NewEssays Katie's musings, mostly on things related to family life
Saturday, July 09, 2005
by Katie Allison Granju (Originally published in Hip Mama)
I began to suspect that something was very wrong the day I could no longer walk across the library at the law school where I was a first year student. Ten weeks pregnant, I had been fighting excessive fatigue, loss of appetite and night sweats for almost a month.
"Relax," my midwife told me. "You're just having a rough first trimester."
I was inclined to believe her. At age 27 and in perfect health, I had no reason to consider that anything more than extreme morning sickness was plaguing me, and that was no big deal. Heck, with my first pregnancy, three years previously, I had felt so good that I had even wished for a little first-trimester yukkiness so that I could feel "really pregnant."
Still, the nagging feeling that something other than just the pregnancy was going on grew stronger with each wretched day. The afternoon when I found myself collapsed in a chair in the law library brought the situation to a head. A classmate had to practically carry me to her car so that she could drive me home. There, she insisted on taking my temperature: 104'.
Within hours, I was admitted to the maternity floor at a local hospital, where I spent the next eight unhappy days. Each afternoon, just to make sure that all was well, the obstetrician would perform an ultrasound, showing us the tiny "beep, beep" of the fetal heart and the jerky movements of a glowing human jumping bean. We began calling the baby "Peanut." My doctor was puzzled as test after test failed to determine what the cause of my illness could be. He brought in an infectious disease specialist, who tested me for everything from HIV to Malaria.
On the sixth day of my confinement, as I was lying miserably in my hospitalbed, watching a rerun of the Andy Griffith show, both of my doctors suddenly entered my room, closed the door and turned off the TV without asking. Now I knew for certain that I had been right; something was terribly wrong.
They had come to inform me that I had an acute, primary cytomegolovirus infection, popularly known as CMV. The disease is not generally something to worry about....unless you are immunocompromised, which I wasn't....or pregnant, which I was. CMV, we were told by the obstetrician, is very dangerous to a fetus, particularly in the first trimester. It is a leading cause of congenital neurologic impairment, severe physical anomalies, devastating mental retardation and infant fatality. Really, we were told, we should consider our "options".
Suddenly, I, a person with all her grandparents still alive, a person who had never even been to a funeral, was faced with death. Not only was I faced with death in the abstract, I was faced with The Decision. In consultation with my with my sweet, 26 year old husband, a man similarly unschooled in the ways of mortality, I was charged with handing down a judgment as to whether Peanut would continue to leap and hop about in my womb and ultimately, be born alive. With a somber face, the doctor uttered the words that were to become so familiar to us over the next weeks, "Now, no one can make this decision for you. Only you can decide."
Only, I couldn't. Not without more information. And maybe not even then. We immediately became experts on CMV and its potential sequelae. I stayed up all night for days after the diagnosis, reading medical literature and searching the World Wide Web for answers. None was forthcoming. The best information available told us that if we carried the pregnancy to term, there was approximately a 1 in 4 chance that an infected baby would be affected by the CMV in some way. I was paralyzed with grief and indecision.
As an ostensibly pro-choice woman, I realized that I was not actually "pro"- anyone ever having to make a choice like this. Although no one wanted to offer an opinion as to what we should do, everyone had an angle. My doctor answered my questions honestly and told me that if his wife or daughter were faced with a CMV diagnosis in the first trimester, he would definitely encourage an abortion.
The minister whom a friend sent to see me was gentle and kind. Yet, she assumed that I was crying because I had already made the obvious decision to have an abortion and was grieving. She offered to set a time for a memorial service after the abortion to "celebrate and remember". She even showed me the feminist liturgy she had photocopied for just such an occasion. I found her point of view strangely repulsive and without intellectual honesty. If the life I would be taking was worthy of religious remembrance and ceremony, how was it possibly mine to take? There are no memorial services for appendectomies or squashed bugs. Only for people.
I was hesitant to share my dilemma with a certain close relative because I feared her unbending anti-abortion stance. Of course, she immediately realized the decision with which I was faced after someone told her of my diagnosis. She telephoned me to instruct me that, although abortion is wrong, sometimes God realizes that the time is not right for a particular soul to come into this world. Considering the circumstances, she opined, no one could blame me for whatever decision I felt was right. Her stunning hypocrisy angered me. Despite her stated views, she was conveniently able to allow for choice in this issue when the woman in question was someone she loved.
As days passed and I wrestled with my conscience, I realized that I was petrified of the physical procedure itself. My doctor assured me that he could perform the abortion at the hospital. I wouldn't have to go sit in a waiting room at a clinic. I told him that, although I realized that most first and early second trimester abortions are performed under local anesthesia, the only way I could face this would be knocked out cold. He agreed. I knew that I could be admitted to the hospital, drift gently off to sleep and wake up, relieved of this problem forever. I would never have to think about it again if I chose not to. Variously, this sounded tremendously appealing and completely horrifying.
When I envisioned the actual opening of my womb and suctioning of its contents, the same primal instinct kicked in that would allow me to single-handedly rip the lungs out of any man who laid a hand on my little boy. What kind of terrible mother would allow her defenseless offspring to be taken from the very bosom of maternal safety and warmth? I felt sick, and wept yet again.
My father tried to reason with me, pointing out the lifelong ramifications of my decision. He was terribly worried that I would be forever shackled to the responsibilities of caring for a severely ill or disabled child. He fretted that his big plans for his own child would be sucked away forever by a draining responsibility from which I could never escape. I too was seized with these fears. I secretly believed that I simply wasn't up to the task of mothering a child with serious health and developmental problems. What would that do to our other child, whom I already knew and loved? What would it do to my career goals? Our marriage? And what about the baby? The thought of seeing our tiny baby, suffering, perhaps hooked up to tubes and wires in a neonatal intensive care unit, caused me almost unbearable psychic pain. I imagined a future in which our mentally retarded and physically handicapped 13 year old child would endure the cruel taunts of other teenagers.
I began to wonder if I was being selfish in even considering giving birth to this baby. Would anyone choose for herself the life that this child might face? Were my own fears about a relatively minor surgery and future guilt good enough reasons to bring forth a human being who would have to live with the consequences of my own cowardice? I tentatively decided that motherhood is full of tough calls and hard decisions, both in the name of love and in a child's best interests. This must be one of them, I thought. I would do what was best for all concerned.
I telephoned the hospital, as instructed by my physician, and weakly scheduled the procedure for the next day. The admitting clerk who took the call easily misunderstood my vague instructions and thought that I was coming in for labor induction of a full-term, healthy pregnancy. "Congratulations," she said brightly. I corrected her mistake and her tone grew dark, almost menacing. She told me to meet my doctor at the labor and delivery wing at 6:30 a.m. sharp the following morning. She abruptly hung up.
There, I thought to myself. I have done the right thing. No turning back. I felt like someone had drained all the life from me. I sat in a darkened room for the next several hours, absently rubbing my still flat belly and murmuring maternal expressions of comfort to no one in particular. Later that evening, my husband and I discussed the choice that had been made. I attempted stoicism. He reminded me that we had a friend coming over to bring us supper, as many kind people had done throughout my illness and convalescence at home. I roused myself enough to get dressed and out of bed.
Our friend arrived and we all ate supper together. I told her of my decision and the reasons behind it. She listened quietly and then asked if she could tell us a little about her brother, who had died recently at the age of nine. She recounted a tale of extraordinary courage on the part of her parents, her sister, herself, and especially, on the part of a little boy with Down Syndrome named David. This child and this family had lived through all of the things I feared when I considered birthing my own baby, including David's eventual early death. Still, the joy and love of his brief existence canceled out all of the pain, fear and hurt. No one who knew David had any regrets. Our friend showed us his photograph: a beautiful and smiling tow-headed little boy, obviously mentally retarded.
Neither do I have any regrets about the decisions I made after that discussion. I never arrived at the hospital the next morning. I canceled the abortion and after a pregnancy alternating between exhilaration and despair, gave birth to my daughter, Elizabeth Jane Chevillard Granju on August 15th, 1995. She was born ten days early weighing 6 pounds and eleven ounces. She was born infected with congenital cytomegolovirus and had two seizure episodes in her first year. Since that time, however, she has been physically and developmentally normal in every way. She is also a strikingly beautiful child, with shiny dark hair, olive skin and a lithe, elfin figure.
Jane's epilepsy could conceivably worsen and she is at risk for other neurologic problems and progressive hearing loss until she leaves childhood behind. Still, she is remarkably healthy. Many people want to extract a moral from this story. Pro-life friends tell me that Jane is my gift from God for making the right choice. They want to hold my baby up as their own personal anti-abortion poster child.
Those who are pro-choice attempt to use the tale as a cautionary parable for why choice should be the focus of the debate, rather than abortion itself. After all, I was able to carefully consider each of my options and ultimately, have the final say. This wouldn't have been possible in another political context. My own views have become less reactionary and more cognizant of the complexity of the abortion issue. I continue to fear the slippery slope that we head down when we deny women the right to choose when and how we bear children. On the other hand, I no longer attempt to repudiate the fact that the graphic posters displayed by anti-abortion activists are real photographs of what really comes out of the uterus during an abortion. Many abortions do indeed "stop a beating heart," as the bumper sticker says.
However, I will not allow Jane to be used as a crucible for the views of any person or group. I know that I would love Jane just as much if she had been born severely disabled. I do not, however, deny the relief I feel that she is so radiantly well. I am deeply aware that I was graced with this experience, which has allowed me to see that the blessing is sometimes as much in the struggle, from which I have learned so much, as in the outcome.
COPYRIGHT KATIE ALLISON GRANJU 1997-2005 -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED-- CONTACT KATIE AT email@example.com FOR REPRINT OR SYNDICATION INFO (or just to let me know your thoughts on the essay)
I dropped my nearly-12 year old son, Henry off for a month at summer camp this weekend. He stayed two weeks last year but wanted to try a month this time. I know I’ll miss him but it was fun to see him happily waving goodbye, surrounded by a gaggle of other boys as we drove away.
In the past few weeks, as I’ve mentioned to friends and acquaintances that Henry would be gone at camp for four weeks, I’ve encountered quite a bit of wonderment that we would allow him to stay away that long, or that he would want to. Interestingly, some of the folks who seemed most startled at the idea that a sixth grader would spend a month away from his parents at summer camp are the same people who have amazed me in the past with their willingness to leave their infants and very young children for days or even longer at a time. In thinking about this riddle, I was reminded yet again of how upside-down I find much of millennial, western childrearing to be. I think we have it backwards in our culture: we don’t allow babies much of a babyhood, but we treat our older children and teenagers like babies for far too long.
As with other higher-order mammals, human infants are hardwired to require certain responses from their adult caregivers in order to thrive. Human babies need to be held a great deal – almost constantly, actually – and experience a lots of touch-time with other humans. They need to eat very frequently and in small amounts, including during the night. They have a strong need to suck for comfort, not only for food. They need to discover that they are able to elicit responses from the people around them when they cry. And optimally, human infants need to wean and reach other important developmental milestones, such as readiness for separation from parents – at their own unique pace.
Notice that I said that they need these things to thrive, rather than survive. I’m well aware of the anecdotal ‘my mother fed me on a strict schedule and I’m just fine” argument ( I myself rode around without a car seat in a haze of second hand smoke as a tyke), but a growing body of respected anthropological and medical research now supports the view that high-touch, fed-on-cue, attachment-style childcare yields optimal neurological and emotional development in babies and young children. Sure, babies can turn out okay under a variety of conditions, just as plants can take root in rocky soil, but we know with increasing assuredness what the gold standard is.
Yet we modern American parents lead the world in our gadgetry and lifestyles designed to maximize babies’ separation from their parents. Although there has been some movement toward more attachment-style parenting in recent years, American babies still spend more time in playpens, swings, cribs, and battery powered bouncy seats than they do in the arms of their parents, siblings, and other relatives. We stay at arm’s length, and it’s almost as if we are afraid to hold our babies too much for fear they will never let us put them down.
But by age six or seven, we begin to obsess over every detail of our kids’ lives and micro-manage every moment of their days. Because we worry about stranger danger and exposure to the wrong movies, advertising, or foods, we no longer allow kids to wander freely through our neighborhoods or even our own front yards, where they should be learning important lessons in autonomy and problem solving. I meet many ten and eleven year old children who, while never having spent a night sleeping in the same bed as their parents as infants, still have never spent a night at a friend’s house as third and fourth graders.
Our parenting style is like asking trapeze artists to learn to work without a net first, and only after they have mastered this, insisting that they perform in full safety gear of nets, wires, and pulleys. I believe that the result of this backwards approach to raising kids is that we are turning out children who may feel an unexpressed longing for something very primal that they can’t even identify, yet without basic life skills or self confidence.
Babies need babying. Big kids need the chance to try out their wings. And when they experience the inevitable bumps and bruises along the way, that’s when we get to hold them close and give them a little “booster shot” of smotherlove. I fully anticipate that we will receive at least one “I’m so homesick I could die” letter from Henry. When I do, I’ll pack and send off an extra special care package for him and continue to count the days until we get to retrieve him. And I’ll be both surprised and a little disappointed if in a year or two, he doesn’t feel ready for a five week stay.
The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” has become a rallying cry for the American far right ever since their perennial favorite object of vilification, Hillary Clinton, used it as the title of her 1996 book about our culture’s treatment of children. Critics of Clinton and her slight tome declared that this talk of villages raising children was all just one more piece of the Orwellian commie-pinko plot to see all childrearing turned over to the state. On the day I first heard this criticism of the book while listening to talk radio, I distinctly remember laughing as I wondered how I could get the government to take my kids for at least the afternoon so I could maybe take a hot bath or go have a beer.
Those of us who are raising children know very well that the idea that parents need support and help in their 24/7 jobs has absolutely nothing to do with politics. Women in every society around the globe depend on what anthropologists call “co-mothers” to help care for their children. This co-mothering comes in culturally specific forms, ranging from Aboriginal older sisters watching younger siblings so their mothers can go out to hunt and gather, all the way along the continuum to the ubiquitous nanny/au pair culture of swanky Manhattanites.
In my own tenure as a parent, co-mothers have been an essential part of family life for both me and my kids. Until we recently moved to a new neighborhood, my next door neighbor ( with whom I originally believed I had so little in common that it was unlikely we would ever even have a real conversation) became my “other mother,” performing mothering tasks I could not, including sewing costumes, french braiding my daughter’s hair for special events, and even convincing my children to swallow nasty-tasting medicine when necessary. On more than one occasion over the years, I would carry a feverish, glassy eyed child next door before bedtime so that Karen could work her magic and unpry the jaws that refused to open for me. After she got the medicine down the toddler gullet, I would whisper a grateful thanks and carry my limp child back home for the overnight shift.
My two-years-younger sister and I have been constant co-mothers since the day I gave birth to my first child eleven years ago. Betsy - dashing away from her final college exams, was in the room, holding my hand while my husband held my other. She missed birth #2 because she was overseas, but made it for birth #3 in 1998. Ten months later, that baby and I were both in the room as Betsy herself became a mother with the arrival of infant Eleanor, and I was there again last year when she had a wonderful waterbirth and became a mother to a son. I have nursed her babies, so close in age to mine, and she has done the same. My children long for their Aunt Betsy when they’ve had enough of me and vice versa.
There are other co-parents in my “village,” as well: my friend Katie C., who has covered field trips and class snacks for me more than once in the past year as I’ve adjusted to being a single, working parent; my daughter’s riding instructor, Susan, who offers my athletic child a focus and perspective she needs that she doesn’t get from me; and even my longtime pediatrician, the wonderful Dr. Glover, who assures my almost-adolescent son that he isn’t going to be a midget (I had already explained his to him over and over, but he needed to hear it from Dr. Glover before he actually believed it).
These individuals, and many others, provide a safety net for me and for my children. I never feel as if I have to do it all myself and in fact, with some years of parenting experience under my belt, I am increasingly aware that I can’t do it all myself. No one person can. Kids need teachers and aunts and neighbors and coaches to weave the supportive web in which they can best thrive.
Call it a village. Call me a commie. I’m just glad that I can call my friend Karen when I need to figure out how to make cookies shaped like inchworms for the preschool spring festival.
In her memoir, The Lunchbox Chronicles, writer Marion Winik tells how awe-inspiring she used to find single parents, wondering how in the world they managed to get by. She both admired and pitied them, and thanked her lucky stars every day that she didn't belong to their ranks.
And then her husband died, leaving her with a three-year-old and a six-year-old to raise all by herself. She writes that after the initial shock of her loss wore off, she suddenly realized that she had become not only a widow, but a single parent, and when she thought of the years of "hard labor" stretched out ahead of her, all she could say was "Holy %$&@!!"
I too am now a single parent. After sharing parenting duties for the last 11 years with my children's father, he no longer lives with me. My children still have two parents, of course, but we two parents no longer have one another. As a result, I am suddenly being forced into a steep learning curve at a time when I really thought I had this whole running-a-household thing mostly figured out.
I have never mowed a lawn. I have no idea how to fix a leaky faucet or clean the gutters. I don't even cook. In our family's unofficial and voluntary division of labor, these tasks fell on my now-absent husband's shoulders. And when the children are at his house, he too is now facing alien tasks that formerly fell within my purview. He is learning how to fix a ponytail, plan and referee play-dates, and get three children to three different lessons during his work hours. And both he and I are facing the reality that after all the kids are finally bathed, read-to, and asleep at night, there will be no cozy adult discussion of the day's events or shared laughs and commiseration over spilled milk—literal or figurative.
Interestingly, since my kids' father moved out, many of my still-married friends with children have admitted to me in a somewhat furtive way that they envy me. Looking around as if someone might overhear their blasphemous confessions, one after another has told me of their secret fantasies of being able to run their households exactly as they choose, with no need for compromise or cooperation.
"I'd get rid of that ugly recliner in about two seconds," says one. "I'd use all the hot water every night and I'd park wherever I want to in the driveway," declares another.
Other pals have expressed their suppressed desires to eat in bed without fear of crumbs bothering anyone else; keep the heat turned as high as they like in the winter; or throw out the stacks of decade-old newspapers and magazines rotting in their laundry rooms.
As for myself, I never fantasized about single parenthood. In fact, I fought with every fiber in my being to prevent the break-up of my marriage, and I fell into a dark depression for many months after my husband moved out. I was sad for my children and I felt sorry for myself. Like Marion Winik, my commentary on the turn my life had taken was usually in the form of angry expletives or tears or both.
But as the longest, darkest winter I have ever experienced began to fade last month, and as the weather began to warm and the crocus and daffodils poked their first tentative tendrils up through the dirt in my yard, I began to notice for the first time how much I was enjoying certain aspects of living without another adult. Married at age 22, and a mother by 23, I now I find myself reveling in certain guilty pleasures, such as eating ice cream in the bath tub and leaving my bedroom light on until 3 a.m. if I want to finish a book. I let my dog get on the sofa and I have stopped storing the bread in the refrigerator, as my ex-husband preferred.
Last weekend, my children and I moved out of the home our family had lived in for the past seven years and into a charmingly dilapidated 1940s cottage that I love and my husband would hate. I see built-in china cabinets, an appealing, ivy-covered exterior, and a yard that backs up to a library in my favorite local neighborhood. He would see a house with no garage and a topography that has "drainage problems" written all over it. I felt giddy on the day I signed the lease in my own name. And last night, for the first time, I slept in my own bedroom—which I painted pink—in my very own bed. The dog was snoring under the covers and I read a mystery deep into the night.
I still miss my marriage a great deal. I have a feeling that I will grieve this loss in my own way for the rest of my life. And there is no doubt in my mind that my children have lost something irreplaceable. Some days I still have the unsettling sense that I have somehow woken up in someone else's life. But more often than not now, I am able to see that in fact, the opposite is true: I am composing and reclaiming my own life.
NOTE to readers: I live in Knoxville, TN, home of the University of Tennessee. In case you don't know (and I wouldn't if I didn't live here) the UT football team -- the Vols -- is a Very Big Deal. Football truly is a religion in our neck of the woods. But not at our house, which is too bad for my football-crazy kid
Stranger in a Strange Land
by Katie Allison Granju
My fourth grade son, Henry inherited his beautiful brown eyes from his father, his love of good books from me … and his passionate interest in football from God knows where. This poor child, who has loved watching and playing football from the time he was old enough to babble, has been cursed with the only parents in east Tennessee who don’t know when the Vols are playing unless and until we accidentally encounter an extra-long line of orange-clad, pre-game beer seekers at our neighborhood convenience store. We are even less informed about the latest statewide football craze, the Tennessee Titans. When our six year old neighbor, Justin came by recently wearing a blue jersey reading “E. George” on the back, I asked him why he was wearing some other kid’s shirt.
I did actually attend one football game at Neyland Stadium when I was a student at UT. But according to my son, the fact that I was proudly sporting a sandwich board reading “U.S. Out of Nicaragua” at the time totally obviates the experience. When I first came to Knoxville in 1986 as a college sophomore, I really wanted to fit in, but
the whole football-centered social scene just totally eluded me. I was handicapped by the fact that my own high school, The Webb School in Bell Buckle, TN did away with their football program in the late 19th century when a distant cousin of mine had his neck snapped playing in a school football game. So we had soccer and basketball and even ultimate Frisbee teams, but no football. No cheerleaders either, except the loosely-organized squad of teenage boys in drag who occasionally showed up on the sidelines of particularly important school basketball games.
Henry’s father, my husband Chris was born only a few blocks from Knoxville’s Taj Mah-Stadium at Fort Sanders Hospital, and raised entirely within the environs of Big Orange Country, yet he too somehow managed to avoid all contact with football while growing up. His own father, Jean-Pierre, is a skinny French engineer who
emigrated to Knoxville and UT’s grad school in the early 60s because, as an enthusiastic fan of Disney and Fess Parker’s Davy Crockett movies (and you thought the French only liked Jerry Lewis!), he found himself inexorably attracted to the drawing of a hillbilly-cum-mountaineer that then graced all of UT’s promotional materials. He can’t recall ever having attended any football game.
And thus it came to pass that my husband was never initiated into the Knoxville Cult of Football like the other local boys his age. He did allow himself to be dragged to one Vols game as a UT undergrad, but he says he quickly realized that if he ever had the urge to watch a football game again, the seats were more comfortable and
the snacks were cheaper in his own living room.
So imagine our shock and surprise when our progeny, Henry began asking to watch UT football games on television at about three years of age. He would sit raptly in front of the screen asking us question after question about the rules, the players, and the action, none of which we could even attempt to answer for him. I quickly located a
book called “The Kid’s Guide to Football” and offered to read it to him, which he loved. For his fifth Christmas, he asked Santa to bring him a miniature Vols uniform, which he received and wore happily until it fell apart. When he began asking his father to practice throwing a football with him so he could practice for the day when he
would be old enough to join a youth league team, we knew we needed help.
Luckily, we had extended family members who were able to step in to teach Henry the fundamentals. My brother-in-law, Ray, is a Vols season ticket holder and so he had long worried about his nephew’s football-deprived upbringing. When offered the chance, he happily took Henry to a few games at Neyland Stadium, and he patiently
taught Henry how to hold and throw the ball. And so, by the time Henry was seven years old, he was begging to be allowed to join a local youth football team.
On the very first day of fall practice for Henry’s new kids’ team at West Hills park, I knew immediately that our family’s non-football orientation was going to pose some problems. For starters, in the parking lot abutting the grassy field in which Henry and his all-male, second grade team mates were running drills and practicing tackles, a
group of little GIRLS were shaking their non-existent butts to a provocative (not to mention terrible) Jennifer Lopez-esque hit blaring out of a jambox. Somewhere along the way, in organizing Knoxville’s youth football programs, someone who had apparently never heard of Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, or Title IX, thought it would be a good
idea to have little girls dress in micro miniskirts and perform on thesidelines, cheering "their" boys. Several gum-chewing, extremely tan, middle-aged women were directing the tiny cheerleaders in their routines, one of which involved them poutily teasing listeners with the line, “We got it – you want it!” as they suggestively jutted their
pointy hip-bones at an imaginary stadium full of youth football fans. I am well aware that cheerleading can be a highly athletic, competitive gymnastics activity for kids, but this particular group of children looked a lot more like junior versions the girls of "Wild On..." than they did Mary Lou Retton.
After watching the cheerleaders in feminist astonishment for a little while, I settled into the lawn chair I had brought to watch the boys practice. Several other parents were similarly observing their own future Peyton Mannings, and I tried to strike up a friendly conversation.
“So how about those cheerleaders,” I asked in a shocked tone of one mother sitting beside me and leafing through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.
“Yeah, they look great,” she answered, oblivious to my point. “They look even better at games when they get a little make up on.”
Undaunted, I next turned to the father, built like a faded linebacker (see, I learned something from that “Kid’s Guide to Football”!), who was standing against the fence a few feet away from me.
“Gee, it’s awfully hot today,” I said. “I hope they don’t let the children practice too long in this heat.”
“I hope they run ‘em into the ground today,” he answered back enthusiastically. “You got to break these kids early, like in boot camp. Kids today aren’t tough enough to play real football like we used to play. I wanna see these boys in world of hurt.”
And it was all downhill from there.
We hung in there as football parents for over a month – through the two, two-hour long practices per week in the Indian summer heat with the kids in full pads and through hearing the volunteer coaches yell at my 60 pound son that he was “playing like a girl.” We finally put the brakes on Henry’s budding football career after the first real
game, held at Karns High School, during which we heard parents – fathers AND mothers -- yell actual obscenities at their children from the stands and after which I heard one father bragging to another adult that his son had been tackled “hard enough to need a neck brace afterwards” during the game that day.
Henry was extremely disappointed when we told him that we didn’t feel like youth football was a good fit for our family’s values. In fact, he was furious. We promised him that he could try football again when he was a little older, secretly hoping that he would lose all interest and take up fly-fishing or power walking instead. We ingeniously tipped
the scales in our favor by enrolling him at the then-brand-new Episcopal School of Knoxville. As Episcopalians are generally better known for their ability to mix a mean Bloody Mary than their propensity for fronting winning school football teams, we figured we might be able to nip our kid’s football-jones in the bud.
But no luck. As the Vols gear up for the upcoming season, our son’s interest in football remains undiminished. Henry hopes to attend a few games at Neyland Stadium with his Uncle Ray this fall, and he will undoubtedly continue to practice his throwing arm in our front yard. As for his parents, he, along with other Knoxville friends and
colleagues who hear of our disinterest in football, seems to pity us.
“Mom,” he explains to me with some irritation whenever the subject comes up. “You just don’t GET football.”
I always reply that I certainly cannot argue with that.
Katie Allison Granju is the author of Attachment Parenting (Simon and Schuster/1999). You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
My nine year old son can navigate email and hard drives, but he has never gone into a public restroom by himself. He has eaten in a five star restaurant in Paris, but he isn’t allowed to go alone to skip rocks in the small lake at the end of our street. He can read at a high school level, but is still required to sit where I can see him when we go to a movie.
And although he still has a good seven or eight years before he is fully “cooked” and begins easing his way completely out of my protective parental clutches, I am beginning to worry. How will he learn to cross the street, avoid weird looking strangers, and count out his change after making a purchase if I am constantly hovering over his shoulder? In short, how can my child gracefully enter adulthood in a world
where his freedom is so restricted?
I am not really sure when childhood became this cushioned and sanitized and proscribed. I am only 33 and I spent my childhood jumping out of dangerous haylofts, riding my pony bareback at breakneck speed, and walking alone the two miles from our small farm to the general store in order to buy a coke. But it wasn’t just my idyllic country childhood that afforded such freedom to kids. My husband, age 31, grew up in a suburban subdivision straight out of ‘The Brady Bunch.’ He remembers riding his bike all over the neighborhood with a pack of other children, building
rickety wooden ramps upon which to perform Evil Knievil-style stunts, and being dropped off at the mall and arcade for hours at a time
with no grown-up supervision.
Already my son is chafing at his constant supervision. Even though most of his friends live in the same world he does – one of being driven to
organized playdates or lessons rather than simply meeting at the ball field to play – something deep within him seems to be aware that this isn’t how it should be. He longs to be alone sometimes, just as we all do, to put his hands in his pockets and walk a few miles and just think. But I can’t let him do that…or can I?
Lately I have begun to wonder how much of our habit today of placing our children inside a plastic bubble is really necessary and how much is hysteria. Child abduction by a stranger -- every parent’s most primal fear -- is actually a statistical anomaly. It just hardly ever happens. We hear about it a lot now – on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and in the newspaper, but that doesn’t mean it is more likely than it was a generation ago.
Of course, to the parent of a child who disappears, statistics mean nothing. And it is this thought that drives us to hover over our offspring in the way that we do. But I believe we should be giving some thought to what type of adults this new millennial childhood is going to produce.
As a culture, we have always vilified the archetypal “mama’s boy,” the child who was never allowed any activities outside his parents’ watchful eye and who was coddled and protected from all conceivable risk. This type of childhood, we have always believed, produced individuals who were stunted in their ability to make bold moves or take leadership roles -- or even function independently. Yet, in our well-intentioned desire to make sure that our kids aren’t run over, kidnapped, or exposed to the wrong influences, we have become an entire nation of these hovering, over-involved
Today my child asked if he could walk to a friend’s house…by himself. I gritted my teeth and told him that he could. His surprise at my response made him so happy that he let loose a war whoop of joy. He smiled broadly and literally skipped out the front door, happy to be on his short –but-trailblazing journey. I wondered again to myself what sort of childhood my kid is getting when a walk up the street seemed that exciting to him. Then I pressed my face to the window and craned my neck to watch him as long as I could before he crested a small hill and passed out of my
Copyright Katie Allison Granju. 2000-2003. All rights reserved. Originally appeared in Metro Pulse
I grew up in a house full of liberal Democrats. One of my very first baby photos depicts me – at the tender age of two weeks – being carried on a labor picket line with my striking journalist father. At age ten or so, I became involved in my first political campaign when I wore a dancing potato costume at various election stops for Bob Clement, who was then campaigning to become Tennessee's governor. No one in my family can recall what the potato was supposed to signify, but we all remember the costume. As a high school and college student I spent several summers in D.C. working for two Democratic members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation.
The first time I remember seeing my future husband was as he was hanging around the anti-apartheid shanty town that graced the lawn of the University of Tennessee’s Humanities Building in the spring of 1989. He and I went on to involve ourselves jointly in a variety of progressive causes that mattered to us, and in fact, one of our first dates was captured on the front page of The Tennesseean; we were marching together at a peace rally near the Oak Ridge Y-12 plant.
And then we became parents. Our son Henry was born in the fall of 1991 and we brought him home to our shabby but well-loved Fort Sanders apartment, sure that we had together given life to a budding little activist. We played him Public Enemy and Fugazi and Arlo Guthrie. He appeared on the local news as we strolled him through downtown in Knoxville’s annual Gay Pride parade. From the time he could babble, we encouraged him to develop his own ideas and to take a stand for things he believes in.
So it shouldn’t have surprised us too much when, at the age of five, he announced that he had developed a strong preference in the 1996 presidential election.
“I’m for Bob Dole,” he proclaimed with unwavering authority.
My husband Chris and I both stared down at Henry, sure we had misunderstood.
“But Henry, why are you for Bob Dole?” we asked. I figured that in a Republican town like Knoxville, Bob Dole was getting all the playground buzz. Maybe Henry was just trying to fit in with his friends at Rocky Hill Elementary.
“I ‘m for Bob Dole because he’s a war hero and has a lot of experience. I like his ideas on lower taxes,” explained Henry.
Despite our calmly reasoned protestations, Henry stuck with Dole to the bitter end of the ’96 campaign. After it was over, Chris and I continued to talk politics with our little supply-sider in hopes that his support for Mr. Viagra had been a fluke, a childish whim. But as the 2000 election year rolled around, Henry again went for the Republican nominee. He became a vocal Bush supporter early in the primaries and hung with him until the last chad was (not) counted.
No amount of reasoning could sway my third grade son from his choice. In fact, to my daily annoyance, he took to proselytizing to his sister and brother, five-year-old Jane and three year old Elliot.
“Now Elliot,” he would start in whenever he wanted to get a rise out of me, “tell Mama who you want to be president.”
“George W. Bush!” Elliot would warble with gusto as I cringed.
I am happy to report that my daughter went for Nader (one of her kindergarten-age buddies told his parents that he too was for the candidate he thought was named “The Ralphinator”), but Jane ended up switching her allegiance to Gore when it came time for her to enter the “Kids Voting” booth on election day.
After the election was all over, Henry and I went out to dinner together in the Old City and I again tried to get to the heart of his political views. I talked to him about the values that matter to me, about my views on world events and social issues.
“I understand all that stuff Mom,” he responded with some frustration. “That’s why I was for Bush. Because he represents things that matter to me, like being against abortion. I’m against abortion. And it really bothered me when Gore said stuff during the campaign that wasn’t exactly true. You always told me that was wrong.”
Suddenly, I was speechless. I looked at my handsome, earnest son gazing back at me over his child’s plate of spaghetti, and I suddenly felt so incredibly proud of him. And I experienced one of those oh-so- fleeting moments as a parent when you know you’re doing OK.
Even though Henry may not agree with me on the details, he has absorbed the family values we are trying to impart: honesty, civic engagement, integrity, and personal responsibility for one’s decisions. I had been browbeating him with my opinions when in fact, he was carefully weighing his own.
As happy as I am that Henry is so interested in politics, I do hope he doesn’t go the Young Republican route in ‘04. After all, I love the kid a lot and I’d really hate to have to send him away to be a foreign exchange student until the election is over.
Copyright Katie Allison Granju 2000-2003. All rights reserved Originally appeared in Metro Pulse
Our house is full of guns. We’ve got pistols, rifles, muskets, and shotguns. I trip over them on the floor during the night and occasionally find them buried under the covers in my bed. Once I nearly broke my tailbone when I stepped on one in a slippery bathtub and took a painful fall.
Of course, none of the firearms hanging around our house are real. They’re toys made of plastic, wood, and metal. Some shoot caps, some shoot clothespins, and one shoots ping pong balls. Lots of them squirt water. But they still look like guns and are played with as weaponry by the boys who race around my yard making shooting noises and ducking behind trees.
There was a time, at the beginning of my parenting journey nine years ago, when I would have shuddered at the thought of this scene playing itself out at our house. While still pregnant with my now nine year old son, Henry, I announced to anyone who would listen that my child would never engage in violent play with toy weapons. With the perfect confidence borne of never having actually parented a child myself, I lectured friends and relatives on the dangers to society of raising boys on a diet of toy guns, swords and soldiers. My comeuppance began almost immediately.
From the time Henry could manipulate blocks, playdoh, legos, and crayons, weapons became making a daily appearance around our house. Like the Richard Dreyfus character in "Close Encounters," Henry seemed compelled by some force beyond his control to mold everything, including his mashed potatoes, into various gun shapes. Ignoring the carefully chosen, non-sexist dress-up clothes, dolls, art supplies, and wooden animals with which we so thoughtfully provided him, he concentrated his energies on begging us to provide him with a "real" toy gun, as opposed to his homemade ones.
For several years, we stood firm. But something about my position on this issue rang hollow to me. My personal position on gun issues leans toward the libertarian; although I believe strongly in safety locks and background checks, I never want to live in a society where only the police and the military have access to weapons. Henry himself appeared to have a genuine and abiding interest in the topic, enjoying books and movies about military history. Before he entered first grade, he had taught himself how to identify by photograph a variety of 19th century American firearms. I started to wonder if there wasn’t something unhealthy about completely banning his access to a particular area of interest.
I also began to notice the way other little boys we knew – almost all of whom had parents who also disallowed toy guns in the home – acted out their clandestine desire to play with weapons. Running around the park or birthday parties, four and five-year-old boys who had never actually held a toy gun chased each other with sticks, discarded straws or whatever else they could find and "shot" at each other as parents tried not to notice or shook their heads in dismay.
My husband and I decided that Henry deserved to learn the truth about guns. Seeing so many boys besotted with the idea of guns without any idea of the difference between a toy and a real weapon began to seem very dishonest and feel very dangerous to me. I never wanted my child to confuse fantasy with reality when it came to something as deadly serious as a gun.
So we bought him his first toy gun – a wooden replica of a Civil War musket ordered from the legendary Parris Toy Company. Then we asked some of the gun-wise men in Henry’s life (which doesn’t include my husband, who has never had any interest in firearms) to begin teaching Henry about gun safety. In the past three years, Henry has become an excellent shot as a result of many target shooting expeditions with his grandfather, godfather, and uncles. He has seen a gunshot rip into a hay bale, a clay pigeon, and a target. He has seen men return from hunting trips (although Henry has been invited to go along, he has chosen not to hunt because he is too much of an animal lover to consciously cause another living creature pain) with gaping holes in their flesh. And when he is old enough, he will enroll in our state sponsored hunter safety course to learn more about gun safety.
As with most banned activities, allowing Henry the chance to acquire a few toy guns immediately lessened the intensity of his interest. And feeling the power of a real rifle as it kicks back against his shoulder assisted him in grasping the power of a genuine firearm. He now understands– to the extent that any nine year old child can understand such a serious issue – the very real damage that a gun can do. And unlike perhaps too many children in America today, he clearly knows the difference between a super-soaker and a shotgun.
COPYRIGHT KATIE ALLISON GRANJU 2001-2003 - All Rights Reserved
As anyone who has ever talked to me about my views on baby raising knows, I am a big proponent of breastfeeding. Science has now pretty conclusively demonstrated that breastfed babies are less likely to ever develop asthma, Crohn's disease, certain cancers, and a wide variety of less serious illnesses and disorders.
But when people ask me why I breastfed my own children past toddlerhood, they are often surprised that my first response isn't a listing of all these important health issues. In fact, the number-one reason I nursed as long as I did is because it was easy: no bottles to mix or heat; no worrying about blending up fresh jars of mushy food or packing juice boxes for outings to the park. Nope. As long as my baby or toddler was still nursing, we were all set wherever we went together. My extreme disinterest in any type of food preparation, no matter how seemingly simple, is only one manifestation of what I have come to accept as part of who I really am. You see, I am Domestically Challenged.
I used to worry that I was lazy or odd or maybe even mentally disturbed in some way when I was the only mother in the room who seemed genuinely troubled at being asked to bring a baked good for the school fundraiser. In years past, I would gawk in open-mouthed wonder when I would drop my child off for a playdate and notice his friend's unbelievably tidy, immaculately decorated home, complete with needlepoint pillows casually tossed to the sides of the sofa.
"Oh those little things," the friend's mother would say dismissively of the needlework masterpieces, "I just stitched those up while I was waiting in line at the grocery store last week."
My jaw would drop as I would slink back out the front door to my (chronically messy) car, promising to return for my child later that afternoon.
Before accepting my label as Domestically Challenged, my guilt would sometimes compel me to actually attempt to keep up with the more talented parents I knew. When my son Henry was in kindergarten, he requested that I buy him a skeleton costume for his school Halloween festival. I informed him with more confidence than I actually felt that I planned to create his costume from scratch.
"Please Mama," he begged with a hint of desperation. "Please just buy the costume! You know you can't sew...or anything."
Perversely, his concerns only egged me on and I headed off to the fabric store that very day. The morning of his school Halloween party, I proudly showed him the "skeleton costume" I had created for him. He was skeptical, but since he was only six years old at the time, I was able to convince him that all the cool skeletons wore tulle.
As it turned out, his confidence in my abilities was short-lived. When I picked him up that afternoon, he angrily informed him that the second grade girls had taken it upon themselves to let him know in no uncertain terms that what he had on was not a skeleton costume, but a fairy costume...and a really terrible-looking one at that.
"Next time," one bossy little girl instructed him, "Have your mom call my mom for help. Or you should send her to Party City. They have great costumes there."
Over the years I have also gone on short-lived cooking binges, scrapbooking frenzies, home organization freak-outs, and other similar attempts to overcompensate for what I now accept as my...disability. After spending what has certainly amounted to hundreds of dollars on various books promising to turn me into some sort of hipster Martha Stewart mama, I have killed scores of houseplants, knitted lopsided socks, baked inedible cookies, and reorganized my kids' toys so that they can no longer find anything.
Finally, sometime last year, I hit bottom. Unless I wanted to end up truly going nuts, I had to accept the things I cannot change and...how does the rest of that poem go? Anyway, the moment of truth came when a dear friend of mine who manages to bring home the bacon AND fry it up in the pan, all the while remaining married to the same man for the past 25 years and raising five terrific children, sat me down.
"Katie," she opined in her gorgeous Argentinian lilt, "you have got to face the fact that you are not cut out to keep house. You are a good writer, your kids are healthy and happy, you earn a living and get everyone where they are supposed to be on a daily basis. Most importantly, you are there for your friends and family. But my dear Katie, I must insist that you hire a housekeeper."
Bam! Just like that I realized my problem. I had been unable to face the truth. I was Domestically Challenged! And just like other disabled individuals, I would have to make certain accommodations to meet my special needs. My friend was right!
Although I initially questioned the expense, the very part-time housekeeper I have hired has changed my life. My house is (mostly) clean. My children are able to find their socks more often. I get more writing done and thus, earn more money. We all enjoy our home life much more.
Currently I am in the midst of a major career change. I am in my second year of law school and plan to go into practice sometime next year. At that time, I have every intention of finding a way to bump my household help up to almost full-time. I'll do without a lot of things to make that happen. And if anyone has figured out a way for the Americans with Disabilities Act to pay for some of the expense of my outsourced domestic goddesshood, please let me know.
Copyright Katie Allison Granju, 2003. All rights reserved. Contact the author at Henjanelli@aol.com for reprint info.
Today is my middle child's seventh birthday, the age at which Swiss child development guru Jean Piaget theorized that children truly leave infancy behind. Last night I sat watching her sleep in her bed, a new kitten snuggled against her cheek. In looking at her, I realized that very little was left physically of the round, soft baby she once was. Now she is long and becoming angular. She has real cheekbones and she sprawls across spaces with fast-growing, strong, tanned limbs all akimbo.
My daughter's changing shape is yet one more reminder of how different my own life seems lately. This summer I am able to wear whatever I want because for the first time in a decade, I am not pregnant or nursing a baby or little child. At ages 10, 6, and 4, my three children can now stay for several days with a grandparent if I want to go away. They rarely wake at night and I no longer wash a load of diapers each night before I go to bed. I will be 35 years old this fall and it's clear to me that a certain season of my life is ending and a new one is beginning. I have passed through the intense crucible of mothering infants and very young children and have suddenly emerged on the other side, blinking at the sun and sometimes wondering what to do with myself.
During all those years that I was busy creating and sustaining my babies, I never had time to think much about the fact that my body wasn't my own. Tiny hands and mouths and voices constantly asked more of me, and most of the time, I enjoyed giving it. Something that no one ever tells you before you have a baby is what a sensuous, tactile experience it is. I once heard a new mother describe her own embarrassing desire to literally lick her newborn all over because the baby smelled and tasted so wonderful. I laughed and nodded in recognition because I had more than once found myself furtively sniffing my own baby's deliciously naked little body all over like some kind of junkie.
My emergence from the intense gauntlet of early motherhood has been gradual. I didn't wake up one morning and realize that things had changed. Instead it has been a slow dawning of consciousness; what actually happened is that I woke up one morning and realized that there was no child in the bed with me and that I had slept eight hours straight. Then there was a day recently when all three of my children had been invited to friends' houses to spend the night. As evening fell, I found myself at a loss. Should I wash my hair and go out to see a band like I would have 10 years ago? Should I try to get some needed grocery shopping done while I had the chance? Should I take a hot bath and read uninterrupted for as long as I liked? Instead I simply draped myself across my bed and without any plan at all, fell into a deep, much needed sleep. When I awoke in the middle of the night, I was momentarily disoriented and alarmed. The room was dark but I could sense that my children were not in the room or even the house. As I gathered my thoughts and remembered that I was alone for the night, I felt a forgotten rush of freedom and pleasure. I took off the clothes in which I had fallen asleep and climbed under the sheets to finish my night's rest. The cotton felt cool and smooth. When was the last time I had been aware of how good fresh sheets feel against my body? A long time, I realized as I smiled to myself and fell back asleep to dream of things having nothing to do with motherhood.
A good friend of mine is going through a tough time at the moment. She is eight months pregnant with her second baby and hasn't felt that great since the first trimester. In addition to her pregnancy, she is being kept frantically busy caring for her three-year-old daughter, who has been suffering from a nasty infection in her spine for the past eight weeks. Early in the illness, her little girl was hospitalized, but now her daughter is at home - in a back brace and on a semi-permanent IV drip inserted into her upper arm. My friend has been trained by the home-healthcare nurses from Children's Hospital to handle her toddler's medical needs, which involve getting up around the clock to check the IV drip and adjust the back brace. Her husband is very supportive and helps all that he can, but he has to be at work more than 40 hours per week so that the bills stay paid until his daughter has recovered and his exhausted wife gives birth.
Not so many years ago, a situation like this would have had "Grandma comes to help out" written all over it. But not today. My friend has relied heavily on the generous love and support that she has received from her pals and neighbors, but has been decidedly underwhelmed by the reaction of her own mother and mother-in-law, each of whom has been minimally helpful at best. Each grandmother lives within a few hours of my friend's front door, and each of them undoubtedly loves her three-year-old granddaughter, but the idea that they might move into the guestroom for the duration in order to do traditionally grandmotherly (and undoubtedly none-too-exciting) things like knit baby booties, prepare meals, answer the phone, and do laundry seems not to have occurred to them. There have been a few two-day visits and cards and gifts sent sporadically via mail, but there have also been many days at a time when my friend doesn't hear from either of these women at all. As disappointed as she is, she knows that grandmothering just isn't what it used to be.
For one thing, each of these particular grandmothers is divorced from the man with whom she shares her granddaughter's genes (although neither of them by choice). One of them has been divorced for thirty years and the other, for less than one year. And one of them, at age 56 (definitely only middle age in this era of botox, estrogen replacement, and tae-bo), is just now hitting her peak years in a demanding career. One grandmother stays very busy caring for her invalid second husband and the other is busily enjoying the dating scene after suffering through 30 years of an unhappy first marriage and a cheating spouse. (This grandma also takes fly-fishing lessons and likes to do amateur road-racing competitions in the red sports car she insisted that her ex-husband buy for her before she would sign off on their divorce.) One is a blond, and one is a brunette. Neither of them can knit, but both of them see therapists, get massages, and like to travel. In other words, these are not your mother's grandmothers.
While it's clearly a great improvement in our culture to see older women exercising, working, continuing to learn and grow, and defying stereotypes, there is a downside as well. Grandmotherhood has become a cultural liability. While older women were once accorded a measure of community respect and instant gravitas by virtue of their years and experience, today's post-menopausal women are seemingly no longer allowed to age at all. Today's fifty-plus role models for women include Goldie Hawn, Lauren Hutton, Cybill Shepherd, and Susan Sarandon, women who clearly don't look like they spend much time baking cookies for grandchildren.
There was a time when a man who would abandon his 55-year-old wife of 30 years for his 25-year-old secretary was the recipient of community scorn and disapproval. Today, however, divorce has become so normalized that men no longer fear that stigma. As a result, older women have gotten the message that they better not get any wrinkles or let their hair go gray or they might just end up in the infamous First Wives Club. The "grandmother" label - with all its associated baggage - is no longer one that many older women want to carry.
Sadly, this represents a loss for our entire culture. Older women who should be able to "let down their hair" during the grandmothering years and enjoy the fruits of a lifetime of hard work and family-building are frightened into a constant and often desperate vigilance lest their true age become obvious. Communities are deprived of the unique nurturing skills and wisdom traditionally offered by female elders. And mothers in a pickle, like my friend, are left without anyone to rock their babies to sleep with a practiced hand and the lullabies passed down through generations.
COPYRIGHT KATIE ALLISON GRANJU 2002. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Have you ever seen one of those documentaries on children's beauty pageants? You know, the ones that snarkily reveal a world
of heavily made-up tiny girl-children who all look a bit like Dolly Parton-meets-JonBenet Ramsey, each of them attired in
impossibly poufy polyester pageant dresses? You probably have, and I have too. What has always amazed me the most in watching or reading anything about children's beauty pageants has been the mothers -- women who, in the parlance of my native rural Tennessee, look like they were "rode hard and put up wet."
But behind the pastel-colored sweatsuits, the over-permed hair, and the strong regional accents are women with a steely glint in
their eyes. These mothers are out to WIN. As youthful pageant competitors themselves back in the day, they may have never had the opportunity to make it past Miss Hickman County 1984, but their little girls are going to go all the way, dammit, and woe to anyone who gets in the way.
I never imagined that I could have anything in common with these infamous "pageant moms" until a recent evening as my sister watched me carefully packing my six year old daughter's riding clothes, boots, helmet, gloves, hair ribbons, saddle, bridle, and snacks in [reparation for a horse show the next day. My daughter, Jane, had already gone to bed, but I stayed busy
for the rest of the evening finishing up ironing, saddle-soaping,and polishing her gear.
"You're acting just like one of those beauty pageant moms," my sister remarked sarcastically.
"What are you talking about," I snapped at her as I continued my packing and organizing.
She just laughed at my crankiness, but I actually knew exactly what she was talking about. Since Jane has taken up horseback riding, I have been enjoying a vicarious sort of thrill in seeing her ride and begin to compete and - dare I say it? - to win.
I grew up riding horses myself and was pretty successful as a local competitor. I never had a real trainer to guide me, or a good enough horse, or the funds to show at a higher level, but I always wished thatI could. My parents were extremely supportive to the extent they were able. I certainly can't complain; after all, they did provide me with a horse and saddle, and they spent many weekends carting me around to horseshows. But showing hunter-jumpers is an extremely expensive and time consuming endeavor
and with three children in private school and then college, there was only so much my mother and father could do. I understood
that and ended my own horsey activities while in college.
After I became a mother myself, I began to secretly harbor the hope that one of my children would want to learn to ride. I struck out
completely with child #1, my son Henry. Henry informed me early on that he had little use for horses, hates to compete at anything,
and certainly wasn't going to be caught dead in those "tight pants" (jodphurs) that he saw riders wearing on ESPN2.
Then along came child #2, a girl! With her head full of shocking black hair and lust for life, baby Jane made it clear early on
that she enjoys being the center of attention and likes to compete. As she moved out of toddlerhood, I began talking up the idea of riding to her. I opened my old tack trunk up for her and showed her my now-musty saddle, as well as ribbons I had won in my limited show career. And at age five, Jane finally began taking lessons at a local hunter-jumper barn.
Within only a few weeks, it became clear that not only was Jane quite interested in riding, she clearly had some natural ability.
Her once-a-week lessons were bumped up to twice a week. She asked for and received a saddle of her own for her 6th birthday. We
carted my tack trunk over to the barn for her to use. And in September of last year, her trainer matched Jane up with an adorable pony named Lemon Drop with lots of hunter-jumper show miles under his girth for Jane to ride and show.
All of this has happened for Jane due in large part to the generosity of her grandparents. Riding is more expensive than ever and
without that support for Jane's chosen sport, she would have to pick a cheaper activity - like jumping rope or something. But since they have made this possible for her, she - and I - have approached it with a passion. That's right, I said I, as in, her mother, the frustrated former rider. Sure, Jane has to actually ride the pony and do the considerable practice and work necessary to become
competitive. And her trainer handles the task of molding her desire and enthusiasm into horsemanship.
But, mom has to do the behind the scenes work that will help Jane win. In our case, that doesn't involve makeup, hairspray, sequins or talent routines, but shiny boots and properly monogrammed shirt collars. I have come to realize, however, that it's really the very same thing. And when I stand on the rail at a horseshow in my frumpy barn-mama chic watching my amazing and beautifully turned-out child sail around the ring on her pony, I am certain that I have the same steely glint in my eye as those pageant moms I used to malign. I want to see my child go all the way.
COPYRIGHT KATIE ALLISON GRANJU 2001 - 2002 ~ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ~ For Reprint or syndication info, please contact Katie at email@example.com