Archive for the ‘bad mother’ Category

Peace In A Dyson

June 15, 2009

I vacuumed.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I vacuumed.

We knew last night that something wasn’t quite right about the bug bite on the side of Emilia’s face. It was a little swollen, a little bruised. We debated what to do. It was late, the clinics and pharmacies were closed, and it didn’t look that bad. A bad allergic reaction would be pretty immediate, right? It wouldn’t be a slow swell, right? I wrung my hands and worried; my husband soothed: we’ll check on her in the night. We don’t know that it’s an allergic reaction. We’ll check; she’ll be fine.

We didn’t check.

When my husband went to rouse her this morning, he found a nearly unrecognizable child, a wee thing with a swollen and misshapen face, her cheek and neck grotesquely bloated, her right eye a purple, bulbous slit. My heart stopped.

And then – while my husband gathered clothes and prepared to hustle us all out the door to the hospital – I vacuumed.

I told myself, the floor is dirty and that’s just not helping things. The floor is dirty and it should be cleaned. Somebody needs to do this. Somebody needs to be on top of these things. Somebody needs to pay attention to these things. I told myself, the floor is dirty, it’s dirty, just do this, now.

Because the floor was dirty. But more because I couldn’t look at Emilia without my heart stopping, because I couldn’t speak without berating myself, without berating us, for not getting help for her last night, because I all could do was do something, anything, that felt like it might make some minute bit of difference in the universe. Because my little girl was sitting there, clutching her Toady, whimpering a little, asking why is my eye shut, Mommy? and because I knew that if I hugged her again, I would cry.

And I didn’t want to cry. So I vacuumed. And now my floor is clean.

But my cheeks are still streaked with tears.

———

Emilia is going to be okay. She had a bad allergic reaction to a bug bite, and the good news is that antihistamines are bringing down the swelling and returning her poor face and neck to normal. The bad news is, we don’t know what bit her, and so we don’t know what she’s allergic to.


And no, I didn’t take a picture. I thought about it, once I’d calmed down enough to stop vacuuming. But I didn’t. I don’t want to remember it. It was horrible. She looked horrible. I’m still sorting through my feelings about that – my heartbreak not only at her pain, but at the fact that her outer beauty had been so distorted – but I do know that I’m not keen to revisit them. I wouldn’t have shared the picture, anyway, so.
So.

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Ecce Mater

June 10, 2009

Okay, look – and I feel called upon to address this because there are some people out there who are not getting it – when I call myself a bad mother, I do not mean that I condone the neglect or abuse of children. I do not mean that I neglect or abuse my kids. I do not mean that I or anyone should celebrate these things. I mean, seriously.

What I mean is this: I do some things, many things, that would, when held against dominant (mainstream, media) narratives and representations of the Good Mother, appear to be bad. I do some things that are by any measure bad. But I am human, all-too-human, and my inability to be perfect is part of my make-up. And I believe that my quirks and foibles and imperfections as a mother – as a human being – are what make me a wonderfully flawed, perfectly imperfect mother for my children. And I also believe that sharing the stories of my quirks and foibles and imperfections does some small service in encouraging other mothers – other parents – to accept and embrace their own flaws and imperfections, their own quote-unquote badness.

Which is to say, by celebrating badness I am not celebrating a race to the bottom of the parenting barrel. I am not suggesting that it is ‘cooler’ to give your children cookies for breakfast or to let them watch three hours of television or to publicly proclaim your need for Ativan. I’m not trying to conflate cookies-for-breakfast with failing to provide care for your children or use of anti-anxiety medication with drug or alcohol abuse. I’m simply describing my reality, and struggling to accept myself as the wonderfully flawed parent that I am, not despite my flaws, but because of my flaws, because of the total package that I am. And I am calling that package bad because that is what I have been called by some and would be called by others and I want to seize it and claim it and redefine it as my own and apply it to my own particular, quirky brand of flawed wonderfulness. I want to take the power of judgment and labeling away from anyone would use it against me, so that I can say, whenever someone points their finger and whispers, bad, BAD, I can cry out, loudly, I know I am but what are you?

And I want you to do the same. I don’t care what you call it. That’s the point, after all: if we all refuse to acknowledge the supremacy of the Good (good with a capital g, good in scare quotes) Mother and the imperative to pursue ‘Good’ at all costs, then we liberate ourselves to model ourselves however we like, to celebrate ourselves according to whatever measures we choose, and to call ourselves whatever we want.

I choose to call myself Bad. Proudly.

(And then I go steadfastly forward and post a – cleverly edited, but still – picture of my child peeing. Standing up. In the park. WIN.)

Hello, Princess

May 11, 2009

It’s a photo of me on my wedding day: just me, alone, posed at an angle, looking slightly over my shoulder. I’m not quite smiling, but not quite not smiling, either. It’s one of the very few photos from our wedding day that I like; I usually hate how I photograph, and the photographic record from that day produced few exceptions. This photograph was one of them. I like this photograph.


So does Emilia. “This is pretty, Mommy.”

“Thank you, sweetie.”

“Can I have this in my room, Mommy?”

“Of course.”

“Is it your wedding?”

“Yep.”

“You’re wearing a big dress?”

“Yep.”

“You married Daddy?”

“That’s what he tells me.”

“Why do you have a different face from what you have now?”

Ah. Ah.

How does one explain aging to a three year-old? That photo was taken over 13 years ago. I was in my mid-twenties. I was young, impossibly young (and yet, how old I thought I was. I was 22 when I met my husband. I thought that I was a woman of the world, well-travelled, experienced, mature. How was it that I could ever have thought that I was anything other than a child?) That photo is a photo of a much, much younger me. Of course I look different.

“I’m older now, sweetie. That was a long time ago. People change as they get older. You don’t look the same as you did when you were a baby, right?”

She frowned. “But you’ve got stuff on your eyes.” She stabbed a tiny finger at the photograph. “You’re wearing make-up.” She said it as though it were an accusation. She said it as though it were something that I’d been keeping secret from her, something that I’d concealed and denied and prevaricated upon – a secret past as a real, live make-up-wearing girl. A girl who bore little resemblance to the frumpy matron standing before her. I had, it seems, been withholding some very important information from my daughter: I hadn’t always looked like a mom.

Not all moms are frumpy. I’m not exactly frumpy myself, strictly speaking. I get good haircuts, which I don’t necessarily always, you know, brush or anything, but still. I wash. I wear lipgloss. I have really good shoes. But I don’t spend a lot of time buffing and polishing and making-up. I just don’t have the energy. And truth be told, I don’t really care. I just don’t. It’s not that I’ve given up, it’s just that in a showdown between putting on eyeliner and getting fifteen more minutes of sleep, eyeliner – or straightening irons or mascara or Crest WhiteStrips – sleep will always win. I’m simply no longer that girl, because I am, simply, no longer a girl. I’m a woman – a woman dragging out the long tail of her thirties under conditions of extreme sleep-deprivation – a woman who has had two children and no Botox – a woman who has grown comfortable in her own imperfect skin.

And yet, my daughter – my daughter, just three and a half and already exposed to the culture of GirlTM at preschool and in playgroups and on television (why we embrace Dora in this house, and limit – though not deny – exposure to the Princesses: because Dora – with her un-belashed eyes and her little pot belly – is so ordinarily, naturally girl-like) – my daughter looks at me and sees something that doesn’t accord with what she is learning about femininity. She looks at the picture of me on my wedding day, and sees someone who looks a litle bit like a Disney Princess – someone with big, thickly-lashed eyes and a puffy dress and a look of serene docility – and then she looks at me, the woman, the mother, and sees something different. And for a moment, I cringed, and was – for a fleeting moment, a fleeting moment – ashamed. And then I was ashamed for feeling ashamed.

I knelt down and took the picture in my hand. “I still wear make-up sometimes. Just not all the time. I look nice with make-up, I know. But I also like how I look without make-up.”

“I like how you look too, Mommy.”

I smiled, gratified.

“But I also like your make-up. And your princess dress. And maybe you could have sparkles, too. And eyelashes, and a crown. And you could wear them every day, or maybe just Saturday. And look like a girl. I like it when you look like a girl.”

Damn.

Where does one go with this? I don’t want to teach her that pretty is something to be disdained – I like me some pretty – but I do kinda want to nip in the bud the idea that ‘looking like a girl’ = looking ‘pretty’ = looking like a princess. Is there a place for princesses in our ideas of what’s pretty, without making ‘princess’ the determining factor? And how do I balance that with the realities – for me – of aging and wrinkles and mascara-fatigue? How do I encourage her to see that beauty as beauty, and to recognize it as as feminine as anything that Disney can crank out?

Or should I just give up, ScotchGuard the ol’ wedding gown and make like a middle-aged, Dyson-and-laptop wielding Cinderella? PRINCESS IS THE NEW BLACK.

All About My Mother

March 6, 2009

When my nephew, Zachary, was about four years old, my mother pulled a prank on him. This was not at all unusual – according to my mother, children only become fun once they’re of an age to be messed with, and her relationships with her grandchildren are guided by this rule – but this particular prank was pretty epic. She staged an alligator attack in one of the closets in her home – complete with stuffed alligator and screaming granny and arm pulled under sleeve to simulate dismemberment – and Zachary was, I do not exaggerate in saying, alarmed by the whole spectacle. Thrilled, too – he talked about it, delighted, for months – but in the moment, mostly alarmed. And mad, in that adorably outraged manner that only small children can effect.

You, he said, pointing at my mother, are BAD. She just laughed.

She is bad, I agreed. She is very bad. She’s your bad grandma.

No, he replied, stamping his foot and pointing an accusatory finger at me. She’s NOT my bad grandma. She is YOUR BAD MOTHER.

And with that, a parenting philosophy was born, and a blog predestined.

My mom has always been a bad mother. Not in the neglectful sense: she was, for most of my childhood, a stay-at-home mom who baked cookies and led Girl Guide troops and did crafts and told hour upon hour of bedtime stories (and lunchtime stories, and camptime stories, and going-for-a-walk stories, and riding-in-the-car stories…) It’s just that with everything that she did, she put her own enjoyment of the activity at the forefront. Childhood, as she understood it, was a time of fun and magic, and dammit if she wasn’t going to take advantage of that for herself. She’d waited a long time to throw herself into motherhood, and she wasn’t going to waste the opportunity by approaching the whole thing as work. Child-rearing, in her view, was just one long exercise in applied fun and amusement. So it was that the cookies were sometimes made in ridiculous shapes (don’t ask) and the crafts were more often reflections of her own interests and obsessions (during the tenure of Pierre Trudeau as Canadian Prime Minister, who she loathed, we made something that she called TURD-ohs, which I’ll leave to your imagination) and the stories often took perverse but fascinating turns (it was a long time before I understood that my sister had not been found in a pickle patch and that my bum wouldn’t fall off if I unscrewed my belly-button.) She took delight in surprising us and startling us and making the world seem like an unpredictable and fascinating place, filled with benevolent but arm-nibbling monsters and tyrannical fairies and and friendly but overtaxed families of pickle-imps and tiny, turd-like goblins who carried placards decrying the rule of the Liberal Party of Canada.

It was awesome.

I knew, from childhood, that I wanted to be a mother just like her. And I knew from the moment that Zachary called her BAD that that meant being a bad mother.

Which is what I’m trying to be, with some success, I think. She, in the meantime, has moved on to fully embracing her role as a bad grandmother, as the New York Times reported yesterday. (Yeah, you read that right.) Which means that she’s still all about the fun and the games and the perversity, but also that she’s doing it on her terms. And those terms follow this principle: it is, in anything other than extraordinary circumstances (and she does, for the record, grandma-up if circumstances demand it), only about the fun. She’s not interested in being an on-call babysitter (she loves to spend time with her grandchildren, but refuses to regard it as a duty), she’s not interested in changing diapers (been there/done that) and she’s not interested in having her grandmahood defined according to any conventional, matronly terms. The great thing about being a grandmother, in her opinion, is getting to have all of the fun with little of the labour, and she takes full advantage of that.

Which, again, is awesome, but – as I told the New York Times – it’s also a little frustrating, sometimes. I love that my mom is something of an iconoclast, that she’s independent and contrary and entirely forthright about who she is and how she wants her relationships to work. But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t wish, sometimes, that she was the type of grandma who swooped in and gathered babies to her chest and shooed me off to have a nap while she changed diapers and made lasagna (she makes awesome lasagna, by the way), that she were the type of grandma who demanded babysitting duty, who wanted to just move in and help – or, at least, fly out regularly to help. I have, at times during my pregnancies and my post-partums, just wanted my mommy to step in and make things all better, to just take over and be the apron-clad grandma who tutors her daughter in the ways of motherhood and offers free babysitting on the side. But she’s not that – she’s always been more of a hug-you-warmly-stroke-your-head-and-help-you-figure-out-how-fix-things-*yourself* kind of mom – and she’s always been clear about that and never made any apologies for that and I can’t help but think that she wouldn’t be the awesome bad grandma that she is if it weren’t for that.

My tutelage, at the knees of my mother, in the ways of motherhood has always been about this – this spirit of unconventionality, this emphasis on encouraging independence, this insistence upon doing things, whenever possible, out of joy rather than duty, this celebration of being, in some ways, bad – and I do that education an injustice if I demand that my mother be, as a grandmother, anything other her own bad self.

So I’ll manage without the free babysitting and the unsolicited domestic help and the demands for more time with her grandchildren, and let her get on with that bad self.

And I’ll get on with mine.

(Am leaving the family for an overnight trip to New York tonight, which is awesome, but, also, terrifying. I’ve never left Jasper for more than a few hours – and he’s never gone more than a few hours without the boob – but we figure that the break will be good for him and for me. We’re right about that, right? Right? Am freaking out a little bit.)

*Photo by Arantxa Cedillo (who so graciously overlooked all the mess in my house, and who sweetly exclaimed over my copy of the Todo Sobre Mi Madre film poster, thereby making me feel a little bit as though I’d made up for being a slob) for the New York Times

Who’s The Dummy, Mummy?

February 10, 2009

Rachel Cooke thinks that I’m a dummy. Okay, maybe not me specifically, but women like me. Women who talk or write incessantly about their children and their experience as mothers. Women who, when asked how they’re doing, launch into a extended narrative about sleeplessness and breastfeeding and hormones and Xanax. Women who are – how did she put it? – “boring, selfish, smug and obsessed with motherhood.”

Like I said: women like me.

“Once upon a time,” says Cooke, “educated women fought to separate their identities from the ideal of mother, knowing that until the two came to be seen as wholly distinct they would never be taken seriously; and, in any case, who wants to be defined by only one aspect of their life? In the past decade, however, a growing number of women have reverted, 50s-style, to identifying themselves primarily, vociferously, and sometimes exclusively, as mothers. They fetishise childbirth, and obsess about all that follows it, in a way that is almost, if not quite, beyond satire, and which makes me feel a bit sick.”

Which, whatever. So she’s not interested in mothers; I can live with that. I wasn’t all that interested in motherhood before I became a mother, either. But there’s a very great difference between lacking an interest in a subject and asserting that any discussion or celebration of that subject is somehow subversive of broader social goods. That someone, anyone, lacks an interest in the motherhood does not mean that the celebration of motherhood or extensive discourse on the subject of motherhood represent broader social problems for which mothers should be held responsible. I mean, seriously. I’m not interested in hip-hop, but would it make sense for me to say, on that basis, that pop-cultural attention to hip-hop is fetishistic and sick-making? I’ve certainly had the experience – pre-motherhood – of being trapped in conversations with women who went on at length about the details of childrearing and wondering how I was a) going to escape, and b) scrub my brain of the mental image of mustard poo, but I’ve also had that very same experience with people who only want to talk about politics (an occupational hazard as a former academic specializing in political philosophy) or cats or global warming. The fact that those subjects, in excess, cause my eyes to roll back in my head does not mean that anyone who is passionate about those things is an out-of-control fetishist. It only means that I am not interested.

Like any reflective bigot, Ms. Cooke asserts that she is not attacking all mothers – some her best friends are mothers! but they’re, like, the smart kind who you don’t mind hanging out with! – just the smug, stupid mothers who talk too much about being mothers. Because, you know, it’s not that mothers as a community are sickening in their fetishistic attachment to the terms and trappings of motherhood. It’s that so many of them are, and Ms. Cooke is starting to find it overwhelming. Can’t we all just shut up already about childbirth and our children and everything having to do with our children? Don’t we realize that the more we talk about this stuff, the more stupid and smug and selfish and Stepford we sound? Can’t we see that we are setting women back? And, also, nauseating everybody in the process?

This is what is, to me, most hateful about Cooke’s diatribe: the assertion that there is not only something unseemly and uninteresting about the discourse of motherhood, but also something fundamentally unfeminist about it. This is Linda Hirschmann Lite: devotion to motherhood is somehow not deserving of respect, because it limits – limits – women to a life experience that has been dictated, in some part, by the terms of their biology. This is biology-as-destiny, this is femininity-as-enclosure: this is what prevents us from being free, like, men, to do whatever we want. This is an old feminist argument (one, if you’re interested, that has roots in Marx), that women need to be liberated from their biological destinies – from the almost-inevitable biological condition of motherhood – so that they might work and contribute to society like men, because only then do they meaningfully contribute to society, only then are they members in full, only then are they interesting.

This is bullshit. Women do not become free by rejecting motherhood, by ignoring motherhood, by keeping the stories of motherhood hidden behind the veil, the wall, the enclosures of the private sphere. Women become free, in some significant part, by celebrating motherhood – by celebrating parenthood (men love their children too, you know, and some might even choose to make parenting their primary occupation, if it were more generally accepted and recognized as important work) – by demanding that it be as valued a part of civil society as politics and business and the arts and, you know, whatever else people like Rachel Cooke and Linda Hirschmann deem to be important and interesting. Celebrating motherhood doesn’t mean that every woman must choose motherhood as part of her life experience – we celebrate all variety of callings, without insisting that any of them are necessary for every individual’s self-fulfillment – it only means that we all of us recognize that mothering – parenting – and all that it involves is important work. Which means, in turn, we recognize discourse on those subjects as important discourse.

This is not to say, of course, that every anecdote about poo explosions in public places or every detailed explanation of the effects of sleep deprivation on the post-partum mother is in itself a critically important contribution to public discourse. It is to say, rather, that the sum of these stories is important: that in telling these stories, and in recognizing these stories as legitimate and important, we are sharing – we are making public, we are lifting the veil on – the experience of motherhood and demanding that it be taken seriously as something that contributes to – that is, arguably, the backbone of – civil society. Not every one of these stories will be interesting to everyone; many will be interesting only to a very few. But they are our stories, the stories of our parenthood. And we are, in telling these stories, telling each other – telling other mothers, telling fathers, telling future mothers and fathers – that there is no need to be (and every harm in being) isolated in one’s experience of parenthood. We are telling each other that there is community in parenthood, and that such community should be sought out and embraced.

Cooke summarizes her argument with this statement: “all this droning on about baby and toddler world is not, in the long run, doing any of us any good. For me, and many other women, it’s boring and selfish, and it implicitly casts judgment on the way we choose to live our lives.” I’m sorry that she feels that way. I, for one, am quite capable of listening to my husband’s colleagues drone on about the TV industry without feeling like I’m being judged for not being in that industry. I am also, for that matter, quite capable of listening to childless friends talk about their careers and their active social lives and their travel adventures without feeling as though they pity me for always having a baby strapped to my chest. If she feels judged, that’s her issue, not a larger social problem that needs to be nipped in the bud. Indeed, as I’ve said above, this compulsion to silence mothers, to insist to them that their stories are not worthy of sharing in public spaces, to demand that they just shut up already about their silly children and their silly fascination with organic baby food and sleep training and post-partum depression – this is the larger social problem. It’s a terrible social problem. It does more to keep women silenced and isolated than pretty much anything else I can think of.

So if anyone should just shut up already and stop complaining and judging and holding women back with her need to control what women talk about… well, you know who you are.

/rant.

(Thanks to Karen for the tip on the story. Funny how she knew just exactly what would make my head explode.)

The Other Side Of Anger

February 4, 2009

Before I had children, I understood that parenthood would be challenging. I read a lot of books about it, actually, because I was a little worried. Would the first months of my child’s life be like boot camp? Would I go insane from sleep deprivation? Was I going to be comfortable breastfeeding? Would I gag at all the shitty diapers? Could I do this? I was pretty confident that I could do it. I figured that I was about as well-prepared as any mother could be, and, besides, I was not in this alone. My husband would be right there with me, doing his share and gagging at runny poos. We would be doing it together, and together, we would be strong.

And then Emilia was born and it was, as expected, hard. And my husband was there, just as I had expected him to be, and he provided all the support that I could hope for. He provided all of the support that I could hope for, and more, and yet: I found myself feeling very, very angry. At the situation. At him. Mostly at him.

I was struggling with post-partum depression, which of course exacerbated things, but it was more than just a byproduct of the depression. It was a deep, almost aggressive, resentment that burbled up in my throat – burning, like an acid – and choked me, every time that he walked out the front door to go to work, or to pick up milk or cat food or whatever, his arms swinging freely, his keys dangling casually from his fingers. Maybe I’ll just stop by the barber for a hair-cut, he’d say. Or, I’ll swing by the grocery store on the way home from work. Or, I’m headed out to work; call me if you need anything; love you! The bastard.

He could just walk out the front door, just walk right out and head off to wherever, totally unencumbered, totally unburdened. He was free. I was not free. I could not even go to the bathroom without undergoing complicated rituals to ensure that the baby would not scream for the five minutes that I would be out of her line of sight (having failed to master this activity, I soon resorted to waiting until she had one of her two eight-minute naps of the day, or jerryrigging the baby carrier so that I could hold her and pee at the same time.) If I wanted to leave the house, even to venture the half-block to the bakery for a take-out cappuccino, I had to plot my outing like a military manoeuvre, making certain that my plans were in accordance with nap schedules and feeding times and stocks of supplies and the appropriate alignment of the stars. I was not free, and I resented my husband’s freedom with a fury that sometimes made me tremble. I was angry. I was sometimes not sure whether I was angry at him, or myself, or the universe, or all three. Usually I settled for just being angry at him.

Last week, the New York Times reported a story – originally posted on Parenting.com, later covered by Jezebel – about moms of young children feeling anger toward their husbands. According to the original story, nearly half of all moms who took a survey about anger reported that they “get irate with their husbands” at least once a week. Fully half of them described their anger as “intense.” Moms, the study concludes, are mad. Which, whatever. I could have told them that.

The story that I would tell about this anger, however, might be a little different than the one told in the Times. The Parenting.com story focuses on the imbalanced distribution of parental responsibility in most households, and their characterization of that imbalance rang perfectly true for me (“We carry so much of this life-altering responsibility in our heads: the doctors’ appointments, the shoe sizes, the details about the kids’ friends. Many dads wouldn’t even think to buy valentines for the class, for example, or know when it’s time to sign kids up for the pre–camp physical… We’re the walking, talking encyclopedias of family life, while dads tend to be more like brochures.” Yes, I said to myself, reading this. YES.) But I’m not convinced that that imbalance necessarily leads – must lead, should lead, justifiably leads – to rage directed at one’s spouse.

Is it really my husband that I’m angry at when I find myself trapped (yes, that’s how it feels sometimes) alone inside the house with a squalling baby? When I’m awakened for the umpteenth time in the night by a baby who won’t take a bottle? When my husband reveals that he doesn’t know when Emilia should visit the dentist, or when Jasper should go in for his next well-visit? When he complains about being tired or overwhelmed while I’m scrounging in the medicine cabinet for the Ativan? Sure, I feel angry – I sometimes feel very angry – but is my anger really directed at him? And if it is directed at him – should it be?

My husband is not – I am pretty sure about this – acting maliciously when he walks out the front door to go to work. And he does not actively try to avoid retaining certain information about the household schedule or the children’s appointments or how many Valentines Emilia needs to bring to school next week. Nor is he making a conscious effort to disregard how challenging things are for me when he complains about his own exhaustion. Sure, he’ll never be as exhausted as I am – nobody will ever be as exhausted as I am – but that doesn’t preclude him from experiencing his own sleep-deprivation-related discomforts. So why do I feel anger about these things? These things are not his fault. He’s a supportive husband and father, but he’s got his own challenges to deal with: his job pays the mortgage, his cooking skills keep us from living on soup and donuts, his ability to stay awake at night and get up early in the morning to wrangle baby is required to keep his sleep-deprived wife from going batshit crazy. This new household order isn’t a walk in the park for him, either. So why do I – and, presumably, half of the married mothers in North America – blame him for the seeming imbalance in that order?

My point: it’s not my husband’s fault that I carry most of the burden of responsibility for caring for our kids. It’s just the way that it is. I could blame him – and believe me, sometimes, in my darker moments, I do – but mightn’t it be more reasonable to blame society’s patriarchal hangover? Or even more reasonably: mightn’t I blame the choices that we have made as a couple, that I have made as a woman and mother? We made choices as a couple that established a certain division of labor in our household, and we agreed upon those choices. I’m a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom. The children are in my care for a far greater share of the day than they are in his. If he didn’t work, things would be different. If he lactated and could breastfeed, things would be very different. If parenting were just an easier gig, things would be different. I could justify my anger as rightfully directed at him if I felt – if I believed – that he just didn’t take the care of our children as seriously as I did, or if he actively shirked parental duty and left the burden of work unfairly to me. But he doesn’t, and so I can’t.

And my guess is that this is very probably true for many women. Pressed with the question, do you get angry at your husband?, any one of us might say, “hell yeah, I get angry!” Do you feel that you work harder in caring for your children, that he doesn’t do as much as you do, that things are easier for him? “Yes, yes and yes!” Does that make you mad? “YES!” But are we really mad at our husbands and partners, or are we mad at the circumstances of our parenting arrangements? Are we really a continent of enraged mothers, silently seething at our significant others, filled with justifiable rage at their failure to measure up to our needs and expectations? Or do we all just find parenting really, really hard sometimes – not to mention isolating – and so just fall easily into the trap of resenting our partners for not – from our blinkered perspective – having it as hard? When we talk about being angry at our spouses, aren’t we really, many of us, talking about being angry about hard this motherhood business can be, and about what a drag it is that the larger share of the burden of childcare has, over the course of human history, fallen to women? You know, as the ones with the boobs? Is this really about our own husbands at all? Or this about long-standing, world-historical tensions concerning divisions between men and women generally?

None of this is to say that my husband doesn’t f*ck up sometimes, nor that he is perfectly attentive to my every need as his parenting partner. Sometimes he’s just an outright doofus about things. And so I feel completely justified in feeling a teeny bit – maybe a whole lot – pissy when he asks why I can’t just go to sleep earlier, or maybe nap when the baby is napping, or when he doesn’t put away the laundry or when he says oh, hey, would you mind terribly if I just went out for a while to do whatever and left the kids with you? But the larger issues, the challenges and obstacles and difficulties that provoke real anger and deeper frustration: these are not his fault, and my emotional struggle with these should not be his cross to bear. This should be our shared burden, one that we manage, in part, by acknowledging that we both ache from the strain and and that we both buckle, sometimes, from the weight.

And then he should mix me a drink and rub my feet. Then we’ll be good.

Where are you at with this whole angry-at-mah-hubby thing? Are you one of the 50% of the population that’s filled with rage? Would a foot-rub help? Is it just me, or does even talking about mother-rage feel discomfiting? Like, if I had a good feminist household I wouldn’t even be talking about this crap because dude would have a prosthetic, lactating breast machine strapped to his chest and would be nursing our baby himself while I added a few more degrees to my CV and maybe found a cure for cancer? GAH. Maybe I get angry because I fetishize the inside of my own head. That shit’s tiring.

Rebel Angel

December 23, 2008

We have a discipline problem in our house, by which I mean to say: discipline, we have none.

We try, we really do. We bargain, we barter, we cajole, we threaten. We will bake cookies, Emilia, if you will just please listen to Mommy! We will bake cookies and have hot chocolate with marshmallows if you will please, please listen to Mommy! Mommy will take cookies away if you do not listen to Mommy! There will be no more cookies, ever, in this house, if you do not this instant start listening to Mommy! Mommy will destroy all the cookies in the world and angels will cry if you DO. NOT. LISTEN. TO. MOMMY. NOW!

But we never prevail. She is stronger than are we, and she knows it. She is patient: she knows that even if she does not get cookies today, there is always tomorrow. And she knows that if she does not get cookies tomorrow, there will be cookies some other day. And she knows that even if Mommy did try to destroy all the cookies and candy and treats in the world – which Mommy would not, because Mommy loves these things too, and she knows it – she would still have a stash, somewhere, to tide her over until the next solicitous neighbor or little old lady or shopping mall Santa slips her a gingerbread man or a candy cane or some other non-holiday-specific confection. Or she will just get the cookies herself, when we’re not looking. She knows how the world works. And she knows that it works in her favor.

She is only just – just – three years old.

She is three years old, and a near-perfect angel when in the care of other authority figures (with the notable exception of my mother, whom she identified early on as possessing a spirit akin to her own and therefore as a potentially dangerous antagonist. Their relationship is loving, but fiery) and, for the most part, when in public. We spent three days at Disney World and Sea World and I – alone in charge of the girl and the infant boy – had very little trouble keeping care: he remained strapped to my chest, and she dutifully (if boisterously) remained within a shout’s reach. But at home, when the only authority is my own and that of her father, and no witnesses are present, all hell regularly breaks loose, and we are helpless to stop it.

Every evening is the same: a battle over the when, where, how and why of dinner, and over the why, how, where and when of bedtime. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say that she uses her wits, her charm, sheer force of will and, sometimes, fists, to forestall sitting still, consuming food, bathing, changing for bed, and getting into and staying in bed. The morning is a variation of this struggle (reverse the order of obstacles), and afternoons, after preschool, are another. The weekends sometime erupt into epic battles, wherein she charges, naked, from room to room, cackling madly, slamming doors and diving under tables, evading our reach and our calls and our pleas for compliance. Please, sweetie, we must get dressed! We must eat lunch! We cannot see Santa/build a snowman/bake cookies unless we are dressed/have had lunch/have stopped pummeling our mother. Sometimes, it is not her physical will that she imposes upon us, it is her will-to-independence, her psychic will-to-power – her willingness to simply ignore whatever it is that we’re saying and go, find a piece of furniture, push it into the kitchen and up next to the cupboards and go in search of cookies on her own, ignoring us as we stand, hands on hips, voices straining, hissing no, Emilia, we said NO. NO. Did you hear me? NO! Emilia, if you DO NOT CLIMB DOWN from that stool THIS INSTANT you are going into your buckle chair (the Stokke knock-off that functions as a naughty seat – which, yes, we strap her into because not even a team of SuperNannies could keep her in there with just a glare) and you will not have ANY cookies today, none at all, and WHERE ON EARTH ARE YOU GOING YOUNG LADY? and in the time that it takes to ask her to get down she’s snatched her contraband and has done a base-slide under the dining room table to make fast work of it.

And we are left, scrambling, pursuing her into corners, sweating and shouting and stumbling gracelessly, two Yosemite Sams to her Bugs Bunny, helpless and ridiculous.

Children, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, are tyrants from the first. Struggling against their natural helplessness, their natural, almost slavish, dependence upon us, they strain to exert their will. Thrust into our world, entirely dependent upon us, they must either dominate us or serve us; according to Rousseau, they invariably – they naturally – choose to dominate. Their every impulse, from their very first wail, is to dominate, and by dominating, compel us to become their servants in turn. Which in so many respects we do. This is why, for Rousseau, mothers are always and necessarily imperfect authoritarians – that is, at least, if they are what he understood to be good mothers, which is to say, unconditionally loving mothers – because they are always, in some important way, subservient to their love for their children, and so less capable of imposing the harshest boundaries and teaching the most difficult lessons.

I love Emilia’s domineering spirit; I truly do. But it frightens and intimidates me and – in some strange, confusing respect – shames me. She is powerful. She is fearless. She looks at the world around her and, for the most part, sees a world that can and should and will be conquered. That is a wonderful and terrible thing. It is wonderful (and this is the part that shames me) because it it is a remarkable, empowering thing, to regard the world as conquerable. It is something that I struggle to recognize for myself – that most of the obstacles that I see, or imagine I see, before me are conquerable. How extraordinary, to view the world through a lens that remains very nearly entirely unfogged by fear! But it is terrible, because – as Rousseau well knew, as we all well know – our children cannot advance into the world in that way, convinced of their utter entitlement to whatever it is that they desire, convinced of their ability to obtain it for themselves, convinced of their invincibility. They need to understand limits, boundaries. They need to understand that they must bend, give way, let go, listen, obey.

Emilia knows these things, at least as they pertain to the public spaces of her world – the spaces of school and neighborhood and friends and family. She is a remarkably polite and courteous and considerate little girl in spaces where authority emanates from some broader sphere or principle or institution, where everybody is expected to bend and give way equally, where everybody gets cookies if they say please (such are the cafes in our town, full of cookies for small children) and where everybody must wait their turn and where everybody must obey the traffic lights regardless of whether they are three feet tall or six. But in the private space of her home, where her parents loom over her like dictators – loving dictators, but still – where rules are issued that it seems only she must follow (no candy before bedtime no cookies before bedtime no playing after bedtime bedtime bedtime bedtime turn out the light put down your toys time for bed time for school time for dinner are you listening?) (she does not see that we deny ourselves – usually – cookies at bedtime. She sees only that we stay up later, and can and do reach the forbidden cupboards whenever we please) she resists. She resists, like (sometimes literally) a tiny little sans-culottes, or a tiny little Robespierre, or some explosive revolutionary hybrid of the two. She resists, and we cave to her resistance, and like France of the late 18C, we go down in flames.

It is, I don’t have to tell you, exhausting. I have, in recent weeks, invoked the coal-delivering incarnation of Santa too many times (a topic for another post, another time: Santa here replaces God, watching us all to see if we are bad or good so be good for goodness sakes) and in so doing broke one of my writ-pre-parenthood Rules Of Parenting (thou shalt not threaten thy children with retribution from Higher Powers, seasonal or otherwise); I also, just yesterday evening – OH THE SHAME – slapped her tiny hand – I did, I did – not at all hard, but still – after taking one too many punches from her wee flying fists (thereby breaking my hardest and fastest rules: thou shalt always endeavor to not react in anger, and thou shalt not ever, EVER hit thine children.)

I feel like the worst shit. But I also feel like a helpless shit, one who is fighting a losing battle.

What do I do? What do you do?

For what it’s worth, and because some of you have asked – we do enforce our threats. Time-out in her buckle chair is time-out in her buckle-chair – no negotiations. But she almost invariably, after time-out is over, bounds out of the chair and back into whatever she was doing that warranted the buckle-chair in the first place. We do physically stop her when, for example, she is stealing cookies (after giving her the opportunity to cease theft on her own), and our bargaining efforts escalate because she always raises the stakes – no cookies? She doesn’t care. No cookies tomorrow? Doesn’t care. NO COOKIES EVER? Whatever. She knows that there’s no such thing as a world devoid of cookies.

Help.

How To Feed A Baby And Not Lose Consciousness Trying

December 18, 2008

My baby? Is a big baby. At 7 months old, he’s a husky, roly-poly, chubby-cheeked, fat-thighed chunk of Gerber baby who looks nearly a half year older than his age. He is, as his doctor said at his last post-natal visit, robust. Which is not surprising, because he nurses more or less around the clock. I mean, he was big to begin with, but a steady diet of booby has kept him on an upward curve on the growth charts. Which is great and all, but I’m getting a little tired of being the sole source of nutrition for a ravenous jumbo-tot. The problem is, he won’t take solid food or a bottle or indeed any source of nutrition that does not come wrapped in a nursing bra.

He just won’t do it. I’ve tried. I try every day: rice cereal, oatmeal, mashed fruits, mashed veggies, mashed fruits and cereal, mashed veggies and cereal, cereal with formula, formula with cereal, cereal with expressed milk, everything. But if it comes on a spoon or in a bottle, he just won’t take it. He’ll actually grab the spoon from me, shake the food off, and then gnaw cheerfully on it until I wrestle it away from him again and try to slip a little cereal into its bowl, at which point he hoots angrily, grabs the spoon, shakes off the cereal, and we start all over again. If I manage to get any into his mouth without him grabbing the utensil away – it just seems wrong, a little too close to waterboarding or some other Guantanamo-like exercise, to hold his arms down for the purposes of getting the spoon in – he makes a sour face and tries to push it out of his mouth. It’s a little frustrating.

It’s a little frustrating because I suspect that a rapidly-emptying belly is what keeps waking him up at night. I just don’t think my humble boobies are up to the task of keeping him filled for hours at a stretch. He’s a big guy, and I imagine that he’s got a big tummy tucked away in that pudgy belly of his. A big tummy that I can’t fill.

I’ve read that some babies just aren’t ready for food until closer to eight, nine, or even ten months. I’ve read that breastmilk is sufficient for most babies in their first year. I’ve read that some babies bypass soft foods altogether, and refuse to eat anything until they’re ready for more solid varieties of solid food (Jasper does, I should note, like organic teething biscuits. He holds them in his hand and gums happily away until they’ve turned to mush.) I don’t think that there’s anything wrong him – at least, I hope that there isn’t – but I am at the very end of my coping-rope and will soon reach the point of utter collapse if I don’t get a full night’s sleep soon. And because it has become clear to me that he is waking from hunger, I need to deal with his hunger before I can get some rest. I need that rest.

I need that rest BAD.

So what do I do?

********

UPDATE (Sunday): HE TOOK A SIPPY CUP. REJOICE.

********

Miscellany…

Congratulations to the winner of last week’s What Would Linus Do? Good Karma GiveawayMaria! Maria asked for a donation to a pediatric ward, so I’ll make the donation to Toronto’s Sick Kid’s Hospital. And because Maria asked to pass on the iPod shuffle, I did a second random draw and the winner is ZombieDaddy. (ZombieDaddy, could you get in touch with me with your address?)

Also… I need ideas on how I might pay forward the wonderful experience that Emilia and Jasper I had last week. Money’s tight, so it needs to be something that draws more upon spirit than cash. Thoughts? Leave your ideas here. Whoever leaves the idea that I choose gets a Scrabble Diamond Anniversary Edition game…

Hush

December 1, 2008

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I haven’t slept in days.

Jasper is six months old. He doesn’t so much sleep at night as he does snooze and hang out between bouts of crying for mommy. He invariably ends up in bed with me, which is in some ways great, because he is as soft and snuggly as a cashmere pillow stuffed with kittens and dusted with baby powder and fairy farts, but also, in some very important ways, not great, because he inevitably kicks me in the boobs a few dozen times. I don’t sleep when he’s tucked up against me. I haven’t slept in days. Weeks even. I’ve lost track.

I have the dim sense that this is not quite right, that this is sub-optimal, that things really shouldn’t be this way. Emilia slept in her crib, swaddle-free, through the night, from about five months of age (of course, she didn’t sleep a wink during the day, but at least our nights were restful.) For the life of me, I have not been able to recall how or why she did this. I don’t remember doing anything special. Except for, you know, a little bit of crying it out now and again.

Ah.

It finally sunk in last night – late, late last night – that we had been willing to let Emilia cry, a bit, at bedtime or during night wakings. Not very much, and not for very long – you could hardly call it Ferberizing; more like Ferber lite – but on those occasions when it seemed that she needed to fuss herself down and when it was clear that her cries were fussy tired cries and not desperate needy cries, we’d let her cry it out for a minutes on her own. And it worked, and she was fine, and we all slept, and it was good.

But I can’t bring myself to do it this time around, and I’m not even sure why. All of Jasper’s cries sound desperate to me; every whimper out of his throat yanks at my heart and rakes across my nerves. His sobs and shouts and grumbles ring in my ears – he needs me! My baby NEEDS me! – and every moment of tears passes like an eternity. My heart lodges itself in my throat and my blood thrums in my ears and my whole body tenses. I cannot let him cry.

And sure enough, when I hold him, he stops, and herein lays the problem, I think: he does need me. He needs me in a way that my spirited, independent baby girl never did. She never cried to be held or to be snuggled: she cried (as she still does) to be free, to stand alone, to have her way. She cried in resistance to shutting her eyes against the fascinations of the day; she cried from the exhaustion of having rolled/crawled/climbed/raced her way through every moment of her wee existence. She cried and raged against boredom, against constraint; she cried with the fury and spirit of a tiny Beat poet, shouting her rhythms into the shadows and demanding that world give way to her presence. Jasper, on the other hand, only cries for boobies and hugs and – in the event of an epic shit – a clean diaper. Those, I can provide. And so I do.

So it is that I cannot let him cry. I cannot let him cry because I know that it is within my power to soothe his cries. I cannot let him cry because he cries for me. Such is the vanity of motherhood, that I am weakened by his need for me, that I am weakened by any such need, that the needing – the feeling that I am necessary, that I am fundamentally necessary, in any given moment, that I am the only being in this world that can provide the desired comfort – becomes the focal point of all my motivation: gratify his need (indeed, their need, for my daughter knows well that she can have me wrapped around her finger only by uttering the words I need you, Mommy.) So it is that his need, my need, our need for sleep become secondary to the need that is articulated – that he articulates – most forcefully: the immediate need for comfort, the need to be held, the need for a hush to be wrapped in love.

But love cannot sustain the sleep-deprived mother, and the sleep-deprived mother is an impaired mother and all the hugs in the world aren’t going to help anyone if I’m passed out on the floor and the children have to crawl over my body and forage for sustenance.

So do I do this? Do I let him cry and hope that sleep comes and that my heart doesn’t explode? Or do I forge ahead on the fuel of love and hugs?

******

Toronto-area peeps – if you’re interested in joining me at a breastfeeding demonstration (to save breastfeeding clinics in Ontario) on Wednesday, let me know. Details are at this post; leave a comment or e-mail me if you wanna go. UPDATE: Mister Jasper is a very sick little baby, and I simply can’t go to this. E-mail me if you want details, to attend yourself. (And? Anyone local who wants to go and do a brief story on it for BlogHers Act Canada? I would LOVE you. E-mail me.)


Tried To Make Her Go To Rehab; She Said No, No, No

November 25, 2008

My child is a junkie.

It started innocently enough. A little hit now and then, at parties. It couldn’t hurt, I reasoned, and besides, all the other kids were doing it. The buzz they enjoyed seemed harmless, and besides, I’m partial to that buzz myself, and it would be hypocritical to deny my children something that I don’t deny myself. So I let her have some, just a little bit, now and then. I thought that I was being careful: never too much, and only on special occasions. But then summer came along and the temptation was everywhere: in the parks, on the beach, near the shops. And after summer, fall, and with fall, Hallowe’en, and after Hallowe’en, it became obvious.

We have a problem.

Emilia is an addict. She is addicted to candy and treats and desserts and any and all things that make good use of sugar, with the notable exception of any dessert-like creation that contains fruit or – god forbid – raisins. She (rightly) regards all fruit-based desserts and raisin-contaminated baked goods as corrupt treats – like bad acid or cheap ganja – that should be avoided at all costs. We’re not sure when it started – I had always been vigilant about treats in the house, restricting her to 100% natural fruit bars and oatmeal biscuits and yogurt with honey, except for the occasional cupcake or ice cream on birthdays or holidays or outings – but we think that the addiction took root in her summer ice cream habit and blossomed into full junk-dependency with the candy windfall that came this past Hallowe’en (helped along, no doubt, by the Jellybean Potty Incentive Program that we were running this fall.)

Hallowe’en is a sugar junkie’s dream, and I’m sure that it’s responsible for creating more jacked-up sugar bingers than Christmas and Easter and birthdays combined. I could see it in her face, as she sped deliriously from house to house, clutching her bag to her wee chest, eyes flashing like highbeams, mad with longing and anticipation. Look, Mommy! she’d squeal gleefully. I have TOO MUCH CANDY! TOO MUCH! We tried to intervene, appropriating her smack bag and only allowing her to select a few choice pieces, but it was too late. She happily traded most of the contents of the bag for a new toy, but we discovered the next day, and over subsequent days, that she had performed some sleight of hand and purloined a sizable quantity of candy from the bag before it was removed, a stash that she then divided and tucked into Ziploc bags and squirreled away in hiding places (the oven of her toy kitchen, her sock drawer, a toy suitcase, her backpack) around the house. We would stumble across remnants of her stash while tidying, or discover her under the blankets at bedtime, furiously working the wrapper of a lollipop. Every Ziploc’ed baggy was appropriated, only to be replaced by another. How she had managed to loot and smuggle so much junk was a mystery to us, but there it was: she had an addiction that she needed to feed and feed it she did.


We think, now, that we’ve tracked down and re-appropriated all of the candy in the house, but she persists in her efforts to acquire a new supply. Can I have candy, Mommy? Can I have candy after dinner? Can I have candy after bedtime? Can I have candy for Christmas? Can I, Mommy? CAN I? We respond with wholegrain biscuits and no-sugar added fruit chews, and she freaks out. THAT’S NOT CANDY I WANT CANDY I WANT CANDEEEEEE! Or CAKE. We offer yogurt with honey and soy pudding (chocolate!) and coconut-date cookies; she throws herself on the floor and wails.

So we decided to compromise, and plotted a harm-reduction scheme: we stocked the cupboards with a better-quality candy substitute, with the idea that we’d ply her with that, the better to wean her from the hard stuff. We’d provide sugar-methadone to ease her candy detox; we’d supply some jungle juice to get her off the smack. We bought her Froot Loops and Corn Pops.

And now she’s a sugar-cereal freak.


What do we do? We want to break her sugar habit, and rid our home of all candy and sugar-cereals (which I SWORE up and down I would never, ever allow into my house), but seriously: THE SCREAMING. Also, we don’t want to be total buzzkills: what’s Christmas without gingerbread and candy canes? I was a sugar freak as a kid myself, and I know that my obsession with sugar was made worse by my parents’ attempts to keep me from it (some of my earliest memories are of climbing onto kitchen counters to raid the cupboards for brown sugar – straight up – and baker’s chocolate.) Can a sugar obsession be tempered? Do we make it worse by cutting her off, or is cutting her off the only option? WHAT DO WE DO?