Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tummy Mommy

Right before Thanksgiving, Rebecca's birthmom Mallory came to town with her mom Kelly, husband Mark, and best friend Becky. We had a great visit over four days -- no drama, we're all really easy with each other at this point. One complicated thing did happen, though. Bebe's talking now, and she had to come up with a name for Mallory.

I was the one who decided on "Tummy Mommy." Mallory herself seemed okay with "Mallory," though she tends to refer to herself as "Mom" in letters and gifts to Bebe. We've talked about this and emailed about it; though it's hard for both of us to share the glorious and exclusive title "Mom," we agree that it's reality -- Bebe has two moms, a birthmom and an everyday mom, and that's what we're going to teach her. But there does need to be a distinction between us -- we're two different kinds of mom. So one day during the visit while I was changing Bebe's diaper, I discussed this with my darling tiny one.

"What would you like to call Mallory?" I said.

"Mallo...mommo...." she said.

"How about birthmommy?"

She gave that a try. Didn't really come out right.

"You could call her Mallory."

"Mall....maaa...," couldn't get her tongue around that "L."

"Well, how about Tummy Mommy?"

The name immediately tripped off Bebe's tongue. Is it the primal connection those dreaded anti-adoption theorists talk about -- does she understand, at not quite two, that she came from this woman's insides? Or js it just the fact that "T" is easier than "B" or "L"? The fact is, when my pal Nick visited a few days later, she got hold of his name -- "Nicky, Nicky!! -- and was chanting it like he was a member of *NSync within fifteen minutes.

Anyway, it worked. Tummy Mommy was (re)born.

Mallory loved it, and everybody else thought it was cute. Only after I heard Bebe say it for the thousandth time during the visit, and also afterwards, did I feel a twinge of regret. Perhaps helping her choose a term for her birthmom that highlights the very thing I feel the most horrible about -- her fertility, my infertility -- was a mistake.

I love Bebe like nothing and no one else (sorry Eric, it's not better, it's DIFFERENT), but the fact that I am not her Tummy Mommy, or anyone's, will sting 'til the day I die. And now I have to deal with her wandering around the house saying "Tummy Mommy" when she sees something that reminds her of Mallory.

The social workers say this about open adoption: "You're doing the work now for your child, so she won't have to do it later." I believe that. But full disclosure can be a bitch. How do I retrain my brain to welcome non-hierarchical thinking? Not better, different. That's my mantra.

In my heart I know that sharing this "mom" role is not just the only possibility, it's the best one for Bebe, and for me. I am not good at lying. I like to expose my faults and shortcomings and discuss them with others; I'm a sucker for group hugs. I've only kept one or two secrets ever, and they're not about me. To pretend I'm a Tummy Mommy would be to torture myself even more.

Still, I wish. I want to put that wish behind me. "Tummy Mommy" playing in the background like a Beatles song, sticking in my head, emanating from the mouth of the child I am loving and raising every night and day, forces me to accept the fact that, like all humans but in my own particular agonizing way, I'm imperfect, incomplete, fucked up. And that our family has to build its magic circle in a way that a lot of families don't.

Today Bebe said her first sentence: "Tummy Mommy went far away." She looked oddly happy when she said it, I think because she was just proud of herself for stringing together that many words in a coherent order. Later, she said the neighbor's cat looked sad. Oh, dear. I can feel years of my projecting feelings onto her that she may or may not have, starting right about now.

Mallory's back in two weeks for Bebe's birthday. We're all in this together, thank goodness. "Tummy Mommy," the name and the person, is here to stay, and though it can be tough, I'm preparing for the next round in this lifelong process of fitting together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

country is the new shakira

Video synchronicity at the gym:

CMT and VH1 playing adjacent on the wall o' tubes in front of the elliptical machine. On the V, the new Goo Goo Dolls ballad: slightly puffy, too-old-for-his-haircut Johnny Rzeznik emotes disappointment and hope while two children wander plaintively about. On the other, Rascal Flatts: fully puffy, in fact too-puffy-for-his-haircut Gary LeVox emotes ibid. while two high schoolers wander plaintively through a tough scenario. Switch to the next video: on VH1 Shakira rubs her boy's naked torso while railing about how he dumped her and she's gonna get him; on CMT, Billy Currington gets his naked torso rubbed by some model while cooing about how he must have done something right. This ten minutes was the image mash-up from hell, convincing me once again that archetypes eat everything.

Addendum: that damn Rascal Flatts video gave me one of those extremely irritating Kodak commecial moments, where you find yourself choking up with tears at the most manipulative sentimental trigger ever. Gotta hand it to that vid director: the cancer-victim prom pick-up, in which boyfriend reveals he's shaved his head to match his chemo sweetie, hits a new level of maudlin. Country's still good for somethin' I guess....

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Stop already

Just have to register my irritation about the "Modern Love" column in Today's NY Times. Yet another piece about "our screwed-up adopted child." I know that screwed up adopted kids exist, but the fact that only these stories get told in the mainstream press increases the stigma about adoption and cause aparents and akids undue anxiety. Did anybody ever consider that maybe one reason some adopted kids have problems is because they're made to feel freakish and problematic in a society that, despite the total fragmentation of the nuclear family, still clings to a semblance of bio-normality? I am sorry that the father who wrote the piece had such a hard time with his a-kid. (He had two b-kids too.) And (I can hear your objections) of course he has a right to share his story. But give us those other stories too, the boring ones of health and happiness.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Quick poignancy

I am buried under a pile of mismanaged assignments. But I had to share this, even if it means more love for the ubiquitous Joan Didion. Heard her on the radio yesterday and she was talking about the physical symptoms of grief. She said loss of appetite and lots of vomiting were a big part of it for her. But the sweet part was when she said that the only thing she could eat for a long time after John G.D. died was congee -- brought to her from Chinatown by her fellow recent widow(er) Calvin Trillin. Now that is some real-life tearjerker scene.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

DT's: Self-Help; Song: Casimir Pulaski Day

So I'm over at my mom's with Bebe, and I notice she has a copy of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" hidden amidst the old issues of Reader's Digest and grandkids' drawings crowding her coffee table.

"Mom," I say, "are bad things happening to you?"

"Oh no," she replies. "I've just known abut that book for a long time. And you know, I've always wondered, why do bad things happen to good people? And what do people do when they do happen?"

That's my mom. Like me, a connoisseur of problems.

I love a good self-help book. I don't even mind mediocre ones. Their narrative pull is so triumphant. The self-help author, whether scientist, person of the cloth, or somewhere in between, is really a soothsayer. She regards the crises of the millions and maps alternate futures for anyone willing to play her Tarot game. For example -- you've been dumped, but if a healing deep relaxation session crowns you, and a confrontation with your bad adolescence is behind you, and ten weeks of Pilates is before you, then your final outcome will be true love. Or a loved one has died, but if some ritual grieving's in your past, a hug from your kid's on your agenda, and a reiki session's scheduled for next week, you will experience renewal. Make your plan and it will add up to something, say the books -- which is not always what life says, of course. The talented self-help writer lays out the cards in a variety of ways, to accomodate the twists and turns of people's willpower and circumstance, but the outcomes are always enriching, if not immediately joyful. The whole genre is very likely a total load of bull, but what an emboldened load of bull it is.

Life itself can be much crueler than our minds easily accept. Sufjan Stevens' song "Casimir Pulaski Day" evokes the awesomeness of random tragedy. A Christian girl gets sick and dies, and a Christian boy tries to figure out what he and God have to do with it. Stevens' choirboy whisper suits this story perfectly: equal parts glamor and humility. I love it at the end, after he's thanked Jesus for giving his all in that abstract sense (that mythos of ancient sacrifice), when he mutters the weight of his own human burden under his young-boy breath: "and He takes and He takes and He takes." That's Christianity to me -- life's real losses made bearable by willfull acceptance of the distant idea of a bigger, better sacrifice.

Parental moment: Halloween. Bebe did not want to wear her dinosaur head, even though she'd picked it out from the Goodwill. So for a minute she was a bunny (thanks to her aunt Cindy, who has a closet-full of costumes), then a witchy, then just a chocolate covered kid. Her total lack of interest in trick-or-treating reminded me of how much early parenting is really about the parents' desires, not the kid's.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Tad More Feministing

A coupla folks (including a commentator here) have pointed out that Maureen Dowd's Mag essay actually ends up kinda condemning those young post-feminists in a sort of defense of feminist values. I don't doubt that Dowd thinks of herself as a feminist, but what I see here is this (apologies to girlgroup members, who've seen this post there already):

I see the attitude Dowd and many others have recently copped as part of an ascendant fatalistic anti-feminism. The NY Times seems particularly prone to this kind of analysis. The gist tends to be: feminism would have been great, but it doesn't satisfy certain primal needs in men and women -- needs that fulfill gender stereotypes -- so despite the fact that it will destroy their lives, young upper-middle-class women are rejecting it (writes older reporter). Come to think of it, feminism never was sexy-maternal-fatalistic enough, so really it's feminism's fault. Too bad.

Okay. Enough for now about the power ladies. Maybe I should save some energy for getting out there and marching when Alito helps revoke Roe.