Tuesday, January 20, 2015

If She Falls, She Won't Die

Anxiety is a slippery slope.  It’s not about the thing you fear, but the anticipation of the thing.  It’s the what if’s, the mights, the maybes.  It’s never what is.  If you let anxiety get the best of you, it can be paralyzing.  But, in truth, what is, is rarely as bad as what you feared it might be.  That’s why people who push through the anxiety invariably find out that they can.  That they did.  And, in the end, it all turned out okay.

I am an anxious mother.  Or rather, a mother who is anxious.  With this anxiety comes the gift of prescience.  I can see all possible catastrophes before they befall my daughter.  Is she about to do a forward flip on the chair and a half?  I see that she’s going to brain herself on the coffee table and I quickly step in between her and its sharp edges.  Is she going to reach for the tray full of onion rings I just pulled out of the oven? I swoop down and snatch the tray away with pot holders before she singes her tender fingers.  Is she going to dance right into that car backing up?  I yank her away from, if not certain death, two broken legs.

Is this hovering or saving my impulsive kid from a trip to the emergency room?  Am I standing in the way of her learning important lessons from life or am I doing my job?  Will she become a rebellious thrill-seeking risk-taker, or will she one day thank me?  I’d like to think that my interventions are well thought-out choices.  That I act with a plan in mind, because I have made larger decisions about how protective I want to be.  But I don’t.  I act on instinct.

Which isn’t to say that I never let her fail, fall down and get dirty.  There has been more than one occasion where she has fallen out of her chair because she’s hanging off the edge or leaning on the back.  In those moments I have stood above her and said unsympathetically, “You see, Sophie?  This is what happens if you don’t sit in your seat an eat.”  And though I am still tempted to brush her teeth each night when she gives them a cursory once-over, instead I warn of the risk of cavities.

I can mitigate disaster, but I know bad stuff is going to happen.  It’s a little bit like belaying her down a mountain.  Gradually giving her more and more rope as she slides away from me.  Each time I let out the rope, I feel my anxiety rise.  But as she successfully makes it another couple of feet, I begin to relax.

This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie, about a boy who's never left the house, due to his mother's agoraphobia, but ventures Outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Oh No I've Said Too Much (I Haven't Said Enough)

After being in the first grade for, oh, about a week or so, Sophie came home with an Internet Contract that, together, we had to read and she had to sign (or at least print her name semi-legibly). 

It marked the advent of her online presence. 

First, I read how it was very important that she keep her user name and password a secret.  I will never share my password—even with my best friend!

“From you too?” she looked delighted.

“No, everyone except for me.”

“What about daddy?”

“He can know your password too.”

“What about grandma?”

“Grandma can’t remember her own passwords.  Its fine if you tell grandma.”  I didn’t have to do a run down of every person she knows and who’s on the It’s Okay to Know Your Password List, so I added, “You can ONLY tell close family members.  But, like it says, you shouldn’t even tell your best friend.”

“How come? Why do I have to keep a secret from Mimi?”

“Because once one person knows about your password, other people can know it too.  And if someone gets your password they can learn very personal information about you.  A password is something very, very private.  Its kind of like seeing you naked.”  She thought this was hysterical, but she stopped asking questions. 

“Okay.  Next item.”  The next item:  There are many wonderful places and exciting places I can visit, like museums, art galleries, zoos, and hospitals, but there are also many places that I should not visit.

Now if ever there was an intriguing statement, this was it. 

“Like where?  What does that mean?”

“Umm…well, just like you can’t want certain movies because they are too grown up for you, there are certain websites that are too grown up for you too.”

She wasn’t going to let me off that easy.  “What do they have on them?” 

“Umm…well, some of them are really scary.  And some of them have bad words that you shouldn’t read…” 

Her eyes were shining with excitement.  That’s when I said the thing I wanted to cram back into my mouth.  “And then there are pictures of naked people.”

“Really?”  Again, peals of laughter.  “Why?” 

It was a good question, but one I wasn’t quite ready to get into with her.  “I don’t know, Soph.  People do strange things.”  We both thought for a minute about the strange things people do.  “Promise me something?”


“If someone ever shows you something on the Internet that you aren’t supposed to see—something scary or naked people—you’ll tell them that you aren’t supposed to look at that.”

“I don’t think I’d say that.”

“No?  Why not?”

“I think it’s better to just say no thank you and walk away.”   She was right.  What kid is going to say to another kid that their parents won’t let them look at porn or violent video games?  A simple no thank you is much harder to mock. 

I paused to look at my sweet, innocent trustworthy kid.  How long would I be able to keep her this way?  My thirteen-year-old nephew saw his first porn when he went over to a neighbor’s house this past year.  He got up and left and told his parents.  My sister was proud of him.   

Sophie started dancing around the kitchen, she was losing interest.  I will not give out any personal information that tells who I am or where I live.

“Okay. Can I go read now?”

“One more thing.”  I will never use a chat room or talk session unless an adult is with me.

“What’s that?”  This Contract was causing more problems than it was solving.

“You can use a chat room on the Internet to talk to people you don’t know.”

“Like when I skype grandpa?”

“Well, kind of like skyping, expect you don’t see each other, you just write back and forth.”   

“Oh, like texting.”

“Yeah, kind of like that.  So promise me something else?”

“What?” She was already pawing a copy of Bad Kitty.

“That if someone tries to talk with you on the Internet,  you don’t talk back.”


“Because they might be an adult acting like a kid trying to be your friend. And that’s weird.  Adults don’t try to be friends with kids.”

“Just like adults don’t ask kids for help! They should ask other adults.”


“Are we finished yet?”

“You just have to sign here.  It says that if you break any of these rules, you may lose the privilege of using the computer or Internet.”

Sophie wrote her name in pseudo-script at the bottom. 

“Now are we done?”

“Yes.”  I wasn’t sure how much of what I said sank in. I realize that Internet privacy is an issue I’m sure we’ll have to revisit over and over again.  Hopefully not too much sank in about the naked people.

This post was inspired by Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, where he analyzes online data to find out that people who prefer beer are more likely to have sex on a first date. Join From Left to Write on October 9th as we discuss Dataclysm. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Getting in the Game

When Sophia and I returned from camp at the end of August, there was an email waiting in my inbox:

Become part of history as Youth Field Hockey begins its inaugural season in [our town]!

A group of dedicated moms were starting a program that extended all the way down to first grade.

When I was in school, I had wanted to play field hockey.  In gym, I loved smacking the ball around the field, spiriting it away from my opponents, playing D and supporting the goalie. But when it came to joining the team, I was too convinced of my own clumsiness (I had the bruises to prove it), too lacking in self-confidence, too scared to try. 

When I proposed the game to Sophie, she was unconvinced by my poor but enthusiastic description of how the game is played. 

“I don’t think I want to do that,” she said, eying me sideways. 

“Okay,” I said, because I have learned never to argue with someone shorter than me. 

My husband suggested that we show her some YouTube videos.  Give her a sense of what it is all about. 

But I had to act fast, because apparently I had missed the sign-up deadline.  I sent a pleading email to the organizer, casually offering to “help in anyway I could” to sweeten the deal.  I pictured bringing the kids orange slices at half time.  If field hockey has a half time. 

I immediately got an email back, requesting that I drop off a check that day.  Another email followed congratulating me on my decision to help coach.

Thank you all for your offer to assist with coaching this inaugural season of [Our Town] Youth Field Hockey League (HYFHL)!

Wait.  What?

So, after investing $100 in the equipment, Sophia and I Googled “field hockey for girlsNot only did I need to convince her of field hockey’s appeal, I needed a crash course.  .”  I found a bevy of homemade instructional videos.  Chipper pony-tailed teens smiling broadly to show off their mouth guards and aggressively smacking a hard little ball with a curved stick. 

“Wait.  Teenagers do this?”  Sophie asked.  She was sold.

But as game day drew close, I grew more anxious.  Convinced of my own clumsiness.  Lacking self confidence.  A little scared to try.  Old fears casting a long shadow. 

We showed up for practice, and I met the other coaches.  They were all extremely strong-looking women who had played field hockey, in college.   When I pleaded my lack of experience, Coach H assured me that she just needed someone to “wrangle.” 

Wrangling entailed trying to get the girls to stand in a straight line, while responding to the following:

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

“My shin guards are itching me!” 

“Do I have to wear my mouthguard?”

“Coach, M., my goggles are too tight!” 

“My hair thing fell out, can you put it back in?”

“When is it going to be time to take a water break?” 

They didn’t need another coach.  They needed a team mom.    I started tending to the flock, when I was approached by one, apologetic, very muscular mom. 

“Excuse me, uh, Melissa,” she said reading my nametag, “do you have your certification?”

“My what?”

“Rutgers certification.  You need it to be out on the field. “

“Um.  No, I was just helping out.” 

“It’s a liability thing, so you don’t get sued.  There’s a three-hour course being offered Monday night at the high school.  You should take it,” she was encouraging.  “But in the meanwhile, could you just hang out on the sidelines.”

Kicked off the field on the first day.  Sigh.  I was just getting the hang of this coaching thing. 

The next Monday night, I found myself listening to a local high school football coach read off a set of slides for three hours.  I walked out a card-carrying coach.  Coach H seemed really pleased.  I was too, though I still didn’t know a damn thing about field hockey. 

But neither do these six-year-old girls.  They’re out there to have fun.  Smack the ball around a little, spirit it away from their teammates, and loosely dribble it down the field to take a shot on goal.  And as I stand out there, herding the field of kittens, I’m just glad I didn’t miss my chance to get in the game. 

This post was inspired by Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, a novel where former Olympic hopeful Dan destroys his swimming career and his attempt at redemption after prison. Join From Left to Write on September 30th as we discuss Barracuda. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Glad to Have a Girl

This post was inspired by The Underground Girls of Kabul by journalist Jenny Nordberg, who discovers a secret Afghani practice where girls are dressed and raised as boys. Join From Left to Write on September 16th as we discuss The Underground Girls of Kabul. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

There was a time when I could only imagine having a male child.  I’m kind of a teenage boy myself, disguised in a 44-year-old woman’s body.  I figured I would know how to interact with a boy.  I like to be gross.  I like getting dirty.  I like to play rough.  I pictured us investigating dinosaur bones together.  While pregnant, I squeezed my eyes together and tried to picture my future child.  I didn’t get a face, just a pair of legs swinging from a chair in the cafeteria of the local science museum. 

Yup, it’s a boy I thought. 

We only had one name picked out for him:  Holden.   And at 11 pm each night, he kicked the stuffing out of me, such that we took to calling him “Boom Boom Moore.” 

He had to be a boy. 

I wanted his sex to be a surprise, much to my husband's disappointment.  When we went in for our week 20, high-level ultrasound, I told the technician in no uncertain terms that though my husband wanted to know the sex of the child, I was to be left in the dark.  I didn’t want any pointing and giggling.  The technician aimed her wand and peered at the screen, pointing out body parts, like a transdermal tour guide.  I followed along, but when she got to the pelvic region I averted my eyes because I didn’t want to accidentally see the penis.  She gave nothing away.  When it was over, I left the room to pee (they make you do this on a maxed-out bladder), and my husband remained behind to find out what we were going to have.

“I don’t know,” the technician said.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” my husband asked.  After all, wasn’t it their job to look for nuchal folds and other things indiscernible to the untrained eye?

“The way the baby was turned, I couldn’t tell, not with certainty.” 

We walked out of there knowing one thing for sure, our baby did not have an obvious penis.  Well, so be it. 

Fast forward to 20 weeks later, when the director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine department stood over me and announced that I had just given birth to a baby girl.  Much to my surprise, I was thrilled.    

How nice that I could be thrilled.  That I don’t live in a society where a daughter means shame and disappointment, where a daughter is something to be mourned or hidden.  Rather, that I live in a place where being female means freedom—freedom to wear pants or a dress, freedom to cry or be stoic, freedom to get pregnant or decide not to. 

Life might have been different had Sophie been born a boy.  Different, but not better. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pure Imagination

The greatest shock of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an adult (aside from the dark humor, e.g. Chapter 10:  The Family Begins to Starve--that must have drifted right past me as a child) is how quick a read it is.  I remember rich, delicious descriptions that I realize now, must have been colored in by my eager imagination.  Part of Roald Dahl’s genius is knowing just how much to feed little minds—to bait them into dreaming more deeply about fantastic possibilities.  The story, the dialogue, the bones of imagery is all there, but young readers must meet the book half way—contributing their own ideas to construct the magical place that is Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. 

This week, I am bringing you a special mother-daughter edition of Life with Sophia.  Together, Sophia and I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory through my participation in the online book club, From Left to Write.  Afterwards, we both blogged in response to the following prompt, encouraging us to insert ourselves inside the pages:   What I Would Do If I Won a Golden Ticket

By Sophia, Age 6

First thing:  Tell my parents. 

Second thing:  Put on my best clothes. 

Third thing:  Get in the car. 

Fourth thing:  Bring my parents to the factory. 

Fifth thing:  Be very interested. 

Sixth thing:  Greetings: “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Wonka.”

Seventh thing:  Inside the factory:  We play “Whip the Cream” and watch as Mr. Wonka makes candy disappear into our mouths.  We play a piano that is made out of candy.  In one room, it looks like we were outside.  And there are trees made out of candy, bushes made out of candy.  Everything has sugar.  Even the grass and the dirt.  The waterfall is made out of chocolate.  The bark is mint gum.  The wood is dark chocolate, my mother’s favorite.  The leaves are made out of mint, cause Daddy likes the color green.  The birds are made out of coconut and dried mangos.

Eighth thing:  We see a little cottage.  The curtains are made out of taffy.  The door is made out of a giant cookie.  The chairs and tables are made out of crushed mint.  There is even a piano made out of licorice.  The fireplace is made out of taffy.  The windows are made out of blue flattened gumballs.  And the chimney is made out of gumdrops.  I leave it alone because Mr. Wonka says, “We have to move onto the next thing” (and because it’s his house). 

Ninth thing:  I get a prize at the end, because I am the most behaved person.  My prize is for my whole family to live there! 

Tenth thing:  I say thank you at the end.  So does the rest of my family. 

By Melissa, Age 43

First thing:  I freak out.  It must be a hoax.  How did I get so lucky?  I get the ticket authenticated.  I do not alert the media.  I hide it in my underwear drawer.

Second thing:  I ask my daughter to come with me.   I tell her to tell no one.  She announces it to all her friends at school the next day.  That evening, the media descends on my house like a swarm of flies on a dead body.  They take really awful pictures of me with my mouth open and print them in International newspapers. 

Third thing:  I cannot sleep at all the night before because I am so excited.  This means I will have dark rings under my eyes and will be cranky on what should be the best day of my life. 

Fourth thing:  I put on my best clothes.  I take off my best clothes.  I put my best clothes on again. 

Fifth thing:  I kiss my husband goodbye who doesn’t actually mind that he’s not going to the factory because he doesn’t like chocolate.  Instead he will sleep in and watch an entire season of Game of Thrones. 

Sixth Thing:  Willy Wonka is much shorter than I expected.  I am relieved that I do not feel attracted to him. 

Seventh Thing:  Willy Wonka has invented dark chocolate that will not give me pimples.  He leads me by the hand to a Chocolate Bar where all the parents can hang out and sip Shiraz out of cups made of the non-pimple causing chocolate, while our kids go to town mowing mint grass with their mouths.  Willy Wonka assures me everything is organic. 

Eighth Thing:  We all brush our teeth.  

Ninth Thing: Willy Wonka tells me that Sophia remembered to say “thank you” and “please” while I was too busy chatting it up with the other parents at the Chocolate Bar to effectively parent.  He commends me on such a well-mannered child.  He then tells me that he offered her a lifetime supply of chocolate, but she asked that he please foot the bill for her college tuition instead.  He agreed. 

Tenth Thing:  I smile with gratitude and give Willy Wonka a kiss on the cheek.  Wait a minute.  Is he blushing? 

This post was inspired by the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers Group, in partnership with Dylan’s Candy Bar, the world-famous candy emporium, and First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides books for children from low-income families, is launching a year-long international celebration.

Head over to From Left to Write to learn how you and your child can have a chance to win the Golden Ticket Sweepstakes where the grand prize is a magical trip to New York City plus much more! For every entry submitted, Penguin Young Readers Group will make a donation to First Book. Then, join From Left to Write on July 24 as we discuss Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As a book club member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.