Motherhood

***

When I was fourteen years old, I regularly babysat for a couple down the road from my house.  They were a very sweet pair and had one little girl, a toddler, and I adored her.

On one particular day I was scheduled to babysit, I arrived to find another teenaged girl quietly sitting in the living room.  I was quickly introduced and told she was their niece from out of state and would be staying with them for the week – and was it okay if she kept me company while I babysat? It seemed a little odd to me that they just didn’t have her babysit, as we appeared to be the same age, but it was fine with me and soon we were left alone.

I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she was extremely quiet and shy. I was not – and never have been.  And anyone who knows me knows well that I hate awkward silence, and so I usually attempt to fill it (sometimes a little too enthusiastically.) I tried to make this new, shy girl feel at ease. I remember asking her lots of questions – to which I’d receive a lot of one-word responses in turn. I tried to talk to her about school, her friends… None of it seemed to be working. So, then I started to talk about my school and my friends in order to initiate conversation and fill the silence.

I was in the middle of my freshmen year of high school then and school pictures had recently been handed out. I don’t know what kids do these days, but back then we’d hand out our photos to all of our friends and write sweet, short notes on the back to one another. In my last ditch effort to get this girl talking, I pulled out my small wallet album and began to show her each photo of my friends. This seemed to spark her interest and she began to ask me questions about all of them. Finally, I thought, she’s talking!  After we went through the whole album, I returned it to my purse and the rest of the day seemed to go smoothly. The parents eventually returned. I said my goodbyes, told their niece that I was happy to meet her, and I walked home.

Later that afternoon, I went through my purse and my small photo album was missing. I searched everywhere. I specifically remembered putting it back in my purse.  A sneaking suspicion rose in me, but I squashed it.  Finally, after looking all over, I called the house where I had babysat. “I am so sorry,” I said, “but I think I may have dropped a small photo album or it fell out of my purse. Could you just look when you have a chance?

A few minutes later, the phone rang.

“Jennifer, I want you to be honest with me. Was this album in your purse?”

“Umm, yes, I think so.”

“That’s what I thought. We will be over shortly.”

Within thirty minutes, both the girl and her aunt were awkwardly standing in my kitchen.

“Do you have something to say?” her aunt prodded.

“I’m sorry I stole your photos,” the girl said quietly, as she looked to the ground.

It was so sad and pitiful and more than both my mom and I could take.  “It’s ok! It’s fine…” we both chirped simultaneously, trying to make the awkwardness of it all go away.

“No, it’s not okay,” replied the aunt sternly, “I really hope this doesn’t affect our relationship and that you will still babysit for us.”

After my mom and I assured her that I would, of course, still babysit, they quietly and quickly left.

It was only later that day that I noticed she had begun to scribble my name off the back of the photos where my friends had began their messages.

I have relayed many funny stories about my childhood and adolescence over the years, but this one has never been funny to me.  I admit that I have retold it – and I’m usually met with “How creepy!” and other not very kind words.  And yes, I’ll admit, it did seem creepy – especially to my then 14-year old self.

But mostly, it was incredibly sad.

I have thought of that girl often over the span of decades that have since passed.  How lonely she must have felt at that time. Maybe the faces of my friends represented a life she wished she was a part of?  Maybe even pretending with that album would have made her feel less alone? Or, maybe, she had planned to take that album back home with her to show others that she had made new friends?

High school was easy, socially, for me. Other than some (internal) weight insecurities, I eased right in and made friends quickly. But I know it’s not that easy for everyone. In fact, it is not easy for many.  And it terrifies me thinking of our girls entering an arena that can be so hard and harsh and miserable for so many.

And as much as it terrifies me that they could experience the pain of loneliness, ridicule or rejection aimed so often at so many, the thought of either of them being part of those who enforce such agony on others terrifies me more.

“Don’t ever be that person. Rise above it. If your friends are being cruel, be true to yourself – be better than that.” I think we’ve said this to our (nearly) 14-year old a thousand times, not for anything she has done – but more so as a warning of the impending high school atmosphere.

I want to raise strong, intelligent, independent women. But I also want to raise kind humans. Sometimes, these days, I think kind often gets associated with weak. However, in our home, I refuse to let those words dissolve into one another.

Being assertive is one thing. Being an a$$hole is another.

I don’t know what happened to that quiet girl from that day so many years ago. I hope she found her way through the twists and turns of adolescence and the awkward years of learning what ultimately matters.

I hope she found her voice in the deafening sea of noise that is high school.

And I hope she found herself – after navigating through four years that can so easily trick you into thinking that life is nothing more than pretty faces in a photo album.

xo,

Jen

***

I remember once feeling superior that my lovely little human never went through the “terrible twos” and giving myself a pat on the back for (so-far) raising an even tempered, happy little girl.  “Oh, I bet that one’s a firecracker!” I’d hear countless times at the grocery store from people observing Ivy’s red hair. And I’d proudly, no, smugly respond, “No, she’s a pretty happy go lucky kid.” 

And then…

My child turned 3 1/2 and some sort of miniature demon has taken control of her to the point that I now look fondly back at potty training as a sort of utopia.

Now, I’m not saying animated movies are, in fact, documentaries based on true events, but if someone were to tell me my child was injected with night howlers by Assistant Mayor Bellwether in Zootopia, I may not question it.

I mean, she hisses at us sometimes.

When she gets really pissed off, she calls me by my first name instead of Mommy.  Let me just say, if you think the effect of calling your children by their full name gets attention, imagine having your three-year-old say to you (in the most dismissive way ever), “Ok, JEN. You don’t have to yell. I’m right here.”

And the tantrums. My God, the tantrums.

Here are just a few reasons for her full on fits in the last week:

  • I picked out her plate for breakfast.
  • I cut her waffles the wrong way.
  • I sang.
  • I said “Good morning.”
  • I wore my hair up.
  • I made eye contact.

I’d like to follow the above with somewhat of a disclaimer, because sometimes I do say, “Good morning!” and she responds happily. But I haven’t yet figured out the rhythm of her mood swings, so every morning is a complete crap shoot and reminiscent of Sally Field in Sybil.*

(Ugh. The majority of you are too young to even get that Sybil reference.) 

Anyway, it’s not just the randomness of Ivy’s moods that are shocking to me these days, it’s also the completely condescending way she executes her responses.

She matter-of-factly claims one of the following every time I ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do: 1) temporary paralysis;  2) utter starvation; and/or  3) hiccups (which, for some reason, she thinks is an illness).

She told me last week that picking up her toys was boring and too serious.

I recently asked her several times to please pick her crayons up off the floor, because our dog keeps trying to eat them. After giving her my ‘last warning’ voice, she put down the toy she was playing with, gave an exasperated sigh, put her hand up, in my direction, and shouted, “JUST GO ON YOUR COMPUTER AND WORK. I’M HANDLING IT!”

Yep.

***This is the part of the post where some people are shaking their heads and saying to themselves, “Uh uh. No way would my kid talk to me like that. That child needs discipline.***

***And this is the part of the post where I respond to the above parents and say, “Screeeewwww you.”***

Three and a half has proven to be my kryptonite in parenting, to date. I had thought it was the first three days of potty training.

I was gravely mistaken.

I like to tell myself that this phase is teaching me patience and discipline in motherhood. But in reality, it’s only teaching me patience and discipline in alcohol rationing.

Because if this keeps up, we’re gonna need a bigger bottle.

xo,

Jen

 

***

Let’s talk truth in motherhood, shall we?

As I sat drinking my coffee this morning and scrolled through the feed of pages I follow on Facebook, I noticed a theme. Endless pieces posted by “mom portals” with titles like Why I Will Never *blank* Again or Yes, I Resent My Husband For *blank*. And after reading each title, I would skim the comments and read the (inevitable) criticism of the writer’s point of view, etc.

Harsh criticism.

Like, people are effing mean.

But that’s what happens when you read the comments section of anything really, right? Vultures hovering to point out why your opinion/suggestion/way is wrong/damaging/idiotic.  I don’t usually like to breathe life into coined terms like Mommy Wars, but let’s face it: they exist. And, apparently, the causes of war are endless.

Endless.

If you write about feeding your child with a Little Mermaid spoon, someone will comment that Ariel is an anti-feminist child bride and terrible example for your daughter.

If you write about feeding your child homemade yogurt, someone will leave a snarky comment about proudly dumping a Lunch-ables on their kid’s lap as he zombie-stared into his iPad.

If you write about breast-feeding, someone will comment with 50 defensive reasons why they didn’t breast-feed.

If you write about not breast-feeding, someone will comment with 5,000 reasons why you should have.

How about rather than get involved in a heated conversation about heated baby wipes (pun intended), we all be a bit more “Meh. Live and let live.”

(*That is, unless another parent’s choice actually poses outright danger to their child or yours.)

I’m not saying ‘don’t have an opinion.’ I’m all for healthy debate.  But does that even exist online anymore? In all things lately, it seems, it’s either us vs. them. There is no middle ground – no in between. Not with politics and definitely not with parenting.

And in the (mom) blogging world, in particular, there appears to be two themes:

1/   Cinderella-mom.  Cinderella-mom lives in a mommy-world full of birds singing and perfectly dressed children and magical moments documented on social media. Cinderella-mom sings to you about the joys of cleaning and cooking and child-rearing, and she never ever discusses being tired or run-down or run over. Cinderella-mom and her little mice crochet blankets from leftover love and she makes organic moisturizer out of her (publicly unseen) tears. Cinderella-mom is happy, dammit. She is so… damn… happy. And she wants you to know it. You will know it, do you understand?!

And then there is…

2/   Daria-mom.  Daria-mom is sarcastic and snarky and likes to tell you how bad of a mom she is. Over and over. She makes fun of Cinderella-moms while throwing Cheetos at her kids for breakfast and then blogs about what a bad/badass mom she is for doing it. Daria-mom rolls her eyes at anything positive parent-related and physically gags when hearing the word “magical.”  Daria-mom loves her kids – when they are sleeping. Daria-mom laughs and points at anything handmade or homemade and loves to write about how anti-mom blog she is, and then posts all about it on her blog… about mom-ing.

Ok, so.

What if I were to tell you that both of these moms…

are equally f*cking annoying?

Why does it have to be one way or the other? Why is everything sooooo one way or the other lately?

*cough* politics *cough*

Listen, I get it. When writing, there’s a shtick… And I’m seeing more and more that the shtick is to either display perfection or anti-perfection. You can’t be both. Some moms want to be inspired. Some moms want to feel less alone. I get that.  But why are we stabbing at each other in the process?

Here is what I’ve learned through writing. Y’all aren’t one-dimensional. And you definitely appreciate honesty.

For as much good feedback I get on decor ideas for a playroom:

I get just as many (if not more) comments and kudos for the reality of what this playroom looks like on any given day (that a camera or guests aren’t present):

(I mean, you guys really liked the above photo…)

What this tells me is that all kinds of moms who put themselves out there are useful and have merit.  So I wish we’d all take a breath and stop dismissing one way in order to promote another. In fact, how about we stop doing that in life altogether?!

Puppies are cuddly and soft and fluffy and full of love. They also piss all over the place and sometimes eat their own poop.

There is no one way to be… except yourself – all of yourself . So, definitely don’t put yourself in a corner, baby.

(Also, don’t eat your own poop. That was just a metaphor.)

Ok, now I’m gagging.

And it’s not over the word “magical.”

For the record, Cinderella has always been my favorite princess and Daria is my favorite animated series.

Sweet and sarcastic.

You don’t have to choose, or be,  just one.

xo,

Jen

 

ps – Seriously, you haven’t entered my JORD giveaway yet? You know I’m not a big deal, so your chances of winning are pretty high, right? Click here and get on it!

 

It’s that time.

We are in the throws of potty training over here.  I apologize for the pee-tunnel vision – but when you are in it, it’s pretty much consumed your life for the time being.

I’m going to be frank.  I feel like I have been pretty laid back about motherhood for the most part… until now.  I don’t think much about milestone timelines and I’ve kind of always held the mindset that babies/toddlers get to where they are going on their own time.  You can’t force them to walk or talk or crawl or sit up.  They do it when they are ready.

But this… this whole potty training gig is something we have to teach.  They don’t just wake up one day and pass by you on their way to the bathroom with a Golden Book under one arm, and then come out afterwards holding a cigarette and coffee.

I don’t know why that visual makes me laugh out loud, but it does.

Yes, yes – I know.  There is nothing funny about a smoking toddler.

Anyway, can I continue here?

Ok, let me tell you, I was not prepared.

In full honesty, I was always very flippant about potty training.  “Oh, we plan to just do that 3-day boot camp thing.”  That is what I actually said to people.  Don’t worry, my eyes are rolling so far back into my own head, I’m temporarily blind.  Oh, it’s just that simple, is it?  Aww, good for you!  Now take this bucket of baby-urine I’ve saved up for you and dump it over your mom-bob, you jackass.

I’m sorry. That was totally uncalled for. Your bob is perfectly lovely. I’m just under a lot of stress right now.

My sister once told me, about a month after I had my daughter, Ivy, that though she realizes I am so grateful to be a mom (because of the fertility issues we had, etc.), that doesn’t mean that I can go about life never complaining about parenthood.  She said it won’t make me ungrateful to vent, it will just make me human.

Well, I would like to cash in my complaint chip here, sister!   I have found my kryptonite.  And it comes in the form of potty chairs and Little Mermaid underpants.  And I am allowing myself a temporary moratorium from gratefulness.

Because… this suuuuuuuucks.

Day 1: Enthusiasm and Exasperation.

Rise and shine! We’ve been mentally preparing all weekend that Monday is the “big day”!  No more diapers!  Ivy was excited all weekend, but this morning, she is sleepy and unenthused.  I coerce her with the wall chart I made – and remind her of the wonderful stickers she can collect.  Suddenly, she is on board.  We rip off her diaper and I put her on the toilet.  And we wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

After I come to the conclusion that I birthed a red-headed camel or that she possibly has a reserve bladder, we take a break (much to her chagrin, because she’s bound and determined to get a sticker).  But not for long. She wants back on.  I like her determination!  And so we wait a bit more.

And more.

And more.

And… you get the idea.

I give her milk to drink (while on the potty) and tell her it will help her go.  She takes two huge gulps, looks down at her privates and says, “IT’S NOT WORKING!”  I make a mental note that we need to speak about the perils of instant gratification.

I convince her to take a break and I put her new big-girl underpants on.  She happily plays with her toys on the floor and at one point, when she moves across the rug, I see a wet spot.  Our first accident.  She didn’t even care or notice!  But, I don’t make a big deal out of it. We clean it up and I tell her that we will try again.

It is now noon.  She lets out a big sigh and calmly says, “Mommy, I’m tired. I want to take a nap.”  I’m serious. She is actually requesting a nap.  She knows her limits. I tell her I feel the same way. I put a pull-up on her and she happily goes down for a nap without a peep.  God love her.

She wakes 2 1/2 hours later and is ready to go again. But she has wet her pull-up while napping, so I know we may be in for the long haul.  We spend the next hour on and off the toilet.  Finally, we get one tiny microscopic poop! Then… another!  HOORAY!  A giant celebration ensues! She picks out two stickers (she gets one for potty, two for poop) and proudly places it on her board!

We can DO this!  All faith is restored! We got this!

My husband comes home from work shortly thereafter. Ivy shows off her stickers! Everything is wonderful!

I leave to pick up my step-daughter from dance and my husband stays with Ivy.  I get a text that simply has a poop emoji.  I silently cheer!  (This is what our life has come to.) Then I get a video of her singing a deeply dramatic version of Hello by Adele while on the toilet.  I am then informed she has peed. YESSS!

I arrive home with my step-daughter and Ivy is elated to show off her additional stickers. We all applaud and cheer her on.

And then SPLASH. Pee comes pouring out of her while she sits on a stool at the kitchen island. She is scared by it and starts crying. I calmly tell her it’s fine but next time, try and tell Mommy if she feels it. Fifteen minutes later, another splash by the area rug.  Again, she’s scared.  I realize that she has only had accidents when she’s wearing underpants, so I strip them off her and we decide to go commando.  No accidents the rest of the night.

Pull-up goes on for bedtime and I tell her how fantastic she did on her first day while secretly wondering how I’m going to be able to keep doing this while also keeping my sanity.

Day 2: Mama Needs a Drink.

Today we had no accidents, but it was emotionally the worst day by far.

We have decided to keep going commando, because she is more aware of her need to go this way.  She feels “safe” when she has underpants on and will pee in them.  And, frankly, she apparently loves the freeing feeling, because she won’t even put pants on now when we try.  However, because she is so aware and afraid to pee while naked, we are in the bathroom EVERY 45 SECONDS.  That is not an exaggeration.  It’s a constant rotation of her grabbing herself, yelling “Mommy, I have to go!”, running to the bathroom and then….nothing.  She then asks to get down. We go back in the living room. And it starts all over again 15 seconds later.

I am drained.

This goes on for hours and hours.  We have no accidents, but we also have no sanity.  We have spent the entire day, aside from her nap, in the bathroom. I expected to be in there much of the day, but the constant false alarms and drama of it is slowly killing my will.  By the time my husband comes home, I am at my wits end and need a break before I end up in the fetal position.  The only saving grace is that my work days have been slow (I work from home).  I don’t know how I’m going to keep this up when I start to get slammed with projects.

At the end of the evening, when I find myself losing my temper with her, I take a step back and shut it down.  I hug her and hold her and apologize and tell her I love her and that we are going to change things up and do it our way.  She says, “ok” in the tiniest, sweetest voice there ever was. We are both learning here – and this is all a foreign concept to her.  She’s doing her best and I’m failing her with my frustration.

NO MORE.

Piss on that, potty training!

Day 3: Newfound Zen

We are now in the zen-stage of potty training. I have woken up with a new outlook.  If she has an accident, so what? If a giant softball of poop falls out of her while we try to race to the bathroom (and it did), so what?  We are just going with it – and it is so. much. better. this way.

Other than the softball poop drop, we have no real accidents.  Our issue now appears to be her holding her pee in.  We’ve read this is common and to keep going (within reason).  She eventually pees throughout the day, but is frightened each time. One time, she circled her portable potty like a caged animal, finally sat on it and cried out when she started peeing. This was immediately followed by a maniacal laugh when she realized peeing was a good thing.  (I wish I had a video of that One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest/Jack Nicholson moment.)

Her last pee of the day – right before bed – is just as dramatic, but successful.

Day 4: Must. Keep. Going.

Ivy wakes up with a wet pull-up, per usual. I couldn’t care less about this. All morning and early afternoon, we attempt to go on the potty.

Nothing.

Not a drop.

I text my husband and tell him I can’t do this anymore, but I’m looking more for consolation and encouragement than surrender, and I realize this when he responds, “Maybe we’ll try again in several months.”

Oh hell no.  I didn’t go through three days of bodily function hell to end up at square one in six months.

We. Must. Keep. Going.

(Does my husband know me, or what?)

Finally, at 12:30pm, Ivy starts doing the wild animal circle around her potty chair in the living room.  She keeps holding herself and exclaiming, “It hurts!”  I know she has to go and I don’t know how to explain to stop holding it in!  She screams, “I’M TIRED! I WANT TO TAKE A NAP. MOMMY, GO GET A PULL-UP!” and I now realize my child is a maniacal genius. She wants to just pee in her pull-up in peace under the guise of taking a nap.  Though I am silently impressed (and slightly frightened) by her savvy attempt at manipulation, I insist we persevere.

I calmly tell her that I will put her pull-up on after she pees. She finally gives in and sits on the potty and pees.  Once again, an instant transformation into excited, happy child forms.  Stickers are placed!  M&Ms are consumed. All is well!

She then gets her pull-up on herself and happily goes down for a nap.  My kid has always been a good sleeper, but her eagerness for naps is outright blasphemous to toddlers everywhere at this point.

She finds this pee and poop business e x h a u s t i n g.

Same, girl. Same.

 

xo,

Jen