My husband’s pet name for me used to be “Umka.” If you’re Russian, you know that Umka is a cartoon polar bear cub popular in the early 70s.
Let’s ask the Russian what the similarities are between his wife and a cartoon polar bear:
“You are white and you like the cold when you sleep.”
(ed. note: White as in blonde, not honkey. If you were wondering.)
Let’s ask him if there’s anything else about the cartoon bear that reminds him of his wife, say, being cute and cuddly:
“Sure. You are cute and cuddly.”
But here’s the thing. This stopped after our son was born because really, he was Baby Umka now. I was now Umka’s mother. And that’s fine. I think mother bears are awesome — they’re fiercely protective and loving and strong. And polar bear mothers are just amazing. I love their black eyes and lovely long noses and beautiful fur. One of the first pieces of art I bought when we were getting the nursery ready was an illustration of a mama and baby polar bear gazing at the moon together.
Can you believe after ten years of marriage and having this Umka be a part of our lives, I only just now watched one of the cartoons? It’s on YouTube (of course) and even comes in a subtitled version. Please take a few minutes to watch it — it’s beautifully drawn and utterly charming. And totally makes me want to talk like the mama bear, who for a bear has a very sexy voice. (Is that wrong?) Also, check out the lullabye she sings to baby Umka. You will want to rush out and learn Russian immediately so you can sing it to your little ones.
How about you? Any pet names you care to reveal? And like me, did your pet name mysteriously disappear or change after your children came along?
I’ve been trying to write this post since I got to Dubai two days ago but words keep failing me. I fancy myself a sophisticated traveler but nothing prepared me for this place. It’s not just the opulence (which is outrageous), it’s more the sheer FOREIGNESS of it. There are only a few places on this planet I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, and the Middle East is one of them. Moreso in a post-9/11 world. And yet — here I am. I awoke at one point during the 12 hour flight over here and saw on the on-screen flight tracker that we were flying right over Baghdad. That’s when it hit me. I was really on my way to the United Arab Emirates. I’ve been farther away from home before (my husband’s home city of Chelyabinsk, Russia) — but nothing has felt as far away from home as Dubai.
As part of yesterday’s itinerary (I’m here in meetings with my Olay client) we venture into a residential neighborhood to spend time with a Dubai local woman to discuss her skin care routine. Her name is Rasheed and she isn’t much older than I am. She welcomes us into her beautiful home, introduces us to her dimpled 12-year old daughter, serves us juice and coffee. And then we talk through a translator for an hour. About skin care, of course, but also about feeling beautiful, about husbands and kids, about keeping house, about working and getting to the gym. Rasheed is eager to show us her yard, the pheasants and chickens she keeps, her lime and mango trees, the patio that’s under renovation.
I notice tall pots of alyssium, a sweetly-fragrant flower I plant along my borders each spring many, many miles away in New Jersey. It’s the sight of those flowers in their carefully tended pots that gets me. Rasheed and I love the same flowers.
Same way we love our kids and our husbands, and playing with beauty products, and enjoying a chat over coffee.
Maybe not so foreign after all. Imagine that.
I get home from the business trip after dark. It’s been two solid days of planes, trains and automobiles – doing the security line striptease, breaking nails on suitcase latches, schlepping from one client meeting to the next with bloodshot eyes from fitful hotel sleep and not enough Visine. I’m thrilled to be home but as usual, my return disrupts the fragile balance my stay-at-home husband has established with our son in my absence.
Enter Mommy, exit discipline. I realize as I lurch into the kitchen lugging suitcase and laptop bag that I’ve interrupted dinner. I’ve distracted my son during the all-important first course, by which I mean the plateful of vegetables he must finish before getting mac-and-cheese. He’ll eat veggies but like pulling off a bandaid, it’s best when it happens all at once, without interruption. I’ve shot his concentration and he’s now wrapped himself around me with the freakish strength 6 year olds can muster when it comes to bear hugs and marathon tickle sessions. I breathe him in. I haven’t seen him in two days.
My husband indulges the reunion for a while, then tries to coax our boy back to finish dinner. It’s swim team practice night which means dinner is served later and everyone’s exhausted. Bed time is minutes away and we’re not even through the carrots yet. My son ignores his father’s pleas to finish the meal, having run off to the TV room to find a drawing he needs to show me RIGHT NOW. He’s got two days of catching up to do with me and in his mind, carrots – and bedtime – can wait. On cue, my husband explodes.
The battle of wills between the 42 year old and the first grader is fierce. Testosterone flies fast and furious, both sides hell-bent on making sure the other knows “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.”
Normally I’d intervene. Mediate and bargain. Make the peace. Tonight, something switches on in my brain. I realize, “I can’t fix this.” It occurs to me the men in my family will never figure out how to deal with one another productively as long as I’m in the ring refereeing.
So I leave. I pull my coat back on knowing full well this will trigger a fresh outburst of wailing from my son.
I tell him as calmly as I can that I’m going to take a walk so that he and his dad can make friends again. That they need to work it out themselves, that I love them both and I’ll be back in a little bit.
I walk out into the cool night air, willing myself not to look back at the house. I know I’ll see my son plastered against the living room window, yelling for me to come back. I am tired from my trip, tired of the drama, tired of undermining my husband in his parenting efforts.
It’s humid for December and a light fog has settled on and around the houses on my block. I pause at the end of the street and look at all the houses along our town’s main drag, decked out in friendly competition with a bright array of Christmas lights. I breathe slowly and deliberately, in and out, in and out. This grounds me in the here and now, because I refuse to project myself into a future where my husband and son can’t settle their differences, come to blows, stop loving each other.
I’m touched by the sight of these houses lined up side by side in the night, lit up as far as the eye can see, all the way down to where our town’s main street intersects with the highway. The houses get smaller and a little more ragtag down there, but they have been decorated with care and tonight they are luminous.
Why do we hang lights at Christmas? To evoke the star of Bethlehem and the nativity? Keep up with the Joneses? Celebrate the Solstice and the return of the sun’s light? Me, I love Christmas lights for reasons so complex and emotionally intertwined it’s tough to peel apart. They are beacons that fill my heart with optimism that this Christmas will be different – no holiday dysfunction, no missed connections, no New Year’s resolutions made and abandoned. Hope that this year, things will be better.
I turn and make my way back down the block to our little blue house. I’ve only been gone ten minutes but I’m guessing things have diffused inside. I notice the lights have gone out on the evergreen garland I’ve twisted around the lamp pole in our front yard and though it’s dark, am able to correct the setting on the automatic timer. The strands of fairy lights nestled in the pine blaze brilliantly back to life. I look up to see my husband and son silhouetted in the front window, waiting for me together. I climb the porch stairs and go back inside, out of the mist and into the light.
Note: I was inspired to write this post by the brilliant women of Blog Nosh Magazine who are hosting a blogging carnival to celebrate hope during the holiday season. They’re doing this to help raise awareness of a charity program called Loads of Hope which I am obliged to tell you was created by my agency’s client Tide. I assure you, I would support both Blog Nosh and Tide Loads of Hope regardless of the client relationship because good people and programs deserve to be promoted. My clients don’t know I wrote this but if they read it, I hope they like it. (You, too.)
Please visit Blog Nosh to learn about the carnival and the campaign.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m part of a group of NYC-area mom bloggers working with the team promoting Motherhood, a movie coming out in a week or so made by a mom, starring a mom, about a mom. No money exchanging hands (that’s for you, FTC), just access to the cast and director for interviews and some nice link love on the movie Facebook page.
So I’m waiting for the call to start this morning, making chit chat with the dozen or so bloggers on the line and enjoying the not-yet muted sounds of their home lives in the background. I hear cooing babies, barking dogs, toddlers clamoring for “Sesame Street.” My background noises, meanwhile, are those of the work-at-office mom: tooth-rattling jackhammers and sirens shrieking their way down Lexington Avenue.
Uma joins the call. Mute button on. Suddenly I’m having a moment. I AM ON THE PHONE WITH BEATRIX THE BRIDE. Holy Tarantino. The warrior mother, the assassin goddess, the woman who dispatches legions and murmurs, “Those of you lucky enough to still have your lives — take them with you. But leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”
Ooops, I’m first up! I get to read my question myself. In my mind I’m saying, “Beatrix the Bride I love you and want to braid your hair and can I try on your yellow jumpsuit” but here’s what I actually say: “Uma! Hi!” She answers my question and the dozen that follow but Blessed Virgin Mary, this call is a hot mess. It’s all dropped connections, background noise, overlapping conversation…in other words, the absolute personification of motherhood itself. I don’t think a single one of us is sweating this fact because we’re used to chaos. It is our currency, whether we work for a paycheck or not. Moms all do a variation of the same juggling act, after all. Which sometimes sucks and sometimes is beautiful and joyful.
So here are some of my favorite bits from the interview:
Uma was asked where she feels the movie’s authenticity comes from. She said she loves that Eliza’s character is not there to cast the viewer’s attention on someone else – a man or a child. She is the heart of the movie, depicted honestly – with flaws and anger issues, but very much in love with her family.
She’s surprised when other mothers dismiss the topic of motherhood in film (as in “Why watch a movie about my own boring life?”) Uma wonders why we discredit ourselves so much that we’d think raising another human being isn’t worthy of pop culture attention.
My question was about a scene described by director Katherine Dieckmann as her favorite in the film. Eliza and her husband are sitting in a car. Emotional words are exchanged. I asked Uma to describe it and here’s what she said:
Eliza is digging into the source of her unhappiness, the fact that she’s lost herself in the minutiae of domestic life. She’s worn down by the tiny, grinding repetitive acts that make up her day. She no longer recognizes herself.
I want to see this movie for that scene alone. I predict I’ll hear myself in Eliza’s words, see myself in her frustration. I wonder what will happen for her and if she’ll find peace with the choices she’s made. I wonder too about the women in my life who don’t have creative or professional outlets, who lose a bit of themselves every day. The moms who – like Eliza – pour all their talent and energy into their families at the expense of their own aspirations. They’re the ones who deserve happy endings.
Motherhood is in theaters October 23rd.
Check out Eliza’s blog here.
Being married to a Russian is like riding in the front seat of a communication rollercoaster. Woman is from Venus, Man is from Chelyabinsk. After 12 years in this country, my husband’s English is still somewhat fractured. This is alternately a source of considerable charm and tremendous frustration. Some of our most explosive arguments have stemmed from the misunderstanding of a simple idiom. (Apparently “Fish or cut bait” is offensive to some people, I really had no idea.)
I’ve been married to the Russian for ten years but I wonder sometimes if I really know the man behind the fumbling malaprops. If words are how we define ourselves, what’s it like when the words at your disposal are broken? My husband’s entire demeanor changes when he speaks Russian with his friends — he is louder and more expansive. He is the alpha male in his circle, the center of the action, the go-to guy when someone needs help or support. He is fully empowered in his native tongue; in English, he is cautious.
I know this man loves language and literature. He recited Pushkin from memory when we first met and scolded me for not knowing a particular O. Henry story. I love language, too. I would die just a little bit every day if I couldn’t express myself as freely in a second language as I do in English. But the Russian is resilient. He perseveres, pushing through his discomfort in conversations with harried elementary school teachers and fast-talking north Jersey repairmen. He maintains composure navigating the rings of customer service hell with heavily-accented telecomm representatives. He even keeps pace when I come home from work ranting in hyper-speed PR-speak about some imagined client indignity.
Last night I learned my guys had made an IKEA run without remembering to bring me home some gingersnaps. This is a forgivable sin and I was over it in seconds. Today the Russian sent me this email. I’ve tidied up the spelling, but only a little.
Yesterday suddenly I started to feel guilty for the fact I didn’t buy anything for you at Ikea (ginger cookies and etc.) and shared my feeling with our 6 year old who was having a dinner in the kitchen and showing his back to me. Unpredictably “mal’chisch” jumped off his stool and walked to me, took my hand, kissed it and he looked at me with the most beautiful face in the world with obvious “Smirnov” sigh in his eyes and very calmly with kinda lower tembro said: “You’re forgiven Daddy.” (I saw, it is not the baby face anymore.) “Don’t worry, you will do it next time.” So forgive me too, I’ll fix my mistake next time…
I believe you have a gift for language or you don’t. Vocabulary can be taught, eloquence can’t. The Russian is eloquent. I’m thinking if I listen a bit more carefully, I’ll hear it ringing clear through the tangle of his English.
P.S. Mal’chisch is a sweet name for little boys inspired by a fairy tale character from Soviet days. Or so I’m told.
This started out as a Wordless Wednesday post, but I love the picture so much I had to Use My Words. Making this Wordy Wednesday.
This is our firepit up in the country. You can just make out my husband’s profile off to the left and though you can’t see it I recall that my son is curled at his feet, mesmerized by the flames. My 17-year old nephew took the picture and me, I’m just out of frame doing not much of anything at all.
The Catskills house has a pacifying effect on this family. We don’t bicker up there. I don’t know if it’s something magical in the air or well water, or maybe the mountain view changes our collective seratonin uptake. Whatever — I’m not complaining.
I was looking for a poem about campfires to accompany the post because poets haz pretty words and I needed backup. Happily, I discovered Linda Parsons Marion. Her poem is technically about a homefire but close enough. I love it.
I’ve learned where the lines are drawn
and keep the privet well trimmed.
I left one house with toys on the floor
for another with quiet rugs
and a bed where the moon comes in…
Home where I sit in the glider, knowing it needs oil,
like my own rusty joints. Where I coax blackberry to dogwood
and winter to harvest, where my table is clothed in light.
Home where I walk out on the thin page
of night, without waving or giving myself away,
and return with my words burning like fire in the grate.
Time for another PR Mama guest post, and what the hey, let’s hear it for the boy…again. I had such a good time hosting PR Cog last time, I decided to invite another one of my favorite social media dads over to discuss balancing family and work life in this crazy business of ours. And by the way, as I’m about to dive into a roiling sea of estrogen at the Type A Mom Conference over the next three days, this may be the last you hear about men and dads for a while.
Scott Henderson is currently the cause marketing director for MediaSauce, an Indiana-based agency that helps corporations and non-profits create and implement online strategies to achieve transformational growth. I first encountered Scott when he left an epic comment here at PR Mama that really should’ve been a full post – it was full of such great stuff, I printed it out and carried it around with me to meetings for weeks. I liked quoting Scott in discussions about cause marketing; it always made me sound smart. The post I had written that inspired Scott’s three-screen comment was in praise of his terrific work with Tyson Foods and the Pledge to End Hunger campaign (if you remember the Social Media Smackdown at South by Southwest last year, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.)
Filling My Dad’s Shoes
What makes us so special? Moms and dads have had to balance parenting responsibilities with social and work duties ever since we created this thing called “civilization.” Like most men, I judge myself as a father using my own dad as the gold standard. I’ve been blessed with two loving, encouraging parents. My mom and dad have given me a lot of love and attention in my life. They’re not perfect, but they have done a great job.
My dad, “Dr. Bill” as everyone in the neighborhood called him, has always been in my life and there for some of my highest and lowest moments. He was the all-time quarterback for the neighborhood football games we played in our front yard. No matter what the sport, he made a point of showing up for my games and even coached when he could.
He and I tackled a number of projects for cub scouts and school. While we didn’t win any blue ribbons, we did rack up a shoebox full of participation ribbons (this was before kids received a trophy for everything). The single proudest moment of my teenage years came when my dad was there to see my only first place finish at a swim meet in high school one early Saturday morning. It meant so much to me that he was there to cheer me on and treat me to a post-meet celebratory breakfast.
Unlike Dr. Bill, I travel a lot for my work and that’s something I have had to figure out on my own. Don’t let me fool you – I’m still trying to find the right balance. Every job’ve had since college has involved a good deal of roadwork. It’s not that I loathe it. On the contrary, I enjoy traveling and couldn’t imagine having a job that kept me in one place all the time.
In fact, I am writing this post while on a work trip to Champaign, Illinois. Giving my calendar a quick glance, I see this is my fifth work trip in six weeks. That’s a lot of disruption for our three-person family.
For the past eight years, I have said goodbye and given that “one last hug and kiss” a lot to my son, Ethan. He’s never known me not to travel in his eight years of life, but it’s not something he wants.
Before I left last night, I decided to interview him as part of this guest post. Here’s what I learned:
- He likes when I bring him home souvenirs like the small White House I picked up from a gift kiosk in Washington DC.
- He also likes it when I bring home sweet treats like the delicious goodness from www.thecrispery.com.
- If it were up to him, he would make it a law that dads would never have to travel without their families.
When I take the time to think about it, I realize that my son is forming his gold standard for fatherhood by how I’m doing as his dad. That’s an amazingly heavy responsibility, especially with all the traveling I do. I hope he will feel one day about me as I do about my dad.