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Sunday, June 28, 2009

You are not alone

Becoming a mother was, for me, an identity crisis. While I was pregnant, I had this constant feeling of unease when talking about myself because I was in such uncharted territory.
After Annika was born, the pregnancy hormones kept me lurching down the motherhood path and I began to think I was changed forever.
Mother was the new me.
But that didn't last forever.
I realized this when I recently began craving cigarettes and booze, cravings I thought were long gone.
Last year when Annika was still a tiny newborn I envisioned myself turning into Suzie homemaker. I would be the type of mom who joined PTA, ran bake sales with my famous homemade chocolate chip cookies, carpooled all the neighborhood kids to soccer practice.....
Okay, maybe I've gone too far, the point is I am not that person and I never was.
I have been feeling my old self returning for a month or two now. And these feelings have coincided with the ending of my amenorrhea, due to breastfeeding.
It has also coincided with Annika sleeping better, which is a relief.
But this feeling of my old self caused me no end of distress. I never planned to be a mother. I never wanted children. When I was pregnant and when Annika was born, I thought that I had really changed. I thought that the old me, the one who disliked most children, was gone. Then I came back.
I started to wonder if I was going to turn out to be one of those horrible mothers who drinks in the bathroom and leaves her child with men she barely knows.
Would I be able to merge my former self with my new mommy self?
And then, to my relief, I found out that I am not alone.
I'm actually.....normal!
A few nights ago I went to a happy hour gathering of moms from my Attachment Parenting group.
I walked into the restaurant, which was BYOB, carrying my paper bag of beer, sat down, realized that all but three of us were pregnant. Only one other mom was drinking.
I decided not to be a dork, and acted like it was no big deal that I had brought booze. It turned out not to be.
As I poured my drink, another mom (who is a kind, caring and attentive mother) said to the group, "(My daughter) was screaming when I left, and I DO NOT care!" She laughed uproariously, adding to the giddiness of our table of mommies who all likely felt more relaxed than we had in days, if not weeks.
I realized as I sat drinking beer and laughing with these other moms that just because we are moms does not mean that we can't care more for ourselves than our children -- sometimes.
Just because we are moms doesn't mean we can't be selfish and crude, telling dirty jokes and bad mouthing our partners.
Just because we are moms does not mean we have to change.
I can still be a vulgar, selfish, drunk -- on occasion.
And I'm still a good mom.
What a fucking relief.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Working with babe on my back

“Woman verbally assaulted here yesterday for breastfeeding.”

That's what the sign read, written in black magic marker on white poster board. It was 10 a.m. I was 30 minutes late and sweating my booty off already having hiked along the trail for about a quarter of a mile with my 13 month old on my back in her carrier.

I had stopped to ask a woman walking with her daughter if she had seen a group of women nursing babies along the trail.

“No,” she exclaimed with a broad smile. “But I would have LOVED to see that!”

I was looking for this “nurse-in,” planning to write about it for an online publication I am applying to. The day before, a woman from one of my online parenting boards had been yelled at for nursing her baby in public without a cover. She came home and furiously sent out a message to the board asking women to meet her the next day to nurse their babies along the trail where she had been abused.

I had woken up late that morning. Annika usually wakes me up anywhere from 7 a.m. To 8 a.m. on any given day. But noooo, not this morning. The one time I wanted to be dressed and out of the house by 9 a.m. she decided to sleep in until 8:45 a.m.

As I approached the women sweating, I looked around for the woman who had been yelled at.

“Hey!” I smiled at everyone, hoping they would notice that I also had a baby with me and take me as one of them. No such luck.

“Who are you with?” a woman asked me, only noticing my reporter's pad and camera swinging from neck.

Nobody was nursing anymore. Luckily, Monica, the woman who had been verbally assaulted, cheerily greeted me.

“I need some nursing moms,” I told her.

She quickly complied, nursing her baby and asked some of the other moms start up again. Luckily there were a few moms there with kiddos who had healthy appetites.

As I snapped my photos, I told one mom, “This is the first time I've done an assignment with a baby on my back,” as I slowly bent over carefully trying not to swing Annika too much while avoiding hurting my knees.

“You'd never even know she was back there,” she smiled with the contented smile of a nursing mommy. I love that mysteriously contented smile.

I realized that I had made a rookie mistake when I began to write on my pad and my pen didn't work. I didn't have a second one with me.

When I used to be a reporter I always had at least two pens with me along with extras in my pockets and car.

I felt like such an amateur.

I was too embarrassed to tell any of them that I didn't have a working pen, so I didn't interview any of them. Luckily, the pen worked just enough for me to get their names and one quote. It looked like a third grader had written it, but at least I had the names.

As I headed back to my car, Annika still swaying along behind me, she started to squirm. It was almost as if she knew that I was done working and ready to just be her mommy again.

Friday, June 19, 2009

NIP still not normal

Breast is best.
So everyone says.
The American Medical Association promotes it.
Most pediatricians will tell new mothers that breastmilk is the best food for their growing babies.
Then why oh why are mommies expected to first express it into a bottle before feeding it to their babies?
And if, horror of all horrors, we decide to let the babes suckle the magic milk straight from our breasts why are we expected to cover up said breast?
Nursing in public is still somewhat tabboo here in the U.S.
When I was pregnant I remember an older co-worker telling me how she used to go sit in bathroom stalls to nurse her boys in the early 1980s.
Another female co-worker came in to work one morning and rushed to tell me about this really cool tent-like contraption she saw a woman using to nurse her babe in a restaurant the night before.
"It kept her covered and the baby was able to eat in private!" She regaled me while I wondered why on earth a baby needs privacy to eat.
When I first started nursing, I carefully kept my breasts covered while I held my often wriggling daughter in one arm, unlatched my bra and stuck my her head under the covers of my shirt and a blanket.
In May.
In Texas.
Earlier this week a woman on my online Attachment Parenting group wrote a scathing account of being verbally assaulted while out for a jog, needing to nurse her baby and realizing she had nothing to drape over herself, so she nursed anyway, exposing herself.
The attacker, a woman, said my friend was being rude, was disgusting and told her to go do that in the barn with the other animals.
And this is Austin. It's a pretty liberal town. I've been told that being topless is legal here, although I don't know it for a fact.
And another thing.
MEN don't have to cover up their tits when they are in public and they don't even need to be bare chested for any reason other than to keep cool! How fair is that?
Luckily for me, I've dropped that puritan attitude about my breasts.
Are they sexual parts of my body? Sure, sometimes.
But they are also a way for me to nourish my child physically and emotionally.
I'm not going to cover that up.
No way.
No how.
I'm here. I'm bare-breasted. Get used to it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Take that obnoxious toy and shove it!

About three months ago I started noticing that my daughter needed more stimulation. No longer was she content with just a boob, although, it still satisfies the savage beast most of the time.
As much as I tried to ignore it, my baby was no longer a newborn anymore. She needed some stimulation.
Now, I'm not one of those uber-socially conscious moms who thinks all electronic toys are from the devil. But as cliche as this sounds, (I have lots of friends who are those uber-socially conscious moms) the most expensive and loudest most obnoxious toys really and truly are a waste of money.
Annika has already been given lots of toys and she will play with those loud, plastick-ey type toys for about five minutes (if that) and then she'll look at me like, "What now mom?"
In my head I can imagine her as a pre-teen whining, "I'm bored!"
So, in order to nip that kind of shit in the bud, I asked my online AP group to share some creative play ideas that I will list below.
Creative play is important for a number of reasons:
Creative play teaches kids things like cause and effect. It gives them more control over their own environment. It helps them learn how to improvise and be creative. It helps them learn basic things like colors and counting. It gives them confidence.
It helps them self-regulate and improves the cognitive skill of "executive function."
Here's the list:

Dress up clothes
Pots and pans and a spoon for stirring
Small animal figurines
Containers for putting things in, stacking like big blocks, etc. Suggestions, wipes boxes or thread boxes
Silk scarves
Old phones
Water play
Homemade paint and play dough
Paper towel and toilet paper tubes
Big bowl of dried beans for mixing and pouring (Cheerios works great for this too and they can have a snack at the same time)
Water in several small cups with food coloring for mixing and pouring
Small toys frozen in water in yogurt cups. Kiddo plays with the "icebergs" until
the toys melt out.
Finger painting with whipping cream or shaving cream (if he or she won't eat it).
Sand box with treasures hidden.
Cornstarch or rice in a big plastic tub that kid can sit inside (only if kid is
past the stuff-in-mouth stage)
Lots of "putting in and taking out" at this age. Nesting cups - yogurt
containers, etc. Pouring.
Make a "baby lava lamp" with a plastic water bottle: colored water (water +
food coloring) and vegetable oil (clearer, lighter oil is better). Close with
lid, then duct-tape the lid to secure it.
"Painting" rocks or other things with water.
A water table and/or sand box/table
Try to snag a free set of cardboard "blocks" by checking with
various stores, like at the fabric store. You can get small cardboard boxes the size of 5 spools of thread.
Instruments: An assortment of drums, a xylophone/piano toy, shakers, jingle bells, harmonica and kazoo, slide whistle and sticks. Oh and the pots, pans and lids combined with wooden spoons!
Felt board

Here's another good link with ideas for older kids:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Delusions of simplicity

I was at the library late the other night and when I left, I was sitting in my car enjoying the peaceful evening when I watched another woman emerge.
This woman carried so much burden.
I watched the fifty-something woman walk unevenly across the parking lot, as if her feet hurt. Her back was hunched. She had one of those butts that is big, yet looks smashed from sitting up against a chair all day.
Her hair was unkempt. She just looked tired.
I watched her get into her car, unaware of the soft glow of the warm evening around her.
Then I noticed her car.
It was a sparkling clean Mazda coupe. I couldn't tell what year it was. I'm terrible with that sort of stuff, but I recognized the make because recently a friend was telling me about her Mazda.
It just seemed so out-of-whack.
Now, I'm not judging her specifically. I don't know anything about this woman.
But I saw it as a statement on our world.
The world we live in esteems things over self.
Have we deluded ourselves to the point where we don't see who we are anymore? We only see what we have?
It seems to me like many people I know are constantly searching for simplicity, myself included. Yet, nothing we do is simple.
We work and work to buy things we don't need. We have tons of gadgets that are supposed to make our lives more simple, or more fun, but they take up space, energy and time. We live in a rat race.
I have only recently begun to truly notice this because it has been a little over a year since I've been home with Annika.
I don't want to go back to that life.
I like staying home in the morning until we are ready to leave. I like hanging out in the backyard all afternoon, or going to the pool. I like gardening.
But I also have to pay my own way.
This is my biggest fear and worry lately. Once I go back to work, will the simple life disappear? Will Annika and I grow apart as she goes into her world and I go into mine every morning? Only to barely reconnect for dinner and bedtime?
Will my world become overburdened?
Will I be that woman?

Monday, June 8, 2009

A is for Annika

I've been thinking about getting another tattoo. I have a fish tattoo on my inner thigh, which I got when I was 22.
At the time I thought I would get a whole bunch of tattoos, but when my new husband (now ex) found out I had gotten it, he had a conniption. The irony of that was that he had (at the time) four tattoos himself. I had done it as a surprise, thinking he would only think that I was even cooler than I already was.
Gee, I wonder why that marriage didn't last.
Anyhoo, I've been thinking about getting another one symbolizing Annika, my daughter.
One night in a half-dream state as I was awoken once again by my nursing/co-sleeping daughter a lovely image materialized for my new tattoo.
I pictured this simple tattoo, a black A, against a white background encompassed in a circle.
I loved the simplicity of it. My daughter is Black; I am White. Yet our lives encircle each other and will forever and ever.
I've had this image floating around in my head until recently as a nice little dream that I am putting off until our nursing days are over, just in case I were to contract Hepatitis or something, don't want to put my daughter at risk.
Then I had lunch with a friend recently. She had a new tattoo. After admiring her beautiful new back art I told her about my idea.
She said, "You mean the A is for Anarchy sign?"

I think I'll do it anyway.