Posts Tagged ‘Kids’

I Am Not the Father

June 19, 2011

Lately, it’s become fashionable to wish single mothers Happy Father’s Day.

Miss me with that.

I am a single mother raising two kids alone. I do it by necessity, since my kids’ father has chosen, for the most part, to be absent from their lives since our divorce.

I also do it a little bit by choice. Some women in my shoes would have initiated a search for Mr. Stepdad a long time ago. Marrying a man for the sole purpose of providing my kids with a replacement father does not interest me in the least.

Being a single mother does not also make me a single father. Or some type of mother-father hybrid. I am a woman, and I can only approach parenting from a woman’s perspective. I grew up with my father and mother, but my mother was the more dominant influence in our home. For better or worse, I adopted her style of parenting even when I was married.

The notion that a woman raising children by herself is acting as both mother and father is misguided and harmful. It does a disservice to all of the fathers – including the single fathers – who are also working hard, every day, to raise their children. We single mothers enjoy the appreciation, but on Father’s Day, fathers, not mothers, deserve all the love.

My kids do benefit from positive male influences. Unfortunately, their father isn’t one. I don’t live near my family, so my children don’t have uncles and older male cousins who take the place of their absent father in providing this influence. They do have teachers. coaches, their friends’ fathers, and my significant other.

None of them can take the place of a loving, caring father, but my ex-husband is not a loving, caring father. They wouldn’t have a nuturing dad in their lives even if their dad were still around. A psychotherapist told me recently, if the absent parent does substantial damage to the child when he or she is present, it is better for that parent to remain absent. My children are not better off without a father, but they are better off without a father who is still so hurt from his own childhood that he inflicts pain upon his own children almost without knowing.

I am not a hero. I am not “holding it down.” I’m doing what I have to do. I take care of my children because I’m supposed to.

I take care of my kids because I love them and I need them and they need me. I do it alone because their father is unwilling and unable to participate. That doesn’t mean I fill both roles.

I am a mother. That’s more than enough.

So while I appreciate the acknowledgment of single mothers on Father’s Day, don’t wish me a Happy Father’s Day. I am a lot of things to my kids, but a father is most certainly not one of them.

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When Negative Is Positive

April 8, 2011

First of all, the good news: my biopsy results were fine. “Your results were fine, no problems, everything looks ok,” the radiologist told me when I called.

I thought about ending this post there.

But I still have a bandage on my breast. I still have the image of watching a needle poke into some weird thing inside my breast seared into my brain.

So let me describe the procedure.

I arrived at the Women’s Imaging Center at Weill Cornell Medical Center on time for my 9 am appointment. Outwardly, I was calm. My efforts to think positive thoughts had convinced me that this was some kind of divine comedic error, yet another example of God’s Monty Python-like sense of humor.

Things happened quickly. Within 15 minutes of my arrival, I was lying on my back in a hospital gown on a table in the ultrasound room.

In the two weeks since my mammogram, an odd thing had happened: I was no longer able to feel the lump. I had convinced myself, therefore, that the thing – whatever it was – had disappeared.

I mentioned to the ultrasound tech that I could no longer feel the lump. She nodded and applied the gel to the ultrasound wand, and began moving it around on my breast. I was about to ask her, “What happens if you can’t see it anymore?” when she said,

“Oh! There it is. I definitely see it. And these pictures look exactly like the ones that __________ got last time.”

So much for it disappearing.

And then I got scared.

During my last visit, I had peeked at the ultrasound screen, but none of what I saw made sense. I was reminded of my pregnancy ultrasounds, where I could discern the baby’s head, spine and heartbeat, but not much else.

This time, I saw it clearly.

The it, the thing, the lump that was causing all this trouble appeared on the ultrasound screen as a gelatinous bubble, like the movie The Blob. I had a Blob inside me. Of course, in the movie, the Blob consumed whatever was in its path.

I reminded myself that The Blob was a silly movie about killer Jello. But I couldn’t take my eyes off that screen.

The procedure I had is called an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy. A nurse and a doctor soon joined the ultrasound technician. While the ultrasound technician showed the doctor the pictures she had captured on screen, the nurse cleaned my breast for the procedure.

Everyone – doctors, nurse, ultrasound technician – was great about explaining to me what was happening, in terms that were simple but not dumbed down. I watched the doctor use a long, fine needle to fill my breast with Lidocaine so I wouldn’t feel any pain during the biopsy. I watched her insert a second thicker, hollow needle into my breast. She showed me the needle’s spring mechanism and explained that she would be activating the needle with a loud pop! sound to collect tissue samples, a process that would be repeated 5 times.

To my surprise, the doctor also announced that she would implant a small titanium clip into my breast to mark the location of the mass, since it was so subtle and not easy to detect, for the benefit of future radiologists. I didn’t like the idea of a titanium anything in my breast, but I gave my consent.

And then I turned my attention to the ultrasound screen.

I watched the needle probing and poking the blob. I saw the needle tip penetrate the mass. Even before the doctor gave me the “one-two-three” warning that she was about to activate the spring-loaded mechanism, I held my breath in anticipation.

I didn’t flinch.

“You’re doing great,” I was reassured, over and over again.

Inside, I wasn’t doing so great. I was overwhelmed by the odd and unsettling miracle of watching a needle enter my breast and cut away tiny pieces of some unidentifiable thing inside my breast.

It dawned on me that, no matter who you are in life, at some point, you will wind up in one of these hospital gowns, submitting your body to some procedure or another, hoping to discover that for you, life continues.

I couldn’t conceive of any other result. My children have no one but me. Their father is, um, unreliable. Their grandmother is gone. The family they know is in Michigan, where my children don’t want to be. They barely know their relatives in Philadelphia. And I am no longer as close as I once was to the women who were their godmothers.

The radiologist commended me for being so “good” throughout the procedure. I thought only about not orphaning my children.

My breast was a bit sore after the anesthesia wore off, but physically I was fine. Mentally and emotionally, though, the three-day wait for results was torture. I kept myself busy to keep from dwelling on it, but the bandage on my breast reminded me that, in the words of Madeline’s Miss Clavel, something was “not right.”

And now I know. The negative result is positive. I am relieved.

OK and fine do not, however, mean everything is back to “normal.”

For me, there is a new “normal.”

From now on, I will have a titanium clip in my breast. I will need to be diligent and consistent about getting annual mammograms. The breast biopsy joins the growing list of procedures and surgeries I have had recently, a list that replaces the “none” or “N/A” I used to routinely tick off on medical history questionnaires.

But still – I’m fine.

I’ll take it.

Never Can Say Goodbye

July 10, 2009

I am still mourning the death of Michael Jackson.

I mourn as a fan, because that is the only way I knew him.  I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and friends — especially his children — but I do not pretend I knew Michael Jackson as anything other than an entertainer.  A great entertainer.

Of course, there’s the dancing.  My son plays the Bad video incessantly on YouTube, and tries to imitate the moves.  For me, it’s the Smooth Criminal video.  I can’t watch it enough.

Right after his death, I went into MTV overload, watching every MJ video on every MTV channel available, enjoying MTV’s brief return to its musical roots.

But really, for me, it’s all about the way Michael Jackson could interpret a song.

There’s no denying that Michael Jackson was a preternaturally gifted singer.  He had no life experience to tap into at age 8 to pull off that famous rendition of “Who’s Loving You.”  That performance came from a place few singers, even the ones who have actually experienced the heartache and loss of a broken relationship, find easy to access.

And there’s no reason a 12-year-old should have been able to sing THE definitive version of “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

Maybe, even at 12, the lyrics had special meaning for him:

Even though the pain and heartache
Seems to follow me wherever I go
Though I try and try to hide my feelings
They always seem to show

But I look at my own 12-year-old daughter, and I can’t imagine any 12-year-old understanding the emotions behind this lyric, which sustained me through many a breakup:

I keep thinkin that our problems
Soon are all gonna work out
But there’s that same unhappy feeling and there’s that anguish, there’s that
doubt
It’s the same old did ya hang up
Can’t do with you or without

I watched Michael Jackson the consummate professional, the confident performer, and enjoyed every ounce of what he gave to his fans.  And I know that, despite what we thought we knew about Michael Jackson, we didn’t know him at all. 

Many said his televised memorial put a human face on the man who had become known more for his weirdness than his music.  It certainly conveyed a different aspect of him — Michael as doting father and playful friend.  

The coverage of his death seems determined to uncover the “truth.”  I have long since stopped paying attention to the coverage.  I don’t care anymore whether his death was deliberate or accidental, whether or not MJ’s kids are biologically his, or any of the other issues that amount to “breaking news” on TMZ.

The only “truth” about Michael Jackson that I know is this:  despite the fact that so much of his life was lived in public; despite the fact that I grew up with him, reached middle age with him and looked forward to growing old with him — he managed to carve out a very private existence for himself and his children, behind those veils and underneath the umbrellas. 

Thanks to the veils and scarves and blankets, the Jackson children appear to have lived a fairly normal, regular life.  They were able to come and go in public in a way that Michael Jackson could not.  Michael kept their faces covered in public, so the public never really knew what his children looked like until that memorial service.  We aren’t entitled to his children.  He understood that.  I hope we can remember it.

Michael Jackson was a man — not a boy-child, not Peter Pan — but a man who was loved by his children, his family and his friends.  Only those who were privileged to know him personally have any inkling of who and what he really was, to the extent any person can ever know anyone other than himself. 

We may never know exactly who Michael Jackson was, or wasn’t.  I’m not even sure we have the right to continue to probe and try to find out.   What counts most is that his music, and those amazing performances, will last forever, even longer than our own individual memories of him.

I’ll Get It!!!

May 13, 2009

I wrote this piece when my daughter, who is now 12, was 8, and just starting to talk to her friends on the phone.  Now that she’s 12, I find that things have turned out pretty much as I predicted back then…

“I’ll get it!” my daughter shouted over the din of the TV, some wannabe singer screeching out something on American Idol.  She practically jumped off the top bunk down to the floor.  “It might be Nick!”

Before I could say anything, she had answered the phone and was talking into it.  “It’s me!  Hey, Nick!”  Then to me: “Mom, I’m going to go get the other phone.  Can you hang up when I pick up?”

I nodded, still shell-shocked.  This child, who just a few minutes earlier had been arguing with me about the Idol wannabes (“Mo-om, Carrie soooo can sing!”), was no teenager.  She wasn’t even a pre-teen or tweener.  She had just celebrated her eighth birthday two months earlier. 

Granted, there was the whole early puberty thing — she had just undergone a whole series of tests to determine why she was already budding breasts and sprouting hairs, and earlier that week I finally had to stop denying her the right to wear the little training bras she had received as a Christmas present from her former babysitter.  (I still don’t know what a training bra is “training” the breasts to do.)  But I wasn’t ready for her to fly off the bed and grab the phone because she was expecting some boy to call.  And as I half-listened to my daughter’s side of her conversation with Nick, I was both satisfied that the conversation was entirely innocent, and disturbed by the harbinger of things to come.

My daughter has always found boys easier to befriend than girls.  Boys tend not to judge you based on what you’re wearing, or what clique you do or don’t belong to, or how cool anyone thinks you are.  At the same time, she has always longed for that one true girlfriend.  This eighth year of her life has been especially difficult, because with all the changes going on already in her body, she seems to need that elusive best girlfriend now more than ever.  Eight-year-old boys, who are silly and irritating most of the time, are a poor substitute.  

In my daughter’s case, with the simmering hormones of precocious puberty stirring up all kinds of emotions she can’t yet identify, let alone name, it’s inevitable that she’s going to start becoming truly aware that the boys she chats on the phone with, hangs out with after school, and has playdates and even sleepovers with, is a bona fide member of the opposite sex.  And, come to think of it, they’re kind of cute.  In my experience, that recognition usually blows the friendship to pieces.  I’m grateful she’s too young for that recognition to occur, but I know it’s going to happen — and when it does, I suspect (and fear) some of her male friendships won’t survive.

I listened to my daughter in the other room, talking to Nick about school, other kids and parents.  She spoke in cool, calm tones, without any of that exaggerated language, copied from Nickeledeon and Disney Channel tween-focused shows, that 8 year olds use when they want to talk the way they imagine teenagers do.  There was no “what-EVER!,” no “Oh.My.GOD!!!!”  It all sounded frighteningly grown up. 

After a few minutes, I had to see what was going on, because suddenly I couldn’t hear her side of the conversation.  Her voice seemed to have dropped an octave or two, and that’s when I knew it was time to get her off the phone.

“Okay, Cami, five minutes,” I said anxiously, trying to be fair, but wishing I’d just told her it was time to hang up.

“Okay!” came the again-audible response.  Phone privileges were still pretty new to her, so she was unusually malleable.

A few minutes later, I again couldn’t hear my daughter’s voice.  “Cami, time to get off!”

“I’m already off!  Nick’s mom told him it was time to hang up already!”

I smiled.  I knew there was a reason I liked Nick’s mom.  I was glad at least one of us hadn’t wimped out of our responsibility.

The next day, as I was leaving my daughter’s school after dropping her off, I ran into Nick and his mom. 

“So, our guys have become quite the little phone pals, I see,” I said.

“Yeah,” she grunted.  We shared a knowing smile, an unspoken expression of relief that they were still only 8.  Nick was oblivious to the parental disdain going on above his head.  But he didn’t call that night.  Fortunately, being only 8, my daughter didn’t even notice.

Pre-Teen Drama

March 21, 2009

This is a re-post of one of my favorites.  My daughter is now 13 and is still not allowed to wear makeup other than a little sheer lip gloss.  Hasn’t stopped her from trying, though.

I discovered my daughter’s MAC makeup purchase completely by accident, the way moms have been busting their children for generations.  In this case, it’s because at eleven, my daughter hasn’t learned the necessary skill of covering one’s tracks.  She dropped the receipt from her MAC store purchase on the floor of my bathroom. I almost threw away the receipt without looking at it, assuming it had fallen out of a bag I was now using as a trash liner. But something — call it mom’s intuition — made me look at it before I tossed it.

“A., Cammie” had purchased an eyelash curler (?) and black liquid eyeliner, for a grand total of $36.  I squinted at the receipt.  This had to be wrong.  Maybe our babysitter had told Cami to use her name, since our babysitter’s English is not very good.  But I knew that couldn’t be the case, because the babysitter was very good about keeping track of receipts.  Whenever I left money for her to buy milk or cat food or fruit or whatever, she always left the receipt, the exact change, and any necessary explanatory notes, in her neat handwriting but sometimes incomprehensible Spanglish. (more…)

A Delicate Balance

March 21, 2009

This is another favorite.  It’s a long story, but worth the ride.

Last Wednesday, I learned that having a babysitter whose primary language is Spanish can be a severe handicap when one of your kids is in the ER.

I was at a diversity conference dinner, catching up with former law firm colleagues and law school alumni, when I felt my cell phone vibrating in my purse. It was my babysitter, so I excused myself, slightly annoyed.  I was expecting her to simply be seeking my assistance with some minor bit of kid drama, like Randy refusing to do his homework, or Cami doing any number of things.

“Please, can you come to hospital, because Randy, he fall in the house.” (more…)

Lands’ End of My Love Life

March 21, 2009

I have an addiction.  I don’t think my addiction qualifies me for A&E’s “Intervention,” but it may be bad enough to earn me a spot on TLC’s “What Not to Wear.”

I am addicted to fleece.

As I type this note, I am wearing my favorite around-the-house-in-the-wintertime outfit: a red Tommy Hilfiger fleece sweatshirt circa whenever Tommy was still hot on the streets, a pair of Lands’ End fleece sweatpants, and a pair of Lands’ End wool socks. It is as cozy as a pair of adult footie pajamas, but not nearly as cute. The sweatshirt is completely frayed at the cuffs. The pants are baggy and make me look at least fifteen pounds’ heavier. The less said about the socks, the better.

I am describing this outfit because I have actually been known to step outside my front door wearing it, and not just to put out the garbage. Using the “drugstore emergency” excuse – which could be running out of anything from feminine products to cat food to laundry detergent to Altoids – I have ventured out to my neighborhood CVS in this outfit. In very cold weather, it would be topped by my equally ugly blue Lands’ End parka. (The parka is a separate topic of discussion for another note. It’s warm. We’ll let it go at that.) So if you’re ever in the CVS at 125th St. and Lenox Ave., and you see someone who looks vaguely familiar from Facebook wandering around in head-to-toe fleece, just say “ahhh” and keep on going. Don’t say hi. Don’t say, “Oh, that must be the outfit you talked about in your note.” Pretend you don’t know me. Keep. On. Going. (more…)