Adequate mom, less-than-adequate gal pal

My best friend Kim dubbed me a film snob years ago, and she’s right. Much as I love movies, I won’t watch just anything; and if I dislike a film, I feel angry while the credits are rolling, because the movie wasted time I could have spent watching something good.

My friends and I wear cheaper clothes and less expensive hairstyles, but you get the idea.

So why would such a film snob be planning to dial up pay-per-view and order one of the most abysmally awful-looking, worst-reviewed movies of this past year (“Sex and the City 2”) the next time Joe is out of town for work, or has a nighttime obligation? Because no matter how terrible it is, the movie will allow me to enjoy, vicariously and for a little while, the feeling of being surrounded by girlfriends.

For most of my closest girlfriends are currently scattered across the country – Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Minnesota, Ohio – and although we e-mail fabulously dishy updates to each other now and then, the act of visiting each other has grown more difficult (which is to say, nearly impossible) as we’ve started families of our own.

Fortunately, we’re each pretty happy in our lives, and harbor no regrets about our choices; yet we’re all, I think, mourning the inevitable loss of the lovely, warm closeness that results from spending lots and lots of time together sharing meals, watching guilty pleasure TV shows and movies, celebrating accomplishments, and, of course, shopping. Continue reading

Food Fight, take two

I’ve previously written about our struggle with Lily’s spotty, picky eating habits at home (though, mysteriously, she eats like a horse, and eats a wide variety of foods, at daycare). But things really came to a head last Wednesday night.

Joe, who’s now dealing with the craziness of preparing to be lead attorney on a multi-million dollar trial, came home after a tough day and cooked dinner. He cut Lily’s dinner into small pieces for her, and also put some fruit she likes in a small bowl.

Just before coming to the table, Lily – motivated by the promise of a fruit snack (we’re following daycare’s lead on this) – wanted to use the bathroom. Nothing happened on the potty, but Lily still wanted her fruit snack. We said no, not wanting to get into the habit of giving her one just for trying – she’d be there all the time otherwise – and she started falling apart.

I was determined to stick to our plan of offering her dinner and nothing beyond that. So after trying to comfort her (she refused me) and talk to her (she couldn’t hear me for all her own ad nauseum, weepy screaming of, “I want a fruit snack”), I told her, “Lily, it’s dinnertime. I’d like for you to eat with us, but with you or without you, we’re going to eat.”

I left her crying in the living room and went to the kitchen, sat down at the table, and set to mechanically eating my dinner. Joe stood at his chair sighing, miserable, saying things like, “I used to love coming home and having dinner. After all the stress at work all day, it was really nice to come home and have dinner. And now, I hate it.”

I felt terrible. The two people I love most were profoundly unhappy, and I felt absolutely helpless in altering the situation in either case. So I listened to Joe vent (and to Lily’s screams) while continuing to fork food into my mouth. Continue reading

A dream deferred (or surrendered?) to motherhood

While marking the one year anniversary of An Adequate Mom this week – a big thanks to all of you who stop in now and then – I thought I’d talk about something that’s haunted me for quite a while now.

In a strange but telling coincidence of timing, Lily was conceived within days of my return from two weeks at an artist colony in Lake Forest, Illinois called Ragdale. I’d earned a place there, during the competitive summer months, on the basis of a book manuscript excerpt that I’d submitted with my application.

Writing a book had been what my life had seemingly always been pointed toward. The first thing I remember saying in response to the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question, posed by my grandfather while I, at age five, dried dishes in his kitchen, was, “An author.” (Yes, I later claimed “Avon lady” and “veterinarian” as career goals, at a time when playing with makeup and animals held great appeal, but I eventually came full circle. Good thing, since I never came to wear makeup in day-to-day life.)

I loved books and stories from the get-go. Once, when we’d driven the seven hours to my grandparents’ home in Clay City, Indiana and arrived late at night, my parents had told me it was too late for my grandfather to read to me. So what did I do? I waited until it sounded like everyone was asleep, grabbed my ragged copy of A. A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh,” and woke up my grandfather to read to me. The ritual was one of the main things I looked forward to in visiting my grandparents, and I wasn’t about to be cheated out of it because we arrived at an untimely hour – something completely out of my control.

A couple of years later, I sat at our family’s kitchen table with our humming blue electric typewriter, and I typed out, word for word, pages of various Nancy Drew books I had read. I liked playing at being a writer, and pretending I was in the act of creation rather than merely copying text. Continue reading

First a Broadway baby, then hell on wheels

Though I’d planned on Lily being at least four or five years old when she saw her first live stage musical, some extraordinary circumstances led to her getting a crash course in theater etiquette on a recent Sunday.

Rarely do I have to see a show on Sunday afternoon for a review, but in this case, I needed to get to Dexter to see “Damn Yankees” at the Encore Theatre. Because Joe and I had gone to the U-M/MSU game the day before, leaving Lily with her grandparents for a few hours; and because I’d had to cover a local movie premiere on Friday night; I was loathe to miss a four hour chunk of my Sunday with Lily, too. It seemed there were no other options, though, unless she and Joe came with me to the show. And because Joe had never seen “Yankees,” despite knowing its songs, and because he really wanted to check it out, we decided to go ahead and give Lily a chance at being a Broadway musical baby.

I’ll confess I was utterly stressed on the drive to the theater. Lily hadn’t had her nap, so we expected her to konk out for the duration of the ride, but she didn’t fall asleep until about 10-15 minutes before we arrived; because toddlers are impossible to rush, and because of packing, we were going to be cutting it close, time-wise; we’d planned for Joe to take Lily out to the park and a nearby Dairy Queen if/when she got restless during the show, but I couldn’t find my phone in my backpack, and Joe’s new phone was rendered unusable because it was “locked”; and because we didn’t make the final call on taking Lily until just before leaving, I needed to try to purchase an additional ticket for her next to us, yet I couldn’t call (see phone disaster above) to make the potentially-tricky arrangements ahead of time.

These are not good signs, I thought, trying to keep from having a full-on anxiety attack while sitting in the back seat next to Lily. But we were all in now. No turning back. Continue reading

Dinner Theater: Home Edition

It's fitting that this cheese grater appears to be floating in space, since a similar one flew across our kitchen recently.

On a recent evening, during dinner, our hand-crank cheese grater soared across our kitchen and landed with a cringe-inducing crash.

It wasn’t thrown by our two year old. But our two year old was the reason the object took flight.

Why? Because like her mother before her – ahem – my daughter Lily is what is called, in polite conversation, a “picky eater.” (In impolite conversations, I believe, we’re referred to as a collective “pain in the tuckus.”)

I can’t help but feel partly responsible. I distinctly remember, at age six or seven, being at a friend’s birthday party and refusing to eat the hot dogs because they had black lines from the grill. I thought they were “dirty.” And despite assurances to the contrary from my friend’s parents, my lips remained stubbornly closed.

The girl’s dad tried his best to placate me, managing to grill a lukewarm dog that had only a few marks on it; and I DID eat the part that looked like it had come right out of the package. But even then, I was leery, critical, and unappreciative. (Oy – such a brat I was!)

Thinking back on this incident – and all the others, where I’d refused to eat foods that were touching each other; foods that had previously had something on them that I didn’t like (peeling stuff off generally wasn’t good enough for me); and foods that I decided I didn’t like by the look of them (a great deal fell into this category) – makes me chuckle uncomfortably, but mostly, I feel a profound embarrassment.

Of course, when thinking back on your childhood, you have to cut yourself some slack. You were just a kid, and you didn’t know any better or different. And certainly I grew up to be a person who, despite having strong preferences (I’ve seldom tasted a fish, a mushroom, or a beer that I’ve ever liked), enjoys a wide range of foods. So being a picky eater as a kid doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll spend your whole life eating only five items (though this can certainly happen, too – I’m looking at you, Dad).

But this “big picture” notion was hardly at the forefront of our minds when that cheese grater flew across our kitchen. No, that was about dealing with the day-to-day fallout of encouraging your two year old to eat something besides mac and cheese or hot dogs for dinner, and putting effort into creating something you think she’d like – only to see her hold a small piece up to her tongue, make a face, put it down for good, and pronounce, “I don’t like it.” Or worse, chew it for a moment and then stick her tongue out, waiting for the goopy, half-chewed food to fall from her mouth. Ick.

My husband Joe was one of those kids who happily ate everything you put in front of him. (Not surprisingly, he’s pretty much that guy as an adult, too.) So he struggles mightily to comprehend why anyone, young or old, would have such narrow tastes.

But more than that, Joe’s the cook of our house, so he’s the one who – after changing out of his suit at the end of a long day – rolls cut-up pieces of chicken in crushed corn flakes to make chicken nuggets, or makes a tamer version of the spicy spaghetti that he and I are eating, only to have Lily reject it out of turn.

Finally, to add insult to injury, all reports indicate that Lily eats a wide variety of foods at her daycare center; but when we try to feed her some of the things she eats there at home, she turns up her nose (chicken nuggets being but one example). I tell myself that perhaps it’s because she’s surrounded by other kids who are eating the same hot lunch that she is, so in the moment, she’s distracted and not thinking so much about WHAT it is she’s eating. But truthfully, I just don’t know.

What I do know is that between Joe’s frustration at Lily’s rejection of his culinary efforts, and my discomfort at seeing one of my own worst childhood qualities on parade before me daily, we occasionally lose our patience.

We’ve gone the subtle route – Lily’s always gone grocery shopping with Joe and helped pick things out, and he’s included her in making some of the dishes – but these things generally don’t translate into Lily being enthusiastic about eating our meals.

And I’ve skimmed the <strong>Supernanny</strong>’s book on this issue (I confess, I’m a fan of her common sense approaches), and her main advice is to avoid letting this become a melodramatic power struggle between you and your child; to make it clear that the dinner you’re presenting is the dinner the child gets; and to be strict about not letting her snack afterward if she refuses dinner. (This is hard, not surprisingly, but I remind myself that Lily has been off the charts growth-wise since she was born. She’s hardly in danger of being undernourished.)

We’ve done this more lately, emphasizing that Lily can’t eat anything else at night once she leaves the table. But also, when I pick up Lily from daycare, I must try, if at all possible, to put the brakes on her snacking there or on the way home. She’s always reaching into her day bag and pulling stuff out; but I’m slowly changing my habits regarding over-packing.

It’s a hard balance to strike. Usually, at that time of day, she hasn’t eaten a snack in a couple of hours, and it will be another hour or two before Joe is home and dinner is ready. So what snack wouldn’t ruin her appetite for dinner, but would sustain her enough to prevent a sudden, random tantrum about not wanting to wear socks?

Tough call. The whole subject of food and little kids seems a minefield of tough calls (I haven’t even mentioned how Lily refuses nearly every vegetable offered to her, both at home and at daycare). And the cheese grater incident came to a head because Lily got obsessed with grating cheese while absolutely refusing to try the pasta that lay beneath it. Her attention was consumed by the grater – she wouldn’t listen to or see anything else – and when we tried to tell her she’d gotten enough, and that it was for eating, not for playing, she started whining and crying.

So the grater took to the air. After it crashed, she was terrified, and I realized that she probably had no cotton-picking idea what this was about, or why her parents were frazzled. I pulled her onto my lap, stroked her hair and calmed her, and then eventually tried to get her to eat some of the fruit Joe had cut up for her, reminding her that this would be her only food for the night. She ate a little, but wasn’t really that interested, leaving my lap to play happily in the nearby living room.

That’s one saving grace, anyway. Little ones are quick to forgive and forget, even if the adults in the house have a harder time doing the same.

More generally, I tell myself that if she’s hungry, she’ll eat, and if we stay calm and consistent with this “no snacks after dinner” policy, she’ll figure out sooner or later that meals are the time for us all to eat together. (Preferably the same meal, as opposed to the three different meals my mom often found herself making each night.) Until then, we have to adjust our expectations, try to find even more stores of patience, and remember that this, like most things, is probably temporary.

Still, I’m guessing it will be a while before the cheese grater makes another appearance on our dinner table.

Hiphop mama? Sort of. Not exactly.

So I’ve covered lots of different arts events for my job, but until recently, I’d never had hiphop concert duty.

I know that probably shocks you all. (“A 39 year old, white mom living in the suburbs? Of course she’s down with OPP!”)

And I’ll confess that I dabble in the genre, downloading hiphop songs that catch my ear now and then. But the artist in question – Kid Cudi – was one I didn’t know anything about before, so I was starting from scratch. Not a comfortable place for this serial preparation-freak.

So while in full “fight or flight” mode, I downloaded Cudi’s album and new single (“Erase Me”) from iTunes and listened whenever I had a few minutes – which wasn’t often. And when it came time to go to the concert Saturday night at EMU, I was nervous that I didn’t know enough, but I also figured it was good for me to step beyond my comfort zone sometimes, and that I’d just do the best I could.

The set was short – only about an hour – and I was in a nearly empty section to the side of the stage, a little behind Cudi. But being in a nearly empty section was far from the only thing that made me stand out. Continue reading