Tuesday, April 27, 2004

April Come She Will

April in Atlanta is, perhaps, the most beautiful month. It would take an aesthete of depression or an allergy sufferer (Out out vile dust!) to find it the cruellest month here. Although I did recently attend a funeral featuring the Anglican Liturgy for the Burial of the Dead. As they interred the ashes in the church garden, I had to restrain my young daughter who wanted to catch a caterpillar. Such intrusion of life and the chrysalid reference did cheer me. The azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom, the weather is still temperate, the mosquitoes, fortified since my childhood with the introduction of Daybiters, are not yet out.

I do not get to think about April, T.S. Eliot, or daybiters for long. "Mommy, Mommy come quick. One of the boys is launching himself from the armrest of the chair into the playpen." If I were a good American mother, that is the kind willing to see nascent brilliance in every random action of her progeny, it would occur to me that this might show some future promise of an astronautical career. At the moment, all I can think is that that if he plays his cards right he could be the next Johnny Knoxville . Maybe the Classics got parenting right; all I need now is to find is a sympathetic she-wolf to help me raise those twin boys.

Could I be the only parent demented enough to blast out the Rolling Stones "Mother's Little Helper" to get through the five o'clock witching hour of the children's dinner? Or, "No, we are not listening to Wee Sing Fun and Games "Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar" again; it's time for some Tina Turner, babies. My children are good sports, they really are. My four year old daughter now asks for Tina Turner. I figure if you don't take the pep pills, you're at least entitled to some really loud music to get through the anti-aircraft siren-strength screams, background whines and the twins' food launch missile strikes without going into a catatonic trance. This job doesn't offer combat pay.

Ironically, it's the girl who sends me to the emergency room on an evening when my husband is out of town. She puts a gash in her forehead while jumping on the brick steps on the back terrace. The nice thing about living in a big city is that (barring traffic) you can be at a specialized children's hospital in about twenty minutes. The bad thing about living in a big city is that at the same point in time there will be about twenty other kids ahead of yours in the emergency room of that same hospital. At Children's Healthcare they give you a vibrating thingy to let you know when it's your child's turn to be seen. They have the same thing in trendy no-reservation policy restaurants. Unless your child is having a seizure or a hemophiliac bleeding episode, you can definitely be seated quicker in the trendiest restaurant in town than you'll be seen at Children's Healthcare. Nobody is particularly impressed with the bloody washrag my daughter is holding to her forehead. The friendly college-age girl, probably a junior version of what is now known as a "patient advocate," circulates. Several coloring books and plastic mini-toys later, the question of what she can do to help definitely seems rhetorical since she can't help most of us with what we want, which is to have our child seen by a doctor in less than ninety minutes. It's nine thirty in the evening by the time the doctor takes a look at my daughter. She's doing fine (she'd been fed and bathed before her jumping episode at 6:30 in the evening); however, the fact that I haven't had dinner, the permafatigue and the fact that my husband isn't there is taking its toll on me. I remember the mother of a child in my daughter's ballet class last year proudly telling us how they made the hospital call a plastic surgeon and waited six hours for him to come and sew up her daugher's cut forehead and that it was so worth the effort and the wait because "you know, it's your little girl and you'd hate for her to go through life with some unsightly scar." The doctor is talking about glueing and deflecting my best efforts to protest and make noises to the effect that I have keloid scars, I'm afraid she scars badly too, her cuts don't seem to heal that well. The doctor looks at one of her scars and is not impressed. I'm alone, tired and hungry. It's going to take being a real bitch and waiting several more hours to get a plastic surgeon in, and, frankly, I don't know a thing about facial scarring. I'm caught between two disquieting images--my daughter at fourteen being self-conscious over this scar or the fact that maybe I'm being completely neurotic. After all, when I was a child nobody would have thought twice about having some emergency room hack stitch up their child...that is if they even bothered to go to the hospital at all, as opposed to slapping on a bandaid at home. My daughter gets glued. She does far better than her mother who is nauseous and barely escapes fainting.

What is wrong with American women of my generation that so many of us are so traumatized about whether we are good mothers? We read too many books on parenting and child development. I think we are rather isolated, compared to earlier generations of women who may not have worked, but did enjoy stronger networks of fellow mothers who could share stories and experiences that child-rearing into perspective. Comparatively, women are waiting until later in life to have children. Some may have given up a promising career to stay home with children. Those mothers often seem to have higher expecations than earlier generations, as though the child's achievements must justify the mother's sacrifice.

I do not think I shall have this problem, not being aware that anyone ever awaited a mutual fund shareholder annual report with breathless anticipation, or if they did, the reasons for that had little to do with the writing. As for my current job in charge of PR in a "nepotistic little family"/nobody in their right mind, outside of family, would have joined us when we started out company, opinions are divided. Some say we have the worst PR in the entire Java industry. Conversely, those who somewhat begrudingly see in our efforts a ruthless talent for self-promotion attribute this to no less than a pact with the Devil, so I can't claim much credit there. No, I'm feeling quite at peace with my own temporal nature and existential irrelevance today. In no way qualifying as a Mother Superior...I know exactly how she does it, it's all about lowering your standards and choosing your priorities, darling...I think I shall submit myself for membership in a less exclusive and far more entertaining club.

The Decadent Mothers' Club--For every woman who didn't give up coffee while pregnant, forgot when it was her turn to handle snack week at preschool, talked about setting up a cocktail playdate with the parents of her childrens' friends, who "supports" her child's education by offering the school live auction high-bid on box seats for the Prince Musicology concert at Phillips Arena, who struggles with the thought that she has about ten more years to start acting like a grown-up, and then decides to take Liz Phair's advice, who when asked if her son might not be a bit freaked out by having her as a mother when he's fifteen said "Well I figure that by the time he's fifteen he'll be pretty freaked out, anyway. I'm just helping him put this into a concrete context."

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