Fuck you.

Oh my God, I’ve just come into some MONEY!  So excited, I went to the bank to cash a check that was written for a substantial amount.  Man, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that cash.  I had so many plans for it!  Usually, I keep myself on a tight budget, but this was a sudden windfall and I could not be more elated!  I made sure my check was signed, that I had two forms of ID and I waited patiently in line.  When I arrived at the window, I presented the check to the teller.  She smiled kindly and processed my transaction.  But, when it came time for her to hand me my money, she dropped the wad of cash into a box and held the box high over her head.  “Ma’am, if you want this money, you’ll have to fish it out of this box, but I have to warn you… the box is teeming with live spiders.  Don’t look so frightened… you want the money, don’t you?  What’s to be afraid of?  It’s JUST spiders!  Who’s afraid of a few little tarantulas? Oh, you’re terrified of spiders?  Shame.  No cash for you.”

Seems unreasonable, doesn’t it?  Well, something relatively similar happened to my daughter recently.

This past Monday was Halloween.  My daughter was so excited she could hardly contain herself.  She could put on a sparkly princess costume and there would be candy… LOTS of candy?  TONS AND TONS OF CANDY!?  And she could eat it, with reckless abandon?  BEST DAY EVER.  So, we dressed her up in her sparkly Cinderella dress, complete with glittery silver shoes and long satin gloves and set out to Trick-or-Treat in our neighborhood.  Now, let me say, Trick-or-Treating is a real event in our neighborhood.  Most houses have festive lights and very involved graveyard scenes or big blow-up pumpkins and witches and goblins on their front lawns.  There are adults, hanging out in their driveways with neighbors, fire pits ablaze excitedly awaiting the waves of trick or treaters, there is candy galore… there are even neighbors who bake Pinterest-worthy Halloween treats for the kids and the whole thing feels very… magical.

picture_20161102_234022435

House to house we went, my little Cinderella smiling brightly.  At most houses, she was one of many trick-or-treaters approaching at the same time.  The other kids would yell, “Trick or Treat!” and the adults would ooh and aah and distribute the candy.  My daughter blended into the crowd of tiny pirates and Elsas and Pikachus.  So, at most houses, no one noticed that all my daughter did was hold out her bucket without saying anything.

That’s until we hit the house on the corner.  The lights had just come on and my daughter excitedly said, “Mommy, look!  Let’s go dat house!”  When we approached, I smiled and said “trick or treat” for her.  The woman stopped, looked at me and back at my daughter and said, “what are the magic words, Cinderella?” and she held the bowl of candy up high out of my daughter’s reach.  I chimed in.  “Trick or Treat!”  She held the bowl higher.  “No magic words, no candy!”  My daughter stared at her, frozen. “Come on now, what are the magic words?  What are you– shy?  Say Trick or Treat!  Come on now!”

dtb5rudz_400x400I I I am sure she meant no harm, but I wanted to punch this lady square in the nose.  I also wanted to explain that my daughter, who is not yet 4 years old is a small child, not a trick pony.  I wanted to tell her that she is not shy.  In fact, she is quite outgoing and bubbly and that her big toothy smile and her laugh are so contagious, you just can’t help but be happy when you’re near her.  I also wanted to tell her that entire months passed where my daughter didn’t utter a word to her preschool teachers and that we celebrate like it’s New Years Eve when we find out she uttered a tiny “hello” to her teacher.  I wanted her to know that my little girl sometimes gets so anxious in new situations that she will curl up her fingers so her hands look like paws and bark little barks instead of talking, almost as if she wants to be anyone but herself at that moment.

I wanted to say, “Fuck you, it’s Halloween. She’s 3 years old. Hand out the candy and not the etiquette lessons, lady.”  But, I didn’t.  Another group of trick or treaters walked up and I took my daughter by the hand and we headed to the next house.  I suppose I could have relented and said, “oh yes, she’s shy!”, which I’m sure would have been an acceptable enough response for some candy.  But I decided that my child doesn’t need to hear me making uncomfortable excuses.  And I sure didn’t want her to think that her very real discomfort and anxiety constituted some sort of failure on her part.  There’s plenty of opportunity for us to address these issues… Halloween isn’t one of them.

I mostly forgot about it until I got home and scrolled through Facebook.  In our neighborhood Facebook group, someone commented about kids not saying “thank you” or “trick-or-treat”, or the horror… taking TWO pieces of candy.  On a local social group, someone commented that children just holding out their buckets for free candy is everything that’s wrong with the world today.  In a mom’s group, someone shared screenshots of her great-aunt complaining about how rude children are these days.  Who knows?  Maybe the lady on the corner turned around and told someone the tale of the rude little Cinderella who couldn’t even muster up a simple “trick-or-treat”.  All I know, is people were bitching about parents not teaching their kids manners, as if that’s the only plausible explanation.

Maybe that kid that didn’t say thank you isn’t a just rude little product of today’s “entitled” generation, what with their participation awards and safe spaces and triggers.  Maybe that child is on the spectrum, maybe that child struggles with selective mutism or hasn’t yet gotten a hang of the very rigid rules of Halloween candy acquisition.  Or maybe the kid, at that moment, simply forgot his or her manners.  You have no idea what the cause is, so how about just treating the child like any other human being and accepting that no one is 100% on point 100% of the time?

My daughter asked me as we walked away, “Why that lady not give me candy?”.  So, I tried to explain that some people simply NEED to hear, “Trick or Treat”.  “But… why mommy?”  “Well, sweetheart, I suppose it’s just how you have to ask for candy on Halloween.”  “Ok, mommy… but I shy.  I don’t like to talk.  Why I’m shy?”  Just then, my husband, who’d stopped to talk about the latest Seahawks game with another neighbor caught up with us and I was off the hook.

It felt, however, like the question was left, hanging in the air, unanswered.  And my heart broke a little.  You see, up until recently, she’s been our baby… we could easily shield her from things.  I could answer her questions with simple generalities.  But as time passes, and the amount of why’s and how-come’s increase, I’m going to have to start explaining how the world works.  I know that’s my job, but it doesn’t make it any easier for me to have to unveil the truth: the world isn’t always a wondrous place.  Sometimes, it downright sucks.  For her, the world thus far has been full of magic and new experiences, but the older she gets and the more routine her experiences become, she’s going to come to the realization that the magic and the wonder and the happy stuff is only a tiny part of the equation.  By the time you’re a full-fledged adult, you’ll be at times jaded and cynical, at times bored or dissatisfied or angry or sad.  Eventually, those moments that feel like magic become so fleeting, that when they happen, you try so very hard to commit them to memory and savor them.  For me, these days, all of those magical moments I experience, I experience vicariously through my daughter.  Seeing her eyes light up at a new sight or taste or sound reminds me that life is actually, at times, so profoundly beautiful.

And, while my husband and I think she is utterly perfect just the way she is, there will be other people—people who don’t accept her for who she is and want her to change.  We understand her anxieties.  We know her and know what’s beneath that “shyness”.   But, there are others who will judge her for it.  There will come a time where she’s no longer comfortable breaking into an impromptu a capella performance of “Let it Go” in the middle of Whole Foods just because she feels like it.  People will stare. There will come a time when she knows people will look at her funny if she decides she wants to wear a princess dress and sneakers to school.  There will come a day where lightening bugs and thunderstorms and running through a sprinkler and Christmas lights and a new stuffed doggy aren’t met with a big wide-eyed WOW, but a half hearted “whatever”. And, there will be a time when someone is mean to her or criticizes something about her that she can’t change, and I won’t be there for her to hide behind. All I want is to protect her.  I want to shield her from mean and insensitive people.  But, I can’t.  And that angers me.  When someone breaks her spirit, it’s like they’re breaking mine as well.

That moment on Halloween gave me a glimpse into the future when I won’t be able to kiss away the boo boos.

So… for all those times that you, World, make me have to face this inevitable reality sooner than I would like to: Fuck you.

Fuck you, insensitive jerks who expect so much more out of small people who are just learning to navigate the world than you would out of the average adult.  Fuck you, a-holes who make children struggling with x, y, or z feel “less than”. Fuck you, complete strangers who judge the quality of someone’s parenting based on one teeny tiny interaction with their child. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.

Ok, so I know it’s utterly irrational for me to be mad about the inevitable.  But what can I say, sometimes a good ol’ FUCK YOU is cathartic.  I posed this question in our private group, and within minutes, we had a whole slew of eager Fuck Yous.

picture_20161102_154444650 picture_20161102_154525655 picture_20161102_154614834 picture_20161102_154640648 picture_20161102_154907296 picture_20161102_154957562 picture_20161102_155041528 picture_20161102_155154717 picture_20161102_154725214

So, go ahead… share your Fuck Yous with us…. it will make you feel a little better, I promise.

Counting

A laboring mother is frantically driven to the hospital by her husband. When they arrive, their doctor tells them about this wonderful new technology they have that allows the mother to transfer 50% of the pain of birthing their child to the child’s father! They agree, and as her labor progesses they’re amazed at how well her husband is handling it. They ask the doctor if he can bear more of the wife’s pain and the doctor tells her she can transfer 100%, the husband doesn’t even flinch and handles it like a champ. As they’re driving home a few days later he starts to gloat about how women always complain about how painful it is to have a child, and he barely felt it! They pull up in front of their house and find their mailman passed out on the porch clutching his belly.

A good friend of mine taught me that when you’re going to ask people for money, it’s best to open with a joke. It’s disarming. The sobering statistics about maternal mortality, not so much. When you give people bad news, it puts them on the defense, leaves them waiting for the other shoe to drop. They know you’re going to ask for help, but they don’t know how much help you’re going to need and they’re wary about committing to washing dishes when they just came over to hold the newborn.

I’ve been ruminating on this post for a long time. On this blog, and on my page,  I pride myself on being “real” about motherhood. I want us to have honest discussions and laugh about the absurdity of parenting. I walk a fine line most of the time between sharing too much, and sharing not enough. Keeping it real and alienating mothers who have a different experience than I do.

13119889_10101785179957071_5138253603229896465_oLast fall I started running. If you don’t know me, you probably won’t recognize the absurdity of that. I am not a sporty person, I’m not competitive, and by all accounts my life was complicated enough.

So why did I do it?

When my friends would ask, I’d do my best Forest Gump and say “I just felt like running” but the truth was, most days I didn’t feel like running.

As my daughter approached the 1 year mark, she was nursing less. I started feeling more and more like she was my last baby and was slammed with the staggering realization one night that I didn’t know what to do with my body. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done something for my body for its own sake, I didn’t even feel like it was mine anymore. After 5 years of babymaking, I couldn’t even recognize it.

Screenshot_2016-08-22-08-11-22-1

When does this happen to women? It’s tempting to say that maternity does it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it happens much sooner than that.

Screenshot_2016-08-22-08-11-22-2

I remember not being able to play sports in grade school because, already rocking a tall chubby body, I didn’t want the boys to think I wasn’t “feminine” enough.

I stopped picking clothes because I liked them and started sticking to neutrals and flattering silhouettes. I started being interested in things that girls should be interested in and experimenting with makeup and debating trends.

Is this when it happens? Puberty? A woman’s whole purpose for her body is it’s ability to attract a man, and then it switches to growing babies. But when is it ours?

Screenshot_2016-08-22-08-11-44-1

My daughter is nearly 2 now and starting to get into tutus. That’s great right? Adorable even. And clearly she loves them and it’s a natural choice for her, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some part of me that felt conflicted by it. My little girl with my same tall chubby genes can wear whatever she wants… but can’t that be something with less glitter?

When does it happen moms? When do we lose ownership of our bodies?

I started running because I knew my kids would nap for 2 hours, and for those two hours I could have total peace. Unlike being at home where I’d feel compelled to clean or fold laundry during nap time, I could find myself and do something for myself for a few hours. And the endorphins amazed me. I’d put in my headphones, start a brisk walk, and it was total freedom. The kids were well rested, I was well adusted. It was a transformative experience for me. 12792308_10101714576387191_559119929468943856_o

By spring I’d graduated from 5Ks to 10Ks, and in May I ran my first half marathon. I was quite simply addicted. I wanted to see what else my body could do, so I started playing softball too. When I noticed my biceps getting bigger from pushing nearly 100 pounds of double stroller, I started doing a little weight training.

Screenshot_2016-08-22-08-10-58-2

Screenshot_2016-08-22-08-10-58-1

 

 

 

A few months ago I collaborated with a charity called Every Mother Counts. This is not just a charity, it’s a mission statement for me. It’s a group that honors women’s bodies so thoroughly,  they believe the best and safest way to support a women is to give them resources and get out of the way. They train local women in remote areas with simple midwifery skills, they donate medical supplies, they offer transportation to hospitals in the case of a complication. In short, they believe that women’s bodies belong to them.

I believe so strongly in their work, that I’ve spent weeks struggling with how I can write this post without sounding too shmoozy. You should want to help them, but you should also feel compelled to learn what they do and how far your dollar goes. 100% of your donation goes directly to the cause. This isn’t some pink ribbon thing where you’re paying a CEO a 6 figure salary, every dollar goes to mothers and midwives and support. No one on the board of directors uses donations to pay a salary or host charity balls. It’s all legit. And if you’re a bleeding heart liberal, or a more conservative voter, this is a very politically neutral charity. They don’t provide birth contrl, they don’t do abortions, they don’t dabble in political instability or religious missions. They take women in remote areas who might die from childbirth and they find ways to save their lives. That’s it. Sounds small, but isn’t it really miraculous?

We have this tenuous link to our bodies,  we want to belive they’re permanent, but our perception of ourselves is constantly changing based on what we’re able to do. Donating to this campaign is a small thing you can do to affirm the divinity of women’s bodies.

I asked my group, where we debate all issues of parenting, when they felt like they lost ownership of their bodies and they were able to talk it in this almost detached way that made me a little sad. It’s like, society expects us to not care what we can do after we have kids, and I creates this vicious cycle of alienation from ourselves.Screenshot_2016-08-22-08-08-27-3

 

 

Screenshot_2016-08-22-08-09-05-1

 

 

 

 

 

So, I opened this post with a joke about being able to transfer the pain of childbirth. And maybe you chuckled a little because you know it’s impossible and absurd. But I want to present you with a radical idea: What if we as collective can shoulder the identity of “womanhood”? What if we can define what our bodies can do and transfer the pain of what it can’t among ourselves? What if we could lift each other up and cheer each other on in a way we rarely see women do in the bloodsport of mothering?

You may not understand why I run or think it’s insane that I’d choose to run a marathon when my life is already pretty chaotic. But maybe you can put that aside and cheer for me, because the very real root of the matter is that I’ve been cheering for all of you for the last 3 years.

For 3 years I’ve been getting angry on your behalf and laughing at the haters with you. For 3 years and with 80,000 other women fighting the same battles we’ve lifted each other up and built a sort of community. I’ve made some lifelong friends on Sanctimommy,  and many of you have as well. Can we put a price on that? Let’s say $10. If you’ve ever felt supported or validated on my page, can you donate $10 to a mother in another country who doesn’t have support or validation and furthermore might actually die without it?

If you can’t, that’s fine. We’re all in a different place in our lives. But if you can, imagine the community we’re building, imagine the power of that $10 to lift other women up and tell them that you value the power of their bodies.

Every. Mother. Counts.

And this mother is counting on you. Please consider helping me.

https://www.crowdrise.com/every-mother-counts-2016-chicago-marathon/fundraiser/sanctimommy

 

 

 

Life on Social Media: Edited for Content?

When I think back to the hallways of my childhood home, I remember the pictures my mom and dad had hung on the wall: a portrait of me, in second grade, posed in front of some sort of autumn farm scene… a family portrait that was taken at Sears where we are all smiling ear-to-ear… a picture of my dad with his arm around me standing in front of MGM Studios in Disney World when I was a teenager. Every picture was posed, every picture was staged, every picture looks happy.  Just a frozen happy moment in time.

I remember taking that class picture. I cried all morning because I hated my shirt. I remember being very fidgety waiting in line to sit down in front of that garish backdrop… just me… in a weird velour striped crewneck shirt, chillin’ in front of a picture perfect New England barn.  So weird, so artificial.  But the end result was a picture of a happy little girl with a crazy cowlick and a big toothless smile looking at the camera happily.  The picture in Disney? Yeah, my dad was yelling at me about two minutes before the picture was taken because I was 14 and hated the world (as all 14 year olds do), so I was rolling my eyes and sighing heavy sighs ruining the goddamned trip to the happiest goddamn place on earth. My mom had just gotten this really high-end 35mm camera and was itching to use it so I remember her saying something to the effect of, “GODDAMN IT, THE TWO OF YOU STOP IT. STAND THERE AND SMILE!” And my dad and I stopped what we were doing for just a moment to take the picture. About two seconds later he was back to threatening to get us on the next flight to CT and I was back to pouting.  I don’t really remember the events surrounding the family portraits at Sears, but I imagine at one point my dad probably said that my mom was taking too long to get ready and my mom probably told my dad that he was driving too fast and at some point, she probably told me to stand up straight because I was always slouching and my dad probably rubbed the back of his neck anxiously, the way he did when he was getting impatient because the photographer was taking too long.  But I don’t really remember those details because all I have left of the day is an image of me, in a stiff purple dress with that cowlick waving in the wind, sitting between my gorgeous twenty-something parents, smiling the biggest smiles.

But, that’s the way it was, back before we could snap 350 selfies a day on a mobile device. Taking photographs of events or people was a process.  Buy film, load the film into the camera, make sure lighting was right, point, click and then wait until you finished the entire roll of film to take it to the Fotomat to be developed. There were no do-overs. You took the picture and hoped for the best. I remember the excitement of taking a roll film to the photo developing booth and waiting for those pictures to be developed.  You chucked the blurry ones, framed the especially beautiful ones, and then put the rest into a photo album to be admired for generations to come.  Mom and Dad didn’t take 25 shots of you petting the dog or eating your spaghetti. No one wasted time taking duck-lipped selfies. Times have changed, though.  On any given lazy Saturday, I will take a hundred pictures of my daughter doing the most mundane things you can think of… helping my husband load the dishwasher, cuddling with the cat, laying on the couch.  My daughter is only 3 1/2 years old and I have already taken upwards of 15,000 pictures of her and have probably posted 4,000 of them to Facebook.  I don’t usually spend a ton of time considering what to upload to social media.  I think it’s cute, I share it.

Last weekend was Father’s Day and my husband and I decided that miniature golf might be a fun thing to do. I dressed my daughter in this really cute Hello Kitty outfit and made sure my phone was charged for what I thought would certainly be photo-op-palooza.  The minute we got there, she didn’t like the color of her putter.  She wanted to go right to the 5th hole because there was a waterfall there.  My husband hit the ball, she grabbed the ball and tossed it back to him.  We told her to be patient, she cried.  She wanted apple juice.  She wanted pizza.  She didn’t want apple juice or pizza.  It was a nightmare that we abruptly ended somewhere around the 8th hole and the 350th, “WILL YOU STOP IT ALREADY!?”  But somehow in the midst of the chaos, I snapped this picture of my husband showing her how to hit the ball:

aviary_1466814666359

Later, I sort of mindlessly posted the picture to Facebook, no caption, no funny quip about what a disaster it was, and I started to feel like a total imposter.  I felt like I needed to go back and edit the picture with an explanation or some little self-deprecating qualifier that the whole outing was an ordeal.  I felt like a phony and that somewhere, someone on my friends list was thinking, “there she goes again, trying to make life look perfect.”  I’m not sure why it mattered to me what my old coworker from TGI Friday’s who I haven’t seen since I was 23 or my husband’s great aunt might think I might be trying to portray.

FB_IMG_1466537156050

So I got to thinking… why do we feel guilty about NOT letting people in on the good, the bad, the ugly of parenting?  Sometimes, I take a picture of my kid in the living room and strategically crop out the pile of toys in the corner.  Sometimes I add a black & white filter if my carpet looks dingy.  And, sometimes I post pictures of my kid covered in toilet paper or the massive mess she’s made of laundry I just folded or my dog covered in Mickey Mouse bandaids.  Just because I let the people on my friends list in on the good and the funny, doesn’t mean I always want to chronicle the dirty and the disgusting and the less than happy moments.  I doubt friends of my mom and dad ever came to our house and whispered to each other, “Look at those happy pictures.  What phonies, trying to portray themselves as the perfect family! tsk tsk.”  That’s all anyone put out for the world to see- edited, sanitized snapshots of a moment in time.

aviary_1466820484562

So, why do we expect that sharing on social media is all or nothing?  I posed the question to one of my parenting groups, and it turns out we all edit on some level.

aviary_1466821298645aviary_1466821415388 aviary_1466821955298

aviary_1466820536831

And I was reminded that there’s no harm in posting that picture of my family without qualifying first.  It was a cute Kodak moment that I will look back on in 15 years and see it for what it was– a moment.  By then, maybe I’ll forget how much she whined or how we stormed out of there as quickly as we could, barely taking a moment to make sure we returned the golf balls and putters to the right place.  And, chances are, my daughter will look at it years from now and see it as this sweet picture of her and her dad on when she was a toddler.

aviary_1466822044955 aviary_1466822083319

And, there’s nothing wrong with telling the whole story either… some of us like to share tales of potty accidents and doggy haircuts when you were in the bathroom and permanent marker scribbles on the new couch.  These moments are real, they are often funny and they offer a minor reminder– to others, and to our future selves– that parenting isn’t always neat and pretty.

aviary_1466821603976

aviary_1466821886912

I think my friend Scott said it best:

aviary_1466821716054

We share and we overshare.  We get pissed off at a co-worker and fire off a vague status update about “some” people being lazy.  We are sitting in the doctor’s office and post a 10 line complaint about how inconsiderate it is to have a 2:45 appointment and at 3:15 we are STILL waiting.  We make an arugula salad and take a picture of it, add a filter, crop out the pile of mail in the corner of the kitchen and slap it up on Instagram.  And the thing is… a lot of what we share is not for others.  Social media is just one big huge photo album/diary hybrid… an ongoing chronicle of our lives that we add to on an ongoing basis.  So, Girl Who I Went to Grad School With and Second Cousin Once Removed and Person Who I Friended like 8 Years Ago but Don’t Remember Where We Actually Met, if you’re side-eyeing because I’m only showing you the sanitized version of my life, too bad.  You won’t look back on these pictures and posts 6 years from now… but I will.  And I want to remember the good and the funny and occasionally the icky and the messy and the sad.  It’s my story to tell.

But I do have to fess up: sometimes, I look at what others post and I side-eye.  “I’ve been to their house… they totally cropped out that huge hole in the wall…” or “Look at that couple smiling in that picture at so-and-so’s wedding… I was there and I know they spent like 45 minutes outside arguing”, and “oooh, girl, how many filters are on that selfie?  Cause I know what you actually look like!”  And strangely enough, I find that those thoughts seem to creep in the most when I’m feeling frustrated or angry or dissatisfied at something in my own world… that’s when pictures of others’ kids in crisp and clean white dresses or frolicking on the beach annoy me.  It’s the times when I can’t relate and I wish someone was feeling as down in the dumps as I am at that moment.  Our telling of our reality is very personal… but it also connects us to others and makes us feel not so alone in our trials and tribulations and potty accidents and piles of toys in the corner and temper tantrums at the Mini Golf place.

So… how do you decide what you share on Facebook for all to see?  Do you purposely “edit”? And, do you look at other people’s posts and critique the “realness” of the story they’re telling?  Tell us in the comments below!

Not me.

This morning I woke up to the news that yet another tragic event occurred in the city of Orlando.  A small child, only two years old, was wading in less than 12″ of water near the Grand Floridian resort and was suddenly grabbed by an alligator and dragged into the water. His parents, who were right there with him, attempted to save him.  They were unsuccessful.  A search was underway and the chance of anything but a tragic outcome was bleak.

I don’t know if my feelings were extra raw because of all of the tragic tales we’ve been bombarded with over the last few days, but this story struck a chord deep in me.  I knew the chances that he would be found safe were almost nonexistent, but my God, for a few hours I held on to hope.  I prayed.  I wished.

I started combing through the comment sections of the different Facebook posts related to the story, I suppose looking for some answers, and found myself becoming enraged.  Really– enraged.  For every comment that expressed sorrow or empathy, there was another one calling the parents stupid, ignorant, careless, reckless and so on.  The suggestions that somehow these people brought this upon themselves or even deserved this on some level were plentiful. We recently saw another event where a four year old boy got away from his parents and climbed into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.  For every sympathetic comment and hashtagged tale telling of the time #ivelostmykid, there were two more comments demanding the parents be brought up on criminal charges for negligence and that they be investigated by CPS.  Here are two sets of parents, both faced very suddenly with the mortality of their small child (albeit with vastly different outcomes) and all we can do is blame and criticize?

Is the problem that we have become so jaded, so quick to pass judgement that we automatically turn to cruel remarks and finger pointing when the unthinkable happens?  Are we so desensitized that we are no longer capable of expressing sympathy? We’ve lost our humanity, haven’t we?

I’m not sure.

What struck me today was the number of comments that were made by those who quite obviously hadn’t even read the very basic account of the event.  So many “Where were the parents?” and “Why was a 2 year old swimming alone?! Smh!” queries that could have been easily answered by clicking on the link they were actively commenting on.  I found myself shaking with anger and saying, “DID YOU EVEN READ THE ARTICLE, ASSHOLE?”

And, then I had a sort of epiphany.

We are so quick to heap judgement and victim blame because it is the only way to convince ourselves that somehow, some way if we do things the “right” way, we will avoid tragedy.  It’s mental self preservation at its finest, and the only way we can convince ourselves that xyz will never happen to us.  Because if we can not pinpoint a cause or identify a source of blame, then that just means that the universe is one cruel motherfucker and a terrifying twist of fate can find its way into any of our lives at any time… and that is downright horrifying.   If we are to make it through the day with our sanity intact, we somehow have to separate ourselves as the “us” (the good parents, the attentive and informed parents) from the “them” (the people that bring bad shit upon themselves).  We have to write off these tragedies as the result of parental failure because if we don’t that means we could very well be next.

Social media has allowed us to become hyperconnected.  Thanks to Facebook I can see what my cousin in CT, who I haven’t seen since I was 8, is eating for lunch… I can watch my nieces and nephews grow from a distance and celebrate their milestones and dance recitals and baseball games.  I can distract myself at work or in line at the DMV by reading Buzzfeed posts.  I can maintain my sanity by sharing tales of potty training or the last fight I had with my husband with my tightknit little mommy group.  I can laugh at viral cat videos or silly eCards.

But what Facebook giveth, Facebook also taketh away.  Thanks to the miracle of social media and the oversharing that occurs, I am all too aware what my friends’ and family’s political leanings are, and that alters my opinion of them at times. I read too much controversial bullshit and find myself angry.  A lot. I am privy to news stories of unthinkable disasters from small towns across the country that don’t make their way to the local news here.  I see the Gofundme pages for acquaintences’ children who are fighting cancer or for people who’ve lost their house in a fire.  I am completely steeped in reality: the good, the bad, the mundane, the tragic. So, sometimes a headline pops up and I judge the content of the story based on the clickbaitey headline because I. Cannot. Take. Any. More. Bad. News.  A child was ejected from a car?  (Probably bad chest clip placement.  Luckily I know my car sear safety!).  A baby is left in a hot car by a parent? (That would never happen to me!  I’m never THAT preoccupied!) A toddler eats a moldy applesauce pouch and this triggers a massive recall? (Lucky for me, I refuse to buy THAT brand as it is! Score one for me!)  So, I am–on occasion– one of those assholes that jumps to conclusions without the facts.  I scroll past and think “not me” and feel better for a brief moment.

But, I can never escape the feeling that maybe, somehow, some way…it’s only dumb luck that has allowed me to avoid tragedy… that maybe my superior choices and keen maternal instinct aren’t responsible for my child’s safety and well being, but that I have thus far been on the right side of parental luck.  And, that is equally humbling and frightening.

I’ve always thought that the root of sanctimommying is fear and uncertainty, and the mass reactions to events such as these seem to support that theory.  The vitriol and venomous criticism come from a place of fear.  The fact is… we aren’t angry with you.  We ARE afraid that we are, or will be, you.

I can’t imagine what those parents are going through right now.  My heart aches for them.  I hope they don’t ever read the comment section of any article related to their tragedy, because the Monday Morning Quarterbacking might be too much to bear.  But if they do, I hope they can see through what appears to be smug judgement and know that fear that we could be in their place is what guides the harsh criticism, and that their pain is all too palpable to all of us, even if we are afraid to acknowledge it.

 

 

Buffet Parenting

My friend Julie is one of those cool moms who just has her shit figured out. I’m sure her kids drive her just as crazy as mine do, but she is unflappable and seems to be content to just act as a battering ram against the chaos. That kind of go-with-the-flow mentality is crucial, not just for parenting,  but also for being a kick ass mom friend. Julie is someone who hears you’re on night one of letting your 10 month old cry it out, and instead of sending you a bunch of literature,  will talk you off the edge and send you a glass or two of wine. Snarky, but also empathetic, this mom of four boys knows things about parenting that all us newbies can only hope to understand.

This week, she taught all of us over in the Sanctimommy group a term that just knocked our socks right off.

It all started when our friend Susie came in to complain about how elitist and judgy some mom groups are on the internet.

2016-06-04 15.45.20-1

It can be hard to find support if you’re not a die hard proponent of one very specific and narrow parenting methodology. If you babywear, but don’t formula feed, it raises eyebrows. If you make your own laundry soap and cloth diaper, but vaccinate your kids on schedule, it arouses suspicion. There are rules to being a “crunchy” mama, but what happens when you’re too “silky” for the granola crowd, but too into natural remedies for all the Salk-ians?

2016-06-04 16.06.34

It’s a conundrum. Especially for those of us who don’t really care what other people do with their kids and just want some virtual asspats after a long day in the trenches.

2016-06-04 16.05.46

The cool thing about the sanctimommy group, is that we can have discussions that would implode most other parenting circles but keep it relatively clean. Maybe it’s because they know I’m screenshotting them for my blog so they have to be accountable for what they say? Or maybe it’s just because I have the best friends on the internet? Either way, we had a pretty great discussion about things we’ve compromised over the years and parenting philosophies we gave up and how we’ve grown, not just as gestators, but as women.

2016-06-04 16.09.39

It seems simple enough, but when Julie brought up the idea of treating parenting like a buffet line,  where you take what you like and leave what you don’t,  our minds were blown. Was it really that simple?

 

2016-06-04 16.08.00Can we make this a thing? In a limitless array of choices we have to make every day, can we lose the lofty ideology and just take what we need? It seems simple enough, but when we give up our labels, it almost seems like we lose our identity. If I’m not “Sam’s mommy, the AP normal-duration nurser” than who am I?

Myself. I get to be myself. And, BONUS! when I’m myself that means you get to be your self, and then we don’t have to bullshit each other about how rewarding motherhood is, we can just get together and cry because our 4 year olds won’t sleep through the night and our baby just got kicked out of daycare for biting. We don’t have to make all our decisions so cerebral, we can do what we need to to get through the day.

It seems extraordinarily simple, but could we pull it off? Could we stop looking for validation and instead offer solidarity? What would Julie do?

Tell me about your parenting style in the comments, in what way do you follow a specific philosophy and where do you deviate into doing what’s best for you?

 

Enjoy every moment

Last week, I posted something on Facebook about how my 3-year-old hadn’t stopped talking all day.  I wasn’t complaining– well, not really.

aviary_1464297475176

Many of my Facebook friends have children, some with children around my daughter’s age, so I guess I was just looking for a little solidarity.  It was one of those “I’m due for a status update” kinda posts that I didn’t give much thought to before posting.  The comments were mostly “ooh, girl, I feel ya” type commiserating where everyone traded war stories about their own overly chatty spawn.  And, then, there it was… a comment from a business colleague who has grown children, admonishing me and the other commenters that we should “really try to enjoy these moments, because there will come a time when they’re grown and won’t even answer your phone calls”.

*Groan*  There it is.  Someone who is years removed from the challenges of daily life with a 3 year old reminding me to ENJOY EVERY MOMENT.

Screenshot_2016-05-26-17-13-06-1

My daughter is the light of my life.  I adore her.  I’m intrigued by her.  She fills me with pride and wonder and joy and all those squishy, sparkly, wonderful feelings I never expected to feel.  But, sometimes, I gotta admit… I. Am. Not Enjoying. It.

Picture it:  It’s 7:00 p.m., I’ve just gotten home from a 10 hour day at work.  I’m still in my work clothes, I’ve had to pee since 4:00 p.m. and for no particular reason, I still haven’t managed to make it to the bathroom, and I’m just now starting dinner.  The dog is whining to go outside, even though I’ve already let him in and out 3 times since I walked in the door.  And it begins. “Mommy.  Mommy mommy mom mommmmaaaaa I need a Bandaid.  A Paw Patrol Bandadid.  I want an applesauce.  Mommy apple sauce.  Apple sauceeeeeeeeeeeeee.  Paw Patrol apple sauce Bandaid sauce.  Mommy look.  I have a boo boo (no she doesn’t)… Mommy my doggie, where’s pink doggie? I no want pagetti (spaghetti). Pagetti is yuck mommy.  I want a Pop-Tart.  Mommy Bandaid.  BAND AID.  MOMMY.  I wanna watch Paw Patrol McStuffins.  MOMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY!!!”.  It’s not that I’m ignoring her.  I’m listening as intently as I can and trying to simultaneously boil the spaghetti, sautee the chicken and find the goddamn box of Bandaids my husband put in the wrong place the last time she needed a Bandaid (like, 8 minutes ago), and trying not to escape to the bathroom just for a moment of silence.

So, I’m supposed to stop, take a deep breath and revel in this moment?  Cause I can’t.  I’m not enjoying this moment… I’m enduring it.  I’m exhausted.  It doesn’t mean I’m not happy being a mom.  It just means that for this moment, I want to fast forward, just a tiny bit, maybe an hour or so… maybe to bath time? Bath time is fun.  We always fill the tub up all the way with plenty of bubbles. Our 12 year old cat always comes in during bath time, and my daughter squeals with delight.  Seriously, every time, like it’s the first time ever. Our cat, Maynard (who she’s renamed Meathead) saunters over to the edge of the tub every night, and we place a big pile of bubbles on his head.  My daughter cracks up, Meathead looks proud, and I still find this genuinely funny.  It’s predictable, it’s routine, but I enjoy it immensely.  And then, we get out of the tub and sometimes she throws an epic tantrum if I’ve dared to grab the wrong pair of Elsa pajamas, and I’m back to wanting to fast forward… just a few minutes, until we are snuggled in her bed and my husband sits on the floor and reads us one or two (or seven) books as she drifts off into the most angelic sleep.

Parenting is just full of ups and downs and in-the-middles.  Many moments are simply wonderful.  Some are god awful.  Most, however, are just plain average.  And that is perfectly ok.

Screenshot_2016-05-26-17-12-03-1

Life is a mixed bag.  Just because you’re a parent– or more specifically, a mom– doesn’t mean you are required to bask in the magic of every single nanosecond of every single day.

Screenshot_2016-05-26-17-13-44-1

 

Screenshot_2016-05-26-17-12-32-1

Screenshot_2016-05-26-17-14-23-1-1

Will I feel guilty some day in the future when she thinks I’m embarrassingly uncool and doesn’t need my snuggles anymore that I didn’t enjoy EVERY MOMENT, down to the tantrums and the whiny ultimatums?  The truth is, I have no idea.  But I do know that the sudden reminder to stop and enjoy every moment of motherhood fills me with guilt.  Why do I, as a mom, have to feel guilty about not finding every last interaction with my daughter to be full of magic and wonder?  If I suddenly landed my dream job and had a bad day at work, would anyone reprimand me for saying that I couldn’t wait for the weekend?  Probably not.  If I complained that I didn’t enjoy some mundane task at work, like filling out my expense report, would anyone suggest that I should stop and savor the moment because someday I’ll be retired and bored?  No.

I am acutely aware that time is passing.  I can’t believe that I already have a preschooler.  It seems like 18 minutes ago that I was holding a tiny little baby.  Ah, she was such a sweet little baby.  It was so much easier then… I wish I could have held on to those moments a little longer.  I wish I could remember what her head smelled like. Why didn’t I stop and commit that exact scent to memory?  I wish I could remember what it felt like to hold her at 6 weeks, 6 months…  Why didn’t I stop and will my brain to burn that sensation to my memory forever?  Gah. God, I guess I squandered those precious moments.

Except that I didn’t.

I did what I am doing now.  I enjoyed the bulk of it– the sweet little coos, the sight of that little infant falling asleep on my chest, the first tooth, the first time she laughed, the first time she said “Dada”, the amazingly sloppy messes she made whilst mastering putting mashed sweet potatoes in her mouth.  And, I’ve glossed over the rest– the colic, the 4 month sleep regression, the clogged ducts and the PPD, the late night frantic trip to the ER when she was 5 weeks old, the almost painful exhaustion those first few weeks…. it all feels like such a distant memory.

Today, I had a meeting in a medical building.  I got into the elevator and there was a couple there, holding what looked to be a one to two week old baby.   He was so tiny, so content, asleep on his mom’s shoulder.  The mom had that look of sheer exhaustion and fatigue that is a requisite part of the new mom uniform.  I felt this sudden rush of nostalgia and even deeper pang of jealousy. We exchanged polite smiles and I told them their baby was beautiful.  But, part of me wanted to beg her to stop and enjoy these moments because it won’t be long before that little sweet angel is demanding Paw Patrol Bandaid Apple Sauces at the top of his lungs.  But I didn’t.  Why? Because no matter how much someone tells you that you’ll miss these days, you can’t appreciate it until you do.

When I encounter someone saying they’re having a miserable pregnancy or complaining about colic or reflux or sleeplessness, I remind myself that it’s part of the package deal to have these moments you don’t enjoy.  Just because I’m feeling nostalgic doesn’t make their struggle any less real.

Screenshot_2016-05-26-17-12-46-1

Screenshot_2016-05-26-17-14-11-1

Someone once told me that the easiest phase of parenting is the one you’ve just come out of, and I can’t imagine anything truer.  Although we are in the thick of Threenagerdom right now, I am certain that there will come a time when we have a sassy five year old or a broody twelve year old on our hands and we’ll long for the days when potty training and tantrums over pajamas were the biggest of our concerns.  And some day, when my daughter is away at college, or moved to another city to start her life as an adult, I know I’ll yearn for these days.  But, until then, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to not enjoy every minute.

And, when an older, wiser person in my life admonishes me for squandering these cherished moments of tantrums and potty accidents and Bandaids stuck to my carpeting, I have to remember to be a little more forgiving and realize that they were probably just like me at one point, wishing away the less enjoyable moments–even if they don’t remember it.

 

 

 

When did you feel like a “real” mom?

A few weeks ago we had a family emergency that required my husband to go away for an indeterminate amount of time. As much as I fuss over the way he does things and his tendency to be more “free range” with the kids, without him was a bit like tumbling backwards into a free fall.

I never realized how much I watched the clock all day for my 5pm reprieve. How helpful it was to have someone there who loved the kids as much as I do, so that even on the bad days we could commiserate about all the ways they ruined our life. It sounds awful, but I never realized how much he did and focused instead on the laundry he left on the floor next to the hamper and the half full cups I found all over our house.

2016-05-25 12.48.19

 

 

2016-05-25 13.19.25

I’m going to say something that might shock you, but I’ve never really felt like a real mom before this experience. Despite two kids and bills and doctors and a full stay at home life, there was a part of me that was kind of faking it to make it. I did things that moms were supposed to do, and got through the days feeling like I was an imposter around all the other moms who carefully packed snacks and organized crafts. I was going through the motions of motherhood until my partner got home, then we’d put the kids to bed and I’d go back to being my old self.

2016-05-25 13.18.57

2016-05-25 12.47.46

About 4 days after my husband left, somewhere around the time my son was totally melting down at a McDonald’s, I realized I was feeling like a real mom. There was no 5 pm shift change, there was no post bedtime return to the real me; this was the real me, this was my real life.

2016-05-25 12.50.28

There’s always that moment when your head is screaming “shut up! shut up! shut up!” and you have to draw on reserves you didn’t know you had in order to say “wait just one second, baby, mommy’s using the potty.” That’s real motherhood. The moment where you take the high road and acknowledge that you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.

I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t the perfect moms stuff like baking and band aids that would make me stop feeling like an imposter,  but the times I was so close to losing my shit and at my absolute limit. Like some kind of bizarro velveteen rabbit, I became real huddling in the bathroom with my kids, all 3 of us sobbing because we missed daddy and didn’t know what to do with the limitless expanse of time his absence left us with.

2016-05-25 12.49.00

Things have settled down somewhat in the last week. I gained a colossal amount of respect for women whose husbands are deployed, or travel for work, and I think single mothers are basically candidates for sainthood. We’re settling into a routine, getting to know a few new babysitters, experimenting with skype. But with every small inch forward, there’s a hurdle to clear, a part of myself I didn’t expect to see. Who is this new woman embracing motherhood, flaws and all, and not always anxious for the opportunity to return to her pre-kid self?

2016-05-25 12.47.15

I’m curious if this would have happened without this situation. Would I have eventually felt like a real mom if I hadn’t faced this emergency and been forced to sink or swim? Were there glimmers of this real mom in me all along and I just finally got the confidence in myself to embrace her? When did you start feeling like a real mom? The moment you held your newborn and knew you’d do anything for her? Or, like me, did it take a while to shake off the imposter veil and step into your new role? I can’t wait to hear all about it, let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

Size matters!

There is nothing that will draw more boundary-crushing commentary from friends, family, and even perfect strangers than the size of your family.  When my husband and I were first married (and by “first married”, I mean, like, at our reception), people started to ask… “When will you two have a baby?!”  We were able to dodge the uncomfortable questions for a bit.  “Well, I’d like to take the veil off first!” or “Oh, you know, we’re just getting used to married life!” or “We want to buy a house first!”.  Those answers seemed to appease people for about a year.  It was like we had satisfied some type of requirement on people‘s checklists by finally getting married after having lived together for three years, so we were allowed a brief reprieve from intense scrutiny.

Soon after we were married, my husband’s younger brother and his wife gave birth to their twins and the “You’re next!” comments began flooding in.  But then, the unthinkable happened—my husband’s youngest sister got pregnant, not once, not twice but three times before we did.  People’s gentle encouragement began to turn to panicky warnings.  “How old are you?  THIRTY SIX? TICK TOCK TICK TOCK! You’re not getting any younger!  YOU GUYS ARE PLANNING TO HAVE KIDS, AREN’T YOU?!  AREN’T YOU?!”  As intrusive as these comments seemed coming from family, friends and co-workers, they were downright inappropriate from perfect strangers.  I remember one day speaking to the cashier at the grocery store who was admiring my wedding ring.  She asked how long I’d been married, and when I told her it was two years, she asked how many children we had.  I told her none, and her smile faded, “well, what in the world are you waiting for, sweetie?”

What was I waiting for?  I didn’t know.  I knew I wanted children.  I knew my husband wanted children.  But I also knew the time wasn’t right.  We were dealing with a number of things in our life that made the possibility of children at that time seem like not such a great idea.  We were renting an apartment in a really sketchy neighborhood because it was affordable and close to both of our jobs (at which we were both tied down for 60-70 hours per week), I had a terminally ill father living 6 states away whose condition would turn on a dime, requiring me to hop in the car and drive 13 hours straight to be with him and my mom.  And, we were broke as a joke.  The time was just not right for us to have children, regardless of how much this was fucking up everyone else’s timelines.

So, time marched on.  After my father’s passing, my husband and I relocated down south, took on much less demanding jobs and found our first home.  And then, even though I’d reached the ripe old age of 37, the time seemed right.  And, it happened.  On our schedule.

So, that’s the happy ending, right?  “You guys popped out a kid, and no one ever bothered you with overly personal, intrusive questions ever again?”

Yeah, no.

My daughter was barely a week old before people started to ask when we planned on having #2.  And again, the same cycle ensued: for a bit, people were kind of accepting of our non-committal answers, and then came the urgent TICK TOCK comments and then when we finally, finally came out of the closet with “we’re done”, the reactions ranged from confusion to downright horror.  There’s something about the idea of WANTING an only child that confounds people.  After all, only children will be lonely, selfish, sad, maladjusted.  Only children will be saddled with the burden of your inevitable elder care.  And then when you croak, well, they will be ALL ALONE.  ALL ALONE.  ALLLLLLL ALONNNNEEEEEE.

“My own mother has said to me, ‘what is she going to do when you’re gone? It will be just her. That’s so sad.’
The reason that is so infuriating is because I had my daughter at 37, and we tried for a little bit to have a second but it hasn’t worked. Now that I’m 40, we have stopped trying. My mother knows this. And on top of it, I am an only child.”

“We are heartless assholes for only having one child and have no idea how we have fucked him up for the rest of his life by not selflessly giving him a sibling … And don’t we get that my sister can’t have children so the burden of grand children is in me and I’m being completely unreasonable…”

“One and done” isn’t an easy decision… at least it wasn’t for me.  I’d grown up as an only child and I didn’t love being an only child.  There were many times in my life that I’d pined for a brother or sister.  I was the only singleton among my classmates and cousins.  And of course, that led to plenty of teasing and assumptions about my character.  “Oh, she must get everything she wants.  She’s spoiled.  Selfish. Doesn’t share.  Thinks she’s the center of the universe.”  Truth be told, those comments hurt.  So, I was the only child who overcompensated for these assumptions by being too trusting, too generous, and too docile.  And as a result, I was often taken advantage of by others.  I’d vowed to myself from an early age that when I had children, I’d have at least two.  But, as it turns out, that just wasn’t in the cards for us.  My daughter is and will always be an only child, and I’m ok with that.  So, why isn’t everyone else?

Sometimes I think people who choose to have more than one have it so easy in the judgment department.  But, as I have come to find out, that’s not entirely true:

“The best reaction was from my own mom when I told her I was pregnant with the [fourth] baby…she said “are you fucking kidding me?” Thanks Mom.”

“Everyone has a god damn opinion on the size of my family. I have 4 kids, I myself have 6 siblings. 4 seems to be quite large these days. I get, ‘haven’t you figured it out by now?’ ‘Don’t ya think ya have enough?’ ‘Did you plan all of them?’ And equally as rude comments, my absolute favorite comments are the ones inquiring about the state of my vagina after birthing all these babies. I have a thick skin and a sense of humor so I usually have some witty, sarcastic comeback. Sometimes I get a little tired of answering the same ridiculous questions and it really isn’t anyone’s business. But for the record, yes we do know how it happens, 4 is more than enough, no they were not all planned but they were all wanted and loved and I do my kegels all day everyday so my vag is just fine.”

“Now that #4 is out of my body and running around I still get God Bless You a lot, I get lots of stares when I take them out by myself anywhere, and once I had someone loudly count them when they opened the door for me. Then roll their eyes.”

Ok, so we know four is generally considered to be “too many” and one is not enough, so then two or three should be perfectly acceptable, right?  Well, yes, but only if the gender distribution is acceptable.

“I have one boy and one girl. So I get the “perfect, you’re done!” comment. The thing is I would have really liked to have had a big family and the only reason we are done is financial. It makes me a little sad when people say that, honestly.”

“Now that we have children, people’s comments have been rather mild, usually along the lines of ‘Oh, a boy and a girl! That’s just right!’

“I didn’t find out the sex of my second child while I was pregnant because I didn’t want to listen to the comments. The day my oldest was born I was being told that I had to had to try again for a girl.”

So, there you have it.  As with all things parenting, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.  I’ve fielded my share of awkward questions from people and I’ve actually created a mental arsenal of answers.  When a perfect stranger chatting me up in line at Gymboree asked me if I’m planning to have more, I said, “No,” and then I whispered… “fertility problems”.  She looked horrified that I would share something so intimate, which is so downright ironic I could choke.  When my mom brings it up I remind her that I’m an only child, and I turned out perfectly fine, other than a little pyromania.  And when a coworker mentioned how ALONE ALONE ALONE ALONE my daughter will be after my husband and I die, I told that I plan to live forever, thanks to my ItWorks! wraps… can I interest her in joining my team….?

“I like to respond with uncomfortable answers. Like when people ask me if I know how children are made, I say yes, and my husbands pull out game is weak as fuck. Or, you know there’s some stuff you just don’t come back from, you’ve had 4 babies that must be a mess. Well, I do my kegels regularly to keep my vagina tight and springy but now that you mention it, one of the labias does hang kinda funny, would you like to see?”

“On the rare occasion someone asks me if I’m going to have another, I just look at them disapprovingly and say, ‘Why would I have more kids when there are so many kids to adopt who need good homes?'”

We all have a mental image of the “right” family.  I mean, when I was a kid, daydreaming about the day I’d finally marry Joey McIntyre, I totally imagined having one boy, and then one girl, and a Golden Retriever named Sam who loved to play with our Tuxedo cat, Oliver.  Once in a while when I see a family that resembles that (minus the Joey McIntyre, of course), I do get a little pang of jealousy.  And I admit, every now and then, the thought of having X number of kids makes my ovaries cringe a bit. But I’ve learned that everyone has their own ideal and it’s just not my place to ask why it doesn’t resemble mine.

So, the next time you want to sigh when your sister-in-law sheepishly announces her fourth pregnancy, or you wonder why your neighbor isn’t “trying” for a boy when she already has two girls, or your coworker doesn’t seem in a major hurry to have any children despite the fact that she’s married, and a homeowner, and getting a little long in the tooth, remember… it’s none of your business and your casual critique might be super hurtful and intrusive.

Have you ever felt judged for your family size?  How do you respond to the critiques?

 

Group Warfare.

I’ve started and erased this post 4 times so far, and I have no more witty hooks to reel you in. I wanted to be funny, say something sarcastic with a virtual toss of my hair and intimate to you all that nothing bothers me and I laugh it all off because by this time I’ve seen it all.

And make no mistake about it, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been in hundreds of mom groups on the internet. When people find out I’m the sanctimommy they add me to everything. “Can you believe these weirdos?!” Raw foods, vegan cooking, doll making, dress sewing, stay at home mom crafts, babywearing, formula feeding, antivax, provax, natural cures, Ferber mamas, AP, silky… if there’s a group for it, I’ve been there. In fact, in one of my groups someone recently posted the question “how many groups are you in?” and then the additional challenge of screenshotting your groups list, and after the 5th or 6th screenshot it occurred to me that people might be weirded out that I’m in so many groups. So I never answered the question.

I remember the very first group I joined, it was a babycenter group called Actively Trying to Get Pregnant and so of course the very first thing I did was make a post describing my vague pms symptoms and asking them if it meant I was pregnant. They handed me my ass, and for good reason. It taught me to read the group info before posting in any group,  and hey, that’s valuable information I use again and again that might not have stuck with me if those bitches hadn’t been so ruthless.

Today I got banned from a group. I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t fight anyone or put anyone on blast on the Sanctimommy facebook page; I got banned because I wanted to stay friends with everyone and be in all the groups, which is the highest form of treason in the mommy world. The admins made a post demanding that everyone in all the spinoff groups leave them, and choose a side, or be banned. I wasn’t online and didn’t see the notice, so that was that, the choice was made for me.

I wanted to write a blog post about the formulaic downfall of mom groups, because they all seem to follow a similar trajectory. Quiet and easy at first, then more busy and chatty, then everyone gets comfortable and you do a gift exchange or raise money for a sick member, and then when everyone is nice and comfortable,  things start unraveling. People start speaking freely, because we all know each other and can be “real” without censoring ourselves. And then tiny little schisms start happening. No one calls each other out, but you can bet they’re PMing about that picture of your kid in his carseat. We’re all just speaking freely, but by doing so we’re also choosing sides. Something happens when we lose that initial politeness. We stop giving people the benefit of the doubt.

It never ends the way you think it will. There’s never a big huge issue or blowup that coalesces into a mess. Someone posts something innocuous like “I don’t like these before and after weight loss posts. We’re all moms and we should be positive about our bodies.” And that’s it. That’s the opinion that is so controversial it splits the group. People take sides, create spinoff groups, there are so many PMs flying around that people forget what they talked about before this issue. Lots of people in the group have no idea what’s going on because they’re only in there every few days and aren’t avid facebookers. Those people are shuffled around from group to new group like currency desperately trying to figure out what happened and where their friends went…

You know, I remember when I was a new mom, and my son would be up for hours in the night, and I’d nurse him in the crook of my left arm and talk to other moms on message boards on my phone in my right hand. I remember just marveling at the wonder of technology. What did moms do in the middle of the night before the internet? They must have been so lonely. But I was wrong,  the internet didn’t cure our loneliness.

Screenshot_2016-03-30-16-00-30-1

Screenshot_2016-03-30-16-00-30-2

I asked my friends in the Sanctimommy group, where we work on blog posts and page posts together,  what was the worst thing someone has done to you in a mom group? The answers were horrifying. Forget name calling and bad gossip, people are routinely reported to Child Protection Services as revenge for some internet transgression. Memes are made and spread calling people fat and ugly and mocking their children. The desire is not to distance ones self from the people we don’t like, but to “punish” them. For what? Disagreeing with you on the internet?

Screenshot_2016-03-30-16-14-34-1

Screenshot_2016-03-30-16-14-34-2

Screenshot_2016-03-30-16-00-45-1

2016-03-30 16.17.06

I always think that next time, I’m going to be immune to the mom group fallout, but you know what? It hurts every time. I think about my friend from 4 or 5 groups ago whose adopted childrens’ birth mother was trying to regain custody of them. What ended up happened with that? I have a friend from babycenter that I met in a loss group who made the decision after 3 miscarriages to not attempt pregnancy any longer. What did she do after our chat group fell apart? One of my friends from a group a few years ago sent me an enormous box of maternity clothes and a bag of red jolly ranchers for my morning sickness. Did she know I was grateful even after the group fell apart and we blocked each other? I ordered bonnets for my daughter from the etsy shop she recommended two years after we stopped speaking.

You can’t just cut people and never think of them again after years of talking almost daily. But you also can’t send them a baby gift when you find out they’re pregnant again months after you stop speaking, because they’ll probably mock it and even if they don’t,  it’s probably weird to still care after all the screenshots and blocking.

How do we raise money for someone’s sick dog’s surgery one day and then decided that because they’re pro-body positive posts and you’re anti-censorship that now you have to hate each other? Is it because it gives us something to do? Something to talk about? Because it makes us feel powerful when motherhood constantly renders us powerless?

After I got banned,  I got the full story. I asked in one of the spinoff groups “what happened?” and mentioned writing a blog post about it and I immediately had a dozen messages in my inbox. People I had never spoken to before wanted to share their passionate opinions about the split and make me see that they were right. I regretted asking almost instantly. What difference does it make? An admin in one group called CPS for a wellness check on a baby in the uncensored group, and there were lots of hurt feelings about lack of transparency and violations of privacy. Was the call justified? I don’t know. When I asked the admin what happened, she and a dozen of her friends cussed me out and questioned my “loyalty” to the group. “Grow the fuck up” “I wish I could be on the sidelines” “stop asking what happened” “are you fucking stupid? Sit down and shut up”

On the one hand they ask for sensitivity and understanding,  but on the other they refuse to share even the barest details. And that’s the part that alienates the most members. Because everyone wants to be one of the “cool” commenters and know the inside scoop. Information becomes currency and those who have it get a say in what happens next.

I have to say, when I started writing the sanctimommy page, I was worried people would make fun of my kids or steal my pictures,  but now, I find myself totally paranoid every time I post anything that someone is going to try and ruin my real life. In the past, people have talked in groups about contacting my employers and sending screenshots to my real life friends, it never even occurred to me that someone would waste the time of Child Protective Services because of an internet vendetta. So thanks for giving me that new worry.

Is this behavior baffling to anyone else? When I don’t like someone online, I stop speaking to them. Maybe I vent about the perceived wrong to my other friends. But never, have I ever, stolen someone’s pictures or made tribute art or threatened their kids. This new tendency to default into “real life” is frightening to me. Can we stop it now?

I don’t know how to end this one, because I usually try to close on a high note, a little humor, a little solidarity,  but I’m not feeling like I can find anything funny about mom groups anymore. I will say, that there are always caveats to the shitty virtual world. A big one is the admin team. If a group has a good sensible admin team steering the ship they can and do weather dozens of blowups without imploding. One of my favorite groups has seen more upsets than you can imagine, (scammers, deaths, births, lies, coup attempts) and always bounces back from them because the admins limit the drama and keep everyone moving forward. Another big indication that a group will be successful is that it’s local or many of the members have met in real life. We tend to be less likely to pick fights and more likely to give people the benefit of the doubt if there’s a possibility that we’ll run into them at the grocery store. There’s something about knowing someone in the flesh that gives you insight into their personality and that creates common ground, even when you disagree online.

One of my friends created a very small group of 20 or so moms that she met online and made every single one a group admin and limited the group size. Knock on wood, they’ve lasted a year.

12829175_518602410299_8151438037445951793_oIs the benefit of talking to other moms any time day or night worth the risk of feeling genuinely hurt if it all goes south? What ways do you protect yourself and your kids from people you feel close to, but don’t know, online? Do you feel as free and open talking to your in-person friends as you do when you talk to your virtual friends?

I don’t know any of the answers, but I do want to try something radical in the comments here. I want to open the door for forgiveness and absolution. I want to start a conversation about keeping our humanity first and foremost; we aren’t just names on a screen, we’re parents, we’re people. If you’ve ever wronged anyone else in a group, this is your opportunity to come clean. You can be as vague or as specific as you like. You can ask forgiveness or simply attempt to clear up the misinformation. This is your chance to be a real friend, a real group member, and clean up so you can move on. Good luck!11535843_10206890499525614_1922599062457826269_n

That time I tried to make a thing

I won’t craft, don’t ask me.

There are very few things I am so overwhelmingly bad at that I refuse to keep trying them in hopes I’ll get better. Cooking? 11 crockpot disasters this season and I’m still going to try that sweet and sour pork Ramen thing that everyone is sharing. Dancing? I have a move my best friend Arliss affectionately calls “that embarrassing pointy thing you do when you’ve been drinking.” And I’m still doing it unapologetically. I’ve failed massively at cloth diapering, painting my bedroom, making those mason jar salads… so maybe you can understand why I draw the line at crafts and won’t subject my children to my incompetence.1340082263434_8235640

Sometimes my husband will laugh and bring up some epic fail, like the time I tried to do those homemade salt dough ornaments and they burnt to a crisp in the oven and our cat ate all the leftover dough and almost died from a potassium overdose. I bristle a little at these memories,  because to me they aren’t funny. I can’t help but feel like in some way, my inability to pin weird handprint ladybug prints reflects on my capabilities as a mother.

2016-03-14 20.41.06-3

I’ve often felt like there’s some nesting gene called into question when you refuse to sit down and do some torturous activities that end in tears for all involved. I know I’m not the only control freak who can’t even play playdoh without insisting the colors be kept separate.

2016-03-14 21.20.03

2016-03-14 21.22.41-1

I feel, not just awe, but genuine amazement when other moms tell me they love doing crafts with their kids. I always rationalize it by internally insisting that they must have gotten one of those quiet contemplative kids, while I got one of the normal smashy bashy ones.2016-03-14 20.42.12-12016-03-14 20.42.12-22016-03-14 20.38.51-1

I asked some moms in my facebook group about how often they do crafts with their kids and found a little bit of solidarity.

2016-03-14 21.19.12

2016-03-14 21.23.21-1

2016-03-14 21.17.57-1

I started thinking about how weird it was, how moms will fixate on the one aspect of parting they do poorly and use it to lash themselves with. “I taught my 3 year old to read, but gaaaah! We don’t know how to make thumb print bug paintings! Failure!”

This might be one of those situations where if we gave up control and just acknowledged that it doesn’t have to be perfect, we’d have less of this:

2016-03-14 20.41.06-1

And more of this:

2016-03-14 21.17.57-2

While I certainly won’t be searching pinterest for ideas any time soon, I can admire my kids’ teachers and my crafty friends a lot more. It takes a village, right? So I’ll teach your kids my pointy finger dance and you can teach mine how to make tissue paper butterflies. It all evens out in the end.

For no real reason, since I wasn’t able to work them in this blog really (and I have a glass of wine calling my name in the other room) here are some hilarious crafts people shared with me, that I couldn’t resist sharing with you. If nothing else, we can have close this one with a good laugh!

2016-03-14 21.22.41-2

2016-03-14 21.21.42-2

2016-03-14 21.21.42-1

Happy crafting!