MonthJuly 2012

On Becoming Ima

We’d been together ten years before we got talking seriously of having kids. We’d always planned on children, but we needed to work out the when and the how and – unique to lesbian parents – the who.

Over those years, we’d frequently played something akin to Mr Potato Head, taking our favorite parts of ourselves and sticking them onto our future children: “She’ll have your legs.” “Okay, but your sense of humor.” “He’ll be really smart.” “But I hope he gets your hair.” Etcetera. We had talked often and at great length about our values and our views on discipline, education, creativity and chores, enough to know that we were well in sync. We had not discussed what our children would call us.

​”Mom” and “mom”, beside being impractical, sounds, well, stupid. As we are neither hippies nor teenage babysitters, having our children address us by our given names was also out of the question. I have always wanted kids. I used to drive around conversing with my imaginary two-year-old, six-year-old, preteen. (I see you singing along to Prince in your car so don’t throw stones.) In all those imagined conversations, my child called me “mom”. I so looked forward to being that in another person’s life — “Mom”. Not “Mum”. Not “Nana”. Not any of countless things we considered. And certainly not “Ima”.

​”Ima” is Hebrew for “mom”; we’re Jewish so it seemed like a fairly clever solution. It also seemed appropriate that as the more strongly Jewish-identified, I should take the Hebrew name. I tried it out. In my head, on my tongue . . . and no matter how or how often I said it, it still felt wrong. It wasn’t “mom”, no matter what the dictionary claimed. It was a terrible dissapointment.

​Eventually, the day came when my first child – not even looking at me, but glancing over his shoulder in my direction – called me Ima. I’d love to say the moment was electrifying; that I had an epiphany. But I didn’t. What I felt in that moment was . . . natural. “Yes, that’s right, honey; that’s a ‘cat'”. In that moment, I suppose, I really did become Ima.

​And not only to my own children. On warm sunny days, the neighborhood rings with “Ima”. It matters not a bit to the other children that I’ve told them my name, or that my children have explained that it means mom. One small girl, recently adopted by her aunt, simply beamed when told this. She looked at me and my spouse and chirped, “now I have three moms!” She summed it up well for lot of the other kids.

​Ours is the house where the kids congregate. I’m the mom that makes lemonade slushies and fixes everything from bikes to boo boos. They know I claim to hate messes but tolerate quite a lot of it. Often times, I don’t even know who these children are or where they come from. “Ima, this is my cousin Hector. He’s from Puerto Rico and don’t speak English much. Can we go out back and bounce?”

​One day, during a friend’s visit, two of the boys who’d been riding their bikes up and down the street dragged in a third I’d never seen before. “He wiped out” they told me. The nine-year-old was shy and trying manfully not to dissolve into tears as he lifted his shirt to show me the nasty road rash. I cleaned the scrape and sprayed it with Bactine. I guessed he was at that terrible age when a kiss still would help but can’t be accepted, so I gave his shoulders a little squeeze.

My friend was quiet until after I’d given him an “all better” swat on the behind and sent him on his way. Then, chuckling and shaking her head, she asked, “isn’t he spending the summer with them right across the street?” I nodded vaguely. “Then how come they all come over here to get patched up?” I straightened and looked at my friend. “Because I’m Ima”.

The Ten-year-old Entrepreneur

As I have mentioned before, my daughter will be a fashion designer. She has a phenomenal eye for style, a winning aesthetic and – this may be her most important asset – one wicked entrepreneurial streak. Oh, in recent months she’s done the lemonade stand thing because it’s something her friends enjoy. They never sell enough to recoup the cost of the lemonade but it’s fairly cheap as an entertainment, so what the hell.
But a couple of years back, while the girls down the block were watering-down Kool-aid, my daughter set up a face painting stand.

For weeks, every kid in the neighborhood was emptying their pockets and piggy banks for the pleasure of running around sporting butterflies, rainbows, cat whiskers or Spiderman faces. She took requests and gamely dived in. She carried around a sketch pad I had made for her, with outlined faces in full front and profile. She quickly filled this with elaborate ideas and riffs exploring the many ways one might approach a face as canvas. She actually made money on it. Until her face paints ran out and she discovered that the ice cream truck had made away with most of her profits and she couldn’t replace them.

Then there were the duct tape wallets and bags. And the aluminum can flowers. And the hair makeovers. And the gimp bracelets. And so forth. A couple of weeks ago, I caught her searching some of my bookmarked recipe sites. “You can’t go in the kitchen”, she told me (uh oh). She’d just discovered that we have an ice cream maker; she already had a batch of something a very deep brown glooping thickly on the stove and wondered if we had any pineapple in the house.

The thing about a kid who just has to be making things all the time – particularly if such a kid is also a trend setter – is that she never lacks something original and cool to sell. Her latest enterprise is hand painted t-shirts. They’re pretty cool and very much in demand and she’s filling orders as fast as she can. As always, she takes requests. She’s very serious about the “customer satisfaction” thing but is perhaps just a bit too accommodating:

“Trina,” she tells me enthusiastically the other day, “is going to pay me six dollars for four shirts!”

Hmm. “She’s going to give you four shirts and you’re going to paint them?”

“No…”

“Okay, well, do you know how much they cost?” (Uh uh.) “A pack of three is at least $8. So you’re losing money.

“How can I be losing money if she’s going to pay me?”

“Honey, you’re good at math – it costs $8 but you’re only getting six.”

Comprehension dawns. Then her face clears and she tries to help me with my confusion: “but you buy the shirts.”

I do.”

She nods, happy that she’s been able to clear that up for me.

“So I spend $8, you paint some shirts and you get $6.” Uh huh. “Why would I do that?”

Now she looks confused. And a little hurt.

“So I can sell t-shirts.”

Perchance to Dream

I’m having some difficulty sleeping. Oh, blame it on the heat, or my propensity for drinking coffee until very late at night, but I have another theory. I’m a night owl by nature; I get bursts of inspiration and tend to do my best thinking sometime after midnight, so on a typical night, the rest of my family is already in dreamland when I finally stumble up to bed (this solitary time may account for the timing of my inspiration, but there you go). Only the dogs snooze by my side or underfoot waiting for me to call it a day.

We have one behemoth of an air conditioner that we use to cool the downstairs during the worst of the heat, and one small, ancient, horrifically noisy little beast, sufficient for cooling a single room. In keeping with the wisdom of the airline industry, we put this in the parents’ bedroom. We don’t want moms overheating now, do we? So, on a hot night, this thing goes through its cycles:

rattle rattle rat tattattattattattat rattlerattle griiind griiind griiiiiind rattlerattle ka-chunk! ROAR ROAR ROAR GRIND GRIND ROAR KA-CHUNK! rattle rattle…..

Add to this, that my beloved snores. Twenty five years ago, it was a small, cute sort of noise that was in a way reassuring. Over the years, it has morphed into a great, monstrous symphony of snorks, gurgles, and noises that sound like a balloon deflating, and something reptilian trapped in a drain. Nor are they in the least bit rhythmic, in which case it might be possible to adapt. No, each sound is new, unexpected and guaranteed to jolt one from any light sleep one might have achieved through the previous assault. I use earplugs when  I’m not expected to wake to an alarm but as I am the one who drives the kids wherever they need to be in the morning, that’s not often.

Years it took to get the kids to stop sleeping in our bed whenever they feel like it (pretty much always) but it took only a single 90o night to move them back in. With them, of course, come favorite pillows, stuffed animals, hardcover books, tomorrow’s outfit and today’s stinky cast offs — arrayed as though shot from a concert canon. Both kids fling bony limbs every which way, earning my son with the adolescent-boy joints the nickname “ankle-osaurus”. So we dragged in a twin mattress and told them to make the best of it. The other night, my daughter discovered that the dog bed was infinitely more comfortable than sharing space with her brother.

Now we can’t reach the bed without a half-twisting vault from the doorway only ever attempted by Nadia Comaneci in the 1975 Olympic trials. It is not possible to reach the closet by any means at all. And there we have it: beastly AC, symphony of snores; books, clothes, bedding, and mattress on the floor, one kid on said mattress, another kid on the dog bed. This, I suspect, may be at the root of my insomnia.

The other night I climbed the stairs, performed the vault from the doorway… and landed squarely on a dog. A 70-pound dog whose startled yelp woke the dog occupying my pillow. As I retreated back off the bed, I stepped on the cat. I gave up, went back downstairs, put some Bactine on my cat scratches, and dropped onto the couch.

And can I just say, that is one comfortable couch.

 

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