Friday, January 29, 2010

Going Natural

Enough writing about the toxic people out there. Now onto the actual toxins. I've been on a three year quest of trying to rid my household of as many toxins as possible, and, well, it's impossible. It's one thing to replace the Windex with a spray bottle of vinegar (and a splash of lavendar oil to make it smell pretty!), or to change out the Tide laundry detergent with 7th Generation, but that's just the first step. It gets harder!

Let's take cosmetics, ladies. It is scary and disgusting how many chemicals the makeup companies are able to cram into our SPF moisturizers and blush. I cruise the aisles at Longs (woops--'CVS' now) and feel like I'm making an informed decision when I choose the more expensive but 'natural' Aveeno or Neutrogena product. WRONG. Both brands are owned by Johnson & Johnson, who like all the other big company names use synthetic petrochemicals like formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, and phthalates. I mean, when was the last time you read the tiny print on the back of your foundation or (the worst offenders) SPF moisturizers? It is truly scary, and with a history of cancer in my family, I ain't takin no chances.

Let's face it--there are a ton of carcinogens in our daily lives that we have little control over--our home's carpet, our mattress, that 'new car smell' we so love to inhale, plastics that are everywhere from ziploc food storage bags to drinking cups--those are some of the things that we can only control so much. They're just there, and it takes a lot to replace them completely (Have you seen how expensive chemical-free mattresses are? Egads!) But what we can control is what we spray on our windows, whether or not we use Round-Up weed killer instead of pouring boiling saltwater on those weeds, and what we put on our faces. I like to take the time to find out if some big company like Proctor Gamble or Johnson & Johnson produces my favorite 'natural' cleanser/moisturizer/hair gel, and make a switch to a smaller, truly natural company. (Burt's Bees and Desert Essence are two of my faves.)

So I challenge you to take a look at the backs of those bottles--and then google those ingredients. While the occasional use of these chemicals probably won't hurt, a lifetime of exposure to them via various products will.

FYI: I check my cosmetics against the lists on these sites:

Sunday, January 24, 2010


There have got to me more people like me out there, but I just don't get status symbols. I don't get the McMansion, I don't get the BMW/Audi/Lexus thing, I don't get the I-became-a-surgeon-because-of-the-prestige thing. I have, however, spent a lot of time around people who have spent their lives chasing these things and I have to wonder what it's all about. I mean, do they really care that much about what other people think? One word of advice: if the people in your life judge you based on how many palm trees surround your 'estate,' or on how many times you upgrade your vehicle, those aren't friends. Get rid of them promptly and find some new people that just want to hang out and enjoy some common interests.

I must just be selfish, because there is no way I'm throwing that much money down for someone else's viewing pleasure. There is also no way I'm spending my cash upgrading my kitchen every three years. My car is 9 years old and I love it. My home is 60 years old and I love it too. It is a place for me to veg on weekday nights, bundle up and watch movies on the weekends, and to sew in, and read in, and just enjoy myself and my family. I'm relieved that I don't belong to an HOA who limits my home paint choices to peach and light peach, and the sidewalks on my street are cracked with the roots of 100 year old trees and I love that kind of charm. I don't think that anyone is a 'loser' for not owning a home, or not having a car newer than 2007, or whatever.

Get over it, people! No one is watching you that closely but yourself! You don't live in Tuscany, so kill it on the "Tuscan" kitchens! Everyone's tastes are different, but when I see these people living this way just to show off to a bunch of other people who live that way too, I have to sigh. I mean, really.

/end of rant.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why are we still talking about this?

Every day when my husband comes home from work, I have dinner waiting. The house is fairly tidy, and the kids are clean and fed. That's where the 1950s scene ends. He takes a few moments to decompress from his commute, changes into comfy clothes, and swoops our sons up and into the other room, leaving me to enjoy some silence, tea, and/or a good book. He thanks me for all the hard work I do on a regular basis, and tells me that I'm a great mom and a great partner. We're a team, and this is what I expect in a marriage with children: that wonderful concept, co-parenting.

That certainly wasn't the name of the game in my parents' day, although my Dad was a pretty hands-on father when I was a baby. He changed diapers, got up at night to feed me, and took over the childcare when my mom worked her weekend shifts at the hospital. I suppose I always assumed that is what men do--parent their children--and I married a man who believed in the same. However, I'm finding that a surprising number of women don't enjoy the same kind of equality in their marriage. Although it is the 21st century and parents today were born after the womens' rights movement, not all are down with the daddy-does-diaper-duty concept. And that, my friends, is a cryin' shame.

I'm just going to say it: I've worked in various office and on-my-feet jobs since I was fifteen years old, and I've never worked this hard. I didn't stop working until I had my first son at 31. So, in essence, I've done my husband's job, and I know it's tiring. But what I do now is downright grueling. I had no idea it would be this hard, this non-stop, this intense. I don't get law-mandated bathroom breaks, or a one-hour lunch, or even much of a chance to check my email. I'm in constant motion, and often eat standing at my kitchen counter with a baby on my hip. That said, I love it. But it's not office work, not by any stretch. Yet these other men (the ones who refuse to change more than a few diapers a month) don't get this at all. They assume that what mothers do is 'women's work' and that as the breadwinners, working full time is all they should be held accountable for. Everything related to childcare belongs to the woman, which is "easy," since she's hanging out at home all day. You see where I'm going with this, and don't worry, I won't continue on this essay. To be short, that attitude just burns me.

However, what bothers me is not just the inequity between the two parents. What bothers me is that these fathers don't want to partake in their childrens' upbringing. That they really would rather watch the game with a beer or go out and see their buddies than spend time playing trains with their son, or teaching their girl how to kick a soccer ball around. I mean, changing diapers and giving a child a bath is bonding time! It's tiring, and it's repetitive, and it's messy, but it's ultimately rewarding and a fleeting moment of their childhood that I'd rather not miss. My husband enjoys his time with our kids immensely, I can see it in his eyes, and that is why we make a good team. Every time he hands them back to me, he says "I don't know how you do it, babe. They're a lot of work! You're doing a great job every day with our boys." (I know, I know, you can stop rolling your eyes. It is pretty sweet, though.)

To be honest, I can't imagine a marriage with anything less than that regard. We are both responsible for caring for our children, he doesn't just bring home money and I don't just raise the kids. The old roles are ever-shifting, interchangeable, and dynamic. And that's just the way it should be, folks. So get in there and raise your kids, men. It's the manly thing to do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Our True Age

A dear friend asked me recently what I felt my true age to be. We had just enjoyed brunch on a beautiful day in her Victorian era flat in San Francisco and at that moment I was feeling about 29. That was the age in which I started to really come into my own. At 29, my mother once said, you're young but the world starts to take you seriously. However, I'd like to change my answer.

I've often thought lately (the last year or two) that I really feel about 50. Not that I'm starting to have aches and pains, but that I've lived a lot. I've played mother to people in their twenties, I'm a bit worn in (like a good paperback) by motherhood, I'm a little sad, a little hopeful, and a lot more tender. I've seen enough of life to know what matters and what really doesn't, and I finally feel at home with myself. I'm not really searching anymore, and I don't play games with people, and I write a nice thank-you card. So, I feel about 50--and in a good way.

Obviously, I've given a lot of thought about the question my comadre asked that beautiful day and I'm realizing how much things have changed in the last few years. I am not the woman I used to be, since losing a mother and becoming a mother (in a six-month period to boot). There are so many contradictions in me now--and yet I'm comfortable with them. I'm much stronger than I used to be, yet much more vulnerable. I'm gentler with others' hearts than I ever was before, yet tough enough to shove back when necessary. I certainly don't take anyone's shit anymore (like I used to), but my heart is much more open to forgiveness. My time is precious, too. The friendships I have now are worth my time and energy--and if they're not, I let them go. I say the word No now with a capital N, and sorry be the man (or woman) who asks me twice. I no longer hesitate to leave a situation and I no longer hesitate to help someone. It feels so liberating to have clear boundaries and clear intentions, and I actually like the fact that my internal age is 50. I'm learning to embrace the earth mama, homekeepin', no-nonsense, Paula Deen-esque lady who lives inside me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Better Post-Holiday Thoughts

Enough of the pity pot posts--just needed to get that out, I guess.

So I've had two dreams now that my son K grows up to be a chef. One in which my mom is telling me that it's his destiny. The funny thing is, I've never been much of a cook myself and have only recently been loving spending time in my kitchen. I'm the one who ate top ramen for dinner in college, who had white rice for breakfast when finances were tight. Now, my son has changed all that. I cook from scratch and I cook healthy, for the first time in my life! Partly because I'm cooking for a family now and I'm having to put more thought into our meals, partly because I'm paranoid about getting sick like my mom and leaving my kids behind, and partly because of K's sheer enthusiasm in the kitchen. He insists on helping me cook, bake, mix, whatever. I can't make toast without him wanting to get up on the counter and watch. I was never that interested in what my mom was making (and now wish I had been). He loves sushi, crepes, brie cheese, broccoli, Indian food, you name it. Not your usual toddler fare, but this kid is nuts for adult food.

Because of Kiran, I cook healthier and more often. And in a funny way, it's saved me. A few years ago I didn't know how I was going to get through life without a mom. The last thing I thought about was my own wellness and gastronomic enjoyment. Little K has taught me that preparing, cooking, and eating good food is one of the most life-affirming activities known to man. Thank you, Kiran. Maybe someday I'll eat in your restaurant.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Post-Holiday Thoughts

It is a foggy night outside my window as I type, and I soak in the winter. I love the dark months of the year, unlike most people. The only thing that sucks about the change of seasons is it always makes me homesick. Homesick for my mom's house, which thankfully I can still return to, but will never be the same. Homesick for belonging to a family and not being able to go "home for the holidays," as everyone else seems to do each year. Sometimes I feel like an orphan. My last grandmother passed away recently, and so I am officially at the top of my female family line.

The hardest thing over the last three years has been having no family home. I have lots of extended family, but they all have their own immediate family circles, of which I don't belong. I am so very thankful that my two aunts always extend their home for me to call my 'homebase.' Me and my kids stay with them any time I travel to Stockton, and I just don't know what I would do without them and their hospitality. So I carry on each season, grateful to have the friends I have, and I make my own traditions, and I try not to think about the fact that I no longer travel eastward for the holidays. I guess some people have big happy families and some people just don't.

I also try not to think about how hard it sucks that my grandparents just couldn't get their shit together enough to do right by their kids and emotionally invest in their future. I can trace the dysfunction all the way back on both sides of my family--all the way back to my great-grandparents. We're talking Mexico and Spain here, people--so this shit goes back. I work so hard on making my kids' lives brighter each day, and on making sure that the relationships I build with them today will result in healthy relationships among their children and grandchildren that I just don't understand what made my grandparents blip out like that when it came to basic parenting skills. I mean, what the hell were they thinking? Did they not stop to think for two seconds that their actions (or inactions) would impact their children in such major ways? So here I am, sixty years later, writing about how tough it's been living with the results of alcoholism, abandonment, divorce, co-dependence and depression. Thanks, guys. You're the tops.

Ah, cynicism.