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What happens when we watch

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to read something that opens up a place inside you that was tight and closed before. You walk away from those words to a world with a bit more spirit and texture.

That’s how I felt after I read this piece by Frieda Kipar Bay, an herbalist, mother, artist and educator who I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with a time or two. She also happens to make wild-crafted, herbal syrups that the boys and I happily guzzle down when our bodies need them. So do yourself a favor, read this transporting story that Frieda is letting me share here, and then take some moments to check out Taproot Medicine, which is, like all things Frieda creates, a thing of raw, elemental beauty.

what happens when we watch
last light on thistle
last light on thistle by frieda kipar bay

i happened to have put a bench in the middle of a robust little hummingbird’s territory (calypte anna for you latin geeks).  i’ve been visiting that bench in the overgrown wild garden for some time now – many seasons – watching him spin around me from tree to tree, singing at the top of his tiny lungs and fearlessly dive bombing anyone who dares to enter his home.  but today something new happened.  this funny little creature flew way up above me, so far!, and just when i thought he’d never come back he swooped down towards the horizon, disappeared, then reappeared on the other side of me with a loud warrior cry, and went back up towards the sky to do it again.  he circled around and around, at first i actually thought another hummingbird was chasing him he was so fast to rebound, but no.  it was just this one tiny being ferociously enjoying his very own roller coaster.  i was completely exhilarated.  then, he was done.  back on the oak branch, chewing out his ballad of a song.

it’s not often i’ve had the opportunity in my adult life to be somewhere long enough to watch another animal’s nuances unfold.  it makes me feel at home.  when i began learning about the plants in sonoma county, my relationship to them solidified my sense of homecoming, that i belong here, that i’m even needed here.  and my hunch is that knowing a place is what has the capacity to heal an entire generation of wandering children.  (which is just what we are.)
so when i go on a little hike to tend the mugwort patch, thin the hemlock, or prune the elderberry it’s not just a pleasure stroll, or a harvesting trip, but a collecting of the medicine of belonging.  if you don’t know it, kat anderson’s book tending the wild is a lovely informative read, as is braiding sweetgrass, by robin wall kimmerer.

from wherever you are on the earth right now, i wish you homecoming.

Giveaway winner: how to survive mornings with your kids!

Step right up! Get it while it’s hot! Get it while it’s buttered! Parenting advice you actually want is being served up by my favorite experts.

Congrats, Susie, you won!! See Angela’s letter below for help with your kid morning dilemma. And congrats to Allison, vjentzsch and Jacquie (and the hoardes of the rest of us) who share Susie’s exasperation on this issue!

And BONUS, Angela and Niels will be answering all of your other questions on their podcast! Woot!! Read on…

Here’s Susie’s question:

L is 5. And INCAPABLE of following directions. In the morning, particularly. It’s “please brush your teeth” and “please do first pee” and “please get your clothes on” and despite many calm talks, and a chart we made called “L’s Morning,” with fetching pictures of what he needs to accomplish, AND with the sometimes-threat (delivered kindly, in my defense) that he will lose the privilege of watching Wild Kratts later if he can’t help out more, he dilly-dallies like no other. I sometimes have to ask 5 or 6 times for each of the three things he needs to get done. We help more and more (pick the clothes, cue up the toothbrush), and that’s fine–we just want some ownership over the activities and a little frigging help around here, please. Often, he completely ignores us, not in a willful way exactly, but in a “I’m-spaced-out-and-am-going-to-pretend-I-don’t-hear-you-so-I-can-play-animals” way. It is SUCH A BEAR to get out of the house, and it often results in yelling or tears or drama that none of us wants. My patience has worn thin. I’m over it. THANKS!

***

Dear Susie,

Oh, yes, the morning Getting-Out-The-Door challenge. Who hasn’t been there? Whew.

First, let me say this: please, please, don’t take any of my advice as a way to be hard on yourself. Parents are stuck between a Rock (children’s hardwired need for connection) and a Hard Place (societal structures and rhythms that make connection extremely difficult, nearly impossibly sometimes).

Be mad about this. It sucks to parent in this culture of isolation, speed, stress, and the pursuit of perfection. Be very mad. But don’t be mad at yourself.

Every moment of warmth, listening and laughter with your child is nothing less than a counter-cultural act of resistance (Do I sound dramatic here? I feel rather passionate about this). Give yourself lots of love and praise for every drop of patience, compassion and ingenuity that you manage to come up with as a mother or father parenting in the here and now. And trust that your kids are resilient enough to take the bits of connection you manage to cast their way and use it to heal, grow, and create their own ways of moving through the world. So without guilt, and while dousing yourself in self-appreciation for the awesome parent you already are (and I can tell this is true!) … read on!

Ok, you might want to first watch this little video to get oriented to why connection is the key to helping things run smoothly in our families, and what this might look like in the very real, very challenging everyday moments with our kids:

So … mornings. A big time of challenge and upset in most families. These are my thoughts on it…

Mornings are really hard for young kids because they are facing many hours away from us. Children who have been pretty well treated—and yours clearly are!—still have high standards for what life should be like. And at age five, it is much, much, much more reasonable to want to spend the day with people who love and adore you than with people who might be nice enough, but don’t necessarily love you. I’m assuming that’s what school is like for kids, even at great schools. So…a five year old, whose brain still relies on lots and lots of warm, attuned limbic-to-limbic resonance (love) to be able to function well, has understandable apprehension when anticipating many hours away from you—the capitol S source of love in his life!

But there’s still lots we can do to gain kids’ cooperation and help mornings go better, especially once we understand that we are asking young brains to swim upstream from their natural impulses. And smoother, warmer mornings are better for everyone because they set us up to enter the day well. So, I think there are three main things that can make a huge difference in the morning—these aren’t easy things to achieve, but well worth our attention. (And I challenge you to do these things imperfectly, at best.)

First, calm, cooperative mornings require a calm, regulated parent. As the Master Regulators of our households, our emotional tenor sets the tone for the whole family. But before you beat yourself up about how stressed and frustrated you often feel in the morning, know that it is TOTALLY unfair that you should have to get yourself and your kids ready and out the door so early in the morning, and that to do it while being CALM is a high order, indeed. You shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are, parenting at a time in history that sets us up to have to work extra hard. So give yourself kudos for all the mornings when you don’t lose it, and be extremely gentle and compassionate with yourself when you do lose it.

And then try this strategy to help your system feel calm in the morning: wake up thirty minutes before anyone else in your family.

Spend this time being with yourself, in some easy enjoyable way, before you become Mommy. For instance, make your favorite hot beverage, sit in the comfiest chair in the living room, and let yourself enter the day gently. Sometimes I light a candle just to help me set the right tone (otherwise, I am liable to start worrying and fretting over the day as I sit there with my coffee). Do whatever you need to make this time pleasant. Recently I have added to my morning time a little self-given foot rub with coconut oil and a few drops of my favorite essential oils. This is a time to treat yourself really well because you are a champ and doing an amazing job in an impossible situation. (A mom in one of my classes recently asked if it “counts” to spend her thirty minutes taking a shower and getting dressed all by herself. I could tell that the thought almost made her giddy, so my answer: Hell yes!) But however you spend your thirty minutes, keep it simple, keep it enjoyable, and make it all about you.

Second, get your kids connected before you ask them to cooperate. This can look different for each kid, and it may change over time. I used to start the day with a morning cuddle with my daughter in bed. The only problem was that then she really never wanted to get out of bed. So we started a ritual of having a “morning couch cuddle.” When she was five I could still lift her, so I’d scoop her up and carry her to the living room where we’d snuggle quietly until she’d wake up to discover she was hungry. These days, enjoying my own morning foot rub with essential oils has inspired me to start her day in a similar way, so I sneak in and give her an invigorating foot and leg rub while she wakes up.

You can also start the day with a little dose of “Special Time”—which is two to five to ten minutes of undivided and enthusiastic attention while you do whatever your child wants to do—with a timer set. Here’s a video in which Niels describes this powerful practice.

But whatever your “connection strategy,” just think of this as a quick fill up before the day begins. Because if we can get our kids juiced up with connection right away, they often have it in them to cooperate better through the morning. You can also give them “micro-fill-ups” as you go… nuzzles, twinkling at them, extra body contact wherever you can, lots of appreciation for what they are doing right (I love how you picked out your own socks this morning!!). The more full their connection cups, the better equipped they are to do what needs to be done and face the day.

Third, make it fun. I know, I’m rolling my eyes just rereading those words because I know how impossible it sounds. But fun greases the cooperation wheels in a grand way. Kids are suckers for a good time. You are on the right track with your “task chart,” by the way. But the difference may be in the delivery. Can you make it into a game? When my daughter was in kindergarten, we went to Staples and she picked out a a write-on wipe-off board that we hung on her bedroom door. On the board, I drew pictures with little check boxes beside them of each step she needed to take to move through the morning. As she did each task she got to check it off. Something about that made it fun—and empowering. Plus, I would give her high-fives as I noticed items that were complete, and with a twinkle in my eye I’d say, “I wonder what the next step is on your list?” when I noticed she was lagging.

Fun is in the attitude. And it creates connection. You can give them piggy backs to the kitchen for breakfast, or announce that you are SURE you will be the first one to get your shoes on (and then be sure to lose). It can mean announcing that you have three things that need to go into the backpack, can anyone help by counting as they go in? Lunchbox, 1! Homework folder, 2! Sunscreen, 3! It can mean adding a dose of silly to the task. This morning, when the foot rub wasn’t enough to get my kid out of bed, I blasted Taylor Swift in her bedroom and we had a ten second dance party (and all her eye rolls let me know I was reaching new heights of “cool” by the goofy way I danced).

Making it fun is like flirting and courting your child into the day. Does it sound exhausting? Yes, I guess it is. But so is wrangling them, nagging, and yelling. And in my experience, a little connection and fun goes a long way. Opera tooth brushing and a skipping race to the car is far, far easier than having to ask my child to put her socks on fifteen thousand times. And it makes us both feel a hell of a lot better.

Smooth Mornings Getting Out The Door really begin the Day Before…, or the Weekend Before.

This is the real kicker…We really only have time in the morning to give our kids “micro-fill-ups” of connection, which isn’t really enough to get them through the morning (and the rest of the day) in good shape. Little fill ups of connection work best in the morning when a kid has had a BIG fill up of our attention sometime recently.

What does a big dose of connection with you look like? It might be a romping pillow fight or your tender attention while they feel their difficult feelings deeply and fully (or even both, because play often gives rise to the big, vulnerable feelings that are often right underneath the surface).

These are examples of the Big Doses of Connection that kids are really looking for in the morning, but who has time then? It’s much easier on everyone if we can provide the Big Doses after school, in the evenings, or on weekends. So whenever you can manage it, let yourself drop your other responsibilities and playfully connect with your kids, and if their feelings start to erupt, stay close and let ‘em flow. Be the safe container for their storm, and welcome the feelings forth. Because if they wake up on school days with their cups already pretty full, then they are more likely to be sated by the “micro-fill-up” that you are able to give in the morning.

But know that it’s not always going to happen when it’s convenient. Some mornings we just have to toss the schedule out the window, and sit down on the floor with our wailing, thrashing child, and beam our love on their emotional storm. When kids have regular chances to release the pressure in this way, you will find you get that time back in spades.

And tomorrow morning will likely go just a bit more smoothly.

I hope this helps,
Angela

PS. We, Angela and Niels, have read all the questions and thought about answering them all. And we will. This week is the start of our new podcast. One of the first episodes features an interview with An Honest Mom herself. You can listen to that interview here.

In the coming weeks of the podcast, we’ll answer all the questions you asked in the comments section of the the giveaway post. You can sign up for the podcast on the Every Parent Podcast website or directly on iTunes, so you won’t miss an episode.

You can also visit us on our regular website, Parent Connect East Bay, where you can find information about our classes and coaching.

How the NICU saved and tormented our brand new family

My most recent doula client, Maude, had an incredible birth. She hoped to have her baby at home and labored there with grace and vigor for a day.

MaudeLabor
When she was deep into active labor, this woman thudded up and down her stairs stairs with the consistent purpose of a metronome. (And that expert on-the-stairs-back-rubber, is Anna Mahony, dream-doula, who I sometimes work with.)

Three hours into pushing, she made the decision to transfer to the hospital. Within an hour after getting there, she pushed her baby out to discover, much to her surprise, that it was a girl. We all sighed with relief that we wound up at the hospital, since her daughter needed some help with her breathing at the NICU. She later developed some other complications that resulted in her transfer to a NICU at a nearby children’s hospital. When I met with Maude 2 weeks after the birth, her baby girl was healthy and happy and at home. As we watched Baby Girl nap peacefully in her swing, Maude launched into a passionate recounting of her experience at the NICU. It was so moving and real that I invited her to write a guest post here. I know that her experience is not an isolated one. I also know that her story and candor will be eye-opening at the very least and validating and inspiring to those of you who have spent time in NICU-land.

***

I feel obligated to start by saying this: I am grateful beyond words that my daughter is alive and well. She may not have been, had the skills of the NICU staffs of two hospitals not been so competent. And I shudder to think of what might have happened to our family had we given birth in a country or part of the United States where medical care is not so advanced or covered by health insurance (kind of) or accessible to nearly anyone. I am grateful that she will likely not experience any long-term disability or complications from what happened at her birth. I am GRATEFUL for her stay in the NICU.

AND

I am flabbergasted, horrified, and raging mad.

I say “her stay” in the NICU on purpose… For it was made clear to me early on that this was HER stay in the NICU, not ours. The person who was INSIDE OF ME 24 hours ago was now considered a separate being, whom I was supposed to turn over to strangers to care for while I tried to mentally comprehend her medical issues, communicate these to our loved ones, and take care of my throbbing body that had just experienced the most exhilarating, intense experience of my life.

Upon admittance to the NICU, my husband and I were told our daughter was allowed two visitors at a time, and we counted as visitors.

I wanted to shout, “I am her MOTHER (even though this concept was only a few hours old to me). Her MOTHER!!! She lived inside me a few days ago. No me. No her. Get it? I am NOT A VISITOR. I am an integral part of her care and well-being. I am like the ventilator to which she is attached. I am like the bed on which she is lying. I am (literally) like the feeding tube that is trailing down her throat. I am an indispensable part of her medical care!”

The system in which we found ourselves did not see it this way.

The system saw me as a visitor, at best. At worst, I was an intruder, a distraction, an obstacle to my daughter’s healing. The NICU was a large, open, fluorescently lit room lined with cribs and bassinets on all four walls. There was  no privacy for our family to talk, to cry, to sleep, to figure out what the hell just happened to us. There wasn’t even a place for us to sit down at her bedside.

We tried to retreat to the “waiting room” where we often encountered unfortunate families who spoke loudly, using profanity, about who they were preparing to “fight” upon return to their home communities.

We tried to retreat to the cafeteria, but it was loud and cluttered, and sometimes it was difficult to find a clean table. Plus, it was on a completely different floor from my daughter. I didn’t like being so far away.

We even tried to retreat to the chapel, but the chaplain (!!) told us that sleeping in there was inappropriate. Sleep was all we needed. I can pray anywhere.

Most of the nine days we were there, I had to fight to remain by her bedside and not feel like a distraction to the medical professionals attending her. On the first night of her stay, five doctors came in for “rounds” where they discuss the patient. One of the doctors asked me if I had questions for the main doctor. I asked her about seven or eight questions. The other doctors started fidgeting, annoyed at having to stand and wait through my questions. Finally the nurse jumped in, “You’ll have a chance to talk to the doctors again in the morning.” I guess I asked too many questions.

One reason I was treated as such an anomaly in this particular hospital occurred to me slowly, over the nine days of her stay. This particular hospital tends to serve many “Medicaid” (read: poor) patients. Why they are funneled to this hospital is a mystery to me. Why their children need intensive care is not. In the NICU there are mainly premature babies, many of whom likely did not receive adequate prenatal care or nourishment. This NICU is used to poor parents. Poor parents tend not to ask questions. They may be intimidated by medical professionals. Poor parents rarely have the luxury to stay at their child’s bedside all day. They have to go to work. So the NICU has developed policies, facilities, and protocols accordingly. And naturally, the staff there were ill-prepared for my borage of questions and constant attempts to stay at the center of what was happening to my daughter.

This makes me RAGING MAD. Poor parents and their children deserve the same kind of care as any other family. They deserve everything I want and am about to ask for.

1) Deliberate coaching on pumping breast milk.

It was 2:00 am on the first morning of her stay in the NICU. (I elected to spend the night, even though there was not an adequate place for me to sleep in any restorative way. Leaving my daughter in the hands of strangers while she was 36 hours old while I went home to my bed empty-handed just didn’t seem doable to me.) I said to the nurse that I wanted to learn how to pump breast milk. This fabulous nurse called her friend from another unit to come over and help me in the “mother’s room” (a hideous, windowless closet with one, overhead fluorescent light and a breast pump with no instructions). The friend came and showed me how to operate the machine and set up the plastic flanges on my breasts. She gave instructions to pump every two hours. As a result, the nurses were eventually able to administer my milk to her via a feeding tube instead of formula, and I had an established milk supply several days later when my daughter was allowed and able to nurse.

Every new mother should be offered pumping instruction in her first visit to the NICU. She shouldn’t have to remember to ask.

2) A clean, private place to use the bathroom.

After a woman has given birth, going to the bathroom is a new experience. New moms often have stitches, either in their abdomens or in their vaginas. A filthy, windowless hospital bathroom is not a place to care for open wounds. New moms have supplies they need while in the bathroom. Placing my bag of said supplies on the filthy floor of the bathroom stall (upon which I KNOW someone vomited less than 24 hours ago) is not hygienic. So I balanced the heavy bag on my shoulder while tending to myself.

New moms need sanitary napkins, ice packs, garbage cans within reach of the toilet, spray bottles, glasses of water with which to take their prescriptions, and toilets that are higher than normal so we don’t have to squat so low. In short, we need private bathrooms.

3) A clean, private place to eat.

I was told upon arrival to the hospital that it is critical that I eat a lot and eat well to establish and maintain milk supply. In the next breath, I was told I was only allowed to eat in two places: the waiting room (aforementioned disaster) and the cafeteria (on another floor from my kid). I was also told that I was afforded one meal per day from the hospital. They would deliver this meal to the NICU, but I had to transport it to an “eating area” to consume it.

4) Have a doctor say to me, “You are an integral part of your daughter’s wellness and healing.” (And have said-doctor believe these words.)

I fear the neonatologists and other doctors were not trained (or forgot) that the presence of a neonate’s mother is CRUCIAL to her surviving and thriving, especially when in critical condition. Doctors certainly did not express this verbally, and the facility in which they work does not express this non-verbally. I was given small squares of fabric that I was to wear close to my body and then place in her bassinet so she could “smell me.” Guess what? If I STAY IN THE ROOM with her, she can smell me too. I found these fabric squares to be insulting. If I were provided a CHAIR to sit in, I might feel more welcome to stay.

5) NICU spaces should be designed to encourage family participation.

Having nowhere for a mother to sleep, breastfeed, eat, or even sit sent me the message, “Go home. We’ll call you when we’ve healed your child.” Having this exclusion constantly rained down upon me made me want to strangle the medical professionals who designed this standard of care. I absolutely could not go home, at least not for the first 48 hours. After that, I felt so defeated that I started to force myself to go home each night. There was literally nowhere for me to be at my daughter’s side.

A nurse said, “You should go home to rest and be ready when your baby does come home.”

I smiled and nodded at the time, but that comment has gnawed away at me. Some of my friends would mention that at least there was the silver lining of me having some extra time to rest. I adore these friends. And I know they were just trying to say something kind. And I feel compelled now to share why the concept of resting at this particular time is a complete crock.

If you think you don’t sleep well when your first-born daughter is cooing or crying in the bassinet by your bed, try sleeping with her 15 miles away in the care of a stranger.  That, my friend, is the definition of NOT sleeping well.

Coming home was not restful. My husband and I followed the same, breathless routine upon arrival home each night. After crying and shaking and heaving in the car the whole way home, I would peel myself out of the passenger’s seat, walk in the house, strip off all of my clothes (which were filthy, thanks to the condition of the hospital) and proceed upstairs to start pumping. My husband would throw all of our clothes into the washing machine, and provided the hot compresses, cold compresses and all supplies necessary to kick-start a milk supply with a breast pump in the absence of an infant. I would call the hospital to check in with the night nurse about how my daughter was doing, remind them that we didn’t want her to be given a bottle or pacifier or formula, and thank her for taking care of my girl. After pumping for 45 minutes, my husband would take the expressed milk and my plastic pumping supplies down to the freezer. I would set the timer on my phone for two hours, and my husband and I would wake up to repeat the process. Somewhere in there he would bring up the newly cleaned clothes for us to wear again.

I want to see a standard of care that acknowledges the neonate and mother as one unit. When a father or partner is in the picture, this person should also be included in the unit. These two adults are not visitors. They are pieces of the child’s care plan that are indispensable.

I want to see individual rooms for neonates and their parents. Period. With bathrooms, eating trays, and windows, just like other patients in the hospital. If neonates could talk, I’m sure they would request the same.

I must finish where I started.  I am grateful. I realize that my girl’s stay in the NICU was very short by most standards. She was born at full-term and therefore was able, eventually, to breastfeed well. All things considered, she recovered quickly. I’d like to think at least part of this is due to my fierce wrangling to be there, to advocate, to do everything I could to keep her healthy in the ways that felt right to me. And I feel deep gratitude to the to the skillful nurses, doctors, and researchers who contributed to her wellness, the manufacturers of products and drugs she used, and the millions of babies who went before her to pave the way with knowledge and skills to help heal her particular illnesses.

And

I want better. I want better for families of means and families without. I want better for moms who don’t know how or what they should ask, and I want better for moms who are pains in the neck and ask “too much.” I want better for all babies.

What I want is out there.

My friend's essay about us on Elle.com today

My dear friend Susie is a crisp, courageous writer. Today, Elle.com published her essay about the heart-wrenching way our little Cal has factored into her family’s life in the past year.

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I cried in a bathroom stall at work as I read the first draft of this piece when Susie shared it with me. Feeling the weight of her friendship and longing made my heart hurt.

Her boldness and vulnerability are well worth reading.

(Love you, Susie.)

Guest post: On Passing as a Single Mom

A few months ago, a friend sent me this practical account of how a woman got rid of a placenta she never wanted in the first place. It casually flew in the face of the false dichotomy between crunchy, placenta-eating home birthers and epidural princesses. On a whim, I sent an admiring email to the author. Any woman willing to reveal her own complexity in an embarrassing tale of human waste disposal is a friend of mine. I invited her to write a guest post here, and hot damn, she wrote one.
Enjoy.

My boyfriend, Scott, was in Arizona with his dying father and I was at a diner with our two sons. My older son was rolling creamers across the table for the younger one to fling on the ground. I overheard our waitress say to an older couple who had just walked in, “Someone is in your booth.”

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Photo by Ben Husmann

She nodded in our direction. Unknowingly we had occupied “their” booth. Aware of how territorial old people can be about booths, I stiffened. The couple sat down near us, and then the husband began to silently watch us.

“Whatever,” I said to myself and then became distracted with the blue crayon my youngest was chewing.

The old folks ate swiftly and left. My children were covered in syrup, so I asked for the check.

“It’s been taken care of,” the waitress said and nodded to the booth where the couple had been sitting. I had spent the better part of my twenties—a time before back flab and pregnancy-induced skin tags—in Mission District bars and no stranger had ever picked up my tab. I asked the waitress to mind my sons while I ran into the rain to thank the Samaritans, but they were gone.

“What was that all about?” I asked her when I returned. She smiled in a certain way. Like the way you smile when you assume you’re in the company of your own kind.

It was really early; I was alone with my kids; I don’t have a wedding ring. Of course the couple—and the waitress—thought I was a single mom, which I’m not.

At this point, I became aware that silence was a form of deception and what I should say was, “What a goddamn nice gesture. It’s been a rough week because my boyfriend (super strong emphasis) is away with his sick father.”

Why did I lie by omission? Because there was something shamefully thrilling about passing as a single mom, who as everyone knows is society’s toughest of the tough.

I asked about her life. Her shift had started at 6 a.m., so she had to wake both her kids at 5:30. Then they went back to sleep on the babysitter’s couch. “Not so bad,” she said.

She had parted ways with her kids at the crack of dawn, and the suspenders on her diner uniform were pushing her boobs out to either side. But she wasn’t complaining.

I complain. For what? Not only do I have a partner, but he’s of the best stock, scooping baby poop out of the bath drain, telling me he wants me, working his ass off. I have my mom who not only watches our baby once a week but also lugs the recycling to the curb. I have the hardest working nanny in the North Bay. The list goes on.

After our first son was born, neither for the love of Christ nor money could Scott and I stop playing the who-has-it-harder game. Thankfully we’ve let that go.

But in my mind, I’m still a contestant with other moms. Why? Because Scott works nights? Because I have two boys? Because my kids are less than two years apart in age? Because all my friends live at least an hour away?

It’s not sympathy I’m after. Just acknowledgement: What you’re doing is hard. But does anything I’m doing even qualify as hard? Some people handle hard better than others. I’m ashamed that I’m not one of them.

I left the restaurant with the waitress still under the impression that we were in the good fight together.

Several months later, I returned to the diner with my family. Scott and the boys were there, as was my dad and his wife. I was telling them the story and getting close to the climax – “they picked up our bill” – when the same waitress came to take our order.

She acknowledged me. And then she scanned the full table, took in my reality, pursed her lips, and poured the coffee.

***

Jennifer Liss enjoys writing about life in the great parched state of California. She lives in Napa with her boyfriend and two young sons. She makes her living as an education and curriculum writer.