12th Mom, Her 12-Year-Old, Their 7th Mother’s Day

The Other Woman in His Life
How about hooking that hose to my vein for Mother’s Day?

“I think it’s a really bad idea that you’re going to be gone for the whole entire Mother’s Day, Dad,” our twelve-year-old Little Monkey said to the Man I Married.

Wise child.

MIM responded, “Your mother and I give each other a lot of freedom to follow our dreams.”

Quick thinker.

He continued, “Your mom had to be gone all day yesterday to follow her dream, so she doesn’t mind that I’m gone all day on Mother’s Day to follow mine.”

Much as MIM’s masterful at pulling split-second malarkey out of his derriere, he also spoke the truth. It would be splitting hairs to point out that I’ve spent twenty years chasing one dream, while he’s spent our marriage chasing twenty, and I thought fatherhood was going to end his following the next shiny fantasy twinkling over the next green hill. But adoption papers don’t come with a “required personality change” clause, so I’m not sure why either one of us thought that would be true.

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The Telly Kibosh

Part I

When the Little Monster moved in 3.5 years ago at age six, we got rid of the television.

Not really. I hide an old, boxy, thirteen-inch in the closet for my American Idol addiction. Shh. Don’t tell LM. He sometimes suspects, though, like the other night when he stood outside my door and said, “What’s all that screaming?”

How about: Those? Oh, those are just the unhappy children in the closet who didn’t do what they were told to do the first time. Nah, I just take an age-old mom tactic and change the subject. “Did you brush your teeth? Did you remember to flush the toilet? Check again. Did you hang up your jacket?” Pay no attention to the screams in the closet.

A note to the skeptical amongst you when it comes to prehistoric electronics (meaning six months old): rabbit ears antennae still work. Sometimes you have to shift your stool and adjust where you’re sitting under the coats to improve reception. Another technique is to use the martini glass in your hand as an antenna…or maybe you just can’t tell that the screen is fuzzy once the glass is empty.

As a new parent, I was ready to hook up to cable for the Disney, History, and Sumo Wrestling With the Stars channels. This was a necessary parental expense, I reasoned, same as car seats, plastic dishware, and gin. But the Man I Married insisted that no television at all was the way to go. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. Easy enough for him, who never watched it, anyway. But as he wisely (damn it) said, “It’s easy to get cable later if we want. But it would be almost impossible to take it away once we have it.” LM had ADHD and a host of other acronyms to describe his caffeinated-like character; he was as easily startled as a grackle. So ratcheting the house environs down to a quiet, calm, oasis, devoid of stimulation, seemed like a good idea. I myself could no longer watch most of what was on Prime Time Television (usually involving a murdered skinny blonde woman and an autopsy room) without my stress level rising and having nightmares. And honestly, I’d had enough stimulation with all of the arguing with MIM over whether or not we should get rid of the television.

The Little Monster had been parked in front of a television 24/7 for much of his young life. He still sometimes casually mentions things he watched by himself in the middle of the night while eating candy and drinking soda. “I saw childbirth once.” If he’s in the back seat of the Mom Mobile when he makes comments like this, my neck does the Exorcist Swivel as I snap backwards to look at him and exclaim, “What? When!”

“Oh, on TV,” he’ll yawn. “The baby came out from between the mother’s…”

“You should never have been allowed to watch that,” I’ll interrupt, my head continuing its 360 to avoid a car wreck.

“I know. It was gross. It hurted the mom.”

So cold turkey on television it was. We ripped the Idiot Box Band-Aid off.

I hate to admit it, since I rebelled against the idea as strongly as I would against purchasing a home with a mother-in-law unit, but this still stands as the single best parenting decision we’ve made, and MIM can take all the credit. Television would have been one more thing to monitor and control, one more struggle over: when? how much? what’s appropriate? We ended up with no time for it, anyway.

I Want My MTV

A specialized therapist confirmed our instinctual TV ban with his recommendation to strictly monitor any and all media in the house. He wrote it up into his reports and plans for LM, but sometimes he forgets and asks LM, “So who’s your favorite on So You Think You Can Dance?” I give him the stink eye and universal sign-language for CUT! His question helps me to understand that even with his full client base of kids who get into serious trouble on the internet and with cable channels, it’s unusual for any of them to have no television. In fact I’d bet we’re his only family without television. With no boob tube, we’re as rare as the Blue Footed Booby.

The Little Monster has never once said that he misses it.

MIM of course never pines for TV, but my cravings can still sometimes be fierce. I particularly miss tuning in to the Seattle hysteria at the falling of the first and only snowflake of the season. Newscasters elbow each other from the top of Queen Anne Hill after they’ve hosed it down with ice water to film a Ferrari slaloming sideways into a fire hydrant. I also miss it when I go to the dentist’s office and realize that I don’t know who half the stars in People magazine are. This makes me feel old. Even my mother is more in tune with the culture than I am now–she goes on about Monk or House and I don’t know what the heck she’s talking about–but I sure am glad I’ve missed whatever’s up with those trainwreck Kardashians.

Although our decision to unplug felt very personal—a decision for our family and its peculiar circumstances alone—living in the 21st century with no television (and no video games or Wii, with sluggish internet service and old flip cell phones for emergency calls, such as the school principal calling with another doozy about what the Little Monster’s been up to) can seem to others like we’re making a statement instead of a personal choice. Like my sister-out-law phrased it, “When you say you have no television, people think you’re either bragging or you’re weird.” It’s sort of like saying you’re a vegetarian. Some folks immediately go on the offensive about your leather jacket or shoes, or they get defensive about the steak on their plate, when it’s merely a choice about what goes down your own gullet.

We aren’t making judgments about the personal choices of others, and no one need feel defensive about our Luddite predilections. In fact I’d love to come over to your house to watch hockey or the Get Women to Cry So They Can Therapy Shop Online During Commercials channel on your big screen. Invite me over. I’ll bring the popcorn, chocolate, and beverage of your choice (may I suggest gin?).

Both MIM and I grew up with a lot of television—and look how great we turned out! MIM can sing, word-for-word, any theme song from his childhood that you would care to mention. This is a great party skill. I myself burned many a sunny afternoon inside watching Kung Fu and the ABC After School Special. But we had three channels that you had to get up off the couch to change. Our small portable was black and white. I didn’t know that the Wizard of Oz switched to color partway through until I was in college. Color television was standard at that time, so I don’t know why we stuck with monochrome. Perhaps it was my folks’ version of “no cable” (back when there was no cable) to discourage our heavy TV use. Didn’t work.

My mother condemned my dad’s favorites of Mannix and FBI as being too violent, but they are laughably tame and slow compared to the swift-paced, rapidly-cut, and graphic shows on before bedtime today. We would drag the portable around the house, the heavy box following us wherever we went, with the TV itself followed by a long extension cord that you always had to watch out for so you didn’t trip over it. To this day one of my biggest scars is from walking into the old, snapped-off TV antenna, which gouged a crater in my thigh.

Such were the hazards of too much television during my childhood years.

Read Part II, Accidentally Upgrading our “Home Entertainment Center”

The Erotica Writer’s Husband & Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
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12 humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.

Neighbors in Drag

The Little Monster jogs every day to help with his ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is closely linked to PPD, Parental Patience Decimator). ADHD is often over-diagnosed and over-medicated, and handing LM a pill every morning from day one as our son (at age six) ran counter-intuitive to everything I thought I’d be as a parent (along with most every other preconception that was swiftly shot to hell). But as the alarmingly-young but able psychologist who recently did a thorough evaluation summed up our Little Monster, “Well, I see absolutely no evidence that he is not ADHD.” Quite frankly, without the label and the meds, I would have to be medicated well beyond the occasional six-olive martini. Sometimes modern science does hand us a magic pill, but while it temporarily subdues about 42.67% of the ants in LM’s pants, he’s still a jumping bean even when prone (“Look, mom, yoga!” he yells as he crazy-straws himself into a series of Nadia Comaneci poses, with the aptly-named theme music The Young and the Restless playing in my head). This leads to the question we are most-often asked by his teacher and counselor: “Has he had his pill today?” followed by, “Perhaps we should consider upping his meds?”

Should We Up His Meds?

Oddly enough, the medication that enables him to settle down and sustain focus is the pharmaceutical equivalent of cocaine, so you’d know pretty damn quick if your kid was misdiagnosed. I practically need cocaine to manage the monthly running around required to fill the prescription for a controlled substance. The only other over-the-counter drug that allows LM to maintain focus is Nintendo, which causes him to sit still yet sporadically shout out with Tourettes-like, spasmic barking.

But exercise and other strategies can also help a family cope with the Tasmanian Devil who whooshes through the house the minute he cracks an eye in the morning.

Along with meds, ADHD kids can be helped by lots of intense exercise. When I went to a day-long training recently for caregivers (all foster parents and all women, with not a single testicle nestled on our hard plastic chairs) of ADHD kids, one woman said that exercise for her daughter only made things worse; it seemed like it just pumped her up and got her going rather than calming her down. Another mother raised her hand and said, “That’s what I thought for a long time. What I didn’t get was the huge amount of extreme exercise that my son needed. It seemed like abuse at first, but that high level of sustained exercise works. It’s helped a lot.” The reassuringly-cynical instructor (who blew a big raspberry to the notion that children are innocent angels and likened them instead to hens pecking a wounded pen-mate to death) nodded in agreement.

Upped Meds

What the Little Monster calls “running” is hardly extreme or sustained. Mostly it involves shuffling his feet, singing, dodging sidewalk cracks, jumping in puddles, and pausing to chat with neighbors, pausing to take off his jacket, pausing to check his watch, pausing to put his jacket back on, quickly racing the neighbor’s school bus at top speed (the driver keeps her foot on the brake so LM can beat her), and pausing to tie his shoe. Still, we figure it’s movement and fresh air (plus he’s out of the house) and something of a cocktail hour, minus the gin and pearled onions, since he catches us up on everything that’s happening on the block: “Melanie and her whole family had food poisoning.” “Carol has a new car.” “The new neighbors are moving in this weekend, and they have two girls.” When a neighbor crossed the street last night to ask me the status of another neighbor while I was walking the dogs, I said, “I don’t know. I’ll ask the Little Monster and get back to you.”

While LM runs, The Man I Married and I watch him closely from the window. Why don’t we run with him, you ask? Well, er, ah, because we want to, um, encourage independence and, oh yeah, self-sufficiency. We are practicing bicep curls with our mugs of tea.

This morning after LM was in the bath, MIM called me into the bedroom for a Hushed Parental Conference. “I have something to tell you,” he said. We all know this teaser is not usually followed by, “I won the lottery,” but by something like, “Turns out the vasectomy didn’t work,” or “I found a lice egg on your comb.”

He said, eyes wide, “I was watching LM this morning, and I noticed a jogger about three paces behind him, following right along behind him, totally keeping stride. Shadowing him.”

In a very real and accurate physical manifestation of an over-used cliché, my heart seized at this news. Much as we and the neighbors all keep our eye out for LM, we do worry. Although the goodness of people helping us out consistently floors us, there are of course yucky people in the world, like the ones who got LM into the mess of his complicated life in the first place. The “stranger snatch” is a rare event ballooned out of proportion by the media, inflating parental paranoia even in neighborhoods like ours where front page news recently was about how some pedestrians are being rude to the man who uses a leaf-blower on our little downtown’s sidewalks. A hotly-debated topic on our neighborhood blog was about whether a man should have saved a baby squirrel which had gotten stuck in his stove’s hood. Some were vehemently opposed to the rescue because the squirrel was not a native species. Others felt that if the same consideration is not given to rats, then it ought not be given to squirrels. Yet even in this quiet burb with wide sidewalks, we fear the crazed, bearded kidnapper.

Pst, Run Faster! Your Dad's Watching!

“I think the jogger was a woman,” MIM said. “She was just suddenly there. And as I was watching, she just…disappeared! Into thin air!” MIM took a deep breath and announced boldly, “The Little Monster has a guardian angel!” Not a good Samaritan of the human flesh sort, but a dyed-in-the-ethereal-wooly-cloud, true-blue capital A Angel.

MIM so spooked me that I started to cry. A real ghost jogging with our son every day? “Damn,” I said, quickly stopping my tears. “Is she in the house, too?” We were going to have to clean up our act if he had an angel following him. Did this mean we couldn’t use profanity even when LM wasn’t around? Could she tell we hadn’t mopped for two months? This was all too much to stomach. We already had in-laws criticizing our every move. As if I needed a celestial being joining in on the bad mother bandwagon. So of course I immediately discounted MIM’s story and started firing logistical questions at him, insisting on alternative explanations, but MIM remained convinced.

“I tell you it was an angel. She was suddenly there, and then she was suddenly gone. Vanished.”

Truthfully, we have long-known that LM is blessed in ways that can’t be explained by rational forces. For such a bum start in life, he’s been given chances and opportunities that many in his position can only dream of. I’m not speaking of us, because no child in their right mind would wish themselves into a house without a television and with parents who insist that he eat all of the mushrooms on his plate if he wants dessert. But he has such a huge network of support, despite a very broken state system for kids who need help, that it defies all odds. We hear the horror stories of kids who fall through the cracks, but LM stands on a thick cement girder that holds firm despite the tsunamis he keeps sending crashing against it.

So there’s a fairy with a wand and an organdy gown responsible for all of this? Furthermore: she jogs??

“Like, poof?” I asked, flapping pretend wings. “No way.”

“Yes, way,” MIM said.

“You march your fanny downstairs this instant and ask him,” I commanded, forgetting that this was MIM and not LM. But down MIM marched, as he always does when he is about to prove that he is right and I am wrong.

The fact that he didn’t come right back up but went on to other tasks clued me in that he had not gotten an answer which would give him victory. When he finally came back upstairs, he didn’t bring it up.

“Well?” I asked.

A Typical Day on our Block

“It was Carol from across the street,” he mumbled to the refrigerator. “LM says she starting jogging, and she always slows down to jog half a block with him. She ducked into her side yard when she was done.”

And, so, MIM was right after all. LM does have a guardian angel. In fact, he has a whole block full of them. Carol and Becky and Melanie (who tucks biscotti treats in to her stone wall for him to find) and Eric and Jen and Sean and Barb and Jim and Tim and Terry and Kirsten and Gregg and the milkman who toots and Amber and John and Kevin and Barb and Stephanie and Tom and Jean and Robert and the school bus driver who also toots if LM’s running in the wrong direction to race her. I doubt any of them wear chiffon (at least the women don’t), but they all work their daily magic. I’ll take their jeans and tennies over glitter and Glinda any day.