Thursday, July 2, 2015

Happy Fourth of July: A Mother’s Wish for Her Daughter on Independence Day

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a special relationship with the Fourth of July. My parents tried to make the holiday fun for me and my siblings -- they always made a special effort. And now as an adult, while other people might stress about what they’re going to do on New Year’s, I care more about where I’m going to barbecue on the Fourth, and how I’m going to make it the perfect day.

This year, I will be celebrating by enjoying a barbecue with my boyfriend’s family and each of our daughters, so I know I’ll have a great time. But lately I’ve found myself thinking about the holiday in a way that goes beyond barbecues and fireworks. Perhaps because my plans are set, or because my daughter is getting older, or maybe because of everything that is happening in our country right now, I’m thinking about what it means to celebrate the fact that we are Americans, and what I wish for my daughter’s future here.

I have always had a strong personal connection to this country in a historical sense, because of my ancestry. On my father’s side I have ancestors who arrived on the boat after the Mayflower, two Presidents, and a member of my family has served in nearly every war into which this country has entered. On my mother’s side I descend from Russian and Hungarian Jews who took a chance and came to this country for better economic conditions, religious freedom, and to escape the violence of the pogroms.

But lately I’ve been thinking more about what it means for me to be American now, in the year 2015, and what it means to raise my daughter in this country. As a liberal who grew up in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, I have always struggled with the conflict between my internal beliefs and those to which I was asked to subscribe. I have always believed in civil rights for all people, I have always believed that the rich have a moral responsibility to do what they can for those with less, I have always been anti-war and pro two-state-solution, and I have always believed that everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue higher education, not just those with wealthy parents, or those who are willing and able to incur significant student loan debt (like me).

And lately we have begun to see some glimmers of change in this country. We currently have our first African American President of the United States, and we have both a woman and a Jew campaigning as strong contenders for the next presidency. A win for either would be another first for a country that up until very recently only elected white, Christian men to that office. This June, the Supreme Court ruled once again in favor of the Affordable Care Act in a decision that will prevent millions of Americans from losing their health insurance, and handed down a landmark victory ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. I’m still in disbelief that we have come so far as a country. My daughter will grow up knowing that love wins -- that we are all born equal in the eyes of the law. And if my personal favorite Senator Bernie Sanders wins the next election, my daughter may even be able to attend college free of charge. Change is coming. Slowly, but it’s coming.

And so this year, on our Independence Day, I wish for my daughter to grow up to be proud to be an American. I wish for her to continue to witness more love than hate, more equality than discrimination, more hope and less uncertainty, and more progress for all Americans. I wish for her to grow up to be happy. To feel safe. To know that she comes from hearty stock, people who fought both literally and figuratively to be American. I wish for her to grow up to be free. I wish for her peace.

Happy Fourth of July to you all.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Five Steps to the Best Disneyland Family Vacation Ever (We Do it For the Kids)

My boyfriend and I just got back from two days at Disneyland with our kids (one day at Disneyland and one at California Adventure -- three nights total at the hotel). We had planned the trip in celebration of their birthdays, which are just a few weeks apart at the beginning of the summer, figuring that rather than buy them a bunch of stuff, why not give them an experience they could enjoy together and maybe even remember.

That’s the funny thing about parenthood: everything sounds so good and doable in theory until reality spits up in your face. But I kid.

And so I present to you my five steps to the best Disneyland family vacation ever, with just a little tongue in cheek.

1. Leave the kids at home. Seriously, they’ll be fine, and if you bring them with you, they’ll just slow you down, like a lot. Young animals forage in the wild everyday, and look at them -- they're doing fine! And if you live in a ritzy area, your kids might even have an awesome “Home Alone” style showdown with the local amateur crooks. I mean look how the star of that film turned out! I always wanted to be that kid (until he grew up and started chasing the dragon).

2. Accept that this trip is for the kids. You did not go to Disneyland to frolic through the park and ride Space Mountain. No, yours will be a grueling stream of rides that move at about one mile per hour, for about two minutes total. In other words, you will wait in line for an hour for a two-minute ride. Your partner or helpful friend or family member will hopefully be along to help pass the time. Or they may be sitting on a bench for an hour with the other child while you wait in line with the child who wants to ride the ferris wheel. Just expect to spend a lot of time waiting. Pretend you are a movie star. Or to be more realistic, a movie star’s assistant. Cuz sister, you’re not getting any special treatment at the Magic Kingdom-- you’re just one of many thousands of disgruntled parents catering to their child's every want and need, and if anyone’s getting special treatment, it’s probably that mom over there with the tight, white jeans and admirable rack.

3. Bring money. A LOT of money. This one seems obvious, duh, but what will really kill you in the end is not the price of the tickets or the hotel room fees -- it’s the $4 pretzels, water bottles, and ice creams (Mickey Mouse and Olaf); the shuttle fees; the food at the park (it’s like living at the movie theater for a few days, ugh, except the kids won’t eat anything); the parking; the balloon-animal merchant that springs up out of nowhere (our guy made the girls amazing Elsa dolls and was hilarious though, so I’m not complaining on that one!) and the worst money-suck of all, the gift shops.

4. On second thought, don’t just bring money -- bring everything. Like, everything. I thought I had it covered when I brought the Disney Princess Band-Aids and the girls’ hair detangler spray, but I was clearly just a naive young (young, damn it! ) mother and I didn’t know. I didn’t know that fireworks are too loud and that we would need child-sized earplugs. I didn’t know that normally sunny Southern California would be blanketed in fog until mid-afternoon both days we were there. And I definitely didn’t know that the hotel shampoo would be deemed unacceptable by two very particular young girls who really are after my own heart (“this soap is no good”). Like I told the girls, we learned a lot from this first trip to Disneyland together... like never to come back again! Juuuuust kidding.

5. Which brings me to my last point. What’s the key ingredient for the best Disneyland family vacation ever? Make sure you go with a partner or friend who makes you laugh and can keep you smiling through the lines, the noise, the whining children, aching feet, and rapidly depleting checking account. My boyfriend prank-called me from the hotel lobby saying, “Ms. Brookes, your children are being too loud.” Those were the moments that made it all ok.

See, some people are the type to go to Disneyland as adults, without kids, and they love it. I’ll probably never be one of those people. I lack patience. I don’t like crowds or strangers touching me or twenty-somethings calling me ma’am. And I’m not a big fan of germs. I DO enjoy those hand-dipped corn-dogs on Main Street, but I'm usually only willing to put up with pushy throngs of hungry teenagers like the ones in that line when I go to In-N-Out.

But I digress. Go to Disneyland, take the kids. The Soarin' Over California ride in California Adventure is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a Small World is as charming as ever. The girls had a wonderful time and I know we will be back soon, probably next summer. Because childhood is so short, and adulthood can be so long. So we do it for the kids.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ten Fun Things No One Told Me About Parenting a Young Child

When you’re expecting, or just had a baby, everyone wants to give you advice, from your second cousin to the checkout lady at the grocery store. And while I received many helpful (and some decidedly less helpful) tips, there were some things that I had to discover for myself. Here’s a list of ten fun things no one told me about parenting a young child. Can you relate?

1. Your child will unknowingly say or do things that remind you of something dirty, and you and your partner will laugh your asses off while she stares at you like you’re clinically insane.

2. They grow up so gradually that you don’t even notice it, until the day you really notice, when she’s arguing with you and winning. It’s like one day your child is a toddler sitting backward in the backseat with limited understanding and no long-term memory, and the next she is a fully-functioning human who asks you what song lyrics mean while you frantically change the channel looking for a song without the words “lick” and “booty” in it.

3. You will take trips designed for her pleasure, and she will cry and complain and you will swear you’re never taking another trip again. And then you’ll plan another one.

4. If you’re sarcastic and snarky, count on your child being twice as obnoxious. Sometimes I don’t know whether to be outraged or exceedingly proud of things Bean has said to me. I’ve got to hand it to her, this girl comes up with some killer one-liners.

5. You will remember all of the words to all of the songs in “The Little Mermaid,” and when you start singing, she will ask you to please stop.

6. She will want to see and touch your boobs all the time, whether you nurse or not. My daughter is obsessed; she once called them “squishy.”

7. You’ll become very comfortable with poop, in a way you never thought possible. It’s the bond that unites all parents: we wipe butts.

8. You will be exceedingly and unabashedly proud of your child and will love her unconditionally, and yet there will be moments when she tests your patience like no one ever has (usually late at night, when she refuses to go to sleep, or any time you go to the mall with her, or the grocery store, or any store at all).

9. You will feed your child food that you wouldn’t eat yourself. Breast milk? Some may try it, but not me. The same goes for the pureed meat I used to make her. And the pureed peas. And the microwave mac and cheese she loves now.

10. Your child will be your harshest critic and your number one diehard supporter, depending on the day, or the minute. She will point out stretch marks that you sustained from having her, and tell you in no uncertain terms that you need a pedicure stat ("your feet don’t look pretty"). And when she says, “Mommy, I love you,” you will feel the closest thing you’ve ever felt to pure joy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hey It's Me (I'm Back!)

It has been almost a year since I last posted on this blog, and in that time a lot has happened. My daughter turned three and started singing, counting, and talking up a storm (she never stops!). We traded our tiny apartment in hipsterville Oakland for a condo in what I like to call the “deep East Bay,” and I’m still trying to adjust to living in the suburbs. Little Bean graduated from in-home daycare to a full-blown Montessori preschool with 40 kids and monkey bars on the playground, and is suddenly extremely grown up and independent. And I met a wonderful man with a daughter of his own, and fell madly in love. Sometimes in life we have to take a step back from things in order to take a step forward. Last summer I felt the need to retreat, have some privacy, to let life happen, unreported and unedited. Now, ten months later, I feel refreshed and ready to write. I look forward to sharing my parenting adventures again on notahipstermom -- it’s therapeutic for me, and hey if my stories bring amusement to any of you, well then that’s a two-for-one.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Mother's Sacrifice

Thursday, May 8, 2014

There’s No One to Buy Me Flowers this Mother’s Day, and that’s Okay: Mother’s Day as a single mom

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and mothers across the country will celebrate with their families in a grand show of appreciation to the women who bring us into the world, raise us to adulthood, and continue to nurture us even once we have children of our own. 

This Sunday, mothers will receive flowers, cards, gifts, and jewelry, and some will even eat breakfast in bed courtesy of their spouses and children, who will be well-meaning if not successful in their cooking attempts. While there are some mothers who choose to opt out of this holiday for various reasons, on the whole, this Mother’s Day most of America will find a way to show their wives and mothers just how much they appreciate them.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Mother’s Day given my complicated relationship with my mother, and I always hoped that one day I would have children, and we would create our own Mother’s Day traditions. I told myself that I would reinvent Mother’s Day for myself once I would be the mother, and not the child. 

But the truth is, that when I was imagining all of the wonderful Mother’s Days I would have with my own children, I never pictured myself as a single mother. There was always a husband, a father, there to help the kids make brunch, or surprise me with flowers, or help the little ones write their names on the cards. In fact, in pretty much every advertisement you see, there is a husband there (or assumed to be there) to help coordinate the day. Why, considering the abundance of single moms out there now? Because young children don’t know how to purchase gifts and flowers and orchestrate meals by themselves -- that’s the dad’s job, at least until the kids get older.

When I left my marriage I became a single mom, something I had never anticipated or imagined. It has been almost two years now, and I have never regretted my decision, but I would be lying if I said being a single mom is anything other than extremely difficult. I have my daughter full-time, which means that I don’t get a break unless I get a babysitter, which I have started to do more and more now that she is getting a little older. I work my ass off at work every day to support us both and give her the best childhood that I possibly can, and then I come home and spend as much time with her as possible before she goes to bed and we do the whole thing all over again. And I am not alone... there are so many women like me out there, who struggle to be both mom and dad to their children, and do so with a smile, so the kids never notice our exhaustion or frustration. 

The irony is that these moms -- single moms like me with young children -- are the least likely to be showered with appreciation on Mother’s Day. There’s no one to buy me flowers or cook me breakfast, and my daughter is too young to understand the significance of the day. While she might make me a card at school, the reality is that if we do anything to celebrate Mother’s Day, it will have to be planned by me. If I want flowers for Mother’s Day, I will probably have to buy them myself. 

And you know what? That’s okay. In time, my daughter will get older, and will know it’s Mother’s Day (the media will never let her forget!), and we will celebrate our mutual unconditional love with traditions that we will develop for ourselves. And maybe I’ll get married again and have more children, and we will have a more “traditional” Mother’s Day celebration like in the advertisements. Either way, for now, I will continue to reap the rewards of being a mother on a daily basis, and put less importance on the significance of one day. 

And as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. I was on the train the other day thinking about Mother’s Day, and I started to feel a little sad and sorry for myself, and -- I can admit it -- a little bitter. I started thinking the kind of thoughts that I never allow myself to think... like where are my flowers? And why are other moms somehow more worthy of appreciation than I am?

And then I stopped, made my mind go silent, and asked myself if I was happier now, as a single mom, than I was when I was in my marriage. The answer? Yes, no question. Did I feel loved by my daughter? Yes, the truest love I had ever known. And finally, when it came to my personal identity as me, Ariana, had becoming a mother changed me for the better? 

And that’s when I realized that the day my daughter was born was the day everything stopped spinning in my head. She brought me clarity, a sense of everlasting purpose, so much so that I finally had the courage to face my life head-on and make some difficult changes. Becoming a mother brought me an inner calm that I had been searching for my entire life. And becoming a single mother has brought out a deep strength from the core of my being, and has shown me what I am capable of as a mother and as a woman in all aspects of my life.

So while I will not be showered with attention this Mother’s Day, and I may feel a little sad about “missing out”, I know that the benefits of motherhood are not wrapped up in a consumer holiday called Mother’s Day. Every day I reap the benefits through a true sense of purpose, a deep sense of being needed in this world, and the pure love that exists between me and my child. And hey, you know what? Maybe I’ll buy myself some flowers this Mother’s Day. I know which ones I like!


Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! You are wonderful!