Skip to content

baby

The revolution begins: your not-so-perfect moment photos!

I had to share a few of the great photos that you, dear readers, have been sharing on my Facebook page this week in response to my photographic challenge. The challenge, in short, was to take a picture of one of the not-so-perfect moments in your life–feeling bored in traffic, scrubbing dirty diapers late at night, celebrating the end of a big day in the midst of a messy living room. The only real constraint: you can’t clean it up all perfect and squeaky clean. No tidying beforehand or fixing hair or making things look any different than they just are.

Without further ado:

Here is a nice photo of my daughter mid-fit
I took this trying to stop a crying fit with the power of the iPhone.
My photo revolution. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I am still in my pajamas. D would rather be doing something else.
Here’s “I don’t know what’s on the counter or if I’d even like it, but I’m gonna stand here and scream till you give it to me” (aka “why didn’t you put me to bed 15 minutes ago?”)
Here is a neither good nor bad moment that occurs many times a day every day.

I have been overjoyed from the tips of my dirty toes to the top of my frizzy head by all of your photos. Thank you. Thank you.

p.s. I’ll keep collecting and posting these, so keep sharing away over on the old Facebook.

What becoming a mother looks like for T at 3 weeks post-partum

Remember the video I posted of my conversation with T when she was 38 weeks (roughly 9 months) pregnant? Well, here she is a month after we had that first talk–3 weeks after giving birth to her baby boy.

I love her willingness to share and how she captures that kind of floaty, coming-back-down-to-earth feeling that I remember from my first few weeks after J was born. Even at more than 2.5 years post-partum, I still feel the challenge that T talks about: to “connect my life before with this new life.”

How are you managing with that epic challenge?

What I thought motherhood would look like

Other than a couple brief moments of rocking a swaddled newborn to sleep, I just started having some moments of, “now THIS is what I thought being a mom was going to be like.” And J will be 2 and a half next month. Do tell, what were the images you had in your head of what being a mother looked like? And what do they say about the whacked out ideas (or not?) our culture has about “motherhood.”

Also, here’s a link to the “Becoming a Mother” video series I’m producing.

Momma mojo

For the last month or so, I’ve been enjoying one of those wonderful periods when I actually feel like I know what I’m doing mom-wise. I’ve also been getting pretty consistent sleep and have 12 hours per week that I’m not taking care of J, so that helps too. We’ve hit a stride and have some systems that really work. I don’t feel nervous these days when we’re at the playground and J tries to snatch something away from a baby. I know how I’ll handle it. And it works.

J feeling his mojo

When he’s standing up on the chair at our kitchen counter, I tell him that if he doesn’t get down, I’m going to take him down. And he usually listens to me and gets down on his knees. I’m not going out of my way to distract from or try to avoid his experience of being disappointed–I’m just heading straight into it these days: “The fire-truck drove by. Are you sad you can’t see it anymore? Sorry you’re sad, little weasel.” I feel like I’ve kinda stepped into my parenting mojo. It has not always been this way, as evidenced by this post. And I’m sure that this feeling will go the way of the dodo soon enough, but for now, I’m gonna bask in it a little bit.

So the mojo. I feel like it has come, in large part, from taking on the mantle of being the person who interprets the world-at-large for J. We were having this whole meltdown when I would drop him off at daycare a few months ago when I got this image in my mind of myself as this huge umbrella. I’ll explain. J is going to this place that is obviously not our house and I am leaving him for a time and he’s freaked out about it. And its my responsibility to think to myself, “Self, is this a scary place for J to be? Am I worried about him?” If the answer is yes, then I should get him the hell out of there. The answer, in fact, was “No. I’m not worried–this is a really safe, loving place and I trust these people to take care of him.” So I decided to put an umbrella over the situation for him and show him how much I believe that its a safe, good place. I gave him kisses and cuddles and then smiled and waved and left, even though he was still crying. At first, this definitely jangled some of my attachment bells, because I don’t want him to feel abandoned. And honestly, I have no idea if he does or not, but showing him in my body language and behavior that I believe this place I’m taking him is good totally helped. Often, he walks right up the steps himself and looks genuinely happy to be there and gives me a kiss and says goodbye. There were and still are some days when I have to leave him crying. But I love him up, put on a brave face, and then go elsewhere to deal with the emotional fallout from walking away from your crying kid. I think when I used to give him 85 hugs and look searchingly into his eyes with concern, it sort of sent the message to him that he should be worried, because I looked worried too. So that’s been a game changer, recognizing that I’m showing him, through my gestures and expressions and behavior if something is okay or not, scary or funny, exciting or worrisome. It feels good to own up to the fact that whether I acknowledge it or not, he’s always looking to me to see what’s up.

What that whole daycare drop-off experience really helped me to see is that I’m the decider. And there’s something incredibly relaxing about taking on that responsibility. I’ve had many a day with him where I feel totally sloshed around in his stream-of-consciousness reality and suddenly find myself digging in the garden for snails when I know he really should have gone down for a nap 15 minutes ago. Since stepping into my role as decider, I had to face down my own fear of his reaction. He might cry. He might tantrum. Turns out, though, that since I started having really clear, passionless boundaries with him, “No, you can’t have my fish oil capsules,” “We’re not going to the kindergym today,” “It’s time for a nap,” he gets upset sometimes, but way less than I would have imagined. I think he’s actually starting to learn that the world is finite and not the way you want it sometimes and that it’s a bummer but also something he can handle. It’s been a huge relief for me to give up the ghost of trying to save him from that disappointment. And I can choose to do things his way or walk at his pace or wrestle on the bed or wear sunglasses and eat yogurt, but I need to choose myself if that’s what we’re going to do, rather than being constantly tethered to his ever-changing whims.

The other thing I’ve been getting all mojo-ey about lately is a statement that I learned from a Magda Gerber book that I just listed in my Toddler page, “I’m not going to let you do that.” Hallelujah. It’s just the best damned statement in the world as far as I’m concerned. It’s clear. It’s direct. It’s what I mean. I don’t have to get into some weird, murky, moral conversation where I try to explain to him why we don’t grab other people’s nipples. And again, it’s just as much about re-wiring myself and stepping into my parent power. POW. I’m not going to let you do that, because I’m the parent and I can take your hand away from that little girl’s nipple and pick you up and take you somewhere else. Ahh, the simple elegance of stepping into my own parenting oomph and confidence.

 

 

On becoming a mother

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I recently assisted a childbirth class as part of my doula certification. On the last night of the class, all of the couples took turns talking about their fears, how excited they were, what they’d learned. One woman said something to the effect of, “It’s crazy that we’ve prepared so much for and have so many feelings and anxieties about a journey that is, essentially, one foot long. I mean, the baby only has to get from here (gesture to belly), to there (gesture to crotch).”

I was struck how funny and truthful and earnest they all were, and how it seemed that we were all in awe of the same thing—birth as a rite of passage. You’re on one side of that fence your whole life, and then you’re pregnant and know you’re gonna have to cross it. And then, by the grace of god and medicine and your own body and the support around you, you reach the other side. It’s endlessly mysterious and inspiring to me. And it’s just nuts. There’s this baby on the inside. And you have no earthly idea what its actually going to be like until it comes out. And then it’s there. Sheesh.

I decided to pursue my endless fascination with this whole process by having a couple of conversations on video with two women who volunteered from the group – one when they were around 38 weeks, just weeks or days away from having their babies, and one when their babies were a few weeks old. A sort of video time capsule, as it were.

Here’s a glimpse of the chat I had with T before she had her baby. (Turns out, we recorded this conversation 6 days before she birthed her baby boy.) My next post will be a little video time capsule from chat we had last week, when the wee babe was a month old.

On judging other parents

I met a friend for beer the other night. It felt pretty momentous. She was the friend I vaguely referenced in an earlier blog post with whom I’d had a schism.

my artistic rendering of "friends meeting for beer after schism"

Our schism was about our children, and our different styles of raising them. And after a couple of emotional conversations, several weeks of emails and both of us taking some time to get perspective and lick our wounds, we met for beer.

It was such a relief to see her again—as if a strange magical spell that had turned her into a monster had blown away. And there she was. Just my friend, with her bright face and her wavy hair and the purposeful way she walks. As we talked about what had happened and how we both felt about it, it struck me that we were doing something pretty impressive. We disagree and are making different choices about certain hot button parenting issues: to cry-it-out or not, co-sleeping, daycare. And rather than just using the old to-each-their-own, who-am-I-to-judge approach, we’re actually having the messy conversations that naturally come when two people that deeply believe in what they’re doing and disagree choose to talk about it.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had many a time when we had to circle back around and remind the other one about how something she said was really hurtful and clean up the mess. But we’ve also shared some incredible insights and have developed a strong mutual respect and fascination for each other.

This is something I really want to create space for in this blog. Everyone is allowed to be judgmental here. Since we all already do it anyway, I think we could actually use it to our advantage. I think that we’re all (well, everyone but the super-evolved-Eckhart-Tolle types) judging each other all the time, even when we claim not to. And while it IS true that every child is different and we all need to find our own way of parenting, I think that sentiment is often used to glaze over and avoid a perfectly fascinating, provocative conversation. Because we want to be kind and because we understand the risks of our judgement, we’re skirting around the issue and cheating ourselves of some really valuable connections.

It’s scary to be judged. Because let’s face it, this parenting gig has the highest stakes ever. And we all know that, and we try really really hard to do what’s best for our kids. So when someone even mildly expresses that they think we’re doing the wrong thing, they can push that terribly zingy button in us that says, “STEP OFF! I’M DOING THE EFFING BEST I CAN. I BET YOU’RE SCREWING UP YOUR KID TOO.” And I think that zingy button is really covering for this fear: “Am I actually making the wrong decision? Am I doing something that is hurting my child or my relationship with her?”

When my friend and I have talked about our differences of opinion, we’ve definitely hit the zing button. Many times. And the thing that has allowed us to keep talking even though we’re hurt or scared is that we both feel and know that we care about each other.

So.

I, for one, want to break out of the everyone-has-to-parent-in-the-way-that-feels-best-to-them conversation silencer. Because while I DO believe that everyone has to parent in the way that feels best to them, I ALSO believe that there is much to be gained from allowing ourselves to disagree in a caring way. And to follow our curiosity about why different people do things differently. Maybe in being more transparent about our judgments with other parents we care about, we might not get so polarized and snippy and, well, judge-y with each other.

As my friend said that night over beers, what would happen if we were allowed to say, “You know, I will never raise my kid the way you do, but I’m totally curious about why you do it that way.” GOOD EFFING QUESTION.

Who would you like to have this conversation with, and what would you talk to them about, if you knew they would still like you when all was said and done?

On pregnancy and birth

I’m all awash in thoughts of birth and pregnancy because I just finished assisting a birth class for the doula/childbirth educator/lactation consultant extraordinaire, Janaki Costello, and every couple of days we hear from a new couple who has just had their babe. I’ve been talking with one of the moms from the class who is, today, 7 days after her estimated due date (EDD) and who has been challenged with frightening pressure to have an induction much earlier than she expected. And nothing about her un-complicated, textbook pregnancy has changed. Other than going past her EDD.

Even though this photo was taken a month before I was full term, it accurately expresses the following: "Why the hell won't my body go into labor?!"

Her experience rings so true with my own–J was born (a beautiful, healthy 8lbs 2oz) 13 days after my EDD, and the pressure I felt to induce and my exposure to terrifying-dead-baby-scenarios skyrocketed in those few days. Why wasn’t my body going into labor? How did my perfectly healthy and complication-free pregnancy suddenly look like a train wreck to my OBs office on the day I passed the 40 week mark? And didn’t it make any difference at all that I passed my non-stress test with flying colors (meaning that they tested the baby when I was 40 weeks and 5 days and everything looked healthy and great)?

I’m all for making a decision informed by a variety of things, including statistical evidence, but I know there are many ways to talk with a 41 weeks pregnant lady about reasons for considering an induction other than, “Well, you don’t want to have a stillborn baby, do you?” As you might imagine, body-gripping worry and fear just don’t create ideal conditions for life in general, let alone helping a woman’s body go into labor on its own. Wow. I digress.

Anyhoo, talking with this 7-days-after mom has renewed my desire to create a pregnancy resource page, with some specific information for women who go well past their due dates. And I’ve already started page on birth too. So this one’s for you, 7-days-after mama. I’m cheering for you and your capable uterus.

On taking care of myself

Before I became a mother, I was grotesquely good at taking care of other people. I credit my naturally empathetic, sensitive nature, my incredible-caretaker mother and my co-dependent upbringing. In the months before I got pregnant, it dawned on me that my constant tracking of other people’s emotional and physical needs could be an asset as a mother. What didn’t dawn on me: it would also be my downfall.

In my first few days post-partum, I sank right in to tracking J’s every need and even making some up.  When I wasn’t doing that, I was trying to make sure that A, my partner, was getting enough sleep and staying generally well fed and happy.
In return, I became completely desperate for A to take care of me with the same obsessive empathy. The result of this whole dynamic was bad. I felt used-up, pathetic, un-loved and despondent. A felt confused and somewhat mistreated and underappreciated.

Add all that to the typical sleep deprivation of the first few months and the hormone roller-coaster, and we were all pretty screwed.

Things have stabilized since then. We all sleep more. I think A understands more about my plight during those first months. And I see how I my strengths in caring for others have created a huge blind spot. I am the blind spot.

In all of my endless scanning for how everyone is doing, the person I most often pass up is myself. And when I finally do notice my own need for help, I’m usually pretty far gone. Desperate, really.

So I’ve been working on that.  I regularly hear something my therapist said to me in those first few disorienting months post-partum:

Do you know what every new mother needs?

A mother.

So the project of becoming a mother to J has also turned into becoming one for myself.

Last night, I was feeling pretty crappy and sad and vulnerable from a recent schism between me and a friend. So I came home a little early from work thinking, “Hanging out with J and A is just what I need right now.”  The minute I opened the door, I started taking a supremely judgmental inventory on all of the things going on that were making my life worse:

A was being a super lazy dad and watching TV with J.
A had not fed J dinner or started getting him ready for bed yet.
A obviously does not care about me at all.

I managed to keep all of these things to myself and ask, “Has J had dinner yet?” And then I just sat down and rested my head on our dining room table and tried to limit the damages of the horror story going on in my head.

In the end, A took care of dinner and bedtime for J. I ate ice cream while watching a show on the couch.

At some point after that, A asked if there was anything he could do for me. My mind spat, “OF COURSE THERE IS, YOU IDIOT.” And I managed to get my mouth to say, “Will you go get me a glass of wine, the leftover Stilton cheese in the fridge and those big round crackers?”

Chalk this night up to victory.

On our trip to Sudan!

We just got back from Sudan. Not exactly a trip I ever expected to make, but my sister went and fell in love with a man from Sudan, and they wanted to have a wedding there. Before we left, we agonized about whether we should take J or not. In the end, we decided to leave him here at home for a week, since his aunties and grandparents volunteered to live in our wee little house and take care of him (!!!). Here are a few retrospective thoughts on that choice, our trip, and how our first week-long separation went.

Why I’m glad that we didn’t take J to Sudan

  1. I am typing this because I woke up at 1:00 a.m. feeling fresh as a daisy. I shudder to think of the effects of Sudan –> California jet lag on a 2 year old.
  2.  Instead of spending a lot of my time worrying about J’s sleep schedule or trying to feel okay about having him ride on my lap in a diesel-fume filled taxi with no seat belts, I got to BE ON VACATION. For a WEEK.
  3. A 36 hour travel day. Not to mention the fact that on the way home, A and I were both sick (as in throwing-up-into-plastic-magazine-covers-since-Turkish-Airlines-doesn’t-seem-to-stock-barf-bags sick).
  4. I had uninterrupted time to fall in love with filmmaking again. Bring on the Sudan wedding documentary!!
  5. I got to hold little 4 month old baby, Bashir and soothe him to sleep in the midst of all of the wedding shenanigans. The look in his mother’s eyes (some combination of exhaustion, helplessness and gratitude) reminded me so much of myself when J was that age. And it felt so therapeutic to be able to help her even just a little bit.
  6. I feel more grateful than ever for the community we’ve created around us at home. I really do believe that “it takes a village” to raise a child. And since leaving J in our family and friends’ capable hands for a week, I really believe that we have one.

Why we’ll take Jonah to Sudan when he’s older, inshallah

  1. Because I fell in love with my new Sudanese family, and I want them to know my son.

On girls, women and dads in picture books

Alright folks. The clock is ticking. J has been napping for an hour already and I have to see if I can get this sucker up in a half hour. Go!

So I’ve been relentlessly pursuing picture books featuring female characters with power and agency. Thank you so much to all of you who commented here and on facebook. I’ve compiled all of your recommendations into a list and have maxed out the number of holds I can place at the Berkeley Public Library.

Here’s what I’ve found so far: some of the recommendations wound up being books with girls in them. Not books about central girl characters doing things like being themselves, which might include riding bikes or playing with dolls or rolling in the mud (or all 3!), but simply books with a girl character, however minor. While that’s a start, I have to internally cringe a bit. Really? Can’t we set the bar a bit higher??

So after reading the first pile of books I placed on hold,  I’ve found that in books that do have a central girl character, they often go out of their way to show that “Mom could be an astronaut” (My Mom, Browne) or “She’s pretty cool, for a girl” (Meggie Moon, Baguley). As in, “Just in case you didn’t know already, this is an exception to the rule. Most moms don’t have exciting jobs and most girls aren’t cool, but once in a while…” Couldn’t we just say, “She’s pretty cool” and   show mom being an astronaut?

The other thing I’ve found is that when girl characters are uplifted, they often take a dig at the boys in the story–like the little girl who re-evaluates her baseball playing brother and his friends. “It doesn’t really look like that much fun after all” (Ladybug Girl, Somar and Davis). This dynamic doesn’t sit well with me either.

So here’s my revised mission: To find picture books for the 2-5 crowd with central girl or women characters who, simply by virtue of being themselves, expand our images of who women and girls are and what they do, and who don’t have to give anyone else a smackdown in order to do that. Any revised suggestions? My apologies if one of the books you’ve already recommended fits that bill. I can only check out so many books from Berkeley Public at one time.

I’ll keep you posted on what I find. For now, my favorites I’ve found so far are Zen Shorts

and Knuffle Bunny Free.
Neither book is a ringer in terms of my revised mission, but they both have good girl characters and are a pleasure to read. I also liked Ladybug Girl alot, if not for the dig on her brother, and J really likes Meggie Moon. Apparently he’s not offended by the boys who boss her around or begrudgingly admit to her coolness. Perhaps its because they build boats and ships and cars out of old junk. I have to hand it to him there.

I’ve been talking up this whole girl/women characters in picture books thing a lot lately, and had a notable chat with a dad I met at a toddler birthday party this weekend. He said something like, “Here’s the real challenge: find a book that has one of those girl characters you’re looking for and a dad who’s not an idiot.” He went on to talk about how the Dad characters in books he reads to his daughter are most often shown as detached and, essentially, stupid. And I’d been chewing on this conversation when Voila! I ran across this post on one of the blogs I read today.

Well hot damn. I believe that’s what they call serendipity.