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Julia has three mommies

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By Lisa Kogan
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( -- The love of my life is seeing other women. It started innocently enough, a bite to eat, a stroll through the park -- the stuff I never have time for. Then came the private jokes, the pet names, the stolen kisses, the bubble baths.


At first I was crushed. What did these women have that I didn't? Sure, they're gorgeous, but I happen to look very nice in navy; and, yes, they're bright, but I scored unbelievably high on the SATs ... if you don't count the half with all that math.

I told myself it was just a fling, but a blind man could see that wasn't the case. The truth is this: My daughter, Julia, would follow Dina Sotomayor, her nanny, and Lidra Basha, her babysitter, to the ends of the earth, and the feeling is more than mutual.

For a while, I worried that with Julia's grandparents living so far away and her father -- that would be Johannes, my boyfriend of the past 6,000 years -- working in Europe for long stretches, Julia's world would be pitifully small, but then along came Dina with her arroz con pollo, and Lidra with her Kosovar lullabies, and everyone's life took a major turn for the better.

They say you can't pick your family, but Jules and I would beg to differ. I spent a lot of time picking caregivers who would cherish and respect my little girl, and, as a result, my little girl fell head over heels for both of them.

To be honest, I was afraid she preferred them, that because I'm at the office all day, she wouldn't understand I was the one who pulled her through the croup of 2004, the one who managed to come up with last-minute Dora the Explorer at Radio City Music Hall tickets, the one who taught her to quit putting grapes in her ear.

It turns out I needn't have been concerned. She gets it. Kids have a way of figuring this stuff out. They have a primal understanding of who their mother is -- but what about the aunts and uncles, the cousins, the brothers and sisters, the people who give you a place in the world ... and occasionally drop a gummy worm down the back of your T-shirt just for good measure?

My aunt Mollie was my grandmother's youngest sister. Perhaps Mollie and her five siblings were a touch sensitive, but after being on the receiving end of several rather unpleasant pogroms, they began feeling somewhat less than welcome in Russia.

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So in 1919, with nothing but the clothes on their back, they made their way to Detroit, where my aunt Mollie met and married my uncle Clyde, a good solid soul from (I'm not kidding) Tightfit, Tennessee, and gradually became the family matriarch ... which is to say she had a swimming pool in the yard and filled it with cousins every summer.

My tante Annie would show up with homemade elderberry wine, though my uncle Izzie preferred to lounge poolside with a tall glass of pickle brine as my brother and cousins and I looked on in horror. My uncle Sam quoted Shakespeare, and my aunt Minnie did needlework. Everybody argued in Yiddish and laughed and snuck table scraps to the dogs hanging out under the picnic table. I loved those days and I loved those people, but they're all gone now, and Sunday afternoons are for doing laundry. Julia never did have the pleasure of their company.

Still, I know that in years to come, my daughter will remember eating Albanian cabbage pie with Lidra's parents (whom she calls Mrs. Mommy & Mr. Daddy) and summer evenings at the Botanical Garden with Lidra and her sister and brothers. Jules will look back at her trip to Sesame Place with Dina and her husband and two sons, and she'll realize that -- just like her mother -- she comes from a great big, slightly offbeat, seriously funny family who would literally do anything for her.

Now, I'd gladly leave it at that, but I can't very well talk about the village it takes to raise Julia without talking about the e-mail that came across my desk yesterday. You see, I recently wrote a column in which I mentioned that one of the things people need most is good, affordable day care for their kids. Here is the response I got from a 30-something Nebraska woman: "I have great news for Lisa Kogan -- 'safe, healthy, fun, warm-hearted day care for kids' does exist. It's called parents. By actually raising the children we choose to bring into the world, we can give our kids all this and more."

Oh, Miss Nebraska, what am I going to do with you? The old me would've simply ignored your letter (if one considers consuming 33 mint Milano cookies, two Snapples, and a 6.6 ounce bag of those little Cheddar Goldfish "ignoring your letter"), but a funny thing happened on the way to turning 45: I took a deep breath and decided I'm much too old and way too tired to keep nursing my adolescent obsession with being loved. The need to please has at long last atrophied and set me free. So, lady, this one's for you:

I will resist a smart-ass reply congratulating you on being one of the 11 remaining members of society who can get by on a single income, especially given the forecasts that 15 years from now (when my daughter is ready for college), four years at a public institution will run somewhere in the neighborhood of $129,788.

And should Julia be smart enough to get into an Ivy League university, we're looking at roughly $279,760. Fortunately, she recently spent the better part of an hour with her little head stuck inside a shoebox, so affording Harvard may not be an issue.

But I can't help thinking how incredible it must feel to be unfazed by this prospect. I envy people the ability to stay home with their kids, and there are plenty of days I wish I could be home with my daughter. Miss Nebraska, I, too, am a believer in quantity time, and I certainly agree that if you choose to bring a baby into this world, you'd better be prepared to raise it. But I also think that there's more than one way to raise a child.

I've never really believed it's possible to have it all. But I know that with a strong support system (i.e., nanny, sitter, Grandma, day care, doorman who doesn't drink, or some combination of the above), you can have a career and a baby if that's what you need or want to have.

Will that baby eventually become an adult who requires the services of a very wise shrink because you screwed up? Of course! That's what parents do, whether we work or stay home -- we screw up. We try our damnedest, we love our hardest, and then we force them to wear a coat over their Halloween costume and all hell breaks loose.

We want to be better than our parents were, and in certain ways we are better and in certain ways we're not, and that, my friend, is just the way the cookie (which was not made from scratch, because, hey, this is 2007) crumbles.

But I don't want to fight with you, Miss Nebraska. I've had enough of red state/blue state, your god or mine, tastes great versus less filling. The planet is divided enough at this point, so I'm officially calling for a cease-fire, a moratorium on snarkiness, or at the very least a modicum of tolerance.

We are better than this -- we are women. We crave potato products, we read witty novels, we notice shoes, we follow our gut, we try to keep men from becoming violent, and believe it or not, Miss Nebraska -- there's one more thing we have in common: When all is said and done, we both want the best for our families.

By Lisa Kogan from "O, The Oprah Magazine," January 2007 E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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