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65 Swimming There is a certain look that can be passed from one mother to another ; it is a singular look, and it is saved for specific moments. It is not a pleasant look. It is more like a sneer of contempt. A scoff. The upper lip slightly curls, and teeth are not quite bared—still, the possibility is real that fangs may appear—the eyes redden and then close into razor-sharp slits, and the chin ever so slightly lifts to expose the pulsation of the jugular vein. This look can be seen at Target when another mother’s child pleads and wails like a banshee for a squirt gun. It can be seen at a restaurant when another mother’s child has tossed crumbled saltines over the back of the booth into a dining patron’s hair. It can be seen at a movie theater when another mother’s child moans for Milk Duds and threatens to hold his breath and then throw up if a box is not purchased immediately. Once received, it is unforgettable, for nothing says “you suck as a mother” better than the look. Around 1997, when Michael was six years old, I received a variation of the look, en masse, from a sea of females who were simultaneously growling and grunting as they rampaged toward me. Clad in bikinis, one-piece swimsuits and, I think, a sundress or two, they waded—no, they tsunamied—toward me, creating a splashing, cyclonic mess out of the two feet of water that filled our neighborhood baby pool. It didn’t help that I started giggling. No, it didn’t help at all. For this version of the look transcended the traditional telepathic message, transmitted by 66 ♦ Life with a Superhero the curled lip, slit eyes, and throbbing veins, that I was a sucky mother. The images that were being throttled my way were the look times ten with wide gaping mouths and tsking tongues wagging every which way and screaming: “Aren’t you going to help your son?” “My G-d, what is wrong with you?” “Oh-My-G-d, he’s going to die!” This very special look said, “You are a horrible mother. Horrible. And, you suck!” Sometimes I have waited until the last minute to help one of my kids who might have been in a jam because I wanted to make sure he/ she really needed to be rescued before I swept in to save the day. Maybe that caused some anxiety in my kids. Maybe it also built for them some genuine confidence and courage. Maybe I have misjudged some of my timing in deciding exactly when to step in and lend a helping hand. But I’m not a horrible mother. And I don’t suck. I know that my parenting style is different from the norm. And, in no way do I offer myself up as the paradigm for parenting. Still, I was okay with the multiple looks I received when I attended to three-year-old Edie’s temper tantrum at Target. Edie had thrown herself to the ground in the toy aisle because I said “No” to one of her requests for a Barbie or a spinning top or something like that. She threw herself down, flat on her back and, while kicking her legs and flogging her arms at the air, she let out staccato whoops that made her sound as if she were being attacked by a giant, ugly man with knife. I had no choice but to be a good mom. I joined her on the floor, on my back, and I too, kicked and flogged and whooped. Loudly. With zest. Edie sat up in an instant. “What are you doing, Mommy?” she asked. “I’m doing what you’re doing, Edie,” I replied in between my kicks, flogs, and whoops. Six-year-old Joedy and Jim appeared in the aisle. “See, Daddy? See what Mommy’s doing?” Joedy said. “Yep,” Jim replied. “I see. C’mon, Joedy, let’s go look at bikes,” Jim replied. “But, Daddy! People are staring!” Swimming ♦ 67 “Yep. Mommy once did that for you, too, sweetie. Now, let’s go,” Jim repeated as he and Joedy left the scene. Edie watched them leave, her face contorted into a grimace of confusion ; her nose crinkled, her brow furrowed and her lips pursed. “Stop it, Mommy. Everyone is staring. Stop it,” she implored. Edie was right. I was in the...


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