Kick Ass Mama

I have a deep and strange love of kung fu. I’ve just started studying again, after a four year break to have my two children. I have been back to kung fu for 1 month now. And, here’s what I’ve discovered – you should not mess with a woman who has given birth.

I started studying kung fu when I was in my early 20’s. I was the weakest link in my class; my classmates cheered the first day I was able to do 20 push-ups. They had all done the required 100 the year before. I did break someone’s glasses once, but only because he stepped the wrong way when I punched him (poor big-ego boy). Over the years, I developed good skills, though I never got very strong.

Then, I took a break to have kids. My first birth was scary. Labor was only two hours, and very intense. There was an asshole doctor and a midwife in serious need of assertiveness training. I spent 3 hours of being stitched with no painkiller, fantasizing about kicking the doctor in the head (he was, after all, right between my legs), but the proximity of his needle to my most sensitive zones deterred me. Wicked pain, yes, but I survived, and learned a little about assertiveness.

My second birth was everything we didn’t expect. Rather than being even faster than the first, it required 8 hours on pitocin (a labor inducer) to happen. It HURT. It lasted what seemed like forever, and I couldn’t have made it a single second longer than I did without medication.

The room was full to the brimming with supportive friends and childbirth helpers. This is important. There were WITNESSES, and lots of them. They were reverent, supportive, calming, and utterly silent in the moment’s of my son’s birth. Since that time, they have all spoken to me about what they saw, and how they experienced my strength.

When my son reached 6 months old, I was desperate to study kung fu again. I found a teacher and a school, and I get to go (a measly) two times per week. In those few hours per week when I am in kung fu class, I am a changed woman. Where I used to punch, and feel pain in my hand, I now punch and see the punching bag (full body size and weight) jerk backward. Where I used to kick and see flexibility, I now kick and see the bag actually lift off the ground. I feel superpowered.

Am I really superpowered? I don’t think so. I’m sure the folks in my class are still stronger than me. I’m not a muscular person, and I don’t think childbirth has changed that. But, the other day I had my first two hour class. After an hour, I thought I wasn’t going to make it. I was fatigued, and thirsty, and thinking of my babes at home waiting for me. But then, I thought, ‘I built and birthed two babies. This is nothing compared to that. Bring it on!’ I kicked harder, I punched harder, I moved faster. I made it through the second hour with finesse.

Now, when I’m getting weary in class, I not only think about my children, but I also think about my friends who have built babies. We are invincible. Take my friend who built two nearly 8 pound babies at once, and birthed them vaginally with half an epidural. Don’t mess with her. And my friend who birthed her second child in her shower – accidentally – with only her partner in attendance. And my friend who arrived at the hospital minutes before her child’s birth, and who walked right past triage and gave orders (that were followed) to all medical personnel in the area. And my friend who carried a child in her belly for 9 months and found it so easy she was nonchalant (until the home birth, in which she cussed a lot and demonstrated phenomenal strength). And, none of my friends are the exception (well, okay, exceptional in some of the details); every person you meet was built and birthed by a woman. Every mother you meet is super-powered.

Don’t mess with me. Not only do I have the power to build a person, but now I’m also conscious of what kind of strength it takes to do that. My body can do and take more than I ever imagined possible before I had children.

Many people say that you quickly forget the pain of childbirth because “the end result is so worth it.” I don’t want to forget. I won’t forget. And, when I look at other mothers, I’ll remember then, too.

And, if you’re a nasty, evil person, beware – the next person you try to victimize may be a Mama, like me.

Dear Husband

why does it have to be so very hard to leave the house? i’m going to use disposable diapers, just for today, since the diaper bag is already packed. don’t you think our new kitchen will hold one of those fancy restaurant ovens? the freezer was open all night. i’m really tired and woke up with a headache again. and, we’re running to late to advertise for a mother’s helper. what’s wrong with that picture? why is it all like this?

your “wife”

Dear “wife”,

I love you. Hang in there. Things will get better.

Yes our new kitchen will hold one of those restarurant-style ovens. I’ll order one today.

Are you worried at all about having so many headaches? Is it stress?

It is all like this because we are trying to do things the right way in a world that only knows wrong ways. This makes the right ways much harder.

Life would be easier if you dropped out of school and devoted all of your time to cleaning the house and taking care of the kids. I’ll take night school courses in Business Admin and get an MBA in a couple of years.

After working my way up the corporate ladder either at Scripps or Procter & Gamble, I will start having an affair with some bimbo at the office because the life I decided to lead turned out to rob me completely of my soul. You won’t care too much because you will have already decided that I’m a total asshole.

After trying for a couple more months to socialize with our real friends (the ones with passion, and values, and vision),
you will have determined that it is too much work and that PTA shit only takes a couple of hours a month. You will meet some other mainstream moms there and take up smoking because there’s no reason not to. The only social life you will have will be comparing which stores have the best prices.

You will soon forget entirely that you once had a personality and passion.
You will get drunk at lunch one day with one of the other soccer moms and tell her that you used to call yourself a witch. She won’t really know if you are serious but will laugh uncomfortably anyway. At least you don’t have to worry about the environment any more: Your minivan getts pretty good mileage.

We will continue to have sex every once in a while, but only because if we don’t want the other to realize that we don’t really like them very much anymore. One bonus: It will continue to feel good to have an orgasm. The guilt and self loathing comes after, but during the actual orgasm things will seem pretty good.

So hang in there. Things are really going pretty well. Now, if we can just figure out how to stop spending money…

Your “Husband”

The Power of Poop

Yeah, so, this is not a topic I thought I’d ever write about. Nope, not me. I come from a family in which poop didn’t happen. The closest we got was the vague reference to Dad’s need to “read the paper” when he got home from work. None of the rest of us pooped. Really.

This made poop a particularly huge revelation for me as a parent: poop can be the single most depressing thing in the world or make you laugh so hard you cry. Who knew?

For instance, yesterday I cleaned mouse poop out of our silverware drawer (those electronic high-pitched deterrent mechanisms are apparently a huge joke), cleaned a pooping accident by a 3-year old off the bathroom floor, and changed five poopy 7-month old diapers. All before 10am. Yep. It was a crappy day.

A dear friend with whom I trade childcare had a 3 year old with a diarrhea virus. After four days of diarrhea, her daughter had a normal poop. They danced and sang through their house, because a non-diarrhea poop meant that my daughter could come over to play again. The news prompted a “Yeah Poop” song and dance in my house, too. After all, the benefits of that good poop extended to our family!

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, confused about a sensation on my stomach and hand. I couldn’t figure it out, so I turned on the light. Ah, yes. My clever son had removed his diaper (wouldn?t want to get it dirty, after all), and pooped all over the bed (read: me). The source of my confusion was the chunks of carrots. The introduction of solid foods adds a whole new level of pooping adventures.

Then, there is a toddler’s fascination with poop and everything surrounding it. By age 2, my daughter could recite for you (or any other unwilling stranger), “The food goes in my mouth, into my throat, to my stomach, then out my bottom. It makes poop!” After a particularly stressful and haphazard trip to the east coast for the holidays, my daughter found herself unable to poop. It became a regular topic of conversation, “Mama, beans make good poop. So does salad. Does cheese make good poop?” You should have seen the Yeah Poop dance that followed those several days!

And, then, there’s just the great storytelling that arises out of poop. There’s the children’s book Everyone Poops (by Taro Gomi) that examines the pooping habits of many creatures under the sun. There’s our friend’s daughter who used to name each poop and say good-bye to it before she flushed. And, there’s the carrot story I just told you that will go down in the “stories to tell on your son’s first date” file.

Yeah, it’s a poop universe out there. And, look at me, I just can’t seem to stop talking about it. Happy pooping to you, one and all!

Thanks for the Minstrel Show

I’m sitting at work, watching Diane and Charlie on Good Morning America learn a new dance called the “Harlem Shuffle.”

Perfect timing. I caught some of Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary on PBS last night. The segment I saw was about the rise of “hard bop” pioneered by drummer Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers in the ’50s and ’60s. Blakey, and pianist Horace Silver, started a “University” at Birdland in Harlem that graduated such musicians as Donald Byrd, Johnny Griffin, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Chuck Mangione, Woody Shaw, JoAnne Brackcen, and Wynton Marsalis.

One of Blakey’s primary motivations for inventing this new form of modern jazz was to create something that white people could not steal. His idea was that he could create a form of music so “Black” in heart, soul, and swing, that white people would not be able to appropriate it (as they have with most other Black styles) without it looking like a minstrel show.

So now I have Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson jerking their bodies along with a couple of kids from the Harlem Dance Performers, looking like a couple of, well, boring white people at their highschool reunion. Nice, guys. Totally excellent minstrel show you treated me to. No really…thanks.

Cincinnati’s Dirty Laundry

So the basic point of living in Cincinnati seems to be to teach us a lesson. Having lived our lives before we met more-or-less surrounded by people we loved and with whom we shared basic principles, we relocated together to Cincinnati. She for school and I for her. Both of us to learn something.

The tiny apartment on campus was ok for a few minutes, but we got out as soon as the lease ended and moved into a much more grown up neighborhood near a park and a few generally quiet fraternity houses. After a year there we moved to a bigger place to have a baby, and from there, to a house. The one thing these apartments had in common was a small or nonexistent laundry room.

We laundered out. This is where we met Cincinnati.

I now believe that you can never really know a place until you’ve washed your clothes in public. People who move to a new town and immediately get a house with their own washer and dryer will never really belong to, or understand, a community. Those of us who have spent months looking for that perfect Laundromat are able to learn more of the character of a town than could otherwise be learned in years.

The first Laundromat we found was a little hole in the ground half a block up the street. I don’t think it even had a sign. It was only the smell of drying clothes that tipped us off. Wedged between two row houses, it was a small, dark place with about six machines. The lids were rusted around the hinges and no matter how many quarters you plugged into the dryers your clothes never seemed to loose that almost-wet, almost-dry kind of dankness. After a month or so the place just up and disappeared. We were not surprised.

We found another place a few streets away. This one was much nicer. A friendly woman ran the place and always had change. If you ever left you clothes too long in a machine she would move them for you. She lived nearby and her grandchildren came to play with her on weekends. It must have been six months that we cleaned our clothes there. I don’t remember exactly why we stopped going there, but we did. Sometimes it’s just time to move on. Perhaps we’d already learned what that Laundromat had to teach us. We went back once or twice, but it didn’t feel the same. It didn’t feel like we belonged. Not like it used to.

No place after that was quite right. Some, in fact, were quite wrong.

There was the one that was several miles away and kind of a pain to get to that had lots of machines. It was fine, but after several trips it was just too far.

There was the Laundromat/night club where we went only one time. We got home and all of our clean clothes smelled like old cigarette smoke and stale beer.

There was the evil little place too, where as soon as we had filled four machines and started the wash cycles, the crotchety old folks in back started talking in conversational tones about the “ni**ers.”

This one was important. It was in a town called _______: a tiny city surrounded by Cincinnati. A little island of ignorance in a sea of intolerance. People like these scared and repulsed us. I knew people like this existed, I had just never been this close to them. It was, as if, after a lifetime of visiting zoos and reading National Geographic Magazine, we suddenly found ourselves stranded in the middle of the African savanna. There was nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. The damn laundry cycle had just started. We couldn’t very well take our soaking wet, soapy laundry out and just leave. That would draw their attention. Attention can be dangerous in a place like this.

So we waited it out. We sat on the other side of the room and tried really hard to seem completely engrossed in…well, in anything at all really. We waited it out and as soon as the laundry was dry, we split. No folding. We just piled the clothes in our basket and fled.

_______ was one place we would never return to. This Laundromat; this center of energy; this place where a neighborhood goes to clean out it’s dirt; this Laundromat was itself so dirty that we could only imagine how soiled the community would be.

Two months later we moved to an apartment with nice new machines in the basement and our Laundromat days in Cincinnati, for the most part, ended. We had learned a lot about out new home. We new which areas were unpredictable and transient, which were family-friendly, which were this and which were that. It was time to settle down.

We got pregnant a few months later and started looking for a bigger place to rent. It had crappy machines in the basement but they were free. A year passed, our daughter was born, and we decided to buy a house. Should we have been surprised when the landlord screwed us out of our deposit? Hell no: The laundry machines were pieces of crap.

When we were trying to get pregnant we were very conscious that the Universe had a way of giving you less what you want than what you need: Parents tend to get children who can teach them something. Rarely, do people get a child who embodies their own strengths and values. More often, they get one who will challenge them.

We forgot this about the Universe when we went house hunting.

I cannot remember the exact moment that we realized that the Universe may have the same thing in mind for us in terms of finding a house that it usually does in giving out babies. Not the exact moment, but the exact day for sure. It was the day that our realtor called and said “I know you said you weren’t interested in living in _______, but there is one place I think you should look at.”

So here is what I know:

The Universe is consistent and has a remarkably tuned sense of humor.