Monday, November 15, 2010

A Field Guide to Fires

A Field Guide to Fires….

Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti

Rule Number 1: Remember, fires are H-O-T. That lovely warmth becomes a searing pain if you forget all you know about too much of a good thing.

Rule Number 2: Supernovas beware: the faster it burns, the faster it burns…out.

Rule Number 3: Fires consume both oxygen and fuel. We are either one or the other, never both. Opposites attract because they are necessary.

Rule Number 4: Only pyros and film producers want wild fires. A fire needs attention to burn safely.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Circumcision Decision

Like many sensitive/wimpy, hippie-leaning parents in the Seattle area, my husband and I chose not to castrate—er—clip our son’s foreskins. We took the position of the American Pediatric Association that circumcision is essentially a “cosmetic procedure” as proof that we did not need to have it done to our boys. It seemed somehow barbaric to welcome a child into the world and then immediately clip the skin away from the tip of their penis.

In our area of the world, fully fifty percent of young parents are making just this choice, and so the dread “locker room question” (how will your son feel getting undressed in a locker room as a teenager?) was easy to resolve. They will be in good company.

However, being old farts that grew up in a uniform world of foreskinlessness, we had no personal frame of reference for this particular choice, and so it was with horror that we had the following conversation with a male friend recently:

R (who shall remain nameless as I am writing about him without his permission): I was a homebirth and never circumcised. I paid to have it done as an inpatient procedure in my twenties.
Me: Good heavens. Why?
R: Ever tried to have sex with twenty year old girls?
Me: Ugh. No actually.
R: it’s excruciating if you have a foreskin. Young women are too tight.
Me: Umm. Anybody want some coffee? Ice cream?
My husband: Oh no! Now you tell us! I wish someone had told us before this! Our kids are never going to get laid! Ever.
Me: Let’s look on the bright side. At least they won’t ruin their lives by impregnating their high school sweethearts.
My Husband: We’ve ruined our children’s lives forever! Aggghhhh!
Me: I’m just going to go make that coffee now…

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Mothering twins is like riding drunk on a unicycle along the edge of a cliff: never before has balance been so important. Before Benjamin and Jonah erupted into my life and turned even the tiniest scrap of civilized living into decadent spa-like luxury, I was a self centered, unbalanced person…which is to say normal.

Weekend mornings would find me lolling about in bed, entertaining that hedonistic child-free question: What do I want to do today? Before the boys, I was broody, bored and careened between long hours at work and a hyperactive schedule of extra curricular activities.

The first re/unbalancing act of motherhood is the disappearance of any distinction between “at work” and “not at work.” Every mom in the world already knows where I’m going with this, but for you not-yet-reproduced out there, here is a little tip: once you have kids you are never, and I mean not for five years or so, not at work. This realization actually drove me back to work when my twins were two and a half as I learned that working-at-work was about half as much work as working at home. For this same reason I am hard pressed to stay home when sick, where I have twice the multitasking and half the rest.

Then there is that famous shift in priorities; you yourself are no longer the most important person in your life. When my boys were born, medically fragile and premature, my first thought while post-operative and sucking ice chips was this: How would I kill myself and preserve my organs if one of them needed a transplant? I contemplated a hallway that was less frequently used by the staff, but still trafficked enough to allow me to be fully dead but my organs still harvest-worthy. In any other setting this particular type of planning would land a person in a locked ward, but for a parent it is reassuring. One more item ticked off the endless mental list of contingencies to plan for.

As I lost myself as the highest priority, so too did I lose my home and my ability to control anything whatsoever. It seems the very nanosecond I gave birth our small, calm house was hijacked by six tons of chunky colorful plastic toys and baby-related paraphernalia. In spite of my best efforts to corral the little beasts (I speak of the toys here, not the boys) they would jump under my toes as I stumbled in the dark to the boy’s room or the bathroom. I learned not to scream, even after whacking my head against the odd door frame, because above all other impulses, I knew the first imperative: Never wake the babies.

So to balance the losses—and there are many: parenthood extracts sleep, leisure time, waistline, and any hope of clean kitchen walls—there are these gains which almost magically make up for them. Total, unquestioning adoration and love for another being, for one. In real life I have never won a lottery; yet at three months old when my babies started smiling, I did.

And unlike adult love, with its endless initial drama and subsequent comfort/boredom, falling in love with your children is not fraught with worries of betrayal. I never once asked myself if they would they prefer another mommy’s breast milk.

Mother Work feels a lot like the WPA (Works in Progress Administration): decades of labor building bridges and schools and dams for the good of society, projects which remain incomplete during the lives of the original founders.

This is most important thing I have done in my life, and I make this claim against a backdrop of being a career social worker. The task of raising my children to express their feelings, think through their actions, and be kind to others is paramount to launching my own social revolution. I will help the world by raising two male human beings well, and if I do my job right, these two boys will grow into the type of men who would never use their physical power to harm a woman (or drive an SUV). This is home-brewed feminism at its most accessible.

In this long and slow unfolding, balance is vital. I cannot do my job as a mother, a social worker, a wife, a friend, a daughter, if I do not take care of the frequently frazzled self that I am. So I feel one hundred percent great about taking time away from my children to work out, take a class. I will make crafts while the sink is piled with dishes, I will stretch our budget to hire a sitter and hang out alone in a coffee shop for a quiet hour of writing and listening to my own thoughts.

Let other moms get pedicures with friends and enjoy noisy play groups with babbling toddlers. For me it is alone that I rest and recharge. The library is my spa, the dewy decimal system, my religion.

Mother-Love is universal, but balancing it with self care is personal. Whatever a woman finds to be the right combination of activity and rest that hits the “reset” button on her soul: she should do it. Balancing motherhood with individuality, pre-parent self with post-parent self is not luxury, it is necessity. And a well balanced mother, smiling and speaking softly: that is a woman of power, a woman of beauty.