My nickname is Ado (rhymes with Play Doh). I grew up in Marin County, California, where there are more therapists per square inch than people, lots of hot tubs and divorced orthodontists, vegans, liberals, and people getting in touch with their inner children. I would like to point out that in one of the family photos up there, Raggedy Ann is holding a loaded shotgun. More on my not-so-normal family later.
I have an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco, and a B.A. in English Lit/Writing from a small college that no one has ever heard of. Pre-kids, I worked as a senior technical writer and editor in the software industry and traveled the world doing it, which I loved. I lived and worked for five years in Dublin, Ireland, where I met my husband. We lived in London, moved back to California, and are now living in the Washington DC area. Although I said for years that I would never give up my career to have a baby, to everyone’s surprise, the day Fiona arrived I quit my job as Manager of Technical Publications at a dot-com startup in San Francisco, and presto, I became a stay-at-home mom.
The thing is, it wasn’t so easy.
When we left the hospital I was hit with the kind of blind panic you feel when you are about to have a head-on collision. I had no idea what I was doing. My parents were alcoholics, so I had a limited frame of reference for how to parent. I only knew what not to do. For example:
- Do not teach your children that it’s normal to pour brandy on practically everything edible and then flambé it.
- Do not put Cognac on baby’s gums or in her milk to make her sleep.
- Do not use pliers to remove a child’s loose tooth.
- If your obstetrician says something negative at your child’s birth such as, “God damn it, it’s a girl,” do not write about it in her baby book.
- Do not mow the lawn in open-toed sandals when you are hung-over because there is a high likelihood that you will get your foot stuck in the lawnmower and accidentally chop off your toes, which means that even after she grows up, your child will be unable to tolerate the smell of freshly cut lawn without gagging.
- Do not intentionally seek out ways to embarrass your children in public or at school. They will be embarrassed enough by you without you having to do anything extra.
- When you are with your children at restaurants, it is important to suppress the urge to do a Maori Haka.
Obviously, my list is useless.
All of my friends had their mothers to tell them what to do with a baby, how to burp one, nurse one, what to do for teething, for bedtime routines, when to let go of the maternity pants. They had someone to call in the middle of the night for parenting advice, a fountain of knowledge that could help them through the new-mom brain damage that comes from lack of sleep, post-partum depression, and over-exposure to Baby Mozart—their mothers. Plus they had a lifetime of normal mother-daughter experiences that taught them how to be mothers. I sure-as-shit didn’t. I was in over my head, and I knew it.
When I was six my parents took me to see The Godfather. There weren’t enough seats in the theater, so I had to sit on my own. (I’m pretty sure I wet my pants when that horse’s head came out, but my mother always denied this.) Through the years, as it became clear to me that it wasn’t normal for parents to take a young child—a habitual bed wetter—to see The Godfather, I’d ask my mother what she was thinking. She would laugh it off and say, “Oh, for Pete’s sake. We did no such thing.” But the truth is, they did take me to see The Godfather when I was six, and it took years of therapy for me to get over that horse’s head.
I moved through my childhood in a quiet panic, trying to convince anyone who would listen to get my parents to stop drinking. No one could help them, and my mom died of alcoholic cirrhosis when she was only 64 years old. My dad died a year-and-a-half later.
After my parents died, I was sad but relieved—I no longer had to parent them. I could now look to the future and parent my own children, Fiona and Ella, and I could start from scratch. I’ve been parenting for nine years now, and so far despite the fact that it’s all been by the seat of my pants, my husband and I have done a pretty good job. Whenever I get smug and think I’ve figured something out, it all changes…because children keep on growing and in their wake, I do, too.
This blog is for imperfect moms like me, who guess at what normal parenting is. I have written even more self-absorbed information about myself on the FAQ page.