Category Archives: Parenting

The Pants Is 8

This guy turned 8 this month with characteristic passion and intensity.

IMG_0345

The waters are rough.

K-Pants 2017

But worth sailing.

IMG_8582

On his birthday he said to me,

IMG_6705

“For two years it was only me.”

Me and K-Pants Hiking 2017. MomsicleBlog

“Do you wish you were an only child?” I asked.

IMG_7369

“Of course no,” he said.

IMG_8374

And that made me happy. Summer awaits.

 

Advertisements

And We All Fall Down

 

I checked in with K-Pants recently, about the love thing. You might remember that last year he was feeling like there wasn’t enough love for him.

We’ve had a lot of discussions about what kinds of things feel like love, and how I can make sure to show him love in a way that soaks in. I like to be intentional and specific with K-Pants, because what seems like a few hungry hours without food to me, is scurvy to him.

With K-Pants I think, Maybe if I fill an underground well full of love, then when storms rip branches from the trees above, we’ll still have that cool, protected reservoir for our relationship to drink from.

So…

I volunteer in his classroom. I walk him to school. Sometimes I meet him for lunch. I take him on adventures—to ride horses and climb K-Pants-sized mountains—because that’s where I shine, and that’s where he shines.

And a few weeks ago I checked in with him. I said, “K-Pants. Remember the love problem? Where you weren’t feeling enough love. How is that now?” “Good,” he said. “What about me getting mad?” I asked. “You don’t get mad anymore,” he said.

That’s not true.

I get mad on a regular basis. Some days I yell. But thinking about it, I yell less frequently and less like a wild banshee.

But then right after this, I ruined it. I’m not sure exactly what made me crack. I think it was weeks of afternoon exhaustion. Parenting K-Pants after school is a tension-filled dance.

  • Me: How was school? Did you do any Pokémon trades on the bus?
  • K-Pants: (aggravated) Why are you asking me that?
  • Boy Woww: Did you get a new Aloha Pokémon?
  • K-Pants: I’m not telling you, and you can’t see it.
  • Me: I think you’re hungry. There are a bunch of snacks in the bag back there.
  • K-Pants: I’m not hungry. And I don’t like these snacks.
  • Boy Woww: I made an artwork at school.
  • K-Pants: That’s so weird. It’s so totally weird.
  • Me: Let’s ignore K-Pants. He’s grumpy.
  • Boy Woww: [crying]

Even if you’re patient, watching one member of the family try to destroy the rest by sucking out the joy and the kindness leaves you ragged and overwhelmed. And you start to think maybe this kid is malicious.

I know he doesn’t want to be, but his habits are powerful, and his habits are destroying us. Really our habits—our collective interactions—are destroying us.

Later that night I screamed at him. And he said, “I HATE YOU!” And I said, “I DON’T CARE IF YOU HATE ME. I CARE IF YOU ARE RESPECTFUL AND KIND.” And he went downstairs. And then he yelled up, “I’M HUNGRY!” And I yelled, “THEN MAKE SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF!” And then I made him help me unpack the groceries (because after school I had taken Boy Woww to speech therapy, then K-Pants to baseball, then did the grocery shopping during practice, then arrived back to cheer him on during the scrimmage, then had K-Pants ask me for a fancy baseball backpack like the other kids have [answer: no]).

Then we went home, where I yelled at him like a crazy banshee. It had been building up for weeks, cracking the seams of the pressure cooker.

Then Boy Woww, the middle child, came upstairs and said, “Mom, what can I do to help?” It made me feel even worse, because he’s living into his role as the quiet peacemaker. And K-Pants is living into his role as the difficult one. And together we’re in this entangled Groundhog’s Day mess.

All this to say that this is how, on a beautiful Mother’s Day afternoon, when blue sky seemed to be momentarily winning the battle with the rain clouds, I found myself sitting in the car outside our parent coach’s house as K-Pants met with her. He loves her. We’ve just started this process.

Soon she’s going to be coming to our house to observe. Before that my husband and I will talk with her via Skype a few times, and do the homework she assigns, and try out new strategies (or try to be consistent with strategies we’ve tried in the past).

I really like the fact that we’re working on this problem as a whole family, because it’s not just a K-Pants problem. Our whole family seizes and constricts in predictable and not always productive ways when K-Pants melts down.

We’re all exhausted from it, and we’re looking for a change. Wish us luck.

A Postpartum Depression Love Letter in Photos to My Feisty, Old-Soul Daughter on Her First Birthday

This year has been too real to stop at “I love you to the moon and back,” so here’s a postpartum depression love letter in photos to my feisty, old-soul daughter on her first birthday.

Her birthday is a celebration that we’ve done it, we’ve made it, we’re here. Soon the toughest times won’t sting like they do now, and the beautiful photos I’ve taken over the year will remain bright and tender.

These photos, here, I’ll keep just for me.

Fairy Pig First Birthday. MomsicleBlog

Fairy Pig First Birthday. MomsicleBlog

Fairy Pig First Birthday. MomsicleBlog

Fairy Pig First Birthday. MomsicleBlog

Fairy Pig First Birthday. MomsicleBlog

Fairy Pig First Birthday. MomsicleBlog

Fairy Pig First Birthday. MomsicleBlog

Seven, OR I’m Tired of Trying to Positively Discipline My Way Out of Every Situation

K-Pants Turns 7. MomsicleBlog

K-Pants turned seven last week. He still loves pink, but he doesn’t wear his pink shoes to school. I was chatting with him before his birthday, and he told me that you don’t get teased before you start school or in college, “but the middle years are the teasing years.”

He’s smart and intuitive and thinks deeply about a lot of challenging things.

K-Pants is 7. MomsicleBlog

Parenting him is getting harder. I expect to say that every year on his birthday.

We fight every day. “You’re the meanest,” he says. And I counter, “It’s not my job to be nice. It’s my job to teach you to be independent and kind.”

The irony of teaching him to be kind while being the meanest person he knows does not escape me. But in his world, he would eat unlimited Twix bars and never sleep. And he would make sure everything about his life was better than his brother’s. So tough sh*t, dude.

It’s liberating to live into the title of Meanest Mom. I’m tired of trying to positive discipline and collaboratively problem-solve my way out of every situation. I have the love and the logic. But I can’t stay calm in the face of his rages and my exhaustion.

Last week we escaped to the Columbia River Gorge–the kids and me and my grandma (but remember, you don’t know she exists or gets in our car). At the beginning of our trip, we headed to Lyle, Washington. It has a rugged and stunning outcropping of rocks just above the Columbia River. I knew this spot would etch a hard line into K-Pants’s soul. When he’s in nature he sings and dances.

Lyle, Washington. MomsicleBlog

He had to use the bathroom when we got there, and there was no port-o-potty, which would have been a stretch for him anyhow because he likes to sit in a nice bathroom and take his time. So I taught him how to go outside.

He hated it. Then he was hot, and he didn’t want to pull his pants up. Or drink water. Or go to the river. When the rest of us started down the path, he dug in his heels.

We were there for him, and he preferred to stand next to the scorching hot car with his pants down. His brain was shutting down and he couldn’t access any executive functions. I should have kneeled down to his level and empathized.

But I was done.

It takes a lot of planning to take a seven-year-old, a four-year-old, and a baby on a magical outdoor adventure. After hours getting there, I didn’t have it in me to keep it together and empathize with him.

“Too bad: We’re going,” I said. “You can’t LEAVE ME!” he said. “YES, I CAN.”

I couldn’t see him down by the river, and I didn’t really look back. It was enough to deal with a whining four-year-old and a fussy baby, and to try to allow my eyes to take in the beauty around us rather than letting my anger at K-Pants ruin everything. But then he popped up on a hill nearby.

K-Pants at Lyle. MomsicleBlog

I left Boy Woww with my grandma (remember, she wasn’t there, but also God bless her), and I set off, with the baby in the carrier, to trail K-Pants. He would bob down into a small ravine, and then pop up again. I had to be careful not to be caught following, or he would add space. He knew that if I got too close he would lose his freedom–I would lunge him like a spirited horse, making him buck and run until he had nothing left and I could put a saddle on and guide him where I wanted him to go.

Finally, after he sat down looking out toward the river, he let me get within scratching distance.

K-Pants Meditating at Lyle. MomsicleBlog

“Do you know what I’m doing, Mama?” he said. “I’m meditating.”

***

On our way back home to Portland, we stopped at my sister’s tiny cabin near Mt. Hood. Our collective chaos can inflate one of those winter bubbles they put over tennis courts or pools, so shoving us into a tiny cabin with a steep staircase up to a miniscule loft with no railing—it felt like we were precariously everywhere and about to crash it all down.

My sister’s boyfriend is one of three boys.

“Did your mom survive raising you?” I asked him as I shoved people back into the car at the end of our visit. “And do you speak to her?”

“We have a great relationship–and she used to say to us, You’re sucking the life out of me!

***

So K-Pants is seven. As we head toward the summer and the shock of new routines, I’m feeling free. I’m going to lure my wild horse down to the river with all my meanest mom tricks. When he gets older, we’ll see if he’s independent and kind, but my goal right now is just that I survive it all.

“Parent Hacks”: A Parenting Book I’m Not Going to Burn (Brain Explosion)

Parent Hacks by Asha Dornfest. MomsicleBlog

We need to support each other more as women. I’m retraining my brain to have a build-up rather than a teardown response when I hear about women doing amazing things. It’s hard to break habits. Like rubber bands, you stretch them and change their shape but they just go back.

This is a weird way to start a book review. But I love “Parent Hacks” author Asha Dornfest because she is unguarded and generous with her history and her support of other writers, women, and parents.

She listens deeply. And because of it she gives and receives goodness deeply.

Here we are having coffee and chocolate back in October with my friend Lauren of On Fecund Thought. (L to R: Lauren, Asha, me, Fairy Pig)

IMG_2829 (1)

Asha also doesn’t mind if you photobomb her book talk. (L to R: @beetothesea, chicken book, me, Asha. Photocredit: @saramabo)

Photobomb w Beetothesea and Asha Dornfest. Momsicleblog.

Asha started Parent Hacks back in 2005, when her now-middle-school daughter and high-school son were small. Her idea was that as parents we are all guessing at this monumental job, and that we all have instances of genius. Why not share them? Why not help others to simplify a problem that might be the nail in their tire? No need to be “expert” or judgmental.

You might remember that parenting books with few exceptions go in my burn pile. They are frenemies at best. Pretending to build you up, and then tearing you down with their sly put-downs.

We’re not telling you you’re a bad parent, the parenting books whisper. We’re just laying out what research and experience say, and letting you make the choice. If you’re a bad parent, that’s on you.

Not “Parent Hacks.” Asha’s writing style constantly assumes the best in you. She’s cheeky and fun. She talks as an equal, not an illuminati. Her book should sit closer to “Hyperbole-and-a-Half” than “1-2-3 Magic” on the bookstore shelves.

“Parent Hacks” isn’t going to whisper sweet insults to you at a trunk show. Nope. It’s selling the extra baby gear on Craigslist to pay for summer babysitting and a case of Pabst.

And I’ve used the tips.

I started storing breastmilk in an ice cube tray so it’s easy to pop out and put in a plastic bag, and I’m using those silicone muffin tins for everything except for baking muffins (opening bottles, bath toys, etc.)

“Parent Hacks” has made me feel like maybe it was worth it to have another baby—because finally there’s a book that talks to me like I know something. Not to mention that you don’t have to wait to introduce peanuts anymore. If it weren’t for Zika virus, this would really be a sweet time to get knocked up, friends. Spoiler alert, if I know you and you’re procreating, I’ll be sending you a copy of Asha’s book. I’m sorry if you were hoping for “1-2-3 Magic.”

***

Asha asked for my address and sent me a free copy of “Parent Hacks.” But she didn’t make me write about it and she especially didn’t make me say nice things. It takes a good book and genuine friendship to make me do that. Even then I often don’t get around to writing things down these days. So this whole thing is on me.

WAHM, SAHM, Thank You, Ma’am

In January I had this thought: “I’m so unhappy. Maybe I should get a full-time, out-of-the-house job again.”

I was feeling done with taking care of a baby. Probably because I had been done.

Mothers are supposed to have rainbows shooting out of their hearts when it comes to their babies.

Babies. MomsicleBlog

[Insert rainbows.]

We all know parenthood is hard, but we talk about it being hard in a stoic martyrdom sort of way. It can be hard in a stark and scary way. As I said back in January, “I feel like [the baby] took a vibrant, passionate woman and turned her into a listless baby Sherpa.” (More on babies being adorable and annoying here.)

Things that were becoming more and more within range as the boys grew—professional aspirations, success tied to discrete goals, creative paid work—these things were blown out of reach like a plastic bag on a gust of wind.

“You don’t have to do this baby the same way as the boys,” my therapist said. She was right, of course. But it’s hard to wrap my head around having been a great stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) for K-Pants and Boy Woww, and feeling dread about doing the same thing for the baby.

I remember reading parenting books when I was pregnant with K-Pants that gently warned that husbands may not really enjoy parenting until the baby turned five or so—when regular-people activities started to overtake the Savannah-to-the-Sea insanity of infancy and toddlerhood. What about moms? Apparently we love to play peek-a-boo and go to Gymboree and clean up crushed Cheerios—and we just wait for the dads to catch up.

Maternal instincts. Biological clocks. These paints do not produce the same colors on every canvas, and we’re not good at acknowledging that.

So here I was in January, thinking about getting a full-time, out-of-the-house job again.

It didn’t quite feel right for me, but I wasn’t sure why. So I made a list of things in my life that give me purpose and joy and make me feel like I’m living into my values: walking the boys to-and-from school, working with clients on writing and editing projects, writing my blog, meeting my grandma for lunch, planning my permaculture garden, tromping around in nature, volunteering for kindergarten reading, and seeing close friends.

After I made the list, I noticed something: the baby was a very peripheral figure in all of it. I love having a flexible schedule to absorb our family’s bumps and turns, but I’m suffocated by baby care.

I decided a full-time, out-of-the-house job wouldn’t be a good fit. Instead, I needed to maintain and build my freelance work in order to have the professional life I crave and the family time I love. And that means more babysitting time for the Fairy Pig, and less baby care for me. (Shout out here to our babysitter Sue: Thank you.)

I’ve been really excited lately when girlfriends make the choice to go back to full-time, outside-of-the-house work after taking time off. I also love seeing girlfriends who love being SAHMs in all its beauty and grit. There’s no right choice or easy path. Knowing what’s right for you and your family—and being able to act on it—is a gift.

So I’m transitioning from being a SAHM with a writing addiction to a WAHM with a sometime baby sidekick. It’s the right choice for us.

The Mommy Wars Are Irrelevant

The mommy wars are irrelevant. Choose what's best for your mental health.

No mother is perfectly happy or perfectly balanced. Not the stay-at-home ones, not the full-time-office ones. We’re all crashing around in our bumper cars trying to pick the right path through traffic.

The mommy wars are irrelevant

A few years ago I shared that I was a full-time mom with a seatmate on an airplane. “There’s no substitute,” she said. “It’s the best thing you can do for your kids.” She had been a stay-at-home mom.

Last year a Harvard study showed us that kids of working moms are better off in almost every way. That either felt great or terrible.

Either way, we crave the validation that these studies and interactions bring. We need to feel like our path is the one in which the kids will be all right, and that all the challenges and difficulty are worth it.

But what path is the one in which we’re all right, above what’s “best” for the kids? We should feel confident to choose what serves us best, because stable, well-adjusted parents with robust mental health are the greatest gift.

Six years down the road, I’m proud to watch close friends choose paths that are different than mine. The rightness and defensiveness of new parenthood has—mostly—worn off. I filter the motherhood studies, advice, and recommendations through the lens of what’s best for me and my family. I’m grateful to know women who stay at home full-time, who work in an office full-time and have au pairs, who cobble together childcare for freelance work, whose kids go to part-time preschool or full-time day care, who homeschool, or who go back to office work after years away.

No mother has it figured out. Being in balance takes a thousand ongoing adjustments. I’m grateful to have the freedom to fall, and to watch as others create their lives different from my own.