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A photographic challenge: capture and share a less-than-perfect moment

I’ve been thinking about this photo for a long time.

photo by Jessica Todd Harper

And this one too:

Another beauty from Jessica Todd Harper.

Both were part of this NYT article that a friend recommended after reading my first video blog post. I loved the article for the counterpoint it offered to the “Don’t you just love every minute?” comments that people kept flinging at me when I was out and about with my infant son.

I was so inspired by the photographs that I took one of my own.

It was such a relief to capture a moment simply as it was. It wasn’t begging to be captured, it didn’t show my son in all of his perfect, chubby glory. It didn’t make me look particularly competent or satisfied. I tried to show the moment how it was. From what I remember, I was tired. A little bit bored. And trying to pass the time.

Then last week my friend M sent me this blog post written by a mom of 2 who talks about all of the things you don’t see in the photos of her family life that she posts on Instagram. She tends not to post images of marital spats, colicky infants at 3 a.m. and the like. Of course she doesn’t post that stuff. Most of us don’t. After all, who would want to see that?

I would, for one. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t relish the idea of wading through a ton of photos of screaming children or exhausted parents in dimly lit bedrooms strewn with diapers. But something in me does tire, after a while, of seeing everyone’s perfect pictures of their lives with their children, and, for that matter, my own. The part of me that gets tired of all that perfection is the same part that wonders if everyone else’s life is just a little bit (or a lot) happier, tidier and more successful than mine. It’s the same part that breathes a huge sigh of relief when someone I know tells me about her depression or his failed marriage or her crippling jealousy. That part of me needs to connect with the realness in other people, the darker, messier reality that doesn’t make the cut for Facebook.

This ties into the reason I started blogging in the first place: I feel a responsibility to be honest about my actual, lived experience of parenthood, so that other parents and future parents might feel a little less alone and weird when they’re having a less-than-savory time. And this applies to any aspect of life, really, but I’ve found that our culture’s reverence for family life and unrealistic, filtered portrayals of it to be particularly isolating. The stories we hear and images we see of young families help us form our expectations of parenthood (that later come crashing down…or soar up, perhaps, but that wasn’t my experience) and drive the way we connect with other parents one we join the fold. They help to define what we talk with other people about and what we don’t. What we ask others about and what we think we shouldn’t.

And images, I think, are particularly powerful because they can sink in so quickly. Every one of us, if asked, can instantly bring a long string photos to mind when we think of the word parenthood. A mother lying in the grass, holding her smiling baby up into a perfectly blue sky. A father asleep, newborn baby curled up in his beefy arms. The latest, greatest photo-journalistic rendering of a family of four, wearing jeans, on a walk in a leaf-strewn park, laughing with each other. I like pictures like these. I have some. I want that photo-journalism one.

But I want the colicky infant too. And the sink full of dirty dishes. And the site of 2 frayed moms sitting on their couch, celebrating their son’s decent into a nap by watching crappy tv.

So, I’d like to invite you to take a picture in the next week when you normally wouldn’t take one. To capture a moment that isn’t perfect. See what it feels like to show it how it really is. Without checking your hair or wiping down the kitchen counter. Then, if you’re inspired, I’d be tickled pink if you would share your photo on my Facebook page. Maybe we can start a little photo revolution.

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How our relationship was swallowed whole by a baby

A and I just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary this week.

(Yep. Still obsessed with faceless wedding photos.)

We have this little ritual on our anniversary of writing down our best and worst times from the past year and our goals for the coming months. While we were out to dinner (what a JOY it is to dine with no one other than your adult partner at 7pm on a balmy Monday evening) I plopped the little leather-bound journal where we’ve jotted this stuff onto the table, and we had a look at years gone by.

We really like creating abbreviated versions of words that don’t have any. Like “anny.” It’s just so exhausting and common to say anniversary. We are such hipsters.

Here are the pages for anny 5 and anny 6, our first two as parents.

Hello, salient metaphor for how having a child has changed our relationship.

If anything, these first years of parenthood have impressed upon me the finiteness of things. Time. Energy. Sleep. Patience. And I won’t lie—it’s definitely done a number on our relationship. I can confidently say now, 2 years in, that we’re finding more moments to connect in that lingering and nostalgic way we used to before J came on the scene. It feels like dusting off the words of a language we used to speak fluently—we have to work harder now to remember how to say certain things, but it’s sweet and confirming to feel our mouths form the words again.

As we lingered over our bottle of rosé, we couldn’t help but notice the goals we had listed for our 4th anniversary—when I was 6 months pregnant with J.

Such innocent ambition: social time, couple time, alone time, “not swallowed whole by baby.” Oh! and don’t forget exercise.

It really put those two blank years in the book into perspective. I think it’s taken us 2 years to get back to the place where those goals even make sense again.

Our hopes and dreams for this year?

“See 4th anniversary goals.”

I have a crush on a blog: 6512 and growing

You know when you spot someone across a room and just desperately want to be their friend?

I feel that way about the blog 6512 and growing and the gal behind it. Everyone, meet Rachel. She lives in my hometown. I’ve known of her for quite some time, in that way that you know of most everyone in the small town where you’re raised. I watched over the years as she and her partner transformed a very “normal” looking house in our neighborhood into what most “upstanding” members of our community would call a hippie commune. With every top-heavy sunflower that sprang up in the front yard, I silently cheered. As if that wasn’t reason enough to be friends forever, she is a sensational writer, has refreshing things to say about parenting and relationships, can teach you an easy way to make yogurt, and writes magazine articles about fermentation that read like sonnets, driving J to such distraction that he forgets to eat breakfast. (You can read it too, flip to page 30 here.)

I took this picture with the hopes that Rachel’s kids will see it and decide they want to be friends with us, since J has the same taste in local food quarterlies as they do.

Here’s hoping.

My sadness project

I started taking Zoloft when I was a 5-month-old mother. I had been depressed before, in adolescence and in college, but this was the first time I’d chosen medication. It worked. And now I’m slowly tapering off of my dose because I want to know what life is like without it. Will my long lost libido find its way home again? Can I be the woman and mother I want to be without it? I hope so.

I cut my dose in half back in December and my dear friend D had to remind me of that fact in January when I was puzzling over why I was zombie-ing out every night with television and a rotating assortment of carbohydrates. Now I’m down to 1/4 of what I used to take and will be Zoloft-free in a couple of weeks. And I feel a lot more sadness.

Since I live in a world that doesn’t save back much room or reverence for sadness, I’ve felt pushed to the margins lately. Like there’s a big glaring part of me that is not welcome. Thanks to my wonderful band of friends, it gets to leak out sometimes, like when I cried on C’s couch during her Easter party about losing my temper with J (he’s been expressing displeasure lately by throwing things at my face). But these are exceptions. A lot of the time, I hide my sadness and think there’s something wrong with me for feeling it.

I know sadness can make people uncomfortable. Hell, I’m uncomfortable writing this. But I think that if my feelings were allowed to take up more space, they would actually take up less.

In my experience, there is little that feels more cathartic or relieving than this: when someone you love fluffs up a nice soft spot for your melancholy and invites it to sit down and stay a while.

So in that spirit, I’m just going to go there.

Here, in all their glory, are my reasons for feeling sad today:

  1. I’m sad that it feels like I have to choose between depression and libido.
  2. I’m sad that J’s blankets and puzzles and diapers and a whole bunch of old photo album stuff is strewn across our kitchen and living room since we re-organized this weekend.
  3. I’m sad that we live in one of the most expensive housing markets on the planet Earth.
  4. I’m sad that my boobs are little withered sacks of their former selves and that my pants won’t button since I stopped breastfeeding J as much.

I welcome you to join in. Really. I’m guessing there may not be a ton of places where you’re allowed or encouraged to feel sad in your daily life either. So I would love it if you would use my little comment box as your personal sadness repository.

My sadness wants to make friends with yours.

Gardening by the moon

Since posting this, lots of people have been asking me about gardening by the moon. While it would be fabulous, it does not mean that you’re digging around on your knees in the dead of night. What I’ve been doing, and what I learned from my mother, is to consult ye olde Farmer’s Almanac. Turns out there are quite a few out there, so let me know if you have any knowledge or experience of which is better and why. I wanted to like The Old Farmer’s Almanac the best, because I tend to trust old things. Instead, I’ve been using the Farmer’s Almanac which has been published every year since 1818. It’s not as old as The Old one, which started in 1792, but I like its layout better. I bought both and have been comparing them. They disagree on auspicious dates for various things, which 1) make me wonder if this is all a bunch of malarkey and 2) makes me curious about the secret formula each one uses for its calculations. And it is most definitely a secret formula. This from The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

Based on his observations, Thomas used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a secret weather forecasting formula, which brought uncannily accurate results, traditionally said to be 80 percent accurate. (Even today, his formula is kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.)

According to my trusty Almanac, on Easter Sunday, I planted seedlings. As my friend C says, it was an auspicious day to plant seedlings.

The kale sprang right up, 3 days after I planted the seeds. Don’t they look jurassic?

Thursday the 19th was a “Favorable day for planting root crops, extra good for vine crops. Set strawberry plants. Good days for transplanting.” So I transplanted into our new driveway planter boxes.

I planted my seeds in eggshells, which was recommended by my friend R. It was a dream. And also, delightfully seasonal, if you’re into that whole Easter egg thing.

Once it was time to plant, I just broke the shells apart and plunked the seedlings in the ground. The next morning, when I went out to check on these babies, they looked like they were flexing their little seedling biceps into the sky.

Extra super lunar power seedlings? Perhaps.

The Second Time Around

I started interviewing new moms for my “Becoming a Mother” video series back in December. Getting to know them and editing the footage of our conversations (albeit slowly! I’m aiming to post another video soon, of T and her baby at 3 and 7 weeks postpartum) has reminded me of the joy and power of sharing our stories. It connects us to each other and reminds us we’re not alone. And I can think of no better way to steward new families than to share the specific taste and texture of the joys and sorrows of this experience. In that vein, I asked a writer that I met through the kick ass Get Born community if she would write some guest posts on my blog about her experience of becoming a mother the second time. And she said yes! So allow me to introduce you to the unflinching writing of Lesley L. McKinley. She’s 17 (ish) weeks pregnant right now. And we get to hear what she’s thinking and feeling about this baby #2 business every month! Thank you, Lesley.

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I can’t get a read on this baby at all. Who the hell is this kid? I mean, with my first, her whole identity was mapped before the end of my first trimester. Her name, our secret codes, handshakes, and a seed of feminism so deeply imbedded in her soul that it would sprout a giant, magical beanstalk and she would be able to climb as high as she liked. She would be my daughter, a reflection of all that I have come to learn about this twisted world. She would see the beauty, yes, but she’d be wise and wary, too. Then, just when I was about to pick out her clothes (not pink ruffled crap but onesies with Rosie the Riveter) they told me my future daughter was actually my future son. It nearly stopped my heart. So invested was I in this fantasyland, that I actually wept as if I was grieving her loss.

Now, I have my son here with me in the flesh. He’s mercurial. He’s whip smart. He’s dirty constantly. He’s sweet. He’s my marauder. He would ride the dog to Tijuana if left unsupervised. He’s my boy.

And I only know boys. And I want another. But if I invest in another fantasy, I will miss out on the mystery of imaging both sides. And in the end, let’s be honest. I’ve already been to this show. Pregnancy is now more of an inconvenience getting in the way of caring for my two year old. I puked like a drunken sailor for six weeks, as just one example. It’s not a “magical” time for me right now. It’s exhausting. I feel fat, not radiant. I want to eat everything that was ever made and just completely give in to my gluttonous desires, and use this baby as the excuse. Sometimes I forget about the baby altogether.

The dirty marauder himself

For now, I have bigger things to worry about. Like the fact that my marauder can open doors…to the outside world. He ran out the other day and streaked past the mail lady and our landlord coming up the walk. Lucky for us both the front and back yards are fully fenced. I’m attempting to work again, for money, not shells. And I am beginning to think a social life might once again be possible, as the crushing isolation of motherhood has driven me to the eccentric and beyond.

Perhaps when I can feel this baby moving, rearranging my innards, and the heartburn kicks in, I’ll be better able to decide if this baby is Country or Rock n Roll. Right now this baby just is.

So this time around, I am not going to fall in love with an idea. Like I did so many times with crappy college boyfriends. This time, I want to fall in love. Full stop. Not with this whole pregnancy which I find to be a ginormous bummer, but with this kid, this being, this person. And frankly, I am happy to wait until I have this babe in my arms.

Lesley L. McKinley is a singer/songwriter and freelance writer who dreams of changing the world. Raised by wolves and pirates, her irreverent approach to most everything gets her in a lot of trouble, but she wouldn’t trade her battle scars or her sarcasm for all the trophies in the world. A mother, a wife, an artist, and a champion of the underdog, she can often be found outside, barefoot and muddy with her marauding toddler, hatching plots and running wild. She is currently crafting songs for a new album and thinking of ways to meet your pirate needs. Her website is being created as we speak. She also writes on the 10th of every month for get born, an online magazine. Find her there at www.getborn.com. Email her at llmckinley44@yahoo.com.

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?