Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mama Unplugged

Of the myriad of transformations women endure when they become a mother, I was least prepared for my complete disconnect from my body. From the moment the baby leaves the womb and the cord is cut, hormones ebb and flow. You become a walking bodily function. You sweat, bleed, shed, lactate and in my case should never have agreed to the stool softeners. My OB nurse terrorized me into thinking that my first post delivery poop would be as painful as the birth itself. She never asked me about my diet or digestive history. About 24 hours after we came home I was rocking and nursing our new baby when the sensation hit. In an NFL worthy move, I literally palmed my son, hurdled the ottoman and sprinted into the bathroom. I hadn’t moved that fast in three months.

Most mornings baby Jack and I would wheel into the coffee shop in our building and I’d get a jolt on our way to the park. Thrilled to have managed to get out of the house before noon, thinking I’m all that, I caught a glimpse of myself in the window’s reflection, and noticed I was still wearing my slippers. Not hip urban slippers either.

Weeks later while nursing baby Jack on a park bench and swapping war stories with another new mother, I put him on my shoulder to burp him. I was oblivious to the fact that my right breast was now completely exposed. I sat there like I was on a beach in France as I patted my son’s back and gabbed on. Only when I stood up to put my son in the stroller did I realize I had given a clutch of Saturday morning dads their money’s worth. Shooting the boys a withering glance as I buttoned up my circus tent, they suddenly became very concerned about junior’s height on the climbing structure.

Four months into motherhood, my head was almost above water. I hadn’t stepped into the shower wearing glasses or underwear in a while. I almost never put the half & half in the pantry anymore. I went shopping with a friend at an upscale mall. Stolling into Neiman’s I noticed that I had on one magenta mule and one black ballet flat. I physically startled as if truly frightened. The two didn’t even feel the same on my feet.

The horror of these total miscalculations is like leaving the ladies room with the back of your skirt tucked into your underwear. It is only surpassed by the compassion I now feel for new moms who look like they got dressed in the dark.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Houdini Toddler

There’s a cold dark place you go when you can’t find your child. I went there once. This isn’t the run of the mill can’t pick out your kid’s head bobbing in the pool, can’t sift through all the hooded toddlers at the park, just focused on a sale rack for a second and now you’re on your hands and knees at Nordstrom. This is an all hands on deck, EVERYBODY is looking and minutes are ticking by and your toddler is GONE. This is when someone gently leads you to a room so you can scream while they hold you.

I stepped into the Toddler Room to pick up my two year old son and in the scramble for lunch boxes and hanging up of jackets I couldn’t see where he might be. The afternoon kids were settling in for lunch and the hip-height chaos was all around me. A few seconds passed before I could move into the room and peek around the corner to the area where I usually found him painting. Not there. His teacher saw my questioning look and helped me look. She opened the door to the outside play area, asking several parents and teachers if they had seen him.

In seconds the entire school was in lock down mode with all able bodies calling his name and looking in the garden, upper school, kitchen, parking lot, office. This is when it became cold and dark, and I was led by the elbow into an office. I remember screaming for someone to call 911.

Parents and teachers had begun looking in the creek that runs behind the school and were fanning out into the neighborhood, when a local resident came out of her house and asked if we were looking for the little boy she had in her arms. He had slipped out the gate in the back of the school and disappeared up a flight of stairs leading to the Homestead Valley Community Center. Like Popeye’s Sweetpea, skirting disaster at every turn, he had gone past the pool, through a parking lot with a blind driveway, along Montford, a typical Mill Valley neighborhood street with no sidewalk or shoulder, across Montford and up this neighbor’s steep driveway. The fact that he wasn’t run down by an SUV was a miracle in itself.

Ten years have passed since that day, and the two preschool teachers have since retired and moved away. I send them both a Christmas card each year and get one in return. I know they went to their own cold dark place that day.

Albuquerque Airport

My younger sister and I started flying alone after our parents divorced in 1974. At nine years old, I soon became familiar with the Albuquerque airport. I would descend the rolling staircase onto the tarmac, holding my little sister’s hand as we walked toward the adobe terminal and look for my father. He would be inside wearing Ray-Bans, jeans pressed with a crease, a big turquoise belt buckle and new running shoes. He would pick up my sister, who is seven years younger than I am, and hug me too hard. Soon enough I would learn that he smelled like pot.

The summer he wasn’t waiting at the gate, arms crossed and Ray-Bans on, I didn’t panic. The gate emptied and we were the only ones left. I searched the faces as we went down the escalator and continued to scan the crowd gathered around the baggage claim. I found a pay phone, expertly dialed “0” before the number, gave the operator my name and it rang forever before she told me to try again later. I repeated this routine countless times for several hours.

I dragged our avocado green Samsonite into the ladies room, helped my sister use the potty and held her up to the sink to wash her hands.

When he finally picked up, I could hear him smiling at the sound of my voice. Then I told him where we were. His voice was curt, insinuating he’d been told the wrong date. The tenuous grasp I had on my father was always in jeopardy. I never told anyone about this until I had my own kids. Only then did I panic.

He rapped his chunky turquoise rings on the Volkswagon’s steering wheel in time with the music and sipped on the cold beer he had wedged between his legs as we drove north. Five years later I would feel a chill of embarrassment during Drivers Ed class when I learned that this was actually illegal. It had never occurred to me that it was a crime.

Summer visits with my father meant backpacking. On the outside of my father’s pack hung a large clear thermos of Jose’ Cuervo silver tequila that I gulped by mistake. I thought I had swallowed the fuel for the propane stove.

My father laughed and told me that the next time we drank tequila together, it would be because I’d turned 18 and he was free from child support payments. He was buying. He still owes me.

Joe Clark

My middle child is all metal. He is a rock god. He’s twelve. Last night was his second session at cotillion and he learned the fox trot. He’s quick to point out that foxes don’t trot, in case you’re curious. Cotillion teaches formal dance steps and social etiquette that my kids can’t possibly learn at home. I was a non Cotillion kid when I was in middle school, mostly because my mother was in her rejection of the establishment phase circa 1976. Of course it was all the other kids talked about at school the next day – the horror of dancing together in fancy clothes. But they were grinning like idiots and I knew I was missing out.

My guy who lives in his black Slayer t-shirt and baggy jeans with ringlets down to his shoulders cleans up good for cotillion. He had been planning his cotillion attire for two years, since his older brother was forced to attend. His attitude was much more cooperative, provided that I allowed him to wear a camoflage tux with a top hat. Sadly we never found one. In a navy blazer and khakis he’s still all metal. A rock god. James Hetfield in a suit is still James Hetfield.

Last night they learned the art of proper introduction. When changing dance partners, one introduces themselves, first and last name. The instructor gave an example: “rather than ‘I’m Joe’ say instead ‘I’m Joe Clarke’.” Each time he changed dance partners and was paired with a girl from his school, my son introduced himself, “I’m Joe Clark”. Bingo. The girls laughed. There’s more to cotillion than the fox trot. Cotillion rocks.