Archive for May, 2009

I’ve never explicitly gotten the “you’re overprotective” speech, but I have gotten the “don’t you ever do anything for yourself” speech and even the “well, you know you are letting your marriage suffer because you don’t want to go away from your 8 month old for the weekend” speech. And part of all those explanations of what I’m doing wrong have implied that I’m “overprotective.” Some of this is from single childless friends, some from actual mothers.

This is just my two cents and there’s a slight chance I’m over-thinking this, but to me there’s a  connection between this idea that being an attached parent, adhering to the idea that responsiveness, compassion, and empathy are central concerns in dealing with children, is equivalent to being over protective, and the idea that “just because you had a baby doesn’t mean you have to give up your identity.”

I think the devotion of an attached parent can be difficult to understand for someone who is not on that path. It’s just my opinion, but I think that for some parents, their ability, instinct, whatever, to love so much, so completely, and sometimes so very inconveniently for him- or herself, can be very threatening to someone on the outside looking in. It’s very much against the American/Western cult of the self, and the feeling is that you’re giving up too much of yourself – instead of what we know to be true, which is that you are being completely yourself. And so there’s that feeling that it’s “too much” and the best way people can come up with to criticize what’s threatening them so much is to call it “overprotectiveness.” Which itself stems from the whole idea that you have to Teach Babies To Be Independent. Put them in a stroller facing away from you or they’re never going to become interested in the world! Forget the fact that they can’t see colors yet, they need to be taught independence! That kind of thing.

It’s the whole “Hot Mom” concept; this idea that somehow, you become less of a person if your identity changes from your previous childless state when you become a parent, if instead of looking fabulous in your gorgeous clothes and heels and dangly earrings and perfect hair, you’re going to the grocery store with teething biscuit smeared on your shirt and flip flops and floppy pants and a baggy shirt so it’s not so hard to nurse in the diaper aisle and your hair is either chopped off or in a bun and it’s dirty no matter what. Of course I lost my previous identity when I became a parent. What’s the problem? I got a new one! I get to evolve and learn and see the world in whole new ways and experience joys and sorrows that can’t possibly be understood until you’ve got your heart walking around outside your body. And I think that for a lot of people, identity is tied up so much in the external trappings of success that all they can see is the teething biscuit and the hair in a bun. So like I said, it’s scary, and that must mean there’s something wrong. So – overprotective!

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten one of these speeches, but I think that if I got one know, my response would be something along the line of “I am giving my daughter, to the best of my ability, what she asks me for, and loving her as well as I know how, and if that is overprotective then I am OK with that.” Or “Eff you, you effing effer.” Just kidding. Coming to terms with the critiques about how my life has changed has been one of my big challenges over the last couple of years.

And by the way, that is not to say that it’s not possible to be overprotective and teach a child to be fearful. And it is so not to say that there is something wrong if you can somehow manage to be one of those moms who actually looks good. Could someone please give me some advice as to how you accomplish that?


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Knit Girl

If I’d had my video camera, this is what you’d have heard… “Go inside. Put on your scarf. Back out before the cat barps.” (Courtesy of Debbie Stoller.) It cracks me up every time.


(It’s an incipient pair of “sleep socks” by the way. Not something that would really stand up to wearing around but very very comfy for bed.)


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I have had it up to here with gender roles or whatever it is that is making me so compulsively deny my own abilities. Just about everything I’ve ever done I’ve felt like a fake. Suzuki lessons? No where near as good as people thought I was. Piano too. Track, maybe I was ok at, certainly nothing to write home about; basketball I was a complete fraud. Trumpet too. All the academic stuff, which was the major focus of my education (weird, that) I wasn’t bad at, but then look what a small town I came from. Sure, I did pretty well there but there wasn’t a very big population to compete with.

Now, the fact is, I know that’s balderdash. It is demonstrable – Mama saved the certificates – that I was smart on a national, not local level. But it continued. College and law school too, I didn’t seek out too many opportunities because I figured there wasn’t really much point. So many people were really actually smart and I just managed to fake it somehow. Again, there’s proof I actually was smart, but that’s irrelevant. The statement a friend made on hearing my LSAT score – “Whoa Melissa, I didn’t know you were SMART” – really sums it up.

And here I am, all of a sudden with something I believe I’m good at. I can rock some knitting. I can wing all kinds of really cute clothes for my daughter or make an entire slipcover set for my loveseat and ottoman. I can come up with adorable stuff that people like, and execute it just like I imagined it. I can quilt, and I pick really good colors and patterns that no one would have thought of but that people love. I can DO this. And what do I say when people complement all this effusion of awesome? “Oh, not really, it’s nothing special, no big deal, well I’m so glad you like it but I wouldn’t want a REAL quilter, knitter, seamstress, whatever to see it.”

What is that bull? Why don’t I even claim talent in the area where I finally feel talent? I mean I’d like to consider myself evolved enough to step beyond the whole pretty little thing stereotype, but I guess not quite. I swear as soon as it starts getting cold again I’m going to knit some kind of glorious sweater and when people ask me where I got it, I’ll say I made it. And when they tell me that’s incredible (which of course they will) I’ll say “Yup. Thanks.”

(Notice how, even though I’ve never knit Fair Isle or installed a zipper, there’s no doubt in my mind that I can? It’s weird, this confidence in one’s abilities.)

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All of a sudden I find that I have a lot more tolerance for standing around watching Gwen run amok. Why? Because I got a great little embroidered drawstring bag from a favorite site, stuck some yarn and a set of dpns in it, and slung it over my shoulder. Not only can I sit beside her as she plays with animals or blocks or whatever without getting so bored I keep hopping up to distract myself with a really riveting load of laundry, but now I have infinite patience for her playing with the trains at the bookstore, or even pulling down and reshelfing everything she can reach at said bookstore. (The clerks love that. What they don’t realize, and would make them love it more, is that she has a weird ability to reshelf almost perfectly.) Why I should find wrapping yarn around sticks so much more compelling than making piles of books or whatever is a question for another day.

Another thing I discovered I have a lot more patience for if I bring my knitting is letting her run around looking at sculptures or whatever at Northpark. We spent a very happy thirty minutes a few weeks back with me knitting a sock and her running around looking at those guys hammering the anvils. I’m telling you, if you ever want to freak out the power walkers, that is a really good way to do it. For maximum results, try to be wearing some kind of long hippie-looking skirt and maybe your Chacos, and definitely let your kid pick her own outfit.

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Time to sew

Last year by this time, I’d made umpteen dozen pairs of britches for Gwen. Granted, it was a complete pain because I summarily refused the assistance of any patternly wisdom, and indeed shunned any offers from my library to teach me some basic construction techniques. But they lasted her all summer, so they can’t be all bad. And I have now accepted that to insist on reinventing the wheel every blinking time is perhaps not the smartest move, which means I’ve consented to actually learn how to make a casing without wanting to set fire to it. Well, only a little.

And yesterday at the bookstore, Gwen picked this out as HER book. As in, she saw me reading it the morning and wailed, “Oooooh, Mama, that MY book. Don’t read it!” Obviously we’ll have to make a few of those post haste.

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Knit it good

I started knitting 5 years ago. A dear friend was expecting her first baby – and she was my first friend to have a baby. So. Time to learn to knit. I don’t know why exactly, I just felt the urge to craft something for this new person. I had never been crafty. It was just there, this desire to create. So I picked up a mediocre little kit from Barnes and Noble. It taught me to cast on, knit, purl, and bind off. Also how to crochet pieces together. That’s enough to make a sweet garter stitch (don’t even need to purl for that!) baby sweater and a cute little hat with tassles. And thus began my knitting career. It went on hold for a while (bar exam, that whole being a lawyer thing), but I picked it back up when my sister in law was expecting. Knit some more hats, another sweater, I think a blanket. It never really occurred to me to go try to learn some more complex techniques; the only decrease I knew was binding off. But that urge to create something for these new little lives was still there. I was knitting more and more. Then I learned that I was expecting my own darling girl. Somehow I couldn’t knit for her. I don’t know why. I did make her a little bunny that I just sort of faked and slapped together, but she still loves it and she’ll be three in just a few months, so I guess I was onto something. But somehow that need to create wasn’t so urgent. Maybe because I was plenty busy creating something already, and that something was making me puke a lot. That will take the creative steam right out of you.

And then. Then. I was struck down by massive health problems that I am so tired of, I can’t even explain. Thyroid, depression, and all that goes with it. One of the really fun symptoms of these is that it makes you get stupider. Which is oh so uplifting. I doubt if I could have managed a garter stitch baby blanket at that point. In any event, I didn’t try. But as I slowly started to crawl out of that hole, I found knitting sitting right there waiting for me. I had a somewhat manic all knit all the time Christmas, for which I knit a capelet, two sweaters, 5 hats, and three scarves. Not all that much in the grand scheme of things, but a lot considering what it followed. And I’ve been knitting since.

The funny thing is, it was all gifts. All for someone else. Other people’s babies especially, because I think newborns should be wrapped in an outpouring of love. Or something. Definitely they should have hand knits. Anyway. My own darling daughter had a beautiful blanket knit for her by my grandmother, who originally tried to teach me knitting over two decades ago, but never got around to teaching me to cast off. So I hadn’t even knit a blanket for my own daughter. Both my sisters-in-law just had a baby, one her first and the other her second. I knit blankets for both babes. Big, time-consuming blankets. Beautiful, useful expressions of love. (I made crib quilts for both of them too, but that’s another obsession.) When my own darling daughter saw me finishing the second one, she said, “Mama, will you knit me a very beautiful blanket too?” Poor angel. Her own mama hasn’t knit her a cotton picking thing. As much as every stitch I threw for other people was an expression of love for them, I wanted them all to love me a little bit because I had created this thing for them, or for their babe. My own babe, well, she’s sure to love me at least until we stop nursing. And knit for myself? Crazy. I don’t have time to knit for myself when I have all these other people to bribe into liking me. So what did I do? Knit my daughter a beautiful blanket, or better yet a darling little summer shrug? Nope. I ad libbed myself a beyond comfy pair of purple socks.

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