Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Yeah, I’m a Selfish Mother: A Response to a Reader

Reader Comment

I’ve recently been called “selfish” by one of my readers for having taken my child to daycare while he had diarrhea.

Selfish.

It’s a heavy, knife-twisting word for women.

There’s nothing worse than a selfish woman.

Except a selfish mother.

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How dare I take my child to daycare while he had diarrhea?

I dared because there were three viruses going around in his classroom and every child had at least one of them. (And as you’ll find out later in this post–we got all of them). That’s what daycare centers are. They are veritable petri dishes of illness. Everyone who uses a daycare knows it. And none of us point fingers at each other saying, Ohhh… I’m so mad at you because your kid got my kid sick! That never happens. Ever.

I dared because I had already called the doctor and she told me that we were doing everything we could. The virus would just have to run its course. And this bug lasts about 5-7 days…

I dared because he didn’t have measles or rubella. He had diarrhea.

I dared because he was only having diarrhea when he ate, not continuously throughout the day.

I dared because his teachers said they would call me if he got worse. And because they’re an Amazing Sort of Awesome, they said, “Don’t worry. We can handle poop.”

I dared because every morning, I was up at 5:30, giving him baths and scrubbing poop off laundry before it could actually be washed another two or three times (And then I had to get another child ready.)

I dared because I had been up several times each night that week, changing vile, vile diapers, rocking him when he couldn’t go back to sleep, and then listening to his screams when I couldn’t calm him down.

I dared because I had to work. I didn’t have sick leave and I had to administer and grade final exams before the university’s deadline. (Not a task you can really hand over to a substitute.)

I dared because I was headed for a breakdown in my mental sanity.

That’s how I dared.

Thanks for asking.

***

What is it about motherhood that makes mothers so quick to point out what they perceive are another mother’s failings?

Honestly, how can you know the whole context of a situation when you’re outside of it?

You can’t.

And why is the word “selfish” just about the worst thing that you can call a mother?

As I sit here now thinking about that word, a knot is forming in my stomach and my heart is thumping.

Selfish?

Selfish!

Are you serious!?!?

But then…

Isn’t this reader right?

Aren’t I selfish for wanting someone else to take over some of the burden that both my husband and I had been dealing with all night long for days on end?

Yes. In fact, I was selfish.

Selfish in my need for self-preservation.

But should I be ashamed that I couldn’t handle all of this at the same time?

Should I be ashamed that I desperately wanted out of my life, if only for just those worst, most miserable days in the last few weeks?

I should?

Why?

***

After Henry’s diarrhea tapered off, a bad cold hit him–and, subsequently, all of us–hard. We were all plagued with it to varying degrees. Mine lived mostly in my throat and chest. For everyone else, it set up house in their noses.

And then came the Infamous Daycare Puking Bug.

Over last weekend, Henry went through it.

Doug got it.

When it hit me at 10:00 p.m. on Monday night, I was in denial at the first twinges of nausea.

Nope… Nope… That’s not what this is.

All night, I twisted and turned as the first ripples of nausea swelled into cresting ocean waves. At 1:00 a.m., I allowed myself to believe that, yes indeed…

It was happening to me.

I dreamed that instead of puking into the toilet, I puked in the shower.

When 6:00 a.m. came and Henry started crying, I pulled myself out of bed and held the walls as I walked down the hallway. From my toes to my shoulders, everything ached. All the way down into my bones, I ached. When I opened the door and smelled the poop, I turned around and told Doug that I couldn’t do it.

Unsure about what had happened the night before, I checked the bathroom. No puke.

Just unbelievable nausea.

I lay back down until Doug needed me. As I sank into the bed, I was certain that nothing had ever felt so good as to be lying there in the cool sheets, my head against the pillow. When he called for my help, I only did what was absolutely necessary.

I couldn’t hold the baby.

I couldn’t even hold the bags.

I put food in containers for the kids. I sent along extra clothes and bibs.

When they were mercifully gone, I ate six saltines and went back to bed.

I woke up at 12:45 and ate six more saltines.

Then I slept until 2.

Then I ate a banana.

And slept until I heard Henry crying.

I rolled over, blinking. The clock read 5:55. Morning or night? I wasn’t too sure.

It turned out to be night, so I helped put one child to bed.

Then I ate a bowl of cereal.

And went back to bed.

***

Was it selfish of me to send the kids to daycare while I stayed home sicker than I’ve been in two years?

Yes.

Is it selfish of me to send my kids to daycare in this last week before Christmas even though I don’t have to teach, simply because we’re paying for it? Is it selfish that I crave this time to work on creative projects that have nothing to do with my kids or my work?

Yep. It sure is. I’m selfish.

You caught me.

But here’s the harder question: Should I be ashamed of being selfish?

I think this is where I disagree with my reader.

I don’t think I should be ashamed of taking time to care for myself–and it shouldn’t matter whether my needs are physical, emotional, or mental. It’s all important. This whole culture of “real parents are the ones who always put their kids first” is setting us up for rampant depression and divorce.

I love my kids, but, nope. They don’t always come first. Especially when I’m on the brink.

I care about having enough wherewithal to get through not only the days, but the weeks, the months, and the years.

So yeah, I’m selfish.

So selfish.

But I’m not going to feel badly about it this time.

When It All Goes to Shit (Literally)

Holy Mary, Mother of God…

I’m not Catholic, but this is what I feel like saying when I’ve opened my baby’s diaper lately.

Just… Dear God…

But that’s not where this story starts. No, this story starts way back in a more peaceful, almost utopian, moment in time called “Our Anniversary.”

It was a time of Hotel Bliss. A time of Sleeping In and Room Service. A time of Binge-Watching and Massages. There was even Sex!

Yes, we’ve been married for twelve years.

It was last Saturday afternoon. Snow softly fell outside of our swanky hotel room. We ate a delightful lunch, brought to us on trays and adorned with cloth napkins and adorable bottles of Heinz ketchup. And because I could, I ate that delightful lunch in my bathrobe.

We spend time hammering out several scripts for upcoming episodes for our YouTube channel. (Check it out here).

We talked about the future. Of possible Ph. D. programs and how old we’ll be when the kids graduate.

We talked about politics. Of just how many men in media and politics and business will fall from grace under the crashing wave of sexual harassment allegations. Of the possibility of a pedophile in our U.S. Senate. (Dodged that bullet. Thank God for small favors.)

And of course, we talked about our kids. They’re such good kids, aren’t they? We really lucked out. Felicity has such a big heart. And “my little man”… Oh, I can’t get enough of that face! (taking phone out) I just have to see that face one more time. Oh my God… He is so ridiculously cute. Mama loves you, Big Boy!

It was perfect.

Too perfect.

family

***

When we arrived home on Sunday afternoon, the Conveyor Belt of Life from which we disembarked on Friday afternoon had accelerated from Challenging-But-Doable to All-Systems-Go.

We still needed to:

  • buy and decorate a Christmas tree
  • pick up the gifts from church for the family for which we’re coordinating for our Adopt-a-Family Christmas program.
  • put away the 9 loads of laundry that I did in a flurry on Friday morning
  • cook for the weekly meal
  • cook the oatmeal for the week
  • vacuum
  • prepare Christmas cards for daycare and Sunday School teachers (Round 3 of Christmas cards. Round 4 = all the people who sent you cards whom you forgot to send cards or didn’t have the new address to send cards)
  • feed everyone several more times before the day was over
  • clean dishes from those meals
  • make bottles for the next day
  • make sure all their sheets, clothes, and bibs were already in their backpacks for Monday
  • do the bedtime rituals

This is the point in the story when It All Goes to Shit.

Literally.

As I was feeding Henry his 3:00 p.m. bottle, Diarrhea was engaged.

Okay. I knew this was coming. My mom (who was watching them while we were away) told me that he was having bad diapers since she picked them up at daycare on Friday (He had an explosion in the highchair… From shoulder blades to knees…)

But we were on vacation.

And Mom had it under control. And when Mom has things under control, everything is fine.

We would come home just as the diarrhea was going away.

Right?

Oh, sweet naive little Me.

Sunday evening was unpleasant, but we survived. I explained to Felicity that “the puking bug” that was going around daycare wasn’t something that was going to crawl into her food, like a spider.

“It’s a virus,” I tell her. “It’s a… a… really small germ that can get into your mouth and make you sick.”

Her new saying that she likes to apply to all contexts is, “Well, I was going to…”

So what she said was: “Well, I was not going to eat the puking bug.”

“Good idea,” I told her.

And then…

It was early Monday morning.

3:00 a.m. He was crying. A cry that said,

Harmph… What is wrong with me? I don’t like Life. Life blows. Argh… < asleep >

Wait… I still think Life blows… < asleep >

Arghhh! Isn’t anyone going to come help me? < asleep >

Arghhhhhhhh!!!!!

As I stared at the ceiling, I kept praying that he’d work it out. That he would eventually go back to sleep. I was going to get up to exercise at 4:30. At least, that was the plan.

Plans. Ha.

I ended up holding him from 4:00 until 5:30 that morning as he softly protested, moaning and groaning, clearly fighting something.

We pulled through. We got them to daycare. We worked. I thought back longingly to the Anniversary Weekend. It felt like that had been months ago instead of the mere 24 hours that it had been. I listened to my co-workers talk about their lazy Sundays of Not Doing Much of Anything.

I was intensely jealous. But I kept it in check. You’re the one who wanted to have kids, my Evil Ego said. Then, there was my Good Ego, saying, Don’t freak out on people who don’t deserve it. This too shall pass.

***

That evening, the Conveyor Belt of Life kicked into Panic Mode.

We spent an hour just feeding and changing Henry’s diaper. Over and over again. Which doesn’t sound too bad until I tell you what is involved in that process.

  • Ear-piercing screaming. Screams so shrill they may burst your eardrums.
  • A red-faced baby that you happen to love with all your heart, covered in tears.
  • A mobile baby who can do a full, twisting plank while you’re trying to wipe.
    • A wrong maneuver on anyone’s part here can spread the sloshing poop on the baby’s foot, your hands, the changing pad…
  • Farts (hopefully) and poop (hopefully not) sporadically shooting out at you as you wipe. (Stay out of Danger Zone, friends).
  • Globs and globs of diaper cream. All over. Just… All over.
  • Vigorous handwashing

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Every single time that he poops.

It’s a vicious cycle of, Should I feed him? What should I feed him? He just calmed down. Should I really give him something else? I don’t want him to get dehydrated. But he needs protein. But is soy formula okay? Or not? How many days is this going to go on? Should I call the doctor? 

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.

A midnight cry that turns quickly into a scream.

The smell.

It takes a moment to realize, but you do. It starts with unzipping the footed pajamas that you hoped would contain any leakage. (Wishful thinking.)

But it’s on his legs, his belly, even his torso. It’s all over his footed pajamas.

For the love of God, it‘s between his toes

There’s poop everywhere.

On his sheet. On his blanket.

It’s the definition of Lovely.

Then the screams, the tears, the twisting full-planked baby, fighting your every move to stop you from removing all the shit that is literally everywhere.

It makes you frustrated that you can’t just do the Shitty Job that you have to do.

You have to do the Shitty Job while your ears bleed and you’re tired and you’re angry and you just want to go to sleep and your baby can’t say, Thank you. Hell, your baby isn’t even non-verbally saying thank you by just going to bed.

No.

He’s going to scream way down into the Seventh Circle of Hell while you try to shush and rock and sway him to sleep. You try patting his back and butt the way your husband does (It works every time. He likes it that way.)

All to no avail.

So you leave your baby screaming in his crib, shut the door, and cry in the hallway.

Then, you call in your husband and pray that he’s able to get the baby back to sleep.

It makes you hate your baby.

It makes you sad that you just thought that you hate your baby.

It makes you feel like a failure.

***

But by the time morning comes, the night terror is a distant memory.

He’s awake.

And covered in poop again. (Of course.)

With my hands under his armpits, I carry him at arm’s length directly to the bathtub.

And we try again.

Maybe this will be the last day of this Shit.

Literally.

From the Vault: 8 Lessons from my Childhood Diary

6:00 a.m.

Day after Thanksgiving.

Sitting on the floor with one of my legs pinned over my baby’s chest, the other leg over his legs, making a human cage. Because this is the only way I can change the diaper of a child that can flip and crawl away from me.

And he’s screaming.

That eardrum-piercing shriek that cries out to the world, Help!!! I’m being murdered!!! 

But which I interpret as, I won’t let you do it! I WON’T!!!

Today is my birthday.

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me,” I sing.

He stops screaming and pays attention to my voice, the tears still coming down.

But when I reach the end of the song, he starts winding up for a second round of protest. I switch the melody.

“Oh wow, look at ‘im now, Zuckerman’s famous pig. Sue-y, whaddya see? The greatest hog in history. Fine swine, wish he was mine. What if he’s not so big? He’s some terrific, radiant, humble, thing-a-ma-jig-of-a-pig.”

And just like that, I’ve hypnotized him with Charlotte’s Web (the 1973 version, of course).

I keep singing it until he’s dressed.

***

Moms put up with a lot.

I think our society kind of knows that.

Kind of.

And then there are moments like these that deserve to be plastered on a Someecards meme that chirps about how rewarding motherhood truly is (Someone pass the wine,  it would probably read).

It makes me wonder what it was like to be my mom, mother of five.

For most of my life, I’ve only seen motherhood from the lens of a daughter.

And that lens can be pretty amusing.

***

This summer while I was cataloging some old photos and taking stock of some mementos, I found my first diary, which my mother purchased for me when I was eight years old.

Within its pastel, scented pages, my writing career began.

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I loved this diary.

Like, LOVED.

I wrote in it every single day. And when I was too tired to write, I asked my mother to write about my day. (And she actually did. For that alone, she won Mother of the Year for 1990.)

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Cecilia Tjaden: Mother of the Year, 1990

I wrote about such riveting topics like my breakfast, what my siblings did (or didn’t do), and what I learned in school.

Here’s a sample page:

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Food. Siblings. Video games. It was a great life.

Here are some gem excerpts and the life lessons we can glean from them.

***

Lesson # 1: Kids Don’t Appreciate Irony

Sunday, November 11, 1990

Today I got up and went to church. I learned about loving one another. Phillip got two bars of soap in his mouth. DeAnna got one bar of soap in her mouth. Holly made another mark on my Magna Doodle. I had a sluply joe. (sloppy joe) I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson # 2: Kids Don’t Really Understand Pregnancy

Saturday, November 17, 1990

Today, I got up and watched Look Who’s TalkingThey showed us what it looks like when you get pregnite. Phillip only needs the red ring in the Legend of Zelda. Mommy came home and she made me stay out of the house for one hour. I had potatoes, stuffing, and turkey. I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson # 3: Kids assume everyone knows what they’re talking about.

Wednesday, November 21, 1990

Today I got up and I had pancakes for breakfast. Annie and I played barbies. I finally got to see Zelda. Gannon was big, ugly, rude, and huge. The only way to see Zelda is to hit the fire. Then, they held two Triforces above their heads. I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson #4: Kids completely miss clues that their parents might be stressed.

Saturday, March 9, 1991

Today, I got up and had to stay in bed. I took the TV in my bedroom and watched cartoons. (not sure how I did that?) Mommy went to work for 10 hours. My temperature was 101.8 today. Mommy might take me to the doctor tomorrow to get a shot. DeAnna felt a lot better today. Mommy paid me $2.00 for babysitting. I’ve got to go now. Good-by.

Lesson # 5: Kids are surprisingly capable creatures.

Thursday, March 28, 1991 (spring break)

Today I got up and get DeAnna dressed. Then I gave her some breakfast. Nate helped me do the dishes. I put on cartoons for Holly and DeAnna. Later, I watched The Price is Right. I had a cherry pie. Mommy came home and said she would have to go to bed. I watched the Simpsons. I have to go. Goodby.

Lesson # 6: Sometimes, kids really don’t see their responsibility.

Saturday, July 19, 1991

Today I got up and went to Howard’s (Pharmacy). I bought some candy cigarettes. Dad almost won all the time when he played Duck Hunt. Mom comes home and blames me, Holly, and DeAnna for the mess. It’s not our fault. Daddy didn’t bother to watch them. First thing, I didn’t even touch the room. Now she blaming it one me. I have to go. By!!

Lesson # 7: Kids can experience hardship as adventure.

Tuesday, July 29, 1991

Today I got up and had to get up. We all walked to the bus stop. We took a bus to Dayton. Then took a bus to Englewood. We got off at Rolling Pin Bakery. On our way back, we stopped at McDonald’s. Then we went to Jo-Ann Fabrics. Then we got on another bus to our house. We had rice for supper. I’ll see you later. I’ve gotta go. Good-by.

Lesson # 8: The World is Just So Unfair!

Friday, February 20, 1992

Today I was waiting for the Science Fair to start. It was from 1:30-3:15. Unforently, I didn’t win. They were all fifth graders. And a kid won 2 times in a row! Katie Owens did a stupid poster and got 3rd place. It’s just not fair!! I wish they had a rule you can’t win twice! Well I better go. Good-by.

***

So bravo to you, Mom, for hanging in there. Through five kids, unreliable transportation, and the ingratitude of whining children, you persevered.

And thanks for the diary.

I’m pretty sure it was the best gift you ever gave me.

Love,

Sharon

Happy birthday to someone who wasn't welcomed into the world via tweet or status update.

 

Gigantic Baby

He didn’t start out that way.

That’s what everyone always asks when I tell them that I have a big baby.

How big was he at birth?

For being born at 41 weeks 4 days? I mean, okay, he was big, but not huge. He was born 8 pounds 10 ounces (which, I assure you, felt like 25 pounds, 10  ounces). Google tells me that is the 86th percentile for weight.

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1 week old

We’re actually used to having big babies. Our daughter hugged the 90-100th percentile growth curve since she was one month old. (She was born at 50% percentile for both weight and height.) And she’s still tall. She is several inches taller than most of the boys in her class.

When I think back to her babyhood days, I remember that she was about one year old (maybe a little older) when she started pushing me away when she was sleepy, no longer wanting me to hold her as she fell asleep.

Ouch.

But okay. That’s what she wanted. To be honest, she was getting kind of big for me to comfortably rock her anymore. By that time, she was the size of an average 18-month old. So I acquiesced.

So when I was pregnant this time around, I thought, Maybe this one will be different. Maybe this time, I’ll get to hold a smaller baby for a little longer.

Ha.

Ha. Ha.

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3 weeks old

Until he was 5 1/2 months old, Henry regularly needed someone to rock him to sleep and transfer him (in such and such way) to his crib. At first, it was rocking in the chair, his stomach turned toward mine, his head resting on the inside of my elbow.

But around 4 1/2 months, he wasn’t digging that position anymore. He would fuss and arch his back, pulling his head away from me. So I stood and held him to me again, stomach to stomach, rotating at the hips until he would close his eyes. (I found out later that his favorite daycare teacher had been putting him down for naps like that during the day. I thought that was pretty adorable.)

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4 months old (He hit himself in the face with his keys.)

And then at 5 1/2 months, he was just having none of it. No more rocking. No more holding. No more shushing. No more patting on the back. It was just all out screaming, his head digging into the mattress, until I would walk out the door and close it behind me.

Then, silence.

Truth be told, we still had to do the whole Cry-it-Out process several weeks later since he had developed a penchant for reverting back to night feedings, but his preferences for falling asleep just transformed overnight.

It was almost kind of like, God, Mom. Just back off and let me do this.

To which I said, Seriously, dude?  This is my last time around this merry-go-round. Don’t I get some say in when I stop rocking you to sleep?

No? 

Well, fine.

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Seven months old

***

I guess it makes sense, though. At 6 months, he was as big as my daughter when she wanted to put herself to sleep. (Maybe he was just getting too big for me to make him comfortable?)

Also at 6 months, he outgrew his “pumpkin seat” car seat and we had to upgrade to the monster spaceship carseat that stays strapped into the car unless you want to go through the headache of removing it.

Daycare pickup and drop-off now involves me lugging a gia-normous baby, his bag, and his sister’s lunch bag while keeping an eye on his sister (who is carrying her bag) and making sure that she’s not giving into the temptation to dawdle and pick up trash in the parking lot. Sometimes, I strap Gia-normous Baby into the stroller to manage all the weight, but geez, he really hates the stroller.

I know he’s a baby, but he’s such a baby about some things. Sudden, loud noises, riding in a stroller, an unexpected face–and joy instantly turns into terror. Because those are the only two options. Joy and terror. (If you’ve never been around babies, hunger and tiredness are expressed as terror.)

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8 months old

To summarize, here’s what his growth has looked like:

  • Newborn: newborn-sized clothing for 5 days, then 0-3 months
  • Age: 1 month, Size 3 months (about 14 pounds)
  • Age: 3 months, Size 9 months (about 18 pounds)
  • Age: 6 months, Size 18 months (21 pounds, 4 ounces)
  • Age: 9 months, Size 24 months (24 pounds)

24 pounds is heavy.

Especially when your baby is just now starting to crawl and cruise. I am lifting this baby all the time.

Every time he goes for a wire or outlet or approaches an ant trap. Every time he barrels headfirst toward the TV stand, where a nest of juicy, welcoming wires await his inquiring mind. Come to think of it, he loves the wires that lead to everything: laptops, baby monitors, lamps, blenders, TVs, dusty PlayStations that I have dreams of playing (When? I’m not sure I have a valid answer. Perhaps I should just box them up and give them to Henry when he descends into the inevitable phase of video game obsession that middle school boys all seem to experience?)

Anyway. Wires. He just really loves wires.

If you think about it, I’m basically lifting weights all weekend long. (I have one mean left bicep.)

But it’s his height that has really taken me by surprise.

  • Newborn: 21.5 inches
  • 8 weeks: 24 inches
  • 4 months: 27 inches
  • 6 months: 29 inches
  • 9 months: 31.5 inches

I started to really notice how big he was when I was feeding him in the glider and realized that my 7-month-old baby’s feet were reaching my knees, while his head was resting on my shoulder. And I’m 5′ 6.5.” (I used to be nearly 5′ 8″. Hey, did you know that pregnancy can rob you of height? That’s a fun fact.)

What!?!?

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8 1/2 months old

This huge change matches what his 6- and 9-month check-ups reported. Beginning at 6 months, he outpaced the 100th percentile curve. Now, it looks like he’s approaching 110th.

People ask us where Henry gets his height from.

Pretty sure it’s from my side.

My father was 6′ 2″. My brothers are 6′ 4″ and 6′ 7″. My mother and sister are also taller than me.

So, we’ve got another big child.

There are advantages.

When he practices his “walking” by holding onto my fingertips, I don’t have to stoop over. He’s tall enough that he can hold onto my fingers while we walk. He can romp around with his older sister without being completely overrun by her. He even finds it funny when she crawls on the floor like he does.

But, hey, it’s all good.

Healthy baby.

Healthy me.

Life is good.

Chef Henry 9 months

9 months old

 

 

Why My Kids Will Be Getting Jitterbugs Instead of Smartphones

So I’m wearing braces. In my 30s. (I’m cool like that.)

And every few months, I get to sit in a waiting room with a dozen or so middle schoolers and their parents. When it’s my turn, I am called and then seated in one of the twenty dentist chairs that pepper a large room where the orthodontist flits back and forth among the pubescent patients while dental hygienists perform most of the routine parts of the exams.

I tell you this because, in the past two years, I can count on one hand the number of middle schoolers in either of those rooms who

1) didn’t bring or weren’t using their smartphone and

2) weren’t using the installed handheld gaming console that was attached to each dentist chair. (Not kidding.)

Have I already become (at age 35) that miserly curmudgeon who shakes her fist at the younger generation?

Part of me wants to believe that this new shift in technology usage is nothing special. It’s just a new form of communication.

It’s like my generation’s America On-Line. (Remember that?)

Right?

Students and technology

***

A few weeks ago, my sister shared Jean Twenge’s article in the Atlantic, titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Par for the Atlantic’s course, it was fantastic and I strongly encourage you to read it.

Among the most surprising trends that Twenge reports are:

  • Rocketing depression since 2012  (especially for girls)
  • Rocketing teenage suicide since 2012 (especially for boys)
  • Increase in feelings of loneliness

But also…

  • Decreased individualism among today’s middle schoolers
  • Decline in teenage dating, sexual activity, and pregnancy
  • Decline in teenage drivers and teenage employment
  • Decline in teenagers face-to-face hanging out with friends

What happened in 2012?

The proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50%.

Loneliness chart

One of the most surprising charts from Jean Twenge’s Atlantic article: (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/)

Apparently, teenagers today have more of an in-person relationship with their smartphones than they do with their family (not surprising) or their actual friends. And we’re not just talking about suburban, middle-class teens. This wave of technology is crashing upon both genders, all races, and all socioeconomic levels.

Then, I listened to an episode of On Point called, “How Smartphones are Draining our Brainpower.” The commentators reported on a recent study done at the University of Texas at Austin.

People who have their smartphones in another room did better on cognitive tasks than people who had their smartphones in their pockets or on their desks. Even if the phone was on silent.

I believe it.

I started teaching in 2006 and I’ve watched the wave of smartphones come crashing into the classroom. In 2011, 90% of my international students had smartphones. I started collecting them at the beginning of class because whenever my students didn’t understand a certain word that I said (which was frequently), they pulled out their smartphones to look it up. But then, they were lost when their attention turned back to me.

And it has gotten worse.

Last year, I had a student from Jordan who was so addicted to his smartphone that he didn’t realize when he was checking it. I once jokingly bet him $10 that he couldn’t refrain from checking his phone for 50 minutes. He said he could. He even put it on the front table, a full twenty feet from his chair, as a means to help him not check it. Fifteen minutes later, students were working in small groups and I was walking around and listening to students. Then, I saw him. He was up at the front of the room getting a tissue, and his hand was already on his phone, checking. When I called his name, he looked stunned for a moment before he said, “No! No! I wasn’t thinking! Wait!”

That’s a funny story. But some stories are pretty scary.

One of the callers in this episode of On Point recalled that she recently tried to collect a smartphone from a student so he could take a test and he broke her door handle in protest.

To teenagers today, the smartphone has become a literal limb of their body and violating that privacy feels akin to abuse.

That’s what makes me assert that this wave of technological is far different from the changes that we’ve seen over the last thirty years.

With previous technological change, that technology didn’t follow you around.

It didn’t create an additional reality where you curate your life for all to see.

It didn’t present you a neverending ribbon of beautiful images from other peoples’ lives.

It didn’t require you to interact with it so you wouldn’t lose a line of communication.

You didn’t sleep with it under your pillow.

It was just there. And you walked away from it. Frequently.

***

This whole topic makes me worried.

Like, seriously concerned.

What are parents supposed to do?

There’s the argument, What are you gonna do? Just let your kid be the only one who doesn’t have a smartphone?

Maybe.

I’m not opposed to the idea.

Which brings me to the title of this post. I actually kind of love the idea of buying our kids something akin to today’s Jitterbug when it comes time for them to have a phone. If the point of a phone is to contact your child when they’re out and about, then problem solved.

They can be those adorably out-of-date teenagers just like their parents were, in their Jordache jeans and Ponies sneakers (What? You didn’t have those? Your loss.)

jitterburg

But I really don’t know.

I believe in teenagers being given more responsibility, especially in terms of controlling themselves, monitoring their own behavior, and dealing with the consequences of their mistakes…

But hormones.

And sexting.

(Apparently, that’s what teenagers are doing instead of having sex with one another.)

And, hey, sexting is actually something that teenagers are being arrested for.

Being classified as a “child pornographer” isn’t really a mistake that I want my kids to live with for the remainder of their lives.

***

I try to be a good example to my daughter about my phone use. I don’t do Twitter. I still can’t understand Pinterest (Question: How do I get my pin to show up on other people’s feeds? Answer: Algorithms and magic.) Instagram befuddles me (You mean I can only upload pictures that are on my phone? That’s stupid.) And Facebook is such a time-sink that I took it off my phone completely.

Basically, I use my smartphone for my calendar, my FitBit app (3 miles today!), music/NPR, and reading my kids’ daily daycare reports (Did the baby poop today? When was his last bottle?). Sometimes I send a text and answer a phone call (98% of the time, it’s my husband. The other 2% is spam.) And I’m miffed that I have to use my phone now to log into the university network where I work.

This is how I get things done.

Of course, no one really witnesses me getting things done because I’m not constantly sharing pictures of me getting things done, but you know.

Sacrifices.

***

I realize that this post will probably hit a nerve with some parents. iPhones, iPads, Leap Pads, video games, DVD players, and on and on and on. Even if you don’t buy them for your kids, they’ll use them in school. Or maybe they’ll use them at their orthodontist appointments. (Ha!) It’s guaranteed. You really can’t get around it anymore.

Guys, really, I get it.

Raising kids is neverending, tiring work. There are great uses of handheld electronics. There are educational games! Kids can learn to read or do math! They’re quiet and they hold still while they’re working on them! It’s almost like life before kids!

I’m not going to say media and electronics are the devil.

I let my daughter watch TV. A lot of TV actually.

But the TV doesn’t follow her around.

She can’t turn to the TV when we’re at restaurants or church or a store (usually) or in the library. She can’t manipulate the TV to do whatever she wants and then be rewarded for it. There’s no TV in her room.

And when it goes off, ain’t no amount of crying and begging that will turn it on again.

And she knows it.

That’s what I worry about with smartphones–that they’ve become the new pacifier, the modern, hip version of the cigarette. The new acceptable addiction that goes hand in hand with excessive caffeine consumption.

I worry because the cocktail of smartphones and social media are not only highly addictive, but they actually shape how we interact with and understand the world–and our roles in it.

They can make us believe that no “normal” person deals with depression or has abortions or fights with their spouse or flips off an asshole in traffic while their kids are in the car or can’t stand the hours of 3-6 on Sunday when you’re just trying to get life ready for the week and the baby just, won’t, nap…

We should care about breaking the virtual bubble and grounding our kids in the hard truths of pain and disappointment and the resiliency that comes from moving through and overcoming.

We should care about the fact that we simply don’t know the long-term consequences of letting our kids turn to smartphones to solve their problems and keep them from being bored.

Their brains are being wired and rewired right now.

Although the brain’s plasticity is still pretty limber until later in adulthood, most of its wiring is completed in childhood and adolescence. And once that wiring is complete, it’s extremely hard to rewire it. Ask any language teacher. Ask any counselor who has worked with abused children.

What happens in their formative years is likely to stay with them forever.

They are learning how to feel boredom and cope with stress and make friends and express gratitude and empathy and JOY.

Will they be able to do those basic human interactions without emojis?

Again, I’m not judging you for letting your child use handheld devices. Someday, I might be in the same boat. Right now, my daughter still hands my phone to me as she would a CD (like we’ve taught her–Don’t touch the shiny part!).

But, really, I think we need to be thoughtful and intentional about not only when and how we let our kids use smartphones, but also how we use smartphones.

What I’m saying is that while we’re suspended in this time when we really don’t know what the long-term consequences are, maybe we should avoid giving our kids smartphones altogether.

Of course, feel free to check back with me in eight years, when our oldest is twelve.

It might be a soul-searching moment for me.

***

And if you want to read the study about smartphone’s destroying our brain power…

Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, Maarten W. Bos. Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2017; 2 (2): 140 DOI: 10.1086/691462

Yay, humanity…

America: Your Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough (I Swear in This Post)

Every time there’s a mass shooting in this country…

Process those words and what they really mean…

Every time there’s a mass shooting in this country…

Every time

Every time

Every time

It’s the same ol’ shit.

We’re horrified. We wonder why. We blame this and that. No, it’s not that. It’s really this.

We talk about a breakdown in decency and culture and family.

We watch the cell phone videos of the carnage until we’re numb to it.

Until it doesn’t feel like reality anymore.

We honor the victims and the heroes who saved lives. News websites post pictures of strong men holding crying women.

We change our Facebook profile pictures to some snazzy cover that announces that “our prayers are with ________.”

A few of us call our representatives and insist on changing gun laws.

But it’s not as many people as those who shout louder,

“DON’T YOU TAKE MY GUNS FROM ME!”

Gun stocks soar.

(Just in time. Because they have been dropping since Trump was elected.)

Then we shrug and shake our heads and say,

“Man, that was tragic. Some people are just crazy. But look how people are responding. The victims were so brave. First responders are our heroes. So tragic. Some people are just crazy. Guess there’s nothing you can do about it. Hope it doesn’t happen here.”

This same ol’ shit will happen again.

And again.

And again.

And we’ll keep reacting the same way again.

And again.

And again.

Sandy Hook happened. And we still couldn’t get out shit together.

Who’s the crazy one?

***

I’m so tired of trying to explain to my international students why we have mass shootings in the United States.

They think it’s crazy.

(It IS crazy).

Why do Americans need guns? They want to know. Do they just love guns? Why do they love guns?  Why don’t you change your laws? I read that most Americans want to change gun laws. Is that true? It’s illegal to own a gun in my country. Do you think there will be a shooting here?

I wish I could say no.

But schools and universities are favorite places to open fire.

Sorry, but I don’t want to be part of a tragic story. I don’t want to be a hero teacher who throws herself in front of her students to protect them (unsuccessfully, of course) from an assailant, armed to the teeth with guns that can mow down hundreds.

I have two kids. I want to go home to them at the end of the day.

So no.

If you’re a politician who says, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims…”

That is not fucking enough.

 

Do your job and pass legislation to stop this shit from happening anymore.

Unkind comments on this post will be immediately deleted.

I’m not in the mood.

I Go to Work to “Relax”: a.k.a. Why Staying Home With My Kids Would Destroy Me

To clarify, it’s not like I don’t do anything at work.

I do.

But I get to decide what I’m doing.

(Kind of.)

(At least, it feels like it.)

When I sit down at my desk in the morning and take in a breath, my space transforms. My desk turns into my own little sanctuary from Motherhood, where I can mentally escape from the Tasks that You Do But Are Never Done (dishes, laundry, feeding people, shopping, The Checklist.).

Here, I can finish something.

Here, I can decide to do “That” later.

Here, when the class is over, so are my responsibilities for my students (except for grading. Booooo…). I don’t have to take my students with me everywhere. I don’t have to worry if they haven’t gone to the bathroom in a few hours (I hope she doesn’t need to pee when we’re in the middle of the store). I don’t have to think about when they ate last, or if their runny nose means they’re getting sick (and do we need more Tylenol?)

Here, I can take a break when I want to take a break. I don’t have to eat standing up or devour my lunch in the few minutes before the baby loses his mind about not having the bottle in his mouth.

***

My good friend, whom I call “Bear,” was telling me about the annoying points of fostering a dog (which he and his wife are currently doing.) The dog whines. The dog makes messes everywhere. You’ve got to worry about what the dog is getting into.

Oh Bear. I love ya, Bear.

Bear is a portrait of me before I had kids.

Sometimes, when I hear him talking, I can almost see myself in 2012.

Look at her in 2012. Going out to dinner. Taking a nap on the weekend. Seeing a New Movie. Sleeping in until 6:30 a.m. Staying up late and drinking too much sometimes.

Bear and I share the pain of the introvert — the person who must have “downtime” away from other people in order to recharge their batteries. But I’ve lost the easy accessibility of recharging mine. I just can’t seem to get away from people for very long. (Maybe that’s why I get up so early to exercise by myself for an hour before the day starts?)

Introvertedness isn’t about being shy (although some introverts are). Being introverted means that you get your energy from inside yourself, not by being around other people. So if you’re constantly surrounded by other people, your energy just goes down, down, down, and down.

Until you just shut down.

Honestly, the scarcity of downtime in parenthood makes me anxious if I think too much about it. I’m a little glad that I didn’t think too much about how this area of my life would change before we had kids. And now that we have two… (Introverted stay-at-home moms… How do you do it?)

Usually, I just think about today. When can I be alone today?

Oftentimes, the answer is: At my work desk.

In between grading and planning and meeting with students, I ferret away time for myself. I check Facebook (because I took it off my phone). I drink something hot (water lately, since I’m cutting way back on coffee). I work a little for this blog (although I often make more drafts than I actually publish. Wonder if this one will make the cut?)

Ahhh… Those two magical words that have become damn near mystical to me.

Free. Time.

coffee cup

It really is the hardest part about being a parent for me (right now at least).

Because even when they don’t need anything from you and they’re not interrupting you with feedings, changings, questions, gibberish, crying, or cleverly crafted requests to watch another episode of My Little Pony… (It sure would be nice to see what happens to Pinkie Pie, Mama…)

Even when you can finally sink your eyes into A Dance with Dragons…. You still keep looking up to check whether or not the baby has got something in his mouth that he can choke on (99% of the time, he doesn’t. But that 1%…)

After kids, you need to pay for your Free Time. You want to go out for dinner and a movie? The cost now includes the babysitting bill, which is usually more than the cost of dinner (since we spent all the money on babysitting).

(And if you’re lucky enough to have grandparents nearby that will watch your kids… You lucky dog, you.)

But honestly, we might get to dinner and a movie once per year now. Maybe. What we usually do is go to dinner and then Target. Movies usually happen at home now, but let’s be honest, those movies are usually Carebears and Hello Kitty. If we want an actual adult movie, both kids have to be in bed, so we could start the movie at 8:00, but I would be asleep at 8:25 because I started the day at 4:45 a.m….

You get the picture.

***

My own mother worked on and off when I was growing up. She was a part-time cake decorator who regularly worked over 40 hours during the months of May and June (graduation and wedding season).

I imagine that she may have had some of the same feelings about working.

Here, I can finish something. 

Here, the responsibilities are clear and defined.

Here, I can see be alone with my thoughts. 

Here, I can take a break from the Hardest Job Ever.

Where Did God Go?: Some Thoughts on Hurricane Harvey

I grew up believing that God was in the good and pure and holy and clean things.

And that I would spend my life trying to keep myself good and pure and holy and clean. And by doing that, I would remain close to God.

No.

Because in all of those moments when I thought I was good and pure and holy and clean, I was actually self-righteous. Self-serving. Self-important. Distant. Cold. Judgmental.

Perhaps intellectually, I felt that I was close to God.

But, oh.

No.

Not until those Desperate Moments did I ever really feel God’s presence.

Not until Fire and Separation and Cancer and Death and Pain and Uncertainty.

In those moments, my cold, assured heart broke open.

And I could no longer keep myself good and pure and holy and clean.

I was ungrateful and messy and blasphemous and so, so full of doubt.

I was everything that would separate me from the Love of God.

But then, didn’t I say that I believed that nothing could separate me from the Love of God?

Did I really believe that?

No. I did not. Not anymore.

Because Tragedy had come. And nothing could be any good anymore.

(Has Tragedy ever come for you? Can you imagine it?)

Hurricane Harvey

***

But here is the double-sided nature of God:

The more broken that we are, the more likely we are to be touched by God’s sacred presence. 

Because in our brokenness, we finally have room for God.

When we have lost all the Things that Keep Us Together, we finally reach out our empty hands

and really Receive.

3633244665_09b16e42c3_m

Photo Credit: Caitlin Regan, 2009, flickr.com

***

God’s Peace and Grace to all of you who are facing so much pain and loss and uncertainty because of Hurricane Harvey.

You are not Forgotten.

You are Loved.

YouTube is Our Third Baby

In the last few months, I’ve started getting the You guys thinking about having a third? comment more frequently. Maybe because several of our friends have just had their third–or fourth–baby.

Um, no.

Emphatically, no.

This is it.

The baby has finally started sleeping a glorious, GLORIOUS, twelve hours at night straight, partially thanks to the four nights of Crying It Out that I stomached. Nothing worse than listening to your baby screaming at full volume for 40 minutes while you paw silently at the door, on the verge of tears yourself.

He’s okay. My God, he had seven, SEVEN!, bottles today. He’s not hungry.

He’s okay. He’s 6 1/2 months old.

He’s okay. He’s 22 pounds. 22 POUNDS! He’s a Monster Baby, for the love of God.

He’s not going to die.

He’s just really, really pissed.

He’s got the eat-sleep association.

You’re not a bad mother.

Oh God… Will he EVER stop crying? Is this damaging his vocal cords?

Repeat that several more times on the first night.

But he did. By the fourth night, Done.

(Can I just say, sure, you love your baby. But man, you REALLY, REALLY love your baby when he doesn’t bother you from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.)

So no.

Two is enough.

family

***

In the first two weeks postpartum, I went over the numbers in my head and made a list of reasons for or against having a third child. Yeah, yeah. We said we’d only have two, but LOOK AT THIS FACE!!! Oh my God. Babies are incredible. I could totally do this again.

But then, we’d be looking at a minivan.

And I’d be 37? 38? 39? And pregnant? I remember how I felt being 35 and pregnant. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier. This body has been through enough. (And you’re welcome, Offspring.)

And another three years of full time-daycare ($33,000 total at today’s rate)?

I think it was the cost of daycare that was really the deciding factor.

***

We were talking the other night about just how much “free time” we had before children.

I mean, duh, right? Of course we had more time. In some ways, it was great. Coming home from work and relaxing. Nice. It was “the life.”

Of course, we did other things. I wrote a novel. Doug volunteered extensively for our church, cooking meals for 100-200 people weekly. We hung out with friends. A lot. And it was fantastic. We went out to eat. We entertained.

We also worked more than our fair share at our jobs. I worked about 50-60 hours per week at four (yes, four) jobs. Doug often worked more than his required 40.

But from my perspective now, I look back and think, God, imagine what we could have accomplished for this YouTube channel if we had started doing this before we had kids. 

But that was years before YouTube’s currently capabilities and reach.

So here we are.

Instead of having a third baby, we have a YouTube channel.

It’s got his hands and my eyes.

It really is a combination of all of our talents together in one creative outlet.

We’re so proud.

One Thing That Google Memo Got Right: Ladies, This One May Hurt

I’ll skip all the stuff that you can guess I’m going to say about James Damore’s memo on “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”

Like, no, women aren’t naturally prone to gregarious extraversion, which leads to them to avoid negotiating their salaries.

They don’t usually try to negotiate salary because they fear how asking for more money will be perceived by their future employer. And, it turns out, they should be worried about that. Because future employers very often rate women who ask for more money as “unlikeable” and “pushy.” For more on this read Linda Babcock’s Women Don’t Ask or Iris Bohnet’s, What Works: Gender Equality by Design.

Better yet, here’s a decent video summary of What Works:

And don’t get me started about the point about women being naturally neurotic.

***

But like I said, I’m skipping Damore’s points that I disagree with.

One thing Damore gets right is the assertion that he makes that is actually informed by his own personal experience (not what he imagines is the reality of women). He says,

The male gender role is currently inflexible…Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles. (emphasis added)

First, my criticism: I have a hard time believing that just rethinking gender roles will lead to more men pursuing “feminine” roles. Money talks. And as long as the jobs that are traditionally done by women (TEACHERS) continue to offer piddly salaries and boatloads of responsibility, ain’t no guys gonna stand for that shit.

But as to Damore’s first point, YES. YES. YES.

The male gender role is inflexible.

What makes it so inflexible?

Shame.

Shame from all sides.

Sociologist Brene Brown writes about this very issue in her book, Daring Greatly. Women and men experience different shame triggers. For women, body image and motherhood are key triggers for shame.

But for men, the key shame trigger is weakness.

She tells this vivid story of a man who came up to talk to her after one of her lectures. He had been brought to the lecture by his wife and daughters and had just listened through a lengthy talk that Brene had given about women’s shame triggers. After watching all the head-nodding between his daughters and wife, he took time to talk to Brene about the lecture, out of earshot of his wife and daughters. And this is what he said:

We (men) have deep shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. Before you say anything about those mean coaches, bosses, brothers, and fathers being the only ones (who experience that shame)… My wife and daughters–the ones you signed all of those books for–they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but come on. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that. (p. 84-85).

She then connects this story with another story of a twenty-year-old man who participated in a focus group on the topic of men and shame. Here’s how that young man described the confines of the male gender role.

‘Let me show you the box.’ I knew he was a tall guy, but when he stood up, it was clear that he was at least six foot four. He said, ‘Imagine living like this,” as he crouched down and pretended that he was stuffed inside a small box. Still hunched over, he said, ‘You really only have three choices. You spend your life fighting to get out, throwing punches at the side of the box and hoping it will break. You always feel angry and you’re always swinging. Or you just give up. You don’t give a shit about anything.” At that point, he slumped over on the ground. You could have heard a pin drop in the room… ‘Or you stay high so you don’t really notice how unbearable it is. That’s the easiest way.’

Before reading Daring Greatly, it was very easy for me to laugh at any comments from men that fell into the sentiment of “men have it tough.” I have been steeped in not only feminist literature and the psychology of prejudice, but I have also spent years and years addressing misconceptions and bias towards immigrants and international students. (Why are they here? Are they planning on staying?)

I’ve had a world-class education in identifying systems of oppression that work against the marginalized.

So I guess that led to my implicit conclusion that simply being male was probably a much more pleasant experience than being female.

Naive? Definitely.

But then again, I was drawing conclusions based on my outside observations about men. Even though I had been married more than ten years at the time that I read Daring Greatly, I don’t ever remember having a conversation with my husband about men and shame. And even if I knew what to ask (or even that we should talk about this), was I really ready to hear what my husband had to say?

Just as the man pointed out to Brene, was I really ready to see the man I loved completely fail? Completely fall apart? Be completely wrong? Be the loser?

Tough questions.

Striving for gender equality isn’t just a matter of lifting up women or leveling the playing field or sensitizing men to the struggles of women (although, yes, all of those things are important.)

If women are really ready for gender equality, we need to embrace the breaking of the male gender role.

We need to be comfortable with letting the men that we love cry and doubt and fail and lose. Instead of recoiling in their moments of pain, that is when we need to reach out and embrace them and say, “This messed up version of you? I love this. I love you.”

This also means that we have to re-imagine new love stories, ones that don’t hinge on a strong, capable man swooping in to save us from whatever problems we face (bonus points if the problem you need to be saved from is yourself!).

And perhaps more important, we have to reassure men that we don’t want that fantasy anyway.

We have to be open to relationships that don’t fit all the movies or all the songs. And hey, the best guy for us probably isn’t the one who only shows his soft side in the privacy of the bedroom.

The best ones are the ones who do the tough, emotional work that doesn’t come easy for guys. And doing that emotional work in full view of others. Like asking for forgiveness. And moving through rejection. And learning to love again. And expressing grief.

We’ve got to stop loving the image of the silent, stoic, lonely cowboy. Or the unbreakable superhero. Or the cold-as-ice mafia man.

We’ve got to teach our young girls to look for arousal beyond stories of men who dominate and control women (Fifty Shades of Grey), even if the premise is that they’re “protecting” them from danger and doing so for our own good (Twilight).

And, ladies, we have to stop putting all of our hopes and dreams into their hands. And then blaming them when they’re not able to live up to our lofty standards.

I mean, really, who can?

***

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about any of this had James Damore not written his memo. I’d just be sitting on these little nuggets of information that I had previously gleaned from my own personal reading… And not sharing them at all. Because I didn’t have any current context to draw my readers into this piece.

So there’s another thing that he got right: We should talk about these issues.

It’s hard, yes. For women, we often immediately go on the defensive, anticipating yet another frustrating conversation in which we’re called upon–once again–to solve men’s problems of blindness toward gender inequality. I get it. Really. I want to write off Damore as another guy who just doesn’t get it. That’s so much easier than trying to contribute to any discourse on this topic.

But that doesn’t get us anywhere.

And we’ve got a long way to go.

The inflexibility of gender roles drives a lot of the thinking that leads to guys like Damore concluding that, It’s probably women’s biology that’s holding them back, which is a hop, skip, and a jump away from, This is just the natural order of things.

We know this inflexibility hurts women.

But, let’s be honest: it’s just as damaging to men.

***

Since Damore’s memo went viral, he has doubled down on his stance that Google is promoting an ideological echo chamber. It’s not surprising. He’s being attacked from all sides.

What does our society say men should do when they’re attacked? It tells them to fight back. To dig in their heels. To be a man and stand up to confrontation. And he’s doing just that.

So the question remains…

Women of the world, are we ready to embrace those moments when men experience vulnerable moments of weakness?

Or will we shut them down?

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