tantrums escalated from the occasional, short bursts of frustration that marked the past few months, to long, frequent, very loud, full-blown screeching, in the morning, the afternoon, bed time, any time. The craziest things set him off, completely nonsensical to us but SO REAL to him, and then, as quickly as he goes off, he comes back. “All done crying now,” he said the other day, quite calmly despite the fact his little neck vein was still taut and his face still red and tear-streaked from screaming only seconds earlier.

But, the other side of being a terrible two is all the amazing developmental leaps. He helps with the chores (like, actually helps), talks nonstop, recognizes letters and numbers, even pranks us (seriously – he hides our keys! – which is funny when it happens to Dave but not so funny when it happens to me). We’ve got an actual boy on our hands who does all the things an actual boy should be doing, and that’s a good exciting thing.

At least this is what I tell myself. And, as you probably guessed, it doesn’t provide much comfort in the middle of an outburst. So here I am, blogging about the ridiculousness of toddlerhood so that we can all laugh at Lew’s expense and thus make me feel better about having made the decision to create a sweet, beautiful baby that turned into a Jekyll and Hyde toddler monster.

Mr. Hyde: Top Ten Reasons Why Lew Was VERY ANGRY This Week

10. He ate all of the blueberries in one sitting – literally the whole pint. When I said that we’d go to the store later to buy more, he lost it. “Noooo, I want Mama go buy bluebeggies NOW!”

9. The dog walked into the room and sat on her bed. The bed that was way across the room from where Lew was playing. The bed that Lew has never expressed interest in before or since.

8. I gave him banana/milk/water/puzzle when he asked for it. (This happens so often with so many things, and it drives me crazy).

7. We went to the park instead of riding the subway to nowhere.

6. I took a sip of my coffee.

5. After watching 28 videos of sea lions, YouTube loaded a dolphin video. “NO! I WANT SEAYIYON!”

4. I refused to eat the soggy, chewed-up piece of rice cracker he’d taken out of his mouth and thrust in my face.

3. He got cream cheese on his finger while eating a bagel. (This one was particularly pathetic because it happened every time he took a bite until he finally finished the bagel, which was a feat considering the amount of screaming/crying/tears/snot.)

2. I sang “pat your head” instead of “nod your head” during If You’re Happy and You Know It.

1. I took off his poopy pants and suggested that he put on pajamas. “NO JAMAS! I want sleep pants wit poop!”

Dr. Jekyll: Conversations With Lew

Cuddling in his bed on the night of his zoo birthday party where we spent over 45 minutes watching sea lions.

Lew: SEAYIYONS!
Me: Yeah, we saw sea lions at the zoo today.
Lew: Mama, seayiyons go poop.
Me: Yep, sea lions poop.
Lew: Seayiyons go poop make mess.
Me: I guess?
Lew: Poop on floor.
Me: A lot of animals poop on the ground, it’s true.
Lew: MAMA!
Me: What?
Lew: SEAYIYONS GO POOP IN AGUA!
Me: Yes, I suppose they do.
Lew: No no no, Mama! Seayiyons go poop make mess in agua!
Me: Oh, it’s okay. There are zookeepers, the people who work at the zoo, who take care of the sea lions and clean up their water.
Lew: People clean up mess agua.
Me: Yep, they clean it up.
Lew: SEAYIYONS GO POOP AGUA MAKE MESS CLEAN UP PEOPLE POOP SEAYIYONS MESS AGUA CLEAN UP SEAYIYONS –
Me: Lewis.
Lew: Mama.
Me: It’s time to go night night.
Lew: Okay. Night night.
Me: Night night, my love.

Six seconds later

Lew: Mama?
Me: What, dear.
Lew: Monkeys!
Me: No honey, it’s night night.
Lew: Mama, monkeys!
Me: Okay, fine, what about the monkeys?
Lew: Monkeys trees!
Me: Yes, monkeys live in trees.
Lew: Monkeys go poop in trees!
Me: Probably some of them do.
Lew: Monkeys poop trees.
Me: I’m so glad you had fun today. Happy birthday, baby.
Lew: Lewis birfday.
Me: Yep. And now, it’s time to go night night.
Lew: Time go night night.
Me: You got it. I love you, honey.
Lew: I wub oo.
Me: I love you!
Lew: I wub oo!
Me: You’re the best.
Lew: Monkeys go poop trees!
Me: Okay. I’m gonna get up now and give you a kiss and you’re gonna go night night by yourself, okay?
Lew: Okay! Night night, Mama.
Me: Night night.

I give him a kiss, walk halfway across the room.

Lew: SEAYIYONS!
Me:
Lew: Mama, seayiyons!
Me: Goodnight, Lewis.

I leave the room and close the door.

Lew: Seayiyons! In the agua!

Brain-Picking Becky #8: This Extreme Love

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Dave and I recently took our first vacation without Lew, a glorious five days in Los Angeles in which our main concerns were things like how bad the traffic was on this or that road, if we needed a sweater or could get away with just a t-shirt, and if my new diaphragm felt better or worse than condoms. Yes, we missed Lew like hell, and we even missed our pets, our home, and our busy little New York life, to the point that by day four I woke up feeling melancholy, but that California sun, the crisp Pacific water, the happy hour cocktails and fresh fish tacos and the not at all worrying about things like nap time or diaper rashes or how many hours had passed since we last let the dogs out, was enough to dampen the longing. I spent the week relishing in my husband, in the beautiful, sexy ways he smiles, laughs, talks, and I let myself feel everything that bubbled up, the love and happiness, the angst and anxiety, the joy and the fear, and I thought, Whoa, it is such a luxury to just be able to sit here and think and feel. I’d never before considered ruminating to be a luxury, but in my regular life where someone needs something every thirty seconds, it’s nearly impossible to follow a thought through to its end. Passing all that time just breathing and thinking felt lavish.

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Ever since I can remember, I’ve operated under the idea that I was supposed to make everyone happy. In order to do this, I had to be perfect. People loved me because I was pretty and nice and smart, and it was my duty to be all of these things so that they could be happy. I honestly don’t remember a time in which I didn’t feel this way. In fact, I distinctly remember being four-years-old, emerging from the basement of my childhood home into a kitchen crowded with family members, and delivering a serious but also sarcastic speech about the food we’d just eaten (yes, I was a hyper-verbal preschooler who used sarcasm). At that young of an age, I knew I’d said something funny and that I wanted to be funny, but even more so, I’d said something serious and wanted to be taken seriously. But when everyone laughed and no one engaged me in a real discussion, I burst into tears. Mom rushed over, gripped me in a tight hug, and said, “Honey, that was funny, we’re just laughing because you’re so smart, not because we’re making fun of you.” This made total sense to me, and I remember formulating the idea for the first time that it was okay if people laughed at me without understanding what I’d said, because laughing meant I’d make them happy.

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This idea came to rule my life. Getting straight A’s, being first chair in band, memorizing verses for Sunday school, cleaning the house, learning to cook, reading college-level novels when I was 12 but also still playing with the dolls Mom had bought me – all of this meant everyone else was happy and therefore I was good. Sure, some of this was motivated by my personal likes (reading and cooking have always been favorite activities of mine), but there was a constant current of pleasing others that ran underneath all of it.

Of course it exploded. How could it not? I was primed for an eating disorder and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just was.

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After years of working on the project of myself and my life, I’d made my way to the milestone of the first vacation as a new mom without the kid (two years later, parenthood still feels new). My husband and I were lounging in Topanga Canyon on a breezy spring day, surrounded by horses, donkeys, birds, and roosters, listening to our friend tell a story about walking his dog with a neighbor who he later realized was Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks. I laughed and then turned inward as he moved onto an anecdote about Gary Busey. I noticed I felt heavy, emotionally weighed down somehow, but also excited and inspired and eager to be creative, and I realized that all that hippie shit about California and its vibes is so real, like straight up totally for real. Somehow, the strange land of Los Angeles is genuinely healing, filled with an indescribable magic that vibrates in your bones, yet is also completely consuming, devouring, even devastating. No wonder people do so many drugs.

IMG_0456I couldn’t put these feelings into words and I didn’t even try (a rare moment in my life). Instead, I just sat in them and let the vibrations do their thing. I thought about my own healing process, my own magic and potential, my own ability to consume myself. Out of all the remaining pieces of “residue” (as I like to call my old bad patterns and habits), the idea that other peoples’ happiness is my responsibility is the hardest to kick. I’ve made progress with this, but it’s an ongoing struggle. My brain wandered on to how crazy it is to have a child, to have this part of yourself walking around outside of you, how being separated from it is so relieving yet also terrifying. I thought about how much parenthood has changed me, how it’s brought me closer to my understanding of humanity, closer to my core. I see so much of myself in Lew. The way we both move through an empty room, the way we love Dave, the way we need to talk. He’s got my boundless energy, my desire to help and please, my fast-paced brain, my passion to express and to learn. “I’m running in a circle, running in a circle, running in a circle!” he shouts as he literally runs in circles.

Oh dearest Lew, you act out the inner workings of my mind, I thought as a rooster crowed somewhere in the canyon hills. But I will teach you how to breathe and to meditate and to reign this all in. Our kind of mind is a power and a curse, and I’m going to teach you how to use it. The real gift is in accepting how the you and the now are always changing, and just letting that be.

~

The sunbathing, hiking, ocean swimming, sexing, thinking, feeling, breathing, all did me good. I left LA relaxed, refreshed, eager to tune in to the NYC vibes I love yet take for granted, ready to reunite with my family and bring this tranquility home to them. But then, within a mere three hours of picking everyone up from the grandparents, I found myself with Lew’s shit on my pants, a dog peeing in the house, my keys dangling from outside the apartment door, my shoulders tense and tight, Dave unreachable at work, and I thought, “THIS is what I missed???”

I took a deep breath. Yes, this imperfect life with its messy emotions, these constant yet gratifying responsibilities, this extreme love, this is what I missed.

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Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

Brain-Picking Becky #5: Mom Fails and Wins

I’d been looking forward to yesterday afternoon with my mama friends and their babies at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum for awhile now. The museum is cool and fun and a thing you’re supposed to do with your Brooklyn baby, and I had an IDNYC membership that I’d never used that was expiring soon, and I hadn’t seen these ladies in weeks. I’m also the kind of mom who really struggles with staying at home all day with my kid. I don’t understand this phenomenon – I love my home and I love my kid and can happily spend all day alone with either one, but when I put the two together, I go stir crazy. But in general, I like being busy and my husband doesn’t, so it’s a good balance for Lew. Also, I just can’t let go of the idea that good moms take their babies to all the fun places, and I know I won’t have the time and energy to do so once the new semester starts up, so I feel all guilty and anxious if I don’t go on my breaks. It’s strange how I enjoy and feel really positive about my work, how I’m providing good money and health insurance for my family, how my child is so well taken care of during my work hours, how I get home by four pm every day and spend every weekend with him, yet I still have that working mama guilt (even though I know I’d claw his and my eyes out if I were a stay-at-home mom). So anyway, I made big plans for this afternoon, and one thing that big plans doesn’t fully is consider is the fact that they can completely fall apart piece by piece no matter how hard you try, and then you’re left with the realization that we mothers and women in general can be so hard on ourselves, and also that no matter how much you meditate and do yoga and be mindful, you still create all these expectations that leave you bummed when they aren’t met, and this is something you need to work on (by you I mean me). So obviously, Lew and I didn’t end up spending the afternoon with our friends at the museum…

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The shit (literally) begins at 2:30 pm, right as I’m packing up our last snack. The Boxer dog gets super antsy, more than normal, and starts doing poop circles in the living room. I let her out into the courtyard for some explosive, bloody diarrhea, do my best to clean it up (it’s a shared courtyard), only to repeat the cycle again ten minutes later. Lew is hungry and also poopy, and basically between him and the dog farts, my apartment smells like the end of the world. I am so determined to be a good mom who takes her kid to the children’s museum that after observing Bear for 20 minutes post-explosion and feeling fine about her current state, I rush us to the bus stop where magically, the bus has just pulled in. I’ve been texting my friends in the midst of all this about perhaps coming to my place instead of the museum but ultimately decided to stick with the original plan because I AM A GOOD MOM. At this point in the story, it’s important to note that two days ago, I switched from an iPhone to an Android (it was free) but have no idea how to use it.

The bus ride is brilliant. Lew’s obsessed with “The Wheels on the Bus” song and is literally watching it unfold right before his eyes. People smile and wave at him and he acts all coy in response. A Caribbean teenaged boy sits across from us and instantly falls in love with Lew. His friends tease him but he doesn’t care. Lew smiles and gives fist bumps and I feel like the world is a beautiful place. The teenager even helps me with my stroller when I get off.

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Lew and I walk to the museum and I see that I’ve missed a call from my friend. No texts, though, so I assume it’s fine. We get to the museum where my membership has expired and it will cost us $22 for the final hour before it closes (I guess good moms make more money than me). Also, my friends aren’t there. I realize (a little late) that my new phone does not have most of my contacts in it and therefore I can’t call anyone except the friend, Caedra, who isn’t answering. Lew and I are chilling in the lobby in which he is happy and I am anxious. Finally, she calls back (she’d been on the subway) all like, “You didn’t get the texts? We switched to Jade’s house instead because the museum is so far away.” Excellent point, but no, I didn’t get the texts, new phone, yada yada, but noooo worries, we’ll just run right over to Jade’s. I hang up as Lew and I bump into a neighbor with the king of all museum memberships who offers us a free pass (ugh, good moms have real memberships that haven’t expired), but we’re going to see our friends, it’s okay, thanks anyway. Ten minutes of a very cold walk later in which Lew is screaming and my gloveless fingers have turned to ice, I realize that all of this is insane. There’s no easy way via subway to Jade’s and even though I’m on Eastern Parkway, there are zero cabs. I call a car service that puts me on indefinite hold. My kid is screaming because he’s hungry and while I did pack food, I can’t give it to him because he’s wearing mittens and layers and is wrapped up in one of those stroller insert sleeping bag things that make me very jealous. Also, it will be dark in approximately 40 minutes. And my dog is home sick. I call my friends and tell them we can’t make it and then immediately feel tears in the back of my eyes. I have turned down a free hour at the museum with my kid so that we could walk down a sidewalk and not go see our friends. I just wanted to be a good mom who does fun things with her baby and instead I made bad choices and am now here starving him out. I suck. Also, as I have been marching in a direction vaguely toward home while running in angry circles in my head, there is no easy way to get back home on public transportation so now I must use this last 40 minutes of daylight to walk us there. And also I have no idea how to use my phone. I somehow manage to call my husband and complain about everything. He’s an excellent human being. I feel better, but only slightly.

One sunset later, after a cold walk in which Lew keeps screaming, “I want food!” and I keep saying, “I know, I’m sorry,” while blinking away tears and berating myself in my head, I make it to Erv’s, a pleasant bar in my neighborhood with otherworldly cocktails. The bartender I know, a laid back father with incredibly warm and loving energy, is not working and the overall vibe is cool but not necessarily fatherly. They’re mostly okay with Lew but not totally (or are they okay with him and I’m just being paranoid? This is a regular worry of mine. Are you judging me or do I just think you’re judging me? And if the latter, what does that say about me?). Lew eats, I drink, things feel somewhat reset. But then Lew has eaten all the food I packed and is still asking for more (eating is his super power), and I cannot fathom cooking for us at this point because the afternoon has felt so draining even though I also realize that I’m being dramatic and my difficult afternoon isn’t that big of a deal compared to PEOPLE DYING IN SYRIA, but whatever, I can’t deal with cooking so we go to another bar/restaurant in the neighborhood that is literally a block away from my apartment.

Again, the usual bartender who I know is cool with kids is not working and an older man is there instead. He is friendly enough but not welcoming (evil eye directed at baby, hints about taking the food to-go). My first reaction is to feel like we’re supposed to leave, but then I decide to fuck it, I’m starving at this point, it’s only 5:30 and there are only three other people in this bar so who are we possibly disturbing? Besides, I’m a paying customer just like everyone else, and now that I have an Erv’s cocktail in me, I don’t care if you’re judging me or if I just think I’m being judged because it doesn’t freaking matter either way (the key is learning how to feel this way all the time). Also, my baby is awesome even when he’s being a shit and don’t you dare tell me otherwise. So, I order that glass of wine and a plate of totchos (yes, nachos on tater tots instead of corn chips, brilliant) and tell him we’ll eat the food here. And then I glance around the bar and fully take in the other patrons: three young white men sitting at the bar, fresh with that douchey I-just-moved-from-Jersey-into-the-brand-new-condos vibe (sorry, New Jersey, I recognize that you are much more diverse and beautiful than the stereotype I just boiled you down to, but I needed to hearken a specific image). The bartender is sucking up to them, offering them tastes of this and that, using fancy words to talk about the food, and then on their way out, offers them free drinks next time they come in. Like they can’t afford $4 happy hour beers on their own. I’m annoyed but then the totchos arrive and Lew and I share a beautiful moment in which we eat together out of the same little aluminum tray and we’re both enjoying the food and being together so much that my heart actually hurts in that overfull happy way (I am choosing not to think about things like sodium content), and I realize that after all of that trekking around trying to fulfill so many desires at the same time, really I could have just walked a block away and gotten totchos. Or stayed at home and played with puzzles. Or cuddled and watched cartoons. All Lew wants is to be together. He doesn’t need museums or big adventures; the bus ride alone blew his mind. All of that other shit was my shit. We mothers hold ourselves to such high standards, and in New York City where there is so much to do all the time, we often succumb to the idea that we’re supposed to be doing these things. Women in general hold ourselves to such high standards. But it’s not like it’s our fault; our society puts this on us. Yet at the same time, we can decide how we react to these pressures, we can control our own actions and thoughts, we can choose to not let it bring us down. Still, it’s hard.

totchos

And then, in the midst of this beautiful moment followed by this ruminating, two black men come in, say hi to Lew and laugh at him sucking strings of melted cheese off his fork, then hold open the door for me on the way out, and I’m struck by how kind they are. In America, so many young white men just think about themselves all the time, and our society completely supports that. I recognize that not all white men are like this and it’s unfair to place that on every white man, but as a woman and especially as a mother, I’m used to second-guessing if I should be in a certain place or not. I’m used to second-guessing my worth. I’m used to worrying about how others perceive me. I imagine black men feel much of these same things.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this?

  1. Mamas, you’re awesome. Your kid needs you, not all that other shit. Don’t give into the guilt we so easily feel.
  2. Women, stay strong. Be yourself. Fuck stereotypes and expectations and all that.
  3. Parents, take your kids out when and where you feel like it. Having a kid suddenly means people feel okay about openly sharing their judgments of you. Fuck ‘em. In other countries, like most of Europe and the Caribbean and all of South America, people are expected to have their babies out and about with them in all types of places. We should do that here, too.
  4. Black people, I’m sorry on behalf of our country.
  5. To everyone who has ever held open the door, given me your subway seat, carried the stroller for me, etc, THANK YOU.
  6. To myself, remember that expectations often lead to disappointment. Just let things be.
  7. Switching from an iPhone to an Android is really hard. And are we actually this dependent on cell phones? (Yes, and it makes me a little sad.)
  8. I think the Nuvaring I recently started is making me a lot more emotional and I wonder how/if differently I would have reacted to this afternoon without it. Yet another crazy thing we women have to deal with.
  9. The dog is better but not totally and has a vet appointment on Monday.
  10. Totchos.

Note: This took two hours so I’ve changed the rules (clearly one hour wasn’t working).

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