A Statement of How Things Are.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m too doom and gloom about motherhood when I talk about it with other people, especially those who don’t have children. I worry that I’m being a big downer about parenting. I don’t mean to be because I personally feel like it’s worth it, even given how aggravating it can be.

However, some mothers seem to really love it from the very beginning (and then continue to love it for the rest of their lives), and that was simply not my experience. According to Ann Oakley, a British sociologist, feminist, and childbirth researcher, her goal in writing about motherhood is to make “a statement of how things are, rather than of how people like to think they might be.” I may not be a professor at UCL or a published novelist (yet), but I’d like to think my mission is the same. My conversations about becoming a parent are a statement of how things were for me, and not what people like to think they were.

For example, before I gave birth to my son, I’d spent years watching television shows like One Born Every Minute and A Baby Story, openly weeping at the ends of episodes when the babies were born. I’d cried at the births of so many stranger babies that when my own son was born, I was expecting to completely fall apart. Instead, as my own slimy newborn baby was placed on my chest, my first thought was, “Thank God that’s over.” My husband cried, but I’d just had the most primal, physically intense experience of my entire life, and my body was jelly and I was just so grateful it was over.

I think that’s a reality more women should be prepared for.

Also, I once ate dinner shirtless, with blood smeared all over my chest, after my son fell onto his face and got a terrible nosebleed right before my husband came home with our takeout Thai food. In years past, if I had, by some freak accident, found myself covered in someone else’s blood, snot, and tears, I would have, at the very least, taken a shower before eating anything. However, because my hysterical toddler calmed down just as my husband came through the door with dinner, my first meal of the day, I stripped off our bloody shirts, wiped us both off with baby wipes, and stuck my child in his high chair for rice and broccoli. We both ate, the toddler forgot about the trauma of the face plant, and I found grains of rice in my bra when I went upstairs to shower.

Again, a head’s up* would have been nice. (*PUN INTENDED.)

I love my child so much, I would literally tear the face off of anyone who tried to hurt him. I just also sometimes want to tear my own face off.

 

 

 

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Dear Toddler.

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Dear Toddler:

I love watching you become a human being. You’re funny and curious and generous and kind. You want to feed all the neighborhood cats and save every bug and share things with strangers. You love to read and hide from monsters and pretend to be a snake and retell everyone that one story about how I tried to save you from running into the street and getting hit by a car by pushing you down onto the ground, where you hit your head. (That makes me look really good. Thanks for that.) You ask for snuggles in the middle of the night by calling “Love?” out into the darkness and you’re really good at sniffing out all the chocolate in the house. You are generally a delight.

However, there are times these days, as you become a human being, that I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so angry. And, as all these big emotions are new to you too, I’m sure you haven’t either. Why is it that you and I are both so in love and so easily enraged?

My guess is that we used to share one body, you and me. It was mine first, but it did everything for you, so while I want you to listen to me, you want me to serve you. And even though we used to share one body, we’re two people now, so we both also need our own space. Sometimes, it feels like our time together is constant struggle between control and autonomy.

Do what I say, but also let me do this myself.

I don’t think we’ll ever find a perfect balance. We’ll always be two people who used to be one body. But I hope that on the days when you’ve screamed your face off for an entire commute and I’ve thrown our jackets on the ground and used my mean voice to say, “IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE SAD WITHOUT SCREAMING. STOP IT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD,” you always look up to me after as you’re crossing the street and say, “Hug! ‘Tect me.”

The Suffering Olympics.

A few months ago, I was introduced to the “Suffering Olympics,” a term which both refers to the compulsion to compare miseries to see who has it worse and describes the last two years of my relationship with my husband. My introduction to this phrase occurred in a Facebook mom group, which is fitting, considering our collective obsession with social media allows us to project our personal lives into the universe, helping us compete in the Suffering Olympics not only with those physically around us (like our partners), but also with others all over the world.

After spending some time having deep thoughts about this, I am convinced that it is from the Suffering Olympics that Mommy Wars are born.

Being a new parent requires doing really hard work and making difficult decisions all the time. You do the work because you have no choice, but you parent certain ways because you have specific opinions. We are all forced into constant, thankless toil when we become parents, which should equalize us and make us more empathetic, but because we become wedded to specific philosophies through the trauma of implementing them, we spend far more time trying to prove that we’ve done it the right way than attempting to treat each other like human beings. No one wants to think that the parenting choices they’ve made are wrong, especially when these choices (inevitably) result in insane amounts of physical and emotional labor.

I’m working on a PhD in Social Statistics right now, so let me explain with an equation:

Hard work + strong opinions = competition + desire to win

For example, I like to think that the two full years I spent cosleeping with and nursing my son are the best decisions I (or anyone) could have possibly made for him because 1) I did those things because I thought they were important and 2) they were so punishing to me that I have to justify them to myself as worth it. I have spent a lot of time feeling really smug about how challenging my parenting choices were. If there was a Suffering Olympics, I was definitely a gold medaler across the board.

That is, until recently, when I realized in a light bulb moment that while being an accidental attachment parent is certainly super intense and autonomy-crushing, no parent escapes feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and Never Alone. Every mother I know has been disillusioned with her style of parenting, in one form or another. The lack of independence that I felt was specific to my circumstances was also an issue for breastfeeding friends starved by limited diets, working friends swamped by deadlines, and by-the-book friends burdened by the weight of strict schedules. All of us make decisions that come back to haunt us.

Imagine for a moment that we were able to see beyond our own limited experiences, allowing us to acknowledge the choices of others as valid in their own unique circumstances. (I know, I know. Suspend your disbelief for a second.) If we were able to see the parents around us as equally underwater in this raising children business, the Suffering Olympics would cease to exist, because, in parenting at least, suffering is everywhere and struggles are relative.

Parenting is hard for everyone, no matter how you choose to do it. We all have to make a bed. It doesn’t make sense for us tear each other apart for laying in it.

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on writing up her third PhD paper and taking care of her baby, but if you’re into snooping and terrible photos, check her out on Instagram.

 

My Baby Can Not Read.

SARAH CARTER

My son is 20 months old and regularly says about ten words: bye bye, dog, truck, ball, Dad, meow*, roar*, ssssss*, uh oh, yes, no, oh dear, and something that sounds suspiciously like “Oh shit,” which despite my foul mouth, I don’t ever say. (However, if he were whispering “Oh, for f**k’s sake” under his breath several times a day, I might be responsible.)

He can also express his confusion about where things are by throwing his hands up near his shoulders in a permanent shrug:

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I have spent a lot of time super frustrated and mildly panicked about this child’s lack of verbal communication. It seems like many (most?) kids his age have, at the very least, more robust vocabularies, and at the very most, the ability to hold complete conversations with their parents. Reminding myself that we live in a world of never ending competition, as we all try to impress and outdo each other on social media, helps me stay sane while I parent my son who refuses to speak. Our desires to present ourselves as brilliant and successful have trickled down to our infants, such that even actual babies are now expected to perform academic or physical feats once reserved for preschoolers. (Seriously. Why would I want to pay someone to pretend to teach my baby to read?)

In an effort to focus on the positives and stay grounded in the comforting knowledge that my child is a behaving like a toddler because he is a toddler, I’ve decided to make a list of my son’s most impressive skills. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. He is fabulous at pointing. He’s the best pointer. He has recently discovered his pointing prowess and now does it all the time. He learned how to sign “milk” when he was about ten months old and used it constantly for nearly a year, but recently he just taps a finger into my chest over and over again when he wants to nurse before bedtime. We’re so proud. (The other day, he surprised both of us by asking for milk by actually vocalizing the word, and then when I asked him to repeat it “using his mouth,” he unhinged his jaws like a giant snake and shoved all his fingers in his mouth. #success.)
  2. He has excellent fine motor control. He loves drawing all over the couch (with nearly proper pencil grip!) and he recently managed to escape the backyard via a gate that is secured with a deadbolt and a latch.
  3. He can cover his tracks. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, the water heater is in a closet in his bedroom, making this closet a strict no-fly zone. I left him alone in his room for a few seconds, and then heard him slam the closet door and pretend to play with the cars on his floor after he heard me coming back upstairs.
  4. He loves magic. A few weeks ago, he hid my car and house keys by throwing them so deep into the kitchen trash can that they escaped my initial search through the garbage. I had to go through the trash twice! So impressive.
  5. He’s polite. He once put his tiny hands around my neck and squeezed, a la Tina Fey’s daughter, but he did it with a smile.
  6. He knows what he wants. He delights in carrying pairs of his shoes to me and smacking me with them until I put them on his feet, only to immediately demand to wear different shoes.
  7. He enjoys cooking. He likes sitting on the kitchen counter while I cook or wash dishes, and then batting things onto the floor below like a cat. A few days ago, he ripped the top off a spice container and dumped mixed herbs all over the floor. (see: excellent fine motor control.)
  8. He has a keen eye for decor. One of his favorites things to do is to unleash his collapsible tunnel just after I’ve put it away, only to ignore it for the rest of the day, as the real joy of the tunnel is in making me nuts.
  9. He is thoughtful. Yesterday after work and nursery, I presented him with some new Fisher Price Little People animals, and in order to show his appreciation, he grabbed a throw pillow, put it on the ground next to him, and pointed frantically at it until I got up from the couch and sat on the pillow on the floor, while he pretended that a small pink bird was eating my throat. He wanted to offer me up to the animals, but he also wanted me to be comfortable. #blessed
  10. He has priorities. He lets me to scroll through Facebook on my phone in the rare moments he wants to play alone, but I am not allowed to do anything productive in his presence, including but not limited to: using my laptop to write, reading a book, highlighting a paper for work, writing a letter, making grocery lists, etc.

My child, Wonder Baby.

*Yes, I am counting animal noises as words. YES I AM.

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her second PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and terrible photos, check her out on Instagram.

Becoming Mom

MELANIE GINGRICH

Melanie

It’s bizarre – you never realize how something may impact your life until you actually experience it, and even then, you still may not fully understand or be able to grasp the intensity of it. This is how I feel about my recent motherhood experiences. Both becoming a mother and losing my mother.

I lost my mom three months before finding out I was pregnant, and thirteen days before my wedding. My mom was amazing. I don’t say that with inflated candy-coated nostalgia; she truly was a great woman. The thing that she was most proud of in her life was being a mother and grandmother. She was my best friend. The one I would call when I was having a panic attack in grad school or the one I could bounce ideas off of without judgment. I could go on and on, but the truth is she was so much to me that I could never put it all in words.

My mom was sick for two years. She had an “extremely treatable” form of cancer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was stubborn and strong and it came back with such force after every treatment ended. It was torture to watch her being knocked down again and again. I had planned to get married earlier in the year after her treatment ended and she had recovered, but that never happened. I struggled with whether to wait until after the storm that we were in had passed or to go ahead and plan it so that regardless of what happened, she would be there. After postponing it a little, I decided on the latter. Unfortunately, like with most things in life, we were not in charge. I made it through my wedding because that is what she would have wanted me to do: celebrate, and give my dad and the rest of the family something else to focus on. To this day, I am still not sure if I made the right choice, but I can say that I am happy that she was there when I found my dress and that she got to see the venue and that she was truly happy for me.

During our honeymoon, my husband and I made the decision that after my current birth control pack, we would start trying to get pregnant. We had heard that it could take months or years, so we decided we would begin the journey. I went in for a physical, thinking it would be a good idea to make sure I was in tiptop shape. I told my doctor that I had just gone off the pill, but had not yet gotten my cycle back. A short “just to make sure” pregnancy test later, and I was in tears and overwhelmed with a feeling that my mom somehow had a part in this. My mom who always said, “Don’t wait too long to have kids.”

This is where it gets even harder. I have moments when I think she is looking out for me or watching over me, like the one in the doctor’s office when the doctor said, “Congratulations!” Then I have the empty moments, the moments where I feel the void left by her absence. Those are deep and strong. I remember being pregnant and driving home from work and feeling incredibly sad, the kind of sadness that knocks you over like a strong ocean wave. I called my sister practically hysterical (my sadness definitely intensified by my wild pregnancy hormones) and all I could manage to get out was, “I miss her so much.” I remember after we checked into the hospital and the doctor asked me who I wanted in the room with me during the birth, I wanted to say, “My mom, of course.” I wanted her to hold my hand and tell me it’s okay and remind me to be strong. I wanted to look at her looking at me and her grandbaby with eyes filled with a mixture of happy tears and pride.

So many times I wonder if I am doing it – this mothering thing – right. I think about how my mom would have the answer; she would know exactly what to do. If only I could call her. I wonder if certain things my son does are things that I ever did. Sometimes I ask my dad or my sister, but I know they don’t remember, at least not like a mom would. Not like my mom would.

Sometimes, I think my baby boy gives me a different purpose and a focus away from losing my mom. Not to forget her, because that will never happen, but my son is almost a tribute to who she was and what she loved: family. Other times, I think being a mom reminds me how much I miss her. I am so incredibly sad that my son will not know his Grandma Tena in person. He will know stories and he will recognize her face from pictures, but he won’t know how it feels to be wrapped in her arms or to have her soothing voice lull him to sleep. He won’t know the silly songs exactly the way she sang them or how her deep and endless love could make him feel so special. Those things make me so sad. I get jealous when I see three generations out shopping or having lunch, the grandmother tending to the baby while the mother enjoys the few bites of uninterrupted food that she has been granted.

I have incredible friends and I have a wonderful mother-in-law, but that is not the same as having your mother. The last few years have been filled with so many bittersweet moments and I have to be thankful that I have the sweet to balance out some of the bitter. I am so thankful that I was able to have 32 wonderful years with her. I am thankful that through her example for those 32 years, she showed me what it is to be a wonderful, caring mother. Because she is not a phone call away to ask questions, I have to dig deeper. I have to remember her ways and use those memories to give me guidance.

I will raise my son as a tribute to the love she so selflessly gave. I was given a mother who loved me so intensely that it made saying goodbye to her that much more painful. I can’t help but be thankful.

Melanie Gingrich lives in Los Angeles with her wonderfully supportive husband, perfect son, and two crazy dogs. She has her dream job at a pediatric hospital working as a Speech-Language Pathologist.