Tag Archives: parenting

Motherhood (n)

A perpetual state of worry, frustration, and joy.  Nurturing and nourishment.  Living for someone outside yourself.  The complete lack of any personal space.  Not generally caring about the complete lack of personal space, but occasionally feeling just touched out.  The unhesitating willingness to boldly deal with any myriad and combination of bodily fluids.  Snuggles.  The miraculous power to heal any pain with a kiss.  Mysterious smells.  Laundry.  The feeling that your heart might just burst right out of your chest.  An unending cycle of meals, school bus stops, extracurricular activities, and “just one more” bedtime stories.  Finding the balance between selflessness and selfishness.  Wondering how you ever thought you were happy before.

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Random thoughts about risk

I’ve been thinking today about the cocoon we seem to default into as parents.  The media has us hypervigilant, and social pressure from other parents, grandparents, etc., has us feeling that to invite risk upon our children is to fail as parents.

The first thing that got me thinking was a couple days ago, when my daughter, who is 7, was playing at the next-door neighbor boy’s house.  His grandparents were there watching him (which is common – we know the grandparents pretty well), and I told my daughter to be home at 4:30.  I just so happened to go outside at about 4:28 to take out some garbage, when I saw Lane walking toward our house with the boy’s grandma.  I went and met them and chatted for a moment with the grandmother, who told me she felt odd about letting my daughter walk home alone so she decided to escort her.  “You never know these days!” she told me.  Well, no, ‘these days’ there’s no more crime against children than there ever has been, historically.  It was daylight, our houses are about 100 feet apart.  It really, really, REALLY does not require an in-person escort to see my daughter home.  I think it was thoughtful and sweet that she did it, but at the same time I feel such actions also convey a sense of mistrust to kids that they aren’t capable of these easy things.   Her main motivation seemed to stem from the fear that some ill-intended creepy person might happen by and snatch her from under our noses.  Well.  The teaching of “Stranger Danger” is, by and large, a disservice to kids, and I refuse to indoctrinate my kids that way.  Sure, I tell them if they’re lost who would be the best people to trust (in a store, for example, someone who works at the store, or another mom with kids).  And, I have talked to them about behaviors an adult might engage in that should raise a red flag in their head (asking them to keep a secret, asking them for help to find a puppy, stuff like that).  But I simply will not make them fear for their own safety every minute they are out of my sight for my own (false) sense of security.

Next, a quick conversation I had with my daughter’s bus company today.  Again, she’s 7 – in second grade.  The bus driver had told me once, a ways back, that it was “policy” that parents have to meet the bus.  Well, OK… but really?  Obviously it wasn’t set-in-stone policy because he never needed the 5th grader-at-the-same-stop’s mom to be present.  Is there a cut-off?  He refused to give me a clear answer.  Well, I have a baby at home, and the weather’s getting cooler.  I like getting my daughter off the bus, but with the baby it isn’t always practical or prudent or even possible for me to get to the bus stop (which is not far, it is across the not-very-busy street and one house down from us) every single day right at 3:18 p.m.  I plan to inform him of this, that occasionally I may not be there and it is OK for Lane to walk home by herself, that she knows how to get into the house.  (We have a door with an electronic keypad; she doesn’t even need to remember a key.  Which,  if you are considering getting one, do it.  Tomorrow!  It’s an incredibly awesome convenience.)  However, I didn’t want him coming back at me with “but it’s against policy” bullcrap.  So I called the transportation department to find out what the real policy was.  Officially, I was told, only kindergartners have to be met by an adult to be let off the bus.  However, I was firmly scolded, “there’s policy and then there’s common sense.”  Yeah, well, common sense tells me that empowering my daughter to take care of herself on occasion in a low-risk situation is nothing but beneficial to her self-sufficiency and independence.

Then there was an internet posting I came across just now that lambasted the lack of risk to which we expose our children.  They need to play outside (agree), engage in unstructured activity (agree) be allowed some independence (agree), and car seats aren’t necessary after a couple years, seat belts are just fine.  Um, no, big fat disagree.  I’m totally for letting kids be exposed to risk.  They will get bee stings and scraped elbows and even a broken bone or two, and that’s fine.  They might get scared from time to time, and that’s OK too.  Everyone gets scared.  But moving out of a car seat too soon, or switching from rear- to front-facing, that’s not an acceptable risk to me.  Simply because there’s no real derived benefit.  It might be a little more convenient, or maybe you can save a little money, but is there anything long-term that comes of it?  In my opinion, absolutely not.  My kids won’t gain any emotional benefit from not sitting in a car seat.  My baby won’t increase her self-worth by forward-facing any sooner.

 

Say Cheese!

These days I’ve been passing a little time working in a photo studio.  It’s a fun job and I work with cool people who are mostly much younger than I am.  I’ve learned some neat stuff about portraiture, and a bit more about Photoshop, both which will serve me well as I embark on starting my own photography business.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ve sort of had a rant building up, and working today I had one family who refreshed the rant in my brain.  They were otherwise very lovely people, a family of four.  Dad, Mom, and two kids — a boy of about 13 (and all the requisite fun and angst that comes with that age) and a daughter of about eight or nine, who was seven different ways of adorable and missing her two front teeth.  The parents were obsessed – OBSESSED – with getting these kids to smile just the absolute perfect way that they wanted them to.  But of course, the 13 year-old was, well, a 13 year-old, and the daughter was obviously self-conscious about her gappage.

These parents were militant crazy about it.  Which I don’t necessarily begrudge them — portraits at my studio are not cheap, and I know they, as every parent that comes through, wants to leave with pictures they can display and show off and that truly capture how beautiful their family is.

Luckily, I and the other photographers I work with are pretty good at pulling that off.  For babies, we know the sounds that get their attention, and that jumping up and down is almost always a surefire way to get a few smiles.  For toddlers and kids through about seven, pretending to tickle their parents is like smile gravy — and the parents always love to play along.  Shit, the parents would donate a kidney if it meant their kid would smile.  Tweens and teens nearly always can talk about video games, or the last movie they saw, and once they relax and realize I’m not as dorky as their parents are, they are usually eager to smile for me.  (Even though, yes, I’m a parent myself and in a handful of years I’ll be reduced to complete dork in my kids’ eyes.) Older kids want to be treated respectfully, and they respond beautifully to it most of the time.  The point is, there are lots of ways to get a kid, nearly any kid, to smile for a picture.  Sometimes it’s being goofy, sometimes it’s building trust, sometimes it’s being chatty, and often it’s a combination of all that and more.

But there are things that definitely, most assuredly, do not work.  Yelling at your kids to smile will never get them to smile the way you want them to.  Telling them that’s it, we are NOT going to Chuck E. Cheese after the pictures will not get them to smile at all.  Threatening them with grounding will not get them to smile, for sure.

So, here’s a bit of advice for parents.  Once your kids are old enough to follow directions, try to relax a little.  If you let your kids relax and have a little fun, your pictures will turn out great.  If you relax and have a little fun, too, they’ll turn out even better.   Try your best not to get frustrated — or at least, not to show your frustration.  It will unsettle the more resilient kids and irreversibly stress out the more sensitive ones.

Then…. there’s the other side of the coin.  The parents of the babies.  Most of the time, they hover and coo and apologize profusely when their baby isn’t the Gerber baby 100% of the time.  We love these parents.  They keep their babies happy, and safe, and they are ten shades of thrilled when their beautiful baby makes us look like photography geniuses.

Of course, not every parent is as easy to work with.  There’s the moms that decide feeding their baby after the shoot is wiser than feeding him before the shoot.  There’s the parents that don’t consider naptimes when they schedule their shoot and, halfway though, say something like “he’s usually so happy, he must be tired, usually he’s napping right now.”  And then, there’s the glaring example of stellar parenting we witnessed recently:  a couple came in with their baby, got her set up for the shoot, and then DISAPPEARED FOR A HALF HOUR.  Without a word, they left and went to get lattes and left their baby in the hands of people they’d never met before.  The photographer started taking pictures, turned around to ask them something, and they were gone.  (The shoot did not continue any further.)

For the two-and-under set, the hints I can offer are simple.  Bring in a child who’s been fed (or even bring snacks with you – I’ve had more than one parent feed their kids Cheerios or Gerber puffs in between pictures).   Make sure your baby isn’t tired or sick.  Then once the shoot begins, pull out all the little tricks to get your baby to smile.

Oh, and if you really want a latte, get it ahead of time.

Hiding in my room

As a belated birthday gift, Frank’s aunt gave me a box of chocolates from the Czech Republic.  They, as a family in general, make frequent trips back to their mother-land and bring back with them assorted goodies that they can’t get stateside.

I have saved these chocolates and am now eating them while I blog, laying in bed after the kids were put to bed.  I could have eaten them on any other number of occasions in the week since I received them, but then I would have had to share them with little children.  And these are mine, dammit.

It’s funny as a parent the things I find I hide away from my kids.  Red Twizzlers often only come out late at night to keep them away from wee ones determined to get their share.  Most of my covert candy thievery also happens under the cover of dark — Halloween bags and Easter baskets pilfered after their guards have drifted off to sleep.  It makes me wonder what wondrous confections my own mom and dad kept hidden for enjoyment only when my brother and I were out of the house or asleep for the night.

Anyway, these chocolates that I received for my birthday, they are interesting.  Tastewise they are pretty good.  I’d best describe them as milk chocolate with a creamy nutty middle.  They are officially called “Laguna Nutsnougat” which, according to the translations into every European language on the back, translates to “Seafood with Filling”.  No, really.  But rest assured, they are only “seafood” because they are molded into oceanesque shapes, like seashells and starfish.  I’m not quite sure what the culinary Czech genius was thinking when he had his epiphany, but it must have gone something like this:  “Ahoy! [because that’s how they say ‘hello’]  I am thinking… we have a recipe for delicious nougat-filled chocolate bonbons.  Only to make them into straightforward chocolate shapes is so blah, so passe, so expected.  What to do, what to do… A-ha!  I’ve got it!  Let’s make them look like mollusks!  Nothing says ‘sweet confectionary bliss’ like shellfish!”  Seriously, I can’t look at them while I eat them.  Especially the mussels.  Ugh.

The second thing to note about these chocolates is the ingredient list.  In the U.S. here, we have something in many ingredient lists called “Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” which on the surface doesn’t seem all that offensive.   The Europeans, however, do not let their food manufacturers get away with such namby-pamby fru-fru food names.  They have to tell it like it is, it seems, because the second ingredient listed, after sugar, is “hardened vegetable fat”.  Yummy.

Your slip is showing

Lacking motivation or inspiration to come up with my own topics, I’m joining in today with Kate and some other folks and we’re doing a weekly theme, a shared topic each Wednesday.  Today’s is “Freudian Slips”.

This just goes to show how dry my creative font is.  Even though I was a psych major and still pick up my textbooks to read for fun, the only thing I can really think to say about a Freudian slip is that I didn’t know that Freud was a transvestite.  Thanks, I’ll be here all week!  Try the veal!  (Not really, veal is mean.  Try the penne vodka.)

I don’t have any stunningly funny stories about my own Freudian slips, and I can’t even muster the mental fortitude to remember something funny that happened to someone else.  Actually, I could link this topic back to parenthood.  But shit, I seem to link every topic back to parenthood.  As much as I love my kids I got sick of ‘hearing’ myself blog about them constantly, and I find my kids infinitely fascinating.  Or at least more infinitely fascinating than any other person on the planet would find them.

Well, darn it, I’ll go there anyway.

I slip up a lot when I yell at Jake.  He is, 98% of the time, an affable, friendly, independent, happy little guy.  Occasionally though, he pulls out the big guns and does something like write with a Sharpie on the wallpaper in the hallway.  Or color his whole hand in with a Sharpie.  Or other destruction, Sharpie-related or not.  When these things happen I am obligated, as mothers are, to yell.  (OK, I know some moms don’t yell.  And I’m all for natural consequences.  But really — if you do something dumb and destructive, I think a perfectly natural consequence is dealing with someone else getting upset about that boneheaded thing you did.)  Only I find when I go to yell at him I often don’t call him Jake.  Sometimes I call him Lane first…. which sort of illustrates who I’m usually yelling at.  And now that my brother’s living here, I will occasionally call Jake “Mark” when I yell at him… which sort of illustrates which other male in my life has supplied some of my most frustrating moments.

And speaking of Freud, let’s touch for a moment on the dream I had last night, which I’m sure Freud could have a field day with.  I don’t often wake up remembering a dream, so last night was notable for that, if nothing else.  But it was a weird couple of days… Lane’s been sick, I worked last night, I found out my friend Abby is expecting baby #2… and not that all that is weird but it made the last couple days a bit beyond run-of-the-mill.

(Edited to add a couple, in my opinion, pertinent details, for those who may be visiting for the first time:  my mom passed away ten years ago, and before I became a stay at home mom, I worked for seven years in human resources for a major pharmaceutical company, where I gained a healthy respect for the business and the products they make, but a general disdain for the currently popular sales model that most pharmas use to peddle their products.)

So… the dream.

I’m in the hospital with my mom.  Neither of us are IN the hospital, but for whatever reason we are hanging out there.  My mom tells me she thinks I should take a pregnancy test.  I don’t see why, I don’t think I’m pregnant, but whatever.  Lo and behold someone shows up, who functioned in the dream as both some sort of nurse AND as a pharmaceutical rep, wanted me to take a pregnancy test that for reasons unknown would cost my insurance company like $40.   I completely freaked out in the dream, yelling at this nurse/rep and telling her what a scam this was and there was no reason a pregnancy test should cost that much money, get me a $5 Target brand test and I’ll take it but I’m NOT peeing on a $40 stick.  She says, “would you really trust the results of a store-brand pregnancy test?  Do you think that’s the best decision for your baby?”  and I start yelling at her more, that she can’t make me feel guilty and like a bad mother for this decision and then I kick her out of the room.  That was about it.  I never did take a pregnancy test in the dream.  Your thoughts welcome!  🙂

Sometimes the wisdom comes from unexpected places

My kids were, in a word, challenging tonight.  Lane was defiant and oblivious to all adult vocalizations, and I hit my breaking point when she fibbed about the whereabouts of the contents of an entire bottle of bubbles she’d been playing with earlier.   Jake is normally my easy-going, happy guy, but tonight was full of evidence that the terrible twos are a-comin’.  In a span of ten minutes he managed to find crayons and write all over the tile floor in the kitchen, and then while Lane and I were cleaning that up (her one redeeming point of the evening when she offered to help and actually helped) he got into the junk drawer in the kitchen, fished out a Sharpie, and wrote all over his left hand and a bit on the carpet in the hallway.  And there was other stuff, but the point of this post isn’t to bitch about my kids.

Mark spent at least a moment or two telling me how he just can’t imagine how I do it…. how these children can be so insanity-rousing, and yet I can, in the next moment, find the energy to be affectionate.  Or more simply, how I don’t go off the deep end and sell them to Gypsies.  Of course he gets the whole loving-them-with-a-fierceness-you-can’t-fathom-until-you’re-there phenomenon, but still.  And I had a hard time expressing it.  I just shrugged and said something like, “You just deal, and then something good happens.”

And then I was reading an article at CNN.com about some meeting that GWB had with some anti-drug people about anti-drug stuff, and the article quoted him talking about the power of prayer in his life, and he ended his thought by saying, “Some days are happy. Some days are not so happy. But every day is joyous.”  Now I’m not into prayer and all that sort of thing, but what he said pretty well sums up being a parent.  I never thought I would quote Bush 43 in an inspiring way, but it truly has been one of those days.

The words we use

I made a conscious decision when my daughter was very little that I was going to use the ‘real’ words for body parts.  We do say ‘boobs’ instead of ‘breasts’ (no real reason why) and ‘bum’ instead of ‘buttocks’ (just because I think ‘bum’ is close enough and I don’t feel like it’s a cutesy euphemism as much as the substitute words for other parts).

My reasons for this are varied.  For Lane, I feel like comfort with her body is a helpful protection against being a victim of sexual abuse.  I think of my own uncomfortable interactions with doctors, where I have had serious trouble seriously using those ‘real’ words for my own body parts.  Overall, though, their bodies are their bodies, and what purpose does having code words for body parts really serve?  I’m sure Lane’s use of words like “penis” in mixed company has raised an eyebrow or two among present adults, but I decided that Lane’s appropriate vocabulary is more important than assuaging their discomfort at perfectly legitimate and appropriate words.

As my kids are getting older and we interact with more families with small kids, it’s becoming glaringly apparent that I am in the minority in having a daughter that knows what labia and penis and scrotum mean.  There are lots of kids out there that have doobers or peters or wieners, and hoohas or girly parts or flowers.

I found this article, which really illustrates the huge range of words families use instead of the ‘official’ words.  It also made me realize my kids have never heard the words “defecating” or “urinating”.  I’m not sure if I’ll go there… maybe when they’re a little older and “pee pee” and “poop” start seeming a little infantile for their vocabularies.

So I bring all this up because I’m just generally curious — what do you say, and why do you say it?