Raising a Daughter in Scary But Hopeful Times

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend whose family was expecting their third child: a daughter, after two sons. [Actually, I started this post more than a month ago, and as it happens, said daughter was born TODAY, early this morning! So read on, in honour of wee baby EC’s birth day.] This friend is from a two-son, no-daughter family himself. He said, “I should pick your brain sometime about how to raise a girl. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing.”

I’d like to say that I have all the answers, since a) I am a daughter and b) I have a daughter I’ve managed to get to age 5 relatively unscathed.

jean-jacket-mom-daughter
And we’re jean jacket buds.

Let’s see:

  1. Always wipe front to back
  2. Don’t over-clean and irritate those girl parts
  3. Keep a close eye on her interactions with her big brothers, because it’s easy for big brothers to abuse their power without realizing it.

Annnnd… that’s about the only straightforward advice I have. As soon as you’re past the diaper stage – and sometimes while you’re still in it – other things that differentiate raising a girl from raising a boy get sticky and complicated.

Once upon a time, I was a girl. (Still am, in some ways.) I was always happy and proud to be one, and never wished I were a boy – girls are the best! I was fortunate to have many strong, wise, smart female role models in my life, including my mom, my aunts, and my grandmothers. Also, I grew up between two sisters (with a brother as well), and my best friends were all girls (past about age 5).

Now I’m a grown-up woman, and I still wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are lots of awesome and basically magical things about being a female human. That being said, I have come to understand a lot more about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the status of womanhood today, and the breadth of the progress we have yet to make. I’ve thought and read and discussed a lot about what feminism means to me now, as a mother and as a teacher. Often, the process makes me mad, and always, it makes me feel fiercely protective of my little girl.

Obviously, girls, like all children, are individuals. The main things you can justifiably say about “Girls” as a group are not about their personalities, hobbies, habits, or tendencies. They are about the ways society sees and treats them. In my career I have taught literally hundreds of girls between the ages of three and eighteen, observing and getting to know them in many different contexts.

Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful – or they may just confuse things worse than ever. But I think they’re important.

Pretty is as pretty does

The wish to be physically appealing is extremely powerful. I believe that this is partly instinctive, but mightily reinforced by the media. Society teaches girls and women that making themselves pretty should be their top priority.

Not too long ago, it was our duty to be pretty for men. Nowadays, it’s ostensibly for “us” – the company line is that it’s empowering to feel beautiful. Frankly, this is often true. Most women I know do feel most confident when they know they look good. I’m sure most men are the same.

Where the empowerment argument falls down is that the standards for women are flat-out ridiculous. As in, the consumer engine is all up in our appearances, down to Every. Single. Detail. Not just the quality of our hair and the state of our toenails, but everything in between, including the consistency of our breasts and the look of our vulvas. (And when I mention hair, I mean ALL the hair, in EVERY place.) There is no part of the external female anatomy that is exempt from society’s opinion.

And the expectation is perfection, literally. Women’s products are designed to minimize or conceal “imperfections” – or even “correct” them, as though every unique quirk of our bodies is a MISTAKE. I feel the outrageousness of this as I write it, but sadly, it’s no exaggeration. Society’s collective sense of entitlement to judge female people on and by their looks is inescapable and crushing. The engine never stops, because there are people making obscene amounts of money off of women feeling bad about themselves.

Tiny girls are able to love themselves and their appearances naturally and abundantly. Sean was worried at one point because AB loves to admire herself in the mirror, strike cool poses and so on – is she too focused on her looks? Will she grow up vain?

But this time of a little girl being able to enjoy her reflection without self-judgment and criticism is fleeting. Due to the above phenomenon, a girl’s self-esteem is often extremely fragile. I was already worrying about whether my body was good enough by the time I was nine (ballet class did not help in that regard, even though I adored ballet) and I fretted about my crooked teeth as soon as I got them, which was even earlier. Every insecurity a girl can have is promptly and thoroughly validated by the media. I watch my daughter enjoying her beauty, and it squeezes my heart. I know all too well the self-consciousness that creeps in, so soon, on young girls.

So here’s a quandary: do I tell my daughter she’s beautiful to reinforce her confidence, or treat appearance as unimportant so that she will focus on her character and skills? (The internet is all over both sides of this argument, BTW. It’s no help.) Personally, I try to do both. I tell her she’s beautiful often, because I can’t pretend that Beauty isn’t an issue. She IS beautiful, and she will need this knowledge-ammo to fight off the counter-messages. Plus… we all know it feels good to hear that. (She tells me I’m beautiful too, with sincerity and delight, usually when I wear a skirt or something pink – or any outfit she chose for me.)

[Here is a wonderful blog post about a mom who learned, for her daughters’ sake, to agree with them that she was beautiful. This had a big impact on me when I first read it, back when my own daughter was baby. Since then, I try very hard not to be self-critical in front of my kids. And in general (though that’s harder).]

We also talk about her character on a regular basis, discussing almost every day what makes a good friend, how much we learn from hard work, what courage looks like, and other traits we want to foster. I only use the word ugly when we’re talking about certain behaviours (which could be another whole post). I want her to know deep down, as she grows, that in real life, inner beauty is the greatest determining factor of overall beauty.

Nurturing is for everybody

Society may have been telling girls that we want to play with dolls for generations, but it’s not out of the blue. The nurturing tendency among girls is not solely a learned thing. As my daughter already knows, girls are born with all their eggs already in place in their bodies (in fact, AB seems quite proud of this). It makes sense that certain instincts come with them. Even in families trying hard to avoid gender-norming their kids, you often have tiny toddler girls pretending to be mamas (and tiny toddler boys who freak out with excitement around construction equipment). Many’s the kindergarten girl I’ve seen taking a random object – like a block or a chalkboard eraser – and mothering it.

I guess it’s not surprising that so many of the vocations dominated by women – child care, education, nursing, veterinary medicine, home health care, social work, not to mention parenting – are those in which the nurturing instincts are an asset. I am proud of the skills and accomplishments of these women, as well as those of the women who pioneer in male-dominated fields, who deal with chauvinism every day in order to pound their boots on that glass ceiling.

At some point, my daughter will have to contend with all this. Particularly divisive are the many perceptions that complicate a woman’s choice to mother – or not. “Parenting isn’t real work”… “Working mothers can’t fully succeed in their careers”… “A woman isn’t a real woman until she’s a mother”  and many more, often in conflict with each other. For now, though, I encourage my daughter to nurture (as well as to build things, play with trucks, and so on) – and I encourage the caring tendency in my son, too. We all need comfort and care, at every age. The world needs more nurturing, always, from everyone.

little_girl_puppy

Pink is STUPID… Or AWESOME

I looooved pink when I was little girl. Then, around age 12, I went off it and didn’t start to enjoy it again until I was an adult. That’s partly because I came of age in the 90s – grunge and pink didn’t mix well – but partly because I saw it as a dumb, girly colour. Which is awful. I hate that I internalized that message for so long. Pink is fun. It’s happy.

It might also be a little bit of a trap. When my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to choose pink as the be-all and end-all of everything. But of course, people love to buy cute pink clothes for girl babies (and they are adorable). Although I dressed her in all the colours, as soon as she began choosing for herself, she overwhelmingly chose pink. These days, purple and turquoise (thanks, Frozen) are also really popular, and she loves multicoloured things… But nothing can sway her love of pink.

The part that makes a protective parent mad is when you go to the toy section of a department store and find your totally-pink aisle and your zero-pink aisle. As though there’s no middle ground, for anyone. Really?? In the 21st century?

Here’s a question I can’t answer: is it good that they’ve started making “girl” Lego? Because it seems like you shouldn’t have to – Lego is for everyone (with strong and able fingers). But then… I’ll be honest. I probably would have done lots more fine-motor play-building if I’d had more colours and shapes to work with. When we gave AB a Lego set with all sorts of colours (including pink and purple and turquoise) and lots of random wheels and windows and funny parts, BOTH kids got really excited and built like crazy. More variety = MORE FUN.

[On the topic of pink, dolls, and many other very pertinent things, I highly recommend “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“, by Peggy Orenstein, to be read by EVERYONE with girls in their lives.]

little_girl_art_paint

No means No. Except when it doesn’t.

Girls start out quite knowledgeable about their physical boundaries. Society blurs that line for them, however, from a very young age. There are a million insidious messages about how a woman should be, permeating a girl’s psyche as she grows. We should be kind, gracious, altruistic, polite, agreeable, generous, accepting, and friendly. All great qualities – I aspire to them myself, and encourage them in all the children I know. The problem arises when they are so  ingrained, to the exclusion of other qualities, that they affect a girl’s protection of her boundaries.

Even in 2018, there are potent forces telling girls and women to avoid being confrontational, defensive, or inconvenient. I see ALL THE TIME our tendency to sacrifice ourselves and enable other people – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. On the one hand, you have the professions I mentioned earlier in which women care and give every day in extraordinary ways. On the other hand, you have millions of women becoming recipients of unwanted sexual attention, language, and/or contact, from men who exploit that politeness, friendliness, acceptance, and the desire not to make a fuss or be a pain. And please don’t misunderstand: I do not blame the women. This stems from the burden of centuries of misogyny.

[Here is an excellent article about sex from a woman’s perspective that I honestly believe every woman who’s ever been sexually active, no matter how good her sex life may be, can relate to on some level. And here is a post I wrote when AB was a toddler about managing the complexities of the physical relationship between her and my son.]

My Hubbibi and I have had many earnest conversations about the word NO, especially regarding our kids. I know that sometimes no doesn’t really mean no… Sometimes kids screech and giggle “no” during a physical game when they actually enjoy it and want to continue. BUT. I don’t think it’s up to me or anyone else to decide which Nos are real and which aren’t. Not even if parents (for example) traditionally have that leeway. Some words MUST mean what they say. I always tell students: “When someone says stop, you must stop.”

If “Stop” and “No” are open for interpretation, how does a person make herself clear? If people feel entitled to construe another person’s “No” however they like, then you have… well, you have the status quo. You have #metoo, in its millions.

Don’t even get me started on the folks who object to the new Ontario Sex Ed curriculum that finally takes on consent. Keep kids in the dark about sexual health and of course they will be blindsided.

The Herbivore’s Dilemma

To take the above idea even further, girls learn young that the dangers they face can be grave indeed. Consensus says that girls aren’t safe by themselves. Young boys are in a similar category – all children have to be careful of “stranger danger” – but as we get older, the understanding deepens for women. It is an extraordinarily strong (and trained) woman who is physically able to overpower your average adult male. In the Survival Game of reality, female humans are the Herbivores – for their whole lives. Depressingly, this is a biological and statistical truth. We are the prey. We are always aware of it. It is part of our everyday existence to avoid situations that leave us vulnerable to predators.

In my mind, this is the most deep-seated reason why so many women had a profound emotional response to Wonder Woman. We vicariously walked with her right into danger, and just dealt with it like a BOSS. The idea of being unafraid, of knowing you can protect yourself and your people… That’s the dream. it’s huge.

little_girl_joy

I wish it were unnecessary, but I will be teaching my daughter everything I know about personal protection. [Here is a pretty good article that covers many of the things I learned in a personal protection workshop I took a few years ago. We also learned how to put up our “fence” – guarding hands – and say loudly and aggressively, “Back off!” and if that doesn’t work, “Back the f*ck off!!!” Haven’t shared that with AB yet, but apparently it can help a lot.]

Contradictions, Hypocrisy, and Injustice

Last year at OELC iArts, it was my privilege to have an in-depth discussion with our group of Dance Majors, based on the question “What bugs you about the way society treats girls?” These junior high students know what’s up. They are angered by the impossible standards of beauty, and the way that all forms of media prey on their insecurities.

Even more, the double standards in their daily lives are infuriating. Boys get away with all kinds of things that girls can’t. Boys can, for example, wear basically whatever they want. Girls are not allowed to violate the dress code – it’s distracting (to boys) – always the girl’s fault… but short shorts are IN. It’s impossible to be fashionable and adhere to the dress code. Girls reported being made to wear random lost-and-found shirts to cover up visible bra straps – but god forbid they should propose removing the bra to solve the problem. Already, in Grade 7, the sexualization of EVERYTHING involving girls is rampant.

There’s a lot of unfairness. And a lot of pain. The unspoken expectations, the things that are just easier for boys, the things boys – and men – feel entitled to say and do around and to girls, the things that society says girls need to care about, the things it won’t let them do…. It’s a LOT.

Furthermore, the mixed messages start right away, and never stop. Girls can do anything boys can… but in reality, they are not treated the same. Girls should do everything in their power to be pretty, but they should not care or even really be aware of it. Women should own their sexuality, but not TOO much. Women should act more like men when they lead, but if they do they’ll be called cold and heartless – and people will still feel entitled to comment on their appearance.

As a family with two living children, a boy and a girl, things are sticky sometimes. Double-standards and mixed messages have to be dealt with, often on the fly as they come up. I try to be as honest as I can about how things are, within age-appropriate limits. We discuss how people grow up with different ideas about how to treat others, and then we think together about what we believe is right. My kids are already pretty thoughtful and astute people in many ways, and have some wise things to say. They know that we will never shut down their questions or invalidate their frustrations – and that we will love them no matter what. We hope that’s enough.

little_girl_smiling

Dilovely, didn’t you say “Scary But Hopeful”?

Okay, right. I acknowledge that this started out as parenting advice and became a feminist Di-atribe. (And I almost apologized for it, then backspaced. Because raising a daughter to live fully in this world = FEMINISM. No apologies.)

Yes, my understanding of, and frustration with, the status quo for women has grown with every year that goes by. It seems like, in this day and age, in a country like Canada, we should be over the silliness. Over the stupid beauty standards, the antiquated attitudes, and the misogyny so deeply embedded that some people don’t even see it. At times, it feels like we haven’t come nearly as far as we should, given the work that has gone into dismantling the patriarchy. Sometimes it even feels like we’re regressing.

However! I am also very grateful to raise my family in this place and time. Here and now, I do feel safe most of the time, and my daughter does too. Girls attend school – at all levels – in numbers that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago. We explicitly teach about consent. The pay gap is a household topic of conversation. The Prime Minister’s latest budget focused heavily on improving the lives of women. The Cabinet has gender parity. Awesome female heroes are more and more visible in movies and TV shows – and in real life too.

[If you need inspiration, news, resources, book lists, blog posts, or anything else to learn about girls or help girls learn about themselves, please mine the riches of A Mighty Girl. It is an absolute treasure trove and will make you feel better about the world.]

I’m grateful for the campaigns that mainstream companies are working on, because although they’re not without difficulties, they are highly visible and they do seep into the public consciousness. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has done some good work, bringing up issues mothers and daughters need to consider. And the original #likeagirl video made by Always consistently makes me cry.

Particularly the moment where a smiling teenage girl acknowledges she doesn’t have to accept “run like a girl” for its connotations. She says, “I would run like… myself,” putting both hands over her heart. She does know her worth, but the world tries hard to rob her of this. The woman asks her gently, “Would you like a chance to re-do it?”

Yes. Girls would like a chance to reclaim their self-compassion and take loving custody of their own value as people, please.  YES.

This can happen. The world is shifting. There may be a sexual predator slash nincompoop currently terrorizing the White House, but I’ll say this for him: he (unintentionally) rallied millions of women to take louder, stronger ownership of their feminist ideals. This is helping to put feminism where it should be: as the mainstream, default position for ALL non-misogynist humans. The #metoo movement has swelled past its banks on the power of women knowing they can’t let others just get away with shit anymore. Complacency is not an option.

I am also comforted by the knowledge that we have sisterhood to draw upon. We can bring our daughters into the fold as women who know the profound power of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We understand the strength of unity. The variants of our tenderness are blessings, sources of energy and healing. We know that daughters and mothers and sisters, joined with our allies, are already in the process of uplifting this chaotic jumble called humanity and making it better.

And there are lots of fantastic fathers out there, raising daughters with their own hearts and minds open to who those girls will become.

I am sincere when I say that I feel real optimism for our girls. It is truly exciting to be part of this new wave. We are in it together, all the daughters and all the sons, feeling the thrill of a changing, learning, evolving humanity.

We’ve got this.

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Photo credits, in order: 1. Auntie Beth, 2. Bess-Hamiti, 3. pikauisan, 4. yohoprashant, 4. cherylholt, 5. skimpton007. Photos 2-5 via Pixabay.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 5: My Hubbibi

Whew. Just weathered a Mammoth Meltdown (one of many in the last three years, but this was definitely in the top ten), courtesy of my three-year-old. The better part of an hour of screaming/crying, along with intermittent hitting/kicking. All this – at least initially – because I wouldn’t let her put the cap back on her toothpaste. (Actually, I did let her, and then when she took it off again so she could lick the inside of it, she lost her chance.)

MAN, it’s hard work, sticking to your guns. But the worse things get, the more you have to stick, because otherwise you’re telling the child this works – this gets you what you want.

I don’t really want to talk or write about it. But I do want to mention my gratitude for my Hubbibi today. For being level-headed, for being my tag-team, for being a good sport, for being a great story reader, for being willing to listen and improve, for helping me improve, for being straight with me, for taking straight talk from me, and for giving the best hugs in the world. Oh, and for cleaning the eavestroughs today.

You’re an amazing guy, honey. I love you.

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A Message to the Daddies on Mother’s Day, or “How (Not) to Incur Mama’s Wrath”

This post is dedicated to all the fathers and fathers-to-be out there, with love – especially if this is your first Mother’s Day. I hope some of these words can be useful to you, or to someone you know.

(If you are an equal-time, full-time, or single dad, then you can stop reading now… Welcome to the Mama Club.)

daddy-message-mothers-day

I know some truly great fathers. My own father, my husband, and many of my friends are modern, enlightened dads, thoroughly invested in their children’s lives, who demonstrate their love and care in all kinds of ways. They’re “father figures” in the best sense of the word.

It’s not easy, taking on the Daddy role. Becoming a father is huge; it changes everything. Life becomes a balancing act, a dichotomy, with societal expectations for fathers having done an about-face in half a century. It’s beautiful, too – I’ve seen guys morph from macho to mushball, and there’s nothing more wonderful. When they’re with their children, they are better people, opened up in new ways. But it’s still tough: how do you be your old self as well as your new father-self?

That is a question only the fathers can answer. But I do have some insight into another, perhaps even more tricky, question… How do you keep your relationship with your Baby Mama healthy?

It’s tough, watching her go through wicked hormones, sleep deprivation, pain in various lady parts, shrinkage of social life, etc., and not knowing how to help. Especially in the beginning, she might even seem like a different person, and you’re not sure how to react.

Did anybody warn you about how hard that would be, for both of you? For lots of couples, it’s quite a curve ball.

I remember, when I was pregnant with my first child, a friend warned me: “No matter how good your marriage is now, having a baby will strain it.”

Another friend said, “Just be prepared – if you disagree about parenting, you will always feel that you’re right, because you’re the mom. And you pretty much always will be right.”

Since then, I’ve been in many more conversations with mothers about their parenting partners, and certain themes are unmistakable. The issues that make a mom say, “I freaked out on my husband the other day…” or “Last night I finally snapped when he…” are the same ones, over and over, across all kinds of families – even the ones you have always assumed are perfect.

Our family is no different. My husband and I have had our share of issues, and our combined wisdom on this topic is hard-won – genuine communication is often painful, but absolutely worthwhile. It took a lot of frank talking, and even more listening.

Let me be clear: my husband is a fantastic life-mate, and I love him to pieces. I got one of the very best ones. He was a brick through my three labours and deliveries; he has changed his share of diapers, and dealt stoically with countless other icky messes. He does all the best Daddy things with his living son and daughter, and keeps his stillborn son close to his heart. He is thoughtful and loving and firm and really fun.

It’s just that these great qualities – especially at the beginning – couldn’t exempt him from the basic truth, the one I hear repeated constantly by moms: it’s extremely hard for Dads to really get it, to understand what we go through.

This may sound cry-me-a-river-ish. After all, most of us get into the procreation gig because we want to, right? And women are the ones biologically designed to gestate babies, give birth, breastfeed, and fiercely invest, mama-bear-style, in the welfare of their children.

So where’s the issue?

If motherhood is such a joy, why do I know so many healthy, well-adjusted moms who have become enraged (some on a regular basis) at their baby daddies, whom they have previously loved with ease? Why are dads flabbergasted to find themselves abruptly on the receiving end of moms’ wrath, when they know they’re doing a good job?

I think it happens when fathers have not yet recognized this fundamental truth:

Motherhood is indeed awesome – AND, it’s really tough. A lot tougher than either of you first thought.

Birth and baby-bonding can be beautiful, transformative experiences. I know I’m not the only mama who has completely lost track of time, just staring at her newborn’s face. Breastfeeding, once mama and baby have mastered it, can be just as dazzling as they say. Where I live in Canada, maternity leaves are lengthy enough for new mothers to immerse themselves in their roles, and most moms I talk to wouldn’t have it any other way: they want to spend all that time with their babies, they want to be their child’s food source, and they want to be there for every tiny moment, every change and milestone. The rewards of new motherhood can be grand.

newborn mama

How can we possibly complain?

Here are some of the reasons why it’s so tough, and why the frustration can build up into Wrath:

1. Transmogrification

We’ve acknowledged that becoming a father is an enormous change – at least, it is if you’re doing it right. But for most mothers, having a child is beyond huge. It alters us from our foundations. Our lives as we know them completely unhinge, and re-attach to revolve around our babies. NOTHING stays the same for us. Not the shapes of our bodies, not our hormones, not our instincts, not our priorities, not our careers, not the functioning of our brains, and especially not our day-to-day activities. Intellectually, we know this is how it will be – but it’s still a giant, often overwhelming adjustment when it happens. (N.B.: For moms with postpartum depression/anxiety, PTSD, and/or colicky, high-needs, or non-sleeper babies, it is a different and exponentially harder story.)

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Be sensitive about whether you are both able to do things like take a shower whenever you want, eat hot meals with both hands free, have conversations with adults about grown-up topics, etc… or whether only one of you currently enjoys those luxuries.
  • Consider whether your golf/hockey/gaming/running/gym schedule is still intact. If you’ve just become a parent, your timetable should reflect that. What about her hobbies? Do they still exist?
  • Don’t be the guy who says, “You’re no fun anymore!” Outlandish as it sounds, I am NOT making this one up – it’s a direct quote. Dads who say this are putting themselves in the league of Fathers Who Become Ex-Husbands. (Not kidding.)
  • Also, if you have the urge to remark on the changes in her body, even as a joke… QUASH IT. I guarantee she will not find it funny. (Unless you want to tell her she’s gorgeous. Then go ahead.) So many moms torture themselves about their postpartum bodies – even if they’ve never mentioned it to you.
  • Along similar lines, please be patient when it comes to sex. If you are feeling any boob jealousy because Mama is breastfeeding… best to keep it to yourself. If you like breasts, just remember why they were put on earth (motorboating not being a biological imperative). If you are feeling sexually neglected, remember: between hormonal changes and physical pain (because no matter how well the birth went, there will be some), not to mention lack of sleep and postpartum body-image issues, it takes a while. It’s a rare couple who really gets it on within the first month… and depending on what happened to her girl parts, it’s often more like two or three… or six… (I know, sounds unimaginable. Welcome to parenthood.) But she’ll get there.

2. De-Expertization

Committed parenting is an ocean of doubts and questions to which there are no single right answers.

Basically all moms, with all their hearts, want to do what is best for their children. A new mom spends all day every day with the baby, attempting to do just that, even though it’s a job that is impossible to do “perfectly.” When they encounter problems, or even uncertainties, they discuss them with other moms; they research on internet baby forums; they read baby books. It’s like a whole new career. (And for stay-at-home moms, it IS a whole new career. In the U.S. especially, where maternity leaves are brutally short, many moms choose to leave the workforce entirely – and motherhood is their new life’s work.)

For moms who, before motherhood, spent most of their time doing something they were good at, it is really challenging to suddenly be doing something so unmasterable, so uncontrollable, so guaranteed to maximize your insecurities.

When mothers run into parenting troubles, fathers often offer advice about how to solve baby problems, and they do so with the best of intentions. You want to help, to ease frustration, to be really involved. That, in itself, is great… you just need to tread carefully.

You may be passionately committed to fatherhood, but if you’re working full-time outside the home, it’s just different. You don’t have the same number of hours to get hands-on experience and bonding time with the baby, and it’s unlikely you have the same gut-level motivation to research whatever feeding or sleeping or other issues have cropped up.

Just imagine how you would feel if you were investing your whole self in a new calling, spending all your time and energy trying to get it right, and someone with far less experience blithely piped up, “Hey, have you tried this?”

You see what I mean.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • If you can find the time, read some parenting books and/or articles. There are lots written especially for dads, if you’re into that.
  • In particular, if mama and baby are trying to resolve a specific issue (that she is bearing the brunt of), do the reading necessary to be on the same page with what they’re trying.
  • If you don’t have time to do this… then don’t offer advice (as mentioned above). Give her credit for the nonstop on-the-job training she’s been doing. Be the one to listen, and ask what you can do to help.

3. Underestimation

Ask any stay-at-home mom: people constantly trivialize the work you do when you’re “just” parenting. In fact, there’s a widespread fallacy that it’s not actually work. As in, “Oh, so you’re not working right now?”

Well. Is it something you would pay someone else to do? THEN IT’S WORK. (One could also mention things it has in common with jobs like teaching, waiting tables, mediating, housecleaning, coaching, and lifeguarding.) Babies can’t wait patiently for their needs to be met. Toddlers don’t understand the importance of a to-do list. Full-time parenting is exhausting. Hearing comments about how easy you must have it gets old real fast.

Yes, most of the moms who stay home with their kids – for any length of time – have chosen it, and love it overall. That doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk – mentally, physically, or emotionally. It’s like many of the most rewarding jobs: the more you care about it, the harder it is.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Try not to say this: “Wow, the house is a mess! What did you do all day?” It can be very tempting. Oftentimes the house IS a mess – but I highly recommend you refrain on this one. If the dishes didn’t get done, trust that there are reasons. Chances are, she would have liked to get more done – it’s hard for lots of moms, especially in the beginning, seeing their “productivity” take a nosedive – but baby needs come first.
  • Even if all the baby does is sleep and eat, those things can be a lot less straightforward than it seems like they should be. Especially now that Google is there to make us second-guess everything we do.

4. Default Parenting

No matter how much each parent loves his or her children, there’s always a default parent. With new babies, it’s natural for that to be Mama, for reasons both biological and societal. However, in my experience, Mama remains the default for much longer and in more situations than necessary, because the precedent has been set. Even if she has gone back to work and has as demanding a schedule as Daddy, in many cases she is still automatically taking care of most meals, day care drop-offs and pick-ups, school communications, hand-me-downs, doctor’s appointments, etc.

In large gatherings, she is the one whose parental radar never turns off, even if both parents are there. It happens all the time: kids are playing, dads are socializing, moms are partly socializing, and partly checking if the kids need to pee or need snacks or band-aids or are getting up to mischief or going too close to the stairs/breakable things/sharp things. I don’t know why this dynamic is so common, in this day and age… but it is.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Avoid saying, “Oh man, I am SO TIRED.” I’m sure you are. Being a parent AND a person is tiring. But unless you are doing exactly as much nighttime baby-feeding, midnight potty trips, nightmare-soothing etc. as Mama, she is the wrong person to complain to about your fatigue. She is the one at whose expense you get your sleep (and keep in mind that if her body is a full-time milk factory, this actually uses even more energy than pregnancy). If you’re tired, she’s exhausted. Reserve the complaints for your guy friends.
  • Be present. When you are in the same building with your children, even if Mama is there, you’re automatically on duty too – unless you’ve specifically made other arrangements with your co-parent.
  • If you are one of the countless Dads who like to take leisurely bathroom breaks with their favourite book/magazine/handheld device, remember you’re on the clock. Those fifteen-minute intermissions are very noticeable to the mama who doesn’t even get to pee alone, never mind take more than ninety seconds at a time on the john.
  • If you wish you could reverse the roles (she probably does too, sometimes), please don’t assume that it would be the proverbial stroller-ride in the park if you did.

5. Bad Cop Syndrome

This follows on the heels of Default Parenting. There’s usually one parent who’s more strict than the other, and that’s normal too. But it’s funny: even though the phrase goes “Wait till your father gets home,” as if Daddy’s the one who draws the hard line, nowadays I’ve seen much more often that Daddy is the permissive one. He says yes more frequently to sugar and extra video game time and fun new toys. Daddies bend the rules way more often.

And it’s not that those things are awful. They’re fun. But if Mommy’s the one who sticks to the boundaries and Daddy’s the fun one, well… that makes Mommy the bad cop. Especially because now she’s now monitoring the kid(s) AND you. She did not sign up for that. It sucks to be the killjoy, even if you know it’s your job. The point is, it should be both of your job.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Don’t give credence to that harebrained dad from dumb commercials, the one who always screws up. People joke about how moms end up with one extra kid because dads are like big children; in reality, this is not funny at all. Perpetuating the perception of fathers as bumbling fools who can’t parent properly is insulting to you and your family, and it only takes society backwards.
  • Make sure you’ve talked about the limits the two of you, AS A TEAM, are setting for your children. Stick to them, unless you have a very good reason not to. (For the record, your child simply asking is not a very good reason.)
  • Attractive as it is sometimes to say things like “No dinner if you can’t cooperate!”, try not to make threats you can’t keep. Kids only take you seriously if you mean what you say – and you will soon pay for your wavering.

6. Interminability

This is probably the hardest thing about New Motherhood – and Motherhood in general: it is relentless. Even for mothers with dream babies who feed well and sleep lots, it’s still hard being the be-all and end-all of your child’s existence. Beautiful and rewarding, of course, but sometimes… damn hard.

Is there any other job where you are working or on-call literally 24/7, for months (or even years) in a row? Especially for a breastfeeding mama whose baby doesn’t bottle-feed, or one whose children are very mama-centric, or one whose baby daddy is mostly (or always) not home… Sometimes it feels like we just might not make it through with our sanity. (And remember, grasp on sanity weakens in proportion to the amount of time spent listening to crying/screaming.)

As I see it, the key thing is Me Time, or rather the lack thereof. I know “Me Time” is kind of an annoying, new-agey phrase that sounds like it belongs in a spa ad. But trust me, it’s a critical issue that goes unaddressed shockingly often. For a mother with a newborn, depending on the baby’s needs and personality, the simple ability to take a break can basically cease to exist. I remember, in the first few weeks of E’s life, fantasizing about folding a whole load of laundry uninterrupted or going grocery shopping alone – and those don’t even count as Me Time. Taking ten-minute Sitz-baths for my postpartum stitches felt like over-the-top luxury.

Please note also that mom-and-kids dates, although they are fun and rejuvenating and do wonders for moms’ mental health, don’t count as Me Time either. Mom is still on-duty the whole time. Real, legitimate Me Time must remove her from the duties of motherhood, and remind her of who she is, as herself, in addition to being a mother.

If you still spend the majority of your time being yourself, doing things you used to do before becoming a father, then it’s hard to relate.

If it’s not possible for Mama to take breaks at the moment (which can happen, especially early on), examine the extent of your own Me Time, and how much of it is in her presence. The discrepancy between your Me Time and hers will likely be proportional to her level of aggravation.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Notice and appreciate when you have time to yourself – and this goes double for when you have the house to yourself. I have heard described SO MANY scenarios in which Mom has literally not had a moment of Me Time all day, and Dad comes home (or is already home) and puts his feet up, or takes a bike ride, or goes to putter in the garage, or picks up his iPad, without thinking about it. Trust me, this habit incurs the Wrath.
  • Enable her Me Time, if you can. Even a few minutes can make a big difference to a tired mama’s mental state.
  • Ask yourself this test question: How many times have I been on a real trip – out of town – without the kids? How many times has she? (If she goes on trips with the kids, it’s not the same at all.)
  • Remember that motherhood today is burdened with impossible standards. Between the contradictory wisdom of the Interwebs and the generations-old pressure to Take Care Of Everything, not to mention new expectations of scheduling kids to death and making life Pinterest-worthy… There’s just no way to ace it.
  • Don’t let her be a martyr to the work; take some of it off her plate. Don’t give her the chance to identify with that perfect-but-drudgey 1950s housewife who barely got to be a person. (That effing model housewife, whether she ever existed or not, looms in the maternal subconscious, judging us when we haven’t vacuumed.)

And there you have it! Those are the big Wrath-Incurring Issues. If my advice seems self-evident and way too easy, that’s great. You are ADVANCED. If it seems condescending, I apologize – I only wrote what the complaints called for. If it was overwhelming… feel free to re-read. 🙂

So. Are you all ready to celebrate Mother’s Day?

I know some say that it’s the kids who should be appreciating their mothers on Mother’s Day, and yes, they should, if they’re developmentally able. But if you are grateful to have progeny, your appreciation is just as important. And don’t forget to call and thank your own mom, if you can.

All the information above might have given you ideas about how to show Mama you’re glad that you have kids with her. Just in case you’d like a recap:

1. Recognition. Be observant enough to see what she does, and what she gives up, on a daily basis.

2. Appreciation. I have seen these situations improve dramatically with a simple acknowledgement from Dad: I know you work hard, and even though we are a team, I know that when it comes to the kids, YOU DO MORE, and I appreciate it. Nobody wants to work thanklessly, especially when it’s work they pour their passion into.

3. Facilitation. Help her get those breaks that remind her who she is, and what she’s good at (besides being the best baby mama in the world).

4. Recalibration. As your child(ren)’s age permits, especially if Mom goes back to work, swing the balance back. Take honest stock of who’s doing the non-negotiable child-care things that have to happen each day, and try to even things out. You will reap the rewards; if you ever felt the pang of your child rejecting you in favour of Mommy, this is the time when the tables can turn.

5. Libation. Just a couple of wee bonus tips: if you have a newborn and you’re around when Mama is breastfeeding the baby, get her something to drink. It’s a small gesture that makes a big difference to a mother possessed by the nursing thirst. On similar lines, if you ever have chances to pay her back for the alcohol-free time she’s done by being the DD, take them.

And if you want to do more for Mother’s Day… you might ask her what would make her happiest.

Thanks for reading, Daddies (and Daddies-to-be). I hope it has been worthwhile, and that if you make a loving effort to understand her experience, she will be able to do the same for you.

Happy parenting, and good luck.

***


 

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The Blooming Season

This weekend is a big one for me.

On Saturday, I’ll be thirty-five years old. (Holy smokes.) And of course, Sunday is Mother’s Day.

Over the past week or so, something has been making me feel slightly odd and touched in the head. There’s been a phantom baby inside me. Not that I have actual pregnancy symptoms (other than exhaustion and fluctuations in appetite, which can be chalked up to the baby outside me). I am definitely not pregnant.

But it’s weird – I feel movements. Convincing ones that make me involuntarily put a hand on my abdomen.

If at this point you want to take me gently aside and explain about my digestive system and gas bubbles, don’t worry. I know most of what I’m feeling is the normal business of the human body. I’ve been thinking to myself, Dilovely, you’re being ridiculous, you haven’t been pregnant for seven months.

And then it occurred to me: I have spent a large fraction of the last five years pregnant. More specifically, I have been pregnant for 4 of the last 5 birthdays and Mother’s Days.

In 2008, one of the years my birthday coincided with Mother’s Day, a cluster of cells the size of a poppyseed was growing in my womb, only to release itself 17 days later.

In 2009, I was rotund, less than a month away from the hardest and most amazing experience of my life to that date: delivering my firstborn son.

In 2011, I was expecting his brother, who would, as you know, arrive five weeks early, and leave us even before we held him.

Last year on Mother’s Day, I was halfway through my pregnancy with Baby AB, having monthly ultrasounds and periodic ECGs, hyper-aware of every signal she provided telling me she was okay. Now, she’s just over seven months old, and as healthy as rosy little piglet. She weighs over four times what Sebastian weighed at birth.

Once I put all this together, I stopped fretting about my phantom baby. No wonder when I sing lullabies to my daughter, I find myself reflexively imagining the sound travelling through my body to envelop a tiny person inside. It kind of makes sense that as my body takes in the thrilling fragrances of the blooming season, it should also remember its own blooming. It’s not a flight of fancy; it’s just a memory.

healing-painting-baby-sleeping-in-a-rose-catt-kyriacou
Baby Sleeping in a Rose by Catt Kyriacou

And why should I be the only one to feel this presence?

This morning, E asked me, seemingly apropos of nothing, “Mama, when is the new baby coming?”

There was an upside-down moment where I was right in step with his question, then a jolt as I reminded myself that it was a strange thing for him to say.

I had to ask him to repeat it, just to be sure I’d heard him right. I know he still wishes for a baby brother (one he can keep). Lovingly, I told him I’m not pregnant; he responded matter-of-factly, “Yes, you are.”

And it’s rational enough. Why shouldn’t I be pregnant every spring, like a mama duck? His memories of my pregnancies may be vague, but they might still inform his inner concept of spring.

***

My first uninhabited Mother’s Day since Sebastian. There’s something really hard about this.

***

In truth, I’m glad not to be pregnant. I definitely have my arms full as it is. If I feel emptiness as well… I can manage it. It hurts, but then – there’s so much joy in living with my scrumptious little progeny. This full-empty Mother’s Day is unique to this moment in my life, this golden babyhaving time that’s as tough as it is glorious – and brief.

I’m thankful for all of it.

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***

Visit Yeah Write for some high quality weekend reading…


 

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A (mostly) Depressing Post.

I should probably not be writing right now. In my present state, it’s like drinking and dialling: I might use inappropriate honesty.

For the last many weeks (I haven’t been counting because that just makes it worse) Baby A, and therefore I, have been sleeping in increments no longer than 2 hours, and often 90 minutes or less. Well, there have been a few times we’ve slept three or four hours in a row. (One time I got all excited because I thought we’d slept for five hours, but then I remembered we’d switched to daylight savings in the night and my phone had automatically reset. Only four hours.)

Of course I mostly blame myself for this. We bed-share, and the majority of the time when she wakes up, I don’t have the presence of mind (or the energy) to do much besides nurse her back to sleep, which means I’m assiduously teaching her NOT to put herself to sleep, right?

With that in mind, I’ve been doing some sleep training with Baby A (using the Baby Whisperer’s Pick-Up-Put-Down, because I do not have what it takes for crying it out), and she has been able to put herself to sleep for a nap several times this week, without crying. She is learning more swiftly than I expected.

Last night I thought I had all my ducks in a row. She had napped well during the day, including an evening catnap (which she needs in order not to get overstimulated); she was in a good mood all day, not fussy; I remembered to give her Tylenol in case of teething pain; and I went to bed at the same time she did, so in case she had a long stretch of sleep first, I would get to benefit from it.

She was up less than an hour later. Sean and I spent half an hour or more trying to get her back to sleep – and succeeding, but she would wake up minutes after being put down. I finally caved and nursed her to sleep… and she woke up twenty minutes later. And then we repeated that scenario. Then we tried again, and nursing didn’t soothe her at all. I finally patted her to sleep sitting up, and she slept for about 90 minutes. Next round we got maybe a hundred. At 5:20 a.m., she awoke wailing and nothing I did helped until I turned on the lamp to give her some more Tylenol. The effect of the lamp (which I’ve covered with a starry receiving blanket to make it dimmer, and I guess she thinks it’s pretty) was instant: suddenly she was smiling and sweet and jokey.

Honestly, I was like, WTF, baby??? I was glad she seemed happy, but in that case, what’s wrong? Can babies have bad dreams? Could that have been it? It didn’t seem to be gas (she got very mad when I tried my standard solutions for that) and teething can’t be the whole issue. Obviously not hungry. Diaper was fine, I checked. She was up and babbling until finally falling asleep (nursing) at 6:30. Then we had another 90 minutes of sleep, etc.

So confused.

I feel that I have been dealing better with interrupted sleep this time around than I did with E. This was especially true earlier on, when A was only waking up once or twice a night. (PIECE O’ CAKE.) I felt like an old hand at this, someone who’s adapted. Even with four or five wakeups in a night, I can usually function quite reasonably the next day.

But it’s now been well over a month of the frequent wakeups, and this long-term thing is getting to me. I thought it would be temporary, since A was achieving 5- and 6- hour stretches before she was three months. But now those are a distant memory. (Just to get a bit mawkish on ya.)

I know lots of moms who have pulled through much worse than this with their babies. I shouldn’t complain. But look, here I am complaining.

I guess it’s that I am recharged just enough to keep going, but there is some base level of life-juice in me that is depleting, without getting topped up. I don’t like the kind of person it makes me.

It makes me want to quit and just walk away from poor E, sometimes multiple times in a day (when he melts down, when he ignores what I’m telling him, when he deliberately defies me, or when he decides it’s a good idea to take all the books from his bookshelf and put them on his bedroom floor). I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what he needs right now.

It puts the tears right up at the top of my throat so that stupid little things make me cry, or almost.

It means that when I get frustrated, I immediately want to throw breakable things against a wall, really hard. (I never do, though.)

It paralyzes my writing, so that when I have thoughts jumbling in my head looking for an outlet, when I most need a “flow experience“, I can’t focus myself to sit down and write.

It takes the meaning out of things, so that I want to say SCREW IT and just give up on stuff I otherwise care about, like my blog, the dishes, spending time outside, getting errands done, socializing… And any larger projects seem laughably unattainable.

Please don’t be alarmed. I don’t sound or even feel like this most of the time. I’ve just noticed that my patience is wearing thin, and last night was like a double-dose. I tried to nap with A (she’s still napping) while E is at the babysitter, but couldn’t do it. Too much crap in my brain. So I figured it was time for me to write something, already.

Since I’m trying to catharsify here, I might as well write about Sebastian. He’s been in my mind a lot these days, and I won’t deny that it’s off-throwing to be going about my day and suddenly remember, with breathtaking vividness, the sound of an empty Doppler, or the pain of him leaving my arms, or crying at the funeral home. For some reason, these memories are sharper and realer than usual lately.

It’s more complicated, and confusing in a deep place I can’t fully access, to grieve for Sebastian, to miss him, now that Baby A is here. Her unique, adorable baby-self would not be alive if he had survived.

Friends of ours lost their firstborn, a son, at about the age Baby A is now (about the same time of year, too), to a congenital heart defect. I think of that sweet baby and wonder how anyone endures the pain of losing a five-month-old. Five months is more than enough time to be head-over-heels in love with every teeny part of your child. It’s an absolutely gorgeous age. (Not that six weeks or seventeen months or three-and-three-quarters years is any less gorgeous.)

The other day, Sean asked me jokingly if we should trade in this wakeuppy baby for one that sleeps better. And though I laughed, it was a good reminder that whatever the side effects, I would go virtually sleepless if I had to, to keep my little girl.

She really is totally awesome in basically all ways – except the sleeping thing.

Here she is, workin’ on her sitting up.
IMG_3596
Fun times.

 Wow. See, that helped a lot, just unloading some words on y’all. Hope you don’t mind.

Now, if we can just get some better sleep than last night, I’ll be thrilled.

***


 

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Four Months Old

Dear Baby A,

On January 30th, it was four months since the day of your birth. I know it’s the worst cliché ever, but I can’t help it: the days have flown by. I cannot believe we are already here.

Life with you and your brother has its exasperating moments. There have been lots of runny noses between the two of you, and some rough nights as a result. I’ve been frustrated many times. I’ve asked myself What is going on with this baby?? on more than a few occasions. When you cry, I feel my nerves fraying rapidly.

But I’m never actually frustrated with you. You are still pure innocence. You do what your circumstances dictate. And honestly, most of the time you are a sweet, happy, laid-back baby.

We love it when you talk. You get on a roll, making all kinds of sounds, both lilting and screechy. I can’t get enough of it. (It’s even cute – though slightly less so – when you decide that the middle of the night is a good babbling time.)

You’re also very physically motivated. At your two-month appointment, you impressed our doctor with your posture on your tummy: he looked at you pushing up and said in surprised tones, “She’s way past forty-five degrees.” (Whatever that means – it’s definitely good.)

When we put you on your back on your mat to play with toys suspended above you, you grab them right away with very deliberate hands, and fully engage with them. You’re great at getting your own hands into your mouth (so good that you regularly gag on them). And once we tried you in the jolly jumper, you got the hang of it almost instantly.

At four months, your brother was also grabbing things and making cute sounds, but you’re even more determined. We’re pretty sure you’ll be crawling and walking earlier than he did.

Speaking of your brother… it’s amazing to see how much joy you get out of each other’s presence.

Also, you’re just delicious. Your cheeks are delectable and your eyes are lustrous and your soft little hands are irresistible. Your chortles are still rare enough that it feels like a gift when they happen. When you grin at us, it’s so captivating that we ask ourselves, What could I possibly have done to deserve this awesomeness? Could I be as wonderful as she thinks?

Basically, when I look at your sweet little face, it makes me so happy that I feel like bursting. In a good way. I love you more than my heart can even hold.

Here’s a silly little video I made to celebrate.

***


 

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Why is parenting so effing hard?

I think I may have sounded, in yesterday’s post, like life with my kids is idyllic and wonderful and effortless. I was glad to have the writing to focus me on the parts I love about this parenting gig, because yesterday was actually a rather difficult parenting day.

How is it okay that the most intricate, least predictable, most emotionally draining, least perfectable job in the world HAS NO MANUAL? No training, no license – just do it. Just make it happen. RAISE THOSE KIDS.

I mean, people offer classes you can take. Experts have written books you can call manuals – but my daughter didn’t come with one for her. I read manuals I consider very wise and useful, and still, I’m full of questions every minute.

Like, why is my baby waking up when she’s still so tired? Why does she fall asleep and then her eyes pop open as if she’s ready to go? Why, when I can see that sleep-window opening, is it still so hard to get her to sleep sometimes? And even harder, the more tired she gets? SHOULDN’T SLEEPING BE ALL BUILT-IN AND WHATNOT?

And as it turns out, my three-year-old provokes even more questions… Why does he retain every syllable he hears about cars and Smarties and friggin’ leatherback turtles (if Diego talks about it), and then release to oblivion every word I tell him about the dangers of choking if you run around while eating? Why does he insist on the whiny voice even though it doesn’t get him good results? Why won’t he try just ONE TINY BITE of something OFF the list of thirty separate foods that must be consumed separately? Why does he wake up, baby-like, before he’s done sleeping? Why is he being a turkey and doing exactly what we just told him not to, when we RAISED HIM BETTER THAN THIS? Why is he not listening again?? IS THIS NORMAL???

If it seems like I’m overusing my caps lock all of a sudden, too bad. Those are the CAPS that go through a mom’s head when she’s trying to keep her voice reasonable, confident, and loving, so that the baby/three-year-old will think you know what you’re doing.

As I’ve said before, at least we know why they’re so cute-looking. Keeps us from stuffing them into small soundproof spaces that latch from the outside.

Let’s not forget the questions for – and about – myself. Why didn’t my maternal instincts cover this? Why wasn’t this technique part of my womanly intuition? Why did I sign up for this again? Why am I not better at this? How does ANYONE do this with MORE THAN TWO CHILDREN??

I know, I need to loosen up. Sean and I were discussing the other great primates and how they do things – they seem pretty laid-back about parenting. They go with the flow. They’re ALL instinct, and it works just fine.

gorilla_baby_sleeping-on-mother
Photo by bartdubelaar

Of course, they don’t have dishes to do, they don’t have to make sure they have a clean nursing bra, their older kid is fine by himself because he’s supposed to be a crazy ape anyway, there are no diapers, no toys underfoot, no grocery shopping… and no addictive NaBloPoMo blogs to read. (Darn you, you fascinating people.)

Maybe if I had a clingy-fingered baby and lots of chest and back hair, I could find a way to be supa-chill about this whole parenting thing too.

Of course, in that case, I’d probably have a few other issues.

Being human is so complicated.

***

P.S. Now my daughter is smiling at me, ridiculously fetching. …What was I upset about again?


 

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Six weeks old on Remembrance Day

Dear Baby A,

Today, you are six weeks old! Probably the fastest six weeks of my whole life, even though I’m trying very hard to cherish every second, to make this time last longer.

Six weeks ago, you were sleeping angelically through your first day of life, as many people (who had already loved you for a long time) passed you around and admired you. You were understandably exhausted: it must really be tough going from a warm, dark, hushed, never-hungry place, through a very squeezy tunnel, to a cold, bright, loud place where people will not stop touching you, and where you’re suddenly expected to get food into your tummy using your mouth. That’s the kind of day that would really take it out of a person. (I was pretty tired myself.)

Mama and baby A on her first night in the world
You and me, on that first night.

Baby daughter, I am so excited to be your Mama.

I get lost in your deep, wonderful eyes several times a day.

I am fascinated by every little expression that flits across your face – awake or asleep.

When you smile, my whole soul smiles back.

Your tiny hands are so exquisite, I almost can’t stand it.

My favourite thing is listening to you sigh with each breath, your face getting sleepy, as you drink from my breast.

Even when you awaken too early, or cry with what seems like excessive drama (usually about being in your car seat), I know you are just learning how to be. It’s my job – mine and Daddy’s – to guide you and teach you the skills you need to cope with life. We are working on it as best we can.

Last night, I had a dream about our family, but it was different. Daddy and I were visiting somewhere far away – with two little boys. E was there, and so was his little brother, who was wearing a little cowboy hat and a diaper (and nothing else). They were both running around and playing, hiding from each other behind corners. They were beautiful, and it was fun.

I’m glad I just enjoyed that dream. I’m glad my mind never remembered that it couldn’t be real, that E’s brother – your brother, too – never will run or play or hide around corners. At least, not with us.

Amazingly, that was the only time in my memory that I’ve ever dreamed about Sebastian.

When I woke up, I remembered right away what the constellation of our family looks like in real life. I grieved, because it was so sweet and fulfilling to see him, and I don’t know when I might dream of him again.

But I don’t wish for that family from my dream, even though it made me so happy. Because if Sebastian were here, precious Baby A, you would not be… and that is a situation I can’t possibly wish for. The two families could never have been one and the same.

It’s confusing, but also simple. I love all three of you so much, with love unique for each of you. I miss your ageless brother, as I always will, but I’m immeasurably glad I don’t have to miss you. For us, you are joy, in adorable human form.

Today is Remembrance Day. It’s a day when we think and talk about war, and honour the sacrifices people have had to make during wars. I think a lot about this day, and have written about these things many times – about what remembrance means to me as a Quaker, what it means to students I’ve taught, and what it may mean to those who have lost children to war.

Your great-grandfathers, from three different countries, were involved in World War II. Today I’ve found myself thinking of them, and their wives and children, and mostly just feeling selfishly grateful. I’m grateful that your Daddy is here with us, rather than an unknown number of miles or months or years from his next visit home… that I’m not a married single mom, even temporarily… or unthinkably worse, a widow… that I don’t often worry about you and E being orphaned… that I’ve never had to worry about having enough food to feed you… that I’m not wondering whether a bomb will destroy us, or our home, or other people we love.

(Writing all this, I’m reminded that Hurricane Sandy victims have much in common with those who have experienced war. I’m exceedingly grateful we were not exposed to Sandy first-hand, either.)

Sweet girl, we are so fortunate to live when and where we do, and to have each other. I hope someday you will understand what a wondrous blessing you are to this family.

Baby A at six weeks old
Six weeks old

Love, love, love, love you, for always.

Your Mama.

 

***


 

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Thanks for the mammaries, and the 80s junk food ads

As I was just telling my mother, I am not myself today. I think it’s because I made one of my boobs angry.

I guess it’s easier to do than I realized, while breastfeeding full-time. I was just trying to be consistent and make sure I keep the supply even on both sides… I realized I’d done the right side twice, so I wanted to make sure I did the same with the left (they do have names, BTW, but I’m not sure I’m ready to share them on the Interwebs). Of course, this happened to be during the night, when I tend to lie on my front/side. So my right breast got all offended and rock-hard and started hurting like the dickens.

I think that must have been the reason that at the 3 a.m. feed, I realized I was freezing cold, and couldn’t get warm or stop shivering even when I finally made myself get up to put on warmer clothes and another blanket (#4, plus flannel sheets). Apparently all the heat in my body was focused into the seething ache of Mammary the Right. I don’t remember ever getting feverish from breast engorgement before – not even when both of them were filled with milk and there was no Sebastian to feed it to.

Basically, I did not sleep well, or much. By morning, I was dizzy and sore all over. If I seem kinda punchy, that’s why.

Thank God my Hubbibi was here today – he changed Baby A’s poopy bum, and ensured that I could sleep uninterrupted for a couple hours. It made a huge difference. He’ll be starting a new job very soon; I just got lucky that he’s still home right now.

In spite of all this, I’m still very grateful for my magic milk jugs. Even if one is getting grumpy in her, uh, middle age. They are still amazing assets.

On a totally different topic, Sean and I were talking last night at dinner about 80s commercials, and which ones stick in our minds. It’s weird how those things learned in childhood don’t go away. I remember this Pringles ad so well that sometimes, the jingle gets stuck in my head, apparently out of nowhere.

OMG, classic. The hair, the colours, the over-exuberance, the incredibly cheesy script. It’s all there. (One of the girls in this commercial is from our hometown – we went to high school with her. One of my many claims to fame.)

Then there’s the Caramilk Secret.

This particular “Hacker” ad was running at a time in my life when I couldn’t imagine being ever HALF as cool as this girlfriend. She teases her boyfriend and rolls her eyes with utmost confidence; she’s got great hair and wicked hoop earrings and an awesome jean jacket; it’s like she knows how this is all gonna go down, but she’s too cool to worry about it. (Plus, her teeth are perfect. In 1988, when I was ten years old with a very overcrowded smile that I tried never to have captured on film, having pretty teeth was one of my most cherished goals.)

Finally, I have to include Smarties. American readers, you may or may not have an idea of what real Smarties are, but I can tell you, these are the ones. They are not just little round candy-coated chocolate buttons; no. They are FORMATIVE CANDY. For years, Canadian kids have used them for many cool activities – not just eating them, but creating artful rainbow mosaics on the table, licking the outside and painting their faces with the colours, and carefully sucking the colour off so you can see that they’re all actually white underneath… and brown underneath that – profound stuff, people! (And did you know? In recent years, the colours look different because they’ve been replaced with natural dyes.)

This jingle is no less influential. If you knew the words as a kid, you still know them now. They entrench themselves like scripture, creating the perfect blend of peer pressure, rebelliousness, and cachet. Although I didn’t actually remember these images, watching them was like recalling a recurring dream: every shot was viscerally familiar.

When I was really little, we only watched TVOntario, which was commercial-free. Even after that, commercials were basically always put on mute in our house, so I really don’t know how these ones got so ingrained. I barely remember any TV ads from the 90s or after. I guess my files were already full – and, it seems, un-deletable. Maybe that’s why I’m not good at remembering important historical dates and national capitals – too much inane 80s fun taking up space in my brain.

And honestly, who’s to say which information is more important?

(Heh heh.)

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The new life of the two-child family

And now, how we’re doing back on the home front, after 2.5 weeks: Mommy, Daddy, big brother, little sister… just like the Berenstain Bears.

The New Family

What’s the same:

  • The new baby looks like Daddy! Although now, people are more likely to say she looks like her brother (who is Daddy’s Mini-Me). She does, quite a lot… but I personally think her eyes are very much her own. I spend as much time as possible staring into them, so I know.
  • It’s been easy to fall in love with her, as with her brother. I’m sure they make babies so snuggly and adorable like that on purpose.
  • Breastfeeding is hard at first. I’ve had a relatively hassle-free time of it – no serious latch or milk supply problems – but it was like starting from scratch with this baby. Re-learning how to help her open wide, and cringing through the pain of the first few days of feeding. By this point, we have reached the stage where I only wince when she first latches, and then we’re good.
  • Of course, we’ve also reached the stage where the milk is ALL IN and it’s a bit too much for her sometimes. She’ll get the flow going and then let go – and get sprayed in the face. (This helps her keep her youthful complexion.) Now I remember why we went through so many receiving blankets in a week with E.
  • She often does the “fresh-air pee” when the diaper comes off, just like E. I thought it was a boy thing, but no, girls have the skills too. Just not the aim. (Which is in fact a good thing, since E was known to aim at his own face sometimes.)
  • Baby A didn’t like her first bath either… although she resigned herself to it more quickly than E did as a newborn. (She was positively mellow for the second bath.)
baby's first bath
Angry Birds shows her angry side.
baby bath
Learning to live with it.

What’s different:

  • Girl parts. It is a very different thing, and rather intimidating, changing the diaper of a baby girl. So many more crevices! I guess it’s handy that Mother Nature sees fit to enlarge babies’ genitals when they are first born – like a magnified version to practice on until you have your bearings.
  • Pink stuff. We have been very grateful for the gifts and hand-me-downs that are clothing our daughter so far… but wow! You’d think it was the law for baby girls to wear pink and only pink. We throw in some “unisex” clothing just for fun sometimes.
baby girl wearing green
Yep, she’s a little cross-eyed sometimes. That’s normal, right?
  • Baby A is actually kinda chunky. E was always long and lean, even though he was a big eater, but A has the beginnings of baby thunder-thighs. Yay!
Baby A a few days old
Only a few days old but already squeezable.
  • “Cute little” baby noises. I remember that E used to make noise while eating – contented sighs and so on – and that was pretty sweet. Baby A does too, but I swear it’s five times louder. In the quiet of the night, when she needs feeding, she sounds like a ravenous wolf-pup who’s never eaten before. If she accidentally pops off her latch, it’s even more loud and angry and frantic. And those times when she’s working on filling her diaper, she grunts and growls like a dump truck going full-tilt on rough terrain. (HA – dump truck! Get it??… Yeah. Sorry about that.) It’s not ladylike… but it does make us giggle.
  • Sleep deprivation. Good thing the embodiment of my exhaustion has such a cute, kissable face. (There’s no way that’s a biological coincidence.) It is a whole other world when there’s a new baby and a busy, ebullient, non-napping three-year-old in the house. So far, I’ve been very lucky: my brother is in town and has helped us quite a bit, taking E out for bike rides/park visits/swimming lessons while I nap with the baby, holding A while I do other things (like brushing my teeth, sorting laundry, etc.). He even has some cool techniques for burping her. My elder sister, though busy, also steps in when she can (she’s done a heck of a lot of dishes, among other things), and Sean always makes sure I get to sleep in with the baby when he’s home on weekends. But on those mornings when E is all raring to go and it’s just the three of us… I’ve tasted what it is (and what it will be) to suck it up and just function – albeit in a blurry, half-numb kind of way. Still totally worth it. And E is (mostly) such a good boy… He learned while I was pregnant that Mommy needs a few minutes of “warmup” before getting out of bed – and now he even understands that sometimes his sister has to eat breakfast before he does. He’s very patient with us. Again: I am one fortunate mama.
  • We are gradually figuring out some nighttime sleeping. It’s been… pretty okay. Looking back, I realize that E slept quite well at night right from the beginning – 3-4-hour chunks were his standard – but A has shown more nocturnal tendencies. There were a few nights right at the beginning that were very wakeful and tough – one in particular where, for three-and-a-half hours, I would feed her, she’d fall asleep, I’d put her down, and within two minutes she’d be rousing herself, making desperate rooting noises and wildly trying to suck her fingers. By 2:30 a.m., I was starting to wonder if she was actually a possessed demon-baby. (Then she fell asleep.)
  • Brother/sister dynamic. E is so excited to have a little sister; it’s beyond awesome to see his face light up around her. The tricky part is making sure he doesn’t literally smother her with love. If he had his way, he’d be right on the nursing pillow with her, with both hands on her delicious cheeks, and he’d never stop kissing her. We are constantly quelling him – but of course trying really hard to encourage him, too. And reassure him that he is just as loved as ever… and that Mommy is still capable of being fun – at least a little. Sigh.
big brother and little sister
Big brother, baby sister, and Auntie Em.
  • There are times when we can tell E is still working on this adjustment – getting inordinately upset over things that wouldn’t normally upset him. He is also demonstrating very selective hearing at the moment. And occasional bursts of outright defiance. We just try our best to help him through those… without overindulging him. (It’s not simple – anyone have tips on this?)
  • The hormone-coaster. I was definitely hormonal after E was born – I remember crying at all kinds of little things – but it was all happy crying. This time, it is similar, but more bittersweet. For most of the first week of A’s life, Sean and E both slept in E’s room, away from our family bed – until I had a meltdown. I was no longer brushing E’s teeth or reading him stories or taking him for bike rides or doing most of the other fun things I’ve been known to do, and it suddenly hit me that things would never be the same for us. I could never give him as much as I had been giving; it was the end of an era. I found myself grieving the loss of our relationship, the way it used to be… and the hormones just made me sadder. Now, it does help to have him back in our room at night, where I can hear him breathing and put my hand out to touch him. (Of course, when he decides he’s ready to be by himself in his own bed, I’m determined to be fine with it.)
  • Speaking of postnatal emotions, I’m sure you’ve guessed that Sebastian is still in my mind all the time. It’s part of what makes me grateful for every single aspect, good and bad, of this experience. It’s also what makes me tend toward hypochondria where A is concerned; all of her noises have made me fret about whether her nasal passages are wide enough, even though I’m pretty sure she’s perfect… I worried about SIDS with E, but actually worry more about it now, instead of being more laid-back with my second time parenting a newborn. But I’m trying not to dwell on it.

What I’d forgotten:

  • The milk jugs. I was reminded last summer of how giant one’s boobs can get when the milk comes in; what I’d forgotten was the sensation of looking down and realizing that they’re actually considerably larger than my baby’s head. Bizarre. I’m glad that stage is waning – especially since it’s because I get to feed that milk to someone this time. That part is inexpressibly wonderful.
  • Baby softness. You know in your mind that babies have soft skin, but it’s impossible to believe how soft it really is except when you’re touching it. It’s almost liquid.
  • Milk face. There’s this expression Baby A gets right when she finishes eating and “pops off” – she gets the pouty lips and looks full to almost bursting. E made that exact same face, but I didn’t remember it until I saw it in his sister.
  • So many adorable newborn things – the bobble-head effect, the startle reflex, the big luxurious stretches, the sleepy arms that are so limp it’s like they have no bones, the way she tucks up her legs and sticks out her bum when you pick her up… Such great stuff, and so fleeting.

What I remembered:

  • Healing your lady bits is not as fun as it sounds. Ha ha. I’m very stoked to have only two stitches this time, but it’s still hard to find time take care of them properly. (Very much worth the trouble, though. Let’s hear it for the sitz bath!)
  • Newborn ears are so tiny and exquisite. One of the perks of breastfeeding is getting to gaze at them a lot.
newborn baby ears
Perfect baby ear. (The other one’s just as cute.)
  • Sleeping baby… ahhhhh. Nothin’ like it.

sleeping baby

sleeping baby 2

sleeping baby 3

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