Domestic Life

When I was Disappointed by My Child’s “Gender”

With my first pregnancy, I really wanted the sex to be a surprise – after all, it’s the one major surprise in life you know is going to be wonderful either way, right? I got a thrill imagining all the possibilities of who my little unborn person could be, without gendered boundaries. I was thrilled when my son was born – I saw him on the bed below me and immediately squealed, “Oh my god, he’s here!” I tried to pick him up so fast the midwives had to stop me so I wouldn’t yank the cord.

My second pregnancy was an entirely different story. As you may know from a few of my other posts, I’m a feminist. I believe strongly in deconstructing the patriarchal values that disadvantage people who aren’t heterosexual, cisgender males in our society. So perhaps it won’t surprise to say I always hoped I’d have a daughter. I envisioned a young woman who I could raise to be a strong bulwark against the bullshit of the patriarchy, someone who would resist gender stereotypes and prove “the man” wrong with her intelligence and independence. My husband hoped for the same. We only plan on having two kids, so suddenly the sex of this little person had more at stake, and we decided to find out at the 20-week ultrasound. We’d heard enough stories of people who’d been disappointed with a baby’s sex, so finding out in advance seemed like the safer option.

When the ultrasound technician pronounced the fetus male, Continue reading

Gratitude Journal #2: A Heart Full of Love

A HEART FULLOver the past few weeks, our house has been suffering from a cold that just seems to be bouncing back and forth between the members of our household. This week, our 22-month old son was the main victim. The result was an increase in toddler meltdowns and a pronounced decrease in the quality and quantity of sleep for all of us.

Needless to say, this has not been an easy time. But somehow – just at the very moments when things get tough – I’ve found reminders of all of the love and support in my life.

When I got to work bleary-eyed from a night of broken sleep, and a chat with some co-worker Moms reminded me that none of us are alone…

When I totally dropped the ball on something my sister had asked me to do weeks ago, and she reminded me to be a little kinder to myself…

When my husband and I fell into bed completely exhausted, and our kindness with each other reminded me how important he is to me…

When I just wanted to go back to bed in the middle of the night, and my son snuggled into me, reminding me how much he needs me…

In all of these moments, I’ve felt my heart bubbling with love and gratitude. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. This week, I’ve been fortunate to be able to peek through the challenges of this time, and glimpse the loveliness of my life.

 

Overcoming “Be Careful”-itis

Roald Dahl quoteThis past week, I was listening to a recent episode of One Bad Mother. The conversation was about struggling with reflexively saying ‘no’ to your kids – even when you don’t really have a problem with what they want to do.

My son is young enough that I’m not yet struggling with being a ‘no’ machine, but I do find myself reflexively saying something else. My personal catch phrase? “Be careful”.

I cannot seem to stop myself from saying “be careful”. “Be careful with the cat”. “Be careful climbing on the couch”. “Be careful on the stairs”. “Be careful”. “Be careful”. “Be careful”. All. Day. Long.

Obviously, some of this is justified. My son is not yet two. We still have a baby gate for our larger staircase. He starts to lose his balance and run into things when he’s tired. He is definitely not at stage where he doesn’t need any reminders to be careful.

At the same time, my son is already a fairly cautious child, as toddlers go. He is not particularly anxious. He gets a kick out of being a little bit scared, like when his dad jumps out at him from behind a corner. But he is thoughtful and deliberate, and you can see him thinking through how to tackle a new feat before he actually tries to tackle it. When he was a baby, he routinely practiced new motor skills in the safety of his crib before he would dare to try them anywhere else.

I, on the other hand, was an overly cautious child. My mom had to convince me to let go of her hand in the grocery store when she needed both of her hands to lift something (or to stop my sister from running off). I was scared of climbing and hated hanging upside down. And while I would not consider myself an anxious adult, I do still fall into the camp of: “I’m cold, so you need to put on a sweater”.

It’s definitely not my favourite part of myself. Even as a kid, I wished that I could find a way to just let go a bit. Now as a parent, when I hear myself say “be careful” for the seven-hundredth time that day, I can’t help but wonder if my worrying tendencies are at risk of stifling my son’s independence.

I feel like Marlin in the movie, “Finding Nemo”, the parent whose over-cautiousness is holding back both his child and their relationship. He tells his friend Dory, “I promised I’d never let anything happen to him”. Dory responds, “Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise. You can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.”

Not much fun, and not a great way to learn, either. Roald Dahl once said “The more risks you allow a child to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves”. This makes a lot of sense to me. After all, who among us doesn’t credit our biggest risks and/or failures with our best learning experiences? Either we rise to the challenge and boost our self-esteem in the process, or we find out what doesn’t work and try to do better next time.

And this is really what I’m talking about when I’m thinking about ways to get over my “be careful”-itis. I’m not going to avoid saying “be careful” when my son could really hurt himself or when he can’t reasonably be expected to understand the potential consequences of his actions. But I do want to try to avoid reflexively saying “be careful” in circumstances that he can navigate on his own.

Maybe it’s ok for him to learn that if he’s not paying attention to what he’s doing, and a board book lands on his foot, he probably won’t like it. And he’ll learn to take better care of himself the next time he’s at his bookshelf. I mean, how else does a little bird learn to fly than to start by falling? It’s not like mama bird kicks them out of the nest right from day one. She watches and waits until they’re ready. After that, there’s really no other way to do it.

Even typing this makes me feel a bit guilty and gets the worry machine going in my head, so I know it’s probably something I need to work on. In the meantime, I’m just going to try to channel my inner Dory and just keep swimming.

Baby Bird Try To Fly

Bonding – a Whole Approach to Life

I recently read this beautiful essay on how human connection – not sobriety – is the remedy for addiction. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but if you aren’t going to, I’ll try to snapshot the key points that have sparked my thinking here:

The author, Johann Hari, explains two separate addiction experiments done with rats, the long and short of which is that the rats who were kept in isolated, un-stimulating environments were exceptionally prone to drug addiction, but those who lived in ‘Rat Park,’ a healthy, happy environment for rats, were not. Moreover, once rats who had been conditioned to addiction in the isolated cages were allowed to live in Rat Park (“a lush cage” with “colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends”), they quickly returned to a life free of drug use. He goes on to make comparisons to human examples of Vietnam-war veterans and those prescribed heavily-addictive drugs in hospital settings, which are quite interesting.

But my thought-train here has really nothing to do with addiction per se, or with rats, or with the ethics of animal experimentation. Rather, one of Hari’s passages struck me particularly:

“Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. […] But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet.”

His argument is about addiction as a clinical condition, but I think his assessment of human beings is something we can all reflect on and learn from.

While not in as dire circumstances as many people, there are many of us living what appear on the surface, or from the outside, to be ‘full’ and ‘happy’ lives… or at least what ‘should’ be so. In truth, many of us live in self-constructed cages of isolation. Even if we’re not facing depression or constant physical isolation, we’re often more isolated than we would like to be. Why is that, especially if we are lucky enough to in fact have the means, the people nearby, and the opportunities, to be more connected, more bonded with our village?

Too often it seems we feel we don’t have the time to connect with our people, our friends and family; this is the most common cause I hear. But what are we doing instead? The usual culprits seem to be working, getting chores done, driving around to do errands, with the awful end result that when one does have some ‘free’ time, it needs to be ‘me’ time (read: a chance to collapse from exhaustion, to sleep or zombify in front of a screen).

But I think in these cases we need to question the importance of the things we’re using our time for instead of connecting – because at the end of the day, we are choosing to do so, and only by acknowledging our own agency can we start to either change it or become okay with it.

Do our living spaces really need to be tidy in order to enjoy our home with those we love? Does our time need to be ‘free’ of obligations or to-do lists before we can engage with our people? Or would it be better if we did more things communally – buying food, cooking, folding laundry – embracing that we’re all going through this together, rather than feeling we need to ‘get our shit together’ before we can enjoy one another’s company? Do we really need to ‘unwind’ at the end of a long day by scrolling through a social media feed that only gives us that ‘parody’ of bonding? We could instead be actually connecting with the people and activities that bring us joy, or indulging in that ‘me’ time by having a bath, walking outside, or doing an activity that engages our bodies and minds rather than just collapsing from exhaustion, often in front of a screen?

We have created a culture, as Hari says, “that cuts us off from connection.” The expectation is that we will all live in our own little kingdoms, whatever your particular box of living space looks like, and that our first responsibility is to keep our own kingdom in order. If we are good at keeping this order – bringing in the right amount of money for our lifestyle, tidying and cleaning, having the ‘right’ groceries in our cupboards with our near-future meal plans settled, having at least some plans in the works for how we’ll change our kingdom/life, and maintaining whatever image we’ve created of our lives in our online worlds – then we can occasionally, when it’s a ‘good’ time, invite others into our kingdom to enjoy the space we’ve cultivated, or allow ourselves some time away from our boxes to enjoy someone else’s kingdom… provided they have kept their kingdom in order, of course.

Perhaps we need to start living with each other, instead of alongside one other with the occasional meeting in the same space.

The people we wish we bonded more with might live in the same space as us, our spouses or children; they may live down the street or across town or across the country or the world, and technology may be a necessary tool for allowing us to simulate face-to-face interactions with some of them. We may wish to bond more with ourselves, to connect with our interests, and hobbies, those experiences that allow us to feel more alive, more engaged and joyful.

The point is not how we connect but whether the connection, the bonding, is a real bond or a parody. Even more so, the point is accepting our own agency (should we be so fortunate as to have some, as there are many in the world who truly don’t), so that when we feel we’re living in a cage, we can look around and determine honestly if the bars are real, or if we’ve given them form and weight with our own perceptions.

“Bonding” in this broader sense doesn’t seem to be something that can be done or felt effectively if only allotted in rare, discrete blocks of time; such a model means there will also be set times of isolation, boredom, or loneliness. It would be idealistic to think all of life will be continuous bonding and connection, but it also seems sad and unnecessary to resign ourselves to a life plan where bonding and connection are rare ‘treats’ if we’ve been ‘good.’ I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think it’s worth some serious consideration, and I hope some of you will leave your thoughtful comments below!

Letter to My Postpartum Self

If you’ve read this blog before, you might have come across my account of the dark, twisty postpartum period I had the first time around that caused my current, second pregnancy to, well, basically scare the shit out of me. Fortunately, I’ve had time to reflect, talk this fear out, and hear some wise words from other mamas in my village. Still, I know it’s easier to keep hold of these calming thoughts while Mister Baby is still in my belly than it might be once he’s out here in the world and my postpartum hormones mix with sleep deprivation in a toxic brew of negativity. So this letter is not only for me, to come back and hold onto in any twisty moments I might find in the year ahead, but also for any mamas out there who are in the dark place now, or who are pregnant and worried about moving into the dark once their baby arrives. Much love to you.

Dear Mama,

I know things are difficult right now. That things may seem like they’re falling apart, or that all your preparation has been for nought, or that you don’t even recognize who you are anymore, or maybe even all three at the same time. You may be questioning core things about yourself, your abilities, your judgment, your life, your partner, and not believing there could ever be a time where this uncertainty ends. All I can tell you is that even though you can see no light at the end of the tunnel, there is a lightI promise. I’ve been down this road before, and so have mamas since time immemorial. But I know that right now this seems like cheap platitude, so here are some thoughts for while you wait for that little light to appear and grow larger:

Hormones

They are rampaging right now, and are extraordinarily powerful, so don’t discount them. Remember those horrible adolescent years where you didn’t know what to do, or who you were, or how you were ever going to get to where you wanted to be? Same thing in early motherhood. This is hormones mixed with being thrown into the deep end of new expectations and new experiences, while striving for independence and a sense of accomplishment within this new angle of what it means to be a woman. But remember those wonderful teenage years where it seemed like everything might turn out a moony fairy-tale after all, and you couldn’t wait for all the fantastic experiences that were certainly ahead of you? This is early motherhood, too. This is hormones mixed with the delight in your little one’s smiles, snuggles, and that unbelievably good baby-smell.   So it’s a roller coaster, but a roller coaster you’re riding with a blindfold on. To pretend you’re taking a train ride, or to feel as if you should have been able to predict that next rise or fall, is ridiculous. You can prepare a bit, but some days, a fall you didn’t expect will still knock the wind out of you. When this happens, you don’t need to justify why – you’re on the roller coaster, that’s why.

Feelings

Similar to hormones, these are only sometimes things you have any control over, and they come in waves. Sorting out whether this particular rage about some unfinished laundry is the result of today’s emotional tsunami or a legitimate, last-straw outburst you would have had in the pre-baby days will be difficult. So if you think something specific or tangible is causing your melancholy or exasperation, notice it, but wait until the wave passes to decide how to move forward. Never be afraid of identifying a feeling, or admitting that you don’t know where it’s coming from, or that it’s overwhelming you. This is not a failure of rational thought – this is rational thought, because you’re recognizing the reality of your situation. The incoming tide will eventually stop, and you’ll be back to the emotional levels you’re used to handling as a reasonable adult.

Your Body

After birth it will be yours again, but not yours. You will still be attached to your babe for most of the day. You will not look like your pre-pregnancy body, at least not for awhile. You will not have your libido back, perhaps not for a much longer while than you find acceptable. You will be exhausted, at first from the experience of birth and its initial recovery, and then from carrying your wee one in your arms instead of in your belly, from night-wakings and extended periods of crying (from you or your little one). This is okay. Motherhood and marriage/partnership are long games, and you have time to adjust. There is no need to freak out about where you are 6-weeks, 3-months, or 8-months down the road from the birth day, or worry that this is where you’ll be forever. It isn’t.

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Housework

Acknowledge your role as a new mother, and not, unless this is your long-term plan, a ‘stay-at-home parent’ (even if this is your plan, give yourself some time to just be a new mom first). Keeping your baby alive and yourself sane can be a full-time job in itself, with simply no room in that job description for ensuring a tidy living room, kept-up laundry, made beds, or washed dishes. Keep the division and expectations of household labour at pre-baby levels until you’ve had a chance to adjust; don’t take everything on yourself just because you’re ‘at home’ now. If you’re going back to work after a year, this adjustment could be the whole damn year. That’s okay. If it takes less than a year, bonus for you, but treat it as a bonus, not an expectation.

Family

Fuck the advice you’ve received about ‘managing’ family interactions in the postpartum period – you’ve probably been told to both accept all help that is offered, but also to guard time to bond with your wee one so you’re not overrun with well-meaning visitors. This conflicting advice, especially while riding the hormonal roller coaster, might have you torn in the same day between desperately needing someone to be there to hold your baby so you can have a shower, but feeling like a failure if you ask for help because you can’t even manage to get a shower without assistance. Or feeling incredibly lonely for another grown up to talk to but also so drained you don’t have the energy to contribute to an adult conversation. In those moments, identify your feelings – loneliness, or irritability, or  perhaps a desire to just be alone with your baby but only-after-that-shower-because-unless-that-happens-you’re-going-to-go-crazy. Look at the feeling for a minute, then let it drop beside you onto the floor. And then ask for that help from someone who loves you, and be honest with them about that feeling so they can help you in the way you need, which is really what they want to do. Trust me.

Bonding with Your Wee One

You are your baby’s only mama, and no one can replace you. Even if/when you don’t breastfeed, even if you go back to work early, even if your wee one loves spending time with other relatives and friends… none of these things change that you are momSo embrace those other relationships for your child, embrace the good things that come along with the absence/end of breastfeeding (inebriants, non-nursing clothes, and outings longer than 2 hours, anyone?), and embrace the return to the parts of your professional work that you enjoy. Cut yourself some major slack on the bad days (see all the thoughts above), and luxuriate on the good days, so that you live presently in the moment with this new tiny person who is constantly learning more about the world, and about you, his mama. Love every new discovery. Teach him to breathe deeply through pain even when you think you might fall apart instead. And remember that this moment in time, whether it’s going fantastically or horrendously, will end. Let that knowledge increase your appreciation of the moment or your comfort for the future – or perhaps both, if it’s that kind of day.

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Remember that you are working through a tremendous feat, walking on the rocky mountain that is the postpartum period. There is no finish line, no set path, no goal to get to the top, even though it may feel like you should have such a goal in sight. There is only your experience of each day on the mountain, how you feel there, and the memories you will keep later. Eventually you will leave this mountain, but you may not even notice when the ground evens out. So don’t worry about looking for the plateaus – just live in the place you are today, find a spring of fresh water and a soft place to lay yours and your baby’s head. Whenever the sun is out, take a pause to let it warm your face. If you do that each day, you’ll be just fine.

Love,

Lindsay

With Love & Respect, “Get That Shit Out of My Way,” She Said

This morning a dear friend shared this article by Scary Mommy with me, called “Why I’m Done Asking My Husband To Help Me Out.” As I read it, internal bells ringing Yeah! and Exactly! went off more than a few times. This is something I’ve discussed with my mom, my sister, my husband and I’m pretty sure more than one girlfriend, but Scary Mommy sums it up well, with excellent reasons why specifically not to ask your partner to “help you out” or “do you a favour” when what you’re really looking is for some good-new-fashioned partnership participation. She explains that by taking the asking-a-favour route, a woman a) diminishes her partner’s value, b) puts undue responsibility on herself, c) sets an unwanted example for her kids, and d) diminishes the partnership itself. If you’re like me (female in a hetero relationship), I’d wager there’s a fairly good chance it might resonate with you, too – so give it a read!

equal housework
Should she have needed to ask for ‘help’ to make this happen? (Source: healthland.time.com)

(I should note first that there is a time when I think the asking for ‘help’ approach is apt – namely, when my partner and I have clearly determined that x job is mine or his, and we want help with that particular job. So in our house, if he asks for help with gathering garbage for collection day, or if I ask for help with folding laundry, for example.)

I’m always interested in the “why do we do this?” part of any social question, so naturally, my brain went to, “Why the hell am I still doing this?” I’ve thought about this for years. I often correct myself in the moment when speaking to my husband – “Can you do me a – actually, no, wait, not a favour, can you just do this?” Yet I still find myself phrasing requests for him to do his share as requests for ‘help,’ I think for two main reasons:

1. I’ve internalized the overwhelming fear of being a ‘nag.’ 

Among the things our culture encourages women to stress about in their domestic life, fear of being a ‘nag’ is pretty high on that list. So no wonder we ask for ‘help’ instead of reminding our partner that they didn’t clean up their own coat/socks/papers/plate again. Asking for ‘help’ lets me seem more sweet, feminine, and likable – definitely the opposite of a nag – and increases the likelihood of a positive response, because my partner gets to feel like he’s doing something great and gets a gold star for going above and beyond, so everybody’s happy… right? Except… not. Because I’m still left holding the bag of responsibility for all things domestic, and I never really get to respect myself as a feminist who asserts her desire for equality in household management. I end up catering to fear and shame instead of self-respect, when I really dig down to the heart of it. Which brings me to reason #2:

2. On some level, I’ve internalized the idea that domestic work really is my responsibility as the woman in the partnership.

As much as I try to deny it, I think this nugget is still there. Sure, I’ve attempted to justify and couch it in enlightened, post-feminism rhetoric about how my partner and I simply have different personalities, and I simply care more about cleanliness/organization, so it’s not a sexist thing, it makes sense that I’m inclined to do more, and yadda yadda yadda. And there may be some truth to that – some. But it’s also very likely that we’ve each been, at least to some extent, socialized to have these personalities and tendencies to care more or less about domestic tasks/management. So am I happy to just accept that the socialization has happened and live out my life that way? Not really. Do I want to contribute to socializing my kids according to this status quo? Not if I can help it. These are not glamorous labours, nor ones that society really places a lot of value on, and I think if I was a man, I certainly wouldn’t be motivated to learn to take more initiative on these things. But at the end of the day, clothes need picked up because we each eventually need clean clothes to wear, so whose job should it be to make sure each item of clothing ends up in the laundry bin? Probably the person who was wearing that item of clothing. At the end of the day, dinner needs cleaned up because eventually we’ll need clean dishes to use, and we want to avoid bug infestations or health hazards of rotting food all over house, so whose job should it be to make sure that dishes get picked up and leftover food goes in the garbage or back in the fridge? Probably anyone who ever needs dishes or dislikes bug infestations. Again, asking for ‘help’ with these tasks reinforces a socialization I don’t like, instead of presenting myself as an equal partner in my home.

I want to act out of love and respect for the equal partnership my beloved and I have been building for fourteen years. So if love and respect means creating an environment where it’s sometimes okay to say, to borrow Scary Mommy’s words, “Get your shit out of my way,” well then, I guess that’s what we’ll do.

 

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