My daughter was sitting on her heels, on her changing table of all places. And from behind, I caught a glimpse of her beauty. The curve of her spine, her flawless skin. For a second — you know, before she peed on the changing mat — I saw a woman in a Renoir painting.

What I didn’t do was slap her photograph in Vanity Fair. Duh. Art? Beauty? Whatever. She’s a baby. And while her mother can be captivated by, and emotional about, her daughter, she’s sure as hell not for general consumption.

That’s right, boys, call again in 20 years.

So, Tish Cyrus, I ask you: what were you thinking, standing by at the Vanity Fair shoot as your daughter posed like the grown woman she’s yet to become? How did you look in your baby’s eyes, and say, “You’re a beautiful and talented girl, Miley. We could portray your beauty in so many ways. But we’ve chosen to sexualize you, to capitalize on your fame, your moment as Lolita. Don’t worry, honey; it’s unavoidable, especially when there’s a buck to be made.”

I typically try to remain neutral, to avoid paying attention or even caring about Hollywood goings on. But now, as the mother of a son and especially a daughter, I see these controversies through new eyes. Have you seen the clothes for little girls? The dolls? Come on, could we be in any more of a hurry for them to grow up, wear minis, heels and eyeliner? This isn’t news, I know; but it’s new to me. I had a boy first. ;)

I’m bracing myself for the day my kids’ role models expand past Bob the Builder and Danny on Build it Bigger. When they listen to bad pop music and look up to actors on the Disney Channel. Suddenly the Cyrus family’s choices have potential bearing on my life.

Now I care. It’s shallow and selfish, but I care. Sadly, I think there’s plenty of room for one more mom in the fight to protect childhood.

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I’ve received two e-mails like this one of late from proud baby boomers reveling in their childhoods. How they dodged fetal alcohol syndrome, didn’t die from the use of only one cutting board in the kitchen, learned rejection firsthand without Prozac, and suffered the iron hand of discipline. And they liked it.

Honestly, I get the spirit in which it was intended. I do. Those were the good old days.

But… is it just me, or do the creators of these e-mails — and perhaps the people busy forwarding them around? — seem to be sticking their thumbs in their ears and wiggling their fingers just a little?

Oh, how I appreciate the value of playing outside with friends, solving problems, dealing with disappointment. I want the same opportunities for my children.

But when I send my children out to play, the world is a much different place than it was, even when I was a kid. Yes, I’m hesitant to let my son walk down the block by himself. There are crazy people out there (I don’t know how or why that seems to have changed so drastically) and there isn’t a housewife at every front door with one eye on the neighborhood.

Yes, you bet my son wears a helmet every time he rides his bike, even with the training wheels. Yes, my children both ride in five-point harness car seats and will until they’re…15. Yes, I have tried to rid our home of plastics containing BPA. Yes, I will refuse to cook meat in our home because cancer and heart disease and diabetes all run in our family and I think fruits and vegetables are a healthier alternative. I don’t care if you look at me funny. There are risks worth taking, and none of these risks is worth it to me.

The word “parenting” didn’t exist back in the day, certainly not in terms of an industry. Now we shoot “right ways” and “wrong ways” to discipline/educate/potty train our children back and forth like illegal (at least in Illinois) bottle rockets. In the quest to provide the best for our kids, some of us have lost sight of what they truly need. Responsibility. Self respect and respect for others. Determination. The list goes on, and no, Play Station 7 is not on it.

Why waste the innovation and new ideas of the past 50 years? Why not learn from mistakes, even if we invent new mistakes in the process? Isn’t that what “progress” is all about?

Yes, our parents were lucky (Brave? More like blissfully ignorant.), but so are we. Our kids are, too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to suit up my children in their respective BPA-free plastic bubbles with closed-circuit cameras and 911 satellite linkups so they can go outside to play.

Teething is not so easy a process, I say in all my wisdom.

As I cut my teeth in the blogosphere, I watch as my daughter is literally cutting.her.teeth. Today she left teeth marks in her finger, bit a decent chunk off of a toddler-size crayon (and went back for seconds and thirds), tried to bite a coloring book, and chomped on her dinnerware, my breast and the granite bathroom counter. She woke crying every hour of her long afternoon nap.

She’s been a slow teether; she has only her bottom two in her official first birthday photo. Now at 19 months, she has nine, three of which have broken through her tender little gums in the past week or two. She has at least three more waiting in the wings.

My husband is conservative with the Motrin and Tylenol. “If we give it to her tonight, we’ll end up giving it to her tomorrow night, and before you know it she’ll be 3 and have some sort of addiction to berry and bubblegum flavoring.” I exaggerate. A little.

What’s with bubblegum flavoring for babies, anyway?

But tonight she made her case. She’s resting comfortably, and I will, too… until she nurses in the morning.

I’m so… so disillusioned. And I think Hallmark is to blame.

Since I was a kid, I’ve been looking for the ideal relationship that is sisterhood. You know, with hugs and sunshine and flowers.

First it was my cousin, the only other person in my family nearly my age. Even though we were raised on two different planets continents, I looked forward to her letters and visits. I wanted to be just like her: I tried a nickname that ended in an “i” (Andi never stuck), jumped off the high dive for the first time, changed my favorite color (pink) to hers (purple). In my defense, I was 7 or 8. And my favorite color is now garnet red. Ha.

I grew up four years older than my sister. I think our relationship had typical ups and downs including jokes and confidences, fights and jealousies. We were close as kids. But the gap between us — me, the old soul, and her, forever young at heart — feels four (or 40) times the four it is.

Our parents want so badly for us to be close. I want so badly for us to be close, and she might, too. I can’t decide whether it’s a relationship broken and malnourished, or if it’s simply different from what I imagined it would be.

That’s where Hallmark comes in.

I wonder, now, if my expectations are realistic. If some sibling relationships are the stuff of greeting cards, but others simply are what they are. Or what you make them. I’m not even sure what I want from my sister. Or what she wants from me.

I daresay no relationship is static, and I believe this one will change, with help. Hopefully for the better, for the closer, for the more fulfilling. And when it does, I’ll buy the perfect card for the occasion.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

There’s such beauty in hindsight. Not that it helps us avoid learning everything the hard way. Hey, I thought the Boppy pillow would ease my transition into parenting, too.

What hindsight has gained me, though, is perspective on my parents. I was the type of kid who thought my parents knew what they were doing until I was practically 30. That even though I certainly didn’t always agree, I thought their decisions — from dinner to dating — came from some kind of teacher’s edition with the answers to your toughest child rearing questions in the back.

Now that I’m walking around in my parents’ skin (Couldn’t Atticus have said shoes? Skin. Eew.), feeling like a kid dressed in grown-up clothing, I look back on their actions with new appreciation. I haven’t asked them specifically, but while some of what they taught my sister and me came from standards of safety and, um, decorum, an equal part may have been the product of exhaustion and frustration.

I’m lucky to focus on happy memories of my childhood. I remember a lot of love. And I know my parents wanted the best for us. Of course, I like to think I was a relatively easy kid to parent, pouting and hormones and crayon on the backseat of the car (not in that order) aside. I think my husband remembers the same (I really should talk to these people once in a while. You know, to confirm.).

I also can think of friends and family who don’t look back on love. Who spent their childhoods in the face of anger and loneliness. I see where some parents made terrible mistakes: physical abuse, allowing their children to witness their marital struggles. But in other situations I see parents who were only trying their best: no public school, no staying up late, no ripped jeans, no dating, no out-of-state college. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it backfired.

My hope is that my hindsight — first as a daughter, then as a mother — will lead me to succeed where my parents may have struggled, even though I’m bound to struggle somewhere else along the way. And that my children will someday look back on their dad and me and see, with hindsight, we were doing our best.

In case you happen to miss my daily shout from the rooftops, I’ll spell it out for you:

I’m done.

If you also are done, my statement needs no explanation. But I’ll elaborate for the rest of you. Today I babysat for a friend’s youngest son, who is young, indeed. Shy of 3 months young. He’s a smiling, cooing, fuzzy-headed bundle of sweetness and joy. At least he was for the 20 minutes I watched him, changed him, danced around my house talking and singing to him. He could warm the heart of the grinchiest baby grinch.

Those 20 minutes — while my son was bowling at a birthday party and my daughter napping in her crib — brought me back to a time and place when the world revolved around me and my firstborn. When I was on maternity leave and life was simple. Of course it didn’t seem simple at the time. Caring for one newborn is only simple when you have more than one child.

Those 20 minutes were particularly peaceful, I think, because I didn’t yearn for another new baby of my own. And that’s saying something because I love me some babies. I’m done, and I’m at peace with my decision. (I suppose I should add that my husband agrees with this decision. So far.)

I’m not done because I didn’t have enviable pregnancies, or because I’m afraid of experiencing another miscarriage, or because children are exhausting and expensive. I’m done because I’m so ridiculously happy with my family. My son and my daughter are amazing little people. As they grow and their personalities emerge, I can’t help but beam with pride knowing I’ve had a little something to do with them.

I’m done because our family feels complete. We have each other; no one is missing. Except maybe a fish, per my son.

I say it again and again, and I don’t waiver. But I now have three friends who have welcomed their third child after swearing up and down they, too, were done. “Never say ‘vasectomy,'” my husband says. So you never know. (But I’m done.)

O, unsung ranch dressing. How my children love you so. They have eaten you straight, on hot dogs and grapes. And have happily used (veggie) chicken nuggets and honest-to-goodness vegetables as vehicles to your creamy goodness.

I know I should be nothing but grateful. You’ve eased mealtime stresses and likely saved my kids from the perils of malnutrition. But, Ranch? You give my baby ranch breath. And you’re so greasy in her hair when she puts her otherwise empty plate on her head.

I admit I think about cheating with a really attractive balsamic vinaigrette, but I bet it stains. Who knew love and condiments would be so complicated?

My family and I drove to Alaska when I was 7 or 8. (Yes, you can do that… a story for another time.)

Along the way, we took in a few natural wonders, the geyser “Old Faithful” among them. I apparently insisted on calling it “Old Reliable,” which admittedly makes me chuckle. I now find myself longing to be referred to as reliable. Old… not so much.

But it’s unlikely. I’m habitually late. My preschooler and his friend have learned to run from the car to school, and that they’ll likely be “the caboose” — again — because we’re late. My extended family takes bets on when my family will arrive to holiday dinners, and my friends know to add a half-hour when I say I’ll be over at 10:00.

I like to blame it on my husband, but really I procrastinate of my own accord. Sometimes my tardiness is relatively legit: the baby sleeps late; the phone rings as I’m walking out the door; yeah, I can’t think of anything else right now. Usually, I just don’t have my, um, act together. I try to squeeze in 10 minutes of extra sleep, I can’t find my son’s socks, I let my son watch TV during breakfast so he’s moving in slow motion lest he miss.one.second of Higglytown Heroes. I can’t find my car keys, I have to get the diaper bag packed for the gym, my hair is sticking out funny and I need to run the straightening iron over just one little section.

In a perfect world, I would be prepared. Clothes would be laid out the night before. Diaper bag would be stocked. Our water bottles washed and maybe even filled. My keys would be in the cute little bowl on the counter, my cell phone would be charged. The kids would be well rested and cooperative.

And you know what would happen? I’d be so calm, cool and collected, I’d let my son have an extra five minutes of TV because, you know what? We have five minutes; what would we do if we were five minutes early? If nothing else, anyone who typically waits on us wouldn’t yet be ready.

And that would be inconsiderate of us, wouldn’t it?

I don’t intend to be inconsiderate. In my head I’m really dependable. But there’s a huge disparity between the two. I feel shame. So much more importantly, in four months it will no longer be about me. My son begins kindergarten, and there will be no more sauntering in after the bell. I have to ensure he’s prompt. Poor kid.

I’m hoping kindergarten will be the impetus to change my evil ways. This is my challenge, and I accept it… or I will, anyway. In a minute.

When I see first-time parents schlepping their miraculous bundles of baby joy, I’ll admit to feeling a little… smug. In the, “Oh honey, remember when we didn’t know what we were doing, either?” sense. To which my dear husband would likely respond, “You mean five minutes ago?”

We’re a confident lot, he and I.

But I’m talking about the bewilderment that comes with new baby territory. As if sleep deprivation wasn’t enough, you’re barraged by advice. What you need to buy, what you need to do

I recently read a quip of parenting insight I wish I’d heard in the prime of my baby days. It’s likely more valuable than anything you’d glean from my experience alone. Brett Berk, author of The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting, observed simply:

“The baby business seems to play on your fears that you’re ill-equipped for the job and are going to do it all wrong.”

He also wrote a whole book, I suppose. But I’m so content to mill over this sentence.

Have you created, or at least read, a baby registry lately? You’d be daft not to include coordinating nursery decor, complete with diaper caddy. You’ll need to feed baby, so don’t forget nursing pillows and personalized burp cloths and bottles that do everything but lactate for you. If you plan to leave the house, you’ll need a designer baby carrier that matches your car seat and stroller and diaper bag. As baby grows, his or her intelligence will be permanently stunted if you don’t have the latest and greatest educational toys that instill art appreciation and environmental responsibility.

Seriously, it’s not my goal to suck all the joy out of preparing for baby. I’m just sayin’. You’re contending with corporations trying to sell you crap disguised as necessities. You’re reading product reviews about the newest gear on the market. You’re comparing your list to that of your friends who have kids and therefore must be less clueless than you feel.

Listen to Mr. Berk and me as we steer you away from the strangers with candy-coated promises for perfect parenting. Follow your heart and your head, and buy what you want. But don’t succumb to ploys to make you believe you need stuff. Your baby needs you and diapers. Everything else is negotiable. ;)

I think about my obituary as often as I think about the inner workings of my appliances. Which would be not at all. And I generally think that’s a good thing. Until something goes horribly wrong (like lint clogging the dryer vent… but that’s another subject altogether).

So I’m sitting at home two weeks ago, minding my own business — not contemplating my existence in the least — when I receive an e-mail from our church sharing news of the sudden death of one of the church staff.

We’ve upgraded from Christmas-and-Easter Catholics to twice-a-month Catholics, but still I didn’t personally know this man. I get the impression he was well-liked, and it’s a tragedy to lose anyone at 47. Still, I admit I went on with my day.

Last week my mother-in-law opens the Chicago Tribune to the obituaries. Cheery, no? And she brings my attention to an article about the man from our church (my in-laws miss nothing, I tell you). I didn’t even know him, but I read it.

And I saved it.

And I keep thinking about it.

It’s the most amazing profile of a life, someone who had such a profound affect on the lives of others. And from an unlikely source: a custodian. A husband and father. Not someone noted for his power or wealth, but instead for his character and compassion.

Now I can’t help but contemplate my existence. What will my obituary say? Because the way people remember Gilbert Gonzales? That’s they way I hope someday someone will remember me. Gilbert Gonzales is changing my life, and he’s no longer here. That’s a legacy.