What’s in a Name? On Being DadaMama Instead of MaMa

Sometimes I still wish to be the one who walks beside my children, while others follow.

Originally Appeared here on RoleReboot.org.

Only when my twins were 20 months old did they master the correct use of the words “mama” and “dada.”  They took quite a long time to even SAY these words, despite beginning to talk about six months prior.  Their first words were “uh oh” and “ba ba” (bottle), (ba)”nana,” “hi,” “bye” and “boon” (balloon).  I figured, okay, as long as they are starting to say words, no problem.  But on the inside I was wondering what was wrong.  Was I, as Mama, not as important to them as I should be if they learned “boon” first?  Had I been neglectful somehow?  I couldn’t help measuring myself against other moms with kids younger than mine who were constantly saying “Mama.”

In the next few months the twins started throwing around the words Mama and Dada, but they didn’t seem to be in reference to anyone.  Sometimes they would point at the window or a light switch and shout “Mama.”  Sometimes they were directed toward Seth or I, but also toward the babysitter, Grammy and Grampy, aunts and uncles, etc.  What was this about?  Wasn’t I supposed to be much more important than these other folks?

My anxiety only increased when their words started to get more complex.  They started saying “window,” “shake it” (when we danced) and “okra.”  My daughter started to refer to her Minnie Mouse doll as “Minya Minya Maow” and her stuffed kangaroo as “Kanga.”  Really, I thought, you know Minnie and Kanga and Hippo and Poo Bear and not Mama?  I was starting to feel peeved.  Okay, maybe even a little hurt. Then something strange began to happen.  One day my daughter looked right at me, and with a big smile, and great exuberance, as though she’d had had a revelation, she shouted “Dada!” and pointed in my direction.  Over the next couple weeks both babies began to refer to my husband AND me as DaDa.

Continue reading

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Lyla Cicero


Three days before Christmas a doctor I had just met removed my dead baby from my body.

The procedure was short and painless… too painless.

I had known I was “pregnant” for exactly one month when I was told the baby had no heartbeat and hadn’t grown in almost two weeks.

One month.  Long enough to go from a state of panic, denial, and disbelief, to having re-organized my whole life and my whole heart around being a mother of three.

My baby would have been born in July, 18 months after her twin brother and sister.  I had had the strong feeling that she was a girl.

What had seemed impossible, three children in one bedroom and an au pair in my tiny house, had become routine, along with plans to finish the basement, and gearing up for more sleepless nights.

I found out she had died on a Sunday night from an ER doctor.  My husband was crying, but I felt numb.  I could finally exhale, having an answer about why I was bleeding, but this left me completely empty.

Yes, she was still in there, but the future with her in it had died.

My mind became lost in my first pregnancy – imaging the pain of this happening then lessened the blow.  Without a baby, and believing as I had that I couldn’t conceive, I could only imagine it would have been utter devastation.

But still, I felt lost, afloat, obsessed with determining what to focus my mind on without all that planning to do.  What had I thought about before her?

The next day my little O wouldn’t take her late morning bottle.  I couldn’t figure out why, but then I saw something shiny in her mouth.  My instincts kicked in fast, I swooped my finger in hard and with precision, and removed the object, a jagged, hard piece of plastic.  When I saw the blood on her little mouth I broke down.

The next few days I was full of terror.  The house felt like mine field.  I only felt calm behind the wheel in my parked car with the babes strapped into their car seats.

I had been told I would never have a baby.  What if O and J had been a mistake?  What if some kind of cosmic policing agency had found out that I’d gotten away with something?  Would they too be taken from me?  Paralyzed, all I could do was stare at them and cry at the slightest hint they were in danger.  I hated being alone with them, felt like they were safer with anyone but me.

Saturday came and it was Christmas Eve.  For 48 hours straight I ate until I was sick and in pain.  Guests were a distraction, but underneath was a gnawing sense of dread.

I felt sad, for sure.  Felt like every loss in my life was bearing down on me (as I sometimes did during the holidays anyway).

But I also felt relief, in so many strange forms.  I kept having this flash like I had just barely avoided some kind of accident.  I had the strong feeling that I’d almost lost everything, Seth, the babies, and felt every moment like a giant sigh of relief.

My therapist said I was relieved because I did avoid something potentially damaging to me and my family… the pregnancy.  The truth was we were not prepared financially or psychologically for another baby.  We were still reeling from the transition of having had twins after experiencing infertility and me being on bed rest three months.

But this was a burdensome kind of relief.  If only I could un-know the baby, and go back to life before.

But I did know.  I knew I hadn’t wanted her, and then I had wanted her, and I’d not wanted and wanted her all at the same time.  Now that she was gone I felt I had just barely escaped with what was left of my life, and yet I felt that she had been ripped away so cruelly.

The family picture of four that once felt just right now felt empty.  She will always be missing from that picture, no matter how much better off we might be without her.

So I guess most of all the loss I feel is for the innocence of not knowing…  the July I would have had, full of chaos and joy, my babies at 18 months, my arms not feeling empty without her.

Now whatever joy I feel in the attention and time I have for my babies, whatever time I find for myself, whatever pleasure in mothering two, and only two, will be partially because she never got to be.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

Mommy Attention Span

I sometimes still prefer time with non-mommy friends even now that I’m a mom, and “Mommy Attention Span” or M.A.S is one of the reasons.  M.A.S. occurs when one loses all capacity for attention other than toward ones children.

M.A.S is not to be confused with “baby brain” or the way parenting generally slices and dices one’s neurons until there is nothing left but a soupy mess of incoherence.  No engaged parent can think straight!  We are always splitting our attention and it’s hard to concentrate with the responsibility for another being’s entire life on our minds.  BUT the little attention we can muster has to be able to shift.  Mommy Attention Span occurs when we try to squeeze attention to everything and anything else in between reacting to our children’s every move.

I understand when you are trying to talk to another mom, there are going to be interruptions.  Clearly, when someone is in potential danger, hurt, starving, or about to eat a small, non-edible object it requires mom’s attention.  But little ones are going to want attention anytime they can get it.  If I’m trying to talk to a friend about something hard, or even something inane, why does the fact that baby brought you a toy, drooled, or made loud noises, demand a response and break from your attention every time?

Example number two.  Moms are endlessly complaining about how they have lost the freedom to go to the bathroom by themselves.  This loss of freedom results not from the condition of parenting, but from… “Mommy Attention Span.”  Don’t get me wrong, moms (and dads who spend a lot of time at childcare), give up many freedoms, often including the freedom to put one’s own needs first.  But unless your kid is in some kind of peril, shut the door and go to the bathroom!  My kids have yet to set the house on fire or kill each other during the time it takes me to pee by myself.

In part, my feelings on this topic may come from having twins.  When you have twins, the illusion that you will be completely attentive to your baby and meet all her needs is immediately shot to hell on day one.  There’s something about two sets of little hands on each knee and two little mischievous faces looking up at me that says ‘no, this is not acceptable or necessary while I pee, they’re going to wait outside from now on.’  Are they slightly miffed when I shut the bathroom door in their faces?  Sure.  But two seconds later when I come out, they have forgotten all about it.  Who says we don’t have a right to a minute or two of attending to our own bodily functions?

Where did we get the idea that a good mom is endlessly attentive?  And what messages are we sending our children?  I’m sure on one level we believe we are equipping our children to have high self-esteem and feel like they are fascinating just by being them.  And indeed, it is critically important to reflect back to our children who they are in an accepting manner.  But not every minute!!  The truth is, they are not endlessly fascinating, and giving them the idea that they are could harm them.  There are going to be a lot of metaphorical bathroom doors slammed in their faces and they’re going to have to regroup and deal with it.

Children (and adults) need to be self-entertaining.  They need to be able to tolerate times when they are not being enjoyed just for being them.  That’s why our kids desperately need us to let them develop on their own.  They need time to explore their environment, and I’m not talking about a house full of loud, colorful, over-stimulating toys.  Leave your kids alone with a few Tupperware containers and pick up a book.  They will thank you later when they can read a somewhat long paragraph without becoming unfocused and wondering where the flashing lights and pictures are.

I believe for some of us, our relationships with partners and friends are suffering, and our connections to ourselves and the outside world are too.  The combined cultural notion that we should both want to be around our kids all the time, and want to be attentive to them all the time leave us with no way to connect with other adults.  Then, feeling cut-off, uninspired, under-stimulated, and just plain bored, we beat ourselves up for not loving being cut-off, uninspired, under-stimulated, and just plain bored.

Being attentive to children can be delightful, but often it is work… plain and simple.  We do it out of love, the same way we listen to our partners go on and on about aspects of their work we don’t fully grasp, or the way we listen to an elderly parent describe the daily happenings in the hallway at their nursing home.

We don’t expect to derive the ultimate pleasure from these activities, and thus we don’t attempt to do them 24/7.  We intersperse times when we ourselves can be heard and stimulated.  We need those times!!  So moms… if another mom, or a partner, or anyone comes around and your kids are safe and have basic care, give your attention to that adult, and for the love of god, accept theirs, you need it!  Give yourself some precious moments for you.  Be “selfish.”

Your children will thank you when they can sit in a classroom for hours out of the day tolerating not being called on or paid attention to.  They will thank you when they can be that partner who listens to someone talk without turning the topic to themselves.  They will thank you when their boss provides constructive criticism and they’re not thrown off balance because they believe everything they do is fascinating.  Your daughters will thank you when they learn that being a mother means your kids are your top priority, but not that you have to make them a priority every minute.  Moms, you still exist!  Let your daughters see you exist.  Let them see you ignore them now and then so they can learn that no role, even mother, should be powerful enough to erase them.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com. All Rights Reserved.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero

True Mommy Confessions 1

These are the things no one says. 

I am tired of the color of the playroom walls.

Crying makes my organs moan and my brain ache.

I leave my kids in their cribs as long as I can get away with.

I miss leaving the house whenever I want.

I need a nap.

I need a drink.

Sometimes I wear earplugs.

I’m not always that interested in the things my babies do.

I miss laying around in bed for no reason.

Sometimes I wish I could go on dates, or at least go out, get tipsy, and flirt with people.

Breastfeeding is incredibly hard and takes more endurance and will than anything I’ve ever done (and I have a freaking PhD, wrote a dissertation, cared for my mother for 18 months while she died of a brain tumor, and spent 3 months on bed rest).

My favorite times are when I read books or write.

I am stubbornly refusing to give up my identity, Mommy is just one of many names I call myself.

Often friends and relatives are more excited to see my babies than I am.

Often friends and relatives are way more excited to see my babies than me.

Feeding babies solids is boring, not to mention messy.

My kids want to play with me, but I’m writing this blog.

When my daughter crawled for the first time, I was vaguely aggravated.

I bathe my babies as infrequently as I can get away with.

I spend a lot of time surfing the web looking into events I can’t go to.

I am jealous of my single friends.

I am relieved when anyone else is around.

I frequently feel paralyzed by the terrible, blinding fear that something will happen to my babies.

Still… I have no regrets.

Copyright 2011-2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero

Breast Pumping, House Hunting (Not My Mom Part 2)

Hard to Believe this was real...

About two months after my twins were born, (while I was still pumping breast milk 8 times per day, never sleeping more than 2 hours at a time, walking around in nothing but a nursing bra, forgetting to eat, still recovering from surgery), I decided it was time to look at real estate.  I went online and found a house in the town Seth and I had talked about moving to someday, when we could afford it.

Two days later, I was dragging Seth, the twins, and Grammy and Grampy on a 45 minute drive to see the house.  I didn’t need to see it, I was sure we had to buy it, I just needed to convince them!  You are probably thinking, well of course you didn’t convince them.  But those pregnancy hormones must be contagious, because there they were, Grammy and Grampy entertaining the twins in the car, while Seth and I checked out the house.

We almost bought that house.  Then there were several more weekends of house searching, breast pumping in the car, in the bathrooms of cold, empty houses, babies screaming in the faces of real estate agents, forgotten diapers, two of us looking at each house while the other two watched the twins.

You think that’s crazy, let’s talk about keeping my house ready to be shown to potential buyers at a few minutes notice; pulling a shirt on, throwing boppy pillows and blankets down the basement stairs, my breast pump and nursing supplies shoved in the closet, spit-up stains on the couch covered by throw pillows, Seth moving two jumperoos, two baby swings, two bumbo seats, two everything into the garage, as I run out the door, twins in hand, fleeing from any germs the visitors might be carrying.

Then there was the Lysol-ing of the house afterward.

And then we REALLY almost bought this other house.  This time in the very w.a.s.p.-y, very white, but oh so fucking adorable (laden with big old trees and gorgeous colonial homes) suburb where I crystallized my identity as “the only democrat in the class aside from the teacher.”

Oh how those teachers ate up my anti-death penalty diatribes and feminist rants.

(I remember this one kid wondering aloud in AP Government how women could be in combat roles in the military because “What if they get cramps or something when they’re on their period?”  Oooooo, did he wish he was dead by the time I was through…)

Anyway.  The house was a money pit.  It was so big compared to our tiny two bedroom cape cod, and close enough to the universe of our price range, that in our deluded, sleep-deprived insanity, we convinced ourselves we could afford it.  Then when we found out it needed completely new electrical wiring and plumbing (only a tiny drip came out of the faucets), that it had a flooding problem and asbestos.  We proceeded.

This all sounds perfectly crazy now, but oh, at the time, how I yearned for that house!  Of course it wasn’t the house at all.  I was yearning for my mother, for my own childhood, for something known.  It is amazing how even if we know our mother did a lot of things wrong, in those first months when the shock of profound responsibility and feelings of profound incompetence set in, we go right back to what we know, for me even down to the neighborhood!

Somehow picturing my kids going to my elementary school, playing in the playground where I played, watching their friends get brand new SUVs when they got their licenses, and claw each others’ eyes out to get spots at ivy league schools was incredibly comforting.  Rationality and logic be damned.  My kids had to live in that house, whether it meant eating beans from a can every meal, and their parents divorcing as they caved under the financial stress.

This may sound hyperbolic, but I’m quite certain that house would have ended my marriage.  Not more than 4 months later my depressed, desperate shell of a husband left his high paying big law job for a lower-paying one that would allow him to be the involved, present father he desperately wanted to be.  That house would have meant a life sentence at a job that was sucking the life out of him, and my kids growing up in a world where that salary would have meant more than almost anything else.  But that wasn’t us.

As I sit here in my tiny cape cod, my twins upstairs in their shared bedroom, in my scrappy little liberal, gay-friendly, cute but by no means manicured town, where various grad student neighbors leave the occasional old couch out of the front lawn to rot in the elements, I thank god that my husband had the clarity to back us out of that deal.

So new moms, beware.  This is not the time for decisions more critical than which type of bottle to buy.  I wanted that house down to the very fiber of my soul!  The pain I felt when I had to admit we couldn’t do it, so inexplicable now, left me crying for weeks.  The loneliness, the terror, the utter and complete self-depravation of new motherhood would all be erased if I just had that house.

I wasn’t just like my mother, I was my mother, a woman whose house was literally the most important thing to her.  I’m sure SHE had thought her family would be fine as long as we had the right house, but my kids would have something infinitely better… Seth.

Copyright 2011-2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero

Undercover in the Suburbs

I never wanted to get married.  I never wanted children.  I was sure I could have a wonderfully succulent life without these instruments of the patriarchy, and I’m certain I could have.  Okay, in all honesty, I still thought boys were icky well into my twenties, so it was downright hard to envision marriage and children would ever happen to me anyway.  Thus while my feminist ideals were entirely sincere, they also helped me avoid being disappointed.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I walked into a clothing store in New York City and fell in love with a girly pink dress with just a teeny bit of lace trim around the bottom.  Instead of squelching my desire as I normally would to quell the inevitable cognitive dissonance attached to such urges, I walked out of there wearing the dress.  Screw the fact that I didn’t have the right shoes or bra to go with it, or anywhere fancy enough to wear it.  My mother had just died a few days before, and I was feeling a bit like a snow globe whose little white bits had gotten all shaken up, and it was yet unclear where they would land.  I wondered who I would be without my mom, who would I be if I wore this dress, who I would be with all these contradictory parts of me floating around in a little glass orb…  Was I suddenly just like all the other girly girls or a tomboy enjoying one aberrant evening in my new pink dress and sneakers?

So here I am seven years later, and my whole life feels like that dress.  Definitely what I wanted, but also not me.

This blog is about feeling like a radical and looking like a soccer mom.

This blog is about maintaining one’s creativity in a cookie cutter world, and being a smart girl at a time when everyone seems enamored with idiocy.

This blog is about feeling not quite conventional, a bit too eccentric, not straight enough, and way too feminist to hang with the other mommies, but not quite out there enough to take my kids and move to some kind of collectivist commune or join that lesbian separatist movement after all.

This blog is about being a mom of twins, as if I didn’t already feel like a freak!

This blog is about trying to live a holistic lifestyle without relocating to a giant bubble on the moon where no one has ever heard of McDonald’s.

This blog is a tribute to the love of my life, a true partner in every sense.

It is about sustaining an egalitarian marriage while systemic barriers force us into traditional roles.

This blog is my anthropologist notes from a culture that is both mine and yet deeply foreign.

This blog is my answer to such frequently asked questions as “Where’s your minivan?”

This blog is my study on whether to speak up and say my husband DOES do that, or just smile politely and pretend I’m also living in the 1950s.

It is about wanting and not wanting and trying to reconcile all the different parts of myself.

This blog is about acknowledging that I love my kids with a kind of passion like nothing I’ve never felt before, then admitting that the endless days of repetition are turning my brain into a pile of poo-poo, and that I skip out the door on my way to work.

This blog is about who I will be as wife and mother, and who I will be apart from a wife and mother.

This blog is my coming out party, and my attempt to figure out which closet I’m in anyway.

This blog is about waking up one day, undercover in the suburbs, trying to reclaim all those little pieces of myself, and watching to see where they will land.

Copyright 2011-2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com. All Rights Reserved.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero