Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mrs. Manners

So I may not agree with some things that my parents did while raising us, but I have to say that there's one thing about which we are most definitely sympatico: manners. 

Now that Roo has gotten (incredibly) verbal, I'm finding myself constantly suggesting politer ways for him to say things, forever reminding him about sharing and taking turns, and frequently scolding him for being rude or demanding. 

If only all parents were doing the same.

Not to suggest, of course, that no other parents do.  Of course some do, but lately it just seems to me that there are an awful lot that apparently don't.

At a local indoor playground recently, I was seriously shocked at how many children felt totally within their right to push in front of another child to use the play equipment.  Even when the other child was obviously much younger.  And the few times when I felt it was necessary to ask a child to kindly refrain from pushing in front of my son and wait their turn instead, these children demonstrated an unacceptable (to me) display of attitude.  Eyerolls, snarky comments, or just plain ignoring me and continuing to take their stolen turn.

When I was little, I had no choice but to wait my turn, not push smaller kids around, and certainly not to sass an adult who admonished me if I did misbehave.  Now I realize I'm getting a little long in the tooth, but come on, I'm not THAT old.  Good manners aren't obsolete, are they?

Lately I've been reading a lot of articles and blogs about free range parenting and so-called "old school" parenting and from what I see, the general theme here is to not over-parent.  To allow kids to be kids and be free from rules.  Like how "we" were raised.  (Except that some of us weren't, but I don't want to digress too much.)  Which seems reasonable enough in theory, but I believe it comes with the side effect I've been noticing. 

So obviously I am not a free range mom.  I also don't believe in overly scheduling my kids, or hovering over them every minute of every day, or never allowing them to have any fun, but I am a firm believer that it's my job to teach my kids good manners and how to grow up to be kind, considerate, decent adults one day.  I wouldn't want every part of their lives to be governed by terribly strict rules, but I do think a little bit of structure and instruction is necessary to avoid ending up with a cohort of kids who behave like drunken monkeys.

At the risk of sounding like I know it all, I suggest that, as with most things, a happy medium is the best answer.  I know, shocking to hear that from me, right? 

Big fan of free range chicken.  Free range kids, not so much.  At least not butting in front of us on the slide.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

Wow.  I haven't written in a long time.  For once, it's not because I've lost interest.  Or have nothing to say.  I just haven't had time!  Between planning and throwing Roo's 2nd birthday party, complete with a trip back home for all of us, potty training Roo, starting Cat on eating solids (which for some insane reason I still want to make myself), and converting to cloth diapering, I haven't had an awful lot of time on my hands lately.  So apologies all everyone I've neglected and delayed and forgotten and had no time for recently.

Now.  That bit of business completed, let's get on to the topic of the day.  It's about kids and their behaviour in public. 

I had a simply mortifying experience recently.  I went shopping for Darling Husband's birthday gift and I knew I was risking it.  Both boys were due for naps, but I figured we'd be quick since I knew what I was buying.  Our trip to that store went so well that I decided we could walk two doors down and go to Indigo too, so that we could do a little something fun for Roo.  I haven't committed to a train system at home yet, so going and playing (for free) with the train tables at Indigo seemed like a good idea.  Seemed is the operative word.  "Good Idea," this was not.  Roo pranced up to the table and was happily playing away with Gordon and Percy and all the gang while Cat and I browsed around and I started making their Christmas wish list in my head (which is long since forgotten already, silly Mommy thinking I could keep a mental list with no brain cells).  After about half an hour, Cat had had enough and it was clearly past his naptime.  He hadn't yet learned to achieve his Jackie Evancho-like aria pitch yet, but he was crying loud enough that I figured it was time to skedaddle.  So I went to collect Roo and here's where the serious hellaciousness started.  I did not use my usual approach of warning him first that we were about to leave and I did not give him time to get ok with it.  Totally my fault.  But holy wow, the tantrum that ensued was nothing short of epic.  We're talking full-on throwing himself on the floor, kicking, thrashing, screaming...kind of the way I would be if I was told that Daddy was never coming home again.  He couldn't hear me, couldn't see me, couldn't do anything but howl.  And in my haste I had only put one of the seats on the stroller, which Cat was occupying, so I couldn't even wheel him out of there.  I tried to talk him down, I reasoned with him, comforted him, bargained with him, got cross with him.  Nada.  So I left him there on the floor sobbing, paid as quickly as humanly possible, apologized to the cashier, scooped up my boneless child from the floor and sped out of there with my tail between my legs.  But not before I caught several annoyed stinkeyes and overheard a few comments about me and "my brats" and how good the riddance of us would be.  Ouch. 

When I got home I posted something on facebook about what happened and how I was so mortified and instantly had lots of support from other mommies.  Lots of "who cares what they think" and "you tried your best, don't feel bad" and similar.  But I just still felt embarrassed, and then the more I thought about it the more pissed off I got. 

It makes me think about times I've had to get all Mama Bear on someone's ass.  Like when we were on the plane for our trip last Christmas - with only one child ex utero, mind you! - and the not so lovely older couple boarded and argued over which of them would have to sit next to us in the open aisle seat in our row.  They thought they were being quiet and subtle, but duh, on a plane, everyone hears everything.  I heard every word and they made my blood boil.  That, you two-faced old cow, is why I was so snotty with you when you tried making conversation with me later when it became obvious that my wonderful 18 month old Roo was in fact an outstanding flyer. 

I just think it's sad that this is normal in our society now.  People don't give a mom a chance to fix the problem before they're looking for another table or shooting you stinkeye or sniping with their friends.  And they sometimes don't even wait for a child to start crying.  It's like you're guilty before you're proven guilty.  No child is an angel all of the time.  Sometimes they cry.  Sometimes the parents are able to find the problem and fix it quickly, but sometimes not.  If it's not going on for an eternity or if the parent isn't spaced out, texting and ignoring the problem...maybe the hate could be delayed just a little? 

I know I was guilty of this before I had kids.  I didn't like listening to crying kids (I still don't!) and I would often roll my eyes and complain when it happened.  I feel like a giant ass though, now that I know how those poor moms felt...and how much worse they felt when they heard or saw me.

[I also find it interesting that this doesn't seem to happen with daddies.  Either the daddies are just much better at really not giving a darn what other people think, or else people must give daddies so many bonus points for just being out with the kids without mama that they are not expected to fix tantrums as quickly.  Or at all.  I think ABC should test that out on What Would You Do?]

Anyway, it seems to me that people expect kids to behave like short, well-mannered adults.  And that all mothers should have a magic wand that works instantly and everytime (I guess the hospital never gave me mine; I'm looking on eBay for a new one).  And if, God forbid, someone does decide to pitch a fit and Mommy can't stop it in a heartbeat, well, of course she must be a horrible mommy and her kids are total brats and maybe we should call Protective Services.

I call BS on this kid prejudice.  My kids are (mostly) very good kids.  Roo is 2 years old and he has better manners than most kids, better than most adults.  I'm exceptionally proud of how my kids behave in public overall.  They don't tantrum often, but when they do, it's usually because they're hungry or tired or teething or sick and they can't help it.  They do not do it to piss you off or ruin your dinner or interfere with your phone call.  I'm sorry if they're disturbing you, and I'm trying to stop them from disturbing you, but I'm doing the best I can and your intolerant attitude

Nobody in their right mind likes it when their kids freak out in public.  I cannot imagine a parent a) not noticing, and b) not trying to fix it.  I honestly bet that inside that poor distraught mother's head, she's thinking, "Holy crap, what do I do?  Yell at him? Ignore it?  Take him outside? Offer a bribe? Dig out a distraction?  If I do that, what will it teach him?  Will it make this happen again? WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo???"  And even if it doesn't look like it on the outside, her heart rate has probably skyrocketed, her blood pressure is through the roof, and she's probably sweating.  Either help her or cut her some slack.

So: to any moms or dads at whom I've rolled my eyes before...I am so incredibly, ridiculously sorry.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Filling a half empty cup

I've always liked to call myself an optimist, but the truth is that maybe I'm not.  I have a habit of assuming the worst about what people think, imply, or say to me and it's gotten me into trouble more than once recently.  I want to change this way of thinking.

Here's an example.  My husband blows off the way I would have done something and says "No, I didn't change Roo's diaper before his nap - but he'll be fine."  But what I hear is "You change him too often, you waste diapers and money, you do things the hard way, you crazy nutter."  So I get mad, he gets mad, and it's all because I have this hearing problem. 

Or I approach another mommy to try to make small talk at a moms and tots class and she is brief and doesn't pick up the conversation.  I could assume she's shy, or busy, or has to pee, or any reason for not wanting to talk to me at that moment, but I assume she's being a bitch and intentionally snubbing me.  That I'm (or my kid is) dressed badly or she's laughing at my toes or she doesn't want to be my friend because of some defect of mine.

Or someone comments about how they were back in pre-pregnancy clothes when their baby was 3 months old.  I look down at my mummy tummy and feel like they're judging me for still being the size I am and taking a shot at me for not trying hard enough.

Would an optimist hear other people's comments as criticisms and arguments all the time?  I don't think so.

I know that a lot of it has to do with how I was raised.  My family liked to argue and liked to veil character assassinations and verbal attacks as "jokes."  All the time.  You needed to wear emotional Kevlar to our dinner table.  There's nothing wrong with this, but some more emotional people are just ill-equipped to deal with it.  I'm one of them.  I still think I'm a freak in a lot of ways because of things people said to me fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years ago, even if they were only kidding around.

But that's a pretty weak excuse.  I have been living on my own for a long time now.  I've come a long way in my life.  The friends and family that I have now don't play that sport.  There's just no reason for me to think this way anymore. 

The question that haunts me now as I'm trying to stop being a Negative Nellie is do I run the risk of making a fool of myself because I'm busy looking on the bright side of everything?  Are people going to be laughing behind my back because I am going to become unable to hear snobbery and sniping?  Is it totally naive to think that people are nice?  Am I going to be become a doormat?

Though I guess that if I'm busy being Mrs. Positivity, none of that will matter, will it?  If I truly believe in the goodness of humanity, that really is all that will exist for me.

Well, from today onward, I am positive that I'm going to be much less negative. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back to the future?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what I'm going to be when I grow up.  Or at least when my kids grow up.  I'm worried about going back to work full time and the upheaval to our lives it will bring. 

When I factor in daycare costs for two kids, commuting costs, the need for new work clothes (because none of my old stuff is even close to fitting my mummy tummy), and various expenses like coffees, lunches, etc. etc. etc., I'll probably have something like $20 in the bank account.  I'm scared to do the actual math - it's entirely possible that it will COST me to go back to work full time.  Not to mention that I will have a scant few hours in the day to spend with my precious babies and the opportunity cost of lost time with them bills out at a crazy exorbitant hourly rate. 

I did go back in between the boys, and while I liked having some time without a tiny person tugging on me, getting a decent amount of money deposited in my account every two weeks (nevermind that almost half of it was gobbled up by the daycare cheque), and having more intellectual challenge than memorizing Sandra Boynton books, I definitely did not like the compressed time at home.  Also I was already pregnant when I went back, so I knew it was only temporary and so did everyone else.  And of course, Roo got sick so many times from the saliva-fest known as daycare that I ended up missing a lot of work - or needing to work from home a lot with a crabby toddler wiping his nose on my shirt, taking conference calls on mute.  So I don't think I was ever seen as a fully-contributing member of the team.  Which frankly suited me just fine at the time, the pregnancy was really kicking my ass.  

But I felt mega guilt any way it was sliced.  Guilt for not being present enough or busy enough or focused enough at work.  Guilt for not being with my baby enough.  Guilt every day for leaving him at daycare past a certain hour when all the other kids got picked up.  Guilt for letting the house turn into a dump.  Guilt for barely having anything left at the end of it all for my husband.  Guilt for not having time to send Halloween cupcakes to daycare, or Christmas baking, or Valentine's cards.  (Actually I did do Halloween cupcakes, but I stayed up until like 3:00 in the morning to make and decorate them.  And that's why I did not do any of the other things.)  Guilt for not taking care of my unborn baby well enough because I was too busy trying to do everything else.

So now that almost half of my second maternity leave is behind me, I'm hearing lots of questions floating around in my head.  Should I go back full time?  Should I try to go back part time?  Should I try to find a McJob where I work a few evenings or weekend shifts - thus keeping the boys out of daycare but still keeping me sane and a financial contributor?  Should I go back to school?  Should I be a stay at home mom for a while?  Will it kill me to have zero income? 

I know it's still a long way off, but a week goes by in a blink these days and I know that the time will be here before I know it.  I'd like to have a plan for the future.  I just have no idea what the plan should look like!

All I know for sure is that come next March, I'll be feeling guilty.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Progress, Not Perfection

I first heard the phrase "Progress, Not Perfection" a few years ago from the president of a company where I used to work.  I immediately loved the phrase and decided to sort of make it my motto.  I liked the idea of forgiving myself for not being perfect but commiting to try to improve.

Since then, I do always try to keep this in mind, but even as much as it resonates for me, it's regrettably easy to forget. 

Every time I lose my temper and yell at my kids or my husband or my mother, I feel such overwhelming guilt.  And I shouldn't!  Compared to how I used to be ten, five, even two years ago, I barely ever lose my temper these days.  When I look around the house and it looks like a tornado ran through it, I feel like such a failure.  And I shouldn't!  I am about a gazillion times more organized and clean than I used to be.  I have systems now.  When I serve my family a meal that came from a can, a pouch, or a freezer, I feel like I'm taking a very sneaky shortcut and wish that I had skipped watching 22 minutes of Throwdown with Bobby Flay and instead made something like Bobby made, preferably with free range, organic ingredients.  But I shouldn't!  I make healthy choices a lot of the time, I'm a damn good cook, and the occasional convenience food item is NOT going to harm us.  The fact is I have a young and demanding family and I don't have hours to lovingly slave over gourmet side dishes every day - which may or not be eaten, owing to the whims of a two-year-old.  I'll have time for that when the boys are older.

So clearly - I am the embodiment of Progress, Not Perfection.  I have nothing to feel bad about.  And yet there it is.  I don't know why I have such an impossible standard that I try to live up to.  It's, um, impossible.  And nobody really cares if our floors are spotless enough to eat off.  My kids will eat off them, clean or not.  And if they are spotless, well, they won't be for long, with two kids and two dogs. 

At the end of the day, our tummies are always full, there are clean clothes to put on the next day, we're washed, and the house is not sparkling, but there's no threat of contracting an e.coli infection from walking across the kitchen floor.  We almost certainly ate more fruit than cookies on any given day, and there are frequently muffins baking in the oven for the next day's breakfast (even if they did come from a mix).  The dish drainer may be piled sky high with dishes that I didn't dry and put away, but at least they're washed.  I strive every day to stay calmer than the day before and not to let little things upset or anger me.  I try so hard to breathe instead of snap, to distract or redirect instead of yell - and I fail sometimes, but I succeed often.  And - most importantly, I think - my toddler son ends every day by saying "YES" when I ask if he had a good day, flings his arms around my neck, and kisses me while giggling.  So I've got to be doing something right. 

Maybe one day I'll make it to Perfection.  But for now I'm going to be happy every day with just a little Progress.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Competitive bad mothering and other exercises in passive aggression

Lately I've noticed myself (and others) saying some weird, passive aggressive stuff.  For example, I have excused some of my recent parenting decisions by prefacing discussion of them with "Maybe I'm a bad mommy, but I...use bumper pads/allow my baby to sleep on his belly/allow the dog to lick the baby/...some other HEINOUS crime."  And I've noticed a lot of other moms do it too. 

Why do we do this?  One theory is that we're just trying to prove how awesome we are because we don't buy in to all the rules and hype and we are so SMRT and we're making our own decisions. 

Maybe we're trying to prove that we're just super cool and retro and are kicking parenting old school?

Are we trying to make other people feel guilty about the choices they make/don't make?  Or about things they're too uptight/too relaxed about?

Could we really be feeling guilty about some of the choices we make?  I know that deciding to get a little more serious about sleep training with my second baby was a tough choice for me.  I still feel conflicted about it to a point...although seeing how much more cheerful he is now that he's better rested is erasing those doubts.

I wonder if any of these might be the true reason, but I hope they aren't.  My preferred theory is that we are really really hoping someone will say "Oh, you're not a bad're a wonderful mom."  Which I think is something that none of us hear quite often enough.  Even if you hear it's not often enough.  No job is as fraught with self-doubt as this one.  And if you don't have doubts about who in their right mind qualified you to be in charge of a tiny life, then you should write a book or give classes or do a podcast or something.  Seriously.  You know something other people don't.

And you know what, it's so stupid to have these doubts and insecurities.  Because the kids don't know the difference.  You are always the best parent that kid could have (with criminal exceptions, of course).  Even Michael Jackson's kids remember him as an incredible dad...which he may have been, despite his wacko image.  He was the best dad they ever had anyway.

YOU are a wonderful mom.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Mommy Wars

I find it amusing how some women seem to make mothering a sport. At a time when most women are at their most fragile, most unsure, least confident, and are most in need of feminine support (that sounds like it should come in a pink box from the drugstore), rather than rallying around our sisters, we'd rather make them wrong. Because, of course, that makes us more right.

It was only recently that I became edumacated on all the different wrong ways to raise a child. I've compiled a list of some of the major contentious issues on how to raise a baby. And of course, whichever of these you choose, you're dead wrong, according to someone.  Let's no particular order...

breast vs. formula
public breastfeeding
ear piercing
co-sleeping vs. crib
attachment vs. "you'll spoil the baby"
babywearing vs. stroller
when to start solids
homemade baby food vs. jarred baby food
organic vs. regular
cry it out vs. wait it out
TV: friend or foe?
and then there's all the debate about discipline methods - spanking, yelling, praising, ignoring.

To make it extra fun, there are the people who lie or exaggerate.  Does anyone actually care what other people do with their kids?  I surely couldn't care less if your child's crackers are organic, multi-grain, gluten-free, sweetened only with honey or not.  And I hope you don't really care about my kid's crackers. 

So here's my problem, though.  In the Mommy Wars, I am just not a contender.  In a world full of nuclear superpowers stirring shit up with each other, forming alliances and blocs, I suppose I'm like Switzerland.  I have a firm commitment to neutrality.  However, most of the coaltions in the Mommy Wars expect everyone to be a ideological fanatic.  You must be either a die-hard lactivist or a militant formula feeder, for example.  Which is hard for me to do.  I fed my firstborn both by breast and bottle, by necessity, but I also really enjoyed having the option of giving him either, and that's a super awesome metaphor for how I approach, well, pretty much everything.

It's probably part lack of confidence, part inability to make a decision, and part fear that I'm accidentally going to inflict serious and permanent emotional damage on my boys.  But I can almost always see everyone's side and rarely think anyone's wrong.  I don't engage in competitive mothering and I think it's hilarious that mothers who spout all the time about how their little ones NEVER watch TV are the first in line to buy tickets to Thomas or Yo Gabba Gabba or the Wiggles or whatever hallucinogenic kid's entertainer is in town. 

But even if I did feel firmer about my methods, I wouldn't think that feeling strongly about my choices would make other people's choices wrong.  Different kids need different approaches and whatever's right for you is  It might not be right for me, but that doesn't make it wrong.  I don't know what happened to moderation these days.  Grey is the new black, but we still don't see most things in shades of grey.  The uniforms of the Mommy Warriors only seem to come in black and white.  I never was too good at laundry...mine seems to have bled.

And I'm pretty ok with my firm middle ground leaves the door open for me to discover new and better things and to learn how to be a better mother every day.  But it comes with one pretty major corollary: I don't fit with any groups.  At least not very well.  As such, I don't really have a whole lot of mommy friends, and spending as much time as I do with the short ones, I could use some more adult interaction.  My poor husband must feel like I pounce on him at the end of each day, grilling him for details of his day just so I can feel like my brain hasn't completely atrophied.

I wonder if the members of the Swiss Federal Council have to deal with this too.  Like, do they really want allies, but the Americans and the Russians don't really like them that much because they are just so Swiss, and well...all that's left is Luxembourg?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mommy 2.0

So Thing 2 was a surprise.  We were not trying for another baby...we were thinking about starting to try, and fully expected it to take months.  I could have used more time to prepare mentally, but by the end of the pregnancy I felt pretty ready.  And felt pretty ok about the whole thing.  Yes, I knew that two boys 18 months apart wasn't going to be the easiest thing I ever did, but I felt strangely ok about it.

Roo wasn't an easy baby.  He hated sleeping, hated nursing, hated a lot of things.  He is now a simply wonderful toddler.  I really feel like we put in the hard work in the front end and now we get some rewards (he might become a demon again when he's a tween but maybe Alzheimer's will have set in by then).  I figured it couldn't possibly be that bad the second time around.

Having a second baby is so different than having a first.  I am more confident, more comfortable, less surprised, and less anal about things.   I told myself (and countless sanctimommies told me too) that it would be easier.  I would be more chill, and thus my baby would be more chill.  I was certain that this baby just HAD to be easier.  How could he not be?

Well.  He's not.  If I am being truly honest, Cat is more difficult than Roo ever was.  For fun, I made a list.  With all this spare time I have.

Shit Cat Hates
  1. Bassinet
  2. Swing
  3. Stroller
  4. Sleeping on his back
  5. Sleeping in any position for more than 30 minutes
  6. Soothers
  7. Bottles
  8. Car seats
  9. Driving slower than 60 kph (he's like the bus in Speed)
  10. Sitting still
This begs the question, "Well, what DOES he like?"  I can really only think of two things.  Dancing and boobs.  Great, my youngest son is fated to either own a strip club or spend a whole lot of his adult life as a patron of one.

In spite of lowering my expectations and simply not having the energy to give a crap about a lot of the things that I was all Momzilla about with Roo...Cat is still giving me a run for my money.  At four months old he is clearly in charge.  He is like Vegas...randomly rewards me with decent sleep or with a quiet ride in the stroller.  But most of the time, dealer wins.

However, it really pisses me off when sometimes I vent or whine about it and people suggest that it's somehow my fault or that I just haven't found the magic bullet.  That if I simply relaxed more it would be easier.  That all I need to do is whisper "shhhh" and pat my baby's back and he'll magically sleep better.  People said crap like this with Roo and I stupidly believed them.  I figured I was simply doing it wrong and it really was my fault that he was a pill.  Now, as a veteran mom, I know better.  I don't suck.  My baby kind of does though.

My boys are obviously super speshul.  They reject social norms already; aren't they precocious?  Unfortunately for me, I have not given birth to the kind of kids that people write books about - well, maybe an autobiography of a raging alcoholic.  They don't follow rules or schedules, they don't care what they're "supposed" to do or what I want them to do.  I do know them best though, and I know their quirks and what workarounds are necessary. 

And yet I love them.  They have forced me to learn patience (a lesson I sorely needed, and continue to need), and to give up control, and to be more flexible and spontaneous.  I've become far more creative than I ever dreamed.  And I've learned that anything more than three hours of sleep is just gravy.  And I wish, pray, and hope that it's true that after putting in all this hard work now it will be smooth sailing when they're older.

See...having kids hasn't killed all my optimism.  Only most of it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Losing yourself

Here's the thing.  You can know that it's a bad idea to lose yourself in motherhood.  You can be aware of others who've done it and you can tsk tsk at them.  You can say "pfffft, that will never happen to me."  And then you can wake up one day and realize that it has. 

At least that's how it happened for me.  I never intended to be one of the mommy drones, who drags her carcass out of bed in the morning only to slave away all day and into the night serving every need of her children and drop into bed, exhausted, unkempt, and having accomplished absolutely nothing for herself in the past 20 hours.  And yet...I somehow ended up giving birth to two kids within 18 months.  I'm kind of there.  At least part of the way.  I'm not unkempt, but that's about the only thing I haven't caved into. 

My husband and I keep trying to implement ways for each of us to get some "me time" but it's not going so well.  Either something goes sideways and we feel too needed to leave, or we are just too tired to actually do anything.  I'm sure it will get easier as time goes on, and this blog is actually a big part of it for me.  I'm not crazy enough to try to make any commitments of how often I intend to write, but I do have plenty of ideas of topics that I intend to write about.  So I really hope that I am able to stick to it.