Wish List: TaskRabbit for Moms

Recently I’ve been introduced to using TaskRabbit as a way to actually accomplish things on my to-do list. This is obviously nothing new – TaskRabbit has been around for a while now – but because I am perpetually old and lame it’s new for me. I’ve always been a “I can do this stuff myself!” kind of gal, but with two kids in the house and no parents nearby where we can send said two kids for the day, it turns out…I can’t do this stuff myself. I used to hire babysitters where I would tiptoe around the house trying to avoid the kids and accomplishing my to-do lists, but that never works. The kids find me, or, more likely, I find I don’t want to use my precious babysitting money doing something like moving my stuff from one closet to another. Finally it hit me: why not use my precious money on getting someone else to do the actual thing I don’t want to do instead?

If you’re unfamiliar with TaskRabbit, basically the concept of the app is, “Get people to do things you really don’t want to do yourself.” Need a tire changed? Pantry cleaned out? Sidewalk shoveled? Item returned at a store? Furniture assembled? Literally, anything you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do you can get a tasker up to the job. You set up a task, get a list of people willing to do the task, see their qualifications, reviews of people who have hired them before through the app (verified), and how much they charge an hour.

The thing is, though, there are certain tasks being a mom I can’t seem to outsource. I started to wonder if there shouldn’t be a new parenting Subcategory on TaskRabbit. Here are just a few of the tasks I would click “Hire” on immediately. 

TaskRabbit_ Toddler Dinner


TaskRabbit_ Get Toddler Ready for School


TaskRabbit_ Breastfeed.jpg


TaskRabbit_ Clothes Proxy.jpg


TaskRabbit_ Bedtime.jpg

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Okay, Instant Pot Recipe Bloggers…let’s talk

Alternately titled: No, Instant Pot recipe writers and bloggers, it is NOT “just 20 minutes and done!” and you need to stop saying that.

(Second alternative title: this post is in no way about parenting, but this has been bothering me for months now and has to be said.) 

For those who don’t know, the Instant Pot has recently become the generic trademark (aka, when a brand becomes synonymous with the item, such as “Kleenex” for “tissues”) in the world of electric pressure/multi-cookers. Whereas traditional pressure cookers heat up on the stove and give me massive amounts of fear of exploding and killing us all, electric pressure cookers (supposedly) have multiple failsafes that supposedly don’t allow the whole “exploding pressure cooker” thing to happen. So basically: the Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that has taken the world by storm in the past year.

I’ve had my 8-quart Instant Pot for about 8 months now, which is long enough to have gotten used to the machine, tested it with multiple recipes and types of foods, and have cooked enough in it to finally need to call shenanigans on pretty much every Instant Pot recipe blogger out there.

Shenanigans, I say.

Shenanigans!

And here is where they go wrong: they never, ever, ever include the time it actually takes to come to and off of pressure in their recipes. And that, my friends, is a grotesquely misleading oversight.

Now, technically, while under pressure, the food cooks about twice as fast as it would on the stove or in the oven, which is supposed to save time and make it possible to do things like 3-hour sauces in a fraction of the time. On a weeknight, say. This is the claim.   

The thing is, though, the Instant Pot needs a lot of time to actually get to pressure. Often it’s more time than the actual cook time. Then once it finishes cooking and you need it to come out of pressure in order to, you know, access the food, it takes a long time to do that, too, whether you let it “naturally” come down, or “manually release” it, which means switching the vent open and kickstarting the depressurization all at once. (It would be physically impossible to open a pressurized lid before it has come off pressure. And also that would potentially do something bad like kill you, even if you could.) However, in almost every single Instant Pot recipe I’ve ever read, there is not one estimate of extra time around the pressurized cook time.

So this is my plea to every single blogger out there: you have to adjust your time estimates in recipes to include the pressurization and depressurization times.

Currently Instant Pot recipe writers tend to say something like, “…select manual pressure for 35 minutes, and then allow to naturally release for 10 minutes and then manually release the rest, and then enjoy!”

That’s not how that actually works, though. When I put everything into the Instant Pot to pressure cook, at minimum it takes about 10 minutes to come to pressure with the minimum amount of liquid necessary to make it work (1 cup of water, say). If it’s a big stew or soup or something, that process can take 20-30 more minutes! Then depressurization takes at a minimum 5 minutes with a natural release, or 20 minutes with a full natural release of a big soup or stew. So that “cook time” of 35 minutes doesn’t include: 20 minutes of pressurization or 10-15 minutes of depressurization. That means that “35 minute meal” actually is cooking for about an hour.

Time saver? Ehhh…maybe.

And yes, once the food is all in the Instant Pot, it’s in. It’s hands-off. But oftentimes you have to pre-cook some things, sear some others, or do general prep that you’d do with a non-Instant Pot recipe. So really, I’m not sure the time saving is great when you actually break it down. Here are a few examples of recipes I’ve actually made.

IP Time Fail Ex 1.png

IP Time Fail Ex 2.png

IP Time Fail Ex 3.png

My point isn’t that Instant Pot recipe bloggers aren’t doing a very cool thing. My point isn’t that they aren’t working hard to help others put food on the table. My point isn’t that their food is bad – quite the opposite, in fact. My point is that recipe writers have to start including the amount of time it takes to come to pressure and depressurize while writing these recipes to give an accurate account of how much time these recipes will take. And I’ve heard, “well it takes time to boil water if you’re cooking on the stove, and recipes never take that into account!” Which is true. Except…you can still do other prep things while you’re boiling water on the stove. With the Instant Pot, there is no other option than just wait. So it’s really not the same thing at all.

Now, you might think I hate my Instant Pot, and the truth is I don’t. I’m just not as wild about it as other people are. But to be fair, here’s where the Instant Pot really excels and can’t be beat:

  • Hard-boiled eggs. My 1-year-old can devour hard-boiled eggs and cooking them in a pressure cooker actually separates the shells from the egg in a way that boiling does not, which leads to perfectly peel-able eggs every time.. The time isn’t that different than the old-fashioned way, but the peeling of the eggs and their absolute perfection every time is fantastic.
  • Baby back bibs. These were the first things I made in the Instant Pot and I will never achieve fall-off-the-bone ribs like this in my oven. They finish in the oven with the barbecue sauce, yes, but since there’s only a cup of water to pressurize this one’s timing does make sense.
  • Frozen chicken breasts. I don’t know any other method that allows me to safely cook frozen chicken breasts straight from the freezer, which I can then put into my mixer/use my hand mixer to shred in a matter of 1 minute once they’re cooked. 

Look, I can see where I’m coming off as harsh on the Instant Pot and its hardworking food blogger devotees, and I don’t mean to. I think it’s a cool machine, and I really do appreciate all the hard work recipe writers are putting into making its complicated buttons and gizmos accessible to all of us with delicious food. I just think we need to be honest about the timing of this machine. We’ve been too busy trying to convince ourselves that we can pressure cook anything that we aren’t asking ourselves if, maybe, a lot of these things would be better off the old fashioned way. 

It’s a simple solution, recipe writers. Instead of listing just “prep” and “cook” times, include another line called “Pressure/Depressure” and add that number to the total amount of time needed for a recipe. You’ve done your job on selling us on the Instant Pot, and now it’s time to be honest about how long these things take. 

End scene. 

You parent like an American.

In recent years one fact has emerged as a base assumption in all parenting literature: Americans are terrible at parenting.

Luckily for us American parents we can take comfort that apparently so are Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis. Sorry to say it, guys: overwhelming politeness and/or endearing accents aren’t enough to get by this go-around. Chances are, according to the parenting literature of books, pamphlets, parent groups, and whispers in the wind, if you’ve given birth and are in the process of not-letting-your-progeny-die (also known as “raising children”) as an American, Canadian, Brit, Aussie, or Kiwi, you’re doing it wrong.

According to this mountain of literature, you can tell you’re guilty of being a terrible American* parent if your child between the ages of 0 and 30 exhibits any of the following behaviors at any time: is a picky eater, cries too much, cries too little, doesn’t sleep well, throws temper tantrums, uses a pacifier, has too much independence, has too little independence, doesn’t exhibit expert conflict resolution skills, eats snacks, tests boundaries, likes to get dirty, doesn’t like to get dirty, talks a lot, talks too little, wants to go to school, or doesn’t want to go to school.

I feel his face says, "You are a terrible American parent and you are holding me back from my cool Eurokid potential."Do any of these sound like your child? Well then, the problem isn’t that your children are human beings, the problem is apparently rather their parents speak English. Simply put: you parent like an American.

I am the first to admit I personally first bought into the notion of “chic, generally northern European parents do parenting better” hook, line, and sinker with Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé, a book I have talked about many times before in this blog. I still reference back and re-read portions of this book when things aren’t going particularly well for me in the parenting department and I need to calm down and re-center my beliefs about independence and boundaries. Toward my due date and my nesting instinct kicked in I read French Kids Eat Everything and vowed never to allow my children to snack, eat on the go, or be picky about anything. Ever. (Please feel free to continue reading once you compose yourself from your laughing fit I assume you are throwing.) As my firstborn got older and I looked toward firming up my own “educational philosophy” I started devouring articles about the Finnish school system and their lack of pressure on young children – play-basedno forced reading until age 6 or 7! – all with better educational outcomes. I ripped through The Danish Way of Parenting and found many of the themes in the other books, but was fascinated by the idea of hygge, which as far as I can understand it translates to, “that feeling you get when you’re all cozy and happy with close friends and family.” It seems to be no coincidence that we English-speakers don’t have a word for this, n’est pas? I watched in awe of the slew of videos of young – 3 years old, sometimes! – Japanese children able to do things many American kids couldn’t even fathom doing at ages 8, 9, 10 nowadays, things like go to the corner grocery store and pick up a few items for the family, or walk to school by themselves. There is now a new book I have not yet had the chance to read – but it’s on my list! – about German parenting and highlights German children’s expert conflict resolution skills called Achtung Baby.

The theme of these books, articles, and essays is consistent: other countries have a generally unanimous view of what raising children should be, there are no “mommy wars” in these countries, and their children are better behaved, better eaters, better educated, and more independent than the dependent monsters we raise here.

Of course, there’s an inherent flaw with this literature I have yet to see addressed fully: those parents live there, and we live here.

Our children are supposed to eat like the French, argue like the Germans, be educated like the Finnish, love togetherness like the Danish, and be independent like the Japanese, all while their parents live in a society that in no way supports any of these endeavors.

It’s a question to which I have no answer for: sure, these books and articles about other ways of parenting are wonderful, and demonstrate the better outcomes for families as a whole. Yet, how does one actually go about implementing them on a day-to-day, non-conceptual level when you don’t live in these other countries, countries where you are not only supported in raising your children that way, but rather expected to? If I believe (and I do) that “hunger is the best seasoning” and that arriving at dinner without snacks filling my son’s belly will all but eliminate pickiness, how do I reconcile that when I am out and about and every other child’s mom whips out a delicious fruit gummy snack every hour? Yes, the books about French parenting tout that waiting is an important life skill, but if in France all the children are equally waiting for their meals without snacks it makes the entire experience infinitely easier. The temptation to beg for a bag of Goldfish crackers would simply never present itself. The problem of being a little bit hungry and watching every other child eat in front of you doesn’t exist in these other countries where children don’t generally snack. The lessons we are teaching children are fundamentally different when presented in different conditions.

“Mothers must take care of themselves” is another lesson with which I wholeheartedly agree in the pages of “Americans are parenting wrong” literature. Learning that parents exist outside of their children is a vital life lesson for children. It’s also a life lesson more easily learned with high-quality, free/subsidized** childcare available en masse. Back up even further and ensuring a maternity or paternity leave for parents is not something that is available in America, nor will it be in the near-to-distant future. (Non-American English-speaking parents of course can now sneer down at us as being with Papua New Guinea and Suriname as the only countries in the world without guaranteed parental leave.) Yes, self-care and healing are vital to all parents, we can agree after reading these books and articles. But doing so without spending an astronomical amount of money on babysitters or lost wages is very often not feasible in this country.

I keep coming back to this dialogue for almost every topic with which I completely agree in these books and articles. I want my children (and others!) to play and learn through interactions with each other for the first formative years of their life and early schoolhood, and yet our schools seem to be losing this concept. I truly believe in allowing children to attempt to resolve their own conflicts early and often as practice for later in life, yet actually allowing this to happen in America with other American parents can almost amount to getting Child Protective Services called on me. I want my child to feel comfortable and independent enough to walk to the park down the street by himself when he’s older, but I also would prefer not to land in jail.

For every time I find myself nodding my head in adamant agreement I also become baffled as to how to put these theories into practice in a different culture with different parenting norms, expectations, and support structures (slash, lack thereof).

What I find most infuriating, of course, is that for every article I see posted by my friends on social media about letting kids play freely, working out their own issues, and driving independence, I have struggled immensely to see this philosophy in action with other American parents. Of course we always talk bigger game on social media than our three-dimensional selves are ready to play, but I am nevertheless shocked every time I get a death glare when I don’t immediately jump in to mediate my children’s conflicts with others. “But didn’t you share an articles about not doing what you’re doing with no fewer than three touchdown hand emojis?” is a sad thought I have, quite literally, thought to myself on multiple occasions.

The issue of starting to think in the language of emojis aside, I don’t have a solution to this problem. In fact, I don’t even have a suggestion. (If you have any insight, please let me know.) The popularity of these “American-parents-do-it-wrong” books and articles is telling that I’m not the only one who is desperate for another way of doing things. However, at some point we have to call a spade a spade about parenting in America. The menus and food offered to children are almost universally tan and fried and I certainly have no idea how to change the restaurant industry. We have a culture where the expectation of running interference in children’s conflicts is simply expected. Finding schools that emphasize play and soft skills like interpersonal development rather than reading before age 5 is either impossible, next to impossible, or prohibitively expensive. Guaranteed parental leave, prenatal, and postnatal care is a laughable concept in 2018. Because we are unable to allow our children a free moment to themselves we have overpacked their schedules to such a degree there are articles talking about trying to figure out “one meal a week” where everyone can take 15 minutes to sit down together. Once a week! Our social trust is declining to such a rate that often children are not allowed to cross the street to walk to school, let alone down the block to go to the store.

As a parent I try to be the change I want to see in the world. My biggest phrase on the playground is yelling from afar, “You can do it, try it yourself first!” and not, “Oh my gosh, be careful, no no no, here, let me help you!” I stand back when my kids have a conflict to see if they can peacefully work things out. (Which, spoiler alert, they usually can. Next time you jump in watch how all the kids see a mediator come in and fall apart – you’ve taken the motivation for them to resolve anything internally because they know someone else will do it. The switch is immediate but palpable.) I let my kid go “up” the “down” part of the slide because I think playing is sacred and my adult rules and impositions have no place in his learning how to think outside the box and test limits safely. I am only considering schools that emphasize play in the early years, give children ample recess, and value independence and self-starting.

There are immense limitations to implementing these “other” parenting styles touted in the “look at other parents in other countries” literature, though. As much as I try to limit snacking I know that it’s part of our culture, and trying to put my kids on a “French” eating schedule in America isn’t feasible because at school they’ll snack and are annoyingly accustomed to it. I want to maintain some level of social acceptability among my parenting peers and so I do end up coming in to mediate conflicts much more than I’d like. Finding time as a family for hygge would quite frankly require a monumental shift in American work culture as a whole. We are losing an immense amount of social trust, which can at least partially explain why children in Japan are able to go out and perform tasks Americans cannot fathom.

None of these barriers really stack up to our biggest limitation, though: Americans’ intense desire to judge each other. That earlier example about kids going “up” the “down” part of the slide? It’s not hypothetical. This is a real life thing parents debate. I happen to fall on the, “If climbing up the slide will burn energy off, climb on, and if you have been warned about others coming down and get knocked down yourself, then that’s a lesson you’ll only have to learn once.” It has become abundantly clear over the years that other parents do not feel this way. What happens in America is then these differences come to define us, instead of our similarities. This isn’t limited to parenting, of course, as anyone with a pulse and access to the world around them can tell. But with every difference and camp we divide ourselves into, our village gets smaller. Our social trust erodes that much more. Humans love categorizing things and finding themselves in these categories. Dog or cat person. Tea or coffee person. Free-range or helicopter parent. Stay-at-home or work-outside-the-home. Up-the-down-part-of-the-slide or down-the-down-part-only. These ideas and theories make us feel part of a community, but our communities are growing further-reaching and, sadly, sparser.

I think there’s something deeper in our obsession with other cultures and their parenting styles. Maybe at the core of these books and texts about other countries is a sense that those parents are more supported, both by the culture and infrastructure at large and by each other. The books and articles almost always portray parents who go about the day-to-day parenting without the fear of wrath of other parenting cliques. A parenting choice is simply looked at as a choice, not a declaration of a side in the “mommy wars.” We read about what’s working in other countries not just to learn about what we can do and take into our own lives, but also to get a hopeful glimpse into what we wish we felt as a parent when we ourselves make a million little decisions every single day that amount to raising children. This doubt we impose on ourselves in parenting is lifted when we imagine ourselves simply existing in our family units as we see best fit. I think maybe that’s the true appeal in these parenting books, and maybe the hardest lesson of all to integrate.

Whether or not you agree with the premise behind the mountain of literature in the “here’s how other countries do parenting” category, I have personally found it intensely difficult to consistently reconcile my own beliefs with which I agree in these books with the realities of American parenting. I will never be the chic French mom who does not want a cupcake at snack time. Allowing children to fully self-mediate like the Germans results in my being barred from every parenting get-together known to mankind. My kids will go to school in America, not Finland, and finding a school that fits my educational philosophy has been a trial I can no longer think about without needing a glass of wine. My husband’s work schedule means I am lucky if I see him for half an hour at night, so our hygge is a wonderful theory, but sadly remains largely theoretical. If I allowed my children outside like the Japanese, even when they’re older, I would more than likely have the cops called on me.

The crux of the matter is, I find myself parenting like an American because I am an American. I think now that we understand what it is we like about these other societies we can frame American parenting into what we want that to mean. My hope is that it means more setting up a village, and less setting up war camps.

And maybe some wine with our cupcakes.

 

*For the sake of ease, I shall henceforth lump the native English-speaking parents into one group and refer to us as “Americans,” because, 1) I am an American and most of my readership is, too, and, 2) many non-English speakers automatically assume English-speakers are American, especially when they are doing something they don’t approve of, such as parenting in English.

**Yes, yes, yes, “free” means “taxpayer-funded.”

When are we going to admit we’ve ruined Halloween?

Just a little TIE Fighter, making his way in the world…slash, to his preschool Halloween party.

At its very premise, Halloween for kids is incredible. You get to dress up in a costume and be something else? Check. You get to show off said costume and everyone – everyone – tells you how amazing you look? Check. You get to go around the neighborhood while it’s dark? Check. You get to walk a few blocks in your spectacular costume, hold out a bag, mutter in any tone of voice three magic words and you are suddenly gifted with an inordinate amount of free candy? Check. Check check check check check. Halloween. Is. Magnificent.

At least, it used to be. Continue reading

Stumbling Through the Woods: A tale of my postpartum depression

Things were not all terrible. Not even a little bit.

I couldn’t find a pair of pajamas for Daphne that fit.

That was all it took.

Chris was changing her diaper, complained a little about the straps on the diaper sticking, so I took a diaper out, screamed as loud as I could, and proceeded to hit the diaper against the dresser over and over and over again until it had quite literally dissolved in my hands and I was covered in absorbent cotton diaper innards. I overturned the entire bin of baby clothes onto the floor until I found a pair of pajamas, all the while screaming word combinations I didn’t even know I knew.

Then I started sobbing. Continue reading

Woe be unto all mothers who enter the Hanna Andersson store

A warning tale if you ever find yourself near a Hanna Andersson store

(An entry into “The Motherbury Tales: Parenting as told in rhyming couplets,” an imaginary book I have started composing while waiting in line questioning my life’s decisions)

Perhaps Hanna Andersson can hire my child as a model and pay her in clothes?

As I go to Hanna Andersson to make a return,
I get nervous. My heart will yearn
For ALL the clothes in the store.
I know myself; this has happened before.
Lord give me strength not to buy
Everything that I spy.

This errand comes as I surmise
Both my children have gone up in size.
And, oh my goodness, it’s a new season…
I seem to be losing all my reason
NOT to buy out all their stock
Of their colorful clothes, and even their socks.
Alas, our budget simply doesn’t allow
For me to go and have a cow.
So as I go and make this return
Maybe this will be the time I learn
To play this errand simple and straight:
Go in, go out, don’t hesitate.

Don’t look at the dresses, don’t peek at the tops –
Once you do you know you can’t stop.
Well…just one quick look, it can’t hurt?
(Since both my kids just had a growth spurt?)
Oh Hanna, you have me once again!
All my money, down the drain!
My kids will look like definite winners
(But it’s beans and franks for all our dinners).

It’s this mom gene I seem to now possess
Where I can’t resist buying that dress
And those pants, and that shirt…
Oh, and fine, just throw in that skirt.
As I stand here, my arms full of clothes
To don my kids’ bodies, heads, and toes.
I recite to myself this infamous line:
“I really won’t let this happen NEXT time.”

My life described in exactly 6 charts

It has been almost 5 (!!!) months since I walked over half a mile while in labor to the hospital to deliver my littlest humanchild Daphne.

I have learned a few things in this period of time, such as:

  • There is a rogue fifth person in our house, and I say that only because that would explain the amount of laundry I do*.
  • Two children is, in fact, much harder than one.

Okay, so maybe learning things isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse right now.

A question I seem to come across and yet have no answer for is what my life looks like these days. For being as exhausted as I am, surely I must have an answer to this simple quandary, yet I am continuously at a loss for what to tell people when asked what I do at home. I realized recently instead of trying to produce words out of my face (you know, also known as speaking coherently) perhaps I could instead show everyone what I’ve been up to lately.

And so, I present to you fine folks these 6 graphs describing my life at any given moment these days. Please enjoy.


On choices:


On past lives lived:


On being forced to confront your own limitations:


On time management:


On discipline:

 


On making conversation:

 

 


*E.T., if you’re reading this, just come out, dude. I’m not going to turn you in, I promise**!
**Unless your clothes are dry-clean only. In that case the gloves are off.