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Before my son was born, my husband and I became very interested in the idea of teaching him sign language. Proponents of sign language insist it’s necessary for minimizing a child’s frustration, since a person’s will develops before the ability to speak. But since motor skills develop early, a child can use sign language to ask for what he or she needs. As far as I am concerned, sign language is necessary for minimizing frustration for the parents, because when I am up at 3am listening to Max screaming his head off like I am torturing him or something, I just want him to tell me what in the hell he needs so I can just give it to him and go back to bed.

I never promised anyone a rose garden.

When Max was as young as two months old, I started introducing signs. One sign, actually, which was the sign for “milk.” While I nursed him I would make the sign, hoping that in the near future I would live in a utopia where Max would simply let me know when he was hungry because – no matter how many women told me I should be able to determine what he needed just by the sound of his cry – all of his cries sounded precisely the same to me.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: You can see the sign for “milk” here if you are interested, but basically it entails making a fist and then opening and closing it like you are milking a cow. Right. That makes me feel so good about myself. I could expand on this but it really would have to be its own post.)

I was pretty consistent about making the “milk” sign to Max every time he nursed so he could associate the sign and the activity. That is, I was consistent until Max was about four months old. What changed, you ask? The answer is very straightforward: I went back to work. And from that point on, trying to follow through on all of my commitments to Max and to my clients became an exercise in bending the space-time continuum. When I was nursing Max I considered it a win if I only focused on him, instead of writing business emails in my head.

(ANOTHER AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is where my husband hangs his head Charlie Brown-style and lets out a sigh, because at this point his needs were a distant third. Sorry, Baby!)

Needless to say, once I started work again I rarely remembered to make the “milk” sign. So imagine my surprise when, just a couple of weeks before his first birthday, Max crawls up to me and opens and closes his fist like he’s milking a cow. With an expectant and slightly frantic look in his eye, he clearly told me that he just realized he was pretty damn hungry. I thought to myself:

What an amazing thing the human brain is! How incredible that, even though I haven’t made this sign to Max in about seven or eight months, he still learned it! He is like a little sponge! I can’t believe he is so smart! Well, he’s at least as smart as Koko the gorilla. Although in fairness, Koko knows over 1000 signs, so I guess Max isn’t quite as smart as Koko yet, but he’s showing great potential! It’s amazing to me that he can actually replicate something he last saw when he was only four months …..

And then it hit me. In that moment, I understood how completely screwed I was. Because at the exact same time that I was making the “milk” sign to Max, I was sleep deprived and cursing up a storm. My typical level of swearing once caused a man who worked for me to request that I scale it back a notch, because it made him uncomfortable to work for a truck driver in a skirt suit. Yes, sad but unfortunately very true. To make matters worse, my sleep-deprived cursing was more severe and a bit more colorful. So when Max clearly raised his fist in a triumphant gesture for sustenance, I realized that it was only a matter of time before he walked up to me and casually said, “Mom, do you know where I put my goddamn Elmo?! I swear I would lose my fuckin’ head if it weren’t attached to my goddamn body!!”

Again, I never promised anyone a rose garden.

Max found Elmo...it's all good now.

My mother has been visiting once per week to “help” me in my efforts to juggle my business with my new role as a mother. My sarcasm is due to the fact that she and I both know these visits are actually about being able to spend time with my son, Max – not about making my life easier.  The truth of the matter is that my perpetual to-do list is always at least 20% longer after one of my mother’s visits. So if she assists me in knocking two things off my list but adds five onto it, is that helping?

There are a lot of ways in which my mom actually does make my life easier: she brings new clothes for Max to replace those he outgrew, she cleans the dirty dishes piled in the sink, and she attends to Max so I can work. In return for her kindness, I am subjected to an endless list of recommendations, suggestions, and improvements that should be made, all of which can be supported by articles she clipped from Good Housekeeping magazine or the Star-Ledger. Some of these contributions are useful and some are, in fact, critical. The issue is the magnitude; there is only so much a person can digest in terms of things he or she “should” be doing at a given moment.

If I get frustrated with my mother, then I feel guilty and unappreciative because I know she means well and she cares.  On the other hand, sometimes she crosses the line into the territory of being controlling. Over the last nine months, she and I have discussed – okay, argued about – how to balance her need to tell me all of these things with my need to be left alone. I’m happy to report that we finally seem to have a process, a coping mechanism if you will, that seems to work.

Every time my mother gives me a suggestion or direction that I don’t have the energy or desire to deal with, I simply restate it with the words “…your face.” For example, when she grabs me between client meetings to tell me that I should clean the baseboard heaters, my response is “Maybe you should clean your face.” Or when she asks me if we have debt, I simply ask “I don’t know, does your face have debt?” Depending on how stressed or irritated I am at the moment when my mother gives me the unsolicited advice, I might choose to replace the word “face” with the word “butt,” as in “Maybe you should clean your butt” or “Does your butt have debt?”

It’s completely immature, but it makes me snicker (yes, I laugh at my own jokes) and it confuses her long enough for me to escape back into my office. I am not sure how many more times I’ll be able to get away with this approach for deflecting my mom’s endless suggestions, but I will definitely milk it for all it’s worth.

I call this "Disturbing Portait of a Working Mother"

I call this "Disturbing Portait of a Working Mother"

I wish that I could honestly say this photo was posed.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t.  I guess the term “balance” takes on a whole new meaning when it is referring to balancing a computer and a child on your lap at one time while trying to make a phone call.  Isn’t that what laps are for?

If Max’s first words are “profit margin” or “cash flow”, I will shoot myself!

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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