Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nature Vs. Nurture & Women Vs. Women

I'm on the verge of slapping every Mom out there who thinks she has it "right"...

     I know it's only been a short time since my last post, so I forgive you if you aren't all caught up. Before I get into the subject hand, I thought I would give you an update on Casa Smith.

     I started therapy, and it rocks. Turns out that just being able to talk to someone really helps. It's all about letting the past go; learning from it and moving on. Let's see, what else? Eldest daughter moved back in for the holidays with the grandbaby, fought with all of us, moved back out January 28, will likely be back soon. Eldest son, upset that said daughter moved back out, got angry with us, fought with everyone, left for a week, tried kicking my car window in. Thank you Chevrolet for making strong glass. My parents came up for Christmas, I worked my ass off to make a fantastic holiday dinner, hit a home run on gifts, and blew the whole "Santa" thing for my 12 year old. (Yes, she still believed. That is, until her dumbass mother asked "When did you stop believing in Santa Claus?" Apparently that was the moment. In my defense, I did her a favor. You can't be the 8th grader who believes in Santa. It's just not cool.) I spent all our money, cleaned my house for the 8,000th time, got a break from Cub Scouts Girl Scouts and hula and tried like mad to entertain all of them while the rain pounded relentlessly on our little island. On January 3rd, I celebrated when they went back to school. January 4, go to the doctor for some crazy shit on my arm that looks "suspicious". They removed it, burned the area around it and now my arm hurts.  That evening, I slipped in the bathroom on the wet floor and slammed my face into the sink splitting my lip open (I now look like a duck) and busting part of a crown off. January 6, dentist's consult didn't go too well; I may need surgery. (The crown was only ever meant to be temporary. The dentist is shocked I got almost a year out of it, so this whole procedure is long overdue.) January 7, sat at my computer only to see a post from a Facebook friend that got me all worked up. (Apparently the rest wasn't quite enough.) It's not important to quote what she said (and seriously, I'm not starting a fight with a friend on my blog) but it did get me thinking a lot about mothers... 

     You know what strikes me as completely insane? That we, as women, don't support and care for one another. What a force we would be if we could just put our own insecurities aside and lifted each other up through this crazy thing we do called parenting. This shit is hard, people. Really hard. If you think you have all the answers, you could be setting yourself up for a very rude awakening. And, for the record, I wouldn't even consider listening to your version of parenting the right way unless you have teenagers who are fabulous and they got that way without the aid of the "fear of God". But I digress.

     Funny story- Do you all remember when Jamie Spears (yes, Britney's little sister) got pregnant? I just Googled this for accuracy. The announcement came on December 20, 2007. (God knows I don't want you to think I have that date memorized!) Let me remind you where my life was at this moment. It was perfect. Ok, not 100%, but it was: white picket fence, kids in school and doing relatively well. It was: "Don't smoke, do drugs or have sex." It was: "I have a wonderful open relationship with my daughter and she tells me everything. If she says she's not having sex, then she's not!" I actually thought about writing a parenting book at this stage of my life.This just made me laugh out loud. I thought I had it so together. I was doing it right. And aside from the fact that Mark was still looking for work in Chicago, our family was doing really well. Of course, we all know that it didn't stay that way. Life went to shit. The kids became rebellious and the attitude from others became: "Well she must have done something wrong." But you know what I think? I think they were going to become them regardless of, or maybe even  in spite of what I did or did not do. It all just happened to coincide.

Nature Vs. Nurture
          The biggest proof I have that nature accounts for much of who we become is... ME! Let's look at where I came from. The only information I have on my biological parents comes from my mother's side. She was 18, enjoyed sewing and singing. Her hair was brown, she was about my build and she held odds and ends jobs. I did have a little bit more information on her parents. My maternal grandmother was a songwriter while her husband was a lithographer. In all, they appeared to be much more creatively driven than scientifically inclined. 

     And then there are Merilyn and Bill; my real parents. My mother graduated from an Ivy league school (the very same that Barack attended, though she will never claim this as something she is proud of. Yet another of our differences.) Her major? Chemistry. My father put himself through college. Not like worked his way through college, like left his home on the farm in southern Illinois and put his ass through school to make a better life for himself without so much as a "good luck" pat on the back. His major? Electrical Engineering. My father worked for Aerospace or Hughes or JPL or something tremendously impressive before going into business for himself. My parents both had something to do with the first Apollo missions. My Dad knows how to operate a wire EDM machine. I don't even know what one is. (I just wiki'd it. I think I'd rather read War and Peace than that definition.) Eventually, my mother started her own business which they ran together until selling it and retiring a few years back. They read the newspaper every day and if you were my Dad's daughter, you would know that as a child you should not ask what makes a rainbow unless you want the real answer of how the atmosphere bends and some crap about light curving and prisms and... oh I don't know. Whatever the answer was I know it isn't the story about the leprechauns I tell my kids. 

     Which makes a nice transition into the "about me" portion. In the event you don't already know, I started performing very young. I took ballet and tap and good God, my mother had me play the accordion. I will give you a moment to soak this in. The accordion, people.


     If only I'd known how big Weird Al would get I might have stuck with it. I joined a performing company at age 9 or 10 and toured all of California, and even some of Canada for the World's Fair.

     I worked for Disneyland for 10 years as every character from Mickey Mouse to Peter Pan's Wendy; Alice in Wonderland being my favorite.

     I majored in theater, I excel in creative writing and am currently working on a novel. I can sing pretty well and if I was forced to, I could likely paint something fairly impressive given enough time. Ok. I'm not bragging here. What I can't do is math, science, or history. One of the only 'B's I ever got in college was in Astronomy 101 because no matter how hard I tried, I really couldn't "get it". I remember my dad getting really frustrated with me (Like "Goddammit, Dia!" frustrated) while trying to explain the Theory of Relativity for the 50th time. I finally just settled for memorizing it on a flash card rather than understanding it, thus ending my dream of one day visiting Mars ;) I made it all the way to consumer mathematics in high school (oh yes. It means I was taught how to balance a checkbook) and literally cannot help Winnie with her 7th grade math homework when she needs it. Seriously. But neither can Mark, for that matter; damn film major/drummer who ended up making video games for a living. When it comes to homework help, our kids are kind of screwed. And here I am writing and laughing and waiting for the next karaoke night out so I can sing "Comfortably Numb" one more time with my hubby rather than hitting the books so my children can have a better chance of getting into college. If you don't think there's something about nature that trumps nurture, I say you're wrong. And, same as I did on October 16 1972,  my kids brought some of their own shit into this world with them. Taylor brought ADD, Ashley brought her stubborn attitude, Winnie brought, well, she brought Winnie, and so on and so forth.

So, now, the comment that got me all worked up on Facebook was as follows: 

     "Dear parents, if your kids are fucked up, it's your fault."

     This went on to list a whole host of things we as parents did or do wrong. First of all, let's define "fucked up". Are we talking didn't get into a university fucked up or Oakland crack whore fucked up? Isn't this rather subjective? In her post comments, she actually listed teenage pregnancy as one of the many traits one can have in order to obtain such a remarkable status. Hmmm. Well, as a (once) teenage mother raising a teenage mother, I can tell you that it's not ideal. It certainly wasn't the first thought that came to my mind when they put Ashley in my arms. "Dear daughter. I hope you get pregnant at the ripe age of 16 and live in my basement." But as a teenage pregnancy success story (I hope) I have to say that these stories are, as of yet, untold. Give it time. As the conversation continued on her Facbook page, the issue finally came around to ADD. How it is misdiagnosed (I agree) and how it is a cop out (I disagree, and for anyone raising a child with special challenges, it is a slap in our faces to tell us nothing is unique about this individual we know better than anyone else on the planet.) I could go on and on about the ins and outs of this post, but it really isn't important. Oh, you should also know that she has one daughter who is 2. (Insert very wicked laugh at the sight of her screaming at her 15 year old daughter she has just caught ditching school and smoking a joint with her newly dyed jet black hair in her back yard with her college aged high school drop out boyfriend.) So on to my real argument.

     Good Lord, the absolute cutest guy just came to my door wanting money for some environmental group that is trying to eliminate plastic bags in our grocery stores. Screw the environment. Let's overpopulate!!! 

Women Vs. Women
     We all have these stories. As mothers, we all have them. You know the one. Some asshole Mom looks at you sideways for grabbing your 4 year old by the wrist as if it's child abuse, even though said 4 year old has just emptied a carton of milk in aisle 10 and is now mopping the floor with his brand new Gap coat that put you back a cool $65, trumping your need for that haircut you haven't had in over a year. The looks get even better when you actually raise your voice at your child who has now sat himself in the milk pond, soaking his jeans on a day when it's 10 below outside. The baby is crying right in your face thanks to those devices that literally strap them to your chest (seriously, people, I'm trying to get rid of them...), the 2 year old (on a leash no less) slips and falls into the milk pond as well. Why did this grocery store abandon those car-carts?? You were up all night with a coughing 6 year old, your husband actually tried to have sex with you at 2am, and you're pretty sure that thing on your foot is getting bigger. You're still in your comfy sweats with the hole in the crotch and your hair was washed... hmm. When was that? The coffee burned this morning, there were no clean socks or underwear (please God, let Declan make it through the day without showing off the fact that his mother put him in his sister's Tinkerbell panties) and your kids were lucky to get a cold pop tart during the morning carpool. 2 doctor's appointments and one stop by the elementary school because someone forgot her lunch later, and all you want is some fucking milk and a frozen pizza from the grocery store. Now, here you are with Miss Holly-Homemaker giving you the evil eye of supreme parenting 2 aisles down. You're really starting to lose it now and it shows. Grab the kids, throw a milk and pizza in the basket and just flat out ignore the one dumped out on the floor until you get to the checkout where you can tell someone without Holly's disapproval. Breathe. It's almost over. Ohhhhh, but is it? Of course not. Holly now feels it necessary to not only publicly scowl at your circumstances, but to offer her parenting 101 words of wisdom. It usually goes like this: 

"Boy, you've got your hands full."
Judgmental and observant.
"Oh. Well, they're tired and it's been a long day."
Please leave me alone.
"Well, when my son, Travis, acts up I just take him home and come back for whatever I need later. It's actually better than disrupting the entire store."
"Well, we need milk for the baby, so..."
"Why not just hire a sitter for grocery shopping?"
"You know what? You're right? After having 8 kids, it never occurred to me to have someone help. What's that word again? Sitter? What is this you speak of? I am so glad we have good Moms like you around to remind the rest of us of the things that we just so stupidly forget. Like the fact that I could actually have someone come over and take care of my kids for me so that things like going to the doctor and grocery shopping are easy... no wait... dare I say joyful? Now why didn't I think of that myself? Oh. I know why.......... 

     So my question. We've all been through this and we all hate it, right? Why, then, does this keep happening? Why are you/we so quick to judge another woman who is just trying to get through the day same as you? You know, when Ashley got pregnant I actually had someone ask me where I went wrong. That's so unreal to me. Does she expect my answer to be: "Well, I'm not sure where I went wrong. Maybe it was that night I gave her boyfriend Rufies and said "Knock yourselves out" that did it. Here's the thing, folks. Ashley would have gotten pregnant no matter what I did. She's smart. She knew where to get birth control. She knew she could talk to me. She made her own choices. Mark and I didn't throw condoms at her and say "As long as you're safe, honey", nor did we tell her that sex is something only for married couples. I talked with her openly about protection, being in love and waiting for the right time. And of course this girl understood pregnancy and children. She's the oldest of 8 kids. She's seen birth more often than most OBGYNs. 

     And so as not to put this all on Ash and make you think of her as the bad seed or something ridiculous, let me add that Taylor has his own shit to deal with as well. He struggles in school. Not like the normal I hate school teen angst bullshit. He struggles. For every day, for every grade, for every un-lost homework assignment. He struggles. And so he is now enrolling in an adult school to finish high school (or get his GED) in an environment that he can focus in. I had another friend once ask me how I was going to do better with the other 6 children given that my eldest got pregnant at 16 and my second eldest can't finish high school. You know what? Suck it. Being a teenager is hard work too. Did you forget what it was like to be called fat or ugly or a slut? To be offered drugs and sex like they were free samples in the perfume department at Macy's? And if that wasn't your life in high school then you were lucky. Being a teenager isn't the walk-in-the-park many parents treat it as. I used to make horrible choices in the name of feeling secure with who I was. I had sex because I thought he loved me. I had no idea how incapable of real love a 17 year old boy was until I raised my own. Taylor can't walk past his sister without lifting a leg and farting in her face in some sort of prehistoric animal marking ritual. He can't possibly love a girl the way Mark loves me. Every day these kids walk in our doors they have faced things you and I have long forgotten about. Pressure. And not the kind of pressure we have as adults, but the pressure to make ridiculously stupid choices. To lose your virginity, to be in the right clique regardless of the sacrifices you will make. Pressure to try drugs they would never consider and are even afraid of. I actually used chewing tobacco because it was cool. CHEWING TOBACCO??!!! And I haven't even added in the pressure of pleasing your parents. What I'm saying here is that every day your teenagers says "no" is a battle won. Every day they walk into your house sober, happy and secure, they beat the odds. And occasionally, shit happens. A baby, an inability to make the grade, an angry fight with an enemy whose taunting has been relentless. My kids aren't fucked up. Life is fucked up. Why don't we, as mothers stop judging and start supporting? 

     As it happens, I've come up with my own theory as to why women do this to each other; a theory that has been formulated over years of being around women, mothers and children from all walks of life. We do it to make ourselves feel better. If the woman next to you is a shit mother, you can feel like a fantastic one. So making her into a shit mother has big benefits. I experience this kind of "leveling" all the time in a different avenue of my life; my choices in how I give birth. Some women are very quick to tell me what a dangerous thing it is to home birth, or how they had to have their cesarean birth because the baby would have died otherwise. They do this without being provoked or even so much as asked their opinion on the matter. Most of the time I just sit there with my mouth closed, letting her yap away until she's gotten it all out of her system and can move on with life. Over time, I have come to feel that the need to tell me why they had to do it their way or why my choice is dangerous is because my home birth challenges them to think about whether or not they had the birth they wanted. I realize this sounds like I have a superiority complex, I really don't. Quite simply, I loved my births and not every woman can say that. So when I do, they have to justify why they didn't get that experience for themselves. And sometimes that justification involves chastising me for the choices I made. Oh, I know this is stirring controversy so I will end it on this. My daughter had a medicated hospital birth and was very satisfied with it. This isn't about "home birth is better" this is about why a mother would find it necessary to criticize my choices rather than lift me up as a woman for having the right to make them. Bringing me back to parenting and the nature/nurture argument.

     Shit kids come from great parents and vice versa all the time. I'm not denying that we have the power to influence our children greatly, of course we do. I'm just saying that there is this core of who they are that you did not create. The Universe or God or whatever you believe in created that. I couldn't stop Winnie from wanting to perform no matter how hard I tried. If you have a gay son or daughter it isn't because you made them that way. I didn't so much as sip a beer during my pregnancy with Taylor and he has ADD. Ashley is maybe the smartest person I have ever met; totally mathematically inclined. (And that didn't come from me.) Sure, if your Dad was Charles Manson, then yeah, you might turn out like shit because of that. But these are not the people I'm talking about. I'm talking about every day Moms and Dads like you and me who are just trying to provide a good life for our kids; who love them more than anything in the world and hope for nothing but the best. And who, in spite of everything they did, sometimes have big challenges with those children. I know a lot of you have very small children and can't foresee a time when they will tell you to fuck off or that they hate you. But it happens. And it won't be because of something you did wrong. And for the record, you're going to do a lot of shit wrong. Like daily. So before you scowl at the woman who is losing it on her 3 year old in the middle of Baskin Robbins, consider, for a moment, that we all have our bad days and help her carry her ice cream to the car. If your kid turns out "fucked up", love them anyway and accept that they made their choices in this life. And on that note I have to say right here that I love Ashley and Taylor with every ounce of my soul. I am very proud of both of them for walking some tough paths in life and making every effort to do it with grace. I love my grandson dearly and wouldn't want the world to not have him. I used them as examples because both ADD and teen pregnancy were mentioned in my friends post and that's what set me off. It almost felt like she wrote it just for me. This blog is not to point out their shortcomings, but to point out ours, as the adults, for being so immature as to blame and put down other mothers rather than lifting them up. We all have great parenting ideas. We all have good days and I'm pretty sure we all have bad days. But we aren't fucking them up. We're raising them. The best way we know how. Take care of our fellow mothers. It's hard enough raising kids without others judging us.