Almost six years and four international partners later, I’m still seeking my perfect match. Each exotic and foreign mate has been cast aside, kicked to the curb, collecting dust in my house. Is it me? Or is it them?
Let’s face it, I am a stroller whore. I own four. And yet that’s not enough. With my wandering eye, I stare down other people’s strollers on the street, I study them, and I covet them. “Would they want to trade?” I wonder as I’m willing to kick my stroller to the curb on a whim. Like old boyfriends, each of my strollers serves a specific purpose but not one is the perfect match. Is it really ever me? Isn’t it always them?
Stirring the mommy-wars debate is a tempting and seemingly fun thing to do, especially in the media. Even before becoming a parent, I was mildly fascinated with this idea of working moms and stay-at-home moms, the choices they made, and the way they apparently judged one another. In one corner of the boxing ring is the self-consumed, career-addicted, absentee parent and in the other, June Cleaver, the woman disappointing the women’s movement and future generations of girls by turning back the clock to tend to her home and husband.
Over the past six years, I’ve been on both sides of the fight.
If you define “mommy wars” by how parents are judging each other, it seems more nuanced to me: It’s a person’s approach to parenthood, rather than his or her career choice, where the juicy arguments really start. The fault lines in that discussion fall more evenly between those who feel they are actively raising their children and parents who are accused of treating their kids as accessories.
Trouble is, the baby-as-accessory parents all look very different. They’re just as likely to be driving a Prius and composting as they are to be driving a luxury SUV that’s towing a boat. What the baby-as-accessory parents share in common is selfishness. These parents have a vision, an expectation, and things they need to accomplish on their terms; the baby gets to fit in accordingly. I suppose the degree of their selfishness is subjective, left to the lens of the gossipers.
Last spring, during a lunch with a handful of my closest friends in Washington, something so jarring happened, so disturbing, so shocking, and yet so hilarious, that it forced me to recognize a parenthood truth: Our past selves probably wouldn’t like our current selves a whole lot. Fabulous shoe-wearing, celebrity-gossip addict Past Me would shake her head with disdain and horror at some of the kid-focused antics of Current Me.
While we were enjoying lunch with our children in tow, the inevitable topic of celebrity gossip and summer movies came up. One friend started to say she was dying to see—wait for it . . .
“Toy Story Three!” a second friend jumped in, with such enthusiasm that the rest of us practically spit our food out across the table.
The first friend had actually been going to say Sex and the City 2. Embarrassing in its own right, to be sure, but at least geared toward adults.
With dismay and profound sadness, I read the Washington Post’s recent story about the death of a baby delivered by Karen Carr, a Baltimore-based midwife, in an Alexandria home birth last September. I know I wasn’t alone in these feelings. But frankly, I also felt rage. Rage at Carr and with the parents who had access to hospitals that come staffed with doctors and nurses and everything else you could possibly need during a high-risk delivery. These parents still chose to deliver at home. They eventually called an ambulance, but it was too late.
To be clear, today’s piece isn’t an attack on people who choose to deliver at home, though I have yet to understand this choice. I don’t understand it because even when all the signs of a normal delivery are there, anything can happen, and I can’t get my head around opting out of delivering in a hospital in the event something goes wrong. Call me risk-averse, if you want. I’m open to hearing the rationale behind taking this risk, and I’m even willing to suspend judgment to hear it because I know people deliver children safely at home all the time.
My problem is with people who choose to deliver babies at home when they go into the delivery knowing that they’re a high risk. In this case, the baby was in the breech position. The Post’s piece noted that other midwives had passed on the chance to deliver in this instance because of the baby’s position. The article also noted that babies in the breech position are typically born via C-section.
“Oh my God, have I turned into Betty Draper?” I wondered to myself in the dark silence of my house as I spanked my two-year-old for the first time. Keep in mind that by spank, I mean lightly tap her naked behind to make a very deliberate point that her behavior had pushed me past the boiling point. This was in January, when the dreary doldrums of Pepco’s inability to keep our lights on provided me with more time than usual to wonder if I was finally losing it and transforming into something resembling TV’s worst mom.
Later, I was stricken with post-discipline doubt. Does screaming and thrashing because she refuses to put on her overnight diaper, night after night, count as an innocuous kid offense, or is it worthy of a spanking? How do you draw the line with kids but avoid spiraling off the deep end?
Should legislators around the Beltway take aim at the Happy Meal, too? The proposal currently being considered in New York allows toys when Happy Meals are ordered with the veggie or fruit side option (which puts the calorie count below 500). So despite my initial “nanny state” reaction, it’s not quite that extreme.
Our nation’s childhood-obesity rate has skyrocketed in recent years, with 1 out of 3 children now considered overweight or obese. There’s no doubt that parents need to do better when it comes to making sure their kids eat healthy and exercise. But has it finally gotten so bad that we need this type of government interference into how and what we feed our kids?
It can easily start to feel like you’re hosting Will and Kate’s wedding. Do you invite the entire class? If you do, then where do you host the party? What about siblings? Or your friend’s kids, do you invite them? What about neighbors? Who could bear looking over and seeing those sad neighbor kid eyes looking out the window, gazing longingly at the party?
There’s something to be said for Queen Elizabeth, because if she can get away with not inviting President and Mrs. Obama to Will’s wedding, what’s my problem? I’ve yet to get this right, and we’re staring down my eldest’s sixth birthday in the fall. For her fifth birthday, I was adamant about keeping it small (famous last words). She was turning five, so she could invite five friends, I reasoned. I wasn’t going crazy with the goodie bags filled with plastic toys from Target. I wasn’t going to hire a clown or juggler or musician. We were going to be modest.
Yeah, right. I think I ended up with 25 kids in my backyard, goodie bags filled with items that coordinated with a bunny theme, and a farmer out front with half a dozen bunnies, a Guinea pig dressed like a cowboy, a goose, and several ducks.
Denial is, for the most part, not a good thing. But deployed appropriately, under just the right circumstances, it can also be pretty wonderful. When it comes to the tornado that tears through my house every morning by 6:31, for example, I’m pretty sure denial is the only thing I have left keeping me sane.
Reading the big story on food-dye dangers in the Washington Post over the weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder if it might explain my own experience with my two-year-old this winter.
A few months ago, she started having disruptive sleep patterns. She’d intermittently cry out for just a few seconds, five to six times a night. We never had to go to her room or console her, so I just assumed it was bad dreams, something we haven’t yet seen with our older daughter. Then suddenly, things escalated. We’d put the two-year-old to bed and she’d talk and talk for an hour. Typically, she goes right to sleep. Then she’d get quiet, but a few hours later, she’d cry out. These crying bursts would last just a few seconds but would happen several times in an hour through the night for the rest of the night. Misery.
Baby-care classes for expectant moms and dads cover lots of territory. I recall sitting through them, hoping that even with eight months of pregnancy girth, I was blending into the wall as the nurse reprimanded other parents for strangling their baby to death when learning how to put on the onesie. Since that time, I’ve achieved something close to parenting peace, an acceptance that we just have to do our best. Some days our kids are well-dressed, clean-faced, and well-behaved, and we are showered, stylish, and chic. Other days I’m harried, my outfit is embarrassing, my kids have dried snot on their faces, and that kid you heard screaming in the public library? She was mine.
But that class—and even the subsequent years of experience—failed to prepare me for a huge parenting hurdle: kid’s art. Initially, my reactions to my daughter’s pre-school masterpieces were sweet. “Oh, look at the variety of colors she picks! Look at her lines and shapes! She must be a genius! She’s just two and she made this!” And I’d hang it up on a wall or fridge. Her art is beautiful, it’s wonderful, and most of all, it’s plentiful. I want her to be expressive, to play with colors and textures and design. Really, I do. But what the hell am I supposed to do with it? How do we organize it?
On mommy blogs everywhere, people talk about the mothers who photograph all the child’s art and then present the child with a digital album of the year’s worth of art. It’s brilliant. It’s organized. It ain’t gonna happen chez-moi.