Put a Bib on It


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What I Never Expected About Motherhood

Two things I never expected about motherhood? Babies are funny. And gross.My daughter will be a year old this month. Part of me can’t believe that my tiny little girl is already a (tiny) 1-year-old. And there’s another part of me that can’t believe that she isn’t already in kindergarten because I don’t remember what our lives were like before she was part of them.

I’m an over-preparer. A year ago when I was waiting for Elliot to make her big arrival, I read everything I could get my hands on. I didn’t have a baby so I actually had time to do things like read. I made a plan for what I would do if my water broke at work. I researched what contractions felt like so I would recognize them when they started. I prepared myself emotionally for the fact that breastfeeding would probably be hard for awhile.

We had a pretty easy adjustment to parenthood, which I credit partially to my daughter being an easy baby and partially to the fact that I felt emotionally prepared. Yes, I wasn’t sleeping much, but I knew that would be the case. I had prepared myself to be exhausted. Yes, she seemed to nurse constantly, but I knew that would be the case. I had prepared myself to do nothing else for a few weeks.

But of course, there were also surprises. Things that I could never have planned for or things that I just didn’t realize came along with motherhood.

I was totally unprepared for the amount of time my daughter would be… kind of a blob. In my head, babies were a lot like the 11-month-old I have now, not like the newborn that we brought home. I didn’t realize it would be months before she’d even smile at us, let alone laugh. I didn’t realize that she really would be small and helpless and unable to even grab a toy for what felt like an eternity.

I was totally unprepared for the snot. I knew there would be poop. I knew there would be spit-up. I didn’t realize that the disgustingness of baby boogers would far exceed either of those—and that one of her early talents would be blowing snot bubbles out of her nose. Ew.

I was totally unprepared for the amount of time I would spend doing new, baby-related chores. Pumping at work, washing bottles and pump parts, washing her diapers, packing her food for child care, doing her laundry, making sure that her favorite blue bunny gets washed at least once a week because he spends the majority of his life alternating between her mouth and the floor. It’s probably close to an hour a day, more on some days.

I was totally unprepared for how funny she’d become. The simplest things are really, really funny when she does them. Have you ever seen an 11-month old shake her head “no”? Because it’s seriously hilarious. Especially if said 11-month old has hair that looks a lot like Justin Bieber’s.

I was totally unprepared for how I’d want to be with her all the time. The hardest part of being a working mom for me is that I miss her. All the time. I love spending time with her and if I could figure out a way to permanently strap her to my side and never let anyone else hold her, I would probably do it.

I know that the next year of parenting adventures will only bring more surprises, though I’m sure that at some point shaking her head “no” will become a lot less funny.


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Down on the Farm

Why not extend your child's learning from books with real experiences?Bryce has recently become really fascinated with a book we have that is all about farms and the animals that live there. It has become one of those books that we have to read every day, often over and over and over again. He loves to go from page to page, pointing at the animals while we tell him the name, often followed by the appropriate animal sound. When we started getting some nice weather, I knew just what we needed to do: take his learning one step further by visiting an actual farm!

You could see the wonder in his eyes as we approached the animals from his book. Bigger than him, yet looking so much like the tiny pictures. We talked about the animals and he instantly made the connections to their sounds. We talked about all of the things we saw around the farm that we had read about in the book. Although much of his language is still hard to understand, we could definitely tell that he recognized the things he saw. He pointed and smiled and babbled and talked.

Now that we have visited the farm, the book is even more popular. Whenever he gets it out we talk about all of the fun we had at the farm and how we saw so many things from his book. It truly is something delightful to see your child learning – to see that “light bulb” come on. Books are great, but experiencing the real thing is truly magical. Children’s books are especially great for making those real life connections, so I encourage you to get out there and do it!


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I’m a Mother First

I'm a mother first. Even if sometimes it doesn't look like it.“I’m a mother first.”

I heard this recently from a high-powered executive, a woman who has accomplished great things. She wanted to be clear about the fact that above all else, she is a mom. I want that to be how people see me, too. I want my son to know that regardless of whatever else was going on in our lives, he has always been my top priority.

But I’m not sure that’s how he’ll remember things.

The other day when Ev and I were sitting at the kitchen table finishing up a snack, I asked him if he wanted to play in his room with me. His response was startling.

“Yes, but will you please not bring your phone?”

Hashtag parenting fail.

I was stunned and for a moment, at a loss for words. Luckily, I was able to contain my remorseful tears. And after the world started turning again, I said, “Did you say that because you don’t want me to be on it while we are playing together?” To which he of course said, “Yes.”

I feel the need to defend myself a little and say that I am not typically on my phone a lot when we are together. Because I am a working mom, our time together always feels limited and I try hard to make the most of it. That being said, sometimes Ev doesn’t have my undivided attention. Sometimes, Ev gets clingy. He doesn’t want to be in a room without my husband or me and can’t seem to engage in independent play. When that happens for an extended period of time, ever since he was a baby, I can take him to his room, shut the door and let him at it. With me in the room, he’ll play for hours. And up until now, he would do so alone while I was on my phone or iPad. It provided a break for me and he was content.

I do feel guilty that Ev asked me to leave my phone and quite frankly, embarrassed that my preschooler straight called me out. But it was a wake-up call I needed. I realize now that I need to be clearer about whether it’s time for us to play together or time for him to play by himself. And when it’s time for us to play together, he’ll get my undivided attention. I’ll still get my time for me, time for “breaks,” but it won’t coincide with time with Ev. While that me-time is necessary for me to energize and be a good mom, I never want Ev to feel that he isn’t always my first priority.

I’m a mother first.


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All or Nothing Parenting

I'm not an all or nothing parent. And I don't want to be.

They’re both rear-facing. I already feel guilty about having to turn Miss E around eventually, given she’ll probably be seven years old before she weighs 40 pounds.

I recently checked out a book from the library about instituting Montessori practices at home for children from birth to age three. Miss E goes to a Montessori school, and we love it. I thought it might be nice to do some things with the Montessori philosophy for Little Sister, so after a bit of reading online I set up an infant space in our living room and it was actually a lot of fun. I only used materials we already had in our house, and Little Sister loved rolling around next to the mirror straightway. I thought the book would be a way to keep this low-key, child-driven approach going strong.

I was wrong.

The thing about contemporary parenting philosophies or teaching philosophies, at least as I’ve found them, is that everything feels all or nothing. The minute I cracked open this book and read about all of the things I hadn’t done when Little Sister was two and three and four months old, I felt defeated, sure there was no way to correct the irreparable harm I’d unwittingly done to my now-six-month-old baby by letting her mouth plastic toys or take the occasional nap in her car seat. So, why bother?

Friends and I have complained about this in regards to lots of things. It feels like if you can’t buy in completely, you might as well just adopt your child out to a pack of wolves. Because you’ve failed.

If you’re a babywearing mama, you’d better really go for it: soft-structured carriers worn for trips to the zoo or the grocery aren’t cutting it. Invest in a boutique wrap and master a back carry that lets you wear baby all day long. Are you breastfeeding? Nurse on demand, give up coffee and chocolate, never offer a pacifier or a bottle, and resign yourself to co-sleeping. Cloth diapering? Don’t you dare slap a disposable on that baby’s bottom, even during the problematic transition to solids. And if you’re going to buy organic strawberries for your toddler to munch, you’d really better dip into their college fund to buy organic everything.

But here’s the thing. It’s not possible for me to parent this way, no matter what beauteous images of complete parenthood the internet produces. Sometimes Little Sister will have to settle for a squeaky plastic teether rather than a sustainably-harvested and hand-crafted wooden rattle (seriously, she’ll have to settle for this forever, because, no). Sometimes her daddy or  I will stand her up on her legs because of the great big smile she gets when we do, even if she spends the rest of her time on her belly or her back, free to explore. Sometimes Miss E will eat white rice and bread for dinner because I’m too tired to fight with her. Sometimes the television will be on when my children are awake, or I’ll drive them both around in the car for an hour to get them to sleep, or we’ll get to bed too late for stories or bribe with candy or forget to do any of the positive, respectful, empowering things we intended to do with our children.

The reality is that no matter what I choose to do, or how inconsistent my ability to follow through, I believe my girls will benefit from a mother that really thinks about how I can do best by them.

And only sometimes totally screws it up.


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No Such Thing as Too Much Love

When you disagree with friends and family, remember: what matters is how your child is loved.I had a conversation with my sister-in-law recently where I said some things that made me feel like a real jerk.

To be fair, I texted them, but still.

She’d asked for some measurements for something she was having made for Miss E, and I’d obliged until she asked for her head measurement. The first thing I imagined was a tiara, because they’re all too often seen adorning the brows of under-fives, especially, and almost exclusively, if they’re girls. Not only is Miss E not into princesses, I’m eager to protect her interests and her exposure to a culture that can, for some girls, be quite toxic.

While I had no idea what my sister-in-law had in mind, I fired back,

“Sure, if you promise it isn’t for a tiara.”

As soon as I sent it I thought that I probably shouldn’t have. Not only do I feel like it’s a fruitless endeavor to tell other people what they can give to my children, it’s also just not my call. I try to be very vocal about how we are choosing to parent, and while I always hope that our wishes will be taken into consideration when gifts are given or conversations with our daughters are had, I can’t control everything. And I don’t want to.

Still, every once in awhile, when a situation like this one arises, I push back. I can’t help it. Standing between Miss E and an endless stream of marketing attempting to aggressively shape her childhood into something we have to buy is exhausting. Not to mention something that I feel has the power to do real damage.

But it wasn’t for a tiara. And my assumption was hurtful.

We traded several more texts, me trying to explain myself, my sister-in-law feeling rightfully defensive. Ultimately, she said something that reshaped the entire conversation.

“I just have to remember that she is your child and not mine. I should have asked first.”

Miss E has been to the museum with her auntie, the aquarium, has spent the night with her and gobbled pancakes and had dance parties. My sister-in-law has brought out all of her childhood toys for Miss E to enjoy, some of which had been mint in their boxes since the eighties. She is so ardently loved and loves in return.

And that’s really what this is about. Yes, she’s my child. But I am far from the only person who loves her. Before she was born I always said that a child could never be loved enough, that even if I disagreed with how family or close friends spoke about her or chose to interact with her, what mattered about those interactions was that they were grounded in love. It is absolutely my job to protect her, but not from affection.

Even if it might be covered in glitter.


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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Measles?

I’m a pretty relaxed parent. Seriously. I don’t worry much about most things. I want Elliot to be safe, but I don’t wash off her pacifier when it falls on the ground. If most of the dog hair gets wiped off on my pants, that’s good enough. We tend to do our homework about things, make an informed decision and then try not to worry too much. She’s not crawling yet but other babies are? Oh, well – she’ll get there. She is in a low percentile on the growth charts? Oh, well – she eats like a horse so she’s probably just petite.

But there is one particular thing that I do worry about. And honestly, worry isn’t a strong enough word. There is one thing that makes me really, really afraid. I’m afraid that my daughter could get the measles.

We chose to vaccinate our daughter for many reasons. To us, the science is clear. We trust the CDC and our daughter’s pediatrician. When I saw that there was an outbreak of the measles at Disneyland, I was worried about all of the children that had been exposed and sad that many of the children who got sick were “infants too young to be vaccinated.” What I didn’t immediately realize was that my daughter is an infant too young to be vaccinated.

For the first year of life, babies have to depend on “herd immunity,” which means that they are dependent on everybody else around them being vaccinated.

Measles is incredibly contagious, so much so that if we were in a waiting room with a child who had it, she would most likely get sick. So much so that if a baby in her child care classroom got sick, she would most likely get sick. Children who are too young to be vaccinated have a 90 percent chance of getting sick if they are exposed to measles. And that makes me very, very afraid. As of 2000, measles had been declared eliminated, but now it’s literally raging back. Which means babies too young to be vaccinated—like my daughter—are at risk, just like kids who couldn’t be vaccinated because of health reasons, or kids whose parents refused vaccinations.

So, why is it a big deal if measles is spreading? This outbreak is predicted to continue to grow and to be worse than the Ebola outbreak. Potential consequences from measles are real and they are scary, ranging from blindness to pneumonia to brain swelling to death.

I support parents being able to make choices about what’s best for their children in almost every circumstance. You might choose a different school than we would, or have a later bedtime or decide that you are introducing foods in a different way. We have so many friends and family members who have made parenting decisions that we never, ever would, but I would defend to the death their right to make those decisions. Until those decisions impact my daughter’s health or safety.

Until my daughter is fully vaccinated, we won’t be taking her on an airplane. We’ll ask questions at her child care center. Because I’m afraid of the measles.


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I’m a Mean Mom

Sleep deprivation means saying and doing things you're not proud of.I’m a mean mom.

No, really.

Just the other morning, Miss E woke an hour early. For a sane and whole person this would be an irritation only, but I am neither of those things right now. She’d fought bedtime for close to two hours the night before, and I’d stayed up too late, snagging a grand total of about five hours of sleep between Little Sister’s night wakings.

I went into her room and told her gently that it was still time for sleep and she needed to stay in bed, closing the door quietly behind me as I left. I took two steps back toward my warm bed.

Miss E began screaming, waking the baby I’d just managed to re-settle, who seemed to decide it was a good idea to start screaming, too. I felt crazed, desperate. I threw open the door, which Miss E had leapt out of bed to pound on, demanding to be let out.

“Fine. We’re up,” I said hotly. “But I’m not cooking you anything. And I’m not playing with you.”

I feel shameful admitting I said it, and more shameful still that I didn’t feel bad about it right away. It took me a good twenty minutes and half a cup of coffee before I got down on my knees to give Miss E a hug and apologize for being unkind. I told her that I was very tired and that I hadn’t meant it, asking her if she wanted to do a puzzle or bring in some snow from the yard to scoop into mixing bowls.

But that didn’t make it okay.

When I was in high school my brother and I used to get ready for school as absolutely quietly as we could because we didn’t want to wake my mom up and risk her ire. Don’t get me wrong – I love her, but in the morning, she could be a real bear. If my brother opened and closed the bathroom cabinet too loudly getting a towel, I’d glare at him, just hoping she hadn’t heard. If we were unlucky enough to drop a bottle of shampoo in the shower or trip over something in the hallway outside her room, she’d come storming out and we’d eye the clock, wondering when we could get away with going down early to wait for the bus.

I inherited my mom’s temper and my dad’s, too, and I really work to keep them in check. But I’d forgotten how much harder it is to do so when you don’t sleep.

Ever.

Little Sister doesn’t sleep through the night and at five months old, I don’t expect her to. We’re up a few times each night to nurse or recover lost pacifiers, and most nights I don’t get to bed until midnight (or later) because I’m doing what most parents do: cramming as much adult activity into the brief hours between baby’s bedtime and their own. Housework, writing, spending time with my husband.

Months into this rough-but-necessary routine, I feel pretty helpless. I lose my temper. I say things I’m not proud of. I take some comfort in the knowledge that I know that it gets better. Little Sister is my second baby. I know that someday she’ll sleep and I will, too.

I’m also comforted that Miss E returned my hug, and vigorously, the morning I was not-so-nice. And a few mornings later, when she was up at her usual time, I opened my arms to her and she said,

“I missed you.”

She gave me a good squeeze before she spoke again.

“Can you get a waffle for me to eat?”

I’d even have toasted it for her, if she would’ve let me.

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