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Does your husband help you with the kids? He shouldn’t.

I was almost finished making dinner when my husband returned home from a long day at work. He spotted our younger daughter, C, playing and cooing in her walker, picked her up and took her into the living room. A short time later the two of them returned to the kitchen and we all ate together. Then, Mr. Mustard went back to the living room alone. By that time, C was getting tired and a bit clingy. I knew she wouldn’t allow me to put her down while I cleaned up the dishes, so I brought her to her dad and sat her next to him on the couch.

“No thank you,” he said. “I already held her while you were cooking.” Now friends, I don’t get much sleep lately and it’s sometimes hard for me to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable things for a man to say to his wife. I was annoyed, but I picked C up and took her back to the kitchen with me. I realized Mr. Mustard had worked hard all day, but so had I, and it certainly would have been nice if he could have helped me. In hindsight, I see that the problem lies in my ever wanting/hoping for/requesting help from him in the first place. Real men don’t help with their children.

You see, help is something voluntary, which should always be appreciated. The term implies that the helper is doing the helpee a favor, and etiquette would dictate that some form of compensation or reciprocity is in order. To help is to give of one’s own time and energy in order to lighten someone else’s load. Helping is noble. Helping is admirable. Helping is going above and beyond the call of duty and bearing someone else’s burdens. If my teenage niece comes over and plays with my children while I run to the grocery store, she is helping. If my husband entertains our daughters long enough for me to clean the kitchen or take a shower, he is not. He is parenting. He is carrying his own weight, fulfilling his own obligations, and *gasp* raising his own children.

By labeling interactions with their own children as ‘helpful,’ society has made fathers impervious to the guilt and judgement that plague mothers. Men can either decline to help, turning their wives into nags or martyrs (after all, help is not something one can force another person into), or they can comply with our requests and feel entitled to gratitude and accolades in return. It may sound like a win-win situation for men, but make no mistake–it is costing them dearly. The semantics is demeaning to men; it diminishes their role in the lives of their children, implying they are neither essential nor capable of anything more than holding down the fort while their wives indulge in the occasional well-deserved break. This mindset is harmful to both parents, and particularly detrimental to children.

While a mother’s need for help is transient, a child’s need for love and attention from her father is enduring. Dads who see themselves as second-string parents often feel justified in ‘checking out’ when their wives have life under control. Whether they excel or miss the mark in their role as parenting assistants, these men are missing out on the opportunity to act as hands-on fathers. They relish a certain freedom from monotony and responsibility, while withholding their contribution to those simple and priceless memories that solidify the bond between parent and child. In time, these dads begin to question why the children are closer to their mothers, and they withdrawal further as a result of feeling excluded from the family dynamic.

How can we, as families and as a society, bring an end to this vicious cycle and restore a healthy level of accountability and respect to the role of fatherhood? We can start by eradicating the word ‘help’ from a dad’s job description. Let’s not fuss and swoon when we see a man at the local park playing with his children. Let’s not act as if he deserves a medal because our husbands “never help us out with the kids.” Let’s not ask our fellow mothers, when we see them out alone, if their husbands are babysitting. My daughters’ birth certificates (too politically correct now to use gender-specific terms) list my husband as a co-parent. Not an assistant parent, not a backup parent, not an intermittent childcare provider–a co-parent. So the next time I’m tempted to ask for his help with the girls, I will choose not to insult him and shortchange them. I will simply remind him, instead, that his children need him.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Farewell to Naps

A poem by the beautiful and endlessly energetic C:

Of course I’m awake,

Why wouldn’t I be?

This life still holds so much in store for me!

I’ve never seen a zebra or swam at the beach,

Built a sand castle or tasted a peach,

Climbed up a ladder or gone down a slide,

Hopped on a tricycle and taken a ride,

Colored a picture or picked a flower,

Yet you want me to nap every day for an HOUR?

I have dogs to chase and books to chew,

How can I rest when there’s so much to do?

So come on, strap me in to my sister’s toy jeep,

I have miles to go before I sleep!

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An Interrupted Lunch

Third Entry in the Diary of an Angry Baby:

My entries have been few lately, because on the whole I have been enjoying my role as a baby and growing increasingly close to my very best friend, Mommy. She is the boob to my mouth, the diaper to my bottom, the snuggle to my squirm. Without her I’m not sure I could have survived these past four months here on the outside.

Yesterday we got out of the house for awhile and visited someplace called ‘the mall.’ I saw a lot of fascinating new light fixtures, which I suspect were not the main point of interest in this new place, but the view from my stroller was quite limited. Several new people leaned in over my stroller to take a peek at me. Now, after four months of continuous contact with my mommy, I am well in tune with her and can easily pick up on her emotions. I felt her pride when the people gushed over me, and her annoyance when someone asked her if I was a boy or a girl. A short time later, I felt a sensation that was all my own: hunger. I began my usual signals of turning my head to either side and then escalated to sucking on my hands. I didn’t want to make a scene, I only wanted Mommy’s attention.

It worked of course, as my signals always do, because I am an excellent communicator and Mommy is a great listener. She brought us to a quiet corner of the mall and picked me up. I caught a glimpse of two ladies sitting on the bench a few stroller lengths away, but before I could call out to them, my view was obstructed by the delightfully familiar pattern of my nursing curtain. Mommy sometimes closes this around me when she serves my meals. I knew what was coming, so I kicked my legs and squealed with excitement. Mommy had packed my favorite lunch–she’s such a peach!

So I snuggled in and began to eat, and I heard some voices in the distance. Someone said, “That’s disgusting,” and another voice chimed in, “she should really do that somewhere else.” I had no idea what they were talking about, but I was glad I couldn’t see it, whatever it was. I wouldn’t want to get upset and lose my appetite. I snuggled closer to Mommy and felt her soft sweater against my cheek. I’m so lucky to have her looking out for me, protecting me from everything that’s disgusting in this world.

It was then that I realized something was wrong. My mommy was deeply affected by whatever was happening on the other side of my curtain. Her heart was beating faster, her skin felt warmer and she had started to sweat. I could tell that she felt angry, embarrassed and sad. I stopped eating then, so she would have the chance to move away from whatever was bothering us so much.

I didn’t see anything terrible as she loaded me back into my stroller. We rolled away quickly, in silence. She was still upset, and I was still hungry. We both cried on the way home. I don’t understand exactly what disgusting things are going on at that mall, but I certainly hope someone gets them under control before our next outing there. What good are those exquisite light fixtures, after all, if those who come to view them cannot also stop and dine in peace?

 

**this post was inspired by someone I care about who had this dreadful experience in her local Macy’s Department store. Let’s grow up, people, and put life in perspective. A mother feeding her child, whether it’s with breast or bottle, is acceptable in any setting. An adult recoiling at the sight of a nursing infant, and thinking his or her own comfort should somehow trump the needs of that infant, is the very epitome of disgusting.**

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Raising Kids for a Living: Is it Really That Hard?

There was a time, not long ago, when I thought staying at home with children would be easy. I was a newlywed, and although I was working full time, I also felt primarily (even solely) responsible for making our first apartment feel like home. This involved dinners cooked from scratch daily, as well as the complete roster of household cleaning duties. In hindsight, I was suffering from a severe case of June Cleaver Syndrome, and while my husband certainly didn’t expect this level of achievement from me, he also wasn’t about to speak up and demand to wash the dishes himself. I knew the standards I’d set for myself were incompatible with working outside the home, but I kept plugging away, knowing my end goal was to care for my family full time time. I used to daydream about how much easier things would be when I could start cooking earlier in the day, freeing up more time to enjoy with my husband and our (then hypothetical) little cherubs in the evenings. I would be able to keep up with the laundry through the week, rather than being faced with a mountain of it every Saturday morning. Yes, life would be easy, and I would excel at it. We would live in a spotless home, eat healthy, homemade dinners every night and raise little, exceptionally well-behaved geniuses with permanent smiles plastered across their impeccably clean faces. I would even tend a garden and write a book in my spare time.

My reality check arrived two years later, in the form of a tiny pink bundle we’ll call E. She was perfect–she was everything I’d ever hoped for. My new job description, on the other hand, fell somewhat short of my lofty expectations. All of the sudden, instead of working under close supervision and producing results that could be quantified, I was working in relative isolation, accomplishing tasks that would need to be done all over again within a few hours. I missed the validation that came from hearing I’d exceeded expectations on my latest project. Also, my house was not spotless. While she only knew how to make one type of mess, E commanded a great deal of my attention. Some days she was fussy and would cling to me, refusing to be put down anywhere. Other days she was happy and so adorable with her giggles and squeals, I couldn’t tear myself way from her. In good times and bad, she had a way of making the time pass more quickly than I ever imagined it could.

Was it hard to keep her clean, fed, rested and entertained? Not really. Was it hard to complete the basic chores required keep our household running? Sometimes. Was it hard to keep my morale up when performing the same mundane tasks on an infinite loop, with minimal adult interaction? YES. I didn’t have any mom-friends, and my old childless friends couldn’t really relate to my new lifestyle. They couldn’t imagine how staying at home with my baby could really be all that hard. Neither could I…and yet it was. I missed the moments of solitude I had once enjoyed while driving to and from the office. I missed the feeling of solidarity that came from commiserating with coworkers over a hot lunch I hadn’t had to prepare. Giving up those things was a small price to pay for seeing my daughter grow and change before my very eyes. I didn’t miss a single one of her milestones. Our time at home together was sometimes sweet, sometimes hilarious and sometimes frustrating. Overall it was priceless, but I wouldn’t say it was easy…at least, not in comparison to my life before she arrived.

These days, E, Mr. Mustard and I share our lives with a delightful little micro-person I’ll refer to as C. When I tell you that C is happy to be here with us, I mean that she is positively ecstatic just to be alive every day. The unfettered joy that illuminates her tiny face is eclipsed only by the happiness she brings to each of our hearts. Is it hard to care for C? Not at all. She’s as ‘easy’ as E was, and this time I have some idea of what to expect from her as she grows. Meanwhile E is in the final stages of graduating from a baby into little girl. She uses her potty, communicates beautifully, and seeks to help me with her baby sister at every opportunity. I could never have asked for a more amazing child. Is it hard to keep up with E? YES! It ‘s not only hard–at times it’s impossible. She is two years old, after all, and she has more energy than anyone I’ve ever known. It would be a challenge to care for her alone, but throw in C also, and I am in way over my head.

By now, I’ve come to accept that I won’t be truly alone with my thoughts again for many years. I’ve found solace in a community of other moms who face the same challenges and get to experience the same joys I do. So life at home has gotten easier from a mental/emotional standpoint, but much harder from a strategic one. Now I struggle with knowing how to respond to synchronized crying. As I wander the house with a baby on my boob and a toddler clinging to my leg, I wonder if I’ll ever make it out the door again. And if I do, which child should I load into the car/grocery cart first? I also wonder what color my living room carpet is, as I get my daily workout in by carefully stepping around the all sharpest/most breakable toys in the pile. I ask myself, is it really this hard, or am I doing something wrong?

I finally did make it out the door last week, to visit the post office and take C in for check up and vaccinations. The post office is a particularly frustrating errand to run, because there are no carts, and the distance from the parking lot to the counter doesn’t warrant the use of a stroller. I had to unload both kids and carry/herd them a distance of about fifteen feet to the entrance of the building, try to pick up my package in less time than it took E to pick up and throw a stack of empty boxes, and then get everyone back out to the car and strapped in. I was exhausted by the time we got to the pediatrician’s office. C was found to be healthy and right on track with her development. As the nurses prepared to administer her shots, E announced that she had to use the potty. I asked her to wait just a moment, and as the sound of C’s heartbreaking cry filled the exam room, I glanced over and noticed E had stripped down to her skivvies.

The whole appointment was a disaster, from my perspective, and I thought we’d never make it back out to the car. I love my car. It’s the one place where I can strap my children into restraints and take my eyes off of them for a moment. To do so is not only considered a wise parenting decision–it’s actually required by law! My girls seem to enjoy it too–C always goes right to sleep while E sings along with the radio. Sometimes, averting our eyes from our own struggles even for a fifteen minute drive is enough to provide us with fresh perspective. On this particular trip home, I found myself near tears at the thought of how hard life can really be. As frustrating as my day had been, I understood the difference between difficulty and hardship. Difficulty was wrangling a mini-streaker in the halls of a pediatrician’s office while comforting a baby who’d just received two shots in her little legs. Hardship would have been hearing that something was wrong with my baby and having to schedule further testing. Difficulty was the two hours of effort required just to leave our house that morning, but hardship would have been having no shelter for my family to begin with. Is it really that hard to lead an ordinary life as the mother of two small, healthy children? No. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, by a long shot, but in the grand scheme of things I realize I’ve got it easy. The mishaps and setbacks that bring me close to my breaking point now will all seem funny when I look back on them later, and that isn’t the case for everyone.

Is raising children for a living really as hard as stay-at-home parents make it out to be? It’s actually harder, and more rewarding than words could ever describe. It’s a delicate balance of profound gratitude and prolonged exasperation. It’s a daily struggle to maintain perspective and to impart life’s most fundamental lessons to the impressionable young minds in our care. There is never enough time to do it all, and there’s no way to avoid making mistakes. But if there ever was a calling in life so noble as to warrant the sacrifice of one’s career, sanity, and personal hygiene, it would be parenthood.

 

 

 

1

A Motherhood Carol

It started out as an ordinary evening, with me rushing around trying to cross the last few items off my holiday to-do list, and my two young daughters just along for the ride. We ended up hurrying in to the mall to pick up a gift, and my two-year-old couldn’t bear the thought of turning around and rushing back out again. This wasn’t the first time she’d ever seen the twinkling lights of the Christmas trees and the carrousel illuminating the night sky, but it was the first time she’d been old enough to really notice and appreciate them.

She wanted to ride the train that was circling the lower level of the shopping center, running without any tracks. She wanted to climb aboard the carrousel and pick out her favorite horse. She wanted to run from one store window to the next and peer in at all the toys on display. She wanted to extend a friendly greeting to every man, woman and child who crossed our path. But of course I didn’t have time for any of that. After all, we had an appointment at the portrait studio across town.

So in spite of her protests I dragged her away from the glittering majesty that was our local shopping mall and drove us full speed ahead to our next destination. Once there, I hurried her and her newborn sister out of the car and into the dressing room, into their fancy new dresses, and into the ideal poses suggested by our photographer. I pleaded with them to smile, and of course they did not, because they’re babies. It was only later that evening, as I reflected on their expressions of bewilderment and annoyance, that the guilt came upon me like a ton of bricks filling my chest.

All at once I realized I’d been treating my children as mere playthings—china dolls to dress up, show off and carry with me on all my errands. For two years my older daughter hadn’t minded this, but she was now developing her own opinions and taking a unique interest in the world around her. Why did I need these pictures, anyway, and why did I need my children to look happy in them? Was it so that I could look back years later and remember the magic of this holiday season? And if so, why had I, in my quest for the perfect portrait, actually deflated my daughter’s Christmas spirit by depriving her of the wonder she’d perceived in the simplest aspects of the occasion? Wasn’t it my own childhood memories of train rides and window shopping that lent this holiday the splendor and enchantment it still holds for me today? Shame on me.

As I kicked myself, a guilty mother’s version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol played on the reels of my tired and flustered mind. I imagined myself as the too-busy, thoughtless mother (i.e. Ebenezer Scrooge) who awoke one morning to find myself an accomplished, world renowned writer. My daughters were grown and one of them was no longer speaking to me. The other daughter was still in touch, but I did not feel as if I knew her. I certainly couldn’t reach out and scoop her up, smooth her hair, and treat her to a ride on the carrousel as I once could have. Where had the time gone, and who was this woman standing where my little girl had once stood?

An afternoon on the town square with this young woman revealed she had children, but no time to spend with them. She’d misplaced her priorities just as I had, and was perpetuating a cycle of simply missing the point. She treated the children as mere extensions of herself, teaching them to put on airs in public and to always smile regardless of how they were truly feeling. They were remarkably well mannered when addressed, but could not be bothered to notice the man on the corner ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, or the homeless woman pushing a shopping cart down the sidewalk. If anything, they saw the strangers around them as a captive audience of sorts—a faceless mass who existed solely for the purposes of witnessing their perfectly coiffed charades. My grown daughter confided in me that her sister had chosen not to have children at all. It wasn’t a matter of having found fulfillment in another calling, but rather a belief that children were a burden she would come to resent.

To imagine that either of my daughters had ever felt that way was simultaneously excruciating and enlightening. While I’d never felt burdened by my role as their mother, I had often made my girls feel like barriers to progress. Like Scrooge in the classic novella, my heavy heart desperately longed for another chance. I wished I could wake up in time for Christmas, in time to relive that day at the mall, but of course I did not. That beautiful moment—my little girl’s wide eyes shimmering in the light reflected off of those giant Christmas trees—had passed and was gone forever. I had run it over with my freight train of selfishness disguised as productivity. I had messed up, and there was no taking it back.

Mercifully, though, as parents of very young children, we are all granted a clean slate at the start of each new day. We inevitably fail, and we’re inevitably be forgiven—invited with tiny open arms and huge hopeful hearts to try, try again. In a way our children are far more patient with us than we are with them. I awoke the following morning to find myself still delightfully entrenched in the exhausting, glorious days of early motherhood. My oldest is still two years old, with a world of surprises in store for her this Christmas season. My youngest is still a newborn, and has yet to make her first lasting memory. Today is sweet, in all of its stressful splendor. It is a fleeting opportunity to focus my attention on what really matters, and I’ve resolved to do just that.

I can’t promise that I will never again rush my children through a busy shopping center or ask them to pose for a cheesy family portrait, but I can tell you I am going to do better in 2015. From here on out I will no longer be the first to break eye-contact with a smiling baby. I will make a point of greeting toddlers (and dogs) with the same boundless enthusiasm the offer me. And I will make special trips to the mall just so my daughter can tug my arm and lead me around, showing me how to live. Now and then, when she begs for one more ride on the train, I will indulge her, because the last day of her childhood will be upon us soon, without warning, and I know I’ll be wishing for one more day like this one.

 

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5 Reasons Motherhood is Sweeter the Second Time

There’s no question that becoming a mom for the first time is beautiful. I remember so many quiet mornings spent rocking my newborn, studying and memorizing every detail of her perfect face. Showering one tiny person with all my affection was wonderful–an experience I’m happy to have had–but I’m here to tell you, friends, five reasons why becoming a mom for the second time has been even better:

  1. I have more confidence and the benefit of strategic expertise. I don’t know everything when it comes to parenting, by any means. I have a lot to learn. But I can now change a diaper in the dark without getting poop all over myself, nurse discreetly while standing in line at the bank, and fold laundry with one hand while building a Lego tower with the other. This baby can hit me with her best shot, because she’s going to need a lot more than a month’s worth of life experience to get the best of me! Ironically, as my level of functioning has gone up, my expectations of myself have gone down. There was a time, not long ago, when I used to wake up every morning and tell myself I’d have the house spotless by dinnertime. I lived in a constant state of stress and saw myself as a failure. Now, I wake up every morning and tell myself I’ll still have two living children by dinnertime. So far I’ve been able to accomplish that every day, and if I also happen to pay a few bills and put the laundry away, I feel pretty impressed with myself.
  2. I have my older daughter here to keep me company and keep things interesting. Baby snuggles are one of the greatest gifts life has to offer, but sometimes a mom needs a little entertainment to go with them. My newborn sleeps for a good portion of the day, but with my toddler around, I don’t have the chance to get bored or lonely. She’s learning new skills every day, and the things she says keep me laughing in spite of myself. When I hear her thanking the cashier at the grocery store, I’m reminded that all my efforts are paying off–I’m raising some awesome kids here! But the best part is seeing my little girl interact with her baby sister. She’s so gentle, so attentive, so caring towards our new little one it just melts my heart. I couldn’t be more grateful that they have each other to grow up with.
  3. I  have a network of mom friends. With my first, I was making the transition from the workforce to staying at home. As much as I loved spending all my time with my little girl, I missed adult interaction. I had nobody with whom to commiserate over day-to-day frustrations and celebrate small victories. As my baby grew, I took her out more and we got involved in activities like story time at the local library. We met other moms and babies, and over time I made connections that helped me feel more fulfilled at home. Forging those bonds was an awkward and stressful process, and I often felt like I was picking up women in a bar. (The process was completely foreign to me: does she like me? should I ask for her number? am I supposed to wait three days to call?) This time, I already had all those connections in place. I had friends to see me through the transition from one baby to two–there was no awkward period of isolation and uncertainty.
  4. My husband is more involved. I don’t mean to say that he’s more involved with our second baby than he was with our first. He is simply more hands-on with our family as a whole than he used to be. Part of this has to do with how much he’s grown as a dad. Part of it has to do with our older daughter beginning to verbally engage him, and part of it has to do with my inability to be all things to everyone all the time. He sees that I’m outnumbered now and he rises to the occasion. There’s always something to do, so if he doesn’t feel comfortable giving our newborn a bath, he can read to our toddler and help her brush her teeth.
  5. I’ve caught a glimpse of what lies ahead. I remember feeling sentimental as each day passed with my first baby, knowing I would never get that day back and wondering how I would ever love a rambunctious toddler as much as I loved my soft, cuddly infant. Now, I understand that a mother’s love for her children grows with them. Instead of dreading the passage of time, I’m grateful my baby has survived another day of being extremely fragile (no small feat in a house with an active two-year-old). Every day she gets a little stronger, a little more interactive, and we get to know each other a little better. One day I’ll take her to the zoo, one day I’ll show her fireworks for the first time. One day she’ll be able to respond to her sister’s questions and return her daddy’s hugs and kisses. I’m not wishing these newborn days away; I cherish every one of them. But now, understanding just how much I can love a rambunctious toddler, and knowing how fun the next stages in her life will be, I can hardly contain my excitement!

I only wish I would have known how joyful this experience as a mother of two would be. I spent much of my last pregnancy tormented by guilt, wondering if my daughter would ever forgive me for disrupting her life, wondering if my heart was big enough to hold two times the love. It is. So is yours. If you’re nervously expecting your second baby, grieving what feels like the end of an era with your first, please know, the best is still ahead.

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8 Unsung Heroes of Everyday Motherhood

In this age of mommy wars, when women seem to enjoy criticizing others’ parenting choices as a means to assuage their own insecurities, I would like to try taking a different route. Today, I’m giving a shout-out to all the moms out there who are boldly going where I, personally, haven’t gone before, and who are earning my sincere respect in the process.

  1. The Exclusive Pumper. Between blinding pain in the first month while baby is learning to latch,  constant worries about having an adequate (but not over abundant) supply, and the fact  no one can ever help with 3 am feedings, we nursing mothers have it rough. Formula feeding moms, meanwhile, have to deal with measuring and heating bottles at all hours of the day and night. And then, when baby is finally asleep, mom has to wash all those bottles. Keeping baby fed around the clock is exhausting by any method, but you, exclusive pumper, have it the hardest by far. You obsess over your supply while washing bottles, and you have to wake up at night even if someone else feeds the baby. You also carry around electronic equipment everywhere you go, and you schedule your day around pumping sessions, all to provide the best nutrition possible for your sweet baby. Sometimes she cries for you while you’re pumping, putting you in the awkward position of deciding whether to keep her waiting or stop just short of expressing the full amount you know she’ll need for the next feeding. But you persevere, taking on the worst of both worlds and providing your child with the very best.
  2. The Babywearer. Not everyone understands babywearing, and when you venture out of the house, you can never be certain what reactions you’ll encounter. It could be anything from the side-eye to frantic insistence on confirmation that your child can breathe. Someone may tell you it’s too cold, or too hot outside to be “doing that,” but you know the truth. Your baby is safest and most comfortable close to you–strategically shielded from the unwashed hands of nosy strangers in the grocery store. And speaking of the grocery store, you’re able to make full use of your cart while you’re there. Your baby’s car seat is neither precariously perched over the seat portion of your cart nor taking up prime real estate in the basket. It is securely installed in the car where it belongs, and your shopping is efficient. When you get home, you’ll be able to put all your groceries away the same day you bought them, and you may even finish the laundry. You’ve found a solution that works beautifully for you and your baby.
  3. The Working Mom. Not to say that moms who stay at home don’t work hard–we do. And sure, we miss out on things like adult conversation, warm lunches and private bathroom breaks, but that’s okay. Our toil is all for the purpose of making memories with our children, keeping our homes clean and cozy, and putting food on the table every night. So is yours. Yet somehow you manage to do all the same things we do in less time, with the added pressures of demanding bosses, annoying coworkers and difficult clients. Something has to give, and never having walked in your shoes, I’m not sure what that something is. All I know is that I admire you, and all you do for your family.
  4. The Single Mom. Or the wife of a husband who is not around. Whether he is deployed overseas, working long hours to make ends meet, or actually choosing to be elsewhere, you are on your own. Parenthood is hard, and lonely at times, but you roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done. Breaks, if there is any such thing for you, are few and far between, and there is no other adult in your home to even acknowledge what an awesome job you’re doing. Your only accolades come in the form of seeing your children succeed, and that is more than enough for you. One day they’ll look back in awe at how you rose to the occasion and wore many hats to be everything they needed.
  5. The Mom of Three or More Small Children. One is more than enough for some people, and it only takes two to wear me out, but small families must seem dreadfully boring in comparison to yours. Whether you planned the close spacing of your children or just embraced the surprises life threw your way, you have a lot on your plate. But it probably doesn’t even feel that way to you, because by now you’ve mastered the art of motherhood. You don’t have the time of day for strangers who ask intrusive questions or comment that you have your hands full. You’re too busy fostering lifelong bonds between your babies and catering to the unique needs of every child. You don’t bother doling out parenting advice to your friends, because you’ve seen enough differences between your own kids to know there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
  6. The Mom who Nurses in Public without a Cover (especially if she puts a nipple hat on her baby). You have chosen to prioritize your child’s need for nourishment and oxygen over your own modesty and the comfort level of strangers. Good for you! It doesn’t matter whether you forgot your nursing cover at home, your baby pulled it off, or you just hate wearing one–you are doing the right thing. Your act of courage, confidence and motherly love is moving our society one small step in the right direction. The sight of you gives me hope that breastfeeding will eventually return to favor and regain its rightful place as the norm in our society. And if I happen to notice a hat on your baby’s head that in any way resembles a breast and nipple, I will drop what I’m doing to stand and salute your mothering moxey.
  7. The Unapologetic Formula Feeder. Speaking of moxey, there is no reason a mom should ever want to hide while feeding her child a bottle of formula either. That’s right, I said it. The ‘Breast is Best’ campaign has now crossed the line in some advocates’ minds and led to a practice known as formula shaming. This practice is utterly preposterous and benefits no one. Breastfeeding may not have worked out for you, in spite of your best efforts. Or you may not have tried it at all. The reasons you’re feeding your baby formula are none of my damn business, and none of anyone else’s either. You know this, and you make no excuses. You are providing your child with the exact nutrients he needs to grow and thrive. Some people want to act as though you were feeding him garbage; intentionally poisoning your precious baby. You know that this insinuation is every bit as revolting and untrue as it would be to suggest that a breastfeeding mother is nursing for sexual gratification. But you would never dare suggest such a thing. You don’t want to attack the breastfeeding mother because you know how it feels to be attacked, and you wouldn’t wish that on anyone. So instead you take the high road, tuning out any ignorant comments you receive and continuing to provide your baby with exceptional care. I tip my hat to you.
  8. The Grandma who Truly Understands. This does not apply to every grandmother. In fact, far too many of them are either pushy and demanding.  They insist their way is right, and that we, as young parents, have no idea what we’re doing. But as the grandma who truly understands, you have confidence in us. After all, you didn’t raise a dummy. You realize that many of the standards for safety and baby care have changed since you were in our shoes, so you either listen to us or take it upon yourself to stay informed on the latest product recalls and APA recommendations. You remember how it felt to be a new mother: tired, overwhelmed, and under way too much scrutiny from other moms. You provide emotional support, unconditional love, and advice when we ask for it. You’re patient with us when we try things that you know won’t work. You show us by example, rather than telling us, exactly what it means to be a great mother.
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Stop the madness: when help doesn’t actually help

Picture this: You’re stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. You have a spare, but no tools, and the embarrassing truth is that you wouldn’t know how to change the tire even if you had all the necessary supplies. You may or may not even know what the necessary supplies are. That’s a sad commentary about the competence of our generation, but it isn’t the point of this analogy. You pick up your phone to call for help or, who am I kidding, you post a status update on Facebook asking for help. The post conveniently provides friends and family with your exact location. You’re relieved to immediately receive a series notifications. Three of your relatives have commented saying they’re on their way. You’ve also received four likes, which is odd, because what’s to like about having a flat tire? Anyway…

The first person to arrive is your uncle. He has brought a tank of gas with him and immediately begins filling your tank. He mutters something about how you should have known better than to run out of gas. Before you can open your mouth to explain that you aren’t out of gas–that the tire is the problem–your sister arrives. She gets into her trunk and pulls out a bucket and a few jugs of water and begins washing your car. At this point you are at a loss for words. You pull out your phone to check the status you wrote, and there it is in black and white, “I have a flat tire! Can anybody help?” What the hell is wrong with these people, washing and gassing up the car, completely ignoring the problem at hand?

Just then, your mom pulls up–your voice of reason, your rock. While you aren’t sure you’ve ever seen her change a tire before, at least you know you can count on her to take charge of the situation and get things done, right? Wrong! She tells you to hop in–she’s come to pick you up! She read online that you have a flat tire, and since you can’t drive home with a flat, she’s going to give you a ride.

“What about my tire?” you exclaim in frustration. Everyone at the scene turns to look at you. Whether they say it or not, they now think you’re a brat (or worse). Who in their right mind wouldn’t appreciate a tank of gas, a car wash, and a ride home? They’re all here to help you, after all. They’re carving time out of their busy schedules to make your life easer. How could you be so selfish as to demand that someone change your tire as well?

This is oftentimes what it’s like to receive ‘help’ from well-meaning friends and family members, especially as a new parent. At best, it’s tolerable…we still have to solve the biggest problem ourselves, but it’s nice to have had someone take care of a smaller, auxiliary problem in the meantime. At worst though, our uncle fills the gas tank with diesel fuel, our sister scrubs the paint right off of our car, and our mom stops by the grocery store for two hours on the way back to our house. At that point, we would have been better off with no help at all.

You see, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t helpful to hold a newborn for hours while the baby’s mother brings you refreshments and keeps you entertained. It isn’t helpful to criticize the way a new father is burping his child and insist he use the method that worked for you. That’s the type of ‘help’ a new family would be better off without. Instead, visitors should consider folding a load of laundry, loading the dishwasher, or making a grocery run. If you, as a visitor, don’t feel comfortable enough with the couple to jump in and start doing that sort of thing, then there’s a chance they don’t feel comfortable enough with you to have you camped out on their couch for hours on end. Let that sink in for a moment. Did they invite you to visit the baby, or did you descend upon them without warning under the guise of offering assistance? If it was the latter, and if  you stay until you are actually asked to leave, it may not be the new parents who were guilty of rude behavior.

Of course, neither stranded motorists nor new parents are entitled to your help by any means. If you simply want to visit with these people on your own terms without the pretense of assisting them, kindly extend an invitation and wait for them to resolve the situation at hand (whether it be changing a tire or getting the hang of parenting) before expecting a response. Otherwise, I ask on behalf of all new mothers that you survey the situation and truly LISTEN to the type of help we’re asking for before jumping in. You may wash a car better than anyone else in town, but if we’re trying to change a tire, you’ll only be in the way. Trust us to recognize and articulate our own needs, rather than assuming you know what’s best for us, and we’ll be much more inclined to seek you out when we ‘need help’ holding the baby.

 

 

1

The Holidays are Approaching: Make Sure Your Relatives are Vaccinated for Pertussis…and Baby Rabies!

I have had it with people (friends, relatives, acquaintances) assuming they get to hold my baby when we’re out in public just because I (as a stay-at-home mom) get to be with her all the time.

First of all, your argument is invalid because you and I are not equal shareholders in the hot commodity that is my child. Unless you happen to be her father, your rights to her are secondary, tertiary, or even non-existent compared with mine. I do not owe you 20 minutes with her for every 20 hours I get. No ma’am.

Besides, the very fact I get to be with my baby all the time is what earns me the right to be with her all the time. Let me explain. When this child wakes up at 3am, I ‘get to’ climb my ass out of bed and go feed her. When she has a diaper blowout in the car on the way to the grocery store, I ‘get to’ wipe up the poop and take the dirty clothes back home where later on, I will ‘get to’ stain treat them and wash them in special, expensive dye free detergent.

I was late to this very party because I ‘got to’ pack my car to full capacity with baby’s gear and supplies. Later on I’ll ‘get to’ unpack all of that, and in the meantime I’ll ‘get to’ be judged by old biddies who don’t think I dressed my child appropriately or brought the right items for her.

I have, albeit temporarily, sacrificed my freedom, my figure, my sleep, my career, and basically my whole personhood to care for this little person. In return, I get to have baby snuggles whenever I want them–even right now, as you reach out your unwashed hands, ready to take my little bundle! Yes, I went through pregnancy, childbirth, and the sleepless nights that followed so that *I* could have baby snuggles, not so I could forfeit them to you.

You see, baby snuggles are my paycheck–they’re the only compensation I get. They’re well worth the trouble, and I don’t get tired of them any more than you get tired of money. Tell me, since you get a paycheck every week, are you willing to give one up every once in awhile–even moreso during the holiday season? What’s that you say? You work hard for your money and it’s yours to do with as you choose? Hmm…

My ‘pay check’ doesn’t put food on the table. Instead, it puts warm, fuzzy feelings in my heart and creates lasting memories that are priceless and irreplaceable. So while you might enjoy holding my child as she sees Christmas lights for the first time, while you might be dying to offer her that first taste of chocolate, please understand these are privileges I work very hard to earn. Have the tact to ask permission, rather than demanding to hold my child. Exercise at least as much integrity with her as you would expect from me if I were borrowing your new car or hosting a party in your home. Please allow me to enjoy your company AND continue bonding with my precious newborn simultaneously, because if it boils down to a choice between the two…it will have been nice knowing you.

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PhotoBarn Wooden Photo Ornament Review

I first discovered Photobarn a few months ago, through one of my favorite websites, freebies2deals.com. There was a promotion at the time offering customers a free 5×7 wooden photo print–buyers only had to pay shipping. I considered ordering one, but decided against it because the company’s reviews were mixed and skewed negative. I didn’t want to risk wasting $10 on shipping for a product that might be flawed, assuming it would ever even arrive at my door. Still, I couldn’t help but notice the little wooden photo ornaments advertised on their site. They seemed like both a perfect thoughtful, inexpensive solution for a hard-to-buy-for person on my Christmas list, and like something I’d like to hang on my own tree.

I kept checking back, and one evening I saw a 45% off plus free shipping promotional code for orders over $50. This would allow me to purchase two ornaments for a total of $28.60! I selected a heart-shaped ornament (out of eight available styles) and uploaded two pictures of my daughters, one for each side. I chose color over black-and-white for the photo ornament, and then I was presented with options for the hanging ribbon. There were four colors of ribbon to pick from, and also the option of simple twine. I chose the twine because I was afraid the ribbon would clash with the colors in my photos.

I set a quantity of two, entered the promotional code, and placed my order, hoping for the best. The whole process only took a few minutes. My ornaments arrived four days later, and friends, they are fantastic! The wooden hearts are 3.5″ long by 3.5″ wide, and half an inch thick. They weigh 2 oz, and the twine they hang from is 3″ long. In hindsight, they would have looked just as nice with choice of ribbon.

The wood grain can be seen through the photos, and it’s really a neat look, though striations and markings on the wood do show through the picture in some places. The photos are imperfect as a result of having been printed directly on the ornament, so they may not be suited to everyone’s taste, but I felt the contrast with the wood added an artistic, one-of-a-kind feel to my photos.

As we get closer to Christmas, PhotoBarn will likely offer even better promotional discounts on their ornaments. I was worried about shipping time, but considering how quickly my products arrived, I think it’s safe to say you have several weeks left order a unique, personal gift for someone on your shopping list.

*This post was not sponsored by PhotoBarn. It is entirely unbiased, as I have not received any discounts or incentives in exchange for my review.

 

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Happy Helpers

“It looks like our mommy has had a rough day

Maybe we can help her, Sis, what do you say?

 

(illustration: children sitting together, looking at their frazzled mom)

 

We’ll start in the kitchen, you re-arrange spices

While I run a bath for her mobile devices

(illustration: toddler dropping phone into bathtub)

 

Then I’ll ride the doggie up and down the hall,

While you draw a butterfly there on the wall

 

When we’re placed at the table, you cry–I will too

There’s no time to eat, we’ve got too much to do!

 

Later on when Mom’s busy washing my hair,

You’ll be scrubbing and shining the potty chair.

 

If she insists upon washing you too,

I’ll turn my attention to painting things blue!

 

When it’s time for bed, we’ll both feel so good

About helping our mommy as much as we could

 

We might just catch a glimpse of a happy tear

How do you think she managed before we were here?”

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St. Louis Zoo Under the Sea Lions Overnight Review

imageWhen I signed up to sleep under the sea lion sound at the Saint Louis Zoo,  I had a lot of questions, but I couldn’t find many answers online about how the evening would unfold. The thrill of not knowing what to expect only added to my excitement, but today I’m posting a review in case anyone out there is on the fence about attending this event.

We received our logistics letter in the mail about ten days before our overnight. It had a list of items we should bring, and a list of items we should not bring. Following the directions on this brief letter, we entered the zoo through the South gate at about 6:15 pm. A zoo employee pointed us over the the fountain, where our group was gathering. The particular overnight we’d signed up for was adults-only (the family version welcomes children ages 5 and up, no little ones like E and C), but there were youth groups and girls scout troops meeting nearby for other sleepovers elsewhere in the zoo. At  about 6:30,  two employees came over and introduced themselves as our leaders. They explained that since the zoo was still open, we couldn’t take our belongings to the sea lion sound just yet. Instead, they lead us on a short hike down into the basement of the primate house to drop off our things and to listen to the rules of the scavenger hunt.

The basement of the primate house is set up a lot like a kindergarten classroom. There are paintings of animals on the walls, and several long tables with short chairs. We put our stuff into cubbies and sat down at the tables. Our leaders each told us a little about themselves and their work with the zoo, then they gave us a quick rundown of how the scavenger hunt would work, and they divided our group of sixteen participants in half to form two teams. There would be a prize for the first place team, and also a prize for the second place team, so no one would go home empty-handed.

We received our team’s manila envelop, and the leaders instructed us to open them at exactly the same time. I’m very socially awkward, so I was a bit nervous about being on a team with so many strangers. As it turned out though, the scavenger hunt was VERY well put together and it ended up being a great ice-breaker. While each team was required to stay together throughout the activity, there were four different tasks which must be accomplished simultaneously. There was a trivia portion, a part that required taking strategic photos throughout the zoo, a portion dedicated finding and describing specific landmarks across the grounds, and a series of games we all needed to find our way to and successfully complete.  Most people had come with one other person, be that a friend, relative or significant other, so each got to work with someone we knew to complete our own portion of the scavenger hunt, while occasionally pitching in to help out another pair or to get help from them. A leader stayed with each team to keep us honest (no googling allowed) and to ensure we didn’t get lost.

The scavenger hunt was a lot of fun, and my team finished first, so we were fairly confident we’d won first place. We waited beside the sea lion sound for the other team to catch up with us, and shortly after they arrived, our dinner was served. I had been curious about what the vaguely-mentioned ‘catered dinner’ would be, and it may not be the same every time, but we had sandwiches, salads, chips, drinks, and cookies from Panera. There was plenty of food for everyone, and our leaders tallied our scores from the scavenger hunt while we ate.

By the time we’d finished our meal, the sun was setting and the zoo had officially closed. We hiked back to the primate house to collect our prizes and our sleeping bags. It turned out speed was not the name of the game in the scavenger hunt, and the other team beat ours by about five points. They received very cute elephant mugs, and we received colorful lanyards featuring a variety of zoo animals. We had a chance to discuss where we’d gone wrong in the scavenger hunt, then everyoneheaded back to the sea lion sound.

There were no sea lions to be seen as we set up our sleeping backs.  We lined them all up in a long row, side-by-side, then grabbed our flashlights and headed out for a night hike and a flashlight tour of the herpeterium. By now there were no other people around. At the herpeterium, we were issued pieces of red cellophane to put over our lights so we didn’t blind the reptiles. I hadn’t been all that excited to look at them in a dark building, and one member of our group chose to sit this portion out, but it ended up being pretty neat in an almost-peeing-my-pants sort of way.

When we’d finished in the reptile house we walked around the zoo a bit and saw the lions and the polar bear, but of course they were asleep. We made it back to the sea lion sound at about 11:30 and settled in to sleep. The view over our heads was beautiful, because the water was clean and we could see the stars through it, but there was not a single sea lion.

At about 1 am, I opened my eyes to see the dark figure of a sea lion swimming over the top of my head. It was awesome, and I kept watching in the dim light for awhile, but I eventually went back to sleep. Then, at about 3:30 am, things got interesting. The sea lions had realized we were there, and they were EXCITED! A few of them kept swimming over us, back and forth, while others came down low so we could look them right in the eye. The woman next to me put her sweatshirt up to the glass and moved it in a circle, and a sea lion did flips while following it. When I yawned, a sea lion imitated me!

Someone noticed we could play peek-a-boo with them, ducking down just out of their sight and then popping up again. They played along! I alternated between playing with what felt like my own personal sea lion and lying down to watch the others swimming over us, two and three at a time, as the sun came up.

Once it was daylight, I was able to take some great pictures of the sea lions–the kind of pictures I always struggle to get during daytime zoo visits and never quite seem to manage. At about 7 am, when we headed back to the primate house for breakfast. The food was a step down from Panera, but not too bad. There was cereal, milk, orange juice, coffee, and muffins. We each got a glow-in-the dark ‘Wild Nights at the Zoo’ cup, and we had the opportunity to buy glow-in-the-dark t-shirts for $15. After returning our belongings to our cars, we all came back to pet the stingrays and we got to see them eating their breakfast!

It was clear that the St Louis Zoo had put a lot of effort into their Under the Sea Lions Overnight program, and our leaders certainly helped us make the most of our time in the zoo that night. What really set this overnight apart, though, was the sea lions themselves. We weren’t crowded an tripping over other participants in an effort to get a look at one animal who couldn’t care less about us. We were lying back, minding our business and the sea lions came to us! There were enough of them to keep everyone in the group entertained, an they seemed to genuinely enjoy our company.

Tickets to this unique event, as of August 2016, cost $75 for members, or $80 for the general public. The zoo only sells sixteen tickets per session in order to ensure they provide a quality experience for every participant. Family overnights under the sea lions cost $60/members and $65/general public, and as soon as E turns five, I’ll be checking that out!

Tips and Tricks:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes, obviously. There’s a lot of walking involved.
  2. Bring in a charger for whatever device you’re using to take pictures. You won’t have constant access to a power outlet, but there are some in the primate house you can use at the beginning and toward the end of the event.
  3. Consider your bathroom habits when you walk from the primate house to the sea lion sound with your sleeping bag. There’s only one way out of the tunnel during the night: the end that’s used as the entrance during the day. If you know you won’t be getting up to go, and you don’t want people stepping over you to get out, walk toward the front of the group and set up camp near what would normally be the exit of the tunnel. Similarly, if you want to go in and out without disturbing people, be one of the last ones into the tunnel and sleep near the entrance. Don’t be the very last person in though, especially if you have a full group of sixteen, because it didn’t seem like that person in my group was completely under the sound. He looked halfway under the water and halfway under the solid portion of the tunnel.
  4. Bring a sheet, preferably a light-colored one. When we first laid down in the tunnel, it wasn’t ridiculously hot, but it was too warm to sleep comfortably in my sleeping bag. A sheet will allow you to cover up without getting sweaty, and the lighter it is, the easier it should be for the sea lions to find you.
  5. I’m not sure the prizes will be the same every time, but if you happen to win a mug, I would suggest asking the leaders to let you leave it in the primate house overnight. You have no use for a mug in the sea lion sound, and one person in our group had hers fall and break.
  6. If you order a t-shirt, keep in mind that they’re unisex. That should have been obvious to me, but I got the size I’d wear in a women’s t-shirt, and it’s pretty big on me.
  7. Stash away some chips or a cookie from dinner to smuggle into the tunnel. You’re technically not supposed to bring snacks, but when you’re up all night, you’re going to get hungry. I smuggled in a cookie, and no one said anything to me about it.
  8. If you can think of nine other people who would enjoy this, consider scheduling a private overnight. I enjoyed getting to know the other participants in my group, but if there’s anything cooler than sleeping under the sea lions with people you’ve just met, it’s got to be sleeping under the sea lions with your friends.
  9. Enjoy your overnight under the seals! Yes, I said seals. Seals and sea lions aren’t the same thing at all, but the St. Louis Zoo houses both animals in the same enclosure. If you don’t know how to tell them apart before you attend this overnight, don’t feel bad–it’s about to become crystal clear! The seals are shaped more like torpedoes, and their skin is somewhat spotted. Their fins are different as well. You’ll see them swimming back and forth over you throughout the night, but they aren’t likely to come down and interact with you the way the sea lions do. The seals certainly aren’t the main attraction at this overnight event, but I found them to be a delightful bonus.
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I’m not a perfect mom, but I play one online

My younger daughter,C, just celebrated her second birthday, and when she went to blow out the candles on her cookie cake, we told her to make a wish. Later on I heard E asking C what she’d wished for, and C replied sweetly, “a cookie!” I felt my heart swell with joy, first at the realization that C’s birthday wish had already come true, and second at how beautifully, perfectly easy it was to make her happy. Very small children understand what it means to be truly content. Unfortunately, most of us lose sight of that knowledge somewhere along the path to adulthood.

Anyway, I hurried to post a status update on Facebook about C’s wish. I posted it in part because it was sweet and I knew it would make my friends smile, but there was another motivation at play too, lurking just below the surface. I was proud of C’s ability to be content–as if it was something I had taught her–and I wanted the world to see what awesome kids I’m raising. If you’re a mom and you can’t recall ever doing the same thing, you’re probably in denial.

The sad truth is that we moms don’t get a lot of credit for what we do…at least, not while we’re in the trenches of early parenthood…and most of us will take some accolades any way we can get them. Facebook “likes,” make me feel like someone out there sees me, and in order to maximize likes and minimize unsolicited advice, I keep my posts positive. I didn’t tell the world, for example, about C’s antics at the zoo earlier that same day. She screamed so loudly, and for so long, she was scaring all the animals,. She also threw her special birthday lunch on the ground, in a small but mighty fit of rage. I kept those anecdotes to myself.

I don’t want to come across as incompetent, overwhelmed, or whiny on social media, despite the fact I am all those things at one point or another through out the day. So I put on my figurative mask, and I crop the literal mountains of laundry out of the background before I post a new photo of my kids. All my friends do the same, I think. Either that or they truly are on top of their game when it comes to mothering. I like to think the perfect moms in my news feed are all just playing along in this unspoken charade, presenting themselves as they wish they were rather than as they really are. Please, tell me I’m not the only one!