Tag Archives: kids

Dear Everyone: Here’s Why I Don’t Want To Read Your Crappy Opinions On What Mothers Should Do

25 Mar

Earlier today, Lydia Lovric, a Montreal-based “columnist, talk-radio host, stay-at-home mom,” wrote a scornful response to piece from 2013 about why Sasha Emmons chooses to work outside of the home. Don’t ask me why Lovric is responding to a two year old article, because I’m as baffled as you are. I’m sure she has her reasons, such as maybe she some type of wizard who exists outside of the linear bounds of time and space; this would explain why she is writing about the evils of mothers who work outside the home in 2015.

You guys, it’s 2015. It has been two thousand and fifteen years since the alleged birth of Christ and we are still having this goddamn argument about whether or not a mother is morally obligated to stay home with her kids, should finances permit. And as much as it’s tempting to write off Lovric as a Throw-Back Thursday with outdated opinions, the truth is that the question of mothers working outside the home is still burning up parenting blogs, websites and message boards. As far as parenting wank goes, the debate about whether or not mothers should stay home is right up there with breastfeeding, circumcision and cloth diapering. Lovric is certainly not alone in her belief that women who choose to work are selfish.

There is nothing more disheartening to me than watching women tear each other down, especially within the context of parenting. It’s sad and it’s gross and it’s the purest example of internalized misogyny that there is. There’s no benefit to these discussions; they’re just endless cycles of women shitting on other women’s happiness and security under the guise of concern for The Children. What’s even more enraging is how gendered these arguments are – even when they say that it’s best for “a parent” to stay home with their kids, what they really mean is mother.

I’m not going to get into the layers and layers of privilege that have allowed Lovric to write this article. I’m not going to address her claim that “you need not be rich in order to live off one income.” I’m only going to mention in passing how fucking shitty it is to refer to a mother as “absent” because she works outside the home – I’ll just say that I know my fair share of absent parents, and I promise you they are not out there working to pay the bills and feed their kids. I’m not even going to discuss the fact that plenty of single mothers raise their kid on one income and, by necessity rather than choice, work outside of the home. Instead, I’m going to talk about how gross and oppressive our persistent cultural biases about motherhood are.`

No one ever says that fathers are selfish for working outside the home.

No one is writing think pieces about how “absent fathers” letting strangers raise their kids just so that they can pursue an enjoyable and fulfilling career.

No dads are out there penning thoughtful letters to their children about why they chose to work. If they were, they’d probably read something like this:

Dear Daughter,

I chose to work after you were born because it literally never occurred to me to do otherwise. I certainly did not consider disrupting everything I have known and loved about my life outside of the home because I decided to have kids. I do not feel guilt or shame for my decision, because why would I?

Much love,

Dad

As a culture, we have a weird obsession with women being “selfish.” Mothers especially are prone to accusations of selfishness any time they make a choice that doesn’t directly and obviously benefit their children. Even when mothers are encouraged to practice self-care, it’s often approached with the idea that feeling happy and rested will make them better partners and parents. And while that may be true, why can’t a woman ever just be happy for her own damn self? Dudes don’t need to come up with excuses for why they should be able to do things they enjoy, and women shouldn’t either.

And by the way, here’s a list of the reasons Emmons gave for going back to work that Lovric found “selfish”:

“I work because I love it.”

“I work because scratching the itch to create makes me happy, and that happiness bleeds over into every other area, including how patient and engaged and creative a mother I am.”

“I work because this nice house and those gymnastics lessons and those sneakers you need to have are all made possible by two incomes.”

“I work because I want you and your brother to be proud of me.”

So: just to clarify, Emmons is selfish because she enjoys her job, a dual income helps pay for the lifestyle her family enjoys, and she hopes that the work she does will make her children proud of her.

In what world is it selfish to love your job? What is it about women specifically that makes them terrible people if they aren’t prioritizing their children 24/7? I mean, yes of course parenting involves some amount of sacrifice, but the idea that you should only live for your children is a pretty dangerous road to go down and, again, not one that any dudes are being told they have to travel.

Lovric’s counter to all of Emmons’ selfish reasons for working includes the following:

“I stay home because although writing and radio did make me extremely happy, I knew that you seemed happier when I was around. And your happiness was more important to me than my own. And making you happy also made me happy.”

“I stay home because I want you to learn that family and love are more important than material possessions. A large home or fancy sneakers will not make up for an absent mother.”

“I stay home because I want you and your brothers to be proud of me because I gave up something I truly loved in order to put you first.”

In short: a healthy relationship dynamic between a parent and child does not involve the parent supporting their child financially by working outside the home, but does include expecting your children to appreciate the fact that you made the ultimate life sacrifice for them.

I am just so exasperated by the continuing circle of shaming mothers for whatever choices they make. It seems like no matter what, the conclusion is always “MOMS: STILL PRETTY MUCH THE WORST?” It’s the 21st century and at the very least we can all agree that we want to raise kids who are proud of us, so let’s work on building each other up us parents and caregivers and mentors instead of fighting to push each other off the Pedestal of Motherhood. We’ll all be better for it.

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All Of The Reasons You Shouldn’t Have Had Kids, According To Assholes On The Internet

22 Sep

This is for reals satire, I promise – it’s based on the shitty shit people say to each other in parenting forums/Facebook/what-have-you

It’s not that I think you’re a bad parent, per se. It’s just that, like, you chose to have kids, right? Like, you got pregnant and you decided to go through with the pregnancy and now you’re having to deal with all these really common kid things. So I guess I’m a little confused about why you’re complaining? Like, you kind of asked for all of this, didn’t you?

Oh, you’re tired? Gee sorry I didn’t realize that no one had bothered to tell you that babies disrupt your sleep. I mean I just kind of assumed that you knew what you were signing on for when you became a parent. Jesus Christ, of course you’re fucking tired – that’s what having kids is all about. If you didn’t want to live in a chronic state of exhaustion, maybe you just shouldn’t have had a baby.

Wow, that’s amazing that you had an epidural! I mean, it’s amazing that you were able to think only of yourself at the moment of your child’s birth. I guess I’m just not sure why you would bother gestating a baby for nine months if you’re only going to drug yourself when they’re born? And, like, I’m not saying that epidurals are bad for babies – although I could happily provide you some literature about that if you want – but I am saying that the women who gave birth to Einstein, Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton didn’t have epidurals. I’m not sure why you would have a kid if you weren’t willing to give them the best, most natural birth possible, but hey that’s just me.

You don’t use cloth diapers? Like, have you never heard of climate change? Maybe your high-powered office job doesn’t leave you a lot of time to look up basic information on the internet. Probably you’re too busy wearing suits with shoulder pads and heels and lipstick to do a little bit of research on how you’re fucking up the environment. I guess I’m just not entirely clear on why anyone would have kids and then wilfully contribute to the destruction of the planet their kids have to grow up on, but what do I know?

I’m sorry, let’s just cut the bullshit about how you “tried” to breastfeed but had “supply issues” and your baby was “losing weight” and all that other enabling crap Big Formula fed you and just call a spade a spade: you chose not to breastfeed. And while I’m all about women having choices, I think that if you choose to have a child then you should also be choosing to provide that kid with the best life possible. To be honest, I’m just a little confused that you decided to not to terminate your pregnancy, but then made all kinds of other choices without your child’s best interests in mind. I’m not saying you should have had an abortion! Just maybe you didn’t think this whole kid thing through?

If you didn’t want to be sprayed with literal shit, I don’t know why you bothered to have a kid. Did you think they’d be born potty-trained?

That’s really nice that you want to have your baby on a schedule – that’ll make it so much easier for them to adjust to life in the Employment Industrial Complex. What a good little worker bee you’ve got on your hands! Yes, mommy’s little darling will settle right into the routine of working for eight hours and sleeping for eight hours and taking eight hours of simple, plebeian pleasures in between. Seriously, though, if you wanted a cute little thing that you could feed and cuddle and put to sleep on a “schedule,” maybe you should’ve chosen a Tamagotchi instead of a kid.

I think it’s great that you have a job, especially in today’s economy, but apparently I mistakenly believed that your child would be more important than your professional aspirations. I mean, I always thought that parenting meant making sacrifices, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned. It’s so nice of your husband to go along with your ideas about having a “career”! I hope he doesn’t leave you for someone who’s willing to put their kids first.

I’m sorry to hear that your toddler is defiant and unreasonable. I guess I might understand why you would complain about that, except for how it’s a totally normal part of child development which you would know if you had ever read any kind of book about children. When my children were toddlers, their defiance made me incredibly joyful because I knew that boundary-testing was evidence of their budding autonomy. But maybe some parents would prefer that their kids remain entirely dependent on them forever, because that would just be so much easier. Personally, I’m proud that I have kids who question authority.

It’s too bad that your five year old had a tantrum in the candy aisle, but honestly this is the kind of thing that you should have thought of when you decided to have kids. Like, it’s kind of hard for me to feel sorry for you when this is apparently what you wanted for your life. Or did you think your kid would be some kind of unicorn who never threw a tantrum?

Huh, yeah, I guess that for some people it’s fine to let their kid watch half an hour of Netflix while they make dinner or whatever. I just sort of thought that people who had kids maybe actually wanted to spend time with them, but apparently I was wrong.

I’m glad you found a really great nanny, but honestly I just literally don’t see the point of giving birth to children if you’re only going to turn around and let complete strangers raise them. Why not just give them up for adoption at birth if you weren’t prepared to actually be a parent?

I can’t believe you would go to all the trouble of having children only to turn them over to the fascist snake pit that is our public school system. Like, I seriously can’t believe you’re going to allow the state to poison their brains for the next fifteen years. I mean, I don’t want to sound judgmental, but you probably shouldn’t have had kids if you weren’t willing to home-school them. You know, for some people parenting is actually a commitment.

I guess I just think that having kids is sort of like making a pact with yourself that you’re only going to buy organic foods as long as they’re living under your roof.

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On Motherhood and Losing Myself

7 Sep

I remember the first time it happened – it was shortly after Theo’s birth and I was still in the hospital. My mother and husband were in the room with me when the nurse came in to do something – maybe weigh him or help bathe him or check his vital signs. After she finished, she said, “all right, now I’ll give him back to mom,” and I was momentarily confused. Why was she handing my son off to my mother? Shouldn’t she give him to me or my husband?

And then I realized that she had, in fact, meant to give Theo back to me. Mom meant me. I was mom. My mother, meanwhile, had graduated to “Grandma.” The nurse left before I had the chance to tell her that my name was Anne, although if she’d really wanted to know that she could have just looked at my chart.

I got used to the name Mom, though, and faster than I’d thought I would. I started using it to refer to myself in the third person when I spoke to my son: “Mama loves you so much,” I would say to him. “Mama’s just going to change your diaper, and then you’ll be much more comfortable.” “Mama’s making your dinner, but don’t worry, she’ll be really fast!” “Ma-ma. Can you say ma-ma? Ma-ma. I’m your mama. Ma-ma.” By the time Theo was eight months old, he would howl “Maaaaaaaaa-maaaaaaaaa” every time he wanted me, and I felt a funny sense of triumph whenever I heard him call me. He knew my name. I was Mama.

I wasn’t the only one who referred to myself as “Mom” or “Mama” either. My husband did it whenever he was in front of our son, even when he was talking directly to me – after all, we wanted to keep things consistent and easy to understand for Theo, didn’t we? My mother did it, too. So did my sisters. And as my son got older and we started making the rounds of playgroups and library programs and sing-alongs, the other parents (almost exclusively women) referred to me as “Theo’s mom.” Not that I was any better – I didn’t know any of their names, either. We were all just so-and-so’s mom, as if that were our name or our job title or maybe the most fascinating fact about us. 

Admittedly, there were a lot of things in my life that made me feel as if being a mother was the most fascinating thing about me, or at least the best, most noble thing about me. Strangers smiled at me, and offered me their seat on the bus. People working in customer service were more polite and attentive, whereas before I felt as if I’d often been brushed off. Everyone took me more seriously. It was as if by giving birth I’d somehow gained some strange kind of respectability. I wasn’t just that weird girl who talked too much and cried easily; I wasn’t just another person who had never reached their full potential. I was a mother, and according to a lot of people I’d fulfilled exactly as much of my potential as I needed to. And while on some level that fact was embarrassingly gratifying, mostly because I’d never felt so much societal approval before, underneath that gratification was a restless, howling anxiety. 

I wasn’t the only one in our household to be given a new title, of course. My husband became “Daddy,” a name that also carries some baggage with it. But he didn’t seem to feel as if he was losing himself, the way that I did – and it does seem to bear pointing out that our circumstances were vastly different. Every day, while I stayed at home with our son, my husband went to work. Every day, while I sat on the couch and cried over how fucking hard breastfeeding was, while I took a deep breath and tried not to scream with frustration because my kid was inconsolably exhausted but absolutely would not nap, while I stripped off yet another urine-soaked onesie and brightly-coloured cloth diaper only to watch in horror as my son chose that exact moment to unleash a jet of poop, my husband went back to the Land of the Adults, a country that we both called home but from which I had temporarily been exiled. Every day, while I opened my laptop and tried yet again – through frighteningly hive-minded online parenting communities, frantic status updates on Facebook, and emails to my family – to find the training manual for my overwhelming new job, my husband went back to his same old job, where he could take hour-long lunches and everyone called him by his real name.

No. It wasn’t the same thing at all.

I tried not to feel like I’d somehow lost something, because how could I have lost something? I hadn’t lost anything; I was still the same person, wasn’t I? Even if I felt like I’d lost myself, I was clearly still there. I still existed. On top of that, it seemed unbelievably selfish to frame it in terms of “loss” when, in fact, I’d gained a perfect baby – especially when several of my friends were struggling in various ways to become parents. And I’d wanted this, hadn’t I? Becoming a mother had been my choice. So how could I complain?

Another layer to my unease lay in the fact that if I felt like I’d lost some part of identity, then had my mother experienced the same thing when she’d given birth to me? It seemed impossible that she had ever been anything other than what she was, namely my mother; and yet that selfish feeling of impossibility was almost certainly evidence of the part that I had played in who she had become. For a long time I’d thought that I would never grow up to be my mother, because my mother’s life had always seemed so constrained and limited. Now I saw that I was the one who had limited it. 

Maybe saying that becoming a mother was my choice wasn’t quite the right way to put it. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I chose to become a parent, and then society gave me the label “mother” with all of its loaded associations. After all, what is there specifically about being a woman that says that you have to lose yourself completely once you have a kid? Isn’t it possible that if we lived in a world that treated motherhood and fatherhood equally – a world where we called it parental leave instead of maternity leave, a world that was just as accepting of stay-at-home fathers as it was of stay-at-home mothers, a world where women couldn’t expect their wage to decrease by 4% for every child they have – then women wouldn’t feel as if having children was a deeply personal sacrifice?

I mean, of course you have to give some stuff up once you have a child. I’m not saying that your life should stay exactly the same. But you shouldn’t have to sacrifice yourself.

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Now You Are Three

19 Jan

Dear Theo,

Yesterday was your birthday. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the day you stopped being this strange creature that inhabited my body and started being your very own small, wrinkly, independently-breathing person.

In three short years you have gone from this:

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To this:

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You are the funniest. You are outgoing and charming and engaging, and honestly I don’t know where you get any of those qualities from, because both your father and I are strictly introverts. When you see another kid who looks to be about your age, you’ll walk up to them in a way that would make John Cleese proud, wave your hands around and start shouting gibberish. This is your approach to making new friends, and weirdly it seems to work for you. You take an enormous delight in the sublimely ridiculous, and I can’t say that I blame you. It’s certainly better than my own approach, which, as a teenager, involved dressing all in black, reading the French existentialist canon, and glaring balefully around me muttering, “life is absurd.” You might agree that life is, indeed, absurd, but so far you view this as to your benefit rather than to your detriment.

You love language, a fact that tickles me right past pink and well into magenta territory. You often come home from school and announce that you have a new favourite book, and at bedtime you beg for just one more story. You can already spell a few words – Theodore, Mama, Dada, Papa, Noah and Canada – and you recognize them and “read” them when you see them. You’re starting to sort of maybe kind of sound out words when you see them, and the thought of you learning to read makes me so excited that my head might explode. You love memorizing things, and can recite entire books by heart. You are developing into a fine book nerd, and nothing could make me prouder.

If you inherited your love of language from me, then you almost certainly inherited your love of science and technology from your father. You’re all about space these days – there are times when all you want to talk about are orbiters and external fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters. You got upset the other day when I told you that we were on a mission in the grocery store – you thought that only astronauts were allowed to go on missions, because they have mission control. You’re into other tech-type stuff too – when your great-grandmother gave you a fleece shirt with a puffy vest for Christmas, you exclaimed, “Oh, a robot suit!” You love building things, whether out of Lego, wooden blocks, or these wonky connecting-straw things they have at the art gallery. You’re never happier than when we let you put together your train tracks all over the house, a crazy railroad running from the living room to the dining room and out to the kitchen. Maybe you’ll take after your grandfather or aunt and become an engineer.

Lately you’re all about defining yourself by your likes and dislikes. You love telling me about all of your favourites: your favourite colour is green, your favourite doll is your Cabbage Patch Kid, Sammy Kyle, your favourite books are Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and The Gruffalo. Your favourite foods are spaghetti and chicken fingers, and your favourite pants are skinny jeans. Your favourite truck is a fire truck. Your favourite car is Lightning McQueen from Cars, even though you’ve never actually seen that movie. Your favourite streetcar is the St. Clair car. Your favourite city is Toronto, and your favourite hockey team is the Toronto Maples Leafs, but also sometimes the Habs. Your favourite astronaut is Chris Hadfield (or, as you call him, Chris The Hadfield). Your favourite painting is Soldier and Girl at Station by Alex Colville. Your favourite musician is John Coltrane, and every time I go to put a record on you ask for Blue Train. You are a fine little hipster-in-training.

You hate sleep. I mean, you really hate sleep. You spend the hours past your bedtime trying to engage me in conversation, promising that you have to tell me something or ask me something, or else you try to delay the inevitable by asking for just one more glass of milk or one more cuddle. We’ve found ourselves having to invent arbitrary bedtime rules (only three stories, only one glass of milk, the baby gate goes up if you come out of your room five times) because otherwise you will never, ever sleep. You sometimes stay up until past ten, which drives me bonkers because that’s the only time alone I get with your father, but you’re never cranky in the morning. In fact, your daycare teachers often remark on how you always seem to be in a good mood. There isn’t much that seems to faze you.

You’re still nursing, a fact that simultaneously surprises me, slightly embarrasses me and makes me strangely proud. I didn’t even think that we’d make it past the first month of breastfeeding, let alone three years. And yet, here we are.

Here we are.

You’re asserting your independence a lot these days, in ways both big and small. Being your mom can be challenging sometimes, most often because I’m not always sure what to do when you’re ignoring me or else being flat-out defiant. I don’t like yelling, and I don’t like giving time-outs – I guess what I really hate is being the bad guy. Especially since your arguments can be so funny and persuasive. But I know that setting boundaries and disciplining you are a form of loving you, so I figure that the best I can do is to try hard not to react emotionally to your behaviour. Instead of punishing you because I am angry or sad (although I recognize that I am totally entitled to those feelings), I try to stay calm, react rationally and not take your behaviour personally. Because it’s not personal; this is what small children are like.

There is so much to admire about you. Your kindness and compassion still amaze me, although they probably shouldn’t by now. You’re so good at reading other peoples’ emotions, and love to comment on what you think other people are feeling. You are quick to offer a hug if you think that someone else is down. One evening, when you overheard me crying in the bedroom, you ran in and asked if I was crying because someone had shouted at me. You tell me all the time that you love me, and you have an ongoing list of the other people that you love: your father, your grandparents, you aunts and uncles, you cousins, Nathan, Audra, Jairus, Nico, Frances, Nico’s Dad (who I’m not even sure you’ve ever met), Eden, Isadora, Michael. Pretty much anyone that you can think of ends up on that list. You have two best friends – Noah and Malcolm – and you often tell me that the three of you are the three musketeers. Baby’s first literary reference! Unknowingly made, but still.

You are a wonder. Your words, your thoughts, your actions amaze me on a daily basis. And when I say this – all of this, everything that I’ve written here – it’s not because I think that you are better or smarter than other kids. I’m sure that you’re exactly average, and if you weren’t that wouldn’t matter one bit. But you’re not average to me – to me, you are a very particular set of characteristics that add up to something incredibly remarkable. I cherish each and every single tiny thing that makes you you, even the stuff that I find frustrating and difficult to handle. Because those are the things that make up who you are, and I love you entirely. Yes, I love all of the things that are easy to love – your charm, your humour, your never-ending desire to know – but I also love the challenging parts, too. I love all of you.

I am so excited to see what this coming year, this year of three, is going to bring. Because, knowing you, it’s only going to be bigger and brighter than what’s come before.

Much love,

Mama

Winter

30 Dec

I am not a winter person. Given my choice of the seasons, I’ll pick summer every time. I love the heat, and I even love the humidity. I like it when stepping out my front door feels like walking into an oven. I like the sun, the warmth, and the long evenings that are perfect for picnicking or taking your kid to the park or drinking sangria on patios with friends. I love lying in the grass and reading for hours on end. I love summer.

Winter is a tough time for me. It’s not just the fact that it’s so cold that, after coming in from a long walk, I have to stand in a scalding hot shower for fifteen minutes until I feel warm. It’s not just the fact that my muscles ache because the cold makes me tense up, makes me walk around hunched over in a desperate effort not to freeze to death. It’s not even the fact that it’s already too cold for me, and I know that it’s going to get colder still. It’s more than that, and it’s subtler than that. It’s the light, both the dim, chilly quality it assumes this time of year, and its waning quantity, meaning that we only get to see the sun for a few paltry hours every day. Even though we’re past the solstice and, logically, I know that the days will be getting longer from now until midsummer, it still, somehow, feels as if the days are growing shorter and darker as we head into January.

These days I feel as if I’ve lost the capacity for joy. I’ll catch myself mid-laugh and realize that I’m faking it, and I’m faking it so well that I’ve nearly got myself convinced. In the same way that it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that spring will ever come again, it’s also hard to believe that anything will ever make me feel good or happy again. I have these thoughts, like, hey, maybe at the beginning of my life I was handed out a finite number of good experiences and now, in the winter of my 30th year, I’ve somehow managed to spend the last one.

Part of it might be the fact that everyone seems to be making their year-end posts, tallying up all their successes and bundling them together into one neat little blog post package. I thought about doing one of those, but I know that I won’t. Every new year always seems to me to be like a fresh, white sheet of notebook paper, but by December 31st it’s so marked up, so wrinkled and worn, so covered with revisions and smudges and holes where I rubbed the eraser too hard that I can’t make sense of it anymore.Rather than dig through my year to find material for a year-in-review post, I just want to throw the whole thing out, baby, bathwater and all. As 2013 approaches, 2012 is still too close to give me the perspective I would need, and all my hurts and failures feel too fresh for me to be able to dissect them. Even my successes seem slippery and hard to pinpoint. The other day, as I was watching the hundreds of comments going up on the article I wrote for the Good Men Project, I messaged my friend Audra and said, “Is this what success is supposed to feel like? Because I feel awful.”

Sometimes succeeding feels just as bad, just as anxiety-inducing, as failure does.

Mostly I just want everything to be over. I don’t mean that I want to die or anything like that, but just that I’m so tired of trying to guess what’s coming next. I’m so tired of trying to figure out what to do next, how to take my next step, or which direction I need to go. I want all of my experiences to be over and done with so that I can sift through them and sort them into boxes labelled “good things” and “bad things.” Then, once I’ve done that, I’ll be able to sit back, write a life-in-review post, and judge whether, when looking at the big picture, the scale tips more towards happy or sad.

I’m so tired. So goddamn tired. The worst part is that I can’t even begin to imagine when I won’t feel like this. Maybe next year? Or maybe when Theo’s in grade school? High school? When he moves out? I can’t help but feel like it’s partly my fault, or even mostly my fault, for not sleep-training him, for breastfeeding for so long, maybe even for choosing to have a kid in the first place. I love my son, but I don’t think I can function like this for much longer. Then again, what would not functioning even look like? Will my legs just give out one day, my knees buckling under my weight, and I’ll have to lie on the ground until I’m rested enough to get up again? How do these things work?

If you asked me what I needed in order to feel better, what it would take to make me feel happy, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you. That’s what’s hardest about all of this: feeling as if it’s whatever it is that’s going to save you is totally beyond your control. If there is something that can save you. If that something, should it exist, ever manages to find you.

Sometimes I think that all of the little things that happen throughout my day, the meals, the conversations, the rote interactions, are nothing more than activities designed to get me from one minute to the next until I can finally lie down in my bed at night and sleep (or not). When seen this way, a life is nothing more than a string of days, days made up of pointless experiences meant to propel you through time. I mean, of course my experiences aren’t meaningless. Or maybe they are. I’m not sure.

I’m trying to think of some kind of life lesson to put in here, some kind of moral to this story, but I’m coming up totally dry. Maybe you can try to find your own moral, because sifting back through this mess of feelings seems like so much work. Everything seems like so much work, to be honest. I feel as if I’ve been sucked totally dry of any and all will or ambition or desire.

The winter here is beautiful. The snow, and the quiet, and the bare trees are beautiful. There’s a hush this time of year that you never feel in the summer, and I know I would miss it if I never felt it again. I don’t hate winter, and I don’t even necessarily need for it to be over, like, right now. I don’t even think I would like to live somewhere that was hot and sunny all year long. I just need something to pin my hopes on, something to look forward to, something to hold out for. I need something to focus on when everything seems so dark and cold that I don’t think I can stand it for one minute longer.

I just need to know for certain that spring is going to come.

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Red Fraggle is a Feminist Icon

13 Dec

It wasn’t until I learned that I was pregnant with Theo that I suddenly realized how very little I knew about, well, babies. I mean, in theory they’re great, but in practice they’re kind of terrifying. Like, I was going to be responsible for what now? I could barely even take care of myself, never mind another person, and one who was tiny, helpless and incontinent at that.

Being the book-o-phile that I am, my solution was to immediately run out and buy a ton of books about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. I also went online and joined a bunch of mommy communities, which were, um, interesting. After sifting through all of the information available to us, Matt and I began to try to come up with the Best Plan Possible for raising our kid. Because, you know, that’s totally a thing that’s going to work out.

Babies just love plans, and are definitely going to turn out exactly the way you want them to.

Sorry, I’ll wait until your done laughing your fool head off before I continue.

One of the things that Matt and I decided was that we were going to follow the AAP’s guidelines and not expose our children to any television under the age of two. That wouldn’t be overly challenging, we figured; after all, we barely watched television ourselves, and surely it would be easy to watch what little we did after our bundle of joy went to bed. Anyway, we thought, what benefit was there in letting our children watch television? Especially when the world around them was so fascinating? Surely we would be happy to engage and entertain our children at all times. Surely we would never, ever want a short, say, half-hour break from them.

Of course, one of the first things you do when you become a parent is break all of your own rules. You quickly learn that there aren’t very many hard and fast rules, and the few that do exist weren’t created by you. Sure, it’s great to be consistent and back your words up with actions, but when you become a parent you learn how valuable flexibility can be. It’s easy to be an expert on childrearing when it’s all still theoretical; once you have an actual, physical, screaming baby, it’s often advantageous to revisit your policies and re-evaluate what your priorities are.

All of this is to say that we totally caved on the no TV thing.

When Theo was fourteen or fifteen months old, we started watching short YouTube clips of Fraggle Rock at bedtime. It was nice to spend 10 minutes every evening curled up together on our big bed, watching nostalgic television by lamplight. Afterwards, we would talk about what we’d just watched, and then I would nurse Theo to sleep. It was a pretty great way to end the day.

In the course of revisiting one of my favourite childhood shows, I realized something: Fraggle Rock was pretty fucking progressive with regards to gender roles.

I also realized that Red Fraggle was probably my first real feminist icon.

When it came to strong female role models, I was actually a pretty lucky kid. I had my mother, who was and continues to be a kick-ass inspiration, a woman who always worked outside the house, raised three kids on her own after my father left, and recently purchased her first home after spending year and years saving up for a downpayment. I had my grandmother, a women who also worked outside the home for her entire adult life, and who once took her employer to court because he wouldn’t allow women to wear pants in the workplace. I had my aunt, an Egyptologist who travelled to the Middle East for archeological digs. I had my great-aunt who, as a missionary to Niger in the 1960s, dedicated her life to educating girls. I definitely wasn’t lacking for real-life women to look up to and be inspired by.

But I wasn’t able to relate to those women and their accomplishments in the same way that I could relate to an adorable red-headed muppet who was about the same size I was and dealt with a lot of the same issues I did.

Red Fraggle is just awesome. She’s smart, funny, opinionated, competitive and likes to be in charge. She speaks her mind, like, frequently, and the other Fraggles almost always listen to what she has to say (even if they don’t ultimately agree with her). She’s adventurous, athletic and generally pretty fearless. She doesn’t wear pink (except for her hair ribbons). Oh, and she’s sarcastic. So delightfully sarcastic.

She also has some of the best lines spoken by a female character in a children’s show, like, ever. The following is from season one, episode fifteen, ‘I Don’t Care’:

Red: Hey Mokey! They gave me somebody else’s lines for this scene!

Mokey; Uh, let’s see, you say, I know my prince will come and rescue me.

Red: Who needs a prince? I can rescue me!

Mokey: And then you say, hark, I think I hear the hoofbeats of his fiery charger.

Red: Oh good grief.

[a brief interlude of dialogue between Mokey and Boober]

Red: But I don’t have to be rescued, Mokey! I can climb on this trellis! Better yet, I’ll swing on this vine. Why don’t we call it the Tale of the Triumphant Princess?

What’s great is that Red has no issue being a princess, she just wants to be a princess who can take care of herself. She’s totally fine with being feminine and girly, but she doesn’t want to have to rely on anyone else. Instead of waiting around to be rescued, she wants to take charge of her own destiny – a pretty admirable trait.

Red challenges traditional gender roles, both openly and tacitly. One of the best things about Fraggle Rock is that the other characters are totally fine with her behaviour. Sure, she can be abrasive and obnoxious at times, and yeah, she has a hard time admitting when she’s wrong, but these aren’t presented as being character flaws because she’s female; they’re presented as being negative traits because of the impact they have on herself and other people.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Red is the best swimmer in Fraggle Rock. Better than any of the boys, even.

The neat thing about this show is that it’s not just Red who challenges gender roles; it’s Boober and Wembley too. It’s presented as being totally fine for Boober, a male Fraggle, to prefer to stay home all day washing socks and cooking. It’s also fine for Wembley to “wemble”, i.e. waiver with indecisiveness. That last one is especially interesting because a lot of Wembley’s “wembling” comes from a place of not wanting to pick sides when his friends argue and, ultimately, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s pretty rare for a male character to be shown as being so openly emotional. Rare, but awesome.

Mokey and Gobo, the two remaining Fraggles in the main cast of characters, are more typical of their genders: Mokey, a wispy poet who wears long flowing robes and speaks in a vague, dreamy voice is the sort of den mother of Fraggle Rock, and Gobo, bold, adventurous and a natural leader, spends his days exploring the rock and coming up with escapades for his friends. They participate in breaking down gender barriers, though, by letting their friends be who they are and encouraging them to do the things they love. They never ask Red, Boober or Wembley to behave in a certain way because of their gender; they only ask that each of them treats the others with respect.

Anyway, I guess it’s clear that we’ve totally, unapologetically broken our rules about television. We still don’t watch much of it; mostly just Fraggle Rock and Mister Dressup (okay, and sometimes Jay-Z videos, but only because Theo specifically asks for them). Children’s television, especially newer shows, are still pretty much a foreign country to me, one that I’m sure I will someday have to explore. Until then, I’m happy with my Fraggles and the lessons they’re teaching my son. For example, swimming before breakfast is great, music and dancing are a necessity, and boys and girls are totally, happily equal.

Sounds like utopia to me.

Red

How To Have A Good C-Section (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love major surgery)

26 Oct

I woke up the morning of January 8th, 2011, and lay in bed, waiting for Theo to kick me good morning. I was 34 weeks pregnant, and this was our wake-up ritual: he would wriggle around like a maniac, and I would spend a few minutes lying on my side, rubbing the outline of his body and telling him what we were going to do that day. Sometimes he would stick his feet in my ribs, and I would tickle his toes. Sometimes he would take a big stretch and I would try to map out how he was sitting inside of me.

That morning, though, I didn’t feel anything.

No big deal, I figured; he was probably asleep. Surely it wouldn’t be long before he was awake and kicking up a storm.

I had a bagel and coffee for breakfast and then lay on the couch with Matt, waiting for the caffeine to pass through the placenta and jolt Theo awake. We were watching a movie, but I couldn’t concentrate on it; all I could think about was the absence of movement inside of me.

I tried everything I could think of to get Theo to move – I drank ice water and lay on my side, poked and prodded him until I worried that I might be bruising my baby in utero, had Matt put his mouth up against my belly and talk to his son. Nothing worked.

We decided that we should go to the hospital.

When we got to the labour and delivery ward, I had to sit and wait for a bed to become available. Then we discovered that I hadn’t properly registered, so Matt had to go back down and re-do the paperwork. I was becoming increasingly anxious, and I was frustrated that the nurses didn’t seem to share my sense of urgency. Finally, they got me into an examining room and asked me where my OB usually found the baby’s heartbeat. I said it was loudest on the left side of my belly, so they put the doppler there.

Silence.

I started to cry. Matt tried to say something to calm me down, but he had tears in his eyes, too. The nurse frowned and moved the doppler around while the continuing silence made me sob harder and harder. This must have only gone on for a few seconds, but it seemed like hours. I was sure that Theo was dead; I pictured having to call my mom to tell her that her grandchild wouldn’t be born alive. I pictured myself having to be induced and delivering a cold, white baby.

Finally, way over on my right side, the nurse found a faint but steady heartbeat. The nurse smiled and said that she’d known all along that he was fine. I still couldn’t stop crying.

The nurse brought in a portable ultrasound machine, since I still wasn’t feeling Theo move. As she moved the probe over my belly, she asked me if I knew that he was breech. No, he’s not, I said, he’s been head down since 26 weeks. In fact, I had seen my OB three days earlier, and he had confirmed that the baby was head down. Not anymore he’s not, said the nurse.

They brought in the on-call doctor who confirmed that no only was Theo breech, he was footling breech, one of the rarest fetal positions and the most dangerous to the baby. On top of that, his umbilical cord was hanging down by his feet, which meant that, if my water were to break, he would be at high risk for a cord prolapse.

They hooked me up to a contraction monitor and told me that I was having strong contractions (none of which I could feel, by the way). They checked my cervix and I was 2 cm dilated and 100% effaced. Not a big deal, they said – some women dilate early. Two hours later I was 5 cm dilated.

At 34 weeks pregnant, I was in labour with a baby who wanted to meet the world feet first.

They wanted to do a caesarean that night. They would have, too, except that two emergency c-sections came in, tying up all the operating rooms. While we waited for an OR to open up, I sat in my bed and tried to use Jedi mind-tricks to stop my labour. Think calm thoughts, I told myself. I stared at the printout on the contraction monitor and willed the jagged lines to smooth themselves out. I stared at my belly and willed Theo to stay put.

Whatever I did must have worked, because by the time they checked my cervix again, I was still 5 cm dilated. My contractions continued, but were definitely less frequent than before. I made a deal with the on-call OB – if they would agree to delay my c-section, I would stay on bed rest in the hospital until I was full-term and/or my cervix started dilating again. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but she agreed to admit me for the night and check with my doctor. Luckily, he was a super cool dude, and when he came to see me on Monday morning he said he thought I’d made a good suggestion, and was totally fine with me hanging around the hospital until whenever.

This gave me some time to figure out what I was going to do. Up until this point, I’d planned on having a natural birth; I’d read books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth , Martha Sears’ Birth Book and Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide To A Better Birth. I’d looked forward to giving birth, imagining that I would have some kind of mystical earth goddess experience; I’d been weirdly excited to know what real contractions felt like. I’d spent months participating in online pregnancy forums, decrying the medicalization of childbirth and the deplorable c-section rate in the western world. I hadn’t even read anything about c-sections, because there was no way that I was going to have one.

Except now I was.

I started to look for online resources for moms who were having caesareans but still wanted the whole touchy-feely earth goddess experience. I discovered, to my chagrin, that there weren’t many. Most people seem to think that a good birth and c-sections are diametrically opposed. Many people in the natural birth community are very, very anti-caesarean (one woman even went so far as to send me a video of a midwife delivering a footling breech birth, like, hey, thanks for your support), and many of those who support the medical model of childbirth tend to see birth as something that you just endure and get through, rather than a positive experience. I think that it’s totally possible to have a c-section and still have a good birth.

I’ve put together a list of things that worked well for us and resources that I found helpful:

If You Are Having A Planned Caesarean:

1. Educate yourself. This one is huge. Read as much as you can about c-sections, both about the procedure itself and what recovery will be like. Talk to other women who have had c-sections, and ask your OB for a run-down of how the procedure typically happens at your hospital. It’s also a good idea to read about the possible emotional effects of a c-section.

2. If you plan on breastfeeding, consider contacting a lactation consultant (the nice thing about being in the hospital was that the lactation consultant came to me), or else join the La Leche League and talk to women who have had similar experiences. Find out what kind of resources your hospital offers breastfeeding mothers – for example, mine held a breastfeeding class twice a day and had a lactation clinic. Make sure you get yourself a nursing pillow, because I promise you that you will be SO THANKFUL for it. Also,there are some good resources online here and here and here.

3. If you plan on breastfeeding, do so as soon as possible after surgery. I was able to breastfeed in the recovery room, less than half an hour after my son’s birth.

4. Make a birth plan of what you would ideally like to happen. You can ask for things like playing your own music during the surgery, doing skin-to-skin in the OR, and delaying (or even forgoing) the application of the eye gel. Remember that it doesn’t have to be the mother who does skin-to-skin – your partner also has some important bonding to do.

5. Eat really well at your last meal before your surgery (this will typically be 8 hours earlier). Make sure you get a lot of protein and that whatever you have is really filling, because they won’t let you eat afterwards until you fart (not kidding).

6. If you are having a c-section because your baby is breech, consider trying an external cephalic version. I wasn’t able to do this because I continued having contractions right up until my c-section (and we discovered during my surgery that I have a heart-shaped uterus, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway), but it’s definitely worth trying.

If You Are Planning On Having A Vaginal Birth

1. Educate yourself about c-sections anyway! It won’t hurt, and you’ll be prepared in case you do need one.

2. Include a “Caesarean Contingency Plan” as part of your birth plan. Sure, chances are that you won’t have a c-section, but if something goes wrong, it’ll probably go wrong pretty quickly, which means that it would be better to have what you want written out ahead of time.

3. Make sure that your partner is clear on what you want if you need a c-section – in the craziness of the OR, you’re going to need them as an advocate more than ever.

For Everyone

1. Allow yourself the time to mourn the birth you didn’t have. Some women feel that they’ve “failed” if they end up having a c-section; some feel that they haven’t really given birth. Talk about your feelings with your partner, and remind yourself that your experience was just as important and valid as anyone who had a vaginal birth.

2. Keep in mind that women who have c-sections are at a higher risk for postpartum depression. Make sure to watch yourself carefully for any of the signs and talk to a healthcare professional immediately if you think you might be showing some of the symptoms.

3. Take all of your medication on time. Trust me, you will feel way worse if you delay or skip a dose. The vast majority of medications are safe for breastfeeding; if you’re not sure, ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or La Leche League leader.

4. Hold a pillow against your incision whenever you cough, sneeze or laugh. I don’t know why, but this helps.

5. Take a shower as soon as you are feeling up to it. It will be the best shower of your whole life.

6. Accept help. If you have someone willing to do everything for you, let them.

Theo’s birth wasn’t what I had planned for, and it wasn’t the birth I would have chosen, but it was still good. I sometimes think that this was my first real lesson in parenting: the idea that not everything would happen on my own terms, that there would be times when I was not in control of the situation, but could still try to make the best of things.

So no, Theo’s birth wasn’t ideal, but I do think that it was the best birth that it could have been. And I’m thankful for that.

If you follow the simple steps that I have outlined above, then you, too, can look this happy while having a giant gash cut in their abdomen.

If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments!