Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Creepiness of Motherhood

In the dead of night, it often occurs to me that what I’m often doing is pretty creepy. I’m usually bent over my toddler’s crib at a painful angle or watching her eyes in the darkness with laser-like focus to see if she’s really asleep. Sometimes I’m stealing away from her bed like a ninja or a panther, a panther ninja. There was even a few bad nights where I crawled out on my hands and knees. Much more panther-like. If I’m holding her, there’s a lot of swaying and pacing.

My point is, if any of these things WERE done by ghosts, it would be so freaky.

Out during the day, I feel like I have to employ stalker skills at the playground when I want my kid to feel like she’s running around being free but at the same time making sure she doesn’t do anything uncommonly dangerous or get kidnapped by the random drug users who like to frequent our parks (we welcome them but inform them quite clearly that Playgrounds are NOT for disposing used needles, in case they were unsure). I also have incorporated into my day all sorts of details about her likes and dislikes, habits and avoidances that if I knew that much about another person, it would be a bit weird and if I lived out my life to accomodate those things, it would be certifiable.

My EXPEDIT rolls two deep


I think this picture embodies what is wrong about modern shelf decor. Sure, it looks gorgeous. It looks pleasant and organized. It has coordinated colors. But where are all the books? It’s a bookshelf! There are more vases than books on it. It’s a vaseshelf. Is this all the books these catalog-dwellers own? They must be very involved in their jobs/hobbies/kindles.

My EXPEDIT (www.ikea.com) is groaning under the weight of every cube filled, some with two layers, and on the very top, a row of cookbooks held up with bookends and more cookbooks.

So many books! You can never have too many, right? Our book collection is the sum of my husband’s fascination with Russia, Canada, philosophy, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov, and Proust and my obsession with books about commodities, horse-racing, epidemic disease, and the works of Milan Kundera, Anita Shreve, Ha Jin, along with both of our inability to get rid of classics, art books, and literary criticism.

I have moved this collection personally once, packed it three times, and attempted to curtail its growth many times. I had movers complain about the number of boxes marked “books” (also subcategorized, if you must know, alphabetically for fiction or topic for non-fiction) like I was trying to kill them with my book-hoarding. It’s not SO bad. It was like 50, 2-cubic-foot boxes the last move. Sure, it’s a lot, but I know people with more. I guess they have houses. And don’t move very often. Sigh.

What troubles me, is that there is a little third person in this apartment who is pulling in the books at an alarming pace, not met by either of her parent’s acquisitions or offset by their willingness to part with “History of Ukraine.” And her books take up ridiculous amounts of space on her very own EXPEDIT, since many of them are made of cardboard and only have one line of text per page. Ridiculous.

She’s already two-deep in one cube. The madness is apparently genetic.

Birthdays

So it was my birthday last weekend. Don’t worry if you didn’t send a card. I’m old enough that I don’t really care about that anymore. I just would like my husband to buy me a present (check!) and to eat whatever I want (check!). I did forget to pre-order for a healthy child though…

My daughter woke up on my birthday with a huge fever and no desire to do anything but sleep, nurse, whine, and cling to me. It was about 92 F outside and the humidity of a jungle. We left the apartment to find air-conditioning at the bookstore downtown, but all my kid wanted to do was sleep on my shoulder. There was a lot of walking around inside while she slept. She was better the next day, so I suspect she had way too much sun/not enough water the day before when we were outside at two different picnics.

I remember really liking my birthday. I don’t know when that ended. Sometime in my mid-twenties? I think I turned 26 and was thinking “okay, I can stop now.” But then 27 showed up, then 28… Then, you just try to turn 30 without weeping. I was pregnant and very distracted with moving/baby showering/partying/going to cool things like a Lady Gaga concert. It’s probably the best way to turn 30, if you ask me. You almost don’t even notice! But since then, birthdays are just a yearly reminder that I’m not accomplishing very much, that the clock is ticking, that I’m probably going to need that botox sooner rather than later.

As much as I’m growing to dread my own birthday, I have this cute little girl whose birthday I love and is conveniently about 6 weeks after my own. Her party last year was fabulous, all miniature foods and drinks, little black dresses, and cocktails. Yes, I had a cocktail party for my 1 year old. No, she did not drink any of them. Calm down.

Her second birthday party is set to be pretty awesome. I can’t wait! I have a lot to do before then, especially the week before, but I’m excited. She will be so much more aware of the festivities this year, that will be nice. The party is mostly planned out in my head, it’s all execution at this point. I have a pinterest board… my husband some would say I go too far, but I do routinely stop myself from trying to pretty interesting things, so I DO have some sense of proportion. I have, this year, decided against adding turrets to the top of my mother’s house (venue) to make it look more like Churchill Downs. You know, things like that.

There is of course the cake. I am no cake maker, I have no formal pastry experience, but I do like a baking challenge. I am going to try to make a cool layer cake with buttercream frosting. I have tested a few recipes and have yet to settle on one. You only get one Second Birthday cake, so you know it has to be perfect. My daughter hasn’t yet determined what HER cake flavor is. Mine is carrot cake, not because carrot cake is my favorite, though I do like it. It’s carrot because when I was a kid, that’s what I had a few times and so I just asked for it every year after that. I had no idea that carrot cake and thus cream cheese frosting was really hard to assemble in the high heat of summer. My mom’s friend and neighbor usually made my cake in the walk-in cooler at her work. Someone should have told me; I would have been fine with chocolate! But that’s what happened, and now my birthday cake is carrot.

Someday my kid will have her own flavor, even though I would like not to have aged in the meantime, I can’t wait to find out what it is. I’m hoping for chocolate raspberry.

The End of Parenting?

There have been a steady stream of articles and studies published lately about how the current generations of parents have somehow lost the ability to parent effectively, spoiled their kids too much, not found the balance they need, can’t have it all, given up their identities to their children, and other damning conclusions.

“Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost,” by Elizabeth Kolbert for the New Yorker
“Mother Madness: How motherhood became such a prison for modern women,” by Erica Jong for The Wall Street Journal
“The Man who Remade Motherhood,” by Kate Pickert for Time’s “Are You Mom Enough?” Issue
“How to Land Your Kid in Therapy: Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods,” by Lori Gottlieb for The Atlantic
“Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest” by Sally Koslow (Viking).
“Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” by Ann-Marie Slaughter for The Atlantic
“With Grown Children, What am I Besides ‘Mom’?” by Risa Doherty for the Motherlode blog at The New York Times

My sleep-deprived brain is starting to synthesize something from all of these topics. I had written a very long and rambling post about the debate between “motherhood is a prison” and “you can never do enough for your children” approaches to parenting. I had started mixing in issues of work-home balance, childhood happiness versus adult happiness, modern attitudes changing vis a vis parenting and childhood… It was becoming a beast of a post.

Rather than trying to take on the hydra that is these topics, embodied by the articles above, head by head, I’d like to start hacking away at what I feel is the neck where all the heads meet. Or hopefully where several of them meet, anyway.

As part of the current group of parents that many of these writers address, I can’t help but be slightly offended when so many suggest that I have it all wrong, that I’ve lost sight of the right way to make my kid successful, self-sufficient, happy, and furthermore how to do so without losing my mind in the process. So many parents are just trying to get by, like they have for all time, with what they’ve got, in the world that they find themselves, all the while trying to keep their eyes and ears open for better ways. So before we get all blame-assigning, it is important to remember that one thing that unites virtually ALL parents is that they want their kids to be happy and have great lives.

The suggestion that modern parenting has become lazier, sloppier, more rushed, way too happiness-driven, or somehow lacking compared to historical parenting, French parenting, parenting of subsistance farmers in the Amazon, is a bit short-sighted. There are several reasons why we don’t want to hold up one particular type of parent as the model for all, why we always hedge when any expert tells us “just follow this example and you’ll be all set.” Imagine for a moment that we raised our children to the standards of the affluent families in the late 19th-century England. Our children may behave very well, they may be able to recite long poems, and they may keep their clothes clean, but they won’t know how to do very many survival tasks (cooking, building, gardening) nor will they be able to dress themselves, talk intelligently about politics, or show far-reaching creativity with their art projects. Similarly, parents in the Matsigenka, a tribe of farmers in the Peruvian Amazon (discussed in “Spoiled Rotten”) may teach their children to be helpful with household and agrarian tasks at very young ages, but their children will not know how to use the internet, form a complex social web with many other children from a variety of backgrounds, use algebra to problem solve, or make things out of legos. And learning how to use online social networking intelligently, for instance, is very much a valuable skill–just take a look at all the careers that are centered around media use.

Much like the argument that our kids are going to have weak immune systems because we are too clean and we don’t let them get really filthy anymore, the comparison between parenting now and “then” or here and “there” only has a tenuous basis in reality. We have different strengths; sure we’ve lost our resistance to some things, but we have gained a lot too. And better to be vaccinated with the dead virus than dig up the live one outside and risk real and lasting harm? People forget how tragic history was. Kids died. All the time. The world was a very cruel and different place. Are kids more comfortable now? Sure, but isn’t that what we wanted? To protect them from harm? Get them to adulthood and we’ve at least done that much?

Parents are raising their kids in an all new context where we are simultaneously being instructed to protect them in increasing ways while being surrounded by a culture that is whittling away at childhood. On one hand, parents are taught to fear the statistically minute and terrifying what-ifs — for example, there is a merciless campaign against crib bumpers, those padded borders that surround your baby’s crib to keep them from hitting their head on the sides. If you find the central study on this subject, you will discover that there were 25 deaths associate with bumpers and their ties over 20 years. How many children then, used bumpers safely? Any death is tragic, but compared to motor vehicle statistics this seems like a waste of fear. Parents are being encouraged to worry about so many low-probability threats and yet we take the high-risk situations for granted. Getting in the car is the most dangerous thing you can do. Yes, we have better and better car seats, but most people wouldn’t think twice about speeding, checking their voicemail, or driving in bad weather with their kid in the car. We go to great lengths to protect our kids from many harmful things, as we should, but the world around us is dangerous in ways we only are starting to understand. Unless you live in a few places in the world, our kids won’t be sent to war, experience famine, or epidemic disease. But they face advertising and media that wants to herd them into a narrow view of cool, early adolescence and adulthood, foster consumerism, and tie their sense of self worth to material wealth or at least good looks. First world problems? Perhaps, but nonetheless, serious problems if what we’re worried about is the health and success of our kids vis a vis our job as parents. As a parent, I can take concrete steps to fight against illness but I can’t fight the media.

For better or for worse, our children frequently are prepared for the society they live in, regardless of our intentions as parents. You can only do so much to control your greater environment, short of removing yourself to an isolated dwelling with little interaction with the outside world. See how well that works for the Amish? Yeah, not really a great solution. Aside from geography, your contemporary influences and biases as a parent will continue to shine through your actions. No parent is an island, or something like that.

While how we parent is scrutinized, how MUCH we parent and to what expense, is also under fire. Parental absenteeism is met with disgust, yet so is over-involvement, though perhaps less so. There are constant conflicting messages. Kids are over scheduled. Kids without after-school activities get into more trouble. French kids don’t misbehave at dinner. Well, you know it’s because they expect good behavior, right? And how do they get this good behavior? By being more distant and less indulgent? You don’t say. In “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” the psychologists discuss how they meet these young adults who feel depressed because they aren’t as special as they’d been led to believe throughout their childhood. What’s the solution? Make our kids feel less special? Ignore them more? Article after article on modern motherhood preaching the dreadful concept of “balance” as if we could snap our fingers and find a way to bend the working-world to our true needs to be at home more. The favorable climate for mothers who WANT to work and spend more time at home lies at the end of a very long cultural shift involving some pretty amazing legislation and different attitudes on profitability and human resources. What are moms supposed to do right now? Telling us we’ve got it all wrong, reminding us of all the ways we are not doing enough or doing too much or we need to do everything differently is to suggest that SOMEONE has the answer or that some past generation of parents got it perfectly right.

I look around me at the parents I know. Are they doing too much in general? Maybe. Spreading themselves thin? Probably. Are they overprotecting their kids? Not really. They are doing a lot for them, they are worried about aspects of childhood that generations before didn’t have to consider. They are raising kids in a new age and trying to make the best of it. They are good parents who are trying to overcome the obstacles that they and their kids face. And they love their kids like crazy. Isn’t that the most important thing?

If I ask these parents that I know about their childhoods, if they got enough from their own parents, enough attention, enough support, enough material possessions, they almost all say they did. What they seek to improve isn’t some cushy-comfort level of their kids, but their safety, their relationship-forming-abilities, and their future opportunities in this ultra-competitive economy.

While there will always be examples of extremely over-indulgent parents, absent parents, helicopter parents, and spoiled Veruca Salts who refuse to do anything to help their families, I hesitate to conclude this is the direction we are all moving. Each of us can point to some people we’ve met and say “they are spoiling their kids, they are always working, they are correcting their kid’s every mistake” but not only is it really hard to know from the outside what the real issues are, it is also impossible to draw a direct conclusion about what this means for a child’s future. We look to these studies to help us find our way, but know that childhood is fast and research slow. In the end, it’s just you and your kids and whatever it takes.

The Overtired Monster

Nessie: A handful of sightings. Overtired Monster: Millions served. I saw it last Tuesday.

One of the most frustrating aspects of being the parent of a small child is battling the Overtired Monster (OM). You do everything you can to avoid welcoming this creature into your life, but you still wind up, one way or another, face to face with this unpredictable and annoying demon.

You try to get home for that nap or to bed on time, but things happen. Suddenly, you are on a bus or in the car and your sweet little one transforms into this beast who whines and moans, throws things, issues sudden and ridiculous demands, gets upset at the slightest provocation, screams and cries, scratches and kicks, refuses to sleep, and will not be appeased. For some reason, this monster prefers public locations. Maybe it’s afraid of what you’ll do to it without witnesses?

I think all people with babies and little kids know about the Overtired Monster. What I wanted to address today was the horrible misinformation about the OM among people who don’t have kids or haven’t had them in quite some time. You see, there seems to be the consensus out there that the OM DOESN’T EXIST or that if they do, that they really are “not so bad.” This is very troubling! I have been told things like “wow, your child really behaves like that” or “she’ll sleep when she’s tired” implying the non-existence of the OM. Also, “just let her fall asleep then” or “we need to do several things before you can put her to sleep” which mean that they do not show sufficient fear of the OM’s terrible wrath.

Since I continuously fight to banish the OM from my life, it is alarming to me that those around me could be so reckless, so cavalier, about this subject. Go ahead, go say “Overtired Monster” in the mirror three times! Let’s try to keep my kid up an extra two hours tonight! Naps? A luxury! She can nap later. I need to make all this noise while she’s sleeping.

It’s like they don’t know!!

Maybe the former parents repressed the memory like a traumatic event? Maybe the non-parents think it’s just a conspiracy like bigfoot? Well, I’m going to tell you that the Overtired Monster is real. And fierce. I might not survive. So, do everyone with little kids and babies a favor and learn to fear the OM like we do. The life you save may be your own.