Category Archives: family

Her Birthday is My Birth Day

Queen for a day, princess for a lifetime

Today is L’s birthday and the anniversary of the happiest day of my life. Realizing that we are now 6 years away from that glorious day makes me wistful and a bit sad. Buffering the dread of the continued demise of her innocence (2nd Miley Cyrus song purchased today) is the joy and pride of her birth.

I worked HARD to bring her into the world in as close to my terms as I could. No pain medication, a midwife instead of a doctor but still at a hospital, my mom there even though she struggled to watch me go through it (I think she asked for my epidural). My best friend video taped it. J was next to me, keeping me positive. After many, many hours and a few quick naps, my beautiful baby came into the world. My efforts drew Rock Star status in the O.B. wing. I glowed with love and pride.

True to kid form, L is celebrating her birthday as loudly as she can. A crown, a pretty dress, the class singing Happy Birthday. It is her day.

In my heart, in my mind, quietly, I celebrate her birthday as my day, too.

Advertisements

Family history

Grandpa Alex is on the right, dapper as always.

This is the story of my grandfather. My 10 year old nephew, Jason, wrote this for school with my mother’s help. It is a story of courage, heartbreak, and gumption. Much like the story of Jewish history.

I never got to meet my grandfather.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

Alexander Olenikoff, my maternal great-grandfather, is the person I chose to write about.  When he was sixteen, the Pogram started in Russia.  A Pogrom is an organized persecution or killing off of an ethnic group.  I wish he and his family managed to get out safely but only Alex escaped, which meant two things: he was sixteen, and he was alone.  Alex journeyed onto America by boat and his lonely trip took weeks. How was he able to leave Russia when his family was not, you might ask?  Well, because his parents were wealthy they were able to travel from Russia before the Pogrom began.   While his mother was pregnant with him, they were visiting family in America and presto!  Alex was born an American citizen.   Because he had American birth papers, he was the only family member allowed to leave his country.

So, at sixteen years old, he escaped, alone, sad and scared to the country he was born in, not understanding English and not really knowing the family he was going to live with.  Also, the Russian Government closed off their country.  No mail was going in or out.  Alex was not able to ever, ever contact his family again.  He lived his life not knowing if his family was alive or dead and they knew nothing of his travels.

He came to Detroit, Michigan to live with cousins and he worked as a tailor to earn money.   He and his cousin opened a clothing store, Blocks Clothes, and the family changed their name to Olen because they didn’t want to sound too Jewish.  He eventually married and had my grandmother. He died at 53 on the way to his clothing shop of a heart attack. My Grandparents named my Mom after her Grandfather that she never met.  Alex Olen: Andrea Lynn, A.L.  Thank you for listening to the story of my migrating, maternal great-grandfather, Alexander Olenikoff.

Catwalk vs. Rock Wall

Photo from AP, originally in http://www.dailymail.co.uk

I’ve been thinking a lot about my child’s birthday.  Hard not to, since she has been talking about her 6th birthday since 5 minutes after her 5th birthday. I discovered why that is, why kids are so focused on birthdays: they are a kid’s only source of power.  L says frequently, “I am NOT inviting so-and-so to my birthday!” Sorry, kid, everyone in class gets to come if they want.

Last year, we had a princess party. Friends came and dressed up, got their hair, nails and make-up done. Then, the guests played games and had cake. It was sweet and silly and pretty easy. I was pleased.

Over the summer and into Fall, L was invited to three girl birthdays and all were Princess Parties/Fashion Parties, or a combination. The first one was small – even the boys had knight costumes and, of course, fought with the plastic swords.  Mostly the girls ran around the house playing with toys and trying to get the birthday girl to be with them. It was quite low key.

The next party was similar to Lillian’s own with a twist. The girls dressed up in costumes, got their hair, nail and make-up done, learned a dance and then did a fashion show.  The place was tiny with chairs for the parents facing a small runway. L picked a Snow White dress, and I was relieved she didn’t pick the rockstar mid-driff bearing t-shirt.  Girls who were done being primped stood in a mirror and sang to themselves – they weren’t even playing together! The dance was okay and the fashion show was, well, disturbing. As I watched this display of “confidence” with all the parents cheering and laughing at the adorable kids (and some were really adorable), I had a sinking feeling. I mean, I spend all this time worrying about my child’s self-image while she is drenched in a culture that is set to destroy that self-image. It just seemed…wrong. This is a child’s fantasy? To play out being a model? What are we doing?

The next birthday party my husband attended because I was out of town. Apparently, it was a princess party (girls wore their own costumes) with Cinderella reading as story about manners, and then the girls took a CARRIAGE RIDE WITH A REAL HORSE around the neighborhood.  According to J, the house and the party were quite over the top (pictures show a stage with a movie marquee with the kid’s name on it), which isn’t surprising given the location. It’s a suburb that basically wrote the book on McMansions. At least the party dealt with being a Lady and not a model.

Why are we allowing our children, no, encouraging our children to engage in celebrity culture fantasy play? I have no issue with the general dress-up play, but having a bunch of parents “ooh” and “aah” over glittery eye shadow and an exposed belly is just wrong. What’s next? Fake papparazzi? A fake film premier with fake fans? Fake cocaine in the bathroom stalls?

Even though I told L I won’t discuss her birthday until March (actual birthday end of May), I have been thinking about it. And I’ve decided it is going to be a very athletic birthday. Something where the kids run around and get sweaty. Where they use their bodies in ways that helps their growth. Where they get to laugh and have fun being kids. Thankfully, my child is completely into the idea of having her party at our gym, which could include rock climbing or swimming if we choose.

I’m done pretending that a child’s most special day of the whole year is time to act like a prissy adult. As we know so well, getting to act like a kid is special enough.

Support whatever group you like, but I don’t have to help you do it.

This year we want to have professional photos taken of L for the holidays, like we did two years ago. We loved our photographer, who is extremely talented. She and her husband run the business.  I figured we would just use them again this year. (I can’t upload any of the photos – she has them protected, as any smart photographer would.)

I go on her website to get her phone number and begin looking around in the “Giving Back” section.  I first spend 10 minutes weeping while viewing photos from an “Operation: Smile” photo essay this woman did in Hondouras.  Incredible before and after photos. I was really moved.  Then I clicked on something called “DPRC” with a little “uh-oh” in my mind. Afterall, I do live in Texas. This could be anything.

DPRC isn’t just anything: it is an anti-abortion clinic that talks women into giving birth through what I consider misinformation. The website uses language like “post-abortion syndrome” and “sexual purity.” They claim to talk about birth control but I don’t know what or how.  They also have a statistic about STDs on the front page which was at first encouraging, since most abstinence only groups don’t like to even mention STDs, but if they are using it to further abstinence and not education, then that is bothersome for me. (I admit, I didn’t research it too closely. I picked up on the rhetoric quickly enough.) It goes against all my hard work this summer on those articles for The Democratic Blog of Collin County. It goes against my personal moral belief system.

Here’s the except from the photographer’s blog (I am purposely not giving her name or web address):

“We were honored to photograph some of the women who have sought the helpful guidance of the Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center during their time of need. It was a blessing to meet and photograph these strong ladies again after their precious babies arrived. Click here to visit the Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center website and see the great work they are doing. On March 29, 2007, Angie’s images of these women and babies were displayed during a “Concert for Life” at the Lakewood Theater starring Christian artist Nichole Nordeman and benefitting the DPRC.”

Clearly, this photographer is anti-abortion and strongly Christian.  I am about as Pro-Choice as anyone can get and feel that Evangelical Christianity is hurting our country.  I am not against this photographer choosing to support this group as a matter of Freedom of Speech. My issue is, I don’t want to give her my money. But I really want beautiful photos of my child.

I shared my conflict with my husband who, without much thought, said, “We aren’t doing business with them not matter how good she is.” (If you know my husband well, then you know that is a kid-friendly version.)

This is the issue, I guess.  The photos of L the first time around were the most incredible photos I have seen.  I want that again – for the cards but also for posterity.  But can I hand over a LOT of money to someone who is going to use her resources to benefit a group I think is doing harm? Can I let go of what I want in order to stand up for what I believe?

Of course I can. I might not like it, but I can. And I must. Because no matter how beautiful my child looks in our holiday cards, if I can’t look myself in the mirror because of it, then it isn’t the right thing to do.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Since I knew the day was coming when my only child, L, would go to Kindergarten,  I decided to make this summer special.  Given that she would be home a lot and her fun was in my hands, I needed a goal to be sure she didn’t spend each day in front of the television.  With public school close at hand, and anticipating the big change it would bring, I wanted to create a summer that created connection and love, a kind of “you and me” celebration.  She might not remember much of it since L is only 5, but I wanted to remember.

The summer got off on a rocky beginning.  Our first week out of preschool brought a move to a new house and a change in schedule – both of us home, all day long, with just each other.  L desperately wanted to be back in class with her friends and I desperately wanted my 6 hour break.  Neither of us got what we wanted.  Camps didn’t begin for week. Mostly, we fought.

After that first week, though, we got a kind of rythm. No rushing. No appointments. L began to understand that summer was a time to relax. I guess I did, too. Gymnastics “camp” – 5 hours of playtime – began and though they rarely taught her any actual gymnastics, it took up time. And though I HATE putting on a swimsuit, I swallowed my trepidation and took L to our gym’s pool. A lot. Like most kids, L loves swimming and this brought her much joy.  I’d pack snacks and a lunch (most times, although sometimes I had to mooch off friends – in the beginning I just couldn’t get it together) and feel like a “real mom.” I didn’t get in the water much and encouraged L, instead, to make friends.  Sometimes we met Macaroni-and-Glue there with her girlie.  The fun L had in the water made exposing my dimpled thighs worthwhile.

dance camp recital

Dance Camp Recital

Dance Camp was also in June. Only 3 hours in the middle of the day, perhaps not the best set up. But L was with her close friend, V, and anytime she can bond with a friend I am happy.. I just love knowing that my child makes friends.  And she picks the nicest ones! Dance camp ended with a performance with girls getting to wear some kind of costume. My child picked a dress up dress I bought at resale.

June made way for July, the month of French Camp. The Dallas International School offers French, Spanish and Chinese classes for kids in the summer. (In the winter, they are a full day private school.) I like French better than Spanish so I got my husband to agree to putting L in a French class. Plus I know French (a little) and thought it would be easier to reinforce what L learned.  Ends up we didn’t use too much of it. L learned her numbers and few things here and there but mostly it was just fun. Not that I have a problem with that. She was exposed to another language and to another culture, which I am thrilled about. Plus she learned this great little song that gets stuck in my head with her voice singing, and how great is that?

Besides the camps, L and I had “Science Wednesday” which I created as a way to get/keep her interested in science. At first I got ideas off the internet but when I almost destroyed our stove top I decided to buy a science kit for her age.  No actual explosions but lots of fizzing and colors. Pretty sure she didn’t retain any of the information but she sure did have fun.  Here’s a photo of the first round of “change flower colors with food coloring” but had to be redone because this version didn’t work. (Here’s how to do it right.)experiment

Hula Hoop

L teaching Alex how to hoola hoop

August brought down time and lots of gymnastic camp until we left town for 3 weeks. Everyone should leave North Texas for August because, quite frankly, it is too hot for human survival. First stop was Detroit, my parents’ house. L hadn’t seen her Nana since before her open-heart surgery. (By the way, Nana is doing so much better since she began exercising and looks like her old self. Well, she doesn’t look old, really, but you know what I mean.) Papa, a dentist, put a filling in one of Lillian’s baby teeth, but L was a real trooper.  Midway through our visit, my sister and her kids came in, too.  L played with her cousins as much as they would play with her – they are 9, 14, and 18. The cousins were very patient and loving.

The day after we returned from Detroit, we left for Wyoming.  J’s dad and step-mom own a house in Jackson Hole and we visit most summers.  J fly fishes as much as possible while I spend the week worried about L getting bored. This trip was better than most, since she is 5 and can both entertain herself better and could do more things.  Also, J’s dad is always willing to play a game with her, especially chess, which she loves.

Three things happened that really surprised me:

1. L figured out how to paddle her own canoe and kayak.  Not that we let her go it alone on String Lake (Teton National Park). J or Grandpa held a rope while she was in a boat. But she actually managed to paddle herself around a bit. The coordination was pretty surprising.

2. L pet a couple of dogs.  She’s been terrified of them ever since a horrible experience with an acquaintance’s dog.  Well, in Wyoming, dogs are used to being around people unlike in the suburbs where dogs are locked up indoors and when humans show up they jump like mad. J took L to an outdoor supply store where she met Paco The Wonder Dog, a super mellow dog who  eventually L put a little fly box on its head. She then pet it. A breakthrough.

riding backwards

Yeah, she's riding backwards!

3. L rode a horse.  Not like she sat on it and someone pulled it around. She brushed Jake, cleaned his hooves, and walked him to an arena. Her instructor, Terry, put her on and then taught L how to control the horse. L managed to get Jake to back up and turn right and left.  The lesson was over an hour. I am not a rider and am actually afraid of horses, but even with my lack of knowledge I could see how this experience gave L confidence.  I mean, here’s a 50 lb. kid directing a 300 lb. animal! L absolutely loved it and asked to do it again and again. Here she is riding backwards while Terry’s granddaughter leads Jake around the arena:

We returned on the Sunday before school began, the official end of summer vacation. We didn’t do everything I wanted. I wanted to take L to a museum in Dallas. I wanted to drive to Louisiana because we live so close and I have never been. I wanted to take her swimming more and figure out how to get that darn backyard water slide to work despite our (new) slanted backyard. Even with those few regrets, I believe I gave L a great time. She played with friends, saw lots of family, ate plenty of icecream and popsicles, and created a few memories, I hope. And for me? I got to enjoy my child’s beautiful face as it lit up with joy, watch her run on various beaches, listen as her laugh rang out through the Teton canyons and kiss her goodnight as she snuggled up to her stuffed animals, exhausted from all the fun.

It was, in all, a perfect summer.

It’s a Dad Thing

I loved the show “Alias” because Sydney had a “Dad Thing.”  I’d weep while Sydney and her father worked out their issues.  Watching him struggle to connect with her, to be a good dad after being such a horrible one, was heartbreaking and heartwarming.  I watched as though I saw my own father wrestle with his mistakes, witness regretful looks and hopeful glances I didn’t see as a kid but hoped were there.

My dad is not a demon nor is he a saint.  While his temper and lack of understanding were difficult for us kids, he was a vast improvement on his own mother and father.  Over the years I have come to have compassion for him and how hard it must have been to want to do good but not know how to do it.

That said, he can still piss me off.

Before visiting my parents to help with my mother’s heart surgery recovery, I was nervous about being with my father for a whole week. A high emotional charge plus being in the house a lot and having to do things my parents’ way signaled impending clashes. I focused on being there for my mother and allowing my parents to tell me what to do while I was home; more like a servant than a visiting guest. That worked, for a few days.

The fight was over pills.  Not just any pills but the steroid pack my mother was on.  See, you take a different number of pills each day, and at different times.  My mother and I were in contrast: I kept forgetting about them and my mother asked if she needed to take them 3xs more often than there were pills. My dad didn’t help when he punched pills through the foil backing the wrong way, making directions hard to read. That particular morning, my mom choked on one of them – I thought she was having a heart attack and called 911. We all hated these fucking pills.

(You know it wasn’t the pills, right? It was the fear of my mother not getting better as quickly as we wanted, her persistent and undiagnosed cough, her exhaustion. It was the fear of her choking on the pills again. It was the fear of her dying.  But we fought over the pills.)

After both my mother and father questioned when she had to take the next dose, I made a snarky comment about how I did, in fact, know how to read medication information, then my dad snapped at me and I began to shake and my dad started yelling and I walked away saying I wouldn’t be spoken to that way. I came back for dinner and sincerely apologized for snapping and for being a jerk.  My dad isn’t good about accepting apologies, though. I knew he didn’t hear me when he said angrily, “We are ALL upset about you mother, Linda.”

I mean, he heard me but he wouldn’t let it in. I needed him to let it in. I needed to see him soften, to stop and realize I am his daughter and connect with me. That has been my struggle all along, to get him to hear, “Dad! I’m trying to connect with you! Please connect with me! Let it in! Let ME in!”

I left the table, not angry but sad, and sat in my room, in the dark, crying. I wanted to feel the fear and sadness coming up and didn’t want anyone’s anger to stop me.  Minutes later, I heard the footsteps up the stairs. Had to be Dad, Mom can’t walk up the stairs quickly enough to make footsteps. I tensed up, but vowed not to fight. He knocked and I said he could come in.

“Honey, I’m sorry. Don’t sit in the dark alone, come be with us.” I stood up and walked into his open arms. He held me like a Dad. “I am sorry. I was wrong. I shouldn’t speak to you like that. We are all upset about Mom and I know you are scared. You have been through so much today and I am a dummy for how I talked to you. Don’t be alone. I love you so much.”

I let him rub my back and rock me back and forth and go on and on about being sorry, and I pretended like I was a little girl getting the apology and connection I always wanted from him. By letting him love me, I felt him let my love in. And because I allowed myself to feel it, to be present to it happening, a part of me got whole.

If my dad only lets in my love like that once in my lifetime, in his lifetime, it will be enough.

Upscale, Everyday

“Dresses give me lots of freedom to dance. Plus, they twirl. This is my Easter dress from Children’s Place. So what if Easter is over?”

img_1650img_1652 img_1651

The following is an interview with child style-prodigy, L (she’s so amazing, she doesn’t even use her full first name).  After only 4.10 years on Earth, L has already been credited with beginning and advancing the latest trend in young wear: Upscale, Everyday.

L was gracious enough to sit down with the editor of Child Design Magazine Jasmine Brockstone (in exchange for a cupcake) to discuss her beauty practices, clothing philosophy and the future of children’s clothing.

Jasmine Brockston: L, you are a fashion phenomenon.  Tell me how you came to such a sophisticated style philosophy.

"This is more of an indoor look."

"This is more of an indoor look."

L: Well, up until I was 2, my mom put me in a lot of jeans.  They were cute, sure, but I don’t have hips yet.  No matter how tight she made the side adjuster-things, they fell down. No self-respecting toddler shows her butt-crack. So when I was 3, and could dress myself, I officially stuck with dresses and skirts.

JB: How did your mom feel about this?

"I love my mommy."

"My mommy is my biggest fashion influence. Because she buys my clothes."

L: She was disappointed because there are a lot of darling tops out there. But once I explained that the buttons cut into my adorable, round belly, she understood.

JB: Do you and your mom argue over clothing?

L: (smiles) Only when I say I’ll wear something and then when she gets it home I refuse. (giggle) That drives her crazy. I used to purposely not match my clothes and watch her work hard not to say anything.  Now, though, I only mismatch my hair bands – much  more subtle.

JB: What is your favorite look for Spring?

L: Right now I am really into Easter dresses even though we’re Jewish and Easter is over. I have never been one for formality. I’m already wearing white and it is only April. I think kids should wear what they like and not be held to adult rules. We get enough of that at the dinner table.

JB: What about upkeep?  I mean, you are wearing Easter dresses to school.  Doesn’t your mom worry they will get ruined?

L: Well, apparently they are not too expensive because she always announces the price to my Nana when they shop together and then says, “That’s cheap!”  She has said that she can’t understand paying $50 for any single piece of clothing I will grow out of in 4 months, so she looks for bargains.  Plus the materials make it easy to remove stains.

JB: What was your most daring look?

L: I once wore camouflage pants with a tulle ballet skirt over them.  More recently, I wore two different shoes to school. Also, to the Father/Daughter Dance I added fairy wings – nothing says “special night” like fairy wings.

18 months and already showing fabulous style.

18 months and already showing fabulous style.

JB: Who do you typically wear?

Mom says this is a "Pucci" look. Sounds like a bad word.

"Mom says this is a 'Pucci' look. Sounds like a bad word to me."

L: I do a lot of The Children’s Place and The Pumpkin Patch because they carry cute dresses and skirts.  Love Carter’s still, just wish they offered more cotton jammies in my size.  Old Navy works sometimes but they are more on the casual side…

JB: Meaning they have a lot of pants and capris?

L: Right. (rolls her eyes)

JB: What do you think of the dust up with Michelle Obama and her choice of clothing for official engagements? She kind of takes an opposite approach to you – dressing a little more down scale.

L: I’m a big Barack Obama fan and I think those mean people should leave Michelle alone.  Name calling isn’t allowed in my class and those who say mean things have to sit at the Thinking Table.  I think Oscar De La Renta needs to sit at the Thinking Table and then say he’s sorry.

JB: How do you keep your skin so beautiful?

L: Um, I’m 4, so my skin is still good. I use California Baby shampoo/bath soap. My dad let’s me play with bars of soap in the bath, which is so much fun because I can make lots of good experiments with it.  My mom complains but Dad doesn’t stop me.  That’s why I like bath time better with Daddy.

JB: How do you see this Upscale, Everyday trend working with kids your age?

L: You know, much like the fashion trend setters before me, I am not too concerned with what others do. I have a style that works for me – it is comfortable and yet I feel great about myself. I make sure I wear leggings under the dresses and my skirts usually have shorts, so things are proper. I think we can get away with mixing high fashion with low brow fun, unless I’m making mudpies. Then my mom insists on old shorts and old shoes.

JB: Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out.

L: Yup….Can I go now? I need to go potty. (while running out of the room) Don’t forget my cupcake!