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.”

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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.

I Think My Wife Hates Me

MICHAEL CARTER

Okay, you’ve got me; my wife does not in fact hate me (I think). I even suspect she might love me a small bit (admit it Sarah, you lub me!). There is, however, no denying the fact that since we had our son, the nature of our love has changed. I am not talking here about the cliché of her pouring all of her love onto our little boy without any of it spilling onto me. No, I am talking about the seemingly more trivial reality that she wants to scratch my eyes out every time I get a half decent night sleep or that her eyes go green with envy when I have not one but TWO hands to cook HER dinner with. I am also pretty sure she is developing a nervous tick from seeing me be able to pee without having to hold a screaming newborn baby on my lap. (Just to clarify here, unlike the previous sentence suggests, my wife does not in fact watch me pee…very often, at least.)

We all know having a baby is hard on the mother, but what about the dad? The mums have to be ready night or day to answer the call of a baby, and they have their bodies somewhat decimated not only by the birth itself but also by the subsequent slow bleeding of nutrients thanks to breastfeeding. Even with family and support, they can feel isolated, desperate, and very lonely. As a soon-to-be dad, I knew all this. I read the books and very early on decided I would be the rock upon which my wife could rest her weary head. I was adamant I would cook meals for my wife and freeze them so that she could pluck them out of the deep freezer when needs be and treat herself to a nutritious home cooked meal. Every weekend when back from work, I did the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, and did a lot of the laundry. I also made sure to look after her sanity by constantly telling her I love her and that she was doing an amazing job, and I always tried to keep her even-keeled when she was obsessing over small baby issues. I did all this diligently and I did more. I thought to myself, “With this level of support, we will sail through this easy.”

I was wrong.

I repeat, I WAS WRONG. My error was a critical one, although it was not one I can be blamed for making. I was not wrong in doing house chores and telling my wife I loved her (this stuff needs doing lads, so if you are not on it, GET ON IT). No, I was wrong in thinking that these things would matter to my wife’s sanity. For a long time, I did not understand this. I would stay up all night wondering what exactly I had done so wrong whilst my wife wept quietly to herself. Most of the time, I don’t think she knew I could hear her, but I did, and it kept chipping away at my heart. You see, lads, being a mother is not hard because you can’t get on efficiently enough with your daily chores. It’s hard because the baby is all-consuming, it’s all-impacting, and it just never ends. The meals I so lovingly prepped for my wife are still in the freezer not because she didn’t like them, but because the simple tasks of removing them from it and cooking them required a pair of extra hands and more cognitive ability than her sleep deprived brain could muster. My telling her ‘I love you’ or ‘You are doing an amazing job’ meant nothing in the face of her not being able to poop without a crying 4 month old on her lap. The gleaming shower that I spent 30 minutes scrubbing was nothing but a sparkly reminder of the unattainable bliss of a hot shower that lasted longer than 30 seconds. Having a child has eaten away at almost every fibre of my wife as an individual human being, and she became a quasi-hybrid of sorts, doomed to live out months and years as a shell of her former self.

I love my wife, shell and all, but I wish someone had warned me about this feeling of absolute powerlessness. We lads are wired in a certain way: if there is a problem, we ask what it is and try and fix it. It becomes very frustrating when your partner does not communicate the issue to you and you are left with something you can’t fix because you simply do not know what it is. Equally, it is heartbreaking to see your wife struggle or hear her cry in the dead of the night. To watch the love of my life break down as a human being was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, and is the crux of what makes being a dad tough. I have no advice for you in terms of how to deal with this. In fact, I don’t think there is a successful means of making this any easier on your partner. What I do know is that no matter how hard things seem for you as a father, they are infinitely harder for your partner.

Having that in mind, next time you want to say something to your wife about how she doesn’t appreciate what you do or how incredibly frustrating it is when she does not allow you to help with some emotional issues, just bite your tongue and get yourself a small beer from the fridge to settle your nerves. However, you’ll want to make sure she doesn’t see you drink it as she just might take your head clean off.

Michael Carter 13055498_10105487983414066_5138437718247450025_nis a tall, strapping archaeologist, with a flair for cooking, a green thumb, a great beard, and an adorable infant son who is looking more and more like his mother every day. His wife definitely did not write this bio.