Monday, March 25, 2013

A Mamma Looks at Forty

I had one of those big birthdays recently—the one that I recall friends' parents "celebrating" with black balloons and cards featuring tired jokes about going over some hill.

I know many people make a big deal out of milestone birthdays, but mine came and went with a nice dinner and a cake (or two cakes, actually). Now that it's over I feel bittersweet about my decision to pass on a party. Because who doesn't like a good party?

I am really looking forward to celebrating belatedly with a couple of dear old friends on a mini-vacation later this spring.

Aside to said friends: this one did not/will not bear any resemblance to my 25th birthday festivities, which we celebrated together in Marbella, Spain. I promise I will not smoke anything, dance on top of any restaurant furniture or fixtures, or lose track of any foundation garments.

One thing surprised me about turning forty: a shocking number of women friends and acquaintances have asked me how I feel about it. When I say it's all good, they blink at me as if I've given a wrong answer. "I'm dreading it," yet another woman confided just this weekend.

To which I responded, "It beats the alternative."

Aging has its negatives, of course. I have wrinkles on my forehead that drive doctors to recommend Botox, and I have a really bad knee. I miss the stamina my 25-year-old self took for granted. I also miss the metabolic rate my 30-year-old self took for granted. But all told, I'm lucky and healthy.

When I said turning forty beats the alternative, I was thinking of fellow writer Lisa Bonchek Adams. She's living every mom's nightmare: she will not live to see her little kids become big kids, and she writes a compelling, must read blog about her day to day struggle against metastasized breast cancer and the brutal chemo regimen that is buying her time, one week at a time.

Forty isn't a bad age. When you're forty, you're indisputably an adult in everyone's eyes. Fifty maybe the new thirty and all that, but forty has always remained forty. Persons in their forties possess a certain amount of innate gravitas. Other, older adults listen to your opinions and take you seriously, not because you're saying anything different than you did a year or two ago, but because you have, in society's view, earned your stripes. In career terms, you no longer need to drag along someone with gray hair to meetings to be sure your older audience will listen. You've earned your own gray hairs, whether or not the rest of the world can see them.

I suspect this point about gravitas is true even in career sectors such as technology, where youth is prized. What's the first thing that happens when a big investor buys into a hot start up founded by college kids? S/he brings in an adult to run (or at least help run) the show.

Forty is also the age at which I've noticed strangers and casual acquaintances stop badgering women about family size. Of course women in their forties have babies all the time, but the absolute prime baby making years are past and the risks of complications are higher. Most people are smart enough to understand that when a woman in her forties claims her family is done, she means it.

This is categorically untrue when it comes to strangers questioning the family planning decisions of the thirty-something set. I'm still stunned by how many people told me I was "brave" to admit to wanting only one child, and by how many others swore I'd change my mind.

Forty is traditionally a major milestone, because in actuarial terms, most of us are slightly more than half done at forty.  I see the fortieth birthday as a kind of New Year's on steroids: It's a time people take stock, revise bucket lists, set goals. This birthday isn't an occasion to mourn, but rather a reminder to seize the day.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Our Little Grape"

The Little Grape and I would like to take a moment to congratulate the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William on their excellent taste in nicknames for their  baby-to-be  future monarch of the British Empire.

I'd also like to welcome the deluge of inadvertent visitors to my site.

Thank you to alert reader T.K., for bringing this breaking news item to my attention.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rebel with a Cause (three-year-old version)

Tantrums, various experts assure parents, happen when a toddler's emotions run away from her. Your tot cannot deal with anger, fatigue and frustration, and this emotional incapability to process and deal results in the dreaded meltdown. He cannot express himself adequately, so he loses it.

I'm sure, that for the two-year-old set, this wisdom is mostly correct. (Google the word "tantrum" and you will see hundreds of links addressing emotional displays by, roughly, the twenty to twenty-eight month age group.)

The Grape is three and a half, the age where the experts say that tantrums should be a thing of the past. By and large, we're past the classic, out of control crying, flailing jags. What we have now is worse.

The Grape, in his old age, uses the tantrum as a terror tactic.

How do I know this? Because he only throws them in public

Of course the Grape misbehaves at home, but the no holds barred, full-on freak out displays, the ones I fear strangers recording and posting on YouTube, only occur when two conditions are present.

One, the Grape knows he has an audience of adults, and two, he has already expressed some request in acceptable, indeed often polite terms, and received a response not to his liking.

Basically, when he gets denied, and thinks he can sway public opinion to get his way through terror tactics.

His tantrums are epic. I mean day ruining (for me, not him).

Not because he loses his cool, but because he does so in such a calculating way.

I've worked with lawyers. I spent many years in sales. I'm confident that my radar for manipulation is acute. And this kid is a master manipulator.

Yesterday, the Grape complained that he didn't want to go to music. I told him we were going, that it would be fun, that we'd see lots of friends there. He went along with the plan until we got situated in the music room.

Then, the minute the teacher launched into the first song and dance activity, The Grape staged an epic freak out.

The Grape went berserk. Hollered, flailed, thrashed, protested he was too tired (untrue), demanded to go home, screamed in my face.

All the conventional wisdom decrees, thou shalt not give in to tantrums; instead thou shalt remove the child to a quiet place and let the meltdown run its course.

Right. But what if the demand I'm not supposed to give into is a request for relocation? How the heck does removing him not reward a tantrum thrown out of desire to be removed?

I sat in a corner of the music room with the Grape held snug on my lap. Meltdown accelerated. He kicked and whacked at me, and screamed louder.

"Stop pushing me!" and "Stop hurting me!" he hollered, though I was doing neither. Equal measures of frustration and embarrassment eventually drove me to the hall because he was starting to ruin the class for other kids.

Since we're being honest: I felt like screaming back in his face, in the hopes that I'd snap him out of it. Shock him back to his senses, if you will. R. and I have collected anecdotal evidence that this strategy works.

But the Grape knows I won't yell at him in public. I try ignoring, reasoning, and finally a low growl, but none of it works.

I'm sure the other moms could see me seething. We all know that look, the one that says, "Thank God that's not my kid." I got lots of those yesterday afternoon.

Over the next ten minutes, I explained to the Grape that he wasn't going to get to leave because he threw a tantrum, and that if he couldn't behave at music, he would get no dessert and no show. I looked him in his teary eyes and asked repeatedly, if he understood. He regrouped enough to re-join the class for the last fifteen minutes.

He sat quietly and sulked while I did the hokey-pokey with his friends and their moms.

One the way home, he realized he had overplayed his hand. He didn't object when we stopped at the store and I told him no treats. He turned on the charm, amped up the cute. Said he wanted to snuggle and read and play with Lila the Dog and sing her the songs from music class.

I tried to turn the epic fail into a teaching moment. I reminded him that there were no treats and no shows because of his behavior at music. I extracted what Mary Poppins would call a "pie crust promise" to participate and behave during music next week.

I'm cautiously optimistic. I repeat the mantra of frustrated parents everywhere: Tomorrow is another day. Next time will be better.