Friday, February 22, 2013

Can We Please Give the Mommies a Break?

Even Daleks approve of baby-wearing.

When Squid was about 10 months old, I took her into a convenience store to grab a drink and a snack. At the time, she wasn't walking, so she would still allow me to wear her in a sling. The cashier oohed and aahed over my adorable baby girl and complimented me on baby-wearing. I smiled and said thank you and tried to pay for my items. But the cashier went on....

"I'll bet you breastfeed, too. All the people I know who wear their babies breastfeed for a long time."

I was a bit shocked. Not really used to having strangers ask what I do with my breasts. Not sober, at least. I stumbled a bit, then replied, "Ummm... No. We tried, but it didn't work out too well for us, so we had to switch to formula." And, once again, I believed that would be the end of the discussion. I would pay for my frickin' Powerade and be on my merry way.

The cashier had other ideas. She was appalled that I wasn't breastfeeding. Didn't I know that it was best for baby (you know, in case I missed all that at the hospital and doctor's offices)? Did I really try hard enough? You know, everyone can breastfeed if they try hard enough. Aren't I worried about the long-term consequences of not breastfeeding?

Looking back, I wish I had not been so polite. I wish I would have told the lady that it was none of her fucking business and to let me raise my child as best as I could. My only defense is that I was shocked that a complete stranger had the gall to ask me such personal questions. I clumsily answered as best as I could, paid for my stuff, and walked home and cried.

Mommies can't win. If we don't breastfeed, we're jeopardizing their health. If we breastfeed longer than society feels is appropriate, we are causing irreparable mental damage. If we wear our baby in a sling, we are spoiling her. If we put her in a stroller, we are inattentive. We receive judgment and criticism for everything we do and are quickly taught not to trust our own instincts in raising our own children.

Last year, Time ran an article about attachment parenting with a mother breastfeeding a 3-year-old on the cover and it started a major brouhaha. People on all sides suddenly had serious opinions on the issue and most were brutal. There was a lot of criticism over extended breastfeeding. Many women felt even more pressure to do things exactly right, or risk ruining their child forever.

Some women on Facebook cut through all the BS.

Greg and I practice our own modified version of attachment parenting. Squid slept in our room until she was too big for the co-sleeper. We considered letting her sleep in the bed, but Greg has sleep apnea and uses a CPAP at night. Plus, Squirmy Baby giggles every time the bed bounces. Even in her sleep.

I wore her nearly everywhere for the first year. Once she outgrew the Moby, we switched to a sling. And once she started walking.... well, Squirmy Baby won't stay in the sling for long, unless she's sleepy.

I received criticism from well-meaning people for both choices. And for picking her up every time she cried for the first several months. I was spoiling her. I was going to make her clingy. She would never learn to walk if I carried her (because babies in strollers learn so much about walking). I kept doing what I was doing because it felt right to me. I never judged those who did things differently, although I was happy to tell people why I did what I did. I even had one friend who said he and his wife would most likely get a bassinette with the next baby, since his wife had trouble sleeping with the baby in another room for the first couple of months. Co-sleeping seemed to hippy-like to him until I explained the benefits.

Now I have a very social, extremely active toddler. I like to think it's because of what I have done, but the fact is that she might have turned out this way regardless of what parenting style we chose. I think, in the end, she is generally friendly and happy because she has two parents who love her immensely and who want her to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. We do our best. We are generally flying blind. We are blessed with a variety of friends who are raising/have raised great kids using a all sorts of techniques.

And that's all any mommy or daddy can do. We do what we can. We screw up. We try to fix it. We screw up again. And at the end of the day, we hope for the best. I'm not screwing up my child because I carried her everywhere, but still fed her formula. I'm pretty sure pics like these are what's going to screw her up later on:

Mommy played The Dead Milkmen to me in utero.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Great Barbie Debate

The other day, a friend's daughter told me that she was excited that one of her friends from school was coming over to play the following day. I asked her what they were going to do, and she replied, without hesitation, "I don't know yet. I don't have any Barbies, so we can't do that."

Aaaahhh... The Barbie Dilemma. While I cannot speak for my friend regarding the reasons her daughter has no Barbie dolls, I know many parents who have not allowed them into their homes. For years, while I dreamt of having my own offspring, I also struggled with the idea of Barbie. After all, I am a feminist, and I am well-aware of all the evil Barbie has brought into the lives of impressionable young girls. I have been inundated with magazine articles and blog posts over the years, all warning that every little girl who plays with Barbie will become anorexic and obsessed with shoes. Then Mattel does something stupid on occasion, such as making a talking Barbie say, "Math class is tough!", thus proving that Barbie is the spawn of a patriarchal Satan.

I don't want my daughter to be anorexic. And I don't want her to become obsessed with material goods. She doesn't need a Malibu Mansion or a corvette or a pet tiger. And I really don't want her thinking that math class is tough. But.....

Barbie was a frickin' ASTRONAUT! Tough or not, she had to pass math courses to get her ass into space. And before that, she was a nurse! She's been a teacher, a businesswoman, a veterinarian, a paleontologist, and a photographer. She has served in all of the armed forces and she has cos-played most of the main heroines and villains of both DC and Marvel. Since the beginning, Barbie has held a career. She doesn't need useless Ken (with his limited wardrobe) to support her. It's Barbie's Malibu Dream House. She pays the mortgage. And the car payment for that 'Vette, as well.

Young girls in the early 60s often didn't see a lot of hope for their futures. They may go to college. They may have a "career". Then they would get married and settle down and raise some kids. Barbie knew no boundaries. The first astronaut Barbie came on scene EIGHTEEN YEARS before we finally put a woman in space (in the USA, at least). Barbie could be absolutely everything, and look fabulous doing so.

Yes, I know she's not proportionate. Her waist is too small and her boobs are too big. But I still think that is a bigger issue with adults than it is with the kids playing with her. I never once looked at Barbie and thought, "I wish I was tall, skinny, and blond like her." I remember thinking, "I can be a US Ambassador!" I was never one for playing house with my dolls. I have few memories of pretending to be a mommy. I do remember pretending to be a schoolteacher or a nurse or a pilot, and using my dolls as props in those scenarios. Which may be why Barbie always appealed to me. Barbie was all of those things and more, and far more portable than the multitude of boxes and stuffed animals needed to produce a passable reenactment.

Squid is too young for Barbie right now. She'd end up choking on a plastic shoe. But I will most likely allow her to have one or five. And we will have discussions on beauty and how models are not healthy. And we will also have many, many discussions about how material goods cannot bring you long-term joy. But, most importantly, we will discuss how she is capable of achieving anything she wants, regardless of societal pressures and misconceptions. She can even be a frickin' astronaut.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

As I write this blog, hubby is out running errands and Squid is sleeping. I am enjoying some Mega Stuf Oreos (really, why isn't this the standard? or, at the very least, double stuf can be the standard and the regular ones can be "light") and waiting on laundry to finish. Isn't it romantic?

Earlier, on my personal facebook page, I posted a link to this video:

I love They Might Be Giants. Have since I was a kid. And they have some pretty spectacular kids' albums out, so I can share them with the Squid.

But, you know how when you fall in love, a song you have heard a million times takes on a whole new meaning? It's as though you have been let into some secret society and now you understand the inherent mystery of those lyrics.

The first time I heard this song after Squid was born, that's how I felt. I actually cried. Well, that may have been hormones. But, I felt as though I understood more to the song than the quirky lyrics originally let on. I understood that concept of having all the air removed, because I often felt that way when I looked at her.

No, my little girl isn't always angelic. There's quite a bit of devil in her grin (she gets that from Daddy). But, she is as close to heaven as this Atheist Pagany-type is ever going to get. Happy Valentine's Day, Squid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Honesty in Parenting

I thought I'd manage to get something done with her in the playpen, but she chewed her way out

One of the Facebook pages that I follow is Moms Who Need Wine. It's a fun little group that posts humorous stuff about parenting, as well as wine reviews. None of the moms take themselves too seriously. Or so I thought. That changed the other morning when one of the moderators posted, "Do you ever have those days where you wake up and just don't feel like parenting?" And a mini-war erupted. A couple of people left the group in a huff. Some were appalled that a mommy would ever consider not mommy-ing.


As I pointed out in my comment, nobody asked who wakes up and doesn't want to be a parent. Parenting is a different thing. It involves cleaning messes and dealing with tantrums and cooking meals and entertaining a little person with the attention span of a goldfish on crack. It's tough work. I think Squid is the coolest toddler I know and I love spending time with her, but I wake up some mornings, groaning at the thought of doing all the parenting stuff. And I have a full-time job outside the home that takes me away from it all every third day.

Squid even tires out babysitters.

I mentioned in the post how I would love to have someone do all the "work" for me from time to time. They could wake up and get Squid dressed and fed while I slept in for 5 more minutes or actually enjoyed my coffee. I can't imagine these super-moms who leap out of bed EVERY SINGLE MORNING, happy to attend to all the needs of their delightful, precious angels. Who get excited about a fun-filled day of Raffi and Sesame Street and kids asking for cookies (or, in Squid's case, signing for crackers because she doesn't want to eat anything that looks healthy today). They must be overjoyed when their special little snowflake eats another crayon, not 30 seconds after you pulled one out of his or her mouth. Why the hell are they following Moms Who Need Wine anyway????

I think you missed a little spot over there.

Another follower gave a long (and slightly rambling) discourse on how none of us have ever struggled to have children and if we did, we would know what a gift it is to be a parent. First, yes. Yes, it is a gift to be a parent. One that I cherish each and every day. I have suffered losses. Squid's was not the easiest pregnancy. I ended up in the hospital with pre-eclampsia and Squid had meconium aspiration, just days before my scheduled C-section. I know, without a doubt, that I am lucky to have her in my life. 

But.... I am honest enough to know that parenting isn't glamorous. And it's not always fun. And I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a husband who is extremely involved in our child's life. He changes diapers and feeds her. He lets me sleep for a few hours after a rough 24-hour shift, taking care of Squid on his own. On the days that I work and he's off, he's on his own with our little girl.  But, he works midnights, and I am often left on my own while he sleeps during the day and is gone all night. I wouldn't trade it for anything, but I definitely deserve a glass of wine or a beer after she finally falls asleep on occasion.

And... Daddy's nose doubles as a teething toy.
Finally, I think it's sad that there is so much pressure to only emphasize the positive aspects of being a parent. How are we expected to ask for or receive help if we are supposed to keep up this charade of being perfect? Especially those of us who went through so much in order to have a child? We're made to feel like ungrateful wretches if we even dare whisper that this isn't all that it's cracked up to be. We're reminded that there are plenty of other women who would trade places with us in a heartbeat. Yes, of course they would. Who wouldn't want a sweet little girl who randomly comes up to you to give you a hug and a kiss? Who wouldn't want to watch a toddler laugh uproariously as they fall into a beanbag chair (again)? Being a parent is great. But that doesn't mean that we don't have those days where we wish someone else would take over the icky parts. That could leave more time for me to do the fun stuff, like reading books or coloring or just snuggling. Because there is never enough time for that.

They trick you by looking so sweet while they're sleeping.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

So Many Books, So Little Time...

I love to read. And I love children's books. I had a nice collection long before we even considered having a Squid. Not crappy, slap-the-cartoon-character-du-jour-on-the-cover, senseless chidren's books. I love the classics. And the ones that will one day be classics. I have multiple copies of Where The Wild Things Are.  We own books for every age group from picture board books to YA novels.

It should come as no surprise that we started a library of her own for Squid in utero. My baby shower had a storybook theme and everyone brought a children's book to add to the collection. The games had a fairy tale twist (rather than the normal "Guess How Fat Mommy Is" games).

These were the favor boxes at the shower. Aren't they cute?

Now, I realize that not everyone shares my love for children's books. But, just as I say to people who claim that they don't like books in general, "You just haven't found the right books yet!" The children's book industry is huge and caters to wonderfully diverse markets. There is literally something out there for everyone!

And, ever since geeks invented the internet and subsequently taken over the world, they have become a huge target for anyone wanting to make money. Also, getting your book published and sold has become slightly easier due to the internet (if you have the cash), and a lot of geeks are publishing the books they wanted to read as children.

So, in addition to your "normal" alphabet and counting books, we have books like these:

"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”  -C.S. Lewis

Yes, there are two Neil Gaiman books in there. Because I love Neil Gaiman and pretty much everything he does. I also have a picture book of MirrorMask, but couldn't fit in on the table I used for this.

Some of these were gifts. Some we bought ourselves. Squid mostly likes the Star Wars ABCs and the Andy Warhol Colors books. (Thanks, Carrie and Ashley!!!) She also occasionally will sit through Pride and Prejudice (it's a counting book). She doesn't yet have the patience for the others, but we're working on it. And there are many other books that we want to add to her collection (including a few other Neil Gaiman books, and the rest of the BabyLit board books. But, until then....

"According to the Dewey Decimal System, War and Peace should be right here!"

  We got her a library card. And we do our best to take her to the library and get her used to that magical world. Right now, she is far more interested in the busy beads display. But, they have monthly toddler story hours and lots of books to pull from the shelves with an exasperated mommy scurrying behind to right things before the librarian catches us.

If I can do nothing else for my child, I can at least teach her to love and appreciate the written word. She may never have shelves full of books like her mommy and daddy do. She may carry her entire digital library in her pocket (or access it from the cybernetic implant in her head). But, if she can learn to find answers, or even momentarily escape reality, I will feel like I have succeeded as a parent.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Confessions of an Embarrassed Intellectual

"Whoa! I think I can see through the wall with these things!"

First, let me tell you that this was a difficult post to write. It's hard for me to actually put into words what I think and feel on this subject. Plus, I'm sure that there are those out there who are going to read their own prejudices into it and misunderstand what I am saying. Let me say that first and foremost, I love my daughter. There is nothing in the world that would make me love her less than I do now, and I love her more and more every single day. She is my life. Every thought I have involves her.

So, now it's confession time. I sometimes worry that my daughter isn't super-duper smart. In a "high IQ" sort of way. She has her own talents and gifts, but she has been a little behind the curve on the milestones, like crawling and walking and talking. I feel guilty that it's somehow my fault. I went back to work too soon. I didn't breastfeed long enough. I didn't buy the right brain-stimulating baby toys. I feel embarrassed as I listen to other parents talk about their "advanced" children and as I answer why Squid isn't doing those things yet. Then, of course, I feel guilty because I feel embarrassed. It's a vicious cycle and I haven't figured out how to get out of it.

I feel bad because I am sure part of the issue is my geekiness. Cerebral pursuits are important to me and my spouse. We're readers. We're gamers. We were both in drama. I was a in speech and debate in high school and started out as a biology major in college. I even belonged to Mensa for a short while.

Again, don't misunderstand what I am saying. It's not that I would judge Squid for not testing off the charts or for not being labelled "gifted". I just worry that she would feel bad, knowing that mom and dad are such nerds, if she isn't. I don't want her to feel that we don't understand or couldn't understand her. I don't want her worrying about trying to prove something to us and not learning to appreciate her own unique gifts and qualities.

And I am proud of who she is already, regardless of any future test scores. I mean, have you read any of this blog? She is charismatic in a way I will never be. She already shows a talent for spatial reasoning that boggles her father and me.And she is flat-out hilarious. I laugh every day at one antic or another.

I know that her attitude is going to be completely dependent on my attitude. And I am trying to formulate a game plan that covers all possibilities. But I am totally flying blind on this. I'm taking it day by day, hoping that inspiration strikes and that I will see the golden opportunities to nudge her in the right directions. At the same time, I don't want to ever downplay my own smarts, because I NEVER want her to think that women should pretend to be dumb for society's sake. I would rather her be over-confident in her self-worth and intelligence than ever think of herself as "less than".

I really want her to understand that I don't value brains above all else. I would completely give up a bunch of IQ points if I could trade them in for social skills. Plus, there is a lot of pressure on smart people to be smart all the time and in all things. And if you aren't, you are either lazy or just not that smart. I also value hard work over natural talent, because I've learned that hard work is what gets you places. Natural talent only gets a toe in the door.

But, Squid is only 19 months old. There is so much time for her to grow into the person she will become. For now, we read to her as often as she will sit still and let us. We expose her to as many experiences as we can for her age. We pepper our praises with "You worked very hard at that!" "Wow, you were able to figure that out all by yourself!" just as often as we say "You are so smart!" We take it a day at a time and try not to obsess about what the future holds.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I have two posts outlined out on paper. Getting it here is another story. Off this week from work, and taking care of Squid is taking every bit of energy I have. I will eventually get something worth reading on here, but right now I have to chase down a toddler who is running away with a coffee cup (empty) and one of my work ties, yelling, "Bye! Bye!" I think she's late for work.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wil Shakespeare Rides Again

If you do not follow me on Facebook, you may be wondering why I have a picture of a William Shakespeare action figure atop a dinosaur. There is definitely a story behind this.

As we have predetermined, Squid is gender-blind when it comes to toys. She has some dolls that she rocks and "burps" and throws. She has blocks and balls and rubber duckies that she pits against each other in epic battles. And she has dinosaurs that she rocks and burps and pits against each other in epic battles. I often find myself wondering what is going through her mind as she plays with her toys, and I really can't wait for her to expand her vocabulary so that she might share a glimpse of her world with me.

A few weeks ago, as I was cooking dinner, I listened in on a rather strange conversation the spouse was having with Squid:

I even took the time to post a status about it!

There were comments about Shakespeare being old, but not quite a fossil, and what noises dinos and dead playwrights make (according to Squid, they all say, "RAWR!"). There were many puns that involved the juxtaposition of famous monologues and ancient taxonomy. And, of course, there were pictures:

"No, Daddy. Wil rides this one!"

Greg even fashioned a harness from a pipe-cleaner to help Wil ride his dino:

But Wil was a bit drunk and couldn't hold on for very long. You know how those writers are.

Much of the rest of our evening was filled with jokes, puns, and status updates that made our teacher friends groan. Who needs cable television when you have a toddler, some plastic dinosaurs, and a William Shakespeare action figure? Right?

It was a great laugh, but soon forgotten as we found other things to explore and destroy. Or so we thought....

I had to take Squid with me to a meeting last week and I told her that she could bring a couple of toys to entertain herself with. I put out her WonderWoman car, a teddy bear, Spiderman, and her dinos. She picked up one of the dinosaurs (the reddish, raptor-y, stegosaurus-type one), turned it this way and that, inspecting it closely. Then she dropped it and raced out of the room on a mission. Curious, I peeked around the corner to see what the deal was. She came trotting back to the living room, carrying William Shakespeare, Action Hero. She grabbed his faithful steed and was ready to go!

May her high school English teacher forgive me.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The New and (and Not Very) Improved Shame Culture

I'm little concerned with a trend I have been seeing on Facebook and other social media sites. The public humiliation of teens by their own parents as a form of punishment. Apparently, this practice has its own name... Cyber-discipline. And we know that once something gets its own internet name, there's no going back.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that shame can be a very positive motivator for teens. And I am not naive enough to think that I won't ever resort to anything similar with the Squid. I have no idea what the future holds or what I may have to resort to in order to keep her in line. But, in a day and age when we are trying so hard to teach kids about bullying, especially in cyberspace, it seems cruel that parents are being some of the biggest bullies.

Most instances of cyber-discipline involve the kids holding signs outlining their transgressive behavior, or videos showing what the punishment for their misdeeds is. Many are somewhat humorous. Many quickly go viral. They often also show a grinning parent on the sidelines, happy in their personal knowledge that they are being creative with their punishment. Some of these parents, in interviews later, have said that they may have rethought their actions had they known how popular the posts would become.

And that's part of the problem. How can you tell your kid to be careful about what she or he posts to the internet if you aren't going to be careful yourself? Once you upload the video or the picture, it is out of your hands, regardless of your security settings. And are these parents really doing this as a punishment for their kids, or are they trying to stroke their own egos via "like"clicks? One day, your child will be an adult in the Real World, yet the memory and digital evidence of their past shall remain forever.

While I am in no way an expert on raising children and disciplining teenagers, I think that punishment for most infractions should fit the crime. Why do you need to shoot holes in your kid's laptop (with the added expense of replacing it when you realize she really does need it for school), when you could delete her account, block the website,or insist that she only use the computer in the family room with witnesses to her every keystroke? Why do you have to be standing next to your kid who is holding a sign detailing what he did wrong, while you laugh and point? If you really wanted to embarrass him, couldn't you have him write a public apology on his page? Or better yet, actually go and apologize to the people he has wronged in person?

I don't want anyone to think that I am some ultra-liberal parent who thinks that all problems can be solved with hugs and discussion. Squid gets swats on occasion if she is doing something that could cause her serious injury (that's a-whole-nother post). And I do understand that some kids are especially defiant and extreme measures are called for to get them to follow the rules. But, before such measures are taken, the parent really needs to think about their own behavior. Are they doing this to actually teach a lesson, or for their own personal gain? Is this something they want college recruiters to see when they Google search your child? Are there other options that you may have not considered?

Parents of teens did not grow up with social media. Even the geekiest of us were limited to Internet Relay Chat (or possibly MUT) and Bulletin Board Systems. The internet is growing far faster than we can come up with the etiquette to behave properly with it. But, if we remember to THINK before we speak (Is it TRUE? Is it HELPFUL? Is it INSPIRING? Is it NECESSARY? Is it KIND?), and teach our kids to do the same, we should manage just fine.