Put a Bib on It


Breastfeeding With an Audience

breastfeeding with an audienceThere is nothing quite like having a conversation about breastfeeding with an 8-year-old.

I’d just picked up Little Sister from her family child care provider. The daughter of one of her neighbors was playing outside and began asking me questions as I walked to my car. What was my name? What was my baby’s name? How old was she?

I was happy to oblige. Little Sister, not so much. While she’ll happily eat Cheerios and pears and peas, she largely refuses to drink milk from a bottle or cup. Consequently, I can’t get her settled for the drive home until she nurses.

As she fussed and tugged at my blouse, I explained to the girl that she was hungry and I needed to feed her.

“So she’s going to suck, like, right there?”

She pulled a sort of silly face and gestured with her hand at her own chest.

“She is,” I replied, trying not to make a big deal of it. If you’re a kid and you’ve never seen somebody nurse a baby before, it can seem pretty strange. I still think it’s odd sometimes, and this is my second baby.

But it was her next question that really made me smile.

“Was she born like that?”

“Yes. All babies can drink milk from their mama’s bodies or from a bottle. Some mamas choose to breastfeed and some choose to use a bottle.”

The nuances of supply and latch and the myriad other complications and considerations in that choice seemed like too much to get into, especially as there was nothing for it but to take a seat in my car and nurse Little Sister with an audience. I don’t typically like to regard her meals as teaching opportunities, but I do feel strongly that normalizing breastfeeding is important. It seems like most depictions of breastfeeding in broader culture are usually for shock value: problematic depictions of extended breastfeeding in Game of Thrones come to mind. It’s become normal for me, but this girl had no idea how it worked and was pretty obviously curious in a way only children can be. Even if I was a bit reluctant and embarrassed, I certainly wasn’t going to show it.

Because feeding my baby is nothing to be embarrassed about.

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A Cake Is Just a Cake

Happy-Birthday-EAt a recent doctor’s visit, the pediatrician asked Miss E how old she was going to be at her next birthday, and she explained that she’d just turned three.

“Was Elsa on your cake?”

The doctor’s tone was kind, but Miss E merely gave her a blank stare.

“Or Anna? Who was on your cake this year?”

Miss E looked at me for clarification, and I gently steered the question into more familiar territory.

“What kind of cake did you want for your birthday?”

Given when I’d asked her what she wanted for her birthday the nature of her cake had been her only response, this was an easy one.

“Chocolate cake. With sprinkles.”

The pediatrician smiled and continued with her examination, and I reflected on the brief exchange. Elsa and Anna are not fixtures in my house. This is a tremendous relief, and not just because I found the movie monumentally irritating. There’s not a Disney princess in sight in our house, and not much talk of them, either. While she’s just recently started to recognize Elsa thanks to attending preschool, I feel relatively confident she couldn’t pick Belle or Ariel or Aurora out of a lineup.

Who could she name if not the princesses? Han Solo. Princess Leia. R2-D2. Batgirl. Supergirl. Wonder Woman. The fact that these characters are increasingly beloved to her despite having very little exposure beyond thrifted t-shirts and my old action figures makes me think all the more that we really have some measure of control over what’s being fed into her brain. She loves what my husband and I love, what we choose to share with her, and that can be a lot of fun for us.

So while she wants to be Batgirl for Halloween this year and I think that’s pretty cool, ultimately I really just want her childhood to be about being a child, her play to just be play, her cakes to be cakes. I don’t want to buy all of the stuff and contend with all of the media exposure, because so far not doing those things has been really positive for us and for the way we choose to parent. I often joke that I want to give my girls an 80s childhood, which seems a whole lot less complicated than a 2010s childhood, more about getting messy and real and unplugged. More about just being a kid, and not being a character.

Maybe it’s just Miss E’s temperament and I’m in for a whole new world with Little Sister, but I just don’t know. Either way, I’m not going to be inviting Disney into our lives for awhile yet, if I can help it—and when I do, it will be something I won’t mind watching a thousand times, like Kiki’s Delivery Service.

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Never Underestimate a Baby

never underestimate a babyI have this irrational fear that Little Sister is going to be loved the least.

Not that she won’t be loved, mind, but that she won’t be loved quite as much as her big sister.

It’s pretty challenging to outshine a walking cartoon, which is what Miss E is daily becoming. The conversations she has with herself make grown, stoic folk giggle. She dresses herself, so, no explanation required there. Miss E is just so intensely involved with the world and present in a way that a pensive, crawling girl sometimes gets a little sidelined.

In a recent conversation with my husband, we were talking about how much we love Little Sister, but also how different it is with a second child, another baby. My husband said we have “history” with Miss E, and it’s true. We’ve shared our lives with her in a way we haven’t yet with Little Sister, or are only just beginning to. I can see now that we weren’t complete without her, but it’s also such a strange dynamic, having experienced things in a big way with Miss E, to slow down and remember that life with a baby is a whole lot different.

I never thought it was strange that Miss E couldn’t talk when she was a baby, or feeling like she was perhaps missing out because of all of the things she couldn’t do yet. But sometimes I look at Little Sister, yammering around a mouthful of Cheerios or stubbornly scooting around the house after me and I think, it’s like she’s locked in. There’s stuff she wants to tell me and can’t. There’s things she wants to do and can’t. And because I’ve seen now what babies grow up to be and do, I have complicated feelings for her. Honestly, I feel a little sorry for her, which is just silly.

Because there’s another thing my husband said that truly resonates with me, and grounds me again in appreciating babies for who they are and what they CAN do: she’s experiencing the whole world, every little thing, for the first time. I loved observing that process with Miss E and I relish getting to see it all over again with Little Sister, too.

And she’s just as loved, likely more loved, because having done this before, I know now just how much I’ll miss this age, and all of the joys I have to look forward to.

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Real vs. Ideal

real vs idealChildhood is messy.

It seems like that really ought to be a given, but the lovingly curated play rooms of Pinterest, with their mint chevron accents, and the merry, candid family photographs complete with color-coordinated sibling ensembles insist otherwise. Just Google “nursery” and prepare to experience the parenting fail. You know the sorts of images I mean. While they can be really quite fun to deconstruct, they also dominate the cultural picture of contemporary childhood. With these pristine images in mind, it can be hard to reconcile oneself to the cat hair stuck to the baby’s watermelon dribbled chin, her romper dingy from scooting around on a floor you can’t remember mopping this month.

I try to be realistic about my mothering, but I’m also seriously enamored of the lovely, playful, ever-elusive aesthetic that seems like it should be attainable – admittedly with an unlimited budget and very few children around to muck it up. It’s just pretty. I arrange wooden toys for my girls to knock down. My husband and I built an a-frame tent that regularly collapses from too much rough play. Miss E could find a way to messily consume a bowl of dry cereal, let alone the ears to toes festival that is spaghetti and meatballs. I’m lucky if I brush her long hair in the morning, let alone sweep it artfully up with a bow that matches her dress… and her sister’s, too.

I have to learn not only to give in to the mess, but the kitsch, the chaos, the ugly stuff of childhood. Miss E dresses herself and is every bit the ragamuffin I was as a girl; a thin layer of grime persists on her hands, face, and clothes no matter how frequently I wipe her down. Some days she prefers a BPA-laden plastic trinket from the dollar store to her Waldorf-aspiring doll collection. Little Sister pukes her way through three outfits a day and is still inexplicably damp when we’re about to show ourselves in public. No amount of vacuuming – let alone what I’m willing to do – can keep their bedroom rugs from boasting glitter, lint, and icky tangles of shed hair.

I’m challenging myself to love these images of childhood, too, because they’re not an ideal. They’re real. They bear the indelible marks of play, of zeal, of little lives lived fully.

Besides, I’ll take a (chocolate) mint chevron smeared on a chubby, flushed cheek any day.


Better Together

There's a silver lining to being apart from my children, and it's that I'm reminded how golden our hours together have the potential to be.

There’s a silver lining to being apart from my children, and it’s that I’m reminded how golden our hours together have the potential to be.

Working four days a week is an adjustment for everyone, and if Miss E’s request that I “stay, stay” at bedtime and Little Sister’s manic-excitement kicks and hand flaps when I return in the afternoon are any indication, I’m not the only one who’s missing something fierce. It’s tough and likely only to get tougher when Miss E returns to a preschool program in a few weeks and Little Sister is settled into a family child care home.

But the time we do spend together, it’s sweeter and better for our parting.

I’m home in the afternoons with plenty of time to jump around in the sunroom singing “Walking, Walking,” to tickle Little Sister repeatedly from toes to ears, to admire the day’s many drawings of ghosties and Miss E’s attempts to write her name; I’m also home with patience enough for requests to help make dinner and cries to nurse every half an hour.

As much as I love my sleep, there’s a part of me that wishes my girls were (a little bit) earlier risers, so we’d have more time for snuggles and stories in the morning before I have to go. Still, Miss E climbs down the stairs at long last and leaps at me, and I carry Little Sister through as much of my morning routine as I can.

On our most recent day home together, Miss E helped me to hang the diapers to dry and to sort her clean laundry, and we three worked together on the very important task of tower building and wanton destroying. While Little Sister napped, Miss E and I decided what to make for lunch and played a matching game. And then she had some quiet time, too, and while I caught up on work, I wondered over what a fine day it was. Sure, there’d been a hug that got a little too aggressive and the usual tug-of-war over the inconsequential that just comes of living with a nearly-three year old, but I felt less frazzled, less quick to anger, more willing to accept what could be done in the moment and move on. I was just happy to be with them, and that felt good. Really good.

There’s a silver lining to being apart from my children, and it’s that I’m reminded how golden our hours together have the potential to be.


I Didn’t Choose Work

I’ve read a lot of great blogs out there about working moms—including some right here—and as I am reflecting on one last week of being (mostly) at home with my girls, I’m thinking a lot about the empowering, positive messages shared by mothers who work outside of the home. How they’re better mothers because they work. How they’re setting an example for their young sons and daughters about all of the things a mother can do. How they’re using their whole brains, and not just the part that repeats something about washing your hands after you potty. How grateful they are to have the privilege to choose to work, as many mothers in previous generations did not.

But for me, this is what it really comes down to: if you can afford to choose, you choose.

If you can’t afford to choose, you don’t have a choice.

It’s about money. Paying the bills, buying the things, saving for retirement.

And how am I supposed to feel about myself, about my parenting, if that’s what it’s really about?

Admitting that I don’t want to go back to work feels like a most unpopular opinion. I should want to use my degrees. I should want to contribute in a more significant way financially to my family. I should want to have the money to buy Jamberry without feeling guilty. Flippant comments aside, I should want, as a feminist, to do more than mother. Wanting to stay at home feels indulgent, even though I know it’s incredibly hard work. Wanting to stay at home feels like I’m saying wanting something else isn’t okay, which is not at all how I feel. A friend of mine often sincerely quotes Amy Poehler when she says of others’ choices, “Good for her, not for me.”

And that’s the truth.

I’ll be working for a non-profit, doing good. I’ll be writing and editing and many of the things that I love to do. I’ll have a flexible schedule that allows me more time with my children than many working parents get during the week. These were choices I made about the kind of job I was willing to take, but the real choice, the big choice, about returning to the workforce in a more significant way—that one was made for me.


Boys and Girls

I guess if we 'd had boys I'd have to throw out our play kitchen.

I guess if we ‘d had boys I’d have to throw out our play kitchen.

I was waiting in line to check out at Target when I spied the couple in front of me buying a bath toy we’ve loved for years, and said as much.

“Our baby isn’t even born yet, but we couldn’t resist,” the mom-to-be confessed, and I smiled, because I knew exactly what she meant. Playing with toys again is a chief pleasure of parenthood.

“My daughter’s been playing with it since she was able to sit up in the tub, so it’s a good investment.”

At this she turned to her husband, saying, “See? Her daughter loves it. We don’t know what we’re having yet and he thought that if it’s a girl, she won’t be able to play with it.”

The toy in question?

A boat.

Just a boat, with a boat captain and fish and a little fishing pole.

So-called boys’ toys and girls’ toys send me flying off the handle on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of my husband, who has heard it all before. But, I did not lose my temper with the soon-to-be dad, nor the expectant mother when she went on to say that maybe they’d have a girl who would be a “tomboy,” thus making the boat an appropriate choice. All I could think was, what is inherently gendered about a boat? And what would be the “girl” equivalent? A tea set? Why is this even a thing?

I don’t blame parents. I remember in college we talked about how difficult it can be to see the limitations of the system you’re living in because you’re living in it, and it feels natural and normal and routine. And our system right now, our culture, has a serious thing about defining  what’s for girls and what’s for boys, to the extent that we are determining the parameters of children’s environments before they’re even born, and then insisting that they like the things they like because they’re a girl or because they’re a boy. And I just don’t buy it, not with the amount of work I see reinforcing a world that I’m pretty sure is designed to sell me – and you – more stuff.

Because that world? We decide what goes into it. We reinforce it when we indicate certain behaviors are acceptable for boys and others for girls, when we choose a particular toy of a particular color, when we read stories and watch television and talk about children and to children and around children. When well-intentioned strangers ask me how we’ll manage paying for two weddings in our girls’ futures, I want to scream, “Do you ask parents of boys the same thing?” Every time someone calls my toddler princess. Every time it’s assumed she wants the pink balloon, or the pink crayon, or the pink chair. When she’s feeling shy and that’s deemed okay because she’s a little lady, and conversely, when she’s being a total brute on the playground and her behavior isn’t given a pass because only “boys will be boys.”

Kids will be kids.

Toys are toys.

Enough, enough, enough.