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mother and her baby silhouette, isolated vector symbol

mother and her baby silhouette, isolated vector symbol

We brought Peaches and her parents home from the hospital a week ago last Friday — a kind of difficult undertaking, actually, since waiting in a car in front of a big-city medical center is a dicey proposition, and it took forever to get Nutmeg the “escort” she apparently neded. And then iDaddy and I stayed for a while, holding Peaches, sitting around the apartment, talking a bit, running out to the local grocery store to buy stuff for lunch and help lay in some supplies for the next couple of days.

When Nutmeg mentioned that my brother Avuncular and his wife were going to come over for a viewing on Sunday afternoon, which was Father’s Day, I promptly invited us over, too. “Sure,” said Nutmeg, with no apparent hesitation. But I spent the next day worrying that I had overstepped, inviting myself over to hang around with this new little family at just the moment when they really would rather not be receiving a lot of company. A bagel brunch for four had become, through my unfiltered “Can we come, too?” a bigger deal, brunch for six. If nothing else, I had moved the venue, with my outburst, from the coffee table to the dining table, with all the extra work that entailed.

As I fussed over how to check in with Nutmeg on Saturday to make sure I hadn’t overstepped, and to give her a chance to un-invite us if she felt that I had, an email pinged into my inbox. “Co-working with Peaches” was the subject line, and the email was addressed to both Meta and me. It read:

If you guys want to come some day this week, either together or separately, to work from here and hang out with Peaches,, you are welcome to! (You might be asked to run an errand or hold her while we run an errand or something. But in exchange you can hang out with her on your chest while she sleeps, which is the best!)

The generosity of that invitation, the willingness it reflected to have me actually be there and be a part of their lives, made me weep. I couldn’t even read it aloud to iDaddy without breaking down.  Naturally, I said yes.

So in addition to a quick Father’s Day visit with iDaddy along with Avuncular and his wife (Nutmeg assured me it was fine; she said she expected we’d bring more food than we ate and clean up more than we dirtied, which is how it unfolded), I got to go back on Wednesday for my “co-working with Peaches” experience. I didn’t get much actual work done that day, but who cares. I helped a little with a couple of chores — grocery run again, mostly — and I did get to hold Peaches on my chest while she slept. Nutmeg is right: it IS “the best.”

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images-1The Word of the Day today on the Word Spy web site is niephlings, a new portmanteau that means one’s collective nieces and nephews. It seems like a good idea for there to be one word to mean all those kids, no matter what their gender — though an earlier version of that word, niblings, is a lot more appealing to me. (Word Spy explains that niblings comes from niece/nephew plus sibling, which is something you probably know without having it explained to you.)

This all puts me in mind of how lovely Meta has been about Nutmeg’s baby, Meta’s own little nibling. It’s been wonderful to watch her excitement at her impending aunt-hood — something made possible partly, I think, because Meta so sincerely likes Southpaw (and has always loved Nutmeg). And it’s made possible, too, by something I suspect is true about Meta but have never felt it was my place to ask: that she doesn’t really want kids of her own. This little niece/nibling/niephling/sofralia — or, as we like to refer to her in our mostly-journalist family, TK — will be Meta’s chance for a baby to love and nurture at close range. I’m delighted to see how much pleasure she’s getting from it in prospect.

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ImageIt’s a delicate dance, this parenting of grownups. From the point of view of the adult daughter, I’ve always strived for some distance; I moved out of the house at 16 to go to college, moved out state at 19 to start a new life with my new husband, moved a comfortable 250 miles from home when we decided to start a family. iDaddy and I raised our girls with only an occasional visit from my parents, either at our house (my preference, because then they were less likely to treat me like a child) or theirs.

I knew the connection wasn’t strong enough for Ur-Momma. I knew that, from her point of view, the visits weren’t frequent enough. I knew she didn’t like talking to us only once a week, seeing us only once every few months. But it was pretty much exactly right for me.

Now that I’m on the receiving end of the not-frequent-enough visits and chats, I see how much it must have pained her when I kept her at arms length — at arms length from my life and, especially, from my daughters. Now we see our girls once a month, maybe twice, even though they live nearby. It’s not enough for me, and there’s nothing I can do about it but ratchet down my expectations.

For a while when Nutmeg was single, we saw her often, maybe every week and a half. Sometimes iDaddy and I would take her to a play or out for dinner; sometimes I’d meet her after work for a drink; sometimes iDaddy and she would go together to a football game. During this time, when Nutmeg was about 24 to 28, Meta was married to Wilcoand living a four-hour train ride away. So I didn’t see Meta often, but I was in constant g-chat contact with her — electronic chats that were sometimes even better than chats in real life, in much the same that hard conversations with her during her childhood were often better when we were in the car and she was in the back seat, confessing to the back of my head.

But now Nutmeg has a boyfriend, and she’d understandably rather spend time with him than with us, or even than with him plus us. And Meta has left Wilco and moved to an apartment not far from Nutmeg, where she’s busily — you might almost say frantically — building an incredibly active social life. So even though they’re now both living about an hour away from us by subway, they’re usually too busy to see us when we suggest it.

In fact, the last time I suggested a family get-together Nutmeg let me know, gently, that I had kind of pissed off Meta with the invitation. “Did she ask to get together this much when I didn’t live here?” she asked Nutmeg, clearly feeling hemmed in by our proximity. It’s the kind of question I would have asked Avuncular about our parents (he always lived in the same metro area, so he never knew the luxury of distance that I knew). That’s why it stung. When I used to think, “Why does Ur-Momma need to see me AGAIN?” it was because I felt no need to see her; our connection was fraught, and our contact was, from my end, mostly merely dutiful. So knowing now that Meta bristles at my contact in exactly the same way is terribly painful.

It’s a balancing act, though. Do I not invite her, and make her feel left out? Is that better or worse than inviting her too much, and making her feel burdened? And how much should I really communicate with and visit Nutmeg? We’re both journalists working for the same publication, which makes the balancing act especially hard. I try not to dump my career concerns on her too much — yet a few weeks ago, when I had a couple of assignments I had failed to mention that she had to hear about from an acquaintance, she felt miffed that there was something about my professional life that she didn’t know. Yet obviously there’s plenty about her life that I don’t know — not the professional stuff, which she eventually tells me all about, but the intimate questions I can’t ask, about marriage, babies, houses, plans . . .

As I said, a delicate dance.

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BeRdbx9IcAALhTFMore than three years have passed since my last Momma Loshen post. I can tell how long ago that was by looking at the posts themselves from pre-2010; in those days, I was still typing two spaces after every period, the way I’d been taught to back in junior high. That was before I read the article by Farhad Manjoo in Slate (who since has moved from Slate, first to WSJ and then to the New York Times, another indication of how long three years can be) that told me that double spacing between sentences was totally last-century.

A lot else has happened in those three years, not just to Farhad Manjoo but to me. Most of it has been good. iDaddy and I celebrated our 40th anniversary with a lovely party at our apartment, attended by some of our dearest friends from out of town (two friends from college and their spouses, one wonderful couple from the earliest years of our marriage) and a handful of new friends from around here (a bunch of people from various book clubs,  a few of our favorites from our building), as well as my brother and our girls. Nutmeg, who’s 29 now, has a terrific job in journalism and started dating a lovely guy. Meta, now 33, got tired of being married to Wilco, so about a year ago she took the dog and moved to Brooklyn — where, as far as I can tell, she’s been very very happy living alone, working from home and doing some amazing writing of her own. I turned 60.

Professionally, things have been a mixed bag. I did end up co-authoring a book with Nutmeg, which was a really rewarding experience for me. It led to a very cool book party, mention of the book in a couple of national magazines, and the chance to do a storytelling event with Nutmeg at a bar on the Lower East Side — and then, zip. The book was  a bust in terms of notice or sales, so I’m glad all that really mattered to me was the chance to work with Nutmeg. In the year-plus since the book came out I’ve written a couple of long magazine articles, one of which was killed for no apparent reason by an idiosyncratic editor (who’s since been fired), another of which was published and got its share of accolades, most of them on Twitter. And while I once said, only half-joking, that I’d know I was a professional success if I never had to write another article for a women’s magazine as long as I lived, something must have changed, because recently I’ve been accepting assignments from women’s magazines. At the moment, they’re the only outlets that have come calling.

So for now I reside in the Valley of the Stupid, where I can’t find a good story or book idea to save my life. It’s snowing today, and my drinks date for later this evening has already cancelled, so I’ll stay indoors to read and write and think. Among my tasks will be trying to find things to write about  on this blog — this anonymous, slightly quirky, virtually invisible blog. That  seems like one way to write myself out of this “what-do-I-do-now” quandary. We shall see.

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Nearly three months have passed since my last post, in which I mused about whether my daughters really minded having me write about them, even on a barely-noticed, anonymous blog.  A couple of Momma Loshen’s few readers wrote to ask whether I had decided to stop the blog altogether.  In a way, I had.  If it came down to a choice between my daughters and my little blog, or even my career as a writer, there was no contest, the girls would win.

But is that really what it comes down to?  Have Meta and Nutmeg even noticed that I’m not writing here anymore?  For that matter, had they noticed that I was writing here in the first place?  Meta had, I think, since she postsed comments occasionally, but Nutmeg seemed basically uninterested in the whole enterprise.  Now, however, Nutmeg and I are thinking of entering into a joint book-writing project (Meta wanted no part of it, though I would have loved to have her help).   If the stars align — if the publishing gods come through with a decent advance — Nutmeg and I are going to have to figure out how to mix personal revelations with plain old-fashioned journalism.  So maybe I should go back to practicing some of that here.

I’ve also wondered, on and off over these past three months, whether my ideas about privacy and decorum are positively archaic.  Has the notion of self-scrutiny and confessional totally changed in the Wide World of Web 2.0.?  When I see what people, including Meta and Nutmeg, are willing to reveal about themselves online, I realize how outmoded my thinking seems to be.   Maybe I don’t really want to be left out of all the chatter — I had been having a good time nurturing this blog, and I’ve missed it.

I realize that, in some ways, blogging is so last-year, almost as out of date as the legacy-media magazines I ordinarily write for.  If I want to really understand how people are using the Web, what I have to figure out isn’t blogging, it’s microblogging.  Eh.  Maybe later; at the moment Twitter is beyond me. But I’m going to take another stab at Momma Loshen.  In doing so, I hope I can stake out a balance between being honest about myself and my relationship with my grown daughters, and being sensitive to my daughters’ right to their own stories, without my intrusive filter.  I’m going to walk this tightrope one more time, because it was kind of fun while it lasted, and we three are all adults now.  We should be able to figure out how to make this work.

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted here — I look at my blog stats and see that I had only one post in June, and before that only one post in May.  Part of this is because I’ve been working on a long magazine article that was due in mid-July, and that I’m still working on because there are (as there always are) editors’ revisions to address.  But part of this, I think, is because I’ve been a little uncertain about this whole project.   I worry that my original plan to write about mothering grown-ups, first in blog form and maybe eventually in book form, might be something that endangers my relationship with my daughters, and that I refuse to do, even for — especially for? — the sake of my career.  So that’s tempered my enthusiasm somewhat about posting on Momma Loshen.

I always knew that Meta didn’t want me to write about her anymore.  I got her permission to write this blog, not using my real name and giving her a pseudonym, before I began.  And when I thought that maybe a book about this topic would include some personal memoir-type stuff about mothering adults (and that time it WOULD be using my real name), she said only “I don’t love that.”  (“Said” is a relative term here — this conversation took place, as many of ours do, on g-chat.)  But I didn’t recognize the true feelings behind “I don’t love that” — didn’t recognize, maybe, because it was convenient for me not to — as that old bad feeling Meta used to get whenever I wrote about her, even in what I thought to be a loving way, that had led to her original prohibition.  That old bad feeling was still there.  “Don’t love” was her mature version of “hate.”  It took an in-person conversation with Nutmeg, in which I asked her directly how Meta felt about me writing a parenting book that mentioned her, to realize how angry she is at me for even considering it, after she had repeatedly made her preferences very very clear.

Nutmeg, too, it turns out, isn’t so wild about me writing about her — so there goes my Plan B, which had been to write in the preface of whatever  book I might end up writing, “I have two daughters, but the older one has prohibited me from writing about her, so in this book I’m only going to write about the younger one.”  The younger one doesn’t really like that idea, either.  And if there’s to be a memoir-ish element to a book about parenting grown-ups, I can’t fail to write about at least one of them!

I just spent a long beautiful summer morning sitting on the back deck of our house (yes, iDaddy and I just bought a second home in a sweet little beach town in Delaware) erasing traceable evidence on this blog of Nutmeg’s true identity.   I had originally chosen a different pseudonym for Nutmeg, a nickname she used to use — but I recently realized that she’s using that nickname now on her Twitter account, and her ID could easily be traced back to this blog for anyone who cared.  (Meta had pointed this out to me when I first chose the pseudonym, but Nutmeg said she didn’t care — and the original pseudonym was a better name for her than Nutmeg is.  Nutmeg is the name of her pet hamster when she was 8 years old.)  When I suggested to Nutmeg that I’d try to expunge all use of that first pseudonym on this blog, since she’s using it for Twitter, she said that would be good.  She didn’t ask me to do it directly, but I did anyway.  It took two fucking hours, but I consider it two hours well spent if it protects her from whatever scary internet privacy invasion she might have suffered because of something I’d done.

All this is a long way around today’s topic — writing about our children.

A couple of months ago, the wonderful monologuist Julia Sweeney — who’s made a career telling touching and hilarious tales about her mother, brother, daughter, priest, and anyone else in her orbit — said she wasn’t going to talk about her daughter Mulan anymore.  Mulan is now 10 years old, old enough to read or hear her mother’s stuff and to be embarrassed by it.  Sweeney figures there will only be more of that ahead, so she’s calling it quits, at least that part of her storytelling.  As she put it in her blog, “I plan to hang up my mouth.”  (I was alerted to Julia Sweeney’s blog by another wonderful blogger, Melinda Blau, a writer who, for all I know, is thinking about writing a book exactly like the one I’d like to write.  Melinda’s blog, MotherU, is a collaboration with her grown-up daughter Jennifer.  More on MotherU in another post.)

Here’s what Julia Sweeney wrote in her farewell post (it was posted in March, but I just discovered it today) that hammered it home for me:

I began to look at the darker side of telling stories about my personal life.  The guilt, the anguish, the desire to emphasize this over that, the slant, the small or large exaggeration, the worry that someone I’m talking about will see or hear me.   Then I suppose you could say the tipping point was Mulan.

Also, she expressed a concern quite apart from hurting people’s feelings, and this I found interesting, too (though less discomfiting) —  a concern about sapping your energies by writing about or pursuing the wrong things.  As Sweeney put it:

Sometimes I feel that my creativity, (and not just mine, but everyone’s creativity) is like the snow on a mountaintop melting a little at a time.  All my various outlets – performing and writing in all its manifestations — create little rivers through which the snow can melt.  I always liked having so many things going at once.  I always felt that in show business, you had to have five pots on the stove just to get one of them to boil.  I benefited from being so multi-able.  I could do voice over and then perform at a club, I could write a monologue and then write a pilot for a TV show.

But lately it feels that I have fragmented my focus with this policy.  I want the snow to melt into a couple of larger rivers, not into several smaller streams.

The idea that by blogging and journal-writing and whatever else I do, either to make a living or to procrastinate, I’m diverting my creativity that should be going to whatever the hell else it is that’s my real goal — well, that gives me pause.

Does this mean that I’m giving up ever writing again about Meta and Nutmeg, except anonymously?  I don’t know.  Does it mean I’m even giving up on writing about them anonymously, as in this little, nearly-invisible blog?  I don’t know that, either, but I don’t think so.  But like Sweeney, I’m mulling.  I’m spending the next month at our new house at the beach, here with iDaddy and occasionally with family and a couple of dear friends, and I’m mulling.

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Stories about adult children following in their parents’ footsteps have taken on special meaning for me, now that I realize that both my daughters have, in a way, gone into our own family business, too, of journalism and writing.    So I was especially intrigued by the article in today’s New York Times about Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general of New York, and his career in politics, the family business begun by his father Mario, New York’s former governor.  “Political Test May Loom for the Cuomos’ Bond,” reads the headline.  Imagine that — competition and jealousy rearing their un-pretty heads in a father-son relationship lived out in the spotlight.

Times reporters Michael Powell and Raymond Hernandez had to cobble their story together from secondary sources, since both father and son declined to be interviewed.  (Mario had at first agreed, but when Andrew refused to talk, Mario backed out.)  But they managed to find people who would talk, mostly anonymously, about the fierce, intense, loving, competitive relationship that Andrew, aged 52, has with his 78-year-old father.  And it was the father, someone I’ve long admired for his oratory skills, who summed up the relationship perfectly.

As to their changing relationship, father and son express frustration with the endless literary allusions and amateur psychoanalysis. To the elder Cuomo, the Shakespeare this and the Freudian that is silliness. Yes, he is a strong-willed and loving father, and, yes, he has a strong-willed and loving son.

“People say, ‘Oh, they have such a complicated relationship,’ ” Mario Cuomo said. “Do you know any father who doesn’t have a complicated relationship with his son?”

He paused, and added, “Incidentally, it doesn’t get less complicated as it goes on.”

Oh my goodness, it doesn’t?  Ur-Momma had always uttered the refrain “it never ends” whenever I expressed any worry about Nutmeg or Meta as they were growing up.  But I’d always hoped that she was wrong, that the worry DOES in fact end, or at least changes significantly, when the kids become adults and are living their own exuberant, rocky lives.  And now here’s Mario — erudite, thoughtful Mario — telling me that not only does it never ends, it only gets more complicated.  Maybe Ur-Momma was smarter than I realized.

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