Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Being a mom is humbling

I was sure I knew exactly the kind of mom I'd be. I'd be kind but firm, innovative, attentive, and fun. My daughter would be brilliant, athletic (okay, that one was always a bit of a stretch), and impeccably behaved. She'd walk early, talk early, sleep through the night early; we'd sign, we'd play, we'd go on outings. She'd love me and respect me and appreciate how awesomesauce I was at this whole mom gig. And I wouldn't ever brag. I'd be totally gracious about how perfect we were.


Here I am now with a 9 month old who doesn't sleep and who has now begun to throw temper tantrums. (Does that count as an early milestone?) She eats cheerios with every meal. We have no consistent nap schedule. She doesn't sign. She has a giant bruise on her face from an unfortunate incident with the coffee table.

But she's a great baby. Don't get me wrong. She's beautiful, she's funny, she's pleasant, and she loves me like crazy. She's healthy, she's growing, she's hitting all her milestones within the average range (although not early. Oh no. It's okay baby, mom's a klutz too). I'm not in the least disappointed with her.

Me on the other hand?


I've always been good at things. I was a straight A student. Usually I didn't have to try too hard, but when I had to? I did. Am I trying hard enough at this mom thing? Am I just incompetent at it? Why is it so hard?

I whine too much. I tweet too much. I forget to sign. I don't try enough new foods. I don't read enough books. I don't keep the house clean enough. (That Cheerio on the floor? Not for eating, Baby Girl. Not for eating.) I don't cuddle enough. I cuddle too much. I need to sleep train. I shouldn't think about sleep training.

I am not a star at this.

And I know other people struggle too. Although, not everyone, right? Some people are brilliant at it. So why am I not? It's so conceited of me, but I assumed I wouldn't just be AS good at this as all the other moms. I assumed I'd be better. I'm not even on the low end of average, people.

Probably it's good for me. Probably it's good for both of us. Hopefully, Baby Girl will turn out okay despite all my failings, and she'll have a mom who can tell her, it's okay not to always be perfect. It's okay to lose sometimes.

And, y'know, really mean it. Not just say it because I'm being gracious.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Swimming lessons

Two weeks ago, I took Baby Girl to Swim Babies class for the first time. I had the highest of hopes and expectations, and when we got in the pool, she seemed to live up to all of them. She smiled, she laughed, she splashed at the water.

Then halfway through class, she had a meltdown.

A real, honest to goodness, if-we-do-this-for-another-30-seconds-we'll-both-explode meltdown. She was screaming at the top of her lungs, tears running down her face. I practically sprinted out of the pool. I walked the deck. I took her in the locker room and nursed her. She calmed down a little, but as soon as we got back near the pool, she started crying.

She was still crying when, in the locker room after class, I was trying to get us both dressed. How to get dressed while holding a wet, squirmy, screaming baby? If anyone knows, please share.

She was still crying when we walked out of the locker room.

"It happens," said the instructor. "She's doing fine. You just keep trying."

Thankfully, as soon as we got in the car she fell asleep. She slept the whole way home, and when we got here, I brought her upstairs in her carseat and let her sleep in the kitchen while I emptied out our pool bag. I threw the towels in the wash, and was about to wash our suits out in the sink when I realized her suit was gone.

Her very first bathing suit, which she'd only worn once, and which I had no pictures in. Then I had a meltdown.

First, I sat down on the kitchen floor and cried. Then I did something very unlike me. I sprang to action. I threw my sleeping baby in the car and drove the 20 minutes back to the pool, not sure I'd even be able to get back in, let alone find the suit. I drove faster than I should have, balancing my panic about losing the suit with the caution my sleeping baby girl provided. I held my breath at every red light.

But it was there. On the bench where I'd fought to get a diaper on her. It was such a relief I couldn't even describe it.

That day was such an adrenaline nightmare for me, I haven't been able to write about it until today.

Today, we went back for our second swimming lesson. I was filled with dread, certain it would be miserable. As I eased into the water, Baby Girl started to whimper. This time, she wasn't nearly so sure. She clung to me. She whined a little. I hugged her tight, and just went slow.

Then about 10 minutes into class, we learned the back stroke. I put her head on my shoulder and my arm under her back, and I held my breath.

Baby Girl looked around at the other babies. She kicked her feet. And she stopped fussing.

And at the end of class, as I lifted her up and down from the water, she looked me in the eye and smiled softly at me, as if to say, "I understand, mom. It's fun, really. I'm going to be okay."

Me too, Baby Girl. Me too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Can we help beat cancer?

When Katie from Sluiter Nation said she wanted to Write away cancer, it struck a chord with me. When I was in 8th grade, one of my classmates lost her 8 year old brother to leukemia. When I was in high school, it took one of our classmates. Before I was 20, three of my closest friends were motherless because of breast cancer. In my first three years of teaching, I watched two of my high school students bury their parents.

Seriously? Cancer sucks.

We need to cure cancer. We don't just need to cure it, we need to wipe it off the face of the planet. We need to stop it from ever existing in the first place, so that it doesn't even need to be cured.

But until we do? We need prevention and early detection. We need quality research into what causes cancer and legislation to get rid of it. We need quality healthcare and support for patients and their families.

Sometimes I feel like I can't possibly make a difference in all this, like the actions I take are just to make myself feel better. Maybe. Maybe. But today, I feel like if I'm doing what I can, that's enough.

So what can we do?

  1. Donate to The American Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen foundation, or your local cancer center or hospital (or if you can't afford it, at least click and click).
  2. Volunteer for either of the organizations mentioned above, or any clinic or advocacy group in your area.
  3. Participate in an event. I've never been to Relay for Life, but Race for the Cure was an inspiring, life affirming celebration of survivorship.
  4. Advocate for the issues. There are several great sites where you can get started
  5. Keep talking and writing and learning and teaching. Who knows if someday one of my former students or even my daughter will be the one with the science genius to end cancer. I can't give it to her, but I can show her what matters and hope that when the time comes, she'll use whatever she's got for good.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My tiny guest blogger

Baby Girl wanted to write something today, and seeing as I never say no to her, the blog is all hers. Give her a warm welcome, okay? ;)

Dear Daddy,

I don't know if you read this, since you always tell mommy you think blogging is silly, but just in case I wanted to thank you.

Thank you for working so hard for so long so that mommy and I can be together all the time.

Thank you for giving me everything I could ever ask for, even when I have no idea what that is.

Thank you for kissing and hugging me every morning before you go to work.

Thank you for always letting me use you as a teething ring, even now that I have a tooth.

Thank you for tickling me and for blowing raspberries on my tummy. It's hilarious.

And thank you for taking care of mommy sometimes. I try, but I am only 9 months old.

Mostly, thank you for being my daddy.


Baby Girl

P.S. Don't tell mommy I can type in complete sentences. In fact, huiofheioprnqp;. There, that should throw her off.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Excuse me while I disappear

Sometimes I feel like curling up into a ball on my living room floor and hiding.

I've told you before how terrible I am at making friends. I'm a pretty shy person, really, and generally not very open about my feelings. I don't know how to talk to people I don't know. I crave closeness but I hold myself back.

I went to a playgroup yesterday. I was so proud of myself for going, for opening myself up to that. I was prepared for disaster. When I got to the park, I didn't see anyone. My mind immediately want to dark places. No one showed up. I spent all morning psyching myself up and no one is here. And they didn't tell me. They knew I was coming, that's why they didn't show up. They hate me. How do they already know that? They haven't even met me yet. They must just have a sense for it.

Yeah, I'm that ridiculous.

Because then I realized the park had two playgrounds.

The playgroup was okay. I made it through just fine Everyone was very nice, but , but I felt like I was on the outside. I didn't talk much, and while the moms tried to talk to me, there wasn't all that much to talk about, so I mostly sat and listened to them talk. What if I say something and they don't like it? What if they think I'm weird because I'm not saying anything at all? I need to leave before they realize how uncool I am. I started trying to plan my exit. How could I leave without insulting them? Maybe if it started raining. Or my phone rang.

I had been waiting for this all week, been so nervous and excited, and I was sitting there hoping my phone would ring.

The Internet makes me brave, which subsequently makes me terrified. I write these posts, or say something on twitter, or leave a comment on a blog, and I am instantly terrified that people are going to hate me. Did I say something wrong? Did I overstep? Why hasn't anyone replied? What does that reply mean?

It's never quiet in my head, people.

Earlier this week, I read Yael's lovely post about popularity, and I instantly went on a quest for the scene she was talking about. I found it. Here it is. Watch. I'll wait.

Every time I watch, it makes me happy. I'm uncool. And when I hang with the cool people (probably a lot of you!) it does make me feel cool. But I'm not. And I need to stop trying to be cool, stop trying to fit into some mold, and just be the gushy, overprotective, random, girly, word-loving, coupon-clipping, nerdy, huggy, terrified woman that I am. I need to learn how to let that be enough.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Parenting and the Internet

The Internet can be a powerful tool in parenting, just like it can in anything else. For me, at least, it can also be very dangerous.

The good: Unprecedented access to information. If I want to find how to say something in sign language, or a picture of the rash my daughter has, or advice on breastfeeding, sleep or solid food, I can find a ton of it almost instantly. Since I live far from my mom and don't know a lot of other parents, this can be a lifesaver for those moments when I realize just how clueless I am.

The bad: Unprecedented access to information. Unfortunately, there's no one to sort through that information. Do I really need to read 27 answers to a yahoo question about when babies clap their hands? If there is one thing an anxious and insecure new mom really doesn't need, it's unlimited information. Especially when it's wrong or dumb information.

The good: Instant networking and connection. The isolation of motherhood can be tough, and I've met so many wonderful people online. The network and community I've built here is precious to me.

The bad: Constant connectivity. Especially when I'm lonely, it's tempting to spend all day online. I'm online instead of cleaning my house, taking walks, reading books. I'm online while I play with my daughter. There needs to be a line somewhere.

Also? When people CAN get back to you instantly, it's easy to feel slighted when they don't. I end up taking a lot of things personally that really shouldn't be.

What other good/bad things are there about how the Internet affects parenting?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ups and Downs

For days, I've been wanting to write about Baby Girl's swimming lessons on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, we had such a cuddly, quiet day. We went to the playground. We went to the Farmer's Market. We took a 2 hour nap in the afternoon, snuggling up together like the mama cat from the youtube video. (What? Is everyone over that already? I actually liked that one.)

Then on Friday, Baby Girl got sick. She seemed fussy and out of sorts all morning, then around 3 in the afternoon she threw up. Instantly, I could tell something was wrong. It just looked like a little spit up, but it smelled vile, and my poor girlie was heaving in my arms and gagging. She cried a terrifying cry for about half an hour then fell asleep on me. She woke up 3 hours later a little subdued but mostly okay.

Then on Saturday I got a pedicure. Hubby insisted. He even drove me there and took the baby to the Target near the spa while he waited for me.

So I've been down, and I've been up. At some point, my brain will be able to focus on swimming lessons again. Just not right now.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How do you entertain an 8 month old?

For the past 8 months, I've been saying how it seems to be vastly wrong that when you have a baby, they teach you how to feed, bathe and swaddle, but not what to do with them the other 20 hours a day. Okay, so they spend about 15 of those hours sleeping (except Baby Girl who's capping out at 10? Maybe? Including naps?), but what the heck are you supposed to do with them the rest of the time?

We read books. We play peek-a-boo (a lot of peek-a-boo). I sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider. And then there are still 3 hours left until she's ready to think about napping again.

Baby Girl has toys. A ton of toys. She has blocks, rings, stuffed animals. She has toys that sing, talk, count to 10. She has a playmat, a swing, and a playpen. She wants none of this.

Every day we take a walk. Every day we get in the car and run some errands. We go to library story time even though I'm not sure what's going on. We have been to the zoo (where she was more interested int he kids than the animals). Last week we walked 20 minutes to the nearest playground where she played on the swings for the first time. She loved it. For 5 minutes.

And then there was the rest of the day left still.

To be honest, it's a little easier now that she's crawling. She's much less bored and frustrated and is content to crawl around the living room and climb on things. She'd be the happiest baby in the world if I'd just let her play with my shoes, the remote controls, and the audio receiver. Which, of course, I don't. Much.

But I feel like a terrible mother, sitting on my computer and tweeting or reading while she crawls around. I mean, I talk to her. Sometimes I play music for her. (Children's music. And it's totally for her. Honest.) I stop what I'm doing to chase her around the house every 10 minutes or so. But I feel like I should be giving her more, whether it's more interactive play or more interesting things to do on her own.

So, please, bloggy world. I need help. How do you entertain an 8 month old?

Monday, June 6, 2011

So, apparently it's summer

School seems to be out for summer, or if it isn't everywhere yet, it will be in the next two weeks or so. And for the first time in my life since I was too little to remember? This means absolutely nothing to me.

This makes me so sad I don't even know how to describe it.

It's not because I need a vacation (although maybe a little I do). It's just because for so long the rhythms of my life have been governed by the seasons of the academic year. There are certain transitions and new beginnings that are promised and delivered when you're a teacher or a student. Not having those, having the year just continue, is really messing with my head.

Counting student teaching and long term subbing, I have been in front of a classroom for 7 years, and I have had a last day of school for every one of them. The class that just graduated from the tiny school I used to teach at was my last class of Sophomores before I moved up here. My last freshmen are now seniors. Soon there will be no one left there who remembers me.

And my first class of freshmen when I was fresh out of college, before I started moving around the country, are college seniors now. I don't even know what to say about that.

Since Baby Girl was 4 months old I have been tutoring two nights a week. I had my last session with my most recent tutoring student on Wednesday. I was almost late because hubby got stuck in traffic on his way home from work. I spent two hours teaching this kid and really, I might as well have been talking to the furniture for all he seemed to get out of it. Then I got home to a screamy baby, a messy house and a frustrated and unhappy husband. So on Thursday morning when the office called to offer me a new tutoring student, I said no, thank you.

It is totally irrational for me to be as sad and angry about this as I am.

I don't want to go back to work. I don't want to leave Baby Girl. Plus, I know how hard it would be. If I could even get a job, it would be at a whole new school with a whole new curriculum. I know I don't have the energy for that.

Sometimes I joke that I wish I could just teach with Baby Girl strapped to my chest (and maybe it would even stop bullying) although I know that even if that was possible, it wouldn't solve everything. I feel like I am disappearing. I feel my old life slipping away, and I don't want to be clinging to it so fiercely, but I am.

And as I was typing this, Baby Girl just crawled into my lap, curled up on my chest and went to sleep. And I want this life, want to stay here in this moment forever too.

It's summer now, time (my body and soul tell me) for the end of something. After 7 years (or 23 years) of crying at graduations, you'd think I would have learned by now how to let go.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Trying not to be THAT mom

Yesterday, I went to lunch with a friend. (Yay, right?) I've only known this friend for about a year, she's about 5 years younger than me, and she's not a mom. No big deal. None of these things would stand in the way of me having a really fun lunch with a cool chick.

Except that she has a niece and nephew who she spends a lot of time with. Which makes her an expert. Doesn't it?

Five minutes into lunch, the waitress came over to fuss over Baby Girl.

"Did you tell the waitress thank you?" I said, signing thank you as I said it because, hey, you never know.

My friend raised her eyebrows. "Are you teaching her sign language?"

I laughed. "Yeah. Well, I sign. Not so much her. But we'll see."

"Yeah. I've never seen that actually work."

Gee, thanks.

After the food came, she asked me if the baby likes french fries.

"Oh, no, we're waiting on french fries a bit. Just so she doesn't get a taste for the junk yet."

"Oh. Well there's nothing you can do about her getting a taste for french fries."

Sure there is. Not give it to her.

Then, when we were about to leave, she looked at Baby Girl who had given up on her Cheerios and was eating the actual table.

"Does she need a bottle?"

"What? Oh, no. I'll nurse her when I get back to my car. She'll be okay until then."

"Oh. I think I'm just going to do bottles. That's what my sister did and her kids are fine."


"Oh. Well. You have to do what works for you."

Because it's true. That is what I believe. I don't judge french fries. I love french fries. I don't even judge people who give 8 month olds french fries. I'm sure it's something lots of awesome moms do. Just not, you know, me.

And while it makes me sad to hear a young woman say that she doesn't even want to try breastfeeding, that's not really my business, and I won't think any less of her as a person or a mom if that's the choice she makes for her family.

So why do I feel guilty? Why do I feel like I need to hide the fact that I want to teach my baby to sign, give her healthy food, and breastfeed her? Why does doing these things publicly make me feel like I'm doing something wrong, like I'm being rude? I'm not trying to flaunt my choices or claim that they're better than anyone else's. But I AM proud of the way I'm raising my daughter. What's so wrong with that?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

12 cures for the pouty pouts

Some days I just feel pouty. This is not the same as feeling sad. It's not a deep, overwhelming grief. It's just that "I feel cranky and it's so ridiculous that even I'm sick of myself" kind of feeling. I'm pretty sure every human feels this way some time, so I put together a quick list of remedies that work for me, just in case I forget later.

1. Twitter and the #ppdchat mamas
2. Cranking up the music (I'm partial to TMBG. What? I like to learn.)
3. Dancing with my baby
4. Email or text from my best friend
5. Sitting in the sunlight (Yes, that's me sitting on my driveway with the baby on my hip.)
6. A fresh peach from the farmers market
7. Cats and kittens
8. Getting the heck out of my house (library? park? Target? WHO CARES?)
9. Doing something nice for someone else
10. Chocolate (Always chocolate)
11. Listening to podcasts/audiobooks (that have NOTHING TO DO WITH BABIES)
12. Blog comments :)

Anyone have any suggestions to add?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Faking it

When I left my last full time teaching job, I got a letter from one of my dearest students. It was a three pager that said, among other things, how grateful she was that I still respected her even when no one else did, that I had been able to look past some of the stupid things she did and love her anyway. It was the kind of letter that makes me weep, that makes my heart overflow with pride and affection and joy and sadness, all at the same time. But this letter also made me feel a twinge of guilt.

Because in the beginning? I was mostly faking it.

Don't get me wrong. I don't give up on kids. It's just that this time I didn't have an overwhelming amount of confidence that this kid was really interested in being good. But I didn't let her know that. I pretended to have faith that she was more than her decisions.

And then a funny thing happened. I started to believe it. And then a funnier thing happened. She became the girl I'd pretended to believe she was, and she was such a joy and a help to me.

Now that I'm a full time mommy, there are days when I don't feel like doing what I have to do. Don't get me wrong, I love my daughter to the moon and back. We had absolutely no trouble with bonding or attachment. We are so attached. So. But that doesn't mean there aren't days when I'm just not feeling it.

When I have been up every 2 hours all night long and I don't want to play. When it's bedtime and she's squirming out of my arms but screaming when I put her down. When all I want is to drink my coffee, or read my book, or stay in bed.

So, I fake it. I pretend that I want to play with blocks, that I have a heartfelt desire to read Goodnight Moon. And I've been feeling guilty about that, like I'm a terrible mother for not really wanting to do those things, but when I re-read that letter, I'm reminded that maybe I shouldn't. Because sometimes, faking it is all it takes to really change someone's life.