white children, race, and the Emperor Zurg

Over the last day or so, there has been a discussion in my favorite mom group about a racist action by a 4 year old against her mom’s roommate. It has me thinking a lot about the ways that I do or do not talk about race with my (white) son, and the ways we do or do not talk about race with young white children in general. Here’s the scenario:

Mom has a new roommate who is a black man. Her 4 year old daughter wanders in to talk to him, and says she wants to make him a cake. Specifically she wants to make him a black cake. Why? he asks her. Because he is black, the little girl responds, so she will make him a black cake. Roommate later texts mom about this, and says that baby racism can hurt just as much as grown-up racism. Mom apologizes to roommate, and asks the mom group for some advice about handling race issues with her 4 year old (white) daughter.

The immediate response from the vast majority of the moms in the group was that the little girl was not racist, and it was not appropriate for the roommate to characterize her as such.  He must not have much experience with kids, because she was just trying to do something nice (make him a cake) and little kids make associations like that all the time. Probably she meant a chocolate cake! And maybe that’s her favorite cake, so she was actually being nice! And because she is innocent, we should protect her from his accusation of racism (I am paraphrasing here). He shouldn’t be playing the race card with a little kid (I am not paraphrasing here).

So the conversation goes on, and a few chime in to say actually, it doesn’t matter what her intention is, she is racist because she is a white little girl raised in a world that perpetuates racist systems, etc. One woman answers the mom’s actual question, and posts links to several resources. In my opinion, whether the daughter is intentionally racist is a red herring, because the important point is that roommate has used the comment as an opportunity to ask mom to address issues of race with her child, which she was trying to do.

Later, mom updates and says that she had a group of friends over, the night before, and that she also asked the friends this question. Like the mom group, the friends debated whether or not the daughter was racist (mostly deciding that she was not), avoiding the question at hand which is how to address race with a young white child. The roommate came home, and mom’s friends surprised her by ambushing roommate and asking him why he thought the little girl was racist.  He responded that he adores the little girl, and is not attributing negative intent to her, but his whole life people make comments about his skin being like chocolate, about his hair, and it was just too early in the morning for a microaggression, even from a little kid. It’s the cumulative effect of his lived experience.

And the mom group falls relatively silent, except one mom who chimes in to say of course we, as moms, will defend the little girl’s innocence, and she thinks it was a good thing that the friends confronted the roommate because now everyone has left a little better educated, including all the moms in the mom group. /end scene

Of course, if you look at it from the white peoples’ perspective, she’s right. Good thing we all had the opportunity to get educated by this black man.  But if you look at it from his perspective, it’s hard to find what’s good about a group of (presumably white) women ambushing you when you walk in the door after a long day, and asking you to defend your account of the racism you experienced.  For white people, it’s never about race. That is the luxury of white privilege right there, it gets to not be about race.

Many of the moms, in their defense of the little girl (who by the way, needed no defending. Mom didn’t say “how can I punish the little girl for saying this,” she instead said that she thought this presented a learning opportunity for her little girl) pointed to the tendency our children have to characterize things by color.  I have on a red shirt, so I should use the red cup. Red, and red. Matching. Applied to roommate, black skin means he should have a black cake. Black, and black. Matching. No harm.

Here’s the problem: If I am wearing a red shirt, it implies that I like red. Therefore I would probably appreciate someone offering me the red cup. But having black skin does not imply roommate’s likes or dislikes, and someone needs to tell the little girl that. She needs to have a conversation with a trusted adult about how skin color does not dictate innate attributes, or likes and dislikes, or any other such thing.  Take it further, right?  I get to be Buzz Lightyear, because I’m white, and roommate is Emperor Zurg, because he’s black. Matching. Oh look, I also get to be Luke Skywalker, while he’s Darth Vader.  And I get to be Sleeping Beauty, while he’s Maleficent.  I am the heroine of the movie while he is…. oh actually there’s not a black character in this movie, so never mind.

So probably I have had all these conversations with Bumby right? Especially since he has a black babysitter, and white moms. And we live in a predominantly white neighborhood, that borders not one, but three predominantly black neighborhoods.  Well, no. Not exactly. I was telling myself that he’s too young to understand race. He doesn’t really even notice it yet! Except that in itself is a benefit of white privilege, isn’t it? Deciding that our kids are too young to experience race.

My little blond boy is not too young to talk about race.  I will start this conversation today.  So here are a few of the resources helpfully posted in the mom group today, for my further reading and yours:

Raising race conscious children

Why it’s important to talk about race at a young age 

Colorblindness 1 and 2

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism

And last, but not least, why it doesn’t really matter if her favorite cake is chocolate.

White mamas, we’ve got some work to do.

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the other side

Oh, hello. I seem to have (barely) emerged from my momlife crisis with my sanity and life in tact. And weirdly, given how much I love being home with my son, I think the thing that ultimately pulled me through was… my job.

I’ve been working well over full time hours for about 5 months now, with part-time childcare. This means that the other hours have been weekends, or nights after everyone has gone to sleep, or while Bumby is parked in front of 2 hours of Paw Patrol and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Trying hard to avoid the last scenario meant overtime for the babysitter, or an afternoon where we “worked” together at the kitchen table (he with paint, me with a laptop) and he tried to send an email to my boss while I was in the bathroom. It was super stressful, and I was super exhausted. Forget about a commitment to a weekly yoga class, I would have settled for a 10 minute walk and more than 5 hours of sleep. This sounds rather hellish, yes?

Here’s the thing though. It forced me to focus. I had to be productive, and work hard, and dig deep. It was time when I was only myself, my accomplishments were measured and noted, my mistakes were forgiven, and I felt the thrill of success. I realized, hey, I know some shit! I know how to do hard, complicated, legal stuff!

The time I did have with my son felt like it was in technicolor, super intense Friday afternoons that I viciously guarded from interruption where we slowed down, walked at his pace, and had an amazing time cleaning up the patio, or making muffins, or painting our nails. He now sighs and says “Oh it’s so RELAXING” every time he gets in the bath (apparently I say that when I get to take a bath – who knew – even though bathing with a 3 year old is actually not relaxing at all).  We took vitamins and did facemasks together to try to engage in what little self-care there is with this kind of schedule (note: do not get a black charcoal facemask and let your toddler try it. They are likely to ask you do to “silly black face” at really inappropriate times). The reality is, those technicolor afternoons with him were my self-care, the time carved out to disconnect from work, slow down, and live in the moment.  Living on toddler time is much better self-care than a facemask and a multivitamin.

This was me, juggling a demanding work schedule, being professional and wearing a suit and getting it done, and this was me, baking muffins and watching a worm and laughing at my son’s farts.

Also, I finally made Bumby’s photo book from his first year of life. It’s adorable of course. But damn I look tired. Also, there are a LOT of pictures of him with my wife. She is bathing him, feeding him, holding him up to put his first ornament on the Christmas tree. When I saw his, I sobbed. I had constructed this narrative in my head where I did “Everything” for him while she got to do “Everything” else; where I had given up my life while she carried on business-as-usual. It’s not that often where we as humans are confronted with evidence contrary to our personal beliefs and we are able to take it in and accept it, but perhaps that is self defense, because it fucking sucks to be totally wrong in your belief. In fact, my wife, my partner, was right there along side me all along. Once I realized that and stopped blaming her for the way I felt, it got a lot easier. To be fair, I did a disproportionate amount of childcare, especially at night. But not Everything, not even close. She was just slightly more experienced than I was at getting through early motherhood with a sense of self still in tact.

In the last 3 weeks, I have had two deals sign and one close. Some of the biggest deals I’ve worked on yet in my career, and I was the lead on all of them. So now, I get to figure out how to keep it together as the pendulum swings back the other way and I have more downtime, more family time, more time for the dreaded self-reflection before ramping up for a May with business travel and deal closings and etc.

I have not gotten a tattoo. I have not spent (too many) ill advised long nights in bars. My marriage is in tact and of fact stronger than ever. I have emerged from this feeling like I narrowly avoided a disaster, born from too much time spent wondering who I was and who I had become and whether the old me was still in there. And honestly, born also from allowing these things to come between my wife and me, and expecting one date night every four weeks to fix it.

In case you’re wondering, the old me is not in there. I mean yes, I still care about things like social justice and the environment, I still love the same people I did before, I still live in the same town I have lived in for 10 years. So I look a lot like the same person. But early marriage and early motherhood is a metamorphic stage, and trying to be the old me was an exercise in futility. Fact is, I’m not 26 anymore. I don’t actually like long, ill-advised nights in dive bars with inappropriate company any more. I like long dinners with my wife, over good wine, and an early morning walk with my family and my dog, sans hangover, to the bagel shop.  I like figuring out how to make our kitchen work without remodeling it even though major appliances are dropping like flies.  I like the garden even though I rarely have a productive vegetable garden and all my houseplants die.  I like my circle of friends to be very small – this is not because I am not likable, it is because I am very selective about who I am willing to spend my precious time with.

I still don’t have a tattoo, but it is because I like my body the way it is, not because I am not “edgy.” I am actually totally edgy, in my own way.  Try doing something I think is stupid, and you will see how edgy I can be. Actually, how think how edgy it is to like your body, especially when you’re a mom.

So meh. Maybe I’m old, maybe I’ve mellowed. Or maybe I’m more self-aware than I thought, and this person has always been in there.  I’m enjoying getting to know the me that enjoys work almost as much as motherhood, and I am enjoying figuring out this new phase of my relationship with my wife, the one where we have weathered conflict and had some (very) hard conversations, and still like each other.

Want to know something weird? Soon after I made some sort of peace with all of this change, Bumby started sleeping all night in his own bed (rather than coming in to kick my wife in the stomach and shove me off my pillow starting at 1 am). Guess what is really good for a marriage? Sleeping next to each other, that’s what. Last night, my little mirror told me he doesn’t come down to our room because he “doesn’t feel scary anymore.”  Yeah dude, me either.

 

momlife crisis

I spent the past weekend at a super hardcore yoga retreat. Not super hardcore physically, because it wasn’t that. But super hardcore like 90 minutes of chanting in Sanskrit, more silence than I’ve heard in years, and a 175 degree sauna.

After a few hundred minutes of quiet, I realized something. I have totally lost my edge.  It’s like I have been in this child-induced fog where I can barely recollect that I was once a girl who drank rum straight out of the bottle, danced until 3 am, had sex with an inappropriate person, and then woke up at noon to have beer and pancakes for breakfast. That I was once accountable only for myself, and accountable only to myself. I could make mistakes without worrying that I was setting a bad example.  Suddenly, all those 50-something men who blow off their responsibilities to buy a fast car and screw their secretaries make sense to me. It’s fucking annoying to be a grownup.

Clearly, this realization hit my subconscious before it hit my conscious.  In recent months, I have taken steps toward vegetarianism, toyed with the idea of dying my hair the exact same color I dyed it in college which was such a disaster I swore off dying my hair ever again, lost 15 pounds, planned my first tattoo, gone to a yoga retreat, and stayed out until the wee hours dancing and drinking vodka sodas.  I even went out for a drink with a friend after work and purposely didn’t tell my wife where I was until a few days later, just so I could be off the grid for an hour.  So this weekend it hit me — I am acting like my 23 year old self, only I did manage to avoid having sex with an inappropriate person.

WHO ACTUALLY AM I?  I think this is what happens when you have a baby, drop out of real life, and then pick your head up a few years later only to realize that you have pumpkin spice candles and listen to Justin Bieber. I am so basic now.  I live in the suburbs. I drive an SUV.

Will I get my edge back if I get a tattoo on my arm in a place where you can see it in my work clothes and dye my hair an unfortunate color?  Or does all of this just make me Peter Pan?  I always thought I would be a cool mom, but I’m not. I’m just a mom.

help, part 2

So, we are still drowning, in case you wondered.  And to tell the truth, for the last 3+ years, I have become increasingly annoyed at my wife for not helping me more around the house. There is a lot to do, right? There is laundry, and grocery shopping, and cooking, and cleaning, and shouting at people to do the things they were supposed to have done already, and dog walking, and teaching the 16 year old to drive, and bathing the toddler, etc etc you are all familiar with the list. And I feel like I do a disproportionate amount of it, even taking into account that I “only” work 25-30 hours a week on average. Anyway, you know how this goes, I have heard lots of moms complain about our respective partners’ inability to do stuff around the house that is actually not that hard. And in a reasonable time-frame, before toys are so lost in the long grass that they become shredded by the lawnmower and you pick your dry cleaning up only to discover that everything is out of season so that chore was a waste of time anyway.
 
So it kind of blew up this week, and I was challenged to really think about whether this was an accurate reflection of what happens, and if so, to think of ways that I contribute to this dynamic of me doing “everything” and her doing “nothing.” Of course I was like, “this is total bullshit, of course I do everything around here, she doesn’t even know, blah blah” as I was re-folding the laundry my wife folded yesterday because it was sloppy. And that’s when it hit me that perhaps I am, in fact, being a bit extra. Like, maybe I don’t let her do things her own way and on her own time, and if I could lower my standards just a tiny bit then it would be more even.
 
But here’s the thing. I don’t really want to. I like my house to look nice and be tidy and the clothes to be folded the way I like, and my wife tends to not pay bills unless they come in red envelopes and regularly misplaces school forms. But yet at the same time I do want to relax about this, because I can’t handle all that I have heaped on my plate, wanting it all done just so. And let’s be real, most of those school forms are unnecessary BS anyway, and she did actually manage to exist some 40-odd years before I turned up on the scene to run everything in my very particular manner.
So here is the question I had been asking myself up until now:  How do I get my wife to do things the right way so that I can actually let go of some things?
And here is the question now (well, questions, really): How do I relax about the small stuff? How do I even decide what is actually small stuff? Is it true that you don’t have to pay bills in white envelopes? Is it crazy to re-fold the laundry? How do I even sort through this so that I get more help, while also maintaining a certain amount of standards?  

help

A while ago, someone asked me to write about how we keep balance in our lives, as two lawyers with four kids and three pets and two houses.  The answer is that we don’t.

The big one has just started her senior year. This means ACTs, college applications, a job, 5 AP classes, cheerleading, and a driver’s license. She needs our help with almost all of these things.

Boo has started her freshman year of high school.  She has a set of friends that are all a bit entitled, and a bit fast.  The kind of entitled and the kind of fast where they are allowed to traipse around New York City at 14 years old with no adult, after having each received $100 of spending money from their parents.  She recently burst into my office while I was working, without knocking, and said, “Can you give me some money? I’m in a hurry.”  I did not give her money.  She needs to learn to navigate these friendships without becoming an asshole. She needs our help with this.

Our older youngest boy is in 7th grade now. We don’t think his reading and writing are where they should be, and he is having a hard time making friends. He seems lonely, and he seems sad. He needs help figuring out why the reading and writing still haven’t clicked for him, and he needs to find his place in the social nightmare that is middle school. He needs our help in this hard time, or at least some extra attention and love.

Bumby is 2 and a half. He starts preschool tomorrow.  He alternates between shouting “I don’t like you mama! I can do it ALL BY MYSELF! GO AWAY!” and crying, clinging to my legs, and swearing his love for me, begging me not to leave him with Dada (his babysitter). His language is so developed that it is hard to remember that he has no logic and no impulse control. He is afraid of being dropped off at school; he is afraid of new friends. Sometimes he wakes in the night and calls for us, just to know we are there. He needs our help.

My wife’s job has been all-consuming for about the last year now, as she works in a highly regulated industry that has become incredibly unpredictable under Trump. She has been working late, and when she isn’t, she basically talks about nothing but her job.  She needs mental and emotional support, and doesn’t have much capacity for the day-to-day house chores.

I have been picking up lots of slack, and feeling under-appreciated. We have had two toilets break in the last week (Bumby was very excited to tell the plumber that the toilet was “TOTALLY FREAKING OUT”).  A friend has gifted us a piano that they no longer use, and I have to find someone who can move it to our house but also our credit cards are up to the max and we can’t afford to pay someone $500 to move a free piano right now, and yet I very much want to get Bumby lessons next year so we should take advantage of it (first world problems, I know). I got slammed at work on a deal for a European client, meaning lots of early morning conference calls, and my wife can’t help me cover the childcare because of her own demanding job.

For example: During a conference call last week, while I had no childcare and had plopped Bumby in front of PJ Masks on Youtube, the plumber left to go get parts and water started pouring through the ceiling from the broken toilet upstairs.  I put the phone on mute and mopped it up, and put a bowl under the leak. As soon as I sat down again, I got a text from the school that it was on lockdown due to a “suspicious person attempting to gain admittance.”  I frantically tried to reach the kids to make sure they were okay while also actually paying attention to the work call, which was actually kind of important and required me to speak and take notes. (The kids are fine, the person was caught by local police.) Bumby hit a button on the computer that caused his show to minimize, and started shouting for me.  Also the dog had refused to poop that morning and started barking at the door for a walk.  I got an email at the end of the call from my boss that said, “Will you follow up on all open points, please?”

We are drowning.

We had our 5 year wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  Through various complicated logistical arrangements involving 4 different childcare providers, we cobbled together a way to have a night away, sans kids, for the first time since Bumby was born. It was heaven.  We were us again.  We window shopped, and went on a sailboat ride, and drank a whole bottle of wine before dinner even started.  We ate at 10pm in a restaurant that did not have high chairs.  I felt like I looked at my wife at one point and felt like, “Who are you? You look vaguely like the woman who has been living in my house, but you actually look at me, and see me, and smile at me.” I’m sure she felt the same. In a way, this has made it all worse, because the contrast is so stark.

We need to figure this shit out, starting with ourselves.  Long, long ago, before Bumby, before the dog, when we had only one house and thought our life was so fucking complicated, we were lying in bed one weekend morning (HAHAHAHA your life is not complicated if you can lie in bed in the morning!) and we said to each other, with solemn straight faces, that our relationship was the most important part of our life.  The parental relationship, we told each other, is the bedrock of the family. The kids feel okay when the adults feel okay. You can’t take care of them when you’re not taking care of yourself. All of those kinds of things. And for those reasons, we were not going to give up our date nights, even though her ex was telling the kids that the fact that we left them with a babysitter once a month meant we did not love them.

This past weekend was like a record-scratch. We remembered this moment, and this conversation, and the sad, trite truth of it. We worked all day on closing up the beach house for the season while bickering with each other over details and alternatingly disappearing for an hour or so to go manage our jobs, and after Bumby went to bed, we poured ourselves glasses of cheap red wine, and we talked to each other.

We sorted through lots of tangled up crap and hurt feelings, and put our date nights back on the calendar. The entitled middle child is going to babysit for us — at a discounted rate — and that will be the only spending money she gets. Grandma is going to tutor the big brother, giving him adult attention and help with his writing at the same time. The oldest one is going to have to do some of this college stuff on her own, because for god’s sake she’s about to be living by herself in less than a year. Also, we will suggest she drop one of the AP classes so she can actually have some sleep and some fun her senior year. We will put Bumby to bed earlier so he is better able to cope with the changes in his life, and give ourselves some more time together in the evenings.  My wife is going to take Bumby to school on Thursday mornings so I can go into work early, and do a few loads of laundry each week.  We budgeted a way to pay off our credit cards just in time to rack them up again for Christmas.

Then we went to bed ourselves, with dishes stacked in the sink and 37 unread emails.  Things looked a bit better in the morning.

maka

It looks like Bumby has weaned. Not to sound braggy, or jinx myself or anything, but our breastfeeding relationship was pretty much exactly what I wanted for us.  Although I think this was the right time for it to be over, I am still a bit sad.  This is how it went for us:

3 seconds in:  I haven’t really even processed yet that Bumby is born, and a boy, when he is flopped onto my bare chest.  He wiggles around.  Amazingly, he can lift up his own head. I think that he looks like a small turtle, lying there on his tummy with his head bobbing around. The first thing he does is nurse, before he even looks at me.

2 weeks in:  I literally hit my wife in the face for having the nerve to be SLEEPING, when some of us are trying to BREASTFEED, with tears streaming down my face from the pain. We weren’t doing it right, but I didn’t know how to fix it.

4 weeks in:  I read the La Leche League book and find the forum.  I learn to let Bumby take the lead (i.e., I ignore the advice of the nurse in the hospital to force it) and it becomes more comfortable. I start to relax. It’s tolerable.  I think I will make it to 3 months, then quit.

6 weeks in:  I get thrush, which I have heard called  “athletes foot of the boob.” This is a pretty accurate description of what it feels like. There is no sleeping, and I have to go to some weird pharmacy on Long Island to get the specific ointment that my hippie OB has prescribed for us.  It works, and the thrush goes away, but not before I ignore, in an exhausted daze, the fact that a pipe has burst behind our house and we have a water bill over $1,000 because water has been pouring out inside of our back wall for days. Oops.

Five months in: I am still, magically, gloriously, on maternity leave. It is sunny and hot.  It is June.  We have gone to the farmer’s market, Bumby in the Ergo. We took the dog on a long nature trail walk, and go home.  I lie on the bed and nurse Bumby while simultaneously eating farmers market strawberries.  I think that having a baby is the greatest.  Being a mom is the greatest. This is just how it should be. We take a nap with the windows open and the warm breeze blowing.  He still won’t sleep unless he is on top of me, so I take full advantage of this and nap with him every single day.

A year in: He stops taking bottles.  I still pump religiously, but the amount he will drink drops and drops.  He has never wanted freezer milk, but would tolerate refrigerator milk until now. I finally taste it and realize it tastes AWFUL.  Probably I have high lipase or something, but Bumby is such a hungry guy that he just drank the bottles anyway while I was at work.  I continue to pump, even though I change jobs and have to go down to a weird little room because my office has glass walls. I dump the nasty tasting milk down the drain.  He stays nice and fat, nursing when I am home and eating food when I am not.

18 months in: We nurse only in the morning, at naptime if I am home, and at bedtime.  While I nurse him, I sing. His favorite is Baby Beluga.  He has learned to talk, and calls nursing, or breasts, or milk, or anything associated therewith “Maka.”  He says “Maka mama. That maka all done. Switch maka.  Maka maka moo moo moo.”  I tell him it’s not polite to insinuate that your mother is a cow.

Two years in:  We drop the bedtime nursing.  He doesn’t ask for a couple days, and I don’t offer. One night he says “Maka mama” at bedtime, and I say, “Sorry Bumbs. We don’t do maka at bedtime anymore. You can have maka in the morning.”  He says okay, and we sing and rock in the chair.  I am surprised that he doesn’t cry, but he doesn’t.

Two years, two months in: My grandfather is dying. I have never been away from Bumby overnight before, but I leave for Michigan without a thought. I learn that he is dying, and two hours later I am sitting on a flight.  Bumby only nurses in the morning now, but halfway through the 5 days I am in Michigan caring for my grandfather, I realize I am painfully engorged, although it has taken more than two full days to get here.  I take a hot shower and hand express. I am surprised how much milk there still is.  When I get home, I ask Bumby if Mommy took good care of him.  He frowns at me and says, “Mommy doesn’t know Baby Beluga.”  Otherwise, it seems things went just fine. I tell her she better listen to the Raffi album a bit more in case I need to travel again.

Two years, three months in: Bumby still nurses in the morning. Mommy gets him from his bed and he crawls in our bed with me, snuggles up, and says “Maka maka moo moo moo. PUH-LEEZE.”  He is working on being a “polite young man.”  If I happen to be up already when he wakes up, he is usually too distracted to nurse, but goes right back to it the next day.

Two years, four months in:  Bumby gets a double ear infection.  He naps longer during the day, fusses all night, and sleeps in, while we battle his 105 fever. We can’t let it spike, or we risk another seizure and another trip to the ER.  We set our alarm and alternate Tylenol, Motrin, Tylenol, Motrin, all day and all night.  Even though I feel like a zombie, I am always awake before him in the morning, and he doesn’t nurse those days. One day, before his nap, we sit down to sing in the rocking chair, and he says, “Maka mama. Naptime maka.”  I say okay, and it takes me longer to sing Baby Beluga than it takes him to nurse. A few days later, he is well again, and up before me.  He snuggles into bed and says, “Maka maka moo moo moo.  Please.”  He tries to nurse, then frowns at me and says, “That maka all gone. Let’s go downstairs and PLAY!”  He doesn’t ask again.

 

Productive

I have barely any time to write. In 11 minutes, I have to let the nanny go and my wife will be home, and I still have work I am desperately trying to wrap up.  Today, the nanny took Bumbs to the zoo in the morning. They looked at animals, ate a sandwich on a bench, and rode the bug-go-round. They came home and had a snack, then Bumby took a nap while the nanny folded one load of laundry. She took a break, then tidied the kitchen a bit. Then she took Bumby to the playground, and home for a bath. Right now I can hear them belting BABYYYYY BELUUUUUUUGA over the monitor as he gets his jammies on.

Her list of accomplishments for the day:  fun activities with a small thing, one load of laundry folded, multiple snacks, and about 4 dishes loaded into the dishwasher. And yet, I feel like she did a great job today.

If I had that list of accomplishments, I would think I had slacked off. Why didn’t I get some errands done while I was out, instead of going to the zoo AND the playground? Why was I taking a break during nap instead of sending out some work emails, or ordering groceries, or trimming the hedges, or putting in a couple more loads of laundry, or paying bills?

Perhaps I should re-think what it means to be productive on the days I am home with my son.

stomp stomp stomp

I had never been away from Bumby overnight before, until a few weeks ago.  My grandfather, who is (was – I keep forgetting to say was) extremely old, had fallen particularly ill and was not expected to live more than a day or so. I rushed home to Michigan without a thought. Alone.

While I was there, my grandfather rebounded a bit, and we put him on home hospice care. Three nights, one panic attack and a good deal of ordering around the senior generation of my family later, I flew home.  My wife had a work dinner the following night, so I headed up to put Bumby to bed on my own.

“I want stomp stomp stomp.”

WHAT?  “Is that a book?”

“Yes. Stomp stomp stomp!”

Hm. I wonder what the fuck we’re talking about.  “What book is stomp stomp stomp, sweetie?  Is it a big book or a small book?”

<looks at me like I’m an idiot> “It’s STOMP STOMP STOMP.  It goes STOMP STOMP STOMP.  STOMP STOMP STOMP.”

Oh god, 3 nights away and I don’t even know his favorite book anymore.  “Does it have dinosaurs in it?”

“No.”

“Animals?”

“Mmmm. Not REALLY.  It has STOMP STOMP STOMP.  And hairplane.” (Yes, this is how he pronounces it.)

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.  It has an airplane.  “Does it have other machines? Is it the big book with all the cars and planes?”

“NO.  IT’S STOMP STOMP STOMP.”

Etc.  I finally learned that Stomp Stomp Stomp is this book:

stomp stomp stomp

Not because I figured it out, but because he found it on his shelf.  Apparently, when my wife reads it, she yells “STAMP STAMP STAMP” at one point when postman number 2 is stamping the letters. Even though this does not appear anywhere in the book. There are some farm animals at the back of the book  (so it’s not really about animals, but it has some in it) and an airplane transports the mail. Sheesh.  It also apparently has a mama and a mommy, even though I tried to tell Bumby that the pictures he thought were the boy’s mama and mommy were actually two other children. Oh well.

So, a child who can speak is a double edged sword. On the one hand, they can explain things to you and (theoretically, at least) follow simple instructions. On the other hand, sometimes they make no sense.  To us, anyway.

who says you can’t go home? (or: listen to your gut)

Back in March of last year, one of the partners I did about half of my work for quit my law firm and went to another firm. I was in the middle of dealing with a move and Bumby having pneumonia. I totally couldn’t deal.  When I emerged from the fog just a bit, I lawyered the problem. I did a pros and cons list for each firm.  I made a five year plan.  When I stepped back and looked at it, I came to the conclusion that I needed to move to the new firm.  There were lots of reasons, which all looked very good on my lists.

The problem, however, was that my gut was screaming “DON’T DO IT” the entire time I was analyzing it.  The partner who was remaining at my old firm was a guy I just like much better than almost anyone I have ever worked with, although he is close to retirement age.  I had friends at my old firm. I was pushing myself to view “no female partners” at the new firm as a good thing because I knew it meant they would love to make a female partner, but it still felt like such a red flag, even though everyone I met was very nice and did not seem particularly sexist (you know, any more than usual guys you work with).  I cried every day from the day I gave notice until I started at my new firm, which was right after Memorial Day.

Anyway, not that surprisingly, I have regretted my decision pretty consistently for the last 8 months.  I could go into the reasons, but the bottom line is just that I was miserable. I work for two reasons (other than the paying-the-mortgage type reasons). One is because I actually really like being a lawyer. The other is because I am a happier person when I talk to people other than my wife and kids.  The work at the new firm was boring, and I had no friends. And I had no idea how to go about getting better work, and no way to make friends, because the associates were super unfriendly. So I went through about a three month process of pining for my old job before I finally took a page out of Bumby’s book.  When he gets into stuff, he comes right up to me and says, “I made a big mess. I need help!”  Well, I had made a big mess, and I needed help, too.  It strikes me over and over again how simply he views the world, and how often that is the best approach. He doesn’t lie. He asks for what he needs. He tries to do it himself but has no shame in admitting he needs help.  When he’s hurt, he cries and reaches for someone to hug. He says “I love you” all the time.  Sometimes, things are not that complicated. My two year old pretty much has it all figured out.

So I scheduled lunch with the guy I liked so much from my old firm, and asked for my job back. He said he would need a few days to talk to other partners at the firm and see if they thought they could keep me busy and what the reception was in general. Less than 24 hours later, he called me and said they’d be delighted to have me. Less than two weeks after that, I had cleared conflicts and had an offer letter in hand. When I gave notice, my boss at my new firm said that he actually thought going back was going to be a good move for me, after hearing my complaints about the new firm.

I start on Tuesday at my new/old job. I am looking forward to female mentors, friends in the office, and work that I find interesting again. My gut is feeling much better about this job move than the last one.

we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming…

Which is of course about Trump, right? It’s all we read about, think about, talk about. What will the madman do next?  How will we get through it?  Nevertheless, I am here to interrupt this newsfeed with something else entirely.

Bumby is TWO.  On his birthday, we went to the American Museum of Natural History. I don’t know why I never remember that Bumby does not actually like outings that last more than 2 hours, but I don’t. Anyway, my parents were in town, and my sister came, and Mala came (that is what he calls my mother-in-law) and all of our millions of children. We had two cars full. Which means of course we left at 10:30 instead of 9 am.  I wanted to leave at 9, so that we could maximize our time there before nap. Wellllll yeah no. Not with that many people.

The dinosaur bones were boring, but Bumby liked running up and down the small inclines between the rooms, and he liked all the taxidermy animals, which I weirdly did too until I realized that in order to have a stuffed baby gorilla you had to have killed a baby gorilla.  Then they all made me feel a little sick. Anyway, Bumby doesn’t know about killing of baby gorillas, so he loved them of course. He ran up to each one and said, “Hey, monkey! Come on out! No jumpin on the bed!” and then searched around in vain for a handle or a door or some way to open the glass case and free the monkeys (which were, of course, not actually monkeys, but gorillas and lemurs and other such things).  Here is a blurry photo as an example:


After doing this for a while, we moved on to the Native American exhibits, where he pointed out “This one’s a mama, and this one’s a mommy.”  Haha to my wife, all the “mommy” ones were actually men.  She is not masculine, by the way, at all.  Then he spotted a fellow toddler and raced over, screaming “NEW FRIEND.” He aggressively hugged him until I pulled him off, because the parents looked vaguely horrified and the kid was about to cry.

He then gave himself a time out. When he was a little younger we noticed he would get over-stimulated and bite his siblings, so we started taking him aside for a time out when this would happen. Now he gives himself a time out when the stimulation is too much.  After about 5 time outs, we decided he needed to just go.  Everyone except my sister and I left to get a table at the pizza place, and my sister and I went to get the coats. We went through the ocean exhibit, where he was fascinated by the “big baby beluga” which was actually a blue whale. We waited in line for coats, and he blew his nose on my face (my grossest parenting moment yet, actually).

After going home and taking a nap, some friends came over and we drank wine and ate cake and everyone gave him presents except for us, because ours were ordered from Amazon Prime and were late (of course). He still does not have them, because we’re trying to space the new toys out a little. And that was that – a day off from the chaos that is swirling around us on a daily basis. A little reprieve, courtesy of the boy who taught me to slow down and take a break in the first place.