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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

when your child is "that child"

the process of locating friends for my child is something i've avoided far too long. we moved across the country when my daughter was only one and was still too young for "friends." in my graduate program there are very, very few students with children, and none with children her age- so meeting people "at work" has been an impossibility. since andrew works from home, he's even less likely to meet parents of preschoolers than i am. we live in a childless bubble, minus our own children of course. consequently, ruby's three years old and friendless.

till now.

two weeks ago, ruby and i took the baby out in the stroller. it was a sunday, but since we had missed the mail the day before we headed to the mailbox. another mommy with a stroller and a preschooler was there, too (a testament, i guess, to the fact that mommies of small children have no time for menial tasks like checking the mail on time). we stopped and chatted for a bit-- her daughter and mine are only two weeks apart in age. eureka! a friend for ruby! and she only lived a building away. the two girls played while we mommies chatted, feeling each other out to see if our children would be a match. we exchanged numbers and tentatively planned to meet up again for a playdate-- after all, our children seemed to be hitting it off.

but as soon as we told our children it was time to head home for dinner, the unthinkable happened: ruby had a meltdown. apparently she was having a bit too much fun playing, and didn't want to go home--- so she did the logical thing and threw herself on the grass, screaming. i just stood there in shock. sure, ruby isn't perfect, but didn't she KNOW she was supposed to impress this new friend's mommy with her good behavior so they'd want to play again? i was dumbstruck. to make matters worse, her new friend spied her bad behavior and decided to follow suit, throwing herself down in a mock fit as well. dumbstruck turned to mortified-- i sputtered something about "i swear she's a good kid..." and we parted ways.

i didn't expect a call for a playdate. obviously, my daughter is that kid, the one other parents avoid for fear of contaminating their own little ones. but the next day i got a text from my new mommy friend, and eventually we were able to coordinate and set up a playdate at my apartment. and happily, the playdate went great. the girls had a great time playing and the mommy was easy-going and friendly. i was hopeful for a second date. but just before parting time, the mommy went into the dining room where the girls had been playing and i heard a small, surprised "gasp!"

ink. on the walls. big, loopy circles and one small, smug happy face drawn in black over white paint. two nervous, startled three year old girls with pens in hand, looking up from their crime. and two nervous, startled moms not sure what to do next. this time we were both apologizing, swearing our children had never done anything like that before, not sure if we should laugh or yell or cry. after profuse apologies on both sides, they hurried off, and i just stood there. i took a picture. then i put ruby in timeout and wondered if i'd ever hear from them again.

that was just a few days ago, so who knows if there will be a second date. who knows which child started it-- ruby says it was the other girl, but wouldn't you say that if you were ruby? and ruby really hasn't ever done anything like that before, but she's also never been left alone with another three year old- so who knows what she might do if given the chance. now i'm left wondering if my child really is that child. maybe i should have gotten started on the friend thing sooner. for both of our sakes.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Its a funny thing, really

There is a point of utter exhaustion and desperation in every newborn's household when even the most loving, devoted mother cries (figuratively, or more often, literally) and says, "What was I thinking?" Because caring for a baby is full of impossibilities. Its impossible to get enough sleep, to satisfy the demands of parenting, to take care of a child and oneself, and especially to do any of these things without guilt and feelings of insecurity. Sometime in my ninth month of pregnancy, that impossibility made itself known: "Oh wait, I can't do this! I take it back... I don't want to have a baby!" And after he was born (and his sister before him), I thought it again. And again.

There, I said it. But you've thought it, too, if you're a parent. You didn't mean it, and neither did I, but there's a moment of fear (or maybe two, or ten) when you weigh your own capabilities and the task ahead of you and realize how lacking you really are. Its impossible to be all that society says you must be for your child. Its impossible to do it all without making mistakes and fostering regrets.

Then, of course, your baby does what babies do. He sleeps peacefully that first time, or smiles, or coos or laughs. And of course you don't care that you didn't want a baby or didn't think you could handle one... he's here, he's perfect, and he's yours.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sister Wives

One of the benefits (or detriments, depending on your point of view) of being a communication scholar is a built-in excuse to spend excessive amounts of time watching television. I try to take in whatever seems to generate buzz, especially when religion is featured (and particularly Mormonism in all its shades). So of course I couldn't miss the first season of TLC's Sister Wives, a "reality" show about the Browns, a fundamentalist Mormon family living in Utah.

Although the show itself is not technically great in terms of production values, it has received quite a bit of media attention due to the family's unorthodox practices: by the end of the first season, Kody Brown has four wives: Meri, Janelle, Christine, and the newest addition, Robyn (though he is legally married only to Meri). Moreover, there are thirteen Brown children (with an additional three from Robyn's previous marriage). The show, according to TLC's website, is about "how they attempt to navigate life as a 'normal' family in a society that shuns their polygamist lifestyle." In fact, the whole of Sister Wives revolves around the Browns' desire to be seen as "normal," contrasting with production choices designed instead to showcase their abnormality. The juxtaposition of what they *say* they are and what they are shown to be, then, provides the drama that makes Sister Wives entertaining to watch.

But at what expense? Perhaps we'll never know, since the Brown family is unable to speak without mediated gatekeeping. This is, of course, what takes the "reality" out of reality television: we hear what we are allowed to hear about their life and choices, through conscious editing choices intended to maximize viewership rather than to tell the "truth" about the Browns situation.

In fact, one thing we don't hear about is why they are polygamous in the first place. Any meaningful discussion of the Browns' faith or religion-- specifically, fundamentalist Mormonism-- is surprisingly missing from the show's content. We hear that Meri and Kody met at church, for instance, and we know that they are not mainstream Mormons (who officially disavowed polygamy in the 1890s). But fundamentalist Mormon beliefs supporting polygamy and procreation as religious obligations are unspoken, and religion is not represented as the central focus of the Browns' lives (and in all fairness, may not be in reality). The family prays together briefly, and mention is made of Heavenly Father, but never in a didactic mode.

I'm curious why religion is missing from Sister Wives-- either it is in fact possible to be both fundamentalist Mormon and polygamous but not religious, or the Browns are more religious than they seem and the show's creators are shying away from the topic. Is it too complicated for Americans to understand, or might they just not care? Is it more interesting/tv worthy to make polygamy about sex and power instead of religious obligation? Or maybe those in charge of production don't buy the religious explanation, don't think its important, or don't understand it themselves.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A reason to write... or two or three

I'm a compulsive blog abandoner. I can think of four, off the top of my head, that sit gathering dust off in a corner of the Web-- blogs that never had a chance, really. They were all sad, ineffective attempts at putting my voice "out there," although I never publicized my ownership of any of them and thus never had a readership of any kind. Sort of like standing at the Grand Canyon and yelling, hoping someone might hear and care- despite the echoes and the vast distance between me and any other human being.

The point is, I love to write. And I think I have things to say-- but of course, who doesn't. And who has time to follow yet another blog of someone else's musings. So I'm starting anew, this time thinking only of my own need to write and not my desire to be heard. There are lots of reasons to write, and lots of subjects to cover-- I won't limit myself to one or two. But incidentally, expect cooking, parenting,religious studies, and graduate school frustrations (not necessarily in that order) to take center stage on this blog; they are the epicenter of my real life, so why shouldn't they be here?

A bit of background. I'm 26 years old, born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you've never been to Tulsa, you may not understand the slow pace, old-fashioned values, and good cooking that make up the core of who I try to be. I married Andrew in June 2006 then graduated from the University of Tulsa six months later. Our daughter Ruby was born in August 2007, and in 2008 we moved to Philadelphia so I could start a doctoral program in my field: I study religious communication.

Talk about a culture shock-- two years later, we are still just Okies in the City, trying to figure out who we are and how we can possibly fit in here. Incidentally, Philadelphia is a whole 'nother country, and we have had to relearn such basics as grocery store etiquette just to get by here.

Add to the chaos that I am currently six weeks postpartum, having delivered our second unexpected (but very welcome!) child, Cortez, at the start of what would have been my fifth semester in my PhD program. My maternity leave is coming to an end (today, as a matter of fact), and now to figure out how to be a mother to a newborn and three year old, a wife, and a full-time student and research assistant... I have fodder for blogging, yes, but maybe not time to do it.

You'll get to know more about me as I find time to write. Add me to your feed, and I'll do my best not to be an imposition... and hopefully I'll get to know you, too.