Eye Contact *** GUEST POST****

This is a guest post from my wonderful husband Brian, aka Dad in Madtown.  Enjoy!

Lately I’ve been realizing that I have not been making eye contact with people for likely my whole life. Now that I have a son, I am trying to better myself on all fronts, or at the very least, recognize my faults so I can help him avoid those faults in his own life. “Always look eye,” said the late great Mr. Miyagi. In turn, I’ve been trying to work on it. The toughest part is actually just remembering to do it but I guess that’s true with anything. This eye contact thing doesn’t come naturally to me. I understand some of the reasons why it makes sense to look someone in the eye. Namely, it’s a trust thing. If you’re not looking people in the eye they think you’re hiding something. Understandable. What do they think you’re hiding? Well likely that you are a terrible person that is ashamed of their life and can’t even face the 7-11 clerk without having his world of depravity reflected back in the disapproving eyes of those in front of him. Something to that effect I imagine. Fortunately for me, I think it was that my Mom never looks people in they eye and I wasn’t brought up that way so I don’t. Either way, I’m working on it now.

What I’ve started to realize is that perhaps all situations do not call for looking people in the eye. It is very nuanced. The clerk at the Starbucks is probably the easiest place to do it and even that has its’ subtleties. I guess people that make eye contact naturally just know when it is and is not appropriate to start and stop so as I said, I’m working on it. When she’s talking to me, clearly I should be looking her in the eye. But when she is counting out my change, where do I look then? Do I cast my eyes where her eyes will be when she is done and have my eyes wait for her. Do I bend down and look in her eyes (obviously not), do I pretend to be looking elsewhere during this time then bring my gaze back when she hands me my $2.32? That is a timing thing and I guess will just come with practice. I’ve heard of these corporate executives that have these life coach people that basically practice skills like interviewing people, firing people, talking in meetings, presenting, etc. that give them advice on how to act in public and private situations. Maybe I need one of these people or perhaps just a psychiatrist. I have seen personal progress though. The other day at Panera, the woman diverted her eyes from me first, I saw that as a win.

Distance and environment are also two areas that affect proper and socially acceptable eye contact. I went on a walk the other morning and of course was working on my eye contact. I was on a nature path where I encountered my first fellow human. She was walking two dogs and you could just tell she was a happy, cheery lady and I raised my head high, made eye contact and gave a booming “Good morning!” She returned as enthusiastically and all was well in the world. What a nice human-human interaction. I continued walking, now on the street, and the sanitation truck turned a corner in front of me and started coming my way. I gazed up at the man who indeed did make eye contact back and I am almost positive he hurled a derogatory term for an effeminate man in Spanish at me with a condescending laugh. Another human-human interaction. Not so positive. Perhaps you don’t look at sanitation workers or maybe because he was whizzing by he didn’t care or maybe he didn’t think I knew any Spanish or maybe he was just an asshole. Either way, I guess it’s all part of the game. I take my son out on a lot of walks in the woods. As a general rule, I try to say hello to people I pass (now with special attention to eye contact.) Some people say hi back, others don’t, that’s just the way it is. I impart to my son that we always take the high road and say hello regardless of how many people don’t respond. I would not tell him this regarding passing garbage men so maybe that’s a good yardstick.

The last humanoid I encountered on my walk kind of put this all into perspective. I was almost home from my walk and a woman came marching up a side street perpendicular to my path. She was walking 3 enormous strong dogs and really had her hands full. I was kind of tired at this point and perhaps was subconsciously reeling from my Spanish insult so I kind of gave half-hearted eye contact and smile at this woman crossing my path. She gave me a half dirty look and pulled her dogs that were trying to sniff at me in the opposite direction of me. As she was crossing the street she addressed her dogs and said these words to them: “Look forward and only pay attention to yourself.” She was saying this to the dogs as much as she was saying it to me (in my mind anyhow). I reflected on these words on my way home. This interaction actually just made me smile. It made me smile because, yeah, that’s how I was brought up to think. Just mind your own business. Other people are at worst danger, at best, annoying. Just go about your day and get done what you need to get done. And here I was consciously trying to put myself out in this way even with a small gesture and was greeted 2 out of 3 times with some form of aggression. But does that mean I should stop? Be discouraged? Let the aggressors rule my behavior? Hell no it shouldn’t. Of course, I have a-ways to go in learning the conventions of an eye contact life that may have prevented some of these aggressors form responding the way they did, but I will continue to work on it and teach my son, probably unconsciously, how to behave in this way. So if you see a weirdo giving you the side-eye at Denny’s, it may be some schmo like me or perhaps he is a guy wearing a rubber diaper and you should indeed look forward pay attention to yourself.

An Open Letter to Everyone Telling Me to Have a Second Child

Dear Mom, husband’s Mom, my sister’s husband’s Mom, friend of Mom from Jazzercise I barely know, other Mom at drop-off, neighbor across the street, Priest at neighbor’s baptism, friend from college, friend from work, lady at the fifth-floor reception desk at work, guy at the pizza place, security guard at the library, and whomever else this may concern:

Despite your constant questioning on the matter, I’m not having another child. I didn’t have a crazy scary birth situation. It wouldn’t be medically dangerous to do so. I didn’t just injure myself and can no longer work outside the home. We aren’t declaring bankruptcy or getting divorced. I just want one kid.

I’ve seen parts of that movie that Cameron Diaz made during her ill-advised “serious-actress” phase where she had a second kid to give the first kid an organ. Is that what you’re thinking here?

Oh, you just probably think I’m selfish. Perhaps. If being selfish involves me working hard all week to support my family. Selfish by spending hours commuting to said work, and then actually having a little bit of time to play with my son. Selfish to eat a dinner that’s not cold or consists of cut-up bits of food from his highchair tray and selfish to want to speak to my husband before my brain has 100% liquefied for the day. Then maybe so. Oh, wait, I also want to go to the gym a whole 2 days a week, see a friend or two a month and get my hair cut very rarely. Gosh darn it, us ladies can have it all – with one kid. Maybe I think I’m selfish now too.

You think he might not have anyone to play with? If he had a sibling, they might not even want to play together or be totally different kids. One could be a car kid, and the other, one of those adorably annoying creative kids who always wants to put on a play in the yard. Yeah, I’m slightly uncomfortable with Thomas the Tank Engine’s face, but still, shouldn’t I be playing with my son? I’ve heard I only have a few years of him even wanting to be around family so I feel like I need to take full advantage of all this playing and not defer the responsibility to some second imaginary sibling. I’ll even let him pick on me a little to get the feeling of being a big brother. Also, last time I checked, playing with my son was one of the great joys in life and could infuse mine with a little more meaning.

“But what about when I die?” you’re probably wondering. Yes, it is pretty selfish to not have a second child so my son has someone to help with my funeral arrangements. On the other hand, I do have his whole lifetime to instill in him, and only him, the values of friendship, the value of family and how to foster a loving, supportive relationship with a partner. I sincerely hope in the next 50 or so years he’ll pick up a little of that. Heck, if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll even get one of those life insurance policies I’ve seen advertised on daytime tv when I’m selfishly home from work taking care of my sick son. It’s probably cheaper than having a second kid, anyhow.

“Wouldn’t I love more cuteness?” you ask.   Yes, my boy is cute. He’s precious and lovely and sweet. He’s a cherub from a painting in an Italian cathedral. Only better because he’s wearing normal clothing that looks like a mini-version of a man’s clothes. I’ve heard people talk of this mold-breaking, and I think that’s probably what happened after I birthed him. I’m not really a gambling gal and I’d rather not roll the dice on that one.

“But wouldn’t you want to try for a little girl?” I know what it’s like to have a girl in the family. She’s me, and I’m sick of her. I don’t need another version. Oh, wait, I have another version – my sister – and she’s already slightly better than me. I knew her as a little kid and there are a few photos still lying around, so that satisfies that.

“Don’t you think he’ll be spoiled?” you ask? I mean, I kind of hope he is. If I have two kids, no one has a chance of getting spoiled. I’ll be too busy saving all our pennies for two college educations and breaking up knife fights in the yard. I’m still going to parent my son. That’s my job – to set limits, reward good behavior, teach him how to be a functioning adult, and how not to completely lose his mind every time he walks into the Disney store.

At the end of the day, one child is manageable for my family. And that’s what we choose. End of story. I really, really appreciate your concern but I’m going to keep on loving my one and only precious little boy and raise him exactly as I see fit.

Love and snuggles,

Danielle

P.S. Don’t say “one and done” now. It’s embarrassing.

He Wasn’t Supposed to Be A Boy

When I found out I was having a boy, I burst into tears. I opened the envelope that was in my purse all day, and read the words, “I’m a boy”.  I had an instantaneous, uncontrollable response.  I sobbed as though someone had died. It was deep and visceral, and I know it was ugly.  And in retrospect, it was horrible.  And totally wrong.

Before that day, I just knew I was having a girl.  At least I thought.  A few weeks in, the ultrasound tech actually asked if I wanted her educated guess on what I was having.  She told me that all signs point to a girl, and if she was a gambling lady, she’d put it all on female.  There was some vague scientific evidence to back that up, but I honestly didn’t hear a word after that.  I was already day-dreaming of her frilly pink nursery, her little tights and dresses, baking cookies, making scrapbooks, and all the fun pearl-wearing tea parties we’d have.

Fast forward to my 20th week appointment.  My husband wasn’t able to make it to the ultrasound that day, and this was the THE DAY – the one where we were told the gender. And no, I’m not one of those maniacs who “wanted to be surprised” because there are actually way too many surprises in life, and I’d like to get some sense of how I would be spending a huge portion of the next 18 plus years.  And that was being a mommy to a little girl; it was the only thing that made sense.

I read the word BOY and in an instant, all my mother daughter spa-day dreams were slashed before they even began.  I was doomed to a decade or two of baseball games, stinky socks, zero gossip, and one-word answers.

Moms are not supposed to cry about the gender of their children.  They’re supposed to say, “Oh, I don’t care as long as they’re healthy.”  I don’t believe anyone doesn’t care. That’s just the first thing we say to look like selfless mothers. It’s the first transition into traditional motherhood – pretending like we have zero desires of our own and are put on the Earth to raise babies.

But I wasn’t a mom quite yet.  I was carrying him around and growing him in my womb so I was still allowed to be selfish at that moment.  My husband told me to feel my feelings, get it out, and then move on.  Quickly.

In a last ditch effort, at my next appointment, I told the tech I didn’t believe her and needed to see for myself.  And yes, I saw his little baby penis floating around right up there on the screen with my own two eyes.  But by that point, it didn’t matter.  There was my baby boy, floating around in there. I was a boy mom.  There was literally nothing I could do to change this – nature makes the choice for us, we get what we get.  And now, two years later, I wouldn’t change him if I could.  It seems completely absurd that I cried over not having a daughter.

I realized that day that this was among the first of many, many, many things I would have no control over.  Life is not perfect, and now that I have a child, I know things certainly don’t always go the way that I planned.  I planned on having a girl. “Screw you, Danielle”, said the universe, “you have no control”.   However, the universe did give me something perfect – my amazing son – and I didn’t even realize at the time because I was too busy crying over the daughter I was never going to have.

A boy seemed so alien to me.  I wondered what do mothers and sons even do together.  Where do they go?  What do they talk about?  My husband pulled me out of this.  He said, “He’ll do whatever you do, he’ll just want to be with you. I went to craft fairs with my mother.”   He just wants to be with me.  Simple enough.

He’s my boy.  He loves me.  He runs to the door when I come home and when he says “mommy” it melts my heart – every single day.  I get excited to buy him dinosaurs, pirate ships, and remote controlled cars.   Because I know they’ll make him happy.  And guess what?  He makes muffins with me and we color and I know he’ll love crafts.  I helped him to hit a softball off a tee and shed a tear with pride when he made contact by himself.

I can focus on my own clothes, and “she” would have hated shopping just as much as he does.  I bet those little tights are a bitch to put on and I never liked tea parties much anyway.

People You Don’t Meet in The Suburbs

No one has Supers in the suburbs.  I’m not sure anyone in my neighborhood knows what a Super is.  They probably all lived in the city at one time or another, but have had to had most of their memory erased so they can endure extremely sub-par bagels, banal conversations about boats, and wearing the same dreary, yet doubtless expensive “mommy uniform” around town.  Regardless, they do not remember ever having a Super, trust me.  And if they did, no one would talk about it. It’s just not done.

My first ever big-girl apartment was a first floor studio in Astoria, Queens.  Sound glamorous? Well, it was in spitting distance to both an all-night chicken place AND a weird Greek ramshackle gambling parlor – so yes, it was.  My Super was a woman in her 60’s named Dragita.  I’m not sure where she was from, but she knew everyone on the block and would literally yell nonsense at them all day long.  Her most endearing quirk was her way of nonchalantly telling a truly insane anecdote, as innocently as talking about a trip to the grocers.  In my first few weeks of living there, Dragita let me know all about the time her son watched Jesus Christ wrestle the Devil in the alley where we put our recycling.  She also keyed me in to the fact that there are so many one-winged pigeons in the neighborhood because there was a rising population of people practicing Voodoo.

I was a young girl in her 20s living alone in a questionably safe apartment with huge windows on the sidewalk level, so I think she thought I wanted her to look out for me.  In actuality, I’m fairly tough and just wanted to be left alone, but I don’t think she was terribly popular on the block so she and I let her feel like she was looking out for me.  She called me “movie star” and always asked if I was feeling ok.  One time, she offered me a bite right of out the block of cheese she was eating from her hand.  Even after she let me know it was “very expensive, imported from Croatia, ” I still said no.  Though I did appreciate the gesture.

Once I got over the constant fear of some drunken prankster pushing my A/C into my living room/bedroom, I really, really loved that place.  And I do miss Dragita.  She is not the type of person you meet out in the suburbs.

Question with no right answer #4

Should I use this eye cream that I just found in a travel toiletry bag I haven’t used since probably 2013?

On one hand, I wouldn’t let my son use something past the expiration date, so should I have the same standards for myself?

On the other, eye cream is stupidly expensive.  Plus, the sales people who make the little samples for you at Sephora definitely know my face by now.

Musings of a working mom

I am the wife to a stay-at-home Dad. That means not only do I have mom guilt, I have wife guilt. That’s double guilt, and it’s a lot and it results in me just thinking about them both all day long. The whole situation leaves me with a lot of questions that will never get answered.

I wonder what the living room is going to look like when I get home.

Why is this sticky?

Damn this meeting’s running late. Do you think they’ll notice if I just leave?

Why are there 12 plastic golf balls under the radiator?

How many “doctor’s appointments” have we had this past month? I’m tired and need to sleep in.

How many times has my “train been late” this past month? I’m tired and need to sleep in.

Tamara’s in from Philly for the day! I wonder if she can meet me at 7:45am, lunch from 12:15 to 12:28 (I have a 12:30), or a drink at 5:20 to 5:45. Really want to see her, but can’t miss bath time.

When did this rubber ducky get in my purse?

What are they eating for lunch? What am I eating for lunch? Wait, it’s 4:00, should I just skip lunch?

Did I actually tell my husband to turn the slow cooker on? Do I need to tell him to turn things on?

There’s a lot of playing cards around – I see one under the bed, sticking out of a desk drawer… is my two year old learning to play poker?

Are they thinking about me? Are they talking about me?

Does my husband think of me as me when I’m not there? Or just thinking about mommy not being there?

I wonder if anyone can see the Mickey Mouse racecar tattoo through my tights.

A few bits of advice to my pre baby self

No, you don’t look fat in that.  At all.  In fact, why not try a crop top?

Go buy something.  $25 bucks is not at all too much for lipstick and why not get the pricey shoes you really love? Get it all in both colors.

Never complain about being bored.  You will never not have something that needs to be done again.

Go sit at the beach. Maybe don’t even read.  Sit there, stare and do nothing – those kids on the edge of the shore are someone else’s problem.

Nah, don’t set the alarm. (unless you think there’s something charming about hearing alarms, because you’ll never need to set one again.)

Walk out of the house with nothing in your arms.

Who cares that your friend is kind of boring, and invited you out at the last minute to a place you really don’t like?  Last minute plans will vanish from your life.  There’s a chance friends might as well, at least for a while.

Just go to the Pilates class.

10 days is absolutely NOT too much time to take off of work.  And that trip to Amsterdam may seem a little steep right now, but you’d pay triple to have the opportunity to travel without a baby once you have a little baby.  Plus, you have much less luggage now.

Do not tell people how exhausted you are, especially mothers to little kids.  There will come a day when you will not sleep for a full 25 hours. And when you do go to sleep, you can only really nap because you need to feed your child.

Don’t ignore that 3 year old who is smiling and trying to get your attention from a few booths away at Panera.  It doesn’t matter that you’re trying to read the paper and pretending that the coffee is good here.  It goes a long way when you smile back.

Don’t get mad at your mommy friend who cancels at the last minute.  Her baby really is sick.  No matter what’s happening – cough, cold, fever, diarrhea – it’s awful and is disrupting her entire household.  In fact, send that friend a gift.

The only gift new parents want is food.  Send them a decent meal.

You are stronger than you know.  Every time you doubt yourself, know that you will bring something amazing into the world that you will grow, birth, love, nurture and protect.  You are a mother, and you don’t even know it yet.

Smells Like Home

The lights? Impossibly bright.  The music? Blaring pop that’s vaguely familiar, and just a little too upbeat.  The smell? Cloyingly sweet, headache inducing.  The atmosphere? Chaotic and crowded.  How does it all make me feel? Like I just arrived at home.

No, it’s not the house I grew up in, though besides the loud, off-brand pop music, it’s not too far off.  It’s Bath and Body Works, the suburban mall staple that sells soap, candles and no less than 50 different types of lotion.

I worked at Bath and Body Works for about 3 years in high-school, and was even transferred to a Boston area store when I went away to college.  In real-person, normaltown time, that’s like a decade.  I don’t think I ever liked a job more.  It was my first real experience with work, and also with dealing with women outside of my family and school.  It was the first time I was seen as an adult and an employee which was a big growing experience.  I also got to hang at the mall until like 10pm and got a 40% discount on all things Cucumber Melon, so I obviously loved it.

I remember filling out an application and talking to the manager Wendy, who was probably 21 but seemed so mature and cool.  She had curly, blonde hair, wore a white denim jacket, and had a boyfriend Bobby who she was always fighting with.  When she called me to let me know I got the job, I was ecstatic.  It was my favorite store and I loved it, and Wendy loved 16 year old me and life was great.  I loved wearing the red and white checked apron.  I loved when the new schedule came out. I loved the managers prepping us for new fragrance launches and being genuinely excited to open and unpack the boxes when they arrived.  I wanted to tell everyone about the new Sweet Sugarplum Winterberry Blisstastic line that just arrived for Christmas.  I was so happy to work there and to shop there.  I loved talking to the customers.  I loved to work at the register and see what people picked out.  I loved getting pay checks but loved buying things with my discount even more.

Today, on a particularly dreary day in New York City,  which is where I work now in an office because I’m a relatively normal person, I’m walking back from lunch with my friend.  Everything just feels kind of blah.  It’s a Wednesday, it’s Fall, but not pretty Fall, work is boring and I just want to hang with my husband and son. I want a cupcake but don’t want to eat a cupcake because what 36 year old mom who still needs to lose a couple pounds of baby weight goes around eating cupcakes in the middle of the work day like some kind of reckless maniac? And then I see the logo.  There’s a Bath and Body Works here.  And for the first time in years, I walk inside.

Bath and Body Works has many creative ways to sell fragrances with pumpkin in them (Heavenly Pumpkin Latte! Sweet Pumpkin Sugar Cookie! Pumpkin Pecan Fantasy!) none of which smells like real pumpkin, which actually smells vaguely of vomit.  The fact that this all still exists is unbelievably reassuring.  In a world literally gone mad, ladies are still out on their lunch hour clamoring for the buy 2 get 1 free fall scented soaps.  And everything seems just as it should be.  I’m happy and comforted because though all the scents have different names, at the end of the day, Snowflakes in Cashmere is just Brown Sugar and Fig in new packaging, and though I can’t find Sun-Ripened Raspberry, I know I will as long as I keep sniffing around.

And I wonder why I don’t shop here all the time.  Why don’t I just walk in and smell all the candles and test all the body butters?  Well, it’s obviously only something a total creepy weirdo would do, but also I don’t have that much disposable income, and even if I did, how many shower gels does one person need?  Plus, burning candles are really bad for 2 year olds.  I will tell you this – all the ladies in my life are getting huge bags of Bath and Body Works for Christmas.  I just hope they still make the Sweet Sugarplum Winterberry Blisstastic.