Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Finding the Quiet

This post is for all parents who have found themselves swallowed up in the giant whirlwind that seems to be parenting. Whether you are working full-time, part-time or at home full-time, the fact remains that there never seems to be enough time in the day. Somehow work, socialization, school schedules (Lord help you if you have kids in different schools with different drop off and pick up times), extra-curriculars, homework, to-do lists, housework, meal preparation, social obligations, family functions and squeezing in that "quality" family time all add up to the fact that we all seem to be in a race to get to....well, to what exactly? Where ARE we going?

Everyone says, "Oh it just goes so fast. You just blink and it's gone." But, why? I totally get the saying, "the days are long but the years are short," but they don't have to be. We need to find ways to give that true quality time back to families. It is important. Time does go by fast, and each season of your life only has so many chapters. We need to take the time to savor each one, but how, when our entire culture seems Hell-bent on destruction through over-scheduling? Everything about American society is fast. We have fast food, and fast cars, convenience foods and convenience stores, drive-through lanes and express roads. And where are we rushing to? The answer is usually, we are rushing to work. And then since we work so much, we are rushing to play as hard as we can in order to squeeze every drop of organized fun out of our too short weekends which are slowly and gradually being encroached upon by the working world.

Where do families find peace and space in the hectic rat race? Why is our entire society built to celebrate the income producing work, but shun the reproductive work of caring for the home and the family?

We relegate food preparation to companies and restaurants and now we face controversy over what is in our food. We relegate housecleaning and landscaping to poorly paid immigrant labor and then complain that they are taking our jobs. We farm out childcare to whomever can provide it most reliably for the cheapest amount of money possible, and then we demonize poorly run childcare centers and babysitters who are found to be guilty of various criminal behavior. When exactly did we lose sight of the family as the lynch pin of society? Suddenly a family is "a choice," and often one single people feel that they shouldn't have to "pay for." They feel they "work harder" or "work longer" and that families shouldn't be given special treatment.

My charge to them, as they complain about their co-worker heading home to care for a sick kid yet again, is WHO do you think is going to provide your social security when you retire? Who will be your future nurses, doctors, golf caddies, waitresses, teachers, grocers, farmers, insurance salesman and cab drivers? Imagine what the world would look like if we all stopped having children because our "choice" wasn't worth it. Now, keep that in mind next time the Mom or Dad in the cubicle next to you has to take a long lunch to pick up her kid's medicine or attend a parent-teacher conference. It is not "a choice" so much as a social necessity for the continuation of society and it is high time it was treated accordingly. It is not only an important job, but one that is literally necessary for the perpetuation of society as we know it today.

We need to get off the treadmill of fast-paced America and reconnect with our basic roots. Yes, our country was based on perseverance and hard-work, but I doubt that Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson envisioned an 80hr work week, a commuter marriage, or the subsuming of the family into the economic sphere when they proffered that wisdom. Somehow we have taken the idea that anyone can make it in America with a little hard work and perverted it into the idea of working ourselves to death in pursuit of success in a perceived competitive world.

I choose to see our world as collaborative rather than competitive. I think we all need work together to find the will and means to support each other in ways that help us all cut back on the "noise" of our lives and find the quiet spaces. We need to stop treating family as "a choice" that parents should carry the entire burden for. If we did I think less people would stress about squeezing in quality time. Instead they could simplify, knowing that family was valued, knowing that support for parents was there from ALL walks of life, not just other parents. In doing so I believe it would allow quality time to grow out of the moment in a very real and organic way. Knowing that you had the time to find those quiet moments and savor them might make those flying years a little more bearable, and maybe make them seem like they aren't going by quite so fast.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

One Bad Day.....

This entry will be quick and poorly edited, but much needed since I feel like I have been on hiatus since January. My neglected blog is yet one more casualty in what has become my crazy life.

Starman has reached that charming toddler stage where he is into EVERYTHING!!! He has mastered the ability to scale anything in the house, so nothing is safe, but he still lacks the self-control to listen when I tell him no. Also, he's teething and he is, without a doubt, the WORST teether on the face of the planet. He screams non-stop, refuses to sleep or be comforted and it goes on for days and days for each tooth that comes in.

Add in a trip out of state to visit my birth father's family (the post-visit blog, which I promise is coming soon, is still rattling around in my head) add in end of the year stuff for the girls and I seem to be meeting myself coming and going these days. I am pretty sure I have a husband too, but I haven't seen much of him between our two crazy schedules, so spending time with The Husband has gone on my wish list as well, along with time to write and the more important, time to sleep.

That being said, I have a quick thought, in the weekend leading up to Mother's Day weekend: Why is it that we feel obligated to criticize other people's parenting?

Yesterday I had a very bad day with the girls. In all fairness, I had a bad day all by myself, the girls just pushed it over the edge. It may have been because they had a very long week with too many after-school commitments. It may have been because I had a very long week with too many after-school work commitments. It may have been the anxiousness of heading to the doctor (that always brings out the worst in my kids) or it may have been because I had all three and my oldest, Snowflake was having trouble with the fact that it was all about her little sister, Raindrop. Maybe she was just mad I took her out in the last hour of school which is art, her favorite class. I don't know what it was, but despite being impeccably well-behaved in the waiting room, and in the office room waiting for the doctor, the SECOND the Dr. walked in, all....hell....broke...loose. They were jumping off the counters and running around. They were getting into cabinets, interrupting the doctor and making so much noise I could barely hear. Snowflake was poking her sister making her cry. Raindrop was refusing to open her eyes and look at the pediatrician because she was just sure she "needed glasses." (She also purposely failed the eyesight test with that in mind). Poor Starman just watched the carnage quietly from the stroller.

Now luckily the kids' doctor knows and loves us. She knows I am a good parent and that my children (mostly) have manners. The worst part for me was when we had to give Raindrop her shot (please friends of mine who are anti-vaccinations, just skip the next paragraph, I am too tired to debate the issue and the following scenario will probably make you think I am a the worst parent ever)...

Anyway, Raindrop took one look at the needle and started screaming hysterically. She then proceeded to bite, hit, claw and kick anyone who came near her. After holding her down screaming at the top of her lungs (pretty sure they heard her in Canada) while the whole time Snowflake is not helping with, "I certainly don't act like that when I get my shots. I am a big girl. You are just a big fat baby" I was shaking and vacillating between laughing and crying. When it was all finally over, the nurses had to turn and comfort me because I started bawling like a baby and felt totally traumatized.

Flash forward. I shared this traumatic parenting experience with someone close to me who immediately made the comment that this scenario wouldn't have happened if I wasn't such a push-over parent. The gist was that if I didn't "spare the rod" my children wouldn't be so spoiled and I would not now be in tears. Seriously!!!?? Since when does having ONE bad day with your kids, who are still little and were at the end of a very long week, suddenly mean that my entire parenting structure is called into question? Last time I checked EVERYONE has a bad day...sometimes, like yesterday for us, moms and kids have bad days all together at the same time. That's when things really look bad. But, where is the support and the sympathy from people? Admitting that parenting is hard is the cornerstone to building a more supportive community for parents, which is something this blog seeks to promote. We can't do that if the very fact of admitting that our children aren't perfect immediately opens us up to public commentary on our parenting skills. No wonder we are, as a society, so obsessed with protecting our kids from every bad choice or misdeed.

I had a long talk with my girls last night and they were very apologetic. I sent them to bed two hours early (not without supper, since we all know that is a CPS-worthy offensive these days) and I heard much noise upstairs. Eventually I stomped up the stairs to see what was going on and found that they had cleaned their room AND their brother's room as an apology. They told me how sad they were that I was disappointed in them and that they understood why I was so frustrated. We sat down and had a long talk and I asked them for ideas about how they thought I could get them to listen better. I honestly told them that certain people thought that I should spank them. I then asked if they thought that would help them to remember to mind better? Horrified Snowflake said, "No Mommy! That's horrible. We don't hit people, especially when we are mad. We think you are the best mommy because you don't yell at us anymore. You are an Orange Rhino now and you never spank us. That's why we love you so much." When I told her that was how Mommy and Daddy were both raised she got very sad, put her hand up to my cheek, and as if it were the saddest thing in the world she said, "Oh I am so sorry that happened to you Mommy."

That moment reaffirmed my belief that I am doing the best I can with my specific children. I do not judge others for their choices in parenting, especially those parents who came before us and who hailed from a different culture in a different time. In turn though, I expect not to be judged for mine. My kids are kind, caring, well-meaning and polite (most of the time). They are ahead academically and have healthy friendships and an almost remarkable grasp on their spiritual compasses. As benchmarks for success go, they are doing ok. They are also human and prone to lapses in judgment. They make mistakes and have to pay for them in real-world style consequences. Maybe I am making the wrong choices, maybe not. But, the only people who have cause to judge that are me, The Husband, and my children.

So, in honor of Mother's Day, if you have the chance, please do not judge a Mom just because of One Bad Day.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Making Memories

So, I am not sure what has been going on with me lately; mid-life crisis, sleep-deprived funk, or post-family-growing blues. Either way I have been meditating on the whole concept of what makes a happy life.

I would love to say that I have come up with all the answers, but let's face it, if I had all the answers I would live in a chaos-free home, wouldn't struggle to pay the electric bill and would spend an occasional night out with the gals sipping margaritas and discussing the philosophical differences between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre. Alas, my life looks more like a haphazard survival show with shenanigans on par with Michael Keaton's Mr. Mom.

This brings me back to my question, what makes a happy life? Is it a life where you sail through and nothing bad happens to you? A life where you find your dream job, do it for a prescribed number of years and then retire in relative luxury? Or is there something else there? Something more real, more textural.

I decided to start small. I Googled "making memories" only to be greeted by page upon page of scrapbooking websites, vacation planners, photography studios and other craft oriented websites. But, that wasn't what I was looking for. I wanted to know HOW you make memories. Memories aren't the objects we buy, the trips we take or the pictures we take to immortalize them. No, I was talking the creation of the memory itself. The idea or feeling that those things are held on to in attempt to recreate. Some trips do create memories, but many family vacations just end up on the vague recollection pile, so the act of vacationing itself didn't seem to be key.

My next step was to Google "The secret to happiness," because, you know, it makes total sense to get your spiritual guidance from a random search engine. So the very first link that popped up was, The Best Kept Secret to Happiness: Compassion. I read it as soon as it popped up, "Ah yes, I thought, how true, helping others helps you. Well, that much is obvious." So, I moved on to the link underneath it, WebMD promised an intriguing piece of writing, At last! All the secrets of HAPPINESS explained! I wasted no time linking up in breathless anticipation of having the meaning of life and the pursuit of happiness explained to me in 12 easy steps. While I found definite clues  there, I would hardly argue that it is a roadmap to satisfaction. I like the idea of optimism, love, spirituality, altruism, humor and purpose. But other things like good health, security and sense of choice struck discordant with me. After all, there are plenty of people who are very sick, and still happy. There are plenty of people who struggle financially, wonder where their next meal is coming from, and still find satisfaction with their lives.

Link three stretched my mind a little as it was expounding on finding what you like and focusing on it in order to bring pleasure into your life (a worthy goal to be sure), however the source of this wisdom definitely challenged my own world view as it came from the author's deceased brother who spoke to her in visions after he became deceased. But, I am always game to keeping my mind open and the lesson seemed to make sense. It didn't tell me what I wanted to know though. Why do some memories stick with us, good and bad, and how do those construct our perspective on our life.

I found the link that came next to be amazing. There is actually a site dedicated to the secret of happiness, as in thesecretofhappiness.com, Now how super cool is that?! What an amazing website. It was full of books and testimonials and explanations on how to be more happy. In fact, I was so enthralled I ended up wasting an hour cruising around reading, getting ideas and adding more must-read books to my books list (You know the one we Moms all make for that elusive day when you have time to actually read something for yourself).

These ideas are all great; compassion, thankfulness, filling life with things that you like, finding a purpose. But, this was still not what I was looking for specifically. I wanted to know, what made a memory, well, memorable. Why can I remember the name and face of the bully who slammed my hand in the kindergarten door causing injuries so severe that I nearly lost part of my finger, but I can't remember my 12th birthday? Why can I remember my first kiss which was part of a play and didn't mean a thing, but my whole first relationship is fuzzy at best? And what I really wanted to know, is how do families create memories that will last the test of time? I Googled that too, but mostly got photography studios. Clearly there is the feeling that you need to capture the memories in visual form in order to preserve them, a sentiment clearly carried by the millions of people who arrive at their children's performances, fighting to get front row seats, only to proceed to enjoy the whole thing through the lens of a video camera or Iphone. What happened to being present in the moment? Or are we too busy capturing it lest it be lost to time?

Lastly I Googled, "why we remember" and came up with TONS of interesting articles. I found the science of how we form memories and a detailed explanation of types of memories and how they work. All the articles I read were very interesting, albeit some were a tad over my head. I extrapolated that in order for a memory to become long term it has to be relevant to someone's life, have a strong emotional reaction attached to it, or in other words be extremely visceral. And lastly, it needs to have a strong sensory component to it; a smell, a taste, a sound, a memorable image, a tactile feeling.

So, now I know HOW to make long-term memories. Now I want to learn to apply that to my own life. If a happy life includes compassion, thankfulness, optimism, love, spirituality, altruism, humor, filling your life with things you like and purpose, then how do I give that to my family? That should be my purpose. I want to look for ways to give those long term memories to my children, or at least fill their lives with rich moments that have the potential for becoming life long memories. Because more than being successful in their life, what I really want my children to be, is HAPPY.


So, with that in mind. Here is a list of ideas for things I am thinking about doing with my children over summer break to incorporate some of the ideas discussed above. Each activity seeks to plug in to relevancy to their lives, teach compassion, thankfulness and optimism, and incorporate sensory images.
  •  Cook with them. (In all fairness I do this already, but I feel very strongly that cooking with your children gives them a sense of community, family culture, purpose, healthy view on food and its preparation as well as being a reading and mathematical tool for education. In my opinion cooking with your kids is the single most enriching thing you can do for them. It is messy and can be stressful for sure, but the benefits far outweigh the struggles).
  • Volunteer (I am not sure where I plan on doing this, but now that Raindrop just turned FIVE *yikes* and Snowflake is seven I think they are old enough to start with small, age appropriate opportunities. I am hoping this will teach them thankfulness for what they have, optimism in the human spirit of giving and compassion for those who are struggling).
  • Take time out for family outings. I don't know if we will go to the lake, bike ride, hit the museum or the zoo, go put putting or just spend the day with our feet in the creek, but I know that I am looking at putting a premium on getting out at least 3 times a month for quality family outings. No screens, phones, or other distractions. I do know I am going to look for unusual places and sensory rich environments.
  • Fill their lives with things they like. My kids are at the age where they are still discovering what they are all about. I am going to spend the summer really seeking what brings them joy by exposing them to as many different types of experiences and projects as possible. Who knows, maybe I can make this the summer of self-discovery, for them and for me.
  • Chores. Ok, I know it sounds weird, but if purpose is a key component to happiness, than it would make sense that instituting a job system would provide purpose to children who otherwise might not feel valued as productive family members. Isn't this why preschool classrooms everywhere incorporate classroom jobs, to give kids a sense of responsibility, accomplishment and purpose? If completing a difficult task that requires hard work and perseverance provides a sense of accomplishment and pride, than I need to figure out how to up my children's difficulty level. I realize we are too easy on our kids when it comes to comfort and ease of life. Perhaps we are actually doing them a disservice. To change this I am thinking of creating a job system, a challenging project, working together on a home improvement project, or maybe just upping our expectations a notch.

Obviously this idea is a work in progress. But, I think it is a project that is worth pursing. Only time will tell if it helps create more long-term positive memories for our kids, but in the meantime it gives me purpose and provides a place to focus my energy that has threatened to become self-consuming lately. Ultimately I am seeking to improve their lives, but in the meantime I hope it will help me turn my own frown upside down.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

15 Minutes CAN change your life!

I have spent a lot of time and space on discussing the lack of outside or cultural support for parents in America, but today I am focusing on inside the family. Earlier this year I discussed the need to, as parents, allow ourselves to see our friendships and relationships as vital and crucial to our children's development and give ourselves the time and permission to pursue them (you can read that article here). Today I am discussing the need for parents, especially mothers, to acknowledge our need to make sure to take care of ourselves first and foremost. It is the classic "in the event of a crash, please place your own oxygen mask over your own nose and mouth before assisting those around you." We need to place value on ourselves from time to time, even if it means dumping a screaming toddler who has been demanding to be held all day in their crib for 15 min for a mommy time-out.

Last year I was drowning in my own clutter and as a result, was drowning in the clutter in my mind. After three very rough pregnancies over six years I had roughly a total of  27 months of backlogged projects. My mental state was reflected in my house and/or vice versa. It was then that I discovered the marvelous and fantastic FlyLady (www.flylady.net). She introduced the idea that you can change the state of your house by committing to at least 15 min a day. When Starman got so terribly sick and spent 5 days in the hospital followed by 6 weeks home on oxygen I abandoned ship, so to speak, and switched back into the all too familiar- survival mode.

This Christmas I picked up where I left off last Spring. Three months in and the 15min concept has literally changed my life, not just the state of my house. Now I set the timer for EVERYTHING. Hate to play dolls with your daughter? Set the timer. Don't want to go through backlogged mail? Set the timer. Thinking that your head will explode if you have to sing one more rendition of "The Wheels on the Bus"? Ok kid, I will sing, but only until Mommy's timer goes off! After all, you can do anything for 15 minutes.

So, after it worked so well with the house, The Husband and I decided to commit to getting healthier with...you guessed it... 15 min a day. Once the kids are in bed we trade off on the Wii Fit or Just Dance games or weight lifting. While The Husband does his 15 min of exercise I *shine my sink* (a FlyLady staple). Then we switch and I do mine. We started 8 weeks ago and so far I have lost 6 lbs (sadly nothing compared to The Smug Husband's 15, but really, who's counting?). I feel great! I have more energy to chase after the kids and more energy to keep up with the house. Another 15 minute victory.

A friend suggested that if the 15 minute thing was working so well I should commit to writing 15 minutes each day on one of my many, many writing projects. Starting today I am committing in honor of her. She is a great friend and I value her input. It feels great to take these 15 minutes for myself.

So, I now try very hard every day to spend 15 min on:

-Playing with or reading to the kids, or on good days, both
-Exercising with The Husband
-Blessing my house (housework, decluttering, yard work)
-Writing
-Shining my sink
-One load of laundry

So, in one and a half to two hours of my day I make a point to spend quality time with myself, my kids and my husband. It has changed my life, my perspective and my overall satisfaction with my life. The rest of the day? Well, you know how it goes. It's back to survival mode.

There are studies out there that say that parents are some of the least satisfied people in the world, although my favorite article which debates that conclusion can be found here, in the New York Magazine. I would say that it is largely because American culture demands that parents sacrifice sleep, personal time and self-care in the interest of spending every waking minute "developing" our offspring. We spend so much time and energy trying to increase their competitiveness that we sacrifice our own happiness and financial stability. I would argue that instead, we should realize that life should not be put on hold while our children are growing up. Instead, we should find a way to balance our own needs with theirs. We owe it to ourselves, but we also owe it to them. Put on your own oxygen mask and breathe deep. Then help those around you.

With that in mind, I stumbled across another fantastic website, The Orange Rhino. It is all about learning to, and committing to find ways to avoid yelling at your children. At first glance that might look like it something that we would do to benefit our children, which it does, but what it really does is boost your confidence in your parenting and provide a more peaceful household. Let's face it, these things really have more benefits for Mom. Two weeks ago I stopped yelling at my kids and have been putting a Care Bear sticker on my calendar for every day I manage to get through the day without pulling out the tornado siren yell. I have fourteen stickers and I have never been so proud of anything in my life.

Since most parents struggle with very similar problems; messy house, unruly kids, severe lack of me-time, I suggest trying to set your timer from time to time. You just may find that it helps, or at the very least, you know that there are only going to be four more minutes left to sing that f#$%ing "Wheels on the Bus" song and then you can tell your sweet daughter to sing it her[damn]self cause Mommy's timer says it is time to quit.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

I'm Leaving On A Jet Plane

(humming John Denver)
My bags are packed, I'm ready to go...
I'm standing here outside my door...

Freaking out.

In just over three weeks I am hopping on a plane and flying to a whole other state in order to meet the paternal side of my birth family. Quite frankly I can't decide if time is going by too fast, or too slow.

I am actually surprisingly calm, for the most part. I figure I am a nice person, they sound like nice people, I am sure it will all work out. It even occurred to me that they might be every bit as nervous as I am. My plan was to sit down and make a list of all the questions I have ever had as an adopted child so that I can focus myself and get some of them answered. But it seems every time I sit down to make that list I find myself just staring at a blank page and eventually walking away. And today it came to me. I can't seem to get the questions written down because they need to come organically. If they are meant to be answered, they will be. Some now, some at a later time.

Truth be told I am just excited to see the family from which I came, and how they might differ from the family I was brought into. As in all things, my mother is coming with me. I would never dream of making this trip without her. She is the rock I have depended on for my whole life, even when I didn't always acknowledge it. [Yes Mom, (who of course reads my blog) you are the best, and I love you to pieces. And for the five millionth time, I am sorry I was such a bratty teenager... can we let it go already?].

As an anthropologist I admit to being fascinated on how the whole thing is going to unfold; what part of me is nature and what part of me is nurture? It is almost like I am my own anthropological study. Writing this, I am reminded of the short biography I found when I stumbled on to my birth sister's employment website. I was  unnerved when I first found it because it was almost eerie at how similar our interests and focuses are. We have almost identical interests and very compatible career choices. Some day I would love for her to know I exist and to get a chance to meet her because she sounds like someone I could really connect with. Either way, it was amazing to realize some of my life may have been written before I was born.

That, however, is a whole other ball of wax, as they say. For now, I am focused on this journey to connect with my birth father and family and in three short weeks I get to meet them face to face. I will get the opportunity to personally thank them for the wonderful life that I have had with my family. I can also thank them for being open to connecting after all these years. Adoption really is a journey that never ends, whether it be the constant state of wondering (such as couple friends I have that are adopted from overseas with no hope of finding records), the search and discovery process, or the constant juggle of relationships in the open adoption.

Three weeks and I get to take a step that I never dreamed possible even two years ago. A little nervous, but mostly excited I have no doubt the people I will find when I arrive will be flawed and complicated, as we all are. But, I am just as sure we can get to know one another and find a connection and hopefully answer questions on both sides of the fence.

So with that.....

I'm leaving on a jet plane...dah dah, dah dah, dah dum dum dum....

Friday, March 15, 2013

Joining "the Club"

I have been so over my head busy lately struggling with the day to day grind of parenting; sick kids, sick husband (they are really in a class all by themselves), my job, The Husband's job, catching up missed school work (both The Husband's and the kids'), keeping the baby safe from his new habit of climbing all the furniture and other fun shenanigans. Meanwhile, recently a childless friend was complaining to me about the "secret club" mentality of parenthood. She expressed frustration that sometimes her suggestions to parents of her students (she is a teacher) are met with disbelief and derision because she "isn't a parent." All this began my wheels turning......

I remember vividly trying to work on my thesis studying social networking and suburban stay-at-home mothers. I was interested in the ways that women grouped together and interacted, and whether there was a monetary or economic benefit that was derived from these interactions. However, for the first six months I couldn't get anyone to really, really talk to me. All I got was defensiveness and superficial answers. I was frustrated. I was furious. Here I was, an intelligent, caring female who had spent the majority of her life as a nanny and a babysitter or a dance teacher and these ladies would barely give me the time of day.

I complained about it to my husband, "What is it with these ladies and their "secret club" of motherhood? Does having a baby somehow induct you to the secret handshake and password?" I was even more frustrated when, after becoming pregnant mid-grad school, these same women suddenly began opening up to me. I was baffled. I started showing and suddenly they couldn't wait to share the innermost secrets of their lives and it further frustrated me. I often wonder if I would have ever managed to finished my research if my little Snowflake hadn't come along.

Then I had her and suddenly I understood: It is amazing the transformations that occur when you become a parent. Your entire perspective makes a momentous shift. But, this article isn't here to address those issues. Instead, I want to address what I perceive is the WHY behind the various perceptions of exclusivity and condescension that come with different levels of parenting. As I see it there are very distinct barriers perceived as invoking what is assumed to be click-like behavior. These steps are obviously not applicable to all mothers, but they do seem to separate parents into distinct groups:

1. The transformation from non-parent to parent
2. The addition of the second child
3. Reaching 3 or more children
4. Graduating to school aged children
5. Graduating to teenage-hood
6. Parenting adult children/become a grandparent

The first transformation is obviously the most dramatic, and also the one that tends to chafe the most people on both sides of the fence. Comments such as, "She doesn't understand, she's not a mother" or "I don't need to have a baby to understand it's hard" echo from both sides. I am here to tell you, if you don't have a baby, you DON'T understand. It is not that I am insulting your intelligence, but it is like the difference between soldiers and civilians. You can't understand war unless you have been through it. That is why they have written book upon book documenting the close bond between men who have been through the trenches together. And that is what parenting is....going through the trenches together. Parenting is the great equalizer. Suddenly even the most disparate of personalities have something to bond over.

Until you have gone 2 weeks on less than 3 hours of sleep a day, responsible for another human being wholly and completely, unable to rest or quit, you don't understand. Daily battles over teeth, potty training and bedtime changes you. Becoming a parent means that when you have the flu, it doesn't matter how sick you are, unless you have help, you HAVE to get up and function anyway. There is no putting up your feet and watching movies all day, or sleeping when you need to in order to get better. No, you get up and put one foot in front of the other because there is no other choice. And before you stop and say, "well, you chose that life" I would argue that so did the soldier but it doesn't make it any less hard while you are in it. There is a reason they use sleep deprivation as a torture device.

As a parent you make sacrifices you never thought you were capable of. You push yourself past limits you never knew you could push past and you step outside of yourself in a way that no other relationship forces you to do. You are forced to look at a child and see not only your own downfalls but also recognize your own strengths. You are forced to soul-search whether you want to or not and you are forced to decide, unequivocally where you stand on all kinds of issues because that fact is when your 5 year old asks where the cat went when it died, they are going to want an answer.

The next step comes the addition of a second, or more children. It isn't any offense to parents of onlys...I myself am an only and when I complain to my mom she says things like, "I know, I get it. You were tough too" and I find myself saying, "No offense mom, but you have no idea how hard it is to have three!!!" And guess what? It isn't supposed to be an insult, it isn't that having three is BETTER than having one or two, but as any parent of 3 (or more) can tell you, it is just different. There is a certain level of chaos that comes with a big family that you just don't encounter when you have one. Getting out the door with every one's homework, every one's hair brushed, everyone dressed and fed.....that is a victory!

Working in the nursery of a large church I see a LOT of moms. The workers who have been around a while can easily spot a first-time mom. There are specific characteristics of first time parents that cannot be duplicated. A certain obsession with the details; when baby eats, when he sleeps, what toys she is or is not allowed to play with, how closely she keeps to her schedule, or whether or not they are allowed to use pacifiers or suck their thumbs. There is also an air of slight insecurity versus the more laid back second and third-time mothers. The fact is, as parents, we are all just feeling our way through the mine-field, hoping to arrive on the other side intact, but after you have made it across a couple of times your footing starts to feel surer.

Which brings me to the next level of parenting. Reaching the milestone of school aged children. By the time a mom has reached school age with her children she has probably found her footing and feels more secure in her parenting style. She has decided on what type of parent she wants to be and the family routines are pretty well established by that point. A lot of the insecurities plaguing parents of young children have been resolved for the most part. There is also a letting go in regards to the minutiae of the day to day that drives the infancy stage; how often they eat, how often they get changed, if their diet is balanced, if they have gotten enough tummy time etc.

Mothers of infants are drunk with the promise of tomorrow. They are holding their precious newborn or 1 year old and they are dreaming of who that child will become and what a wonderful parent they are going to be. They will be a wonderful parent, with their own unique parenting style. But when the baby is small, it feels like every decision is going to have a life-changing or cataclysmic affect on that child. From this is born the heated debates on cloth or disposable diapers, breast or bottle, circumcised or uncircumcised, or co-sleeping or crib sleeping. It is important to realize that all these things are hot button issues for the simple reason that as parents we are afraid that one wrong choice is going to negatively affect the long-term future potential of the sweet baby in our arms. The future of one's child should invoke a passionate response.

The fact is, who knows if these things affect your child's future or not? All I can tell you is when I am volunteering in my daughter's classroom I don't look around and think, "That kid was clearly bottle fed," "I bet that kid was a co-sleeper," or "she is such a great kid, her parents must have practiced attachment parenting." The only thing I notice, and that other moms notice, is who is involved and seems to care about their child, and who seems disinterested. It is this realization that provides those knowing looks seen between moms of older children when certain comments are made by parents of pre-school children. It isn't snobbishness, it is just that their perception has shifted yet again. The world expands when you move beyond the home-bound cocoon of the early years.

Another parenting milestone which seems to cause knowing looks between parents "in the know" is the passing of the school aged child into teenage-hood. I know I myself have been a victim of these comments and looks. The "if you think teething is bad, wait till they start [dating, driving, etc] has been tossed my way more than once. The other thing I often hear is, "appreciate those moments when they want to crawl into your bed 10 times a night, soon enough they will want nothing to do with you." There have been times when these comments have bugged me, especially while in the throes of sleep deprivation, but I now realize it is just that these parents have experienced another perception shift. I am sure that things that feel terribly important to me right now, will look different to a parent who has "been there and done that."

And last but not least, the parents of adult children, and grandparents. The final graduation, as it were, provides the last shift in perception. Looking back on things with the benefit of the big picture seems to give people the overview to really see things differently. I have commented to my mom more than once about my own children, "Seriously Mom? You never would have let me get away with that!" She always responds that she has learned a lot since I was little. And now that I am the parent of a school aged child, I can begin to see how true that probably is.

So, as I see it, it isn't that these various phases of parenting make someone better or worse than another parent or someone who chooses not to be a parent, but that it merely represents a shift in perception based on experience. So, the next time you feel shunned by a group of moms, chances are they aren't trying to be condescending, they just see things differently. And to moms talking to ladies in different stages, please be sensitive. Often the only thing that is going to "enlighten" them is experience so you might as well save the, "you have no idea how much your life is going to change" when talking to the first-time pregnant mom or the "battling over potty training really isn't worth it in the long run" because the fact is, they are going to figure that out for themselves soon enough.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cinderella is Going to the Ball

I am so excited.

Breathless.

Giddy.

The start to this year has been so stressful. But things are looking up.

The Husband is having surgery this week...Valentine's Day to be specific. The cat is NOT dying and is responding to his new medication. Yay.  Starman is off of his oxygen and back to being his crazy, spunky, into-everything self. I have a fancy new washing machine, new brakes and a new outlook on living moment to moment.

And....I am going to the ball.

The Husband was blessed with an invitation to his company's blowout 50 year celebration. It is a formal extravaganza at a downtown hotel and I feel like I am going to prom all over again. Who cares if it is amazing or lame, it is a chance to go to "the ball" with someone I love, without the kids and dress up like Cinderella. I feel pretty just thinking about it.

Recently one of my friends had the good fortune of being able to be photographed in one of the Travelling Red dresses from The Bloggess (If you would like to read about that fabulous project you can do it here). The point is to feel pretty, feel empowered, to realize no matter what, you really can own your own gorgeousness. It is the bold act of celebrating oneself and I feel like this event is my own chance to do just that.

I have spent the last two weeks painstakingly preparing for my "outfit." Just like we did in high school for prom, I spent time searching for "the perfect dress." And low and behold, I found it at a second hand store for a mere $35. Score one for the budget. Next I had to have the perfect shoes. With my extraordinary luck that day, I found them in the same store as my dress, $200 shoes for a mere $25 and the soles still looked brand new! The score now was Budget 2, Spending 0! Yay!

Now, the next step was jewelry. I lucked out in this department because while having a fantastic Mommies-Night-In the ladies I had over asked if they could see the dress. I might have dissented, but two cocktails in (which is pretty much hammered for this light weight) and I beat it upstairs and descended down the stairs like Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Like the good friends that they are, they gushed over my dress and then had me model some jewelry. We decided on a vintage piece that belonged to my grandmother.

Now I had a dress, shoes, jewelry and an overall style. The logical next step was to start considering hairstyles. My dress has a vintage style, which will be emphasized with the vintage jewelry, so of course I need a vintage hair style. I have in mind Greta Garbo, Judy Garland or Ginger Rogers. Something classic, loose and reminiscent.

As in any preparation for the big event, doing one's hair the day of is a terribly bad idea, so I have been experimenting with finger waves, victory curls, classic up-dos and other movie star pin-up styles. I am certain the ladies outside the elementary school are starting to think I have lost my mind showing up in strange hair-dos every day at pick up, but I have to make a decision soon. The party is a mere two weeks away.

Last will be the nails, loosing five pounds and self-prescribed mani-pedis. All in the name of looking fabulous. Can you tell I am excited?

I am excited to dress up and look like  a princess (a joy that really shouldn't be relegated only to the under 12 set)
I am excited to get to go to a surrogate prom with my husband who is the best husband EVER
I am excited to escape the house and the kids for a real date
I am excited to kick back and relax after a seriously stressful start to 2013

I am excited to spend the night looking fabulous. The fact is, it won't matter whether there are girls there with prettier dresses, or slimmer figures or more expensive bling. It won't matter if their dates are better looking, or their positions in the company are higher. No, the only thing that will matter is that The Husband will be there looking dapper and he will only have eyes for me. And when I dance with my prince, all that will matter will be that Cinderella made it to the ball and she can take a magical moment to truly enjoy her happily ever after.

Update 2/23: We made it. There wasn't any music and we didn't dance, but we did have a fantastic time and caught up with old friends. I changed up my style a bit to modernize the vintage, but here is a picture of me in the dress that stole my heart.