toddler

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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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 #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.

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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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