Just a Little Mom Thought

So, Mom and I talk every morning on the phone. She is in New York. I am in Texas. We have the same kinds of conversations that we’d have if we were next door neighbors. Yesterday, we were talking about kids, and how you can expose them, and show them, and lead them, and set they up for all great things, but that you cannot do the great things for them. You can, and should, let them know the great things are possible, achievable, with hard work, and sometimes, if you are lucky, with less hard work. But in the end, you you cannot play the trumpet, dance the dance, take the test. 

Some parents, I think, let themselves off the hook, knowing that they can’t take the test. “Well, little Jimmy will just have to figure it out for himself.” That is ridiculous, when little Jimmy is, well, little. And kids are little longer than they are not, or longer than you think. Some adults are still little. I say, tell him what he is capable of and what is expected. Give him the ball, the book, the paintbrush and no room to back down. Kids don’t know about humps, and even less about getting over them. It is our job to make them reach the hump. Once on the other side, they will be happy we did.

This is all rather general, I know. I have a story, but my daughter wouldn’t want me to tell it. I will say, though, that she is now on the far side of the hump. I have gotten “Thank yous.” She has gotten more. 


Okay, Not All Men Are Like Antelopes

I admit, saying that all men are like antelopes is a sweeping statement. Not all men are like antelopes, it’s true. Some of them are. Many of them are. Well, whether most of them are is still out for review. We will never really have the hard data. I do know some men who most likely are not like antelopes, now that I’ve been thinking about it for a day or two. They would not deceive a potential mate for sexual gain. No, they would not.

Here they are, in the order in which they came to me:

Mr. Ellsworth, my 9th grade World Civilization teacher. Out of nowhere, he stood up on our desks, to make a point. Took a running start sometimes. He had other things to think about.

Ernest, my former mailman, in Chicago. He was so nice. He was the nicest man in the Midwest, maybe America. He waited when he saw me coming with my dog, so that we could walk with him. Barney didn’t like many people. Barney loved Ernest. We gave him a plaid scarf for Christmas, to match his uniform. It is cold in Chicago.

I am not so sure about my current mailman. 

Matt Lauer. Maybe not Matt Lauer. No. Yes, Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer is not like an antelope.

The podiatrist who scraped the corn off of my toe two years ago. He was more like a lemur.

Okay, that’s it.

Wait, not Matt Lauer.

Sports Are BIG in Texas

Wow. It’s no myth. Sports are big here. Really big, a phenomenon. It starts at age four and does not stop. I have watched it not stop for some time, now. It’s interesting to me, someone who is no stranger to competition, that this is some other kind of competition.

On Saturday mornings, kids who should be home drinking formula from bottles are out on the soccer fields, strapped up in guards and cleats and scoring goals. They have British coaches, from the Premiere League. By third grade, boys are wearing shoulder pads and helmets. Little mini Joe Namaths. Or what’s his name, Romulo. Romeo. Oh, Romo. 

I went to a high school football game with my daughters last year. It could have been the Meadowlands. There was a professional announcer, a color-commentary guy, dancers, cheering people, flag-wavers, bands. It was an extravaganza. And on the field, they were ready for the NFL.

My girls juggle balls on their toes, shoot lay-ups into hoops, slam backhands, dash down tracks. We have nineteen bags of team jerseys, which I am saving for posterity. I am a professional spectator. Last night, while eight trillion crazy people were screaming for the college boys, I was thirty miles away in a school gym with 250 crazy people screaming for their eighth grade daughters. It was very exciting, the game in the gym, I mean. 40-4. They are not allowed to lose.

Some people might think that this is all a little much. If I were still in New York, I would probably think that. But, actually, I think that it is good, especially for girls. Keeps them where you want them, on the field, focused, managing time, riding the bus with their buddies, figuring out how to keep their bangs out of their eyes when the refs won’t allow clips. Feminine, tough, all at once. All good. 

In ninth grade, I joined the gymnastics team, not because I had done any gymnastics, but because I could dance. I could do the floor ex. That’s short for floor exercise, which I  had seen in the Olympics, noticing the dancing involved. I could not do a walkover without getting stuck in the backbend  in the middle. Uh oh. Stuck. But pirouette? No one was better.

“I was on the gymnastics team,” I told my kids not too long ago.

“What event did you do?” they asked.

“Floor ex,” I said. “You know, exercise.”

“Really, how’d you do?”

Such questions. “I did well, with the dancing part. And I threw in some cartwheels. They said I should do more gymnastics since it was a gymnastics team.”

“Yes, Mommy, you probably should have,” they said, laughing, in a mocking sort of way. “Did you do any other events?”

“Oh no, I was afraid of the beam. And those bars. So uneven. And high up.”

They could not imagine it. I couldn’t either, in retrospect, though I really appreciated the experience. We wore maroon leotards, with zippers, and warm-up suits with the stripes. We didn’t have the stripes for ballet. Of course by tenth grade, I was cartwheeling into the school newspaper office after school, which probably made a little more sense. 

These days, in Texas, I am rediscovering my athletic prowess, though, accompanying my kids to the track or field or court and giving them a run for their money. Oh yeah. Watch this. Out of my way. Slam dunk.

A Confirmation for Single Moms

Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court confirmation should be inspiration for single parents. Many people are quick to presume that children who are raised in a single parent household have less chance for success than kids who live in a two-parent family. As with any demographic group, there are instances of both, naturally. Most important, though, there are factors other than number of parents affecting both success and failure. People don’t seem to realize this.

Judge Sotomayor’s father died when she was nine, leaving her mother to raise her and her younger brother, who, by the way, is a physician and university professor. Mrs. Sotomayor bought a set of Encloypedia Britannicas for their apartment in a Bronx housing project. Circumstances, good and bad, exist; I believe it is how you manage them that determines your outcome. The child who lives in a mansion but must mow the grass. The child who learns value watching a mother work three jobs. All good.

I do not define myself as a single mother. And my kids are not “children of divorce.” I am a mother. They are kids. We are a family with a story. The people next door have one, too. My girls have the same drive, goals, expectations from me that they would have had had their father been around. They don’t have the fancy knapsack, but they wouldn’t have had it, anyway.

Here are a few others who probably didn’t have the knapsack, and seemed to have turned out pretty well without it: Bill Cosby, Ed Bradley, Alicia Keys, Audrey Hepburn, Mariah Carey, Michael Phelps, Bill Clinton, Lady Bird Johnson (who was raised by her aunt), Alexander Haig Jr., and oh yeah, Barack Obama.  

Congratulations Judge Sotomayor. Go get ’em.

Oh No, It’s Just Me

Married moms often get flustered when their husbands are not around. They worry about how they will do everything, how they will get the kids where they need to go, how they will put dinner on the table, gas in the car, homework in the brain, whatever it is they feel they need to do. 

“Bill is out of town and I’ve been a wreck.”

Sometimes, they say this in front of me, without realizing. I must be a wreck all the time. If they did realize, they would probably think I am a wreck all of the time. 

I am not a wreck all the time. I am not a wreck anytime, because I can’t afford to be. If I am a wreck, it is when all of the above is completed, everyone else is dreaming about the fabulous days they had, and I collapse on the couch.

The other day, I heard a new concern. “Bill is out of town, and I am really glad I have the dog.”


Does the dog mow the lawn? Wear a suit? Buy anniversary gifts?

“When he’s not home, she sleeps by the door.” 

Being the only adult in the house, I had forgotten that male adults can provide a feeling of safety for females and children. Well, certain male adults. Should I be scared, then, every night? Should my daughters be fearful every night? Should we think we are sitting ducks if someone should intrude? Our dog is deaf and blind. Are we crazy, living this way? We are a police action waiting to happen.

We live in a safe community. We have an alarm. We are very careful about the things you need to be careful about.  I am confident that I, as the sole adult in the house, could handle any incident as well as a person with bigger pectorals. It is not a choice to think otherwise. It is not a choice to think otherwise about this, or anything else, in the house or out. 

When I was living alone in New York in the late 80s, someone robbed my apartment when I was gone for the weekend. I came home to find my stereo and jewelry missing. Immediately, I called the police, my parents and my friend Stephen. Feeling afraid, I locked up the apartment and slept at Stephen’s. My parents came into town the next day and we outfitted the doors and windows with all sorts of contraptions. When the armor was in place, I assumed we would hop in the car and head up to Westchester, have some Chinese, play a little Monopoly. I’d take the train back in the morning. But my father told me I wasn’t going. He told me I was staying put, like Houdini in a box. Did I think I was going to run home every time something bad happened? Well, kind of.

I woke up the next day unscathed, and the day after that, too. No one broke in again. No one could, it was like Alcatraz on 71st Street. 

When I was married, I don’t recall feeling any more or less safe than I do now. I used to check all those doors and windows each night before going to bed, too, and turn on the alarm. It is not good to feel at risk in your own home. I felt bad for the woman and her dog.


Nadya, Shmadya

What is the difference between a woman who chooses to have 14 babies and raise them alone and a woman who chooses to have two babies and winds up having to raise them alone? Babies aside, the former decision is ill-advised. When Nadya Suleman chose to have the 14 babies, she was in no position, objectively, to care for, shelter and feed them properly, no matter how purposeful she felt as a mother. Now, having been given nurses, cribs, housing, food and apparently, manicures, by people who feel compelled to “help the babies,” the babies are in no better position to be cared for by their mother. What these kind people have done is create an orphanage in a private home, one with a thousand square feet more than Nadya’s previous one, not to mention Starbucks coffee.

It is too bad the generous people couldn’t add seven more mothers to the house. If they had given me a thousand more square feet, or extra cash each month, or gas for a year to drive to soccer games and dance lessons, I would be most thankful, and frankly, I would be as deserving. There are more than 10 million single mothers in the United States. Some become single mothers because their decisions, like Nadya’s, were foolish. Some become single mothers for other reasons. I did not intend to become a single mother; most women like me didn’t intend to, either. Most of us do not have 14 children. Most of us get no help. Most would appreciate a babysitter for two hours a month, let alone a staff around the clock.

Two babies deserve as much as 14 babies. It is not about the babies.


On the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game yesterday, three young boys were playing a game of “Star Wars.” I don’t know exactly what the game involved, but one of them had a flashlight and there was some mention of “protecting” people. “You go protect your mom,” one said to another, maybe five years old. Then, the one who issued the order, who was about six, brought the other boy to meet his own mother. “This is my friend, Mom,” he said. Very cute. Very nice.

A third child tagged along. He was no more than four, with a blond crew cut and shirt that spelled something about an all-star team.

“You can protect your mom, too,” the older one told him.

“My mom’s not here,” the little one said.

“Okay. Protect your dad.”

“I don’t have a dad,” he said, as if he was describing a shoelace. My first thought was that the man died. Then I wondered who brought him to the game. “He’s in jail,” the child said.

The other kid didn’t ask what the man did to be sent to jail. I would have thought a six year old would ask. I wondered why the boy thought his dad was dead, when he was living. Maybe he did something terrible, and the mom told her son that his dad was dead. Maybe he was, in fact, dead, or died in jail, and the four year old got his facts wrong. It was all very disturbing, to me, anyway. The boy didn’t seem distressed, at least, not yesterday. They didn’t figure out who the child was going to protect, so he just ran along side the older one, the leader’s assistant. He was fortunate to have found a good leader, I thought.