Friday, May 24, 2013

On Saving the World

I used to be political.

I had opinions, strong opinions, about Big Important Things.  Things that mattered.  Things like global warming and peak oil, No Child Left Behind, abortion, welfare, Head Start, healthcare reform.  And I wasn't afraid to tell anyone those opinions.  I did it respectfully, but I said what was on my mind.  I wrote letters to my members of congress, almost daily.  I was going to change the world.

That was when I was young and knew everything.

It definitely changed when I had kids, but it changed even before that.  Some of it changed when I started teaching kids, when I was immersed in that world every day.  When the 15 year old girl crying in my room at lunch mattered more than the discussion happening on the floor of the Supreme Court.  At least it seemed that way.

Well, it did and it didn't.

I want the world my kids grow up in to be one in which they are safe and loved, where they can breathe clean air and drink clean water, where they know and believe that people are equal because that is the way the world around them treats people.  I want my elected officials to make the right choices, and I vote for people who I believe will do that more often than they won't.  I act on my principles, and I make choices based on the kind of world I want them to live in.

But I don't want to talk about it anymore.

I do think something about the world changed.  The way we do politics is different because of social media; it's retail instead of wholesale.   In some ways it's grassroots again, and that is good.  It's admirable.

But something about me changed too.  I don't believe I know everything anymore.  And while there are some things I firmly believe to be true and right, with all my heart and soul, it's hard to think of the people who hear my words as being on the *wrong* side of those things.  Because really, I think that anyone who is in a position to really listen to what I say is probably, in some way or another, on the right side of their heart with everything that matters.

And if they aren't, it isn't my words that will make a difference.

I still want to save the world.  But as far as I'm concerned, the crying girl in my classroom DID matter more than the floor of the Supreme Court.  The baby in my arms, the friend texting me for support, the bullied mom who needs backup, those are causes I can affect.

And maybe, some day, one of my students or one of my girls or I will be standing in front of congress, as a member or as an expert, and will have something to say about one of those issues that Really Matters, and then we will speak, we will all speak.

But until then, I'm still trying to save the world.  I'm just doing it with the one gift I have that's more powerful than my words.  My love and kindness.

Because in the end, that's what I believe Really Matters most

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Parent led vs. child led activities

As a stay at home parent, part of my job is to find ways to keep my kids busy for most of the day.  Philosophically, as well as practically, I think it's important for there to be a balance between "Parent led" and "Child led" activities.

Let me explain these terms.

For the toddler, parent led looks kind of like this:

"Here, then you take the red paper and you put it with the . . no, wait, see you have to . . . WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITH THOSE SCISSORS?? THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE ON PINTEREST!"


"Throw me the ball honey.  No, throw me the . . . where are you going?  No, don't throw the ball at your sister.  Okay, we'll play basketball.  Okay, I'll play basketball.  Would you rather go for a walk?  TELL ME WHEN YOU'RE GOING TO BEND OVER TO PICK UP A ROCK INSTEAD OF RIPPING MY ARM OFF."


For the infant, parent led looks kind of like this:

"Peek a boo.  Look it's a rattle!  Am I supposed to be ... singing or something?  Oh god, I have to get your sister, hold on."

Child led on the other hand looks like this:

"Mommy, I make you a pizza.  No, I want to do my puzzle.  DON'T HELP ME I WANT TO DO IT ALL BY MYSELF.    I CAN'T DO IT HELP ME!"


"Let's play Animal Ball!  No mommy, that's not how you play Animal Ball!"


"Look mommy I got ALL my books off the shelf!  And I put playdough on them!"

While for the infant it looks kind of like:

...Well, okay, it doesn't sound like much, but it looks like a lot of rolling and some grabbing.  And pulling my hair.

The reasons why it is important to balance the two are many.  Some of them have to do with child development, and making sure that kids have the opportunity to both explore and to learn things outside their comfort zone.  A lot of the reasons have to do with the fact that each type of activity makes mom crazy in a DIFFERENT way, and therefore balancing them helps you all get through the day.

What I haven't figured out yet is HOW to balance them.   If I'm doing one, I feel guilty that I'm not doing the other.  If I'm telling BG what to do, I feel bad for not letting her play.  If I am letting her do whatever she wants, I feel lazy, like I'm supposed to be doing some of the work.  I feel worried if she doesn't do enough of *something,* whether it's physical, creative, sensory, or verbal.  I feel frustrated and angry when she rejects my ideas for activities (which is pretty much every time).  I just want to get it right y'know?  Even though I don't believe there really is any such thing.

Right now, my big girl is doing a puzzle.  I don't want to do it for her.  Even though she's not doing it right.  But every once in a while she cries out for me in frustration and I hand her a piece, properly oriented and tell her to "try this one next."  Then when she puts it in the right place, I applaud.

Sometimes I wish that, when it comes to motherhood, there was someone around to hand me the pieces.  And once in a while, to applaud a little.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


My Big Girl is in the process of giving up her nap.  Or thinks she is.  Wants to be.

I'm not a fan.

I call it Quiet Time now, and give her a pile of books.  I leave her light on.  Say "see you later."  Every other or every third day, she falls asleep.  Some of the in between days she stays in there calmly for almost an hour, looking at her books and singing to herself, while I take care of her sister, clear the lunch dishes, start a load of laundry, and scarf down way too much chocolate.

Today, after about 20 minutes of her jumping on the bed, screaming, and banging on her door, I had to concede that I wasn't getting a break and go rescue her.

Today was not a good day.  I've had a lot of not good days lately.

I've never dealt well with transitions.  I don't know why these children of mine insist on changing so much and so quickly.  I don't know how people know when it's time for the next thing, or how to do it when they get there.  Should my big girl be potty training yet?  Should she be nap free? Should she go to bed earlier/later?   Should the baby move out of our room and to her crib?  Should she be on a nap schedule?  Should she be eating solid food?

How do people know these things?

I read the books in the beginning.  I googled like crazy.  I asked for advice.  And all any of that ever did was make me feel icky and incompetent and wrong.

"Trust your mama gut," everyone tells me now.  "Just go by your kids' signs."

My mama gut must be defective.  And my kids' signs are apparently written in a language other than English. Because I don't know a damn thing about how to parent them.

After the quiet time that wasn't today, BG was in a sour mood, and I was too.  I couldn't engage with her, couldn't connect.  She wanted to watch TV, but I already felt like crap from hanging around the house all morning, so I wanted to go.

"Do you want to go to the park? The library?  Play outside?"

"I don't wanna do aaaaaaanything."

"Do you want to put Baby Sister in her stroller and go for a walk?"

Her eyes lit up.  "Pick up Baby Sister.  Put me in a stroller."

I was reluctant at first, as I was pretty sure it was her that needed to be tired out and not me, but I quickly gave in because it was Something To Do.  I walked.  I walked and walked and walked, with one child strapped to myself and the other in the jogging stroller. I walked up hills and around the neighborhood, in the 89 degree heat and sun.

And when I looked down, BG was asleep.

Well.  I guess that sign was clear at least.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


This morning, I was sitting on the floor of my living room in my yoga pants, while my baby lay on her tummy on the playmat in her romper and my big girl ran around the entire house in just her underwear.

(Underwear.  Yes.  A short lived experiment.  One that did not succeed but no I don't need any advice at this point in time thankyouverymuch.)

Everyone was healthy.  Everyone was fine.  I'm pretty sure that both my girls were even having fun.

But I?  Was bored. Bored and hyperalert and tired beyond belief, all at the same time.

Could I have folded the laundry?  Sure, probably.  Could I have read a book?  Maybe, if I didn't mind being interrupted constantly.  Could I have played peek-a-boo with the baby and answered the random questions the toddler spewed in my direction when she ran by?  Well, of course.  I did.  I did.

But really, today was not a day that felt a whole lot like winning.

But sometimes that's what it is to be a good mom.  To let your kids be kids and just to make sure that nothing bad happens.

I don't like that feeling of not doing anything.  Of not having a plan, of not being in control.  Sometimes I think there are only two reasons motherhood can be boring: either I'm not doing it right, or it's not something worth doing.

I'm wrong.

I don't like being wrong either.

Sometimes it's okay to be bored, and sometimes it's okay to do anything possible to keep yourself from being bored.  Sometimes it's important to stay in the moment and feel the discomfort and realize that feeling that discomfort doesn't mean anything is wrong or broken, just that this is the uncomfortable part.  And sometimes it's important to figure out what's making you uncomfortable and find a way to squash and prevent it.

Unfortunately, life taught me that before it taught me how to tell the difference.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I tucked the toddler into her bed, gave her a book, turned on the light.  "See you later, mommy, I read now," she said to me as I left the room, glad she was happy whether she intended to sleep or not.

I put some raisin bread in the toaster oven and grabbed some peanut butter for second lunch, darting around and picking up the kitchen as it toasted.  As I gobbled the sandwich (lost another pound this week, thanks Giant Tiny Baby), I sent out a few tweets, and was deciding whether to write or sleep just as my laptop blue screened.  Again.  Well then.  I didn't have anything to say anyway.

Grabbed a book to curl up on the couch with me and hopefully escort me into oblivion for a little while, where I could shake my grumpiness, my worries about nap schedules, about rolling, about potty training, about dishes and laundry, where I could become the kind of mom who did something other than sitting on the couch watching TV and surfing the Internet for 3.5 straight hours.

And then the baby started screaming.

My heart and stomach both sinking to my feet, I picked her up from her car seat (the car ride had put the wrong kid to sleep) and went back to the couch.

You know what? I thought.  I'm still doing this.

So, I lay on the couch, curling my body around her, side-lie nursing and reading my (Jenny's) copy of Carry on Warrior, and started to sob.

At first I wasn't sure what was happening.  My body was shaking but I wasn't making any noise.  I felt the tears on my chin before I thought to myself Hey, self, I'm crying.

And, y'know, that was okay.

I finished the essay I was reading, and lay there a little while longer, my body continuing to heave out all the sadness, all the hard, all the frustration and disappointment and longing.  I pressed my lips to the satiny skin of the tiny sleeping person who looks like me (even more than the other one really).

I wanted to jump up, to tweet about it, to eat something, to go for a run, to fold my laundry, to do anything but be there, present in that moment of excruciating beauty.

But I lay there.  And I breathed.  Which in and of itself felt like a heroic act.

And then, when I was ready, I wrote.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

On prettifying

At 32 years old, I am finally actually pretty comfortable with the way I look.

(Yes, I had a birthday last week.  No, that's not what's prompting this. At least not that I know of.  Hmmm.)

The thing is, I'm so comfortable that I don't bother wearing makeup.  Or moisturizer.  Or washing my face.  Or brushing my hair.  And the shirt I'm wearing seems to have a catch in it that may or may not be opening up into a hole.

I'm starting to wonder if maybe this isn't such a good thing.

I've never been a particularly fussy person about appearances, and I'm kind of proud of  that.  At certain points of my life, I thought it meant I was more serious, less frivolous, and I strongly resisted becoming the kind of girl who primped.  For most of my adult life, including when I was working, I found ways to do the minimum that would get me out the door 10 minutes after I fell out of bed and still look professional enough that I wouldn't end up in the principal's office.

For a stay at home mom? The minimum?  Is nothing.

How liberating, to not have to care what I look like.  There's nobody to worry about being pretty for.

Except, well, me.


I'm starting to think that maybe spending a few minutes looking presentable every day is time well spent.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm never going to "put on a full face" whatever that means.  You will not find me using any appliances on my hair.  I am not interested in getting regular manicures, or any skin treatment with a name.

But maybe I should wash my face.  And get the knots out of my hair.  And tweeze my eyebrows once in a while. And a little color on my lips wouldn't kill anyone.

Because, even though I don't HAVE to, maybe it's something that matters.  Maybe taking care of my outward appearance a little bit will make me feel better.  And maybe it won't take away from but will add to who I am on the inside.

It's worth a try.