BY LIZ AXELROD
Had this one when she turned 12--just the right amount of candles!
Recently, my daughter turned NINETEEN. I’m feeling a little nostalgic, so I’ve decided to forgo the literary stuff and give a little list of the best and the worst of my mothering adventures and how I coped through them. I am so proud and pleased that this wonderful creature came through me. I take some of the blame for her problems but I know she was destined to be just who she is--an arty, slightly moody, over-intelligent, secure and yet slightly insecure girl-on-the-verge-of-woman with the world at her fingertips and just enough strength to reach for it.
So here’s a little list of fun remembrances and lessons learned that hopefully will provide you with a couple of laughs and some positive ammunition to do it even better when you’re ready for the big leap into motherhood:
ONE: Pregnancy and Birth hurt like hell! Don’t let anyone tell you differently. If they do they are lying or they were drugged. Or both. From month three of my pregnancy I had indigestion. Did not matter what I ate. She was resting her head on my stomach and it must have been her comfy position 'cause that was where she stayed for seven months! Six hours after I gave birth my folks came downtown to the hospital with food from my favorite Little Italy restaurant and I ate eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti, garlic rolls, and baked clams and did not have an inkling of a problem.
TWO: Birth hurts. All through my pregnancy I stuck to the tenant that I would have a natural birth. I was tough, I could handle pain. After the fourth contraction I buckled and got Demerol. Ahhh, what a lovely sweet high that was! Then the fifth and sixth one came and I was doubled over screaming in agony and sure I was going to explode. I did not want a big giant needle in my back (Epidural). NO. I did not want that. An hour into this the doctor offered it to me again. I figure he could have offered to cut my foot off and I would have agreed if it could stop the pain. Lesson learned--girls, book the Epidural right away; big scary needle notwithstanding. Beautiful Baby Girl born--9 pounds 6 ounces, 19 inches long. No Pain.
THREE: OMG! The insane me with a newborn! Little did I know as I was making everyone take their shoes off and use antibacterial soap before walking in the apartment that this was the easy period. Breastfeed if you can. It’s wonderful. You can literally fall asleep while the baby is at your breast. I did. Often. They say it’s best not to breastfeed for more than a year, but don’t give yourself too much guilt if at three years old you have to tell your darling when she asks for "titty" that there just isn’t any more left. She’ll survive. And you will have drastically reduced your chances of getting Breast Cancer.
FOUR: Seventeen pound cat vs. nine pound baby. Cat hisses and Jumps on Baby; bares teeth and Claws. A few years later there will be guilt. Especially if you sent your beloved black cat to a farm thinking that since she was a massive fierce bitch who hissed at any and all but you, and lived in your little Greenwich Village Apartment all her life, that she would love the outdoors…You’ll make it up later by adopting a sweet feral cat who won’t get along with your current seventeen-pound-panther-boy-cat. He’ll just want to play, and she will hiss at him from your bathtub where she’s made her home. Your baby will grow up un-scarred by ferocious beasts.
FIVE: Savor the joys of toddler-time. You’ll lose hair and weight and you’ll gain some massive quick reflexes. You’ll develop a tendency to look straight at the other mothers and keep your balance while burying the guilt so they don’t think of you as a monster when they ask why she always has a red bump on the right side of her head (walking is hard, little ones list and fall, and she always fell the same way). But how your toddler looks at the world will forever change your view. Your nerves will be lit up like the Christmas tree that had to be tied to the shelves, and by how the little one runs into everything and anything, and how you have to be forever vigilant with light sockets, lamps, doorknobs, stairs, toilets, tables and chairs. Oh, yes you will be nostalgic for that newborn time.
SIX: When they pick up that piece of Playdough and copy Clifford The Big Red Dog in all his detail but make him two centimeters large--encourage them. Get them all the clay they need and watch them work those little fingers. Don’t worry about the mess. When later they are one of only 80 kids accepted to the SVA Animation program you can pat yourself on the back (while figuring out how to pay for it).
SEVEN: Let them watch the Cartoon Channel, and any girl empowered show you can. Watch it with them. Answer questions when they want to know why the Powerpuff Girls only get to save the world before bedtime, but Buffy can go out late at night with stakes and vampires. Dress them appropriately when they want to be Buffy in fourth grade and have a talk with the teacher if she has a problem. Explain to them that they can only take the plastic stake trick-or-treating, not to school. Let the teacher know you have already spoken with her about make-up artists, prosthetics, camera shots and how they use strawberry jam for blood (well, maybe don’t go too into detail with the teacher on this).
EIGHT: Don’t lose your cookies when you are waiting at the bus stop during the snowstorm and they don’t get off. Get into your car and drive to their elementary school and when you still can’t find your girl, then lose your cookies. Lose them even more when you find out that no one in the office has the bus company’s number and they tell you to go home and wait. Go home and wait and cry big red tears of relief when the bus driver from the wrong bus that she mistakenly got onto drops her off at your house an hour later. Then go back to school the next morning and calmly demand they have all the bus drivers equipped with cell-phones or walkie-talkies, and their numbers prominently displayed and on the principal’s and office administrator’s speed dials. Do not take no for an answer. Feel good in the fact that you have made positive change happen.
NINE: When your child goes through the "chubby" phase do not waver when telling them they are beautiful just as they are. When they cry, tell them "this is just a phase, in a year or two you will come out of this cocoon with a beautiful, strong, thinner body." Swap rice and macaroni and cheese for rice cakes and pasta with broccoli and turkey sausage, enroll them in Tai Kwan Do, take them for walks after dinner where you discuss the day and how hard it is to be in sixth grade, but how fun it will be in High School, and hide the tears when a few years later they say, "well you were right about my chubby phase, so I guess you could be right about this too."
TEN: There will be a short couple of years when you can do no right, you will need to park further away from school, you cannot "on any condition" be a part of the PTA, and you really need to change your hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, mind, mouth, etc…This is painful. It goes away, though.
ELEVEN: There may come a time when the family unit is no longer a unit. You have waited long enough. There is no good time, but know that even though the divorce may bring on OCD and you will be researching ways to build confidence and keep the growing strong, eventually she will give up the anti-bacterial soap and washing hands and you will be back to figuring out how you can get her to pick her clothes up off the floor and put her dishes in the sink. It helps to keep a good relationship with her Dad (if you can). Invite him over. Let them hang together in the living room and watch Comedy Central. Go back to school if you can. Nothing bonds better than doing your homework together. And let your child see you struggle just a bit (but try to keep the money worries to yourself).
TWELVE: High School is way harder than newborn. All you had to worry about with newborns was rolling off the bed, or rolling over the baby in your sleep, or germs, or dirty diapers, or how to get them to eat…This is nothing compared to the conversations about the boy that won’t look at her, the girls that make fun of her, the good friend who now smokes pot, the wanting to separate but needing to still have you be home, your wanting to separate but needing to still be home. The conversations about sex will be hard as will the need to explain why you may not remember what you said the other night after drinking one glass of wine too many.
THIRTEEN: Then one day you will wake up and two decades will have gone by and all you can think of is how it feels like just yesterday you made that big pot of chili for her first birthday party and didn’t get to have any since you stayed locked in the bedroom with her screaming at the top of her lungs 'cause she was massive freaked out at all the family members in her apartment. She didn’t calm down until everyone left. By that time you were ready for more than wine, but settled for a cold bowl of chili.
Liz Axelrod received her MFA from the New School in 2013. She writes poems, book reviews, essays, fiction and anything her pointed pen finger deems relevant. Her work has been published in The Rumpus, Publisher’s Weekly, The Brooklyn Rail, Electric Literature, Counterpunch, Nap Magazine, Yes Poetry, The Ampersand Review, and more. Her Chapbook "Go Ask Alice" was chosen as a finalist in the 2015 Finishing Line Press New Woman's Voices Competition and will be published in March, 2016. She is an Adjunct Professor at SUNY Westchester Community College, a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, staff writer for Luna Luna Magazine, and co-host and curator of the Cedermere Reading Series in the home of William Cullen Bryant. Find her here: www.yourmoonsmine.com