Thursday, February 18, 2010

At Least It Wasn't "I HATE YOU"...

Well, that was awful.

My kid just told me, for the first time ever,


(Temporarily ignore the fact that, at the time of this utterance, I was in the process of dunking her in the bathtub fully dressed. As if *you've* never done that.)

Before today, the most searing insult she had been able to muster, in her innocent little 4-year-old brain, was "You're not my friend anymore!" or-- worse!-- "I'm never going to give you a book from my room again!" Neither of which fazed me much (I have adult friends who better appreciate my crass sense of humor, and I also have an account).

But this-- this all-encompassing summary judgment of my parenting ability-- well, it upset me. For real. Even though I knew that the kid was just tired, and embarrassed (she was, after all, being bathed with her clothes on) (hey, she should have heeded my first seven requests that she get in the tub, what did she think was going to happen), and, um, four years old.

For some reason, though, just the fact that this mean little thought would even OCCUR to her made it somehow true.

Now you're saying: Hello, this is the 861st blog post I have read about mommies feeling bad when their children declare their hatred for them, snore; and also: Hey, lady, you were bathing your kid WITH HER CLOTHES ON, there's actually a relatively strong case to be made that you ARE are a bad mommy.

But it just made me wonder (I miss you, Carrie Bradshaw!!), why are we so quick to believe the bad stuff and so cavalier about the good stuff? Is it a woman thing? Or just a mommy thing?

Like when my in-laws are visiting. My mother-in-law could deliver an 8-minute monologue about how clever the eldest child is or how polite the middle child is or how well-behaved the little one is... but as soon as it even LOOKS like she is CONSIDERING saying SOMETHING to the EFFECT of "X child is a bit rambunctious / melodramatic / cheeky" or WHATEVER, I have to freaking retire to the bedroom and sob silently into my pillow for an hour, micro-analyzing every parenting decision I've ever made and wondering which of my missteps could have warranted such a heartless evaluation. (See how I can do that? Turn an observation of the KID's bad behavior into a negative commentary of MY parenting skills? Isn't that a neat trick? Quite useful for people with too MUCH self-esteem.)

And I do this not just with my own critiques: whenever attending a parent-teacher conference, I have something of an out-of-body experience when I hear myself opening with this line, "Hi, thanks in advance for the compliments, but can we just skip to the problem areas?" It's like I'm physically uncomfortable with being told that my children are smart or attentive or whatever, and I just want to rush into the part where the teacher says, "Oh, ok, well, it's really minor BUT..." so that I can have something to obsess over on the ride home. WHAT'S THAT ABOUT? Why must I always be WORRYING ABOUT SOMETHING?

I know I'm not a bad mommy. And I know the kid didn't fully understand what I was talking about when I hugged her tightly before bed and told her that she had hurt my feelings, and that I have sacrificed everything in the name of being a good mommy, and that I hope that she will be a little more careful in expressing her frustration in the future.

But I also know that, as the kids get older and learn how to intentionally wound me with their words, the insults are going to get much, much worse. (Just think! I'll have THREE TEENAGE GIRLS in the house at the same time! Might as well tear my heart out now and save myself the trouble!) In other words, I have fair warning of what's coming and plenty of time to strategize against any such verbal attack.

The question is just whether-- by definition-- it's always going to hurt. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cell Phone Tower Update.





Monday, February 1, 2010

When Nowhere Feels Safe.

Something upsetting happened to me this morning.

I was sitting at the dining room table, sipping a cup of coffee and enjoying the sudden quiet of having shipped the last rugrat off to school, when the doorbell rang.

At the gate stood a woman I didn't recognize. She introduced herself as my neighbor (you can tell we *don't* live in a very borrow-a-cup-of-sugar-y area). Then she promptly launched into what sounded like a practiced speech: Have you noticed the cranes that have been positioning themselves behind our houses? Do you know what they are for? Well, they're for the cell phone tower that they're planning to build. Right here on our block. And do you know how unsafe those are? When I lived in London, the same thing happened, and a cell phone tower was built in my neighborhood, and suddenly kids started being diagnosed with leukemia. Do you want to see the research? My husband is printing it out right now. You have little kids, I've seen them. Do you want to join me in trying to stop this development? Here is the number for the community management company. I have forced them to stop temporarily by telling them that I wanted to speak to the engineer. There is going to be a meeting at 10am, they've told me. We must not let this tower get built.

By the time I shut the door behind her, my stomach was in a knot. My own mother died of a rare cancer that seemed to pop up out of nowhere, and she was diagnosed with it 4 months after moving to a new neighborhood. The doctors estimated that her tumor was 3 months old. A 4-year-old girl on the same street also died of cancer about 6 months after my mom did.

In other words, if that lady was looking for someone to be on Team Overreaction, she'd rung the right doorbell.

I was instantly on the phone with the community management company. I threatened to go to the newspaper. I told them that every parent on our street was prepared to form a human chain in front of the designated construction area (too much?). I demanded that someone call me back by the end of the day to inform me of the meeting's turnout.

Four hours later, I called back again.

I was told that the project was probably going to continue, that it had been in the planning stages for the past 3 years.

I requested that the owner or president of the company contact me within the hour. Otherwise they'd be reading about me in the paper tomorrow.

We'll see how that works out for me.

In the meantime, when I went to pick up my eldest from school a few minutes ago, I saw, FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME, that there is a cell phone tower IN THE PARKING LOT OF HER SCHOOL. How had I driven past it for the past 5 months and never noticed it? And more importantly, HOW WAS I EVER GOING TO SLEEP AGAIN?

Now, if you're considering doing a casual Google search on the words, "cell phone towers" and "safe," let me save you the trouble. The propagandistic search results are nothing short of terrifying: "DEATH TOWERS," and "The Menace of Cell Phone Towers," to name a few. The lists of cancers are breathtaking. And the legal situation grim: when people have tried to fight the cell phone companies, one article states, the cell phone companies always win.

Which brings you up to speed on my current state of thinking, which is a frantic mix of anxiety, despair, and rage. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my rational self is waving its arms and shouting, "But what if the towers are actually safe?", and yet I can't hear it above the din of the more hysterical thoughts pinging about in my brain.

Let me just say that, generally, I am not the kind of parent who lives in a panic. I do NOT give the kids only organic; I do NOT stock the house with "all natural" cleaning products; I do NOT oppose the children getting their vaccines. Because generally, I trust that our government IS protecting us from the kind of toxins that would aggressively kill us (conspiracy theorists are pissing themselves with laughter right about now), and I believe that giving in to the Fear Mentality puts a mother at risk for becoming a walking, talking basket case. One who doesn't see the joy in life because she's always looking up to see if the sky is falling. I didn't want to be one of those people. I DO not want to be one of those people.

And yet. Am I not worrying enough? Should I have noticed that cell phone tower in the school parking lot ages ago? Should I be printing flyers and papering my neighborhood at this very moment, instead of writing to you? We playfully tease one of my best friends for not allowing the teachers at school to draw happy faces on her children's hands... but maybe ink seeping into delicate little girl skin is nothing to laugh about?

So many mommy roads lead me right back to my ever-present theological crisis: If only I believed in God, I could just say to him: Hey Lord, please keep my children safe from radiation and cow hormones and ink poisoning. Or, if you do decide to make any of them sick, please make sure they get a front row seat in heaven.

But I don't, not really. And so the buck stops with me. Me and the neighbor lady. The two of us against the cell phone company. Which is probably just going to put the tower up anyway. Probably, the only thing that will come of it is that I will give myself an ulcer from worrying. And that neighbor lady will move.

I feel like I am doing so much to take the best care of my girls, all day, every day. I devote my life to it.

And get somehow, today it doesn't seem like nearly enough.