Feeds:
Posts
Comments

*reprinting a piece I wrote for The Washington Post

The main things I remember from Hebrew school are running circles around our classroom as our Polish teacher, Mrs. Bialogorski, yelled, “Rootzi, rootzi, rootzi” – the Hebrew command for “Run!” – and watching Holocaust movies. It seems part of a Jewish education is to hear tales of persecution. One of the first two-syllable words I learned was “pogrom.”

So I wasn’t surprised when I found a children’s book about the mistreatment of Jews, and it’s not unusual that it’s become one of my favorite books to read to my son. The book is about the Golem, a mythical giant created from clay to vanquish the people of Prague, who believed the Jews were mixing the blood of Christian children with flour and water to make their matzoh. The Jews were already confined to a ghetto when the matzoh rumor began to swirl. When an angry mob tried to bust through the gates of the ghetto with a battering ram, the Golem saved the day.

We had the book with us at dinner when I received a text from a mother in my son’s first-grade class. My son had told her daughter that there is no Santa and that it is the parents who buy the gifts. She asked that I speak to my son about it.

“It’s not right for him to share this,” she wrote.

It wasn’t the first admonishment we’d received this holiday season. A day earlier, we were waiting in line at a candy cane hunt when Santa went by on a firetruck. “Another fake Santa,” my son said as he passed by.

“Can you not say that?” said a friend’s husband, who is usually mild-mannered. “My son still believes.”

My son does not. While my husband is Christian, we’re raising my son Jewish. We buy a tree every year, and my son comes barreling down the stairs Christmas morning to find a pile of brightly wrapped presents, but Santa is almost an afterthought in our house, like buying a tape measure at the cash register, simply because it’s there.

“We don’t have an elf. We don’t do the milk and cookies thing,” I was telling a friend.

“Yes, we do,” said my husband, who was standing nearby.

“No, we don’t,” I said.

Hence my son’s confusion. It doesn’t help that this year, he’s seen Santa in a little hut in the Finger Lakes, a shopping mall upstate and on a firetruck in the Jersey Shore. Even I was having a hard time reconciling how this man could be so many places at once and yet still be prepared for Christmas up North.

A family friend, who was having a holiday party that included a visit from Santa, said she didn’t want my son coming to her party if he was going to ruin the magic for the other children there. I knew my son and I had to have a talk. I needed to make him believe in Santa – before we were ostracized from everyone we know.

I searched the Internet for ideas on how to explain Santa to your child. One article was titled “A Lovely, Non-Traumatizing Way to Break the News About Santa.” Another said, “There’s a brilliant, heartfelt way to tell your kids the truth about Santa.” I didn’t need instructions on how to tell my son the truth about Santa. I needed articles on how to lie to him about it.

I decided to approach it directly.

“Buddy, you have to stop calling these Santas fake,” I said.

“But they are fake,” he said. “Where’s their sleigh? Where’s their reindeer?”

“Look, parents want their kids to think he’s real.”

“So parents want their kids to believe something that’s not true?” he said.

I didn’t know what to say. He was right. “Okay, even if Santa’s fake …” I said.

“I knew it!” He’d used the oldest trick in the book: State something as fact when you’re really just trying to confirm it.

“I didn’t say that,” I said. “Maybe the ones down here are just reminders of the Santa up there, like the baby Jesus they might have in a church isn’t the real Jesus, but it’s to remind people …”

I trailed off. I wasn’t even making sense to myself.

“You can’t stop what I believe,” he interrupted.

“No, but I can try to stop you from saying it,” I said.

The truth was, while I understood the concerns of my Christian friends – not wanting their kids to grow up too fast, keeping the magic and all that – I couldn’t help but feel like my son and I were being viewed as pariahs who were ruining everyone’s Christmas. An angry mob would soon gather outside our door.

I knew I couldn’t stop my son from undermining Santa. He’s 6. If it’s in his head, it’s out his mouth. I tried to convince him there really was a Santa, but I wasn’t comfortable lying.

“It’s not a big deal,” my husband said. “You say the same thing you said about the Easter Bunny, and how the eggs appear, or the leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day and why you sprinkle pixie dust.”

“Easter Bunny? I never said there was an Easter Bunny,” I said.

“What about the tooth fairy?” he asked.

He had me. I had no problem lying about a tooth fairy. It made me wonder, did I resent Santa, this Christian icon who had managed to slip into my Jewish home, like a draft under the door? Or maybe I resented that Santa went to all the other children’s homes when I was a kid but never came to ours. My son may have sensed that.

I put the issue to my friend, Doris, one of the wisest people I know. If my life’s conversations were written in a notebook, those with Doris would be underlined and highlighted.

“He’s so young to be giving up the magic of Santa,” she said, with genuine sadness. “It’s fun to believe.”

I thought about when my father died in 2001 and how, when I went down to my parents’ home in Florida four months later, I lay awake one night and saw lights appear on the ceiling out of nowhere. They danced up and down like moonlight reflecting on the waves, and as I watched, I knew it was my father making his presence known. It defied logic. It never happened again. But it reminded me of the enormity of things, of all the things we don’t yet understand, possibilities of which we can’t even conceive.

If that’s part of the magic of Santa, I guess I can make room in my Jewish household for that.

Advertisements

Alice B. Toklas

My husband, Bruce, likes to bring his dry cleaning to the little Laundromat in our town. It’s part principle, part nostalgia, because if logic dictated, he’d have left that dry cleaner long ago. They’re not cheap, they don’t do a very good job, and they take a really long time to bring his shirts out when he picks them up.

I sometimes accompany him to the laundromat.  It’s a sign of age, when errands become outings. We’ll take a stroll after dinner, look at our neighbors’ houses, remark on the size of the moon, and talk about the day’s events. But it’s always the same once we get to the laundromat: Bruce walks up to cashier and gives them his ticket while I walk over to the piles of dog-eared magazines that line the shelf behind the washers. I usually grab a magazine, sit down on one of the benches, and watch the made-for-t.v.-drama that’s always on the television there.

The last time we went, I was pregnant with my son. As I sat down on the bench, a man doing his laundry walked over to me and said, “Hi. How you doing?”

Before I could answer, he told me his name and started telling me about himself and why he was there, and how he’d been on the beach that afternoon and had a beef with some guys on the sand. He seemed aggrieved.

“I’m one of the good guys. You know? I’m good people. You gotta have respect for that. I’m good people. You want a brownie?” he said, offering me a plastic bowl filled with brownies cut up into bite size pieces.

Rat Poison?

“Oh, um, well, no, thanks,” I said.

“I’m old school. You know what I mean? Old school. Like I’d be wearing a Fedora and smoking a cigarette—“

“And carrying a bowl of brownies,” I said.

“Yeah. Brownies,” he said, unamused. “I’d have some pastry.”

He looked over at Bruce, who was talking to the woman at the cash register.

“Is that your husband?” the  man asked. “You’re a hottie. You know that?” And then shouting over to Bruce, the man said, “Your wife’s a hottie.”

“Smokin’ hot,” Bruce said.

“You want a brownie?” he said to Bruce.

“No, thanks, man,” Bruce said.

“We just had dinner, and—“ I said.

“I’ll bet you had a lot of guys bothering you on the beach this summer,” he said.

“Uh, sure. Well, not really. Maybe I will have one of those brownies,” I said, trying to divert the conversation to anything else.

“They’re home-made. I don’t buy stuff made by a corporation. I don’t buy from those big companies. This is home-made. The real deal,” he said.

“Did you make them?” I asked, looking over to see how Bruce was progressing.

“My girl made them,” he said. “My girl. She’s young.”

“Well, she makes good brownies,” I said, biting into it.

“She’s young, but at least she does something right,” he said.

“Well, that’s good,” I said. What a galoot, I thought.

“She doesn’t want to be monogamous,” he said. “I can’t change her. That’s the way she is. You can’t force someone to change. You have to let them grow on their own. I can’t make her be monogamous if she’s not.”

When I turned around, Bruce was standing behind me holding two boxes of starched shirts.

“Your wife here was just telling me how you can’t change a person,” the man said.

I just looked at the guy.

“Okay, well, we have to go now. Nice meeting you,” I said.

As Bruce and I walked home, and I recounted some of the conversation I’d had with the man, I suddenly realized I’d taken food from someone I didn’t know, someone whose stability was in question, and it was brownies. What if there was pot in them? What would that do to the baby in my belly? What if it wasn’t pot but something worse? PCP? Amphetamines? Rat Poison? It sounded like the young girl who made the brownies wasn’t too keen on her boyfriend. What if she was trying to poison him? Maybe he suspected that  and was testing the brownies out on other people first.

By the time I got home, my heart was racing. I was beginning to feel woozy. If I wasn’t dead by morning, I’d at least learned some valuable lessons, ones that I’d pass on to my new child:

Don’t wear make up to the dry cleaner. And if you do, pretend you don’t speak English.

If a conversation is moving in an uncomfortable direction, don’t try to change it by grabbing food of an unknown origin.

And above all, parents should never take food from a stranger.

The A&P

A few years ago, around holiday time, I went to the A&P with my son, Eddie, and as I pushed my cart through the entranceway, two women were standing just in front of the door talking , making it impossible to step into the store. I was stuck in the path of the automatic door.

“Excuse me, “ I said.

They inched forward about a foot, enough to enable me to get out of the doorway but not enough to really enter the store.

“Excuse me,” I said again.

But as I said it, I saw a woman was pushing her cart in front of them, making it impossible for them to move forward any further. One of the two women turned to me and said, “We can’t move anywhere until she gets out of our way.”

“Yes, I understand that, but you shouldn’t stand in a doorway of a store,” I said. I was annoyed they were standing there at all.

“Oh, you understand that? I’m glad you understand. Thank you,” the woman said snidely.

“You’re an asshole,” I said and pushed my cart past her.

As I headed toward the lettuce, I thought, “Why did I say that? How do I wind up in these petty arguments over petty things, where I wind up saying, ‘You’re an asshole.’” I didn’t know if I was more annoyed that I’d gotten into the exchange or that I didn’t have a better retort.

I moved from aisle to aisle in the produce section, trying to decide whether to pay three times more for the organic broccoli or just roll the dice and hope maybe the pesticide didn’t get on that piece, and yet my mind kept gravitating to the exchange with the woman. I walked over to the banana display and couldn’t find the organic bananas. They say bananas are one fruit on which you can forgo buying organic because it has a peel, which protects the meat from the pesticide. But after hearing news reports about Central American workers who are born with birth defects because their families have worked in the banana fields and were doused with DDT, I can’t help but buy my bananas organic. But I didn’t see any. A store manager was standing right there and pointed them out to me.

The manager then said, “I can’t believe it’s 9 a.m. and three people have already called out sick.”

“I can’t believe it’s 9 a.m., and I’ve already gotten into an argument with someone,” I said.

He just looked at me. I picked up a bunch of bananas and wheeled my cart away. As I got to the yams, the woman with whom I’d had the altercation spotted me and came wheeling her cart over.

“You know I was thinking,” she said in a sweet voice, “I saw you had a baby. He’s going to have some mouth on him by the time he’s one.”

“You hunted me down to tell me that?” I said, trying to mock her for still thinking about our argument 10 minutes later – even though I was, too. I again wished I had been more clever. I certainly couldn’t have said, “You’re an asshole.” Not only had I already said it, but it would have proved her point.

I wanted to have said something like, “Well, he may wind up with a foul mouth, but at least he won’t be a dumbass who holds a conversation in the middle of a doorway.” But then it was only 9 a.m. I had the rest of the day to come up with something sufficiently biting.

Home Improvement

So sometimes I’m wrong. I don’t even know why I had such an aversion to diaper wipes. It was a combination of my thinking they were made with alcohol that would sting the baby’s bum and give him diaper rash, and my general distrust of large corporations and how they don’t have our best interests at heart. Instead of using diaper wipes, I had us cleaning the baby’s derriere with washcloths and warm water.

Indeed, he rarely got diaper rash. He had one brief bout that lasted just a few days, which we quickly cured with Balmex. Since then, he’s had a nice pristine bottom. Until yesterday, when between his little baby butt cheeks, he developed a big pus-filled boil.

“You don’t think it was the washcloths, do you?” I asked the pediatrician.

“Probably,” she said.

Damn. And I had been very dictatorial about it. It reminded me of the first week the baby was home, and I forbade my mother from picking the baby up every time he cried.

My mother stayed with us early on

“You’re reinforcing that behavior,” I said with authority. “And it’s going to fuck us at four in the morning when he cries for attention.”

But as we listened to the baby cry, and our hearts broke, I pulled three baby books out of the bookcase and handed one to Bruce and one to my mother and we all read from chapters on, “When the Baby Cries,” and they explicitly stated you should not ignore your baby’s cries. He’s not doing it to be manipulative, they said. Infants don’t have such machinations yet. I felt like a heel –though it didn’t temper my dictatorial nature.

Our pediatrician prescribed antibiotics for the boil, to be given both orally and topically. When I returned to her office the next day, as instructed, she said the boil looked larger. When she originally looked at it, it looked like a pea. Now, it looks like a grape, she said.

She instructed me to go to the pediatric emergency room to have the abscess lanced and drained and told me a doctor would be waiting for us. Of course he was not. I called Bruce, who met me there. On the way, I felt like I was going to fall asleep at the wheel. Apparently, my response to stress and fear is narcolepsy. I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and grabbed a coffee. I ran into the emergency room with the baby, leaving my untouched coffee in the car.

the baby awaiting surgery

When they finally called us, they brought us into the main emergency room, but when I mentioned ‘staph infection,’ they took us into an enclosed room in the back. They then put an IV line into the baby’s tiny hand, which was so small, the port looked like a large torpedo on it that threatened to weigh it down. The nurse attached syringes to the port and drew three vials of blood. Eddie was screaming the whole time and tears were streaming down my face as I kept rubbing his leg and foot.

“When did you first notice it?” the admitting nurse asked.

“Two days ago,” I said.

“Three days ago,” Bruce said.

The nurse looked up at me.

“He saw it first,” I said.

“Three days ago,” he said.

I felt like an imposter. She had been directing much of the conversation to me, referring to me as “the mother,” as in, “Mommy, does the baby have any allergies to anything?” “Does the mother want to come over here and hold the baby’s hand?” “If the mother wants to feed the baby, she can.” “Don’t worry, mommy. This isn’t going to hurt him.” And yet Bruce was the one who noticed the abscess. I hadn’t seen it because Bruce is the one who changes most of the baby’s diapers on weekends. I get so tired caring for the baby all day during the week, breast-feeding him for hours and hours, sometimes, because he rarely reaches the point of satiation. On weekends, Bruce steps in, and I don’t stop him. In fact I didn’t even notice the abscess until Bruce pointed it out to me.

The surgeon came in and said he would nick the abscess with a small razor and then drain it. He would swab the area with a cream that would numb it, but he didn’t recommend administering a local anesthetic because he said it would hurt as much as the razor. Better to just nick the baby once. It would be over in no time.

Until then, I was averse to using a pacifier because everything I’d read about breastfeeding said pacifiers were verboten. They could hinder the breastfeeding process, and I’d worked so hard to make what little strides I’d made. But seeing how upset the baby was getting, we put a pacifier in his mouth, and he seemed to suffer the nick fairly well. Me, I almost threw up and was glad I couldn’t see until afterward the amount of blood that was on the gauze pads they left strewn all over the hospital bed after slicing him.

the baby’s blood got on his onesie

We had to wait another 45 minutes for the doctor to come and remove the IV port from Eddie’s hand. I went out to the nurses’ area three times looking for someone to come back and take out the port. I kept being told they were waiting for our discharge papers, and I was sent back into the room to wait.

After the doctor finally came, Bruce and I walked out to the parking lot. Since he met me there, we had to drive home separately, but he carried the baby in his car seat to my car. As we reached my car, I walked around to the passenger side and opened the door and then flipped the front seat forward so that Bruce could reach in and snap the baby’s car seat into its attachment in the back seat. But instead of coming around to the side of the car, Bruce opened up my hatchback and started pushing the baby into the car through the back door.

As I stood by the side door watching, I thought how Bruce never follows my lead. We’ve worked together on countless home improvement projects, from installing a new wall to putting up a pergola in the backyard, and he never follows my suggestions. Most of the time, he doesn’t’ even hear them. One time, we were trying to plug a hole in a copper water supply line, and as he tried to jerry-rig it with a rubber clamp, I sat next to him trying to figure out how to use the copper pipe cutter we’d bought but had tossed aside because we didn’t understand how it worked. After about 10 minutes, I said, “I got it!” and tried to show Bruce how it worked, so that we could fix the pipe properly rather than using a temporary fix. But Bruce wouldn’t turn around. “I said, ‘I got it!’ “ I said again, but I couldn’t get Bruce’s attention. It wasn’t until I threw the pipe down and stormed out of the house that Bruce looked up and said, “What?”

Given our history with home improvement projects, I wondered when I got pregnant how we’d fair with a baby, our biggest home improvement project to date.

“You can’t follow my lead on anything,” I said, as I stood waiting by the passenger door for naught.

“I was already opening the hatchback when you opened that door,” Bruce said.

“No, you weren’t,” I said. “I got to the car first.”

He ignored me and reaching through the back of the car, snapped the baby’s car seat into place. I walked around the front of my car and got into the driver’s seat.

I rolled down the window and stuck my head out.

“Why didn’t you just say, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m going to put him in the car through the hatchback,’ instead of just leaving me standing there?”

Bruce said nothing and just walked away to his car, which was parked a few spots over. I jumped out of my car and followed him.

“You can’t answer me?” I barked.

He kept walking.

“You’re an asshole,” I said and got back into my car. I turned to the baby and said, “Your father’s an asshole. You know that?” I thought of all the bitter, divorced women before me who have trash-talked their ex-husbands to their children.

We both pulled out of the parking lot and got onto the ocean road to drive home, and at the first traffic light, Bruce pulled next to me and rolled down his window.

I kept looking straight ahead, ignoring him but I soon felt silly. I turned to look at him and as I did, he turned his head away from me, pretending he was now ignoring me.

I laughed, and when he turned and looked at me, I gave him the finger. The light turned green and we drove home, exhausted from our first trip to the emergency room.

Tug-o-War

The tug-o-war over our son began just minutes after he was born, though my husband, Bruce, had an unfair advantage: As our baby was delivered, I was still in the operating room, my reproductive parts spread out on the table, my arms pinned to the sides like Jesus on a cross, so Bruce got to spend those first precious moments with him. And the baby’s breathing was labored because he had excess liquid in his lungs – a common phenomenon in Caesarean deliveries – so despite the fact that I carried the baby for nine months, giving him my blood, my air, my food, it was Bruce who was there for him as he was rushed off to the neo-natal intensive care unit.

But then Bruce is always there in times of need. His brother, John, has always nurtured a close relationship with their mother, hooking up her computer for her, picking up her mail when she goes away, reporting back to her all of his most important life moments. When she contracted a rare tick-borne disease called Babesiosis several years ago and was in a hospital near their home in Pennsylvania, John visited her every day. Yet it was Bruce who happened to be at her bed side when they decided to transport her to Johns Hopkins hospital down in Washington, DC, and so it was Bruce who rode in the ambulance with her, holding her hand for the four hour journey.

Bruce’s bond with our baby only grew stronger in the hours after the delivery. As I lay in bed anesthetized, feeling like I’d been hit by a car on account of what turned out to be a lengthy surgery, Bruce kept going down to the intensive care unit to visit the baby.

“I helped them bathe the baby,” Bruce said after he returned from one visit.

“You bathed the baby?” I said, incredulously.

Daddys Here.

“Yeah,” he said. I wanted to roll over toward the window and give him my back, like women dramatically do in the old movies, but I was too sore to move.

When he returned from his next visit, he said he’d helped feed the baby.

“You fed the baby? He doesn’t even eat food yet.” I said.

People let me tell you about my be-est friend

When he returned from his third visit, he didn’t even bother telling me what he did. It was understood that he had further cemented his relationship with the baby.

“The nurse in there is nasty. She makes you watch the video about how to wash your hands every time you go in there,” he said, trying to make me feel better.

His visits reminded me of a ferry ride we once took from Italy to Greece. As we laid out on the front of the boat staring up at the night sky, Bruce said, “Did you see that?!? A shooting star!”

“Where?” I said.

“Over there,” he said, pointing off to the left. I turned my head to the left and saw nothing. I continued to stare in that direction when Bruce said, “Did you see that?!? Another one!”

“Where?” I said, searching the sky in vain.

He pointed off to the right. As I desperately searched the sky to the right, he shouted, “There’s another one!”

“Oh, c’mon!” I said. “Where?” He pointed to the middle of the sky.

I panned the sky for several minutes and then gave up.

The truth is, while all Bruce wanted to do that first day was visit the baby in the ICU, I was so tired and achy, I didn’t even feel like it. The ICU was all the way on the other side of the hospital and two floors down. It didn’t help that I had an IV in each arm and a catheter in my bladder in order to pee.

The surgery had been a little more complicated than anticipated. Before we even got to the operating room, it took two different nurses six tries over 45 minutes to get the IV in my arm. They both complained my veins were too skinny and curvy.  When they gave me the anesthesia in my spine, my blood pressure dropped, prompting them to give me a shot of ephedrine to raise it. But I had an allergic reaction to the ephedrine and my heart rate went through the roof. I could hear the sound of alarm in my doctor’s voice as she heard the heart monitor and asked the anesthesiologists what the heck was going on. They had to give me a shot of something else to counteract the ephedrine before my heart rate went back to normal.

After they removed the baby, they found a cyst on my fallopian tube and a growth in my reproductive region that was so odd looking, they had to call in another physician to figure out what it was. It turns out it was one of my ovaries, which had adhered to the side of my uterus and had become misshapen.

Still, I felt a lot of guilt about not wanting to run and see my newborn baby. I’d only seen him for one screaming moment, as they pulled him from my body and held him up over the blue curtain that divided me from the surgical business going on in my lower body. I saw him once again in the early afternoon as they were taking me to my room and stopped by the ICU on the way. But once back in my room, all I wanted to do was sleep and take pain killers. I figured it was okay if I didn’t see the baby until the next morning….until Bruce started visiting him every couple of hours. Bruce brought back a hat the baby had been wearing, which still smelled like him. I held in my hand until I fell asleep, though by that time, I’d sniffed it so many times, it no longer had a smell.

By evening, I was feeling a little less guilty about not visiting the baby until I noticed the time on the clock. Bruce had gone to visit him, and he had been down there nearly an hour! By then, emails began to trickle in from friends responding to the photos we sent out, and most said the baby unequivocally looked like Bruce. I didn’t expect him to look like me as I’d used a donor egg to conceive him, but between Bruce’s numerous visits to the ICU and the baby’s physical appearance, I was starting to feel like little more than the child’s surrogate.

Bruce’s ICU visits that first day also seemed to make him the authority on the baby’s well being. I spent two more days in the hospital, and by the third day, Bruce had become downright bossy, about everything from the baby’s health to how to breastfeed. I’d put the baby on my breast one way, and Bruce would reach in and try to adjust him and my hands another way. Sometimes, as I was trying to attach the baby to my breast, it felt like there were six hands flapping around in there trying to get it right.

A man and his son

When the baby would cry at the end of a feeding, Bruce would grab him and try to quiet him down. He’s actually good at it. He could sometimes get the baby to stop fussing when I couldn’t, and I thought, why can’t I do that? And then sometimes, Bruce couldn’t work his magic and there was a part of me that thought, “Ha! You don’t have such a special way with him after all.”

The night before we left the hospital, I looked down at the baby and thought his coloring looked jaundiced. I started to walk out of our room into the hallway with the baby because I wanted to ask the nurses in the nursery to have a have a look at him. But Bruce pooh poohed the idea and tried to take the baby, saying we couldn’t just walk out into the hallway with him, that he needed to be in his bassinet. I put the baby in the bassinet to wheel him over, but he started to cry so Bruce plucked him out of the bassinet to calm him down. I wanted to swaddle him loosely in a blanket. Bruce wanted to swaddle him more tightly. At one point, we were both standing over the baby trying to swaddle him, with me grabbing one end of the blanket and Bruce grabbing the other.

After we were home for a few days, we must have negotiated some kind of silent settlement over the baby because there wasn’t as much of a tug-o-war over how to handle his every move. But a few days later at the pediatrician’s office, milk oozed out of the side of the baby’s mouth and dripped onto his clothes. I grabbed a tissue and dabbed the little puddle on his collar and began wiping the corner of his mouth. Bruce then picked up a paper towel and started to rub the milk stain on the baby’s collar. Before I knew it, Bruce had inserted his body between mine and the baby’s, and I found myself backing up to let him in.

“I was already cleaning him,” I said from behind them.

“You didn’t get this part,” Bruce said.

“Yes, I did,” I said.

“Well, you missed this bit,” Bruce said.

“No, I didn’t. I just wiped that,” I said.

“Well, you obviously didn’t do a very good job,” Bruce said.

I stood back and watched Bruce dab the baby’s collar and thought, no matter how many collars he dabs and how many times I’m pushed aside, he’ll never be able to nurse him. At least I have that.

Potty Talk Training

When my son was first learning to talk, I remember placing him in his high chair one morning and putting a plate of bananas covered in peanut butter on his tray. He looked up at me with his little pinkies extended, and clearly, as one might say, “Hi,” or “Bye,” he said, “Fuk.”

Yes, I said, "Fuk."

Yes, I said, “Fuk.”

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“Fuk,” he said. And once again with more emphasis, in case I didn’t hear him the first time. “Fuk!”

It was the third time he’d used that word this week, and every time he did, I thought, “Dammit. The fact that I have a foul mouth has finally come home to roost.”

Friends had warned me if I didn’t clean up my language, it was going to rub off on my son. Until now, Eddie wasn’t old enough to understand what I was saying. It appears that’s now changing.

I was never one to care about cursing in front of children. Before I had my son, I even resented having to curb my language. I hated the way when we’d visit friends with children, I couldn’t get a story out without constantly being interrupted with “Shuh!” or “Achem!” every time I said a four letter word. These same friends usually had prohibitions on anyone watching shows like “Law and Order” or “Family Guy,” in their homes because they deemed the language or subject matter to be inappropriate for children.

“So we all have to suffer?” I would think.

My husband has even gotten on my case about word choice.

“You know he said ‘Fuk,’ the other day,” my husband said.

“Yeah, I’ve heard him say that, too. I think he was talking about his ‘truck.’ I don’t know why he calls it that, but he meant ‘truck,’ “ I said.

“Yeah?” my husband said.

“Yeah,” I said.

While using profanity may not be genetic, the idea that it shouldn’t be verboten apparently is. My father thought the prohibition on cursing was ridiculous. But more than that, he thought such a prohibition actually encouraged it. To prove his point, he conducted a scientific experiment in our home when I was young. He told me and my brother that under no circumstance could we ever use the word, “Gherkin.” It was simply forbidden. And don’t you know, whenever I felt angry, the first word I would utter was, “Gherkin!” When I felt defiant? “Gherkin!” Frustrated? “Gherkin!” In our house, this miniature pickle was something to be avoided, not because it tasted bad, but because if you said it, you could get your mouth washed out with soap. When the experiment was over, and I could use the word “Gherkin” as freely as anyone else, I no longer said it, proving his point.

Years later, I replaced “Gherkin” with any number of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The words weren’t just alluring because they were prohibited. When I used them, I seemed to exude toughness, something I didn’t feel as a shy youth who was afraid to express her opinions. People seemed to think a girl who uses foul language eats nails for breakfast and can kick your butt, if not physically then verbally. Nothing says “strength” like a string of sewer-mouthed invectives.

Of course nothing says “disrespect” like a string of sewer-mouthed invectives, and that’s what I’ve finally come to realize. People have strong opinions about cursing. In a crowded room full of chatter, profanity is jarring. It sounds menacing, like shattering glass. When you use it, people form opinions about you that aren’t always good, just as they might form an opinion about someone who has a tattoo or a nose ring. And some of the people forming those opinions will be my son’s teachers or prospective friends. I figure Eddie’s got plenty of time to disenfranchise himself from the people around him. I should at least let him get to second grade before that starts happening.

A wild cussing animal

A wild cussing animal

But I know Eddie doesn’t have a chance in hell of keeping his mouth clean unless I clean up my own mouth, and I need to do it fast. He’s already begun mimicking the things me and my husband do. He’s started calling me, “Scay-bee,” the pet name my husband and I call each other. He takes tissues out of the tissue box and pretends to blow his nose, because he’s seen me do it. He sits briefly on his little training potty, grunts once and then says, “All done,” because he watches us. After seeing me put strips of first-aid tape on my chest so that when I go running, my bra doesn’t give me an abrasion, Eddie now asks for tape and then places it on his own chest, in the same spots I place mine.

My son’s daycare is in a church, and when I attended a Zumba class there the other day, I found myself standing next to the daycare’s director. I turned to her, after a particularly strenuous dance routine, and said, “Oh my god, my f—ing ankle is killing me!” As she looked up at me incredulously, I could feel the words float out of my mouth in slow motion the way people describe that moment in a car accident when their vehicle turns 180 degrees before crashing into the guardrail. It seems I need to curb my cursing not just in front of Eddie but in front of his teachers, lest they think I throw curse words around our home with impunity. Much in life is viewed like the “Broken Window Theory:” People will think if a parent allows cursing at home, what other dirty, filthy habits will they tolerate?

I watched Eddie in his high-chair, and he didn’t seem to be eating his bananas. He just sat there staring at them.

“Fuk,” he said again. He then pointed to a drawer of our kitchen cabinet.

“This?” I said and opened the drawer. “Fork!”

I took a fork out of the utensil tray and handed it to my son.

“Fuk,” he said, holding up the fork. He then speared one of the bananas and stuck it in his mouth and smiled.

There's a fucking WHAT behind me?

There’s a fucking WHAT behind me?

I was given a reprieve, but I knew it was only temporary. With Eddie now two, I was going to have to begin training my potty mouth now. Because I hear it only gets more challenging as time goes on.

Every morning as I wake up and hear my son rustle in his bed, I vow that today, when he asks me to play with him, I’m going to get down on my hands and knees and play. I’ll grab a car or a Thomas the train or a super hero and talk in that little voice he does. Maybe we’ll bang the figurines against each other like they’re fighting, and we’ll play. Because I know that once he goes to school and makes friends and starts playing soccer and video games, he won’t even want to play with me anymore. And I’ll miss him and feel regret.

The spaceship we don't fly

And yet every afternoon, as my son drives his cars on the floor next to me or runs his trains around the track, I not only fail to make good on my vow, I’m barely in the room. Instead, I’m checking my email, thinking about stories I want to pitch, the essays I want to write. Sometimes, I’m taking notes for my parenting blog on raising a toddler — except that I spend more time writing about raising him than actually raising him.

“Mommy, who are you talking to?” my son will sometimes ask, as I whisper into a tape recorder to remind myself of something notable he did.

“I’m, uh, talking to myself. I want to remember what you just said. It was funny,” I’ll say.

The trucks we don't drive

I realize this is bizarre, given that he doesn’t understand what a tape recorder is, what a memory is, and why his mommy no longer has one.

I know I should savor this time with my son, like a peppermint, but I can’t help myself. If I’ve experienced something noteworthy, I want to write about it. And so I walk that tightrope all writers must walk: to live in the moment in order to experience life or to come out of the moment in order to write about it. So when my son does something funny or interesting, my reflex is not to reach for my son but to reach for my pen.

Sometimes I can’t write it down fast enough, so I scribble on my hand, the back of coupons, inside book jackets – sometimes even library books – or I’ll grab my iPhone and type a note or record a phrase. Of course when it’s time to turn these experiences, notes and recordings into prose, I fall asleep, and by the next morning, I forget to look at my hastily written notes or listen to my recordings and those pearls of wisdom just fade away like jotting down a great poem and leaving it out in rain. Instead, I lie in bed, and when I hear my son rustle, I vow to play with him, spend half the day taking notes on what it’s like to half play with him, and the cycle begins anew.

I’m not just distracted from playing with him because I’m a writer. I’m distracted because I’m struggling with the fact that I’m no longer working full time. I had my son at 47 so I’ve spent the last three decades building a career as a journalist, but since I had him, I’ve cut my workload and my paycheck by a third – not to mention the fact that his needs and moods and demands and incessant chatter has destroyed my ability to focus. Stories take five times longer to write, nap time dictates when I can schedule interviews. Worse, I now have severe mommy-brain and can no longer hold a thought for more than a minute. The instant my son interrupts me, which happens all day long, my focus runs off the track like a Thomas train.

While my work schedule has changed dramatically, husband’s job, not surprisingly, has changed little. Except for coming home early one night a week so I can go to yoga, his work hours and job title remain the same, though his office wall is now covered with photos of our son.

The crafts we don't do.

The truth is, I don’t mind putting my career on hold. I get to spend time with my son in these delicious but fleeting formative years. If I could only stop working long enough to enjoy it.

This morning, when I went into my son’s room, I said, “I want to play with you.” He looked surprised but broke out into a big wide smile and hugged me. His response warmed me so deeply, I thought, “This is it. This is what it’s all about. It’s not about awards or accolades or money. It’s about this. Loving and being loved. Wanting and being wanted.” The experience was so moving, I grabbed a notebook to jot it all down.