Thursday, May 31, 2012

somebody's baby

There is a guy who stands by the freeway entrance I often use - not on a daily basis, but several times a week. Enough so that I'm pretty sure he's there every day. He has a sign, a small cardboard one, asking for money. I have never given him any, although I feel a twinge of guilt every time I don't. Reports are that people who have tried to give him food say he refuses it and asks for money instead, but I don't know for sure if this is true.

If statistics are in any way correct, chances are high that this man suffers from some kind of mental illness, given the high percentage of various mental disorders among the homeless.

I'm not a very sentimental person, really. Even when I was pregnant, I wasn't especially weepy over Hallmark commercials or old people walking down the street holding hands. I'm just not very sappy. There are exceptions, of course - I got all misty-eyed fifteen minutes ago watching that youtube-marriage-proposal-video by some guy named Ian, who is indeed, a romantic bad-ass - but, for the most part, I'm a realist. I haven't gotten particularly more emotional since I had a baby, either. I don't know why this is, but there you have it.

I know perfectly well that all kinds of babies come into the world when they are not particularly wanted, or loved, or understood. It's ridiculous to imagine that every child born in this world is born into a delighted, happy family eager to welcome it home. Children are abused, and neglected, in a million horrible and unimaginable ways, and this has always been terrible, and always will be.

So I am not trying to be cheesy and greeting-card-saccharine when I say that, very often since my daughter was born, my first thought when I see Homeless Guy By the Freeway Entrance is, "where is your mom?" Everybody is somebody's baby. I wonder where he grew up; whether he was loved, wanted, welcomed, cherished. What his first birthday celebration was like. His first day of school. Whether anybody kept his first pair of shoes and the art project he made for Mother's Day in second grade. Whether somebody tucked him into bed at night and read him stories and told him they loved him to the moon and back.

Maybe not. Maybe his childhood was a hell, not a paradise, and home a place he was perfectly happy to walk away from as soon as possible.

Or maybe he was loved and nurtured and somewhere, somebody still has his baby shoes - but he was ill in such a way that he couldn't stay in his family, so he is standing by the freeway instead, hoping somebody will give him enough to eat and sleep. Or possibly get drunk. (See? Not sentimental.)

Yesterday, a few miles from where I live, someone who suffers from mental illness took a gun, went into a coffee shop, shot several people, carjacked and killed someone else, and finally shot himself. His family, being interviewed today, says that they tried and tried to get him help. If you have ever tried to get help for a mentally ill family member or friend, you know: this is not easy. You can't force it on anyone. And there are not a lot of safety nets out there.

What this guy did was awful. There's no excuse for it. There's no way to make it anything less than a reprehensible crime, for which he is responsible.

And yet he, too, was somebody's baby. Today I am thinking about his mother, along with the other grieving mothers, who are holding onto those first grade art projects and baby shoes. I hold my own daughter and I think about how lost I would be if something happened to her - if she went into a coffee shop one sunny Wednesday and never came out - and how deeply dark and awful it would be if I lost her, instead, to an illness that turned her into someone I no longer recognize. What would we do? Would there be anybody to help?

I don't have answers to any of this, except that I hope and pray my baby grows up to help turn this world into a less broken place than it feels today.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

dear time magazine

Enough already.

You know what? I am enough. I am a good enough mother. Actually, I am a damn good mother (not all of the time, but pretty often). And, above all, I am tired of the constant messaging about how I am supposed to doubt myself, am supposed to feel horribly guilty when I leave my kid at daycare (I don't), am supposed to spend every single minute of my day bemoaning what a terrible mother I am (I don't), and that only women who do these things - who doubt themselves every step of the way - are really, truly, good mothers.

I realize that I am betraying two of my key principles by even writing this post: one, never criticize things you haven't read; and two, never reward stupid behavior by giving it undue attention. You got me on both counts.

No, I haven't read the article. I don't actually care what it says (from the one synopsis I read, it's about attachment parenting). I care that the headline is meant to do exactly what it does: get attention about how every parenting style under the sun is still not good enough. (My first problem here is that I have no discernible parenting "style," except for my guiding principle that everybody should be alive at the end of the day, myself included.)

I'm pretty much a of mix of stuff-I-wanted-to-do-before-the-kid-showed-up and stuff-I-ended-up-doing-because-things-don't-always-go-the-way-you-think. I breastfeed until she was 17 months and then she decided to quit. It broke my heart a little bit, but I'll get over it. She sleeps in her own bed and always has, although said bed was next to ours for the first six months.

We let her cry it out. It took one night and she has slept through the night ever since (although it took us 14 months to sleep past 5:30am). (That sucked.) She eats a lot of organic food. On the other hand, tonight we went out to dinner and she ate radioactively orange mac and cheese. With apples.

We read a lot of books and we weren't going to watch any TV until she was 2, but then I took her on an airplane and she watched Elmo and now she is completely, totally, one hundred percent in love with him. So we watched an Elmo video on Monday. Sue me.

She goes to daycare. She loves it. Sometimes she cries when I leave but I know she is fine after 2 minutes and when I come to pick her up, she is so happy playing that sometimes she hates to leave. I don't feel badly about giving her an opportunity to play with other kids all day long and have other adults in her life who love her and think she is the best thing since string cheese. Nothing wrong there.

She hugs me with ferocity, wrapping her arms around my neck and snuggling into my shoulder and when she wakes up, she says, "mama? dada?" sweetly and we know, for sure, that whatever stupid-ass mistakes we make on a daily basis (and there are quite a few), we are doing okay at the whole parenting thing. Certainly we will screw her up, but that comes with the territory. Hopefully we'll give her just enough dysfunction to make her funny, as I saw on some pin.terest thing the other day.

I'm not going to buy your magazine because I'm not giving you my money. Because I'm betting my money on this instead: I am a good mother. I know a whole lot of good mothers.

And we are sick of you trying to make us feel otherwise.