Squawk Radio

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Eloisa's Entry into the Mommy Wars

Everyone knows about the Mommy Wars, right? Who's the best mother -- one who stays home and makes homemade meals, or the mother who has a job and depends heavily on pizza? I hate those articles. After all, I don't have just one job -- I have two! I'm the chair of three committees at my university and one at the romance writers of America -- but I never go to the PTA meetings. I run the graduate program in my English department, arranging the schedule of graduate classes, all fellowships, all admissions, all exams -- but my poor children never get a play-date unless a desperate mother calls me. Then I send out our au pair with a hand-drawn map (my motherly touch). I've had that sinking feeling for years. I love my children. I read to them, and I yell at them, and I get them dressed. But I don't even skim those articles about Mommy Wars. I know that moms like myself are the dregs of the dregs....even those Banker Mommies couldn't defend me.

But something happened last week that changed my mind on that subject forever. One thing you have to know in order for this story to make sense is that my daughter has kidney disease. She's the bravest, scrappiest, most wonderful seven-year-old girl in the world (from my point of view). She doesn't think she's sick, or unlucky: she thinks she's brilliant and funny (which she is). But if she gets stomach flu, her blood levels go crazy and we're generally admitted to the hospital within two to three hours.

So it was the night before we were due to leave for Disneyworld...and she started throwing up at 11:30. By 2:00, she was admitted to the peds floor. Stomach flu is a real bear for a scrap of a person with kidney disease: she got a migraine headache, and she was so dehydrated that she begged and begged for water. And I couldn't give her any; she even threw up one ice chip. Not my favorite day, that's for sure.

Well, she started to get better around four the following afternoon. And typically for her, she cheered up right away and began making friends with all the nurses. She had the children's life people searching out every movie version of Peter Pan they could find. And she started waving and smiling at the little person in the crib next to her bed.

This little 16-month-old girl was obviously a preemie: a gorgeous, smiley person. Her mother was there, very young, wearing very tight jeans and a low-cut blouse. She seemed quiet, not shy exactly, but reserved. Then about 7:30 at night, her husband showed up; they both petted their little daughter...and left.

"Wait!" I said to the nurse. "Did they both leave? You mean...they're gone?"

The nurse gave me a look. "Could you press your button when she wakes up during the night?"

Of course I could. I felt as if I knew our neighbor by now. She was too good to be true--literally. My daughter's a 24-week preemie, and I can recognize developmental delays when I see them. But my preemie had physical therapy, feeding therapy and occupational therapy for three years. And now she's ahead of the curve. Our neighbor put herself to sleep.

We were up all night long. The cardio monitor, the blood pressure, the blood tests, the going to the bathroom, the beeping IV...you know what it's like. We slept together, when we were sleeping, my daughter curled against me like a small hibernating animal.

In the morning, our neighbor woke up. She didn't say anything, or cry. You could tell she was used to waking up in her crib and didn't expect anyone to come. My daughter played and pranced for her, and the baby smiled, her big brown eyes glowing. She didn't seem to want breakfast. She just lay there and smiled and watched. She never laughed--just smiled.

My heart was breaking -- and that's when I realized that the Mommy Wars are all crap. I'm a great mom. Every one of you out there who wouldn't dream of leaving your child alone in a hospital room is a great mom. I started listening to my daughter, who was running all over, trailing her IV, and talking to the nurses. "You should let my mom do that," she told a nurse. "She's great with babies." (Never mind the fact that I'm at work every day.) "My mom slept with me last night," she told the child therapist, who grinned at me. "Just as good as the Ritz?" the therapist asked.

I'm a great mom, because my love means that my daughter kept asking what happened to the baby's mama, and why she didn't come back. We were discharged from the hospital at 11:30 in the morning, and we had to leave the little girl, still lying on her stomach, propped up on the pillow, smiling at us -- but the nurse promised that the music therapist would come soon, and she would take her out of her crib.

I just wish that I could stop wishing that I had taken her out myself, and run away with her, down the hall and out of the hospital...but it's like that poem of Robert Frost's: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep." I had a little girl who'd been promised Disneyworld -- and we had a plane to catch.

What's a moment that crystallized your feelings about motherhood -- something you, your mother, a friend or a stranger did that made you think about the role of mothers?
Eloisa James, 9:10 PM