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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksmoving Day

I've never been much of a morning person. Typically I awake with a sense of urgency mixed with dread. The exceptions are holidays.

Maybe it's because growing up my mother's two favorite methods for rousting her four sleeping children were: walking through the house clanging pots together and getting a big glass of cold water and threatening to dump it over your head. It only took once for that to become an extremely effective method at getting me up for the day.

Or maybe it's because I've spent most of my adult life waking up late to hurry to a job I don't like.

Whatever the reason, I hate mornings, that is, unless I've got a good reason to allow myself to stay in bed.

This morning I awoke at 8 a.m., our typical waking time.

Since it is Thanksgiving, the sense of dread and urgency isn't there. Plus, I put clean sheets on my bed yesterday along with a big fluffy pillow that I've been using in my living room, so my bed is even more comfortable than usual.

I decided to let Annika sleep, which means I can't get up. She will wake up soon as I roll out of bed most of the time. She stays pressed up against me most nights and then nurses off and on starting around daybreak.

So I read my e-mail on my iPod touch. I played a game for a while. Then I began thinking about holidays.

I generally hate holidays. They are overblown, overcommercialized, and anti-climactic. It seems like they never reflect the original intent. It also means that I have to spend time with my entire family all at once. (Need I say more?)

When I think about the first supposed Thanksgiving -- which from my vague memory of elementary learning was a story about Native Americans sharing food with the settlers -- I figure it was probably less idyllic than was taught.

Instead of the two groups coming together for a huge meal complete with a dripping turkey, corn on the cob, mashed potatos and warm steamy pies, I imagine some sweaty brown-skinned men and women crouching on their haunches while peering curiously at some half dead hungry white folks who are cursing each other for dragging them to this god forsaken land.

I imagine the brown folks handing the white folks some tough, dry meat and maybe
some roasted corn, (things that kept well and travelled easily in leather bags) to the starved settlers and whispering in wonderment as they gobbled down sustenance.

Then I think about the huge heart attack inducing meals that we feed ourselves every year and then settle in front of the TV with alcohol and call it a day.

I guess it's all about context.

Most days, average Americans aren't literally starving to death. So on days when we are thankful, we stuff our faces. Hey, nothing wrong with that. I really do enjoy a hearty meal.

My point is that what I'm really thankful for today is a cozy bed, a cuddly daughter and the big meal that I will share later on with my cranky dysfunctional family.

As I near the end of this post I realize that my headline, while catchy, shows that I did not stay on topic.

Yeah, we're also starting the move today. So, we'll spend what's left of the morning loading and unloading stuff. By the end of the weekend, I'll be completely vaulted into single motherdom.

Gobble. Gobble. Gobble.

I'm also thankful for a really strong man to move my stuff.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Becoming a single mom for real

It's finally happening.

Toyin and I are moving into separate apartments at the end of the month.

We will finally be single parents.

I have mixed feelings about it. It will be really nice to have my own space again. Nobody to complain about my knickknacks or my taste in decorating. Nobody to rationalize purchases to. Nobody to cook dinner for. Nobody to pick up after.

But there will also be nobody talk to late at night. There will be nobody to take over if I am feeling frustrated.

With this move also comes the freedom to date again. Toyin and I never made a solid rule about that. If either one of us had met someone we wanted to date, the option was there to do it. It's not like we were faking being a couple just for Annika's sake. But it would have been weird. So neither of us ever made much of an effort.

Honestly, I had no desire to go out on dates or try to form a relationship with anyone. Toyin did not feel the same way, but he wasn't nursing or holding a baby 18 hours a day either.

I think he's missed the single life more than I have. It's not that I want to be in a relationship with him, but having our unusual little family life has made it a lot easier on me. For that I will always be grateful to him.

He will still be around. He won't be a typical one-night-a-week/weekend dad. I know he will swing by to visit Annika even on nights when she isn't going to stay at his house. I will do the same. We will forge ahead in this co-parenting relationship even though we aren't going to be living together anymore.

We will still discuss parenting methods. We will communicate with each other about Annika just like parents who live together. I think we will always be friends.

In some ways, I think, this is a better way to parent.

I know the standard belief is that kids need parents who are married; who live under the same roof.

But I know lots of people who stay in dysfunctional marriages and do more harm to their children than if they had just gotten divorced.

I wrote in a previous post about parenting with the end in mind. When I think about how Toyin and I will parent Annika together even though we live apart, I try to imagine how Annika will see things. I like to imagine Annika as an adult telling her friends that she had the best of both worlds.

"Sure, my parents weren't married," she'll say. "But they were always friends. They never made me choose between them. They always talked to each other. They were great parents."

Of course, if we succeed at this co-parenting thing and Annika turns out great despite having parents who don't live as a couple, she probably won't notice anything. It will just be her normal. That's really all I can hope for.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Regretting my regrets

Before Annika was born I had regrets. I regretted staying with my ex-husband as long as I did. Hell, I regretted ever marrying him. I regretted not finishing school sooner. I regretted financial decisions. I regretted not working out more. I regretted haircuts.

Then when I got pregnant I philosophized about how all those bad choices had led me to the place I was in the world and if I hadn't done things just exactly the way I had, maybe, maybe just maybe, Annika would never have been.

Instead of regrets, those bad choices were now stepping stones that led me to give birth to this beautiful and perfect child of mine. She is something I will never regret, not even if she turns out to be a drug addict or a serial killer. She will always be my beautiful perfect child.

But now I have something new to regret. And I wonder if I even should. Ever since I started blogging regularly, I have wished many times that I had started sooner.

When Annika was growing inside my body I had such powerful emotions and as a writer, I wanted desperately to capture it all and share it with the world. I was feeling emotions that I didn't even know existed.

Yeah, I'm one of those women. I loved loved loved being pregnant. Even with the weight gain, hemorrhoids (gross I know), heartburn, achy legs, nausea, tiredness, brain fog, and swollen feet (my god they were like grapefruits), I loved it.

A powerful life force inside of me burned with a fury and I couldn't get enough of the feeling. Carrying my child was spiritual and divine. I had found the meaning of life.

I would sit down and try to write but I could never really figure out how to express what I was feeling. It always sounded so cheesy. I would expound wildly about how my emotions were like the universe and the sun and moon and stars.

Then I would read it and go, "who is this person?"

Then I realized they were just hormones. Yeah, the same ones that give me bloating and crankiness once a month. Yep, those hormones. And no one tells you that they take a few months to dissipate after the baby is born.

I thought I would continue feeling that way forever. I thought that pregnancy had made me into a new woman.

And while that woman was a softer person who seemed to understand children better, was friendlier and happier, I had lost my edge. I worried that I would never be able to write the way I used to.

So the first few months after Annika was born I continued trying to write about those things that I wanted to share with the world, but they always ended up being too personal and really only things that I wanted to share with Annika.

Plus, I could never concentrate long enough to write coherently and do it consistently. I can barely manage it now.

As I analyze the past two and a half years I realize that what was most important was and is concentrating on Annika and just being a mom.

And maybe the reason I couldn't form coherent thoughts often enough to write consistently is because that my emotions being transformed onto paper were less momentous than Annika learning how to crawl or making baby noises like her first "words," 'Ab' and 'Way."

Maybe the reason that we moms become less physically desirable and lose some of previous desires, and become foggy and tired is because the universe is telling us that concentrating on our little one is the only thing that should matter right now.

Hmmm, maybe it's not just hormones after all.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Peer parenting: A classic coach tale

Last week as Annika and I flew to New York we sat next to a man and his 5-year-old son. We got to chatting and as usually happens with parents of older children, (or even sometimes people who have no children at all) he began giving me unsolicited and rehashed parenting advice.

First I want to say that he was a very nice person and his son was absolutely adorable. He shared his crayons and paper with Annika since ours was stowed. Poor planning on my part.

But as we chatted, the dad gleaned that I am a stay-at-home mom and within minutes he began telling me that even though his ex-wife stayed at home with their kids, he insisted that his children go to daycare because it would teach them socialization skills. I had a hard time not rolling my eyes at this typical misguided information.

It was apparent from the beginning that this man believed wholeheartedly in old-fashioned parenting.

The first thing his son told me was how a friend of his had hit him recently. As the boy talked, his father began shushing him and telling him that he was fine, "It didn't hurt that bad," he told him. I wondered how, considering that he wasn't even there, he could know how badly it hurt and why on earth wouldn't he validate his son's feelings, which was obvious he was looking for.

So I did.

It was really simple. All I said was: "Wow, it sounds like that really hurt."

"Yeah, it did," he responded. "And her mom didn't even make her apologize."

"She doesn't sound like a very nice friend," said I.

"Nope, she's not," he said.

Then, after that, he dropped it. I wondered how many times this kid had brought up the topic to his dad, waiting for his dad to tell him he understood only to get shot down.


Now I know that I'm sounding super judgmental here. But my point is not to get all down on this guy. Because, really and truly, he was a nice guy. He was super sweet and friendly. He asked me about myself. He gushed over how cute Annika is. He offered to switch seats with me if I wanted to. He commiserated with me when she cried during the pressure change. He talked about how much he loves his children. He told me that he loves spending time with them. And I believed him.

Really I'm just using this guy to illustrate something I think about a lot. That is, parents should seriously consider just snatching up standard parenting advice and really think about it in the context of their own childhood and the context of their own children.

Since becoming a parent I have realized that there are so many things that people parrot as sage parenting advice that is just garbage.

Like the fairy tale that children need to be with other children to learn how to socialize. (Have these people read Lord Of The Flies?)

Or that children need to learn how to be independent by not holding them or ignoring them when they cry.

Or that tantrums are just "bad" behavior.

I spent three hours with this man and his son. In that time frame he told me that children should be in day care, co-sleeping killed his marriage (that's an exact quote) and that he picked his sons' names with the intention that the names should be cool so his boys wouldn't feel weird and so that when they grow up women will think they are cool and it will help them get laid.

I actually laughed out loud when he told me that last part. Then I realized he was serious and I had hurt his feelings. I asked him what his wife thought about that and he said she liked the idea. I have a pretty good feeling that she was lying and I wondered if she had been high while they were dating.

The point is, this guy is pretty typical in that he is rehashing a bunch of crappy parenting methods like telling his kid how to feel and trying to make him conform instead of boosting his self-esteem.

I don't understand why people don't at least attempt to improve upon their parents' parenting. I mean, I don't know anyone who thinks their parents were perfect. Matter of fact, most people I know will say they hate it when they do or say things that sound like their parents. It seems to be more normal for people to talk about having a screwy childhood and feel badly about a lot of things that happened.

I've said before here that I think my parents did plenty of stuff right, but they also did lots of stuff wrong. I don't know anyone who thinks their parents did a perfect job raising them, so why not try to figure out what stuff messed you up and then try not to make the same mistakes? That's all I'm doing.

I've picked out some of the stuff my parents did right. But when I think back on the things I hated about my childhood, I figure, I've got a duty to Annika to try and make sure I don't repeat the same mistakes. I'm not saying that I think I'm doing a perfect job. And I know that I will likely repeat some of the mistakes my parents made. But I'm going in with my eyes open.

So, yeah, back to the guy on the airplane.

As we flew along, he drew pictures for his son so he could color them in. As the boy colored, his dad nitpicked about how he wasn't staying in the lines. He bought him chips from the flight attendant as a treat, then he yelled at him for stuffing too many in his mouth. Then he told him he'd had enough and offered to let Annika finish the chips, which I declined by saying that I didn't think it was fair to take away the kid's food.

Toward the end of the flight, the captain got on the intercom and told us that we were stuck in a holding pattern and we would be in the air for an extra 30 minutes.

I thought my seat buddy was going to have a heart attack. "Oh my god!" he bitched. "That sucks," he steamed. "Now my dad is going to give me junk for having to wait."

I wondered if it was at all possible that he might see how he was repeating some of the same patterns with his own son.

I highly doubt it.

As we taxied to the gate he called his dad and apologized to him for making him wait.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


We've been in New York City this week for a wedding. Here's a snapshot of us at the wedding where Annika stayed up way too late, danced her booty off and got almost as much attention as the bride and groom.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Look past the color of my skin

It's probably going to sound weird for a white woman to complain about people seeing only skin color when they look at her, but that's just what I'm going to do here.

Yesterday I was chatting with another mom who is the mother of a bi-racial child. She is Brazilian, her husband is white. She has tan skin and curly hair; her son has bouncy blond curls and blue eyes. Even so, it was obvious to me that he was spawned from her genes. His face is a tiny replica of hers.

While we were talking I asked her about their ethnicity and we got to talking about bi-racial families. She said her mother was much darker than she and when she was a baby people used to think her mother was the nanny even though they had similar features.

"They only see the color of your skin," she said.

I nodded knowingly.

I had been telling her that I have been asked numerous times if Annika is adopted. This only happens when Toyin is not with us. I wrote in a previous post about how this happened to me at a relative's funeral, even though the man could clearly tell that Annika was bi-racial, he still assumed I was not her biological mother.

"I think she looks just like you," my new friend said smiling at Annika. I agreed, yes, Annika does look a lot like me. More and more each day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Scattered mind, focused heart

Yesterday morning as I was cutting red globe grapes in half and de-seeding them to take with us to the park (yes, I know, that was a stupid move to buy seeded grapes, but they were on sale), I was also posting stuff to sell on eBay, in between getting Annika dressed, helping her eat breakfast, turn on a video watch while I got us ready to embark on the day, and nursing her in between bouts of "mamamamamama."

I've always thought I was a good multi-tasker until I had a toddler. I am beginning to understand my mother a little better.

My mom has a very short attention span and for years I've suspected that she probably has some sort of ADD or ADHD. She thinks so too, although she's never gotten a proper diagnosis. While she may have some sort of attention deficit, I suspect that part of my mom's scattered-ness is just the leftovers of being a stay-at-home mom for over 20 years and who didn't take consistent breaks.

What I mean to say is that yesterday I felt scattered. I feel that way a lot, but yesterday, I realized it later in the day as I was trying to write this post and I couldn't finish it. My brain was feeling like it was being ripped in several little parts and I spent the rest of the day trying to put it back together.

When you have a toddler if they want attention, it is impossible to do anything else for more than a couple of minutes. And they want attention a lot. Especially amongst people who practice attachment parenting.

Then I began thinking about a recent discussion on an online parenting group I'm part of. The topic was whether or not stay-at-home moms should be using a breast pump so they can take a break from their babes.

I am not going to rehash the discussion. But it was basically about whether or not stay-at-home moms need to have long enough breaks from their babies that they would need to pump milk.

This discussion got me thinking about balance and finding middle ground.

Some women who have chosen to be stay-at-home moms say that they never want a break from their kids. I think those women are in the minority in our society, but among my social network they are more likely to be found. I don't hang out with women who put their kids in daycare, confine their babies to playpens, or leave their infants lying the floor while they do housework.

My group of friends believes in giving lots of physical touch to their infants. We hold our babies and sling them up as many years as they want it. We gives lots and lots of hugs. We don't tell our kids to suck it up and be a big girl or big boy when they get hurt. We hold them and let them cry and we tell them how much we love them. We validate feelings. Many of us sleep with our babies and cuddle them all night long. I know Annika can't sleep without a warm body to cuddle with. She has gotten to the point where she will sleep on me if I am talking on the phone, watching TV or reading on my iPod Touch. But if I move away from her, she wakes up. She likes closeness.

I know that women who go to work and put their kids in daycare still have a taxing job being a mom. But in some ways, I think that's the easy way out. There are some days when I think if I don't get a solid chunk of time that doesn't involve Annika that I might go crazy, because my brain needs a break so I can focus on my own needs and yes, my own wants too.

It doesn't mean I don't love her or that I see her as a burden. It especially doesn't mean that I don't want to be with her most of the time. I want to be clear on that. I love being with her all day. I love knowing that I'm not missing out on anything. I love knowing that her dad and I are her primary sources of interaction.

But needing a break, to me, is part of being an aware parent and being there for her. If my brain can't ever focus on what makes me whole, what makes me, well, me, then I have a harder time focusing on her.

So, stay-at-home moms do need a break. We don't need a lot of time. But we need a break to be creative, to write, to paint or draw. Sometimes we just want to get out of the house and go to a movie or get a hair cut.

I know this isn't a topic that has been hashed to death. But here's the thing. Being a stay-at-home mom isn't anything like going to work. It's not really a job. So I think that's where the disconnect lies. You always hear people say that being a parent is the hardest job you'll ever love. But it's not a job. It's better. It's being a parent.

I am lucky in the respect that I haven't been around too many people who give me hell for being a stay-at-home mom. But I have been told a couple of times that I should, "get a job." Or, "you have it easy. I'd like a break."

Let me tell you, the problem with this attitude doesn't lie with me, or other folks' perception of me as a stay-at-home mom. The problem lies with their perceptions of their own lives.

People who aren't happy with their own lives look at stay-at-home moms and say they have it easy because they don't have to "go to work."

Then stay-at-home moms go, "But we DO work."

I don't need some internet calculator to tally up my financial worth by figuring out how many hours a week I take care of a child and do housework and walk the dog and shop and cook.

Here's how I see it. Those people who complain that we have it easy are jealous because they see how rewarding our lives are. They think we have it easy because we make this job look easy.

We LOVE our jobs, that's why it looks easy.

I don't need validation from a boss or a paycheck to tell me that I am doing a good job. All I have to do is look at my beautiful and happy child and I know that I am doing a good job.

So am I scattered? Sure. Plenty. Do I love my job? Yes. Do I need a break sometimes? Hell yeah. And when I've had a break, I come back home to my baby girl and I love her even more because I've missed being away from her. And I can recognize it because my brain is put back together again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What happened to Halloween?

When I was a kid on Halloween we went trick-or-treating and we had candy for days. If we planned things right it would last us until Thanksgiving when we could gorge on pie and cake for a few days. Then Christmas rolled around quickly with lots of candy canes, chocolate covered cherries, cookies, pies and popcorn balls.

I mean, Halloween is supposed to mark the beginning of a holiday season and the candy is supposed to last. Right?

This weekend was Annika's first real Halloween. I mean, last year I dressed her up and took her around to some houses mostly so I could get the candy. She wasn't on solid foods yet.

But this year we got dressed up and she ran around with other kids for candy. We let her dig into it during the trick-or-treating and then brought it home with us so she could enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

But apparently this is not the standard any more. I guess now people just let their kids eat it on Halloween and that's that. No more until next Halloween.

It just seems kind of sad to me.

Don't get me wrong. I totally understand the logic behind this. You think your kids will just remember holidays where they get to binge as fun and wonderful because they get to eat all that candy for one day.

But they don't forget that they didn't get all of their candy. And I don't think most kids remember it the way their parents are hoping they will. They just remember the candy and wish they had more. And when they get more, they will eat as much of it as they can, even if they don't really want it. Because they have been denied. And because they are being controlled.

It seems so obvious to me that this attitude toward candy is just another driving force behind binging on the holidays and then denying ourselves the rest of the year. And does this really work?

Maybe it is only obvious to me because I have been reading and thinking so much about unfooding lately. You can read those posts here and here.

I also think it is sad because I have recently realized just how much control was exercised over me as a child and it continues to haunt me and define my behavior.

I know that I don't want to do this to Annika.

Some parents will probably say I am a horrible mother for allowing my child eat all of her Halloween stash.

I'm sure that plenty of mothers would be mortified to know that when Annika asked for candy this morning after breakfast I gave it to her.

But here's the thing. After trick-or-treating the other night, she only ate a couple of pieces of candy. Then we went home and went to bed. She ate a few more pieces the next day. And a few more pieces the next day.

She'll probably eat a few more pieces tomorrow. But will she have eaten any more than kids who get to binge on Halloween? Probably not much more. And it will have been spread out over several days.

So to me, that seems better. It seems more logical. And it seems much nicer to her.