Posts Tagged 'parenting'

Good Mom

Yesterday afternoon I posted this as my status on facebook: “The boys came home from school under the impression that leprechauns would visit our house today – which is a shame, because I was under the impression this was one of those holidays I didn’t have to go to any effort for.” Half an hour later I updated the post with my last-minute solution: adding food coloring to the muffins I was already making anyway and telling them a leprechaun must’ve turned the muffins green, and then sending the boys outside with a tupperware container to search for little people. The whole thing took minimal effort on my part, plus it got the kids out of the house: win.

I wrote the post as a way of poking fun at myself for such lazy parenting – so when I started getting comments like, “Good job – this is why you’re such a good mom!” I was truly surprised. A few drops of food coloring followed by shooing the boys out the front door are far from what I would’ve thought a Good Mom would do in that situation – no, her solution would’ve involved leaving a trail of tiny green footprints to a hidden cache of chocolate gold coins, or something, and then having the kids help her mix the green muffin batter. And maybe taking the muffins to the homeless shelter. Maybe while speaking conversational French with the kids so that they could grow up to be fluent in a foreign language. No, mine wasn’t the Good Mom method, it was the do-enough-to-make-them-happy-and-get-them-out-of-my-hair-so-I-can-go-back-to-watching-hulu-while-I-cook-dinner method.

Jennifer The Therapist has been trying to get me to see that the bar I’ve set is unattainably high. She’s been arguing that I’m trying to compare my mothering to that of my mom – and not even to my actual mom, but to my saintly dead mom whom I have only fuzzy memories of, and so whom I’ve built up in my head as being inhumanly perfect and loving and Susie Homemaker-y. She’s been gently trying to make me understand that no one can meet that standard, not even my mom herself. I’ve not been buying it; but when some of the women that I hold up as Good Moms, much better moms than me, left me compliments on what I considered to be a rather lackluster parenting moment – well, it gave Jennifer’s words a bit more oomph.

The boys talked all afternoon about the green muffins, and when Aaron got home from work Noah gravely hypothesized that a leprechaun had sprinkled magical green dust in the oven when the three of us were in the other room; they didn’t have any luck catching a leprechaun in the yard, but they were optimistic to try again next year on St. Patrick’s Day – “I’ll be older and faster and trickier then,” said David.  So I guess if it got their imaginations and their bodies working faster for an afternoon, that’s Good Mothering enough, even if it doesn’t live up to the standards in my head. With any luck I’ll get through these 18 years without them ever noticing I’m not a Good Mother.



On my refrigerator I have a handmade sign that says, simply, “Quiet.” Usually the people who see it laugh and think it’s an order for my children, or my Calgon-take-me-away dream, and I smile and let them think that, but really it’s an instruction for myself. After a Bible study I did last fall I realized how much I need to remind myself to practice quiet, that maybe instead of telling Aaron he’s wrong or nagging my children or criticizing my loved ones to my girlfriends I should just shut up and not talk. Let my husband figure things out for himself. Let my kids experience the consequences of not using the bathroom when it’s obvious to me that they need to, let them learn to listen to their bodies instead of their shrill mother. Let my girlfriends think my loved ones aren’t always annoying.

And I need to practice quiet in my self-talk, too, and shush the voice that tells me how much I’m in danger of being unloved, unliked; turn off the tape that plays telling me that I’m not good enough, smart enough, right enough, worthy enough. And quiet the words that come out of my mouth desperate to prove how much I know about everything, so eager to show you how much I know so you don’t think I’m stupid – or worse, wrong.

I rarely pay attention to the sign, of course. Every once in a while I’ll glance at it just as I’m opening my mouth to say something unnecessary; but mostly it hangs there, unnoticed, while I drown it out with useless talk. Today, for example, I gave some very wise, considered advice to a friend about potty-training her son – never mind that she is a very smart mommy who is quite skilled at figuring out what her son needs without my lengthy advice, and never mind that of the two children I have potty-trained, one wets the bed and one refuses to wipe his own bottom.

There I sat, feeling very satisfied with myself for having such helpful things to tell her, considering myself a good friend and an excellent mother; and then I got up to go check on Peter — where I found him down in the basement, decorating himself with the contents of the catbox. I stood there going EW EW EW EW EW for just a short moment before I grabbed him and whisked him away to the bathtub. It wasn’t until after I had shampooed his hair that he smiled at me, exposing a grinful of gravel, with blue flecks from the Odor-Eliminating Crystals; whereupon I grabbed the closest toothbrush – mine – and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed until there was no more gray paste in between his teeth.

Moral of the story: NEVER, EVER, EVER TALK. For the love of God, JUST SHUT UP.


Lately I’m more awash in hormones than I’ve ever been without being pregnant (and NO I AM NOT PREGNANT DON’T EVEN THINK IT), and I feel like the embodiment of every feminine cliche about PMS and ice cream and crying at diaper commercials. I am a walking Cathy cartoon. In the past week, I’ve gotten weepy holding a friend’s three-week-old firstborn (“The first few months are so hard! And you’re doing such a good job!”), listening to my sister-in-law talk about her birth plan (“You’re going to be such a good mommy! Your life is going to change so much!”), and sharing labor stories with a friend (“I wish I would’ve known you then! I would’ve visited you in the hospital! And brought you casseroles!”).

Actually, upon closer inspection, it appears my hormones have a particular fixation on firstborn babies and their births, which (besides probably being fascinating to my therapist) makes sense given that my levels haven’t yet adjusted since I finished breastfeeding my third, and presumably final, child about six weeks ago.

Here’s something: I did the math recently and figured out that since I became pregnant with David nearly seven years ago – 83 months – I’ve spent 58 of those months either pregnant or nursing. NO WONDER I’M INSANE. And in the past eight weeks, I’ve switched antidepressants, stopped breastfeeding, and changed birth control pills. So, yeah, I’m a bit unbalanced, in the same sense that Shaquille O’Neal is a bit tall, or that Edy’s Mud Pie ice cream is a bit tasty.

Watching my sister-in-law prepare for her first wee one, in particular, is touching a nerve I never realized was exposed. I’m loving being part of her support system, getting to go to Babies R Them and scan tiny pink onesies and talk about epidurals and doulas and FMLA leave and the pros and cons of the My Brest Friend nursing pillow (Pros: great for nursing; cons: “MY BREST FRIEND”??). I think what’s making me sad (and therefore uncontrollably sniffly) is looking back and realizing how much of a support network I DIDN’T have in place during my first few months as a mom, and how clearly that contributed to the paralyzing postpartum depression that engulfed new motherhood for me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten hit with PPD anyway – the fact that I still deal with depression and medication now means it was bound to come up regardless – but I grieve for how much harder it was facing it alone.

Labor and delivery with David was awful. My work schedule made childbirth classes impossible, so I watched some videos the hospital lent us, videos that were so old my own parents could’ve been featured in them; and I blithely assumed that since I knew from the onset that I would be requesting – nay, demanding – The Good Drugs for my labor, there was nothing more I needed to know.

Go ahead, laugh.

So instead I woke up at four in the morning, five days before he was due, thinking at first that I had just overindulged in Hamburger Helper the night before (yes, gross; cravings are the great equalizer) before at some point I realized the stomach cramps were getting stronger and oddly regular and hey, Aaron, wake up, I think I’m in labor, whee! By the time we left for the hospital I had been in labor for nearly five hours and my uterus felt like it was trying to escape through my belly button and I thought I was dying and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the drugs, the beautiful drugs, when will they give me the delicious wonderful drugs? Instead I had to wait in utter and complete agony while they checked my cervix – and if cervical exams during pregnancy felt like they were trying to reach up to my tonsils via my private lady parts, the cervical exam while I was in labor felt like they were trying to reach my tonsils using an extremely angry bobcat – only to be told that I was only three centimeters dilated, not enough to admit me, and by the way your baby hasn’t dropped so the best thing you could do right now is walk around for a while and come see us again in two hours. TWO. HOURS.

“But I’m dying,” I whimpered, once the nurse had let go of my tonsils. “I can’t possibly walk when my uterus is trying to crawl out through my belly button!”

So instead I sat in the waiting room and watched Monsters Inc. on the ceiling-mounted tv for two hours and when they finally checked me again I had progressed to five centimeters, hallelujah!, so they admitted me and hooked me to tubes and wires and gave me Stadol to make me not care about the contractions until they could get the anesthesiologist for my epidural, which wasn’t for another hour – during which time I kept comically falling asleep between contractions and then waking up to go OOOOOOF every three minutes. And then there was the epidural, glory!, and then I napped and generally lived the good (albeit paraplegic) life until late afternoon when suddenly there was TRANSITION and I was throwing up and then it was time to push, and pushing was HARD, horrible exhausting work, so much harder than I had been prepared for. And I pushed and pushed and pushed and it felt like nothing happened because the baby still hadn’t dropped, so I had to push him that much farther and it was two hours, two exhausting hours, before anything that seemed like progress happened and I wanted to give up long before that happened.

And I kept pushing, and finally he was out, It’s a boy!, What do you mean it’s a boy??, Look Aaron he has your toes! – and because it had taken so long he and I were both running fevers and so they whisked him away to run tests and make sure he was okay while I was left, shaking and exhausted, on the table, without a baby.

They brought him back after half an hour or so, but he and I both had to be monitored more closely for the first several hours, and anyway I was so tired I could barely hold him anyway. But what I am saying is, I wish I had been more prepared, I wish I had had a doula or a strong friend to encourage me, to help me walk the hallways instead of sitting, to help me endure the pain and frustration better, to just help me. Aaron was thoroughly wonderful, but even so he spent the entire sixteen-hour day looking slightly startled at how much harder everything was than we’d imagined. So I just wish it had been better.

And I wish the first few weeks and months had been better – I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to leave the house, so afraid of everything that could go wrong, so afraid to go to sleep. I wish I had had friends to bring me casseroles and hold baby David so I could shower, or sleep, or let down my guard for just a few minutes.

All this to say, I’m watching my pregnant sister-in-law and her huge, amazing network of friends, watching my new-mommy friend who seems so confident and well-adjusted, and grieving that I didn’t have that back then. Wishing I had been able to ask for the help I needed before depression sank my battleship. And this is all surfacing now, in the midst of my joy for my friends and my own tangled hormones, and I’m a bit of a weepy mess. But it’s okay, because now I know, better than ever, how to help them have a better experience than I did. I’m going to be the friend I didn’t have.

Conversations with a nearly-six-year-old

As I was drawing a skunk for Noah to color –

David: “I don’t like skunks. They spray stink at people.”

Me: “You know, some people keep skunks as pets.”

David: “Is that so they can use the skunk to spray stink at bad people?”

Me, trying not to raise my eyebrows too conspicuously: “They take the skunk to a veterinarian to have the skunk’s stink-sprayer taken out. Then the skunk can’t spray stink at people anymore, and they keep it as a pet like a dog or a cat.”

David: “If the veterinarian puts the stink-sprayer back in, then can they use it to spray stink at bad guys?”

Me: “I don’t think they can put it back in. I think they can only take it out.”

David: “Oh.” Noting that I’m now drawing a lion for Noah: “Are skunks afraid of lions?”

Me: “You know, I’m not sure. I don’t know if any skunks have ever met any lions, because they don’t live in the same place.”

David: “The lion might eat the skunk. But the skunk might spray stink at the lion.”

Me: “Right. I don’t really know who would win.”

David: “What if you sprayed fire at a lion?”

Me: “I’m thinking that wouldn’t be very good for the lion.”

David: “Would it make the lion dead?”

Me: “Yep, it would probably kill the lion.”

David: “What if you sprayed fire at a bad guy?”


Upon noting the mat on our porch:

D: “Why does that say ‘Welcome’?”

Me: “‘Welcome’ is another way of saying ‘We’re glad you’re here.’ So we have a welcome mat by our door to tell any visitors that come by that we’re glad they’ve come to visit.”

D: “But what if a bad guy comes to visit and reads the sign?”


A few weeks ago, my trusty cappuccino machine finally bit the dust. I got the machine ten years ago, back when I was working as a barista at a local coffeehouse – my first job, and still one of my favorites – and became so addicted to espresso drinks that I needed a fix at home on my days off. It spent some time in the attic between pregnancies and moves; but a few months ago when Aaron pointed out that I was spending not only our children’s college funds but also our entire grocery budget at Starbucks, we dug it out, dusted it off, stuffed it full of caffeine, and frothed away.

So it wasn’t a huge surprise when the heating element zapped itself off to the big grinder in the sky – the cappuccino machine had lived a long and active life, after all. And call us callous, but we moved onto a bigger, better model – a regift from my sister-in-law – before the first machine’s body was even cold.

But we weren’t so cavalier when, four short, caffeinated days after we got the new unit, the handle snapped, rendering the machine inoperable. Sure, we could still steam milk with it, but all the froth in the world didn’t matter if there was no espresso to dump in it. What would we do? We had sworn off Starbucks! How would we function?? We considered cocaine, but I’m still breastfeeding Peter, so that was out. In a headachy stupor we wondered if this was the work of some sinister Starbucks cabal, breaking our metaphorical beverage kneecaps to punish us for our disloyalty. We called the manufacturer only to be told that they couldn’t send us a replacement handle (Couldn’t, or wouldn’t? Were they in on it? Was everyone?? When I searched the bottom of the machine for a model number I half expected to find a muted post horn instead), although we were welcome to drive four hours to the nearest repair center.

We were determined to be strong, to subsist on Diet Coke and plain old coffee until we could shell out for a new cappuccino machine – next payday, we hoped. But like the evil eye of Mordor, the malevolent forces were watching us, pushing harder and harder to find a weakness. Two nights later, we were awakened at 2 a.m. by the unmistakable sound of horking, and we spent the next three hours comforting Noah as he barfed. (Mothers, I’ve discovered, don’t set out to become martyrs; it’s just that at 3 in the morning, letting your child vomit into your cupped hands seems preferable to having to wash the duvet.) The next day was a blur of washing bedding, changing alarming diapers, and scraping regurgitated graham crackers out of the carpet – all on three hours of sleep and without the aid of legal stimulants; I scratched another tick mark into the wall, my third day in noncaffeinated captivity, and daydreamed of macchiatos.

Yesterday Noah had finally stopped emitting, and I was a barely ambulatory zombie. I couldn’t resist any longer – I succumbed; I took him to Target with me (we were out of diapers and Purell) and went to the in-store Starbucks, where I got myself the ventiest, espressoiest latte $4 could buy. As a peace offering to the Starbucks gods, who I suspected were watching me on the closed-circuit monitors, I slipped two dollars into the tip jar.

I sipped my drink reverently while Noah and I examined the shiny new cappuccino machines. After a while, Noah – still tired from his illness and not yet back to normal – lay down on the floor of the toothpaste aisle. “I need to take a rest,” he said. “Let’s just sit for a while.”

“Okay,” I said, and sat next to him with my latte. I was tempted to give him a sip. Power was coursing through my veins with every mouthful; I felt energetic, alive, but he looked like he’d been cuddling kryptonite.

We said goodbye to the cappuccino machines – I’ll see you on payday, I whispered as we left – and headed home to find that our luck had changed: Aaron had managed to resurrect our machine, using only his wits and a 99-cent washer from the hardware store.

Or at least that’s how he tells it; but I know that today Noah’s intestinal tract is back to normal and I had a homemade latte for breakfast all because I went to Target and paid my dues to Starbucks. From now on, I may make most of my coffee drinks at home, but because I know what’s good for me, I will make regular pilgrimages to genuflect at the altar of expensive coffee. It’s a sacrifice I’ll just have to make for my family.


How’s this for crazy: Peter is 40 weeks old today. Given that I was 39 weeks and 2 days pregnant when he was born, he has actually been outside my body longer than he was in it. Crazy.

If I’d somehow managed to get pregnant the day Peter was born, I’d be in labor right now. Also slitting my wrists, but that’s beside the point.

All day I’ve been thinking things like, Forty weeks ago right this minute I was sitting in my hospital bed, waiting for the pitocin drip to cause contractions that were more than mildly uncomfortable. And I sure am glad that this time forty weeks ago I let that nurse talk me into getting that epidural before they broke my water. Closely followed by, I sure am glad that epidural worked. I could kiss modern medical technology on the mouth.

Also, Forty-one weeks ago, I was using the word “cervix” a lot, even in mixed company.

Forty weeks ago, as of 1:30 this afternoon, I was being handed a wriggling purple bundle.


Here’s what that wriggling purple bundle looked like once he’d been cleaned up and swaddled within an inch of his life:


It’s so hard to believe it’s been forty weeks since my wee baby was that wee. In the intervening forty weeks, my baby has learned to roll, sit, crawl, stand. He can open the kitchen cabinet and take out all the pots and pans. He can eat whole peas and excrete them intact.

He can smile, laugh, play, kiss, cuddle. He is heartwrenchingly cute.


People love to tell new parents to enjoy their children while they’re young, because they grow up so quickly. It’s a cliche that makes me roll my eyes, but I found myself saying it to a friend the other day: They grow up so fast. You blink and they’re huge. Then I apologized, and punched myself in the teeth for good measure.

But oh, how it’s true. I mean, look at him:


He’s not my little baby anymore! Well, okay, he’s still my baby. But he’s not my tiny purple newborn anymore!

Parenting is so strange, so full of times that your heart is clenching in sadness and happiness all at once. And it goes so fast.




I’m not a terribly creative parent. Mostly, I’m a lazy parent, which is something I’m working on, when I feel like it. Sometimes – please don’t tell them, but sometimes I don’t even like my children very much.

This was something that astonished me about motherhood: that sometimes a mother might not like her children, her darling angels. I love them, certainly, but there are days that I want to sell them on Ebay.

I’ve noticed that those days happen most often when I have told David to do something simple NINE HUNDRED THOUSAND TIMES, and he still gets halfway up the stairs and gets distracted by something, like a speck of dust or a pressing question about traffic patterns. And the days when Noah marches into the room and demands a snack, several times at top volume, just when I’ve finally gotten Peter to nurse to sleep.

Enter the Marble Jars.

img_1601The Marble Jar was an idea from a parenting class I’m taking at church, a class I confess I’m taking less for the training on parenting and more for two hours of cheap childcare every Wednesday morning. How it works is: you isolate a specific behavior you want to target. in your child. You pick a reward that will motivate him. And you explain to your child that he will earn a marble (or three, or ten) every time he does whatever it is you want to him to do. When his jar is filled with marbles, he gets his reward.

There are a couple of rules: you don’t target anything biological, like potty training or eating all his dinner. And you never, under any circumstances, take away marbles as a punishment.

We started marble jars yesterday afternoon. David’s is a Do It the First Time jar: every time Aaron or I give him a task and he does it immediately without arguing, complaining, or asking us why, he earns a marble. When his jar is full, he’ll get a trip to the movies with me or Aaron.

Noah’s is an Ask Nicely jar. Every time he remembers to ask nicely for something, he earns a marble. When his jar is full, he’ll get a trip to the mall to ride the escalators and the merry-go-round and eat overpriced caramel popcorn.

There’s a third jar: a Be On Time jar for Mommy. Mommy has some punctuality issues, so I figured I might as well reward myself for fixing them. It’ll be good for the kids to see me working on improving myself alongside them. And I’m hoping the motivation to see me earn a marble will help them get their little rears in gear when it’s time to get out the door for preschool.

I haven’t decided what my reward will be – any suggestions?

So far this morning, David hasn’t had to be told to do anything twice. And Noah hasn’t demanded anything. I like them better already.



Tweet, tweet

My photostream