The Art of Family

Parenting on the Fly
by Tracy Jones

One mile from preschool, my daughter Dylan suddenly remembers the detergent box, specifically one with a hinged lid--the one she has to have or be the only child in the three-year-old room not making a Mother's Day gift out of recycled Tide packaging. I was told about the box, but told so far in advance that it seemed the day we needed it would never actually come.

Now, although we are roughly an hour and twenty minutes behind schedule, we sit in the Kroger parking lot, she contentedly munching a doughnut while I transfer granules of detergent into a brand-new Rubbermaid container I found in a Target bag under the seat (reinforcing my deeply held belief that I can't clean out my car because I never know what I'll need next). As whooshes of powder rise up to tickle both our noses, I vow not, like Scarlett, that I will never be hungry again (because besides the doughnut, Dylan has finagled from me a pack of Oreos, two kinds of candy, a bag of chips, and a Sprite), but rather that from this moment on, I'm a mother who has her act together.

Two and a half years later, another Monday morning, and I'm throwing doll clothes and worn tights on the floor in search of clean underwear. Unlike preschool, where they would like you to be there at a certain time but don't insist, the state frowns upon parents who can't deliver its small citizens to their desks by 7:45 a.m. Finally, I light on a pair of small undies and toss them to my daughter.

I've talked to once-neatnik couples whose lives have been upended in a sea of graham-cracker crumbs and Playmobil figures, and although I sympathize, I cannot relate. I entered parenthood with the naive belief that having a child would be a call to order. Watching those commercials where the baby eats Cheerios off the kitchen floor, I told myself that of course my house would be that clean when I had a child. Until then, why bother? Parenthood would be the magic formula to transform my distracted right-brain self into a responsible and methodical left-brainer.

I'm still waiting for the day I wake up and automatically know where my keys are. Now that Dylan is old enough to be offended by a pinned-on Post-It sent home by her teacher reminding me not to forget to send her lunch, we've adapted. My husband buys peanut butter in bulk, and I try not to play beat the clock in the mornings (my record, which I dare anyone to challenge, was child still asleep at 7:36 and at school at 7:44). Although we used to rationalize about all the things Dylan did have--a house full of love, adoring grandparents, a dad who'll watch The Simpsons with her--now we're trying harder to provide her with the security that comes from knowing that important details will not be overlooked.

Which is not to say that I've completely reformed. A couple of weeks ago, Dylan handed me a permission slip. After glancing at it, I saw that it didn't have to be turned in for a week. A whole week! Who knew what could happen between now and then, although the chance of my signature changing was probably low.

"I'll sign it later," I said.

"Why can't you sign it now?"

If I knew that, I wouldn't have stacks of self-help books lining the floor, but I knew spouting Dr. Laura to a small child was not appropriate. Instead, I took the magic marker she proffered and signed. It felt unnatural. The next day, she came home, shed her backpack, and did a victory shuffle in the middle of the living room. "I was the first one to turn in my note. All right, Mom!"

"That's the saddest thing I ever heard," said a nameless relative, replacing what was previously the saddest thing she'd ever heard, that Dylan wouldn't have a baby brother or sister to toss around. "To think she could get so excited about a thing like that."

Maybe. But picturing my permission slip languishing by its lonesome in a drawer, waiting on all the other parents to stop procrastinating and just go ahead and sign the thing, I admit that I thought it was pretty exciting, too.

Tracy Jones is a Florida-based writer and the mother of Dylan, age eight. She is the author of several Harlequin Romances under the pen name Tracy South.


by Lain Chroust Ehmann

Naked women were everywhere. In the pools, in the showers, in the sauna, their skins like a favorite pair of pajamas, complete with bumps, sags, and wrinkles, and cesarean scars meandering from hip to hip in a puckered line. Most were alone, but even those accompanied by a friend gave themselves to an atmosphere promoting introspection rather than interaction.

The room was worthy of Cleopatra or some other long-forgotten Egyptian deity. The only sound was the running water echoing off high, tiled walls and the frescoed ceiling. No reading material. No televisions. Not even a radio to distract our thoughts. I am always doing--reading the paper and watching TV, writing while taking a bath, looking for ways to keep both hands and thoughts busy. But complete relaxation was the prescription today, something far more difficult for me than juggling the multiple demands of a typical office hour. For the exorbitant price of a month's worth of groceries, I had absolutely nothing to do but be. The day was a gift from my husband, and I was determined to enjoy it.

The bare skins embarrassed me at first, as my dealings with other women while unclothed have been limited. But no one else paid attention to what I was--or wasn't--wearing. So I pushed aside my self-consciousness and lowered into the Jacuzzi, letting the steamy, scented air permeate my consciousness.

Other than models and actresses in magazines and movies, I've seen little naked female flesh other than my own, which, unfortunately, fails to live up to Baywatch standards. Sure, I'd grabbed a quick peek in the locker room at the athletic club. But the gym really isn't the best place to get a benchmark for what women's bodies are supposed to look like.

Despite my initial embarrassment that day at the spa, I loved seeing the bodies of these other Real Women--women you know had given birth, have full-time jobs, and squeeze in an hour at the gym when the laundry isn't too far behind. These women didn't have multiple nannies, household help, or husbands who bring in enough cash to provide them idle time in which to think about nothing but their slowly waxing waistlines and this season's nail polish shades.

As I soaked and thought, a few realizations seeped into my consciousness with the warm water. First, Real Women have cellulite. You may not see it on television or in fashion spreads, unless it's in the "before" half of an ad for liposuction. But Real Women have it, sometimes lots of it. And viewed from an objective standpoint, it didn't look anywhere near as bad as I had been trained to think.

My next discovery was this: Real breasts are either perky, or large, but not both. Men can have their choice--luscious C or D cups that sag, or compact A or B cups that stand the test of time. The only way to have both at once is via plastic surgery, and that's not Real.

I also realized that no matter what anyone claims, childbirth does a number on your body. Don't believe those pregnancy guides that promise you'll get your "old" body back--they lie. It's remarkably easy to pick the "haves" from the "have nots" when it comes to pregnancy. Real Women don't have the access to--or the time for--the amount of suction, sweat, and cosmetics necessary to correct, obliterate, or camouflage the stretched flesh and stretch marks that go hand in hand with multiple pregnancies.

I watched women move freely around the spa, taking their time, enjoying the seaweed soaks, smiling briefly as they passed each other in transit from one delectable treatment to the next. They were handling their bodies--cellulite, scars, and all--with love and respect. The few females who entered from the dressing rooms hesitantly, wearing modest tank suits, looked out of place in the relaxed and decidedly clothes-free environment.

They were quick to go back to their lockers, shed their clothes, and return wearing nothing more than a plush, white towel. The most important discovery I made that day was not how refreshing a salt-glow rub can be, but that Real Women wear the purple hearts of battle with pregnancy, cancer, and age proudly on their skins. For all their bumps and lumps, Real Women's bodies are still beautiful--even more so for what they have been able to accomplish and transcend. Real Women are powerful. We are creators. And as a new mother myself, I found that realization, in and of itself, worth the price of admission.

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