Tag Archives: children

Blue hair. Big deal.


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Anita Renfroe makes every mother feel normal, and for that, I am absurdly grateful. Her Mom Song, featuring lyrics she’s written, set to the William Tell Overture, is racing around the world via the Internet and YouTube now, with over a million viewers and counting.

When my nine-year-old brought a box of blue hair dye to me in Rite-Aid, I took it from her, looked skeptically at the box, and handed it back to her.

“Put this right back where you found it, darling,” I said. Reaching for the box next to it, I explained: “Your hair is much too dark for this to work. You need to bleach your hair out first. Otherwise the blue won’t show.”

I consider myself a – mostly – typical mother. But later, strolling down 82nd St., she attracted attention. One little girl pointed, and stage whispered, “Mama, that girl has blue hair.

I began to wonder. Who pays attention to anything in New York City?

Blue hair. Big deal. My older daughter, at eleven, sports a rather unnatural shade of red. I’ve been letting them create their own personas since they were old enough to want their own looks.

My nine-year-old still can’t quite match her clothes reliably. Any blue in her closet: print, plaid, Pucci – combines with any other. It’s truly dazzling, but delightful.

It works: she’s always had to beat back the admirers. Not one kid in her class razzed her for the blue do, either.

As Mother’s Day approaches, it occurs to me: there’s no autopilot, but like pregnancy, despite attempts at control, this is a natural process, ongoing before we hopped into the generational stream, continuing long after we jump out.

Take pregnancy: you certainly can’t ignore it. Eat right, keep in shape (wait, hang on, that’s kind of funny), lay off alcohol and caffeine, sleep when you can (until the last furlough when sleep is impossible, because of the torpedo trying to fight its way out), and obsess over your stack of gestational books. (“What To Expect When You’re Carting Around 25 Pounds of A Kicking Stranger.”)

Still, pregnancy marches on; nature takes its course. The laissez-faire pregnant people seem to do just as well as the uptight ones do. Honestly, babies are lucky we’re not in charge of the whole complicated mess.

Same with mothering. We’re sort of wired for it. Anita Renfroe is a writer and comedian – certainly not your average mom – and yet her lyrics resonate with every living mother on the planet, typical or not.

My kids’ dad looked at me last night when I said: “I’m a typical mom,” as though I’d said: “I’m an anteater,” with an indulgent look over the top of his eyeglasses.

“Um,” he started, flailing for tact, “ya think? No.”

Having sworn a vow to avoid “Because I say so,” I have gone to near-ridiculous lengths to explain things to my kids, and to allow them freedom of choice whenever possible. Don’t want the cough medicine? Okay, cough all night. Don’t want the Tylenol? Unless your fever’s out of control, okay – suffer.

But when one of them had pneumonia, and needed antibiotics, I accessed the Internet, a medical encyclopedia and a small sketchbook to show her exactly how the lungs, the alveoli and the bronchioles were filling up with fluid and she would drown in her own mucus if she didn’t cave in and swallow the tasty bubble gum liquid.

Still, I say – more frequently than I care to admit, but hey, if Anita Renfroe can do it, then so can I: “Because I said so, that’s why.”

I have also said: “If Alexis/Rachel/Sierra jumped off the Empire State Building, would you?”

Of course, the response was: “Was she bungee-jumping? Then maybe.”

I have said: “Pick up this pigsty.”

“Don’t give me that face.”

“Who do you think you’re talking to?”

“I said no.”

“Do you know how lucky you are?”

“No one appreciates a darn thing I do around here.”

“Try cleaning toilets, then get back to me about how tough you have it.”

“Of course I’m not your friend. I’m your mother. That’s better.”

“No, you can’t call me Elizabeth.”

I have had that shuddering experience of hearing my own mother’s words come out of my mouth; words I never thought I’d say.

Once, my friend saw me beating potatoes with an electric beater. “No masher?” she said. I showed her my bent masher; she laughed, and exited the kitchen, wine glass in hand.

My mother came into the kitchen next. “Beaters?” she asked, innocently. My entire body stiffened.

“What’s wrong with beaters?” I asked defensively.

Years later, my older daughter, having just learned to scramble eggs, was at the stove.

“You know, you might have better luck with a different spatula,” I suggested.

“What’s wrong with this spatula?” she asked, defensively.

I flashed back to my own mother, and thought of all the words flowing in the generational stream, of the power a mother has over a daughter. Those words we have wired into us, that we pass onto our daughters and sons have enormous power – to hurt, to heal; to encourage or to dismay.

“You know what?” I backpedaled. “Actually, you’re doing great. They smell good – would you mind making some for me?”

She brightened up. “Sure,” she said, with the same excitement you save for a question like, “Want to go to Great Adventure?”

Best breakfast I ever ate. Full of love, life, and the history of a hundred thousand mothers and children.

Thanks, Anita Renfroe, for telling us that story in less than three minutes.

View this delightful video:

The Mom Song.

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Embarrassment? I’m Bulletproof.


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Elizabeth Williams Bushey in concertI’m a grownup. That means I can eat frosting right out of the can if I want to. (Yes, I said the CAN. Is there anyone who still makes homemade frosting? Okay, then, you probably aren’t a parent with a job. And if you ARE a parent with a job, and you still make homemade frosting, and get everything else done you’re supposed to do, then you must be my very nice, but gobmackingly perfect sister. Please forward a package of your frosting in one of your gazillion extra organizing tubs.)

I have a vehicle. I can drive to the mall anytime I please. I’ve got a cell phone, too, complete with a butterfly charm from the Icing at the Galleria. How cool am I? I have a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, and I rock with it. I even perform onstage. With a real wireless headset mike. (Testing. 1, 2, 3…) I am SOOOO AWESOME.

Oh, wait, I forgot – I’m the Dork of the Universe.

I’m someone’s mom.

Please do NOT TALK TO MY FRIENDS, MOM.

Please do NOT KISS ME, MOM.

Please DO NOT EMBARRASS ME, MOM.

Now: I, my own self, am nearly impossible to embarrass, being a rather outspoken, outgoing sort. (Anyone who sings in public doesn’t exactly have a low embarrassment threshold.) But one does have to remember what it’s like to NOT be a grownup.

We were in McDonald’s, happily enjoying our happy meals.

“Mom!” Urgency crept into my daughters’ voices – an alarm so deep I wondered for a moment if an armed gunman had entered the establishment.

I bent my head, the better to hear their agonized whispers.

“Ourfriendfromschooljustwalkedin. PLEASE DON’T EMBARRASS US.”

Okay. I don’t mind being considered a dork by my kids, even though in reality, I’m fairly cool. They’re supposed to think I’m a dork. I’m the one teaching them right from wrong, sending them to bed, etc. If they DID think I was cool, I’d be messing up.

But there I was, sitting quietly in McDonalds – a restaurant I don’t even like all that much – minding my business, not doing any of the things they generally hate, like talking to their teachers, or their friends’ parents, or performing.

I’ll admit my baser instincts got the better of me. C’mon, we all – a little bit – hate it that our kids don’t know how cool we really are, don’t we? Don’t we all wish, deep down in our black hearts, that our kids could have seen just how awesome we really are?

“You would have WANTED to be my friend when I was your age!”

Isn’t that sometimes what you want to shout? “You would have thought I was cool THEN!”

So, more than a little peeved about accusations before actions, I stood up.

“You mean, embarrass you by doing something like… dancing to no music at all?”

I began to dance. Slowly, deliberately… embarrassingly.

“Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, Mom, pleasepleaseplease sit down, I’m begging you!”

“Something like this? Is THIS what you’re afraid I might do? Or maybe…”

“MOM!”

I sat down with a smirk. “Eat your dinner. She didn’t see.” She didn’t. Naturally I was watching. I DO take care not to embarrass them. Whenever possible.

I do recall that feeling when you’re a kid. Grownups realize everyone else in the universe is so wrapped up in themselves that they’re not paying anywhere NEAR the amount of attention you once thought they were. But kids are still the center of their own universes – the heroes of their own movies, and everyone else is a cameo player.

Extreme self-consciousness is so vivid, so much a part of your life, that any hair out of place, any fold in the cloth of your shirt, any label that’s not up-to-the-minute current makes you feel like a pariah.

You know you’re a real grownup when you realize the “pariahs” – the ones who dance to their own music – are who make the world so very, very interesting.

Kids love McDonald’s because it’s predictable; it’s always exactly the same chicken nuggets, precisely four, precisely cookie-cuttered into the same eerie, unnatural shape.

We grow when we peek beyond the predictable, to investigate: who that is dancing around the corner?

Look: no, really. Look.

(photo credit: © 2006 Tom Bushey)

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Crime and Punishment. Not.


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CandyMy oldest daughter asked me: How come we don’t get punished?

I answered honestly. “Consequences make a lot more sense. Spill the milk; clean it up. You’re fresh-mouthed and bratty? You’re tired. Early bedtime.”

Now, I confess to stretching the bedtime thing a bit thin.

“Problem with chores? You must be tired. Get some rest.”

“Can’t seem to find your manners? Look for them under your bed. Good night.”

“You don’t like my cooking? Good night.”

Okay, maybe not that last. But seriously, it makes more sense to me to sit down with them and figure out where they went wrong than it does to send them to their room and let them stew, hating me and feeling persecuted.

We have a dog, Tucker. Great dog. I’m very attached to him, in fact, and he’s attached to me. As in, at the hip. Literally. He’s a German Shepherd Dog mix, which means he’s smart, obedient, and sort of a one-woman-man type of creature. Devoted. But still a dog, meaning that he tends to forget he occupies space.

Therefore other creatures in the universe who might want to get close to me – for instance, creatures to whom I gave birth – often find themselves needing to wrestle their way around a seventy-pound lump of fur who thinks he’s a twelve-pound lap cat.

My youngest started behaving weirdly. Ordinarily a very good kid, she was now Trouble. As in, Setting the Kitchen Table on Fire, Trouble. (This is true: I have the seven-inch burn mark to prove it.)

One day I heard whimpering.

“Who locked Tucker in the other bedroom?” I asked when I came downstairs. Tucker, of course, being, as I mentioned, a dog, was already licking her face.

Tucker Dog’s thought processes go something like this:

What a narrow escape! I am SO glad to be out of that room and back with everybody else. I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you!

The youngest’s stony, I-can’t-hear-you, I-feel-horrible, why-won’t-this-dog-stop-forgiving-me stare gave her away.

“You know, darling,” I said, sitting down quietly next to her, “if the house was on fire, and I had a choice between saving you or Tucker, you know what I would do?”

“Yeah,” she said sullenly.

“I would save YOU,” I said.

“You would?” She was clearly surprised.

“Sure. I love Tucker a lot. He’s a great dog. But there are a zillion dogs out there, and I can always get another dog. I can never, ever get another you.”

She threw her arms around me. That was it, all right. Trouble was over. I’d have to do this again, and again, I knew. But this was it.

“Listen, though, kiddo. Next time you’re mad at me, be mad at ME. Don’t take it out on innocent Tuck. That’s a bad road to go down, if you know what I mean. I don’t want to have to go back to the shelter and have to find one of those dogs with a spiked collar that will swallow you in one bite, you know.”

She got a little stony again.

“It’s a JOKE.”

She relaxed.

“Two bites, at least.”

Tuck sealed it with even more forgiving slobber.

That’s what it’s really all about: dealing with the crime, not meting out the punishment. After all, what’s our goal, anyway? If they stray or stumble, help them up off their knees, and guide them the few baby steps they’ve taken back to the right road, before they get too far into the dark woods.

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Should I worry? MMMM… nah. A little beheading is good for the soul. Right?


barbies hanging from purple pegboardIf YOUR nine-year-old hated Barbie® with THIS kind of passion, would THAT worry you?

I mean, I remember MY mom disliked the sexist nature of the doll, and restricted my ownership to that most neutral of Barbie®, Malibu Barbie®. She had plain, straight hair, and Mom refused to buy any sparkly clothes for her.

All her clothes were made, by me, out of my old undershirts. Her entire wardrobe was stretchy and white.

But I loved and cherished her. Remember how we used to make her talk? Bobbing her up and down with every syllable?

I do not recall ever dismounting her head and tying her, by the hair, to anything.

Hmmm. Anger issues, I suppose.

The kid seems, otherwise, fine.

Rides her bike, hates wearing dresses, though. Perhaps the girly-doll just isn’t her thing.

She inherited the bucket-O-Barbies® from her older sister. Maybe there’s some hidden resentment there. The old hand-me-down thing…

Either way, makes for some interesting, gritty-type photography.

I’ll ask the girl’s therapist, though. And keep her away from sharp objects. And bludgeons.

(photo: © Elizabeth Williams Bushey)

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