Friday, March 25, 2011

Spirituality for Atheists

Like any decent parent, I have PTSD.  I am Jewish, not in the sense that I believe in God or anything (Let's not get carried away.), but in the sense that I have a unique cultural blend of rational thinking and neurosis.  I believe that this makes me superior.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  If I didn't think Jewish moms were awesome, then I wouldn't be one.  Right?  I hope that every parent believes that his or her parenting is superior.  That is as it should be.

Back to my PTSD: mostly, mine stems around Ari's asthma.  There were the usual stresses about sleeping and waking, talking and walking, listening and rebelling, eating and pooping.  But the asthma SUCKS.  Ari's first bout of RSV was in July, 2008.  He was four months old.  He was hospitalized for days, mostly as a precaution, but either nobody told me that, or I was too distressed to hear it.  What followed basically involved my weeping in some doctor's lap, him running out of the room for a psych consult (mild exaggeration), and all three of us (that is, the two mommies and the cat) freaking out every time the baby coughed Forevermore.

Ari recently had what was probably RSV again, and he left a new trail of contagion.  Barbara and her boss and I had bronchitis and pneumonia and sinus infections which lasted weeks while Ari was well in about five days.  Anyway, we are all always sick, though it seems (Please, Jesus!) to be better this year.

To keep our selves from dying of stress, B and I have developed quasi-humorous rituals.  We kneel at the foot of our bed and pray.  We bow down before Allah and meditate to become one with the Buddha.  We make deals and promises and melodramatic proclamations to the Norse gods and the Egyptian mummies.  Whatever.  We don't want to miss anyone.  Just in case.  It is a lot of worship and prayer for a house full of atheists.  We giggle at our contortions, but we feel okay about the giggling because no well-meaning deity could fault us for giggling while doing our best to honor him or her.  Right?

I feel we are a study in what happens to PTSD victims/survivors who have no faith.  We waffle in our faithlessness because honestly, what sane parents put their beliefs in front of their children?  I would become a Republican evangelical in a heartbeat if I thought it would keep Ari healthier.  Who's with me?
Laundry pile, Cat, and B

On a good night, it goes like this:  We hear a cough over the baby monitor, and we discuss whether to go and give him a treatment like two rational, atheist mommies, and then one of us, needing some tension relief, starts to pretend pray.  The other one checks on him, and he's breathing slowly, sleeping soundly, what asthma parents call "moving plenty of air."  She comes back to find the other still prostrate in devotion and announces, "he's fine."  Our eyes meet over the heap of unfolded laundry, and the standing one pulls the other one up off of the floor.  Then there is some kind of a romantic moment, somehow, with us half entangled in the laundry and engulfed in gratitude for so many, many things.  Free breathing, midnight make out sessions, humor in trying times, the love of our absolute lives in this house in the form of our three imperfect selves.  There's a spirituality to it, even though we're only making fun.  And then, oh excellent deity, we throw the laundry aside and sleep.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Three Muskateers (Cubed)

Last June, I quit my job as a retail manager and went back to school.  I'm in a school immersion master of arts in teaching program, which basically consists of 39 credits, a student teaching internship in an urban public high school with a mentor teacher, and a very long commute.  It's a ten month program, and I graduate in May.  Most of my experience has been positive in that I feel very close to the 15 other people in my cohort, I have a great mentor teacher, and the students are sweet.  I have dealt with the commute by using, and no, they did not pay me to write that.  (Oh, but I wish they had!)

I have two friends in my cohort who complain with me more than the others.  (Though they are all excellent complainers, which is a fine quality indeed.)  Min and Shardae are my favorite complainers.  They have style.

Min is a stealth complainer.  She is very earnest, smart, and hard working.  One would never know that she complains at all.  In fact, I hardly do.  We are too busy to really talk anymore, so we gchat (and Google didn't pay me to say that either, sadly.)  She chats me about papers and students and professors.  Her complaints are all quite reasonable and mild, which makes me feel superior somehow to the things and people we are complaining about, since Min and I are both clearly Supreme Beings if we can be so level-headed when irked.

Shardae is more of an irreverent slacker.  She is an eye roller, a sigher, a blatant texter during lectures, and she sees the pointlessness in almost everything.  This is, I have found, an underrated skill.  She complains so well I almost want to cheer.  Truly, one has to be grateful when one's friend is capable of turning shared misery into a standing ovation.  Plus, she procrastinates, but never panics.  She is sneakily supportive about my pathetic job search, and she's funny.

I'm grateful for my cohort in general--I don't know how anyone gets a masters in ten months without one.  But I am extra grateful for Shardae and Min.  This kind of effortless friendship always seems to happen in threes.

Ari is in a new (3-year-old) classroom at his school.  He moved there in January.  With all of the snow days, illnesses, and staffing changes at his school, it has been a rough transition.  His teachers have been complaining to me that he is not always listening.  Because I am training to be a teacher, this sends me into an absolute tizzy of fear.  I imagine he has oppositional defiant disorder and 17 other emotional-behavioral disabilities.  You know, the ones I see in my students and learn about and study every single day.  Of course he has no other symptoms and is generally quite eager to please, but logic has about as much to do with parenting as marshmallow peeps have to do with shoes.

Today I arrived at school to pick Ari up, and his teacher told me that he had listened so poorly that he was not allowed to go outside during recess.  He and his two friends Lulu and Ms. Hunnicutt (I share her last name because I like the southern sound of it.) were all throwing toys on the floor and laughing hysterically.  They all had to stay in during recess.

For some reason, the idea that it was a group rebellion made me relax about the whole thing.  Watching Ari with Lulu and Ms. Hunnicutt, I saw their bond more than their disruption.  I saw his pleasure in being with them, and it reminded me of some non-listening, disruptive moments in my own life.  It reminded me of Min and Shardae and I, all grown women, whining and refusing to listen to the instructions for our papers and research projects.  It reminded me of another time, too.

When I was in seventh grade, I was on a school bus with two of my friends, Gabriella and Amy, and we were doing something disruptive.  I don't remember what it was.  The window was open, and I was sitting in the seat next to it.  Gabriella was on my left.  Amy was across the aisle, standing up.  (She was supposed to be sitting.)  The bus was moving; the wind was in my hair; the sun was shining.  Someone was yelling at us.  We were not listening.  I was smiling, and I recall this feeling of unity with Amy and Gabriella, this feeling of knowing my place and being at home in it and knowing that my friends and I were rebellious and cool.  It is one of my favorite memories, in spite of its vagueness, because it holds a feeling which I have rarely reclaimed.  Still, when I think of it, I am almost breathless at the sense of well-being it evokes.  It was a euphoric moment, one that I would not trade.

So, when I think of my son not listening with Lulu and Ms. Hunnicutt, throwing toys on the floor and laughing, I hope for him to have that kind of joy.  I hope that when he is 38, he has a memory like mine.  And I don't worry anymore.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Those Special Someones

Ari and B at the park
So, being a queer mommy is a lot like being a straight mommy.  (I imagine.)  Even when there are two parents (in our case, both hard-working, non-shirking, and engaged) and only one child you feel somehow, eternally, outnumbered.  I have been toying with potential solutions.  There is the age-old one of hiring a nanny, preferably someone who will live in your enormous home, somewhere removed but always accessible.  Someone who speaks several languages, has no discernible prejudices, has endless energy, no romantic aspirations but no social diseases would be ideal.  In other words, the impossible.  And then, when you find that person, you can't afford to pay them and, if you are me, you don't have the enormous house anyway, so what is even the point of looking?  And I don't.

But I do have an imagination, and for the past threeish years I have been toying with the idea of marrying someone else.  Not as in leaving B (Heavens no!), but as in adding to the number of adult parents in the domestic situation.  Because, as I said before, we are somehow outnumbered.  Even though there are two of us, and we both work as hard as we can, we can't keep up.  The world is ahead of us.  Ari's cup, which has 570934972097 parts that must all be washed by hand and are shaped like bendy straws, lies dirty in the sink, and no matter how many I buy, eventually I have to wash one.

Yesterday I made him pink cupcakes with pink frosting and sprinkles because he asked me to.  He has eaten exactly one half, and I hate them.  (Too pink tasting.)  But I cannot complain about him not eating enough sugar, can I?  It is all so complicated.  Today I made him banana bread which he refused.  He is perfect and an icon of kissability, but an endless chore-creator.  Even shopping for his clothing, which I do almost all online, is a daunting undertaking.  He is long on top, short on bottom, and evidently the skinniest toddler in the United States.  Yes, I know, I should take him to the store and have him try things on, but have you taken an almost three-year-old clothes shopping?  He is agreeable and will happily try things on, but then he wants 12 of the same shirt and cries when he can't stay in the suitcase store all day.

Again, I digress.  I have been looking for other couples to marry.  Not romantically.  (Though I would have to like them, and they could not be ugly because life's too short.)  But, domestically.  I think we should find some other couple with good parenting skills and shack up in an enormous mansion which we could easily afford on the four person income.  We could then take vacations together and help raise each other's children and babysit for each other on date night and be friends and use energy more efficiently by combining laundry loads and whatnot.  Sounds complicated, I know, and I'm probably just trying to be cute and trendy by even considering it.  But I can't help myself.

I spend time sizing up the potentials.  When Ari was first born, B's best friend Cindy came to visit.  She held the baby while I shoveled grapefruits down my throat.  All I wanted to do those first few weeks was sleep (Ha!) and eat grapefruits.  She made protein shakes I actually liked.  She made excellent dishes, which I was too exhausted to commit to long-term memory.  Though of course I realize she was on her best "new baby support" behavior for the days she stayed with us, I considered her.  She was already B's best friend, so obviously they got along.  If it hadn't been for her husband, whom I just don't know well enough, I might have proposed to them.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

We have other friends who might do.  One couple has this cute little boy and works very hard, both domestically and career-wise.  They are fashionable and funny, even cute.  There is, however, this mammoth dog who lives with them, and I guess he would have to move in, too.  Forget it.  There are others--some pregnant couples--one of whom makes their own beer.  Some of them already own nice homes.  Of course, we'd all have to move to make a "joint" decision about where to live together.  And the couple who makes their own beer would have to cut back on their hours at work.  And the other couple has a lazy man in it.  That would not do.

Is this normal?  Do other parents dream of dividing the labor by marrying their friends?  When Clinton said "it takes a village," was she kidding?  Was it a cruel joke?  Or does she just not realize that THERE ARE NO VILLAGES IN THIS COUNTRY!  I love Hillary more than anybody, but the only way to make the village is polygamy.  Preferably the queer kind.