DIY Parenting Manuals

If you were expecting something sappy about the most recent age milestones for my two Small People– 4 and 2, to be exact– you can go read this post or this one.

As much as I love those kids–and I do, with a force that often surprises me–they drive me from sane to bat shit nuts with an astonishing speed and regularity. Sometimes it’s my fault. My impatience and inability to deal with repetitive annoyances (“mom, mom, mOM, mooommmm-MMMMYYY” or CFL bulbs that hum) are two of my greatest character flaws. This week. However, I own those negative traits, they are me and I try to modify my own behavior as much as possible. I. Try.

But most of the time it’s not my fault at all. The swift loss of sanity is from being home with a 4-year old. And an Elliot. I’ve differentiated because I’ve never had a 4-year old before, but I’ve had a 2-year old. Elliot does not fit nicely into my categorized parenting-a-2-year-old knowledge base. Surprise, surprise. The bipolar-esque nature of life with a 4-year old defines “normal” for a lot of moms I know. More’s the pity.

Knowing the 4-year old difficulties are normal doesn’t make it any easier for me to deal with. Which is how I went from a delightful fiction novel by Ken Follet to reading parenting theory books. I like DIY projects and I see the occasional theory parenting book (at least any that make my first cut) as a method for someone who doesn’t have a child development degree to have a little knowledge. But I will cut and run at the first hint of dogmatic, “you must do this”.

The first books, Touchpoints 3 -6 by Dr. Brazelton made me fist-bump the ceiling. A lot. He navigates the 4 main personality types as each one travels through each age/developmental milestone. It’s common sense applied child development theory. I like this. It makes me happy.

The other one? The Changing you Child’s Behavior by Changing Yours book. Meh, it didn’t stand a chance, honestly, because it came from the library highlighted. I won’t even dog-ear library books and this schmuck highlighted entire passages. Dear Library Patron Schmuck–your first parenting lesson is to respect property that is not yours.

But then the book told me to “always remember that I am a rational adult”. Well, duh. I know that…rationally. However, rational reactions are directly correlated to one being dealt with rationally. I don’t want to be told that my own adult-level tantrums are the root of all of my Small People parenting challenges. Unlike the Small People, my outbursts are often slow to ignite. It usually takes all day. Some days it takes 30 minutes. Totally depends on how much coffee I’ve had before the bullshit starts. Days that I am assaulted (yes, assaulted) before I can travel the 20 feet from my bed to the kitchen are generally not slow-ignition days.

I’m not a moron, I recognize the signs my Small People’s brains are short-circuiting. That’s why I try and control the possibility from the get-go. Sometimes my time-control power is obliterated by Small People free will (damn you, free will). No matter how badly I want them to choose reward over consequence, one– or on the bad days, both– often disagree. Telling me to just remember I’m the rational adult when I have a screaming child hanging off each leg is seriously unhelpful.

It’s like telling me to remember that eating a balanced diet while maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and not smoking* is the answer to good health and longevity. Oh, wait. Damn it.

Rational adult. Okay, fine. My problem with that theory is the underlying suggestion that succumbing to those moments of irrationality somehow makes me less of an overall adult. Adults are still human–only the most repressed and/or medicated rigidly maintain their self control.

So- poo on you. I couldn’t have finished it thanks to the turquoise highlighting schmuck, but I wouldn’t have anyway. Dr. B advises using our own common sense and cumulative lifetime knowledge as the tools to soothe a hostile encounter. As an adult, I’ve learned how to maintain self control in certain situations. I’ve smiled brightly while a pompous asshole loudly corrected my use of Mister over Doctor at a meeting. In front of the whole room. Which, incidentally, contained two medical doctors. Just saying. If I can do it for stuff like that, perhaps I can increase the times I do can maintain it with my kids. As soon as they start paying me.

So, thank you Dr. B for giving me things I can do. Absolutely, I can hindsight- and self- examine. It’s a hobby of mine, actually. Certainly I can work to say the words differently — I’ll even write some of your phraseology down and post it on the door for my reference.

What I cannot do is promise to never, ever get angry with one of my children. I know I can’t expect them to be Small People-sized adults right now, but I am responsible for the future adults. My version of that future does not include unemployed basement dwellers. Actually, it does– which is a large motivator in some of my seemingly-harsher discipline choices.

Yes, I need to do better at consistently maintaining my self-control and temper– and I’m so much better than I used to be, some credit to me, please. But even when I’m technically “failing” those failures are teaching important life lessons to the Small People. One, that no one is perfect. And two, that behaving like a dick will result in people reacting to you angrily. Banging the hammer on your wall right after being told that I had an awful headache would be a relevant example of dickish behavior.

There you have it. Scattermom’s justification for “Temper Loss Resulting from Constant Annoyance Provides Demonstrative Example of Human Society Participation”. You’re welcome.

*Well, shit. I wrote this back in April and never mentioned (cough-cough/shuffe-shuffle) how I didn’t actually quit. I guess that makes it a double shameful hypocrisy? I am one full day of not smoking. It’s because of the Great American Smoke Out. Off by a day, because I don’t like to just do what everyone else is doing. That’s how I started smoking in the first place.

Life with Two Kids

Remember how I said becoming a parent makes you part of a different club? Within the past few months a large chunk of my other club-members are in late-stage pregnancy, have just delivered, or balancing a newborn and another child. Crazy stuff, don’t drink the water ‘round here. In honor of my fellow mom-friends who are just venturing into the hazy world of becoming parents to multiple children, I offer the following sympathy and advice.

It is going to be different.
Second pregnancies. No matter how much you wanted (or didn’t want) to be pregnant again, you will feel ambivalent about your second pregnancy. It’s hard to get worked up about the newness of pregnancy when you’ve done it before. Especially if you are like me and the ease of the first pregnancy lulls you into the misbegotten belief that the second will progress in the same manner. This should be your first hint that everything you know about parenting will be mostly useless with your second child. In other words, you will be too sick and tired to play Mozart to your fetus while eating homemade hummus and vegetables. Instead the fetus will listen to whatever heinous children’s music your oldest child enjoys, while you try not to puke up the coke and McDonald’s French Fries you accidentally just ate. It just is. You will find yourself dozing with your arms wrapped around the toilet—thinking that someone really should clean the nasty thing—only to be rudely awakened by a small finger poking you in the face. You will think, “I’m not bonding with this baby like I did Little Johnny” and you’ll worry that there is no way you can love another baby as much as you do the one that is now awkwardly petting you on the head, saying “feel better, mommy”.

That you aren’t charting your prenatal progress with the same fervor as you did in the past doesn’t mean you will be ambivalent about the actual baby. Can you love a second child as much as you do your first? Of course you will. Is it the same? Of course it isn’t. Beyond the fact that you’ve actually known your oldest Small Person longer, they are different people and your relationship with each will be different as well.

Give yourself a break.

I was a member of extremely limited TV club until I got pregnant that second time. Then not only was my kid watching TV, but he was watching TV on the couch while I slept (I put my legs in front of him so his leaving would wake me up). I owe Elmo a debt of gratitude that no amount of PBS donations will ever repay. I felt not one iota of guilt about this because one, my body didn’t give me much of a choice and two, he was watching Sesame Street. Yeah, I could teach him his ABCs, but I couldn’t do that AND sleep. Then once the complete ridiculousness of the first trimester passed, I had to just suck it up and deal. I drank caffeine (gasp!) and dragged myself, and him, out of the house. Most of the time I looked like fresh death (and I so didn’t care) but he was outside, having fun with friends. Or I let him do new things (ahem, jumping on the bed) just so I could be horizontal. No matter what method you choose, everyone adapts. Hello, evolution.

You might feel the biological urge to nest and you may/may not motivate yourself long enough to do something nest-worthy. I painted (er, traced and colored) an elaborate mural for what was to become Zach’s Big Boy room. A long story short, the Big Boy room has been re-purposed into a craft/thinking/catch-all room and the boys share the other room. My time would have been better spent napping, but my guilt over Zach losing his place prompted me to make it up to him with a fancy new room. He cared not one bit. Now the toys and trains that Elliot “brought” home from the hospital—that was a winner. Gifts from baby to older Small Person are required—a dowry, if you will.

Once your pregnancy becomes obvious to others (and thus real to you) the obsessive concern about how your oldest child is going to handle a new sibling kicks up a notch. You will also worry about the disappointment your child might feel in his new role as Older Sibling. You feel heartbroken at the thought of disappointing your own Precious Small Person.

To this I say, show me a parent that has never disappointed their toddler, and I’ll show you a brat-astic kid. As parents, we disappoint the Small People all the time—it’s part of our job description. No, you cannot have ice cream for breakfast. No, you cannot lick the car wheel. No, you can’t play with my (phone, laptop, coffee cup, razor, or the dog’s water dish.) All of these amount to Great Life Disappointments to a Small Person. The addition of a sibling may/may not be a Great Life Disappointment. The best thing you can do during your pregnancy is teach the oldest Small Person the value of self-entertainment.

You will spend the last 10 weeks of pregnancy rethinking the intelligence of having two kids. Get used to this feeling—you’ll experience it repeatedly.

The New Reality
Newborn, what? Here you have a new baby in your arms, after a delivery that was most likely nothing like the first one (another phrase you should get used to hearing yourself say) and you’ll be amazed at how tiny they are in comparison to your other Small Person. Newborns—ah, they still have that new-baby smell. You’ll be nervous about your other Small Person’s first introduction and you’ll be full of smiles and hugs for your oldest child when it happens. You’ll take the requisite Older Brother holding New Baby picture and relax back into the comfort of the hospital bed full of self-congratulations for how well they got along. (Or if you are like me, you’ll postpone that meeting by not letting the oldest one come to see you in the hospital. Zach was dealing with my absence really well and I saw no need to remind him that I existed.)

Despite how well the first meeting went, hormones will prompt either Hallmark-, or Lifetime-movie homecoming scenarios. See, there will either be a happy ending, or you’ll get beat up until someone saves you. Either way, there is no way to accurately predict–or control–the outcome. If you’ve learned nothing else from parenting a toddler, you know by now that their actions and reactions do not follow any logically defined path. Assuming you are experiencing the average postpartum hormones (and not the more serious PPD variety) regular reality checks into your expectations are required. There isn’t anything you can do to control the reactions of the older Small Person–that freewill thing is a real downer. You can, however, allow that life will be tumultuous for awhile and what is considered normal will morph into something manageable.

The oldest Small Person will throw tantrums–some of them worthy of little gold statues–and become annoyingly clingy. This is when you learn how to football-carry 30 lbs of screaming, sweaty, dead-weight without waking a just-fallen-asleep baby. I’ve done it. It can be done. YOU can do it, too.

The bottom line here is that no matter how much attention given the average two year old (sibling or not) they want more. Self-absorbed, demanding behavior is their modus operandi. The easiest way to alleviate some of that (and excuse me while I go Stephen Covey/7 Habits on you) is to make deposits into the Small Person’s emotional bank account when possible. Occasionally take oldest Small Person with you when you go on errands—no matter how desperate you are to be alone. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate 4-hour event; taking them to the park on the way to the grocery store will suffice for now, and having a recent, fun-times reminder (“hey, remember when we went to the park without the baby?”) serves as both a reminder and a future bribe.

Oh, and don’t underestimate the “but the baby Small Person isn’t getting enough of my attention” guilt, either. Just as soon as you feel okay about the trauma you are inflicting on the oldest kid, that one comes galloping into your head. Honestly, the baby doesn’t know any better, and all new moms are pretty intense with their first kid. Baby Small Person probably appreciates the break from the pressures of your attention (ever wonder why eldest kids put so much pressure on themselves). Sit back and observe baby Small Person—I’ll bet you notice that the majority of his time is spent focusing on his sibling. Remember all of that Mozart you didn’t listen to with him and you just felt wretched about it? What he got in return was the constant sound of his eldest sibling’s voice. Baby Small Person knows that other kid–and wants badly to be just like him.

I read this somewhere, a long time ago: The first child is born into an adult’s world, the second into a child’s. Even without flashcards and elaborate tummy-time play, baby Small Person is being stimulated just by life. And studiously cataloging that data for future daredevilry. Trust. Me.

The other important thing—possibly the most important thing—is to find friends for you and your kid. Or if it is financially feasible (which at the time for us, it wasn’t), enroll older Small Person in a preschool program. Regardless, get them out of the house. Chances of the rare, two-child-simultaneous-nap increase exponentially with amount of energy oldest Small Person expends in the hours beforehand. Elliot went on his first play date at 5 days old, not because I wanted to get dressed and schlep them both across town, but because the thought of all of us being together within the same walls made me hyperventilate. One Moby wrap (the *best* money I ever spent) and the newborn was perfectly portable. Double-bonus, he was already with me whenever I had to go chase down Zach.

Acceptance and Expectations
There will be someone in your house crying every, single day. The baby and the toddler will both start screaming, and the dog will puke on the floor. At the same moment you will realize that you’ve had to pee for 45 minutes, and that you haven’t showered in two days. You just want to sit down and cry. My advice? Don’t always resist that urge. Nothing made Zach stop a fit quicker than my joining him did. And who doesn’t feel better after a good wailing session? Also, when they were both crying at the same time (and they will be) I sometimes solved Zach’s problem first. Because Zach would remember, and Elliot wouldn’t.

Please, please lower your expectations of yourself. I’m reasonably sure that I fed Zach granola bars and yogurt for dinner more than I care to admit those first three months. I know he ate a lot of food that came to him through a window, if you know what I mean. He watched more TV than I thought acceptable. I read the same book a thousand times. I learned to color with my left hand. I figured out how to nurse a baby while making a sandwich. You’ll adapt.

Work smarter, not harder. If you need to leave the house the next day, pack everything the night before. What takes 10 minutes without kids present will take an hour otherwise. Keep an emergency kit in your car (change of clothes for both, diapers, non-spoiling snack) for the day that they both blow out a diaper at the same time and you run out of goldfish crackers.

What else? Oh, ask for help you need it. There is no shame in asking and the worst that can happen is the first person you ask will say no. If one person says no, ask someone else. Someone will say yes eventually—just be prepared to pay that favor forward at some future date. Oh, and a note to anyone that offers help to a new mom—follow through, or she will remain bitter about it to the end of days. Yes, I’m talking about that time that someone offered to take Zach once a week so I could get some sleep and then promptly forgot about us both. You schmuck.

So there you have it, my solicited (it was, seriously) advice on Life with Two Kids—at least for the first three months. Once Elliot mobilized, all my best intentions sort of went to hell. But once sleep consistently occurs in spurts greater than 2 hours, none of it seems quite so bad anyway. Never fear, soon the newborn will be a toddler and the toddler will be a preschooler and you’ll think—I thought this was going to get easier.

Snort.

The End of Men?

Hanna Rosin’s recent op-ed, The End of Men, is (in my opinion) a slightly over-optimistic piece on the professional advancement of women. If you follow her argument, she is suggesting that culture is following economic gain—and women are finally gaining economically, and thus the culture is shifting from the male advantage to a female advantage.

She noted that more women in 2003 (>15%) said that they “must have a son”, down from about half in 1985. Of course, this should be seen as a boon to women! But before I can form an opinion about its relevance I’d like to know what the difference between 1985 and 2003 for the question “wants any children”. The decreasing trend of “must have a son” could be mostly attributed to the falling rate of women wanting children, period. And still, what did the fathers say–then and now?

That said, women are starting to gain an economic foothold, which means we are increasing our societal worth. Women are smart and we proved it to ourselves, and to men, by going to work. That we had something real to contribute appears to still shock some people.

Many of the new jobs, says Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, replace the things that women used to do in the home for free.

Well that makes perfect sense. Food service, cleaning service, child care, and many other homemaker chores are being outsourced. As a group, the women entering the workforce created more jobs. Not only did they create more jobs, the ones that are rising in demand are the more nurturing/service careers: care-giving, nursing, food-service, teaching, etc. However, nurturing careers don’t usually provide equitable wages. Again, our gain still manages to be our loss.

For example, if you look at Bureau of Labor’s “Women in the Labor Force and compare the percentage of earnings—women to men—you won’t see many categories that are equal. Just looking at the broad category of “Management Occupations” one can see that women are still only making 70% of a man’s salary. And a female physician or surgeon is only making 64.4%.
What. The. Hell.

And how sad is that under “Office and Administrative Support Occupations”, our earnings are only about 90%. It’s a female-dominated field and we still suffer from pay inequality?

I’m feeling less advantageous.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of all accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. About a third of American physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms, and both those percentages are rising fast. A white-collar economy values raw intellectual horsepower, which men and women have in equal amounts.

The assumption here seems to be that we can determine an increased corporate value for feminine traits by noting this increasing trend. I don’t think so. I think the managerial position increases are a natural result of the progression of time. Women entered the workforce later. Career advancement normally follows experience. Thus couldn’t the gain be explained as the natural progression of career advancement over time rather than an increased desirability of female workers? When looking at gender gaps, I find it the gap in the number of male versus female Chief Executives, 251 and 793, respectively (though the pay gap is better at 80%). Then there is the pay gap for women in the Financial Manager occupation, 64.9% even when there are more women than men employed.

As I dug deeper into the just the numbers of women employed in a specific occupation and the ensuing pay gap, I looked at jobs that have been more traditionally male. The obvious choices for me were the broad categories of “Installation, maintenance and repair”, and “Construction and extraction”. Despite being very heavily male-dominated, there pay gap was in favor of women, 100.6 and 108.6, respectively.

That was shocking. That pay equality is demonstrated more in jobs where gender inequality is also the highest? That makes the rest of it seem a little less progressive.

On a macro level, I think a lot of our gains can be explained by simple economics. One cannot ignore the fact that employing a woman is still cheaper than employing a man to do the same job. Once we proved to be of equal intelligence, why wouldn’t a business chose the economic advantage of cheaper labor?

So perhaps our employment gains are really masking a loss–of equal pay.

One would think that if men were acting in a rational way, they would be getting the education they need to get along out there, says Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. But they are just failing to adapt.

When we say men, man, manly, manhood, and all the other masculine derivatives, we have in the background of our minds a huge vague crowded picture of the world and all its activities. To grow up and “be a man,” to “act like a man” — the meaning and connotation is wide indeed. That vast background is full of marching columns of men, of changing lines of men, of long processions of men; of men steering their ships into new seas, exploring unknown mountains, breaking horses, herding cattle… of men everywhere, doing everything — “the world.” –Vandyke Jennings, Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

The continuing theme is that the fall of man is imminent simply because men are not showing an interest in the future, high-demand jobs, like nursing. That it is the cultural stereotypes that will prevent men from being successful in the future. I would imagine that the lure of higher pay will convert enough men to prevent the annihilation of the Y-chromosome.

Raising Boys

In general, and when raising boys, parenting brings many ah-ha moments. You know, those times when you realize something as a parent that your intelligent-self would have noticed long before it became an issue? Like the time where I finally noticed that Elliot was not hot-natured like the rest of us and therefore a good bit of his early dismay was because he was freaking cold. Or that the reason Zach hated haircuts was because I was using scissors that caught and pulled his hair. That kind of stuff.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that I’m not just raising kids, I’m also raising future adults. Then I started thinking about how we are–right now– laying the ground work for those future-selves. There are lots of areas that I hope my example will be enough–a love of reading, for example. Then there are things that I hadn’t seriously considered yet–like how to be a man.

A lot of my musing was prompted by my 3.5 year old, a lover of dress-up play. He’s equal-opportunity about it– my bras and heels, Dad’s shoes and ties. Given the chance he will happily play Fairy Princess with his female friends. He even picked the prettiest dress–black velvet with red trim. I complimented him on how pretty he looked (after all, he was pretending to be a girl) and went on about my day. I will admit to a moment of, “oh jeez” but it never occurred to me that I was supposed to be…embarrassed? Worried? Panicked?

He’s just a little kid playing dress-up, not RuPaul in the making. And if he does grow up to be RuPaul, I wouldn’t love him any less. I wouldn’t think of him as being less anything. Truthfully, I’d be in awe of his fashion sense, being that I don’t have much of one.

It is impossible to raise a child in a gender-neutral environment without putting him/her in a small room without interaction–and really, that’s not cool. Some of the stereotypical “play with trucks and trains” occurred by their own choice. I tried to give Zach my old Cabbage Patch Dolls when I was pregnant (preparation, you know) and I consistently found them stuffed into drawers and under sofa cushions. He Just Wasn’t Interested. But, give him a Spiderman “action figure” and he’ll bathe/sleep/eat with him. (By the way, if your husband, father, father-in-law gets on your case about your son playing with a doll, remind him that action figures are dolls.)

After the Princess Parade (and some tongue-in-cheek comments from friends and an initial wince from Joel) I started thinking about this whole gender-role conundrum a little more. Even though I could care less about my son wearing pink sparkles to play in, I wondered how other moms felt. I did an informal poll on my local online mom support group, asking the question “How do you feel about boys playing dress up in girl’s clothes”. Out of 107 responses, 86% of the moms didn’t care at all; 11% didn’t care, but their husband’s would; and only 6% would forbid it outright.

Good, my laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing trends toward normal. Another poster** made a comment that I loved:

“Boys who are taught there are “girl things” and “boy things” are the same ones who will grow up to believe that women can’t do certain things just because they are women.”

Well, hell– I cannot have that. A feminist simply cannot raise a chauvinist — it’s in the rule book somewhere. And I will not have sons who think that cooking, cleaning and parenting is “woman work”. I’m home because I want to be, not because my husband ordained it so.

An Amazon search resulted in 195 results for the keywords “raising boys”. Oy, if I read all of those I won’t have any time left to, you know, raise my boys. I’ve read one, It’s a Boy! by Michael Thompson and while it was interesting, I didn’t find any of the information to be new (perhaps all of those gender classes*). Male and female brains are structured differently (duh) and the range of those differences for each individual is going to vary on a spectrum. No single child, regardless of their biologically-assigned sex, is going to meet all of the expectations in a gender criteria list. That’s just silly. My oldest son is more verbal than kinetic, that doesn’t make him less a boy. He cries when he gets upset, that means he’s 3.5. Neither of those are predictions that he’s going to be less of a man.

And whose definition of “man” am I trying to emulate anyway? As a child, my male role models were an active duty Army-father and the active duty Army-father’s of my friends. Do I think my Dad was more manly than other men because he was in the Army? As a kid, maybe. As an adult, not really. Do I consider a real man to be one who can change my oil? Or is a real man one who understands that presence in the family–both emotionally and physically–is more important?

For me, the answer is obvious. My definition of a man is not how much an asshole they are, but how much of an asshole they aren’t. In short, I will not raise boys like the ones I dated. I will raise boys to be like the man I married. And the man I married doesn’t change my oil.

Societal expectations be damned. If my son wants to rock a pretty dress, then good for him. He has the curls for it. The thought that some have alluded to, that he’s going to “catch the gay”, is just asinine because common sense should (and science does) discredit the notion that sexual preference can be caught. Homosexuality is as biological as heterosexuality–allowing or disallowing him wearing a dress isn’t going to change what already exists in his DNA (and no, I don’t have any assumptions about his sexuality.) Or even beyond that, the notion that sexual preference can be determined by fashion sense. I’m pretty aggressive, I know how to use my power tools, and I used to love flannel shirts. And I can worm my own hook. Ah…but it’s okay for the girl to be tomboy, right?

*I find the idea of gender-roles in America totally fascinating. I took several gender-related classes for my Sociology degree–my husband and I met in a Gender and Equality class. I almost had a Women’s History minor, too. Lots and lots of exposure to feminism and gender role issues with all of that. It definitely affected how I viewed and judged gender roles.

**Labmom, author of this blog.

Elliot, Mom is Sappy Today

Elliot, mom is sappy today.

My second son. My baby. But–as you are insisting and I am realizing–you stopped being a baby a while ago. You’ve been on this earth for 20 months, 13 days. It’s completely surreal for me to look at you now and remember that you it wasn’t so long ago that you were an an 11.8 pound, 6 month old.

I should have known from the moment of your birth that you’d do things your own way. Labor was quick–we arrived at L&D at 6am and you were born at 7:20-ish. Epidural? Nah, Elliot wasn’t interested in waiting. Nor was I. I believe I responded to the nurse’s edict to “not push until the doctor arrived” with a “fuck you, someone better get down there to catch.” Doctor got there and caught. Yes, he charged us full-price.

You were a tiny thing, with a dimple in your right cheek and baby blue eyes that didn’t turn. I was grateful to you for being a reasonable 7 lbs. since it made that unintentional natural childbirth much easier. That and the lovely nurse in training who had just finished an elective class on Lamaze. Since I hadn’t even bothered to watch a YouTube video on breathing techniques, he was most useful. His name was Mark and you were his first birth. Someone else who will never forget you.

November and December 2008

Hummus- 1; Elliot- 0

In some ways you are easier than your brother. From the beginning you put yourself to sleep. I can count on one hand the times you’ve “requested” that I rock you to sleep. You started attending playdates at 5 days old–totally passed out in a Moby Wrap. You didn’t poo a whole lot, which made cloth diapering a breeze and was deemed normal breastfeeding behavior. We wouldn’t find out about your food allergies until later.

You loved staring at shadows. You’d just lay there and stare. You definitely let me know–loudly–when you were quite done with Elliot-alone-time. You still do.

January/February 2009.

In many ways you are harder. My child, you and I share a lot of the same personality traits. Words that would not be used to describe us; laid-back, patient, and easy-going. Your father and brother are those people. We are not those people. I can see struggles in our future, because I’ve lived those struggles in the past. We have a battle of will every day. I assume I’m still winning, though probably not as often as I think. You’ve finally started to get the whole “learn/use words” thing, for which we are grateful. I chuckle every time I hear you yell “no,no,no,no,MINE, SHOO” to Zach when he’s trying to re-appropriate your toy. Zach isn’t as pleased with your verbal progress.

Your curiosity gets you in the stuck in the damnedest places. You see a mountain and start a plan on how to climb it. You are tenacious and driven. Redirection has always been more of a challenge with you. You’ve been chasing the big kids since you could move. Now you almost always catch up.

Stubborn, Tenacious and Driven are also Attributes

All of that is a nice way of saying that you can drive a person crazy, turn an entire head of hair to gray, and disappear in less than 2 minutes. You did stuff at a year that your brother didn’t think of until he was 2.5. Because you had your brother to learn from.

You are determine to boldly go where you haven’t been before.

To Boldy Go

Elliot, you might be little but you have never let your size stop you. Ever. I laugh each and every time someone gives me that look. It’s the one I’ve gotten your entire life from moms who don’t know you: “Oh my, bless her heart, look at that mom letting her 6 month old (when you were a year) climb up that slide.” I love smiling so sweetly at them when you proceed to climb/slide/ride/run/hold-your-own-with-big-kids. Because you, my dear boy, are deceptively strong. Not just that, you are also full of joie de vivre. And sometimes you are full of piss and vinegar.

The Many Faces of Elliot

Wallets and Weather

Having ADHD causes moments of extreme D’ohness, which I usually control nicely with pharmaceuticals. Sometimes though, my internal Homer breaks free and I got nothing but D’oh for ya. Two epic fails this week–read on and enjoy.

First was The Wallet. No, it did not used to be a ziplock bag. However, my other one was really messed up after it got run over by a half dozen cars on the side of a busy highway. The how of my wallet being on the side of a highway remains a mystery. I assume I put it on top of my car and that it eventually fell off.

Note: Much thanks to the stranger that saw the wallet, retrieved it (and its contents), and managed to track me down through my insurance company. I promise the fact that I spent 5-10 minutes considering the potential for you to be a serial killer is a function of my overactive imagination, and not a reflection of your kindness.

Next was The Cabana. A group of friends with similarly aged children decided to take a trip to Wet’n Wild waterpark. To a kid (as memory serves) a waterpark is, like, the coolest thing…evah. We had tickets, I reserved the cabana ($100 split among a group isn’t expensive) and we were ready to roll.

Until it started storming last night and I realized I hadn’t–not once–checked the weather forecast for the day of our trip. Actually checking it–50% chance of rain– made my head start to hurt; reading the small-“cabana-fee-non-refundable”-print triggered a full headache. But, one thing about living in NC–if you don’t like the weather just wait an hour, it’ll change. My friends, good-natured people that they are, loaded up minivans with kids and contraband snacks, taking the risk that the storms would hold off until the afternoon.

This is about what it looked like when we got there. And it stayed looking like that for the next two hours.

See, there is a difference between forgetting important details ahem– the weather forecast for an outdoor trip–when the plans do/don’t include Small People. Your adult friends might give you a hard time, but it is unlikely that you will have to drag them — limp-bodied, purple-faced, and screaming — out to the car. I mean, it’s happened…but it’s just not as likely.

But when you forget those kinds of details and those adults are now the Parents of Small People (six total, ranging in age from 20 months to 3.5 years) the potential for disaster is high. Now it’s not just your screaming kid, but the screaming kids of your close friends. And being trapped in the car with them screaming for the 1.5 hour trip back home.

Elliot yelled at me for 15 minutes the other day because I gave him a bowl of Craisins rather than leaving them in the bag. Zach has thrown himself to the floor and sobbed over getting a blue, instead of an orange, cup. Anyone with kids knows it would have only taken one of them to start in on a good tantrum before the rest of them followed.

For close to two hours we sat under our nonrefundable cabana listening to the repeated PA-announcement of “…park currently closed due to bad weather. We will re-open as soon the threat passes…”

What did our group of perfect (today, at least) Small People do? They re-stacked the brick edging, cleaned up trash, examined leaves, hopped on the steps, turned loungers into climbing structures, snacked (contraband snacks = best thing ever) and remained generally affable.

Right as I went to petition for a cabana-fee refund (inexplicably easy–it only took me saying “I worked Customer Service for 10 years, and I assure you that they don’t pay you enough to deal with me if y’all try and fight this”) the storm system broke enough to give the kids 30 minutes of play time. We all got rain-checks and went out for pizza.

As an adult, the natural conclusion was that the trip was a consummate failure. But as one of the Dad’s pointed out to Joel, none of the kids realized that they had gotten screwed–thus no tantrums. In the car–right before he passed out–Zach told us that the “Wet and Water” park was “so much fun” and “we should do that again”. And we are, next weekend, sans cabana and weather permitting.

The Happy Mother Myth

The Happy Mother Myth is all about why we aren’t happy. If you haven’t read this article about Why Parents Hate Parenting, you should. Lots of good sociology-rich info about the change in modern parenting and why modern parents report being less happy than their childless peers. In a research paper co-authored by Ranae Evenson and Robin Simon, they reported that “parenthood is not associated with enhanced mental health since there is no type of parent who reports less depression than nonparents” (empahsis mine).

Though I initially found the results to be mildly surprising (really, parents–specifically mothers–are more miserable now?) after a point, I came to see the logic in how that happened.

My general, broad impression of the Happy Mother Myth is that too many women believe that parenting will be as fulfilling as a chosen, for-pay career. I certainly thought that being a mom would be easier–and thus less stressful–than what I experienced in my pre-kid, for-pay job. Silly me. I know women who honestly make mothering look like the easiest, most fun job in the world. And I envy them, because for me, it is neither. While I had a nursery-rhyme themed fantasy of what my day was going to look like, the reality is often more Rage Against the Machine than London Bridge. I felt guilt from both true and perceived barbs from all sides of the mothering fence. Then one day I realized the only perfect mother is the one who has never had children and I stopped worrying about what other people thought about my decisions. That doesn’t mean to say that I am without cause for criticism, and I welcome the constructive variety–in all things. But just yipping at me over a personal parenting choice?Pfftt. I used to rush to my own defense with data supporting my own cause, now I just don’t care. I don’t consider it an insult to my parenting when people are concerned that my kids never get cookies (they do, just not often), nor should anyone else consider it an insult when I refuse a product on my child’s behalf. Once I put the cabash of self-doubt, I was happier.

It also helps that I truly believe that micromanaging every moment of a child’s life is counterproductive in the long run. A certain degree of boredom–for both mother and child(ren)–is both appropriate and realistic. How much imaginative play results from the desperation of impeding boredom (or the parental response of, “well, you could clean your room”)? How many seemingly casual walks (in an effort to kill time and burn energy) become memorable adventures? That kind of spontaneity helps sooth my impulsive beast while allowing me to shed the cultural pressure raising competitive kids. Happy Mother increase, check.

And even though I knew that child-birth would deliver a baby, I think I also expected it to deliver all of the traits that I had deemed necessary for being a Happy Mother such as increased patience and temperance, long art-n-craft sessions resulting in memorable keepsakes…you get my point. The reality is that child-birth did result in a baby (twice), but not the the rest of those things that I thought were the innate, reflexive parts of mothering. The rest I had to learn for myself.

Because I’m an only child, I didn’t have a large extended family from which to draw experience. It didn’t take me long to see that motherhood was not going to result in an overall morph of my original personality. Perfection only exists in the dictionary and pharmaceutical ads. The perfect anything doesn’t exist; beating myself (and my husband and kids) wasn’t going to make it real. It didn’t take me long to recognize that the mother who is pleased enough with her situation (if you know her, insert name here) should be the epitome of the Happy Mother. And if she isn’t at ease with her situation, she takes steps to change things for herself. For me, it is as simple as– I cannot allow my children to be the sole definer of my identity.

So my thoughts to the women who are struggling with their own Happy Mother Myth is to stop being so hard on yourself. All 21st century mothers are facing the challenges of changing definitions. Throughout history, women used to practice being a mother for a small lifetime before having their own children. They were acting as little mothers to numerous siblings, under the tutelage of a gaggle of women who met the same mother definition. They left their parent’s homes only when ready to enter a husband’s home. Without the availability of female-based birth control, they got pregnant–quickly and often–and continued the cycle, uninterrupted. They lived in the same towns with their mothers, sisters, and grandmothers. They knew the same people for the entirety of their lives.

We’ve only had reliable, female-controlled birth control since 1963. It’s only been in my lifetime (starting, 1976) that women have held positions of true prominence and power in corporate America. It’s also only been in my lifetime that women have chosen those careers before they chose to have kids. So, if it’s only been within the past fifty-ish years that all of those changes have occurred, why are we all so sure that begetting children is going to bring us continual happiness and reward? I mean, wasn’t a lot of the motivation for the original Women’s Movement that women were unsatisfied with their housewife/mom-only roles? Did we, the daughters and grand-daughters of the original wave of Feminism, think that because the mom role was chosen rather than expected that it would make a significant difference in our perceived satisfaction? Or, as the research in the article suggested, did we all think that meeting our career goals before having kids would decrease the ennui of parenting?

Uh-oh…

Perhaps it’s that the current generation of women are all so far removed from the reality of the June-Cleaver-housewife ideal that we didn’t really have a concept of the demands of child-rearing. Maybe women now think that accomplishing everything before having kids would mean that they wouldn’t succumb to the ennui of parenting. Do I think back to my past career accomplishments and bemusedly wonder how I could plan and execute a million-dollar, multi-national study meeting–in a different town and state from my office–with grace and efficiency, yet am seemingly incapable of getting two kids and myself out of the house on time? Well, yeah, I wonder. But the answer is reasonably simple–there is an immediacy to career-related accomplishments–professional recognition, promotions, salary-increases. The results of good (or bad) mothering are often not so gratifying. It will take years before I know if the choices I made as a mother are the same things that will send my grown children to a therapist.

Are the rapidly morphing roles–because it’s not just moms, but also dads that are being redefined–the reason for our malcontent? Is it because most of us are trying so hard to provide these fabulous moments for our kids that we feel a lacking enthusiasm for our efforts too deeply? Is it all just a measure of adults who were in control of their career finding themselves very much out of control of a Small Person?

For me, it’s mostly the appreciation-quotient, as I reconcile the differences between the woman who worked for-pay and the woman who works for love. In that, I’m really glad that I read Arlie Hoschschild’s book The Time Bind as an undergraduate.

Perhaps I’ll request formal performance evaluations from my family in the future. In the meantime I will define myself as a Happy Mother, because the only expectations I am trying to meet are my own.

Cardboard Box Train

If you are a person with a son who loves train, an overactive imagination, and not enough things to keep occupied during those long afternoon naps, you probably get in the same kind of trouble that I do. The trouble that revolves around having ideas and making plans off those ideas. Perhaps you think of building a playhouse train out of a cardboard box in your kids’ playroom closet.

Or perhaps you don’t. But I do, and did.

My inspiration came from the local kid’s museum—they have all kinds of static play-on structures; ambulances, boats, etc. I thought about my love of upcycling. I thought of the large wardrobe boxes (had to buy these)…I thought of silver paint (had lots of this)…I thought of a fake driver seat (had one of these, too). I thought of everything.

Well, not everything. I didn’t remember that you can’t paint oil-based paint over water-based paint and expect adhesion, especially not when the painting surface is cardboard. Nope, I didn’t think of that until after I fighting with the installation of the train roof and noticed I had silver fingers.

I have once again been foiled by the ADHD and my attention-to-detail problem.

Even had the paint not rubbed off and the end result of my idea was an actual train, I spent far more time on this than I intended. My original estimate was that it would take about 5 hours—to include paint/dry times—to create a square train from two boxes.

Well, the train wasn’t going to be square (mistake number 1) because I told a certain Small Person what I was doing (mistake number 2) and he got all excited and said SIR JOHN?, and I agreed (mistake number 3). Giving a rough guesstimate, I would say the whole thing took 16 hours. Not 16 hours of actual work, I’m billing some time to “thinking” (my former co-workers will remember this work-code). I spent about 10 minutes being really annoyed by the dismal end, and then I got over it.

Because regardless of there being no fancy silver train—I have another wardrobe box. They can use their own imaginations and pretend it’s a train. No further involvement from me is necessary. It’s only what I should have done to begin with…had my own imagination not gotten the best of me!

Now…my real fantasy is to build a train-shaped playhouse in the back yard. I think I’ll wait until the silver dust settles to bring that idea up with Joel.

I am smarter

…than my 3.5 year old. At least for today.

If you read my post Cooking for Small People then you will remember that I am becoming increasingly frustrated with cooking and feeding the people in this house.

Today I looked at a pound of ground beef and just groaned. Zach won’t eat spaghetti sauce…and I’m damn tired of spaghetti anyway. What I wanted was meatballs. Meatballs present a challenge because they are both allergic to eggs. However, thanks to my trusty friend google, I found an eggless meatball recipe. We had leftover rice, onions, and peppers. Meatballs over rice smothered with sauteed peppers and onions (cooked on the side–there’s no way in hell I’d have gotten either of them to eat onions). Since it’s raining like mad today I started my sales pitch by yelling in the worst Italian accent ever heard–“it’s cloudy, we are having meatballs” (get it–Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs?)

Zach was excited by the meatballs, but immediately started in with the “I doesn’t want sauce, Mommy”. To his demands, I did immediately acquiesce. I pulled out the ketchup bottle and poured about a 1/2 cup over them and said, “see, no sauce. Just ketchup”. He smiled–as if in victory–and walked away.

At which point I dumped 2 cups of spaghetti sauce over the ketchup, stirred, and sat down to smirk.

Guess who gobbled up the meatballs? Guess who looovvvveeess meatballs with ketchup?

Guess which Mom is going to keep the empty ketchup bottle, fill it with spaghetti sauce and an extra can of tomato paste?

You are all smart people, I bet you guessed the answers to all of those, didn’t ya?

Of course, Elliot–lover of spaghetti sauce–refused to have anything to do with the meatballs in ketchup. He protested by dumping his plate of meatballs over his head, but no matter, I still claim tonight’s dinner a victory.

Obviously the only way to win this battle is through cunning and strategery.

Let’s Talk about Sex

Let’s talk about sex! That was my first thought when I was approached by the Museum of Motherhood to write an article related to women’s health my immediate thoughts were of the big three—breast cancer, heart disease, and cervical cancer. Then my mind wandered over to the other big ones—fertility issues, thyroid disease and auto-immune diseases. I started doing research on what I had picked to write about, but my mind was dissatisfied with my choice. It kept wandering over to the problem that many women face, both before and especially, after, motherhood. The one we don’t talk about, the one without its own black lace ribbon magnet showing support. Sexual dysfunction.

Since the onset of the women’s movement, sexual freedom—prompted in large part by the ability for women to control their own reproductivity with hormonal birth control—has become a banner which many women wave proudly. In theory women were no longer laying awake after an unsatisfying encounter with their now-snoring husbands. In essence, the dissatisfying sexual relationships of my grandmother’s era were to be replaced by mutually enjoyable experiences between consenting partners. Right?

Wrong. A survey conducted by the American Medical Association in 1999 indicates that sexual dysfunction affects approximately 43% of women in the United States. In general, data related to sexual dysfunction, especially for women, are limited. The medical and pharmacological communities have made strides in treating this problem—for men—who hasn’t seen the commercial of a loving couple in side by side bathtubs gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes? And for the heterosexual women whose dissatisfaction stemmed from a problem with their partner, this is great news.

Well, what about the rest of us? Specifically, what happens to a woman with normal function after they have children? I know very few women who jump back into their normal relationships after they have given birth. Is it all related to body image? After all, the end result of carrying a child for 10 months is not kind for many of us (no accounting for awesome genetics, personal trainers and babysitters; though I am super jealous of all of you, too.) Is it all mental—the transition to a sexual being after fulfilling that mother role all day? Is it physiological—the result of decreased blood flow or other vaginal changes as the result of getting aforementioned baby out of one’s body? Or—more likely—is it a combination of the three?

Becoming a mother adds new layers on to a woman’s psyche—layers that we can neither predict nor control. That none of us believes that will happen to me until we are a mother for the first time is part of the transition from a sole entity to a mom. I remember being really tearful when my OBGYN gave me the go ahead to “resume relations” (her words) after the birth of my first child. Secretly I was hoping for another reprieve—a medical excuse whose validity could not be disputed by my husband.

We were both to find out that being a mother reduced my desire a hundred-fold from our pre-parent days. After spending both day and night nursing a baby I was less than excited about the prospect of someone else getting to my body. So I did what lots of women do—I faked it.

Thankfully my libido righted itself as the months progressed; I regained ownership of my breasts, my baby started sleeping through the night, and the 75+ pounds I had gained began to finally come off. Ironically with the reintroduction of my libido I got pregnant again, which restarted the entire cycle.

However, my approach was different the second time. Instead of faking it—both initial desire and the outcome—I was honest with my husband about what I felt (and didn’t feel). All of the advice in parenting magazines—“renew your intimacy”, “go on dates together”, “just hold each other”—didn’t work for us. What worked was time, but during the interim we had to deal with the fall-out of my lack of desire.

I’m very lucky that I married a mostly-understanding man. I’m lucky that my issues largely resolved themselves after a year or so. I’m lucky that my problems weren’t a symptom of a bigger medical problem. But what about the women who aren’t so lucky? What about the women for whom these issues cause long-lasting rifts in their partnerships? Or worse, what about those rifts that become chasms so wide that the relationship ends, forever altering the family unit?

Why don’t we talk about this more, amongst ourselves or with our doctors?

Personally, I think that 43% of women reporting some sort of sexual dysfunction to be a far lower figure than is truly accurate. My feeling is that there are many other women who don’t even view it as a problem, perhaps never accounting for how important sex is in maintaining a healthy partnership. I worry that there are too many women who don’t realize that sexual dysfunction can be a true symptom for other diseases—like diabetes, thyroid disorders, multiple sclerosis, vaginismus, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and others.

If my concerns are correct that means embarrassment is leading too many women to suffer silently. Will undiagnosed sexual dysfunction lead to death the way heart disease and cervical cancer might? Probably not. But life isn’t just defined by longevity; it is also defined by quality. Women should demand the same quality of life for themselves as they demand for their children and their partners.

So don’t be embarrassed…talk about it. I’ll bet you find out that 1) you aren’t alone and 2) you don’t have to suffer silently.