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A Map to the Realm of Motherhood

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Meet Susan Bernard, dedicated career woman and fierce defender of the doctrine of MWOC-DINK (Married Without Children-Double Income, No Kids).

A woman who once dismissed children as messy little intruders who “turn formerly interesting, well-read and highly educated adults into baby-talking blatherers.”

Now, meet Susan Bernard, doting mother, cheerleader for the fraternity of PWOM-NBAHs (Parents Without Money, Never Been Any Happier)--and author of “The Mommy Guide.”

Bernard had always thought of her life as rich and full. Then, one day, she knew she wanted a baby. “My father was dying of cancer. I suddenly realized my family wouldn’t go on forever.” She and her husband, Bernie Rotondo, a magazine art director, had been married for seven years; she was 39, He was 51.

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On June 11, 1989, Alexander Bernard Rotondo was born and Bernard and her husband “instantly became the people we used to hate. . . . We told anecdotes about our Lamaze class. We discussed my labor in great detail . . . I leaked milk on my silk blouses.”

She also discovered that, even though she’d always prided herself on being super-organized--as a magazine editor, then a college fund-raiser--this job of parenting couldn’t be neatly tied up in a 9-to-5 package.

As a first-time mother, Bernard says, “You want somebody like you to tell you what it’s like.” Thus, “The Mommy Guide,” the book she wishes she’d had when she was pregnant.

When Alex was 6 months old, she began her research. Late last year, she took a leave from her part-time job with Occidental College to finish the book, which combines her slightly irreverent essays with tips on everything from buying a baby-proof car to picking a pediatrician.

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To compile tips on the A to Z of parenting--from Amusement Parks to the Zen of Motherhood--Bernard consulted 125 experts and the real experts--125 mommies.

She learned from the mommies that--wherever they live, whatever their socioeconomic status--the big issues are: to work, or not to work, outside the home. And that feeling of “doing everything and not doing anything well enough.”

Bookstores were her library. There, she found out who was writing what and picked the experts she’d ask to be in her guide. “Did you know there are 20 books on housecleaning at Brentano’s in Century City?” she asks.

Bernard sent questionnaires to, among others, doctors, psychologists, educators, a professional housekeeper and a diaper service rep. A sampler of their survival tips:

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* On amusement parks: Eat before noon or after 2:30 p.m. Take your child to the bathroom before standing in line for a ride.

* On obliterating home clutter: If something new comes in, something old goes out. Including Junior’s lesser artwork.

* The top five feature films for kids? The Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup,” “Born Free,” “Yellow Submarine,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Lady and the Tramp.”

* What to name the baby? Avoid the bizarre--unless you live in Greenwich Village or Beverly Hills. Trendy is iffy. Yes, that includes Ashley, Brittany, Courtney, Amber, Tyler, Justin, Zachary and Brandon.

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And from Bernard, who has overcome her loathing for Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride and her resolve never to use disposable diapers, come these nuggets.

* On childbirth: It “helped convince me--once and for all--that God is clearly not female.”

* On bringing up baby in a mixed marriage (she is Jewish, Rotondo is Catholic): Their son was born in a Catholic hospital, “but I made Bernie promise he wouldn’t sprinkle any water over Alex’s head when I was asleep.”

* On toilet-training: At one point “we thought of putting a plant in Alex’s potty seat and using it as a vase.”

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Some tips from other mommies:

* On grocery shopping: Shop after dinner. Let your husband baby-sit. When you return home, he’s there to help you put the groceries away.

* On coping with a newborn: “Leave your compulsiveness at the hospital. There isn’t time to be perfect, look great, have a clean house and a sweet, adorable baby.”

* On vacations: Your kids are going to do the same things on a trip that they do at home. If their idea of fun is digging in the mud, don’t spend a bundle taking them to Europe.

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Alex is now 5, and Bernard has resumed her part-time job at Occidental College, in an office not far from her Rancho Park home. She picks Alex up from school in mid-afternoon and they play or go to the park.

She’s still in awe that someone so small could have stolen such a big piece of her heart. And she’s thinking of a sequel to “The Mommy Guide.”

She laughs. “I could base my whole career on my child’s life--and he’d hate me. I think when he starts reading, I’ll have to stop writing about him.”

A Tale of Lost and Found

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Kermit the tree frog is still AWOL, but Rocky the toad and Leonarda the turtle are safely back at home at the Shenandoah Street Children’s Center in West L.A.

And the center, invaded by petnapers earlier this month, is the richer by five chickens, two rabbits, another turtle--and almost $16,000.

The saga of Kermit, Rocky and Leonarda began with a break-in Labor Day weekend. Vandals made off with the trio and smashed an aquarium, leaving three goldfish to die.

“The children were truly devastated,” says Brenda Powell-Bolder, a parent who is also community liaison for the adjacent Shenandoah Street Elementary School.

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Kermit, Rocky and Leonarda were among pets bought with special grant money. The idea was to help children learn socialization skills and the animals regularly went home with them.

Powell-Bolder surveyed the scene--a broken window, smashed bookcases, plundered earthquake supply bins--and mobilized children and parents for cleanup. She also tried to convince the children--and herself--that the missing pets were in good homes.

Then she called a Westside newspaper, which told readers about the break-in and the center, where 175 kids from poor or working-class families get full-time or part-time day care.

Readers sent money, from $10 to several hundred dollars, and, to the delight of the youngsters, donated a turtle named Rocket and rabbits Bandit and Spots.

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An anonymous donor gave $15,000 for repairs and an alarm system. Powell-Bolder is asking smaller donors if their money can be used toward the purchase of badly needed playground equipment.

Last week, an unidentified tipster told Powell-Bolder that she would find Rocky the toad in his terrarium on a certain street corner at a certain time. “I just drove by and picked him up. I didn’t ask any questions.”

That evening, three young men with Leonarda in tow approached a teacher. They said they’d found the turtle in an alley.

Kermit, alas, remains at large.

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The vandals have not been caught. But Bolder-Powell’s faith has been restored.

“So many wonderful things have happened as a result of this. There are people all over the city and county who really do care about public education and children.”

* This weekly column chronicles the people and small moments that define life in Southern California. Reader suggestions are welcome.


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