Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: writing

Ramblings that End in Exasperation

I’m tired.

Most days, I’m up at 4:15 and in bed by 7:30.

On Mondays, I “stay up” until 9:00 so I can have dinner with my friends for our weekly Monday Night Dinner.

I don’t have much of a social life anymore, beyond MND and the soul-cleansing Saturday breakfasts that happen at my house when our friends come over and help me remember a time in my life before children.

Lately, my “downtime” takes place during the commute and between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. when the baby is finally asleep and I can get ready for bed **by myself.** Bonus if I’m able to read five or six pages of a book before I’m nodding off.

I’m not complaining that we have children. It’s a decision that we made with eyes wide open–and we took plenty of time to ourselves before we made that decision.

But it’s still hard.

We fight hard every day to discipline with purpose and meaning instead of flying off the handle. We fight hard to “balance” work and home life. I hate that word: balance. It always makes me think of that slowly moving two-sided scale that takes forever to equalize.

Ha.

There’s no time to wait around for that kind of balance when you have two kids under the age of five. Somehow, their needs manage to vacuum all the bits of your time that you didn’t realize were squirreled away in your day.

You’re carving out 2.5 hours of your day to drive from work to daycare to pediatrician to daycare to work for a well-child visit, only to find out, actually he tested positive for RSV, so here’s a prescription for steroids and nebulizer treatments. Administer twice daily and four times daily, respectively. And he can’t go to daycare tomorrow, so figure that out. And come back next week for the 12-month shots. And also take him to a lab to have a blood screening done for lead exposure and iron deficiencies.

And then you’re behind at work because you took off half a day and when you return, you realize 10 minutes before class starts that, oh no, I have absolutely nothing planned for the second hour of class. But you’re a pro. You can wing it. As long as your boss doesn’t decide to drop in unannounced to review your teaching performance (true story several times over, but not recently). And no big deal, you can finalize those three final exams before their deadline in two days and create three more original tests because you really can’t reuse the same tests from the last two terms, while you’re grading the most recent writing assignment that you’ve collected and planning lessons for tomorrow and the day after that…

And then it’s Ash Wednesday, a day when you remember that dust we are and dust we shall return.

And 17 more kids die in a mass shooting at school.

And instead of feeling sorrow, which is a far, far more appropriate reaction, I feel exasperation.

Because HERE WE GO AGAIN.

Listening to the snippets of the unfolding story on NPR is all I can take. I stay the hell away from Facebook this time around. I simply cannot stand to read a feed filled with posts about pro-gun and anti-gun again.

As much as I am pro-common-sense-gun-control, I cannot stomach another round of posts and comments and threads with people so blatantly and carelessly disrespecting each other on a topic that we so desperately need to figure out.

Unh-uh. Not this time.

Because at the end of the day, what are we all working so hard for if we can’t even keep them safe when we send them to school?

Pieces of Parenthood # 3: “The Most Fun Thing to Play On” a.k.a. “The Most Dangerous Time of Day”

A lot happens in the last twenty minutes before bedtime.

 

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.

SELFISH red stamp text

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.

IMG_20171124_135710

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.)

IMG_20171124_135754

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:

img_20171124_135830.jpg

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.

 

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.

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?

My New Book: A Birth Story Guaranteed To Make You Cry

After I gave birth this past February, I thought,

Well. How am I going to write about that?

Because what I felt in labor had been deeply spiritual. In my first labor, I sensed God’s presence, but not in a physical way. What I experienced was beyond my physical senses.

But this time… I had seen things.

I had actually physically felt things that I couldn’t explain.

I knew that a blog post would become buried in this website over time. That’s not the way that I wanted to share this experience with an audience. I wanted something more permanent. Something more discover-able and more available to as many people as possible.

***

So I published a short Kindle book, called Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Birth Story.

From August 3-7, I will be giving away free copies, so I encourage you to download your copy today and share with anyone whom you think would be interested in it.

Important: You don’t need a Kindle device to read the book.

As long as you have an Amazon account, you can read this book. Just go to Amazon’s website, log in, find the book, put it in your cart, and checkout (for free). Then choose “Your Account,” and then select “Your Content and Devices.” You will see the book there and you can read it in your web browser.

Included in this e-book are six additional essays that I wrote in the early postpartum period, curated and compiled for a larger audience.

  • The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to My Unborn Child
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage
  • These Holy Hours
  • Week 6: A Great Time to Return to Work
  • Week 7: And Now My Watch Is Ended
  • Is There Room in Motherhood for Feminism?

Kindle Direct Publishing only allows me to give away free copies of a title every 90 days. Please take advantage of this free promotional period while you can. After August 7th, the book will be available for $2.99.

If you download a copy, please review it on Amazon.

As an independent author, I rely on you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on my work.

I greatly appreciate your support!

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I Heart Formula Feeding (and I don’t care who knows it)

Listen to me read this post here:

 

Or read the post below here:

Something that I should say first

(I shouldn’t have to, but I know how quickly the mind jumps to conclusions…)

I think breastfeeding is awesome.

My love of formula feeding in no way diminishes your breastfeeding experience.

Infant feeding isn’t a zero-sum issue.

(And by the way, when did it become one?)

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Formula feeding, one week old

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As I’ve written about extensively in my book and in other blog posts, breastfeeding was so much worse than childbirth for me. (And I gave birth without drugs).

With my first baby, I was overcome with feelings of guilt (This shit might actually keep her brain from developing as much as it would if I were breastfeeding…) and shame (If I were a better mother, I would have kept pumping, even just a little bit. Every little bit helps.)

In my mind, I wasn’t allowed to openly love formula feeding. Proclaiming how much I loved formula feeding would have been akin to saying that I didn’t particularly care about the health of my child.

That’s what I thought.

When I try to trace back where those thoughts came from, I realize how much of my own insinuations were responsible for the guilt and shame that I felt. I read four or five credible books about breastfeeding when I was pregnant. (The Breastfeeding Book by Martha and William Sears was particularly good.) My takeaway from this and the other books was that, as long as I stuck with breastfeeding, my chances of success were very, very high.

I just needed to buckle down and commit to the process.

Because, let’s face it, breastfeeding is better for me and the baby.

I LOVED THIS MESSAGE.

Because if there’s one thing my friends and family know about me, it’s that I CAN BUCKLE DOWN AND COMMIT like no other.

I’m like a dog with a bone when I move something to the top of the priority list.

And in those first weeks after my first child was born…

Let’s just say, Ruff, ruff.

***

There’s a difference between loving the way that you feed your child and doing it simply because you hate the alternative.

I had to learn this the hard way with my first child.

Because, I confess, I didn’t love formula feeding her.

I just hated the alternative of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding made me absolutely miserable. It brought me no joy. It only brought physical and emotional pain. Feelings of inadequacy and resentment. And days and days of being awake for 22 out of 24 hours (and that brings you to the brink of psychosis, let me tell you).

So I quietly switched to formula feeding when my daughter was 12 days old. Every time, someone saw us feeding her tiny bottles of formula, the mental tape of guilt and shame ran its course in my mind.

I bit my lip and hoped no one would say anything.

Most people didn’t.

But some did.

And then I was prepared with my boilerplate speech that grew increasingly awkward as I tried to figure out on-the-fly if this audience really needed to know the shape of my nipples or the amount of milk that I was producing. (Does anyone really need to know that?)

It was agonizing.

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***

But this post isn’t supposed to be about how hard breastfeeding was for me.

It’s supposed to be about how awesome formula feeding has been for me.

I’ll admit, I didn’t automatically switch to loving formula feeding after having my second baby simply because I had done it before.

But once I realized the absolute deluge of work that having a second child heaped upon us, I was ALL ABOUT FORMULA FEEDING.

With no grandparents living nearby to constantly stop by and help out, we bear the full load by ourselves. (Read: full-time jobs, daycare drop-off/pick-up, hours of housecleaning every day, lawn mowing (a HUGE yard), shopping, doctor visits, dentist visits, blah, blah, blah…)

So trying to breastfeed when my body wasn’t cooperating?

Nope.

Breastfeeding even if my body were cooperating would have been a challenge.

I think the only way I would be breastfeeding right now is if…

1) I truly loved the experience of breastfeeding

and

2) I could hire outside help to pick up my share of the household chores.

Barring those two crucial factors, breastfeeding would just not happen.

Because now, the day is doubly full of responsibilities.

Now, there are no simply no free moments to wade through the quagmire of the Internet and second guess everything that I’m doing and compare this product and that product and this method and that method.

I no longer run Google searches like “infant formula obesity” or “does formula cause diarrhea?” or “comparison of intelligence breastfed and formula fed” or “mother child bonding only breastfeeding?” And then get sidetracked into a discussion board where self-righteous and insecure young mothers tear each other apart.

So unh-uh. Ain’t nobody got time for that any more.

***

If you’ve gotten this far, perhaps you want some specific reasons that I love formula feeding.

Here are my top reasons, in order of importance to me.

  1. I know exactly how much my baby has eaten (This always helped put my mind at ease in those early weeks when your baby is trying to regain their birth weight.)
  2. I know exactly what ingredients my baby has eaten.
  3. I don’t have to worry about how my diet affects my baby. (After ten months of pregnancy, this is a huge relief, I can tell you.)
  4. My body starts to feel like it belongs to me again, much sooner.
  5. I can more easily share night feeding responsibilities.
  6. I don’t have to pump at night or at work, just to keep my milk supply up.
  7. Actually, just, I DON’T HAVE TO PUMP. (Those machines are like a form of torture, I swear to God. And of course, they were invented by a dude.)
  8. I don’t have to scrape the bottom of my soul for the willpower to endure a baby’s incessant need to nurse all day, for several days–just to get my baby through a growth spurt.
  9. I can get a babysitter and leave the house–without wondering how soon I’ll need to pump or nurse before my boobs explode.
  10. I will never run out of food for my baby–even if my body isn’t cooperating (a statement of middle-class privilege, I acknowledge. Although… so are a lot of these reasons…)
  11. If I get sick, I can take time to recover without having a baby attached to me all hours of the day.
  12. I can exercise without worrying about diminishing my milk supply.
  13. Actually, I can just live life without worrying about diminishing my milk supply.
  14. I only spend 2 hours per day feeding my child (20 minutes X 5-6 feedings), rather than 4.5 hours per day (45 minutes X 5-6 feedings–that was about the fastest I could ever nurse).
  15. I didn’t have to worry about whether my baby would take a bottle at daycare.
  16. I don’t have to confront the frustrating situation of wondering if some nut job is going to find my breastfeeding “inappropriate.” (IT’S NOT. GET OVER IT.)
  17. I’m sure I could go on…

***

I write this post specifically for mothers who are formula feeding.

Because I know what it’s like to be sitting in a group of moms and overhear someone refer to infant formula as “garbage.” Or hear another mom say, “Well, if that’s how you want to feed your baby…”

It ain’t fun.

And, if you were raised to be “ladylike” like me, you didn’t stand up for yourself. (Instead, you just pretended that you didn’t hear… and then complained about it later to an accepting audience as a means to let off steam. Being female is a bitch, isn’t it?)

What I want to say to you is this:

There will be sooo many times in motherhood when you can’t please everyone, no matter what you do.

This truth hit home hard just a month ago when another daycare mom who was considering withdrawing her baby (who had started just weeks earlier) called our daycare center a “dirty”, “expensive,” “baby factory.” (Expensive, sure, but dirty? Uh, have you been to other daycare centers???) After I told her that I liked our daycare, she said,

“Huh. I just thought my baby deserved better. But you’re fine with this, right?”

Ick. I couldn’t get out of the conversation fast enough.

Trust me. There will always be someone who will try to make you feel badly about how you’re raising your kids. No matter what you’re doing.

And if you need even more assurance that everything’s going to be okay, here’s Adam explaining why baby formula isn’t poison.

Press on, moms.

There will always be someone who is sure you’re not doing the best that you can. (And for some reason, it’s their responsibility to let you know about it.)

Press on.

The Tough Nights (a.k.a. Don’t Ask If the Baby is Sleeping Through the Night)

Listen to this post here: 

Or read for yourself here: 

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all got our stories.

Here’s one from me.

It was the first day post-maternity leave that I had to be in the office at an 8:30 a.m. meeting.

Before this, my work tasks had been very flexible. I did a lot of stuff at home and only had to come into the office a few times. (And I totally yoga-pantsed it.)

But on Friday, May 12th, I had to be in the office. At 8:30 a.m.

So of course the night before this was also the first night that the baby was sick.

It was the first night that Doug was completely spent and the baby needed me to hold him all night long to sleep.

Beginning at 1:00 a.m.

crying baby

Photo credit: Brandon Baunach, http://www.flickr.com

What if I told you that my first thought when I heard him crying in the night wasn’t, You poor thing, are you okay?

What if I told you it wasn’t my second thought? Or even my tenth thought?

It was probably more like my thirtieth thought.

After, Oh my God, what is your problem? 

After, Look, we’re not doing this all night. We’re just not. I’m serious.

After, What the f**!?! Go to sleep!

After, I swear to God, if you wake up one more time after I put you down, I’m going to make you scream it out.

After, Why tonight? Really? You could have done this any other night. But now? Really.

After, I’m serious. I’m so f***ing serious.

And on and on.

After eight times of rocking him to sleep and trying to transfer him to the crib over the course of an hour, I relented. I let go of the plan that I was going to get up at 5:00 a.m. to exercise. I let go of the plan that I would even get one hour of sleep before work started.

I just let it all go and embraced the exhaustion.

If I was going to be tired, I didn’t also have to be stressed and resentful the whole day about being tired.

So when I handed the baby over to my husband at 5:45 that morning, I didn’t yell or swear. I just told him what the night had been like and asked him to stay home with the baby while I took the three-year-old to daycare.

Grocery shopping? Okay. I’ll do it. And I’ll pick her up from daycare. I said.

Give.

And would you stay home with the baby while I go to work?  I asked.

Take.

I showered. I made my coffee and drank it while I put on enough make-up to cover up the night. Then I dressed my daughter while she was still waking up and still like a wet noodle. Then, I coaxed her into eating her vitamins and drinking her milk. I put her lunch and my lunch together and made formula for the baby.

I loaded F’s lunch bag, her backpack, my work bag, my lunch bag (but not H’s bottle bag or H’s diaper bag since he was staying home). (If you’re keeping track, it’s usually six bags in and out of the car. Seven on Mondays and Fridays.)

I drove fifteen minutes south to her daycare.

Then I drove twenty-five minutes north to work.

I got off the Interstate with another car.

We both followed the same route until it was clear we were both going to the same university. We parked next to each other. I looked over and saw that the driver was a guy, probably my age. He sprang out of his car holding only a set of keys.

Just. A. Set. Of. Keys.

The nerve.

I saw very plainly in that split second what it takes for me to get to work now versus what it took for me to get to work before I had children.

Now, the morning is a whole orchestrated production. A delicate ballet of exercise, showers, wake-up calls, second wake-up calls, third wake-up calls, Oh-my-God-get-out-of-bed-already! wake-up calls, vitamins, lunch bags, baby bottles, Get-your-shoes-on, Go-potty, Get-your-shoes-on, diapers, Are-your-shoes-on, teeth/hair-brushing, For-the-love-of-God-get-your-shoes-on!, breakfasts, carseats, strollers, kisses, conversations with teachers, punctuated with a deep, satisfying sigh that yes, finally *I* can go to work now.

***

I wasn’t at peak performance on Friday, May 12th, but I pulled through. I recovered.

Thankfully, most nights have not been like that lately. Most nights, he sleeps through the night. Sometimes, he has a night feeding. And then he goes back to sleep.

And by the way, don’t ask if someone’s baby is sleeping through the night.

Unless you know them pretty well.

It’s just not good manners. I mean, really, it’s not a great topic for small talk. The only way that question is small talk is if the answer is clearly “yes.” And the likelihood of that is… meh…

A more likely situation is that you send the parent into a fury of jealousy as they imagine you sleeping on a billowy, undisturbed cloud of silence for eight, God, maybe even twelve! extravagant hours. Only to wake up to the luxury of you strolling to your bathroom and taking a hot, steamy, uninterrupted shower, and then magically emerging from the bathroom, just moments later, completely dressed to the nines and made completely over, from your hair down to your nails. And, lo, breakfast is already made. And it’s cinnamon rolls and waffles and bacon and sausage and the most delicious coffee you’ve ever had in your entire life–all 0 calories! And the only thing that you have to do is climb into your brand-new Mercedes and drive to work in completely, inexplicably empty roads and highways until you are work. Where everything is already done. And the only thing you need to do is drink more coffee and catch up on House of Cards, which you still haven’t gotten to see one blessed moment of and it’s driving you crazy (even though the reviews for Season 5 aren’t very good). But still. You binge. All. Day. Long.

Jealousy makes you crazy.

Do you really want to drive the person crazy?

***

Getting through the tough nights without completely losing your mind is an exercise in long-term thinking.

It’s easy to think, I really can’t do this again. I’m going insane. No. I’m not doing it. I refuse. He’ll just have to scream it out tonight. 

It takes some effort to reshape your thoughts into,

It’s not always going to be like this.

There will be an end to this.

You’ll live. Oh, you’ll be tired. Way tired. But you’ll live.

You’ve been through worse. Remember birth?

You’ve got this. 

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